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    corvus
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

Mike and Winston - 3. Chapter 3

chapter 3



Mike wiped his palms against his pants as surreptitiously as possible, even though there was no one else in the dimly-lit corridor. Even from outside, he could hear music and the occasional bark of laughter. He let a few moments pass before lifting his hand, lowering it, and raising it a second time.

Then, as if by itself, the door swung open.

“Hey,” Mike greeted as firmly as he could.

The girl who opened the door stepped back. “Hey,” she said and vanished the moment Mike stepped inside. He did not know whether to be relieved or further discomfited.

Mike made his way down a narrow hall, squeezing past a few chatting girls and some guy who seemed determined to make the wallpaper his dance partner. The hall eventually opened to a room that would have been spacious if it were not packed with people. Mike edged along the walls, all the while scanning the crowd for the image of the face and shoulders he already knew by heart. But Dan was nowhere to be seen.

When he looked around again, he noticed that an array of plastic cups had appeared on the counter in front of him. Apparently it was a bar of sorts.

“Want one?”

Mike started; he had not noticed being noticed. “Sure,” he said, shouting to be heard. A tall and frowning man, who seemed to be in charge of the kitchen, offered a cup, and Mike took it. It was surprisingly good, he decided after a sip.

“Like it?” the man asked. It sounded more like a demand, but Mike shrugged it off.

“Yeah, it’s great.”

He was about to leave the counter when he felt a hand clap onto his shoulder. “Heeey, Mike!”

“Dan!”

“When’d you get here?” Dan asked loudly. There was a faint slur to his words, and he had a cup in his right hand. “I was keeping a lookout for you, y’know.”

Mike felt the grin on his face settle into a smile. “A few minutes ago,” he replied. Dan had been keeping a lookout for him, he thought.

“Is that your friend, Dan?” the man behind the counter asked in an accusing voice.

“Oh, yeah,” Dan said. “Mike, meet Gil. Gil, this is Mike.”

Mike extended his hand over the cups and grasped Gil’s. “Nice to meet you.”

“Same,” Gil said shortly.

Dan was prodding Mike’s shoulder. “Look, there’s a few people I need to catch up with, so I’ll see you later.” He swiped another cup from the counter, and, without another word, squeezed back into the crowd.

“So where’d you meet Dan?”

Mike ignored the girl who had just elbowed him without apologizing, and turned to answer. “We work in the same psychology lab.”

“I see,” Gil said. There was something rather hostile in his tone, Mike noticed. Or perhaps Gil was high, which would explain why his eyes seemed so odd, almost as though he were seeing something in his own head. “What?”

Mike shook his head. “Nothing.”

“Do you think I have a fucked up name?”

Mike paused, taken aback, but took another sip of the drink and answered. “Yeah. I do, a bit. I mean, I’ve never met a Gil before.” He was aware of a buzz building in his head, though how much of it was from the atmosphere and how much of it was from the drink, he couldn’t be sure.

“It’s actually Gilbert Sullivan,” Gil said, and grinned stupidly. “So, Mike, do you like Dan?”

Mike froze. “What?”

“I said, d’you like him? Cause he obviously likes you. What’re you, a freshman?”

“No,” Mike stammered, “sophomore.”

“Huh, well. Dan’s e-ga-li-tar-ian.” He drew the last word out, choreographing it with the act of pouring Vodka into a blender, before turning around to fumble in the refrigerator.

Mike stared. He swallowed hard. Gil was peering at several bottles of what looked like fruit juice, going over each with the care of a museum curator. Mike wondered if this was some cruel ploy. Choosing the right fruit juice could not possibly be that hard. He wished that Gil would hurry up; he wished, also, that the various elbows would stop poking his ribs.

But just as Gil shut the refrigerator, a girl appeared in the kitchen and flung her arms around his neck. “Gil, I haven’t seen you in forever!”

Mike glared into at his cup, exasperated. It was nearly empty. He drained it, feeling the liquid burning down his throat, and looked at the line of remaining cups. Should he be sober or drunk? He reached for a cup and took a measured sip.

A few moments later, Gil had returned, and was pouring the fruit juice into the blender. Mike leaned on an empty space on the countertop and stared fixedly for a few moments at the drinks, the surface of each trembling with the beat of the music.

“So, Gil,” he said, trying to keep his voice conversational, even though he was yelling at the top of his lungs, “you’re a senior?”

Mike wondered momentarily if the other man had heard. Then, as he was about to repeat his question, Gil looked up and said, “You’ve seen me somewhere.”

“What?”

“I know. The bookstore. I work there on Fridays. So you saw me today, maybe.”

Mike blinked. “Bookstore? I… don’t go to bookstores.”

“Yeah you do, I’ve seen you. You’re always hanging about the anime section.”

“Actually, I’ve never been there. That’s… probably someone else.”

They said nothing for a moment, before Gil whirled around with a fearfully vacant smile and exclaimed, “Dude, I know where you’ve seen me before!”

Mike stared incredulously at Gil, then the whirring blender, then back at Gil, before shaking his head and leaving the counter in disgust.

If it were not for the buzz in his head, he would probably have left. That, and the fact that it was difficult keeping his eyes off Dan, who was moving with drunken abandon on the dance floor. A while later, after traversing the wall and corners of the main room, Mike found himself in the doorway of a smaller room. It was less crowded than the others, and he could spot three people playing Scrabble on a bed.

Mike stepped over a bean-bag chair, feeling only a bit dizzy. “‘Amble,’” he said, pointing at the board. The three looked up in surprise, two girls and one mousy-looking boy with glasses. “You could do ‘amble’ here.”

“Hey, I could,” one of the girls said. She flashed a rather plump smile. “You’re officially on my team now,” she declared, moving over to give him space to sit.

“I’m just looking around,” Mike said, but he took the seat anyway.

“What’s your name?” the mousy boy asked.

“Mike.” He extended his hand, and the boy shook it almost reluctantly, muttering that his name was Xian. The other girl, Mike learned, was called Janice, and the one he was sitting next to, and who was bumping his shoulder and rubbing her arm unnecessarily against his, was called Mary.

“Funny that you guys are playing Scrabble at a party,” Mike said.

“We’re weird, deal with it,” Xian said shortly.

Mary giggled. She had one of the cups from Gil’s counter in one hand. “Xian’s a bit grouchy. His girlfriend just dumped him.” She reached out to take a letter and ended up brushing Mike’s chest, which, from the way she lingered, informed him that it was far from accidental.

“We’re working things out,” Xian said lugubriously.

Mary giggled again. Mike did not particularly care for her giggling, although he was not opposed to it either. She had pretty eyes, and was a tad on the wrong side of plump, but Mike did not really care for girls being stick-thin. He did not particularly care for any of it at all. But it would not be very hard. He could explore. He could maybe bend over while putting down the letter ‘R’ and have his chin touch her shoulder. Or he could simply edge his arm a bit to the left, moving from neutral to interested.

“Your guys’ turn,” Janice said in a voice that was almost deeper than Xian’s.

“‘Queen,’” Mike pointed. “Or ‘queer.’”

Mary broke into another fit of giggles.

“Hurry, will you?” said Xian.

Mary reached over and took the letters from the stand and began laying them out, slowly. Xian was right; she was being annoyingly slow. The last letter fitted in place, though, before he was aware of it. Perhaps he was more buzzed than he thought.

“Your turn,” Mary said to Xian.

Abruptly, Mike got up. “Sorry guys,” he said, not looking at Mary. “I’ve to go find a friend.”

“Aw, can’t you stay a bit longer?”

“Sorry,” Mike said, as apologetically as he could muster. Mary was pouting, but the other two were concentrating on the board. “Nice meeting you.”

He turned around and wondered how Winston could do it. He was surprised by how hollow he was feeling. Why did he care so much? Maybe Winston was actually bisexual and enjoying it. He wondered, briefly, what Winston’s last name was; his job, where he lived, if he drove to work, took the train, the bus, how often (if at all) he had sex with his wife, how many men there had been before. Mike shook his head; he needed to find Dan to say bye, and then—

Someone fell into him. Mike cursed as his hip banged into the wall. He was stepping away when he recognized the person on the floor.

“Dan?” Mike lowered himself into a crouch. “Hey, Dan, are you all right?” He pulled the other man into a sitting position.

“I’m fine,” Dan muttered. “I need… I need to get back…”

Mike looked around; nobody seemed to have noticed. The beat of the music in the other room was blotting out a bit of his brain every time it pulsed, and Mike was unsure if he himself could manage to walk in a straight line.

“Will Gil let you crash here for tonight?” Mike shouted. Dan’s head lolled back. “Will he?”

The other man’s eyes blinked open. “Gil? We have to go out by four, or he won’t invite us back…” He paused and hiccupped. “I’m not so drunk, I can…”

“Where’s your dorm?” Mike demanded. Dan said nothing for a moment. He had a bit of a stubble that ran over his chin and down his neck, Mike noted blankly. He swallowed, feeling a stirring in his jeans.

“It’s uh… Lincoln…”

Mike frowned. “Shit, that’s the other side of campus.” He paused and tried to ignore the noise, the crowded heat, the warm firmness of Dan’s shoulders under his hands.

He straightened, mind made up. “C’mon, we’re going,” Mike said, and pushed open the door. They stumbled out. “Hey, hey, careful…”

“I’ll teach you… teach you all the important lessons… in life, Mike. I’ll…”

“Yeah,” Mike said, silently thanking God that there was an elevator.

“Everything you need to know… every little detail…”

The elevator door opened with a ring, and Mike staggered in with Dan in tow. The door shut, and he let himself stare. The other man was not even be aware of it, was he? He put a hand on Dan’s arm and wondered if he actually wanted Dan to remember this. Dan lolled his head back. He was still talking, and Mike was memorizing it, so busy committing every inflection of that voice to memory that he forgot to remind himself not to hope.



hi

The reply came a full five minutes later. what’s up

you left your wedding ring at my place

This time, the reply came instantaneously. i thought i left it there. A moment later: can i stop by tomorrow at lunch to pick it up?

sure, Mike replied. do you remember my place?

think so. thanks a lot dude. i really owe you.

no problem.

The ring was a small and tasteful, inlaid with three small diamonds. Mike remembered how it had looked on Winston’s finger: inconspicuous, because it seemed to fit with no doubts of its belonging there.

Mike’s visit home that weekend had felt both too long and too short. He could have stayed Sunday night and woken up early Monday to catch the train back, but he had decided not to. Sleeping in his old room was pretty much the same as sleeping in his new one. Both had blank white ceilings he could stare at while trying to fall asleep. Plus, waking two hours earlier than necessary for the commute was not high on his list of ways to start a week.

He had gone to the basketball courts Saturday afternoon. There had been two or three other guys that he recognized, but not well enough to exchange more than brief hello’s. They had stayed only half an hour or so. Later, while watching a group of high schoolers engage in a half-court game, Mike had been struck by the feeling of being distinctly out of place. He was a college student. Wasn’t he too old to be dribbling a basketball alone on these courts, perhaps pretending to still be in high school? He knew that the college had basketball courts too, but he found himself avoiding them for a reason he could not fathom. No, that was not true. He knew why. He was scared. It was a new place. He had no one to go with. And the regulars were too good.

Standing there, listening to the clinking of a chain from the tetherball pole, he had realized that things had changed. More specifically, he had changed; his world was not the same as it had been. But the changes had not been harmonious. Otherwise, he would not be eating Chinese takeout every night, alone in an increasingly stifling dorm, after having had a fuck with a married man, a stranger, during lunch break.

Saturday night, in the middle of dinner, the telephone had rung. Steve had gotten it. “Mom,” he had announced, “it’s Dad.”

His mother’s face had settled into an all-too-familiar grim expression as she took the phone. “Greg,” she said. “You were supposed to call last night.” She added, without a pause, "Mike’s here,” and handed him the phone.

“Hey Dad,” Mike had said, getting up.

Hey Mike! His father had sounded perky, alert. He always sounded that way, to which Mike could only make himself sound bored and detached in response. So how’s school been?

“It’s not bad,” Mike had said. He had glanced at his mother, who had been staring intently at the phone. “Classes are okay.”

Made yourself any new friends?

Mike had barely checked his sigh of exasperation. “Dad, this isn’t third grade.”

His father had laughed. It was an easy sound, deep and comfortable, but with a hint of age at the edges that spoke of a knowing maturity. You can tell me anything, the laugh seemed to say. No wonder his father was such a good businessman, Mike thought. Although, he had to remind himself, his father wasn’t, not really.

Oh yes. It seems like yesterday that I walked you to school.

Mike had frowned. It was usually his mother who did the walking back when he was still of walked-to-school age, but he did remember excitedly asking his father to take him on the rare instances that his father was not in Europe and school was still in session.

Are all your classes okay?

“They’re all right, I guess.”

Mm. You sound mighty enthusiastic. Well, you know you can always give me a call if you want, right? I remember college. It was a pretty tough time, being away from home.

“Yeah,” Mike had said, refraining from adding that he home was only an hour’s train ride away. “I’m okay though.”

Sure you are. Call me if there’s ever anything you want to talk about, okay?

And get the voice mail message? Mike had thought. It was one of the things his mother complained about, and one that Mike could not help agreeing with. He knew, of course, that with important things, his father would respond immediately. They all knew that. Only, nothing bigger than an ear infection or a bout of flu had ever come up.

“Yeah, I will,” Mike had said.

Good. I might

“Mike,” his mother had said, “when you’re done, hand the phone to me, please.”

busy, though I might be sealing a good deal in Frankfurt

“Dad,” Mike had interrupted, “Mom wants to talk to you.”

There had been a pause. All right. Put her on. Mike had been careful not to scrutinize his father’s tone as he handed the phone to his mother.

“Yes,” his mother had said, “yes, he did. Why didn’t you call last night like you said?” She had gotten up and begun walking swiftly to her room. “Mike was home already. No, it doesn’t matter, you said—” The door had shut, and Mike had shared a glance with Steve in the uncomfortable silence that followed.

Steve, though, had stood and picked up his bowl, still half full with rice.

“Where’re you going?” Mike had asked. “You’re not supposed to leave the table without finishing.”

“Well, that’s exactly what I’m doing,” Steve had shot back in a voice more hostile than Mike could remember in a long time.

“Hey, this is a family dinner!” Mike had snapped. “You know how Mom cares about these.”

“Yeah, family dinner,” Steve had muttered. He had stopped at the kitchen counter and reached into the refrigerator to take out a Pepsi. “A family dinner with half the parents gone.”

Mike had frowned. Steve had never been like this. He had been quiet. They had all always been quiet. They had always let things go by in silence. “What’s eating you?”

Steve had shut the refrigerator door with more force than necessary. “Mom thinks Dad’s having an affair in Germany with some blonde Swiss bombshell.”

“What?”

“I snuck up once and heard her yelling at him over the phone.”

Mike had stared at Steve’s retreating back, his mouth feeling suddenly dry. “You shouldn’t be eavesdropping on other peoples’ conversations!”

“You know what, Mike?” Steve had called before slamming his door shut. “Fuck you.”

Mike had gritted his teeth. For a moment, he had considered stalking into Steve’s room and giving his brother a good talking to. It might still work; he was still taller than Steve, and though Steve was bulkier, it was probably all fat. But as he clenched his fist and tensed, he had been unable to tear himself away from the lonely silence.

The realization of their mother’s unhappiness had come to Mike in upsetting lurches over the years. He had known for a long time his parents were not happy. But his father, having an affair? He did love her, didn’t he? And even if he did not love her they way he had when they first got married (he knew they had loved each other then—his mother had this smiling look whenever she mentioned it), at least he cared about their family enough not to do something like that—didn’t he? Mike ground his teeth together: typical of Steve to snoop around like that, listening to his mother’s conversations. But it was true that their parents hardly saw each other—only about a week every two months. And Mike could understand the riddling need for human contact, even if it meant nothing at all, was only an empty half-hour of sex.

A leaden, almost numb feeling replaced his anger. His mind had gone to the small gold band that was lying in his drawer in campus, and he had looked down at his hands. They had seemed suddenly unfamiliar.

His mother had frowned when she had reappeared a few moments later. “Where’s Steve?”

“He went to eat in his own room,” Mike had replied, and managed to muster a genuinely concerned tone. “Shouldn’t he be having dinner with us?”

His mother had sighed and proceeded to scoop another spoonful of asparagus onto his plate. “Don’t bother about him.”

Mike had stared down at the asparagus.

“Aren’t you hungry?” his mother had said, nodding her head at the dishes that suddenly seemed to Mike’s mortified eyes to be nothing more than a flimsy sham. “These are your favorite.”

“I know,” Mike had muttered. “Thanks, Mom.” Hs mother had smiled and returned to her meal, and the questions on the tip of Mike’s tongue now seemed to fill his mouth with sand. But as another moment passed, he knew he could not ask them, no matter how badly he wanted to, not after what he himself had done and, worse, was still doing.

The afternoon was a hot one. Mike was watching from his dorm window as Winston hurried down the street. Maybe he was not hurrying, and that was just his normal pace, Mike thought. Winston seemed to be the sort of person to take large strides while walking. He was wearing a similar outfit to the one he had worn at their first meeting, and he looked to be carrying something. Half a minute later, Mike heard a knock on the door.

“Hey,” he greeted.

“What’s up?” Winston said, stepping inside with a small smile and without waiting for an invitation. “I’ve brought something I thought you might like.”

“Oh,” Mike said. It was a six-pack of beer. “Uh, thanks. You really didn’t have to do this.”

Winston went to the small refrigerator, opened it, and put the six-pack inside, but not before taking a bottle for himself. “Your place is pretty hot,” he muttered, and slipped off his blazer.

Mike licked his lips, feeling suddenly nervous. He went to his desk and opened the drawer, but not before he felt Winston put a hand on his back.

“Here’s your ring,” Mike said, after clearing his throat.

Winston grunted. He took the ring from Mike’s hand and put it on the desktop. “Thanks. You’ve no idea how panicked I was.” He put a hand on Mike’s shoulder and traced upwards to cup the side of his neck.

“Shouldn’t you—put it on?” Mike said, and stepped away. He watched Winston’s face blank momentarily before settling into a frown.

“What’s the matter?”

Mike found it difficult to meet the other man’s eyes. “Nothing,” he muttered, “it’s just that… don’t you think we shouldn’t be doing this?”

The wooden look on Winston’s face made Mike wish acutely that he were anywhere but here, that the heat would gather into a oven-like opening and suck him through. “Did something happen?”

“You’re married,” Mike said, wincing inwardly at how accusing he sounded. “Does your wife know?”

“You weren’t so concerned last week.”

“I had time to do some thinking over the weekend,” Mike snapped. It was on the tip of his tongue to apologize for being terse, but the words seemed somehow tangled up in the heat and the confusion in his mind.

“I see,” Winston said. His voice was inscrutable. “Well. That’s fine.” A silence. “You’re right, of course.” Mike concentrated on staring at the bed sheets. They shifted; Winston had stood, set the beer on top of the desk, and shrugged on his blazer. There was a pause, as though both of them were waiting for something. Mike looked up at the last possible moment: Winston’s face, too, was unreadable, fixed in a serious expression that could have been anything. Then he pulled open the door and strode out, shutting it behind him with a quiet thud.

The rest of the day passed in a daze. For once Mike decided to start his problem set early, instead of on the night before it was due; he tore into it with a ferocity that surprised even himself. It was perhaps a mistake to finish so early. There was nothing left to do during dinner and afterwards.

He fiddled idly with the beer bottle. When Winston had left, Mike had half expected the other man to grab the six pack before he left. It was the small, spiteful thing Mike thought he himself might have done. But Winston had not. And now, it felt wrong to drink what the other man had bought.

Another moment of hesitation. Then Mike pulled open his drawer, took out the cheap Swiss army knife his father had given him a few Christmases ago, and pried off the cap. He put the bottle to his lips and drank swiftly, until he could feel the beginnings of a buzz work its way through his mind. He set the bottle aside and moved his mouse, waking his computer.

He hesitated some more before sending the message. hi

The reply came in less than a minute. hi

Mike glanced down to where his fingers were hovering over the keys. He had only a very vague idea of what he wanted to say; or rather, he knew he wanted to say something. But what? That even though they were having an adulterous affair that he had called off once already, Mike actually did not want to stop? He frowned and tried to untangle the mess in his head. The beer probably would not help. He decided to take another swig.

Another message came after the pause. what’s up?

Mike put the bottle down and settled his fingers on the keys. There was probably no use trying to hammer his feelings into articulate words. i've been thinking about what I said to you today

There was a pause. yeah?

i still think it’s wrong, what we’re doing He stopped moment and changed the last words: what we did

is that all you want to tell me?

no. Mike frowned. Now what?

you want me to go fess up to my wife?

Mike rolled his eyes. no… Although it would be a good idea, he thought. but im sorry for freaking out on you, and do you want to meet up again next week? He stared at his own words for a moment. Then, before Winston could say anything else, he pressed enter, and waited.

so you changed your mind again?

i still think it’s wrong.

He paused, trying to think of something to add, but Winston sent a message before he could continue. well what else is new?

Mike bit his bottom lip, waiting.

so why do want to keep doing it?

Mike hesitated. i dunno He wondered what his mother would think if she knew what he was doing. He wondered what his brother and his father would think. It was not something he wanted to imagine. In fact, it was unimaginable. He was almost glad at that moment that he had no friends who would care enough to snoop, or whose opinion he cared about more than the general regard. He paused at that, and wondered what Dan would think.

Then, is it the sex? followed by a flirtatious smiley face.

Mike grinned, smothering his laughter out of habit. it’s good, but it’s not that He hesitated and typed, i think you’re a good guy, and stopped to analyze what he had written, suppressing the desire to delete it because it was so stupid: he had hardly known Winston for longer than an hour. Then, after some more hesitation, he typed, and you were fun to hang out with. He pressed enter.

He waited, looking at what he had written. Fun to hang out with. He supposed that was a good enough substitution for the sad and rather pathetic truths he really wanted to say: that he felt less lonely, that he could—was willing—to suspend his moral disbelief and just touch another person’s skin, feel the warmth of another body lying next to him.

The response came a few moments later. i should feel flattered

i can understand if you don’t want to, Mike typed. It would not be so surprising, he thought, considering that he was more or less being an evasive hypocrite.

i need to think about it, but let’s set to meet next monday, same time.

sure, Mike replied.

g2g see u

see you, Mike typed, but before he could send, Winston had signed out. It was rather abrupt, Mike thought, but it was probably because someone else was coming to use the computer. Winston’s wife, for example.

He wondered what she looked like, what her name was, if she might somehow be twice his age and three times as fat, with a name like Malificent and warts the size of Texas. She probably was not, though. She was probably just as much a wife as Winston was a husband, except for a few, small, crucial details.

(c) 2010 corvus; all rights reserved
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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An all to familiear story. It is a good story. I suspect some surprises are in store for Mike. He has issues. Why look for an older man. Is he really married? You got me guessing. Which to me indicates a really good story.

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