Chapter 3 (Noel)

It was early afternoon when Jason and I arrived in Vegas. Despite being daytime, I could envision what the gaudy Strip looked like with all the lights turned on. I imagined the spectrum of colors, including Cosmo pink, especially Cosmo pink, the color of emotion, splashing the skyline and creating a carnival everyone was invited to in the middle of the desert. It would be a rave; techno-classical instrumentals would fill the air. Music designed by robots, and to be entertainment for robots, finally had a place to be appreciated by touristy sheep who were probably not robots. I wanted to see it for real tonight after getting situated at the hotel and having some fun.

My dreams turned sour as Jason exited onto the Eastbound 215. “Where’re we going? You booked a hotel on the Strip, right?”

“Dumb recent parking fees. Tyler told me about this place near his apartment where we can park for free.”

“If you’re staying there, wouldn’t it be free?” Common sense died as soon as Vegas was built. Only the capitalistic pigs running the casinos would charge people to live like charging a fee in order to cover all their other redundant fees.

“Ty said everyone on the Strip’s charging guests, even if they’re staying there.”

Figures, there went my plans for an evening on the Strip. I shrugged my shoulders and took in more glamourous sights as Jason traversed the surface streets of Las Vegas as well as I knew San Diego. “You sure your cousin lives here? All these houses look trashed.”

“He’s not exactly in this neighborhood. He lives in an apartment complex near Eastern.”

“That’s nice.” The name of the street was trivial. It could have been the solution to a thermo problem and it would have made as much sense. My entire body was stiff from the long drive.

Fifteen minutes later, Jason and I arrived at the Silver Station hotel. The exterior was a cash-grab. A giant sign coming straight from the 70’s advertised complimentary hot tubs in every suite. I had never seen a room with a hot tub inside of it before, and I didn’t expect to see one in an off-Strip locale. The outside showed off the 19th Century train-like theme through murals of locomotives, legendary or otherwise, etched and painted onto the wooden plank walls.

As the car stopped, I unbuckled myself and forced the passenger door open without looking. It swung open, but refused to budge any further after I heard a scraping sound coming from the edge. I turned my head, and saw a semi towering over Jason’s car. “Come on, Noel, get out!” he said. His side of the car opened to the stale Las Vegas air and nothing else.

I squeezed my figure between the car and the semi. Anyone weighing 20 pounds more than me would never have fit through Clunker Canyon. I stopped Jason as he opened the trunk, staring directly into his eyes as I spoke. “Look at this gargantuan parking lot. How many cars are in it?”

Jason pointed towards my luggage in the trunk. Any good host would take all of it out for me. “A few, why?”

“Why? Cars are like people.” I reached into the trunk and took out my suitcase. “They need space, and your parking job didn’t impress me one bit.”

“It’s only temporary. Look, I need to talk to Ty. He needs me. I’ll see ya later!”

“Okay?” Why did Tyler need him right now?

Jason plopped himself back into the driver’s seat and jetted off, almost running me over. What the fuck was wrong with this kid? Of course, he had to think of his cousin first instead of the guy he brought with. Maybe it was an emergency, but to leave me high and dry alone in a foreign state was going too far. I wanted an explanation, and Jason was going to give me one or take me home. I preferred the latter.

After calming down, it was time to go inside the colossal casino and check in. I stepped through the hotel’s tinted glass doors and found myself in a pure maze only a madman could design. Nothing looked elegant. It was the death of fashion as I traveled through the cold and sterile concrete hallways toward the registration desk. There were no windows, no mirrors, not even a single picture on the wall. I’ve seen maintenance tunnels with better decorations. The odious staunch of cigarette butts oozed from the air vents. I held my breath for a few steps, but had to take a deep breath once every ten seconds. It took forever to reach the other side.

As I approached the casino proper, what I saw was the exact opposite. To me, this was Vegas. The concrete death blossomed into carpets and chandeliers of life that complemented the spectrums of slots lined up perfectly like an OCD child lining up his favorite toys. I wish I could say the same of their themes; someone thought tomatoes and chocolate went together. It was an ordered labyrinth—one I could easily cross to get to the bell desk. I wanted to stop and gamble, but didn’t.

I followed the overhead signs in the casino to the hotel lobby. The check in counter was solid marble, etched with laces of gold. “I'd like to check in,” I said just before handing my ID and credit card to the 40-something lady at the bell desk.

“Thank you, Mr. Geiger,” she said. “You look handsome today.”

“Thanks, ma’am.”

She processed my information and gave me two keys. I figured Jason should at least get one. After all, he paid for this trip. “You're in room 401, take the elevators to your left, and have a nice day.”

The 4th floor? She wanted to put Jason and me on a floor with seemingly nothing but a brick wall and garbage dumpsters to look at below. “Was there anything on a higher floor? I wanted to see the Strip all lit up.”

“I'm sorry, sir. Our basic spa rooms are only on the bottom floors. I'd upgrade you, but I'm afraid all of our deluxe spa rooms are already booked.”

“I see then.”

I took my keys and walked towards the elevators. Before I could show my key to the security guard, Jason texted me. “OMW to hotel. Be there in thirty.”

I figured I’d wait. I found a Western bar in the heart of the casino. The bar itself looped in a full circle underneath another circle of ceiling lamps decorated with longhorns with a third ring of stools on the outside. Its location was perfect, not too far from the elevators. The only empty seat I saw was next to a shitfaced and corpulent lady with her head down. I sucked in my stomach and took a seat next to her.

“Hey, pretty boy,” the bubbly-looking bartender strutted toward me and gave me a wink. “Can I get you a cold beer, or perhaps something else, sweetie?”

“I’ll have a mimosa, please.” I gave her a wink back and shelled out twelve dollars upfront.

She went to the other side of the bar to mix my drink. She stayed a little while after returning with my drink. “So, what do you do?”

“I’m a college student.”

“You look too good to be a nerd. You sure you’re not a model? You definitely look like one.”

“You got me,” I chuckled a bit. I didn’t realize my pecs burst through my hoodie like that. “Yeah, I’m a swimsuit model too. You don’t look half-bad yourself.”

“Thank you!” Her grin sparkled under the lamp. “So, do you have a girlfriend, sweet thing?”

“Excuse me?” There was always that assumption. I didn’t want to wear a pink shirt saying “I’m Gay!” on it every single day, perhaps a plain pink shirt, but nothing that explicit.

“Oh, I’m sorry, sir. Maybe this lady next to you’s your girlfriend, huh?”

“I like guys.” I didn’t want to say that, but even in this day and age, everyone assumed you were straight. The fact that Jason was explicitly looking for gay men was the sole reason I picked TCS over any other agency in San Diego. Sure, he was a douche, but douchebags can be fixed. It just took time and effort.

“Hey!” I heard a Southern drawling shout coming from behind me. “You stay away from my wife!”

I turned around and looked straight in the eyes of a balding old cowboy missing his hat. He charged towards me, but slid to his right at the last second. He bear-hugged his wife by the paunch and slung her drunk ass over his burly shoulders. Maybe he was drunk too. Neither he nor his wife said anything as he carried her through the casino and back to the elevators. Maybe it was my time to head back myself. I finished my mimosa and lugged my suitcase to a nearby bench and waited for Jason.

Ten minutes later, Jason arrived, wheeling in his enormous suitcase with at least two duffle bags attached to the handle. “Where the fuck were you?” I said, “and you brought all that shit for a two-night stay?”

Jason shrugged. “I really tried to travel light. Cameras, swimsuits, bunny food, I need it all.”

I ignored the bunny food comment. “That suitcase is bigger than you are. A family of four could live in that.”

“Hey! I didn’t insult your luggage, so let’s get to our room.”

I gave Jason his key before walking towards the elevators. He grunted and broke a sweat trying to lug his junk inside. Once again, I had to help muscle his stuff.

“Eee! Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!” Jason triggered the four button at least ten times, “Close it, close it, close it, close it!”

“It’s going to close on its own.” Jason was the only five-year-old I had ever met legal enough to gamble and drink. The doors closed and we rode in silence to the fourth floor.

As the doors slid open, we found ourselves in a bleak hallway that never saw a maid in its life. There was no sense of art, no sense of creativity, and a fashion sense that reminded me of a brown Sparta. It was obvious where the budget went in this dump of a hotel, and it certainly didn’t go here; the hotel room doors battered from years of abuse from the customers.

Jason followed me down the hall toward our room, which of course, was located at the end of oblivion. He stayed behind at first, but after he got tired of the repetitive pattern of doors and walls, he dropped his shit and ran like a toddler looking for the candy jar. That ungrateful bastard. Just because I’m bigger than him doesn’t mean he can expect me to carry his stuff in addition to mine. Not wanting to cause a scene, I picked up his stuff and attached it to my own, wheeling it down the hall.

I stepped through the hotel room door, which at least Jason held open for me. The inside of the room was not much different, not that I was expecting anything better. The taupe colors of the hallways transitioned into darker shades of brown painted on the walls and mismatched tan carpeting. The room reeked of pot and cigarettes as if the previous occupants did both at the exact same time. It was chilly, but not too unbearable. The black hot tub in the front corner stuck out from the rest of the scenery. None of the furniture went together, a piecemeal bedroom set with dark wood for the bed frame and light plastic nightstands. There was one king-sized bed next to the back wall.

Jason threw himself onto the bed. Its frame creaked and snapped after his pounce.

“Only one bed?” I said. “Then where am I going to sleep?”

Jason flipped himself over. “We're sleeping together, silly. I want to get to know you really well.”

“Okay then,” I said, saving face. “Here's your stuff.” I threw Jason's luggage right at him, startling the twink right off the bed. Was he honestly expecting me to sleep with him? My job description was to pose in skimpy swimsuits and sell photos online, not to have sex with a stranger. If I wanted that, I would have been a manwhore on the deep web.

“Ow! That freaking hurt!”

“Sorry, dude, but next time, carry your own shit.” I took off my hoodie, folded it, and set it neatly on the dresser. If there was anything that looked right in this room, that would be it. I took a seat on one of the cheap dorm-like chairs in the back corner of the room, facing the door. “So, what are we going to do now?”

“I want to hot tub.”

This couldn’t be real. Was I in Vegas or in a cheap 90’s gay porno? “Whatever, I’m going downstairs to play some blackjack.”

“But I’ll be lonely if you leave. The casino’s an evil place, and if you go there, the slot machines will come to life, mug you, and walk off with your money. You’ve gotta at least stay here!” Jason took off all of his clothes save his boxers designed with a child-like red ball on them and turned the water on for the hot tub.

If he wasn’t going to show me Vegas, maybe I would have to show myself. The problem was I didn’t have a car, and Jason shifted his eyes between his car keys and myself.

On second thought, maybe I shouldn’t gamble. “You know what, Jace?” I said. “I think I'll just read a bit.” I got up and took my fantasy book out of my suitcase and continued from where I last left off. The Battle by Dragon’s Bay was a far more interesting subject than the Battle of Getting Me in the Hot Tub.

“Noel?”

I ignored him.

“Noelie, Noelie, Noelie!” Shit, he started singing. A pop artist he was not. “Get on in herie, herie, herie!”

“No!” I said. “Can’t you see I’m trying to read here?”

Jason pointed to me, and then himself. “I’m lonely in here, and there’s room for two.”

“What part of ‘no’ don’t you understand?” The casino beckoned once again. I got up and started strolling towards the door, book still in hand.

“Aww, but I’ve got a little story for you. There was this one guy, who had an irrational fear of hot tubs, and he was about to get fi—”

“Alright, fine!” My head throbbed as I slammed my novel onto the carpet, creasing the pages. “I’ll get in just to get you to shut up.”

I took out my swimsuit from the suitcase and stepped inside the bathroom. It was standard issue, but did not blend well with the rest of the suite. It was cramped, and I was surprised that it was meant to be shared with someone else. Only one person could fit in here, and only if they were maybe Jason-sized. I stripped down slowly, making sure my everyday clothes were kept neat and clean. That was easier said than done with the closing-in walls wanting to grab my body despite being in place. I put on my pink and black grunge-style swim trunks and walked out of the bathroom, carrying my folded dirty laundry out with me.

I entered the hot tub slowly. I started with just my left foot. Wow was that water hot. How the hell was Jason enjoying this? I slipped deeper in after a few minutes, reaching the bottom with the water’s surface at waist-height. It still felt hot to me, but I got used to it, and I took a seat next to my loony boss.