A sweet little love story I wrote for NYC Midnight a few years back.
The smile floated off of Eric’s lips and performed a dance of giggly, embarrassed giddiness in the air over Nathan’s bed. Eric grabbed the joint from the nightstand and lit it, taking a long pull. He could hear Nathan in the kitchenette rummaging for a bottle of wine.
Nathan lived in a crumbling warehouse loft that was at once charming and decrepit. Cracks in the walls conversed with one another in hushed tones about the acrobatics they’d just witnessed, and a bulb in the ceiling flickered, making the shadows applaud.
“There we are,” said Nathan, and came up smiling with a bottle of cheap white and two glasses. He laid back down next to Eric and handed him a glass. Eric put the joint down in the ashtray and sipped at the wine. The combination of Atomic Kush and Chardonnay would soon absorb him directly into the mattress.
“So,” Nathan began.
“So?” Eric took a sip of wine.
“What makes you tick? Why are we here? Why me? Why you?” Nathan traced a finger along the pale skin of Eric’s chest. Eric closed his eyes and let him.
It had all been very weird and very wonderful very quickly, and Eric was very scared of what might happen next. Still, Eric knew what he wanted, and more importantly who he wanted, and where, and in what particular positions, and how often, and right now the who that he wanted was tracing a line of goosebumps along Eric’s skin.
“Why all the questions?” Eric asked, settling back into the pillows.
“I want to figure you out. So just give me the why. Why you thought you could pull off that gambit at the gym. Why it worked on me, at least at first. Let’s begin there.”
Eric remembered the improbable sequence of events that had led them both here.
He had dragged himself to the gym for the first time in months, deciding that if he was going to pay for the damned membership, he might as well use it. He’d wandered around for a while, unsure of where to start, and then jumped on a treadmill. Bored after twenty minutes of aimless walking, he’d shut the machine down and stepped off.
“Excuse me,” a voice had said. Eric had turned around to face this blond Adonis, all sweat and muscles like unpopped bubble wrap.
“Yes?” Eric had managed to respond.
“Do you work here? Can you tell me how to use that machine over there?”
This hunk had pointed at a Medieval torture device of pulleys and bars and spikey things. Eric had just blinked at him, unable to figure out why the guy thought Eric was a gym employee, unable to stop just...staring. This guy could have been made in a lab by Tim Curry.
But then, Eric had noticed something else.
Eric was wearing the same color shirt that the trainers were wearing, a canary yellow.
Of all the unlikely...
And his idiot brain had taken over from there.
Eric took another sip of wine and studied Nathan’s form in the darkness.
“What can I say? You have seen you, right? You are aware of...this.” Eric rubbed Nathan’s pecs. “And this.” Eric stroked Nathan’s abs. “And of course, these...” Eric grabbed a solid handful of Nathan’s right bicep. “And that’s just the top of you.”
Nathan just grinned.
“So yeah, I had a plan. I was going to bluff my way directly into your sheer black workout shorts. And hey, it kind of worked.”
“Kind of,” said Nathan. “The into my shorts part worked. But we both know where the bluff landed.”
The machine was all levers and wheels and things you put into holes to change the amount of weight you wanted to lift. Eric had a passing familiarity with it, but he wasn’t at all sure which muscles this one was intended to work on, or whether to sit at it forwards or backwards.
He’d rolled bluff in his mind and gone for it.
“So you choose your weight here,” he’d pointed at that bit, “and then you see this pulley? Um, you grab it...” He’d reached up to grab the pulley, but found it pulling him instead. He’d stood there on tiptoes, swinging a little, until he’d gotten a grip of the thing with both hands and pulled it down a little. “And then you sit on this bench.” He sat on the bench holding the pulley overhead. “And then um, you pull down on the pulley.”
He’d pulled down on the pulley and smacked himself in the head with it.
“You sure about that?” Nathan had said.
“Well, the head hitting isn’t strictly necessary,” he’d said, trying to laugh it off. “You can, um, have the pulley go in front of you or behind you.”
“Uh-huh,” Nathan had said. “Which do you recommend for lats?”
“For lats? Um...” Eric had struggled to remember where the heck the “lats” were. He’d given up and flipped a mental coin.
“Um, behind you. Definitely.”
“Huh. Cause that guy over there is doing it in front of him.” Nathan had pointed to a similar machine nearby.
“Well he looks like...um, he’s doing a variation that I um...wouldn’t recommend.”
That sounded plausible, right?
“Is there a particular angle I should be going for? Anything I should not do?”
“Um...” Eric scrambled for insight. “Don’t...well, I mean, don’t hit your head, obviously, we’ve covered that. Don’t go too far down with it...or you um, won’t target the muscle properly.”
There. Target the muscle. Those were workout words. He was totally pulling this off.
“Don’t um, bend over too far forward, or you’ll pull something. And be careful releasing the pulley, or...argh...”
Eric had released the pulley, nearly tearing his arms out of their sockets in the process. The pulley had sproinged off the top of the machine with a loud clang.
“Or that’ll happen.”
Eric had stood up from the bench.
Nathan had given him a look that said, “You’re either terrible at your job, or you’re bullshitting me.”
At least, that’s what Eric had thought it meant at the time. Now he wasn’t so sure. Something nagged at him.
“After that ludicrous display, why’d you stick around?”
Nathan grinned. “Well, I mean, at that point I knew something was up. I’m not an idiot. But you were just so cute about it all.”
“Hey, you know what they say – when you have no idea what you’re talking about, project confidence. It’s how politics works, at least.”
“You do know where the lats are, right?”
Eric grinned. “I think I do. Somewhere in the back, right?”
“They’re right here.” Nathan rolled over onto his stomach and grabbed Eric’s hand, bringing it over to stroke Nathan’s lats.
And they were the lattiest lats Eric had ever had the pleasure to stroke.
Nathan looked at Eric with that face, and Eric kissed him. And kissed him some more. The flickering shadows and cracks in the walls looked away, fearing a repeat of the antics they’d witnessed earlier.
Nathan wasn’t an idiot. He was actually very smart. And yet here they lay together, liplocked and sweaty, despite it all. How had that actually happened?
“So how many times should I do this to really work my lats?” Nathan had asked.
“Twenty?” Eric had answered. “Two reps of twenty. Yeah, that’ll help your lats.”
“You sure about that?”
“Yeah, um, it’s all about...”
“You fellas need some help?” A bearded guy in an actual employee shirt, with a name tag, had come up to them.
“Uh, no...I got this,” Eric had attempted.
“Wait a second here...”
Nathan had looked at where Eric’s name tag wasn’t.
“You don’t work here,” Nathan had said, his eyebrow raised, staring directly into Eric’s humiliated soul.
Eric had felt himself sink into a hole in the Earth’s crust.
“Uh...no. No I don’t. Did you think I worked here? Oh, I’m sorry. I just thought we were being friendly. I’m sorry...I’ll go away now.”
He’d turned on his heels and started to slink away.
“Wait a sec,” Nathan had said, putting a hand on Eric’s shoulder.
“Thanks, we’re good,” he had added, shooing away the actual employee, who’d shrugged and wandered off.
“So what was all this really about?” Nathan had asked.
“I don’t know...look, I’m sorry for wasting your time...”
“Did you really think I was a trainer when you walked up to me at the treadmill?”
Nathan grinned and finished his glass of wine. He poured himself another and topped off Eric’s glass.
“Ah, there’s the central mystery,” Nathan responded.
“You didn’t, did you? Was this all some kind of crazy eight dimensional double bluff?”
Nathan just laughed. “Gotta give a guy credit for originality.”
“So wait, you see me, this hapless guy zoned out on a treadmill, clearly not in his element, and...what exactly was your thought process in that moment?”
“Maybe my thought process was, ‘Hey, this guy’s cute. I’m going to go talk to him. Maybe the ‘do you work here’ thing was kind of...a last minute improvisation.”
“And you just let me hang myself, literally, with that homicidal pulley machine.”
“Or maybe I’m lying now, and I really did think you were a trainer.”
“Put your wine down,” Eric said.
“Just do it.”
Nathan put his wine down. Eric hit Nathan in the face with a pillow. Nathan laughed.
“This has to have been the most confusing, humiliating, and wonderful way I’ve ever been picked up by a guy way, way, way, too hot to be interested in me,” Eric said after a minute.
The two of them lay there in silence for a bit, sharing the wine. Eric relit the half-spent joint, and they passed it back and forth until it burned down to a roach. Eric’s smile returned, floated along the ceiling, watching the two of them. The cracks in the walls and the flickering shadows got back to the busy work of undermining the structure of the building and obscuring visibility. The world kept turning, and the story continued on the next page.