(This entry in the Earl series is more or less a sequel to the entry entitled Topher, from earlier in the year, and though he doesn't appear in this chapter directly, is a continuation of my recollections of what happened to him. I'm afraid there's no explicit sex in this installment, but it's part of the whole story.)
The very first man who attempted a serious seduction of me did so by borrowing my watch and wearing it during the day, so that he could wrap his big hands around my wrist and fasten it back on at the afternoon's end. So it seems almost fitting that a handful of years later, the beginning of my end with Earl had to do with his collection of watches.
Anyone visiting Earl's house, whether for one of his all-weekend parties or for more innocent readings, could have told that it was a bachelor's home. The furniture was clean and relatively new, but the upholstery was in shades of dark browns and forest greens that blended both into each other and into the knotty pine paneling on the walls. The windows had blinds, but mostly no curtains. The kitchen was practical, but not much more than that. Not much hung on the walls save some old family photos. There weren't many knickknacks. Anything that could be pocketed and stolen away was impractical to keep around, when so many strange men were coming in and out of the house, once or twice a month for the orgies.
It was a man's house, with few frills or fripperies. It was the kind of house in which whatever appeared on top of furniture—magazines on the coffee table, a collection of coffee mugs on the kitchen counter—was there because it had been tossed there after use, not because it was on display. Earl allowed himself to get a little more personal and decorative in his own bedroom, though. His nightstand was covered with old portraits of his parents and grandparents in old frames. They were fussy, filigreed things that had been handed down to him, so out of character from the Brawny paper towel lumberjack theme he had going on elsewhere. His dresser was an heirloom from his mother, and had a faintly feminine air to the flowery carvings on its corners and legs. A few of his mother's treasures sat atop it: a Wedgewood round box with a fitted lid, an antique tea set in which he would toss his spare change, a number of ancient silhouettes of predecessors in cameo brooches.
None of these were worth anything save in sentimental value, but like all the family treasures, before the start of one of his parties he'd sweep everything into the same bureau drawers where he kept my savings account bank book. Save for the tea set, that is. He'd simply clap the lid on the pot of that so that no one would be tempted to steal his change.
His watches, though. Those mattered to him.
Earl collected watches not indiscriminately, but with a true collector's eye. I remember once he drove to Atlanta to purchase a specific antique pocket watch from a dealer there—a thin, open-faced watch that looked surprisingly delicate, but weighed down the hand because of the solid gold case. Many of the others were equally valuable for watches; he kept them all in an old silverware case that he'd repurposed for his collection. Most of the time that case sat on his closet floor, behind his shoes, anonymous and overlooked in a back corner. But from time to time he'd pull them out, sit cross-legged on the bed naked with me, and show them to me as he cleaned them.
I know that one of the watches had been passed down from father to son through at least four generations of his family. It was the oldest of the dozen or more in his collection, and the only one that he kept out on his dresser, most of the time. When I close my eyes, I can still picture it: a brass pocket watch in beautiful condition, still gleaming almost as new as the day it had first been minted. Its numbers had been painted on, rather than printed. They were elegant and scrolled and thoroughly old-fashioned, and slightly distorted beneath the glass dome protecting them. I remember the case as being etched with a complex geometric design. When one fastened the lid, it connected with a delicate click. It felt good in the hand, that watch.
I remember that watch so well because one Saturday when I was at his house he was going through a regular ritual of winding and cleaning his treasure. His family's watch was the only one he kept running. Most of the others sat suspended, their hands forever frozen at five minutes to three or twenty past five. His father and grandfather's and great-grandfather's watch he kept oiled and polished and wound, though he never carried it anywhere. "Do you know how many seconds this clock has seen?" he asked me, that Saturday.
I shook my head and told him I didn't. I enjoyed the sex with Earl, god knows, but I liked these moments of quiet camaraderie as well, these times in which our dicks were flaccid and hanging between our legs, and the only use we had for our mouths was conversation. He named a number that sounded impossibly high. The night before he'd used an electronic calculator—they were new, then and novel, and had to be plugged into the wall and powered up before use—to figure out how many years had passed since the watch had been crafted, and how many days and hours and minutes that was. "All that time, it's been ticking," he told me as he burnished the metal with a soft cloth. "Passed on and on. A father would give it to a son, who'd grow up and give it to his son. My father gave it to me when I turned twenty-one. What's sad is that I don't have a son to give it to, myself."
The words were out of my mouth before I could stop myself. "Give it to me."
I was joking. But only half. Part of me spoke up because I realized how badly I wanted a keepsake of Earl. At this point I'd been seeing him for, what? The better part of two years? I was Earl's boy, more than anyone. More than Jim, his lover, at that point. Much more that Topher, who had only been Earl's indulgence and by that point was more Jim's fuck-and-pot buddy, anyway. At least, that's what I wanted to think. Whether I was as important to Earl as he was to me in those days, only he can say. But as I said—I said the words in humorous and joking manner. But I wasn't wholly unserious.
I was surprised, though, when I looked up and saw that Earl was staring at me. He was actually considering it, I realized at that moment. He was thinking about giving me that watch.
He never said so outright, at first. But a few weeks later, Jim started to make snide comments whenever I was around. Earl would say something innocuous to his boyfriend about getting me a glass of water, and Jim would snap right back, "Why don't you just leave me to him in your will too, so he can treat me like a servant just like you do?" Or once, in the middle of one of their squabbles, Jim hurled his keyring at me and shrieked, "You might as well take these now! He'll be leaving you the house! Apparently I'll have to get used to the idea of sleeping on the street!" It didn't take the Hardy Boys to conclude that Earl had mentioned something about giving me a small token at some point in the future.
I can't say I looked forward to that day, exactly. I intuited that when the time came that he passed on that watch, the very tenor of our relationship would have changed; when that day arrived, I wouldn't be his boy any longer, not in the same way I'd been before. I didn't want that to change. Not yet. I liked being Earl's boy too much. I didn't want things to change.
But change they would, and change they did, not too very long after that.
And I never got that watch, either.