"Good night, Gloria. I'll see you Monday," I call putting on my coat as I stand by the front door.
"Have a good weekend, Mr. North." Though distant, her warm tone reminds me of just how cold it really is on the other side of the door.
I pull on my warm scarf securely around my neck before the door swings open. I walk out into the parking lot and gaze up into the hollow night sky overhead, the pinholes of the magical curtain allowing the light to permeate the fabric. As I walk toward my car, my breath clouds my vision, and a new wave of cold sends a shiver down my spine. Climbing into my Honda, Jack Frost's trap springs as I make contact with my icy seat. I slam the door shut and struggle to get the key into the ignition before the cold gets any worse. A little longer, and I'll have heat coming out of these vents. The engine roars to life, and before I know it, I'm surrounded by headlights.
It's just another late Friday night, but for some reason, I feel like there is something strange about this one. As I glance around the dash, the glowing clock reads 11:48, and I suddenly realize that I've stayed at work an hour later than usual. Then again, what does it matter? There is nobody at my house waiting up late for me to get home, no pet waiting for his master. I've always been the type that does fine on his own, not needing any real contact for sustenance. Does this sudden realization mean I'm getting soft? Why am I even considering changing my lifestyle? I'm twenty-seven years old, but for some reason, I feel like I'm getting the feeling old people get when they realize they've spent their entire lives taking care of stray cats and have nothing to show for their efforts. Perhaps it would be nice to have a companion, but what would identify my ideal companion?
If I were the "normal" man everyone thinks I am, I would ally myself with a "foxy chick" and sport her around on my arm at all the hottest parties and Super Bowl get-togethers. But let's be frank. I'm gay, and the thought of having a woman clinging to my side for the rest of my life is not that appetizing. On the same token, I cannot really see myself making it work with another guy since the last time I had a real experience with a boy was in high school. Ha, but Tommy wasn't a real possibility either with his parents acting as their prince's guards; he was just another name on my list of tricks. I guess I'm not supposed to have anybody in my life; otherwise, I would already have found him. These lonely drives toward a lonely house for another long lonely weekend are beginning to get to me, though.
I live in the city of Sapphire Springs. You know, one of those thriving metropolis spots you pass on the interstate with a Krystal, BP, and Wal-Mart all at the same place. The city has actually grown up a bit recently, but it's mostly a getaway for natives to the area. Though it's only a blip on the map, Sapphire Springs is a big-time party city only the locals know about...but only after moonrise. Tonight, I'm especially depressed, so I might feel better if I can see some extra neon on this moonless night. Of course, just as I reach the light, it flips red; I swear it's a curse. From where I sit, I can see my favorite little club up ahead on the right. PRINCE CERCLE has been around for about two years, and, as a premier gay club, it still draws a decent crowd. I usually come here at least once every couple of weeks for a good time, but tonight is one of those nights I just can't drive by without stopping for a while. Even though I've been lost in thought all this time, the light is still red. (How is that even possible?!) I know it's a curse. Finally, the light flips to green, but even though their light has been green for so long, several cars floor it through the light at the last second anyway. I lean forward to make sure no other impatient drivers are lurking before tapping the gas across the intersection.
I swing into my usual parking spot (How nice it is to have a "usual spot!"), and reach over to unbuckle my seatbelt…that isn't buckled? Tonight really is an off-night, isn't it? I get out of the car and make sure to lock it so I at least have a little assurance that I still have some reasoning ability. Just as I approach the large double doors, a group of boys makes their way into the joint at the same time, so I just play it cool and blend in with the small cluster. I get inside with them before we separate, and apparently, I wasn't noticed at all.
I take my usual seat at the bar and let my leather jacket rest over the seat to my right, a form of reservation so nobody gets the crazy idea that I'm available. I turn around and order a bottle of water. Resting my head in my right hand, I play with the icy bottle in my left. This is certainly one way to relax after a long day, or week in this case. With a quick spin, I look out over a floor covered with wandering people. In some ways, each one represents my life…a life spent in transit. The club is even larger inside than it appears from the outside. The vaulted ceiling is studded with multi-colored lights and several disco balls. The walls themselves are painted a deep blue that usually appears black and gives the room that free feeling that there are no boundaries. Around the room, numerous wooden tables and chairs line the walls, leaving the majority of the room open for dancers and those prone to milling about. Across the room, sitting at a table bathed in white and violet lightspray, my eye catches a group of young men I haven't seen here before. I study them carefully from my vantage point and find that the members are a range of ages. There is a shadowy, handsome figure of one no older than thirty or so. The others, as my eyes scour the table again, are both much smaller, a blond and a redhead on the opposite of end of the age spectrum. The blond appears still younger than the other boy. My guess is that he hasn't been legal long… Delicious.
Suddenly a hand falls on my shoulder, "Excuse me, sir. Is this seat taken?" My predatory nature takes over, and my hand flies to his. As my eyes flicker past his, even in the dark, I recognize my best friend.
"Dylan," I chuckle out as calm is restored to my chest.
"Dix," he replies in the same tone, a smile breathing life into his face at catching me off-guard…again.
"Why must you always do that, Dylan? It just gets you higher on my list of future casualties." The joke runs a long way back between the two of us. Dylan and I went through high school together; in fact, he was the one that suggested my dating Tommy. Always the matchmaker, but he's never settled down either. It's not all his fault, though; I despise more than I should and like less than should be possible. I call myself selective, much as the greedy man calls himself frugal. My eyes refocus on Dylan's dimly lit face. I take my jacket off the stool, and pat it gently for him to sit down. As he perches on the edge, the air rushes loudly out of the cushion. "You're so smooth," I joke, but Dylan can't exactly help it with his weight problem, or as he calls refers to it "a stress disorder" brought on by running this club. Now, he's not that overweight, but it certainly makes him entertaining in the bedroom. "How's it going? You been here long?" My eyes struggle to read his face, which is heavily distorted by shadow.
"Everything is going good so far; I've been here for about an hour now. The Cercle is pretty busy tonight. You weren't here last week, but you wouldn't believe how empty this joint was. I'm just glad to see the crowds have come back tonight." The relief is as much a part of his voice as this club is a part of his heart. "Forgive me for asking, but you look like you have a lot on your mind. Are you okay?"
Somehow his eyes can see the trouble in my face while mine can barely even see his lips move. "It's just been a really long day," I force through my lips, trying to convince myself of the explanation. With a quick sip of my water, I can tell from his furrowed brow that he's not buying my story. This is the danger in confiding in a good friend for too long: you can't fool them any more than you can fool yourself. As the cool water rushes down my throat, I can feel his intense gaze studying my face.
"Come over here; I want you to meet someone." His hand seizes mine, and together, we float through the wandering bodies to that table on the far side of the room. While at once fear takes hold of my heart, deep in the core of my being is an intense excitement as we draw nearer. Though I did not notice it before, there is a tall dark figure standing behind the boys at the table, a motionless figure veiled in darkness. At first, I notice his large muscular arms folded across his chest, immense gauntlets on his fists, and a cloak suspended from his shoulders. The sight is strongly reminiscent of the image of a Roman general on conquest. In the back of my mind, I wonder which of these young men calls him "master." Dylan walks around the table and stands next to the human fortress, "Do you recognize him?"
I shake my head instinctively, but then the rich fluid of his voice rushes over the table and mystifies my ears, "Dix, is that you?"
My fear of the iron giant melts away as I recognize my old comrade. "Michael? Could it be?" He moves around into the light to stand before me, and I firmly take his stone talon in my hands.
Dylan joins us with an undeniable grin on his face, and I can't remember seeing him look happier. "Can you believe it? The three of us together again after all these years!" I look up to find Michael's marble face touched with happiness, and I marvel at how truly god-like he is. Awe stills my tongue at the fortuitousness of our reunion.
Michael catches both of the boys staring at us. "In high school," he starts, "we three were known as the 'Doshaburi1 Trio.' We worked to change our high school for the better, but after we failed to eliminate the principal on drug charges…our goals changed."
"We took it as a sign from above that we were on the wrong track all along," I muse, "so we turned into trouble makers, I suppose." I hear Dylan's muffled chuckle over my shoulder. "Of course, if it hadn't been for Michael's involvement, we wouldn't have been nearly as successful as we were in the end. Even though he did have a slight tendency to outperform us."
"Now, now Dix, don't go giving me too much credit," Michael smiles with an air of modesty in his tone, "You and Dylan were just as important! But the past is the past. I heard I could find the two of you out here, so I figured I'd drop in for a while. It's been far too long, brothers." At the word, the three of us instantly unite our hands overhead to form a tetrahedron, the symbol of our everlasting brotherhood.
I glance around the table to find blank stares, faces that read "What just happened?" without words. The three of us take new seats around the table, and I pop the question I've been restraining for a while now: "So Michael, what is with that awesome outfit? Is it a special occasion?"
His face lights up, his skin touched with a lavender glow, "I thought you'd never ask! You see, I know I wore these types of things many years ago…but I haven't actually been able to curve the habit, even with ten years of New Year's resolutions between then and now. I can feel a commander's power rushing through my blood in my suits." His head tilts back, and as the essence of egotistical glory comes upon him, his long, fine silver hair dances around his eyes.
I grin at him, "You look just as much like a god now as you did all those years ago. I have to say, though, you still come across as more than a little threatening."
Dylan laughs deeply, "Yes, Michael, I have to agree with him on that one. But you certainly look good. Now, why don't you introduce the others to us?"
He stands with a single graceful motion and sweeps around the table to stand behind the boy with sandy blond hair sitting to my right, "Adam, these are my brothers Dix and Dylan that I've mentioned already. Brothers, Adam is a special guest of mine tonight." The boy nods his head elegantly, and I suddenly notice how cute he is. "He has been working as my intern for about six months now, and I felt tonight would be an opportunity like no other to let him do some networking and have a little fun as only businessmen can." With a faint laugh and another swift motion, he towers behind the chair of the other boy, perhaps a little older than Adam, with fiery red hair. "Brothers, this is my Leif," Michael smiles dragging his fingers along the boy's neck, "It is a privilege to finally introduce him to you both." The boy nods with a weak smile before resuming his former pose.
My old friend takes his seat once more to my left, obstructing my view of Dylan. Now that I think about it, we brothers are arranged like a panel of judges presiding over the table. Michael stretches out his hand and tells them, "Do as you please." Only now do I realize that neither of them have moved or spoken at all this entire time! I must admit, hearing Michael's words of release, I'm reminded of the moment when Professor Gilderoy Lockhart releases the devilish pixies to wreak havoc upon the class.2
However, my fear seems to be misplaced after all as I watch the two composed façades suddenly melt away. "Master," Leif says calling Michael's attention to him, "Please excuse me while I get a drink." The man gives him a graceful nod, and standing, the boy walks into the river of wanderers.
I sit here going back over all that has happened tonight. I had not originally intended to see anyone here, but somehow, the night has become much more involved. I look over at Michael, who appears to be lost in thought. Dylan has since wandered away, tending to other guests, I suppose, but I didn't even notice his departure. I flash a glance to Adam next to me just in time to see his eyes switch from me back to the wall. Now, I'm torn. Part of me wants to strike up a conversation with the boy while the other part is wary of the awkward tension placed between us. Instead I turn my attention back to my old friend, "Michael, there's something I'm wondering about." I wait a moment for his eyes to come to me. "Why is it you control these boys the way you do? It is as though you are royalty to them."
Michael's deep green eyes draw me into their depths, "Dix, the last time I saw you, you were wearing a cap and gown. How is it that you have changed so much in this short amount of time? I've always told you to be true to yourself, but it seems I'm the only one that takes my advice anymore."
"Now, now. As brothers, we always kept each other in check. You were always addicted to your flights of fancy, but I kept a close eye on you, much as a soaring kite can only be controlled with control of its string. I've tried to be myself, but it's not easy. Unlike you…You've hardly changed since I saw you at graduation. You're still as regal, handsome, and commanding as you've always been."
His laugh reminds me of the old days, "That's very true, but in the same way, if I was the kite, you were the stick in the ground holding my string. I always reached for the top, no matter what, but you couldn't bring yourself to extend my height. I'm no different now and neither are you," his sad reveal how serious he is in his heart, "We've just adapted to our environments in different ways. I come from a long line of royalty, but even though my parents didn't raise me as such, I still inherited the dominance that was supposed to come to me. Fate works in mysterious ways, but I've found myself. I run a business geared toward helping others do the same. However, I was born in the wrong time period; I establish a class system and preside over my employees in such a way to indicate my dominance, but do not think I am abusive. I am certainly far from unjust, though many have called me so. Just the same, I can't change who I am, no matter how much I try, so there is no point in wasting the effort."
"People can always change, Michael," I explain, careful to keep my voice calm, "You just have to want it enough that you'll give up everything in your way. I'm a biologist, but I wanted to be an accountant in high school. It turned out I was pursuing money instead of a job I could enjoy. I'm not royalty, but thanks to my research contributions, I own a mansion in England. I haven't been to check on it in a long time, but maybe one day… The point is that you can't say you can't change, especially when there is no option."
"Again, you are the voice of reason," he chuckles lightly. "That's something that will never change." Michael peers around me to the quiet boy, "Adam? Is something wrong?"
The boy sits forward in his chair to meet the man's eyes, "No, my lord. I am merely enjoying your conversation." I am overwhelmed with how reserved Adam is; most of my employees fall short of his maturity.
I turn to face the boy, "Adam, I'd like to learn more about you."
"What do you want to know?"
"How old are you?"
"Where were you born?" I keep the questions simple to avoid overwhelming him.
"Wow, that's all the way across the country. How did you find your way here?" His answer does not come like before, but he turns away from me. "It's a long story."
Michael smiles at him, "Adam, why don't you go find Leif?" At the suggestion, the boy slips out of his chair and disappears under the disco lights. "Listen, Dix. My business is a sort of redemption program for young men that have had difficult times in their childhoods. You might consider it a business-based alternative to foster care with a matchmaking bonus. All we do is help these kids get a little money together by giving them a job. Then once they've been with the company for a little while, we take them around to see potential employers that can offer them a more solid career."
I sit forward deeply intrigued by this idea, "That sounds like a great system."
"Exactly! We receive significant funding from the government for our operation every year. The only problem is that we don't have enough money to put all of these boys through college, but not all of them want to go either. Adam would love to get a job in the science field, but unfortunately, without more school, that's not very likely. My heart goes out to him because of…well, what happened." He must see the curiosity written all over my face, so he continues, "You see, when Adam was fourteen, he came out to his parents, who were more than a little religious. Even at that young age, they tossed him onto the street and lived on his own for several days before he was found by authorities and placed under our care. I began working with him six months ago when he became my intern, and I can already tell he's got a brilliant mind and plenty of potential."
"Look, Michael…I have a feeling I know where you're going with this…"
"So what do you think?" His stare is so intense I have to consider all of the facts.
"I don't know. I'm no good at taking care of people as it is, and I don't want to take his father's place. Plus with an age gap of eight years, what if we fell in love? He's certainly the most adorable boy I've seen in a long time, and I know it would probably work out otherwise, but I'm terribly busy with work."
"So take him to work with you! There's nothing stopping you. He enjoys science; maybe he'd find a calling in biology, too. Can you imagine having him working alongside you? I don't offer this kind of option to just anyone, you know. It would make me very happy to be able to serve my own brother! And back to your other point, the average age difference between couples is eight years. Any other excuses you can conjure?"
He knows he's pulling my strings, and I really want to call the boy my own. A deep breathlessness is swirling around in my core. "Here's the deal. I know if I say no, I'll always wish I hadn't…but at the same time, I have so much of my life devoted to my work, I can see myself neglecting him already. I'm honored that you would trust me enough to give me this option."
His head falls into his palm, "Don't worry about it. It was just a thought, a shot in the dark. I just thought since you both have so much in common, and you already a multi-millionaire before thirty! You could put him through school and so much more. There aren't many potential customers that could care for Adam the way you could."
Again, I can feel my heart yearning for the boy's wellbeing, but my reasoning skills keep reminding me of how much of a mistake this could be. "Surely there is someone out there that could look after him better than a rich, self-consumed biologist. Right?"
"Well," he sighs, "the fact of the matter is that I've already searched our database a number of times, but there aren't any matches close to your qualifications and your granted sensitivity to his sexuality. Believe it or not, that is the biggest problem with finding the match." I can already feel my blood starting to boil under my calm façade. "I've already ranted enough for the both of us, so please control yourself." It's like he can read my mind, even after we've been apart for so long. "I know you're set in your ways of logic, so here's the brutal truth. If I can't get Adam a suitable 'caretaker' before he turns twenty, the odds are great that, since he has only a little money to his name, he'll have to sing songs or spread his legs to earn enough money to keep himself alive." I can't feel my heart anymore…All that is left is a sickness at the suggestion. "If you reject this offer, I am bound by a contract not to offer you this chance again. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity like none other. Your answer is Adam's salvation or damnation. The ball is in your court, brother. Do as your heart commands you."
He knows I can't deny the boy, even without all the extra points he's added. I owe it to the boy to keep him off the streets, and as he said before, Fate does have its ways. Geez, look at this! Why does he have to exercise his dominant nature when his guilt-tripping skills are unrivaled?! "All right, Michael. I accept the terms."
He laughs lightly, "I knew you would all along. You didn't have an option after all."
I stare at him, "How could you know? I debated it out right here with you."
He simply smiles, and for a moment, it as though he can see straight into my soul. "Even with all of your wealth, biological research, sound planning, and rationale, you forgot about one little detail: Love trumps logic…every time."
1 どしゃぶりLit. "cloudburst"
2 from J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.