Someone Else, Somewhere Else

Spring in Birmingham, and Simon Keener is fifteen years old and running away to London. Birmingham is not where he wants to be, and London beckons to him from the other end of the motorway like a mirage.

He hitchhikes with his sign and his backpack, his school tie threaded through the belt loops of his jeans, and when he reaches London he has become Simon Kay - "Keener" is Birmingham and the boy he refuses to be, but he is young enough and just scared enough to want something familiar, and he has always liked his given name anyway.

London is both more and less than what Simon expects, and when it can't entirely break him it tries to crush him, slowly and inexorably, hardening him like coal into diamond, drawing the boyishness out of his face and the care out of his soul. In London he learns the value of his teenage body, the price of ten minutes buried in his ass. He learns to hustle, learns where to go, who to talk to, what to say. He learns to look after himself, because no one else will. He listens to people, practices accents in an effort to lose his own. He came to London to be someone else, to start over, and he has.

His sister finds him somehow, Alison Keener taking the train down from Birmingham to find her baby brother, and because she is persistent like he is, and persuasive like he is learning to be, and much much luckier, she finds him. He tells her to fuck off. His face is harder than she remembers, and for all that he is only sixteen he feels older to her, and she takes him at his word and leaves.

And Simon, for the first time, feels completely as if he is someone else, someone new. A Kay, no longer Keener. A Londoner, a child of the world.

But then he starts to piss people off, and he owes money and favors and he is still young enough that he is not entirely adept at taking care of himself, and he starts to realize how fucked up his life has become, how much more fucked up it will be. He hates the weather and he needs to get out, go somewhere he can grow older and harder, somewhere he can be sexy and not simply jailbait. In London he wraps himself in glass but he wants to be steel. Glass offers no handholds, but it can still break.

So he runs again, not so difficult the second time, and now Simon Kay is in Marseilles and soon he is seventeen, his eyebrow pierced in London and his nipple in the south of France. He is hard and lean and nothing is left of the boy he was, nothing soft in his face or his eyes. Even the way he moves has changed, the way he speaks, the voice he uses when he wants something or someone.

You can leave anything behind, he tells himself, tells his friends. Let it roll off, move on.

You can be anyone, anywhere.

He is more in charge of his own destiny in Marseilles, less at the mercy of older men with greedy hands. He can sell himself or not, sell where he pleases, what he pleases. He takes up with a smack addict for a place to sleep, fucks her even though he's not that straight, and when she gets pregnant he leaves, not prepared to change that much.

Simon's world is darker now, his life wilder and more precarious, because to push the boundaries he has to go farther and farther out, and because in London he was a local, whereas in France he can be deported. He left England once, and he will never go back once he's moved on. One part of his life, one part of his self, buried and gone, the core of him scoured clean and ready for a new skin.

He grows hard in Marseilles, bright like a disco ball and brittle as the many mirrored shards throwing their fractured light on a polished floor, cold as glass and sharp as the jagged edge of a broken windowpane. He lets men fuck him for money, fucks boys himself for pleasure, hunts the pretty and the vulnerable and the dangerous in clubs and bars and alleys.

Alison Keener, who not so long ago rode the train down from Birmingham to find him - she would never recognize him now. Simon would be a stranger to his own sister, in Marseilles.

But once again he wants to leave, and again out of fear, the fear of getting busted selling drugs or himself, getting thrown in jail, getting deported, even getting killed. He is dangerous now, like a blade, a stiletto, but Marseilles is more dangerous still, and this time when Simon runs he fetches up in Greece, washing ashore like flotsam.

Greece takes the edge off, smoothes him down, and it is here he finds boys and girls he can call friends, friends for the first time since he left home. He is still barely surviving, but he knows how to live on almost nothing, and almost nothing on the islands is better than almost nothing in France.

He falls in love with Greece, with the beaches and the mountains and the ruins and the sea, and here his idea of Heaven forms as a place with an endless sandy beach running into the blue blue sea, colors he has never seen in the water and in the sky. He falls in love with Greece and he falls in love in Greece, and that is the biggest change of all; that Simon has become someone who could love.

Someone else yet again.

He is happy here, with his lover and his friends and his hand-to-mouth life, jobs legitimate and not. The core of him has not changed all that much - he is still self-reliant and self-sufficient, and the brutal, bloody kinks he was introduced to in Marseilles still get him hard. In Marseilles he learned to love pain, and in Greece he learns more ways to take it. He pierces his cock, takes better drugs, sneaks onto private boats in the middle of the night to fuck under the million brilliant stars. He still thinks himself dangerous, and to a certain kind of person he is, but he begins to learn what it means to love someone else, to care for someone else, to let someone else care for him.

He should know, and perhaps some part of him does, that it will not last, because nothing good in his life ever has, and yet he is caught unprepared when his life spins out from heartbreak, caught so unprepared, and caused so much hurt, that he does the only thing he has ever been able to do, the only solution he has ever had to a difficult situation - he runs. He stops in Thailand, in Bangkok, no reason except it is a different world from Greece, different people, a different sky. Simon tells himself he will start over here, he will go back to what he knew in Marseilles, go back to who he was.

But in Thailand he does more than just step back. In Thailand, in Bangkok, he falls.

Thailand almost kills him, almost finishes the job begun in London and Marseilles, but for all his self-destructiveness Simon's will to live is a tenacious, indestructible thing, and he pulls himself out, takes off running one more time.

He surfaces in Los Angeles, the city of angels and lost children, twenty years old and in debt, harder than he was in Greece, still a hustler, still self-possessed and ever more self-reliant. He is steel again, laughing at a world that cannot kill him and people who will never have him. He can be bought for twenty minutes, an hour, a whole day if you have the cash, but he belongs to himself and he will never be yours.

Lessons learned, and learned well: You have to look out for yourself, because no one else will. Nothing good ever lasts. Let it roll off you like water, laugh at the things that would hurt you and move on.

Simon likes LA, likes this city and its respect for the game, likes the beach and the sun and the men who pay him for sex, for the show, men who pay to watch. He is tempered now by the years he spent in other cities doing more or less the same thing, and he can laugh at himself now in a way he never could before, can laugh at the men who want to fuck him and the men who don't, can laugh at the restless boys and girls shaking their asses on the streets, can laugh at a boy who claims to love him.

Simon has his code - never get attached, never show you care - things learned from Greece and Thailand, a mantra to keep him sane. Everywhere he has ever lived, every life he has had, has taught him something, and in LA he finally feels as if things have come back around, and he is sure of himself and his path, confident in his ability and his worth, aware of the myriad ways in which he can protect himself from the vulnerability that nearly killed him.

He can take better care of himself now than he ever could, can take care of himself so well that he finds himself taking care of someone else, a boy down from a far state Simon has never seen, a sweet, trusting, runaway boy named Jay who wants to stay with him, who is willing to listen to Simon's lessons and take Simon's directions and do what Simon tells him. A boy who falls in love, a boy who refuses to leave, a boy who cannot learn some of the things Simon thinks he should know, and a boy who is ultimately so unfit for the hustle that even Simon realizes if Jay does not leave LA, it will kill him.

Simon rebuilt his hard steel shell here, remade himself once again, and here he unwittingly lets down his guard, not even understanding that is what he's done until he looks around and this boy has made a space for himself in Simon's life, a space Simon did not know was empty, but now a space he is ready to fill.

Jay cannot stay in Los Angeles, will not stay, and because Simon is no longer willing to be alone, they go together, take a bus to San Francisco and Simon is almost twenty-two, then twenty-three, older and older still, and Jay still loves him, still wants to be with him, but Simon looks at himself and his life and no longer knows who he is. He has come so far from what he knew in London and Marseilles and Greece, so far even from LA, he does not recognize himself. He is afraid of so much change and afraid of turning into someone he does not know how to be, afraid of turning into someone Jay will not love, and he panics, and he runs.

Back to Los Angeles, the last place Simon felt at home, this is backsliding and he knows it, but the knowledge that he is breaking one of his own cardinal laws is nothing compared to the sinking, falling feeling that he has left the only truly good thing he has ever had, the only person who has ever stuck by him.

LA no longer feels right, and Simon returns to San Francisco, to Jay, to a life he is bloody well going to live. He still misses the beaches of LA, still misses the heat and the sunshine, but he is staying with the boy he saved, the boy he loves. They are happy together more often than not, here in San Francisco, and Simon is going to keep it this time. He thinks he might be able to adjust. He thinks his boy is worth it.

Perhaps it is the biggest change of all, that this is his very last restart. This is where he will stop; this is where he will stay.

(originally published in the Torquere Press anthology Fresh Starts)