No one was going to talk to him without a profile picture. Nick was sure of that. But his stupid nose was so big from the side, and in every frontal shot he looked like he was trying too hard. A few dozen attempts yielded next to nothing. His hair wasn’t great either. Finally he gave up and picked the best of the photos he already had, which was a sad blurry one that a friend had taken in class.
After uploading it, he dragged his finger over the other guys, scrolling through. A lot of them only used an image of their torso or otherwise kept their face out of it. He refused to speak to these. Many were just too old. What were they even doing on there at that age? Though there were some attractive ones too. If their profile seemed decent he tapped the star icon and saved them, thinking maybe he’d come up with something to say later.
Messages started to come in. Each one, accompanied by a little chime, made his heart skip a beat and compelled him to check it immediately. Inevitably they were all disappointing. Most said hey or whats up and were from people who were not interesting. One asked if he was into sniffing. He wasn’t entirely sure what this meant but blocked the man anyway. The people with no faces sent their dicks.
An hour later he started to feel it might be hopeless. And it embarrassed him to know his picture was being seen and judged by everyone. Any of these people could run into him, at school or wherever. Even the manager of the grocery store showed up on there, which explained why he was so friendly. The app alerted him that he would have to buy a premium subscription if he wanted more blocks.
He took one last look past the guys he’d bookmarked. His favorite was Jason. Reddish blond hair, blue eyes, six foot two, and fit, wearing a college baseball uniform. Smiling sheepishly, with freckles.
Another beep. Unbelievably, a glowing yellow border appeared around Jason’s profile. He’d sent Nick a message.
Nick imagined telling his best friend Ana about this later. “I nearly died” were the words he was going to use.
He sat staring at the screen, biting his nails. Finally, after way too long, he simply sent back “thanks” and marvelled at how he could be such a disappointment to himself, and how was going to be alone forever. But then another message came: “u looking?”
Some unknown force seized control of his arm, typed the three letters y-e-s followed by a winking emoji, and pushed the send button. His heartbeats vibrated the whole bed. A moment later Jason sent back a picture of himself, taken in front of a bathroom mirror, fully nude, with an adorably silly facial expression. His skin looked perfectly smooth, except for an unexpected patch of chest hair, leading downward, that was still surprisingly sexy. His dick, thick and hard, pointed off to the side.
Nick decided to play the part. What did it matter? He could back out any time.
He tore off his clothes as if they were on fire and lifted his phone up high and took a selfie. It was not good. Many tries later he managed a reasonable image, fitting in all the important parts while avoiding the shoulder pimple. He sent it, worried he had taken far too long, and closed his eyes and waited, expecting that to probably be the end of it. He was too scrawny, too young, obviously clueless. Instead the response came almost instantly: three flame emojis, followed by “you bttm?”
Again his endlessly shaking hands acted alone. Sure, he responded, lacking any plan. Jason sent his address and asked him to come quickly. It was agreed. Just like that.
He felt the room spinning as he staggered around. Sweat poured from his skin and his face felt hot. He inhaled deep breaths and told himself he only had to do one thing at a time and then it would be done for good.
In the scalding shower he scrubbed every part of himself clean and raw. He considered blow drying but there wasn’t time. Of course he had no idea what to wear. The plaid boxers for sure, the nice ones. He tried the tight polo with khakis, which looked alright, though maybe too dressy, so he switched to jeans. Yet these had a stain on the knee so he switched back.
At last when he was dressed and ready, a sudden nausea arose, sending him to the toilet, heaving violently. He’d assumed puking from nervousness was only something that happened on TV. Now he needed to brush his teeth again. This was going to be a disaster.
His reflection in the mirror was pale and pathetic, his hair terrible. It was still possible to go to bed and delete the app. For the tenth time he looked at Jason’s photo. An aching dull pain gripped the back of his neck like a claw. Everything had come together perfectly and he could not fuck it up like he always did. He struck himself severely in the chest, and sent a message saying he was on the way.
At this hour his dad was definitely sleeping. Still he tiptoed down the stairs and slinked out the front door like a cat burglar. Jason did not live far, so maybe they could keep seeing each other. The map said ten minutes. He actually wished it was farther, imaging the extra time driving would calm him down. As he passed the houses in his neighborhood, he realized basically all of them contained a couple who probably had sex constantly, or used to. There were seven billion people on the planet. Seven billion fucks had created them. More. It felt like some secret he wasn’t in on.
In no time he was there, sweating. Street parking made him anxious and he drove around the entire block looking for a good spot. When at last he walked up to the front door and knocked, he prepared himself to sprint off into the night if anyone other than the Jason in the photo answered. He felt almost sure this would happen.
But it was really him. Jason stood in the doorway, gazing down at Nick. The physical reality of his presence awed him. He was tall, the proportions not quite as he had imagined. He had a bit of a short beard and mustache that Nick didn’t immediately love, but the low tank top that exposed his muscled arms and chest was very welcome.
“Hey! Took you a while,” he said to Nick in a deep masculine voice, without a trace of insecurity.
“Sorry, I didn’t know where to park, I’m not good at it, and I didn’t want to block anyone’s driveway and I wasn’t sure if it was alright to—” Jason cut him off. “It’s cool, it’s cool. We’ve just got like forty-ish minutes cause my roommate will be back later, and you can’t really be here.”
“Oh. That’s cool.” He entered and followed Jason through the living room, passing posters of sports team logos and a television displaying a paused video game. To be friendly, he wanted to ask what game it was, yet they were already in the kitchen, and Jason was opening the back door for some reason. Nick saw why and froze. A huge white pitbull bounded inside and excitedly darted towards him. It pounced up and scraped his stomach with its paws.
“He’s just playing,” Jason said, grabbing the dog by the collar. “Down Brady, down!” He pulled him off Nick and dragged the animal forcefully into another room down the hall and shut it inside. Nick looked at the streaks of dirt running along both his pant legs and hoped Jason wouldn’t notice.
His date came back and leaned against a wall, deaf to the animal’s sad howls. For a little while no one said anything. They glanced around. Their eyes met and Nick looked away, then back again. “You want a shot?” Jason asked, as if suddenly inspired.
“A shot. Of alcohol.” He lifted two shot glasses out of the sink. He wore gym shorts. They showed so much of his hairy legs, and there was a clear bulge in the front though Nick tried not to stare.
“Sure, yeah, if you’re having one.”
“I sure am, but look dude I only have one-fifty-one.” He pointed at a bottle of something on top of the refrigerator. Nick nodded and gave a thumbs-up sign.
“My man,” Jason said, smiling like he had in his selfie. Nick watched him pour the amber liquor, imagining those strong arms wrapped around him, holding him.
The situation was impossible. He was alone with a boy—a man, really—who apparently wanted to have sex with him. It defied logic.
Jason slid the shot glass across the counter in Nick’s direction, then quickly brought his own to his lips and drank it down like someone who knew what he was doing. He made a groan and winced, then broke out in laughter and jumped up and down, gesturing for Nick to drink too.
Only once before had he ever taken a shot, on a New Year’s Eve, in his friend’s basement. That was cotton candy flavored vodka. This was not like that at all. He downed it in one swift motion, as Jason had done. It was like acid. For a few panicked seconds he wondered if he had been poisoned. He felt every bit of the liquid’s burning descent into his belly, where it settled into a toxic pool.
“Water…” he croaked, aware that this wasn’t a cute look. Jason smirked at him and turned the sink’s faucet on and stepped out of the way. Nick drank from it like a cat.
“I told you it was 151, dude. The shit’s actually flammable.”
“Sorry, yeah, it’s good.”
Somehow the room already wobbled. Nick leaned on the counter, hoping he wouldn’t vomit. Jason came around and slapped him on the lower back and said to follow. They went together into his bedroom. The door shut and it became dark.
Jason stood a mere inch away. “I’m so fucking horny, man.” The scent of alcohol lingered on his lips. Incredibly, his shirt was already gone. It was happening now, so soon.
“Me too. I think I’m drunk.” Nick put his hands on Jason’s chest, startling himself, feeling the firm muscles. He guessed Jason might lean in and kiss him. But the man gripped his shoulders and spun him around, then shoved his hand into the waist of his pants and squeezed his ass. The other hand came around the front and undid his button and zipper. Nick gasped as his pants and underwear were yanked down to his feet in a flash.
“Get on the bed,” he was told. He kicked off his shoes and stepped out of his clothes and kneeled onto the mattress on the floor and waited. Jason stood by the dresser, rifling through a drawer. His gym shorts fell to the ground. It was difficult to see in the low light, though his bare frame glowed as the brightest thing in the room. Nick watched his actions with confusion, then saw him unrolling a condom around his dick.
“The lube is by the pillow.” Nick felt around until he found it, unsure of what to do next. Jason came and took it from his hand.
They were both naked on the bed. Part by part the man grabbed Nick’s body and positioned it as he pleased, like a doll. This meant being on his hands and knees. There came a shock of cold on his ass from the lube. It was happening. He clenched his teeth and hoped his shaking would go unnoticed.
“Yeah.” It was, wasn’t it? What else could he say?
Despite his past practice, pain flared as it went in. He cursed and took a deep breath. It was not slow. Yet whenever he thought it was all in, it kept going.
“Oh fuck, dude,” the man said, and kept repeating it. Nick wished he would stop. The pounding began. Don’t let there be any blood, he prayed, or worse.
He tried counting, first the seconds, then thrusts, losing track. Why did it hurt like this? A sound escaped his throat that should have meant slow down. If anything it went faster. He buried his face in the pillow, wondering how long this would last.
Every one of his muscles felt tight and constricted. It occurred to him that this made everything worse. He was only making problems for himself.
Instead of running from them, he decided to try to watch the sensations. They advanced and retreated in rhythms. The pain wasn’t static—movements and shifts and variations could be discerned. He studied closely as the two of them bounced back and forth. After a while of concentrating like this, it became more easeful and he fell into the flow and loosened up.
There was some pleasure there, tingling at the edges. He tuned into this. It too shifted, wanting to grow, if only allowed. He gave it space and imagined it expanding, letting it move as it wished. A vibrant sort of energy started to spread.
Now the man’s fingers were on his head, roughly tugging at his hair, killing his focus and bringing the pain back. This was too much. He raised his hand and slapped the man’s arm away. The pumping stopped briefly before resuming. Some words had been spoken, but he didn’t care.
The pleasure came again. Not as much. Somehow he was holding it back. It was his tension, keeping everything too strained. He gave his whole body permission to relax and let his clinging drop away.
When the bliss returned, it obviously came connected to the sex, but then it spread way outside that and became self-sustaining. The more attention it consumed, the more it swelled. Something totally unknown and electrifying was happening. He envisioned a bright cloud of light blooming within him, stretching out into all parts of himself to surge beneath the skin like living sun rays. It grew and grew and threatened to split him open. Mind extinguished, no longer needing breath, he let his last shred of resistance dissolve. Like a flood, the rapture burst beyond himself and spilled out to fill the air, leaving no body behind.
The world blinked rudely back into existence. He turned himself over. Orange street lights cast shadows across the ceiling. It might have been the next day. Jason lay sprawled on the bed beside him, huffing and smelling of sweat.
“Oh fuck, dude,” he said. “You alright?”
Nick rose, collected his clothes, and looked down at the man who seemed smaller than before. He got dressed and said thanks and that he had to be going.
He drove home the way he came. Unable to imagine anything else to do, he performed his nightly routine to prepare for bed. Nestled in his pajamas, under the covers, he found he could not rest. Growing bored with lying there, he reached for his phone and opened the app. It was a lot of the same people. He scrolled down.
Clay Holt is a writer and programmer living in the American South. His work has also appeared in Crack the Spine. Find him on Twitter here.