Lodestar Quarterly

Lodestar Quarterly
Figure reaching for a star Issue 6 • Summer 2003 • Fiction

Secret Shoppers

Lou Dellaguzzo

"I could kill people who look at me like I don't belong here," the man growls through a brindled moustache that hangs past his upper lip, flowing down into his bushy beard. Onyx eyes, hooded by leathery skin, glare furiously. His rusty voice ricochets along shelf-lined walls in the cookbooks section on the second floor. The guy's tall, gaunt frame sits in a striped, camelback chair. Pages from the Sunday newspaper comics he's been reading -- pages he throws in the air -- scatter on and around him.

Freddie doesn't know what to do. He only looked for a few seconds, wondering if he angered the man. When Freddie realized the guy was arguing with comic strip characters, it was too late. He went ballistic. Unfortunately, the college sophomore shares his dad's awkward habit when flustered. Father and son tend to stare -- with a squinty grin -- at whatever befuddles them, sometimes offending the object of their gaze. As Freddie does now.

Snorting violently, the man tries to expel angry thoughts through his narrow, deeply pitted nostrils. "I know my goddamn rights," he barks. Jumping to his feet, waving the newspapers off, the guy hisses in a voice long damaged by chain smoking and noxious booze. "This is fuckin' harassment against the homeless, is what." In a singsong voice, he paces around the alcove, rambling about the conflagration to come and his famous dexterity with karate.

The man's wild accusation only petrifies Freddie more. He wants to walk away but can't. What will people think -- that he caused this man's upset?

Freddie's mind careens through different scenarios: He gets arrested. No. The guy gets arrested. Even worse, they both get arrested and share the same jail cell because the cop won't listen to reason when Freddie says he did nothing and wasn't involved.

Anyway, there will be a trial. His parents -- full of "I told you so's" -- will have a fit. They'll haul him back to Minnesota, back to the small-town school he pleaded to escape with promises of impeccable behavior, and better grades.

Where is everyone anyway, he worries, unable to turn around and see. Has everyone left the floor? Afraid to be witnesses -- to stand by when IT HAPPENS?


If Freddie had turned around, he would have seen Jack, a tall, bookish-looking man in his late-twenties dressed in a pale gray suit. Jack stares at the homeless guy with stark authority, daring the livid man to return his gaze. He quickly succeeds. The guy stops his tipsy strut, his apocalyptic rant. Slowly, Jack pulls a cell phone from his vest pocket, makes a show of it. He flips the phone open sharply, dials only three numbers -- lifting his finger high between each press of the digits -- allowing his audience of one to count, then speaks softly into the phone.

The homeless guy stomps toward the escalators wheezing, "Fuck you, motherfucker," in Jack's direction. "Fuck y'all. Fuck everybody in this goddamn world."

Jack puts away the phone. No need to cancel his complaint -- since all he ever got from his 911 call was a steady ring. Real efficient system, Jack thinks. Peering over the balustrade, he watches as the homeless guy stomps past magazine racks, taking the most direct path out the store. His racing swagger is an unreadable gesture of contempt.

Freddie shakes his head vigorously, digging his finger into his dimpled chin. The dramatic scenarios he had devised keep repeating in his mind. He still can't turn around. Start walking. During the incident, he felt completely alone. Now, he expects to see many eyes staring at him, their gaze accusing him of delinquent behavior. Accusing Freddie -- the kid who cultivates invisibility as part of his identity.


One floor above the still incapacitated Freddie, deep in the fiction department, Jack holds the problematic book in his hand. Somehow the incident -- and his inventive response to it -- has emboldened him to buy the volume he's been looking at whenever he comes to browse, but always shelved at the last minute. If I can handle situations like the one with that cute kid, Jack reasons, surely I can buy whatever I damn well please -- without feeling self-conscious. "Surely," he murmurs to himself. Opening the book to a favorite page, he loses himself in a passionate scene between an experienced lover and his shy, but eager acolyte.

"Can I help you with something?" the clerk asks too loudly from behind, surprising Jack. He wants to say, "Must you sidle up on people like that?" Instead, he answers, "Oh, no thanks. Just browsing," while keeping his large hand firmly over the book's title.

The clerk leaves. Jack sighs. Sunshine breaks free of the grayish clouds, streaming through the store's outsized windows. Sunshine that always looks brighter on Fridays. Jack's short day at work. As he gazes upward, a luminous outline forms along his long, sharply sculpted nose, his high forehead and softly chiseled chin. He is fit and lean. The light skirts his deep-set eye sockets that -- from the right distance -- create such dark canopies that Jack looks to be wearing sunglasses. His sparse beard casts the palest hint of its presence around his mouth and jaw.

Pursing his thin, pale lips, looking around self-consciously for the clerk, Jack opens the book, choosing a page at random. He has done this before. Is amazed by the number of times nearly every chance selection has a sex scene in it. Not necessarily to his liking. Still, the collection is meant to satisfy a broad range of tastes. Jack was surprised by how expansive those tastes could be.

I really have to get out more, he thinks, and not make excuses for staying in. Maybe meet a nice guy. Try to, anyway.

Before he heads to the checkout, he considers buying another book -- a serious text -- to offset his racier purchase. Instead, he decides to brave it out, save the weightier tome for another visit.


There's nothing but junk on the first floor. Decorative office accessories. Cards and gift wrap. Bargain books no one wants. Jack finds himself examining a suede-covered card file. Suede? he wonders, baffled by the lavish design concept. As Jack approaches the checkout queue, he sees Freddie standing at its end. When did he get there?

Then he notices an older gentleman -- ostentatiously dapper in his safari hat and camel-hair jacket -- making his way to the spot near the good looking boy. Fortunately, a desktop clock with transparent casing distracts the man for a few seconds. Just enough time for Jack to reach his goal.

Now what do I do, he thinks, angry that he didn't strike up a conversation with Freddie before, so he could claim credit for resolving the boy's conflict with the homeless man. Yeah right, Jack says to himself, concluding his revelation probably would only embarrass Freddie more. It was better to just back away, he thinks. Let the kid recoup on his own.

Gazing at Freddie close up, Jack stops obsessing about an opportunity lost. The boy wears his thick, wavy, auburn hair straight back. A lock falls along his forehead, curling outwards. His charming widow's peak leads sharply to a square-shaped nose, full lips. Residual adolescent acne marks his tawny skin -- down to that amazingly square, Celtic jaw. Bits of flesh-colored medication flake around small eruptions.

Jack is moved by the boy's self-consciousness. He can see himself kissing those blemishes, reassuring him about his great looks, saying they'll only improve with age.

In profile, Freddie's blue eyes appear translucent. His spare, straight eyebrows --darker than his hair -- evoke naive earnestness. Freddie stands a few inches shorter than Jack -- who reaches six feet in bare stockings.

Deep in appreciation, it takes Jack a few seconds to realize Freddie returns his gaze. Jack smiles awkwardly, but keeps his teeth hidden to avoid looking overeager. Here's where things always break down, Jack worries. Where I lose my nerve.

Freddie's smile appears taut, uncomfortable. Perhaps I've annoyed him, Jack thinks.

Turning away, Freddie wonders if the man beside him had witnessed the embarrassing scene upstairs. Is that why he smiled? Is he a store employee monitoring me until I leave the place -- to make sure I don't make trouble at the counter? Freddie has heard about such people. Stores call them make-believe shoppers. No, he corrects himself, they're called secret shoppers. Yeah.

Still bedeviled by his mishap, the boy looks around for other signs that people might regard him suspiciously, have waited for his descent to the first floor so they could have a better look at him.

Freddie. The troublemaker.

Taking solace in his book selections, Freddie reads the blurbs, yet again, on the back of a spare work about bread baking. He's buying a second book -- a bulky work on Italian cookery -- more as a gesture. In his convoluted reasoning, Freddie thinks buying the expensive book makes him appear more substantial -- hardly the type of guy who would harass a homeless man. Dad better like his birthday gifts, Freddie thinks. Considering the shit I went through to get them.

Surreptitiously, Jack watches Freddie glance around the store. When the boy finally settles on his cookbook again, Jack wonders if he should remove his hand from the cover of his own book. Strategically place its title -- The Mammoth Book of Gay Erotica -- so that Freddie might see it and, perhaps, respond with interest. Jack wishes the cover had more writing. Instead, it features a photograph of two headless, athletic male torsos. They move towards each other. Their embrace eternally -- annoyingly -- deferred. As he proffers the book -- appropriately slanted toward Freddie -- Jack gazes at the photograph. He feels decidedly lecherous. How long can I look at this damn picture, he wonders, without appearing sexually obsessed? Hardly a good impression to make on such a skittish guy.

"Oh shit," Freddie murmurs, as the heavier book he is reviewing slides off its meager partner. As he bends to retrieve his text, the straps of his outsized backpack slide down his elbows, temporarily incapacitating his arms. Sitting on his haunches, Freddie raises his forelimbs, trying to return the straps to his shoulders. The movement doesn't work. Instead, Freddie falls backwards, thrown off balance by the heavy pack.

Seeing another opportunity to help -- and strike a conversation -- Jack eagerly bends down to retrieve Freddie's heavy book. And Freddie as well. Carefully, Jack grabs the backpack by its top handle. He pulls it onto Freddie's slight shoulders, gently pushing the boy forward a bit. This gives Freddie the momentum to stand up once more. Left on the floor is Jack's book -- front side up -- which Freddie looks at with discomfort and interest. Jack gazes down as well. Doesn't move.

Feeling obliged to return the man's kindness, Freddie makes for the problematic book.

"No don't," Jack says, too loudly. "You might get stuck again."

He meant to be funny. Break the ice. But Freddie looks embarrassed, even a little angry, his face a blossoming red. Clearly not amused. He won't return Jack's tight-lipped smile.

Jack retrieves the book, a hurt look on his face -- a look Freddie sees -- and turns away. This is getting ridiculous, Jack thinks, a burlesque. He compares the scene with his imaginary encounters, in which he appears socially adept, effortlessly achieving seduction. Eventual friendship. Goals he considers equally important. Often -- like right now -- he can't believe he's twenty-seven. I really should be better at this by now, he thinks.

Winsomely, Jack takes a final look at Freddie, who still fumbles with his brown backpack -- and those slippery books -- which land on the counter before a scowling clerk.

Then, a minor miracle. Freddie looks back at Jack, his blue eyes unreadable. Jack feels more like he's being studied than beheld. An intellectual exercise? How to spot a queer? At least there's no hostility, Jack thinks, as he prepares himself for the hollow feeling that will hit him when he leaves the store, holding in his hand the passionate encounters of people who don't exist.


"I said, Will that be cash or charge?" the clerk repeats. Freddie, startled by the barking voice, shifts his attention from the comely Jack to the less gifted cashier. The short man, with his heavy, dark moustache and clawing eyebrows, reminds Freddie of his cousin's Scottish terrier, a pushy little animal.

Handing over his credit card, Freddie watches the attentive stranger slowly make his way to the exit. The boy elides his reason for observing Jack. He doesn't admit that the man's startling green eyes -- so eager and friendly -- made Freddie's stomach tight and his dick rapidly swell. Freddie can't blame his arousal on anxiety. That feeling -- sometimes exacerbated by partial erections -- he knows too well. Still, he's not willing to call his response by another name. Nor, he admits, as he watches Jack's shapely back descend the exit staircase, will he let it ebb.


Catching up to Jack, Freddie opens the exit door too forcefully. It slams against a brass wall protector in the vestibule. Jack turns around, startled by the noise. He sees Freddie, embarrassed once more, glaring at Jack, who feels doubly rejected. Shrug it off, Jack tells himself. Yet he can't.

Freddie didn't mean to look angry. He just didn't want the guy to see him being clumsy and bumbling again. Feeling clownish, his skin tingling, Freddie nixes the vague idea to pursue Jack, follow him, somehow strike up a conversation. He stands on the breezy corner. Watches Jack cross the street against the light.

It's just too lame, Freddie thinks. How can you talk to a guy whose back will be facing you, a guy you're following from a distance? What would I say anyway? If he turned around, I'd probably spook him. Especially now, Freddie concludes, recalling the dazed look in Jack's eyes, the way he abruptly stepped aside, allowing Freddie to careen out the store.

Still, Freddie keeps thinking about the man's black hair. How it floated over his forehead before settling dead center on smooth, pale skin. He couldn't help feeling overwhelmed by the intense, romantic green emanating from Jack's deep-set eyes.

Thoughts of Jack's other attractive features cause Freddie to light up a cigarette, another habit he keeps secret from his parents. With frustration, he sees Jack ahead. Across the narrow, busy street.

Then the man turns, looks around shyly. His gaze settles on Freddie. This time, Freddie looks back. He nods. Just an awkward dip, not exactly a friendly greeting. Freddie wants to smile but can't. Twice the Walk sign changes. The two feign interest in the street choreography swirling about them.

An impasse.

Leaning awkwardly, Freddie pretends he's unsure in which direction he should go. He knows where he'd like to go, but can't get his feet to move. His eyes jump from matronly, suburban shoppers -- whose bags brush against his leg -- to a group of college kids laughing loudly at a shared joke. Never does Freddie's vision veer too far from his real interest. Now and then, his eyes connect hesitantly with Jack's, but the boy can't summon enough nerve to hold his gaze steady.

Jack hasn't moved. His face, his body, directed fully at Freddie -- ready to react to any unmistakable encouragement. A few people glance at him. They sense his intensity. One lanky fellow walking past -- braving the cold in a thin red windbreaker -- briefly follows Jack's piercing green gaze, and nearly bumps into a young couple heading in the opposite direction.

Clouds drift above. Afternoon light embraces Freddie's figure with pale gold. Entranced by the sight, Jack resolves to take action. Something is going on, he assures himself. He doesn't know what yet, but he's determined to find out -- even if it means a crushing rejection that makes Jack not want to look at another guy till spring.

He shivers, recalling last winter. All those lonely nights. The darkness settling in so early, lingering in the cold air. Going out seemed too much effort for too little enjoyment.

Crossing the street against the light, Jack walks directly to Freddie. The boy's resolve suddenly dwindles as Jack approaches.

"It might be a good idea if we started talking now," Jack says. He waits a beat or two. Gets nothing. Not even a blink.

Smiling encouragingly, he continues: "It's gettin' kinda cold just standing around. Weather like this -- good idea to just keep moving." He bounces back and forth on each foot, a little dance meant to disarm.

Jack can see Freddie's blush racing from his long, sinewy throat to his cheeks. Still no response. Unless Jack counts the inscrutable, slightly pained expression.

"I'm Jack, by the way." He removes his glove, extends his hand, thinking it a make-or-break move. It would be downright rude for Freddie not to complete the gesture, Jack thinks.

"Ouch," he says, caught off guard by Freddie's strong grasp, undiminished by a thick, boyish blue mitten. The mittens, he thinks, are charming.

"Sorry," the boy says, nervously. Freddie recalls the similar response his political science professor had to his overzealous grip. The diminutive teacher had scowled at him, as if Freddie intentionally meant to hurt. Made Freddie think - momentarily -- about switching his major.

"It's not your hand especially; it's my grip," Freddie says mysteriously, wanting to assure Jack that he doesn't have a limp handshake, then wondering if that's an appropriate thing to bring up to a gay guy. Impulsively, he grabs Jack's hand again, gives it a softer clench, just to show the man he can do it right.

"So, what is your name?" Jack asks, as they stand hand in hand.


Looking onto the terrace balcony, Freddie tightly holds his glass. Seltzer water, a slice of lemon. He avoids sweet drinks, believing that sugar causes pimples -- the angry ones. He peers at his reflection on the glass sliding door. What a face, he thinks, not noticing how the double-glazing slightly distorts his fine features and skin texture. Feeling himself curl up within his body, Freddie compresses his desire into a small space between his shoulder blades. The pressure makes them tighten.

Meanwhile Jack stands in the bathroom, taking a whiz, obsessing about the stilted elevator conversation. At least Jack seemed to impress Freddie with his job editing a small environmental newsletter. But then, Jack's nervous riff on industrial farming and offshore drilling seemed to shut Freddie down. Guess petroleum spills and chicken shit aren't the best subjects for small talk, he tells himself.

Still, Freddie does seem mercurial. Either he practically assaults you with friendliness, Jack thinks, or he clams up, looking like he'd rather be in hell than walking beside you. Could just be that infamous Catholic guilt making him waver. After all, the boy goes to Georgetown. And he most definitely is Irish.


"I think maybe I should go," Freddie says when Jack returns. For the past five minutes, his back has tingled, a sure sign that fresh blemishes are blooming under his slightly moist, slightly yellowed, T-shirt. The fantasy he had of having Jack fuck him seems extravagant now. Even if I turn over and hide my face in a pillow, there'd be the same mess.

Freddie doesn't notice his host has been observing him. The long hallway that divides the large, spare flat into separate rooms gave Jack a clear view. He saw Freddie nervously picking at his face, then applying skin medication from a tube, using the mirror in his contacts case.

Silently, Jack moves toward the boy. He shakes his head in a firm "no" that surprises them both. "Think it over first," Jack says, his voice deeper than Freddie recalls. Jack holds the boy by his shoulders, gazing down at eyes that glisten in the clear November sunshine. The topaz month, Jack thinks, regarding the figure blazing back at him in the amber light, compelling and radiant as the gemstone. He draws his face closer to Freddie. Hesitates. Never looks anywhere else but the eyes, until he decides to kiss the guy on his cheek. The more blemished one. Freddie flinches as smooth, pale lips draw closer.

"Let me," Jack whispers, a hairbreadth from Freddie's ear. "Just once, Freddie, lightly, then you can tell me if you want me to stop." Freddie can feel Jack's erection pressing against his thigh. Not insistently, he only wants to show Freddie how desirable he is.

Slightly moist and cool, Jack's lips jolt nerves throughout the boy's flesh, making him feel kissed everywhere and all at once. A first kiss. By a guy, at any rate. Not the passionate -- even rough -- kisses from men that Freddie thought about when he masturbated. But a real kiss, nonetheless. One that causes the same arousal as his fantasies, makes his dick press insistently against his stomach.

"You looked so good when I came in just now," Jack says, wanting to reassure. "Couldn't wait."

Freddie nuzzles into Jack's embrace. Smells the floury warmth of clean skin through the man's soft green shirt. He was going to admit to his inexperience, then thought it might scare Jack off.

"Are you a kisser?" Jack asks, recalling less romantic encounters. Getting angry with himself for trying to classify the kid -- something he hates when it happens to him -- Jack rephrases the question. "Is it okay to kiss you again?" Freddie's eyes grow large. He'd like to back off and start again. Maybe.

Jack doesn't wait for an answer. Something about Freddie -- the wavering, the amazing insecurity over his appearance -- makes Jack hopeful. Perhaps someone so reluctant to give himself to another will, eventually, have much to give?

Gently, he angles Freddie's head. Finds resistance in the neck muscles, desire in the boy's eyes. His groin. If Jack had more experience with shy guys, he'd be sure what to do next. Since he doesn't, he goes by intuition -- and the more assertive protagonists he's read about in erotic stories.

With a much firmer hand, Jack draws Freddie to his lips, pressing hard against their fullness, until he hears a sigh resonating against his cheek. Jack knows how to proceed now. But carefully. More a gesture toward roughness than the real thing. Jack doesn't want that; hopes Freddie feels the same. Lightly at first, he explores the boy's yielding mouth with his tongue. He comes upon a piece of fresh chewing gum -- mint flavored -- wedged between two molars.

Jack withdraws. Grabs a tissue from his pants. "Give it to me," he gently directs. "Don't want you choking on it."

Obediently, Freddie tries to retrieve the gum with his tongue. The piece won't give. It sticks by a narrow string onto the boy's gold fillings. "Damn," Freddie says, turning away from Jack so he can pick it out. Once it's retrieved, he turns back to Jack, who takes it in the tissue. The parental gesture, the withdrawal from cautious passion to simple concern, only fuels more desire in Jack when he regards Freddie again.

"I assumed a lot, haven't I?"

"What," Freddie says, defensively, eager to get past another disconcerting moment. He wants to lose himself in Jack -- before he loses his nerve.

"That you've been with a guy?" Jack asks.

Freddie juts his chin. Answers with a shrug, a face blotched with rising crimson. He doesn't want Jack to talk about what they're doing -- put it into words.

Jack scowls playfully. "You're not a boy genius, are you?"

"A boy what?"

"You know. One of those kids who graduate high school when they're like twelve or something and get a B.A. before they're sixteen."

No response.

"Look," he says patiently. "I just want to know how old you are. Make sure you're not too young for... You know. Like this."

"I'm twenty," Freddie says. Then, in a confessional tone: "I lost a year in high school." He places two long, bony fingers to his temple. "For awhile, my concentration got messed up." A memory of adolescent misery tenses his shoulders, constricts his breath. A vision of his parents' hangdog disappointment melds with the demeaning smirks from kids in high school, the clowns who labeled him and Jerry -- his best friend -- "Dumb and Dumber."

"I'm barely a C student." Newly frustrated, he looks at Jack, wondering why he even offered the information. "Can we drop the subject now that you know I'm just dull normal?" Why does everybody always consider me a problem? Freddie thinks, reaching for a blemish on his chin.

Flustered, thinking he has lost essential momentum, Jack silently curses himself. What a skilled romancer you are. Now you're losing him. Say something good. Something you can make him believe about himself. Or at least about you.

Jack thinks again, only more calmly now: Just say something true.

"Back in the bookstore, I wanted to speak with you when I first saw you. Before that homeless guy started hassling you." He smoothes his hand over Freddie's ruffled hair. The boy's face floods red.

"I was standing fairly close behind you all the while," Jack continues. "Stared at the guy to get his attention so he could watch me dial 911 -- very slowly. Hoped he'd get the hint I was calling the cops." Jack smiles, tugging affectionately on Freddie's surprised chin. "The guy got my hint. And if he hadn't, I would've helped you if he became a real threat -- instead of the loopy windbag I figured him for."

Freddie looks down at his large red sneakers, one untied. Part flattered, part mortified, he musses the reddish-brown hair Jack had just smoothed. Two cowlicks spring back up, one at the crown, the other along the right side of his hairline. The nostrils of his square nose glow translucently in the late afternoon sunlight.

"That guy." Freddie shakes his head. "I mean. It wasn't me, I mean, he was talkin' to comic strips. Just looked at him for a few seconds, is all. I didn't do anything wrong. I wasn't even thinking about him."

Jack wants to get the boy back to the moment. The here and now, he thinks. Before I'm left alone this evening -- kicking myself about what I should've done and should've said.

Taking Freddie by the waist, Jack draws the boy closer. "Look. I don't know yet how to make you feel comfortable with me. Maybe that won't ever happen. But I do know I like you and wouldn't have left you to defend yourself in that..."-- Jack hunts for the word -- "predicament." He embraces Freddie gently. "There's nothing to worry about now," he whispers. "You're with me. And we're here in my place, where it's safe. You gotta know, I want you -- and I'll be very, very careful."

Jack grips the boy's neck. His broad fingertips rub against pliant skin as he fights the urge to pull Freddie towards him, force the boy's firm, pink lips to yield to his eager tongue. Instead: "If you need to go slow, or if you decide you don't want to fool around now, it's okay. There's time, Freddie. There's time for everything."

Jack smiles at the boy, holding him at arms' length. "Well. It's not really okay if you don't want to fool around. But, I mean... we can just get to know each other more." He adds wistfully, "If you like."

Smart move, Jack broods, as he embraces Freddie to feel his warmth -- and hide his doubtful face. Burying his mouth between the boy's collarbone, his wrinkled tan shirt, Jack inhales the warm, melon-like essence.

They remain silent. Not moving. Time goes elsewhere, burned away by the growing heat between them.

Freddie's confusion clears. He responds to Jack's cautious aggression, yields to it, moving his large hands around Jack's firm rump, squeezing skin and muscles -- all the while thinking of Jack's crotch that -- for some reason -- Freddie cannot get himself to touch.

Surprised by the boy's first move -- which Freddie vigorously maintains -- Jack quickly adjusts the scenario playing out in his head. Tries to imagine a revision. He doesn't like the erotic shift -- from fucking to getting fucked. Never has done it before. The handful of pretty guys he has bedded made it clear what kind of sex they wanted -- which never involved Jack's rump.

Shyly, Jack slides his fingers around Freddie's amazingly beefy ass. Jostles it playfully - appreciably -- with his palms. The boy's baggy pants have been hiding two generous mounds. I gotta have this, Jack thinks, feeling Freddie's magnificent butt clench and relax under his delighted touch.

"These are amazing," Jack whispers in Freddie's ear. "You're amazing." In response, Freddie tightens his grip on Jack's ass, kissing Jack on his taut cheek, sliding his lips across Jack's face, until they reach his waiting mouth.

Jack tries to redirect Freddie's grasp. His left hand initially yields to guidance, but halfway across Jack's hips, the boy suddenly resists. He wraps two fingers around a belt loop, then twists his wrist so that he has Jack's hand, which Freddie presses on his own dick.

"Checkmate," Jack jokes nervously, his voice muffled by ardor, frustration.

"What?" Freddie says. His mind somewhere else; on a bed, face down -- he must be face down -- the skin on his back miraculously clear, his pliant ass, yielding to Jack's slow, penetrating moves.

Jack holds the boy at arms' length. "I like to fuck," he says. Freddie quickly glances sideways. "I like to fuck"-- again, for emphasis, to reclaim Freddie's evasive gaze. "I do it safely, Freddie. Patiently," Jack says, drawing closer, wanting to assure the boy he'll be a careful partner. "But it's what I like, Freddie. I'd be happy to, you know, make love to you, jerk you off while I do it. That'd be great. Really. But I..."

What else can I say, Jack thinks, angry with his own stubborn limitations -- but not nearly enough to breech them. Better to know now, anyway, he concludes. Forget about the sex part; just focus on a possible friendship. Jack ruffles Freddie's hair, smiles at his unreadable face. A sweet guy. So hapless, Jack thinks, his passion rising again, despite the gloomy probability.

"Sorry," he says lamely. "I'm just not very versatile. My fault. Not yours."

"That's not what I want," Freddie blurts out, suddenly agitated.

"I know," Jack answers, startled by Freddie's volume. "I've figured out as much," now feeling a little defensive.

"No." Freddie answers, in a horse whisper.

"What?" Jack asks, trying to unravel the boy's thoughts.

"I mean that's not what I want," Freddie repeats in frustration, imagining himself fucking Jack -- an image Freddie has yet to relate. He grabs hold of Jack's waist with his bony, strong hands. Then withdraws. Not sure if it's right to touch again.

"Freddie," Jack says gently, taking the boy's hands, placing them back on his waist -- where they felt so good.

"Take it slow, Fred. Tell me what's on your mind." Jack smiles at Freddie, risks giving his ass a playful swat. "Only this time, don't skip the antecedent."

"The what?"


When the moment finally arrives for Freddie, the moment to live his sexual fantasy, he starts shivering uncontrollably, teeth chattering like heavy raindrops against dry grass.

Intermittent panic. The mysterious sounds Jack makes behind Freddie. Still mysterious, even though Jack describes for Freddie everything he does. (Freddie doesn't want to look.) Unwrapping the condom. Unraveling it around Jack's slightly curved dick. Applying lubricant to the taut latex sheath -- and to Freddie's clenched, resisting ass.

Jack caresses his partner, kissing the back of his long, sinewy neck, his pink and amber ear. He strokes Freddie's twitching muscles. Waits for the trembling to stop. But it doesn't. Looking down at Freddie's large, shapely ass, Jack feels increasingly frustrated. He can't get himself to enter -- no matter how patiently, how gradually -- while Freddie shivers and chatters beneath him. The act seems to Jack more like torture than pleasure. Pleasure Jack knows he can give if Freddie will only start relaxing.

His hard-on begins yielding to his anxiety about the boy's discomfort. Something has to change.

"You've got to turn around," Jack says. "Look at me. Look at me. You can see how careful I'll be with you."

Freddie shrugs -- though it's hard for Jack to tell for sure with the boy's trembling. "I don't know. Why do I have to look at you? I mean," he quickly assures, "I like to look at you. You look great. But. You know. Maybe not while..." Freddie lets his ambivalence hang in the air. The pimples on his back itch, making him feel more embarrassed -- more undesirable -- than he thought himself to be when Jack slowly peeled away the boy's rumpled clothing, revealing a body that -- to Jack -- seemed ruggedly angelic, a contrast of light and hardness made more moving by Freddie's shy, hunched stance. Then the trembling began.

"You gotta trust me Freddie," Jack says. "Just a little. You've come this far. Don't," Jack said hoarsely in Freddie's ear. "Don't let me down; let me think it was a mistake, bringing you home. Wanting to do this." He rubs Freddie's back lightly, kneading rigid muscles. "I'm not a jerk. Won't just brush you off. You know... afterwards. You're someone I wanna get to know, Freddie. I like you." Then, more hesitant, afraid he'll provoke the unwanted outcome: "I'll like you, no matter what we do -- or don't do. But gimme a real chance first. Okay?"

Time passes. Its measure distorted - extended -- by frustration and growing chagrin on Jack's part. Eventually Jack takes the lack of response for a "no." Thinks the boy wants time alone. To dress. Then, perhaps, to leave furtively. Or after an awkward goodbye.

"Okay," Jack says again, not a question this time. A resolution. He pats Freddie on his thigh. Draws the back of his fingers across the reddish down, the tawny skin he has admired there, has kissed and playfully bitten. "Think I'll wash up," he says, sliding off the bed, heading for the john.


"Yeah. It's better...I guess." Freddie rests his calves on Jack's opalescent shoulders. The boy shrugs. Then goes silent.

After Freddie called Jack back -- practically shouting his name -- it took a lot more convincing -- much tender cajoling -- to get Freddie in this position. Face to face.

Patiently, with Freddie's uncertain gaze below him, Jack rubs the boy's tight ass with the head of his dick. The very tip. The part that contains sensations a doubled condom can't diminish. With slow, rhythmic movements, Jack gently makes his way inside Freddie, murmuring reassurances when the boy winces, telling his yielding partner how good it feels holding him -- holding an armful of hapless, beguiling Freddie.

Jack makes love to the strong calves that frame his face. He doesn't want to pump yet. The boy's muscles tighten around the base of Jack's dick, keeping the spongy flesh engorged when all movement ceases. He wants Freddie to relax those muscles. Elude discomfort. Get to the pleasure Jack can see awakening Freddie's surprised eyes, his gracefully arching dick.

A gyrating movement from the boy -- repeated a few times -- signals Jack. He slowly begins. Long thrusts, nearly suspended. More like gentle gliding.

For the first time, Freddie can look at Jack without all his attention focused on what his partner is doing to him. He hazards moving his hands away from Jack's ribcage -- which he had kept there, ready to push hard if the mild discomfort became too much. Before passion burned it away.

Looking into Jack's serious face -- enjoying his heated smell -- Freddie studies his partner's sharp features. Explores the deep-set eyes, blazing green in the dwindling light. He looks for the flecks of yellow he saw in them after their first kiss. Raising his head, reaching eagerly up to meet Jack's smooth, wet lips, Freddie looks deeper, deeper into the other's eyes, seeing nothing but green, and the large black pupils that draw him in.

Lou Dellaguzzo is a freelance copywriter. Another of his stories, "Close Quarters," will appear in a future issue of Harrington Gay Men's Fiction Quarterly. Currently, he lives in Washington, D.C., where he is working on a collection of short stories.

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