“The Sweetest Night”
by Brandon Kidd
I knew I shouldn’t have swallowed that pill. I didn’t even know exactly what it was. But I had no choice.
“The price of admission,” said Michael, holding up the little yellow dot between us on his fingertip.
He had just downed one of the mysterious pills himself so I was reasonably sure it wouldn’t kill me. Besides, what else could I do? If I wanted to know Toby was alright, I had to do whatever this guy said. I certainly wasn’t going to leave my best friend here. So I leaned forward, took the pill into my mouth and swallowed.
He smiled at me with crooked teeth and said, “One more thing.”
“Every time you enter a room, you have to remove a piece of clothing.”
He slipped on his shoes and kicked them to the side of the hall where a few other pairs were sitting.
I did the same.
“There. Now where’s Toby?”
Looking around the dead-end hallway, I didn’t see any option but for him to lead us back the way we came.
He leaned against the wall and a cold blue light bled through a crack that appeared. A piece of woodwork had been concealing the seam of a door. The crack in the wall widened as he put more weight on the wall, revealing the top of a staircase.
He grabbed my hand and led me through the wall.
Descending the staircase I could already feel the mysterious drug kicking in.
“How did I end up in this mess?” I asked myself.
It was supposed to have been the sweetest night of my life, a Friday night in late April. The air was warm for the first time that year and mere hours earlier I had written my last exam of university. I knew I’d aced it even then. Finally, after four years of lectures that may as well have been given by Charlie Brown’s mother, it was time to begin my twelve step recovery by killing some brain cells.
Step one: vodka. Step two: tequila. And so forth.
Step twelve, of course, was getting laid. However, having had no previous success in that area, I was prepared not to reach that step. I was going out with Toby, so the night was bound to be a fun whether I got laid or not.
Toby and I had been friends since high school when he transferred to the soul-crushing St. Luke’s C.H.S. for just his final year. Not two months after he got there Principal Becker had good reason to regret accepting him: he was caught giving Paul Longfellow a blowjob in the boy’s bathroom. He didn’t make any friends after that. Except me. I knew then that I was gay too. Hell, so did the rest of the school, I figure. But I hadn’t accepted it or been public about it. Maybe I started hanging out with Toby hoping that some courage would rub off on me. I waited until my first year of university before coming out. If changing schools didn’t kill off all my friendships, coming out sure did, family included.
Then there was Toby. He stuck with me. He even threw me a coming out party. He and I had planned to go to the University of Toronto together since almost right after we met. We even entered the same literature program.
After our first year we were both sick of artfully regurgitating lecture material, but we had very different ways of dealing. I switched into the pre-law program. After the parents cut me off I figured I should be getting a degree which I was reasonably certain would lead to a good job one day. Toby dropped out entirely and became an actor.
We came to these separate decisions on the same day, sitting together in Tim Horton’s.
“Toby, you can’t leave school,” I remembered saying. “Your parents may support you now, but that won’t last forever. Do you know how many people become actors only to starve?”
“But I loved being in that musical. I had so much fun. Anything that feels that right can’t be wrong.”
“Well, sometimes you have to sacrifice what you like for what you need to survive.”
“Oh, for godsake, Toby! We don’t live in the jungle.”
And so it went. But I never could change Toby’s mind once he’d made it up. And I never worried. He was the guy in my life who could listen to his heart, trust himself, follow his bliss, and always be better off for it. But he wasn’t careless either. When it came to sex, for instance, Toby was mister safety. He always used protection and as much as he fooled around, he never cheated on anyone.
“I believe in serial monogamy,” he once said to me, “just the express version.”
He had done pretty well for himself. We were even roommates for a couple years before he wanted his own place. I wanted him to have his own place too. The endless parade of heart-breakingly attractive men he brought home was distracting. He would always kiss them good-bye at the door and then have breakfast with me, talking about how he’d just found his future husband. Of course, as long as I was the only other guy at the breakfast table, I knew he was exaggerating. The day that Toby cracked a few eggs and brewed some coffee for a guy I’d know he was serious.
Tonight Toby was taking me to a new nightclub. Well, new to me anyway. There isn’t a nightclub in Toronto where Toby isn’t on a first name basis with the bouncers. I needed to be ready before he came to pick me up. Whatever else Toby was he was also extremely punctual.
I looked in the mirror after my shower, pondering my tattoo, reminding myself that it was there. When my parents cut me loose, the first thing I bought for myself was a tattoo, a pair of wings across my shoulder blades. It was quite an investment for someone wondering how to make next semester’s tuition payments, but it was worth it. It was important.
I would always be able to bear myself up and my wings were there to remind me of that —drawn into my flesh, permanent.
I’m not a bad looking guy from the front either. I’d managed to keep a small nose throughout puberty, my skin was clear from head to toe, and running on the school’s indoor track had helped compensate for the endless hours spent on my ass in the library. My blond hair was short and spiky and, on that particular night, laced with a little glitter. In the right light I even had a row or two of abs.
I left for my room and got dressed.
On my dresser sat my cup of coffee that had been cooling while I was in the shower. I love cold coffee. No sugar, no cream, but really good cold coffee —so good that it’s sweet enough without sugar. I closed me eyes and drank in a long sip. Yummmmm…
With my other hand I grabbed my St. Christopher’s medal, the only remnant of my Catholic past. The only physical remnant. It was a gift from my grandmother, the only relative who still spoke to me. I had also added a small rainbow coin to the chain. St. Chris didn’t mind sharing the space. I put it on and downed the rest of my coffee.
Then I reached to the back of one drawer for my lucky underwear. Every gay boy has at least one pair. You know —the ones you paid a whole shift’s salary for over two years ago and only wear when you really hope someone else sees them before the end of the night.
My jeans were brand new, a present to myself for graduation. They hung low enough, and hugged my hips tight enough, to flash the designer waistband of my undies when I danced.
The t-shirt came from my collection. Some people collect sports cards, some people collect jewelry, I collect funny t-shirts. This one I bought vintage from Kensington Market. It was tight even on me, black with white lettering that said, “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful. Hate me because your boyfriend thinks I am.”
Then there was my jacket, black leather but light weight, an artifact from high school, bought with my first real pay cheque. I had taken very good care of it and it looked like new.
The final thing I reached for was my watch. It was cheap, but looked like real gold. I bought it after I had to sell the one my dad gave me for graduating high school. I needed rent money. That one was real gold: “To my son on his graduation day.”
My new one had no inscription, but putting it on always made me think of the one my dad bought me. In way it was like I never really lost it.
Just then I heard a door open and a voice from the kitchen. It was Toby. He had a key to my place and had let himself in. I still hadn’t seen his new apartment.
“Shake a leg, princess, the party’s starting!”
I pulled on a pair of socks and shouted back,
“Just a sec!”
The entrance to the club was a long, wide spiral staircase.
“You’re gonna love this place,” Toby began. “It’s completely different from the big, open dancehall concept. It’s all underground and it’s a series of smaller rooms. There’s gotta be more than a dozen of them in total. I don’t think I’ve been in all of them and I’ve been here a few times already. There might even be a room where you can finally lose that cherry of yours.”
Toby never missed a chance to take a shot at my virginity. I didn’t consider myself a virgin. I’d fooled around with half a dozen guys or so, even given and received a few blowjobs since coming out. But none of this counted in Toby’s book. I was offended, but decided not to bite this time.
“Is your new beau joining us tonight?” I asked. Toby had been seeing someone pretty steadily for months now in what he insisted was an open relationship, but I hadn’t met the guy.
“Nah, he’s gotta work. You’ll meet him soon.”
“So what’s this club called?”
“Kinda obvious, no?”
“It’s from the David Bowie song! From Labyrinth! Remember?”
“A club with a connection to the muppets?” I said skeptically.
“Hey, would I go there if it wasn’t cool?”
I couldn’t argue with that.
The first room we explored had a vampire theme. In the second, where we bought our drinks, it was skulls and skeletons. After this was a room filled with anime drawings and sculptures. Then we entered a room flooded with black light and glow-in-the-dark everything. It was getting crowded and the rooms were small, a bit too small for me. I felt claustrophobic, but figured I’d get over it after a few drinks.
“This would be a great place to come on Halloween,” I thought to myself. But it wasn’t Halloween.
The music was the standard thumpa-thumpa, grind-into-your-dance-partner house stuff that you can’t really enjoy unless you’re on an illegal substance. And a fair number of the patrons appeared to be enjoying it. I had never done anything more dangerous than hit a bong, but Toby had run through the whole alphabet of drugs since I’d known him —E, K, MDMA, you name it. He would always wake up the next morning without so much as a mild hangover.
“Isn’t this place great!” he yelled over to me, swaying to the music. Toby was wearing black jeans and a metallic silver top. His jet black hair was cut very close to his head, and he sported a little eye make-up. No one loved to play dress-up more than Toby. I was surprised he didn’t have a full costume on.
“It’s better now that you’re here.”
The voice seemed to come out of the walls. We’d been lounging on a couch in a corner, surveying the scene, and didn’t even realize that another guy, dressed in black from head to toe, was sitting on a tall box to our right, watching us.
He jumped down and came over to join us on the couch. He was about our age, taller, maybe a bit older, with incredibly sinuous arms, a spiked collar around his neck, and glowing, amber cat’s-eye contact lenses.
“Mind if I join you guys?” he asked, as he sat down.
“Not at all,” Toby replied, looking the guy over from head to toe. The guy was so lean he looked otherworldly. He, however, didn’t seem interested in Toby. He’d planted himself down between us and turned himself to face me.
“I’m Michael,” he said, extending his hand toward me.
I took it. He had a very strong grip. Soon the three of us started dancing, Michael making it very evident that he was into me, Toby making it equally evident that he was into Michael. I was just curious to see how all this would turn out.
Two drinks later, Michael slid his hand down the back of my pants while we were grinding on the dance floor. I balked and left the room. I don’t know why. He was hot. I wanted to get laid. But some reflex mechanism in my brain, unphased by the tequila in my system, kicked in and said “no”.
Michael immediately turned his attentions to Toby and I felt somewhat justified in my reaction. He wasn’t really into me anyway. Or was he? He would dance with Toby and feel him up, but all the while he kept throwing glances at me. I went to the bar to get another drink. When I got back, I couldn’t find either of them.
“That’s weird,” I said to myself. Toby would never leave without saying good-bye. Even at his most inebriated, he had always managed to let me know he was leaving. I checked the washrooms. Nothing. After searching some more, I decided to return to the couch in the black light room. Maybe he would find me.
“Looking for someone?”
It was Michael. Once again he seemed to come out of the walls. Suddenly he was at my ear then sitting down beside me, smiling like a cat.
“Hey,” I said. “Where’s Toby? I thought maybe he left with you.”
“Oh, he wanted to,” Michael purred. “But I didn’t want to leave with him.”
“So… where is he?”
“He’s alright. He and I took a trip to the lower level.”
“There’s a lower level?”
He nodded. “Special admission only.”
“Well, how do you get there? I wanna go home. I’ve gotta tell him I’m leaving.”
“They won’t let you in.” Michael reached out and grabbed my thigh. “Not by yourself.”
I got angry and threw his hand away.
“What the fuck are you playing at!? Where’s my friend!?”
“I told you. I can take you to him if you want.”
“Maybe I’ll just wait until he comes out.”
“He’s not going to come out. Not on his own, anyway.”
Now I was scared.
“What’s going on? What’ve you done to him?”
“I told you, he’s alright. For now.”
“I’m gonna get the manager.”
“And say what? They know me here, much better than they know you. I could leave right now and you’d never find me again. Maybe never find Toby either.”
I stood up.
“Fine. Take me to him.”
Michael stood up and rose to his full height, just inches away from my face, smiling down at me.
He took my hand and led me through the labyrinth of crowded rooms, down a narrow hallway which looked to be a dead end. But wasn’t.
The air in the blue staircase was cold and damp. The drying perspiration on my arms felt like tiny firecrackers going off. The effects of that strange yellow pill got stronger with each step downward. The sounds of the club faded with each step. I felt the air change as the secret door closed behind us.
Eventually the blue faded. At the bottom of the stairs I blacked out for a second, stumbled, and fell into Michael’s arms.
My eyes refocused. The lighting at the bottom of the stairs was dim, like candlelight, but I didn’t see any candles. A mirror ball spun slowly in the centre of the ceiling, throwing dancing dots on the walls. All around the room were pairs of simple wooden chairs facing each other. People sat motionless on these chairs, in various states of undress, looking at each other. Not all the pairs of chairs were occupied. They were all, apparently unaware of our entrance.
“Can they hear us, Michael?” I asked. My voice sounded like I was speaking into a coffee can.
“Don’t call me that. My name is Mal,” he said.
By brow furrowed. My head spun like a pinwheel that he had just blown on.
“But… didn’t you say—”
“Of course they can hear us. They’re just looking into each other’s eyes. They have to stay this way until the mirror ball stops spinning. Then another group comes in and sits.”
Mal led me through, around the pairs of living statues. I looked into their faces as we went. Some of them were crying. Some looked bored. Some had their brows furrowed as though they were searching, looking for something in the gaze of the other person. The drugs had met the alcohol in my bloodstream and started square dancing.
On the opposite side of the room we stood before a thick curtain of black beads. Mal turned to me with a joker’s grin smeared across his face.
“Time to pay the cover again.”
He crossed his hands over his stomach and in one smooth motion removed his black t-shirt, throwing it on a pile of others. His broad, pale torso practically glowed and he didn’t look to have an ounce of fat on him. His jet black jeans hung very low, clinging to his slim hips just above his groin. I still had my high school jacket to shed. I took it off and folded it carefully, stuffing it behind a cushion out of sight.
Mal grabbed my hand. In a rush of sound that felt like soda pop in my ears, we pushed through the beaded curtain.
The next room was covered, floor to ceiling in whiteboards, the kind in the front of newer lecture halls. White noise poured into the room through speakers that hung from the ceiling. The walls were covered with words written in different colours of erasable marker. Tin cans containing the markers were scattered around the concrete floor. There were half a dozen people at various locations, most of them naked, some of them in their underwear, writing on the walls. There was one woman, dressed all in white, in one corner with a bucket of water slowly erasing the words and working her way around the room.
“Fears and wishes.”
“What?” I asked.
“That’s what they’re writing. People come in here to write their fears and their wishes on the walls. Then they’re washed away.”
I read as I followed Mal slowly across the room. Once again, no one seemed to notice that most of the people in this room were naked. An Asian woman was crouched down in a corner, wearing only her bra and panties, continuing to write a list that began near the ceiling:
Someone to love me…
A better apartment…
The man who lives next door…
And the list went on.
The woman stopped and looked up at me. Her face looked frozen, like a mask. Mal tugged on my arm and I turned away.
At the other end of this room was a simple, pressboard door. We approached and Mal whipped around to face me, his lips twisted wickedly as he put his hands on his hips and pulled his jeans down his legs. Stepping out of them, he stood in front of me, hands on hips, totally naked. Evidently, Mal didn’t believe in underwear.
I stared, drinking in his naked form, long enough for Mal to feel satisfied with my reaction. Then he started smacking his considerable penis back and forth by swinging his hips.
“Your turn,” he said, penis still whacking comically from side to side in front of me.
I looked back. None of the others in the room had turned as much as an eyeball to this display. I debated between my St. Christopher’s medal, my watch and my shirt for just a few seconds before taking my shirt off and throwing it on the ground with Mal’s pants. I looked up at him somewhat defiantly. I knew I looked good too. The damp subterranean air felt good. My skin was hot and flushed.
“Nice,” said Mal as he grabbed my hand and led me through the next door.
“We’re all crazy,” he tossed back over his shoulder.
In the next room, Mal and I were alone. It was a long hall with a mural on one side and mirrors on the other. There was a golden line painted on the black floor. It weaved from side to side as it stretched across the room. Mal said we had to walk along it exactly. He took us through slowly and I looked into each mirror as I passed.
I saw myself standing in a circle of demons, among giant blades of summer grass, out in the stars of the Milky Way, standing in front of a Chinese tank, alone in a desert, inside a woman’s womb, in the yard of a Nazi concentration camp. The final mirror faced another of the exact same dimensions. I stood equidistant between them, looking at myself reflected into infinity. I saw the wings on my back, reflected over and over again in continually diminishing reflections, like they were flying away. I didn’t notice that Mal had let go of my hand.
I looked over and saw him, standing with his legs shoulder-width apart, arms folded across his bare chest, that ever-morphing smile still on his face. He tossed his head to his left in a gesture that said, “This way. C’mon.”
I followed. The lines all around me started blurring. If I moved too quickly everything looked painted in watercolours.
The next door was a heavy, satin curtain. Mal turned to face me and once again I had a debate on my hands: my pants or my jewelry. I reached down and undid my jeans, letting them slide to the floor. Mal looked just a little disappointed that I hadn’t chosen to go commando that day as well. He turned around and flung the curtain behind him. I followed, hoping that Toby would be on the other side. He wasn’t.
After going down another long, dark hallway, we entered another room this one drowning in red light. It was scattered with plush, vinyl furniture and looked like the inside of an organ. On the couches, several people were naked and exploring each other’s bodies. There were about a dozen men in the room and half a dozen women, paired up and joined in various combinations. All of them were wearing black blindfolds around their eyes, seeing and moving with only their skin. The sounds of moaning and sighing floated in the air like heavy perfume.
“They have to wear those,” Mal explained, indicating his eyes. If you’re in here for too long without them the red light messes with your vision.
I must have looked a bit shocked, because he immediately replied,
“Don’t worry. We’re not staying. Unless…”
He stepped toward me, grinding his naked form against me.
“Unless you want to.”
The debating voices in my head, so loud and insistent when I first began this journey, had been silenced by the drugs in my system. I felt my penis stir in my underwear as Mal held himself against me and caressed my back. My body knew what it wanted. But so did my mind. I wanted to find Toby.
“No,” I said, pushing him away. “Take me to Toby.”
He grabbed my hand once more in a vice-like grip and led me through the vinyl islands of marbled flesh to the opposite side of the room where we stood before an empty door frame. There was no door at the other side of this room, only darkness and another hallway. Mal let go of my hand as we stood before it. I hesitated, but then took off both my grandmother’s St. Christopher’s medal and my watch, carefully tucking them between the cushions of an empty couch. I wanted to make sure I could find them on the way back.
“Jewelry doesn’t count,” said Mal, arms folded in front of me.
“Jewelry. Doesn’t. Count.”
He glanced down at my underwear.
“Fuck him!” I thought, and stripped out of it throwing the skimpy black briefs onto the red vinyl couch.
Now I was as naked as him. The smile melted from his face, revealing a look of pure hunger.
He looked me up and down, then grabbed my hand for the last time and led me into the dark.
The light faded quickly as we walked. I expected it to be replaced by the light of the approaching room. It wasn’t. We turned to enter the next room and all that greeted me on the other side was more darkness, and cool, damp air. I felt a pair of hands on my skin. And then another.
Mal led me blindly up a staircase which seemed to go on forever. I stumbled often, my shins would be black and blue tomorrow, but Mal always caught me before I fell. How in the hell could he see so well in this?
It dawned on me when we reached the top of the stairs. Toby wasn’t here. He had left the club without telling me and I had allowed this guy to trick me. I should have felt scared to death. But I wasn’t. I was excited. I knew on some level even then that it was the drugs. They had chipped away at the walls of my inhibitions. But I also didn’t care.
Someone kissed me on the lips and I felt a rush of blood all through my body. Occasionally a light flashed, just every once in a while, allowing me to catch brief black and white glimpses of what was happening. We continued to move through the room. A pair of hands rested flat against my chest, and then pushed me backwards. I fell onto a soft mattress. My penis was fully erect by now. I felt another male body come to rest of top of me, our penises grinding between our stomachs.
A few minutes later I lost that cherry Toby had so teased me about.
A warm ray of sunlight pushed its way through my eyelids. It was daytime. But that was all I was certain of at that point. My senses slowly returned and began to compute my surroundings. I was in a bed. Not my bed. I was naked. I was sticky. I was sore. I had definitely had sex last night. I was overheated. Someone had put a thick comforter over me. I looked around. Did I know this place?
I heard voices coming from the other room. I swung my legs out of bed and sat up, immediately wishing I had done so more slowly. My head ached. I was dehydrated. I spotted my clothes, folded neatly on a chair, my watch and necklace resting on top, my old jacket over the back of the chair. I pulled my jeans, leaving the rest. I heard laughter. I left to explore who was in the other room.
I stumbled down the hallway and turned a corner into the kitchen.
It was Toby. This was his new apartment. He was sitting at his kitchen table with some other guy. Without the creepy contacts, I didn’t recognize him right away. It was Mal. His real eyes were soft and brown.
“Awwwwwe…” Toby crooned.
He got up, put his arm around my shoulder and sat me down at the table with them.
“It’s okay. Allow me to fill in the blanks for you, Jess.”
Mal (whose real name actually was Michael) was Toby’s new boyfriend. He worked at The Underground and they had both planned tonight as a sort of gift for me.
“Think of us as agents of karma, Jess,” said Toby.
“After all that studious, responsible work, after all those sacrifices you made, you had this coming in one way or another —from someone or other. I figured it would be best coming from a friend.”
“Surprise,” said Michael, sipping his coffee.
I didn’t know what to think. Exactly half of me was enraged and indignant. The other half was purring. Toby and Michael had set a place for me at the table as well, complete with a steaming cup of coffee, waiting patiently to see if I would pick it up.
I sat there for almost a full minute, frozen, shoulders slumped forward, mouth hanging open, eyes staring down into that dark, brown liquid. I kept waiting for something to tell me how to feel.
I looked up and Michael was smiling at me, holding up a ceramic sugar bowl shaped like a chicken.
“Do you take sugar?” he said.
I continued to stare. Eventually the roulette wheel of my emotions came to a stop.
“No. I take it black.”