Brandon took a deep breath and looked at himself in the mirror. He could do this. He’d actually learned to enjoy the stage fright these past few months he’d been performing. It felt electric and helpful- a little reminder that he was alive.
He ran through his old confidence trick of imagining that he was Paul McKenna. He’d seen McKenna perform once back in first year. He was magnetic on stage- mesmerizing the audience well before he had even formally hypnotized anyone. As a shy, awkward, closeted kid, Brandon had admired how confident the hypnotist was. He held effortless sway over his volunteers and his audience. Brandon had wanted to be like that- feel that in control of something.
So Brandon began to teach himself hypnosis. The library had some books and he had some friends who were kind enough to let him try things out. Somewhere along the way, Brandon had gotten really good. One night after work at his bar job, he had even managed to hypnotize the owner’s girlfriend. She was a fun natural subject and they had worked really well together. The owner had been so impressed that he asked if Brandon ever did stage hypnosis. When Brandon said yes (a small white lie), the owner had offered him a slot for a show every other Tuesday night.
After the first month or so, doing stage hypnosis started to feel really great. Brandon had a routine and he mostly stuck to it, but the volunteers reacted differently enough that the show felt new every time. Brandon felt connected to his volunteers. And even though what they were doing was inherently silly, it was also magical and exciting and fascinating.
Brandon stepped out on the small stage and began his pre-talk. Like the rest of the show, It was a variation on the same old speech every week (one of the regulars at the bar counter always rolled his eyes when Brandon began) but the routine gave Brandon enough extra brain space to scan the crowd and take notes for himself. A ginger girl looked really engaged and was laughing at all the jokes right on time- she might be a good volunteer. A man in a hat had kind of slowly blinked when Brandon said “sleep” earlier- that could be a good sign. Or he might already be too drunk, Brandon thought, judging the number of beer glasses Brandon saw under him. Many audience members tonight seemed open and engaged. That would probably give Brandon a good selection of volunteers…
And then he walked in.
Brandon saw the guy from the campus GLBT club last week. The one Brandon had finally forced himself to go to. (Brandon had been frantically trying not to think about sex and sexuality issues for years, but this year he had finally started privately using “the g word” in his own mind when labeling himself.) Actually going to the club had felt really awkward until he began talking with a friendly guy there named Scott. Scott had drawn him out- asked him about himself and his interests. Scott told him a bit about his life too- he talked about being the only gay guy on the rugby team and how he had won the other players’ respect.
Scott had an easy laugh and an easy charm. Brandon had certainly felt charmed by him. Maybe a bit too charmed. Brandon felt the zing of a crush beginning to start. He wasn’t sure he was ready for that yet, though. Brandon had not mentioned the hypnosis thing to Scott- it felt weird and personal and he had already half-convinced himself that he was being creepy in response to Scott’s platonic friendliness. He didn’t want to scare him off.
He had never expected to see him here.
Scott smiled and waved at Brandon. It took everything Brandon had to keep his pre-talk speech going on autopilot. All of a sudden, he felt very exposed and very known. Like Scott had walked in on him masturbating or something.
Brandon tripped up a little bit on the magnetic fingers test, but no one in the audience seemed to notice. He had a few people who seemed to be responding really well so far. (He studiously did not to look over at Scott.) Brandon channeled his enthusiasm into his volunteer call “So if you’re ready to have the best time of all tonight, go ahead and come up on the stage!”
A few people came up- Brandon sold volunteering some more while trying to make eye contact with a few more possibles. It was always good to give himself options. He verbally encouraged volunteers to find and sit in the hypnotic chairs behind him. When he finally felt like enough people had volunteered, Brandon turned around
He saw Scott sitting directly behind him, smiling up at him expectanly.
Professionalism, Scott remembered. He kept on with his routine, doing some basic relaxation steps and then starting at the beginning of the line of volunteers with a series of quick inductions.
He got to Scott.
Scott was already looking spacey. He looked up at Brandon in the most open, trusting way.
Brandon felt something in him stir.
NO. He thought. Focus.
He took Scott’s hand in his and started his induction.
“Push on my hand.” Scott’s hand felt warm and rough against his.
“Harder” He looked so sexy when he was concentrating.
“Harder” He smelled so good.
As Brandon pulled his hand quickly away, Scott just..collapsed. Like a puppet with his strings cut. His eyes had rolled back and they had already started moving a bit under the lids. Scott’s mouth was hanging open. He looked debauched and so open and so gone…
NO NO NO
Brandon needed to stop himself. Thinking on his feet, he course corrected. “Let’s have a round of applause for all of our volunteers! Now- since we have so many excellent subjects up here, let’s say we make it just a ladies night tonight. We’ll use all and only female volunteers. What do you all think about that?!”
The crowd cheered in enthusiasm. Thank goodness. Brandon woke up all of his male volunteers and continued the show.
Scott came up after the show to shake Brandon’s hand and talk to him. Brandon somehow managed to touch Scott’s hand again and not blush, even with that strings-cutting moment still vivid in his head. Scott asked if Brandon wanted to meet him for a pint but Brandon declined, citing exhaustion. He already felt bad enough for lusting after Scott during the show- if he let his guard down Scott might notice something was off. He needed to go and sort himself out.
Brandon decided to give going to the GLBT club a miss that next week. He had been fantasizing about Scott all week- his big trusting eyes, his slack expression, what he could have made Scott do while he was under his power. He felt ashamed to actually go face him with those thoughts running through his head. Brandon took a walk and had a cold shower that night instead.
Scott was in the front row when Brandon began his next stage hypnosis show.
He had brought friends.
The group of girls, who had obviously already had a bit to drink, were cheering and rowdy. They weren’t rambunctious enough to get kicked out, but they were certainly enough to rile the rest of the crowd up.
Brandon gave the first part of his pretalk then launched into his magnetic fingers routine. He decided to experiment and turn it into a bit of a group induction, continuing on into an arm levitation on the fly. After a few minutes of patter, he asked people to open their eyes and see how high their arms had gotten. A few people had arms that were floating a foot or two off their legs.
Scott’s arm was floating up at his head.
It looked like he was raising his hand.
Scott looked up at his arm with a kind of distant, happy surprise.
Brandon chose a few audience members to come on the stage who had experienced some success with the exercise. He purposely did not choose Scott. No need to put himself through that again.
He was just getting ready to put the last chair away when he heard:
One of the drunk girls.
Now all of the drunk girls.
Then the rest of the audience, laughing a bit as Scott cheekily waved at them.
Brandon swallowed and steeled his nerves. “Scott, would you like to come up?”
The audience roared in response.
Brandon managed to keep his shit together through the beginning of the show and a few basic skits- pretending shoes were puppies (Scott made the most adorable faces), playing an imaginary piano (he had…agile fingers), and name amnesia (that confused look, though).
Brandon went right into the next skit.
“OK when I wake you up in a moment, you’re going to imagine you’re at the top of a tall mountain and it’s freezing up there- you’ll imagine that you’re so totally cold and every time I say the word cold it gets colder, every time I say the word cold you get colder...”
Scott was already shivering, doing brilliantly. So was the blonde in the red shirt.
Brandon woke them up, verbally encouraging their shivers and teeth chattering. The volunteers huddled together for warmth. Scott ran his hands quickly up and down the blonde girl’s arms to warm her up.
“And now, “ Brandon said, “the cold’s gone away and you realize that you’re not on the mountain at all! You’re in a hot place! You’re in the desert and the sun’s coming up and it’s getting hotter and hotter…”
Brandon kept his patter going on autopilot as he watched the group react, looking for what reactions to encourage. The blonde was fanning herself. The bald guy was going a bit red. And Scott-
Scott was taking his shirt off.
The drunk girls yelled encouragement from the audience.
Scott’s hands worked to throw his shirt over his head. Time seemed to slow. Brandon could see the muscles in Scott’s chest. He was sweating.
Brandon stopped dead in his tracks for a moment.
Scott moved his hands to his belt buckle.
Brandon raised his voice “And NOW the temperature is normal again. Normal comfortable temperature. And you can go ahead and stop what you’re doing and sit back in your seat, that’s right..”
Brandon fled the stage as soon as the show was over. He made an excuse of needing to use the toilet. He stayed in there for 10 minutes to calm his nerves.
Scott was waiting for him when he came out.
Brandon made another excuse of checking on the other volunteers and left.
30 minutes later, Scott was still at the bar. Waiting.
Resigned and secretly pleased, Brandon walked over.
“Hey Svengali!” Scott said with a smile. “Did you like having me under your spell?” He winked playfully.
Brandon laughed awkwardly. Suddenly he was all out of words.
Scott came closer. “Seriously, though, that was a lot of fun. I felt really relaxed and playful. Being hypnotized feels really zen, y’know?”
Brandon found his voice, “Yeah, you’re a really talented subject. You’re really creative and imaginative and..willing.” Brandon looked down, his own words making him shy.
Scott’s mouth quirked at that last word. “Brandon, I don’t want to freak you out but- I’ve spent the last hour and a half focused on you. Really focused. And I was paying attention to what you said but,” he looked Brandon in the eye, “I could kind of tell you were focused on me too. Intensely.”
Brandon turned red. “I..I’m sorry, you must think I’m so creepy, I..”
Scott stopped him. “No Brandon, you don’t get it. I wanted to be focused on you. I’ve wanted it ever since the club really- but especially since I saw your last show. Watching it kind of…helped me understand some things about myself. What I wanted. And I wanted you to notice me too. Why do you think I wore this shirt tonight?” He smiles teasingly. “I remembered your show last week. I knew I’d have the excuse to take it off for you. Did you like what you saw?”
Brandon nodded his head.
Scott nodded back, understanding. “You liked watching me take my shirt off. And I think you liked watching me be hypnotized, too. Following your commands. Acting under your spell.”
Brandon blushed at his quiet, involuntary moan.
Scott looked at Brandon’s with gentle compassion. He held Brandon’s hand in his for a moment and put a piece of paper in it. “I know you’re newly out and i don’t want to pressure you. I like you a lot, though, and, well- I think we have a lot in common. We’re…compatible, in a way. So if you ever want to hang out some time or go out or y’know, stay in together…” he squeezed Brandon’s hand and let go “…give me a call”.
Scott looked Brandon in the eyes one more time, then walked away.
Brandon angsted over the number for exactly one day.
On Wednesday night, he picked up the phone.
“Hey Scott? Hey, It’s Brandon. Listen, I’m working on some new ideas for my show. Would you like to come over and help me test them? Maybe on Friday? I’ll make you dinner.”
It was a start.