by Himawari (ヒマワリ)
illustrated by A.Sammich
It was the beard. It usually is.
I saw him at the pool, at the end of a very long conference day, the kind of day so long you don’t end up wanting anything but to get some lousy vending machine snacks and to watch something junky on the hotel room TV.
I hadn’t meant to be cruising the pool area, really I hadn’t. I’d just gotten back to my cheap-ass hotel after the long and miserable walk back from the glitzy glass resort and conference center down the road. Who the hell holds a conference in Nashville in June? Librarians looking for cheaper rates, that’s who. The cool chlorine of the water smelled refreshing after the sticky heat and scent of grease and conservativism from the Cracker Barrel down the block. So I went up to my room, threw down my conference logo-ed messenger bag on the bed (sponsored by ProQuest!), and dug for my swim trunks. Junk food and TV could wait. I didn’t want to call home just to be cranky, so I was putting that off too.
It was late enough that the parents and little kids had left the pool, but still an hour or two before it closed. The hotel was built around a big indoor atrium. It was nothing as big as the Disney-under-glass resort complex the conference was in, but with room for the pool and lounge on the first floor. Balconies looked out on them from the upper levels. The idea of sinking into cold water was so inviting that I didn’t pay attention to my surroundings at first; I just set my stuff down on a lounge chair and slipped into the pool from the deep end. I swam some diagonal laps for a bit, since it wasn’t that big of a pool, and then propped myself up by my elbows along the edge. My feet were braced on the sloped edge of of the pool liner. Then I caught his eye.
I didn’t mean to. I just looked up and the man in the lounge chair on the other side of the deep end was staring right at me. He’d put down his book. He was wearing long trunks and a rash guard that covered his chest and shoulders, but the rash guard was so tight it showed off his very nice pecs underneath. He was muscled but in a cuddly sort of way, bearded but not too shaggy, and plenty pierced from what I could see. And like I said earlier, I immediately spotted his gorgeous beard. It had nice contours and was neat, but left long enough that I could imagine running my fingers through the deep brown hairs that were tinged with red. It complemented the thick septum ring and earrings he wore. It made me wonder what else he had going on.
“Long day?” he asked. As soon as I heard that rich brown voice, it was all over.
You see, I listen to this podcast. It’s called The Longboard Librarian, and it is by a guy who, surprise surprise, is a librarian who surfs. His name’s Greg, and he’s got this voice that’s a soft, rich deep brown, like the kind you’d see on a worn velvet blanket. He talks about his favorite surf spots like guys he has crushes on. I think he’s mentioned an ex-boyfriend once or twice, so I’m pretty darn sure he’s queer. Anyway, I don’t even surf, but I love his podcast. I think it’s the way he explains the sport so clearly to even the complete beginner, but with the love of someone who has been doing it for a very long time. I listen to him when I’m cleaning my desk or painting the basement, times when I want something fun but soothing. One time Karen caught me standing stock-still at the tool bench, listening to him instead of measuring whatever shelf I was making. She’s called him my “podcast boyfriend” ever since.
“Yeah,” I said, “it’s disgusting out there. Wait, this is gonna sound weird, but aren’t you–”
“Oh my God.” He cut me off. “You’re The Strongman Librarian!”
Okay, let’s back up. The Strongman Librarian is the name of my podcast. For a while I was on the regional strongman contest circuit, supplementing my crappy office job with occasional prize money. I stopped competing eight years ago when I decided I couldn’t stand the scene, or my competitive self, anymore. On the podcast I talk about being a librarian who doesn’t fit the mold: weightlifter, bisexual, and a queer but married to a woman. I talk about leaving competitive strength athletics, and about working out how to do my beloved sports separately from the homophobia and sexism they can reinforce. I still lift regularly, I’ve started rock climbing since we moved to Utah, and I still read a lot of sports literature; it all ends up in the podcast.
So to meet The Longboard Librarian, and then find out that he knew who I was? I was speechless. I realized that he was still waiting for a response. “Uh, sorry, I’m just… you’re The Longboard Librarian and I love listening to you!”
His eyebrows shot up. “Wait, really?” He started to chuckle. “I love your podcast too!” He sat up in the lounge chair. “You know, I think I’ll join you,” he said. He sat down at the edge of the pool and dangled his feet in the water, and after a few seconds he slid in. “Whoo!” he said as the water hit his chest. I would have had a very visible reaction to the sight of his pecs if I hadn’t been, as the old George Costanza joke goes, in the pool. Even under the rash guard you could see his pecs clench a bit and the nipples stand up more as the cool water sloshed around him. The wet fabric showed off little rings attached to his nipples, and I swear if I hadn’t been in cold water I would have gotten really hard in public. So I have a thing for nip piercings on guys. I mean, on anyone, but more so on dudes. This is on top of the aforementioned thing I have for neatly fluffy beards.
Greg splashed his way closer to me, and leaned one elbow on the edge. “So! Fancy meeting a fellow librarian podcaster here,” he said with a grin. Okay, yeah, it was kind of a flirtatious grin. “It’s really cool to put a face to the voice.”
“Same here,” I said, biting the inside of my lip. Suddenly it was hard to meet his eyes.
We chatted for a bit. It was typical stuff, the are you going to the queer caucus breakfast meeting tomorrow morning sort of thing, and the I really liked this one story you told sort of thing, and the I think I need a new microphone soon sort of thing, and the how’s the whole rock climbing thing going thing. I rapidly lost my case of nerves about meeting my podcasting role model. That warm brown voice was still pretty distracting, though, and I couldn’t stop admiring the fur on his jaw. Greg was talking about an event he’d been to that day, a seminar on data repositories that I hadn’t been able to make because I’d been moderating a panel elsewhere. While I was dying to hear more about what had been said at that seminar, I found that I’d lost my train of thought. He trailed off too, looking at me.
“Okay,” he said, “is there something on my face or have you just seen the Virgin Mary or something? Because you just kind of got this… beatific glow just now.”
I blinked. Oops.
“Uh…” I considered a number of excuses — it had been a long day, it was hot and sticky outside, I was tired — but fuck it. “I think I have beard envy?”
He looked down at the water, and then back up at me with a little smile on his face. “Jake, are you flirtin’ with me?” Oh, as if he wasn’t flirting too!
I took a deep breath. “Yes. Yes I am.”
Greg smiled that smile again. I had a feeling it was his aha-this-is-interesting smile, though it could have been his awkward-what-do-I-do-now smile. Then he looked down. “Okay, but tell me about that?” He said, nodding at the gold band on my left hand.
“Er, we’re poly?” So here I was, hitting on a fellow librarian in a hotel pool. This wouldn’t end well, and hadn’t ended well, any number of times I flirted with someone who didn’t already know that detail. It wasn’t secret, exactly, but I picked my battles. It was tiring enough to run into old queers at the caucus meetings who didn’t know what to do with a straight-married bisexual.
“Oh. Oh!” he said. He leaned back a little, and considered me. “So… would you like to go to the lounge next door and I could buy you a drink, or… we could go up to my room and watch crap on Netflix?” He put his hands out. “Utterly optional, but, uh… you’re cute. Uh, is your wife gonna be cool with this?”
I stared for a moment before I recovered. My first thought was that this was crazy and I needed a drink very much, but I wasn’t going down that road again. “Watching crap on Netflix would be awesome,” I said, and I could feel a smile breaking across my face. “I’ll text Karen, she’ll be cool with it.” She had, in fact, hoped aloud that I would hook up with my “podcast boyfriend” as she’d dropped me off at the airport on Saturday. We’d been kidding!
He did that grin again. “Well, okay. Room 306, come by as soon as you feel like it. I hope you like junk food because I’ve got plenty.” He reached out for my hand and brushed his thumb across the back, pulling me closer than you would normally pull another dude in the pool, I mean, unless you were looking for something special. “See you soon.”
And with that, he kicked off across the pool and hauled himself out by his lounge chair. I was still kind of frozen in surprise, but I did summon the brain to think, mm, that ass, as he got a knee over the edge to pull himself up. He grabbed his towel and quickly sopped the worst of the water off of himself. Then he put on his sandals, scooped the book off the lounge chair, and waved to me as he walked toward the gate, with a little wiggle of his eyebrows. I smiled, and hoped it made up for the slightly shell-shocked little wave I gave him in return.
To stop myself from listening to his footsteps all the way back upstairs, I dove under the water and did a few laps before I got out. I blew my breath out in bubbles that fluttered against my cheeks. Then I lifted myself from the pool, easily but not anywhere near as gracefully as he had, and began to dry off. My phone was next to my keycard, and as soon as I’d mopped myself down a little, I grabbed it and opened the texting app. Karen grinned at me from her userpic with straight red hair and black glasses.
Help! Longboard Librarian invited me up to his room to watch TV aaaaaaaaa I have a crush on his piercings.
By the time I was in the hall outside my room, I had a reply. Hah! Take good notes. Find ALL his piercings!
Hee! Thanks, love you! I texted back, and then let myself into the hotel room.
I tossed the phone and my keycard down on the bed, but watched long enough to see a line of smiley faces, and: Love you too. GET YOU SOME, Jake! pop up on my phone. Then I stripped off my trunks and got in the shower.
Once the chlorine was washed away, I decided to take a minute longer and brush my teeth, even though we were about to eat junk food. I figured a recent brushing would help, if things did turn to kissing. I rummaged in my stupid quart plastic zip-top bag for the little bottle of lube I always bring with me, and found the strip of condoms hiding in the end of my Dopp kit. I felt overly hopeful putting them in the pocket of my track pants. Still, it paid to be prepared. Then I dug in my suitcase for the box of caramel corn and bag of mini candy bars that were hiding beneath my underwear. I grabbed a hoodie too, more to have a place to stash my phone and keycard than anything else.
The door to Greg’s room was propped open. The room was the same setup as mine, but with a queen bed. He had his laptop hooked up to the TV, and he was sitting cross-legged in the middle of the bed, digging through a conference bag even more stuffed with booth swag than mine was. I tapped on the door frame and he waved me in. “Hi! You can close that behind you.” I did so while he stuffed the mess of pens, notepads, and vendor flyers back in the bag. His bare feet were tanned and that struck me as terribly sweet, for some reason. Yeah, I definitely had a crush.
Greg kicked the bag into a corner with his foot. “So this is weird, right? We know a lot about each other but we haven’t met until now. Ginger ale?” He offered me a mini-bottle of soda, clearly pinched from a buffet over at the convention center.
I took the bottle and shrugged, and sat down at the end of the bed. “Thanks. You could put it the other way, you know? We haven’t met until now, but we know a lot about each other. I mean, I know you love ginger.” I gestured with the little bottle.
“And I know you hate cherries and licorice, so good thing I didn’t bring those.” He started digging snacks out of another bag: cheesy popcorn, more little ginger ale bottles, water bottles I suspected were also filched, and a huge bag of trail mix. “Could you grab more pillows?”
We used all the pillows from both beds and the armchair to prop us up against the headboard, and laid out the snacks in between us. The fussing was easier than making eye contact. Greg stuffed one of the pillows between our shoulders and leaned into it. “How do you feel about Arrested Development?”
I could feel my mind settling down and my muscles relaxing as I leaned back against the pillow and Greg, and then we were distracted by the television.
After the episode was over, I asked, “Hey, ever watched How It’s Made?” Sure enough, Netflix had some episodes, so he cued up the first episode and we sat back to watch. His fingers brushed mine every once in a while as they met over the box of caramel corn, and I shifted so that my upper arm was touching his.
Greg leaned his head toward mine. “You’re right, this is weirdly soothing. I guess I did like factory videos on tv when I was little.”
On the television, workers were wrapping coils of wire that would go inside a huge electric motor. The reader’s voice was a bright yellow to me, her A’s flat and her O’s round. “We’d watch this during nighttime feedings when my daughter was really little,” I explained. I had this little pang of worry as soon as it was out of my mouth: some guys hated being reminded that I had a kid. But fuck that, I figured; better to know now if a guy couldn’t deal.
“You miss her while you’re gone?” Greg said, and then shifted, lifting his arm up and inviting me closer. I settled in and he put his arm around my shoulders. I hummed happily.
“Yeah, I do. I feel free for about twenty-four hours and then it starts to suck,” I said, leaning my head against his shoulder.
“I bet,” Greg said, and squeezed my bicep a little with his hand. He stroked my arm a bit as we kept watching.
The TV show moved on, now explaining how wool fabric was made. The spinning drums and looms were mesmerizing, combing through the fibers. I looked over and caught Greg looking at me.
“How long have you had that beard?” I asked. I didn’t care that much about the answer, but it was more polite to ask about it than reach out to touch it.
“Oh, about four or five years,” he said, “Long enough to figure out how I like it.”
“It looks great. It’s kind of hard not to reach up and pet it,” I told him.
“Oh, you can do that, I pet it a lot myself.”
Well hey, if I had an invitation, right? I ran my fingers across the line of his jaw. The bulb from the cheap-ass lamp on the bedside stand gave even more of a red cast to his beard hairs, and shadowed his throat.
Greg huffed a little laugh. “You like beards, huh?” he said, turning a little more toward me and offering me a piece of caramel popcorn. I took it with my teeth, but let his finger run over my upper lip anyway. I suppressed a shudder. “Here, let me get these out of the way.” He lifted the snacks clear of the bed and put them on the bedside table, then scooted closer to my side. The next episode had started and someone was droning on about the making of roller skates. I reached out and stroked the other side of Greg’s beard, feeling the prickle as the thick hairs rubbed at my skin.
I could feel him looking at me, but I was too shy to look him right in the face. It wasn’t because I didn’t want the kiss I suspected would follow if I made contact; quite the opposite. I rubbed my face a little against his shirt. He smelled nice, and it was cute that I could still get a whiff of the chlorinated pool water we’d been in earlier. Still petting at Greg’s beard, I lifted my head so that I could at least see all of his face, even if I couldn’t look him in the eyes. Then Greg leaned down a bit and I leaned in a bit and we were finally kissing.
Greg was one of those slow, luxurious kissers. He licked between my lips with the tip of his tongue, not putting too much pressure on my teeth or jaw. His beard scratched pleasantly at my skin: I was looking forward to wearing a bit of stubble burn as a quiet little badge of guess-who-got-laid. I mean, if it went that far. I kept caressing his beard, careful not to disrupt the kissing. He purred into my mouth, and leaned his cheeks into my hands. Then he pressed forward and I opened my mouth more to make room. The tip of my tongue brushed the stud in his tongue.
“Aha,” I said, when we finally paused for air. “I like that one, too. You got any more?”
He grinned. “If you’re interested in finding them all, yeah.”
“I think we’ll get there,” I said, and reached up to kiss him again, and stroked down over his shoulders to his chest. The shirt was hiding his nipple hardware, though with the buttons undone I could see the hint of a tattoo, some sort of branch. I leaned in and kissed the inked spot, while putting my thumbs where I thought the rings would be.
He arched his back and wriggled a bit, sucking in his breath through his teeth. “Yeah.” It came out breathy and squeaked upward at the end, a lighter shade of brown than his usual speaking voice.
I looked up and grinned, and Greg’s started to redden. I popped back up and kissed his cheek, right where it was turning red. “You’re really sweet.” I bent down then and pulled on his nipple through the fabric of his shirt, my lips around my teeth so that it would feel firm but not sharp. He squeaked again, and I kneaded his shoulders with my hands. He relaxed a little more under me, sinking into the bed. Then he pushed me up so that he could pull his shirt up, baring his chest, the tattoo of an olive branch below one collarbone, and beautiful fur. I ran my hands under him to help him get the shirt off, then thumbed both nipples again, and he shouted and squirmed. Then he shrugged and stretched his arms toward the corners of the bed. The tip of another tattoo was poking out from under the waistband of his jeans, but I couldn’t tell what it was yet.
The grin on my face was my most devilish one, I was pretty sure. “This is gonna be fun.” I backed off, kneading at his shoulders with my hands, and leaned down to kiss him once more. He ran one hand through my hair, and I could feel the wiry strands scraping against his fingers. He pulled me down onto him, so that we were touching, and squeezed me close so that I couldn’t spare him taking all of my weight.
I felt his fingers teasing at the hem of my t-shirt. “Can I take this off?” I nodded, and he gathered it up and helped me get it over my head.
I keep a pretty squeaky-clean appearance because I work in a big-town public library in Utah. I am not a member of the dominant local church, but it’s useful to let people think that I might be. So compared to Greg’s, my body looked pretty plain and pudgy above him, with no piercings or tattoos. I’m not wiry like him. I have a lot of muscle mass from lifting, but I have a beer gut going on too. But Greg ran an affectionate hand down my side and over my belly, then pulled me closer again. “God, you’re so warm. I bet you’re a popular guy.”
“Less now than I used to be. Lot of dudes aren’t into married bisexual guys.”
“Their loss,” Greg said, and rolled us to the side. He squirmed closer and wrapped his arms around me. I stroked the arm he had around my stomach and leaned up a bit so I could see the tattoo on it. It was a surfboard, a beautiful multicolor board with “797.32” in little numbers across the middle.
“This is Dewey.”
“Yup, for surfing.”
“My God, you’re adorable,” I said, and grabbed his ass so I could grind us together. We didn’t speak for a while after that, making out and stroking each other’s chests. For a while he was probably nonverbal, judging by the sounds I got out of him as I tongued at his nipples and pulled at the rings. There was just something about the way he stretched his neck; I could see the muscles under the fuzz of his beard. I lost track of time.
Eventually he tugged at my waistband, murmuring, “Can I take these off you?”
“Yes please,” I said, and lifted myself up so he could get them off. I was halfway hard already. He sat up enough to strip off his jeans, and his cock bounced free, very hard and showing off four barbells piercing the underside. I remembered Karen’s orders, and thought, Found ’em!
Greg wiggled his toes as he looked down the bed at both of us. I reached over to trace the design of two overlapping triangles just above his hip bone. I looked up at him, curious to see what he’d say about this one. “That one’s from college. It was… I was the only gay guy in my crowd, and I was miserable, and I was listening to a lot of Pink Floyd.” He shrugged.
I leaned down and kissed it. “I like finding out things about you that aren’t from the podcast.” I looked up his body at him. “Anywhere I shouldn’t touch?”
“I’m not up for ass stuff tonight, but other than that, it’s all fine.” His hands were in my hair again, brushing behind my ears.
“Okay,” I said, and leaned in to breathe right on the head of his cock. It jumped and leaked a little, and he moaned. There was no squeak left; this one was deep in his throat. Then I put my hand around the lower half of his dick and licked the upper two frenum piercings. He hissed, and I looked up, but once I saw his face I could tell it had been a happy sound, from the blissful, head-thrown-back position he was in. Then I took my hand away and licked a nice stripe up all four piercings, and he moaned again. He petted my hair very gently, and then gripped the sheets next to me. I loved the way he smelled, dry with a little musk and a bit of chlorine too. I stuck my nose in the hair at the base of his cock and nosed at him a bit.
I lifted my head a bit. “Can you hold my head while I do this? I really like that.” He nodded and I felt his hands on me, one on the top of my head, one at the base of my neck. I went back to licking the frenum piercings, and then got a firm grip on his dick again and sucked in as much as I could fit. The piercings required me to move my mouth a little differently than was usual, but after a few strokes I had the hang of it, and I could run my tongue up and down the balls on the near side of those barbells, as I pulled on him with my mouth. His hands pulled on my head, cradling my skull and pressing, not too hard, but enough to urge me on. He’d gotten quiet, mostly hard open-mouthed breathing and an occasional muffled moan.
About the time my jaw was starting to get sore, Greg moved his hands back to clutch at the bed, and came against the back of my mouth. Now he shouted, and I swallowed him down and hung on. I had one hand on his dick and one hand pressed against his hip, and I kept them there until he settled down and his breathing started to slow.
I sat up, and wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. Greg was aimlessly petting my shoulder, and his eyes were still squeezed shut. I moved up to where he could get more of a grip. He pulled me toward him, so I came up the bed to lay down against his side.
He opened his eyes a bit to look at me. “Thank you,” he said, not more than a whisper.
“You’re very welcome.” I squeezed closer to him, my cock resting against his hip bone and almost touching his. Mine had been pretty hard the whole time I was giving that blowjob, but it could keep. I was enjoying the sweat drying on Greg’s chest and feeling him breathing under my arm.
One of his hands traced down my side, and the other brushed across my back. “My turn, in a minute,” he said.
“Yes, please. No rush, though.” I put my head against his shoulder and smiled.
I was still smiling when I got on the shuttle bus to the airport, two nights later. I texted Karen, Leaving for airport now. Can’t wait to get home and tell you about Greg and cuddle. I’d snuck away from my morning session to see Greg before his flight, and we’d ended up making out on a bench in one of the stupid biodome sections of the resort. We weren’t sure who would visit whom first, but we’d figure that out.
By the time time I was waiting in line on the jetway to the plane, I had a text back: Love you, can’t wait to hear alllll about it.
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