Blowjobs at Johnson’s Drive-In - Taylor Leatrice Werner

Billy had worked at Johnson’s Drive-In for six years, when along came a blowjob that not only redirected the external circumstances of his day-to-day life, but made plain the covert measures of self-sabotage that kept him from achieving his full potential. His was not a fairytale ending. But it was a happy one.


He started at Johnson’s like everyone else: as a blue-shirt. On his first day, he got trained on the menu (by a white-shirt—i.e. a manager) which didn’t take long, because there were only a handful of items. The hamburger, the cheeseburger, the classic, the extra, various Coca Cola products, milkshakes (chocolate, strawberry, or vanilla) and seven flavors of ice cream.


In no time flat, he was the fastest griller/wrapper in the store, and not long after that, he transitioned to working maintenance. He became a gray-shirt, though no one called them that. His hours were mostly overnight, and the pay was better.


Billy was always shy and awkward. Genetics had rendered him a particularly low-hanging fruit with a scent that was readily picked up by schoolyard bullies. Also, his dad was frightening and assaultive, and Billy’s adaptation for coping made it so that under pressure, he would involuntarily maintain eye contact—looking away would elicit accusations of disrespect—and would not be able to speak.


But at Johnson’s, he was in his wheelhouse. He was a big fish in a small pond, king of his own shit pile. Life was reasonably predictable, and the steady stream of new-coming, mostly teenage employees regarded him as an authority figure. It was part of why he never left, despite being over-qualified. Other people came and went, but Billy, if he could help it, would never experience the excruciating suffering of being the new guy ever again.


His graveyard shift overlapped with the arrival of the opening crew, and it was during one such overlap that he saw a new hire blue-shirt girl who he instantly recognized, though it’d been sixteen years. Chloe. She was unmistakable. The bodily sensations came flooding back.


She didn’t wear makeup anymore. Her hair was its natural color: brown. Actually, there was some premature white over her ears. The blue shirt had a way of anonymizing and age-neutralizing every person, but he knew exactly how old Chloe was. One year younger than him, and so, thirty, and so, too old to be working at Johnson’s, let alone just starting out.


Without too much forethought by Billy-standards, he stepped toward Chloe and said, “Is your brother Derrick?”


She turned her chocolatey eyes on him, big and round, even without their size being exaggerated by copious amounts of sticky, black mascara.


“Yeah,” she said, searching.


“I went to Seattle Academy with him. I used to hang out with you guys. You got me high for the first time.”


She squinted.


“What’s your name?”


“Billy.”


Her eyes achieved peak roundness. As did her mouth.


“Oh my god! You mean a long time ago.”


“Long ass time ago.”


“We were—did you have long hair?”


“Yes.”


Billy had had long, white-blond hair, delicate as corn silk. He had also been up to her nose, so he felt somewhat masculine, now that he was tall enough to easily see the top of her head. Gone were the days when she could see the top of his, which now had turned prematurely bald.


“Wow. I can’t believe that,” she said. “I can’t believe we’re both at, Johnson’s.”


He assumed she meant because the school he’d attended with her brother was a high-end private school. College prep. Granted, they had both been cutting class and getting high at the time. But still. Should their societal advantage not have amounted to something more?


Maybe that was just the state of the world. Maybe anymore, Johnson’s was what a societal advantage amounted to.


“Well,” she said, “show time.”


She excused herself to the hand-washing sink, and then off to report to the manager’s office to begin her shift.


After that, they didn’t talk much. She smiled at him when she saw him in the hallway during those overlapping moments between his shift and hers. Sometimes, he even recognized in her eyes something of the slutty thirteen-year-old girl who had made such an impression on him. He was fairly certain she didn’t remember. Once, after getting high in the greenbelt, underneath the bridge on Queen Anne hill, he had watched her suck off a mutual friend of her brother, Peter Sherwin.


They stood on the tamped fill dirt, which, other times, was probably the unforgiving sleeping surface for homeless people. Algae grew on the concrete wall in the pattern of trickling rainwater. They had been smoking weed, and everything had that hyper-clarity and simultaneous lack of cohesion that was brought on by a heavy influx of THC. Peter somehow suggested a blowjob—Billy didn’t remember how—and Chloe was so game. She seemed to anticipate the request. She was excited to perform, and didn’t mind an onlooker at all. Billy was amazed. He didn’t understand what had happened nonverbally. To him, it appeared that she was sucking Peter Sherwin’s cock for absolutely no reason.


Consciously, Billy hadn’t thought of her. He surprised himself even by so readily remembering her name. Chloe. But in the weeks after her hire, he realized that her presence had never left his mind. He had been thinking of her unconsciously, nearly every time he escaped into masturbatory fantasy, for sixteen years. Chloe’s lower lids pooled with gag-tears, the intimate sound of suction, sides of her tongue flapping against her inner cheek, Peter Sherwin’s naked facial expression. All this was still, for Billy, at age 31, the semicentennial sexual apex. Sure, he had been with a girl or two. Okay, two. But neither of them seemed to be capable of the level of unembarrassed eroticism through which Chloe had indelibly tagged his psyche.


***


A part of Billy’s transition from blue-shirt to maintenance guy was that he earned a few extra privileges. Among these were heightened security clearances. To enter the restaurant, most employees had to press the silver button beside the heavy steel door. Anyone who was already inside could look, see that it was one of their own, and buzz them in. The latch would click, and the heavy door could be heaved aside.


But the maintenance guy was given the code to enter on the keypad beside the door. Maintenance guys have to come and go throughout the day, and during a lunch rush, when the restaurant is hustling past itself, a torrent of boiling oil and raw meat and clumsy bodies, it’s safer if a trusted handy-man can slip in and out, without requiring the attention of a blue-shirt. Only maintenance guys, senior managers, and office staff got the code.


Every year on December 26th, the Christmas decorations came down. The old fashion red and green bulbs that lined the top of the building were removed and stored for the following year. Billy had been on the roof removing the lights since before the sun rose. He was keying his way inside to use the restroom and get some shitty coffee when Chloe approached, pulling the halves of her jacket tight across her chest, smiling at him. Steam rose from her mouth and her eyes squinted against the frigid wind, her nose red and damp. Her head was uncovered, and her hair whipped around her ears.


“Morning,” she said as he punched the final digit in the code. “’Nother day in paradise.” The latch softly clicked.


He produced an appropriate chuckle.


When he opened the door, she said, “Hey, wait.” She held up the white palm of her hand.


He turned to her, and became aware that his stocking cap concealed his bald head, and felt masculine. Her presence tended to inspire a feeling of masculine power, which was novel to him, and he liked it. She had something to say, something which he could see was difficult for her. She hesitated, and he stood holding the door open, and the duration of the silence began to grow outsized for normality.


“Can you shut that for a second?”


He let go of the door, and the latch quietly clicked.


She looked around.


“So you have to be a maintenance guy to get that code?”


Billy looked at the keypad.


“No.”


“So, I’ll suck your cock if you tell me that code.”


A Porsche sped noisily up the not-yet-busy street, sounding like the pull of a zipper, like a sonic manifestation of the adrenaline flooding Billy’s body.


She went on.


“No one will ever find out it was you. I’m like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible. I don’t have anything egregiously illegal in mind. I’m not going to steal anything. I mean, maybe a souvenir, like a roll of toilet paper or something.”


He could feel that his face was doing what it had done when he was under pressure ever since he was a child—a deadpan worthy of Buster Keaton. Unfortunately, he could say absolutely nothing. No matter how uncomfortable the silence became, he would not be able to open his mouth. Billy’s eyes couldn’t break contact—though he wanted them to—daring her, a wager he’d surely lose, just like he did every time with his father. But he still hadn’t learned any coping mechanism that was better. His mind swam with the sound of slurping, with the image of her watery eyes, the soft cleavage of her small breasts, more a groove than a hard fold. His cock bloomed in his pants like a desperate, stark moonflower. He was sure she didn’t remember Peter Sherwin.


She laughed and rolled her eyes and stuck out her hand and said, “Give me your cell phone.”


He reached in his pocket and produced it.


She took it, handed it back to him, and said, “Unlock it.”


He unlocked it and returned it to her hands.


“There,” she said. “I texted myself so I’ll have your number. Expect to hear from me later.”


When she returned the phone to his hand, she was biting her lip and smiling. Her nose dripped thin, clear mucus onto her raw cupid’s bow. She did not avert her dark eyes from him, and warmth filled him, and he looked at her and looked at her and could not take in her enormity. Inside of his coat, in the skinny, pale trunk of his body, was a terrible trembling, bottomlessness, the feeling of falling.


She said, “Let me in! I’m fucking freezing!” and reached across his chest to press the silver button by the door. Her elbow grazed the front of his coat. This was the first time she ever touched him. Not nine hours later, his cock was in her mouth.


***


Perhaps predictably, everything went wrong. They were both fired, along with another, senior employee. Chloe’s reason for wanting into the building after hours was to drop in unannounced on the relief manager, Willie, who had worked for Johnson’s since he was sixteen years old. Unfortunately, Willie’s wife had the same idea. Willie lost his career, his marriage, and his two children, all in a single devastating slide.


It didn’t take long for the investigation to arrive at Billy’s door. There were only so many people who could have given Chloe the code, and when the time came to be questioned, Billy’s deadpan expression, persistent, foolhardy eye contact, and inability to speak, did him no favors.


But pressed on whether he had regrets over the loss of not only his job, but a six-year chunk of resume, and a number of solid references, Billy would have said no. Being inside of Chloe’s mouth was like soaring at Mach 3 over the ocean on a clear day. Feeling the G force. Like she was sucking all the blood out of his body through a straw, and he was dying, and he caught a glimpse of god.


And Billy was only unemployed for a few weeks anyway. In six years at Johnson’s, he’d forged some friendships that transcended social media superficiality. One former coworker, Rod, hired Billy to work for his microbrewery, which appealed to the chemist and philosopher in Billy. He remained in the craft beer industry for the rest of his life.


One night, a few months after their firing, Chloe texted Billy asking if he’d accept what she called a ‘lady caller’ for the evening. The medium of text messaging allowed him to be bolder than was his nature, and he replied emphatically in the positive. And so began the random, sporadic hookup relationship which would persist indefinitely. They had sex a few times a year most years. Sometimes, they went years without communicating.


They were friendly, but Billy never had any delusions that Chloe had feelings for him. He didn’t really have feelings for her either. The more he got to know her, the more off-putting he found her go-for-broke attempts at securing romance—never with him—despite the overwhelming evidence that she didn’t have the constitution for it. Chloe had boyfriends here and there, none of whom Billy ever met. They never lasted long. As for Billy, he stayed single, in part hoping to be available the next time Chloe got a hunger for, just, sex. He did not feel, as she did, that something was missing from his life.

Taylor Leatrice Werner is an alumni of the MFA program in Fiction at the Institute of American Indian Arts. She is the recipient of a Lannan Foundation Scholarship and the Carolyn Walton Cole Endowment Fund in Creative Writing, and she was awarded the James T. Whitehead Creative Writing Endowment, among other prizes. She has led workshops in Creative Writing at the Taos Charter School, the Dream Tree Project, and the Bellingham Alternative Library. She studies at the Corporeal Writing Center semi-regularly, and she has worked closely with Lidia Yuknavitch since 2016. Taylor lives in Seattle with her son and dog. She works as a commercial electrician with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 46.


*This story is the 1st runner up for the Winter 2021 Short Story Contest

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