GAMES WE PLAY

Peter returns from the kitchen with another drink in his hand, and I steal a reflexive glance at his soft cock bulging in the front of his skinny jeans. This isn't the first time. I can't help it. It shifts with each step, tantalizing me, as if it's a secret that wants to come out. I look up and meet Peter's gaze. A smile plays at the corner of his mouth, and at mine, as he sits once more at the dining room table. Mica's familiar hand lands on my knee to remind me that it's my turn, so I quickly look down at the cards in my hand and purse my lips, hoping they haven't noticed the exchange.

I place a three of spades on top of the discard pile. Mica takes the Corona from in front of me and says, "Okay, no more. You're driving tonight." They take a sip and grin at me.

Toni sticks out his tongue from across the table, the metal barbell in the center of the pink muscle flashing in the blue-white light of the ceiling lamp overhead. "A black three? Like I even wanted to draw from the discard pile." He draws two cards from the deck then looks at Bryan to his left. "Wait, a book is seven-of-a-kind, right?" he asks.

Bryan says, "Yeah. You can add wild cards to make it a dirty book."

"Wait, damn. I actually need that five," he mutters, frowning at the card beneath the three of spades. "Why you always gotta cockblock me, Jordan?" His affected whine sounds almost convincing.

Bryan says, "Hey, table talk!" The rim of his beer bottle disappears beneath the dark bristles sprouting from his upper lip as he takes a sip. "Are you done?" he asks.

Toni holds up a finger. The air seems still as the five of us stare at him. He flicks a four of hearts, which bounces off of the discard pile. "Okay, now I’m done."

Bryan leans forward, snatches the lone four from the table top, and takes the top six cards off the discard pile. He grins after adding them to his hand. He lays down five twos of varied suits, and two Jokers. "We only need one more dirty book before one of us can go out," he says to Peter and me. He flashes a toothy smile shrouded in bear fur.

"Cheaters," Mica mutters. The blood drains from my face as my heart skips a beat, and I remind myself they're talking about the game. Eyeing Peter, I remind myself that I'm a loyal partner. Mica is seated to my right, one hand still on my knee; the other grips my bottle of Corona. They brush their chin-length white-blonde and ice-blue hair out of their face and take a sip, eyes closing softly as if in a dream, as is the manner of Mica.

"Oh, hush. It's perfectly fair to play a wild book!" Bryan discards a seven of clubs. "Tito, your turn."

Tito sits up tall, his dark curls catching the shifting light like rippling waves under moonlight. He looks at his hand, lays it face-down in front of him, and crosses his arms as he contemplates his options. He scratches his goatee, and the tattooed Lady of Guadalupe on his forearm dances as the muscles beneath his brown, hairy flesh flex and contract. He finally draws two cards, adds them to his hand, and then shrugs as he discards a Queen of Hearts. "Done."

Tito nudges Peter, who sits to his left. "Okay, Paul, your turn."

Peter sits tall as attention falls on him. "Peter."

"Sorry, what?"

"My name is Peter," he repeats calmly.

"Oh, sorry. Your turn, Peter."

Peter looks at me, humored, but I can tell his patience wanes by the tightness of his quiet grin. Mine would, too, if someone kept calling me by the wrong name. I side-eye Peter and put my thumb to my lips while extending my pinky, giving the universal sign for "too much booze."

He snickers and draws two cards from the deck. He pulls six eights from his hand and sets them in a row. Then he adds a two of spades.

Toni chimes in, "Oh, you like 'em dirty, too, huh?"

Peter chuckles. It's smooth and throaty, which pleases me. "So dirty," he whispers. The queer lilt in his voice may sound gentle, but a carnal urge lurks in his tenor. In our lingering glances.

Mica leans to rest their head on my shoulder. Their pale, cool locks draping onto my chest smell like lavender. This scent is the one constant throughout Mica's many physical changes, and I feel a contorting shame when it fills my nose.

"Toni, don't scandalize the kid," Bryan chides.

"Kid?" Toni points at Peter with a furrowed brow. "How old are you?" he demands to know.

"Almost 23."

Toni looks at Bryan with an incredulous drop of his jaw. "He's not a kid, Bryan! He's been legal for five years!" then back to Peter. "How long you been out, Peter?"

"Um, I'm not actually out to everyone yet."

Toni's jaw drops. "How long have you been gay?"

Tito rolls his eyes. "His whole life."

Toni wiggles his finger at Tito without looking at him. "You know what I mean!"

Tito sips his tequila sunrise. "Say what you mean, mean what you say, Toni."

Toni mimics Tito in a nasal voice then adds, "Shut your pie whole, Don Quixote!"

Tito looks unenthused. "Don Quixote wasn't even Mexican, pendejo..."

"Peter's talking." He waves his hand noisily in Tito's face. Tito's expression sours, and he swats Toni's hand away.

Peter says, "Um, I kinda knew when I was fifteen. But I never did anything before I turned nineteen." He sips from his rum and coke.

"Did you have a lesbian phase in college?" I ask wryly. Everyone laughs, but Peter's is the only sound I listen for. When the laughter dies, Peter smacks his lips and looks quickly around the table, obviously not sure what to say next.

He clears his throat. "What about you, Toni?"

Toni adjusts an invisible crown topping his bald head. "I've been a bottom since the day I was born, honey."

Bryan guffaws, his big hands pressing into his large stomach. He puts a hand on Toni's shoulder and coos, with another toothy smile, "Toni, honey, everyone gets spanked at birth. That doesn't make you a bottom!"

Mica starts their turn before Bryan interjects to take on the role of micromanager.

Peter asks, "You just knew? Like, you never had to try it out or anything?"

"Nope. I lost my virginity when I was 2." His face is completely straight.

Peter pauses a moment. "You're kidding, right?"

"Of course! I mean, I always knew, that's true. I didn't, like, need to get tested to find out I had the gay," he says in ghoulish alarm, his extremities wiggling feverishly as his eyes roll back into his head.

Tito reaches for Toni's hand. "You really should get tested, though."

Toni grabs Tito by the wrist and shakes the Virgin Mary. "Yes, Father."

Peter asks, "Are you Catholic?"

Tito nods, sticking out his tongue to wet his lips. Then he purses them, side-eyeing Toni, who still grips his wrist.

"Did your family freak out about your sexuality?"

Tito tugs his arm away with a scowl, but it fades when he faces Peter. "Not really. My uncle is gay, so no one was shocked when I came out. My mom was a huge source of support during my transition." He scratches absently at the tuft of hair on his chin.

Peter looks at me next. "Jordan, when did you know?"

"I think I always knew, but I didn't realize it was an issue in, like, broader society until I was thirteen. And that dredged up a lot of stuff."

Toni holds up his hands. "Debbie Downer! No sob stories, okay? It's Pride! Let's be proud! Besides, I'm way more into uppers," Toni says out of the corner of his mouth. "Except for that one time when that guy gave me heroin."

Bryan scoffs. "You mean the homeless dude you fisted in the alleyway outside the karaoke bar?"

"Yeah...I probably shouldn't bring guys home who live out of their backpacks." Toni shrugged and sipped from his glass with lifted brows.

"Are you out?" Peter asks me.

Mica places a card on the discard pile then nudges me to signal that it's my turn.

I clear my throat. "Yeah, I came out at seventeen."

"To everyone, or just, like, your family?"

"I came out to my family last, actually."

"So, wait, how long ago was that?" Bryan asks. He sips his beer.

"How long ago was I seventeen? Oh, jeez..." I pause and count. "Simple math is hard. Uh, fourteen years ago? Long enough ago that I never thought I'd be able to get married."

Peter's eyes widen. "Wait, really? Never?"

"Okay, he's young," Toni says to Bryan, who blows on his fingernails and takes a sip of his beer.

Then Toni turns to Peter, prods him in the shoulder with a stiff finger, and says, "Wait, you never answered the question! Did you actually have a lesbian phase?"

Peter's cheeks flush red. "I mean, I was in college, but it wasn't anyone I met at college."

"Oh. What, did you meet on the internet?" Toni asks, looking unassuming, but his tone betrays his derisive opinion.

"No, we...went to high school together." Peter nods, sipping his drink.

Bryan says, "Was he 'straight'?" gesturing quotation marks with his fingers.

"As far as I know, he's still 'straight,'" Peter says, gesturing quotation marks by opening his eyes wider.

Toni gasps with stars in his eyes. "Is he married? I love a good scandal."

Peter bites his lip to fight a smile and fails. His flush deepens. "He was married then, too," he says in a voice somewhere between a mutter and a whisper.

I'm not surprised, but I feign incredulity and laugh along with everyone else. My pants tighten as I imagine Peter in the nude, gasping, bent over by a man with a gold band on his left hand.

"Look at you! You're so fucking proud of yourself!" Toni swats the air. "Tell us everything!" He swigs the last of his drink. Is that his fourth?

I watch Peter twist in his seat, crossing his knees and setting his teeth to fingernails even as his cheeks rise. He isn't used to this kind of attention, but I can see how much he enjoys it. I made a good choice inviting him to game night. Sleeping with a married man at nineteen? He fits right in with Toni and Bryan.

Peter laughs through his words, saying, "Drag me!"

"Girl, you brought yourself here!" Toni scratches his nose, looks around the table with a sense of mischief in his grin that Wednesday Addams would envy. "We, uh, have a policy here. First time at game night, you have to share at least one scandal. So spill, you cagey bitch!"

Tito waves a hand in dismissal, eyes closed tight with the annoyance of a hotel guest summoned to the door despite the "Do Not Disturb" sign on their door, and says, "That's not tru—"

"It is now!" Bryan interjects, bouncing in his seat. "We're not dropping the subject until you air that dirty laundry."

Tito rolls his eyes, gets up, and goes to the fridge, finishing his drink along the way. He fills his glass with water from a filter pitcher, not watching the table.

"Seriously, though," Toni goes on. He gets up, too, and heads for another drink. When he reaches Tito, who returns the pitcher to the fridge, he points at the glass of water. "I thought Jordan was the D.D. tonight." He mock laughs, then says in an outside voice, "Live a little!"

A lightbulb goes on in my head. Married man, vague high school association, embarrassed, yet proud. I point my fingers at Peter like I'm demanding money in a highway hold-up. "Peter—did you sleep with your teacher?"

Peter covers his face, but leaves his wide smile exposed. "Technically no."

Toni misses his glass, splashing Coca-Cola across the counter. "What?!" He puts the plastic two-liter down and rushes to the table, gripping Peter's shoulders. "This is juicier than Bryan's rosebud!" he cries.

Mica's face twists like they bit into a lemon. They clutch my wrist.

"Toni!" is all Bryan can manage through hysteric laughter.

Peter looks between us like a lamb. "What's a rosebud?"

Toni crosses his arms. "Wow. I figured you for more of the turtleneck-and-beret kinda gay than the sleeps-with-his-married-teacher kinda gay." Toni looks over his shoulder, then taps Bryan's. "Bryan, the counter spilled soda everywhere…" he pouts.

Bryan spins and scoffs. "Jesus, Toni. Clean it up!"

"But da-addy," he whines, tugging at Bryan's sleeve.

Bryan protests, pouring exasperated judgments about Toni's capabilities, but nonetheless mops up the syrupy sweet liquid with paper towel.

Tito sits down next to Peter again. He says, "Okay, so you fucked your teacher. How did that happen a year after you graduated high school? Isn't that more of a ten-year-reunion cliché?"

Peter raises his index and middle fingers in V-shape. "Two years. I graduated when I was seventeen. But, honestly, if it weren't for statutory rape laws and the possibility of losing his job, we probably would have hooked up sooner."

Peter's blush hasn't subsided. Neither has my hard-on. My ears turn hot as I angle my knees toward the wall, away from Mica's reflexive hands. I see out of the corner of my eye as they turn their head my way, but say nothing.

"So nothing happened while you were in high school?" Toni deflates in his seat.

"We got burgers once?" Peter shrugs.

Looking for an end to the excitement, I ask, "Wait, whose turn is it? Toni's?"

"Fuck this game. I need more scandals!"

Bryan tries to give Toni a glass of water. "Drink."

"I've been drinking. Where's my rum, bitch?"

Bryan scoffs and looks at me. "It's your turn, Jordan." He sets the glass of water in front of Toni then sits again. "So how'd you manage to seduce your married teacher?"

"It just kinda…happened."

"That doesn't just kinda happen," Tito says, crossing his arms.

"You won't believe me if I tell you," he protests.

Toni shouts, "Come on, faggot, spit or swallow!"

Tito swivels to look at Toni with a knotted brow. "The fuck does that even mean?"

"It's slut for 'Fuck you, Tito!'"

Bryan wags his finger at them both. "Girls, play nice."

Tito crosses his arms harder, humor draining from his expression.

Bryan's expression drops. "Sorry. I didn't mean it like that."

The room fills with tension. Tito says, "How did you mean it, Bryan?" He eyes Bryan, disappointment etched in his puckered frown.

Peter stands and says, "I have to go to the bathroom," and he rounds the corner into the hall. Light fills the dark hall before it shrinks to a stripe showing through the door, which Peter neglects to close completely. We can all hear the tinkling sound of his pee. Even though I'm not really into watersports, I feel sweat bead under my arms at the thought of lying in a tub while he pisses on me like a rug.

I blink, remembering where I am, and I look at my cards. I can't give Bryan what he's looking for, so I draw two cards, and discard one at random. He looks at me like I've stepped on his toes, and we both shrug.

Peter comes back, wiping wet hands on his shirt. He says, "I went to Vancouver, Canada with some friends and ran into him at a bar. He bought me a drink, we talked a little, he took me to his hotel, and...that was it."

"Anticlimax!" whines Toni. He sips his water and plays his turn as I get up to go to the bathroom. I shut the door and lock it then look at myself in the mirror. I inspect my receding hairline, and the gravity of my years visible in the skin around my eyes. Thirty-one and grey hair has already laid claim to my temples. I look like a prune compared to Peter...

I grip my dick through my jeans and close my eyes, breathing steadily to make the blood stop flowing down there. This only makes it worse, as I see nothing but Peter, splayed nude on my bed, on the backs of my eyelids. I open them. I lift the lid on the toilet to pee, hoping my erection will subside if it needs to. I stand there waiting for my bladder to empty, but it doesn't, nor does my arousal diminish.

I eye several droplets on the seat. It looks like Peter missed...

Maybe it's because I've been drinking, or maybe it's the high of Pride, or maybe my friendship with Bryan and Toni has opened me to the strange, sexy world of shameless kink. Or maybe I'm just obsessed with the new guy. But I can't stop myself.

I grip my cock, lower to my knees, and press my tongue to the cool, plastic seat of the toilet, dragging it across the droplets, leaving a trail of saliva that quickly evaporates. I lean over the toilet and quickly blow my load into the water. I wipe the tip of my cock with paper and toss that into the water, flushing quickly. I stand, zip, and wash my hands. I open the door, and as I turn off the light, I see Peter standing before me. He eyes me up and down, and that carnal beast rears behind his eyes. We say nothing for a moment.

Then he points past me. "I left my cards on the counter."

I step out of the way, looking at my feet. He grabs his cards and passes me, and I stare at his cute little ass and follow him back into the small seating area next to the kitchen where the six of us fill the space with our warm bodies. Peter sits, and only then do I notice Tito eyeing me. How long has he…?

His gaze flicks to Mica, to Peter, back to me. I pretend not to notice. What is there to notice anyway? Nothing happened.

Toni lets his wrists hang while he holds his arms at his sides. He whines, "Is it still my turn?"

"Yes. Drink some water, honey," Brian says.

"No!" Toni pulls two cards.

Suddenly the kitchenette feels too hot. I go to the fridge, open it, and take out a beer.

Tito appears next to me, reaching for the water pitcher. He slowly pours a glass of water and says to me, "Aren't you supposed to drive tonight? Do you really think you should have another drink?"

I turn, see his knowing gaze, and I look at the bottle and swallow spit. He's right. I put it back in the fridge and then take the glass of water, avoiding eye contact. "It's...really hot in here," I say. It isn't a lie.

Tito hands me a pita pocket he takes from a plastic bag. "This will help you sober up. Wouldn't want you to hurt anyone by accident," he says, looking at Mica over my shoulder.

I nod, sipping from the glass while my heart races.

"Jordan, you missed it!" Toni shouts, drawing Tito and I out of our game of cat and mouse. "This fucker forgot y'all needed another dirty book to win, and he tried to go out!" He shakes Bryan by the collar.

"It's not that funny," Tito says, taking his seat.

"You're not funny!" Toni retorts, his expression snapping from thrilled to sharp and back, then continues laughing at Bryan.

"Hey, Mica, we should go. I have to wake up early tomorrow," I lie.

They look over at me. "You don't want to play one more round? Peter could get the win for your team."

"It's already after midnight," I press, trying not to look at Tito.

Toni says, "Aw! Come on, stay the night. You can leave early."

"No, it's okay. We have to give Peter a ride, too."

"Share the pullout!" Toni suggests.

"No," I exclaim, too quickly and too loudly. Toni looks confused and slightly offended, and I add, "Pullouts kill my back."

He pouts. "Can't we just finish this game?"

"I'm going to win next turn," Bryan says with a pointed look at Toni. "It's fine. You guys can go. Toni needs sleep, too."

Mica stands, letting their rainbow skirt fall in ripples down to their knobby knees. They adjust the lavender tights beneath, then wave at everyone. "Sorry I'm so tired! I've only slept 4 hours in the past 2 days," they say, then chuckle. The sound hits my ears like an angelic chime gone out of tune compared to Peter's inviting laugh.

I add, "We'll show ourselves out," when Bryan moves to stand.

He settles in his seat again, looking rejected. "Drive safe."

Toni jumps up and hugs us both. "Love you kids."

I hug back and turn around, avoiding eye contact with Mica.

Peter stands and waves at the others. "It was nice to meet all of you. Thanks for teaching me this game. I've never played canasta before."

Toni says, "But you're so ca-nasty." Toni hugs him. "Thanks for coming. We'll have to go out again soon."

Mica groans in exhaustion, heading toward the door, while Bryan waves and sips his beer.

Tito stands, nodding with a flat smile.

We walk down the hall to the front door. I open it, and Peter and Mica walk out the door, down the driveway to the car. I step into the threshold, and behind me I hear, "Hey." Subdued, designed to catch only my attention.

I turn to see Tito silhouetted by the kitchen light, face blue in the moonlight streaming through the window to his left.

We're both quiet. "What?" I ask.

Tito crosses his arms, takes a few steps toward me, until he stands next to the bathroom door. "Peter's charming, but do you really want to be the married teacher he brags about in three years?"

My heart skips. But I remind myself there's nothing to worry about. It's fine. Nothing happened. "Who do you think I am?"

Tito stays quiet. His mouth is tight, and he lifts his chin, sizing me up. "That's a question you'll have to answer for yourself."

"Happy Pride," I say with a mild grimace. As I turn to leave and close the door behind me, I look over my shoulder to see Tito do the same. The bathroom door then slams shut with a heavy thud.