14 Lovers: 14 : Nicholas Nickleby 2004 - 2006

Through the entire performance, Nick’s hand crept like an invader into his lovers lap. The moment the the curtain fell, Nick pulled Charles out of his seat and down into the lobby, tripping over his feet, to get to the car, to get home, or at least, their back seat, if they couldn’t hold themselves long enough to get to their bed. They spilled out of the Wilma Theater into the summer night.

The heat of the day had cooled in that brightly lit evening. It was the middle of the Fringe Festival in the city, theater in every empty space and street-corner. Out on Broad Street, the police had roped off two blocks and the festival had set up a giant screen and fifty chairs.

They were showing Loony Toons, and Nick and Charles walked to the middle of the street to watch the end of the show. The music of the cartoons played, and there was no traffic, just people laughing and the lights of Broad Street. Charles and Nick stood in the middle of that big street, under all those lights, like it was their own room, their own world, like they owned the place, and they kissed, everyone watching.

That’s all, folks.

Read the 14 Lovers Series from the beginning

14 Lovers: 13 : Toby Veck 1999 - 2003

Toby knew that men would say ridiculous things to get laid but what Charles said to him surpassed every line he’d ever heard before.

Charles said:

"Toby, you are my Helen of Troy. I would launch a thousand ships for you, I would go to war for you."

"But there aren’t any wars right now, Charles," Toby would say "and you don’t have an army."

And then:

"I’d kill for you." said Charles.

"I’m a pacifist," said Toby "I’d rather die than have you kill someone for me."

On a bended knee:

"I will love you till the end of time," Charles told him.

"I’d rather you love me tonight." said Toby, and Charles did.

But what Charles wouldn’t do, was all those little things, get a glass of water from downstairs when Toby was thirsty or listen to the idle prattle of a lazy rain drenched day. He didn’t want to hear Toby’s opinions, didn’t care for Toby’s shows, didn’t like Toby’s friends.

When it came to fights to the death Charles was there, with his sweeping declarations of love, his endless feeling, his boundless oaths. Toby was the sky, Toby was starlight, Toby was his world.

Toby left in the morning, as Charles slept.

You have to do more than love each other for something to last. You actually have to like each other too.

14 Lovers: 12 : Allan Woodcourt 1991 - 1997

Allan Woodcourt, age 17, of Oklahoma, did not believe in monsters. Which is not to say that he didn’t believe in other extraordinary things.

Alan believed that becoming an excellent musician took hard work. Alan believed in scales, in practice, in listening. He believed that interval training was to be taken like a warrior preparing for battle. He believed in the mechanics of music, that artistry was nothing without technique, and that technique was only mastered through hard work. And most faithfully, Alan believed that applying oneself, giving a sort of faithful devotion to the work, was what lead to results.

Allan also believed in going home with strange men after concerts, especially if those men had a lot of money. In particular, if those men had champagne and limousines and a house with a driveway that had it’s own road name. What Allan couldn’t believe is that someone with that much money, in the year 1991, didn’t have cable.

"How is it that you don’t have cable?" he asked, throwing himself on Charles’ couch in front of the television. His long blond hair spread out around his head on the pillows.

"I honestly don’t spend much time watching it," said the monster who was Charles. "I suppose it never occurred to me."

"MTV alone!" cried Allan, pulling the remote off the antique wooden table, "MTV!"

Charles stripped off his jacket and hung it on the back of an antique chair. “Music, yes? They have shows about music?”

"How can you be such an old man?" asked Allan, leaning back and putting one well muscled arm under his head. "You’re like my grandfather."

Charles raised an eyebrow. “Oh really.” he said, pulling the silk scarf off from around his neck and draping it over the couch. “Do you often kiss your grandfather, then?”

Allan blushed. “Just get cable, for Gods sake.”

Charles sank into the couch. “Not for Gods-sake.” he said to Alan. “But maybe for yours.”

Allan sat up, and then threw a pillow at Charles. “It’s cable,” he said, “not a wedding ring.”

Charles let the pillow hit him and smiled his unforgettable smile, his memory scarring, truth bearing smile. “I do so appreciate having young people around,” he said.

"Jesus." said Allan, shaking, his eyes on that nightmare mouth. The door was past Charles was heavy oak and the window, Allan suddenly noticed, was bolted shut.

14 Lovers: 11 : James Carker 1983-1987 

This story has a happy ending.

Most stories don’t, especially in a time of plague. But this story? This story does. It’s about a man and a demon who meet in a bar after midnight. The man’s name is James. The demons name is Charles.

The man, James, has been drinking steadily all night. It’s the kind of drinking you do when you don’t care how your liver is going to look in thirty years because you’ll be dead in five.

The demon had one drink that night, but it didn’t come from a glass. He cared a lot about what happens in thirty years, because creatures like him are immortal and when you’re immortal you play the long game. It’s like chess.

James and the demon, Charles had been talking for an hour. They started their conversation when Charles entered the bar because they were the most attractive people in the room, and those people tend to clump. James had opened the conversation with a comment about Charles velvet coat, which was a fine, but flamboyant piece of clothing. Charles responded with a compliment regarding James physical fitness, which was also a difficult point to ignore.

An hour into the conversation, James felt like he couldn’t lead Charles on any further and he dropped his usual conversation bomb.This admission would usually end any hope of future acquaintance, but James knew, morally, he could not keep such important information to himself.

"Listen," said James, "I don’t want to bum you out or anything, but I’m dying."

"Yeah," said Charles. "Well, I don’t want to freak you out or anything, but I’m already dead."

"Really," said James, who was used to a kind of flamboyant banter, especially regarding death, "could you tell me what it’s it like on the other side?

"Surprisingly political," said Charles.

"Isn’t it always?" agreed James. "You go into something thinking that you’re just going to live your life or die your death and then it ends up all politics - buttons and community organizations."

"Ugh," said Charles, waving his hand. "Don’t get me started."

James was used to several kinds of responses regarding his coming untimely demise, but casual chat wasn’t one of them. He decided to address the issue. “You don’t seem to freaked out by my horrible plague.” he said, before taking another sip of his rum and coke on the rocks.

Charles shrugged his attractive, dead demon shoulders. “You don’t seem to freaked out by the fact that I’m an undead monster, risen from the grave to consume the living.”

"Like Christopher Lee?" asked James.

Charles nodded. “Like that. Sort of.” He paused and made a face.  “Less capes, unfortunately.”

James turned back to the bar and leaned over his drink. “I only wish that you really were. I’d rather sleep in a coffin than be dead in one.”

At that point, Charles, the demon, made a decision. “You’re not going to die.” he said, putting on hand on the small of James back.

James shook his head. “Sorry, but that’s what the doctors say.”

Charles smiled a toothy grin. “No,” he said.  “No. Other people are going to die, but not you. Not completely, anyway.”

"I see," said James. "And how do you propose to make this happen? Perhaps you plan to freeze me in ice?"

"I already told you," said Charles, "I’m an undead monster. If you’ll step outside with me, I’d be happy to bring you into my company."

"Ah," said James, not taking the demon seriously. "But to what do I owe this distinguished honor? Surely monsters are particular about who they give their undead gifts to - and we only met tonight."

"True." said Charles. "But you are missing one vital peice of information."

"And what is that?" asked James.

Charles smiled, a glittering grin. “The damned love attractive company.”

14 Lovers: 10 : Nathaniel Winkle 1972 - 1980

Winkle, never Nathan, or Nate, or even Neil, but Winkle had a habit of playing his cello with the balcony window open. A romantic, Winkle liked to imagine that as he played in that shitty, one room apartment, someone, out there, would hear him. So Winkle sat, cello between his legs like a shield, playing to his small and rusted balcony, a fixture that was really just a glorified fire escape, and not even very glorified at that. Winkle would face the balcony that opened to the the brick wall of the building next door and imagine that someone, out there, would hear him and understand.

Winkle had long ago understood that with his condition, his unfortunate plague, as his mother said, of sexuality, that he would never have love. And indeed, were he to find someone else, a deviant like himself, that person, that creature would be more likely to kill him than to love him. That was what he saw in movies, what his family told him, what the priests said. People like him couldn’t be loved. Just a fact. A dirty fact, like all the others.

Winkle, in a new city, couldn’t go out and meet anyone and wasn’t good enough, not nearly, to join any of the orchestras. He was just good enough to think that maybe, playing on his balcony on a spring night, someone might hear him and fall in love. It was the dream of a boy who had lived in his dreams.

For Winkle, what was the point of facing reality? Reality was a disease. Reality was a bore. Reality was loneliness. Reality was, that he was a man who worked at a drugstore and played his cello at night with his window open, dreaming.

So Winkle dreamed. Winkle dreamed that a man would crawl though his window one night, a handsome man with lots of money. Winkle dreamed that when this man came, he wouldn’t be afraid. He would lean his head into the man’s hand and the man would stroke his face and speak softly. The man would be tall and lean with long dark hair. The man would want him, and show him how to be wanted.Winkle dreamed of becoming a lover.

Winkle dreamed that the man would take him out of that dreary one room apartment to a mansion close to the city. Winkle would go to shows and sip wine, holding hands with his lover. Winkle dreamed that they would be rich, that he would play before hundreds of people, that he would be toasted, that he would be loved.

Winkle dreamed, never waking, that he would live forever, drinking in the fruit of the world.

14 Lovers: 9 : Silas Wegg 1968 -1971

This is how it works: You can’t keep an actor. You can look at them. Admire them. Love them, but only from afar. You try to pin them down too hard, and then they’re not actors anymore. To keep the actor you love the way you loved them, you have to watch them leave you. Again.  And again.

Charles saw Silas first on stage, covered in greasepaint. He didn’t like him then, but when the show was over, at the after-party, the paint half melted off his face, Charles knew that this man would be his lover. Was it the sheen of his skin, or his smell, or his voice - surprisingly soft behind the velvet curtain?

All Charles knew was that he wanted to see that dark hair spread on white sheets. He wanted to possess Silas, then, to bring him home and make him belong. But Silas broke under Charles’s hand - being possessed drained him of his beauty, being kept took his heart. Being loved tore his tongue and buried it in ash.

The thing about being damned is that life on earth is easier. Eternal damnation waits, sure, but here on earth you can take the pieces of the person you broke, paste them back together and look in their eyes and demand they forget what you did. Forget the fights. Forget flesh. Forget fucking. Forget blood. Forget tears. Forget the way I broke your bones. Forget the way you broke my heart. Forget my pride and forget your frailty. Forget me. Forget it all.

Let him go.

14 Lovers: 8 : Neville Landless 1965 - 1967

"I’ll have to pay for all this," said Neville, when his fortunes turned, "there is always a price."

Nothing good ever happened to Neville without a equal and opposite reaction. Neville born to be orphaned, Neville brilliant and walking with a limp, Neville the popular but penniless musician, Neville the weak, Neville the small.

Neville knew Charles was too good to be true from the moment the monster found him playing in 30th street station. Charles was handsome and tall, rich and well regarded. He should have been swarming with women, hell, he should have been married. But Charles was single, and Charles was willing to sin.

It was worse, Neville knew, that Charles fell in love right away, that such a man should take an interest in him. If Charles had beaten him, Neville might have sighed in relief, knowing that he had properly paid for his new lover. But there were no beatings, no cruel words and so Neville waited, tense, knowing that his debt was unpaid

It came as no surprise to Neville, when Charles told him what kind of creature he really was. Neville had expected far worse than to be consumed, a little at a time, to be engaged in a peaceful sort of horror. For the first time in his life, Neville drank wine, he ate rich food, and with the attentions of his lover, even his limp faded. Now it was Neville the lean, Neville the strong, Neville the loved. But the price wasn’t high, not nearly enough for this fortune.

"There’s a toll" said Neville, to Charles, nearly even night "My fortunes are always bitter."

"Perhaps your bad luck is over." said Charles."Perhaps your fortunes have changed."

"People like me don’t get to leave their fortunes." said Neville.

"Can’t living with a monster be your toll?" Asked Charles.

"I’m sure it will be." said Neville

But it wasn’t Charles the monster that killed Neville. At a party, another decadent, gilded affair, a rival saw Neville, blush and healthy, strong and vibrant, his violin singing, those strings so tight. Neville was like glass, so delicate, so easy to destroy. Neville was a bully’s dream.

Neville collapsed under his fortunes. The scum destroyed Neville, simply because it was easy, because it would anger Charles. It was careless and jealous, thoughtless and bitter. “Was that yours?” asked the rival, knowing full well the truth,”So sorry,” he said, laughing. “No really, so, so, sorry.”

Charles picked Neville up, his body limp and relaxed against his chest, like he had finally let go, his last payment made.

14 Lovers: 7 : John Jarndyce 1961-1965

25 Reasons I Fell In Love With You

1. Because I’m shallow, and you’re tall

2. Your sharp smile

3. Because there is gold in your eyes, and I’m greedy

4. Because tall, dark and handsome never gets old.

5. And neither do you.

6. Your old money

7. Your hair is long enough that I can wind my fingers in it, get caught, bound up, and never have to pull away.

8. Big

9. Cock

10. Because your fingers are cool on my flesh when I’m hot, too hot, and I feel like I’ll burn away.

11. Because you scare me, scare me enough that the part of me that makes any sense, the part of me that avoids speeding and liquor and fire tells me to run like mad, anywhere, anywhere but here, but I don’t because that other part of me, that stupid, animal, mad part  tells me that this is as sexy as it can get, sexy in a way that might kill me.

12. The way it hurts

13. Because it stops hurting

14. The way loving you is like falling under the ocean, like watching the waves come into shore from underneath the water, like sinking into the cold dark.

15. Because you share your secrets with me

16. How proud you are, to introduce me to your friends, like I’m a beautiful thing you found, or made yourself, a shiny diamond, a fresh cut of meat from the butchers block.

17. Because you didn’t want to give me to them.

18. Because you stayed to watch, even though it was hard.

19. The way you look in my eyes and tell me that, yes, everything is going to be alright and even though I don’t believe you, you make me believe you, and then it’s alright, okay, and I go to sleep believing you until you’re not there anymore, and then the sinking feeling sets back in - but then you come back, and look at me again and I believe.

20. Because you made me a promise, that you’d never let them do that again, never again.

21. Because when you broke your promise, and you left me to them, to be eaten, you really did feel sorry.

22. Because you will make me another promise, one that you’ll keep this time, and you’ll let me go, because you love me more than you love owning me.

23. Let me go.

24. Please Charles.

25. Please.

14 Lovers: 6 : Luke Honeythunder 1957-1959

Luke met Charles at a seedy shit-hole club in South Philadelphia called “Laurie’s”. To get to the bar, you had to walk down a dark, narrow paint-peeling staircase. Charles took one look at how Luke’s muscular thighs stretched the fine linen of his summer pants and bought the man a drink.  Thighs like that deserved a drink. Hell, thighs like that deserved a kingdom.

Luke unbuttoned his shirt when Charles flashed his cash to pay and in that little minute, button, cash, breath, eye-contact,  they decided that they would be lovers. Inevitable as seasons and taxes and death and crap. There was none of that awkwardness that came with new lovers, well, perhaps a little in the bathroom when Charles slid Luke’s pants down to pool around his ankles but after that, they were easy as breaking glass.

Luke was a dancer and Charles was a vampire. Both of them felt these labels, dancer, vampire,  gave them a lot in common, though neither of them could truly articulate why. Maybe it was the hours - dancers perform at night and really, so do vampires, both putting on little seduction shows, both with varying degrees of success. Love me. Come with me. Down this dark alley, yes.

Or maybe it was the thirst. Luke was always thirsty, thirsty for water, thirsty to be loved, thirsty to be felt, skin on skin. Luke drank water by the gallons, big jugs, cups and ice melting in his hand. Charles was thirsty for Luke, for the sweat of his skin, his warmth, his health. Luke was a house of blood. A world. Charles thirst dried out his lover, and both of them drank like addicts, from each other, over and over, drunk on each other, till they were all salt.

On the last day that they lived together, before Luke left for the west, they held hands, and Luke drank up his own tears. Love you. Love you.

14 Lovers: 5 : Elijah Pogram 1949 -1953

"I want you to know," said Charles, "that before I killed Elijah, I loved him." Charles could smell Gaspard on the other side of the door, the man’s sweat, the saltwater of his tears. Gaspard did not choke or sob, he did not speak. He moved steady and slow as a drummer in a funeral march placing brick after brick against the door, sealing Charles in.

Charles leaned against the wood of the door. He could hear the dull thud against the wood as each brick was laid. He could hear the stone, sliding against stone, a cold, unforgiving noise. Charles spoke to the air, to the door, to Gaspard.  “I loved him. I loved him too much. I couldn’t let him go and I couldn’t keep him.”

Charles imagined Elijah’s lips, those long slim legs, callused feet. Elijah had trusted Charles, up through the end. When Charles had taken him in his arms that last time, there was no fear in Elijah’s eyes, even though he had seen the bodies of the others, the butler in the parlor, the housekeeper in the great hall. Elijah was ever confident that he would be spared,that love, this love, was past the petty dramas that had plagued them.

Charles stood, and leaned his forehead against the door, his lips close to that thudding wood. “Gaspard, he would have destroyed me.” Charles pounded his fist against the door. “Gaspard! Stop.” Again, another pound. “Just stop. If you ever cared at all, stop and listen to me!” Hands on the door now, rubbing splinters into his palms, a penance too late for the listener. Charles sobbed at the door, his enemy. “Would you have had us both die? Gaspard!”

But the thud of brick to wood had stopped, the stone was silent and Charles could smell that Gaspard had gone.

14 Lovers: 4 : Lillian Chimes 1939 - 1943

You tell yourself that you’re not going to fall in love again, so you start doing everything you can to avoid the arrow. You get busy. You’ve got no time for dates, none at all, you’re always rushing to the next thing. I’m sorry, you say, to the attractive people who are stupid and brave enough to approach you, I’m just far too busy -  can’t you see my hands are full, maybe next time. But there isn’t a next time, is there? No, not for you.

So you spend time with people you aren’t attracted to at all - maybe they have little moon eyes, or big laughing mouths and you think - no, not my type. Not my type is safe. Easy. You can relax around Lillian because, well, there couldn’t ever be a thing between you, could there? You can stop running for a minute because around her, you know you aren’t going to fall in love. You tell her repeatedly - not my type, eternal bachelor, never going to happen. She hears you, she’s got her own life too, after all, and you aren’t her type either. You’re too tall, she says, and too lean, and too pale, and too dramatic. Not my type.

Then she dates someone short and soft and tan and calm as a summers day.You hate him, you despise his fat lip and sheepish grin. You want to tear his big easygoing face off. You want to bleed out his short little body and slap the tan off his face. Maybe one night he compliments your suit and you lose it, just lose it. You punch him in his soft gut and it feels so good, so good that you want to do it again and again but then she is there and she’s furious at you, angry in a way she’s never been before because there was no reason to be, not with you because you don’t care. You’re not supposed to care. You’re not involved. It doesn’t matter.

You know she won’t speak to you again. Not until you come crawling to her door and you ask her to leave her suitor, to see you, to love you, to let you love her like you didn’t know you could. You’re not my type. She says, as she kisses your pale face. You touch her, with your then virgin arms, your hands, innocent to her shape. You’re not my type at all, you say, kissing the lids of her moon eyes. Not my type, you whisper, lips on her wide mouth. Not my type at all.

14 Lovers: 3 : Richard Datchery 1924-1929 

Richard had half moon shadows under his eyes from days and nights of sleeplessness.  His hair was dry and stiff, sticking out at all angles. His suits were stained with a cocktail of sauces and liqueur that were  carelessly dropped when he attacked his food. Richard’s rudeness was legendary. Richard would snap to get a waiters attention, wipe his mouth on tablecloths, and perch his muddy shoes up on seats. He never apologized for his smell, his wandering, reckless hands or his carelessly vicious comments. He was a boor, a classic asshole, a tested bastard.

But Richard sure could suck some cock. His lips were warm and full and his mouth was slicker than grease. Perhaps, for most people, that’s not reason to love someone, but for Charles it was more than enough.

14 Lovers: 2 : Benjamin Allen 1916-1921

As soon as Charles saw Benjamin, he knew he couldn’t keep him. Benjamin couldn’t be contained by passion for just one person. He couldn’t be drugged, he couldn’t be bribed. Charles knew that Benjamin would love him, but he knew, with just as much certainty, that he would leave.

Benjamin always smelled like turpentine, he kept his fingernails short so that they wouldn’t scrape the canvas as he painted. Benjamin painted, dancing forward and back from the canvas in a termite infested building. Benjamin should have been crumbling inside - but instead, Benjamin thrived. The hole in his wall wasn’t a broken down piece of building that should, by all rights, be condemned, it was a window with the perfect angle for the morning sun to flood in. When he had to sell his watch to make his rent, he wasn’t losing, he was living.

For Benjamin, Charles was the good thing that was the stepping stone to a better thing, a rung on his personal ladder. Benjamin smiled as he put his arms around Charles, laughed to be pulled up, and did not weep to move on.

14 Lovers: 1 : John Harmon 1899 - 1914

The way Charles smiled at John was too bright, and so John brought him to back into the darkened music hall. But even in that dark Charles seemed to glow, so John pushed him behind a red velvet curtain into a closed dark. But even there, in that claustrophobic dark, Charles seemed to emit a kind of light, a singing presence. John wanted to punch him in the ribs, the jaw and feel those tall  bones crack.

John clenched his fists into white knuckle balls.  John kissed Charles hard, with his teeth clenched, like he wanted to hurt him, break him, burn him up. Behind that tattered velvet curtain of the music hall, standing precariously on top of the ropes that pulled the curtains up and down, John kissed Charles like it might kill them both. On the other side of the curtain, a stagehand pushed a hog-hair broom across the stage, sweeping up the remnants of a nights performance, the blooms that hit the stage and were neglected, the shredded bits of paper and the smeared stains of sweat.