On a slow Tuesday evening, a nervous-looking man in a white Oxford shirt and relaxed-fit jeans stepped tentatively into the Rusty Nail. He was simultaneously relieved and disappointed that the place was so unpopulated. Relieved, because it reduced the chances that he would be recognized, although the odds of anyone he knew back home being in this place were slim-to-nonexistent to begin with – and anyone he did recognize would likely have just as much trouble explaining their presence there as he would. Disappointed, because what was the point of checking out a gay bar if there were no gay guys to check out?
He took a deep breath and approached the bar, his hesitant gait making it appear that he had suddenly forgotten how to walk casually. Music he didn’t recognize was echoing through the nearly empty space, something with an incessant beat from heavily programmed drums and a wash of female vocals buried in electronic effects. He grabbed a stool at the far end of the bar where he had a good view of the dance floor but was personally shrouded in shadows. He silently congratulated himself on making it this far, but knew he was going to need something strong to settle his nerves. He raised a finger to get the attention of the shirtless bartender, who was lazily drying off a beer stein. The insanely ripped blond responded with a nod and strode over, wiping his wet hands on the faded denim stretched tight across his quads. “Evening, sir. What can I do for you?”
The customer always hated being called “sir”, even though he realized it was totally appropriate. To avoid gawking shamelessly at the bartender’s physique, the customer diverted his attention to the array of bottles behind him, but a mirror behind the bar thwarted this plan by offering him an equally distracting view of the broad expanse of the bartender’s muscular back which bore an impressive tattoo of a massive pair of wings. Finally, the customer spoke, his voice soft and shaky. “Maybe you could suggest something. I kinda want something different and special.” He added with an embarrassed grin, “It’s my birthday.”
“Your birthday?” The bartender broke into a grin and sang a booming “Hap…” before the customer gestured frantically for him to stop. Even with such a sparse crowd, he didn’t care to bring attention to himself. The bartender clammed up with an understanding smile as deep dimples punctuated his cheeks. “Completely understand. Birthdays can be tough.” The customer had trouble believing that this hunk had ever had a tough day in his life, but he appreciated the attempt to relate.
“Yeah, birthdays don’t usually bug me, but this one’s… kind of a big one,” the customer said, unwilling to utter the word “fifty”. “Guess being back in the city has got me kinda nostalgic. I used to walk past this place all the time when I was going to college here, but I never had the balls to come in.”
“Well, I’m happy you and your balls could make it tonight,” the bartender said. It was clear this customer was going to need extra attention, which shouldn’t be a problem on such a quiet night. He extended a hand in friendship. “I’m Trey.”
The customer took his hand and shook. He hesitated for a moment, unsure about giving his real name, but when he accidentally made contact with Trey’s piercing blue eyes, he felt compelled to blurt out the truth. “I’m Scott.”
“Welcome to the Rusty Nail, Scott. So, what’s your usual preference?”
Scott’s mouth dried up instantly. He’d never been asked so bluntly, but having made it this far, he figured he may as well be honest. “Well, I’m married, but I guess I’ve always known deep down that I was… ya know… into guys.” Saying the words gave him an immense feeling of relief.
Trey stifled a laugh behind his concerned-barkeep expression, giving a light tap on the back of Scott’s right hand which was nervously drumming on the bar’s surface. “Well, you’ve come to the right place.” He rephrased himself to make his original intent clear. “So, tell me what sort of drinks you usually enjoy. It’ll give me an idea of what to recommend.”
“Oh. Oh!” Scott grew flushed, realizing his mistake, but there was no reeling back his admission now. Flustered, he became uncharacteristically verbose. “Well, let’s see, I used to drink nothing but beer, but I’ve been getting more into whiskey and bourbon lately. Sign of delayed maturity, I suppose. Plus they’re not supposed be as bad for…” Scott patted his belly with a grimace, the buttonholes noticeably taut across the most distended part of his gut. “It’s crazy. I used to be able to eat and drink anything I wanted and never gain an ounce when I was young like you. Well, I was never young like you, but I wasn’t always so…” He glanced down at his doughy torso and his words dwindled away.
“Yeah, you really gotta watch those extra calories,” Trey nodded empathetically, unconsciously sliding a hand across the perfectly symmetrical eight-pack that seemed vacuum-sealed beneath his tanned skin.
Scott looked around the dimly-lit club, soaking in the details of the place. Never having set foot inside the Rusty Nail, it had grown to mythic stature in his mind, so it came as something of a letdown to discover that it wasn’t much different from an ordinary sports bar, only the TVs were all showing a fuzzy ‘80s workout video featuring an oily instructor in tiny shorts whose abundant body hair was glistening with sweat. He chuckled at the cheesy nostalgia, which sent his thoughts back to his anxious younger days when he was first grappling with his identity, awkwardly dating the woman who would eventually become his wife while surreptitiously sneaking peeks at the International Male catalogue and renting Jean-Claude Van Damme movies on VHS with suspicious frequency.
Scott’s life certainly hadn’t been terrible. He and Amanda genuinely enjoyed each other’s company and shared many interests, at least at first. In their small town, the notion of coming out seemed impossible in those days, especially for a rising young businessman trying to ingratiate himself with the conservative elders in the Kiwanis Club and the Knights of Columbus. Scott and Amanda made an attractive couple, charming, funny, actively involved in community events. The fact that they never had children raised a few disapproving eyebrows, but Scott dropped just enough hints of unspoken medical issues that it stopped most prying questions in their tracks. In truth, Amanda had never seemed terribly interested in sex, even at the beginning of their courtship, which relieved Scott, as it took the pressure off of him to perform. As a young man, he had toyed with joining the priesthood, so he was already mentally prepared for a vow of celibacy. This one just didn’t require all the other religious trappings.
Over the years, he had discreetly satisfied his urges where he could. He never minded accompanying his wife to the mall, willingly killing time browsing the menswear section, trying not to be obvious as his eyes scanned the Calvin Klein packages in the underwear section or as the young jocks of town slumped out of the dressing rooms to reluctantly model something acid-washed for their approving girlfriends. Only on his out-of-town business trips had Scott even taken the slightest baby steps toward exploring his desires more openly, but he’d still remained skittish if not outright terrified. On one visit to Las Vegas a few years back, he had practically emptied the mini-bar psyching himself up to order a male escort sent to his room, only to chicken out and slip a hundred-dollar bill under the door when the rent boy arrived. Scott spent the rest of the night with his cheek pressed against the cool porcelain of the toilet bowl, grimly awaiting each successive wave of nausea. He left Sin City depressed, having lost his shirt, his lunch and his nerve. Even as he saw the world at large become more accepting of different sexualities, Scott continued to feel trapped by his own circumstances.
As Scott noticed his reflection in the mirror behind the bar, his sense of despair grew. If he ever did summon up his courage, even for something as minor and harmless as asking a guy to dance, he feared immediate rejection from the young athletic types whom he had always found most attractive. What hot virile guy would be the slightest bit interested in some middle-aged, overweight closet case with a double chin, dwindling gray hair and erectile dysfunction? Oh, sure, he knew there were some guys who got turned on by older “daddy” types, but he didn’t see himself in that role. If anything, he saw himself as a twink who had become trapped under more and more layers of flesh over time until he now resided inside the body of Wilford Brimley. Besides, the thought of him with some young stud seemed just as pathetic, desperate and downright laughable as his contemporaries back home who were dealing with their own midlife crises by buying fast new cars or speedboats and carrying on affairs with their female employees or their kids’ babysitters or the graveyard clerk at the Kum-N-Go. No, Scott had come to a grudging acceptance that he had missed his opportunity for happiness back when he was younger and cuter and thinner, back when he wasn’t so beaten down by life. Now, he just hoped to live vicariously by watching other dudes experience a freedom he felt he could never have.
Scott sighed. “I should’ve come in here thirty years ago. My life might have turned out totally different.” He barely realized that he was saying these words aloud.
With a twinkle in his eye, Trey nodded. “I think I’ve figured out exactly what you need.” He moved down the bar and selected a key from the ring that hung from his leather belt. Unlocking a hidden cabinet under the cash register, he extracted an ornate bottle half-full of an amber liquid which almost looked to be glowing. He carried it down the bar to Scott, along with a glass.
“What’s this?” Scott asked, eyeing the bottle curiously.
“Something different and special, just as you requested. 21-year-old whiskey. Very rare. I think you’ll love it.”
Trey removed the glass stopper from the bottle, and a rich oaky scent immediately wafted toward Scott. He practically swooned. “Mmm, I like it already.”
Trey carefully poured half an inch of the precious liquid into the glass and slid it toward Scott, hovering his hand above the glass and saying playfully, “First, I’m going to need to see an I.D.”
Scott nervously pulled his wallet from his back pocket and was fumbling for his driver’s license when he had the realization that Trey was obviously joking. Scott forced a strained chuckle to suggest that he was onto the joke all along. “Yeah, right. Have you had your eyes checked lately?” He pulled out a twenty and placed it on the bar, but Trey backed away, palms forward, like a blackjack dealer ending his shift.
“On me. Happy birthday.”
Scott shrugged happily, never foolish enough to turn down a free drink. He picked up the glass and raised it toward his lips, pausing a moment to give Trey an appreciative nod. The aroma grew stronger and more intoxicating as the whiskey got closer to his nose. He took a sip, amazed by its smoothness, with only a slight burn as it slid down his throat. His tastebuds tingled as they detected hints of orange and vanilla, while his other senses were overwhelmed by an enveloping warmth. Somehow the whiskey reminded him of the smell of burning autumn leaves and the cozy feel of huddling under a handmade quilt on a snowy night. He continued to sip until the glass had been drained. The music in the club became muffled as Scott had the uncanny sensation of being wrapped in a warm cocoon, as if he had been transported back into the safety and innocence of the womb. A smile spread across his face as he leaned back, surrendering to the whiskey’s blissful spell. He could swear that time had stopped and he was floating in midair. For one perfect moment, all of his anxieties had been washed away.
He was free.
Then, as if a two-by-four had been slammed into the back of his head, Scott was jolted back to full consciousness. His eyes popped open, giving him two overlapping views of the ceiling which gradually merged into one. A craggy-faced man with the crew cut and demeanor of a drill sergeant leaned into his field of vision, barking, “You okay, kid?”
Scott quickly assessed his situation. Other than being sprawled on his back on a sticky barroom floor, he felt remarkably good. The vibration from whacking his head onto the floor was even dissipating quickly. Crew-Cut and a chunky guy in a royal-blue tank top each grabbed an arm and hoisted Scott to his feet with remarkable ease, holding him in place as he regained his bearings. Scott wobbled unsteadily, his center of gravity feeling off. He gestured that he was okay, only to fall forward when they released their grip. Scott braced his hands against the bar and caught himself. “I’m fine,” he declared, sounding like he was trying to convince himself.
“You scared me, kid,” Crew-Cut said, more annoyed than concerned. “Where’d you even come from?”
“Huh? I was just sitting here, having a drink.” He looked at the bar, but the empty glass and bottle of whiskey were no longer there. He couldn’t even see a wet circle to indicate where the glass might have been resting. Scott glanced at the floor to see if the glass had fallen with him and shattered, but all he could see was his outline, snow-angel style, in the sawdust which covered the floor. Funny, Scott didn’t remember seeing that sawdust when he came in.
Turning his attention back to the bar, he was amazed how busy the place had gotten all of a sudden. Guys were squeezed tightly together down the full length of the bar, and the dance floor was packed as strobe lights flashed and the speakers blasted Prince’s recording of 1999. Scott craned his neck, scanning the crowd.
“Lookin’ for something?” Crew-Cut asked as he returned to his post behind the bar.
Crew-Cut was puzzled. “Whattaya need a tray for?”
“No. Trey, your bartender. He was just here.”
Crew-Cut crossed his wiry arms, pushing together his pecs under his plain-white tee. “We ain’t got no bartender named Trey. Only one bartender here and that’s me. You sure you’re okay, kid?”
Scott was baffled by Trey’s inexplicable disappearance and by this guy’s insistence on calling him “kid”. If anything, Crew-Cut was younger than him, although Scott had to admit that it was refreshing for a stranger to call him something besides “sir” for a change.
As Prince gave way to Natalie Cole’s version of Pink Cadillac, Scott took a closer look at the crowd. Lots of white slacks and sleeveless pastel tees. Everyone’s hair seemed to be either blow-dried or Jheri-curled. Scott was impressed by their authenticity and shouted over the music to Crew-Cut, “So, I guess this Eighties Night?”
Crew-Cut cupped a hand to his ear, then barked dismissively with a sweep of his arm, “This look like Ladies’ Night to you?”
Scott replied emphatically, “No, Eighties Night!”
“Kid, what’s the matter with you? Every night is Eighties Night.” Crew-Cut was exasperated, dealing with this guy. “C’mon, you want a drink or what?”
“Sure, can I have a Corona with a lemon wedge in the top?” Scott asked without a moment’s thought.
Crew-Cut rolled his eyes at the order. “Sure thing, kid. Lemme see some I.D. first.”
Scott laughed. This I.D. check business must be a running gag here. Going along with the joke, he reached toward his back pocket, only to discover he had no wallet… nor a back pocket. All he felt was smooth fabric stretched across the curve of his butt. Startled, he looked down. What he saw made his knees buckle. He had to grab the edge of the bar to keep from falling.
His relaxed jeans and business shirt had vanished, replaced by white spandex short-shorts and a sleeveless tee the color of Maraschino cherries. Even more startling, this new wardrobe was wrapped around a trim, muscular body. Wide-eyed, Scott’s head swiveled to look in the mirror behind the bar, only to notice that all of the bar’s walls were now covered in mirrors, and they all showed him the same reflection of a kid with a thick head of blond curls and a youthful face that Scott recognized instantly, like a long-lost friend. His jaw fell slack as he took in the sight.
He was young again.
Maybe everyone looks better if you strip away the wrinkles and extra pounds and other accumulations of age, but Scott was shocked to realize that his younger self was downright cute. He’d always considered himself decent looking, but never felt even his best features measured up to those of the truly handsome men he had met.
“Hey, pretty boy, stop admirin’ yourself and fork over some I.D.,” Crew-Cut demanded.
Flustered, Scott had the sudden awareness of something heavy hanging around his neck. He stuck a hand through the collar of his shirt and pulled out a plastic sleeve suspended from a leather lanyard, a makeshift replacement for a wallet when your wardrobe had no pockets. Inside the plastic were a driver’s license, a student I.D. and several haphazardly folded bills. Scott slid the driver’s license out of the casing and handed it to Crew-Cut, who studied it closely, then looked up with a glint in his eye. “Hey, boys,” he announced in a loud voice, “look what we got here.”
Scott swallowed as everyone within earshot turned their attention in his direction. He was mortified to be standing essentially in his underwear, encircled by dozens of men with their eyes fixed on him.
“We got us,” Crew-Cut shouted, pausing dramatically, “… a birthday boy!”
The crowd let out a whoop and spontaneously began to sing a slightly drunken but boisterous version of “Happy Birthday”. When they reached the third line, everyone paused after the word “dear”, waiting to be told the birthday boy’s name. Scott squeaked out his name, which seemingly everyone transformed into “Scotty” when they sang it. Scott hadn’t been called “Scotty” since he was six, but he kinda liked the sound of it coming from this all-male chorale. When the song concluded, Scott found himself at the center of a jubilant huddle, as these total strangers hugged him, kissed him on the cheeks and lips, and gave his butt a prolonged series of enthusiastic pats and pinches.
When Scott finally emerged from the scrum, his hair disheveled and his face bright red, he saw a Corona with lemon on the bar before him. He moved to get some money, but Crew-Cut just shook his head. “Your money’s no good tonight,” he said, handing the license back to Scott. “Happy 21st, Scotty.”
Scott thanked the bartender, took the card and studied it. It was definitely his I.D. with his actual birthday, but the photo depicted him as he now appeared, with bountiful unruly curls and a goofy smile on his face. In his memory, he had never had hair that long or an expression that carefree. He recognized the address as that of the off-campus house he had shared with three buddies during his senior year. The vital statistics seemed about right except for the weight, which was easily eighty pounds less than when he had entered the bar… but ten pounds more than he remembered weighing in college. Scott had been a bookish and sedentary student, but this toned body was clearly that of a dedicated runner.
By now, Scott was certain that he was hallucinating, wondering if there had been a mezcal worm lurking in the bottom of that scotch bottle. That seemed like a much more reasonable explanation than that a shot of 21-year-old whiskey had actually made him 21 years old again. But other than a slight sense of discombobulation and dizziness, everything felt absolutely real to Scott. He pushed the lemon wedge down the neck of the Corona bottle and tossed back its contents in a single swallow. He’d forgotten how much he missed the taste of beer, even one as anemic as Corona.
“All right!” cheered a voice from behind Scott as a heavy hand landed with a slap on Scott’s shoulder. “Shemp, give Scotty another Corona, on me!” Crew-Cut, who apparently answered to the name Shemp, responded to the request.
Scott turned around to say “Thank you” and found himself face to face with a bare chest thickly forested with dark curly hair. He took a step back and tilted his head to get a look at the towering figure. The man was easily six foot four with a buzz cut and a heavy black mustache. His shirtless torso and arms were naturally muscular but not particularly cut, and his long legs were encased in fringed black leather pants stuffed into thigh-high black boots. The big man flashed a sparkling grin and said, “My pleasure, boy,” in a booming voice that vibrated Scott’s testicles.
Scott realized he was sporting a major erection which his form-fitting shorts put clearly on display for everyone to see. From the gleam in his eyes, the big guy had definitely noticed it. Flustered, Scott grabbed the fresh bottle of Corona and excused himself from the awkward silence he and the leather man were sharing. Scott scanned the club frantically for the restrooms. When he finally located them, he noted that both doors read “MEN”. He chose one at random and entered, relieved to find it empty.
Scott braced his hands against the counter, closed his eyes and took a long, deep breath, in hopes that, when he opened his eyes, everything would be back to normal. But as he squinted at his reflection, it was the alternate-reality version of his 21-year-old self who squinted back. Scott chugged down some beer, ran the faucet and splashed cold water on his face, but still no change. “This is real,” he muttered softly, watching the droplets of water trickle down his face. And that realization – and his acceptance of it – brought a smile to his face and a surge in his shorts. Glancing down, he saw that his hard-on had grown further and a small wet spot was spreading across the fabric as pre-cum oozed from his cock.
Somehow, impossible as it might seem, he was 21 again, but with a difference. This time, he wasn’t petrified of his sexuality. He was in a gay bar on his 21st birthday… and had never felt more comfortable, more welcomed. He turned sideways and admired the curvature of his ass, spreading a palm across it to feel the solidity of his glutes. His cock stiffened even more. He thought of ducking into one of the doorless stalls to jerk off and relieve the escalating pressure, but he frankly was warming the idea of walking back out into the bar with a visible boner. He paused to look in the mirror again, then peeled off his shirt to reveal solid pecs and a shallow six-pack. “Nice,” he said with a cocky grin, tucking the shirt into the rear waistband of his shorts, giving the appearance that he had sprouted a long red tail. He fussed with his hair to make sure it looked perfect. He slammed down the rest of the Corona and chucked it into the trash, then swung open the door, eager to see where this night would lead.
As Scott stepped out of the men’s room, the opening notes of David Bowie’s Let’s Dance blared from the sound system. Scott was eager to follow Bowie’s advice. He had always been a wallflower, too afraid that he would look silly or undignified if he dropped his inhibitions and let loose on the dance floor. He didn’t feel so scared tonight, but as he scoped out the crowd for likely dance partners, he realized a bit of liquid courage couldn’t hurt.
Scott squeezed his way back to the bar, growing ever more aroused as the bare skin of his chest slid along that of other shirtless clubgoers and the bulge in his shorts bumped through the hills and valleys of their protruding butts. Back in the future, he hadn’t had an erection like this in quite some time, and even then he had needed the help of a little blue pill. Suddenly having the eager responsive penis of his youth again was like being reunited with a beloved long-lost pet, only Scott had spent far more quality time with his dick than with any dog or cat that had passed through the family home.
When he finally made it to the bar, he signaled Shemp, who raised a “gimme a minute” finger. He saw the bottom portion of an anchor tattoo peeking its way out from Shemp’s t-shirt sleeve, a relic from the ornery bartender’s service in the Navy if Scott had to guess. Scott realized that it was about the only ink visible in the entire establishment, aside from the blue circle with an arrow emerging from it which was stamped on the back of everyone’s hand at admittance. Even Scott had a stamp, even though had no memory of entering the club… at least, not in this century.
Scott was amazed to be back in a time before every hip young guy or girl felt obligated to proclaim their individuality by getting something instantly regrettable permanently scribbled on their flesh. Come to think of it, Scott couldn’t spot many piercings in the crowd either, aside from a few discreet hoops dangling from a few right ears. Nor did he see any intentionally shaved heads; those who were going bald had short haircuts or unsightly combovers or just lived with it. He also noticed that hardly anyone had the kind of ultra-ripped gym-honed physique which would become society’s expectation of the ideal male – and lead to considerable feelings of inferiority among those, like Scott, unable or unwilling to put in the time, effort and/or steroid consumption to achieve that fully engorged look. He could just imagine a future musclehead witnessing this assemblage and asking them as a group, “Bros, do you even lift?”
Scott felt a bit smug that the lithe runner’s body he now inhabited made him one of the more defined specimens on display, even though he had no memory of the effort it had taken to get into this shape. He was acutely aware that his presence was drawing even more attention since he had re-emerged from the restroom bare from the waist up. For someone who was accustomed to going through life barely noticed, being hungrily sized up like a piece of meat was proving to be kind of a kick.
“Okay, kid,” Shemp asked gruffly, “whattaya want now?”
Scott felt like having something light and fun. “How about a strawberry daiquiri?”
Shemp’s disdain for any so-called “drink” that involved anything more complex than alcohol and water was easily discernible from his expression, but he was there to serve, not to judge. He called out, “Who wants to treat the birthday boy to a strawberry daiquiri?”
Halfway down the bar, one hand shot upward, clutching a five-dollar bill. Although Scott couldn’t see anything of his benefactor past the wrist, he cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted, “Thank you!” hoping he could be heard over David Bowie and the chattering crowd.
He then noticed a profusion of red hair poking its way between the shoulders of two taller men. A freckled face followed, smiling in Scott’s direction. “My pleasure!” the redhead shouted. He then receded back into the crowd and started to move toward Scott, who could track the ginger’s progress through the ripple of jostling bodies. When the redhead finally pushed his way into view, Scott’s pride in his new body took a severe hit. The young man was a couple inches shorter than Scott, but as prodigiously muscled as any fanatical gym rat from the 21st century. Although his face was engagingly boyish, with intense green eyes and an upturned nose beneath straight hair moussed into haphazard spikes, his body exploded with masculinity. Thick well-defined arms hung down from wide rounded shoulders, and a green fishnet tank top offered a barely obscured view of the topography of his carved torso on which a massive chest tapered toward a waist even narrower than Scott’s. “Happy birthday,” he said with a cocky grin. “I’m Art.”
Scott didn’t know much about Art, but he knew what he liked. Grinning like a dope, he extended his hand, which Art shook vigorously. His initial squeeze was painfully tight, but Art realized it instantly and eased his grip. His palm felt rough against Scott’s, like one hand-sized callus.
Shemp arrived with the icy red daiquiri and told Scott, “You really oughta be buyin’ a drink for the champ here.”
“Champ?” Scott asked. “What of? Bodybuilding?”
Shemp bragged on Art’s behalf, “Artie won all-around at the college gymnastics meet today.”
Scott leaned back in amazement. “Wow! That’s amazing, man! Congrats!” Art acted humble, shrugging his grapefruit-sized deltoids. Scott picked up his drink and raised it in a toast. “Here’s to you.”
Art lifted his glass of club soda and clinked it with Scott’s, saying “Thanks.”
Scott took a sip of his daiquiri through a straw and licked his lips. “Mmm, that’s tasty. Reminds me of Funny Face. Remember Funny Face? They had that flavor, Freckle-Face Strawberry?” Scott immediately felt like an idiot for expecting a kid to get such a dated reference.
Art cringed. “Remember it? Whattaya think the bullies called me all through grade school?”
Scott now felt just as stupid for not realizing that, in his current reality, he and this “kid” were the same age and likely had tons of common reference points. “Sorry,” he said apologetically, “didn’t mean to bring up bad memories.”
“No sweat, man,” Art said, flexing an arm to make his biceps pop. “I’m pretty sure I could kick those guys’ asses now.”
They each took another sip from their drinks as they sized each other up. From the speakers, David Bowie faded out, gradually replaced by a funky beat and synthesized handclaps. Scott recognized the song instantly and was about to say something when Art said, “Do you wanna dance?” before Scott had the chance. Scott nodded and gestured for Art to lead the way, following him through the crowd by keeping his eyes riveted on the gluteal mounds shifting beneath the back pockets of Art’s butt-hugging jeans. It had felt strange and wonderful to be asked to dance by another guy, but then Scott had never been the most alpha of men. Amanda had even been the one to propose marriage.
By the time they reached the dance floor and Whitney Houston was declaring at full volume that she wanted to dance with somebody, Scott’s heart was beating so hard, he was certain Art would be able to hear it over the music. Scott began to swivel cautiously to avoid sloshing his daiquiri. He found his feeble dance moves desperately inadequate compared to the athletic grace with which Art’s muscle-packed body moved. Normally Scott would have felt content simply to gawk unashamedly at the young hunk’s compact form at such close range, but he knew this was no time to be a passive observer. He had to take advantage of this miraculous opportunity he’d been given to change a lifelong pattern of hesitation and regret. His only problem was that he couldn’t think of a thing to say to Art which wasn’t some paraphrase of “Goddamn, you’re hot.” Finally, he came up with a sociological observation. “I think it’s great to see a college athlete like you who’s brave enough to come out.”
Art regarded Scott quizzically. “Are you fuckin’ kidding me? I just wanted to celebrate tonight, so I decided to risk it, but if coach ever got wind that I hung out in a place like this, I’d be off the team like that!” He snapped his fingers with a flourish, in perfect time with the song.
“But that’s not right. You should be free to be yourself.”
Art looked dismayed. “What planet are you from, man? You think your coach wouldn’t flip out if he learned you were here?”
“My coach?” Now it was Scott’s turn to be dismayed.
Art made a fluid gesture toward Scott’s toned figure. “I figured you must be on the swim team or run track or something.”
“Not that I know of,” Scott said. Art took it as a wisecrack, but Scott was just being honest. If he was part of any organized sports, that fact was absent from his memory. In fact, he didn’t seem to possess knowledge of anything that would have preceded the arrival of this version of himself at the club tonight. When he thought of his childhood and college days, he still could only recall someone who was sexually confused and painfully bashful, nothing that would have led him to be bold enough to enter this club, let alone be dancing in nothing but white booty shorts and sneakers opposite someone as fine as Art. He seemed to be rebooting his life from scratch, with a considerable upgrade to the chassis. Even if it only turned out to be a remarkably vivid dream, he did not want to screw up this second chance.
The cumulative effect of the evening’s alcohol was starting to loosen Scott up. He took one last guzzle of his daiquiri, then set down the glass on an unoccupied table and moved closer to Art, bumping and grinding to the music. Although he lacked his partner’s finesse, he overcompensated with overenthusiasm. When the music crossfaded from Whitney Houston into Bad by Michael Jackson, Scott laughed grimly and remarked with a slur in his voice, “Jeesh, doesn’t this place play anyone who’s still alive?” He realized a split-second later that, while this would have been a fair observation when he started the evening, it made him sound like a crazy person now that he had been deposited smack dab in the Eighties.
Art was puzzled. “Michael Jackson’s not dead. He’s just turning white. God, you’re weird”, he declared. Scott’s stomach churned, afraid he was blowing his shot, but Art just grinned. “Lucky for you, I’m into weird.”
Art unleashed a King-of-Pop-ish “Whoo!” shot his right arm defiantly into the air and launched into a perfect recreation of Michael Jackson’s moves from the song’s video. Every head snap, every hip swivel, every single crotch grab, he had it down. Scott backed away in amazement, and many other dancers stepped back to give Art ample room to strut his stuff. The young dynamo obviously relished the attention, and the instinct that propelled him to excel in gymnastics now pushed him to move beyond imitation into an exuberant free-form improvisation which intermingled the video’s dance steps with handstands, cartwheels, and splits. Scott watched from the sidelines, awestruck. As the song ended, Art clenched an upraised fist, froze in position and demanded to know, “Who’s bad?” The club erupted in applause.
As Art was engulfed in a swarm of bodies rushing forward to compliment him, Scott receded meekly into the crowd. For years, he had dreamt that some fit young jock would be attracted to him, but no way did he believe he deserved someone as spectacular as Art. As Scott turned back toward the bar, he heard someone calling, “Scotty! Where you goin’?”
Scott looked over his shoulder and saw Art waving him back. He pushed through the crowd until he was standing beside Art who was panting heavily from his performance, his skin shining with perspiration under the multicolored spotlights. Art swung a sweaty arm around Scott and pulled him tight to his side. “What’d you think of that?” Art asked, eager for approval.
Searching his mind for an adequate compliment to such a bravura display, Scott finally said, “It was… bad!”
Art smirked and boosted himself on his toes to kiss Scott on the lips. Scott was so stunned, he didn’t even think to kiss back, his lips as lifeless as a mackeral. Art introduced his well-wishers to “Scotty, the birthday boy,” diverting some of their attention in Scott’s direction. Scott found it fairly easy to field the standard casual small-talk questions coming his way. Yeah, he was studying at the university. Yup, he was a senior. When asked his major, he naturally was going to say business administration, but for some reason he heard the word “drama” come out of his mouth. He laughed with embarrassment and said, “Sorry, what I meant to say was ‘drama.’” While the others laughed at his non-correction correction, Scott scratched his head, confused. As a kid, he’d had the occasional daydream about being an actor, and he did audition for a play once in high school, but his father had refused to let “any son of mine” do something so “fruity” and he had to drop out of the production. So what just made him tell these strangers that he was a drama major? Was that all part of the fantasy he was getting to live out tonight?
Before he could sort out his thoughts, Scott felt Art tugging him back onto the dance floor. “‘Scuse us, guys,” Art said to his admirers, sweeping Scott to the center of the crowd. Scott noted that it was yet another dead singer, but he kept that observation to himself. Frankly, he was finding it hard to form rational thoughts, as Art squeezed Scott’s ribcage in his python-sized arms and thrust his crotch provocatively against Scott’s reinvigorated erection. As the song reached its chorus, Art accompanied George Michael in declaring “I want your sex!”
Scott responded, “The feeling is mutual,” lowered his chin onto Art’s shoulder, relaxing his body so that it moved fluidly in unison with Art’s every gyration. Scott slipped a hand beneath Art’s mesh shirt and felt his way upward across his chiseled abs toward the gymnast’s erect nipples. In response, Art stuck his hand down the back of Scott’s tight shorts and slid his index finger down the trench of Scott’s ass crack. Scott shuddered, afraid he would blow his load right there on the dance floor. “Can we go someplace a little more private?” he pleaded breathily into Art’s ear. Art panted affirmatively.
Art smoothly maneuvered himself around Scott and slowly edged them off the dance floor, then dragged them down a dark hallway toward a door. Scott dragged his feet when he noticed the red lettering on the door. “It says ‘Emergency Exit Only’!”
Art raised his eyebrows and said, “I’d say this qualifies.” He flung the door open and yanked Scott outside into the alley, then pushed Scott roughly against a brick wall. “Shemp better not ever fix that alarm,” Art said as he tugged downward on Scott’s waistband.
Scott desperately wanted to give in to the passion of the moment, but the rough texture of the bricks scraping at his bare skin was causing him too much pain. He was gagging from the stench rising from the dumpster of a Chinese restaurant across the alley, and he spotted a homeless guy slumped beside the dumpster, observing their actions with great interest. “Hold it!” he begged. “There’s someone watching us.”
Art continued to push himself against Scott. “Yeah, that’s Harold. Don’t worry, he doesn’t mind.” Art called out a cheery “Hey, Harold,” and got a smear of drunken gibberish in reply.
“Well, maybe I mind,” Scott said, stiffening.
Art stopped and leaned back to look at Scott’s expression. “Are you fuckin’ serious?” he gasped between breaths.
“This just doesn’t feel right,” Scott said, surprised by his own behavior, wondering why he couldn’t simply go along with the fantasy. But it no longer felt like a fantasy. It felt far too real. “After all these years, I guess I wanted something more… romantic.” Art would never have believed just how many decades Scott had been waiting for this.
Art slumped in disbelief. “You saying you never done this before?” Scott shook his head apologetically. Art slammed his hand against a metal fuse box. “You coulda fooled me. You sure seemed into it in there.”
“I was! I am! It’s just…” He looked down and noticed a rat scurrying away from them, trying to get away from the noise of their fight. “Can’t we go back to your place or something?”
Art scoffed. “Riiiight. Like my roommates would be totally cool with me bringing home some dude to fuck. And I’m sure word would never get back to Coach.”
Scott was about to suggest that they go to his place, but other than seeing a familiar address on his driver’s license, he had no idea how his current living situation might have changed in this reality. “We could get a room at a motel!” Scott offered cheerfully.
“You got the bucks to throw away on a motel? ‘Cause I don’t.”
In the future, Scott had a posh hotel suite awaiting him for the night, charged to his AmEx gold card, but the few remaining dollars in the plastic sleeve hanging from his neck wouldn’t get them very far here in the Eighties.
Art sneered, displaying an arrogance Scott hadn’t seen before, or perhaps had overlooked while admiring his musculature. “I’m not lookin’ for some romantic night with candles and shit. I’m just lookin’ for a quick blow job. You know how many guys in there wish they were in your position right now?”
Scott knew. He’d spent his life wishing he was the one in this position. “So why’d you pick me?”
“I dunno. ‘Cause you were cute. And new. Anybody in there worth fuckin’, I already fucked.” Art rebuttoned his 501s, tugged his tank top down and swept a hand through his spiky hair, then walked toward the door he had left ajar.
Scott called out desperately, “I can still give you that blowjob if you really want.”
Art paused in the doorway and said, “Thanks, but I think I’ll find someone who doesn’t still have their learner’s permit.” He shouted, “Night, Harold! Maybe see ya later!” then stepped inside, letting the door slam shut behind him. The emergency exit door had no external knob, leaving Scott trapped in the alley with the homeless man. This was not where he had hoped the night was leading.
Furious at himself, Scott kicked over a trash can, scattering its contents across the pavement. Feeling the chilly night air against his skin, he reached back for the sleeveless tee he had tucked into his waistband, but it must have fallen out somewhere in the club. As he crossed his arms for warmth and began to walk toward the street, he heard some words burbling from the homeless guy’s mouth. Scott paused to listen.
“He’s built,” murmured Harold, waggling a shaky finger toward the door where Art had gone inside, “but he’s a fucking asshole.”
Scott laughed. He extracted a dollar from his plastic sleeve and slipped it into Harold’s hand. Harold smiled appreciatively, displaying all three teeth that he still possessed. As he walked away, Scott heard Harold croak. “For another buck, I’ll take care of that hard-on for ya.”
That really was not the way Scott saw the night heading. “No, but thank you,” he shouted as he strode quickly down the alley.
When he reached the street, a shiver of shock shot through Scott’s system. What had happened to his car? An ‘85 Chevette was in the spot where he had parked his rented Prius. His anger dissipated quickly when the realization entered his foggy mind that the rental car was undoubtedly still safely where he left it… 29 years from now. In college, he could never afford to own a car. He instinctively reached toward his front pocket for his cell phone, but found neither. He obviously wouldn’t be calling a taxi or an Uber tonight either.
There was a house key stuffed among the loose bills and I.D. cards in his would-be wallet. Presumably it fit the lock to the place that matched the address on his driver’s license. When he reached the street corner, he paused to get his bearings, then began the two-mile trudge toward his college apartment, wondering what surprises awaited him there.
Inside the confines of the Rusty Nail, it had been easy for Scott to dismiss what was happening as a hallucination, despite how genuine it felt. After all, he was inside a club where he’d never been before, surrounded by complete strangers. He had no real memories to compare it to. Now that he was outside, he recognized everything – and it was exactly as it had been 29 years earlier.
Billboards advertising cigarettes loomed overhead, as did one of Max Headroom promoting new Coke. Boxy ‘80s cars chugged past him on the roads, intermingled with the occasional station wagon, a couple original Beetles, and even some Pacers and Gremlins still limping along. One unfortunate driver of a Yugo had stalled in the middle of an intersection and beckoned to Scott, asking if he would push the car out of traffic. Scott happily obliged, loving the feel of strength coursing through his youthful muscles. He reckoned he possessed more horsepower in his body than the poor sap’s Yugoslavian-made pile of soon-to-be scrap metal.
Invigorated, Scott started to jog the route back to his apartment, delighting in the spring in his step that propelled a body eighty pounds lighter than the one in which he had begun the night. He gradually picked up the pace until he was sprinting, arms pumping furiously, legs flying so quickly that his feet made only incidental contact with the pavement. If he wasn’t on the school’s track team, he surely should be. He still had no memory of the years of training it must have taken to get into such prime shape, but the further he ran, the more natural it felt.
He zoomed past video-game arcades and working phone booths, defunct chain restaurants and record shops that had closed long ago, mom-and-pop rental stores that offered both VHS and Beta, and not a single Starbucks. Scott felt instantly at home, like he belonged here, a sensation that he rarely experienced in his modern life. His heart leapt when he spotted his favorite pizza joint looming ahead, lights blazing inside. He slowed his pace to a trot and lingered in front of the pizzeria, amazed that he barely felt winded.
Swinging open the front door, he was greeted by a blast of heat and the pungent scent of oregano that immediately took him back to… well, to now. “Oh my god,” Scott gasped softly to himself. “It’s all still here.” The jittery fluorescent lights. The jukebox that hadn’t added a new 45 since Strangers In The Night. The framed photos of celebrities the proprietor assumed were Italian, inexplicably including people like Desi Arnaz and Zero Mostel. The black and gray floor tiles which, if you spilled some 7-Up on them, were revealed to be red and white once you cut through the years of accumulated grime. The yellowing menu board over the ovens from which a third of the letters had fallen off, turning deciphering your dining options into something of a game of Hangman. Over the years, customers had grown used to discovering stray plastic letters embedded in their pizza and had kept them as cherished souvenirs. Scott still had a slightly melted Z tucked in a junk drawer somewhere at home.
He walked as if in a trance toward the “Eight Ball Deluxe” pinball machine in the far corner. He had probably fed enough quarters into this sucker to have purchased it outright, and its pictures of cowboys and cowgirls with literally painted-on jeans were more recognizable to him than most of his college classmates would be. He automatically reached for a quarter, again forgetting that his white shorts were pocketless. As he looked down, he discovered that the perspiration from his run had practically turned the fabric transparent… and made his lack of any underwear extremely apparent.
A couple of giggling teenage girls sharing a nearby table had noticed this phenomenon before Scott did and were covering their eyes with their hands, while sneaking furtive peeks in the gaps between their fingers. Scott decided to give the girls a treat, stretching his arms unnecessarily and clenching his ass cheeks tightly. Catching a glimpse of his own reflection in the front windows, Scott could feel his cock swell back to full size. He contemplated ducking into the men’s room to finally relieve the pressure that had been building all night, but he was interrupted by another sound he hadn’t heard in nearly three decades. “Hey, you! Mister No-Shirt! Get out!”
Scott turned slowly and stood mesmerized, as if he was seeing a ghost. A swarthy, stocky, bushy-mustached ghost in a sweat-drenched tank top and sauce-stained apron. “Mr. Galaga!” Scott shouted with genuine glee. 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. He remembered hearing that Mr. Galaga died of a massive heart attack shortly after Scott graduated, and the place had closed soon thereafter. For nostalgia’s sake, Scott had actually dropped into this same location earlier in the day and picked up a Jamba Juice, never imagining that several hours later, he’d be setting foot in his old haunt exactly as he remembered it.
“It’s so great to see you again,” Scott said, moving toward the counter with a fond croak in his voice.
“Yah, yah, yah, you read the sign? It says ‘No shirt, get de fock out!’” Mr. Galaga was beloved as much for his short temper as for his delicious pizza.
“Okay, okay, can I just get a slice of pepperoni to go? Oh, and lemme try some of the orange stuff,” Scott said excitedly, pointing to the orangeade dispenser on the counter which perpetually whooshed its contents inside a clear plastic vat. It was a constant presence, yet Scott had never known anyone, including himself, to order it. Now, he would finally get his chance.
“Okay, fine, then you scram!” Mr. Galaga slid a slice of pie into an oven to warm it up, while the weary, stoic, perpetually silent Mrs. Galaga filled a waxed-paper cup with the bright orange liquid. As Scott waited for his order, he noticed out of the corner of his eye that the young girls were again eyeing him, so he flexed the biceps of his left arm, cupped his visible erection with his right hand, and sent an air kiss in their direction. They turned away, burying their faces in their hands to muffle their squeals. Scott felt a little guilty for toying with them, but he couldn’t imagine that he’d be in possession of this body for long and was determined to enjoy it while he did. If he could attract this kind of attention, he could only imagine what it was like to walk around 24/7 looking like Art, able to turn people on instantly with your very presence. Probably no surprise that Art had turned out to be a bit of a prick.
As he was prone to do, Scott was already second-guessing his earlier actions, wondering if he’d forever regret missing his chance with Art. But as someone who’d never been into casual sex to begin with, a gay bar in the late ‘80s was probably not the smartest place to start being promiscuous. Fear of disease had been as important a factor as the more general social stigma against homosexuality in pushing Scott toward marrying Amanda and staying closeted all these years.
Surrounded by the sights, sounds and smells of Galaga’s pizza place, Scott had a sudden realization: he had eaten here the first time he turned 21! He and Amanda had met here for dinner, since it was his favorite spot and neither of them could afford anyplace fancy. Afterwards, they saw Dirty Dancing, during which Amanda fell asleep and Scott found himself lamenting that he would never look as good in a black tank top as Patrick Swayze. As it occurred to him that he probably could pull it off in this body, he wondered whether, a mile away, the “real” him was watching that movie with Amanda at this very moment. Or was the nearly-naked guy currently waiting for his slice the only version of Scott that existed now?
“Hey, Mr. G,” Scott asked, “do you remember if I was in here earlier tonight? A little skinnier? Shorter haircut? Wearing, ya know, clothes? Woulda been with a pretty brunette girl?” Scott smiled wistfully. Despite the dead end their marriage had been, Scott did always find his wife stunning. For the longest time, he’d considered it a personal failing, no matter whether deep down he was gay, bi or whatever, that he couldn’t become properly aroused by anyone so objectively attractive as her. Now he figured that it had required someone as beautiful as Amanda for him to be able to get it up for a woman at all.
Mr. Galaga was annoyed by the question, slapping Scott’s piping-hot slice onto a flimsy paper plate. “What you mean, was you here? You don’t remember? How I supposed to remember? Keeds come, go, all de time. I doan remember de fock. Here, take you slice, get out.” Scott grabbed his pizza, took the orange drink from the Mrs., slapped a ten on the counter and headed toward the door. Mr. G hollered, “Wait for you change!”
“Keep it,” Scott said. “Buy Mrs. G something nice.” He winked in Mrs. Galaga’s direction and could swear he detected the hint of a grin on her lips. Scott took a bite of pizza and was brought closer to the brink of orgasm than at any point all night. “Good as it always was,” he announced, bumping the front door open with his butt and stepping back onto the sidewalk. He washed down the pizza with a long sip of the orange drink and cringed. It tasted like diluted Tang in which someone had been soaking pennies. He flung the full cup into a bus-stop trash can. Maybe not everything was better in the past.
He could have gobbled down the rest of the slice and run the rest of the way home, but Scott decided to soak up this nostalgic experience fully. Despite the chilly air, he took a leisurely stroll through the heart of the college nightlife district, his barely-clad presence attracting considerable attention from the passing students in their sweaters and windbreakers. He paused in front of a store that sold university-logo clothing and thought of popping in to buy a cheap t-shirt so he could hit one of the campus bars for a birthday drink, but he still had a considerable buzz going from the Rusty Nail and might need a clear head to deal with whatever he might encounter once he got home.
Scott wished his cell phone had made the journey to the past with him, so he could have snapped a few selfies to remember this night by. Then again, he had no idea how long this personal Twilight Zone episode would last or indeed if he would ever get back to the world he had left, except through the day-by-day process of living through the next 29 years. The thought of re-experiencing the anxieties and disappointments of his adult life was almost too scary to contemplate, but if he could learn from those mistakes and behave differently, maybe a do-over wouldn’t be a terrible idea. The mop-headed hunk staring back from the reflection in the store window certainly seemed to have made a head start on fixing some of what Scott had gotten wrong the first time.
Scott loped the rest of the way to his old apartment building, marveling in every detail of the lost world around him. He entered the lobby and bounded up the steps two at a time to the third floor. He took a deep breath before inserting the key, then swung open the door quietly, in hopes of sneaking in unnoticed. He sighed with relief when he discovered the place was dark, but as he carefully closed the door behind him, a light snapped on and a male voice said, flatly and unenthusiastically, “Surprise.”
Scott spun around to discover one of his college roommates, Kevin, stretched out on the living room’s second-hand sofa in gray sweats, half-empty beer bottle in one hand, a floor lamp’s light switch in the other. “Whoa! Hey, Kev! Didn’t think anyone was here.”
“Oh, we’re here all right. We’ve been here all night,” Kevin informed Scott, annoyed. He shouted, “It’s safe to come out now, guys!”
Scott noticed a store-bought “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” sign hanging limply on the wall behind Kevin, having lost one of the tacks that held it in place. At least a dozen empty beer bottles were scattered across the wobbly coffee table, its one slightly short leg shimmed up by a well-thumbed Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition with Elle Macpherson on the cover. Doors opened down the hallway, spilling light from inside the rooms of the apartment’s other two inhabitants who meandered in to offer their own half-hearted birthday greetings.
Scott hadn’t been in touch with any of them in at least twenty-five years, but the roommates were exactly as he remembered them. Criminal justice major Kevin was slovenly as ever, with greasy brown hair, a thatchy beard and the makings of a serious beer gut, none of which ever seemed to hamper his ability to lure willing if undiscerning gals into his bed. Lee, a stick-thin computer programming grad student with short black hair and rimless eyeglasses, shuffled out of his room, dressed even on a Saturday night in black slacks and a white shirt, complete with pocket protector. Straggling in behind Lee was Todd, a wholesomely handsome farm boy with pale blue eyes and dirty blond hair in the same feathered shag that must have driven the girls wild in high school. Looking half-awake or more likely two-thirds-stoned, Todd wore a faded AC/DC shirt, sagging tube socks, and the kind of snug, taint-length gym shorts that modern kids found laughably tiny when watching old NBA footage. Back in the day, Scott had harbored an unspoken crush on the quiet but slyly sarcastic sophomore, and seeing him again instantly reminded Scott why. But he had never felt that they had much in common besides both majoring in business administration – and after tonight, Scott was no longer certain they even shared that similarity.
Feeling more exposed than ever in his curve-hugging white shorts, Scott crossed one arm over his bare chest while draping his other hand downward in a vain attempt to hide his bulging cock. “Is this a surprise party for me? You shouldn’t have.”
“We didn’t,” Kevin said, punctuating his sentence with a belch. “It was Amanda’s idea.”
Lee said, “But she said you blew her off.”
“I did?” Scott asked.
“Yeah,” Todd added, rubbing his red eyes with the heels of his palms, “you were supposed to meet her for dinner at Galaga’s but you never showed.”
Scott scratched his head. Everything was still a blank about the day prior to his crash landing at the Rusty Nail. He did still remember going to Galaga’s with Amanda on his 21st birthday, but the details now seemed to be growing fuzzy. Scott muttered, “I dunno what happened. If I was running late, she shoulda texted me.”
The roommates stared at him blankly. “She shoulda whatted you?” Lee asked. Even a prototypical computer geek like Lee hadn’t heard of something which hadn’t been invented yet.
“I mean, she shoulda called me,” Scott hastily corrected himself.
Todd asked archly, “How could she call you? None of us knew where you were.”
“Oh, right,” Scott said with a nod, suddenly aware how much easier it was to be completely inaccessible in these pre-cell-phone days. Realizing he needed to offer some explanation, not only for his behavior but his wardrobe, Scott said, “I went for a run and I guess I must’ve lost track of time.”
“From five to eleven o’clock?” Todd asked. “That’s a shitload of time to lose track of.”
“I can tell you where he was,” Kevin said, finally propping himself up to a seated position. “He was at a fag bar.”
“What?” Scott exclaimed a smidgen too forcefully. “What are you talking about?” As comfortable as he had been in the Rusty Nail, he somehow knew that he had not been so open around his roommates.
Kevin fancied himself something of a modern, disheveled Sherlock Holmes, or Columbo without the trenchcoat. “Then what’s with that faggy tattoo on that hand you got hangin’ over your boner?”
Scott glanced down and noticed the blue symbol on the back of his hand, which had blurred slightly from his perspiration. “It’s not a tattoo, it’s a hand stamp.”
“Right. From that fag bar on the other side of town.” Kevin relished catching people in a lie. He couldn’t wait to become a detective. “What’s it called again? The Rusty Trombone?”
Scott almost corrected him, but realized that knowing the club’s correct name would only incriminate him further.
“You sure seem to know a lot about this place, Kev,” Todd said with an insinuating smirk. He was an equal-opportunity smartass and could never resist trying to deflate Kevin’s know-it-all pomposity, even when Kevin was right.
“If you must know,” Kevin said defensively, “I’ve seen that before. One of my criminal psych classes has this faggy T.A.”
“‘The Faggy T.A.’? Isn’t that one of those new Disney movies for grown-ups?” Todd grinned, and even Scott had to chuckle.
Kevin wasn’t shaken off the trail. “Every Friday morning, this guy shows up in class hung over with a stamp just like that on his hand. You can tell he tries to scrub it off, but there’s always a trace left.”
Lee looked particularly shocked by this allegation. “Scott, did you really go to one of… those places?”
“Of course he did,” Kevin asserted. “See how guilty he looks? Probably with some of the fags from his acting classes, am I right?”
Scott still had no memories of studying acting and he didn’t think he had been at the Rusty Nail with anyone, so he could still honestly say, “No,” but there was a quiver of equivocation in his voice.
“I saw this comin’,” Kevin said, crossing his arms behind his head with satisfaction. “The minute you switched your major to drama, I knew it was gonna turn you gay.”
Todd scoffed, “You dipshit, people don’t ‘turn gay’.”
“Oh, yeah?” said Kevin, turning his body and his intensity in Todd’s direction. “My uncle Rob. Wife. Six kids. Fireman. Macho as fuck. Comes home one day, tells my aunt Theresa he’s a faggot.” Todd expected more to the story, but Kevin rested his case.
Eager to change the subject, Scott asked a question he desperately needed answered. “So where’s Amanda now? She in my room?”
“No, she went home,” Lee said.
“After you didn’t show at Galaga’s, she came by to see if you were here,” Kevin informed Scott. “Her idea had been that she’d make up some excuse to lure you back here, and we’d surprise you. She hung around for maybe an hour, hoping you’d show up, then she took off.”
“Apparently she grew weary of our sophisticated banter,” Todd said with mock bewilderment. “Or maybe she was just driven away by Kevin’s incessant farting.”
“Shit, I better call her,” Scott said. It was unlike him to be so rude, so thoughtless. Then again, he’d done a lot of things unlike himself tonight. Who knew what other uncharacteristic behavior might have preceded his arrival at the Rusty Nail?
“I think this requires a little more than a phone call, buddy,” Todd advised.
“Yah, Scott, she was really P-ed off,” Lee said, still maintaining his charmingly nerdy resistance to swearing.
“You’re right,” Scott said, “I gotta go talk to her.” He turned toward the door.
“Hey, Rock Hudson,” Kevin said, “if you’re gonna go tell your girlfriend you’re not a fruit, you might wanna put on some men’s clothes.”
Scott turned back in Kevin’s direction, prepared to lay into him for his homophobic attitude and non-stop stream of offensive language, but that would have to wait. First, he needed to change into something that didn’t scream so loudly, “Amanda, guess who ditched you and went to a gay bar tonight?” He crossed the living room toward the hallway, noting in passing that Lee had, perhaps without realizing it or even meaning to, pressed himself against the wall to avoid making physical contact with Scott. At least Todd seemed chill about the whole situation, although Scott could easily attribute that to the perpetual sweet-smelling cloud which lingered in Todd’s room.
Scott entered his own room, shutting the door so he could gather his thoughts. Like the rest of the apartment, everything here was largely as it existed in his memory, although the subtle differences were telling. Where he would have expected to see a pile of Business Week magazines beside his bed were now copies of Runner’s World, and in place of the business textbooks which were always lined up next to the IBM clone on his desk were unfamiliar volumes with titles like An Actor Prepares and The Actor’s Book of Movie Monologues. Tacked to a corkboard alongside his class schedule was a Xeroxed flyer promoting a production of Equus. His poster for Top Gun was still there, but it had now been moved from the back of his closet door to the ceiling directly over his bed. His laundry basket reeked, its contents primarily running clothes and jockstraps, even though Scott couldn’t recall wearing a jock since high-school phys-ed.
But the biggest changes were inside his closet. Scott had never been a particularly adventurous dresser, sticking to earth-toned or plaid-flannel shirts, and blue jeans or corduroys. Those options were still present, but tucked further back he could see a number of more fashionable and revealing outfits, any one of which would have instantly confirmed Kevin’s suspicions. It was hard to imagine the old Scott going into a store and buying any of them, and impossible to envision him wearing them, but this Scott found himself incredibly curious to see how his slim, toned body would look in, say, a midriff-baring bright-orange muscle shirt with black cut-offs, although he found it easier to pass on slipping into the parachute pants in the pastel shades of rainbow sherbet. However, none of those more exotic get-ups were appropriate for the immediate mission ahead of him. Right now, he needed to look like the boring, risk-averse Scott who Amanda would presumably recognize.
Scott grabbed the two hangers nearest to him, coming out with a red-and-white-checked button-down and off-white painter’s pants, neither of which he remembered from his college wardrobe. He kicked off his sneakers and sweat socks and wriggled out of his damp shorts, flinging them in with the rest of his dirty laundry. His rigid cock flopped before him, coming to rest paralleling the floor. Scott paused a moment to appreciate his naked self in the mirror, never having possessed a body in such prime condition. He made a silent vow to start working out his older flabby body, assuming he ever returned to it from the bizarro universe he was currently inhabiting. He pursed his lips, placed his hands on his hips, and thrust his crotch forward coquettishly. “God, you are so gay,” he thought to himself, slipping his right hand around his cock and gently stroking it, marveling in its sensitivity and responsiveness. Maybe he had time for a quick jerk-off before heading out to see Amanda.
“Yo, Scott, I was thinkin’… ,” Todd said, swinging open the door. Scott frantically turned away, mooning Todd as he slapped his hands over his erection. More amused than embarrassed, Todd spun back toward the hall, shielding his eyes as he closed the door. “Sorry, dude!”
Scott was mortified. “Jeez, Todd, you ever heard of knocking?”
“I said ‘sorry,’ man. I swear, I didn’t see anything you were doing,” which likely meant he saw exactly what Scott was doing.
“What’d you want anyway?” Scott asked, hurriedly sliding his legs into the painter’s pants, not bothering with underwear.
“Uhhhh,” Todd responded, struggling to reboard his train of thought. “Oh. Yeah. I was gonna say if you need me to, I could go with you to Amanda’s. Tell her I’d been out lookin’ for you and, when I found you, you had been searching desperately for her and shit. I figured having someone back up your story might help smooth things over.”
“Thanks, man,” Scott said through the door, touched by Todd’s concern, “but I think I gotta face this firing squad alone.”
“Okay, sure, makes sense,” said Todd, nodding in the hallway. “Just lettin’ you know I’m always here for ya if you need anything. You know where I live!”
Scott smiled. “Sure thing, Todd.” Scott had forgotten the midwestern small-town politeness that was sometimes obscured behind Todd’s marijuana haze. He wondered whatever happened to Todd and made a mental note to check whether Todd was on Facebook in the future. Maybe they could reconnect.
Scott pulled on the checked shirt which was tighter than he expected, its lines accentuating the undulations of his torso. He rolled up the cuffs of the short sleeves to better display his biceps and debated how many buttons to leave undone. He settled on the top two, deciding that only one was too dorky and three verged on sluttiness. He slipped his bare feet into a pair of navy-blue Topsiders, with the dim realization that he’d never owned any such things when he’d first turned twenty-one. Taking in the whole package from head to toe, Scott was amazed. He looked like a total preppie… and totally fuckable. If he did end up stuck here, maybe he could get work as a model for Abercrombie and Fitch, although he was pretty sure that career option didn’t even exist yet.
He scanned the room for his real wallet and found it on the bedside table where he routinely placed it. He riffled through its contents, finding thirteen dollars and two condom packets which were only slightly dog-eared. This clashed with his memory of the single condom which had remained in his wallet unused throughout his entire collegiate career. Although he and Amanda had dated through most of college, she didn’t believe in premarital sex. By the time he had finally tossed out the crushed and creased condom packet on graduation day, he assumed the contents had been reduced to a rubbery powder. He transferred his driver’s license and student I.D. into the proper wallet, tucked it in the pocket of his slacks and stepped into the hall.
On the way toward the front door, Scott heard a god-awful wailing. Pausing at Todd’s doorway, he saw his apartment-mate lying prone on his bed, wearing bulky headphones and singing along, softly and screechily, to something by Cinderella or Poison or one of those interchangeable hair bands that Scott could never stand. Scott allowed himself a second to eye Todd’s now shirtless back and his perky little ass which was stretching his green shorts to their limit. Scott’s erection instantly sprung back to its full extension, squirming its way down his left pant leg. He wondered how his 21-year-old self had the discipline or attention span to do anything besides masturbate.
Scott tapped lightly on Todd’s door, but couldn’t be heard over the music pumping into Todd’s ears. He knocked harder and said Todd’s name, but still got no response. Finally, he crossed over to the bed and lifted the headphones away from one ear. “Hey, Todd.”
Now it was Todd’s turn to be startled by Scott. He flipped over and slid the phones down around his neck, their tinny blast nearly drowning out his voice. “Whattaya need?” he asked blearily, propping himself up on his elbows.
Scott locked eyes with Todd, fighting the urge to gawk at his roomie’s body but seeing enough with his peripheral vision to fuel a future wank session. “Just wondered, do you know if Amanda still lives at that sorority house?”
Todd found the question surprising. He replied slowly, as if talking to a child. “You mean the place where we went on that double date last Saturday? Yeah, pretty sure she’s still there.”
“We went on a double date?” Scott couldn’t recall doing much of anything socially with Todd. In the past that he remembered, Scott’s off hours were mostly spent either doing something with Amanda or studying alone in his room, while Todd typically got stoned all day and went out to undisclosed locations all night. It had always pissed off Scott that party-hearty Todd somehow always maintained a 4.0 GPA, while dull and dutiful Scott struggled to squeak past 3.0.
“Yeah, Amanda set me up with that sorority sister of hers. What was her name? Betty? Polly?”
He could only recall the name one of Amanda’s friends from the sorority, one whom she had stayed in touch with since college. “Patty?”
Todd smacked his forehead and grinned. “Patty! Right! Like the lesbian from ‘Peanuts’.”
It had never occurred to Scott, but Amanda’s friend was a lot like Peppermint Patty. Freckled. Tomboyish. Always seemed to wear bib overalls. Not that he really knew Todd’s type, but Patty didn’t seem to be it. “How did it go?”
Todd was puzzled that Scott had to ask. As the resident pothead, Todd was used to being the one with the shaky memory. “She said I smelled like a Grateful Dead concert and left the restaurant before they even brought the appetizers, remember?”
Scott said, “Oh, right.” Even though he had no memory of it, it sounded exactly like what Patty would have said and done.
“She wasn’t really my type,” Todd said, confirming what Scott had thought. “You headin’ over there now?”
“Yeah. Wish me luck.” Scott crossed fingers on both hands.
“Luck!” Todd responded, adjusting his headphones back over his ears. As Scott left the room, Todd raised his voice, shouting over the music only he could hear, “You’re gonna need it!”
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.” Phillipe 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 apologetically. “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 would 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.
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 memory. 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.
“Touché,” 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.
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 cliché, 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.
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.