Welcome to the Cheap Seats

I was kind of on autopilot when Court and I came up out of the subway. A glance at the twin towers to orient myself toward downtown and I started walking west toward Ziggy’s.

Court whistled from behind me. “Other way, big brother.”

I turned around, mustering my argument for why it was this direction, but she had other plans in mind.

“Ziggy’s meeting us for some late-night eats.” She thumbed over her shoulder.

So I reversed direction and followed her. “Where are we going?”

“Somewhere to eat,” she said, which didn’t really give me any more information than I already had. What I kind of wanted to know but didn’t want to ask was how she knew where to meet him. Had they talked about it earlier today? Or did she call him from Jonathan’s and I didn’t notice? Or did they use pager codes or phone tag or what?

I wasn’t upset at being out of the loop. I was used to that. When it came to whether we’d eaten or when we were going to do it next, I was never the person figuring that out.

But after we’d walked for several blocks, including skirting Washington Square Park, I asked again, “Where are we going?”

We’d been walking silently, just charging ahead with attitude down the city sidewalks, which is easy to do downtown when you’re wearing leather and queerness.

“Kiev,” she told me.

“Kiev’s all the way over on Second Avenue,” I said. “On the East Side. Why did we trek all the way to the West Side if we’re going to–”

“I wanted to get some exercise,” she said blithely and I decided to drop the subject. I had no objection to the walk. It’s just… we could have taken a different subway line and it would have been so much faster and more efficient. But whatever.

Several more blocks later–we’d walked like half a mile at that point–I saw Tony standing on a street corner and knew we’d reached the place. He waved. Ziggy was already inside.

Courtney gave Tony a big hug and started to chat with him a mile a minute while I followed them through the tables to where Ziggy was sitting near the back.

He had a little bit of a thousand-yard-stare going on and I froze, suddenly unsure whether I should kiss him, hug him, wave my hand in front of his face, or what. All the calculations hit at once and locked up my brain: we’re in public, but we’re in the Village, but he’s having an image problem in his career, but we’re done with closets, but Freddie’s dead, but Jordan’s dead, but…

He grabbed me by the hand and pulled me into the booth next to him as he slid deftly over, pecking me on the cheek as we came to a stop.

I blinked. “Okay. I wasn’t sure.”

He knew exactly what I meant without me having to explain. “If I can’t kiss you hello in the damn cafe where Allen Ginsburg and Quentin Crisp write love poetry, where the hell can I?”

I had only a vague notion of the two of them as some kind of elder gay icons at that point. (Okay, let’s be honest, I only have a vague notion of that now.) I got the point, anyway. “How are you?”

“Oh, fine. I’m fine.” He leaned across the table to give Court a peck on the cheek, too. “How was the thing?”

She flipped open a menu. “Oh, you know. Fine. Some redneck named Clinton won everything, I guess?”

“Is he a redneck?” Tony, who’d sat down with us, asked.

“He’s from fucking Arkansas,” Court said. “That’s like… Alabama.”

I studied the map of the United States in my head, which was built on places we’d traveled or played, and both Arkansas and Alabama were missing from it, so maybe in that sense she was right. I was only half-paying attention to what she was saying, though. I was trying to read the menu and Ziggy at the same time. His small-talk mask was in place now, but I’d seen that look. The political conversation went in one of my ears and out the other.

Ziggy finally closed my menu. “Get blintzes,” he said, looking me in the eye. “We can share them.” The point of his tongue darted out to quickly lick the corner of his mouth, as if anticipating the syrup to come.

The place was bustling and the conversation rambled on. Court talked about wanting to get a tattoo but still not being able to commit to what it would be. Ziggy asked how J was doing and I confessed we hadn’t really had a chance to talk very much.

“Is he working on his next book?” Ziggy wanted to know.

“If he didn’t bring it up, I was afraid to ask,” I replied. “And he didn’t bring it up.”

The blintzes came before the additional set of silverware we needed, so Ziggy took up the one fork between us, sectioned off a bite of sweet hot starchy cheese, and forked it right into my mouth.

Then he took a bite for himself. I let myself be happily mesmerized by him licking the syrup from the fork while waiting for my next bite. This wasn’t a subtle seduction. I mean, maybe it was if you were sitting across the room and you didn’t know us or you weren’t paying attention. But to me it was super-obvious, and remember there were times in our relationship when it wasn’t. Or at least when I was more oblivious.

I was not oblivious. When we’d plowed through most of the plate and the conversation flowing around me had moved on to other political stuff, I picked up the strawberry garnish, swirled it in the syrup, and held it up for him to bite. Ziggy nibbled it with his lips at first, until he got his teeth in place, then bit clean through it, leaving a streak of syrup down my palm and a trail of redness from the corner of his smirk.

“Court,” he said, without breaking eye contact with me. “Tell me you wouldn’t mind taking a ride with Tony for a little while?”

She snorted. “Oh, like I’ve never heard the two of you have sex before.”

“Who says we’re having sex? What if I just want to talk about something private?” He made it more of a statement than a question.

“It’s your apartment,” she said. “Of course I’ll leave you alone for a while if you want. Is an hour long enough?”

“I think so. Daron?”

He was asking me a question? “What?”

“Your sister’s crashing with us tonight, but she’s going to give us some private time first.”

“Yeah, I gathered that. What’s the question?”

“Just checking with you, dear one.”

“That sounds like a plan.” Which was how I said I agreed, you know. Truth was I didn’t 100% know if I was signing up for sex or a relationship talk… but come on, I was 99% sure it was sex.

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