Each day I watched the summer creeping near, as the bamboo in my backyard in Austin, Texas, grew two hand-lengths each day. Going on a long summer trip is what everyone tries to do here. Mainly because people get bored with day after day of unrelenting sunshine, I guess. We all traveled somewhere that summer. One of my friends spent a month in Thailand. Another went to Ecuador.
I decided to go to Italy. I’d been there two years before, and I wanted to go back. I felt that since I was a graphic arts major it was *di rigore* to have my fill of what one of my professors called “gluttony of the eyeballs.” I phoned my aunt in California for a loan and ordered the ticket.
Milan. More like Munich than like Rome or Florence, and more modern and trendy that what I had in mind for myself that summer, but I decided to hang there for a couple days just to check it out, and then to press further south.
A convention was going on in Milan and I had to beat the streets all morning looking for a decently priced place to stay. Finally I found a cool pensione on the fifth floor of a drab-looking building in a somewhat funky neighborhood.
“Are you with Pelladio?” the old woman at the front desk asked.
“No,” I answered, “why?”
“most of them are. Sign here and I give you room.” She stubbed her thumb at a line in the guest log book and eyed me disapprovingly. “You want private room or you want room shared? Ten thousand lire cheaper.”
“I don’t mind sharing.”
After I paid, she led me onto the rickety elevator and took me to my room on the sixth floor. On the way up she said, “Your roommate is American, like you. He works in day, comes back in afternoon, later. Very nice young man. No problems.” I wondered what kind of job an American would have here, and figured he must be an exchange student. I had been hoping to meet some people from other countries. Sharing a room with another student from the States sounded boring. I was disappointed. The old woman showed me the bath and the toilet, then took me to my room.
“Do you know where I can find a gym near here?” I asked her as she was turning to leave.
She gave me a puzzled look. I mimed the movements of doing a barbel bench press. She suddenly nodded and said, “Oh yes. You find that on Via Santorini. All the young men at my pensione go there.” She smiled, wished me a good day, and left.
During the past year or so I’d been making great progress building my body, and I planned to keep up the good work all summer even though I was traveling. I hoped the gym that the old woman had mentioned would sell me day passes. My plan was to take a nap for an hour or so, and then go check it out.
I woke up from my nap to the sound of the armoire door creaking.
“Sorry to wake you,” he said. “My name’s Brenton.” He had a big, friendly grin on his face. He stretched out his hand to shake mine.
“I’m Jeremy,” I answered, not fully believing what was standing in front of me. This was one incredibly well built stud. He looked somehow familiar, but I couldn’t place where I’d seen him.
“Where you from?” he asked.
“I go to school in Austin, but I’m from Chicago... and you?”
“Just here for a visit?” I asked.
“Yeah? Doing what?”
After a hesitation, he answered, “In photography.” He seemed embarrassed. Then he quickly added, “maybe I’ll tell you more about it some other time.”
We dropped the subject. A few moments later I asked, “Say, do you know anything about the workout place on Via Sinterini?”
“You mean Via Santerini? Sure. That’s the Cesare. Great gym. I work out there every day.”
“Bitchin!” I said.
Brenton checked me out. “You been working out long?”
“About three and a half years,” I answered. “How about you?”
“Oh... forever. I’ve been working out since I was a kid. My older brother got me into it.”
I turned my eyes toward a suitcase across the room and said, “And I guess you look like it, too.”
He cleared his throat uncomfortably. “You’re kinda studly yourself, dude.”
We changed the subject again.
It was a fuckin’ fantastic workout at Cesare that afternoon. Brenton really knew his shit when it came to weight training. I had never felt that kind of burn in my muscles before. He knew just how to take each muscle group and fry it to a crisp. When I felt like I couldn’t take another rep, he’d get me to squeeze out one or two more somehow. It was really incredible.
And, jeezus, could Brenton ever hoist iron. He was standing there blasting on his biceps with a dumbbell curl. That’s when it suddenly dawned on me. I recognized him! He was the dude whose picture I saw in an issue of “Men’s Fitness”! The guy with the marble abs. Now it made sense to me. That’s what he meant when he said he was working in “photography.” He must be here doing a shoot for some European fashion mag. Damn, I thought, I’m sharing a room with one of my fantasies! My stomach felt queasy. For a minute, I thought my knees might buckle. My hands were trembling and clammy.
Brenton finished his set, and then said, “Now it’s your turn, man.
Let’s see you give me eight reps.” He took off a plate from each side and replaced them with two smaller ones. “Hey. Is something wrong, Jeremy?”
“No. I’m O.K.” I replied, trying hard to swallow the dry patch that had suddenly developed in my throat. How the hell was going to room with this guy, I wondered. I thought about how hot he looked in that picture, with his rippled abs blazing. Would I be able to control myself? Was this going to be insane torture? Could I stand being so close to him?
We had to buzz up to have the old lady’s assistant let us in that night, because we got back to the pensione after they locked the front lobby. After the workout, Brenton had taken me out for espresso, dinner, and to show me around Milan. Brenton was a great guy, with a sly sense of humor. He was a super masculine dude, but really sweet at the same time. I was starting to relax a little. The drinks. The laughter.
I turned on the light in our room, and I heard Brenton latch the door behind us. Well, here we are, I thought. The room felt cavernously quiet and still.
When I turned around, Brenton was already unbuttoning his shirt.
“I’m beat,” he said. “How about you?”
He flung himself onto his bed and lay there on his back with his eyes shut and his shirt open. His glorious, furrowed abdomen was fully exposed, his skin shimmering in the dim light from the lamp between our beds. I glanced in stealthy fascination at his beastly pecs rising and falling as he breathed. God damn, I thought. This was a nightmare. How was I going to endure this?
After a few moments, the monster stretched, opened his eyes and said, “I think the air in this city must be filthy.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Because every night my eyes sting like hell and my contacts kill me.”
He got up and started taking out his contacts at the sink in the corner of the room.
“I didn’t realize you wore contacts,” I said.
“Fuck, yes!” he said, pulling a pair of specs with some scary-looking strong lenses out of a bag in his suitcase. “Do you think I’d ever get any photo gigs if I wore these things to...”
He stopped suddenly, realizing that he’d just spilled the beans about his line of work. “Uh, I guess you already figured out that I’m a model.”
“Yeah, it’s kind of obvious, and besides, I....”
“I’m really embarrassed about it.”
“Why?” I asked.
“I don’t know. It’s hard to explain why,” he said, while evidently smelling the wet palm of his hand. At first I didn’t know why he was doing that but then I realized that he wasn’t smelling his palm, he was actually just cleaning a contact lens. I was surprised he needed to hold it that close in order to see it.
“Modeling makes me feel like I’m just a hunk of meat.” I listened raptly, hardly even able to breathe. I don’t know why, but somehow Brenton’s glasses made him even more irresistible to me even though they drastically changed the look of his face. They made his eyes look beadily small and pinched, and the sides of his head were distorted and squished when you saw them through his lenses.
He obviously wasn’t at all embarrassed about it, which really surprised me because I always thought that if I ever had to wear glasses I wouldn’t want people to see me in that condition--and especially if I had to wear glasses like his. He was totally nonchalant about it though, which I thought was super sexy.
“I don’t know. It’s like I’m on display. Sure, I train hard in the gym to have the kind of body the photographers are looking for, but still, a lot of it’s just luck. I mean, you can’t really help how you look, one way or the other, right? So it isn’t anything that I’ve achieved on my own.”
“So what?” I countered. “Everyone has to play using the cards they’ve got -- the good along with the bad, right?”
We sat without speaking for several minutes. My attention was drawn to the sound of a motorbike passing by the street below.
Brenton finally broke the silence. “How long you plan to be here in Milan?”
“I’m flexible,” I answered. “Maybe a few days. It depends.”
“Listen, Jeremy, do you think you could do me a favor?”
“Sure, what is it?”
“I’d like to give me a full body rub to massage away the lactic acid in my muscles from today’s workout.”
At first I opened my mouth and nothing came out. “Uh,” I croaked feebly.
“You don’t mind?” he asked, setting his glasses on the nightsstand and blearily aiming his gorgeous eyes in the general direction of my face.
“No,” I answered, at last finding my voice. “Not at all. After what you did for me in the gym today, I’d be glad to return the favor.”
Brenton got up and stripped down to his undershorts. He moved close to me so he could see my face—so close that I could taste the scent of his body. Incredibly, here he was, my own fantasy from some old photographs, now standing nearly naked in front of me.
Then he lay face down on his bed. My body shivering as though in winter, I climbed up and sat astraddle his legs, and began to knead the awesome muscles in his shoulders.
That summer I never left Milan.