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|Night again, and I was out on the town. The pulse of night beat through me, and I felt good like I hadn't in days. I was primed for the evening. Not that I really intended to go anywhere special. There are no gay clubs in Cerritos, and the few straight bars around redefine the concept of boring. My stomach was starting to growl, though, and I figured I'd at least grab myself something to eat before heading back to the dorms.
I'd needed to get out of the dorms. It was earlier that evening that I'd decided I needed a little "me" time that didn't involve jerking off. After a few more rounds of toe-curling masturbation, I'd pried myself out of bed and peeled off my sweaty clothing. I knew I'd definitely have to do laundry before I slept again, only because my sheets were unspeakably dank. The showers were not far from my room, but braving the busy halls, with their fluorescent overheads and constant press of activity, almost made me want to stay in for the night.
Yet there I was, out and about. While I'm nothing extraordinary, I will say that I clean up nice. I checked myself out in the reflective windows of a closed pub. A little gel in my hair made it stand up in short, dark spikes, and that combined with my freshly trimmed goatee made me look well-groomed if not gorgeous. My nose was straight, but not overly bold. I couldn't distinguish the color of my eyes under the street lamps, but I knew they were easily my best feature: pale blue, they shone like sapphires under sunlight, or so Danny had always told me.
My suede jacket was only a few weeks old, but it was already starting to become a favorite. It went with everything, but it really showed off the pink Hurley t-shirt I was sporting tonight. The cut of the jacket, I noted with pleasure, made my shoulders look broader than normal. I almost lapsed into my workout fantasy, but a sudden flash of Reagan's face tore through my mind. I shivered. Why couldn't I get him out of my head?
I walked on, drinking in the night air. I resolved not to lose track of the time and forget to call a cab. Wednesday nights get busy in Cerritos, with many of the bars offering Hump Day specials to lure in students. I don't drink, not since what happened with Danny. I also don't like loud, drunken college students, whom I've always felt deserve their own special level of hell, right below betrayers and people who enjoy Paris Hilton.
Hunger announced itself again as I rounded a bend near Santo's, a Mexican grill. If I haven't mentioned it already, many towns in California were built around specific purposes as settlers moved west. San Diego is a seaport. The only three reasons for which one could possibly want to come to Cerritos are college, beer, and Mexican food.
Santo's produces some of the finest Mexican food in the state. Dragged by my sudden craving for taquitos and guacamole, my steps quickened until I was at the door. The air was lathered with rich smells: sizzling beef, baking tortilla chips, a prickly dash of chile powder. All the characteristic sounds of food preparation were interspersed with the high drone of a woman talking in Spanish on her cell phone. She had nails that were at least an inch long and highlighted hair, the image of a Mexican-American Barbie.
I placed an order for my taquitos and was paying the cashier when a sound caught my attention. It took me a moment to notice someone was calling my name. I turned around. It took me a moment to catch the arm waving at me from the rows of red tables and wire chairs.
Isaac Levine was possibly my hottest male acquaintance. At about 5'9, he wasn't much taller than me but he was about twice my width, built like a wrestler. He had wonderful features: a sharp Roman nose, dark hair that was cut short, so as to cling to his scalp, and dark, bedroom eyes. His skin was pale like mine, but he made pale look good. Pale emphasized the five o'clock shadow on his jaw, the redness of the garnet earring he always wore. As envious of Isaac as I sometimes felt, I'd never hated him for his looks. They were just a fact of life.
"Hey, little buddy," he rumbled as I came over. His voice was exceptionally deep for a man of his size, but it fit with his frame.
Isaac extended a hand toward the chair opposite him. I threw my jacket over the back of the chair and sat.
"How you been, Isaac?"
"Been better. Wrestling season sucks, but it keeps me out of winter football practices."
My breath seized at the mention of the word 'football.' I covered it with a cough.
"You all right, bud?" Isaac patted me on the shoulder. He was wearing a short sleeved t-shirt despite the cold, and as he drew his arms back to perch his head on his hands, I watched his baseball biceps bunch. I nodded absently.
Isaac, I noted, had a body completely different from Reagan or Brent or most of the jocks on campus. There are subtle differences to muscles built in a gym and those that come from hard work. Isaac had an unrefined edge to him that I found immeasurably more attractive than most college boy's carefully constructed good looks. His effect on me was blunted with familiarity, and the more obvious fact that he had never been responsive to my advances. He knew just how to toy with me without giving anything away.
"So," I said, struggling to bring the locus of my thoughts back up to my bigger head, "You heading to a bar after this?"
The taquitos arrived, and I dove into them with ravenous speed. They were cloying with grease, but otherwise there was a perfect balance of flavors. Maybe it was just hunger. Surprise lit Isaac's features.
"Hungry much?" He offered me a toothy grin.
I nodded. Around a mouthful of beef, taco, and guacamole, I mumbled, "I'ffe bed goig do de gyb."
After swallowing, I tried again. "I've been going to the gym. Feels like I get hungry a lot lately."
Isaac laughed. "Yeah, it'll do that to you. Looks like you're putting on a little size. Lemme see them guns."
His leg brushed mine under the table, sending a thrill through me.
Heat bloomed in my cheeks. "I can't flex in public, c'mon."
"You c'mon," he prodded, all the while boring in to me with his dark, fathomless eyes. "Don't be a sissy."
I rolled my eyes and lifted up my arm and pulled back the sleeve, bending it into a flex. A small biceps popped up, looking solid but a little undersized. I didn't have any visible veins despite having very little fat. Isaac squeezed it gently, and it yielded with faint resistance.
"Not bad, not bad," Isaac said. He winked at me.
"Now it's your turn," I told him. My voice caught. There was a tingle of anticipation in my groin, and I couldn't be sure, but it felt like my blush deepened about thirteen shades.
"Hell no," Isaac laughed. "What sort of narcissistic fuck flexes in public!?"
I reached across the table punched him in the arm. He grinned, stood up, and stretched, causing the muscles in his chest to go crazy. The navy blue tee lifted a few inches, giving me a view of his corrugated, hair-dusted lower abs.
"Besides," he continued, "I really do gotta get going. I have an appointment at the clinic down in Hillcrest. Gotta get tested, you know. Dirty boys and shit."
"I hope you're wearing protection," I blurted.
"Always do, but you know."
"Yeah," I said. In fact, I didn't know. I barely remembered what sex with another person was like, but as Isaac said his goodbyes and thanked the cashier for his meal, I didn't bother to say so. Isaac was a good guy, but I didn't feel like dumping my mounting sexual frustrations on him.
The rest of the meal didn't take long, deprived as I was of conversation. I felt oddly down, even though I'd only spent a short few moments with Isaac. The night was substantially colder as I made my way back toward Hart Street. The transformation just a few minutes had wrought over Cerritos had not escaped me. Bars were beginning to fill with their usual crowds of collegiate lushes. Traffic had virtually disappeared from the streets, and more pedestrian traffic was appearing near various watering holes and late-night food joints.
I'd just passed by Church's pub when I realized that the night hadn't gotten colder. I'd left my jacket at Santo's. I spun to make my way back, and a head popped out of the door of the bar. It was Reagan. I turned and started walking away, forcing a leisurely pace.
Only moments later, as I was making the turn from Maryland onto Hart, I heard the footsteps behind me. Two pairs of footsteps. One pair sounded slightly off, as if their owner was having a bit of difficulty keeping his footing. I hurried across the street, heedless of the signal. My heart was pounding in a way that had nothing to do with the speed at which I was walking.
The sound behind me was getting closer. I dared not turn around. It would only lend credence to my fears. A painful longing erupted in my heart for the fears of the other night--the insubstantial was a mind game, but if Reagan and Brent were following me, I didn't know what they'd do.
My eyes fretted over the streets, hoping to see someone else walking. Surely they wouldn't do anything to me if there were other people about, but Hart Street emptied when the antique shops and other dealers closed. There was no salvation here. Hope blossomed with an abrupt thought: what about the magic shop? Maybe I could make it; it was only a couple blocks away.
Fear spurred my movements into an all-out run. A coarse laugh echoed from behind me, ringing ominously down the empty street. Then it occurred to me: there was only one set of footsteps behind me.
I passed by the dumpster where I'd seen the cat the other night. Something flashed in the corner of my vision. It gave me but a split second's warning as a mass of muscle and flesh hurtled from the shadows beneath the dead streetlight.
The body connected with me. I hit the ground. Air exploded from my lungs. I struggled and tried to kick at the shape, but it was as if a steel girder had fallen on me. I forced my eyes to focus. Reagan's hate-twisted features filled my vision. The night was dark, but fury shone in his eyes like hellfire.
A stale scent of alcohol was on his breath, and his words were slurred as he growled, "Got him. Fucking faggot."
I opened my mouth to respond, but a meaty fist slammed into my ribs. It felt at first like I'd been hit by a truck. I revised the assessment as another fist barreled into me. Something popped inside me. The agony was fire, but an icy, sick feeling paralyzed me. I scrabbled at the mountains of muscle before me, but my hands found no purchase. Reagan broke with his abuse of my body to slam my arms against the pavement. Fire arced up both limbs as the harsh gravel tore skin away.
"Brent, get your ass over here," Reagan shouted, panting hard.
"Dude, do we have to do this?" Brent sounded uncertain. He was still a good distance away. His voice rung oddly in my ears. Everything was getting hazy.
"Faggot keeps checking us out in the gym. Gotta teach him a lesson. They don't learn." He punctuated each sentence with another punch to my torso. I would have screamed, but all I could do was wheeze.
Then he started in on my face. The first punch dislocated my jaw. I spat blood all over the front of Reagan's baby blue polo shirt. A snarl of wordless fury erupted from deep within his massive chest. He backhanded me.
"You're going to kill him, Rey, c'mon, someone's gonna see us!" His voice was choked with fear, maybe horror.
My world was dissolving in a haze of red and black I let out a mewling sob, not even bothering to defend myself any more. There was warmth waiting for me, warmth and light beyond the darkness. All I had to do was let go and--
"Oh, shit," Reagan breathed. His gargantuan weight vanished. Lights flashed nearby. The passing car did not stop, but Reagan and Brent were gone in a pattersong of footsteps.
The shock receded over an eternity, leaving behind agony. Somehow, I was still conscious. I tried to let go, to just die, but awareness of the pavement set in to me, and soon I knew there was no chance of just drifting away. The cold was unbearable. I was shuddering. No one came.
So I crawled. Broken bones shooting explosions of agony into my brain. Blood trailing after me. Fury slowly replacing the desperation that the beating had left within me. My hatred burned, but in a good way. It was a comfort, to lose myself in that river of wrath. A fell exhilaration powered my limbs. I was barely aware of the agony as I clambered up to my feet against the side of a furniture shop. The bricks dug into my ruined ribs.
I stumbled like a death thing given unholy life, leaning against the walls of buildings where I could, swaying precipitously across the pavement where there were no walls to support me.
It took me a shorter time than I expected to reach the magic shop. The door was slightly open. The old man was sitting behind the counter. He looked up from a newspaper, his face warping with commingled pity and surprise as I stumbled in. I knew I was no pretty sight.
"Vengeance," I rasped. "I'm ready."
My knees turned to water, and I collapsed.
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