The Quicken Tree
by Agtant

Chapter 11

Eric got his brothers home and put them in front of the TV with a couple of cheese sandwiches just in case they hadn't gotten enough to eat at the cafe. Then he went into the bedroom he shared with them and got some clean clothes out of the closet. He took the clothes into the bathroom with him where he could shower and change.

He had made a promise to himself earlier that day that he would go out tonight, and he hadn't changed his mind even after the fight with his father. He still needed to get laid. But it had become more to him than just being horny.

The sweetness of his success that morning had turned bitter after the argument with his father. And he needed some relief for that as well. Something as uncomplicated as having his cock sucked in a back alley behind a bar. Something that could take the edge off the smothering anger he felt toward his father right then. He felt like a rat in a maze. He just needed someplace to hide and someone to lick his wounds for him for awhile, until he could figure his way out.

A little while later, he stood in the nude in front of the bathroom mirror, splashing water on his face after he shaved. He picked up his towel from the top of the toilet tank and dried his face with it, staring into the mirror.

He looked like his mother, as all three of them did, dark with thick, black hair that hung shaggy over his collar, and dark brown eyes. But the expression in the eyes looking back at him was all Conor's. They were a little too guarded, even when looking at himself, as if he couldn't even quite trust himself. And they were hard. A lot harder than any kids his age had a right to be.

He had a straight nose, surprising since he had had it broken by a green horse a couple of years ago. The horse had freaked out when Conor and he had been training it to go in the starting gate and Eric had been lucky to come out of it with just a broken nose. The starting gate was one of the most dangerous places on a racetrack. Confined in that small space, there was no place for a rider to go if a horse panicked. That's why the horses were loaded so quickly before a race, and sent off just as quickly after they were all loaded. And a consistently bad doer in the gate would be ruled off the track for life.

Eric continued to stare at himself in the mirror, measuring himself objectively like he was a marketable item.

His mouth was okay. A little wide with a full lower lip, but it fit his face. And his teeth were straight for the most part. He had a decent enough smile, that is when he chose to smile. But for the most part his expression was solemn. A little too guarded, like his eyes.

He had good hands, or so all of the instructors at the clinics had told him so far. They were workers hands, not that the shape or look of them was coarse, but that they were hard and callused and leather-stained. And sometimes, he couldn't get the oil from the leather out of his skin no matter how hard he scrubbed. It lay stubbornly in the cracks and pores of his skin like it was a part of him. Like being his father's son.

His body was good, healthy and strong. And since he made a living with his back instead of his brain that was fortunate. He was five ten and weighed one hundred and forty-five pounds. Maybe a little too thin for his size, but he was actually too tall and too heavy to be an exercise boy. But with the cheap claimers that his father had in training, none of the owners complained much. And when his weight crept up, as it wanted to at his size, his father made him run to keep it down.

He was fit. He sometimes rode six hours a day. He rode for his father in the mornings and then he would pick up extra money breaking green horses for other trainers during the slow time when the track was closed. He could gallop a horse all day long, which was saying something. He had read once that some doctors in sports medicine had tested the cardio-vascular fitness of athletes to determine what sport gave the best and the toughest aerobic workout. Surprisingly, jockeys came in at the top of the list, along side of cross-country skiers. He had seen many a rookie rider slip off a galloping horse's back when they had simply become too exhausted to stop it.

He was athletic; agile and fast. When he'd been in school, coaches had always tried to get him to go out for sports. He never had. He didn't have time to go out for extracurricular activities and the coaches had given up once they realized he wasn't going to be around long anyway.

He'd always been physically mature for his age, as if having had to do a man's job from an early age; nature had given him a man's body. He had hair on his chest that grew in that t-shape of a light pelt across his pecs and then a narrower stem that ran down his abdomen and became a dark brush around his cock. He shaved every morning, no peach fuzz; his was a man's beard. He was no smooth beauty. He was hard and tough. He did not attract the chicken hawks in the bars. He never had, even when barely sixteen, when he had first began to cruise. He looked too seasoned to be considered young meat.

But, he wasn't bad to look at. He'd never had trouble on the streets picking men up or being picked up himself. He'd even been offered money before and to his credit, he had never taken any, even when he'd sorely needed it. There were some things he couldn't do. Some things he wouldn't let another man do to him, and if he had taken their money, he would have had to give up something vital in himself. His self respect.

And maybe for that same reason, he had never been able to let another man fuck him. The idea of it went so far beyond the sexual act of it for him, that he didn't think he would ever be able to let a man put his cock up his ass. Being fucked by another man implied far more to him than he was willing to give up.

Eric heard his father come in as he was getting dressed. He heard him in the living room talking to his brothers. A few seconds later, the volume on the TV set went down. It was only eight o'clock, still early for Conor. Eric had been hoping to get out before he came home. He'd seen more than enough of his father that day.

Eric finished buttoning the thin flannel shirt he had put on and tucked it into his faded Levi's. He opened the bathroom door and walked into his bedroom to get his wallet, keys and cigarettes. Across the hall he could see Conor in his bedroom, standing by the dresser, emptying out his pockets in preparation of going to bed.

His father looked up at him as Eric stepped out into the hallway.

"What is it you're doing now?" Conor asked him irritably. "Going out?"

"Yeah," he said, eyeing him coolly. "I forgot there is one other thing I have for myself. I don't know what you're going to be able to do about that one though. I guess you could always have me castrated."

"There's a thought," Conor said, but there was no amusement in his eyes. He looked away, clearing the change out of his pockets. "I just want you to be careful, that's all."

Sometimes, he could surprise him, and those were the worst moments. It was easier when the hard shell stayed between them. "Don't do that, Conor," he said softly. "You almost sounded like a father. You scared me." He watched his father's twisted, arthritic fingers as they fumbled with the change, thinking that in thirty-five years those would be his own hands. "Don't worry, I won't be getting anyone pregnant."

"That's not what I meant," Conor said. "Paulo's son said he thought he saw you getting into a car around Sheridan Square a few weeks ago."

That's what he got for letting his guard down for a moment. Eric felt the hair on the back of his neck go up at what Conor had said. Sheridan Square was in a gay district. He cruised the bars over there all the time. He'd been there a couple of weeks ago. He didn't look at his father. This was his worse nightmare come true. Someone had actually seen him.

"If you're going to hitch rides, be careful where you do it," Conor went on. "Paulo was saying what kind of things go on around that area. A nice looking kid might find himself in a bit of trouble."

"Well, he must be mistaken," Eric said flatly. "I don't hitch hike." It was true. He accepted rides from men all the time, but it had nothing to do with hitch hiking. The walls to the maze were getting higher all the time and closing in on him at the top. He was suffocating. He had to get out of there.

Logically, he knew Conor had no idea what he was doing. If he did know or even suspected the truth, there would have been no argument at the barn earlier. He would be on the street right now; he had no doubt of that. In his father's world there was a straight line of what a man did or didn't do. A man might get down on his knees to worship god, but he did not get down on his knees to another man for any reason. He did not put himself in another's debt and he never backed down from a fight. A simple code really, but Conor lived by it, raised him by it. He wasn't much different from his father about those things. Maybe that explained even more his refusal to be fucked. To let another man fuck him. A man that did any of those things was no longer a man as far as his father was concerned, as far as he was concerned.

But a man who would get down on his knees to suck another man's cock....well, there would be no mistaking Conor's contempt for that one.

"Well, I'll be going," Eric said, still not looking at his father.

"All right," Conor said. "Just don't stay out all night. You still have to come with me to the barn in the morning."

That hadn't been his plan, but Eric didn't object. He just got out the apartment before his father could ask him any more questions.

That night he avoided his usual haunts, afraid of someone seeing him again. He moved several blocks up instead, investigating the area first, before he settled down enough to even think about cruising. His father had called him a tomcat before. Well, that night he really felt like one. A tom cat out of his own territory.

And Eric didn't like the unfamiliar. The New York City police department had declared open hunting season on gay bars. There was at least one bar raided and shut down every night in the village. It wasn't safe to cruise in or around them. Eric preferred to know the lay of the land where he prowled, just in case he ever had to out run the police. It was his greatest fear that he would be picked up in one of the NYPD 'queer' raids.

Outside a leather bar, Eric let himself be picked up by a kid a couple years older than himself. They had talked for a few minutes. The kid looked like a college student, probably from nearby NYU. He was tall and thin, with brown hair and a brown mustache. And more importantly, he did not look like a cop.

Finally, after they had talked for awhile, the kid said. "I've got a couple of joints in my car. It's parked not too far away."

It was better than he had hoped for. Eric nodded. "Let's go."

They walked down a couple of blocks to the kid's parked Chevy and got in. They drove about a mile to a quieter location and pulled into an alley to park. It was still dangerous, here they could get mugged, but the police might ignore them thinking they were just another necking heterosexual couple.

They smoked the joints and fooled around a little. Eric didn't smoke dope often, mostly because it seemed to take days afterwards until his head was clear again. And he couldn't afford to not have a clear head galloping horses. He didn't want to be responsible for getting anyone hurt. That would be too much guilt to carry around. But, he wasn't galloping in the morning and he thought he could handle his lesson all right. And what did that matter anyway? It was going to be his last one for awhile, maybe his last one for good. And who was he kidding? What was he going to do with it? At best he was going to end up, after five expensive years, with a high school pony horse. And for that reason alone he felt like getting loaded. He wished he could get so stoned, that he could forget everything that had happened since he had gotten home that afternoon and his life had turned to shit.

Finally, mellowed by the grass, Eric closed his eyes and rested his head against the back of the seat. The kid, although older, seemed inexperienced and he'd decided to give him a free rein to find his way. He'd managed so far to get Eric's shirt open and had his hand inside stroking his chest and his side and anywhere else he could reach.

Sex for Eric had always been hurried and anonymous, in stairwells, back alleys, and on the occasional good night like this, in the back seat of a car. Foreplay normally consisted of getting into each other's pants as quickly as possible, and sex began at the first contact with his cock and ended when he came. Touching for just the sake of touching, he firmly believed was a luxury for heterosexual couples alone.

Oh, he had seen it in the bars he cruised, men touching men. Men being openly affectionate with each other. But he had never experienced it with any of the nameless men he had sex with. He probably would have shunned it even if they had tried to go beyond the customary blowjob. But right then, as stoned as he was, the feeling of that kid's hand on his bare flesh was incredible. He could have sat there all night.

After awhile, they got into each other's clothes and they became a tangle of cloth and legs and half-shed jeans. The kid even tried kissing him and Eric, lulled by the sensation of so much bare flesh pressed against his own, let him at first before drawing away. That was another thing he didn't do, and being stoned wasn't going to change it. On occasion, he had had men try to kiss him, but to Eric having another man's tongue in his mouth was a far more intimate act than just sucking his cock He didn't know how he could maintain the anonymity he needed with a man if he had let him kiss him. And he had no intention of ever getting any closer to any of these men than what it took to give a blowjob.

They finished up, Eric on the seat, his Levi's in a tangled pile around his ankles. The kid had been kneeling on the floor of the car, pressed between his spread thighs, still working on as much of Eric's cock as he could get down his throat. Finally, in frustration at the kid's ineptness, Eric pulled him up so that he was now straddling his thighs instead of between them, and took the kid's cock into his mouth giving him a lesson in the fine art of giving head while he jerked himself off at the same time.

The touching at first had been nice. And having the comfort of a backseat compared to having to get down on his knees amid the trash and broken glass of an alley was always good. But the highpoint of the short drive had actually been the dope, definitely not the sex. And it wasn't the kid's inexperience that was to blame for that. It was more like his anger and resentment at his father could even ruin this basic pleasure for him.

They got their Levi's pulled back up and their shirts re-buttoned and the kid drove him back close to where he had picked him up. He wanted to kiss him again and Eric, grateful for the good weed if for nothing else, let him have a brief one before pulling away again.

"Do you hang out around here often?" the kid asked, his hand still cupped around the back of his neck.

Now that they were back on the street, Eric felt uncomfortable with even that much contact between them. The kiss had been a gift. He drew away, putting his hand on the door handle. "I'm around," he said noncommittally.

"Maybe I could see you again."

"Sure," Eric lied.

He got out of the car and watched the kid drive away, taking his pack of cigarettes out of the pocket of his shirt. He stepped up on the curb and walked over to the entrance of an empty shop and sat down on the concrete steps outside the doorway. He lit a cigarette and pulled off it deeply trying to get the bitter taste of the kid's cum out of his mouth.

He sat there a long time, chain smoking, watching the people that walked by him on the sidewalk. There was every walk of life here. There were the beat musicians, the runaways, the hustlers, and the slumming businessmen as well as leather clad men and the occasional flamboyant drag queen. He had to hand it to the latter two, as dangerous as it was around there, they wore their sexuality on their sleeve like a badge of courage. Sometimes he wondered how it would feel to be that open.

Eric got up and walked down the block and turned recklessly into the first bar he came to. He was thinking he would pick somebody else up. He wasn't finished for the night. He wondered if he would be finished for a long while.

The bar was dark inside and vibrating with rock and roll pouring out of some well-hidden music system. It was actually two rooms in one. One half of the bar was just that, a long horseshoe shaped bar where patrons could hang out or just order drinks. The other side of the room was a dance floor, separated from the bar by just a three-foot high partition. The dance floor was circled by clusters of tables, pushed back as far as possible against the wall to give the dancers more room.

Eric squeezed in next to a man in a suit to get a coke from the bar and then moved onto the other side of the partition, staying pressed against it to keep from running into any of the grinding mass of human bodies that were dancing to the music. He stopped at the back of the bar, close to the rest room door, and leaned against the wall and watched the dancers.

It was the strobe lights that made Eric look first. It was the way they picked up the silver highlights in his blond hair.

There was a man in the middle of the floor wearing a dress shirt and slacks. He had his shirtsleeves rolled back and his gold watch flashed under the strobes. He'd lost his tie somewhere and his shirt collar was open, but he was still over dressed among the other flannel and denim clad dancers.

But he could dance. Nothing flashy, but he was loose and happily uninhibited, and there was something so suggestive, so overtly sexual, too in the way he moved to that driving beat that Eric couldn't take his eyes off of him. And then he turned and Eric saw his face for the first time and almost choked on his drink. It was Morgan.

Eric knew he should have left right then. He should have run like hell. But he still couldn't tear his eyes away from him. He stared across the room with that odd lucidity of being stoned and watched him dance; slowly realizing for the first time that it was with another man.

Eric was still watching when the song ended and Morgan headed back across the dance floor to the bar alone, his partner disappearing into the crowd on the other side of the room. He watched as Morgan picked up a glass from the bar and took a drink, and then still holding the glass turned back around to watch the dancers. From where Eric stood he was less than fifteen feet away. It was definitely Morgan or a stoned image of him, but it was so vivid.

There was a man next to him at the bar, dressed similarly but still in his jacket and tie. And Eric realized that it was the same man that he had stood next to when he had ordered his coke. If he had been just a few minutes later, he would have run into Morgan at the bar.

Eric watched the man lean toward Morgan, saying something into his ear to be heard over the music and saw Morgan smile. The intimacy between the two of them, suggested by that smile, jolted him, even more than seeing Morgan dance. He was gay.

The way both men were dressed made Eric think that they must have just come from the party for Hoehn that Morgan had told him about earlier that day. Or maybe they had just come from having dinner at one of those high priced restaurants that required a coat and tie. Whichever it was, Morgan looked comfortable standing there, more like he was working a room at a cocktail party than standing in a Mafia run gay bar in the middle of the Village.

And still, Eric couldn't take his eyes off of Morgan, wishing like hell that his head wasn't so fucked up by the grass he'd smoked earlier.

The other man went back to talking to a guy on his left and Morgan set his drink down and stood watching the dancers for a few more minutes, his back resting against the bar.

Eric watched him, wondering why he had never picked up on anything that would have made him suspect Morgan was gay. Was it just the fact that he had met his son, and because of Carl, he figured there had to be a wife around somewhere? Would that have made him blind to the way Morgan looked at other men, or the way he reacted to them? It was possible, but he didn't think so.

And then, Eric remembered, that in the few times he had met Morgan, except for the one time when Carl had been with him, they had basically been alone together. It was very possible that he had never picked up anything from Morgan because Morgan had absolutely no interest in him. And even though it hurt his ego a little, that was probably the best explanation right there.

But, even right then, as Morgan watched the dancers, there was nothing about his expression that reminded Eric of the predatory look he'd seen on hundreds of cruising men in hundreds of different instances. Probably the same expression he'd been wearing himself when he'd first walked into the bar. And there was no hint of the sexuality in Morgan's expression that had been so evident in his dancing. Right then, he was simply into the music and into the dancing, relaxed, and enjoying himself. Eric could imagine any one of the men in the bar walking up to him and getting the same polite, friendly conversation he was so easy with at the clinic. That and nothing more.

If Morgan had come into that bar tonight looking to get laid, then Eric would have pitied anyone sitting down to a hand of poker with him. Morgan had mastered an impervious poker face. Eric began to suspect that for a man that had such an air of openness about him, Morgan might probably be one of the most guarded men he had ever met. More guarded even than Eric was himself.

Eric watched as Morgan rolled his shirtsleeves back down and then reached into his pants pocket to take out his cufflinks. He saw him put those back on and then straighten his cuffs. And then, Morgan turned back to the bar and picked up his jacket, slipping it on, turning himself into some kind of ivy league businessman instead of the sexy young dancer he'd been just a few minutes before or the world class eventer that Eric thought he knew.

Morgan took his tie out of his jacket pocket and draped it around his neck, under his open shirt collar, not bothering to re-tie it. And there was something about that loose tie that defined him, brought all those pieces of him together.

Morgan was still looking at the dancers but his expression had changed a little. It was distracted, as if he wasn't really seeing them any more, but thinking of something else entirely.

Eric looked away from Morgan to the other man in the suit. Eric could see him clearly in profile as he talked to the man in Levi's and a sweater beside him at the bar. He was at least ten years older than Morgan, closer to forty, maybe even a little older than that. He was around the same height, but heavier built with dark hair and an olive complexion. Eric wondered at the possibility of this man being Morgan's lover and maybe that was the reason he wasn't looking around. Maybe they had just stopped off here after Hoehn's party to get a couple of drinks, and shortly they would be leaving again for someplace to hit the sack.

That was certainly a real possibility. But judging from the animated conversation that the man in the suit was having with the other on his left, Eric couldn't help thinking that maybe he had other plans for the night.

Eric looked back at Morgan, still trying to figure him out. He examined him trying to see if there was some kind of body language he could pick up on that would explain Morgan's connection to the other man. But there was nothing obvious that he could see. And so, Eric looked back at Morgan's face, searching it for a moment, before realizing that his grey eyes were fixed back directly on him.

Eric froze, and in that brief instant their eyes met across the fifteen feet, and the three-foot partition that was between them. And there was no way for Eric to go back and pretend that he just didn't see him. It was the pot. There was no way that Morgan would have caught him staring if he hadn't been so stoned.

Morgan smiled at him, and that's all it was, just a casual greeting between two people who knew each other. They could have been anywhere. They could have still been at the clinic for all that smile said. Morgan's expression when he looked at him, was that same one of open friendliness that Eric had begun to expect from him, nothing more and nothing less.

Eric looked away, putting his coke down on top of the partition, and walked out of the bar without ever looking back.


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