Chapter XVIII: Friends and Neighbors
Aside from working full time doing research and organization for a private law firm, Joey Liam Silver was also a freelance writer.
The Law Offices of Alabama Markos was what he did for a living, but it wasn’t who he was.
Joey was a writer.
That was the only thing he’d ever wanted to do. Consequently, it was also the thing that made him feel the happiest and the most fulfilled.
When Joey signed on to collaborate with a group of other creative Shreveporters to work on a website as one of its burgeoning staff contributors, he felt that it was an opportunity for his life’s ambition to begin coming to fruition, but he was a realist. He knew that it wasn’t necessarily a path to fame or to a life working and sustaining himself financially solely as a writer, but the position was undoubtedly a step in the right direction. It was a chance not only to write regularly but also to publish with some frequency, and to work diligently at honing his abilities and his craft. The work made him happy and simultaneously helped to fill the periodic pangs of loneliness he felt living a life where he was surrounded by seemingly serene couples and families, people who looked like they had everything he hoped to one day have for himself.
Joey had always hoped that at some point, sooner or later, he would meet the right guy, fall in love, share an apartment, get a dog, buy a house, and start a family, but his pragmatism taught him to look for the best while preparing himself for the very plausible possibility that such a trajectory may not be in his future.
But that never changed the fact that it was all a really nice idea.
So he wrote.
Having finally been given a platform for publication, Joey utilized it as often as possible. He submitted movie reviews and kept a book blog, covered a series of local events in the LGBT and arts communities, and even began working on the idea for a novel. He wrote about the people and places around him, the images that moved him, and the matters that left him perplexed.
But Joey was very careful to keep most of himself out his work. He rarely wrote honestly, never feeling comfort in the idea of expressing any of his innermost thoughts or any of his fears. For the better part of a year, he had continued operating with these notions, feeling generally pleased with his job, his freelancing, his friendships, his familial connections, and the profoundly easy life he was building for himself.
And then something happened that changed everything.
In late July, an op-ed came out on one of the many internet sites he followed regularly, and Joey experienced an alteration in perspective unlike any he had ever before endured. The piece was all about being gay, single, and relatively comfortable with all of those qualifiers as the copacetic status quo. After re-reading the article several times, Joey found himself wondering about everything around him, and he quickly decided to smash out his own personal reaction to this newly activated ideology, to explore the questions that were bursting to the surface.
What if the right guy for him didn’t really exist?
What if the whole notion of “the one” was just part of the twentieth century media blitzkrieg propaganda to stamp out single-hood and to push for universal first person plural status?
What if where he was in life — single, gay, and in his mid-thirties — was just where he was meant to remain?
And, more importantly, was that such a bad thing?
He’d had a great aunt who had died a spinster in her late eighties, but had embodied all the qualities, the outlooks, and the life experiences that he so greatly admired. If she had spent her days and nights feeling lonely, unhappy, and wishing that she’d made more of an effort to find a match made in heaven, she’d done a remarkable job of hiding it. Joey believed that there was something to be said for declaring a position on the issue, so he allowed a brief essay to burst from his keyboard and it was published quickly the following day.
The response to his article had been overwhelming, and Joey was moved by many of the shout-outs and comments that made it to his eyes for review.
There were also, naturally, the detractors.
There was the off-putting, androgynous chick who made some weird declarations about him, but Joey recognized her as being one of the people he’d interrupted in the midst of a drug deal with one of his former roommates several months before. So he just considered the source. There was someone who criticized his writing and his use of the word “I” in spite of the fact that the article was a totally first person point of view. And there were also a few who slammed his examples of the qualities that he would seek in a potential partner if he were looking. They were denigrating the things that attracted him, the aspects of another human being that turned him on — who were they to tell him he was wrong for liking what he liked?
But the responses were otherwise mostly positive, hopeful, and reassuring.
Several private emails and personal messages that he received were from straight dudes who told him that his very personal and heartfelt piece had expressed something that they felt on a daily basis. He heard from people he hadn’t talked to since high school, and he came away from the experience feeling that a kind of emotional catharsis had taken place. He discovered a rejuvenation of his spirit that only helped to jump start a whole new outlook on his life, his writing, and his future.
Suddenly happier than ever, Joey no longer looked for a plausible partner at every turn. He recognized that his periods of loneliness were most likely better equated to some form of boredom. And he began to actually enjoy his quasi-sexual, playful conversations with anonymous strangers on one of the hook-up apps he kept on his phone. The pressure to find a mate vanished, his work improved drastically, and he was just happy being himself.
As the summer had worn on, Joey settled into a comfortable routine world, pretty much the same as it always had been, but no longer befuddled by the intermittent bouts of feeling alone that were brought on by being without a boyfriend.
He’d even developed a deep friendship with one of his neighbors: a hot, round-heeled dude with a ton of charisma and self-confidence that Joey really liked.
Although their initial conversations in the laundry room had been imbued with a little bit of the heated electrical chemistry that shows up between two people who feel some degree of the mutual attraction that can lead to sexual compatibility, they had just allowed the moments to lapse and settled into a favorable relationship that was more like a brotherly kinship.
Besides, Joey always thought, the guy was impossibly popular and overtly promiscuous. What’s more, he made no bones about the amount of bone to which he felt he was entitled.
Most of their late-night conversations out by the pool at their apartment complex ended with the arrival of what Joey had come to call “Mr. Right Tonight.” And the following mornings, his neighbor regaled him over coffee with the dirty details that filled in the gaps of what he couldn’t hear on the other side of the wall between their apartments.
It was his buddy’s total self-awareness and overall healthy sexual mindset through which Joey enjoyed a sort of vicarious thrill. Although he didn’t think he could juggle the multiple and varied sexcapades himself, he did not in any way begrudge those of anyone else.
If you’ve got it, flaunt it, Joey thought. Get it while the getting’s good.
As the first drops of rain began to fall fat, flat, and sticky against the black asphalt of the complex’s parking lot that August afternoon, Joey pulled his car into the space beside his buddy’s black Jetta. Feeling some measure of surprise that he’d made it home so early, Joey decided he’d run knock on his door to see if he felt like going out to get a drink to get the weekend started a day early. They were both fans of the pre-Friday Night Party atmosphere that always overtook The Korner Lounge on Thursday evenings and filled the little bar with just the right amount of good people that both of them really liked.
Slinging the strap of his messenger bag across his chest and over his shoulder, Joey walked briskly to his neighbor’s door, wiping the combination of sweat and freshly falling rain from his forehead. He rapped his knuckles against the hard wood resoundingly.
Inside, the music was blaring The Rolling Stones, and Joey stepped back from the door to await its opening.
After a moment, Joey knocked again, thinking that maybe the sound couldn’t be heard over the signature sitar riffs of the Stones painting it black inside.
Joey assumed that his buddy was either in the shower or being banged blindly by whoever he might have in there. He stepped backward from the doorstep and blinked against the raindrops that began falling more rapidly as he left the cover of the apartment building’s overhanging eaves.
When Joey made it to his own apartment, just beside the one rented by Patrick Trudeau, he pulled out his phone, texted a quick request to go get a drink in a bit, and then walked to his television to catch the evening news on KTBS, already gearing up for the weather report.
The cold front that they’d been talking about all week had stalled just north of Oklahoma, but ahead of it, a morass of heavy storms were bubbling toward the Ark-La-Tex. “They’re already here,” Joey said out loud and reached for his remote to turn the volume up several notches — the Aftermath album playing next door was louder than he’d initially realized and it was creeping from Patrick’s living room into his own.
On the other side of the wall, Joey’s friend lay naked and lifeless.
There was blood everywhere.
On the walls.
A crude set of hand prints smeared across the cream-colored carpet where he had been dragged from one of several attempted escapes.
The scene was utterly disturbing and quite jarring, but it was the writing on the wall — literally — that was most ghastly.
Pictures had hung there. Black and whites of Patrick with family, with an assortment of different, good looking men, accepting awards, serving as man-of-honor at a close friend’s wedding, and standing atop Mount Petit Jean with a long expanse of firs extending to his back.
They had all been removed and tossed around the room.
In the empty space that was left, Patrick’s gentleman caller had used his victim’s white briefs, now stained with brownish red and crumpled on the floor, to leave a message in their owner’s blood. It was the first thing anyone would see when they finally opened the door:
J U S T G E TT I N G S T AR T E D