He stares at me with a mixture of pity and disgust in his eyes, and I sneer back at him, my contempt loud and clear.
I didn't know it then, but that doorman would one day mean the world to me.
My name is Peter 'Pinky' Benson. I'm twenty and a half years old, and I'm going to be all alone for the first time in the big city. I'm moving there to attend an art school. My parents are paying for my apartment which is within walking distance from the campus, and provide me with a monthly allowance, but I won a scholarship which takes care of the tuition fee. That much at least is all me. I know I'm not going to end up painting million dollar masterpieces, but there's definitely a future for me somewhere in illustrative work.
I don't have much to bring with me to my new place, which comes both as a bit of a shock and relief. Crammed into the two bags I bring with me on the long bus ride over are clothes, my laptop, art supplies, a hard-drive and my toothbrush. All my books, artwork, movies, music and DVDs are either on my hard-drive or online. That's the digital age for you.
It takes me an hour to find my apartment and unpack. The place already has plumbing, electricity and internet ready for me. I use some of my monthly allowance to buy a new mattress and a cheap desk, as well as kitchenware and a few other essentials. I put my bedroom together, head out for dinner and collect some menus of nearby take-out joints, and then finish up the living room when I get back. By near midnight, my small apartment is furnished and I'm ready to have some fun. It's my first night here in the big city, no longer contained in my small home town, and I'm hungry for experience.
I quickly find a gay bar online called Exile that happens to be close by and get dressed in my most lewd outfit -- a skimpy pink tank-top and a pair of tight-fitting black jeans. My wavy brown hair is just shy of being long enough to tie in a ponytail, so I let it hang naturally. It frames my slender, pale face quite nicely, and draws focus to my blue eyes and full lips. I primp in front of the bathroom mirror for another 20 minutes and then step out to embrace the night life.
Exile is already busy when I get there. I can see lots of young, sexy guys heading in as I approach. Techno music streams up the stairs, and the bass thuds against my body, tugging at my feet. I want to get down there and dance.
"Uhp-uhp-uhp!" A bouncer stops me with a large hand on my shoulder. "ID, sir. You don't look a day over 15."
I pass him my driver's license. I didn't know there would be doormen. There are even two of them. Well, fuck.
"Peter Benson," the one holding my card reads out loud. He's large and blocky with pouty lips and a ginger goatee. It's poorly lit outside, but I can see that they're both wearing black short-sleeved shirts and long black slacks.
He passes my card to his partner with a wry smile.
"People call me Pinky," I say loudly, sounding more confident than I felt.
The second doorman grunts. He's a smidge less chubby than the ginger bear, of Greek descent, and looks to be in his late 30's. "You're called 'Pinky' because of your pink top?"
The ginger-haired doorman laughs loudly. "Nah, Goat. It's 'Pinky', like your pinky toe. He's small, cute, and you're gonna bang it on your coffee table. Ain't I right?"
He winks at me.
"Well you're not getting in, Peter," Goat grunts. "You're not over 21." He thrusts the card back at me.
"I'm twenty and a half!" I protest to the first guy. "Please?"
He chuckles. "You really want in that badly, huh? Why don't you prove it?" He puckers and points to his lips.
Well, if it'll get me in...
I leap up, wrap my arms around him and give him a smooch. His orange moustache tickles my nose. Yuck. The feel of his soft body under my hands turns me off and the thought of kissing such an overweight guy revolts me. Worried that I'm not selling it, I make some encouraging moaning sounds. He presses his hard dick into my stomach, and I automatically shuffle back half a step.
Goat snorts in disgust, and I wonder if he's capable of making any civilised sounds. He says, "Take your fucking job seriously, Matt. I don't want to see you kissing every guy you find cute."
I think to myself that Goat's picked the wrong job if he doesn't want to see guys making out.
Matt lets me go with a booming laugh. "Okay, kid, save it for the fags inside," he says affectionately. "Go on." He slaps my backside.
I shoot Goat a triumphant look, and he stares back at me with a mix of pity and disgust -- and we're all caught up now.
I traipse down the stairs to Exile and all thought of the two doormen are immediately washed away by the loud music and the sea of hot guys. The interior is a high contrast of dark, intimate spaces and bright, dazzling lights, and the design is sleek and modern. There is a bar with a line of red stools, half of them occupied, a couple of leather sofas which are all taken, and a small but lively dance floor, crowded and heavily lit by a dozen flashing colours.
I hit the dance floor first and dance up a storm. No fewer than four guys approach me in the first few minutes which sends my ego soaring. One named Arthur pulls me aside and buys me a drink. He's tall, young and handsome, with a tight tee that shows off his muscled body. He hits on me hard, and I love it. I've never been hit on like this. He's charismatic, smells amazing and oozes wealth and power. The free drinks keep on coming. I can feel some people looking on, like they're witnessing something special they want to be a part of.
He's letting me rub his abs when an older, bearded man approaches us.
"Hey! I'm Steve."
I look at him. He's an older silver bear. I decide to be nice to him.
"Hi. I'm Pinky."
"Can I buy you a drink?" he offers loudly over the music.
"Beat it old man," snaps Arthur. "We're busy."
"Thanks, but I'm good," I reply politely, pointedly raising the unfinished drink Arthur has bought me.
"Me and some friends are on the dance floor, if you wanted to join us...?"
I look over, spot his friends who are all in their mid 40's, waving at us as they gyrate under the lights, and I can't tell if he's joking. Surely he can see what I've got right now. Arthur's the hottest guy in the bar, and this old fart thinks I'd rather be anywhere else?
"Leave us alone while you can walk, Steve," Arthur growls, and I can feel myself blushing. Just knowing that Arthur is that into me makes me wonder how I could have gotten so lucky my first time. Beginner's luck, I tell myself in a vain attempt to remain humble.
When Arthur suggests I suck him off outside I readily agree. My head is buzzing pleasantly from the drinks. He takes my hand and pulls me through a back-door into a dark alleyway. It's dark and deserted, but the dance music still filters through the brick walls.
"Take your top off," Arthur commands.
I wrench it off and fling it on the ground.
"Fuck yeah! Your pants too."
My jeans are off in a heartbeat. I'm in my underwear. Arthur is grinning like a maniac, and I find myself smiling shyly.
Thank god I wore my sexy underpants.
"Get on your knees, boy."
I kneel before him and reach for his zipper. It's so dark that I don't see his knee shoot up to catch me under my chin.
I bite my tongue and blood fills my mouth. Before I can make sense of what's happening, Arthur's fist catches me squarely in the jaw and I'm sent spinning onto the ground. My palms graze the rough concrete, losing all its skin and I cry out in pain.
I turn and cower with my arms raised, confused and frightened, twisting and squirming under his oncoming blows. Luckily most of them either glance off my shoulders or land on my arms, but each punch feels like a block of concrete slamming into me.
"Money!" I cry, so terrified I can't even beg properly. "I'll give you all my money. Please, don't hurt me!"
He grabs my hair, and twists viciously as he pulls me close and hisses, "Shut the fuck up. If anyone hears us, you're dead."
I whimper and give him my wallet. He takes my cash and casually throws the wallet onto the roof of Exile behind him. He puts the money away, and I'm foolish enough to think it's all over.
Then he backhands me, hard, and my ears ring from the sound of the slap. Blood trickles down my chin; he's split my lip.
"I'm not after money," he spits, his beautiful eyes glinting maliciously. "I'm after faggy, little gay-boys like you to teach a lesson to!" He pulls his arm back to punch me again, but a shout stops him.
"Oi! What the fuck is going on here?"
I dare to look away from Arthur; it's the doorman that Matt called Goat.
He charges at Arthur, who swings his fist viciously at his new target. Goat ducks and catches Arthur in a full-bodied tackle, and they both land heavily on the concrete. Goat picks himself up, but Arthur remains on the ground, knocked unconscious.
"You alright, Peter?" he asks, panting a bit. Judging from his bulk and age, I'm surprised he's not breathing more heavily. He's clearly well past his physical prime.
I'm fine, though. Or I think I am. I scramble to retrieve my clothes and start to get dressed. It is obvious to Goat what happened here, and I'm so embarrassed to not only to have been discovered half naked, but to have been saved by the likes of him.
I've got one leg thrust into my jeans when shivers suddenly take hold of my body, and I double over and retch up blood and all the booze I shared with Arthur into the gutter. My throat feels raw and my tongue stings from the acidic bile. The shock of my ordeal fades, and I can feel every punch Arthur managed to land on me. It takes all of my strength not to cry in front of the doorman.
Goat stands back, watching me dispassionately, and then he says, "Steve warned me you were leaving with someone you just met. Stupid thing to do. We've had a fair number of guys getting bashed around these parts. A closeted hater, we figured, picking up naive guys for the sole purpose of assaulting them. I'm glad it's Arthur -- I've always wanted to punch that fucker in the face."
He looks wistfully at Arthur's unconscious body while he talks, as though debating to himself whether it would be a good idea to straddle him and start pummelling away.
I finish getting dressed.
"Come on, Pinky. Come back to the bar with me and I'll take a look at your injuries. I've seen and given my share of punched faces. Can you walk?"
I can, but it feels like everything inside me is broken. Of course, Goat doesn't offer me any assistance. He sighs impatiently as I hobble painfully behind him at a snail's pace.
"Wait," I say suddenly, and stumble back to Arthur. I dig out his wallet and count out the money he took from me. "He took this from me earlier," I explain as I pocket it with trembling fingers.
"Where's your wallet?" Goat asks at once with a frown.
"He threw it on the roof."
All my cards and my driver's license were in my wallet and now gone, but I try not to think about it.
I leave the rest of Arthur's money in there, and Goat smiles for the first time. "You're not as big of a jerk I thought you were," he says, but he comes over to loot the rest of Arthur's money before we head back.
We return to Exile.
Everyone stares at me as I shamble past, covered in blood and assault markings. I see Steve stare at me with his mouth open in astonishment, and I try to say thank you, but it catches it my throat and I keep walking with my head down. Goat takes me into a dingy staff room and sits me at a small table under a bright, yellow light.
"Thanks, Goat," I mutter quietly as he takes the seat opposite me.
Goat frowns, annoyed, and I realise 'Goat' probably isn't his real name. I inquire, and he tells me it's Otis. Otis Sideris.
I study Otis in the bright light. He has light olive skin, dark-brown hair that is nearly black and a nondescript face. His features are far from handsome or cute, but they suit his round head and plump cheeks. Beard growth shadows most of his face. It runs all the way up to join with the short hair on his head, and the ring of hair it forms only emphasises how chubby he is. I spy a double chin his scruff doesn't quite cover, and poking out the top of his black shirt is a tuft of black chest hair.
He has full lips, but they're pressed in a severe line, as though holding back a slew of insults he'd like to throw at me.
Just as I open my mouth to ask him what sort of a nickname 'Goat' is, he starts checking my face roughly.
He forces my head this way, and then the other, tilting my jaw under the light. He prods at my face, and I yelp when it hurts. I open my mouth as per his instruction and he checks my teeth, then wrinkles his nose at the smell of bile and blood and stomps out of the room. He comes back with a bottle of water for me so I can rinse out my mouth.
I can tell Otis thinks I'm a slutty good-for-nothing who got what I deserved.
He confirms that thought by saying, "Well I hope you've learned your lesson. It's a good thing you're a small target. Nothing's hurting where it shouldn't, and you don't seem to have any broken bones. I can take you to the hospital if you want to be sure."
"No, I'm fine," I lie. "I just want this night to be over." Before the tears start in public.
"Okay. I'm just going to get Ralph. He's the boss. We'll call the cops and deal with the scumbag." He pushes himself up from the table and leaves. I hear him shouting for Matt to drag Arthur inside where they can keep an eye on him.
I don't want to talk to the police, so I gingerly pick the grit from my scraped palms and sip my water. I wait until Otis is talking with Ralph and then take my leave. Matt passes me on the way out. He's dragging an unconscious Arthur in from the back door and the sight of my attacker sends me running off with my heart in my mouth. I drop the bottle of water Otis gave me and fly up the stairs. I don't slow down until I can no longer hear the dance track coming from the bar.
My walk home is difficult. I can't stop twitching at every movement from the corner of my eyes. I'm glancing and looking back at every shadow in case there is another gay-basher hiding there. I nearly have a heart attack when a car pulls up next to me, but it stops and I keep walking.
The car pulls up again, this time with the window down. It's Otis.
"You could have told me you were just going to run off like that," he shouts angrily. "Get in and I'll give you a lift home."
I eye his car and shake my head. The car rolls to a halt, and to my dismay Otis climbs out and catches up to me. He's wearing a blue jacket over his black doorman's uniform.
"Stupid of me to ask you to get into a stranger's car after what just happened," he grumbles. "I can walk you home if you'd like."
I don't know what Otis is trying to prove. He's just another chest-pounding ape to me. But if I'm scared of him, then others would be too. Selfishly, I accept.
We walk in silence. I notice him following my darting gaze as my imagination places attackers in the shadows, giving credence to my foolishness. I wish he'd stop. It quickly gets cold and I'm soon hugging myself as we walk.
"You're shivering," Otis says gruffly, and takes his jacket off. He tries to put it around my shoulders -- just like in all the romantic movies -- but the scent of another man on me freaks me out and I stagger away, flailing my skinny arms at him. I cover my fear with rudeness and carry on trembling in the cold.
Otis follows me all the way up the stairs to my small apartment located on one of the middle floors.
"Want me to come by midday tomorrow -- I mean midday today and check up on you?" he asks. "Make sure you're doing okay?"
"I'm fine," I reply shortly. I unlock the door and turn to look at him. "Why are you being so nice to me?" Unless I have been reading him wrong, he doesn't think much of me, and I haven't given him any reason to change that opinion.
"I was once young, stupid and naive too," he says with a shrug. What an arsehole. I close the door firmly in his face.
And that should have been the end of that.
Although I had said I was fine, I don't do too well.
The effect of Arthur's attack doesn't magically end when Otis intervened; the first night I don't sleep at all, however I also don't break down and cry like I thought I would. I lock the doors and turn every light on, then lie awake in bed straining my ears, listening for the sounds of anyone trying to break in.
It's crazy, I know. What are the odds of another gay-basher seeing me leave Exile and following me home? But the alternative is to relax and let my mind wander, and I can feel the memory of Arthur's attack hovering behind my barriers, waiting to reduce me to a snivelling, pathetic wreck.
When the police visit in the morning my head is throbbing so forcefully I feel sick. I curse Otis for telling the police where I live, but cooperate with them. They collect a statement from me, and return my wallet which one of the Exile staff members happened to find on the roof. One guess as to who that was.
Over the next few days my condition worsens slightly. Every morning after two hours sleep, I wake up with my shirt soaked through with sweat. I don't leave my apartment. When my appetite finally makes a return, I don't have any food in the apartment so I live off pizza and Chinese food and burn through most of my monthly allowance by having them delivered. I can barely sleep at night because of all the lights I keep on to stop the memories of the dark alleyway from resurfacing.
The faint markings on my arms and face blossom in horrific bruises, blotchy smudges of grey and blue tinged with yellow -- a constant reminder of what happened that night. I remember being so proud of my cute looks, but the haunted face staring back at me in the mirror looks nothing like my past, proud self.
In fact, it looks young, stupid and naive.
The thought of visiting another gay bar doesn't even cross my mind. I still get horny though, and I try masturbating while looking at porn on my laptop, but my thoughts keep returning to Arthur and soon I stop bothering to try.
To pass the time until art school starts, I turn to painting. It has always helped me find my centre. I dig out my canvas frame and assemble it, stretch a piece of canvas over it and staple it in place and then prop it on a chair. I sit in bed in front of it with my acrylic paints and a cup of water for the brush.
An hour passes while I try to work out what I'm feeling. I honestly don't know if I'm angry, ashamed or frustrated, or if all emotions inside me have just shrivelled up and disappeared.
I stop trying to analyse myself and just start painting. My mind drifts, the colours fly, and my spirits lift ever so slightly.
When class starts on Monday I force myself out of the apartment. That I am able to step outside is the shock of the day -- until I find my class, take a seat, and spot Otis sitting one table over.
I barely recognise him with his blue superman shirt, jeans and glasses. His face is a little fuzzier too, which adds to his plump appearance. He's smiling, showing off his perfect white teeth, and talking to two friends. He didn't seem to notice me when I walked in which suits me just fine. Each table seats four people side by side facing the centre of the room, so I lean back slightly to put another student between us and wait for the class to start.
The teacher expects us all to be adept artists already. After a brief introduction informing us about what to expect throughout the semester, we dive right into some rapid gestural sketching with nude models. Another woman walks in and disrobes, and there is a flurry of activity as we all start working.