I’d got into the habit pretty soon after he left. I know living in New York there were plenty of other options for how to spend the evening after work. I could have gone to the movies or the theatre but those would still have meant sitting in the dark on my own –without him. I could have gone to a restaurant I suppose – but a table for one? That’s a real loser situation, sitting on your own and reading a book in a restaurant! So instead I’d started going to bars. I spread my custom around; different locations on different evenings. After all there are lots of bars in New York. I didn’t even bother whether or not they were gay bars. It wasn’t as if I was looking to pick someone up; after all these years I wasn’t ready for a replacement or even a one night stand – as yet. What I needed was not be sitting alone in the apartment watching some dumb program on the TV. At least in a bar I might get into a small talk conversation with the guy sitting on the next stool or I could half listen to the conversations of others as they washed around me. Then when I decided I’d had enough to drink for the night, which after the couple of months that had passed was getting harder and harder to decide, I’d stagger out into the night and hopefully find a taxi to take me back to what had once been home but was now just an empty shell of an apartment.
We’d grown up on the same street in a little town in upstate New York. We’d been best friends even before we started going to school and we stayed together during those school years. We both loved the same things – baseball and little league especially. I played second base and Billy Joe was always on third. We loved exploring the countryside and in the summer wanted to camp out in either his or my garden as often as we could. The summer vacations were great for those activities.
Then puberty came along and for both of us it came more or less at the same time. We’d had so many sleepovers with each other that we’d never bothered about being naked in front of the other and in my house we slept in the same bed. In Billy Joe’s that was impossible as he shared a bedroom with his younger brother that had bunk beds, so if I slept over there it would have to be in a sleeping bag on the floor. Consequently sleepovers at my house happened much more often.
When we were little we’d sleep in pyjamas, which as we’d grown had turned into briefs and then boxer briefs and eventually we’d sleep naked. And those sleepovers were when we’d talk about things and when we started on our mutual voyage of discovery.
I guess we were lucky growing up when we did. My parents accepted me telling them I was gay just after my fourteenth birthday without any problems. Billy Joe’s Pa was a bit less ready to accept the situation when he was told, but his Mom has no problems. When we plucked up the courage to tell our friends at school none of them reacted badly and we got negative comments from only a couple of guys.
I’ve never been quite sure where we heard it first, but it quickly became our song. Perhaps it was inevitable that anything by Billie Jo Spears was going to appeal to him, but ‘Blanket on the Ground’ did it for us both. There was so much in the lyrics that resonated with us even if at first the line about being married didn’t seem at all relevant. But, we sure did like to slipping out into the garden, lying down on a blanket – sometimes outside and sometimes inside – our tent, and making love.
Then after we’d both been to University and graduated came our big chance. I was offered a job with an advertising agency in New York while Billy Joe was able to get a position with an import/export business in the city a few months later. What I’d feared would be a difficult separation turned into some very happy years with, eventually, our own apartment in Jackson Heights. Now we could go walking in the moonlight in Central Park at weekends although we’d only lay our blanket down during the day.
Life was great and it became even better when gay marriage became legal in New York in 2011. We made our vows in the fall of that year and the ceremony was attended by our families and many friends. By that time we were both twenty four and life as a married couple was really good. Although we took advantage of a lot that was available in the city social scene we were also perfectly happy sitting at home in the evening listening to a DVD or perhaps reading a book.
Earlier this year though he started coming home late from work, at first occasionally and then more frequently. He told me the firm had been forced to cut back on staff so he had more to do, especially if he wanted to keep his own job. By this time I was earning good money so I told him it didn’t matter that much if he left or even lost his job, but he said he wasn’t going to be a kept man.
One day he left one of his suits out and asked me to take it to the cleaners that I passed on my way to the office. He’d left for work before me and when I picked up his suit I did what I always do with mine before taking them to be cleaned – I checked there was nothing in the pockets. In the inside pocket of the vest I found a packet of six condoms that now contained only four. As we’d never used them, the conclusion was obvious – it was like he’d stuck a dagger in my heart.
In all our years together we’d never had a real row, just the occasional difference of opinion. This one sure made up for that. As soon as he came into the apartment that night I jumped right in accusing him of having sex with someone else and not loving me anymore. He said that he wasn’t having sex with anyone else, but as I’d obviously made my mind up that he had there was no point in him trying to explain. We argued round that for a while but achieved nothing in the way of a resolution of the problem.
I spent the night on the couch while Billy Joe, I presume, slept in our bed. I didn’t see him the next morning, but when I came home from work in the evening he’d cleared out most of his clothes. He had left me a note in which he still maintained his innocence and that he always had and always would love me but told me not to bother trying to find him.
That night I spent on the couch too, but with a bottle of vodka. At one point I did try calling him but the number was said to be no longer in service. The next day I tried to call him at work, but he refused to take my call. I concluded he did indeed want nothing more to do with me and that was the evening my bar visits started.
About six weeks later on a Saturday late morning not long after I had finally crawled out of bed and was trying to get over my hangover, the doorbell of the apartment rang. I didn’t recognise the voice on the speaker but it sounded young and he said he wanted to talk to me about Billy Joe. Had Billy Joe hooked up with a young guy I wondered? I was curious enough to want to find out and let him in.
I had to admit he sure was a good looker in a rather street gang sort of way. He was dressed in torn blue jeans, a black leather jacket that had seen better days, a white t-shirt and with streaked blond hair that came down over his shoulders and yet he looked like he should still be in high school. He appeared nervous and uncomfortable, not showing any of the confidence I had expected.
I asked him if he wanted a drink. He settled for a glass of water while I took another cup of back coffee. We sat down and as he seemed reluctant to say anything I asked him how he’d known where to find me and why he’d come. Eventually with me asking lots of questions and him giving answers that ranged from monosyllabic to rambling, I pieced together the story.
He’d been kicked out of his home in Tennessee when his Pa had found out he was gay. He’d made his way to New York and was living on the streets while turning tricks. At some point he’d approached Billy Joe offering himself for a blow job or anything else Billy Joe wanted, but Billy Joe, being Billy Joe, had declined the offer and instead taken him somewhere for a meal. After that they’d met on a semi-regular basis. Having got a promise from the kid that he wouldn’t have unprotected sex Billy Joe had taken to buying condoms for him and would give him a couple every time they met. The kid said Billy Joe would only give him a couple at a time because he’d also found him a job working on one of his firm’s delivery trucks so he thus didn’t need to work the streets.
It all seemed so unlikely that it had to be true. But why had the kid – Jake was his name – come here now? Had Billy Joe sent him as a sort of peacemaker I asked? Jake was adamant that Billy Joe knew nothing about him coming here. He’d only known where we lived because he’d once followed Billy Joe home out of curiosity. But he couldn’t help noticing how unhappy Billy Joe had become over the last weeks and when he’d decided to follow him home the other night, he’d gone somewhere else. The next time they’d met he asked Billy Joe why he’d moved and been told that his condoms were the reason. Jake had put things together and that was why he’d decided to come here this morning.
Then he asked the big question. Did I want him to tell Billy Joe that he should come back? Of course I did and that was what I told him hoping that the years we’d had together were capable of wiping out one misunderstanding.
So Jake left and I waited for a call that didn’t come over the rest of the weekend. By the Monday night I’d more or less given up hope and was back to trawling bars. It was almost three weeks later that I walked into the apartment, strangely not having spent half the night in a bar beforehand, and could hear the DVD playing our song. I’d probably left it in the player since he walked out over a couple of months ago, but how come it was playing now – had we had some sort of power surge that had turned it on while I was at work? Then as I walked from the hall into the lounge I spotted on the coffee table his library card on top of a book.
It was nearly the middle of summer so would it be too late to take a blanket and go to Central Park I wondered…..