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I Said Thirty-Nine Times That I Love You

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It was two am, and Cassidy was glad to leave his job. He had been bartending all night at the Vampire’s Lair, a cheesy Goth bar. But even bars in New Orleans closed (some of them), and Cassidy stood outside while his boss Larissa locked the place up. “Okay guys, see you tomorrow. Cass, see you Sunday.” Cassidy nodded as he lit a cigarette. He didn’t tend bar on weekends-being a go-go boy at the gay cabaret a few blocks down paid pretty well. He headed off in the opposite direction of most of his co-workers, waving Jon off when he offered to walk with him.

The Quarter was dangerous, but Cassidy knew where he was going.

It was still hot at two am. The damp chemical stink that came off the Mississippi seemed to wrap around him and get stuck in his nostrils. He ignored it and kept going, walking until he saw a small, skinny boy with a guitar case standing in front of a club. Cassidy could see the nervous way Tommy held the case-last year some guys had beaten him up and taken his guitar. They were still paying the hospital bills for the stitches he got, they would be paying them a long time.

Tommy flipped his hair out of his eyes and Cassidy could see the minute that his boyfriend recognized him. Some (not all) of the tension left his shoulders and his stance became less wary. “Hey,” Tommy said, smiling at little. “Tonight…wasn’t that bad.” Cassidy's smile back was rueful, because it was never good. They walked down and turned toward the place they lived.

Tommy was the house guitarist at a shitty little club in the far part of the French Quarter. He played backup for a lot of old R&B and Blues guys who most of the drunk tourists had never heard of, but after a few Dixie beers they were willing to pretend to listen to someone whose music should have been blowing them away. Tommy loved the musicians he played with and hated his audience, and the feeling was mutual. Cassidy could still see the scar from the time that a blitzed frat boy had cut him with a box knife.

(They didn’t have to pay for that hospital visit, because Tommy threatened to press charges and the rich brat’s family paid all of Tommy’s medical bills to keep their dearest from having a record. “I think the fucker’s actually going to law school,” Tommy had said, and Cassidy wouldn’t doubt it.)

The walk home was quiet. They didn’t hold hands as they headed down the street to where their “home” was. It wasn’t far from the Quarter, but the hotel bore no resemblance to either the gilded Creole palaces or the cheap Doubletree up on Canal.

When they entered the Hotel Glorious, the smell hit them full on. There was very little working a/c to be had here, and that made the stench of bug spray, pot, baby diapers and slight mold that much worse. Cassidy had to fight the urge to hold Tommy’s hand then, as if he could protect him from squalor.

The elevator had a “closed” sign on it, and Tommy and Cassidy just looked at each other and started for the stairwell. It was empty, except for Randall. He was smoking a joint on the stairs near the second floor. “Evening, gentleman,” he said, same as always. Tommy smiled at him, just a crinkle of emotion on a blank face. Randall was seventy-some and had once been a percussionist in a jazz band until heart problems and arthritis left him a frail loner in a stairwell. Tommy liked him, and sometimes he would sit outside with Randall playing acoustic blues for him, the hot breeze ruffling Tommy’s hair.

“Evening, Randall,” Cassidy said, wishing he had any more energy left to smile. He just got the key out and waited for the kids running around the hall to move before he opened their door. The room looked the same as it did when they left. It was small, with ugly carpet and two tiny twin beds that they had pushed together. Tommy immediately put his guitar up, locking it inside an ancient trunk that was too heavy to move without them waking up. Tommy couldn’t lose it-he had no other way to pay for another one. Cassidy had sold his guitar months ago, and his hands ached from missing it sometimes.

Cassidy didn’t have the energy to shower, even though he was covered by a light sheen of sweat. Tommy just stripped off and stood in front of the sink, splashing cold water over his body and washing his armpits. When he was done, Tommy came to bed and curled around Cassidy, not saying anything about the bar stink he no doubt still had on him. Instead he kissed over the pulse in Cassidy’s neck and said “You start this time”.

Cassidy held his amazing, beautiful boy to him, not minding the extra warmth when it was already so hot. “When we make it,” he started, and he could feel Tommy’s smile. “When We Make It” was their favorite game. “We’re gonna move out of this city and go live on a beach somewhere. We’re going to have a house where it’s quiet-“ just then, there was a crash as one of their neighbors threw a lamp at the wall, and the sound of someone running like hell down the hallway, screaming and cursing following him. Cassidy waited a minute, then rubbed Tommy’s back to get the stiffness out. Too much shit had happened to Tommy for him not to be scared every time he heard a fight.

Cassidy kept going. “And it’s going to be kind of far away, but close enough for us to see bands. And we’ll be somewhere where we can hold hands down the street.” Cassidy knew damn well they could hold hands in some parts of the Quarter, but not many and once you left it, all bets were off.

“And we can have one big bed, and not two pushed together,” Tommy said, taking hold of Cassidy’s hand, their fingers laced together. “When we make it, we can have, like, a bunch of vintage guitars.” Cassidy laughed. “And not just for me, for you too. And a piano.” That brought a lump to Cassidy’s throat-he missed playing piano so much.

“When we make it,” Cassidy said when he trusted himself to speak, “I’ll buy you pretty things to wear, stuff that will show how beautiful you are.” Right now Cassidy had some flashy clothes, but they were for work. Tommy had to get by with jeans, t-shirts, and the occasional sharp jacket when he had a good gig at a classy blues joint. “And, I’m gonna buy you a ring.”

“You’ll make me an honest man someday?” Tommy snort-giggled into his neck and Cassidy smiled. “I love you for that, you know. You are so much sappier than those Goths think you are.”

“Shut up.” Cassidy ruffled Tommy’s hair. “We need to sleep. Love you baby.” He was tired, too tired for sex, too tired for anything but to kiss his boy goodnight with a sour tasting mouth. He’ll brush his teeth in the morning (did they have toothpaste?). Tommy held him through the night.

The noise of the Hotel Glorious didn’t stop just because they were trying to sleep, but Cassidy could dull it to a hum when Tommy was in his arms. When they woke up to no hot water, Cassidy could shrug it off and just wipe off with a cold washcloth, because Tommy was there to push him on the bed and suck him dry right after.

And when it was time for Cassidy to get ready to put on a g-string and give fat closeted Midwest guys lapdances, he could do it because Tommy walked him to work, giving him a soft kiss in the dressing room before heading back to his gig. Cassidy watched him go, and he hoped for enough tips to help pay down their debt. He hoped for the money to get out of the Hotel Glorious. And he hoped that Tommy would be safe as he walked down Bourbon with a guitar.