(This entry is a continuation of the Earl soap opera about my relationship with an older man in my teens, and of the complications caused by a peer named Topher. It's a direct sequel to Earl's Discovery, from a couple of weeks ago. I'm afraid there's little actual sex in this one, guys. Thanks for bearing with me.)
I’d done a lot for Earl, from the time I’d met him at fourteen through my senior year of high school. I’d worked his parties without question. I’d let him truss me up in his sling, restrained and blindfolded, as he introduced me to the world of sensory deprivation and overload. I’d perfected the art of lying to my parents for his sake. I’d endured the scratchings and pawings of any big-dicked beast he chose for me, had learned to fuck pussy, just so I could see the light of approval in his eyes. I’d been his lover and his confidante in ways that his boyfriend Jim no longer was.
For Earl, I was truly submissive, in the word’s purest sense. I did whatever he asked, for his pleasure. I came to his house when he told me to. I fabricated excuses to my family on those periodic occasions he wanted me to stay over. I didn’t balk at any of the outrageous situations he threw my way. He didn’t have to request compliance— everything he wanted, I did, with no questions asked. I didn’t need to ask questions, or know the whys and the wherefores. I trusted him to watch over me, and knew that the things he made me do were not only for his pleasure, but for my own education.
I was his partner. We worked together as a duo, satisfying each other and the whims of other men, no matter what they were. We were a sexual tag-team, expertly sliding our palms against the other’s and passing off control of the erotic arena to the other, until we’d knocked out the men with whom we were engaged. I loved every moment of it.
Until the afternoon Earl discovered he’d been robbed, that is. When he told me I would be going over to Topher’s house and finding out what was going on with him, I agreed out of instinct. But as I pedaled my bike to the Northside neighborhood where Earl’s other boy lived, I found myself growing more and more resentful. And for perhaps the first time ever, I started to wonder why I was involving myself in the middle of this mess. Worse, I started to wonder if Earl was worth hanging around any longer.
It was true that Earl couldn’t very well head over to Topher’s house, introduce himself to his parents as one of the kid’s fuck buddies, and ask if he could talk to Topher about his missing watches, cash, and other valuables. Admittedly, intergenerational sex wasn’t as stigmatized thirty years ago as it is now, believe it or not; even a few years later, in the mid-nineteen-eighties my college ex-boyfriend (aged twenty-five) dated a high school boy (aged fifteen) with the kid’s parents’ grudging consent. Today he’d be so demonized that they’d attempt to castrate him on sight.
Topher and I were both sixteen at this point, and thanks to skipping a year, I was starting my final year of high school. What would’ve given us some ‘splaining to do to our parents would’ve been the gay thing, not so much the fact that Earl was so much older than ourselves.
What I resented, though, was that this mess had nothing to do with me. Topher wasn’t my stray; he wasn’t my little fuckbuddy. I wasn’t the one who’d grown tired of him, but kept having him over to my house as a playmate for my loser of a lover. That honor belonged to Earl, who always made his contempt for Jim plain, but indulged him by giving him just enough cash to maintain a constant buzz and a stoned little fuck toy of his own. I was the good boy. The boy who didn’t cause a commotion. The boy who did as he was told. The boy who attracted attention in the bedroom, and deflected it everywhere else.
It didn’t really take Encyclopedia Brown to put together the pieces in front of me. I hadn’t told Earl about my previous encounter with Topher outside the skating rink. It was obvious that Topher had decided to do something, whether get out of town, or end his relationship with Earl in the most dramatic and trouble-causing way possible. And it was very obvious to me that Jim had helped him do it. He’d pointed out to Topher exactly the most valuable objects in the house to take. He’d clued him in to the location of the ready cash they kept. And just to twist the knife, he’d gotten Topher to ransack Earl’s watches, his most prized collection. Those watches would have been a real stab to the heart to lose.
It had been obvious to Earl, too. So I thought. Hadn’t he said, Funny how he knew where everything of value was? Surely he’d figured it out.
The whole thing weighed very heavily on me as I biked through the quiet streets of Richmond. Topher didn’t live very far from Earl, but I made the ride last as long as possible. Earl wanted me to convey the message that he wasn’t angry, but that he wanted his stuff back. I knew enough about being the bearer of bad tidings to know that no matter how I phrased it, Topher wasn’t going to like what I was planning to say. He’d blame not himself, or Jim for egging him on, or even Earl for sending me, but would level his guns against the messenger. I just knew it.
Confrontation has never been easy for me. I keep it calm, I keep it on point. But my stomach gets in knots now at the thought of it. Back then, it felt like I’d swallowed a colony of live snakes. I turned down the treeless little avenue on which Topher lived. The houses there were smaller. The exteriors weren’t brick and stone, like my neighborhood, or even wood and shingles like the little Bellevue homes where Earl lived. Here they were covered with cheap aluminum siding, already pitted with small holes and discolorations. The front lawns were a bit scrubby and infested with chickweed. The sidewalks were uneven and cracked. The neighborhood hadn’t yet slipped into the complete shabbiness and disrepair it reached a good decade later, but it was on that slow slide down, even back then.
Then I had one of the best strokes of luck in my then-short life. Outside of Topher’s home was parked a police car. I squeezed my brakes and shuddered to a stop. I had no intentions of going further.
I’d had an unfortunate encounter with the police two summers before that left me with an aversion to uniformed officers. I knew immediately that with that squad car parked outside, I wouldn’t be waltzing up to the front door and asking if Topher could come out to play. Astride my bike I sat at the corner, by the stop sign, wondering exactly what was going on, and what I should do.
I hadn’t been there for more than a minute when a woman came scurrying out of the corner house. She wore a floral housecoat and a pair of once-fuzzy slippers worn to a nub. Excitedly, she asked me if I was a friend of the missing kid. That told me everything I needed to know, basically, but I was wary enough of being drawn into the mess that I pretended I knew nothing about it. Some people enjoy playing the role of informant; this desperate housewife was one of them. She babbled on for a minute or two about how her neighbor’s kid had run away from home the day before, and how the family had been forced to wait twenty-four hours before being able to report it, and bunch of other stuff about Topher’s family and how the kids had all turned out to be disappointments, and now the youngest was gone, and wasn’t it a shame?
I don’t remember the half of it now, and didn’t really absorb much of it at the time, to be honest. I just knew that I’d had a close call, and had been spared the discomfort by a hair. That was enough for me. I abruptly got back onto my bike and sped back to Earl’s place. I’d felt disloyal to him on that slow drive over. Remembering it made me feel guilty. If I returned with this information, I reasoned, he’d forgive me without ever having to know that for a little while, I’d thought badly of him.
Earl’s back door was locked when I returned. I walked around to the front of his house and tried that door, but it was also locked. I returned to the kitchen and rang the doorbell there. From inside the house, I heard shouting. It continued for far longer than was really comfortable. Even with the windows shut I could hear the resonance of the two male voices raised in anger.
When Earl finally answered the door, he didn’t let me in. He stood there with his hand on the screen handle, keeping it closed. “What?” he asked, brusquely.
I told him what the woman had told me on Topher’s street, and told him about the cop car. If I’d been expecting to be thanked for doing his dirty work, I was to go unrewarded. “Figures,” is all he said. Then, “That’s all I needed to know. Go home.”
He didn’t want me there. He was pissed. I’d never been on the short side of Earl’s temper. I didn’t like being there now. Again, I was the good boy here, the messenger. His curtness was a slap in the face.
“That’s right,” I heard Jim say, from the recesses of the kitchen. “Send your boy home now, so he can’t see what you’ve done.”
Earl sounded deeply annoyed. “Jim,” he said, with warning.
But Jim was in a mood, and wouldn’t be denied. He came up behind Earl, who continued to block the door. Jim was smaller, and slighter, and though he tried to look around his partner, it was obvious Earl would rather he didn’t speak or be seen at all. “Show him what you did to me!” he shrilled. “Show him this!” He was pressing something to his left cheekbone—an ice pack, or compress or some sort. I couldn’t see what this he meant, but the intent of his words was pretty obvious. “This is what your boyfriend does when he’s tired of someone!”
“Shut the fuck up, Jim,” Earl growled. Then to me, he said, “Go home.”
“He’ll get tired of you too. Wait until you get too old for him. See how nice he treats you then.”
Earl closed the kitchen door to a crack. “Go home,” he said through it. He looked deep into my eyes. “And don’t come back for a few days. I’ll call you.”
Then he shut the door in my face. I heard the lock turn.
When he did that, deep inside me, some tiny door shut with it, for good.