The Rubaiyyat of Omar Camacho

7. at the bagel shop

Omar's schedule had become full and regular. Work all day, school all night three nights a week, and on Saturday he'd go to a bar. Sundays were bagels. He'd get a one bagel with some kind of elaborate topping and a half dozen of day-olds for the rest of the week. Today was a warm Sunday and he was feeling bright and optimistic even though he hadn't scored the night before. School was going well: work was going well. He had even found a little time to write, a lyrical bit about lovemaking in the willows.

He stopped to adjust his burdens -- sloppy topped bagel on a paper plate, plastic bag of day old bagels, coffee, and a weekly newspaper -- and cast his eyes over the sunny little bagel shop to find an empty table, or at least an empty space at a table where the other people didn't look too scary.

There were a few empty places. He didn't really have to take that one, the one way over there next to the handsome guy who looked a whole lot like Robert.

Who was, of course, Robert himself. Alone with the Sunday paper. Looking as fine as ever. He looked up, briefly, but didn't see Omar.

Omar could avoid this scene altogether. He could walk away and not confront the guy who had stood him up two years before. But he had a loose end to tie. Maybe he wouldn't end up friends with Robert. And it was clear a long time ago that he had missed his window to be lovers with him. But he didn't have to be afraid of him any more. He was a grownup now, and he could handle being in the same universe as the perennial object of his affections without running away and hiding. It would be enjoyable just to watch him drink his coffee for a minute.

"Is this seat taken?"

"No, go right ahead," Robert said, not really looking up. He had the crossword puzzle. Omar smiled: what a cute thing for Robert to do on a Sunday morning. He still made those precise little letters, and chewed his lip when he concentrated. When had Omar first noticed that? At least eight, nine years ago, probably longer ago than that. Across the little table, Omar could smell Robert's soap, just a little now and then, overlaid by the coffee smell. It was dark roast.

It was probably a good thing that Robert hadn't recognized him. If he had, they'd have had to have an awkward conversation, instead of sitting here as companiable strangers. Omar would not have been able to study Robert like this.

Omar watched Robert so closely that he became drawn in to the crossword puzzle. He couldn't read the clues from where he was sitting but he could see the shapes of the words, the missing letters and the letters that were present, as if he were playing Hangman or Wheel of Fortune. "I think that long word is 'transcendental,'" he said.

Robert looked up, eyes wide, and dropped his pencil. "Omar?"

Omar nodded, grinning widely. He couldn't help it: Robert was such a treat to look at.

But Robert's face shut down. Whatever was going on here, there was no warm welcome.

"You look different again."

"My job, I have to look normal. Can't goth it up in the law office."

"You're working in a law office." Robert was mad at him. But it had been Robert who stood Omar up, the last time, and they'd had a really lovely night before that. Omar couldn't be angry at Robert over events of two years before -- why would Robert be angry?

Why did anybody do anything?

"Yeah, I'm like a paralegal kind of thing. And I'm going to school."

Robert continued to scowl. Omar couldn't remember Robert holding a sour expression anywhere near this long, not even in seventh grade when that jerk Armando pushed him in the mud and tried to keep him there. Tried, didn't succeed, because Omar grabbed the rear of Armando's waistband and pulled him off, and that guy whose name Omar never knew pushed at Armando from the front. While Armando struggled to his feet again, all three of them ran as fast as they could, Robert and that other guy off to one side and Omar to another.

Armando caught up to Omar, not that day, but a couple of days later, when nobody else was near. Robert never knew the price Omar had paid for Robert's rescue.

And now Robert was scowling at Omar.

"So, you graduated? What are you doing right now?" Omar asked brightly, ignoring the hostility or whatever it was coming from Robert.

"Yes. I do software crap. It's okay."

"So -- you doing okay?" Omar asked. Maybe he was having a hard time in general. Maybe Omar could cheer him up, or at least be a sympathetic ear.

Robert shook his head. "Good enough. Look, why are you here?"

"Bagels. I come every Sunday."

"And you sat here, why?"

"I just was surprised to see you. It's nice."

"Nice." Robert looked away. "Why didn't you ever call that time?"

"I did. I called a whole bunch of times and you never answered the phone. I even came up to campus, like you said. But --"

"You chickened out." He was furious, that's what it was, furious after two years. Even though --

"Yeah, I did. I saw you with your boyfriend and I just -- I didn't even wait around to find out were you exclusive or not. I mean -- he was way more hotter than I could ever be, it was embarrassing even to think about."

"What boyfriend? I didn't have a boyfriend."

"I didn't think it was a one-night stand. I saw you twice. I guess I chickened out twice. I called a bunch of times after, though. I thought we could maybe be friends since you already had the boyfriend."

"You keep saying that. I didn't have a fucking boyfriend."

"Well, whatever it was that you had. That guy you were kissing and making out with in front of the dorm. Like heavy making out, not a pat on the shoulder." He looked at Robert's unmollified face. "If I'd have been doing that with some guy, I'd remember it two years later. Especially one as hot as that one was."

As hot as the guy headed straight for their table, clean and smooth and what in hell had he done with his hair? The guy who wasn't Robert's boyfriend two years ago leaned over and kissed him on the forehead. "Who's the hottie, Rigo?" he asked.

As the blond slid into the third chair at the table, Robert said, "Omar. This is Tack," he said to Omar.

"That Omar?" Tack asked, generally, as Omar said, "Not your boyfriend?" Snotty, but he couldn't help it.

"That Omar," Robert said to Tack. Turning to Omar, he said, "Tack's never been my boyfriend. He's been my best friend since I started college. We've been roommates for a long time. Not boyfriends."

"Sorry," Omar said, feeling stupid, and why did he feel like he had done something wrong? "You looked like boyfriends when I saw you before."

"Before what?" Tack asked. His eyes were clear as water and smudged with eyeliner almost the same sky color.

"You saw me and Tack?" Robert asked. "And you thought he was my boyfriend?"

Omar shrugged.

Robert said to Tack, "Omar says he stood me up because he saw you and thought you were my boyfriend." He shook his head. "He was too chicken to ask about it."

"I did try," Omar said, thoroughly on the defensive now. "I kept calling but nobody answered. I called three times a day."

Tack frowned thoughtfully. "So why did you think I was Rigo's boyfriend?"

"Because you were french kissing and crap. Why do you call him Rigo?"

Tack lifted his shoulders, and glancing at Robert, said, "It's just a nickname. Like everybody calls me Tack. All of his friends call him Rigo. You saw us kissing?"

"Yeah, I did. More than kissing. If you'd been anymore hot about it you'd have been arrested."

"We did do that a lot for a while. It was just to upset some of the straight guys. It didn't mean anything."

"You kissed him just now."

"Don't you kiss your sister?"

Omar shook his head. "I stay away from my sisters as much as I can."

Robert was just sitting there fuming, letting Tack drill Omar.

"So what did you do? You saw Rigo and me kissing and you did what? Follow us to class? Or what?"

Omar studied his hands and thought about what he could say that wouldn't sound lame. "I went home."

"Just like that? You see the guy kissing somebody and you figure oh well, you didn't want him anyway?"

"No, that's not --"

"Rigo, honey, get me a bagel like the one little Omar's got, okay? What's that? A Lomi Lomi Lox ?"

Robert gave both Tack and Omar a sour look but he went off, swinging clenched fists as he walked. Omar watched him walk across the shop.

Even like this, he was beautiful.

"You getting ready to run away again?"

Tack was looking Omar up and down, appraising him. Omar turned back to watching Robert.

"You want him?" Tack asked.

Omar just stared at him. He was unreadable.

"Just tell me, do you want him?"

"He doesn't want me."

"That wasn't the question."

"But the question doesn't make any sense. I could want him the rest of my life and --"

"You think you will?"

"I ought to get over it eventually. Look, why are you even asking me this? It doesn't matter. He hates me."

"You're just as stupid as I thought you were. Okay, I don't care what happens to you, but the guy you're teasing like this is my best friend. I can see you're crushing on him and you don't have the guts to go after him, and I know that Rigo's never gotten over you, so I'm willing to help you out here just so my boy can get over you. Only you've got to promise not to wimp out. Got it?"

"He doesn't like me. He doesn't even want to talk to me. He blames me for what happened before and he won't listen to me."

"You're worse than I thought. He's coming back. Put yourself on the line, okay? Ask him for a date."

Robert swung into his seat with a blank face, sliding the bagel to Tack, but gazing at Omar. Omar thought he could just look at that face for years. He did just look at Robert for a long moment, until Tack kicked him in the shin. He tore his eyes off Robert: Tack was giving him a signal. And he kicked Omar again, harder.

"Oh, hey," Omar said, and stopped. "Um, Robert? Do you want to do something later? Do you have some time this afternoon maybe, or tonight? Maybe?"

Robert took his time answering. "I'm busy," he said, in about the same tone of voice as a person might say "fuck you."

But Tack kicked Omar again.

"Maybe later in the week? We could maybe just meet for coffee, see how that goes? Catch up a little?"

Robert shook his head. Giving Tack a grimace, he got up and strode out of the bagel shop. Omar dropped his head into his hands.

"Well, that was a lame approach," Tack said. "You never seduced anybody before? Or maybe you just wanted to fail? That's cool. You want to spend the rest of your life thinking about the one that got away. Right."

"Screw you," Omar said. "You don't know me. You -- fuck it. Think what you want. You care about his love life so fucking much, you seduce him. It would probably work. You already kissed him more than I ever did."

Tack laughed. "There's only two problems with that proposal. One, I'm not Omar, and two, I'm in love with somebody else."

Omar stared at him. it was hard to imagine a sane human being not being in love with Robert.

"You don't believe it? Here, look at this."

Omar pulled back, but he couldn't help seeing it: a wallet picture of Tack and a man as dark as Tack was blond -- the man was almost purple. "That's Akin," Tack said. "He knows better than to be jealous of Rigo. And you know what else? He knows you have to go after what you want."

Omar closed his eyes, trapping the moisture behind his lids. He didn't need to be lectured by this fox who clearly had what he wanted. With a great shuddering sigh, he gathered himself and stood.

"Wait."

Reluctantly Omar turned around. "What?"

"Take this."

Deja vu: it was two numbers, marked "cell" and "house."

"What the fuck good is it if he never answers his phone?" But he put the paper in his pocket.

"Now give me yours." Tack pushed his little book and pen across the table. It was open to the letter O. Omar wrote: "Omar Camacho (loves Robert Garcia)," and he wrote a home number, a cell number, and a work number. Tack laughed as he watched him write.

"That's the ticket. Now call. Leave a fucking message if he doesn't answer. You come here often?"

"Always. Every Sunday morning about ten. But don't, don't tell him. I don't want him to avoid me. Okay?"

Tack smiled enigmatically. "I won't cause him to avoid you," he said.

"I swear I've been set up or something," Omar said to Maxie. "Nobody ever answers either of those numbers and the message machines don't even say who it is so I don't even know if I'm calling Robert or somebody else."

"Call him a few more times and then call it a day," Maxie said. "You don't want to be a stalker. There's other nice guys in the world."

"Yeah. There's other nice guys." But none of the others were Robert.

9: in the bedroom

"Okay," Omar said to his cell phone, to the answering machine that might or might not be Robert's. "This is the last one. I know I said I'd call until you said not to call anymore, but this is going nowhere and I'm not insane."

He took a shuddering breath, coughed, recovered himself, and began again. "So this is like a poem for you but if you don't like it don't worry, okay?"

On the street, a car went by, but it wasn't loud here behind the bagel shop. He leaned against the sunny wall and covered his mouth from the outside air. "Okay, here goes.

There are not many things I want:

three things from the world and one from you.

the light of the sun: the clarity of water: the freshness of the breeze:

the joy of your company.

There are not many things I need:

three things from the world, and one from you.

the cover of night: the push and pull of the sea: the surprise of sunrise:

the nourishment of your approving gaze.

That's all. Well, I've left you all my numbers before and if you've been erasing them Tack has them, and I'm always at the bagel shop Sunday mornings. I'm really sorry for everything, including the parts that aren't my fault."

He flipped the phone closed and stuck it in his pocket. It was five minutes after ten. The line at the counter was long today, and it took a good fifteen minutes for him to get his bagel and coffee: but the table where he had seen Robert two weeks before was empty.

He had brought his notebook. Having said goodbye to Robert he intended to forget about him for an hour or so. He would write about a man entirely different from Robert, different in features and manner, as different in personality as he could be and still be attractive. Just how to do that -- he ignored his bagel and let his coffee go cold as he made a list of Robert's attributes, meaning to contrast each one with a word or a phrase. From this he would build the love object of his next series of stories. Stalling out near the bottom of the page, he began to make the list of contrasts . . .

The sound of breaking glass interrupted him: his phone was ringing. He flipped it open: the number was "unknown." Whoever it was had blocked Caller ID. Probably telemarketers, but you never knew. "Yeah?"

"Is that seat taken?" Omar had never heard Robert's voice on the phone before, but he knew it now.

"Not unless you take it," Omar said, looking around for Robert, not seeing him at first, but there he was, juggling bagel and paper and coffee and phone somehow all at once. And almost here. Wearing an old t shirt with a band logo on it. And here. Bringing with him the smell of toothpaste. Some strong smelling toothpaste if Omar could smell it across the table. Everything on the table without spilling, Robert sitting across from him, the phone put down, his hands folded on the table. Omar's big smile fading as he noticed Robert wasn't smiling. After all that, he'd come to tell him off.

Robert didn't say anything for a long while. Omar swallowed his anxiety and said, "It's really good to see you."

Robert only inclined his head.

Omar struggled for light conversation. What he wanted to say was that he was Robert's forever if he wanted him, but that seemed like an excessive thing to say at the moment. "It's really crowded here today," Omar said. "I'm glad you came."

"Really," Robert said.

"Yeah."

"What, so you can look me in the eye before you run away again?"

"I won't run away," Omar said, almost whispering. "The only way I'll go away is if you tell me in so many words. You say get lost and I will. You don't, no matter what else you do or don't do, I'm here."

Robert shook his head. "Now you're sounding weird. What if I was mean to you? You'd stick around?"

Omar shook his head. "You're Robert Garcia, not just some guy. I've known you all my life. You're not mean."

"I'm not perfect. You keep looking at me like I was some kind of god or something and then you get scared you don't measure up and then you run away. I can't stand that any more."

"I know you're not perfect. You never answer your phone and then you decide I'm not trying to call you. And anyway I don't think I'm not good enough for you any more."

"Really?"

"Really. I've known a few guys, okay? So I've got a better idea of what other guys are like. Also I kind of figured out my relatives weren't necessarily giving me an objective appraisal either when they said I wasn't much. And I've got this decent job and my boss likes me so I don't feel like such a piece of flotsam anymore. So I'm just in a better place all around and I'm not going to decide you're too good for me."

"Flotsam? Omar, you're a trip. Flotsam. What does that mean?"

"You know, junk that falls off boats and floats around in the water. I said I don't feel like that anymore. I'm okay, sort of --"

Robert waved his hand impatiently. "The nourishment of your approving gaze? What the hell is that about?"

"It's just a poem. An exaggeration."

"So you didn't mean it?"

"I mean it, but I wouldn't say it like that in real life."

"What would you say in real life, then?"

Omar hesitated. Robert raised his eyebrows.

"Okay. Okay. Just, I like you a lot and I want to be with you. I can't think of anything else right now."

"I think you can do more than that," Robert said. "O'boy."

Omar froze. There was no point in denying it, but -- "How?"

"Text analysis. You know, how they find out whether Shakespeare wrote something? Tack and I did a big senior project together."

"You hunted me down for a senior project? Now who's weird?"

"No, we did this thing where we were identifying various anonymous internet authors. Not finding out who they were in real life, but like finding out which pseudonyms were the same guys. Tack had a hunch about this other writer being you -- yeah, he read your stories, everybody did -- but he wasn't, so we started sending our favorites through. And there it was. O'boy and O'dog were both you."

"Is that why you didn't want to talk to me a couple weeks ago? Because I still write that shit?"

"No man, I think that's pretty cool. It's the running away thing. Tell me you didn't think about running away just now when I outed you for a porn writer."

"I thought about it for about two seconds. That's all. I didn't do it. I'm still here. Did I pass the test?"

"Let's see. . . nope. Not yet. You've got to tell me what you want to do."

"I want to be with you."

"And?"

"Talk to you."

"And?"

"Whatever you want. Like that one night, maybe."

"You've got to say more than that," Robert said, still not smiling, but Omar could see he was working at it: his eyes were all about teasing and joking, and the corners of his mouth were straining at the leash.

"I want to take you home and kiss you and lick you and suck you and be your boy," Omar said. "You want more detail, it's going to be in private."

Now Robert grinned. "I want more detail."

"My place or yours?"

"You still living in that garage?"

"No, I've got a room in a nice little house. You remember my friend Maxie? From the video store? She's in my house, and her girlfriend, and this other guy --"

"Your boyfriend? Two couples?"

"How can you ask that? I'd have said that first thing if I'd had a boyfriend. If I ever had a boyfriend, I'd wear a damn ring or something. A fucking locket with his picture. You know? I'd be into it. " Omar stood up, watching Robert anxiously, worried he had gone too far.

But Robert was still grinning, and he followed Omar out of the bagel shop, saying, "Let's go see that nice little house of yours."

Omar's room was small and sparsely furnished but it was sunny and he had painted it himself, an abstraction of willows in pale green against a ground of pale yellow. He had a real bed now, or at least he had a futon raised off the ground with a platform he had built himself. Robert stood and admired the wall, and Omar admired Robert.

Robert turned to Omar. "So. More details. What do you want?"

"Do I have to say, or can I show you?"

"You're the writer guy. I think you can tell me."

"This is embarrassing."

Robert laughed. "You're cute when you blush."

"Fuck."

"You can do better than that."

Omar closed his eyes. Just channel some poetry or something, he thought. Don't wimp out.

"So, we're under the willows, right? Just us. Maybe with a little picnic. Nothing much else. And you can feel and hear the wind. Just a little wind." His window was open, and something about the way it opened did make a weird little eddying breeze in there but it didn't smell like willows. More like the freesia-scented candle Maxie had burnt next door.

"It's just cool enough so if you take off your shirt your nipples tighten up and your skin goes a little bumpy and so we're lying there, right? And you're pulling me close so you'll warm up because I'm warm and I'm warming you up. And you're letting me touch you all over and we're kissing and maybe you're touching me too."

"Maybe? You can do better than that." Again. Was he going to lose Robert because his imagination was failing him?

"Okay, you are touching me. Your hands are pretty active. Maybe even invasive. And when I'm kissing you, you're kissing back. And I'm not talking this stupid stuff, I'm just listening to your heartbeat and mine, okay? Can we go to bed now?"

"Bed? You were talking about willows." Robert's eyes were twinkling, but he was driving Omar mad.

"Look. Willows. On the wall. Right over the bed. When we lie down over there, we're under the willows. Come on, Robert. You want me to beg? I'm begging."

"Yes, but just what are you begging for? Tell me that."

"Anything I can fucking get. You know. Could we just like make out for a while and whatever you wanted to do after that we'd do?"

"I don't know . . ." Robert drawled, "I'm still not sure I know exactly what you mean."

"I change my mind. I said you'd never be mean, and here you're being hella mean. Hell with it." Omar stood, scowling, for a few long seconds, waiting to see Robert's expression change as it dawned on him he might have pushed Omar too far.

As soon as it did, Omar leaned in and kissed Robert, open mouthed, tentative, his hands straying up Robert's torso. Robert stood, passive, and Omar worked harder, covering Robert's full mouth with his own, pushing against him, grasping his shoulders, kissing deeper. And Robert finally began kissing back, his hands rising to knead Omar's ribs. Omar squirmed closer. Robert pulled his face back and Omar whimpered in protest.

"When did you grow?" Robert said, husky voiced. "You're almost as tall as me."

"That's not saying much," Omar said, craning his neck, trying to make contact and kiss him again.

"Well, I'm still taller than you anyway," Robert said, and if he'd had anything more to say about it, it was lost, because Omar succeeded in trapping his mouth in his own.

Omar's hands found their way up Robert's sturdy torso. He was surprised how familiar this body felt. There had only been the one other time. But Robert felt like home. He tugged at Robert's shirt. Robert stopped him. Omar thought he might cry.

"You first," Robert said. "It's only fair."

Omar didn't get it, but started tearing off his clothes, dropping them in a heap on the floor. He usually managed not to let people get a good look at him -- darkness was enough, and he didn't always get naked. But for Robert, anything.

"You're embarrassed. Don't be. I like the way you look," Robert said. Omar attempted not to flinch as Robert held his shoulders lightly and made him turn slowly. It was better when Robert pulled him close and caressed him. He sighed.

"Like that?" Robert asked.

"Yeah. Can I take your clothes off now too?"

"I don't know. Why do you want to?" Still playing this game.

"I want to see you and touch you like you're seeing me and touching me."

"Okay." Robert stepped back and raised his arms like a child being dressed for school.

Omar pulled off Robert's shirt and ran his fingers down Robert's ribs as if he were counting them. Robert's torso was just a little soft: cozy. Omar put out both hands and touched Robert's nipples. Robert hissed, but did not move.

Omar kneeled and started tugging at Robert's shoes. Robert stumbled.

"Wrong," Omar said, standing up long enough to tip Robert back on to the leaf-printed comforter which had inspired the paint job. Robert flailed, laughing: "This is better?" he asked.

"Oh yeah it is," Omar said, back on his knees, sliding off Robert's shoes. "Still wearing yellow tennies."

Robert was propped up on his elbows looking down at Omar. "You look even better down there," he said. Omar shuddered as if Robert had touched him.

He swallowed and pulled at Robert's pants. Robert's legs were more muscular than the rest of him: maybe he still walked everywhere like Omar did. Omar kissed and nuzzled his way up one leg to the knee, and started up the other again. Robert just watched him work his way up.

As he moved toward Robert's crotch his own erection kept desperately dragging against Robert's leg. And every time it did, his breath would catch in the same way. Robert stayed cool, somehow, though Omar thought he was working at it. He stopped to gaze at Robert's sweet cock, and looking up, he saw Robert regarding him with slitted eyes. He stayed kneeling like that, his own wide eyes locked with Robert's narrow ones, his breath racing and stumbling, until Robert opened his mouth.

"What are you going to do?" Robert asked.

"Suck you, if that's okay," Omar said.

Robert grinned. "Sure, that's okay."

With relief Omar inched towards his goal, and reaching it, licked it gently before taking it in his mouth and getting serious with it. He felt Robert collapse against the bed, hands reaching Omar's head, one gripping his hair, the other pushing down on him with the fingertips. Omar lost himself in it, coming back to consciousness because Robert's leg was trembling and he knew Robert would be coming soon. He slowed a little bit, teasing, and let his tongue flick playfully around. Just as he began to speed up again and get Robert into the serious end of things, Robert pushed him off and pinched his own penis.

"Stop," Robert said.

Omar sat back on his heels, yearning. Okay, if Robert wanted to come outside his mouth, okay, he thought, but Robert didn't stroke off or even let himself go. Robert sat up, took Omar's face in his hands, and kissed him. Omar responded fervently, but Robert pulled back.

"What are you doing?" Omar asked, nearly in tears.

Robert didn't answer. He just gazed at Omar, biting his lip.

"Please -- Robert, let me, or tell me what's up," Omar said.

Robert chewed his lip but didn't say anything.

"I'll do anything you want," Omar said. He reached for Robert, but Robert pushed his hand away.

"Don't you use rubbers?" Robert asked.

Omar's cheeks burned. He stood up and reached into a basket on the shelf above his bed. He threw the packet and bottle down on the comforter next to Robert. "Can I put it on you?"

"Yeah," Robert said. Omar knelt again, and Robert gasped as Omar rolled it on him. Omar saw him clench up with the effort of holding back.

Omar pushed his tongue against the bottom of his mouth to make more saliva and dove back in. Again Robert stopped him. "Now what?"

"Up," Robert said. His face was full and red.

Omar came onto the bed and Robert grasped him, pushed him over on the comforter. He kneed Omar's legs apart and climbed between them. "Okay?" he asked Omar. "Do you want this?"

Omar croaked, "Yeah," and watched Robert's eyes close as he pushed in.

"Yeah," he said again, as Robert slid in slowly and incrementally. And, "please," as Robert stopped halfway in. And then Robert was all the way in and really fucking him, really and without reservation, and Omar arched and grasped and whined and came and Robert was still fucking him. Finally Robert stiffened and trembled all over and came strongly enough that Omar could feel it right through the rubber.

Robert collapsed on to Omar. Omar's hands kept caressing Robert's head, in and out of the short locks of hair. He was on the verge of sleeping and he was also on the verge of leaping up and pounding his chest. "At last," he thought, but he didn't let the thought escape from his lips.

Omar did doze off. He woke because Robert was moving. "Bathroom's to the right," Omar mumbled, rolling back to watch him as Robert pulled his pants and shirt back on. And his socks. And his shoes. And --

"Are you leaving?" Omar asked.

Robert, at the door, turned back. "Yeah, I've got to go."

"Am I out of your system?"

"What?"

"Are you going to call me? Or can I call you?"

"Shit, Omar, you look like you're going to cry. I just have to go. I will call you."

"Okay."

But he didn't, not for days. Finally, Omar called. For once, the phone picked up. But Tack answered. "Crap. I don't mean crap about you, but Robert -- Robert's not home?" Omar asked.

"No, he's out," Tack said.

"I just wondered . . ." but he couldn't finish the sentence. "I thought he was going to call. So . . ."

"So you're calling? You want me to leave a message?"

"You could tell him I called."

"Okay."

"Wait!"

"What?"

"Crap. I can't say that. I was going to say tell him I want him. But . . ."

"But you're chickening out."

"You said he was going to see me to get me out of his system. If I'm out of his system, he doesn't want to hear that kind of crap from me."

"If you think that, why did you call?"

"Why do I have to explain myself to you?"

"You don't. But I'm here and Rigo isn't."

"Does he like it that you call him that?"

"Do you hate it that I call him that?"

"It's kind of embarrassing. If it's why I think it is. But look, okay, just tell Robert I called and I hope he calls me. And -- I should say I'll try again?"

"Are you asking me or telling me?"

"Both. You know him better than I do. Is it okay for me to keep calling?"

"Why don't you find out?"

Omar took that as a yes. Tense and unbalanced, he closed his phone and leaned back against the willows on his wall, not even trying to calm down.

He should have asked Tack about a good time to call Robert. Maybe later, after dinner. If that was where Robert was.

His phone rang. He almost dropped it.

"Yeah?"

"Is that how you always answer the phone?" Robert sounded irritated.

"I guess so. Hi, Robert."

"Your phone is busy all the time. I can't ever get through. Who have you been talking to all the time?"

"Just now I called your house," Omar said. "I didn't think I was on the phone much. I didn't hear it ring. Maybe I left it in my other pants a couple times."

"I was trying the house phone before."

"That must have been George. I should have thrown him off the phone."

"Who's George?"

"My roommate, he's angling for some girl over the hill."

"I thought you meant some guy was calling you."

"Nobody calls me, Robert. Not like that, I mean. I do have some friends. But no boyfriends, unless. . ."

"Except who?" Robert sounded, if anything, more irritated than before.

Omar dropped his voice to a whisper. "I said unless. Unless it's you."

Robert didn't answer the implied question. "Are you going to be home tonight?"

"Yes."

"You don't need to shout. Do you have to be anywhere in the morning?"

"Tomorrow's Saturday? I was going to go grocery shopping with Maxi but that's not till five or so. You want to spend the night?"

"Do you want me to?"

"Yes."

"Okay, I'm still at work. It's going to be another hour at least. Have you had dinner? Could you wait and eat with me?"

"I ate. Sorry. I didn't know."

"It's okay. I'll see you."

Omar sat in the little front room, trying to make himself . But all he could do was watch the television. It was doing something dumb with a laugh track. His roommates walked in and out, laughing at him.

Everybody in the world was laughing except Omar.

Even Robert was smirking about something when he finally came to the door, two and a half hours later. Well, he had said "at least." Omar did the romantic greeting kiss, twined around Robert, his hands all over Robert's head, his tongue all over Robert's mouth. Robert let him, and even caressed him a little. When Omar came up for air, Robert laughed out loud.

"I take it you're glad to see me," he said, rubbing his leg up against Omar's crotch. He looked weary and a little bedraggled: and, as always, beautiful.

Omar tensed. "Yeah, I am." He kissed Robert again. "But you're starving, right?"

"Tack brought me a burrito, so I'm good." Robert looked around the livingroom. "You were writing while you waited? That's cool." He bent over to look at the notebook lying on the couch.

"Uh, no. I was going to but I couldn't concentrate." He wanted to grab the notebook away and hide it behind his back. He watched Robert leafing through it, stopping to read one page, then another, disappointed. "It's just kind of notes and stuff," Omar explained.

"That's cool," Robert said again. "Though I thought maybe you'd have something for me."

"You like that? It's not embarrassing when I write that stuff?"

Robert shook his head. "What's embarrassing is when you don't write it about somebody like me. Then I'm thinking Omar's getting it on with these slick guys, you know?"

Omar shook his head. "I never met anybody slicker than you."

Robert cracked another smile. "Wonder where flattery will get you?"

"In bed?"

"Couch anyway. I need to kind of wind down before. Okay?"

"Anything you want, Robert."

Robert more fell onto the couch than sat on it, pulling Omar with him. Omar scooped up the remote and handed it to Robert. "You want it?"

Robert took the remote and dropped it on the floor. He pulled Omar on top of him and kissed him, his hands digging into Omar's pants, kneading his ass. "Yeah, I want it," he said around Omar's mouth.

--end--