An excerpt from the short story
And on the 13th day, the Queerest of numbers, just as God wrapped up Her second week of universal construction that had already begun to go awry, She created the Narcissistic Sociopath—who’s heart would jump from tree to tree like a screeching monkey, until it landed peacefully in a small town outside of Madrid. 
It would make its way into the hollow cavern of a boy, where it would continue to howl until the boy gave in, and art was made. Piss poor art and generation-defining art. But I didn’t care about either. I cared only for the heat it gave off under the boy’s chest, who was really not a boy at all, yet the pulsing underneath their breastbone became my alarm clock, stirring me from moment to moment, until I was so entranced that I realized I never had a choice in the matter. Their purpose was to be loved. And mine was to comply.
If you had seen Lip and I together, as a couple, you would think they were the more feminine one, straddling genders in their skin tight Union Jack party dress, ripped fishnets showing off their meticulously shaved legs. In truth, I was the one more swayed by the moon, worshiping the smeared red lipstick left over from one of their post-show kisses, pregnant with nurture as I carefully turned their head to the side, gracefully ensuring they don’t choke on their own vomit after a crowd-diving black out. Lip breathed the masculine fire of the lion, each sun drop soaking perfectly into their amber skin, smudged with sparkles of sweat and glitter. 
Staring at them in the mid-morning hours before I caught the train into Manhattan, I envied how unbothered they slept, as if they had read prophecies of our new, intertwined lives years before we met, as if the weight of our combined energies never clanged too loudly in their ear, never threatened to shatter the brittle studio-bedroom window, letting the chaos of who we both so desperately wanted to be escape out to the smoggy sky, never to be seen again.
I fell in love with the city the same way I fell in love with Lip, through the haze of being found amidst anonymous clamor. Indistinguishable underground, with the shuffling of the subway cars adding unwanted percussion to Lip’s latest track bouncing in my ears, I tried to pretend that nothing had changed. That the dull hangover pressing into my forehead was the result of Lip and I dancing late in Hell’s Kitchen, refusing to leave each other, regardless of our morning classes. Instead last night’s tequila was free, delivered diligently to a dressing room before the show, and from adoring strangers and suitors after. 
There’s no such thing as an overnight success, which is why I always try to capture Lip in the smudgiest of moments, the yellowing grout of our bathtub curving like their hips, the dirt in our window screens echoing the blackened shadows under their eyes. 
That’s what I told their new label, anyway. 
There was no way that asshole was going on a world tour without me, and I might as well get paid for the pictures I couldn’t help but take anyway. The past six months of Safety Pin Lipstick shows spanned the smaller venues of the bigger cities, pre-contracted before, as the poets say, the fever of the soul, fame, was bestowed upon them, and yet still it brought Lip enough to pay for every flight I would take in the next year—but of course, I couldn’t let them. My stage-side presence was already beginning to be criticized in the ether, and I was afraid of the cliche I so desperately wanted to live; I couldn’t fully give myself over to someone the world had already claimed ownership of. 
Somehow, this morning commute echoed my final, shivering revolt, a toehold on the independence I once planned for. Standing in a conference room atop a speckless glass tower, I would raise my chin like the soldier stumbling through the bloody beaches alone, prepared to meet his end proudly. My pride had a price, and it wasn’t a cheap one—my yearlong photography contract rates would be the golden egg I could remind myself of as Lip paid for my Michelin star dinners. 
Were there people more qualified to be Lip’s Director of Photography? Of course.
Would my personal relationship be monetized by the label's marketing team? They’d be dumb not to. 
But would I get to travel the world making art with the person I loved most in the world? Yes. I would. If this means I fucked my way to the top, so be it. 
The executioner of my final sentence wore a ripped, pilled cardigan waterfalling past her knees. Having secured the deal for myself, I now met with just her, the label’s PR executive handling Safety Pin Lipstick, alone and free of the other suits unamused by another lover groveling for a piece of their star’s paycheck. 
Lip would be the frontperson appearing on a handful of covers over the next year, coinciding with tour schedules and sold out shows. It was up to Lindsay the Executioner and myself to begin creative directing these shoots, determine what designers needed to be contacted, what sample size garments would Lip rip through, which avante garde magazine editor would want them to be shot hanging from the steel beams of a worn-down club, and which would want them amidst the salt and smoke of a seaside cliff.
And then there was their image, another lie I told, because who else would help the world fall in love with Lip better than someone who already had, ten times over? In truth, I had no intention of sharing this version of them, sticky with morning dew, imprints of a tight underwear waistband on their speckled skin, that I delicately traced with my dirty fingernails as their dried, pouting lips succumbed to breath. Their fans could see every inch of them, for all I care, but they would never be allowed to linger on my favorite details. And besides, I had no control over what Lip did or didn’t do; they’d as happily walk down the streets of Soho nude as they would in a bedazzled suit with a price tag higher than a suburban downpayment.
Lindsay favored their androgyny, above all. So did the label. Reminiscent of Bowie, of Jagger, as angry as Johnny Rotten but with modern queer sensibilities that could win GLAAD awards. This is where I came in, gently curtailing Lip’s brashness with raised eyebrows and pursed smiles from behind the camera. They’d write lyrics with a furious crassness that would make the Church of Satan blush, while my promo efforts laid a gentler, divine hand—twisting satire and sophistication from Safety Pin Lipsticks unbridled lavender rage. 
Lip burned through the day, and I cooled the night. Our orbits steadied so cyclically, an ancient magnetic tide twirling the axis that had become our lives. There would be no breaking it, and that’s what scared me most of all. 
A good narcissist will make you feel like you’re witnessing a grand event, even if you’re just drinking shitty beers in the back of a dusty gay bar. And Lip is very aware of their electrifying aura. If that’s a flaw of theirs, then mine is my propensity to guide them the way rubber-covered wires direct power through rainy streets. But it took a while. When I was seventeen, a young freshman at the inception of our relationship, I felt illuminated next to the walking electrocution that was Lip. At eighteen, we had to direct the lightning strikes to avoid lighting ourselves on fire. And now, after two years together, I’ve finally finessed how not to get shocked. 
Which is why I didn’t tell him about who would be at his show tonight. 
When it comes to sociopathy, Lip has a mild case. They’ll even admit it, if they know it’s what I want to hear. But Lip still has emotional concern, particularly for how they’re perceived. So if I told them that the music editor from NME would be amongst Safety Pin Lipstick’s usual crowd of queers and queens, they’d have spent even longer primming their greasy hair, plucking at their sequined dress, poking and smudging their eyeliner—I’d never get them out of our apartment. Lip under pressure is like milk in coffee—too much and the vanilla washes away the bitter, dark edge. 
And that’s what we needed tonight. The lavish anarchy of Safety Pin Lipstick, afire with grunging riffs and wailing cries to Lower Manhattan’s queer community, a subset of punks and primadonnas who find relief in the edgier, alternative spaces. Camden Green, Sr. Editor, would need to see Lip in their element, not a show tailored for a straight, white man making the trek from his Brooklyn brownstone as a personal favor to an ex-flame. 
The ex-flame isn’t me, I should clarify. That would be my mother. Yes, I asked my mother—my happily married, now Nashville suburbanite mother—to woo her ex-boyfriend from her New York days into coming to my partner’s concert. It’s the type of privileged manipulation that makes me feel like a character on Gossip Girl. But I was doing it for altruistic reasons. For my charming Rock Star Boyfriend—a gendered label Lip only likes when combined with “Rock Star,” which makes them feel like a sexy, dingy punk. (It was a fun night when I figured that out).
“Hey, girl!” coos Kelsey, the overly-comfortable secretary holding a less-than-vigil watch outside of Lindsay’s office. “She just met with the team! She’s waiting for you.” 
“Thanks Kels.” 
“Cute fit!” She says as I walk past her, a puppy-dog sadness in her eyes that I didn’t stop to chat. 
“You too, babes,” I offer. 
When I open Lindsay’s door, I find her standing behind her desk, a ravaged mess of papers scattered across the mid-century modern monstrosity she chooses to sit behind. 
“Close the door,” she says without looking up. I let myself in and follow her instructions. 
“Good morning to you too.” 
“Rory I swear, if you fuck me.” 
“I thought I made it pretty clear I’m not into that.” I drop my messenger bag in the empty chair, but stay standing, trying to force her to meet my gaze. When she does, there’s an unmistakable tinge of fear in her face. I haven’t worked with her long, but I’ve always been confident in my ability to read people, and this feels deeply uncharacteristic. 
“Camden Green just called.”
“He pitched a cover story to NME, and they bought it. He’s bringing a photographer to the show tonight, and wants to do a whole behind the scenes interview and shoot. A Before the Superstar Leaves their Nest angle.” 
“Oh.” Shit. 
“You told me Lip didn’t even know Camden was coming to the show.”
“They don’t. Because I thought Camden was just going to be in the audience.” 
“And now Lip needs to know.” 
“Lip doesn’t need to know.” 
“Exactly how temperamental is Lip? I can deal with shit-faced rock stars, but I saw budgets this afternoon, and the money we’re pumping into Safety Pin Lipstick is, well, a shit ton.” 
“Is that a technical term?” I try to ease the tension. 
She lets out a soft sigh, and I catch the corner of her mouth twist into the smallest smile.
“This is my career,” she says.
“It’s mine, too.” 
“Rory, you seem normal.” 
“Thank you?” 
“I mean, for a 19-year-old photographer boyfriend of an internet-famous punk, you seem normal. I like that. But now my career is your career, too. You got us an audience. You got us Camden Green. Now I need you to tell me, do you really think Lip doesn’t need to know that tonight’s show is going to be their first major cover story?”
I pause. She’s not wrong. My eyes fall to the floor, and catch at my shoes—a scuffed-to-death pair of Docs I’ve had since I moved to New York, since I fell in love with Lip. It’s not exactly a Cinderella’s slipper kind of story. In a crusty bar on the Lower West Side, one of my friends knew one of Lip’s friends, and we all started talking, and drinking, and dancing. An embarrassing amount of vodka tonics later, we were making out in a booth, and then I was pulling them to the bathroom in the spirit of sexual liberation I swore I would find in the city. I gave them head in a grimey stall, and nearly threw up on these same shoes. 
“Okay,” I say. “They should know. But only in pieces.”
“If they know how important Camden is to charm, I’m afraid they’ll come off like Ted Bundy.” 
“Explain more.”
“Let Lip be Lip, with their natural charm already at one hundred ten percent. If you put a ton of pressure on them, and look at them the way you’re looking at me, the Lip we all fell in love with won’t be present.” 
She narrows her eyes, skeptical of me.
“All I’m saying is, if we’re chill, Lip will be chill too. Camden is a friend of my mom’s. He’s bringing a photographer for some press stuff. Lip won’t blink twice at that. If you show up and start talking about budgets, it’ll be a whole thing.”
“Oh, I’m coming.” 
“I’m coming. You think I trust a kid like you to finesse something this big?” 
I bite the inside of my lip, gnawing at a canker sore that’s sprouted from stress. 
“I’m sorry,” Lindsay says. “You’re talented, and you’re smart, but this is bigger than that. I’m coming. I’ll take your note about keeping it zero pressure. It tracks. But I’m coming.” 
“Just don’t spook them,” I try to say with confidence. 
“Don’t let them be spookable,” she says. “Better go prep your rock star.”
I grab my bag from the chair and turn to leave. 
“Just so you know,” Lindsay says before I can open the door. “This can be more than just Lip.”
“More than Safety Pin Lipstick, I mean. You’re good at this. Don’t lose sight of your own path, either.” 
I nod. It’s not the first time I’ve heard something like this. 
“Trust me, I know. Thanks.” I give her an understanding smile, and leave her corner office with it’s practically fake picturesque view of the Manhattan skyline.
“See ya later, girl!” Kelsey calls after me. “Give that zaddy of yours a smooch for me.” 
“You got it, Kels.” I retreat to the elevator, and let it bring me back to the stable, garbage-filled ground of the city. 
Even before Lip, to say that I’ve forged my own path in New York would be the grossest of lies. As a kid, I would hear the endless trope about the young star moving from the middle of nowhere to make it in the city. When I started expressing my own interest in being this young star from the middle of nowhere, my parents accepted it as if I was simply asking for a scoop of ice cream. Like most children, I assumed my mother and father had no life before I erupted into this world, against my own will. But when my parents honored that request and whisked me to the city for the first time as an eight-year-old, that misconception melted away. Was that restaurant on 72nd still there? And remember that tiny deli by your old place in Chelsea? Oh Rory, we’ll take you to see Times Square, but only once, because there’s so much more. 
And they were right, of course. As I gawked at the blinking, blinding towers of capitalistic cacophony, they counted the moments until it was over—partially due to my older sister bemoaning her boredom, and swearing that she would not be stepping foot in the M&M store. Janet somehow had no illusions about the New York my parents experienced before Nashville. Even at twelve, to her it was already a city of yore—a relic of the stories she’d heard over-and-over at holidays, and that I’d somehow missed amongst the clatter from the kids’ table. 
But ever since Dad gently guided me away from Times Square with a, “C’mon bud, let’s take a walk through the Theatre district,” I’ve been enamored with the city that felt, just barely still, like the center of the universe. 
But I was not a kid from nowhere making his own way, I had more connections and resources than I even knew. And nearly every person I’ve met in the city, from the sterile NYU dorms to the moshers at Lip’s show had some sort of predestination to the city, whether it be geographically or fiscally. 
Even Lip, whose Spanish father would often be in town for a type of “business” I did not understand and knew not to ask too many questions about. And yet as Lip screamed into their mic about the brutal slaughtering of bohemia on the backs of the titans, I have been with them to their childhood home in Madrid—a home as idyllic as a Nancy Meyers movie that somehow filled them with the bone-splitting agony akin to a David Lynch. I do not know what went on there, and while Lip speaks of trips home like a forced sequester for Jury Duty, I know that it made them who they are. Maybe that’s what scares me the most. 
It’s mid-afternoon when I gently push the door to our studio open, which is a fruitless effort, creaking as if I were splitting it with an ax. Lip is still in bed, lounging but awake, scrolling on their phone. Eyeliner clumps hang at the edge of their eyes, and their lips twinge to the tiniest curl as they see me. But before they can open their mouth, I drop my bag and throw myself not onto the bed, but onto them, my face smacking against the sticky skin of their peach-fuzzed breast bone. 
They let out a guttural exhalation, then a curious whisper, “Lover?” 
“Good morning,” I respond, and raise myself to kiss them hello. “Sleep well?” 
“Only until you left me,” they say, but I know they slept peacefully the whole way through. They always do. 
“How was—” they start to ask, but I place my thumb against their lips to stop them, then let it slide between their teeth. As they nibble at it, their eyes narrow in excitement. My lips fall onto their high, feminine cheekbones, and trace the path to their rigid, masculine jaw.

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