By Jacob Moniz

A lonely man thinks of nothing but friendship.

Teddy considered this while lying naked beside the stranger he’d met at the bar just a few hours earlier. It was well past midnight, which for the average person is late into the night, but for Teddy, felt like mid-afternoon. Lately, he slept through the day, accustomed to these late-night hours.

A lonely man thinks of nothing but friendship.

He couldn’t place the quote. Not because he was drunk, but because it had been so long since he first heard it. Heard, not read, he was sure.

“You feel so good.”

Not tonight, not from the stranger paying him meaningless compliments between wet and sour kisses, but from a source he was frustrated to have forgotten. The words stalked through the corridors of Teddy’s mind; occasionally, there was a pause in movement, a reversal of time, and a voice lost long ago repeated the phrase like an accusation before moving on again.

Crawling across disheveled sheets, Teddy maneuvered himself atop the lithe, sweaty comfort of this latest stooge’s body. As their tongues pushed against one another, Teddy heard the faint, almost imperceptible sound of pleasure coming from this new one’s throat. He liked that this sound was made involuntarily. Unlike compliments, these subtle sighs and moans were raw, primal, emerging from a place beyond society or culture or scripts penned by doltish, untried amateurs meeting quotas for their online listicles. These sounds confirmed to Teddy that what he did, he did well.

The bar was one of three gay bars located near Christopher Street. These were the first that Teddy visited after arriving in New York; lately, he hadn’t felt the need to venture further than their three-point boundary. The Monster was the one he patronized most often, aptly-named and known for easy fucking. Teddy drank only in the presence of strangers, which is all The Monster knows. That night in particular, he entered the bar and began his same routine, drinking to the point of drunkenness, unburdening himself of inhibitions so that, when a stranger invited him home, he would more easily say yes.

This stranger, a self-described entrepreneur named Eric, maybe Derek, was generous with his time. They chatted at the bar for longer than Teddy typically considered necessary with such men. Something about crypto and NFTs. Eric-Derek then invited him around the corner, kissing and groping and biting at Teddy on the steps of an empty stoop. Teddy ran his hands along the steps and determined that, yes, they had been recently cleaned. A rarity. When the stranger’s craving had outgrown the boundaries of public display, he called a car and invited Teddy home.

A lonely man thinks of nothing but friendship.

Teddy came inside the stranger. Triumphantly, he groaned and decoupled from the body beneath him.

A bolo-tie designed by Ralph Lauren. Outdated LSAT study guides. A rainbow flag. Teddy surveyed the darkened bedroom as if it were his own, as if the act of fucking its occupant to completion gave him rights to all four walls and the contents within. He wanted none of it, though the bolo-tie was intriguing.

A gilt mirror hung above the bed, reflecting city lights in shades of blue. Perhaps a more aggressive fucking would have freed it from the wall, toppling it onto himself and the stranger below, dispatching them from the world in a single, saving blow. Decapitation came to mind, though the physics seemed impossible. Had the mirror truly fallen, he knew they wouldn’t have been crushed. Nursing a headache, Teddy would have continued with his task until completion.

“I like that mirror,” Teddy sighed.

“Thanks.” A hand placed itself clumsily around his left pectoral, sliding down the length of his chest. The words, “Your body is ridiculous,” whispered from the disembodied mouth floating beside him in the darkness.

“Is that a compliment?”

“Yeah.” A breathy sound, possibly meant to be sexy. “I fucking love it.”

Meaningless. Teddy rolled his eyes under cover of darkness, suddenly feeling very sorry for himself and, slightly less so, for this pathetic stranger. “Can I get some water?”

“Sure.” Confusion. Surprise. No doubt this man imagined that Teddy might offer compliments in kind, stay the night and cuddle until sunrise. Standard operating practice, but these were Teddy’s active, waking hours. He wouldn’t waste them lying beside a sleeping stranger. Teddy’s time was precious. A world of possibilities called in car horns and sirens from beyond the bedroom window, easily accessible if Teddy forced himself through the 24-by-24 inch aperture and climbed like mad, like crazy, down the fire escape to the sidewalks below. 

Eric, maybe Derek, walked out his bedroom into the apartment, naked, despite the presence of a sleeping roommate behind a door across the hall. Teddy seized upon this moment to himself, dressing as an unspoken signal of his imminent departure. He heard the sound of water rushing from a sink faucet, followed by the sound of shattered glass, an errant “fuck,” faint sweeping, and the repeated sound of water from the faucet. When the stranger returned, he’d sobered. “Here,” he said, handing Teddy a full glass of water. Teddy watched as Eric, most probably named Derek, began to dress.

He placed the empty glass on the nightstand. As Teddy did so, a ray of light reflected off the mirror and cast itself upon a streak of blood along the side of the glass. Crimson in the dark, not red. The stranger must have cut himself on broken glass. Teddy checked himself for contamination; he was clean.

As a nicety, the two exchanged numbers, but did without a kiss goodbye. 

A lonely man is contagious.

Teddy hurried down three flights of stairs, vaguely recalling the journey upward just an hour or so before. Stumbling, groping blindly in the dark. Outside, standing on an empty sidewalk, Teddy glanced wearily to his left and then his right. He had no idea which street he was on, let alone the borough he occupied at present. With an abundance of time, he turned right.

3 a.m. with a chill in the air, uncharacteristically cold for early September. Traversing the endless expanse of the repeating sidewalk beneath him, Teddy fingered the bolo-tie hidden deep in the right-hand pocket of his jeans. He thought of another man, of before, of that brief period of his life when he, so willingly, allowed his view of the world to be colored by a rosy lens. What a moron, that other man. So easily contaminated and desperate for a friend.

Vibrations alerted Teddy to a familiar, late-night query: You up? Two words, succinct and epigrammatical, transmitted via text under Teddy’s unlimited data plan. The number was unsaved in Teddy’s phone, but he recognized the suitor by scrolling through their earlier exchanges, torsos and ass cheeks shining under harsh lighting.

Omw.

Teddy opened the map on his phone and turned left, altering his course. He hadn’t showered or brushed his teeth, but knew those things would be forgiven for a 3 a.m. fuck. His teeth grazed his tongue, scraping the remains of Derek, maybe Eric, from its surface. He spit into a sewer grate and felt like he would vomit. For one fleeting moment, he thought that he might weep.

A lonely man, thought Teddy, will die if left alone.

Jacob Anthony Moniz is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Cruz and New York University. He currently studies creative writing at the University of Notre Dame, where he is completing a new, full-length novel. His work has been published or is forthcoming in Catamaran Literary Reader, Chicago Quarterly Review, The Ocotillo Review, Penumbra, and elsewhere.