Disclaimer: All the normal rules apply. Do not read if you'd be offended by material of a sexual nature; if local laws prohibit you from reading this, read no further. Do not copy or reproduce, in whole or in part, without permission of the author, Nicholas Nurse. All material is copyright Nicholas Nurse 2003. All individuals depicted are imaginary, and any resemblance to real persons or events, express or implied, is purely coincidental.
Alright, so I've been remiss; I apologize again to all who have emailed
me and are awaiting a response. My life has been incredibly busy of
late! I'm really quite sorry about the length of time it took me to
write this and for the pileup of emails in my box. Please do be patient
with me! We're getting closer to the end with each passing day. Now,
without further ado, here's Chapter Twelve! And feel free to contact
me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All flames will, of course, be laughed at and summarily deleted.
By Nicholas Nurse
Chapter Twelve: Northward
The Friday before Thanksgiving finally rolled around. The air was almost festive; fall was in full swing and everyone at school was a bit louder than usual, though we still had to attend classes Monday through Wednesday of the following week. The month-long period between Thanksgiving and Christmas was always the time of the year that went by the most quickly; a blur of projects and papers and parties and holiday preparations kept every day filled with activity. I started sleeping six hours a night to get all of my projects taken care of on time; I figured I could catch up on sleep over the Thanksgiving break.
Friday, of course, meant that the coffeehouse would be having gay night. Seth had called on Wednesday, sounding much more pleasant than he had when he left Monday evening, and had asked if I'd meet him at the coffeehouse. I agreed, but I wanted someone to ride with me. When I got home on Friday, I kicked off my shoes, sprawled out across my bed and called up Taylor. "Do you want to go tonight?" I asked.
Taylor was quiet. "No . . . not really," he said slowly.
I was nonplussed. "How come?" I asked, sitting upright against my headboard.
"I . . . didn't really enjoy myself much last time," Taylor said. There was something else going on. "You go ahead; take Julian or whatever. I'll stick it out here tonight."
I knew something was up. Was Taylor mad at me? Avoiding someone? Did he already have a hot date planned? "Taylor? You haven't missed a Friday in, like, forever," I said, fishing for more information.
"What? It's not like they'll miss me," he said. "Gay guys are a dime a dozen on Fridays. Just go with Julian and meet Seth. Call me and tell me how it goes."
" . . . alright," I said slowly. I would get nothing out of him tonight. "Are you sure?"
I hung up. I dialed Julian's number. "Hey, buddy!" I said when he answered.
"Tris! What's going on?"
"Do you want to go to The Bean tonight?"
Julian hesitated for a split-second and in that moment I knew what his answer would be. "Sorry, Tris, but I have plans tonight."
"Uh . . . yeah. I've got some things to catch up on."
I, of course, was at this point extremely skeptical. "You're getting together with Taylor, aren't you?"
Julian seemed genuinely surprised. "No. What would give you that idea?"
"The fact that both of you just blew me off."
"Did he really?" Julian asked. I sensed that he was being honest. "What did he say?"
"He just said he didn't want to go. He said something about not enjoying himself the last time."
"Funny," Julian mused. "He seemed to be having a blast with Spaz." He snorted. "As I recall, I was the one sitting there, bored out of my mind."
"So maybe it'll be better this time."
Julian thought for a moment, then said, "No, I'd better not. I . . . I'd rather stay here this evening and keep working on some projects and whatnot. And no, I'm not meeting Taylor, so don't ask."
"Fine, fine," I said. "I'll talk to you later." I hung up and leaned back, relaxing and staring out the window. Clouds scuttled across the sky, alternately obscuring and revealing the setting sun. A cold wind was blowing in from the sea; I could see piles of leaves suddenly lift off the ground and then settle again. I'd go by myself, then; there was no way I was going to miss a meeting with Seth. I was relieved that he'd actually called me, considering how angry he'd been when he left on Monday. I busied myself for the next hour or so doing small tasks: checking email, organizing projects, changing into warmer clothes and washing my windshield. When it was finally time to go, I hopped into my car and took the shortest route to the 405 Freeway. I zipped through traffic with the CD player blasting and the roar of the engine loud in my ears. By the time I made it to The Bean, night had fallen and the place was filling up with the usual motley crowd. It wasn't as crowded as last time, but it was also earlier in the evening. I headed inside, but didn't see Seth; I figured he hadn't made it to the coffeehouse as quickly as I had, so I ordered a drink—some variety of tea latte—and found a table next to a group of lesbians. I glanced around; the tables were filling up quickly with excited, chattering boys and a few knots of girls. Usually if a group of girls were sitting together, it was a fairly safe guess that they were lesbians; if they were hanging around the boys, they were probably friends along for the ride—or, as they were more commonly known, fag hags. Hm, does that mean Sarah qualifies as a fag hag? She's friends with Taylor and me and now Julian as well. I'd have to bring it up to her next time we talked. More boys trickled in; the majority of the crowd was definitely male. I'd never seen so much color gathered in once place before. I sipped my drink and waited. A few minutes later, I heard over the din the rumble of an engine. I glanced out the window and saw an Audi TT roadster pull up. Seth was behind the wheel, wearing a pair of gray sunglasses despite the darkness. So that's what he drives, I thought, realizing that I hadn't paid attention to his car when he'd been over on Monday. I'd had . . . other things . . . on my mind that day.
Seth pulled open the door. He was wearing a long, tight gray shirt and distressed jeans, I noted, along with a pair of black boots. He spotted me as soon as he entered. "Hey you," he said casually, walking up to me and kissing me on the cheek.
"Fashionably late?" I asked, grinning. Those amber eyes gripped and held me again. It really wasn't fair the way they grabbed at me, but then again I was getting better at hiding the flustered feelings that came over me every time he stared at me.
Seth shrugged. "Sorry. I had a few business matters to take care of."
"Business? What kind of 'business' does a college kid have to take care of?"
He tapped me on the nose. "Never you mind, nosy boy. I'm gonna get me a drink." I nodded and he headed off to the bar; I decided to wait so that no one would snatch our table.
"I see you know Seth," one of the lesbians behind me said.
"Yeah," I said, turning. "We're friends."
"So you're his new boy," the girl said. "Ooh, aren't you a cute thing. I'd date you. Got that one little problem, though."
"What? What's that?" I asked.
"The dick," she said. "Although I'm sure Seth enjoys it." She smiled. "I'm Tara."
"Wow. That's an unusual one," she said. "Tristan. I like it." She gestured back to her table with her drink. "Anyway, I just wanted to introduce myself. Seth always finds the hottest guys, and I always like to keep up with who he's with." Seth sat back down and Tara waved at him before turning away again.
"You know Tara?" Seth asked warily, glancing at the back of her head.
"We just met," I said. "Seems she knows you."
"We go back a ways," Seth replied. "She goes to USC with me."
"How many people here do you know?"
Seth glanced around. "A lot, actually. See that guy over there? The one with the beanie and the orange flip-flops? I go to school with him; he lives on my floor. His is the . . . noisiest . . . room after hours. And the guy to the right of him, the cute one with the purple streaks in his hair? He goes to Loyola Marymount, which is just north of USC . . . he's a screaming queen, let me tell you. Weekends, he gets up in drag and goes to WeHo. I've seen him there a whole bunch. Oh, and then there's Aidan, over there—" Seth gestured a bit futher back, to where a boy with dark hair sat. He looked incredibly hot, I have to admit, but I wasn't interested. "He's so fucking hot," Seth said, glancing at Aidan, "but—my God—he's some federal grant kid over at USC and his parents are dirt poor. He drives this disgusting rattletrap piece of shit car, some sort of old Nissan from before you and I were born."
Without warning, a shadow fell across the table. Seth and I turned and looked up. A rather tall and good-looking boy in a basketball jersey and track shorts stood there looking down at Seth. "Just wanted to see what you were fucking this time, Seth," the boy said nonchalantly. His eyes belied his seemingly-casual nature.
Seth sneered and leaned back in his chair. "Are we jealous, Bobby?"
"Fuck you," Bobby said, turning to me. "Watch it with this one," he said. "Seth's an arrogant piece of shit in love with himself, and he only wants one thing."
I didn't know what to make of this whole exchange—I could tell that I was swirling in depths of drama that I couldn't even begin to comprehend—but I looked at Bobby and said, "Listen, we don't want any trouble. It'd be best if you didn't make a scene."
Bobby snorted. "Trouble? My ass, trouble. You're the one that's in trouble, little bitch. Have fun." He turned and walked off.
I glanced back at Seth. "Ex-boyfriend," he said with a grimace on his face. "He's a real piece of work."
"So it would seem," I replied. "How'd you meet?"
"A club up in WeHo—we danced together. Then I bumped into him here and we actually got the chance to talk. Thought he was cool—basketball player up at UCLA, hot, smart, you know—then come to find out he's a bastard." Seth reached for his pocket. "Hey, I got something for you," he said, digging around. He pulled out a plastic card and tossed it across the table at me.
I picked it up. "Oh my God, you did it."
Seth nodded. "With the picture you emailed me, no less. What do you think?"
I cupped it in my hands so no one would see. "Shit, Seth, this is a jail sentence waiting to happen!"
"Only if you get caught." Seth smiled. "It's only a crime if you get caught."
"I don't know, Seth, I—"
Seth cut me off. "My guy is an expert at fakes. You could show that anywhere—liquor store, club, bar—and get in, no problem. Listen, I gave it to you for a reason. There's something else I got for you, too." He got up. "It's in my car; come on."
I followed him out to his Audi; he opened the door and reached into the backseat, pulling out a pamphlet. "For next weekend," he said, tossing it at me.
I caught the pamphlet and opened it up. "What the—tickets? To San Francisco?"
Seth nodded. "I live up there, remember? My folks have a flat near the Haight, but they're going to be in Osaka for the week. You're gonna come up and visit, and I'm gonna show you what it's like in SF." He shut the door and pushed me up against the car, wedging his knee between my legs. "We'll hit the streets, go clubbing, a bar or two, whatever, babe," he whispered, nibbling on my earlobe. "I'll show you what's out there. I'll show you a good time." He kissed me fiercely, pinning me against the window with his hands on my chest. "Whaddya say, Tris? I know you're up for it. I'll introduce you to people I know up there, and we'll party . . . and see what else you might be up for." His crotch brushing up against mine made his meaning clear, and I couldn't say that my body was really resisting at that point.
"What day would I leave here?" I asked. "Would you fly up with me?"
"Friday before noon," Seth said. "And no—I drive up on Tuesday. I'll pick you up at the airport, of course."
"The return flight is Sunday afternoon?"
"Yes, out of Oakland."
"Alright, then." I nodded. "I'll do it."
* * *
The week could not pass quickly enough. Only one thing of true significance happened in the short three-day week—Julian got approval from the Associated Student Government and the Board of Supervisors to charter Laguna Hills High's first Gay-Straight Alliance Organization. On Tuesday afternoon he ran up to me, all smiles and wide-open arms. He jumped on me, hugged me, and whooped aloud. "I did it!" he shouted. "We did it!" He thrust the paper in my face.
I read it, ignoring the stares of the few students still on-campus after classes had ended. "Congratulations," I said. I gulped inwardly. There was my name, on the "Vice President" line, and my signature under Julian's. Sarah was the Secretary and Taylor the Treasurer. Surprisingly, Jared and Liza had also signed on as members, and each of us had brought a friend or two quietly into the fold. Much as I was thrilled for Julian, I had to admit some degree of trepidation—what was I getting myself into? I wasn't even out to my parents—although if things with Seth got serious, that would change soon enough. Everyone who noticed already knew that I was friends with Julian, and the hockey team certainly knew it well enough. While this in itself didn't exactly mark me with a purple triangle or anything, having my name as the VP of the Julian's Gay Brigades certainly would.
People talk about moments where a person stands at the edge of a figurative cliff, looking down and knowing that a huge, life-changing decision was in front of them. I felt like I'd somehow missed that moment—that I'd already jumped off the cliff and was on the way down, and I was just now kind of looking around and going "Oh, shit."
"You're quiet," Julian said as we walked down the hall.
"I'm just thinking about our first meeting," I lied.
"The reality of what I've done is sinking in."
"You mean that you've basically as good as said you're gay."
"More or less, yes. I mean, I guess I could bill myself as the VP representing the straight contingent, but what's the point? I've kind of tossed my hat into the ring."
"Are you okay with this?" Julian paused for a moment, then handed me the paper. "Look, you can rip it up if you want. No one outside of our immediate group of friends will know. We can just start all over if we have to."
Now that moment of decision was there. I waited for the little angel and the little devil to appear on either of my shoulders. They didn't, but I knew what I had to do anyway. I handed the paper back to Julian. "What's done is done," I said. "I told you I'd do it, and I meant what I said. Keep it." I grinned. "So when are we gonna plan for next Monday's meeting?"
* * *
Julian hung another flyer on the wall. Three more were in the hall behind us, all within about five feet of each other. "Don't you think you're overdoing it?" I asked as he strung up a letter-sized advertisement for the first meeting. "There're four in this hall now."
"Let it go," Julian said, pushing a staple into the bulletin board with particular relish. "I've wanted to do this for a year, and now my time has come." He added a fifth right underneath the other.
"How many of those did you run off?" I asked, glancing at his backpack. More purple papers were spilling out the top.
"Seven hundred ninety-six," he said. "Four got jammed in the copiers, or I would've had a full eight hundred."
"Do you realize that that's one flyer for every three kids?" I asked, amazed. "Where are you going to put them all?"
"I'll wallpaper the halls if I have to," Julian said.
Behind us, I heard the sound of paper ripping. I turned; two boys were ripping down one of the flyers. "Fuckin' faggots," one of them muttered.
I stepped toward the two students, my ears going red with anger. "Assholes," I grated between my teeth.
Julian put a hand on my arm. "Let it go," he said softly.
"Why?" I snarled.
"They have the right to their opinion too," he said. "That's why I ran off so many, Tristan. I knew this would happen."
"Since when do people have a right to bigotry?" I asked angrily, throwing Julian's hand off.
"We have the KKK," Julian pointed out. "But does anyone pay attention to them?"
He was right, but I wasn't going to give up easily. "Other white supremacists do. And you can't tell me that the KKK didn't do a lot of damage when they really were powerful."
"Yes, they did," Julian admitted. "But they're just a fringe group now. Nobody listens to them anymore. That's the way of all hate groups—they flare and die as quickly as they are born. Hate is self-destructive. It can't last. All it takes is for everyone to make it through the long shadow and then we emerge on the other side, stronger."
"Do you really believe that?"
Julian ran a hand through his hair. "I have to."
* * *
"Dad, I need to talk to you and Mom for a sec."
My father folded the newspaper neatly and set it down on the table beside him. "What's going on, kid?"
"Well . . . a friend of mine invited me up to San Francisco for a few days—well, this Friday through Sunday, in fact. No big deal, really—we're just gonna hang out and see the city, and I'll be back Sunday afternoon."
My mom closed her book, took off her glasses and set them on top of my dad's newspaper. "When did you find out about this trip?"
I heard the real question there: Why didn't you tell us about this sooner? "It honestly just kind of got sprung on me," I said.
"I don't think so," my dad said. "I don't like the suddenness of this."
"What, so it would've been okay if I'd known two weeks ago?" I asked with a touch more asperity in my voice than was probably necessary. "What difference would it have made?"
"Who's going?" my mom asked.
I could feel San Francisco slipping away. What would Seth say when I called him and said I couldn't go? He'd probably never want to see me again, especially after last Monday's little disagreement. If I really wanted to go, I'd have to get . . . inventive. I could almost feel Seth's eyes on me as I said, "Well, it's Taylor and Sarah and myself," I said. "And a friend of Taylor's—a guy named Seth. We're staying at Seth's parents' house in the city." Well, shit. I'd committed myself, now. I hope Seth appreciated that he'd made me do the one thing I really shied away from doing. Now all I had to do was sit back and wait for my parents' judgment.
* * *
My plane landed at San Francisco International Airport at almost exactly noon. As soon as I walked through the corridor connecting the plane to the terminal, I heard Seth's voice call my name. I grinned and came up to him. "Good to see you," I said.
"You ready for a wild weekend?"
"I think so. You parked outside?"
"Yeah. Did you check any luggage?"
"One piece. I hope you appreciate that I had to jump through more hoops than a troupe of Brazilian circus midgets to get here."
Seth spun on his heel and headed for the baggage claim. "Don't worry, it'll be worth it." After we'd claimed my bags, we sped along the 101 Freeway up from the airport, over the water and through the city. It was cold and foggy; this late in the season, a perpetual stratus haze hung over the entire bay. The buildings themselves, gray and white under the sunless sky, stood like clustered and damp fingers into the sky. The freeway ran almost directly into Haight-Ashbury, so we only had to go down a few side streets before we parked the Audi along a street lined with three-story buildings. "Each of these buildings has three flats," Seth said. "My parents own that one." He pointed to one at the far end of the street. I shouldered my bags and Seth led the way up the narrow staircase and into the third-story flat.
"Moving to this place must've been a nightmare," I said when he'd opened the door. The flat was pretty sparsely furnished, but getting even a couch up the narrow staircase would be a challenge.
"Yeah; this stuff doesn't get touched too much," Seth said, heading into the bedroom. "Set your stuff down here."
I followed him and put my bags down. "Do your folks normally live here, or is this just their place in the city?"
"Well, they do live here sometimes, but they most often live in an apartment complex we own over in Berkeley near the university. They're off in Osaka right now, visiting my Mom's relatives." Seth pushed me down on the bed. "We have the whole place to ourselves," he murmured before putting his lips on mine. Boy, Seth didn't waste any time.
When there was a break in which we were both taking a breather, I asked, "Aren't you hungry?" It was about lunchtime, after all.
"Only for you," Seth said, pushing his body on top of mine. The bedsheets were twisted around us, but so far he hadn't made a move for my shirt.
"I haven't had lunch yet," I said.
Seth glanced at the clock. "Yeah, it's about one-thirty," he said, heaving himself off the bed. "There are a bunch of good places to eat around here. Let's go." He gave me a hand up and as he pulled me up he kissed me, putting one hand on my neck and another on the small of my back, right above my butt. I gave in and wrapped my arms around his back, over his shoulders. His hand slowly slid for the waist of my low-rise jeans. I moaned against his lips as his hand touched the bare skin of my lower back and then slipped underneath the waist of my jeans. He ran his hand along the bare curve of my ass and my entire body shuddered. I almost gave in in that moment. I almost pulled him back down onto the bed and let the world slip aside. Everything in my body cried out for this, for the slow revealing of body and skin and the wider universe inside of us. "Oh God, yes," Seth breathed. He pressed himself against me and I could feel that he wanted this as much as I did.
Seth lowered me down onto the bed and I did nothing to resist his pull. He slowly began to kiss around my neck, then ear, and then lower on my shoulder, unbuttoning the top two buttons of my shirt as he went. This time, instead of sliding my hands into the back of his shirt, I slid them up the front, running them across his stomach and then up around his chest. His muscles alternately tightened and relaxed under my hands as he moved. With each trembling movement, I was exploring new territory across his body and breaking new ground within my mind.
Without warning, my stomach rumbled. Loudly. Seth looked surprised, and perhaps a tad annoyed; I laughed in embarrassment. I leaned back. "Maybe we should get that food," I said quietly.
"Well, if it'll boost your strength for later," Seth replied, getting up and straightening his shirt. I left the two buttons undone. "As long as we're leaving, we'll walk down to a pizza place I know on Haight and then we'll take the car and I'll show you the city." We left the flat and walked in relative quiet down—literally down; San Francisco's legendary hills had not been exaggerated—the narrow streets to the rows of little shops that dotted the Haight. Though its heyday had long passed, the area was still filled with alternative-style shops and equally alternative-looking people. We walked by several places that sold "decorative vases" that obviously doubled as a more . . . hands-on device. Hemp stores abounded and bookstores that dealt only in small presses, independent movie rental stores, tiny coffeeshops and teahouses and stores that seemed to sell anything that couldn't easily be categorized or even identified. People a few years older than me, almost all universally dressed in beanies or floppy hats and baggy clothing, hung out in front of the shops or near the park, talking and sometimes smoking cigarettes—certainly as much as they could get away with in public; purchases made at any of the stores would have to wait for the privacy of a home before they could be used. There were the obvious tourists walking around with cameras and "I Love SF" hats and, just as obvious, the folk who lived in the city but not in the Haight, who lacked the long hair and baggy clothes of the true Haight natives. All sorts of people were going in and out of the shops. I saw a few walking with long, thin boxes that could only be one of the various "decorative vases" available for sale. I shook my head, rather uncomfortable with the notion, but Seth seemed right at home. "Their collection is really amazing," he said, gesturing at one place. The words "Leaf it Blazing" were stenciled on a board over the door. "Let's stop by the Ben & Jerry's over on Haight and Ashbury." There was music playing from just about every corner we passed; I heard Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin mixed in with more modern stuff like The Vines and indie-rock groups. Seth and I got ice cream and kept going, turning a corner and finally coming to a small pizza shop sandwiched between a French bakery and a small store dealing entirely in pagan accessories. We ordered our pizzas—extra cheese for me; vegetarian supreme for him—and sat down at a small table in the corner of the restaurant. The place was small and had obviously been here for awhile; the Formica counters and tabletops and the red vinyl seat cushions looked like they hadn't been replaced since Eisenhower was President. Bob Dylan was playing quietly in the background—the music, not the man, of course—but abruptly shifted to the Eagles after a few minutes. I spent a long while looking around at the pizzeria and out the window at the people that hustled past the window. There were a few other people in the restaurant, but it was rather an odd time to be eating, it being somewhere between lunch and dinner.
"This place is . . . wild," I said between bites of pizza. It was extraordinarily good.
"Please tell me you don't mean this little joint," Seth said with a slow upcurling of his lip.
I laughed. "No. This whole Haight-Ashbury place."
"You think this is wild—just wait till you see the Castro district."
"That's the gay area, right?"
"Oh yeah. That's what your fake is for, babe." He swallowed the last of his pizza and licked his lips. Every single movement of his lips and tongue was deliberate, I was sure, and effective. I had to wait a moment to rise. "We're gonna go through all the clubs, get trashed, hit a few bars, and come back to my place. You have to meet a few friends of mine, too. I'm gonna call them up before we go out." He waited for me to stand. "Ready for a tour of the city?" he asked.
"Let's do it," I replied, following him toward the door. We spent the next four hours driving around San Francisco; Seth and I drove through Chinatown, Union Square, along Market Street, through the Embarcadero, up through the Presidio and over the Golden Gate bridge and then back again. We drove through the Mission district and Nob Hill, then down Lombard Street and back to Ghirardelli Square, where we had a quick dinner. The city was growing darker and the Christmas lights at Ghirardelli Square were glowing brightly in the darkness when we made it back to the car. Clouds, lighter patches against the greater darkness of the sky, scuttled in from the ocean and rolled through the bay, obscuring the moon. We had one last place to go. Seth took me to the top of one of the hotels, where on the fortieth story there was a bar with giant windows that overlooked the entire city. While we were there, the clouds that had been gathering finally opened up and rain began to beat softly against the glass. I looked out at the buildings and streets below me. It was as though I were seeing an underwater city, or staring through the wrong side of aquarium glass. The rain made ripples down the windows and everything shimmered, trembled and slid downward in the reflection of the water. After awhile, we left.
When we got back to Seth's parents' flat, there was another car there waiting for us. "This is my friend Rory," Seth said as he got out.
I took one look at Rory and instantly knew that I didn't like him. It was hard for me to say why, exactly, but it was so. As I expected, he was quite the piece of art. He was obviously very well-aware of how attractive he was; his too-short shirt and jeans that looked like they'd been put on with a paint roller were evidence enough of that. He had his brown hair highlighted blond and light brown and his blue eyes were rimmed in dark eyeliner. His eyebrows had the kind of arch that nature never made. Two silver rings dangled from one ear and a small tattoo of a stylized moon was visible below his navel, prominently displayed in the gap between his shirt and his jeans. "I'm Rory Semel," he said. His voice was high and waspish, and each syllable were pronounced distinctly, as though a slurring of words was an abomination.
"Tristan Elliot. Nice to meet you, Rory," I lied. I didn't extend my hand. Neither did Rory, I noted, which was fine by me. My mind shuddered away from any contact with this boy.
Seth, oblivious—or uncaring; I wasn't sure which—nodded and led us up to the apartment. Once there, he pulled out a bottle of vodka and another bottle of rum from the cabinet. "A few shots, then we head for the buses," he said, pulling out three shotglasses.
I froze. Never in my life had I even touched alcohol. I wasn't sure why, exactly; enough kids at school drank on weekends and at parties, but I'd never really been a part of that scene. Those were the same kids who had sex on a weekly basis. It was a bit tougher for someone of my persuasion to have casual sex, even had I wanted to. I'd never really felt the pull in that direction. Yet there Seth was, pouring out vodka expertly into the glasses as though he'd done this a thousand times. It occurred to me that he possibly had. He pushed one of the shotglasses in my direction. "Go for it," he said to me, picking up his own glass and downing the contents. Rory was already passing his glass back for a shot of rum.
"What the shit are you waiting for?" Seth asked, tapping the glass impatiently. "It's already fermented."
"I . . . don't think I can drink it," I said quietly. I pushed the glass back toward Seth.
"What do you mean you can't drink it?" Seth asked. Rory laughed, but I ignored him; he was a stupid piece of shit anyway. "Is it against your religion or something?" He made a face and pushed it back toward me. "Come on, down with it."
I ignored the glass. My mind had been made up, and I think it was Rory's idiotic snigger that did it more than anything else. I really didn't like him. "No. I'm serious, Seth. No."
"What a fucking baby," Rory said without looking at me, as though I were somehow beneath his notice. "You'd swear he was still in high school or something."
I realized then that Seth had probably told Rory nothing about me. "I am still in high school," I said.
Rory looked back at Seth. He had a slight sneer on his face. "What's this, you're scouring the playground for them now? This kid probably still drinks out of juice-boxes. What, did you already fuck your way through all of college-age LA?" He turned to me. "So, what do you normally drink?" he asked snidely. "Hi-C, or Hawaiian Punch? Or do you still breast-feed?"
"At least I don't look like I plan on making it through all of Castro on my back," I said. "Gee, tell me, Rory, how do you get those jeans off in a hurry? I'm sure you're good at it by now."
"I ought to tell your mommy how foul your mouth is," Rory said, waving a finger rudely in my face. I wanted to bite it off.
"I ought to tell your mommy you look like a two-dollar slut," I replied far more calmly than I felt. "So, babe, sucky sucky, five dollar?"
Seth's face was taut with anger. I didn't understand why; my verbal barbs weren't exactly directed his way. "Enough, you two," Seth said, picking up my shotglass and passing it to Rory. "Here, you do it." Rory picked it up, tipped the glass in my direction and downed it.
Oh my God, I hated him. "Yeah, you do it," I said. "I bet you're real good with shots in the mouth."
Rory started to get up. "I'll give you a shot in the mouth," he said threateningly, lifting a fist.
I laughed. "I'm surprised you know how to make a closed fist." Turning my back on him disdainfully, I added, "Spare me your theatrics, you piece of shit. You're obviously not a fighter. I mean, don't get me wrong—" I turned back to face Rory again, "—I'm sure you deal with fists on a regular basis . . . but I doubt you ever really have to see them."
"Enough!" Seth's roar cut us both off. "Tris, leave him alone. Rory, I wouldn't try it. Tris knows kung fu or some shit like that. He'd probably break your head open." Seth grabbed his jacket and headed for the door. "Come on, you two, let's head for the bus."
A few minutes later, walking briskly along cold and wet streets—the rain had stopped, but everything was damp and the wind was chilly enough to make our breath fog in front of our faces—I leaned over to Seth and asked, "How far is it to the bus stop?" If it was anything like Orange County, or even Los Angeles, we might be walking for a good long while.
"We're here already," Seth said, stopping at a corner. "You gotta realize that here, buses are everywhere. And I mean everywhere. They run all over this city. The mass transit system up here is great." We got on the bus and headed south into the Castro district. We started walking down the streets and I realized exactly what Seth had been talking about. If I thought that The Bean had been a riot of color and flesh, the Castro was ten, twenty times what The Bean could ever hope to be. We cut through the throngs of people. The crowds were mostly male, but there was a smattering of women throughout. Walking through crowded-well lit streets, we passed all manner of people dressed in clothing oftentimes as skimpy as Rory's attire, despite the chill of the evening. Seth headed straight for a club called Trapdoor. We flashed our IDs—I broke out in a nervous sweat as I showed the bouncers my fake ID—paid the cover fee, and went in. Loud dance music assailed my ears the moment we passed through the doors. The club was divided up into two rooms, one being the bar and lounge area and the main room the dance floor, which was dark and hot and crowded with boys and men in various states of undress. The first thing I noticed was the preponderance of flesh everywhere—some dancing without shirts and others dancing in little more than underwear. Onstage, youngish dancers cavorted with each other in time with the lights that shot across the floor and walls. Thrumming percussion shook through the building as dancers smashed against each other, bodies against bodies, skin on skin. I took it in in one decadent sweep; I wasn't sure if I'd found Paradise or Gomorrah.
"Oh my God," I breathed. "It's nothing like the coffeehouse at all."
"Told you," Seth said with a slight smile. "So are you ready to dance?"
I nodded and Seth took my hand, leading me out onto the floor. Rory, I noticed, was already flashing his ID—I wasn't sure if it was fake, but I didn't think he was quite twenty-one yet—at the bar and chatting with some well-muscled college-age boy. He sure moves quickly, I thought as Seth maneuvered us out on the dance floor. Seth began to slide up against me, dancing far more closely than I ever had with anyone before. I swallowed nervously and, feeling rather silly, began to move my body against his. I quickly found the beat and moved in time, then began to anticipate the song and move according to what was coming next. Seth raised his eyebrows. "You dance well," was all he said, but I could tell that he was enjoying it. In more ways than one, I noticed as my hips ground against his. It occurred to me then as we moved back and forth that Seth was an intensely sensual being—he had a love for tangibles, things that could be touched and felt and experienced. His love of alcohol, of food, of fast cars—and of course his love of the sexual—could all be boiled down to one essential fact: Seth was an epicure, a boy who lived for sensation and titillation. I wondered if there was more to him than that. I got glimpses of that, sometimes, as in today when we were driving through the city; the joy he took in the experience gave me hope.
Seth's body sliding down against mine broke suddenly into my thoughts. I glanced at my feet and saw Seth crouching against me, his body gyrating in time with the music, his hands around my butt and his face at my belt buckle. With a searing glance upward, he let his mouth caress the clothed stiffness in my pants. I lost the rhythm as my hands found his hair and tangled themselves in it. I couldn't catch my breath. Seth undulated upward again and, smiling, kissed me. Abruptly, Rory shoved his way between us and handed Seth a drink. He'd not brought me one, I noted, but that could as easily be explained away by the fact that he knew I didn't drink as by simple rudeness. I suspected the latter anyway.
"You boys've been dancing by yourselves for a half hour," Rory said. He didn't seem entirely sober, but I admittedly wasn't be best judge of such things. "You should dance with other people too, you know." With that, he cut in, pushing me aside with a hip check as he stole Seth's attentions. Angrily, I stormed off; I stood against the wall and willed my hard-on to subside. That was quite the experience Rory had interrupted.
I'd like to say that a bunch of beautiful boys approached me while I was standing against the wall, tousled and throbbing, but unfortunately no one came up to me. I later found out why. "What's wrong?" Seth asked as he finally came to find me. He had Rory had been dancing for a good twenty minutes and he was covered in sweat. "You look like you're about to grow a second head and bite people with it."
"Let's go outside for some fresh air."
"I'm fine, Seth. Mostly because, unlike you, I haven't been dancing for the last twenty minutes."
"Alright, fine." He turned on his heel and walked out. I instantly regretted snapping at him, but on the other hand—oh, there he was, peeling off his shirt and grinding away at some near-naked guy close to the main stage. I hated Rory. I hated him as he casually stuffed his t-shirt into his back pocket. I hated him as he danced with this random guy as though they were attached at the crotch with a Slinky. I hated him as he ran his hands along the other guy's back and as his nipples were pinched in return. I turned to walk away, noting that watching the display had done nothing to make my hard-on subside. And that, I realized, pissed me off even more.
I pushed open the doors that led to the patio out back and found Seth leaning against the wall and deep in conversation with an Asian guy I'd never seen before. I decided to butt in. "Seth," I said. "Are you done with your little breather?"
"Almost, Tris," he said casually, turning back to his conversation.
"Who's this?" the Asian guy asked. "I didn't know you'd come with someone."
"Two someones," Seth said, waving a hand dismissively. "Tris here and Rory, who's inside, probably about five minutes away from getting fucked." I wasn't sure if that was some irritation I detected or just an objective assessment of Rory's aims. "Listen, Lee, I'm gonna bounce. I'll chat with you later, 'kay?"
"Okay," Lee said. He gave Seth a quick hug and a kiss on the cheek and moved off.
"And who was that?" I asked, then realized it was useless. I was in Seth's element now and I had to realize that here there would be things I wouldn't know, people and places that would be a part of his history before I came into his life. "Never mind," I said quietly, turning back toward the club. There were things in a person's past that were unknowable, and I got the feeling that a lot of Seth's life up here might be like that. I pushed my way through the doors and paused for a moment along the wall, staring inward at all the people. Where The Bean was a riot of color, this place was devoid of anything but the black of lightless space, the flashing of lights and the red glow of sweaty skin. Seth followed me back inside and we danced, but my heart wasn't in it. Oh, sure, other parts of me were, but I couldn't stir anything above the waist into life. I still wasn't sure if Seth had given me a glimpse of Heaven or Hell, but from the way I was feeling, Dante would have very little on me.