I like Kevin Jenkins for lots of reasons. His failure to offer me sympathy after I tell him about my father’s death last weekend is just one such reason. Instead, his eyebrows jump like a mime’s and he reaches into his knapsack. “Did you know Alex died, too?”
“Not little Alex?”
“No, the other Alex. You remember…”
I don’t. He hands me a newspaper clipping from his bag. It’s an obituary. Alex’s blandly handsome face is pictured. “Overdose?” I ask.
Kevin nods and smirks. We’re both killing time in the AIDS Outreach downtown. I’ve got forty-one hours of community service left for a DWI, and Kevin is working off his parole from a drug arrest three years earlier. Kevin and I used to get high three or four times a week before his arrest, but we rarely see one another these days. Our encounter this morning is pure coincidence. He loses friends quickly, like cigarette lighters. I tried, back then, to talk to him about this, but I doubt he remembers.
“He died just two days after dad died,” I say. “Who told you about it?”
“His mom called me.”
“How did she know your number? I don’t think I have that anymore.”
Kevin sneaks a look over at Laverne, the intake counselor seated at her desk a few feet away. The woman is a hopeless gossip, a willing jukebox of factoids and bad news about every fag in town.
“Sometimes he still called me,” he whispers. He steps closer to me. I haven’t seen him since we slept together last summer. I had dope and he had no plans. I feel I should extend my arm, offer support, but I can’t imagine what he would do with it.
“I need a cigarette,” I announce. Laverne doesn’t smoke.
“I’m broke,” Kevin says.
“You still get sick from menthols?”
“One won’t hurt.”
We step out to the back porch of the Outreach. It shares a parking lot with the organization that gives away food to the non-infected needy. I wonder if someone were both poor and infected whether they could snag twice the food.
“He called me too, a few times after that whole awful summer,” I tell him.
“What did he want?”
“Wanted me to come to some bar on Broadway and buy him drinks. He was a real mooch.”
Kevin nods his head, but I know he hasn’t a clue what that word means.
I glance down at the clipping in my hand. “Still a pretty hot guy,” I say, to no one.
“When did you last see him?”
He gives me that wilted half-smile he always mustered whenever I caught him in a lie, then shrugs. I knew from back then that Kevin and Alex had messed around in the past. Nothing serious, Alex still held onto the last shreds of his heterosexuality with a desperation that Kevin insisted made the almost-sex twice as hot.
I perch on the railing, the clipping still in my hand. I should return it; it’s not mine. But I know the moment Kevin shoves it back in his knapsack, I will forget Alex’s face forever. I haven’t thought about him for at least two years. I struggle to locate a flattering remembrance of that drunken, pill-popping closet case.
I smile, force a laugh. “Remember when he passed out in my bathtub?” I ask my old friend. “Tub full of water. Still in all his clothes.” Kevin laughs, and for a moment his smile bursts so bright and guileless, I want to kiss him. But then I remember what happened next, and I regret bringing it up.
“You got mad I wouldn’t leave the side of the tub,” Kevin says and grins. “You hadn’t slept for a long time.”
The last time Alex was in my apartment, I pounded on the door a whole minute before realizing it was unlocked. I leaned against the wall once inside and watched Kevin kneel at the tub beside an unconscious Alex.
“Christ, Kevin,” I sneered. “He doesn’t even know you’re there.”
“He might drown.”
“Pull the drain, dumbass.”
Kevin reached over Alex and sank his hand into the water. The drain moaned in response. “What if he won’t wake up?” Kevin asked, not looking at me.
“He doesn’t love you, kid,” I said. My eyes were dry and raw from no sleep. I wanted everyone to simply die. “Guys like him don’t love anybody. You’re just a piece of ass.”
At the Outreach, standing on the back porch, I realize in alarm that Kevin is waiting for me to contribute to this perverse reminiscence. I try to smile, distracted from my failure to do so by handing him back the news clipping.
“I’m sorry, buddy.”
Kevin shrugs and takes the clipping. I think of furnaces dark and cold, so starved for burning coal, it’s hard to believe they ever warmed any living thing. That’s my old friend, Kevin Jenkins. The fire gone, the match stolen.
“We should party together sometime,” I say.
“I quit all that stuff a while back. Now I just drink a lot,” he confides, his bottom lip full and moist.
I ask for his phone number. He gives it to me, and I key it into my cell phone. I have to delete the previous Kevin from my phone’s memory. Some trick from Dallas a few months ago. I’d thought something more permanent beckoned, but I’m always wrong about guys.
He doesn’t ask for my number. I promise to call soon. He returns to the front office, back door left open behind him. As I feared, I’ve already forgotten Alex’s face from the clipping. Was he really handsome? Did I ever notice?
I should call Kevin this weekend. The phone will ring, and I will wait.