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Convenience Store Romance
"Convenience Store Romance" by Red Haircrow, part of the Boys Getting Ahead anthology published by StarBooks Press, 2010.
Description: “Beautiful, directionless young Darren was a casualty waiting to happen. Rob, his strong-minded co-worker, welcomes the opportunity to show him all he knows. In the end, they discover each has many things to teach the other about life and love.”
Genre: Contemporary Gay Fiction
Rated: Mature for sexual explicit descriptions and some adult language.
"This short story made me think.... the story is very realistic and will stay with me much longer than many others I have read. A very nice surprise!"--Rainbow Reviews
"...The real jem, though, was Red Haircrow's "Convenience Store Romance". What a great little story!"--Stephen Osbourne, Author
They’d been crossing up shifts lately, he and Rob. He would stay a little later, or Rob would come in early. The convenience store only had five workers all total for shift coverage: morning shift, 6-2pm, mid-shift 2pm-10pm, and night shift 10pm-6am, a person for each shift, an extra and the manager. Morning shift was always taken by the same middle-aged woman, Becky, and when she was off, another oldie named Nancy was her back-up. Darren usually worked mid-shift hours and Rob the thirds, but sometimes they switched off so Rob could have a break from the graveyard shift. They each didn’t mind working seven days a week or overtime. He was struggling to live on his own with rent and a car payment, and Rob was putting himself through college.
Rob and he were friendly enough. Often Rob would help him with paperwork since his math skills were seriously sub-par. That young man was conscientious and dutiful, but from his look: moderately tattooed and rocker clothed, Rob was a bit of a rebel as well. Darren thought him totally sexy. Although he was taller than his co-worker, the guy was broad-shouldered and well-muscled from apparently regular work-outs, with a smouldering look in his dark eyes that made Darren's pulse race. His hair was black as night, longish and straight, yet his skin was the palest Darren had ever seen in this southern region. Perhaps he was of Italian or Greek descent, he couldn’t tell, and hadn’t dared ask, but he was curious. He was deeply curious about many things pertaining to Rob Everson, but he was shy as well. Just blossoming into the reality of his sexual preference, Darren had little idea of how to tell if someone else might be interested in him, and especially no clue on how to approach them.
“Your numbers are off again,” Rob said, frowning over Darren’s end shift report.
“I’m sorry. I just don’t get it,” Darren lamented. He looked away from Rob, out the front window to check the customer still filling his gas tank, before half entering the office to lean against the doorway. Directly behind the cash register and counter area, it was a rather small room where higher priced items were kept and employees could stash their personal belongings. "I keep trying to get it right, I really do, but I just can’t. I mean I’m not cheating or stealing or anything!”
“I believe you,” Rob smiled, his eyes still on the red-marked sheet as his fingers flew over the adding machine on his right. “Here’s the problem.” He went into details that sailed right over Darren’s head, but he enjoyed watching Rob’s classic profile anyway, with its strong nose and well-formed lips.
“I’m ready,” called the customer who was now waiting to pay, startling Darren from his revelry.
“Oh sorry! Find everything you need?” Darren asked too brightly. The man frowned at him, shaking his head as he went out.
They’d already finished close out procedure, and all the duties were done. There was nothing for Darren to do but leave, yet he felt reluctant. Rob stapled the papers and receipts together for him, and was quietly standing looking out into the night. Rob was in charge of the store now, but made no suggestion Darren vacate the premises, although technically the one ending shift was suppose to go no later than 15 minutes after clocking out.
“So how’s college going?” Darren asked, taking advantage of the free drinks they got from the deli area.
Rob shrugged. “Not bad. The courses aren't too hard at the moment. I’m taking things I like so it’s easy right now.”
“What’s your major?”
“Criminal Justice,” Rob replied. “I want to work for the F.B.I. one day. I know it’s a long shot, but I need to get the basics done to have any chance of being accepted.”
“I wish you luck,” Darren stammered after a moment of thought.
“You taking any courses?” Rob then inquired of him. Darren had just turned twenty-one a few months ago, three years younger than Rob after all.
“Nah,” he said. “I guess I should, but I don’t really know what I want to do. I...just want to get away from this town most of all.”
“Well, having a college degree can help with that,” Rob replied matter of factly.
“I guess so,” Darren said.
Rob eyed him up and down where he stood with one hip against the counter, sipping on soda.
“This place doesn’t fit you,” Rob said in his quiet, authoritative way, as if he was completely certain of that fact. “Look into some courses, would you? I’ll help you out with decisions if you want.”
Darren looked up, weighing Rob’s glance, his intentions. “I’d like that,” he finally said. “But I guess I better go now, the camera is recording.” His eyes flicked up to one corner though he remained perfectly still, then winked at Rob, who gave a minimal nod. Darren ducked into the backroom to collect his things moving behind Rob, unable to stop his glance from perusing the well-filled back of Rob’s jeans. He stopped at the door on the way out, biting his lip with indecision then stuttered out. “T-thanks Rob. I really mean it.”
Darren fled before he could hear Rob’s reply, returning home to his little studio apartment. Even after a long hot shower and a leisurely session of personal pleasure, it took him many hours to fall asleep. The gentle, slightly speculative gaze strangely in out of sync with Rob's strong appearance stayed in his mind far into the night.
“Man, it’s all over him!” Rob said aloud, shaking his head, laughing. Darren had just left, hurrying away to his car. No one was in the store or at the pumps so he had a few moments of leisure to smoke and think.
Even if Wendy the manager hadn't told him Darren's orientation recently, Rob had sensed it as soon as he met him. It wasn't just because of how he looked, which was impressive, for Darren was slender in a natural way, with expressive slightly slanted eyes of a particular shade of light brown which seemed golden in certain lights. In fact they were nearly the colour of his hair in pleasant contrast with his exotic dark brows and lashes. Darren was young, beautiful and...a complete innocent. Rob could see that too. With the plethora of predators lurking about, Darren was just a casualty waiting to happen. The first hardcore guy who tossed Darren a few compliments and took him out a couple of times would have a plaything, likely to be fucked over thoroughly then dumped without a second thought. If Darren didn’t learn from such an experience, it would be repeated until he was messed up, drugged or alki’ed out, reckless, useless and sad. That was one of the reasons Rob wanted to go into law enforcement. He’d suffered a rough life growing up, of abuse and betrayals, sexual and parental. He wanted to do something positive in the world and help those who couldn’t help themselves.
He'd also been told by the manager Darren was a good guy, an honest worker though his register skills were abysmal. She wanted to keep him because she felt sorry for the poor guy kicked out by his parents when they found out he was queer, but she was growing tired of his screw-ups. And that’s why Rob stepped in to help him. He felt sorry for Darren’s lack of basic business skills, sensing the young man had other abilities as yet untapped. On a personal note, even though in the last couple of years he’d stuck mostly to the heterosexual side to prepare for screening for his future career (it was simply reality to admit departments did look at such things), there was always the “bi” lurking in him, and Darren struck a desirable cord. Along with Darren's physical attributes, svelte in its narrow jeans and skinny shirts, the artless smile of pure pleasure that lit up those eyes so ingeniously had quickened his pulse a few times, giving him a glimpse into what seemed a truly generous and loving soul.
Rob was definitely attracted. With his hard schedule of school and work, it had been many weeks since he’d had sex. Each time he was near the guy, an erection of epic proportions arose. Rob was torn between getting away from Darren altogether, or truly taking him under wing and teaching him how and who to love, how to protect himself from those who would do him harm. He considered the list of duties he had to finish during his shift still thinking about what to do about their uneven attraction. He refilled the ice machines, stocked the coolers, mopped the floor and dumped the trash cans before he decided that although his mentor warned care in anything he did these days, Rob decided Darren was worth it.
“It’s been total hell tonight,” Darren said, a frown of concentration on his face. Rob could see that already. The cooler was showing numerous empty slots, the shelves were disordered as many customers had perused the store, and a noisy group of loiterers were hanging out in the parking lot. “Glad you came in early.” The guy looked near to tears struggling to shorten the queue of people impatiently observing his distress.
“Don’t sweat it,” Rob said. “I’ll take care of it.”
Darren’s shoulders dropped in relief as he rung up another customer. “Thanks, Rob. I owe you.”
Rob sauntered outside and soon had the quartet of Honda hybrid owners and their admirers on their way, then came back in and started bagging for Darren as a full load of workers from a nearby factory's final shift burst in to get their Friday brew.
“You’re good at everything,” Darren sighed, flicking away his bangs. “I didn’t know what I was going to do if you hadn't come in.”
“If I hadn’t come in you would have rung up your customers, got what you needed to do done, and handled any problems that arose,” Rob said simply. “I have confidence in you.”
Darren looked at him in comical perplexion before bursting out with laughter. “Well I’m glad you do!”
“You should have more in yourself,” Rob said, sitting back onto a stool with a wry smile. “Just don’t let people bother you and do what you know you can then everything will be ok.”
“I’m always getting schooled, aren’t I?” Darren tried to make a joke of it. He ruefully regarded Rob. “I wish I could do what you said.”
“You can,” Rob replied. Their eyes met. Darren felt a flush of arousal. Rob looked so sexy in his sleeveless t-shirt, his muscled, tattooed arms folded, silky black eyebrows slightly raised.
Darren’s lips parted, breath quickening, unconsciously he leaned towards his co-worker. Greatly daring, he asked, “W-would you teach me?”
Rob licked his own lips, rising abruptly. “Your paperwork needs to be done. Close out would you? I'll take care of it.” He shouldered past Darren, stepping around him into the office, half closing the door behind himself.
Darren blushed furiously. I’ve fucked it up good, he thought. He caught me out.
The register rumbled and rolled, spewing its fountain of paper. When it finished, Darren ripped it off, and gathered up all the other receipts and coupons. He was reluctant to take it in to Rob however.
“Bringing it or not?” Rob’s sharp question made him jump.
He opened the door farther, offered the papers without looking.
“Anyone out there?” Rob asked quietly.
“What?” he replied, confused.
“Anyone in the store, at the pumps…out there?” Rob asked again.
“N-no, there’s no one,” Darren said, still puzzled.
“Come in then.”
Darren cautiously stepped inside the door, and was pulled into a kiss.
Darren's lips were smooth and soft, opening under his after a moment, yielding completely in a way that fired his blood. The hot whisper of a tongue against his caused him to plunge his own deeper, dominating the kiss. His hands slid down the slender back, down to those delectable buttocks he'd watched in faded jeans whenever he could, down to urge him closer against his hardening length. He lifted Darren easily, moving towards the back of the room, unfastened his pants, then unzippered Darren's. Dropping to his knees, he pressed his face against the pulsing length inside low-cut cotton briefs, strongly breathed in the blonde's light musky scent before pulling them down to his knees. From a golden nest of hairs sprouted a small but beautifully made cock which he sucked into his mouth without hesitation. Darren's cry of pleasure only fueled his desperate need as he grasped the slim hips, sucking it in and out of his mouth. He had to have him, fully have him now.
Standing, he turned Darren to his belly over the stacks of boxes, pushing up the blonde's t-shirt so he could see the length of his back, drew his nails down it again and again, raising faint red streaks, so that Darren squirmed and cried out. A droplet of sweat slipped down Darren's spine to be lost between his buttocks. With one hand Rob gripped the left cheek, spreading it wider, his thumb tracing the lightly haired pucker. Spitting onto the fingertips of his other hand, he rubbed it into Darren's hole, slipping a digit inside, drawing a moan. Then taking his cock in hand, he pressed its flushed tip in, savouring the hot, tight fit.
"Oh yeah," he groaned fervently, closing his eyes, as Darren rhythmically moaned beneath him. Gripping Darren's waist, slowly he thrust deeper, his breathing loud and eager in the small room. Darren hissed softly as he was stretched wide by his thick cock. Just then a familiar jingle sounded. Someone was coming in the door!
Rob cursed furiously, releasing him. Terrified, Darren fumbled as he pulled up his pants. He heard the thump of the office door closing, as Rob hurried out to tend the customer. He was glad he’d straightened his clothing and sat down at the desk for it reopened soon and it wasn't Rob. The manager stood in the doorway, eyes roving the room quickly.
“Hi, Wendy,” he said nervously. “Yeah, I’m still here but Rob was just showing me...where I went wrong on my work sheet.”
Wendy snatched up the paper in front of him without answering, taking long moments to look over the figures. “You make a lot of mistakes. I’m getting tired of it,” she said shortly.
Darren swallowed in a dry throat realizing the narrowness of the miss. “I try my best. I’m just not good at math. In the end...the register is never short.”
“Yes,” the manager agreed. “And that’s the only reason I haven’t fired you yet.”
Darren didn’t know what else to say. He’d gone from his deeper desire in one second, to his greatest fear the next. “I’m sorry,” he stammered again. He stood, trying to edge around her, angry at the tears forming in his eyes.
Outside Rob stood calmly before the cash register with his back to them both, seemingly oblivious to the raw passion they’d shared a few moments before. Darren kept his eyes down as he stalked around the counter and headed for the door, realizing what any hesitancy might suggest, yet he longed to look back and receive some reassurance from Rob. Wendy was in the office doorway, arms folded, watching everything. Darren left without another word to either, heart pounding in mortified embarrassment.
Rob passed the shaky interrogation Wendy gave him with little trouble easily convincing her Darren had still been on the premises for schooling in better register techniques. His professional manner soothed the woman’s alarm with little problem. She knew of his college studies and intentions, trusted him implicitly. His self-assuredness about their co-worker also put her at ease and hopefully secured Darren a few more months to find another job more suited to his abilities.
It had been a close, dangerous thing. After she’d gone, for she’d only stopped by on her way home from a date, Rob wiped away anxious sweat remembering how nearly they had been caught, deeply thankful he voluntarily wore the store work apron for it had covered his arousal. He was furious at himself for his loss of control. That was not the way he wanted it to be with Darren.
But just at the moment when Darren appeared around the door, that vulnerable look on his face, that slim, golden body lithely presented...his own enforced celibacy the past months had overridden good sense, and it had almost gotten them both fired if not worse. He couldn't allow such irresponsibility to happen again.
He damn well couldn't call in sick, though that was Darren's first thought. He felt sick with dread about going back his next shift, agonizing for hours over what he was going to do. He couldn't remember if Rob was also scheduled tomorrow, a Sunday, but he didn't really want to see either his "almost" lover or Wendy, but for entirely different reasons. Wendy never seemed to like him anyway, so this was just something new to add to her list of his deficiencies. But with Rob it was more.
The long hot bath which usually relaxed him hadn't done the trick. His favorite music still played in the background but it hadn't lifted his spirits either. Darren finished towelling his hair, then looked at himself in the bathroom mirror. His eyes were reddened from crying, the skin around them bruised. He attempted a smile but the result was ghastly. From force of habit taught by his overly neat mother, he straightened up his small bathroom, hung up the wet towels and wiped out the tub before walking back into the only other room in his studio apartment.
It was a small place, but he liked it, the first on his own. Scarcely larger all told than the room he'd had at his parents house, it contained a small kitchenette area with mini-fridge and stove partitioned by shelving which had a let-down desk. This divided the room main with its single sofa and table upon which set a small television all which came supplied, giving a semblance of a "real" apartment. A very important part of his choice, because when he was thrown out of his parents home three months ago, he hadn't been allowed to take anything except his car, which was in his name, and clothing and items he'd bought himself. Unfortunately, he'd never thought to buy household goods before.
He dropped onto his bed, which normally he folded back into its storage cabinet in the wall as soon as he awoke daily, but from which he hadn't arisen the past twelve hours except to get another drink and piss. After Friday night's fiasco at the store, he'd stopped at a different late night store, bought himself as much booze as he could afford and went straight back to his apartment, took off all his clothes and started to cry. He'd passed the night with intermittent masturbation remembering the electric sexual charge of being penetrated by Rob, the hard kisses and fingers, alternated with angry weeping at his own stupidity. Drunken self-hatred burned him to the quick.
The past months had presented monumental life changes for him. The first was "coming out", and the series of arguments and strife which had last an entire day before his father carted what things allowed him out to the car port and told him he had to find himself somewhere else to live. The look on his father's face, the disgust; his mother's tears and her refusal to meet his eyes, shamed him every waking thought. They'd always said how open minded they were, accepting of different cultures, belief systems and political views, after all they were a "mixed" couple: his father was American and his mother Japanese, until their only son told how he really felt, and what would make him happy. His father was convinced his son was nothing but a whore, although Darren was a virgin with both sexes, and his mother had said nothing at all, only wept, turning her back and never speaking to him again.
He'd had the job at the gas station for six months, which had allowed him to get his car, but without down payment money or a co-signer it had been hard finding a place to live without references. He'd slept in his little Mazda for a few weeks until he saved enough to get this studio, glad again of the sympathic realtor who'd given him the chance.
The CD player whirred to a stop along with his memories. Darren sighed, laying back on the rumpled linen, looking towards the window, their blinds closed against the summer evening's lingering light. He simply didn't know what to do, but he had to go back to work. He couldn't afford not to, yet the situation with Rob....His next sigh ended with a sob. Rolling to his side, he buried his face in his hands. He just didn't feel like living anymore.
It had taken some searching, but Rob finally found an address for Darren. Even on scheduled off days his co-workers, including Darren, usually dropped by at some point to check on the store and say a friendly hallo, especially when they had the whole weekend off as Darren did. He hadn't really expected Darren to show up after their close call last night, but Rob sensed it was more than simple embarassment that kept him away. What he'd learned of Darren in the few months they'd worked together suggested the blonde wouldn't be able to shrug off their intimate faux pas. Remembering the abject humiliation and upset on the young man's face as he'd fairly ran out of the door, made him worry.
He had let enough time pass for the initial shock to wear off, but didn't want to leave it dangerously long. Although there was no possibility for them to speak after Darren left, he didn't want to be thought callous and uncaring. Not one often given to self-guilt, he knew this situation was of his making. It was unlikely Darren would have come onto him. He didn't have much time left before the next step on his career path needed to be taken, and there was much he wished...no, needed to teach Darren. And much he wanted to experience again before his time here was finished.
Darren blinked again, wondering what had awakened him. The television's low volume finally reached his ears. Some stupid late night show was playing, but it was better than total darkness and silence. He often left it on just for its comforting if empty presence. He got up from bed, a bit wobbly on his feet. At least he'd slept long enough for the worse of the hangover to have passed.
A knock sounded at the front door just as he stepped into the bathroom, a shadow hovered outside the closed blinds shifting slowly as if trying to view inside. Darren couldn't imagine who it might be. Besides his parents, who knew where he lived as he'd sent them the information, no one else did. And he would never believe they'd show up for a visit, especially at this time of night.
"Darren, are you in there?" said a muffled voice. "I think you are."
What was Rob doing here? The mild nausea he felt spiked to new proportions as his stomach roiled suddenly.
"Uh, just a moment," Darren called out, pulling on a pair of shorts. Navigating the darkness, he rounded the end of the bed, looked through the peephole to confirm it really was Rob, then opened the door.
"Hey. Can I come in?" said Rob. Standing with hands in pocket, his straight black hair blued by moonlight and a half-smile upon his pale face, he looked as calm and self-assured as Darren felt nervous and disheveled.
"Ah, sure," Darren said, stepping back. "Just...watch the bed there. It's rather cramped in here with it down."
Rob stepped inside the door, closing it behind himself. Darren quickly snapped off the television plunging them in darkness before retreating to the kitchen. He didn't want to be seen. He knew he was a total mess. Rob looked around a few moments before taking a seat on the couch. Cautiously Darren eased closer to sit back on the bed.
"How are you-" began Rob.
"How did you find me-" said Darren.
"I went through some of the files." Rob explained. "I needed to talk to you. We needed to talk."
Darren sighed heavily, started to speak, then stopped, changed his mind on what he was going to say, finally deciding on a relatively "safe" question. "What did Wendy say?"
"Don't worry about her," said Rob. "I took care of eveything. There's no problem, it's alright."
Darren nodded. He could feel Rob watching him, hear the man's steady breathing, smell the faint scent of his cologne and body, then laughed a little absurdly at his own sweaty state. He didn't want to breach the topic of what they had nearly completed, didn't know how. He was still in shock of Rob being here is his little box of a flat.
"Look, I'm pretty fucked up right now, ok?" Dammit, his eyes were starting to stream again. He got up, headed for the bathroom, ignoring Rob's soft call. Unfortunately, he forgot he'd closed the bathroom door last time and got a face full of wood.
"Are you alright?" Rob tried to clear his throat discreetly but it ended in a chuckle. After he stopped seeing stars, Darren experienced a quick flash of anger, because it wasn't funny at all, but it just as soon faded. He couldn't stop himself from laughing also.
"I can't seem to do anything right," he said.
"Well, it would help if you turned on a light."
"I don't want you to see me," Darren said, having sobered, still rubbing his forehead.
"I want to see you," returned Rob softly.
"Alright," Darren said after a pause. "I'll be out in a minute. There's a lamp behind the television."
How stupid can you be! He scolded himself once he'd safely closed the door and turned on a light. Fortunately his long bangs covered the vivid red mark on forehead and the slighter one on his nose wasn't so bad, the bruising under his eyes had thankfully lightened. After taking care of business, he checked his appearance in the mirror once more before stepping back out into the main room.
Darren eased out of the bathroom, still shirtless, barefoot and beautiful. Naturally sporting a light tan, the blonde's chest was smooth and hairless, just as he'd fantasized it would be: the nipples dark rose above a trim waist, the cargo shorts low slung on the skinny hip bones. Darren's face was averted beneath the shaggy shoulder length hair Rob had never seen released from its rubber band, dark lashes against his cheeks, the slender nose and wide mouth with its well-curved lips just a shade lighter than his nipples, a simple sketch which drew his eye.
"Are those your parents?" Rob said, indicating the 5 x 7 framed photo on one of the shelves, accepted the nod. "I didn't realize one of your parents was Asian, but now that I know...yeah, I can see it in you."
Darren looked up at him then, a slightly puzzled, as he sank down onto the bed. "I...suppose."
"Do you talk to them much?" he asked, and received a slow headshake.
"No, not any more...once they found out about me, they didn't want any contact," Darren trailed off.
"I'm sorry," Rob swallowed, realizing he'd tried a wrong conversation after all. "Just wish I'd had the opportunity to know my parents. They died when I was a kid, my sister basically raised me. Or I raised myself." Time to dive right in after all. "Look, about the other night, it was completely my fault. I lost control. Though your number was with your address, I thought it best to come by in person and tell you that."
Darren only nodded, fingers on his forearms, scratching steadily at the flesh.
"Darren. Look at me." Finally the blonde raised those fine eyes, but slanted them off to the side. "What happened between us...."
"I know. I know!" Darren exclaimed, jumping up. "I'm sorry, I'm just so furious with myself! I should have said no. I should have...should've said something!"
Rob let the emotional burst settle. "What happened between us I wanted to happen, just not like that. Not there. That's what I mean by my losing control. It'd been a long time since I'd had sex with anyone and....you just looked so....Well, I'm apologizing for how it happened. Don't be mad at yourself, be mad at me."
"But I'm not. I could never be," Darren said. He stopped his pacing. "That was the first time...I mean... I'd never done that before."
"Ah," said Rob. "I thought not. And I didn't even do it properly either, acting like a damn animal. And then with Wendy coming in like that. Yeah, like you said, it was fucked up. I'm sorry. I want to make it up to you. And I did mean what I said the other day about helping you find some classes that would work for you. Otherwise, ah...are you okay....there?"
"You mean when we...?" Darren's blush extended from his face down to his chest. "Er, yeah, I'm okay. Just have other things on my mind too. My parents. Wendy and worrying about losing my job, and that you'd never speak to me again...."
"You didn't have to worry about that," said Rob.
"But I didn't know that!" Darren cut him off, breathing hard with emotion. "For so long I'd been watching you, hoping you'd realize how I felt. Then after...after that, I just knew you would hate me. With everything else, I just didn't want to live anymore."
"I'm sorry," Rob said again softly. "Come here." Darren cut a wary glance at him, making him smile. He held out a hand. "It's alright."
Rob watched him rise, watched the way Darren nervously chewed his full lower lip, crossed the two steps and dropped down beside him. He reached out a hand to brush the hair back from Darren's forehead drawing a rueful spate of laughter.
"You'll live," he pronounced, then leaned in for a kiss, but was brushed away.
"I haven't brushed my teeth or...shaved. I'm...dirty," whispered Darren, but he was kissed anyway, thoroughly, and pulled into a passionate embrace.
"This time I'll ask first," Rob said when their lips parted. "Will you let me make love to you, let me show you how it really can be?"
Lips moistly parted, cheeks flushed, Darren nodded. "Please," he whispered, "yes, please."
"Mind if I smoke?" Rob asked, stroking down Darren's lean side. They lay together on the hide-away bed, their legs still intertwined. Morning light lit the edges of the blinds, slipped through to slant across their naked bodies. "I can go outside if you like."
"No, I don't mind. I didn't know you smoked."
Rob gave a sniff of mirth. "Not often," he replied. "Just at certain times. And its been a while as you know."
Rob moved away to rifle through the pockets of his jeans, found a cigarette and lighter, then lit up, expelling a long stream of grey which twisted up within the beams of light. He watched them curl in upon themselves before drifting away. Darren crept back within the circle of his arm, silky head on his chest. He felt a stealthy twinge of renewed desire and smiled. A lazy hand stroked across one of his nipples, circled, then lightly tugged at the hairs around it before drifting down his muscled abs to the arrow straight track of hair leading to his groin but stopped short before returning to his chest.
He felt Darren tense by his side."What is it?"
"Are you gay?" Darren asked. "I mean, I know we had sex, and you had to...be attracted enough to be able to do it, but...I...I don't feel you as gay. I've seen the way you look at women."
Rob took another long drag, let it out slowly, gathering his thoughts before answering. "No, I'm not gay, you're right. It's not exactly easy to explain, or maybe explanations can't really cover it, but in a single word, the closest I could think of would be bi. I would say, overall, I'm more attracted to women." He felt Darren perhaps unconsciously pull away. "But sometimes a guy comes along and I just can't resist."
"Does that happen often?"
"No," he admitted. "But then I don't date or anything. My studies and career are first in my life right now. Women demand and take up too much time."
"And men?" Darren asked.
Rob heaved a sigh, watching the cigarette burn up to the filter. "Anyplace I can put this out?" The sink was offered, a glass, it didn't matter Darren said.
"I know what you're trying to get at." Rob returned to the bed, lay back down, forced Darren to turn towards him. "I don't spend much time intimately with either sex, just like I said."
"Then why me?"
Rob smiled, "Because you're you."
Somewhat mollified, Darren rose up on one elbow. "But what does it mean?"
"Does it have to mean anything? You know I'll be leaving soon for training if everything goes through, and there's no reason it shouldn't, so, I don't want to misled you into thinking I'll be around or even coming back. I want to spend what time I can with you though. Let's not talk about that now, eh? What about you? You say you're gay, but how do you know for sure. You'd never had sex with anyone before, right?"
"Not really no. I had a friend in high school, a male friend. A few times we...played around, but nothing serious. Since I was a kid I was always attracted to other boys, never once did I have a thing for a girl. I learned to keep it hidden and even tried to have a girlfriend once just to fool my parents, but when it came to sex...I couldn't do it. It took some time but I researched on my own, books, films, anything I could. I even studied psychology trying to figure out why I was like I was, but came to accept it. I know now I can't be anything else." Shyly, he touched Rob's face. "Thanks to you, I know now what I've always been hungering for."
Rob hoped his discomfort didn't show on his face. Something in Darren's tender expression jarred a nerve. "Well, I'm glad I was your first." He considered having another cigarette but decided against it. He adjusted the pillow behind his head. Time for him to share some of his past as well. Fair was fair, and Darren lay quiet, clearly expectant.
"I grew up in a hard way, foster home to foster home with other troubled kids, and mostly adults who didn't give a damn, just wanted the check. I was forced into situations of abuse there and on the streets. I know how men can use guys like you just for sex and not give a damn about them at all. I don't want that to happen to you." He kissed Darren, trying to soothe the ambivalence on the fair brow. "We won't have a long time together, it's true, but I'm gonna teach you how to take care of yourself if it's the last thing I do."
Darren curled back against his side. "But what about work?"
"Good question. We can decide later. What about breakfast?"
"Hmm, I spent all my money on beer and never got my check cashed on Friday. I think there's some crackers maybe but nothing else probably."
"What were you going to eat?"
Darren was silent a long, long time. "I was planning not to have to eat again."
Rob swore, turned to grip Darren's shoulders, shaking him. Darren cried out in surprise, exclaiming over the pain. "Don't you ever do that, you hear me? Don't ever let anything or anyone make you take your own life. You are too good and have so much to give the world. There's plenty of stupid, selfish, mean bastards out there who don't give a fuck and will live as long as they can by dicking people over. And God knows they'll always be jobs you may lose, or shit you're embarassed by, but taking your life isn't the answer." He held his wrists up where Darren could see them. "See these? I did it when I was twelve years old after being raped by a foster parent when I was separated from my sister. He taped me up, and did it again, so it didn't solve anything. It was still a year til I could get away, but another kid who was enduring the same shit told me something I've never forgotten, though I never saw him again. Don't let them win, he told me. Don't let anyone get to you." He released Darren, who rubbed his arms gingerly. "I didn't mean to hurt you. I just feel real strong about that. I don't want anyone to ever hurt you including you. You are too beautiful, inside and out."
Darren bit that lower lip again, tears glistening in his eyes. "Thank you. No one's ever told me that."
"Well someone should have," Rob said decisively, wiping Darren's cheeks gently. "Let's go get some breakfast. It's on me. Next time, your treat."
Mornings were the sweetest hours, when he, awakened by a kiss or exploring hands, found Rob smiling above him. After his shift was finished, most times Darren's co-worker lover let himself in with the key he'd been given.
Darren came to experience the strange wonder of sleeping beside another human, of looking down or up into the face of the person you love best in the world after they've loved you with all the vigor of their soul. Sometimes fierce and pounding, other times as tender as a feather caress upon the most delicate skin, Rob and he came together. Precious hours before it was his turn to rise and go to the store.
I'll never forget this, Darren said to himself, those dark freckles across broad shoulders or how his lover's face relaxed child-like in sleep so different from the perpetually intent expression, or the estatic intensity as Rob looked down at him during sex.
When their schedules allowed, sometimes they went out to play pool (another of Rob's perfected past-times) or to get something to eat. According to Rob, Darren had to learn the life skills necessary for gays in the south in the type of town they lived in, especially ones who looked like him. It read like a college syllabus: the art of not meeting eyes of those you shouldn't, the ones looking for trouble, to harass, where not to go, and people best to avoid, but most essential when out with someone who is a lover, how not to give those kind of glances, how not to let your hands naturally brush together as you walked, no touching at all allowed. Rob was very strict. Darren was uncomfortable. Although he was aware of the dangers, it just didn't sit right with him trying to hide his feelings.
"Even if we weren't lovers," he said, one night on the drive back to his flat, "I would still want to be your friend and go out sometimes. I would still want to slap you after a bad joke, or...or look you in the eyes when you're telling me something. It's like you're teaching me to lie."
Rob sighed, put his cigarette out in the car ashtray, then began his explanation over.
"I know what you said, Rob." Darren stopped him. "I'm stupid about a lot of things, but asking for ass-whippings is not on my list of things to do."
"It's just to protect you," Rob said.
"I know what you're trying to do, and I appreciate it. I really do. It's just I don't feel right hiding what I am or what I feel. Why should I have to?"
Rob gave a sniff of laughter. "Because they're bigger than you are and there's more of them. But seriously, you can't change the way some people think no matter what you do, or what good intentions you have. Some just are gonna remain ignorant no matter how educated they are. And all too often, they're the ones deciding things for you like where you can go safely, what jobs you'll have, stuff like that...as long as you stay around here anyway."
Darren didn't necessarily believe that. "I can't limit myself because of people like that. I mean I'm not trying to make out with you at the local chain restaurant. But just being out with you...well, shouldn't be any of their business what we do alone, its their mind that imagines stuff they shouldn't."
"Agreed," Rob said, turning into the apartment complex. "They're just jealous."
Darren smiled. "Coming in for a minute or...?"
"Nah, I have to get to work soon. I'll see you in the morning though."
Darren waved back at him after he'd unlocked his apartment door, then on second thought, blew him a kiss. He laughed when Rob shook his head wryly, and gave him "the finger".
Yet for all of Rob's bravado, Darren knew it bothered him also. When they were at the mall, he'd noticed the hard, cool look Rob had lain on a couple of country boys who looked about to start something. They'd gone so far as to make a rude remark, but were ignored, and that had been the end of it.
Sometimes he wondered what Rob was really thinking when he looked off in his distant way, face lacking all expression. His lover always looked composed, always in control and self-assured, but he sensed part of it was merely a learned act. Maybe it was Rob's "profession" face, a practicing of what he thought would be admired by criminal justice officials. Darren had seen something close to it often enough when police officers came in regularly to check the store or to see Wendy, that slightly superior, condescending glance they gave to mere mortals like himself. A few had snickered at him, and made off-colour remarks about his appearance. "Looking mighty fine, Darlene," one had joked. Wendy had laughed along with them. He kept his head down, remained quiet, but unable to stop his embarrassed flush.
Rob hadn't reached that point of elitism, and Darren hoped he never would. As had been explained to him, it was a necessary part of that profession, the ability to separate one's desires from one's duty, to disconnect face from heart and mind, but it was something he could never personally do. Yet as Rob said, law enforcement wasn't for everyone. In some ways, it was a noble sacrifice for the benefit of mankind, but it wasn't an ideal Darren shared. Just sometimes, when he thought he wasn't observed, one caught a glimpse of a lonely, pained Rob. Though he was afraid of Rob's decisions, and planned career, he did hope his lover succeeded in his aims. They meant everything to Rob. If Rob's paperwork didn't go through, or he wasn't accepted, he feared the impact it would have on the self-proclaimed lone warrior.
The last night was the hardest. Darren had known for weeks why, where and when Rob was going, but parting was hard. He'd prepared a special dinner for them in the little place that had become their love nook, setting up a folding table he'd bought, topped it with a nice cloth, candles, and the mismatched dishes he'd collected. Then playing on a secret desire and a fanciful thought, he dressed up in a ceremonial kimono he still owned and put up his hair. He waited anxiously, fretting over his musical choice for the evening, afraid Rob wouldn't show up, but dutiful as ever, a knock on the door came at the arranged time and Rob stood there actually wearing a suit and tie, as handsome as ever, even with his new short haircut, a bouquet of red roses in one hand.
Without a word he'd welcomed him inside, and was soon drawn into those strong arms. Dinner for the moment had been forgotten, the table's appearance remarked upon but pushed aside, and the dark pin-striped suit peeled off to reveal that body he'd come to love so much. Much later, they'd hungrily consumed the near cold stir-fry, rice and salads and finished an entire bottle of wine, before returning to the bed to make love again and again. The morning had come too soon.
Darren, aching from the passionate, fierce dominance, had lain motionless listening to Rob shower, then watched as his first lover dressed to go away forever, unable to bring himself to rise and say good-bye. But Rob, as relentless as ever, had commanded him up, and reluctantly yet unable to refuse Darren had stood, pulled on a robe and belted it about his waist.
"Never forget me, baby, because I'll never forget you," Rob had promised, taking his face in his hands, kissing him deep and long before embracing him so hard, his ribs ached afterwards. "Take care, Darren, just like I taught you. Always take care."
"But what about you? What if something happens to you? It's a dangerous job," he'd protested.
"You'll know if that happens, but hey," Rob had flashed his confident dashing grin, "you know me, I'll always survive."
He'd only been able to nod then.
"I love you," Rob said.
Their eyes met then, Darren's streaming with tears. "Oh, Rob, I love you, too."
The final embrace had been brief. Rob walked to his late model sedan, started up then revved its engine a few moments before giving a final wave and driving off.
That was two weeks ago to the day, the end of their convenience store romance. It has lasted all of two precious months. Today was the start of a new adventure: his first day of college. Although he felt the acute loss of his lover, and the emotional distance between himself and his parents was still great, he was excited about this new beginning which probably never would have happened without Rob's steady encouragement and support, and his love.
As he drove past the store, for it was on his way to class, Darren smiled with bittersweet memories and said aloud, "Thank you, Rob. Thanks for everything."
Back to home page, The Journey of Red Haircrow
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"Berlin Shift", sequel to Night Shift.
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"Twin Masquerade", a gay Regency of twin impersonation and seaside love.