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Chapter One: I'm Elgin, and You're Evan...?

“Mademoiselle’s Escort Service, how may I help you?
“Hi Claire, it’s me, Evan,”
“Evan! Nice to hear from you again! How have you been?”
“Not too bad. Yourself?”
“Not bad at all. You’re calling about Angelo, right?”
“Is he free Friday night?”
“Just let me check – oh I’m so sorry, Evan, he’s booked. He’s open Saturday if you –”
“No, don’t worry about it, er, can you run the list of available people by me?”
“Sure thing, just let me bring it up –
Let’s see, guys, right? Well, there’s Benjamin, Chaz, Francisco, Tevin, Collin, Elgin, Winslow, To–”
“Wait, go back. Who’s Elgin?”
“Oh, he’s new. I’m not sure you’d like him, Evan. He doesn’t talk much and he seems really fragile.”
“I’ll take him.”
“Are you sure? You didn’t hear the rest of the list.”
“I’m sure. Friday, the same place, 7:00, alright?”
“Alright, Evan. You should know there’s no changing your mind.”
“Take care of yourself Claire.”
“You too, Evan.”

He hung up the phone and dropped his forehead into his palms. Although it was almost Christmas and the days were short, they dragged by, minutes like hours, hours like days. He should really call his friends. They’d be expecting him to, but he didn’t want to talk to them now. They always sounded so sympathetic, so sad, so patronizing.
He realized, as he watched the snow drift in lazy clumps past his window, that it’d been four, no five, years since he’d really talked to them. For a while they took him out, tried to get him to see other people, make new friends, meet someone, but he’d resisted, and they’d given up. Claire had said it; he was stubborn. He always had been. He’d also been a good number of other things: wilful, quick-tempered, procrastinating, but also brave, loyal, happy. Now, he was none of those things. He was nothing, with no one.
It had been an accident, finding the escort service. Well, not an accident really, but a chance of fate. He was flipping through his telephone directory one day, not really looking for anything, or even reading the pages, when Ron appeared in his fireplace. A group was going club hopping and no was not an acceptable answer. So the night was spent laughing outwardly while dying inwardly, dying of nothing, dying of the familiar void sucking all his energy into the emptiness of his heart.
When he got home early the next morning, the directory was still open on the table, to a page of escort services. So he called. He hadn’t meant to, he just did. And he hadn’t meant to end up with Angelo either. He just wasn’t listening as Claire, the then unknown operator, listed off the available names.
Now he missed Angelo. They weren’t exactly friends. They had nothing in common. Angelo was paid to keep him company, and that’s all it was, but it was comforting. Angelo knew nothing of his past, nothing of his future, nothing of his losses. He didn’t patronize him, treat him like glass, or give him concerned looks.
He’d tried others, after Angelo, but none of them were quite as right. Benjamin was picky, always straightening his clothes and picking lint off the tablecloth. Chaz was haughty. Francisco would have been tolerable had he not mentioned his fascination with magic. Tevin and Winslow were boring. Collin was barely eighteen; Todd was almost forty-eight.
Elgin: what would he be like? Quiet and fragile is what Claire said. Maybe he was afraid, his young life filled with horrid stories of abusive stepfathers and possessive pimps. Fragile, was he thin? Or maybe he was pale and broken looking. It didn’t matter. The next time he’d call earlier to ensure Angelo’s company, Elgin was just a time filler.
He dropped his hands, allowing his head to fall to the table with a dull thunk. He was twenty-six years old and his life was at a dead end. He was tired of living and yet, he didn’t want to let go. He’d fought for this life, and he was not going to give it up. Or at least that’s what he kept telling himself. Deep down though, he knew he was still hanging on to the tiny sliver of hope that something in this life, somewhere, was worth living for. He just had to find it.

*


Elgin fingered the buttons on his suit. It wasn’t the greatest suit; its knees and elbows were worn, the bottom of the trouser legs were tattered from dragging on the ground and it had obviously been made for someone much larger than him. There had been a time when he wouldn’t be caught dead in something like this, but he needed it. He just hoped it would be dark enough that the failings of his outfit would go unnoticed.
Sitting down on the bed, he smoothed out the slip of paper he had crumpled in his hand. In Claire’s tidy handwriting, his destination, attire and other important information was laid out for him. Evan James. 7:00. Launceston Place.
To be honest with himself, he hadn’t expected a job that nice right away. Only the guys who’d been at Mademoiselle’s the longest got the regulars. Angelo often got the regulars. He’d have to ask him if he’d ever been with Evan James. Restlessly, Elgin began to pace the room again, listening to the noise his scuffed shoes made on the wooden floor. James: a name on a slip of paper, and yet it seemed so terrifying. He’d be deluding himself if he didn’t admit how much he wanted to turn and run. But he couldn’t go back to the streets, he just couldn’t.
Suddenly, he laughed. It was dry, raspy and not at all the laugh he used to have five, six, maybe even seven years ago. It was the laugh of someone who had no hope, no dignity, and no sense of self left.
It wasn’t that anything was particularly funny. He just found it amusing to remember that only a month ago (was it that long?) he had sworn he would never sell himself. He had pride, he said. He would never become someone’s slave, even for a night, he had told Angelo, who tried so hard to get his friend off the streets. Now here he was, in a suit that didn’t belong to him, terrified at the prospect of being at Evan James’ mercy, horrified at the intimate contact to which he was sure to be exposed.
A dark frame filled his door, causing Elgin to halt his constant motion for a moment. When he saw that it was only Angelo, he resumed, fiddling with the middle button of his suit, the button that didn’t match. He’d met Angelo years ago, and he was the closest to a friend he would ever claim to have. Of course, Angelo wasn’t his real name. No one ever went by their real names here. And he had no idea how old his friend was, only that his eyes were aged beyond his body.
Angelo followed Elgin’s movements with his eyes, a placid expression resting lightly on his face. His dark hair was swept under a cap and his shoulders were bare. The top button of his jeans lay open against his lower abdomen. He remained silent, motionless for several moments longer, until his deep voice cracked into Elgin’s rattled mind.
“Heard you’ve got Evan tonight.”
Elgin paused before the mirror. A long crack traced a path from one side to the other, like a river of ice, distorting his features.
“Yes,” he said at last.
“He’s nice.”
“Oh.”
Angelo leaned against the doorframe, his copper skin contrasting with the chipped white paint. He had a job in half an hour. He’d told Elgin earlier. It was a regular, in a way. He came into town on business trips several times a year and always asked for Angelo.
“You look nice in that suit.”
Elgin’s eyes followed the crack until it bisected his face.
“Thank you.”
“Look, you’re going to be fine,” Angelo finally said, softening his voice. “Evan’s seen everyone here at least once. All the guys like him.” Here he paused, as if waiting for Elgin to say something. He didn’t. “You have nothing to be worried about. He’ll probably drop you off in a couple of hours. He’s a loner, doesn’t like to be near people for too long at a time.”
Elgin drew his face closer to the mirror until his breath fogged the glass. The light freckles danced on his nose. He’d never noticed his freckles before, but they must have been there. He wondered if anyone else had noticed them.
Taking a step back, Elgin watched his freckles fade then disappear as his image shrank. He glanced at the door. Angelo was already gone.
“Thanks,” he whispered to his departed friend.

*


Elgin arrived at five minutes past seven. His cheeks were flushed and his breathing rushed from running the last two blocks. He could have just Apperated, but he didn’t want to risk being seen, and he was a bit rusty, not having done it for several years. In any case, he had gotten lost and was late. He leaned against the wall, not wanting to go in out of breath. The sidewalk glistened from the recent wet snowfall and his heart pounded in time with the drip-drop of the water falling from the roof into the puddle beside his left foot.
His suit was sticking to him in all the uncomfortable places, and Elgin scowled at the warm weather. A young couple exited the restaurant and glanced at him. They were walking in awkward silence, the boy being too proper and the girl being too cautious: it was obviously a first date. Elgin wondered what his “date” would be like, and sighing, entered the building.
The restaurant was better lit than he expected and he wasn’t sure how he felt about that. An aging man in a crisp suit, sporting an undersized moustache greeted him with a smile and a “good evening.”
Elgin faltered. He wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do; he’d never been in a situation like this before. His eyes swept over the people he could see. He was trying to guess which of the single men was his; perhaps it was the elderly bloke with the brown suit. No, a woman sat down across him, and Elgin’s eyes moved on.
“Do you have a reservation sir?”
Elgin blinked. He’d forgotten the man was waiting for him.
“I’m meeting someone. Mr. James.”
The older man smiled. His eyes crinkled at the edges and his lips curled back to show slightly crooked teeth.
“Ah, you’re the fellow Evan is meeting. He mentioned it wouldn’t be Angelo.”
Elgin started. Angelo. Of course, Angelo would have been here, if he was James’s usual guy. He nodded and allowed himself to be led through the tables, toward one by the back windows.
When he caught sight of James, his heart quickened. He wanted to run so badly but he steadied himself. It would be over soon. He needed the money. Angelo said it wouldn’t be bad. If it was really that bad, he’d never have to do it again. That’s what he kept telling himself to keep his feet from turning and running away.
James was reading a menu. From the back, he appeared young; his jet-black hair was untouched by grey. The way it stood up in the back reminded him of someone, who? He was wearing a black suit and his fingers became visible as Elgin neared. The hands were not the thick, harsh hands Elgin had imagined all the way to the restaurant: they were slender, and nimble in appearance. They looked gentle and unworked, until they got closer and tiny scars revealed themselves against the tanned skin.
Finally, before Elgin was ready, he was standing before Evan James, the host announcing his presence. In that long moment before James looked up, Elgin struggled with his pounding heart and trembling hands. In those long moments after James looked up, Elgin struggled to keep breathing. The floor tipped, the walls spun, the background swirled until colours blended into each other and still Evan James’s face remained clear in his vision. Evan’s straight nose, and round glasses, the familiar determined jaw line, the pink-red lips, slightly parted. But mostly it was the eyes. Green emeralds set under dark eyebrows, and there, partially hidden by a shock of black hair, was the scar, the lightening bolt scar. The scar of The-Boy-Who-Lived.
“Bloody Merlin.”

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