Previous: Little Depth but Lots of Skin and Penis

Six: Pause and Effect

They didn't fuck. Jacob wanted to.

Jacob stood up from the table as Kelly threw away their cups. He followed Kelly to the sidewalk with curiosity.

"Come on." Kelly motioned east down the street and strolled leisurely beside him.

They weren't going back to Kelly's place and Jacob was just confused. He spent a lot of time lying to himself and others that he didn't want to do the kinds of things that other gay men did: cheap sex, unsafe sex... you-name-it sex. OK, he didn't do those things - at least not with any frequency - but he wanted to.

This thing with Kelly wasn't going as he expected. Their introduction was just backwards... completely. It set Jacob's expectation on its ear. Granted, he knew exactly what he expected, what 90% of the other gay men in Columbus expected from a situation where you wake up naked with a stranger, decide you like him and then meet for coffee later that day. They expect to forgo the coffee altogether and just fuck... period. Jacob was kind of glad that he hadn't bothered to shave his balls because that would have been time wasted. Hell, he sweat so much already that his shower was pointless.

He smiled to himself at his own absurdity. He liked Kelly because he wasn't like 90% of the gay men that he'd met and somehow that made Jacob want to be just as interesting to Kelly. This wasn't even a date. That feeling of complete uncertainty was intriguing to him.

Goodale Park was a perfectly square microscopic city park that seemed massive once one was inside, as if time and space warped at the edges and bent inward making it seem huge. It had a wide manicured lawn on the south side, some nice tree covered areas through the middle and north, a pond, a garden house, swings and a large gazebo. Large Victorian style homes lined the north and west sides, the highway construction braced the south and trendy apartments ran on the east along Park Street. It was well secluded and quiet.

Jacob walked through it once on the way with Olin to the Big Bear grocery store on Neil Avenue. Olin had commented that at one time there was a big hubbub about guys having sex in the restrooms. He managed to impart this information to Jacob with the same distaste as he might inform him that he had something hanging out of his nose. Jacob got the impression that Olin was not the kind of person who would be caught dead at some kind of glory hole. He respected that - despite the fact that Jacob had done similar things with Ryan.

Goodale reminded him of one of the downtown parks in Fort Worth. The major difference was that one could walk around barefoot here without fear of thistles and fire ants. He and Ryan used to run in them until it got too cold and they ended up at the treadmills at the gym he always preferred running outside because the gym made him feel as if he were on display. This was amplified by the fact that Ryan made sure that they joined the gayest, trendiest gym near the apartment.

Now, walking alongside Kelly, he remembered just how much he enjoyed that park. There was always something cleansing to him about running, working out or just sweating. He had to stop himself from picking up the pace ahead of him.

"Enjoy the peace and quiet this weekend." Kelly said as they stopped at Park and Buttles to cross the street into the park. "It will be a madhouse next Saturday." He motioned his arm down Park street as they crossed. "They set up this long line of Hippy-booths." He laughed. "And every moderate Republican soccer mom will bring their kids out to expose them to the freak show."

"Hippy booths?" Jacob asked.

"Don't tell me you've never been to some kind of free-love style community festival before." Kelly walked backwards across the street as he spoke. "You know those artistic, flower child festivals where they sell hemp clothing and handmade jewelry?"

"Those may be more popular in places like Austin but I rarely saw them in Fort Worth. I know what you mean now... it’s just been a while." Jacob laughed. "The last festival I went to was a Rattlesnake Festival south of Glen Rose. That was kind of like a community festival but more republican. Firearms and funnel cakes."

"A Rattlesnake festival?" Kelly looked dubious.

"It's when people go out and collect masses of rattlesnakes for this really weird festival."

"Collect them?"

"Yea." Jacob said. "They get thousands. It's an impressive sight."

Kelly stopped dead at the edge of the street and gaped. "Where the hell do they get them? Does somebody breed rattlesnakes?"

Jacob shook his head. "No, they're all over the fucking place. It's Texas."

"But, they're poisonous."

"Yes, they are." Jacob moved closer to Kelly and shoved him playfully off the street to the uneven brick sidewalk. "Snakes are cold-blooded, right?"

Kelly skipped back from Jacob as they hit the park and turned towards the large man-made pond covered with bright green algae. To the south was the gazebo. Kelly walked around the pond toward a bench on the other side.

"I fucking hate snakes. They make my skin crawl." Kelly looked warily behind him as if expecting Jacob to shove him again.

"Well, anyway, you know they're cold blooded then." Jacob smiled at the sudden change in Kelly's reactions to the snakes. He thought it might be fun to prod him a bit. "In the spring it's still pretty cold outside and they don't have a lot of kick to them then. They're not very active and pretty docile. So they put them in this huge area that's just full of them- this living mass."

"Ugh." Kelly shook his head. "Why in the hell would they do something like that?" Jacob loved this reaction. "Kinda seems like one of those bizarre fundamentalist ritual things."

"No, it's kind of like hunting season. It's how they prune back the population."

"What, there's this big rattlesnake problem in Texas?"

"Yes," Jacob answered unequivocally. "There is."

Kelly stopped at the shaded bench by a concave rock wall. He sat down and splayed his legs as if exhausted; his head dropped back as he exhaled. "Goddamn it's fucking hot."

Jacob agreed as he sat next to him. He was soaked in sweat and uncomfortable. "Yea, this is pretty nasty. It's too humid."

Kelly pulled his sweaty shirt away from his chest and flapped the shirt tail. "Shit."

Jacob leaned his forearms on his knees. He stared into the pond, overwhelmed by the musty, cloying smell. The edge of the water was a wide ring of lily pads and fluorescent green algae making it seem almost like a sewage treatment pond. He watched in mild disgust as a couple, further down, threw a tennis ball into the water and encouraged a wet black lab to swim into the murky water to retrieve it. Whenever the dog emerged it shook water all over them and anyone passing.

That dog must smell terrible.

"What did they do once they caught them?" Kelly asked as he stared up at the spindly tree branches above them.

"What?" Jacob turned his head, his mind still on the dog and tennis ball. "Caught what?"

"The snakes, dummy, what else would I mean? Did they just throw them in the vat and let people watch while they killed each other or did they do something with them?"

"Oh..." Jacob chuckled. "Heh." He thought for a moment. "It's been a few years, about two years before I met Ryan, since I went." He stared down at his feet and watched the sweat drop off the end of his nose. "They had a lot of them in one place, but mostly they made shit out of them, you know... snakeskin wallets, belts, that kind of shit. Some people cooked them."

"What?" Kelly's lip curled. "Yuck."

"It's not that bad. I had this rattlesnake burrito and it was actually pretty good. It was spicy and the meat was a little stringy but I liked it."

Kelly made a sound similar to breathy whistle and made an exaggerated shiver. "No thank you." He said. "I think I would pass on that. Can we kill this snake conversation? I'm almost sorry I asked." Kelly made another sound of disgust. "Ugh... stringy."

Jacob started thinking more about that festival and smiled to himself. "Well, I ended up buying a butterfly knife there." He thoughtfully rubbed his lip. "I'd never had a knife and I saw this really cool one with this smooth black handle. I ended up getting it for about five bucks from this old man who was selling them alongside these rebel flag Zippo lighters."

"Butterfly knives are so 80's Michael Jackson." Kelly teased.

"I had that thing for a while; carried it with me all the time." He stared out across the pond at people walking along the other side. "Ryan stole it from me as soon as he saw it. I don't know if he still carries it but he went apeshit over it."

"I only had one knife." Kelly said. "My uncle gave it to me when I was thirteen. I hated it but I carried it for few years and then gave it to someone."

"You hated it?" Jacob was confused. "How can you hate a knife?"

"Well, maybe it was the comparison to what I wanted. My dad used to carry a pocketknife with a really nice mahogany and cherry wood casing. It just looked like something you'd want to carry, you know?"

"I've seen some like that."

"Yea." Kelly moved his hands as if he had the knife in his fingers. "Mine had this pale white casing and both sides had the same worn black stencil that said "Elvis lives" and had a silhouette of him."

"So why carry it if you hated it? You wanted one like your dad's?"

"Kind of. I mean, the longer I looked at that knife the more I wanted one like my dad's. Funny thing was that I didn't even want a knife... at all." He said. "A pocket knife isn't something that your average, everyday gay kid wants. But I carried it because all of my cousins had knives, and some of my friends in school had them. I was trying to fit in."

"With a knife?"

"You know how it is..." Kelly seemed to admonish Jacob a little for his confusion. "You grab hold of anything you possibly can to appear like a normal kid. A knife was something that was tiny, subtle. You remember subtlety, don't you?"

Jacob shrugged. "I don't know. I don't try to remember my childhood a lot."

"But it made you who you are..." Kelly began but seemed to trail off as the couple with the dog made more noise and came closer.

The dog went thrashing into the water again after the tennis ball. The young woman called out "Gretchen", glanced over at Jacob and smiled in that "hello stranger, aren’t we all having a lovely day" way. She clapped her hands and leaned forward as the dog swam quietly back toward the side of the pond.

Jacob wasn't sure how to answer Kelly's question. "I guess."

They were silent for a few moments before Kelly continued. "I hated Elvis." He chuckled and leaned forward to match Jacob's pose. "And that's what did it to me. My dislike for Elvis overcame my desire to be like everyone else." He sighed. "In fact, I gave it away shortly before I came out." He aired his shirt again, pulling it away from his skin. "Interesting, I hadn't thought of that for a long time but 'd bet I would have carried one a lot longer if I'd had one like my dad's."

"Or if you'd liked Elvis. I wouldn’t mind getting my butterfly knife back." Jacob said. "At least I'd like Ryan not to have it."

"You never really explained all of the reasons why you and Ryan broke up."

Jacob frowned and stared again. "I guess I'd explain it better if I understood it myself." He said. "There is so much about him that I don't know, or I think that maybe I was wrong about."

"Like what?"

"I dunno, I guess about how he felt about me." Jacob shook his head. "While we were together he walked this thin line between hating us and loving us. Most of the time, when we were together, we had this fantastic relationship. We talked, we had fun together, we argued about shit... it was nice." Jacob turned and looked at Kelly. "But then he would just vanish for a weekend and I never knew what was going on. Eventually I found out that he was going to see his parents and didn't want me to come along."

"He wasn't out, then?"

"That's an understatement." Jacob said. "He was barely out to himself, let alone anyone else."

"So he never told his parents?"

"Never. I think that he even had a story cooked up about why I lived in his apartment." Jacob wasn't sure how to describe Ryan at all. He kept thinking that somehow he should try to redeem him, try to describe him as a better person to Kelly. "But when we were together it was great."

"Well, yea, until the last time"

"No, it was OK then." Jacob remembered the night before Ryan left his little note and the things they discussed. They were planning a future. Jacob refused to believe that what happened was the result of some long pent-up anger or boredom or anything that had to do with him. That was why he was able to see past the words that Ryan used and try to understand that something else had happened. "It happened while I wasn't there. I don't think it had anything to do with me. At least not in the way he represented it."

"So that's why you don't hate him."

Jacob didn't reply. He accepted the fact that Ryan didn't want him around and that was the extent of it. He had made the clean break. He could have stayed in Texas, with Frankie or someone else but he bugged out. He just called Olin, bought his ticket and fled. He called work from Olin's house to let them know he wouldn't be back. He changed everything.

"Were you even angry?" Kelly asked.

Jacob hadn't even cried about it. He wasn't sure what he'd felt. He didn't want to think about it. "Yea, I guess I was."

"Liar." Kelly wiped the sweat off his face with the tail of his shirt. "I can't gauge anything of how you feel on this. You seem to be introspective about it but. I don't know. I can't put my finger on it."

Jacob shrugged his shoulders and smirked. "Maybe it's just difficult to be angry with someone who looks that good."

"So it was just sex, then?"

"No... Maybe... maybe not."

"Well, what did he look like?" Kelly asked. "Do you have any pictures of him?"

Jacob laughed. "Yea, but I only have one."

"One?" Kelly looked confused. "Weren't you together for over a year?"

"Ryan never let anyone take photos of him and me together. He barely let anyone take his picture at all so - "

"- so he could have his plausible deniability" Kelly finished.

Jacob paused. That thought had occurred to him before but he never gave it much credence.

"It sounds as if he held all the cards all the time." Kelly said. "Did you ever have any input at all in that relationship?"

Jacob started to get angry with the vein of Kelly's questions. "Look, I'm not someone's doormat." He felt he needed to lay it all out before Kelly jumped to any more conclusions or thought he was crazy. "I'm angry with him, yes. But I can't hate him. I loved him and there isn't a thin line between those for me." Jacob spoke passionately about his feelings and when he turned to face Kelly he used his hands as he spoke. "I can't tell you if I want to hurt him or hold him. I don't know if I want to fuck him or fuck him over. I don't really know what to feel." That statement was the closest thing to the exact feeling Jacob had about the situation and it rang true as he spoke them.

Kelly sat forward and smiled. He took his hand and placed it behind Jacob's head and pulled him to his mouth - as he had that morning - and kissed him. This kiss was quicker and less passionate but Jacob felt his frustration calm a little.

When he was done Kelly grinned wide. "I like how your mind works, Jacob. I'm sorry if I ask weird questions." Kelly sat back against the bench. "I ask about Ryan because I like you and I have to figure out if I'm up against a real person or a memory."

Jacob felt an odd familiarity in that statement. "A memory?"

"I just mean that I can compete against a real person but I might as well hang it up if you're just chasing the memory of what you had."

Jacob looked skeptically at him. "How do you know that you've even got a chance?"

"You called me, didn't you?" There was a playful quality in Kelly's tone that told Jacob that his reservations about calling might have been well founded. It said that if Kelly had liked Jacob less he might not have run to the phone when he heard the answering machine.

"Yea, I guess I did."

Kelly looked smug but it softened as he placed his hand in Jacob's in an unobtrusive, comfortable way.

Jacob didn't know how to react to this. In Texas he and Ryan rarely felt comfortable enough to hold hands in public - let alone kiss. This was an entirely new experience and he was uncertain if he was capable of it. The feel of Kelly's stained fingers in his sent crackles through his head. This was exactly what he wanted and less than his expectations. The anger he'd felt at Kelly's questions melted and he remembered the reasons why he called Kelly back so soon. This was new. He was new.

"Sometimes I feel as if I'm living somebody else's life, not mine." Jacob stared down at his and Kelly's hand. He moved his thumb across Kelly's pale callused palm and remembered kissing it the night before. He wasn't sure why this memory came to him when so many others that he wanted did not. He looked back up at Kelly and examined him carefully. "It's like I look at what happened and it's like it happened to someone else, it's someone else's problem. Someone far away. I don't know if that's crazy or not." Jacob wrinkled his brow at that. "I don't want to be crazy. But I'm totally in the dark. I mean, he left me this horrible letter and completely forced me out and the thing is... it feels fake. It's funny you should say that because he's a real person but he became a memory so fast that it confuses me." He looked intently at Kelly. "So, how can you tell which is which?"

"Memory or a real person?" Kelly seemed to contemplate this for a lot longer than Jacob wanted. He was quiet for a while and the reflective sunglasses gave Jacob nothing more than his own reflection. He finally shrugged and said "I can't tell. I don’t know. I guess it's just my way of telling you that I don't know what I'm getting into with you." He smiled. "But I think it might be worth it in the end and I just don't want to get into something with someone who will just take off."

Kelly didn't seem to be saying this for effect and Jacob was unnerved by such a blunt response and confession. Ryan only revealed things he felt deeply after a long period of argument or drinking. Jacob wasn't sure how to even hear this.

"I'm not sure what I'm competing with..." Kelly began. "Or if I'm ready to compete at all. I mean we just met but you're really easy to like. And the things I know about this Ryan-guy is that he was good looking and manipulative..." He paused distinctly as if something just occured to him. "... everyone else hated him, didn't they?"

Jacob sighed. "Pretty much."

"That happens a lot." Kelly said. "People feel two ways towards manipulative people. They either detest them or love them. There's not a lot of middle ground."

"I guess... I know all of my friends wanted to sleep with him as well." Jacob again looked at their fingers. "No one told me but I knew. And I think that he slept with a few of them. It's weird. Yea, they hated him but he was fucking gorgeous and he would use that. If he couldn't make them love him he would make them want him." Jacob sighed. "I always knew when something happened because they got this split personality around him. It was like somehow he used their friendship with me and held it over their heads. Everything would change and I knew that he'd done something. But ...I'm not really sure I know how to describe him or the situation. He's one of the few guys I've ever been with who's been able to make me do something that I didn't want to do and enjoy it."

Kelly nodded. "It happens."

"Not to me, it doesn't." Jacob said sharply. "I spent a lot of time learning how to have self-respect and vision and self-reliance." He closed his eyes. "And I know that he managed to get me to do things that I would have never done on my own." Jacob laughed as he realized something. "You know what? Right now I can't even remember what he looks like - how fucked up is that? This great love and I can't even picture his face."

"Well, you have that one picture."

"True. I guess I can look at that-" Jacob laughed out loud. "Holy shit, yes, but that's not exactly something that I would show someone."

"What do you mean?" Kelly leaned in, his sunglasses slid down on his nose as he stared at Jacob. "What kind of picture was it?"

Jacob shook his head. "It was this dirty picture... I mean, really bad. But for me it had all of these feelings wrapped in it. That picture was taken at the beginning of the end of us... the fucked up thing about it is that I was so fucking happy in it. It would be easier to describe him."

"You realize that I have to see this photograph now."

Jacob blushed fiercely and shook his head.

"So, are you both like... naked in it?"

"Kind of." Jacob smirked.

Kelly was confused. "I thought Ryan never let people take photos of the two of you together."

"It wasn't exactly our choice."

"So how did it happen?"

"This is so fucked up, Kelly, because that photo was this fantastic moment and is now just a reminder that it was all just a lie."

Kelly was quiet for a long time. "Then just tell me about it. What happened?"

Jacob sat for a moment and felt Kelly's fingers sweating in his own. He looked again at the scummy pond and began.

Next: He needed to repeat some well-used mantra of love just one more time