*Not your average publishing company


Cody’s only real vice was artbooks. Customers were often impressed that he had bookshelves full of them in both his bedroom and living room as well as waist high piles in the hallway. He began his collection in college around the time he abandoned his goal of becoming an artist when realizing he needed to earn a living but had only a remote chance of making money producing art, he switched his major to business. Then while studying at the library, he came across a new volume of Rembrandt drawings, and Cody used his entire savings at the time, about thirty-five dollars, to buy a copy of his own. From there, the books multiplied. Cody still dreamed of being an artist. He wanted to paint large canvases full of bold colors the way Helen Frankenthaler had created art in Provincetown decades ago. He imagined himself constructing collages out of the objects he found along Boy Beach at Herring Cove during his early morning walks, and left to his own devices, he’d spend a hundred afternoons making white line prints in the grand tradition of twentieth century Lands End artists. “I live art through my books,” he told one client.

One early May afternoon he was in Herring Cove Books to pick up the just released history of Forum 49, the groundbreaking series of Provincetown lectures and exhibits that helped launch abstract expressionism in 1949. Cody had been waiting for months for it to arrive, and as soon as the call came from Don Franklin that the book was in, he dropped everything to go pick it up. Though he was excited, Cody patiently waited while the owner helped another customer with his purchases.

“I just had to get The Collected Works of Frank O’Hara the moment I heard it was out,” the young man in front of Cody eagerly told Don, who nodded approvingly. The poetry enthusiast kept shifting his weight from foot to foot, barely able to contain his eagerness. “Rupert Brooke wrote, ‘The best of all is to live poetry.’ That’s what I intend to do.” Hearing those words, Cody decided he and the poetry lover thought alike, and he wanted to hold the young man tight to feel the energy radiating from his chest as he recited verse. Cody thought the guy looked angelic or perhaps had just stepped out of the harbor like a male version of Botticelli’s Venus, newly alive and ready to experience love.

“Turn around and meet Cody, if you don’t already know him,” Don said to the young man. “He is a fanatic just like you; Cody amasses art books the way you collect poetry.” Don smiled, proud that he knew everyone in town’s literary and sexual tastes. He frequently boasted he could tell everything there was to know about a person just by the books they bought and the nature of their most private erotic preferences. “Cody, meet Seth.”

It had been so long since Cody had sex just for fun that his pickup skills were rusty. The poetry fan had a sharp blond crewcut and ocean blue eyes. Several inches shorter than Cody, Seth was slim yet with a good body. Cody had never been in love. When he was younger, his life was far too chaotic to accommodate a relationship. Now that he was in his mid-twenties, he feared it would be a career killer and avoided it at all costs. Thus, he had always been determined to keep his emotional virginity intact even as he energetically performed almost every sex act known to humanity. But he shook Seth’s hand wanting them to grow old together over the next hundred years reading their books side by side. Tied up by desire, Cody could do nothing more than smile deeply into Seth’s eyes.

As Cody stood there silently lost in all his life’s possibilities, Seth made the first move. “I’ll show you my book if you show me yours,” he said, looking fresh and innocent even as he flirted. Cody always enjoyed men drooling over him, but Seth’s attention unnerved him until he remembered that he had long relied on his good looks to make it through life. Working hard to attract Seth, Cody ran a hand through his own thick dark hair as he gave Seth a minute to appraise his physical assets. Then he leaned over and with as much tenderness as he was capable of, ran a finger over Seth’s forehead, nose, and chin as if he were contemplating reproducing his face in marble.

Twenty minutes later they were sitting on the patio at Jimbo’s coffee, hands on each other’s legs with both intoxicated by their intimacy. “I’m surprised I haven’t seen you before,” Cody said after a long passionate kiss. Ptown’s fulltime gay population is small enough that everyone knows each other, particularly those young and attractive. “When did you move to town?” Immersed in his cravings for Seth, Cody realized he was giving off the same desperate for sex vibes his customers directed at him. Being on this side of desire was new to him.

“February. But I’ve been busy. I work at the grocery store during the day and as a waiter at The Standish Hotel at night. Plus, I’ve been writing a lot and haven’t had much free time. Today is my first day off in three weeks.” Even if he didn’t know Seth was a poet, Cody would have guessed that he was a boy who lived in his dreams. Just from the way his hands held his coffee, Cody predicted Seth experienced the eroticism of sex on a higher plain than other folks. He figured Seth had more nerve endings than the average guy, making him likely to strongly react to a caress or lick. Seth probably didn’t know how sexy he was and couldn’t tell that Cody anticipated that being with him would be the best sex of his life.

“You obviously find time to work out,” Cody slid his hand up and down Seth’s arm, unable to control himself. “Which gym do you go to? I go to the Reef.” Cody glanced down and saw that Seth’s desire matched his own.

“Oh yeah, the pretty boy gym. I go to the other one in town, The Cape Codder.” Cody found it difficult to talk as he watched how Seth occupied space. To Cody’s artistic eye, Seth was a set of volumes, planes, lines, and points that had come together to form a wondrous whole. Nothing Cody could say added to that perfection, but fortunately, Seth kept the conversation going. “I’m from Vermont and graduated from Dartmouth last year. I’ve had some success with my poems, a dozen have been published, so I thought I would move here to write. What about you? Where are you from? What do you do?” Cody found Seth’s enthusiasm erotic. Poets, he concluded, were as sexy as hell.

Cody dreaded these questions. This is the point where decent guys walked away. “Well. Don’t judge, okay?” Cody was embarrassed. He wished he had a different past and longed for an alternative present. But if his reality was going to scare off Seth, best get it out now rather than later. “I grew up on Long Island where I was mostly raised in foster homes. My mother took me back a couple of times, but she struggled and never could keep me for long. I was placed with my grandmother, but then she passed, and I was back in the system for good.” There was no need to provide details. Seth didn’t need to know the many nights Cody couldn’t sleep because his stomach ached with hunger. Cody wasn’t about to tell Seth how he longed for someone to feed his emotional appetite and that he desperately wanted love, but how that was impossible given what he was. Furthermore, Cody didn’t want pity. He demanded the world see him as serene, cool, and irresistibly sexy. Nothing more.

Seth looked at him with compassion, however. Normally Cody hated that but at the moment, he felt like Seth had seduced him into helplessness. He was ready to do whatever Seth wanted. Feeling like he’d pay Seth a million dollars just to spend a night with him, Cody nervously shook his head at the irony of his desire. “I went to a SUNY Binghamton and spent the summer before my senior year in Ptown.” Stressed because he was so eager to please, Cody ripped up his paper napkin into a hundred little pieces. “From the moment I first visited, I wanted to live here full time. So just like you, I moved here right after graduation. I’ve now been in Lands End for four years.”

“It’s expensive as hell here. What do you do for a living?”

“Don’t judge, okay?” Cody pleaded as he fought back crying out of frustration. “Just don’t, please.” He had been here before. One guy he had thought was cool threw a drink in his face. Another one tried to blackmail him, but Cody wasn’t easily intimidated. Six feet tall and built like a racehorse, Cody was strong and could take anything. Seth, however, could have knocked him over with a dismissive frown.

“Nothing here is off the wall. Try me.”

“I never know what the right word is to use for my profession. Gigolo? Escort? Male prostitute? Rentboy? Choose the one you like best.” To protect himself, Cody reverted to work mode and suppressed his emotions. Relying on his looks, he puffed out his chest and flexed an arm to show off. Guys always wanted his body, and once Seth saw how big his dick was, Cody confidently reasoned, he would think it was natural he used it to make money. He worked hard to make Seth want him as much as he wanted Seth.

“Wow. Just wow.” Seth slowly looked up and down his body. Guys always did that when they found out Cody was a hooker boy. If he had been trying to get Seth to open his wallet for sex, this was when Cody would be at his best. He could make men desperate for his body; overwhelmed by their lust for him, they’d pay whatever price he named. But he wanted Seth to be his friend. He needed Seth to love him.

With this first silence after an hour of fast-talking enthusiasm, Cody’s mind turned dark. Here is when Seth will say goodbye, he assumed. He’s too much of a good guy to be with me. He deserves a choir boy, not a guy who will do just about anything with anyone for the right price. “I guess I can surprise you. Sorry. If you need to run, I’ll understand.” But Seth didn’t stand up.

“No. It’s just that I never met a uh, well, person in your profession before. I am not naïve,” Seth protested as he blushed and sat back in his chair. “I knew people like you existed. But I never met an actual in the flesh guy who made a living from sex.” He let out a nervous giggle. Yet Seth didn’t leave, he looked at Cody with curious eyes and then said, “To quote Rimbaud, ‘To whom shall I hire myself out? What beast should I adore?’” Seth smiled. “It’s all good.”

Cody wanted to say nothing mattered. All that sex was just acting, they were cold-blooded financial transactions of body for money. To Cody, sucking, fucking, and everything else he did for pay were just entries in the spreadsheet he used to keep track of his income, and no matter what he might do with a client, none had ever penetrated his mind. “I do okay. I pay my bills and put money into a 401K. I even own a two-family house in the West End I bought with my earnings.” When he first got into selling his body, Cody had identified real estate as his way out of that business.

“Don’t you worry about getting arrested?” Concern clouded Seth’s face. Watching his compassion, Cody wanted him even more. If he could just get Seth into bed, Cody hoped, he’d overwhelm with such a great experience that he’d never want to leave. That one advantage of being a sex worker, his sexual talents, made Cody confidently smile, rekindling Seth’s interest.

Feeling bold, Cody answered, “No. Not really. I don’t advertise, my clients refer me to others wanting to hire someone for sex so there is no way a law enforcement person would be aware of me. I pay income taxes, listing my profession as personal coach, so they can’t get me that way.”

“You make it sound routine and boring.”

“It’s not.” Cody bragged. “The sex is hot. The idea I’m making hundreds of dollars because a guy needs my body, or just wants to watch me jerk off, is a turn on. There’s one man who pays me to fuck him in front of his girlfriend. Another customer likes to shower with me. I have a regular whose thing is to top me in the back of a limo while we are being driven around Manhattan, and last summer I earned over a thousand dollars by kicking back on a towel in the dunes behind Boy Beach and letting a guy blow me.” Seth eyes went wide with awe.

Cody didn’t tell him that the sex wasn’t always good; a lot of it was bad or things he would never do if wasn’t for money. Some sex acts were difficult to perform without closing his eyes and concentrating on the fantasies in his head. Sometimes he’d take pills to keep himself hard, or he’d need to get stupid high to make it with clients he found gross. But Seth didn’t have to know about that. “I get taken to nice dinners and I travel a lot on my clients’ dime. This past winter I was in Puerto Vallarta, Palm Springs, New York, and London. The limo guy gifts me stock.”

“That sounds lucky.”

“It’s more than luck. I work hard. Diet, exercise, and all that.” That was true. “I am picky. There are things I won’t do no matter how much I’m offered.” Cody was proud that he knew when to stop, when to pull back, and when to say no. “I am careful. A lot of guys in this business fall apart. There is one bro here in town who used to be real hot, a top earner. But now he is skinny, worn out, and toothless, and he’ll bend over for anyone who feeds him a line. I screen who I am with. And I am on Prep, which you should be, too.” Cody felt protective of Seth. “You cool?”

“Yes. Just disappointed. I was hoping to have sex with you. But I’m a poor poet. I don’t have much more than a hundred dollars to my name.” Seth looked frustrated.

Cody laughed to cheer him up. “That wouldn’t even get you fifteen minutes with me if you were paying. But don’t even think about that. I am not here because I see you as a client. I am not talking to you for money. I am with you because I want you. I find you attractive. And totally fascinating.”

Just before he fell asleep, his head on Cody’s chest, Seth quoted Keats, “The last of your kisses was even the sweetest; the last smile the brightest; the last movement the gracefullest.”

Cody woke up sometime after three. A storm had blown in and the house creaked and moaned as it raged around them. Enjoying the dark, Cody glowed as he relived the wondrous sex with Seth. But then reality set in. This was not going to go anywhere, Cody knew. Their schedules wouldn’t mesh, or Seth would get angry because Cody was with a customer. “Who fucked you last night while I sat home alone?” a jealous Seth would demand to know. Seth would be too embarrassed to introduce him to his parents. “What would I say to them? This is Cody. He gets five hundred bucks every time he sticks his dick into one of his disgusting customers, but I want to marry him.” Something would go wrong, that was certain. But these problems were in the future. For the moment, Cody felt he was at the beginning of a world of possibilities. He pulled out his sketchbook and spent an hour drawing Seth, capturing his innocent essence with pencil on paper. Then he rolled over to hug him as he fell back to sleep.

Russ López is the author of six nonfiction books including The Hub of the Gay Universe: An LGBTQ History of Boston, Provincetown, and Beyond. He is the editor of LatineLit, an online magazine that publishes short fiction by and about Latinx people, and his work has appeared in The Fictional Café, Somos en escrito, The Gay and Lesbian Review, The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), and elsewhere. López has written numerous academic articles, book reviews, and works in other formats. Originally from California with degrees from Stanford, Harvard, and Boston University, Russ lives in Boston and Provincetown.



Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: