Shirt and Shoes Required
originally published in The Battered Suitcase, Vol. 1, Issue 9, February 2009
When Jimmy shows up unannounced at Lee's door and asks to stay with him, Lee says okay.
It might be for awhile, Jimmy says. He's looking at his feet, so Lee looks at them too. I mean, really awhile.
Okay, Lee says again.
Jimmy looks up. Yeah?
Yeah, Lee says. After a moment of consideration he adds, If it gets to be more than a year, I might ask you to contribute to household expenses. But yeah.
Cool, Jimmy says.
Inside, they sit on the sofa that will become Jimmy's bed. Jimmy hasn't taken off his shoes yet, though before he came in he did at least wipe off most of the mud and dead grass and bits of turned leaves that tried clinging to the soles. Lee doesn't say anything about how he recognizes Paxton's old yellow sneakers. He's pretty sure Jimmy recognizes in turn the green checkered button-down he's wearing, frayed and faded, but Jimmy doesn't say anything about it being Drew's.
Lee wakes up when a gust of cold air hits him in the back as Jimmy lifts the edge of the comforter and climbs in.
Goddamn heat went out again.
They touch at the curve of their spines.
After awhile, Jimmy turns and tucks up behind him, arm draping over him. For warmth, he says, shivering. Lee takes his hand to wrap him closer.
It is warmer, but they're still shivering, they still can't sleep. Finally Lee says, Maybe it would be better if we were up and moving. He feels Jimmy nod behind him, so they get up, get dressed, head outside where the cold at least is fresh. They walk, not to get anywhere, just going to get warm.
They stop on the bridge and watch the lights of passing ships. Their elbows brush as they lean on the safety railing.
Hey, Lee. It wasn't just for warmth. I mean, it doesn't necessarily have to be...
I know, says Lee, not looking over either.
When they start walking again, Lee pulls Jimmy into the first darkened corner they pass. He tugs Jimmy to him, twists at the wrist to get down Jimmy's pants. Jimmy clutches his shoulder, bunching up Lee's jacket and shirt in a tight fist, his breath punctuated by grunts and then articulations, Please, fuck, please, please, oh fuck please... please. If it weren't so cold, Lee would drop down and use his mouth to help Jimmy out. But his kneecaps ache at the thought of the frozen cement, so he just keeps on with his hand. Then he feels Jimmy's hand brush his waistband and he sucks in so Jimmy has enough room.
Lee is starting to think maybe he wouldn't mind the freeze on his bones after all--but then he feels Jimmy shudder and spill. When Jimmy reaches down a little farther to palm him, Lee reaches in and finishes himself off.
They wipe their hands on their jeans and walk back home.
It was going to be a surprise, Jimmy says.
It would have been if I hadn't got off work early today, Lee says; adds, It was a surprise.
I wasn't trying to hide it or anything, Jimmy tells him. I just wanted to surprise you. He looks at Lee and Lee is grinning, just really grinning. What? Jimmy asks.
Lee shakes his head, still grinning. You, he says. He touches the crossing guard vest still adorning Jimmy's chest.
Jimmy looks down and touches the vest too. Yeah, he says, I guess it's a bit of a step down from the gun bunny days. He grins himself, wide and self-deprecating.
No, Lee says. He moves his hand from the vest to Jimmy's hand, but he doesn't say anything more.
Anyhow, Jimmy says, I get my first check next Friday, so I can pick up half the rent next month.
You don't have to do that, Lee says.
I know. I want to.
No, Lee clarifies: I mean you don't have to take a job just for that.
Jimmy doesn't say anything at first. Then he says, I like it though. I like the kids. Watching over them and all. And just. I don't know, he shakes his head, I don't know how to say it.
You're catching them before they fall over the edge of the rye field, Lee says. He's smiling when Jimmy looks at him blankly. It's a good feeling, right?
Yeah. Jimmy smiles now too. It is.
Come on, Holden. Lee slings an arm across his shoulders, mindful not to tangle the sash. Let's go home.
They're sprawled on the front stoop of the building, lazing away another Sunday afternoon, moving only for others to get by and to raise their beers to their lips and to turn pages, when Lee looks up and says, I've been thinking.
I think we can afford a nicer place now. Maybe one with our own balcony or patio. Maybe even a little house.
That would be cool, Jimmy says and takes another pull on his bottle.
Two bedrooms, two baths, Lee says.
The beer jams up at the base of his throat, but Jimmy manages to swallow it down. Cool, he says, and chases the word with another thick swallow of beer.
I think two baths are a good idea, Lee goes on, because then we can still fuck in the shower when my sister is staying in the guest room. He raises his bottle to his lips and watches Jimmy lower his, watches Jimmy's face as Jimmy watches his own fingertip tracing the mouth of his bottle. What do you think?
I think, Jimmy says, looking up at him, that you're a pretty smart guy. He grins then, and Lee does too.
By the time they're done in the master bedroom, they are paint-spattered. Paint on their hands and faces and in their hair. Paint on their shoes, paint on their shirts.
They sit out on their still unfurnished patio like that. Thanks, Jimmy says when Lee hands him a beer.
No problem, Lee says.
I mean, Jimmy says softer now, thank you. Thank you for giving me a future.
Thank you for giving me a present, Lee says.
They touch the necks of their bottles together and take long, slow swallows.
Jimmy scootches over to sit beside Lee. You know, I came to you back then because I didn't have anywhere else to go. I couldn't go to--I couldn't go to any of the others, I didn't want them to see me like that.
I know, Lee says. You came to me because you didn't care what I would think of you.
Because I thought you wouldn't care, Jimmy says.
I cared, Lee says softly. I care.
I know you do. Jimmy kisses him, just lips and breath, a little slip of tongue now, now a deeper slide, mouths moving together, hands moving, bodies moving with the kiss, them all caught up and entangled and warm.
When the kiss breaks, they keep touching. Jimmy caresses Lee's arm through the frayed, faded button-down shirt, Lee strokes Jimmy's foot through the yellow canvas sneakers.
I feel safe with you, Jimmy says.
Me too, with you.
Do you think, Jimmy says as he moves to toy with a buttonhole, that we're with each other because it's safe? Because we can't go to them, because we care too much what they might think, because we're too afraid?
Lee's hand stops moving on Jimmy's foot, but he doesn't take it away.
They look at each other.
They look at each other and they don't stop touching, they don't stop holding on.
They look at each other, and then Jimmy puts his head on Lee's shoulder, and Lee kisses his hair.
And they don't stop holding on.
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