what do you get for ten dollars?
anything you want.
1. oh, it seemed forever stopped today
"This," Carlos says, drawing a line artfully across his brow. "Is not about fucking. It's not even about sex." In the mirror his face is transformed. An ugly man turned into an ugly woman. Decadently, obstinately, attractive. "Think of it as a performance, or a concept."
Paul leans against the bathroom doorway and watches him work. Carlos saunters from one sentence to the next, some just idle chatter, some typical bait material that Paul's learnt, over the years, to ignore most of the time. He can't help it, is what Paul realized a while ago. He thinks he'll get bored, just observing like this, but he doesn't. He still doesn't want Carlos, but it's intriguing at least. "Teach me," he says, and from the reflection in the mirror she smiles and suddenly he's hard, and suddenly he wants her. "Teach me." He walks over and trails his hand down the curve of Carlos' spine. He rests his palm at the base, where his pants meet pale skin, not wanting to move, not wanting to break the illusion. "You're so lovely when I can't see you clearly, my dear."
Carlos laughs, and turns his head. The line of his jaw is hard and yet somehow soft at the same time. Feminine, in defiance of all that genetics had handed to him. "All the better to eat you with," he says.
"If we're roleplaying that's not your line."
"No. But I can never remember hers, so I guess we're both stuck in the same role. Close your eyes," Carlos says. "Close your eyes."
1. and all the lonely hearts caught a plane and flew away
Carlos teaches him how to suck and to fuck and to do everything else in-between. "Mentor," he says, only half-joking, and their bodies fit together like well-oiled parts of a machine, and Paul pictures it, huge and unyielding, gears spinning in opposite, endless circles as shiny silver pistons thrust, and as metaphors go this one's kind of lame, but it keeps him occupied at least. And in his head he's constantly telling himself, "This is about sex, this is me learning," and then Carlos moves his hips and Paul moans and Carlos gasps, "Yes, just like that. Exactly like that," and Paul nods his head.
2. and all the best women are married
Sometimes he catches himself in the mirror, and has to pause for a second because he doesn't recognize her. She's beautiful and enigmatic and flawless. Paul writes stories about her in his head that he doesn't tell Carlos, doesn't tell anyone. She's a street prostitute determined to blaze down the path towards self-destruction by having casual, unprotected sex with strangers that she trades for money, or drugs, or more sex. She's a countess that rejects any number of suitors in the hopes that her true love, as told to her by a gypsy woman who once read her palm, would come and sweep her off her feet. She's a movie star with a reputation for promiscuity but in secret she's only had four lovers, and the press would have a field day if they ever found out.
"I was her," he tells Carlos, and Carlos nods his head as if he understands. But Carlos believes in detachment, in personas that you wear and discard like last season's clothes.
She dies with a needle in her arm and her beauty stripped away, wasted by decadence and her belief in the immortality of her youth.
She dies alone and waiting, forever, never realizing that the gypsy had cursed her by a simple lie, and she could've had happiness with just about all the men that she rejected.
She dies, remembered only as the one that slept with that one famous politician that one time.
2. all the handsome men are gay
"I thought I'd write a novel about the romanticism of prostitution and drugs."
"Will you be elegantly wasted while your prose is descriptive and lyrical?"
Paul snorts. "No, that's your role. I'm the fat alcoholic with lack of proper hygiene."
"There's a market for everyone. Be sure to put that in. You're more popular than I am." Carlos doesn't sound bitter, only vaguely amused.
3. you feel
The first time he reaches for Carlos, but Carlos says, "No sex. That's the one rule I have," Paul reacts almost physically, but only on the inside. Outside he's serene, and he smiles and says, "Sure, Cee. Whatever you say."
Paul likes sex and he likes sex with women and on occasion he likes sex with men, so there's no reason then, for him to get jaded and annoyed at the next middle-aged socialite who brings him shopping with her as she tries on the hundredth outfit that costs about the same amount of money as he's costing her. But they're all the same, he realizes: dicks and pussies and cunts and asses and cocks and mouths and hips and thighs and bellies and she says "Do you think this dress looks good on me," and he says without thinking, "You look good in whatever you wear, sweetheart," and doesn't sound sarcastic, and that's the first time he ever feels like a whore.
Carlos rolls his eyes and goes, "Oh god, introspection. Spare me, please," and Paul says, "Fuck you fuck you fuck you," inside his head, but Carlos frowns, and now Paul smiles, and that's the smile that Carlos has been trying to teach him all this while, but Carlos doesn't seem to notice. "Let's fuck," he says, and Carlos says, "Let's not."
"Yes," Paul says, and leans in so Carlos can feel the hard-on he's learnt to more or less produce on demand. "Yes," he says, and he breathes in sharp and Carlos' perfume is always perfect and always appealing and Paul has always been immune. "Let's."
4. yeah, are you questioning your size?
4. is there a tumor in your humor?
"Smile," Carlos says, and he says this often. "You don't smile enough. You have nice teeth. Smile."
"All the better to rip you to pieces, my dear," and his smile, he knows, is as painful as a scar, but Carlos runs a finger across his lower lip and nods approvingly. "You don't smile enough too."
"That's because I'm only hot when my face is expressionless. No one wants the me that looks human." Carlos grimaces, and Paul wants to say, no, that's not true, but then it is, but then maybe Paul wants him exactly like this, silly and awkward and unsure rather than slick and predatory. "I have a headache," Carlos says, apropos of nothing, and he spins away.
5. are there bags under your eyes?
"If you think I'm gay then maybe you should just fuck off." Carlos glares balefully at him from the mirror, and it's strange to hear denial from a man wearing make-up and holding an eyelash curler in one hand.
"I was just asking." He collapses onto the bed, and watches Carlos lazily for a while, distractedly admires the curve of his narrow hips and the wide angle of his shoulder. Nothing he's never seen before, nothing he's ever felt the need to keep watching. Carlos' body is as familiar as his own, the shape of his hands and the way he moves and the way he walks and talks. He never noticed it as anything other than an afterthought, never saw it through the eyes of someone that would find Carlos desirable. 'I want you," he says now, whispers it mostly, and Carlos' head snaps around, but he says nothing. Instead he walks over and slides down to his knees. The hand he puts on Paul's cheek is cool and professional.
"I'll make you beautiful," he says, almost reverently. "I can almost see you already."
5. do you leave dents when you sit?
"Androgyny is the new black," Carlos says. "Keep your eyes closed."
"Androgyny is always the new black." Paul opens them anyway, and Carlos frowns, so he shuts them again. Sighs, for good measure, and maybe Carlos will lose patience and this will end, but he doesn't, and Paul feels his thumb sweep carefully across his eyelids. They're doing smoky today. Carlos has decided what colors suit him best, and what colors they should stay away from. Sometimes, this is what the customer wants. He's aware, vaguely, that at some point they might pigeon-hole him into a particular niche, long after he's gotten bored and only wants to have to deal with washing his hair and throwing on a decent outfit when he sees someone.
But that's far in the future, and this is the now, and Carlos is bending him over a table, and he's going half-heartedly, "You'll mess up my makeup," but Carlos is always careful with his face, never touches it almost, but he touches everywhere else, and that's better. "Fuck," he says, when Carlos slips onto his knees. "Fuck."
6. are you getting on a bit?
"Daniel asked me if we're fucking," Carlos tells him. Casually, while he's drawing a line with lip-pencil above Paul's upper lip. Paul starts, and Carlos says, "Careful. I told him it wasn't about sex. I don't think he believed me."
"I have a girlfriend now, so," Carlos continues, and yeah Paul's aware of that. Cute enough.
"Yeah, whatever. Don't tell me this like I give a damn."
"I was just making conversation."
"Can we still do this?"
"I, that's what I." But he stops, and shrugs, and says, "Yeah." Carlos wants to get married someday, he's told Paul that. The picket fence and the two-point-four children and the fabulous, appropriately accessoried life. This is girlfriend number three that's The One. Paul gives it six months.
6. will you survive?
Daniel doesn't say much when he finds out, and Paul doesn't know exactly how he finds out, but he's hardly surprised and barely impressed by the crossed arms and the raised brow. "What? We're fucking. We fuck everyone over here, remember?"
"It's hardly the same." His voice is calm, and unimpressed, but he only says, "I don't much care. I just - can I set you both up for doubles?"
Paul blinks, and he says no before he can ponder it too much, and Daniel nods his head curtly and mutters, "Fine, whatever."
Afterwards though, he tells Carlos, and Carlos laughs, and he says, "Fuck yeah, why not. It'd be fun."
"Fun's not exactly the word I would use to describe it," Paul says, because he's not sure he wants Carlos to see him when he has his game face on; not sure he wants to see Carlos'; not sure he wants to know if there's a discernible difference between Carlos' behavior when he's fucking for money and when he's fucking for free. And perhaps there isn't. Sometimes Paul goes on dates with normal girls and he takes them home and he fucks them and it feels exactly the same as doing it for the dead presidents warm in his hand, and he wonders: why am I here if I'm not getting paid?
Carlos leans into him, and his breath is a licorice-laced cupcake and he says, "Fun. Don't be a pussy. Come on."
"Fuck you." Paul pauses. "But okay, yeah. Why not?"
7. you must survive
Carlos is an asshole. This Paul knows for a fact, the same as he knows that there are only coincidences in the world, and that birds migrate because they're transitory by nature and not because of weather changes. But in this mask of her, he's the girl that's one step above a groupie. She's the one Carlos actually wants as opposed to the one that happens to be there.
Paul wants to go down on his knees, and leave bubblegum lipstick on Carlos' cock. He wants his throat to ache, for Carlos to hold on to his hair and ask politely if he could fuck his mouth. He wants to say yes, whatever you want, just think of me when you moan, and call my name when you come.
But then he also wants to punch Carlos in the mouth until he stops being a prick.
Sometimes he wonders why both wants somehow aren't mutually exclusive, and maybe that's because of her.
But maybe not.
7. oh, what are you really looking for?
There's a girl and a guy and then maybe two girls and a guy or sometimes people just want to watch, and this and that and Daniel gave him a form at the beginning, all professional like, and Paul ticked off everything that he would and wouldn't do. There was nothing that he wasn't willing to try at least once, and when Daniel took the form back from him he frowned and said, "Everything?"
"Everything," Paul said then, and it was funny, especially when Daniel only shrugged but looked slightly disconcerted.
"We don't usually, uh - most of these are just for formality's sake, you understand. We're not that kind of establishment - uh." That was the first time Paul experienced the patented Daniel Kessler Flustered Routine, and it made him smile then, like it does now, and shift awkwardly trying to think of a response. In the end he just gave Daniel his form back, and patted him on the back.
Daniel counts the money and hires the muscle and Paul tries to fuck him, just to try to fuck him, but he shakes his head no and gently slides away, says, "It's not personal. Just bad business practice."
And he's a slick motherfucker with a beguiling smile and a shy head duck that he always uses to best effect, and they're not the best of friends but Paul appreciates the type of clientèle that he brings in - "Sorry, we can't possibly spare someone to come downtown East, try again later" - and his resentment is entirely not Daniel's fault but his own, even the resentment towards the silent partner that he's seen only once, and Daniel never touched him or stood at all close to him but they shimmered together with an intensity that left him feeling odd and discombobulated. He told Carlos, and Carlos said shortly, "Sam," but didn't elaborate, and Paul didn't ask.
None of his business, and besides he wasn't sure he cared.
8. another partner in your life
She dies in a tragic accident involving a circus and an accidental flame thrower. She would have been a supermodel if they existed anymore, if she'd been born two decades ago when everyone knew their names. Helena and Trya and Christy and Linda and Elle. Helena, and they have a closed casket funeral while her mother weeps and everyone's too polite to say "Her dying is a blessing compared to the alternative," but they suppress shudders and share looks nonetheless. The disfigured were always tragic in the way that wasn't interesting to watch.
Paul stares into the mirror, and tilts his head and squints until her face blurs and bleeds and melts together in flame.
"What are you thinking about," Carlos asks.
"Nothing," Paul says. "Nothing at all. Can I give you a blowjob?"
Carlos opens his mouth, and Paul thinks he's going to say no, but he only nods his head shortly, and he closes his eyes before Paul reaches him.
8. to abuse and to adore
The first time:
Carlos pours him a drink, and Paul peers at it. "What's in it," he says.
"Whiskey. And GHB."
"Ah." Paul throws it down his throat; the alcohol burns and Carlos is probably lying about the drugs but he holds his hand out and says, "Another one please." Carlos shakes his head. "We don't want you wasted." He hands Paul another pill instead, and says, "Viagra. Hustler's best friend."
"I thought we were sex workers," and Carlos' lips thin.
"Fuck you. I'm trying to help. That rabbit in the headlights look won- well yeah, I bet it'll work for lot of people. Bet it does." It's a question rather than a statement, and Paul shrugs. "I do allright." He fucks it up anyway, but Daniel sets him up with a woman in her forties who's sweet and patient and doesn't care that he spills a drink all over her blouse and fumbles clumsily when it's time to remove their clothes. "Tell Daniel I said you have potential," she says later, right before he leaves, face flushed with the humiliation of failure. "I'll call you again, sweetie."
9. is it lovey dovey stuff
In rehab one of the things they teach him is to accept what he can't change. He's never been any good at that, but he reads Proust in the afternoons and meditates at night and in-between writes his own steps towards recovery. That he's known what he needs to put his shit together all along doesn't change that he hasn't, until now, felt inclined or dedicated enough in any way, shape or form, to do so.
"So why are you here, then?" Someone asks him. Not his sponsor, just one of the helpful volunteers, who's blandly pretty like almost all girls who put in the effort are, but not distractingly so. She likes him, and she seems nice enough, and it helps that Paul has no interest in her sexually at all. "Well," she says.
"I figured, hey, I've tried everything else. Why not this?"
9. or do you need a bit of rough?
Carlos talks, on occasion, about cleaning up his act. Goes on vacation twice a year, once to Hawaii and another time to Brazil, and doesn't ask Paul if he'd like to come. He returns suntanned but annoyed and pissy to everyone around. Paul would point out that one could go to any tanning saloon in the city if one wanted to go on vacation and return with only added pigmentation as evidence that you rested at all, but he has his own issues to deal with. Mostly centered around mathematics and how if the amount of money one earned equaled the amount of money one needed to put one's drug of choice up one's nose, then one was well, basically up shit creek. The ladies who lunch still coo over him, and they give him blow for free "you look good snorting up - throw your head back, let me see your neck. yeah, just like that," but he hates himself now more than he loves getting high, and that's a problem.
Carlos follows him into a rehab meeting once, when Paul says he's going. Paul wants to tell him he's not invited, but then everyone's invited at these things, and Carlos probably needs it more than he does. They do nothing but sit quietly and give each other awkward glances though, and after the meeting, while Paul's waiting for Carlos to finish taking a piss, a girl that was in the meeting comes up to him and gives him a shy smile. "You should have spoken," she says. "Maybe next time."
"I charge five hundred an hour, and if you want me to speak I'll do that too." He spins away on her surprised face, and goes to hunt Carlos down. Carlos allows himself to get pulled into a bathroom stall, for Paul to blow him like he's a five dollar hustler instead of someone that didn't get out of bed for five hundred dollars an hour, and that's a discounted rate. Carlos' hand on the back of his neck, fingers gripped in his hair, and Paul looks up at him as he shudders and wonders how this is different from any other sex that he's had on any other night where he's gotten that green that's not enough anymore to pay for his habit. The answer, of course, is that: is isn't.
10. get on your
Helena is funny and nice and they meet backstage and they're making out in a semi-private corner not ten minutes later. He says afterwards, hesitantly, because he's not certain. Because suddenly he's sixteen and he's never done this before and everything is sticky and lush and unbearably awkward, and he wishes he were her, wishes to be on the receiving end of desire, like he is with so many others now, but not with someone like this. But he says, "I'd like to call you sometime," and his voice doesn't break and it sounds alien even to himself, confident and assured.
"Okay," she says, and scribbles her number on his palm with a pen. "Call me."
Daniel says nothing when he shows up after two months, just nods his head curtly and hands him an address. When Paul raises a brow, he shrugs and says, "New. I've been giving her Norman, sometimes Michael, but I think she'll like you now."
Turns out her name is Helena - she's an ex-stripper turned entrepreneur, runs a chain of upscale, exquisitely tasteful strip joints around the country. "Shouldn't you be able to get-"
"Sex for free? Sure, but it's always more complicated that way. People have a tendency to get clingy." She makes a face, and Paul decides, suddenly, that he likes her.
"So if I asked you out for dinner, on me, this Saturday, that would be-"
"You can pick me up at eight."
11. yeah, turn down the love songs that you hear
Carlos opens the door, and Paul brushes right past him, partly because it's Carlos, partly because he's afraid that because it's Carlos, he'll not be allowed in. He makes himself comfortable on the couch, ignores the sarcasm but accepts the beer. "I thought you were dead," Carlos says, at one interval of the multitude of awkward moments that are piling up. "But then I called your girl, or ex-girlfriend, and she said you were fine. I was so very relieved." Paul stares up at him, and suddenly Carlos looks scared rather than annoyed or angry or any one of those moods that he'd expected him to be.
Funny, but the only reaction that would've bothered him would've been indifference. "Love me, hate me," he mutters under his breath.
Carlos says, "What?" and snaps his jaws together.
Paul says, "Nothing." He smiles then, and Carlos, after a while, smiles back.
"Okay," he says, when Paul holds out a hand and beckons him over, makes a mockery of his come-hither face. "Okay."
11. because you can't avoid the sentiment that echoes in your ear
"We're not whores, we provide companionship and comfort." And this is Carlos, slicking eyeliner across the top of his lids while Paul reads a magazine and tries to pay attention. "Courtesans used to-"
"Sex workers. That's the PC name. And I don't particularly care what courtesans used to do." But he's stopped flipping through the magazine to stare now, as Carlos transforms into something - someone else, entirely. "Sex for money is always whoring, Carl. Always."
Carlos eyes him disdainfully from the mirror, and tosses the eyeliner pencil into the sink. "You," he says, enunciating every word. "Are a prick. Thanks, by the way, for telling me you were leaving. It's not as if I was worried or anything, so don't bother to apologize."
"I wasn't going to. Wanna fuck?"
12. saying love will stop the pain
Somewhere along the way they started to kiss. Paul isn't sure how, or why, or even if he'd cared for it in the beginning; kissing had always been, to him, the greatest act of intimacy between two people, and Carlos and him aren't intimate. But then they're kissing, long and slow and languorously, on a couch that's starting to smell less like Carlos and more like how they both smell when they mingle. Carlos' one hand on his waist, the other fingering the pearls. Dipping under them to touch his collar and then flickering away, teasing half-heartedly at shirt buttons and belts and zippers, and they're both hard and they both ignore it just to kiss, and once Carlos laces their hands together and they stay like that for a while, drifting on the faint edge of a desire that neither of them can bother to drag into light. Into fucking, and sucking, and where it should be headed but never is.
Paul whispers the names of lipsticks that he's learnt recently: raspberry plum and tangerine desire and lace and viva glam and triple chocolate parfait, describes colors and palettes and suitable skin tones, and Carlos nods his head as if he's listening, and who knows, perhaps he might be.
12. saying love will kill the fear
The pearls are a family heirloom, or so Carlos claims. Paul isn't so sure. He wears them obligingly anyway, allows Carlos to bend him over the bathroom sink, fingers gripped on white porcelain, and he watches the way they swing with every thrust instead of his face, because he can never stand the way he looks, although it's far better now that it used to be. Enough people tell you you're beautiful and you may not believe it still, but it changes nonetheless. Or maybe he's the one that's changing, all on his own. He's not so sure, even less sure that it matters.
"What are you teaching me now, Carl," he asks, and he looks up so he can see Carlos staring at him instead of himself, mouth opening slightly in surprise and quickly buried guilt - as if Paul had caught him doing something he shouldn't. "Eyeliner tips, sex, drugs, family heirlooms. One of these things is not like the other."
"Everything is like the other," Carlos says, and he slicks his palm down Paul's exposed spine, stops right where their bodies connect. Paul shudders, and arches his back, and stops thinking for a while.
13. do you believe?
"I changed my mind. You should smile more. You have lovely teeth, and I like your smile." This is Carlos, being honest, but then again Carlos has rarely ever been anything but. Only Paul's certain he lies to himself, like everyone else does.
"All the better to tear you to shreds, my dear," but he finds himself smiling, nonetheless, honest and unguarded, until Carlos smiles back, and then Carlos kisses him, slow and soft and barely touching their lips together, and Paul stops smiling. He opens his mouth instead, but Carlos doesn't take the invitation. Instead he takes ahold of Paul's hand and leads him to the bed, and they lie together and they kiss as chastely as two virgins touching for the first time. Madonna runs through his head, and that makes him laugh, and shake his head at Carlos' inquiring gaze. "Nothing," he says, and kisses Carlos again, and it takes a while for him to realize that it's broad daylight and neither one of them are pretending to be someone else.
13. you must believe
"The women sometimes want to kiss. The men mostly don't. If they want to kiss you can ask for extra. Or I kiss the ones that tip the best." Carlos' grin is wide as the sun. "I always want to kiss them when they give me a lot of money."
Paul doesn't know how to say no at first, each time someone presses their lips on his he responds in kind, but eventually he learns how to say no politely, to focus on everything else instead. Their breasts and their dicks and their cunts; he's a master at going down and touching and feeling and faking intimacy. At least his lust, for the most part, is real.
"We're both so boring since we stopped drinking," Carlos says at one point, morosely, and Paul laughs. He can't help but think that's true.
14. when there's no love in town
"Do you think kissing is learnt or instinctual behavior?" Carlos is sliding his finger across Paul's lower lip, softly and intensely. He's being boring and overly-analytical, as usual, but Paul's too loose-limbed and comfortable to be irritated just right now. Sobriety feels odd on him most of the time, like a skin that's ill-fitting after so many years of unuse. He fidgets and pulls and tugs and yet it's still awkward, and the world's a stage play with him the only one that's forgotten the lines. He wants to arch up against Carlos mostly, wonders if he's replaced sex as his drug of choice. Addictive personalities need something to be addicted to, and it doesn't necessarily have to be something that you snort up your nose or swallow. His mind can alter, just from Carlos kissing him, slow and deep, and the insistent rhythm of their bodies melding together.
"It's like a fucking Hallmark card," he says, and sighs.
"Kissing? I think it's more pheromones than anything else."
"Mhm." He turns his head just as Carlos leans down, so Carlos presses his lips to his jaw instead, lays tiny open mouthed kisses along the entirety of it. Worship, Paul thinks, but doesn't say. That's what it is. He turns his head back, and kisses Carlos hard.
14. this new century is bringing you down
There's sex and debauchery, and then there's sex and debauchery. Paul takes a job, officially off the books, although he tells Daniel about it and is waved away irritably, "Use protection, be careful." Drags Carlos along, because he can.
His fist deep up a girl's cunt and Paul can't breathe, everything is hazy and dark and too bright at the same time. There are people watching and talking and some people fucking, he can see them from the corner of his eye, flesh colored shapes moving in grotesque synchronicity. Carlos isn't participating though. He's just standing there, fully clothed and smoking and watching Paul. Paul sneers at him and Carlos leans down, blows smoke in his face.
"Asshole," Paul says, and the girl - he thinks her name's Charlene, maybe she's a pro but he never asked - moans, and comes around his fist, her thighs clamping tight around his entire hand. Carlos remarks mildly, "Congratulations," and Paul says, "Fuck you" -
- and Carlos kisses him.
15. all the places you have been
Paul throws himself onto the bed, and starts talking about something or another. Parallelism, or synchronicity, or the disappearance of bees in the universe, or something, but he's not Daniel and he can't babble on about nothing forever, so eventually he just shuts up.
Carlos yawns, and says, "Bees?"
"What did I say? Did I mention bees?"
"You did. Nevermind." Carlos pauses, and when he continues his voice is soft. "What are you doing for your birthday?"
Paul raises himself up onto his elbow and stares down at him. Carlos' eyes are closed, but his lips are a thin line and his jaw is set. "Did you get me a gift?"
"Yes. But for her."
"Yeah," Carlos says, and he finally opens his eyes.
15. trying to find