Chapter 9 - A Walk In The Park.
Brian hated the big franchise bookstores but he hated to buy books online even more. For him, it wasn’t about the money. It was about the hunt. It was about scouring shelves for the right book, leafing through possibilities, knowing in just a few moments if the book held the actual information that he needed and, if it didn’t, he could just put it back on the shelf. It was about the smell of aged paper and leather bindings. It was about browsing and leafing until he found just the right tome, tucking it under his arm and taking it to the old mahogany counter to pay for it at the antique cash register.
On this first Sunday morning of his soon to be infamous porn career, he had woken in a somewhat desultory mood and decided a little retail therapy was in order. So, dressed in an ancient pair of jeans and a black tank, he sauntered the four blocks to the local second hand bookstore, Plato’s Closet, toting his camera bag and an idea. He was a little early, so he sat on the stoop in front of the recessed doorway and smoked a cigarette while drinking a latte that he’d paid entirely too much for as he waited for Gulliver, the old man that ran the store, to open for the day.
Brian tried to pass the time by people watching but only succeeded in irritating himself when he realized that he was comparing every good looking blond that passed by to the fucking twink responsible for his need for the retail therapy in the first place.
“Damn kid,” Brian muttered to the dewy morning air. “Taking MY chocolate treat home with him. Fucking presumptuous twinks . . .”
Brian could just imagine how Thumper’s fucking date had gone.
And wasn’t THAT the exact fucking problem? He COULD imagine it. He HAD imagined it. Over and over and over ad infinitum . . .
Brian stood when he saw Gulliver and returned a half hearted smile when the balding, scarecrow of an old man greeted him with a gleaming grin and a jaunty wave.
“Nice tie,” Brian offered as Gulliver unlocked the door and led the way inside flipping on lights as he went.
“It’s my favorite,” the old man said as he ran a manicured nail over the garish, purple horehound-patterned ascot encircling his neck.
Brian merely raised a brow and tossed a thumb over his shoulder indicating he was heading for the stacks. Gulliver sent him on with another of his jaunty waves and settled in behind the counter to await the day’s business. This morning he wasn’t just browsing though. Brian already knew where he was heading - he knew every single cul de sac of the place and could practically list off the titles in some of his more frequently visited sections - so he didn’t linger in the aisles on his way to the smallish section dedicated to art books. When he finally got there, it took him only a second or two of wading through the newer acquisitions to find the book he was looking for - a well-used photography book that he’d come across during a prior visit. He remembered marvelling over the macro photography techniques he’d seen in that book and thinking he’d like to try duplicating the approach someday. And, after spending most of the night thinking obsessively about the delicious contrast between the skin tones of the chocolate and vanilla twinks, he’d been inspired.
He still couldn’t get over how optically visceral that scene the day before had been. Justin and Malik had been so fucking hot together. The one dark and the other light. Just the sight of his Thumper’s thick, rosy pink shaft sliding in between those luscious brown ass cheeks had been almost enough to make Brian shoot his load before he’d managed to get through the required blocking. It was a miracle he’d held out as long as he had. Which was probably why he hadn’t been able to stop thinking about the two of them together on their ‘date’. They both had such amazingly beautiful skin, too. Brian would kill for the chance to take a close up of them together. Something that showed their two different skin tones up close.
Which was what had reminded him of the macro photography book and led him to Plato’s Closet.
Brian took his find to the corner and sank down into the ratty old leather easy chair that was hidden there between two overflowing stacks of books. He thumbed through the pages, admiring the glossy images, but focusing on the in-depth discussion of the technique even more. The artists had used various common everyday items for their subjects, but had somehow managed to portray each item’s essence through the close up textures of the photography. Looking at the pictures you could almost smell the orange just by looking at the bumpy rind. You could hear the crispness of the cabbage leaf. You could taste the mold of the decaying leaf. Yep, this was precisely what he’d been thinking of. If only he could find a way to show, visually, just how petal soft and succulent Justin’s skin felt. Or depict the spicy aroma of Malik’s. The mere thought of it made him hard.
Justin strode into the small bookshop and nodded to the older gentleman standing behind the counter but didn’t stop to talk. He knew exactly what he was looking for; he’d found an online listing for one the books he needed for his fall classes but, since the store was local, he’d decided to come check out the copy in person before buying it. You never knew about used books - even when the seller said they were in ‘fair condition’ - the copy could be totally trashed and missing half its pages. He didn’t have much cash on hand, and certainly didn’t have any to waste on a book that was too torn up to be any good for what his professor would require. Hence his side trip to a musty old bookstore when he’d much rather be out enjoying the beautiful, early summer morning.
The store was larger than he’d expected, though. It took up an entire corner of the downtown block, with more little rooms than you could count, creating a veritable warren of floor to ceiling books. He had to search a little to find the section with the art books. It was in a back corner of the building, which meant it was only dimly lit and seemed to be literally overflowing with large, folio-sized books, all the better to show off the artwork inside. Justin had to lean in closely so he could scan the titles on the spines of the books as he looked for the particular Intro to Modern Photography book he needed.
Which is probably why he wasn’t paying attention to where he was walking and accidentally tripped over the feet of the patron sitting in the hidden chair at the end of the aisle. To prevent himself from landing in an inelegant heap on the slippery linoleum floor, Justin reached out to steady himself, only to find that the stack of books he was relying on as an anchor was as unstable as he was. Like a Jenga tower, one of the books making up the base of the stack slithered free of its companions, and a second later the whole structure exploded hither and yon. With a soft yelp, Justin ended up tumbling, along with a half dozen of the books, right into the lap of the poor, unsuspecting bookworm sitting in the chair.
“I thought I was in the art section, not the historical romances,” a familiar baritone voice purred in Justin’s ear. “But I’m all for having fair damsels in distress falling into my lap . . . Just as long as I don’t have to deal with any ‘heaving bosoms’ or anything like that. I don’t do bosoms.”
“Brian? What the fuck are you doing here?” Justin exclaimed when he was finally able to identify whose lap he’d fallen into. “Are you stalking me or something?”
“You’re the one who fell into MY lap, Princess,” Brian countered, wrapping his arms around the boy’s body and giving him a cozy squeeze. “I could ask you the same thing.”
“I was just looking for a book.”
“Really? In a bookstore? I never would have guessed.”
Justin had recovered enough by that point to take umbrage at Brian’s snarkiness. He peeled the man’s arms away from him so he could turn and look at his captor. Brian was smirking at him with a look that was equal parts infuriating, mocking and seductive.
Justin squirmed around, trying to extricate himself from Brian’s lap. Brian appeared to be just sitting there, a loose grip around his visitor’s lap, looking on with patient eyebrows raised, as if waiting for the lad to figure out how to remove himself. Somehow, though, it wasn’t working. Try as he might, Justin couldn’t get up, and the whole situation was making him flush red with embarrassment. Justin tried once more, gripping the arm of the chair between his legs and hauling for all he was worth, only to find that he was still stuck on something. Something that was most definitely keeping him from leaving the chair. He glanced around himself, trying to figure it out, offering a chagrined shrug of apology to Brian, before attempting to roll sideways out of his lap and onto the floor.
To no avail.
Grunting and twisting his neck to see what he was hung up on, Justin finally caught on to Brian’s shenanigans. The infernal man was surreptitiously grabbing hold of a belt loop every time Justin tried to leave! Well, two could play that game . . .
The lad turned, made himself more comfortable, and tossed a pale arm around Brian’s neck, snuggling in close and petting Brian’s cheek with a free hand. “If you wanted to cuddle all you had to do was ask,” Justin simpered.
Brian was up and out of the chair like a shot, dumping the boy on the floor and stepping over him to collect his bag before heading to the door.
“Brian, wait!” Justin laughed, trying to catch up with his taller friend, who was already waving goodbye to the man at the counter.
Brian’s longer legs had eaten up half a block before Justin pulled himself together and jogged after him, winded and sweating by the time he caught up with the skittish Stud.
Brian stopped dead, turned to the kid as he lit a cigarette. “I DON’T cuddle.”
Justin thought it was a ridiculous thing to be pissy about, but he really wanted to know what Brian was up to for the day so he merely gave a mock salute while trying not to laugh. “Got it. So, seriously, what were you doing here this morning. You don’t strike me as the art book type.”
Brian’s eyes narrowed, as if he could look into Justin’s brain to discern what he was thinking, but in the end he only shrugged without explaining much. “It’s a public venue, Thumper.” Then he hoisted the shoulder strap of his bag up higher and resumed walking, though at a more reasonable pace.
Justin fell into step at Brian’s side. Their silence felt comfortable and friendly in a way that the youth hadn’t experienced with another man before. The only person he’d ever felt this at ease with was Daphne, but that was different because she was a girl. He wasn’t attracted to her the way he was to Brian. Which made it even more odd that he felt so relaxed around the man.
“So, where are we going?” Justin asked after they’d strolled a few blocks.
“We? Did I miss the part where you were invited to join me?” Brian looked sideways and Justin hit him with one of his most winning smiles. Brian huffed a little snort of laughter and shook his head. “I’m going to the park. I don’t know where you’re going.”
“That’s a coincidence; I was actually on my way to the park too. I only stopped at the bookstore to look for a book I’m going to need for classes in the fall. Looks like I found you instead. Which means fate must want us to go to the park together, right?“
“Pffft. Yeah, likely story, Thumper,” Brian scoffed at what he figured was an obvious prevarication. “If you’re going to stalk me, just come out and be honest about it. That way it’ll be easier for me to get a restraining order later.”
“No, I’m serious. I really was on my way to the park,” Justin insisted, digging into his messenger bag and pulling out a sketchpad and box of charcoals as proof. “I go there almost every weekend. I set up a little drawing station and offer to do portraits of people for ten bucks a shot. It’s a great way to make some spare cash. Especially on a beautiful day like today. If I set myself up near the playground area, I can usually manage to rope in half a dozen doting parents who want me to draw their kids.”
Brian was impressed by the entrepreneurialness of his companion. He’d known from day one that Justin wasn’t just another pretty face - the kid was smart, ambitious and not afraid to do what it took to get ahead. Even if what it took was losing his cherry on camera. Now he was hearing that Justin was also talented enough to sell his artwork. The boy was pretty amazing, all right.
Not that Brian was going to go all lesbianic and blurt out that conclusion or anything.
Instead he simply stopped griping about Justin following him and, two blocks later, they arrived at the park together. Brian hadn’t really had any precise destination in mind, though, so he let Thumper lead the way across the grassy verge of the picnic area and passed the soccer fields to the kids’ playground. You could hear the shrieking, screaming, laughter of the children long before you actually caught sight of the gaudy climbing structures, swing sets and slides, cordoned off in the middle of an open space where the ground had been softened by the addition of a layer of wood shavings. Normally, Brian wouldn’t be found dead within a hundred meters of a kid haven like this, but since he didn’t want to scuttle Justin’s money-making attempts either, he figured he could put up with it. Provided, of course, that none of the little gamins attacked.
So, while Justin found a free spot on a bench and set up a portable easel that he pulled out of his capacious messenger bag, Brian wandered off to look at the foliage of the bushes and trees that surrounded the play area. Brian got a laugh out of the way all the mothers flocked over to greet the young artist. Justin seemed to know quite a few of them by name and the whole group were laughing and chattering away within seconds. Brian just shook his head and tried not to get distracted by the spectacle. He had his own project to work on, although he kept hold of the idea of spiriting Justin away for a little R-rated fun later in the day - after the boy was done with his art schtick - in the back of his mind. In the meantime, however, there was photography to be done.
Justin quickly settled in, beginning on his own project, his large sketchpad clipped to the easel and a smiling girl of about five squirming on the bench next to him. The artist was intently scribbling away, seemingly oblivious to Brian’s continued presence. And, although it was Justin himself that had inspired the desire to try out this particular photographic method, Brian figured he’d best start off on an easier subject. Once he’d perfected his skills, he could move on to more arousing subject matters.
Brian thought back to the technique he’d seen in the book he’d been examining when Justin had so fortuitously dropped into his lap. He switched out the lens on his favorite Leica camera, screwing in the macro lens and adjusting the aperture to allow for as much light as possible. He was going for a 1:2 ratio - which would make his prints half life size - and then looked around for the best subject for his first attempt.
For lack of anything better to start with, Brian picked a leaf off the nearest tree and carried it over to an available picnic bench. He stuck the stem of the leaf into the crack between two of the wooden slats that made up the table top. This meant that the leaf was standing upright with the sun streaming from behind the delicate green filigree of the blade’s multitudinous ribs and veins. He set his camera on the flat surface and positioned it as close as he could get while still maintaining a clear focus. Judging by the image on the viewfinder, the optimal distance for this shot seemed to be about seventy-five millimeters. He manipulated the focus back and forth for several minutes, fiddled with the shutter speed, and adjusted the aperture again before he was satisfied. Then he carefully depressed the shutter release, holding it down to allow several frames to be shot in quick succession, before standing back up and examining the results of his attempt on the LCD display screen.
The process had taken Brian a good fifteen minutes in all from start to finish. He was rather proud of the results, though. His trusty Leica had captured the essence of the leaf quite exquisitely. You could see every single, tiny curling vein on the expanse of the plump green lamina. Seen up close like that, the patterns of the leaf made it look like the scene you would sometimes glimpse out of the window of an airplane flying low over a subdivision. The ribs of the leaf were the major highways through the green of the landscape leading to the tinier side streets with the driveways for each plot of land branching off and tapering to nothingness. He loved the effect. It was all about perspective. Well, that and a good camera. Thank fuck he hadn’t sunk so low that he’d had to pawn the Leica that he’d purchased just before he lost his job all those months before.
Building on the success he’d had with his first attempt, Brian tried a couple of additional subject leaves. He gathered together a collection of other colors, shapes and sizes, scouring the park’s trees and bushes to obtain a wide sampling. Some worked better than others. He wasn’t happy with the results using the long, sword-shaped green leaves of the irises - they were too pulpy and dense to let the light shine through adequately. He rather liked the red and green contrasts of the leaf he plucked off an ornamental shrub that he didn’t know the name of; its more substantial white veins created a markedly different pattern than what he’d captured with the green leaf. But his favorite was the old, moldy, half-decayed leaf he’d picked up out of a nearby flowerbed. The mottled browns and greens of the stalks offset the disintegrating gold of the delicately crumbling blade. He played around with a couple of filters and eventually laid the leaf flat on the black leather surface of his camera bag in order to show off the brilliant colors of the leaf to its best advantage, ending up with an amazing shot.
“Wow! That’s amazing. You’re really good with that camera,” Justin proclaimed as he peeked over Brian’s shoulder at the results displayed on the camera’s screen. “Now I get why you were looking through that book in the art section of the bookstore.”
Brian thanked his little admirer and then showed Justin a few of his other favorites from the morning. Justin seemed fascinated by the patterns that the leaves’ veins made. Before long, he’d turned to a new page in his sketchbook and had started replicating the patterns with his pencils. He actually managed a pretty close reproduction of the green leaf that Brian had started with, and then went on to do another, more stylized drawing, of an ovate birch leaf that Brian hadn’t found as interesting for his photography needs. Brian was impressed by the realism and detail of Justin’s drawings - they looked almost as real as his photographs. And, for the next couple of hours, the two men worked together, finding different subjects for their respective artwork, discussing techniques, lighting and angles, and feeding off each other’s creativity.
It wasn’t till Justin’s stomach let out a loud and insistent growl that the two of them were startled from their artistic pursuits. Brian glanced at his phone and noted it was now long past the lunch hour. He looked around the park and noted that most of the families with kids had disappeared, probably to take their tykes home for food as well. Brian felt a little guilty that he’d usurped Justin’s attention and probably cut into his portrait drawing income. They’d just been so involved in the macro photography discussion that Brian had lost track of time.
“Looks like most of your customers have left,” Brian commented as he gestured around at the almost empty play area.
Justin shrugged as he started to pack up his art supplies. “No biggie. Now that I have an actual job, I don’t need the cash quite as desperately as I used too, thank fuck. Although I’ve already spent almost all of the paycheck I got yesterday making a tuition payment and giving some to Daph to cover what I owe her in back rent. I was just doing this for some spending money.”
Okay, now Brian felt even worse for the kid. “How about I buy you some lunch then, to make up for you losing out on your lunch money,” he offered.
“Thanks. That sounds great.” Justin graced Brian with an extra-large helping of sunshiny smiles. “Wow. I’m totally on a roll here. Two dates in two days with two different hot guys - that’s a record for me,” he added with an amused waggle of his eyebrows.
“I didn’t say it was a date,” Brian shot back immediately. “I don’t do ‘dates’. It’s only lunch. And only because you were too busy helping me with my photography to earn enough to pay for your own.”
“Okaaaayyyy,” Justin responded, shaking his head and grinning mischievously up at Brian from under his long blond lashes. “Sorry, Stud. I didn’t mean to offend your delicate sensibilities by mentioning the ‘D-word’.”
“Fuck that,” Brian mumbled with a scowl. “I’m not offended and I’m not fucking delicate. I just don’t do heteronormative shit like dating. We’re fucking queer. We don’t need that crap. We just fuck who we want, when we want, and we don’t need to fuck around with emotional games like ‘dating’,” he declared boldly. “If you want a fucking ‘date’ you should stick with pansies like your buddy, Dick Blackwood.”
Justin almost laughed out loud before he caught himself and swallowed his amusement. Maybe Brian didn’t realize how jealous he sounded? Of course, they’d met less than a week earlier, and despite having had sex more than a dozen times already, they didn’t really know each other that well, so he wasn’t sure why Brian would be jealous of him spending time with Malik. That’s what it sounded like though. And it gave Justin a secret little thrill to think that this sex-god might actually be feeling something more than just lust for little old him. Accordingly, Justin decided on a plan to determine if Brian was actually jealous or just being a turd.
“His name is Malik. And he’s actually really sweet,” Justin started off tentatively.
Brian harrumphed at that description but didn’t say anything. They’d been walking while they were talking and, by this point, were about halfway to the little cafe near the park. It was hard to both watch Brian’s expression and keep up with him as they strode down the sidewalk at the accelerated pace set by Brian’s longer stride, but Justin had always been persistent. So he tried again.
“You know, Mal told me he got into the business in order to help his brother; he’s a Marine who was wounded in Afghanistan. Malik wanted a job that would make him a lot of money fast, and there aren’t many jobs like that for a twenty-year old. I can respect that. He’s really dedicated to his family and I find that sorta sweet. Plus, he IS super hot, and totally uninhibited sexually.”
Brian rolled his eyes, a small sneer on his lips as he made sure to stay one step ahead of his shorter companion, making it difficult to walk and talk at the same time. Justin thought, though, based on the set of Brian’s shoulders, that he might be getting to the taciturn stud. Luckily, Justin was a determined little shit and he never gave up when he wanted something badly enough. Say, something like this obstinate, beautiful man . . .
“Mal has these wonderful lips, but I don’t have to tell you that; you kissed him too after all. They’re so soft and malleable . . .”
Brian tipped his head to the side in acknowledgement. Malik did have great lips so he said, “Puts ‘em to good use too.”
High praise from Brian indeed.
Brian held the door open for Justin when they reached the eatery and followed him to the counter. He let the younger man order first and then pick out their table once they had their trays in hand. He was hoping that the introduction of food would distract Justin from his previous topic of conversation - a topic that was, for some incomprehensible reason, making Brian a little antsy.
After they were seated, Justin let Brian take his first bite of what he could imagine was a tasteless turkey sandwich with no condiments, when he announced as if out of the blue, “And you wouldn’t believe how athletic Mal is. Limber too. He wanted me to fuck him while he was doing a handstand . . .”
Brian choked on his sandwich, gulped a mouthful of flaming hot coffee to try and wash it down, burned his tongue, coughed, and when he was finally able to speak again, said “Come again? And give me details.”
Justin grinned, took a huge bite of his tasty club sandwich slathered with mustard and mayo, and made Brian wait while he took his time chewing slowly. Then he swallowed, sipped his soda and, judging by the way Brian was impatiently staring at him, Justin knew he had finally won this round. He was so onto Brian already. This was going to be fun.
So Justin went into extreme detail, making up all sorts of technical minutiae about the scene that he and Mal had supposedly engaged in, letting Brian salivate over the intricacies until the big guy gave up on his dry turkey and practically squirmed in his seat trying to find some relief. This really was too easy, he thought. Brian didn’t have to know that all he and Mal really did was sit and talk and eat hummus, right? Just a little more embellishment and he should have Brian right where he wanted him.
Justin gave himself a mental high five when Brian finally couldn’t take it any longer and suggested they get out of there and go back to his place, “to look at the shots we took today.”
Sure, Justin thought, we’ll look at the shots. And maybe some other things as well . . .