Zen Daze by Allen Davies

 

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CHAPTER ONE: ACCIDENT WAITING TO HAPPEN

His mouth contorts at the sight of his arm sliced and fingers dangling. These wounds drip a waterfall of blood. He doesn’t know whether to stand or sit, breathe or sleep. But Adam sits down, almost collapsing. As long as he stays put, stuck to this chair, the blood’s flow will continue gushing. Otherwise, he thinks, despite his dizziness, he could falter and collapse when he stood up. Panic grips him. Confusion reigns supreme. As his heart thumps harder, he lurches forward ready to vomit. He doesn’t. On second thought, the waterfall stops its regular rhythm and flows out intermittently, timed perfectly with his pulse like a hose turning on and off. Then he repositions himself on his chair, too afraid to move an eyelash. Cradling himself, careful not to use his nearly amputated fingers, he rocks himself applying pressure to the multiple wounds.

His eyes fall down watching his fingers hang, as if a ticking clock pendulum. Lines burrow deeper creasing his forehead. He does not see the surrounding medical centre scene. Its sterility, blinding fluorescent lights, and the stress thumping through the waiting crowd doesn’t exist to him. Those deep set eyes stare lost at his injuries. Shock mixes with morbid fascination. Adam’s eyes seem to turn to glass. Only his predicament, and moreover, that incident replays in his mind, like a never ending horror movie that he couldn’t erase.

Five hours ago he packed his briefcase, and he ran the lesson through his mind, while convincing himself it was going to be a good day. Full of promise and ideals, he carefully orders his packing: White board markers, games book, text book, good quality pens. This keeps him calmer, or seems to. All the equipment to be a sensational teacher is organized in his black leather briefcase, and he closes it prepared for a break-through in his life that has been full of trouble and poverty. After he shut it his hand ran over its leather, feeling its coarseness. When he looks backwards, he sees his man sleeping. The bearer of this gift is Mario, who is as coarse as this leather.

At first, wanting to wake him, he moves closer to the bed but then stops. While sleeping, he is harmless and too innocent. Sweat beads drip from Adam’s brow, as he gulps for air. Looking up, he sees the neon clock flashing. It is 6.00 and so he decides not to wake him, let him sleep more. Let him be oblivious to the day and his nervous excitement about being a great teacher, he tells himself. Adam almost tip toes out of the room, as if he has never been here, as if last night had never happened, as if their relationship was nothing but a bad mistake.

Stirring under his sheets, Mario sits up in a thunder jolt, making Adam shudder. After a dragging yawn, sounding rough as cow hide, Mario growls,

“Oh what are you doing? What’s happening? Its only 6.00. Get back here, now!”

Braving Mario’s stare full of steeliness and having faith in his morning grogginess making him too tired to act, Adam replies,

“Today’s the day.”

“For what?”

“God You never, listen. I’m going to be a sensational teacher.”

“Oh is that all. Thought something truly exciting was going to happen.”

Standing back and swallowing his hurt, Adam thinks without speaking: With or without your support, I’m doing this. No more college. No more dope. No more midday sleep ins.

Then Adam said, “My first day teaching. This is the real thing. It’s going to rock”

Soothing himself with a hand massaging across his forehead, Mario tries to evoke sympathy by noticing,” You’ve got the bag I gave you, when you graduated teachers’ college last year.”

“Yes of course. That’s when you actually listened.”

From under his hand Mario said, “It seems much longer.”

“I heard that,” Adam said turning back while trying to walk out of the room which is suffocating him. Adam’s breaths struggle out and it gets harder to swallow.

“I don’t know why you want to be a bloody teacher anyway? Why not stay home with me. Promise I’ll make it worth your while,” Mario said pushing away the sheet to reveal his nakedness and erection rising like concrete, or flag-poll needing saluting- Adam thinks and laughs silently to himself.

Forcing himself to look away and hide his lingering lust with a scowl, Adam keeps strong and said,

“Mario this is my dream! You just don’t get it. I have a passion for education.”

“What about a passion for me?”

“You’re always there.”

“Don’t be so sure.”

Feeling about to collapse under some mysterious force and not wanting another fight, Adam moves forward and falls alongside Mario covering him again in the sheet. Their bed steadied him. A thousand thoughts swirls around his head confusing Adam. Underneath the surface lust and temptation distils into a potent mix. Mario licks his lips in slow motion, but Adam leaps up again biting his lips. Momentarily Adam thinks how wild and intense make up sex is and imagines the throb of Mario’s cock in him bucking away like some cowboy. Scent of the morning and body odor invades his nostrils: they twitch uncomfortably.

Thinking he needs a shower, Adam said, “Soon I hope you discover and realize a dream for yourself. You can’t always be lazing and bludging on the dole. Do some training. Go to college. It feels great.”

“Well off you go then. Go change the world one student at a time.”

“We’ll talk more over dinner.”

“What are you cooking? Better not be that veggie lasagna shit!”

Suddenly Adam feels a grasp across his wrist and he freezes.

“No. No. stay here keep me company,” Mario said smirking.

“No Mario. I already told you. I have to go,” Adam said pulling his hand away and forcing himself to walk out without glancing back, despite his underlying urge.

“Sure. By the way hopefully, let’s make up tonight,” he heard as he left the bedroom tasting air outside that seemed somehow fresher.

It only takes Adam one step to enter the bathroom, which always reminds himself of the scene in Alice in Wonderland, when Alice’s becomes a giant stuck in a small house. Adjusting his tie while looking in the mirror, a teacher carrying a brief case reflected back at him and smiled. He hardly recognizes himself.

“You can do this. Today will be a great success. You look the part,” he told him, in an attempt to psyche himself up, considering his so called life partner hadn’t.

Today his long cascade of blond hair rests tied into a pony tail, which accentuates his strong cheekbones and dimpled chin. Leaning forward Adam slightly loosens the band keeping his wild mane held back. Adam brushed his blonde fringe to the left one last time, which revealed his bruise above the eye.

A uniform of torn jeans and t-shirt, now replaced by chinos and business shirt wrap around his lithe form. He hated ties and didn’t even have one in his wardrobe. He had borrowed this one which felt like it was strangling him; so he ripped it off and threw it to the floor. Again he told his image, “What you do is more important than how you look.” A Che Guevara poster alongside the mirror looks back at him with those intense idealistic eyes. It seems to be willing him on, urging him to do better. “Knowledge is power” is written underneath the poster in eye liner.

“Yes, yes it is,” he told himself comfortable no one was there to hear him.

No longer could he spend endless days slumped in front of Jerry Springer feeling his mind shrink and laugh at others’ stupidity and misfortune. Instead of unemployed and lost in Mario’s arms, he had a mission. Now he was a qualified working teacher.

Often their fights would end in Mario slapping him. Those slaps were never too hard. Though last night, he hit him with full force with a clenched fist, but it was an exception. At other times he threatened to hurt himself, if he didn’t get his way. But he hadn’t threatened self harm in ages. Looking into his mirror he sees not only, his swelling bruise but also swollen hopes fixed in his deep set eyes. Those emerald eyes reached out for love desperately at any cost. This love was as imperfect and fragile as thin glass which shatters easily, like a doll’s glass eyes. It would shatter his romantic illusions piercing its dream surface bleeding out love, and leave him wounded, and alone. Better to be in a shit relationship than alone. Still, he grabs for its slight comfort. He knows he uses it and wears it like a tattered second hand coat discarded by others but comforting in a mild chill. On his square face he applies moisturizer, wipes it in hard on his face. After that, comes the splashes of aftershave that bites his skin. Breathing in the cheap lavender fragrance, instead of Jazz like other gay men like mate Jo. Adam inhales the notes, because floral tones comforts him more. Next, he moves down his fringe to hide his bruise. Mint toothpaste and mouth wash get rid of his smoker’s breath, and then he is ready.

Walking out of the bathroom and thrusting his head into the bedroom doorway, Adam downcasts his eyes and takes one last lost look. Mario is now asleep, snoring. Despite thinking to himself he is far from ideal, Adam turns around and blows him a silent kiss that tastes potent and sour. Then, Adam almost creeps out the bedroom through the door. Looking straight ahead, he navigates through Mario’s mess of paints and canvasses and unfinished art-work discarded in the living room. Closing the door behind him, his skin warms, as he bathes in the brilliance of Australia’s sunshine. He goes out into the world to live his dream, forget Mario, feel freedom and independence, and try to forget last night had ever happened.

*

After a one hour train ride and short taxi trip, he rushes into the long meeting room in the community center. Attempting to calm down his breadth struggling for regular inhalations, he glances up at the clock which shows 8.50. A wave of breath escapes from him. Now he tries to relax when he realizes he still has five more minutes to prepare. Looking up squinting, he notices the fluorescent lights casting an intensity of whiteness. This white glare reminds him of a hospital; which it is above them on the ground floor. Arms hug himself, because the air conditioning is too cold. After looking around, he finds the air conditioning controls and turns it down. It may be summer, but it isn’t that hot.

Tables are laminated and lined up in lines. Though, some are out of place. Adam pushes them and lines them up. One last table is in the back and he picks it up and carries it to the front of the white board. A feeling of soreness beats in his arms and back as he struggles to move the table. He much prefers a democratic classroom, so he moves all tables into groups. Once he moves the tables, he stretches out his body conjuring up confidence and positive thinking.

But Adam thinks: he once again is handling more than he should. A throb pulsates in his chest and his mind swims with ideas. Will this class be beyond him, beyond his nil experience? He considers the task could be bigger than his idealism? But it is too late to doubt himself now. Everything is organized and soon these tables will be full with students. Through education he wants to change their lives, empower them. Doubts can’t erode his success this morning. His thoughts coach him in the silence that weighs heavy.

He opens his bag stumbling for a marker with which Adam writes his name on the white board, but it isn’t as neat as his normal writing. He looks at its scrawl and tries to wipe it off. It doesn’t erase. The harder he wipes with the eraser, the least effect it has wiping his name away. Meanwhile, a stream of students flows into the room and sit down on the tables newly organized. All of them stare without speaking to Adam. Feeling the presence of a crowd’s eyes bore into his back, he gives up wiping away his name and turns to face the twenty something students. His eyes struggle to meet theirs and Adam feels conspicuous; so he concentrates on the wall trying to focus.

“Is the air conditioning Okay? Not too cold or too hot?”

Silence. Looking around he asks again slowly.

“A Vietnamese man replied in short spurts,

“OK. OK. No problem.”

Adam steadies his trembling hand.

“In my opinion people rely on technology unnecessarily. There are a limited number of resources on the planet after all.”

Again, no response. No one understands. Those words fall into the air, as if they had never been spoken- are they just garbled meaninglessness. There is a waver in his voice at first, which eases later.

Pacing the room, he introduces himself in order to target English at this level,

“My name is Adam Evans. I’m a qualified teacher. I graduated Queensland Uni last year. I’m 23 years old and you are my first class. Wish me luck.”

In the silence, weighing heavy, he looks at his students and absorbs their details. Elderly migrants and refugees whose combined ages would make thousands are from all over the globe, are they. For an unknown reason, he thinks of a desert dried and cracked in the intense UV of the sun. Like vacant dried rivers in drought, lines wrap around their leathery faces. In an attempt to make them speak and push some life into them, he asks,

“Where are you from? Let’s go around the class. One at a time.”

All understand him and they answer in bursts, “Chile, Vietnam, Iraq, Bosnia, and Thailand.”

Smiles shine on their faces which make them seem less like terracotta warriors and make them younger. As each student answers, he nods his head and smiles returning their smiles. To avoid pointing, his eyes stare at those he wants to speak or gestures with an open palm. Slowly he pats his arm and feels the tension release from his shoulders.

All the activities and games are brought out of his bag. God: he hoped this would work. Silence is deafening. There is still another hour of activities and photocopies sitting in his bag. After passing out a reading comprehension from his bag, he places his briefcase under his table. Each student repeats,

“Thank you Mr. Adam”, when their hands take the reading task sheet. After giving them 15 minutes to silently read, he gets off his chair in front of the class. Though they are elderly, they have no hesitation in moving around forming groups, even if they stagger more than walk. Adam wants to break their comfort zones and push them to make new friendships. Once the groups form, he walks around the room and places his hand on the group’s tables as they answer the written reading questions. They ask him questions and he answers. He breathes easier as the textbook activities and games appear targeted at their level.

Those next hours pass quickly. Adam forgets the clock and never once stares at it. By the time lunch arrives Adam hasn’t noticed the time, until one student, the Vietnamese man- Vang, reminds him.

“Mr. Adam, it is now lunchtime.”

Clapping his hands together then clasping them, Adam tells them, “Everybody, have a one hour lunch break. Please return at 1.00.”

This they understood, as they disperse out of their groups and begin mingling into new groups. They chat in a sea of languages, and walk out of the room into the summer, squinting as the sun’s light is blinding them as they look up. Some other students stand outside the thick hospital glass doors chatting in broken English. Some men smoke. Others form tighter circles of conversation. Ladies sit on the garden benches eating packed lunches glancing at and referring to Adam. A few Vietnamese men approach him and ask him random personal questions in quick fire succession:

“Where do you live? Where is your family? Are you married? Do you have a girlfriend?”

Coughing nervously, Adam almost chokes after that last question. Adam looks away for a second, stands a few steps away as they were in his personal space making him feel claustrophobic. Though he craves to say, “No I’m gay. I have a boyfriend and don’t upset him because he is an arsehole.” He chooses not to. Instead, he avoids questions about his family and wife by redirecting questions, the same questions, at them.

Out of nowhere two hulks covered in tattoos and with thick shoulders without necks push their way past, barging their elbows and biceps into the students. When the men hear their Vietnamese, their faces scowl like they were tasting lemon and grumble,

“Learn fuckin’ English you stupid gooks!”

“Yeh dirty dog eating gooks,” the other added.

This stops the students mid-speech. Perhaps they don’t understand the language, but they don’t need words to read their hate. Each looks away from these faces raging and pin point eyes. Rather than replying, the students look at one another with eyes searching in silence, stunned.

Finally, the long silence is broken when Adam shouts,

“Bloody racist morons. They are here to improve their English.”

These words surprise Adam, seem to get stuck in his throat, and Adam coughs to clear it.

“What are you? A fucking faggot!” the muscular hoon growls. Adam wants to say something back. He begins to open his mouth, before shutting it. After he thinks better of it. In their eyes he can see pin dots and bloodshot tracks, as well as feel their anger vibrating. For long seconds the pair disheveled, as junkies, just stand there scowling at him, maybe waiting to win a staring contest. Refusing to be intimidated, Adam stands tall and glares back. Without another word, the short one turns around and his friend follows him walking behind him. They open the huge glass door and slam it behind them. Adam watches them leave in order to ensure they do leave. He hears them shout again,

“Fucking faggot, fucking fag! Who do you think you are? You’re just a dirty fag.”

Anger boils through Adam fusing with fear, and he has to let it out without causing harm to another. Looking around, he wants to tell someone faggot to him meant weakness and he refuses to be labeled as weak or inferior any longer. There is no one to complain to. He wishes Mario was there: he needs his strength. Walking back into the classroom, he scatters books on his table, and then reorganizes them. After that, he re-reads his typed lesson plans and writes a writing exercise on the board with a hand shaking. Once he has finished writing, his hand becomes steadier and his heart beat eases. Looking at the time, he sees it is 1.30; time to start the class again. He walks out into the sunshine and feels its warmth soothe him. Telling the students to return, they quickly follow him back through the glass door.

Out of nowhere he sees the rogues returning, but this time they carry a baseball bat and faces that steam with even more hatred and rage. You could almost taste it. Moving like there was a fire or bomb about to explode, Adam races into the classroom; he rushes to close the door. After the door slams he said,

“Everyone stay in the class. Whatever happens don’t come out here. It’s dangerous.”

Adam stands his ground and tries to lock the huge glass door. Meanwhile, his heart begins palpitating again as he feels his blood thump through his veins. Watching them approach, while fumbling with the key, he thinks these men remind him of wild dogs. Before he locks it, they reach the door. With bulging biceps, they push it into Adam’s face which was very close to the door. A baseball bat raises high swinging and shattering the door. It smashes into a million little pieces, like his dream day.

There is something in his mouth that Adam almost chokes on. Clearing his throat, he raises his right hand to his mouth. A front tooth is shattered and glass shards fall into his palm. Sticky blood smears his hand. After standing over the broken glass, their dots passing for pupils rotate madly around; maybe to make sure no one else was around. Students have returned to the classroom and sit in their seats. There are no witnesses who could inform on them. Adam stands staring at his hand covered in blood and his other hand touches the gap where his tooth had been. Looking down at his hand, he realizes his fingers are hanging loosely by a thin piece of skin and tendon. The door smashing into him must have ripped his fingers. Throwing punches would do no good, because the force would rip at his nearly amputated fingers. He may be a pacifist. Though, as he learnt all those years on the streets; if he had to defend himself he would, out of necessity, not macho pride or choice.

Adam ducks and weaves punches they throw without any rhythm but plenty of force, until both give up punching. Stopping their attack, one drags the other into a corner and whispers into the others ear. That’s when he sees it. One withdraws a hunting knife which gleams in the sunlight that shines through the shattered glass door. He stands there making cutting gestures across his throat. The other moves back to the door, grabs the bat he had placed down, and starts swinging it aiming at Adam’s head. Adam isn’t doing as good a job weaving away from the bat’s smashes, like he had with their punches. Still, he raises his good left hand and attempts to grab hold of the vicious piece of wood. They keep hitting his torso first, and then his head. Adam feels like this isn’t happening, like it is a nightmare, and so he isn’t really here.

Their third attempt to damage him was more successful. With a sudden movement, the short attacker waves the knife in the air and thrusts it at Adam in an erratic stabbing motion. Adam’s legs kick out in an attempt to fend him off. It was no good.

Its blade rips into his flesh, tearing it like tissue paper forcing pain to radiate and ache through his arms that feels like flames searing his flesh. Still he tries to defend himself by holding his good hand up in a punching fist. Using his non-dominant left hand proves too difficult. They stab him along the arms and shoulders, as Adam tries to fend him off. Like a blind man searching the dark, Adam continues to reach out his hands to defend himself. He isn’t going to let the knife reach his chest or worst still, heart. Defensive wounds multiply.

One stabs him and the other’s bat begins reaching his head again, again, and again. Under the force of the bat, his head swings backwards. Each hit fractures his skull more. Each thrust of the knife threatens to sever an artery. Falling to the floor, Adam cowers into a fetal position making him an easy victim and target, which he refuses to become. So he struggles to pull himself up along the wall.

He hates himself for fleeing, but he fears this nightmare would never end and these injuries would only become fatal, if he remains. Deciding to not continue a fight full of futility, he runs away upstairs towards the medical center.

Looking back he sees the aggressors who don’t follow but remain behind taunting him with cries of, “Weak faggot…we got you good…sucked in poo pusher……hope you die poofta!”

Distraught, Adam shouts back, “I’m calling the cops you crazy homophobic pigs!”

Fearing the police being called or if Adam had a say Mario, they cower and both run away over the glass shattered all over the floor along with the stains of blood.

Shock hits Adam like a train wreck and leaves him dis-orientated. It washes over him and makes his senses incoherent. When he looks around, color vibrates at him. His body feels strange and unreal. He doesn’t feel comfortable in his own skin. It is almost an out of body experience.

Isn’t there supposed to be pain, he tells himself and reminds himself of an article he read in Green Left Weekly about a rape victim who claimed she was so shocked there was no pain, because she dis-associated from her body. While he panics, odd thoughts race at a million miles an hour. At the time it appeared unreal.

“Maybe Mario didn’t really love him. What was he doing putting up with abuse of any type? Was he too good for Mario? Why was he thinking of him now? It didn’t have any bearing. Yet these thoughts comfort him.

Nothing makes any sense to him. Sitting staring lost, he sits with his hand over his heart, wishing he believed in prayer still.

Synchronizing with each deafening heartbeat, blood squirts out, not drips. Willing it to stop is fruitless. His heart muscle is knocking on his chest. Fear grips him and pins every inch of his body, like a statue, onto the waiting room chair. Blood gushes out of his many stab wounds along his arms and chest.

Coldness penetrates his body, as his body temperature drops. Shaking, he hugs himself. This sensation, he imagines, was similar to being frozen from the inside out.

Worry wears tired marks on his face that is no longer graceful or peaceful, that isn’t like a doll and more like a ghost. His sense of perspective abandons him. At the sight of all this blood- his blood, his eyes dilate. Horror washes over him, like a lead coat. Panic beats in his chest, as he considers the possibility of losing his arm and fingers. He worries an artery may be severed. He may bleed out.

Each breath is shallow and Adam is on the verge of hyperventilation. Another odd thought occurs to him that this situation seems to be out of a morbid Salvador Dali scene or a too vivid nightmare from one of his favorite poets- Edgar Allan Poe. It can’t be real. This can’t be real.

It is as if his falling body temperature also freezes his brain and prevents any logical thoughts. Speech escapes him. His mind goes blank. An obvious reaction would be to find a doctor, but he sits in the chair, shivering.

Instinctively he buries his head between his legs, hoping it will delay the dizziness rising. Minutes later, he stretches out his long legs and inhales deeply. Before him, his legs shake and his heart beat continues quickening. He hopes to stay conscious.

A calm settles on him, and he takes in some the scene. Other people with less urgent cases surround him, sitting on the same ugly lime green chairs. The sight of him in silent distress must have been more interesting than the fuzzy reception of the Oprah Winfrey show on the gigantic 70’s TV suspended from the corner ceiling: all eyes silently observe him. Everyone can see horror on his face. Yet no one says anything.

On a chair under the TV, a mother squeals commands at her toddlers, who run in circles around her. Birds could nest in her brown tangled hair that was almost in knots. One of the boys has a rip on the t-shirt, which is stained with honey and dirt.

Turning to the left, he watches nurses rushing past meters down the corridors. They were close, but distant. Nurses don't turn their heads, because they focus straight ahead walking with tired feet encased in tennis shoes. Ahead of him the reception counter is laminated in the same lime green as the plastic chairs. It remains unattended as the computer screen saver flickers and makes geometric patterns.

Nausea overtakes his dizziness: he vomits all over the carpet and his shoes. It didn’t make him feel better. Though, it kind of matched the carpet. Still he bleeds, worries and shivers. It was as if he was sitting frozen in time.

On the giant black and white clock, next to Oprah Winfrey, time ticks away. Despite its presence, he was oblivious to how long he'd been waiting now. Somehow it felt like a long time, yet in reality it may have only been a few seconds or minutes. Shock does that. Still shivering feeling cold, he wants to grab a blanket and feel its itchiness from the wool warm his skin.

Finally he acts and waves one undamaged hand at a nurse, who was running down the corridor only meter away. The nurse didn't notice. In her toddler’s quiet moment, the mother looks back at him. Then, she stands up and shouts,

‘Oh my God! Emergency, get him a doctor quick! For fuck’s sake!’”

These words echo down the corridor and invigorate the scene with life. With alert eyes, nurses sprint out of hidden corners. He looks at the clock again and realizes it has been three minutes since the incident.

One nurse approaches and he asks her, “Have I lost too much blood? I might have internal injuries. Could I lose my arm or fingers? What about the chest wounds? It feels like a truck is on it.”

She replied, “We’ll patch you up. Don’t worry.”

Her hand eases him into the reception. Another nurse said,

“The Doctor will see you right know. Relax it will be over soon”

Lifting her hand, she points to a back room. The other nurse pulls him up and pushes him into a cubicle. Passing the reception, he staggers down a short corridor into the room which was more like a cupboard than treatment room. She down-casts her eyes at his injury.

The two nurses mingle outside the cubicle and he thinks he hears her whisper, “Make sure you use gloves. This queer may have AIDS. You can never be too certain with them, OK?”

He'd seen these looks dripping with disapproval from teachers, parents and relatives. A thought occurs to him that maybe he deserves this. Perhaps this was his payback for his sins or bad karma taking effect. It had been years since he went to church. Has God condemned him here today? Why should he think about Christianity and Buddhism when his thoughts scatter in shock? A series of bad events had now occurred one day after another, accentuating how doomed he felt. First he contemplates his so called lover hits him, and know this. The thing was he thought, he wasn’t Buddhist, wasn’t Christian, except a lapsed one. If anything, he was a new age spiritualist. It didn’t really matter. Life was over. Only regrets now: never even made it overseas: never had enough money.

Continuing to think through his panic, he ignores the nurse. He looks into the room behind the reception where another nurse stands armed with a first aid box and army blanket. Lining up against the wall, was a bed with a hard, starched sheets tightly tucked into the metal frame. Hanging his feet over the bed bottom like a fairytale giant, he bangs his head against the white corner wall.

A white pressure bandage is applied by the nurse onto his nearly amputated fingers, cut arm and chest stabs, which begin throbbing more. Pushing against the bandage is comforting and spread the pain reminding him he wasn’t dead yet. Each touch reassures him that his arm and fingers are still there. A nurse covers him in the blanket. Images of his wounds leaves his mind.

In his imagination he thinks of sunbathing on a North Coast beach. With his good left hand, he wipes a sweat droplet from his brow and opens the blanket. Now he sees an orange light emanating from inside his body surrounding and warming him. His extremities stop shaking.

A voice floats into his head and said, “Don’t worry you’ll be ok.” He was unsure who said it.

Looking around, he can’t see anyone who said it. Before he could concentrate on any mystery, the doctor walks in as if out of shadows. Gulping and swallowing, Adam feels a sensation travel to his face. Suddenly his eyes widen and tears try to gush out, but didn’t. Along with stolen tears and shivering, his face burns red. Standing next to him adjusting the blanket, the nurse said, “Don’t worry. You’ve had a shock. The doctor is here now”

Moving on the bed, Adam tries to stop the tears before they spill out. It is no good: tears continue their threat to flow out onto his face. By swallowing hard and breathing, he swallows them before they flow out. Determined to survive this, if he could, he is not going to embarrass himself by crying. He is too angry at his humiliation to weep.

Feeling faint, a state of unconsciousness creeps up on him. The doctor’s face, which is full of concern, is the last thing he sees. A blanket of blackness covers Adam’s vision and he drifts into unconsciousness, thinking he is verging on death, and he may never open those fragile glassy eyes again.

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CHAPTER TWO: BREAK POINT

 

Adam’s bruised eyes open revealing neither heaven nor hell as expected, but the hospital ward smelling recently cleaned. For the first time in ages, he really cherishes that next breath and smiles, even though his head still throbs.

No one else was recovering in this small neon lit room. It contains only one bed and a full length window letting in the outside roar of traffic. Looking at the clock, he notices it is eight hours since the incident. Bandaged arms lay beside him reminding him of a mummy wrapping. Like a mummy entering another world, he thinks he was given a second chance to enter life. Death had hovered like a hungry vulture, but now it has been chased away.

A plastic drip dug into his vein. Feeling his throbbing head, he feels even more bandages. He survived and is so glad for it. Perhaps he is beaten and bruised, but more importantly he is still breathing. Outside the summer sun shines in all its gloriousness. People go about their life perhaps not realizing how lucky they were. At any second disaster could strike them. Somehow, despite the odds he has escaped impending disaster. Silently he bows his head and thanks God.

Anger resides around the ridges of his consciousness, like a heavy frame or sudden swelling tidal flow. He is not only physically bruised, but his dream day, dream job teaching has been trashed and scattered along with him into tiny pieces that no longer could make a whole dream. Just when his life was coming together it had been ripped away. All he ever wanted was to be a teacher using unconventional methods to change people’s lives, improve their opportunities via education. Now instead, he is an assault victim; victim of others hatred. Under his bandages his head swells at this thought. If there is something to break or throw he will do it. Leaning forward stiffly, Adam grasps for something. Nothing is within his reach and he is unable to stretch anymore without the burning agony of pain searing down his limbs. There is nothing in this blank room to exorcise his rage. He is now full of disappointment, disappointment laced with anger.

            Without violent interruptions from those he considers to be less than rabid dogs, the day would have been a huge success. Sure, he’d been nervous about his first class ever, but it isn’t an anxiety overwhelming and debilitating him. It is more a positive panic that shows he cares. It pushes him on to do a great job. Those students had responded so well to his reading and writing tasks. Then, he notices sitting on the cabinet beside him a get well card they had sent to him. Everyone had signed it. Visions of their ancient storybook faces come to his mind and they are cheerful and happy like that day before the madness. For dragging seconds, this makes him feel better than he looks.

            Those drug crazed homophobic animals ruined everything. While shattering the glass door, they shattered his dreams. He wants to preach about the evils of racism and homophobia, but looking around he sees there is no one to preach to. Anyway two against one wasn’t a fair fight! Though, he was never much of a street fighter and probably wouldn’t have been able to take one of them, as they had weapons. When it came to fight or flight, he’d chosen flight. He had ran from that heavy swaying baseball bat and stabbing knife and those bigots blinded by hate. Honestly, he hates himself for being another victim.

The worst thing was that he couldn’t return to that job. With these bandages hiding his bruises and scars, he’d never be able to write. Plus there are emotional scars. Hating to think about it, but he would be scared to return to the classroom. So much for the brave idealistic hero: he wimped out. Rather than rebuilding his dreams, he had to recover. That was his first priority. After that, find another job, somewhere safe. Once he could write, his torn fingers, shattered arm, bruises and cuts healed, he’d search the classifieds again while getting welfare yet again. Maybe he would hear about that job teaching English in Tokyo? Perhaps that was what he craved; a new start, a new environment and an adventure to escape into. Though, what about Mario? He couldn’t abandon him.

            After feeling the ramifications of hate, he wants love. At least he has a serious lover. Someone to change his bandages, soothe him with soft words and warm hands. He may not be perfect, but he loved him. This is undeniable. He knew it as much as the sun would rise.

            Lying here in a room soaked with antiseptic, under blinding fluorescent, is no good. Only images of those hateful darting eyes thrust themselves ahead of him in the silence. Lying like this for hours is so boring without distractions. Having that cafata stuck in his arm also sticks him to the bed, making him trapped. There is no-where to go here anyway. What he has to do is take it out. Then, he could leave and find comfort in the arms of his partner. At home he could recuperate in comfort. He would be fine, better off in fact.

                                                                        *

            A man wearing a look full of concern and thick rimmed glasses walks into the room.  This must be the doctor, just in time. He is the man who could organize his release. It occurs to him that this was the last face he saw before the blackness which he thought was death. Adam isn’t a hero, but the doctor was. Without him, he’d be dead, bled out.

“Thank you so much doctor, you saved my life. I’m so grateful to you.”

“You’re not out of the woods yet Adam,” he said looking at the chart not him.

“What do you mean, I feel fine- a bit soar and bruised but fine.”

“Well yes, you’re exceptionally lucky. Our CAT scan revealed no blood clots. However, there’s a slight fracture of the skull.”

Pointing to his wrapped arms he continued, “Those stab wounds were superficial. Didn’t reach any major arteries, miraculously.”

“So I’m fine. I can go?” Adam asked.

“You’re very lucky. Maybe you have a guardian angel looking over you. But just for now, we’d like you to stay. Observe you just in case.

            Outside the storm clouds separates illuminating the room in golden light. A thick blanket of humidity coat the windows.

            “I have to go doctor. I can recover better at home. I promise I’ll take it easy. I won’t work, just sleep and watch TV.”

            “That’s not the procedure Adam. I hate to be negative, yet you shouldn’t press your luck. It best for you to stay here for at least another 24 hours. I have to insist on that at the very least.”

            Sighing Adam lied, “But doctor I’m fine. It’s just so boring lying here. I keep seeing those faces scowling at me here.”

            “You’ve had a nasty shock, indeed. There’s bound to be some connected stresses with an assault. We should look into whether you are developing post-traumatic stress symptoms. When you stay we can organize a psych consult. Just take it easy. You need to recuperate.”

Struggling to raise his torso Adam said, “Doc, that’s not good enough, I’m sorry. I’ll have company and support, plus good food outside this room. It’s beginning to suffocate me, despite the windows.”

            “I hate repeating myself, but seriously I advice against it.”

            “Sorry. I’m going, going by myself if I have to. At home I can move around more.”

            “What will it take you to make you stay?”

            “Nothing doctor…nothing.”

            “Please take this out, now.” Adam said glaring at the drip with a face frowning.”

            The doctor paces around his bed, moves closer alongside Adam and implores him, “Is there nothing I can say to convince you of the seriousness of this?”

            “No, as I’ve already said: I’ll take responsibility for myself”, Adam said struggling to push himself up despite the pain and being turned on by a slight rural Brit accent and his thick forearms.

            “Then, this will be directly against doctor’s orders and hospital advice.”

            “I’m aware of that.”

            “You’ll have to sign a release form indemnifying the hospital and staff.”

            “Sure anything to get out of here. At last…”

            “Nurse please remove this drip and get form C,” the DR said looking tired and frustrated.

            The nurse went to the nurse’s station but seemed to be taking too much time. So the doctor went behind the station and nudges her out of the way. Those skillful big hands flick through the filing cabinet and pull out a bright yellow form. Coming back to Adam’s bedside, he thrusts the form down on him without a word, and he gives him his pen. Adam rubs his left arm and attempts to sign the form with his non-dominant left hand.

“What’s so great at home anyway, Adam?”

“Someone who truly loves me,” he admitted. “They’ll look after me,” he continued.

                                                            *

An hour later he was walking up to his apartment where he saw a light burning. His step quickens, as he couldn’t wait to see Mario, hug him, cook Mario one of his sensational pastas and just hang out. After reeling from the effects of a hate and crime- a malignant mix, he needs loving. Love will heal him. It will soothe the bitterness and weakness that beats through him still hours after the incident. Love to him is like a divine miraculous force that emanates through every pore of his body. Never had he read Mills and Boons, but he sees romantic love as real. Mario will be wondering what happened, as he’d been missing for eight hours.

            Digging deep into his pockets to find the key, he hopes he can jump on Mario and surprise him, not scare him as he is too fearless for that. Once inside his worn small art deco pad, he looks around and picks up some of the mess of clothes and magazines strewn on the floor. Judging from the unfinished canvas and rags full of paint all over the floor; it looks like he is still working on his latest masterpiece. There is a scent of oil mixed with paint that soothes him as he steps over it. Usually Mario’s untidiness would irritate him but not tonight. It is so great, a huge relief to be inside these shabby walls. Except for the mess, there is no sign of Mario in the living room. He walks into the kitchen and he isn’t there either.  Maybe he is sleeping in the bedroom but at 10.00 at night? This scenario seems unlikely. He is a night owl, often unable to sleep until the wee hours.

Disappointed at not finding his object of passion home, Adam slumps, like a soft doll, on the couch. Their relationship may not be perfect. They’d been fighting so much lately. All couples fight though. It is a sign of passion after all. Those fights only happened, because they care so much. When he sees him and realizes the hell he’d been through, he is sure Mario will stand up and help him recover. That breath full of dragon heat would breathe new life into Adam. Where could Mario be?

            After a number of yawns, Adam realizes he needs sleep. Craving the softness of his futon, he opens the bedroom door and almost falls over himself. Mario is butt naked gyrating over another guy, who moans and groans while biting the pillow and spreading his legs over Mario’s shoulders. Adam feels his eyes almost explode and he dry reaches instead of speaks.

Overcoming his sudden muteness, he forces out, “Mario you cheating bastard!”

            Nothing happens. The fucking continues. Mario doesn’t even glance back. With a sigh from his gut, Mario cums inside the stranger with the long legs flexible enough to raise up high.

            “What the hell are you doing?” Mario hollered while getting of his sweating partner.

Adam’s eyes peer into Mario’s and finds nothing except a stare full of ice. As yet there is no remorse, no apology, not even guilt at being caught in the act lingers in those eyes; those eyes that Adam once fell fall as if hypnotized.

            “You make me sick. You actually make me physically ill.” Adam screamed at Mario, while Adam’s eyes avoid the eyes of Mario’s root smirking.

            Expecting some excuse or at least an apology, Adam’s jaw locks in stunned silence; when his so called life partner said, “This is because of you. I’m sick of you…sick of fighting all the time. Bored with your neediness.”

Twisting his hair, Adam responded by forcing out every syllable like a hammer,

“You’re to blame here, not me!”

            “Look I’m completely over you. Don’t you get it? Can’t you read between the lines? We lost our passion months ago. I’ve been waiting for you to get fed up and leave…but no. You hang around like some bad smell.”

Hurt digs through Adam’s chest that tightens with anger and disappointment.

            “Then why not tell me…Talk, explain why…I’m sure we could work something out.”

            “Bullshit…bloody psycho babble. I want you out…want you out now, not tomorrow, not next week- right now. Just fuck off. I’m sick of you trying to change me…make me better.”

Even more stunned at his bitter explosion than the cheating eye full, Adam stands there limp and unmoving.

            Mario rips open the chest of drawers, almost spilling the drawers and toppling it over. Furiously he grabs all Adam’s clothes and throws them into a rubbish bag.

            “Take it. Take it all. Take all this shit with you, and don’t you ever come back!”

Mario pushes the bag into his chest, but Adam’s bandaged arms do not respond and catch them.

            “You haven’t even said anything about my injuries. Do you hate me that much?” Adam tried not to whisper and sound too meek.

            “I can’t stand your soppy idealism. You’re never going to make me feel small again.”

            “I can’t believe I was with you for five years too long. You are a nasty piece of work.”

            “That’s the way. Always blame others instead of you.”

            “Ÿou are just an arsehole!”

            “Ïf I am an arsehole, you are what comes out of it!”

            “Well stuff you! I’ll leave. Don’t want to be with a looser and cheating bastard anyway. I’m coming back to take the TV and stuff. It’s all mine.”

            “Like hell you are. You leave now and never come back!” Mario shouted leaning forward and scowling. Redness floods all over Mario’s face and his lips turn upward. This time he picks up the gaudy statue of David and threatens to bludgeon Adam with it. Adam knew by Mario’s eyes darting that he would do it, so he turns around, grabs his plastic bag full of clothes, and he leaves without looking back. Then it happens, not the occasional humiliating name calling, or weak slap: Mario punches him in the right cheek with a right hook. Adam falls to the floor trembling and cowering, worrying that the statue of David would crack his skull next. Feeling too numb to respond, he couldn’t cry, because tears stuck, like sharp barbs, at the back of his throat. He couldn’t even scrape out a scream. Simply he couldn’t get over the shock. He left in a hurry without looking back, without retaliating in actions or words.

            It was nearly 11.00 and Adam had nowhere to go. Standing out in what he feels is the chill cutting the night air, his body shivers and trembles in shock. At least in the phone box it is warmer. The thought occurs to him that it’s summer, not winter. Why shiver? Each breath heaves out in deeper bursts. Tears, screams, emotion build, repress, and compact at the back of his throat. Breaths expel and he inhales through his nose. Eventually the chill leaves him. The public phone boxed seems to wrap him in warmth.

Dialing was difficult as his fingers tremble. Immediately he rings his good friends Jo and Rebecca but got no response. Soon they would answer. Each ring vibrates against his eardrum. Successive rings sound harsher and the silence in between them more oppressive. After the last echoing ring drops off, Adam stands there for a long moment. For a while he tastes his own lips frowning and their salty bitterness.

Rebecca and Jo are his best mates, his family; even though he hasn’t spent too much time with them in many months. Being with Mario was too exhausting and demanding. There was never enough energy left for mates. And Mario didn’t like them. Mario didn’t like him going out without them either. On top of everything they are not there for him. Is it too late/ Has he been out of sight and out of mind for too long?

They were probably out enjoying life as it is Friday night. All he has is a garbage bag and one dollar in change. Know he knows Mario is a garbage bag too!, or belongs in one. In his pockets are some cigarettes battered and bruised too. In his pocket he feels for them. Reaching for one cigarette, he lights it up and it infuses a mix of chemicals and nicotine which soothe his body. He’d have to wait for tomorrow morning to ring them and ask to sleep at their place. He has to sleep: he had to relax. Where could he go?

He had no idea. Once again he is homeless, just like he had been when he left his parents at 15. In one foul day his life has collapsed, eroded, and reverted to before he came out, and before he found the strong foundations in a relationship with Mario. Five years has vanished in one second full of rage.

Luckily it is summer. Around the corner he remembers there is an abandoned building. Sweat drips from his forehead and forms on his upper chest and neck on this tropical night. Before his face, which is forming a bruise from a red welt, he studies the fragments of a building. Despite the heat simmering, his lithe body shakes and feels as sunken as the buildings foundations. This building seems to be silently containing some of the heat as he had for years. Dilapidated iron sheeting patched the crumb of wall remnants that remind him of something once stronger and grander.

No one is on the street, except for passing cars that move at a regular rhythm with headlights glaring: they are mechanical eyes focused ahead and away from him lost in the streets hallows and shadow. Adam walks through the grass, towering up to his waist, and he avoids the litter and syringes. Ahead of him is the worn metal esophagus of a remnant building. One of many gaps fill with darkness. But that would allow him to enter, even though the doorways with peeling paint are bordered over with planks and locked in chains. It is classic art deco but not renovated to an earlier splendor. Bright orange and yellow paint crackle and blister over its frontage and scrolling cornices: ornate but ruined by time and neglect due to the power of the harsh sun’s glare. Down its sides, walking through dust and rubbish including: syringes, plastic bags, assorted garbage and high blades of grass, un-mown. Corrugated iron rusting away had been added to fill the crumpled wall. Mud- dried and cracked around the part of the wall which lifted up if you pulled it. By pushing hard he just fit in, though it fought against his thin waist and buttocks scratching him.

A foul waft of something resembling moth balls, piss and shit assaults his senses. Despite this, tonight he would have to sleep in this abandoned block. There are no signs of rags or mattresses, which meant the street kids hadn’t used it yet. This enormous shell is all his. Of course it is dangerous and dusty, yet safer than a park. He has learned this on the streets, almost ten years ago now.

Tonight he feels his way in the darkness reeking with mildew and finds a corner without too many corners made sharp from scrap metal, or piles of beer bottles shattered and leaking stale beer with its stench of oats. On the chilling cement, he stretches out and crams himself into a fetal position. It is not comfortable: neither could he believe he is here again.

            In his dreams tonight, time seemed to seep backwards to ten years ago when he was kicked out of home and on the streets for the first time.

            “Bitch, bitch, bitch…” thundered out of his voice and was engulfed almost by his chest heaving which was pushing out sobs.

            “Your mother and I have talked to each other and Priest Coxen. We are not your parents. We can’t be parents to a faggot”

They dragged him out of the shower, as he was naked dripping water and shame. Why couldn’t they wait till he was at least showered and dried: he had no idea. Adam was 13. His parents had been discussing his confession five minutes ago that he was gay. Adam thought they’d be shocked, but gradually they would accept facts. Instead, they’d rang the priest, who told them it was an evil sin and they needed to give him tough love.

            Adam ran naked down the hallway dripping water on the carpet. Once in his room, he locked the door behind him. Outside the shouts penetrated the room.

            “Ïf you don’t repent you can’t stay here! We don’t won’t you burning in hell!”

            “Hell is already here with your hate with your judgment,” Adam remembered shouting.

            “Your Father and I love you, but we can’t love the sin.”

            “Ït’s your Father here. Can you hear us Adam,” his Father shouted, as he tried to kick the door in.

            “Fuck off, just fuck off and leave me alone”

            “We can’t. It’s our responsibility to raise a moral son, not a demonic and immoral one.”

Then his Father’s kicking and bearish growling stopped. Adam’s Mother had grasped his Father’s wrists and soothed his back with her caressing strokes while telling him, “Calm down. Breathe. You’ll frighten him. We need to talk to him strongly but calmly. Let me say something... Please. Unlock the door and come out Adam we need to talk about this calmly. We are here to help you, not damage you. Father Coxen will be here in a few minutes for a counseling session. You can’t disappoint a man of God know.”

            Silence. Adam’s hand began trembling. He stopped crying and his hand threw everything breakable off the side cabinet. It was too late. While they had been negotiating and shouting on the other side of the door, Adam had been packing his bag. He’d filled it with jeans, band t-shirts- all dark or very black- some torn, best pointy shoes, Dr Marten boots, favorite The Smith tape, a walkman, journal, and all the money he had earned at McDonalds that month. Where he would flee he had no idea. Yet he had to get out of here. The thought of Coxen and his mounds of fat protruding and rolling over his grey pubes and cock made him feel a sensation of suffocation.

“Father here Adam I’ve calmed down now. No more shouting okay. We want to make you better. A psychologist can cure your sickness. It will all be arranged calmly, when the priest gets here soon. Okay. We are sorry for the shouting. I didn’t mean to call you a filthy faggot. I’m sorry. You are still our son. Mortified that you are gay, but we are not sorry to love you anyway. Sorry”

            At the mention of Father Reilly again, Adam shuddered and turned cold. A sensation closest to dread swam through Adam making him feel panic, sick enough to hurl, and made him feel filthy enough to crave the heat of another shower.

There had been too many times since ten that they had left him alone with this man. They worshiped the priest, like he was the closest thing to God. But Adam knew he was closer to the devil. Never would Adam forget the horrid stench, almost acidic smell, of his musky body, sweat laden and wrinkled.

            That was it. Adam unlocked the door. Swung the knapsack over his shoulder and ran past his parents without another word or even look. He ran pass them and down the steps, while feeling some forgotten sense of power and taste of freedom and possibility in the air. He heard them crying and calling his name. It was all too late.

This would be the start of his new adventures and struggles on the streets of Sydney. He’d be bound by other street punks who shared the same guilty secrets and shames. He would start a new chapter with great mates like Jo and Rebecca, who would became more of a salvation than any priest oozing hypocrisy or parents following priests like sheep. Later that night, he would catch the bus to Sydney out of one life tattered like old cloth, into another full of possibilities and choices. For ten years he would not see or even contact his parents again. It was all too late, as he kept telling himself. Some mistakes could not be unmade, or even forgiven, he thought to himself as he wrote it in his journal looking distantly out the bus window on the unwinding highway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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CHAPTER THREE: PARTY CRASHER


    After a few days in the cold on the derelict buildings dirt ridden floor, he finds salvation when his friends Jo and Rebecca offer their empty room and the luxury of a warm queen bed. One week passes full of 'deep and meaningfuls' about life, the universe, and nothing in between. It is full of midnight Tim Tams and old movies, red wines with vegetarian meals and the support and active listening which Mario had always been incapable of even in the best times. Emotions and dealing with empathy and feeling was another language to Mario. His masculine action man presence attracted him all those years ago. Now it revolts him. Tomorrow Adam would leave these friends and Mario’s shadow behind in Australia for a new adventure in Tokyo teaching English, where he could restart his teaching career that had had a false start. Somehow things always work out, he keeps telling himself. Adam feels himself still reeling from the breakup, as fragile as some wounded bird and really no interest in men at all, for now. He’d prosper in Tokyo, in love and in career.
Time to celebrate. Celebrate and push Adam to drop his celibacy routine and self imposed romantic exile is Rebecca’s and Jo’s ulterior plan for tonight. They know all he needs is a friendly push. Both stand outside the club rave, waiting for Adam to show. This is what he needs. Instead of a derelict building he had slept in for days before reuniting with them- his long lost friends, who Mario hated him spending anytime with. He should be dancing, raving, letting go of all inhibitions. Except for as long and Rebecca and Jo had known him, he never did dance. 
Jo feels his goatee with his fingers and said to Rebecca,
“Ok, So Becks you know the plan?”
“Yes to have a wild night and get Adam some loving…maybe bliss out on E, ” she said before hesitating and stammering, “…but I don’t know if we can?” 
“Listen all we have to do is get him tipsy……we know it…better than weed or hash”
“I think it will take a hell of a lot more than booze, honey. You know it’s not the answer to everything Jo”
Jo’s eyes expand and mouth open in mock shock.
“Of course it is. Without booze, booze and sport, where would Australia be?”
“Jo mate, I love a drink as much as anyone. We should shout him a good time, ok, sure... But, all I’m saying is we can’t make him do something he doesn’t want or isn’t ready for.”
“OK, OK, OK. So, we will just prod him and introduce him to as many available men as we know. Still we will give him a chance of some free E, before we drop ours. We’re not writing a Mills and Boons here”
“You know him: he always cowers under pressure lately.”
“Look are you for or against this plan, Rebecca?”
“I’m all for getting him back to life, but I think he has to do it on his own terms.”
“Oh bullshit. Nothing wrong with encouragement. We’re his guardian angels”
“Guardian angels! Where did that idea come from?”
“Since he’s been staying at our place. I’ve pushed him to teach again. Without us he’d never had accepted that job and jump into a new life in Japan. Without us he’d never had got it. That was success for plan A. If we weren’t here, he’d still be homeless rather than lovelorn.”
“Sooner or later he’d have got on with his act, I’m sure. I quite like having him sleeping in our guest room, anyways. Who else makes such great pancakes? He’s the perfect guest and more of the host than us. At least he is a morning person unlike you,” Rebecca said pointing a finger and wagging it at Jo. This set him off on one of his mini lectures.
“I love him too; he’s a great guy, great catch: kind, politically deep, original, gutsy as, and more genuine and sweeter than any queen I know: far too good to be on the shelf at twenty-three. All he has to do is drop this morass act and party. How many times can one person play that Jeff Buckley or The Smiths album? He hasn’t met a man in months. He has to live life to the full. This isn’t a dress rehearsal.”
“Yeh I guess you right. He needs to get into house whatever genre. That would change him. Just remember there’s a fine line between encouragement and being too pushy. He’s vulnerable after those psychos and attack. Not to mention five years in a dead end relationship desperately trying to resuscitate something already dead! ”
“Ok Plan B is in action,” Jo said shaking Rebecca’s hand loosely
“What’s your time?” Rebecca asked, grabbing Jo’s wrist.
“Time to get over it and get a new man,” Jo joked. He pulled his hand away waving his wrist in the air.
“You’re such a girl, Jo.” Rebecca quipped, “Never forget that”.
“It takes a real man to be a real girl, Becks,” Jo responded battering puppy dog eyes.
                *
Time is now 10.30 and both were dying for that first drink and atmosphere of euphoria in a dance bar. Tonight is creepily dark and the sidewalks of Fortitude Valley are littered with cigarette butts and Mc Donald’s wrappers. Music creeps up from the basement and beats out onto the street. Clubbers and men in small groups pass them, eyes look ahead and down to the club. Each time a group passes, they both look hoping to see Adam. 
“This one’s too short, that one too fat,” Jo joked. 
They check out the parade of fashions: bubble skirts with hooped earrings, endless neon colors blinding you making you want to wear your sunglasses at night, Boy George clones, New Romantic with pirate shirts, asymmetrical hairstyles and eyeliner trying hard to look like Adam Ant, men and women wearing the fingerless gloves, then a few retro dread locked feral hippies wearing cheesecloth and paisley: Adam would never wear paisley- all black maybe. Definitely not him, they said as they check out the crowd passing by. These hippies were, closest to Becca’s slightly earth mother style, but she had more late punk attitude and cynicism to embrace the new age entirely. Both commented how surprising women’s’ bangs could go like mountains reaching for the sky, and made worse by too much ozone destroying hairspray, gel, cheap perms, and  floral perfumes.
Two men in identical white long sleeve shirts stand on the other side of the door. Throughout this they had been listening to them and looking enthralled. Not one crease or mark is on their business shirts. Rebecca keeps swapping looks with them. They don’t seem to belong here. Whenever Rebecca glances at them, they whisper something to one another. Their fingers start fidgeting. Around the corner, Adam emerges, not smiling but walking lightly, and his bright blue eyes look straight ahead at them.
“Thought you’d never get here girlfriend.” Jo said dancing on the spot with his stomach slightly wobbling.
“Wouldn’t miss the big celebration, for anything, honey,” Adam said. Before Adam’s next breath, the white shirted boys approach them. 
“Repent in the name of the Lord. Let him wash away your sin. You sinners,” they announced as if on a pulpit.
Rebecca look at the preachers with mouth agape and giggles with Adam. 
Jo frowns, stands slightly forward and shouts, “Who are you calling sinners? What are you some kind of fundamentalist homophobes?”
“You’re an abomination. A disgusting sinner before the Lord. Repent or go to hell.”
The quiet one raised his voice and preached, “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”
“Actually he just made Adam.” Jo’s face tightens and walks even closer up to their faces and screamed, “Hell would be a hell of a lot more fun than spending eternity with dickheads like you.”
They look at one another and raise a hand in surrender to ward off Jo.
Rebecca, walks up to Jo and said, “Calm down. Who cares what they think?”
“Yeh it doesn’t matter what they misinterpret as truth. We all have our own truth,” Adam said, as he grabbed Jo by the hand and dragged him down the stairs.
“You’re always the bloody philosopher, aren’t you Adam,”Jo said.
“Too bloody serious for my own good, Jo.” Adam admitted. 
      Rebecca follows and breaks into the middle of them. The preachers still stand in silence, the pimply one shaking. Both walk quickly down the street, looking for converts with fewer attitudes.
Adam secretly loved the way Jo confronted those fools. He thought they may mean well, but the effect of their message was evil. In a way he wanted to confront them too.
When his he was 13 and fleeing to Sydney, he had promised himself to live large and proud. A pact had been made between God and himself that he would be himself, irrespective of people’s bigoted reactions. He promised himself that he would leap into an exciting, different life. By that time his image of God had evolved from a draconian old man in the clouds to a kind universal force. 
This idea of a God punishing you with guilt and pain for supposed sins that were really just a part of the human nature he created, felt alien to Adam. He’d heard these street preachers’ judgments too many times before, throughout his adolescence. In his own way, he prayed and lived as close to Christ’s example as he could. In a strange way he felt that this commitment and relationship to God had protected him, like an invisible armor, throughout years as a street kid in the Cross. Those Salvos were real angels. 
After years of mind numbing training in Catholicism, his faith began fading away with each new harsh experience. On the streets there were plenty of those. It was best not to talk or think about it. Bury pain deep down where it belonged. His new mission became survival and then education. Forcing himself beyond what he thought was capable of, he finished high school and then university. Only with an arts degree he became another overeducated dole bludger. At last, his trip to Japan represented a reward for years of struggle and hard work. After so much bad luck he hoped the forgotten Gods’ were smiling down on him. Tonight he is celebrating this hope and forgetting the past.
            
The three friends, or musketeers, as they referred to themselves, bound down the stairs smiling almost bouncing hand in hand.
 This underground bar reminds him of a cave. Gay men may not be primitive but the atmosphere and music is. Sexual tension and attraction spills out into the air. If you had to satisfy desire, this is the place to be. It isn’t for Adam though. He just wants a couple of drinks and a fun time- a sense of celebration and devotion shared by disco house tracks. Madonna is some new American dance diva who sing like a virgin which everyone in the room adores. 
Walking into the darkened room, beer’s oat smell assault their noses. Their shoes stick to the floor. A hundred eyes observe them for a few minutes, and then look away. Mirrors are stuck all over the walls making it impossible to avoid yourself. Both follow Jo as he stands closer to the right side of the bar. There are no seats, so they all stand up facing one another. They are right next to the wall full of mirrors. Rebecca catches Adam looking lost and distant at himself in the mirrored wall, and she reaches out grabbing his neck away. 
She said, “Don’t think too hard, it gives you wrinkles.”
Here he is in a bar, with great mates, supposedly partying. All he could think of now was the bashing and stabbing. Equally painful he had been thrown out on the streets by his deranged partner. Those closer to you always hurt you more. This truism he found to be true. Both events still weigh heavily on him. He should have been homeless. He would be without these great friends. In spite of events he tries hard to push on, trying to look onward and upward: he has an exceptional life to lead.
Instead he moves closer to Rebecca and shouted, “Love this house number.”
“Yeh. It’s great. Love it too,” she shouted back
“Don’t forget us in your new life in Japan. You’ll have a great time, you might not want to return, turn Japanese. Just believe in yourself, Okay?” she continued.
With his degree, Adam had managed a teaching job in Tokyo- a real profession, a far cry from begging on the streets. Old street boys would have thought his new path was straight and boring. He’d last contact with most of them anyway. In one way, their opinion didn’t matter. But he still heard their negative self talk replay in his head like a scratching tape. One couldn’t be boring and predictable, if you were jumping a plane tomorrow morning bound to live in Tokyo, Japan for a year. 
With such ideas, it is no wonder his facial expressions stuck with stoicism. While furrowing his brow and concentrating again on it in the mirrored wall, he changes thoughts. From his buried past and idiosyncratic looks, he focuses on the ambiance in this bar. 
Honestly what type of place had mirrored walls? An answer to that was Obsessions, an underground gay bar. Patrons leave inhibitions along with their cloaks at the entrance. This is a subterranean room where fairytale secret lives are lived well past midnight. It is the kind of raving club where leather, jopers, naked butt cheeks and belted harnesses are not out of place. 
A long line of rotating mirror balls hang from the middle of the ceiling. Suspended over the dance floor, they project shafts of light spilling rainbow colors everywhere. Light hits Adam's eyes and temporarily blinds him forcing him to squint.  
After recovering from the rainbow light hit, Adam sees in one corner leather men wearing all variety of leather gear: jopers, g-string, studded cock piece, harness, rubber masks and more. With a kind of awkward grace, they lean into the darkness. They seem to belong there in the shadows. Occasionally they survey the crowd from the corner of their vision. Adam shifts and quivers before looking away. 
Sections, mainly the corners, are dimly lit and covered in a suffocating smoky haze. Any area near the dance floor is exposed by lights that throb along to the mass on the dance floor thrusting to the dance music. The leather crowd is in the left corner nearest the bar. Unlike the fluorescent disco crowd, they aren’t moving to the music.
By now it is 12.00 o’clock. The bar is one huge crowd which brushes up against each other in a synchronized motion and mutual comfort. Adam feels it is very sexual. Though Adam isn’t searching for either sex, or love tonight. Getting through this sea of queer humanity is an effort. Adam thinks he should brave it. Jo and Rebecca would look thirsty if they were old hags with Simpson Desert faces more like places. But Adam thinks they need something in their hands.
Leaning forward he shouted, “Three beers all around”
“The sooner the better,” Jo quipped.
In a second Adam pushes his way into the bar and waits in line. While watching the shirtless bar man pour the beers while flexing his pectoral muscles and guns, he tastes the beer and feel its bitter chill slide down his throat. They serve him quickly. Adam comes back from the bar. He has to push again. This time both his hands grip firmly around the beers. He feels them slowly sliding down. Carrying drinks from the bar is a near impossibility for someone as clumsy as Adam. It is a delicate act made worst by the crowd. 
Brushing past the leather men, one grabs at his butt; he almost drops the beers. Luckily he regains his hold. This leather man smiles under his thick handlebar moustache. Adam shoots a mock filthy glare that wipes the smile off leather man’s face. Adam laughs with him not at him. He wishes he had a free hand to push the leather man back, playfully not aggressively. Turning around, he sees Rebecca and Jo looking on. 
They were standing a few meters ahead. He only had to navigate a little further. If he could get these beers to him, he was sure they’d be grateful. There wasn’t enough he could do to repay them for their kindness; a place to sleep, a job. A soreness and feeling of pins and needles started in his arms. Finally, he made it back to his friends. Reaching out, eyes alight and smiling, they grabbed their beers. 
“Hey,” Adam announced his thoughts, “For the sake of not spilling any valuable liquor, we should stay perched at the end of the bar. Its one long step away from bar man. Good eye candy for you too Jo.”
Jo replied, “Yeh sure. This way any accident involving beer, a stranger and his new designer white shirt can be avoided.”
Adam said, “I nearly dropped them. You can get the next round.”
Next to him Jo offered a toast, “To Tokyo…..”
“ and groping leather queens.”
“Asian boys,” added Rebecca.
“Cheers,” his friends parroted in unison. All raised their glasses and took one long sip. Soon Adam’s cheerfulness faded.
How he was going to go picking up Asian boys who couldn’t speak English fluently, when he was a mess with one liners for the guys at home.
“Yes sure. I’m sure it will be a veritable buffet,” Adam said.
Jo grabs a stranger’s arm and pulls him towards Adam. At least to him he is a stranger. Perhaps not to Jo- he said strangers were just friends you haven’t met yet. He came out of nowhere. Just what he needs, a complete stranger out of nowhere. Cripes he could be a serial killer, or thieve at least. What was his HIV status?
“Adam, I want you to meet Jake. A friend of mine,” Jo said.
Lost for words, Adam mumbled, “Nice to meet you. Been here long?” he asked.
“Just arrived.” After an awkward silence he said, “Have a great night,” before offering a grin and turning to walk away.
Stupid! How stupid. He didn’t know what to say, never did. In other situations, like job interviews like the Japanese one, Adam passed as intelligent and confident. When it came to bars and dating, he was paralyzed- paralyzed by insecurity. Others understood something he didn’t. Jo talked smoothly to complete strangers. His friends were too numerous; not Like Adam. As for Adam, he could never think of what to say to a total stranger beyond hello. 
  “Jo what are you doing? Trying to set me up. You bitch. You know I’m celibate,” Adam joked in a tone of mocking exaggerated anger.
“Oh really, just thought you were going through a dry patch, sweetie. Needed a push and pash, no?” he asked while softly slapping his face. Jo added, “And who are you calling a bitch, bitch.” Both clicked beer glasses spilling a drop on the tiles.
After a wounding five year relationship with Mario, Adam is content to be single. Being a self declared celibate meant Adam and Ita Butrose aren’t searching for a hot date. Instead, he could concentrate all is energy onto himself. In a strange way, being celibate felt like a spiritual experience. Of course he would never admit this. If he did, he would be seen by his mates to be a wanker and Morrissey wannabe.
Rebecca takes one step closer to Adam. She places a hand on his shoulder and pinches him.
“Just let go tonight, honey. You deserve a good time, let go, celebrate, c’mon. This is your last night In Brisbane, in Australia for who knows how long!”
Adam expects her to smile, but she doesn’t. She doesn’t have a frown etched on her face either, but her mouth forms a straight intent line.
“Don’t need a man to have a good time. Not when I have you guys for friends,” Adam responded.
“But you may need some E,” Jo said brushing up to Adam, after which he stands back slightly.
“C’mon It’ll bring you out of yourself,” Rebecca pleaded.
“Then what or who is going to bring me back in?” Adam asked.
Jo said, “C’mon sister…good therapy they used it for depressed psych patients, after all.”
Adam said to Rebecca, “Is he referring to me as a Psych patient?”
“Honey, we’re all certifiable on nights like these.”
“Speak for yourself” Rebecca laughed.
“No Adam….your just a bit down and recovering from a real psycho, you know?” Jo said
“Good choice of words, depressed, rather than sad and tragic,” Adam said. 
Rebecca and Jo pop their pills. Jo takes two for extra impact. Soon all three form a group hug laughing and smiling while patting each other along the shoulders then back.
 Rebecca said, “Forget that Adam, no pressure. You are getting on with your life, despite shit happening.”
Jo added, “But don’t forget magic happens too. So don’t forget to be open to it.”
Rebecca looks at Jo. “We need another drink,” she suggested.
“Make it a rum and coke. Three all around,” Jo said. Rebecca braved the crowd and struggled to the bar.
Adam looks at the crowd lost in joy and dancing on the dance floor moving to the house music and thinks that in one way their celebration of life is a kind of worship. In this scene the DJ is God. Sure if he wasn't crippled by past and spent months in a gym, Adam could wear a muscle t-shirt instead of paisley, flex his biceps and display his beautiful self, elevated above everybody else on the dance floor too. 
Blinding strobes flash throughout the floor. They should come with a warning, Adam thought. Lasers shoot out from all four corners and dazzle some who look as if hypnotized by the green lines of light. These lights timed perfectly to the beat of grooves sounding mechanical and full of bass vibrating through the building. Throughout the night they would be occasionally broken by Latin soul, synth pop, dub reggae rap and jazz sounds. A collection of buffed bodies in crushed velvet hot pants or rubber and nothing else gyrate, drawing the others into their group. Mouths frantically chew gums, hands raise to the anonymous divas voice on one track as some wave glow sticks in the air. Others wear them around their necks. But Adam is too lithe to be a Muscle Mary. Lucky for him, Adam didn’t dance: Adam is too self-conscious to display himself: more the observer than participant: swayer than rhythm queen. 
While waiting empty handed for their next drinks, Adam hugs Jo. 
“Does this mean your mine for the next thirty minutes Adam,” Jo joked.
“You wouldn’t have me,” Adam retorted.
“No you’re not my type.”
“What is your type?” Adam asked still with his arm around Jo.
“Young blond and with a pulse!”
 How is he going to cope without Jo and confidant Rebecca, alone in Tokyo? He has no idea. As long as Jo has known Adam, Adam has never danced. Supposedly, some people were dancers and others not. Just like some people were extroverted and others introverted. Jo is definitely extroverted, particularly after a few G@T’s; he becomes an eighties version of Oscar Wilde at his peak, a latter day dandy. Also Adam’s best influence and mate Jo teaches at a conservative private school by day, yet gets lost in decadence at night. It is him who suggested he take the teaching job in Japan. Without his encouragement, he never would have applied. Little did he expect to be successful.
Rebecca returns with Rum and Coke, a wicked look, eyes wide, and bites her lip.
“The leather man sends his regards,” she told Adam.
“Ooh how scary,” Adam replied.
Rebecca, as frank as ever asked, “See anyone you fancy?”
Even without scanning the throbbing crowd, Adam answered, 
“No one”. 
What is wrong with him? How long did it take others to recover from frightful relationships? One month should have been enough time. Adam thought this celibacy was a cop out from life. Weren’t gay men meant to be up for it at anytime? Celebrate in any crisis.
Breaking up with Mario ended up with him considering himself to be quite brave. Now he is free as a single guy. Right now he is sure a relationship would drag him down to hellish depths and destroy all this new found freedom. Shyness mostly prevents him from having a one night stand anyway. He thought that could lead to a date, and then an affair, from which a relationship could grow. It is very comfortable standing on the dark side far away from “the display shelf”, his name for the dance floor. 
    Rebecca looks at him too seriously, as if reading his mind. As if to placate Rebecca’s silent request, Adam turns around. That look on her face is worrying him. He doesn’t bother subtly surveying the crowd. Instead, he turns his whole body and searches the crowd. While looking away from Jo and Rebecca, someone fell backwards onto him. A heavy boot stamps on his soft slip ons.
    “Sorry.” Another boy smiles quickly touching his chest in a slow dragging motion. 
Adam forgets his pain, moves his foot away from his foot, and said, 
“No problem.” 
     One of his favorite songs came on, an obscure disco diva Madonna again from New York- You Can Dance belts out of the sound systems as laser lights beam across the dance floor.
    “Wanna dance?”
    “Well I can’t dance with a wounded foot, sorry.”
    Actually he did quite fancy this tall brown lanky boy with a small well shaped shaved head, but Adam was such a lousy dancer. Adam imagines his head to feel quite rough and prickly under his hand. Adding to his appeal, he was wearing a white linen shirt. This reveals his smooth pectorals just above the nipples. Adam nearly reaches to return the touch, but he has turned away.
As he is right next to him, he decides not to reveal this attraction to Rebecca. Eventually, all Adam’s inner most thoughts, even innermost demons, are revealed to her. She is his confessor. Unlike priests, nothing ever shocks her or titillates her. Tonight he’d keep his thoughts to himself. 
Looking out from his peripheral vision, Adam watched him. This linen shirt spunk pushes up against him and feels warm. The object of his secret desire is lost in a circle of conversation with his friends. All of them shout one line comments, muffle by the raving soundtrack, and then they laugh. 
In his fantasy, he imagines him to be so natural and even gentle. He means gentle in an appealing way, not in a weak emotionally crippled manner. Pseudo new age guys never appeal to him. If only Adam could get the bravery to face him again. 
He could break into his circle and say an earth shattering witty first line. Words escaped him. Oscar Wilde he most certainly was not- that would be Jo’s role. What was the point anyway? He faces Rebecca and Jo again and joins them bopping to the beat. Lost in the beat, he nearly spills his Rum and Coke. 
Couldn’t he think less and act more. After all he is bound for foreign adventures with foreign men. Here they were all in a decadent wonderland where almost anything is accepted. Sure he had struggled: he’d been unemployed for over a year after finishing university. No one wanted to employ yet another arts student, particularly with long frazzled hair and a nose ring. 
According to Rebecca, he just looked too scary- all pierced 6 foot of him. She always sounded like his mother when she said things like this. Replacing the real one wouldn't be too hard, considering they weren't in contact. Before tonight, he figured he was also less attractive as husband material, if he was long term unemployed. Sure he could pretend he was an out of work actor: there was less social stigma attached to that. However his honesty ensnared him. Soon he could brag he was an ‘educator’
A second after, the music stops. Lights threw one concentrated white glaring rod of on the bar. Throbbing music bounces off the walls again. A stripper is balancing and dancing on the bar.
“You could do this, if the teaching doesn’t work out,” Jo joked.
“Sure after two years in the gym and a face transplant.”
Unlike Adam, the golden stripper must be devoid of inhibitions and neurosis to do this job. Adam never would have  the courage to strip on a bar. In fact, never would he have the body and tan lines to strip in the bedroom! Feeling almost like a prowling sex tourist, he tries not to stare and looks away.
 “Wow Whoop, Yeeeh,” leaped out of the crowd. Everybody appreciates this solidly shaped specimen of muscled manhood. 
Jo looks at Adam and shouted into his ear, “A good man is hard to find, but a hard one is easy to find” 
Adam agrees with him. Even though, he isn’t really up for a hard man yet, at least not tonight. Jo slunks off into the crowd searching for a one night love. Looking back, he pokes out his tongue. Having known Jo for over ten years, while Adam was on the streets, he fancies he could sometimes read Jo like a book. His looks tonight seem to say; when will you get over him. Avoiding serious thoughts, Adam holds Rebecca’s hand. With one grab of her soft hand, he lets go. He decides to be a voyeur and watch the stripper. Minutes has passed and now he is down to a pair of  glittering Speedos. 
Adam mentioned to Rebecca, “He looks like a pumped lifesaver on steroids.”
Even his speedos are tucked into his firm tanned arse. Each cheek of his buttocks wobbles as he cheekily reveals his body. It now is apparent that he is all muscle and devoid of any fat whatsoever. Each arse cheek forms perfect palm sized hand fulls. Adam asked Rebecca, “Would his head be all muscle too?”
“Probably, but would it matter?” she answered. Unlike him, her eyes were glued to his body. Rebecca hadn’t even looked at him in response. 
While Adam is over analyzing yet again, it was certain everyone else in the room was imagining the size of his crutch. They don’t have too far to imagine. After all, his penis fills his Speedo almost bursting out. There is only a very thin sequined tissue of fabric separating him from total exposure. 
Rebecca runs up to the bar and whispers something in his ear. Accusingly she points at her mate Adam. He ducks out of the way: this has no impact. 
Just then, a hand reaches out to Adam and he takes it. Rebecca pushes his back. Horrified, yet turned on, Adam realizes it is the golden stripper boy. Thrusting a bottle of massage oil at Adam, Golden boy demands he rub the oil all over him. Sometimes life seems more dream like than actual dreams. In these moments, fantasy and reality melt into each other, leaving Adam speechless. How could he not oblige, nor did he want to cop out; bugger his shyness. 
There Adam is in front of a crowd. His face feels warm, and his breathe is heavy. He feels like a smoke. A year ago he turned vegan but didn’t stop smoking. The bar is wide but slippery with stale beer and vodka. Each foot sticks to it. There is about one meter to balance on. As he kneels down, it becomes more difficult to balance. Stripper boy lays backwards on the bar. From this angle Adam sees the outline of his crutch and pubic hair escaping. Reaching out, his hand brushes over his package. Adam only allows it to touch for a second, then returns to massaging his pumped up chest. After this, the stripper moves his hands down his tight abdomens.
Trying to forget the body under his oil dripping palms, Adam caresses every inch of that naked flesh. It feels like running your fingers over a boulder. Even his stomach is covered in defined abdominals. Adam's plan is to avoid seeming too turned on and sleazy, even though he has a zipper splitting erection. He plays it cool. Adam looks up at the stripper’s face which radiates a perfect smile under a golden blond fringe. 
This guy appears to love every moment. Maybe like a true exhibitionist he is turned on by others watching him, Adam thought. He has stripped to a g-string. As the music stops, the lights vanish. With one quick kiss, that is more of a motherly peck, the show and Adam’s part in it is over- his 15 minutes of fame finishes. The stripper, or golden boy as Adam thought of him, disappears behind the bar into darkness. Adam is left feeling hot and frustrated. Standing up, feeling his face which burns red, he feel dizzy. An ankle tangles with his other, and he fumbles, falling off the bar. The fall is only a meter or so. A leather man, the same as before, reaches out to catch him. For once, he is glad he is there. Looking into his eyes, leather man said, “Does this mean your mine?”
“For a minute of gratitude- yes,” Adam said while finding his footing on the more stable floor. He gives the leather man a quick laugh and thank you, before turning back into the crowd. Everybody he passes smiles or laughs at him. Suddenly, he feels smaller even though he is six foot. The hotness in his face burns brighter. Walking up to Rebecca, he looks around for Jo, but he is lost in the crowd.
“Guess Jo is on the quest tonight?”
“You know Jo, too social for he’s own good.”
“Sometimes he’s like a queen holding court”
“Like a queen. He is a queen, baby. Pure Oscar Wilde”
“All he needs is the crown.”   
Just like Jo said, perhaps it is time for him to be over it and find a man. Glancing sideways he notices the boy with shaved hair again who notices his glance. A gushing smile from him surprises Adam. 
When he is nearly about to go to the shaved spunk, Rebecca hops closer to him, and announced, 
“I can’t believe you did that. Lucky guy.”
“Guess some of us are born lucky,” he retorted
“You need good luck. Maybe you’re karma’s finally turned for the better”
“Not from want of trying. It couldn’t get much worst.”
“Honey I need a real man, you do too. Ain’t going to find him here.”
“What about a “sensitive new age guy”? You love a guy you can share skin care with and philosophical musings into the moonlight with!”
“Darl, only when they are gay. In romance I want a chunky rough spunk who can fix my motor without worrying about greasy hands.”
“Think about it, we’re having the safest sex-no sex,” Adam said.
“We’re in a drought and were desperate to get rescued from the desert, more like it. You’re celibate anyway. What are you talking about, Adam honey?”
Raising his empty glass Adam replied, “I need a drink. I’ve definitely got a thirst needing quenching!”
“Guess, we’re lame?” Rebecca said raising her hands.
“I know we’ve got our own language.”
“Don’t lower your standards, Adam. If you need celibacy and self-analysis do it regardless. No honestly, you are a true romantic. It’s rare.”
 “Tragic and paranoid about AIDS more like it. So what does that make you?”
“Fag hag extraordinaire and mad bad and dangerous to know?”
“Honestly after that stripper, I could do with someone to share my pillow with tonight!”
Wisely she quipped, “Love happens when you’re not looking.”
“In the meantime, what’s wrong with sex? Sometimes you just need to blow your mind and that other thing. Celibacy can wait”.
They laugh but only for a moment.            Past has a habit of creeping up on you, especially when you are about to enter a new exciting future. In seconds their smiles are wiped clean. Each other look scared at one another. Rebecca’s mouth contorts into a grimace. She bit her bottom lip  and gulps the last sip from her rum. They see that venomous individual. Adam’s x-lover, Mario, stands ahead of them in the crowd. Adam’s instinct is to duck, until he realizes it would be futile: Adam’s height towers above the crowd making him obvious. Instead he stands backwards. 
Silently they look at each other and mouthed, “Oh fuck!” 
Leaning forward, Adam cups a hand around Rebecca’s left ear whispering into Rebecca’s ear, “When you’re young it’s easier to make some mistakes, but honestly some mistakes won’t let you forget.”
Seeing Mario is a nightmare recurring. As far as hellish breaks ups go, this one has to be up there. During the course of the month, following the break, he’d: pursued him, spat at him in public, threw literature at his head in bookshops, took a  hammer to all his furniture, spread rumors he didn’t care to re- tell, and burnt his nicest clothes. 
Jo jumps out of the crowd, like a boxing kangaroo. A young boy accompanied him and leans into his side. 
“Did you see what I saw?’
“Do you mean the vampire haunting me?”
“Don’t worry. Be relieved it’s over,” he said massaging him on the back.
Jo asked, “Need a refill?”
“Yes the stronger the better,” Adam said.
Then Jo skips off holding hands with the new boy. Adam thinks, weird how a boxing kangaroo can suddenly skip like a big girl. Adam  has come to the revelation that the bust up was as toxic as the relationship had been. Without doubt he had wasted his time with a complete psychotic. Apparently, an unhealthy relationship had to end in a tragic unhealthy way too. Otherwise, it would be a huge surprise.
“Hopefully he will just ignore us,” Rebecca said with eyes opening wider.
Jo jumped up in front again and offered Adam his drink, and whispered, “Your nightmares back”
“I know. Don’t remind me”
“What’s she wearing: a giant stocking?”
“Don’t look. Don’t attract his attention.”
Jo always made Adam laugh and lightened the moment. It did look like one huge stocking. For some reason Mario thinks he looks good in a tight Lycra one piece. It leaves nothing to the imagination. 

“What were you doing with him, anyway? You’re out of his league?” Jo asked.  
Out of the crowd the horrible face emerges angry and fuming. Somehow, Mario has seen him, despite Adam’s attempts to hide.
“I saw you. You slut. Groping stripper boy. You bitch! I’ve cursed you. I want your life to be hell. Revenge is sweet,” Mario squealed only centimeters from Adam’s face. 
“Too bad it didn’t work. My life is a dream without you,” Adam said. Adam turns the other cheek away from him. Rebecca and Jo stand closely alongside him.
One hand clenches in a fist. Mario’s nostrils flare as if a wild bore, while another hand raises. Adam ducks expecting the sting of a slap. Except, there is no slap. Rather cold ice and gin cascade at him, almost like a broken faucet, drenching him. Adam stands there speechless. Before he could react, Mario escapes into the busy crowd. He is stockier and shorter, easier to hide. But not in a one piece stocking or Lycra sock! Jo goes to the bar and asks for a towel and then thinks maybe he should ask for flea powder too! Adam stands there shocked and silent.
Does reality change and we experience it differently at different times? At one time he seemed like a dream lover. Tonight he seems like a psychotic bitch with extremely bad taste in accessories as main couture. Had he always been like this? Was he blinded by Love? Or had he changed? Letting out all his negativity and spite has that turned Mario into this creature, who gave new meaning to the word foul. It was as if he wanted to suck the life and very marrow of his existence out al in a one piece Lycra sock! As much as Adam tries to let go and forget, he couldn't. Here in Australia there would always be something to remind him. Now he carries a heavy weight of hate and shame about being stupid enough to be with Mario in the first place; talk about young and stupid. Adam bows his head and shakes off the drink the best he could with shaking hands. 
Rebecca takes the towel from Jo who had gone to the bar to get it and wiped his face. She said, “Don’t worry. Tomorrow you’ll be Tokyo. A world away.”
She is right. Rebecca is forever sage like. Tomorrow, enough physical and emotional distance would be between them. Lifting his drink he sips it, turns away, and feels his crucifix under his closed shirt collar.
Mario emerges out of hiding from the crowd. Never had Adam hit Mario, but tonight he feels compelled to smack him.
“Just ignore him,” Rebecca said as if she was sensing his normally passive mood changing and gurgling away the calm.
Yet, Adam can’t ignore her advice. Watching him out of the corner of his eye, Adam pretends to be lost in conversation with Rebecca. Adam could see Mario gyrating up against a stranger on the dance floor. He wondered how sweaty that Lycra could get. Then reminded himself to wear rainbow socks instead of black Lycra ones, but on his feet and not body. It was almost obscene, especially with that fat muscled body and delusion that he was cat woman in a cat suit. Adam hopes he wouldn’t be recognized by him ever again. Tonight is a celebration of a new start, not a re-living of his past ill fortune. Mario's dancing seemed strange and uncoordinated. His arms float around and then stop, like unwashed Gonzo the Muppet on steroids.  Mario grabs any stranger off the well lit dance floor. 
Mario sprints faster than Adam had ever seen. With that rugby union type body, he barges his way through the thick line into the bathroom. Adam’s heart still tells him to be concerned, but his mind tells him to forget the past. Moving on was hard, but despite reluctance he is moving on tomorrow figuratively and literally moving country. In one year he hopes to find true love, realize a dream job, and in the process grow wiser through adventure. It would be his version of skydiving: he would never jump out of a plane but is prepared to jump into a new life and fly, until he knows where to land. Still he looks worried. What if he had over heated, was having heart palpitation. He did look very sweaty. Someone had to be there for him to make sure he isn’t going to collapse. Then, another man followed behind Mario holding up his back. He’d be alright. He is welcome to handle him now. Adam is relieved.
With a quick re-introduction to stripper boy, in defiance Adam’s body tells his mind something completely different. It is: get laid. Just do it safely. Get hot sex! Fuck AIDS! Let go of celibacy tonight. That iridescent Colgate grin greets him again. Golden boy was half clothed with tight Levi jeans and no shirt. Unbelievably the golden boy with the impossible body is making moves on him.  First he accidentally bumps into him and feels his groin; not very subtle at all. Continuing with his chiseled smile throughout, golden stripper quizzes him with personal questions and throws in a joke or observation. This is perfect for Adam, because stripper boy initiates everything; he isn't forced to make the first move. All he has to do is laugh at the right moments, smile in adoration, and touch him occasionally on those bulging lateral deltoids. It takes Adam’s mind off Mario, the fallen angel, who is now lurking in the shadows.         
Jo and Rebecca move away and keep a discrete 
distance; yet they look at Adam’s and golden boy’s way pulling faces. They move onto the dance floor and continue doing this.
Jo dancing was a wild sight. What the hell, he thought. Music throbs through him and the crowd sways in unison. All the rum was having an effect. Adam asks the golden boy home, to which he fortunately or unfortunately, he couldn’t be sure, answers yes. 
Leaving the room with his ego still intact, Adam waves and winks at Rebecca and Jo. Both retort cynically with a light clap as if they were watching an opera. At the door exit they bump into Mario who sways at the bathroom door wiping vomit from his mouth. Luckily, Mario is too out of it too again recognize his x-partner for life. At least stockings body or not are wash and wear. Never had Mario been so out of it and so sick, but as Adam realizes tonight there is a first time for everything, namely sex and no obligations or personal history needed. Maybe no condoms too.  Despite everything, silently Adam wished Mario well. Adam thanked God for new starts and new chances. Amazing himself, he prayed for Mario, prayed for his happiness, prayed for him to get on with life free from bitterness.  With help from his friends, he is going to let go of celibacy and jump into the unknown.
As they tumble out of the club and on top of each other and squeeze into the back of a taxi, only one of the rabid Christians approached the closing door. 
He looks intent, then licks his lips, strokes his bulge in pants crutch, points at Adam, and mouthed, “I want you.”
 Bizarre, Adam thought, before locking lips with his golden boy and stripper forgetting the taxi driver has a rear view mirror. If only he had condoms, but passion is too hot to stop sometimes.

Time to celebrate. Celebrate and push Adam to drop his celibacy routine and self imposed romantic exile is Rebecca’s and Jo’s ulterior plan for tonight. They know all he needs is a friendly push. Both stand outside the club rave, waiting for Adam to show. This is what he needs. Instead of a derelict building he had slept in for days before reuniting with them- his long lost friends, who Mario hated him spending anytime with. He should be dancing, raving, letting go of all inhibitions. Except for as long and Rebecca and Jo had known him, he never did dance.

Jo feels his goatee with his fingers and said to Rebecca,

“Ok, So Becks you know the plan?”

“Yes to have a wild night and get Adam some loving…maybe bliss out on E, ” she said before hesitating and stammering, “…but I don’t know if we can?”

“Listen all we have to do is get him tipsy……we know it…better than weed or hash”

“I think it will take a hell of a lot more than booze, honey. You know it’s not the answer to everything Jo”

Jo’s eyes expand and mouth open in mock shock.

“Of course it is. Without booze, booze and sport, where would Australia be?”

“Jo mate, I love a drink as much as anyone. We should shout him a good time, ok, sure... But, all I’m saying is we can’t make him do something he doesn’t want or isn’t ready for.”

“OK, OK, OK. So, we will just prod him and introduce him to as many available men as we know. Still we will give him a chance of some free E, before we drop ours. We’re not writing a Mills and Boons here”

“You know him: he always cowers under pressure lately.”

“Look are you for or against this plan, Rebecca?”

“I’m all for getting him back to life, but I think he has to do it on his own terms.”

“Oh bullshit. Nothing wrong with encouragement. We’re his guardian angels”

“Guardian angels! Where did that idea come from?”

“Since he’s been staying at our place. I’ve pushed him to teach again. Without us he’d never had accepted that job and jump into a new life in Japan. Without us he’d never had got it. That was success for plan A. If we weren’t here, he’d still be homeless rather than lovelorn.”

“Sooner or later he’d have got on with his act, I’m sure. I quite like having him sleeping in our guest room, anyways. Who else makes such great pancakes? He’s the perfect guest and more of the host than us. At least he is a morning person unlike you,” Rebecca said pointing a finger and wagging it at Jo. This set him off on one of his mini lectures.

“I love him too; he’s a great guy, great catch: kind, politically deep, original, gutsy as, and more genuine and sweeter than any queen I know: far too good to be on the shelf at twenty-three. All he has to do is drop this morass act and party. How many times can one person play that Jeff Buckley or The Smiths album? He hasn’t met a man in months. He has to live life to the full. This isn’t a dress rehearsal.”

“Yeh I guess you right. He needs to get into house whatever genre. That would change him. Just remember there’s a fine line between encouragement and being too pushy. He’s vulnerable after those psychos and attack. Not to mention five years in a dead end relationship desperately trying to resuscitate something already dead! ”

“Ok Plan B is in action,” Jo said shaking Rebecca’s hand loosely

“What’s your time?” Rebecca asked, grabbing Jo’s wrist.

“Time to get over it and get a new man,” Jo joked. He pulled his hand away waving his wrist in the air.

“You’re such a girl, Jo.” Rebecca quipped, “Never forget that”.

“It takes a real man to be a real girl, Becks,” Jo responded battering puppy dog eyes.

                                                *

Time is now 10.30 and both were dying for that first drink and atmosphere of euphoria in a dance bar. Tonight is creepily dark and the sidewalks of Fortitude Valley are littered with cigarette butts and Mc Donald’s wrappers. Music creeps up from the basement and beats out onto the street. Clubbers and men in small groups pass them, eyes look ahead and down to the club. Each time a group passes, they both look hoping to see Adam.

“This one’s too short, that one too fat,” Jo joked.

They check out the parade of fashions: bubble skirts with hooped earrings, endless neon colors blinding you making you want to wear your sunglasses at night, Boy George clones, New Romantic with pirate shirts, asymmetrical hairstyles and eyeliner trying hard to look like Adam Ant, men and women wearing the fingerless gloves, then a few retro dread locked feral hippies wearing cheesecloth and paisley: Adam would never wear paisley- all black maybe. Definitely not him, they said as they check out the crowd passing by. These hippies were, closest to Becca’s slightly earth mother style, but she had more late punk attitude and cynicism to embrace the new age entirely. Both commented how surprising women’s’ bangs could go like mountains reaching for the sky, and made worse by too much ozone destroying hairspray, gel, cheap perms, and  floral perfumes.

Two men in identical white long sleeve shirts stand on the other side of the door. Throughout this they had been listening to them and looking enthralled. Not one crease or mark is on their business shirts. Rebecca keeps swapping looks with them. They don’t seem to belong here. Whenever Rebecca glances at them, they whisper something to one another. Their fingers start fidgeting. Around the corner, Adam emerges, not smiling but walking lightly, and his bright blue eyes look straight ahead at them.

“Thought you’d never get here girlfriend.” Jo said dancing on the spot with his stomach slightly wobbling.

“Wouldn’t miss the big celebration, for anything, honey,” Adam said. Before Adam’s next breath, the white shirted boys approach them.

“Repent in the name of the Lord. Let him wash away your sin. You sinners,” they announced as if on a pulpit.

Rebecca look at the preachers with mouth agape and giggles with Adam.

Jo frowns, stands slightly forward and shouts, “Who are you calling sinners? What are you some kind of fundamentalist homophobes?”

“You’re an abomination. A disgusting sinner before the Lord. Repent or go to hell.”

The quiet one raised his voice and preached, “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”

“Actually he just made Adam.” Jo’s face tightens and walks even closer up to their faces and screamed, “Hell would be a hell of a lot more fun than spending eternity with dickheads like you.”

They look at one another and raise a hand in surrender to ward off Jo.

Rebecca, walks up to Jo and said, “Calm down. Who cares what they think?”

“Yeh it doesn’t matter what they misinterpret as truth. We all have our own truth,” Adam said, as he grabbed Jo by the hand and dragged him down the stairs.

“You’re always the bloody philosopher, aren’t you Adam,”Jo said.

“Too bloody serious for my own good, Jo.” Adam admitted.

      Rebecca follows and breaks into the middle of them. The preachers still stand in silence, the pimply one shaking. Both walk quickly down the street, looking for converts with fewer attitudes.

Adam secretly loved the way Jo confronted those fools. He thought they may mean well, but the effect of their message was evil. In a way he wanted to confront them too.

When his he was 13 and fleeing to Sydney, he had promised himself to live large and proud. A pact had been made between God and himself that he would be himself, irrespective of people’s bigoted reactions. He promised himself that he would leap into an exciting, different life. By that time his image of God had evolved from a draconian old man in the clouds to a kind universal force.

This idea of a God punishing you with guilt and pain for supposed sins that were really just a part of the human nature he created, felt alien to Adam. He’d heard these street preachers’ judgments too many times before, throughout his adolescence. In his own way, he prayed and lived as close to Christ’s example as he could. In a strange way he felt that this commitment and relationship to God had protected him, like an invisible armor, throughout years as a street kid in the Cross. Those Salvos were real angels.

After years of mind numbing training in Catholicism, his faith began fading away with each new harsh experience. On the streets there were plenty of those. It was best not to talk or think about it. Bury pain deep down where it belonged. His new mission became survival and then education. Forcing himself beyond what he thought was capable of, he finished high school and then university. Only with an arts degree he became another overeducated dole bludger. At last, his trip to Japan represented a reward for years of struggle and hard work. After so much bad luck he hoped the forgotten Gods’ were smiling down on him. Tonight he is celebrating this hope and forgetting the past.

                                   

The three friends, or musketeers, as they referred to themselves, bound down the stairs smiling almost bouncing hand in hand.

 This underground bar reminds him of a cave. Gay men may not be primitive but the atmosphere and music is. Sexual tension and attraction spills out into the air. If you had to satisfy desire, this is the place to be. It isn’t for Adam though. He just wants a couple of drinks and a fun time- a sense of celebration and devotion shared by disco house tracks. Madonna is some new American dance diva who sing like a virgin which everyone in the room adores.

Walking into the darkened room, beer’s oat smell assault their noses. Their shoes stick to the floor. A hundred eyes observe them for a few minutes, and then look away. Mirrors are stuck all over the walls making it impossible to avoid yourself. Both follow Jo as he stands closer to the right side of the bar. There are no seats, so they all stand up facing one another. They are right next to the wall full of mirrors. Rebecca catches Adam looking lost and distant at himself in the mirrored wall, and she reaches out grabbing his neck away.

She said, “Don’t think too hard, it gives you wrinkles.”

Here he is in a bar, with great mates, supposedly partying. All he could think of now was the bashing and stabbing. Equally painful he had been thrown out on the streets by his deranged partner. Those closer to you always hurt you more. This truism he found to be true. Both events still weigh heavily on him. He should have been homeless. He would be without these great friends. In spite of events he tries hard to push on, trying to look onward and upward: he has an exceptional life to lead.

Instead he moves closer to Rebecca and shouted, “Love this house number.”

“Yeh. It’s great. Love it too,” she shouted back

“Don’t forget us in your new life in Japan. You’ll have a great time, you might not want to return, turn Japanese. Just believe in yourself, Okay?” she continued.

With his degree, Adam had managed a teaching job in Tokyo- a real profession, a far cry from begging on the streets. Old street boys would have thought his new path was straight and boring. He’d last contact with most of them anyway. In one way, their opinion didn’t matter. But he still heard their negative self talk replay in his head like a scratching tape. One couldn’t be boring and predictable, if you were jumping a plane tomorrow morning bound to live in Tokyo, Japan for a year.

With such ideas, it is no wonder his facial expressions stuck with stoicism. While furrowing his brow and concentrating again on it in the mirrored wall, he changes thoughts. From his buried past and idiosyncratic looks, he focuses on the ambiance in this bar.

Honestly what type of place had mirrored walls? An answer to that was Obsessions, an underground gay bar. Patrons leave inhibitions along with their cloaks at the entrance. This is a subterranean room where fairytale secret lives are lived well past midnight. It is the kind of raving club where leather, jopers, naked butt cheeks and belted harnesses are not out of place.

A long line of rotating mirror balls hang from the middle of the ceiling. Suspended over the dance floor, they project shafts of light spilling rainbow colors everywhere. Light hits Adam's eyes and temporarily blinds him forcing him to squint. 

After recovering from the rainbow light hit, Adam sees in one corner leather men wearing all variety of leather gear: jopers, g-string, studded cock piece, harness, rubber masks and more. With a kind of awkward grace, they lean into the darkness. They seem to belong there in the shadows. Occasionally they survey the crowd from the corner of their vision. Adam shifts and quivers before looking away.

Sections, mainly the corners, are dimly lit and covered in a suffocating smoky haze. Any area near the dance floor is exposed by lights that throb along to the mass on the dance floor thrusting to the dance music. The leather crowd is in the left corner nearest the bar. Unlike the fluorescent disco crowd, they aren’t moving to the music.

By now it is 12.00 o’clock. The bar is one huge crowd which brushes up against each other in a synchronized motion and mutual comfort. Adam feels it is very sexual. Though Adam isn’t searching for either sex, or love tonight. Getting through this sea of queer humanity is an effort. Adam thinks he should brave it. Jo and Rebecca would look thirsty if they were old hags with Simpson Desert faces more like places. But Adam thinks they need something in their hands.

Leaning forward he shouted, “Three beers all around”

“The sooner the better,” Jo quipped.

In a second Adam pushes his way into the bar and waits in line. While watching the shirtless bar man pour the beers while flexing his pectoral muscles and guns, he tastes the beer and feel its bitter chill slide down his throat. They serve him quickly. Adam comes back from the bar. He has to push again. This time both his hands grip firmly around the beers. He feels them slowly sliding down. Carrying drinks from the bar is a near impossibility for someone as clumsy as Adam. It is a delicate act made worst by the crowd.

Brushing past the leather men, one grabs at his butt; he almost drops the beers. Luckily he regains his hold. This leather man smiles under his thick handlebar moustache. Adam shoots a mock filthy glare that wipes the smile off leather man’s face. Adam laughs with him not at him. He wishes he had a free hand to push the leather man back, playfully not aggressively. Turning around, he sees Rebecca and Jo looking on.

They were standing a few meters ahead. He only had to navigate a little further. If he could get these beers to him, he was sure they’d be grateful. There wasn’t enough he could do to repay them for their kindness; a place to sleep, a job. A soreness and feeling of pins and needles started in his arms. Finally, he made it back to his friends. Reaching out, eyes alight and smiling, they grabbed their beers.

“Hey,” Adam announced his thoughts, “For the sake of not spilling any valuable liquor, we should stay perched at the end of the bar. Its one long step away from bar man. Good eye candy for you too Jo.”

Jo replied, “Yeh sure. This way any accident involving beer, a stranger and his new designer white shirt can be avoided.”

Adam said, “I nearly dropped them. You can get the next round.”

Next to him Jo offered a toast, “To Tokyo…..”

“ and groping leather queens.”

“Asian boys,” added Rebecca.

“Cheers,” his friends parroted in unison. All raised their glasses and took one long sip. Soon Adam’s cheerfulness faded.

How he was going to go picking up Asian boys who couldn’t speak English fluently, when he was a mess with one liners for the guys at home.

“Yes sure. I’m sure it will be a veritable buffet,” Adam said.

Jo grabs a stranger’s arm and pulls him towards Adam. At least to him he is a stranger. Perhaps not to Jo- he said strangers were just friends you haven’t met yet. He came out of nowhere. Just what he needs, a complete stranger out of nowhere. Cripes he could be a serial killer, or thieve at least. What was his HIV status?

“Adam, I want you to meet Jake. A friend of mine,” Jo said.

Lost for words, Adam mumbled, “Nice to meet you. Been here long?” he asked.

“Just arrived.” After an awkward silence he said, “Have a great night,” before offering a grin and turning to walk away.

Stupid! How stupid. He didn’t know what to say, never did. In other situations, like job interviews like the Japanese one, Adam passed as intelligent and confident. When it came to bars and dating, he was paralyzed- paralyzed by insecurity. Others understood something he didn’t. Jo talked smoothly to complete strangers. His friends were too numerous; not Like Adam. As for Adam, he could never think of what to say to a total stranger beyond hello.

  “Jo what are you doing? Trying to set me up. You bitch. You know I’m celibate,” Adam joked in a tone of mocking exaggerated anger.

“Oh really, just thought you were going through a dry patch, sweetie. Needed a push and pash, no?” he asked while softly slapping his face. Jo added, “And who are you calling a bitch, bitch.” Both clicked beer glasses spilling a drop on the tiles.

After a wounding five year relationship with Mario, Adam is content to be single. Being a self declared celibate meant Adam and Ita Butrose aren’t searching for a hot date. Instead, he could concentrate all is energy onto himself. In a strange way, being celibate felt like a spiritual experience. Of course he would never admit this. If he did, he would be seen by his mates to be a wanker and Morrissey wannabe.

Rebecca takes one step closer to Adam. She places a hand on his shoulder and pinches him.

“Just let go tonight, honey. You deserve a good time, let go, celebrate, c’mon. This is your last night In Brisbane, in Australia for who knows how long!”

Adam expects her to smile, but she doesn’t. She doesn’t have a frown etched on her face either, but her mouth forms a straight intent line.

“Don’t need a man to have a good time. Not when I have you guys for friends,” Adam responded.

“But you may need some E,” Jo said brushing up to Adam, after which he stands back slightly.

“C’mon It’ll bring you out of yourself,” Rebecca pleaded.

“Then what or who is going to bring me back in?” Adam asked.

Jo said, “C’mon sister…good therapy they used it for depressed psych patients, after all.”

Adam said to Rebecca, “Is he referring to me as a Psych patient?”

“Honey, we’re all certifiable on nights like these.”

“Speak for yourself” Rebecca laughed.

“No Adam….your just a bit down and recovering from a real psycho, you know?” Jo said

“Good choice of words, depressed, rather than sad and tragic,” Adam said.

Rebecca and Jo pop their pills. Jo takes two for extra impact. Soon all three form a group hug laughing and smiling while patting each other along the shoulders then back.

 Rebecca said, “Forget that Adam, no pressure. You are getting on with your life, despite shit happening.”

Jo added, “But don’t forget magic happens too. So don’t forget to be open to it.”

Rebecca looks at Jo. “We need another drink,” she suggested.

“Make it a rum and coke. Three all around,” Jo said. Rebecca braved the crowd and struggled to the bar.

Adam looks at the crowd lost in joy and dancing on the dance floor moving to the house music and thinks that in one way their celebration of life is a kind of worship. In this scene the DJ is God. Sure if he wasn't crippled by past and spent months in a gym, Adam could wear a muscle t-shirt instead of paisley, flex his biceps and display his beautiful self, elevated above everybody else on the dance floor too.

Blinding strobes flash throughout the floor. They should come with a warning, Adam thought. Lasers shoot out from all four corners and dazzle some who look as if hypnotized by the green lines of light. These lights timed perfectly to the beat of grooves sounding mechanical and full of bass vibrating through the building. Throughout the night they would be occasionally broken by Latin soul, synth pop, dub reggae rap and jazz sounds. A collection of buffed bodies in crushed velvet hot pants or rubber and nothing else gyrate, drawing the others into their group. Mouths frantically chew gums, hands raise to the anonymous divas voice on one track as some wave glow sticks in the air. Others wear them around their necks. But Adam is too lithe to be a Muscle Mary. Lucky for him, Adam didn’t dance: Adam is too self-conscious to display himself: more the observer than participant: swayer than rhythm queen.

While waiting empty handed for their next drinks, Adam hugs Jo.

“Does this mean your mine for the next thirty minutes Adam,” Jo joked.

“You wouldn’t have me,” Adam retorted.

“No you’re not my type.”

“What is your type?” Adam asked still with his arm around Jo.

“Young blond and with a pulse!”

 How is he going to cope without Jo and confidant Rebecca, alone in Tokyo? He has no idea. As long as Jo has known Adam, Adam has never danced. Supposedly, some people were dancers and others not. Just like some people were extroverted and others introverted. Jo is definitely extroverted, particularly after a few G@T’s; he becomes an eighties version of Oscar Wilde at his peak, a latter day dandy. Also Adam’s best influence and mate Jo teaches at a conservative private school by day, yet gets lost in decadence at night. It is him who suggested he take the teaching job in Japan. Without his encouragement, he never would have applied. Little did he expect to be successful.

Rebecca returns with Rum and Coke, a wicked look, eyes wide, and bites her lip.

“The leather man sends his regards,” she told Adam.

“Ooh how scary,” Adam replied.

Rebecca, as frank as ever asked, “See anyone you fancy?”

Even without scanning the throbbing crowd, Adam answered,

“No one”.

What is wrong with him? How long did it take others to recover from frightful relationships? One month should have been enough time. Adam thought this celibacy was a cop out from life. Weren’t gay men meant to be up for it at anytime? Celebrate in any crisis.

Breaking up with Mario ended up with him considering himself to be quite brave. Now he is free as a single guy. Right now he is sure a relationship would drag him down to hellish depths and destroy all this new found freedom. Shyness mostly prevents him from having a one night stand anyway. He thought that could lead to a date, and then an affair, from which a relationship could grow. It is very comfortable standing on the dark side far away from “the display shelf”, his name for the dance floor.

           Rebecca looks at him too seriously, as if reading his mind. As if to placate Rebecca’s silent request, Adam turns around. That look on her face is worrying him. He doesn’t bother subtly surveying the crowd. Instead, he turns his whole body and searches the crowd. While looking away from Jo and Rebecca, someone fell backwards onto him. A heavy boot stamps on his soft slip ons.

           “Sorry.” Another boy smiles quickly touching his chest in a slow dragging motion.

Adam forgets his pain, moves his foot away from his foot, and said,

“No problem.”

           One of his favorite songs came on, an obscure disco diva Madonna again from New York- You Can Dance belts out of the sound systems as laser lights beam across the dance floor.

           “Wanna dance?”

           “Well I can’t dance with a wounded foot, sorry.”

           Actually he did quite fancy this tall brown lanky boy with a small well shaped shaved head, but Adam was such a lousy dancer. Adam imagines his head to feel quite rough and prickly under his hand. Adding to his appeal, he was wearing a white linen shirt. This reveals his smooth pectorals just above the nipples. Adam nearly reaches to return the touch, but he has turned away.

As he is right next to him, he decides not to reveal this attraction to Rebecca. Eventually, all Adam’s inner most thoughts, even innermost demons, are revealed to her. She is his confessor. Unlike priests, nothing ever shocks her or titillates her. Tonight he’d keep his thoughts to himself.

Looking out from his peripheral vision, Adam watched him. This linen shirt spunk pushes up against him and feels warm. The object of his secret desire is lost in a circle of conversation with his friends. All of them shout one line comments, muffle by the raving soundtrack, and then they laugh.

In his fantasy, he imagines him to be so natural and even gentle. He means gentle in an appealing way, not in a weak emotionally crippled manner. Pseudo new age guys never appeal to him. If only Adam could get the bravery to face him again.

He could break into his circle and say an earth shattering witty first line. Words escaped him. Oscar Wilde he most certainly was not- that would be Jo’s role. What was the point anyway? He faces Rebecca and Jo again and joins them bopping to the beat. Lost in the beat, he nearly spills his Rum and Coke.

Couldn’t he think less and act more. After all he is bound for foreign adventures with foreign men. Here they were all in a decadent wonderland where almost anything is accepted. Sure he had struggled: he’d been unemployed for over a year after finishing university. No one wanted to employ yet another arts student, particularly with long frazzled hair and a nose ring.

According to Rebecca, he just looked too scary- all pierced 6 foot of him. She always sounded like his mother when she said things like this. Replacing the real one wouldn't be too hard, considering they weren't in contact. Before tonight, he figured he was also less attractive as husband material, if he was long term unemployed. Sure he could pretend he was an out of work actor: there was less social stigma attached to that. However his honesty ensnared him. Soon he could brag he was an ‘educator’

A second after, the music stops. Lights threw one concentrated white glaring rod of on the bar. Throbbing music bounces off the walls again. A stripper is balancing and dancing on the bar.

“You could do this, if the teaching doesn’t work out,” Jo joked.

“Sure after two years in the gym and a face transplant.”

Unlike Adam, the golden stripper must be devoid of inhibitions and neurosis to do this job. Adam never would have  the courage to strip on a bar. In fact, never would he have the body and tan lines to strip in the bedroom! Feeling almost like a prowling sex tourist, he tries not to stare and looks away.

 “Wow Whoop, Yeeeh,” leaped out of the crowd. Everybody appreciates this solidly shaped specimen of muscled manhood.

Jo looks at Adam and shouted into his ear, “A good man is hard to find, but a hard one is easy to find”

Adam agrees with him. Even though, he isn’t really up for a hard man yet, at least not tonight. Jo slunks off into the crowd searching for a one night love. Looking back, he pokes out his tongue. Having known Jo for over ten years, while Adam was on the streets, he fancies he could sometimes read Jo like a book. His looks tonight seem to say; when will you get over him. Avoiding serious thoughts, Adam holds Rebecca’s hand. With one grab of her soft hand, he lets go. He decides to be a voyeur and watch the stripper. Minutes has passed and now he is down to a pair of  glittering Speedos.

Adam mentioned to Rebecca, “He looks like a pumped lifesaver on steroids.”

Even his speedos are tucked into his firm tanned arse. Each cheek of his buttocks wobbles as he cheekily reveals his body. It now is apparent that he is all muscle and devoid of any fat whatsoever. Each arse cheek forms perfect palm sized hand fulls. Adam asked Rebecca, “Would his head be all muscle too?”

“Probably, but would it matter?” she answered. Unlike him, her eyes were glued to his body. Rebecca hadn’t even looked at him in response.

While Adam is over analyzing yet again, it was certain everyone else in the room was imagining the size of his crutch. They don’t have too far to imagine. After all, his penis fills his Speedo almost bursting out. There is only a very thin sequined tissue of fabric separating him from total exposure.

Rebecca runs up to the bar and whispers something in his ear. Accusingly she points at her mate Adam. He ducks out of the way: this has no impact.

Just then, a hand reaches out to Adam and he takes it. Rebecca pushes his back. Horrified, yet turned on, Adam realizes it is the golden stripper boy. Thrusting a bottle of massage oil at Adam, Golden boy demands he rub the oil all over him. Sometimes life seems more dream like than actual dreams. In these moments, fantasy and reality melt into each other, leaving Adam speechless. How could he not oblige, nor did he want to cop out; bugger his shyness.

There Adam is in front of a crowd. His face feels warm, and his breathe is heavy. He feels like a smoke. A year ago he turned vegan but didn’t stop smoking. The bar is wide but slippery with stale beer and vodka. Each foot sticks to it. There is about one meter to balance on. As he kneels down, it becomes more difficult to balance. Stripper boy lays backwards on the bar. From this angle Adam sees the outline of his crutch and pubic hair escaping. Reaching out, his hand brushes over his package. Adam only allows it to touch for a second, then returns to massaging his pumped up chest. After this, the stripper moves his hands down his tight abdomens.

Trying to forget the body under his oil dripping palms, Adam caresses every inch of that naked flesh. It feels like running your fingers over a boulder. Even his stomach is covered in defined abdominals. Adam's plan is to avoid seeming too turned on and sleazy, even though he has a zipper splitting erection. He plays it cool. Adam looks up at the stripper’s face which radiates a perfect smile under a golden blond fringe.

This guy appears to love every moment. Maybe like a true exhibitionist he is turned on by others watching him, Adam thought. He has stripped to a g-string. As the music stops, the lights vanish. With one quick kiss, that is more of a motherly peck, the show and Adam’s part in it is over- his 15 minutes of fame finishes. The stripper, or golden boy as Adam thought of him, disappears behind the bar into darkness. Adam is left feeling hot and frustrated. Standing up, feeling his face which burns red, he feel dizzy. An ankle tangles with his other, and he fumbles, falling off the bar. The fall is only a meter or so. A leather man, the same as before, reaches out to catch him. For once, he is glad he is there. Looking into his eyes, leather man said, “Does this mean your mine?”

“For a minute of gratitude- yes,” Adam said while finding his footing on the more stable floor. He gives the leather man a quick laugh and thank you, before turning back into the crowd. Everybody he passes smiles or laughs at him. Suddenly, he feels smaller even though he is six foot. The hotness in his face burns brighter. Walking up to Rebecca, he looks around for Jo, but he is lost in the crowd.

“Guess Jo is on the quest tonight?”

“You know Jo, too social for he’s own good.”

“Sometimes he’s like a queen holding court”

“Like a queen. He is a queen, baby. Pure Oscar Wilde”

“All he needs is the crown.”  

Just like Jo said, perhaps it is time for him to be over it and find a man. Glancing sideways he notices the boy with shaved hair again who notices his glance. A gushing smile from him surprises Adam.

When he is nearly about to go to the shaved spunk, Rebecca hops closer to him, and announced,

“I can’t believe you did that. Lucky guy.”

“Guess some of us are born lucky,” he retorted

“You need good luck. Maybe you’re karma’s finally turned for the better”

“Not from want of trying. It couldn’t get much worst.”

“Honey I need a real man, you do too. Ain’t going to find him here.”

“What about a “sensitive new age guy”? You love a guy you can share skin care with and philosophical musings into the moonlight with!”

“Darl, only when they are gay. In romance I want a chunky rough spunk who can fix my motor without worrying about greasy hands.”

“Think about it, we’re having the safest sex-no sex,” Adam said.

“We’re in a drought and were desperate to get rescued from the desert, more like it. You’re celibate anyway. What are you talking about, Adam honey?”

Raising his empty glass Adam replied, “I need a drink. I’ve definitely got a thirst needing quenching!”

“Guess, we’re lame?” Rebecca said raising her hands.

“I know we’ve got our own language.”

“Don’t lower your standards, Adam. If you need celibacy and self-analysis do it regardless. No honestly, you are a true romantic. It’s rare.”

 “Tragic and paranoid about AIDS more like it. So what does that make you?”

“Fag hag extraordinaire and mad bad and dangerous to know?”

“Honestly after that stripper, I could do with someone to share my pillow with tonight!”

Wisely she quipped, “Love happens when you’re not looking.”

“In the meantime, what’s wrong with sex? Sometimes you just need to blow your mind and that other thing. Celibacy can wait”.

They laugh but only for a moment.                             Past has a habit of creeping up on you, especially when you are about to enter a new exciting future. In seconds their smiles are wiped clean. Each other look scared at one another. Rebecca’s mouth contorts into a grimace. She bit her bottom lip  and gulps the last sip from her rum. They see that venomous individual. Adam’s x-lover, Mario, stands ahead of them in the crowd. Adam’s instinct is to duck, until he realizes it would be futile: Adam’s height towers above the crowd making him obvious. Instead he stands backwards.

Silently they look at each other and mouthed, “Oh fuck!”

Leaning forward, Adam cups a hand around Rebecca’s left ear whispering into Rebecca’s ear, “When you’re young it’s easier to make some mistakes, but honestly some mistakes won’t let you forget.”

Seeing Mario is a nightmare recurring. As far as hellish breaks ups go, this one has to be up there. During the course of the month, following the break, he’d: pursued him, spat at him in public, threw literature at his head in bookshops, took a  hammer to all his furniture, spread rumors he didn’t care to re- tell, and burnt his nicest clothes.

Jo jumps out of the crowd, like a boxing kangaroo. A young boy accompanied him and leans into his side.

“Did you see what I saw?’

“Do you mean the vampire haunting me?”

“Don’t worry. Be relieved it’s over,” he said massaging him on the back.

Jo asked, “Need a refill?”

“Yes the stronger the better,” Adam said.

Then Jo skips off holding hands with the new boy. Adam thinks, weird how a boxing kangaroo can suddenly skip like a big girl. Adam  has come to the revelation that the bust up was as toxic as the relationship had been. Without doubt he had wasted his time with a complete psychotic. Apparently, an unhealthy relationship had to end in a tragic unhealthy way too. Otherwise, it would be a huge surprise.

“Hopefully he will just ignore us,” Rebecca said with eyes opening wider.

Jo jumped up in front again and offered Adam his drink, and whispered, “Your nightmares back”

“I know. Don’t remind me”

“What’s she wearing: a giant stocking?”

“Don’t look. Don’t attract his attention.”

Jo always made Adam laugh and lightened the moment. It did look like one huge stocking. For some reason Mario thinks he looks good in a tight Lycra one piece. It leaves nothing to the imagination.

 

“What were you doing with him, anyway? You’re out of his league?” Jo asked. 

Out of the crowd the horrible face emerges angry and fuming. Somehow, Mario has seen him, despite Adam’s attempts to hide.

“I saw you. You slut. Groping stripper boy. You bitch! I’ve cursed you. I want your life to be hell. Revenge is sweet,” Mario squealed only centimeters from Adam’s face.

“Too bad it didn’t work. My life is a dream without you,” Adam said. Adam turns the other cheek away from him. Rebecca and Jo stand closely alongside him.

One hand clenches in a fist. Mario’s nostrils flare as if a wild bore, while another hand raises. Adam ducks expecting the sting of a slap. Except, there is no slap. Rather cold ice and gin cascade at him, almost like a broken faucet, drenching him. Adam stands there speechless. Before he could react, Mario escapes into the busy crowd. He is stockier and shorter, easier to hide. But not in a one piece stocking or Lycra sock! Jo goes to the bar and asks for a towel and then thinks maybe he should ask for flea powder too! Adam stands there shocked and silent.

Does reality change and we experience it differently at different times? At one time he seemed like a dream lover. Tonight he seems like a psychotic bitch with extremely bad taste in accessories as main couture. Had he always been like this? Was he blinded by Love? Or had he changed? Letting out all his negativity and spite has that turned Mario into this creature, who gave new meaning to the word foul. It was as if he wanted to suck the life and very marrow of his existence out al in a one piece Lycra sock! As much as Adam tries to let go and forget, he couldn't. Here in Australia there would always be something to remind him. Now he carries a heavy weight of hate and shame about being stupid enough to be with Mario in the first place; talk about young and stupid. Adam bows his head and shakes off the drink the best he could with shaking hands.

Rebecca takes the towel from Jo who had gone to the bar to get it and wiped his face. She said, “Don’t worry. Tomorrow you’ll be Tokyo. A world away.”

She is right. Rebecca is forever sage like. Tomorrow, enough physical and emotional distance would be between them. Lifting his drink he sips it, turns away, and feels his crucifix under his closed shirt collar.

Mario emerges out of hiding from the crowd. Never had Adam hit Mario, but tonight he feels compelled to smack him.

“Just ignore him,” Rebecca said as if she was sensing his normally passive mood changing and gurgling away the calm.

Yet, Adam can’t ignore her advice. Watching him out of the corner of his eye, Adam pretends to be lost in conversation with Rebecca. Adam could see Mario gyrating up against a stranger on the dance floor. He wondered how sweaty that Lycra could get. Then reminded himself to wear rainbow socks instead of black Lycra ones, but on his feet and not body. It was almost obscene, especially with that fat muscled body and delusion that he was cat woman in a cat suit. Adam hopes he wouldn’t be recognized by him ever again. Tonight is a celebration of a new start, not a re-living of his past ill fortune. Mario's dancing seemed strange and uncoordinated. His arms float around and then stop, like unwashed Gonzo the Muppet on steroids.  Mario grabs any stranger off the well lit dance floor.

Mario sprints faster than Adam had ever seen. With that rugby union type body, he barges his way through the thick line into the bathroom. Adam’s heart still tells him to be concerned, but his mind tells him to forget the past. Moving on was hard, but despite reluctance he is moving on tomorrow figuratively and literally moving country. In one year he hopes to find true love, realize a dream job, and in the process grow wiser through adventure. It would be his version of skydiving: he would never jump out of a plane but is prepared to jump into a new life and fly, until he knows where to land. Still he looks worried. What if he had over heated, was having heart palpitation. He did look very sweaty. Someone had to be there for him to make sure he isn’t going to collapse. Then, another man followed behind Mario holding up his back. He’d be alright. He is welcome to handle him now. Adam is relieved.

With a quick re-introduction to stripper boy, in defiance Adam’s body tells his mind something completely different. It is: get laid. Just do it safely. Get hot sex! Fuck AIDS! Let go of celibacy tonight. That iridescent Colgate grin greets him again. Golden boy was half clothed with tight Levi jeans and no shirt. Unbelievably the golden boy with the impossible body is making moves on him.  First he accidentally bumps into him and feels his groin; not very subtle at all. Continuing with his chiseled smile throughout, golden stripper quizzes him with personal questions and throws in a joke or observation. This is perfect for Adam, because stripper boy initiates everything; he isn't forced to make the first move. All he has to do is laugh at the right moments, smile in adoration, and touch him occasionally on those bulging lateral deltoids. It takes Adam’s mind off Mario, the fallen angel, who is now lurking in the shadows.                      

Jo and Rebecca move away and keep a discrete

distance; yet they look at Adam’s and golden boy’s way pulling faces. They move onto the dance floor and continue doing this.

Jo dancing was a wild sight. What the hell, he thought. Music throbs through him and the crowd sways in unison. All the rum was having an effect. Adam asks the golden boy home, to which he fortunately or unfortunately, he couldn’t be sure, answers yes.

Leaving the room with his ego still intact, Adam waves and winks at Rebecca and Jo. Both retort cynically with a light clap as if they were watching an opera. At the door exit they bump into Mario who sways at the bathroom door wiping vomit from his mouth. Luckily, Mario is too out of it too again recognize his x-partner for life. At least stockings body or not are wash and wear. Never had Mario been so out of it and so sick, but as Adam realizes tonight there is a first time for everything, namely sex and no obligations or personal history needed. Maybe no condoms too.  Despite everything, silently Adam wished Mario well. Adam thanked God for new starts and new chances. Amazing himself, he prayed for Mario, prayed for his happiness, prayed for him to get on with life free from bitterness.  With help from his friends, he is going to let go of celibacy and jump into the unknown.

As they tumble out of the club and on top of each other and squeeze into the back of a taxi, only one of the rabid Christians approached the closing door.

He looks intent, then licks his lips, strokes his bulge in pants crutch, points at Adam, and mouthed, “I want you.”

 Bizarre, Adam thought, before locking lips with his golden boy and stripper forgetting the taxi driver has a rear view mirror. If only he had condoms, but passion is too hot to stop sometimes.

 

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Chapter Four First Times

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CHAPETR FIVE MIGUEL'S MACHISMO

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