Horses

an excerpt



Max was doing lines with another guy in the poolhouse beside the in-ground swimming pool. Leonard dropped into the seat next to me on the concrete patio. Shouts and laughter rang out from the second story. Even after the sound of a glass breaking, Leonard wouldn't look away. I wondered what he wanted, aside from the obvious. I knew I was attractive, that other men wanted to fuck me. I'd heard it since I was fifteen years old. And you can only hear something like that so many times before you start to believe it.

"You're Max's friend, right?" Leonard asked.

I told him my name was Darren. I didn't offer my hand, but when he extended his over the table filled with paper cups and ashtrays, I took it. He held onto it a moment longer than was necessary.

"How long you in town for?"

I gave him the rundown about my cousin's wedding, about meeting Max online. My plan was to return to Denton the day after the ceremony. I didn't tell Leonard I'd be swinging through Dallas to spend the night with Cutter, the man I'd been seeing for the last six months. No one in this strange city knew about Cutter, not even Max. I had decided to reinvent myself before arriving in Tyler, to see how I felt in a new skin.

"I've had my eye on you for a while," Leonard confided.

"Why's that?"

"You're very hot, man."

"Oh." I fought the smile creeping upon my face. "Thank you."

"But you seem a little lost."

I shifted in my deck chair, finally turned to face him. "What do you mean?"

"I see a lot of boys like you around town. You don't really know where you're going, do you?"

"I don't know what you mean." I knew exactly what he meant.

"Aw, c'mon man, don't make me spell it out." He leaned back in his seat and gestured grandly. "This is a party."

"No," I said, my voice even. "Tell me what you mean."

Max had warned me about Leonard as we drove to the party. This was his house, Max explained, and I had to be nice to the guy no matter what he said. Remember, he told me, you get to leave here after the weekend, but I have to deal with this bonehead every time I need to get high. I wanted to ask him then what was so terrible about Leonard, but Max and I had just met. He was a cute guy, and I didn't want to piss him off. So I nodded and said I'd remember.

"You're how old-twenty-one, twenty-two?" Leonard asked.

"Twenty."

"I thought so." He paused to light a cigarette. After taking the first drag off his Camel, he burst into a fit of deep, bronchial coughs. I studied him for a moment, wondering if he was old enough to get emphysema. He was a thin, compact man, barely over five-and-a-half-feet tall. His hair was honey blonde and blew up in tufts in the early autumn breeze. Deep lines around his mouth and at the corners of his eyes aged him even more than his bronzed skin. He looked like someone who worked outdoors. He may have even been old enough to be my father, but I wasn't about to ask his age.

He eased back into his folding chair and exhaled a thick cloud of white-gray smoke. It was my turn to keep the conversation going. On the one hand, I didn't know what he wanted me to say; on the other, I didn't wish to speak with him anymore. The only reason I stayed was because Max would soon be done tussling with that boy in the poolhouse so he could come outside to rescue me.

"You know," Leonard finally said, "I won't be in Tyler forever."

"Why's that? You moving?"

"Later this year. To Florida."

"I've been there before."

"Really? What part?"

"Disney World. Where's that? Orlando?"

"I'm talking about Tallahassee. Beautiful there. God's country. Fuck this East Texas bullshit."

"I think it's pretty."

"It is until you meet the people who live here."

"There are plenty of guys around. You must be friends with some of them."

As if on cue, a naked boy about my age shot past us and leaped into the pool, his lithe body folded into a cannonball. He made a loud splash in the water, and I waited for him to emerge. As his head broke the surface, Leonard jumped from his seat and scurried to the pool's edge. "Cut that shit out," he cried. "I got neighbors, and it's past midnight."

"Sorry," the boy said and ducked back under the water.

Leonard rejoined me at the table and shook his head. "See what I mean?"

I just smiled and nodded, thinking how proud Max would be that I was still playing along.

"You'd love it out there," he continued as if the boy had never appeared.

"In Florida?"

"Yes sir. Rolling hills, ivy climbing over the walls, beautiful summers."

"I can see why you're moving there," I said.

"Too bad I didn't meet you sooner."

"Well, this is my first time in Tyler."

"I didn't know that."

I nodded. "So you see, we couldn't have met before now," I said, feeling dumb the moment I finished.

"We're strangers," he said sadly.

"I guess so."

"We should do something about that."

I finally tired of playing nice. What Max didn't know wouldn't hurt him, I hoped. "I'm really just waiting for Max to come back out," I said, gesturing toward the poolhouse at the opposite edge of the pool.

"Him? He's a good kid, but I'm not talking about tonight."

"What do you mean then?"

"Later, when I'm in Florida." He bowed his head and stared at the pavement beneath his feet. He stayed that way for so long, I thought he must've spotted something disagreeable down there. Finally, not looking at me, he said, "I'd like you to come visit me there."

The splashes the naked boy made as he backstroked the length of the pool distracted before I could process what Leonard had asked. Surely, I'd misheard him.