It's getting colder. A few nights ago, the first snowflakes fell. They were gone by morning, but you could still see your breath long after the sun came up. The rent boys that cruise the parks after sundown, the boys that stand at bus stops with their hands in their pockets waiting for the sedans to drive by will be in shorter supply. They'll take to the nightclubs and bathhouses
, they'll pay for ads in the back of certain magazines. But the desperate, and the clueless, and the very young ones will still take to the streets, pulling their collars up against the winds, shivering underneath streetlamps
, miserable and lovely. What I want cannot be found in a night club. What I want does not advertise discreetly in the back of magazines. What I want will wait for me in the open, because the threat of walls
will be too much.
Marisa thinks that I'm wasting my time. Every time we talk about this, which is every time we talk, she says something about me looking in all the wrong places. She thinks the rumors I heard are only that, rumors, and that I ought to pack up and move on. She doesn't understand the force of a compulsion. She doesn't understand that there isn't anything as simple as giving up for me.
Two nights ago, I picked one up. He was waiting for me on a corner next to a butcher's. Fresh meat, I thought. His hands made an isoceles triangle over his crotch. His jeans were tight and he wore a ripped and faded Members Only jacket; he was too young to remember when they were popular. I rolled down the window on the passenger's side and beckoned him over with a roll of money gripped loosely in my fist. He licked his lips and power walked over to my car. I smiled at him, "What's your name?"
"Lucky," he lied.
"This might be your lucky night, Lucky. I'm looking to spend some money on entertainment."
He grinned, "Maybe I could be entertaining."
"Maybe," I said non-committal, "How old are you, Lucky?"
"Eighteen," he lied. I doubted he was even sixteen yet. His cheeks were smooth and unblemished. I didn't think they'd ever met a razor.
"Get in," I said. He did.
We drove for a while to this little place I kept for my investigations. Seventies soul music was playing on the radio. Lucky fidgeted nervously and drummed his fingers on the dashboard. I reached over and squeezed his knee because I knew this was expected. He smiled at me, almost shyly. I wondered how long he'd been doing this.
"Cold night," I said.
"I'm glad you were out there. I thought I'd have to spend the night alone," I said.
"I gotta make a living," he said. He stared out the window.
I squeezed his knee again. He squirmed a little, then pretended to enjoy it.
"So, what are you into?" he asked.
"Pretty things like you," I said, "I have a weakness for lovely boys out on cold, lonely nights."
He smiled at me. He put his hand on top of mine. It was a touchingly intimate gesture. He hasn't been at this very long, I thought to myself.
A song Lucky knew came on the radio. He sang along in a sweet tenor. It was a song about heartbreak, and betrayal. It was a song about memories. "Since you been gone," Lucky and the woman on the radio sang, "all that's left is a band of gold."
After that, Deneice Williams begged love to stop making a fool of her. I didn't say anything else for the rest of the drive.
It wasn't long before I turned into the driveway of a tidy little suburban house. It was built in the fifties as part of the post-war boom and had that square look and lack of character that many of the houses built in that period had. It was painted a light blue, but in the darkness everything looked grey. Lucky and I got out of the car. He followed me up the walk to the front door. I turned the key, he said, again lying, "I can't wait."
I smiled and said nothing. The house was dark, and I grabbed lucky by the wrist and pulled him towards the back of the house, through the living room, navigating my way around end tables and floor lamps and house plants. Down the hall we went, I silenced any questions with a gentle, "Shh," everytime I heard Lucky clear his throat. I opened a door to a bedroom and turned on the light. The overhead light fixture was fitted with a red lightbulb and the room took on a lurid glow. A king-sized waterbed jiggled softly in the center of the room. I pulled out a long, thin key and locked the door behind me. Lucky giggled self-consciously. I pushed him onto the bed, which rippled violently. He smiled at me and threw his Members Only Jacket on the floor. He pulled his t-shirt over his head. He began to unbutton his jeans when I shook my head and said wait. He stopped, and flopped backwards. He spread his legs. Then I slapped him, hard across the face.
"What the fuck," he cried, curling up and moving away from me. I slapped him again, harder. Tears welled up in his eyes. I pulled out my knife. It glinted darkly in the red light. I said to him, "Only you can save yourself."
He started to scream, but he was silent soon enough.
The next morning I called Marisa to complain about the failure. I knew what she would say before she started, "You know, you're only setting yourself up for heartbreak. You ought to leave that rotten city and set up someplace nice in the country."
"You know I can't leave the city," I said, "not until I'm sure."
"You're not sure yet? You've been at this there for over a year and each time you've only met with disappointment -- that and a mess to clean up."
"I have to buy a new waterbed," I sighed.
"I think you need to cut your losses and move on."
"I can't. You don't understand Marisa, I have to be sure. Once I'm sure I can start looking elsewhere, but there's something that tells me that this, finally, is the right place."
"I worry about you, kiddo," she said.
"Why do you keep doing this?"
"You've never had the feeling of not belonging. Of not being one or the other," I tried to explain, "You've always known where you belong. I have to do this -- at least until I'm sure."
"I love you. Keep safe," she said, resigned.
"I love you, too," I said, "always."
We hung up. I think she's wrong about the pretty boys who sell themselves on the city streets. I think there will be, finally, one who is absolutely right. But I was too weary the night after Lucky to look again. I took that night off and went to see an Albee play. I needed time to rest and think and heal. Lucky had, at last, fought for his life, and I was nursing several scratches and bruises from his attempt to save himself. He was so beautiful when he tried to claw my eyes out. He bit my forearm with such exquisite grace. Too bad he wasn't at all what I was looking for. It would have pleased me if he was the one.
Tonight, I take to the streets again. This time, I drive in slow laps around the park. It rained all day to day, and the moon peeks out between the dark clouds that still cover the sky. I find a boy leaning against an oak tree in the park. His stance is confident and bold. Despite the chill of the air, his shirt is unbuttoned almost to his navel. Silky black chest hair glistens in the glow from my car's headlights. I beckon to him with cash in my hand. His walk is stately and assured. He does not hurry. I smile at him, "What's your name?"
"Sheldon," he says without pause.
"Good name," I reply.
He shrugs, "My parents named me after some uncle. You looking for fun?"
"Depends on your definition of fun," I smile, "How old are you?"
"Sixteen," he says, although he could pass for older, "If that's too young, there's some rough trade up around the bend."
"Sixteen is fine," I say, "Get in."
He does. He has a faint musk about him. It's not unpleasant, but it reminds me of crushed juniper berries and forest ferns. It's not a city smell.
He asks me, "Can I roll the window down? I get a little carsick."
"Sure. I find the night air bracing."
I don't bother with the radio this time. We don't talk. The only sound on the way to my little place is the whistling of the wind. When we enter the dark house, Sheldon follows me without being led. He makes a sniffing sound as we pass the locked room where I took Lucky.
"Problem?" I ask.
"No," he says, "I just am sensitive to smells. Smelled something weird back there."
I nod and gesture at him to enter the other bedroom. He sits down on the bed and leans his back against the brass headboard. The bed creaks and sways. I lock the door behind me. My heart is pounding in my chest. My hands turn clammy and shaky. Sheldon is very beautiful. But I remind myself that he, too, could be a disappointment. I turn to him and he smiles seductively, his eyeteeth look very sharp. I'm sure the hunger on my face must be very apparent. He asks me, "So, what are we up to tonight?"
This, I say and I slap him hard across the face. Hard enough to see a red mark where I struck him. I don't see any fear in his eyes. His nostrils flare and he warns me, "Don't."
I strike him again, harder. He grabs my wrist and holds it so tightly that I can almost feel the bones grind together. He says again, in almost a growl, "Don't."
I wrench my hand away from him after savoring the sharpness of the pain. There's sweat on his forehead now, and his eyes have narrowed dangerously. He bares his teeth at me in a feral snarl.
I pull the knife out. I say to him, lovingly, "Only you can save yourself."
He howls. The change is upon him. His shiny black hair covers him, thick as a pelt. He's on me before I can move towards him. The knife flies out of my hand and I fall backwards into the door with a thump. I can feel claws digging into my forearms. He's so beautiful now, such a thing of grace and predatory elegance. His ears are flattened back against his skull. I smile broadly as he lowers his long, lupine snout. The sound his sharp, pointy teeth make as they tear into my throat sounds like freedom.