previous: Describing Love in Dirty Pictures

Nine: I could lie like this forever

Union Station Video Cafe was at the bottom of the stairs of Olin's apartment complex on High Street. Jacob hadn't lived so close to a bar in his life.

The concept of having a popular, social area so close to his front door was unnerving. While it was mostly calm during day – masquerading as a sedate restaurant, serving decent food – at night it transformed. Some nights they would play a non-stop stream of bad 80's videos, techno-dance and silly, live game shows. Other nights, crowds would gather to watch episodes of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy", "Queer as Folk" or "the L word".

Ryan would've lived there, constantly checking out guys, drinking to a stupor, complaining incessantly about the music style and volume. Safe from the 'confines' of sobriety he would have called it heaven. Jacob didn't even want to think about how many people he might bring back to their bed.

He always pushed feelings toward Ryan aside when he felt that they were infringing upon better thoughts and he did this as he unlocked the door that led to the apartment stairs. It wasn't too difficult considering the view. Beside him, an attractive, lanky, dark-haired guy in a black, muscle shirt stood talking on his cell phone. After a moment of eavesdropping, Jacob realized the guy was complaining that he had waited long enough for his boyfriend and was leaving. Jacob seemed to catch his eye as he unlocked the door but didn't slow down his actions. Being "checked out" by someone emitting a stream of whiney complaints wasn't exactly flattering.

Jacob always became self-conscious whenever he noticed anyone appraise his looks, it happened often as he came and went from the apartment but he wasn't accustomed to the leers. He wanted to take it with better humor – but usually failed. This time, the juxtaposition of "cute guy" and "spoiled bitch" was genuinely funny to him and he braved a smile.

The guy shrugged Jacob off, as if indifferent or annoyed by him, and turned away, his hand lifted to his ear to block the sound of traffic. It was, most defiantly, a shut-out.

People are just weird, Jacob concluded, he wished he could read them better.

While living next to the bar was strange, meeting someone he actually liked there was even more so. It did relieve him that Kelly seemed like a trustworthy person but he was unsure how it fit into his life here in Columbus- he wasn't even sure if he was going to stay long enough to form lasting relationships.

He didn't think he should he feel so excited about meeting someone so soon.

The door to the bar swung open as others exited the bar. They drew out the smells of food, smoke, cologne and muffled George Michael music. Jacob pulled open the apartment door and started up, the music a dull noise in the stairwell.

To his frustration, the song stuck permanently in his brain and he was humming along with "Too Funky" all the way up the stairs. He hated getting songs in a permanent loop but the music did appeal to him in light of the events of the day.

The day went well. He and Kelly talked a while longer near pond, walked the perimeter of Goodale Park and Kelly pointed out the time worn, Shakespearian faces carved into the sandstone caps on each of the arch pillars on the northwest corner. They walked slowly up Neil Avenue toward 5th Avenue. Eventually they sat at Victorian's Midnight Café cooling off with ice teas and Jacob listened to Kelly talk sentimental about the city.

When they continued on, Kelly pointed out the houses, here and there, where he worked for friends: "I constructed that spiral staircase for my friend, Merl, three years ago" and "See the sculpture of that frog right there in that ivy? I made that out of bolts and car parts."

Creative people filled Jacob with awe. They made him feel small and ineffectual. There wasn't any envy in this, just admiration. It made him open up, actually talk and actually listen. Kelly was very easy to be around and was a pleasant guide.

Jacob loved that area of Victorian Village. He loved how Kelly walked along the rows of huge Victorian style homes, brick side streets, well tended, ivy covered gardens and showed him those places where he'd made his mark- as if, somehow, he existed as a part of them. Overhanging trees shaded the streets and the sidewalks heaved and bulged with invasive roots. Jacob stumbled several times over them, laughing. Even the decay and disorder seemed comfortable and familiar. Everything seemed draped with shade and nostalgia and Kelly was connected to it, intimately. He was glad Kelly was so eager to show him.

That afternoon transformed from the sweltering heat to a dull, soothing, humidity at sunset as they walked to and from OSU campus. Jacob told Kelly far more things than he wanted to: his first time with a guy, with a girl, his mother's death, the bitter distance between he and his father. These things flowed out of him easily, unexpectedly. He would have felt as if he were monopolizing on the conversation but Kelly prodded him with questions and jokes, eased his awkward discomfort with his own ridiculous stories. Kelly seemed completely at ease and open and it made him want to be the same.

They decided to meet later for food and parted ways at the Coffee Table where they met earlier that afternoon.

Recalling the day filled Jacob with a bit of euphoria. It was similar to the feeling he had earlier, when they originally planned to meet for coffee but now there was less mystery. The fact that he knew details like the name of Kelly's cat and his friends' favorite drinking hole- silly things about him - the fact that he couldn't drink beer because it gave him pains in his jaws, made him more interesting – he had an idea of what to expect.

His feelings verged on liberation, as if the weight of the last few weeks was slowly beginning to lift from his shoulders. The clouds left to him by Ryan's inexplicable change of heart seemed to break. He was surprised the improved mood that came from just talking things out with someone.

Ryan would have laughed at the thought that one could change thoughts and feelings through simple discussion. Somehow, Ryan believed that emotional failures and flaws were permanent and this made them, ultimately, excusable. He considered his failures unchangeable results of who he was – he considered his alcoholism as hereditary as green eyes and as worthy of change. If Jacob, or anyone else for that matter, was unable to deal with his flaws, it was their problem- not his. If they didn't like his drinking they would just have to deal with it, if they didn't like the way he treated people they would have to just keep their mouths shut or be treated similarly. The philosophy of the unchangeable gave Ryan an excuse for never having to deal with anything that he or others might see as an issue. It meant he never had to apologize for any action, any transgression, any hurt, anything. For Ryan, nothing was ever a choice, misery was the natural state of things, and that ennui would only lift in brief flashes and no effort would succeed in reliving it.

Jacob watched this serial of stagnation for a year and he had somehow allowed that mentality to take him over. He stagnated, tried not to improve in his life– other than his physical body – and never took responsibility for his own shortcomings.

He truly wanted to rid himself of this convenient and childish thought process. As alluring as Ryan was, he wasn't healthy for anyone. He was a child, and wanted Jacob to be a child with him.

Faced with Ryan's near constant barrage on Jacob's self-esteem, the perpetual battle for control in their relationship – that Jacob ultimately lost – he started to feel grateful for the opportunity to get away from him.

It was a relief to be around someone who didn't require him to constantly keep up with his social and pop-culture references, or make him feel foolish when he didn't remember some obscure quote from a Cohen Brother's movie. Kelly made him feel as if he didn't have to vie for control of anything, the conversation, the plans for the evening or some ethereal advantage that meant nothing. Kelly was simply an adult and made Jacob feel like one for being around him.

Jacob was still humming when he reached the top of the stairs and unlocked the apartment.

Pete's Pussy met him at the door, mewing affectionately, sliding her fat, gray body, through his legs.

"I thought you had food when I left." Jacob kneeled and stroked the lazy cat's fur then stood and walked to the kitchen and filled the cat's bowl. "Fatass." He scratched her behind the ears before going back to his room, leaving her purring and crunching noisily behind him.

In the bedroom, he picked up the red satchel on the bed. The white corner of the photo poked out of the zippered pocket and Jacob removed it, set the bag on the floor and sat on the bed, staring at Ryan. He examined his face, wanting to understand the expression, trying to put the affection in his face in line with recent events. None of it made sense to him and he fought down the hate he wanted to feel.

Ryan's expression was contentment. There wasn't any deception in his face at that moment. Whatever transpired afterward, Ryan had been open to him at that moment and it was right there in his face, in his eyes. He truly felt love - it was so obvious now. Imagining that Ryan truly loved him made Jacob's chest ache – God, it hurt.

Why did Ryan just throw it away? If he truly felt that love, what was it? Was Ryan so determined not to feel love that he would throw it away as soon as he actually felt it? The whole thing made Jacob feel like Lucifer tumbling to Earth. He could understand now how love could turn to hatred in such a quick shift, that love tainted and decimated. It almost felt good to think of Ryan as an enemy, something to be despised and reviled. The whole thing felt like some elaborate plan that would allow Ryan to feel as if he had the last laugh – as if constantly making Jacob question every moment of their relationship wasn't enough, he had to shatter it shortly after he managed to convince Jacob that it was real.

And, after these weeks of silence and uncertainty, Jacob just wanted to hear the reason in the son-of-a-bitch's own words rather than those went through his own head. It was galling to argue with someone who wouldn't answer – someone who cast him away with harsh words that made no sense at all. He felt as if the rejection itself was a lie, that it was a convenient excuse to sever the relationship as quickly and cleanly as possible.

He put the photograph back in the pocket and closed the zipper. He'd wasted enough time mulling over the photo and the things he told Kelly in the park. Instead, he wanted to think about what they would do that night.

A movie, something to eat, hopefully, sober sex; but he didn't know what to expect. He had no idea. The only certainty was the refusal to allow it to become another night of excessive drinking followed by incoherent sex. He and Kelly decided earlier that booze was out of the question, neither had felt good enough to have even a small drink at Victorian's.

Jacob, still a little upset that he remembered so little from the night before, vowed that anything that happened between them would happen sober. He'd had enough drunken sex with Ryan – enough fading erections, bad beer breath, worse judgments and unsafe activities – to want to start something similar with Kelly. He wasn't even sure if he could remember what sober sex was like.

So, he decided to expect no sex at all.

Ryan was infuriatingly inconsistent when it came to anything sexual. Jacob had been humiliated enough times when asking – sometimes begging for as much as a kiss – only to be turned down. Ryan acted as if he were 'doing Jacob a favor' by conceding to sex when he didn't want it right then.

This constant back and forth – a mirror of their emotional competition for control – left Jacob unsure of how a normal person dealt with sexual feelings. He was constantly wrestling with the desire for something - anything - but was terrified to even do as much as reach out his hand for fear of rejection. This was something that had only developed while with Ryan, something he knew he learned, something Ryan taught him... he desperately wanted to unlearn it.

If he expected nothing he might find himself surprised if anything actually happened.

He searched around for a nice shirt and jeans, grabbed a quick shower, and was buttoning his shirt when he heard Olin and Pete come in from the Pride planning committee.

"Jake are you home?" Olin yelled down the hall.

"Yeah." Jacob replied. He looked in the mirror and wondered if his hair looked right. He mussed it and then fixed it again with his fingers.

Olin walked down the hallway and into the open door. He stopped and looked Jacob up and down. "Well... what have we here?"

"What?" Jacob asked. He noticed the expectant expression on Olin's face.

"I smell cologne." Olin leaned against the doorframe. "And it's not that gay cologne, either, the kind that everyone wears, that stinks up Axis."

"It's Fahrenheit." Jacob said. "I like it."

"It's not bad on you... but you smell like a straight guy." He paused and turned his head back toward the kitchen. "Pete! I was right. He's got a date."

"Good." Pete yelled from the kitchen. "Leave him alone."

Olin huffed over his shoulder and ignored Pete entirely. He went back to Jacob. "I know it can't be that boy from Axis last night. I was certain I saw him with some other mark when you stomped out of there."

Jacob cringed at the thought of Scotch. "Well, yeah, there was no fucking way I was going to go anywhere with him."

Olin walked into the room and plopped down onto the bed behind Jacob, staring at him through the mirror. He widened his eyes and sat forward. "So? Talk."

"I'm not saying a word about this, not yet." Jacob tried to ignore Olin's questioning eyes. Olin always wanted involvement in his emotional welfare and Jacob refused tonight.  He looked sternly back at his cousin. "Don't even bother asking questions."

"Humph." Olin pouted. "And here I was going to fill you in on all the dirt I heard at Stonewall about that boy, Scott – he has quite a reputation." He paused, waiting for some kind of interest. "Well...?" He looked expectantly at Jacob who didn't bite. "Fine." He said, acting nonchalant. "You're almost as bad as that woman from the HRC, Jacob. I swear, no one gets as power hungry as a dyke with a title – and I don't mean Ms. Can you believe that she wouldn't tell me who - "

"If you're trying to bore details out of me, just so I'll change the subject, it's not going to work either." Jacob interrupted. Olin had tried, many times, to bring up his pointless competition with "That Lesbian", Dana Richards and Jacob just ignored it. Jacob had far too many pointless competitions in his past to listen to another.

Olin hated her desperately – mostly because she was able to match him tit-for-tat so to speak on smart-assed comments.

"I'm just making idle conversation, Jacob, while you get ready for your date with..." Olin paused, the tone in his voice leading into an answer...

"Kelly." Jacob fell for it.

"Kelly?" Olin sat opened mouthed for a moment, appearing shocked. "KELLY?"

Jacob closed his eyes and frowned. "That was a cheap trick."

"You have a date with a woman?" Olin was thunderstruck.

For a moment, Jacob actually considered running with that whole concept. Olin gave him fits over dating and it seemed poetic justice to let him stew in heterosexuality for a little while. The shock and surprise at this was almost worth making up a whole story line of bullshit.

"Have you ever dated a woman before?" Olin asked, confused. "Jake, I know I asked you last night if you were really gay but I didn't intend for you to question your sexuality. I was joking."

"His name is Kelly, Olin." Jacob laughed. "I'm not questioning anything. He's a guy, OK? A guy."

"THANK - GOD!" Olin blurted out. His facial expression changed to relief. "I was about to plan an ex-ex-gay intervention."

The whole idea was so absurd and took Jacob by such surprise and he laughed aloud. "I'm not switching teams or anything, Olin, you know as well as I that I can't do that. I was shitty acting like a straight guy anyway."

"Well, I was starting to wonder. I started to think that that what's-his-name in Texas had ruined you for good."

Jacob didn't pursue that topic. Of course, he was certain that Olin would be an enthusiastic cheerleader if he shared some of the things he'd decided, that night, about Ryan. He didn't want someone on his side for that reason. He actually felt a little sympathy for Ryan because he knew now that he was right about him. It was sympathy mixed with hatred but not enough hatred to want to listen to him trashed any further.

Ryan didn't want a lover; he wanted a playmate. He just wanted someone to play with during recess – which, for Ryan, was all the time. Jacob felt the truth in this. He almost felt as if Ryan deserved someone to defend him - it was almost sad.

"I think I can undo most of what he did to me." Jacob hoped it was true. "Can we not talk about Ryan, please?"

Olin's expression changed slightly and he looked at Jacob carefully, appraising him. "Alright, Jake I won't even mention the little twit again." He looked down. "I hope you're not going to wear those shoes out." He pointed to Jacob's black tennis shoes, casting aside the previous discussion. "and..." He leaned forward and lifted Jacob's pant leg. "OH MY GOD!"

"What?" Jacob looked down.

"You are NOT leaving this house wearing white socks with black shoes - you might as well be wearing white socks with sandals."

This was the kind of thing that Jacob hated the most about Olin. He managed to pick him apart on multiple levels – when nitpicking Jacob's relationships didn't work he segued quickly to hair and clothing.

"What's wrong with this?" Jacob insisted. "No one can see my socks... I'm wearing Jeans and tennis shoes. It looks fine. You can wear white socks with jeans and tennis shoes."

"Oh, no you can't. Not on a date, you can't. "Olin rolled his eyes and shouted down the hall. "Pete! Come here and look at this." He turned back to Jacob. "Jacob, you're going on the first real date you've had since you moved here. You're not setting foot outside this house until you look like a hot, gay boy who knows how to dress himself."

Pete entered the room warily. He was easily a head taller than Olin and had conservatively cut and natural, blond hair. To someone else he would have appeared almost angry or irritated. He was outwardly so completely opposite to Olin that guests often mistook Pete as a roommate and not his lover of eight years.

Even after moving in, it took a week or more for Jacob to understand why Olin and Pete were even together. The realization came when he understood the volume of Pete's "creative insanity" (as Olin called it). Olin seemed to exist as the outward manifestation of Pete's creative energy. If Jacob had not grown up around Olin, known his particular ways of speaking and thinking, he might mistake him for someone that Pete fashioned for himself. Pete's smooth surface betrayed nothing of the chaos bubbling under the surface. Somehow, that calm, serene exterior surrounded one of the most intensely creative minds Jacob had ever known.

Pete appeared to be the kind of person that could not pull off anything wilder than an oddly colored tie. He looked like a policeman, clean cut, severe, serious, large and quiet. On the rare occasions, when he allowed Olin to dress him, he reminded Jacob of an uncomfortable, stoic, German officer dressed him in rainbow colored spandex. Putting his natural look and Olin's fashion sense together made something surreal. Pete was a wet cat, a New Orleans funeral and twelve-year-old schoolgirl in a 'hello kitty' jumper – all mixed together. It just didn't work at all. It was hilarious to Jacob.

In fact, one of the first things Pete ever said to Jacob was, "People seem to think I'm an unhappy person, Jacob, because I have this severe expression all the time. I'm actually a very happy guy - I just don't wear it well." Jacob liked him instantly.

Having him there to witness Olin's nitpicking made it tolerable.

Pete stood in the doorframe with his arms crossed, looked down at Jacob's feet when Olin lifted his pant leg again and exited the room. He went to their bedroom and returned with a pair of black socks.

"Don't look like a dork, Jacob." He handed him the socks with a smile. "Dorks wear black shoes with white socks."

Jacob accepted the socks but shot Olin an irritated look.

"Told ya." Olin sing-songed with childish satisfied at Pete's concession. He crossed his arms and sat on the bed. "I know you already have the date, Jake, but don't screw it up by looking like a straight guy with tape on his glasses."

Jacob sat next to him and removed his shoes and socks. "Don't say a fucking word about my toenails."

"I didn't say a thing." Olin glanced down again. "But they look fine. Good job." He patted Jacob's arm. "I don't think you'll be spearing anyone."

Pete stood with his arm against the door, leaning forward to see if the socks fit. "Where did you meet this guy, Jacob?"

"His name is Kelly." Olin said. "Can you believe that? At first, I thought that Jake-ee was going after fish."

"I am not even going to justify that line of conversation." Jacob said. He put on his shoes and tied them.

"You left Axis so early and fast. How did you meet him?" Pete asked. "You were in such a hurry to get away from that one guy."

Jacob actually considered telling the truth about how he met Kelly.

The truth: Actually, Pete, I woke up this morning in bed with him. I was trying to collect my clothing off the floor when I realized I woke him up. He then introduced himself, I then I lusted after him all day. Of course, Scotch, at Axis, might have dosed me but at least he wasn't around when- whatever it was- kicked in or he would have fucked me. I had a good enough scare when I thought Kelly might be him – the really scary part was that it could have been anyone in the world – with any disease or intent in the world - and I wouldn't have been able to do a thing about it. Granted, I was happy when I learned that Kelly and I were both too drunk to fuck but, after I got to know him, I could barely concentrate on anything because I just wanted him... and I really want the opportunity tonight.

The problem was not so much in explanation, but in delivery. He knew that if he told the truth it would lead to a completely new line of questioning that he didn't want to answer. How does one wake up in bed, naked, next to a stranger and still not look like a fool or a whore?

"I met him at Union." He answered – realizing he couldn't explain this without lying. He figured that if his lies were entertaining enough they might placate Olin's well-developed sense of intrusion. "I went there for a few minutes after I got back from Axis."

"Oh?" Olin clucked his tongue. "Is that where you were last night?"

Pete glared "We agreed that he could stay anywhere he liked with no questions, Olin. That's not our business. You said last night you didn't even want to know."

"And you believed me?" Olin turned to him. "Just who do you think you're living with, exactly?"

Pete opened his mouth to let out harsher words.

"Nothing happened." Jacob interjected before they started to argue. "We had some drinks, we got a little drunk and I crashed at his place."

"Oh, really?" Olin asked. He crossed his legs and gave Jacob stern expression. "So, does this Kelly guy live closer to Union Station than you?" He smirked in self-satisfaction. "I mean, you must have been really drunk to be rendered incapable of walking up a flight of stairs."

Jacob gaped at Olin, frustrated. He hadn't anticipated this line of questioning as he assumed they hadn't noticed he was even gone the whole night. He glanced over at Pete whose expression had changed to one of resignation.

"He does have a point." Pete said. "Not that I agree with him... for asking" He glanced back at Olin.

"Thank you!" Olin beamed at Pete.

Jacob looked back and forth between the two of them. He wondered, briefly, if the truth would have been worse but discarded this in favor of simplicity – half truths. "Fine." He said stoically. "I spent the night." He rolled his eyes. "We didn't do anything..." he paused. "We made out." Another pause. "That's it."

"I'm not judging, Jacob." Olin said. "I did my share of sleeping around." He put his hands on his hips. "Were you safe?"

"Geez, Olin, give it up. Nothing happened!" Jacob was certain that making out was "safe enough" even if they were unclothed. "We didn't do anything that required a condom."

"Stop acting like his mother." Pete said. "Or I'm going to tell him about last year, the Chrome Party, 2003?"

There was a long moment of silence between them as Olin considered this.

Pete crossed his arms. "You really don't want me to start naming people, do you?"

Olin's mouth pursed as he glared at his lover. "That was NOT my idea, if I recall, Peter." Olin said nervously. He quieted. "But I guess you have a point." His face softened as he turned to Jacob. "I don’t mean to pry, Jake-ee, I'm just interested in your well being."

"I know." Jacob replied, exasperated. "I know; but I don't like talking about guys I just met or relationships that aren't really relationships yet." He sighed. "Look, when or if I actually meet someone – or even sleep with this guy - it's not going to be after a couple of drinks and an hour of conversation." Jacob realized – as he said it – that it was another lie. "I won't sleep with a stranger, I won't bareback and I won't get so fucked up that I can't control a situation. I don't just hook up with guys. I'm smarter than that." He paused and hoped these lies were the right ones. "You know that, right?"

It was as if he couldn't stop himself. Jacob was perfectly aware that plenty of guys had broken that particular string of promises. Jacob had broken them the day he met Ryan, on the cab ride back to Ryan's house, the stupid, completely idiotic, unprotected sex that followed and the overly complicated situations Ryan manipulated, repeatedly, with other guys. He knew it was a flat-out miracle that the two of them weren't already positive. He didn't know why it was so important to hide the truth from Olin and Pete – other than the fact that Olin was so interested in the truth.

"Fuck, Olin, I don't even want to sleep with him. We're just going to hang out together - friends."

As he heard these unabashed lies come out of his mouth, Jacob's face turned red. His heart pounded in his neck.

Olin seemed to interpret Jacobs physical change incorrectly and he spoke quickly, apologetically. "I know- you're right. I'm sorry, Jacob, I'm not going to pry anymore." He walked to the door and stood next to Pete. "I'm a busybody... I should be sitting around with a bunch of old women making a quilt. If I get my nose too close to your business, Jake, just tell me to stop and I'll do it."

Jacob leaned toward Olin. "Ok, please stop it."

Pete started laughing and walked back down the hall.

Olin shrugged and nodded. He held up two fingers in a weak Boy Scout salute. "OK. I'll stop." None of this was very convincing. "I promise." He turned and walked after Pete shouting at him. "And I don't even want to hear it from you." There wasn't much argument left in Olin at that point.

When they left, Jacob opened the dresser drawer and ripped off three or four condoms from the strips tucked under his socks. He stared at the black packages. He wasn't sure if it was right to prepare for sex so enthusiastically- especially when he was planning to abstain. Did that mean that sex was all he really wanted from the night? He wasn't sure if it even mattered.

Anyway, Kelly seemed to have plenty of condoms on his nightstand so Jacob put these in his own. If it happened, it happened - here or there, they'd have something to use.  Neither of them would have to look overly eager. If it didn't, it didn't. It was all no big deal. Neither of them would have to turn the other one down.

He was determined to expect NO sex whatsoever.

He didn't even want to sleep with Kelly. This was the biggest lie he'd told that night and he didn't even pretend to believe it.  Jacob wasn't sure if he'd be able to last through dinner. He was so disappointed in himself, so upset that he couldn't just be honest about everything. Why did he have to spew out so many false statements? Who was he trying to convince? He opened the drawer again and looked at the condoms inside.

Jacob took a deep breath and looked back in the mirror. He refocused on his clothing - taking a page from Olin's manual of healthy, emotional denial and tried to decide if he should tuck in his shirt. He felt certain that Kelly wouldn’t really give a shit but the whole 'dark sock' critique left him a little leery of his own fashion sense. After a few minutes of uncertain tucking and untucking, he simply gave up and went to ask an all-too-pleased Olin.

It started a completely new round of "What not to wear" until Pete told Olin to leave him alone and to go back to his quilt.

Jacob arrived at Kelly's apartment, a little early, with his pockets full of condoms.



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