Description A gay couple in San Francisco for their shared birthday cope with the effects of Mr. Lee's magic.
|Updated||20 Oct 2018|
The Golden Gate Bridge was socked in by fog again today and the temperature hadn’t risen above the fifties since Marc and Zak had arrived in the city, but Zak refused to bow to the weather gods. He was on vacation, dammit, and he was going to dress like it. After all, it was his birthday.
Which explains why, on a day when nearly everyone else in San Francisco was bundled up, Zak was seated on the patio of this restaurant in a bright red tank top, floral shorts and leather sandals. He leaned back in his chair, eyes shut, face to the clouds, as if pretending that he was basking in the sun might somehow will the sun to emerge. His hands were clasped behind his head, intermingled with his tousled chocolate-brown hair. This pose highlighted the veins which criss-crossed his powerful arms, which had lost none of their tone or definition since his days on the college football team. A yin/yang tattoo clung to the curve of his left shoulder, its surface currently punctuated by goosebumps which Zak was choosing to ignore. His legs felt slightly warmer, due to their generous coating of dark hair, but his exposed toes were pale white on the verge of turning blue.
Zak’s more sensibly dressed breakfast partner, Marc, wore a wool jacket over a sports coat over a sweater over a dress shirt over a v-neck, with wool pants and dress shoes with heavy wool socks. Even with all that, he was still shivering so much that the letters he was entering in the day’s crossword puzzle were illegibly shaky. He had objected when Zak asked the waiter if they could be seated outdoors, but was in the mood to give Zak whatever he wanted after the warm way Zak had awakened him this morning. Nothing said “happy birthday” to Marc quite like a nice sunrise blow-job from his boyfriend of three years. For it was Marc’s birthday too.
The two first met six years ago in an English course designed to provide three easy credits for members of the college football team. The class was commonly referred to in a derogatory manner as “Introduction To Words”. Zak was a freshman still getting used to big-city life where more people lived in his dorm than in his hometown. His body was still slightly gangly, although he had made good progress in putting on muscle over the summer since high school, and his facial features remained malleable, not yet having hardened into the intimidating arrangements of sharp angles which would develop in the coming years.
Marc was not another student; he was the teacher who would spend the next several months trying to make a room full of jocks give half a shit about diagramming sentences instead of diagramming plays. Marc’s colleagues in the department thought he had drawn the short straw with this assignment, but Marc had no complaints. Even if his students weren’t paying attention to him, he was riveted to them. The way their eyes stared dreamily at the ceiling or out the window as their focus drifted. The way their broad shoulders would shrug when they couldn’t answer one of his simple questions. (Sample: “What is the verb in the sentence, ‘Stay.’?”) The way their biceps would pop out of their t-shirt sleeves on the rare occasions when they would raise their hand and attempt an answer. Marc was grateful his room was equipped with a lectern, as it conveniently hid the erection he got at least twice every period and sometimes for the entire hour. If he needed to lose his hard-on quickly, he would think of something boring, like reading anything by Ayn Rand.
Marc was technically still in the closet on that day six years ago, although the brevity of his marriage straight out of college and his seeming celibacy in the years since led to many assumptions in the English department. He regretted that he hadn’t come out during his own days in college, when he may not have been a tremendous prize but at least had the advantages of youth, like a full head of hair, 20/20 vision, and a 30-inch waist. With each year that he taught his class full of hardbodies, the contrast grew greater between the perennially replenished new crops of gridiron giants squeezed into the desks and their aging dweebish instructor who always seemed so reluctant to emerge from behind his podium. Marc’s short red hair had receded with only a few last pathetic sprigs hanging on to garnish his upper forehead, he now wore no-line bifocals, and his otherwise gaunt body was sporting an increasingly inflated belly.
Only in retrospect would Marc realize precisely on which day he had met Zak. Because Zak was maturing, he was not yet the stunner he would become, and Marc’s attention was much more focused on the class’s more obvious upperclassman dreamboats. But Marc did have a fairly good memory for dates, and he would later calculate that Zak’s first day in his class must have been the day that Marc turned 42. Which in turn made it the day that Zak turned 18.
That night, Zak’s teammates celebrated by getting the freshly-minted adult shitfaced on beer and promising to set him up with whichever woman in the college union who Zak fancied—so certain were they of the powers of persuation that a varsity football player could exert on any random woman on campus. Zak felt uncomforable with this idea, having been raised to treat women with great respect by his single mother after his father died in a car crash when Zak was seven. Still, he became less uncomfortable the more he drank and was finally matched with a petite brunette psychology major named Sara. They went back to his dorm room and drank a lot and made out a bit and he listened to her talk about things he didn’t really understand until they both dozed off fully dressed—although the far more salacious version of the night’s events which he told in the locker room the next day suggested that Zak might have a gift for creative writing.
That same night, Marc marked his birthday by eating a Healthy Choice lasagna with a glass of cabernet, reading a new biography of Joseph Conrad until about 9:30, then searching the internet for whacking material. He was in bed by 10.
Marc began to notice Zak more and more throughout the semester, as he was one of the few students who seemed to be striving to do well, not just the minimum required. When The Catcher in the Rye was assigned, it resonated with Zak whereas his classmates tended to think that Holden Caulfield was “a pussy” or should “just grow a pair”. Marc himself had become more annoyed with Caulfield with each annual rereading when that part of the syllabus rolled around, but Zak was always eager to offer his thoughts to Marc after class, seeing if there was anything to his rudimentary insights about the book. Witnessing even a glimmer of honest intellectual effort reminded Marc why he had gotten into the teaching profession, so he encouraged Zak, even suggesting books Zak might enjoy reading just for fun when traveling to away games. By the end of the semester, Zak was by far the most engaged student in class and he gave Marc a bearhug as he left the room on the final day.
After that, Marc would sometimes see Zak walking around campus, frequently with his arm around a studious brunette who seemed to become tinier and tinier the more muscle Zak packed on in training. Zak would usually just wave if he was with his girlfriend, but was more likely to stop and chat for a minute when he was alone. (Marc was invariably alone.) Marc took special note when the college newspaper would single out Zak for a particularly impressive play, although Marc usually had no clue from the description exactly what Zak had done which was so noteworthy.
The night that Marc turned 45, some of the other members of the English department dragged Marc out on the town. They chose an Irish pub off campus, in honor of Marc’s favorite author James Joyce, but Marc found himself lamenting that he was already five years older than Joyce was when “Ulysses” was published. This launched his colleagues on an hour-long conversation listing all the famous authors who were already dead by the time they were Marc’s age. Surprisingly, this did not lift Marc’s mood.
After his third whiskey, Marc was walking to the bathroom and passed a boisterous crowd of football players at a table. Their bodies were so packed with muscle, it was like seeing a group of normal-sized adults huddled around a table built for kindergarteners. At the focus of this group was a powerhouse with dark wavy hair parted in the middle, sharp cheekbones that seemed ready to slice through his skin, and a jaw angled like the bottom half of a STOP sign. If not for the pale blue eyes that Marc had always found so penetrating, he might not even have realized this was his old student Zak, but Zak immediately knew his old professor and gestured him over.
“What’s the celebration?”, Marc asked.
“It’s my birthday, Professor Henning. I am now 21 and can finally drink legally, so the guys wanted to take me to a proper adult bar.” His buddies razzed him.
“‘Adult bar’? If that’s anything like ‘adult books’, maybe the term doesn’t connote the level of maturity and sophistication you were hoping for.”
Zak chuckled politely, but couldn’t follow what Marc meant any better than his tablemates, who merely stared silently at the professor. Marc broke the silence by informing them, “You know, today’s my birthday too!”
Zak was surprised to learn that. “Wow, cool! So how old are you today?”
Marc deflected the question, saying, “Swing by the bar later and I’ll buy you an adult drink.”
“Sure thing, Professor Henning.” As soon as Marc turned, Zak and his pals resumed their raucousness. Marc went into the bathroom but discovered that his penis had switched gears and was no longer in urination mode. He considered ducking into a stall and jerking off, but thought that would drag the evening deeper into pathetic territory. He returned to the bar where his colleagues delightedly informed him that F. Scott Fitzgerald died at 44.
Marc’s fellow teachers drifted home one by one, leaving him alone at the bar, nursing another whiskey and staring blearily at a rugby match on a television with the sound turned down. Zak and his buddies were on their way out the door when Zak realized he hadn’t taken his old prof up on his offer. He informed them he was going to have a drink with Professor Henning and would find his way home. He pulled out the stool next to Marc and noticed the TV. “You into rugby?”
“Is that what I’m watching? I had no idea.” Marc had mainly been entranced by the sinewy arms and powerful legs extending out of the players’ colorful uniforms.
Marc told the bartender to give Zak a whiskey, but Zak begged off, saying he had football practice the next day. “Oh, so all that beer you were drinking was just part of your training regimen?”
Zak grinned, caught. “Okay, I guess I can force down one whiskey.”
Marc patted the stool beside him and gestured for Zak to sit down. Zak obliged.
“Twenty-one. How does it feel to be soooo old?”, Marc asked.
“It’s fuckin’ weird…I mean, it’s weird, Professor Henning.”
Marc waved a hand as if batting away an invisible fly. “You’re a grown-up now. Call me Professor Marc.”
Zak smiled again, and Marc could swear he could see his reflection in the young man’s brilliant shiny choppers. “So, you must be a senior by now.”
“Yup. Hard to believe. My last season playing football.”
“Are you going to go pro?”
Zak laughed without much joy. “I don’t see that happening. That requires a whole extra level of something I ain’t got.”
Marc didn’t want to probe what was clearly an uncomfortable subject. He glanced back at the rugby scrum on TV. “Maybe you could play rugby. I bet you’d look good in one of those uniforms.” Immediately, Marc regretted his remark, fearing he had just made Zak uncomfortable and that he had revealed too much of himself. Goddamn whiskey. But if Zak had any reaction, he made no indication of it.
“Anyway, I just wanted to tell you that you’re the best professor in the whole college.”
Marc scoffed. “Hardly.”
“Okay, I haven’t had classes with ev-ery professor. But you’re the best one I had. You really cared about learning, and you didn’t just write me off as some dumb jock.”
Marc swiveled on his chair and stared at the blue smear in his bleary field of vision which he knew was the general vicinity of Zak’s eyes. “I don’t think you’re dumb, Zak.”
Zak’s baby-blues were fixed on Marc’s bloodshots. “Not as dumb as I used to be, Professor Marc.”
The bartender handed Zak a shot of whiskey, which Zak clinked against Marc’s glass. As they downed their booze, Marc felt Zak’s warm hand upon his knee, then sliding up his thigh. Marc suggested they go somewhere else before Zak’s hand got any higher.
Zak’s ex-girlfriend Sara, the psych major, would have said that what followed was classic behavior for a young man unsure about his future who was seeking a father figure. Marc would have said that Zak was looking if the wrong place if he needed someone to nurture him, as Marc couldn’t even keep a houseplant alive. Nevertheless, Marc and Zak found themselves celebrating their joint birthdays with a birthday joint on the balcony of Marc’s apartment. Actually, only Marc was smoking, as Zak couldn’t partake for fear of testing positive on a drug test. But in his first three years of college, he had become an expert on how far away to stand from a lit joint without endangering his eligibility, while still managing to catch enough of a whiff of second-hand reefer to lighten his mood. He couldn’t imagine how fucked-up he would get when he finally got a full dosage of cannabis after this coming season was finally over.
Marc finished the joint, completing the inhibition removal process that the whiskey had begun. He hadn’t realized at the bar that Zak had grown an inch or two since he taught him, putting the footballer at six-foot-one compared to the teacher at five-nine. Zak reached up and grabbed his rear collar, pulling his skintight tee over his head and revealing the full extent of the past three years of effort in the weight room. Marc had never been this close to a shirtless torso so finely crafted. Zak was so ripped that you could see each muscle distinctly and individually, but the way they balanced each other as a perfectly engineered whole, Marc was tempted to question his devout atheism and embrace the concept of intelligent design. Then again, if God could create a body this exquisite, it also seemed cosmically cruel for Him then to say that it was forbidden for gay men to enjoy it. It was as if God had brought ice cream into the world just so He could taunt diabetics.
Marc knelt down in front of Zak and unbuttoned the young man’s 501s, but Zak lifted Marc in his burly arms and placed him on the bed. He began removing items of the professor’s clothing—shoes, then socks, then pants, then boxers—all while humming “Happy Birthday To You”. When Marc was stripped from the waist down, Zak began to lick Marc’s balls, then along the professor’s shaft before wrapping his lips around the head. Marc moaned deeply, tangling his hands in Zak’s unruly hair. Zak’s technique was far too nuanced for this to be his first time “running it up the flagpole”. Once Zak’s intentions had been made obvious at the bar, Marc had assumed that Zak would automatically be a top, but it was clear that he was more interested in pleasing Marc first. When it came time to mount Zak, Marc regretted that his own cock wasn’t nearly as impressive as Zak’s eight-inch erection, feeling that Zak was getting the short end of the stick (or “the short stick in the end”), but Zak seemed perfectly content. Zak insisted that this was as much a birthday present for himself as it was for Marc.
When Marc awoke in the morning, he heard his shower running. Zak’s clothes were lying on the floor by the foot of the bed. Marc looked across the room into the mirror and was immediately brought back to reality by his own reflection. Sadly, none of Zak’s attributes had rubbed off on him merely by contact. He was the same balding, sunken-chested man with an unsightly gut that he had been yesterday, and he would just keep getting balder and more unfit as his wrinkles deepened and his eyesight worsened. He was grateful Zak had taken such pity on him last night, even if it was nothing more than a gesture of thanks to a favored teacher on his birthday. Marc still felt it was more of a gift than he deserved.
Zak emerged from the bathroom, toweling himself off, long strands of dark wet hair clinging to his cheeks and neck. He leaned down to kiss Marc on the lips and said good morning. Zak pulled on his clothes with the casualness of a man who had spent his past seven years getting dressed and undressed in locker rooms full of other naked guys, although he surely was not as free about displaying a semi-hard cock among his teammates as he was here in the privacy of Marc’s bedroom.
“That was very nice what you did last night, Zak.”
“What I did? Sure felt like we did it together. Remember, there’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’.”
“True. And there is a ‘U’ and ‘I’ in ‘fucking’.” Marc grinned and, after a few seconds, Zak got it.
“You’re too quick for me.”
“That’s not what you were saying last night, thank goodness. Anyway, I hope you won’t feel awkward or shy if we run into each other on campus after…ya know, this.”
“Why would I, Prof…Marc?”
Marc and Zak met discreetly whenever it was convenient that fall, and more frequently after the football season was over, but they kept their relationship under wraps. Not that they were ashamed of it, but it could look problematic for a professor to be sleeping with a student, even if he hadn’t taught the student in three years. It would be easier all around if they waited to go public until after Zak graduated in the spring. Deep down, Marc was also sure that, by the time graduation rolled around, Zak would have become tired of Marc, but if anything Zak became more devoted as they spent more time together, as eager to soak up the older man’s knowledge and guidance as to suck his cock. Zak got a job as a personal trainer at a local health club and moved into Marc’s place that summer, and they had remained a couple ever since.
Marc was taking a sabbatical this semester, which is why he currently found himself on a chilly patio in San Francisco on his birthday rather than starting another course of “Introduction To Words”. Today Marc was 48 and Zak was half that, at 24. Marc tortured himself with the fact that, on the day that he had turned 24, he was already unhappily married…and Zak was emerging from his mother’s womb. Marc tended to fixate on their age difference, sure that Zak would meet someone closer to his age and Marc would be left alone again. Why wouldn’t Zak be more interested in, say, the only other diner crazy enough to be seated outdoors on a brisk day like this, a well-built Chinese guy who looked about thirty, whose thin dark mustache and slicked-back hair made him look like an Asian Clark Gable. Marc acknowledged him with a nod, and their dining companion (whom Marc had internally nicknamed “Red Butler”) smiled back.
On this trip, Zak had been an eager pupil as Marc exposed him to great works of literature, painting, and architecture, but he knew he would never have an intellect on Marc’s level and worried that Marc would eventually get tired of dragging around some dimwitted ex-jock. Maybe Marc would dump him for someone like that Japanese guy with the mustache sitting on the the patio with them. He didn’t look much older than Zak, but there was a wisdom behind his eyes that reminded him of Marc.
Marc’s hands were shaking too much from the cold to finish the crossword, so he shifted his attention to the Jumble puzzle, which he liked to complete entirely within his head. It also gave him a chance to help Zak hone his verbal abilities. “Okay, Zak, unscramble this. D-L-A-U-T.”
Zak rearranged the letters in his head and proudly declared, “ADULT!”
“Very good. How about D-R-O-L-E?”
That one stumped Zak. “Isn’t DROLE already a word?”
“Not spelled that way it’s not,” Marc said. He waited for Zak to puzzle it out, but Zak had a short attention span for such challenges. If he couldn’t get something right away, he tended to lose interest.
“I give up.”
A voice from across the patio said, “OLDER.” They both turned to the guy with the mustache, who smiled and held up his own copy of the newspaper where he had also been working on the puzzles. Marc set down his newspaper and whispered to Zak that he needed to use the rest room, although he secretly just wanted to get back inside where it was warm. Zak remained on the patio, staring out at the low gray clouds where the scenery should be.
“Your father?”, asked the guy with the mustache.
Zak realized he was being asked a question. He was glad Marc hadn’t heard that, as he knew how sensitive Marc could get about his age, especially on his birthday. “Oh, no, he’s not my dad,” replied Zak. “We’re…we’re together. Today’s both of our birthdays, so we’re here on vacation to celebrate. Where are you from?”
“I live here.”
“Oh, you live in San Francisco? I figured you were staying at the hotel.”
“No, I just come here to enjoy breakfast and admire the view.” He gestured with a smile at the blanket of fog.
Zak laughed, then got an idea and moved over to an empty seat at the other man’s table. He spoke softly. “Hey, since you’re a local, maybe you could recommend a good store where I could find him something nice for his birthday. He’s always spending money on me. He’s paying for this whole trip. I’d just like to give him something special and unique, that shows him how much I love him. I’ve been looking while we’ve been sightseeing, but everything is either junky tourist crap or amazing stuff I could never afford. Plus I can’t really browse for a surprise gift when he’s right with me the whole time. Any ideas?”
The guy nodded, grinning. From the pocket of his windbreaker, he pulled out a business card and a pen. He wrote an address on the card. “This shop might have just what you need. Don’t worry if you get there and it looks closed. The guy who runs it keeps a very low profile.”
Zak looked at the card, which read “MR. LEE, X-DREAM MAKEOVERS”, followed by a bunch of weird foreign symbols. He didn’t think a makeover was exactly the gift he was looking for. Then again, maybe Zak could spice up their sex life if he changed the way he looked. Not that Marc had complained. Zak had slimmed down a bit since his bulkiest days on the football team, but was still a powerful presence. Hey, it was worth a shot. “Thanks. I’ll check it out.”
The man smiled and said, “Tell the shopkeeper that Elmer sent you.”
“Sure thing. Elmer, huh? You don’t meet a lot of Elmers these days.”
“My parents were big Looney Tunes fans. I lucked out. I could’ve been Bugs or Daffy.”
Zak laughed, slapped Elmer on the shoulder and shook his hand. Marc returned, watching curiously as Zak strode back from Elmer’s table. “You two getting acquainted?”
“What? Oh, no, he was just giving me tourist tips is all. You ready for Alcatraz?”
They headed inside to pay the bill. Elmer waved at the two men, who waved back. Marc remained suspicious.
That afternoon, Marc was exhausted from the Alcatraz tour and told Zak he wanted to lie down for a while. That gave Zak the perfect opportunity to check out that makeover place. Hands buried in the pockets of his sleeveless hoodie, he walked past the storefront twice before realizing he was in the right place. The grime on the window and door made the shop look abandoned. As Marc entered, the wind buffeted a set of chimes. In the gloom of the shop, he could make out an elderly Chinese man with a bald head and gray mustache seated behind a counter. On the wall behind him were shelves packed with glass jars of unidentifiable substances.
“Good day, young man. How may I help you?”, said the man behind the counter.
“Uh, Elmer sent me. Are you Mr. Lee?”
The proprietor smiled thinly and gestured for Zak to come closer. “I understand you are in need of something for a birthday?”
Zak relaxed slightly and walked to the counter. “I guess Elmer musta told you. Yeah, I want something really special for…well, for my partner.”
“And your partner, what is it that he wants?”
Zak hesitated, unsure how this guy automatically knew that his partner was a guy. Guess Elmer must have told him that too. “I don’t know. He makes a good living, we have a nice place, I’m not sure he really wants anything.”
“Everyone wants something.” Mr. Lee leaned forward, resting his elbows on the counter and tenting his index fingers. “Just think. What does he wish for? Even if you think it is impossible.”
Zak thought, then laughed. “Well, I think he wishes he could be younger.”
Mr. Lee clapped his hands once and walked to a cabinet behind the counter which was filled with costume jewelry. He selected a few colorful metal bracelets and displayed them for Zak, who studied them skeptically. “I don’t think just wearing those would make him look younger.”
“You might be surprised.”
Zak shook his head. “They’re not his style. He’s more conservative. Classier.”
“Why does he wish to be younger?”, asked Mr. Lee. “Aside from the fact that everyone wants to be younger.”
“I think he wishes there wasn’t such a big age gap between us. He’s always convinced that I’m gonna leave him for somebody younger.”
Mr. Lee smiled, then nodded and walked back to the cabinet. He returned with two identical antique gold wristwatches.
“Yeah, that’s more his style. But I only need one.”
“Is it not the birthday for both of you?”
Man, Elmer really had briefed this guy. “Yeah, but I’m not sure I can afford one of these, let alone two.”
“They come together as a set, like the yin and yang on your arm.” Mr. Lee pointed to the symbols tattooed on Zak’s shoulder. Zak had never really known what the tattoo meant, he just liked the way the design looked. “They complement each other and keep everything in balance.”
Zak pulled a wad of bills from his pocket, never having graduated to using a proper wallet. “Okay, how much are they?”
Mr. Lee puzzled over it. He was feeling uncharacteristically generous today and slid the watches across the counter to Zak. “Happy birthday, you too.”
“You serious?” Zak wrapped one of the watches around his wrist and snapped it in place. He thought it looked awesome. He wasn’t sure how an antique watch was supposed to make Marc look younger, unless it was just to make the rest of him look younger than the watch in comparison, but Zak was sure Marc would think it looked classy.
Mr. Lee began to speak. “I need to tell you a little something about how the watches work. You see…”
Zak glanced at the watch which appeared to read 2:20, with the little hand on the II and the big hand on the IV. “Shit, it’s later than I thought. He’s gonna be waking up soon.” Zak reached across the counter to shake hands with the shopkeeper. “Thanks a lot, Mr. Lee.”
Zak rushed out the door. As the door closed, Mr. Lee said, “My pleasure, Zak.” Mr. Lee felt a little uneasy about letting Zak go without being briefed on the watches’ special powers, but perhaps they would teach Zak a lesson about the virtue of patience.
Zak had thought of giving Marc his gift at supper, but since Marc was awake when he returned to the hotel room and Zak was already wearing his own matching watch, there seemed no point in waiting. Marc forced a smile, although this was far gaudier than anything he would usually wear. Still, he appreciated that Zak had made such an effort and seemed so excited by his purchase that Marc would be churlish to express anything but love for it. He kissed Zak, who took the watch and ceremoniously wrapped it around Marc’s wrist. As Marc’s watch was snapped into place, a mild shock passed between the two men. They assumed it was just static electricity from the carpet and thought nothing further about it.
The day had finally warmed up nicely once the fog burned away. Marc and Zak strolled hand in hand around the grounds of the Palace of Fine Arts. They seemed to have the run of the grounds to themselves, and they felt relaxed and complete. When it was just the two of them together alone, they never seemed to have any problems.
They took a seat on a bench to watch a fountain, and Marc glanced at his watch. It appeared to read 4:50, which seemed much later than he expected. Only then did he notice something strange about the face of the watch. “You got screwed. There are only ten numbers.”
Zak glanced at Marc’s wrist to see what he meant. “Look, it only goes from one to ten,” said Marc, pointing to the Roman numeral X at the top of the dial. Zak looked at his own watch and discovered it had the same defect.
“Maybe it’s metric time?”, Zak offered as an explanation, but Marc shook his head. Zak also noticed that his own watch still seemed to read 2:20. He realized the watches probably needed winding, so he pulled out the stem and wound his watch. Marc did the same and checked his cellphone for the correct time of four o’clock. He set the hands to the IV and the X and hoped for the best.
As Marc set his watch, Zak noticed that the hands of his own watch were moving forward on their own. Maybe that’s what Mr. Lee meant about the watches complementing each other. If you changed one, it also changed the other. Strangely, Zak’s watch hands didn’t move all the way ahead to 4:00. His watch looked like it read 3:10. He didn’t mention it to Marc, though. He didn’t want Marc to start stressing over how Zak had gotten screwed over by the shopkeeper (even though he’d been given the watches for free). He didn’t want anything to mar their birthday.
They took a long scenic stroll back to the hotel, through the Presidio, Golden Gate Park and The Haight, with Zak snapping pictures of Marc or selfies of the two of them whenever something caught his eye. He worried that he was making Marc overexert himself with so much walking, but Marc seemed more energized than…well, than he’d ever seen him. Marc was still having trouble keeping up with Zac, but that was the price one paid for being in a relationship with a personal trainer. The benefit was that Marc never tired of walking several steps behind Zac, his tanned, firm legs taking powerful strides, his bare arms slicing through the air. But today, he could swear he was noticing something else. He jogged to catch up to Zac and cackled when he confirmed what he thought he had seen.
“What are you laughing about?”, Zak asked, looking at Marc who was only panting slightly as he kept pace.
“You got something for your birthday, but I don’t think you’re gonna like it.” He pointed toward the top of Zak’s head. Zak paused and felt around. He was surprised when his fingers landed on a spot where they felt no hair, only skin. He rushed toward a store window, trying in vain to figure out a way to see the reflection of the top of his head. Eventually, Marc asked for Zak’s phone and instructions on how to snap a picture with it. Marc had Zak bend down so that he could get a good close-up of Zak’s new bald spot.
He showed the phone to Zak, who was in disbelief. “I shouldn’t be going bald already at 24.”
“Even mine didn’t start going until my early thirties. I think I even saw a gray hair or two up there.”
Zak was aghast. He stared closely at the screen of the phone, inspecting the photo for any trace of gray. As he leaned down to look at the photo, Marc took a look directly at Zak’s head and started pointing to the gray flecks among Zak’s wavy hair. “There’s one, there’s one. Oh, there’s a whole bunch over here.” Zak grumbled, not finding this funny, but Marc smiled, kissing him in the center of his bald spot. “Don’t worry, baby, I’ll still love you when you’re old and gray. Which should be any day now! Ha ha!”
Seeing Zak fuming in mock anger, Marc took off in an energetic dash up the block. Zak ran after him, pounding the pavement until he caught up with Marc. He wrapped his arms around Marc, who continued to laugh uncontrollably. Zak was just glad to see Marc in such a good mood.
They returned to their hotel room and started to dress for supper. Marc had bought Zak a tailored suit before they left home that Zak was excited to wear tonight. He took it out of the closet and began to undress. He was surprised to see in the mirror that his body was losing a bit of definition. They had been in San Francisco for a few days, so he was off his usual exercise regimen and was eating a less healthy diet than he usually would back home, but he wouldn’t expect this kind of change in such a short time. Hell, he hadn’t even noticed anything odd after he showered this morning. But there was no mistaking that his body fat had gone up. As he tried to pull on his tailored pants, he had to struggle to get them buckled. Looked like he would need to be extra vigilant when the vacation was over.
Meanwhile, in the bathroom, Marc was surprisingly pleased by what he saw in the mirror. Back home, Zak was always encouraging Marc to eat better and get more exercise, but Marc never stuck to anything. Perhaps all the walking—and even running—he had done this afternoon had made a difference, but he wouldn’t have expected he could move two notches slimmer on his belt. He could swear he even looked a bit younger. He’d have to find out what kind of lightbulbs the hotel used in here, so he could get some for their bathroom back home.
He glanced at his new watch and discovered the hands had actually moved backwards slightly to 3:55 or thereabouts. What a piece of junk! This is why he never let Zak go shopping on his own, because he was far too trusting and just waiting to be fleeced. God knows he loved the boy—the man—but dear lord, he half-expected Zak to come home one day proudly announcing how he’d traded his cow for some magic beans.
In the living room, Zak was checking out his reflection. Whatever imperfections he had seen earlier were nicely concealed by his black suit with a matching black tie and burgundy shirt. He adjusted his cuffs and looked at his watch. “3:15?” he thought. He almost felt like tossing the watch in the trash, but the glint of the metal looked really sharp with the rest of his outfit. Very old school.
Zak heard Marc emerge from the bathroom. He turned to see Marc looking professorial in his gray herringbone suit with an eggplant-colored bow tie. “Whoa,” said Zak, “you look great. What did you do to your hair?”
“My usual nothing.”
Zak walked over to make a closer inspection and could see more short red hairs curling across Marc’s scalp. Any sighted person would still describe him as “bald”, but there was definitely more hair there. “You haven’t been taking Rogaine, have you?”
“Maybe I’ve been cutting hair from your bald spot and gluing it onto my head!” Zak reached over to grab him playfully, but Marc jumped out of his way with agility. He ran to the other side of the bed and tried to get a good look at Zak, but his vision was very blurry. Shit, did he have to get new bifocals already? He guessed he shouldn’t be surprised when you’re pushing fifty. He removed the glasses to wipe off any schmutz that might be on them, and discovered that his vision improved. He glanced over at Zak, who looked stunning. Maybe it was the shock of seeing his partner dressed for once in something inappropriate for a frat party at the beach, but Zak radiated a new maturity that he’d never noticed.
“Wow. Do I know how to pick ‘em.” Marc smiled, slipping his glasses into an inside pocket of his jacket and walking toward Zak.
“As I remember it, I’m the one who came on to you.”
“However it happened, I’m just glad it did. Happy third anniversary.” Marc slipped his arms around Zak. As always, Zak bent down slightly to kiss Marc, rather than making Marc stand on tiptoe.
Since their first night together started in an Irish pub, they had marked each subsequent birthday in a similar establishment. Tonight, they both tossed back pints of Guinness. For their meal, Marc opted for fish and chips and was surprised when Mr. No Carbs and No Fat devoured a heaping plate of bangers and mash. “What? I’m on vacation,” Zak declared, mouth stuffed with mashed potatoes and greasy sausage. Marc may never have found Zak more attractive.
Marc excused himself to the men’s room to dispose of some Guinness, and was surprised to see how good he still looked, even in the smear-streaked mirror of a dingy pub bathroom. Maybe it was just the sight of his face without glasses for the first time in nearly a decade, but he could honestly describe himself as…not unattractive. And damn, Zak was right, his hair did look thicker. With a spring in his step, Marc returned to the dining room.
It had turned into a beautiful night. Marc and Zak strolled as if seeing the city and each other through fresh eyes. Marc seemed inquisitive about every storefront, while Zak strolled a few paces behind, amused by Marc’s unexpected enthusiasm for life. As they walked near Chinatown, they passed Mr. Lee’s store. If it hadn’t looked so dark inside, Zak would have gone in and demanded a refund—although how do you get a refund on free?
Once they made it to the Castro, their options were overwhelming. Zak kept an eye out for someplace nice and quiet, but Marc was in a mood to dance. Since Zak had never seen Marc in a mood to dance and didn’t know when it would ever come again, Marc won the debate. The bouncer studied their IDs carefully, a bit confused, but waved them both in. Zak was amazed to see Marc pulling him onto the dance floor. Usually Marc refused to consider something music unless is was over 100 years old or was played on NPR. He was happy to see Marc coming out of his shell like this. He only wished he could keep up with him. The Guinness and the bangers and mash really seemed to have slowed him down.
“Gimme your phone, I wanna take a selfie!”, Marc shouted. Zak extracted the phone from his pants pocket with more effort than usual and handed it to Marc who snapped a shot of the two of them. He looked at it, then showed it to Zak. “Can you try to look like you’re having a good time?”
Zak was being jostled by dancers on all sides, but he tried to focus on the phone’s screen. Marc looked vibrant, but could that hideous old guy next to him really be Zak? He had bags under his eyes, his hairline seemed to be receding and the skin around the sharp edges of his cheek and jaw had begun to sag. Maybe the flash on the camera phone was responsible for his sickly appearance, but then why did Marc look so good? Zak excused himself to use the bathroom.
Marc was feeling extremely warm in his gray herringbone, so he stripped it off. He had a hell of a time getting the sleeves off his arms where the jacket felt abnormally tight. He attempted to disguise his contortions as dance moves, but someone behind him began to assist him. “Thanks, honey,” he said, assuming Zak was back.
“You’re welcome, doll,” said an unfamiliar voice. Marc spun around and saw a blond hottie in a sleeveless salmon tee, alligator pants and snakeskin boots. “Haven’t seen you here before.”
“I’m here on vacation with my boyfriend,” Marc shouted, looking around for Zak.
“Aw, are you giving me the old ‘I’ve got a boyfriend’ line, just to get rid of me?”
Marc shook his head. “No, why would I want to get rid of you?” Truly, this guy was way out of Marc’s league. Then again, so was Zak and that had inexplicably lasted three years.
“I love the little preppy look you’ve got going,” the blond shouted. “But I bet you’d look hotter if you showed a little skin.”
The blond began to untie Marc’s bowtie. Marc stood as still as he could in the middle of a crowded dance floor as the tie was loosened and the ends dangled from his collar. The blond then slowly began to unbutton Marc’s shirt, exposing a deep cleft between his pecs. Marc looked down in amazement. He had never had a body like this. Even after his divorce, when he went on a brief exercise kick in hopes of meeting another woman (damn, had he ever been in denial), he’d always been twig-thin—until he started developing a gut.
“Now why would you hide a body like this?”, the blond asked. Marc couldn’t think of a particularly good reason other than he didn’t know about it before. He unbuttoned the rest of his shirt and discovered he had rudimentary abs as well, and his pants were sagging. He tightened his belt another notch and rolled up his shirt sleeves where his biceps felt surprisingly solid.
“I’m Tate,” said the blond with a smile.
“Marc,” replied Marc. He and Tate started to move to the music as Marc kept an eye out for Zak.
In the men’s room, Zak had been frozen in position for several minutes, staring at his reflection. The noise around him was an echoey din, which kept him from hearing some of the cattier remarks being made by the guys who had maneuver around him to use the urinals. Mostly, they were remarking on how the old guy was entranced, checking himself out in the mirror. And in this crowd, Zak did look old. The sagginess of his face which he noticed in the selfie was even more pronounced in the graffiti-scratched mirror. His bald spot had definitely grown, and when he tried to brush some of his hair over it with his fingers to conceal it, the hair came off in clumps in his hand. He had removed his jacket and tie, but was feeling incredibly sweaty and his stomach was starting to bulge over the top of his pants.
Zak didn’t even hear the voice saying his name for several seconds. Finally, he saw a blurry but somewhat familiar face in front of him. He saw jet-black hair and a mustache, but the other features were blending into a general flesh-colored haze. “It’s Elmer! We met this morning!”
Zak blinked, trying to remember this morning, which suddenly seemed like twenty years ago. It eventually came back to Zak and he grabbed Elmer’s shoulders. “Oh, Elmer! Thank god! I went to see your friend at the shop, but I think he fucked me up somehow.”
“You don’t look too good. Let’s get you sitting down.” Elmer took Zak by the hand and led him back into the club where they sat beside each other on a bench alongside the dance floor. Elmer rolled up Zak’s sleeves, put a hand on Zak’s wrist and looked closely at Zak’s watch. Zak assumed that Elmer was taking his pulse. “Shit, this isn’t good.”
Zak began to panic. “What? What’s wrong?”
Elmer shouted back, “It’s too loud to talk in here. Let’s get you outside in the fresh air.” Elmer helped to lift Zak to his feet, but Zak fell back, exhausted. Lying flat on his back on the bench, Zak began to choke. Elmer looked around in a panic, then began to perform CPR.
Marc was lost in a wonderful daze, having chugged a daiquiri with Tate before they returned to the dance floor. Marc couldn’t remember having a better birthday than this, although at the moment, he was having trouble remembering much of anything. He did remember coming here with someone. Zeke? No, Zak. Marc felt like an idiot. How could he forget his beautiful Zak? What had happened to him anyway?
At that moment, Marc noticed Zak lying flat on a bench at the edge of the dance floor being kissed by someone with slick black hair and a mustache. Marc suddenly had a moment of clarity. A vision of Zak talking to this man at breakfast this morning, then moving quickly away when Marc returned. He’d always feared that Zak would dump him, but on their anniversary? Their shared birthdays? That was true betrayal. He could have walked over and confronted Zak, but a crowd of clubgoers had suddenly gathered around Zak and that other guy to watch them make out. What a tawdry city this was, but when in Rome… Marc reached over, grabbed Tate by the back of the neck, pulled him close and kissed him furiously. Tate was surprised but eagerly got into the spirit.
As a concerned crowd circled around, offering shouted advice, Elmer stopped giving Zak mouth-to-mouth and went back to pounding on his chest. He was making no progress, and Zak’s face was turning blue, then red, then orange, then yellow, then green. Elmer realized that Zak’s face was positioned directly beneath one of the changing disco lights. One of the club’s cage dancers, wearing nothing but a gold g-string, stepped down from his perch and entered the scrum of onlookers, announcing that he was a paramedic. Elmer ceded his position and let the dancer get to work.
Holy fuck, thought Marc as looked over Tate’s shoulder and saw the near-naked hunk part the crowd around Zak and take control. It’s a fucking gang-bang. He took Tate’s hands and said, “Can we go to your place?”
Tate grinned and said, “You bet!” As they threaded through the crowd to the exit, Marc took one glance back at Zak’s dance-floor orgy where it appeared that the stripper was holding Zak in the air and butt-fucking him. Marc couldn’t believe how betrayed he felt. He slapped Tate’s butt and raced him toward the door.
The EMT stripper was, in fact, giving Zak the Heimlich maneuver, stretching his arms beneath Zak’s sagging pecs and yanking back until Zak’s throat finally shot out the chunk of sausage that had been choking him, followed by a gusher of mashed potatoes which landed on the first dancers who had arrived to watch. Zak rolled to the floor, looking totally wasted, Guinness and potatoes and grease leaking from the corner of his mouth. His burgundy shirt was fully open, exposing a flat chest and a sizable gut.
The stripper asked Elmer to stay here and he would call for an ambulance. Elmer looked desperately around the club for the man who had been with Zak at the restaurant that morning.
It was hard to tell that Tate had switched on the lights in his apartment, as they were so subdued. “I figure I’m paying this rent to be able to see those lights out there,” he said, triggering a switch that electronically raised the blinds and offered a money shot of San Francisco at night. With windows lining two entire walls of his living room, he had a panoramic view of the city. Marc felt like he’d suddenly landed in a romantic comedy where people’s apartments are impossibly spacious and yet somehow affordable to a normal earthling. And if Marc was in a romantic comedy, who was he? For someone who had been told “You look like Woody Allen” for most of his life, tonight he felt like…Sandra Bullock? Jilted and insecure, yet still somehow going back to the apartment of the ludicrously handsome… Marc looked across the room at Tate, who was pulling his arms free of his sleeveless tee, revealing a carved torso which looked spectacular in the shadowy lighting of the apartment. Ryan Reynolds, maybe? Or Ryan Gosling. Either way, Tate was filling the night’s Ryan quota.
Tate opened a liquor cabinet and asked, “What do you want?”
“Anything you got,” Marc answered as he walked closer to the windows for a better view. He hardly needed any more alcohol, as the rush of running to Tate’s place had gotten his head buzzing and his cock throbbing. As he approached the glass, he noticed his reflection and was amazed. Maybe he was fulfilling the Ryan quota. His shirt was hanging open to reveal a mint-condition set of eight-pack abs below an Olympian chest. His face didn’t look radically different, but it radiated the youthful innocence he had taken for granted in college, the freshness that must have masked his insecurities and secret longings sufficiently that he had convinced a woman, an actual woman, to marry him. But it was his hair that startled him the most. Not only had the top filled in completely, but long strand of hair fell down his cheeks and past his shoulder. In this dim light, ripped torso exposed, he looked like goddamn Heathcliff from “Wuthering Heights”. Even better, he looked like Zak.
Tate walked over with two Manhattans, but he spilled them both when Marc took Tate in his arms and dipped him backwards for a prolonged kiss. They tumbled to the floor and crawled their way to the sofa, disrobing each other in the process. Marc slithered out of his pants and discovered his cock straining to escape from his boxers, the head extending past the end of the fabric. Tate’s mouth dropped open when he caught sight of it. He pulled down Marc’s shorts and made short work of sliding the shaft into his mouth. Marc worked his feet free from his pants, then kicked off his shoes, wrapping his legs around Tate’s back.
“It’s my birthday, you know,” Marc slurred, “so I get one blowjob for every year.”
Tate popped Marc’s cock out of his mouth long enough to say, “Fine by me. So how many years would that be?”
Marc tried to remember the answer to that simple question, but everything was getting a bit fuzzy.
Elmer sat outside the emergency room, looking around nervously. When they had asked his relationship to the patient, he had said, “Just a friend,” and could tell by the nurse’s lack of reaction that it was a common response. She directed him to the waiting room where he sat among a moaning, wailing sea of humanity whose emergencies were deemed less emergency-y than Zak’s.
Elmer had taken Zak’s cell phone from his pocket in the ambulance ride over, hoping to find the name and number of the man who had been with Zak at breakfast, since Zak had never mentioned his name. He didn’t even know Zak’s last name until they had to check his insurance card for admission. But it turned out that Zak was one of those conscientious people who locked their phone with a password, so he could not access Zak’s contact list. Obviously Elmer knew what hotel they were staying at, but there was no room booked in Zak’s name, so the older gentleman must have paid for it. Everything would have to wait until Zak was alert enough to give Elmer some answers.
Marc and Tate spooned on the plush carpeting, staring at the city lights, until Tate passed out. Marc was caught between the bliss of never wanting to move ever again and the urgent desire to take a piss. The piss won, so he pulled his arm out from under Tate’s body and steadied himself on his feet. He weaved around the dim and unfamiliar room, bashing his shin into a glass-topped coffee table and stubbing his toe on an andiron before finding the bedroom and, eventually, the bathroom.
Marc flipped on the lights and was nearly melted by the brightness. He peeled the extra-large condom from this alien dick he was now sporting and plopped the cum-filled rubber receptacle into a trash can. He spread his arms and planted them against the wall, then straddled the toilet bowl and commenced a two-minute stream of urine which gave him near-orgasmic pleasure. Spent, he didn’t even exert the energy to flush and staggered across the room to gaze into the mirror.
By this point of the night, he could have seen a vampire reflected back at him and he wouldn’t have been surprised—except that vampires don’t have reflections. Or was that werewolves? Whatever. He had become neither Dracula nor the wolfman, merely a musclebound stud with freckled skin, rock-star red hair which now tickled his traps, and a cock that was now hanging limply at six inches. He studied his face and found someone he had lost long ago. His face was the one that was caught in a grimace on his own college ID, but his body was a match for any of hundreds of students who had stared blankly back at him in…what was that class again? What was he thinking? Look at that baby face. No school would let a kid like him teach.
Head swimming, Marc wandered back into the bedroom where he flopped backwards onto the luxurious comforter and sank into a deep sleep.
Somewhere around 4am, when the backlog of patients had largely been dealt with, a nurse searched until she found Elmer, who stood up, concerned. “How is he?”
“He’s finally alert again.”
“Did he have a heart attack?”
“Nope, just bangers and mash. You really need to talk to your friend about his diet. Someone of his age and weight…” The nurse checked her clipboard and was confused. “Must be a typo. The admitting form says he’s 24.” She laughed at the absurdity and led Elmer back to where Zak was recuperating.
If it weren’t for the yin/yang tattoo on Zak’s saggy shoulder, Elmer might have assumed he had been led to the wrong room. Lying in bed was a balding man with heavy wrinkles on his drooping face and a distended gut pushing the limits of his hospital gown. Elmer approached cautiously and asked how Zak was feeling. Zak shrugged his slight shoulders and stared at Elmer’s face, trying to place it.
Elmer spoke loudly so he could be understood. “Zak, I know you’re tired, but I need to know the name of your friend. The one you came to San Francisco with.”
Zak’s brain seemed to have turned to applesauce overnight, and from the looks of it, so had his muscles. He shrugged again.
“No, Zak, I need you to focus. Who’s the man you came here with? The man you love?”
Zak tried to concentrate. He could almost see the name. “Professor…”
“Okay, that’s good, he’s a professor. But what’s his name?”
“Professor…Plum?” It was his best guess.
Elmer looked to see if any personnel were nearby. When he thought he wouldn’t be noticed, he slapped Zak’s face. “That’s not it. Listen to me, you’ve got to tell me before it’s too late. What is the professor’s name?”
A blissful expression came to Zak’s face. “Professor Marc.”
“Good, good. Professor Marc what? Marc…”
Elmer collapsed with relief over the edge of the bed.
Tate woke as the scalding sun popped over the east horizon and through the city’s high-rises. He shielded his eyes and looked around the room, trying to reconstruct his night. His cock and balls felt raw and empty, but his brain told him they were sacrificed to a worthy cause. He brought himself to his knees first, then eventually stood fully erect, allowing his brain to slosh back into its proper position. He eased his way into the kitchen, but it was too early to shock his body with the sound of grinding fresh coffee.
He saw a stranger’s clothes lying in a rough line from the window to the sofa. He had dim memories of a cute redhead, but other details were shy at the moment. Through the bedroom door, he noticed a bare foot being hit by a shaft of sunlight and wandered over to get a better look at last night’s conquest. “Good morning,” he cooed, “time to wake…holy shit!”
The “holy shit!” alarm brought Marc to full consciousness instantaneously. His eyes popped open as he saw a naked man in his early thirties with bleached blond hair alternately staring away from Marc and furtively glancing back.
“You gotta get outta here right now, kid.”
Kid?, Marc wondered. He hadn’t been called that in…
“Holy shit!”, Marc screamed as he looked down at his pale hairless body. His limbs and torso were frail and virtually muscle-free…and about a foot shorter than he was used to. Long red hair cascaded over his face and halfway down his back.
“Oh, god, oh, god,” muttered Tate, pacing the room. “This cannot be happening to me again.” He pointed to a chest of drawers in the bedroom. “Please just get dressed and get out. There should be clothes that will fit you in the bottom drawer.”
Within two minutes, Marc was out of the door and on the empty chilly streets of San Francisco at dawn, wearing a Ninja Turtles sweatshirt, Oshkosh B’Gosh overalls and bright red sneakers with Velcro straps. He was carrying an Abercrombie and Fitch shopping bag into which was stuffed all of his adult clothes, all of which were far too big for his twelve-year-old body.
He heard the dim sound of music that he could place as being from “Swan Lake”…and then, when it repeated moments later, realized it was his cellphone ringtone coming from the bag. He set it down and rummaged among his clothes until he pulled out his phone. The caller was shown as “Unknown”, but he was eager for someone to explain what was going on.
“Hello,” Marc chirped in a pubescent voice he hadn’t heard in 36 years.
“Oh fuck,” sighed Elmer’s voice at the other end. “Is this Marc?”
“Yeah, who are you?”
“I’m a friend of your buddy Zak. Remember Zak?”
Marc kinda did. Seemed like Zak was an older kid. Had big muscles. Made Marc feel kinda funny in his downstairs parts. “Uh-huh?”
“You need to meet your buddy Zak. I’m gonna give you an address. Do you have enough money to take a taxi, Marc?”
At that moment, a police car pulled over to the curb beside Marc. The window rolled down and a cop asked Marc, “Are you lost?”
Marc handed the phone over to the cop, who drove Marc to the address he was given over the phone. The cop wasn’t surprised when he got there. He led Marc to the door and knocked as a taxicab arrived. A wheezing, obese older man climbed out of the back seat, wearing tacky shorts and a t-shirt straight from the hospital’s gift shop, looking like he’d just had the worst night of his life. He stood on the sidewalk and vaguely recognized this unremarkable storefront. The cop knocked again, and finally an elderly Chinese man opened the door.
“Morning, Mr. Lee. Looks like we got a couple of your strays,” said the cop.
Mr. Lee bowed repeatedly, apologetically. “Yes, yes, very sorry. I will fix. Okay, bye.” Mr. Lee led the new arrivals into the shop and locked the door. The old man and the ragamuffin regarded each other curiously from opposite sides of the shop.
In the interest of urgency, Mr. Lee skipped the dramatic flourishes that usually accompanied his transformations and knelt down beside the boy. “Very nice watch, little boy. May I see it?”
Little Marc was skeptical, but he looked into the old man’s kind eyes and believed he could trust him.
Just as Mr. Lee had suspected, the little hand pointed to the I and the big hand pointed to the II. These weren’t watches, but they were timepieces of a sort. The short hand pointed to decades and the long hand to years, meaning that Marc here was currently 12 years old. He knew that meant the man slumped on the floor across the room must be wearing a timepiece where the decade hand pointed to VI and the year hand was straight up, indicating zero, making his age 60. Mr. Lee sighed with relief that the boy had been found before his timepiece wound all the way back to both hands being at zero. He’d never heard of that occurring, as the watches usually wound to a stop before things became too dire, and he did not wish to learn what would happen in such an event.
Mr. Lee spoke gently to Marc. “This will sound silly, but please put on the grown-up clothes.”
“NO!”, shouted Marc, crossing his arms in defiance. Mr. Lee had no time to waste on pleasantries. He grabbed Marc’s wrist, pulled out the stem and wound the hands forward. He knew there was a delayed reaction, but he wanted to get it over with as fast as possible so he could get out of the way. When the hands on Marc’s timepiece indicated the year 48, Mr. Lee crossed to Zak and checked to make sure that his timepiece had stayed in balance. Sure enough, his timepiece now showed an age of 24. Mr. Lee wound both watches as far as they could go, to speed up the process, but since it had taken more than twelve hours for them to change, it would take a similar amount of time for them to change back.
Mr. Lee had much faster methods of changing bodies, but Zak had been dismissive of the bracelets which Mr. Lee had first suggested, so he resorted to the timepieces. Mr. Lee’s entire operation worked on the principle of order and balance, with the timepieces representing the concept in perhaps its purest form. Instead of customers giving Mr. Lee some aspect of themselves in exchange for an attribute they would like to acquire, the timepieces allowed this transaction between two people without Mr. Lee’s involvement. As soon as the watches were set into motion, the wearer of one timepiece would be transferring his qualities to the other person, and vice versa. If Marc became six years younger, Zak became six years older. For a brief moment last night, they each would have been 36, after which Marc had become the younger of the two. Inevitably, some other traits would transfer along with age, so Marc had become more and more muscular as he became younger, while his flab transferred to Zak. Now that Marc had been reduced to a skinny pre-teen, Zak’s body was carrying even more of a load because the mass had to be preserved, it couldn’t just disappear. In Mr. Lee’s experience, penis size transferred in a similar fashion, but he had assumed Zak regained his girth and length once Marc had gone into reverse puberty sometime last night.
Mr. Lee would have happily explained all of this to Zak yesterday if he hadn’t bolted from the store. Luckily, Elmer had met Zak and Marc at their hotel, so Elmer knew where to look for them. If Elmer had not been tailing them, looking out for their well-being, the cop arriving at the store this morning might have been much less forgiving. As it was, Mr. Lee had a very friendly relationship with the SFPD, as his particular set of skills frequently came in handy in their investigations. For this reason, his shop was allowed to continue to operate as long as nothing went too horribly askew.
Knowing he would be in for a long wait as the men reverted to their true selves, Mr. Lee took a seat behind the counter with a cup of tea and the newspaper and began to work that day’s crossword puzzle.
Zak stretched his arms, feeling like he had just experienced the longest sleep and weirdest dream of his life. He looked around and realized he was back at the X-Dream Makeover shop. Strangely, he was wearing San Francisco souvenir shorts and a shirt, stretched tight on his muscular body. Marc was seated across the room, covered by a tarp for some reason, with an Abercrombie and Fitch bag beside him.
Hearing noise in the front room, Mr. Lee shuffled in from behind a mirror and smiled to Zak. “Good to see you awake, young Zak.”
“Jeez, what time is it?”, Zak asked looking at his weird watch, which again indicated 2:20.
Mr. Lee made his way over and unlatched the timepiece from Zak’s wrist. “Pay no attention to that. The time is about six o’clock in the p.m.”
Zak nodded, then realized he had an even bigger question. “What day is it?”
Mr. Lee smiled. “It is the day after your birthday.” He walked over to Marc, lifted up the tarp and removed his timepiece. He carried both timepieces behind the counter where he placed them back in his jewelry cabinet.
Marc woke up and pulled away the tarp from his body. He had regained his former physique, with its skinny limbs and protruding gut, but it was now popping out of the boy’s clothes he had arrived in. Zak became convulsed in laughter at the sight of a pre-teen’s overalls and Ninja Turtle shirt stretched thin over Marc’s body. Marc looked down at his body, then around the shop and asked, “What the hell happened?”
Zak scooted across the floor until he was beside Marc. He put an arm around Marc’s shoulder. “It all started because I wanted to give you something special and memorable for your birthday.”
Moments from the past day began to flash through their minds, some pleasant, others uncomfortable or bizarre. Once the cotton candy in their heads went away, their full memories of the day’s events would become clear.
“You’re always so worried that you’re too old for me, so I wanted to give you something that would make you feel younger. Based on how you’re dressed, maybe we overdid it.”
Marc stood up and began to pull his adult clothes from the shopping bag. As he started to get dressed, Mr. Lee informed the men, “If you wish, I could still perform a makeover. Make Mr. Marc here younger or stronger? Make Mr. Zak more intellectual?”
They considered it, but Marc looked at Zak and shook his head. “No, I think we balance each other out pretty well. This is the guy I want. And I’m afraid he’s stuck with me, for better or for worse.”
That gave Zak an idea. He turned to Mr. Lee and asked, “I don’t suppose you could sell us…a couple rings?”
Marc froze in place, realizing the implication of Zak’s request. He stood on tiptoe and kissed Zak on the lips.
Mr. Lee grinned. “Any rings I would sell you would just create more problems. You should go to an ordinary jewelry store. But if you ever reconsider the makeover…” He handed Marc one of his business cards.
Mr. Lee ran across the room to unlock and open the door. As Marc and Zak left the shop arm-in-arm, Zak pointed to the card and informed Marc, “Hey, if you do the Jumble of ‘Mr. Lee’, it spells ‘Elmer’!”
Mr. Lee closed the door after them and locked it. He returned behind the counter and slipped off his embroidered silk robe. He latched several thin metallic bracelets around his wrist and braced himself for fireworks. Suddenly the frail old man’s body exploded with muscle, his wrinkles smoothed out, his mustache grew dark and thin, and his bald head sprouted black hair which Mr. Lee combed straight back. He realized he had forgotten a bracelet, slapped it on and closed his eyes for the ecstatic rush which always accompanied the growth of his penis to a soft six inches.
He walked into the back room to select an outfit. He had put in a lot of hours on this last transformation. Time for a relaxing night out. And maybe he’d find someone else who could use the services of Mr. Lee.