"Cut the bullshit, Tom. Get to the part with the dead people," John interrupted brusquely. Part of him was calculating the distance to the phone and wondering if he could call 911, get help and still manage to hold off the other man if he turned violent. He shook his head: how could he have managed to get himself into this mess?
"I'm trying to," Thomas said softly. "Look, John, this is kind of hard for me, okay? I haven't told anyone this story, well, ever. It's been my burden. Kind of like... you ever read that poem in high school? 'Rime of the Ancient Mariner'?"
The question was so far from what they were supposed to be talking about that it surprised John. He just stared at Tom blankly before the memory started to slowly percolate up from deep in his subconscious. "Something about a seagull, right?"
Tom smiled, and John wondered how he could ever possibly fear this man. What was he saying? Aw, fuck, He didn't know what he was saying. "Tom, man, you are freaking me out," he groaned in frustration. "One minute you're some loser bum on the street, next we are working together, next you're gay, next you're a murderer. Now it's some bullshit about poetry and seagulls. Could you, like, just stick to the subject?"
Thomas' smile slid into a chuckle. "Sorry. Always did kind of give people the run-around when I was talking. Was trained to." He got up from his chair and grabbed the coffee pot, pretending not to notice as John nervously leaned away from him while he freshened their cups of coffee. "And it wasn't a seagull. It was an albatross."
"Albatross, seagull, who cares? Still want to know about the dead people." John replied. "Wait!" His face blanched. "I told you about Paul. Is that the same thing? You got AIDS? And you gave it to people?" John looked like he was about to leap away the table, and having Tom place his hand on John's arm to restrain him only made him jerk sideways, almost tipping the chair over.
"John, no!" Tom groaned. "Fuck, I can't do anything right, can I? Even when I try and come clean I am a screw-up."
John righted himself in the chair and shook his head. "Nah, it's me. I guess it just all… I mean, I guess I just realized I know diddly shit about you and now you are talking about dead people… and you said you were gay… And it's not like I didn't go through this with Paul." He sighed. "I'm sorry. It's been a long, fucked-up day and I just keep jumping to conclusions." He lifted his coffee cup. "So I got a full cup and I am going to sit right here and shut up and let you talk, okay?"
"That's fair," Tom nodded. "Thanks. Look, can I just say, first off, that you don't have to worry. I ain't sick or contagious or the violent type. Well, this afternoon aside. I'll just tell you my story and then I'll let you decide, okay? If you want me to go, I will." He frowned, his voice dropping as he started thinking. "Heck, I may end up wanting me to go. It's not like I haven't wrestled with that every night since I got here. I just…"
"You're about to talk yourself in circles again. So why don't you just chill, start at the beginning and then we can figure out what comes next at the end," John said.
Tom smiled lightly. "For a guy who is obviously thinking in circles as bad as I am, you are pretty smart."
John gave him a sideways smirk. "Not just a pretty face.'
Tom laughed. "Okay. Enough build up. Like I said, this has been like my albatross. Hanging around my neck 'cause I fucked up. Fucked up big time. And I know all those stupid counsellors say you are suppose to talk about it, but I couldn't. I really couldn't. So I just walked away from everything. Ended up on the streets. And seeing as I deserved it, they were the best place for me to be."
"Look, I said I'd start at the beginning so, I will. But you are gonna have to hear it the way I can tell it, okay?"
John nodded, sipping his coffee.
Tom shot him a little grin. "Once upon a time there was this little guy named Thomas." He ignored John rolling his eyes. "He grew up in a normal house with a Mom and Dad who were the greatest. Even had an older brother who wasn't as obnoxious as they can be. He grew up surrounded by lots of cousins, family and friends. He went to school and did okay. Plays some, ah, sports. He was good, but not pro-level good. Sang in the choir at church, and loved doing that." Tom winked at John. "Was just in choir, wasn't an altar boy or anything, so that can't explain why he turned out gay."
John snorted. "Southern Baptist?"
"How did you…" Tom shrugged. "So, I haven't been so hot at hiding my roots, hunh? Anyway, I grew up so freaking normal it'd bored you to tears." He paused, trying to figure out how to put the next part.
"I was gonna go to Bible College. Yeah, I was that geeky. Only things happened and I ended up not going to college at all. I got this, ah, job. It was pretty cool. Lot s of hard work, but with a group of people who were amazing. You know; the kind of people you just wanted to do your best for 'cause you knew they were giving you their best too? It was tough and all, but I loved it."
"And we were good too. The stuff we were doing… well, it got so people knew who we were. And while we didn't always get respect, at least we got accepted. There were good times. And there were suck-hole bad times. A couple times we got royally screwed over by people we trusted. But other stuff kind of made up for that. I mean, shit happens. Seemed to happen more to us - to me - than a lot of people for a while there, but it was still okay."
"I got real sick for a while. I'd been sick as a kid and it just got all worse again. Thought I was gonna die. Had to have this freaking scary operation and I really thought I was gonna die."
John interrupted. "Is that why..? You have those scars on your chest."
"You checking out my chest, were you? Thought you weren't interested," Thomas teased.
John blushed. "Nah, man. Just… I saw them that first time. You know, when I washed your clothes and all? Figured you'd been in an accident or something."
"An accident would have been easier," Thomas sighed. "I was, like, working out all the time. In great shape, just pushing myself at, ah, work. Always doing stuff. Hardly ever resting. And my body just sort of gave out. And the doctors said, 'whoa, man! Too much. You gotta cool down. And you gotta have this operation,' Not something you wanted to hear. I mean, my life was so all together. I was enjoying what I was doing, going places, meeting people. I had this great girl, and…"
He smiled wistfully "Yeah. I told you I was too normal for words. I was a regular girl magnet. Okay, so that's not true. I just had this girlfriend. She was way hot. A model-actress type. Ended up marrying her."
"Hold up! You said you were gay. Now you're married?"
"And you said you'd shut up until I was finished," he admonished.
"Bite me," John snorted, though he leaned back and took another swig of coffee. He grimaced when he realized it was cold, but gestured for Thomas to continue.
"So, where was I? Oh yeah, I had to go in for surgery. Almost died. And then, once it was over, I had to go right back to work. Almost died then too. It was too much, too fast. Had the ambulance on speed dial and everything. I finally decided 'no way, man. This ain't worth it.' I was already to quit the job, when the other guys I worked with said, 'we're getting screwed over and we don't like that.' I was all, 'no shit.' So we got together, sued our boss and headed out on our own."
"Anyway, that isn't really important. I guess, what I'm trying to say was that I had this career. The kind of career some people'll kill for, you know? So I was happy at that. More some days than others, but who isn't, right? So I had a great family, and a great, umm, job. And a great girl. I had it all."
"'Cept, when you have it all, you usually end up not thinking about that. You end up thinking about all that you don't got. And that was me."
"See, I wanted a wife and a family and all that shit. House with white picket fence. Dog and kids and two car garage. All that stuff that is supposed to mean you made it. I really wanted it. Really. Only I kind of also wanted something else."
"Something with a dick?"
He sighed. "Yeah."
He took a breath to start again, but John got up and went over to the bar. "Something tells me we're getting to the 'where it all went wrong' part. I'm getting a beer. Want?"
Tom hesitated and then nodded. "Not much of a drinker." He laughed wryly. "Which is pretty funny considering where I ended up. I mean, once I was down I was drinking pretty hard. But the further down I went, the harder it was to get booze, you know? And the more I didn't want it. Just made my throat sore." He laughed again. "Who knew that the best cure for alcoholism was becoming a street person?"
John smiled as he handed him the bottle. "Doesn't always work that way."
"I know. Some of my, umm, fellow street folk… everything just revolved around drinking. And I was like that for a while. But when you gotta drinking you gotta think about getting something to drink. And I just didn't want to think. Not about anything. So I just concentrated on putting my feet in front of each other, and nothing else." He clinked his bottle against John's. "Cheers."
"Here's mud in your eye."
Tom took a sip and then placed his bottle on the table. He started to peel the label and then looked up at John. "Growing up, if someone had ever told me I was gonna like men, I'd have laughed in their face. I mean, women are so great. They smell nice, and they are all soft. And breasts. Always loved breasts. It's just, like, I got bored of them. I mean, does that make sense? They were all great and then I just sort of lost interest."
"And guys… I think I was always maybe bi. I remember looking at other guys, like in the locker room or somewhere. At first it was just 'hey, are they bigger than me' shit. And after a while it was, like, major curiosity. But I was still cool and all. I worked around gay guys, so it wasn't as if I was afraid of it or anything. Just curious. I shrugged it off. Everyone is curious, aren't they? I mean, some of my friends had tried it. If you can, why not? But not me. Not good little old me. I just looked. Discreetly. And wondered. And wanted."
"I did the stuff you were supposed to. I married my girl. Because that's what good Southern boys do, don't they? They find themselves a good Southern girl. Get married in the big church do and live happily ever after. So I did."
"Only I couldn't."
"See, I really liked the girl. Loved her. I did. Only I sort of fell in love. And it wasn't with her."
Tom looked up as if startled that John was there. He took a long swig of his beer. "Yeah," he said sadly.
"Tell me about him," John asked quietly.
Shaking his head, Tom put the bottle back down on the table. "I can't. I just can't. I can't think of him. Sorry. I can't."
The pain in his voice was hard for John to hear. He nodded and sat back, waiting for Thomas to take up the story again. Eventually he did.
"So I was in love with… him. And married to her. And he hated her. I mean, most of my friends did at first. Sure they calmed down. Even he did. But they just didn't like her much. Thought she was after me for… well, not 'cause she loved me, let's say." He sighed. "To this day, I am not sure… maybe they were right. I don't know. I just don't know."
"Can you ask her?"
He shook his head. "No. She's dead. I killed her." He sighed. "I mean, not directly. But if I'd been there she wouldn't be dead. It's my fault."
Fat tears rolled down his cheeks and he just let them fall. "I just couldn't admit it. I didn't want her. I wanted him. Only I couldn't even admit that. Because well-brought up Southern boys didn't like men. Not that way. So I repressed, and I repressed and I repressed until I just blew up. I'd tried so hard not to be what I was. I tried harder at it than I did at every other thing I'd ever done. People said it all came easy to us, but it didn't. We killed ourselves getting to where we did. And even harder than I worked at that, I worked at not wanting…"
"It got so I was afraid to go out of the house because the first man I'd see… I'd get a hard-on. Didn't matter what he looked like. I'd still get hard. All I could think of was what it would be like to have him on his knees, mouth wrapped around my cock. To have him bent over, me slamming into him. Or him into me. It got so I couldn't see what I had. Just what I didn't. It wasn't just the guy I was in love with - it was the whole freaking life I wanted so badly."
He raised his head, looking at John with tearstained cheeks. "Know what she did? Know what the woman I married did? She knew she was losing me. Didn't know why: I couldn't tell her. I couldn't even admit it to myself. I just started to close down. Shy away from her. Shy away from everything. And what does she do? She gives me the one thing I wanted more than anything in the God damned world. She gives me a son."
He waved a hand negligently. "Not gonna go into how that was all hard. Just, she had trouble that way. With woman stuff. And having a baby was going to be rough on her. And seeing as I was sleeping with her, like, few and far between, it made it all more difficult. But damn if she didn't do it. Got pregnant. Carried the kid and gave birth to the most beautiful baby I'd ever seen in my life. He was so wonderful…" He broke off, head falling into his hands as he sobbed. John reached across the table and lay a comforting hand on his arm, but Tom shrugged it off. He just sat there, weeping.
He raised his head, wiping the tears away. "And what did I do?" he continue huskily, as if he hadn't been crying his eyes out for five minutes solid. " I cheat on her. I find some hot guy and I fucking cheat on her."
"Like I said, I repressed. Majorly. For years. I mean we had a boy. Most beautiful, funny, smart boy you ever saw. He was my angel. I ate, slept and breathed for that kid. I kept pushing her further and further away, but it was okay because I wasn't doing it because I was in love with the other guy. I was doing it because I was hanging with my son. My baby boy. I mean, sure, I was still in love with… the guy. I still ached like crazy for him. Still fantasized it was him the few times I actually got around to fucking my wife. But it was my son who was my world."
"And I killed him too."
"Tom." John's voice cut across the rambling monologue. "Look, man, I ain't trying to rush you, but you are still freaking me out. You say you killed them: how? What the fuck happened?"
Tom sighed. "I fucking happened, that's what. Stupid fucking me blew up like a fucking horny bomb." He sighed again. "Okay, long story short. I cracked. I finally couldn't hold it in any longer. The wanting, the needing… I just couldn't hold it in any more. I went out to some bar, found some guy and went home with him."
"And while I'm finally getting my rocks off… While I'm finally fucking the shit out of a guy… Finally giving into who and what I am…"
"My wife is out picking up my son from daycare. Something I was supposed to do but I forgot because I was so fucking desperate to finally fuck some guy. She's out picking him up."
"And on the way home they get hit by a drunk driver. Both of them. Dead."
"My wife. My son. Dead. Because I was fucking gay and couldn't hold it in any longer."