Lemon Zest by Toby Sharpe

Jul 4, 2018

I pulled my jeans back on. They were damp, lying there on the floor, beside his oddly placed slow cooker (brewing something tomato-based, deep and red) and balled-up socks. Later, I would wash the denim carefully, but still it would shrink.

Cheerily, tasting yellow at the roof of my mouth, I said: see you again, or see you around?

He looked puzzled, there on the bed, beached, hairy.

It’s simple. You have two options, right? You can see me again. Or you could say, see you around, which is a nicer way of telling me to fuck off. You know. I would become a stranger. Maybe our eyes will meet on campus and we’ll nod, maybe not even that.

He looked puzzled, turning to one side, his gaze leaving mine.

It was a small apartment, tucked under a family home, cupboard-like. I walked out into the snow, one boot still not quite on, my ankle juddering oddly as I tried to step back into rhythm. I’d liked how he’d felt in my mouth, his arms on me. I don’t think the feeling was mutual. He seemed like the kinda gay who hated himself and his desires, and I guess sharing his closet was time-limited. I’m not even sure he’d given me his real name. After I’d got him off, he stared down at me like I was alien matter, something you find on the sole of your shoe that immediately makes you want to retch.

I came into his coiled fist. Hate can be sexy – his loathing should perhaps have been a turn-off, but it wasn’t for me. I even liked his pseudonym.

I’d shown up to our date half-tipsy, nearly three-quarters, having investigated a student bar with two girls from my English class, with whom I shared no interests and no history. I don’t quite understand, in hindsight, why it had been so important to throw back so many of those citrus-tinted cocktails with them before seeing him, my third or fourth man of the month.

I think there’s a chance he’d wanted an actual date, with an actual boy, sober and warm. He’d invited me to a bar where I laughed loudly at his jokes, and clumsily suggested we should drink faster. It was a beer-themed bar. I was doing a bit, a series of jokes, an impression of someone I almost knew, but could never quite be. He was funny too, and the mood was briefly competitive. I didn’t get many giggles out of him. The theme was beer, can you imagine?

The text arrived two nights later, as I sat with a gaggle of straight guys trying to get into my friend’s pants, her tight black leathers. They were slobbering over her, doglike, and I was drinking water, the ice almost melted.

Not for me. See you around.

I could still taste his chest on my tongue, the spray of deodorant, poorly aimed.

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