The Gorgeous Boy has picture-perfect teeth and he picture-perfect smiles. His cheeks rise, his eyes scrunch. His laugh is charming and wonderful; his skin is tan and taut; his hair is full and soft. He’s head-turning, giggle-making, loved, hated, but never ignored. Strangers long to be him, long for him, want him on their side.
He rarely speaks. Is he stupid? Who cares. He’s beautiful.
His personality is a mystery but doesn’t really matter. His opinions are unneeded because his smile says it all: agreeable when needed, amused when wanted, comforting in moments of despair.
He lives at our pleasure.
He is in magazines, in porn, on runways; he’s the friend everyone wants, the trophy in our Facebook pictures, arm candy on the town. He never messes up because he never really tries. That’s what we like about him. He always exceeds our expectations. He’s always impossibly beautiful.
But the Gorgeous Boy is slowly vanishing. His hands and feet blow away with the wind, as do his arms and legs, stomach and chest, his neck, his ears, his nose. His body dissolves piece by piece, until he’s left with only his smile, which he’ll keep until he’s dead, until he disappears into a Cheshire world.
I’ve met the Gorgeous Boy, on photo shoots and at bars. I want to solve his mystery, to know his personality. I want to catch him picking his nose, doing something strange, to find out who he is, not who we want him to be.
My efforts always fail, and they always will. The Gorgeous Boy is perfect by definition; to peek behind his curtain is to collapse the illusion. He loses the enigma, his smile fades away, he’s not what we wanted. He’s real. Imperfect.
But he is no fool. So evidenced:
One-thirty in the morning. I’m at a party for a clothing designer. The Gorgeous Boy and I sit on cushy, white chairs by a city-peeking window. I’m drunk. He’s sipping water.
“I want to know you,” I say, accidentally creepily.
He smiles nervously.
“Not, not like that. I mean, I want to know about you.”
“Okay,” he says and smiles. “What would you like to know?”
I sip my drink and look away. How do I solicit a genuine reply?
“I like rock climbing,” he says before I answer his question. His response is startling and, I’m ashamed to say, unsettling, almost as if it were out of turn, too aggressive.
We talk for fifteen minutes or more, and I find he is sweet and intelligent. He’s in school for art history and we share admiration for Rothko and good scotch.
“Can I ask you a question?” I say.
“You just did.”
And witty. He’s witty.
“’Course. What is it?”
“You’re different in this industry. In this room even. You’re surprising me tonight because you’re usually so quiet and shy around everyone. Your friends are, too.” I motion toward a few models standing by a bar, surrounded by older men. “It’s professional, sure, but your peers are so — how do I say this —”
“Maybe. I guess. I mean, how is it that you guys can show so much personality in a picture but pretend to have none in person?”
He looks away, leans his forearms on his knees, and chews on his cheek, wondering how to respond. As I look at him I realize I’ve agreed with everything he’s said tonight, as he has me, which makes me question his authenticity. Not that he’s lied, just that he’s been… selective. Noncontroversial. The Gorgeous Boy. He knows how to give people what they want in a picture, without even speaking — is it so hard to believe he can read people the same in person? Has he just been telling me what I’ve wanted to hear for the past fifteen minutes? Is this a big ploy to get me to give him publicity?
No. I’m giving him too much credit — a thing I do when I drink.
“A photographer once yelled at me because I made a joke on set,” he says. “He told me that I was nothing more than a clothes hanger with a decent-looking face and a pretty good smile… He said that no one wanted a talking clothes hanger, that I was easily replaceable… Justin, if someone said that to you at your job, you think you’d be anything but submissive to the people who control your career?” His eyes are intense and locked onto mine as he speaks, his tone is almost angry. “I’m 21. I’ve got a good four years of work left in this industry, before I’m too old. And that’s if things go well. If I screw up once, I’m screwed for good.” He relaxes his voice. “I’m trying to make the most of it. If you’re smart, I guess we all are.”
He leans back into his chair. I offer him a sip of my drink.
He takes it.