When I Was Cruel
by Annie

I'd seen him before. Around. Maybe the gym. I had seen the other one too. I think his name was Matthew or Michael or something. He almost looked right but he didn't have that look the other one had. That hungry, searching look, that beaten-down, hunched over look like he was just waiting for someone to kick him but he still looked hopefully for scraps of attention.

I could give him what he wanted. It wouldn't take much to get his attention, I knew that. He was a nice enough looking guy, not a gym rat but definitely not out of shape and even half a block away I could see he had unusually pretty eyes. I had done worse and even though he could compete with half the guys strolling Liberty tonight, he didn't have the confidence it takes. Getting close to him would be cake. It would be almost too easy; made me want to pick someone more challenging. But I had to eat and I was three months late with rent with less than a week before my asshole slumlord changed the lock. So I looked for the easiest mark and he was the one.

It didn't use to be like this. I wasn't always this way, constantly seeking out that look of desperation on guys, knowing I could get a few meals and a clean bed to sleep in and all I'd have to do is let them use my body until I moved on. I used to have a real home and a real family. But that was before.

A lot of people think guys like me turn to drugs after their families kick them out when they find out they're gay. That wasn't like it with me. It was the drugs that got me kicked out. They still didn't know I sucked cock and p layed Russian Roulette every time I let a stranger stick his uncovered dick up my ass. Hey, sometimes that got me a place to stay for a bit longer than a few days. I figured the risk was worth it, to have a roof over my head and not have to sleep on the street or worse, stay clean long enough to find a shelter.

When my dad discovered the baby playing with a plastic vial and saw what was inside, it wasn't long before he traced it back to me. I didn't deny it, couldn't deny it; who else's would it be? Perfect straight A student Sarah? Yeah, right. Certainly not the twins, who only cared about baseball and video games. The rest were too young, so my dad knew the crystal was mine. He'd already busted me a few times for sneaking back in my room long after curfew. He knew right away and seeing my two-year-old brother mouthing on that vial like it was one of his teething toys set him off. He threw a bunch of clothes into my ratty old backpack and tossed it and me out the door, telling me to return only when I was clean.

Funny thing was, he never yelled. Never raised his voice at me once. I could tell how mad he was by the redness in his face and the way his hands kept trembling like he wanted to hit me but he never touched me and he kept his voice quiet. Scary quiet, like it would only take one word from me to turn him violent. So I took my bag and left. I never looked back.

The guy crossed the street with his friend. Now was the time to make contact. I crossed quickly, headed towards him to the side of the street he had just left. I brushed past, bumped against him casually. But I turned to look back - this was the crucial part - and smiled at him, let the look linger a bit longer than necessary for an accident. He apologized and I let the smile widen as I told him it was okay. He looked away but his friend turned around and I made sure he saw that I was still looking. The mark finally looked back at me again and - there it was. That tiny glint of hope. It wasn't much, but I was positive it was enough for now.


Now that I had set the trap, I had some time. I saw him and his friend go into Woody's but I decided not to follow. Not yet. I would go to Babylon and wait. He would show. Everyone ended up at Babylon sooner or later.

While I waited, I sipped my water and scoped out the crowd. I always tried to make one glass of water last a long time because the bartenders give me dirty looks if I ask for more. They want people to buy overpriced drinks so they can get bigger tips from drunk people, not ask for water which they have to give for free.

I didn't drink. Never touched the stuff. That was how I knew I wasn't hooked. Addicts would use anything they could get - pills, powder, booze, needles, whatever it took. I just stuck with crystal, sometimes coke if I'd gotten some extra cash. And some days, my buddy who supplied me would give me a little something extra, just for being a loyal customer. I had a small bottle of GHB for, as he put, "a rainy day." But that was it, you know? I drew the line.

I found a stool at the short end of the bar and sat down to watch and wait. A couple of guys approached me but I just waved them off. I saw one guy across the room that looked like a better mark than the one I had already picked out and I almost decided to go for it. But I had already made contact and besides that, the guy in Babylon looked a bit too desperate to pick someone up, like he would be the type to try and track me down once I moved on, begging me to come back. I didn't need that shit. Just a few days, maybe I'd get lucky and have a couple of weeks, and then I'd be on my own again, looking for the next free ride. No, the guys that would feel a little used and a little embarrassed at being suckered but ultimately grateful I was gone were the best kinds. I'd better stick with the one I'd already chosen because he looked like the kind who would just take what he could get while it lasted.

I wasn't always like this - always searching for a pathetic loser who was so lonely he'd give anything just to have some sex and company for a short time. When I first hit the streets, I tried to find a real job, a decent place to live. But when you're a high school dropout with no friends other than the ones you get high with, it's tough. At first I took any job I could find - flipping burgers at Mickey D's, sweeping a broom and emptying trash cans at the paper mill; I even tried selling cleaning supplies to housewives in the suburbs. None of it paid worth shit.

So I started doing what I do now. Some people might call it hustling but it wasn't. I didn't ask for money. Sometimes they gave it to me but I didn't ask. I didn't even ask them for food or a place to stay. I just tried to make them feel good and let them know I'd been down on my luck lately and they offered to help me out. I wasn't a whore.

I had been so distracted by my thoughts that I missed him coming in. I looked up and there he was, leaning against the bar and drinking a beer. I almost got up to approach him right away but I decided to watch him first.

At first it was funny, seeing him hit on all these hot guys walking by. I couldn't hear what he said to them but whatever it was, it wasn't working. They just brushed right past him like he didn't even exist but he still kept trying. I smirked when I saw how easy it was going to be for me to work my way in.

But as I kept watching, kept seeing his face fall a little bit more each time he was rejected, it didn't seem that funny anymore. It wasn't like I hadn't seen guys like him before, a little bit older and a little less pretty than the crowd, trying to fit in. That's exactly why I had picked him, why I always picked that type who seem stuck in some limbo between the freedom of youth and the responsibilities of middle age. But something about the look of hurt he had struck a chord with me and for a moment I felt sorry for him. For a moment I wanted to go to him, not to get anything from him but just to see if I could make that look go away.

Luckily, I was distracted from my moment of weakness by the arrival of his friend, who was obviously high from the way he was twitching around and sweating. I saw them exchange a few words and then the friend looked in my direction and caught me staring. Not wasting the opportunity, I tipped a wink in their direction then looked at the one I wanted to make sure his friend knew who I was aiming the wink at. Sure enough, the guy said something and then they both looked at me. I winked again, this time smiling and being so obvious anyone could have picked up on my interest.

That was all it took. He would pick up his drink, say goodbye to his friend, and come to me.

But he didn't. He just looked away with barely a flicker of interest. I couldn't believe it. I didn't know where I had gone wrong but this guy was not going to take the bait. I watched him resume his conversation with his friend and from the looks of things, they were talking about something pretty serious. He turned away for a moment, his friend reached out to grab him, and when he turned back, I saw the truth of the matter in his eyes.

He loved his friend. He loved him so completely that he would rather wait for him than spend a night or a few nights with someone else. He kept hitting on those guys who ignored him because he knew they would ignore him. He could say he made an effort to meet someone but he'd still be faithful to the one he really wanted. It was so clear to me and I didn't even know this guy.

Yet, his friend didn't have the slightest clue. I could see that just as clearly as I could see everything else. He had no fucking idea. For some reason I didn't even want to try to understand, that pissed me off. Maybe it was because I was frustrated that my plan seemed to be falling to pieces or maybe something about the guy made me see something in him that his friend couldn't see. Whatever. I just knew that I wanted to go to his friend and tell him what a fucking idiot he was.

What the hell was happening to me? I went from wanting to get into this guy's pants and wallet to wanting to play goddamn matchmaker. I tried to shake off my sudden and annoying case of sympathy for this loser I didn't even know.

He headed towards the door and although I was sure that I didn't have a chance with this guy, I followed him. He hesitated as he stepped out the door and looked around sadly before moving down the alley. I almost gave up and went back inside to try and salvage this wasted effort, maybe pick someone up to at least spend the night with. I don't know why I wanted to keep chasing after the guy. But I hurried after him anyway and called out to him.

"You don't like to dance?"

He turned, startled, and blinked at me in confusion, like he wasn't sure I was talking to him. He half-shrugged and told me he wasn't a very good dancer and besides, he didn't know I was asking. I wasn't, but that didn't really matter since it was just a line to get started. He started to turn away and I quickly asked him if he was leaving, which was a stupid question because it was pretty fucking obvious to anyone he was leaving but a part of me kept thinking that if I kept him talking long enough I'd be able to find a way in and I wouldn't have to go home alone or, even worse, with some total sleaze. I don't know what made me think this guy was safe, but somehow I knew it.

He rubbed his neck wearily and in a halting voice husky with the tears he was struggling to hold back, tried to explain that it sometimes got a little too---

"Intense?" I said, surprising both him and myself by finishing his sentence. He agreed. "Yeah, I know what you mean. Sometimes it gets a little too intense in there for me too," I said and I surprised myself again because it was true. Babylon was the hot place to go but I hated it. I hated the loud, dissonant music and the haze of smoke and not being able to walk to the bathroom without being groped by some drunk asshole. Sometimes I just wanted someplace that was quiet, where I didn't have to worry all the time about where my next meal or next bed or next fix was going to come from.

He smiled at me and for a second our eyes met and I thought I saw a glimmer of interest. But it disappeared as quickly as it came and he turned once again to leave. I should have let him go, let the whole thing go, right then and there. I should have realized that the second I saw him not as a mark but as a person, possibly even a friend, I had to walk away. Because someone like me doesn't become friends with someone like him. Someone like me doesn't have friends, period. I'd survived for five years by not making any real ties to people, by seeing everyone I met as a transaction, and I wasn't going to start changing that policy by following like a lost puppy after some sad loser of a guy. Just forget it, I told myself, it's not worth it.

"You want some company?" I asked.


For a second as he stammered out an excuse that it was late, I thought I still had a chance to escape, even though his refusal stung more than I wanted to admit. But mid-sentence, he stopped and changed his mind. He said okay and, like he was just waiting for me to snatch the offer away from him, asked hesitantly if I was sure.

I couldn't help it. I smiled at him and told him I was sure as long as he was sure. He returned my smile and I couldn't help but notice the way it changed his entire face, made his eyes light up and chased away the lingering aura of loneliness. We just stood there, smiling at each other like a couple of idiots until he said, "Okay, then," and I went to join him.

As we walked to his car, out of the corner of my eye I could see him take shy peeks at me. I took his hand. He tensed and almost pulled away, but then he relaxed. His hand felt nice in mine, warm and comfortable and safe in a way I had never felt before. I'd given up on trying to figure out why I was acting like such a sap. I just decided to go with it and I thought of a way I could make him feel good, keep that smile on his face for awhile. With my other hand, I fingered the vial in my jacket pocket and thought tonight was the perfect night for that "rainy day."


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