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Title: Role Playing
Author: Lee Marchais
Rating: NC-17 (overall)
Fic type: Chaptered (complete, being re-written)
Word Count: 1,937 (this chapter)
Summary: After breaking up with his long-time girlfriend, Ryan Archer's life changes: he is diagnosed with herpes, he lands a lead role at the community theatre he has been working with for months, then he meets a man who changes his life completely.
Disclaimer: All characters appearing in these written works are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Stories are © Jules Walker and Lee Marchais 2008-2013.

Chapter 1

Ahead, pavement stretches as far as I can see, most of it a blur. The shops that line the road like bored soldiers blink and rumble, people coming and going. Someone pushes me into a man wearing a sandwich board. The advertisement on it is unclear, just a mesh of color and words exaggerated. Curses fly at me from the disgruntled man. I try to apologize, but he throws his fist up and continues to raise his voice. Can’t stop for this, when I have an appointment in less than twenty minutes.

Between the heat and whatever’s wrong with me, it’s hard to breathe. The stale, humid air compresses my lungs. All I smell is petrol and oil, the exhaust of cars, sometimes cologne or perfume when someone passes me. I need a moment, just to catch my breath.

There are benches placed along the sidewalk, shaded by evenly spaced trees with their bases protected by green metal grates the same size as the cement squares surrounding it. The bench creaks under my weight. If it would cool off, comfort wouldn’t be far off, but the sun presses down on me and what strength I have feels like it’s leaking down my leg and onto the sidewalk. Each breath evens out my vision and allows me to focus on more than the invisible lines that look like I’m walking through water.

In the window across from me, in large flamboyant lettering, a sign reads: Get your drag on! Photos around the poster show men and women barely dressed, smiling and dancing. If I didn’t feel like shit, I’d be tempted to go, just to see what it’s like. Of all the things I’ve done, dressing in drag isn’t among them, or going to what seems to be a primarily gay club. Maybe after I’m well again I’ll go. A change of scenery will be good for me.

Change isn’t always good, not bad, either—just different.

With a sigh, I continue on my way.

At the corner of each block, the walkway dips, making it easier to cross the street en masse. Executives in expensive suits storm through the chaotic rhythm that only the city can offer. Many of them hold their cell phones to their ears and with only a few words, cut whoever they’re talking to down with their sharp tongues. It reminds me of the director I usually work for at the community theatre. Cecil—the director—is an intelligent man; he’s just not the friendliest. Antisocial behavior seems to be a hallmark of great men. There is no doubt that Cecil Hunter is a great man. I can’t say that to his face. Too much emotion directed at him is a waste. He only wants the manufactured feelings a role brings out and that better be directed at the audience.

I wish what I was going through now was research for a role, but it’s not. Most of the time my research involves—involved—a wild role-playing adventure. That’s before Cass left eight months ago. Sometimes I wish I understood what happened between us, but really it doesn’t matter. For all I like getting into peoples’ minds and playing different parts, being with her is a role I was happy to end. A lack of motivation and ambition features vividly in my memory of her complaints about me.

So what if I’m only a few years from thirty and still haven’t decided what I want to do with my life. At least I have a decent job and a hobby I like.

Only half a mile more; then I can check myself in with the After Hours Emergency Division; to these people, sickness can wait until Monday morning at 8:00 a.m.

The city is like one large dustbin. It stinks, and remnants of lives stopped short or not worth living decorate the sidewalks. Broken glass and the points of needles—deadlier than swords—add to the pebbles and cracked concrete. It’s a palace if this is what you want. I’ve seen former classmates along this boulevard, starved and aching for a fix.

The first time you look at the huddled forms, it’s like they steal your soul. They spring into action if you make eye contact, begging with fetid breath and soiled clothes. The reality is that a handful of them actually have families willing to take care of them, and even have houses and the sort of bank balance that would make materialistic men envious. Most of them just don’t care. To them, living like a discarded member of society is a statement. Some of them have stories, some of them are insane… some are so strung out they can’t stop moving. The few days I researched a role of a homeless character were among the most interesting in my life. It is both family—strength in numbers—and a loneliness a hot shower and soap can’t wash away. The true nature of some people becomes so clear it’s frightening. Even children express their disgust, whether inherited or inherent. And I didn’t even look as bad as some. Unmemorable brown eyes and brown hair... average in every way.

Attached to the street lamp across from me, a yellow box with LED lights flashes, indicating it’s okay to cross the road. Stumbling onto the black pavement adorned with yellow and white lines, I wish like hell that I’d driven the five blocks through the messy weekend traffic.

Ahead the Health Department stands. It’s a long, flat building that houses three medical disciplines for the indigent: General Practice, Dental, and Psychological. They can take care of anything from delivering a baby to making sure your psychosis is properly monitored.

I enter through the General Practice doors and walk down the long hallway that leads to the reception area. The carpet is drab and speckled with little black loops to make it appear less dirty from the large amount of traffic that sees this place. Institutional gray wallpaper surrounds me. It feels like being in a tomb with light.

A large pane of glass separates me from the receptionist. She slides it aside and looks at me.

“Name?”

“Ryan Archer,” I reply and give her the remainder of the details she requires. Sign my life over, and I’m done.

“Have a seat. Someone will be with you shortly.”

They always say that. Her dismissal sends me to the gray and burgundy chairs arranged in a crescent. To my right, there’s a squared off playpen full of bright toys and books. The wire block toy with wooden beads clacks. Tiny fingers push them up and over the arc of painted red and in disjointed rhythm, they crash into each other. The kid squeals in delight. It’s voice sounds contorted like my own image in funhouse mirrors. It doesn’t smell nearly as exciting as a fair in here, though. No cotton candy or bright colors, just the medicinal smell that clings to clinics like the walls have been soaked in it and the dreary color of carpet long-overdue for removal. All I can do is wait; it’s what the reception said to do, and I can’t rush ahead in my appointment, unfortunately. Skipping the hacking baby and sneezing girl who keeps giving me eyes from across the room would make up for it.

Maybe an hour passes, I’m not sure. I’m on the verge of falling asleep when I hear my name. Somehow I get up and follow the nurse. Nothing seems to stay still longer than a breath and the sweatshirt and jeans I have on hardly feel like enough clothing. I’m glad that she has me sit down after being weighed and seeing that I’ve gained a few pounds. Enough to put me at one hundred and sixty-five pounds… and still not quite making six feet, according to her measurement.

My vitals seem to be fine. Then she takes my temperature.

“One hundred and two, Mr. Archer.”

The way she says it sounds reproachful, like I should’ve done something sooner. What, I have no idea. The fever only started today and I’m here now.

A lot of questions I find difficult to answer come and then she ushers me to an examination room, pulls out one of those awful gowns and tells me to strip. The door closes and I hear my chart hit the box outside room. Alone with the faint buzz of the lamps overhead. The sound becomes hypnotic.

When I hear a knock and the door handle click, I blink and look ahead. A young doctor enters, hands full of papers and a file on me. He says his name, but I miss it.

“What seems to be the problem today, Mr. Archer?” His voice is even and deep, like a bass drum.

It’s too cold in here. “Um, yesterday I was fine. I mean, I’d been feeling—off, you know? Got worse this morning. Sore throat, aches, chills, fever. It’s uncomfortable when I—” Gesturing, I indicate my groin, then shrug, unable to think of any other helpful symptoms. Not that I can think anyway.

“Okay, well let’s take a look,” he says and begins his examination.

A humiliating half-hour later, the doctor leaves with blood, a swab that went into my urethra, urine sample and my dignity. They—the doctor and his nurse—reassure me that it won’t be long and leave me to get dressed.

Time is relative in our respective worlds. When the doctor returns, I don’t know how long it’s been. The door clicks open and closes with a sigh. Nothing in the doctor’s expression tells me anything.

“Mr. Archer, your preliminary tests indicate that you have contracted an STI.”

Like I’m a log that’s been in the woods forever, petrified, I try to think of everything that they can test for and get results for in less than a day. “What? What is it?” Nothing deadly comes to mind, but it doesn’t stop me from being unable to move or my heart from feeling like a basketball across The Garden court.

“You have genital herpes.”

White noise fills my head. The doctor’s lips are moving, but nothing he says penetrates the smoke rising in me. A poisonous coil wraps around my lungs and throat, forcing all air from my lungs.

“Mr. Archer.”

Cass…

“Mr. Archer, I’m sorry. I know this must be a great shock to you. I’m afraid we’re going to need a list of your partners for notification.”

“You what?”

Every word the doctor said made sense, just not the sentence.

“When someone comes in with an STI, we need to know who their other partners have been so they can receive treatment, too. If you’ll just give me…”

Only one in the last three years. Cassie—Cass—Thorneberg. Not an average woman. It’s been three weeks since the last time we fucked. Drinking and dialing numbers at random is never a good idea, especially when the person on the other end of the line has decided to do the same. Each person’s web traps the other, and that’s what she did to me that night.

Two options are all I have: tell them the truth, or pretend she was a one-nighter and that I don’t know her name or how to contact her. I want to tell them the truth—however subjective it is. My truth is that she left me for someone else and wanted a comfort fuck after he left her. If I tell them the truth, I’ll have to deal with her. That’s the last thing I want.

To be continued...