Here’s a complete short story, “Words in the Rain.” This story has previously been published in abridged form (meaning PG-13) in Foliate Oak and e-Muse literary zines. It appears here in its R++ rated style. A quick note—the characters here share some traits with their later counsins, Vasquez and James.
WORDS IN THE RAIN
Naked tree limbs clattered against the ice-crusted window, tossed about by a wicked north wind. Eddie stepped out the trackside door of the depot and raised a hand to shield his eyes against a stab of white sunlight, looking for Shen’s train. He was not the sort to huddle against cold, but he longed for warmth, and let himself imagine spring running in behind the train, nipping at the sparking wheels like a dog.
He half-smiled at the image and went back inside to wait. An hour late, the train trundled in. There was no sign of the south wind, but Eddie felt warmer anyway, imagining how it would feel to see Shen again, having waited four years. He watched from inside, hiding behind glass and trees and milling greeters as passengers began to disembark, popping out the doors blinking, as if newborn.
And then Shen stood framed in the doorway of the second railcar, eyes expectant, scanning the faces in the waiting crowd. An expression swept across his features and then dissolved when he bit his lip to banish it—a look that might have been fear or anger or hurt. It told Eddie what he hadn’t realized he needed to know. Scolding himself for that habit of small cruelty, for always holding back, he took three long strides to greet his prodigal lover at the door.
Back inside with Shen and his bags, Eddie started across to the street-side door, but Shen dropped his armload onto a wooden bench and said, “Eddie.” When he stopped and turned, Shen embraced him, held him right there in the steaming depot amid all the people, some who cared to see and some who didn’t. The no-shave-today bristle on Shen’s cheek scratched Eddie’s neck, but instead of pulling away he leaned into it.
Shen pulled back and readied his lips for a kiss, but it landed on Eddie’s chin. Eddie chuckled at his startled look, knowing that at six-foot-one Shen wasn’t used to kissing someone taller. Shen laughed too, a little, and rolled his eyes before he tilted his head back to try again. Eddie didn’t kiss him back, exactly, but he did let his mouth go soft, and when Shen ran his tongue—swift as if by chance—along the smoothness inside his lip, Eddie’s belly clenched. His breath flew out silent and soft, but he didn’t miss Shen’s response, a tiny nod of satisfaction. He stepped away, still seeing the copper shine of Shen’s eyes like an after-image of the sun.
Eddie spoke at last, saying “You’re here.” Shen laughed without smiling and shook his head. Eddie understood; he knew how it sounded. But what he said wasn’t what he meant. What he meant was that, though he’d professed faith, he hadn’t truly believed Shen would come back, ever.
He’d thought daily about the small things that mattered: burying his face in Shen’s earth-colored hair, breathing Shen’s sweat, hiding his fingers in the shell of Shen’s strong hand. He’d thought about those things and locked them up in the past like treasures in a cedar box. He thought about them now and for an instant he hoped Shen could hear what he didn’t say. But Shen was silent, too, chewing his bottom lip thoughtfully as they walked to the car.
Eddie put the luggage on the sidewalk next to his Uncle Melvern’s old Honda Civic. He’d borrowed it for this occasion and hoped—aware of his optimism—that he and Shen could both fold their legs into it at the same time. After stuffing the hatchback with bags, he walked around to the driver’s side door. Shen, waiting, was still chewing his lip and Eddie couldn’t help thinking that it didn’t deserve such treatment. Donning his best half-smile he leaned across the car’s roof, put his thumb underneath the captive flesh, and pulled it free. It looked bruised, and Eddie thought about kissing it. Instead he unlocked his door and reached over to let Shen squeeze in.
Melvern’s log house was weatherworn and the pine forest would have missed it, if it were taken away. Uncle Mel belonged to those woods too, so completely that at first Eddie didn’t see him waiting in the rocker on the porch, wrapped in a blanket of grey and green. When Shen spotted the old man right away, Eddie thought, warrior eyes.
Shen smiled for Mel, and it was the first whole-hearted smile Eddie had seen since his arrival. Melvern mirrored it, and Shen sauntered over and planted a kiss on the old man’s forehead, just where the part split his hair into two steely braids. Mel locked his black eyes onto Shen’s, took his hand, and said, “It’s good to see you.” He meant it.
He stood between the younger men, looking first slightly down at Shen and then smiling slightly up at Eddie. With an arm around each of them he said, “I have stew and biscuits. You boys better eat before you go. You won’t be cooking, tonight.”
Eddie blushed but Shen joined in laughing with the old man, and said, “You’re probably right, Uncle Mel.”
The old man built up the fire in the cook stove to reheat the stew, cussing at the wood the whole time. “Burn, you son-of-a-bitch,” he said, but he was smiling.
Across the cabin Shen stood by the fire that blazed in the wide stone hearth, and the smile had stayed in his eyes, too. He drew a finger along the cedar-slab mantle, knocking off dust balls the size of baby mice, and then scooped up a framed photo of a much younger Melvern with five-year-old Eddie at his side. “Your eyes are like his,” he said, turning the picture toward the light of the flames and not looking at Eddie’s eyes at all. “You should braid your hair that way; you’d look just like him.” Eddie pulled his black hair tighter into its tail at the back of his neck. He liked the coarse feel of it, liked the way its weight held him down to earth. He smiled a little, but shook his head.
They ate and sopped up gravy with Uncle Melvern’s famous biscuits. “I make them,” he always said, “the proper size for a man’s hands.” The three of them found them convenient, for they were all big-handed, big men, the sort of men people turn to for help.
Through dinner and dessert, Eddie and Shen both laughed at all of Mel’s old jokes, some of which were still funny. It was always Shen’s reaction that the old man savored. Eddie—within arm’s reach of the two people he cherished most—felt like an outsider. He wondered if that was his fault.
When dinner was done and the jokes spent, Melvern loaded them up with leftovers, home-canned peaches, bologna, windfall apples, brown eggs, and orange juice. He was hoping, he said, to keep Shen from starving. “There won’t be anything in Eddie’s fridge. Never is.”
When they left, the night had frozen hard as diamonds and between the stars the sky was silver black. Velvet, Eddie thought, feeling again Shen’s tongue glossing his lip.
It took effort and time for the three of them, bulky winter coats and baggage and groceries and all, to wriggle into the tiny Honda. In the end Eddie was half-laying sideways in the back seat, bags poking his ribs and hips, knees level with his chin, and size-fifteens sticking up in the far side window. Shen was in the passenger seat, cramped but upright and belted, with Melvern’s care-package groceries on his lap. Uncle Mel whooped like a drunken cowboy as they started down the rutted drive, and Eddie laughed at him, heart inexplicably lightened.
Shen had gone pale, and Eddie laid a reassuring hand on his shoulder, knowing he was thinking about the night looming black and icy and Melvern wild behind the wheel. Shen got a grip on the groceries with his left hand, grabbed the handhold overhead with his right, and cranked his head around to look at Eddie. Clearly nervous, he said, “Eddie? I love you. You know that right?” He rolled his eyes, and added a sheepish, “Just in case.” It wasn’t a joke.
He might have hoped for an answer in kind, but Eddie nodded and squeezed his shoulder, only slightly ashamed that Shen’s unease gave him permission to feel strong.
They arrived safe but shaken enough to justify Shen’s fears. Melvern took off on slipping tires, laughing mad, and left them standing on the sidewalk. They clutched suitcases and groceries in trembling fists, weaker in the knees than they would have wanted to admit even to each other.
“Phewf,” Shen said, and swiped the back of his coat sleeve over his forehead. Eddie started laughing and soon they both were, and couldn’t stop. Something had changed between them. Some reserve, some seriousness had shaken loose, maybe, during the ride. They locked eyes, laughed like boys, and—as best they could with their burdens—ran into the building courtyard and headed for Eddie’s door. Eddie felt light, as if he could have flown across the threshold.
Inside, in Eddie’s place, Eddie’s room, with Eddie’s Harley taking up half the studio floor space, and Eddie’s cheap, torn posters on Eddie’s wall, Shen stood looking at him as if waiting to be told why he was there. Eddie kicked the door shut and leaned back against it, dropped the luggage and reached for Shen. For a while he didn’t care that in his absence the room had gone brass-tit cold.
Later, Shen sat propped against the headboard, Eddie’s Courting Robe design Pendleton blanket draped over his shoulders. The lamplight softened wool dyes to dusky earth, but forged Shen’s bare chest into bronze, smooth and hard. Eddie eyed him over the top of the refrigerator door and appreciated the scene like art. Shen returned a glance that Eddie couldn’t read and he turned back to rearranging shelves, burrowing room to stash Melvern’s gifts amid the plenty.
He smiled when he said, “Four years is a hell of a long time.” A moment later he re-emerged from the icebox to look for Shen’s reply, and saw pursed lips, tilted head, and narrowed eyes. The expression might have meant, it couldn’t be helped, or it might have been a challenge, a dare. Eddie popped a can of beer to split between them, and turned the heat up higher.
Shen’s clothes draped the Harley’s saddle, and in passing Eddie reached out to the travel-worn plaid shirt. He touched it, for love or luck or safety, like releasing static sparks on something benign before making contact with charged metal.
He sat on the edge of the bed and the mattress sagged nearly to the floor, counterpoint to the eyebrows Shen raised as if expecting something. Eddie had brought Shen’s beer in a canning jar, and moisture beaded the glass so that it looked, in the magic of the lamp, like sweating gold. Taking Shen’s hand, he closed it around the jar, and then pushed the blanket away. When he ran his cold fingers over Shen’s muscled shoulder, smooth skin prickled into goose flesh. Eddie didn’t apologize, but he smiled, looking at his lover’s eyes.
He touched the corner of one, and said, “Nuts.”
“Nuts?” Shen’s lips twitched, his eyebrows lifted again, and this time humor spun a shine into those eyes. He didn’t laugh.
Eddie did, though, chagrinned at his own lack of eloquence. “Almonds,” he explained, meaning the eyes’ color and shape.
Shen arched his brows at the cliché, but then, without warning those eyes were asking. Shen’s lips trembled and parted, and Eddie felt strangled, his throat closed so tight with what he didn’t say that when he swallowed, the bone that was meant to protect his larynx scraped over the flesh inside, painful.
Sometimes Eddie wished he was small and soft, so that people wouldn’t expect so much, and he wouldn’t feel obliged to give it. Sometimes size and strength became a burden. But when he held Shen, loved him, bore him along toward joy, he was only glad to be the man he was. Once, years earlier, Shen had told him, “I love you, Eddie. With you, I could dive into deep water, and I wouldn’t have to swim. You wouldn’t let me drown.”
So that night in Eddie’s studio apartment, with gas flame and lamplight warming their skins and Courting Robe blanket thrown to the floor, Eddie let Shen bask and held him up with love so he could breathe. He whispered into Shen’s ear words that, Eddie knew, Shen would allow from no one else.
“I want you, Eddie,” Shen breathed.
“Yes.” Eddie kissed that breath off Shen’s lips, pushed his tongue inside, and kept it there pressing and playing until Shen’s tongue was in his mouth, offering and waiting. Eddie sucked it, played his tongue across its tip. Shen started to move, using his strong arms to drag his body over Eddie’s, the feel of Shen’s hardness against his making Eddie’s heart race. Shen broke the kiss.
“Eddie,” he moaned, “I need you.”
“Yes.” Eddie kissed his neck, along the jaw, down over the stretch of larynx, in the sweet dip between the collarbones. Blowing to cool the heated skin of Shen’s breast, he moved down to nip and lick and blow at his nipple until it hardened and reddened and Shen begged again. “Oh God, Eddie, please.”
“Yes,” Eddie said again, and treated the other nipple to the same pleasures. He separated their bodies a few needed inches and reached between them to take their engorged cocks into his hand. He intended to stroke them together, and he did, but Shen’s hand was there too, and he had a hard time knowing whose hand was stroking whose penis. They bent their heads together to look, to watch, and the sight of precum beading at the slits, shining the glans, the feel of it slicking their strokes—almost enough to make Eddie come. Shen must have felt it, too, because he pulled suddenly away.
“Eddie! Eddie, I need you inside me. Please!”
“Yes, Shen. Yes.” Eddie released Shen to reach for the lube and squeeze a helping into his hand, but Shen held on tight. Eddie got to his knees, sat on his heels, watching Shen watch him as he coated his already slick penis with the durable lube. Shen smiled sheepishly when he realized Eddie was watching, and Eddie smiled back. Then he stroked his slick hand down Shen’s cock from glans to balls, cradled them for a moment, and continued on. Past the ridge behind Shen’s cock, over the soft skin between the globes of his muscular buttocks, and then back down to settle at his entrance. Circling the hole, adding lube when it grew thin, dipping inside. One finger, two, three, pressing on Shen’s prostate, that sweet, male, gem.
One more time, Shen breathed, “Eddie,” and then some sounds that weren’t words. Strong, he pushed Eddie back and rolled, presenting his beautiful ass. “This way,” he said, rough, a command, no longer pleading or even asking.
Eddie smiled, though Shen couldn’t see it, but his penis had grown so hard it tugged at his skin. Forcing himself to be patient a while longer, just for the pleasure of it, he licked and bit each buttock, then spread his big hands over them and circled, squeezing and spreading them, knowing the movement would tease Shen’s opening. Shen begged again. “God! God, Eddie, please. Fuck me?”
“Yes.” Eddie lined his erection up to Shen’s hole, the glans seeming to pull toward it’s goal, and as soon as they made contact, Shen drove back against him, swallowing Eddie’s penis in his ass. Eddie pumped, but Shen did most of the moving, now growling need, now moaning pleasure. Eddie reached a long arm around Shen’s hips and took hold of his erection, so that Shen fucked his hand as he moved up and down Eddie’s cock.
“Now, Eddie?” Shen asked—it would have been a whimper if a man like Shen was capable of such a thing. He would do everything he could to keep from coming until Eddie told him it was time. They didn’t play so much at dominance—a dynamic that didn’t really work between them. But in this one thing, he gave Eddie control. Because when it worked, it made it better, so much better for them both. “Now,” he pled.
“No,” Eddie said. And heard Shen’s desperate response, felt him shiver. But Eddie was too close to losing control himself, so it wasn’t long before he gave the sharp command. “Now! Come now, Shen!” And Shen did, a long, loud groan accompanying uncontrolled, uneven thrusts, Eddies hand filling with hot cum, the whole tide of pleasure pulling Eddie in it’s wake and he came, too. His climax gripped his entire body into spasm, again and again, so good it almost hurt, his screams all the stronger for being whispered, his slowly softening shaft bathed in cum, milked as Shen’s ass clenched and released in time with his panting breath.
And that’s how it was between them—always had been—Eddie in charge and the two of them loving so hard they were like rivers carving dangerous canyons in each other’s hearts.
This arrangement, this way of being with each other, suited them both for weeks. Eddie would leave for his long shifts at the firehouse, and when the bell sounded, he and his fellow firefighters would answer the call. Shen, who, Eddie knew, was older, tougher, stronger, and wiser than Eddie, went off every day to do pieces of his work—important, dangerous things that remained outside the range of what Shen allowed Eddie to know.
But when Eddie’s shifts ended, he’d come home and Shen would always be there. They kept the heat on and hung their clothes over the Harley in a confused pile. They ate and laughed and rested, and Shen would float in Eddie’s arms and later whisper against his closed eyelids, “I love you, Eddie, and I know you’re not asleep.” Eddie never imagined the days after Shen’s departure, but he knew they would come and he kept his safety net in place.
The world made demands. The day came when Eddie returned smoke stained and reeking of a child’s charred flesh, weary to the marrow. He sat on the bed, elbows on knees, head heavy, and thought he’d shroud himself in Pendleton wool like a corpse and sleep. Shen sat gingerly on the bed next to him, tugged the tie loose from his hair, and drew Eddie’s hard-boned cheek down to nestle in his shoulder’s curve. Eddie resisted, but Shen pulled steady and strong.
That night Eddie’s barriers fell and his safety net failed. That night he was not loving but loved, not holding but held, too tired to fear opening up. That night he stood in the shower and let Shen wash the smoke away, and then he curled fetal inside the curve of Shen’s limbs and cried. Shen said “No fear, Eddie, I’ve got you.” Shen kissed his brow, the corners of his dark eyes, traced with his fingers the curves of his lips. Eddie felt himself respond and though his heart raced with trepidation, he let it happen because it took away the pain.
He took Shen’s fingers into his mouth and sucked, and when Shen offered his sweet, hard, glistening penis instead, he tasted it. He licked at the glans, tucked the tip of his tongue into the slit, sucked hard, taking in the head then running his tongue in circles just under the crowning ridge. He looked up at Shen who nodded at him, pleased. Eddie continued, laving Shen’s balls hard and fast, like a cat, and then stroking the length of his cock with his tongue. He took it all in, then, needing it like sustenance.
When he pulled away with a groan, Shen pushed him back against the bed, raised his legs and spread them. “Hold them?” he asked. Eddie did, growing anxious for what Shen so clearly offered. He writhed while Shen readied his ass, his neglected penis so hard it stretched flat and heavy against his belly. He was ready, so ready, and he let go of a leg placing the foot on Shen’s capable shoulder, and reached for Shen’s beautiful cock. Eddie rubbed the head up and down the valley between his ass cheeks until, as he passed the hole, Shen pushed. Leaning forward to hover over Eddie, Shen fucked, soft at first, then growing stronger, harder, faster, more insistent. He leaned on one arm and took Eddie’s hand with the other, anchoring it against the bed. He lowered himself to one elbow, tilting Eddie’s ass higher, spreading his legs wider. Then as he stroked in and out, massaging the hot nerve endings inside Eddie’s sheath, his belly rubbed over Eddie’s erection. Eddie felt completely lost until, just at the right moment Shen said, “I love you, Eddie, and I need you to come.” Shen followed along as Eddie came so hard every nerve in his lean, brown body started to sing.
Then Shen harbored Eddie into sleep, and while Eddie hid in underwater dreams, he trusted Shen to breathe.
After that things changed. Eddie was scared because he’d let himself be vulnerable. He knew it was fear, and he knew fear could kill love, yet he watched his own walls go up as if he were an inspector, checking for chinks and hazards. Sometimes after his work shift he’d stay in the city and walk to Jack’s Tavern, a block from the firehouse. He’d drink alone but for silent Jack, and write Shen’s name over and over in spilled beer on the mahogany bar. He’d go home after midnight and pretend to think that Shen was asleep.
Shen stayed, and let Eddie pretend and protect himself, and seemed to be trying to wait it out. He called Eddie twice at the firehouse, though, and those nights Eddie went home and they laughed together. It felt good but different, and when Shen said, “Eddie, I love you, but I need you to talk about it,” Eddie said there was nothing to tell.
Eventually the spring thaw Eddie had so long ago imagined did come—not like a dog chasing a train but like a puppy, dribbling everywhere and slipping its leash, wreaking havoc. The world went from hard and cold to wet and smelly in a week. Saturday morning Shen tried one more time over eggs at Denny’s to get Eddie to talk to him. Eddie wanted to say something, maybe just wait, Shen, I’m working on it. He marshaled his nerve and met Shen’s still-sparking copper gaze, but then his courage fled.
He flagged the waitress for more coffee.
Shen said, “It’s time for me to go. I have work in Denver.”
Tuesday, Eddie borrowed Mel’s car and the two of them squeezed in with Shen’s luggage, which had doubled in size because of the Courting Robe blanket and all the odd things Uncle Mel had given him. Eddie drove, cautious and patient behind the wheel, and when the world behind his eyes flooded too wet to see through, he didn’t tell Shen. He pretended he was keeping them safe.
The train station was steamy again—or still—but the trees outside the rain-speckled window cradled newborn leaves and buds. The rail cars that would take Shen away idled on the tracks, and Eddie carried Shen’s heaviest bags out and turned them over for the cargo hold. When he walked back in, he spotted Shen emerging from the men’s room. He hesitated, and an old woman wearing too much rouge caught his eye. She shot him a look brimming with accusation: coward, traitor, fool.
He stepped out and met Shen near the stale center of the room, in the crowding noise, and Shen hugged him so tight he was afraid his lungs would burst. Unexpectedly, he realized he would be willing to pay that price, if it would buy what he and Shen almost had.
In his ear, Shen said, “Come with me.”
Eddie heard the subtext, maybe it’ll be different, but he said “No,” and then smiled. “Don’t go?”
“I love you, Eddie,” Shen said, “and I’ll be back.”
It felt just like it had the last time, four years past, and Eddie lied. “I know,” he said, but he didn’t.
Shen climbed aboard the train, and a moment later his face appeared in a window, just as the brakes hissed loose and the wheels screeched into slow motion. He was biting his lip—again—and there was a smile in his eyes, but Eddie wasn’t sure what it meant. He waved in time for Shen to see before he melted back into the vague interior.
Eddie’s throat loosened then, finally, and words fell at his feet in the rain. “Shen,” he said, “I love you too.” He heard those words like ceremony and knew that if but once he could spill them into Shen’s ear, he’d be whole and Shen would stay.
The train began to pick up speed, and Eddie’s veins pulsed, flashing panic. Searching, he found Shen, back again at the window, smiling. He opened his mouth to shout but ran instead, struggling not to lose sight of the man who held his heart together from the inside. His long legs made swift strides, but he knew only a crazy man would imagine he could catch a train.
Shen vanished from the window and reappeared leaning from the door, arm outstretched. Eddie held nothing back, threw all he had and all he’d ever hoped into one wild leap.
Copyright Loretta Sylvrestre 2007