Alone in this room...
Hand pressed to the cold dark screen
What did I do wrong?
Jerry moved back after his mother died. He lived there now by himself, in the small farmhouse where he'd grown up next to a curve as the road came over the shoulder of a hill outside the village of Castile, New York.
Moving there didn't make much sense. He admitted to his acquaintances it made no sense at all. It wasn't for his mother's sake. She was dead, so a gesture wouldn't do her any good now. And Jerry's father had died years before.
It wouldn't seem he did it for the house either. He had never called it 'home' and he'd left it as soon as he could. Seven years ago, he was sixteen when he moved thirty miles away to the town of Batavia. That was too young to leave legally, but Jerry's mother knew she couldn't hold him. He found a succession of small jobs and a few years later was selling real estate.
Batavia had one quietly gay bar, On Thursdays, whose name was a fragment of a joke over an old superstition about how to tell if someone's queer. It had pretty much the same consistent, regular people, but some of them also frequented bars in Buffalo or Rochester so it wasn't impossibly isolated. Jerry was not fashionable. Also, he was practical about his sexual needs and not hung up on finding Prince Charming. He went to Thursdays occasionally, for companionship and sometimes a hookup.
Jerry was decent looking. Admittedly, he wasn't muscular; he always avoided farm work, and he didn't associate with boys who played sports. But he was slender and well framed. He had a smile that surprised people who thought he was a misfit recluse: it was shy but also warm, suggesting he wanted to be friends if you gave him the opportunity, if you were willing to work for it. If he would talk to you at all, he was intelligent and gentle. Combined with his nice features and the dark hair that tended to fall over his forehead, his expression made him attractive.
At the time he'd run away he hated the house itself. The bedrooms had a single window each. The kitchen had a sink, a wooden table with unmatched chairs, and a rusted, patched screen door that banged loudly back on its spring each time someone opened it and then wasn't careful to close it softly.
Yet now he accepted a forty-minute commute from it along the country roads to his office in Batavia. He liked the drive. In winter he'd go to work on cold, bleak mornings; in summer he'd return on warm, fragrant evenings. He would be happy coming home. He'd stay on the front steps, thinking and watching the cars go by. He'd sit at the kitchen table on the straight chair that was blue-painted, enjoying the light through the windows, reading a book; and after crossing the crumbling linoleum to go out on the back porch he'd hold the screen door to close it quietly. He'd return alone late from an evening at Thursdays, get out of his car and stand next to it in the soft dark, looking around. Or, if he brought a guy with him, they'd go to bed and have sex, and he would lie awake, snuggled to his sleeping lover, listening to the trees outside the open, single window of his old bedroom.
He didn't mean living there to be permanent. At first, last winter, it was something to try while he waited for the house to sell. It turned out embarrassing when he ran into old classmates--not that they all were unkind. They had graduated to adult lives that were obvious sequels to the lives they'd had in high school.
"So you came home?" Janice smiled to him. They were in the convenience store at the gas station. Her four-year-old boy hung from her arm in his snowsuit, bored, having better things to do.
"No. Just while I settle my mother's affairs."
"You didn't have to actually move into her house to do that. Anyway, I know you better." Janice had been his best friend in high school, by default. She would understand him, would gently, patiently listen to his ungentle, impatient sarcasm about the world.
"Well, um . . . "
"Maybe now your parents are dead you feel safe living in the same world they did."
Janice expected Jerry to just fire a zinger back, so she was surprised at the discomfort her remark made him show. This was a change. She left the topic before he could feel bad. "I finally married Carl. He's right outside." She pointed through the window at her husband, who was pumping gas into their car.
"Of course. Who else could you have married?"
"Why don't you come for dinner at our house Friday? We'd both love to see you again." Janice knew he'd try to find a plausible excuse to turn her down. Before he could hesitate, she went to the door and called out, "Carl! Look, it's Jerry."
Carl came inside, stamping the snow off his boots. "Hey, Jerry. Long time."
Jerry held out his hand but Carl brushed it aside and closed in for a hug.
"Honey, Jerry's coming for dinner on Friday."
Carl brightened. "That's great! Listen, you with someone now? Bring him along."
Jerry looked startled, so Carl chuckled reassuringly. "No offense intended. I thought you were gay. Have you got a girlfriend, then? I only meant, whoever you've got they'd be welcome."
"No, I don't have anyone."
"Then just bring yourself and that'll be fine."
"I am. . . . I am gay."
Janice touched his arm. "Please come. It'll be fun."
He did go for dinner, and started visiting them every week or two. It wasn't actually that bad.
One afternoon, the inevitable happened. Walking down the street, he ran into Matt.
There was no way to dodge him and no point in putting it off. So Jerry smiled to him and said, "Hi, Matt. Good to see you."
"Good to see you. Really good. Unexpected."
"So, you married now, like our classmates?"
Matt's expression hardened. "What do you think, Jerry?"
"I don't know. Are you?"
Matt hadn't seen Jerry for seven years and he didn't want to ruin it by fighting, as much as he felt Jerry deserved it. "You know I'm only interested in males. It isn't legal for men to marry in New York State, and anyway I don't have a boyfriend."
Jerry felt bad about making Matt say this. He changed the topic, putting some warmth in his voice, "What do you do now?"
"I work for my parents on the farm. Dad isn't so well any more. But I don't live there. I have a place here in town."
"If you like farming. Want to see my apartment?"
Jerry looked at Matt's smile, at his straight straw-colored hair, his serious, decent blue eyes. He looked at Matt's tall, lithe, strong body. He remembered clearly why he'd always loved sex with Matt, and he pushed to the back of his mind the fact that when he'd run away from home, he also ran from Matt. Their relationship had been just too tight.
"Sure. I'd like that a lot."
At Matt's there were no preliminaries. Matt crushed into Jerry's arms. Jerry kissed him and then undressed him while re-exploring Matt's mouth with his tongue. A while later, Jerry was inside Matt, moaning uncontrollably, and unable to deny how much he liked it.
Afterward, Matt was torn by the need to tell Jerry how much their separation had hurt him. But he knew from the past that clinging was what had driven Jerry away. Matt held back and spoke quietly: "I missed you, Jerry."
Jerry wouldn't say he'd missed Matt. He changed the subject slightly. "You're really hot, Matt. Always were."
Matt refused to let himself complain about Jerry's evasion. He decided to settle for what he could get now and to work to get more later.
Jerry kissed him and ran his hands over Matt's chest.
Matt relaxed. "So what are you doing back in Castile today?"
"I live here--in my mother's house while I sell it. I'm in real estate now."
"Sell it? Then you could afford to move away from Farm Town, USA. Not just to Batavia, but really move. Away." Matt had some money saved to leave home. Now he hoped he could go together with Jerry.
They lay naked in the afternoon sunlight and enjoyed being next to each other.
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