A monstrous edifice swells out of the ground mist like some perverse tumor.  Windows glow mad cat’s eye yellow and ramparts rise in skeletal fingers. He knows: turn away, better to bleed into the clean earth, to close his eyes and accept Azrael’s hand than take one more step. Only it’s too late. His feet are on the road; disjunction has seized him, and mind no longer has control over body.

“Crap, Dev, you aren’t going to send that in, are you?” My roommate, Lou, doesn’t mince words.

“It’s a first draft.”

“So that’s your excuse?”

“I have to have a 300-words or less filler for the Halloween issue. Can you come up with something better?”

“I’m no writer, bro. I mix drinks.”

“Would you mix me one? Maybe it’ll help.”

“Something better,” and he ambles off to the kitchen, I hope.  Shit, maybe if I sit here at the keyboard long enough, something good will happen.  Dark Circle’s weird electronic music isn’t helping.  Even after reading Poe, I’m not in the mood.

“What’s this?”  Lou is holding something green and sort of misty in a brandy snifter, of all things. Lou’s a bartender at Amber Lights, but this is new to me.

“Absinthe. Getting popular again, but most places don’t serve it with wormwood – this is the real thing.”

“Isn’t it supposed to be like, poisonous, or something?”

“Old wives’ tale, created by France’s wine distributors in the day.”

Lou plants a buttock on the side of my desk and sips at his own glass so, I figure, what the hell. Tastes like . . . anise, and goes down nice, like warm liqueur, only not the least sticky or sweet. Lou’s giving me his Lou-knows-best smile, and his eyes glow amber in the light from my halogen desk lamp. I get this weird image of him perched up there on all fours like some handsome gargoyle. Maybe, with a spark of absinthe, my previous efforts at writing something spooky are coming to life. I’m definitely feeling high already, yet lucid. At least I think I am.

“Another?” He’s still smiling, and I’ll be damned, my glass is empty. Well, there wasn’t much in there, really.


He slides away and, of a sudden, I spy lots of words on my screen ripe for deletion and, yeah, I know what this poor devil is going to find inside now, it’s just a matter of —

“Here ya go.”

“Thanks. Just put it down there.”  My muse has arrived and there’s a presence right behind my hero, warm breath in his hair, on the back of his neck, sending shivers coursing right down to . . . it’s Lou leaning over right behind me, reading as I type, I guess. Christ.

“That’s more like it,” he says, one hand resting on my collarbone. He straightens up, takes three steps back and flops on the oversized chair, one leg over the arm. I have another swallow of the absinthe. We’ve been roommates for five months, and I’m thinking he’s awfully friendly tonight. I mean I’m not phobic or whatever it is, it’s just that sort of thing isn’t for me. Not for him either, far as I know. With our schedules, we don’t see much of each other.

It’s the absinthe. No more of that.

Furiously clacking away. Music, tappety-tap. No caffeine necessary. Time flies. First draft.  Done.

I sit back, remove my eyeglasses, carefully place them next to my MacBook and rub my eyes.  He’s still in the chair. I’m still as high as I’ve ever been. Amazing.  t’s been too long; that’s the problem. Misty, yeah, Misty and I had a loud parting-of-the-ways three months ago. I should have know better than get with some fem named Misty. Dead libido ever since, until now.

“It worked, huh?”

“Huh?” I can feel heat flooding my face.

“The absinthe? On your writing.”

“I guess.” Me, the idiot, speaking like there’s warm, green fumes coming out of my mouth.

“Doesn’t your butt get sore sitting in front of a computer hours at a time?”

“Heh,” which is the sort of laugh I make in response.

“Come over here.”

“What?” I hate it when people do that:  say what? – when they’ve heard perfectly well what you’ve said. It’s just, a put-off, yeah. I don’t know what to say, or do.

He rises out of the chair, smooth. I never noticed before, how smooth he is.

“It’s your chair, Dev. I don’t get many nights off, and thought we’d talk, you know, all these months and we hardly know one another.”

Oh. I’m a bit numb when I stand up, and it feels good to stretch. Lou’s lying on the floor leaning his back against the bed. I didn’t say before, but my desk, the chair – it’s all in my bedroom, my private space. Lou has his private space, and we have a kitchen and middle room with thrift store furniture. Our loft on the top floor of the building faces San Francisco Bay across a four-lane. The location and a big window on that side makes the place worth the rent. Once the fog clears, usually by noon, it’s nice here.

I snatch us each a couple chair pillows since it seemed silly to sit up there when Lou is on the floor, so I join him and lean against the chair. I wasn’t going to drink any more absinthe, but here it is in my hand, and I’m thirsty, real thirsty.

“So,” he says, “you write for that magazine, and you’ve had a few short stories published. You ride your bike every morning hither and yon, you broke up with your girlfriend a while back, and I’ve heard you talking on the phone to your parents. They all your family?”

“I have a sister and a younger brother in the Marines who just finished training, and my parents are pretty unhappy about it.”

“Why’s that?”

“They’re old hippies and live in a community in Ohio where I grew up.”
“Say no more. The younger generation rebels, eh?”

“I guess. My sister and I are twins, and sometimes I think maybe Jess felt left out. At least he didn’t get East Indians names like we did. My sister’s Devi.” She and I went to different colleges and have kept separate ever since. Who wants to be introduced as Dev and Devi?

“What’s she do?”

“She’s a lawyer in Chicago. She does a lot of pro bono stuff for victims. She’s good, too.” I’m proud of my sis.

“So people take a beautiful redheaded lawyer with green eyes seriously.”

I glance at him, and there are crinkles around his eyes, but he’s not smiling. Sis and I are close, even though not in physical distance. We email nearly every day, and she had it tough at first, still does with people who don’t know her. I hate my red hair and the freckles that pop out across my nose with too much sun. One reason I’m here in San Francisco.

“What do you do for fun?”

“The bike’s fun,” I say. He gives me that smile again, and sips his drink. “I play volleyball on the beach every weekend.” God this sounds inane, even to me. You’d have to picture Lou, this beefy bartender at one of the hottest spots in the city. Not beefy like overdone, but . . . shit. He dresses Armani style. Can’t be the real thing, not on a bartender’s salary. Yeah, I notice. He obviously works out regularly, and he’s over six feet. Mr. Cool, always. I can picture guys, especially women, at two a.m. sidling up to the bar and laying their life’s story on him, all their problems. Couldn’t before then, the place is too busy.

“You read a lot, don’t you? I’ve seen books lying all over the place.”

“Sure,” I say. I’m all pulled into myself on the pillow, whereas Lou is stretched out, long legs straight on the fake Persian rug I picked up at the local Goodwill. “Fiction, history, and I’m writing a novel.” I’m mixed about telling him that last bit. Writers are always writing a novel, and I’m categorizing myself where I’m not sure I want to be. “What about you? What do you do besides sleep all day?” I smile and take another drink to show him I’m only kidding, that I understand he works hard all night . . . at a bar.

He puts down his drink, leans forward on his hands and gets even more all-over calm, if that’s possible. Starts off looking down at his knees, then up right at me, as though searching my eyes, or behind them, for something. “Sometimes I hang with people from the bar. Mostly I enjoy spending time alone, wandering the city, especially in the fog. I have what some people would consider a strange hobby, Dev. I look for old places, even broken down and boarded up warehouses. Sometimes I break in and spend all day sitting in a room and imagining what it was like in the past. Me and the cockroaches and rats. I don’t mind them, and they don’t seem to mind me.”

If this surprises you, you can imagine how I felt sitting there on the floor half-drunk and alone with him. Maybe he found a little panic, staring at me like that, without blinking. Because he smiles again.

“I’ve found some amazing old bookstores. Sometime you’ll have to let me show you, although we’ll need a whole day, I’m sure.”

“Yeah, I’d like that,” I say, and go to take another drink, only there’s nothing left.

“You’re sweating something awful,” he says. “Give me that, only I’ll bring water this time, with a little ice.”

Why am I letting him wait on me? I guess it’s habit with him, only you’d think he’d be sick of it.  I am sitting here on this stupid pillow and getting more wound up by the minute. I spring up and nearly fall down. My calves are weak from lack of blood, from where I’ve been squeezing my legs. Pisses me off. This, for a guy who is in decent shape from riding miles on a bike every day. Nothing like him, of course. I’m a little wobbly from the absinthe, but determined to break this mood. I head for the doorway, and damn if I don’t crash right into the solid rock of Lou returning.

Somehow, in one hand he keeps the water from sloshing and with the other keeps me from falling by clutching me against his low-buttoned chest, my sweaty face in his neck. I’m hot; he’s cool. His scent is musk and passion. God, I’m drunk. His arm is an iron bar around my back and, shit, I’m responding. To this. To him. Fuck.

“Got your feet under you?” A low rumble in my right ear that sends hot chills down to my toes, one other place, too. I’m pushing my ass out so he doesn’t notice what’s going on in front.

“Yes,” breathy, and I give this little cough. He lets go, leaves a hand on my shoulder holding me steady just in case. I could swear he sucked in a deep breath below my ear there, for a couple seconds.

“Here’s your ice water.” I’m gulping too fast, so fast it hurts going down. Another cough, emphasizing the complete idiot. I swear, I have never in my life been like this.

“Let me have that,” he says, hand out. It takes a second before I remember the snifter is still in my other hand.

“I’ll do it,” I say, heading for the kitchen. I have to get away.

I put both glasses down and follow with both palms on the cool counter. Get yourself together.  Hasn’t nearly every guy considered this? You know, being with another guy, what it would be like. Not often and only with one, maybe two. To play with the idea, to judge your own reaction to it. A guy would be easy, wouldn’t he? I mean you wouldn’t have so much responsibility. You know, wondering if you were pleasing her enough, or if in the end she was faking it. Absinthe wouldn’t make you do something you ordinarily wouldn’t, would it?

“You okay, Dev? You look a little pale.”

I didn’t hear him come in behind me, and his right hand settles on my right hand. This is definitely going further than roommates, the friendship sort, I mean. Suspense is fine in fiction, but I can’t stand it in my life, so I come out with it. “What is this, Lou? What’s going on?” Still, I haven’t the nerve to turn around and ask him face-to-face.

“I believe you know,” he says.

That line about your heart coming up into your throat? Now I know how it feels. He’s nosing my neck, under my hair where I neglected to get a trim last week like I usually do – every other month, at least, at Cuts. That hand is slipping beneath my REI natural cotton tee. The other one is right above my jeans. Jesus. I think I’m paralyzed. Although one part of me is definitely alive. I’m anticipating where that one hand is going when a nail flicks where it makes me jump, and my legs melt like hot wax. I have to lean back against him, and that’s when I realize the other hand’s under my Levis, fingers crawling under the elastic of my Fruit of the Looms. My body makes all the decisions from then on.

I don’t know how I end up on the counter with his tongue and teeth scraping along my neck.  There’s a searing jab, a sliding in and sucking and my blood rushes in a flood from one place to another.

In one, endless second I know. In spite of it being impossible, I know. Only it’s too late, I’m caught and wouldn’t pull away if I could. And it’s not even Halloween until tomorrow night.

If this is all true, how can I tell you about it? He was lonely, and he likes me.

Don’t you expect to be so lucky. We have one another now.

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