Description A straight actor preparing to audition for a gay role receives help getting into character from his gay friend and a couple of magic rings, but their mind-altering effects lead to unexpected outcomes for Quinn and Damon alike.
|Updated||11 Aug 2014|
Damon was up against a hard deadline at work when he felt the vibration in his pocket. This brochure design was due by the end of the day, so he really didn’t have a spare moment to chat on the phone. Still, he should at least check to see who was calling.
Slipping the iPhone from his pocket, he saw the name “Quinn Brooks” and Quinn’s excruciatingly handsome face. Damon didn’t often get calls from Quinn—Damon was usually the one reaching out to “bother” Quinn—so he figured it must be urgent. He raised the phone to his ear while continuing to work one-handed.
“What’s up, Q?”
“I need your help. I’ve got an audition for a soap tomorrow and I’m really freaking out about it. You’re the only person I could think of to call.” Quinn did indeed sound stressed, which was unusual. Quinn tended to be the most easygoing person that Damon knew.
“Calm down. I’m in the middle of a project here, but I should be done by six. Where can I meet you?”
“Just come to my apartment. Really appreciate it, man.” Quinn hung up.
Damon went back to work, but his work on the brochure was decidedly half-assed as he wondered what could be bothering Quinn so much. At 5:59, Damon saved his file, emailed it to his boss and headed out the door.
As the sluggish rush-hour traffic between Brentwood and Hollywood redefined the word “rush”, Damon couldn’t stop thinking about Quinn. They had met in college working on a production of “A Streetcar Named Desire”. Damon, a senior studying graphic design, worked behind the scenes, helping with the sets and costumes and also creating the poster for the show, while Quinn, a junior theater major, played the Brando role of Stanley Kowalski. Quinn definitely had the magnetism and physicality for the role, gifted as he was with a hard-edged masculine face and a naturally muscular body that required little upkeep at the gym. But as Damon observed the early rehearsals, he wasn’t sure Quinn would cut it. Quinn was so good-natured, friendly and low-key, it seemed impossible that he could find within himself the anger and menace it took to bring Stanley to life.
Only when Quinn began trying on costumes did he start to find his performance. When he was just Quinn Brooks, big man on campus, standing on that stage in a polo shirt, chinos and Nikes, he was just a lackluster guy reading lines. But once he put on vintage tweed slacks with suspenders and a too-snug tank top, things began to click. Some Oxford shoes that his grandfather had worn which he found in the attic back home made him feel more grounded. Switching from wearing his usual briefs to period-appropriate boxers made him feel more authentically like Stanley. Whoever said, “clothes make the man” was dead right in this case…while lack of clothes brought out the animal. The director was aiming for a look close to Brando’s in the film version, with Quinn wearing a soiled and torn tank top during the famous “Stella!!!” scene, but Quinn discovered in rehearsal that he could better tap into the character if he tore the shirt off completely. It was a wardrobe choice which was thoroughly appreciated by most of the women and many of the men involved in the production, including Damon who was still deeply closeted at the time. The fact that Quinn wasn’t a gym rat meant he didn’t have the deeply cut abs that were commonplace on campus, but even that made him look more authentic to the period setting. Damon was impressed: even Quinn’s body was part of the costume. For the final touch, he dyed his blond hair black and trimmed it short, until Quinn essentially disappeared. He had become Stanley Kowalski.
Audiences were floored by Quinn’s performance, in which he tapped into a side of himself he hadn’t previously known he had. At the party after opening night, Quinn was back to his usual amiable self, surrounded with well-wishers gushing praise over his performance. With the help of several glasses of red wine, Damon worked up the courage to speak to Quinn and tell him how impressed he was. Quinn could not have been more gracious or more generous with his time, complimenting Damon on the great work he’d done on the sets and costumes and poster. Damon couldn’t fathom that Quinn actually knew who he was. Damon felt that his shyness served like personality camouflage, preventing others from noticing he was even in the room with them. Damon mentioned that he was planning to move to Los Angeles after his graduation in the spring. Quinn said he was debating whether it would be better to move to New York or Hollywood to pursue an acting career when he graduated.
“Well, if you move to L.A., be sure to look me up!”, Damon said.
“You can count on it,” replied Quinn with a wide grin.
Damon backed away awkwardly, straight into a table with bottles of booze and a streetcar-shaped sheet cake. Catching himself, his right hand landed directly in the thick frosting of the cake. He offered his goop-covered hand in friendship, which Quinn good-naturedly shook, and they both had a good laugh as they went into the kitchen to wash their hands clean.
They saw each other from time to time around campus after that, although they didn’t run in the same social circles, mainly because Quinn had social circles and Damon didn’t. Only after Damon moved to Los Angeles and knew that he absolutely wouldn’t be encountering anyone he already knew did he begin to explore his sexuality anywhere but online. But when he went out to clubs, he still seemed to be wearing that camouflage of anonymity that had made him so unnoticeable in college. He was thin and youthful, but not thin and youthful enough to attract the twink aficionados. He joined a gym and began to work out for the first time in his life, putting on a thin layer of muscle, but not enough to draw much attention amid a crowd of West Hollywood beefcake. He got an entry-level position designing pamphlets and web pages for a non-profit, found a studio apartment in WeHo that ate up the bulk of his salary, and spent most of his weekend afternoons browsing through obscure shops around town, looking for cheap eclectic items to furnish his tiny room.
After a year in L.A., Damon was absolutely shocked to get a call from Quinn, saying he was moving to Hollywood to pursue his craft. Damon could not believe that Quinn was following up on a half-drunken pledge he’d made at a party well over a year earlier. It made him admire Quinn even more. Damon asked where Quinn was planning to live, and Quinn replied that he was hoping to get some advice on that from Damon, since he didn’t know anyone else who lived in Los Angeles. Damon felt a little less special after hearing that, convinced that if Quinn had known even one other person in town, they would have received this call and Damon would have been forgotten. But screw that, Quinn did call him, so he boldly suggested that Quinn camp out in his apartment while he looked for a place of his own.
“I couldn’t impose on you like that, man.”
“Not a problem at all,” Damon insisted as he looked around the cramped apartment that already made him claustrophobic as its sole resident.
Quinn arrived in town several days later, his possessions narrowed down to a pile of clothes on hangers laid across the back seat of his convertible, his shaggy blond hair tossed by the breeze en route. When Quinn saw the size of Damon’s place, he knew he would get in Damon’s way and offered to go find himself a motel, but Damon refused to hear it. “When you start getting on my nerves, I’ll let you know.”
Moving Quinn’s belongings into the tiny apartment took a grand total of three minutes, after which they went to grab a bite at Hamburger Mary’s on Santa Monica Boulevard. Damon noticed some stiffness in Quinn’s body language as he realized how many of the pedestrians outside and the patrons inside the restaurant were clearly gay. Damon had never sensed a whiff of homophobia on Quinn’s part at college, but it was a fairly small college in a relatively conservative state. Quinn wasn’t so much unnerved as overwhelmed, as if he had cracked open the door of his black-and-white house and was taking his first step into a Technicolor Oz.
“So, is this like the gay part of town, or is all of L.A. like this?”, Quinn asked with genuine curiosity as he wolfed down his Barbra-Q Bacon Burger (which he had attempted to order by just pointing to the menu, until the smitten waiter forced him to say it out loud).
“We’re pretty close to Gay Central Station here.”
“And you like living right in the thick of it?”
Damon’s stomach quivered and his pulse went into arrhythmia for a second as he mulled what to say. He had yet to come out to his family or to anyone he knew prior to moving to L.A., but if this was who he really was, he had to live it. He thought of saying something earnest or defiant, but he figured a lighter approach would work better. “The thicker the better,” he smirked and raised his eyebrows, watching Quinn closely for a reaction.
Quinn took a long swig of beer and fixed his sparkling blue eyes on Damon. He lowered the bottle with a nod. “Yeah, I kinda had you figured for that.”
“You don’t have a problem with it, do you?”
Quinn laughed. “I just got a theater degree and I want to be an actor. If gays freaked me out, I picked the wrong fuckin’ job.”
That night, Damon pushed his luck and dragged Quinn to Rage, a gay nightclub. If Damon thought he was wearing camouflage before, entering a gay club with Quinn Brooks by your side was like wearing an invisibility cloak. Quinn definitely got an ego boost from all the guys coming over to ask him to dance (or more), but he bet he set the world record for number of times saying the words “straight” and “girlfriend” in twenty minutes. Meanwhile, Damon nursed a Seven and Seven and contented himself with hovering anonymously near so many horny, sweaty hunks and vicariously wishing all their come-ons were coming his way. Eventually Quinn turned to Damon and shouted “Let’s get outta here” over the pounding disco music.
On the sidewalk, it felt twenty degrees cooler. Quinn’s eyes were wide, like he’d just narrowly escaped being gored at the Running of the Bulls. “Is that what it’s like all the time?”, he asked Damon.
“Yeah, that’s pretty much a normal night for me.”
Damon offered his house guest the sofa bed, but Quinn wouldn’t hear of it, using his sleeping bag on the floor instead. Quinn took pains to ensure he wasn’t interfering with Damon’s routine, although seeing a shirtless Quinn shaving every morning was a disruption Damon didn’t complain about. Within a week, Quinn had landed a job as a waiter. Within ten days, he had found an apartment which was bigger than and cost less than Damon’s. Within a month, Quinn had acquired an agent. Damon and Quinn saw each other occasionally, usually when Damon thought there was a play or movie or band that Quinn might appreciate, but Quinn was usually waiting tables or rehearsing a play in the evening and had to pass more often than not.
The last time Damon had received a call from Quinn was two months ago, inviting him and a guest to come to opening night of a play Quinn was doing in North Hollywood. Damon couldn’t find a date—or even a beard—and ended up giving the spare ticket to a pretty young woman in the standby line. She was pleasant but monosyllabic waiting for the opening curtain, but when Damon mentioned at intermission that he was friends with the guy playing the lead role, the woman became chatty as all get-out, peppering him with questions about Quinn which only ended when the curtain opened for act two. The woman, whose name was Renee, came along with Damon to the after-party and was hanging on Quinn’s arm by the end of the night. Two weeks later, Quinn had dumped his girlfriend back home and Renee was spending most of her nights at Quinn’s place. As far as Damon knew, they were still dating, but perhaps they had broken up. Maybe that’s why Quinn had called today, reaching out to an old friend—okay, old marginal acquaintance—for counsel as he nursed a broken heart. But even if Quinn hadn’t managed to make other friends in his short time in L.A., surely any stranger he grabbed randomly off the street could offer more wisdom on romantic matters than Damon could.
Damon pulled onto Quinn’s shady street and checked the myriad of parking regulation signs, trying to figure out if it was legal for him to park in this neighborhood. Convinced that he could, he ran to Quinn’s apartment and knocked on the door. “Co-ome i-in,” sang an off-key attempt at a soprano voice from within. Damon swung open the unlocked door and was surprised to discover Quinn pacing in the living room, covered in flop-sweat and wearing a bizarre mixture of clothing. His hair was haphazardly bobby-pinned into something that in no way resembled an actual hairdo. He wore a linen sports coat with a Chicago Bulls jersey underneath, checkerboard-pattern bicycle shorts and a pair of muddy work boots.
Quinn was flushed with relief at seeing Damon. “Thank god you’re here. I gotta be gay, and you gotta help me!” He clomped over and hugged Damon, transferring a substantial amount of his sweat onto Damon’s gray silk shirt.
“What do you mean you’ve gotta be gay?”, asked Damon.
Quinn picked up a script from his futon and handed it to Damon. “This audition tomorrow. It’s for a recurring role on a soap, which’d be huge for me, but the character they want me to play is gay and I don’t know how to play it.”
“Play ‘it’ like a normal person.”
Quinn shook his head. “You don’t understand. I gotta feel like I’m seeing through this guy’s eyes. I don’t know how to look at another guy from a gay guy’s perspective.”
“Sure you do,” said Damon calmly. “Just look at the guy the same way you look at Renee.”
Quinn wasn’t being persuaded. He looked distraught as he checked out his reflection in the mirror. “I was hoping if I could just find the right look, the character would come to me, but…”
Damon shook his head as he looked at what Quinn was wearing. “You have met gay people before, right? You know we don’t dress like we escaped from a mental ward.”
“I know, I know. I was just trying anything. I woulda tried on some of Renee’s dresses, but I’m way too big for ‘em.”
Damon stopped cold and leveled a glare at Quinn. “You also know we don’t all wear dresses, right?”
“YES!”, Quinn insisted. “What you’re seeing is the result of two extra hours of desperation because you couldn’t get here right away!”
“Sue me, I work for a living! Why couldn’t Renee help you?”
“She’s shooting a commercial in Baja. She’ll be gone for four days.”
“Okay, just calm down. We’ll get through this.” Damon began to remove the bobby-pins from Quinn’s hair and asked, “So, describe this character to me so I can get a sense of what he should wear.”
Quinn grabbed the script and scanned the highlighted stage directions. “His name’s Alexander and he’s the black sheep of the family who was ostrich-ized…”
Damon corrected, “Ostracized.”
“Ostracized…when his father discovered he was gay. Actually, the original actor was apparently…ostracized…from the show ‘cause he thought he deserved a raise. But now they want to bring his character back.”
“And there are no actual gay actors in Hollywood they could hire?”
“My agent says I look a lot like the guy who played him the first time, so he thinks I got a real good chance at it.”
“So? There’s your answer. Dress like the other guy did.”
“I tried that, but that guy used to just wear regular business suits, and putting on my own suits just felt like…like me wearing a suit. Plus, apparently they’re writing him a lot more flamboyant now and I don’t have a clue how to be flamboyant. That’s why I called you.”
Damon glanced down at his gray shirt and charcoal pants. “Oh, yeah, you’re talking to the male Lady Gaga right here. Go put on some normal clothes and we’ll go shopping.”
Quinn nodded eagerly and walked into the bathroom to change. He leaned out, asking, “Sir Gaga?”
“Wouldn’t the male Lady Gaga be Sir Gaga?”
Damon waved a get-a-move-on gesture and tried not to stare too blatantly at Quinn as he stripped down.
As Quinn drove his convertible frantically toward Melrose Boulevard, Damon sat in the passenger seat, scanning through Quinn’s script. “This writing is terrible. None of it rings true. This guy Alexander is swishy one minute and butch the next. No wonder you were dressed like you just grabbed random items from the clothes dryer.”
“I just need to get a fix on who I think Alexander is. If I can nail the audition, then I’ll worry about getting them to write the character better.”
Damon pointed to a parking spot in front of a quirky clothing store he liked to browse. Quinn screeched into the spot, pissing off another driver who was getting ready to back into the same space. Quinn shouted at the other driver, “Sorry! Acting crisis!” Quinn looked berserk, the wind having buffeted his hair into a crazed mess as the convertible sped here.
Damon led Quinn into the musty smelling shop. They were the only customers, and the older woman managing the register looked surprised to have any visitors at all. Quinn searched frantically through the racks of clothes in his size, trying on one vintage jacket after another, displeased with them all. “Not gay enough.”
Damon shook his head, amused but increasingly irritated. He was generally so fond of Quinn but couldn’t believe how narrow his views were, as if there were only one kind of gay personality or fashion. He watched as Quinn pulled off his t-shirt, revealing pumped pecs and shallow but distinct ab muscles. Clearly Quinn’s carefree attitude toward exercise had changed, and Damon couldn’t say he disapproved. Trying not to seem TOO interested, Damon casually asked, “You been working out?”
“Yeah, my agent said I looked too doughy. Apparently, if they can’t count your ab muscles on two hands these days, nobody’s gonna cast you.” Quinn pulled a multicolored vest over his bare torso and evaluated the look. He cringed. “Too gay.”
Damon felt like he was watching Quinn perform a one-man show of “Goldilocks”, where everything was “too gay” or “too straight”, but nothing was “just right”. (They’d have to go back to cruising Rage later to find three bears.) After Quinn rejected a few of Damon’s suggestions, Damon turned in lighthearted frustration to the old woman at the back of the shop. “Do you have a ‘gay’ section for my friend here? Maybe something in a size Gay?”
Quinn swatted Damon’s shoulder. “This probably seems silly to you, but it’s my process, okay?”
The woman behind the counter gestured for the men to approach. The old woman’s eyes were drawn to Quinn, but Damon had finally quit fretting about his non-entity status in Quinn’s presence. That Quinn was now shirtless and more built than ever only made Damon fade further into the background.
“This might sound stupid, but I need something that’ll make me feel…gay,” Quinn told the old woman.
She smiled wistfully. “When I was a girl, a nice new hat used to make me feel gay.”
Oh god, Damon thought, this was a terrible idea. Now we’re about to be treated to this woman’s history of how word meanings changed throughout the twentieth century. But instead, she reached under the counter and pulled out a wooden jewelry box. She opened it to display a collection of various rings. She studied them, then selected one with a silver band and a single black stone. She handed it to Quinn, saying “I think this will help you get what you desire.”
Damon seemed unsure that this simple ring screamed “gay”, but Quinn shrugged his recently renovated shoulders and said, “You never know what’ll give you the key to your character.” He studied it and a flicker of recognition flashed in his eyes. “This isn’t one of those mood rings, is it? My dad told me he had one back in the Seventies. Where the color of the stone changes to show what your mood is.”
“Very similar principle,” the old woman nodded. “Go ahead, put it on.”
Quinn slid it onto his left ring finger. He liked how it felt. The metal weight in an unfamiliar place gave him an immediate sense of otherness, like he wasn’t just wearing a piece of jewelry but was wearing part of a different person, a new character. He looked closely at the stone and could detect a slight swirling in the darkness which settled into a deep, dark blue. “Huh, what do you know? It turned a little bit blue. What does that mean?”
He placed his hand on the counter so the shopkeeper could examine the stone. She peered through squinted eyes, then glanced over her bifocals at Quinn and said, “That means you’re a little bit gay.”
Quinn laughed uneasily, which made Damon cackle hysterically. He kidded Quinn, “Don’t worry, sweetie, everyone’s a little bit gay.” But truthfully, as long as you set aside the fact that Quinn was an actor, Damon had never met anyone as comfortable in his heterosexuality as Quinn, and the straight women in the theater department always appreciated that Quinn seemed to be the one exception to the “all of the good ones are gay” rule.
Hearing Damon speak, the woman turned to him, almost as if she had just realized he was there. “Are you two a couple?”
Quinn shook his head and waved his hands, saying, “No, no, no, no, no.”
Damon felt a little insulted. “Five no’s? Could you be a little more emphatic there, buddy?”
Quinn started to apologize when the woman pulled an identical ring from the jewelry box and handed it to Damon. “You try.”
Curious but a little scared, Damon slipped the ring onto his left ring finger. If Quinn’s ring said he was “a little bit gay”, Damon’s ring would probably start shooting out rainbows and sparkles and unicorns while blasting “It’s Raining Men”. But after letting the mysterious liquid inside the stone swirl and settle, Damon’s ring turned only a slightly brighter shade of blue than Quinn’s. He held it out for the woman to evaluate. “This can’t be right.”
“Oh, no, it’s right,” she assured him. “It’s always right.”
Damon stared at the blue gem curiously, while Quinn flexed his hand repeatedly, getting a feel for the ring’s weight. He told the woman, “It kind of grows on you.” She nodded sagely. “I’ll take it,” Quinn said, pulling out his wallet.
Damon was starting to pull off his ring, but Quinn stopped him. “Keep it, man. It looks good on you.”
Damon felt funny about it. “Won’t it be kinda weird, you and me wearing matching rings?”
“I’m only wearing mine for the audition. I’m serious, let me buy that for you. It matches your eyes.”
Damon was surprised and even a little turned on that Quinn had noticed the color of his eyes. Then again, actors were supposed to be good at studying other people, right? It was part of their job. Damon shook it off.
Quinn got his change and thanked the woman behind the counter for her help. “Do you need anything else?”, she asked.
Pulling his t-shirt back on, Quinn glanced around the store and said, “No, I think I’m good.” He stepped outside, with a puzzled Damon at his heels.
“That’s it? You buy one ring and you’ve got the character?”
“No, but I don’t think I need more clothes to do it.” Quinn leapt energetically into the driver’s seat and noticed the flyaway mess that his hair had become. “But I gotta fix this hair. Alexander wouldn’t have this haircut. Where’s there a good hair stylist?”
Damon had never gone anywhere fancier than Fantastic Sams, but he had a feeling Quinn needed something a bit more specialized. Damon searched on his iPhone for nearby salons while Quinn drove. Damon found one place on Santa Monica Boulevard that was still open, so he gave Quinn driving directions. Quinn was driving with his left arm propped in his open window, showing off the definition of his biceps and triceps as they emerged from his t-shirt sleeve. Quinn could swear he was noticing a lot more guys staring at him, and Quinn was someone who was used to being stared at. He even waved at a few as he passed. Not that Quinn himself was flirting, but it seemed like the kind of thing Alexander would do, and he wanted to see the reactions he got.
When they arrived at the salon, the guy behind the counter with a shaved head, a septum ring and gauged earlobes looked too exhausted to deal with another customer, but when he looked up to see Quinn’s smiling, hopeful face, he began to change his mind. Quinn explained that he desperately needed his hair styled for an audition in the morning. He even put his hand atop the counterman’s pale slender hand which was splayed on the counter. Wow, thought Damon, he’s really laying on the charm. And it worked. Soon Quinn was seated in a chair and getting his hair shampooed. The stylist glanced across the room at Damon, who was slumped in a chair, flipping idly through Frontiers magazine.
“You gonna want a cut too?”, asked the stylist.
“No, I’m fine,” said Damon.
The stylist disagreed with that assessment of Damon’s pedestrian haircut, with an indistinct part and uneven strands of lackluster brown hair straggling over his ears, but he said nothing and turned back to scrubbing Quinn’s lush mane. Once it was washed, Quinn moved back to a barber’s chair and stared at his reflection, his long hair wet and stringy, falling past his eyes. The stylist asked what Quinn was looking for.
“I need something bold. Something that’ll grab your attention, but won’t look too radical for a guy in a business suit. What’s that one where it’s all kinda scrunched up in the middle?”
“A fauxhawk?”, replied the stylist.
“Yeah, I want one of those.”
Damon looked up from his magazine, surprised. Quinn had been so casual, so lacking in vanity about his appearance in college. Quinn was plenty hot without bothering with fancy technology like, ya know, a comb. Still, Damon could imagine how sexy Quinn would look with a fauxhawk. It was even giving Damon a chubby. He had a bad habit of being attracted to straight boys, and Quinn had always been his kryptonite. He knew that it was futile and self-sabotaging to allow himself to muse about relationships that could never happen. Yet he found himself lost in Quinn’s reflection in the mirror as the stylist set to work.
Quinn was also getting aroused as chunks of his long hair were snipped away. It was like the stylist was sculpting the disorganized wad of yarn glued to his head into something sleek and beautiful. Yes, yes, he was feeling the character of Alexander more and more, getting a better fix on who he should be playing and how he should be playing it. He could practically see himself becoming the character in his reflection.
With a flourish, the stylist removed the apron from Quinn, who was staring lustily at his newly gelled and peaked hairdo. Quinn spun in his chair to get Damon’s opinion, but Damon was already standing, pointing to a photo in a book of sample hairdos and showing it to the stylist. “I want a fade.”
The stylist’s shoulders sank, as he thought he was done for the day, but Quinn gave him a quick wink and he agreed. As the stylist buzzed the sides over Damon’s ears down to bare skin, Damon started to wonder how he’d look with a different hair color, but he knew he’d be pushing his luck to ask the stylist to start a major project like that at this late hour. Still, as his new style took shape, Damon began to grin. It wasn’t a radical change, but it also wasn’t the same old boring haircut that had stared back at him since middle school. He glanced behind him, where Quinn was studying an issue of Playgirl. Damon blinked his eyes, thinking there must be hair in them. “What you reading there, Q?”
“Interesting article,” Quinn said deadpan. Damon figured Quinn must be doing research into what he thought a gay guy would read.
When the two men stepped back into the cool evening air, they both felt pounds heavier as the breeze chilled their scalps. Quinn looked down at his shorter friend and smiled. “Da-amn, boy, you look cute.”
Damon looked at Quinn skeptically, thinking back to Quinn’s gradual metamorphosis into Stanley Kowalski in college. Maybe this was just his process of feeling out a new character. “Just so I’m clear, you’re just trying to get into character, right?”
Quinn wrapped a strong arm around Damon’s slender shoulders. “Aw, my little Damie, never could take a compliment.” Quinn leaned down to kiss Damon lightly on the forehead. If this was Quinn’s process, he was certainly disappearing into the role already.
Damon checked his phone for the time. “Maybe we should head back to your place and I can help you memorize your script.”
“Fuck the lines,” said Quinn, with a ferocity strange for someone who could usually beat Jack Johnson in a mellow-off. Quinn spotted the Rage nightclub up the street and started to drag Damon in that direction. “Let’s go dancing!”
“I thought you hated Rage.”
“I did. But I don’t think Alexander does.”
Inside the packed club, Quinn was much chattier than he had been on his first night in town. In fact, he seemed downright comfortable, talking and laughing with everyone who approached him. Damon hovered close enough to hear Quinn introducing himself to people as Alexander. Quinn pulled Damon over and started introducing him as “my boy Damie”. Damon had done some role-playing games online and always felt too self-conscious about it, but he was getting off on playing this role. Even pretending to be Quinn’s—or Alexander’s—boy was a thrill, and he was going to enjoy it while it lasted.
Quinn had already shed his t-shirt and was flexing in time with the music. Damon unbuttoned his silk shirt down to the base of his sternum. Any further exposure of his pale pasty skin would risk causing blindness to anyone who looked at it, and he’d never found his clumps of unsightly body hair to be aesthetically pleasing. Basically, Damon believed that the more of his body someone saw, the less likely they were to desire him. Ideally, to avoid turning off potential lovers, he would need to walk the streets in an Iron Man uniform.
Quinn was getting sucked further away into the swirl of bodies, but Damon noticed that Quinn was constantly looking back to check on him. Eventually, Quinn squeezed his way back and they spent the remainder of the night dancing as a couple. When the pace slowed slightly, Quinn wrapped his arms around Damon’s butt and hoisted him until Damon was looking down at Quinn. Quinn planted his lips on Damon’s and kissed him hard. Damon closed his eyes, ecstatic, letting himself believe for a moment that what he was feeling from Quinn was real and not research.
Fueled by Red Bulls and vodka, Quinn and Damon stayed until closing time. Damon was sure he would have a hangover at work tomorrow, but at the moment he was carefree and full of energy, literally skipping along the boulevard.
Quinn strolled behind him, still shirtless, swinging his meaty arms loosely. “Okay, now we’ll go home and do lines.”
Damon looked hopefully. “Cocaine?”
Quinn rubbed his knuckles through Damon’s new hairdo. “No, you knucklehead. Lines in the script.” Damon giggled as they climbed into the convertible and headed back to Quinn’s place. As Damon picked up the script from the floor of the car, he noticed the glow of his ring. The color had lightened since he first put it on. It now sparkled like a sapphire. He glanced over at Quinn, but couldn’t see his ring, as Quinn was hanging his left forearm out his window and pounding on the door in time with the music cranked on the car stereo.
When they got back to the apartment, Quinn grabbed a couple of bottles of beer from the refrigerator and told Damon to make himself comfortable on the futon in the living room. Damon took a seat, sipped his beer and opened the script to the proper page, only to gasp as Damon returned to the living room wearing nothing but a pair of amply stuffed black briefs.
“Aw, Damie, I told you to get comfortable. You’re my expert on all this. I need you to tell me what I should be doing.”
Damon quickly flipped through the script. “Isn’t it just a dialogue scene? I didn’t see any sex scenes in the script.”
Quinn grabbed the script and flung it across the room. It slammed into the wall, snapping the fasteners and sending the pages fluttering to the floor. “Fuck the script. I need to know what it feels like to be inside another man. I need to know what Alexander knows.” Quinn pulled down his briefs and his rigid cock began to rise and grow. He worked the scrap of black cloth down both of his bulging thighs, then down the shins. He reached one big toe up to pull the briefs the rest of the way off. Then, holding the shorts between his toes, he tossed them directly into Damon’s face.
Damon closed his eyes and breathed in deeply, amazed to have this chance to inhale the musky scent of Quinn’s crotch. He pulled the briefs above his eyes and left them resting atop his new haircut. He tittered playfully and stared lustily at the golden-haired tower of muscle looming over him, standing with legs spread and a nine-inch engorged cock pointing straight up, slapping flat against his abs and seemingly as wide as Damon’s wrist. Jesus, Damon thought, he’s staring at me. Right at my pathetic little body. And he’s got a hard-on that could shatter glass.
Fuck, thought Damon, this guy is a good actor.
Damon tore open his gray shirt, losing a few buttons in the process. He unbuckled his pants but struggled to get them down before Quinn leapt upon him. Quinn shredded Damon’s trousers and ripped off his boxers to discover Damon’s slim, six-incher, fully erect. Quinn grunted and smiled, then eased his own cock gently into Quinn’s asshole. “How’s that?”
Damon whimpered with pleasure, never having had something that large inside him before. Quinn brushed Damon’s cheek and kissed him. “You tell me if I’m hurting you, Damie. I just want to make you happy.” Quinn took it slowly, gradually inserting more and more of his engorged cock into Damon.
Damon was getting short of breath. He glanced down and saw Quinn’s massive left hand wrapped around Damon’s cock, stroking it in rhythm with the thrusts of his hips. Damon noticed the glint of Quinn’s ring. The jewel was now sapphire blue, just like Damon’s had been in the car. Curious, he glanced at his own ring and it had now lightened to a dazzling cyan. He felt all his inhibitions slipping away and surrendered to the power of Quinn. Or Alexander. Or whoever. Or who the fuck cares. Damon screamed out, “Just fuckin’ fuck me!”
Quinn slept deeply through the night, but his dreams were vivid. Amazingly, he had already reached a state that usually only came after weeks of rehearsal: he was dreaming in character. He knew he was ready to play a part when he had so deeply inhabited them that he no longer dreamt as himself, but as Stanley Kowalski, or George in “Virginia Woolf”, or Estragon in “Waiting for Godot”. (If you think your dreams are hard to follow, try having some “Godot” dreams.) Somehow, with this Alexander character, he had gone from panic to serenity in a single night. He felt the power of Alexander’s suddenly unleashed sexuality, the newfound sense of freedom that gave him, the strength he sought to exert over others, yet the tenderness he could exhibit to those he loved, like his boy Damie.
That last part caused a slight glitch in the dream, as Quinn suddenly realized he was in a dream and tried to remember whether Damie was a character in the script or… No, Damie was his friend from college. Little Damon. How had he never noticed what a cutie Damie was all these years? Damie was always so shy. He must have been waiting for years for Alexander to make the first move.
Fuck, no, that’s not right. Alexander is the character. I’m Quinn. That’s right, right? It was all intermingled, and suffused with a sense of well-being that seemed to have calmed his spirit. Yeah, now he remembered. He was in a panic all day about…something or other…and his little Damie came and made it all better. And they fucked until they collapsed.
A familiar xylophone melody began to repeat and repeat in Quinn’s brain, gradually rousing him from his slumber. He snuggled against the bare skin of Damon’s back as they spooned on the futon. Damon remained blissfully asleep in Quinn’s arms while the fog lifted from Quinn’s brain. That music…it was the alarm on Damon’s iPhone. What time was it? Quinn squinted until he finally spotted something with a clock: his microwave. 7:45. Fuck! The audition! When was the audition again?
Quinn gently slid his arm out from underneath Damon, stood up and switched off the alarm. Morning wood slapping against his thigh, he wandered the living room naked in search of the title page of the script on which he had scribbled the time and place of his audition. Finally locating it, he discovered that he had a couple of hours of breathing room, although he still needed to memorize the lines. He wasn’t worried though, because he already had the character.
Quinn leaned down and patted Damon on the butt. “Morning, sexy. Time to get up.”
Damon grumpily opened his eyes and was rewarded with a view of Quinn’s hard cock. He giggled sleepily and said in a lilting voice, “Mmm, is that for me?”
“Not right now. Gotta get ready for my audition.”
“Can I help you?”
“Not right now. I need to take a shower.”
Damon crawled across the futon with a smile, waggling his bouncy ass. “Can I help you?”
Quinn felt tempted, but knew he had to get in and out fast so he could study his lines. He kissed Damon’s forehead, then walked to the bathroom. Damon got hard just watching Quinn’s broad back and dimpled butt cheeks as he left the room. That vision carried him to a speedy orgasm, spurting across the thatches of hair on his meagerly developed torso. He fell back into a giddy slumber, rubbing his fingers lazily through his own cum.
Damon woke again when a shadow fell over his face. He looked up to see Quinn fully dressed in a gray business suit, the sunlight hitting the peaks of his freshly gelled fauxhawk. Quinn’s cock rubbed softly against the material of his pants, as he’d decided that Alexander would go commando. Better to demonstrate his dominance over his rivals. Quinn nervously fiddled with the ring on his left hand, its jewel an entrancing bright shade of blue. “Gotta go, D. See you when I get back?”
Smiling coyly, Damon sat up, knees pulled to his chest, arms wrapped around his hairy legs. “I’ll be here. Kiss for luck?”
Quinn leaned down and planted his succulent lips on Damon’s. They both closed their eyes to fully enjoy the sensation. Neither noticed the blue glow of their rings brightening further.
After Quinn left for his audition, Damon made his way to the bathroom where he took a long hot shower. The gushing water kept him from hearing his phone ringing, as his office called to find out why he wasn’t at work yet.
Damon stepped from the shower and wiped the fog from the mirror. He had to admit, he really did look cute with his new haircut, but he grimaced the further down he looked. Those clumps of hair on his chest and the wet, clingy hair on his legs did not look cute at all. He grabbed Quinn’s can of Barbasol and lathered up his chest and legs. It took him two of Quinn’s razorblades to shave his chest and legs clean and, after he saw how that looked, another blade plus the rest of the Barbasol to take care of his pubes.
As he lay his sleek new body back down upon the futon, Damie wondered how Q’s audition was going.
Quinn’s confidence that he would be cast in the soap opera peaked in the millisecond before he opened the door to the casting office.
Once inside, he discovered several other strapping young men much like himself. VERY much like himself. Clearly the call had gone out for any actor who looked sufficiently similar to the one who had originated the role of Alexander, and the results of that quest were seated in this room. Blond, handsome, tall but not too tall. Their minor physical differences were outweighed by their striking similarities. Quinn had gotten used to being the go-to lead actor back in college, but he was now facing the reality of being a tiny fish trying to navigate the biggest sea in the acting world. Quinn checked in at the front desk and took his seat among the other prospective Alexanders, who were checking him out, both to evaluate him as their acting competition and, for many of them, just to check him out.
At least his fears about playing a gay character had been erased by last night’s events. As soon he had found that ring in the shop where Damon took him, something clicked in his mind. Never before had a single item of wardrobe given him such a strong sense of a character. He had been immersed in characters before, but last night, he felt positively possessed, seeing the world through Alexander’s eyes, doing things he had never done before—things he would never have considered doing before. But as the night went on, he realized he wasn’t simply acting out of curiosity as research for a role; he was responding to irresistible physical urges…and he had to admit to himself that it felt tremendous.
He only hoped that Damon didn’t feel used and exploited, although from Quinn’s semi-drunken memories of the night, it seemed like Damon had a gay old time. He had never seen Damon so loose, so happy, so free.
Back at Quinn’s apartment, Damon was restless. He had checked his voicemail and discovered several messages from his workplace, asking where he was. He finally called back, explaining that he had misread some parking signs and his car had been towed. He promised to get to work as soon as possible, although he actually had no such intention. He wanted to be waiting here when Quinn returned triumphantly from his audition, so he could leap into Quinn’s arms, smother him in kisses…and then fuck, fuck, fuck the night away.
Although Damon had known he was gay since before he even knew it was a thing to be, he’d never felt as obsessed with sex as he did this morning. Sure, he had thought about the subject plenty, more in abstract terms than in genuine practice, but his mind had never before been whipped into such an orgy of nonstop salacious thoughts. It still seemed like some impossible dream that he had actually had sex with Quinn Brooks…and multiple times at that. But uncharacteristically, Damon wasn’t dwelling on why Quinn suddenly found him attractive (or at least fuckworthy) and wasn’t making mental wagers about how soon Quinn would inevitably turn his attentions elsewhere and leave Damon in misery. All that percolated through Damon’s mind this bright morning was looking his best for his man (“his MAN”!!!) when he got back home.
The drab clothes Damon had worn last night were no longer an option, as Quinn had shredded Damon’s slacks and underwear when he tore them off Damon’s body. Damon’s gray shirt was slightly salvageable, since it had only lost a few buttons. Damon slipped it on, rolling up the sleeves and knotting the tails of the shirt in the front to expose his smooth, hairless tummy. Not terrible, Damon thought, but pretty blah. Surely he could find something with more pizzazz.
He peeked through Quinn’s drawers for some shorts, but anything big enough to accommodate Quinn was ridiculously huge on Damon’s slim frame. None of Quinn’s clothes in his closet were appropriate either, but Damon did notice that Quinn’s girlfriend Renee had left a few changes of clothes hanging there as well. Not only was her body closer to Damon’s size, but he admired her fashion sense. He felt a forbidden thrill as he slipped a spangly blue-and-white-striped top off its hanger, held it in front of himself and studied his reflection in the mirror. He pulled his gray button down over his head and slipped on Renee’s top, its neck so wide that it exposed the slope of Damon’s shoulder. A smile slowly grew on his lips. Yesterday, he would have felt embarrassed to wear anything so shiny or so feminine, but today it gave him a kick.
He squeezed his way into a pair of her black leggings and was glad that the bottom of the shirt concealed the growing boner trapped within them. He would have to wash the leggings before Renee returned to town, so she wouldn’t wonder why there was a stain of dried pre-cum in them. At least his own shoes still fit, although they were a ludicrous contrast to the outfit above them. Clearly he would need to run out and buy some new clothes if he was going to look good for Quinn, and this mismatched outfit would allow him to go into public. With his paltry savings, he couldn’t suddenly become an au courant fashionista…but, hey, he thought with a delighted snicker, that’s why God invented credit cards!
Damon stepped out of the apartment, realizing too late that the door was locking behind him. A day ago, Damon would have been frantic about getting locked out and mortified to be seen in public the way he was currently dressed. But instead, he shrugged it off and sashayed (there was really no better word for it) his little kiester down the sidewalk to where he thought he had parked his beat-up piece-of-shit Mazda. He looked up and down the street with a sinking feeling. Well, what do you know? That lie about his car having been towed because he didn’t read the parking signs? It wasn’t a lie after all. But again, instead of freaking out, Damon calmly pulled out his iPhone.
Quinn leaned his head back against the wall, eyes closed as he went over Alexander’s lines in his head for the millionth time in twenty minutes. He felt a vibration in his pants. He didn’t want to be disturbed while he was so immersed in character. Still, what if it was important? What if it was a message from his agent? Or from Damon? He had to look.
He slid the phone from his pocket and noticed that it was a text from Renee. He pushed the phone back in his pocket without reading the message. He couldn’t lose his focus now. Besides, he had no clue what to tell her about last night. He probably shouldn’t say anything. It was probably just a one-night fling, a dalliance fueled by an actor’s need for new experiences to inform his grasp of a character, right? He still loved Renee, didn’t he? Well, he liked her at least. After all, she was pretty and smart and understanding and…
Huh? What? Quinn heard someone calling his name.
“Quinn Brooks?” The woman said it again, more impatiently.
Quinn shook off his stupor and raised his hand. “Present!”, he called, as if the woman were taking roll call. She gestured for him to proceed to the inner office. Quinn offered a hasty “Good luck” to his fellow actors in the waiting room and stepped inside. Three people seated behind a table stared at Quinn, impressed on first sight by his close resemblance to his predecessor in the role. They each informed Quinn who they were, but Quinn’s mind was so scattered that all he heard was “words words name name words”. Dammit, why had he looked at that text message? He was totally losing his focus. He brushed his left hand nervously through his fauxhawk, disheveling his carefully groomed look. The stone in his ring was darkening back toward a deep blue, verging on black.
He gazed across the room at the three people evaluating him, as well as the bored guy manning a video camera behind them. Quinn found himself making friendly chit-chat. Dammit, that wasn’t his plan! All morning, he had been in the zone. He had planned that, from the moment he walked into the audition room, he was going to take command of the situation and BE sly, conniving Alexander. But here he was, in front of the people who were going to decide his fate, and he heard his mouth on autopilot, lapsing back into friendly old Quinn, blathering about traffic and asking politely about getting his parking validated. Focus, man, focus!
From somewhere, a voice asked Quinn to begin. He took a big breath and opened his mouth, but the words he had down stone-cold just minutes ago were eluding him. It was the classic actor’s nightmare of going dry. At least he wasn’t naked too, although that would have given them something to focus on besides the lack of words coming from his mouth. Cringing, he put a shaky hand into the breast pocket of his suit coat and pulled out his script pages, hoping they would kick him back into gear. But he discovered they were in the wrong order and facing different directions. As he searched desperately for the first page, he could sense interest plummeting across the room. At last, he found the first line, which seemed dimly familiar. He cleared his throat and realized how parched he was. His tongue was practically cemented to the roof of his mouth. He grabbed a bottle of water that had been placed nearby for him. The cap was surprisingly tight and, when he finally loosened it, he was squeezing the plastic bottle so tight that a gusher of water shot out, dousing the crotch of his pants. Quinn stared at the dark wet blotch and wondered, where is cyanide when you need it?
Quinn drained half of what remained in the bottle, then set it aside, glanced at the pages and began to recite his lines. Once he got rolling, the words were mostly there, so he only needed to consult the pages twice more for cues, but the character’s voice, the one he had such a grip on all morning, was gone. It wasn’t devious Alexander speaking his mind, it was just charming Quinn Brooks lifelessly reciting some shit he had memorized. He may as well have been in a third-grade Earth Day pageant dressed as an oak tree for all the emotion he was investing in his performance. Once he finished, he was out the door in shame somewhere between when the casting director said, “thank” and when she said, “you”.
Quinn stormed through the outer office and into the parking lot, royally pissed at himself. He yanked off his necktie, wadded it up and hurled it into the backseat of his convertible. A voice in his head asked, “Is that really the best you can do?” Quinn told himself “no” as he struggled out of his coat. “I thought you were serious about this,” said the voice. I am, Quinn insisted to himself. I love acting. “Well, then, show it, goddamn it!”, urged the voice. I can’t, I blew my shot, it’s over, Quinn lamented as he stripped off his dress shirt. But the voice was screaming at him now, “Nothing is ever over unless you let it be over. You don’t give up on what you need, you fight for it! Do you seriously think that I would just walk away?”
Finally, Quinn realized the pep talk wasn’t really from himself. It was the voice of Alexander, roaring back to life and asserting itself. The energy and intensity which had fueled Quinn last night were back, maybe even stronger than before. He marched back toward the casting office, still shirtless and with something to prove, flinging open the front door, crossing the lobby and barging into the inner room. An assistant chased after him, yelling that he couldn’t go in there, but Alexander would not be stopped, pushing aside the startled blond guy who was in the middle of his audition and ignoring the shouts from the folks behind the desk that this was unprofessional and unacceptable.
“No, what’s unacceptable is what I did before,” said Quinn with fury. “I wasn’t showing you who I truly was, what I had the potential to be. I had to get out of here and clear my head before I could see myself for who I am and realize I had unfinished business back here. I deserve to be here. Nothing is ever over unless you let it be over. You don’t give up on what you need, you fight for it! Do you seriously think I would just walk away?”
The words ran out. He had nothing more to say. His broad chest rose and fell with each deep breath, Quinn stared down the people behind the table, who looked like they had just witnessed a car-bomb exploding. The bored camera guy was now alert and zooming in for a close-up of Quinn’s face. The auditioner whom Quinn had interrupted felt compelled to applaud Quinn softly, realizing he could never have delivered a performance as intense as that. Only as his adrenaline subsided did Quinn realize that everything he had said was actually from Alexander’s lines in the script. But not only did they ring true for Alexander, they expressed what Quinn had needed to say.
The folks behind the table consulted with each other in murmurs before the soap opera’s director, a distinguished man with graying hair, a British accent and an approving smile, leaned forward and told Quinn, “Well, this is the part of the audition where we would usually ask you to take off your shirt, but you seem to have jumped the gun on that, dear boy.”
Quinn’s piercing blue eyes gazed right back at the man. He radiated immense confidence, knowing that he had nailed it. He brushed his left hand slowly down his sweat-soaked chest and abs, unaware that, during his outburst, the gemstone on his new ring had shifted back from a deep onyx to a blue lapis lazuli.
At first, the stylist did not recognize the waifish man getting out of the cab in front of the salon wearing a striped shirt, leggings and black Oxford shoes. But the stylist tended to have a good memory for his own work and, once the customer entered, he realized from the conservative brown fade that this was the meek pal of the gorgeous blond who had entered with such urgency the night before. The man walked gracefully to the counter and grinned conspiratorially at the stylist. “Remember me?”
“Yeah, sure,” said the stylist. “You were in here with that other dude last night.”
Damon liked being remembered for once, even if only as an afterthought to “that other dude”. Actually, being remembered as having been “WITH that other dude” gave Damon quite a thrill. “I want to go further. Try something really radical.” Damon described the look he was thinking of, then asked, “Do you do piercings here too?”
Damon was surprised how long the process took to achieve what he wanted, but he knew it would be worth it, if only to see Quinn’s reaction. As he waited for the process to complete, he decided he might as well get a mani/pedi while he was waiting. The cute boy tending to Damon’s nails suggested a facial to clean out Damon’s pores, so that was added to the credit card too.
When Damon finally stepped outside, it was after noon. He checked his phone but hadn’t received a call or text from Quinn. He hoped that was a good sign, but didn’t want to jinx it by calling Q and asking. Catching his reflection in the salon window, Damon could hardly believe he was looking at himself, but these hand-me-down rags from Renee simply did not suit him now. He knew just where to go, so he phoned for another cab.
The white-haired old woman was behind the counter at his favorite funky clothes shop again. In fact, he never remembered seeing anyone else working the register—nor any other customers—in all the times he’d shopped here. Well, browsed. He loved looking at the clothing, and had enjoyed trying on some of the milder outfits in the dressing room, but he never dreamt of wearing any of it out in the real world. Today, though, he wanted to buy everything he tried on, no matter how outlandish. All that held him back was a nagging voice in the back of his head reminding him that his credit card did have a limit.
He brought a pile of items to the counter. As he pulled out his wallet, the woman behind the register noticed a familiar ring on his left hand, silver with a shiny turquoise stone. She studied Damon’s face and was amazed. She knew the effects her jewelry could have, but had never seen such a radical change in a customer in such a short time. “Oh, it’s you! I take it you are pleased with the ring.”
Damon held up the back of his hand and looked at the stone, mesmerized by its color. “I absolutely love it.”
“And your friend?”
“Oh, yeah, it was exactly what he needed!”
The woman was relieved. Although she had known immediately that the man before her was gay, albeit very introverted, she was a bit worried when the friend’s ring had turned only slightly blue. She bought all of her jewelry from an old hippie living in an abandoned filling station near Ojai who had hyped his products by saying they had magical powers which would help the wearer become “self-actualized” and “live their life to its greatest potential”. He ascribed different miraculous abilities to his various rings and necklaces and bracelets. The shopkeeper had been in the business long enough to have lived through the fads of crystals and pyramid-power, to have gone to EST seminars and had herself tested with an e-meter, so she figured this guy was just trafficking in another new line of bullshit, but she liked his designs, so she bought a few samples anyway.
The rings she had sold to the men last night were part of what the hippie jeweler called his XY line. He claimed that they could detect the wearer’s position on the sexuality spectrum. If the stone was pitch black, the wearer was uncontrovertibly heterosexual. The bluer the stone became, the more the wearer embraced their homosexuality. The storekeeper initially assumed the jeweler was just trying to unload crates of unsold mood rings from the Seventies with a modern angle that might make them appealing to gay couples getting married. (He also offered an XX line for lesbians, which accounted for the hot pink stone on the saleswoman’s ring finger.) But the jewelry maker assured her that what made the rings mystical was their power to nudge the wearer along that sliding scale until they reached the point where they felt most comfortable in their own skin. At first, that seemed like an extravagant claim, but the saleslady had seen the jeweler’s promises borne out hundreds of times now and, from the evidence before her, Damon had become far more accepting of his gayness since last night.
After she finished ringing up Damon’s items on the antique cash register, the saleslady asked if Damon needed anything else. “Or perhaps a gift for you friend?”
Damon would love to surprise Q with a gift, but he hesitated, informing the saleslady, “I don’t want to buy him any clothes, because they might be too small for him. If he gets this new job today, they’re probably going to want him to pack on a lot more muscle.”
She heard the magic word and brought out her jewelry box, selecting a pair of wide bracelets made from leather and silver. They had a very rough-hewn macho look, like something a gladiator or Thor would wear, and Damon thought Quinn would look fierce in them. “I’ll take them!”, he shouted without even asking the price.
The saleslady rang it up and noticed that Damon was still studying the jewelry box in search of something else. “I don’t suppose you sell…another kind of ring.”
“What kind of ring?”
Damon blushed, his freshly-cleansed pale skin serving as a flesh-and-blood mood ring, turning practically scarlet. Although no one else was in the store, Damon still felt embarrassed to ask, so he whispered his request in the saleslady’s ear. She nodded and gestured for him to follow her into the back of the shop.
Quinn was pumped!
After Quinn’s cloudburst of an audition, the director asked him to remain in the area for a while until they finished seeing the other actors. So, for a couple of hours, Quinn wandered the parking lot, picked up a protein shake from the Jamba Juice at the mall across the street, then returned to his car to wait until the director needed him again. God, he loved Southern California. Back home, the leaves would be falling soon and the air would be turning crisp already, while here he could sit in his convertible with the seat leaned back and his shirt off, working on his tan.
An assistant finally came out to tell Quinn they were ready for him. When he started to put his shirt back on, the assistant told him, “That won’t be necessary.” Quinn returned to the audition room, expecting to do a full audition, since he’d only said about ten sentences during his earlier tirade, but the director informed him they had heard more than enough. Quinn felt dejected, like he was being held after school to get a scolding on the way real professionals behave. Instead, the director informed Quinn that he had the role. Inside his head, Quinn felt like leaping ten feet high, but he retained his reserved Alexander-ish demeanor and simply stated, “You won’t be sorry.”
Once he was on the studio lot, Quinn would have a personal trainer in the show’s private fitness center, but since Quinn’s first episode wouldn’t shoot for a couple of weeks, they wanted him to hit the gym heavily in the meantime. His body was well on its way to perfection, but for maximum titillation value, the soap writers set a high proportion of the show’s scenes in bedrooms, bathrooms, locker rooms, saunas, massage parlors, laundry rooms—anyplace where the male actors could conceivably, if not always plausibly, display a lot of skin. For a story arc about an academic cheating scandal, the writers had even bandied about the notion of a clothing-optional library. Wags in the press had long ago dubbed the show “Topless Hospital” and “The Hung and the Shirtless”.
“As a gay character,” the director said to Quinn, “it would seem unlikely that your physique would be less spectacular than the straight characters, wouldn’t you say? You do feel comfortable playing a gay character, don’t you?”
“Absolutely,” said Quinn as his ring became a touch more brilliant blue.
Quinn wanted to share the good news with Damon immediately, but he didn’t want to do it over the phone. He wanted to see Damon’s face. He leapt into the convertible without even opening the door and sped back to his apartment. Climbing out, he slipped on a ribbed purple tank top from his gym bag, slung his dress shirt, suit coat and tie over his arm and walked toward his front door.
A veritable bunker of shopping bags was piled by his front door, and extending from behind them were two alluringly slim, smooth legs, feet in blue flip-flops with blue painted toenails. Had Renee already returned from her commercial shoot in Baja? Shit, she did send him that damn text message this morning and he never even looked at it. But why was she sitting outside, when she had Quinn’s spare key? “I’m sorry, baby. You been waiting long?”, said Quinn as he rounded the corner.
“I don’t mind,” said the soft-voiced man seated on Quinn’s welcome mat. Quinn leapt back, startled by the stranger, then became even more startled when he realized this was no a stranger. It was Damon, although he was virtually unrecognizable from the sexual dynamo he’d left on his futon this morning, let alone the shy and awkward man he had he known since college.
“I didn’t see your car out front,” said Quinn, as if that was the reason for the look of shock on his face.
Damon sighed bitchily. “Fascist cops towed it away. Far as I’m concerned, they can keep it. I can’t stand to be seen in a monstrosity like that anyway.” Damon struggled to his feet and pointed to some of the shopping bags surrounding him. “Can you help me with these, doll?” Quinn grabbed two bags and unlocked the door. Damon preceded him into the living room, and Quinn was hypnotized by the waggle of Damon’s perky ass in white short-shorts that ran out of fabric before his glutes ran out of curves. A baby-blue fishnet tank top covered Damon’s now hairless torso, and silver studs now adorned both of his earlobes. His fingernails were coated with the same navy-blue nail polish as his toenails, and his face had a refreshed appearance that made him appear even more boyish than usual. It even looked like Damon had gotten his eyebrows waxed.
But it was Damon’s hair that commanded the most attention. Although it had been buzzed to the scalp on the sides last night, the top had been left a fairly thick and messy brown. Now, the hair on top was dyed a rich shade of blue that matched his eyes and stood in dozens of gelled spikes. Damon couldn’t help admiring himself in the reflection on the microwave door. “Maybe I read too much anime as a kid and had too many crushes on cartoon Asian boys with blue hair, but I fuckin’ love it. Don’t you fuckin’ love it?”
He could never have imagined it, but Quinn had to admit that it did work with the rest of Damon’s radical new look. “I do, but it’s so…different.”
“Different is what I want. I’ve had 23 years to be the same.” Damon sat his little butt on the edge of the futon and leaned forward, elbows propped on his knees and chin resting on his hands as he looked up expectantly at Quinn. “So…how did the audition go?”
Quinn wanted to draw out the suspense, but he was so eager to share the news, he was about to burst. He spoke softly with as blank an expression as he could manage. “I got it.”
Damon’s high-pitched squeal triggered a frenzy of barking from the dogs next door. Just as he had envisioned, Damon leapt into the air, wrapping his slender arms around Quinn’s neck and his bare legs around Quinn’s waist. Quinn gave Damon a soulful French kiss and inhaled deeply. “What have you been drinking? You taste like Kool-Aid”, he asked when he pulled his mouth away from Damon’s.
“Oh, I’m wearing fruit-punch-flavored lipstick,” Damon explained. “Just a little. Also a little eyeliner. And eyeshadow. And some mascara. You like?”
“I do. But, as the actor in this relationship, I thought I’d be the one wearing the makeup.” He smiled, then noticed Damon’s expression suddenly turning serious. “What’s the matter?”
Damon seemed ready to sob. “You just called this a relationship.” He grinned as a tear formed in the corner of his eye and, for the first time in his life, Damon had to worry about runny mascara. Quinn hugged Damon’s thin ribcage tightly, fearing he could snap the poor little guy if he squeezed any harder.
“Oh, I got you a gift,” Damon declared, motioning for Quinn to lower him to the floor. “To congratulate you for getting the part.”
“But you didn’t know I’d gotten the part.”
“Positive thinking!”, Damon shouted as he rummaged through his shopping bags. Quinn thought Damon was nearly broke, but he had clearly gone on a massive shopping spree. Damon flung bright pastel shirts and gold lame vests and sequined socks onto the floor. Quinn even thought he spotted Renee’s striped shirt and black leggings among the pile, but he figured he was mistaken. Finally, Damon found what he was looking for and handed Quinn two leather and silver cuffs.
“For my macho macho man,” Damon said.
Quinn examined them, impressed with the craftsmanship but unsure if they were exactly him. “Thank you so much, Damie, but you really shouldn’t have.”
“I should have and I did. Try them on!”
Quinn unbuckled them and strapped them onto each wrist. Just like when he tried on the ring last night, he felt a comforting warmth flow through his body as soon as the cuffs were in place. Maybe they weren’t Quinn’s type of accessory, but he could certainly see Alexander wearing them. They felt like battle armor, like something Alexander the Great might have worn leading his troops. Maybe Alexander in the soap sees himself as a modern-day Alexander the Great, Quinn thought. Not that Quinn knew much about Alexander the Great, aside from that stupid movie his girlfriend at the time made him watch where Colin Farrell and Jared Leto had the hots for each other. Quinn’s mind lingered over the thought of Colin and Jared together. Maybe that movie was better than he had given it credit for.
A slight buzz and heaviness spread through his muscles, as if he had just finished a heavy workout—which reminded him…
“I gotta go work out. They said I’m gonna have a lot of shirtless scenes, so the show wants me to get more ripped.”
Damon grinned. “My heavens, I am gonna be watching this show on a constant loop.”
“You wanna come work out with me? Then afterwards, we can have a celebratory dinner.”
Damon, for whom working out had always been a slog, clapped excitedly, then searched his bags for his new workout clothes.
When they arrived at the gym, for once it was Damon drawing the attention. Not that Quinn was completely ignored, but here he was but one of hundreds of muscleheads. As far as Quinn could tell, Damon was the only blue-haired pixie here wearing a Madonna “True Blue” t-shirt with the sleeves torn off, old-fashioned scrotum-length running shorts and electric-blue Chuck Taylors.
As Quinn headed toward the free weights, Damon hung back by the treadmills.
“Aren’t you coming over to lift with me?”, Quinn asked.
“I’m gonna work on my calves. You go play with the lummoxes. But I’ll have my eye on you, Q, so don’t get too friendly with any of them.”
“Promise,” Quinn said, rushing back for a kiss and another dose of Damon’s fruity lipstick, which he would continue to taste throughout his workout. Quinn was practically delirious. He was prone to falling into relationships quickly, with his swift courtship of Renee being the most recent example, but he’d never felt quite so smitten with anyone as he was with Damon. Then again, it’s not like they rushed into this. They had been acquainted for several years already, but until yesterday Quinn hadn’t even acknowledged certain tendencies in himself. He always was a little slow to catch on.
Quinn worked his way in with the muscle beasts whose inflated bodies made him feel downright puny. Then again, he never wanted to look that absurd, and would draw the line if the show suggested that he take steroids or any other drugs. He wanted any muscle growth to be natural—unaware that the new cuffs that Damon had given him were already working their own mysterious magic on his muscle tone.
Quinn noticed that the usual maximum weights he could curl and bench felt surprisingly easy today. He attributed that to his great mood and the adrenaline rush of landing the part on the soap. But when he moved up to the next heaviest weight, that too was a breeze. He had to go up a full fifty pounds before he started feeling any strain at all. With each set of curls, his arms were swelling massively, veins snaking in sharp relief atop his biceps. By the end of his workout, he was handling as much weight as the WWE wannabes surrounding him, and his bulging muscles were testing the limits of the seams on his tank top.
Sprinting on the treadmill, Damon watched with fascination, turned on by the sight of Quinn’s expanding lats within his purple tank. When the two men hit the showers together, Damon didn’t even attempt to hide the erection he was getting. Quinn had never been one to check out other guys’ dicks in the locker room, but he figured Damon was fair game now. He was amazed to see that Damon’s cock was several inches longer than it had been last night—bigger than Quinn’s now!—and was that…a cock ring? Yup, the silver beauty that Damon had been afraid to ask for out loud was now working its own form of magic on Damon.
Back in the locker room, Quinn attempted to pull on his plaid flannel shirt, but it was tight on his arms in a way it never had been before. When he tried to pull the buttons toward the buttonholes, he heard loud ripping sounds as the sleeves separated at the shoulder and his lats tore a slit straight down the back of the shirt. He was maintaining an incredible post-workout pump, with a deep crevice between his pecs and sharper definition in his abs. His briefs were a tighter squeeze than usual. He had to lie down on a bench and pull like hell to get his pants over his quads, and there was no way his zipper was going all the way to the top. His sneakers were the only things that fit remotely well. He lay on the bench, defeated and barely clothed.
“I’d say our Q needs to go shopping again,” said Damon, hovering over him, amused.
Quinn looked up and witnessed the latest incarnation of Damon. He had washed out the gel, so his blue hair now hung across his forehead in choppy bangs that grazed his eyebrows. He wore a silver button-down shirt with the short sleeves rolled up to display his modest biceps, a vintage hand-painted necktie, tight tweed slacks turned up at the cuffs, baby-blue socks and black-and-white wingtips. Quinn suddenly felt like a schlub. “I’ll only go shopping if you pick out what I buy.” Damon nodded. It was a deal.
Quinn entered Damon’s favorite shop wearing sweatpants and no shirt. The same saleslady was at her usual post, and she noticed the cuffs on Quinn’s wrists and the dramatic renovations they had already performed on his body. Quinn wasn’t nearly as fussy as he had been last night. With the ring and now the leather cuffs, he felt he’d truly found his center as Alexander…and he felt pretty secure as Quinn too. The selection of clothes that fit Quinn’s new size was limited, but when he tried on a blue sharkskin suit, Damon swooned. Quinn didn’t want to invest in more clothes right now, not knowing if today’s growth spurt was a one-time event, but this ought to do for tonight.
They found a romantic French restaurant where they only had to wait two hours for a table, giving the men time to have their longest sustained conversation ever. Damon’s memories of his own lackluster past seemed to be receding like a bad dream, with only the past 24 hours feeling real to him, so they mostly talked about their hopes for the future. After an extraordinary candlelit dinner fueled by much wine, Damon asked if he could pilot the convertible home. Quinn asked, “Can you drive a stick?” Damon cupped a hand under the newly hefty bulge in his pants and assured Quinn that he could.
Damon tooled down Wilshire Boulevard, frequently glancing over at the sharp-dressed hunk in the passenger seat and smiling. When he passed the usual turn-off, Quinn asked, “Wasn’t that my street?” Damon just smirked and kept driving toward the setting sun. When they arrived at the coast, a jazz band was playing a free concert on the Santa Monica Pier. Damon parked the car and took Quinn by the hand, dragging him toward the music.
They hung on the edge of the crowd, Quinn with his arms around Damon, taking in the sights and sounds of the band and the sky and the ocean and the carnival rides, while remaining in their own little world. As a slow song began to play, Quinn asked if Damon would like to dance.
“I thought you would never ask,” said Damon. “Literally.”
Having been performing in musicals since he was in seventh grade, Quinn was by far the superior dancer, but he took it easy on his partner, just swaying back and forth as Damon rested his blue hair against Quinn’s chest. Quinn stared at the darkening sky and wondered how it was possible for his life to have changed so radically in a single day. He had no idea that Damon was thinking the same thing.
When the concert ended, they returned to the convertible. This time Quinn drove, with Damon reclining so his head rested in Quinn’s lap. He offered to blow Quinn as he drove, but Quinn did not want to end this perfect day by plowing into a freeway overpass while cumming on his windshield. Damon agreed to wait until they got home, contenting himself with nuzzling the hardening bulge under Quinn’s shiny pants.
Once they reached Quinn’s place, they had almost completely undressed each other in the short distance between the car and the front door. They stumbled inside and fell immediately onto the futon. Damon’s cock grew stiff and rigid as he kneaded Quinn’s impressive new muscles. He pushed Quinn down and straddled him, guiding the head of his cock toward Quinn’s ass. Quinn flinched.
“What’re you doing down there, young man?”
“I’m taking my new pink Cadillac for a spin,” Damon grinned.
“First you drive my convertible, now this? When did you get so aggressive?”
“Since I realized what I wanted.” Damon eased the head of his cock into the virgin territory of Quinn’s tight hole. Quinn shouted, his arms spread wide to grip the sides of the futon, his ring now a bright turquoise, just like Damon’s. Damon bent down and kissed Quinn’s chest, whispering, “It’s okay, baby, it’s okay.”
As Damon’s cock pressed deeper inside of him, the agony shifted to pleasure for Quinn, as he experienced a feeling he never knew he could crave. He spread his powerful hands over Damon’s ass cheeks and helped provide thrust for Damon. When Damon came inside Quinn, they both moaned with satisfaction. After cuddling for a while, Damon offered to let Quinn fuck him, but Quinn took a rain check, already having had more excitement today than he could have possibly expected.
“In that case,” said Damon, “I need to take a leak.” He leapt from the futon and scurried naked into the bathroom.
Quinn lay spread-eagled, toying with his semi-hard cock and suddenly feeling envious of Damon’s endowment. Moonlight filtered through the venetian blinds, illuminating the floor which was scattered with script pages, their discarded clothes, and Damon’s purchases from earlier in the day.
Quinn noticed a shadow moving past the blinds, but thought nothing of it until he heard a key sliding into the lock. He scrambled to find something to wear as the door swung open and Renee switched on the lights. She was lugging two suitcases and looked haggard, her usually stylish hair now a straggly mess. Quinn had only managed to get one leg of his sharkskin pants up to his knee when he froze in position.
“Renee! You’re here!”, shouted Quinn, trying to make up in volume what he lacked in enthusiasm.
She rubbed her eyes with exhaustion. “The shoot was canceled because a hurricane was heading for Baja. Didn’t you get my text?”
Oh fuck, Quinn thought, I never did read that fucking text. “Yeah, of course I did. I just didn’t expect you back so soon.”
Renee glanced at the shambles of the room and said, “No, apparently not. What the hell happened here?”
“I, uh, just went on a shopping spree to celebrate. I wanted to wait to tell you when you got back. I got the part on that soap!”
“You did? That’s great, honey.” She walked over to embrace Quinn, who gave her a friendly hug back. Renee was amazed by Quinn’s size. “My god, how did you get so huge?”
“What do you mean? Just good diet and exercise.”
Renee cast a skeptical eye. “I’ve only been away for two days. Nobody balloons like this in two days.” She looked at the slim-fitting clothes strewn about the floor. “I’ll tell you one thing, you’re never going to fit into any of these baby clothes you bought. Didn’t you try any of them on before you bought them?” Just then, Renee noticed her own striped shirt and leggings among the other clothes. She picked them up and showed them to Quinn. “What are these doing out?”
“I don’t know. Honestly.” And he WAS being honest. About that.
Renee heard a flush in the bathroom and her eyes turned accusingly toward Quinn. “Do you have another woman here?”
“What? No. NO. Absolutely not. Listen, why don’t you go back to your place and get a good night’s sleep and we can talk about all this in the morning when we’ve got clearer heads?” He tried maneuvering her toward the front door, but she outflanked him and dashed toward the bathroom door. She was about to knock when some naked twink with blue hair and a silver cock ring swung the door open. He smiled with surprise upon seeing Renee.
“Oh, hi!”, he said, grinning. But as Renee reeled, looking back and forth from Quinn to Damon and trying to piece together what was going on, Damon put his blue-polished fingertips to his lips and said, with concern, “Oh.”
Renee felt like she had stepped into an alternate universe. The last thing she expected when she returned to L.A. was to discover her boyfriend Quinn’s body had suddenly become so jacked. No, that’s not true. The last thing she expected was to discover a blue-haired boytoy hiding naked in Quinn’s bathroom. Scratch that. The last thing she expected was to discover that the blue boy in question was that sweet mild-mannered guy Damon who had first introduced Renee to Quinn.
She was now seated at Quinn’s kitchen table across from Quinn and Damon. As soon as Damon emerged from the bathroom, Renee demanded an explanation. Quinn said she was owed that, but asked if they could at least get dressed first. Quinn pulled on the pants of the sharkskin suit he had bought earlier in the evening but he remained distractingly shirtless. Damon poked through the piles of his new clothes that were scattered around the living room floor, his pale white butt pointing up as he bent down. Renee turned away, embarrassed…after first taking an astonished look at Damon’s surprisingly hefty penis. She would never have suspected he was so gifted down there, proving that you can’t judge a cock by its cover.
Damon finally slipped into a bowling shirt and a pair of fashionably pre-torn skinny jeans and walked over to the table, handing Renee a blue-and-white striped shirt and some black leggings. “These are actually yours.”
“Yes, I know.” Renee tossed them aside. “Do you have anything else that’s actually mine?” Damon shook his head silently.
Damon took a seat beside Quinn at the table. He wanted so much to lean against Quinn’s powerful shoulder for support, but knew that wouldn’t be helpful in this situation. Instead, he brought his left foot onto his chair, placed both hands upon his hairless knee where it poked through a hole in his jeans, then rested his chin upon his hands. Quinn sat upright with his hands folded on the tabletop.
Arms crossed, Renee took a deep breath and tried to speak as calmly as possible. “So, can you tell me what exactly I walked into here?”
Quinn and Damon looked at each other with puzzled expressions. Neither was quite positive how to describe what had happened in the past day and a half. Damon deferred to Quinn, who took his best shot.
“Well, you know I was having trouble getting a fix on this character I auditioned for.”
“The gay guy,” said Renee.
“Right, the gay guy. I just wasn’t feeling like I had a grasp of who he was, what he would look like, how his mind worked, what his needs were. So I asked Damie…Damon to come over and give me his advice.”
“I see. And where did he give his advice first? In your mouth or in your ass?”
Both Damon and Quinn were outraged by this remark and shouted loudly. Renee immediately regretted it, and she motioned for the guys to quiet down. “I’m sorry. That was rude. But I think you can understand that this all has me a little…shaken up.”
Quinn reached over and held her right hand in his left. “I do understand. These past couple of days have been a whirlwind for us too.”
Renee looked down at Quinn’s comforting hand and noticed the unfamiliar turquoise ring on his finger. Confused, she glanced over at Damon and saw an identical piece of jewelry on his hand. She let go of Quinn’s hand. “Are you guys wearing matching rings?”
Quinn pulled his hand back, and Damon covered his ring with his chin. Quinn insisted, “It’s not what you think. It’s not like we’re a couple or anything.” Damon glanced at Quinn, miffed. It may have been a whirlwind, but Damon had indeed begun thinking of them as a couple.
“Oh, so you’re not a couple,” said Renee. “You just happen to have bought each other identical rings.”
“We didn’t buy them for each other. I bought them both,” said Quinn, not exactly helping.
Renee looked at the clock on the microwave. It was 2:17am and she felt ready to collapse. “Can you just tell me if you two have been…doing this since we started dating?”
Before Quinn could reply, Damon reached across the table and took Renee’s hand. “No, Renee. I would never in a million years try to break up a couple.”
Renee stared at Damon’s painted nails, then looked him in the eyes. “Isn’t that precisely what you’ve done?” She then turned to Quinn and said, “I guess I can’t be totally surprised. I’ve dated enough actors to know…that I should stop dating actors. But you’re such a regular dude. I have a hard time picturing you being happy with…” She tried to come up with an apt description of the blue-haired waif across the table. “With some refugee from a rave.”
She stood, taking her shirt and leggings in her arms. She crossed the room, opened the front door, grabbed her suitcases and said, “I’ll come back tomorrow and pick up the rest of my things. Let me know when you two won’t be here. I wouldn’t want to interrupt…anything.” She walked outside and the door closed behind her.
Quinn stared at the door, feeling sad for Renee without feeling any remorse for what he and Damon had done. Damon also felt bad for Renee but had no regrets. He and Quinn had merely been carried away by irresistible, repressed longing for each other, right? Right?
Quinn had run out of words for the day. He walked over to the futon and fell onto it face-first. Within a minute, he was snoring. Damon walked over, sat beside Quinn on the bed and slid his hand gently across Quinn’s broad, well-muscled back. Damon glanced at his clothes scattered about the floor and began to put them back in his shopping bags. He slipped on his flip-flops, quietly carried his bags outside and gently shut the door behind him. On his iPhone, he looked up the address for the city impound lot, then called a taxi to take him there to get his car.
In the morning, Damon woke up alone and naked on his sofa bed, back in his own crummy apartment. He looked at the pile of shopping bags heaped by the front door and knew he had to go back to work today to start building up the money to pay off his credit cards. He walked into the bathroom and took a look in the mirror. He had looked so different the last time he was at work, a mere two days ago. He was bound to be the talk of the office today, walking in with blue hair and pierced ears. He could minimize the impact by removing the blue nail polish and wearing some of his lackluster old clothes, but he’d be slipping right back into the old camouflage that had kept people from noticing him for so long. He didn’t plan to hide himself any more. Let them talk. Damon could handle it.
Remarkably, the arrival of the new, blue version of Damon in the office was almost a non-event. Partly it was because Damon had chickened out a bit and worn the least showy of the various outfits he had bought yesterday, even if a cyan polo, white cargos and leather sandals were nothing like the nondescript clothes he typically wore. Partly it was because they were in L.A., where it seemed that most of the population lived their lives in a constant quest to be noticed, discovered and given their own reality show. But mostly it was because no one was really surprised that Damon was gay, no matter how meek and restrained his behavior had been. The blue hair was a surprising choice, but perhaps he had needed to make a bold, definitive statement. Most of his co-workers just felt relieved that they could stop using neutral pronouns when asking Damon if he had a “significant other” of if he had any plans to do anything with “anyone” on a holiday weekend.
Quinn’s dreams were stressful all night. When he woke up, he felt like he’d just spent six hours watching Renee, Damon and Alexander have one non-stop argument. That’s odd, thought Quinn. Why was Alexander in the fight and not me? But Alexander had been more forceful in defending his position than Quinn had been when he was trying to explain things to Renee. Alexander was unapologetic. If he wanted something—or someone—he found a way to get it, and felt no regrets for anyone who got hurt in the process. Much better than wishy-washy Quinn who might put on a tough act but, as soon as the performance ended, went right back to trying to be everyone’s friend. Right now, Alexander’s viewpoint had greater clarity, and seemed to be more defensible.
Quinn noticed the time and would have to hustle to get to the studio for his first meeting with the cast and crew. No time for a shower and, as he reached for his deodorant, he realized he felt no need to cover up his natural scent. Checking himself in the mirror, he could swear he looked even more pumped this morning. His serratus anterior were much more clearly defined over his ribs, and the V leading into his shorts was more prominent. The stay-at-home moms of America—as well as the gay guys with DVRs—were going to be delighted to see Alexander back on their favorite soap.
He pulled on the white Oxford shirt he had worn last night, rolling up the cuffs to expose the bracelets that Damon had given him. His chest must have expanded overnight too, as the top three buttons of the shirt couldn’t reach their buttonholes. He tucked the shirt tails into his sharkskin pants, the only pants he owned that would fit him any more.
Quinn felt his ego swell as he gave his name at the gate and was waved onto the lot. Sure, it was only a soap opera, but he could tell you a dozen great actors who served their time in soaps on their way to the Oscars. All he needed was a platform where people could notice him and he would be on his way.
A staffer from the show guided him to the soundstage, where he spotted Lionel, the British director he had met yesterday at the audition. He was reintroduced to the show’s producer and head writer, Betsy, who had also been there. She complimented him on his audition. “I’ve never seen anyone rebound from catastrophe to triumph quite so spectacularly. That’s just what we want to see in Alexander.”
Lionel breezed over and asked Betsy a quick question before the next take. He was delighted to see Quinn. “Why if it isn’t our Alexander! Good to see you again, my boy. And aren’t you filling out that shirt nicely today. But don’t get too used to that. You know our motto here: it’s either ‘no shirts’ or ‘no show’.”
Betsy led Quinn on a quick tour of the set and introduced him to more people than he could ever hope to remember, including the cameramen, makeup people, even the other writers. When they got to wardrobe, two costumers sized up the new arrival. “It’ll be a pleasure to dress you,” said a slim young man.
His older female counterpart remarked, “Before the writers figure out how to undress you.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard that clothing isn’t a big chunk of the budget here,” said Quinn.
Betsy asked Quinn to take off his shirt. “Maybe it’ll give our designers here some ideas.” Quinn did as he was asked, although he figured the male costumer was already getting ideas before Quinn disrobed. Betsy was surprised to see how pumped Quinn looked today. “That’s funny. We were a little worried that you weren’t buff enough yesterday, but I can’t imagine why we thought that.”
“Ooh,” said the young designer, “I really like those leather cuffs. You’ll have to tell me where you got them. And what an interesting ring. Is that sapphire?”
“Honestly, I don’t know what it is. But I was hoping I could actually wear these things on the show. They seem like the sort of stuff that Alexander would wear, and they really helped me find the character.”
Betsy said they would consider it. As the designers took initial measurements for Alexander’s wardrobe, Quinn idly fiddled with his ring. His fingers had grown even beefier overnight, like the rest of his body. They might be forced to let him wear the ring as part of his costume, because it didn’t seem like it was going to budge.
He heard a knock on the door and saw three very fit and handsome young men hanging in the doorway. “We heard there was new meat,” said the swarthy one in the front. “Welcome back to Topless Hospital, Alexander.”
At the end of the workday, several of Damon’s co-workers asked if he wanted to join them at happy hour to celebrate the end of the week. Damon was surprised and attributed their friendliness to his new look and attitude. If he thought back, he would have recalled that they were all very friendly to him when he started on the job, frequently inviting him to go drinking or to come to someone’s party, but after Damon consistently turned them down out of shyness and insecurity, they stopped asking. Damon still turned them down tonight, but at least he had a genuine excuse to offer for once. “I think I’ll be doing something with my fr…my BOYfriend,” he smiled, shutting down his computer.
He felt light on his feet as he strolled to the parking garage and dialed Quinn. Damn. Voicemail. “Hi, babe, it’s Damon. Damie. Hope everything was extra special on your first day! I was thinking we could go out for sushi and then I saw online there’s a big dance at Arena which we might want to do after.” Maybe he was being too bossy. Didn’t want to spoil things by pushing too hard too fast. “Unless you’ve got other ideas. Whatever. I’m open. Anyway, give me a call and let me know, okay? Okay, byeeee.” He hung up and considered texting too, but he didn’t want to seem too needy. Quinn was probably still busy at the studio. Damon was sure he would call back when he got the chance.
“More tequila!”, shouted Enrico, who played a brooding but sexy doctor on the soap. He was seated at the innermost side of the round booth at the Mexican restaurant, with each arm hanging over the shoulders of a large-breasted young woman.
“And more chips!”, shouted Terry, who played a streetwise but sexy doctor on the soap and whose entire left hand was currently inserted below the waistline of the tight jeans worn by the buxom young woman who was currently nibbling his ear in the booth.
“And more salsa!”, shouted Chad, who played a naive but sexy doctor on the soap and was currently “Lady and the Tramp”-ing a nacho chip clenched in his teeth, crunching his way toward the bubbly young woman attempting to keep the other end of the chip firmly between her front teeth.
“And more tequila!”, shouted Quinn, who had just spent his first day getting to know his future co-stars and was now getting a first-hand glimpse of the kind of raucousness one could drum up on a Friday night with the benefit of minor televised fame and a secure paying gig. Not that outgoing, handsome guys like these would have had trouble making friends at any bar they entered, but they became even more popular when they told these girls that they were footing the bill. Terry leaned over to Quinn and whispered, “We know you’re not on salary yet. We’ll cover you too. Just have fun!”
At the moment, Quinn was having fun with the petite young woman sitting on his knee who was rubbing her hand across the smooth skin of Quinn’s chest through the gap in his open shirt. She couldn’t stop telling him how much she loved men with big muscles. Someone else at the table must have felt the same way, as Quinn felt bare toes sliding their way under the cuff of his pants and along his shin. At first, he suspected “Lady”, but she was sitting fully on the bench of the booth with her feet tucked underneath her butt. No, the mystery footsie player was “the Tramp”. Chad may be playfully eating chips for the rest of the world to see, but his tootsies were privately making moves on Quinn. The woman on Quinn’s knee took Quinn’s sudden erection as a compliment and gave him a big kiss, but Quinn kept his eyes fixed on Chad.
When the four actors finally staggered out of the cantina, Quinn had ditched the petite woman and was having trouble finding where to insert the key into the lock of his car—even thought it was an unlocked convertible with the top and windows down. Chad wandered over, asking if Quinn needed any help.
Quinn informed him, “I’m fine.”
“You sure are,” Chad whispered in Quinn’s ear, discreetly sliding his palm across Quinn’s crotch. Quinn turned instinctively to kiss him, but Chad pulled back. “Not here. Come with me, I’ve got a beach house.”
Chad yelled to Enrico and Terry, “Looks like the newbie’s a lightweight. I’m gonna make sure he gets home. See you guys on Monday!” Quinn followed Chad to his car, which turned out to be a red Corvette. It took all of Quinn’s remaining self-control not to ejaculate then and there. He climbed into the passenger seat and placed his hand lovingly on the stick shift. Chad shut his door, put his hand on top of Quinn’s and planted a kiss on Quinn’s lips. Quinn felt like his body was liquefying.
As the Corvette roared away toward the coast, a faint buzz was emerging from the trunk of Quinn’s convertible back in the parking lot. When Quinn had gone to pump some iron with the other guys at the show’s full-service exercise room, Quinn had tossed his cell phone into his gym bag. Where it still sat. In Quinn’s trunk.
Damon hung up, frustrated that Quinn wasn’t calling him back. Maybe he had “come to his senses” and gone back to Renee. Damon started to beat himself up for becoming so attached so quickly to Quinn, when Quinn obviously could have pretty much anyone he wanted…of any gender. But before he could sink into depression, Damon rallied his spirits. While draining the last of a bottle of white wine he had bought on the way home, a bottle he had hoped he would be sharing with Quinn, Damon was modeling for himself in the bathroom mirror, trying on various items of his new wardrobe. He wrapped his arms around his smooth body, pursed his lips and waggled his semi-hard cock which hung loose through his fly. “Suck my dick, Quinn Brooks,” he shouted defiantly. He stuffed his phone and wallet into a kicky little man-purse, grabbed his keys, and headed out the door and into the night.
Damon found a parking spot on the street a mere six blocks away from the club. He had gelled his blue hair so it jutted straight forward, hanging off his head like an extended cliff in a Road Runner cartoon. He wore a sheer short-sleeved shirt, Levi cut-offs so short that the bottoms of the pockets were hanging out, and a pair of navy-blue Keds. If he was at all hesitant about his first solo excursion into gay bars since his big transformation, it wasn’t evident in his purposeful stride and steel-eyed glare. Tonight, he was definitely on the prowl.
After 45 minutes waiting in line, Damon was reconsidering the wisdom of a sheer shirt and shorts on a chilly September night. By the time he got in, he was sure his skin was now color-coordinated with his hair, but it felt good to finally be indoors and surrounded by hundreds of male bodies which were both hot and warm. His energy level was high, he was making flirty eye contact, he was taking the initiative to start unintelligible shouted conversations as the beat pounded relentlessly and the floor periodically filled with fog. On the surface, he was having a good time, but it wasn’t the same without Quinn nearby.
Damon headed to the bar for another glass of wine and pulled his phone from his bag. Still no messages. Even when Quinn used to blow off all of Damon’s invitations to go out and do something, he had been unfailingly polite in promptly getting back to Damon. This wasn’t like him. At least it wasn’t like the old him.
Damon shoved his phone back into his bag and pulled out a wallet to pay for his drink. He heard a husky voice behind him say, “I got this one, cutie.” Damon turned around and discovered an enormous bear of a man looming behind him. His long dark hair in a ponytail, the man wore a leather vest, pants and boots, and heavy silver chains around his neck. His chunky arms and chest were heavily tattooed, but it was hard to make out any of them due to his heavy body hair. Damon was pretty sure that was a mermaid on the guy’s forearm, but the hair made her look more like a werewolf.
“You look cold, little buddy,” the man said as he paid for Damon’s drink and ordered a Miller Lite for himself.
“Maybe you could warm me up,” said Damon, leaning against the bar and sticking out his ass provocatively. Damon didn’t think this guy was really his type. Then again, he was barely out of the closet. How could he be so sure what his type was? He clinked his wine glass with the man’s beer can and smiled, wishing Quinn would return his calls.
The Corvette reached Chad’s oceanside home astonishingly quickly, or maybe Quinn just hadn’t been paying attention to the time or the traffic. Through the entire drive, his eyes had been fixed on Chad, his collar-length strawberry-blond curls, his slightly pug nose, his plump lips, the wisps of facial hair, the freckles on his suntanned skin, his toned biceps and triceps which flexed every time he turned the steering wheel, his strong hands wrapped in leather driving gloves. Quinn had never felt free to ogle another man blatantly like this and he was enjoying the sensation.
Sure, he had been checking out Damon’s body over the past couple of days, and he appreciated Damon’s loyalty and friendship. Maybe he even loved the little guy. But Alexander would never let a prime cut of meat like Chad go undevoured. And could Quinn really give an authentic performance as the sexually omnivorous Alexander if the only gay sex he’d ever had was with one twink?
Chad kept the lights low as they entered his cozy beach house. The sound of the waves, crashing then receding, provided a constant pulse that echoed through the building. As he followed Chad, he couldn’t help but notice how many framed photos of Chad lined the walls and were propped on the furniture. No photos of Chad with anyone, just solo shots of him fishing or surfing, plus plenty of publicity headshots. Most of the living room had been made into a home gym, with windows offering an amazing view of the ocean to the west and floor-to-ceiling mirrors lining the south wall.
“Want anything?”, Chad asked from the kitchen. The refrigerator door was open, stocked with healthy foods and protein shakes on the lower shelves but an entire shelf of various beers at the top. Quinn also noticed that Chad had casually shed all of his clothes on the way to the kitchen, and the refrigerator light was now illuminating Chad’s impressive musculature and the shape of his substantial semi-rigid cock. Quinn stripped off his shirt and strode confidently into the kitchen, tilting Chad’s head back and wrapping his lips around Chad’s. Chad loosened Quinn’s belt and tried to nudge Quinn’s pants down, but Quinn’s muscles had grown again today and the pants would not slip easily around Quinn’s now massive glutes. Quinn grabbed one side of his open fly in each hand, pulling apart and shredding the fabric enough that he could step out of his pants.
Chad tried to say something, but Quinn’s tongue in his mouth made him unintelligible. He pulled back and breathlessly instructed Quinn, “The bench, the bench,” pointing across the room to the home gym. The two impressive physical specimens made their way across the living room without ever letting each other go. Quinn sat down on an exercise bench and lowered Chad’s ass onto his now erect penis. Quinn was rock-hard and was really getting off on Chad’s body. Chad was also getting off on Chad’s body, moaning with pleasure as he gazed at his ecstatic expression in the mirror. He reached up and grabbed the lat pull-down bar on the exercise machine, both to steady himself and to study how beautifully the refrigerator light outlined his exquisite deltoids and biceps. He pulled down the bar to give himself a little extra pump to admire.
After Quinn came the first time, they switched over to the inclined press bench. After that, the sofa. Then, the carpet. Eventually, the beach. Occasionally, Quinn would try to ask a question, but Chad shushed him quickly each time, not wanting to be distracted from his own sensations. By the time the sun rose, Quinn felt he knew every inch of Chad’s body and barely anything about Chad’s brain. Inside his own brain, Quinn could hear Alexander asking, “Isn’t that enough?”
Before he even opened his eyes, Damon knew something was wrong. The sounds around him were unfamiliar, for one thing. The din of freeway traffic was so deafening that he felt like he must be lying on an exit ramp. The mattress beneath him was so lumpy and uncomfortable, he thought it must be stuffed with bowling balls, and he could feel an errant spring poking through the fitted sheet and scratching against his stomach. His asshole felt raw, his stomach queasy, his mouth parched. As his tongue explored his mouth, it detected notes of alcohol, tobacco and rubber. His whole head felt funny, beyond a typical hangover. He felt drained of energy and lacking in confidence. In that respect, Damon felt just like…old Damon.
He finally risked opening his eyes, which weren’t ready for the blast of sunlight shining freely through the room’s nearly transparent curtains. Damon was in a shabby motel room, with unexplainable splotches staining the stucco ceiling, decades of cigarette residue coating the wallpaper and god knows what mixture of bodily fluids clinging to the matted strands of green shag carpeting. He was lying naked on a double bed with grimy sheets and several used condoms. Careful where he stepped, Damon stood up and peeked through the drapes. No wonder the traffic sounded so loud—the freeway couldn’t have been more than forty feet away.
Damon walked gingerly to the bathroom, where soggy towels covered the floor. He leaned against the sink and checked himself in the mirror for any damage, but his face and body were still smooth and pale, except for the thin pink scratch mark across his tummy from the bedspring. He had major blue bedhead and had lost the stud from his left ear somewhere, but his cock ring was still in place. He couldn’t put a finger on what else was missing until he noticed his finger. His left ring finger. His ring was gone!
He tried to remember who he might have been here with. He knew it wasn’t Quinn, although he wished it had been. The last thing he could remember was drinking far too much wine at the club with…some big hairy guy. A big hairy guy who was paying a lot of attention to Damon, pawing his skinny arms and his bubble butt. Could he possibly have come here with that guy? He sucked on something caught in his front teeth and pulled out a short, curly, black hair. Not exactly DNA proof, but that pretty well confirmed his suspicions. He wondered how long ago the guy had left, and whether he would be returning.
As Damon looked around the room, he couldn’t find his clothes. He checked under the bed. No clothes, but he saw a few other items there which were currently in the midst of decaying. Nothing in any of the dresser drawers except for a Bible, from which someone at some point had torn out the entire Old Testament. The people who used this room probably didn’t consult the Ten Commandments all that often anyway. No clothes in the bathroom, no clothes behind the TV, no clothes hanging on the lampshade. Damon even poked his head out the door, but saw no clothes outside. Shit, did the big guy ditch him here and take all of his clothes as well as his ring? Why would anyone do that? Unless…
Damon suddenly got a sinking feeling. He hadn’t noticed his man-purse anywhere in the room either. Where he kept his iPhone. And his keys. And his wallet. With his credit cards. And his driver’s license. That showed his home address. Which the big guy could be ransacking at this very moment.
Wrapping a soggy bath towel around his slight waist. Damon ran to the motel office and spoke to the woman working behind two sheets of bulletproof glass. He shouted through the slot at the bottom of the window, “Were you working last night when I checked in?”
The woman droned, “Yes, sir.” She couldn’t say she spent much time studying the faces of the motel’s guests, but she was fairly confident that only one scrawny blue-haired white boy had registered last night.
“Do you remember who was with me? Maybe a big hairy guy? Leather vest?”
She shook her head. “I don’t recall anyone with you, sir.”
Damon banged his head against the window, rattling the bulletproof glass. He leaned down again and called weakly through the gap, “Thank you for your help.”
The woman said, mechanically, “You have a nice day, sir.”
Damon’s bare feet slapped against the cement as he made his way back to the room. When he tried the knob, he realized that the door had locked behind him. This was becoming a habit. But as far as he could remember, there hadn’t been a key inside the room anyway. Besides, he had no belongings left in there to retrieve. Tying a tighter knot in the towel around his waist, Damon took a seat at the side of the motel’s drained pool, dangling his feet into the air at the deep end. Sure, he felt ripped off and dejected, but there was something more bothering him. Those feelings of pride, confidence and self-worth which had elevated his mood in the past few days were totally gone and he had reverted back to the same old meek, self-doubting Damon. He had felt so great dancing with Quinn on the pier. No, the good feeling came earlier, when they were at the French restaurant. No, it was definitely earlier than that. When they were fucking, Damon thought, starting to wonder if he could really have been that lucky to go to bed with Quinn Brooks. But, no, he was feeling positive about himself even before the fucking. Way back in the old lady’s shop when Quinn bought him…
Quinn woke to something hard beneath him and something sticky on his face.
As he felt around, he realized he was flat on his chest on Chad’s redwood balcony, his naked buns baking in the mid-morning sun. He reached up to his forehead, where a Post-It note had been attached. Quinn peeled it off and tried to read Chad’s nearly illegible printing. “CUT 4 A GUN BRITE BUCK”? With a little more study, Quinn deciphered it as “OUT 4 A RUN. B RITE BACK.”
Quinn stood up, giving the neighbors brunching on their deck next door a clear view of Quinn Junior. Quinn just smiled and waved. “Morning!”
Quinn slid open the balcony door and stepped into Chad’s living room. He couldn’t resist checking out his reflection in the wall of mirrors. Damn, you just keep getting better, he thought with a wicked smile, grabbing his cock in one hand while he reached for a banana with the other. He peeled the banana and devoured it quickly, then scoured the kitchen for more food. His metabolism must be going nuts with his body’s sudden growth, as he was famished. He whipped up a protein smoothie, and then another, before he felt even slightly satisfied.
The idea of a run along the beach sounded nice. Maybe he would catch up to Chad. He searched the house for running gear that would fit him. He located some Speedo Jammer shorts that he could just barely squeeze into and hit the beach barefoot. He was still getting used to carrying so much extra muscle, but his endurance seemed to have increased along with it, and he found himself racing along faster than he had ever run in his life.
He spotted another runner sprinting ahead of him, his lean muscles clearly visible. If it were possible, this guy might have negative body fat. Quinn shifted into overdrive to catch up with the guy, then eased back to stay even. The runner clearly felt challenged, so he kicked it up and pulled away, but Quinn wasn’t going to let him get away. For the next mile, the lead seesawed until Quinn finally hit the wall and collapsed on the sand. The other runner laughed, victorious, then jogged back toward Quinn, still moving to avoid cramping up.
“You move pretty fast for such a big guy,” the runner told him. Quinn would have responded, but he was still panting too heavily. “You got that much endurance at everything?”
Quinn stared at the runner’s shock of red hair, his gaunt but handsome face, his fit body and the bulge under his fluorescent yellow running shorts. Five minutes later, Quinn was underneath a pier, leaning against a support column with his hands clutching the runner’s shoulder muscles. The runner’s red hair bobbed back and forth as he worked his tongue along Quinn’s arching shaft. Quinn brushed a thumb gently along the runner’s cheek. When did I become such a slut?, Quinn wondered, but at that moment, he shot his load, dislodging any deeper thoughts for the time being.
It’s amazing what people throw away, if you just go looking for it. Damon knew he wasn’t going to make it all the way back to West Hollywood barefoot and wearing nothing but a towel. His car hadn’t been in the motel’s parking lot, meaning either the hairy guy had stolen it or they had driven here in the hairy guy’s vehicle, reducing Damon’s current options to walking or hitchhiking. He checked in dumpsters and trash cans as he walked along and, one by one, found discarded bits of clothing which more or less fit him. He ignored the stains and the stench that coated the sparkly stretch pants and the One Direction t-shirt. He spotted several pairs of sneakers hanging from their laces across telephone lines, but couldn’t figure out a way to retrieve them. Eventually, he located a bamboo sandal for his right foot and a zebra-striped Vans slip-on for the left. Frankly, he had worn sillier outfits in the past few days.
By the time he reached Melrose Avenue, he must have walked ten miles. He desperately needed water, he was developing blisters on his right foot, and his pale skin was guaranteed to be lobster-colored and painful by tomorrow morning. But it was worth it. He had finally made it to the old lady’s store. He could get an answer to why both he and Quinn had experienced such radical changes, and why Damon had suddenly lost his mojo this morning. He reached the door and tried to open it, but it wouldn’t budge.
He noticed a little sign on the inside of the door bearing the face of a clock, declaring “WE’LL BE BACK” with the hands set to 2pm.
Damon slumped to the sidewalk, exhausted. Enough pedestrians took pity on this pathetic-looking guy and tossed him spare change that he was able to buy himself a bottle of water at a convenience store across the street. Walking out of the store, he saw the old lady unlocking the door. Seeing a disheveled crazy man bolting through traffic mid-block and heading straight toward her, the shopkeeper hurriedly got inside and slammed the door in his face. Damon screamed through the front window, “You gotta tell me what’s going on! Look, remember me?” He pointed to his blue hair. She finally realized who it was. “Someone stole my ring. I need your help!”
The storekeeper unlocked the door and let him inside, reeling from his pungent aroma. When he moved toward a rack of delicate vintage clothes, she said, “Please don’t stand by those. I’d never get the stench out.” He looked too weak to stand, so she led him to her stool behind the counter.
Damon finished off his bottle of water and took a minute to catch his breath before speaking softly. “I need you to tell me about those rings you sold us. What do they actually do?”
She composed her thoughts. “Well, to put it simply, they help you become the person you want to be. They free you of your inhibitions and let you explore your options.”
“So the ring didn’t make me dye my hair and everything else? It just gave me the balls to do it?”
“The ring may have given your balls a little…nudge. The color of the ring showed where you were on the scale from black being totally straight to bright blue being totally gay. Only you can say where on that scale you feel the most genuinely yourself.”
Damon thought back. Before he put on the ring, he was barely acknowledging his sexuality, let alone embracing it. After the ring, he felt like he could be wild and try anything, no matter how outrageous. Maybe he had gone a little overboard, probably overcompensating for years of self-imposed repression, but somewhere in the turquoise range, Damon truly had felt like he was in a comfort zone, living his life the way he had always wished he could.
“So if I want to feel that way again, I guess I need to buy another ring?”
The woman took Damon’s hand and assured him, “If the ring taught you who the real you is, then just be the real you. You don’t need a ring for that.”
Damon considered that. Maybe the ring had helped him realize that he did have the strength to be himself. “But what about the ring you sold my friend?”
“He asked for something that would make him feel gay. Didn’t it work?”
“It worked great. But he wanted to ACT gay! For a role! On TV! He didn’t want to BE gay in real life!”
“Are you sure about that?”
Damon still wasn’t, entirely. Quinn definitely embraced his changes with gusto once they started happening, but Damon was never sure if that was just research for his character. “So once he takes off the ring, will he go back to acting the way he did before?”
“Maybe. Unless he decides he likes his new self better.”
Damon shook his head. If he hadn’t seen and experienced these changes personally, he would never have thought them possible. “You really should’ve explained all this up front.”
“Ah, but life is all about unexpected discoveries. Think of all the fun you would have missed.”
Damon looked down at the hodgepodge of stinky clothing he was wearing and didn’t feel very fun right now. “How about the other stuff you sold us? Like that cock ring? Did that read my mind too and adjust my cock to the length I liked best?”
“No, that just made your penis bigger,” she said, matter-of-fact.
Damon shoulders sagged. “Could I borrow your phone, please?” She pointed Damon to a rotary phone on the wall in the back room, then had to talk him through how to use it. He wanted to call Quinn and check up on him, but he had no clue what Quinn’s number was or really what anyone’s number was. They were all stored in memory on Damon’s stolen iPhone. Instead, he got the number for a cab company that could take him the rest of the way home. He borrowed money from the shopkeeper to pay for the taxi.
When he reached his apartment, all he wanted to do was walk inside and collapse on his sofa bed. But he got a bad feeling when he saw the key stuck in the front door. Damon turned the knob, swung the door open and discovered that the big hairy guy had indeed come by and stolen most of his belongings, including the sofa bed. All of Damon’s new clothes were gone, leaving behind only the dullest or most unsightly relics from his past. He really would be starting from scratch, but at least he now had a sense of where he wanted to end up. He wasn’t likely to be as flamboyant as he had gotten in the past few days, but he would never go back to being Mr. Camouflage.
After his blowjob under the pier, Quinn kept strolling toward Venice Beach. When he reached the outdoor weightlifting area known as Muscle Beach, he stopped to watch the bodybuilders working out and being ogled by the passing spectators. Quinn’s own muscles had grown huge enough that he could fit right in, and he found himself itching to get in there and lift with them. He felt a gigantic palm on his chest as he tried to enter. A towering muscleman asked Quinn if he was a member. Quinn explained that he was just passing by and didn’t have any money on him. A short but powerfully built man nearby shouted, “Tramon, let him in. I’ll pay his fee for the day.”
Tramon let Quinn onto the hallowed ground, and Quinn approached his benefactor. “Thanks, man. You didn’t have to do that.”
“Call me curious. I wanted to see if all those muscles were just for show.” He extended his hand, told Quinn his name was Dwayne, and offered to spot Quinn on the clean-and-jerk. Half an hour later, Quinn and Dwayne were back at Dwayne’s condo, smoking pot and jerking each other off. After a while, Quinn asked to borrow some clothes from Dwayne, then continued on his walking tour of the coast. He found himself locking eyes with every cute guy he walked past. Most of them looked away in disgust and embraced their girlfriends as proof of their lack of interest, but he did end up making out with three of them (two as a couple) before the sun went down. His needs were growing insatiable.
He fell asleep on a bench and spent most of Sunday wandering up and down the beach, trying to remember where Chad lived. Eventually it occurred to him to call the office of the soap opera and ask if they could give him the address. When he finally convinced the operator that he was really a cast member on the show who had just started on Friday, he was patched through to a frantic production assistant, who immediately connected him to Betsy.
“Where have you been? We’ve been trying to track you down all weekend!”
“I dunno,” said Quinn, “just kickin’ back.”
“Everyone was so excited after meeting you that we’ve decided to introduce your character sooner, in the episode we shoot tomorrow. I’ve already emailed you the script pages.”
“Actually, I’m not at home and don’t have access to a computer right now. Is there any way I can get a hard copy?”
“Of course. Where are you?”
Quinn looked around for a landmark. “I’m by the ocean.”
“Could you narrow that down a bit? Please at least tell me it’s the Pacific.”
Quinn walked to the nearest streetcorner and gave her an address. A production assistant arrived within half an hour, and he asked the PA to drive him to the Mexican restaurant where his car was still parked. He went inside and ate a few burritos while he studied his script, then sat in the convertible for a few more hours, reading and rereading his lines. He fell asleep in his car and woke with the dawn.
By the time he arrived at the studio in the morning, Quinn was locked in the zone, thinking like Alexander, being Alexander. Betsy was relieved to see Quinn and led him toward his dressing room, where she proudly pointed out the star bearing the name “Quinn Brooks”.
“What do you think?”, she asked. Quinn seemed ambivalent, which surprised her. “You look unhappy. It’s usually a pretty big moment when an actor gets his own dressing room for the first time.”
“No, it’s great,” Quinn said in a tone that conveyed it wasn’t great. “It’s just…is there any way you could put Alexander’s name on the door instead? It might help me to stay in character.”
“Maybe you won’t want to stay in character. Alexander is kind of a dick.”
Betsy laughed lightheartedly, but Quinn took it personally. “I don’t know. I think he’s got a lot of admirable qualities. He’s a bit all over the place in the script, but I have some notes on how we can make him more consistent.”
Betsy smiled stiffly. Was Quinn unaware that she was not only his boss but also the person who had written that “all over the place” script? “I look forward to that,” she lied through gritted teeth, and led him to wardrobe.
Quinn took off his shirt and the male costumer gasped as he saw how much bigger Quinn had become over the weekend. As Quinn tried on his first outfit, he couldn’t even get his arms through the sleeves. The female costumer sighed and informed Betsy it was going to take them a while to alter Quinn’s wardrobe. Betsy nodded, then placed a hand on Quinn’s shoulder. “I know I said we wanted you buff, but maybe you should lay off the exercise for a bit. We wanted a hunk, not the Hulk.”
Betsy was called away, but the male costumer whispered to Quinn, “Can you tell me what you’re taking? I’ve never seen results like this.” Quinn looked indifferent, so the costumer returned his attention to measuring Quinn’s inseam.
Lionel, the director, walked past wardrobe and noticed Quinn. “Oh, there’s our dear boy. Big first day, eh, Quinn?”
Quinn glanced away from the mirror where he was admiring his physique to address Lionel haughtily. “I’d prefer if you would call me Alexander.”
Lionel chuckled until Quinn’s expression convinced him the request was serious. “Oh, by all means, Alexander. We shall await you on the set. Verily.”
Lionel headed back to the soundstage, where he encountered Betsy. “Mr. Daniel Day-Lewis would prefer that we address him as Alexander for the duration.”
Betsy rolled her eyes. “Yes, I know. I’m trying to cut the kid a break. Maybe it’s just first day jitters.”
The production was running an hour late by the time Quinn reached the floor, the costumers still making some last-minute alterations. Chad approached Quinn and asked quietly, “Where did you take off to the other day? I was worried sick about you all weekend.”
Quinn waved a hand at him dismissively. “Please, I’m trying to focus.” Chad fumed, thinking several words which he would not be allowed to say on the show.
Lionel began to block the first scene, but as soon as they reached the first line, Quinn—ahem, ALEXANDER—loudly voiced his concerns about some of the dialogue. “Does any of this seem far-fetched to the rest of you? I realize it is only a soap opera, but come on. Can we get the writers in here to punch this up a bit?”
Lionel pulled Quinn aside and whispered, “I don’t disagree that you might have some valid points. Unfortunately, we’re already behind schedule, Quinn.”
“Alexander”, said Quinn.
Betsy walked over, asking what the problem was.
“The problem,” said Quinn, “is the words and the fact that I have to say them.”
Betsy bristled, trying desperately to control her temper. “I’m afraid there’s no time for rewrites right now, so if you can just deliver the lines as written, maybe we can talk about future scripts when we have a bit more time to think.”
“Yeah, but this is the first time that people are going to see me and they’ll think that I’m the one who’s bad because I’ll be the one saying these shitty fucking lines.”
Betsy was seething. Although she was a foot shorter than Quinn, she brought all of her anger and passion to bear and spoke to him in a low but firm whisper. “I am going to let you go home and rest, because you are clearly not in the proper frame of mind to work today. And while you are there, I would like you to think long and hard about whether you want to stay there, or whether you would prefer to come back here and do your fucking job. You can call my assistant when you’ve decided…Quinn.” She spun on her heel and exited the silent soundstage.
Lionel nervously called for an early lunch.
Quinn drove home in a fury. If he encountered any red lights along the way, he certainly didn’t notice or obey them. He screeched his convertible into its parking space and stormed into his apartment. He had blown it. He’d submerged so deeply into his character that sensible, fun-loving Quinn wasn’t even on that stage today. Just Alexander the arrogant prick.
Quinn looked at himself in the bathroom mirror and was sickened by what he saw. Everything about him seemed phony, like he was looking at someone he no longer recognized. He ripped off Alexander’s shirt and pants and stuffed them in the garbage. He yanked the leather and silver cuffs off his wrists and flung them across the room. Immediately, he felt a weight lifted from his shoulders. Exhausted, he flopped face first onto his futon, his arms hanging limply over the side. He sobbed into a pillow and breathed heavily as he found himself relaxing, unaware that his body was deflating like a popped Macy’s parade balloon. The giant muscles that had exploded on his frame since last week gradually receded, their sculpted definition softening, his former leanness returning to his frame. When he reached the size he had been when this all began, the ring on his left hand was pulled downward by gravity and dropped onto the floor. Quinn let out a deep exhale and fell asleep.
Hours later, after the sun had set, he was awakened by a tapping on his door. He stretched his arms and yawned, “Who is it?”
Quinn smiled. He needed a friend right now. He walked to the door and opened it. Damon stood on the welcome mat with a look of concern. His hair was still blue, but without any gel and combed straight back, looking about as conservative as blue hair can look. His skin, by contrast, was sunburnt red. He still had a stud in his right earlobe, but wore no eye makeup. His skinny unadorned arms hung slack from the sleeves of a white v-neck t-shirt, tucked into tight black jeans. His nails still had blue polish, with his toes wriggling in flip-flops from the discount bin at CVS.
The first thing Damon noticed about Quinn was that his old body was back and that the cuffs were off his wrists. He didn’t mind, since he’d never had any complaints with the way Quinn looked to begin with. He also saw that Quinn was no longer wearing the ring.
“Hey, Q,” said Damon, optimistically.
“Hey, D,” said Quinn, exhaustedly.
“Just hadn’t seen you in a few days. Wanted to make sure you were okay.”
“That’s nice. You’re probably the only person in L.A. who gives a shit.”
“Oh, come on, there’s…” Damon thought. “I’m sure there’s lots of people. How are things going on the soap?”
“I was a complete jackass today, so they sent me home.” Quinn fell heavily onto his futon.
“Sent you home? Did they fire you?”
“Not exactly. They told me to think about if I wanted to come back.”
“And you’re gonna tell them yes, right? You can’t just blow off an opportunity like this.” Damon risked sitting on the futon beside Quinn, but didn’t make any physical contact. He had no idea how much of the past few days Quinn even remembered, or if he’d be embarrassed or ashamed about how intimate the two of them had gotten.
“I don’t know. I’m not sure I want to be that Alexander guy.”
“I know this isn’t my specialty, but do you really have to BE him? Can’t you just, like, ACT?”
Quinn laughed for the first time all day. He reached up and clapped Damon on the shoulder, giving his body a friendly shake. “I can always count on you to put me in my place, Damie.”
Damie? Quinn had never called Damon that until he started wearing the ring. Quinn repositioned himself so he was kneeling on the futon. He put his arms around Damon’s shoulders and kissed his neck. Damon got goosebumps, but knew that he had to tell Quinn everything he had heard from the shopkeeper about the magic ring.
After hearing Damon’s explanation, Quinn leaned back on his elbows and stared at the ceiling to process this new information. “So everything I did while I was wearing the ring was just me exploring my sexuality so I could learn what felt the most honest and real?”
“Kind of the way I figure out how to play a character. I keep doing the wrong things until I finally stumble into what feels right.”
“If that’s how it works. You’re the actor here.”
“Oh, I am? Does that mean I can be the one who wears the makeup in the relationship again?”
Damon turned with a smile. “I’m still wearing the fruit-punch lipstick.”
“Really?”, Quinn asked. He leaned in and gave Damon a quick kiss on the lips. “Mmm. Still as good as I remembered.”
Damon didn’t want to set himself up for getting hurt. He looked Quinn in the eyes and said, “All those feelings you had over the last few days, you realize they might just have been you trying to figure out how to be Alexander. They might have nothing to do with what the real you wants.”
“But the real me is here right now. And he finally knows what he wants.”
Quinn grinned. “That woman at the store was right. I’ve always been a little bit gay. I just refused to acknowledge it. But for the right guy, I think I could be a whole lot gay.” He pushed Damon back onto the futon and kissed him. Damon yelped a bit as he pulled the v-neck over his head, the fabric brushing against his sunburn. Quinn helped him wriggle out of his jeans, but they had only been making out for a couple of minutes when Quinn stopped.
“What is it? Second thoughts?”, Damon asked, his worst fears confirmed.
“No, I just realized I’ve really got to act tomorrow. I need you to help me memorize my lines. But first, I’m taking you out to dinner. Just give me a minute to shower up.” Quinn hopped to his feet, kissed the top of Damon’s head and went into the bathroom.
Damon’s heart was skipping. He looked down from the edge of the futon and saw Quinn’s ring lying on the floor. Damon picked up the little troublemaker and examined it. Hard to believe something so small could have caused such huge changes. Damon clutched it in his hand, stood up and walked to the front door. Standing naked in the doorway, he hurled the ring as hard as he could, with no clue where it landed. He was just glad to get rid of it. As he walked back in, he noticed the leather-and-silver cuffs on the floor and pondered what to do with them.
Quinn jumped out of the shower, wiped off the mirror and smiled, happy to see a friendly face looking back again. He felt tremendously calm and, for the first time in his life, certain about himself.
“Q?”, Damon called from the living room, a hint of worry in his voice.
“What, D?”, asked Quinn as he swung open the door.
Damon stood in the middle of the living room, wearing the cuffs on his wrists. In the brief time since he had tried them on, the cuffs had already enlarged the skinny young man’s muscles so he resembled a competitive diver. His arms actually had distinct bulges, his pecs and abs had the beginnings of true definition, and his legs, already his best feature, gained significant size and tone.
Damon smiled at Quinn and asked, “Can you help me pick out something to wear?”