Chapter 2 – Marshall’s Cigar and Briar
Kyle woke up on Saturday morning with a throbbing headache and a sore throat, enough that when he went downstairs, his mother asked him if he was catching a cold, while his father just kept reading the paper, uninterested. Kyle waved his mom off, worried he might still smell of alcohol, or worse, smoke, but if either of them noticed, they didn’t say anything. He sat down, had breakfast, and the entire experience was such a break from what had happened the night before, that it was becoming easier and easier to just assume that it hadn’t. He’d just imagined the whole thing, dreamed it. After all, what was more likely–he’d had a wacky horny dream, or he’d actually smoked a cigar that had summoned a smoke version of a guy he’d met for five minutes a club, and they’d had sex?
But upstairs in his room, he saw that the cigar had been real, at least. The band was there on his desk, with the name and address as before. Later in the day, he went poking around in the shed on some other pretense, and he could smell it in there still, the smoke, and there, across the floor, was the faint outline of a dried spatter of some sort. If that was real, he wasn’t sure how to disprove the rest of it.
He checked his messages, and saw he had something from Jim, wanting to talk to him. Kyle wasn’t sure if he wanted to divulge the details of what had happened to him that night entirely, but the situation with his gay neighbors was too stupid not to tell his friend. He suggested they meet up at the park about halfway between their homes, and half an hour later, he was waving Jim down from the bench he’d snagged. Jim hustled over, and got on the bench across from him.
Kyle could see something was wrong–his eyes were bagged, and he looked like he hadn’t slept at all that night. “Hell, you must have had a good night man, sorry I had to leave early, you won’t fucking believe that happened.”
Jim just stared at him. “Kyle…have you seen Marlon?”
“Marlon. My boyfriend. He went with us last night. Have you gotten a text from him? Anything?”
Kyle just stared at Jim, feeling like he was pulling a prank on him. Jim was single, wasn’t he? But now that he heard the name, it was…familiar, somehow. Jim pressed him on it, and Kyle came to the realization that he was right. They had gone out with Marlon the night before–how on Earth had Kyle just forgotten that?
“You’re not the only one,” Jim said, “I can’t find him on any social media, his number just disappeared from my phone! My parents don’t remember him, and I’m afraid to call his house, I…I don’t know, we…something happened when we were leaving the club, and I thought it was a nightmare, but…but now I’m not so sure.”
So Jim recounted what had happened as they were heading to the car, the strange shadows, the man in the leather who had stepped out to greet them, Marlon just up and disappearing into the dark, the police who had interrupted them and gotten him to his car, alone. Kyle just listened, unsure of what to say about any of this, but it put what had happened to him in rather stark relief. When Jim had finished his story, he considered describing the cigar in the shed to him, but didn’t. It felt…wrong, and Jim was freaking out a bit, so Kyle went around, sat beside him on the bench and put his arm around him.
“Look, he’s probably fine, alright? I…I believe you, I do, but…but people don’t just disappear like this. There has to be an explanation.”
“But from everything? I can’t even find pictures of us. It’s like some black hole opened up and swallowed everything about him.”
They sat in silence for a while, and then Kyle said he’d let Jim know if he heard anything, he’d try texting him too, and see what he could find on the internet–then they went their separate ways.
But he couldn’t find anything about Marlon, anywhere. By the end of the evening, he found himself wondering if he actually was being pranked, if Jim was just faking the whole thing after all. But he’d been distressed, that hadn’t been an act. He went to bed that night, feeling rather unsettled, and didn’t feel much better the next day. He’d looked up the shop, called Marshall’s Cigar and Briar, and saw it was closed on Sundays–he’d decided to go into the city on Monday and check it out. Now he was having second thoughts. What if he just…up and disappeared too? Could that even happen? Even now, he was still struggling to hold onto the memories of Marlon that Jim had dredged up for him. Almost like, if he didn’t keep bringing them forward in his mind, they kept threatening to slip away into whatever void they’d gone down into before.
But Sunday, he had a fight with his Father, enabled by his Mother. It was over nothing, but he found himself bristling at being in this house, in this neighborhood for another minute. Sure, college would be an escape in a few months, but would it really get him away? His parents were still paying for it, the whole thing out of savings. If he tried to be out, if he dated a guy and they caught wind of it, he’d be cut off for sure. He didn’t know the cigar bear–named Marshall, he assumed–at all, but that one evening with him was the first time he’d felt respected by someone older than him, by someone who could be his father. In the end, he decided to take the risk, drove downtown, and on Monday afternoon, stepped into Marshall’s Cigar and Briar.
It was a narrow space, made narrower by the glass counter cutting down the length of the shop. Underneath the glass were countless pipes–not glass ones, like he would have expected, the kind his friends usually use for pot. These were tobacco pipes, and Kyle realized he’d never seen one of them in real life, beyond movies and that sort of thing. Across from the counter, there were magazine racks. One of them was an assortment of newspapers and magazines, and further in, judging from the black plastic plates in front, was a rack of porno mags. Along the back wall were jars of loose tobacco, and behind the counter was a wall of boxes, full of cigars, he assumed, and even more in humidors further in. Close to the door was a cash register, and behind that was the bear he’d met first at the bar, and then in his shed, though dressed more casually today, in jeans and a sleeveless shirt for the heat, flipping through one of the magazines from the news rack. Marshall lowered it, and smiled, “Ah, good to see you again, and sooner than I expected.”
“I…uh…” Kyle said, but didn’t quite know what to do next. He’d pictured himself getting in the door and then, well, he didn’t know what was going to come next, at all. But that was part of the excitement. For the first time, really, he felt like he’d taken a genuine step off the path that had been laid out for him, and now, he didn’t know what he was supposed to do.
“How have you been? I hope the fellow who dragged you away treated you well that night.”
“Yeah, he’s…a neighbor, of my parents. And me, I guess. I watch his cat sometimes.”
The man flipped to the next page in his magazine, and Kyle was left floundering for something to latch onto. Everything in the club, everything in the shed had felt so obvious, but now… “I…I thought you wanted to see me again,” he said.
Marshall smiled, “You must have wanted to see me again too,” he said, “But now I suppose I have to ask you, what would you like? Cigars? A pipe? What interests young men like you these days? I don’t know anything about that new vaping thing I see twinks do sometimes, it seems so cold to me.”
I guess…I don’t know. I thought…we could, you know.”
“Ah, you came for me, and me alone, did you?”
“I think you’re teasing me.”
Marshall smiled. “Well, I haven’t had lunch yet. Why don’t we go get some food, and we can chat a bit more? I’d be interested to get to know a little bit more about you, I think.”
That seemed as good of a foothold as any, and they ended up at a little restaurant down the street, Marshall poking around and asking Kyle about not just his plans, but how he felt about his plans, about his general dissatisfaction. It ended with a surprising offer–Marshall suggested he might work with him in the shop for the rest of the summer. He’d fallen behind on some of his organization, and there was always cleaning to do. It wasn’t the sort of job that Kyle had ever thought about doing, but he accepted without any hesitation. The more time he spent with Marshall, the more of a pull he felt. After just an afternoon, he felt a deeper connection with him than anyone else before. His mind called it love, but that might have been youth talking. They went back to the shop, and Kyle’s heart was beating fast, wondering what else might happen that day, only for the feeling to cut off when Marshall handed him a broom.
“Go ahead and start off with a good sweep, will ya?” he said, smiling at him.
Kyle, who had never really had to work a broom in his life, just gripped it and stared at him, but Marshall was serious. So he took the broom and the dustpan, and started sweeping, while the bear went back to the register, took a cigar from the humidor beside him, and started smoking while reading his magazine. Kyle felt a little hoodwinked, and yet, when he caught a whiff of the smoke, he had to stifle a moan, as his cock leapt up. Marshall was smiling at him, and gave him a wink, but what felt like it could have been something more, was stifled by a steady stream of customers for the rest of the afternoon, and when it was time to close, he was given a wage right from the till, and sent on his way home.
“I…Are we gonna, you know, again?” Kyle asked, not really wanting to leave the shop and step out onto the dark sidewalk.
“Is that what you want?” Marshall asked him, and Kyle nodded. “Well, Pigtown will usually give you what you want, Kyle. But you should be careful that you don’t lose what you need. Now get on home–shop opens at ten, and I want you here at nine thirty every day.”
Kyle nodded, not sure if that was a yes or a no…but he’d take it, either way.
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