The music from the jukebox was currently playing a remix of Don’t Stop Believin’, one of Sean’s favorite songs from his youth. His pleasure must have shown based on the smile which crept across his date’s perfectly sculpted face. Cheekbones rose to impossible heights as plump lips curved upwards, revealing gleaming white teeth. “You like this song, don’t you?”
Nodding his head to the beat, Sean couldn't help the flood of memories from a time when his life had been far simpler. “I do. How could you tell?”
Jerry edged closer to Sean, placing his hand on the wall the two were leaning against. The fresh scent of his favorite cologne, Banana Republic’s Classic, filled Sean’s nose, sending his mood flying. “It’s pretty obvious.” Jerry’s mouth pulled into a seductive grin. “When the song came on it was the first time I saw that incredibly sexy dimple.” Jerry leaned in and kissed Sean’s cheek, presumably where the dimple was located. “Everything about you is sexy.”
A simple “Thank you” was all Sean could manage as heat radiated from his core straight to his cheek where Jerry had just kissed him. He took a moment to thank his maker for the dim lighting in the bar, hiding what had to be fully flushed cheeks, then appraised the man standing before him. Not quite as tall as Sean’s six-foot-two, the man was nothing to laugh at. He had to be at least six feet, broad at the shoulders, trim at the waist. He wore casual, loose-fitting clothes, igniting Sean’s curiosity about the treasures hidden beneath. “You’re not so bad yourself.”
Jerry dismissed Sean’s comment with a wave of his hand. “Please. Next to you, I’m an average Joe. Look at you. Your shoulders and arms are practically ripping the fabric of your shirt.” As if to prove a point, Jerry slipped a finger under the rim of Sean’s white T-shirt sleeve, fondling the swollen bicep. Sean couldn’t help but smile noticing he had to work his finger under the fabric. Big fingers. That’s promising.
“And white is definitely your color. I’d kill to have that creamy, unblemished skin of yours.”
Slinking closer, Jerry removed his hand from Sean’s arm and placed both on Sean’s chest. He leaned in, breath sweet with a hint of lime—most likely due to the fruit Jerry had placed in his Corona . In the softest of whispers, he answered. “Because, each time you lift your arm or bend over to pick something up, I get a glance at your waist and there’s no tan line.” Jerry slinked a bit closer. “I also noticed you’re going commando. Is that usual or something special for tonight?”
It took a moment for the question to fully register, but when it did, electricity prickled along Sean’s skin and down his spine, travelling at lightning speed to his cock. While his member came to life, trying to introduce itself to a new friend, Sean shifted back and forth on his feet, unsure how to respond. “Um…I…”
Jerry’s head tilted back as he emitted a chuckle. “I embarrassed you. That’s awesome.”
The heat which had rushed to Sean’s face intensified as he tried to determine whether being embarrassed was awesome good or awesome bad. So far, all of Jerry’s signals were indicating it was awesome good. Let’s go with that. “Okay, so you figured out one of my secrets. I go commando.”
The smile from Jerry’s face lingered, then faded slowly, replaced by a far more serious expression. As if in slow motion, Jerry drew closer to Sean, mouth parting ever so slightly. Drawn by an unspoken demand, Sean leaned in, his lips pressing into the full softness of Jerry’s.
The kiss was enhanced by the soothing feel of Jerry’s fingers brushing through the hair at the back of Sean’s scalp, drawing him in closer.
Opening to Jerry’s demanding mouth, Sean allowed the fresh tastes to enter and fill him. Clean, with a slight hint of Corona, Jerry tasted better than the dinner Sean had eaten. The soft lips did little to buffer the ferocity of need as Jerry’s tongue laved Sean’s, tumbling in circles.
Sean dropped his hands to Jerry’s waist and drew the beautiful man nearer, reveling in the feel of the hard length of Jerry’s cock pressing against his own straining member. The rest of the world melted away, the music, the chatter and laughter of the people at the bar, the lights. Only he and Jerry existed, connected in a kiss filled with the promise of something more; something great.
When Jerry retreated from the kiss, the world caught up to Sean in an instant, disorienting him. Jerry’s voice grounded him. “Whoa. You’re one hell of a kisser.” The words only fueled Sean’s desire to touch him again. Leaning in, he stole a few more kisses, tamer, gentler ones, but wet and intoxicating.
“Yeah.” Sean shook his head to clear the fuzziness. “Kissing is my favorite thing to do.”
A curious brow lifted seductively on Jerry’s face as he assessed Sean. “It’s your favorite thing to do?”
He was about to answer honestly, stating he actually did, in fact, find kissing to be the most intimate experience two people could share. One look at Jerry’s lust-filled expression caused Sean to reconsider the wisdom of that decision. Besides, there was a major obstacle he had to hurdle before he shared anything else.
His throat constricted and the pleasant hum of the conversations surrounding them dulled as blood forced its way through capillaries in his ears. Each beat of his heart forced more adrenaline into his system, stimulating the inevitable fight or flight response. The fact he’d promised himself he’d always fight didn't make what needed to be said any easier.
Once his initial terror eased and his eyes were able to focus once again, Sean was confronted with the same expression he’d seen dozens of times before. The plump lips were drawn tight and a slight wrinkle between Jerry’s eyes indicated he hadn't missed Sean’s pause. “Are you okay? You were a million miles away.”
Drawing stale air into his lungs, not even the ironic lyrics of Diana Ross’s I’m Coming Out blaring through the bar provided comfort or courage. “I’m fine, but before we take this any further, there’s something you should know.”
Sweat dampened Sean’s palms and he ran them along his shirt to dry them. Swallowing on a mouth which had suddenly run dry, he took a large gulp of the dirty martini he’d been nursing. Staring Jerry directly in his deep brown eyes, Sean steeled himself, hoping for the best but preparing for what usually happened. “I’m HIV positive.”
On a mental countdown from five, Sean watched the transformation take place. He could always tell within the first few seconds what kind of reaction to brace himself for. The initial draining of color from Jerry’s face was expected, as was the involuntary step back. To his credit, Jerry didn't behave like an ignorant ass, worrying the kiss they’d just shared put him at risk.
At Jerry’s first words, Sean knew how the scene would play out. “Oh. I had no idea.”
Of course you didn't. We don’t wear a membership badge.
“You look so healthy.”
Newsflash. I’m probably healthier than you.
Jerry glanced to his right and left, then faced Sean once again. On his next words, he failed to lift his head high enough to make eye contact. “Um. I forgot. I have an early morning tomorrow. But I had a great time tonight. You’re a nice guy. I’ll call you.”
Sean bit his lower lip, holding in the words releasing Jerry from any further obligation. Jerry leaned in stiffly and kissed Sean on the cheek, the stark difference from the first kiss he’d planted in that same spot was shocking even to Sean. Without another word, Jerry turned and headed towards the exit. Sean took a moment to appreciate the retreating figure, admiring how the body moved underneath the clothing. Would’ve been nice.
Once the door closed on the vision of yet another failed date, Sean brought his drink to his mouth, downing the rest of the contents in one huge gulp. The burn of the liquid as it slid down his esophagus and into his stomach eased his nerves. Sean pushed away from the wall and worked his way outside into the warm spring New York City night.
The crowd of bar-goers gathered around the entrance of the Boiler Room stopped their conversations when he exited, mouths slightly ajar and gazes following his movements. He could practically feel several sets of eyes boring into him. It was always the same. Men were always interested, but as soon as his secret was out, none of that mattered.
Turning the corner onto Avenue A helped to provide some distance between himself and the immediacy of his disappointment. Still, his feet trod heavily on the pavement as he worked his way north towards his apartment on Twelfth.
For a fleeting moment, he imagined an entirely different walk home. One where Jerry didn’t run. Where they stumbled home holding hands, stopping frequently to enjoy languorous kisses. And then, once they finally managed to make it to his apartment on the third floor… Stop. This isn’t helping you.
Picking up his pace, Sean tried to burn off the rising emotions within, disappointment rapidly shifting to anger. But even that seemed to fizzle too soon, leaving him with the familiar sensation of emptiness. By the time he actually reached his apartment building, he was no longer staring in front of him, but at his feet, watching the pavement pass by.
Climbing the stairs, the weight of the evening seemed to crush down upon him. Trudging along the hallway felt more like a prison march and his apartment was his cell where he served a sentence of solitude.
Sean tossed his keys on the table next to the door. The satisfying clank of metal hitting wood helped to jar his attention from the somber, self-pitying thoughts in his mind. A shower. That’s what I need. A nice hot shower and then sleep.
Dragging his shirt over his head, Sean stretched his tense muscles. He clasped his hand and leaned first to one side, then to the other, the pull of his lats as they extended to their full limit a perfect combination of pleasure and pain. Unbuttoning his pants, he was about to strip, leaving his clothing in a mound on the living room floor, when he noticed the blinking red light on his answering machine.
He pressed the play button and after a moment was listening to his sister’s voice. “Hey, big brother. I know you’re on a date tonight and if you’re listening to this, you’re probably alone. On the off chance you’re an idiot and listening to messages with a hot guy in your apartment, congrats. But if you are alone, call me, no matter what time it is. I’m dying to find out how things went.”
Sean snickered half-heartedly. Jen knew him too well. Glancing at the time, eleven thirty-seven, the kids would have been in bed for nearly three hours by now, so Sean called his sister’s cell rather than risk waking his niece and nephew. The phone only rang once before she picked up. “It didn’t work out?”
Nothing like getting right to the point. “Well, since you know I’m not an idiot, as you so eloquently stated on the machine, if I was with someone I wouldn’t be calling you, would I?”
Ignoring his sarcasm, Jen spoke in a soothing tone, helping to thaw the ice surrounding his wounded heart. “I’m so sorry, sweetie. You were excited about this guy too.”
All of the fight ran out of Sean’s body, leaving him limp and exhausted. Falling onto the couch, he propped his feet on the coffee table and leaned his head back so he faced the ceiling. “I was.”
Silence stretched out between them as Sean waited to hear the words of wisdom his sister might impart. When none came, he remembered the last time she’d tried to console him and the way he’d mercilessly bitten her head off. Smart woman. “But I must be insane to think that someone like Jerry would want someone like me.”
“What the fuck do you mean by that? You know I hate hearing you talk like that.”
“It’s true though. Why would a smart, handsome, educated man want to be with someone like me when he could find someone else who’s everything I am, and not diseased.”
The pause on the other end of the line carried an electric charge, raising the hairs on the back of Sean’s neck. When Jen spoke, he knew better than to interrupt. “Sean Thomas Sullivan. I’m going to hang up right now if you’re going to continue the pity party. You’re an incredible man and anyone would be lucky to have you. The things you say. I swear, if Mom were still around, she’d kick your ass.”
A sigh escaped from deep within Sean’s chest, relieving the tension which had been trapped there. “I guess. But it’s the same story time and again. I’m thirty-three. I love my job. I love my family. I love where I live. But I can’t seem to complete the picture of the life I want. How else am I supposed to view myself except as damaged goods when each date ends the same way?”
Jen’s voice carried a nurturing softness. The same tone she used when her kids were scared or upset. “Sean. You’re a good man, an unbelievable brother, the world’s best uncle, and an incredible catch. There’s a guy out there who will see all of that and will love you for it.”
Sean was about to protest once again, but his sister cut him off before he could get a word in. “And don’t give me the ‘everyone says that’ crap.”
He couldn't help but laugh. “How’d you know what I was going to say?”
“Because I’m your sister and your best friend. I know you and I know you deserve to be happy.” The words rang with confidence, causing a lump to form in Sean’s throat and a burn to sting his eyes. Knowing his emotions would sound if he attempted to speak, he remained silent. In a voice as sweet and settling as hot tea after dinner, his sister continued. “Take a shower. Focus on the hot water hitting your body. Then crawl into bed and get a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow’s a new day and you’ll tackle it with pride like you always do.”
Through a strained set of vocal chords, Sean managed to eke out a “Thanks, Jen. I love you”, before hanging up. Obeying her orders, he climbed into the shower and allowed the heat of the water to penetrate through his tension, washing away some of his frustration. Rationally, he knew his sister was right, but that didn't make rejection feel any better.
Settled between a pair of crisp, cotton sheets, freshly changed, sleep eluded him. Memories of kissing Jerry, and the many other Jerrys, nagged at him. Was it too much to hope to have someone in his bed, someone to build a life with? Were it not for his serostatus he’d probably be married by now. With effort, he shunted the thoughts aside. No sense dwelling on what’s past. Self-pity had never been Sean’s way and he wasn't about to start now.
His friends had been pushing him to try the dating sites on the web. So far he’d avoided them, feeling they lacked the organic chemistry of meeting people in person. Still, he’d read somewhere that twenty percent of all couples met online. Plus, there were sites specifically catering to HIV positive people.
Tomorrow’s a new day, she’d said. Still, doubt plagued him. The last thing he remembered before succumbing to sleep was, New day, but why should I expect different results?