Mariposa Honeymoon - Chapter 6

By Cris Kane -
published October 12, 2018

Derek enlists the surfer next door in a search for Charles, who is befriended by a group of college dudes.


Charles had never felt comfortable relaxing.

“Downtime” had always felt to him like a luxury which could only be indulged in by those without important things to do. He liked to keep busy. He felt compelled to keep busy. On those rare occasions when he might appear to be idle, Charles’ mind was actively chewing over at least a half dozen issues of deep concern, mostly problems that needed to be dealt with at work. To him, sitting through a movie was a waste of two hours; reading a book – unless it was providing him vital information for one of his cases – was exponentially worse, an egregious squandering of that most precious of all life’s resources, time. He even viewed sex less as a pleasant escape from his problems than as a necessary nuisance with the sole purpose of relieving him of the distracting urge to have sex. He believed he would become a far more effective lawyer as he aged because his libido would grow less annoyingly persistent in later years. He was wise enough not to have shared these views on sex with his new husband.

Charlie, on the other hand, was having a wonderful time. It was as thought the Mariposa had exiled Charles’ concerns and neuroses to some dusty unused crawlspace of his brain and blown out the pilot light on the fire of his intellect. Charlie was experiencing what it meant to be present purely in the moment. Strolling barefoot along the beach, he felt vividly aware of every sight, every sound, every smell. The skrunch of his heels in the white sand. The tickle of each grain of sand as it slid between his toes. The bracing chill of the lazy breeze against his face. The hundred separate shades of blue dissolving imperceptibly into each other to create the pristine cloudless sky. He felt like he could pick out the music blaring from each individual radio and speaker on the beach, finding the beauty, joy and harmony in what Charles would usually regard as anarchic cacophony.

Charles might intellectually know the phrase, “Ignorance is bliss,” but Charlie was living it.

In his wandering he had already stopped into several cantinas. He had no idea how many beers he had already imbibed, or how far away from the hotel he was, or even what time it was. He hadn’t intended to leave his phone behind, but it had proven to be a brilliant mistake, further untethering him from “real life”. Once or twice, it had occurred to him that he ought to give Derek a call to check in, but even if he were totally sober, he wouldn’t have had the faintest clue what Derek’s phone number was. After the intensity of yesterday, and before that the wedding, and before that the rehearsal, and before THAT the planning – all the fucking planning – Charlie was thoroughly enjoying being completely on his own, not having to think about anyone but himself.

Solitude was familiar territory for Charles. He had been a loner most of his life, really up until he met Derek. What felt different today was that he was on the receiving end of countless friendly smiles, from both men and women. Strangers were eagerly starting conversations with him, and he was chatting right back. Three people had already bought him drinks and refused to let him return the favor. He chalked it all up to the fact that he had temporary custody of a young and attractive body, but it was also true that Charlie wasn’t surrounded by the invisible protective wall that Charles vigilantly maintained around himself like a force field. Unlike Charles, Charlie wasn’t too bashful to look strangers in the eye. Charlie wasn’t stressed out by the very idea of making small talk. Charlie’s resting face was a smile, not a grim scowl. Charlie was starting to think that maybe Jesus was right. Maybe being boring WAS just a habit.

Charlie decided to sit on the beach for a while to enjoy the scenery and to stop the beer from sloshing around in his brain. He dropped the shoes he was carrying, tossed his cap onto the sand beside him, stripped off his v-neck tee and spread it on the ground as a half-assed beach blanket. He lowered his butt onto the shirt and leaned back, resting his forearms behind him to support his torso at a 45-degree angle. He lifted his face to the sun, shut his eyes, and felt his nipples perk up in the cool salty air. He shoved his feet into the sand and rubbed them back and forth, delighting in the way his invigorated thighs and calves flexed and hardened upon command.

Then he heard three words that soured his mood. “You’re gonna burn.”

At first, Charlie ignored the voice, hoping this warning was meant for someone else, but they were repeated with a prelude that erased any doubt. “Hey! Red! I said you’re gonna burn!”

Charlie opened one eye and peered in the direction of the voice. Twenty feet away, in the shade of a thatched palapa, was a young blond guy seated cross-legged on a blanket. He was alone, but surrounded by additional towels, backpacks, coolers and other beach paraphernalia which suggested he was part of a larger group who had abandoned him, probably for nagging them that they were going to burn. Charlie gave the kid a nod and said, “Thanks for the warning, officer,” then resumed his basking.

Charlie heard a mumbled retort, so he turned his head back in the kid’s direction. “Sorry, did you say something?”

The kid paused, then spoke loudly and distinctly. “I said, ‘Fine, look like a lobster. See if I care.’” The kid took a snort from a beer bottle wrapped in a foam koozie.

Charlie felt bad. The kid was only trying to be helpful. Charlie cracked open both eyes and realized that the kid seemed very familiar. It would have taken far longer for Charlie’s hazy brain to puzzle it out if the kid hadn’t provided a glaring hint in the form of the sleeveless yellow Iowa shirt which protected his pale trunk from the sun’s scalding rays. A smile of recognition spread across Charlie’s face. “Hey! Iowa! You were at that workout park yesterday, right?”

The kid paused in mid-swallow, nearly gagging. He hadn’t expected to run into anyone from the park. He hadn’t thought anyone would even have noticed him at the park.

“Yeah,” Charlie continued, “you were talking with my buddy who was doing gymnastics on the bars. Remember him? Chinese guy? Really ripped?”

Despite the white sunscreen slathered over his body, the kid’s skin instantly reddened. “Oh, yeah, right,” he said casually, as if it were a faint, unimportant memory, but he remembered the guy on the bars distinctly. He had thought about him with almost disturbing frequently over the past 24 hours. The gymnast had even featured prominently in the Iowan’s dreams overnight. “Sorry,” the kid said with a guilty look, “I didn’t remember seeing you there.”

Charlie laughed. “Yeah, I bet you didn’t!” He knew that his bearish appearance the day before was unlikely to have caught the young man’s eye, but the kid had been so fixated on Derek, he probably wouldn’t have noticed if Godzilla had tromped through the park and gobbled up all the other exercisers.

The kid suddenly stiffened with a realization. His head swiveled back and forth, scanning the beach with wide eyes. “Is your buddy with you?” Without giving it a conscious thought, he instantly sat up straighter, flexed his biceps and tightened his stomach muscles.

“Naw,” Charlie said, “he went away last night.”

The kid made a poor attempt to conceal his disappointment, although this redhead wasn’t a bad consolation prize. He tried not to be obvious as his eyes roamed over Charlie’s less jacked but certainly pleasing physique.

“Ya got another one o’ those?”, Charlie asked, pointing to the kid’s beer.

In the midst of mentally cataloging Charlie’s physical attributes, the kid took a moment to register what Charlie had said. “Oh…a beer? Yeah, sure, got a whole cooler full. You want one?”

“No, I was just takin’ a survey on how many bottles you had,” Charlie said dryly. The kid nodded anxiously, his sarcasm radar on the fritz. Charlie realized he would need to be more direct. “Yes, actually, I would love a beer, thank you,” he said in a stilted manner, prompting the kid to dig into the nearest cooler, one with an Iowa Hawkeye symbol on its lid. He certainly made no secret of his loyalties.

Charlie hopped to his feet, snatched up his cap, shoes and shirt, and strutted casually across the sand toward the Iowan’s encampment. By the time he reached the shadowed area under the palm fronds, the kid had already bekoozied a Dos Equis and was holding it aloft. “Here you go, Red,” he said with an open smile.

“Muchas gracias, Iowa,” Charlie replied, accepting the drink and clinking the neck of his bottle with the kid’s. He gestured toward the towels spread across the sand. “Okay if I sit?”

“Oh, yeah, sure,” the kid from Iowa said, nodding vigorously and scooting back on his own beach blanket to leave an ample buffer of “no homo” space, no matter where Charlie chose to sit.

Charlie took the cue and set himself down a full blanket-width away from the kid. It wasn’t often that Charles found himself in a social situation where he was not the most awkward person present. He was amused by how hard the kid was trying not to give off any gay vibes, and how hard he was failing in that regard. He remembered his own constant efforts to camouflage his feelings as a young man, for fear that people would guess his secret.

“You want, I can borrow you some sunscreen. Trust me,” he said, pointing to his own lack of pigment, “I can get a burn from sitting too close to a fluorescent light. I need, like, SPF a million.”

“Sure, that’d be great, man.” The kid tossed over a tube of Coppertone. Charlie, his right hand gripping the neck of his beer, snagged the incoming projectile out of the air with his left hand, masking his surprise at this unexpected display of hand/eye coordination. He wondered if the Mariposa had granted him athletic abilities comparable to Derek’s from the day before. He set down his beer, squirted a glob of sunscreen into his palm and smeared it onto his face. “You must be plannin’ a party, or else this is a whole lotta shit for just one guy.”

“Nah, I’m here with my friends from college. They decided to go windsurfing. Somebody had to stay and guard the stuff, so I…” He shrugged.

“College, huh? Where d’ya go?”, Charlie asked, as if the answer were not obvious.

“Iowa,” the kid said proudly, pointing to the logo on his shirt.

“Never woulda guessed.” Charlie grinned, rubbing the white lotion across his pecs and abs, while the kid deliberately directed his attention literally anywhere else. Charlie attempted to apply sunscreen to his back, but his arms couldn’t reach all of it. “Don’t s’pose you could help me get the small of my back?”

The kid bit the inside of his lip and took a quick look up and down the beach to make sure his traveling companions weren’t within eyeshot. “Uh, sure, no problem.” He scooted toward Charlie on his knees, took hold of the sunscreen and dispensed some into his hand. He delicately dabbed the cream onto Charlie’s lower back and hastily smeared it around. Charlie could tell from the delicate patter of the kid’s fingertips that his hands were trembling. He felt slightly guilty for tormenting the kid like this, knowing how petrified his younger self would have been if an attractive stranger had asked Charles to grease him up. He probably would already have shot a load in his swim trunks and run away in terror by now. Under the circumstances, the kid was holding up well.

“Thanks, bud,” Charlie said, extending a sunscreened arm out of the shadows and into direct sunlight to demonstrate that he wouldn’t spontaneously combust. “I feel safer already.”

After narrowly escaping Derek and Charles’ room, Chico had been overcome with an overwhelming urge to masturbate. He had snuck into the staff break room, relieved to find it empty, and locked himself in the bathroom. He barely had a chance to unzip his trousers and drop his boxers before his cock began to ooze pre-cum. Beginning to stroke himself, warmth radiated to every part of his body. In the mirror, he could see his rich brown skin turning lighter, which only made him stroke faster. He expected his skin tone to stop at a golden tan, so he was somewhat concerned when it continued to whiten, but the sensations flooding his body were so mind-blowing, he wouldn’t care if the stuff turned him invisible. A jolt zinged across the top of his head and he could feel his bones twisting inside his skin as his entire skeletal system elongated. As an orgasm grew inevitable, he tried to aim in the direction of the toilet bowl, but somehow managed to miss it entirely while splattering the walls, the floor tiles, and the toilet paper roll. He sank to his knees and hung his head forward in exhaustion.

Chico felt for the edge of the sink, grasped it firmly in his fingers and leveraged himself to a standing position, growing dizzy as his legs pushed him higher and higher. He slowly opened his eyes, anticipating that he had emerged from the metamorphosis looking like the hot blond surfer he had seen in the room earlier. Instead, he found himself eye-to-eye with a pale mohawked scarecrow. “¡Increíble!”, he gasped in an unfamiliar voice, tugging at the taut skin of his cheeks to assure himself that what he was seeing was real. He tore away his too-tight shirt, launching buttons into the toilet bowl and revealing a scrawny torso and arms wallpapered with tattoos.

Chico had always felt inferior. Cute enough, but short and easily overlooked. There was no doubt that people would notice him now. Counting the mohawk, his body now stretched to nearly two meters in height. He flexed his skinny arms and watched as his tats stretched across his scrawny biceps. Using a term he’d heard among the American guests, he pronounced himself a “total badass!” He could swear he even sounded like a gringo when he said it.

After this, there was no way Chico could go back to work today. Looking this extreme, he wouldn’t be able to slip out of the hotel undetected, but at least none of his co-workers could possibly recognize him. He pulled his street clothes out of his locker and stuffed in his wadded-up work uniform. The baggy black shorts he had worn into work hung even baggier on his narrower hips, and his black Panam running shoes still fit, but his t-shirt snagged on his mohawk as he tried to pull it over his head, poking a few holes in the fabric. He wedged the tee into his locker, deciding he’d prefer to show off his ink anyway. He would worry about how to explain his abrupt departure tomorrow. For now, all he could think of were the words he had heard in an old American movie: “Aprovechen el día.”

“Seize the day.”

Derek and Beau decided to begin their search for Charles by retracing yesterday’s steps, under the assumption that a creature-of-habit like Charles might be more likely to visit to places with which he was already mildly familiar. FIrst stop was the cigar shop, even though today’s version of Charles didn’t seem the stogie type.

As they entered the store, the elderly Mexican man behind the counter stiffened, eyeing the mohawked punk suspiciously. Derek did his best to tone down the intimidation factor with a friendly voice and an “I come in peace” grin, but a smile on his emaciated face only made him look more menacing “¡Hola! ¿Habla Inglés?”

“Si, si,” said the old man, moving his right hand deliberately below the counter, suggesting either that he had a weapon stashed there or that he wanted Derek to think he had a weapon stashed there. “What can I do you for?”

“I’m wondering if a friend of mine has been in here today. About yea high,” Derek said, holding his hand at his own eye level. “Red hair. Freckles. Pink shorts.”

The man shook his head. “No one like that today, señor.”

Beau stepped forward, trying to be helpful. “You sure? Apparently he came in here yesterday.” He turned to Derek. “Show him a picture.”

“I don’t have a picture,” Derek said.

The man behind the counter narrowed his eyes impatiently. “I didn’t see no Americans yet all day, okay? You are gonna buy something or no?”

“No,” said Derek. “Gracias para your tiempo.” He turned toward the door, and Beau followed him out.

“Ya know, it’d really help if I could see a picture of this guy, so I’d have a better idea who I’m looking for,” Beau said. “You sure you don’t have a single picture of him?”

“Yes, I’m positive.” Of course Derek had plenty of photos of Charles on his phone, just none of him in his current incarnation. Even the selfies Derek had snapped yesterday were worthless, showing a Charles radically different from the one they were currently seeking.

Beau wasn’t letting this drop. “What about his Facebook profile?”

“He’s not on Facebook,” Derek said, honestly. “Charles doesn’t like social media. He thinks it’s a frivolous waste of time, and that putting all your personal information out there is just an open invitation to identity theft.” It was not lost on Derek that he was desperately trying to keep his own identity from being stolen away from him by the creeping effects of Mariposa.

“No offense,” Beau said, “but this Charles of yours sounds awful uptight. How’d you ever get hooked up with a guy like that in the first place?”

“We used to have a lot more in common. What can I say? People change.” Derek still couldn’t get over the unwelcoming attitude of the cigar shop owner. “Did you see the way that guy was looking at me? It was like he expected me to rob him or something, just because of the way I look.”

“You must be used to that by now,” Beau said. “I mean, you did choose to look like this. It’s not like somebody gave you a mohawk and tattoos overnight against your will.”

“Well, actually,” Derek said with a laugh, “it’s pretty much exactly like that. I didn’t choose to look like this at all.”

“What the fuck?”

Derek stopped and turned to Beau earnestly. “Listen, you’re gonna think I’m totally nuts, but the way I look now, this is not how I really look.”

“Ohhh-kay?”, Beau said skeptically.

“Did you see those bottles on the bar in my room?”

Beau nodded. “Sure, the Mariposa bottles?”

“Ah, great! You’ve heard of the stuff? So then you know what it does.”

“I’ve heard rumors. It’s supposed to do some crazy shit to your head, like LSD on acid.”

“Man, I wish it was that benign,” Derek said. He proceeded to tell Beau everything he knew about Mariposa: how it had changed Derek and Charles into different people two days in a row, how they changed a little more every time they had an orgasm, how Derek was struggling to maintain his grip on who he really was.

Beau had listened soberly, nodding sympathetically, but when Derek finally paused, Beau doubled over with laughter. “Gotta say, you were right. I do think you’re nuts.”

Derek grew defiant. “You want me to prove it? Let’s go back to my room right now and you can drink a bottle and see what happens. Thing is, you don’t even get a warning about what it’s gonna do to you. It’s a total crapshoot. You don’t know if you’re gonna turn into a punk rocker or a sumo wrestler or, I dunno, an albino midget!”

“I think they prefer to be called ‘pigment-deficient and vertically challenged,’” Beau said as his laughter waned.

“Fine,” Derek said, walking away, then turning back with more vehemence. “Why would I make up a crazy story like this?”

Beau shouted back with equal force. “How should I know? I don’t know a fuckin’ thing about you! For all I know, you’re an escaped mental patient!”

Derek calmed himself, noticing the attention their spat was attracting from passersby. He realized how implausible all of this would have sounded if anyone had told him the same story two days ago. He softened his tone. “I prefer to be called unincarcerated and sanity-deprived.” He was pleased to see Beau smiling back. “I swear to god I’m telling the truth. I wouldn’t blame you if you said, ‘Fuck this freak,’ and just went surfin’ instead, but I’m on the verge of flipping out completely and I could really use your help tryin’ to find Charles. I’d be totally losin’ it right now if it wasn’t for you. And your pot. Especially your pot.”

“Aww,” Beau said with a crooked smile. “And here I figured you loved me for my winning personality.”

“I do, I do,” Derek insisted before leaning close and whispering. “But, seriously, you got another joint?”

Beau patted the pocket of his shorts with a wink and a nod, then declared with a glint in his eye, “But I just thought of somethin’ even better for you.”

Charlie backpedaled rapidly across the sand, arm cocked back, eyes fixed on the blond boy in the Iowa shirt racing crazily in the distance with his arms outstretched. Charlie rifled the ball and watched it spiral perfectly in Iowa’s direction. His left hand patted his right biceps for a job well done. He gazed in awe, never having felt responsible for something so effortlessly graceful.

The pale blond, now shirtless like Charlie, ran toward the ball. He extended himself desperately, thinking he had a shot at catching the ball, but he was unable to reach it in time. The ball glanced off the tip of his middle finger and careened toward a pair of blonde girls basking in the sun face down, their bikini tops untied to prevent tan lines. Iowa landed face first in the sand and collapsed into a heap, arms and legs jutting out at random angles.

Charlie dashed across the beach, taking energetic strides, his bare feet scarcely touching the ground. He slowed his pace as he approached the spot where the ball had come to rest and bent down, noticing that both of the sunbathers were squinting in his direction. “’Scuse me, ladies,” Charlie said with a charming smile, then ran over to help Iowa back to his feet.

As he attempted to sweep away the grains of sand that were sticking to his sunscreen-coated skin, the kid from Iowa began to apologize. “Sorry, man, I shoulda caught that one. I misjudged the speed and…”

“No, man, I overthrew it,” Charlie said, although he somehow instinctively knew that the pass had gone exactly where it should have been. Charlie found it sweet how much the kid was trying to impress him. He pressed the ball against the kid’s chest. “Okay, Iowa, show me how it’s done.”

Running back toward the surf, Charlie felt his cock throbbing inside his jockstrap. Everything about this afternoon was turning him on. The sun bearing down on his skin. The wind tousling his hair. The smell of the sunscreen. The youthful virility of his wiry body. The innocent, barely-suppressed longing on Iowa’s face. The tight muscularity of Iowa’s trim physique. Hell, he’d even boned up a little as he stole a glance at the female sunbathers, which might have been the most unexpected sensation Charlie had felt in two days jam-packed with unexpected sensations. With his back to the beach, he took a moment to adjust his package, then spun around to face Iowa, who was making some practice tosses straight into the air. “Ready!”

The boys continued to hurl the football back and forth, their accuracy improving with each toss. Charlie pushed himself further and further to discover his limits, or to find out if he even had limits any more. When a simple game of catch grew stale, Iowa declared that the water was his goal line and challenged Charlie to stop him before he could reach it. “Yer on!”, Charlie replied. He flung the ball in a lazy arc toward Iowa, then took off at top speed, his pounding legs giving him the sense that he could outrace the airborne pigskin.

Iowa nabbed the ball in a basket catch, then ran toward the shoreline, making quick lateral cuts to compensate for Charlie’s moves. Impressed with the kid’s agile footwork at avoiding him, Charlie plunged forward, snagging the kid’s left shin and slamming him to the ground. Worried that he might have hurt the kid, Charlie looked over and asked, “You okay, Iowa?”

The kid laughed it off and pulled his leg free from Charlie’s clutches. “Your turn.” Charlie was impressed. He certainly hadn’t been so resilient in his younger days. Then again, he hadn’t put himself in many situations where he would be tackled to the ground.

Iowa scampered toward the damp area of the sand, waves rushing in to swirl around his feet. Charlie stood twenty yards inland, shifting his weight from one foot to the other in anticipation. Iowa took a few steps back into the water, then drilled a rocket straight toward Charlie, nailing him in the solar plexus. The kid was so impressed by his own throw that he forgot to make a defensive charge. Charlie had already covered half the distance to the water’s edge before Iowa even attempted to move. He took a step and slipped in the soggy sand. By the time he regained his footing, Charlie was sprinting toward the waves, holding the ball aloft victoriously as he let out a gloating whoop.

Iowa floored it, barreling in Charlie’s direction, making a last-ditch lunge to prevent him from reaching the water. His arms encircled Charlie’s waist, and he brought them both down with a thunderous splash. Charlie landed flat on his back, with Iowa on top of him, their bare chests pressed against each other as a wave inundated them. As the water receded, the two young men laughed uncontrollably, literally nosetip-to-nosetip and eye-to-eye. Their laughter dwindled as the moment lingered. Charlie could feel an unmistakable hardness in Iowa’s shorts pressing against his own abs, and he was certain Iowa was aware of the matching rigidity of the hard-on straining to escape from captivity in Charlie’s jockstrap. A breathless pause ensued. He could feel the kid trembling.

Charlie slammed his eyes closed and clutched fists full of wet sand as he resisted the overwhelming urge to kiss the kid. A nagging voice deep within him reminded Charlie that he had only gotten married two days ago, while a louder voice told that first voice to fuck off. Just as he felt himself losing this battle, the weight upon Charlie’s chest was lifted. He opened his eyes and saw the kid pushing himself away crabwalking a few steps backwards to a spot on dry land where he planted himself, pointedly looking away from Charlie.

Charlie tried to diffuse the awkward tension by asking, “So, Iowa, did I score?”

The kid tried to come up with a snappy response, but his mind was blank. He glanced at Charlie, then stood up and walked back to the shade of his palapa, his head hanging forward.

Charlie boosted himself to his feet, rescued the football from the surf and jogged back toward the encampment. He realized that his cock had grown limp and could feel a slimy substance pooling around his balls. He was relieved that his shorts were already too drenched for any additional stain to show up.

As he sat down on a beach towel, consciously separating himself from the kid with a cooler located between them, Charlie felt something lumpy squish against his right ass cheek. “Oh, shit!”, he exclaimed, cringing as he extracted his wallet from his back pocket. He could hardly bring himself to look as he cautiously unfolded it to examine the contents. He pulled out a damp wad of Mexican bank notes and spread them across the cooler to dry, placing a small rock atop each bill to keep it from blowing away. He slapped down half a dozen credit cards, his driver’s license and several other forms of ID, then inspected the wallet itself, tossing it into the sand, certain it was a total loss.

Iowa sat shivering on his towel, arms wrapped around his folded legs. He took a peek at Charlie’s possessions laid out atop the cooler and was amazed by how much cash the redheaded kid was carrying. “Holy shit, Red, you’re loaded!” He did his best to sound casual and lighthearted, hoping they could both just ignore what had happened in the surf.

Charlie shrugged, attempting to be equally nonchalant. “Trip so far’s been cheaper than I expected.” Jesus had covered nearly all of yesterday’s expenses, and today’s expenditures had been limited to the few beers he hadn’t been given by others.

The kid reached over and picked up Charlie’s driver’s license. Charlie frantically reached for it, but Iowa kept it out of his reach. He laughed when he gave it a close inspection. “This is the worst fake ID I’ve ever seen, bro. What is this, your dad’s driver’s license? Did you steal your dad’s wallet? Fuck, Red, are you on vacation with your ’rents?” The kid guffawed.

“No, I’m not here with my parents, and no, it’s not my dad’s license. Now give it back.” Charlie stretched out an arm, but Iowa just scooted further away, holding the license in the sunlight to examine it further.

“If it’s not your dad, then who’s the old dude in the picture?” Iowa asked, his eyes flitting between Charlie and the unflattering mugshot of Charles. “I mean, he does kinda look like you, but the age says 31. No fuckin’ way this dude is under fifty.”

“Maybe it was bad lighting,” Charlie insisted defensively, leaping deftly over the cooler and crawling playfully toward the kid on his hands and knees.

Iowa took on a lecturing tone. “Yeah, this is all wrong. Ya see, the trick to a good fake ID is to always stick as close to the truth as you can. I mean, any bouncer that’s not legally blind is gonna notice that the picture’s not you, but all the vitals are wrong too. The age is way too old. The weight is fifty pounds too fat. It says you got brown hair and brown eyes, when you’ve got red hair and…” He glanced over at Charlie, whose crystal blue eyes were glaring back intensely. Iowa was confused. He could have sworn that Charlie’s eyes were green, although that could have just been a trick of the light. But how had he not noticed that cleft in Charlie’s chin before?

“Anyway,” the kid said, shaking off his momentary uncertainty. He stuck his hand into one of his shoes that had been resting safe and dry under the palapa while they played football. He pulled out his wallet and produced a seemingly authentic Iowa driver’s license, which he handed to Charlie. “This is how you make a fake ID.”

Charlie studied it closely, impressed by the craftsmanship, right down to the authentic holographic designs on the surface. The photo was surprisingly flattering and definitely of the kid himself, making a studious effort to appear mature. All the stats seemed accurate, with the exception of the age. “Iowa, this says you’re 24. So what are you really?”

The kid hesitated, but saw no incentive to lie. “Nineteen.”

“That’s all? I figured you were older.”

“Really?” The kid grinned. “Thanks.”

“So,” Charlie asked, nervous but genuinely curious, “how old do you think I am?”

“Dunno. Eighteen?” When Charlie burst out laughing, the kid looked puzzled. “What? Younger?”

“No,” Charlie assured him. “Definitely not younger.” He looked back at the kid’s fake license and read the name. “Todd Pritchert? Is that your real name?”

“Yeah.” The kid grinned at Charlie. “But my friends call me Iowa.”

Charlie gazed fondly at the young man and spoke quietly. “So…do your friends know?”

Todd looked at Charlie. “Know what?”

“You know.” Charlie’s voice was tender and compassionate, his eyes radiated sympathy.

Todd leaned forward, resting his chin on his raised kneecaps and staring down at his feet. Once again, he saw no reason to lie, instinctively trusting Charlie. “No,” he said softly.

Charlie cautiously placed a hand on Todd’s shoulder. “It’s okay. Nobody knew about me either when…” He found himself about to say “when I was your age,” but that didn’t seem right. He went with “when I came out” instead. After fudging or avoiding facts, it felt good to say something to Todd which was basically accurate. When Charles had started telling people that he was gay after he met Derek, the consistent response was more relief than surprise. It turned out that most people hadn’t suspected he was gay. They had assumed that Charles simply had no interest in sex of any kind. He wondered how his twenties would have been different if someone had befriended him the way he was befriending Todd today.

Todd smiled appreciatively, then his body suddenly went rigid. He quickly brushed Charlie’s hand away from his shoulder and whispered, “Shit, my friends are back!”

Charlie followed Todd’s look and spotted three silhouettes on the beach, walking in their direction like conquering heroes returning from battle. “Do you want me to go?”, Charlie asked.

“No!”, Todd said with more intensity than he had planned. “No, they can already see you. It’d be weirder if you left. I’ll just tell ’em you’re this really cool guy I met.”

“Of course. Always stick as close to the truth as you can.” That made Todd smirk as he subtly inched himself away from Charlie.

Todd’s friends were close enough now for Charlie to differentiate them. All looked to be over six feet tall and were extremely fit, each dressed only in to-the-knee board shorts. The tallest, walking in the middle, was all lean muscle, with deep brown skin and a slightly grown-out afro. The dude to his left had a ruddy complexion and was bulkier, with heavy brows and slicked-back black hair. The stud on the right was deeply tanned and model-pretty with a swimmer’s physique, his sandy hair parted in the middle and swept back over his ears. Charlie sensed Todd’s nervousness in their presence. Even the new and improved Charlie was intimidated by them on sight.

“Hey, guys, how was windsurfing?”, Todd asked eagerly, rising to his feet.

“It was a blast, Toddler” said the pretty boy. He pointed to the stockier guy on the left. “You shoulda seen Bart wipe out. It was hilarious!”

Bart sneered. “Fuck you, Kev. You wiped out just as much as me.”

“Yeah, right.” Kev rolled his eyes dramatically, dismissing Bart’s accusations.

Bart pointed to the black guy in the middle and said, “Didn’t O get a great tan, though?”

The dude in the middle shook his head wearily. “That joke never gets old, man,” he said sarcastically. He seemed relieved to be back in Todd’s presence after having to put up with his bickering friends for a few hours. “You shoulda come, Todd. You woulda loved it.”

“Maybe next time,” Todd said. “I really didn’t mind watching the stuff.” Charlie could tell that Todd was used to being overshadowed by his bigger buddies, but he appeared to be content in that role. He didn’t even seem to mind the group’s infantilizing nickname for him, or else he’d just passively acquiesced to it.

“Who’s your friend, Toddler?”, Kev asked with a intrigued grin, pointing to Charlie.

“Oh!”, Todd said, as if suddenly realizing Charlie was still there. He introduced his friends, pointing them out from left to right. “Bart, O, and Kev, this is…” He paused, realizing he’d never found out his new acquaintance’s name. The driver’s license bore the name “Charles White”, but Todd figured that was just as phony as the rest of the ID’s information.

Charlie stood up, smacking his head into the palm fronds atop the palapa. He was positive that, earlier, he was able to stand up under the palapa without hitting the roof. “Charlie Gray,” he said, stretching out his arm. “But my friends call me Red.” He shot a quick glance in Todd’s direction and noticed a slight smirk.

Derek’s eyes were closed as strong hands smoothed coconut-scented lotion across his back. The masseur’s soothing touch, the atmospheric music, the sea air flapping against the canvas panels of the beachside tent, and the lingering effects of the second joint Beau had given him were combining to put Derek in a deeply relaxed state. His cheeks were positively aching from smiling.

Beau was getting his own treatment on the next table over and, from the sound of things, Beau’s scrappy little masseur treated massage as a form of mixed martial arts. Lots of slapping and thudding and groaning and yelping. Derek preferred the gentler touch of his beefy masseur, Armando. Derek was no longer fretting about the whereabouts of Charles. He was no longer so hyper-aware of how outlandish he looked. He was only briefly brought back to reality when Armando accidentally poked his hand on one of the spines of Derek’s mohawk.

“Y’okay over there, bro?”, Beau asked.

“You kidding?”, Derek replied in a blissful murmur. “This was totally what I needed.” He heard Beau’s feet landing on the mat between them and the rustle of his clothes as he started to get dressed. “Are you done already?”

“Yup. I only paid for five minutes of abuse. You’re getting the full half hour.” Derek heard Beau mutter something confidentially to Armando, followed by the crumpling sound of paper money changing hands. “I’ll wait for you outside, man.”

“But…well…okay.” For once, Derek realized he had nothing to complain about. He let his body go limp and surrendered himself to Armando. After Armando had worked out all the knots in Derek’s back and reduced Derek’s arms and legs to jelly, Derek felt a powerful hand cupping his scrotum and coating it with a warm gel of some kind. Derek flinched and gave a wordless objection, but Armando whispered “Shhhh” and assured Derek this was all part of the service. He gently rolled Derek first onto his side, then onto his back, taking care to place a pillow under his head to cushion the mohawk. Armando coated Derek’s shaft with the gel and began to stroke gently up and down. Derek felt like putty in Armando’s hands, but a special kind of putty that gets harder and longer the more you play with it.

Outside the tent, Beau reclined in a slingback beach chair and stared out at the Caribbean, enjoying the soundtrack of the lapping of the waves intermingled with Derek’s increasingly enthusiastic moans. He hung his arms limply at his sides and absorbed some late-afternoon rays. He eventually dozed off, only waking when he felt a shadow across his skin, as if something was eclipsing the sun. Beau looked up at Derek’s silhouette, his head haloed by sunlight. Beau asked, “So, everything come out okay?”

Grinning, Derek stuck a hand under his tank top and rubbed his flat stomach. “I prob’ly oughta be mad at you for not askin’ my permission. But I’m not.”

Beau raised his palms innocently. “If you were uncomfortable, all you had to do was ask him to stop. Armando is very sensitive about people’s boundaries.”

“I might look stupid, but I ain’t no idiot. That was…” Derek searched his mind, but nothing in his vocabulary seemed adequate to describe his current feelings. In fact, all of his thoughts seemed pretty basic now. He finally settled on the right words. “That was fuckin’ great.” He noticed that Beau was staring at his face. “What’sa matter? I still got drool or somethin’?” He wiped a hand across his chin, but came up dry.

“You might wanna check the mirror,” Beau suggested, pointing to a hand mirror dangling from a string beside the entrance flap to the massage tent.

Derek grabbed the mirror by the handle and studied his face. “What am I lookin’ for? Do I have, like, a booger hangin’ out?”

“Don’t you notice anything different?”, Beau asked.

Derek took another glance, but the only thing he found unusual was how delighted he appeared. “Sorry. Not seein’ it.”

“Those scorpion tattoos on both sides of your head. They weren’t there before. And it looks like you’ve got eyeliner tattooed on too.”

“Oh, yeah. Bitchin’!” Derek took Beau’s word for it, not remembering that he had looked any different half an hour ago. He just knew that he looked sexy as shit now.

“So, one happy ending later and some new tats sprout on your head just like that. Guess you were telling the truth about that Mariposa stuff after all. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it myself.”

Unperturbed, Derek let go of the mirror and said, “You hungry? I’m hungry. Do you think they sell Pop-Tarts in Mexico?”

“I’m not sure.” As Beau leveraged his way out of his beach chair, he asked, “Don’t you want to keep looking for Charles?”

Derek looked back blankly. “Charles?”

“Yeah. Your buddy? Charles? Remember?”

“Oh, sure, sure,” Derek said, nodding vigorously, although he was having trouble remembering whether Charles was his red-haired friend or his big hairy friend or his boring friend. “How ’bout waffles? What are Mexican waffles like?” He wandered away from the store toward some shops. Beau hastily shoved his feet into his sandals and followed him.

As they strolled past storefronts, Derek couldn’t stop staring at his reflection in the windows. He had finally fully embraced this version of himself, yet something still felt incomplete. Only when they passed a funky jewelry boutique did he realize what was missing. Derek had never been the type for accessories – he didn’t even like wearing a watch – but his new body seemed to have a physical craving for adornment, as if devoting most of its skin’s square footage to tattoos wasn’t nearly enough. He tugged the lobe of his right ear between his thumb and forefinger, the holes which had emerged there feeling profoundly empty. He had never been tempted to pierce his ears, never felt the urge to puncture his body to express his iconoclasm or advertise his sexuality. But now that the piercing had happened spontaneously and painlessly, he was burning with a desire to see how he’d look with a few earrings. He turned to Beau and asked, “What do you think would look better on me, gold or silver?”

Charlie was positive that he had changed further after his most recent orgasm in the waves. His pecs had gained heft and tone, his arms had swollen into mighty pythons of muscle, and he had sprouted to well over six feet. He and the three amigos all towered over Todd, the clear runt of the group by a good five inches. Todd had registered these differences, just as he had noticed Charlie’s changing eye color and the mysterious appearance of a cleft chin, but he wrote them all off as faulty memories, the combined result of overstimulated hormones and his own impaired faculties after a day of drinking beer in the hot sun. He wasn’t ordinarily a big drinker, but since they arrived in Cancun, he had been trying his damnedest to match his bigger, harder-partying schoolmates beer for beer.

Feeling bored just sitting, O decided they should play volleyball on the nearby net. In response, Kev had the bright idea to invite the sunbathing girls from the next palapa over to join them. The girls introduced themselves as Sandy and Mandy, and Charlie hadn’t paid enough attention to remember which was which. O designated himself and Bart as captains, offering Bart the initial pick. To his amazement, Charlie, a lifelong bench warmer, was chosen first. O gallantly selected either Sandy or Mandy, so Bart just as graciously chose the one who was left over. O’s remaining options were Todd and Kev. “Sorry, Todd,” O said with an apologetic shrug, “but I gotta go for height.”

As Kev strutted into position, Todd didn’t appear to mind. “No problem. I’ll be the line judge.”

This seemed wrong to Charlie. He felt like he was usurping Todd’s rightful place in the lineup. “You should play. I’ll sit out.” Bart blanched at the suggestion of swapping the strapping Charlie for the shrimpy Todd.

“No, really,” Todd assured Charlie, “I don’t mind.” He plunked himself down contentedly on the sand, even with the net line, and popped open a fresh beer.

Charlie required a refresher on the rules of the sport, not having played since his forced and pathetic participation in high school gym class. But he found himself easily picking up the basics, his newfound athletic prowess revealing itself in his pinpoint serves and confident spikes. His moves even met with approval from the two ladies, who belatedly notified the guys that they were ringers, being teammates on their college volleyball squad. Being the focus of so much adulation was proving to be intoxicating, but Charlie’s own attention kept shifting toward Todd, who had swiftly lost interest in the game and was gazing randomly around the beach. After making a diving stab at the ball and plowing headlong into the sand, Charlie feigned a twisted ankle as he stood up. He dismissed the concerns of his fellow players and gimped his way to the sidelines. “I’m okay, I’m okay. Todd,” he said, “why don’t you go in for me?”

“You sure?”, Todd asked. “Maybe we should take you to the hospital to get it checked.”

“It’ll be fine,” Charlie assured him, snatching the bottle of beer from Todd’s hand. “Nothing a cold one won’t fix.” He took a gulp from the beer and lowered himself theatrically to the ground, struggling to remember which leg was supposed to be the one that smarted. He settled on his right ankle as the culprit and pressed the bottle against it.

Bart groaned, certain that his team would lose without Charlie’s skills, but Todd proved to be quite the scrapper, especially when setting up his more skilled female teammate. From Charlie’s vantage point, it was obvious that Bart was the team’s weak link, his main contributions being profane running commentary, incessant bitching, and a profuse output of sweat. The girls kept the game competitive, but the combination of O and Sandy (or possibly Mandy) proved unbeatable. After the game broke up, Sandy and Mandy informed them which bar they planned to visit later that night and said they hoped to see all the guys there. Bart, at least, assured them that he would be there.

The sun was beginning to sink in the west, meaning it was time to pack up. Todd collected the day’s refuse and lugged it to the trash, Kev neatly folded up the beach towels, and O consolidated and balanced the contents of the coolers for ease of carrying. Charlie offered to lend a hand, but Bart, who was doing nothing, assured him that they had it handled.

Charlie located his v-neck tee, flapped it in the breeze to shake off the accumulated sand, and stretched it over his head. The shirt had been small to begin with, but it was completely inadequate to contain Charlie’s latest improvements. Even his forearms were now too thick for the sleeves to accommodate, and his head and arms soon became entangled in a web of shredded cotton.

“Yo, check out the Hulk over here,” Bart yelled. “What’d you do, borrow one of Toddler’s shirts?”

Charlie laughed it off, ripping away the shredded shirt, wadding the mangled fabric into a ball and swishing it into a trash can. He caught Todd gazing at him, admiring how the sinking sunlight highlighted the contours of Charlie’s body. As soon as Todd noticed Charlie noticing him noticing Charlie, Todd lowered his head and busied himself with picking up more trash from the beach, even items that their group wasn’t responsible for. Charlie slipped into his shoes and returned his baseball cap to his head.

When everything was packed up, Charlie grabbed a cooler and joined the procession to the parking lot. He found himself walking alongside O, who was also toting a cooler. “You looked good out there, Red. What’s your sport?”

It was a question Charlie had never been asked, but from the way his body operated this afternoon, he took a wild guess and said, “Football?”

“Same here. Bart too. What position do you play?”

This was the outcome Charlie had dreaded. His body might know football down to his bones, but his brain hadn’t gotten the memo. He feared that anything he said would brand him as an impostor, so he chose the strategy of being vague and changing the subject. “I kinda switch off,” he said dismissively before asking, “So, O, is that short for something?”

“Theodore,” Todd replied, bringing up the rear and burdened with more than his share of the load. “When he moved into the dorm, we started calling him ‘Theo’, then we changed it to ‘The O’, and now it’s just down to ‘O’.”

“Oh!”, said Charlie. “You keep this up, pretty soon you’ll be callin’ him nothin’.” As the group converged on a dusty minivan with Iowa license plates, Charlie laughed. “Wait, you guys DROVE here?”

“Yeah, we kinda switched off,” Kev said, tossing the beach towels into the rear seat.

“Not true,” O said, popping open the hatchback. “Todd did most of the driving, so the rest of us could get blitzed.”

Charlie shot Todd a look, wondering if the kid realized how much his friends were taking advantage of his good nature. Todd sensed Charlie’s attitude and declared, “I don’t mind, really. At least that way I get to control the sound system.”

Bart groaned. “Oh, god, don’t remind me. That means we’ve still gotta suffer through another three days of goddamn ‘Hamilton’ on the way back!”

“It wasn’t so bad,” O said, sliding his cooler into position before taking the other cooler out of Charlie’s hands. “I liked it better than that ‘Dear Evan Hansen’.”

Todd took offense. “Wait, what’s wrong with ‘Evan Hansen’?”

Charlie stepped back and watched the interplay of the foursome as they razzed each other and jockeyed for position, not only in the van but in the pecking order. He envied their closeness, never having been part of a tight group of friends when he was their age…or, really, ever. Of course, at the moment, he WAS their age, but all that would change in the morning. He stepped back and wistfully waved at them. “Was great meeting all of you guys.”

Bart leaned out of front passenger window and said, “Ain’tcha comin’ with us, Red?”

“Oh,” Charlie said, “I just figured…”

Kev added, “What, you think you got better things to do than hang with us?”

“No, I…I…” Charlie stammered, surprised. He noticed Todd gazing encouragingly in his direction. “Well, if you got room…”

“Fuck, we’ll make room,” O declared, making his status as the alpha of this group clear. “Bart, get your ass outta there. Give Red shotgun.”

Bart grumbled as he abdicated his prime seat, leaving the front door open. Charlie bounded eagerly toward the van and hopped in, smiling over at Todd in the driver’s seat beside him. Todd handed Charlie his iPhone and instructed him to pick out some tunes for the drive. Charlie started scrolling for “Dear Evan Hansen”.

Being accepted by the cool kids was an alien experience for the studious and standoffish Charles White, but right now, for once in his life, he felt like he actually fit in.

Charlie “Red” Gray, just one of the guys.

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