A cheeseburger or a pack of Camels—Drake could not afford both. The meager joint lying next to the eight bucks, all singles, muddied whatever message Rudy presumably meant to send that night. True, Drake had mentioned earlier how the marijuana helped him fall asleep. Leaving a joint was kind, he had to admit. But eight fucking dollars? Tomorrow, Drake would have to beg for the same pittance.
“How much gas is in the car?” he called from the kitchen.
“Enough to get you there and back,” Rudy said, stoned and laconic on the sofa.
“Where do you think I’m going?”
“That’s between you and the god of your understanding.”
Fucking AA bullshit. If Rudy’s sponsor only knew how much weed he sucked up each night. There was a reason Drake stopped attending meetings after three weeks. Too much hypocrisy in one room. The few true believers, they were even worse; their confidence unnerved him.
“Thanks, babe.” He collected the cash, left the joint for later.
“Hey,” Rudy said, “we’re in this together.”
“Yeah,” Drake mumbled, “you and me.” It was part of their script, their sad nightly duet. Rudy wouldn’t mind if he phoned in a line or two.
Not until he switched gears, headed toward a stretch of road boasting a Sonic and convenience store, did Drake notice the gas gauge indicated less than a fourth of a tank. Even if Drake’s dealer were willing to front him until his disability check next week, he couldn’t make it there and back. Rudy had camped out in the cathedral that was Drake’s mind and snuffed every candle of rebellion that flickered to life. Drake tried to summon the patience, be grateful Rudy had offered his home to Drake, his troublesome ex, after he left rehab against the therapists’ advice. Instead, he sped through a red light just to prove at least some decisions were his alone.
Drake ate his double cheeseburger in Rudy’s apple-green Camaro, top folded back. Everything but mayo—heaven. He woofed down the burger like a fat child would cake. At rehab, he’d lied to Chester when he’d claimed he ate more slowly in the outside world; he’d been telling Chester an even bigger lie from the moment he stepped off the bus, returning to his beloved Austin. He truly loved the boy, though; no lie there. He wadded up the brown bag, hiked his arm for the toss but froze when a stiff-backed male carhop cleared his throat. He was tall, thin and unsteady on his feet like a reed in the wind. Acne feathered across the bridge of his nose and cheeks. Drake grinned, caught but cool. The night was brisk; Drake enjoyed these chilly fall evenings.
“I can take that for you,” the carhop said.
“I only behave when someone is watching,” he said, laughing. The carhop rolled his eyes and drifted toward the kitchen but stopped when Drake whistled. “You spare a smoke for a good boy like me?”
Drake zipped toward the next light, puffing a goddamn Winston. He could taste the tar, perplexed as to why Chester hadn’t yet called. They last spoke a bit before sundown. He’d left the rehab six weeks ago, moved into a group home north of Houston. He planned to ride the bus to Austin and reunite with Drake the coming weekend; Rudy would be away on business in Las Vegas. Drake hadn’t decided whether to tell Chester he still popped speed. A perverse part of him wondered how Chester would react if Drake simply fished some pills from his pocket. He knew, however, that would be cruel. His dear friend had pledged not to fuck his life again. Drake had known since childhood he lied more when he loved a man; sometimes, it was the only way he knew. The Camaro purred beneath him, but he refused to fall into comfort. Rudy hadn’t wanted him to enjoy this excursion, and Drake knew obeying a bullshit expectation instead of rebelling offered its own feral victory.
Drive till the asphalt ends, slut boy, I know what you are. Chester doesn’t want that tiny dick. You’re my bitch, little boy. Only cost me eight dollars.
They’d emerged like gas from a swamp. Drake dashed inside the house, clutching his head, tufts of blond hair sprouting between his fingers.
“You put the top back up?” Rudy asked.
Drake zipped upstairs.
“It might rain.”
He slammed his bedroom door.
“This is why you don’t have wheels of your own.”
Industrial music—crunched guitars, stuttering drums, sinister bass—it rumbled through the house.
“I better find a full tank when I get back on Monday.”
The voices were insistent, omnipresent gods furious at Drake’s failure to heed them. Behind his eyes, between his ears, at the base of his skull—they knew every flaw and every shame. He never expected Rudy to help; the one time he confessed to what plagued him (omitting the possibility his return to amphetamines had both spurred them and occasionally was his only reliable means of controlling them), Rudy rolled him a joint and casually suggested he double his Xanax. The echoes inside Drake’s brain stymied him each time he pressed a button, but he finally spotted Chester’s name in his cell phone directory. Surely, he was around; the group home had a curfew. But what if he was asleep? What if—?
No one answers your calls except to say goodbye.
The phone rang. Drake lit the joint Rudy had left him. The harsh plunge of smoke through his lungs further agitated him, but he knew to wait it out. While the phone rang, he searched the nightstand drawer for his Xanax. They’d be gone before month’s end, but by then he’d have money for a more effective drug, his blessed speed.
Voicemail. Fuck, Chester now sleeps like an old fart, Drake thought. “Baby, it’s me. The voices are back. I just wish I knew where they came from. Wake up, please, baby. Rudy doesn’t give a shit. Call me, okay? Love you.” His fingers reached the back of the drawer, and he heard the familiar rattle; his first grab simply pushed the bottle aside.
The police know everything. You’ll like prison. All sorts of love connections.
He took another hit. The voices were drowning, puppies in a family pool. You’re stronger than them, he thought. They’re just a part of yourself that you can’t acknowledge. Fight, damn it. His therapist at the rehab suggested weekly psychotherapy once he discharged, but Drake had stingy insurance and little hope. He regarded the voices like the family black sheep does holidays. After trapping the bottle against a corner of the drawer, he snatched it and held it aloft like a chalice. He wanted to stay awake for Chester’s call, but the weed and Xanax kissed him into a slumber so complete, not even dreams interfered.
* * * *
Drake woke to find a trio of texts from Chester: was he all right; what could he do; please let me help; I love you. Those were the expressions of devotion Drake wished to hear, had basically guaranteed himself after his desperate voicemail. Yet, reading them, waiting until Rudy left for work since he didn’t approve of Drake’s doomed “rehab romance,” stirred a sour feeling in Drake’s gut. He didn’t deserve such love. The voices were right; even when silenced, like that morning, the voices were right.
Since Rudy reluctantly agreed to shelter Drake after his ex-lover’s abashed phone call from the rehab, he’d quickly arrested Drake’s freedoms through means both direct and shady. The only money Drake could spend as he chose was the few hundred from his monthly disability check. (Texas, in its patented form of benign bigotry, still considered HIV a catastrophic illness even if it hadn’t transformed into full-blown AIDS.) Rudy encouraged Drake to save his money for a car, but he knew the supposedly recovering junkie couldn’t control his impulses. Also, Rudy on occasion took Drake to plays and tony bistros to keep Drake’s lust for finer things out of dormancy. He forbid Drake from seeing other men at his home during the day; he made sure his car held only a swallow of gas at night so Drake couldn’t dash over to his dealer or the bathhouse. Most importantly, though, Rudy expressly warned Drake that any crystal meth or speed under his roof would bring his charity to an immediate end: Drake’s suitcases on the welcome mat, nothing but cab fare in his pocket.
But Rudy couldn’t keep Drake from his laptop, the websites offering male companionship of varying beauty and prowess. More sadly, Chester’s devotion emanating over a hundred miles away couldn’t keep Drake away from the keyboard, either. They’d discussed—Drake and Chester—the futility of remaining celibate until reuniting. Still, Drake had kept his occasional trysts, those times when he’d circumvented Rudy’s restrictions, hidden from Chester. It wasn’t the sex that Drake wished to conceal but the drug use Chester would (correctly) assume preceded it. Drake scanned with interest an online profile from a presumably unattainable man young enough to be his son; Drake turned forty-two that winter. While deciding whether to message him, Drake was startled to hear the electronic beep signaling he’d received a message. The young man wished to meet him, to get spun and fuck. Drake’s ego blossomed like a bud in spring. They exchanged numbers.
“We have a few rules,” Drake said.
“We? I thought it was just you and I.”
“Today, yes. Not tonight.”
“Are you a kept man?”
“That would imply I profit from the arrangement.” Drake led the young man upstairs, sneaking glimpses over his shoulder at the muscled, attentive boy sporting a black satchel over his shoulder. He wanted to say more, but the words caught in this throat.
“My name’s Malone, sexy.”
Drake exhaled, grateful. He again told Malone his name.
“What’s in the bag?” Drake asked.
Malone grinned. “Aside from the usual pharmaceuticals and paraphernalia, just some odds and ends to heighten our pleasure.”
“Odds and ends? You mean a butt plug?”
Laughing, Malone let his bag slip down his arm, catching it. “Toys are for men with no imagination.”
Drake resumed, in a serious tone, “Every trace of you must be gone by four.”
“Boyfriend coming home?”
“Don’t hold it against me.”
Drake’s cell phone chirped from his pocket. Couldn’t be Rudy; he never checked on his housemate. Chester’s text read: Very worried. Are you still asleep? Please check in when you can. Drake paused at the top of the staircase, told Malone he had to return a message. He invited Malone into the spare bedroom ahead. “Get those odds and ends set up,” he said, flashing a grin.
It would’ve been easier to ignore Chester’s text; Drake slept well into the afternoon most days. But he wanted to make an offering, share some good news, no matter that it wasn’t true. He texted Chester that he’d landed the interview at Petsmart. His glorious return to retail, one step closer! Wish me luck! At least the meth would make it easier to concoct a detailed description of the faux interview when Chester inevitably called. Yes, he loved Chester. Loved him enough to make the effort.
Drake entered the spare bedroom to find Malone lighting sticks of incense around the bed. Wooden holders that resembled flimsy shoehorns sat scattered upon the furniture. Drake spied the bedside clock: eleven-thirty.
“For erotic enhancement,” Malone whispered as if they rode an elevator. Squiggles of smoke dissipated soon after departing their embers.
“I usually get mine from a pipe,” Drake said, slipping off his T-shirt.
“Not yet, not yet,” Malone said, hands held out, approaching him. “I want to strip you down myself.”
“We’re playing beat the clock, stud.”
“I’m very aware of check-out time.”
Once new age boy scrams, you’ll be alone again. Rudy doesn’t give enough of a shit to see if you’re sober. Easy to trick a man who doesn’t see you. Look at that boy, asshole. Look at what you’ve lost! That body!
“What’s wrong, Drake?”
He didn’t want Malone to call him by his name. Baby, stud, fuck god—any of those. Not hearing the name as it first fell from Chester’s lips those months ago. Drake gripped his temples, his fingers wiggling like windsocks. Malone was gorgeous, he could get through this. Malone was gorgeous; once, Drake thought, men desired him just as badly.
“You seemed stressed when I got here,” Malone said. He gestured toward the burning stick on the bureau. “That’s coconut. It relieves stress and mental fatigue. Smells great, huh?” Drake thought the room, experienced through closed eyes, stank like a suite at the Days Inn. “I can light another,” Malone said, already skipping toward his satchel.
Inside his mind, Drake heard only a soothing static, a reprieve during a motorist’s search for music. It had to be now. He feared if he waited a moment longer for Malone to overtake him, the voices would speak and identify the silliness of the afternoon.
“Fuck the coconut,” Drake said. “Get back over here.”
Malone tossed the incense. “A man who knows what he wants.”
Drake tore off his T-shirt, his eyes dead with desire.
“Foreplay is highly underrated,” Malone said. “What about—?”
“I’m going to be naked soon. It’ll be a shame if you can’t join me.”
* * * *
The thin, tremulous man perched on the bench in front of his second-story dormitory, his knees curled to this chin, feet fluttering on the outer slat of the bench. Drake possessed both enough insight and self-awareness to recognize instantly the boy’s dearth of confidence and charisma. In a bar or online, he would easily slip beneath Drake’s radar. He was, however, obviously homosexual (the elastic wrists, fussy and delicate fingers, sweater draped over his shoulders even in the ninety-plus heat) and Drake so far had spotted no other prospects for sexual relief; he needed a climax like a balloon needed helium to elude the scorching pavement below. His last speed binge, hastily squelched moments before Rudy, visibly suspicious of his ex-lover’s rapid gestures and incessant chatter, still tugged at his groin, heightened every sense, including his hearing.
The strange sensation he experienced while climbing the stairs, however, was the sensory overload he so often associated with speed. This boy, this thin-limbed creature evicted from a Lewis Carroll novel stilled the maelstrom inside Drake. Approaching him across the stone balcony, he smiled, let a big of swagger bloom in his gait. That’s all these boys needed, he thought, a change in perspective—a change, period. It shocked him when the boy spoke first.
“Must be your first tour of duty.”
“In rehab. I can always tell.”
Drake felt a bit nervous, his heart thumping. “How’s that?”
“After enough times, you don’t bother being friendly,” the boy said. “Rehab ends, you promise to stay in touch, everyone relapses—the same old shame spiral….” His gaze stretched over the railing as if he’d forgotten Drake’s presence. Snapping back as quickly as he’d slipped away, the boy offered his hand.
“Chester. You got a teener on ya?”
Drake, startled, drew back a step. He’d promised himself on the bus to Houston that last binge was, indeed, his last. “Won’t they kick you out for that?”
“Not if you offer them a cut of the goods.”
“What is this? Prison? Ask the guards for the good shit?” He shifted his stance.
“Close enough, hombre. Sit down. The patients will cry scandal seeing another man seated next to me.”
The moment Chester learned that Drake hailed from Austin, he quizzed the new arrival about where he liked to party. What about Sixth Street? He used to live there, too, over a decade ago. Who knew? Maybe he’d sucked off Drake some time during the Clinton administration.
“You would’ve been in junior high!” Drake cried.
“And you would’ve needed an appointment.”
Drake’s palms sweat, he stamped his feet under the bench. “I never told you I was gay,” he said.
“Neither did I,” Chester replied. He lit a cigarette, unfolded his legs. The two men’s thighs touched, they sat so closely. The audacity it required for Chester to stretch his arm across the top of the bench, squeeze Drake’s shoulder, thrilled the new arrival—and disconcerted him. What use were his skills at seduction on a man so willing, willing yet not overtly desperate?
“Met your roommate yet?” Chester asked.
“Crackheads bug the shit out of me.”
Chester knew him. “He doesn’t need rehab; he needs a spanking.”
Drake howled, his whole body shaking. His new friend’s talent at masking cruelty with wit impressed him, it was so much like his own.
“I’m between roommates at the moment,” Chester said, surveying the courtyard bordered by the patients’ dormitories. Warmth flooded Drake’s cheeks when Chester pulled him from the bench.
“The door’s unlocked. Hurry.”
“”You’ll have your answer in under a minute. Wait for me. Two patients entering a dorm at once is too risky.”
Drake smiled. “What happens next?”
“We’re going to fuck.” Chester swatted Drake’s behind. “Be naked when I come in.”
* * * *
Sex retarded Drake’s awareness of time. The crystal meth only further muddied his waters. It was only moments after Malone dismounted him that the visitor noticed it was fifteen minutes until the guest bedroom became a pumpkin and his Birkenstocks the proverbial glass slippers.
“You said four o’clock, right?”
Drake leapt nude from the bed, his arms flailing. “There’s no time to shower. That fucker will smell the sex on me.”
Malone remained on his knees atop the mattress, erection strong and guileless. “Blame my incense.”
“He knows I don’t burn incense,” Drake said, yanking his T-shirt over his head. Impressed, Malone paused; Drake failed to hide his irritation.
“That’s an awesome graphic. Where did you find it?”
Drake had forgotten the image he wore, he felt so panicked. Tucking his chin, he saw Spider-Man swinging from one skyscraper to the next: full color, the web lines glistening, background as cleanly drawn as a panel in a graphic novel. Drake recalled Chester clutching at the fabric as Drake left him for a waiting cab outside the courtyard.
“Some smoke shop. Malone, dude, pack it up. I’m trying real hard not to be a prick.”
A real hard prick? That’s a good one. You’re a sexual shell game, blondie. Nothing beneath that smooth veneer but epic failure. You’ll never see that punk Chester again.
Drake fiercely shook his head, combed his fingers through his hair as if he’d stepped under a drooping autumn limb.
Malone stood stunned for a moment. Finally with a curt nod, he did as instructed. He collected the incense, the massage oils, the lubricants. Once done, he produced the baggie of remaining crystals and pressed it into Drake’s palm.
“Here, you need this more than me.”
Drake shook his head. “No, it’s all you brought.”
“Would you like to hear about the many benefits of acupuncture before I go?”
Catching Malone’s impish smirk, Drake groaned and guided him through the doorway. “We’ll do this again,” Drake whispered as they clattered down the stairs. He slipped the baggie into his jeans.
“Who the fuck is parked in front of my house?”
Little pig, little pig, I’ve come right in. Wipe that come off your chinny-chin-chin. Take it from me, we belong in gutters, in wacky shacks…anyplace where it’s just you and me.
Drake and Malone stood in the middle of the staircase. Obviously, Rudy lurked somewhere below.
“Is there a back exit?” Malone whispered.
“I’m so completely fucked.”
“Don’t be negative. Think!”
“Dude, put your shirt on.”
His bare chest still glistening, Malone blushed. He started to dash down the hall when his and Drake’s privacy finally vanished.
“Who the fuck are you?” At the foot of the stairs, Rudy loosened his tie so violently, the knot slipped halfway down his shirt.
Malone meekly descended, leaving the helpless Drake behind. His host had no idea what Malone would tell Rudy. Someone else always controlled this house, never Drake.
“You’re one of us, yes?” Malone asked, offering his hand. “You’re helping Drake stay out of trouble?”
“”It’s a full-time job,” Rudy sneered, glaring at Malone’s hand till it fell back to his side.
Malone’s eyes turned dewy, his lower lip beckoned. ‘Drake told me I shouldn’t have come without your permission, but I was one phone call away from a relapse.”
“I’m sorry, stud, but I’d really like it if you found your shirt.”
“I’ll get it, baby.” Drake gnashed his teeth the moment he spoke. That one endearment likely blew to bits Malone’s alarmingly plausible deception. Abashed, Drake remained still. Malone’s eyes darted between the two men.
“Fetch the boy’s shirt, baby,” Rudy called. Drake shuffled up the stairs, head bowed like the discipline he knew awaited had already arrived. “I’m sure you know where it is,” Rudy called loudly. At least the voices weren’t exacerbating his humiliation. He fretted over what Rudy would say to Malone while he was out of earshot. Malone’s sleeveless jersey was easy to spot. Still, Drake hurried, deluded his actions might affect this situation’s end.
“Malone tells me you’re offering others your experience, strength and hope,” Rudy said as Drake clamped toward them. “A bit premature, don’t you think?”
Malone took the shirt, slipped it on. “I’m honored someone with his life experience agreed to help me.”
Drake glanced at Rudy’s darkening gaze and knew the gambit was a lost cause. “Malone, you should—”
The boy kissed Drake’s cheek. “You were wonderful. Thanks.” He dashed for the front door. As it slammed behind him, Rudy delivered his parting shot: “Thanks for the free show.”
He and Drake stared vacantly at one another. The next conversation held no surprises, but neither man seemed eager to start it.
“I fucked up,” Drake offered.
“That story was one amazing line of shit,” Rudy said. “Just for that, I’ll give you two weeks to pack your bags instead of one.”
Drake just wanted to lie down and lose himself in the labyrinth of his thoughts. “Thanks,” he mumbled.
“And wash the sheets,” Rudy said as Drake climbed the stairs. “Life experience can leave a stain.”
The linens were already swishing in the washer before Drake noticed the multiple texts from Chester. Unread, the quantity did not concern him. He and Chester commonly traded texts up to twenty times daily. Drake’s heart fluttered to read the first message: Please call right away. Don’t text. Too urgent. Subsequent texts reiterated his desperation. Drake loved Chester, but he toyed with simply ignoring the messages. He couldn’t bear imagining their conversation: Chester soothing his despair while Drake tried to sooth his. He then remembered that Chester was his only true friend left at this crucial moment.
“I swear I wasn’t looking for it,” Chester said, Drake listening as he lay in bed—his bed, not the one he’d shared just hours before with Malone.”It found me. I never thought I’d cave so fast.”
“Are you going back to rehab?”
“No sense sending myself back to hell over just one sin.”
“That’s the right attitude. Progress, not perfection.”
Chester chuckled and sighed. “Is that the party line on relapse today?”
Heavy footsteps climbing the staircase. Drake lowered his voice despite speaking behind a closed door. “This doesn’t change anything. I still expect to see you on that Greyhound Friday.”
“What? I can’t hear you.”
Drake began to repeat himself, but Rudy appeared in the doorway before he could begin. He asked Chester to hold his thought and clamped his hand over the mouthpiece. “What about our closed-door agreement?” he whispered harshly.
Rudy shrugged. “At least you remember one of the rules.”
“I’m on the phone.”
“You mean the one I pay for?”
“What do you want, Rudy?”
“Listen carefully.” He sucked from a joint, held if aloft. “I’m delaying my trip to Vegas till you’re gone. If I leave you alone in this house a whole weekend, it may not be here when I get back.”
Chester’s panicked voice penetrated Drake’s ear. “Hello? Are you still there? Baby?”
Drake heard his fantasy shatter as if it had been made of fine china. He recalled Chester’s face, imagined the stab of grief glazing his eyes. He never thought to blame Malone or and his ludicrous passion props; he was too busy loathing his own loneliness and need. Even the voices found this twist of the dagger too devastating to offer commentary. At least, this was what Drake told himself.
Lovely, devoted Chester…
“I have to get back to the phone,” Drake informed his ex-lover. “Can we talk later?”
“I talked, you listened.”
Drake dismissed him with a frantic wave. Rudy smirked, took another hit from his joint and left, door still open in his wake.
“Drake,” Chester said. “Was that him?”
“I can’t wait to see you Friday. Thinking about you is all that keeps me sane in this place.”
Drake swallowed, the lump in his throat scarcely making it down. He needed to believe the fantasy of he and Chester reuniting at least for tonight. He knew Chester needed to believe it, too. The rigorous, sometimes cruel, methods of the therapists had reduced the sly, fearless man he met on a bench months ago into a needy, nervous one constantly prepared for heartbreak.
“I’ve made some plans for us,” Drake said, doing his best to keep his voice from breaking.
“I’ll do anything as long as it’s with you.”
Drake chuckled but otherwise did not respond.
“You’re not disappointed in me?”
“I’ll see you Friday night.”
“Wear your Spider-Man shirt. The one you should’ve given me.”
Drake wandered downstairs into the kitchen, no purpose in mind, thankful the voices had kept to themselves their opinion of his deception. He didn’t expect to find anything on the counter, maybe a handwritten note demanding him to fucking leave already. Instead, the fifty dollar bill and neatly rolled joint lay where Rudy typically left the evening’s distractions. As much as Drake didn’t want another confrontation with his ex-lover, he had to learn whether the fifty bucks was a signal that Rudy had canceled Drake’s stay of execution or if this was another passive-aggressive expression of pity.
“Think of it as a dry run,” Rudy announced from the living room. Drake snatched back his hand, spooked Rudy had guessed not only his location but quandary. “See if you can make it a whole night on your own.”
“”Thanks…” Drake didn’t care if Rudy heard him.
“Don’t show up till seven. That’s when I take off for work.”
“Where will I go?”
Suddenly, Rudy stood in the doorway, joint smoking between his fingertips. “Where did you go all those nights I stayed up waiting from you?” The quiet rage in his voice ushered Drake out the door like fallen confetti. After picking up a pack of Camels, he wheeled into Sonic, pulled into his usual slot.
Pathetic. They depend on your cheeseburger fetish like you’re a wet nurse. Whatever would Sonic do without blondie? It might have to—
Not tonight, Drake demanded of himself. I’ve already given you too much. And, like the stars as one enters the city, the voices blinked out. He silently praised God for this one mercy.
When his double cheeseburger arrived, Drake didn’t recognize the male carhop waiting for payment until he heard the boy’s scratchy voice. “Need another smoke?” he asked sullenly.
Drake grimaced. “Don’t you ever get the night off?”
The carhop grunted and held out his hand. That’s when the notion overtook Drake. The only sure way to dispatch memories and fantasies of Chester, Malone, Rudy and all the others…
I give up. You know goddamn well who I am, blondie. And this is me signing off. I wanted to control you, but now I realize I’d have to take ownership of every shithead move you make. I’m done. You’re done. He’s a boy. You’re a man. You’re lonely. Nothing you snort or fuck changes any of these facts. I’ll find my own way out.
Drake dangled the baggie of dope Malone had left him. The carhop’s eyes widened in frank amazement. Christmas came to Sonic! Drake placed the fifty on the carhop’s tray. The carhop wasn’t that attractive, he thought, but it was dark, dark enough.
“I can’t afford all that.”
“It’s not for sale,” Drake said, heartbreak barely perceptible in his voice. “When does this dive close?”
“I get off at eleven.”
Three more hours. Not long in the city, even on a weeknight. “I’ll come back.”
“You should believe me when I make a promise,” he said. “Believe it.”