Monday, December 13, 2010
Home from the war, will Kynan find the welcome he deserves?
Home is the Hunter by Syd McGinley is in Someplace in This World edited by Lee Benoit.
“Say something Chris or I’ll think all those letters were just because you were being nice and avoiding a Dear John.”
“Not home,” rasped Topher, but butted his head against Kynan’s shoulder and wept. He could smell damp T-shirt and travel-sweat as Kye held him close.
“Dude, home is where you are.”
Topher snorted into Kynan’s armpit. If only it were that easy. But then Kye had always been happy to wander and adventure. It was partly why he’d joined the army after high school even though Topher had begged him not to go. Kye had punched his arm affectionately and said he had to get out of town and he was not college material unlike his smart buddy.
Topher breathed deep into Kye’s armpit. Oh, yeah, that might be home!
He and Kye both had the same initial push to leave their podunk home town. A gay kid there could be sure of bruises at best.
“I went back,” snuffled Topher. “For Christmas. Oh, Kye! Momma knew. Oh, Kye. She said she’d swear to the sheriff I’d touched Bobby if I ever brought my faggot ass into town again. She’d get me thrown in jail or take out a restraining order. Anything to stop me corrupting my baby brothers.”
Kynan patted and rubbed Topher’s back as if he were helping his sister burp her latest baby. “When?”
“Sophomore year,” gulped Topher. “I didn’t tell you ‘cause that’s when you were in Baghdad.”
“So, dropping out after that year wasn’t because you couldn’t play well enough for the program?”
Topher sat up and scrubbed his face. “Shit, dude. Look at me! You’re back from the fucking war and I’m crying about my mama!” He did his best chipper smile.
Kye shook his head. “Aw, Chris, dude. I shouldn’t have left you behind.”
Topher shrugged. “Hey, we both got out of town as best we could. And, uh, here we are.”
“Yeah. Here.” Kynan looked around. “Uh, no offence, Chris, but where is here?”
Topher laughed. “You found me here!”
Kye grinned. “Yeah, I have mad recon and tracking skills!” He snuck his arm back around Topher’s waist. “And your landlady is a total security risk!”
Topher grinned. “Aw, Mrs. SanGiacommo is a darling. I bet she had no idea she’d told you what you needed!”
“None, hey Chris, hush up a minute. I need to kiss my baby hello. I am just back from the war…”
Topher moaned and felt his solar plexus flutter and melt as Kye’s tongue parted Topher’s lips and delved in.
Topher let his mind float even as his fingers strayed over his man’s chest. Dear heaven, the military had pumped him up! No wonder he hadn’t recognized his shape against the rain drenched doorway.
Even his throat felt a little looser as he welcomed Kye’s tongue in his mouth. He’d been hoarse for the last few years. He’d had it checked to the best of his uninsured, living-on-tips ability -- in other words, the dental student who did his cheap check-up had peered down his throat and he couldn’t see anything. A daily, slow-sipped scotch was his best medicine for it.
“Breathe baby!” Kye cupped Topher’s cheek and grinned at him.
Kye’s tan had pale smile-and-squint lines around his eyes. He still had a high and tight buzz cut. He was so the soldier.
“When?” said Topher, as he obediently breathed out.
“When what? Did I get discharged? Get stateside? Am I going to fuck you?”
Topher’s arm jerked and his elbow plonked a dischord on the piano. “Uh, all three? I guess.”
Kye snorted. “As soon as possible, and the others don’t matter.”
“Coming out!” trilled Len from the stairs. Topher thought he’d probably been there for a few moments. The door flung wide as Len elbowed it open.
“Oh, now that’s a sammich!” crowed Kye.
Topher snorted. “You are so fickle. Len! My man’s just back and he’s distracted by your dagwoods!”
“I have the finest dagwoods in town,” said Len primly, as he set the tray on the bar. “I put it down to over-stuffing my buns.”
“Stop it!” said Kye. “You’re terrible. Let me at that food.”
Len nodded. “Come and sit at the bar, boys. We’ll have a late lunch together, and then I’m giving Topher the afternoon off. Come back this evening -- both of you.”
Topher caught a frown from Kye. He could tell Kye thought Len was being chintzy with just the afternoon despite the welcome of beer and sandwich. He winked at Kye, and mouthed: it’s cool.
Len stayed on his side of the bar and passed up a fresh Pabst to each of them. Kye just nodded and grunted. He was already chowing down.
“Been living on MREs?” said Topher, as he pulled some cheese out of his sandwich and nibbled it. He was hungry, but his stomach was clamped shut with emotion.
“Didn’t eat since yesterday,” replied Kye. “Ran out of cash two Greyhound stops before town. Some patriotic grandma shared her boxed lunch.”
Len raised his eyebrows. “So they really do just dump you back stateside?”
“It’s complicated,” growled Kye. “Soon as I find my feet, I’m seeing the Service Defense guys. I lost my wallet somewhere on the bus journey. My ticket and ID were in my jacket so that was a mercy.” He crammed some more sandwich in, and chewed with some pastrami hanging from the corner of his mouth.
Topher ate a tomato slice, and tried to digest that his man was out of the army, back in his life, and as messy an eater as ever. But he looked so fine! And it wasn’t as if Topher couldn’t handle complicated. So what if Kye were broke and gearing up for legal wrangles? They’d scrape along. Topher was used to patching together a living from favors and trading for bed and board.
“Eat properly, baby,” chivvied Len. “You’ll hurt later if you only pick.”
Kye snapped his head round. “Are you ill, Chris? You look skinny, and your voice is still funny. I thought it was just the shock of seeing me.”
Topher swiveled on the barstool a little, and gave Len a pissy look. “Can a boy have no secrets?”
“Not from his man,” said Len. “Or from his fairy godfather.”
“Are you ill?” repeated Kye, hiking up the level of soldier in his tone.
“Dunno,” said Topher. “I blew my voice out screaming at my mom, and since then it’s all croaky. And my stomach locks up so I don’t want to eat, and then I get acid later. And that makes my voice worse.”
“Have you seen a doctor? And Scotch for lunch can’t help,” said Kye.
Topher bristled. “Kye! I sip one all afternoon. The piano player has to have a glass of something there! I don’t drink like Momma.”
“No one does,” conceded Kye. “You really don’t drink too much?”
Len butted in. “Kynan: I just freshen the ice in that same drink all afternoon. And perhaps two through the whole evening. This beer at lunch is the most I’ve seen him have this fast. Believe me I know -- I pay him in food and drink.”
“That’s all? Are you ripping Chris off?”
“Stop it,” snapped Topher. “Holy shit, Kye. Judge much? You’re only here five minutes and I’m already feeling dumb for losing my voice, drinking, and working for Len. And no, I have not seen a doctor. And I’m not Chris anymore!”
Len and Kye stared at him. Then Len giggled, and Kye wiped some mayo from his lip and grinned.
“Still got your temper, then?” said Kye.
Topher scowled, but directed it at Len for laughing. “What’s so funny, Len?”
“Dumb, losing voice, and talking up a storm,” wheezed Len. “You should listen to yourself sometimes, Toph.”
Topher felt his belly clench a bit and then release. What did he have to stress about? Kye was here, he had a safe roof over his head, a place to go everyday -- with a piano -- and someone kind who fed him. He took a big bite of his sandwich.
“Atta boy,” said Len. “You two kids eat and then scat! If I’m running this place solo, then I need to get organized.”
Topher grinned. Most afternoons he and Len were the only two in the place. He knew Len would play some old Motown on the jukebox (nothing on it from after the seventies) and read a paperback. Topher’s afternoon drink and sandwich were really a treat while Topher practiced his evening set and enjoyed having a piano at his disposal.
He and Kye plowed through their sandwiches -- his appetite was back.
“Rain has stopped for a bit,” said Len peeking out the backdoor. “You can make it make to your room, if you hurry.”
Topher itched to hold Kynan’s hand as they walked down the puddled alley. No-one would see them -- it was all delivery docks. Kye was carefully a pace or two apart from him though. Topher hid a sigh. On the few leaves they’d managed to meet up in Kye’s early deployments, Kye had been paranoid about them being seen. And he’d still been discharged. Topher wondered why. Their letters had all been so careful. Perhaps he shouldn’t ask. He didn’t want to know if Kye had been tempted while he had been gone so long. And if he had, it was just sex. Topher was his baby! The one he’d come home to.