A Little Diddy about Jack and Duran
"You look like someone just shot your dog and ran off with your wife, cowboy."
Jack looked up at the truck-stop waitress and smirked, "Yeah. Pretty much."
"Top off your coffee, sweet-heart?"
"No, thanks," he said, and pretended to be interested in something outside the window in order to make it clear that he wasn't looking for any company. The waitress was a pretty relatively-young brunette, and truthfully, he would have liked more coffee, but at just this moment, he wasn't in the mood for chasing tail.
Jack was used to women fawning over him – he was a handsome man, and he knew it. Back when, he'd been a handsome boy, too. Girls had been flocking to him since Jr. High. He'd been one of the Popular Group all the way through the public school system in Gilbert, Kansas – star of the baseball team, top wrestler, even A-student, although he didn't brag about that so much. He dated all the cheerleaders, and had sex with most of them. For Jack, high school had been a wonderful time - he'd had it all.
Including a secret. And his name was Sonny Duran. They'd met in seventh grade, and at first, Jack thought of him merely as annoying and a maybe little weird, kind of like his eight-year-old brother Cyril. Sonny didn't quite cling to him the way Cyril did – but it was close. Nonetheless, Sonny was the same age as Jack, and the two of them lived less than a quarter-mile apart; Jack on his parent's farm and Sonny in a rented house that used to belong to a farmer who owned several hundred acres on the other side of the highway. There were no other neighbors for twenty miles around, so when Jack felt like doing something, it was usually Sonny who did it with him.
And one hot summer day in 1979, he found out why Sonny seemed a little odd.
"Dude! What the fuck are you doing?"
"Oh calm down. It was just a kiss. Wasn't even on the lips."
"Well... that's just weird, man... I mean-"
"You might as well know – since you apparently aren't going to figure it out – I'm gay, Jack. I'm a fag."
"And I like you. A lot. Look – it's okay if you're not, even if it kinna sucks for me. I was just, y'know, testing the waters, I guess. Sorry if it freaked you out."
"Well... you coulda just said something. Didn't have to go kissing me. Jesus."
"I said I was sorry. So, uhm... I take it you're not... interested?"
"Just... gimme a little while, okay? I... uh... I dunno yet."
Later that day, as they took a break from digging out a tunnel through part of an eroded stream-bank (it was going to be a 'fort'), Sonny asked for an update of Jack's opinion on the matter, but Jack still didn't know. So Sonny suggested that maybe a real kiss might help him figure it out.
They simply clicked. At the time, Jack didn't know how rare that was. Oh, he knew it was special, he just didn't know how special.
Now, just over two decades later, it was beginning to dawn on him. He'd been searching for a click that ever since, through two marriages and two divorces. It was the depression of ending his last marriage that had brought him – eventually – to this truck-stop on I-40 in the first place.
"You sure you don't want me to top off that coffee, hun?" the waitress asked again half an hour later.
"Uhm..." Jack looked at his half-empty cup of coffee, and took a sip of it. It was ice cold. "Fah! Actually, I think I'd like another cup, please – this one's cold. Didn't realize I'd been sitting here so long... guess I was kind of lost in space there for awhile."
"Yeah, you were. Listen, it's time for my break. I'll bring you a free piece of black-bottom pie to go with that coffee if you'll let me listen to your problems. How's that sound?"
Maybe it would be good to talk to someone. Sitting there dwelling on things that weren't going to happen wasn't making him feel any better, for sure. "Sounds good, uh..." Jack tried to read her name-tag, "Annabe?"
"Annabelle, hun – they ran out of room. 'Kay – be right back."
Jack had a long list of things that weren't going to happen. He was never going to be a rock-star, for one. He could play guitar, but rock-star? No, he couldn't play like that. He was never going to write a novel, either. He was never going to sail around the world. He was never going to climb Everest. He was never going to own a 1969 Corvette convertible. For that matter, he was never even going to pay off his mortgage. What with alimony and child-support - no, that wasn't going to happen. And frankly, even if it weren't for that, he'd still have to live to be one-hundred-and-three. Not likely. Although, that'd would be just typical, wouldn't it... finally get his house paid-off and then immediately die. About right.
And what made it worse – it hadn't always been that way.
Early summer of their junior year, Jack and Sonny sat in Jack's beat-up Ford F-150 in the Tastee-Freeze parking lot. Sonny was leaning up against the door on his side, his legs stretched out across Jack's lap. Both their windows were rolled down since it hadn't gotten hot yet, but the cicadas had emerged early that year, so the air was filled with their shrilling racket. To their ears, it sounded just like summer should.
"Toldja it was hot..."
"I thought you meant like in 'spicy hot'! I think I burned my tongue..."
"Welcome to the perils of chili-dog consumption. Blow on it."
What passed for "chili" was threatening to run off the end wrapper, so Sonny tried to slurp it up before it spilled onto his ABBA t-shirt.
"I said blow, not suck..."
Sonny chuckled, "Yeah – you know how I get confused about those."
"You know Becky Schendel? She actually did try to 'blow' me. Can you imagine?"
Sonny almost blew Coke from his nose from laughing so hard, "No shit? That's so funny! God... You should've showed her how to do it right, you're such an expert dick-sucker. Seriously – you really are."
"One of my many skills. How the hell could I've had 'showed' her anyway, dip-wad? She doesn't have a dick, y'know."
"Too bad for you."
"I like it both ways – you know that."
"Oh, oh yes, yes I do..."
"Shut the fuck up – you know what I mean."
The conversation rested for awhile as they both ate their bad food and shared a large order of fries. Jack looked around the deserted parking-lot now and then, just to make sure no one saw them. Had someone else pulled in, he would have pushed Sonny's legs off his lap and Sonny would have sat up straight. Everyone at school thought they were just best-friends, and that's how Jack wanted to keep it. That, in fact, was the biggest concern in his young life.
"I can't wait to get out of this hell-hole," he said.
"Where do you think is better?"
"Anywhere. Anywhere but here."
"People think that no matter where they are, Jack. Anywhere else is better than where they are now."
Jack put on his James Dean impersonation, "Well there then now, Sonny... we oughta run off to the city..."
"Baby – you ain't missing nothing."
"So, Mister Staring a Hole Through the Table – tell me your sad story," Annabelle said as she sat down at Jack's booth with her own coffee and a piece of pie she intended to share with him.
"Oh, I guess it's about the same as every one's. Love lost, life goes on, years go by. Same ol' same ol'."
"Don't have to tell me. I married my high-school sweetheart. Lasted for one year – just long enough to have a kid. I could kick myself now... but y'know, when you're still basically a kid, you have different ideas about what's important, right?"
"And everything seems so simple too..."
"Uh-huh. I remember the prom – the biggest problem I'd had my whole life was trying to get my shoes dyed to match my dress. My life depended on it!" she laughed wryly.
"My biggest problem... well, shouldn't have been a problem at all. But I thought it was anyway. "
"You married your sweetheart, didja?"
"No. No I didn't. That's just it – I should have. You might say. Instead, I went off to Business College, got married, got divorced, got married again, and now, divorced again. Life isn't so simple anymore. Maybe that's what I'm really missing."
"Probably. Sorry to hear about your divorces – I know how much that can hurt," she said, trying to make him feel like his misery was shared along with the pie. "You ever think of looking up your high school sweetie?"
"Just did. I'm on my way back home with my tail between my legs. It didn't go like I thought."
Jack pulled up to the split-level ranch house in Recida, the address he'd managed to worm out of the woman in charge of the high school alumni committee. Jack's house was bigger, so he felt sure that he must be better off than Sonny was. He summoned his reserve courage and rang the bell.
And some man he didn't know answered the door.
"Uh... I'm looking for Sonny Duran? Does he live here?"
"Sonny! Someone at the door for you, dear!" he yelled, and then turned his attention back to Jack, "He'll be right here. I'm Alan, Sonny's partner."
"Oh... oh, uh... nice to meet you... uh..." Jack stammered, desperately trying to hide his shock. It hadn't occurred to him that Sonny might have had a life since high school too. Let alone that kind of life. Jack felt stupider than he ever had before in his life... Of COURSE Sonny would have a 'partner'! Of COURSE Sonny would have continued seeing other guys! What the fuck had he been thinking? That Sonny was waiting, pining away for him all these years? What a FUCKING IDIOT! It was all Jack could do not to turn and run. But it was too late now.
"Oh my g– Jack? Is that you?"
The events of the next couple of hours would always be fuzzy in Jack's head. He'd remember snippets of small talk, and images of Sonny and Alan sitting together on the couch opposite him, but not much else. Oh, he smiled, and congratulated the couple on being together and happy (for the last eight years – that fact filtered in even through the zombie-like state of mind), talked about his two failed marriages and looked appropriately contrite. He was playing a part. He played Good Old Jack, Sonny's old pal from high school. Old flame from days gone by. Sonny's first sexual experience too, he found out. Jack hadn't known that.
But what the fuck did it matter now, anyway? Sonny was healthy, happy, and in love, and Jack was... just a visitor in his home. Nothing more. He was offered a beer, but turned it down because he was afraid it might come back up. All Jack really wanted at this point was just to be out of there. He wished he'd never thought about Sonny at all.
One other snippet of conversation he remembered from that nightmare, when Alan had gone for awhile and left him alone with Sonny. The conversation turned more serious, he remembered that, although he still couldn't (or perhaps just didn't want to) remember what all was said, but one thing Sonny told him kept ringing in his ears for hours and hours afterward. Even after Jack was back across the state line into Nevada he was still hearing it:
Jack - life goes on, but you can never go back.
He had no idea why Sonny had said that to him, and really, it didn't matter. Bad enough that it was true.
"Lemme guess – you looked her up, found her married with children, and pretended that you were just there to visit your old high school girlfriend and talk about the Good Old Days. Am I right?" Annabelle asked.
"Pretty much. Uhm..." Jack hesitated, not wanting to tell her that his 'high school sweetie' had been a guy, but then the shame at being ashamed of that slapped him across the face. Because if it hadn't been for that, he just might have 'married' Sonny after all. Like he probably should have. Well, hiding it from the world had done enough goddamn damage! Time to end it! "... except it was 'him'. 'Boyfriend', instead of 'girlfriend'."
Annabelle's mouth hung open, but only for a little while. "Ah. So you're... gay. Okay – I'm cool with that and all... just, uh, kind of wasn't expecting it..."
"Not really 'gay'... Bisexual, I guess. He was the only guy I've ever... Anyway, yeah, I'm bi. I can't believe I've never told anyone that before... god what a idiot... If I'd just had the guts to-"
"Hey – sweetie? Stop beating yourself up about it, 'kay?" she said, getting herself up out of the booth, "My break's over – I gotta get back to work. Yeah – shit happens, and we do stupid things, and everything looks rose-colored when you look back at the years you were young. Life goes on, and you can never go back. You just gotta get over it, y'know?"
Jack's eyes – which had been staring at the remains of the pie – shot up to meet hers, although he wasn't consciously aware of why. All he knew, at that time, was a Truth when he heard it.
"Uh, yeah. Hey, Annabelle? When do you get off? Maybe we can go have breakfast or something. Somewhere else. If you want."