The image in the mirror reassures me, my olive skin and sharp contours. After thirty-five, it gets harder to keep yourself trim and tight. Barker had seemed pleased, his hand on my thigh moments after I joined him on the couch. I strip down to my lime bikini briefs. I start to stiffen. I think about Jared back home in Dallas. He’s left the game, but still thinks it’s hot that men pay me to fuck them. It depends on the man, I remind him.
The moment I shoot up, feeling the Tina pry open my spirit, I get turned on. I fantasize about fucking my trick, Barker. Outside, in the living room, he waits.
As I headed for the bathroom to get ready, he smirked and asked if I remembered his name. Barker must expect a personal approach. He probably wants to watch my face while we fuck. My last trick was an unpleasant quickie with a married man who forbade me from using the towels.
“I know your name.” I’d slipped my silk shirt over my head and let him admire my chest, my abs, my arms. I have a stringy build, but muscled up, you might think I run track. “It’s Water Boy,” I said. “I’m the star quarterback, and you’re the water boy.”
“I wanted to strip you down myself.”
I smiled. “I’ll see what I can do.”
Back in the bathroom, I ease out the syringe, warmth washing over me like a lullaby, and tidy up. I told Barker I had a surprise for him. Neither of us mentioned party favors when discussing my fee and the extra cash required for such a long trip. This little city seems not just one hundred miles away from Dallas but one hundred years before it, too. To better ensure another booking, I mislead the trick into believing that party favors are included in my price. Some time afterwards, of course, I increase my rate, citing problems with my connection. Even if a trick gets suspicious, by the time he snorts or smokes or slams, he’s ready to forgive, especially if I’m naked beside him.
Barker is down to his underwear. Boxer briefs with “I Love Beer” stamped in a pattern among beer steins. Perfect choice for a water boy. We play our parts: great touchdown, man; you been working out; I think you need a shower. Barker insists that he only tops. He’s young, a country boy afraid he’ll split in two if I penetrate him. It’s time to bring out the favors. Otherwise, I’ll have to bend over and think happy thoughts until he gets off.
The damn kid, he thinks it’s cocaine. He snorts one line then another and another. I tell him he might want to slow down, knowing he won’t. My first time snorting wasn’t noteworthy, but no one climaxed harder than me. Barker mentions, happily, that it seems rather strong. Grinning, I tell him he probably needs his dick sucked, and that he’ll feel this way for the next seventy-two hours.
”I wanna suck yours, too,” he says.
“That can be negotiated.”
“This isn’t cocaine, is it?”
“Now I bet you could take on the whole team, huh?” I laugh and tug down his underwear. Barker hasn’t exhausted his football fantasy. What if Coach catches us? You suck off the whole team? Then, as if his family’s future were at stake, he implores me to fuck him.
“Isn’t this shit terrific?” I say.
“I want you to fuck me hard.”
“And we can go for hours.”
“Take me out on the balcony.”
Barker lives in university housing, but the complex resembles ordinary apartments more than dormitories. It’s a couple of days before Thanksgiving. Most of the tenants have already left campus. It’s past midnight. I feel guilty thinking of the poor kid still wired while his grandmother says grace. He drops into a collapsible deck chair and rolls back, hoisting his ankles above his head.
Minor shit aside, he’s a tremendous fuck. Every nerve in him is alive. I feel the current through my skin. I warn him against moaning loudly; not everyone has left the complex. It’s cool and damp, but we work up a sweat. I pound him, and he begs me to do it harder. I keep pounding, and he begs me to never stop. I pound him until the chair smacks against the sliding glass door.
I don’t always like myself, but I appreciate my beauty, the effort it requires. I usually don’t like my tricks. After the hour expires, I find the first graceful exit. But tonight with Barker, I love my job. I’ll walk out with the cash, but he groaned like the whore. Letting him kiss me and pull me into an embrace isn’t smart, but our tongues mingling satisfies me so totally that I forget the money. Barker reminds me. After I take the three hundreds, we kiss again. We laugh. I must leave. I have another trick at noon and promised Jared I’d swing by our townhouse first.
“Thanks for expanding my horizons,” Barker says.
“Be careful. Sober sex might lose its appeal.”
“Nonsense.” Barker flexes his bicep. “Me strong like bull. All man, all the time.”
Outside Tyler, heading west on I-20, I’m again stunned at the land’s emptiness. No wonder meth production exploded out here. This isolation, some families driving forty-five minutes round-trip just to shop at Wal-Mart, helps explain why a hot piece of ass like Barker pays for sex. Closet cases and the proudly effeminate make up a dispiriting percentage of the available men, he told me. On top of that, Barker is waiting out a license suspension after a DUI. He can either beg for sex with a troll or pay for sex with a stud, he said. I respect his attitude but find myself unnerved by its cool pragmatism.
Jared insists on chatting while I empty my satchel, wash up and slip out of whore mode. I buzz about upstairs, and he calls out the usual questions from the living room. How big was he? Did you top or bottom? Did he make you come? And, of course, the all-important question: Think he’ll book you again? I trot down the stairs, refreshed with my hair wet.
“Fuck that,” I say. “I might hire him.”
Jared’s face twists into an odd shape, his jaw dropping slowly. I don’t know why he finds my career so fascinating. He escorted, too, until last year. He insists he’s looking out for me. What if some lunatic tries to slice off my dick and bash my skull like his last trick? He’s had long enough to recover. Problem is, he lost his tolerance for ugly men, and I don’t have enough to share. “Found yourself a down-home homosexual, huh?” We’re both still wired.
“First time doing Tina,” I confess, “and first time being a bottom.”
“No fucking way. I hear that line at the bathhouse all the time.”
“Fine, be a skeptic.” I stretch long and loud, knowing Jared ogles my body. “Even if this kid bangs hundreds of guys, he’ll never forget me.” The high-ceilinged room stills. I shouldn’t have said anything, and now I must explain. “He was happy when I left.”
Jared rises from the couch and steps closer. I know that look. He wants to fuck me, or he wants to burst into tears from the loneliness. It used to seem scandalous, he and I fucking around after a trick, reserving our most choice techniques for each other. Lately, though, our sex life resembles what friends have warned is typical in marriage: the same routines, the stale gestures, the low-watt resentment when your partner won’t even pretend he’s excited. Jared fondles my junk. Part of me hopes I don’t get hard. He may have quit tricking, but he’s still a whore.
* * *
Christmas carols clog the dial as I drive to see Barker again. Two days before, he asked if we should wait until after Christmas. It’s less than a week away. Don’t worry, I said. There was no one expecting me. He’s ecstatic over his grandmother’s Christmas check. He calls it “guilt money” but never says why she feels guilty.
To pass the time, I imagine what Barker and I might do. Most gay men are so ripe with history, the typical hook-up rarely stands out. Frankly, we all fuck the same. Getting to induct a hot, charismatic college boy into the world of dope-sex is a fantasy I can’t deny myself. It would be a while before Barker, even wired, found riding me tedious. It flatters me to know that he truly experiences intercourse with me instead of privately wondering if he could’ve hired another escort for less money.
“Too bad it’s so cold,” Barker says, closing the door behind me. “I still get hard out on the balcony.”
“I’ll get my hands on a sling.” He looks at me strangely, so I explain that it operates much like his collapsible chair, facilitating the same positions.
He laughs, wraps an arm around me. “Add it to my bill.”
“I could be your escort and your mentor.”
“Education can be very expensive.”
I can’t believe I didn’t notice sooner. Pages, a few hundred, of thick white construction paper are pasted on the walls. I peek inside his bedroom and see even more. All different colors shimmer upon them. It could be art. Jared knows better than me how to bullshit those types. Barker squeezes me against his side as I admire his work but won’t look my way. I pat his ass and ask how he got started.
“You never told me how much focus it gives you.”
“No one needs a hard sell.”
He laughs. “I can’t remember how many times I jacked off.”
I’ve stopped paying attention. The miniature paintings bewitch me. They’re nothing you couldn’t see in a third-grade art class, but the sheer volume—I’d been away less than a month!—impresses me. Waiting to come down, I watch porn and surf conspiracy websites. My voice low, as if his mother might overhear, I ask how often he snorts. He tries to smile, mashing his lips together but neglecting the next motion. He darts into the kitchen.
“You know,” I say, “it’s not like booze or weed. You can’t do it every day.”
“I found some people online,” he said. “They help me out.”
“What do they charge?”
Barker manages a full smile, shifting his hips and shoulders. He wants to arouse me. I think about him snorting a line off my hard cock. “It doesn’t matter,” he says. “Grandma came through in the end.”
After slamming in his bathroom and putting away my tools, I call for Barker. The star quarterback needs a shower, I tell him. He’s very, very dirty. I can’t wait for a shower. Like gravy I smother myself with ecstasy, the surest way to overlook this schism in Barker, a shift instigated by me. I tell him, as we cling together in a sweaty clump on the linoleum, that I’m his whore. I tell him to call me that, but he won’t.
Jared is spending the holidays with some guy he met online; I’m waiting for the word boyfriend to be uttered. After hauling baggage to his Honda, he offers me an extra cut of Tina. He doesn’t need it with Biff. He’s a great influence, Jared says. I need one of those. I was happy for him, so I took the dope, figuring it might convince some online stud that all I want for Christmas is some fucking company.
If Barker’s grandmother is any indication, his holidays won’t start until the banks reopen. I try to imagine how— or if— he and I would interact were he not paying for the privilege of my dick. Several escorts have advised me that the key to winning repeat business is to make them forget they’re paying. If you don’t think about the money, neither will they. During the week, I commute to my ‘legitimate’ job at the animal lab and squeeze in three or four tricks with the respectable men returning home. Structuring helps prevent wastes of time. I don’t expect Barker to call on Christmas Eve.
“You’re all by yourself!?!”
“I have half a gram and the largest porn collection in the state.”
“Come see me then.” His voice wavers. “I can’t afford it, but no one should be alone on Christmas.”
In the four years I’ve lived with Jared, he’s never invited me to spend the holidays with him. I suspect he describes me as merely a tenant. My credit’s a joke. Jared’s name graces all the paperwork, the dotted lines. After a little bump, I might get through this conversation without crying.
“Bad idea,” I say. “I can’t pretend we’re something we’re not.”
The line’s silent so long, I assume he hung up.
“No problem,” he chirps, finally, the strain obvious in his voice. “Maybe I’ll see you in a couple of weeks?”
I force a smile, knowing no one sees me. “Have your people call my people.”
“You don’t have to be alone to feel lonely.” At first, I assume it’s meant for someone else. I’ve heard the click before I realize it wasn’t. I think about calling back, but that’s something friends do, and Barker isn’t my friend.
* * *
Driving down the interstate just before the start of February, the balmy weather thrills me. Our only obstacle to repeating our balcony shenanigans is an entire student body navigating the parking lots. Barker will learn soon enough it’s foolish to idealize a first fuck. He calls as I exit the interstate.
“I need you to lay low for a couple of hours.” It doesn’t sound like him. I ask if this is Barker, and he shushes me. Someone’s with him. Affecting a cheery tone, I tell him I’ll be there in half an hour. “No!” he cries. “That’s too soon!”
“What the fuck is going on? Are you already tweaked?”
“I promise I’ll explain. Just give me a couple of hours.”
Crystal meth has capsized more gay men than every bigot and intolerant relative combined. Still, I’ve never seen a man unravel so quickly. I can’t camp out at IHOP while Barker subjects me to a series of delays. I’m familiar with Tweaker Time.
“I have another client, dude. Either I come now or we cancel.”
I listen to Barker think. Barker listens to me listen to him think. It’s the most intimate moment we’ve ever shared.
“Do you mind that someone’s here?” he asks.
“If it’s a threesome you want, just say so.”
“I promise, he’s a decent guy.”
A half-hour later, I sit in Barker’s living room, the same place where his hand grazed my thigh before Thanksgiving. My feet planted wide and hands folded before me, I remind myself that tricks pull all sorts of shenanigans. Fucking is the easy part of the job. A gym-rat, middle-aged man breathes beside me, and I wonder whether I’m expected to suck his cock.
“What’s taking Barker so long?” I ask.
Gym Rat turns his head and grunts. His massive arms fold over his chest. He returns to his sentry pose, irritated. I’m the latest blip on his radar, and I can’t call for Barker without upsetting whatever dynamic he’s established with this dude. Desperate, I offer to load a bowl.
“I sell the poison,” he says. “I don’t do it.”
Neither of us speaks until Barker emerges. He holds a white washcloth over the inside of his elbow. He seems manic, each moment a new stimulus demanding his attention. I’ve known many Dallas men reduced to far worse. Barker is a trick, I remind myself, and if he wants to dive down the drain, my only obligation is to get him off before he drowns.
“Sorry I didn’t introduce you,” Barker says. “My friend keeps a low profile.” When he says friend, I assume he means me, but the apology is directed at Gym Rat. Will Barker’s friend ask why blood runs down his arm? I already know the answer.
Before Gym Rat leaves, Barker straddles him as if he were a rodeo bull. His expression never changes: slack jaw, blank eyes, chapped lips. Even worse is how no one on this earth would blame me for any of this.
We finally fuck after Gym Rat leaves. The kid’s body is loose and rubbery like Silly Putty. I pound harder and harder, hoping I might awaken his desire to exist. That’s an escort’s snake oil: all your problems can be cured by a decent lay. I believed that as a club kid, spreading diseases through downtown Dallas. I try to believe now. I don’t remember ever feeling so exhausted.
“Are you gonna win the big game?” he mumbles, head listing.
He’s doing it for me, not himself. “Only if you suck me.”
“Can the other players watch?”
“As long as they know you’re my boy.”
“Just you, baby, just you…”
I come anyway.
Jared knows not to ask about my trip. His gaze follows me. I open the fridge, knowing I need to eat, but food makes me queasy. I have what’s left of a nice-sized shard in a plastic baggie. The quick snort doesn’t improve my mood. Jared still glares at me, ready for a confrontation. My eyelids droop. I want to exchange my skin. I stumble about, unable to stand still.
Barker only called me baby during the last session, because he forgot my name.
Jared clears his throat. “I’ve been waiting since Christmas to tell you some things.” His voice is clipped and sharp. He crosses his legs, his dearth of masculinity irritating me more than usual. “Biff and I had a talk.” His head jerks to the side, distracted. There’s nothing there.
“He doesn’t even know you were an escort.”
“He does now!” A rueful smile flickers across his face. “Biff and I have a real chance, and I won’t let anyone stand in the way.” He opens his mouth, but says nothing. He does this again. He finally says, “If you won’t quit the scene, I’ll have to evict you.” He recoils as if I were a hot stove. “Biff refuses to live among dope.”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
“Then forget the fucking country mouse and stop tweaking!”
“Why?” I should shut my mouth. This isn’t helping. Then again, I don’t want help. “So you can raid my stash the moment I close the front door?”
“I’ve been sober almost two weeks!”
I lean against the bar, folding my arms over my chest like Gym Rat. It seemed to work well for him. Jared’s scared. He’d be an easy mark in poker, but he’s never gambled in his life. Despite his murky motives, I can’t totally discount his panic. Barker unnerves him. It’s been a long time since I slept with a man I considered a person, not a collection of orifices.
“Barker owes me some money,” I lie. “He was a hundred short at our last session.”
“There’s always Western Union. You don’t need to see him!”
“Why don’t I ask Biff to hold my hand when I cross the street?”
Jared breaks down, the stress of confronting someone—anyone. Biff likely hasn’t figured out how weak he is. I ask for two weeks to wrap things up with Barker. I agree to keep Tina out of the house but make no promises about my life outside. Jared nods, tears streaming. After a moment, he calms himself. With just me as an audience, why make the effort?
* * *
My two weeks are almost gone—only two nights remain. From the moment I made the bargain, I knew I wouldn’t strike out for Tyler until the last moment. If I can’t undo the harm, tricking him into snorting the meth, treating his ravenous sex drive as something natural, then why drive all that way to disappoint him yet again? I don’t call. I chastise myself but still don’t. Barker calls me.
“I only have a hundred-fifty,” He doesn’t sound wired. In fact, he sounds completely reasonable. “I’d wait till I collected more, but I’ll be leaving town before that.”
“Did something happen?”
“The same thing that keeps happening…since I met you.”
“I’m so sorry, Barker. Most guys can handle it, I swear.”
“I’m happy for them.”
I won’t arrive till after midnight, but I venture out anyway. There’s no law against what I did. I never forced Barker to snort. I never encouraged him to use when I wasn’t there.
Of course, Jared never did those things to me, either. Long before he bought the town home and said his house was my house, we arrived in Dallas desperate to run with our fellow queers, as if they all belonged to the same pack. By the night Jared offered to share some Tina given him by a bartender, I realized he’d do anything to please the other guy. That bartender wanted me on all fours, and Jared insisted, quietly and with conviction, that this dope was worth whatever humiliations the bartender might unleash. Like I said, still a whore. I often wonder who initiated him. Jared never mentions that night, and I won’t either. He might convince me, by a simple blowjob, that the bartender was a sweet guy. Jared lies to himself, a lot. Sure, so do most people, but you could vanish forever inside his shadiness.
Barker and I embrace at the doorway. A flood of apologies breaks loose, and I finally grab his shoulders to calm him. He promises Gym Rat will never return, and my heart clenches, knowing I won’t either. He takes my hand and I follow him inside.
“If it hadn’t been Tina, it would’ve been something else,” he says. “School…school is something I just do for other people. Grandma, the list goes on.”
“Are you getting a job?”
“Not much choice. I’m not hot enough to do what you do.”
My cheeks blaze red. I don’t care. Let him see it. “I just wanted to apologize in person for my part in…in…”
Barker pulls away. We’re seated on the couch, like always. He absently pats my knee. The sweetness has left his face. I’ve lost control of this conversation. His eyes narrow and his pointy chin tips low. He’s a fool if he can’t recognize his own beauty. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to look into a mirror and see only glass.
“You didn’t get me hooked on crystal meth.”
“Of course I did. You said you’d never—”
“I tell that story to every escort.”
Barker places a handheld mirror on the coffee table and dumps far more meth than I usually bring. My eyes pop, and Barker can’t hide his delight. He cuts up the crystals, mashes them into powder. For a split second, I catch my reflection in the small circle of glass. I’m relieved to learn that I still exist.
“We had a great time,” he says. “But you should’ve backed off when I asked.” Gym Rat, he tells me, offers myriad “business” contacts. Barker produces a clipped length of straw. The snorting sound stirs me like sunset. I didn’t know how to slam until Jared taught me. Barker glances at me, a look that can mean only one thing.
“You think we’re gonna fuck after this?” I ask, incredulous.
“After that first line, I have no doubt.”
He hands me the straw, and I push back from the table. “I promised I’d quit.”
“A junkie who lies. Lord Jesus, it’s a miracle!”
When my first trick hired me, it was a rush. I know guys who can’t land a piece of ass no matter how many drinks they buy. The stream of men willing to put themselves in debt just to bend over for me…well, of course I love it! I’ve noticed something, though. Just like I put on an act for them, they put one on for me.
I’m wrong: this is all my fault.
The Tina disappears up my nose. I won’t stop until the shit’s gone. Barker and I kiss, and we hate each other and maybe love each other, and I was born for this business, born to fuck. I want his ass right now. He pauses for breath and says he has the hundred and fifty bucks, half my usual fee. Should we settle that now? He’s shrewd to notice that I no longer trust him.
“I’ll pinch the cash between my ass cheeks,” he says. “Fetch it with your teeth.”
I don’t know where I’ll go after we finish. I’m surely not welcome to spend the night. We could stake another claim to the balcony. We both enjoy admiration, it seems. I tell Barker to keep his fucking money. I figure he’ll act offended, at least make a cursory effort to pay me. Instead, he shrugs and grabs my junk, the next moment demanding that I strip. I ask if he wants to watch, already knowing his answer. Technically, at this moment, I’m not a whore. Still, as my head drops into his lap, I insist that Barker call me nothing else.