The Stories Begin with Trystan, In the Middle of Things
It was a hot, summer night in the hills of Shreveport’s Highland neighborhood, an area of town – like so many others – interspersed with well-kept antebellum-style mansions alongside sadly forgotten rat-and-cockroach-infestations, crumbling into the sidewalk weeds. As the result of the high pressure zone that recently parked over the entire southern portion of the country, the oppressively moist heat had temperatures lingering in the lower eighties well after sunset. On this particularly searing evening in Shreveport, the natives were restless.
Stripped down to a well-worn pair of Superman-covered boxer-briefs, Trystan Van Meyer lay prone on the floor of his meager upstairs, single room rental in an old green house on Gladstone, sipping a glass of tropically flavored water and thumbing through his planner. The book was covered in more ink than he preferred, and he wondered where he might actually write the word “sleep” into an incredibly overloaded schedule. He’d just accepted another Facebook invite to attend an equality walk in Baton Rouge set for the following weekend, and he now saw that he would literally have to hire a driver to take him down in utter silence while he worked on the litany of other tasks he would have to finish while en route there and back.
Biting the corner of his lip, he picked up his phone to change his attendance status of the Baton Rouge event to “NOT GOING” when it dinged brightly with an incoming text. Looking down at the screen, Trystan saw that it was from a number with a 903 area code that wasn’t saved as a contact. “Hey, Sexy!” it read, and Trystan smiled. It was a number he didn’t recognize – not that he’d committed a phone number to memory since his first Nokia.
He slicked his phone across the bottom of the screen to open the message and thumbed out: “Hey there… who’s this?” He figured it was someone with a new number, relishing a moment of anonymity before telling him to add their new digits. After a few seconds of awaiting a response and not seeing one in composition in the message box, he opened his Facebook app to let his buddies in Baton Rouge know that his schedule would not, by any means, permit his attendance of the Pride week equality event.
He tooled around on social media for a few, then swapped over to play a few poorly scoring words on another app before rising from the floor, deciding he needed a cigarette. Lula Marie, his tiny terrier mix, perked up from her position on the bed when he pulled on a pair of paint-splashed cut-offs and reached for his lighter and smokes. She was familiar with the routine, so she jumped from the bed to follow him downstairs for a trip outside.
Just as he opened the bedroom door and made his way toward the stairs, his phone beeped again as it received a new text. He turned around to grab it from where he’d left it on the floor, tucked it into his pocket, then retraced his exit and headed to the back patio to plop down in a chair and light up. Settled, he pulled his phone back from his pocket, absentmindedly slid his thumb to open the screen, and frowned down at the message that stared back: “A pretty face on a pretty boy, but does your boyfriend know that he’s screwing a whore?”
Trystan felt his legs tingle with a sudden rush of cold as adrenaline quickly coursed through his body and anger settled into his brain. “Who is this?” he sent back. Thinking better, he immediately hit the call button. After two rings, the line connected, but he heard only silence on the other end.
“Hello?” Trystan demanded from the non-responsive entity on the other end.
“Hello!” Trystan nearly shouted before taking another drag from his cigarette and waiting. Although he couldn’t hear breathing on the other end of the line, he was certain that someone was there. He began, “Look, whoever this is-”
A voice interjected in a maliciously quiet whisper: “Whore!”
Trystan waited. The whisper was sexless, neither male nor female. “Who is this?” His voice was raised further, more assertively as he slipped his cigarette into an ashtray and leaned forward, listening expectantly.
Music suddenly blared so loudly into his ear that he had to pull the phone away in response to the striking stimulus. In the seconds it took him to recognize the song, he felt his blood run cold and sickening butterflies fill his stomach. His anger was turning into a combination of bewilderment and fear.
Impossible, he thought.
It was a tune that Trystan knew. One he knew well. And he did not care for its implied significance; nor for its possible ramifications. The call disconnected, and he stared at the ending screen for a full thirty seconds before he began debating on whether to call the number again.
Apprehension got the better of him.
Impossible, he thought once more as he pressed the call button again, but several rings only elicited contact with a formulaic, computerized voice mail box message. With his head spinning, Trystan called out to Lula Marie to come back inside. She ran up the patio steps, excitedly expecting to receive a treat once they were back upstairs. As Trystan followed her through the door, his phone beeped again.
He looked down at the screen, but didn’t bother to open the message to read the whole thing. “Don’t you know that smoking is bad for you…WHORE?!”
Looking toward the walls of windows that surrounded the entire downstairs floor of the house, he suddenly wished that his roommate (and landlord) was the type to have purchased curtains. Feeling watched and totally exposed, Trystan switched off the kitchen light and stood in complete darkness. As he tried to catch his breath, he saw Lula Marie waiting impatiently in the dim light streaming down from the top of the staircase. She was expecting him to follow her up and to supply her with the treats that she associated with their usually immediate return to his bedroom after being outside.
Impossible, he thought again. His mind was whirling with intensifying turbidity. Trystan looked away from his dog and scanned his eyes across the backyard and across the neighboring fences that surrounded the property in perpendicular perfection. Paranoia set in, and his eyes focused on every possible shadow, every overgrown corner that could potentially hide someone lurking nearby.
When the motion detecting light over the driveway blinked to life, it showered the entire western side of the house in yellow radiance. Trystan pivoted around just in time to catch a figure retreating toward the darkness of the Thornhill cross street. His legs turned into dead weight and his bladder suddenly felt incredibly full.
Trystan dashed back upstairs with Lula Marie in tow. He practically caught her tail in his bedroom door as he slammed it to a resounding close.
Meanwhile, In a Very Different Part of Town
Katherine Dupree was a generally unpleasant woman. There were few people who knew her, be they familial or social relations, that might disagree with this notion – her husband, a prominent area dermatologist, included. As a point of fact, Kate had very few redeemable qualities. Her youthful good looks, which had always gotten her everything to which she set her mind, were fading faster than ever, and this in spite of the thousands of her wealthy husband’s hard-earned cash that she had spent on injections and implants, tucks and lifts – all in an effort to hold onto the one good thing she’d always had to use in her personally devised system of barter. Gone were the days of the perky boobs and the tightly bronzed thighs. What was left was the body and face of a former homecoming queen (a title not won on the merits of benevolent popularity, but on the power of expectation and assumption), streaked with wrinkles plastered by the most expensive concealing agents her husband could afford. She was well aware of this, but awareness in a woman of her means did not automatically equate acceptance.
At the same time that Trystan Van Meyer was slamming his bedroom door, Kate was an entire city (and by the standards of Shreveport’s self-promoting elite, an entire world) away, nestled in her immaculately furnished (though far from immaculately kept – the maid wouldn’t come for another two days, and a woman of her means couldn’t be expected to bother herself with something so belittling as cleaning up after herself) home in the northern portion of Shreveport’s sister city.
She’d been trying to finish the final entry in a trilogy of controversial novels – pornography for housewives – that she was reading because everyone in her Buncogroup had been raving about them since the previous summer. The story had long since lost its novelty, and she was no longer sure she wanted to complete the BDSM-laden melodrama. She figured she’d read enough to say that she had, and did not consider it an outright lie. Not that she had any problem with a full on lie. In fact, she never had. In her world, lying – either by omission or commission – was a positive necessity.
Bored and feeling dependent on finding some form of external stimulus to change the way she felt, Kate sat down at the gilded vanity she had pleaded with her husband to buy and send back to Shreveport from their last trip to the northeast. It reminded her of pictures she’d seen of Versailles, and though she’d never even been to Europe, she thought the fabled French palace epitomized the style in which she wanted to be perceived as embodying. She stared at her reflection in the mirror, noted the appearance of a new droop in the folds of her neck that may or may not have been there at five o’clock that afternoon, and reached for her phone.
She hadn’t shared a bed with her husband since the first week following their honeymoon, and he had long since retired to his own, separate bedroom for the night. She had all the privacy she needed. Searching her contacts, she found the one she wanted (saved under the guise of “Susan – Bunco”) and pressed for the call. A much younger, male voice answered, and the duo quickly made their now routine plan of action.
Satisfied and feeling somewhat better, she set about preparing herself for the forthcoming intimate encounter. Once she was certain that she had made her appearance as acceptable as possible (so that she would feel as little self-consciousness as possible), she moved to the darkest recesses of her walk-in closet. There, in a carefully selected hiding spot, she found the salvation she sought.
Kate pressed and twisted the cap off the large, brown bottle, shook one of the baby blue pills into her palm, hesitated momentarily, then shook out another. Holding them in one palm, she replaced the bottle, stood back to be sure it was again out of plain sight, then headed to fetch the tall glass of water she’d left on her nightstand.
She swallowed one of the tablets, already anticipating the warm, buttery feeling that was soon to wrap its way around her entire body. Keeping the other pill tightly wrapped in her palm, she moved stealthily, but quickly, from her bedroom and just far enough down the hall to hear the loud snores of her husband coming from the other end of the house. She tiptoed back to her room, closed the door, and returned to her nightstand to down the second pill. Soon, she’d be pain-free (emotional pain was just as real as its physical manifestations, and for her, the medication worked the same either way), but she wanted to hurry to the pool house so that she could enjoy the effects of the little blue bunnies along with the ensuing rendezvous.
When she reached the pool house, she made a mental note about the quantity of the contents of her hidden bottle of self-worth. It was awfully low, and tonight’s double dose had reduced the fill line even more. No sweat, she thought. She’d just make a quick phone call tomorrow.
She dimmed the lights to their lowest levels and waited for a knock at the door. There was truly nothing better than sex with a younger man. Especially when the man was not her husband.
Ellerbe Road was totally without any traffic as the hot summer night became an early, hot summer morning. Bryan Blackthorne was grateful to concentrate a little less on his driving and a little more on winding down from the late-night workout he’d just finished at one of the city’s many twenty-four hour gyms. His muscles felt tight, but energized, and he knew that he’d have to allow the idea of sleep to settle in pretty quickly once he made his way home.
It was already well past midnight. If he hit the sack the second he made it through the door and upstairs, he’d get less than five hours before the alarm. Not that he wouldn’t be sleeping well. The combination of getting laid and the subsequent hardcore workout was certain to invoke a fairly decent shake at a very pleasant dreamscape.
Bryan made a left onto Nightingale and allowed his mind to wander as he finished the home stretch. Considering his escapade earlier that night, he wondered if he might be more in love than he was willing to allow himself to be. The relationship was completely inappropriate, he thought. If anyone were to find out, far too many people would be hurt. They’d never understand. Still, it had been harder to leave tonight than the night before, and the night before that; especially because he felt so needed, so cared for, so trusted, and so… fulfilled?
Winding the Jeep into the driveway, he threw it into park, grabbed his gym bag and his phone, and walked up the driveway to the path that wound around the side of his parents’ house. The cottage behind the pool had been built at the same time the Blackthornes bought and began consecrating the land. It had been his mother’s idea to remodel the cottage from its original concept as merely a party room when his older sister, Claudia, left for Baylor during Bryan’s freshman year at Magnet. The intent was to use it as a guest house for extended company and for Claudia when she came home from school for breaks.
Economics and pragmatism had Bryan as its current sole occupant. Nearly ten years after he should have graduated from a school down state (he’d be thirty-five in October, and he still had no degree), Bryan was finally doing well financially, but he didn’t want to leave the property. He’d made the place his home, and he was close to his family. It was nice to be near them, especially during times of need (both theirs and his own).
In spite of the many other developments that were bought and/or built since the Blackthornes moved into the new digs the Christmas of his eight grade year, Bryan always felt that they were still practically in the woods. The house and grounds offered a sense of isolation from the rest of the world. Additionally, the property’s expansive layout and clever landscaping allowed for plenty of privacy. If Bryan wanted to drop his drawers and spend the day in the nude, even outside, he’d rarely run the risk of being caught. And then, only by chance.
Now there’s a thought, Bryan smiled as he mused at the idea of meeting here instead of where he’d been earlier that night. Preparing for bed, he was soon dreaming while awake, imagining life as one half of a happy couple: the two of them walking around naked. The two of them staying up late, maybe watching a string of horror movies and curling up together on the couch. He thought of Sunday mornings, breakfast in bed; sitting on the back patio and reading the Times. They could run down Line Avenue to come back and spend the afternoon doing the crossword puzzle and drinking coffee while munching on pastries from Rhino. It was such a pleasant thought, it stirred something in him. Something more than the crazy itch he got in his crotch that only one of their encounters could scratch.
Bryan picked up his phone to send a good-night text and saw that one had already come through. He must have missed it during the windy drive. “Thanks again for coming tonight,” it read, “Talk tomorrow. Sweet dreams.” He smiled and replied in a similar tone, feeling a pleasant sensation in his stomach that left him shaking his head.You poor, damn, sappy idiot, he thought as he pulled off his boxers and climbed into bed. Maybe we really could be together, though. If circumstances were only a little different. Maybe if we were in another place.
Bryan closed his eyes and drifted off to a sleep so deep that he didn’t hear his phone ding as it received a new text from an unknown number with a 903 area code.
Only two words, the message would speak volumes when he read it the following morning: “I know.”