It seemed unimaginably sudden when Tristan decided this was the last day he’d look at some guy out of the corner of his eye and think, maybe, yeah, that would be so…damn. He’d been feeling it all along, the nagging and awkward insistence of his brain over the ease of his body getting lucky. There wasn’t a girl in his circle of friends who didn’t come on to him, but lately his body had been vibing more insistently in a different key, and with every month that passed and every insipid date with his girlfriend Tiffany-call-me-Viper, he’d realized it wasn’t something he could run from anymore. Because when Viper stood him up, Tristan looked at her brother, whatever his name was, when he answered the door all embarrassed and thoughtful and guilty somehow, and he thought, Damn, I should have asked you out instead.
“She’s gone out with another dude… Sorry,” Viper’s brother said. Like that was a bad thing. “I think she’s kind of over you, you know?” He hung on the door a little, and Tristan noticed right away that he was aroused and trying to hide it. “Sorry, man,” he said again.
Tristan held his hand out and smacked the door, stopping it as it was closing. Mesmerized, fascinated, and trying not to look at the spot of moisture growing against the faded blue of the man’s jeans, he said, “Hey, wait –”
But then what’s-his-name looked behind him at a girl with blonde hair and seriously kissed lips. She slid her arms around his waist under his shirt. Tristan turned to leave. “Never mind,” he added as he carefully stepped down the brick stairs to the sidewalk. “Tell Viper I said ’bye.”
“Sure thing,” said Viper’s brother as he closed the door.
Jeez… Viper. Tristan felt bad about feeling nothing at all.
So even though the decision seemed sudden, as he boarded up and down the large rolling hills on State College Boulevard, Tristan was aware that the choice he was making today came from a long and sometimes Byzantine series of personal dialogues. If Viper didn’t do it for him, it wasn’t going to get done. He felt relieved somehow, unencumbered. He felt the wind blow through his hair and through his life as it wafted out all the garbage he’d been doing for years that meant nothing to him.
Viper was cool and funny and sexy and willing, and he couldn’t care less. Because he wanted Viper’s brother, or more precisely, the leaking, sweet-as-candy cock that tented his faded Levis, even though it was probably making its way into the blonde chick even as Tristan thought about it. And he thought about it a lot. So, okay, once he admitted he wanted it, the next logical step was figuring out where the hell to get it.
Tristan pushed off the ground hard, sorry again that he’d loaned his car to his sister, Lily. It was hard climbing the hill that crested at the State College intersection with Bastanchury Boulevard, where on clear days you could see the LA downtown skyline. Worth it though, because once he topped that hill, he would freefall all the way down to Imperial Highway, then turn right, and after a block or two, cross the street to go to Borders, because that was the plan.
Being nothing if not thorough, Tristan had worked on the plan in his spare time, day and night it seemed, since Viper had called to officially dump him. Still, there didn’t seem to be an actual viable plan until he heard two girls talking about Borders in Art History class. He’d deliberately listened in as they chatted together amiably about using books as bait to lure and trap unwary men in the bookstore café. If he hadn’t already decided he’d be better off with dick than pussy, their predatory attitude would have put him off for life anyway. How crafty. How Machiavellian. How marvelous.
Tristan kicked the back of his skateboard so the front leapt into his hand. The move was as natural to him as breathing, something he was doing now in an unnatural, anticipatory way. Coming down that hill, his muscles bunching, the board rocking, the force of gravity and the wind pushing him was exhilarating, but not the cause of his rapid heart rate. Not the only cause.
Tristan entered Borders, getting a feel for the place, trying to figure out the best way to case the layout. It wasn’t the largest Borders he’d been to, but he nevertheless found one shelf of gay lit sandwiched between a corner of African American literature and two shelves of what looked like lesbian romance novels. Right there, right in the damn front of the store, albeit back in the corner, but still…damn. Right in the front of the store.
Tristan had printed off a number of titles, a laundry list of must-reads he’d gotten off an Amazon reviewer’s Web site. He picked up three books, two contemporary novels, and Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City. He searched around in the poetry and literature sections and found Allen Ginsberg’sHowl and a book by Keith Hale called Clicking Beat on the Brink of Nada. Whatever. He hoped he didn’t have time to read them. He just wanted to use the books to start a conversation that would end with him getting laid. He hedged his bets by grabbing a guide to gay Las Vegas nightlife on his way through the travel section and adding it to the pile he set on a table, staking out his territory. He ordered a cup of coffee and a rice crispy treat. He was going to sit glued in that seat, all day — all night if he had to — until somebody talked to him or kicked his ass out. That was the plan, and Tristan was all about the plan. He was sure his intentions couldn’t have been any more obvious if he’d brought a box of Twinkies and unwrapped them, shoving them into his mouth and licking the cream out one by one. But obvious was a large part of the plan.
On the way over, it did occur to Tristan that this might not be the sanest moment of his life, but he couldn’t allow lack of information or common sense to get in the way of true desperation. He knew it was crazy and ruefully acknowledged the fact that no normal person would try something like this. He’d grown up not ten minutes from here, and someone he knew was bound to show up. In life there were lookers and leapers. Tristan had to admit he was a leaper.
Tristan had toyed briefly with warning his mother beforehand, but thought he’d like to at least have a homosexual experience before bringing up the whole “I’m gay” thing. Like his tongue piercing, his mom always found the bright side quicker when things were a fait accompli. He played with the bead on his tongue now, a nervous habit of long standing. He willed himself to relax his shoulders, picked up the contemporary novel Chemistry by DeSimone, and started to read.
After a few minutes, Tristan chanced a look around, checking all the men out in the near vicinity…and froze. Standing in line for coffee was the last person he wanted to see today. Really, the last person he wanted to see ever. Up until now, things had gone smoothly enough. Maybe too smoothly, because he’d had absolutely no warning he was about to see the ubiquitous Officer Helmet. And damn, he was wearing civilian clothing, as though he didn’t just sleep in his stinking cruiser, lying in wait to give out those without-a-helmet tickets to kids on skateboards. Tristan eyed him warily. He wore khaki cargo shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, with Vans and those little short socks you could hardly see. He had brown, tanned legs with a tribal tattoo around one ankle. In normal clothes he looked younger; his bedhead hair was golden blond, and he needed a shave. He had really shocking blue eyes. Jeez. Officer Helmet was…
“Sparky!” Tristan heard him hide his ruthlessness behind laughter. “You read?” He raised his eyebrows, and Tristan slammed his head down on the table with a thud. He brought his coffee and about fifteen packets of sugar and some creamers the short distance to plop himself down in the very last, the quintessentially worst place he could possibly be. Tristan could tell he was having fun today. He had a look that screamed “gotcha” as he relaxed his long legs and prepared to lay siege.
“Officer Helmet,” said Tristan through clenched teeth. “Imagine seeing you in a bookstore.” Tristan looked at him and sighed. He looked good. This could not be Officer Helmet. Maybe he had a twin?
“So. Sparky.” Tristan saw him scan the book collection on the tiny table. His eyes returned to Tristan’s face, and he was silent for an interminable moment. “Taking a gay lit class?”
“Yep,” said Tristan. “On the money. When are they going to make you Detective Helmet?”
“It’s not going to happen anytime soon, so you’ve still got to watch yourself at the skate park. I see you have your skateboard.” He grinned. “Did you leave your helmet in the gay literature section?”
“No,” lied Tristan agilely. “I gave it to my girlfriend Viper to hold. She’s getting her hair done. Officer Helmet.”
“I know Viper… Listen, Sparky, I’m off duty, so why don’t you call me Michael?”
“Why don’t you quit calling me Sparky? The whole red hair freckles thing has been done to death, man. Sparky, Rusty, Red, Rory — I’m over it.” For Tristan, it was a rare outburst of honesty with “the Man.”
“That’s not why I call you Sparky,” said Michael, starting to pour sugar after sugar into his coffee and adding what seemed like an avalanche of cream.
“What?” asked Tristan. “Then why?”
“Not telling you,” said Michael. “Do you go to Cal State Fullerton?” He indicated the stack of books on the table.
Tristan snorted. “I went to Troy Tech, so no. I go to UCI.”
“Well, excuse me. I went to CSUF, so it didn’t seem like an insult.” Michael still looked fairly complacent, so Tristan didn’t think he’d been stung.
“Sorry,” he muttered. “What was your major, and why’d you become a cop?” Was he curious? Really? He’d have to reflect on that.
“Communications, and I wanted to be a cop, so I became one. It’s not like it’s the last resort of the educationally impaired. Besides, it appeals to my rabid, power-starved nature to exercise authority over the weak and helpless.”
There was that grin again. Damn. Pretty teeth. Lopsided grin. Tristan didn’t want to laugh, didn’t want Officer Helmet to be funny. But before he could stop himself he laughed through his nose and almost snorted out his coffee. “That, I believe,” he said. He wondered if he could just go back to the plannow. Or ever. The Man — Michael looked like he was comfortable, which was the exact opposite of how Tristan felt.
“Do you know that yours was the first ticket I ever wrote?” Michael said suddenly, and Tristan stared at him. “Of course, I’m still looking to give you the second, but you’re fast and have an uncanny sense of when I’m around. Tell me the truth. You guys post lookouts, don’t you? Every time I cruise by the skate park, the only people there are dads and little kids with all kinds of pads and helmets. The magic is gone.”
Tristan gave a light laugh. “Surely you don’t expect me to reveal trade secrets.” He leaned over as if inviting Michael into his confidence. “Dude, the helmet? It gives me hat hair.”
An indefinable look passed over Michael’s face as he said, “Sparky, sometime I’m going to take you to the morgue and let you see what an un-helmeted head looks like. Did you know the human head cracks open just like a watermelon with very little pressure, and then gray stuff starts coming out?” He played with the empty sugar packets. “I hate that shit.”
Tristan said nothing; what could he say? He hadn’t thought Officer Helmet had a reason for ticketing him besides the obvious one: that he could. Not for anything did he want to see this person as a man with his best interests at heart. That would be just…not good. He pressed his lips together and remained silent for a while.
“Sorry,” murmured Michael. “Okay, so what’s your major? What happens in Sparky’s head at school?”
“Physics,” said Tristan.
“Yeah,” said Michael. “Figures. That’s you, all about energy, always in motion. I only ever see you running away. Makes perfect sense.”
“Hm,” said Tristan, thinking that Officer Helmet ought to know that firsthand; he’d chased him enough. “If you didn’t have to wear that bulky cop suit and those oxfords, you could probably catch me.” He figured the man was faster dressed as he was now, and freer to move.
“Could I?” asked Michael, considering. “Think so?”
“Look,” said Tristan, taking his phone out and checking his messages pointedly. “I’d love to stay and chat with a guy who gave me a really expensive ticket for not wearing a damn helmet, but I’m waiting for someone, and if they come and see me chatting amiably with the Man, well…there goes my credibility, you know?”
“Blowing me off, Sparky?” asked Michael, reaching out and taking Tristan’s phone. “Oh, hey, cool — a new one.”
“Yeah,” said Tristan, trying and failing to retrieve it. “Well, about the blowing off thing? In a word, yes.”
“No, let me play with your phone for a second,” said Michael, holding it out of his reach. “It’s cool.” The little electronic gizmo bleeped happily in his large, square hands.
“Yeah, okay,” said Tristan looking around. He hadn’t forgotten the plan; Officer Helmet had just postponed it. “Um, not to be rude or anything.”
“Oh, all right,” said Michael, picking up his coffee and his trash and muttering about how some people just don’t seem to understand the word civility anymore. “Hey, Sparky?” he asked before he walked away.
“Yeah,” said Tristan, finding something pretty compelling in the eyes he’d never noticed were Ty-D-Bowl blue. “What?”
“What are you doing here?” asked Officer Helmet. “Really?”
Well, shit. “I’m here, Michael, to get laid, not that it’s any of your damn business, because I checked. Unless I’m selling it, which I’m not. I’m of age, and I’m free, white, and single, so butt out,” Tristan said in a rush.
Michael looked at Tristan and then at the stack of books he had on the table, his blue eyes burning a big, gaping hole in his confidence. “You sure that’s what you want?” he said, concern on his face. “The way you want it?”
“Yeah,” said Tristan, now sure he was as red as his hair. “I want that. It’s what I wanted all along.”
Michael sighed. “In that case, Officer Michael Truax says, ‘safety first,’ Sparky. Try to remember that, okay?”