Like and Subscribe © 2013 Jay Bell / Andreas Bell
This story is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons living or dead, or events present or past, is purely coincidental. They are productions of the author's fevered imagination and used fictitiously.
The cover art was created by my adorable husband and shouldn’t be repurposed without permission. Thanks!
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by Jay Bell
“Someday I’m going to marry you.”
Evan said these words with just enough humor to not sound completely crazy, and yet he also tried to give them weight. Such a promise was serious and could change the course of his entire life. Assuming the other person was willing. So far, so good. Tony’s smile didn’t falter or fade. Those white teeth were still showing, each perfectly straight and flawless, as if treated to a manicure every day. The hazel green eyes remained shining, one eyebrow cocked in mild amusement. The thick hair was perfect—not sculpted or gelled, but loose and natural, as if Tony had simply been born with the perfect style. The fold in the cheek cause by the slightly lopsided smile, the stubble on the strong jaw, the dimple in his chin… Oh yes, Evan wanted to marry Tony more than anything!
He pushed against the arms of his seat, the chair creaking as he peeked over the cubicle wall. Nearly quitting time on a Friday. Most people had ducked out early. Evan was mostly alone, thank goodness, which meant no one had overheard him. Lowering himself again, he considered the autographed headshot, examining the looping black marker in one corner that spelled out Tony Taylor. Then his fantasy resumed.
“What’s that?” Evan breathed. “All this talk of marriage is too soon? You want to try before you buy? Very well.” He stared half lidded at those handsome features a moment. Then he brought the photo close and pressed his lips to Tony’s.
After a moment that felt more awkward than romantic, Evan set down the photo and sighed, but not in satisfaction. Could he be more pathetic? Talking to a photo, nearly proposing, and then kissing it… No, it didn’t get much lower than that, but Evan didn’t blush or chastise himself. Desperation was an old acquaintance, the kind he could share a comfortable silence with. Besides, his infatuation with Tony was hardly new.
For most people, Tony Taylor was an online persona and nothing more. Admittedly, Evan’s obsession had started the way it did for the other half-million subscribers. He’d discovered one of Tony’s videos on YouTube, lured in by the little thumbnail image of a searing hot guy without his shirt on. Clicking increased the size of the image and brought it to life. Nice big pecs, meaty shoulders, and mouth-watering stomach muscles. Evan hadn’t heard anything Tony had to say for the first few minutes. The words spilling out of those delicious lips were gibberish as Evan’s brain bowed to his libido and left the room. When his thought processes finally returned, he became twice as fascinated because he knew this man. For real. This was no delusion or instant crush. Tony Taylor had once been known as Anthony Taylor, and nearly five years ago, he and Evan had been in high school together.
Of course that was the full extent of their association. Anthony had been one of the many guys Evan would gaze at longingly—usually out of the corner of his eye, or while in a crowd where he was less likely to be noticed. They had even shared a class together. Sophomore year biology. Anthony had been cute back then, always hanging out with a small group of friends who seemed like trouble. Once he had shaved half his head, letting the other side remain long, and for a brief phase he wore a fake lip piercing. Cute. But Anthony the man—now Tony Taylor—wasn’t cute. He was stunning, handsome, manly, studly… Ugh!
Evan shook his head and put the autographed photo back in the mailing envelope. Some deluded part of him had hoped Tony would recognize his name from high school and include a personal note. Maybe an invitation to dinner. He hadn’t. Evan tried to feel relieved about this. Sometimes his obsession with Tony was an annoyance. Countless times he had unsubscribed from his channel, only to return, weak and curious, a few days later. After catching up with what he had missed, Evan would watch the video, the one that proved Tony was much more than a pretty face. Then he would give in and subscribe again.
Free time and the Internet. Never a good combination.
Evan shook his head to clear it of pretty images and silly fantasies. Then he stood, put on his coat, and walked out of the office, considering the weekend ahead. Halloween! Not only was it on a Saturday this year, meaning he could get wasted without worrying about having to work the next day, but he also had an invitation to one of the best parties in the Kansas City area. A huge house, tons of gay guys wearing all sorts of costumes—both funny and suggestive—and his best friend on his arm, doing shot after shot until they couldn’t see straight. Evan smiled on the way to his car, the happy feeling keeping him warm on the drive home. When he trotted up the apartment steps, the door swung open before he could extend his keys.
“I found the wig!” Julie exclaimed, holding in one hand what looked like road kill.
“Is that a skunk?” Evan asked as he pushed past her.
“No,” Julie said patiently. “It’s my hair. For tomorrow.”
Evan tossed his things on the coffee table, plopped down on the couch, and started taking off his shoes. “I thought you were avoiding the Bride of Frankenstein look.”
“I am,” Julie said, standing across from him, “which is why I took the wig to a hairstylist to have it cut.”
Instead of answering, Julie demonstrated, pulling the wig over her pixie hair. In fact, pixie was a good word to describe all of her. She was small and slight with fine features and was more animated than a Disney movie. Like now. Getting the wig on apparently involved her grunting, shaking her hips, and hopping around on one foot. When she was done, she tousled her fake hair and beamed at him. The style wasn’t so different than her usual. Instead of blonde, the wig was black, but it was still cut short and swept forward. Strands of white ran through the hair, as if Julie had seen more than her share of hard times.
“You look crazy,” Evan said.
“I know!” Julie exclaimed. “Isn’t it great?”
“Totally. I still think you should drool occasionally, like you’ve been given a lobotomy.”
Julie winced. “Yuck. But maybe. Oh, and I also found this for you.”
She dug into a plastic bag sitting on the carpet and tossed him a headband with a silver plastic disc attached. Evan caught it. He’d only seen doctors wear such gear in cartoons or mad scientist movies, but his costume needed it to instantly communicate their chosen theme. Doctor and patient. Not the most original idea, but it would allow them a lot of fun role-playing.
“Excited?” Julie asked, pulling off the wig and dropping it into the bag.
“Me too.” She pointed to the coffee table. “What’s that?”
Evan’s eyes drifted to the mailing envelope with the autographed photo inside before he felt a jolt of panic. Julie must have noticed because she lunged to grab the envelope one second before he did. She was quicker. Evan groaned and leaned back, watching as she pulled out the photo. Her amusement faded when she saw what it was.
“Tony?” she said. “Again?”
“What?” Evan responded, feeling defensive.
“You paid money for an autograph.”
“And a photo!” Evan said. “That’s a quality print right there. I’m supporting the arts!”
“The arts? The guy is eye candy. People watch him because he’s hot. That’s it.”
“Not true,” Evan said. “He has a good heart. Remember the video I showed you where he went to the animal shelter to pick out a dog? He chose one missing a leg. Think about it. He didn’t go for a puppy or something vain like a Siberian Husky.”
“My parents have a Husky!”
“You know what I mean,” Evan said. “All most people want is something pretty.”
“That’s exactly my point.” Julie pushed the photo back in the envelope. “You’re better than this. There’s someone out there for you, someone real, but you need to go find him. Sitting at home and watching some guy’s YouTube videos isn’t going to help.”
“He’s not just some guy,” Evan protested.
“I know, I know. He went to your high school. Our high school. But that’s it. I don’t think he ever noticed you.”
“Of course he didn’t. I was fat, had no sense of style, and probably smelled like Doritos.”
Julie shook her head. “You were adorably chubby, a non-conformist when it came to fashion, and you smelled just fine.”
“As my best friend, you’re required to say that.”
“As your best friend back then and now, I’m the most qualified to judge. You were awesome then, and today—”
She gestured at him. Evan had hit a late growth spurt. Shooting up to six feet had done wonders for his weight. Exercise had taken care of the rest. He wasn’t muscular or model magazine material, but he was in decent shape. He let Julie pick out most of his clothes, borrowing her sense of style. His hair had more of a shine and his skin less of a sheen, probably because he ate healthier and tried to get regular sun. A coworker had recently insisted he bore a passing resemblance to Ryan Reynolds, even though she probably only meant his brown hair and eyes. These days Evan mostly felt good about himself, but sometimes he felt marked by his past. Once a loser, always a loser.
“You’re awesome,” Julie repeated. “Any guy would be lucky to have you. Any girl too. I can think of one in particular.”
Evan swallowed and looked away, ignoring the flirtation. “Maybe I’ll meet someone tomorrow.”
“Maybe.” Julie tossed the envelope on the table. “Just promise me you’ll leave Tony at home.”
They made dinner together after that, which they ate while watching a horror movie to get themselves in the Halloween spirit. Afterwards Julie started yawning. When she finally retired for the night, he went to his room and booted up the computer. While the hard drive was chugging, he took Tony’s photo out of the envelope. He stared at the signature, at the way each “o” had a little slash through it, and wondered if Tony had artistic inclinations.
Once the computer was ready, Evan put on his headphones, went to YouTube, and checked his subscriptions. Sure enough, there was a new video, this one Halloween-themed. Tony was shirtless—again—his muscles bulging with each gesture. The hotness of this was somewhat hampered by the minotaur mask hiding his face. Tony kept referring to it as a bull mask, but the human body below the neck made it mythological.
“So what do you think of my costume?” Tony’s muffled voice asked. “Think it’s a bunch of bullshit?”
The joke was stupid, but Evan laughed anyway. “You look great,” he murmured in response.
Tony pulled off the mask and grinned. “Tune in tomorrow to see what my boyfriend will be wearing. There’s a theme. Can you guess what it is? Let me know in the comments, and as always, like and subscribe.”
Evan frowned. Normally he left a comment, but the mention of Tony’s boyfriend made him unhappy. He wasn’t jealous or anything, but it did interfere with the fantasy. And reminded him of how lonely he was. Julie was an awesome friend, but there were some things she simply couldn’t provide.
Not wanting to end the night on a low note, Evan clicked a few times, pulling up a bookmark to his favorite video. Tony, when he was just starting out. The video was four years old. Tony’s hair was longer, and he still had his shirt on. This video wasn’t full of grinning or casual flexing. Instead Tony was slumped in his chair somewhat, eyes focused off-screen as he rambled.
“—so I don’t know what to do. People say it takes two to love, but that’s not true. I feel love inside of me sometimes, like this force, you know? This energy that keeps building up. I see hot guys at the mall, and they’re only interested in my sister. That sucks, because it would be so cool to fall in love. Sometimes all this need is overwhelming, like I feel it’ll rip my chest apart. Can you get a broken heart without being with someone? Can wanting to fall in love so bad make that happen?”
For nine seconds, the video went on in silence as Tony chewed his bottom lip and stared into space. Evan paused it there, just before Tony resumed speaking, and examined the vulnerability on his face. Evan was lonely, but the guy on the screen had been too. Tony had found someone, and now he was bouncy, cocky, and invincible.
Evan sighed, clicked the little x in the corner, and decided to call it a night. As he struggled to find sleep, he tried to picture a future version of himself that was also so invigorated by love. Try as he might, he just couldn’t.
* * * * *
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