All the Boys by Sommer Marsden

‘I’d like to take your picture,’ he said out of the blue. I was eating lunch at the park. He was walking his dog.

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    ‘Oh, I bet you say that to all the boys.’ I laughed when he looked confused. I bent to pet the beast he had tethered to a leash. ‘Who is this?’
    ‘Her name is Beatrice and she has exquisite taste,’ he said. He blinked, looking a bit owlish behind round glasses that were a little too big for his face. His hair, the colour of warm homemade caramel, fell over his forehead. He looked more like a college freshman than a man my age.
    ‘Hello, Beatrice,’ I said, addressing the slobbering dog. She seemed to be smiling and I smiled. Even with a palm full of dog drool, I smiled. ‘My name is Gilbert and who’s your daddy?’ Then I realised what I had said and my face flushed, hot and sudden.
    ‘Daddy’s name is Simon,’ he said. I noticed his face was a flaming shade of raspberry too. I took a breath and relaxed. ‘And I really would like to take your picture.’
    ‘For what?’ Now I was intrigued. I’d heard the picture line before but usually at a party or a club. Some big daddy in thick gold chains showing tons of chest hair. Or the artsy guy who thought that was the quickest way to a sweaty blow job. Offer me immortality. Capture my look and my ego on film and I will be your slave and suck your cock.
    ‘I like pictures. It’s a hobby. I like … beauty,’ Simon said and then his face went from berry to tomato. ‘You are beautiful. Even Beatrice can see it.’
    Part of me thought it should feel creepy. A young guy offering to take my picture.Worse yet, a young guy who apparently looked to his Saint Bernard for an opinion of beauty. Instead of feeling creeped out, I felt a smile split my face and a hearty laugh snaked out of me before I could stop it. It felt good to laugh like that. The genuine kind of laugh that started somewhere around your belly button and burned a bright yellow trail on the way out of you.An honest to fucking god happy laugh.
    ‘OK. If Beatrice insists.’
    Recognizing her name, the mighty dog let out a deep woof that made her jowls tremble and her flanks sway. She really was quite gorgeous in an unusual and terrible kind of way. Sort of the way I felt about myself.
    ‘Will you come with me?’ Simon cocked his head, that lovely brown hair shading his face, and blinked rapidly. He pushed his glasses up onto his nose and I grinned. A nervous tic, a habit, whatever it was, his way with his glasses and his boyish habits were charming. It took all of the fear right out of me.
    ‘You won’t put me in a pit and force me to slather lotion on myself, will you?’ I rose to my full height, gathering my trash. I had a good four inches and twenty pounds on Simon. He was no threat to me. At least physically.
    He blinked rapidly again and frowned. ‘Dear God, no. That’s just … awful.’ He said the word softy as if awful were foreign to him.
    I wished I had the same innocent naiveté with awful. ‘It is,’ I said, trying to keep a straight face. My guess was that he’d never seen the movie. ‘I’ll follow you?’
    We walked together, Beatrice leading the way, to the parking lot. My red sports coupe was parked to the far left. I thought about offering him a ride but where would we put the moose he called a pet?
    ‘I’m the grey Saab. Follow me. Just in case. I’m on Oak. It’s the only yellow house on the street.’
    I nodded. Yellow for sunshine.Yellow for pureness.Yellow for laughter.‘Got it. I will follow you and if I lose you, I will follow the trail of dog slobber.’ I grinned.
    He jerked back as if slapped and then, slowly, his face split into a smile. An uncertain shy smile but a smile. He had gotten my joke. Beatrice gave a chuff that sounded almost like a laugh. I leaned in and said, ‘I’ll see you soon, gorgeous.’ Then I got in and followed the charcoal grey Saab to the yellow house.
    When I pulled into his drive, it occurred to me that what kind of pictures? might have been a wise question. When I climbed out and waited for him to lock his car and unleash his dog, I realised it didn’t matter. He couldn’t hurt me. I knew it and he knew it. And that was very, very important.
    ‘You have a beautiful face. I‘ve seen you for a few weeks. You seem kind,’ he said shyly and walked past me. Beatrice looked back, breathing harshly as if she had run a race. I followed his broad back, swathed in a faded denim shirt. His words echoed in my head you have a beautiful face, and my scars itched for the first time in years.

    I had been thinking digital. Everything was digital now, right? Digital cameras, digital media, digital music. When Simon pulled out an honest to god camera, I did a double take. It was the equivalent of someone pulling out a typewriter to write a letter.
    ‘Wow,’ I said, meaning the camera and his work. The large room was three walls of window and one solid wall of black and white prints:a blond young man in a pair of well loved jeans; Beatrice in a large stream, holding a stick and mugging for the camera;an older man with a scruffy beard and an easy smile;a man my age with tousled dark hair and a chiselled abdomen that made me suck in my gut;a young woman who looked an awful lot like Simon jumping in the air. He had caught her hovering, half floating in the low light of day. Surely in the photo it was dusk and she was joking with her brother. If that wasn’t his sister, I would eat my shoe.
    ‘You have a beautiful face,’ he said again and his smile was both appreciative and gentle. It stirred a sadness in my chest and a lump formed in my throat. I cleared it to try to make it go, but the lump stayed stuck. ‘Don’t be intimidated. The camera sees the truth of it all. It will love you ...’ He said it so sincerely, I was tempted to believe him.
    ‘OK.’ I meant to sound self-assured when I said it. It didn’t happen that way. I sounded breathy and scared and I fisted my hands in my jean pockets to keep from punching something with frustration. I would not be afraid. Not of him or the camera. Not of my scars. Not that I had lost all of my beauty long ago and that his antique 32 millimetre camera would spit a monster back at me when the photos were developed.
    Simon stared at me as if seeing past the first layer of Gilbert. I felt like an onion. His dark brown eyes were stripping me layer by layer and the fists in my pockets twisted with nerves. Fuck.
    ‘The scars will look lovely in black and white,’ he said.
    Something dark and hard shifted in my chest and I pushed down the rage. Who the fuck was he to talk about my scars? I swallowed. I would not give in. I would not feel that anger and that grief. This was supposed to be fun.
    Beatrice whined and looked at me with drunken hollow eyes. Only a Saint Bernard could have those eyes and look cute. She made a sad noise in her chest like she could read my mind. ‘I’m not worried about it,’ I lied.
    ‘Will you take your shirt off for me?’ he asked softly. His blush returned. As hot and intense as a summer sunset.
    I grinned at that and whipped it off over my head. I let the white T-shirt drop around my busted up boots. Every insecurity I had about my face was balanced by a confidence in my chest. Many gym hours had earned me a chest I didn’t think twice about showing. A shrink would tell me I was making up for one with the other. That’s why I don’t have a shrink.
    Simon blinked, blinked, blinked and then he licked his lips. He looked nervous and turned on and awkward and sweet. I smiled at him and he smiled back. ‘Um, yes. Thank you. That’s good.’
    He only said good but my cock stirred in my jeans. A subtle pleasure at his soft spoken words of praise. ‘Thanks, man.’
    Simon laughed at that. A short, deep bark that I would never had expected from his straight-laced self. ‘Let’s just take a few shots and see.’ His voice was much more confident when the camera was up to his eye and his finger was on the trigger.
    I didn’t know what to do, so I just stared. Stared at the camera and tried to shield my soul. Every time the bright flash strobed I heard the sound of fist meeting bone. I heard the crunch in my head the first time Richard broke my nose. I heard the cuts and digs coming off my loving partner’s lips, whore, asshole, dick, stupid, retard, loser. I felt the stab of numbing needles in the ER and the bright light blinding me as they stitched over my eye, or repaired my busted lip. I stared at the camera and came unglued.
    I took out one, two, three glass frames and Simon just stood there and waited.
    I was panting and bleeding and I looked around slowly, coming to the surface too fast like a diver who was destined to get the bends. ‘Jesus fucking Christ, Simon. I’m sorry,’ I managed and I came apart completely, sinking to his studio floor amid the glass and paper. A bitter taste flooded my mouth and I knew it was fear.
    ‘It’s OK, Gilbert,’ he said so softly I was half convinced I imagined it.
    ‘No one calls me Gilbert,’ I said distractedly. ‘It’s Gil. Gil. And I will pay for all of this.’ I sobbed a little when I said it. The full impact of the anger I had unleashed was sinking in and I felt out of control. The monster somehow unleashed by accident.
    ‘It’s OK. Really.’ Simon sank to his knees and touched the scar that nearly bisected my face. Not quite in half. It started on the inside of my right eyebrow and ran down the inside of my nose. It tore through my lip and my chin like a line of demarcation.
     I flinched as if he’d punched me and Beatrice whined softly, shifting away from me as if I were toxic. I couldn’t blame her. I felt a black surge of anger swell in me and I clenched my fists to keep it down. ‘I think I should go.’   
    ‘Don’t go,’ he said and put the camera down. When he undid my jeans I muttered arguments. My mouth gave him reasons not to but my hips rose up to convince him to go ahead. His lips on me were a hot peach coloured heaven. His tongue on my cock the best memory eraser I had ever had. Better than drugs or booze or bar fights. Sweet and slow and there. He was all there the whole time. No agenda, no manipulation. No nice words backed up by harsh punches and nasty words. Just him licking me until I jittered across the scarred hardwood floor like a maniac.
    I was right on that torturous cusp. Hovering on that white hot orgasm and it wasn’t enough. The glass whispered around me as I shifted, gathering my strength like a storm as I hauled him around and onto his knees. Gratitude and pleas falling from my lips as I wrangled with his sharp creased chinos until he stilled my hands. Stilled the thing in my chest that beat its wings and demanded its due. Through the niceties and the readying part of me laughed and part of me sobbed and I heard both echo through the big empty room.
    Sliding into Simon, feeling him clench around me, hearing his steady and somehow serene breathing was bright yellow. In my mind I could see it, like cleansing rays of the brightest sunlight. When I came it flooded out of me. Light through my fingertips, light out of my toes. I laughed deep yellow laughter when Simon bucked under me. His come coating my fist and warming me all over.
    Finally, I kissed him. Hard. I was ready for round two with the camera. I thought it might catch something new this time. Something easier.Something more peaceful.
    His warm fingers on my chest made me shiver and he said, ‘your scars will look lovely in black and white.’
    The scars were far from faded. The ones the camera could see and the ones it could not, but I felt easier about them. I laughed and grabbed him by his warm brown hair and kissed him some more. ‘I bet you say that to all the boys,’ I said. In the corner, Beatrice chuffed as bright buttery sunshine flooded the small room.

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