author bio

imagePaul Russell

Daniel Is Leaving Tonight on a Plane



I don’t know about you,” he said, “but I  have this really bad feeling our Mister Elton John might just be going gay on us.  What do you think?”
       Surely we must have spoken before, but those are the first words I remember  Darryl  addressing to me.  He held up a copy of “Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road” he’d plucked from the record bin—presumably as evidence--and grinned broadly.  He had badly crooked teeth.
       I’d taken a job at a record store in the new mall in hopes of hastening summer’s end, and my eagerly-awaited departure for college in another state. “I can’t work enough hours,” I’d told the manager my first afternoon, even though Raleigh Springs Mall  was halfway across town from where I lived.  “You should give me everything you’ve got.”
       He was happy enough to oblige, being basically a lazy s.o.b., and I found myself  in the store six days a week, from  eleven in the morning till we closed up at ten at night.   It was dull work, not particularly enlivened  by my co-workers—Jennifer the pothead, jolly overweight Denise. 
       Then there was Darryl with his plaid bellbottoms and overstacked platforms and sunburst-yellow shirts with flamboyant collars.  The year was 1973;  even I had occasionally affected such outlandish costumes when dressing up for school dances.   The thing was, Darryl dressed like that all the time, as if one day he’d got into costume and then couldn’t figure how to get out  again. 
       I didn’t know what to say to his question.  Whether Elton John was going gay or not was of absolutely no interest to me one way or another, though I suddenly realized that the store always seemed to be broadcasting his music whenever Darryl was around.   My own tastes, such as they were,  tended more to Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, music I could get stoned to.   I liked nothing  better than to come back from a long sweaty run, step in the shower, and then cool down in my bedroom with  a joint and the music cranked up on the headphones.  It never occurred to me, back in those days, that I might be running from something;  I just enjoyed the pull of my muscles, the  almost holy sense of lightness in my brain, the vague  euphoria of accomplishment afterward.   I was still a little bitter  about the cross country finals, the nagging sense I’d let my buddies down.  
       My lack of response—I think I managed a shrug--didn’t seem to faze Darryl a bit.  When we closed up that evening, he was waiting for me by the palms in the concourse as I pulled down and locked the metal security screen.  With the mall nearly deserted, only a few last employees heading for the exits, you could hear the fountains splashing—a sound you never noticed during the day.  I always liked that moment;  the fluorescent lights and the palms and the echoing emptiness made me feel faraway, a kind of foretaste of the time when I’d have put all this behind me.
       “So where’re you from?” His voice brought me back to the tedious here and now. 
       “What do you mean, where am I from?” 
       “Like, what high school? 
       I told him I’d just graduated from Memphis Prep. 
       “Ridgecrest,” he said, pointing to his thin chest. “Aren’t we supposed to be rivals or something?”
       I told him I had no idea, though in fact  Ridgecrest’s track team wasn’t half bad. There was something well-scrubbed about him, as if he’d just come from a long, furious  shower.  He sported a mop of straw-colored hair. A  fiery spatter of acne daubed his cheekbones.  He was really quite pathetic, I thought. 
       “Make love not war is my philosophy.  Do you think we’ll be drafted?”
       I told him I was  heading off to college. 
       “I see,” he said.  “Around here?”
       “Far from here,” I told him.  “This is just my summer job.”
       “Mine too,” he said.  Then:  “Endless summer for me.”
       The night, when we stepped outside, was muggy.  A blurred moon floated low to the horizon.  My motorcycle was parked, for security, beneath a streetlight.   
       “It’s cool that you ride,” he said.  “Kawasaki?”
       “Yeah,” I said.  It was a touchy subject, actually. I’d bought the bike back in the spring--sort of on the spur of the moment, with money my grandfather had given me in advance of  graduation.  My parents had pointed out, less than helpfully, that I’d just have to turn around and sell it when I left for school. “So I’ll sell it,” I’d told them.  “I’ll enjoy it while I can.”  But it was clear they thought buying a bike was frivolous.  All my life I’d  tried hard not to disappoint, but one way or another, lately,  that was all I seemed to manage.  “Senior slump,” my mother diagnosed, pointing out that at least I’d gotten into a good school, and with a good scholarship, too.


The weeks passed.   Humid June became sultry July.  I had a calendar on my desk at home, and I gratefully marked off each bleak day that had separated me from what I saw as a long-deserved and fully-earned freedom.  I tried to imagine the life that awaited me at school, but besides hoping I’d be assigned a fantastic roommate, somebody smart and athletic and interesting, my hopes were distressingly blank.
       Darryl sang the first line of Elton John’s “Daniel,”  nearly matching  the singer’s smooth British voice as he skittered along the aisles of Stellar Records.  “This is the best song ever,” he announced to me and Denise, the only ones in the store at the time.  “Actually, it makes me want to cry whenever I hear it.”
       Denise rolled her eyes.  “You’re admitting to something like that?” I asked him, sorry at once that I’d spoken.  When he’d held up “Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road” I’d said nothing, only looked at him coldly.
       “Why not?  See, it’s about two friends, very close friends. And something tragic’s happened, and one of them’s missing the other one something crazy.  I think maybe it’s about the war.”
       Customers had come in;  at least he had enough sense to cool it when customers were around. I hated it that he felt so comfortable around the other employees.  Sometimes I fantasized that Al the manager would lose patience and fire him, but Darryl always behaved himself when Al was around, and Al was around as little as possible.  Whenever he’d been in his little closet of an office, where Jennifer sometimes visited him for protracted spells,  the rear of the store reeked of marijuana.
       Annoyed but not in the least bit jealous,  I watched as, in Al’s absence,  Darryl teased those two girls,  draping an arm around them  while he confided some inane something or other,  or playfully swatting their fat butts as they walked by.  They had little enough to say to me;  I told myself it was because I intimidated them a little, an effect I’d sort of enjoyed having on the girls at my school.  Truth be told, I was always reluctant to stop and analyze that enjoyment too carefully.   It kept my teammates  off guard.  “Jeez,” Mike Spalter said once.  “You sure don’t have to pick and choose among them, do you?”  I wasn’t sure what that meant, but chose to take it as a compliment. 


I’d gone to the senior prom with my longtime friend Sara, who I guess was unofficially my girlfriend.  How much nicer, I thought, to have sped away on my Kawasaki  from the  downtown hotel where the prom had taken place  than to sit with her in my parents’ car in her driveway, wondering as the windshield fogged up in the cool night air whether or not I was expected to  finally make a move. When  Sara slipped her tongue between my lips I was a little startled, and even more  startled at where her hand got to, but I went along with everything easily enough. For my part,  after trying to get my own reluctant hand inside her prom dress, all  I managed to do was prick my finger on her corsage, which I took as an excuse to cease and desist.  Since then we hadn’t seen much of one another, though she’d intimated on more than one occasion over the phone  that a repeat of our rather ludicrous exercise would be just fine with her.
       I wasn’t  so naïve as to fail to connect my lack of interest in that proposal  with certain bleak recognitions that came to me from time to time, usually in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep.  But then every guy, I reassured  myself by  the welcome light of morning, was attracted to other guys just a little.
       I was most certainly not attracted to Darryl.
       Still, you had to feel sorry for his persistence.  He actually seemed to think being friends with me was a possibility. Pity leads to bewildering gestures, I suppose. One night after closing, I took him up on his suggestion that we grab a slice of pizza.
       One thing he’d told me, among many unwanted items:  he was vegetarian.  Thus I was surprised when he ordered a slice of pepperoni.
       “Are you kidding?” he said when I called him on it.  “This is synthetic pepperoni.  It’s made from plastic, not meat.”
       I rolled my eyes.   
       “You should get real meat,” he went on.  “Like sausage.” 
       “You think I’m a real meat kind of guy?”  I asked him.
       “Absolutely.”  He wolfed down his slice.  For a skinny kid, he had quite the appetite.  He reminded me a little of this freshman, Harry Lewinsky, Lebovski,  something like that;  Mike and Gabe and I used to torment him in the showers during P.E.   Harry who’d transferred to another school after freshman year. I’d totally forgotten about all that.
       I was a little irritated with Darryl for dredging up pointless memories.  By the time I’d finished my slice, I was more than ready to get out of there.
       “I’ve never ridden a motorcycle,” he said as we stood awkwardly in the parking lot..  “Come on.  You should give  me a ride. What about it?”
       “You crazy?  You’ve got your car.”
       “No, I mean just up and down the street.”
       I tried hard to think of a reason not to, but it was dark, and I didn’t care a thing about his safety, so why not?
       He was clumsy getting on behind me.  “Grab hold,” I told him.
       “To what?” 
       I hesitated.  “Put your arms around my chest,” I instructed.  “No, like that.  Under my arms.  There you go.”
       What the fuck had I gotten myself into?  He clung tight, even though we weren’t going anywhere yet.  “Ease up a bit,” I told him, and when he did, I took us out of the parking lot.   That made him tighten his grip all over again, but what could I say?  Instead, I tried scaring him a little.  I raced us through a yellow light just as it changed red.  I weaved us in and out of traffic.  I could feel his body pressed against mine, like we were frozen in  a moment of wrestling while the thick night air streamed over us and the lights of the strip blurred past.  “Whoa-ho!” I heard him yell next to my ear.  I kept thinking we’d had enough, and I should turn back, but something, maybe it was his unexpected fearlessness, kept me going.  Traffic was light, and soon we were past the developed areas;  dark empty fields spread away from us on both sides.  I pushed our speed till we were  definitely unsafe--if a deer bounded onto the lane, we were goners.  But it was a rush;  it was somehow what I’d envisioned the future to be.  I wouldn’t have my Kawasaki at school, but I’d have my roommate, I’d have my new friends, good-looking guys in white jeans and black turtlenecks, and even though we wouldn’t be going eighty-five miles an hour, still  it would feel  exactly like this. 
       All at once the thought that it was Darryl who was clinging to me for dear life was so depressing I knew I had to bring this stupid charade to an end.  Without alerting him to what I was up to,  I braked suddenly, skidding out onto the shoulder.   The move  caught him by surprise, and as we turned in a tight circle and came to a halt, off he tumbled. 
       “Jesus, you were supposed to hold tight,” I said, though my tone belied my concern.   What if I’d actually gone and hurt him?  But he was laughing, already pulling himself up off the ground.  “Don’t worry,” he told me.  “I’m really very resilient.”
       “Sorry about that,” I apologized.  “We must’ve hit a patch of gravel.”
       He was holding his left elbow and grimacing.
       “Are you really okay?”
       “I’m a bit skinned up is all.  I think I ripped my shirt sleeve.  I didn’t like this shirt much anyway.  But that was all pretty exciting.  Do you always speed like that?”
       The last thing I wanted to admit to was having gotten carried away—and yet that’s what I’d done.  My actions, frankly, perturbed me. 
       “So what do you want to do now?”  I asked.  “Should I take you to the emergency room?”
       He laughed.   I’ll never forget that laugh—high and bold and resigned, the way someone might laugh as they stepped off a cliff into pure airy nothing and below, like a heartbeat, the surf pounding, pounding on the shore.
       “Oh,” he said, as if it was nothing, “if you really want to know, what  I’d love right now is to kiss you.”
       Maybe it was only my own treacherous heart pounding.
       “You’ve got to be kidding,” I told him.  “You didn’t just say that, did you?”
       “One surprise deserves another.  I didn’t exactly expect you to try to kill me just now.”
       “Forget it,” I said.  “It’s not gonna happen.  Not even in the realm of possibility.  What were you even thinking?”
       “Well, I do think you owe me.  I could’ve died there.”
       “I can’t fucking believe this, “ I said.
       “Forget it.  I’ll walk back,” he said.
       “You can’t walk back.  We’ve gone miles.  It’s the fucking middle of nowhere.”
       “You’re upset,” he said.
       “No I’m not,” I yelled.  “I just don’t like people playing games with me.”
       “What?   You’re the only one who gets to play games?  You know you’ve had your eye on me.”
       “This is ridiculous.  Get back on the bike. We’re getting out of here.”
       For a moment he stood there, recalcitrant, a spoiled little kid who hadn’t gotten his way.  Then he shrugged—hopelessly, it seemed.  Despite itself, my thundering heart went out to him a little.  “Okay,” he said.  “Have it your way.”
        “No funny stuff,” I told him as he climbed on behind me, but before I knew it his hands had gone straight to my crotch.
       “My, my, my.” he observed, his breath hot on my neck. 
       There was no denying I had a hard-on.
       “I’m pretty good at what I do,” he murmured.  His lips grazed my ear. “If you’ll just relax and let me do it.  Come on.  We’ll push the bike into those woods there.  Nobody’ll see us.  Nobody’ll ever know.”
       There hadn’t been a single car come by since we’d been stopped;  as if on cue, far up the straight road, a pair of headlights glimmered.  But in the shadows of the trees all was still--though hardly quiet.  A cacophony of tree frogs pulsed and ebbed and pulsed again with ever-renewed fervor.   Led Zeppelin was never so noisy nor mad. It turned out Darryl hadn’t lied;  he was exceptionally good at what he did, not that I had  anybody to compare him with.   Though I  groaned fair warning, he didn’t let up till he’d taken my  load in full.
       I’d been clutching his hair, and now when I moved my hands around to his face, I was disconcerted to feel tears on his cheeks.
       “Jesus,” I said.  “What’s wrong with you?”
       “I just happen to feel really happy right now, you know?  I’m just wishing you feel half so happy as I do.”
       I didn’t feel happy at all;  I felt empty and ashamed and freaked out.  “Why shouldn’t you be happy?” I accused.  “You got lucky. You hit me in a moment of weakness. Every guy has a moment of weakness.  And you--you   took a one in a million shot and it paid off.  You should be fucking delirious.  But don’t think for a minute I’m celebrating, because I’m not.”
       “Come on.  You don’t have to think of it that way,” he said.  “Really you don’t.”
       “Let’s get going,” I told him.  ‘This stupid little  mistake is over. No, actually, it’s not over, because it never even happened, okay?”
       “Who’d believe me anyway?”
       “You’re right,” I told him, unconsoled.  “There’s nobody would believe you.” Except I knew deep down, with secret dread, that Sara would believe him—but of course Darryl didn’t know Sara, he didn’t know anybody I knew and he never would.
       Still, I couldn’t believe I’d given in so easily—and with somebody like him.  That was what I found so humiliating. Sure, I’d imagined it before, those awful middle-of-the-night surrenders, only I’d  pictured the first time going so very differently—a bit of  horseplay with one of my track buddies slowly, gorgeously unfolding into something else, or better yet, some good-looking, tautly muscled  runner from another county I’d met at a meet.  We’d be cool together, we’d be discreet.  When I’d bought the Kawasaki, I’d  fantasized winging my way to a rendezvous with  my secret, yet-to-be-met  friend in some place where nobody  would know either of us. 
       I dropped  Darryl off in the parking lot of Pizza Hut.  I was glad he hadn’t tried to kiss me on the ear or neck or anything on the ride back;  I was grateful at least  for that bit of restraint.  I was only sorry his arms had felt so good around my chest.
       “Don’t get any stupid ideas,” I felt I had to warn him as he walked to his car.  Did I detect a sort of triumphant lightness in his step? 
       “Who’s saying anything?”  he said as he slid, with a self-satisfied smirk, into his faded old Dodge.  I swear the radio, when he turned on the engine, was playing “Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road.”


I contemplated not showing up for work the next day, even quitting my job altogether, but in the end decided, via some very convoluted nighttime logic,  that the best course of action was to show him that, as far as I was concerned, it really was true that nothing had happened.  Since I almost never talked to him in the store anyway, it would be easy enough to avoid eye contact as well.    My one fear was that he’d come over and try to chat as if nothing had happened,  but soon enough it became clear that he had no intention of trying that tactic.  After  several days I had to grudgingly admit to myself that, if nothing else, I admired his discretion. 
       I thought sometimes about  his accusation that I’d been eyeing him.  Maybe it had been true, a little.  I couldn’t quite remember.  But now I did  catch myself glancing at him from time to time when I was sure he wasn’t looking;  I was oddly sorry, as the days lengthened into a week, then two, that  we hadn’t somehow done more when we’d had the chance. I was beginning to think of it as a wasted opportunity.  Not that I really wished all that much to reciprocate.  Still, I did find myself, wretchedly awake and restless toward dawn, wondering--with less and less certainty that my curiosity was  purely “scientific curiosity”--what it might feel like to have a penis in your mouth.  And those times when the physical tension became just too much, and there was nothing  left but to release it, how disheartened I was  to find Darryl shouldering aside, at the crucial moment, the more muscular  phantoms of my teammates with whom I usually preoccupied myself in those messy nocturnal ordeals.
       I watched him kidding around with Jennifer and Denise, touching them playfully, making them squeal with laughter at some off-color  comment about a customer or a band, and I realized, seeing all that rapport, that my presence here among them was merely temporary, that I didn’t, in some fundamental way, count with them.  Come September, I’d be gone, and they—well, hadn’t Darryl said, boasted almost,  “Endless summer for me?”
       I found it hard to believe he didn’t want more, too, and the possibility that  he’d gotten everything he wanted from me and was satisfied secretly angered me.
       On my  rare free  evenings I usually  tried to hang out with Mike and Gabe; both of them, however,  were proving unusually busy that summer, and not always easy to make plans with.  But several times the three of us managed, as in bygone days,  to go for a long,  deliciously exhausting run through the leafy streets of midtown and along the secluded, winding paths of Overton Park.   How good it felt, at the end of one of those jaunts, to give my decent, normal buddies a quick hug goodbye, smell the musk of their bodies, feel their strong arms enfold me likewise.  Then home to a shower, a joint, some  Stones or Jethro Tull on the headphones.  Those were the only nights that summer I seemed to find my way to any kind of  sleep. 
       July came to an end, and my calendar, that had shown such a host of blank days, revealed barely two weeks’ worth left to scratch off before freedom and the world.   Meanwhile, I received in the mail my roommate assignment:  with plunging heart I beheld in the accompanying photograph a squinting oriental fellow burdened with coke-bottle glasses and an unpronounceable last name.
       That very evening, as we were closing up (Darryl had taken to leaving promptly at ten,  prudently vanishing before I’d even finished rolling down the security gate),  I  opted to  break our long silence.
       “So,” I said as he made to leave, “feel like grabbing a bite of pizza by any chance?”
       He stopped mid-stride,  looked at his watch and hesitated.  “Sure,” he said, after a maddening pause, “I could probably do that.”
       There are times, in a race, when you think you’ve gauged your opponent, when you’re sure he’s going to make a move to pull ahead of the pack, and you’re timing it, waiting for him to make his move before you then make yours.  I was pretty good at psyching out the opposition.  Darryl was, in his way, a formidable adversary.
       “Still a vegetarian?”  I observed as he ordered his slice of pepperoni.
       “You bet,” he told me. 
       If he took it as some kind of allusion, or maybe double entendre, as I secretly hoped, he made no sign of it. 
       Pizza Hut was crowded.  A sense of futility descended on me.  I realized I’d been depending on Darryl to somehow help things along, but he seemed nonchalant—even, had I not known better—clueless.
       “Gosh,  time flies, doesn’t it?” he remarked, wiping his mouth with a napkin.    “I can’t believe August’s already here.  You’ll be going away to school soon.”
       “Yeah,” I told him.  “Soon.”
       “That’s too bad, I guess.”
       “Can’t be soon enough,” I reminded both of us.
       “I guess so.” 
       If I were him, I told myself impatiently, I’d see my best chance and take it.  Instead, we  finished up our Cokes in silence.  I told myself I absolutely refused to offer to take him  out for a spin on my bike. 
       “We could, you know, if you wanted to, go for a ….”   I could hear my voice peter out amidst the din of the room.  Once again he looked at his watch—a tactic clearly meant to annoy me, I thought.
       “Sure,” he drawled thoughtfully.  “We could do that.  Only if you want to…”
       I remember looking around at the other booths and tables, parents with their kids, guys out with their girlfriends, in a corner an old couple who must have been married fifty years, and I thought, with chilling clarity, I’m seeing all this for the last time.  I’m bidding all this goodbye.
       “Yeah,” I said.   “I guess I want to.”
       As soon as we were safely past the lights of the strip malls and roaring into the dark, his hands shifted purposefully from my  chest to my crotch. I sighed, and flushed, and drove us on to a secluded farm road I’d idly scouted out a few days before. 
       “Don’t worry,” he said.  “I know the rules.  No kissing.  No funny stuff.  Shall we get straight to business?”
       I’d always loved hugging guys,  always tried to slow-motion and savor those moments with my buddies and teammates, though I also knew better than to try to do that anywhere except in my head.   “Come here,” I told Darryl, opening my arms and folding him in an embrace and yes, for the first time in my life actually slowing down time for real.  I think it completely surprised him—certainly it surprised me--but he adjusted.  He hugged me back just the way I hugged him.  I almost felt like crying, though  crying wasn’t something I did.
       “So, hi,” he said quietly.  “I thought you’d never get around to asking.”
       “Shut up,” I told him.  “Just do what you have to do.”


And so it started. How many times did we tryst during the next two reckless weeks?  Altogether, probably only six or seven, certainly less than ten.  As if enacting some secret, solemn ritual, we’d take my bike out to that same secluded bit of farm road.  I don’t know why we  never came up with some better alternative, or even thought to vary our routine. We weren’t particularly innovative, either;   it took several occasions before I finally yielded to that ravenous curiosity that had consumed my nights. 
        “Really,” he said, as I dropped to my knees and unbuttoned his fancy trousers.  (What had he worn on his prom night?  Had he even gone?)    “You don’t have to.  I’m okay with…”
       “Shut up,” I told him, “and look at the stars.” 
       His cock was slenderer than mine but longer; as I  buried my nose in his pubic hair the odor was faintly sweaty, a little funky, a desperate and gratifying whiff of that jock stench that came off my buddies when I embraced them at the end of the course, no matter whether we’d won or lost.
       His voice came to me from above my head.  “There’s not just stars,” he said.  “There’s planes.  I count two, three.  All  heading out from the airport.  Heading for Spain--like in the song.”
       I half-expected him to start singing, but he didn’t.      I couldn’t have cared less if he had, to be perfectly honestly.  I was doing my own traveling, where I’d never thought I would go. 
       I hadn’t stopped to consider that his shaft would make me gag.  He laughed appreciatively.  “Don’t worry,” he said with such gentleness.  “You’ll get hang of it.  We all do, eventually.”
       After a while my jaw began to feel a bit tired;  he must have realized this, being the more experienced. His lemon-yellow trousers were around his ankles.  Taking my right hand by the wrist, he moved it between his thighs.  “Put your finger in me,” he instructed.  
       Hardly had I  accomplished that rather unexpected  favor when he groaned and I felt his warm seed spurt into my mouth.  I wasn’t completely surprised by the taste and texture;  I’d experimented with touching my coated fingertips to my tongue on a couple of desperate occasions.  Still--
       I wasn’t exactly happy I’d become a cocksucker—more resigned to it than anything else.  A phase of experimentation, I told myself, though we barely progressed beyond putting our penises in each other’s mouths.  And I wasn’t at all sure I wanted his finger where he wanted mine, so that never happened.   We never kissed, either, at least on the mouth, though I allowed him to  smooch my neck, and shoulder, and belly, and I allowed myself to nuzzle, on occasion, the pleasing curve of his collarbone.  I liked to run my fingers through his longish thick hair. 
        By daylight, in the record store where we never spoke, never acknowledged one another in any way, his crooked teeth bothered me. Why hadn’t his parents gotten him braces?  At eleven and twelve I’d endured the curse of  braces, and now my smile was for all intents perfect.  It seemed like such an obvious thing to have left undone, though I suppose they perhaps couldn’t have afforded it.  About his parents, his home life, his time in school I knew nothing.  I told myself I preferred it that way, and that, besides, it was necessary, safer somehow.   I knew he wasn’t anybody I could ever let myself be seen with;  his  life, whatever it was, wasn’t something I wanted to be associated with.
       Rather perversely, I  never told Darryl when I planned on leaving. I thought since what was happening between us was, by common consent, not really happening, what better way to mark that than by just vanishing into thin air?  He knew I was going away to school, he knew perfectly well September approached:   he could put two and two together, and see just how numbered our days were.
       To be quite honest:  I felt relieved that it would soon be over.  There were times when I told myself I had walked into something I never should have walked into, that I had made a very bad mistake, and the only thing that kept my despair at bay was the reassuring thought that soon, soon, I would have moved on, and put the episode harmlessly behind me.  It had been a sorry kind of practice, I told myself, for much better things to come.  
       “You seem to like how this feels,” I said, removing my mouth from his cock and twisting my finger in his rectum.  It had been, unbeknownst to him, my last day at work;  it would be  our last lovely bit of misbehavior together.
       “I do.” He sighed.  “A lot.” 
       Inspired by his response, I  screwed a second finger in.
       He groaned appreciatively. “We could, you know…. If you wanted.   I  brought some lube,” he said.
       “You what?”
       “Some lube.  In case you ever decided to graduate with me to the next level.”
       He pulled  from his pocket a half-scrolled  tube of vasoline.
       “You use this stuff often?” I asked. 
       He grinned that grin full of crooked teeth.  “I’m not a virgin, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
       “I’m not worried,” I said, though I wondered what he meant, exactly:  what other escapades he was alluding to. 
       “I’m also not a slut,” he said.  “Here, put some of this on your dick.”
       “I never said you were.”
       “Go slow,” he cautioned as I nudged my way in.  “Give me time to adjust.”
       But I didn’t give him time to adjust.  The sensation was so unexpectedly exquisite that I grabbed him by his slim hips and thrust myself fully inside.  It took him by surprise, and he yelled “Ow!”—which excited me, and I thrust again, gratified to be having this effect on him.   Gradually he did adjust, and his cries evolved into a satisfying series of yelps and whimpers.  I liked that I was hurting him like this, and his own apparent enjoyment of  the pain I was bestowing on him both bewildered and moved me.    I reached around and  gripped his rigid cock, all the while keeping up my  stupendous rhythm, and  soon I had him squirting, which set me to squirting as well.  “Oh,” he said, in what sounded like wonder. “You came inside me.”
       ”Sorry,” I said.
       “No,” he said.  “It’s great.  One for the road.”
       “What does that mean?” 
       He looked at me over his shoulder.  I thought about kissing him just then—but of course that would never, never do.   “You tell me,” he said. 
       I eased myself from him.    We’d both worked up a copious sweat.   The whole thing, from beginning to end, had been much messier than I’d imagined, and a whole lot more exciting.
       “If I’d known,” Darryl said, “I’d have brought a towel.  But you never do know, do you?  That’s what I love about my life.”
       It had never occurred to me that Darryl might love his life. 
       As we sped back dangerously along the dark highway to deposit him at his car in the mall’s empty parking lot, I thought angrily that he’d better have loved every minute, because after tonight  he was never going to see me again.   Still, I couldn’t get  Darryl’s remark out of my head, audacious and nonsensical as it was:  “That’s what I love about my life.”
       A couple of evenings later—I was leaving for school the next morning--I walked out into my front yard and saw the late light glinting on a silver jet as it sped across the clear sky, con trail in its wake.  That mellifluous, stylish little song had insinuated itself into my head.  At that point in my young life I’d never flown in an airplane before, and the sight of that star-bright vessel heading for Spain or some other faraway place equally remarkable filled me with a pointless longing that turned, all at once, into a very pointed longing for none other than unbeloved Darryl, whom I had so resolutely abandoned along his goofy smile and abundant seed and  unexplored life;   I actually groaned aloud in a kind of sorrow and desire and  regret all confused togetherlike the notes of a difficult, altogether unsingable  song that wasn’t Elton John’s at all, but wholly, alas, my own.
        After a moment, though, I recovered, and the next day went forth unhesitatingly into my bright, broken future.

Author Bio

Paul RussellPaul Russell, named a Granta Best Young Novelist, is the author of The Salt Point, Sea of Tranquility, and the Ferro-Grumley Award-winning War Against the Animals.  A professor at Vassar College, he lives in Poughkeepsie,  New York. His latest novel, The Unreal Life of Sergey Vladimirovich Nabokov, will be published by Alyson Books in April, 2010.