Michael was the best thing about my new job. My friend Red, sometimes Big Red, you can imagine what he looked like, had been sweet enough to hook me up with the gig so I could start to think about moving out of home and I wasn't initially particularly keen...
I really didn't want to move out. It was just Mum and I, and she charged me $30 board a week which was unheard of- all my friends told me I was a spoiled brat and they were totally right. I loved her and the place was big enough that we both had privacy. But I had to concede that a job was a good idea.
The place was a falling apart movie theatre, a hobby project for trust fund baby wife Sandy while her husband Simon played at being a stockbroker and leering at the young girls on staff. Sometimes he did more than leer, I was informed, though I imagined I wouldn't have to worry about that.
"Don't count on it, Wiremu." Red said. "He might see you as fair game." I rolled my eyes. God has a cruel sense of humour and he's given me soft hips and pouty lips- if I let my hair grow for too long I start to fall right into the Queen spectrum- which really attracts the wrong kind of guy. By which I mean tops. I've had to work extra hard at the gym for years to look a touch more butch. Red ruffled my head and I growled at him.
"Due for a cut." He said. "Starting to get that femboy look you hate." I folded my arms and raised my eyebrow.
"Call me a femboy one more time, I fucking dare you." Red looked like he was thinking about it when I was distracted.
Across the room a real femboy caught my eye. He was tall, for someone dressed like that- in shorts with pinstripes and a Hawaiian shirt tucked into them. He had knee high socks on and a pink cardigan. Red followed my gaze and rolled his eyes.
"Ah." He said. "That's just Michael."
Michael. He was kind of shaky, looked strung out as hell. He was wearing sunglasses indoors and had a Diet Coke can in one hand. He waved at us and made a beeline towards Red. Red sighed.
"He's not so bad." He warned me as Michael approached.
"Hey Red." He said. "His voice was surprisingly deep for someone that thin. He looked me over and I returned the favour. He was very tall. He had a lot of tattoos splattered over his arms and legs, all sort of flash art, nothing that seemed like it led to a bigger piece. His hair was very, very blonde, straight, kind of slicked back and shaved at the sides. He sucked on his straw as he looked at me and we stood in liminal space for a second, neither of us making a move. I wondered if he could feel the tension between us the way I could. I wondered if he was fucking me with his eyes under those dark sunglasses. Eventually he breathed in deeply. "It'll never work kid." He said. "We're both bottoms." He squeezed Red on the shoulder and swanned away. I blushed.
"I'm not a bottom." I said to Red. And then I blushed even more. "Not that..." He held up his hand.
"Don't care. Michael doesn't either, he just tries to get a rise out of the new guys."
Well. It was working. In more ways than one.
I saw him a lot, and I couldn't quite work out his game. He only had a few outfits- all variations of too tight and small for someone his age. Whatever age that was. He never took his sunglasses off, so who would know. He was slightly too tall and slightly too broad to be as young as he wanted us to think, was my guess. He often came in and didn't buy anything, he just slunk around with his coke and sometimes snuck into theatres. I thought he was the hottest thing ever. He swung his long legs around with the sexiest sashay and he swept his hair off his face as he looked, maybe in my direction, it was hard to tell under his glasses.
Red warned me early on.
"He's trouble. Don't let him look at you that way. Don't fall into bed with him, I think he charges by the hour." I rolled my eyes.
"He dresses like that and I'm not meant to look?" I sighed. "Don't worry hoa, I'm not stupid. Michael has that look but don't touch kinda vibe." Red nodded.
We never crossed paths. I just looked, and I was sure he was looking back.
He slipped into the projection room one day while I was supervising the system during a late night screening of Aliens. I didn't notice him come in. I heard a voice behind me as I scrolled my phone.
"Terminator or Terminator 2?" I leapt out of my skin as I turned around and saw him leaning against the wall, sunglasses on, in a pink leather jacket, sucking on his diet coke.
"I'm a sucker for a good father/son movie." I said slowly. He nodded.
"I'm not. Don't have a dad."
"Well we have that in common." I said stiffly. Michael bit his lip. Slowly he took his sunglasses off. He had blue eyes, and god, the kid must never sleep, he looked fucked. He came and sat next to me.
"Sorry Wir." He said softly. "Didn't know." I don't know when he'd got my name. I don't know when he shortened it. I shrugged and turned to look at him.
"It's ok, Michael." I looked at him for a second. "You really don't have a dad?" He leant back in his chair and sighed.
"Yeah, yeah. He's a great guy. Mum too. So supportive when I came out. Actually so goddamn supportive they let me try living on my own for a bit... and because I was 14 this real sweet guy decided to take care of me and you know- help set me up with a job and everything. He was all about independence too so when I was getting on a bit, 17, you know- starting to lose that youthful glow, he sort of left me to, you know, do my own thing too, encouraged me to live somewhere else, like random mens couches so I wasn't on the street- only I actually was on the street most of the time because you know, a guys gotta get his fix..." He waved his Diet Coke can at me and sipped on it.
I looked him over. He sounded so jaded. He had a little smirk that was playing at the corner of his mouth. And sure, he looked like shit but he looked clean.
"I don't believe a word of that." I said. "Do the other guys fall for that? Is that why they give you free coke and let you sneak into movies?" Michael grinned at me. He put his long legs up on the desk.
"Ok." He said. "The truth is I'm Red's boyfriend. My parents don't care, they knew I was gay when I was about 3 months old. But Red's parents are religious fruitcakes. So we hang out here, where they can't catch us. He can't let it get out. Even the staff don't really know, most of them fell for the first story."
"How many of them fall for that? Red and I go back, Michael. I think I'd know if his parents were homophobic."
"You think, do you?"
"Given that his best friend Wiremu has been out since he was 6 years old and has spent a thousand dinners at theirs yeah, I'm gonna go ahead and say not homophobic."
Michael grinned even wider and put his Coke down. I rolled my eyes. He could probably save it. I wasn't gonna believe a word that came out of his mouth. He read my mind.
"I have so many good ones though!" He leant forward. "You've met the owner, Simon? And his wife Sandy? I'm their dirty little secret. Their pool boy. I hang around here when the kids are home. Another? I'm secretly a millionaire. I come here to seduce cute young boys and play at being a pauper. Or how's this... My dads famous. Taika Waititi. He had an affair and I'm the result. He's super ashamed of me but he buys me anything I want to keep me happy. I saw that script you're working on. I'll show it to him if you suck me off." I laughed.
"Does anyone ever fall for any of that?" Michael laughed.
"All the time! I mean they don't really believe me, it's too much. But they think bits of it might be true and they feel sorry for me, usually sorry enough for me to get what I want."
"So... who are you? Really?" Michael looked at me and shrugged.
"I don't know. Who are you, really?"
"Wiremu." I stuck out my hand. "I work in a movie theatre. I'm 22. I study Economics." He wrinkled his nose a bit. "You find that boring?"
"Only the Economics bit, Wir." He grinned as he shook my hand. "Go on."
"I like Mezcal. I play D & D once a fortnight. I'm a really charismatic, dumb, barbarian human."
"Takes one to know one." Michael blushed. "Cute." I said. I leant towards him and pushed his hair back where it had fallen on his face. "You're almost the colour of your jacket." Michael pushed my hand away.
"Sure. I play indoor netball. Defence. Everyone underestimates me because I'm short." Michael bit his lip.
"I think I might have fallen into that trap." He admitted. "You're very confident."
"Only compared to someone so insecure that he has 15 cover stories." Michael laughed.
"Oh I have way more than 15. You think this is the only place I stalk?" He suddenly stood up and put the sunglasses back on his face. I felt a little weight in my gut as his eyes disappeared behind his mask. He picked up his Diet Coke. "You free tomorrow night?"
"Yes." Michael nodded.
"Good. Meet me at Lulu at 8."
"This a date?" Michael grinned and paused at the door.
"It's a date. Ask for Carl."
Mum stopped me on the way out the door and looked me over.
"Tell me you have condoms." She said. Gross. So gross. I went bright red.
"Muuuuuum..." I whined. She shook her head firmly.
"Going out dressed like that, you better at least be using protection."
"I look nice!" I was wearing the suit I'd worn to our school dance a couple of years back which had been too broad in the shoulders then, but fit me now, and a mustard silk shirt. I was wearing nice sneakers to try and tone the look down a bit and I personally thought the whole effect was cool.
"Did I fail so spectacularly at motherhood that you really don't know what buttons are?" I rolled my eyes. What's the point of growing chest hair if you can't show it off a bit? She shook her head, smiling. "I cant wait til you move out and I don't have to see what you wear on dates ever again." I shoved past her, pausing to give her a kiss on the cheek and wish her goodnight.
I reached Lulu and they threw a spat about my sneakers.
"Thats so fucking lame." I said. "You're not a club, you're not at capacity. These cost more than your entire cheap shiny outfit and I look fucking hot. You're queer friendly right? You know there are a hundred men out there who are gonna see me dancing in there and come in and buy me drinks? And that means more money for you..." I trailed off as the security guard shook his head firmly while trying not to laugh. His arms were folded. He was twice the size of me and my pint sized tantrum was beginning to feel a little ridiculous. I sighed. "Well fine. Tell my date I'm not up to par. His name is Carl and he..." The security guard suddenly stood to attention.
"Carl?" He said. His eyes swept over me. He sighed. "Should have guessed." He radioed someone. "Can you check with Carl if he's waiting on a whiny brown queen who doesn't know what a dress code is?" I opened my mouth to argue and the security guard put a finger up to shut me up. "Wiremu?" He asked. I nodded. "You're in." I grinned smugly and started to prance past him. He put a firm hand on my chest and stared at me. "Those shoes are not." I rolled my eyes and tried to move forward again, but I wasn't getting anywhere.
"Seriously?" He nodded. I opened my mouth to start whining and he shook his head before I got started."Fuck you." I said, shuffling out of my sneakers.
"You'll get them on the way out." He said as he took them off me with a smirk. I pouted. Stupid homophobic dress code.
I was ushered up a staircase I didn't know existed immediately and was overwhelmed by the smell of whiskey and smoke at the top. I glanced around the room and I didn't see Michael. I sighed and headed to the bar.
"Negroni. Please." The bartender nodded and I pulled out my card. I was about to run it when someone pulled my hand away.
"He's on my tab." I glanced over my shoulder to see someone towering behind me. He had long golden brown hair and was wearing round sunglasses inside. He was wearing layers and layers of fabric, all in rich jewel tones, and he was dripping with jewellery. This was not the skinny tall twink who sucked on diet coke at the theatre. Except. It somehow was.
I looked him over.
"Sure thing Mr Kolbert." The bartender glanced at me. He smirked. I turned to Michael and raised my eyebrows.
"Thanks Mr Kolbert." I said flatly. He grinned and looked at my feet.
"You're welcome." He said. "Haere mai." He turned away as the bartender handed me my drink and snapped at me. SNAPPED at me. My mouth fell open and I blushed as I caught eyes with the bartender. He shrugged. I whirled around, determined to tell him what was what, and found myself pulled into his side. He kept his arm tightly wrapped around me as he directed us to a table and sat me down.
"I'm not sure who I dislike more." I said. "Michael or Carl." Michael smiled across the booth. "Here's the deal." He said. "Don't you dare blow Carl's cover. You're here to be my piece of ass tonight."
"I'm no one's piece of ass.".
"I know Wir, it's a game. Trust me it's fun. You're gonna love pretending to be my slutty little whore. Using me for my money and influence. You know what is gonna be super hot? Flirt with other guys. All the staff will think it's so crazy how I throw my money around on a cheap whore who cant even be fucked to pretend he's mine for the night." I couldn't read how serious he was with his sunglasses on.
"Who are you?" I asked.
"Carl Kolbert. I'm a music producer. I..." I stopped him.
"Spare me." I sighed and sipped on my drink. Michael stroked my thigh. He pulled his sunglasses off, just for a second and looked at me.
"My real name is Lindsay." He said. He blinked. "You can see why I lie about it." I didn't know if I believed him. But his eyes looked honest.
"What do your parents call you?"
"Linds." He rolled his eyes. "That's all you're getting tonight." I smiled as he put his sunglasses back and threw that ridiculous yet oddly convincing wig over his shoulder. Linds. I liked it. I looked around the club and wriggled out of my suit jacket.
"Alright Mr Kolbert." I grinned and moved to sit on his lap. He immediately pulled my shirt even wider apart. I could see the bartender watching us. I wondered which of us he wished he was, the rich mysterious music producer who could buy anyone he wanted, or the cheap whore who let himself be bought.
I was grinding against a hot guy about my height and feeling him up. Ugh, he had great muscles. He turned around and wrapped his hands around my face. I sighed into his ear as he tried to kiss me.
"No kissing." I panted. "I'm with someone..." The guy chuckled.
"That guy with the sunglasses and long hair?" I opened my eyes and looked at his face. Oh shit, this guy was cute. Damn, I wondered if I could give him my number. He nodded his head behind me and I turned to see Linds standing there, his hands in his pockets and his eyes, despite being hidden, clearly focussed on me. He mouthed Haere mai as I looked at him.
"Shit." I muttered. "Busted." My dance partner grinned at me.
"So busted." He said. "You guys do threesomes?" I bit my lip. Oh fuck that was hot. I could take this guy's ass and Linds could take his mouth. Only...we didn't even do twosomes yet. I stroked my hand down the cute guy's chest and looked at him.
"Ugh." I whined. "He's kind of possessive. But..." The cute guy grabbed my phone from my pocket. He turned us around so I was staring straight at Linds while he entered his number. I glanced down at the phone and back at Linds, whose eyebrows were raised.
"Toby. Call me." He said as Linds raised one hand and beckoned me over to him.
"Wiremu. Yuh." I muttered as I obeyed.
Linds wrapped his hand in the back of my head and lifted me onto my tiptoes.
"Asshole." I grunted in pain as he let me down.
"Go get us drinks. Put it on my tab. Then join me and my friends in that booth over there. But don't speak unless spoken to."
"You're mean. Maybe I do prefer Michael."
"You're hard." Linds pointed out. As if I needed him to tell me.
"That was the cute guy I was trying to get into bed with me. Thanks for fucking that up."
"You can leave now and go home with him if you want, Wir." Linds pulled his sunglasses down and looked at me. "Honestly." I thought about it.
"What do you drink Mr Kolbert?"
I joined him and his friends with his El Camino and my Negroni. I sat on his lap immediately. I wasn't going to go for the not speaking unless spoken to bit though. Way too far, and probably boring. I looked over his crowd. They were a lot older, I could see wrinkles and dark circles everywhere. I saw them looking at me and I grinned.
"Gonna introduce me?" I suggested to Linds. He sighed.
"This is Wiremu." He said flatly. "Jed, Archie, Elric, Zephyr and Stevie." I laughed.
"Every single one of those names seem fake." I said. I wondered if they were. I wondered if this was a game they were all in on. I looked up at Linds and he smiled at me. His expression is hard to read with sunglasses on but he didn't look like I'd busted him.
Stevie looked at me.
"How old is he?" She asked Linds. He shrugged.
"You're legal right?" I smiled at Stevie.
"Sure." I said. She rolled her eyes.
"Are the younger ones cheaper because they don't know what they're doing?" She asked. The group sucked in and held their breath as they turned to look at Linds. I felt him squeeze my hips and I leant back into him, letting his arm drape around me.
"More expensive." I answered for him. "Because you get to break us in. Wanna whirl? I'm free tomorrow night."
"Stevie can't afford you." Linds growled. I almost laughed. He was so ridiculous.
"That's a shame." I said.
We hung out for a bit, but honestly the conversation was so dull. It was all about people I don't know doing things I didn't know about. Eventually I leaned into Linds.
"This is getting super boring." I whispered. "We can have a fight and I'll leave or we could go home together." Linds squeezed me tight. He almost immediately stood up, pulling me to my feet.
"See ya next week, cunts." He nodded as he wrapped his arm around me.
"Go and get your money's worth." A drunk Stevie yelled as we headed downstairs.
"I think she has a crush on Carl." I said. Linds sighed.
"Well she'll have to get over that." He led me out the door and the bouncer stopped us.
"Here." He said, handing me my kicks. "Took good care of them for you."
"Thanks." I mumbled. I glanced at Linds and shrugged. "Next time let me know if there's a dress code yeah?" He grinned and stuck his hand out for a taxi. One appeared like magic. Carl Kolbert had that kind of magnetism about him.
Linds gave an address and I almost laughed when we stopped at a hotel around the corner.
"Do your legs not work?" I said, picking up the fare. He hustled me out of the taxi and into the lift.
"Carl Kolbert wouldn't be caught dead walking with a prostitute on Cuba street at 1am." He shrugged.
We got to his room and I sat down at a table next to the bed. Nice place. I peeled off my sneakers again and hung my jacket over my chair.
Linds took off his sunglasses and blinked at me. He still looked tired under there, but his eyes were sparkling.
"Couldn't see a thing all night." He muttered.
"Could have fooled me." I thought about his eyes boring into mine on the dance floor. He shrugged.
"You're radiant." He said as he turned around and pulled off the wig, leaving me to blush red in peace.
He peeled off one layer after another of clothes and jewellery until he was standing in a t- shirt and yoga pants in front of me. He grinned sheepishly at me. He looked ten years younger- and ten times more my type. He looked at himself in the mirror and sighed.