Monday, July 12, 2010

What's Left Unsaid BY Kathleen Bradean

From Left Unsaid by Jay Lygon

A man hears that a cop has been shot at the scene of an armed robbery, but he can’t find out if his boyfriend was the one who was hurt. This excerpt starts when the boyfriend comes home.

It’s Steve in the doorway and he looks like he’s a million years old. His shoulders slump, the weight of the world resting on them.

“Where have you been?” It isn’t what I want to say. It isn’t even the words I’m thinking, but that’s what comes out.

Steve looks pissed. “I had a bad day.” He glances at the TV, sees the blaring ads, and makes a face. He’s gaunt under the five o’clock shadow and his eyes, God, he looks like he hasn’t slept in a week.

“Why didn’t you call? I left messages.”

He throws his jacket on the back of the couch and groans as he sits down. “I didn’t check. What a goddamn mess. From what I heard, all they got from the bank was six thousand. Six thousand lousy bucks. For what?” He rubs his face. “Rose and Gutierrez will both live. Thank god they both had on their vests.”

I stare at Steve and try to figure out who Rose and Gutierrez are, and it finally dawns on me that Steve is telling me who got shot. He’s telling me it wasn’t him.

I perch on the couch next to him because I want to make sure he’s real. He smells like shampoo, so he must have showered at the station. I’m pissed off that he would take time to do that when he wouldn’t even call me to let me know he was okay.
But I can’t say that.

His eyes are sad and he looks like he doesn’t want to talk to me, but I want to crawl over him and explore every inch of his body and make sure with my own eyes, my own fingers, my own tongue, that every part of him is okay. He can tell me that he’s whole, but I won’t know it deep down until I find out for myself.

His chest rises and falls with a slow breath and I put my hand in the center of his big pecs and feel his chest hair under his t-shirt. My fingertips feel the faint echo of his heartbeat.

Steve says, “Zach,” real quiet, like I’ve fallen asleep in front of the TV and he wants me to come to bed. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything so hot in my entire life, so even if he is a ghost I’m going to kiss him.

The inside of his mouth tastes like he’s been sneaking cigarettes and chewing gum to hide it from me but I don’t care about his fucking lungs or mine anymore. I’m on my knees and kind of crouched over him and I like the slick slide of his tongue under mine. He keeps breathing like he’s really alive, but I have to be sure because I don’t think I can survive him dying twice in one day.

He wraps his arm tight around me and holds on like he’s drowning so I push him under and cover his body with mine so he has to bring me with him if he wants to surface. We’re diving together into our hidden world below the thin blue line. We’re sharing oxygen in short gasps.

My arm cradles his head. Pressed between my biceps and the couch, he can’t move. The heat of his body clings to his sweat pants and t-shirt. I soak it into my skin.

The only way I can keep him safe is if they can’t find him. If they can’t make him put on the uniform again, no one will shoot at him and I won’t have to practice mourning anymore. Even though he’d love me for wanting him safe he’d despise me more for not trusting him to be smart. He doesn’t understand that I do trust him. It’s bullets I don’t trust. Bullets and body armor and guns and people who shoot at other people and people who don’t care about life. So all I can do is shield his body with mine, and only for now, and hope that will be enough.

We fit together in all the perfect places. My lips to his, my chest to his, my dick dowsing for his. He doesn’t talk. I’m afraid he’ll push me away as I grind against him. Then he’s pulling off my shirt and squeezing me so hard it hurts. I’m thrusting into his thigh and hoping it hurts him too, just a little, just a lot.

Steve tries to shift under me. Muscle against muscle, he usually wins, but I’ve got desperation on my side. The more he fights it, the rougher my hold. He sweats. I smell him and that’s how I’m sure he’s not a ghost. I shove up his shirt so that my slick skin a can crush to his hairy chest. He tries to lift me, but I won’t let him get away, not yet, so I pin him to the couch with my dick, and again, and harder, until my cockhead is bruised inside my jeans. Then I realize he’s bucking only with his hips, not with his shoulders.

My hand snakes between us. I grasp him through his sweats. It isn’t enough. I yank the waistband past his balls and let it snap. He yelps, but quietly, because he’s a tough guy.

Steve tries to look me in the eyes but I’m not having any of that. We’re having angry sex, despair sex, and make-up sex all rolled into one, only he doesn’t know we’re fighting. Every grind against him is a punch, but I want to hit him harder, so I lift back and fuck at him like spitting harsh words from between clenched teeth.

It feels so good to make him suffer. My fingernails leave red arcs as I hold his forearms down. He’s puzzled, but turned on. Now I lock my gaze with his. I’m grunting and he’s breathing hard.

I want him to howl into my mouth. Our lips seal. My balls are tightening. Brutal, I ram him. He’s squirming now. He gets his hands free. I’m biting down on his tongue.

He’s moaning and grabbing my ass. His hard-on is trapped between us. My dick is pinched and chaffed. I’m body slamming him. Every muscle is wound tight. The fear inside me releases. Come rises, unstoppable. I shoot hard.

He unzips my fly; milks my dick. I keep humping him. He coats his hand with my come and grasps his cock. The wet slam of fist and cock and come is all I hear.

His shoulders lift off the couch. His chin tucks down. Steve is gasping. I yank back his head and shove my tongue in his mouth. He shivers. Then he goes stiff. I feel the hot ooze of his come on my stomach.

We don’t move for a while. I cradle his head again and press my lips to his neck and taste his sweat. My voice can’t be trusted, so I don’t say anything, not yet.

He’s sliding his hands over my back. He hugs me, lets go, hugs me again. I nuzzle closer so that he can’t see what’s written on my face. He groans and tries to move. At first he laughs a little, but I’m still holding him down, and he wants to get up, but I want to stay where we are for the rest of forever because he’s only safe if we don’t break the spell.

He can’t lift my entire weight. I go limp. I’ll stay like that as long as I have to. I’ll take every little second of the rest of our lives I can get at this point. He tries again. I can’t let him go yet. It hasn’t been long enough.

I’m listening to his heartbeat. I’m feeling him breathing. What I want to say is please don’t leave this room, please don’t put your uniform back on, please don’t die.

He holds my face between his hands. He’s frowning a little and a question is there, waiting to be asked. I go to the kitchen because my eyes have never been convincing liars.

What I want to say is that I’ll do anything if you just turn in your badge right now. I’ll live on the streets, I’ll go hungry, I’ll sell my soul to the devil. Anything. But he warned me from the start that he always chose the badge over the boyfriend, so I can’t say it aloud. I want to be the one worth giving it up for, but I don’t want to be the one who asks.

What if he says no?

There’s no taking something like that back once it’s been said. No matter what else you say, it’s there and it’s between you and it keeps growing until it’s a huge barrier that you can’t overcome anymore so you say goodbye and move on. I don’t want to do that. So I leave it unsaid. The words ring in my brain though, and there are times, like now, when I want so bad to let them spill out. If I pick a fight with him, I’ll have an excuse to yell. It would feel so good to let loose and say everything I always have to hold back. Let it go. Spew it until the words come out in dry heaves.

Instead, I go into the kitchen and turn the lights on. I rub his come across my skin until I’m coated and I pretend that it won’t wash away in the shower, that it will always be there, that he will always be here.

He follows me, leans against the door jamb, watches me. “Are you okay?”

I tell him, “Yes.” Because that’s all that I can say.


When I was writing this story, several friends were ending relationships. One of the things that baffled me was how they’d seemingly rather go through a divorce than talk to each other. “Oh, I could never tell him/her that!” Why not? Supposedly, this is the person who loves you more than anyone else, the person who has your back in times of trouble. What's the wost that could happen? S/he leaves you? That's already happening! As long as you’re losing everything anyway, why not go for the Hail Mary play? Why not have a long, honest chat before it gets to the divorce stage? But that’s me talking from my perspective, and I figured out a long time ago that you can never understand a relationship from the outside.

I’m a writer, so watching friends go through their private hells sparked a story idea about people who won’t, or can’t, talk honestly about their feelings. I was mulling over characters as I drove home from work. Traffic was slow (what a surprise) and a traffic helicopter was circling over the freeway. Suddenly, I had my opening scene in mind, and the characters came pretty quickly after that. I wanted it to be clear that my characters loved each other, but I also wanted to show that silence would eventually doom their relationship.

If I had shown the readers only Zach’s body language, they wouldn’t know how much was being left unsaid and appreciate the depth of the silence. Unlike the reader, Steve only has the surface clues to go by. So from Steve’s perspective, the dynamics in this scene are that Zach is a little pissed off that he didn’t return calls, but he’s tired and doesn’t want to deal with it because he’s had a rough day. But everything must be all right because Zach wants sex, and even wants to play a little rough.

From Zach’s perspective, only Steve is getting what he wants out of this relationship. Steve set the rules, and for now Zach is trying to abide by them. This isn’t a good relationship. Zach is realizing that. In his internal dialog, he talks about throwing up words, as if holding them in is poisoning him. It is.


  1. Yes!

    This is such a great example of how two characters can be interacting with each other, having sex even, while still living in disjoint realities.

    Thank you.


  2. Lisabet - You know that I play with that theme a lot. Rather than having good guys and bad guys, I prefer regular people who see a situation in very different ways.

  3. Hi Kathleen!

    Its interesting how what we see going on around us becomes what we're writing about at that time, as in this case, communication.


  4. Garceus - Happy belated birthday!

    Outside world very much affects us, but I wonder if we're already tuned into the right frequency (so to speak) to pick it up.

  5. Kathleen,

    Your approach to characters is similar to the method I take. No good guys or bad guys: only regular dysfunctional people trying to live their regular dysfunctional lives - just like the rest of us.



  6. Ash - just like us, but with much better sex lives!


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