Emerging from the darkened alleyway, I slipped my shades over my eyes to help dampen the intensity of the glare coming off the streetlights and oncoming headlights speeding down Cobbler Dr. At just shy of midnight, the weekend scene was coming alive in Dewhurst Point’s downtown area. With the college campus only a few blocks away, it was a popular area on a Friday night. Multiple bars decorated both sides of the street along with late night food vendors who catered to alcohol-induced munchies until long after the bars closed.
My destination was on the corner, set back off the street to accommodate the patio area which would be set up for use once the warmer weather arrived. Perhaps in a few weeks, they would pull the tables and chairs from storage and open it up. In Southern Ontario, the end of April was still too cool for most people to spend the evening drinking on the patio. Us Canadians had thick skin—to a point.
Dance music pulsed through the open doors of Bottoms Up as a small group of college kids headed inside. I caught the door before it closed and slipped in behind them, nodding a greeting to Jimmy, the door bouncer, before scanning the crowd.
Bottoms Up was the smaller of the two gay bars in the point, and the one I preferred for various reasons. It was familiar. The lighting was extremely minimal and never changed regardless of what special show might be going on. And Krew was there.
The set up was simple. The room was large and square with walls decorated in neon signs and an eclectic assortment of art. The bar sat center in the room, surrounded by stools on all sides. Fairy lights were draped around a wooden lattice that acted as an indoor cabana over its top. Tables were set up around the outside of the room’s perimeter, and there was a small stage on the farthest wall from the door which accommodated the few shows they might bring in. There was no dance floor, per se, so that in itself kept the vast majority of party-goers away. The club down the road was the better choice for such extravagances.
I chose a vacant stool on a mostly empty side of the bar and scanned the patrons. About two dozen people mingled about at that hour, mostly college students but also a few older couples and singles.
Rigger, one of Bottoms Up’s regular bartenders, caught my eye first, and his face split into a grin before he called out with a melodious flare to another guy behind him.
“Krew, baby, yo man is here.”
Giving him the finger only encouraged him to laugh and blow me a kiss before he returned to mixing drinks.
Rigger was the definition of extravagant. With his black hair, radiant blue eyes, and petite frame he caught a lot of attention. The turn-off for me was when he pushed his gay card beyond the limits. Too much hip swinging, lip smacking, and wrist waving for me. What was worse, lately, he’d been encouraging Krew to act the same. Krew was bad enough without the extra help.
I scanned for my best friend. Krew was chatting with a small group of guys when Rigger called out. He glanced over his shoulder and browsed the crowd until he laid eyes on me. Scowling in his direction did nothing more than earn me an eye-roll which further grated my nerves—much to Krew’s amusement I was sure. There were only a small number of people in my life who could get away with teasing me without recourse. Krew was one of them. Rigger… was lucky there was a bar between us.
He finished serving the group and ended their conversation before tipping a glass to the tap and filling my standard pint of ale. His ordinarily sandy brown hair was bleached out, long on top and cut short on the sides. It was styled sleek with gel in a perfect sweep off his forehead. His nose was pierced, and his dark brows were sculpted to perfection. He may have been small with fair skin and delicate features, but his personality was larger than life. Anyone who met him for the first time was reeled in immediately by his charm and winning smile.
Once my mug was full, he strutted in my direction with a quirk in his lip that said a whole lot without saying anything at all. His hips swayed—thanks again, Rigger—and the tight black jeans and form-fitting T-shirt he wore showed off his slim, lightly muscled frame. Many eyes were on his assets, and he knew it. Krew loved the attention and soaked it up to the fullest extent. He was a flirt and one of Bottoms Up’s best bartenders. The man could live on his tips alone. He knew how to work the position in his favor any day of the week, no matter who he served. Only Krew could equally schmooze good tips from a fifty-year-old straight guy having a midlife crisis who’d decided he was bi-curious and a pair of lesbian lovers who had zero interest in dick. He was just that good.
“Look what the cat dragged in.” He slid my beer toward me and leaned on the bar, balancing his chin on his folded hands and giving me his award-winning fuck me eyes. I’d fallen for them plenty of times to know.
“Why do you never set that fucker straight?”
Krew puckered his lips and batted his long lashes. “Aww, baby, you don’t like him thinking we’re an item, do you?”
“We’re not an item.”
Krew clutched his heart dramatically. “Ouch… my ass disagrees, girlfriend.”
I glared without response which earned me yet another eye-roll before he turned his head to peer over his shoulder. “Rig, honey, Rory doesn’t like it when you call me his man.”
Rigger waved him off with a laugh and immersed himself in conversation elsewhere as he continued to serve drinks. This was the kind of shit I put up with all for a night out.
“You suck,” I said as I tipped my mug to my mouth.
“Fucking right I do, bitch, and you’ve never complained.” Krew studied me a minute with a knowing gaze. “Everything all right?”
Things were never all right when I showed up at Bottoms Up, and Krew knew it. I didn’t have to answer his question or even look him in the eye for him to see the inner turmoil trying to drown me. We may not have been friends for long, but he knew me better than most. I’d spent over four years isolated and alone before Krew fell into my life two years back.
“It is what it is. I’ll deal.”
It wasn’t the answer he wanted, but it was the only one he’d get. I wasn’t accustomed to talking about my feelings and he knew it, regardless of the effort he put in trying to make me share.
With his lips pursed, he reached across the bar and lowered my shades a fraction. I reactively squinted and batted his hand away, catching them before they clattered to the ground.
“What are you doing?”
“What do you need, sugar? Company? I know a bad night when I see one.”
It was a humiliating thing for me to admit, and he knew it. I swigged my beer and cut my eyes to scan the room before subtly nodding. Rigger glanced over, observing our interactions before wiggling his brows like the irritating fuck he was. I pinned him with a look of disdain, but I couldn’t intimidate him any longer. He and Krew were good friends. He knew our arrangement and liked to fuck with me whenever he thought he could get away with it.
Krew’s fingers snagged the back of my head, and he massaged them along my scalp, drawing my attention back. His smile was golden and shone out his green eyes. He was gorgeous, and I wondered frequently why he bothered putting up with me rather than finding himself a real guy. When I’d brought it up in the past, he’d laughed it off and told me he was too young for that shit. Locking onto one man was not his style.
“Are you hanging out?” he asked, fingers moving methodically down from my head to my neck. I closed my eyes, enjoying the relaxing sense of his touch. Krew loved my hair and frequently ran his fingers through it. I was his firecracker with flaming red hair, longer on the top and shaved all around. It was one of about a million pet names he used on me. I was convinced he had some kind of problem with first names.
“Just for a couple.”
“I can be there at around three, if you’d like.”
I nodded again and pulled his hand off me, instinct insisting I maintain our boundaries. “Enough. No wonder Rig fucks with me. I don’t need him thinking more shit and running his mouth.”
Krew pushed off the bar and laughed as he shook his head. “Relax, Rig is just jealous. You know he just wants his piece, too.”
“Tell him to dream on. Now get lost. Don’t you have customers to serve or something?”
I pushed my glasses in place and stared at the amber liquid in my mug, refusing to hold Krew’s gaze. I couldn’t rattle him, and his smirk burned into the top of my head as he bounced away. Once he was busy with the other customers, I spared him some lingering attention. My dark shades disguised my eyes enough I could enjoy staring at his perky ass without being obvious.
On occasion, I earned myself odd looks from other patrons. Who wore sunglasses at night in an already dark environment? What kind of a freak was I? If I caught those mocking stares, I was quick to challenge them without words. A steady, unwavering glare would mostly have them backing down and changing their tune.
I wasn’t a big guy by any means. My natural slender frame was resistant to packing on weight or bulking up with massive amounts of muscle, but over the years, I’d managed to tone myself to a degree that I could hold my own if necessary. If I wasn’t sporting my black leather jacket, my arms were covered in tattoos which aided in the whole “don’t fuck with me” persona.
For the most part, I was left alone. Regulars at Bottoms Up knew to keep their distance. I went frequently enough the bartenders all knew me by name, and they also knew enough not to ask questions. Krew was among the small handful of people with any knowledge of my past, and I was sure I had him to thank for the lack of inquiry among staff.
The beer went down easily as I scanned the bar and listened to the music pounding through the speaker system. People watching entertained me. I’d spent my entire life never quite fitting in but didn’t really know why. Popularity was a foreign concept and one I’d never quite sorted out. Some days, it seemed predetermined, like you were either born a people person or you weren’t. I wasn’t. I’d been fooled once, but never again.
Over the past six years, I’d become a lot more observant of people and the way they interacted with one another. It astounded me how their cruel nature was primarily hidden behind a façade of friendship. Groups of college kids could seem to be solid but send the right person off to buy the next round or wait until they ventured to the washroom and people’s true nature shone through. It made me fucking sick. People were two-faced liars ninety percent of the time. For that reason, I had few people in my life I trusted.
After a half-dozen beers, I shoved back from my seat and waved Krew over, so I could square away my tab. It was nearing one-thirty in the morning, and the crowd was thicker than I preferred. It was time to depart.
I tossed enough money down to cover my tab and shoved an extra twenty down the edge of Krew’s pants as I leaned in and whispered, “Can you grab me some smokes on your way over?”
“No problem, sugar. I’ll see you shortly.” His fingers found my hair again, and he planted a kiss on my temple before I could shoo him off. It earned him a scowl which earned me—you guessed it—another eye-roll.
“Later, Rory,” Rigger called from across the bar.
I waved as I weaved my way through the congestion to the front entrance. Jimmy slapped me on the back on my way out, and I mumbled a parting word to him as well. Out in the street, the traffic had calmed. When the bars closed in thirty minutes, it would be bursting with foot-traffic and taxis. People could debate nighttime was tranquil and quiet, but that all depended on the hour and where you chose to wander. Over the past six years, I’d become familiar with dark-o’clock and knew the ins and outs better than anyone else.
I lived within walking distance from Bottoms Up and Dewhurst’s downtown area, on the tenth floor of an apartment building which was saddled up beside the water’s edge on Harbor Avenue. The view from my balcony was breathtaking. On clear nights, the stars over the river were countless, and the moon glistened off the water’s surface.
When I entered my apartment, I left the door unlocked for Krew and wandered through the darkness to the kitchen without bothering to turn on a light. The fridge was illuminated by the dimmest bulb available for its size, and I’d striped it out with a blue Sharpie years ago, bringing the brightness down a few pegs, so it was at a more tolerable level. I snagged a beer and relocated to the balcony while I waited for Krew to finish work.
The wind coming off the water was nippy, but I ignored it, determined to enjoy the fresh air regardless. I’d spent too many months stuck indoors due to weather, I was done with that shit. My life was lonely enough without the added obstacle of winter hibernation. I had few joys in my life anymore, so I took what I could get when I could get it.
At a quarter after three, I heard someone enter the apartment and waited while Krew came and found me. It was another few minutes before he pulled open the sliding balcony door and poked his head out. With a beer in one hand and the other shoved deep in his jacket pocket, he glanced out across the river while hovering in the open doorway, body rigid against the wind.
“It’s cold as shit out here. What the fuck are you doing freezing your nads off?”
“It’s not that bad. Do you have my smokes?”
He withdrew his hand from his pocket and tossed me two packs and a new lighter. I tore the cellophane from one, pulled out a cigarette, and held it between my lips while I threw the packs on the small table beside me. When I remained sitting and lit up, Krew relented and came outside. He flopped onto the adjacent chair and kicked his sock-covered feet onto my lap as he leaned back and closed his eyes.
We sat in companionable silence as I smoked through most of my cigarette. Eventually, Krew cracked an eye and tapped me with a foot to draw my attention.
“Do you have a list for me? I’m doing some running around on Sunday, and I can grab whatever you need.”
I ashed into the tray beside me and blew a wisp of smoke out the side of my mouth away from him. “I had groceries delivered Wednesday. I’m doing all right. Maybe a case of beer.”
“For sure. Text me if you think of anything else.”
Silence resumed, and Krew sipped his beer before closing his eyes again. Despite his complaints about the temperature, we stayed outside long after I was done smoking, neither of us speaking while we finished our drinks.
When Krew tipped the last mouthful down his throat, he dropped his legs back to the ground and stretched his long body, hands in the air as he arched his back and yawned. The front of his shirt pulled up revealing his milky white skin by his navel. It drew my eye and stirred desire alive in my pants. Krew caught my diverted attention and winked as he stood.
“Come on, sugar, my ass needs some attention, and by the look of it, you could use a distraction.”
That was what I liked about Krew. There were no preliminaries, no awkward exchanges or expectations, and no emotions complicating anything. We had a solid friendship which included a good fucking from time to time, and we were both cool with it.
I followed him into the house and dropped my smokes and empty beer bottle on the coffee table. He was halfway to the bedroom and leaving a trail of clothes behind him when he called out, “Fucking Rig went home with that Vincent guy tonight, can you believe it?”
“Vincent who? Do I know him?” I asked as I trailed behind.
In my bedroom, Krew clicked on the bedside lamp for his own benefit since he hated the complete darkness. It contained a dim yellow bulb under a dark shade that radiated an extremely low level of light; one I could tolerate. He was naked by that point and flopped down on the bed, rolling to his back and folding his hands behind his head. His long slim body and protruding erection made my mouth water and made me harder still.
“Yeah, you know, the guy who wears those fedoras all the time and dresses all nineteen fifties.”
“Isn’t he fucking old as shit?” I asked as I unzipped my pants and kicked them off along with my socks. My shirt remained in place. It was non-negotiable, and even though Krew knew and understood why, it didn’t make me any more comfortable being completely on display. Self-conscious didn’t even begin to describe my issues.
“What the hell do you call old as shit? The guy is probably in his forties. That ain’t old, sweetheart. He’s fucking loaded, and you know Rig has always wanted his very own sugar daddy. He wasn’t about to turn down that offer, regardless of the guy’s age. Besides, he’s hot as hell. I’d let him have my ass if he asked.”
“Yeah,” I mumbled as I searched up a condom and lube in the bedside table. “He can fucking line up.”
I hadn’t intended my comment to have an edge to it or for it to be interpreted the wrong way, but Krew chuckled and quirked a brow as he propped himself on his elbows.
“Oohh, bitch, are you jealous? Do not let Rig hear that, he will eat it up. There will be no saving our non-relationship status.”
I tossed the supplies on the bed beside him and nudged his legs apart, fitting myself in between. “How about you shut up and do something useful with your mouth.”
Since the first time I’d brought Krew back to my apartment, we’d had a mutual understanding that neither of us were interested in anything more than a casual, commitment-free fuck from time to time. Our friendship had developed afterward, but rules were strictly adhered to. I was not that guy, and neither was he.
Krew knew better than to keep talking along that line of conversation. He pulled himself upright and nuzzled his face into my crotch as he squeezed my ass cheeks; kneading them and dragging me closer.
I threaded my fingers through his too perfect hair and guided his mouth to my swelling erection. He gave amazing head, and the anticipation of gliding into his warm mouth had my skin on fire.
He traced his lips along my shaft, leaving a wet trail with his tongue as he dragged it along the sensitive underside.
“Don’t be a fucking tease. Just suck it and get it hard and ready.”
I knew Krew ordinarily preferred a good hard fucking to exchanging blow jobs, but there was something about his mouth that was hard to ignore. In the next moment, he took me to the back of his throat, and I tightened my grasp on his hair, gasping at the intensity of the sensation.
“Fuuuuuck…that’s what I’m talking about.”
He didn’t mess around after that and spent a few solid minutes devouring my dick as he got me hard as granite. When he pulled off, he slipped the condom into my hand and maneuvered himself onto his hands and knees, wiggling his ass in the air and grinning over his shoulder.
“Give it to me good and hard, baby.”
“You’re such a fucking slut.”
“But right now, I’m your fucking slut, so quit complaining.”
I made quick work of suiting up and coating myself with lube. Krew didn’t like a whole lot of prep, so after minimal attention, I lined up and buried myself balls deep in one quick thrust.
“Ah, fuck, yes!” he cried.
He dropped his head to the mattress and pressed back, seating himself as deep as he could get. It was exactly the distraction I needed. Too many hours and days alone left me at the mercy of my mind, and it was dangerous.
I only waited long enough to ensure he was comfortable before all bets were off. Then, I fucked him mercilessly, pounding him into the mattress until we both found our release. We collapsed on the bed side by side, panting and sweating from exertion.
Krew rolled to his back and followed my stare to the ceiling as his chest heaved. “Fuck… that was… amazing.”
I couldn’t have agreed more, but I remained silent as my body came down off its high. Savoring the few minutes of peacefulness inside my mind was necessary. They were few and far between lately. The all-consuming blanket of dread would be back, and it would cloak and suffocate me once again. Every day was a battle, and I was getting tired of fighting. What was once one problem had become many, and there was no end in sight.
After a while, Krew moved upright and sat on the edge of the bed. He plucked his clothes off the floor and began dressing. I slid off the other side and walked around to find my pants which had ended up on the far side of the room somehow. With my back turned, retrieving them from the floor, I felt Krew’s searing gaze, and I scowled over my shoulder, diverting his attention. But he couldn’t hide the look of remorse fast enough. Even after two years, he still got that damn look in his eyes when I allowed him to see too much skin. We really needed to keep the fucking light off when we fucked.
“Don’t go there.”
Without wasting another minute, I shuffled into my jeans and yanked them up my legs in irritation as I ducked out of the room. One fucking time. One fucking breakdown in front of Krew was all it had taken to dissolve the barrier I worked so hard to keep in place with almost everyone. There were times I considered it a good thing because it meant I had nothing to hide from him any longer and could be myself, but at other times, I caught sight of the man who felt sorry for me and pitied me, and I regretted ever having opened my mouth.
In the living room, I pulled out a smoke and lit it before venturing into the kitchen to find another beer. The darkness was back. Ironic how I couldn’t stand the way it felt as it gnawed at my insides, yet, in the outside world, darkness was my saving grace and the only place I felt truly comfortable.
I cracked the beer and took a hefty swallow. At the rate I was going, I’d be hard-pressed to get any work done later that night, and I had a few projects reaching deadlines which I couldn’t in good conscience put off any longer.
Krew wandered from the bedroom a few minutes later and found me propped against the counter in the kitchen. He stole my beer from my hand and helped himself to a sip as he leaned beside me.
“I found a place you could try.”
“Stop. Don’t fucking do this again.”
I snatched my beer back only to have him pluck the smoke from my hand. The guy only ever smoked when he drank and then complained the following day that his mouth tasted like an ashtray.
He drew hard, lighting up the end as he squinted through the pull. Holding the smoke in his lungs, he passed the cigarette back and shook his head disregarding my attempt to curb the conversation.
“It’s not a psychologist. I know you can’t afford that shit. It’s a counseling center down on Pullman Dr. In their advertisement, they claim they offer twenty-four-hour services.”
I pushed off the counter and returned to the living room and my ashtray. For as much as I liked Krew, his persistence in getting me into therapy was annoying as hell.
“I’ll get you the number. You can at least check it out. Who knows, maybe they can help.”
I dropped down on the couch and kicked my feet up on the coffee table. “Yeah, twenty-four-hour service in a brightly lit building. How is that going to help me exactly?”
“I don’t know. Maybe they do house calls.”
I snorted and passed him an incredulous look. He’d lost his mind.
“What? They might. You don’t know.”
It didn’t matter where I’d looked in the past, it was the same everywhere. Psychologists cost a fortune. Psychiatrists, although covered under our provincial insurance, had waiting lists longer than my arm. As for nighttime house calls, it was like I was from a different dimension, and no one seemed to understand. Thanks for nothing. People like me weren’t supposed to get help, we were supposed to suffer until we got fed up enough we put a bullet through our brains. Believe me, I’d considered it more than once.
Krew flopped on the couch beside me and declined when I offered him another hull off my smoke. That was the end of the conversation. Krew knew as well as I did that the likelihood of what he suggested was slim to nil. Our city wasn’t equipped to deal with the likes of me. And I wasn’t prepared or able to uproot my life and relocate to a larger city where there might be more options.
When my beer and smoke were finished, Krew nodded to the blank television. “Wanna junk out on a movie? They added a shit load of new thrillers on Netflix.”
Krew loved scaring the piss out of himself, and ordinarily, I got a kick out of watching him. However, my mood had plummeted again, and I wasn’t feeling it. I shook my head as I stood. “Knock yourself out. I have to get some work done. Deadlines.”
The heat of Krew’s gaze followed me as I went to my computer desk in the corner and flipped the power button. The monitor had a yellow screen protector that kept the intensity of the display to a minimum. Even so, I had the brightness turned down to a more tolerable level, so it didn’t affect me in any adverse way.
Many years back, I’d taken up web design as a personal home business. I’d become quite successful, and the number of project offers I’d had lately were more than I could handle. It had required me to become picky and to work longer hours. Where bills and rent were concerned, it was a good little business. I certainly didn’t live the high life, but I’d managed to get by.
I pulled up my current project and stared without seeing as the words and colors all blended together. The sedation caused by my recent orgasm was long dissolved, and Krew’s lingering suggestion rang through my head unwanted. I knew I was fucked up in the worst way, but chasing down help and begging doctors to do something was getting old. If the system didn’t give a fuck about me, why should I give a fuck about me?
Lost in my head, I didn’t notice Krew come up behind me. Fingers climbed my neck and scratched through my hair, massaging into my scalp. I dropped my chin to my chest and allowed the attention. It was good but made me feel hollow at the same time. Krew was the best friend I had, but nowhere in my heart could I manage to make it anything more than what it was. We didn’t fit together like that. However, in those rare moments when he recognized my need for a tender touch and delivered, it grew an ache in my chest. The reality of my situation was; I would likely never know what it meant to be in love. A “friends with benefits” arrangement was probably the best I’d ever know.
“You gonna be okay, sugar?”
“Yeah,” I mumbled as his fingers slowed their journey and eventually fell to my shoulders.
“Okay. I’m taking off then. I work tomorrow night, so I gotta get some sleep.”
It was after five in the morning, and although Krew had crashed at my place on occasion in the past, he wasn’t in the habit of staying over. I wasn’t the best company most days, and I refused to share my bed with him outside fucking. Apparently, my couch was only so comfortable.
I spun around to face him, and he moved back so I could stand. “Let me grab you some cash.”
“Case of beer? Is that all you need?”
“Maybe a few more packs of smokes,” I said as I searched up some money from my stash in a drawer in the kitchen.
“No problem. I’ll come by Sunday night and drop it off. Text me when you’re awake. I’ll bring breakfast, too.”
I grunted in response and shoved a few twenties in his hand while snaking the other around his body to grab his ass with a smirk. “On that note, we’re fresh outta condoms.”
He chuckled and winked. “Done.”
I swatted one of his perky globes as he walked to the door and found his shoes.
“I’ll text you if I think of anything else.”
“Oh,” he spun back just as he pulled the door open, “one more thing. Can I ask a teeny tiny favor?” He demonstrated how tiny using his thumb and finger.
I frowned, knowing whatever it was, I wasn’t going to like it. “What?”
He tsked and rolled his eyes. “Don’t growl before you know what I’m asking.”
He sighed and fluttered his eyes, playing heavily to his cuteness. It wouldn’t work on me, and he knew it. “Can you watch Samson for a few weeks?”
I blanched and stared, unsure if I’d heard him right.
“Please. They are repainting my apartment. I’m going to stay with Jed for a couple weeks, and he’s allergic to cats.”
“You’re not serious.”
He batted his eyes and pouted his lip, proving just how serious he was.
“Krew, seriously? I don’t know shit about cats. Aren’t you afraid I’ll kill it?”
He huffed and waved me off as though it was the most ridiculous notion. “Cats are easy, babycakes. You just need to feed him every day and clean his litter.”
I curled my nose and stared, waiting for Krew to realize the stupidity of his request and back down. He didn’t. He stared back with the most pathetic look of pleading on his face, and he knew for a fact I couldn’t say no. He never asked favors, and he did everything for me. Without Krew, I struggled. Bad.
“Fine,” I gritted between teeth. “When?”
He beamed and went up on his toes to kiss my cheek which I dodged with a scowl.
“I’ll bring him by Sunday. It’s only for a couple of weeks. Thank you so much.”
It was on the tip of my tongue to tell him he owed me one, but if we were counting IOUs, I was the one who had some serious catching up to do.
Krew was gone in under a minute, and the encroaching darkness I’d been trying to escape from earlier in the night returned. Lately, no matter how occupied I kept my mind, the shadows found their way in, surrounding and suffocating me without warning.
I scanned my apartment, a decent-sized one-bedroom with an open concept living space and separate kitchen. It sat in darkness most of the time unless Krew came by and insisted on turning on the few low lights I would allow. Since he was gone, I went around and clicked them off again. Morning was approaching, so I pulled the heavy, blackout curtains over all the windows and made sure they sat flush around the edges so minimal sunlight could find its way inside.
Once I was satisfied the coming day wouldn’t disturb me, I returned to my computer to work for a couple of hours before bedtime.