Movin' Up in the World
Lau splashed ice-cold water on his face until his skin was numb. He leaned on the filthy sink and stared back at the stranger in the mirror. His arms were shaking and a weird giddiness made his head spin. He wanted to roll right here on the floor of the bus-station washroom, laughing like a madman.
He was free. He’d managed to run away. For real, this time, and now no one would get in his way.
The face in the mirror was gaunt, with sunken cheeks and deep shadows under its eyes-- his amber-colored eyes that still retained some of their bright gold sheen hiding in their depths. The Lau he knew was still in there somewhere, underneath the suffering and pain and humiliation. He was hiding, waiting. Biding his time. And his time had finally come.
He gritted his teeth, trying to push the memories of the last six months as far into the depths of his mind as he could. Just thinking about it made his face burn with shame, made him want to kick something, or to punch the grimy mirror until it shattered, to feel shards of it slicing into his skin.
He wouldn’t think about it. The important thing was, it was over. He’d consider it a valuable lesson for the future. End of story.
He considered his options. He was in an unfamiliar city with no place to go, not a soul he knew and nothing but the clothes on his back. Panic and despair were once again starting to take over, but he fought them. He’d figure out what to do.
Just the thought of finding himself in the kind of situation he’d just escaped made him break out in cold sweat.
A place to stay. That was top priority right now. In the early December in Montreal it was already snowing, the cold biting and sharp. If he didn’t want to fall asleep on some bench in a park and never wake up again, he’d need a roof over his head.
He wondered if there was a homeless shelter nearby. The very idea of sharing a room with bums and druggies was humiliating as hell, but these were desperate times. It wouldn’t be for long, he told himself. He’d get back on his feet physically, take a shower, wash his hair, wait for the bruises to heal up, and then he’d find someone who could take care of him. He was still him, he was beautiful. It wouldn’t take long.
You already tried that, didn’t you? nagged a little voice in the back of his mind. Remember how well that turned out?
Lau shut his eyes. He had to remind himself, some days, what he really was. I won’t forget, he repeated to himself, laying awake many a sleepless night, curled up in foetal position, biting down on his fist to keep in the sobs that shook him. I will never forget what I am. No matter how much pain and misery this shitty world heaps on me, I will never forget. I am not one of them. I am a demiurge. I am powerful and they are little more than my playthings...
But the world, it seemed, had set out to prove to him that it was no longer the case. It was his punishment, to be stuck here in this human body, without his powers, fully at their mercy.
I won’t forget, he whispered at his unrecognizable reflection. I won’t ever fucking forget.
Back out in the bus terminal, he tried to approach a janitor to ask about a homeless shelter. The man shot him a hostile look from under bushy eyebrows, muttered something unpleasant in French and moved on like Lau wasn’t there.
He swallowed his rage and humiliation and moved along. It was nearing midnight, the last bus had just departed and soon they’d throw him out on the street. He clenched his jaw and forbid himself to panic.
Outside, the wind cut through his worn-out hoodie and ripped jeans like a knife through butter. His fingertips went numb almost immediately and he pulled the sleeves of the hoodie down over his hands, but it did little to help.
The downtown core loomed above him, gleaming with lights. Cars zoomed by at a dizzying speed. He inhaled the polluted air and wrapped his arms around himself.
A tap on his shoulder made him jump. He turned around, ready to fight off the attacker, but only saw a short man in glasses and a simple leather coat.
“What do you want?” Lau snapped.
“Are you lost?”
“No,” he replied coldly.
The man shrugged. “You know better, I suppose. But if you need a place to stay...”
“I do not,” Lau snapped. Fear washed over him like a hot, suffocating wave. Images flashed before his mind’s eye, vivid and real. A car comes skidding to a halt next to him, raising a cloud of dust in the warm spring air. The window rolls down...
He shook his head, trying to get rid of the vision. When he opened his eyes again, he saw the man was still there, looking at him with what seemed like sympathy. Well, looks could deceive.
“Then, just in case.” He reached into his pocket. Lau tensed, but the man only took out a card. He held it out and Lau hesitantly took it.
Lueur D’Espoir, he tried to read, squinting. Right underneath was the English version: Ray of Hope youth shelter.
He breathed a sigh of relief that he hoped the man didn’t notice.
“So if you ever need anything, just drop by,” said the man. “I’m Mike.”
Lau gave him a wan smile. “Thanks,” he finally said.
He circled the night city for about a half-hour, looking around in wonder. Everything was in French, it was true. Otherwise it was a city like any other. He saw bars with lineups of underdressed, tipsy men and women waiting to get in. Storefronts, restaurants. Wherever he went, people seemed to look right through him like he wasn’t there. They didn’t exactly swerve out of their path to avoid him, but they looked studiously away as he passed. He realized with a pang of bitterness that they had their cushy little lives, they were going out for a night of fun and drinking and socializing, and he was just some dirty street kid.
He looked at the card that he was still clutching in his hand. There was an address and a little sketch of a map. He wondered if it could be a fake, just another lure-- the last time had left him thoroughly paranoid-- but then decided that he’d pass in front of it at least, just to see.
It took him some time to find his way, but after another freezing twenty minutes he stood in front of the door that bore the logo on the card. He hesitated for a moment, then pressed down on the doorbell.
For a while, nothing happened, and he was about to slink away, mortified, when the door buzzed. He pushed it and went into a narrow lobby, with peeling white walls and plastic holders full of various pamphlets. Next to them, he saw a dish filled with multicoloured condom packets. He raised his eyebrows.
“Can I help you?” asked a female voice, slightly annoyed like he’d interrupted something. He turned around to find himself facing a Plexiglas window with little holes drilled in it, and behind it a middle-aged woman in a grey knit sweater. She put down the paperback she had been reading.
“Uh,” he said. “I was just looking for a place, and this guy gave me a card...” he felt like the world’s biggest moron. He should not be reduced to this sort of thing, he thought in the back if his mind. But once again, for the millionth time in the last several years, he stepped on his pride.
She eyed him with all the warmth of an anaconda facing a rabbit. “Name?”
“Andrew Carlisle,” he said, thinking too late that he should have used a fake name.
He held her gaze. “Don’t have one.”
“Well, that’s too damn bad,” she replied, and reached to pick up the paperback. Lau panicked and took a step towards the window.
“I have nowhere to go.”
“We’re full,” came the dispassionate answer.
“I thought you were supposed to help people,” he blurted out.
She looked up at him. “Listen, kid...”
The voice came from down the hallway. Lau turned around and, to his relief, saw the man from earlier.
“Let him in,” he said.
“He doesn’t have ID,” said Denise apologetically.
“Two thirds of them don’t. We can’t turn them away just because of that.”
Denise shrugged and returned to her book. Mike beckoned to Lau to follow him, and he did. “Glad you decided to come by,” he said. Like Lau was an old friend dropping in for coffee.
He said nothing.
“She was right, we are kinda full,” Mike apologized. “With the cold snap and all, it always gets busier. But I think I can find you a place to crash.”
“That would be great,” Lau choked out.
“What’s your name?”
“L... Andrew.” He decided he’d keep his real name to himself from now on, unless absolutely necessary.
“Great. Well, you’re going to have to sleep on the couch in the waiting room tonight,” he said. “And tomorrow we’ll try to figure something out. Sound good?”
“Are you hungry?”
The mention of food made him realize that he was. In fact, he was starving. Mike turned around, saw the look on his face and laughed. “’I’ll take that as a yes. Supper was hours, ago, but I was just going to make a run to Tim’s anyway. What do you want?”
Lau could only shrug, stunned. Mike nodded. “Okay. I’ll surprise you.”
He walked off, leaving Lau in the waiting room. By the time he’d regained his ability to speak, the door had closed behind Mike, and he didn’t get the chance to ask the one question that was nagging at him, that mystified him: why? Why are you doing all this for me?
And the other question that immediately followed, this one more sinister. What do you want in return?
He paced the room, sat down on the dilapidated couch, thumbed through the pamphlets. They were mainly about STD’s and safe use of needles. He peeked into the other room, where he saw several figures asleep on cots and one kid on the corner who looked even younger than Lau, just staring off into space, muttering something. He shuddered. He would not end up like one of them, Lau promised himself.
Mike returned and set out the wares in front of Lau. The smell of food and hot coffee made Lau’s stomach growl, and he threw himself at the BLT and doughnuts without even remembering to thank his benefactor. Once the ravenous hunger had subsided, he looked up and saw that Mike was observing him with a sad smile. “What?” he asked, his mouth half-full.
“Nothing. Once you’re done, care to tell me a little about yourself?”
“What is it to you?” Lau snarled.
Mike shook his head. He was not a bad-looking guy, in his early thirties, he had thinning ash-blond hair that he wore nearly shaved, no doubt to try to hide that fact. Slender and fine-featured, with thick glasses he kept subconsciously pushing up on his nose. Lau imagined he was picked on a lot in school.
“It’s my job,” Mike answered.
Lau scoffed. “Why on earth would someone want to do that?”
Mike seemed unfazed. “It’s rewarding, in its own way. To know you’ve helped someone change their life for the better.”
Lau raised a sceptical eyebrow.
“Okay, it’s not always rewarding,” Mike admitted. “Sometimes, no matter what you do... well, if someone doesn’t want to get better, there’ nothing you can do.”
Lau wasn’t sure he understood.
“But anyway,” Mike went on. “You quite artfully dodged my question.” His eyes crinkled in a smile.
“What question?” Lau grumbled, even though he remembered perfectly.
“For starters. Where are your parents?”
He cringed. “Don’t have parents.”
Lau was not about to start telling him about his mother goddess who threw him out of his homeworld. But what else was he going to say? Mike was looking at him expectantly.
“I was abandoned at the hospital when I was born, alright?” he snapped. “Foster parents didn’t quite work out. So I ran away.”
“Okay.” Mike set down his coffee cup. Lau didn’t see what exactly was okay. “So what do you intend to do now?”
He shrugged. He was tired, and now that he’d eaten he was getting sleepy. That was the last thing he wanted to think about.
Thankfully, Mike didn’t insist. “How old are you?”
“Nineteen,” he said reluctantly.
“That’s old enough to get a job and live on your own. Did you finish high school?”
Lau shrugged again. At the loony bin they’d been required to take classes, but he’d managed to get out of them most of the time. It was really easy, throw a tantrum, attack someone, you get a shot in the arm and a few hours in solitary and that was all. So he had no idea if those classes he did sit through counted for anything.
Mike nodded. “I can help you get your GED.”
“Would you like that?”
“Okay,” Lau repeated. His eyes were starting to close in spite of himself. He leaned back on the couch, and at the moment it felt like the softest, most comfortable bed in the world.
Before he knew it, he was fast asleep.
He was curled up in the corner of the locked basement room where they kept him. He had to grab on to the few hours of rest before they came back. His human body was too weak, and exhaustion trumped terror and pain-- he collapsed into unconsciousness even when he knew they were coming back any minute, leaving him vulnerable. He was awake but stayed still, eyes tightly shut, hoping that oblivion would last a little longer. Knowing that when he opened his eyes, there would be one of them or one of the assholes they brought down here, and there would be more pain. He wasn’t sure he could handle any more.
Then slowly his memories came flooding back, and he was at once aware of his surroundings. Relief flooded his entire being. He was out of there. He was free. This was his first morning as a free man.
He opened his eyes. He was still on the old couch in the waiting room of the youth shelter. The muttering kid from last night was standing over him, examining him like some exotic insect.
Lau sat up. “Stay away,” he hissed.
The kid backed away. “Chill, chill. I was just lookin’.”
“Go look at someone else.”
“It’s all right,” mumbled the kid. He raised his hands in a pacifying gesture. “I was just looking at you and thinking, why is someone like you here?”
The truth was, Lau was wondering the same thing. “What do you mean?” he asked warily.
“I mean, with a face like that you can probably charge fifty for a blow job,” said the kid, blinking.
Without another thought, Lau charged at him, tackling him to the floor. The kid howled when Lau raised his fist with the intention to punch him in the jaw.
He heard a woman-- Denise?-- shriek in the background, and then two people at once grabbed him from behind, pulling him off the kid. LA tried to kick at them, but both of them were stronger than him.
“Easy, easy,” said a male voice. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“It’s that kid from last night that Mike let in,” said Denise. “I told him he was trouble...”
“Fuck you,” growled Lau. “I’m leaving anyway.”
“Damn right you are,” said Denise.
Denise and the man let go of him. He started towards the door where he practically bumped into Mike, who was carrying a tray with several coffees. “What’s going on here? Andrew?”
“Don’t fucking call me that!” snapped Lau, reflexively. “I’m getting the fuck out of here.”
“Wait!” Mike exclaimed. Lau pushed past him, slamming the door behind him. For a second the sun blinded him, and the cold took his breath away, he was almost about to question his decision when Mike caught up with him.
“One of those fucking junkie freaks was talking shit,” Lau was startled by the lack of anger on Mike’s friendly face.
“Don’t call them that. They are just regular kids who hit a rough patch. Just like you.”
Anger flared up within him, and he was about to explain to this idiot that he was not “a regular kid who hit a rough patch”, but Mike spoke first .
“If you don’t want to stay in the shelter, you can crash at my place until we figure something out for you.”
Lau froze in his tracks, stunned. Then surprise turned to anger. Here it comes. Crash at my place, and how about a quick blow job while you’re there.
“No fucking way.”
Mike inhaled sharply. “Look, Andrew...”
“My name is not Andrew.”
His eyes widened. “You know?!”
“I’m sorry. I looked you up,” said Mike quietly. “I found your file. I know about your shaky start. I also have a pretty good guess about what happened between then and now. And I don’t think that it has to define the rest of your life. “
Suddenly, Lau couldn’t breathe, like there was a lump in his throat that was choking him.
“If you agree to let me try to help you, I can. And I know you probably think I have some kind of ulterior motive, but I promise you I will not ask for anything in return.”
Lau couldn’t speak. He only nodded.
“Nice place you got.”
Lau looked around, unable to contain his curiosity. This was the first time he’d been in an apartment like this. His foster homes that he could remember were nothing like it. It was small but clean and cozy, and everything spoke of the person who lived in it. There were neat rows of books on the shelf—a mix of psychology books and detective novels-- and an extensive collection of DVD’s. There was a plant by the window, a lemon tree. The living room housed a set of two armchairs and a couch, slightly scuffed but matching, and a large TV. On the mantel was a framed photo of Mike and a smiling girl with tan skin and curly brown hair.
“Melissa. My girlfriend.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Does she know I’m here?”
He heard Mike sigh. “Yes. Andrew, I can understand why you’re like this, but you have to stop.”
“I’m not some creep with chains in the basement, okay?”
“I brought you here because you needed a place to stay. I have no intention and absolutely no desire to demand sexual favors of you now or in the foreseeable future. Can I just say that for the record so we can move on?”
For some reason, the phrase “sexual favours” made Lau start to giggle uncontrollably. Mike waited for the fit to pass.
“So this Melissa, she must be great in bed,” Lau finally said through bursts of laughter.
Mike didn’t find it so hilarious. “This has absolutely nothing to do with anything. And your remark was out of place.”
Lau finally got the fit of the giggles under control. “Sorry.”
Without batting an eye, Mike moved on. “So. I’ll have the application for your GED here later today. I’ll help you fill it out if you need me to.”
“I’ll do fine,” said Lau without too much enthusiasm. Mike shrugged. “Very well.” He took off his coat and hung it up on the hook by the door. “Then, there’s something else I’d like to talk to you about.”
“How about after breakfast ?”
Suddenly last night’s sandwich seemed pretty far away. “Sounds like a plan.”
They had breakfast which they washed down with truly excellent espresso Mike made in the large chrome machine on the kitchen counter. Then Mike made phone calls and did some work-related stuff on his computer while Lau grabbed a towel from the wardrobe and hopped in the shower. He’d forgotten how long it’s been since he’d washed for real, and for a few minutes he just stood there, letting hot water run through his hair, down his face and body, swirling at his feet. He’d scrubbed himself with soap and washed his hair twice, tearing his fingers through it until he’d taken out the knots.
When he’d dried off and caught his reflection in the steamed up bathroom mirror, he could almost recognize himself. He smiled. He couldn’t believe how much his luck had changed in just a few hours.
He took one look at the pile of old, smelly clothes on the floor and cringed. Wrapping the towel around his hips, he waltzed out of the bathroom to find Mike.
“Hey, I don’t mean to impose or anything, but do you have something I could borrow?”
Mike turned to him, and the color drained out of his face. Lau frowned. That was not the reaction he was used to. Then he looked down at himself and remembered. Right. The bruises that covered his torso and arms were fading, and while they were no longer black and purple, they were yellowing around the edges, which didn’t make them any less horrifying.
Mike, meanwhile, got a hold of himself. “Of course,” he stammered, and began to rummage through the drawers. He came up with a pair of jeans that was too short but fit, and a faded black t-shirt. It did the job. Feeling clean and refreshed, Lau just hung around the apartment while Mike finished his emails.
He’d almost forgotten about the impending conversation when Mike sat down next to him on the living room couch.
“You want to tell me what exactly happened to you?”
The words were like a slap. All of a sudden Lau’s excellent mood evaporated. “There’s nothing to tell.”
“I know it’s not easy. But trust me, you’ll feel better afterward.”
Lau failed to see how it would make him feel better. He told him so.
Mike sighed. “You don’t really have to tell me. Like I said, I have a pretty good guess. I just want you to know that it’s all right to feel kinda fucked up after something like that.”
“Oh, really? You don’t say,” responded Lau wryly.
“I mean it. You’re going to have all kinds of weird thoughts, interpret things differently. Do you understand?”
Lau thought about it.
“You might feel sad some days, you might be tempted to numb the sad feelings, and you might even feel like harming yourself.”
“You don’t have to worry about that.”
“It might seem like it now. But you never know. Healing is a long process.”
Lau rolled his eyes. “You still don’t get it, do you?”
“Maybe I get more than you think.” Mike had that infuriating blank expression again.
“I’m above all this shit. I don’t think or function like the rest of those junkie runaways. Or like you.”
Mike held his defiant gaze. “We all think so. But none of us are above anything.”
Lau sighed, deciding it was useless to argue.
Later that evening, Lau listened from the living room as Mike had a long and unpleasant-sounding phone conversation in the bedroom.
“No. No he’s not.”
There was a long pause as the person on the other end was speaking-- or, judging by Mike’s tone, yelling.
“He is not going to... Listen, Mel. He just needs a place to stay, he has no place to go. No, you’re the one who doesn’t understand...”
“He’s not dangerous. How do I know? I have an eye for these things. It won’t be long, a couple days. Okay, a week, tops. Stop yelling. What? Are you out of your mind? Of course not!”
A much longer pause.
“Fine. You know what, I’ll call you back once you’ve calmed down a little. Bye.” He slammed the receiver on the charger.
“So I take it that was the incomparable Melissa,” said Lau when Mike exited the room, a little red in the face. He sat down on the couch and dropped his head onto his hands. “She’s just overreacting. She thinks I’m too devoted to my job.”
“Maybe she has a point,” Lau said tentatively. “How do you know I’m not some psycho freak? My papers say otherwise.” He was pushing his luck, he knew, but he just couldn’t resist the temptation to get a glimpse into the mind of his rescuer.
“You’re not,” said Mike. He sounded tired. “You’re a normal person. You just need someone to get through to you. And the only way to do that is to treat you like a normal person for a change.”
“Is that what you’re doing?”
Mike didn’t answer.
Lau wasn’t sure what moved him. But he leaned in closer to Mike until his lips touched the side of his neck, just barely brushing against his skin.
He felt the man shiver with his whole body. But he stayed perfectly still, even when Lau kissed the spot on his neck, then lightly nipped with his teeth.
“Wait,” Mike murmured, even though he still didn’t move a muscle.
Lau broke away. “You don’t want to?” he whispered into Mike’s ear.
He could see his throat move as he swallowed nervously. Lau didn’t need to look to know Mike’s cock was straining at the zipper of his pants.
“Do you think I’m hideous? The bruises...”
“No,” Mike whispered. “Not at all. It’s not that. We... shouldn’t...”
“That’s not what I asked,” Lau purred in his ear. “I asked, do you want to?”
Then, in a dizzying movement their arms were around each other, and Lau’s lips touched Mike’s. He tasted like coffee and mint. Lau’s tongue explored his mouth, teasing, and Mike moaned softly. Lau straddled him, feeling the bulge of his hard-on grind into his inner thigh, and reached down to undo Mike’s belt and unbutton his jeans.
The sex was quick and passionate. Lau hissed with pain when Mike’s cock, clad in a lube-slicked condom, pushed inside him. He’d forgotten he was still sore. But then Mike found the sweet spot inside him, and the pleasure drowned out the lingering remains of pain. Lau rode Mike until he came, shuddering, grasping Lau’s hips and grinding into him. Then Lau jerked himself off and came onto Mike’s sweat-damp stomach, letting the orgasm empty him of all the weird and conflicting emotions. When he collapsed on top of Mike, panting, his mind was gloriously blank.
Mike slept, half-covered with a bed sheet. Lau lay awake. After a while, realizing sleep was out of his reach, he sat up, stumbled to the kitchen and went through the fridge. There was a half-empty bottle of vodka in the freezer. He took a swig. The icy cold and the bitterness woke him up completely.
Lau jumped. Mike stood in the doorway, shamefully covering himself up with a towel.
Lau gave him a crooked smile. “Dipped into your supplies a bit,” he said, waving the frost-covered bottle in the air. “Hope you don’t mind.”
“Uh, not at all.” Mike did not sound sure. He avoided looking at Lau, preferring to stare down at the floor. “About earlier...”
Lau rolled his eyes. “Got it. Not a word to anyone, you can count on me.”
“It’s not that.” Mike shuffled his feet. “Although,” he added belatedly, “That would be...”
“I can keep my mouth shut.”
Mike ran his hand over his cropped hair, an anguished look on his face. He sighed heavily. “I’m sorry, Andrew... I mean Lau... God. I don’t know. Whatever you are.”
Lau raised his eyebrows. “You have no idea,” he muttered under his breath.
“I don’t know what came over me. I mean, I don’t even...” he trailed off, then started again. “It’s just, I’ve never been so... attracted to anyone before.”
“That’s okay.” Lau held out the vodka bottle. “Want a shot?”
“No,” Mike said quickly, but took the bottle from his hand and swigged from it anyway. “I, I mean, you’re still welcome to stay here. Of course. Everything I said earlier still stands.”
Lau nodded. “Thanks.”
“So...” Mike started.
“We’re cool,” Lau finished with a chuckle. “Go to sleep. I’ll join you in a sec.”
Mike sighed with relief. “Thank you. I’m glad this isn’t going to make things all weird.”
“Of course not.” Nothing I haven’t encountered before, after all.
Mike shuffled off to the bedroom.
Lau plopped down onto a chair, wincing. He must have been a little too sore after all. He listened until he was sure Mike was soundly asleep. So much for no sexual favors, he thought. He wasn’t’ sure if he found this hilarious or disappointing. Mike said he’d never ask, and he hadn’t. But the second Lau had offered... had so much as hinted at offering... Mike was willing enough to take him up on it. Sex goddess girlfriend Melissa notwithstanding.
It was always the same. Sex, that was all anyone ever really wanted from him. All of a sudden his eyes were stinging. Lau hated himself for it.
Fine, he thought furiously. If all they want from me is sex, then at least I’ll make them pay for it.
He picked up a newspaper and flipped to the back, past the wanted ads, to the other kind of ads. Sure enough, there was a million of those to choose from.
Quietly, careful not to wake up Mike who was still fast asleep, he tiptoed to the bedroom and got the phone. Hesitating for a moment, he dialled the number with shaky fingers.
A surprisingly brief conversation followed. It was like calling to order pizza or something, Lau thought with strange detachment.
“When can you come in?”
He threw a last glance towards the half-open bedroom door.
He took a clean t-shirt out of Mike’s closet, and a tight-fitting pair of black jeans. In the hallway he put on a pair of black sneakers and the winter jacket that was still hanging from its hook by the door. He didn’t bother with valuables, or money.
By this time tomorrow he’d have enough to afford his own place to stay.
Fire demiurge Lau had it made until the Mother Goddess banished him for his cruel treatment of humans. Now he’s stuck in a mortal life, trying to cope without his powers—mainly by partying hard and seducing anything with a heartbeat.
Then he meets Jesse Warner.
College student Jesse is new to Montreal. Out from under his parents’ thumbs for the first time, he can’t wait to begin to discover who he really is. He has no idea what’s really at stake when he falls in love with the former demiurge... until a powerful being with a grudge shows up, ready to destroy them both.
I got the image here: http://pixdaus.com/single.php?id=117504