An eccentric painter’s portraits have an unusual impact on those who pose for them.
Over the next few weeks, Dexter periodically called Guillaume to see how the painting was progressing and to ask if they could swing by and take a look at it. Guillaume would always inform him that it was going well but that he never let his subjects see the painting until it was completed. He told Dexter he would call when it was done.
Unlike Bennett, whose parents seemed unable to cut him off from financial support, Dexter’s folks had stopped giving him handouts once he graduated from college. Fortunately Bennett let him stay for free in a guest bedroom at the beach house, which saved him a shit-ton of money, but he still needed to cover his other living expenses. Most recently, he had landed a soul-deadening gig at a call center which bored him comatose but gave him some dignity when he was out on the town, not always having to rely on Bennett to pick up the check.
In the evenings, as they were lounging around the house, Dexter could swear that Bennett was checking himself out in the mirror more often than usual – and Bennett usually checked himself out a lot. Dexter could understand why, as Bennett appeared to be packing on pounds of muscle. While Dexter was locked in a fluorescent-lit bunker all day, trying to persuade confused elderly people that they needed better internet service, Bennett must be back here lifting weights like a maniac. What had long been a perfect swimmer’s body was growing more robust, with his flat pecs becoming more shelflike and his biceps and triceps achieving impressive definition.
Finally one night, Bennett was lying flat on the sofa, wearing nothing but board shorts and entertaining himself by flexing his newly grown pecs, first one, then the other.
Dexter had to ask, “You started taking steroids or something?”
“What, are you nuts? I wouldn’t put that poison in my body,” Bennett said as he downed a shot of tequila, then rolled off the sofa to search the coffee table for a joint he had rolled that afternoon.
Dexter remained seated in a swivel chair, nursing a light beer and studying Bennett. Bennett looked up, annoyed. “Stop checking out my muscles, ya fag, and help me find my joint.”
Dexter got up and knelt by the coffee table. “So what made you decide to bulk up?”
“I didn’t decide. It’s just happening. I’m exercising the same, I’m eating the same, I’m drinking the same” Bennett laughed victoriously as he found his tightly rolled joint. “I’m smoking the same.”
“You been bitten by any radioactive spiders lately?”
“Not lately,” Bennett said, the joint bouncing in his lips as he fired up his Zippo. Dexter couldn’t help but stare at the perfect semicircular bulge created by Bennett’s biceps as he flexed to light the joint. Bennett had to admit that he liked the extra pump in his arms, however it was happening.
The next night, as they powered down In-N-Out Burgers, Dexter stared across the table at Bennett, trying to figure out what else seemed different about Bennett today.
When Bennett noticed, he stared back. “What, I got something on my face?”
“I always had eyebrows on my face, genius.”
“Yeah, but you used to have more,” said Dexter. “Did you get your eyebrows waxed?”
“No.” Bennett reached his less-greasy hand toward his forehead and felt around. He’d gotten eyebrow waxes during his days as a model and knew the feeling, and he definitely didn’t have the natural bushy feeling he preferred. “The fuck? You been sneaking into my room at night and waxing my eyebrows?”
“Why would I do that?”
“To fuck with me!”
“If I wanted to fuck with you, I could think of much more fun ways than giving you nocturnal eyebrow waxes.”
Bennett pulled out his cell phone, turned on the camera and checked how he looked. He had to admit, he did look hotter with less of a unibrow.
By the weekend, Bennett needed to go on a shopping spree, because none of his old clothes were fitting properly. Bennett’s t-shirts had become so tight, stretching over the hill created by his ultra-pumped pecs, that they all exposed his midriff. He appreciated the more sharply etched ab muscles which had appeared recently with little to no effort on his part, but he was surprised to see that his treasure trail had fallen out. He wondered if that could be the first sign of impending baldness, but the hair on his head seemed as lush as ever. If anything, he could use a trim.
As usual, Dexter tagged along to offer his fashion advice while Bennett shopped. Dexter had neither the budget nor the body to be as fashionable as Bennett could, so he lived vicariously through trips like this. Since he was having to buy a whole new wardrobe, Bennett followed some of Dexter’s more adventurous suggestions of bolder colors and wilder patterns. Bennett’s broader shoulders and lats had given his torso a more dramatic V shape which wreaked havoc with anything off the rack, and although his waistline had remained a trim thirty inches, his ass and thighs had put on so much muscle that he had to have everything from dress pants to board shorts altered to fit his new dimensions.
While tailors labored to make the adjustments, Bennett and Dexter headed to the beach to toss around the Frisbee for a while. Bennett’s clothing situation had grown so dire that his only old clothes that would fit were stretch bicycle shorts. Dexter was used to feeling inferior to Bennett, but his friend’s appearance was growing so extraordinary that Dexter shrouded himself in the baggiest sweats he could find, hoping the contrast wouldn’t be quite so apparent. As the sun emerged from behind a cloud, Dexter froze in place, letting the Frisbee sail over his head without even making an attempt at it. Dexter asked, “You bleaching your hair?”
Bennett put his hands on his hips and asked, “Why would I need to…?” But enough other changes had happened to him lately that he figured he’d better check it out. He wandered over to his car in the parking lot, crouched down and checked his reflection in the driver’s-side rear-view mirror. It could just be the way the sun was hitting it, but sure enough, his hair did look more platinum blond than his typical yellow-brown. “Maybe I’ve just been spending too much time in the sun.”
As they drove back to the mall to retrieve Bennett’s purchases, Bennett felt a sharp pain in his right earlobe and, shortly thereafter, a similar pain in his left. Each time, the jolt was so severe that Bennett momentarily lost focus on his driving and veered into the next lane.
“You okay?” Dexter asked, seriously concerned.
Bennett tried to shake it off, but the throbbing continued. “Just got this sudden pain in my ears.”
Dexter looked over and his eyes widened. Of all the changes Bennett had undergone, this was the most inexplicable. Bennett glanced at Dexter and saw how pale he had become.
“What now?” Bennett raised a hand to his right earlobe and felt something hard embedded in it. Curious, he adjusted his rear-view mirror to check out his reflection and discovered that each ear now bore a diamond stud earring. “Holy shit!” He slammed on his brakes right in the middle of the freeway. Only the quick reflexes of the driver behind him prevented a rear-end collision. That car slowly merged into the next lane and drove past slowly, the driver honking his horn and flipping the bird. Dexter looked at him apologetically before turning back to Bennett, whose freaking-out was now fully in progress.
“How the fuck? You don’t just suddenly grow earrings!” Bennett had never had any urge to get pierced. Despite the large number of guys his age who wore them, Bennett still found earrings way too feminine. And if he had gotten earrings, they’d have been something cool and macho, not diamond fucking studs.
Dexter could offer no rational theory on how this had happened, but he knew they were going to get demolished if they didn’t start moving soon. “Just get us to the mall. We’ll figure this out later.”
Bennett restarted the Lamborghini and launched it down the freeway, still looking more at his own reflection than the traffic around him. When they got to the mall, he was still shaken up, so Dexter offered to go inside and retrieve Bennett’s new clothes.
Inside the mall, Dexter got a call from Guillaume. “Bonjour, Guillaume. What’s up?
“The painting, she is finished. Can you and M’sieur Bennett come to view it today?”
Dexter wasn’t sure Bennett was in the right frame of mind, but Dexter’s curiosity to see the picture was too great. He promised that they would stop over on their way home.
Returning to the car, Dexter asked for the car keys so he could put Bennett’s new clothes in the trunk. Bennett handed them over weakly. His head was resting on the steering wheel. Dexter had never seen his friend so exhausted or confused.
“You look wiped, man. Why don’t you let me drive?”
“I’m fine,” Bennett insisted, although even he knew that was a lie. “No, you’re right, you better drive.”
He swung open his door and rose slowly to his feet. His body felt strong, but he was starting to lose his mind. His legs buckled and he fell to his knees. Dexter dropped the bags of clothes and knelt beside Bennett.
Bennett looked at Dexter through watery eyes and asked, “All these changes. Do you think I’m going crazy?”
“If you are, then so am I, because I’m seeing them too. Come on, let’s get you up.” He wrapped Bennett’s arm around his neck and lugged him to the passenger side.
As Dexter got Bennett situated and reached around to buckle his seatbelt, Bennett patted Dexter on the shoulder and smiled. “What would I do without you, buddy?”
Dexter was touched. Bennett rarely said anything genuinely affectionate. Anything approaching real emotion typically had a sarcastic tone lurking behind it, but Dexter didn’t detect any edge behind Bennett’s words this time. He tried to think of a reply, but no words were coming to him. Only an impulse. A physical one. He leaned forward and pressed his lips onto Bennett’s.
Bennett immediately leaned backwards and pushed Dexter away, his eyes wide with panic. “What the fuck???”
Dexter was flustered, his sunburnt skin growing more deeply red. “I…I don’t know. You seemed so vulnerable, I guess I just… I don’t know.”
Bennett was shaking now, a queasy feeling in his gut. Dexter was shaking nearly as much as Bennett. He got into the driver’s seat and took a moment to compose himself. He turned to apologize again. “I didn’t mean…”
Bennett raised his hands. “Just drive.”
Dexter nodded and backed out of the parking spot exceedingly carefully. An awkward silence fell between the two men. After his initial nervousness about Dexter taking the wheel, Bennett eventually relaxed and closed his eyes, trying not to think about the strange moment with Dexter.
On his way to Guillaume’s loft, Dexter may have been the first person ever to drive a Lamborghini under the speed limit. When Dexter parked, Bennett opened his eyes and asked what they were doing here. Dexter told him the painting was finished.
“I’m in no mood to look at a fucking painting right now,” said Bennett.
“We’re already here, man. Let’s just go in and check it out.”
Begrudgingly, Bennett got out of the car.
When Guillaume opened the door, he was delighted, looking Bennett carefully up and down. “Magnifique!” he exclaimed. “You are my greatest subject yet.” He ushered Bennett and Dexter into the studio where the huge canvas was covered. “Would you like tea, coffee, water?”
Dexter shook his head politely, while Bennett barked, “Can we just get to the painting so I can get outta here?”
“Certainement.” He directed the two guys to sit down for the unveiling. Guillaume removed the cloth from the painting. Bennett and Dexter were in shock. The painting depicted Bennett standing completely naked in a room full of mirrors. He was smiling at his reflection in a hand mirror, while his other hand brushed back his shaggy platinum blond hair. The mirrors behind him gave multiple views of Bennett’s strong back and muscular ass. Guillaume stared at their faces for a positive reaction, but only saw dismay.
“What the fuck is this shit?” Bennett demanded to know.
“I painted you as I see you: a man of great beauty and power who is very much in love with himself.”
“That’s how you see me? Some hyper-pumped steroid jockey? It doesn’t even look like me.”
“Pardon me, M’sieur Bennett, but you will find it looks exactly like you.”
The guys realized this was true. Bennett’s muscles were depicted in their current overinflated proportions. The hair, the waxed eyebrows, even the diamond studs in the earlobes were exactly how Bennett looked now. But Guillaume hadn’t seen Bennett in three weeks. How did he know about all of Bennett’s changes?
Bennett wasn’t as quick to make the obvious connection, but a chill ran through Dexter as he turned to Guillaume. “Holy shit, you did this to him! How is that possible?”
Guillaume smiled proudly. “It is my talent. I paint the truth as I see it. And what I paint becomes the truth.”
Now it was sinking in for Bennett too. At least he wasn’t crazy. There was an explanation for all his bizarre changes, an unbelievable explanation with a French accent and a pointy goatee.
“So your painting of Stanley,” Dexter asked, “that’s what turned him into Sage?”
Guillaume nodded. “He was very happy with the results.”
“I’m sure he was,” Bennett said. “You turned him from a total loser into a stud.”
“That was what he requested. As I recall, your requests were to look ‘hot’ and for the painting to be ‘big’. I was forced to fill in the rest myself. It is definitely big. Are you saying you do not look hot?”
Bennett stared at the painting and had to admit that, even if it made him seem like an egotistical asshole, he did look pretty damn hot, even with the girly earrings. He did have one major quibble. “My cock does not look like that.”
Guillaume shrugged. “You would not take off your underpants, so I was forced to guess.”
“Well, mine’s a lot bigger, trust me.”
Guillaume replied, straight-faced. “Have you checked lately?”
Bennett instinctively grabbed his crotch. Goddamn, the bump in his shorts did feel smaller than usual.
Dexter had moved closer to the easel and noticed that he was depicted in the painting too, reflected in one of the mirrors. It was a faithful physical depiction, but his expression was one of awe and idolization as he gazed at Bennett’s bare body. “How come you put me in here?”
“It would be wrong to exclude you. You are part of his life. You are his lover, no?”
As Dexter began to stammer a reply, Bennett stepped angrily toward Guillaume. “So is that why he kissed me, you fuckin’ faggot? ‘Cause you painted him gay?”
Guillaume was not flustered. “I do not ‘paint him gay’! I paint what I see.”
“Well,” Bennett said, mocking Guillaume’s accent, “I do not ‘pay for that fuckin’ painting!’”
“But, M’sieur, you must. I have delivered on my promise. You said you wanted a painting that made you hot and was larger than M’sieur Sage’s. You did not even ask the price.”
Bennett fumed but figured he probably was stuck with the tab. He’d just hit up his folks, make up some excuse for why his expenses were high this month. Maybe he could just buy the thing and burn it. He pulled out his wallet and asked calmly, “Okay, what do I owe you?”
Bennett put his wallet back and stared at Guillaume, seething. “You’re out of your goddamn mind.”
“That is my rate. If you are displeased with this painting, I will paint another for you.”
Dexter stepped between the men, trying to act as a buffer. “Hey, that sounds reasonable, right, Bennett?”
“But first,” Guillaume continued, “you must pay for the first one. I have put in much time and effort which must be compensated.”
“Never, you son of a bitch!” Bennett lunged toward Guillaume, nearly trampling Dexter in the process.
Guillaume stepped in front of the canvas and pulled a revolver from the pocket of his smock. “Please be leaving now.”
Bennett’s huge chest was rising and falling with each heavy breath, his beefy new muscles tensed, but he wasn’t about to pick a fight with a bullet. He extended his arm toward Dexter and pulled him up from the floor, then turned and stormed out of the loft. Dexter looked at Guillaume, trying to think of a way to resolve this, but the Frenchman seemed in no mood to negotiate. He kept the gun aimed at Dexter, who backed across the room until he reached the door.
By the time Dexter got downstairs, Bennett already had started the car and was gunning the engine anxiously. Dexter got in and the car squealed away. Soon they were back on the freeway. Bennett knew exactly where he needed to go.
A totally naked blonde with no tan lines opened the front door before Bennett’s pounding could smash it down. “Is Stanley here?”
“Sage,” Dexter offered meekly from behind Bennett.
“Sage. Fine. Whatever.”
The blonde smiled as she surveyed Bennett’s body. “Can I tell him who’s calling?”
“The Legion of Doom,” Bennett said.
Sage’s deep voice called from the distance. “Who is it, honey?”
Bennett pushed past the blonde into the entry hall, noticing Sage standing at the top of the stairs in a thigh-length silk bathrobe. Bennett bounded up the stairs, and Sage fled into the master bedroom. Bennett caught the doorknob just before the door could close completely. He yanked the door with such great force that it was pulled off its hinges.
Dexter walked inside, nodded politely to the blonde and walked slowly upstairs. He entered the master bedroom and found Sage standing in the middle of the orgy bed, holding a large pillow in front of him defensively. Bennett was circling the bed, amped up. His anger had built up inside him on the drive here from Guillaume’s loft and was about to be uncorked. He pointed to the painting of Sage on the wall. “You knew. You knew what Frenchy McFrench-Fry’s crazy paintings could do, because he’d already done it to you.”
Sage nodded frantically, clutching the pillow.
“So why did you sic him on me?”
“Because I like you!”
Bennett scoffed, “Bullshit.”
Sage had to concede the point. “Okay, bullshit. I was just curious to see what he would do to you. If he could turn someone like me into someone like this, I wondered if he could improve on perfection.” His eyes roamed across Bennett’s new body. “It looks to me like he did a hell of a job. Aren’t you happy with it?”
Bennett had to pause. He couldn’t honestly say he was unhappy with his new body.
“Don’t you realize how lucky you are?” Sage asked. “You’ve been painted by Guillaume Dupuis. Somehow, Guillaume has created this new form of art. I’m not sure he even knows how he does it. You are a one-of-a-kind creation, Bennett. You don’t just own a Guillaume Dupuis. You are a Guillaume Dupuis.”
“But unlike you, I didn’t need a new body. You didn’t do anything to deserve a body like that. You just paid for it.”
Sage lowered the pillow and walked angrily across the bed toward Bennett, being careful to remain out of fist-striking distance. “No, no, no, you never did anything to deserve your old body. You were just born with it, but somehow thought you had earned it. And you looked down with pity on all the rest of us who weren’t as lucky as you were in the genetic lottery.”
As always, Dexter tried to calm the waters. “Now just a minute, Sage…”
“Oh, Dexter, are you there? Well, of course you are! Bennett’s trusty shadow. He treats you worse than anyone, but you still put up with it, even after all these years. And you know what’s sick, Bennett? I’m just as big a suck-up. As badly as you always treated me, calling me ‘fat’, calling me ‘fag’, when you showed up at my party that night, I was thrilled. I was ecstatic that Bennett Humphries, the reason God gave Man eyesight, had honored my party with his presence. Only now, we were equals. And the chicks wanted me as much as they wanted you.”
“Since when did you like chicks, Stanley?” Bennett sneered.
“Since I could get ’em. Of course, now I can get boys too.” He winked at Dexter.
“Yeah, that’s another thing. Your buddy put Dexter in the painting and turned him gay!”
A wheeze turned into a laugh before turning into a guffaw so loud and deep that Sage had to fall back on the bed.
Bennett demanded to know, “What’s so funny?”
Sage sat up, wiping tears of laughter from his eyes. “Are you that into yourself that you don’t notice anything about anyone, even supposedly your bestest buddy? Dexter’s always been gay. He’s in fucking love with you, man. Why else would anyone have put up with your shit all these years?”
Bennett turned to Dexter, who couldn’t bring himself to look in Bennett’s eyes. Bennett turned back to Sage, accusingly. “What makes you think he’s gay?”
“Well, once it became obvious that you were never going to fuck him,” Bennett grinned knowingly, “he had to fuck somebody.”
Bennett looked back at Dexter, who quietly said, “I’ll be in the car,” and headed downstairs. As Bennett watched him go, he realized all the other recent changes he had undergone paled compared to this revelation.
“So,” Sage said as brightly as his deep voice would allow, “where you gonna hang the painting?”
Bennett turned back to Sage. “Fuck the painting. I’m not gonna pay a hundred grand for that piece of shit. I told him he could shove it up his ass.”
Sage wasn’t sure it was wise to piss off someone as powerful as Guillaume. He just smiled and said, “Are we through now? Because Cyndi has been waiting very patiently for some anal.”
Bennett shook his head, recalling a childhood memory. “Once a big poopy turd, always a big poopy turd, eh, Stanley?”
Bennett drove for ten miles, with the car stereo off and only the sound of the wind whipping wickedly through the convertible, before either of them said a word.
“You know, all the times I called you a fag and said don’t be such a queer, I didn’t mean anything. I was just busting your balls.”
Dexter stared at the road. He said nothing.
Bennett tried again. “How come you never said anything?”
Dexter kept looking straight ahead. “Would you have let me hang around if you knew?”
Bennett pondered that. He honestly didn’t know the answer. Eventually, he asked, “Why did you hang out with me then?”
Finally, Dexter turned toward his old friend with an expression of pity. “Someone had to.”
When Bennett woke up in the morning, it was as if all memories of Guillaume and the painting were magically expunged from his memory and he was starting with a clean slate. As he slept, the changes that had occurred to Bennett’s body reversed themselves, returning him to the trim athletic body and wheat-brown hair he was used to. Even the holes in his earlobes resealed themselves. Occasionally a stray detail from the last few weeks would flicker, then fade in his memory like a lightning bug, its lifespan not long enough for him to capture it. Physical remnants of the recent events had survived to puzzle him, however, such as the closet full of new clothes that were far too big for his sleek frame. One memory which did stick in his head was that Dexter had come out as gay, but the exact circumstances were vague. He just knew it was the truth, and in retrospect couldn’t figure out why he hadn’t put the pieces together years ago.
Dexter also woke up with a strange sense of loss, a vacant space in his head where recent events were at best a vague blur of smeared images, with Guillaume’s painting and the alterations it had made to Bennett wiped away altogether. But commingled with this absence was the clear presence of a new freedom and comfort in his own skin, and an awareness that Bennett had somehow realized that Dexter was gay. However that had happened, Dexter knew it was long overdue.
When Dexter came to the breakfast table, he knew immediately from Bennett’s silence and body language that a seismic shift had occurred in their relationship. They were cordial at breakfast, but Dexter wondered how long Bennett would let a “fag” stay in his home rent-free. For his part, Bennett knew it would be uncool to ask his oldest friend to leave. At least right away.
The uneasiness became so palpable that Dexter made a conscious effort to stay out of Bennett’s way. Dexter began to get up early, finding a gym where he could exercise before his shift at the call center. Bennett told Dexter it was a waste of money to pay for a health club when there was a full gym right there in the house, but Dexter liked having an excuse to get away – and to scope out the other guys at the club. Sometimes, he would even head to the club a second time after work in order to check out the evening crop of dudes. It felt good to get back into exercising, and all his time at gym seemed to pay off incredibly fast. Within two weeks, he had gained twenty pounds of muscle and lost two inches around the waist. In a rare conversation one night, he leaned into Bennett’s bedroom and asked if he could borrow some of Bennett’s clothes, since they were now about the same size. Sprawled on the bed playing a video game, Bennett just nodded.
Bennett hung around the house more than ever. Dexter wasn’t around enough to handle the mundane details of life like shopping, so Bennett found himself tooling down to the nearest 7-Eleven and impulse-buying when the cupboards at home went bare. Without Dexter to act as his wingman (“my fairy wingman”, he chuckled to himself), Bennett lost interest in going out to the beaches on the weekend or the clubs at night. He had never realized the difference it made to have someone around who was always willing to do things with you. His lifelong antipathy toward exerting an effort began to sap his motivation even to keep his body in its usual peak form. He started to realize that his arms were becoming less defined and a paunch beginning to form, but doing something about it just seemed like so much work. Most days, he didn’t make it downstairs to the weight room or outside to the pool. Some days, he didn’t even step into the sunlight. His tan was growing pale, his complexion less smooth. More and more, his life consisted of lying on the couch, smoking dope and watching porn, but even porn was starting to bore him. He caught himself wondering, “Haven’t I seen enough tits in my life? What’s one more going to teach me that I don’t already know?”
Meanwhile, Dexter’s gains had become hard to miss, to the point that the clothes he borrowed from Bennett were getting a bit snug. Although the most dramatic changes to his body had leveled off, his face seemed to be morphing, his features becoming more angular, more classically handsome. He was attracting a lot more attention, and not just at the gym. Workmates of both genders were flirting with him, although the women became less forward as Dexter grew less worried about presenting a “straight-acting” front.
One of his gym buddies, a cute blond named Geoffrey, invited him to spend an entire weekend in San Diego, the first time Dexter could remember being apart from Bennett for a whole weekend since Bennett gave up modeling. He and Geoffrey hung out on the beach all day Saturday, took a dinner cruise at sunset, had a roaring good time at a gay club’s ‘70s night, and slow-danced to a jazz combo until two, when Geoffrey whispered, “Dex, I think it’s time for us to fuck.” Dexter had started introducing himself as “Dex” to the guys he met at the gym, and never had it sounded better than in that particular sentence.
As they fell into bed in their hotel room, Dex wrapped his brawny arms around his equally impressive bedmate and squeezed him tight, fingernails digging into Geoffrey’s muscular back. He let Geoffrey take the lead at first, as Dex was an accommodating sort and considered himself a natural bottom. But more and more these days, he found himself taking control and dominating. He was growing impatient for Geoffrey to cum so that he could flip the sexy boy over and pound him from behind. Just as all the working out had been building his body, all the sex he was having seemed to be causing Dex’s cock to grow. He’d never actually heard of that medical phenomenon, but his dick had basically doubled in size, so something must be making it happen.
The next morning when Dex woke up, he discovered Geoffrey resting his chin on Dex’s chest and examining his face. “Good morning, beautiful. Is there something wrong?” Dex asked.
Geoffrey smiled. “Far from it. I’ve just never been able to study you so close up before. You always look so dark and intimidating in the gym.”
“Are you kidding? We never would have met if you hadn’t talked to me first. I never realized you had such pretty blue eyes. And I always thought your hair was black, but it’s really brown, isn’t it?”
That’s odd, Dex thought. If you’d asked him out of the blue, he would have said he had brown eyes and black hair. Then again, it’s not like he spent a lot of time checking himself out in mirrors. Certainly not as much as Bennett did. Who did? As he thought about Bennett, he turned back to Geoffrey. “Well, one thing I’ve learned is that you can be very close to someone for a very long time and still not really see them.”
“Ooh, Dex, you’re so deep,” said Geoffrey.
“Oh, yeah? Care to find out how deep?”
“Well, I took a reading last night, but I think I may need to recheck it.”
As Geoffrey adjusted his position atop Dex’s chest, Dex raised his eyebrows lasciviously. Geoffrey loved how tidy Dex’s eyebrows looked. He must have gotten them waxed. But since last night?
Dex spent the next few nights at Geoffrey’s apartment and was starting to feel guilty about excluding Bennett from his life. He knew the two of them were drifting apart, probably irrevocably, but he was concerned that Bennett might not be looking after himself properly without Dex around. Any time he drove past the house, the Lamborghini was parked in the same spot, seemingly gathering dust. He texted Bennett to ask if he could invite some guys over that Saturday for a cookout by the pool, afraid that Bennett would object to a house full of “fags”. It took a while before he got a reply, but when Bennett finally did text back, in consisted of one and three-quarter words: “SURE WHATEV”.
Dex started inviting select co-workers and the hottest guys from the gym to the party. To help goose attendance, he repeatedly stressed to his invitees that his housemate would be there, casually mentioning that his buddy’s topless photo once dominated ten stories in Times Square. After a few Google Image searches for “Bennett Humphries”, RSVPs to Dex’s get-together skyrocketed.
Dex took care of getting all the food and the liquor and showed up early in the afternoon to get the place party-ready. When he walked in the front door, Dex was startled to see a stranger sprawled on the sofa, wearing headphones and playing a handheld video game. Dex shouted at him, but the guy didn’t react, so Dex walked closer and got an even bigger shock. This “stranger” was Bennett, only a Bennett from an alternate universe. He wore an extra-large t-shirt which strained to hold in the beginnings of a major gut. The legs hanging out of his plaid shorts were not the firm tan ones Dex had envied so often as he sliced his way across the swimming pool, but were flabby and hairless. His face had puffed out with the rest of the body, swallowing his famed cheekbones under a thick layer of fat and slathering his formerly chiseled jaw with an extra chin or two upon which a scraggly chinstrap beard was attempting to grow. His skin looked pale and greasy, with half a dozen pimples at varying degrees of ripeness. Dex didn’t remember Bennett ever having a single zit, even back when puberty was turning Dexter’s face into a relief map of the moon.
Dex pulled the headphones away from Bennett’s ears and shouted, “Bennett??”
Bennett looked up blearily, squinting at whoever was talking to him. He really ought to see an eye doctor, because it was getting harder and harder for him to see anything beyond a foot away. The voice sounded familiar, if a bit lower than usual. “Is that you, Dexter?”
“Yes. I’m here to get ready for the party. Remember? The party? Tonight?”
“Oh, shit, is that tonight?” He rolled himself off the sofa and tried to tidy up the coffee table, waddling toward the kitchen carrying half-empty packages of Cheetos and Fudge Stripe cookies. “See what happens when I don’t have you around to keep an eye on me? I lose all track of time.” As Dex went back outside to bring in more party supplies, a pair of thick horn-rimmed glasses gradually materialized on the bridge of Bennett’s nose. Bennett grabbed hold of the countertop to steady himself. Seemed like weird shit like that had been happening to him all the time lately. He wrote it off to smoking too much weed. He was just relieved that he could see again.
He stepped out the front door, wincing at the afternoon sun. He bounded down the driveway, his rubber sandals flapping on his pudgy feet, and asked Dexter what he could do to help. Dex stopped and stared again. “You… want to help? You’re sure you’re Bennett Humphries?”
Bennett brayed with laughter, then bent over in a wheezing fit. He rested his plump hands on his knobby knees and waited for the episode to subside. “Sorry. Must be my asthma.”
“You never had asthma.”
“Must’ve developed while you’ve been away. Nobody vacuums or dusts anymore.”
“Well, you could.”
Bennett stood up, nodding guiltily. “I know, I should pull my weight more. You’ve always been so good to me, looking after me. You’re like the big brother I never had.”
Dex froze up as Bennett draped his sweaty body around Dex’s shoulders. Dex patted Bennett comfortingly on the back. “It’s okay. Come on, we’ve got a house to clean.”
For future reference, Dex showed Bennett where the vacuum and cleaning materials were stored. Bennett remained strangely eager to help, so Dex handed him a can of Pledge and a rag and demonstrated the process of dusting. Dex opened all the windows to clear out the stale scent of B.O. and ganja, then set about vacuuming all the carpets. As he worked, he began to feel an annoying hot itch on his left shoulder, which he scratched from time to time but never seemed to relieve. He lost track of where Bennett had gone, but was glad he was keeping himself busy.
When Dex wheeled the vacuum to the guest bedroom and swung open the door, he was unprepared for what greeted him. Bennett was waxing something, but it wasn’t the furniture. He had discovered some of Dex’s fitness magazines and was stroking his chubby little cock as he looked at the pictures. Dex turned away quickly, apologizing and swinging the door shut behind him, but he heard Bennett’s soft anemic voice coming through the door, saying one word. “Please?”
Dex cracked the door open and saw the desperate expression on Bennett’s face. “It’s been so lonely without you around. Nobody treats me like they used to. Even the ugly girl who works at the 7-Eleven doesn’t look up at me now. It’s like I’m not even me any more. It’s like I’m… ordinary.” He said the word like his mouth was filling with vomit.
It felt bizarre to hear Bennett Humphries complain about being ordinary, although from what Dex could see, Bennett only had himself to blame for his current state. The biggest shock was how quickly he had gone downhill. Yet in that same length of time, Dex had managed to reinvent himself, so surely Bennett could rebound too, if he put a little effort into it for once.
Before Dex had a chance to say any of this out loud, Bennett continued his sad tale. “Do you know I haven’t even been able to jerk off lately? Just now, I got my first hard-on in, like, two weeks…and it was from this.” He showed Dex the cover of a fitness magazine, a black-and-white photo of a gorgeous muscular guy – a photo not unlike Bennett’s famous billboard. “I’m starting to think I might be… gay.”
Dex didn’t want to laugh at a friend in such misery, but it seemed absurd. Dexter had spent the last decade desperately wishing for the slightest indication that Bennett might feel the same way about him as he did about Bennett. Maybe he had been overcompensating all along, presenting a flashy hetero facade, and Dex was finally getting a glimpse of the real Bennett now when he was at his most vulnerable. No, that seemed impossible. Dex crossed the room, sat on the bed next to Bennett and hugged him. “I think you’re just confused.”
But things seemed pretty straight-forward for Bennett as he felt his cock growing when Dexter’s rock-hard muscles embraced him. He was amazed how sexy Dexter looked today. How had he never noticed before how handsome Dexter was? Dexter even smelled sexy. Bennett couldn’t resist nuzzling Dexter’s neck and kissing him.
Dex felt those slobbery lips on his skin and couldn’t help but think how ecstatic he would have been if Bennett had kissed him a month ago, or a year ago, or ten years ago. Why now, when Bennett had let himself go and bottomed out? Why now, when Dex had met Geoffrey, who was cute and funny and treated him as an equal, someone who made him feel not just desired but loved? Why now, when guests would be arriving in half an hour?
Dex tried to stand up, scratching that increasingly annoying pain on his shoulder. “I need to tend to the canapes.”
But Bennett clutched Dexter’s wrists and plead, “Just let me blow you. Just once. Just so I can know if I’m really… ya know…” He couldn’t even bring himself to say that three-letter word again.
Even Bennett’s eyes looked different to Dex now. Maybe it was the tears or the thickness of those horrible new glasses he was wearing, but his eyes didn’t have that impossibly pale blue coloring which had captivated Dex and so many others over the years. They were still blue, but they they were dull, lifeless. They were, dare he say, ordinary.
But then another thought passed through Dex’s mind: ordinary people need fucking too.
Dex stood up and gradually unveiled his newly refurbished torso, pulling off his white tee slowly, teasingly. Bennett frantically stroked his miniscule dick as his eyes roamed hungrily across Dex’s enticing abs and meaty pecs. “Mmmm, I love your tat.”
Tat?, thought Dex, who didn’t remember having a tattoo. But the pain he had been feeling on his shoulder all afternoon was now spreading down his left arm and across his chest and, when he looked down, he discovered a bold tribal tattoo on his tightly stretched skin. He figured he must be woozy from the heat, because it almost looked like the tattoo was in motion, still in the process of forming as he watched it, like new brushstrokes were spreading the ink down to his elbow and crawling across to the cleft of his pecs.
Bennett was yanking his little cock in a frenzy, entranced by the tattoo which seemed to be creating itself. Dex wasn’t sure he had to do much more to get Bennett to spurt, but he went on with his striptease, coyly loosening his belt before letting his white shorts drop to the floor, revealing white bikini briefs packed to capacity.
Bennett lost all inhibitions at that point, falling to his knees and yanking down the undies to give him access to Dex’s hardening penis. Bennett had been on the receiving end of this act so many times, he felt like he knew exactly how to do it. He slid his tongue up and down the length of Dex’s veiny shaft, pausing to lick under the balls before returning to the head and wrapping his lips around it. He licked the slit, getting his first taste of pre-cum and experiencing an immediate rush in his brain that told him he was going to like this. He worked the cock further and further into his mouth, deeper toward his throat, awestruck by the feeling of it expanding in response to his tongue’s undulations.
Dex was growing dizzy. He pressed his hands onto Bennett’s lumpy shoulders and broadened his stance to keep from losing his balance. Looking down at Bennett, Dex was reminded of his very first blowjob in high school, when he and that fat kid snuck under the bleachers in the gymnasium. What was that guy’s name again? Stanley? No, wait. He changed it to…
Dex’s thoughts began to scatter as he became light-headed and felt the pressure building in his cock, the giddy inevitability of ejaculation spreading pleasure throughout his system. He shot so much cum, he was afraid Bennett was going to choke. He heard Bennett wheezing and pulled out, still spurting. “Are you okay?”
Bennett kept coughing, but looked up smiling. He gave a thumbs-up, jizz dribbling down the corners of his mouth and oozing into his mangy beard. He wheezed and said, “Bad time for an asthma attack.”
Dex noticed the time and realized they’d better clean up fast before the guests arrived. Solely in the interest of time management, they took a shower together, during which Dex realized for the first time that Dex was now shorter than him by an inch, maybe two. Dex had no time to ponder any of the day’s strange events, as guests would be at his door in fifteen minutes. He dried off, pulled his clothes back on and quickly prepared the rest of the appetizers, while Bennett remained in his bedroom, sorting through the clothes in his closet, desperate to find something that didn’t look horrible on his body.
The doorbell rang and Geoffrey was the first to arrive, giving Dex a bottle of good wine and a deep, loving kiss. His attention was drawn to the dramatic black curlicues which now adorned Dex’s arm, emerging from his t-shirt sleeve and extending to his wrist. “How did you have time to get a tattoo since this morning?”
Dex had no rational explanation, so he fired back with his own question. “Don’t you like it?”
Geoffrey pushed up Dex’s sleeve, then looked down through his collar to see how far the tattoo extended. “So hot! And it goes great with the earrings.”
As Geoffrey searched the drawers for a corkscrew, Dex rushed over to a mirror in the living room. Sure enough, thick silver hoops now hung from both of his earlobes. Dex’s eyes narrowed and he smiled with satisfaction as he checked himself out. The earrings and tattoo looked awesome with his gelled blond hair and piercing blue eyes. Damn, if they didn’t have guests arriving, he would love to hoist Geoffrey over his shoulder right this minute, carry him into the guest room and fu…
The doorbell rang and Bennett bounced through the living room, yelling “I’ll get it!” The floor shook with his every step, and it took a few seconds for his flab to stop shaking even when he came to a halt at the door. He wheezed a couple times, then gained his composure and swung open the door, revealing two handsome young guys, also bearing liquor. They looked curiously at the overweight man, stuffed uncomfortably into clothes which might have looked rather stylish on someone they were properly tailored for.
The men at the door were relieved to see Dex and Geoffrey, so they knew they were at the right place. They walked over and hugs were exchanged. Dex pointed to Bennett and told the new guests, “And, of course, the fella you just met is my housemate Bennett.”
The news was so unfathomable to Geoffrey and the other men that none of them could conceal their shock. That was Bennett Humphries? Geoffrey hadn’t wanted to mention it to Dex, but in college, Geoffrey actually had a poster of Bennett’s cologne ad on his dorm room wall. It’s fair to say that he had every nuance of Bennett’s body committed to memory. Geoffrey had been nervous about tonight, afraid he would be tongue-tied around Bennett or embarrass himself in some way. But now, as he looked across the room where Bennett was wheezing and scratching his ass, Geoffrey wrapped his arms tightly around Dex’s granite biceps, kissed him on the cheek and asked, “Have you ever considered modeling, honey?”
As Bennett stood nervously by the door, keeping an eye outside for more arrivals, a particularly ugly pimple was forming rapidly in the middle of his forehead.
Across town, in the loft of Guillaume Dupuis, the famed painter was standing at his easel, exhausted and growing more annoyed as he complied with his patron’s demands. “Is that enough?”
“Can you make it a little more gross? Like it’s just on the verge of popping?” Sage Winslow was seated on a swiveling stool as he applied a critical eye to his purchase.
Guillaume wearily dabbed some pink and white paint together on his palette in order to make the pimple appear more disgusting.
As soon as Bennett and Dexter had left his house a few weeks ago, Sage got on the phone, offering to pay for Bennett’s original rejected painting, on the condition that Guillaume rework it to Sage’s specifications. Sage drove over immediately and, upon seeing the canvas, declared that Guillaume would have to paint the whole thing over and start from scratch. Guillaume was appalled by the notion that he would cover up what he considered his greatest work, but Sage was willing to pay Guillaume the one-hundred grand that Bennett owed him, plus another hundred grand to create the painting Sage was envisioning. For that kind of money, Guillaume’s principles could be flexible. That night, he obliterated the previous image with white paint which, in a quiet house by the beach, simultaneously undid all the changes which the painting had made to Bennett’s body.
At first, Guillaume had no problem with Sage’s requirements. Sage wanted the centerpiece of this painting to be Dexter rather than Bennett. An idealized naked Dexter, standing proud and displaying his impressive body. But Guillaume had misgivings about the way Sage wanted Bennett to be portrayed as bloated and gone to seed, clutching an inhaler in one hand and his crotch in the other while he stared lustily at Dexter. Guillaume fought vigorously against this idea. Bennett may be a boor and a homophobe, but Guillaume insisted that he only ever used his special talent to bring beauty into the world, not grotesques. Nevertheless, after a considerable back and forth on the topic, Guillaume was persuaded. Because, ya know, two-hundred thousand dollars.
This afternoon, Sage had dropped by to see what Guillaume considered the finished painting. Guillaume was pleased with his re-envisioning of Dexter, but felt that Bennett’s presence negated the beauty of Dexter and threw off the balance and focus of the composition. It was as if a gargoyle were photobombing Michelangelo’s David.
Sage was delighted with both. “My god,” he screamed, “it’s perfect! It’s ‘The Picture of Dorky and Gay’!” But after that initial burst of enthusiasm, Sage kept seeing opportunities to push the two subjects to even further extremes.
Out came the brushes as Sage commanded Guillaume to add an elaborate tattoo to Dexter’s arm and chest and silver hoops to his ears. “Make his hair blonder. Make his eyes bluer. I want him to have those amazing eyes that Bennett always took for granted! Let Dexter finally be the one who every head turns to.” Sage and Dexter had already had sex as terrified trembling high-schoolers, so just in case they ever hooked up again, why not turn Dexter into Sage’s ultimate wet-dream?
Sage was as generous to Dexter as he was vindictive to Bennett. He had Guillaume add a pair of thick, ugly glasses over Bennett’s squinting eyes, and no matter how many pimples Guillaume added, Sage could always find room for one more.
Nearing his breaking point, Guillaume began to form an idea in his head. The next time he was invited to one of Sage’s parties, he would bring along his paints. He would barricade himself alone in the master bedroom. He would make a few unauthorized changes to the painting of Sage. Guillaume grinned as he thought, “He will learn that one does not boss around someone as powerful as Guillaume Dupuis.”
Sage stood, examined the painting up close and from a distance. He finally seemed satisfied that Bennett had been sufficiently uglified. But then…
“What do you think about buck teeth? Too much?”