By the end of next week, it seemed as if rejecting that bright-eyed stranger at the bar had brought some kind of cosmic karma down on him.
Shit on the concept of good getting good and bad getting fucked in the end, because if things actually went down like that then maybe Casper would still be getting fucked over but at least the rest of the world would have some kind of right to it instead of this horror-show of cancer-kids and hit-and-run rich boys getting scholarships to college.
But maybe those three sisters weaving threads through the roots of Yggdrasil had something planned for him down that road. Maybe an imminent death from the city’s newest serial killer, but it was a plan nonetheless and they’d gotten petty about him slipping his fate.
After Redhawk finished fucking him, he’d picked up off his dealer. Took it free in the end for a blowjob, which was exactly why all his dealers were women or at least a little gay.
Not so bad on that front, but he’d stepped through his shitty, broken front door to find Jack waiting for him on the sofa. Coked to his eyeballs, horny, and got his face right up in Casper’s ass before he jerked back with betrayal crushing through his gorgeous face.
“Nah, fuck this, Cas,” he’d said before he left. Once he’d finished shouting for about a quarter of an hour while Casper sat on the sofa with his head in his hands. “I fuckin’ told you, baby. No more. Hope them tricks keep you warm at night.”
They didn’t. Casper became intimately familiar with that over the next week.
His boss rung later. Pinged him a message right the same time and told him to watch it. A video. High as a kite, Casper laughed at the guy getting led out the back of the bar and fucked against the wall outside. Kept laughing for the whole video before his boss told him it was him.
At the end of it, Casper got chewed out in that disappointed father way that might have made Casper’s skin crawl if he hadn’t been so far gone, and the boss told him he was on probationary suspension.
“You’re a good kid, Casper. I don’t want to lose you, but I can’t excuse this behaviour. Find your money some other way for a couple of weeks, kid. Come back the Saturday after next.”
Two weeks. Rent was due in one and Casper had already been running short.
So he’d been a sleepy boy again. Reactivating the old accounts had made him sick. Actually sprint to the toilet sick as soon as he saw those soft-lit photos of his naked body. Username: Roach boy. Cheapest on the market.
The first call came after two hours, and Casper had an overnight booking lined up on his way over. The hour was over fifty and his beer gut spilt over his tiny dick. Casper went in makeup and a skirt, and he came so quickly he had to give the old fuck ten minutes free.
After all, he deserved this.
And it all took him plummeting downhill so fast the bottom was lightyears gone. Maybe he took in money, but his drug use went through the roof. That week he slept about twelve hours combined and ate one meal a day.
Sunday, he gave himself a day off. His hands shook too badly to rack a line or pour a drink and that had always been his timeout marker.
Shitty day off really. He wanted to draw, but not with his hands like this, and he wanted to read but his mind didn’t work right and he held the book in front of his face for half an hour reading the same pages over and over because he kept forgetting what happened. Coding wasn’t even worth considering and it seemed too much like work anyway. He hadn’t touched it for months because it was too much like a life he’d never have.
So he spent the day in a zombie-like fugue, half-asleep on the sofa beneath a blanket with his threadbare toy lion while he played all his comfort films and wondered why he couldn’t cry. Would it make him feel better, sobbing into this blanket and letting out all this pain gnarled up inside his mind? Ease out the tangle of thorns on the salty tear-slick?
It didn’t matter.
The night hung like a haze around the streets when Casper went out for food. The sky was supposed to be black at night, like velvet, but here it reached only a murky amber too much like rainclouds. The line he’d had earlier had worn off and his stomach had actually growled.
Strange how positive it felt actually laying all those notes out on the table and budgeting them off for food and bills and rent and even some savings (and dope) and then his little stack of treat yourself, roach boy – a hundred to spend how he liked. So Casper had taken a ten off the top and headed out to the Chinese. Not the cheap, food poisoning in soy sauce one he usually went to and not the one Jack used to take him to. The nice one on a nice street where the shops all looked welcoming and there wasn’t a single gang of tracksuited dealers in sight.
The city still smelt like petrol and rotting food, and claustrophobia still crawled down his spine, but it felt like life a step above grimy, monotonous purgatory.
Few people walked the long avenue, drifting beneath the bare trees. Soft amber light from olden wrought-iron streetlights bathed the pavements, and the shop fronts lay gently backlit and tasteful behind them. Casper’s Chinese was about halfway down, the name Fortune Wok scrawled in cursive gold across a blue background peeking between the netting of branches.
His heart seemed to beat slower here than it had in months, gentle and rhythmic, not a stutter away from heart failure like usual. Ice nipped at his cheeks, a splash of cold water over his face startling him awake. Just a glimpse of nature, evergreen bushes circling the trees behind those little square fences, made his mind slow and his breath come easier.
Maybe he should get a houseplant. Some huge green-leafed monstrosity. Maybe he should get about ten – nothing better to spend that spare money on really than turning his flat into a hothouse jungle.
A tall, slim figure in black slacks and a white shirt stood outside the Chinese. Amber-tinted smoke floated from the tip of his cigarette to the soft-lit heavens, and the green neon strip from the shop next-door bathed half of him the shade of sunlight filtering through forest leaves.
At first, Casper only looked twice because of the weather. Cold enough to have him in about four layers and still shivering. Everything else made him keep looking.
The man from the bar.
Casper stopped a few shops down. So much for that slow heartbeat. With his head tilted back like that, the artificial light casting his jawline into sharp relief, there was no chance the stranger had seen him.
Was the guy following him? Had he picked up one of those stalker types? Like that had gone well the first time. Jack had been a technicality away from prison for the rest of his natural life because no one else in the system or the entire world gave a damn that Casper couldn’t leave his flat without getting that spine-chilling mixture of death threats, confessions of love, and eyes on him from the other side of the street.
That was half the reason why Jack said no more to the tricks. The other half was that it made him feel sick that Casper was just like the girls he paid to abuse.
Shit. Casper rubbed his hands over his face and shook the thoughts of Jack free of his head. Fuck him. Fuck that he couldn’t see that Casper spent every day treading water a second from drowning.
This guy wasn’t following him. Casper hadn’t even known he was coming here until he already left, and there he was, already here anyway. Call it chance, probably. Besides, like fuck would Casper be chased away from his one fucking paper lantern in the darkness.
And he’d pretend it was that. Not the way he kept finding himself thinking of how amazing that smile had been.
Definitely not that.
Casper straightened up and walked over to the Chinese. His legs trembled the whole way there.
The man did a good job of pretending he wasn’t waiting for Casper to show up if he was. His head stayed tipped back (and god, that jawline made lust worth every second in hellfire), eyes trailing across the starless sky overhead. Casper walked quietly, and the man jumped when he spoke.
“Are you following me now?”
An expression of sheer wondrous joy lit up his face as his eyes touched, bright and awed, on Casper, and Casper’s knees nearly gave out seeing it. No one should look at him like that. This prick had met him once and he’d told him to fuck off, but god, he looked at Casper like he was an angel sporting gold wings and the cure to fucking world hunger or something. It made him melt. No bullshit about it. It nearly made him cry.
Somehow he looked at Casper as if he were the most beautiful thing in the world.
Shit, he never should have talked to the guy. Casper tore his eyes away and dug in his jacket pocket for his tobacco. The guy even smoked straights. Casper made a policy of not getting involved with people who smoked straights. Heat flushed up his throat, through his cheeks, a shivering contrast to the ice chilling his nose and ears.
“I’m sorry,” the stranger’s voice sounded even smoother out here on the quiet street, low, like molten dark chocolate, “did you say something?”
Casper looked up with an arched eyebrow. He’d reined in the expression a little now, but that awestruck grin still suffused his whole face. Like Casper was going to buy into this. Keep it surly, roach boy. He stuck a filter between his lips and croaked around it.
“I asked if you’re following me now.”
A blink. Then another. A car rumbled past down the street. “What?”
And that was actually kind of adorable. “You’re outside the Chinese I’m going into. Are you following me or what?”
“Oh.” His fingers carded back through his soft fall of hair, catching the light like soft velvet, and a chagrined sort of twist came to his lips. “No, I just ... this is my Chinese. I—I already ordered. I’m just waiting...” The smile softened out, and he took a drag on his cigarette. The exhaled smoke made a haze before his face in the still air. “Do you come here too?”
Not following him then. Probably. Casper didn’t answer straight away. His fingers kept themselves occupied prodding tobacco into his paper and rolling the cigarette, and his mind kept itself occupied studying that idiotically doe-eyed expression on the stranger’s face. It didn’t falter once, even though Casper was certain he didn’t look as if he were looking. In fact, he just stared, beatific, the whole time, pretty lips wrapped around the filter of his cigarette.
Lips tight, Casper stuck the cigarette in the fold of his beanie and turned to go into the shop. He spoke his reply to the window. “No.”
In the reflection of the door, he caught a flash of white in the man’s grin. “Are you sure you’re not following me?”
The heat of the shop engulfed him, and Casper let the door slam behind him.