What should I have done? Should I have whipped around and slapped him? Stepped away and laughed? Shrugged him off with a growl? He had one hand snaked into my front pocket and the other on my other shoulder and I did none of those things. None of those things even entered my mind.
What I did was stick my hand in after his and push it slightly to the left… so that his fingertips bumped my cock through the cloth.
That was it. I didn’t make any big speech about giving in or changing my mind. He didn’t make any big confession or gloat. We just went back to the hotel, silent as thieves.
We went to my room and started stripping each other’s shirts off, then separated by unspoken agreement to each finish stripping ourselves. The hotel was fancy and had “turn down” service, meaning the lights were already turned down and the bed had been one corner of it turned down, too. Ziggy tossed the chocolate mint on the pillow onto the side table and then pulled me down after him.
What can I say? Touching him was like going home again. Heartbreakingly familiar territory. I wasn’t rough, but I was somewhat quick, as if it were dangerous to linger. I used a condom. Then I put one on him and invited him to reciprocate.
He did. I didn’t even mind that he went for a long time. I didn’t even mind when he bit me on the shoulder. When he did, I thought it was over, and he pulled away quickly.
Too quickly. He was full of tension, full of fight. I sat up, rubbing the spot where he’d bit me hard. “Zig. Are you all right?”
“I will be,” he said, his voice hoarse. His chest heaved like he was trying not to cry. Or hyperventilating.
“Are you mad at me?” I shifted on the bed, trying to get a look at his face.
He shook his head hard. “That’s not it.” He was hunched over, his lap hidden by a corner of the sheet.
“Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck.” His voice went up in pitch on each one and then he looked at me. “I’m having a panic attack.”
“Shit. What do I do?”
He pressed his hand against his chest, trying to get his breathing to slow enough to answer. When he could talk, he said, “I don’t know.”
“Lie down,” I said. When he didn’t do it immediately, I said, “It helps me to be lying down when I’m having one.”
He lay down then, on his side, facing away from me. I settled myself behind him and put my arm over his chest. I put my hand on top of his where it felt like he was trying to keep his heart from busting out like an Alien.
“Breathe,” I said.
“Shh, don’t talk. Just breathe as slowly as you can, okay?”
We lay there quietly for a while, until I could feel his heart starting to slow down. I murmured something encouraging, just kind of blathering, encouraging him to let it go, and kind of keeping myself calm at the same time. The last thing we needed was me to have a panic attack, too.
I had one, that time, one time when he snuck into my room in Allston. That felt like a really long time ago. I decided against bringing it up.
He let out a breath that felt more normal then.
“Better?” I asked.
He sounded really pathetic when he said, “If I say yes, will you keep holding onto me anyway?”
I thought: Oh fucking hell, Ziggy, just make me break both our hearts while you’re at it, will you? But I said: “Yes.” And I did.
Then I said, “How many panic attacks have you had since we left home?’
He was silent.
“How many, Zig.”
“A bunch. I haven’t counted.”
“That can’t be good.”
“I know. But I’m afraid to get off the drugs.”
That made me sit up partway, and try to look at his face. He had done his makeup carefully for dinner, but now he looked, well, like we’d had sex. “Prozac, you mean?”
He turned and looked at me. “Yeah. I’m afraid… I’m afraid…” He reached up and touched my face then, as if he were too distracted by my cheekbones to finish his sentence.
“Can you call your doctor at least?” I asked.
“I’ll see her when we get home.”
“Ziggy, that’s a month from now.”
“Shit, is it that long?”
“Yes. A month from yesterday we’ll be playing Great Woods.” I sat all the way up then and ran my fingertips into his hair and rubbed his scalp the way he liked.
He closed his eyes for a little while, letting me do it, then opened them again. “I’ve been writing like crazy,” he said. “I mean like, a song a day minimum. Sometimes two or three.”
“You think that’s the meds, too?”
“I don’t know.” His eyes slid aside and I realized I associated that look on his face with him confessing something.
I tried to be gentle but insistent. “What are you trying to tell me, Zig?”
“It might be the meds. It might just be I’m…” He sighed. “They’re all about you. Every single one.”
I made little circles at his temples. “Yeah, well, I’ve written my share of songs about you, too.”
“Yeah, okay.” He put his hands on mine. “This was a mistake.”
“Tell me something I don’t know.”
“No, I mean, I don’t regret having sex with you, Daron. This is… this is better than you tricking with some random local. And you really, really needed it.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I saw you in that bar, you know. What were you going to do when you got back here?”
“Masturbate until I passed out, probably.” I wasn’t joking. I also wasn’t surprised that he’d seen me. After all, it was Ziggy’s night off, too. “What about you? If you didn’t run into me, that is.”
“No idea,” he said. “I’m… I’ve been having other problems lately, too.”
I shook him a little by the shoulders. “Zig.”
“Probably also side effects.”
“What kind of side effects?”
“It’s okay, it’s gone now, finally.”
“What’s gone?” I shook him again. “What?”
“I get so I can’t come,” he finally said, looking me straight in the eye. “I thought maybe it was the bus, having to be quiet, everyone around… But I tried in the shower, I tried…” He trailed off and closed his eyes. “It was happening again tonight. I hope I wasn’t too rough.”
I snorted. “You’ve been a lot rougher. And no wonder you’re having panic attacks if you can’t blow off steam.” I wasn’t really sure physically that those two things could be related, but for Ziggy, it seemed like it would make sense. “Can we please call your doctor in the morning?”
“Ugh. and then she and Carynne can play dueling pagers.”
“We should at least try.”
“All right.” He looked up at me with a wounded expression, though. “But yeah. I… I probably shouldn’t have even tried this.”
“Okay, you know what? Better with me than you having a panic attack with some random guy you picked up, as well.”
“True.” He moved to sit up, too, and I could see each of his ribs.
Now we were looking at each other, sober and exhausted.
“Are you mad at me?” he finally said.
“For what?” I asked, though I knew I had a list of things I could call him on.
“For breaking my promise to keep my hands off you,” he said softly. “And for violating your ‘no sex in the entourage’ decree.”
“I probably should be,” I said. “But you’re right. I really needed that. And I broke the rule just as much as you.”
“We’ve got a whole month to go,” Ziggy pointed out.
“I know.” We stared at each other, neither of us willing to make the next move. I finally had to. “Look, you probably shouldn’t be having sex at all until you get your side effects ironed out. I mean, that can’t be fun.”
“True. It’s not.” He chewed his lip. I could almost see him thinking, But what happens when the side effects are gone? Then what?
Then we go back to the status quo, I thought. Which was not having sex. Which was not him jerking me off in alleyways or sticking his hands into my pockets in public places. But I wasn’t even angry at him. I wasn’t even particularly angry at myself, miraculously.
Eventually he got up and went to the bathroom. I thought he was just going to take a piss, but a minute later I heard the shower start.
Was I supposed to go get in with him? Or not? If I did or not, was that some kind of a test? Did it determine what happened next between us? Would I regret it if I did?
I don’t know. It was all moot. I fell asleep before he came out, and when I woke up in the morning he wasn’t there.
(OK, cannot resist sharing two more versions of “Stripped” with you, though. First, the way Depeche Mode did it live in 1988:
(And then how Rammstein covers it live: