Javier’s Song for Brooklyn

Javier had been looking for a job for eight months, searching all over the city. No one hired him even for the most menial positions. On interviews, the right answers eluded him, like when asked why he didn’t finish earning his bachelor’s degree at Florida State University. At first, he would shrug, prompting suspicious looks and hastily jotted down notes. Eventually, he thought to say, “I needed a break.” Unfortunately, he then screwed up the question of what he wanted to do with his life. Apparently, normal people didn’t dream of being famous musicians.

He was living in Jackson Heights with his grandmother, Celia. She accused him of sabotaging job opportunities on purpose. She warned him he would follow in the path of his wayward mother, Ana, who currently resided in a Tampa, Florida halfway house. Celia rifled through his drawers weekly for drugs, though he had never even tried pot. Each time she found nothing, she made the sign of the cross in gratitude. She was convinced his drug of choice was crystal meth, or “la droga maricón” as she called it. Dr. Reed, Tallahassee Medical Center’s attending psychiatrist, had alerted her to his sexuality, confidentiality laws be damned.

Celia blamed drugs for what happened at Florida State, no matter what the blood tests administered at the hospital indicated. Javier blamed the assorted abuses he had suffered as a child at the hands of Ana’s lowlife boyfriends. Dr. Reed’s professional opinion was that Javier had to take responsibility for his own behavior. It seemed to Javier like the worse one’s past was, the more one was expected to just get over it.

Aside from bungling interviews, he had spent the last eight months listening to, writing and playing music in his room. His complexion was sallow from lack of sun. Music made his days bearable, but he knew he needed a job. He was desperate to finally start his life.

One afternoon, he took the “G” train to Williamsburg to buy a new guitar. He had left his Fender in his college dorm room. It had probably been thrown out, along with all his other belongings. Tired of making do with a cheap, twangy knockoff, he Googled “used instruments” and found a store on Bedford Avenue. However, it turned out to be a “vintage instruments” store, meaning even the guitar picks were out of his price range.

As he walked back to the subway, he spotted a help wanted sign in the window of Revolution Records. He peered inside. Records, in bins, on shelves and on racks, filled the store. Posters of rock stars covered every inch of wall space. A man stood at the register. He wore a wool hat and striped shirt. He was tall and slim. He had full lips, high cheekbones and striking green eyes. His nametag read “Miles.”

“I’d like to apply for the job,” Javier said, averting his eyes down. He was here for the job, not the handsome clerk. Miles did seem effete, in a grungy, Michael Stipe kind of way. Regardless, Javier didn’t want a lover. He had barely survived the last one.

“Cool,” Miles said. He grabbed a clipboard and handed it to Javier. An application was attached. “If Bob’s free, you can do the interview now. Just fill this out and hang around.”

“Thanks,” Javier said. He sat on a stool close to the register. It wasn’t a typical application. There was nowhere to list his prior job experience or degrees. Rather, there was a series of questions. What was his favorite album and why? Which musician did he consider overrated? Who had the best voice in rock?

He completed it within five minutes. These were the kinds of questions he asked himself for fun. Of course, the answers varied from hour to hour. Now, perhaps because he was feeling optimistic, Prince’s peppy 1999 was his favorite album. The White Stripes were overrated; their nihilism rang false. Tina Turner’s voice won out. Its weathered strength gave him faith in man’s ability to triumph over adversity. He handed it back to Miles.

“I picked Prince too, Purple Rain. Less original, I know,” Miles said.

“It is more consistent,” Javier mumbled. Miles smiled. Suddenly, Javier recalled what happened at Florida State. It had started with a few exchanged words too; it ended with Javier in a mental ward.

With the application in hand, Miles walked into a room in the back. Javier glimpsed the man who must have been Bob. Portly and bald, he wore an AC/DC t-shirt. A gray beard stretched down to his stomach. Miles returned.

“He’ll come get you,” Miles said. A slender blonde in a sundress and army boots approached the register. Miles rung her up. Once she left, he turned to Javier.

“He’ll ask you to name some tracks, quiz you on a few lyrics. He just wants to make sure your answers aren’t bullshit,” Miles whispered.

“Uh, thanks,” Javier said, thrown off guard by Miles’ kindness.

“Don’t dump on The White Stripes too much. He’s like a super fan,” Miles smirked.

“Oops,” Javier said. Miles chuckled. An instant later, Bob emerged from his office. Javier stood.

“Bob, nice to meet you.” Bob extended his hand. Javier shook it.

“Javier, nice to meet you.”

“Interesting choices,” Bob remarked. Javier smiled. He liked it here. The staff and customers at Revolution Records were proudly abnormal. He thought he might actually fit in.

***

Javier was twenty-one, Miles read on his job application. He still looked like a teenager. He was boyishly handsome, with large eyes and dimples. He was very thin. His wrists were so slender, they seemed unreal, as if they were photoshopped. Miles occasionally found himself transfixed by those wrists, and his long, elegant fingers. He guessed immediately that Javier was a musician.

Of course, Bob hired him. Everyone else who applied looked stoned, homeless, or both. Revolution Records had five clerks in total. Miles had off Friday and Saturday. Javier had off Sunday and Tuesday. As the assistant manager, Miles trained Javier when their schedules overlapped, showing him how to work the register, unload the merchandise, restock and clean up. When it wasn’t busy, he tried to make conversation with him. Javier never responded with more than a few words.

“Where are you from?”

“Tampa.”

“You going back to school?”

“Doubt it.”

“Got plans for your day off?”

“Buying a Fender.”

Javier finally opened up to him when he asked him about his music. It was a slow weekday afternoon, a month after Javier started.

“So, what kind of music do you play?” Miles asked. Miles was pricing the new arrivals. Javier was covering the register.

“Different stuff,” Javier said.

“Rock? Jazz? Samba? Polka?” Miles laughed, half-amused, half-exasperated by Javier’s reticence.

“I can’t really label it,” Javier said. Setting down the price gun, Miles approached the register. He rested his elbows on the desk, intrigued. Javier flinched back. Miles had never seen anyone so skittish.

“Try anyway,” Miles smiled.

“It’s kind of folky, but with a hard edge, Santana meets Suzanne Vega. At least, that’s where I am now,” Javier explained. He finally seemed at ease. Miles guessed that music had a calming effect on him, even just talking about it.

“Who’s Suzanne Vega?” Miles asked. Javier gasped, as if personally offended.

“Only one of the most brilliant singer-songwriters of all time. Haven’t you heard of ‘Luka?’” Javier huffed.

“That wasn’t Gloria Estefan?” Miles said. Javier’s eyes blinked in disbelief.

“Sorry, I don’t listen to a lot of female artists. I can’t relate to them, except for Björk. She’s fucking awesome. She can sing a science lesson and somehow make it riveting,” Miles said. Javier reminded him of Björk. It was why he thought of her. They were similarly strange and childlike.

“Björk is a goddess,” Javier declared. He gazed at Miles adoringly, as if Miles had said the most perfect thing in the world. Miles laughed, thinking that Javier was genuinely weird; so many people around here only pretended to be.

“I want to hear your stuff. I’m curious. We should hang out sometime after work,” Miles suggested. Javier seemed fascinating; he wanted to get to know him better.

“Sure,” Javier said. He looked down bashfully.

“You should meet my girlfriend. She’s the one who introduced me to Björk,” Miles added. Javier glanced up. His eyes flashed with a fury that made Miles step back. He resumed pricing. When he ran out of records, he tagged them a second time, just to avoid Javier’s glare.

Miles realized that his invitation had been misinterpreted. He wasn’t gay. He’d been with his girlfriend, Kiara, for ten years. They had met as freshmen at Syracuse University. Both had grown up near there. After graduation, they drove down to the city, with no job or apartment lined up. While most of their friends had applied to grad schools, all they could think about was finally escaping the tedium of upstate New York. They settled in Bushwick.

There was once a time when Miles did question his sexuality. He was bullied as a child; he was bad at sports and cried easily. Being regularly called “fag” by his peers made him worry that they were right. He was occasionally attracted to men, mostly actors, like Michael Pitt as a Kurt Cobain clone in Last Days. He was also attracted to women, like Natalie Portman as Padmé, and Kiara.

He and Kiara met at a frat party. She was sloshed. She said she loved his auburn hair. Hers was green at the time, and he made a bad, Christmas-related joke. As soon as they became serious, he confessed that he wasn’t sure if he was straight. It was while they were alone in his dorm room watching Donnie Darko for the third time. They were both obsessed with it.

“You mean you have the hots for Jake Gyllenhaal?” she snickered. He wondered if she knew he wasn’t kidding.

“Kind of,” he said, sheepishly. He thought Frank was cute too, once he took off the bunny head.

“Who doesn’t? Look at those eyes,” she said, dreamily.

“Doesn’t that scare you?” he asked. It scared him. There was nothing wrong with being gay, but that lifestyle didn’t appeal to him. He wasn’t the type to sleep around. He thought Broadway shows were insipid. He despised Lady Gaga.

“Not at all. Despite what society tries to make us believe, no one’s one thing or the other. Sexuality is fluid. I’ve kissed a girl. I’ve liked it,” she revealed.

“Ugh, Katy Perri,” he groaned. They laughed. She placed her hand on his thigh, giving him a gentle squeeze.

“But seriously, don’t be ashamed of anything you feel. Just be honest with me. We’ll figure it out together,” she asserted. He had never imagined she would be this accepting. He felt so grateful that he lifted her hand and kissed her fingers. After the movie, they had sex for the first time, and he liked it. He stopped worrying if he was gay or straight. It didn’t matter; he was with Kiara. Just the same, he avoided Donnie Darko from then on, or anything starring Michael Pitt.

After Miles mentioned his girlfriend, Javier retreated back into his shell. Miles gave up trying to be friends with him. For several days, they successfully kept their interaction to a minimum.

One Thursday, when Miles emerged from the stockroom with copies of the new The Weeknd LP, Kiara stood by the entrance. Javier was at the register. Startled, Miles dropped the records. After patting them to make sure none were broken, he brought them to the new releases rack.

“Ready?” Kiara asked.

Miles suddenly recalled Kiara saying that the dentist’s office where she worked was closing early. Dr. Feldman had a funeral to attend. She had mentioned meeting him in Williamsburg. Miles’ shift ended at five o’clock. Javier had the late shift. Realizing who she was, Javier’s face turned red.

“You’re early,” Miles said. Kiara pulled her phone out from her purse to check the time. She had painted her nails hot pink today, matching her jacket and the streaks in her hair. Recently, she had adopted the candy-colored, little-girl look that was in style. He found it slightly ridiculous.

“Hmmm.” She twisted her mouth to the side. “I’ll just fart around for fifteen minutes. Should I pretend to be a customer?” She casually picked up a record from the discount bin. She sauntered over to the register, as if to pay. She glanced down at it.

“Oh my God: Back to Black. I was so obsessed with this. I even tried a beehive, remember? I just looked like one of the Supremes,” she sighed. “Poor Amy,” she sniffed.

“Amy Winehouse was a junkie,” Miles scoffed. Kiara’s histrionics were sometimes amusing, but now he found them annoying. He wished she hadn’t come. Having both her and Javier here made him anxious.

“She was also a genius, dickwad,” she retorted. She smiled to let him know she was just being playful.

“Yup, definitely,” Javier said. Miles did a double take, stunned to hear Javier actively participating in a conversation. It would have heartened him before, not now.

“You see?” Kiara turned to Miles.

Miles shrugged, hoping she would drop it. He wanted her to walk out the door and come back in fifteen minutes, or not at all. He knew she would drag him to the Williamsburg thrift stores. Shopping bored him to tears.

“Miles doesn’t like girls,” Kiara explained. Miles winced. Javier’s eyes widened in shock.

“Singers,” Miles clarified.

“He told me,” Javier smirked, seemingly amused by Miles’ discomfort.

“Funny, right? I mean, he pretends to be so enlightened.” Kiara shook her head. “Gender’s a social construct anyway,” she pronounced. Javier nodded, interestedly. Miles nodded too, despite not really knowing what that meant.

“Like sexuality,” Javier added, turning to Miles. He obviously delighted in watching Miles squirm.

“I agree. Labels are ridiculous,” Kiara said. “I’m Kiara, by the way, Miles’ girlfriend.”

“‘Girlfriend’ is a label,” Miles grumbled. Both Kiara and Javier ignored him.

“Javier,” Javier said.

“Customer,” Miles said. A teenage boy stood next to them holding an Imagine Dragons album. Miles was grateful for the interruption. He and Kiara stepped aside.

“Bob will get on my case if he sees you,” Miles said. Bob wouldn’t care. He spent half of his time shooting the breeze with old friends who wandered in.

“Oh,” Kiara frowned.

“Why don’t I meet you at Kent Avenue Vintage? Then we’ll walk over to Urban Treasures,” he suggested. He knew that would make her happy. She smiled and nodded. He kissed her.

“See you in twenty minutes,” he said. He turned back to the new releases rack. He flipped

through the records to make sure none were out of place. He furrowed his brow, as if the task required his full concentration.

She walked away. He glanced over to make sure she was gone. She stood at the door. She faced Javier, who had finished with the customer.

“You should come to our place Saturday night. We’re going to smoke up and watch horror movies with friends,” she said.

“Shit,” Miles muttered. “Who put Kanye with Cardi?” he added, catching himself.

“Sorry, I…” Javier started to say.

“Pssh, you’re coming. That’s that,” she declared. She made him give her his phone number and she texted him the address. Once she left, Javier turned to him, befuddled.

“It’s up to you,” Miles said. He instantly regretted not discouraging Javier. But some part of him was angry at Kiara. It was as if she was intentionally pushing him and Javier together. He thought, “fine, let her see what happens.”

***

When Miles said, “It’s up to you,” Javier saw desperation in his eyes. As Miles left to meet Kiara, he had the stooped, defeated posture of a prisoner being led back to his cell. He didn’t doubt that Miles was gay. Miles had been ogling him ever since he was hired.

Soon afterwards, “Heroes” played on Spotify. Javier imagined himself and Miles as the protagonists of that song, two defiant lovers, surmounting the obstacles between them to share a glorious kiss. He repeated it on a loop, until Kevin came out from the back, grunted, “What the fuck?” and put on Drake.

Miles was off the next two days. During that time, Javier convinced himself that he would rescue Miles from his hopeless situation. Javier could be his “hero.” Saturday night, his shift ended at nine o’clock. He caught the “J” train and took it into Bushwick.

On the walk from the subway station, he passed vibrant murals, abandoned factories turned into vast clubs, men in high heels and purple-haired women holding hands. The young far outnumbered the old. The air seemed filled with joy and freedom, more like a playground than a neighborhood.

He arrived at the address, an old apartment building, its bricks dull and tagged with graffiti. “Resist” was stamped in red ink beside the intercom panel. He was buzzed in immediately. In the lobby, flyers taped to walls advertised poetry slams and art exhibits. A creaky elevator brought him up.

Taking a deep breath, he rang the doorbell. His stomach was in knots. His palms were sweaty. He had only been to a handful of parties in his life.

He had no friends growing up. He usually kept to himself. He hated speaking. He thought he sounded stupid. He avoided meeting anyone’s gaze. He thought he was ugly, and didn’t like being looked at. In college, his insecurities faded. It was as if a spell was lifted the moment he moved away from home.

By his sophomore year, he had joined a clique of introverted nerds. They only ever ventured out to parties if they were cosplay or gamer-themed. He ended up discarding them at the start of his junior year, rather than face coming out to them. Looking back, he wished he had given them the chance to accept him. Having friends around could have averted catastrophe.

A chubby, goateed Latino opened the door. Javier coughed, overwhelmed by the smell of marijuana.

“I’m Gabe.” He extended his hand. Javier shook it.

“Javier,” he wheezed.

He followed Gabe down the hall to the living room. On the TV, a decomposing CGI priest chased a panting blonde through a cemetery. No one seemed to be paying attention. A white couple, both in plaid, were making out on the couch. An Asian man with quarter-sized plugs in his earlobes sat on the floor, watching a video on his phone. Kiara sat behind him, massaging his neck.

“You came!” Kiara jumped up. After swaying unsteadily for a moment, she walked over and hugged him. His body turned rigid. Being touched always made him uneasy.

“Relax! There’s Grey Goose in the kitchen,” she said. She stumbled back to her spot. Once she sat, however, she tipped over, crashing to the floor. She stayed on her back, staring up at the ceiling. She giggled.

“Kiara started early,” the earlobes man explained.

“What else is new?” Gabe smirked. Javier went into the kitchen. Miles was there, alone. His hand was stuffed into a bag of pretzels.

“Hi,” Javier said. Miles glanced up. His eyes were red. His eyelids were puffy.

“Hi.” Miles gave a wide, unrestrained grin. He looked up and down Javier’s body. Clearly, his inhibitions were lowered. He leaned his head back and dropped the pretzels into his mouth. He offered the bag to Javier, but Javier waved them away. Javier mixed vodka with Coke in a plastic cup, ignoring Miles and his leer.

It had been almost a year since Javier slept with a man. He was a junior at Florida State. He longed for love. He wanted to be held and kissed. Yet, he knew no other gay students on campus, and he was too timid to approach those he had seen around. One night, he downloaded Grindr on his phone. He uploaded a demure, albeit shirtless profile picture. His phone dinged within minutes.

OtterDaddy77, a handsome older man, caught his attention. His replies were friendly, not crude. He lived off campus, but close enough for Javier to walk. Javier agreed to meet him at his home. Outside his door, his heart pounded with excitement and terror.

Once inside the huge, pristine house, Javier felt nauseous. His teeth chattered from fear. OtterDaddy77 asked if he was okay. Javier nodded, pushing away putrid childhood memories. The sex hurt. He much preferred the cuddling afterwards. OtterDaddy77 let him stay the night. In the morning, he called an Uber for Javier. No phone numbers were exchanged, or even real names.

It was empty and meaningless, almost anticlimactic. And yet, it led him to disaster. Since then, he had learned to ignore his sexual needs.

“I’m glad you came,” Miles said. Disarmed, Javier turned to him. They shared a smile.

“Thanks,” Javier said. He was still blushing as he returned to the living room. Hoping to be left alone, he sat on the floor beside the couch. He assumed the plaid lovebirds would ignore him, but their make out session ended when the plaid woman pulled away to answer a text.

“I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Chris,” the plaid man said. He had a deep voice and muscular build. If not for the hipster fashion sense, he could have passed for a Florida State frat boy.

“Javier,” Javier said.

“You know Kiara and Miles?” Chris asked.

“He works with Miles at the record store. He loves Amy Winehouse,” Kiara chimed in from across the room.

“Kiara is Amy Winehouse,” the plaid woman noted wryly while texting.

“So, you’re into that pop shit, like Ariana Grande?” Chris said, with a look of distaste.

“No, I mean, I like Ariana Grande. It’s not what I’m ‘into,’” Javier sputtered.

“Then who? Adele? Taylor Swift?” Chris sneered. Gabe and the earlobes man chuckled. It brought Javier back to his childhood, when he was an object of constant ridicule. He wanted to show them he wasn’t pitiful. Suddenly, he noticed a guitar beside a backpack a few feet from the couch.

“I can play you one of my songs, if you want to know what I’m ‘into.’ May I?” He grabbed the guitar and lay it across his lap.

“Go ahead,” Gabe said. It must have belonged to him.

Javier took a swig of his drink. He decided to play his most recent song. He began writing it soon after he was hired at Revolution Records. He focused his eyes on his fingers. His frenetic strumming brought urgency to his softly sung words:

It must be here, where my story begins.

If it rains, I’ll hide under the bridge.

Skyscraper lights stave off the night,

Gleam in the water until morning.

In the sun’s sheen, he’ll rise for me.

My eyes become bleary at the sight of the sun,

I forget where I am, or who I was.

Waves radiate through my soul,

Disintegrate the life I’ve known.

Only today exists, no past miseries,

As his golden rays encompass me.

My eyes become bleary at the sight of the sun,

I forget where I am, or who I was.

The sun sings to me:

‘I illuminate dreams.

I incinerate everything you’ve believed.

My touch sets ablaze.

My blaze consumes.

I’ll lay you to waste.

I’ll create you anew.

How I sobbed, as I hid in my room.

Now, I throb in the heat we exude.

He grins at me warmly,

Beams his light through me.

It’s here where my story begins,

When the day breaks and the night ends,

For he brightens my gloomy spirit.

My eyes become bleary at the sight of the sun,

I forget where I am, or who I was.”

After a moment of silence, Javier heard applause. He glanced up. Miles had joined the audience. He stood in the hallway. He stopped clapping when their eyes met. He grinned coyly. The song was about him, though Javier hadn’t realized it until now. His lyrics conveyed his longing, even when he was in denial about it.

“That was amazing!” Kiara exclaimed.

“Do you have a contract?” Chris asked. Javier shook his head, no.

“You should play in a park, or something, until you’re discovered,” the plaid woman gushed.

“You should write for my band. Nah, never mind. We’d fuck it up. We kind of suck,” Gabe said.

“I can vouch for that,” the earlobes man said.

“Steve’s just mad ‘cause we kicked out his boyfriend,” Gabe snarled.

“Puh-lease, I kicked Doug out too. Asshole stole my weed all the time,” Steve, the earlobes man, huffed. That he was gay didn’t surprise Javier, but that no one seemed to care did. It was reassuring. He didn’t have to hide who he was here, nor did Miles.

“Speaking of weed, isn’t it time to load up the bong again?” Kiara said. There were grunts of assent. Chris grabbed what looked like an Erlenmeyer flask from the floor. Javier remembered seeing similar contraptions in the windows of several bodega-like stores along Roosevelt Avenue. Chris removed a Ziploc bag of marijuana from his pocket. He packed it into a compartment in a side tube. Gabe tossed him a lighter. Putting his mouth over the flask’s opening, Chris lit up the marijuana and inhaled. He leaned back. Smoke streamed from his nostrils. He passed the bong and lighter to Javier.

Javier took it. Mimicking Chris, he put his lips on the flask, flicked the lighter and brought the flame to the dried leaves.

“He’s going to light the whole thing!” Steve yelped. Startled, Javier set the bong down.

“You’ve never smoked up, have you?” Miles smirked. Javier shook his head, no. The others found this hilarious, erupting into laughter.

“Start with a toke. You don’t want to flip out. Come on, I have rolling paper in my room,” Miles said. Javier stood up. He followed Miles down the hall. Miles led him to a bedroom. Miles closed the door behind them.

It was small and untidy, with clothes strewn everywhere. Javier gazed at the unmade bed. He shuddered, thinking that this was where Miles and Kiara had sex. It made him uncomfortable and anxious to leave.

Javier spotted a packet on the dresser filled with wax paper. He assumed it was what Miles was looking for.

“Is this it?” He snatched it. Miles turned to him. He didn’t answer. He suddenly felt Miles’ hand on his crotch.

Javier’s mind went back to the morning after his Grindr-arranged hookup. Once he was in his dorm, it struck him that the man hadn’t worn a condom. Frantic, he read online that it would be one month after the exposure before an HIV test could ascertain his status. Waiting that long would be torture.

He skipped his classes. He couldn’t concentrate enough to study. Sequestered in his dorm room, he played song after song on his iPhone. He didn’t go outside for days, until he was forced to buy groceries. He stocked up on canned goods, as if preparing for a nuclear disaster.

Soon, he developed a cough. His whole body felt weak. He had “malaise,” which was a telltale sign of early HIV infection. He was sure he had a fever, though he didn’t venture out to buy a thermometer. He couldn’t bear to see other people talking to each other, laughing and showing affection. They got to live, and he wouldn’t. They experienced joy. His whole life, he had only ever known suffering.

He had considered suicide before. He had always imagined leaping from a building. As he plummeted, adrenaline would fill his veins, and he would at last feel alive. Unfortunately, his room was only one flight up. He went for the ibuprofen bottle because it was there. Slicing his wrists open would be hazardous to whoever had to clean up his blood.

His RA used his master key to open the door, having been alerted by a neighbor to the sounds and smells of Javier’s continuous vomiting. An ambulance arrived. His stomach was pumped. Once his condition stabilized, he was moved to the psych unit. His financial aid was rescinded, based on a stipulation allowing him only one incomplete per semester.

When an HIV test administered at the hospital came out negative, he felt a rush of relief. Yet, it also pained him to realize that the only sickness was in his mind. Once he was released, he deleted his Grindr app, resigned himself to being alone. Sex had cost him too much already.

Javier grabbed Miles’ hand and shoved it away. Miles stepped back, stunned. His expression crumbled.

“Shit, I’m sorry. I thought, I mean. Fuck.” He sat on the bed. He put his head in his hands. “It’s the weed,” he mumbled.

Javier hadn’t meant to react that way. It was instinctive. He reminded himself, he had wanted this. But the reality felt sordid, not stirring like a David Bowie song.

“It’s okay,” Javier said. Miles looked up. His eyes gleamed with tears.

“I’m not gay. I’m with Kiara,” Miles sniffed. Javier sat down beside him. He wanted Miles to know that he didn’t judge him.

“I’m gay,” Javier said. Miles glanced down thoughtfully. An instant later, he leapt onto Javier. His lips were on Javier’s. His tongue worked its way into his mouth. He pushed Javier down onto the bed.

Giving in to desire, Javier kissed Miles’ mouth and neck. Miles slid his hands under Javier’s shirt. His thumbs stroked Javier’s nipples. Javier squeezed Miles’ backside. Miles bumped his groin against Javier’s. They rolled each other around. Whenever one groaned with pleasure, the other kissed him to quiet him. It was fun, like a game. It was sweet and tender. It felt incredible.

“You’re beautiful,” Miles said, pinning Javier down. Javier cringed. Miles had forgotten to whisper.

As if suddenly remembering himself, Miles pulled himself off Javier. He stood up. Dazedly, Javier sat up. Miles bent down. Clasping the back of Javier’s neck, he gave him a kiss, then a second, then a third. The last was especially long and aching.

“What will we do?” Javier asked. When he had fantasized about freeing Miles from his closet, he hadn’t considered how messy it would be.

“I don’t know,” Miles frowned.

“It’ll be okay,” Javier assured him, and himself. He told himself, everything would work out. After Miles left Kiara, perhaps he could move in. Otherwise, he and Miles would find another apartment together. He hoped it would be somewhere in Brooklyn.

“Can you leave?” Miles asked. Javier stood up, confused.

“I can’t look at you with Kiara here,” Miles explained.

“Okay,” Javier said. He wasn’t offended. He took it as a compliment: Miles’ yearning for him was too strong to conceal. Javier straightened his shirt. He fixed his tussled hair in the mirror. Miles headed back to the living room. Javier followed him.

“Javier has to go,” Miles announced as he entered the living room.

“What?” Kiara snapped. She staggered to her feet. “You just got here. Stay, crash on the couch.”

Javier was silent a moment, as if thinking it over. In actuality, he was imagining Miles sneaking out of his bed in the wee hours to join him on the couch.

“He has a show. He performs on Sundays at a café in Astoria,” Miles said. Javier was surprised by his ease at lying. He assumed it came from years pretending to be someone he wasn’t.

“Awesome. I’ll be hungover as fuck, or I’d totally go,” Kiara apologized.

“Too bad there’s not a Sunday when she isn’t hungover as fuck,” Chris joked. Laughter filled the room. Even Miles snickered. Kiara rolled her eyes dismissively.

“I’ll come see you one day, promise.” Kiara tottered over to him. She gave him another hug, despite his evident discomfort. She seemed to like him, in a maternal way. He liked her too. She was smart and funny. She had great taste in music. Deep down, she must have known something wasn’t right in her relationship with Miles. In breaking them up, he was doing them both a kindness.

“Goodnight,” he said. He turned to Miles. “See you Monday,” he smiled. He wondered how they would be able to keep their hands off each other at work. They could always fool around in the stockroom. Miles nodded.

“So long,” Steve said.

“‘Night,” Chris said.

“Peace,” Gabe said.

“Keep up the music,” the plaid woman called out.

As he walked to the subway, he felt giddy. Since the day he first applied to work at Revolution Records, he’d had a good feeling about Brooklyn. He sensed that he belonged here. Already, the past seemed hazier, more distant from him. He shook it off like a nightmare. In Brooklyn, with Miles, he could finally start living.

***

Miles was with Kiara. When the alarm rang, he awoke with his arm around her. With her eyes closed, she turned her head, kissed him, then drifted back to sleep. He worked today, she didn’t. He stood over her, gazing at her in her cotton t-shirt and panties. He realized her body was attractive. At the same time, he knew he wasn’t attracted to it.

During sex, he usually envisioned a man, a stranger he had seen, or, lately, Javier. Yet, he loved her. They had fun together. They were basically married, though she didn’t believe in marriage. They talked about having kids, soon, while they were still young, even if they couldn’t afford it.

Without her, he would be lost. She told him what to do, who to make friends with, what to think about things. She needed him too. She had always enjoyed partying too much. If he wasn’t there to say, “let’s call it a night,” or “let’s take a detox day,” who would?

She was open-minded about sexuality. She would forgive him for what he had done with Javier. She would tell him it was normal to be curious. But he wasn’t “curious” about Javier. His sexuality wasn’t “fluid.” Fluid could be contained. What he felt was a fire blazing inside of him.

In the shower, he thought of Javier while he masturbated. Once he finished, he sobbed briefly. He felt better, with that out of his system. He felt clear-headed. He knew what he had to do. He dressed and took the subway to work.

He arrived at eight thirty, as usual, to sweep and bring out the register. Bob always came in around eight. Miles went straight to his office. Bob was on his desktop, looking over figures on an Excel spreadsheet.

“Something happened,” Miles said. Images of the previous night ran through his mind, kissing Javier, feeling up his body. It started out as an urge he needed to satisfy. It turned into something else, terrifying because it felt so good, so right.

“What’s up?” Bob turned to him. Miles shut the door behind him. Bob gestured to an empty chair. Miles sat.

“It’s about Javier. He’s done things that make me uncomfortable. I feel unsafe working here.” Miles’ voice was strained with anguish. He wasn’t acting. He couldn’t imagine having to face Javier every day. Javier could get another retail job easily. But Miles was an assistant manager. He earned four dollars more an hour here than he would somewhere else.

“What things?” Bob sighed. His shoulders sagged wearily. Miles’ heart raced. Sweat trickled down his sides. He was certain that Bob didn’t believe him. But he wasn’t lying. Nothing he said was a lie, he reminded himself.

“He wrote a song for me. He sang it to me,” Miles said.

“Uh huh.” Bob’s eyebrow perked skeptically. Miles felt as if he was the one being accused.

“It was a love song,” Miles revealed.

Bob groaned. He clearly thought Miles was overreacting. Miles knew he wasn’t. If Bob could have been there, heard Javier’s gentle voice sing those words, he would have known it wasn’t something he could just ignore.

***

Javier had been daydreaming all Sunday about being with Miles, going with him to movies and concerts, exploring his body, kissing him good night and good morning.

“Hi,” he said to Miles breathlessly, when he came in on Monday.

“Hey,” Miles said gruffly. He avoided meeting Javier’s eyes. Javier thought, perhaps he was still worried about being able to hide his attraction to him.

After Javier punched in, Bob told him to come into his office. There had been a complaint about him from a coworker. Bob had no choice but to let him go. He was a great employee, and Javier shouldn’t be afraid to use him as a reference. Javier would be paid for the day.

As he stumbled dazedly out of the office, Miles stood with his back to him, sorting the new arrivals by alphabetical order.

“Miles?” he said. Miles continued his task, ignoring him. Bob shut his door, clearly wanting to avoid any involvement.

“Why?” Javier asked. At last, Miles turned to face him.

“I’m with Kiara,” Miles declared.

“Coward,” Javier sneered. He darted out. Once he hit the street, he began hyperventilating. He made himself take deep breaths. Tears formed in his eyes; he refused to release them. He wouldn’t let himself be destroyed again. Miles wasn’t worth it. Revolution Records wasn’t worth it. Brooklyn wasn’t worth it.

***

In a way, being fired was a blessing in disguise. He remembered what the plaid woman said at the party, that he should play in a park until he was discovered. Instead of scouring job websites, he took his guitar to East River State Park. With his case open, he sang for tips. He made roughly the same as he did at Revolution Records. Covers usually earned him more, but he always slipped in some originals anyway.

The first time Miles walked by, carrying his lunch, Javier could tell it was a coincidence. Miles was spooked. He scurried away so fast that one of his sliders slid off his plate. However, a few days later, Miles sat at a wooden table about fifteen feet away. Their eyes met briefly. Miles lifted his chin smugly. He wanted to feel Javier’s adulation again. He wanted Javier to serenade him.

Abruptly, Javier stopped playing. He was halfway through a ‘90s alt-rock love song that audiences tended to become nostalgic over. The crowd, of a dozen or so people, wasn’t happy. He heard several annoyed “heys.”

“Sorry, but that song sucks. It’s catchy, but makes, like, zero sense,” he explained. The audience laughed, conceding that the song was drivel. “This is one I wrote for my crush. It didn’t work out. He’s straight,” he said. He spotted Miles flinch at his table.

Several sympathetic “awwws” arose from the crowd. He noticed that few cared when he disclosed his sexuality. In Brooklyn, he felt free to be himself, though not everyone did.

It must be here, where my story begins.

If it rains, I’ll hide under the bridge.

Skyscraper lights stave off the night,

Gleam in the water until morning.

In the sun’s sheen, he’ll rise for me.

At that moment, Miles stood up and left. Red-faced and scowling, he looked indignant, as though Javier were ridiculing him. He was, but he was also ridiculing himself, and ridiculing Brooklyn. Still, he belonged here, he supposed, as much as he belonged anywhere. He kept playing until the song was over. When applause erupted, he grinned. Each time, it gave him a high. The faces in the crowd seemed to blur together, and he forgot where he was, or who he was.

Scott Bassis has had short stories published in Poydras Review, The Furious Gazelle, The Writing Disorder, JAB, Sweet Tree Review, The Acentos Review, Trouvaille Review, Open: Journal of Arts & Letters, Me First Magazine, Image Outwrite, Quail Bell Magazine, The Missing Slate, Jumbelbook, Furtive Dalliance, Fiction on the Web and Rainbow Curve.