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On the Straight and Narrow

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Shane awoke, head throbbing. Unfortunately, he remembered everything from last night--slapping Vincent’s glasses off, getting walloped by Gemma, being thrown out of the club, fighting with Keith...ah, Keith. That whole...incident.

Not sure how to interpret what had happened, he decided to just push it all out of his mind. With effort, he dragged himself out of bed. He wasn’t sure if that dimethoxy-4-whatever was always such a bad trip or whether it was that he was already feeling anxious and depressed when he popped the pill. His skin still felt prickly from the drug--he’d tossed and turned all night. A splash of cold water over his face would do him some good now.

Opening his door a crack, he peeked into the living room. Vincent was gone, thank the Lord. Shane didn’t have the energy to face him at the moment, let alone apologize. He decided he’d better make himself scarce in case Vincent was on his way back. Just a quick shower, first. He hadn’t even changed out of the clothes from last night, and he felt like he was swimming in his own sweat (and a little of his own blood). His clothes were quickly peeled off, and the stream turned on. The lukewarm water pelting his face was a godsend.

He couldn’t savor it for long, however. Soon he’d thrown on a change of clothes (he chose something boring and nondescript on purpose--today he wanted to be unseen), and was headed out the door for some breakfast. Glancing up and down the street, he noticed a dark car with two men seated in the front. It seemed a little strange for two people to be hanging around some flats in their car, but he brushed it off--maybe they were waiting for someone inside.

At the local breakfast joint, he ordered some fried eggs, pork sausages, and a cup of tea. While at home he hadn’t bothered to check the time, so he glanced over to the wall clock and read 10:30. He was surprised he hadn’t slept later, given what a state he was in and how late he’d stayed out. But, then again, he’d had such a restless sleep that he couldn’t imagine sleeping any longer. Still, it partly explained just why he felt so bedraggled.

His thoughts floated to Jerry, his favorite co-worker, probably now lying cold in a mortuary. With Jerry gone, what friends did Shane even have left? Vincent hated him now, so did Gemma, and arguably Keith. In one night, he had well and truly fucked everything up with every person even vaguely close to him. A sense of humiliation started to creep in, but he again pushed it away. For now he should focus on how he was going to apologize--not all was lost.

One thing he knew for certain--he was off the drugs, and off the drug dealing. Shane never wanted a night like last night again. Even on that night, he’d felt a steely sense of certainty as he pushed Keith away and said “I’m not like you.” He was not going to spend every day of his life partying and falling deeper and deeper into the well. Jerry’s death made him realize this. Bigger things were on Shane’s horizon, he just had to reach out for them--and that meant hard work. Hard drugs were an impediment to his success, he saw that clearly now.

If only Keith could see what he could see. As Keith walked away from him that night, he felt a strong need to let Keith know he wasn’t like him, to voice this thought aloud. Maybe something of his declaration had gotten through to Keith. Behind all the drug dealing and posturing, Keith was a fun, pleasant guy. Shane liked him. He didn’t want to see him end up in prison for life--Class A drugs were no joke.

His breakfast finished, Shane walked back to his flat. He didn’t intend to stick around for long, as he was still ashamed of seeing Vincent. His goal was to pick up his sketchbook and head to the park, then spend the day sketching and waiting out Vincent. As he walked up the street, he again noticed the dark car. Still there, even after the 30 minutes Shane had spent out of the flat. Something wasn’t right. But again, he brushed it off. Maybe they had a friend getting ready inside, and their friend was taking a long time. All well within the realm of possibility.

Sketchbook secured, he walked to the nearby park and secured a spot on a bench under the shade. From here he could watch all the pets and people, sketching them out to keep his drawing skills in shape. All his subjects were on the move, so he kept to gestural figures. It wasn’t his usual detailed work, but the change of pace was nice.

As he sketched, his mind once again wandered back to the night before. To Keith, especially. Their confrontation, if that’s what it could be called. He wondered if Keith had understood what he meant by “I’m not like you.” To Shane, it was his goodbye to the drug business and everything it entailed. Still, he would likely have to have a formal discussion with Keith. Shane still had some drugs he needed rid of, but he couldn’t imagine selling them, not at this stage. He would just have to hand them back to Keith and wish him the best of luck. The conversation would be awkward no matter what, given how they parted, so why not face all the awkwardness in one go? That’s what he would do, what he must do.

But then another thought gripped him. What if “I’m not like you” had been interpreted in yet another way? Given what had just happened, it could easily be read as “I’m not gay like you.” If that was indeed how Keith had read that declaration, it must have come off as extremely condescending. Like salt to the wound. Shane’s shoulders sagged as he realized what Keith must think of him. It must have taken a lot of courage for Keith to admit his feelings (Shane remembered Keith saying something about how hard it was to hide who you are), only to be condescended to for the very thing Keith was afraid of admitting.

Searching for some saving-grace, he replayed everything that happened that night. Keith had found Shane raging outside of the club he had just been unceremoniously kicked out of. They had scuffled a bit, then Keith brought him back to his place. Shane said some angsty nonsense he couldn’t bear to recall before lying down on the carpet. Then Keith had soothed him before saying how he always knew Shane was gay (or something along those lines), before he started to kiss Shane’s neck and unbutton Shane’s top. Shane had a peculiar feeling in his chest as he recalled this part. Somewhere between nervousness and excitement. And anyway, what about Shane had struck Keith as gay when they first met? He couldn’t figure out how he felt about that part.

It was when Keith had unbuttoned his trousers that Shane jumped up and pushed him back. That was too far. Too real.

But that wasn’t it, was it. That interaction was quickly approaching a part of his identity he wanted to ignore, so he hit the eject button. Yes, he had felt attracted to other men before...but didn’t everybody? Those were flights of fancy. His attraction to women...Gemma...was real. Bisexual , some part of his brain offered. But he shook his head, as if trying to startle himself out of a dream. He blinked quickly, trying to focus on a dog playing catch with its owner. But he couldn’t focus, couldn’t get his pencil to shape out the leaping dog. Instead, he slammed the sketchbook shut and stood up so he could take a brisk walk around the park.

While walking around the park, he looked around for attractive women, just to feel sure of himself. A jogging blonde here, a woman stretched out on a picnic blanket there. His thoughts went back to Gemma, his longtime crush. His mind became calmer, and the night before started to fade. Circling back to his bench, he once again sat down and started sketching out his surroundings. A tree, a swing set. Peaceful things. He thought again of Jerry, and although the thought of Jerry depressed him, it was a welcome distraction. When would the funeral be? Should he call Jerry’s family and ask? Surely they would announce it at work on Monday. No need to bother a family who didn’t even know him. And anyway, it’s not like they were particularly close friends. They were co-workers who’d found a sense of kinship, but Shane didn’t know much about Jerry’s personal life. Even so, it was Shane’s first time having a friend die. He realized, suddenly, that he’d never been to a funeral before. His grandparents were all alive, and he’d never gone to the funerals of more distant relatives who’d died in years past. The thought of the oncoming funeral was sobering, yet it piqued his curiosity. Who would be there? What would it be like? Should he say anything?

Before Shane knew it, four hours had passed at the park. Even drawing became dull after a while, and he needed to rest his hand anyway. With no excuses left, he decide he’d better head back to the flat. If Vincent was there, so be it.

Vincent wasn’t there. But the dark car was. He noticed it a third time, still parked in the same spot, still with the same two men sitting up front. This wasn’t normal--it had to be the Gardaí. A stakeout, surely. Just how long had they been staked out there until he noticed them this morning? Were they preparing for a raid? The thought made him feel cold, but he tried to look natural as he walked past the car and into the building. He couldn’t brush off his paranoia now. They’d been there for hours, and anyway he figured it was best to go with his gut and protect himself, even if it turned out he was being paranoid.

When he’d safely reached his flat and locked the door, he paced back and forth. He wondered whether he should warn Keith right away or start disposing of his own drugs. All his drugs were stashed under his bed, but the Gardaí would surely find that with even the slightest amount of searching. He fetched the plastic baggies variously full of tablets and powder, glanced around wildly, then decided to stash it in his toilet reservoir. He intended to toss all the drugs in the fireplace later, but he needed to warn Keith as soon as possible.

Peeking out his front door, he noted that the hallway was clear, then took the stairs two at a time up to Keith’s floor. It hadn’t crossed his mind until now that Keith might not be home. Ah, fuck it. He banged on the door with what he hoped was a communicative amount of urgency.

After 30 seconds of banging, Shane heard the door latch click. The door opened slightly, and Keith’s disgruntled face emerged.

Before Keith could get a word in, Shane said, “We need to talk. Right now.”

Keith seemed to sense Shane’s nervousness. “Alright. Come in.”

Somewhat tactlessly, Shane pushed his way in. Strangely, he felt somewhat giddy now that he was in Keith’s flat. Maybe it was just the fact that he had the upper hand over the Gardaí sitting outside--he felt limitless.

Keith shuffled over to his living room sofa and sat down. Shane continued pacing around the room.

“Are you still high or something? Why don’t you sit down?” Keith offered.

“Oh. Sorry,” said Shane. He sat down at once.

“So? What is it?” asked Keith.

Now that they were in the same room it was clear to Shane that Keith wanted to forget about what happened last night as much as Shane did. Still, Shane had to wonder if Keith thought that was just what Shane had come in to talk about. It wasn’t, but Shane was glad they were on the same page.

“Well,” said Shane, “I think the Gardaí are on to us.”

Keith squinted his eyes. “What?”

Shane launched himself off the couch and swiftly walked to Keith’s window. “Come over here. Look outside.”

Keith begrudgingly lifted himself off the couch and trudged to the window.

“Go on,” said Shane.

Keith parted the blinds to look through. As he was looking, Shane said, “See that car? I spotted it this morning. Those two men have been sitting out there for hours. I think they’re casing the place, trying to find probable cause for a search warrant or something like that.”

“You sure they were Garda?”

“Who else could they be? And even if they’re not, better safe than sorry.”

Keith rubbed his chin. “Well, shit.”

“And, well, while I’m at it, I can’t be selling drugs anymore. I decided it. Last night.” He knew mentioning last night was a gamble, but Shane was feeling weirdly impervious.

Keith just sighed.

“Anyway, don’t you think you should be getting out of the game? If those are Garda and they catch you, you’re potentially looking at life in prison. You’ve had your fun. Why don’t you hang it up while you’re on top?” said Shane.

“Oh, so now it’s a lecture? Can you stop preaching for a second so we can figure out a plan?” Keith said, exasperated.

“There’s nothing to plan. You can’t sneak any drugs out while they’re watching, so you’ll just have to burn them or flush them. You’ll probably lose money but it’s better than a prison sentence,” said Shane. He felt like he could see everything so clearly--everything was laid out before him. He felt free.

Keith sighed again. He broke away from the window so he could sink back down into the sofa. Shane stood watching him, his hands in his pockets. “Well?”

“You’re right. Fuck,” said Keith.

“Alright then,” said Shane. “I’ve still got some drugs at my place that I need to take care of, but I don’t want to risk bringing it out in the hallway, so I’m just gonna head back to my flat, yeah? I’ll meet back at your place in a bit.”

Keith waved him off, and Shane bounded out the door, down the stairs, and all the way back to his place. He was overtaken by a lightness of being. He felt high, though the drugs had worn off long ago. Everything that worried him was slipping away.

Each packet he threw in the fire lightened him, little by little. By the time he threw the last baggie in the fireplace, he felt almost weightless. The biggest threat to his success was now gone. The only thing he had to face now was his friends, and he somehow knew he could do it. Everything would be alright. He couldn’t help but smile.

Shortly, he was back at Keith’s place. He knocked a couple times, then tried the handle. Finding it open, he let himself in.

Keith was on the couch where Shane had left him. Shane wondered if he’d even moved at all.

“Did you get rid of the drugs?” Shane asked tentatively.

“Yeah,” said Keith, “You better be fuckin’ right about the Garda.”

Shane breathed a sigh of relief. “You’ll just have to trust me.”

“I’ve a lot more to lose than you, y’know. You’re bottom of the ladder, you can split any time. I’m higher up, I’ve got expectations, connections, the whole mile. This is my job ,” said Keith.

“I dunno what to tell you. You can’t sell for a while, what with the Gardaí sniffing all over the place. You’ll just have to make do. Anyway, maybe a break will be good for you,” said Shane, feeling relaxed as ever. “Just take the money and run, is what I say.”

Keith didn’t answer. He just stared off ahead, seemingly lost in thought.

At least now, Shane could start his apologies. He might as well bring up last night, while he was feeling this weirdly confident buzz.

“So, about last night,” Shane began, and Keith whipped his head around. “I just...wanted to apologize. About everything. I’m sorry I punched you. And I’m sorry if I said anything rude. Like I said last night, I was in bad shape. Not that that excuses anything I did.”

“S’fine,” said Keith.

“And...I didn’t mean to condescend or anything,” Shane continued, his words coming more quickly. “When I said ‘I’m not like you’ I just meant I didn’t want to sell drugs anymore. I didn’t mean that being gay is bad or anything. It’s fine. My flatmate’s gay, y’know. We’re good friends.”

“Christ,” said Keith, visibly wincing. “You don’t need to rehash the whole thing. Can we just drop it?”

“Sorry, I just wanted to make sure I clear everything up. I feel absolutely terrible,” said Shane. “You were really grand, taking me home and making sure I was alright. I’m very thankful, you know. I want you to know that.”

Keith softened a bit. “Well, alright. Apology accepted. I’m sorry I kicked you in the bollocks.”

Shane laughed. “That fuckin’ hurt. But I deserved it.”

The conversation died out as both of them stared into the wall. Shane was seized by the moment, knowing that a person who was attracted to him was sitting right next to him. At least he thought Keith was still attracted to him, given that he didn’t fuck up last night too badly. He savored the feeling, and why shouldn’t he? Man or woman, it was nice to feel wanted.

Shane thought once more of Keith’s lips brushing against his neck, and a strange feeling took hold of him. One that he couldn’t identify, except that his breath felt heavy and his forehead felt tense. If he ever wanted to experiment, now would be the moment, wouldn’t it? No one would know, except him and Keith, and if he didn’t like it he could leave it behind. He knew Keith would never tell. He tried to think of it almost objectively. Doesn’t everyone his age experiment? Isn’t it normal, healthy even? He should give himself this experience, and now was the perfect moment. Shane already knew Keith was attracted to him, he just had to start it. Even the thought of starting anything set his heart throbbing arrhythmically. It was so much easier when Keith took the lead--he should have let him go on. Then again, he was feeling so much better now, and didn’t he want this to be a positive experience?

Glancing over at Keith, Shane imagined several strategies. He could start by kissing Keith’s neck, as Keith kissed his. But then he imagined Keith leaning away, the confused expression. Shane couldn’t bear it. Better to start with a kiss on the lips, with his eyes closed, so he couldn’t see anything. But a kiss on the lips felt too intimate, somehow. It didn’t help that there was a gap between them that he would have to bridge before making any kind of move. That movement alone would draw Keith’s gaze, and possibly, the offended expression Shane dreaded.

No. Shane knew Keith was attracted to him. Why should he act disgusted, or offended, or any of that? Shane imagined plunging his hand into Keith’s soft brown hair, drawing his head closer, kissing him...Shane’s chest tightened. He was psyching himself up too much, he just needed to do something. But it was so hard to will his body to do the things he was imagining. He sat stock still, feeling like a coiled spring. Action was imminent, but what?

Just as he felt his heart was about to burst, Shane shifted closer to Keith, so that their shoulders were touching. Keith looked toward him with an unreadable expression. Shane didn’t care to interpret it, he simply leaned in and kissed Keith softly on the lips. He pulled away almost immediately after. More of a peck than a kiss, really. Still, he’d done something. Shane looked into Keith’s eyes, searching for a response.

Keith cupped the back of Shane’s head, drawing him in for a deeper kiss. Now that it was finally happening, Shane felt hungry for more, almost desperate. He brought a hand up into Keith’s hair, and it was as soft as he’d imagined, more so. The force of the kiss was slowly sending Shane onto his back, more and more, until they were both lying down on the couch, still wrapped up in each other. Keith’s mouth left Shane’s lips so that he could taste more of him--his neck, and as he started unbuttoning Shane’s shirt, his chest. And he continued to unbutton, heading lower and lower--except this time Shane had no intention of shoving him away. Instead, he kept a hand dug into Keith’s hair as he moved downward, slowly. Shane’s breathing grew unsteady as Keith finally reached the buttons to his trousers.

The door banged loudly.

“Fucking hell” Keith grumbled.

Shane stayed silent as he started to button himself up. He was keenly disappointed.

When Shane was decent, Keith trudged over to the door and opened it. Immediately, a couple Garda burst in, saying, “We have a warrant to search these premises on suspicion that you are in possession of an illegal substance.”

One of the garda handed Keith a paper. “Here is a copy of the warrant for your inspection.”

Keith and Shane glanced at each other, then Keith cordially invited the officers to go on as they pleased. The two sat on the couch as the troop of garda continued their inspection. Drawers were emptied, clothing thrown on the floor. At some point the Gardaí asked Keith and Shane to get up so they could overturn the sofa cushions. After an arduous wait, the Gardaí said they had found nothing incriminating, then left. It was almost awkward how cordial they were after upturning Keith’s flat.

“Fuck,” said Keith, “You saved my arse. They must have arrested Bunny or someone else, and that’s probably how my name came up. Jesus.”

“I’ll bet my place is next. I sure hope Vincent isn’t home. We’re already on bad terms,” said Shane.

“Well, as long as they don’t find anything, no harm done,” said Keith.

Shane smiled. “Now where were we?”