“I’ve gathered the six of us here tonight because one of us has not been telling the truth. Tonight, it all comes out, or one of us dies.”
I heard the protestations of everyone sitting on the rocks around me, but I was more interested in the moon. Still hanging low in the sky, three-quarters full, yet able to cast an eerie glow over the desert I found myself in. The many varied shapes of cacti, arms stretching skyward, pointy needles ready to pierce the unsuspecting all looked like strangely comical observers to the awkward predicament we all found ourselves in, but I knew for a fact it was more awkward than Joe would have ever expected.
Matt was the first to break. Maybe it was the shiny, silver-gray gun in Joe’s hand that convinced him to speak first, although I truly had no idea what had prompted his sudden confession. It wasn’t as if Joe was actually pointing the gun at anyone; it was just sitting there, resting in the palm of his hand, almost as if on display. Still, Matt blurted out, “I swear to you, Joe, I had nothing to do with it! I respect you too much to out you like that! Hell, I didn’t even know you were gay. Sure, I suspected it, but I would never do that to you, man. I never even gossiped about it.”
I’m certain Matt’s protestations were of little comfort to Joe, particularly since everyone gathered here tonight happened to know Matt was well aware of Joe’s sexual orientation. It would have been difficult for him not to given what we all knew had happened between them in a distant bathroom at the company Christmas party. Matt—and Joe—were still too afraid of being out at work. Matt because he had moved here recently from a small rural town in the middle of nowhere Alabama, and Joe because, well, Joe had a wife. He’d grown up in an evangelical church, and still had trouble separating his feelings from the constant thought that he was sinning. Why Matt felt it necessary to keep up the charade, particularly here in the middle of the Sonoran Desert was well beyond me.
“Right.” Joe nodded five times before rolling his eyes and shaking his head for a brief moment. “Of course you didn’t. You wouldn’t want to draw attention to yourself.” Holding the gun forward, toward the middle of the group, he continued, “But yet, someone sent that email to my wife. Nice choice of email address too. Joe’s boy toy at Gmail dot com. Cute.”
Children. I probably should have mentioned Joe had children as well. He had told me a few years ago that he was waiting for his children to grow up and then he would break it to his family. He wasn’t happy at home, at least as far as relations with his wife went, but he still loved his family, especially his children. I could only imagine how swiftly his tightly knit world was crashing down around him, and I had a measure of sympathy for him.
“So, here’s how we’re going to handle things. Each one of us, in turn, is going to tell the absolute truth about what they know went down, and if any one of us thinks you’re lying, you take this gun, you put it beneath your chin, and you pull the trigger.” With a thin smile, his deep brown eyes gleaming with the slightest hint of mischief, Joe added, “To make this interesting, there’s only one bullet. Good ol’ Russian Roulette is the game tonight. Give it a spin and pull the trigger.” The smile disappeared from Joe’s face. “And, Matt, since you’re so quick to profess your innocence, we’ll start with you.”
Bob shook his head and jumped to his feet. “This is sick, Joe!”
“One of you can end this right now by confessing to what you did. You’re the only six people who know I’m gay. Only one of you could have sent that message to my wife. If one of you wants to come clean, we can end this now!”
As tempting as the offer should have been, I already knew there wasn’t a single one of us who would stand up to take the blame. We were all guilty. Maybe not equally of the same thing, but we all had our stories to tell.
“Fine,” Bob said, sitting back down on the tawny rock he had been resting against. “But let me ask you this, Joe… What’s going to stop one of us from shooting you and going about our business?”
Joe shrugged. “Nothing. But seriously, one of you have already ruined my life. Go ahead if you’re that much of a chicken shit. Go ahead and shoot me.”
Travis reached out and took the gun from Joe’s hand. His boyish good looks often got Travis out of trouble, but today those boyish features seemed to have been erased, replaced with the concern and worry more appropriate for a man in his mid-thirties. “I’ll go first.” He took a moment, his green eyes darting about as if searching for the appropriate version of the truth to tell. Letting out a long, deep breath, Travis looked directly at Joe, calm, relaxed. “Look, man, ever since you and I hooked up at that ski resort last year, I’ve wanted to be with you. You know me, I’m always dating some young twink, some guy hardly old enough to vote or drink, someone that makes a great one-night stand, but not someone I can go home to at night and curl up next to. I’ve always thought you were a great guy, and I’m jealous of your family life, but I wouldn’t do that to you, man. No way I’d ruin your life just to have you to myself.”
Bob threw his head back, a wild, frantic laugh cutting through the summer song of the numerous insects busying themselves at this time of night. Bob’s second chin vibrated as his chuckle continued to mock Travis’s testimony. “Come on. We all know what you did to that dude—what was his name? Rick, right? The guy who was about to get married but wasn’t sure about his sexuality. The guy who had the misfortune of going back to your place and then you sent his girlfriend a text from his phone of your face near a rather recognizable but hidden tattoo? You’re the kind of guy who wouldn’t do that kind of thing? Please. If this is what we’re in for tonight, you should just give the gun back to Joe and he can shoot us one by one.”
The sad part was that I understood where both Travis and Bob were coming from. How could anyone resist Joe? He was such a great guy, and his chestnut eyes were beautiful. One could stare into them for hours—if he’d let you. It would be quite easy to be jealous of Joe’s family; it was like Joe was living the best of both worlds without having to actually make a choice. Bob, well Bob had been victim of someone just like Travis in his youth. He’d been outed to his own fiancé by some young pride activist who felt being out was the way every gay should live. There was definitely some animosity between the two of them, although it was sometimes hard to tell if it was because of a true dislike for each other, or because they were the only two left in the group who hadn’t been physically involved with each other.
“Bob thinks you’re lying, Travis. Give it a spin.” Joe’s tone was even, controlled.
Travis’s Adam’s apple dropped quickly and rose equally fast as he gulped deeply. It was clear by the new look of fear etched upon his face that Travis had thought his little story would clear him of any wrong doing. Bob had a definite point about Travis, though. It wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility that Travis might be behind the email. Spinning the cylinder of the gun with his thumb, Travis closed his eyes and held the barrel beneath his chin, angled up and toward his skull. Every click of the cylinder grew longer between, and suddenly there was a grave silence hanging in the air. Slowly, Travis began to squeeze the trigger, the muscles in his finger perceptibly tightening. I wanted to turn away, but I had to watch. I was certain the others were fixated on him too, wondering if this would be the last time any of us would see his muscular figure.
There were tears streaming down the side of Travis’s face, so tightly had he been squeezing his eyes closed. In that moment, I knew Travis hadn’t expected to survive. Even with five in six odds, I’m sure none of us were looking forward to our turn. Travis suddenly let out a hysterical laugh, dropping the gun into the sand beneath his feet. “Oh my God!” he cried out, “I’m alive!”
“Lucky us,” Bob mumbled, shaking his head in disdain.
“You’re next.” Joe’s voice was deep and serious. There was something almost unforgiving in his tone, as if this were somehow punishment for how we had all seen Bob treat Travis for months.
“You think I’m afraid of your stupid game?” Bob answered with force as he leaned forward to pick up the gun. “You think I won’t shoot you?” he continued, pointing the gun directly at Joe.
“Cut the shit, Bob.” Drew finally spoke up, his usually soft-spoken voice carrying much more strength than any of us had ever heard from him. “Why don’t you tell us all why you sent the email.”
“I didn’t send it!” Bob said, waving the gun in Drew’s direction. Drew’s usual fiery hair seemed more maroon in the light of the moon, but his blue eyes still pierced the night, narrowed to a fine slit that almost dared Bob to pull the trigger.
“Yeah, like you didn’t send that email to HR trying to get me fired for coming onto to you in the elevator?” Drew shot Bob a nasty grin. “Next time you try that, you should remember there’s video in the elevator, and that Sean is twice the man you are in bed.”
I couldn’t help but turn to look at Drew in shock. I’m not sure any of us knew that Sean was playing for our team, but now was hardly the time to ask for details.
“So come on, Bob,” Drew goaded him further, “either man up and give that barrel a whirl or take your chances and shoot me. Either way, no matter what you say, I’m sure you’re lying, you weaselly schmuck.”
“Fine!” Without hesitation, Bob reached out with his left hand and gave the barrel a spin. Before it had even come to a stop, he pointed it beneath his chin and pulled the trigger.
“Two down, three to go,” Joe said. “If none of you manage to off yourself in this game, I’ll take a shot myself. There are six of us after all.”
“I held a glass to the wall the night you let me stay in the guest bedroom and listened to you and your wife… you know…” It was hard to tell for certain in this lighting, but I think Matt’s cheeks were turning red. He really didn’t need to say more. We could imagine what they were doing, and we could imagine what he was doing at the same time. “I know it’s wrong, but, you know…”
Drew laughed loudly. “Okay, who here hasn’t slept with Joe, and more importantly, who here doesn’t have a thing for Joe?”
I looked away, out into the distance, toward a small hill that to the untrained eye could almost be mistaken for a mountain. The question was pointless. We had all been with Joe at least once, some of us more than once. And everyone, whether they would admit it or not, had at one time or another wanted him for themselves.
“So, in other words, you sent the email to his wife?” Bob said, this time obviously trying to stoke the flames of confrontation.
Bob cut him off, mid word. “Liar.” He was already holding the gun out toward Matt, hilt first. “Your turn.”
Perhaps Joe should have considered the resentment that would follow this little game of his, but then again, maybe he had. Maybe, I started to think, this was exactly what he wanted: us at each other’s throats.
The clicking of the barrel filled the night air again, but this time I couldn’t watch. Matt had already gone through so much getting here to a better life, one where he felt more comfortable than he ever had before. I couldn’t bring myself to watch on the off chance that it all ended here.
Dropping the gun to the ground, Matt took two quick steps forward and swung his fist through the air, connecting with Bob’s jaw before Bob even knew what hit him. “You son of a…” Matt cried out, fighting tears, his fist starting to fly again before Joe intervened, grabbing his arm and pulling him off of Bob.
“You’re clear, Matt,” Joe said, pulling him back toward the small boulder he had been seated on at the start of this ludicrous meeting. “At least for now. Let’s get on to someone else.”
Drew spoke up. “What happens if all six of us take a shot, no one dies, and no one confesses?”
“Then we’ll be here all night.” The expression on Joe’s face left no room for discussion. He was going to get his answer.
“Fine. I did it.” Drew said as he threw his arms upward in defeat. “I sent the stupid email.”
“You did not.”
It took me a second to realize the voice I had heard was my own. What was I doing? I had a serious thing for hot red-heads, and Drew absolutely qualified. I couldn’t believe I had opened my mouth like that. As if to underscore my own disbelief, Drew’s face might as well have had the word what emblazoned across it in bright, neon letters, the moon turning into a giant UV bulb.
Joe let out a laugh and shook his head. “Well there’s an interesting turn.” He looked straight at me, those beautiful brown eyes filled with some level of amusement. “I got a confession, but…” He turned back toward Drew, shaking his head with a soft laugh, “Lex here thinks you’re lying. I was wondering if he was ever going to speak, and I guess he doesn’t buy your confession.”
“That’s not right!” Drew protested, his eyes flashing me dirty looks in the moments they weren’t focused on Joe. “You said this was over if you got a confession.”
“Sorry,” Joe laughed. “The lying rule takes precedence. Take your turn.”
Drew picked up the gun and looked me straight in the eyes. There was a pain in them, and fear too. I couldn’t bring myself to look away. I’d put him in this mess, and if he died right now, it would be my fault. I should have kept my mouth shut, although I wasn’t entirely certain what state of mind a confession would put Joe in anyway. This game was sick enough that clearly something had snapped in him. I had no idea what his wife had said to him, whether his children knew, but I knew for certain he had suffered some sort of breakdown. We were the pawns he was using to try to make some sense of the world again.
I hadn’t even seen him spin the barrel, hadn’t heard the barrel click away as it turned, but Drew too had survived the first round of Joe’s nonsense.
“You’re lying,” Bob said, looking straight at me.
I shook my head in utter confusion. “I haven’t said anything yet.”
“Doesn’t matter. You’re taking a shot.”
Taking a shot. If only Bob had known I’d already taken my shot. It hadn’t yet blown up in my face, but it had tried to blow up in the faces of four other people I supposedly thought of as friends. How could I tell them now that I was the one who had sent the email? How could I look at Joe and confess to him that I’d sent the email because I felt like he was toying with all of us. There was no doubt he loved his wife and his family. I always believed that. It had to have been hard on him to realize he was gay so late in the game, but what he was doing to them was wrong. What he was doing to us was wrong too.
I certainly wasn’t there when he’d been with any of the others, but I know how I felt the very first time—the very last time—I had been with him. He was so loving and gentle, so kind and caring and compassionate. When I’d asked him if he could see a day where he would finally be happy, finally curl up next to another man and relax, he’d told me he could. But he wouldn’t commit. He could have had any one of us on the side for all of the years to come that he was winding things down with his wife. He could have had any of us forever even if he chose not to leave his wife. But he wouldn’t stop at just one of us. He had to have us all.
I reached out and took the gun from Drew’s waiting hand.
“If you hadn’t been unfaithful to your wife, we wouldn’t be here tonight,” I said, my eyes locked with Joe’s.
I didn’t spin the barrel.
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Ooooh the suspense! Great story,
Thank you! I'm glad it came off the way I hoped. :)
Love the story!
Thank you so much!
Damn. This had me at the edge of my seat!
This story is awesome!
How rude of me not to leave a thanks before! :) Some days I'm passing through in the middle of the office day. Thanks you! :)
That's okay. You're a great author!
Thank you so much! Wow! Thank you, honestly!