On the back of Len’s Honda, my crotch tucked against the butt of his corduroys, self-conscious I grip the passenger backrest behind me.
We are skipping Sunday morning service at the college, breaking one of the school’s holiest commandments—we could get suspended for this. Not to mention what the 12-pack of Buds Len steadies between his thighs might cost our eternal souls.
Cool, dry October air—the small Christian college town in the foothills.
Len has the keys to a vacant apartment. While Dr Jim delivers hellfire and damnation back in the campus chapel-torium, Len and I are fixing to cook up our own.
Len is a preacher’s son, proverbial trouble. Lost his cherry at fourteen to the good-looking daughter of a family of gospel singers back at his daddy’s church in Tampa. Six-foot-three, curly dirty-blond hair, a dashing scar over his northern Italian nose.
Haughty, superficial, hypocritical—he manages to carry his worldly bad-boy image in the same pocket as his Republican rectitude. I despise him, sort of, in a friendly way—but in my prayers I have promised God to love him as a brother.
Autumnal leaves part as he pulls into the drive. Next to the bike key, the shiny new key to the apartment. Belongs to some rich lady, friend of his father’s. We walk in, enjoy the hollow echoes of the empty rooms, smell of new paint and crisp virgin carpeting.
Len drops the beers on the breakfast nook, liberates two, and tosses one of them to me: “Drink fast. No electricity for the fridge.”
We pull the tear-shaped tabs and shuck them against the wall. Len opens the sliding glass door to the deck to let the brisk air in. The smoke of faraway burning leaves. He slides the door back to a crack.
He drains the can of beer and crumples the empty with one hand. Pressed to keep up, I gulp mine down, all but what I dribble from the corner of my mouth.
Len falls to the floor and does a dozen push-ups, then a dozen more with one hand. I can’t do that. I grab four more Buds, instead. We down the second two as quickly as the first two, facing each other, cross-legged on the floor.
We pop open the next ones, meditatively.
The beer goes down easy on my empty stomach, nourished with only a cup of lukewarm Tang for breakfast, homemade in the dorm room.
Len tugs his orange Izod off over his head and shoulders. He has an all-purpose athletic body that has yet to prove gifted in any one sport. Spade-shaped hairline on his chest broadens fern-like over his stomach, surrounding his crescent belly button.
Mainly I’m impressed by his sinewy forearms bristling with enthusiastic, gold-flecked hairs. He grins, mouth ajar, lips glistening with beer. Direct intense eye contact. The message: You now.
I unbutton my plaid shirt and toss it aside.
“You ready?” he asks.
“I don’t know.”
“You promised. I dared you, and you swore it. Before God.”
We unlace our shoes and unbuckle our belts, sway as we maneuver to tug off our socks and slacks without standing up. They all fall in a common clump against the wall.
I’m wearing regular BVDs from Sears. He has on a tie-dyed cotton bikini brief, with no fly, precisely outlining his trinitarian bulge. He smirks and explains that it’s a gift from an old girlfriend from high school—the brief, that is, not the bulge.
He slaps his stomach and then flexes his biceps on either side of his head—big pearly smile, long-lashed eyes crinkling at the corners.
I strike a pose too, more earnest, eyebrows bunching up with concentration.
“Indian leg wrestle, first. To loosen up.”
We lie beside each other, head to foot, foot to head, raise our right legs at a 45-degree angle. One two three. We lock up, struggle.
I have had unusually large calves and muscular thighs since age eleven, so I have Len’s feet over his head in less than 30 seconds. He chuckles appreciatively, admiringly.
We both roll over onto our hands and knees, circle each other on all fours, rise up, bandy our arms offensively, defensively, for maybe a minute, Len delivering some quick painless but insulting slaps to my cheeks.
Then we lock up. Our bodies are different. Mine is smooth, baby smooth almost, stocky, thick-boned, of medium height. Len has the musculature of a leopard.
Our knees together, arms strained evenly, muscle to muscle, at an impasse, something agitates Len’s physique even now—even motionless, his body seems animated in its contours, an irrepressible liveliness.
Suddenly he slides into me, wrapping his limbs around my neck and waist, all in one smooth movement—I feel locked into him.
I tap his forearm and he immediately releases. He is no longer grinning, but a fierce light glows in his eyes, joyous and intense.
We chat a little about what we learned in judo class—how tough, though short and slim, the sensei is. Then he pounces on me, but I roll him over on his back, after quite a strenuous struggle, press his shoulders down, and straddle his chest with my legs.
He reaches up and pinches a stray carpet thread off my chest. We remain there breathing together, looking into each other’s faces, warily.
Then he heaves loose, with a surprising ferocity, thrusts his forearm against my mouth. I taste blood, but just the smallest speck.
We wrestle, grinding our bodies closer and tighter together. Len’s face blushes brightly, except for the scar, which seems to blanch, the veins in his neck pop out, his skin glows with the first lacquer of perspiration.
His limbs hone in on the gaps in my stance, he winds around me, seeking a place to anchor his flesh in mine. I am slower, more deliberate in my movements.
He favors holds that paralyze and stretch. The contact is more bumpy and bruising than I had imagined.
Neither one of us loses his temper—but Len clearly wants to dominate me. He wants to make manacles and chains of his muscles and bind me with them.
We grapple at lightning speed. Me, methodically, move by textbook move, him, in explosions of controlled frenzy, like a spider wrapping up a fly in fast motion.
The fight locks us in tight together. What onlooker could then parse the writhing, crushing knot of us two, to label that elbow mine or that foot his? We grunt and groan, lapse into long rhythmic stretches of gasping for air. Our backs shiny with sweat.
The carpet and our sandpapery jaw lines chafe our skin. We are both solid and slippery quick. Now when we glimpse each other’s face, it appears to be in a state of shock, eyes dazed, or dazzled, cheekbones raw and severe.
Len breaks and falls back on his back. His glistening hairy stomach heaves up and down.
I am numb—my head empty for once—where thoughts and memories used to be, now only a low hum. I breathe in terse asthmatic gasps.
I rest my left forearm against Len’s chest, as if to steady myself. The apartment seems to be moving, then it seems that I am the one that’s moving, then next the skyline outside the window seems to be tipping backwards.
I lay my chest and stomach across Len’s. My right hand, absent-mindedly, fondles his left ear. His hand touches the small of my back, massaging, then patting. It’s not quite noon, yet it seems like dusk outside.
Then a wave of aliveness washes over me. My senses, more acute than ever, take in the room’s silence, the slick warmth of Len’s body under mine, the mineral taste of blood on the tongue, the faint smell of Len’s Aramis, the outline of his face looking blankly up at the ceiling.
Suddenly self-conscious again, I lift myself up on one arm and roll away from Len. I remember that this is my hometown preacher’s son. His eyes are closed, but he clasps his hands behind his head and grins.
“Did I hurt you?”
“No. You OK?”
He rolls to his side, props himself up by the elbow.
“You got a boner, brother,” he says, blankly and unalarmed. “I felt it there several times, against me. Guess that happens sometimes.”
“Yeah,” I say with equal lack of emphasis. “I think I read that someplace once.”
“I could have pinned you three or four times there. Easily. Thought it’d be more fun to keep the tussle going.”
I look at him. He looks at me. Slight hint of bullying bravado.
“I think we’ll call this one a draw. But I better not hear you telling anyone you beat me.”
I chuckle. It seems like a chuckle is called for now.
“We got to get back to campus before church lets out. Somebody will notice if we’re not at dinner.”
“I guess so.”
“Look, tiger. We’re doing this again. Soon. But I don’t want you going all queer on me, OK? If it happens, I’ll get rough on you next time.”
I feel my penis adjust itself in the crotch of my briefs, as if angling for a better view. I pull my knees to my chest.
“Sure. It was nothing. You should know.”
“I’m just making an observation. And no brag, just fact, if it comes down to it, I can take you. You know that. I can be the boss of you, if I have to be, brother. And I don’t want to hurt you, truly I don’t. But if you ever push like that into me again, I will have a bone to pick with you. I will kick your butt.”
“OK, then. Toss me one more beer.”
We walk back out into the cool sunlight. The sweat having dried to a fine scented powder on our skin. Len saves his shirt for last, letting the brisk hard breeze hit him and clench up his nipples, before slipping the shirt back over his head.
I settle in behind him on the bike. While buckling his helmet, he turns his head to me and tells me I’d better hold on to him on the way back. Safer that way. I reach around his waist with both arms, clasping my fingers over his belly. I feel its warmth, its soft heaving motion with each breath, the fine threads of his shirt. I slip up close behind him, leaning into his muscular back, feel the tension in his shoulders, remember that, minutes ago, that strength and energy were directed at me.