by TK Hoshikuzu (TK 星屑)
Laurence had just settled into a seat at the counter, when the bartender asked, setting a gin and tonic in front of him, “No students tonight, professor?” Ken was stone-faced, but his lips were pressed to hide his smirk.
Laurence couldn’t shrug off the usual wisecrack, which came out whenever he arrived alone. Instead he gave Ken a mopey, irritated look. “That joke is dying today,” he said. “I’ll be coming alone from now on.” He took a drink to ease the memory of finding the somber envelope, waiting under his office door, but the letter inside seared into his brain. “Make the next one a double, please.”
“Does that mean no more shitty hipsters at my bar?” Ken said, raising his voice as he acknowledged a customer with a nod. He meant to offend the under-thirty crowd, but they had better things to do on a Friday night than pay attention to a grumpy bartender.
Laurence pursed his lips at the language, but it fit the ironic dive-bar chic that young people seemed to love. Unfortunately the rough exterior of a retired police sergeant didn’t drive them away, and Ken resented being treated like he was part of the experience. Laurence was to blame apparently.
“You should check yourself into a retirement home before you get hurt shaking that cane,” Laurence called after him. To his brief pleasure, this earned him chuckles from some regulars, an older set that loved to people-watch and snipe.
Ken shot a sharp smile over his shoulder. “So that these brats have all the fun? Old guys like us can’t let that happen,” he said, giving an exaggerated wink.
On comfortable nights he’d accept it, a badge for those who just wanted booze and peace from the world, but the ‘old guy’ label was salt on the wound. The solemn letter from the administration, warning him about inappropriate relationships with students, burned into him the embarrassment of trying to reclaim his youth.
“For us I think that’s called a mid-life crisis,” Laurence said before he could stop himself. “And it isn’t fun.”
Appalled that he showed a vulnerable side, he downed the glass and sank onto his elbows until his shoulders met his ears. He ignored the sympathetic looks from the other regulars, but that was typical. Besides their age, Laurence didn’t feel he belonged and had nothing to offer to conversations. Their problems with their families and jobs weren’t like his.
Ken served him another drink but paused before he removed his hand. “You wanna talk about it?” he asked.
Laurence’s eyes wandered to see who was listening, then at Ken, who looked sincere, but Laurence couldn’t tell. A smirk was always plastered on his otherwise handsome face. “So you can use it against me later?” he replied. He averted his gaze when he loosened the glass from Ken’s grip.
With a shrug Ken said, “I’ll be here all night.”
Laurence hadn’t intended to do the same, but wallowing took up a lot of time. Worse, he didn’t need to be anywhere. Home was empty and on a Friday night he doubted anyone was in the mood to humor his misery. He didn’t have much anymore anyway, except his tenure-track career, and like an idiot he was risking that too. The alcohol weighed his bones down and he thought about letting the ground swallow him. No one would miss him, a no-name Economics professor despite how much he worked.
Ken dropped a glass of water in front of him and gave him a stern look. Laurence resented that Ken had to witness him at his lowest. He had no right to judge him, a stranger. He stuck out a tongue to his turned back and downed the water too.
Brows furrowed, he watched Ken command his bar like he was knocking heads of rookie officers. Bossy, paternalistic Ken with his thick chest and thicker arms running a hand through his silvery hair. Ken with the slim line of his hips emphasizing his thigh-hugging jeans, he had no business talking to him like he knew better. He was mortified that Ken caught him ogling but twisted his expression into an impatient frown, as if he had been waiting for another double gin and tonic.
“Are you looking for trouble?” Ken asked, handing him his third drink in two hours. “Or are you waiting for me?” He smirked again, no doubt mocking him.
“Seems either way I’m fucked,” Laurence replied, looking into his glass.
To his surprise, Ken laughed. “You talk to your students that way?” he asked and left before Laurence could retort. Coward, he thought.
Before he’d slunk to the bar Laurence had holed up in his office, looking for any excuse to avoid the happy hour crowd, and to be safe, the partiers looking for a cheap pre-game. So closing time came sooner than expected and he found himself at a stand-off with Janet, a retired nurse.
Head on folded arms, a drunk Laurence watched the scene play out. She tried to wheedle another drink out of Ken, who pushed her receipt into her hand, but with a smile. Showing surprising courtesy he helped her gather her belongings and called her a cab.
As she waited, she asked, “Why aren’t you kicking him out?”
“He may look calm, but he’s actually a mean drunk,” Ken lied, “and I don’t want you to see me get nasty.”
That earned Ken a disgusted look from Laurence. He was clearly enjoying the way she giggled and clung to his beefy arm as he escorted her outside. Laurence rolled his eyes and drank to the bluster of straight men.
The last man standing, Laurence felt like he won a perverse game. His reward was knowing what a recently empty bar was like, silent and stale. Now that noise couldn’t crowd out his miserable thoughts, that late-night depression fell on him.
Work was a welcome distraction pre- and post-divorce, but of course he couldn’t stand his office tonight. To his chagrin the bar was the last place he felt any comfort, but being vulnerable here was like hugging a cactus. Maybe if he got enough scars, it’d show that he belonged.
He entertained the wild thought that he could become their oldest regular. He could serve as a living cautionary tale about being a people pleaser. You’ll waste your life and have nothing to show if you live like that poor geezer, they’d say. Maybe prickly Ken could take care of him too.
He buried his face in his arms, laughed, then hiccuped. Imagine fighting old Janet for scraps of kindness but, oh, weren’t they sweet?
He felt something heavy weighing down his head and looked up to see Ken holding a cup of water. “Thanks for waiting,” Ken said, pushing it into his hands.
“I wasn’t,” Laurence replied, not pleased with being parented. Pausing between words as he struggled to think, he added, “It was coincidence.”
“You look like you need someone to talk to,” Ken said. He busied himself with cleaning the bar, but it looked so routine that he could focus on Laurence without missing a step.
Laurence squinted at him and said, “I think you’re being nosy.”
“I’d say it’s bartender’s intuition, but I’ve never seen someone suck the color out of their surroundings. You look horrible.”
“Thanks,” Laurence spat, drinking a mouthful of water.
“Sure, I tease, but I can at least lend an ear to my best customer,” Ken said.
“You’re such a liar,” Laurence said with a wry smile. “What are you flattering me for? I’ve already closed my tab.” Nevertheless his undeniable charm weakened his defenses.
“In that case you can help me close up,” Ken said as he bore down on him, looking down his arrogant nose. He handed him a wet rag. “I’m not letting you touch anything fragile, so wipe up the tables.”
Laurence frowned when he remembered he was wearing work clothes, but he welcomed the distraction. Jacket folded on the bar stool, tie loosened, sleeves rolled up, he tried to ignore what was getting on his shoes and got to work.
Hiding for more than forty years made honesty a pain, especially to an abrasive man. “You ever,” he began, “you ever have everything crash around you and realize it’s all your fault? That you’re a massive piece of shit?”
“Oh, I get it,” Ken called out from the utility closet over the noise of running water. “One of my exes put you up to this.”
“Ha ha,” Laurence said, straightening up to give Ken an eye roll. “You make a better comedian than a bartender.”
“S’not too late,” Ken said with a grin, leaning on a broom. It made him look boyish and Laurence suspected he never grew up. “Okay, I’m sorry. What was that about a massive piece of shit?”
Laurence glanced at him, embarrassed that he let Ken wait this long over nothing special. He was sure Ken had heard all manner of stories from more tragic people. With a flippant wave of his hand, he said, “Just the garden variety, you know, the type that divorces his wife after twenty years because he couldn’t pretend to be straight anymore. The type that loses all his friends, because they were really hers and they blame him for ruining her life. The type that is too friendly with his gay students so he can live vicariously through them, because he feels like he missed out and he’s jealous of their freedom. The type that is so fucking desperate that he risks the only thing that made his life worthwhile.”
His shoes felt wet, so he looked down to see that he had squeezed water out of the rag, which made it drip onto his oxfords.
“That sucks,” Ken said.
Laurence paused to gather himself and to wipe an undeserved tear, as if he were the victim. “It does, doesn’t it?” After a few tense swipes of the wash rag, he added, “I trust you have the decency not to use it against me. Being gay, I mean.”
“Fuck no, I knew that,” Ken said. “I thought you were a pedo. I have a college-aged girl myself and it didn’t sit right with me, the image of you preying on kids.”
Bristling at his coarseness but surprised at how easily they carried on, Laurence replied, “I have never laid a hand on any of my students.”
Sweeping garbage into the dust pan, Ken pointed the broom handle at him and asked, “With the way they look at you? I assume you took them home right after. Can you blame me?”
Hands on hips, Laurence sighed. He did know what Ken was talking about and in his darkest depths admitted that the temptation was there, but he’d never admit it. “No,” he said flatly. “I admit that it looked bad, but I wouldn’t. Frankly it’s not my taste, whatever that is.“
“What does that mean?” Ken asked, pouncing on his last statement. He pushed a mop into Laurence’s hands, like he was trying to keep him talking. “You don’t have a type?”
Laurence gave Ken a hard look. The work was sobering him up and his drunken stupor was replaced with a strange feeling. The way Ken stared at him put him on edge, like he was egging him on.
“Well the divorce was recent,” he said, staring at Ken. “I’m not picky, if that’s what you mean.”
Deeply regretting his word choice, he let the sentence hang in the air. He didn’t think an explanation would help. Perched on a bar stool, Ken smiled at him like he was leading him somewhere but needed Laurence to figure it out.
Staring at the ground, Laurenced mopped in large, hasty swipes. “So your daughter, does she go to school around here?”
“No, she’s in a different state, closer to her mother.” Ken looked like he was enjoying the discomfort before him.
With too much relief Laurence grasped at the information and said, “You’re married!”
“Nope, not even once.” He propped his head on his elbow, his smile growing toothy and so damned amused.
“A deadbeat dad then,” Laurence said with a nervous laugh, forgetting to be composed. “Here I was thinking you had the high ground.” With cheap triumph he slammed the mop into the bucket, the water splashing on his pants and shoes.
“I’m the last person to judge you. Maybe I just wanted to get to know a fellow piece of shit,” Ken said, arms wide as he shrugged. He patted the bar stool next to him. “Thanks for the help. Join me?”
His skin crawled as he took a careful seat. Laurence took a pause before he said, “The way you say it implies that we’re the same. I don’t know your story, but I never intended to hurt anyone. I’ve been good all my life, tried to please everyone, and it didn’t matter. I’ll be fifty in a few years and I don’t think I can ever make up for lost time.”
Ken rested his hand on his knee. “Laurence,” he said, his name a purr in his mouth, “it is never too late.”
Taken aback by the sound of his name, he both understood and didn’t believe what Ken was proposing. Ken was so handsome, the definition of a silver fox, that it was hard to imagine that he could want him, but the words dared him to be reckless.
Laurence leaned in, then fear made him stop as he whispered, “Why me?”
“You’re thinking too much,” Ken whispered back.
“Fuck you,” Laurence blurted in a hiss, then kissed him.
When Ken dragged his bar stool closer, Laurence threw his arms around his shoulders to keep balance, but it was a wonderful excuse to press against his body, firm and hot. It did feel sordid and immature, the way they clung to each other, exploring their mouths without taking meaningful breaths. This is what a hook-up was, Laurence thought, tasting Ken’s breath on his tongue.
He felt no pity in the rough gropes, in case Ken felt sorry for him, and was amazed that it seemed Ken wanted him. He was skillful in showing it, undoing Laurence’s shirt buttons when they broke for air. They kept making out like horny teens, but Ken knew how to use his hands to make him squirm. Laurence jerked against the teasing nipple pinches and light scratches on his ribs, but Ken wouldn’t let him move far.
Unsure of where this was going, his instincts made him balk. The unfamiliar sexual tension made him anxious and his caution got the better of him. “I’d take you home,” he began, trying to sound cool but also apologetic, “but my place is far.”
Ken gave his nipple a soft bite, making it pebble, making him gasp. “That’s fine. Mine is just a few blocks away.”
Cock straining against his pants, wanting to be part of the fun, Laurence bit his lip and asked, “Can I have a shot to go?”
This made Ken laugh. “I have booze at home,” he said.
Ken wouldn’t let Laurence button his shirt up, insisting that closing the bar would only take a few minutes, but Laurence suspected the real reason was to make him walk faster out of embarrassment. Clutching his jacket closed, he scurried after Ken to his apartment, a true bachelor pad, which wasn’t too different from his own place — apart from the clutter.
“You still wanna do this?” Ken asked, breaking his thoughts.
Cute of Ken to ask when he was already here, half-undressed. “It sounds like you’re daring me,” Laurence replied.
“Don’t think too hard about it,” Ken said with a shrug. “You want coffee?”
“And a shower please.” Catching the towel tossed to him, he shut the bathroom door, and leaned over the sink. He stared into the mirror and wondered what about him was appealing. The runner’s build? The thinning hair that barely passed for blonde? His boring sense of fashion? His pessimistic personality?
The point is not to overthink, Laurence scolded himself. It’s never too late. Remembering the words gave him the courage to strip down and get into the hot shower. Surrounded by Ken’s bath products, Laurence grew hard again. Grabbing Ken’s soap, he couldn’t stop thinking about how he’d smell like Ken after tonight. He hoped he wouldn’t be disappointed because he looked forward to revisiting this memory, alone in his bed.
Carefully wrapping the towel over his erection, he opened the bathroom door to Ken presenting him with a cup of coffee and a full shot glass. Laurence took both, downing the latter and taking a sip of the former.
Ken chuckled. “Oh my God, you’re so red.” He leaned in and lingered, kissing his bare shoulder. “Are you nervous, professor?” He kissed a trail up his nape and to his mouth and they continued where they left off, locked onto each other’s lips.
“I’m sure I can get the hang of this,” Laurence said between breaths. “I practice…”
“Practice?” Ken said, as he grinned and sat on the bed. Tugging him closer by the hands, tugging his own shirt off, he said, “Tell me what you do.”
Letting his towel fall, Laurence let Ken lead him to his lap and was thrilled to find that Ken was as taut as he looked. He ran his hands down his bare torso and loved the way the muscles firmed up. Laurence pinched a nipple to see how Ken would react, which earned him an impatient grip around his cock.
“What do you do?” Ken asked in an authoritative tone, but teased him with soft strokes.
They sent jolts up his spine and Laurence curled at the pleasure. “I use toys at home,” he murmured. Thrusting into his hand, he dug his nails into Ken’s broad shoulders. “Every day I jerk off with a dildo in my ass,” he confessed between soft moans.
“Wow,” Ken said, sneering into his ear. “You pervert.” He threw Laurence on his back, unzipped his jeans, and rolled a condom on his thick, long length. If he weren’t such an ass, Laurence thought, he’d be just perfect. Pouring lube on his dick and straddling Laurence, he asked, “So something like this?”
“What do you mea–” Laurence began, distracted by the cock before him, when Ken pressed a kiss onto his mouth. He felt his hips being hoisted up and another impatient press to his entrance.
“Relax, I’ll go slow,” Ken rumbled low into his ear.
Arms strangling Ken’s neck and knees squeezing his waist, Laurence moaned with each thrust that dug into him. Ken was so slow that getting to his hilt seemed to take forever. He squirmed and gasped, trying to relax and make room, but the little rubs made him pause and whimper often.
“You took that like a champ. It does feel like you practice,” Ken said and Laurence punched his shoulder. “What next?” he asked, watching Laurence shift his hips and bite his lip. “Is this when you touch yourself? Come on, let’s see it.” Ken sat up and held Laurence’s hips still so that he couldn’t move. “But I wanna know when you’re close, ‘cause that’s when I’ll fuck you.”
This wasn’t anything like the calm nights alone. Here someone was watching him reach down and squeeze his cock. A dark, handsome someone whose gaze was devouring the sight of his strokes and writhing, could see his ass stretched and the copious pre-come leak out. Laurence couldn’t help the way his hips rocked in time with the pumps. He could feel Ken’s cock pulse against him and all he wanted was to get fucked.
As soon as he stuttered he was close, Ken pinned his hands down and his whole body down with his weight and kissed him. Laurence couldn’t move against the heavy thrusts, which shook the bed and slapped against his thighs. His cock, already on edge, bounced helplessly and he arched as he came without touch, moaning open mouthed into Ken’s. His come slipping between their stomachs, Ken pistoned harder as he came too with a harsh exhale.
Laurence wrapped his legs around Ken’s waist and pulled him closer for more sticky, sloppy kisses. They made out lazily, sleepily, until they passed out.
His eyelids fluttered open at the first sign of dawn and he remembered he was in a stranger’s bed. Propping himself up on his elbows, Laurence looked down at Ken who was still sleeping, his face buried in the pillow. It was a bit of fun, he told himself, between two unlikely people. He rolled over to swing his legs over the edge of the bed, when he was stopped by a hand on his elbow. He was pulled back into bed, an arm snaking possessively around his waist.
“It’s Saturday,” Ken said with a yawn. “You’re not going to work, are you? Let’s go again.”