by Eric Shun (エリック旬)
illustrated by pearljamz
One Christmas Eve (and coincidentally, on his 23rd birthday), Norton found himself in a bar a lot smaller than the ones he usually frequented after his shift. This one was the size of a tiny outdoor shed, much too small to be a bar, really. He took his seat by the bar, ordered a Seven and Seven on the rocks, watching as the bartender expertly mixed Seagram’s Seven whiskey with a can of ice-cold 7up. This was a classic bartender tending to a classic bar. There was no disco ball, no loud thumping music. The bartender was dressed in a crisp dress shirt, his black vest wrapped around him with vintage flair. Under the dim light of the suspended lamps, Norton could see he was the only customer here. The bartender discreetly focused all of his attention on Norton, eyeing his police uniform, his badge, and the pouch on his side that held his heavy gun.
Norton stifled a laugh. ‘He probably thinks I’m checking out his bar, praying I won’t cite him for safety code violations.’
The ice in his glass clinked as he gulped down the rest of his cocktail.
Jazz-infused music played from unseen speakers, the cozy features of the tiny bar enhanced by the whisper of trumpet trios and saxophones. Even with the softly-playing music and the mood set just right, Norton still felt disgruntled.
The Seven and Seven was great; his life, on the other hand, was not so great.
He had a place to stay, a two-bedroom apartment which was more than what some of his fellow officers could afford. He had a steady job as an officer, and though he didn’t look especially tough with his lanky arms and pretty-boy face, he could handle anything from drug busts to paperwork. Most important of all, Norton lived a comfortable life, with enough money to feed himself and pay the dry-cleaning bill for his uniform.
But what good was it to have a life as good as his and no one to share it with? He worked so many long hours, often taking more shifts than the other guys at the station, and that had tremendously stunted his social skills. Though he often frequented bars (usually to fill the dull, aching hole in his heart with a bottle of whisky or tonic), Norton rarely talked to people other than bartenders.
And even then it was only for his drink and check.
No matter much he wanted to, no matter how many times he would try, Norton could never strike a conversation. It wasn’t because he could never find the right words to say, because in truth, he had a healthy pack of pick-up lines, but because he could never find the courage to say anything.
He would watch in envy as a particularly radiant stud waltz into the same bar he was in and immediately he would talk to a girl and have her fall into his arms.
He’d clench his knuckles until they were white when he’d see a not very handsome, not very rich businessman approach a crowd of people, inviting himself into their circle with a laugh. It angered him even more when no one minded the intrusion.
All these people — the firefighters, the teachers, the businessmen, the drag queens even — were capable of breaking the barrier that separated them from complete strangers just by speaking. To speak quietly in a low voice was one thing, but to want to speak and not doing so was so pathetic that Norton beat himself for it whenever he could, always muttering insults to himself.
Night after night, before he turned, he would look in the mirror and his gaunt face would stare back at him, eyes hollow, and he would say, “It’s your fault you’re drenched in loneliness. It’s your fault you can never say anything.”
He looked at his empty glass. The ice already melted. He looked at the bartender who was in the midst of checking his till. Norton wanted to say something then, anything to start a conversation. An exchange of words, or a knowing glance that would lead to that exchange, anything, anything! The bartender, unable to read minds, continued counting, not noticing Norton’s pleading eyes.
Shrunken in defeat, Norton slapped a crumpled twenty on the bar and started toward the exit.
He trudged on, ignoring the bartender. Norton sighed; the bartender was probably talking to a different customer. He was too ordinary, no one would want to talk to him. Even Lady Luck abandoned him, since he never won any lotteries or raffles.
A strong hand gripped his shoulder, pulling him back.
“Sir, you forgot your change and your wallet.”
Norton turned around and saw the bartender. His huge almond eyes and well defined eyebrows caught Norton’s attention, making his heart thump a little faster than before. He nodded in silent thanks, reaching for his wallet and change. Just as he almost had it, his wallet slipped through his fingers and fell to the floor, and all of his money and cards came tumbling out. He and the bartender bent down to pick up the cards and fallen money when the bartender caught a hold of his ID card.
“So you really are an officer,” the bartender mused, looking at his identification card. “I thought you were just two months late for Halloween. And what’s this? It’s your birthday today?”
“And it falls on Christmas Eve, lucky you! You must receive a lot of presents, right?”
Norton shook his head.
“No?” The bartender looked at him, noticing for the first time that Norton hadn’t uttered a word since he’d ordered his cocktail. “Apparently you don’t speak much either, so no one would know what to buy you, anyway.”
He handed the wads of paper and ID card back to Norton, then as if in reflection added, “Since it’s your birthday, I’ll grant three of your wishes.”
Norton raised his eyebrows in surprise, not sure if he’d heard what he thought he’d heard. With a dazed look and a hint of curiosity, he pointed to himself.
The bartender pointed toward him, “Yes, you! This is a special once-in-a-lifetime deal, since it’s time for the last call and you’re my only customer. So let me clean up, lock this place tight, and we’ll discuss your three wishes.”
Norton stared in disbelief as the bartender began closing up his bar.
He hadn’t expected today to be a good day. After being forced to take a holiday vacation he didn’t want (“You work too hard! Your eyes look so tired!” his boss complained. “Take the next two days off. Or else.”), Norton had aimlessly wandered around downtown in search of a bar that was still open after midnight on Christmas Eve. He knew he’d be coming home to an empty apartment, and with no girlfriend waiting up for him or a roommate with a case of beer, he didn’t want to go home.
When his boss first brought up the subject of his holiday break, Norton was ready to protest against it. Words had already formed, his thoughts roaring like a steam engine, ready to defend his request for another shift. However, as soon as his superior commanded him to take two days of leave, Norton found that he couldn’t go against that deafening voice and the words he had ready to say dissolved back into nothing.
For as long as he’d been an officer, he was always able to work right through the holidays, ignoring the festivities and parties. By working, he could ignore the burning desire to hold someone (at this point, anyone) in his arms, to feel his skin pressed against their warmth. This holiday season, he wasn’t so lucky.
“Sorry for the small size, it’s hard to afford a decent apartment here,” the bartender said as he pushed his futon against the wall, making more room.
Norton tore his gaze from the window, where the bare trees stood eerily against an empty sky.
The two of them had left the bar and were now in the apartment above it, in the bartender’s room. Just like the bar, this apartment was tiny as well. If the bar was a small shed, then this apartment was little more than a closet. Tall bookshelves filled with books lined the wall, making the room even tinier. With two people standing in it there was hardly space to move, with much less room to breathe.
“Now about your wishes.”
Norton opened his mouth and started to say something, but his voice died out, leaving only an awkward sigh. He had so many things to say, about what he wanted, or if there was a catch, but once again he couldn’t bring himself to say it.
“Don’t hurt yourself over it.” The bartender patted him on the shoulder. “You can tell me your three wishes later, but in exchange for those wishes, I want one of your nights.”
He didn’t understand what the bartender meant. In the background somewhere a hidden speaker was softly playing a jazzy tune, and then the lights dimmed into shadow. When a strong arm circled his waist, Norton’s eyes widened.
Out of instinct, he pushed the bartender and tried to flee. His face met a wall he didn’t know was there and a hand grabbed him by the wrist, pulling him back.
“Hey, I thought we had a deal.” The bartender turned the lights back on.
Norton shook his head violently, stammering out a single word over and over again. “N-no! No!”
Quietly, the bartender wrapped his arms around Norton, gently shushing him with a finger. “I’ll stop, but then you won’t get your wish. So it depends, how badly do you want those three wishes?” One by one he pried the buttons of Norton’s suit loose, revealing the pale skin of his chest.
The problem was Norton really wanted those wishes. He wasn’t sure if the bartender was outright lying to him, but the way he kept repeating those magical words over and over again, Norton figured that the bartender wasn’t trying to deliberately deceive him. With those three wishes he could ask for anything! A million dollars, a girlfriend, for holidays to disappear completely, those possibilities were endless!
He gave in reluctantly, leaning toward the bartender who enfolded him in his arms.
His kisses were smooth, blended like a colorful margarita. Slowly they eased into the futon, their bodies pressed tightly together. “I’ll be gentle,” the bartender reassured him. “I’ll be gentle. Just whisper those wishes into my ear when you’re ready.”
“I-I can’t do this,” he stammered, swatting the bartender’s hand away.
The bartender looked at him, smiling casually, not taking notice of Norton’s panicked state. “Have you decided on your first wish?”
He was changing the subject. Norton wanted the bartender to stay focused, to listen to his reasons why it was a bad idea to coerce him into sex. First of all, they hardly knew each other, they’d just met a few hours ago. Norton wasn’t sure he even knew the bartender’s name, though he certainly knew Norton’s. And then there was the matter of the two of them being of the male persuasion. Norton could barely grasp what happens with a penis and a vagina (three years of working in a police station taught him that much at least), but what happens with a penis and a penis?
Wrapping his arms around Norton’s waist, the bartender pulled him tighter, drawing him in for another lengthy, sensual kiss. His lips parted slightly and the bartender’s tongue slipped in and traced the contours of Norton’s mouth, running along the smooth surface of his teeth.
A faint taste of liquor caught the bartender’s interest, a memento of the fresh Seven and Seven Norton drank earlier. The bartender smiled, biting gently on Norton’s tongue.
If he hadn’t felt the need to deny every single one of these bodily sensations, Norton would have admitted that he had in fact enjoyed them. His body shivered whenever the bartender’s fingers swept above his skin, his lips craving for another bout of kisses, to feel those warm lips crash down onto his. Eventually he lost track of the number of kisses, or how one kiss suddenly led to the groping of body parts. All of the warnings pounding inside his head screamed. A voice that was probably his conscience wailed for him to stop this nonsense and get the hell out of there. Norton ignored them all. The moment his zipper was undone and his handgun was discarded carelessly onto the floor (like nothing more than a piece of scrap metal), Norton completely surrendered himself to the bartender’s caress.
Usually around this time of year, there would have been a couple of snow storms before Christmas. This year there weren’t any, much to Norton’s dismay. Norton lay sprawled on the bartender’s tiny cramped futon, his arms stretched across the sheets, his legs opened wide as the bartender used his mouth to play with his aching arousal. Outside it was still clear and without the harsh cold winds howling throughout the city, one could almost mistake the season for summer.
He sat upright, breathing in sharply every time the bartender sucked on his tip. With determination, he made his first wish. “The weather reports said it won’t snow until January, but I want it to snow right now. Soft drifting snowflakes that will cover the entire city in a blanket of white.”
The bartender stopped for a second, looking up at Norton with puzzled eyes.
“You want it to snow?”
One quick snap of his fingers and then he went back to stroking the length of Norton’s erection with his tongue. With each twirl of the bartender’s tongue, Norton was sent further and further into madness. Unconsciously, he swayed his hips, gently at first then harder as the bartender touched him with his fingers, rubbing him in forbidden areas.
The moment he came it felt like he was soaring. His body floated amongst clouds, light and airy.
Being lavished with so much attention was addicting; he was constantly watched with flirty eyes.
On the make-shift bed he stayed, waiting as the bartender pushed further into his body with a gentle sashay of hips. Their bodies were forced together like two pieces of a mismatched puzzle. The further the bartender came in, the louder the gasps escaping from Norton’s lips became. Such pain, such pleasure, never before had he experienced a feeling quite like this, an oxymoron of colors that blended before his eyes, blinding his sight. True, it ached quite a bit as the bartender thrust deeper into his body, but Norton hardly felt paralyzed. Rather, he was enjoying every movement.
“I want the night to last a little longer,” he moaned, his head rocking with the bartender’s lithe hips.
And just before he came, the bartender snapped his fingers.
One quick glance outside told him it was snowing. Through the misty window clouded with wisps of muddled breaths, Norton could see the tiny snowflakes falling from the sky.
Norton remained motionless on the bed, completely exhausted. He watched with tired eyes as the bartender took out a cigarette and puffed away at it. With renewed interested, Norton stared at the bartender, taking in every contour of his body, the way his lanky arm rested on his knee and how he held a cigarette, between this thumb and pointer finger. The bartender sat unaware of everything but the smoke rising from his lips, inhaling the tobacco. Legs opened wide, like an inviting door, Norton noticed his erection, still stiff despite having pulled out of Norton’s body, a bit of semen still moist on his tip.
Moving cautiously, he wrapped his lips around the top sucking tenderly as though it were his favorite straw. Between his lips he felt the arousal grow stronger, become harder. He opened his mouth wider, taking in all of his erection, and watched with amusement as the bartender’s eyes went wide. The cigarette fell out of his mouth, flaking a bit of ash on his bare chest, and onto the floor where the dangerous embers glowed.
“Hey!” the bartender shouted nervously.
Norton pulled out, bringing his face closer to the bartender’s and there he noticed how flushed his cheeks really were. “What’s the matter? I’m just returning the favor.” Then, almost as an afterthought, he whispered into the bartender’s ear his third and final wish.
The bartender nodded, shakily he snapped his fingers. Norton continued to go down on him, wrapping his entire mouth around the bartender’s erection. At first it felt odd, uncomfortable, like that one time he decided to eat an entire doughnut at once, but he received such a joy from the bartender’s pained face, cringing and blushing.
Quite suddenly he came, coating Norton’s already sweaty face with bodily fluids. It shocked him at first to feel something thick and sticky on his cheeks and he stared at the bartender with emotionless eyes. The bartender cringed (embarrassed, probably), and muttered apologies as he frantically tried to wipe away the mess. Noting the shame and humility written on the bartender’s face, from his knitted brows to panic-flushed cheeks, Norton burst into a bout of laughter and fell for another sloppy kiss.
The bookshelves, the couch, the clock, everything had been moved out of the room and there was nothing left save for the futon and his discarded uniform into a neat pile by the corner. Norton slowly rose out of the nest of sheets and noticed the marks along his body, from the inside of this thigh all the way up the nape of his neck. Bruises blossomed into a lovely shade of purple, almost like flowers under his skin, the left-over kisses from a tussle between two men. Inside his thigh and all around his waist and lower body was white, crusty substance hard to the touch. His rear ached; he felt bruised and battered from the inside out.
He walked into the bathroom (it had been emptied as well) and took one quick shower, his nails scratching away at his skin, trying to clean off the blood and the caked semen and the sharp smell of sweat tainted with liquor on his skin. When he was done, sure that he was rid of every trace of the one-night stand, Norton slipped on his wrinkled uniform and headed out, feeling much more unsatisfied than he remembered coming in.
In his second bedroom, a room normally bare, there were boxes and moving supplies. Towering over him were two bookshelves, empty and awkward.
Quickly, he ran to his room.
Someone was fast asleep in his bed, the sheets hiding their face.
Now, who would be stupid enough to break into a police officer’s apartment and then sleep in it?
The safety off and his finger on his handgun’s trigger, he cautiously crept up to the bed and pressed the gun against the sleeping body.
“Who the hell are you?”
He pulled on the blanket only to see a familiar face. “Is that how you greet your new roommate in the morning, with a gun pointed to their head?” The bartender smiled, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
Norton lowered the gun, putting it on his table stand and sighed. “What are you doing?” he asked. “Giving me a scare like that! And why the hell are you sleeping in my bed?”
“I’m granting your wish.” The bartender sat up, the sheets sliding down to reveal his bare chest. “I couldn’t move my futon since you were still sleeping in it.”
A smile spread on Norton’s lips. He felt a little giddy since he hadn’t expected the bartender to actually follow through with his wish. “How long are you staying?” he asked.
“As long as you want me to.” He leaned closer, giving Norton a sensual kiss, strands of his hair falling out of his messy ponytail and brushing against Norton’s cheek. They sank deeper into the bed.
“I don’t think I’ll ever get used to being kissed by a man.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll work on that.”
Outside the clouds suddenly came rolling in and the roar of the wind grew stronger, hitting against the window like whips, a loud crackling noise.
“A blizzard’s supposed to be coming, on Christmas Day,” Norton said, thoughtfully. The bartender merely unbuttoned Norton’s uniform, unzipped his pants and slipped his hand inside.
“Let it snow,” the bartender mused, “let it snow.”