Friday, October 24, 2014

Me2: Chapter 6

As part of a huge - and much needed - marketing push, I'm going to be serializing a few of my all-time favorite books ... starting with the (ahem) rather infamous novel that I may or may not have actually written: Me2

"Absolutely brilliant!" says Lisabet Sarai, author of Incognito and Fire, about Lambda finalist M. Christian's controversial manlove horror/thriller. 

He looks just like you. He acts exactly like you. He takes away your job. He steals your friends. He seduces your male lover. None of them can tell the difference. Every day he becomes more and more like you, pushing you out of your own life, taking away what was yours … until there’s nothing left. Where did he come from? Robot? Alien? Clone? Doppelganger? Evil twin? Long lost brother? Then you discover there are still more "yous." Can you be sure you are the real you? And how do you fight to take your own life back? 

An absorbing new approach to the question of identity, Me2 is a groundbreaking gay chiller you’ll remember for a long time – no matter who you are, or who you think you may be. 

(Despite rumors that this book was written by an impostor - but, rest assured, this is the real 'M.Christian.' Accept no substitutes!)

Chapter VI


"Like, for instance, yesterday I thought about going to the movies to see that new Hugh Jackman thing.  But instead I, like, went down to mall to Sharona and Liselle, 'cause you know that Liselle used to work down the Gap – I know, can you believe it?  Talk about being a loser –  and so she knows all the people who work down there and when the good stuff is supposed to come in.  Not that she really does but sometimes you can still find something really cute or hot.

"But I didn't go to the movies, see?  I went to the mall instead.  But Bobby also called when we were walking to my car but I didn't talk to him 'cause I saw it was him and 'cause he was such a fucking asshole last Saturday, so maybe I'd talk to him and maybe he'd, like, majorly apologize and do something really cute which you know he can do sometimes.  So maybe we I would have not gone to the movies or the mall and instead, like, have gone out with Bobby.

"But Bobby's an asshole – most of the time.  So I didn't pick up.  But maybe I did, somewhere, right?  Like today I came to but I also thought about not, you know?  Just called Betty and said that I was, like, sick or something.  Just stayed home, or gone to the movies, or even to the mall even though Sharona doesn't get out of work until five and Liselle's got school till four.  But I could have.  Maybe I would have called Bobby, just to chew his ass out or something, and maybe he would have said the right things and made it all better, or maybe he would still be an asshole and that would be it, right?  I mean he's nice and all but there's lots of other guys out there who are a LOT less asshole that Bobby.  It's just that he's there, you know?

"The girl who works from eight-thirty to noon, Tammara I think her name is.  Her mother, like, died a week ago.  Just fell down the stairs.  Sad, yeah, but it makes you think, you know?  Like the next time you go down the stairs you could be like her mother, you know?  One wrong step and you fall down and break something, or just drop dead just like that.  Alive and then you're not, right?  Could happen at any time.  Like maybe today or tomorrow or this weekend.  Or maybe it did, you know?  Somewhere you step on the wrong fucking stair and down you go.  Just not here, you know?

"Sometimes you might want pancakes – like from Ihop, you know?  Other days you might want a McMuffin, 'kay?  But maybe one day there's a bunch of old people in the Ihop, or a lot of cars at McDonalds so you can't have either of them so instead you gotta get something from Starbucks, right?  But not here, you know?  Somewhere maybe the Ihop was empty, or you could real easy get into McDonalds.  It's not a biggie, right?  But there you did get the breakfast you wanted – but not here.  There you did, but not here, you know?

"Like somewhere the planes never hit New York.  Like that.  Here they did, but somewhere maybe they didn't.  That kind of thing.  I don't know why or any of that shit, but it could be that way – somewhere, right?  Maybe it would be better but ... what the fuck do I know?  I just think about it sometimes.  Like that I do something here but maybe there's another me out there who did something else instead.  Like going to the movies or going to the movies or fucking dropped dead.  Maybe she's out there or maybe I'm just fucking nuts.  But I think about that sometimes, like if maybe she's a bitch or something or maybe even really cool and all – or if I'd even like her if I met her or something.  Shit like that, you know?"

* * * *

Unfamiliar territory.  Good.  Heard about it, of course, but never went: it was one of those places, for those kinds of people, who liked to do those kinds of things.  A Lexus place, a Gap place, a Borders place, a Starbucks place, a Lane Bryant place...  okay, everyplace was a Starbucks place, but there it was upscale, a sign of progress, instead of just being there.

Parking, I walked across asphalt steaming from an early morning light rain, blinking at hard sunlight, exhaustion a crushing weight, and then up to and inside the mall.  Hotdog on a Stick, Orange Julius, Panda Express, Star of India – all of them under the heat lamp of huge, high windows.

Noon on a weekday, it was a geriatric institution.  Wrinkled eaters sitting at tables, finishing by wrinkling napkins, but not getting up, not leaving: nowhere better to go.

Hotdog on a Stick, Orange Julius, Panda Express, Star of India behind me, Warehouse, Sanrio, Container Store in front of me, Lenscrafters, Sunset Video next to me.  I stopped at the directory while giggling schoolgirls, professional hooky players, walked by.

Finding it wasn't that hard.  It stood out: an oddity that the place had one.  Theories abounded, at least inside my own bubbling brain: a sign of approaching progress?  A last vestige of status before submerging into mediocrity?

Lenscrafters, Sunset Video behind me; Warehouse, Sanrio, Container Store next to me, I stopped and turned hard right, into the coolly air-conditioned mouth of a two-storey Borders: a sign of approaching progress or a last vestige of status before submerging into mediocrity.

No GQ, no Men, no Architectural Digest, no "Boys of Summer." The other magazines made me dizzy, bright cover stocks making my head bob in a hurricane of smiling faces, sun-splashed beaches, and smoldering good looks.  Then one was in my hands – not there one second, there and open to a spread the next without reaching out, being even aware of picking it up.  Um, interesting: Tom Cruise's mortgage-expensive dentistry alongside tight columns of serif-text.  "You may think you know him, but you'd be surprised..." the article began.

It went back on the stand, Cruise's false happiness vanishing among the other so-bright, so-fake colors.  Details.  That sounded right.  A Details kind of guy.  A guy who reads Details.  A guy who goes to malls like this, who buys Details in places like Borders.

No GQ, no Men, no Architectural Digest, no "Boys of Summer." Not anymore.  That wasn't working out.  Especially after last night.  "You may think you know him, but you'd be surprised." I certainly was.

From the magazine section, the newest Details rolled into a tight club in my left hand, I strolled as carefully, cautiously, as possible back toward the front.  Yes, that felt right: I was a slow and careful guy, a thoughtful and controlled fellow.  A Details kind of guy.  A guy who reads Details.  A guy who goes to malls like this, who buys Details in places like Borders, and when it comes time to buy his newest issue he's the kind of guy who walks carefully, cautiously toward the front.

Maybe I was an art fag?  Was that the kind of guy who reads Details?  I used to have a Keith Haring print, so maybe art fag was too close to what I'd been.  But then again maybe a guy who reads Details should be even more of an art fag.

Maybe I was a foodie?  Was that the kind of guy who read Details?  I used to like to eat – nothing fancy mind you – so maybe foodie was too close to what I'd been.  But then again maybe a guy who reads Details should be even more of a foodie.

Maybe I'd be ... better.  Couldn't be worse, eh?  This could be a chance, the magazine rolled up in one hand.  An opportunity to be more than I could have been before.  A potential to be great, good, successful, praised, and – there's the sting, the ache, all coming as I rolled the magazine even tighter in my hand – desired.

A lot can happen in a few days, a lot of thinking can go on in a few steps.  During the last few days he'd shown up, strolled through my life, stealing at first little bits then huge hunks then parts I didn't know I had.  Part of my thinking as I walked toward the register: flattering, really.  He was somehow an extrusion of me (image of black pasta oozing out of a deep mind, id-manufactured piece of cranial machinery).  A sense of pride had come with that image: that there had been something wonderful and nice and special and grand and great about me, something I'd missed even myself.  A wonderful and nice and special and grand and greatness that'd been so wonderful and nice and special and grand and great that anything sour and nasty and evil and horrible and bad had been squeezed out.

A lot can happen in just a few hours, a lot of thinking can go on in a few steps.  During the last few days he'd appeared, walked through my existence, taking small things to begin with, then bigger ones I didn't realize had even been.  Minor element of my thoughts as I moved to the register: so fucking insulting.  Bad enough he took what was mine, worse that he'd been so much better at being me that I had.  I knew now that he hadn't been dark pasta squeezed out of my right ear, he hadn't been my personal Stalin, Manson, Hitler, or even just my own externalized Ann Coulter.

It was now pretty damned obvious that he wasn't bad – because he was so much better at being me than I'd been.

And with a bitter taste on the back of my tongue was hidden information, reclusive knowledge: I thought I hadn't cared about being great, good, successful, praised and – a hard pain, a belly-low and the magazine crunched in my hand – desired but it had taken him getting it for me to see that I really had, and now it was too late for me to ever get it.

To ever get it, that is, as me.  But maybe I could get my greatness, my goodness, my success, my praise as someone else?

So I bought my magazine and, before I knew what I was saying, I was chatting with the gum-chewing girl behind the counter about a copy, a duplicate, a knock-off, but one far better than any original, and she started talking about parallel realities and alternative selves.

* * * *

You don't know me.  Oh, sure, you may think you know me, but you'd be wrong.  You see the stylishly cut blond hair, the blue eyes, the tight ass, the hard (enough) chest, the good smile, the pretty-close-to-perfect teeth, the refined dress sense, and it would no doubt cross your mind that there he goes, here he comes: A Boy of Summer, full of Cape Cod life and vitality, a sexy young man, a sparkling little erotic treasure, a clever entertainer, but you'd be wrong.

No Boy of Summer am I.  Was, sure, but that was a life ago.  This me, the one you see coming, the one you watch going, is still blond-haired and blue eyed, still nicely buff without being all body and no dick, still funny without being nothing but guffaws and stupid giggles.

I may stand on the deck of a yacht and sip a perfect gin and tonic, or look admiringly out at a fat red sun setting over the spires and ivy-wrapped bricks of Kennebunkport from the polished cream boards of a cottage's deck.  I may tie a cerulean sweater around my neck and playfully twirl a racket in one hand while Buffy and Mandy smooth the mischievous pleats of their skirts.  I may stroll the sands of Fire Island, just as happy to smile back at one of my dozen immediate admirers as not, and simply keep walking.

I may, but not as a Boy of Summer.

It was hard to deal with, a change like this: from Summer to Fall, from Boy to ... well, maybe not a 'man' but not a 'boy' either.  Not a GQ, not a Men, not what I'd been.  But it was also exciting: a new chance, a fresh start, a new me – and best of all a chance to do some shopping.

From Borders down through the echoing canyon of the mall.  Hallmark Cards, Circuit City, Hot Topic alongside me; Gymboree, Radio Shack, Sprint store approaching.  Then, after a few more strides over a few more minutes Gymboree, Radio Shack, Sprint store were alongside and in the distant future was a Brookstone, a Kay Jewelers, and the reason I'd come: the whites and colors of my new self, the outfits I'd have to come to know and love.

Never thought I'd ever become a Tommy Hilfiger guy – but there I was, and inside I went.

* * * *

I liked what I saw – or I should say the person I had become liked what I saw, because the person I used to be probably wouldn't have liked the colors, patterns, cut, design, or the style.

The salesman, looking what I imagined I might look like when I left, floated over.  He said something – probably "Can I help you" or a derivation thereof – but I just replied with something like "No, just looking" or a derivation thereof.

Later, maybe, I'd need his Tommy Hilfigerness expertise but at that moment I couldn't think, could barely handle just wandering, looking, sampling, trying, and admiring.

You may know me, but you don't.  Sure I might look like a boy who spent the summer with GQ, but I'm not.  Yeah, I might appear to be a GQ summer kind of boy, but I wasn't.  I certainly might be taken to be a summer boy from GQ, but that wasn't correct.

The problem was that I didn't know – at least not yet – what I was – at least not specifically.  Maybe a red linen shirt and banana leaf shorts Tommy?  Perhaps a Noyo Madras top and linen bottoms of Tommy?  Could I be a Pacific V-neck and California trunks Tommy?  How about a prep above and a Manhattan jeans Tommy?

Daunted, my sight glazed over; a too loud, too bright, too stylish glaucoma.  So many types, so many kinds, so many choices.  I was tempted to open my Details and choose a look, something – anything – to push me in a direction – any direction – rather than just stand there like a blank slate, with a blank look, in the Tommy Hilfiger store.

To occupy my mind and hands, I reached out and grabbed the first bit of cloth.  Unhooking a painfully illuminated canary shirt from a rack, I held it in front of my chest then turned around looking for a reflection to see how it looked on me, even though I knew the look was not good.

A steel-clad pillar was a good enough mirror, and so I stepped over toward it.  Yes, it was bad.  But at least the store and I were down one type, one kind, one choice.  It went back, to be replaced by a royally purple short-sleeve number.  At least that type, that kind, that choice wasn't as alarmingly bright a failure.  If anything it was a darker one – but still a failure.  It went back, to be replaced in front of me, bounced back by the polished metal of the pillar, by a beetle-green version.  Better, a closer type, kind and choice.  A perhaps.  A maybe.  A could be.

Eventually, I began to relax, the knotted fibers of my back and arms releasing from the Gordian Knot stress I'd unconsciously tied myself into.  I was shopping.  Just shopping.  Only shopping.  It was an ordinary thing, a common thing, a thing I'd used to do, a thing I used to enjoy doing – and looked like I might enjoy doing again.


The green shirt was a possible, then a near-certainty when I saw a plaster or plastic consumer model wearing nearly the same thing in the front window, though no way in hell was I going to wear it with those tangerine pants.  Tres gauche!  In pursuit of something shorts-like, slacks-ish, jeans-reminiscent, I moved between the islands of other manikins and wheels of comparable displays letting my eyes get wonderfully exhausted from looking at everything there was to see.  Those shorts?  No, they wouldn't hang right.  Those slacks?  No, I didn't like the fabric.  Those jeans?  No, I didn't like the weight.  Maybe those?  Maybe these?

"Having a good time?"

I jerked, my finally relaxed spine bolted tight by the shock of a human voice.  "Oh, yeah," I said before doing anything, not even trying to find out who'd done the speaking.

Turning around, I saw that it was the salesperson again, talking from behind the register.  With the same visual machine gun I'd aimed at shorts, slacks, and jeans I shot him into my brain: young but not so much as to bruise easily.  He knew what he had and – most importantly – what to do with it.  Beneath a light cotton shirt I could see enough of a chest to know that he also more than likely had flesh where it should be and muscle where it was nice.  His face was a good combo of dark eyes below a skull well-defined by close-cropped black hair, an elegantly shaped and sized Grecian nose above plum red lips.  The counter kept me from estimating below the belt, but above it he seemed to be something worth trying on.  All in all, he was the perfect picture of a plaything: fun for a night, delight for a weekend, but beyond that – well, who thought that far ahead with someone like him all sweaty and naked in the same room?

A grin at all this, almost a laugh: I was cruising.  Just cruising.  Only cruising.  It was an ordinary thing, a common thing, a thing I used to do, a thing I used to enjoy doing and looked like I might enjoy doing again.  Thank god.

"Always like to see someone having a good time," he said, rounding the counter – though my view was still blocked, this time by the items under the sign: HALF OFF.

"Makes two of us," I fenced back, letting my relaxation and perhaps happiness out in a short, but loud, laugh.  "Finding everything you need?"

"Oh, you mean the clothes!  Yes."

"Great.  Well, if you need anything else just give me a yell.  That's what I'm here for."

"I hope it's not the only thing you're here for – in life, I mean.  Not the store." Did I say that?  Shit, I was either out of practice or just out of my mind.  Whichever came first.

At least this Plaything didn't seem to mind.  He fenced back with his own laugh: a deep, gruff sound that made me feel cut adrift and floating.  "Never!"

"That's good." What else to say walked off the roof.  Momentarily floundering, I plucked a shirt from the pile in my arms.  "Actually, you might be able to help."

"Sure!  What do you need?"

"Any suggestions for this?  I like it but I'm not seeing any thing I like to go with it."

"Hummm..." he said, body in a delightful, pondering posture.  "I think I have just the thing..."

He didn't, but I didn't care.  For the next few minutes I followed him around the store, letting him make suggestions of shorts (even though they didn't hang right), slacks (even though I didn't like the fabric) and jeans (even though I didn't like the weight).  As he lifted each and even more from the racks to stroke his elegant fingers across, praise with his musical voice, hold up to me with his strong arms, I said less and less and blushed more and more.  With each demonstration and recommendation my mind got noisier and noisier, reason becoming harder and harder to maintain: he's really kind of cute broke down into half-felt and half-thought bits and pieces like hope he's a good kisser, hope he's got a good one, hope he wants to, really hope he wants to, please let him want to, and finally how to get him away from here...?

"I really shouldn't say this–" but you could tell he wanted to, the tone and melody of his words skipping from nerves "–but would you like to get some coffee or something?"

It was old, it was dumb, it was trite, it certainly wasn't stylish, but it was something I needed and wanted to hear.  You may not know me, and I might not even know what I was going to become, but at least it looked like I was going to be someone who could be needed and wanted.

But then a thought came.  A bad one.  The light at the end of my tunnel changing into a howling locomotive.  Coffee?  Yes.  Giggles and good conversation?  Absolutely.  A hand touching another hand?  Certainly.  A kiss?  Definitely.  Your place or mine – and there was the impact, the crash, the smash, the twisted wreckage of the day before.

I didn't have a place.  He had a place – and what was worse was that this all might happen, could happen, possibly might happen, if I was damned lucky.

But he didn't need luck.

He was better – better than I could ever have been.  In all things, but especially where it really mattered.

* * * *

Lack of sleep was a part of it.  But not all of it.  Having lazy eyes drifting too often toward closed didn't explain the whole thing.  Going crazy – well, yes, that was another portion.  But I couldn't say how much.  A question: did being completely crazy mean you could no longer tell how much of what you did was acting crazy?

I also didn't care.  Maybe he'd be there, maybe he wouldn't.  Was or wasn't, neither bothered me.  The amount of emotion between opening the door and seeing him, seeing the thief of my life right there in my apartment, or opening the door and not seeing him, the copycat, was about the same.

I had to do something, anything.  Even if it wasn't smart – or, yes, sane – I couldn't be frightened all the time, couldn't run away, couldn't hide, or fret, or panic, or scream, or cry, or shake.  Anything but.

So I drove, letting my hands and my feet weave my car down streets, avenues, boulevards, streets, drives, and everything between any of them, until I was in my neighborhood: rows and rows of brightly shining windows set in cream-colored, stucco-slathered apartment blocks.

Still not thinking, still driving with just my hands and my feet, I was turning into the dark hole of a garage before I was even consciously aware of it.  215?  Yes, slot 215.  Then, with a turn of the wheel, my Volkswagon found its home.

My home?  His home?  I didn't know for sure.

With a push of a 5, I rose in the elevator past 1 then 2 then 3 then 4 and finally to my floor.  Opening to cream-colored stucco walls, a stutter of industrial fixtures overhead illuminating door after door after door of neighbors, I was walking before I realized what I was doing.  Then, with a turn of by body, I was standing in front of my home.

My home?  His home?  I didn't know for sure.

Hand on the knob, cool metal – even though it was thin, cheap brass – I had fished out my key before I was even aware that I'd done it.  Then, as I fed gleaming steel into the lock and turned it, I realized a very certain, powerful, fact: the knob wouldn't turn, the door wouldn't open.

His home: he'd changed the lock.

Screw that.  I knew that for sure: a blast, a bolt, a shock that made me stand up straighter, get a bit taller, feel a bit stronger.  I hoped he was in there, I prayed he was so scared of me that he'd had to change the lock.  Right then, he had a good reason to be scared and hiding.

I was pounding on the door before I knew what I was doing, the meaty side of my hand going from unfeeling to sore and possibly even bruised with a few reckless full-body swings of my arms.  The door, of course, didn't budge.

I was about to try the moves of every private detective I'd ever seen – and no doubt break every bone in my shoulder or foot, when a cheerful bell announced that the elevator had returned to my floor.

Turning quick, I half expected be see myself walking toward me, having spent another full day creeping around behind my back, stuffing the people, places, and things of my life into his own: taking what didn't belong to me, replacing what had been mine with his replication.

If my hands hadn't been sore I probably wouldn't have realized I'd curled them into fists, but they were – so I was aware my knuckles had lifted from my joints in a tight fury.

Then they released, uncoiling from their compression into my palm, muscles releasing furious tension.  No him.  Not him at all.  Breath held, breath released.  Not him at all.

Jingle, jingle, a new kind of bell, meaning instead of possible arrival, the coming of a feature of the building – for all buildings for that matter.  "Hola," the Handyman said with a nod of his dark hair, his dark skin gleaming with the perspiration of a hard day's work.

"H–hello," I said, this and that and something else shy at his arrival: "this" being the cheek-warming shame that he might have seen me banging my fists into puffy bruises on my door; "that" being the embarrassed blush of my not remembering his name; the "something else" being the humiliation of not knowing whether I'd ever met him before – because they all looked alike to me.

"You ... have problem?" he said, face aglow with innocent happiness.  I envied him for that grin, for the pure averageness, everydayness, commonness behind it.

"No–" I began then stopped.  Instead, I gave him my own smile, but with anything but happiness, without any kind of averageness, everydayness, commonness behind it.

"Well, yeah, there kind of is a problem.  I did something very–" how do you say stupid in Spanish?  "–silly.  I forgot my keys at work.  Can you let me in?"

"Sure," he said, the word very English, obviously a word that didn't exist with a Latin accent.  "I do that for you.  I know you."

"Thanks," I answered through clenched teeth.  Did you know me?  Did you know me at all?  Or did you just know him?

So, just like that, I was in.

He wasn't in the apartment.  But that's not why it was good – so very good.  At least to start, that is.

Saying goodbye to the handyman, hoping that he'd never know his sweet-sweet-sweet kindness was to a pair of refisted hands that'd been ready to swing-swing-swing at anyone in the place, I closed the door behind me.

It was odd to be home: an oddness that made my hair bristle, run goosebumps up and down my arms, make my breath come in ragged gasps.  A lot was the same, like I'd just stepped out, just come back: the Ikea catalog of perfectly assembled living, the same knicks and the same knacks just as they'd appeared in that same issue of the same catalog, the same little things here, the same little things there that spelled each letter of HOME: Haring print on the wall, Olberman book that'd been number one on Amazon this week, Mapplethorpe calendar magneted to the fridge, and the Enigma CD that was number one on iTunes this week.

It was my home – but it was still his home more than it was mine.

He'd changed the rug in the kitchen (mine had been from the Fall Ikea catalog; he'd replaced it with one from a different season), the pillows on the bed (mine had been Bed, Bath and Beyond royal blue; he'd bought Bed Bath and Beyond blood red), in the kitchen he'd thrown out my Restoration Hardware silverware for crap from Target ... I think.  In the bathroom the towels I'd bought from Bloomingdales were gone, and instead there were some run-of-the-mill fluffy things that could have been from Ross ... I think.

He'd started, but hadn't finished making what had been mine into his.  I had time.  But there was something else, something that was that good – so very good.  At least to start, that is: In the sink, dirty dishes.  On the bed, dirty sheets.  In the living room, dirty clothes.  In the bathroom, a dirty tub.  In the window, dirty glass.

Good – so very good.  He wasn't perfect, wasn't superior.  He was dirty.  Wonderfully, gloriously, magnificently, excellently, gloriously, filthy.  Under his bright, shiny lie that was my stolen life, he couldn't keep it up.

I'd show him, I decided.  I couldn't punch him, couldn't slap his mirror-face, couldn't kick him in the nuts, couldn't do anything to him – but I could show him who was the better man, the better me.

It took at least two hours.  For the first hour every sound was him coming back, walking in.  For the first hour every sound made me want to scream, bellow, roar in rage, and go after him for what he'd done to me.  But all during the second hour, I didn't hear anything, or if I did I didn't notice any of it.

I pulled Windex out from under the sink, opened the front windows, leaned out, spritzed and sprayed, wiped and rubbed until the glass was clear enough to be gone, the view out the front obstructed only by the playful reflections of my earnestly grinning face.

I pulled Formula 409 from under the sink, pulled aside the shower curtain, leaned in, spritzed and sprayed, wiped and rubbed until the porcelain was white enough to be surgical, its antiseptic appearance marred only by the mirroring of my earnestly scrubbing face.

I pulled a Hefty garbage bag out from under the sink, bent down and yanked, plucked, swept up, collected, and stuffed all the socks, shorts, slacks, jeans, shirts, and sweaters that were on the sofa, under the sofa, between the cushions of the sofa, and even behind the sofa.

I pulled another Hefty garbage bag out from under the sink, leaned across and yanked, pulled, stripped, collected and stuffed the fitted and cover sheet that was twisted up, wadded up, bunched up, and tangled up on the bed.

I pulled Dawn out from under the sink, bent over and soaked, soaped, rinsed, dried, soaked, soaped, rinsed, dried, soaked, soaped, rinsed, dried every last pot, pan, glass, plate, bowl, knife, fork, and spoon, until the kitchen gleamed, shone, and dazzled with lemon-scented, spectacular cleanliness.

Walking around my apartment, looking at what I'd done with what was mine, admiring my handiwork, an emotion fluttered through my bones, played a lovely tune on my tendons and muscles, and out through my grinning lips in the form of a happy little tune: la, la, la – I'd show him – la, la, la – the fucking bastard – la, la, la – I'm better than he is – la, la, la – he's the loser – la, la, la – I'm better – la, la, la – I'm so much better – la, la, la – I'm so much better at being me – la, la, la.

I felt very good: the best I'd felt in days.  I was the one that was perfect, I was the one who was superior.  I was wonderfully, gloriously, magnificently, excellently, gloriously, me.

Then my walking stopped, my humming stopped, my singing stopped.  The bedroom.  It was because of the bedroom.  It was because of the trash in the bedroom.

Because of that, he'd shown me.  He wasn't there to punch me, he couldn't slap my face, couldn't kick me in the nuts, couldn't do anything to me – but because of the trash in the bedroom, he showed me that he was the better man, the better me.

The apartment didn't matter.  Dishes didn't matter.  Sheets didn't matter.  Clothes didn't matter.  The tub didn't matter.  Windows didn't matter.

The apartment was just a place: rented, occupied, left behind for a new one.  Dishes, sheets, clothes, tubs, windows, all of them – clean or dirty – were just things: purchased, used, thrown away, then replaced.

There were the things that did matter.  Six of them, in fact.

One: People mattered, and what they thought of you – that's what mattered.

Two: Being wanted mattered, being able to get it whenever you needed it – that's what mattered.

Three: Being successful was good, being who they thought about when they were with other guys – that's what mattered.

Four: Being able to pick up who you wanted, to be the first one out with the best pick – that's what mattered.

Five: Never being alone, unless you wanted to be – that's what mattered.

Six (the most important of all): Your dick mattered, getting it sucked or getting to fuck with it – that's what mattered.

Each of them – one, two, three, four, five, six – were why I walked, ran, ate, worked, drove, slept, or earned.  In fact why anyone walked, ran, ate, worked, drove, slept, or earned.

And each of them – one, two, three, four, five, six – were there in the trash, proof that he was better at this, at what really mattered, than I was.

It was worth admiring, I had to admit, even though to do so made my heart break into six irregular pieces.  I should have applauded, rather than leave to try and become someone else, but I just couldn't.

Six condoms in the trash.  Six fucks in one night, three fucks on two nights, six fucks in six days.  Whatever the math – more than I'd ever done.

That had been it: that had finished it.  That had been why I'd left it all behind, that's why I'd walked the mall, that's why I'd bought a copy of Details, that's why I'd shopped at Tommy Hilfiger.

He could have my fucking life.  He was obviously so much better at it than I'd ever been.

Or maybe ever could be.

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