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Cris Kane

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  1. Double Birthday

    The Golden Gate Bridge was socked in by fog again today and the temperature hadn't risen above the fifties since Marc and Zak had arrived in the city, but Zak refused to bow to the weather gods. He was on vacation, dammit, and he was going to dress like it. After all, it was his birthday. Which explains why, on a day when nearly everyone else in San Francisco was bundled up, Zak was seated on the patio of this restaurant in a bright red tank top, floral shorts and leather sandals. He leaned back in his chair, eyes shut, face to the clouds, as if pretending that he was basking in the sun might somehow will the sun to emerge. His hands were clasped behind his head, intermingled with his tousled chocolate-brown hair. This pose highlighted the veins which criss-crossed his powerful arms, which had lost none of their tone or definition since his days on the college football team. A yin/yang tattoo clung to the curve of his left shoulder, its surface currently punctuated by goosebumps which Zak was choosing to ignore. His legs felt slightly warmer, due to their generous coating of dark hair, but his exposed toes were pale white on the verge of turning blue. Zak's more sensibly dressed breakfast partner, Marc, wore a wool jacket over a sports coat over a sweater over a dress shirt over a v-neck, with wool pants and dress shoes with heavy wool socks. Even with all that, he was still shivering so much that the letters he was entering in the day's crossword puzzle were illegibly shaky. He had objected when Zak asked the waiter if they could be seated outdoors, but was in the mood to give Zak whatever he wanted after the warm way Zak had awakened him this morning. Nothing said "happy birthday" to Marc quite like a nice sunrise blow-job from his boyfriend of three years. For it was Marc's birthday too. The two first met six years ago in an English course designed to provide three easy credits for members of the college football team. The class was commonly referred to in a derogatory manner as "Introduction To Words". Zak was a freshman still getting used to big-city life, where more people lived in his dorm than in his hometown. His body was still slightly gangly, although he had made good progress in putting on muscle over the summer since high school, and his facial features remained malleable, not yet having hardened into the intimidating arrangements of sharp angles which would develop in the coming years. Marc was not another student; he was the teacher who would spend the next several months trying to make a room full of jocks give half a shit about diagramming sentences instead of diagramming plays. Marc's colleagues in the department thought he had drawn the short straw with this assignment, but Marc had no complaints. Even if his students weren't paying attention to him, he was riveted to them. The way their eyes stared dreamily at the ceiling or out the window as their focus drifted. The way their broad shoulders would shrug when they couldn't answer one of his simple questions. (Sample: "What is the verb in the sentence, 'Stay.'?") The way their biceps would pop out of their t-shirt sleeves on the rare occasions when they would raise their hand and attempt an answer. Marc was grateful his room was equipped with a lectern, as it conveniently hid the erection he got at least twice every period and sometimes for the entire hour. If he needed to lose his hard-on quickly, he would think of something boring, like reading anything by Ayn Rand. Marc was technically still in the closet on that day six years ago, although the brevity of his marriage straight out of college and his seeming celibacy in the years since led to many assumptions in the English department. He regretted that he hadn't come out during his own days in college, when he may not have been a tremendous prize but at least had the advantages of youth, like a full head of hair, 20/20 vision, and a 30-inch waist. With each year that he taught his class full of hardbodies, the contrast grew greater between the perennially replenished new crops of gridiron giants squeezed into the desks and their aging dweebish instructor who always seemed so reluctant to emerge from behind his podium. Marc's short red hair had receded with only a few last pathetic sprigs hanging on to garnish his upper forehead, he now wore no-line bifocals, and his otherwise gaunt body was sporting an increasingly inflated belly. Only in retrospect would Marc realize precisely on which day he had met Zak. Because Zak was maturing, he was not yet the stunner he would become, and Marc's attention was much more focused on the class's more obvious upperclassman dreamboats. But Marc did have a fairly good memory for dates, and he would later calculate that Zak's first day in his class must have been the day that Marc turned 42. Which in turn made it the day that Zak turned 18. That night, Zak's teammates celebrated by getting the freshly-minted adult shitfaced on beer and promising to set him up with whichever woman in the college union who Zak fancied -- so certain were they of the powers of persuation that a varsity football player could exert on any random woman on campus. Zak felt uncomforable with this idea, having been raised to treat women with great respect by his single mother after his father died in a car crash when Zak was seven. Still, he became less uncomfortable the more he drank and was finally matched with a petite brunette psychology major named Sara. They went back to his dorm room and drank a lot and made out a bit and he listened to her talk about things he didn't really understand until they both dozed off fully dressed -- although the far more salacious version of the night's events which he told in the locker room the next day suggested that Zak might have a gift for creative writing. That same night, Marc marked his birthday by eating a Healthy Choice lasagna with a glass of cabernet, reading a new biography of Joseph Conrad until about 9:30, then searching the internet for whacking material. He was in bed by 10. Marc began to notice Zak more and more throughout the semester, as he was one of the few students who seemed to be striving to do well, not just the minimum required. When "The Catcher In The Rye" was assigned, it resonated with Zak, whereas his classmates tended to think that Holden Caulfield was "a pussy" or should "just grow a pair". Marc himself had become more annoyed with Caulfield with each annual rereading when that part of the syllabus rolled around, but Zak was always eager to offer his thoughts to Marc after class, seeing if there was anything to his rudimentary insights about the book. Witnessing even a glimmer of honest intellectual effort reminded Marc why he had gotten into the teaching profession, so he encouraged Zak, even suggesting books Zak might enjoy reading just for fun when traveling to away games. By the end of the semester, Zak was by far the most engaged student in class and he gave Marc a bearhug as he left the room on the final day. After that, Marc would sometimes see Zak walking around campus, frequently with his arm around a studious brunette who seemed to become tinier and tinier the more muscle Zak packed on in training. Zak would usually just wave if he was with his girlfriend, but was more likely to stop and chat for a minute when he was alone. (Marc was invariably alone.) Marc took special note when the college newspaper would single out Zak for a particularly impressive play, although Marc usually had no clue from the description exactly what Zak had done which was so noteworthy. The night that Marc turned 45, some of the other members of the English department dragged Marc out on the town. They chose an Irish pub off campus, in honor of Marc's favorite author James Joyce, but Marc found himself lamenting that he was already five years older than Joyce was when "Ulysses" was published. This launched his colleagues on an hour-long conversation listing all the famous authors who were already dead by the time they were Marc's age. Surprisingly, this did not lift Marc's mood. After his third whiskey, Marc was walking to the bathroom and passed a boisterous crowd of football players at a table. Their bodies were so packed with muscle, it was like seeing a group of normal-sized adults huddled around a table built for kindergarteners. At the focus of this group was a powerhouse with dark wavy hair parted in the middle, sharp cheekbones that seemed ready to slice through his skin, and a jaw angled like the bottom half of a STOP sign. If not for the pale blue eyes that Marc had always found so penetrating, he might not even have realized this was his old student Zak, but Zak immediately knew his old professor and gestured him over. "What's the celebration?", Marc asked. "It's my birthday, Professor Henning. I am now 21 and can finally drink legally, so the guys wanted to take me to a proper adult bar." His buddies razzed him. "'Adult bar'? If that's anything like 'adult books', maybe the term doesn't connote the level of maturity and sophistication you were hoping for." Zak chuckled politely, but couldn't follow what Marc meant any better than his tablemates, who merely stared silently at the professor. Marc broke the silence by informing them, "You know, today's my birthday too!" Zak was surprised to learn that. "Wow, cool! So how old are YOU today?" Marc deflected the question, saying, "Swing by the bar later and I'll buy you an adult drink." "Sure thing, Professor Henning." As soon as Marc turned, Zak and his pals resumed their raucousness. Marc went into the bathroom but discovered that his penis had switched gears and was no longer in urination mode. He considered ducking into a stall and jerking off, but thought that would drag the evening deeper into pathetic territory. He returned to the bar, where his colleagues delightedly informed him that F. Scott Fitzgerald died at 44. Marc's fellow teachers drifted home one by one, leaving him alone at the bar, nursing another whiskey and staring blearily at a rugby match on a television with the sound turned down. Zak and his buddies were on their way out the door when Zak realized he hadn't taken his old prof up on his offer. He informed them he was going to have a drink with Professor Henning and would find his way home. He pulled out the stool next to Marc and noticed the TV. "You into rugby?" "Is that what I'm watching? I had no idea." Marc had mainly been entranced by the sinewy arms and powerful legs extending out of the players' colorful uniforms. Marc told the bartender to give Zak a whiskey, but Zak begged off, saying he had football practice the next day. "Oh, so all that beer you were drinking was just part of your training regimen?" Zak grinned, caught. "Okay, I guess I can force down one whiskey." Marc patted the stool beside him and gestured for Zak to sit down. Zak obliged. "Twenty-one. How does it feel to be soooo old?", Marc asked. "It's fuckin' weird...I mean, it's weird, Professor Henning." Marc waved a hand as if batting away an invisible fly. "You're a grown-up now. Call me Professor Marc." Zak smiled again, and Marc could swear he could see his reflection in the young man's brilliant shiny choppers. "So, you must be a senior by now." "Yup. Hard to believe. My last season playing football." "Are you going to go pro?" Zak laughed without much joy. "I don't see that happening. That requires a whole extra level of something I ain't got." Marc didn't want to probe what was clearly an uncomfortable subject. He glanced back at the rugby scrum on TV. "Maybe you could play rugby. I bet you'd look good in one of those uniforms." Immediately, Marc regretted his remark, fearing he had just made Zak uncomfortable and that he had revealed too much of himself. Goddamn whiskey. But if Zak had any reaction, he made no indication of it. "Anyway, I just wanted to tell you that you're the best professor in the whole college." Marc scoffed. "Hardly." "Okay, I haven't had classes with EV-ery professor. But you're the best one I had. You really cared about learning, and you didn't just write me off as some dumb jock." Marc swiveled on his chair and stared at the blue smear in his bleary field of vision which he knew was the general vicinity of Zak's eyes. "I don't think you're dumb, Zak." Zak's baby-blues were fixed on Marc's bloodshots. "Not as dumb as I used to be, Professor Marc." The bartender handed Zak a shot of whiskey, which Zak clinked against Marc's glass. As they downed their booze, Marc felt Zak's warm hand upon his knee, then sliding up his thigh. Marc suggested they go somewhere else before Zak's hand got any higher. Zak's ex-girlfriend Sara, the psych major, would have said that what followed was classic behavior for a young man unsure about his future who was seeking a father figure. Marc would have said that Zak was looking if the wrong place if he needed someone to nurture him, as Marc couldn't even keep a houseplant alive. Nevertheless, Marc and Zak found themselves celebrating their joint birthdays with a birthday joint on the balcony of Marc's apartment. Actually, only Marc was smoking, as Zak couldn't partake for fear of testing positive on a drug test. But in his first three years of college, he had become an expert on how far away to stand from a lit joint without endangering his eligibility, while still managing to catch enough of a whiff of second-hand reefer to lighten his mood. He couldn't imagine how fucked-up he would get when he finally got a full dosage of cannabis after this coming season was finally over. Marc finished the joint, completing the inhibition removal process that the whiskey had begun. He hadn't realized at the bar that Zak had grown an inch or two since he taught him, putting the footballer at six-foot-one compared to the teacher at five-nine. Zak reached up and grabbed his rear collar, pulling his skintight tee over his head and revealing the full extent of the past three years of effort in the weight room. Marc had never been this close to a shirtless torso so finely crafted. Zak was so ripped that you could see each muscle distinctly and individually, but the way they balanced each other as a perfectly engineered whole, Marc was tempted to question his devout atheism and embrace the concept of intelligent design. Then again, if God could create a body this exquisite, it also seemed cosmically cruel for Him then to say that it was forbidden for gay men to enjoy it. It was as if God had brought ice cream into the world just so He could taunt diabetics. Marc knelt down in front of Zak and unbuttoned the young man's 501s, but Zak lifted Marc in his burly arms and placed him on the bed. He began removing items of the professor's clothing -- shoes, then socks, then pants, then boxers -- all while humming "Happy Birthday To You". When Marc was stripped from the waist down, Zak began to lick Marc's balls, then along the professor's shaft before wrapping his lips around the head. Marc moaned deeply, tangling his hands in Zak's unruly hair. Zak's technique was far too nuanced for this to be his first time "running it up the flagpole". Once Zak's intentions had been made obvious at the bar, Marc had assumed that Zak would automatically be a top, but it was clear that he was more interested in pleasing Marc first. When it came time to mount Zak, Marc regretted that his own cock wasn't nearly as impressive as Zak's eight-inch erection, feeling that Zak was getting the short end of the stick (or "the short stick in the end"), but Zak seemed perfectly content. Zak insisted that this was as much a birthday present for himself as it was for Marc. When Marc awoke in the morning, he heard his shower running. Zak's clothes were lying on the floor by the foot of the bed. Marc looked across the room into the mirror and was immediately brought back to reality by his own reflection. Sadly, none of Zak's attributes had rubbed off on him merely by contact. He was the same balding, sunken-chested man with an unsightly gut that he had been yesterday, and he would just keep getting balder and more unfit as his wrinkles deepened and his eyesight worsened. He was grateful Zak had taken such pity on him last night, even if it was nothing more than a gesture of thanks to a favored teacher on his birthday. Marc still felt it was more of a gift than he deserved. Zak emerged from the bathroom, toweling himself off, long strands of dark wet hair clinging to his cheeks and neck. He leaned down to kiss Marc on the lips and said good morning. Zak pulled on his clothes with the casualness of a man who had spent his past seven years getting dressed and undressed in locker rooms full of other naked guys, although he surely was not as free about displaying a semi-hard cock among his teammates as he was here in the privacy of Marc's bedroom. "That was very nice what you did last night, Zak." "What I did? Sure felt like WE did it together. Remember, there's no 'I' in 'team'." "True. And there is a 'U' and 'I' in 'fucking'." Marc grinned and, after a few seconds, Zak got it. "You're too quick for me." "That's not what you were saying last night, thank goodness. Anyway, I hope you won't feel awkward or shy if we run into each other on campus after...ya know, this." "Why would I, Prof...Marc?" Marc and Zak met discreetly whenever it was convenient that fall, and more frequently after the football season was over, but they kept their relationship under wraps. Not that they were ashamed of it, but it could look problematic for a professor to be sleeping with a student, even if he hadn't taught the student in three years. It would be easier all around if they waited to go public until after Zak graduated in the spring. Deep down, Marc was also sure that, by the time graduation rolled around, Zak would have become tired of Marc, but if anything Zak became more devoted as they spent more time together, as eager to soak up the older man's knowledge and guidance as to suck his cock. Zak got a job as a personal trainer at a local health club and moved into Marc's place that summer, and they had remained a couple ever since. Marc was taking a sabbatical this semester, which is why he currently found himself on a chilly patio in San Francisco on his birthday rather than starting another course of "Introduction To Words". Today Marc was 48 and Zak was half that, at 24. Marc tortured himself with the fact that, on the day that he had turned 24, he was already unhappily married...and Zak was emerging from his mother's womb. Marc tended to fixate on their age difference, sure that Zak would meet someone closer to his age and Marc would be left alone again. Why wouldn't Zak be more interested in, say, the only other diner crazy enough to be seated outdoors on a brisk day like this, a well-built Chinese guy who looked about thirty, whose thin dark mustache and slicked-back hair made him look like an Asian Clark Gable. Marc acknowledged him with a nod, and their dining companion (whom Marc had internally nicknamed "Red Butler") smiled back. On this trip, Zak had been an eager pupil as Marc exposed him to great works of literature, painting, and architecture, but he knew he would never have an intellect on Marc's level and worried that Marc would eventually get tired of dragging around some dimwitted ex-jock. Maybe Marc would dump him for someone like that Japanese guy with the mustache sitting on the the patio with them. He didn't look much older than Zak, but there was a wisdom behind his eyes that reminded him of Marc. Marc's hands were shaking too much from the cold to finish the crossword, so he shifted his attention to the Jumble puzzle, which he liked to complete entirely within his head. It also gave him a chance to help Zak hone his verbal abilities. "Okay, Zak, unscramble this. D-L-A-U-T." Zak rearranged the letters in his head and proudly declared, "ADULT!" "Very good. How about D-R-O-L-E?" That one stumped Zak. "Isn't DROLE already a word?" "Not spelled that way it's not," Marc said. He waited for Zak to puzzle it out, but Zak had a short attention span for such challenges. If he couldn't get something right away, he tended to lose interest. "I give up." A voice from across the patio said, "OLDER." They both turned to the guy with the mustache, who smiled and held up his own copy of the newspaper where he had also been working on the puzzles. Marc set down his newspaper and whispered to Zak that he needed to use the rest room, although he secretly just wanted to get back inside where it was warm. Zak remained on the patio, staring out at the low gray clouds where the scenery should be. "Your father?", asked the guy with the mustache. Zak realized he was being asked a question. He was glad Marc hadn't heard that, as he knew how sensitive Marc could get about his age, especially on his birthday. "Oh, no, he's not my dad," replied Zak. "We're...we're together. Today's both of our birthdays, so we're here on vacation to celebrate. Where are you from?" "I live here." "Oh, you live in San Francisco? I figured you were staying at the hotel." "No, I just come here to enjoy breakfast and admire the view." He gestured with a smile at the blanket of fog. Zak laughed, then got an idea and moved over to an empty seat at the other man's table. He spoke softly. "Hey, since you're a local, maybe you could recommend a good store where I could find him something nice for his birthday. He's always spending money on me. He's paying for this whole trip. I'd just like to give him something special and unique, that shows him how much I love him. I've been looking while we've been sightseeing, but everything is either junky tourist crap or amazing stuff I could never afford. Plus I can't really browse for a surprise gift when he's right with me the whole time. Any ideas?" The guy nodded, grinning. From the pocket of his windbreaker, he pulled out a business card and a pen. He wrote an address on the card. "This shop might have just what you need. Don't worry if you get there and it looks closed. The guy who runs it keeps a very low profile." Zak looked at the card, which read "MR. LEE, X-DREAM MAKEOVERS", followed by a bunch of weird foreign symbols. He didn't think a makeover was exactly the gift he was looking for. Then again, maybe Zak could spice up their sex life if he changed the way he looked. Not that Marc had complained. Zak had slimmed down a bit since his bulkiest days on the football team, but was still a powerful presence. Hey, it was worth a shot. "Thanks. I'll check it out." The man smiled and said, "Tell the shopkeeper that Elmer sent you." "Sure thing. Elmer, huh? You don't meet a lot of Elmers these days." "My parents were big Looney Tunes fans. I lucked out. I could've been Bugs or Daffy." Zak laughed, slapped Elmer on the shoulder and shook his hand. Marc returned, watching curiously as Zak strode back from Elmer's table. "You two getting acquainted?" "What? Oh, no, he was just giving me tourist tips is all. You ready for Alcatraz?" They headed inside to pay the bill. Elmer waved at the two men, who waved back. Marc remained suspicious. * * * That afternoon, Marc was exhausted from the Alcatraz tour and told Zak he wanted to lie down for a while. That gave Zak the perfect opportunity to check out that makeover place. Hands buried in the pockets of his sleeveless hoodie, he walked past the storefront twice before realizing he was in the right place. The grime on the window and door made the shop look abandoned. As Marc entered, the wind buffeted a set of chimes. In the gloom of the shop, he could make out an elderly Chinese man with a bald head and gray mustache seated behind a counter. On the wall behind him were shelves packed with glass jars of unidentifiable substances. "Good day, young man. How may I help you?", said the man behind the counter. "Uh, Elmer sent me. Are you Mr. Lee?" The proprietor smiled thinly and gestured for Zak to come closer. "I understand you are in need of something for a birthday?" Zak relaxed slightly and walked to the counter. "I guess Elmer musta told you. Yeah, I want something really special for...well, for my partner." "And your partner, what is it that he wants?" Zak hesitated, unsure how this guy automatically knew that his partner was a guy. Guess Elmer must have told him that too. "I don't know. He makes a good living, we have a nice place, I'm not sure he really WANTS anything." "Everyone wants something." Mr. Lee leaned forward, resting his elbows on the counter and tenting his index fingers. "Just think. What does he wish for? Even if you think it is impossible." Zak thought, then laughed. "Well, I think he wishes he could be younger." Mr. Lee clapped his hands once and walked to a cabinet behind the counter which was filled with costume jewelry. He selected a few colorful metal bracelets and displayed them for Zak, who studied them skeptically. "I don't think just wearing those would make him look younger." "You might be surprised." Zak shook his head. "They're not his style. He's more conservative. Classier." "Why does he wish to be younger?", asked Mr. Lee. "Aside from the fact that everyone wants to be younger." "I think he wishes there wasn't such a big age gap between us. He's always convinced that I'm gonna leave him for somebody younger." Mr. Lee smiled, then nodded and walked back to the cabinet. He returned with two identical antique gold wristwatches. "Yeah, that's more his style. But I only need one." "Is it not the birthday for both of you?" Man, Elmer really had briefed this guy. "Yeah, but I'm not sure I can afford one of these, let alone two." "They come together as a set, like the yin and yang on your arm." Mr. Lee pointed to the symbols tattooed on Zak's shoulder. Zak had never really known what the tattoo meant, he just liked the way the design looked. "They complement each other and keep everything in balance." Zak pulled a wad of bills from his pocket, never having graduated to using a proper wallet. "Okay, how much are they?" Mr. Lee puzzled over it. He was feeling uncharacteristically generous today and slid the watches across the counter to Zak. "Happy birthday, you too." "You serious?" Zak wrapped one of the watches around his wrist and snapped it in place. He thought it looked awesome. He wasn't sure how an antique watch was supposed to make Marc look younger, unless it was just to make the rest of him look younger than the watch in comparison, but Zak was sure Marc would think it looked classy. Mr. Lee began to speak. "I need to tell you a little something about how the watches work. You see..." Zak glanced at the watch which appeared to read 2:20, with the little hand on the II and the big hand on the IV. "Shit, it's later than I thought. He's gonna be waking up soon." Zak reached across the counter to shake hands with the shopkeeper. "Thanks a lot, Mr. Lee." Zak rushed out the door. As the door closed, Mr. Lee said, "My pleasure, Zak." Mr. Lee felt a little uneasy about letting Zak go without being briefed on the watches' special powers, but perhaps they would teach Zak a lesson about the virtue of patience. * * * Zak had thought of giving Marc his gift at supper, but since Marc was awake when he returned to the hotel room and Zak was already wearing his own matching watch, there seemed no point in waiting. Marc forced a smile, although this was far gaudier than anything he would usually wear. Still, he appreciated that Zak had made such an effort and seemed so excited by his purchase that Marc would be churlish to express anything but love for it. He kissed Zak, who took the watch and ceremoniously wrapped it around Marc's wrist. As Marc's watch was snapped into place, a mild shock passed between the two men. They assumed it was just static electricity from the carpet and thought nothing further about it. The day had finally warmed up nicely once the fog burned away. Marc and Zak strolled hand in hand around the grounds of the Palace of Fine Arts. They seemed to have the run of the grounds to themselves, and they felt relaxed and complete. When it was just the two of them together alone, they never seemed to have any problems. They took a seat on a bench to watch a fountain, and Marc glanced at his watch. It appeared to read 4:50, which seemed much later than he expected. Only then did he notice something strange about the face of the watch. "You got screwed. There are only ten numbers." Zak glanced at Marc's wrist to see what he meant. "Look, it only goes from one to ten," said Marc, pointing to the Roman numeral X at the top of the dial. Zak looked at his own watch and discovered it had the same defect. "Maybe it's metric time?", Zak offered as an explanation, but Marc shook his head. Zak also noticed that his own watch still seemed to read 2:20. He realized the watches probably needed winding, so he pulled out the stem and wound his watch. Marc did the same and checked his cellphone for the correct time of four o'clock. He set the hands to the IV and the X and hoped for the best. As Marc set his watch, Zak noticed that the hands of his own watch were moving forward on their own. Maybe that's what Mr. Lee meant about the watches complementing each other. If you changed one, it also changed the other. Strangely, Zak's watch hands didn't move all the way ahead to 4:00. His watch looked like it read 3:10. He didn't mention it to Marc, though. He didn't want Marc to start stressing over how Zak had gotten screwed over by the shopkeeper (even though he'd been given the watches for free). He didn't want anything to mar their birthday. They took a long scenic stroll back to the hotel, through the Presidio, Golden Gate Park and The Haight, with Zak snapping pictures of Marc or selfies of the two of them whenever something caught his eye. He worried that he was making Marc overexert himself with so much walking, but Marc seemed more energized than...well, than he'd ever seen him. Marc was still having trouble keeping up with Zac, but that was the price one paid for being in a relationship with a personal trainer. The benefit was that Marc never tired of walking several steps behind Zac, his tanned, firm legs taking powerful strides, his bare arms slicing through the air. But today, he could swear he was noticing something else. He jogged to catch up to Zac and cackled when he confirmed what he thought he had seen. "What are you laughing about?", Zak asked, looking at Marc who was only panting slightly as he kept pace. "You got something for your birthday, but I don't think you're gonna like it." He pointed toward the top of Zak's head. Zak paused and felt around. He was surprised when his fingers landed on a spot where they felt no hair, only skin. He rushed toward a store window, trying in vain to figure out a way to see the reflection of the top of his head. Eventually, Marc asked for Zak's phone and instructions on how to snap a picture with it. Marc had Zak bend down so that he could get a good close-up of Zak's new bald spot. He showed the phone to Zak, who was in disbelief. "I shouldn't be going bald already at 24." "Even mine didn't start going until my early thirties. I think I even saw a gray hair or two up there." Zak was aghast. He stared closely at the screen of the phone, inspecting the photo for any trace of gray. As he leaned down to look at the photo, Marc took a look directly at Zak's head and started pointing to the gray flecks among Zak's wavy hair. "There's one, there's one. Oh, there's a whole bunch over here." Zak grumbled, not finding this funny, but Marc smiled, kissing him in the center of his bald spot. "Don't worry, baby, I'll still love you when you're old and gray. Which should be any day now! Ha ha!" Seeing Zak fuming in mock anger, Marc took off in an energetic dash up the block. Zak ran after him, pounding the pavement until he caught up with Marc. He wrapped his arms around Marc, who continued to laugh uncontrollably. Zak was just glad to see Marc in such a good mood. They returned to their hotel room and started to dress for supper. Marc had bought Zak a tailored suit before they left home that Zak was excited to wear tonight. He took it out of the closet and began to undress. He was surprised to see in the mirror that his body was losing a bit of definition. They had been in San Francisco for a few days, so he was off his usual exercise regimen and was eating a less healthy diet than he usually would back home, but he wouldn't expect this kind of change in such a short time. Hell, he hadn't even noticed anything odd after he showered this morning. But there was no mistaking that his body fat had gone up. As he tried to pull on his tailored pants, he had to struggle to get them buckled. Looked like he would need to be extra vigilant when the vacation was over. Meanwhile, in the bathroom, Marc was surprisingly pleased by what he saw in the mirror. Back home, Zak was always encouraging Marc to eat better and get more exercise, but Marc never stuck to anything. Perhaps all the walking -- and even running -- he had done this afternoon had made a difference, but he wouldn't have expected he could move two notches slimmer on his belt. He could swear he even looked a bit younger. He'd have to find out what kind of lightbulbs the hotel used in here, so he could get some for their bathroom back home. He glanced at his new watch and discovered the hands had actually moved BACKWARDS slightly to 3:55 or thereabouts. What a piece of junk! This is why he never let Zak go shopping on his own, because he was far too trusting and just waiting to be fleeced. God knows he loved the boy -- the man -- but dear lord, he half-expected Zak to come home one day proudly announcing how he'd traded his cow for some magic beans. In the living room, Zak was checking out his reflection. Whatever imperfections he had seen earlier were nicely concealed by his black suit with a matching black tie and burgundy shirt. He adjusted his cuffs and looked at his watch. "3:15?" he thought. He almost felt like tossing the watch in the trash, but the glint of the metal looked really sharp with the rest of his outfit. Very old school. Zak heard Marc emerge from the bathroom. He turned to see Marc looking professorial in his gray herringbone suit with an eggplant-colored bow tie. "Whoa," said Zak, "you look great. What did you do to your hair?" "My usual nothing." Zak walked over to make a closer inspection and could see more short red hairs curling across Marc's scalp. Any sighted person would still describe him as "bald", but there was definitely more hair there. "You haven't been taking Rogaine, have you?" "Maybe I've been cutting hair from your bald spot and gluing it onto my head!" Zak reached over to grab him playfully, but Marc jumped out of his way with agility. He ran to the other side of the bed and tried to get a good look at Zak, but his vision was very blurry. Shit, did he have to get new bifocals already? He guessed he shouldn't be surprised when you're pushing fifty. He removed the glasses to wipe off any schmutz that might be on them, and discovered that his vision improved. He glanced over at Zak, who looked stunning. Maybe it was the shock of seeing his partner dressed for once in something inappropriate for a frat party at the beach, but Zak radiated a new maturity that he'd never noticed. "Wow. Do I know how to pick 'em." Marc smiled, slipping his glasses into an inside pocket of his jacket and walking toward Zak. "As I remember it, I'm the one who came on to you." "However it happened, I'm just glad it did. Happy third anniversary." Marc slipped his arms around Zak. As always, Zak bent down slightly to kiss Marc, rather than making Marc stand on tiptoe. Since their first night together started in an Irish pub, they had marked each subsequent birthday in a similar establishment. Tonight, they both tossed back pints of Guinness. For their meal, Marc opted for fish and chips and was surprised when Mr. No Carbs and No Fat devoured a heaping plate of bangers and mash. "What? I'm on vacation," Zak declared, mouth stuffed with mashed potatoes and greasy sausage. Marc may never have found Zak more attractive. Marc excused himself to the men's room to dispose of some Guinness, and was surprised to see how good he still looked, even in the smear-streaked mirror of a dingy pub bathroom. Maybe it was just the sight of his face without glasses for the first time in nearly a decade, but he could honestly describe himself as...not unattractive. And damn, Zak was right, his hair did look thicker. With a spring in his step, Marc returned to the dining room. It had turned into a beautiful night. Marc and Zak strolled as if seeing the city and each other through fresh eyes. Marc seemed inquisitive about every storefront, while Zak strolled a few paces behind, amused by Marc's unexpected enthusiasm for life. As they walked near Chinatown, they passed Mr. Lee's store. If it hadn't looked so dark inside, Zak would have gone in and demanded a refund -- although how do you get a refund on free? Once they made it to the Castro, their options were overwhelming. Zak kept an eye out for someplace nice and quiet, but Marc was in a mood to dance. Since Zak had never seen Marc in a mood to dance and didn't know when it would ever come again, Marc won the debate. The bouncer studied their IDs carefully, a bit confused, but waved them both in. Zak was amazed to see Marc pulling him onto the dance floor. Usually Marc refused to consider something music unless is was over 100 years old or was played on NPR. He was happy to see Marc coming out of his shell like this. He only wished he could keep up with him. The Guinness and the bangers and mash really seemed to have slowed him down. "Gimme your phone, I wanna take a selfie!", Marc shouted. Zak extracted the phone from his pants pocket with more effort than usual and handed it to Marc who snapped a shot of the two of them. He looked at it, then showed it to Zak. "Can you TRY to look like you're having a good time?" Zak was being jostled by dancers on all sides, but he tried to focus on the phone's screen. Marc looked vibrant, but could that hideous old guy next to him really be Zak? He had bags under his eyes, his hairline seemed to be receding and the skin around the sharp edges of his cheek and jaw had begun to sag. Maybe the flash on the camera phone was responsible for his sickly appearance, but then why did Marc look so good? Zak excused himself to use the bathroom. Marc was feeling extremely warm in his gray herringbone, so he stripped it off. He had a hell of a time getting the sleeves off his arms, where the jacket felt abnormally tight. He attempted to disguise his contortions as dance moves, but someone behind him began to assist him. "Thanks, honey," he said, assuming Zak was back. "You're welcome, doll," said an unfamiliar voice. Marc spun around and saw a blond hottie in a sleeveless salmon tee, alligator pants and snakeskin boots. "Haven't seen you here before." "I'm here on vacation with my boyfriend," Marc shouted, looking around for Zak. "Aw, are you giving me the old 'I've got a boyfriend' line, just to get rid of me?" Marc shook his head. "No, why would I want to get rid of you?" Truly, this guy was way out of Marc's league. Then again, so was Zak and that had inexplicably lasted three years. "I love the little preppy look you've got going," the blond shouted. "But I bet you'd look hotter if you showed a little skin." The blond began to untie Marc's bowtie. Marc stood as still as he could in the middle of a crowded dance floor as the tie was loosened and the ends dangled from his collar. The blond then slowly began to unbutton Marc's shirt, exposing a deep cleft between his pecs. Marc looked down in amazement. He had never had a body like this. Even after his divorce, when he went on a brief exercise kick in hopes of meeting another woman (damn, had he ever been in denial), he'd always been twig-thin -- until he started developing a gut. "Now why would you hide a body like this?", the blond asked. Marc couldn't think of a particularly good reason other than he didn't know about it before. He unbuttoned the rest of his shirt and discovered he had rudimentary abs as well, and his pants were sagging. He tightened his belt another notch and rolled up his shirt sleeves, where his biceps felt surprisingly solid. "I'm Tate," said the blond with a smile. "Marc," replied Marc. He and Tate started to move to the music as Marc kept an eye out for Zak. In the men's room, Zak had been frozen in position for several minutes, staring at his reflection. The noise around him was an echoey din, which kept him from hearing some of the cattier remarks being made by the guys who had maneuver around him to use the urinals. Mostly, they were remarking on how the old guy was entranced, checking himself out in the mirror. And in this crowd, Zak did look old. The sagginess of his face which he noticed in the selfie was even more pronounced in the graffiti-scratched mirror. His bald spot had definitely grown, and when he tried to brush some of his hair over it with his fingers to conceal it, the hair came off in clumps in his hand. He had removed his jacket and tie, but was feeling incredibly sweaty and his stomach was starting to bulge over the top of his pants. Zak didn't even hear the voice saying his name for several seconds. Finally, he saw a blurry but somewhat familiar face in front of him. He saw jet-black hair and a mustache, but the other features were blending into a general flesh-colored haze. "It's Elmer! We met this morning!" Zak blinked, trying to remember this morning, which suddenly seemed like twenty years ago. It eventually came back to Zak and he grabbed Elmer's shoulders. "Oh, Elmer! Thank god! I went to see your friend at the shop, but I think he fucked me up somehow." "You don't look too good. Let's get you sitting down." Elmer took Zak by the hand and led him back into the club, where they sat beside each other on a bench alongside the dance floor. Elmer rolled up Zak's sleeves, put a hand on Zak's wrist and looked closely at Zak's watch. Zak assumed that Elmer was taking his pulse. "Shit, this isn't good." Zak began to panic. "What? What's wrong?" Elmer shouted back, "It's too loud to talk in here. Let's get you outside in the fresh air." Elmer helped to lift Zak to his feet, but Zak fell back, exhausted. Lying flat on his back on the bench, Zak began to choke. Elmer looked around in a panic, then began to perform CPR. Marc was lost in a wonderful daze, having chugged a daiquiri with Tate before they returned to the dance floor. Marc couldn't remember having a better birthday than this, although at the moment, he was having trouble remembering much of anything. He did remember coming here with someone. Zeke? No, Zak. Marc felt like an idiot. How could he forget his beautiful Zak? What had happened to him anyway? At that moment, Marc noticed Zak lying flat on a bench at the edge of the dance floor being kissed by someone with slick black hair and a mustache. Marc suddenly had a moment of clarity. A vision of Zak talking to this man at breakfast this morning, then moving quickly away when Marc returned. He'd always feared that Zak would dump him, but on their anniversary? Their shared birthdays? That was true betrayal. He could have walked over and confronted Zak, but a crowd of clubgoers had suddenly gathered around Zak and that other guy to watch them make out. What a tawdry city this was, but when in Rome... Marc reached over, grabbed Tate by the back of the neck, pulled him close and kissed him furiously. Tate was surprised but eagerly got into the spirit. As a concerned crowd circled around, offering shouted advice, Elmer stopped giving Zak mouth-to-mouth and went back to pounding on his chest. He was making no progress, and Zak's face was turning blue, then red, then orange, then yellow, then green. Elmer realized that Zak's face was positioned directly beneath one of the changing disco lights. One of the club's cage dancers, wearing nothing but a gold g-string, stepped down from his perch and entered the scrum of onlookers, announcing that he was a paramedic. Elmer ceded his position and let the dancer get to work. Holy fuck, thought Marc as looked over Tate's shoulder and saw the near-naked hunk part the crowd around Zak and take control. It's a fucking gang-bang. He took Tate's hands and said, "Can we go to your place?" Tate grinned and said, "You bet!" As they threaded through the crowd to the exit, Marc took one glance back at Zak's dance-floor orgy, where it appeared that the stripper was holding Zak in the air and butt-fucking him. Marc couldn't believe how betrayed he felt. He slapped Tate's butt and raced him toward the door. The EMT stripper was, in fact, giving Zak the Heimlich maneuver, stretching his arms beneath Zak's sagging pecs and yanking back until Zak's throat finally shot out the chunk of sausage that had been choking him, followed by a gusher of mashed potatoes which landed on the first dancers who had arrived to watch. Zak rolled to the floor, looking totally wasted, Guinness and potatoes and grease leaking from the corner of his mouth. His burgundy shirt was fully open, exposing a flat chest and a sizable gut. The stripper asked Elmer to stay here and he would call for an ambulance. Elmer looked desperately around the club for the man who had been with Zak at the restaurant that morning. * * * It was hard to tell that Tate had switched on the lights in his apartment, as they were so subdued. "I figure I'm paying this rent to be able to see those lights out there," he said, triggering a switch that electronically raised the blinds and offered a money shot of San Francisco at night. With windows lining two entire walls of his living room, he had a panoramic view of the city. Marc felt like he'd suddenly landed in a romantic comedy, where people's apartments are impossibly spacious and yet somehow affordable to a normal earthling. And if Marc was in a romantic comedy, who was he? For someone who had been told "You look like Woody Allen" for most of his life, tonight he felt like...Sandra Bullock? Jilted and insecure, yet still somehow going back to the apartment of the ludicrously handsome... Marc looked across the room at Tate, who was pulling his arms free of his sleeveless tee, revealing a carved torso which looked spectacular in the shadowy lighting of the apartment. Ryan Reynolds, maybe? Or Ryan Gosling. Either way, Tate was filling the night's Ryan quota. Tate opened a liquor cabinet and asked, "What do you want?" "Anything you got," Marc answered as he walked closer to the windows for a better view. He hardly needed any more alcohol, as the rush of running to Tate's place had gotten his head buzzing and his cock throbbing. As he approached the glass, he noticed his reflection and was amazed. Maybe HE was fulfilling the Ryan quota. His shirt was hanging open to reveal a mint-condition set of eight-pack abs below an Olympian chest. His face didn't look radically different, but it radiated the youthful innocence he had taken for granted in college, the freshness that must have masked his insecurities and secret longings sufficiently that he had convinced a woman, an actual woman, to marry him. But it was his hair that startled him the most. Not only had the top filled in completely, but long strand of hair fell down his cheeks and past his shoulder. In this dim light, ripped torso exposed, he looked like goddamn Heathcliff from "Wuthering Heights". Even better, he looked like Zak. Tate walked over with two Manhattans, but he spilled them both when Marc took Tate in his arms and dipped him backwards for a prolonged kiss. They tumbled to the floor and crawled their way to the sofa, disrobing each other in the process. Marc slithered out of his pants and discovered his cock straining to escape from his boxers, the head extending past the end of the fabric. Tate's mouth dropped open when he caught sight of it. He pulled down Marc's shorts and made short work of sliding the shaft into his mouth. Marc worked his feet free from his pants, then kicked off his shoes, wrapping his legs around Tate's back. "It's my birthday, you know," Marc slurred, "so I get one blowjob for every year." Tate popped Marc's cock out of his mouth long enough to say, "Fine by me. So how many years would that be?" Marc tried to remember the answer to that simple question, but everything was getting a bit fuzzy. * * * Elmer sat outside the emergency room, looking around nervously. When they had asked his relationship to the patient, he had said, "Just a friend," and could tell by the nurse's lack of reaction that it was a common response. She directed him to the waiting room, where he sat among a moaning, wailing sea of humanity whose emergencies were deemed less emergency-y than Zak's. Elmer had taken Zak's cell phone from his pocket in the ambulance ride over, hoping to find the name and number of the man who had been with Zak at breakfast, since Zak had never mentioned his name. He didn't even know Zak's last name until they had to check his insurance card for admission. But it turned out that Zak was one of those conscientious people who locked their phone with a password, so he could not access Zak's contact list. Obviously Elmer knew what hotel they were staying at, but there was no room booked in Zak's name, so the older gentleman must have paid for it. Everything would have to wait until Zak was alert enough to give Elmer some answers. * * * Marc and Tate spooned on the plush carpeting, staring at the city lights, until Tate passed out. Marc was caught between the bliss of never wanting to move ever again and the urgent desire to take a piss. The piss won, so he pulled his arm out from under Tate's body and steadied himself on his feet. He weaved around the dim and unfamiliar room, bashing his shin into a glass-topped coffee table and stubbing his toe on an andiron before finding the bedroom and, eventually, the bathroom. Marc flipped on the lights and was nearly melted by the brightness. He peeled the extra-large condom from this alien dick he was now sporting and plopped the cum-filled rubber receptacle into a trash can. He spread his arms and planted them against the wall, then straddled the toilet bowl and commenced a two-minute stream of urine which gave him near-orgasmic pleasure. Spent, he didn't even exert the energy to flush and staggered across the room to gaze into the mirror. By this point of the night, he could have seen a vampire reflected back at him and he wouldn't have been surprised -- except that vampires don't have reflections. Or was that werewolves? Whatever. He had become neither Dracula nor the wolfman, merely a musclebound stud with freckled skin, rock-star red hair which now tickled his traps, and a cock that was now hanging limply at six inches. He studied his face and found someone he had lost long ago. His face was the one that was caught in a grimace on his own college ID, but his body was a match for any of hundreds of students who had stared blankly back at him in...what was that class again? What was he thinking? Look at that baby face. No school would let a kid like him teach. Head swimming, Marc wandered back into the bedroom, where he flopped backwards onto the luxurious comforter and sank into a deep sleep. * * * Somewhere around 4am, when the backlog of patients had largely been dealt with, a nurse searched until she found Elmer, who stood up, concerned. "How is he?" "He's finally alert again." "Did he have a heart attack?" "Nope, just bangers and mash. You really need to talk to your friend about his diet. Someone of his age and weight..." The nurse checked her clipboard and was confused. "Must be a typo. The admitting form says he's 24." She laughed at the absurdity and led Elmer back to where Zak was recuperating. If it weren't for the yin/yang tattoo on Zak's saggy shoulder, Elmer might have assumed he had been led to the wrong room. Lying in bed was a balding man with heavy wrinkles on his drooping face and a distended gut pushing the limits of his hospital gown. Elmer approached cautiously and asked how Zak was feeling. Zak shrugged his slight shoulders and stared at Elmer's face, trying to place it. Elmer spoke loudly so he could be understood. "Zak, I know you're tired, but I need to know the name of your friend. The one you came to San Francisco with." Zak's brain seemed to have turned to applesauce overnight, and from the looks of it, so had his muscles. He shrugged again. "No, Zak, I need you to focus. Who's the man you came here with? The man you love?" Zak tried to concentrate. He could almost see the name. "Professor..." "Okay, that's good, he's a professor. But what's his name?" "Professor...Plum?" It was his best guess. Elmer looked to see if any personnel were nearby. When he thought he wouldn't be noticed, he slapped Zak's face. "That's not it. Listen to me, you've got to tell me before it's too late. What is the professor's name?" A blissful expression came to Zak's face. "Professor Marc." "Good, good. Professor Marc what? Marc..." "Henning." Elmer collapsed with relief over the edge of the bed. * * * Tate woke as the scalding sun popped over the east horizon and through the city's high-rises. He shielded his eyes and looked around the room, trying to reconstruct his night. His cock and balls felt raw and empty, but his brain told him they were sacrificed to a worthy cause. He brought himself to his knees first, then eventually stood fully erect, allowing his brain to slosh back into its proper position. He eased his way into the kitchen, but it was too early to shock his body with the sound of grinding fresh coffee. He saw a stranger's clothes lying in a rough line from the window to the sofa. He had dim memories of a cute redhead, but other details were shy at the moment. Through the bedroom door, he noticed a bare foot being hit by a shaft of sunlight and wandered over to get a better look at last night's conquest. "Good morning," he cooed, "time to wake...HOLY SHIT!" The "HOLY SHIT!" alarm brought Marc to full consciousness instantaneously. His eyes popped open as he saw a naked man in his early thirties with bleached blond hair alternately staring away from Marc and furtively glancing back. "You gotta get outta here right now, kid." Kid?, Marc wondered. He hadn't been called that in... "HOLY SHIT!", Marc screamed as he looked down at his pale hairless body. His limbs and torso were frail and virtually muscle-free...and about a foot shorter than he was used to. Long red hair cascaded over his face and halfway down his back. "Oh, god, oh, god," muttered Tate, pacing the room. "This cannot be happening to me again." He pointed to a chest of drawers in the bedroom. "Please just get dressed and get out. There should be clothes that will fit you in the bottom drawer." Within two minutes, Marc was out of the door and on the empty chilly streets of San Francisco at dawn, wearing a Ninja Turtles sweatshirt, Oshkosh B'Gosh overalls and bright red sneakers with Velcro straps. He was carrying an Abercrombie and Fitch shopping bag into which was stuffed all of his adult clothes, all of which were far too big for his twelve-year-old body. He heard the dim sound of music that he could place as being from "Swan Lake"...and then, when it repeated moments later, realized it was his cellphone ringtone coming from the bag. He set it down and rummaged among his clothes until he pulled out his phone. The caller was shown as "Unknown", but he was eager for someone to explain what was going on. "Hello," Marc chirped in a pubescent voice he hadn't heard in 36 years. "Oh fuck," sighed Elmer's voice at the other end. "Is this Marc?" "Yeah, who are you?" "I'm a friend of your buddy Zak. Remember Zak?" Marc kinda did. Seemed like Zak was an older kid. Had big muscles. Made Marc feel kinda funny in his downstairs parts. "Uh-huh?" "You need to meet your buddy Zak. I'm gonna give you an address. Do you have enough money to take a taxi, Marc?" At that moment, a police car pulled over to the curb beside Marc. The window rolled down and a cop asked Marc, "Are you lost?" Marc handed the phone over to the cop, who drove Marc to the address he was given over the phone. The cop wasn't surprised when he got there. He led Marc to the door and knocked as a taxicab arrived. A wheezing, obese older man climbed out of the back seat, wearing tacky shorts and a t-shirt straight from the hospital's gift shop, looking like he'd just had the worst night of his life. He stood on the sidewalk and vaguely recognized this unremarkable storefront. The cop knocked again, and finally an elderly Chinese man opened the door. "Morning, Mr. Lee. Looks like we got a couple of your strays," said the cop. Mr. Lee bowed repeatedly, apologetically. "Yes, yes, very sorry. I will fix. Okay, bye." Mr. Lee led the new arrivals into the shop and locked the door. The old man and the ragamuffin regarded each other curiously from opposite sides of the shop. In the interest of urgency, Mr. Lee skipped the dramatic flourishes that usually accompanied his transformations and knelt down beside the boy. "Very nice watch, little boy. May I see it?" Little Marc was skeptical, but he looked into the old man's kind eyes and believed he could trust him. Just as Mr. Lee had suspected, the little hand pointed to the I and the big hand pointed to the II. These weren't watches, but they were timepieces of a sort. The short hand pointed to decades and the long hand to years, meaning that Marc here was currently 12 years old. He knew that meant the man slumped on the floor across the room must be wearing a timepiece where the decade hand pointed to VI and the year hand was straight up, indicating zero, making his age 60. Mr. Lee sighed with relief that the boy had been found before his timepiece wound all the way back to both hands being at zero. He'd never heard of that occurring, as the watches usually wound to a stop before things became too dire, and he did not wish to learn what would happen in such an event. Mr. Lee spoke gently to Marc. "This will sound silly, but please put on the grown-up clothes." "NO!", shouted Marc, crossing his arms in defiance. Mr. Lee had no time to waste on pleasantries. He grabbed Marc's wrist, pulled out the stem and wound the hands forward. He knew there was a delayed reaction, but he wanted to get it over with as fast as possible so he could get out of the way. When the hands on Marc's timepiece indicated the year 48, Mr. Lee crossed to Zak and checked to make sure that his timepiece had stayed in balance. Sure enough, his timepiece now showed an age of 24. Mr. Lee wound both watches as far as they could go, to speed up the process, but since it had taken more than twelve hours for them to change, it would take a similar amount of time for them to change back. Mr. Lee had much faster methods of changing bodies, but Zak had been dismissive of the bracelets which Mr. Lee had first suggested, so he resorted to the timepieces. Mr. Lee's entire operation worked on the principle of order and balance, with the timepieces representing the concept in perhaps its purest form. Instead of customers giving Mr. Lee some aspect of themselves in exchange for an attribute they would like to acquire, the timepieces allowed this transaction between two people without Mr. Lee's involvement. As soon as the watches were set into motion, the wearer of one timepiece would be transferring his qualities to the other person, and vice versa. If Marc became six years younger, Zak became six years older. For a brief moment last night, they each would have been 36, after which Marc had become the younger of the two. Inevitably, some other traits would transfer along with age, so Marc had become more and more muscular as he became younger, while his flab transferred to Zak. Now that Marc had been reduced to a skinny pre-teen, Zak's body was carrying even more of a load because the mass had to be preserved, it couldn't just disappear. In Mr. Lee's experience, penis size transferred in a similar fashion, but he had assumed Zak regained his girth and length once Marc had gone into reverse puberty sometime last night. Mr. Lee would have happily explained all of this to Zak yesterday if he hadn't bolted from the store. Luckily, Elmer had met Zak and Marc at their hotel, so Elmer knew where to look for them. If Elmer had not been tailing them, looking out for their well-being, the cop arriving at the store this morning might have been much less forgiving. As it was, Mr. Lee had a very friendly relationship with the SFPD, as his particular set of skills frequently came in handy in their investigations. For this reason, his shop was allowed to continue to operate as long as nothing went too horribly askew. Knowing he would be in for a long wait as the men reverted to their true selves, Mr. Lee took a seat behind the counter with a cup of tea and the newspaper and began to work that day's crossword puzzle. * * * Zak stretched his arms, feeling like he had just experienced the longest sleep and weirdest dream of his life. He looked around and realized he was back at the X-Dream Makeover shop. Strangely, he was wearing San Francisco souvenir shorts and a shirt, stretched tight on his muscular body. Marc was seated across the room, covered by a tarp for some reason, with an Abercrombie and Fitch bag beside him. Hearing noise in the front room, Mr. Lee shuffled in from behind a mirror and smiled to Zak. "Good to see you awake, young Zak." "Jeez, what time is it?", Zak asked looking at his weird watch, which again indicated 2:20. Mr. Lee made his way over and unlatched the timepiece from Zak's wrist. "Pay no attention to that. The time is about six o'clock in the p.m." Zak nodded, then realized he had an even bigger question. "What day is it?" Mr. Lee smiled. "It is the day after your birthday." He walked over to Marc, lifted up the tarp and removed his timepiece. He carried both timepieces behind the counter where he placed them back in his jewelry cabinet. Marc woke up and pulled away the tarp from his body. He had regained his former physique, with its skinny limbs and protruding gut, but it was now popping out of the boy's clothes he had arrived in. Zak became convulsed in laughter at the sight of a pre-teen's overalls and Ninja Turtle shirt stretched thin over Marc's body. Marc looked down at his body, then around the shop and asked, "What the hell happened?" Zak scooted across the floor until he was beside Marc. He put an arm around Marc's shoulder. "It all started because I wanted to give you something special and memorable for your birthday." Moments from the past day began to flash through their minds, some pleasant, others uncomfortable or bizarre. Once the cotton candy in their heads went away, their full memories of the day's events would become clear. "You're always so worried that you're too old for me, so I wanted to give you something that would make you feel younger. Based on how you're dressed, maybe we overdid it." Marc stood up and began to pull his adult clothes from the shopping bag. As he started to get dressed, Mr. Lee informed the men, "If you wish, I could still perform a makeover. Make Mr. Marc here younger or stronger? Make Mr. Zak more intellectual?" They considered it, but Marc looked at Zak and shook his head. "No, I think we balance each other out pretty well. This is the guy I want. And I'm afraid he's stuck with me, for better or for worse." That gave Zak an idea. He turned to Mr. Lee and asked, "I don't suppose you could sell us...a couple rings?" Marc froze in place, realizing the implication of Zak's request. He stood on tiptoe and kissed Zak on the lips. Mr. Lee grinned. "Any rings I would sell you would just create more problems. You should go to an ordinary jewelry store. But if you ever reconsider the makeover..." He handed Marc one of his business cards. Mr. Lee ran across the room to unlock and open the door. As Marc and Zak left the shop arm-in-arm, Zak pointed to the card and informed Marc, "Hey, if you do the Jumble of 'Mr. Lee', it spells 'Elmer'!" Mr. Lee closed the door after them and locked it. He returned behind the counter and slipped off his embroidered silk robe. He latched several thin metallic bracelets around his wrist and braced himself for fireworks. Suddenly the frail old man's body exploded with muscle, his wrinkles smoothed out, his mustache grew dark and thin, and his bald head sprouted black hair which Mr. Lee combed straight back. He realized he had forgotten a bracelet, slapped it on and closed his eyes for the ecstatic rush which always accompanied the growth of his penis to a soft six inches. He walked into the back room to select an outfit. He had put in a lot of hours on this last transformation. Time for a relaxing night out. And maybe he'd find someone else who could use the services of Mr. Lee.
  2. Billy Farrow's Night Out

    Mr. Lee had become adept at guessing what his customers wanted before they asked for it, but the man who had just stepped through the front door of his shop was a puzzler. He cut an imposing figure: a muscular six-two, arms crossed, hands tucked under rock-solid biceps. From Mr. Lee's vantage point, the man was a study in blackness, with deep ebony skin, a shaved head, impenetrably dark sunglasses, matching black polo shirt (with no logo of any sort to break up the uniformity), sharply creased dress pants, and thick-soled black boots. Even under normal circumstances, little light filtered through the shop's intentionally grimy windows, but with this man standing between Mr. Lee and the glass, it was like Mr. Lee was caught in the shadow of a solar eclipse. "May I help you?", asked Mr. Lee curiously. "I understand you fulfill unusual requests," said the man in a low, clipped, all-business tone. "How unusual?" "I hear that you can change the human body in ways that most people would consider impossible." "I may have a different definition of impossible than most people." "Let's say, for example, that someone, on short notice, wished to appear older. Or more muscular." To Mr. Lee, the man appeared to be in his early-to-mid-thirties and was extraordinarily fit for a man of any age -- not the sort of customer who would typically ask Mr. Lee for either of these transformations. He added, "I'm asking for a friend." Mr. Lee nodded. Usually someone "asking for a friend" was merely too embarrassed to say they wanted the changes for themselves, but in this case it was plausible -- in fact, more understandable -- than that the man would want such modifications for himself. "Yes, I can do what you ask." The man let down his guard slightly, stepping closer to Mr. Lee and removing his sunglasses -- the whites of his eyes finally providing a contrast from the man's all-black color scheme, although his irises were such a dark brown that they might as well have been black too. His speech patterns retained the staccato rhythms of a military man or police officer, and his tone continued to suggest that the matters they were discussing were of world-shattering importance. "Can you be trusted to maintain the utmost secrecy?" "Of course," said Mr. Lee firmly. "What happens within these walls is private. I never reveal anything about my customers. Even to the police." The man in black allowed himself the slightest of grins, appreciating how Mr. Lee slyly fished for a hint of whether he was being visited by a police officer. The man reached behind him and unclipped a walkie-talkie (black, of course) from the waistline of his pants. "Send in King Joffrey." A black SUV with tinted windows screeched to a halt in front of the shop. The man inside Mr. Lee's shop swiftly swung open the door. A slight figure bounded nimbly from the vehicle, a black hoodie shielding his entire head from view. As soon as the newcomer was inside, his advance man closed the door and the SUV sped off. The man who had been speaking with Mr. Lee looked with concern at the dirt-covered windows which allowed in some light, and could allow outsiders to peer in. "You got any shades on those windows? I don't want any bypassers to see my friend here." Mr. Lee merely raised his hands in the air and the opacity of the windows changed to 100%, leaving the three figures in the shop illuminated solely by a single spotlight shining on the slender figure in the hoodie. "That's awesome," he said in a boyish tenor. "We should work an effect like that into the stage show!" He lowered his hoodie to reveal a youthful man with an enormous, carefully shaped cascade of blond hair. "You gotta tell me the trick." "No trick. Magic. You are a magician, maybe?" "I ain't no magician," the young man scoffed and looked up into the eyes of his protector, who towered over him by a solid six inches. "Dude doesn't even know who I am?" The large man turned to Mr. Lee. "I'm sorry, I should have done the introductions. Mister...Lee, is it? This is Billy Farrow. Perhaps you've heard of him?" "Pleased to meet you, young Mr. Barrow." Mr. Lee preferred to feign ignorance in such cases. If he was thought to be merely an ignorant, out-of-touch old Chinese man, people tended to be more willing to trust his vow of secrecy. But Mr. Lee had grand-daughters, and anyone in America within earshot of a girl between the ages of 9 and 13 was aware of Billy Farrow. He had first gained notice as a precocious 12-year-old by posting Vine videos: a new six-second song every day. This led to his major break the following year as a contestant on the music competition show, "America Wants S'more", in which viewers voted whether to let the singers continue performing or to drop them into a vat of liquid marshmallow. Billy Farrow survived to be the only contestant not "creamed" during his season, and the cult of Billy exploded. His fans were almost exclusively tween girls (who called themselves "Farrow-noids" and whose frenetic outbursts at concerts had been dubbed "Farrow-moans") and twink-loving gay men. Both groups loved him for one simple reason, and it wasn't his music: Billy Farrow was beautiful. In those first crude videos, he was unquestionably cute, but it was the fragile baby-fat cuteness which the horrors of puberty could potentially mangle into something truly unsightly. But by the "AMS" finale, it was obvious that this kid was developing into a fine-featured stunner. His trademark was the Farrow Flop, a swoop of sunkissed blond hair that hung over his right eye all the way down to his elegant cheekbone. Rumors abounded on the internet that he did not actually HAVE a right eye, which merely intensified fans' curiosity. Since it would be such a letdown to reveal that his hidden eye was simply an ordinary eye (albeit one sparkling purple in color, like the other), his manager had decided to maintain the mystery until such time as Billy's fortunes began to wane and he needed to do something dramatic to attract publicity. For a while, Billy tried to come up a signature gesture he could do whenever taking a picture on a red carpet. One such concept consisted of pointing both index fingers at the camera and winking his left eye...but since his right eye was hidden by the Flop, it just looked like his eyes were closed. Billy had recently turned 18 but was retaining his androgynous beauty remarkably well. Hormones had lowered his voice a bit, although he could still hit the high notes of his earliest hits. His fans still adored him and enough were continuing to buy his music rather than steal it that he had become a phenomenally wealthy teenager. His hard-nosed manager, Alan Wiseman, who had leapt aboard the Billy bandwagon after hearing just six seconds of his music, was insistent that Billy would not become another Justin Bieber or Lindsay Lohan or...god, the length of the list he could compile was truly depressing. Therefore, Billy's public image remained unsullied, if a bit whitebread. He spoke of loving his family and steering clear of alcohol and drugs and saving himself until he finds the right person because his life these days was "like bonkers cray-zee with traveling and recording and stuff". Yes, he said "stuff". That's how squeaky clean his public image was. He had been allowed to get his ears pierced, because tween girls thought that was "hot", but tattoos were vetoed after a focus group deemed them "gross" and "too street". But Wiseman was mindful that Billy was now officially an adult and was starting to chafe at some of the restrictions which had helped make both of them very wealthy. That's why, before Billy's frustrated desires had a chance to erupt into some grotesque and embarrassing spectacle that would be all over TMZ, Billy's chief bodyguard, the monumental Reese Boudreaux, had brought Billy to a whispered-about shop near Chinatown while they had a night off between gigs in San Francisco. If the rumors were true, perhaps Billy could have his own equivalent of the Amish tradition of rumspringa and get some of the rebelliousness out of his system. Reese informed Mr. Lee that Billy was a well-known celebrity who had trouble going out in public without being recognized. Fans had managed to see through previous attempts at disguises and mobbed him wherever he went. Mr. Lee nodded. "So you are not looking for a permanent transformation?" "You can do that?", asked Billy, eager to hear more. Reese poured cold water on Billy's enthusiasm. "Yes, sir, just a temporary change. But one that's foolproof enough that no one will realize that it is really Mr. Farrow." Mr. Lee walked behind his counter and opened a cabinet which seemed to be filled with junk jewelry, neatly organized by color. "For a temporary change, I use these bracelets. They allow you to try out a change to see if you like it before you commit to it for good. So, what would you like to change about yourself, Mr. Darrow?" Billy's success had spoiled him, so that he usually was able to get whatever he wanted, but it was beyond his imagination that he would ever be able to make radical changes to his own body as his whims dictated. His first wish came to mind immediately. "I wanna be taller. Like...six foot...two?" His voice went up, as if he was asking for something impossible with his very first request. Mr. Lee was unfazed. As he sorted through his collection, he instructed Billy, "Please remove all of your other jewelry and take off your clothes." Billy shot Reese a leery look, which Reese translated to Mr. Lee. "Why exactly does he need to get undressed?" "He is about to gain six inches of height. I assume he does not want to ruin his nice clothing." Billy didn't need to hear another word. He took several bracelets from his arms, rings from his fingers, and silver hoops from both earlobes, handing them to Reese, who pocketed them for safe-keeping. He then pulled his hoodie and a designer t-shirt over his head, kicked off his Nikes and slithered out of his skinny jeans. He was about to pull down his red silk bikini briefs when Mr. Lee raised a hand. "You can leave those on for now." Billy seemed relieved that he could maintain a slight amount of modesty. He stood in the spotlight in the center of the store, feeling a little chilly. He glanced at himself in a full-length mirror across the room. Despite the best efforts of a full-time personal trainer who toured with him, Billy's 18-year-old body remained scrawny with only the barest hints of muscle tone. At least the full-body tan he'd gotten during his last vacation in the Virgin Islands hadn't entirely faded. Thanks to a private rooftop suite, he managed not to get a tan line, although a sunburn on his penis had led to a jerking-off hiatus of several excruciating days. Mr. Lee handed a slim metallic red bracelet across the counter to Billy. "Please put this on your left wrist and close the clasp." Billy excitedly slid the bracelet up his slender forearm and clasped it together. As the two sides of the bracelet connected, it triggered a surge of energy to shoot through Billy's body like nothing he had ever experienced. Reese looked concerned as Billy cringed in pain, but Mr. Lee assured him, "The pain is very brief, followed immediately by euphoria." Sure enough, Billy smirked, then grinned, then beamed his famed toothpaste-ad-worthy smile as a warm sensation flooded through him. Although his bones were still holding his body erect, he had the sensation that they had turned into gelatin and were morphing into longer shapes. The change was gradual but dramatic as his body grew upward like a vine. His arms dangled loosely from his shoulders and his spindly legs wobbled a bit at the knees before the calcium resolidified and he once again felt sturdy. Billy opened his eyes and laughed like a kid when he discovered he was now staring eye-to-eye with his stoic bodyguard. "Check it out, Reese! I'm as tall as you now!" "Yeah, yeah, very nice, spaghetti boy." He pointed toward the mirror and Billy spun to admire himself, only to be horrified by the sight. If he felt skinny before, he was now basically a skeleton wrapped in skin, with only a thin band of red silk wrapped around the middle. It was like looking in a carnival funhouse mirror at a gawky, emaciated version of himself, but there was nothing wrong with the mirror. Billy spun toward Mr. Lee and made his next request frantically. "Muscles. I gotta have some muscles." Mr. Lee nodded. "How much muscle? On a scale of zero to ten, where ten is your friend Mr. Reese here, and zero is...you." Billy pondered the choice carefully. He didn't need to be a human tank like Reese, but the idea of suddenly becoming as buff as he wanted was making him greedy. "Eight. Wait, no, six." Mr. Lee went to grab the proper bracelet when Billy blurted out, "Seven. We'll go with seven." Mr. Lee's intuition had already led him to grab an orange bracelet. "Seven it is." Billy put on the new bracelet and again, as soon as he closed the loop around his wrist, a jolt of agony was followed by a soothing sensation in his muscle tissue. He kept his eyes open this time and watched the transformation in the mirror. What no amount of time in the gym had been able to accomplish was suddenly happening spontaneously throughout his body. It was as if someone had hooked his body to a bicycle pump and was inflating him. His neck widened to match his broadening shoulders. In the mirror, he was admiring the swell in his pecs when his eyes fell upon his suddenly visible abs and the deepening V below. Extruding from the bottom of his tautly-stretched silk shorts were now bulging quads and calves that would be the envy of anyone on the Tour de France. The little shop seemed even smaller to Billy now and he was delighted to discover that he could extend his long muscular arms and touch the ceiling with his fingertips. He felt incredible, but this he-man still had the smooth face that was known around the world. "You gotta do something about my face." "But your face is so pretty," Mr. Lee smiled. Billy could wretch. "I'm sick of having a 'pretty' face. I wanna be rugged. I wanna be dangerous. I wanna be a MAN." Mr. Lee understood. "How old this man?" Billy thought a moment. "Young enough not to have wrinkles. Old enough not to get carded." Mr. Lee raised his finger, muttering, "I have just the thing." He handed a yellow bracelet to Billy to put on. He braced himself, now fully prepared for that first jolt, then watched his reflection as his facial features contorted themselves beneath his skinn. He nodded approvingly as his bones gained heft, disrupting the soft contours and smooth jawline that his fans loved and turning him into a brooding hunk with thick eyebrows, a sharply angled jawline and a five-o'clock shadow. He rubbed his immense hand across the bristles on his cheek and fingered the depth of his new chin cleft. He smiled, delighted, and noticed that this new face had killer dimples on top of it all. Billy got goosebumps. He knew what had to come next. He ran his hands through the golden avalanche of hair atop his head. "We gotta get rid of this stupid hair." Mr. Lee frowned. "I have only limited hair to choose from. Maybe you go to a barber and ask for exactly what you want?" Billy was thrilled by the thought of a barber giving the chop to the famous Farrow Flop, but Reese intervened. "No, I'm under specific instructions that he has to emerge with his hair intact." Billy had a concert tomorrow night, and there was no way that Wiseman was going to let his star go onstage without his signature coif. Mr. Lee rummaged around before coming up with a green bracelet. "You try this one." Billy snatched the bracelet from Mr. Lee's hand and snapped it on his wrist immediately. It was hypnotic to watch his carefully fashioned hairdo as it seemed to be absorbed back into his scalp. When only a few millimeters of hair remained above the surface of Billy's scalp, the hair suddenly darkened into a black buzz cut. Without the distraction of the Flop, the stunning masculinity of his new face was even more apparent. Billy's excitement at seeing himself modified was escalating. He needed more, and fast. "Body hair!", he snapped, and Mr. Lee forked over a blue bracelet. In moments, Billy had a lush new layer of wall-to-wall carpeting on his arms, chest, abs and legs. Curious, he looked inside his silk undies and was pleased by the dark bush of pubic hair he found there. But it was obvious that one part of his old body had stubbornly resisted any change so far. "I just gotta have a bigger cock." Reese covered his eyes and shook his head. He could never have envisioned a moment like this when he signed onto the security detail for Billy Farrow three years ago. Mr. Lee kept any obvious reaction hidden, but he had expected this moment to come. Seemingly every man who entered his shop walked out with a larger penis. Even if they had other perceived imperfections that they wanted to fix first, they always seemed to tack on "bigger penis" at the end of their requests, as if they were making an impulse buy at the checkout stand of a convenience store. "Yeah, I need a pack of Marlboros, a fifth of Ketel One and...while you're at it, can you toss in a huge fuckin' dong?" And their size demands often demonstrated a lack of basic knowledge of the dimensions of the orifices into which they would be sticking these penises or the limits of haberdashery to properly accommodate such an enormous member. Nevertheless, Mr. Lee always did his best to give his customers what they wanted. "Bigger length or bigger circumference?", asked Mr. Lee. Billy mulled it for a second, then said hopefully, "Both?" It was always both. Mr. Lee handed an indigo bracelet to Billy, who waved it at Reese. "Hey, Reese, look at the size of my cock ring!" His wrist was now getting crowded with all of these narrow bracelets, but he made room for the new one. The intensity of the rush he got from this one startled Billy, as a flood of testosterone swelled his penis and balls to such a massive size that his silk underwear burst into tatters which fell to the floor...and he wasn't even hard. Even Reese was impressed by what Billy was now packing. Reese turned appreciatively toward Mr. Lee. "I think that covers everything. You happy, Billy?" Billy was so entranced as he stared at his new meat dangling halfway down his thigh that he was only able to nod. "You forget one thing," said Mr. Lee. "His voice." Billy and Reese were amazed they hadn't thought of it. Billy's tenor voice was immediately recognizable to his fans, and it also seemed incongrous emerging from the strapping nude man now fondling himself in the middle of the store. Mr. Lee offered a violet bracelet which Reese snapped onto Billy's forearm. "Thanks, man," Billy grunted in a baritone rumble. His eyes widened and he looked up. "Did that come outta me?" He tested his singing abilities with the first line of his biggest hit, "Baby, You're My Baby". He seemed to have retained all of his vocal skills, just in a lower register. He looked at the rainbow of metal rings on his arm and shook his head in amazement. He felt like a new man. Hell, he WAS a new man. Reese leaned on the counter and pulled out his wallet, asking Mr. Lee, "So, how much do we owe you?" "Free trial. When you decide if you want to make any permanent changes, you come back here and return the bracelets, okay?" "How do you know someone won't just run off with the bracelets and never come back?" "You asked if you could trust me. Now I am trusting you. It is a matter of honor." Reese smiled. He liked people who stood by their promises. The towering stud at the center of the room reached across the counter and gave Mr. Lee a firm handshake. "This is a miracle, Mr. Lee. Thank you so much." Mr. Lee nodded humbly. "Don't mention it." Reese shot back with a grin, "Don't you mention it either, Mr. Lee." Billy started walking toward the front door when both Mr. Lee and Reese shouted simultaneously, "Stop!" Billy looked puzzled until Reese gestured toward Billy's body. "If the goal here is not to be noticed, going outside like that is a bad way to start." Billy was so comfortable in his new skin, he had completely forgotten that he was totally naked. * * * In the back room of Mr. Lee's shop, Billy grabbed some clothes that fit his new body, but the selection of hand-me-downs from Mr. Lee's previous clients was less than spectacular. He chose an apparently authentic Lakers jersey bearing the name "RODMAN", camouflage khakis and a pair of size-14 work boots just so he could get out the door, but once they got into the van, Billy told Reese the name of a trendy clothing store he wanted to visit. Their driver took them to the store and Billy waited for Reese to open the SUV's door for him. Out of habit, Reese stepped out and slid the door open. Billy peeked out cautiously, then out of habit, rushed toward the store to avoid being mobbed. Reese laughed and yelled, "Hey, slow down, big guy!" Billy stopped on the sidewalk and turned back to Reese, who whispered loudly enough to be heard over the traffic, "Nobody recognizes you." Billy took a moment to let this sink in. After living his life for years with the knowledge that fans or paparazzi could pop up at any moment, he hadn't truly realized how liberating it would feel to be ignored. Reese motioned for the SUV driver to find a place to park, then strode over to the sidewalk, planning to enter the store with Billy, who always delegated the actual dirty work of spending money to Reese, Wiseman or someone else in his entourage. Noticing Reese side-by-side and shoulder-to-shoulder with him, Billy stopped. "Let me go in by myself, okay?" Reese nodded. Giving Billy a break from the routine was the whole point of this experiment. He didn't need Reese tagging along to look after him. "You're gonna need some money." Reese pulled out his wallet and gave Billy a couple thousand bucks. "Can I have more?" Reese figured $2,000 should be enough to buy some new clothes, but then the stores Billy Farrow shopped in were a bit pricier than the ones that clothed Reese Boudreaux. He removed the rest of the cash from his wallet and handed it to Billy, with the instructions, "Call me on your cell phone if you need anything." "Okay, Dad." Billy winked his left eye at Reese and shot him two upraised middle fingers. The whole world seemed different to Billy now, like he was suddenly looking at it in 3D. He then realized that after years of having that damn Farrow Flop blocking his right eye, he actually HADN'T been seeing the world in 3D since he was thirteen. That alone made this transformation, however temporary, worthwhile. Reese stood on the sidewalk, feeling like he was watching Billy take his first steps as a man. It warmed his heart almost as much as when he had seen his own daughters take their first steps many years ago. They were now twelve and nine, firmly in the Billy Farrow demographic, so Reese was like a god to them. Well, actually, Billy was like a god to them, but their dad got to work for god, and that earned him major brownie points. It almost made up for the ribbing he took from his former colleagues when he took the gig "babysitting" Billy. Reese used to be a cop with the San Francisco Police Department, but he had to resign when the nagging knee injury he got playing college football began to cause him major grief and hamper his effectiveness on the force. Fortunately, the position on the Billy Farrow security detail came along. At first, he took the gig because it seemed cushy and the pay was good enough to cover his child-support and, until his ex remarried, alimony payments. But as the years progressed, he had truly come to like Billy and tolerate his music. Frankly, given the circumstances, it was a miracle that Billy hadn't turned into an industrial-strength douche. Reese tried to imagine what it would be like to have been famous since the age of twelve, to constantly be fawned over, to have every whim catered to, to never hear the word "no". Even Reese and the rest of the security team were guilty of coddling him, taking it easy when Billy would challenge them to play basketball. They let him believe he was kicking their asses when they actually could have creamed him if they weren't worried that he could have them all fired. Not that Billy would do that. Despite the code name of "King Joffrey" that security had given him, Billy was generous and friendly to everyone he worked with. So when Reese heard rumors from his old buddies on the police force that there was a mysterious shop near Chinatown that performed miraculous transformations, Reese was the one who pitched Alan Wiseman on giving Billy a day of anonymity as his reward for years of hard work, dedication and toeing the line. Reese paced on the sidewalk outside the clothing store for close to an hour. He knew how particular Billy was with his clothing, so he must be having a great time playing dress-up with a brand new body. Even so, Billy had never needed to fend for himself in the real world, having been under the wing of Wiseman for almost a third of his life. Perhaps Billy could use Reese's assistance but was too proud to ask for it. Reese wandered in, pretending to look at the clothes, even though one shirt from this store would probably cost a month of Reese's pay. A salesman swooped over to ask Reese if he needed any help. Not spotting Billy anywhere in the store, he asked, "I'm looking for a friend. Little white guy. Well, actually, he's about my height...now." The salesman's eyes lit up. He most certainly did remember that gentleman. "Yes, I think he took several outfits to the back to try on." Reese smiled appreciatively and made his way to the dressing rooms. Reese startled a sad-eyed middle-aged man who was trying on a leather thong, but most of the other dressing rooms were empty. The final one had a locked door. Reese knocked and whispered Billy's name, but got no answer, so he knelt down, wincing as he put pressure on his bum knee. Stared through the gap below the door, he couldn't see any legs, but he did see the clothes Billy had worn from Mr. Lee's shop strewn about the floor. Reese asked if the salesman could unlock that dressing room for him. "Official business," said Reese with enough authority that the salesman was too afraid to ask what kind of official Reese was. The salesman fumbled for the right key. Finally, the door swung open and the dressing room was empty. On a chair, Reese found Billy's wallet with an I.D. and credit cards, a stack of cash (with a note to the store attached that said "Thanks for the outfit"), and Billy's cell phone. On the screen of the phone was an unsent text message: "Hey Reese, Smell ya later, BF." Reese asked the salesman, "You got a back door?" The salesman pointed and Reese ran outside, limping on his aching knee. Billy was nowhere in sight. * * * "He escaped?" Alan Wiseman was apoplectic even in the best of times. Right now, you could take his pulse simply by looking at the veins trying to leap out of his sunburnt forehead. Alan was completely bald, just like Reese, although in Reese's case it was a style choice, not a genetic inevitability. Reese hobbled along the sidewalk, furious at himself but more furious at Billy. He had to hold the phone several inches away from his head to prevent Wiseman's screaming on the other end from bursting his eardrums. Across town, Wiseman paced in a frenzy around his hotel room. "I knew this crazy idea of yours was a risk, but I thought you were gonna keep tabs on him." "I was just trying to give the kid some space. How can he relax if he's got a bodyguard breathing down his neck the whole time?" Wiseman countered, "Well, how can I relax knowing that the kid whose career I fucking built, who pays all of our fucking salaries, and who has a concert tomorrow fucking night is wandering around this city in some unrecognizable fucking body?" "I thought I had taken appropriate measures," Reese explained. "I put a GPS tracker on his cell phone, but he left the phone behind in the dressing room at the clothing store. Plus I had another GPS tracker sewn into his underwear." "He left that in the dressing room too?" "Uh...no, sir. The underwear actually...burst into pieces." "How does underwear burst into fucking pieces?" "Sir, that happened when, uh...when his cock...roughly tripled in size." Wiseman beat his head against the window, looking down at the city. "Fuckin' San Francisco. Okay, get back here to the hotel. You and I are going to scour his room for clues as to where he might have gone. But as far as anyone else knows, everything is normal. Billy is just down with a twenty-four hour bug and is staying in bed all day." "Yes, sir. I'm on my way," said Reese, hanging up his phone. The SUV pulled over to pick him up. Reese ordered the driver to take him back to the hotel. "We gonna pick up Billy?" Reese turned to the driver excitedly. "You know where Billy is?" The driver looked puzzled. "I thought we left him back at that shop in Chinatown." Reese sagged, then tried to cover. "Ah, right. No, he took a taxi back to the hotel already. He wasn't feeling himself today." "Aw, poor kid," said the driver. "What about that guy we dropped off here?" "Wha...? Oh. No, he's gone too." "That's too bad," the driver said, pulling into traffic. "He was fuckin' hot." When he arrived at the hotel, Reese went straight to Billy's room. He tapped lightly on the door and Wiseman let him in. "Find anything?", he asked Wiseman. Wiseman yelled, "I don't even know what I'm fucking looking for." Reese shushed him. "Stop panicking. Everything will be fine. At least until a mysterious body is found floating in the bay." Wiseman was in no mood for jokes. "Don't even kid about that." At five-six and two-fifty, Wiseman was a heart attack waiting to happen, so Reese should have known not to raise his ire further. But sometimes it was a fun game to poke Wiseman with a stick just to see how outraged he could become. Reese risked getting down on his bad knee again to look under Billy's bed. There, he found a baggie containing a small amount of pot and some ecstasy, which Reese was frankly surprised Billy hadn't taken with him. Even further under the bed was a laptop. That was strange, thought Reese, since Billy already had a laptop lying above the sheets of his unmade bed. This second laptop was just within reach of Reese's fingertips. He snagged a corner and dragged it out, then carried it over to a desk where he booted it up and began to search through the files. Wiseman hovered over his shoulder and asked, "Finding anything?" Reese wasn't a computer whiz, but he did have some training from his days on the force. "Most of the files look encrypted to me. We'd have to bring in someone who knows what they're doing to crack those, and I'm not sure you want to bring in any outsiders on this. Looks like there are some video files in this folder. Let me click on one." Suddenly the screen was filled with amateur-shot footage of two men in a bed. The larger, beefier man was wearing leather and pounding the bejesus out of the ass of a younger, slimmer man. Wiseman cringed and looked away, until he had a thought that made his temples throb. "Please tell me that kid's not Billy." Reese squinted at the grainy footage. The young man being rammed sure didn't look like Billy, although he definitely qualified as a pretty young thing. Reese clicked on another file, which was a different video with the same basic subject matter and lack of plot. The younger man in that footage also did not look familiar. Just to be sure, he checked a few more of the files. "Doesn't seem to be Billy in any of these. But I guess we know what Billy's been watching all those nights when we thought he was playing 'Grand Theft Auto'." * * * Billy felt a little guilty about running away from Reese like that, since Reese was such a stand-up guy. But as soon as he heard the crazy idea of giving him some free time in another body, Billy had been making plans for what he would do in the unlikely case that this bizarre transformation actually worked. Once he turned 18, Billy had been using his secret second laptop to set up bank accounts under other names around the world, accounts that only he had access to and which Wiseman knew nothing about. He slipped some of the debit cards from those accounts into his wallet this morning, then took them with him when he escaped from the clothing store. Those, combined with the cash he'd gotten off Reese, ought to get him through the evening's adventures. Now he was sitting in a sidewalk cafe, running up a tab on a card bearing the name "Liam Fortune", and truly relaxing for the first time in months...maybe years. Just knowing that Wiseman had to be freaking out somewhere and that, for once, Billy didn't need to hear it, was almost a vacation in itself. He was determined to take advantage of the amazing opportunity he had been given. He leaned back with his feet propped on another chair, wriggling his toes in the flip-flops he'd picked up at the clothing store, luxuriating in the feeling of stretching his long and powerful legs. The shiny, neon-colored outfits that Billy characteristically wore would have looked bizarre on the sturdy and studly Liam Fortune, not to mention too attention-getting, so he went casual. He wore a black silk vest with no shirt underneath, allowing him to display enticing hints of the newly acquired pelt of body hair on his newly acquired broad chest. Relaxed black jeans covered his legs and his massive junk, which was riding commando down his right pantleg. Billy had never cared for the taste of beer before, but right now it tasted like freedom. And it really showed off the rock-hard peak of his biceps whenever he tilted back the bottle for another swig. He had been checking out the redhead two tables over for the past ten minutes, and felt no need to be subtle about it. For years, he'd never managed more than subtle glances and coy smiles that led nowhere, as his whole career might be in jeopardy with even the slightest hint to his mobs of tweenage admirers that not only did they not have a chance with their dream boy, but that no one with their type of genitals did. Finally, the redhead rose from his table and headed directly toward Billy's table. Billy's heart raced and he thought about standing up and asking the boy if he was interested in hooking up, but he felt like Liam was more the type to kick back and let the ginger beg for the opportunity -- hell, the honor -- of betting fucked. Billy/Liam took a healthy mouthful of beer just as the redheaded boy walked past. Under his breath, he blurted out, "I did see you looking at me, and I'm very flattered, but I'm afraid you're too old for me." Liam burst into a laugh, spewing his beer explosively across his chest. He sat up, dabbing away the beer and foam from his chest hair and his vest with a napkin. The redhead was easily five years older than Billy in reality, but "Liam" must look to him like an ancient man...of 27 or 28. Billy was starting to make a distinction between his brain, which still felt like Billy, and his new body, which seemed more like a Liam, although even that dividing line was becoming less clear the more he drank. Liam was definitely the one craving more beer, so he signaled the waitress to bring another as his eyes began to roam again. A seriously cute bike messenger in a white tank and royal blue bicycle shorts was waiting for the light to change and scoping out Liam's body approvingly. Liam's cock began to stiffen in his pants as he studied the curve of the bicyclist's ass. He pointed both index fingers at the messenger and gave him his standard wink. The biker snorted a chuckle at the corny move and weaved back into traffic. Billy was puzzled. He was so used to everyone who he encountered being awestruck just to be in his presence. Even with all the obvious merits of this designer body, it seemed like Billy would have to work harder to get Liam laid. At the moment, though, Liam was starting to get hungry. Although he had passed through San Francisco on tour several times, Billy had always been driven wherever he needed to go and usually got his meals from room service or backstage at the concert. He paid for his beers and set out on foot to explore the city and search for a restaurant. He quickly discovered that flip-flops weren't the wisest choice for tromping up and down the city's hills, so he handed them to a homeless man and entered the Nike Town store barefoot. One of the staff stopped him at the door. "You can't come in here without shoes, sir." Billy chuckled at being called "sir", then told the employee that he was here to buy shoes. "The fact that I don't have shoes is exactly why I need to buy shoes." Billy was accustomed to dressing however he wanted, wherever he wanted. The last time he had shopped here, they had opened the store for him after hours by special request and he came in wearing nothing but sweat pants. When the employee stood firm and threatened to call her manager, Billy went outside and asked the homeless man if he could have his flip-flops back. The man clutched them in his arms and refused to hand them over, so Billy offered to buy them. Reaching into his pocket, he discovered that he had nothing but hundred-dollar bills. It was unlikely that the homeless guy would have any change, so he gave him a Benjamin for the flip-flops, then returned to Nike Town and bought a pair of Air Jordans...and a second pair that he gave to the homeless guy on his way out. Billy usually demanded nothing more than the junkiest of junk food, but Liam seemed to be craving a thick, rare steak. He spotted an upscale steak house and headed inside, only to be halted at the door again. The place had a dress code, and a silk vest, jeans and basketball shoes was not one of the approved ensembles. Instead of arguing, Billy decided to stick with what he knew and found the nearest McDonald's, where he wolfed down three Big Macs, two large fries and two large shakes before Liam was sated. The tables near him were occupied by young girls who probably had Billy Farrow posters on their bedroom walls, but they didn't waste a second glance on Liam. Give them a few years and they would appreciate the assets Liam had on display, but for now they were only obsessed with things that were cute. Their nonstop jabber about cute boys and cute clothes and cute backpacks while they shot cute selfies was giving Billy acute nausea. He was tempted to ask the girls what they thought of Billy Farrow, but didn't want to seem like some kind of perv. Little did they know how safe they were from his advances. Billy returned to the street, slapping his tight abs with satisfaction after his meal. He knew what his next destination would be, but had no clue how to get there. He asked a passing police officer how to get to the Castro. The friendly cop offered detailed directions, and even suggested a couple of clubs he might check out. Billy could have hailed a cab if he had known how to do it. Instead, he followed the stranger's directions and ran there. His old body had great stamina for cardio, which undoubtedly kept him so skinny and helped him through a heavily choreographed ninety-minute concert several nights a week. But Liam's powerful muscles gave him a true runner's high as he pounded the pavement in a three-mile sprint to the neighborhood where he hoped to pick up the pace of this evening's events. Pumped and musky from the run, yet amazingly not short of breath, Billy unbuttoned his vest and walked into the first gay bar he found. His stomach churned with excitement and half-digested Mickey D's at the thrill of entering forbidden territory for the first time, but unlike at the stores he visited, no one here stopped Liam from entering because of the way he was dressed. For the first time since the changes, he started to feel the familiar sensation of attracting the immediate attention of strangers just by walking into a room. They may not have known who he really was, but the clientele of this establishment were definitely fans of the man who he was tonight. Billy was so used to strangers approaching him that he discovered he was surprisingly inept in the art of initiating a conversation. Also, he knew the type of guy who turned him on, and none of the other drinkers here seemed to fit that template. The closest match was the bartender, a clean-cut athletic type with no shirt and Greek Letters tattooed on his left pec. After a shot of Jagermeister (possibly a mistake, Billy thought) and another beer, Liam's tongue became looser. He pointed to the bartender's chest. "So, are you from Greece?" The jock laughed and said they were the letters of his frat. Billy hit his forehead with his fist, annoyed with his stupidity. He informed the bartender that he had played Greece recently. "You played Greece? Like, in what, soccer?" Billy realized that Liam needed to be less accurate in his descriptions. Unlikely as it might be in this body, he didn't want to tip anyone off to the fact that they were really talking to Billy Farrow. "I mean I traveled there. I traveled all over Europe." "Cool. Were you studying abroad?" "If I wanted to study a broad, would I be in a bar like this?" The bartender groaned. "Walked right into that one, didn't I?" Liam's lips curled into a seductive grin as he continued to survey the bartender's well-toned body. After a bit more chit-chat, he gestured for the bartender to lean in closer, lowered his voice and asked, trying to be clever, "When do you get off? Work, I mean." The bartender had dealt with this situation countless times and knew just how to dash a customer's hopes gently. First, he assured Liam that he took it as a compliment, and he understood that he was probably sending mixed messages by standing shirtless in a gay bar, but he was in fact straight with a great fiancee. "But I can't imagine a guy like you has any trouble finding new friends in your travels." "More trouble than you'd think." That was definitely Billy talking, as he drained his beer. This adventure was going south fast. "Well, don't make any sudden moves, but if you like the way I look, there's a guy who came in about five minutes ago who's been doing nothing but staring at you since he walked in. Look casually at eight o'clock." Billy was getting drunker and his thoughts sillier. "Eight o'clock? Can't I look sooner?" The bartender groaned and told Liam to check over his left shoulder. Liam swiveled his stool to the left and tried not to be too obvious, but it was clear who the bartender meant. Sitting alone on a stool at a tall table was an adorable guy with lightly tanned skin, wearing a white muscle shirt, jean shorts and cowboy boots. His shaggy brown hair with highlights hung in bangs across his forehead. Looking extremely bored, he hopped down from his stool and crossed the room to the jukebox, allowing Liam to admire the grace with which his lithe body moved. Like a gymnast. Or one of the many sexy backup dancers who Billy never risked getting to know better. Or one of the taut-muscled bottoms in the dom/sub videos he secretly liked to watch at night on his private laptop. Liam was still hesitating, so the bartender handed him another shot of Jager. "This one's on me. To apologize if I led you on." Liam slammed the shot, placed the glass upside down on the bar, and summoned the courage to walk over to the jukebox. He liked the way this boy's firm tight ass filled out those shorts and the shape of his legs approached perfection. One of his cowboy boots was crossed behind the other, calling attention to his sculpted calves as he leaned on the jukebox and pondered his selections. Liam moved closer and pretended to look at the song titles as well, but he was furtively checking out the young man, who was having trouble concealing a smirk. "See anything you like?" Liam answered with a drawn-out "mmm-hmmm" which left no doubt that he wasn't thinking about what songs were on the jukebox. The kid (who technically had to be older than the real Billy just to get in the door here legally) pressed a couple of buttons and waited for his selection to play. Billy expected to hear something by Lady Gaga or Kesha or, based on the young man's footwear, some country song, but the jukebox began to blast Ray Charles's "Unchain My Heart". The agile young man stepped away from the jukebox and began to gyrate to the upbeat music. Billy watched him admiringly. The guy was clearly not a professional dancer, but he had good intuitive moves. The young dancer cast his pale blue eyes on Liam's violet eyes. "You gonna join me, or are you just gonna watch, big man?" Liam was definitely getting bigger the longer he watched. He scooted across the floor in his basketball shoes. All the drinks he'd been consuming had added sloppiness to his dance moves, but his new dance partner nodded approvingly. He shouted over the music, "What's your name?" The name "Billy" was just about to cross his lips when something made him realize the mistake he was about to make. Instead, he said "Liam". When the word came out, it just felt right. This was going to be Liam's night. Billy was just along for the ride. "Hey, Liam. I'm Todd. My friends call me Todd the Rod. Or Todd the Wad. Or Todd the Bod. Or Todd the Odd." "And which do you prefer?" "Todd the God," he smirked. "I agree," Liam shouted over the music. They danced without further conversation. Liam enjoyed being so close to Todd and was ogling him without shame or hesitation. Todd's shirt clung tight to his skin, so Liam could make out his general contours, but he was sure he'd appreciate the additional details that would be visible once the shirt came off. The song faded out and Todd eyed Liam. "What next?" Liam's mind was swimming with possibilities, which Todd dashed with a grin. "What SONG do you want to hear next?" Todd waggled his hips exaggeratedly as he crossed back to the jukebox. Liam followed like he was on a leash. Wait, wasn't he supposed to be the one in control tonight? He leaned his hands on the jukebox, surveying his options. "Holy shit!", he thought as he noticed that "Forever Girl", one of his own hits, was on the jukebox. He selected it and, as the opening notes kicked in, launched into a sloppy version of the introductory dance step he performed to open the song during every concert. Todd watched Liam's moves and shook his head. "What, you don't like my choreography?" Todd shrugged. "Guess I'm not a huge Billy Farrow fan." Liam stopped in his tracks and became a little agitated. "Why? What's the matter with him?" Todd leaned back against the jukebox, surprised by Liam's intensity. "Chill out. What, are you the president of his fan club or something?" Liam realized he needed to take down his attitude a notch, and not take it so personally. "I just think he's really talented. For a kid." "He's definitely cute, if that's what you're into. And he can sing, no question. But that hair of his is a joke. And his songs..." Todd stopped before he got too wrapped up in his tirade. "No, tell me, what about his songs?", asked Liam in more measured tones, his curiosity growing. "They're just so antiseptic. It's all a bunch of generic bubble-gum nonsense. Ray Charles, you could hear in his voice that the man had lived. You get the feeling Billy Farrow's never had a real emotion in his life." Liam leapt vehemently to Billy Farrow's defense. "He's got emotions..." Whoa, a little strong there, buddy. Back off. "...I'm sure." That's better. "Maybe he's just so isolated from the real world that he's not as experienced as he'd like to be. But look at all he's accomplished. He sold twenty million albums before he turned eighteen. What had Ray Charles done by that age?" "Went blind, for one," Todd said calmly. Liam had to laugh, realizing that he may have gotten too worked up over the subject, and that Billy Farrow, talented as he was, was no Ray Charles. Certainly not yet. "You got me." "Is that a promise?" Todd moved closer to Liam with a grin on his face, hips swaying to the beat of the song. Maybe he was more into this Billy Farrow song than he was letting on. He took Liam's hands and guided them toward Todd's hips. Liam had a four-inch height advantage on Todd, but they didn't seem like an odd pair. Todd pointed to the nine bracelets around Liam's left forearm. "Those are nice." "Thanks, I just got them today. Actually, I got all of this today," he said with a gesture that he meant for Todd to understand as "this entire wardrobe", although lurking in the back of his brain, Billy secretly meant "this entire body". As Billy Farrow's recorded voice faded out, Liam strode over to the jukebox to make another selection, but Todd took his hand. "If you really feel like dancing, there are better places than this dump. Come on." Even after admiring the definition of Todd's compact muscles, he was surprised how strong the shorter man was. He nearly dislocated Liam's arm yanking him toward the door. Soon Todd had led him to a building up the street which looked unimpressive from the outside. The youthful-looking Todd was asked for an I.D., but Todd whispered something to the bouncer, who nodded and let him pass. Liam was just waved through, as if his age was obvious. The vast space inside the building was filled with fog and spotlights and thumping noise and men and sweat. Billy had performed in plenty of venues this size early in his career, but the dominant noise was high-pitched screaming and the crowds were much younger and monolithically female. Billy might have been overwhelmed (and swamped by admirers) if he had wandered in here, but Liam seemed prepared to handle it. Todd had worked his way to the bar and brought back two beers. He handed one to Liam and proposed a toast. "To new and interesting experiences." They clinked bottles and drank. "Follow me," said Todd, dragging Liam behind him as he maneuvered across the tightly packed dance floor to the DJ booth. Todd climbed up and had a shouted conversation with the DJ that Liam couldn't make out over the pounding music. The DJ shook his head at Todd's request, and Todd returned to Liam dissappointed. "What's the matter?," Liam asked. "I wanted to surprise you and get up on one of the dance poles, but he said they're for the professional dancers only. Insurance reasons or something." Liam would certainly be interested in seeing what contortions Todd's limber body could do on a stripper pole. He decided to test his dominance by walking over to the DJ and making his own argument...in the form of cash. Liam returned to Todd victoriously. "Apparently, for a thousand dollars, insurance reasons can go fuck themselves." The DJ gestured for Todd to come up onstage as the current song faded and made an announcement. "We've got a special treat for all you sexy, sexy boys tonight. Stepping up to shake his gorgeous ass on the silver pole, we have..." Off-mic, he asked the dancer for his name again. The DJ misheard and announced, "Todd the Cod!" Todd smirked at Liam and shrugged a "Whatchagonnadoaboutit?" He peeled his sweaty shirt off his torso, to the approving roar of the crowd -- the deep bellow from Liam being the loudest and most enthusiastic of all. Todd tauntingly unbuttoned his shorts, but left them on, as well as his cowboy boots. He took hold of the pole and waited for the music to begin. The music sounded extremely familiar to Liam, yet he couldn't immediately place it. The hook kicked in and he realized it was a remix he'd never heard before of "I'm Your Boy", the first single by a very young and very high-pitched Billy Farrow. The DJ got a few catcalls, but most of the crowd was delighted or at least amused for nostalgic reasons. Liam couldn't help but wonder how many of the men in this room had first realized they were gay when they saw pretty little Billy Farrow on "America Wants S'more". Todd leapt in the air and suspended himself with one knee wrapped tightly around the pole as his arms swung free. Damn that skinny boy could move. The crowd was enjoying his performance tremendously, and Liam (actually, in this case, more Billy than Liam) felt left out. That was HIS song being played. Much as he was enjoying watching Todd gyrate, he craved some attention too. He stepped over to the DJ and asked to borrow his mic. Liam's cash supply was getting perilously low, but another hundred persuaded the DJ to surrender the mic. While everyone's eyes were still focused on Todd's acrobatics, Liam's deep sexy croon came over the speakers in a perfectly harmonized duet with squeaky little Billy Farrow. One of the spotlights found Liam in the darkness at the edge of the stage, where he started to move. Between the alcohol in his system and the bulkiness of his new body, Liam's moves weren't nearly as slick as Billy Farrow's would be, but he was still an impressive hoofer. As the crowd egged him on, Liam pulled his vest slowly off one shoulder, then off the other and flung it into the crowd. He reached the chorus and bellowed "I'm Your Boy" directly at Todd, who was currently suspended upside down on the pole, his face at Liam's eye level. Liam walked over and kissed Todd's upside-down lips, and the crowd went berserk. Billy Farrow's anthem of puppy love suddenly took on a whole new meaning, especially for Billy Farrow himself. When the song ended, the crowd cheered boisterously. Liam carried Todd offstage in his strong arms, stopping at the booth to ask the DJ where he'd gotten that version of the song. The DJ said it was his own remix, and Liam complimented him on how great it sounded. Liam stepped down from the stage, remarking on how light Todd felt in his arms. Todd giggled and seemed to be contemplating the wisdom of his next move before committing to giving Liam another kiss. Their tongues connected between their parted lips and the kiss continued far longer than either of them had expected. When they finally separated, Todd asked, "What do you want to do next?" Liam knew what he REALLY wanted to do next, but he was having such a good time, he hated to leave the club so soon. The two stuck around for another hour, dancing in the middle of the crowd as one man after another made their way over to praise both Liam and Todd for their performances. Todd's face seemed to be blushing permanently, while Liam's heart was warmed by the praise. Billy Farrow had never gotten good reviews from critics, and he had reached the point where he never knew if he could trust the opinions of his fans or his entourage, because everyone seemed to have a reason to suck up to him. Even factoring in that a few of these people could be bullshitting in hopes of getting into Liam's pants, most of these compliments seemed entirely genuine. Eventually, Liam and Todd left the club, both bare from the waist up. Liam wrapped his meaty arms around his smaller companion to keep him warm. "What now?", Todd asked. Liam's booze-soaked brain came up with what seemed like a great idea. "Let's steal a cable car!" "Calm down there, big guy. Why don't we go to Coit Tower and look at the city lights?" "Mmm, that sounds romantic. How do we get there?" "If you don't mind riding behind me, we could take my motorcycle." "Holy shit, you got a motorcycle?" Billy's youthful excitement had momentarily overwhelmed Liam's reserve. Wiseman had absolutely refused to let Billy get a motorcycle for fear of that Billy might get in an accident, doing irreparable harm to his career...and to Wiseman's bank account, Billy always added mentally. Rounding a corner near the bar where they met, Liam saw a late model Harley-Davidson parked on the street and resisted the temptation to drool. "I've only got the one helmet," said Todd. "So, if you ride with me, we'd technically be breaking the law. I don't know if we should risk it." Liam gave his answer by straddling the bike's seat. "Get on, babe. I'll handle any cops." Amused, Todd wriggled his way onto the seat in front of Liam, his compact butt fitting snugly between Liam's spread legs. Todd tightened the strap on his helmet and roared the engine. Todd could feel Liam's giant cock pressing hard against his right ass cheek. He steered the bike into traffic and set them on a course for Coit Tower. Halfway there, he leaned back and shouted, "You steer. I'll tell you where to turn." Liam removed his arms from around Todd's waist and placed his hands upon the handlebars. Despite all his fame and all the celebrities he had met, Billy Farrow had never felt as full of life as he did right now. They reached the top of Telegraph Hill and sat together on the grass in Pioneer Park. After thirty seconds of marveling at the panoramic view, Liam rolled Todd back on the grass and they began to make out. Liam's erection seemed to have been in a constant state of getting harder and bigger since the first moment he met Todd, and he knew he needed release soon. As he began to kiss Todd, he became short of breath and light-headed as his backlog of cum urgently pumped its way into his pants. Liam slid his bare chest across Todd's as he rocked back and forth in coordination with his ejaculations. When the surging finally stopped after emptying what seemed like a liter of jizz, Liam collapsed like dead weight atop Todd. Todd was more amused than upset. Having flashbacks to the movie "Weekend at Bernie's", Todd managed to lug Liam to the motorcycle and prop him up on the seat. With Liam's furry chest pressed onto Todd's bare back, the motorcycle slowly wound through the city streets. Todd found a cheap hotel and got a room, dragging Liam to bed and undressing him before collapsing with fatigue himself. * * * Billy woke up to the faint sound of something vibrating. At first, the noise seemed to be inside his head, which felt like it had been stuffed with cotton during the night. As he cracked open his eyelids and saw the naked hairy body stretched out on the bed before him, the events of the previous night began to filter into his head. A smile crept across his lips as he looked at the jumbo cock laying heavily atop his granite abs. He could get used to the sight of "Liam's" body first thing every morning. But how had he gotten here? And where was that cute guy from last night? The buzzing sound hadn't stopped, and Billy realized it must be his second phone vibrating in the jeans that were folded neatly on a chair. He wasn't as hungover as he might have expected given everything he drank last night, but it was still a struggle for him to slide off the bed and extract the phone from his pants pocket. He looked at the screen, which indicated that the caller was blocked. But who could even have this number? No one knew this phone existed. Billy thought of ignoring the call, but his curiosity was too strong. He answered it. "Yeah?" Oh, that's right, he remembered upon hearing his husky new voice again. "Good morning. Is this the fugitive?" It was Reese. "How did you get this phone number?", Billy asked, peeking through the drapes to see if anyone was spying on him from outside. "I have connections. Don't forget, I used to be a cop here. So, you had your fun. Are you ready to come back to reality?" Billy stared admiringly at the reflection of his body in a mirror on the wall, rubbing the heavy stubble on his cheeks, then letting his hand slide down his hairy torso and finally onto his cock. "You know what? Tell Wiseman I'm not sure I'm coming back. Ever." Reese sighed. "Then we're gonna have a situation. If you don't come back soon, people are gonna start to wonder what happened to Billy Farrow." "Tell the world that Billy died. In a fiery motorcyle wreck. He could only be IDed by his hairdo." Billy brushed his hand across his bristly buzz cut, loving that he could climb out of bed and not need to spend 45 minutes gelling "the Flop" into shape. "I've got money stashed away. I've got enough money for a normal person to live on the rest of his life." "You're kidding yourself, Billy. In a week, you'll be begging to get your old life back. You knew going in that this was a one-night deal, only you didn't hold up your end. You know how much Wiseman reamed me out for letting you escape?" "I never meant to get you in trouble, Reese. You've always been super-nice to me. But I can't give up this body. I'm enjoying it too much" "You have a concert to perform in twelve hours. You have obligations. Trust me, we will find you, the same way I found this phone number." Billy realized that Reese was probably right. Wiseman was not going to let Billy simply walk away from his lucrative career. Billy suddenly had a brainstorm. "I know, tell Wiseman he can manage the new me. I've still got my voice, only it's a lot sexier now. And every once in a while, I can take off the bracelet that lowered my voice and record a 'lost' Billy Farrow album that Wiseman can release posthumously!" There were several seconds of silence from Reese's end. "Get serious, Billy. Tell me where I can find you and we'll go back to Mr. Lee's store and put everything back in order." Billy thought it over. He simply was not ready to surrender his new freedom. "No deal, Reese." Billy hung up, opened a window and flung his phone into the street, where a car promptly ran over it, grinding it to bits. Billy felt liberated. He also desperately needed to take a leak. He stepped into the bathroom and sighed with almost orgasmic pleasure as he pissed. When he heard the door to the hotel room opening, his piss stopped flowing. Could that be Reese? He felt completely vulnerable, standing naked, so he grabbed a bath towel and wrapped it around his waist. If he needed to, he would fight Reese for his freedom. Reese might be a tower of muscle, but Liam's body gave Billy at least a fighting chance. A lyrical tenor voice called out, "Liam? Are you here?" Billy peeked through the gap between the bathroom door and the jamb and saw his friend from last night's adventures, Todd, with two paper cups of coffee and a bag of croissants. He seemed to be alone. Billy exhaled with relief and walked out of the bathroom. "Boy, am I glad to see you. I thought you ditched me." "Nobody gets away from me that easily," said Todd, still wearing his shorts and boots from last night, with the addition of a touristy San Francisco t-shirt which Todd filled out nicely. "I had to buy a shirt in the gift shop. For some stupid reason, most places require you to be dressed when you enter." "So I've learned." Todd set down the breakfast items and stood on tiptoe to kiss Liam, who hung his arms over Todd's shoulders. Billy felt Liam taking command of the situation as Liam's towel tented in the front. "Listen, my memories are kinda sketchy from last night. Did we...?" Todd shook his head with a wistful grin. "You conked out before we could." "That's what I thought." Liam's powerful hands gripped the back collar of Todd's t-shirt and pulled hard in opposite directions, shredding the shirt and yanking it off his body. Todd looked shocked. "Don't worry, I'll buy you a new shirt. I'll buy you ten if you want. Now drop those shorts." Todd suddenly became shy and hesitant. "Do I have to rip those too?" Todd shook his head. Liam flung his towel to the floor and leapt onto the bed. He leaned against the headboard, hands clasped behind his head as his cock rose majestically to a right angle. He watched Todd unbutton his cut-offs and pull them down his sleek legs slowly. He stepped out of them, then pulled off his black thong in a similar manner. Todd's cock was fully hard, maxing out at five inches, but it looked proportional with his compact body. Todd jumped onto the bed and straddled Liam. "Aren't you gonna take off your cowboy boots?", Liam asked. Todd shook his head. "Never." Liam didn't mind. He sat up and pushed Todd's body backwards, then flipped him face down, ass up. He stroked his hardened cock and maneuvered it toward the depression between Todd's sweet ass cheeks. He pounded his way in, causing Todd to yelp loudly in an equal mix of pain and pleasure. Todd's hands gripped tightly onto the bed's footboard, his knuckles turning white. Liam felt incredible. The strength of this new body and the sensitivity of his new dick were overwhelming him. He leaned forward, pressing down on Todd's well-built shoulders for leverage as he worked to get as much of his mighty cock as possible into Todd's hole. The metal bracelets on his left arm slid and clanked against each other with each heavy thrust of his body. Todd's wails became higher pitched as both men drew closer to climax. Liam finally shot his wad inside Todd, while pulses of thick creamy cum flowed onto the bedsheets from Todd's cock. Liam lay his heavy body atop Todd, blissfully spent. After a couple of minutes, Liam rolled off and spread his arms, one palm resting cozily atop Todd's ass and giving a squeeze. Todd leaned over to kiss him and asked if he was satisfied. Liam nodded weakly. Todd smirked and said, "Well, I'm not. Sit up, I want to try something." With effort, Liam rose into a seated position. Todd directed him to turn around and lean against the headboard. Intrigued, Liam followed orders. Todd hopped off the bed, his boot heels clopping on the floor as he walked toward a bag that Liam hadn't noticed before. Todd must have gone shopping for more than breakfast while he was out. Todd bent down to look in the bag, flaunting his bubble butt in Liam's direction. He pulled out something which he kept hidden behind his back until he reached the bed. "Put your hands up by the railing," Todd instructed. Liam complied, and Todd revealed a pair of handcuffs which he promptly latched around Liam's right wrist. It was harder to find room on the left arm, with all those bracelets, but he finally managed. Liam was now securely fastened to the headboard and smiled in anticipation of Todd's next kinky surprise. Todd stared at the multi-colored bracelets on Liam's arm and said, "I think I'd like you better without the bracelets." Liam panicked. "No, don't touch them!" "Why not?" "They're just...I never take them off. Kinda like you and your boots." "Let me just take off one." Liam wriggled ferociously, but he was firmly shackled to the heavy wooden headboard. Todd unlocked the violet bracelet and placed it on the bedside table. Liam shuddered, then plead to Todd, "Please stop." He was startled to hear Billy's voice once again emerging from this body. "Wow, listen to that. You sound like a whole different person. Wonder what would happen if I removed the next one." Todd sprung the latch on the indigo bracelet, and Liam whimpered as he saw his cock shrink back to Billy's usual size, which was a little smaller than what Todd was packing. Liam was practically screeching now. "Who sent you here? Was it Reese?" Todd spoke calmly as he continued to remove Liam's bracelets one by one. "That wasn't a nice thing you did to Reese. You know, giving you this makeover was his idea in the first place. He sympathized with your predicament. He wasn't going to be a buzzkill. He had to tail you, but he planned to do it from a discreet distance. He wanted to give you your space to explore. But you had to run off on your own. You must have known that someone had to keep an eye on you, to make sure you didn't put yourself in too much danger. You're too valuable an asset not to have some protection. Reese even gave you one last chance to come back voluntarily this morning, but you refused." Liam's head was abuzz. How did Todd know about Reese's phone call? Liam felt his impressive muscles sagging and disappearing. His bones creaked as they contracted and his body hair retreated into its follicles. He was practically weeping as he watched the change. "So what happened? Wiseman hired you to tail me?" "Wiseman doesn't know about me," Todd smiled. "Reese used his connections with the police force to keep an eye out for a man with your description. Your new description. When they found you, they called Reese with the location. And then you met me." Todd looked down at the lovely young man on the bed, who had surrendered to his fate and was no longer squirming. "My god, you're Billy Farrow! Oh, wait, not quite. One bracelet left." Todd removed the green bracelet, and the dark buzz cut regrew into the Farrow Flop in its full glory. Liam -- no, wait, he was without question Billy now -- sagged his slight shoulders in defeat. "Just tell me who you are. Some male prostitute that Reese hired?" "Let's just say that all those videos on your computer gave Reese a pretty good idea of your 'type'. Since you'd changed yourself into a dominant type body, that must be who you fantasized being when you were watching those videos. So you were probably on the hunt for a submissive. Based on your preferred videos, that meant probably a slender guy with a pretty face who looked younger than his years. In other words, someone who looked a lot like Billy Farrow. You literally wanted to go fuck yourself." Todd kicked off his cowboy boots. Clasped around his left ankle were a number of colored bracelets, just like the ones that Billy had been wearing, although wider to accommodate the size of leg bones. Todd bent over and began unsnapping them. Immediately, his body grew inches taller, his muscles bulkier and his cock longer and thicker. Billy had never seen a cock so big, certainly not in person but not even on the internet. As Todd continued, his face grew more menacing, his hair receded fully into his head, his eyes turned deep brown and his skin darkened to a rich black. Finally, he removed a violet ring and his voice shifted from Todd's high tenor to the familiar low Ving-Rhames-y tones that Billy had just heard on the phone earlier this morning. "Surprise." "Fuck me," said Billy. "Can't now. You've got a show to get ready for," said Reese, all business as always. "While I was out getting breakfast -- and handcuffs -- I picked up some clothes for you. Some for me too. I can't guarantee they're fashionable, but they'll fit well enough that we won't have to leave the hotel naked." Billy hung from the headboard, limp and shellshocked, his pathetic arms still held loosely in the air by the handcuffs. He noticed there was still one metal band left on Reese's leg. "So that last bracelet, is that the one that made you act all gay?" "Who says I needed a bracelet to be gay?" Billy was floored by this revelation, then grinned. "Holy shit, Reese. I just fucked you in the ass." "No, man, you fucked me in the ass yesterday when you ran away. This morning was my reward for putting up with your shit. I don't think Wiseman needs to know about anything you and I did together. Do you?" Billy unleashed the radiant smile that adorned so many little girls' bedroom walls. "You and me? We didn't do a damn thing. But Liam and Todd had a blast." Reese's face betrayed the hint of a smile as he removed the cuffs from Billy's wrists and handed him his new clothes. * * * Reese stood across the counter from Mr. Lee, who was examining the bracelets that Reese had just returned. "One missing," said Mr. Lee. "Oh, yeah, I wanted to keep the one you gave me for my bad knee. It feels brand new. You can't imagine the things I was able to do with two good knees." "I try not to imagine," Mr. Lee said with the merest smirk. "What do I owe you for it?" Reese pulled out his wallet. Mr. Lee waved him off. "You kept your promise to bring back the bracelets. Consider this my thank-you for your honorable behavior." "Come on, man. You got no idea how much money I've paid doctors to fix this knee, and they never did jack. You fixed it with one little bracelet." "If you insist on paying me, I only barter for what I need for my transformations." Mr. Lee gestured to the glass jars full of unusual substances on the shelves behind him. "What do you have that you could spare? Some of your muscles, perhaps?" "No, man, I'm a bodyguard. I gotta stay strong." He thought, then thought of something. He spoke in a whisper, even though no one else was in the shop to hear him. "It's a little embarrassing, but I've gotten some complaints over the years that my dick is...too big. Maybe you could make it smaller." Mr. Lee's eyebrows rose slightly. "Smaller length or smaller circumference?" Reese cleared his throat and said, "Both? I know, I know, stereotypes and all that, but seriously, it's gotten in the way of me finding a good steady relationship. It's too much for most people to handle. Literally." Mr. Lee asked, "May I see?" Reese extracted his cock from his pants. Mr. Lee was usually an expert at hiding his thoughts and feelings from the customers, but his jaw dropped. He extended his hand and said, "It's a deal." Outside, the SUV was idling with Wiseman in the front passenger seat and Billy sprawled in a custom swivel chair at the back, with stereo speakers embedded in the headrest and videogame controls in each armrest. Billy was surfing the web and discovered that someone had posted a shaky video of Liam's "I'm Your Boy" performance from the night before. Billy looked wistful, watching Liam and Todd having so much fun. Billy passed his iPad to Wiseman and said, "I want to do this arrangement of 'I'm Your Boy' tonight." It was a bit harder-edged than anything in Billy's usual set, but Wiseman liked it and thought the fans would enjoy it too. Just as long as Billy's delivery wasn't as raunchy as this anonymous shirtless guy in the video. Wiseman agreed to find the DJ who had done the remix and make sure he was properly compensated. Billy sat in his comfy throne at the back of the SUV and told Wiseman, "I also think it's time for me to get rid of the Flop." Wiseman turned around, livid. "You can't. It's your signature." "It's a joke. I look absurd. What we'll do is I'll get my hair cut off and donate it to one of those cancer charities for the kids who lose their hair getting chemo. We'll give 'em a big check too. Lots of positive publicity!" Wiseman pondered the notion. Maybe it was time for the Flop to go. Despite running away yesterday, Billy was acting more mature today. Maybe his image should mature too. The side door slid open and Reese hopped into the SUV, showing more agility than he had since college. "Everything copacetic?", Wiseman asked. "Yup, we're all clear. I want to put the shopkeeper and his grand-daughters on the list for backstage passes at tonight's show. And, here, I got something for you." He passed a thin green bracelet to WIseman, who looked at it skeptically. "Uh, thanks, I guess. I'm not big into jewelry, ya know." "I know, but I wanted to get you a thank-you present for not firing me. I think you'll like it. Put it on your left wrist." Curious, Billy leaned forward, resting his chin on Reese's shoulder as Wiseman slapped the bracelet onto his forearm. He yowled from a strange jolt shooting through his body, then calmed down as a cooling rush spread through his body and localized in his head. Although Wiseman hadn't realized it yet, Liam's buzz cut had now taken root on Wiseman's previously naked scalp. Reese looked amused and Billy cackled, but they both thought it actually looked pretty good on him. Wiseman looked back at them with annoyance. "What's so funny?", Wiseman asked as he gestured for the driver to pull away from Mr. Lee's little store.
  3. Mike

    Mike had become very worried. It had been two weeks since his ex-co-worker David had made his presence known anywhere on social media. What made this so worrisome was that social media was the only place that David actually WAS social. Extremely shy and lacking in self-confidence in person, David would only dare to offer his opinions online, whether griping on Facebook about the casting of the latest comic-book movie or posting on gamer message boards the latest video-game cheat codes he had figured out. David had been one of the earliest employees of DigiWarp, the software company for which Mike worked, while Mike had only been hired a year ago, straight out of college. He admired David, who was a brilliant coder, while Mike considered himself adequate at best. Mike's brains were never going to stumble upon a game-changing breakthrough the way David had a few years back. The best Mike could hope was that he'd be on a development team with people far brighter than he was and reap some of the benefits of their success simply through proximity. Mike didn't know if he had the right to call David his friend, but he might be the closest David had to one. Given David's seniority and Mike's lack of it, there were few reasons for the two men to cross paths at work. But at a lavish party for all of the company's employees at the CEO's mansion overlooking San Francisco Bay, Mike and David found themselves isolated from the rest of the crowd, standing nervously beside each other in a tight corner of the room. Neither man said anything for the first ten minutes. Mike tilted his head to read the spines of the books the host owned, realizing that not only had he never read any of them, he had never heard of most of them. David fixed his attention on his shoes, which he must have tied and retied eight times in those ten minutes, and kept running his fingers down the crease in his chinos, in a futile attempt to make it stay at a perfect 90-degree angle to the floor. They first bonded over their shared allergy to seafood, which they announced simultaneously to the waitress carrying a tray of crab puffs. This led to a twenty-minute discussion of various foods that disagreed with them, a conversation which, if you boiled away the awkward silences, would have amounted to about three minutes of actual conversation. To look at him, you wouldn't think any food disagreed with Mike. Although he and David were both about five-foot-eleven, Mike was easily 200 pounds heavier. Every part of his body weighed too much. His eyelids looked like they could lose a few pounds. His wide head seemed to melt directly into a wider neck. His torso was nearly spherical, and was largely unchanged since childhood when his classmates had dubbed him "Frosty" due to his snowman-like contours. His legs were bulbous and knock-kneed. In an attempt to outwit the male-pattern baldness that ran in his family, he had been shaving his head since college. He comforted himself by thinking of all the celebrities who managed to maintain their sexiness or even become hotter when they went full-cueball; unfortunately, the only celebrity Mike resembled was the Michelin Man. He was also apparently the only invitee to this party who had not noticed the request to dress fashionably. Even if he could afford to buy fashionable clothes, he had no idea what would make his body look in any way fashionable, so here he stood, not eating crab puffs, in a polo with wide red and white stripes providing lines of longitude across his surface area, and cargos which ended about an inch above his black plastic sandals. Aside from their similar heights, David's body was a contrast to Mike's in nearly every way. David was worryingly gaunt, all straight lines and sharp angles. He had a Zuckerbergian head of unruly red curls, which he never thought to get cut until someone pointed out that they could no longer see his eyes. A Wicked-Witch nose dominated his pale sunken face, with an Adam's apple that echoed the nose's shape and prominence. David had no more natural fashion sense than Mike, but he did have a high enough salary that he could walk into an expensive store and ask what he should buy. The only thing he liked about the experience was going home and devising a color-coded program which would tell him, based on the personal shopper's advice, what items should be worn with what other items, which is how he arrived looking positively preppy in his navy-blue sweater vest, pale-blue Oxford shirt, chinos and deck shoes. In a rare oversight, he had neglected to include socks in the program, which explained the green argyles covering his ankles. David always had problems knowing what to do with his large bony hands, which tended to flutter on uncharted courses when he spoke, so he mostly kept his hands buried deeply in his pants pockets. Standing beside each other, rotund Mike looked like a big zero and spindly David looked like a big one. Depending on one's era, this juxtaposition might call to mind Laurel and Hardy, Mutt and Jeff, Mama Michelle and Mama Cass, or Steve Martin and John Candy as the mismatched travelers in "Planes, Trains and Automobiles". But to a roomful of Silicon Valley techies, whose entire lives revolved around manipulations of ones and zeroes, they suggested only one thing. "Hey look," shouted one of their inebriated colleagues, "it's the Binary Brothers!" The initial comment got a few chuckles, but the hilarity grew as more and more partygoers passed along the remark and created a wave of laughter and pointing through the crowd. Mike attempted to join in the laughter, under the flawed theory that they can't be laughing at you if you're laughing with them. David stood uneasily, then decided his shoes needed to be retied. From that point onward, David and Mike found themselves hanging out with each other from time to time, eating together in the company cafeteria, occasionally getting together after work to play video games. Perhaps it was only the gravitational field of Mike's greater body mass pulling anemic David into his orbit. Mainly it was that, even within the hive of worker geeks where they worked, David and Mike were still the last two likely to be picked for a hypothetical game of dodgeball. They were the nerds who even embarrassed the nerds. In the Binary Brothers, Mike might be the zero, but David felt like a zero too. Mike sensed they had another shared interest, although the two men never discussed it. Even at that first party, when David seemed to be averting his eyes completely from the other guests, Mike noticed that David's head would swivel ever so slightly but involuntarily whenever one of the handsome waiters walked past. Mike hoped that his own sampling of the beefcake was more subtle, and he made exaggerated efforts to more blatantly ogle the waitresses, avoiding taunts by maintaining a facade of heterosexuality. The sad fact was that none of the other guests were paying enough attention to David and Mike to give a shit who they were mentally undressing. The pickings were slimmer at the office, where few had gotten ahead on their looks, but Mike did notice David leaving his corner cubicle more frequently when a copier repairman or the UPS guy dropped by. And when the two played video games, Mike noticed how muscular David's avatars always were. Then again, it wasn't like Mike was exactly opting to look like Jonah Hill onscreen. When David took the company buyout and put an absurd number of zeroes in his bank account, he did invite Mike over to his new house once to play games on his sweet seventy-inch HDTV and back him up and down the driveway in his new solar car. But the evening was uncomfortable for both of them. For Mike, he felt inadequate in the presence of such pricey playthings and could sense David's general malaise, which Mike took to be boredom from having to hang around with his sad, fat and broke former colleague. In fact, David disliked the feeling that he was flaunting his obscene wealth which he felt he didn't deserve, despite being the primary brain behind the software that led to the buyout, and he felt disillusioned that all of this money had failed to make him any less dissatisfied with his life. When Mike left the house that night, he vowed not to bother David, not wishing to seem like a pathetic hanger-on. But after two weeks with no trace of David online, Mike was concerned. Maybe David had decided to go on a cross-country drive, or take a cruise, or do something else totally unlike him. Maybe David had met someone. Guys might find him more attractive now that he had such girth in his wallet. Mike wondered whether David was the type to resort to suicide, but considered that unlikely, as it would require physical effort of some sort. He had left voicemail messages and texted David, but never heard back. Finally, he decided he would just go to David's house after work and drop in unexpectedly, in hopes of discovering a simple, logical reason for David's silence. They'd both have a laugh and maybe even get a little drunk on the couch together and, who knows... Mike shook off this scenario for a multitude of reasons, not least of which was that neither of them was likely to make the first move. Besides, it was hard to envision a comfortable way for the Binary Brothers' bodies to mesh sexually. It's not easy to make a one and a zero add up to sixty-nine. Mike trudged up the driveway to David's house with a copy of the latest "Call of Duty" and a sixer of Mike's Hard Lemonade. Despite dismissing his earlier fleeting fantasy, he discovered he was actually nervous about the prospect of meeting David tonight. He had already sweated thoroughly through his black Astro Boy t-shirt and baggy purple shorts, and his calves were chafing from rubbing against each other on the walk here. He noticed that David's solar car was still in the driveway, which he took as a good sign, although fallen leaves and dust were coating it. Mike leaned a beefy arm against the front door and rang the doorbell, but heard no noises from inside. He knocked, first timidly, then more loudly, but still got no response. Too winded to walk back downhill right away, he took a seat on the stone steps and cracked open a bottle to refresh himself. The bottle was half-empty when Mike felt he was seeing a vision. A heavily-muscled shirtless dreamboat jogged from the sidewalk up the driveway. His artistically-carved abs were heaving with each breath and his taut hairless torso was covered in a layer of glistening sweat which reflected the setting sun. His dark hair was trimmed close on the sides and hung in limp, curly, sweat-beaded strands on the top. He was more thickly muscled than the stereotypical runner, with his meaty quads and glutes threatening to widen the slit that went up the side of his skimpy royal-blue running shorts. His tanned calves bulged, forming powerful masses above his matching blue Reeboks. The man was clearly at the end of a lengthy run, while Mike had worked himself into a similar state of exhaustion and perspiration by walking the one block from his bus stop to David's door. Mike gulped a swig from his bottle of alcoholic lemonade as he drank in the runner's body. Mike's hard, indeed. The new arrival wiped a heavy forearm across his brows to shake the sweat from his eyes. His eyelids parted, revealing pale green pupils that seemed somehow familiar to Mike. The man was startled to see someone seated on the steps. "Can I help you, dude?", came a resonant voice that also vaguely rang a bell. Embarrassed, Mike hoisted himself to his feet, grappling with the video game and his drinks. "Sorry, maybe I'm in the wrong place," he said, feeling he must have screwed up somehow, even though he knew this was David's house, and David's solar car was RIGHT THERE in the driveway. Maybe this stud was some rentboy that David had hired with his new wealth...and who could blame him? "I was trying to find David Tanner." As Mike brushed past the hunky jock, pausing just slightly to take a deep whiff of his masculine musk, the runner said, "I'm Dave Tanner." Mike stopped dead in his tracks and turned around slowly. He studied the man before him. It couldn't be. Sure, this guy did have the same color eyes as David. And the voice did sound a lot like David's, only slightly slower and with all the anxiety drained away. And if you dyed David's hair black and trimmed it nicely, it could look like this guy's. And if you put a team of plastic surgeons to work for a couple of years, and piled on the protein shakes and steroids...maybe. But he'd only seen David two weeks ago. This was clearly impossible. Maybe David had a studly cousin named Dave who he'd never mentioned. Not impossible, since Mike and David's conversations never veered near personal topics. "David and I used to work together. Are you maybe a relative of David's?", Mike asked. "Nope, I'm me," the other man said, followed by a throaty chortle. "You okay, buddy? Looks like you're gonna barf." "My head's spinning a little. I think I just need to sit down." The alluring young man studied Mike's face curiously. "I could swear I seen you somewhere before. You work out at Gold's?" Now it was Mike's turn to chortle. He lifted up his bottles of alcohol and said, "This is the only six-pack I'm working on." Looking with confusion at Mike, the man entwined his arms behind his tilted head, his stony biceps seeming to stretch his skin to its limit. Unconsciously, he was alternately flexing his left and right biceps to make them pop, and Mike's eyes were automatically drawn from arm to arm as they peaked. The guy shook his head. "Now it's totally buggin' me. I KNOW I know you from somewhere." He reached into his shorts and extracted a house key. He opened the door and gestured for Mike to follow him. "Come in and cool off before you stroke out." Mike hauled himself up the steps, gripping the railing for support. The inside of the house was largely as Mike remembered it from his single previous visit. For the living room, David had not purchased much furniture beyond the jumbo television and a single gaming chair. When they had played games, David had graciously allowed Mike to use the chair as David sat cross-legged on the floor. To these items had been added a beanbag chair, a wooden dining tray and a couple of bar stools, suggesting that this mansion's interior designer was Pier One. The guy calling himself Dave kicked off his running shoes and peeled off his sweaty ankle socks, which he tossed onto the hardwood floor, joining previously discarded items of athletic clothing scattered around the room. He pointed toward the drinks Mike was holding and asked, "You mind?" Mike handed him the whole six-pack. The dude laughed and said, "I only need one." He uncapped it with his bare hands and slammed down the contents in a single uninterrupted chug. He ripped a belch that echoed on the house's hard surfaces and yelled, "Fuck, I needed that. Thanks!" He clapped a sweaty palm on Mike's shoulder, then flung himself into the beanbag chair, legs unapologetically spread wide, allowing Mike a clear view of the thin white lining of his running shorts and, beneath that, a jockstrap that was working overtime to hold in something major. Mike had to get to the meat of this (so to speak). "So you're sure we never worked together?" "Dude, I can't remember the last time I had a job. But I swear I'm motivated now. I'm trying to get in shape to take the fire department's entry exam." Mike gaped at the body sprawled in front of him. "YOU aren't in shape?" "I gotta work on my stamina. Bein' a fireman, there's no fuckin' around. Lives are on the line and shit. But I think my cardio's coming along pretty excellently. I only been at it for two weeks." Mike's legs got a bit wobbly. David had been missing for two weeks. "Two weeks? So, what were you doing before that?" The guy in the beanbag casually scratched his balls as he thought. Nothing was coming. "Fuck if I know, dude. Just livin', I guess." Mike took a seat in the video-game chair and tried to make sense of this. "Hey, I'm gonna grab a quick shower, but you're welcome to play a video game or whatever. I can trust you not to steal my shit, right?" Mike nodded as the guy called Dave leapt energetically from the beanbag chair, his big bare feet slapping hard against the wooden floor. Without a thought, he pulled his nylon running shorts down the full length of his legs and kicked the shorts through the door into his bedroom. He paused in the doorway to wriggle free from his jockstrap, which he dropped with a soggy flop onto the floor. Mike stared in awe at the exquisite symmetry of the ass cheeks across the room, and was tantalized by the glimpse of a cock head he could see in the narrow gap between Dave's brawny thighs. Once he heard the water running in the bathroom, Mike rose and began to search the house for any clues about what might have happened to David Tanner. He found no obvious hints in the living room. The kitchen was even more barren of furniture aside from appliances. A dietary chart was Scotch-taped to the wall, with fresh fruits and oatmeal containers on the counter top and a fridge full of steaks, chicken breasts, yogurt, eggs and veggies. Mike crept into the bedroom, careful to avoid being seen by Dave in the adjoining bathroom. Mike had only gotten a brief tour of the house on his previous visit, but from what he remembered, not much had changed. The king-size bed was unmade, which the anal David would never have allowed. More clothes were strewn about, along with the bags from the stores where they were purchased. Mike rifled through the empty bags and found receipts for the items purchased, all within the past two weeks. A cheap cellphone rested on the floor next to the bed. Mike checked it and saw it was not David's old number and that only a few calls had been made on it, also in the last two weeks, with no text messages. Then Mike noticed the one strange item that would differentiate this from any average sloppy bachelor's bedroom. Hanging on the door to the closet was a San Francisco fireman's uniform. It seemed bizarre to Mike that the fire department would give a uniform to someone who wasn't a member of the force. Maybe this Dave guy was fucking a fireman who had left his uniform behind. Mike tiptoed across the room, flinching when the floorboards squeaked under his weight. He reached the closet and began to rifle through the pockets with his stubby hands. Nothing in the jacket pockets, but in the pants pockets he felt something. He reached in and pulled out two items. One was a business card that he couldn't read in the unlit room, the other was another cell phone. Mike attempted to switch on the phone, but it was drained of juice. His eyes scanned the room until he saw a charging cord plugged in the wall behind the closet door. As he plugged the phone into the charger, he heard a voice behind him. "I toldja not to steal nothin'." Mike spun around, terrified at being caught, dropping the phone and stuffing the business card into the pocket of his shorts. He'd been so caught up in his snooping that he hadn't heard the shower stop. He attempted to look nonchalant, but was stunned to see Dave standing in silhouette in the bathroom doorway, towel draped casually around his shoulders, his skin slicked with water and backlit. "I'm sorry, I was just...my cell phone..." Dave laughed and waved an arm dismissively. "I'm just fuckin' with you, man. C'mon, you hungry?" He slapped his hand over his firm abs and motioned for Mike to follow him to the kitchen. Mike would have felt foolish to do anything other than what this dude requested. He walked several steps behind, admiring how Dave's bare ass shifted with each stride. Goddamn, this guy had absolutely no self-consciousness about his body. He was walking fully nude in front of some fat slob he only kind of thought he might know, and it didn't bother him a bit. This cat was cool. Dave set about making his supper, grilling a steak and whipping up a spinach salad. Despite repeated inquiries, Mike insisted that he wasn't hungry (not for food, at least). He pulled up a bar stool and downed more hard lemonade as he watched the naked chef go about his business. Dave stuffed a spinach leaf in his mouth. "So what's your name? Maybe that'll jog my...ya know..." "Mike. I work at DigiWarp." The word "DigiWarp" did seem to ignite a spark in Dave's eyes, but the spark dulled by the time it reached his brain. "You look so fuckin' familiar, dude. I feel like I should remember you from somewhere. I mean, you're a lot to forget." He gestured toward Mike's gut. Mike smiled weakly, as always trying not to be overly sensitive. Dave detected this and looked immediately apologetic. "Sorry, that was a real fucked-up thing to say. I didn't mean nothin'. You seem like a cool guy." No one had ever said THAT to Mike before. "Well, we can't all have a body like yours," Mike said, quickly plugging a bottle of booze in his mouth to prevent drooling. "All you need is a good diet and discipline, man. You think I always looked like this?" "I don't know," Mike said. "Did you?" Dave had to consider that. His memory was so shitty lately, like part of his brain was just plain gone. He sure hoped there wasn't gonna be a lot of math on the fire department exam. He dodged the question and pointed toward Mike's bottle. "Ya know, that shit fucks up your body. Lemme have another one, 'kay?" Mike playfully pulled the remaining bottles out of Dave's reach. "No. Maybe I don't want you fuck up your bod." Did he actually say "bod"? Was he seriously flirting with this man who was so far out of his league? Even if somehow that really was David inside that cocoon of beautiful muscle, he sure wasn't acting like it. Mike hardly felt like he belonged to the same species as the gorgeous specimen standing naked before him. Dave sauntered across the kitchen and stretched an arm around Mike to grab a bottle. "I just ran ten miles. I think I deserve a treat, don't you?" As Dave's cock grazed against Mike's arm, it jolted and rose slightly. Dave noticed as Mike's eyes dropped down to gaze at his dick. "Unless you can think of a better treat." Mike became short of breath again and looked at Dave to see if this was a gag, but Dave was staring back through half-closed eyes that radiated sincerity. "You serious?" "Serious as the heart attack you're having, dude." He grabbed Mike's pudgy hand and led him back to the living room. Dave flopped into the leather gaming chair, his damp, bare skin clinging to the upholstery. He leaned back and stroked himself lazily while waiting for Mike, who was frantically trying to pull himself free from his stupid, sopping-wet XXXL shirt. He clumsily lowered himself to the floor, kneeling before Dave in his leather throne, and wrapped his lips around the head of Dave's glorious cock. It was already semi-hard and leaking cum, but grew dramatically as soon as Mike's tongue made contact. Dave leaned his head back and let the sensation rush through his body. He didn't know why he'd been so sex-crazy lately. He didn't remember always being so willing to fuck any guy he met. Then again, he didn't remember NOT being that way either. This Mike guy might be a tub of goo, but he seemed harmless and it was obvious from the way he'd been staring that it would be a major "Dear Diary" moment in this guy's life if he could just polish Dave's knob once. Even though he had whacked off in the shower, Dave still needed more release after that long run. A mouth is a mouth, thought Dave, and this guy seems to be eager. Why wouldn't he be eager? Just fuckin' look at me! Mike was so thrilled by what was happening that he had already shot a load in his pants, but he didn't let on to Dave. He continued sucking and licking, trying to remember any move he'd seen in the videos he had watched in college while his roommates were out banging cheerleaders and poetry majors (of both genders). He had always thought himself so undesirable that he had never found himself in a situation that even offered him the opportunity for sex. To be deep-throating this stud, however strange the circumstances, was a chance he could not pass up. He started to wheeze as Dave's cock swelled to its full nine inches, but he refused to gag. Dave's cock fired, launching clots of thick cream so far down Mike's throat that, only as Dave pulled out, dragging his still pulsating head across Mike's tongue, did Mike get a full sense of the flavor of Dave's cum. Exhausted, Mike flopped shirtless onto the floor, smiling euphorically. Dave waited a respectful fifteen seconds before loping back into the kitchen. It was all over so quickly that his steak was still rare. * * * The next thing Mike heard was gunfire. It startled him awake and he lifted his bulky shoulders off the floor. Propped up on his elbows, he looked beside him and saw Dave seated in his gamer chair and lost in a ferocious gunfight on the massive video screen. Dave's empty plate, salad bowl, and three more empties of Mike's Hard rested by his bare feet. While Mike was dozing, Dave had gotten dressed...to an extent. He wore a black Under Armour sleeveless and skintight black compression leggings which clung so tightly to every contour of Dave's body that he may as well have been spray-painted black. Mike smiled up at Dave, who glanced down for a millisecond to smile back and inform Mike, "You fuckin' snore, dude." Mike rolled his substantial frame on its side and watched the action on the screen. Dave was slaughtering anyone who came in his path. His reflexes were astounding. His long-fingered hands masterfully worked the controls in a frenzy...just like David's had. "This game is great for hand-eye coordination. I am gonna fuckin' ace the firefighting exam." Mike turned back to Dave, smirking. "Just because you're good in a firefight doesn't mean you're good at firefighting. You do know that you don't actually fight fires with guns, right?" "Yes, I know. You think I'm an idiot or something?", Dave said, laughing and pushing a bare smelly foot into Mike's face. Mike squirmed away, yelling, "Gross," but he secretly loved it. His cock was semi-hard again. "I gotta take a leak." "Go ahead. Piss your heart out." Mike waddled through the bedroom and into the bathroom. He didn't want to break the awesome mood he was in, so tried to avoid catching a reflection of his flab in the mirror. But reality hit home when he needed to pull out his penis and, as usual, had to fumble around under his enormous overhanging gut to extract it from his shorts. He had come to think of his cock like a black hole: he couldn't actually see it, but based on the evidence, he was convinced that it must exist. He was tempted to jerk off, but his bladder was shouting more urgently to his brain, and maybe if he was lucky, he'd get Dave to jack him off or blow him or... "Stop it," yelled Mike's bladder, "I'll never get to piss if you keep thinking about things like that." Mike sighed with relief and unleashed perhaps the longest piss of his life. After a few final afterthought squirts, he pulled his baggy shorts up to what technically qualified as his waist. As he dragged the shorts up his thigh, he remembered there was something extra in his pocket. He dug in and pulled out the dog-eared business card he had found earlier. He examined it in the fluorescent light of the bathroom. It read, "MR. LEE, X-DREAM MAKEOVERS", followed by some Chinese symbols. "X-Dream Makeovers," Mike thought. Could this be the explanation for how shy, nerdy David had seemingly been transformed into the musclehead currently racking up kills in the living room? There was no address on either side of the card. Mike remembered the cell phone he had found along with the card and tiptoed into the bedroom. The phone was still recharging but had enough juice that Mike could boot it up. A quick look at the phone showed that the ringer had been turned to vibrate and that all of Mike's texts and voicemails had come through, but none seemed to have been read or listened to. As he scrolled around, he noticed that the last message received and read two weeks ago was from someone named Kenneth. It gave a street address that Mike knew was on the fringes of Chinatown, followed by "IT'LL BE THE BEST INVESTMENT OF YOUR LIFE. CALL ME AFTER. ;)" Could whatever had happened to David have been so dramatic that it wiped out his memory to the point that he didn't even remember where his phone was? Did he even remember to get back in touch with whoever sent him to get the makeover? Mike forwarded the text to his own phone, so he would have the address, and stuffed the business card back into his pocket. Returning to the living room, Mike held the cell phone in front of Dave's face. "Is this your cell?" Dave shoved the phone out of his face and continued with his game. "Could be. I couldn't find my phone, so I just bought a new one. You know what's nuts? Turns out I got like crazy amounts of money in the bank." Of course he does, thought Mike. He's David Tanner, tech wizard and multi-millionaire, only he's oblivious to those facts. Now he's Dave Tanner, Mike's dream boy, with nothing on his mind beyond getting in shape, becoming a fireman, and laying waste to whatever videogame character pops up around the next corner. Dave addressed Mike without ever turning his attention from the screen. "Listen, I gotta get to bed so I can hit the gym at five a.m. It was great to meet you and all. I hope you find that guy you were looking for." "Thanks. I think I did." Dave was already lost in the game again. Mike pulled his Astro Boy shirt back on and made his way to the front door. He sneaked back into the living room, grabbed one of Dave's used ankle socks from the floor, took a whiff and stuck it in his pocket. Whatever happened next, at least he would have a souvenir of tonight. * * * Mike went directly from Dave's house to the address in the text message, so jazzed by the evening's events that he walked a full three blocks before getting too tired and riding a bus the remainder of the way. When he reached the address, he was disappointed. It was a tiny shop with dingy windows. Mike attempted to look inside, but the streetlamps barely penetrated the grime on the glass and revealed almost nothing of the interior. He knew he wouldn't be able to sleep or be able to focus on his job tomorrow morning, so he faked a convincingly scratchy throat and left a message on his supervisor's voicemail that he would not be in to work. Mike did indeed stay awake all night, surfing the web. He could find no references anywhere to "X-Dream Makeovers", which seemed impossible. If someone could indeed change David the dud into Dave the stud, how could that ever remain a secret? Why wouldn't everyone one earth be storming the place? Maybe they wiped David's memories to keep him from revealing the details of his transformation? But then who was this Kenneth who told David this would be "the best investment of his life" and that he should "call me after semicolon end-parenthesis"? So many questions, so many hours until daylight. Mike tried to pass the time by watching porn, but he kept closing his eyes and fantasizing about Dave instead. As dawn broke, Mike headed back towards the address he had found, wearing a long-sleeved sweatshirt and cut-off sweat pants. The shop was not open and looked no more like a going concern than it had in the dead of night. Mike decided to grab breakfast across the street. He headed to a 7-Eleven but, rather than his typical Diet Coke Double Gulp and a couple of donuts, he decided to try yogurt and a banana this morning. If the day went as he hoped, he might be eating more healthy from now on. Regardless, the creamy texture of the yogurt and the long firm slope of the banana in his mouth brought back pleasant memories of last night. Mike hiked back to the shop, amazed by how much energy he had exerted in the past twelve hours. He still saw no lights or activity inside, but he finally decided to try the door. When he pushed the handle, the door swung open and an elderly Chinese man with a mustache was seated calmly behind a counter. He looked like he had been expecting Mike. Mike had no idea how well the man spoke English, so he pulled out the business card and pointed to it, asking, "This. You?" The man smiled serenely. "This, me. You may call me Mr. Lee." Mike took a few steps forward but realized he had left the door open. As he was turning back to close the door, Mr. Lee raised a hand and the door seemed to close on its own. The dim light which seeped through the dirty windows gave the room a feeling of foreboding. "Hi, Mr. Lee, my name is..." Mr. Lee raised a hand to stop him. "I do not need to know names." Besides, the gifted Mr. Lee already sensed that the man was named Mike and had discerned several other details about the new customer. "What can I do for you today?" "I think you helped a friend of mine a couple weeks ago. His name was... Well, his name doesn't matter. But maybe you remember him. He was a skinny quiet guy who designed brilliant software. Only now I went to his house last night and there's this big hunky guy living there who wants to be a fireman." Mr. Lee showed no outward sign of it, but he indeed remembered the one who left dressed as a fireman. He also remembered the fireman who had left behind the uniform in the first place. Mr. Lee remembered many things. "You are sure it is the same man. Perhaps the first man moved away and the fireman moved in." "No, no, no, they've got the same name. They've got the same eyes. They've got the same voice...sorta. I mean, that's about it, but I'm still sure it's the same guy." "So what is it you wish from me? You also wish to be a fireman?" Mike realized that he had not planned an answer for this question, even though it was the one he hoped he would be asked. "Well, I dunno. What exactly do you do here?" "You tell me what you want to change about yourself, and we agree on a price you are willing to pay for that change." "Oh, man. I don't have anything like the money Da...my friend has. No wonder you don't have lines around the block. You must charge like a billion dollars." "I do not charge money. I ask you to give me something of yours in exchange for what you wish. From this, I replenish my stock of ingredients." He gestured with a practiced flourish to indicate the multi-colored jars on the shelves behind him. "What do you wish to change about yourself?" Mike looked down at his body, then back at Mr. Lee. "Isn't it kinda obvious?" "I never assume. Unfortunately, to be blunt, I do not need more fat in my inventory. There is not much call for it, except the occasional gentleman who wishes to be...what is they call it...a grizzly?" "You mean a bear?", offered Mike. Mr. Lee nodded. "Yeah, I've been carting around this lard for years. I can understand why no one else would want it." Mike looked ready to give up. Compassion was Mr. Lee's greatest flaw. He couldn't bear to see a potential customer disappointed, even if it meant stockpiling ingredients that he would never use. How many times had he removed a customer's acne, knowing that no one would ever enter his shop and ask to have MORE zits? "I will not have much use for it, but better in my store room than on your body." Mike was getting seriously excited now. "You mean it? Great!" "But you have still not told me what you can give to me in exchange." Mike thought it over seriously. He felt he wasn't being falsely modest or brutally self-critical when he said, "I can't think of anything about me that's special that anyone else would want." As he heard those words out loud, Mike realized he had just stated his entire philosophy about romance. "Perhaps I could take some of your intelligence?" After all, that is what his friend had sacrificed for his new body. Mike laughed heartily. "I do not have a drop of intelligence to waste." "That is too bad. I can always use brains." Mr. Lee placed his fingertips together and hinted, "Surely a young man like yourself can think of something else." It took a moment for the suggestion to sink in. Young man? "You want...my age?" "To be accurate, what I want is your youth." In most cases, Mr. Lee discouraged people if they asked him to make them older. Those who ask for it usually regret the years they have skipped over and quickly ask for their youth back. But this young man seemed to be carrying so much weight, not just physically but emotionally, that he already seemed ready to be old. "I sense you have been worn down by life, despite your young age. You do not even have your hair." "Maybe you could give me some?", Mike said, raising his eyebrows hopefully. "I could. But only in exchange for something else." Mike had not anticipated this complication. What would he be willing to give up to gain what he wanted? It made him question the entire concept of who he was. If he was miraculously thin all of a sudden, how would that affect the way he acted and the way others acted toward him? If he showed up at work and was twenty years older, would he get newfound respect or would he be thrown out by security as a crazy person? "If I go through with this, will I still remember who I am?", Mike asked. "You should." Sometimes, when he drained off someone's intelligence, memories got lost in the process. Mr. Lee was sure that was what had happened to Mike's friend, David, but he had seemed so delighted in his new fireman's uniform, and all of the innate wisdom and common sense he would need as a firefighter were still intact. Mr. Lee never wanted there to be negative consequences from the changes he made. He didn't want to read in the newspaper one day that someone had died in a blaze because their fireman was an idiot. "And will other people still remember who I am?" "Depends on how much you change. Big change, more problems. How you explain is up to you. If you need new name, new driver's license, new Social Security, that up to you. I do not handle paperwork" Raising his voice for the first time since Mike entered, Mr. Lee thundered, "But the one thing you must NEVER do is tell anyone about this store!" "Oh, right, absolutely, my lips are sealed." Of course Mr. Lee depended on customers breaking this vow in order to bring in new business. But he figured it didn't hurt to spook them with a little threat, so they would only mention the store confidentially to those who could truly benefit most from Mr. Lee's services. Mike couldn't believe he was negotiating this. "How many years are we talking about?" "Depends on how skinny you want to be." "Let's say I lost 180 pounds." Mr. Lee pulled a wooden abacus from under the counter, slid the beads around in a way he had never learned to understand but gave his presentation a certain level of showmanship, and declared, "Eighteen years." "Whoa," said Mike, contemplating walking out of this store as a 40-year-old, albeit a skinny 40-year-old. "Can we make it fifteen?" Somehow the notion of being 37 was slightly easier to stomach. "We can make it whatever you want. It is your decision." "Would that mean I'll live fifteen years less? That I'll die sooner?" "You could live to 115. You could be hit by a truck tomorrow. The question: how do you want to live whatever time you have?" Mike looked down at his bulbous body. He definitely didn't want to be carrying around this load for the rest of his life. But wasn't he crazy to be considering something this weird and drastic? Maybe he should just grow some balls and join a gym. Oh, who was he kidding? That would never happen. Whereas what Mr. Lee was offering was immediate, and he'd already seen the results it had on David. Mr. Lee was already getting jars off his shelves, as if he knew that Mike had made his decision. Which, in fact, he had. "Okay, fifteen years." Mr. Lee raised his hands and the room became dark, except for a single spotlight shining on Mike. Showmanship again. "If you are ready, I will take your fifteen years from you." Mike braced himself, not knowing how you prepare to lose fifteen years of your life. He tensed up, closed his eyes and nodded. Mr. Lee opened a jar with a small amount of yellow powder at the bottom. It had been so long since he had persuaded anyone to sacrifice their youth that his supply was nearly gone. He watched as Mike's large body began to sag even more than usual. Light yellow particles, like clumps of pollen, began to seep out of Mike's pores and float across the room into the open jar. Mike's head remained bald, his eyebrows became flecked with gray, and the spotlight even caught the emergence of small hairs from his ears and nostrils. "Can I look yet?", asked Mike. It felt to him like his body was melting. "No, keep your eyes closed please." Mr. Lee didn't think Mike would like what he saw if he opened his eyes now. If he was unhappy with his hefty body as a 22-year-old, seeing that same body at 37 might be a devastating shock that could damage him permanently. To remove Mike's fat cells, Mr. Lee used a jerry-rigged device with ropes, a funnel and a hose. It looked like the sort of thing the Amish might use to perform liposuction. He pulled up Mike's sweatshirt to reveal his enormous belly and positioned the funnel at Mike's navel, tying it in place with ropes stretched around his back. The hose fed from the funnel into an underground tank where the fat was collected after removal. Mr. Lee always had such an excess of his customers' fat in the tank that he was forced to sell it, just to get it off his hands. He knew never to eat fried food from any of the restaurants who purchased it. Mr. Lee clapped his hands twice, which somehow activated this non-mechanical device. Immediately, Mike could feel the fat cells from throughout his body being drawn toward his belly button like iron filings toward a magnet. Clots of liquid lard began to ooze through the hose and under the floorboards. As the body fat shrank, Mike's skin began to tingle as it contracted. Untoned muscles which had been camouflaged for years by thick layers of obesity were revealed. The viscous stream from Mike's navel slowed and eventually stopped. Mr. Lee removed the device and declared, "Now you can look." Mike grimaced in the glare of the spotlight, then caught his reflection in a mirror on the wall. The man looking back at him was startlingly unrecognizable, but at the same time familiar, and Mike suddenly realized that it was like looking at a tweaked version of his own father. He stroked his newly slender fingers across his cheek, stunned to discover cheekbones and an elegant nose that had been lurking unseen on his face all these years. He found his chrome-dome look was considerably more bad-ass on this less bloated head. Crows' feet by his eyes and wrinkles on his forehead provided evidence of the years he had lost, but also suggested the wisdom of age. All Mike was missing was the actual wisdom. His cut-off sweats and boxer underwear had dropped to the floor once his waistline receded, revealing knobby but not unattractive legs. His sweatshirt now felt like a circus tent draped over his shoulders. He essentially climbed out of the shirt, tossing it aside so he could take in his fully naked body. No question, he looked middle-aged, but he now had the slim build of someone who was generally healthy but didn't exercise much. Maybe he could whip himself into better shape with a hand from Dave. Mike's mind toyed with the vision of Dave whipping him with his hands, and Mike's cock stirred to arousal. He was glad that he hadn't aged further, as his cock was still spry enough to spring into action after a single fleeting horny thought. Seeing his cock and balls on full display in the mirror, Mike realized they looked pretty much the way he'd remembered, but they looked bigger now that the body surrounding them was so much smaller. He hadn't turned into a traffic-stopper like Dave, but given how little he had to barter with, he was pleased with his new body overall. And somehow, with age, he felt less agitated and more serene, less self-doubting and more self-assured. It certainly didn't hurt his self image that he could finally see his toes again. "Are you pleased, Mr. Mike?", asked Mr. Lee. "I'm amazed," responded Mike, not realizing he had never told Mr. Lee his name. Mr. Lee pushed the mirror aside, revealing a room filled with clothes. "Please choose some clothing that suits the new you. I will give you some privacy." Mr. Lee went back behind his counter while Mike entered the room and evaluated his options. He felt like he'd wandered into a thrift shop, where clothes of different styles and even from different eras hung side by side. Mike had no idea what size clothes would even fit this new body, so he tried on several items, all of which he discovered were too roomy for him. He strolled down to the smaller sizes and spotted a gray hoodie and khaki shorts which looked very familiar. They were practically a uniform for David when he worked at DigiWarp, at least on the days when he didn't need to use his color-coordinated system to look more put together for visiting clients. Curious, Mike attempted to slip on the shorts, but even after all this weight loss, Mike was still heavier than the old stick-thin David had been. He did, however, discover something folded in one of the pockets of the shorts. He pulled it out and noticed that it was an envelope from a law office: "Mr. Kenneth Donnelly, Attorney At Law." Could this be the Kenneth who had directed David to Mr. Lee's store? He pulled out the letter, which was about provisions for David's post-buyout investments, not life-altering body changes. Still, Mike kept the letter, as it provided him with Kenneth's work address and phone number. Mike was still completely naked with no clue what he could wear when he spied a pin-striped black suit, white shirt and red tie. He tried the pants first and they fit his new measurements almost perfectly. The whole suit couldn't have been a better fit if it had been tailored. He rummaged around the piles on the floor until he found socks and shoes that matched, then emerged into the store, modeling his new look for Mr. Lee, who nodded approvingly. Mike admired himself in the mirror, amazed by the trim figure he cut. As the front of his slacks bent outward, he realized that he was becoming aroused by his reflection, another new phenomenon for Mike. As Mr. Lee was placing his magic substances back on the shelves, he dipped a tablespoon into the yellow powder of youth and swallowed it down. A small dose like that didn't produce any major changes, maybe a few darker hairs in his mustache. Mostly, it gave Mr. Lee the quick jolt of energy he sometimes needed in the morning ever since he had given up coffee. * * * "Mr. Donnelly, there's a gentleman here to see you," came the voice over the intercom. Kenneth Donnelly looked annoyed. He had taken off his jacket and was loosening his tie, preparing to take his midday exercise break. "I was just about to head out." The assistant's voice squawked again. "He says it's regarding David Tanner." Kenneth stopped suddenly, leaving one end of the tie dangling much further from his collar than the other. "Send him in please." The door opened and Mike strode in with a sense of confidence and purpose he had rarely felt, still wearing his new suit from Mr. Lee's store. He made a quick evaluation of Kenneth Donnelly. Based on his wavy graying hair, Mike would peg him in his early forties, although his blue eyes were bright, penetrating and youthful. At first, he appeared stocky, but on closer inspection, his dress shirt was simply loose to accommodate the impressive arms and torso underneath. Through the shirt, one could clearly see the outlines of a ribbed white tank tightly caressing Kenneth's curves. Donnelly was used to making quick judgments about people as well, and he was immediately curious to hear what the man in the pin-striped suit had to say. "You have information about David Tanner?" He gestured for the man to take a seat, but Mike remained standing. "I'm a friend of David's and I believe you have information about what happened to him two weeks ago." Donnelly looked alarmed. "What do you think 'happened' to him?" Mike thought Donnelly seemed genuinely concerned, but he could just be a lawyer who was good at feigning emotions when required. Mike pulled Mr. Lee's business card from his pocket and showed it to Donnelly. "Do you know anything about this?" Donnelly kept his hands in his pockets and studied Mike. "What do you know about it?" "Can you give me any answers that aren't in the form of a question?" Donnelly pondered what he should tell this stranger. "Can I at least know who I'm talking to?" "My name's Mike. I worked with David at DigiWarp. And I'm pretty sure you're the person who sent David to see Mr. Lee." Donnelly motioned for Mike to lower his voice and crossed the office to shut the door so they wouldn't be overheard. He gestured again for Mike to take a seat, but he found that he preferred to remain standing, eye to eye with Donnelly, alpha male to alpha male. Although they were roughly the same height, Donnelly seemed to shrink a bit under Mike's glare. "I knew I shouldn't be spreading the word about Mr. Lee. Are you telling me David actually went?" "Didn't you tell him to?" "I...mentioned it. He was such a mess when we were working on his buyout, so lacking in self-worth despite all his success. I thought it might be a good idea for him to see a shrink. When he shot that down, I told him about Mr. Lee. But I never heard another word from him, so I figured he had ignored my suggestion and was just sulking around in that new mansion of his. So..." Donnelly paused before asking, "How does he look?" Mike could tell from the glint in Donnelly's eye that the lawyer was very curious to hear a detailed description, with exact measurements if possible. "He looks amazing. Keeps saying he wants to be a fireman, but I get the feeling he'd settle for exotic dancer. Anything that involves sliding on poles." Donnelly grinned, tantalized. "So if you already knew about Mr. Lee and what he had done to David, why are you here?" Mike put his cards on the table. "Because he's dumb as a bag of hammers now. He's like this big, lovable, well-hung puppy dog." "And, what, you want me to take him back to Mr. Lee and make him smart again?" Mike hesitated. "No, I don't think I want that. I mean, I've never seen him so happy. It's probably good for him that he doesn't have a care in the world. I'm just worried that someone will come along and take advantage of his good nature and rob him blind." "Not a problem. I will personally look after all of his interests and will not let him sign anything that is against his interests." Mike nodded, but didn't say anything. Donnelly could sense what was bothering Mike. Donnelly ponted at Mike and said, "YOU want to be the one who makes sure he's taken care of." Mike nodded, feeling a bit foolish. Donnelly smiled more broadly. "You're in love with him." Mike took a long time before he was able to say a simple "Yeah." "Since when?" "If I'm honest, probably since I met him. He was such a special person, and not just because of his mind. And, now, I swear to god, it's not just because of his body. I think I always saw something sweet in him that nobody else did. Look at me. I'm just a nobody. I'm not special at anything and I'm never gonna be. But if I can be the person looking out for someone special, maybe that's special enough." Donnelly was not immune to sentiment. He knew the man before him was being genuine. "If David looks as good as you say he does, there will be a lot of people trying to get between you and him." Mike looked up with determination. "Let 'em try." Donnelly was impressed. He cast a lingering glance at Mike's body and asked, "So what did Mr. Lee do for you?" He'd never met Donnelly before. Donnelly had no idea how Mike had looked before this morning. "How do you know he did anything?" Donnelly smirked as he pointed to Mike's wardrobe. "Because that's my old suit." * * * Dave was doing crunches on a yoga mat when a faint pounding seeped through the earbuds that were cranking house music. He finished his set of one-hundred before popping out the earbuds. Yup, somebody was beating on his door. He shouted, "Who is it?" "It's Kenneth Donnelly, your lawyer." Dave tried to remember if he had a lawyer. And what exactly a lawyer was. He walked to the door and opened it without checking the peephole. Donnelly stood on the front stoop with his briefcase, dressed casually in his after-work wardrobe of a polo shirt and white slacks, the shirt's elastic cuffs riding high on his ripped biceps, exposing his Celtic tattoos. If anything, Mike had undersold his description of Dave, who was bathed in sweat and wearing only a pair of soaked olive-green boxer briefs. Donnelly would have loved to get a court order to poke through those briefs, but he firmly believed that the only time you should fuck your client is when you send them your bill. Donnelly set aside prurient thoughts and got to business. "I've got some papers I want you to look over, so I thought I'd swing by on my way home, rather than making you come into the office." "Cool," Dave said, waving the man inside. He had no clue what this was about, but the guy seemed to know what he was doing. Dave took the video game chair, leaving Donnelly the option of a sweaty yoga mat or a beanbag chair. He opted for squatting in the beanbag. "First, just for official identification purposes, can I ask what is your name?" "Sure you can." Dave waited for another question. Even Donnelly was surprised just how precipitously David's IQ had fallen. But Mike had been right, all traces of David's crippling anxiety and lack of confidence were absent in the dude seated across from him. "Okay. What is your name?" "Dave Tanner." "Good, Dave. Now you might not remember it, but you recently came into a lot of money. And you hired me to help safeguard it. But you have a friend who, if you agree to it, would like to help you on a more day-to-day basis. Does that sound good?" "You bet! Who's the friend?" "Do you have a friend named Mike?" Dave scratched his tangle of curly hair vigorously, as if he were trying to scratch all the way through to the brain. Finally, it hit him. "Oh, you mean the fat dude from last night?" Donnelly smirked and shouted through the still-open front door. "Hey, fat dude, come on in." Dave swiveled his chair around and watched as a man in his mid-to-late thirties stepped through the doorway. The bald head and slightly wrinkled face were recognizable from this morning's visit to Mr. Lee, but from the chin down, this was Mike 3.0. If the first transformation had changed Mike into the equivalent of a middle-aged accountant, he would now be more firmly typecast as a gay-bar bouncer or motorcycle-gang member. Much of his bulk was back, but in the form of enormous muscles. His traps strained the straps of his black stringer tank, which was stretched tight across his solid shelf of pecs. Veins leapt out in sharp relief against the mighty curves of his arm muscles. Black denim shorts hung down to his knees, exposing calves which were once again the size of piano legs, just more elegantly carved. He exuded confidence as he nodded, "Hey, Dave." Dave crossed the room to get a better look at Mike's body. If Dave had become an ideally sculpted David, Mike was now a crushingly powerful Goliath. "Dude, you gotta tell me what gym you go to!" Mike grinned. "Same place as you." After Mike's visit to Donnelly's office, they decided another trip to Mr. Lee's shop would be necessary if Mike were ever going to have a shot at competing for Dave's attention among the sea of well-built men surrounding them. Mr. Lee broke his primary rule by not giving Mike muscles in exchange for some other attribute. Instead, he agreed to accept free legal counsel from Donnelly for the next year. As careful and selective as Mr. Lee tried to be, there were always disgruntled customers threatening to sue, so having a powerful attorney -- legally and physically -- could come in handy. Donnelly was willing to make such a deal because he felt guilty that he hadn't accompanied David to Mr. Lee's shop to keep him from making any ill-advised choices, although seeing the joy on Dave's face right now, he wasn't sure that Dave hadn't gotten exactly the body and mind he wanted and needed. "So," Dave asked Mike, "how was your day?" Mike shot a glance at Donnelly. "Eventful." Donnelly left a sheaf of papers on one of the barstools. "I'll just leave these here for Mike to explain to you. They'll allow Mike to make routine purchasing and investment decisions for the two of you. If you agree to it, you two can just sign the documents where the flags are and get the originals back to my office. You can keep the second copies for yourselves." Donnelly may as well have been speaking to an empty room, as Mike and Dave were now kissing hungrily. Mike's meaty hand was palming Dave's firm ass, and Dave was frantically unbuckling Mike's belt. Donnelly had to squeeze his own substantial body past them to get to the door. "Okay, you two have a good night. I'm sure you will." Donnelly headed down the sidewalk, smiling with certainty that at least two of Mr. Lee's customers wouldn't be suing him in disappointment. As Donnelly reached his Tesla double-parked in the street, he realized he'd forgotten to remind Mike of something. He jogged back to the front door and said, "Mike, don't forget to call DigiWarp and tell them you quit." Mike and Dave were both now naked on the yoga mat, grunting and moaning, with Mike taking his new eleven-inch cock for a test piledrive up Dave's tight ass. Donnelly smirked. Mr. Lee had resisted throwing in that cock for free, but Donnelly talked him into it. "Tell them you got a better offer."
  4. X-Dream Makeover

    A mysterious shop in San Francisco's Chinatown draws customers who wish to transform their lives.
  5. David

    Mr. Lee watched with amusement through the front window of his shop. How many customers had he seen over the years exhibiting exactly the same behavior? First, there was the double-checking of the address. Mr. Lee's shop was on the fringes of Chinatown in San Francisco. Mr. Lee should have relocated somewhere nearer the Castro years ago if he'd been thinking about his primary clientele. But money had never been a major concern for Mr. Lee and, by the time he seriously considered a move, real-estate prices were beyond absurd. Fortunately he had already made a mutually beneficial arrangement with his current landlord and was now guaranteed occupancy of this tiny shop for the rest of his life. Tell-tale sign number two of a new customer: the furtive glancing through the window while trying to make it look like you weren't. Today's young man was less adept than some, as he let his eyes linger for several moments, hoping to see exactly what was inside. But not much could be seen through the dirt-streaked window, and no sign or window painting identified the business within. This was intentional on Mr. Lee's part. He hoped to attract only those people who sought out his services due to word-of-mouth. If his shop looked run-down or even out of business, it was less likely to lure in the tourist crowd. Someone whose idea of vacation fun was riding a cable car likely wasn't prepared for what Mr. Lee had to offer. Third came the dithering, at which the current resident of the sidewalk was excelling. The more fantastical the stories they had heard, the more hesitant new clients were to go through with the experience, yet they wouldn't have made it all the way to Mr. Lee's doorstep if something deep down weren't compelling them to come here. As a result, Mr. Lee didn't see many people who walked in the door confident and content with their lives. Finally came the moment of decision. Mr. Lee estimated that sixty percent of those who made it this far "chickened out", at least on their first visit. One gentleman executed steps one through three every lunch hour for two months before finally crossing Mr. Lee's threshold, but, like most people, when he finally got the courage to go inside, the move was quick and decisive, like a skydiver committing to take that long and risky step out of a perfectly safe airplane. Mr. Lee had this kid pegged as one of the sixty percent who walk away. A snarl of red curls, untrimmed in months, dwarfed his pallid, gaunt face. A beaky nose protruded below close-set pale green eyes. His thin lips were held in a tight grimace between his sunken cheeks. His chin was little more than a speed bump on the receding slope from his lips to his neck, where his prominent Adam's apple formed a giant outcropping. His slim shoulders provided a barely adequate coathanger for his sagging gray hoodie. The hoodie offered some illusion of bulk on his sickly frame, but the truth was revealed by the spindly twigs extending below his khaki shorts. His bony hands seemed disproportionately large, as if they might make up a third of his weight, with the big feet in his Birkenstocks making up a further third. As he continued to hem and haw, the young man pretended to make a call on his iPhone, but even someone as lacking in tech savvy as the ancient Mr. Lee knew the ear hole went up by the ear. But the kid surprised Mr. Lee by lowering his head and making a beeline toward the door. He grabbed the knob and tried pulling several times, growing more and more exasperated until he noticed the word "PUSH" on the dusty door. As he swung the creaking door open, the breeze triggered a delicate clinking from a set of wind chimes. Once inside, the kid glanced back outside to make sure no one had seen him enter, then quickly slammed the door behind him. Mr. Lee tucked his lunch of a Whopper Jr. and a Mello Yello underneath the counter, to preserve his "old world" mystique. "Welcome, young man," said Mr. Lee, playing up the remnants of his accent for effect. "How can I help you today?" The young man swallowed, drawing Mr. Lee's eyes to the gigantic bobbing Adam's apple. His skin was so pale that Mr. Lee imagined that, if he handed his soda to the kid, you could actually watch the yellow liquid as it passed through his throat. Mr. Lee realized that this boy must be older than he originally thought, probably in his late twenties, but with his spindly frame and awkward body language, he seemed like a fifteen-year-old who'd been stretched out on a rack. The newcomer cleared his throat and rambled. "I, uh, a friend told me...well, not really a friend, but this guy...I mean, hopefully he'll be my friend, but that's not...what he said was that you...helped him to, um...you gave him..." "I do makeovers," said Mr. Lee, exuding serenity. The young man relaxed a tiny bit, his shoulders sagging even further. "Oh, cool, so this is the right place." Mr. Lee pointed to a stack of business cards on his countertop. They read "MR. LEE, X-DREAM MAKEOVERS", followed by the equivalent in Cantonese. "So, um, exactly how does this work...exactly?" "You tell me what you want to change, and we agree on a price you are willing to pay." "Oh, well, the price shouldn't be a problem. I work for this tech company...well, worked...I just cashed out my stocks and..." He blushed with embarrassment and disbelief. "I kinda got a lot of money now." "And you find that money is not enough to solve your problems." "Yeah, no. There's only so much shit...I mean, stuff you can buy. Sorry" "Relax, David, I have heard 'shit' before." "Oh, yeah, I suppose..." The young man stopped suddenly. "How did you know my name was David?" Mr. Lee just grinned. "A lucky guess. So what is it you wish to have that your money cannot buy you?" David paused, fearing that what he was about to say would sound incredibly shallow and stupid. "I just want...to be cool." "But with your money, surely you could buy a beautiful house and and an expensive car and fine clothes. My understanding is that such things can do wonders to make one appear 'cool' to the ladies." David's eyes looked to the dusty floor. Crossing one ankle behind the other and digging his hands deep into the pockets of his khakis, David spoke bashfully. "I'm not really trying to look cool for the ladies." Mr. Lee said, "Ahhh", as if this were a revelation. The less comfortable the new customer, the more it seemed to help if Mr. Lee acted like their sexual orientation was not blatantly obvious from the moment they appeared outside his window. In fact, Mr. Lee had many special gifts of perception, such as knowing without asking that the young man's name was David. But if he displayed too much intimate knowledge about the customer, it sometimes spooked them. He tried to reveal just enough of his power to establish his bona fides as a worker of wonders without creeping out potential customers. "Men do not also like your cool things?" "Oh, they like my stuff okay. They're just not too thrilled about this." He made a flailing gesture to indicate everything about himself. "So what would it take for you to be 'cool'?" David stuck a hand into the front pocket of his hoodie and nervously handed a folded and wrinkly piece of paper. Mr. Lee gently unfolded this piece of shoddy origami. The paper had been folded and unfolded so many times that it threatened to fall apart at the creases, and the rumpled texture suggested that it had often been crumpled up and hidden in a hurry. Mr. Lee found himself staring at a magazine page full of advertisements for dildos, lube and butt plugs. He handed the paper back to David. "I am sorry. I do not sell these here." David looked at the ads and, red-faced, turned the sheet over and laid it on the countertop, smoothing out the creases. Mr. Lee had known he was looking at the wrong side of the page the whole time. When you've been doing something as long as Mr. Lee, it becomes inevitable that you start to fuck around with the clientele, just to keep it interesting for yourself. Mr. Lee took a good look at the full-color photo which filled the proper side of the paper. A stunningly handsome and musclebound man stood in a garage wearing nothing but a fireman's hat cocked on his head, a firehose slung over one shoulder and unbuckled rubber boots on his feet. His body was tanned over its entire surface, with soot marks on his cheek and torso. His skin appeared to be slick with oil, which would seem to be a hazard in the middle of a fire. So would the man's flaccid ten-inch cock dangling between his legs, although, in an emergency, at least that could function as a back-up hose. "You wish to look like this man?" David nodded. The way he was shaking with nerves, it's almost like his whole body was nodding. Behind Mr. Lee, shelves from floor to ceiling held glass jars full of mysterious substances and labeled in Chinese. Mr. Lee gestured to his inventory. "But unfortunately for you, I do not have this man's body to sell you." "Oh. Okay, then. Well, thank you." David meekly took the paper back, stuffed it in his pocket and started to walk back to the door. "David, stop." David's body stopped abruptly, nearly toppling forward, as if Mr. Lee's very word had caused his body to halt mid-motion. He regained his balance and looked back as the elderly man brushed his fingers through his mustache. "I only said I could not give you THAT body. I did not say I could not make you, as you say, 'cool'." David walked tentatively back toward the counter. "So I could look KINDA like that?" "I will give you a new body. I can even give you clothes, which the man in your magazine seemingly cannot afford to buy." David laughed, covering his mouth to contain his joy. "That would be excellent. So how much money will it cost?" "I have no need for your money." "Holy shit, you mean it's free?" "No, David. In exchange for what you want, you must give me something I need." David pondered the possibilities. "Let's see. I've got a 70-inch 3D HDTV with the latest XBOX, but I don't suppose..." Mr. Lee shook his head. "Yeah, I didn't figure you were into that. Solar car?" Mr. Lee dismissed this suggestion. "And pay to park it in San Francisco? David, I do not need your material possessions. What I need are raw materials!" He gestured to the wall of glass jars again. "These are the ingredients for my transformations, and they are always in need of replenishment." He pulled one jar down from a shelf and set it on the countertop. David peered through the glass at a reddish powder. "What is that?" "That is strength. Previous customers have given me some of their strength in exchange for whatever quality they needed more. You want me to give you strength, of which you feel you do not have enough, so you must give me something of which you have too much." With a hopeful half-smile, David remarked, "I don't suppose you have a lotta people coming in here saying they need more insecurity. I got tons of that." Mr. Lee grinned sympathetically and pondered the matter. "You say you are not working?" "Yeah, I sold all my stock. I can probably live off it the rest of my life, unless I get really stupid, " "Then we will not make you really stupid. Perhaps just a little." David didn't like the sound of this. "Wait a minute. You want to make me dumb?" Mr. Lee spoke soothingly. "No, not dumb. But if you are not working any longer, perhaps you do not need as much of your intellect as you did before? Your naked fireman, you wished to be like him, yet he probably does not have a PhD from Stanford, am I right?" "How did you know I have a PhD from...?" David was finding all of this seriously eerie, but the thought of becoming a stud like "Smokin' Joe" from "Bros Before Hose" magazine had hardened his cock to its full four inches. David's long fingers idly stroked his penis through the cloth of his pants pocket as he mulled this decision. "I'm not gonna drool or forget how to count or something?" "Not unless that is what you want," said Mr. Lee. He walked to the shelves and brought over two more jars. He opened the lid of one which seemed to contain potpourri. David found its floral scent entrancing. "That is for beauty. I will use that to refashion your face." He closed the lid quickly so it wouldn't lose its potency. The other jar was nearly empty. Circling around its base was a thick silvery substance, clinging together like drops of mercury. "And this is intelligence. As you can see, my supply is low, so I would be very eager to restock with some of your surplus." David started to reason out loud. "Well, I do tend to overthink things. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad to not be so 'inside my head' all the time." Feeling he was close to a sale, Mr. Lee reached back for another container, this one half-full with a dark brown powder, like instant coffee. "Self-confidence. I will throw it in for free." David took a deep breath and said, "It's a deal." He offered his hand to Mr. Lee, who merely raised his palms into the air. Mysteriously, the room dimmed. Light even stopped streaming through the front door and window, as if the grime on the glass had suddenly become opaque. The only illumination came from a spotlight behind Mr. Lee which lit David's entire body. David looked around uneasily. "Uh, what do I do now?" "First I must take my payment. I learned long ago that if I wait until after I have given you what you want, you might resist giving me what I want." "That makes sense. But how can I be sure you'll give me what I want after you've taken what you want?" "You are so full of questions, young David. You won't have to worry about that much longer." Suddenly, David felt a suction that made his ears pop, as if his brain had been hooked to a vacuum cleaner. He clutched the sides of his head in agony, grit his teeth and slammed his eyes shut. If his eyes had been open, he could have noticed tiny particles, like specks of dust, floating through the air in the spotlight, en route to the jar Mr. Lee was holding open. Upon reaching the jar, they condensed into liquid form and the level of the contents of the jar started to rise. David felt light-headed, like after a few beers. Hang on. Beers? He never drank. Drinking was a stupid waste of time and brain cells. Ha! Like he had brain cells to waste. He struggled to remember: had he even gone to college? Dave heard a friendly voice. "How are you feeling, David?" "Awesome, dude. How're you?" "I'm fine. Just keep your eyes closed." "Excellent!" Mr. Lee looked at the jar of intelligence, which was now nearly half-full, and worried that he might have taken too much. Well, he thought, I can always give some back if I need to. He put on leather gloves and dug a scoop into the jar of strength. He walked from behind the counter, dragging a stepladder behind him. "I need you to take off your shirt and drop your pants, okay?" With a dopey smile, David pulled the hoodie over his head, tangling his arms in the sleeves before eventually extricating himself. He unbuckled his belt and let his shorts fall to the floor with a thud. His frail body seemed at odds with the doofusy voice with which he was now speaking. His right hand absent-mindedly latched onto the short but rigid lump in his underpants. The ladder squeaked against the floor as Mr. Lee pulled it into position beside David. Mr. Lee climbed to the top step and began to sprinkle the red strength powder onto David's shoulders. It cascaded downward, covering his sunken chest, his small flabby belly, his starkly visible ribcage. David let out a throaty guffaw. "Tickles!", he said with a shiver. Mr. Lee stepped down from the ladder and tossed powder against David's legs until they were covered, then pulled on the elastic at the front of David's underwear and dumped in half a scoop. Mr. Lee walked back to the counter, studied the photo of the fireman, then walked over and gave David's crotch another half scoop for good measure. One final dusting down the rear of his underpants and phase two was complete. "You still doing okay, David?" "Sure thing, bro-seph. And call me Dave." That kicked in fast, thought Mr. Lee. He quickly grabbed the jar of beauty potpourri and held it beneath Dave's nose to give him a whiff. Dave's nose twitched. He tried to resist but finally unleashed a massive sneeze, which stirred up the potpourri, enveloping Dave's face in the wondrous scent. Mr. Lee ducked to avoid the cloud of dust that the sneeze had stirred up. He set the jar on the counter and stood back to watch what happened next. Dave's shoulders began to ache. His right hand stayed wrapped around his cock, but he reached up his left hand to rub his shoulder. Damn, his arms were hurting too. Did he push himself too hard at the gym? He rubbed his eyes and opened them, noticing a full-length mirror of the otherwise darkened room. He felt sad upon seeing his reflection and its evidence that he was just a dumb scrawny geek who never worked out. He was pretty sure he didn't work either, but his memories were fuzzy. He vaguely remembered quitting a job, and it seemed like he had some money in the bank, but beyond that it was all a blur. No wonder he didn't have a job, he thought to himself, if he was too dumb to remember if he even had one. He glanced down at his body and wondered why it was covered with red shit. He saw some on his fingers and dabbed it to his tongue for a taste. Mr. Lee felt like rushing forward and telling him to stop, but he didn't want to distract Dave during this critical phase of the process. When Dave tasted the powder, it was disgusting, but it caused a tingling in his tongue, not unlike the one that was now spreading through the rest of his body. It was like he had a generator in his heart that was sending electricity out to his limbs. He rolled his neck and could hear bones crunching against each other. With each breath, he felt more pumped. Glancing down, he saw pancake-sized pecs and a slight groove leading down from them toward his crotch. His lanky arms still hung feebly at his side, but he bunched his fists together as a growing intensity overtook him. The pounding he had felt in his head was gone, but now his bones began to throb, like a toothache, only everywhere. He pressed his teeth together and let out a fierce growl, hoping it would ease his pain, but a fire continued in his muscles and joints and now his face was becoming numb. He looked across the room at another guy in his underwear going through similar agony. Wait, it was that mirror again. Shit, that dude is me! Hadn't he been a geek the last time he looked? He was still coated with that weird red shit, but he looked more pumped. His shoulder muscles definitely bulged out, narrowing to sleek biceps, but his forearms were still scrawny. Similarly, his quads broadened impressively out of his tighter-than-usual tighty whities, but his calves remained twiglike. He rubbed his fingers across welts on his stomach, only to find them hard to the touch. Was he getting honest-to-god abs? The thought made him smile, and the gleam of this teeth in the mirror caught his notice. He didn't remember getting a haircut lately, but his bush of hair looked a lot shorter now, and darker too. One more wave of energy rippled through him, knocking him to his knees. His shoulders stretched outward and his torso thickened, until only a pleasing trace of his ribs was visible and his proportions took on a defined V. He could feel his suddenly rounded calves pop against the back of his thighs, and a rush of pleasure spread through him as his cock almost instantaneously doubled in size. His hands were now sinewy at the end of beefy forearms. Oddly, even his tongue felt fatter. He didn't know that was a muscle you could build. He wondered how much he could tongue-press. As the wave of euphoria subsided, Dave slumped onto the floor. "How do you feel, Dave?", came a voice from the darkness. Shit, Dave suddenly remembered that there was somebody else here, but he couldn't remember who it was. Dave realized he couldn't even remember exactly WHERE he was. "Look in the mirror and tell me what you think," said the voice. Dave found it impossible to ignore the voice. He struggled to his hands and knees, then stood up fully on his legs, kicking his feet free of the khakis wrapped around his feet and leaving his tattered sandals behind. Mr. Lee was pleased with the wonders his magic had worked. If anything, David would now be the firefighter's wet dream. His frail body hadn't grown more than a couple inches in height, but his bones and muscles had gained in size to turn him into a flawless physical specimen. His legs were thick with hair, as was his pubic region, but his chest, abs and back were vast expanses of tanned and hairless skin. His tight curly hair was trimmed close on the sides over smouldering heavy-lidded eyes. His nose was now sleek yet masculine, and plump wide lips were surrounded by a dusting of stubble on his chiseled cheeks and jaw. Yet Dave was looking into the mirror critically, with a look of disappointment. "Fuck, who's ever gonna date a guy who looks like me?" Mr. Lee was taken aback by the absurdity of this remark, then had a sudden realization. "I forgot the self-confidence!" He rushed to the counter, inserted a spoon into the dark crystals, then carried it across the room. He held it up to Dave's mouth, but Dave held his lips tightly closed and backed away. "Just try it," urged Mr. Lee. "You'll like it, I promise." Dave held his mouth shut stubbornly, like a three-year-old, so Mr. Lee commanded him, "Open your mouth." Mr. Lee's powers of mind control overcame Dave's resistance. His mouth dropped open and Mr. Lee shoveled in the potent granules. Dave thought they tasted nasty, clinging to his pumped tongue, but as they began to trickle down his throat, he had a sense of calm and well-being. Mr. Lee waited a minute, then told Dave, "Look in the mirror now." Dave turned back to his reflection. He loved what he saw. He turned in profile to check out his firm rounded ass which his briefs were straining to contain. He raised his arms in a double-biceps pose and smiled fiercely. "That's what I'm talkin' about! Fuckin' A!" Mr. Lee stepped behind the counter and began reshelving his inventory. As Dave continued to pose delightedly for himself, Mr. Lee decided that any more intelligence would probably just get in the way. The silvery liquid sloshed inside its jar as Mr. Lee replaced it on the shelf. The lights in the shop rose and sunlight began to seep through the windows again. Mr. Lee pushed the mirror aside and parted a curtain leading into a back room with racks and racks of clothes. Mr. Lee gestured to a specific area which had clothes in Dave's size. "Pick out a free set of clothes to get you started. And don't go too crazy buying new clothes after you leave here." Mr. Lee carefully hung David's old hoodie and khaki shorts on hangers. Someday, they would be the right size for a future customer, just as all the clothes now hanging in the dressing room were left behind after previous transformations. Dave's eyes lit up at the options hanging before him. At first he was drawn to a simple pair of ripped jeans and a white t-shirt. Maybe paired with the letter jacket hanging nearby. Nah, he didn't want to cover up his guns like that. Why hide a body as awesome as his? He squeezed into some black leather pants with a matching vest. Damn, the outline of his nine-inch cock looked great, but wouldn't it be too much of a hassle to get them on and off quickly? Maybe just a tank and some shorts. Wait...was that an SFFD uniform? He reached over and held a t-shirt bearing the logo of the San Francisco Fire Department in front of him. He pulled on the shirt, then checked himself out in the mirror. The shirt was a size too small for him, which just made the heft of his muscles look that much more impressive. The ends of the sleeves were pushed up by his bulging biceps. Something stirred in him. "Am I a fireman?", he wondered. He couldn't say he remembered ever fighting a fire, and yet the idea felt somehow right. His confidence swelled as he thought about saving people's lives for a living. Better than just sitting around doing nothing. The tinkling of chimes by the front door caught Mr. Lee's attention. He instructed Dave that, whenever he found the outfit he liked, he could just let himself out the back. As Dave pulled on the fireman's jacket, he became so enamored with himself that he barely heard Mr. Lee. He just mumbled a dull "Thanks" and yanked on a pair of fireman's pants. He could already envision himself with some smudges of soot on his face. Body covered in sweat. Taking a shower with the other firemen. Dave grinned at his reflection. "Shit," he thought, "I'd fuck me." Mr. Lee closed the curtain, moved the mirror back into place and turned his attention to the new customer, who was pacing nervously inside the doorway. Damn, Mr. Lee thought, the way today was going, he would never finish his lunch.
  6. "21-Year-Old Scotch" by Cris Kane

    Not sure. Trying to motivate myself to write a big project.
  7. Just wanted to promote my story, now that all of the chapters have been posted. I appreciate all the positive feedback I've received so far. This is the first time I've posted a story on this site, after posting quite a few at gayspiralstories.com.
  8. Chapter 8

    From chapter 3: "The proprietor's actual last name was Gogola or Galatas or something similarly Greek, but he had been rechristened by his collegiate customers in honor of the Galaga arcade game which was currently bleeping and blooping and pa-kowing as always alongside Scott's favorite pinball game."
  9. Chapter 10

    Gradually, faint sounds reached Scott, as if a portable radio was playing a mile away and being flitered through a mixture of caramel and nougat that filled the space between his ears. What at first seemed like the yipping of a distant dog gradually resolved itself into distinguishable syllables, then grew louder and became actual words. "Sir, are you okay?", someone asked. "Scott, can you hear me?" Echoing far in the background, Scott could detect voices singing over a driving beat. He'd heard the words many times before: "I was dreamin' when I wrote this, so sue me if I go 2 fast. But life is just a party, and parties weren't meant 2 last." Scott slowly moved his eyelids, prompting a different voice to say, "I think he's coming to." He felt two hands on each of his forearms, lifting him off the cool, hard floor and planting him on a barstool. When Scott finally opened his eyes, he stared blearily ahead and saw a middle-aged man staring at him. Things were fuzzy, but he didn't look bad for an old guy, with lean features and a close-cropped cut clearly designed to deemphasize his dwindling gray hair. That he kept himself in decent shape for his age was emphasized by the tailored fit of his white Oxford shirt. The top two buttons were undone, offering a hint of a solid, tanned chest. An empty glass rested on the bar before him. He looked a little lost. Flanking that customer were a muscular young blond without a shirt and a shorter man in a v-neck tee, heavy-set and cue-ball bald. As Scott regained his faculties, he realized that two men of exactly that same description were standing on either side of him, steadying him on his barstool. When Scott raised a hand to feel for bumps on the back of his head, his mirror-image did likewise. Scott looked down at the bar and noticed his own empty glass. His confusion lifted as Scott realized he had been looking at his own reflection. He regained his bearings, and the murkiness in his brain dissipated quickly as memories came flooding in, as if a data dump of his entire life history was being downloaded into his mind in a single burst from an immense zip file. "You all right, Scott?", the golden-haired adonis asked, checking the dilation of his customer's pupils. "You really took a header off that stool." Scott recognized him as the bartender who moments ago had served him a birthday drink, the most amazing drink Scott had ever had. "I'll be fine," Scott assured him, although he was still a bit loopy from the drink's after-effects. "That stuff sure has one hell of a kick!" The bartender nodded, with a sly grin. "We only bring it out on very rare occasions for customers we think will appreciate it." Scott turned toward the stocky man. "Thanks to you too for helping me up." The stocky fellow said, "My pleasure." Despite his jowls and the Billy Joel bags under his bloodshot green eyes, there was something elfin and spry about the guy. He was examining Scott's face carefully. "Do I know you from somewhere?" Reluctantly, Scott admitted, "Maybe you've seen me on TV." "Nah, I don't watch TV," the bald guy growled dismissively. Realizing they were roughly the same age, Scott suggested, "Well, I did go to college here. Maybe we had classes together?" "Could be. Jew ever used ta come here?", the man asked, indicating the bar. "Yeah, once in a while. Once I was legal." The fireplug of a man leaned closer, giving Scott a full blast of beer breath. "Did you and I ever...hook up?" Scott gave the man's face a second look. Although there was indeed something familiar about him, Scott shook his head and said, "I don't think so." "Aw. Too bad. I betchoo were pretty cute." Scott watched as the guy gimped toward the front door, taking one last wistful look at the patrons on the dance floor who were partying like it was 1999. Scott did the math and calculated that most of those dancers would likely have been in pre-school in 1999. Scott shook his head in disbelief and thought, "God, I'm old." The hunky young bartender jerked his chin in the direction of the exit and said, "Don't mind that guy. He's harmless. My uncle told me, back in the day, that guy was quite the stud. Almost went to the Olympics." Now it clicked. "That was Art?" He could now see the facial resemblance, but it was hard to grasp that those once perfectly-honed muscles were now buried somewhere inside that roly-poly body. "Yeah, that's Art. So you did know him?" "I used to see him around. Why didn't he go to the Olympics?" "Really sad. Apparently, just before trials, he suffered a bad groin pull." Scott hated himself for finding this hilariously poetic. "The way I remember it, somebody new was pulling his groin every night." The bartender chuckled. "Yeah, I've heard the stories. People sure change over time, don't they?" Scott nodded. "You're very wise for your age, Trey." He was surprised he could still remember the bartender's name after the tumble he had taken. Trey returned behind the bar, and Scott once again admired the intricately filigreed tattooed wings that dominated the bartender's back. Over the cash register hung a framed poorly-focused and off-kilter photo of a cranky man with a crew-cut, giving the camera the finger with both hands. Trey pointed to the picture and said, "If you used to come here, then you must have known my uncle." "Your uncle was Shemp? Wow. I haven't thought about him in forever. He sure was a crusty old fart. Hey, this has always bugged me. Shemp wasn't his real name, was it?" Trey shook his head. "Shepard. When my dad was a baby, he couldn't pronounce Shepard. Closest he could get was Shemp, and it stuck." "Huh. Interesting. So, is he still around?" Trey hung his head solemnly. "Afraid not." Scott was about to offer his condolences when Trey looked up and said, "He and his husband live on a boat in Key West." Scott shook a fist in mock anger at Trey. Scott always grew nostalgic whenever he was back in town. His thoughts naturally drifted to the people he knew during his college days, like his old roommate Lee, who had approached Scott on graduation day and apologized for voting to toss him out of the apartment. They hadn't stayed in touch over the years, but had recently reconnected on Facebook. Seemed like a perfectly decent family man, but they shared little in common besides briefly living at the same address. On the other hand, Scott had never spoken to Kevin again after the eviction. Lee informed Scott that Kevin had indeed gone on to be a cop and was already retired. The one detail that Lee felt compelled to share with Scott was that Kevin's oldest son was gay...and that Kevin had recently walked him down the aisle. No news on whether this had made Kevin any more tolerant of people who weren't related to him. Following the great eviction, Scott and Todd had found a nice two-bedroom apartment close to campus, which they shared until Scott graduated. Todd did ask Amanda on a date once, shortly after she and Scott broke up, but, to no one's surprise but Todd, he wasn't her type. Scott and Todd had remained good friends, trying to get together for a weekend someplace every couple of years. Todd was very successful in real estate, and had become something of an international marijuana connoisseur, traveling to the remotest corners of the planet in his endless quest for the most righteous bud. Todd had never married, but each year his Christmas card showed him in some different exotic locale in the company of some different stunning young lady, each of whom Todd expressed certainty would turn out to finally be "the one". Because of Todd's globe-trotting adventures as an international man of mystery in search of primo weed and foxy ladies, Scott had taken to referring to his old friend as "James Bong". Phil (he dropped the whole "call me Phillipe" thing after a month) remained around town after graduation, getting a job as a hair stylist and staying involved in drama at the community theater, doing hair and costumes and occasionally performing. It was during a production of "Greater Tuna" that he met the love of his life, a visiting director from London named Rafe who was so flamboyant that Phil seemed downright pedestrian by comparison. They had four spectacular years together -- and Phil remained constantly by his side, dutifully nursing Rafe through a long losing battle with AIDS. Scott felt the cell phone buzzing in his pocket. He pulled it out and saw a birthday text from Amanda, accompanied by a photo of her family. After their breakup, Amanda had done a lot of soul searching about her own conflicted feelings. Long story short, she and her sorority sister Patty (who now preferred "Pat") had been together since college and now had three extraordinary kids: Yana, who was adopted from Syria; Olivier, who was adopted from Rwanda; and Patrick. When Amanda and Pat decided to try in-vitro fertilization, they asked if Scott would be the sperm donor, the greatest honor of Scott's life. Unfortunately, after two failed attempts, it was determined that Amanda could never carry a baby to term, which is how Pat ended up being the one who gave birth to Patrick from Amanda's egg and Scott's sperm. Growing up, the family nicknamed the boy "Scooter", as a nod to Scott and to avoid confusion with Pat, but he abandoned his nickname when he entered school and encountered children who had seen "The Muppet Show". Inside the family, he still answered to "Scoot". Scoot got Amanda's breathtaking looks and Scott's blond curls, which the now college-age boy wore in a bountiful afro. Scott would always point to his own thinning hair and warn Scoot not to get too attached to it. Interestingly, in the family snapshot, Pat's hair was roughly as short as Scott's. Scott and Amanda chatted frequently, far better friends now than they ever had been as a couple in college, and the whole family, including Scott, vacationed together as often as their busy schedules allowed. When the women finally tied the knot two years ago, Scott stood beside Amanda at the altar...as her best man. He was delighted to see both women smiling in the photo and so obviously still in love. He would have hated to see Amanda get tied down in an unhappy marriage to some loser. Scott and Jared had flirted with a relationship on and off in college, but Jared's reluctance to become a couple openly caused a rift which only intensified when they moved to opposite coasts after graduation. Jared headed to Hollywood as he planned, intuitively knowing that his was a face born to be on the big screen, while Scott tried his luck in New York City. The fiercely competitive environment forced Scott to work hard to improve his craft, while he scraped by bartending at a dive in the Village. He gradually made his way from off-Broadway to supporting roles on Broadway to the occasional guest spot on one "Law And Order" or another. He eventually landed a role on a soap opera as one of the first openly gay characters on daytime, unsuccessfully lobbying the writers and producers to give him the first male-on-male kiss in soap history. The material wasn't exactly Mamet, but he was making a more-than-good living as a professional actor, something his father had sworn would never happen. From three thousand miles away, Scott watched as Jared's stardom grew, getting increasingly bigger roles in increasingly bigger movies, but becoming typecast as the prototypical handsome lout who tended to end up covered in frosting or manure by the end credits. Scott envied Jared's mainstream success, while Jared was jealous of Scott's greater ability to keep his private life private. Glancing at the tabloids in the supermarket, Scott frequently saw Jared's name awkwardly portmanteau-ed Brangelina-style with that of some rising starlet or another. Jared played along with the game publicly, assured by his "people" that it was good for his image, but the dishonesty and secrecy ate away at him. He turned to booze more and more, sometimes drunk-dialing Scott in the middle of the night, L.A. time. During those marathon calls which often lasted until dawn rose over Manhattan, Jared on more than one occasion told Scott, "You're the only person I can tell the truth to." The two of them had gone without seeing each other in person for several years when they were asked to serve as pallbearers at Phil's funeral. Despite everyone's initial assumption upon hearing the news of his death, Phil did not meet the same fate as his longtime companion. Phillip had been crossing the street, on his way to opening night of a one-man show he wrote and starred in about his years with Rafe, when he was was struck by a hit-and-run drunk driver. He died instantly and, everyone hoped, painlessly. Scott was heartbroken, having traveled to town specifically to be there for the premiere. When Jared arrived from Hollywood, he was devastated and blotto, barely able to keep it together during the service and finally losing all composure at the cemetery (where Scott was pleased to note that the headstone read "PHILLIPE"). After the funeral, Scott and Jared went to the Rusty Nail to get good and shitfaced, and Jared couldn't stop asking out loud, "What if I had been the drunken asshole who hit Phil?" That night, they returned to Jared's lavish hotel suite for some sloppy foreplay before, in what had become a time-honored tradition in their friendship, both of them passed out. In the morning, Scott helped Jared make arrangements to enter rehab -- and took an extended leave from the soap opera to go to Los Angeles to be there for him. After five weeks, he pulled up stakes permanently and moved in with Jared. They attempted to keep their relationship low key, but avoiding paparazzi became more and more difficult. One morning five years ago, Jared woke up, told Scott he was tired of pretending, booked an appearance on "Ellen", and just happened to casually mention his boyfriend during the interview. Jared's agent and manager objected fiercely. Jared promptly fired them both. Six months later, Scott and Jared got married in Paris on the Eiffel Tower. Scott dearly wished that his mom had lived to see that day. He was glad that his dad hadn't. "Sorry, Nugget. Did I miss anything important?" Scott turned around on his stool to face Jared, who had only grown more handsome as he got older. His slicked-back hair and matching goatee were currently dyed jet black for his latest movie role, but even without the dye, Jared only had a few stray gray hairs. DNA had been exceptionally generous to Jared. "Let's see, while you were in the men's room, I took a drink of scotch and I passed out on the floor." Jared tsk-tsked. "Liquor is a dangerous thing." Jared's sobriety bracelet was barely visible inside the cuff of his black Versace suit. As the sounds of Prince segued into the opening strains of "(I've Had) The Time Of My Life", Scott pointed up toward the speakers. "Your request?" "You know me too well," Jared said. "Hey, you'll never guess who was just here," Scott said. "Remember Art Concrete, that big gymnast from school?" "Oh, yeah!", Jared said, lighting up at the memory. "He used to be smokin' hot. How is he now?" "Room temperature," Scott informed him. "Oh, I almost forgot. When I came to, I had this crazy idea stuck in my head for a movie. A guy gets magically transported back to his college days and has the chance to alter the way his life turns out. Huh? What do you think?" Jared wrinkled his nose. "Been done. I prefer stories that are a little more grounded in reality." "Says the man playing Kraven the Hunter in the next Spider-man movie." "Touché." Scott loved to tease Jared about his latest part, but in fact, Scott was immensely proud that Jared had emerged from his dark years, his stint in rehab and the hubbub over coming out of the closet, and now had the biggest role of his career as the main bad guy in a Marvel movie. Scott certainly couldn't gripe about the studio requiring Jared to get in the best shape of his life for the part, in which he would display his impressively jacked torso beneath a vest made from a lion's mane. Scott had stayed admirably fit, mostly through swimming after he wrecked his knees running, but he finally had to concede that Jared had outstripped him in the body department. Seeing how much grueling effort at the gym it had taken for Jared to develop python-sized arms and an eight-pack at the age of fifty, Scott promised Jared that he would be willing to do the same, but only under the condition that Marvel paid him millions of dollars to do it. Jared noticed the time and said, "Hey, we better start heading to campus for the ceremony." Scott nodded, pulling on a gray Armani jacket. The two of them had returned to town not just to mark Scott's fiftieth, but because the stage where they had first acted together in "Equus" was officially being renamed the Jared Taylor/Scott Mitchell Theater tonight. Scott couldn't help but think of the line from that old movie: "Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough." Apparently you could now add Jared and Scott to that list. As Scott rose to his feet, Jared noticed something strange in Scott's hair and attempted to brush it away with his hand. "Watch it with the hair, Kraven," Scott said. "I need to protect my vanishing natural resources." "Sorry. I just saw a little dandruff." "Dandruff? I don't get dandruff." Scott reached back and could definitely feel something odd clinging to the hair on the back of his head. He grabbed a few granules and examined them. "That's not dandruff. It's sawdust. Must be from when I hit my head on the..." He looked down at the smooth black floor, and didn't see a speck of sawdust. "Hey, Trey, when did you guys stop putting sawdust on the floor?" Trey shrugged his impressive shoulders. "No idea. Before my time." Scott looked flummoxed. He sensed that something was askew here, but he couldn't for the life of him think what it could be. Jared studied Scott with genuine concern."You sure you're okay, Nugget?" Scott shook off his confusion and smiled adoringly at his husband, squeezing his hand. "Never felt better in my life." THE END
  10. Chapter 9

    It began to sprinkle before Scott was a third of the way to his destination, but he didn't pick up his pace. In his current frame of mind, the raindrops on his face and body felt refreshing, even cleansing. Even when it turned into a downpour, Scott continued his leisurely stroll, unconcerned with how wet he got. He didn't fear the storm clouds any more. When he finally reached the entrance of the Rusty Nail, Scott and his wallet were pleased to learn that there was no cover charge on Sundays. He did still need to flash his I.D. to the bouncer, who stamped a fresh pink symbol over the rain-smeared blue one that remained from last night. As he stepped inside the club, Scott felt at peace. Although he had never entered this place until twenty-four hours ago, it now felt like home. Inside these walls, he didn't have to explain or apologize for who he was. He could just be. The club was less packed than it had been on Saturday, but a couple dozen guys were on the dance floor, embracing the current song's directive that everybody should have fun tonight and, secondarily, Wang Chung tonight. Scott vigorously scrubbed his fingers through his hair to shake loose the excess moisture and bring back some volume to his mullet. He realized that his snug leather shorts were likely to grow even tighter as they dried, and merely the anticipation of that caused his erection to intensify. He walked toward the bar, noticing that his wet shoes were picking up sawdust from the floor with each step, leaving a trail of footprints behind him. Scott climbed onto a stool and noticed Shemp, the flat-topped, tatted, cranky bartender from last night, facing away from him, outfitted tonight in a ribbed olive tank top and camo pants. "Hey, how come you guys put sawdust on the floor anyway?" Shemp glanced into the mirror behind the bar and recognized Scott. "Sawdust's absorbent, so it makes it a lot easier to clean up a spilled drink. Or puke. Or blood. Or piss. Or cum..." "Okay, I get the idea!", Scott said. "Sorry I asked." Shemp slung a bar rag over his shoulder and approached Scott. "So what can I get the birthday boy to drink tonight? Looks like you got caught in the rain, so I suppose you'd like a piña colada." Scott laughed, then thought about his financial situation. "Can I just get a water?" Shemp gave him the stinkeye. "Oh, sure, now that nobody's buying for you, you turn into a cheapskate. You want water, go back outside and aim your mouth upward." "Sorry," Scott said. "I'm just light on cash right now." Behind him, Scott heard someone say, "I'll buy you a drink." Scott recognized the voice instantly, but hearing it in this context was totally unexpected, even disorienting. A familiar pungent aroma confirmed the speaker's idenity before Scott even looked up. He spun around on his stool and saw his roommate Todd, looking slightly damp but totally chill in a Mötley Crüe concert tee, ripped jeans and white Reeboks. "What are you doing here?", Scott asked. "Looking for you. I tried Galaga's but they said you just left, so I took a shot that you might come here. I musta driven right past you. So, what can I get you?" Scott gave it a moment's thought, then turned to Shemp and asked, "Can I get a Fuzzy Navel?" Never having been an adventurous drinker, Scott was surprised how many different mixed drinks he could think of. He even knew the ingredients and how to prepare them. Noticing Shemp's blank stare, he helpfully offered, "It's got peach schnapps and..." "I know what's in it," Shemp said, none too thrilled that Scott had come up with yet another frou-frou order. He pointed to Todd. "You?" "Heineken," Todd said confidently. Shemp was more tolerant of that order and walked off to get their drinks. Scott was so staggered by the sight of Todd in a gay bar, he couldn't think straight. So many questions were swirling in his head, but the first one to escape his mouth was "How'd you get in here?" Scott lowered his voice so Shemp wouldn't hear. "You're not twenty-one." Todd discreetly flashed Scott an authentic-looking Idaho driver's license. The photo was definitely Todd, but it gave his name as Raoul Walsh. Scott chuckled when he noticed the birthdate. "This thing says you're four years older than me. And six foot two? Who's gonna believe that?" "They let me in, didn't they?" Shemp returned, handing Todd his Heineken and placing Scott's hurricane glass daintily on a napkin. Todd handed Shemp a ten, raised his green bottle, and clinked it against Scott's drink. "Happy belated birthday, man. Better late than never." Scott sipped some of his peach-and-orange concoction as Todd took a swig of from his bottle. Still bursting with curiosity, Scott asked gingerly, "So...do...you...come here...often?" "What? Me? No!", Todd said, gagging on his beer. Todd noticed a slight frown on Scott's face and realized he had come off away too defensive. Given that he was voluntarily standing in the middle of a gay disco, Todd knew he should have anticipated that Scott might make the obvious assumption. "Sorry, I didn't mean anything by that. But, no, I've never been in one of these places before. I usually hang out at the bars around campus." Ah, Scott thought, that explained where Todd disappeared for hours every night. Todd looked around to assess his surroundings. "This is a nice place, though. Not creepy at all." "Creepy? What exactly were you expecting?", asked Scott, fully aware that he himself had been too spooked to enter this place until yesterday...or, to be more accurate, twenty-nine years from yesterday. "I dunno. I guess I figured everything would be frilly and pink, and there'd be guys in leather chained to the wall gettin' whipped and shit." Scott stifled a giggle. "No, you're thinking of Malibu Barbie's Dream Sex Dungeon. That's another mile down the road." "Oh. Cool. Maybe I'll hit that next." Todd smirked. "If you go, be sure to ask for Ken." "I bet you G.I. Joe is a regular," Todd shot back. "He's probably a pretty popular guy with that kung-fu grip of his!" They both chuckled, but Todd's expression and tone quickly turned serious. "Hey, listen, man, I just wanted to apologize for Kevin. He's got no right to throw you out." "He said there was a vote," Scott said. "I take it you were the odd man out." "Ya gotta believe me, I tried my best to talk some sense into those guys. I think I almost got Lee on my side, but you know him, he's totally Kevin's butt boy." Todd flinched at his choice of words. "Sorry. I didn't mean anything by that." Scott waved his hands to indicate that he took no offense. "So, finally, I told them if Scott goes, I go." "And what'd Kevin say to that?" Todd pulled a folded newspaper from the back pocket of his jeans, open to the apartment listings. "Guess we're lookin' for a new place, roomie." And with that, a bit of Scott's faith in humanity was restored. "Seriously? You wouldn't be afraid to share a place with a 'fag'?" "Not if you don't mind living with a 'pothead'!" He jammed the paper back in his pocket and took another glug. Scott propped an elbow on the bar and rested his chin in his hand. He was disappointed in himself that he hadn't bothered to get to know Todd better the first time around. He'd been too shy and nervous to appreciate much beyond Todd's appealing surface and the occasional second-hand high, but it took real balls for a straight guy in the Eighties to come into a gay bar and be so unfazed. Then again, Todd probably had enough THC in his system that a nuclear holocaust wouldn't harsh his mellow. Todd said, "Ya know, I always kinda had a fifth sense you might be gay, but I wasn't sure until I saw you in that horse play." Scott was surprised and delighted to hear that Todd had gone to "Equus". "You came?" "Just about, when that chick got naked." Todd's poker-faced delivery was so dry, Scott wasn't sure if Todd was joking or had genuinely misunderstood the question. As the next song began, Scott burst out laughing, slapping a hand over his mouth. "What's so funny?", Todd asked. Scott pointed up to the speakers, then realized that Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up" didn't have the same universal kitsch value in this pre-"Rickrolling" era. It was a just a popular song by that white guy from England who looked like Howdy Doody. "You don't like this song?", Todd asked. "I dunno, I think it's kinda catchy. I mean, it's no 'Pour Some Sugar On Me', but..." Todd scratched his head, giving something serious thought, then asked casually, "So, do you ever dance?" "I have been known to dance," Scott answered. It slowly dawned on him that Todd was mulling a follow-up question, so he relieved Todd of the responsibility of asking it. "Are you wondering if I would dance...with you?" Todd shrugged. "Sure, why not? It's just dancin'. When in Rome and shit, right?" Todd drained the rest of his drink and placed the bottle on the bar beside Scott's half-empty glass. "Course, you don't hafta go around blabbin' about it." Hopping down from his stool, Scott scoffed, "Who am I gonna tell? Kevin?" Although Scott did have to squelch the urge to run to a phone booth and tell Phillipe all about this right the fuck now. Todd gestured for Scott to lead the way to the dance floor, where they joined the other customers already shaking their groove things. The roommates both looked bemused and awkward, finding themselves in a situation that neither had contemplated until a minute ago. As Scott gyrated his arms and shifted stiffly from foot to foot, he watched Todd ease into the beat, his body moving seductively with the music. "Holy shit, you're a good dancer," Scott declared. "So the ladies tell me," Todd said with a lopsided grin. Finally getting a good look at Scott from head to toe, Todd observed, "Galaga wasn't kiddin' when he said what you were wearin'. This how you're gonna dress all the time now?" Scott had become so comfortable, he had to look down to be reminded what he was wearing. "Only for formal occasions. Ya know, weddings and funerals and such. At home, I'll probably just wear a g-string." Todd laughed uneasily, not used to Scott being the deadpan one. "You are joking, right?" Scott failed to conceal his grin. "Thank god. I do like the earring. I've actually been thinkin' of gettin' one myself." "Really?", Scott asked, easily envisioning a simple gold hoop in Todd's lobe. "Yeah. In the right ear, though." Having gone through this himself last night, Scott asked for clarification. "You mean the right ear? Or the RIGHT ear?" Todd winced, trying to remember the rules. "The whatever-ear-is-not-the-ear-that-you-got ear." Scott nodded. "I know a guy." Something caught Todd's attention over Scott's shoulder. He leaned toward Scott and mumbled, "Don't look now, but there's a guy scopin' you out at two o'clock." To Todd's mortification, Scott instantly turned his head over his left shoulder and saw Art across the dance floor, dancing with no one in particular and showing off his gymnastic moves in gray jeans and a paisley vest with no shirt. Although Art was definitely looking their direction, Scott could tell that he was not Art's focus. "Hate to tell you, buddy, but I'm pretty sure he's scoping YOU out." Todd snorted a laugh and said, "No way." "Hey, you put yourself in the meat market, you gotta expect people are gonna check out your cutlets." "I s'pose it's a compliment," Todd conceded, then asked Scott, "So is that guy your 'type'?" Scott gave it some thought. While he still admired Art's physique from an aesthetic standpoint, Scott realized that, after last night's interaction, he had lost all interest in Art. Todd interpreted Scott's silence as reluctance to be honest. "Hey, don't be embarrassed to admit it. I mean, if you're gonna be into guys, he is pretty jacked. He's got a good butt." Scott gasped. "You're checking out his butt?" Todd was matter-of-fact. "What? That is scientifically a good butt. If that exact same butt was on a chick, I would be majorly into it. Isn't that the kind of thing you guys talk about? How much you like each other's butts?" Scott had to admit the truth. "To be honest, I haven't really talked to a lot of guys about butts or...any of this. I'm kinda new at it." Todd nodded sympathetically. "Okay, so if not that guy, what IS your type?" Scott pondered that question, realizing that the subject had finally moved beyond the realm of the hypothetical. "Probably the same things you want in a girl. Someone who's loyal. Honest. Friendly. Smart." "Isn't that the Boy Scout oath?", Todd asked. "So what you're saying is you're looking for a guy who's really good at tying knots?" Scott appreciated that the circumstances had not diluted Todd's ball-busting sarcasm. "Or maybe I love a man in uniform." Scott's eyes drifted to the flashing mirror ball above them as he continued his list. "Let's see, what else? Good sense of humor. Good-looking, naturally. Good taste in music." "Dude," Todd said, "this all sounds like ME." Scott retorted, "I said, GOOD taste in music," tugging playfully on the tail of Todd's untucked Mötley Crüe shirt for emphasis. Still, there was more than a grain of truth in what Todd had said. Todd did check an awful lot of Scott's boxes. Just to be certain he wasn't missing any signals, Scott had to ask bluntly, "But you're definitely not gay, right?" Todd shook his head apologetically. "Nobody's perfect." Scott allowed himself a melancholy moment as he watched that brief glimmer of possibility plummet and fade, but he snapped out of it quickly, "So, since we're getting so personal tonight, what is YOUR type?" Todd took the question so seriously, he stopped dancing and scratched the stubble on his chin. Scott could see something flash in Todd's eyes, then get instantly dismissed. "Hey, I saw that! Don't be shy. You can tell me. Is it some big bleach-blonde, fake-boobed, heavy-metal chick?" Todd looked at Scott, uncharacteristically vulnerable. "Honestly, I always thought Amanda was pretty hot." Scott took a step back, not having expected that answer. On the surface, they seemed totally wrong for each other, but Scott had to admit that, even after being married to her for decades, he actually had no idea what Amanda's type was. He just knew that he wasn't it. "Well, she IS available now," Scott said. Todd scoffed. "Nah, it'd be too weird for me to ask her out." To his surprise, Scott realized it wouldn't be weird for him at all. "I swear, it wouldn't be a problem for me. I'd just like to finally see her happy after all these years." Todd laughed. "All these years? You make it sound like she's some old lady in her thirties!" As Rick Astley's voice faded, Scott heard someone over his shoulder, asking, "Okay if I cut in?" Again, Scott knew who it was instantly, not just from the voice, but from that unmistakable, intoxicating new-star smell. He turned around and said, "Jared?" Although he was attempting to go unrecognized in a backwards white baseball cap, reflectorized sunglasses, and a high-school letter jacket, Jared was drawing every eye in the place his direction like an electromagnet. In that moment, Scott learned the true meaning of charisma: automatically being the center of attention, even when you're supposedly striving to be inconspicuous. When he heard Todd say, "Hey, I'm Todd," Scott was embarrassed to realize he'd briefly forgotten that Todd was even there. Scott blathered some introductions and the two guys shook hands. Todd could tell from the glazed look in Scott's eyes that he had just become a third wheel, so he backed toward the edge of the dance floor, declaring, "I think I'm gonna take off." Both Scott and Jared hurriedly insisted that he didn't have to go, but Todd insisted. "I'm s'posed to be meeting some people at eight anyway, but, hey, Scott, let's meet at Galaga's tomorrow for lunch." He waved the apartment want ads in the air, then turned to Jared. "Nice to meet you, dude." "You too, Todd," said Jared, shifting his attention back to Scott. Behind Jared's back, Todd caught Scott's eye, pointed toward Jared's butt and gave the "OK" sign with his fingers before heading toward the exit. Scott chuckled. The next song began, and Bill Medley's baritone voice crooned, "Now I've had the time of my life. No, I've never felt like this before..." Scott looked into Jared's glasses, seeing his own distorted self reflected there. "I thought Phillipe said you never come to this place." "I don't. If anyone asks you, I'm not here. But Phil had a hunch I might find you here." Hearing that Jared had come here specifically looking for him, Scott felt the pace of his heart speed up. "I just need to know, do you have some kinda problem with me?" Whatever he had expected Jared to say, it wasn't that. "I mean, do you hate me for some reason?" Scott was baffled. "What? No!" "Well, then, did I do something when I was drunk that I need to apologize for?" Scott took a second to think, but had to say emphatically, "No." "So why'd you throw a rock through my window?" Scott gulped, knowing his guilt must be written on his face in letters twenty feet high. A torrent of explanation tumbled from his mouth, circuitously explaining how he had returned to Jared's house in search of his wallet and key but became worried when no one answered. "I was scared you might be lying in there unconscious or, ya know...worse." He stood motionless with a wan expression, hoping he didn't seem too pathetic or too flighty or too stalkery. Jared reached up and removed his glasses, hanging them from the collar of his black t-shirt. The dance floor spotlights made Jared's icy blue eyes shine, and his delicate lips curled upward, bracketed by perfectly symmetrical parenthetical folds in his smooth cheeks. "You were that worried about me?" Scott nodded slowly, and feeling started coming back to his extremities. "I should've left a note to explain, but I guess I kinda panicked. I promise I'll cover the damage." Jared puffed his lips dismissively. "Don't worry about that. I'm just glad you're not mad at me." "Not at all." He had no reason to be mad at Jared. Even having Jared pass out on him had been one of the high points of Scott's weekend, if not his life as a whole. As far as he could remember, the only people who had ever lavished Scott with the level of attention that Jared had last night were Amanda and his mother. Jared noticed that they were the only two people on the floor who weren't moving to the music. "Should we go talk somewhere else or do you want to dance?" "I want to dance!" Scott started to move his limbs in his usual free-form manner, but Jared took hold of Scott's right hand and wrapped an arm around his left shoulder, smoothly starting to cha-cha like Patrick Swayze come back to life, even though Swayze was still alive at the moment. Scott feared that he would look like a stumbling moron trying to match Jared's fluid motions, but he found it effortless to follow Jared's lead. Scott knew he should allow himself to enjoy the pure physicality of the moment, but a question nagged at him. "How'd you know it was me who threw the rock?" "Neighbor came over and described who did it. The giveaway was the purple stain on the crotch. Before that, I was afraid it was some gay basher who was pissed off by our party. It's a relief to hear I didn't do anything stupid. I know I can get a little overbearing and self-centered when I have too much to drink. Okay, MORE overbearing and self-centered than usual." Scott found it encouraging that Jared could be self-deprecating and self-aware, when someone that great-looking could easily skate through life being an egocentric prick. "So, is it true what Phil...excuse me, Phil-LEAP...told me about you getting kicked out of your apartment? That's terrible. You should sue them or something." "I suppose," Scott said, "but, to tell the truth, I'm not all that interested in fighting for my right to keep living with assholes. Todd and I are gonna start looking for a new place tomorrow." "Oh. Todd." Jared tilted his head in the direction Todd had left. "Is Todd your...boyfriend?" Scott smirked. "Nope. He is, unfortunately, straight." "What a shame," Jared said, although Scott could swear he detected a hint of relief in Jared's tone. "Still, you never know for sure. I've been with a few guys who swore they'd weren't into guys, but were making an exception for me." Scott could totally understand that. "So, that girl in the pictures in your bedroom. Is she your exception?" Without falling out of step with the music, Jared stiffened noticeably. Scott had landed on what was clearly a touchy subject. "Teresa's sweet," Jared began, as if reciting a rationale he'd practiced repeatedly in his head. "We've been together since junior high. We've always been there for each other. And my parents fucking adore her. But..." Even with the song at full blast, Jared felt the need to lower his voice and lean in to Scott. "It doesn't feel the same with girls, ya know? I mean, she and I still have sex, and she always seems pretty okay with it, but I feel like I'm faking it." "I didn't realize it was possible for a guy to fake it." "Emotionally, I mean. Oh, no, we definitely screw. I get hard and cum, the whole ball of wax. But it doesn't mean anything in here." Jared tapped a finger against his chest. "Maybe I'm just too much of a ham. Give me an eager audience, even if it's just one person, and, dammit, I am gonna perform my ass off!" Scott laughed, wishing he had been able to summon more of that "let's put on a show" spirit to his own lovemaking with Amanda. Then again, if he and Amanda had been happier together, Scott might not have found himself standing here tonight in Jared's arms. Art had now paired up with a twink who was fawning over Art's body, but Art's attention was squarely on Scott and Jared. Scott smiled at Art, then rotated the hand that was resting on Jared's shoulder and raised its middle finger Art's way. Art sneered and returned his focus to his doting dance partner. Although Scott had been too lost in the moment to notice it, thoughts of Jared which predated last night's party had begun filtering into his mind while they danced. He now had tangible memories of their first meeting at auditions, their initial awkwardness during rehearsals, and the generosity which Jared extended to help the much less experienced Scott become more comfortable with having to lug a naked stranger on his back. Scott could even recall how, one night after rehearsal, Jared had invited him back to the Out House, ostensibly with the goal of learning how to make unusual drinks in case either of them ever needed to get a bartending gig to support their "acting addiction," as Jared referred to it. Drawing on the vast selection of bottles which had eventually been emptied into the trash can last night, Jared and Scott mixed their way step-by-step through the recipes for everything from a Harvey Wallbanger to a Singapore Sling. Of course, once each drink was finished, they couldn't resist doing a taste test, and the two castmates rapidly got well and truly snockered. They passed out on the kitchen floor before any hanky-panky could ensue, but the evening had the desired effect of breaking down any tension between them, forging a bond between Jared and his "trusty steed" which was apparent to anyone who saw them onstage together. By now, few gaps remained in Scott's knowledge of the life that had led up to his birthday night at the Rusty Nail. Instead of growing up shy and hesitant to take risks, Scott now remembered an outgoing childhood in which he embraced challenges instead of avoiding them. Still on the quiet side, he had been drawn to pursue solo activities like distance running and swimming, but his excellence eventually got him noticed by those teams and he was pulled into their social orbit. Despite being less of a wallflower, Scott still had no memories of dating in high school, but he did recall going to senior prom, something he had dodged the first time around. His date had been Susan, a plain but kind brunette who ran the anchor leg of the 440 for the girls' track team. She appeared to enjoy being with Scott, but seemed just as relieved as he was when the night came to an end with little more than a polite front-porch kiss. His falling out with his father was now fully integrated into the life story Scott carried in his head, as was the growing desire he experienced upon arriving at college to explore the twin passions he had spent years stifling: acting and guys. He still remembered meeting Amanda during freshman year, and little about their relationship diverged from their pre-existing chronology, at least until a day ago. For over three years, he had remained devoted to his girlfriend and officially "in the closet", but his increasing involvement in the drama department brought him into more direct contact with openly gay and lesbian students and instructors than Scott 1.0 had ever experienced as a business major. Being gay no longer felt like a terrible affliction that only he had been saddled with. Emboldened, he occasionally ventured to an out-of-the-way boutique which he had heard some of the other actors discussing, where he bought clothes that he thought better expressed who he was deep down. Still, he had never dared to wear any of it in public until yesterday, when his buddy Phil (who had recently rechristened himself the more cosmopolitan "Phillipe") persuaded Scott to raid his secret wardrobe and celebrate turning twenty-one at the Rusty Nail. The Scott Mitchell now being twirled across the dance floor to "(I've Had) The Time Of My Life" by his own personal Johnny Castle was very different from the one who had arrived in this same bar a day ago, with a much clearer sense of who he was and what he wanted. Yet one nagging doubt remained. As Jared pulled him in close, Scott spoke in a vulnerable tone. "Jared, if I ask you something, will you promise to be absolutely honest with me?" Jared looked hesitant, but he knew what the correct answer to that question was always required to be. He responded with an upward inflected "Y-e-e-es?" With a lump in his throat, Scott asked, "Am I good?" Jared exhaled for a solid five seconds, blindsided by such a heavy philosophical... "I mean, as an actor. Should I really give it a shot, or am I just wasting my time?" Jared relaxed, feeling on much firmer ground when it came to discussing the theater than to debating deeper issues of morality. "I'm not sure I can say. All I've ever seen you play is a horse." Noticing Scott visibly deflating, Jared hastened to add, "Don't get me wrong, you were a fucking great horse! But acting's a tough gig, and they tend to give most of the really top-notch horse roles to, ya know, horses." Coming down rapidly from the high he'd been on since walking away from Derek outside of Galaga's, Scott nodded slowly and muttered, "Okay. Thanks for being honest." Jared grew annoyed, grabbing Scott by his strong shoulders and giving him a vigorous shake. "Dammit, man, that's not supposed to be your reaction. You're supposed to get pissed off and throw somebody else's drink in my face and say, 'Fuck you, Jared, I am a fuckin' star and I'll show you, you conceited little pretty-boy!'" Aware that his voice had risen and was attracting eavesdroppers, Jared pulled Scott closer and spoke so only the two of them could hear. "All I meant was I haven't seen you act enough to make that kind of judgment. But I've seen YOU! And you're smart and you're funny and you're cute. And you look ridiculously great without a shirt. People have won Oscars for less!" Scott stifled a laugh for fear that unleashing it would break the dam holding back the tears welling up in his eyes. Jared continued, maintaining his passion. "Take a chance. Bet on yourself. Give yourself a few years and see how it goes. You never get anything you want in life if you don't take risks. What have you got to lose? You're young." Scott absorbed this fusillade of a pep talk and grinned. "Yeah, I am, aren't I?" Breathing more easily, now that he'd navigated that mine field, Jared realized he had his own important question to ask. "So," he said warily, "what do you think of MY acting?" Scott sounded iffy. "Well, I don't know, I've really only seen you play a guy who's pretending to ride a horse." "Okay, Nugget, I deserved that." Scott broke into a wide grin. "You want to know the truth? You are going to be a movie star. A big goddamn movie star. I guarantee it one-hundred percent." Jared was touched. "You seem awful sure about that. Even I don't have that much confidence, and if you haven't noticed, I'm pretty full of myself." "Trust me," Scott said, waggling his fingers and shifting into a spooky voice. "I...can see...the future!" "Is that so? Okay, Kreskin, what do you prognosticate for the rest of tonight?" Scott placed his fingers on his forehead and fluttered his eyelids as if falling into a trance. "I see us sticking around here for one more drink, after which we go back to your place to finish that Twister match." "I like the sound of that," Jared said. "Ya know, I hear there's a version that you can play in bed. There's no spinner, and you can put your body parts anywhere you feel like." Scott raised his eyebrows enthusiastically at that idea. As the song reached its climax, Jared lowered Scott into a dip, then seemed to lose his grip on Scott's arm, dropping him toward the floor. Scott's eyes went wide with panic as Jared caught him in time, with a gleam in his eye that indicated the whole thing had been intentional. Jared bent his face down toward Scott's, said, "Oops, sorry," and planted his lips on Scott's for an intense, lingering kiss. Scott felt like the air was being sucked out of his lungs, only to realize that he had simply forgotten how to breathe. The song ended, and Jared slowly hoisted Scott back to his feet. As the two of them walked toward the bar, arms around each other's waists, Jared reached over and slipped a ten dollar bill into the waistband of Scott's leather shorts. "Is that my tip?", Scott asked. "It's for our drinks. I'll take a gin and tonic, and get something nice for yourself." He peeled off in the direction of the rest rooms. "Right now, I gotta piss like a racehorse. You know how that feels, don't you, Nugget?" Scott whinnied and pounded the sawdust-covered floor with his right "hoof". Jared gave him a widescreen smile and strutted toward the men's room, doing his best Swayze moves. When Scott reached his barstool, he noticed that Shemp's eyes were following Jared with intense interest. "Who was THAT?", he asked. "My future husband," Scott said with a grin. Shemp snorted dismissively. "Right, like they'll ever let 'our kind' get married." Scott considered giving Shemp some inside scoop on that subject straight from the distant future, but he knew how much people hated spoilers. Instead, he slapped the tenner on the bar. "A gin and tonic for Twinkletoes there, and for me..." Scott pondered the drinks he remembered making in Jared's kitchen. "I'd like a Slow Comfortable Screw." Shemp's exasperation finally boiled over. "That's it. I've had enough of these cockamamie concoctions. I'm giving you a MAN'S drink!" Scott laughed as Shemp marched away, then studied his own reflection in the mirror behind the bar. He could hardly believe that happy guy was him. Was all of this really happening? Were he and Jared actually going to go back to the Out House and...? His train of thought was derailed as he saw Art in the mirror, leading his "twinque du jour" down the hallway toward the emergency exit. Scott felt like he should let the kid know what he was in for, but he realized the kid probably wouldn't listen to him anyway. Scott knew he wouldn't have heeded anyone's warnings last night. Besides, Scott thought, the only lessons that really stick are the ones that we learn first-hand. He heard something slide onto the bar, and the air filled with an intriguing scent that suggested flowers, oak barrels, and a fine cigar. He turned to see a glass of liquid gold shining before him. He picked up and held it appreciatively under his nose. He raised a silent toast to Shemp, who was leaning against the backbar with his arms folded, watching for Scott's reaction. Scott lifted the glass to his lips and took a long sip, letting the liquor roll around his tongue. It was surprisingly sweet, with the same playful array of flavors as, but infinitely more maturity than, the drink he'd consumed here yesterday. Only now as the liquid slipped down his throat did it occur to Scott what had happened to him immediately after he took that fateful drink. With panic in his eyes, Scott looked to Shemp, who had a sly grin. "What is this stuff?", Scott demanded to know. "Scotch," Shemp informed him. "Fifty-year-old scotch." The room began to spin around Scott. The music became cacophonous. His body grew warm all over. He recognized these sensations from yesterday, but instead of surrendering to them, he fought back. Goddammit, the moment he'd been avoiding for fifty years (and a day) was on the brink of happening, and he was not going to miss it! He sensed that he was losing his balance, and his actions seemed to slow to a crawl as he toppled backwards, flailing his arms, clutching at the air, desperately grasping for anything that would keep him in the past...or was this the present? He felt his descent slowing until he hung suspended in the air, frozen in place while the world around him accelerated as if someone's thumb was on the fast-forward button. Soon, he was enveloped in a barrage of light, blurs of motion, and the sound of white noise, all intensifying to a tremendous crescendo until... Nothing. Nothing but blackness and silence.
  11. Chapter 8

    "One...dollar...and...eighty...five...cents...please," said the recorded female voice. "Please...deposit...one...dollar...and...eighty...five...cents...for...the...first...three...minutes." Scott hung up the phone, not having any coins on him. He picked up the receiver and dialed again, this time starting with his finger in the "zero" hole. He couldn't even guess how long it had been since he had made a collect phone call, or used a rotary dial, or even been inside a phone booth. He knew for sure it had been ten years since he had called this particular number. The operator asked Scott for his name, then resumed the call. After four rings, Scott heard the clunking of a phone being answered at the other end, and a male voice said, "Hello?" The sound of that voice gave Scott gooseflesh. "Hey, Dad, it's..." But the operator interrupted Scott. "I have a collect call from a Scott. Will you accept the charges?" Scott had completely forgotten the protocol of this procedure. How did we ever live in such a primitive age? His father's tinny voice could be heard faintly, shouting away from the receiver, "Marion, it's your son." Scott found it strange that his father wouldn't simply say he would take the call. As he listened to the static of the silence at the other end of the line, Scott noticed his knee shuddering involuntarily. It wasn't nervousness, exactly, but a stew of various intense emotions that he couldn't easily define in a word or two. In all likelihood, there wasn't a word for what he was feeling, since his current situation was uncommon to say the least. How often would people need to use a word meaning "anxiety caused by traveling back in time and speaking to your dead parents again"? Scott's mother had lost her long battle with lung cancer eleven years ago, and his father died of congestive heart failure seven months later, so the prospect of having another conversation with either of them without the intervention of a psychic would have seemed impossible to Scott a day ago. Just the distant sound of his mother's cough was making Scott choke up. "Hellooo?", his mother said with her typical tone of Midwestern politeness. Scott almost blurted out something again, but stopped when he heard the operator's voice again, asking if Marion would accept the charges. "Of course," Scott's mother replied. "Hey, mom," Scott said, doing his best to stop from crying. "It's Scott!" "Yes, I know, dear," she said patiently. "It's so great to hear your voice again!" His own voice cracked mid-sentence. "We just talked yesterday morning when I called to wish you a happy birthday." Concern crept into his mother's voice. "Is there something the matter? You sound awful." "I'm fine," he lied. "Just had kind of a hard day is all." "Aww, honey, what happened?" Scott snuffled back the river of snot that was pooling like lava in his nose, clenching his teeth and pressing his feet against the walls of the phone booth to keep himself from dissolving into a blubbering mess. "Oh, Amanda and I broke up this morning," he said, trying but failing to break the news casually. "Ohhhhhh, sweetheart," his mother said sympathetically. "What brought this about?" "It's been building up for...a while," Scott said, mentally completing the thought with "going on thirty years." "It just became obvious that we're interested in...different things." "I'm so sorry you're hurting. I always liked Amanda," his mother said. "But I never thought you were right for each other." The receiver slid out of Scott's grip, the coiled cord tangling in his fingers as he scrambled to retrieve the handset. He could hear his mother saying, "Hello? Scott, are you there?", as he brought the phone back to his ear. "Sorry, mom, I just...I'm not sure I heard what you said." "I said I thought you weren't right for each other." Okay, so he did hear her right the first time. "But you always got along so great with her." "Of course I did, honey. She was your girlfriend. If she made you happy, then it made me happy. It wasn't my place to say otherwise." See what being polite gets you? If Scott had heard those words from his mother a long time ago, perhaps he would have had the strength to walk away from his marriage. His parents had seemed so delighted when he finally started seeing a girl in college, after being dateless throughout high school, and he had never been able to imagine that he could find a woman he got along with better than Amanda. "Don't worry," his mother said reassuringly. "I know it's hard, but you'll get over her. Probably faster than you expect. I just know you'll find someone perfect for you." "Thanks, mom," Scott said, gearing up to move on to his next topic. "I also might need you to send me some money." "Of course, dear," she said, her voice falling to a whisper. "What do you need it for?" "Well...I've gotta find a new place to live. I...I moved out of the apartment." This seemed to bother her more than his breakup with Amanda. "What in the world happened?" "It's complicated." Scott realized that the only honest answer would require him to make a major announcement, one he had successfully dodged while his parents were alive. He bit his lip as he watched his knee bouncing more rapidly than before. "Listen, I've got something important I need to tell you. You might wanna get Dad to pick up the extension in the den." The silence at the other end was interminable. All he could hear was the faint play-by-play of a basketball game from several rooms away. "Mom, you there?" Finally, she said, "Yes, I'm here. Can't you just tell me what it is and I'll pass it along?" "Is there something wrong with Dad?", Scott asked. "He wouldn't even accept the charges before." Scott's mother sounded slightly puzzled that she would need to explain this to him. "Honey, you know he swore that he won't speak to you until you change your major back to business." Scott felt a major chunk of memory drop into place in his brain, like just the right Tetris piece falling perfectly into a gaping chasm and eliminating several lines at once. Up until now, he had remembered how he quit that play in high school because of his father's objections, but that recollection crumbled to dust as a barrage of new facts rose to prominence in his mind, negating his previous memory. Instead of acceding to his father's wishes, Scott now remembered defying his dad, rebelling for perhaps the first time in his life. He stayed in the play and found the experience utterly fulfilling, getting a standing ovation every night. He could clearly picture his mother attending every performance, beaming with pride, each time with an empty seat beside her. Not everything about his past had changed so radically. Scott could still recall starting college as a business administration major to please his dad. But now Scott could also remember their fierce arguments when Scott finally made the decision to change his major to drama, even though it meant it would take him longer than four years to complete his studies. Scott's dad had already arranged for one of his close buddies to hold a comfortable job open for Scott when he finished college, and he couldn't believe his son would throw that away in favor of "a colossal waste of time" like acting. The raw emotions of events which Scott would have absorbed over a span of years in real time had arrived in his consciousness condensed into a single devastating instant, walloping Scott like a spiked wrecking ball to his heart. "Scott," his mother asked tenderly, "what's your important news? If it's about the money, I'll send you whatever you need. I just can't let your father find out I'm doing it. Or is there something else?" Scott realized he couldn't come out over the phone. If he decided it had to be done at all, that announcement would have to be handled delicately in person. All he could think to say was, "I just wanted you to know I love you. Tell dad that too, okay?" "Don't be silly, son. We know you love us. And we love you, too. Any idea when you'll be coming home for a visit?" "I don't know. I'd sure like to see you again." Scott was torn between ending the call right then before he burst into uncontrollable sobbing or staying on the line as long as possible to savor every millisecond of hearing his mother's voice again. He could feel the sadness building inside of him and knew he would soon be reduced to incoherent babbling, so he opted to wrap up the conversation. "Listen, you take care of yourself, okay? Oh, and Mom?" "Yes, dear?" "Try to lay off the cigarettes? Please? For me?" "Goodbye, my baby," she said sweetly. Scott hung up the receiver slowly, then dragged his forearm across his eyes to wipe away his tears. He sat quietly in the phone booth for several minutes, trying to regain his composure, only to be brought back to reality by the sound of knuckles pounding on the door of the phone booth. Mr. Galaga stood on the other side of the glass, holding a plate with a slice of pizza and half a cup of Coke. "Your food getting cold!" He placed them unceremoniously on a table and returned to his post behind the counter. Scott took some solace in the realization that some things in this world had not changed on him, at least not yet. He left the phone booth, took a seat and savored the pizza, allowing each bite to linger in his mouth as if he were attempting to memorize it. When at last he finished, he walked to the counter to pay for his meal. Mrs. Galaga peered with concern from beneath her heavy eyebrows. In a thick voice that was lower than her husband's, she asked softly, "You are okey-dokey?" They were the first words Scott had ever heard her utter. Scott broke into a wide smile and regarded the older woman with affection. "Yeah, I am okey-dokey," he assured her, even if he wasn't sure about that. She looked pleased and handed him the change from his ten-spot. His thirteen bucks had now been whittled down to eight dollars and fifty cents. He stuck the bills in his wallet and realized just what to do with the two quarters. He walked over to the jukebox, amazed that the ancient machine would give him five selections for twenty-five cents. He couldn't pass up that kind of bargain. Although nearly all of the songs had been released before Scott was born, he recognized many of the titles, either from oldies radio or his parents' record collection. He pondered his options carefully, then made his selections. The Four Seasons started to sing "Walk Like A Man" as Scott crossed the room to face his old nemesis, the Eight Ball Deluxe pinball machine. His pulse quickened as he inserted his quarter and the machine bleeped and blooped to life. Scott pulled back the plunger and launched his first silver ball. For one sweet moment, all his worries faded into the background as he devoted laser-like attention to the game before him. Unfortunately, things went south quickly. The first ball ricocheted around the upper bumpers a few times before plummeting straight between the flippers, and the second ball survived only slightly longer. It was no surprise that his skills would be rusty, but he had hoped his young body still possessed the muscle memory and reflexes he had honed on the machine so many years ago. Then again, sucking at pinball was well down on the list of things he needed to be concerned about at the moment. By the time Frankie Valli screeched his final "wooo", Scott had already squandered his fifth ball. As Scott was lamenting his poor performance, the Galaga wizard beside him shouted victoriously, "High score!" He jumped up and down excitedly, grabbing his jeans by the belt loops to hitch them up before his entire ass was exposed. He raised a pudgy arm in the air, hoping for a high five from Scott, who smiled mildly and gave the other guy's palm a weak slap. As the player excitedly entered his initials on the game's leader board, Scott said flatly, "Just remember, someday someone will beat that score, and then eventually you'll get old and die." "Jeez, man, thanks for nothin'," the videogame player said sourly, looking back at his initials on the screen, reveling in his accomplishment. Scott decided he wasn't in the mood to stick around for the rest of his songs. He waved goodnight to Mr. and Mrs. Galaga and left the restaurant just as the singer on the jukebox offered the advice, "If you wanna be happy for the rest of your life, never make a pretty woman your wife." The air was chilly and the wind had picked up as Scott stood outside Galaga's, trying to decide where to go next. As he rubbed his hands on his upper arms to warm them, he noticed the entry stamp from the Rusty Nail on the back of his left hand, and Phillipe's address and phone number written on the palm. Lost in thought as he contemplated his options, Scott didn't notice the tall young man who walked past him, stopped in his tracks several steps later, and turned around. "Mitchell?" Hearing his last name, Scott looked toward the speaker. The moment Scott caught sight of the man, memories related to him began to bubble to the surface of Scott's consciousness. "Hey, Derek," he said with a tone of familiarity. "Whoa, man, I hardly recognized you," said the six-foot-six, broad-shouldered swim captain, dressed in a gray sweatshirt and shiny track pants. The glow from the street lamps bounced off his gleaming shaved head, the harsh shadows making his broodingly handsome facial features seem menacing. "What are you wearing, anyway? You goin' to a costume party or somethin'?" Scott nodded. "Or somethin'." Derek took that as a "yes", and bent down toward Scott's ear to inform him confidentially, "Hate to be the one to break it to you, but your costume looks kinda...faggoty." "Uh-oh. Really? I'll make a note of that," Scott said with mock surprise, but the "mock" part sailed over Derek's head, which in his case was a substantial leap. "No problem. Figured you oughta know," Derek said. "So, where were you at practice today? I called your place and the guy said you moved out." Until this moment, Scott had no idea there had been swim practice today, but Derek's mention of it caused that memory to pop instantly into his brain like a text message. "Guess I must have forgot. This weekend has been...tumultuous." Derek could barely mask his exasperation. "What is your deal lately, Mitchell? When you said you wanted to do that play, we cut you some slack, but you gotta meet us halfway. Being one of the Swimming Eagles requires commitment. You can't keep flakin' out on us like this. It's disrespectful to me and the rest of the guys. Remember," he said, pointing to Scott, "there's no 'you' in team." Normally, Scott would have corrected a blooper like that, but Derek's words had faded to background noise. Scott was busy mentally undressing his towering teammate, his newly arrived memories filling in the gaps for the parts of his body that weren't visible. Scott could clearly envision specific details like Derek's succulent deltoids, his outie belly button that resembled a kernel of popcorn, the mole at the base of his sternum that looked like a third nipple. It wasn't just visuals that Scott could now access. He could vividly recall the considerable effort it took to will himself not to get hard in Derek's presence in the locker room and at meets, for fear that Derek and the rest of the team would notice him boning up in his swimsuit and think he was, to use Derek's word, "faggoty". Yet Scott felt no such concern now as his eyes lingered on Derek's sweatshirt and the way it clung tight to his body, emphasizing the immensity of his pecs and the wide "V" of his lats. Scott gave his cock full permission to plump inside his shorts, not caring whether Derek or any passerby on the street might spot his increasingly unmissable bulge. Scott was in no mood to listen to a lecture on the virtues of teamwork and the spiritual healing properties of chlorinated water. Right now, Scott was just horny as fuck. "Yo! Mitchell! Are you listening to me?", Derek barked, jolting Scott out of his reverie. A sense of serenity swept over Scott as he allowed himself at last to surrender to the urges he had been fighting against for so long. It was as if ominous thunderclouds had been looming over his head his entire life, and he had spent fifty years (and a day) waiting for the bolt of lightning that would punish him for his thoughts, a punishment that never came. Now, at last, beams of sunlight had broken through the gloom, brightly illuminating his path forward. He clapped a hand on Derek's massive arm and smiled. "Derek, I'll see ya 'round." As Scott began to walk away, Derek shouted after him. "Wait, where are you goin'?" Without looking back, Scott loudly declared, "I've finally committed to my team."
  12. Chapter 7

    If Scott had learned one important lesson from this trip into the past, it would be "Never eat a huge breakfast while outing yourself to your future wife while the dregs of a random mixture of various types of alcohol are still swirling like a cauldron in your belly." He might have to get that needlepointed on a throw pillow. Scott felt like he had swallowed a bowling ball whole. Weighed down by his breakfast which had turned out to be unexpectedly heavy in more ways than one, Scott had lost the energetic spring in his step. His feet scraped along the cement as he slogged his way back to Jared's house, hoping to retrieve his wallet and apartment key. When he reached the front door, he first pressed the doorbell, but heard no accompanying sound. He knocked softly, but got no answer. A little harder; still nothing. Finally, he pounded on the door with enough force and volume that people three houses away were coming outside, thinking someone was knocking at THEIR door. Even if Jared was still dead to the world, that should have been enough to rouse him. Just then, a terrifying thought popped into Scott's mind. What if Jared WAS dead to the world? Sure, Jared had been snoring when Scott had snuck into his room this morning, but what if Jared had thrown up in his sleep after that? Certainly he'd heard of enough celebrities who croaked that way. Why couldn't a celebrity die like that before they even became a celebrity? What if Scott's behavior at the party last night had somehow changed history? What if, instead of going on to becoming a movie star, Jared Taylor died in obscurity in college because a couple of drunken idiots had dumped him face down in bed and left him alone to kick the bucket? What if Jared was in there choking to death on puke right this second? Scott knew his actions had already altered aspects of his own life, and now Amanda's too, but what if his presence here was wreaking havoc on the fates of everyone else he came in contact with? The heaviness in the pit of his stomach now felt boulder-sized. He had to make sure Jared was okay. Scott attempted to peek inside, but the shades were still pulled on all of the windows. He walked off the porch and around the side of the house, down the sloping lawn, until he figured out which windows matched up to Jared's room. Unfortunately, those shades were closed too. He shouted "Jared!" several times, each one increasing in volume and hysteria, but got no response. He found a pebble on the ground and tossed it delicately toward the window, but its faint ping against the glass was barely audible. He grabbed a larger rock and lobbed it underhand, failing to factor in the power of his vital young arm. The stone zipped through the air and smashed through the lower pane of the window. The impact sent the shade whizzing upward to the ceiling. From the ground, Scott froze in position, grimacing, as dogs in nearby houses began to bark. Scott's instinct was to flee, but then he still wouldn't know Jared's status. He crept toward the house and stretched his arms toward the window frame, gripping the sill with his fingertips. His upper-body muscles pulled him higher with remarkable ease. He could see the headshots and happy-couple photos on the wall, so he knew he had the right room. Gripping his deck shoes against the wall, he boosted himself until his chin was resting on the sill. Through the fractured window, Scott could see that the bed was empty, and all the remaining jackets of the guests were gone. Shards of broken glass were dispersed across the floor and bedspread, and the rock had skidded to a halt among the clothes piled in the closet. Relieved, Scott dropped himself nimbly to the ground, making a perfect three-point Spider-man landing. After a quick scan of the surroundings to make sure no neighbors or cops heading his way, he ducked around the house and strolled to the front sidewalk. Perhaps overdoing his effort to look nonchalant, he stuck his hands in his pockets and began whistling random notes that never neared anything resembling a tune. His heart doing paradiddles, he took a right at the next street corner and picked up his pace to a brisk walk. Scott felt more conspicuous walking through campus in the daylight than he had the night before, and was particularly self-conscious of the embarrassing purple stain on his crotch, which had taken on the approximate shape of Australia. On previous visits to his alma mater, he had often had the sensation of being caught in a time warp, since the town looked largely the same as it did when he attended college and, year in and year out, the streets were full of fresh-faced students in their late teens and early twenties. But Scott had always been keenly aware that, even if the view from his eyes never seemed to change, those kids didn't see a peer from their perspective. They saw some old guy who seemed dreadfully out of place. At best, they must assume he was the father of a student, or maybe one of the less popular professors. Even now when he found himself zapped back into an improved version of his 21-year-old self, he felt like his life experience and knowledge of the future still separated him from them. As much as he appeared to fit in, he wasn't sure that he belonged here. As he approached his apartment, the knot in his gut tightened further. He hoped someone would be home to let him in, but he wasn't sure he could handle another confrontation with Kevin right now. Scott's current appearance was sure to launch his roommate onto another tirade even worse than the one last night. At least Scott had the presence of mind to pause a moment and turn his shirt inside out to hide the message reading "A HARD MAN IS GOOD TO FIND." Things were likely to be tense enough without waving that red flag in the bully's face. Standing outside the door, he could hear a muffled conversation. One voice was unmistakably Kevin's. It alternated with a feminine voice, most likely the latest woman who had inexplicably fallen under the spell of Kevin's...let's call it "charm". Scott was tempted to leave and come back later, but he was tired and cranky and his back was killing him and, goddammit, this was his apartment too! He knocked, then tried the knob and discovered that the door was unlocked. He steeled his nerves and walked in. Kevin was sprawled on the sofa as usual, clutching a mid-day brewski, wearing nothing but XXL Bermuda shorts with a repeating pattern of the Budweiser label. Across the room, reclining awkwardly in the Papasan chair, was Phillipe, desperately averting his eyes to avoid looking at the folds of flab and thatchy hair on Kevin's exposed bone-white torso. Seeing Scott in the doorway, Phillipe attempted to extract himself from the padded concave chair but his spindly limbs lacked the strength to leverage his way free. Scott walked over, took Phillipe by the arm and hoisted all 96 pounds of him to his feet. "What are you doing here?", Scott asked. "Thought you might be needing these," Phillipe chirped in a sing-song manner, pulling Scott's wallet and key from the back pocket of his red denims. "I found 'em after you left." "Oh. Thanks!", Scott said, shooting a quick glance toward Kevin, who was grinning with satisfaction. "How'd you know where I lived?" "Your I.D., silly," Phillipe said, giving Scott's chest a feeble backhanded swat. Scott bopped his forehead with the heel of his hand. "Oh. Right, Duh." Kevin spoke up, prefacing his remark with a phlegmy throat-clearing. "Yeah, Philly here and I have just been chatting while he waited for you to show up. Sounds like you had quite the night." Scott focused a "What did you tell him?" glare at Phillipe, who responded with a guileless shrug and a slight shake of the head. "Thought you were goin' to see your GIRLfriend," Kevin said in an insinuating tone, practicing his third-degree grilling technique. "I did," Scott said, defensively. "She wasn't home." Scott wasn't sure why he lied about that, but he really didn't feel compelled to explain anything to Kevin. His mission completed, and eager to get clear of the blast radius of the escalating tension between the roommates, Phillipe scooted past Scott. "Well, I gotta be off. I'll see you around, hon...uh, Scott." In a flash, he was out of the apartment, closing the door behind him. Scott started moving in the direction of his room, but Kevin demanded to know, "What the fuck are you wearing?" Scott was in no mood for Kevin. "Clothes," he said curtly, taking another step toward the hallway. Kevin persisted. "Wait, hold up. Is that a fuckin' earring? And what's with the big purple cum stain on your pants? What the fuck did you do last night? Fuck Prince?" "I don't have to report in to you, Kevin. You're not my mother." Scott trudged onward, but Kevin barked, "Where do you think you're going?" "My room," Scott said wearily. "Nuh-uh," Kevin said, propping himself up. "Lee! Todd! Get out here!" Scott stood in the middle of the living room, puzzled. Lee stumbled in, rubbing his sleepy eyes before putting on his glasses. "Where's Todd?", Kevin asked. Lee shrugged. "Think he took off." "Figures. The cowardly fuck." "What is going on?", Scott asked, bewildered. Kevin said. "We want you out." "Whaaaat?", Scott said, his startled voice sounding nearly as theatrical and mannered as Phillipe's, if considerably deeper. "Why?" "Because we don't want you and your queer-ass theater buddies like..." Kevin jerked a thumb toward the door where Phillipe had just exited. "...like your boyfriend Boy George there draggin' your AIDS-ridden shit into our house." Scott was shocked. "When was this decided?" "We took a vote this morning," Kevin told him. "It was two to one." Based on the way Lee was hanging his head, guiltily examining the nap of the carpet, Scott didn't have to ask how the vote split. "Well, then," Scott said assertively, "it's a tie, two-to-two, because I vote no." "Defendant doesn't get a vote," Kevin said. "'Defendant'? What crime have I committed? I'm just being myself!" Scott was growing apoplectic. "This wasn't the 'yourself' we agreed to room with. You came to us under false pretenses. You never told us you were a fudge-packer." Scott fluttered his lips with an exasperated "pffft!", his anger building. He decided to keep the focus on the injustice rather than directly confronting the blatant homophobia. He turned to Lee. "You're seriously gonna let this asshole bully me out of here?" "I...I...gotta go study," Lee said, never looking up as he headed back to his room and shut the door. Scott attempted to move toward the hallway, but Kevin had taken the rare step of rising from the couch and was now standing in front of Scott, arms crossed over his flabby pecs, using his considerable bulk to block Scott's path. "I think you should just leave. You can come back and get your stuff sometime when the rest of us aren't here," Kevin declared. Scott was furious, but he was too burnt out from the events of the past day to mount an effective fight right now. Instead, he glared at Kevin and spat out, in the fiercest tone he could summon, "You're not gonna get away with this shit." He spun on his heel and left, slamming the door behind him. Scott staggered across the landing and tumbled to his knees in exhaustion and defeat, resting his forehead against the stucco wall. Scott was on the verge of crying when he was startled by the gentle touch of a hand on his shoulder. He turned his head and saw Phillipe standing over him with an expression of concern. "Don't worry," Phillipe said, an edge of defiance in his soft voice, "we'll fight that fucker." "You heard all that?", Scott asked, reflexively straightening up, snuffling back his tears and sliding the back of his hand across his upper lip to wipe away a trickle of snot. "Every fuckin' word. Ya want I should go in there and kick his ass?", Phillipe asked in a would-be tough-guy voice, smacking his right fist into his left palm, looking like the least intimidating boxer in the paperweight division. Scott had to chuckle at the sight. "Much as I'd enjoy watching you wail the crap out of that three-hundred-pound ballsack, I'm not sure that's the solution." "So then what do you want to do?", Phillipe asked. Scott gave it some serious thought. He looked down at his borrowed shirt and stained pants and sighed. "Right now, I just wanna get out of these goddamn clothes." Phillipe tilted his head toward the apartment door. "I can go in and grab something for you, if I can slip past Jabba the Hutt." "Nah, that's okay. I'm afraid you'd just rile up Kevin." Scott asked cautiously, "You want to go shopping with me?" Phillipe clapped his hands wildly, so excited by the suggestion that you'd have thought Scott had offered to toss his salad. "What a fabulous idea! Ya know, whenever I start feeling like the world is feeding me a shit sandwich, a new outfit cheers me right the fuck up! Where do you wanna go?" Scott tried to think of where he had shopped for clothes during his college days. "There's Chess King at the mall." Phillipe's dead-eyed stare spoke volumes. He grabbed Scott's hand and helped him to his feet. "Follow me, grasshopper," he commanded, shaking his head and muttering under his breath, "Chess King? Dear lord." Walking back through the campus shopping district with Phillipe chattering away, Scott noticed heads turning their direction. If he had felt conspicuous before by himself, having Phillipe by his side only compounded the attention. You might excuse one oddly dressed person as an eccentric, but two of them together became a couple of weirdos. Phillipe appeared oblivious to the stares, undoubtedly used to them, but it was a new phenomenon for Scott. Scott noticed a group of jockish guys heading directly toward them and could see their sneers forming from fifty paces. Scott braced himself for a confrontation, but the bros kept their mouths shut and held their faces neutral until the moment they passed Scott and Phillipe, when one of the dudes muttered, "Get lost, faggots!" Scott's muscles tensed up and he began to turn around when he felt Phillipe's bony fingertips digging into his forearm, pulling him onward. "Don't bother," Phillipe advised quietly. Scott stumbled slightly before falling into step with Phillipe's forward motion. "Why not? I'd have thought you'd have been the first person to tell those guys to fuck off." Phillipe stood still, dragging Scott to a halt. "I can see you're pretty new to all of this. Yeah, I used to tell morons like that where they could shove their tiny dicks. Felt pretty good for a second, but you know what it got me?" He brushed the long swooping hair away from his forehead. In the sunlight, Scott noticed a layer of pancake makeup that hadn't been as obvious at night. "Take a close look," Phillipe advised. Scott leaned in and saw a long vertical indentation in the skin which would usually be hidden by his bangs. "Eighteen stitches, plus three hours of my life that are a total blank. Now I do my best to avoid jerks like that. Nothing's ever gonna change them." Scott felt like reassuring Phillipe that things would eventually become better, that over the next thirty years, the public would become much more accepting. He wanted to tell him about Ellen and "Will and Grace" and Doogie Howser and marriage equality. But he also realized that even if "the public" might have changed, individual people could still be awful. Even in a world that was supposedly "better", there were still hate crimes and discriminatory laws and narrow-minded bigots with "God Hates Fags" picket signs. Somewhere in the future, on Scott's fiftieth birthday, those douchebags' sons were probably telling some 21st-century faggots to get lost. Or worse. Scott had newfound admiration for Phillipe's boldness, even bravery, in being out in this far less tolerant era. Scott wasn't sure he had the strength of character to withstand the difficulties that being openly gay would present. Hell, fear of rejection and revulsion was a big part of what had kept him closeted for so long in the first place. Somehow he'd been given this amazing chance for a do-over, to see what his life might have been if he had made different choices when he was younger, but now he was starting to wonder if he could have a do-over of his do-over. Living in a closet may be dark and lonely and suffocating, but maybe it was safer. When they reached Phillipe's favorite boutique, Scott definitely recognized the place. He knew he would have walked past it countless times in college, but like the Rusty Nail, he had never gone in. Yet once they stepped through the door, Scott could swear he had been here before. Much like his own closet, the front of the store displayed fairly conventional men's clothes, but the merchandise became more adventurous and risque the further toward the back you went. Naturally, Phillipe made a beeline for the rear, where an impeccably dressed older gentleman with graying slicked-back hair and a pencil-thin mustache greeted Phillipe warmly. "Phillip, my dear, how are you today?" "I am excellent, as always. I was hoping you could help out my good friend here, who desperately needs some new clothes." He gestured toward Scott, who was lagging behind nervously among the racks of half-price velour shirts. The clerk turned, brightening when he spotted Scott. "Oh, I know you. Scotty, isn't it?" The clerk turned to Phillipe and explained, "He's been here many times." "I have?", Scott asked. That would explain why he had such deja vu when he entered, and the unfamiliar items he'd noticed in his closet could definitely have been purchased here. "You hafta forgive Scotty," Phillipe said, picking up on the name the clerk had used. "He seems to have selective amnesia." "Well, I don't," said the clerk, walking toward Scott. "Don't you remember, I helped you pick out that orange crop top and those white stretch shorts that so nicely showed off your...attributes?" That solved the mystery of where Scott had gotten those revealing shorts he had been wearing when he showed up in the past. It was becoming obvious that Scott's younger self had been behaving quite out of character long before his sudden arrival at the Rusty Nail. "So, Scotty," the clerk asked, "what are you in the market for today?" Scott said, "I dunno, probably just some new Levis, maybe a couple of polos." "Bo-ring!", said Phillipe, his voice chiming like a grandfather clock. He grabbed the clerk by the elbow and taking command of this operation. "Do you have any of those collarless striped shirts? And I'm thinking maybe a black Bundeswehr tank top." The clerk led Phillipe toward the items he mentioned, and the two of them fed on each other's energy to come up with more ideas. Scott felt like an innocent bystander at his own makeover. He did notice a cherry-red sleeveless shirt identical to the one he had lost at the Rusty Nail. He took it from its hanger and carried it toward a three-way mirror. He pulled off the tee he had borrowed from Jared and tossed it aside, then paused to bask in his shirtless reflection, still blown away whenever he caught sight of his slim, muscular figure. It took a few moments before he registered that Phillipe was trying to ask him something. "Earth to Narcissus!", Phillipe was saying. "What's your pants size?" When Scott shrugged, the clerk hustled over with a tape measure which he deftly wrapped around Scott's hips, shouting out "29!" like the caller at a bingo game. Scott knew this body was trim, but it still impressed him that he now possessed a 29-inch waist. He flinched as the clerk held one end of the tape against the base of Scott's crotch and stretched it down the inside of his leg. "And 34!" The clerk rose to his feet, gave Scott a lingering look and asked, "Have you ever considered modeling?" Scott snorted a dismissive laugh, even as he glanced admiringly at the guy glancing back at him from the mirror. Hell, why couldn't he be a model? In a matter of minutes, Phillipe had amassed an armload of items which he handed Scott to try on. Overwhelmed, Scott stepped into the "dressing room", which was merely a curtain on a semicircular rod, facing a full-length mirror mounted on a brick wall. He unzipped his stained white cutoffs and wriggled them to the floor, leaving him completely naked, save for his deck shoes and the purple condom which still encased his semi-engorged cock. He grabbed the base of the rubber and peeled it away with a telltale snapping sound, dropping the stretched-out but not technically "used" condom on top of his discarded shorts. He could practically hear his dick gasping with relief, finally getting some fresh air again after all these hours. For the first time, Scott noticed the purple bruise on his neck reflected in the mirror and called through the curtain, "Hey, Phillipe, did you give me this hickey last night?" "May-be," Phillipe admitted coyly. "I thought you said I wasn't your type." "Well, beef stroganoff isn't my favorite food, but that doesn't mean I don't sometimes take a little nibble." Scott chuckled. After the day he'd had, this little shopping spree was indeed lifting his mood. Now and then over the years, Scott had dared to sneak some less pedestrian clothes into the fitting room, camouflaged among the Dockers and the Van Heusen shirts so Amanda wouldn't notice, but he always felt he looked laughable in anything remotely stylish. Then again, he'd never had a body like this to hang them on. He first slipped into a collarless dress shirt with narrow cyan and white stripes and a pair of form-fitting off-white linen slacks, and had to admit that he looked pretty great in them. He parted the curtain and was met with applause from Phillipe and the clerk. Embarrassed, Scott slid the curtain closed and changed into some pale acid-washed jeans in combination with the Bundeswehr tank that Phillipe had specifically requested. Pushing a hand through his gelled hair and flexing his biceps, he thought he looked like an extra on "Saved By The Bell", but an undeniably hot one. This combo also met with Phillipe's approval, so Scott tried on a mint-green Oxford shirt with white collar and cuffs, paired with pink chinos rolled up to expose his bare ankles. Nothing he would have chosen for himself, and definitely a look that deserved to remain stuck in this era, but he had to concede that even that didn't look half-bad. When Scott stepped out to model this latest outfit, Phillipe groaned. "You disgust me. You look good in everything." He pressed two more items into Scott's hands. Seeing what Phillipe had given him, Scott balked: a black fishnet muscle shirt and black-leather short-shorts. "I don't think so," Scott said with a grimace, trying to hand them back. "Humor me. I just wanna see how nauseatingly awesome you look in them." Phillipe shoved Scott back behind the curtain, and Scott realized he was intensely curious to see how he would look in them too. The mesh shirt draped beautifully, emphasizing the breadth of his chest and casting flattering shadows that seemed to deepen the cut of his abs. His unrestrained hard-on posed a challenge as he struggled to wedge himself into the leather shorts. When he finally managed to zip up the fly, his erection was obscenely obvious. "C'mon, let me see," Phillipe pleaded. "I don't think this is really me," Scott said, even though he couldn't tear his eyes away from the mirror. Never in his wildest dreams could he have imagined looking this sexy. His hand was irresistibly drawn downward, cupping the bulge in the shorts and stroking slowly down its full length. His body seemed totally on board with this new look, even if his mind was dragging its feet. He frantically pulled his hand away when he heard the sliding of rings on the curtain rod and discovered Phillipe standing beside him in the dressing area. "Oh, my fucking fuck," Phillipe gasped, growing short of breath as he took in Scott's appearance, taking particular note of the unmissable zucchini-sized protuberance in the leather shorts. Casting his eyes further downward, he declared, "If I had legs like yours, I would never wear pants." "I dunno, don't you think this makes me look, like, really, really, REALLY gay?" Phillipe said, "Honey, you've already opened the closet this far. Why not kick the door off the fuckin' hinges?" Scott remained ambivalent, figuring the only thing that would make him look even gayer would be a rainbow tramp stamp. Given how many surprises he had already experienced in the past day, he nervously turned around and checked over his shoulder, just to make sure, and was pleased to discover that no tattoo of any sort marred his lower back. He couldn't help but admire how spectacular his buns looked in these shorts, with the smooth leather reflecting the store's lights and the lower hem perfectly conforming to the curve at the base of his glutes. Phillipe gathered up all of the clothes Scott had tried on, as well as the initial clothes he had taken off. "So, which ones do you want?" When Scott dithered, biting his lip, Phillipe unilaterally decided for him, sliding open the curtain and informing the clerk, "We'll take everything." "Hold it," Scott said, "I don't think if I've got the money for all of that." In fact, now that he thought about it, he was positive his wallet still only contained the thirteen bucks and two condoms that had been there last night. He was still operating with the mindset of a fifty-year-old with a healthy bank account, but as a 21-year-old undergrad, he barely had enough cash to buy a t-shirt. "Sweetie, it's my treat. Consider it a late birthday present." "I can't let you pay for all this." Phillipe pinched Scott's cheek. "Scotty, my folks are a couple of greedy Reagan-supporting assholes. It's my patriotic duty to trickle down as much of their money as possible to make America more fabulous." Scott followed Phillipe over to the counter, where the clerk began to ring up the purchases. "That's very sweet, Phillipe, but it's totally unnecessary. I promise I'll pay you back." "Nonsense. Stop trying to ruin my fun. Listen, where are you staying tonight?" Scott's brow furrowed. He hadn't thought that far ahead. He couldn't go back to the apartment. Amanda's sorority house wouldn't have been an option even if he hadn't broken up with her. He certainly didn't have enough money for a motel room, and he had no idea who else he even knew in this altered reality. Phillipe grabbed a pen from the counter, took hold of Scott's left arm and inked an address and phone number on Scott's palm. "You come and stay at my place, 'kay? That is, unless you get any better offers, of course. I'll understand." Scott was awestruck by such generosity from an almost total stranger, although he honestly had no idea how long he and Phillipe had been friends. "Thanks, man." "Don't mention it. Seriously, don't, or every queen in town will be begging to crash at my pad and have me buy them clothes." He giggled as the clerk handed Phillipe the credit card receipt. "This includes what he's got on, right?", Phillipe asked. The clerk nodded. Phillipe signed the slip with a flourish, grabbed the bag which contained Scott's clothes and headed toward the door. "Wait, give me something to change into," Scott begged. Phillipe flapped a hand toward Scott's mesh and leather ensemble and declared, "Oh, no, sweetie, you're wearing that out of here." Phillipe spotted something outside which made him quicken his pace. He waved bye-bye as he stepped out of the store. Reluctantly, Scott followed him onto the sidewalk. A crosstown express was just arriving at a nearby bus stop, and Phillipe had joined the queue to get onboard. Scott chased after him, certain that every eye in the street and on the bus was fixed on him. Whispering loudly, Scott told Phillipe, "I can't go out in public like this!" Phillipe informed him with a grin, "Hate to break it to you, but you ARE out in public like this." The bus doors opened and Phillipe stepped inside, but paused on the steps when something occurred to him. He fished in the bag, and Scott momentarily hoped that Phillipe was taking pity on him and findng him something more concealing to wear. Instead, Phillipe pulled out Scott's wallet which had been left in the pocket of his cutoffs. "You gotta do a better job of hanging onto this." Either intentionally or from lack of coordination, Phillipe flung the wallet far over Scott's head. It eventually landed on the sidewalk twenty feet behind Scott and took several bounces, ending on the curb, teetering dangerously close to a sewer grate. While Scott rushed over to retrieve it, Phillipe got onto the bus and took a window seat. As the bus pulled away, Scott chased along beside it, yelling through the open window to Phillipe, "Where are you going?" "Home," Phillipe said, mischievously. "Some of us have studying to do. Call me later, sweetie!" The bus accelerated, and even Scott's legs weren't fast enough to keep up. He stood on the sidewalk, watching the bus hang a right at the next intersection as his chest rose and fell with each heavy breath. Studying! Scott hadn't even considered that. If he was permanently stuck at this age, he would have to start going to classes, writing essays, taking exams, all the bullshit he had gladly left behind post-graduation. His recurring stress dream about being back in school was becoming real. At least he'd gotten the part about being naked in front of a roomful of strangers out of the way, and honestly, that hadn't been as terrifying as he would have expected. In fact, he kind of enjoyed it. Scott attempted to slip his wallet into his shorts, only to discover that they had no pockets, nothing to distract from the natural curves of his body. With no agenda, no particular place to go, and no home to go to, Scott decided to indulge in a nostalgic stroll around the campus. Past the hundred-year-old administration building and its sculpture of the school's stoic founder, his outstretched arms festooned with toilet paper by pranksters. Past the lecture hall where he first set eyes on Amanda during a literature class in freshman year, when she asked if she could borrow his notes on Somerset Maugham. Past the gymnasium where he and the swim team practiced, and where he had developed a huge infatuation with the team captain, Derek Andreesen. Derek was the first person Scott had ever known to shave his entire body, even his eyebrows, to reduce resistance in the water. Even as bald as a Sphynx cat, Derek still heated up the pool in his tiny red Speedo. Scott smiled fondly as he remembered Derek, only to sober up in an instant when it hit him that he had never been on the swim team...at least not the first time he went to college. Yet this memory was so vivid and specific, right down to the full name of the object of his fixation, that he knew that this do-over version of himself must be on the team. Were the details of this new life finally starting to fill in? What else might he learn about himself as more such fragments bubbled to the surface? Scott decided he had to check out the theater building, which he had rarely entered except to attend a few plays. He wondered if, back in the day, he had seen anything Jared was in, never realizing at the time who Jared would go on to be. When he entered the lobby, Scott noticed a display case featuring black-and-white photos of recent productions. Sure enough, there he was shirtless and barefoot in jeans and a stylized horse-head mask, with a wild-eyed and naked Jared astride his back. Even in a still picture, their different levels of commitment were plainly visible. Scott was a guy standing on a stage. Jared was ACTING! Seeing tangible proof of his performance jarred something loose in Scott's mind, and fleeting impressions of the production trickled into his consciousness. Not enough to qualify as full-blown memories, just snapshots of putting on makeup in the dressing room or kidding around with Phillipe as he helped Scott put on his costume. Stray moments from a life that was growing increasingly familiar. He closely examined pictures from other plays and was able to find himself shirtless in a white Gilligan hat as part of the cast of "South Pacific" and shirtless in gold lame shorts in the title role of "The Rocky Horror Show". He was sensing a common thread in the types of roles in which he was cast. Jared was much more prominent, and just as shirtless, in photos from "Picnic", "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof", and "The Elephant Man". It occurred to Scott that the theater department didn't need much of a budget for costumes. Scott took a seat on a bench to collect his thoughts. The pictures made it clear that "Equus" hadn't been a one-off testing of the waters. This iteration of himself had been shifting his focus toward theater for quite a while. It was becoming harder to reconcile the past that he remembered, in which he was a reserved business major who mostly kept to himself, with the one for which there was growing circumstantial evidence, in which he was a more outgoing, athletic and apparently somewhat popular drama student with a penchant for exhibitionism. As he sat quietly in the lobby, a pretty young ponytailed redhead in a dance leotard breezed past him, saying, "Hi, Scotty! Love your outfit." The words, "Hey, Grace," flew from his mouth without a moment's thought. A tingle percolated up his spine as he felt his grip on reality wobbling further. Two simultaneous, contradictory yet equally true thoughts were battling it out: that he had never seen the girl before in his life, and that he recognized her instantly and knew her by name. He leapt up from the bench and fled the lobby, desperate for some fresh air, leaving Grace wondering what had suddenly gotten into Scotty. Scott walked around the campus in a daze, a cacophony of thoughts crowding his mind. From moment to moment, he felt his mood shift from frightened to liberated, unsettled to empowered. He couldn't tell if he should panic that he was losing his identity or celebrate that he was gaining a better one. He did know that the longer he wore the ensemble Phillipe had forced on him, the more comfortable and confident he felt in it. When he reached the quad, buzzing with students relaxing or studying on a lovely Sunday afternoon, he found an open spot far enough away from the Frisbee players and hacky-sackers that he wouldn't be disturbed. He sat down crosslegged, stripping off his mesh shirt so he could fully bask in the sun without getting tan lines that would look like he'd been branded with a chain-link fence. He lay down, hands clasped behind his head, feeling the sun's warmth beating down on his skin and the cool tickle of grass blades against his back. Exhausted, he closed his eyes to relax for a moment, desperate for a respite from the roller-coaster of the past day. When he opened his eyes again, feeling refreshed and focused, only a few students remained. The air had turned chilly and the sun had dipped to the horizon. Scott hopped to his feet with energy to burn and stretched his legs out of habit, instinctively prepping for a run. His fishnet shirt wouldn't offer much protection against the cool evening breeze, so he bunched it up and wadded one end into his waistband. Leather shorts with no underwear and Topsiders with no socks weren't the most practical running gear either, but they would have to do. He made his way quickly toward a bike and jogging trail through the college's arboretum, where he picked up the pace and did a full circuit of five miles in roughly half an hour, watching as the sky shifted from blue to pink to black. A nice run turned out to be just what he needed to clear his head and recharge his batteries. Toward the end, he heard his stomach begin to grumble, and his feet led him back toward Galaga's as if he were on autopilot. A sheen of perspiration on his skin, Scott stepped inside the pizza place and walked to the counter, shouting out, "One slice of sausage, my good man." Mr. Galaga turned around and instantly grew exasperated. "Look who's back! Mister No-Shirt! What I tell you? You try to give me heart attack?" "Sorry, Mr. G," Scott said, pulling the fishnet shirt from his waistband and slipping it on. Mr. Galaga was unimpressed. "You call that a shirt? Half of it is holes!" "Okay, then just give me half a slice," Scott shot back. "And half a Pepsi." "No Pepsi, Coke," Galaga chastized him, begrudgingly sliding a full slice into the oven to warm it. Despite his ornery attitude, Galaga was rarely short-sighted enough to turn away a paying customer, especially one as loyal as Scott. "Fine. Half a Coke. But no ice!" Scott grinned and swung his leg over a chair, straddling it backwards. The only other customer was a chunky guy, sweating even more profusely than Scott, playing the Galaga video game with furious intensity, his beltless blue jeans sagging to reveal his plumber's crack. Scott removed a fistful of paper napkins from the dispenser on a nearby table and patted himself dry, wadding each one into a ball after it became saturated and tossing them into a trash can ten feet away with unerring finesse. Opening his wallet to get the cash to pay for his meal, Scott riffled through the rest of its contents, curious if he would find any other clues about his reconfigured life. Other than the two unopened condoms he'd seen before and a card granting him all-hours access to the swim-team pool, he found nothing unusual. Driver's license. Student I.D. Campus library card. Twenty-two-cent postage stamps featuring a picture of William Faulkner. A coupon torn from a newspaper giving him fifty cents off his next purchase of Fruit Roll-Ups. A photo-booth shot of him and Amanda, laughing despite both sporting sunburns after a long wonderful day at the beach. He remembered the picture well, having carried it in his wallet for many years, although he didn't remember looking so buff in it. A lump came to Scott's throat, as the charming photo now felt surprisingly poignant. He realized that his thirteen dollars would have to last him for a while, at least until he could retrieve his checkbook from the apartment. He had no credit cards and, although he did have an ATM card, he hadn't the faintest clue what its PIN might be. In fact, there was only one number from thirty years ago that he could still recall by heart, one that he hadn't thought of in over a decade. Scott glanced toward the phone booth in the corner of the restaurant, feeling an urgent need to dial that number.
  13. Chapter 6

    Scott lay half-awake, his thoughts muddled, his head feeling as if it were stuffed with raw cookie dough. The bed felt incredibly stiff, and so did Scott. Not only was his back killing him, but he had morning wood for the first time in recent memory. He attributed the latter to the rare presence of Amanda's arm draped across his shirtless chest, although it might also have something to do with that long convoluted dream where has was a college student again. Most of the details were fuzzy to him at the moment, but as it was going on, it had felt extremely vivid. He'd had previous dreams where he found himself back in school, but they usually involved him showing up to class naked. In this one, he had also ended up naked, but this time he was playing Twister with a ludicrously attractive guy. Just the thought of it caused Scott's hard-on to stiffen further and tilt upward at a thirty-degree angle. Scott heard a sleepy feminine voice murmur into his ear, "Well, looky there. Rise and shine indeed!" "Morning, honey," Scott said, smirking as he rubbed his eyes. He wondered why Amanda's voice sounded so different this morning, and why the bedsheet felt so flimsy and cool against his skin. "'Honey'? What's the matter, still can't remember my name?" In an instant, Scott's eyes flipped wide open as he realized he was not safe at home in his bed with his wife, but still in the house he remembered from the end of what he thought had been a dream. The place was dark, with only thin shafts of light sneaking past the drawn window shades, but it was easy to make out his immediate surroundings. He was lying on the living room floor, wrapped in a tangled Twister mat alongside that emaciated boy with snarled black hair and smeared makeup. Startled, Scott let out a yelp and scooted backwards, kicking his legs to untangle them from the multicolored game board. As his ass slid across the hardwood floor, he felt a splinter jab its way into one of his bare ass cheeks. He discovered he was entirely naked, save for the purple condom which still clung to his bobbing erection. The pale skinny boy, wearing only plaid boxer shorts, propped himself up on an elbow, his eyes fixed on the up-and-down movements of Scott's bouncing cock. "Doesn't that sucker ever deflate?" Scott slapped his hands over his boner as he gradually acclimated to his situation. He stared down at his body, still trim, tight, toned, and twenty-one. Details of the previous night's events slowly filtered into his consciousness. The Rusty Nail. Galaga's restaurant. Seeing his old roommates. And getting dragged to this party by the boy now stretched out on the Twister board. He even remembered the boy's name. "Phillipe?" The young man looked pleased. "You DID remember my name! I guess I must have made some kind of impression." "Can I ask you a favor, Phillipe?", Scott asked with a desperate quiver in his voice. "Can you slap me in the face, like real hard?" "Sorry, sweetie," Phillipe said, padding toward Scott on his hands and knees. "I'm not into the whole S-and-M thing. But how 'bout this?" He stretched his neck and lowered his lips around the big toe of Scott's left foot, licking it like a Tootsie Pop. Scott reflexively jerked his foot away and Phillipe's face dropped to the the floor with a thud. "Ow, you fuckin' asshole!" "Sorry," Scott said weakly. The word was practically becoming his mantra. The slobber now evaporating from his toe had served the same purpose as the slap he had initially requested, offering a tangible physical sensation which convinced him this was definitely not a dream. "You okay there?" "Jesus, what is your trip?" Phillipe complained. "You didn't mind me sucking your toes last night." Scott's memories of the previous night didn't include a makeout session with this skinny boy. "Did you and I...do anything?" "We didn't fuck, if that's what you're worrying," Phillipe said, leaning against the end of the sofa and probing the bridge of his nose with his fingers, inspecting for damage. "After we lugged Jared to his bed, you and I made out a little, that's all. Like I told you, you straight-acting boys don't do it for me." "But you sucked my toes?" "Well, to be fair, your toes are pretty gay," Phillipe smirked. Scott looked down at his bare feet, trying to figure out what looked so gay about his long, knobby toes. He couldn't recall any of what Phillipe described, but the anxious burbling in his gut reminded him how much he had imbibed. As a tightness constricted his throat, Scott sensed the inevitable. He covered his mouth with his hands and scampered desperately through the dining room and into the kitchen. He dropped to his knees beside the trash can in the center of the room just as a sour-grape blast launched at firehose strength from his throat returning last night's potent punch from whence it came. After several forceful surges, Scott felt confident that he'd fully purged his system. He staggered toward the sink to wash the acidic aftertaste from his mouth. A quick survey of the post-party ruins of the kitchen did not turn up a clean glass, so he placed his lips in the stream of water from the spigot and lapped up enough to relieve his cottonmouth. All things considered, he was amazed that he felt as good as he did, which he attributed to resiliency of youth. He had never been much of a drinker, even in college, partly because Amanda had been as opposed to underage drinking as she was to premarital sex. Of course, he eventually learned she wasn't so keen on overage drinking or post-marital sex either. Wiping the back of his hand across his mouth, he glanced at the analog clock on the stove, which read ten past eleven. The house was so dark with all the shades pulled, he was surprised it was so late in the morning. Suddenly, every nerve in his body snapped awake as it flashed into his head that he should have been at the Pancake Pagoda by eleven. He bounded heavily back to the living room, head swiveling madly in search of his discarded clothes. Phillipe noted Scott's panicked face. "What got into you all of a sudden?" "I was supposed to meet my girlfriend for breakfast ten minutes ago!" "Girlfriend, eh?", Phillipe said with an insinuating chuckle before a thought occurred to him. "Oh, was she the GOR-geous brunette who came backstage for you opening night?" "I guess so," Scott said distractedly. He still had no real memory of doing the play, but assumed that Amanda would have been the only gorgeous brunette who would come in search of him. "Oooh," Phillipe said, practically swooning, "I would strangle a crate full of puppies to have hair like hers." Spotting his painter's pants wadded in the corner, Scott bent toward them but felt a sharp pain as his stiff back seized up. Clutching his spine with his left arm, he extended his right toward the floor, desperately waggling his fingers toward his pants. As he finally snagged a belt loop on the tip of his middle finger and hoisted the pants upward, the contents of his pants pockets cascaded to the floor. The clatter of raining change was sufficient to wake the other sleeping stragglers dispersed around the house, who emitted a chorus of annoyed groans and sickly moans. "Sorry," Scott announced in a stage whisper as he frantically stuck a leg into his pants, plunging a bare foot through the ripped-out knee and inflicting further destruction on the fabric. "Here, lemme help you out," Phillipe offered, crawling over and tearing away the rest of the dangling cloth, exposing Scott's leg from the knee down. "There, you'll start a new fashion trend: one-and-a-half-legged pants." Scott gazed down grimly. "I can't go out looking like this!" "Okay, okay, I'll go get the scissors. Keep what's left of your pants on." Phillipe scampered toward the kitchen. Scott put his other leg down the still-momentarily-intact leg of his pants, then looked for his shirt. Noticing red-and-white scraps scattered randomly around the place, he remembered that his shirt had been reduced to shreds. When Phillipe returned, Scott asked, "You think I could borrow your shirt?" Phillipe laughed as he carefully began snipping into Scott's pants leg. "MY skinny little shirt? You MIGHT be able to squeeze your dick into it. Go dig up something from Jared's closet. He's more your size." Phillipe wriggled the sleeve of white fabric down Scott's leg, leaving Scott standing in newly shorn white cut-offs which put his firm diamond-shaped calves on prominent display. "Which room's Jared's?", Scott asked Phillipe. Phillipe looked up from the floor and pointed toward the hallway with the scissors. "Ear piercing salon. Just follow the trail of blood droplets." Scott walked nimbly among the alcohol casualties strewn about the floor and tiptoed his way toward Jared's room. He tapped gently on the door, then swung it open slowly, its hinges squeaking softly. Jared was zonked on his bed, face down naked atop a pile of his remaining guests' jackets, snoring like the Concorde coming in for a landing. Scott hit pause for a moment as his eyes lingered on the sight of Jared's bare ass. Scott's erection regained strength. He realized it was still encased in its purple condom, but there was no time to deal with that now. Scott noticed a number of framed photos on the wall, both candid and formal, showing Jared with a pretty girl with silken blonde hair and a blinding smile with what seemed like far more than the requisite number of teeth. Interspersed amongst those pictures were 8x10 headshots of Jared in various roles. Last night, Scott had found Jared vaguely familiar, chalking it up to their working together on the play that everyone except Scott could remember, but in the relative sobriety of the morning, Scott had a startling realization. This wasn't just some hot guy named Jared, this was JARED TAYLOR! Scott and Amanda had seen him in several pleasantly inoffensive romantic-comedies back in the Nineties, usually playing the insanely rugged but caddish rival to the more affable, quippier, and higher-billed male lead in their battle for the heart of the too-good-to-be-true love interest. Scott wasn't entirely surprised that he hadn't recognized Jared instantly, as Jared's stunning youthful features had grown even more classically handsome as he matured. Jared at the party was a lovely boy, but Jared Taylor was a man. When he showed up onscreen in those movies, he had definitely left an impression on Scott, particularly on Scott's inner thigh. Strangely, it had never occurred to Scott that Jared Taylor might be gay in real life, although he did always sense that Jared's characters were far too attractive to end up with the girl. No woman wants to be the second-prettiest member of a couple. Now Scott really regretted blowing what had undoubtedly been his once-in-a-lifetime chance to make out with an actual movie star. Of course, he'd still be able to tell people about that one time when Jared Taylor had passed out on top of him playing Naked Twister, although he had no idea at the moment to whom he would ever be brave enough to divulge such a secret. It certainly wasn't the sort of thing he could tell Amanda. Scott gathered his wits, remembering why he had come here in the first place. He walked to Jared's closet, but saw only a few items on hangers. Most of his wardrobe was heaped haphazardly in piles on the floor. Scott attempted to bend over, but his back was still killing him. He clutched the first item within reach, which appeared to be a plain purple t-shirt. With effort, he raised it over his head and shimmied it down his torso. It was sleeveless and slightly small for him, but he had no time to be choosy. If he knew Amanda, she'd already be fuming at his tardiness. He gave Jared's body one last fond glance, then left the room. When Scott returned to the living room, Phillipe was standing alertly in the middle of the floor, holding Scott's blue Topsiders like he was Scott's valet. Scott took them with an appreciative smile and plunked himself down on the couch to slip into them. Scott said, awestruck, "So he's THE Jared Taylor!" "Oh, his ego would LOVE to hear you call him that," Phillipe said with a weary shake of his head. Scott could have kicked himself for being so dumb. Of course, at this moment, Jared was years away from becoming THE Jared Taylor. Now he was just A Jared Taylor. "So who's the girl in the pictures?" "That's Teresa, his girlfriend from back home. A real sweetie. You met her at the wrap party, remember? No, of course you don't." Scott shrugged off this latest gap in his memory bank as he slid his feet into his still damp shoes. "So is Jared still...in the closet?" Phillipe cackled. "Sweetie, the only place Jared is out is in this house. That's why I call this place the 'out house'. I keep trying to drag him to the Rusty Nail, but he's bailed on me so many times, I've stopped asking." "How about you?", Scott asked curiously. "Are you, ya know...?" "Honey, anybody who can't see that I'm gay ain't lookin'. I've never sent out engraved announcements or anything, but it's not some state secret. My mama's in denial. She just says I'm loud." "Well, you are that," Scott said with a good-natured grin. He rose to his feet and extended his hand, saying, "Well, Phillipe, thanks for bringing me to the party. I'll never forget it." "Says the man who can't remember anything," Phillipe said skeptically. He moved toward Scott with his spindly arms outstretched. Scott had never been much of a hugger, but the approach of a young man he barely knew wearing nothing but boxers didn't make him tense up the way he might have before last night. As the two embraced, Scott was intensely aware that his cock was still rock-solid from his visit to Jared's room and realized there was no way Phillipe wasn't feeling it pressed between their bodies. As they parted, Phillipe squatted down and spoke directly to Scott's crotch, delivering a perfect impersonation of Judy Garland in "The Wizard Of Oz" as he proclaimed, "Oh, giant purple cock, I think I'll miss you most of all!" Scott chuckled and swept a hand through Phillipe's dangling bangs, brushing them back behind his ear to reveal what Scott realized was quite an elegant face beneath the smeared cosmetics. "Better," Scott declared. "Tell Jared I said goodbye." Scott pivoted toward the front door and was gone. The warm sun on his skin and the fresh morning air in his lungs had an immediate rejuvenating effect on Scott. He took a moment to get his bearings, then began to jog in what he was pretty sure was the general direction of the Pancake Pagoda. His finely-tuned body swiftly picked up the pace and soon he was in full gallop. Even his back pain faded away as his muscles clicked into gear. He wished that he could have texted Amanda as he usually would, to let her know that, yes, he was late again, as always, but would be there soon. He supposed he could stop at a pay phone, look up the number for the restaurant and ask them to page her, but in his current shape, he would probably get there faster on foot than it would take to go through all of the rigmarole of contacting her. Even with two wrong turns, he reached the restaurant remarkably quickly. The Pagoda had served Cantonese cuisine for more than two decades before it was taken over by new management who were too cheap and/or lazy to redecorate beyond slapping poorly-spaced decal letters reading "PANCAKE" on the front window. The place still looked like an authentic Chinese restaurant, with essentially an IHOP stuffed inside. This morning, it occurred to Scott that he wasn't all that different from the Pancake Pagoda, outwardly presenting one image while concealing a completely different identity. As he caught his reflection in the front window, he realized that after the "remodeling" he had undergone last night, his exterior was now a closer match to his interior. In his sleep the gel had formed his mullet into a wedge shape, giving him a striking resemblance to Gumby. As sunlight glinted on the stud in his ear, Scott considered removing it before entering the restaurant, but decided that greeting Amanda with a blood-encrusted hole punched in his earlobe would raise just as many questions as showing up with an earring. He filled his lungs with a deep breath, bracing himself to face the consequences of last night's actions. He spotted Amanda at a table for two near the back, beneath the huge mural of the Great Wall. Even from this distance, she was radiant, and her appearance only grew more staggering the closer he got. It was a shock to see her restored to her youthful appearance, stripped of three decades' accumulation of wrinkles, gray hairs and fatigue. She was just the way he remembered her from their first meeting, the girl next door if you were lucky enough to live next to Jacqueline Bisset. The cascading waves of brown hair were even more bountiful than he recalled, and he could see why Phillipe had been envious. She was dressed simply and timelessly in a white blouse and navy blue skirt. The only thing that screamed Eighties about her appearance were oversized glasses with plastic frames which, contrary to the cliche, only enhanced her allure further, focusing your attention on her striking green eyes with eyelashes so naturally dark and lush that they needed no mascara. She remained the most beautiful woman Scott had ever seen in person. And Scott realized that in her presence, his cock, which had been at full mast almost constantly since his arrival at the Rusty Nail yesterday, lay limp in his pants, curled like an earthworm. He found that significant. He stood next to the table, watching her silently, searching for the right words to say. Aware of the presence of someone hovering over her, Amanda apologetically grabbed for her purse and explained hurriedly, "It's okay, you can have this table. I was just leaving." As she began to stand, she felt a hand pressing on her shoulder to keep her in her chair. "Don't go," Scott said, "it's me." Recognizing the voice, Amanda looked up with exasperation. "Well, it's about ti..." She halted mid-syllable as her eyes widened to take in the sight of her transformed boyfriend. Scott winced and said, "I'm so, so, SO sorry for being late. There's no excuse." He slid back the wooden chair and took a seat opposite Amanda, whose brain was busy attempting to catalogue all the ways in which Scott's appearance was different, from the lopsided hairdo on down. "What happened to you?", she asked, studying him like one of those "What's wrong with this picture?" puzzles in the magazines for kids at the dentist's office. Scott had no clue how to answer her simple question. The truth, that he had been transported back in time from his fiftieth birthday, would make him seem insane, and a recitation of everything that had actually occurred to him in the past eighteen hours would sound, at best, wildly out of character. "I know I was supposed to meet you at Galaga's for supper last night, but...I had an accident." He could feel himself growing red. It was his tell that he was lying, and Amanda always picked up on it. "So you had an accident and just happened to land on an earring?" Scott fingered the stud nervously and watched as Amanda's attention flitted from one part of his body to the next. "What's that on your hand?", she asked, pointing to the smudged entrance stamp of the male symbol from the Rusty Nail. Scott nervously covered it with his other hand and explained, "That's just from a bar where I went with some friends." As far as he knew, he had only been at the Rusty Nail with Phillipe, and even that was only based on hearsay. "Let me guess. Your theater friends?", she said with a peculiar emphasis on the word "theater". Scott nodded. "Why didn't you tell me you wanted to go out with them instead of me?" "I don't know," Scott said. Amanda's tone turned from disappointment to suspicion when she spotted something alien on Scott's face. "Is that lipstick on your cheek?" Now Scott was genuinely surprised. He glanced around for a mirror and eventually picked up a spoon to examine his reflection. There was definitely a smear of something dark across his right cheek. Based on the color, he guessed that it was Phillipe's maroon lipstick. "Yeah, that might be lipstick. You have to believe me, Mandy. I don't really remember. I got...really drunk." Despite Amanda's disapproval of drinking, he hoped this might elicit a glimmer of compassion. "After all, it WAS my twenty-first birthday!" He tried to smile innocently. She seemed on the verge of forgiveness until she spotted something on his neck. "Is that...is that a hickey?" Scott reflexively slapped a hand on his neck, as if swatting at a mosquito. He didn't even bother checking his reflection. He had no doubt that it was a hickey, also courtesy of Phillipe, but even if it just looked like a hickey, that was incriminating enough. "Were you with some other girl?", Amanda asked firmly, with a barely detectable quiver of sadness. At last, something he could answer 100% truthfully. "No." Amanda leaned back and crossed her arms, still searching for the essence of her boyfriend hiding somewhere amidst all the cosmetic changes. Pointing toward his neck, she said, "Tag." At first, Scott thought she said, "Fag," which seemed uncharacteristically rude from his usually kind and proper girlfriend. When he realized what she actually said, he followed the direction of her finger and noticed the label of Jared's shirt flapping under his nose. In his haste, he had put on the shirt inside out and backwards. "Sorry, I got dressed really fast when I realized I'd overslept," he explained with a shrug. Typically, Scott would have excused himself to the rest room to rectify the problem, but feeling no body shyness, he simply stripped off the shirt in the middle of the restaurant, flipped it right side out and spun it around, then slid it back down his torso, peripherally noticing some kind of slogan on the front. Scott looked down and deciphered the writing which appeared upside-down from his vantage point. "A HARD MAN IS GOOD TO FIND," it proclaimed in shiny silver iron-on letters. Amanda read the message on his shirt, then stared coolly into Scott's eyes. "Scott, is there something you're trying to tell me?" No, he thought, there's something I'm desperately trying NOT to tell you. Somehow they had avoided having this conversation for more than three decades, but he saw no way to skirt around it now. He knew what he had to say, and was pretty sure Amanda knew it too. This moment was giving him deja vu to the night of their marriage proposal, when he had hemmed and hawed for so long that eventually she did it first. Scott knew that, this time, it was important for him to beat her to the punch. "Honey," he said, stretching an arm across the table, while she kept her arms folded across her chest. Scott's voice grew soft and quiet. "I'm...gay." He had never said that out loud in his fifty years (plus a day). Now that those words had been set free into the universe, they sounded far less terrifying than he had always feared. They sounded...true. He could hear a slight murmur of muted commentary from the nearby tables, but Scott's attention was fixed on Amanda's face, monitoring for any hint of reaction. Her expression remained stoic. Scott could tell from the way her lips were contorted that she was biting down hard on the inside of her cheek. The fluorescent lights emphasized the water glistening in her eyes. She swallowed hard. In a hesitant whisper, she asked, "Was it...something...I did?" Scott felt a puff of silent laughter leave his nostrils as a fond smile swept over his face. "Of course not." "No, seriously, please tell me. Am I not pretty enough for you?" Scott's laughter became audible. When they first met, Scott had found it endearing that Amanda wasn't conceited about her appearance, but as she grew older, it became clear that she was genuinely insecure about her looks and always had been. "Oh, Mandy, you're pretty enough for ten girls." She blushed but didn't seem to believe him. She leaned forward and spoke with solemnity, "Is it because I didn't want to..." Her voice became barely audible: "...have sex?" Scott shook his head. "No, that wasn't it." A slight stammer crept into her voice. "Because, I mean, I will, if I have to. I know it's different for boys. I don't want to drive you away." Scott gently took hold of her right hand. "It's nothing you did. Honestly. It's me. It's something I've been wrestling with for...for longer than you can imagine." She wasn't ready to give up. "Maybe you're just going through a phase. I mean, sometimes people have feelings, feelings that they know aren't right, and eventually they grow out of them." She smiled hopefully. "Honey, I know. I've finally grown out of that phase." A cheerful middle-aged waitress arrived at the table with pad in hand. "I see your young gentleman finally got here." She looked Scott over, then turned to Amanda and said, "I'd say he was worth waiting for," punctuating her sentence with a wink. "You two ready to order?" Amanda said, "I'm not really hungry any more," reaching for her purse. Scott gripped Amanda's hand tightly and said, "Stay. Please." He was about to order his usual scrambled Egg Beaters, turkey bacon and dry wheat toast when it struck him that the cardiologist wouldn't tell him he needed to watch his diet for another twenty years. Surely a body in prime condition like this could tolerate at least one REAL breakfast. Scott glanced at the menu, then ordered with relish. "I'd like a three-egg omelette with cheddar cheese, onions and green peppers, three slices of your peach French toast with whipped cream on the top, a side order of CRISP bacon...and could I get a second side order of bacon with that?" "I love me a man with a healthy appetite," the waitress said with a smile. "Anything to drink?" "Coffee. Black as you can make it. And could you bring her a fruit plate and some fresh orange juice? Thanks." Scott had no hesitation ordering for Amanda. She had ordered the same thing for breakfast for thirty years. Odds are this wouldn't be the one occasion when she wanted something new. He smiled wistfully at Amanda, whose forehead was still creased with worry. "Believe me, Mandy. I know this feels sudden, but it's been building up, literally for years. Haven't you ever had the slightest inkling that I might be...?" He dwindled off. He had tried so hard over the years to keep his feelings hidden, yet this moment might go a lot easier if he'd done a piss-poor job of it. "I suppose, maybe, once in a while I did notice a little something." Amanda allowed herself a hint of a grin. "You did seem very comfortable with that naked boy riding on your back." Scott felt like shouting, "And do you know who that naked boy turned out to be? Jared Taylor!", but he was having a hard enough time without also trying to explain to Amanda how he could see into the future. Amanda stayed silent for a while as Scott apologized again at length for not meeting her for his birthday dinner, insisting that he may have been callous or irresponsible at times but he would never intentionally hurt her. Even though the two of them had never had intercourse, he could remember how scary the Eighties had been, so he also felt the need to reassure her that he hadn't spread any disease to her. Suddenly, Scott fell silent, realizing that he couldn't be certain that he had never had sex with a guy, given the black hole in his memory for anything prior to last night. His gut told him he hadn't been bold enough to take that step yet, but he would make a point of getting himself tested on Monday just to be positive (or, he hoped, negative). The food arrived and the tension between Scott and Amanda faded slightly. Both consciously avoiding the elephant in the room, they fell into easy conversation about classes and finals, although when Amanda brought up spring break, they both realized they likely wouldn't be spending it together this year. That brought their chat to a dead stop. They focused on their meals for the next five minutes. Scott couldn't remember the last time he had such a ravenous appetite, and he devoured his unhealthy choices with glee, knowing he could burn off the calories easily during his next long run. Still, he knew he couldn't make a habit of indulging like this. He silently promised to take better care of himself this time around. When the waitress arrived with the check, Scott reached for his back pocket...and discovered that his wallet was missing. He realized it must have fallen out in Jared's living room, along with all of his change and, most likely, his apartment key. He looked at Amanda apologetically and asked if she could cover the bill, insisting that he would pay her back as soon as possible. "You always pay," she said. "The least I can do it get this one." Scott was still eating, but Amanda stood, putting on her jacket. "Just gimme a minute," Scott said, stuffing a wad of French toast into his craw. "I'll walk you home." "No, you stay and finish. I just...I think I need to go," Amanda said, slinging her purse over her shoulder. "You've given me a lot to think about." She paused beside Scott, placed a hand gently on his shoulder to hold him in his chair, and leaned down to kiss him softly on the cheek. The words caught in her throat as she told him, "You be careful, okay?" Scott watched sadly as Amanda hustled toward the front door, handing the check and a twenty to the cashier and exiting briskly. He wondered if he would ever see her again.
  14. Chapter 5

    Compared to what Scott witnessed as he stepped into Jared's house, the Rusty Nail seemed as tame as a middle-school sock hop. The foyer was dark except for two spotlights trained on two bowls, one full of Skittles, the other stocked with condoms in bright colors identical to the hard-shell candies. Phillipe grabbed a fistful of each and gestured for Scott to do the same. Scott took a few Skittles and popped them into this mouth, then followed Phillipe into the darkened living room. Black lights cast their spell over this room, bringing a brilliant glow to anything white, such as Scott's pants, Phillipe's t-shirt...and the tighty-whitey underpants which were all that many of the guests were wearing. A Twister mat had been spread out in the middle of the floor, its white surface gleaming with fluorescence. Two slim young men in their underwear were pretzeled around each other, while the crowd surrounding them passed around the spinner to determine the players' next moves. Scott noticed that, in addition to hands and feet, someone had added the options of "ass" and "cock" to the spinner wheel. Strobe lights flashed in the dining room beyond, which was filled with dancing men at various stages of undress. Scott vaguely recognized the pulsing synthpop song that was cranked to eleven, with its singer's falsetto urging, "Run away, turn away, run away, turn away, run away." Some small part of Scott wanted to take that advice, but he was mainly exhilarated to be here, surrounded by people so uninhibited and unashamed to be themselves. Philippe took Scott's hand and pulled him onward to the kitchen, the most brightly lit room in the place, where guests were snacking on potato chips and congealed pizza and ladling out drinks from a plastic trash container in the center of the floor. A dark-haired young man, shirtless and barefoot in tuxedo pants held up by suspenders, noticed Phillipe entering and expressed his exasperation. "Well, it's about goddamn time, Phil!" Phillipe leaned close and spoke as softly as he could while still being audible over the music, dropping his affectations and speaking with wounded sincerity, "I told you, I wanna be called Phillipe now, remember?" Jared nodded, understanding his fellow actor's needs. "Oh, right. Thank you, Phil-LEAP! Glad you have finally deigned to grace us with your..." He stopped as he noticed Scott lurking in the shadows behind Phillipe. "Equus! My Equus!", he shouted theatrically and rushed over to wrap Scott in a fond embrace. Scott stood rigid and glanced for help from Phillipe, who pointed to the hugger and mouthed "Jared". "Hey there, Jared," Scott said, feigning familiarity, patting him on his bare back between his suspender straps. Any smugness which Scott had developed over his appearance tonight was obliterated the moment he had caught sight of Jared. He was the definition of "movie-star handsome", with short, carefully tousled brown hair, a perfectly straight nose, geometric cheekbones, delicate lips that verged on feminine, and a cleft chin that seemed bottomless, a seamless mash-up of young Travolta and prime Cary Grant. If Scott held any advantage, it was in his defined physique compared to Jared's softer lines, but he had no doubt that Jared had the potential to become a ripped god given the slightest amount of effort. Pressed against Jared's cheek, nose buried in his hair, Scott thought Jared even smelled like he imagined a movie star would, an intoxicating amalgam of Drakkar Noir, cinnamon rolls, suntan oil, and gin and tonic. Jared released Scott from his grip and leaned back to take in the newest arrival with his crystal blue eyes. "Why are you sopping wet? Is it raining out?" "Only on the lawn of Delta Zeta," Scott said. Jared stared at him blankly. "I have no idea what that means. Well, take off that shirt and stay awhile. I'll toss that in the dryer for you." Scott hesitated and raised his hands. "I'm fine." "Oooh, Scotty, we all KNOW you're fine," Phillipe said with a sly grin, to a chorus of enthusiastic "mmm-hmmms". Phillipe started to chant, "Take! It! Off!", which was quickly taken up around the room and throughout the rest of the house, even from people who had no idea what it was in regard to. Jared placed his hands gently on Scott's chest and spoke breathily. "You're not gonna tell me you had no trouble being topless onstage in front of four hundred strangers every night, but you're too shy to take off your shirt around your closest friends. Here, I'll help you." Jared drunkenly undid the third button on Scott's shirt, rendering him officially slutty. As Jared moved along to button number four and into uncharted open-shirt territory, Scott squirmed and said, "That's okay, I can do it." "No, I got it!", Jared insisted, pulling abruptly on the two sides of the shirt, popping the remaining buttons and shredding the fabric. He backed away, clutching red-and-white-checked tatters in his hands. "Oops. Sorry. I may be a tiny bit intoximicated." "Don't worry, we can't tell, hon," Phillipe said, bringing over two cups full of the purple concoction from the trash can and handing one to Scott. "Chug it. We've got a lot of catching up to do." Scott took a whiff as he raised it to his lips. "What's in it?" "Everything," Jared assured him with a wicked grin, tilting the cup to force its contents into Scott's mouth. The overwhelming flavor was grape Hi-C, but it burned enough going down Scott's throat to reveal a lethal combo of every variety of liquor represented in the empty bottles lined up like trophies along the kitchen counter, from Courvoisier to Peppermint Schnapps. Scott felt himself growing drunker before it even completed the journey to his stomach. Jared draped an arm over Scott's shoulder. "I'm so delighted that you came, Nugget." "Nugget?", Scott asked, taking another sip of his drink, this time voluntarily. "You gotta forgive Scotty," Phillipe informed Jared. "He seems to have developed a case of amnesia." "Oh, poor Nugget," Jared said, brushing through the limp strands of Scott's wet hair. "Nugget was the horse you played in 'Equus', remember? You were my faaaa-vorite," he purred, a blast of his hot boozy breath warming Scott's skin, "and I rode you every night!" Jared straddled himself over Scott's left leg and slid briskly up and down. That friction and Jared's bare chest rubbing along his arm combined to rouse Scott's erection back to life after the cold shower it had gotten from Patty. "Don't you think Nugget could use a trim to that mane of his?", Phillipe asked. "I dunno," Jared said, tangling his fingers in Scott's blond curls. "I've kinda grown attached to it." Leaning back to study Scott's appearance more critically, Jared reevaluated. "Then again, it is a pity to hide that magnificent face." He swept his hands through Scott's hair, pulling it back to fully reveal Scott's cheeks and forehead, and nodded approvingly. "Oh, yes, you are one fine piece of horseflesh." Phillipe rummaged noisily through the kitchen drawers. "You got any scissors in here?" "Hold on a second," Scott said, backing away unsteadily on suddenly wobbly legs. "I don't think he's in any shape to cut my hair." "There's nothing to worry about, Scotty," Phillipe said reassuringly, victoriously holding aloft a pair of scissors he had located. "I'm a professional. I cut my own hair all the time." Scott looked with concern at the clump of black hair hanging past Phillipe's left eye, but Jared rubbed a soothing hand along Scott's arm. "Relaaaaxx," he cooed into Scott's ear. "Phil-LEAP has done all of our hair. He's quite the gay blade." Slightly assuaged, Scott allowed himself to be led to one of the kitchen chairs. Jared pulled off what remained of Scott's torn shirt and tied it around his neck to act as a barber cloth. Scott reluctantly sat down and watched nervously as his barber took another slug from the potent punch. Scott raised a finger of warning. "You nick me once and I'm outta here." "Just close your eyes and place yourself in my skilled hands," Phillipe said, passing a hand across Scott's eyelids as if to hypnotize him. Scott shut his eyes and settled back. He felt a wave of pleasant warmth flood his system as the booze kicked in. His mind began to drift, and he focused less on the tug of Phillipe's fingers and the metallic sound of snipping than on the music flooding in from the next room. The vocalist was singing, "I don't want to look like some kind of fool," and Scott knew exactly how the singer felt. But Scott also found something calming about Phillipe's gentle touch. A smile crossed his face as he realized that, unlike suddenly inhabiting a fit young body or realizing to his surprise that he was now a drama major, he was actually getting to experience this part of his transformation. He could sense his anxieties ebbing and almost felt as if he were melting into the chair. The next thing he knew, Phillipe was jostling him by the shoulder. "All done, Scotty." Scott's eyes flickered open and he saw every guy in the room huddled around him, with Phillipe and Jared front and center. "Most definitely hotter," Jared said. The rest of the room nodded their approval. "I gotta see this," Scott said, attempting to stand but losing his balance. Jared moved quickly, grabbing Scott by the shoulders and steadying him. "Whoa! Stay, Equus! No one said go." Scott couldn't place them, but he could swear he'd heard those precise words many times. Looking down, he watched a pile of blond curls slide away from his makeshift bib, landing in a clump at his feet. It appeared that Phillipe had just chopped away more hair than Scott would even possess on his fiftieth birthday. Scott asked Jared with a noticeable slur, "Where's there a mirror?" "Onward, to the lavatory!", Jared declared theatrically, hopping onto Scott's back with panache and extending an arm forward, pointing toward the dining room. Scott adjusted quickly to the excess weight on his back and teetered into the next room, offering his apologies as he pinballed through the dancers. He and Jared acted as a well-practiced unit, and Scott knew in his bones, if not yet in his memory, that they had done this before. The feel of Jared's legs wrapped around his hips, the warmth of Jared's skin pressed against his back, the sound of Jared's commanding voice bellowing just behind his ears, all felt familiar. "And the king rides out on Equus, the mightiest of horses," Jared shouted as Scott picked up speed, galloping into the living room. "Only I can ride him! He lets me turn him, this way and that!" Jared applied pressure on Scott's shoulders to veer him away from the nearly-naked Twister game, which had apparently abandoned all pretense of rules and devolved into an aggressive four-man tickle fight. Scott saw the open door of the darkened bathroom on the other side of the foyer and barrelled toward it headlong. "Whoa, mighty Equus!", Jared cried, digging his fingers into Scott's neck as the wall approached. As Scott reared to avoid a collision, Jared tumbled to the floor, taking the remaining scraps of Scott's shirt with him and landing with a reverberant thud. Scott spun around, bracing himself against the sides of the bathroom doorway. He extended an arm to Jared. "I'm so sorry, Jared." The thrown rider smiled as Scott hoisted him to his feet. "Never fear, brave Equus. You know what they say, the best thing to do if a horse throws you is to climb right back on!" He leapt onto Scott again, and the pair careened into the bathroom. Jared extended his arm to flip on the lights and Scott turned to check out his new do. It took a moment for his bleary eyes to adjust, but when he saw his reflection, he was first puzzled, then horrified, and eventually amused. Phillipe had indeed trimmed away Scott's bangs and much of the hair on the sides, so what remained was a classic "business in the front, party in the back" hairstyle. He started to laugh. "You gave me a mullet?" Phillipe had caught up to them and was perturbed by Scott's laughter. "What's so funny? Don't you like it?" "I think it looks smokin' hot," Jared assured Scott. And, to be honest, the longer he soaked it in, the more the look appealed to Scott. Of course, he wouldn't be caught dead sporting this haircut in the future, even if he still had enough hair to pull it off, but here in the Eighties, he had to admit it made him fit right in. He smiled at Phillipe and told him, "It's rad." Phillipe grinned with satisfaction and asked Jared if he had any gel. Jared quickly produced a tube of L.A. Looks, and Phillipe set about touching up Scott's coif until he had the full MacGyver. As they stepped out of the bathroom, Scott heard a loud yelp coming from a room down the hall. "What was that?" Jared told him, "Oh, Stuart brought a piercing gun. He's been doing guys' ears all night." Phillipe's eyes lit up. "I've been dying to get my ears pierced for like forever. I'm gonna do it!" He turned toward Scott and said, "Scotty, you should get pierced too, for your birthday!" As Scott shook his head, Jared gasped. "It's your birthday? Why didn't you say something? How old are you, Nugget?" Without thinking, Scott said, "Twenty-one." It hadn't even entered his mind to answer "fifty". Without being aware of the change, he was finally thinking of tonight in the present tense. "I thought you were going to stamp it out with your hoof," Jared said teasingly, then more fondly, "My little Nugget, all growned up!" He placed his hands on either side of Scott's face and pulled him in for a long kiss. Scott grew lightheaded as Jared's soft lips pressed against his. Jared's tongue pushed against Scott's teeth, which willingly parted to allow entrance. Scott's knees buckled and he grabbed tightly onto Jared's arms to remain erect. He was having no such trouble in his pants, where his cock turned to granite, despite the best efforts of the alcohol in his system to keep it flaccid. Scott could feel a similar bulge in Jared's pants pressing against his thigh, and it delighted him to get such immediate physical confirmation that the person he was kissing was just as aroused as he was. During his marriage to Amanda, the best indicator that he'd satisfied her was usually a Post-It on the bathroom mirror the next morning, notifying him in her precise penmanship that she'd had a good time. Jared pulled away from the kiss to shout, "Oh my god, now you absolutely HAVE to get a piercing to commumma...amumma...comma-memorate your birthday!" He poked a finger against Scott's bare chest. "Whattaya say? A stud for the stud?" Scott grimaced. The haircut was already a pretty major step for him. An earring seemed a bit too much. Jared upped the ante. "I'll get one if you do." Scott couldn't get over the fact that this incredibly handsome young guy was falling all over him. His erection throbbed as he gazed into Jared's astonishingly blue eyes. At this moment, Scott was willing to do anything to please him. "Okay. But I'm gonna need another drink." "Sounds good," Jared declared. "Get me one while you're at it." He swatted Scott on the ass and commanded, "Fly, Nugget, fly!" Scott took a serpentine route back to the kitchen, where he dipped a ladle into the almost empty trash can and filled two plastic cups to the brim with the grape-flavored anesthetic. He had no idea whether alcohol was heavier than Hi-C, so he didn't know if the dregs of the punch would be thoroughly watered down or 200 proof. He took a sip from one of the cups and found it delightfully tasty. On his way back to the bathroom, easily a third of each cup sloshed out, splattering the purple liquid onto his hands, down his arms and across his torso. "I'm so embarrassed," Scott said, handing a cup to Jared. "You got nothing to be embarrassed about," Jared reassured Scott, his eyes fixed on the punch glistening on Scott's chest and abs. "Lemme help you clean that up." Scott appreciated the offer and took a step toward the bathroom, but Jared pushed Scott against the hallway wall, extended his tongue in the valley between Scott's pecs, and began to lick away the sticky mess. Scott leaned his head back against the wall, eyelids fluttering as he gazed at the ceiling. He'd never felt so turned on in his life. As the tip of Jared's tongue slowly traced circles around Scott's right nipple, an area that Scott didn't even think had been been affected in the spill, he decided Jared deserved some reciprocal action. Scott raised his cup and trickled a bit of the punch onto Jared's shoulder. Jared shivered as the liquid hit him. "Oops. Sorry," Scott said, lowering his head and gliding his tongue along the curve of Jared's deltoid to mop up his "accidental" spill. Encouraged by Jared's moaning, Scott tipped his drink above Jared's ear. With another "Oops. Sorry," he applied his front teeth to Jared's earlobe, tugging gently before licking it clean, then following the purple trail with a series of nibbles down the length of Jared's neck. Jared gasped and smiled at Scott. With a gleam in his eye, Jared splashed some of his own drink onto Scott's face, said, "Oops. Sorry," then ferociously slurped it away as it trickled down the length of his nose and clung to his lips. Scott was euphoric. When Jared had finished his tongue bath, Scott held a cup waist-high and doused his own crotch with punch, creating an enormous wet spot on his white pants which highlighted his erection in vivid purple. "Oops," he said with a mischievous grin. "Not sorry." The corners of Jared's mouth rose with delight. A loud pained shriek from the bedroom broke their concentration, followed by a shout of "Who's next?" "Scotty! You're up!", Phillipe shouted down the hallway, now sporting freshly installed silver studs in both earlobes. Scott and Jared were reluctant to interrupt their syrupy foreplay, but Phillipe was insistent. "Come on, guys. Stuart's gotta be heading home soon." Scott looked to Jared for a signal. Jared shrugged and nudged Scott in the direction of the bedroom. "When Stuart's gotta go, he's gotta go." The two men entered the bedroom. As they passed Phillipe, he noticed the revealing splotch on Scott's pants and asked, "What happened to you? Looks like the Great Grape Ape just jizzed in your pants." Scott took a seat on the edge of the bed as Stuart, a burly guy with a full beard and a KISS Army tattoo on his shoulder, reloaded his weapon. Having second thoughts, Scott looked warily at Jared, who gave a thumbs up and declared, "You're gonna look so hot." Stuart asked impatiently, "Which ear?" Scott grimaced, trying to remember in his drunkenness which ear was the "gay" one and which one was "straight". He figured he was going to get enough shit from Amanda and his roommates for getting a piercing at all, so he'd better not launch World War Three by getting one in the "wrong" ear. He knew there was a mnemonic device, but it had slipped his mnemory. He was pretty sure it included "right is right", so he told Stuart, "Right," then looked to Jared and Phillipe for confirmation. "Right, right?" In unison, Jared and Phillipe nodded and said, "Right." "Right it is," Stuart said. "Now this could hurt, but it'll be over in a snap. You ready?" Scott chugged down the rest of his drink, took a deep breath, braced his hands against the mattress, grit his teeth and nodded. Stuart slipped Scott's right earlobe into the gap in the device and fired. One quick zing and it was over. He lifted his fingers to his earlobe and felt the metal stud on the front and the clasp on the rear. Holy shit, he thought, I really did it. Scott stood up to make way for Jared, barely listening to Stuart's instructions for taking care of the piercing. He was too curious to see how his new accessory looked. He shuffled down the hallway to the bathroom and stared into the mirror over the sink. "Who is that sexy hunk with the blond mullet and the earring?," Scott thought with a grin. "Whoever he is, I'D fuck him." Seeing his reflection, he was fairly confident he'd picked the "safe" ear. It looked right to him. The pressure in his cock, which had been ebbing and flowing all night, was now so great, he considered closing the door to jack off. But he instantly put that thought out of his head as he remembered that, for the first time in his life, he had a guy down the hall not only willing but apparently eager to help him "solve" this particular "problem". Just the anticipation of what he and Jared might do next caused a bit of cum to ooze into the center of the purple stain on his trousers. Having spilled most of his last drink, mostly on purpose, Scott made his way back to the kitchen, scraping the ladle along the bottom of the garbage can to dredge up the final remaining drops of the powerful concoction, desperate to keep his buzz going as long as he could. He chugged down what he was able to extract and crumpled the empty cup. Looking for someplace to throw it away, he eventually setted on the now-empty garbage can, restoring it to its primary mission in life. Euphoric but growing a bit drowsy, Scott took a seat on the arm of an upholstered sofa in the living room and watched the lethargic conclusion of another Underwear Twister match. The crowd had thinned since he and Phillipe arrived, but at least a dozen guys were still dancing in the dining room. The singer of the current song was asking repeatedly, "What have I, what have I, what have I done to deserve this?", and Scott found himself wondering the same thing. It had been an evening of ups and downs, but he finally liked the direction it seemed to be heading. "There you are, Nugget!", Jared shouted as he entered the living room, spreading his legs to take a seat on Scott's left thigh. The dance-floor strobe light from the next room made it look like his new silver stud was flashing in the dark. "Whattaya think, stud-dy buddy?" Scott thought the new earring didn't look half bad, but Jared really didn't need jewelry distracting from the beauty of his natural features. Still, Scott had enough wits about him not to say anything but, "It looks great!" Yet something did strike him as off. Jared's stud was on the same side as it had been in Scott's mirror image. "I think you got it on the wrong side. It's on your left ear." "Yeah, I know," Jared said, turning his head to check out the two dudes flopping about sleepily on the Twister mat. "But you told me to get mine on the right." Jared explained offhandedly, clearly having thought his decision through well before tonight. "I couldn't get one on the right. After I graduate, I'm moving to Hollywood, and if I want to get cast as a straight guy, I can't go walkin' into auditions with a hole in my 'gay' ear, can I?" Scott gave it some thought and realized that, unfortunately, it did make a kind of sense. After all, even three decades later, it wasn't a settled issue whether openly gay actors would be widely accepted playing heterosexual romantic leads. However, it did raise another question for Scott. "But wait, how about if I want to get cast as a straight guy?" Jared hadn't been paying attention to Scott's question. His focus had returned to the Twister game. "You guys are pathetic. Clear off and let me show you how it's done." He stood up and unsnapped his suspenders. His black trousers plummeted to the floor, leaving him in nothing but black bikini briefs. As the remaining guests cheered and wolf-whistled, Jared acknowledged their ovation with a brief curtsy, then turned to Scott, beckoning with a wave of his fingers. "Join me, Nugget. Let us twist!" Scott shook his head and waved off the suggestion. The crowd booed. Phillipe, submerged in a beanbag chair across the room, seemed particularly disappointed. "Do it, Scotty. We know you got the goods! Show off those gams!" But Scott refused to budge. Jared knelt beside the sofa and asked quietly, "What's the matter? Why the cold feet?" Embarrassed, Scott leaned over and muttered in Jared's ear, "I'm not wearing any underwear." Jared smirked and announced, "My noble stallion Nugget informs me has no covering for his loins." Reactions ranged from "Awww" to "Ooh!" to "So?" "Have him cover up with this," Phillipe shouted, flinging a purple condom through the air. It landed perfectly in Scott's lap. "There you go," said Jared. "It's even coloco...corolco..." He closed his eyes to focus on his diction. "Co-lor-co-or-di-na-ted!" Scott still was hesitant, softly pleading, "Can't we just go somewhere to be together...alone?" Jared gave him a light punch on the shoulder. "Aw, don't be scared. It'll be a riot. Tell you what, just to be fair..." He looked toward Phillipe, "You got any more of those suckers?" "More than I'll ever use," Phillipe replied. "What flavor do you want?" "Got anything in a banana?", Jared asked. Phillipe dug through his pockets and sailed a yellow condom across the room into Jared's hands. Jared ripped open the packet with his teeth and extracted the condom, then shimmied free of his briefs. He received polite applause, although a few of his castmates from "Equus" moaned wearily, "Seen it." After (un)dress rehearsal and three weeks of performances, seeing Jared's winkie had become old hat. Scott was slightly disappointed by Jared's endowment, especially because it was totally flaccid, which gave him trouble as he tried to slip his flopping member into its yellow slicker. Still, Scott realized that, if he didn't leap at this chance, someone else would volunteer to grapple with their almost-nude host and he might regret this moment for the rest of his life. Scott stood up, facing the wall in order to preserve a small degree of dignity and privacy. He unbuttoned his pants and let them slide down his firm legs, offering the others a clear view of his solid glutes while he tugged the purple sheath into place onto his hard-on. "Uh, Phillipe, I think you gave me one that's more your size," Scott said, turning around to reveal that the condom only reached halfway down the length of his prodigious shaft. Laughter at the remark gave way to an enthusiastic ovation for the public debut of Scott's erect cock. Scott had always thought of his dick as average or maybe slightly below, but it occurred to him he had mainly been comparing himself against what he had seen in whatever gay porn he had gotten his hands on over the years. He now realized that might be something of a skewed sample. An impressed murmur was spreading through the crowd, and Jared, though also impressed, found himself in the rare position of being upstaged. Seizing the high road, he announced, "To quote Stanislavski, 'There are no small parts...'" "...only actors with small parts," Scott said. And the crowd went wild. Scott smirked, pleased with himself. "Touche," Jared mumbled to Scott as they walked toward the Twister mat. "My dick may look smaller than yours at the moment, but just wait, it'll grow on you." "I look forward to that," Scott said, kicking out of his Topsiders and taking a position at one end of the mat, placing his bare feet on the yellow and blue circles. Jared walked to the opposite end and they bowed to each other like sumo wrestlers. Phillipe flailed his way out of his beanbag and commandeered the spinner, announcing its first result, "Right hand, yellow." A fairly easy task for both Scott and Jared to accomplish. They now looked like football players facing each other across the line of scrimmage...that is, if the Vikings and Packers uniforms consisted solely of condoms in team colors. "Left foot, red." Another easy move for Jared, but it forced Scott to pivot so his bare ass was now aimed directly toward Jared. "Take your time, Phil-LEAP. I'm fine if we stay like this for a while," Jared declared. Phillipe spun again, delighted by the result. "Next move: cock, blue! Ha!" Now the contestants struggled to adjust their stances low enough that their dicks made contact with a blue circle. When Scott limboed just enough for the tip of his cock to brush the mat, Jared griped, "No fair! It's like playing against someone who's got a longer arm!" "Aww, Jared, do you need a fluffer?", Phillipe asked, generating laughter. "I think we've got plenty of volunteers." Scott looked upside down between his legs and saw Jared wobbling as he strained to lower his scrotum toward a blue spot. "Careful, that's a good way to get blue balls," he said, earning another round of laughs. None of the other guests looked familiar to him, but he definitely seemed to be winning them over. He figured booze deserved a lot of credit for his behavior tonight, but he was convinced that something had changed in his mind. He no longer felt hemmed in by caution and fear. He felt confident and free to be himself. He also felt increasingly dizzy. Phillipe got on his knees like a boxing ref and examined the gap between Jared's scrotum and the Twister mat. He declared, "Close enough!", and flicked the arrow on the modified spinner again. This time, it landed on "Ass, green!" Both Scott and Jared were confused about how to accomplish this move. "Oh, come on," Jared griped. "Even HIS dick's not long enough to reach blue with his ass on green!" Phillipe agreed it was physically impossible and declared a respin. And so it went for several more rounds until Jared found himself shakily hovering over Scott's contorted form. "This is more like it, Equus," Jared whispered, his voice sounding slurred but wistful. "I wish I could spend the rest of my life on your back." A warm feeling spread across Scott's chest. It wasn't the most conventional expression of affection, but it meant so much to hear those words, to feel so desired, to feel worthy of love. "You really mean that?", he whispered to Jared. It sounded like Jared was trying to whisper something back, but a slight whistle turned into a wheeze and he collapsed onto Scott, sending both of their bodies thudding onto the mat. The crowd cheered Scott's victory, but the only sound Scott heard was Jared snoring loudly into his ear. Spread-eagled across Scott's body, his limp be-condomed cock squashed against the small of Scott's back, Jared had passed out.
  15. Chapter 4

    As he rang the doorbell of Amanda's sorority house, Scott realized he hadn't scrubbed off the hand stamp from the Rusty Nail. He quickly stuffed his hand into his pocket to hide the incriminating evidence, vowing to duck into the bathroom and rub it away as soon as possible. He stood tall and attempted to appear relaxed, having practiced multiple versions of what he would say on the walk over. Lights flicked on in the entryway and Scott heard several latches being unlocked. As the door swung open, Scott saw the one person he had hoped to avoid, Amanda's ultra-serious sorority sister, Patty. It had been many years since he had seen her in the future, but Patty looked just as unhappy and disapproving as she had on the day when she served as Amanda's maid of honor. Patty glowered at him and said flatly in her perpetually hoarse voice, "Oh, look. It's you." Scott put on a smile. "Hey, Pepp...uh, Patty!" Damn Todd for sticking that Peppermint Patty image in his mind. Now that's all he could see when looking at the androgynous woman before him. He was tempted to refer to her as "Sir," but doubted that she would get the joke, and was positive she wouldn't appreciate it. Instead, he asked, "Is Amanda here?" "Yes, but she's not taking visitors at this time. Especially visitors who stand her up." Patty attempted to shut the door, but Scott wedged himself in the doorway. "Come on, Patty. I'm here to apologize. I truly don't know what happened. It must have slipped my mind that we had plans tonight." "It just slipped your mind that you were supposed to meet your girlfriend for dinner on your twenty-first birthday? Yeah, I can see how an unremarkable event like that might not really stick in your head." Scott nodded. "I know. There's no excuse." "So, where were you? Off with your stoner pal getting high?" "No," he said, deciding not to mention that his "stoner pal" had actually been at the apartment waiting with Amanda in hopes that Scott would show up. Scott figured that would only make him sound even less dependable than a pothead. He'd be on sturdier ground if he just flat out told Patty he had time-traveled from his fiftieth birthday and landed flat on his back in a gay bar with no memory. At least then, she'd just think he was mentally ill instead of a flaming asshole. "If I could just talk to her for five min..." "It's after midnight," Patty said. "No men allowed inside after hours." "Can't you bend that rule just once?", Scott pleaded. His request was met with a stone face. "Okay, will you at least tell her I came by and...and ask if she'll meet me for breakfast tomorrow at eleven at the Pancake Pagoda? My treat!" Patty repeated the key information robotically. "Pancake Pagoda. Eleven o'clock. Your treat...obviously. I'll tell her. Good night." She pushed against the door and Scott stepped backwards onto the stoop. She had already shut the door by the time he could say, "Thank you." Scott walked backwards down the front steps, then crossed the lawn until he was below the second-story window that looked out from Amanda's bedroom. The drapes were closed, but Scott cupped his hands around his mouth and spoke as loudly as he felt he could without invoking the wrath of her sorority sisters. "Amanda, I'm sorry." He waited with nervous anticipation for her to open the drapes, turn on a light, flip him the bird, do anything to indicate that she had heard him. Instead, the sprinkler system came on, drenching him thoroughly in a matter of seconds. He knew the sprinklers did not go on automatically but were controlled by a switch next to the front door, so he took this as a clear message from Patty to get lost. He trudged across the soggy lawn until he was safely out of the sprinklers' line of fire on the front sidewalk. Scott shook his head vigorously like a dog who just climbed out of a swimming pool. His nimbus of soaked curls now hung limply to his shoulders and clung to his face like strands of seaweed. His already tight-fitting shirt was now plastered to his skin and, as he walked away, he heard his Topsiders squish with every step. In an instant, he had gone from looking like a Hollister-clad surfer boy to resembling a blond, waterlogged "Weird Al" Yankovic. Scott headed back toward campus, unable to stop his teeth from chattering. All he wanted was to get back to the apartment, crawl under the blankets and fall into a deep slumber. Maybe if he was lucky, he'd wake up in the morning and be fifty years old again, because being twenty-one again wasn't quite turning out to be the dream come true he had hoped. As he hit the campus business district, weaving his way through the pedestrians careening from one bar to another, Scott heard a feminine voice shout from behind him, "I see you, you asshole!" Man, Scott thought, I'd hate to be HER boyfriend. Then the same voice cried out, "Scotty Mitchell, I'm talking to you!" Scott froze in his tracks. He knew that was voice far too squeaky and shrill to be Amanda's, and a couple of octaves too high to be Patty's, but it was definitely the sound of a woman scorned. Was another of the night's surprises going to be that he'd been seeing another woman besides Amanda? He took a deep breath and turned around, but the only person looking in his direction was a pale, scrawny waif in a tiny white t-shirt and narrow-legged red jeans, with dark eye shadow, maroon lipstick, and dyed black hair with bangs that descended in an arc like a crashing wave. Either this was a guy in makeup or a girl with the flattest chest that Scott had ever seen. Scott's taunter got nearer, shouting, "You jerk, you took off without even telling me!", and slapping a palm onto Scott's chest with so little force that Scott barely felt the impact. "Euh, you're moist! Where have you been, a wet gingham shirt contest?" "I'm sorry, but do I know you?", Scott asked, deciding from the prominent Adam's apple and razor-burnt cheeks that this must be a guy. The scarecrow slung a bony arm around Scott's neck. He was about three inches taller than Scott, but half his weight. "Very funny, Scotty. I guess I can't blame you too much. Who wouldn't ditch me for a quick BJ in the alley with Art Concrete?" Whoever this was, Scott realized he must have been at the club if he knew about Scott sneaking out the emergency exit with Art. "Is that really his last name? Concrete?" The gangly boy rolled his eyes and clucked his tongue. "Of course not, silly. That's just the nickname we all gave him at the Nail because his body is so hard. Well, MOST of it, anyway." He emitted a high-pitched giggle that sounded like an exotic bird's mating call and drew sidelong glances from the passing pedestrians. Scott's discomfort was visible from space. Scott tried his best to politely extricate himself from this situation. "I apologize for being rude, but I've had a...really bizarre night and I'm...kinda drunk and I...HONESTLY...can't remember..." He was about to say "who the fuck you are", but switched at the last moment to the more diplomatic "...your name." The thin man put on a meek expression and lowered his voice as deep as it would go, delivering a fairly accurate impersonation of Scott. "I apologize for being rude, but..." Returning to his higher voice, he said, "God, you are so fucking...appropriate! But don't worry, we'll suck that insufferable politeness and goody-goodyness out of you yet." He gave Scott's arm a feeble swat and declared, "I'm Phillipe, you fuckface!" The name meant zilch to Scott, but he could tell he was not going to shake this guy easily. He decided to play along as best he could. "Phillipe U. Fuckface, eh? Is that really your name?" "Oh, yes," Phillipe said, quickly returning serve on Scott's sarcasm. Holding the back of his hand against his forehead, he said dramatically, "I come from a long distinguished line of Fuckfaces. We came on the Mayflower with the Pilgrims. Actually, most of the time, the Pilgrims came on us." He tittered again at himself. "So tell me, Scotty, what does Artie have that I don't, I mean besides a pretty face, great big muscles, and a teeny-weenie weenie?" "To tell the truth," Scott admitted, somehow not embarrassed to be discussing such matters on a public street with a total stranger, "things went south pretty quickly. I never got to see his 'weenie.'" Phillipe "tsk"-ed with his tongue. "What was the problem? Did he come too fast? That's what happened with me." "You gave him a blowjob?", Scott said, louder than he expected, surprised by the intensity of his own curiosity. Phillipe seemed offended by the suggestion. "No way. The arrogant prick refuses to use protection. Just because he can do a couple of handstands, he thinks he's invincible? No, I just jerked him off. Believe me, you didn't miss much." Philippe held up his thumb and forefinger with a two-inch gap between them. "Boy needs to start lifting weights with that dinky so it can get as jacked as the rest of him." Despite himself, Scott snorted a laugh. This guy was a bit too fixated on trying to be outrageous, but Scott had to admit that he was entertaining. Still, he seemed like he was best taken in small doses, and Scott felt like he'd about reached his limit. "Well, I am sorry if I left you high and dry at the club. I haven't really been acting like myself tonight. In fact, I think I'd better be calling it a night." Scott tried to extricate himself from Phillipe's chokehold, but Phillipe resisted Scott's attempt to pull free with all the strength in his frail body. "Oh, no, sweetie, you're not gonna squirm away from me twice in one night. You are coming with me to Jared's party." Another new name. "Jared?" Phillipe lowered his chin and gave Scott the side-eye. "Okay, now I know you're just fucking with me!" Scott shook his head and shrugged apologeticaly. "He played Alan in 'Equus'? He rode naked on your back for nine performances?" Scott's expression remained blank. "Did somebody drop you on your pretty little head tonight? I certainly wouldn't be able to forget having Jared Taylor naked on MY back." Scott wondered if this was what the early stages of Alzheimer's felt like. He still had crystal clear memories of his earlier life, but in this plane of existence, he couldn't recall anything he had supposedly done more than a few hours ago. He had to trust that what people were telling him was the truth. He felt like that guy in "Memento" and wondered if he would need to start getting tattoos as crib notes for his new life. As Phillipe dragged Scott onward in the direction of off-campus housing. Scott kept waiting for a chance to wriggle out of Phillipe's grip and bolt toward home, although he had to admit he was now curious to see this Jared guy. It felt so strange to be told he wasn't just studying theater but had actually been in a play where he gave a naked man a piggyback ride. He wondered if Amanda or his family or his roommates had come to the play. From Phillipe's description, he doubted it would have been quite their speed. Kevin surely would have used this as exhibit A that Scott had come down with a severe case of the gays. Phillipe twisted a long strand of Scott's hair on his index finger and clucked his tongue. "So, when are you gonna let me do something with this hideous mop you've got on your head? I know it was supposed to be your 'mane' in the play, but the play's over, honey." "I dunno, I kinda like it," Scott said. In fact, having a thick head of hair again was Scott's second favorite aspect of tonight's transformation, although it trailed several miles behind having a killer bod. Scott had totally lost track of where they were when Phillipe pulled them down a side street. Even from a block away, it was easy to figure out which house was holding the party. It was the one where colored lights bathed the curtains of every window, and drunken laughter and synth-driven beats were seeping throughout the neighborhood, the volume ebbing and flowing each time a guest used the front door. Scott made one last attempt to resist, dragging his feet while Phillipe kept walking. He wound up toppling to his knees and tearing a gash in his painter's pants. Phillipe turned around and loomed over Scott's crouched figure on the pavement. Arms crossed, he asked with irritation, "What is your major malfunction, numbnuts?" Scott looked up and pleaded to the beanpole towering above him. "Please, just let me go home, okay? I'm drunk. I'm tired. And I really don't want to go to some party where I don't know anyone." Phillipe's patience had run out. "What's gotten into you tonight? Why are you suddenly so uptight? This isn't like you!" Scott thought it sounded exactly like him. "You know me, you know Jared, you're gonna know most of the boys there. It's gonna be a blast! Don't be such a wuss, for fuck's sake. Scott felt his masculinity was being challenged. He wasn't about to let some sassy little snot tell him he wasn't man enough to go to a gay party. He rose to his feet defiantly and stared Phillipe in the eyes. "Fine, then, let's go." "Yay!", Phillipe shrieked, hooking a skinny arm around Scott's elbow and ushering him toward the lively house. Walking arm in arm like this gave Scott a strange sensation of intimacy. "So, Phillipe, pardon me for asking, but are you and I...like...a couple?" "A couple of what?", Phillipe replied flippantly, before offering a real response. "Oh, sweetie, you're awfully cute, but you are much too butch for me. Plus your whole monogamy trip is way too kinky. No, dear, I'm afraid you'll just have to settle for being my arm candy." He brushed aside some of Scott's straggling hair and gave Scott a platonic peck on the cheek. Scott blushed as they walked up the steps of Jared's porch and entered the house.

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