PART I, Aaron: Lori and Seth were non-romantic apartment mates. A nice two-bedroom in Greenpoint. Seth had taken over a share of a three-bedroom in Williamsburg where Lori had been since college, and when the guy who had the lease moved out it seemed easy enough for the two of them to get a new place together. I’m telling you this because believe me Seth would not have had an easy time even being friendly with Lori otherwise. Seth has been my sound mixer since junior year in college, and there’s no way I could do my music without him. And he is a serious nerd. I like him and all, but if he ever had a date in college or since, I don’t know about it.
Lori is one of those small cute affectionate girls who seems to like everybody. Frankly, she seemed a little out of my league in the cuteness and togetherness departments. I’m your basic struggling singer slash song-writer aspiring to be Rufus Wainwright and working temp most of the time. But hey, I’m not a nerd, and I had one or two dates and at least one serious heartbreak before I graduated. What I’m trying to say is, Lori was on my radar, but as much as I could tell I wasn’t on hers, or not any more than anyone else I knew.
So Seth and Lori have been in their separate bedrooms for a few months, and Seth starts letting slip every now and then that he really likes her. I figure this is kind of inevitable but also kind of sad, because I don’t see any signs of Lori being any more or less affectionate with him than with anyone else we know. After awhile Seth talking about how much he likes Lori just becomes part of whatever Seth talks about whenever we go out for a beer after rehearsal. Pretty much equal time to whatever the best new mixing technique is.
Then there’s my first big concert — thirty friends, family, and supporters in a downstairs Williamsburg lounge and in the break there’s Lori next to me at the bar, all Your music is amazing and you’re so nice and let’s spend more time together. Which is fine. It’s funny, Jack, an older guy who’s been kind of a mentor came up to me right before that and said Aaron, if you keep making music like you are tonight, you’re going to have no trouble getting laid. Jack likes to feel like he’s hip. And maybe he’s right – sometimes people don’t notice you until you get to do the thing you really live for in front of them.
Except he must not be right because for the next week Lori’s too busy every night to go out. It’s OK though, she’ll come to my house for brunch on Sunday.
So it’s Friday and Seth calls up. He wants to come over to show me a new processor module he’s made. But all he talks about is how much he likes Lori and do I think maybe Lori likes him.
And then this funny thing happens. He flops down on my bed — OK my apartment’s small, but I do have chairs — and just sort of lies there, splayed out on his back. He’s got one hand on his chest and it looks like he’s sort of stroking his nipple through his T-shirt. He’s talking about how Lori never dates anybody so she must like him, and about how she hugged him last week when he came back from a couple of day road trip.
I’m like Seth it’s late you need to go home, and then he gets up and he’s standing in my hallway and he won’t leave. I mean he’s just standing there looking at me. And believe me, it’s not like I usually notice these things, but it’s real obvious his pants are sticking out straight in front of him. And he’s just looking at me with this hurt look. I put my hands on his shoulders and turn him around to face the open door. Then I put one hand between his shoulder blades and push and he starts walking out the door. All I know is that whatever’s going on, I’m screwed if Seth stops doing sound for me.
So guess what happens Sunday. You got it, Lori and Seth show up together.
Lori kisses me on the cheek and whispers, “It’s OK, isn’t it Aaron? I brought extra Danish and orange juice.”
Shit. And Seth is smiling like a baby, just sitting at the table while Lori arranges everything beautifully on a big platter and I’m making the omelets. How did this end up being about Seth? OK, maybe not so bad. He’s going away for a week to visit his family in Florida, leaving tomorrow.
“I wanted to be nice to him,” Lori says.
Monday night ten p.m. Lori calls.
“Seth left this morning. I really want to see you. I want you to come over right now.”
I’m like Great, you sure? And she’s suddenly No, don’t, Seth will be upset, he hates it when I do anything alone.
Huh? But she’s full of reassurance that they’re nothing except Platonic apartment-mates.
Next Sunday she comes over again, and this time we do hook up. And then she calls me that night and she’s We can’t do this anymore, it’s not fair to Seth, he gets so upset, you can’t tell him we did anything, OK?
And then Seth gets back from Florida and calls. He’s like
“You saw Lori, right?”
“Yeah, she came over for brunch.”
“You guys didn’t do anything, right?”
“You know how I feel, right?”
“You wouldn’t do anything, right?”
And he hangs up. And he won’t call back when I page him and I’ve got a gig coming up in two weeks and no sound man. And when I call the apartment Lori picks up and pretends I’m the Con Ed man.
So I get another sound man, and he’s nowhere near as good, and then a month later I run into Seth and Lori at the bar we all used to hang out at.
Lori’s smiling her warm embracing smile equally on everybody. Not a micro-Watt lower or higher for me than for anyone else at the table and not any different for Seth. Like we never happened.
And Seth moves around so he’s sitting next to me and puts his arm over my shoulder, something he’s never even come close to doing before. And then he leans in and plants a really big kiss right on my mouth.
OK, everyone’s been there, right? Seth is going I’m sorry it will never happen again and I’m going It’s alright it’s cool, It’s not my thing but we’re still friends, and then he’s trying to laugh about it, and I’m telling you, this is interesting, because Seth is not, or I mean hadn’t been up to then, much of a laugher. By the way, it turns out he’s also a really good kisser.
Seth had never lived alone. He went straight from home to college dorm to five-roommate share in Williamsburg to his proper two-bedroom only-friends share with Lori in Greenpoint.
Only once did Lori go away for a whole weekend. She left on Friday afternoon and was going straight to work Monday morning. Seth found reasons to stay out of the apartment except for sleeping Friday night, but by Saturday at 6:00 he had run out of things to keep him outside.
He sat in his room for a while. Then he put the chain latch on the front door in case Lori came back early. He took off all his clothes. He walked all over the apartment, including Lori’s room, playing with himself. He sat on the living room couch and jacked off. With his non-sticky hand on the remote he watched two Star Trek reruns. He got up and walked around some more. He stood in front of Lori’s full-length mirror in her bedroom.
He looked carefully at his body. Was any part of him attractive? His shoulders and chest had a certain amount of bulk and smoothness. He turned to get a better view of his butt. The shape maybe wasn’t bad, but it was so hairy it looked ridiculous to him.
He stroked himself, intending to look at his erection, but the momentum seemed to carry him forward and before he even had a good look his mind was tangled in a mixture of orifices and organs belonging to both Lori and Aaron.
Seth thought if only Lori were here none of this would be happening. Still naked he called Aaron. No one home.
When Aaron said they should go out for a beer after Tuesday’s rehearsal, Seth’s heart started thudding in his chest.
“Hey, we really don’t sound bad, do we?” said Aaron.
“It all depends on whether I can get this new EQ unit to work right.”
“No it doesn’t Seth. It sounds great.”
Seth fought back the urge to reach across the table and grab Aaron in a bear hug, or something more.
“Do you think Lori likes me?” Seth asked.
Sunday brunch with Aaron and Lori, and Seth could hardly stand how happy he was. His two favorite people. Aaron wasn’t just a handsome, dynamic, talented, disciplined, easy-going, outgoing guy, he also made really good omelets. Seth looked back and forth from one to the other. As long as they were both here, smiling at him, there would be no repeat of Saturday night at the mirror. And by tomorrow night he’d be back at his parents for a week in the bedroom with the paper-thin walls and five younger brothers and sisters ready to burst through the door at any minute.
I guess it was the smell that tipped Seth off when he got back the next Sunday night. He knew Aaron’s smell — sweating together in cramped back-stages gave him plenty of chance to learn it well. And it’s what he smelled when Lori gave him one of her warm welcome-back hugs.
This was not going to work. How was he supposed to keep his hands and whatever to himself if they weren’t? When he talked to Aaron on the phone that night it was obvious they’d done it.
But the smell didn’t come back, so Seth stopped looking for another apartment and it seemed like Aaron stopped calling him for gigs.
But poor Seth, what was a guy to do? There’s Aaron across the table from him a month later, as radiant and self-confident and energetic as ever. It was so embarrassing. It wouldn’t happen again. But I guess it was out in the open now, so lots of things would be changing.
III. Aaron Again
Damn right lots of things would be changing. Seth moves out of Lori’s and moves in with me. What?!?! you’re thinking. Straight boy adopts recently-out gay best friend, sets up orientation-dissonant love nest in Williamsburgh? What can I tell you. With Seth now there are no questions. I always know where I stand, not like with Lori where you never know if the switch is on or off. He’s crazy about me. This is nice you know. When forty-nine out of fifty places I try to pitch my music don’t even return my calls, having someone around the house who thinks I’m great is a big comfort. OK, OK, you’re asking whether we have sex. Together. Answer: yes. When’s the last time you were with someone whose eyes pop out of their head every time you even take your shirt off? And the thing about Seth is, you get the saggy-ass five-year-old J.C. Penny’s pants off of him and he’s actually pretty hot. And not that many people have ever had anything good to say about my cooking.
Do I get turned on you ask. Yes and no. It’s like being the third car on a high speed train. You don’t have to do much yourself to be going very very fast. Let’s just say he’s horny enough for both of us, and when he’s fucking me, which I let him do, the look of disbelieving bliss on his face ends up getting me off.
And I’m proud of Seth, too. When we meet up with friends he doesn’t hang in the background like he used to. He’s like Hey dude, great concert last week but the sound sucked, you should hire me. And people smile and buy him a beer and hire him. Next week I’m taking him clothes shopping.
So what does this make me in your name-the-subculture, does Aaron think of himself as gay contest? You know what it makes me? It makes me the coolest dude in Williamsburgh. Except when my mother comes in from Short Hills.
It’s sweet of you to keep sending me checks to help pay my rent. I miss you too, but I’m sure it’s for the best. Things were getting out of hand and I felt like I was losing my inner peace. Thanks for not being mad about me and Aaron, and thanks for staying his mentor. It was only that one time. It’s just that it was so hard being at Aaron’s concert with you in the room, knowing that our afternoon rendez-vous’s at the hotel in midtown were now a thing of the past. You and Aaron are so close. He counts on you so much. I guess I felt being with him was the next best thing to being with you.
I did love you Jack, although we both agreed we wouldn’t let it go that far. But for me it did. I’m not a bad person. And you’re so much more experienced than me. I just thought it would be fun and very different from all my friends to have a clandestine affair with a sophisticated married man.
It was only that once, and when you called me again after two weeks of dead silence I didn’t think twice about dropping Aaron. I’m a very spiritual person, and I deeply believe that somehow you knew I’d been with him and that’s what brought you back that very night.
But we are adults now, and I think I knew that when I got you back it would only be for a little. I respect you, but I also miss you.
Life here is interesting. Did you hear that Seth moved in with Aaron? Who knew? They’re really cute together. Now Aaron just gives me this embarrassed little smile whenever I see him, much better than when he looked like he wanted to kill me, and Seth is as oblivious of me as he’s always been. I really love my friends. I know how much you care for Aaron. Sometimes I wish we never had our “thing,” you and me, so we could all hang out together like we used to. I loved that feeling of being surrounded by love, before we all had to chose someone in particular. I still try to feel it. It’s what I always try to feel.
Have a good life. Lori
V. OK OK
OK, OK. You all want to know about the sex. “Why do you leave all the sex parts out?” you’re asking. Hey, I’m like you, I like the sex parts when I’m reading. But have you ever thought what describing your own experiences would feel like? Give me a break. I didn’t take notes. And it’s embarrassing. So here goes.
It’s the Sunday where I hook up with Lori. Remember, Seth is out of town, it only happened once, she got weird, he got weird. So here’s the funny part, I think she got off on the music more than on me.
We’ve gotten from the kitchen table to the living room, which is also where the bed is. She wants to hear some of my music. I put a CD on of these moody avant songs I’ve written. I mean they’re pretty good. Each one is about three or four minutes long, and there are eight of them.
Song number one, in a-minor, long melody with a cycling accompaniment. She’s on the bed unbuttoning her blouse. No bra. Very hot. I’m feeling her, doing all those high school boob things. Her eyes are closed, she’s loving it or at least she’s sort of purring which makes me think she is. End of song number one, three seconds of silence, her eyes pop open, she’s got this Where am I and who the fuck are you? look all of a sudden, but song number two comes to the rescue, d-dorian, a kind of slow repeating chorale, just me humming and piano, and the eyes close, the smile and the purring come back, and she’s like Lick my nipples, which I do, being very cool to caress her abdomen at the same time and start working on opening her belt buckle. Nothing doing, she’s pushing my hand away. What a drag. Looks like it’s going to stay high school. But no, song number three, a kind of new age trancey litany of plant names, has her groping my pants and whispering, “I want to fuck you so bad,” in my ear while she runs her tongue inside it. By the fifth song, my favorite by the way, oscillating between more and less agitated nonsense syllables, we’ve got all our clothes off and she’s driving me crazy running her nipples, left then right then left then right along my dick; sixth song I’m getting the greatest head but why is she in such a hurry, I’m just starting to really get into it, you know you can be all turned on and everything but it can take awhile before you get that flow thing going, the not having to think about what comes next.
Well she’s already asking where the condoms are, kind of banging all over my bookcase next to the bed, on her hands and knees and giving me a terrific view. Song number seven is starting and she’s rolling it down my dick and I’m counting chord progressions so I don’t come right then and there, and being as she’s very take-charge, she pushes me onto my back, straddles me, lines me up and slides me right on in.
You really want me to tell you what it feels like? It’s like coming home, bozo, it’s like soft warm wet velvet slippery delicious this is where I should have been all my life let’s stay here all the rest of my life, and song number eight, the last one, a kind of Satie-like enigmatic not really changing not really the same thing with numbers for lyrics starts up and I’m being a good boy, one hand tending to her clit, one to her breasts, and now dude, I don’t know, am I some kind of major lover or is she like auto-orgasm lady, but she’s doing the wild noises and the skin flush and the fists clenched and the eyes super tight closed and then she’s doing the shaking thing and now it doesn’t matter if I count every single note, she’s taking me over the top, but what’s the hurry. Yeow. Yikes. I’m yelling my Oh god’s and I’m coming’s and hoping to hell we get another go round because it is just over way too fast and song number eight must have ended during all the noise and she’s Quick put something else on, something of yours, and I’m jumping across the room with a cum filled condom on my still very hard cock which is bouncing all over as you might expect, slightly painfully, and I’m pawing thorough my CDs to find the songs with my band, each song about a different famous writer, and she still wants to be on top but we have to put a fresh condom on which we manage during the intro to the first song, and now she’s so wet I can’t feel a thing but it’s OK just the idea of being inside her is getting me off, and then my vocal starts on the CD, the most beautiful pale ethereal voice I can make, and Lori stops, opens her eyes, listens for about ten seconds, and says “don’t you have something better?”
And then it is just more depressing than I can tell you. She won’t do the avant songs again — “I can’t come to the same music twice,” she says, and every single one of my CDs, and I’ve got five of them, you know, private limited editions I burn myself with a nice cover, nothing shlocky, and people like these songs, there’s another album all about Robert Moses and the Long Island Expressway. But every one. Every time. Bounce across the room, put the CD in bounce back, get on my back she slides me in, she doesn’t like the song, Don’t you have something else?
OK what would you have done? Really, give me a break here, once was not enough. I grab my Leonard Cohen compilation — four of his greatest tracks. This she likes. I do not tell her it is mine. I do not tell her it isn’t mine. After Suzanne she wants to do it doggie, and the rhythm gets really nice. I just love thrusting real steady while I wrap my arms around her, snuggle next to her ear, run my hands all over her front. By Sisters of Mercy she’s lying on top of me and we’re actually kissing at the same time. Now look, I am not going to tell you what coming feels like, except when it happens for me it’s not the big single thing, instead it’s more and better of what was happening before.
Lori rolls off about as Who By Fire is fading out. I roll the condom off, she’s mopping herself off with tissues, I’m thinking maybe my lonely days are over, she’s going That last song was so good, you’re amazing.
OK, this isn’t what I planned. I’ve gotten myself all excited telling you about this and now what happens next seems so plain. And sad. She has to go. She’ll call me. It was great. It was really good. I’ll call you. And like a total dumb-ass I stay up all night after she leaves composing three new songs, planning on trying them out on her the next time, soon. You of course know that there wasn’t a next time. Well, not with Lori.
VI. Doing it with Seth
How it happened the first time with Seth is this. It was two weeks after that surprising kiss, and he’d agreed to be my sound man again. No, we hadn’t talked about him or the kiss or Lori or anything really. Remember, we’re guys.
We were backstage before one of my solo shows, a tiny hot basement room, same lounge I’d played a couple of months before when everything started with Lori. It was time to go on. Seth walks over, stands in front of me, and says what he always does, “Play bad.” That’s not bad meaning good, that’s bad meaning really sucky. It’s our joke. But this time I start looking into his eyes. I guess I never noticed how deep brown they were.
So do you really expect me to tell you every private thought that’s been running through my mind the last two weeks? You want explanations about why what happens next happens this time and never before? You want to know whether I ever wondered about myself in junior high? About what I might or might not have tried out with my freshman roommate? Tough luck.
Seth and I were kissing again, and it wasn’t just him doing it. Then we weren’t. I turn to go on stage and he swats my butt and as I’m sitting down to play I flip him the bird with my upstage hand so the audience can’t see it.
When we finish schlepping the sound system back to my apartment and getting the van into a legal parking place, I take out two beers, kick my shoes off and flop back on my bed. Seth just stands there drinking his beer. Every now and then he looks at me. Then he goes to the kitchen and starts rinsing out his empty beer bottle. The water’s running a long time. I’m wondering what to do. I get up. He’s sort of bracing himself against the sink, all slumped over, shaking a little. That does it.
I walk up behind him, put my arms around him and press myself nice and snug against his butt. He straightens up and I hold him really tight. How he feels against my body is the first solid indication I have that what I’ve been wondering about is something I really want to do. It’s also the first clue I get about what Seth’s body is really like under all those baggy clothes.
We just stand there for the longest time. I like it that Seth doesn’t seem to mind my hard on. When I slip my hand into his pants he draws in his breath really loud.
“Shit, you’re really serious about this,” he says.
You can skip the next part if you’re sensitive, but you asked, and this is the most important part so here I am, on my back, feet in the air, Seth’s dick all gift-wrapped, and this look on his face as he moves over me, grinning from ear to ear like the happiest kid on Christmas morning — not that I know much about Christmas so I guess I have to say some combo of all the nights of Chanukah plus two or three birthdays.
You want to know how we got from the kitchen sink to me with my feet in the air? It’s long, it’s complicated, we’re talking a few interior earthquakes, several more beers, some deep after-the-first-orgasm talking with the lights out, all stuff I’ll tell you about, but not now, I want to get to the best part.
Beginners are not supposed to find this easy, so maybe it’s my being a musician, we’re more in tune with our bodies, but Seth just keeps this gentle pressure going and after a minute or so I feel myself opening up and then this miraculous feeling of him inside me. And please note there was no music playing.
He’s doing the usual things, but it’s looking at him that does it to me. He’s loving it. It’s all over his face, that huge smile. I’m figuring out that maybe he loves me, you know, I’m not just the safe straight guy to help him over the hump, it’s really me, me specifically, wake up call, duh, and with each stroke I’m thinking this is not a one-time experiment, I want this again, many times, with Seth, just Seth.
So I’m just letting myself go, maybe that’s what’s letting him go, you can’t tell, it‘s just both of us up and over, he pulls out, slides the condom off and falls on top of me and I don’t know where I start and his hairy butt ends.
When we wake up there’s nowhere else I need to be and nowhere else Seth needs to be.
—Conrad Cummings is know mostly as a composer of opera, symphonic, and chamber music. Except for libretti and libretto adaptations for three of his operas, this is his first published fiction. His honors include grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Opera America, and The Rockefeller Foundation. See his web site for more information.