“And who is the man you want, Ray?” Apollo asked.
The boy’s eyes clenched shut even tighter. “I can see him too, but… I don’t know. Even more vaguely than You.”
“Wise,” Apollo replied. “It leaves your options open. But know this, Raymond whose friends call him Ray: whoever that man is, he’ll be the one you can look at and say You’re hot without even thinking about it. He may not even understand why you’re saying it. But he’ll be hot because you’ll know. And when you say it, I promise it’ll be the last time you say it to anyone. Consider it my gift.”
“Okay, that all sounded just a bit too romantic. But hey, coming from the god of poetry and music, yeah, I’ll accept it.“
“Perhaps next time I should send Eros to have this chat with you? Although, given your t-shirt, you’d probably enjoy meeting Ares far more.”
The boy laughed. “Maybe so. Is he hot?”
Apollo smiled. “If you think he is. I could bring down the entire family, if you wanted. Zeus, Hera, the whole clan.”
“That’d make for quite the night in here, wouldn’t it. All these seriously gorgeous gods and goddesses: I’ve seen the pictures. I know what you guys look like. Nothing but great pecs and chiseled abs and perfect teeth... and that's just the guys.”
“Good genes,” Apollo smiled.
“And it’d be something for everyone. Pluto over there with the Goth kids. Venus and Athena driving the lesbians wild. Hell, for that matter, Mercury out there on the dance floor showing them how it’s done with his little winged feet. No one would ever get a hook-up in this place again; after you guys, they’d all be disappointments. All that perfect beauty, you’d spoil us forever… which is all the more reason why you should go.”
The boy thought for a moment, then nodded. “Yeah. Perfect Beauty — that’s not for someone like me; it’s not what I want. You’re too grand, too flashy for my little fifth-floor walk-up. You’d scare the neighbour’s cat, and I don’t think you’d enjoy take-out Chinese on the fire escape.”
“Flashy? I’ve been called many things in my time, but never flashy. Still, it wouldn’t have to be like that, you know. I can show you Paradise. Think of it: every day, for the rest of your life, would be absolute perfection. Every night too, for that matter.”
“If every day was like that, how would I know if it was perfection or not? No,” the boy replied determinedly. “That’d be your paradise. Not mine.”
“Is yours so different, Ray?”
“I don’t want to walk into a relationship with a god. I want to find him along the way.”
“I see... Last chance.”
The boy shrugged.
“As you wish. When you open your eyes, Apollo will be gone…”
The boy’s eyes cautiously fluttered open. Maybe it was the air or the light... he didnt know what, but — something had changed.
“And I think it’s time for me to pay my tab and leave as well,” said the man from Hérouxville. “I have to get home and work on my next project. The Universal Vegetable!”
“The what?” the boy grinned.
“No more will the world have to deal with the needless and useless classification of lettuce and corn and radish. One vegetable for all!”
The boy’s grin eased into a smile. “You are so hot.”
“Dear Raymond. I hope for your sake that you had to think about that when you said it… at least for a moment or two,” the man smiled in return.
“I’m not going to have to deal with Bradley again tonight, am I?”
“I don’t think so. In fact, I think you stand a far better chance with the cute blond, so if you will excuse me, I will no longer cramp your style. Adieu, Raymond whose friends call him Ray.”
“You know, you never did tell me your name.”
The man took the boy’s hand and clasped it firmly within his own. “Paul.” With a wink, he disappeared.
The boy sat on his stool and studied the wet rings left by his beer. What an insane night. Maybe it’s time to go home, he thought. He took one last drink from the bottle when a hand gently tapped on his shoulder. He swiveled around.
It was the cute blond, smiling at him. “Votre ami… your friend… il m’a dit que…”
From a distance, one wouldn't have noticed a thing, no difference in the air or the light: just two ordinary young men, standing close, inexplicably smiling at each other. After a moment’s glance, the watcher, already bored, might turn away... but in that same moment, Ray saw that, up close, the blond wasn't just cute. He was... stunning. Reeling from the jolt, Ray felt a small piece of himself suddenly break loose, daring to travel the short yet frightening distance across some deep and indefinable chasm, to reside forever within the gentle smile of the young man before him. As if to give it easier access and return it with one of his own, the blond took Ray's hand and smiled even wider.
“Wow,” Ray said quietly, in a voice that amazed even himself. “You are so hot.”
The blond gave him a curious — yet dazzling — grin. “Quoi?”
“Hi. I’m Ray.”
“Hi. Moi je suis — …”
“RAYMOND!” Bradley suddenly shouted from the dance floor, even as he dragged an embarrassed Theo behind him. “You will forgive me, won’t you, for just leaving you like that? Theo and I have had a little talk — haven't we, darling? — and we've decided that we really should… And who is this adorable young man?”
The blond looked at Ray, then at Bradley. “Je m’appelle François.”
“Well, bienvenue, François. Ah, Raymond, I have no choice but to approve. I am pained to see such inevitable happiness, but I approve. Heartily. But where is your friend? I must see him!”
“The man who was just here? Paul?”
“Paul? Is that his name? I simply must speak with him! I have to thank him! Where is he?”
“He just left.”
“If we hurry, we might catch him!” Bradley grabbed up Theo’s hand again and disappeared into the dark. “OH PAUL! OH PAUL!!!”
François looked at Ray quizzically. “Apollon est ici?”
“Non,” Ray smiled as he pulled François closer. “Il est passé.”