by Luke Manning
Where Were You When I Was In High School?
J. Thomas Meador
After Lewis and I had sex we made pillow talk in the shower. He was in town for a conference, but I didn’t want him going back to his hotel looking like rough trade from the wrong side of the tracks. I was being hospitable, while also filling the void of a lonely Thursday night.
“You lived in town long?” He said, sliding his soapy fingers through mine, massaging each digit in a way I’d never felt.
“Moved here after high school,” I said. “A million years ago.”
“Where was school?”
“Tiny place in Tennessee. You never heard of it.”
He chuckled. “Try me. I grew up in Tennessee.”
I smirked a bit, lathering his chest. “Okay. How ’bout a place called Telford?”
Then he really smirked, and it reminded me why I’d been so charmed with his ManPower profile. “I know it. I went to school in Johnson City.”
“Seriously? We were neighbors.”
“We were rivals,” he corrected.
I looked at his soapy crotch. “Not that small.”
Afterwards, I asked Lewis to stay for a drink. It’s not normally my thing after a random meet-up, but we had something in common. We dressed in t-shirts and boxers, and he had to borrow a pair of mine because his was used to wipe a hand clean in bed. In the kitchen I opened a cabinet.
“What kind of man are you?” I asked. Lewis gave me a funny look. I gestured at his options. “Vodka, bourbon, or gin? I think I got beer in the fridge.”
He chose gin. Homemade soda water out of an expensive maker. He was clearly after my heart. While I made his drink he glanced around my apartment. Outside, the sky blinked with distant lightning.
“You got a nice place,” he said, talking about the hand-me-downs I’d acquired as my family dwindled. Lamps and end tables collected from various relatives when they moved into assisted living. A hundred year-old rocking chair positioned decoratively in a corner.
“Thanks,” I said, and handed him his drink. “You wanna watch the storm on the fire escape?”
He gave me a sly wink. “Sexy.”
We walked through my collection, past photos of young people I only knew when they were too old to stand up straight, around a coffee table repainted by each new owner, and behind the couch that once belonged in my great aunt’s sitting room where no one was allowed to sit. I opened the window and took his hand while we twisted our way onto the fire escape.
“Damn. This view is something else.” Lights from downtown reflected on his face, soft and warm. The occasional flash of lightning made his eyes twinkle.
“Thanks for coming over,” I said, looking at the same lights for the millionth time.
“Yeah. It was fun.” Then he sipped his drink. I suddenly had to giggle. “What?”
“Nothing. It’s … I don’t know. We grew up pretty close by. Surprised we didn’t run into each other at some point.”
He raised his glass. “Only took twenty years.” I clinked my glass to his. Thunder rumbled in the distance.
“Yeah,” I said. “Just makes me wonder …” I hesitated, but finally said, “Where were you when I was in high school?” Twenty years of ups and downs, a Rolodex of one-night stands, makes you ask questions like that.
Lewis shrugged “Back then? Chasing girls.”
“Oh, you were one of those boys?”
“Not really. But I had a few crushes.”
“What was her name?”
I couldn’t remember, but then I could. “Courtney Harris.”
Lewis’ eyes were suddenly wide. His expression was a brick wall.
“What?” I said.
“I know Courtney.”
I leaned closer. “No shit. Really?”
“Long blonde hair? Massive tits?”
“Bingo,” I sighed. He laughed.
“We dated the summer she graduated.”
I knew the exact date. The summer I moved. “So,” I said, “you were one of those boys.”
He shrugged, taking a sip. “If you liked her so much why didn’t you date her?”
“She found out I kissed a boy at a party. On a dare.”
“And she said she couldn’t be with a guy who’d kissed another guy.”
“That’s stupid. It was a dare.”
I shrugged. “What’s worse, being called chicken shit, or being called gay?”
“Good point,” he said. “So never with a girl?”
“Nope. Not after Courtney told the other girls.”
“That was harsh.”
“Yeah.” We drank again. I read his face. When we had sex Lewis kept his eyes closed, wore a satisfied smile, and let his tongue poke out to the left. Now he looked like his profile picture. Freckled. Green-eyed. A little scar on his chin. The boy next door you keep secret from Mom.
A cloud flashed orange and yellow and I had to ask. “So what happened?”
“Why’d you two break up?”
“School. I moved to Arizona. God, she cried.” He gestured at the opened window, into the apartment and presumably at his phone in my bedroom. “I follow her online, if you want to say Hi.”
I shook my head. “How was the sex?”
He tried to drink, but he laughed it back into the glass. “Jesus. She really did you wrong. You’re obsessed.”
“Like they say, Hell hath no fury…” I made my point by extending a pinky finger. “So? How was it?”
He sighed, thinking back to a time when I’m certain he had frosted tips in his hair. “It was … successful. Leave it at that.”
“And had you been with guys yet?”
Lewis pursed his lips. “Why do you want to know?”
“Still figuring out what kind of man you are.”
“I’m a man who keeps secrets,” he whispered.
I pointed my thumb towards the apartment. “Too bad Courtney couldn’t.”
There was a pause as the sky rumbled and Lewis processed me. “It really bothers you, doesn’t it?”
I didn’t answer.
We were quiet for a moment, letting the sixth floor breeze finish drying our hair. Eventually, Lewis leaned closer and said with a whisper, “Twenty years ago my secret was that I was thinking about guys.”
“Funny,” I whispered back. “Twenty years ago, we could’ve been each others secret.”
Lewis reached for my hand on the metal railing and slipped his fingers between mine. It was the same moment that the clouds opened and the heavens wept for all the time we’d lost.
J Thomas Meador (He/Him) comes from a family of fibbers, liars, actors, and professional storytellers. His own stories have appeared in such places as Dirty Chai, Gravel, Flash Fiction Magazine, the Sheepshead Review, Harpur Palate, and New Plains Review. He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and can also be found at www.jthomasmeador.com.
Luke Manning is a Digital Illustrator and Fine Artist from Baltimore City, Maryland. His art tells an intimate story on relation with one’s own body and sensuality. His work also details an exploration on interpersonal relationships and themes on sexuality and identity.