Chapter 15: Nothing to Hide
The night air was a little lighter, a little drier, a little less torrid than it had been in recent nights. But Stan had started early, downing two or three beers that afternoon while he grilled the hamburgers for supper, and a couple more that evening while the kids were watching their movie. They were in bed, now, and although he’d probably be able to sleep all right, he had opened a nice new bottle of scotch and poured himself an inch or two in his tumbler, just to be sure.
The sun was almost down, but it was lingering, the way it always did on mid-summer nights like this. The twilight of twilight—not daylight, but not quite twilight either. Stan was glad he did most of his photography indoors at times like this; imagine trying to shoot in this kind of light. Horrendous.
He put the tumbler and its nearly diminished scotch on the table and paced back and forth on his porch for a while. He hated this restlessness, this sense of being trapped outside his own home; then again, the idea of going back in, with Marie, was even worse.
Her transformation had taken almost no time, it seemed, but it was long complete; from cutest girl in their class at university to middle-aged woman still trying to play the flirty cute girl; now she was at the final stage, short hair, sagging little tits, wrinkles forming around her mouth and beside her eyes. She was old.
When she turned thirty, a couple of years back, he knew it bothered her, this aging; he tried to make light of it, to show her it wasn’t such a big deal. He took her out to the Trocadero, the steakhouse downtown, and had them bring out the birthday cake he had delivered earlier that day, with “HERE’S TO YOU, MRS ROBINSON” written in icing across it.
Of course, he didn’t think of her that way, or at least he hadn’t at that point. He had only been teasing her. But she had gone and gotten offended. Even the waitress had been embarrassed to bring out the cake. Well—fuck them, if they couldn’t take a joke.
He picked up the tumbler and drained it; there wasn’t much left in it anyhow. He would get more, but in a minute; he wanted to enjoy these last few moments of light first, on his own, for once.
Voices in the street. A woman’s... and a man’s. Stan peered through the hedges to have a look. Keith, and his wife. Stan rushed down the porch steps and across the lawn to catch them.
She didn’t look quite as he thought she would, close up, maybe because her hair was pulled back and tied up in a ponytail, not splayed out on the couch cushions behind her. And the rumpled blue t-shirt and khaki cargo shorts hid her body too well.
“Hey guys,” Stan announced, catching up to them and pasting a wide smile on his face.
They stopped and turned. Stan was caught off guard; they both were staring coldly at him, no hint of pleasantry from either of them.
“Hey, Stan,” Keith answered at last, grudgingly.
They must have been arguing about something, and Stan had interrupted them. Well, nothing he could do about that now. “So you must be Lisa,” Stan said, reaching a hand out to her. Was that too formal? Too forward? You never knew, these days. He continued smiling, though, and did that thing with his eyes, narrowing them slightly. It always worked on clients, especially the young mothers who brought their babies in for pictures.
She took his hand without hesitation though, and Stan could see her expression soften. He squeezed her hand, just slightly. It was smooth and pleasantly warm.
“Hi, Stan,” she said, the hint of a smile tugging at one corner of her mouth.
“Nice to finally meet you,” he said, before he let go. “In person,” he added.
The moment suddenly disappeared, and she was again hardened, distant. “I’m cold,” she said to Keith. “I’ll see you inside.” And she was gone.
“I was gonna have a little scotch,” Stan said quickly, before Keith reacted. “Up on the porch. Watch the sun go down. Whyn’t you join me?” Whyn’t? Was he slurring already? Hopefully he wasn’t that drunk, or at least didn’t seem that drunk.
They both looked at once at Lisa, in front of her house, turning up the walk. Keith licked his lips.
“I could go for one, I think,” he said.
Keith didn’t seem like a scotch drinker, Stan decided, so he poured him a cheap blended whiskey—no need, he figured, to give good single malt to someone who wouldn’t appreciate it. He poured himself a little more of the twelve-year-old Islay and went back to the porch.
Keith stood at the railing, leaning on it with both hands, looking out at the empty street.
“What’s up?” Stan asked, setting the glasses down on the little side table before joining Keith.
“Nothin’,” Keith said absently, staring out into the descending dusk.
They stood together, contemplating the view for a while, until Keith broke the silence. “Your lawn’s in great shape.”
“It’s holding its own in this heat,” Stan agreed. He appreciated the compliment; no matter what, no one could say he didn’t keep a neat and healthy lawn.
“Not mine. Think I’m going to be re-seeding in the spring.”
“Yeah. What’s your secret? Watering it a lot?”
“Nah. I fertilize the hell out of it, every spring and fall, that’s all.”
Stan waited, but that seemed to be all there was to say. “Let’s siddown,” he suggested.
Keith took Stan’s usual seat, at the end of the verandah, and picked up one of the glasses. “This one mine?”
Stan couldn’t tell. “Sure,” he said, taking the other seat and picking up the remaining glass.
Keith lifted his glass with a nod, then took a sip. “Nice,” he said approvingly. “Nice peat, not too smoky. This a lowland malt?”
Damn—he’d taken the good scotch. Stan took a sip himself—thin, watery, rough on the back of the tongue. Yes, somehow Keith had manoeuvred it so he could pick up Stan’s single malt. Annoying. Well, at least he knew his scotch.
“Islay,” Stan said, suddenly remembering Keith had asked him a question. “Glen Bowman. Twelve year.”
“Wow.” Keith took another sip, inhaling as he did so. “Really nice.”
“It’s my go-to whiskey,” Stan said, which was a lie. Marie would have a fit if he bought a bottle of single malt more often than every couple of months. That’s why he had to buy this cut-rate horse’s piss he was drinking now, most of the time.
“You have good taste.”
They sipped slowly, the warm breeze carrying the scent of honeysuckle across the port.
I guess, Stan decided, it’s up to me to be the bigger man.
“So, about the whole mix-up,” Stan started. “With the tape.”
Keith didn’t reply. Stan glanced over and found him staring into his glass, brow furrowed.
“It was the stupidest thing,” Stan went on. “Just a silly coincidence. See, I was leaving a tape, and it just happened to be on the same night you left one for Darrell. So when I found a tape there, I assumed it was for me.”
“Oh, sure,” Keith said. Stan couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic or not.
“I realized only later that it wasn’t for me,” Stan went on.
Keith seemed to perk up. “So—you didn’t watch the tape? Or—”
Would it be worth lying about that? Hard to tell. No—probably best to come clean. “Oh, we saw it,” he said.
Keith retreated again, frowning, head down.
“The thing is,” Stan said, “far as I knew, you and—” Her name, what was it? “—Lisa were already in the circle, so I didn’t think too much of it.” That sounded wrong. “Of—of finding your tape.”
Keith sighed and shrugged, then took another sip—a big sip, really, bigger than it needed to be—from his glass.
“So usually,” Keith said at last, “do people leave tapes out on their own back step?”
It was a good point. “Well—” Stan stalled.
“It’s just that—”
“I was drunk,” Stan said, inspiration hitting him at last.
He looked—yes, there: Keith’s face was turning up a little.
“So I’d had a couple—a few of these, probably. It was late, and me and Marie had just made another tape. So I was—” The scotch, although it was inspiring, was going to put too many words in his mouth if he wasn’t careful. “So I got a little mixed up, and...that was that.”
Yes, it seemed to work. Keith actually leaned back in his chair.
Well, I got out of that one, Stan though, with some satisfaction. He drained a little more whiskey from his glass and found it empty.
“’Nother?” he asked.
“Still working on this one,” Keith said, showing him the couple of millilitres left in his glass.
“I’ll bring the bottle, top you up.”
As he made his way through the kitchen, to the liquor cabinet in the dining room, Stan reviewed what he had said. It seemed plausible enough; he had apologized without really admitting he’d done anything wrong. He’d even made a damned good peace offering, when you considered the quality of the scotch he’d given Keith. No, he could leave it there. They were on equal footing now.
He reached into the cardboard sleeve and drew the bottle of Glen Bowman out. He’d bought it only a week ago—no, not even, five days ago—and it was already half-gone. He couldn’t very well give Keith that Treacher’s stuff now, though.
Then it hit him: they weren’t on equal footing at all. Keith hadn’t said a thing about finding and keeping the tape of him and Marie. And that hadn’t been a mistake, the way he’d gotten hold of Keith’s tape. That was just cowardly.
He seethed the whole way back to the verandah. He banged the screen door open, a little too violently, maybe, with the kids already in bed—but he didn’t really care. He got a little pleasure, even, when Keith jumped slightly at the sound.
Keith’s glass, now empty, sat on the table, and Stan dribbled a bit more scotch into it. “More?” he suggested, a little anger creeping into his voice.
“’S fine, thanks,” Keith said.
Stan poured some for himself and sat down heavily. Keith hadn’t touched his glass. Stan picked up his own glass and touched the bottom of it to the rim of Keith’s. “Cheers,” he said pointedly.
“Oh—sorry,” Keith said, hastily lifting the glass and nodding. “Cheers. Thanks.”
Stan felt the warm, soft whiskey curl around his teeth and under his tongue. That other stuff—might as well drink dishwater. He’d rather stay sober on Glen Bowman than get buzzed on Treacher’s. He could feel the scotch move through him already, releasing tension, spreading its comfortable heat.
“This whole tape thing—” Keith started.
“What about it?” Stan said, when it became apparent Keith wasn’t going to say any more.
“I just—it’s a little weird, isn’t it?”
Stan took another long sip, then put his glass down. “How do you—”
“No, I mean, not that it’s—I mean, it’s great and everything. I’m glad we were invited.” Keith’s voice rushed out, words starting to trip over each other. “I mean, when I found your tape—I didn’t know what to think. Maybe it was stolen, maybe a voyeur. So what do I do, throw it away? Pretend it didn’t exist? And then when I told Darrell and found out it was all—well, it made me wish I’d just came over and talked to you about it. But by then...”
His voice trailed off as he tried to marshal his thoughts. Excuses, Stan thought.
“Well, anyway,” Keith said at last. “I hope I didn’t cause any harm. And I’m sorry if I did. I’m just glad if we can—you know—move past it.”
Stan timed a long, slow sip so that he wouldn’t have to respond. He let the scotch sit and evaporate in his mouth for a bit, the vapours drifting up and settling gently in his sinuses.
“It would have been better,” Stan said, taking his time with each word, “if you’d come to me straight away.”
“You see, this... arrangement, this relationship among us, among all of us, is a matter of trust.”
“It doesn’t work if we’re keeping things, hiding things from each other.” Like the tape you gave to Darrell, he wanted to add. He couldn’t say that, though, didn’t need to say it.
“That’s the thing. I didn’t mean—”
“We all just need to be conscious of it,” Stan said loudly, annoyed at being interrupted. “Not give each other reason to worry. You know what I mean?”
“I do,” Keith said quickly.
“I mean, I trust you,” Stan went on. Why was he saying this? He didn’t know, even as he said it. “It’s clear you can be trusted. In fact, it was me who said we should get you to join the circle.”
“Really?” Keith’s eyes were wide.
“Sure. Darrell and Zsolt weren’t sure, but I figured, the fact you were so discreet about finding my tape was a good sign.”
“Plus, with Gerry and Doreen gone, things changed a bit. We needed fresh tapes.”
They lapsed into silence, and Stan found his glass was empty again. He poured himself another and waved the bottle at Keith.
Stan topped him up and they both sat back again.
“Cheers,” Keith said.
Stan could see, or maybe feel, that Keith had something to say. He waited.
“So about—” Keith finally said.
“I mean—you saw what—what I had, right?”
Was he talking about his cock? This was suddenly really weird. “I saw your tape, yes,” Stan answered warily.
Again with the dramatic pauses. “So?”
“So it was okay?” Keith asked in a rush.
Was that it? “Sure, it was fine,” Stan said, and took another sip of whiskey. “It was great.”
“I mean, I’ve never done anything like that before.” Keith was nearly babbling now. “It’s not like you can go to the library and get a book on, on videotaping yourself—you know—”
“Having sex,” Stan suggested.
“Well it was a good first effort,” Stan said.
“So... is there anything I can change, or...”
“Well, there’s always room for improvement.” Stan shifted in his chair, thinking again of Lisa lying back, hair splayed out, working herself furiously with one hand, then with two, mouth open, gasping, then her back arching, her hips—
“Do you have any, like, specific suggestions?” Keith interrupted.
Now he was just fishing for compliments, Stan realized. Sure, he had made a good tape, but it wasn’t the be-all and end-all of sex tapes. “Well, it ended in a weird place,” Stan started.
Keith hesitated. “How—how so?”
“Well, I mean, you were—you know—just about to—” Why was it still this difficult? They were talking about sex, sure, but it was also about a tape that Keith had made, and Stan had watched. Surely they should be past this adolescent embarrassment, this pussyfooting around the subject.
He decided to try again. “What I’m saying—to be totally frank—is that you cut off the tape before you actually... finished.”
Keith looked glum. “Oh.”
“No one’s looking for a stag reel here, some kind of gusher,” Stan hastened to add. “It’s just that it’s sort of the point of the whole thing, isn’t it.”
“Well you saw Lisa—reaching—”
“Oh, yeah, yeah.” Stan could still see her, back arched, gasping, one breast clenched in her hand. “But it was kind of—there you were, and then suddenly you weren’t.”
“Well.” Still the sour look on his face. Keith took another drink.
“It’s not a big deal,” Stan said. “Really, I only mentioned it because—”
“Lisa told me to cut it out.”
Again—that was just weird. “Not to orgasm?” Stan asked. He could have interpreted that a few different ways, really.
“No—I mean, she said I had to erase that part of the tape.”
“Why?” The woman had told him to edit out the best part. What was wrong with her?
“I think she was embarrassed, because...” Keith trailed off.
Stan waited, but that seemed to be all. “What’s to be embarrassed about? We all—”
“She got caught up in the moment,” Keith said, as though it was painful to say the words. “And afterwards—well, she didn’t want it... out there.”
Again with this guy—secrets, hiding, deception. “As I said before,” Stan told him, “there’s a certain level of trust that—”
“No—” Keith stopped him, then stopped again himself.
Pointless. It wasn’t worth talking to this idiot if he wasn’t going to be straight. “Fine,” he said, sitting back, taking another sip of his scotch. “Whatever. I don’t need to—”
“What happened is,” Keith said in a loud, unnatural tone of voice, “when I got close, and told her I was about to come—” He stole a glance at Stan, then looked straight ahead. “She told me to come on her face.”
Now he really felt annoyed that Keith had edited the tape. “Wow,” he said, imagining Lisa, eyes closed, mouth open, waiting for it.
“So I did,” Keith said. “It was... I think it was the best orgasm I ever had.”
Stan had never actually tried that before—Marie had once gotten a bit of sperm in her eye and had spent about a half hour washing it out afterwards, complaining the whole time. “That’s great,” he said encouragingly.
“She never asked for that before,” Keith continued. “And after, she... well, she got herself off again. With... it.”
Her breasts glistening, her face soaked, she laid back again, her slick fingers working again, working deeper, moving faster—
“Anyway,” Keith said, slinging the rest of his scotch back and getting to his feet. “I better get home.”
Stan stood up too. “So—okay. Anyhow, you made a really good tape.”
“Thanks.” Keith still looked down in the mouth.
“I’m sure we’re all eager to see the next one.”
“Okay.” He bobbed his head, looking embarrassed. “I’ll see ya.”
“See ya.” Keith leaned heavily on the railing as he descended the stairs, and then he was behind the junipers and gone.
Stan emptied his own drink, collected the glasses and bottle, and went inside. One more drink before he went to bed, he decided, and half-filled his tumbler with Treacher’s.
He took another healthy gulp of the scotch and sat heavily on the couch. He wished he hadn’t given Keith’s tape back to Darrell so readily. Who know when it would come around again? He thought about putting one of the other tapes on, but the TV seemed so far away, and he was suddenly terribly, terribly tired.
Another swallow from his glass, and now there was hardly any left, so he drank that too and put the glass down on the couch cushion beside him, and then he was asleep.