The usual disclaimers apply. If for some legal reason you shouldn't read this...don't.
A special acknowledgement to Drew for encouraging me to tell a better story through his edits and suggestions. And a big thanks to Brad for his patient proofreading and editing. Finally, a shout-out to Trab for the final tweaks to get the story 'just right' and to Zeta reader, Rock.
I love to receive feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org. My other stories are listed in Nifty's Prolific Authors section, and on www.gayauthors.org.
Chapter 10, FRIENDS - NEW AND OLD
The next couple of days were like a rapid fast-forward on a DVD player for Jeremy. His grooming buddy was a complete gentleman with the touch-up. And Charlie seemed pleased at the careful shaving he himself received. They made an arrangement for every Thursday evening thereafter to repeat the process. Jeremy figured a bi-product of this agreement was the opportunity to develop a solid friendship.
An initial wave of self-doubt and embarrassment didn't last long the next morning at the June Stillman Photography Studio. Jeremy was a little surprised that the photographer was a tall, older woman - almost a motherly type - who wore cargo pants, denim shirt, vest and boots. She was the prototypical 'rough on the outside; soft on the inside' person.
"Honey, I'm June. Come on in." The woman's craggy, permanently suntanned face exposed a lifetime of experience when she smiled.
"Thanks. I've got an appointment. Sloan...Jeremy Sloan's the name."
"Hi, Jeremy. You are certainly expected. Now, let me look at Garin's newest find." She helped him off with his coat and walked around Jeremy, occasionally saying, "Ah, ha", "Hmmm", and "Yes" before stepping back. She took off her glasses that were chained around her neck and let them drop.
"Do I pass inspection?" he asked with a smile.
"If you can dance and work the crowd at the same time...absolutely. By the way, don't worry about me lusting over your studly, hot body and everything else you have. My lover of 15 years, Susan, is more than enough for me."
"I suspect Susan is a lucky woman."
"Compliments like that will get you a long way." She told him that all the costume parts were in a small, screened off dressing area in the corner of the large room past the backdrop and lights. He was instructed to take off all his street clothes and put on the Joe College costume, thong first.
Jeremy gave her a puzzled look. 'What the hell is this all about?' he wondered. 'I thought I was just going to have my picture taken with my dick and gonads packed in the slingshot.'
"Garin asked me to do character shots first. He wants a whole new look for publicity. It just saves time to dress and then systematically strip down to the basics. It saves time and allows you to get used to a piece of underwear you may not be used to wearing."
"Oh, okay," he mumbled. "That makes sense."
"Don't worry about anything, Jeremy. First, I don't think there's anything I haven't seen before. Second, as gorgeous as you may be...to me it's just business. Oh, use the next size smaller when it comes to the thong. If your underwear is medium, try a small...it works better for the camera."
"As long as I don't get arrested," Jeremy replied with a nervous laugh.
"Don't worry. I'll make the pictures provocative but decent. Trust me."
Behind the large screen were the costume, several thongs in different sizes, and a picture he could use for reference; a smaller version of the same one displayed in front of the club. The temperature of the room was cool enough to encourage Jeremy to undress and change without delay. Once he was bare, Jeremy tried the small, flesh-colored thong. 'Kee-rist,' he thought when he saw himself in the mirror, 'a Kleenex would give me more coverage.' He tucked himself in so that the head of his cock rested down between his balls. It concerned him that it was pretty obvious from the outline that he was larger than average. However, the shave had been successful: absolutely no hair showed above the top of the tight, skimpy underwear.
He quickly changed to his usual, more generous, medium-size and checked the results. Although he rated it as an eight on the comfort scale - ignoring the funny string up his asscrack - the results looked rather lumpy by comparison. 'Okay, bite the bullet,' Jeremy decided as he changed back to the small size, 'it's just business.' He tried dressing his privates left...then right. Finally, he rearranged himself to the original dead center position. His rationale was it really wouldn't matter anyway, since he would be wearing a mask and avoid recognition. The rest of the costume was rather routine. He adjusted the loose necktie to the same distance from his collar as shown in the picture and slipped on the school blazer. The final props consisted of the horn-rimmed glasses and a pencil behind his ear.
"Such innocence," June said when he walked from behind the screen. "You should really be able to stir up some great fantasies for the women...and the men."
"Not so innocent when you get down to the thong."
"That comes later. First, let me put on the mask and fluff up your hair. These poses, as you know, will be for the website and for the club programs, posters and brochures...things like that. Stand over there and just follow my directions."
She positioned Jeremy in front of the backdrop, turned on the lights and started firing with a hand-held camera as she barked out posing positions. 15 minutes later, she started directing from behind a larger, stationary camera that sat on a tripod. This time the shooting was longer and more deliberate.
"Okay, let's take a break. We're ahead of schedule and it's time to take the costume off. You want a bottle of water?" Without waiting for a response, she went to a refrigerator and took out a couple of bottles of Evian.
"That was fast," Jeremy said as he took the chilled bottle and drank. He didn't attempt to pull off the mask.
"It's the easiest part of the posing and you did great. Go ahead and go back to the dressing area and get out of the costume. When you come back in the thong, this is where the 'rubber hits the road,' so to speak."
Back behind the screen, Jeremy carefully took off and hung up all the clothes. He adjusted himself once again, and returned to the backdrop. Although this very professional photographer didn't threaten him, it was only natural to stand with his hands in front of his crotch...the traditional, international, protective male stance signaling discomfort.
"Even better than I suspected," June said with enthusiasm. "You take very good care of yourself."
"I don't think of myself as really pumped up...not like some of the guys. I work out to keep in good health. And, to be honest, I want to look my best. Is that considered vain?"
"Not at all. Keeping in shape will pay off as you get older."
"That's part of the idea." Jeremy thought for a moment about his uncle.
"I guess you agreed with using the smaller thong size I suggested?"
"Does it look too revealing? In the mirror my...crotch looked...big."
"Leave everything to me. You look scrumptious - wholesome with just a suggestion of naughtiness. This will be a good shoot. Please go back to the mark on the floor and wait a sec while I adjust a few of the lights." June went about her tasks and then grabbed a spray bottle. "Stand loose while I spray some oil on you. It's just enough to bring out your skin and muscle highlights."
"I've never done this and a bit embarrassed. I'm afraid that the thong is too tight."
"Dahlin', it's tight for a reason. Trust me, this will sell you big time. There's enough of a contour down there to let the clients know that you're all male. Jeremy, these photos are going to be terrific. You're a handsome guy with a body that's developed to where it is appealing but not intimidating. If I was straight, I might jump on your bones," June said with a laugh. "Seriously, Garin can really spot talent."
"I just want to do a good job and make some spending money and take care of my college expenses." He stood motionlessly while June sprayed a fine mist on his body.
"Okay, here we go." She adjusted the eye mask and started ordering different body poses. This time, she would occasionally ask that a particular group of muscles be flexed or a breath held, or to suck in the stomach. The last set of shots with the hand-held camera involved Jeremy sitting and stretching on the floor. A couple of times, she would adjust the lighting to create some shadowing. Finally, June took more formal poses with the large, stationary camera.
"Is that it?" Jeremy asked when the lights were turned off.
"We're done and it's only 11:30 a.m. Here...wipe yourself off and get dressed." She tossed a towel and motioned him to go back to the changing area.
Jeremy pulled off the thong and breathed a sigh of relief as he loosened himself. He vowed to make sure whatever he wore in the show would not be as snug. Once he neatly hung up the costume and was back in street clothes, he returned to the front of the studio where June was looking over a few Polaroid instant pictures she had taken.
"Any good shots?"
"Mr. Joe College number two is going to be very popular. Take a look...your individuality really shows well." June spread out the pictures and gestured for him to come closer. "And you have a youthful maturity that jumps out."
"That's me? I mean I know it is...but the pictures seem like they're someone else." He primarily studied the thong shots and marveled at the way June and her lighting had caught the definition of his body. 'Those workouts at the gym have paid off,' he thought.
"If you could get permission from Garin, I could find lots of modeling work for you."
"If it's not porno, I don't think that's a problem. As I understand our agreement, he's only concerned that I don't do anything that brings discredit to his organization. And I wouldn't feel comfortable at all doing...shit like that." Jeremy decided to use the "S" word for emphasis.
"Would you mind if I sent a few photos to a few of my commercial clients? I think I might find some good work for you - runway and print - if you're interested."
"Just pass it by Garin, first. If I can make a few more bucks and it doesn't interfere with my school or work schedule...that's not a problem."
"We could work around that. Let me see what the interest level is."
"Super...it might be fun. June, I don't mean to be rude but I gotta get to work if we're finished."
"Go...no problem. It was a pleasure doing this shoot and I think that I'll be able to find more work for you. Oh, why don't you take those thongs you had on? I will never use them again...and you might find them handy."
"Guess it's the main part of the costume that I need to get used to," Jeremy said with a sly grin. He returned to the dressing area, took the thongs and slid them into his backpack. After accepting a parting motherly hug from June, he headed on to the gym.
In rapid succession, the remaining hours of his weekend fell together. The next morning, Jeremy was at the club for an initial briefing and training session with the choreographer. This was arranged so he could get a feeling for basic dance steps and his program. The serious rehearsals would begin in another week. Jeremy had arranged to shorten his Bally's schedule after the New Year to Thursday and Friday evenings only. Garin surprised him by inviting Jeremy to the second show on Saturday night. One of the private room reservations had cancelled and Garin thought it would be a terrific opportunity for his newbie dancer to see the show without being distracted on the first floor. Garin had no problem that Jeremy wanted to bring his best friend to see the show.
Next, he got a call from Tommy Turner to inquire if he wanted to attend a party over at Sam Agosto's house on Saturday night. Since it was the night before New Year's Eve, not many of the guys from school had firm plans. Tommy said the party would start around nine and the usual crowd would be there. Later, however, only certain friends from the swimming team would stay around and Tommy wanted Jeremy to be his date.
Jeremy said he already had plans for earlier in the evening with Robert Stein but could get over to Sam's house around 11:30 p.m. He was stretching the truth a little; the two friends had tentatively made plans to see a movie and Jeremy really didn't want to go through a charade of partying with the girls so soon after the previous weekend. But he did want to see Tommy. While not exactly speaking for Robert, Jeremy insisted his best friend would be a great addition to the late party - and being exposed to a broader base of guys who were at various stages of accepting their sexuality. Tommy greeted this idea with enthusiasm and agreed to include Robert. He said most of the guys who were attending didn't have regular boyfriends. They planned to meet at Sam's house late Saturday evening.
When Jeremy saw Robert at the gym, he mentioned the party. His old friend was curious but reluctant to attend; he realized being included would reveal their recently discovered orientation to others, beyond Sam and Tommy. It was fairly quiet at the gym front desk and Jeremy was able to take a short break when Robert was ready to leave.
"Bobby, it's not like anyone there is going to care about your...you know...what you've decided about..."
"I know it's stupid. From what Sam said, the other guys are cool with it. This is so new for me. I don't know..."
"A couple of weeks ago we went from semi-virgin status to the final step...doing it. Then, I went all the way with Tommy. And from what you said, Sam was pretty good in bed. This is just a learning curve for both of us and God knows we've got plenty of condoms. Tell you what; if you feel uncomfortable at the party and want to go home, I'll leave with you."
"Ah, shit...I guess I'm kinda being an asshole. Maybe I need this to really figure out who I am. You're going to meet Tommy there and maybe I'll find someone...interesting."
"And I got something we can do beforehand. We're invited to see the Studz Barecats show downtown, at no cost. It's a freebie. You game?"
"This is a male stripper show, right? Jeez, how'd this invite happen and what if someone saw us? Isn't the show restricted to women?" Robert asked.
"Yeah, it's for the ladies...usually."
"Usually? What the hell do you mean?"
"Once in a while they do the show for guys. But not tomorrow night." Jeremy shuffled on the floor and looked back at the gym for a minute. "I got something to tell you. Something big that has happened to me and I've been trying to figure out the best time to fill you in."
"This sounds serious." Robert stepped closer and looked at Jeremy very closely.
"Naw, not serious...just different." Jeremy took a breath and continued, "A man - cool guy, by the way - who is a member of the gym recruited me to be one of the dancers. I'm just starting to learn the steps and routines. If I'm not too clumsy, learn the program and rehearse all the steps, I officially join the group in a couple of months - on the friggin' stage." He blinked his eyes rapidly as he searched Robert's face for a reaction.
Robert went from a casual smile to widened eyes to a mouth gaping open. "Like the end of February? Holy fuck...that's, wow..."
"Mind boggling, isn't it. This all happened over the past couple of weeks and I feel really good about joining the group."
"So, you're going to be dancing in front of a live audience; mostly women? I've seen a few sites on the web that feature guys dancing in front of these screaming ladies going nuts. Now that I think about it, some of the audiences were guys, too. There seemed to be a lot of, you know, groping an' everything from both groups," Robert said with a grimace.
"Barecats is a quality show that doesn't allow the audience to get that carried away. And we don't strip all the way...just down to the basics." Jeremy grinned and shrugged.
"Dancers go down to a thong. Nothing more. I just agreed to do this recently but feel good about the guys I've met so far. You know I wouldn't do anything illegal or stuff like that. This is a good way to earn some needed cash for school and the family." Jeremy decided not to describe how the tips were given to the dancers.
"I understand, I think, and don't have a problem with this new job. It's just kinda strange to hear about this and mentally think about my best friend dancing around, practically naked. Do I get a sneak preview of your dancing?" Robert said with a snicker.
"As a matter of fact, I'd do that sometime in early February when I feel comfortable enough not to make a fool of myself."
"I'll hold you to it on a night when the folks are out." Robert smiled and raised his closed hand to tap fists.
"Thanks, I need all the encouragement I can get," Jeremy replied, after they bumped their knuckles together. "Anyway, there's a semi-private area of the club on the second floor that's not being used Saturday night so we won't have to be with the audience. The man I told you about who operates the club and dance troop suggested that I come in to see the show live to get an idea what it's all about. I said okay and asked if I could bring a friend. There you are, buddy, all the details. Whaduya think?"
"I think it's crazy and wild...in a good way. As long as you feel good about what you're going to do and trust them...go for it."
"Cool. Then we can go over to Sam's house afterwards.
Saturday night at the club couldn't have gone any better. They arrived and were admitted through the stage door 15 minutes before the performance. Garin, in costume, welcomed both guys very warmly and immediately escorted them to the dressing room where all the dancers were in the final moments of getting ready.
"Guys, can I have your attention just for a minute," Garin said loudly.
The dancers turned to Garin and looked curiously at the two strangers. Most were dressed in formal black pants with sequins running down the satin stripe, gold vest and a white collar/black tie arrangement around the neck. A couple of the guys stood wearing just a black sequined thong. Jeremy assumed the thong was for the opening number. He made eye contact with Charlie and the two smiled at each other.
"You've seen his picture and name on the bulletin board. Allow me to introduce the newest member of our group and the new Joe College - Jeremy Sloan." Garin stepped back and pointed his arm to Jeremy.
"Go, Jeremy. Welcome," Charlie called out with a few whoops.
The rest of the group yelled similar greetings and applauded.
"I invited him to come in tonight to see how the show works. Jeremy starts rehearsing the week after next. He's brought a friend, Robert, and they'll be in box three. If ya get a chance, stop by for a minute when you visit the rest of the boxes. Okay, gentlemen...ten minutes."
Garin, despite his costume, took the time to lead them to their secluded seats on the second floor. The chairs had been placed slightly away from the railing so the audiences in the other boxes couldn't see them. But the guys would be able to absorb everything on the stage and runway. Garin wished them well and told Jeremy that they'd talk next week. Before he left, Garin mentioned that the photographs were everything he'd hoped they would be...and more.
This opened the door for more questions that Jeremy didn't necessarily want to discuss. However, until the lights went down, he gave Robert a brief rundown on the photo shoot at the studio, the fabulous photographer, June, and his first adventure wearing a thong...one size too small. After a little teasing and cajoling, Robert got Jeremy to promise he'd give his best friend a private modeling of the thong very soon.
From the opening dance number to the final encore, the guys were completely entertained. Robert's expression was priceless when he observed how the dancers worked for their tips at the end of each dance. They laughed during the intermission when they re-capped the various dancers routines and how many times both got hard. In addition to Garin's 'Mr. Leather' and the current 'Joe College', the other characters included a fireman, cop, construction worker, military man, cowboy and football player.
Robert was impressed and Jeremy was grateful that each of the dancers made it a point to stop by their box during the show for a brief chat. Charlie was particularly charming and gracious when he visited the guys. He ruffled Jeremy's hair and said they were already becoming good friends. Robert remembered Charlie from high school and took note when he was told Charlie was a sophomore at Northwestern.
As soon as the final number was finished the guys left the box and went down the front stairway and out into the street before the women had a chance to exit. They had found street parking a couple of blocks away and were able to start the drive to Sam's house in short order.
"I gotta tell you I'm a little overwhelmed,' Robert said as they headed north on Halsted Street. "Before I saw the show, I thought this whole Barecats thing was bizarre...ya know, goofy and maybe close to hardcore porn. But after the show and getting to meet all the guys, I feel ya did the right thing. It's a hell of an opportunity that should work well for you."
"It's gotta work. This is for my college fund and extra money for mom. The only bummer is that it puts me outta commission socially on weekends cuz I'll be working."
"Just consider the hours similar to a bartender or waiter; the good ones always work on weekends because of the big tips. I'm sure that you'll find time for a little socializing."
"Yeah, I suppose. But I'll be busy rehearsing as well as keeping up with my grades and working at Bally's for the next couple of months. Probably I'll only be able to get a little nooky on Sundays," Jeremy said with a laugh.
"I assume we're talking about 'nooky' in the generic sense?"
"Generic as in guys...I'm not going to lead on any more women. I look at Tommy as a friendly little fling - that's all - and I hope that you and I can continue to, you know...do stuff?" Jeremy reached over and rubbed Robert's neck.
"Remember what you said about us being fuck buddies in addition to everything else? I'll hold you to that."
"I will definitely...oh, shit." Jeremy suddenly remembered he was now groomed differently than the last time Tommy - or Robert, for that matter - had seen him. 'Will this present a difficulty?' he wondered.
"What's with the 'oh, shit'?" Robert looked at Jeremy for a second and raised his eyebrow.
"Okay, confession time. Remember the dancers and you mentioned how trimmed they looked?"
"I've had a makeover," Jeremy said with a nervous laugh. "Ah, one of the guys was assigned to be my buddy and help me get groomed to the Barecats standards."
"And that means...?"
"No chest hair, smooth legs and trimmed pubes."
"Oh, that sounds so hot...plus the thong. When do I get to see?" Robert asked with a giggle. "Can I feel?" He reached over and playfully massaged Jeremy's thigh.
"Seriously...what's Tommy going to say?" Jeremy asked as he held Robert's hand in place.
"Buddy, my guess is that he'll say nothing. Ya gotta remember that he's on the swim team and the star diver. They all shave. Shit, remember that Olympic swimmer, Michael Phelps. Did you ever notice the photo on the cover of Time magazine and the Olympics five-circle tattoo on his groin? Ever wonder about the absence of any hair down there? It's part of their culture."
"I suppose you're right. We'll see what happens." Jeremy chuckled and added, "With the lights off, Tommy will be more interested in other things."
"If Tommy wants hair, he can always trade you in for me."
"Hands off. Find your own guy." Jeremy lightly punched Robert on the arm and they both laughed.
"Maybe I'll hook up with Sam, again." Robert turned off Halstead onto West Dickens and traveled down Sam's street for a few blocks and circled a few times before finding a parking space. At 11:30 p.m., the neighborhood was fairly quiet except for the area immediately in front of Sam Agosto's house. Several of the guests - mostly couples - were leaving as the guys walked up the stairs to the entrance of the old limestone townhouse. Everyone wished each other a Happy New Year before Jeremy and Robert entered the large, gentrified home. Inside, they saw other friends who were saying final goodbyes.
"Hey, guys. Great you could make it," Sam said with a big smile. He shook hands and said quietly, "The second-half of the party is getting underway downstairs in the kitchen. I'm really happy to see you again." Sam directed the last comment to Robert. "I want to get together, ah, like we did last week.
"Hmm...me, too. See ya later," Robert replied as he winked. He led the way to the circular stairway and walked down, with Jeremy close behind.
"Well, I think that answers my question about Sam's interest in you," Jeremy said with a chuckle, as they reached the kitchen. "Although I see a few others who may be qualified for a good..."
"Cool it, horn dog." Robert nudged Jeremy gently with his elbow.
Jeremy saw Tommy's back in the corner of the kitchen. The ground floor consisted of a large, Martha Stewart-style open kitchen and a spacious dining room. He also noticed three other members of the swim team, a couple of football players and a sophomore basketball player mixed amongst a few other guys whom he didn't recognize. 'Maybe from other schools?' he wondered.
"Better late than never," Tommy said from across the kitchen, as he turned and noticed the two newcomers. "Welcome, guys." He walked over and immediately kissed both friends lightly on the cheek.
"Hey, is it okay kissing like this...in front of the others?" Robert asked with concern. His eyes nervously darted around the room.
"With this crowd? Yeah, we can be ourselves. The hard-core heteros are gone." Tommy gestured to indicate no one was concerned about his intimate greeting. "Didn't even cause a ripple."
"Yeah, I can see." What caught Jeremy's sight was one of the swimmers rubbing the buns of one of his teammates and the football player tight end with his hands wrapped around another guy's waist while they were talking. 'Tight end, for sure,' he thought with a wry smile.
"You're right; being open like this is a very new experience for me," Robert replied.
"That's cool. A couple of the guys over there have just been out for little while...and only to the team and like-minded friends. Jeremy, let's grab something to drink and do a little dancing. Sam's got the den upstairs set up for boogying."
"Dancing would be fun. Robert I'll see you upstairs...or later," Jeremy said. "Is that okay with you?"
"Don't worry 'bout me. I'm going to shoot the shit down here. But, from the looks of it, I think 'later' is going to be in the morning. Be good."
"I plan on being very good." Jeremy turned on a confident grin and followed Tommy.
TO BE CONTINUED