Shant strolled with the man under the porte-cochère and the throng of pricey cars parked up and down the enormous winding drive. “Don’t tell me this one’s yours,” Shant said, pointing at a chocolate brown Rolls-Royce sedan they lingered beside.
“It used to match my hair,” the man admitted to Shant’s giggle. “It matches your eyes, now.”
Could the man see him blushing from across the car’s pleated bonnet, out there in the partial dark? Shant wondered, had anyone ever said something like that to him? The man drew closer. Shant’s heart beat a little harder. The man took Shant in his hands, caressing his cheeks, briefly grazing Shant’s wet, open lips with a thumb. Shant trembled when the man kissed his forehead. “Don’t stop,” Shant whispered.
“No.” Shant re-opened his eyes, every bit the deer in the headlights. “We’re on our first date, right?” Shant nodded in his hands. “Well, it’s not over yet. We’ll kiss again when it is.”
No city looks good from the lurching racket of a bus, Shant thought, but everything sure looked better from the upholstered leather hides of a Rolls-Royce. Shant watched the passing lights and glowing signs and darkened storefronts as if he’d never seen them before, letting them become an expressionist blur in a strange spinning dream he didn’t want to wake up from. Away from the occasional stoplight, Shant gulped down a myriad of scents, carried away by the unknown verdure hanging within the moist ocean air.
His heart beat hard against his ribs, aching to feel those sturdy, lined hands on his face again, holding him still, drawing him closer, their breaths merging, tasting…“What kind of music is this?”
“Very old jazz – or jass, that’s what they called it back then. Even older than I am. Well, a little older.”
It never struck Shant to ask before, but he wondered, “So, how old is that?”
“Oh.” Why did conversations in a car pause at stoplights? “I’m half a century young.”
“No!” Shant screwed up his chutzpah and added, “You don’t look a day over forty-nine.”
He made the man smile. “I could pass for forty-eight if I dyed my hair.”
“Oh, man, don’t ever do that. You’re perfect now!” Mortified, Shant all but blushed aloud. “Sorry.”
The older man laughed. “Oh Lord, don’t be. I usually have to pay someone to say things like that to me.” It was the man’s turn to want to eat his words. Damn it! Had he hurt the teenager’s feelings? He changed tack. “I’m wildly imperfect, but I admit it. It’s much too difficult to deny it anymore.”
The maritime air made Shant a little punch-drunk. He yearned to tell the man he was plenty perfect for him. It sure felt that way a couple of times that insane night. Would telling him be dumb? It might only embarrass him, or ruin the date or whatever; he might only be some street urchin to the man, whatever that was. The pissy Madonna back at the party knew trade when he saw it. The clothes didn’t matter; a hustler’s a hustler, right? He was just a throwaway, just another street fag.
Panic-stricken, Shant was halfway out the door of the moving Rolls before the older man reeled him back into his seat, holding him there until he could pull over into an empty metered space. He kept the car running and the tinny music playing. “We’re not finished yet.”
A familiar veil lowered over Shant’s spirits. He wondered if he even could pull his pants down, or the man would do it first. Would he be tender or rough, ripping his slacks and shorts down to a bunch around his ankles, so Shant couldn’t walk or run away? Maybe he would leave his new shirt and jacket alone. Shant’s sullen alarm rose. What about his shoes? You couldn’t walk half a block in the city without cutting your feet wide open. His breath labored. He couldn’t cry out if he wanted to. And to whom would he cry? Who would hear him? Who would listen, when no one before ever had?
“You never told me how old you were.”
Shant blinked in the dark, wondering if he had heard right. “Huh?”
“How old are you…why, I don’t even know your name.”
Shant’s mouth had gone dry, his throat gravelly. “My name’s Shant.” The older man heard him gulp. “I don’t know how old I am.”
The man killed the ignition. “How is that possible?”
Shant stared straight ahead, into a web of crisscrossing shadows. “Nobody ever told me. There was no one to tell. My mom left when I was little. My dad never said before he left, too. Nobody else knew. I was afraid to ask. Nobody tried to find out for me.” A tiny voice only Shant heard echoed in the dark. Nobody ever asked him before, either.
The man snapped the cassette player off. “That’s terrible,” he said flatly. “I’m sorry. How dare they…”
The stillness was long and dreadful. It broke when Shant began to undo his slacks. Again, stronger hands stopped his, bewildering him right to his wit’s end. Shant croaked, “You don’t want me?”
Again, the older man’s voice was flat, to Shant’s ears scarily so. “Yes. But just to drive you home and kiss you good night, or good morning, really. Then maybe we can pencil ourselves in for a second whirligig.”
Shant squeezed his fists into his stinging eyes, unsure if he had heard the man correctly. “That’s all you want? That’s your plan?”
“Oh, dear. At a risk of disappointing you further, I must admit I’m a terrible planner. I just sort of, you know, go…”
Shant lurched sideways into the older man’s arms. “Hold me,” he squealed. Neither let go for quite some time.
If they weren’t at the wrong (which is to say, good) end of their graveyard shift, the nearly catatonic waiter and cook might’ve taken better notice of the first Rolls-Royce to pull into their diner’s tiny parking lot. Neither were surprised to see Shant again. The older guy in the nice jacket, they didn’t know. Shant ordered an avocado & Swiss omelet for them to split and two fresh coffees from the steaming new pot the waiter put on before greeting them.
“Well then,” he said, snapping his napkin open. “My name’s Ned.”
Shant grinned at Ned simply stating his name. “Just Ned?”
“Harry Ned George.” He uttered his names almost separately. “I go by Ned, for the grandfather I knew. Three dull first names all in one. I switch them around depending on who I’m talking to, play with the spelling in case I want to shake a tail or dodge some bullet.”
Shant glanced downward but laughed a bit. “So do we,” for much the same reasons.
“You know…” Ned shook his head. Shant glanced to confirm neither the waiter nor the cook were looking at them before he pretended to grab his crotch with a ‘come hither’ look movie characters only ever gave.
“Ah, I see.” Ned chuckled at a joke no one had told. “I see, I see, said the blind man to the deaf dog, who sang a sad song to the assembled throng –”
“Of queer boys who don’t belong,” Shant interjected. He found Ned’s wide-eyed stare both scary and sexy. “Should I call you Mr. George?”
“Not if you want that second date.”
The food came. Shant was relieved then thrilled when Ned appeared to savor the king-sized omelet. The sky outside had turned from battleship grey to a glowing indigo. Already the boulevard was getting up to speed. Ned reached across the booth to show Shant how to do his own pocket square. Shant asked to put on Ned’s small tortoise-shell glasses. He could see through them clear as a window. Were they a prop of some kind? Ned admitted that they were, sometimes. Ned was charmed to hear about all the books Shant proudly claimed he’d read. Shant was mesmerized, hearing about Ned’s wide, eclectic travels; he couldn’t but love the way Ned spoke like an Englishman without the drawl.
Ned then queried about Graham, Shant’s ‘housemate’, with deft interest. What was the red-head like? Shant’s unadorned affection for Graham shone through his every word of reply. Were they lovers, Ned asked? Shant replied they had been and left nothing out, hoping he hadn’t made it sound dirty, or cheap. Ned found it sweet, if not frankly exciting. Could Graham come with on their second date? Ned couldn’t imagine saying no.
Sleepy only for the hour and the rich food, neither wanted the meal to end. Shant said so. He wanted to lie in Ned’s lap but the drive home was too quick. But he said so, anyway. “We could take a little detour,” Ned offered. “I’m wide open for the next three and a half years.”
Shant leaned sideways onto Ned’s thigh, savoring every stroke of the man’s hand through his hair and across his face. “How far is that Italian town you told me about?” he moaned.
“We’ll have to get gas for that.”
The century-old Victorian where Shant lived sat resplendent in the morning sun. Ned was agog, seeing it for the first time. This, Shant thought, from a guy who drove a Rolls? They exited the car with shared disinclination. Pointing to the imposing exterior, Ned said, “They call that color Kaiser Yellow.”
“Well, we need a whole bunch of new Kaisers once it cools off.”
The approaching police cruiser brought their jollity to an abrupt halt. Shant reflexively stepped back and a little behind Ned, who turned to face the policemen as if they were peculiar lawn ornaments who had asked him for the time. Graham sat behind the cage in the back of the squad, looking like hell. Shant couldn’t catch the low-pitched dialog between Ned and the silver-haired officer, but he couldn’t avoid the suspicious, unspoken disapproval being cast at him by the younger Latin patrolman.
Graham’s ginger mop was missing a handful of curls. Both earrings were gone. One earlobe was caked with dry blood. His quivering lower lip was twice the size of its upper twin, which was split bleeding at its center. His left cheek sported a baseball-sized welt. The sundered remains of the dress only just hung onto Graham’s thin trembling frame. His bare feet were dirty and bruised from the long walk back from the party they’d all attended, a painful stroll which had been abbreviated by the inquiring cops. Graham fought back tears with every remaining ounce left in him. He smiled crookedly at Shant and Ned. “You should see the other guys.”
Shant helped Graham through the gates and up the wide porch steps, where the small old dog and large black cat sat waiting for them. Ned saw a crumpled envelope fall from a torn hem of Graham’s dress. He guessed at its contents. Shant peered wretchedly at Ned through the stained-glass panels of the front door. Back inside his car, Ned tossed the envelope over a large holstered pistol and snapped the walnut glove box closed. Together, Shant and Graham waited to hear the Rolls-Royce drive off before holding each other close in nerve-wracking silence.
…from the novel Shant, now available from Hammer & Anvil Books exclusively on Amazon.com.
Adam Henry Carrière is an online habitué specializing in letters, publishing design, and instruction. A former NPR broadcaster, he holds a BA in Film & Video from Columbia College and an MA in Professional Writing from the University of Southern California. He has taught writing at both his alma mater and for the United States Navy across the Pacific. Born on the South Side of Chicago, Adam is presently domiciled in Las Vegas, where he has won the Nevada Arts Council Fellowship in Poetry. He styles as Verleger / Herausgeber of Danse Macabre, Nevada’s first online literary magazine, and DM du Jour, its daily gazette. He is the author of the novel Miles (2013) and the poetry collection Faschingslieder (2014).