From the passenger seat, Steve shakes the small jar of quarters. They jingle against one another, plunk against the jar's thick glass walls and its lid. His lips tighten in concern.
Are you sure it's enough?
It should be, I say, turning my head from the road to look at the jar. I return my attention to the radio. It's tough to find a good station so far outside Dallas, outside the small cities surrounding Dallas. There's country, of course. A staticky oldies station at the end of the dial. Farm and livestock reports.
We should've counted, he says.
The jar's nearly full, I say. We only need half a tank to get home.
Steve sets the jar between his thighs and looks out the window. Pine trees and meadows whiz past. Bands of orange, then pink, then blue stack the sky, all announcing the sunrise. We left the guys' trailer home a little after five in the morning and have been on the road for an hour. My gas gauge hovers just above the E, but Greenville is only ten minutes further north. I saw a sign for it a couple of miles back.
I think we should have counted, he says again.
Why don't you count now?
It's too late now.
Then stop bitching.
There was something sketchy about those guys.
They seemed fine to me.
Fine. There was nothing fine about them. I had brokered the meeting after encountering one of them online. From his picture, he seemed cute enough and the photo he emailed of his boyfriend clenched the deal. Both were somewhere between Steve's age and mine, older than him, younger than me. The guy I chatted with, Glen, was tall and well-built, looked as if he materialized from a cornfield. His boyfriend was more slender with a bush of dark curls. More importantly, we had run out of tweak and they had more. It was, of course, over an hour and a half away, during the blackest part of night, but Glen had promised to reimburse us for our gas. It was a date rife with uncertainty, but while I didn't for a moment trust Glen or his boyfriend, Marc, I did trust that neither would do anything that would give Steve and I cause to come back after we left. Fifteen dollars are in that jar, as promised.
Steve strips off his T-shirt and tosses it into the backseat.
What are you doing?
It's too fucking hot.
We might get pulled over.
It's only six in the morning and you're riding around without a shirt.
That's how we get paid.
I don't expect Steve to laugh at my joke. He isn't very smart. He's gorgeous and I'm in love with him, but he isn't very smart. He's lean and short, his arms taut and tan, his chest smooth and aglow in the rising sun that pours through the windshield. Marc had swooped down upon him not long after we arrived at the trailer home. Steve straddled his lap on the ratty sofa and rolled his hips in time with Marc's own movements. I sat at the other end of the sofa, watching, as Glen burrowed his hand down the front of my pants. This was the only way I could see Steve like I wanted to see him. It only happened when other guys were included, never just us.
I point out the windshield to the convenience store up the road on the left. I think they're open, I say.
I need to use the bathroom.
Put your shirt back on first.
Oh, yeah. He sets the jar of quarters down in the floorboards and twists over the passenger seat for his shirt. I sneak a glance at the arch of his bare back as he grabs it. By the time he has it pulled back over his head, I've resumed gazing straight ahead. I pull off the road and ease in front of one of the gas pumps.
It's going to be weird paying for all this with quarters, he says.
I'm sure whoever's there has seen weirder shit than that.
The car halts and I kill the engine. We both exit the vehicle. Walking toward the grimy glass door, Steve hands me the jar of quarters. Playfully, I shake the jar and listen to them jingle.
I sing softly, Bring us your tried, your hungry, your tweaked—
He shushes me, a quick finger to his lips. I laugh and look over at him but his face is absolutely serious. Sometimes I should just stop.
A mechanical ding sounds as we enter the store. Steve asks the lady behind the counter about the bathroom. She's stout with hunched shoulders and wears a denim jumpsuit with spangles splattered all over it. She tells him and he leaves me to pay for the gas.
You got yourself a lotta coins there, she says and laughs, though it sounds more like a rasp.
Smiling I say, Just a long night's work. I completely and totally want to die.
I need to spend only ten dollars for gas so I buy Steve and I each an oversized oatmeal cookie and a Coke. It's not much, but I suspect he hasn't eaten in over a day, so at least it's something.
Outside, I pump the gas into the car and wait for him to come back. Just as I finish, he bursts through the glass door. He looks radiant and slaphappy, he actually trots toward me. He must still be feeling the high.
He thanks me when I hand him the cookie and Coke, and we take off. The jar still has a few coins in it, but I tell Steve just to toss it in the backseat. We drive in silence for a few moments, awash in the deep orange of the early morning.
Guess what I did in there? he says.
Where? The bathroom?
I jacked off. He grins and throws his back against the seat as if it might recline under his satisfaction, like a swivel chair. Part of me liked to pretend when some guys we met couldn't make him come, that he was saving it for me. It's a silly fantasy, but it's mine.
Good for you, I say. I take a huge bite out of my cookie. Then, I'm laughing. I can't stop. A loud, honking laugh that shakes my whole body. He looks at me in vague alarm. He turns the radio on, but finds only static. I keep laughing, almost choking on my cookie. I laugh until Steve shouts at me to stop, please, just stop.
All rights reserved.
This story came out last year in 3:AM Magazine. It's grown on me the older it's gotten.