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How to Begin a Game

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Marvin regrets being here. He regrets many things, actually. He regrets the entire messy, ugly chain of events that led him here. He regrets the two glasses of whiskey that now sit empty in front of him and the third glass that he’s barely touched. The alcohol is supposed to quiet his brain and calm his nerves, but tonight it only seems to amplify them. He is drowning. Drowning in a sea of anxiety and frustration and regret. In fact, the more he thinks about it, the more his life seems to be nothing more than a long laundry list of regrets. Regret. The word gnaws at him until he feels like slamming his fists down on the counter in a fit of impotent fury. But he doesn’t. Instead, he simply stares down at his drink as though he will find the answer to his problems there. But all he sees is a glimpse of his distorted reflection, and he despises it.

Finally, he tears his eyes away from the whiskey and looks behind him, glancing around the bar. Everything is a blur of red neon and pretty, young men dancing and laughing. Marvin doesn’t belong here. He never will. All these stylish men only serve to make him self-conscious. They make him feel old. Worn out. Without thinking, he picks at the sleeve of his shirt. It’s the same one he wore yesterday. He remembers that clearly because Trina had snapped at him about it earlier. He’s a slob. Doesn’t he care about himself? Doesn’t he care about her? Trina’s voice echoes in his ears and it worsens his already sour mood. He turns back to his drink. This is all a ridiculous, foolish experiment. What is he even expecting to find here? What is he doing here? If he wasn’t so wrapped up in self-pity, he might laugh. This is all a joke. “Marvin walks into a gay bar…”, only there’s no punchline to this sad setup. If someone had told him a year ago that this is how things would end up, he would have thought they were insane. And yet, here he is.

Much to his chagrin, Marvin can’t seem to turn his thoughts away from Trina now. There is a pale line around his finger where his wedding band usually rests and he stares at it. He tells Trina he doesn’t like to wear the ring when he goes out at night because he’s afraid of losing it. Trina plays along with this lie, but she knows the truth. And Marvin knows that he isn’t fooling her. So they play a delicate game, seeing who will give in first. Will Trina confront him, or will he finally admit that he no longer loves her? That he doesn’t love women at all? Neither have given up the game yet, both frozen in place by a combination of stubbornness and desperation. With a resigned sigh, Marvin buries his face in his hands. He should leave. Tonight’s adventure has been entirely unproductive, and he only feels more confused and hopeless than before. He nearly makes up his mind to cut his losses and go when a voice stops him.

“Hello?” The voice says. It sounds pleasant and confident.

Marvin turns, and his breath catches ever so slightly when he sees the voice’s owner. A handsome man stares down at him. He looks almost insultingly perfect, with well-styled hair and warm, inviting eyes. His face is flushed from drink and dancing and he practically glows. This must be what angels look like, Marvin thinks. But he quickly banishes the sappy, romantic notion from his mind. Still, perhaps this night has not been entirely pointless after all. Any thoughts of leaving quickly vanish.

“Hi.” Marvin replies, recovering quickly.

“You mind?” The stranger asks, gesturing at the empty stool next to Marvin’s. “I think I’m done dancing for the night.”

He smiles disarmingly and Marvin feels his bitterness melt away a little.

“Sure. Of course.” He makes a valiant attempt at seeming nonchalant. “I’m Marvin, by the way.”

The other man nods and sits down.

“You can call me Whizzer.” He says, resting his elbow on the bar and turning towards Marvin.

He looks Marvin over for a brief moment, and Marvin suddenly feels very vulnerable. He is clearly being judged, although he’s not entirely certain what he’s being judged on.

“I don’t think I’ve seen you here before, have I?” Whizzer continues, arching an eyebrow.

“No, you haven’t. This isn’t exactly my usual scene, if you can’t tell. I haven’t really done this before.”

“Yeah, I can tell.” Whizzer teases. He lets out a small laugh.

Marvin wants to be angry at the comment. Who is this strange man to just waltz over and criticize him? But something about Whizzer’s laugh is enchanting, and he finds it impossible to be upset. Besides, it’s not as though Whizzer is wrong. Everything about Marvin sticks out like a sore thumb here. His clothes, his hair, his entire demeanor.

“It’s that obvious, is it?” Marvin asks, cracking a smile for the first time this evening.

“It’s not a bad thing. I mean, that’s why I came over here. You looked...different. You looked interesting.” He replies with a shrug. “More interesting than them, anyways.” He motions behind him to the mob of pretty boys on the dance floor.

“Thank you, I’ll take that as a compliment.” Marvin says wryly, the smile not leaving his face.

Whizzer rests his chin on his hand, leaning dangerously close to Marvin. He smells of vodka and cheap cologne, which Marvin finds simultaneously repulsive and exciting. He looks into Whizzer’s eyes, trying to make sense of him. To make sense of this whole situation.

“You know,” Whizzer says, “You could buy me a drink.”

For a moment, Marvin is taken aback by Whizzer’s bluntness, but he doesn’t let it faze him for long. This is a game. It’s a new game, and he doesn’t quite know the rules yet, but he is determined to win.

“I could.” Marvin says, a slight smirk on his face now. “What do you drink?”

“A cosmo would be nice.” Whizzer says smoothly.

Marvin can tell that this is all part of Whizzer’s routine. In fact, Whizzer doesn’t look like the type of man who ever pays for his own drinks. Or his own meals, for that matter. The idea that he’s simply being used for free booze irks Marvin more than he cares to admit. But it also makes him even more set on winning. He needs to beat this Whizzer at his own game. Still, Marvin obliges his request and orders a cosmo from the bartender.

“So, Whizzer,” he says, appreciating the way the name rolls off his tongue, “Why did you really come over here?”

“I told you. I was bored. You seemed interesting.”

Whizzer offers no further explanation and Marvin nods, saying nothing for a moment. The bartender returns with the cosmo.

“You’re incredibly pretty,” Marvin continues, “I’m sure any of those men would have bought you a drink. Why me?”

The flattery gets Whizzer’s attention, and he leans in towards Marvin’s once again, as if to tell him a secret.

“I know most of those guys.” Whizzer says smugly. “And if not, I know a dozen just like them. But I don’t know you. I’m curious.”

“Well,” Marvin says, his voice tinged with mischief now, “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t curious, too.”

As he speaks, Whizzer moves closer, and Marvin can feel tension building in the air. Then, as if it’s the most casual thing in the world, Whizzer rests his hand on Marvin’s leg. The unexpected touch is like an electric shock and Marvin barely stops himself from gasping. Without thinking, he places his hand on top of Whizzer’s, keeping it there. Whizzer’s smug grin grows wider. There is a glint in his eye now-something hungry and dangerous-and Marvin loves it. He wants it. He needs it.

“Can I kiss you, Marvin?” Whizzer asks.

“Yes.” He replies, without even a hint of hesitation.

What happens next is a blur. All Marvin knows is that Whizzer’s lips are pressed against his and that it is beautiful and transcendent and nothing else matters right now. He can feel Whizzer’s hand work it’s way up his thigh, and he is incredibly grateful he is sitting down because he’s certain his knees would give out on him otherwise. Almost instinctively, he wraps his arm around Whizzer, holding him close and tangling his fingers in Whizzer’s stupidly perfect hair. Finally, they separate. Marvin feels as though he’s floating.

“You’re beautiful.” he whispers breathlessly.

There is no response from Whizzer. He simply turns away and sips his drink. A flash of irritation crosses Marvin’s face. How can Whizzer looks as though nothing just happened? He looks as if this is just another entirely ordinary Friday night for him. Marvin is excited and shaken and frightened and aroused, and Whizzer just calmly sips his drink. Marvin is supposed to be in control. Always one step ahead. Always calling the shots. And now this pretty boy he’s only just met has gotten the best of him.

“You know, this was incredibly stupid.” He says coldly.

“And why is that?” Whizzer asks, turning his attention back to Marvin.

“Because I’m married. I have a wife.”

Marvin throws out the words like barbs, aiming to shock and wound. Or at least wipe the self-satisfied expression off Whizzer’s face. But if this news effects Whizzer at all, he certainly doesn’t show it.

“I’m not surprised, Marvin.” Is all he says.

“You’re not?”

“No.” He replies, gazing into Marvin’s eyes and shaking his head.

Something about that gaze is distracting and Marvin, once again, finds it very difficult to stay irritated with him. He can feel himself faltering.

“I can be a homewrecker, if that’s what you want.” Whizzer lowers his voice to a whisper.

Marvin doesn’t know what to say. He struggles to find some response but no words come out.

“Is that what you want? Do you want me, Marvin?”

No. He should say no. Marvin has to say no. This is selfish and dumb. This is not a road he wants to go down. And there’s Trina. Whatever he may think of her now, she’s done nothing to deserve this. But then there’s Whizzer’s eyes. And his hair. And the way he sounds when he says Marvin’s name. And that electric kiss. And Marvin is weak. Marvin is selfish and dumb.

“Yes. Yes, I want you.”

“Tonight?” Whizzer’s voice is full of hunger and expectation.

“No.” Marvin says, after a pause. “Not tonight.” He sees an opportunity to regain control and pounces on it. “But why don’t you give me your number? I’ll call you.”

For the first time this evening, Whizzer falters. He doesn’t give out his number like this, as a rule. He always chooses who he calls and who he sees and when he does it. And yet, he wasn’t lying when he said Marvin makes him curious. There is something undeniably fascinating behind those tired, sad eyes, and Whizzer wants a piece of it.

“Fine.” He relents, taking a pen from his pocket and scribbling down his number on a napkin.

Marvin takes it triumphantly, folding it neatly and putting it in his pocket.

“I really should be going.” He says. “But I’ll call you. Goodnight, Whizzer.”

With that, he stands up to leave.

“Don’t make me wait too long, or I might find someone more interesting than you.” Whizzer retorts.

Marvin walks away, out of the bar and into the brisk night air. He feels a fire burning inside him that he thought was long extinguished. Putting his hands in his pockets, he touches Whizzer’s napkin and smiles. He won this game, and that is his trophy. Meanwhile, Whizzer sits alone at the bar, slightly lost and bewildered. For so long, he has prided himself on detachment. Men want him because he doesn’t want them. But now, he wants Marvin. Or he wants something from Marvin. And he can’t quite figure it out. He only knows two things for certain: he needs to see Marvin again, and he will probably regret seeing Marvin again.