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Growing Pains

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“I smiled sadly for a love I could not obey/ And Lady Stardust sang his songs of darkness and dismay...”

 

He had dreamed of Curt every day since their few hours together. He'd spent weeks cataloguing and parsing over every move he’d made and every word he’d said that night. Where had he gone wrong? Curt had been so good to him. It was hard to believe he’d just disappeared in the middle of the morning while Arthur slept, after the second time they’d fucked.

Of course Arthur knew, intellectually, that he should take the hint. Grow up, and all that. But he couldn’t believe that what they had was nothing, that he was just a fawning, stupid kid after a show. They had connected – hadn’t they? Curt had spent the morning talking to him, playful and tender; he’d seemed so interested in Arthur's life.

“You from London?” he’d asked, wiping smudged eyeliner from his face with the back of his hand. He had actually pried when Arthur said no, and had gotten Arthur talking about his own life and family.

“That sucks. Believe me, I know.” Then he’d smiled, cuddled Arthur closer, playfully. “Fuck ‘em. You don’t need them. You’re having a good time, aren’t you?”

He had let Arthur talk about his plans, such as they were – travel with a band for a bit, maybe go back to school someday or find a job where he could always work around music, like journalism or photography or something. Curt had teased him. The teasing had progressed to sex that was as tender as the night before and face-to-face, this time.

And then Curt was gone.

But they were bound to see each other again – right? Arthur had spent more time than was healthy imagining that moment, in more daydreams than he could count. Curt was bound to do some future gig around here, and Arthur wouldn't miss him for the world. By then, he’d be older and cooler and more experienced, the sort of person Curt might take with him…

Sometimes Arthur cringed at his own stupid hopes. He was learning to push those thoughts away almost as soon as they’d come.

***

At least he had Ray. They had actually messed around once or twice before the rooftop; after that point, Arthur finally screwed up the nerve to push him into a more regular thing. (Curt Wild’s influence – and of course it was always Curt that Arthur saw or thought of, when he was with Ray or anyone else.) Their relationship was purely casual. When Ray found another boy who caught his eye, Arthur was always free to do the same. (And free to go off with Curt someday…) There were plenty of guys to experiment with at gigs and parties, and even one girl he’d rather liked. Sally, from London and somewhere in the States – Boston, maybe. She was a big Flaming Creatures fan and knew enough about music to rival Arthur.

They had, of course, become fast friends. He thought she just might become the first girl he’d sleep with.

***

“You’re brave to be open about being a bisexual,” Sally said to him, leading him into her flat. “Even in a cool scene like this you must be really brave. I like that.”

He laughed it off, unsure of what he was doing with her, but glad to be somewhere warm and private after the concert. He was starting to dread the ends of those things. Trampling discarded glitter and directing stoned kids to leave, with his own head aching and the band arguing backstage, depressed him in a way that was not worth the pittance he earned. He supposed music and travel and friendship balanced it all out, but he was growing less sure of that by the day.

“Thanks,” he said.

“If you ever want to talk, you know where to find me,” Sally continued. She was a nice girl – studying art in London while her parents remained in the States. She could like whatever music she fancied and sleep with whichever boys she fancied after concerts without sacrificing school fees or a proper place to live, all paid by her dad. Sometimes Arthur envied her.

They kissed for the first time. Sally took the lead in dragging him towards the bedroom and divesting him of his shirt while he fumbled with her blouse.

And, as he’d expected, she was the first girl he’d been with. It was strange, being with someone who was too small and too soft. He knew he was lousy. He tried to think of Curt Wild the whole time; afterwards, he could hardly sleep for guilt and for the feeling that he’d wronged a friend somehow.

He wanted to bolt the next morning, but Sally woke up before he could leave and put a thin hand on his arm. She was forceful, for a small woman.

“Oi,” she said, in her bright gentle voice and soft Transatlantic accent, “you don’t have to run away. Don’t be embarrassed about last night; we’re still friends and all. I’ll make breakfast.”

That morning was an ordeal for Arthur. She looked very pretty with the weak sunlight lighting her fair hair, yet Arthur could hardly look at her. He was sure he was losing her friendship fast, too, and cursed his own awkwardness. He didn’t think he’d dare talk to her when they would inevitably meet at some future concert. At least he would be out of London soon and on tour with the Creatures, if the band didn’t cancel the whole thing.

He had never been so glad to get back to the hotel where the Creatures were staying, back to something familiar. But Ray only gave him a half-hearted wink as he passed. He and Malcolm were too busy arguing over damaged costumes, since there was no money for proper repairs or new wardrobes. Arthur didn’t know how they had money to keep him around, or where he would go if the band sacked him or broke up. It wasn’t the sort of thing he wanted to think about this morning.

He scowled at the back of Ray’s head. But no one noticed him, and he didn’t even try to offer to help lest they turn on him. He tried to think of something that would cheer him up, but even the memory of Curt Wild and all his daydreams about the man seemed pathetic rather than comforting in the harsh light of morning. He wondered, as he had begun to, lately, whether he needed a new scene.