Warning: Adult Content
Today was the day. His heart raced and he felt slightly nauseous as he unlocked the hair salon. Every morning when Kohl unlocked the door, he looked at his own name painted on the glass and felt a sense of pride. It’s the only thing he’d ever been proud of and this morning it was no different. Maybe this morning there was even more appreciation for that rolling script; it might be all he had left.
“Good morning sweetie.” Sid’s voice came through the door at the same time the bell tinkled.
“Morning.” His voice was a croak so he cleared his throat and tried it again. “Morning Gorgeous.”
“Oh no, you had a late night again. Boy, I keep telling you, you’re going to cut off a finger one day in a hangover fog if you don’t treat your body better than that.” She handed him a take-out coffee and grabbed his chin in her hand. Her touch was gentle. “Look at you. What – or who – were you doing last night?”
“Nobody. I just didn’t sleep.”
She sat in one of the salon’s chairs and he started raking a comb through her hair. “We should touch up your roots again soon.”
“Are you being a smartass?”
He laughed. “No! They really need it.” He was always teasing her for being so old. She was 40 and felt miserably decrepit next to his 21. They were as different as anybody could imagine but they were so close Kohl couldn’t imagine wading through this shitty life without her.
“I think we should put some scarlet streaks through it – really bright so no one can miss them.” Her nose crinkled as she looked at herself in the giant mirror.
“No one could miss you. Quit fooling yourself, you’re stunning.” He kissed the top of her head. She always smelled so good – like expensive perfume and something else, something warm and sweet.
“And that is why I love you.” She smiled but then it darkened as she looked at the clock. “Do you want to do it now? Before we open the shop?”
His hands stopped although he could see the comb in his hand shaking.
“I don’t want to.”
“That’s why I’m going to do it.”
“I can’t…I don’t want to know.”
“Yes you do.” She got out of the chair and grabbed their coffees. “Come on. Let’s do it in the lunch room.”
He couldn’t. Knees suddenly weak and his stomach turning to water, he stood there looking in the mirror.
“Kohl, baby, we are going to do this and it’s going to be fine. Now come on.”
The first time he asked for money, it was surprisingly easy. It wasn’t much different than blowing his manager at Burger King but instead of keeping a crappy minimum wage job and feeling used, at least he had some real money and felt like he was making his own decisions. He could afford a roof over his head and then he could afford the hair salon.
He’d blown half the men who drove through West Hollywood and fucked the other half and none of them had been as disgusting as Donnie, who had zits on his ass and still lived with his mother even though he must’ve been 35. God damned creep. He’d brushed up against Kohl every time he could and eyed him like he was some cheap whore. Every time he gave him an order there was an undertone. Why do people assume that because you’re gay you’re a fucking whore?
One time, out of the blue when he went into Donnie’s office to get his paycheque, the fat bastard asked him who was the top, him or his boyfriend Mattie.
Later, when he screwed up and started a small fire on the grill, Donnie wasn’t mad. He looked like he’d won a prize and Kohl knew he’d just fucked up huge.
“In my office, now.” He’d tried to sound mad so everyone else thought he was some upstanding guy and disciplining an employee. Some stupid customer even nodded at him as they walked by. Inside the office, Donnie sat in his office chair and leaned back.
“You want to keep this job?”
Of course he wanted it. If he was fired from a shit-hole like BK who would hire him? He needed the money and at that point, he didn‘t have a lot of choices in life.
So he just nodded and spit out his gum.
Afterwards if occurred to him that if he was going to feel like a prostitute, he might as well make some real money.
He’d made it through two years of getting paid for it without anything more serious than what some antibiotics could cure. Then Mattie, MATTIE of all people, might’ve given him HIV. The only person he’d ever bare backed, the only person he’d ever trusted, cheated on him. Mattie, the boy he’d loved since they were 3 years old.
Mattie, the boy he’d first kissed when they were 9 and didn’t understand why they wanted to kiss. Most gay people figure it out in the private hell of their own heads. But Kohl and Mattie did it together. There hadn’t been one moment when Kohl felt alone. They figured it out together. They touched and cuddled and needed each other before they even knew what sex was. And when things felt good, they touched some more.
Now Mattie was HIV positive and Kohl couldn’t even think about what that meant.
Sid’s hand slid through his and steadied its shaking. “Come on baby boy.”
He let her lead him back to the lunch room. It was bright and sunny with fake light. They’d painted it together, all three of them when he first bought the place. Him, Mattie and Sid, laughing at how bright the future was. Laughing at how he’d finally gotten off the streets and built something safe for himself.
He was thirteen when he told his parents that he was gay. He hadn’t planned it. He’d never even dreamed of telling them that he was gay. But they were punishing him – he couldn’t even remember now what is was for, but he remembered they said that he couldn’t play with Mattie for a week. He got hysterical. The thought of not being with Mattie for a whole week was unthinkable. He screamed and cried and hit the wall.
It was the look on their faces that made him come to his senses and then he heard his own words reverberating off of them.
“I love him. I love him. I have to see him. I love him.”
He told them everything. He told them that he loved Mattie and that they did things together – then his father hit him so hard that later Mattie’s mother had to take him to the hospital.
He hadn’t been allowed back home since then.
Sid dialled the number on the appointment card.
“Hello. I am phoning for test results for #3937543 – yes.”
She reached up and stroked his cheek. It brought tears to his eyes and her thumb pulled them away.
“It’s going to be okay.” she whispered before her attention was taken by the voice on the other end of the phone.