Pain Slut(8)

By: J.A. Rock

“No, no. It’s all right.” He folded the shirt and set it back on the box. “I’ve looked at the order form. It was my mistake.”

“We usually proofread carefully, and check with the customer if there’s any confusion about spelling. I can’t believe I didn’t catch this.”

He was looking at me with his head tilted, a half smile still on his face. Those pointed teeth were really throwing me. “Please don’t feel guilty.”

“I understand how much stress you must be dealing with. You didn’t need this on top of it.” I winced as I shifted and my balls rolled along the side of my thigh.

He leaned forward slightly, gazing into my eyes as though—well, as though he were about to kiss me. “I suppose there is one way you could make it up to me.”

I was startled. My apologies were really just a formality, given that I hadn’t been the one to misspell angels. “Yes?”

“Could I take you to dinner?”


I mean truly, what?

At what point had I given him any indication that I . . .

But when I opened my mouth to refuse, politely but with enough of an edge to let him know that his offer was entirely inappropriate, the words “All right” came out.

“Friday night?” Mr. Seger smiled softly at me. The sort of smile you gave someone you’d known far longer than five minutes.

No. No, no. This was not happening. I was not standing here in a sweat suit trying to hide my engorged balls behind a counter while a towering, ponytailed stranger asked me to dinner.

And yet, I said, “Okay.”

He straightened. “I’d like to get my full name out of the way now. Feel free to laugh.”

Who was this joker?

“How bad can it be?”

“Hendrix Seger.”

I hesitated. “Like . . .”

“Like my last name is Seger, as in Bob, and my parents liked Jimi Hendrix.”

A bark of laughter escaped. “I’m so sorry.”

He grinned. “I’m pretty used to it. I go by Drix, which makes me sound like a douche bag action hero. But ‘Hend’ wasn’t really an option.”

I tried a movie preview voice. “Drix Seger stars in . . . Shirtsaster!” What was wrong with me? This was a grieving stranger. And his funeral shirts were ruined. I flushed. “I’m so sorry. Again.”

“I won’t require any more apologies.” He spoke quietly, sounded amused.

I studied him a moment. Decided I liked something about him. His certainty, his oddness, his teeth. His voice.

He took out his phone. “What’s your number?”

I gave it to him.

“I’ll text you closer to Friday.”

And just like that, I had a dinner date.

I drove toward Dave and Gould’s, feeling floaty, distant. The pressure of my balls against the steering wheel kept bringing me back to reality every few seconds.

A date. I had a date.

And I hadn’t even had to do anything except fuck up the guy’s order and wear a baggy sweat suit. Which made me suspicious. Why was Hendrix Seger interested in me?

I turned onto Wayne Street. I’d been friends with Dave, Gould, and Kamen for going on seven years now. We’d met when I was twenty-two and they were twenty, and we’d gotten along right away, despite some notable disparities in personality. Kamen was as laid-back as they came. Dave was more volatile, but in such an earnest and cheerful way that most people forgave his overexcited moments. Gould was so quiet that he tended to appear chill—though I suspected he dealt with more anxiety than the rest of us put together.

And then there was me: humorless Miles, with his Fred Rogers cardigans and the stick up his ass. I preferred to see myself as the mature one. The intellectual. The stoic voice of reason. But apparently this was not a universal perception.

We were an odd crew. Dave thought of us as a family; I thought of us as profoundly codependent. I was particularly confounded by how we’d ended up in this exclusive little queer-man cluster, with nary a straight or female friend in sight. I’d tried to have other friends of other genders and orientations over the years, but it seemed like those relationships faded quickly, leaving me once more in the company of my nonheterosexual male brethren.

Also By J.A. Rock

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