In Their Prime
Ryan Field Press© Original Publication
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Table of Contents
Titles By Ryan Field
When former male stripper
Ethan Holmes gained admission to the Iowa Writers' Workshop, he had
the best of intentions. While he often bragged to people it was one
of the oldest and most celebrated workshops in the country, and he
never failed to mention how difficult it was to get accepted, he
wondered in private how he would suffer through the intense academic
residency requirement without losing his mind.
If it hadn't been for his
best friend, Travis Lane, he wouldn't have finished the first year.
Ethan met Travis Lane the
day he'd started the program. At the time, Ethan hadn't planned ahead
for housing and he'd spent his first night in Iowa in a dumpy hotel
off campus, not far from the bus stop. He was from a small town on
Florida's Gulf Coast and he'd always been able to find affordable
housing as an undergrad student there. No one had mentioned
affordable on-campus housing at the University of Iowa was so scarce
in September. He thought he'd show up the day he arrived, sign a
lease, and everything would fall into place for him the way it
usually did. He'd always been charmed that way, and he knew it.
Evidently, all these other people had planned ahead.
On the first day of class,
the other grad students all looked and sounded so aggressive and
competitive, Ethan wanted to hide behind a door. It didn't take him
long to realize this wasn't small town Florida, where he could get
away with anything by flashing a seductive smile, opening his shirt a
little, and moving his hips just the right way.
When he overheard the
female students discussing feminism and rape culture, he knew casual
flirting with them wouldn't get him anywhere. When he overheard the
male students talking about gender politics in fiction, he groaned
aloud and turned in the other direction.
Then Ethan spotted a young
man in the corner leaning against the wall, glancing down at a thick
book. He seemed to want to remain separate from the others. There was
a green canvas backpack at his feet stuffed with books, and he seemed
oblivious to his surroundings in a forced way no one would have
noticed if they weren't paying attention to him.
While the young man gazed
at the book, his eyes kept darting up at the other students waiting
to go into class, which Ethan found interesting. The guy wasn't even
reading the book; it could have been upside down. He was only
pretending to read the book.
This unusual guy stood
about six feet tall, had a slim, lanky body, and his short, straight
hair reminded Ethan of the wheat fields he'd seen on the bus driving
through Iowa. He wore a crisp white button down shirt, and flat front
khaki slacks that bunched up at the hem around brown oxfords. When
his gaze lifted and he noticed Ethan staring at him, he looked down
at the book so fast Ethan didn't even get a chance to send him a
So Ethan walked over to him
with his hands in his pockets and his head high. He'd worn his
tightest jeans that day, the ones that made his crotch bulge. He
hadn't brought any books or materials to class because he hadn't
unpacked any of his things yet. He leaned back against the wall next
to the nervous young man, and said, "Hey, man. I'm Ethan."
He extended his right hand. "It's nice to meet you."
The young man hesitated for
a moment, and then he shook Ethan's hand. "I'm Travis Lane."
He spoke with a soft, cautious tone, as if he'd lost his voice.
Travis didn't hesitate to
look into Ethan's eyes, which made Ethan feel more at ease. At least
there didn't seem to be anything fundamentally wrong with him. "I
was wondering if you could loan me a notebook and a pen, buddy,"
Ethan said. "I just got here last night and I haven't had time
to unpack my shit yet. You should see the shithole hotel where I'm
staying. I still don't even know where I'm going to live yet."
He laughed and scratched the back of his head. "I guess I should
have thought about that a while ago."
Travis sent him a look. His
head jerked back a little and he asked, "You didn't secure
Ethan shrugged and smiled.
"You know how it is, man. I figured I'd worry about it when I
got here. I'm from a small town in Florida and it's pretty easy to
find digs where I come from."
Travis bent down and pulled
a notebook and a pen from his overflowing backpack. He handed it to
Ethan and said, "I waited a year to get my apartment in Hawkeye
Court. Around here you really have to plan ahead for these things.
Didn't anyone tell you?"
Ethan laughed. "If
they did, I probably didn't pay attention to them. You know how it
"Well, you're going to
have a tough time now," Travis said.
said, taking the notebook and pen. "Thanks for letting me borrow
these, bro. I appreciate it. I probably shouldn't even be here in
this program, but I figured I'd give it a shot since they admitted
"I don't understand,"
Travis said. "I worked hard
to get accepted. I practically killed myself."
"Where are you from?"
Ethan asked. He could see they'd come from two different worlds, but
he wanted to make a point.
Travis said. "I went to Yale and I've been planning to come here
for the past four years. It was my only goal all through undergrad
school. My mom and dad are both attorneys and they wanted me to be a
lawyer but all I ever wanted to do was write. I had to get into this
workshop. Otherwise they would have made me go to law school. I
wouldn't have had a choice." He shrugged and smiled. "And
I'm not mean enough to be an attorney."
Ethan looked at him and
smiled. "I'm from a small town on the Gulf Coast. My mom's a
waitress and my dad's a trucker and neither one of them graduated
from high school. I worked my way through undergrad school as a
stripper in both gay and straight strip clubs all over Florida. And I
still don't know how I got into this workshop. I heard about it one
day last year and I figured I would apply and see what happened. I'm
still shocked they let me in."
"Well, you must be
good," Travis said. "They don't just let anyone into this
"I guess they liked
something I did," Ethan said. He'd always been able to write and
he'd never had to work hard at it.
Although Travis didn't seem
stunned, he did tilt his head sideways and ask, "Do you want to
be a writer?"
Ethan shrugged. "I
want to make a lot of money."
Travis laughed and said,
"Well, you can do that
stripping. You don't need the Iowa Writers' Workshop. If I had your
looks and your body, I might not be here right now myself. I might be
making tons of money stripping."
That was when Ethan knew
they were going to be friends. Though Travis looked like a tight-ass
at a glance, he was far from it. Ethan looked him up and down and
said, "You could strip with that ass. You wouldn't starve to
death. They love it when the smart-looking guys pull down their
pants. And you're cute." He made that bold remark about Travis
being cute to see if he was gay. All of Ethan's instincts told him
Travis was gay, but he wanted to be certain.
Travis didn't seem offended
about the cute remark. His face turned a pale shade of pink and he
said, "Well, thanks for the compliment, I think. But I think I'd
better stick to writing. As it is, I still might starve to death
At least that's what my parents think will happen." Then he
stopped and hesitated for a second. He rubbed his jaw and thought, as
if he was choosing his words with caution. "I'm curious,"
he said. "Are you gay? I am. Just so you know."
Ethan didn't mind the
bluntness of that question at all, and he had come to terms with
being gay when he was in high school. He liked to play games,
especially with someone who asked such a direct question without
knowing anything about him. He shrugged and said, "What if I
said I don't like labels?"
Travis lifted his eyebrows
and said, "Then I would think you are most likely gay and you're
not ready to admit it aloud, or you are still lying to yourself. Your
type is always like that."
"My type?" Ethan
laughed at his innocence.
straight dude who can pass whenever he wants to pass as straight,"
Travis said. "Your type likes to hold out for a while. You play
"Well, you would be
wrong," Ethan said. "As it happens, I'm into dudes and I
have no problem admitting it aloud to anyone. If anything, my problem
is I'm into dudes a little too much. I can't stop thinking about
anything but men." He glanced at a young woman in the hall with
long flat, dark hair parted in the middle and he frowned. She wore a
gray plaid skirt and black ballerina slippers. She didn't have ankles
and her legs reminded Ethan of tree trunks. There were so many flawed
people in the world he found it exasperating sometimes. "From
the way it looks, all I'm going to be doing is thinking
about men, because I haven't seen a single man or woman yet who's
even halfway hot enough to actually hook up with."
Travis blinked. "Well,
Ethan patted him on the
back. "Present company excluded," he said. "I should
have said you're the only
cute guy I've seen since I got off the bus in Iowa."
"You're full of shit,"
Ethan said. "But you are
"What about beauty
from within?" Travis asked. "Doesn't that count for
something? I like to think it does."
"That's what your
type always says," Ethan said.
elitist who cares about issues and all of humanity," Ethan said.
"You're only fooling yourselves, and you're the first ones to
jump into the sack with the first hot piece that comes along."
Before Travis had a chance
to reply, the other students began filing into the classroom and
Ethan turned to join them. Travis followed him, and Ethan and Travis
sat next to each other that first day. After class they went out for
coffee, where Ethan made sure he pulled Travis's chair out on
purpose. Even though they came from completely different worlds, they
balanced each other in a natural way and finding things to talk about
never seemed to be an issue. Ethan couldn't believe his luck once
again, so on the way out of the coffee shop he asked if he could see
where Travis lived and Travis brought him to the small on-campus
apartment he'd rented.
It wasn't much of an
apartment, but the moment he walked inside Ethan knew it was better
than the shabby hotel room where he'd spent the night. There was an
open floor plan that had a living, dining, and kitchen area. In the
back, there was one medium-sized bedroom with a double bed, a closet
large enough for two people, and a basic bathroom with a shower and a
tub. Although nothing was elaborate, and the gray carpets and old
white bathroom tiles had been around since the disco era, Ethan
didn't want to let this opportunity slip away without doing something
So he walked up to Travis
in the living room and stood behind him. Travis had been staring out
a large window that looked out to a parking lot. He grabbed Travis
from behind, put his arms around him, and kissed the back of his
neck. "This place isn't bad," he said. "Would you like
a roommate?" He kissed his neck again and said, "You smell
so good." Then, as an extra bonus, he squeezed Travis's chest
muscles and shoved his crotch into Travis's buttocks. "I'll bet
you're great in the sack. You quiet types are always like that."
While Ethan did this, he
measured each move Travis made. Though Travis didn't lean back and
fall into him like some gay men would have done, he didn't jerk and
pull away either.
For a moment, Travis
remained still, allowing Ethan to grope him and push into him. Then
he laughed and said, "You really need a place to live, don't
Ethan inhaled his scent
again and said, "I don't understand. What's that supposed to
mean?" Each time Travis spoke, Ethan had to analyze what he'd
"If you're willing to
sleep with me,
you must be really desperate."
Of all the things Travis
could have said, that one comment left Ethan breathless. He removed
his arms from Travis's body and he turned him around so he could see
his face. He took both Travis's hands and said, "I really do
need a place, man. I'm not fucking around. And to be perfectly honest
I would probably sleep with a fat old bald guy to get one. But that's
how it is with you, buddy. You're adorable. I'm not scamming you. I
Travis seemed to have
trouble taking compliments about his looks. He had trouble looking
Ethan in the eye now. "You're trouble, and you know it, which
makes you even more dangerous."
Ethan had a feeling Travis
liked trouble and craved danger, which was probably because he'd
never been exposed to either in the past. However, Ethan didn't want
to push his luck and he decided to keep it honest this time. Travis
was too smart to scam, and Ethan needed a place to live. "Look,
man, why don't we try it out and see how it works? I know it's crazy
and we just met. But what could it hurt? I'll pay half the rent, and
we can study together. It's not like I'm offering you a big diamond
ring and asking you to marry me. I just want to share an apartment.
You go your way and I'll go mine, no strings attached."
Travis stepped back. "So
you don't want sex. You just want a roommate."
"Well, I want it all,"
"That's not how life
works," Travis said.
said. "Let's work out an arrangement. We'll talk about it
tonight over dinner. I'll take you out to celebrate our new living
arrangement and we'll get all the details in order. My treat.
Whatever you want, I'm willing to do. I obviously need you more than
you need me. And I actually think we could be good friends if nothing
else works out."
Travis took a deep breath
and exhaled. He stared at Ethan for a moment, and then he walked over
to him and kissed him on the cheek. "You know, I think we could
be good friends, too. And don't underestimate yourself. I'm not
thrilled about being alone here either. I insist if we do this, we
get all the details out in the open so there are no surprises. If
this living arrangement is going to work, the one thing I want from
you is honesty. You can lie, cheat, and scam everyone else, but don't
do that to me."
"I'll do my best,"
Ethan said. The more Travis talked, the more Ethan imagined sleeping
Travis grabbed Ethan's face
with both hands and looked into his eyes. "That's not good
enough. I want total honesty, not the best you can do. I know how
guys like you can be. I dated one all through undergrad school and I
swore I would never do that again. You can screw anyone else over
with your charm, but I want complete honesty with me. In return, I
won't make any other demands on you. You can come and go as you
please, sleep with whomever you want, and do anything you want. But
if we're going to be friends, roommates, and possibly lovers, I want
to know that you're going to be honest with me about everything."
This time Ethan blinked.
He'd never met anyone this straight forward. He usually met guys who
either wanted to trick with him and leave, or guys who wanted to
marry him and claim him as their own. "Let me get this right,"
he said. "You're saying we can be roommates, we can be friends,
and we can even have sex on occasion. At the same time I can see
anyone I want, you can see anyone you want, and all I have to do is
be honest about it?"
"There are still a few
details we need to discuss," Travis said. "That's the gist
of it. And there's only one bed, so we don't have a choice about the
sleeping arrangement. We have to sleep together, unless you want to
sleep on the sofa. I want to focus on school more than anything, and
I'd rather have a good friend at this point in my life. If you're
okay with that, you can move in and share half the rent."
"If that's what you
want, I'm fine with it," Ethan said. "I will be completely
honest with you." He now realized he'd underestimated Travis.
said. "And don't ever forget that I've already heard it all. So
nothing you can do will shock me."
"What if I'm not
honest?" Ethan said. He was only joking around.
"I'll cut your penis
off," Travis said. "Now take me into the bedroom and make
love to me so we can get that out of the way before we go to dinner.
If I play games with you and make you wait for sex you'll only want
to screw me more, and I'm tired of playing games. Once we do it and
you get that out of your system and you think you own me, we can be
friends and we can move forward. I know how guys like you think. It's
all about the ego."
"I like to think of it
as gender politics," Ethan said. He knew nothing about gender
politics, but he remembered the conversation he'd heard in the
hallway that morning. He wanted to sound smart.
"Well, I like to think
of it as survival,"
"What if you're
wrong?" Ethan said. "What if I want to make love to you all
the time? What if I can't stop making love you? What if I'm not the
way you think I am?"
Travis smiled. "I'm
never wrong." Then he pushed Ethan back, turned toward the
bedroom, and said, "You go into the bathroom and get a condom
and some lube out of the medicine cabinet, and I'll go into bedroom
and take off my clothes. As soon as we get this over with, we'll both
be more relaxed. And don't hesitate to get a little rough if you
want. I'll let you know if you've gone too far."
"I see," Ethan
Travis stopped and glanced
at Ethan over his shoulder. "No, you don't see, you big adorable
idiot. You don't have a clue. But you will eventually."
Travis seemed so intent on
shocking him Ethan decided to try to shock him this time. "Okay.
I'll go lube up the big guy right now."
thing," Travis said. "Dirty talk is okay, but nothing
ridiculous. If you think you're going to put your big weeping man
meat into my tight little rosebud this isn't going to work. Keep it
real; keep it honest. And whatever you do never use the term
in my presence unless you're eating fried chicken. I despise bad sex
Ethan's eyebrows went up.
"Just get in there and pull down your pants and leave the rest
to me. In spite of my looks, I'm not a total idiot."
With that remark, Travis
smiled and headed to the bedroom. The next sound that came from him
an hour later could have been described as a gut-wrenching, painful
moan to anyone who didn't know better. Ethan knew that wasn't the
case at all, because he had Travis pinned to the bed face down so
hard he could almost feel his heartbeat.
Even though they'd talked
about their open relationship in detail, and they swore to nothing
more than just being good friends who slept together, Ethan had his
doubts about whether or not Travis was the type of guy who could
handle something so casual and uncommitted. He soon discovered there
were many layers to Travis Lane, and the deeper he went the more he
shook his head in wonder.
That first year in Iowa
they slipped into a comfortable pattern as roommates without even
noticing it. Ethan observed how much Travis liked to keep the
apartment clean and organized all the time and in turn Ethan did his
best to make sure there was plenty for Travis to clean.
Ethan liked things to be
perfect, but didn't like to do the work. He never washed a dish, a
glass, or coffee mug. He wouldn't even put them in the sink after
he'd used them. An hour or so later, the dirty dish he'd left on the
Danish modern coffee table in the living room, or the half-finished
mug of black coffee he'd left on a side table would miraculously
disappear and Travis never complained once. In order to see how far
he could go, Ethan started leaving his dirty clothes, including his
socks and underwear, on the bedroom floor. He even left sweaty jock
straps hanging on doorknobs and stopped flushing the toilet after he
peed. The next morning the dirty clothes would disappear and a day or
two later they would wind up in his closet or dresser smelling fresh
and clean again. And the toilet in their apartment always sparkled.
They both wore almost the
same size and they often shared clothes without even asking each
other beforehand. Travis had a soft pair of faded jeans that made
Ethan feel relaxed, and Ethan had a few tight shirts that Travis said
made him feel sexy and slutty. "I feel like a different person
when I wear your clothes," Travis said.
One morning on their way to
class Travis did something that made Ethan smile for the rest of the
day. They'd just had sex in the shower and they were getting ready
for class. Travis picked up a pair of Ethan's boxer briefs from the
bathroom floor and Ethan said, "I wore that yesterday, dude."
Travis put them on and said, "I know and that's why I want to
wear them today. I like the way you feel and smell." Ethan
grabbed him and kissed him so hard after that remark he almost
chipped a tooth.
For such a conservative,
serious guy on the outside, Travis often left Ethan's jaw dropping.
Travis appeared to be shy and inhibited on the surface, but he could
take anything Ethan had to give him. He was willing to do anything
Ethan suggested in bed, which prompted Ethan to test him on more than
one occasion. The ultimate test happened one night after they'd taken
an important exam. It was a Friday night in the spring of their first
year in Iowa. They'd been living together, sleeping with each other,
and studying together since September, and Ethan thought it was time
to take their unusual relationship one step further. Though he would
never admit it aloud to Travis, he did it mainly to see how Travis
They went to a small bar
off campus and met an undergrad student who was an English major. He
had a slim body, soft pale skin, and the kind of firm round butt that
often made Ethan trip on cracks in sidewalks when he was wearing dark
glasses and walking through campus. Ethan spotted the guy and he
initiated the conversation while Travis sipped his beer. When they
started talking, and the guy found out Ethan and Travis were in the
Writers' Workshop, he told them that was what he wanted to do when he
graduated. He literally gaped at them both as if he were standing
before gods. Although Ethan would never remember this guy's name, he
would never forget the expression of sheer excitement on Travis's
face when he pulled Travis close to him and said, "Let's take
this one home and throw him in the middle tonight."
That night they invited the
guy back to their apartment for another drink, and they all wound up
in bed together just as Ethan had planned. The next morning the guy
went back to his dorm and they never did anything with him again.
After that, they continued to bring other guys back to their bed
whenever the moment allowed, and that was how they wound up meeting
In a bar similar to the one
where they'd met their first trick, a nice-looking guy in a black
sport jacket, a white shirt, and tan slacks walked over to them on a
warm night in June. Travis and Ethan were playing pool at the back of
the bar. It was a Wednesday night and the bar wasn't crowded. Lance
seemed to appear out of nowhere. Ethan spotted him first standing in
a dark corner, holding a martini, watching them play pool. Though
Lance locked eyes with Ethan first, he started speaking to Travis
Travis had just finished a
complicated shot, when Lance walked up to him and said, "Are you
guys from around here?"
Travis said. He never elaborated with strangers. He often had
tendency to think for about ten seconds before he replied to anyone,
as if choosing his words with caution. And he rarely gave out
information unless someone asked him a direct question.
Ethan stepped up and said,
"We're in the Writers' Workshop."
It was evident Lance had
heard about the prestigious Writers' Workshop from the way his head
tilted back and his eyebrows went up. "I've heard how difficult
it is to get into that program. You must be very good."
challenging," Travis said, as he exchanged a quick glance with
Mannington," he said. "I'm an architect in Los Angeles and
I'm here in Iowa for the summer working on a new experimental
sub-division not far from here. We're not even sure it's going to
work. We're doing studies and trying to figure out if there's a
market for this kind of thing. To be honest, I think it's a waste of
time, but I don't get paid to complain."
Travis seemed genuinely
curious now. "I'm Travis and this is Ethan." Ethan had
learned to read Travis's face by then. When something interested him,
his head would tilt back and he would rub his jaw, just as he was
doing now. "What kind of subdivision is this?" Travis
asked. "And why is it a waste of time?"
"Without going into
the boring details, it's a sub-division that's actually a small
community within a small community," Lance said. "It would
have its own private shopping centers, schools, and social functions.
I'm here to see if it's plausible."
"Sounds like utopia,"
Ethan said. He'd never been a huge fan of sub-divisions of any kind.
He hated to feel boxed in, and cute things made him gag.
Lance smiled. "In a
way, it is." Then he put his palm on the small of Travis's back
and said, "I don't want to talk about work now. I'd like to have
a little fun. Until I spotted you guys, I was starting to think I was
the only gay man in town. I'm used to Los Angeles."
Ethan smiled. He couldn't
wait to play games. "How do you know we're gay? We never said we
Lance flung him a stare and
said, "Give me a break, man. All I had to do was watch the
expression on your face when Travis bent over to make his shot."
Travis laughed. "There
are plenty of gay people here in Iowa, but I can understand how you'd
feel that way coming from L.A. I'm from Connecticut, and I used to go
out in New York all the time because I didn't think there were enough
gay people in Connecticut. It's not easy meeting new people."
"I'm from Florida,"
Ethan said. "Sometimes I think I might lose my mind here in
Iowa." This was the truth. If it hadn't been for Travis's
constant encouragement, Ethan would have left Iowa in December. He
not only found the slower-paced lifestyle in Iowa stilted and
lacking, he found the entire academic atmosphere creatively stifling.
He also found the workshop far too pedantic and serious for his
personal tastes. His goal was to write commercial mainstream fiction,
not literary masterpieces where he felt so restricted by rules set by
others. He wanted to make money and entertain millions of people with
his sexy stories, not win awards that were only recognized by the
most elite in the literary world. And he wanted to sleep with as many
men as he could before he died. There were days when Ethan thought if
he had to sit through one more group discussion that focused in
detail on topics like the literary merits of common usage as opposed
to grammatical usage in fiction he would surely lose his mind. On
other days he wanted to stand up and shout, "Just fucking write,
people. Stop making everything so fucking complicated."
Travis didn't seem to
understand Ethan's frustrations. He thrived in this literary
environment where everything was always taken so seriously. He
couldn't wait to analyze, reevaluate, and discuss until there was
nothing left to be said. "It's not that bad," Travis always
Lance started to rub
Travis's back in a friendly, casual way. "Are you guys
Ethan put his arm around
Travis and said, "Very close roommates."
This made Lance smile. "I
see." His hand went down and he patted Travis on the bottom. Men
always seemed to know it was safe to do that with Travis, not with
Ethan. "I wish I had a very close roommate like this."
From what Ethan could tell
at a glance, Lance was about ten years older than they were. He was
tall, with dark hair, and he reminded Ethan of a guy he'd once slept
with in Florida who'd had a spanking fetish. The only big difference
between the two was Ethan could tell Lance wasn't submissive at all.
From the way he was looking at Travis, he was just as aggressive as
Ethan. They'd never taken anyone like Lance back to their apartment.
Up until then, the guys they'd taken home had been submissive and
more like Travis. Ethan was curious to see what would happen, so he
put his hand on Travis's bottom, looked at Lance, and said, "We
could go back to our place and talk more in private if you'd like,
Lance smiled and said, "I'd
like that, if it's okay with Travis."
Travis shrugged. "It's
Ethan didn't own a car, and
Travis had left his car in the parking lot of their apartment
building. They'd walked to the bar, so they climbed into Lance's
black BMW and directed him back to where they lived. Travis sat in
the back seat without even attempting to sit up front, as if he
already knew the dynamics of the situation, and how it would turn out
in the end.
As they pulled onto the
street, Ethan inhaled the rich scent of new black leather and he ran
his fingertips across the shiny wood grain trim. He'd always wanted a
car just like this, and a life that resembled the kind of life he
imagined Lance Mannington was living in Los Angeles. When Lance
turned on the soft stereo, Ethan reached over and grabbed his knee in
a way that made Lance bite his bottom lip and gasp.
"Nice car, dude,"
Ethan said. He slid his hand between Lance's legs and grabbed him.
Lance. "If you need to borrow it any time while I'm here this
summer, let me know."
A few minutes later, on the
way up to the apartment, Lance asked, "How old are you guys?"
"I'm twenty-two, and
Travis is twenty one," Ethan said.
"How old are you?"
Ethan had been dying to
ask, but he'd been cautious about it in case Lance felt uncomfortable
about revealing his age. Ethan had met more than a few gay men who
either refused to talk about age, or lied about their ages.
Lance said. "I hope that's not too old."
At the time, it was ancient
to Ethan, but he smiled and said, "Not at all."
Travis rubbed Lance's
stomach in a seductive way and said, "I think you're a very
Ethan felt a twinge of
jealousy. He knew when Travis was putting on the innocent act to make
men think he was this shy, helpless little bird. He always did that
with men to get attention, even though he would deny it if Ethan
confronted him. Lance seemed to be enjoying it, so he didn't say
anything to Travis until they were in the apartment.
They were sitting in the
living room and Lance had just gone into the bathroom. Ethan turned
to Travis and asked, "Are you sure you want to do this? He's not
like the rest. This one is not submissive. From the way he's looking
at you, he's going to slam you."
Travis shrugged and said,
"He seems like a nice guy. I like him. Besides, it's only going
to happen once. I think we should take off our clothes and let him
find us naked on the couch when he comes out of the bathroom."
bold?" Ethan said. He felt a twinge of jealousy again. He often
had trouble believing this was the same quiet guy he'd met that first
day of class. He looked so studious and academic, but there was a
more dangerous side to him Ethan found both annoying and exciting.
"We always promised
we'd be honest with each other," Travis said. "I want to do
this. And I know you want to do this. So what's the point in
Ethan reached down and
pulled off his shoes and socks. "It's fine with me, dude."
He had a feeling Travis wanted Lance more than he did, even though
Travis would never admit it aloud. "Let's just be honest, really
honest. You want this more than I do."
Travis shrugged. "You're
right. I do want it."
By the time Lance returned
to the living room, Ethan and Travis were naked on the sofa. Ethan
was sitting back with his legs open wide and Travis was stretched out
lengthwise face down. He'd put a throw pillow beneath his stomach to
elevate his bottom. Lance took one look at them and started removing
They all wound up sleeping
together that night, and had sex again the next morning. Before Lance
left the apartment, he asked if he could stop by again at night.
Travis and Ethan exchanged
a glance and Travis said, "I'm not sure. We have this rule. We
never do three-ways with the same guy more than once."
"I really like you
guys," Lance said. "And I had a good time last night. I
don't know anyone else in town."
Ethan and Travis exchanged
another glance and Ethan said, "It was intense." He had to
admit Lance was the best third they'd ever had. All the others had
been hesitant, or too needy. Lance moved with instinct, and he didn't
need to be told what to do. He didn't require any thought whatsoever.
Travis shrugged and he
looked Ethan in the eye. "If you're cool with it, I am, too."
Ethan shrugged. "It's
fine with me, man."
So Lance kissed them both
goodbye and said he'd be back later that night.
* * * *
On the way to class that
morning, Travis seemed quieter than usual. "What's wrong?"
"I'm just not sure
about Lance coming back," he said.
"Why? It was your idea
to encourage him. You even admitted you wanted it more than I did."
"I know that, but it
could change things," Travis said. "I'm being honest. I
think it's important to state that openly right now."
Ethan said. "He's a great guy and it's all harmless. Besides,
he's going back to Los Angeles in August anyway. So it's not like
he'll be here forever. Think about how nice it will be to have a guy
like Lance drive us around in his BMW all summer. I'm so tired of
"I don't care about
his BMW," Travis said.
Ethan did care, but he
didn't want to admit that aloud. He cared about money, and he worried
he'd never have any of his own. "Look, let's just see where it
goes. You know I love you. We're best friends for life, and nothing
can ever change that."
Travis hesitated for a
moment, and then said, "I guess it can't hurt. I just have this
feeling something's already changed and we don't even know it."
"You worry too much,"
"You don't worry
enough," Travis said.
Ethan said. He put his arm around him, without caring what passersby
thought. He knew Travis would like that. Unlike most gay men on
campus at that time, Travis seemed to like it when other people knew
he had a man's attention. Everyone on campus already knew they were
roommates anyway, and most people suspected they were lovers.
As if Travis had been
prescient, things did change that summer thanks to Lance Mannington.
Lance didn't actually move in with Ethan and Travis, but he spent so
much time in their apartment he probably should have. Ethan had
suggested he move in with them, so they could all share the same bed,
but both Travis and Lance seemed apprehensive about taking that next
step. Lance thought it would be too crowded with them all using one
bathroom and one closet and he made other trumped up excuses that
didn't make sense to Ethan. Travis said he didn't want to infringe on
Lance's privacy, which also made no sense to Ethan. This sounded
especially ridiculous coming from Travis because he seemed to be
getting the most attention in this three-way relationship.
In spite of the fact that
Travis and Lance were so compatible in bed–or perhaps because of
this–they seemed cautious with each other when they weren't having
sex. Travis would stand back and keep his thoughts inside instead of
talking as openly as he did when Lance wasn't around. He would watch
Lance's moves and gestures as if he were studying him for a school
project on gay men from Los Angeles. Lance always seemed to choose
his words with care whenever Travis was in the room. He never joked
around with him the way Ethan did, and when he did speak to him it
seemed forced and unnatural.
Ethan found himself in the
middle of whatever unspoken issues were going on between Travis and
Lance, and he handled it the way he always handled difficult, awkward
situations: he pretended everything was fine on the outside, and on
the inside, waited for something to happen. He knew the one thing
none of them could complain about was the sex. After that first time
Travis and Ethan took Lance into their bed, Lance grew less inhibited
and he introduced both Ethan and Travis to a few interesting things
they'd never tried alone, or with the young guys they hooked up with
on campus. He taught them more about gay culture, like how to use
poppers and sex toys, and he explained a few of the lighter details
of the BDSM lifestyle. Though Lance wasn't into BDSM, he told them
he'd once had a lover who was and he'd learned a great deal about the
lifestyle and he often compared it to an art form.
As a result, there were
nights when Lance and Ethan did things to Travis that made Ethan's
eyes bulge in shock. Whenever the sex was finished, Travis and Lance
went right back to being uncomfortable with each other.
The exact opposite happened
with Ethan and Lance, and they didn't even share the same sexual
connection Travis and Lance shared. Sex between Ethan and Lance had a
tendency to be as awkward as conversation between Travis and Lance.
Both Lance and Ethan were tops and they tended to be dominant, and
nothing would ever change that. One night Ethan asked if he could top
Lance, and Lance flatly refused. He smiled about it, and made a joke.
Ethan understood and he never asked him that question again. However,
on the night Lance asked Ethan if he could top him, Ethan hesitated
for a moment and then he agreed to do it.
Ethan had his reasons for
agreeing. Ethan had learned in his short lifetime there were no rules
when it came to what people preferred in bed. Before Lance, he'd
tried being a bottom a few times and he'd screamed out in pain. One
of the reasons he found Travis so fascinating had a lot to do with
the way Travis seemed to crave being a bottom. Travis genuinely
and he never seemed to experience a hint of pain or discomfort.
Ethan marveled at the way
Travis treated his anus, almost as if it were a vagina. Travis
watched what he ate if he knew he was having sex, he made sure he was
clean at all times, he used a depilatory cream to make sure it was
always smooth, and he even douched before and after sex. The first
time Ethan noticed this, he joked around about it. But Travis sent
him a serious glance and said, "I'm not
a sloppy gay bottom, Ethan. I take care of things like that because
it's a cool thing to do."
After Lance topped Ethan
that first time, the dynamics in their three-way relationship began
to change. Lance started to take more control, and he became the only
dominant top in bed. He clearly preferred this role, and Ethan didn't
want to let him down. He'd grown very fond of Lance that summer, and
he found he could tolerate being a bottom if he concentrated hard
enough in the beginning. He didn't actually enjoy it, but he decided
to take it because he didn't want to disappoint Lance.
If Travis noticed the
change in their relationship, he didn't speak about it much. Ethan
did not pursue it with him because he didn't want to hurt him. One
night in mid-August they went out to the same bar where they'd met
Lance and they played a few games of pool. While they were playing,
Lance talked about the future in an off-handed way.
"I'll be leaving Iowa
after Labor Day," he said. "I wish I could talk you guys
into coming back to L.A. with me for good. You'd like it out there.
There are some great schools. It wouldn't be difficult to transfer."
Travis didn't hesitate to
speak up. "That would be nice, Lance. And I hope we get together
again soon. I would love to visit L.A. But there's nothing in the
world that would take me away from the Writers' Workshop. It's my
Lance took his shot and
smiled. "I figured that, but I wanted to ask anyway."
Ethan didn't say anything
that night. He grabbed a pool cue and took his shot. While he leaned
over to focus on the pool table, he couldn't help thinking about how
nice it would be to get out of Iowa and all those dark, depressing
people in the Writers' Workshop. The only friend he'd made there in
almost one year was Travis. He couldn't relate to the others, and
he'd stopped trying after the first three months.
Whenever Ethan did take the
time to sit down and write something, he tended to be the prolific
type. He wrote fast and let the words take him on a journey instead
of pushing to find the words to create the journey. The rest of the
literary types he'd met at the workshop, including Travis, sneered at
prolific commercial authors who could "churn out books like
cupcakes." The literary types seemed to believe that if it
wasn't absolute pure torture to write, writing didn't have any
meaning or basis. All Ethan wanted to do was sit at a typewriter and
tell stories people would enjoy reading, sexy stories that took them
to exotic places. He didn't want to get into all that literary
nonsense they focused on in the workshop. In some ways, it was
killing him as a writer.
A week later, while Travis
was in the shower and Ethan and Lance were in bed waiting for him to
return, Ethan threw his leg over Lance's body and put his arms around
him. "Were you serious about taking us back with you to L.A.?"
Lance pulled him closer and
said, "Of course I was. I would love you guys to move back, and
into my home. But you heard what Travis said. In a way, I admire his
"I know how Travis
feels," Ethan said. "I'm talking about me now. I hate it
here. I hate everything about the workshop and I would do anything to
get out of here. The problem is I'm up to my neck in debt with
student loans from undergrad school, and now this grad program. It's
Lance kissed the top of his
head. "I love you both," he said. "You know I'd help
you out with your loans if you came back to L.A. with me. But Travis
would never go for it."
"I want to go back
with you," Ethan said. He'd thought about this for a long time.
He knew he might never meet a man like Lance again, or get this kind
of an opportunity again.
Lance laughed. "I
don't think Travis would be too thrilled about that. He's not going
to let go of you that easily."