The List

Copyright October 1, 2005
by Matthew Haldeman-Time

I am writing about men having sex with other men.  You must be eighteen or older to read my fiction.  This site is for consenting, responsible adults only.

            Luke walked into Noah’s apartment without ceremony and sat at the kitchen table, positioning a notebook in front of himself, pen at the ready.  “It’s time to make the list.”

            “No, it’s not,” Noah said, closing the front door.  “It’s not-”

            “Michael versus Robert,” Luke said, writing the two names at the top of the first sheet.

            “We don’t need to make the list,” Noah protested, walking over to the kitchen.  “I’m happy with Robert!  I just got off the phone with him, and he-”

            “Where do you want to start?” Luke asked, drawing a line down the center of the page.

            Noah sat in the other chair, still arguing his case.  “We just went to dinner last night.  I haven’t thought about Michael in weeks.”  That wasn’t true, and he knew that Luke knew it.  “Robert’s great.  We don’t have to do this.  You’re just wasting your time.”

            “We’ll start from the top,” Luke said.  “Hair.”

            Noah sighed.  “Michael doesn’t even have hair anymore.”

            “It’s growing back,” Luke said.

            Noah sat up straighter, surprised.  “It is?”

            “Randy saw him on Tuesday.  He’s letting it grow in.  It’s thick peach fuzz now.  Randy said it feels great to touch.”

            Noah never had liked Randy.  That little shit couldn’t keep his hands to himself.  “Robert has great hair.  Short, black, it’s always perfectly styled, and his shampoo smells great.  Michael never washed his enough, and he only shaved it to piss me off.”  That wasn’t true.  Michael had shaved his head because he’d thought that it might make Noah happy.  Noah knew it, and Luke knew it.  But Luke didn’t call him on it.

            Michael’s hair had always been thick and soft.  He’d kept it too long, and Noah had touched it incessantly.  Robert’s hair had too much gel in it; it wasn’t as welcoming to Noah’s fingers.  But Noah didn’t feel like bringing that up.

            “Music,” Luke said, taking notes.

            “Robert has great taste in music,” Noah said, glad to be on a different topic.  “He listens to what real adults listen to.  He even listens to jazz and classical.  Michael only listened to rock and rap and people who yelled a lot.  It was like nothing but noise.  And it was always too loud.”  Noah tucked one leg under himself, sitting forward, his voice gathering energy.  “Every time he drove my car, I’d get back in and the stereo would be up way too high on some station I’d never heard of.”  Oh, his car!  “Robert never has to borrow my car.  He drives a Mercedes, he takes great care of it, he gets the oil checked, he has it washed regularly, it’s always gassed up.  Michael’s death trap was always breaking down.  He always had to get a ride from somebody.  Remember the time he roller-bladed home from work?”

            “I remember,” Luke said.  “He was pretty proud of himself.”

            Still irritated, even all of this time later, Noah said, “I tried to tell him how stupid it had been, but he acted like it was no big deal.  He was all proud of himself for having made it, like it wasn’t dangerous and idiotic.  He kept saying how great his legs would look if he did that every day.”

            “Robert does have a better body,” Luke said.

            “He’s in the gym every morning,” Noah said.  Robert was dedicated.  Driven.  “He looks terrific, his arms, his legs, his back.  He has developed pecs, he has a perfect washboard stomach.  Michael was active, he was always playing basketball or playing baseball or roller-blading, but that’s not the same thing as consistently working to improve your body.”

            “Michael did have a cute little flat tummy,” Luke said.  His gaze drifted dreamily.  “And that ass…”

            “Robert has a great ass,” Noah said firmly.  “And look at the job that Michael roller-bladed home from.  Since I met him, he’s been a pizza delivery boy, a convenience store clerk, a video store clerk, a music store clerk - - when’s he going to get a real job?”

            “He’s still at the copy place,” Luke said.

            Noah hesitated.  “Really?”  Michael had never kept the same job for that long.

            “Yeah,” Luke said.  “And he’s part-time at the bank.”

            Damn, “Really?”  Noah was impressed.  He wondered what had changed, why Michael would - - “But Robert’s the manager of financial services.  There are one hundred sixty people under him.  He wears a suit and tie to work, he has conference calls and work lunches and business dinners.”

            Luke wrote down “suit, tie,” and looked up.  “Do you want to get into clothes?”

            “Hell, yes,” Noah said.  “Robert dresses like an adult.  Suits to work.  Jeans that fit.  Michael can’t knot a tie and he’s never owned wingtips.  Michael puts on whatever he picks up off of the floor.”  Remembering a good point, Noah raised his voice, gesturing.  “Without underwear!”  Suddenly, unexpected memories swept in, and he hurried on.  “He wears old T-shirts and oversized, rundown jeans everywhere he goes.  His sneakers always look like they were run over by a car.  He wears the same socks for a week straight.  Old white sweat socks.  Robert owns real socks, and he has different socks for work and different socks for jeans.  Robert’s clothes are always clean, and ironed, and smell fresh.  Michael’s clothes always smell like Michael.”

            “What does Michael smell like?” Luke asked.

            “I don’t know,” Noah lied.  “Robert always smells great, he has fantastic cologne.  He has five different ones that he rotates through so he won’t always smell the same every day.  Michael doesn’t wear cologne, he just smells like soap and Lifesavers and deodorant and Michael-sweat.”

            It had been a familiar scent.  It had started to smell like home.  Waking up that first morning and smelling Robert on his sheets instead of Michael…

            “Robert shaves, every morning,” Noah said.  “Michael shaved whenever he felt like it.  Sometimes he’d be clean-shaven every day, and sometimes he’d skip every other day, and sometimes he’d just let it grow all week.  So fucking scratchy.”  He’d loved the feel of it against his skin.  The roughness of it against his stomach.  The intimacy of it against his cheeks.  “Robert always looks clean and groomed, like a professional adult should.  Michael looks like he just graduated college and doesn’t realize he’s out of the frat house.”

            “Which brings us to education,” Luke said.

            “Robert’s a CPA with an MBA,” Noah said.  “Michael has two years of community college.  Robert has a house with a mortgage, a lawn, a two-car garage, and a woman who comes in to clean every Tuesday.  Michael has an apartment, and it’s never clean.  Robert cooks for himself.  He cooks real meals, with main dishes and side dishes, with sauces and vegetables.  Michael microwaves pizza.”  Noah frowned at Luke, his voice stern to convey the proper amount of disapproval for Michael’s refusal to grow up.  “Robert goes to expensive restaurants with soft lighting.  Michael goes to McDonald’s.”

            Luke wrote quickly, trying to keep up.

            “Robert drinks wine.  Michael drinks soda.  Robert drinks scotch.  Michael drinks apple juice.  Robert has heavy silverware and a great china pattern.  None of Michael’s cups match.”

            Noah didn’t even know anyone else who drank apple juice.  Sometimes Robert had orange juice with breakfast.  Fresh-squeezed.

            “Robert has a juicer.  He has a toaster, a toaster oven, a wok, a blender, a dicer, he has things I don’t have names for,” Noah listed, ticking off each item on his fingers, rolling his fingers helplessly at the end as Robert’s list grew too long to enumerate.  “Michael has a microwave.”  One single, damning finger.  “Robert has every new piece of technology that’s out there, every little device you can buy.  Michael has a cell phone and a Playstation.  And the cell phone doesn’t take pictures.  Michael doesn’t even have e-mail!”

            Luke stopped writing and looked at him without comprehension.  “Everybody has e-mail.”

            “Not Michael,” Noah said.  Robert had three e-mail addresses.  “He only has the cell phone because I talked him into it.  He never remembers the number.”

            “Wow,” Luke said, and wrote that down.

            “Robert has a lot of…toys.  He has skis, golf clubs, tennis rackets, all of those gadgets, a huge stereo system, a huge flat-screen, a bunch of,” Noah gestured, “stuff.  Michael has roller blades, a PS2, and a dildo.”

            “Which you loved,” Luke murmured, drawing a heart beside the word “dildo.”

            “Shut up,” Noah muttered, shifting in his seat.

            “Robert doesn’t have sex toys?” Luke asked.

            “Robert isn’t a pervert,” Noah said defensively.  “Robert has a healthy, normal sex drive.”

            “So the two of you have healthy, normal sex,” Luke said.

            “We have a great sex life,” Noah snapped.  “It’s nice to be with someone who doesn’t stick his hand down your pants in a movie theater.  Robert and I don’t even go to the movies.  We go to the theater.”

            “You’re being exposed to culturally enriching experiences,” Luke said.

            “Exactly.”  Noah didn’t know why he sounded this bitchy.  “Robert reads best-selling novels.  And classic novels.  Hemingway and Faulkner.  Michael reads horror novels and comic books.  Michael watches sitcoms and cartoons.  Robert watches the news.  Michael watches sports.  And porn.  Robert uses his computer to check on stocks.  Michael just uses his to download more porn.  And music, illegally.”

            “It’s safe to say that Robert doesn’t break the law?” Luke asked.

            “He speeds,” Noah said.  That wasn’t a crime, that was normal.  “Michael doesn’t speed.  He can’t, his car can’t take it.”

            Luke added that to the list.

            “Robert goes to great clubs with great music and expensive drinks and some of the hottest guys.”  Noah realized that he sounded like he was bragging, like he was talking Robert up to compensate for something.  But it was all true; Robert’s life was just like that.  “Michael goes to weird underground clubs where people grope each other in the bathroom.”

            “My kind of place,” Luke said.  “Didn’t he fuck you in one of those bathrooms?”

            Noah didn’t want to talk about that.  Just thinking about it made his skin hot.  He pushed away the memory.  Speaking of bathrooms, “When Robert uses the toilet, he’s discreet about it.  I’d be brushing my teeth and Michael would just walk in and pee right beside me.  He’d take a dump with the door wide open.  Like I’m interested in that.”

            “It sounds like he felt…comfortable with you,” Luke said uncertainly.

            “It sounds disgusting,” Noah snapped.  “Robert plays poker every other week with his friends.  He plays bridge with other guys from work.  He donates to political campaigns.  Michael is a member of thirty-four different charities.  He’s always going to some gay rights, civil rights, save the whales meeting.”

            “He helps good causes,” Luke said.

            “Michael belongs to a Japanese-American lesbian rights group,” Noah said.  “Even though he’s not a Japanese lesbian.  And his friends…”  He waved his hand dismissively.  “Half of them are so promiscuous they make animals nervous, half of them are high, and they’ve all spent a night on his couch for one reason or another.  Robert’s friends are professionals, and most of them are as hot as he is.  Some of them are straight and married, the ones from work, but they sound nice.”

            “You haven’t met them?” Luke asked.

            “Not the straight ones,” Noah admitted.

            “You’ve met Michael’s straight friends?”

            Noah snorted.  “I’ve met everyone Michael knows.”

            “Families?” Luke asked.

            “I haven’t met Robert’s.  His dad’s a CPA, too.  His mother’s a doctor and his sister’s a lawyer.  They all live in California.  I’ve met Michael’s family.  He took me to the reunion.”  Noah found himself smiling, and stopped.  “They were nice.”  He moved on to a new subject.  “Robert invests his money.  Michael gives it away to people on the street.  Literally, anyone who asks him for money, gets some.  He’ll skip lunch because he’s given his last five bucks to some homeless guy on the way to McDonald’s.  He’ll just turn around and walk back to work.”

            “He lives paycheck to paycheck?” Luke asked.

            “He always says that he’ll start saving up next month, but he never does,” Noah said.  That led him to a major point.  “That’s the difference between them.  Robert understands about long-range goals.  Michael doesn’t have any perspective.  He doesn’t have any maturity.  Robert plans for next year, ten years, the rest of his life.  Michael doesn’t plan for tomorrow.”

            Luke tapped his pen on the notebook, thinking.  “Furniture.”

            “Robert has expensive furniture.  Designer pieces.  His house looks like a showroom, and he did it all himself.”  He sounded like he was bragging again.  “Michael has old furniture from his parents’ house, and cheap things he bought years ago.”

            “Plants?  Pets?”

            “Robert has cacti in the sun room and some ferns hanging around.  The woman who comes in to clean waters them.  Michael has some ugly, healthy plant that he’s had since kindergarten.  He keeps having to repot it, or separate it and pawn it off on his friends.”  Every time Noah had been in one of Michael’s friends’ homes, he’d seen a descendant of that plant.  “Robert has a huge aquarium with exotic fish in it.  Michael has that damned hamster that won’t die.”

            “What’s its name?” Luke asked, trying to remember.

            “Squeak,” Noah said.  “He lets it run around on the bed.”  He shuddered with dramatic disgust.  “I don’t want to sleep where that rodent’s crawled.”

            “Jewelry,” Luke said, taking notes.

            “Robert has a Rolex,” Noah said.  “Michael doesn’t own a watch.  He goes by his internal clock.”  Michael had an uncanny way of always being on time.  “He wears cheap woven bracelets, and he always has on that necklace with the penny with the hole in it.  No matter how many times the chain breaks, he just gets a new one.”  Noah could still remember feeling that penny against his skin as Michael fucked him.  “Are we finished?”

            “One more,” Luke said.  “Sex.”

            Damn it.  “Robert’s hot.  He’s a lot more experienced than Michael is.  He’s a lot more polished.  He’s very seductive.  Michael’s not as mature as Robert is.  He plays around more.  He laughs during sex.”

            “What else?” Luke asked.

            Noah shrugged, like elaborating on the subject didn’t faze him.  “Robert’s a great kisser.  He likes to get into sex, and stay there.  Michael likes to make out first, and he always stops in the middle of fucking to make out some more, and after he’s done he comes around an hour later, wanting to make out again.  When Robert’s having sex, he’s having sex.  It lasts a long time, and when he’s done, it’s over.  Michael would have sex in the middle of dinner or feel me up in the car or wake me up to mess around.  Robert and I make love in bed, and sometimes in the shower.  Michael will do it wherever he happens to be when the mood hits.”

            “You and Michael had sex more often?” Luke asked.

            “Robert and I make love every night,” Noah said.  “Michael and I had sex at night sometimes, sometimes in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon.  Sometimes we’d just make out or,” god, he had to say it, “cuddle.”

            “Oral?” Luke asked.

            “Robert’s very good at it,” Noah said.  “Michael’s very enthusiastic about it.”  He shifted uncomfortably.

            “Whose dick is bigger?” Luke asked.

            Of course Luke would ask that question.  “That doesn’t matter,” Noah said.

            Luke raised his eyebrows, waiting.

            “Michael’s,” Noah muttered.

            Luke wrote that down, then studied the list.

            “Robert’s better in every category,” Noah said.  Except for that last one.

            “Yes, he is,” Luke said.  “Robert wins, hands down.”

            “Good,” Noah said firmly.

            Luke set down his pen, flipping his notebook shut.  “Congratulations.  You’re with the right man.”

            “I told you that before we started,” Noah insisted.  “It’s great to be with an accomplished professional.  I like eating in good restaurants and sleeping on clean sheets and making love by candlelight.  Robert treats me really well.  I don’t have to worry about who he’s with or whether he can make the rent.”

            “Then my work here is done,” Luke said, getting up from the table.  “See you tomorrow night?”

            “Tomorrow night,” Noah agreed.

            Luke left.

            Noah drummed his fingers on the table.

            He rose, walking over to the phone.

            He dialed from memory.

            A quick laugh.  “This is Michael.”

            Noah closed his eyes.  “Hi, it’s Noah.”

            “What?”  Michael sounded startled, and richly pleased.  Happy.  Excited.  “Guys, guys, shut up.  Noah?  Hi.  What can I do for you?”

            He took a deep breath.  It shook a little.  “Luke said Randy ran into you the other day, and I was just wondering how you were doing.”

            “I’m great,” Michael said.  “How are you?  Is Robert keeping you happy?”

            “Yeah, I’m…  We’re really happy together,” Noah said.  His grip was too tight on the phone.  “I heard you’re letting your hair grow back.”

            “Yeah, I stopped shaving it,” Michael said.  “It’s all fuzzy now.  Everybody keeps touching it.”

            Michael, and his complete lack of boundaries.  “You’re still at the copy place?”

            “Yeah.  And I’m working part-time at the bank, too.  I had to buy some new clothes.  I look like a total geek.  Maria from the Latina Lesbian League is the president, and she needed a new teller.  I can count and I’m friendly, so she offered me the job.”

            “That’s great,” Noah said.  Michael, at a bank, in new clothes.  Noah would have loved to have been there to support Michael, to help him shop, to visit him on his first day.  “Are you seeing anybody?”

            “No,” Michael said.  “Jack tried setting me up on a date, but it didn’t work out.”

            “That’s too bad,” Noah said.  His stomach twisted.  “How’s Squeak?”

            “She’s great,” Michael said.  “She’s kind of slow running the wheel these days, but she still has a good appetite.”

            That stupid hamster.  Noah couldn’t believe that he missed that stupid hamster.  “What are you doing tonight?”

            “Probably hanging out at Jerome’s house, watching the game,” Michael said.  “Or just hanging around at home.  His new girlfriend doesn’t like me.  She thinks I left pot in his car.”

            “You don’t smoke,” Noah said.  If that had changed…

            “Yeah, but it was Jerome’s, and he had to blame it on somebody.”

            Michael didn’t sound remotely irritated with Jerome.  Noah missed that about him.  Michael never held anything against anyone.  “Maybe I could come over.  I haven’t had pizza in a while.”

            “That would be awesome,” Michael said.  Robert never used that word.  “You can see my new bank clothes, you’ll laugh your ass off.  And I had to separate the plant again, maybe you can take one of the new little ones to work or something.”

            “I’d love to,” Noah said, and he absolutely meant it.

            “It’d be great to see you again,” Michael said.  “I’ve missed you.”

            “I’m sorry about what happened,” Noah said.  He couldn’t have held the words back any longer.

            There was an extra second of silence.  Then Michael said, his voice quieter than before, “It’s okay.  You were right.  I wasn’t the right guy for you.  You need somebody who’s all of those things you said.  Goal-oriented.  Driven.  Mature.  I’m not that guy.  But it sounds like Robert is, so that’s great.  That you’ve found somebody just like you wanted.”

            Noah squeezed his eyes shut more tightly.  “Then why am I still in love with you?”
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