Crystal moved to the far side of the elevator putting space between her the pink haired male. It had been an impulse to ask him what was wrong in the hallway. Here was so much pain in the depths of his eyes she wanted to help anyway she could. Now, alone in an elevator with him it didn’t seem like such a good idea. She knew his reputation as a prolific lady’s man. She wasn’t blind to the steady flow of women in and out of his apartment. She had no intention of becoming another one in his long stream of conquests.
She was somewhat shocked when he made no move to stand near her. He made no comments at all which was also odd considering how he never failed to make some kind of comment about her appearance or making an attempt to get inside her apartment. She wasn’t sure what to think about this somewhat awkward situation.
Felix hurried from the elevator as soon as the doors opened. He smiled over at Crystal who he had never gotten more than a pleasant hello and smile from despite all of his best efforts. Maybe he should have started off with a sob story. Shaking his had he shoved his hand into his pockets. He was doing his best to keep his promise to be good. This time he wanted to be the gentleman.
After walking in silence for almost a block Crystal glanced up at her companion. His eyes were shielded as if he wasn’t sure of himself in a situation where he wasn’t the in charge, calling the shots. She felt a thrill that she had the control and not him. “Did you have a fight with your roommates?” she asked unable to take the silence any longer.
“Well” he stopped walking staring at the concrete sidewalk. “I” glanced up glaring into the bright sunlight “I said a few things I shouldn’t have. I was angry and not thinking….”
“Apologize” she suggested watching him closely. She had always wondered about his friendship with the quiet, mild-mannered blonde. It seemed an odd sort of friendship to her.
He grunted glancing towards her “it’s not that easy.”
“Sure it is” she objected “all you say is I’m sorry.”
Shaking his head he turned and began to walk again “you don’t understand.”
“Felix” she called after him as he stepped off the curb and into the street. Several cars blasted their horns at him but he ignored them all and continued. Crystal shrugged watching him go.
“We have to hurry” Carson said checking his phone for the time.
Britland gave him a surprised look “why? The photo shoot doesn’t start until this afternoon.”
“Didn’t you get the test?” he asked “it was moved to this morning.”
“Darn it” Britland muttered checking his phone “my notifications got turned off.”
“Felix was messing with your phone wasn’t he?”
“Don’t say it” Britland warned his voice brittle “he wouldn’t sabotage my career.”
“Only your personal life” Carson mumbled earning himself a well deserved glare.
“He wouldn’t do it” Britland repeated hurrying past Carson.
Hurrying to catch up with the blonde Carson touched his arm. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that about your friend.”
“I’m so tired of being stuck in the middle between you two.” Britland snapped “every morning it’s the same thing.” He stopped to glare up at Carson “I’m tired of being torn in two. I shouldn’t have to choose between you.”
“You’re right” Carson agreed “we’ve been playing tug of war with you. I’m sorry. I really am. I just…” the baleful glare Britland gave him made him reconsider his words. “I’ll try harder” he amended. It did little good to repeat he thought Britand deserved better at least not until he realized it himself.
“Ok” Britland sighed shielding his eyes as he looked over his shoulder at Carson. “Where are we going. To the modeling agency?”
“Nope” Carson shook his head “we need to meet the crew at the gardens.”
“The gardens?” Britland looked confused “where’s that?”
“Stick with me kid” Carson winked “you won’t get lost.” He hailed a taxi. Gave the driver the address. Sat back and relaxed.
Britland watched out the window at the rapidly changing buildings. No matter how long he lived here he was never going to know his way around. “I miss the country” he mumbled out loud.
“Then you’ll like the gardens” Carson smiled throwing a casual arm across his companions shoulders “relax.”
“Easy for you to say” Britland leaned back “you’ve lived here all your life here.” He peered up at Carson’s profile.
Carson could feel the blonde’s eyes on him. Looking down he asked with a slight smile tugging at the corners of his mouth “what?”
“You never talk much about yourself” Britland stated “why? I mean everyone has secrets. I get that but I hardly know anything about you.”
“What do you want to know?” he asked his eyes guarded, serious. “You already know my parents kicked me out. My Aunt let’s me eat for free at her restaurant. I was homeless until you took me in. What else is there to know?”
Behind his flippant attitude Britland perceived a sadness that tugged at his heartstrings. “Why do you sleep with a light on?”
“We’ll have to save that discussion for later” he removed his arm from around Britland’s shoulders to pay the driver.
Following in Carson’s wake Britland wondered what could have happened in the past to make him so afraid. He could sense it in the air. It was there in his eyes. Someone had hurt him and the pain of that hurt was just beneath the surface.
They were ushered into the makeshift changing rooms. Britland blushed turning away as Carson unabashedly stripped in front of everyone. He hated this part the most. Changing in front of a dozen or more people. The feeling they were rating how he looked. Judging him. He felt naked in more ways the one.
“Put this on” someone shoved an outfit into his hands. A casual suit. He could handle that. It was a man’s cologne ad they were shooting today. He preferred those to other ads. In the back of his mind he wondered where the female models were.
Once he was dressed, styled and his make up on he was pushed into a well lit area to wait with the other models. He glanced around puzzled. Everyone assembled were male models. “What kind of ad is this?” he wondered aloud to no one in particular.
“It’s for a magazine that caters to gay men” someone replied followed by snicker.
“Oh” Britland ducked his head down not wanting to draw more attention to himself than he already had. It explained the lack of female models. He preferred working with the girl models. There was less pressure on him even if they got bitchy to each other.
A man walked over to the group rubbing his chin. He seemed to be inspecting each of them individually. Occasional grunts of disapproval could be heard as he continued to observe the group. “You” the man pointed at someone “and you” he pointed at Britland.
Shocked Britland moved where he was directed. He hadn’t expected to be picked for the photo-op. Some clients insisted to have several standby models just in case their chosen model suddenly didn’t meet their expectations.
“You” the photographer pointed to the model Britland hadn’t worked with before. “Lean in close like your lovers. Drink in each others essence.”
Who was this guy? Britland wondered trying to comply with the instructions. He had never been this close to anyone before. Not that he hadn’t thought about it. The models hand went for low on his hips causing Britland to tense up under his touch.
“Relax” the model hissed in his ear “they want sexy.”
“No no no it’s all wrong” the client shouted his cheeks turn a ruddy color.
“You should have listened to me” the model smirked “at least now I’ll get someone else who follow instructions.”
Relief spread through Britland’s body as he moved from the photo area. The model’s touch still lingered giving him the impression of bugs crawling on his skin.
“Stop” the client yelled “where do you think you’re going?”
“He’s going back to the reject bin” the model snickered a cocky grin spreading across his face.
The client shook his shaggy head. “He stays. He’s innocent, pure, adorable. Exactly the image I want.” Turning to the smirking model “you ruined my image. I wanted subtle. First love in bloom. Not sex on a platter.” Waving a hand he dismissed the model “you go back to the reject bin.”
A look of profound disbelief spread across the model’s face. Turning he gave Britland a lip curling snarl before pushing past him. He was muttering that he could have been innocent if that’s what had been asked for in the first place.
The photographer directed Britland into a series of single poses. “Good good” he murmured behind his camera lens. He turned to the client “we need a model who is a little older. A little bigger. More sophisticated with a touch of vulnerability.” Stroking his bearded chin the photographer walked with the client to select a new model “that one. The one with the purple hair.”
Carson jumped when he was directed to follow them. He hadn’t expected to work today. He had been selected as an alternate to the clients requests just in case they wanted a different look than what they had previously wanted.
“Let’s try a couple pose” the photographer suggested pushing Carson forward. “Sweet. Innocent. First love.” The man gazed through his camera lens “yes, yes good.” He took several pictures “move a little closer. Tilt your faces towards each like your about to kiss.”
Britland could feel the soft caress of Carson’s breath across his skin. His eyes dropped focusing on the man’s lips, so close to his. He could feel heat rush to his cheeks as his mind wondered what if would be like to be kissed. To have those lips brush across his. His tongue brushed lightly across his bottom lip in anticipation.
“That’s a wrap” the photographer’s voice broke harshly across Britland’s awareness making him jump.
Carson chuckled softly bringing a hand to the blonde’s cheek. He stroked his thumb across the warm emerald skin. Leaning close “your adorable when your embarrassed.” He dropped his hand and nonchalantly walked towards the changing room.
Britland watched him go. A hand went to the spot where he could still feel Carson’s gentle touch. He didn’t know what was happening to him. He’d never felt like this before. A loud clatter as part of the set fell made him move. As he moved towards the changing room his heart beat raced as his thoughts once again turned towards that moment when all he would have had to do was lean a fraction closer and their lips would have touched.
When Felix stepped into the street he was heedless of the cars speeding past him. All he could think about was putting space between him and Crystal. She was like Britland. Pure. Too good for him. If she stayed around him for long she’d regret it like he was sure Britland regretted being his friend. He flipped off an irate driver blasting his horn at him.
He needed to get away. Away from his thoughts. His life. The mess he’d made of it. There was a little place he knew where he could spend a few hours. Play a few rounds of pool. Drink a couple of beers. Maybe a willing girl who wouldn’t mind a rumble between the sheets.
He walked down a flight of stairs to a dingy door. He opened it to the dark interior of a pool hall. It wasn’t much, certainly not a place where respectable people frequented. The room was filled with he vulgar jokes of men and women who had seen a little too much. He knew his bright pink hair and expensive clothes made him stand out. If he wasn’t careful any one of the patrons could drag him into the alley and leave for him dead. It was part of the thrill.
The thrill he craved. It let him now he was alive. Casually he leaned against the bar. Nodding towards the grizzled man tending the bar he ordered a beer. The man gave him a cold stare. They both knew he shouldn’t be there. It had nothing to do with his age. “Hope you came to pay up pup.” The man’s deep voice boomed through out the bar. Several heads swiveled around to look. A few anticipatory grins spread across their eager faces.
“He’s all yours boys once I’m through with him” a woman’s voice said coming around the bar. She pulled him towards her tugging on his belt. She took his drink and set it on the bar.
Willingly he followed her, powerless to do anything else. He’d receive his punishment from her and she was good at delivering punishment. Then he’d worry about what he owed to the waiting guys.
They lingered in the park after everyone else had gone. Hesitantly Britland turned to Carson. “Will you tell me why you sleep with a light on?” He could see the withdrawal in Carson’s eyes but all he did was snort and turn away
“It’s nothing really” he sighed sitting on a nearby bench.
Sitting beside him Britland watched him closely. “Don’t hand me that. I know there’s more to it than that. You hate it when Felix brings it up. You refuse to discuss it.” He laid a hand on Carson’s “I now something happened. Something so bad you don’t want to talk about it. I see it in your eyes. The way it haunts you. Sometimes you have to talk about the bad things to release their hold on you.”
Carson stared at the hand covering his. The light greenish tinge. The comforting warmth that radiated from it. Soothing. Gentle. Safe. “I was little. No more than five. My parents had just tucked me in for the night. I…” He gazed into the park as if he wasn’t really seeing it. “I shared a room with my baby brother. He was three.”
Britland watched the tears build in the lavender orbs. He wished there was something he could do or say that could ease his pain. He squeezed Carson’s hand giving him silent message of comfort to say he was there for him.
“It was so dark” Carson continued shivering a little “there was a noise….I didn’t know what it was. I threw the blanket over my head. I thought it was the monster who lived in the closet or some such nonsense.” He closed his eyes. Tears squeezed past the closed lids “I didn’t know….”
“You didn’t know what?” Britland asked keeping his voice gentle.
He shuddered remembering that morning like it was yesterday instead of almost twenty years in the past. “My baby brother was kidnapped. What I thought was a monster was the kidnapper. I didn’t see who it was because I too scared to look.”
“It wasn’t your fault” Britland cradled Carson against his shoulder.
“I’ll always remember what my mother said” he gulped in air “she asked why I didn’t protect him. He was just a little boy. Why didn’t I protect him?”
“It wasn’t your fault” he repeated “you were a little boy too. You wouldn’t have been able to do anything against an adult. You could have been taken too.”
“After that my parents never looked at me the same” he choked “they blamed me that Dawson was gone. After that I couldn’t sleep without a light on. It was comforting to know the minute I opened my eyes I could see everything around me. No dark places. It’s stupid I know…”
“No not stupid” Britland said “understandable.” He clamped his mouth tight from asking what happened to his brother. He had a feeling the brother had never come home. “I’m sorry” he repeated stroking Carson’s long purple hair.
Sniffing Carson sat up. Drying his eyes he leaned his head back “I think when my parents found out I was gay it was a good excuse to get rid of me. They didn’t have to pretend anymore to want to me.”
Britland wanted to refute that. “It’s their loss” he said suddenly “you’re a wonderful person Carson. You don’t deserve to carry this burden. You were a little boy who needed their love and protection. You don’t need them.” He almost added that Carson had him but he wasn’t sure how Carson felt towards him so he left it unsaid.
Carson lifted a hand to tuck a strand of blond hair behind Britland’s ear. “Thank you” he murmured “I’ve never told anyone about what happened to my brother. You remind me of him.”
Britland nodded accepting his simple statement. Inside he was screaming. He didn’t want to be compared to his brother. He didn’t want to be his brother. He wasn’t sure what he wanted.