It starts with a bar of soap.
For God’s sake, Kent thinks to himself in the “personal care” section of the grocery store. Why does Dove think I’m allergic to purple just because I’m a guy?
He picks up the lavender-scented bar soap and inhales. It smells heavenly. Next he tries the sandalwood-scented from the men’s section. It comes in a gray box and costs fifty cents less. It smells good but it reminds him of floor polish.
I’m a grown-ass man, Kent thinks, and buys the lavender soap.
The next time he’s out of body wash, he spends thirty minutes trying to decide on one of the many “manly” smells before caving to “Cocoa Cabana” in the women’s aisle because it smells like Valentines Day in a bottle.
After that it’s his deodorant body spray, trading in “Bold” (whatever the fuck boldness smells like) for “Fresh Cotton.”
The first time Jeff catches a whiff of it on him, he asks, “New fabric softener? It smells awesome.”
“Nah, switched deodorants.”
“Huh.” Jeff nods in approval. “Well, you smell like fresh blankets out of the dryer. I have a physical urge to hug you.”
Kent laughs. Jeff hugs him and he laughs more. It’s nice.
After five months, nearly every toiletry Kent owns has been switched over from an endless variety of blacks, grays, and occasional dark greens and blues to white, purple, soft brown, yellow, and pink. Showers have transformed from a perfunctory necessity to something luxurious. Women’s products are so indulgent. They make Kent feel and smell like he’s been at a spa. He does have to learn to juggle the fragrances appropriately or risk smelling like a perfume store vomited on him. But it’s worth it, for how good he feels after. He feels pampered. His skin is softer, his hair shines, and even his pits and crotch look and feel cleaner. He doesn’t know if it’s the products or because he really cares about the maintenance, now, since he’s got all these specialty items to try. It doesn’t matter. He feels great.
Kent now has honest-to-God bubble baths and detox-salt-soaks. He’s got body butters and face masks and a lip balm in almost every flavor. The ladies at the Lush at the mall know him by name.
Kent’s still single. He’s got his cat for company, though, and the guys, who drop by or come over for movie and game nights and get drunk and eat all his food and pretend to chirp him for the specialty lemongrass-scented hand soap in his bathroom. Sometimes, on roadies, Swoops will plop down next to him on a bus or a plane and say loudly, “Damn, who’s got chocolate and isn’t sharing? Oh, it’s just Parser. Fuck you for getting my hopes up,” and then he’ll noogie Kent or grab his fingers and gnaw on them.
(The coaches have had to break them up before and it’s very unbecoming of two adult men.)
More than once, one of the guys has fallen asleep next to Kent and ended up face-first in Kent’s shoulder. They’ll wake up blearily, rubbing their eyes and saying, “Whoops, sorry man, didn’t mean to drool on you.” Kent was confused at first but he’s realizing that it’s because they gravitate towards the scent of him in their sleep. He smells like comforting things: honey and chocolate and cotton and Shea. He smells like warmth and safety. It’s why he likes all the things he buys, so it makes sense the guys would like that, too.
Nobody rags on him for it. They chirp him, but that’s different. Chirping, light-hearted and giggly, means acceptance. Soon his teammates start coming up to him in the locker room or nudging him on a bus and saying, “Parser, can I borrow some of your stuff?” and leaving with key-lime lips or cocoa-butter hands.
But it’s when he catches Sunny—big, burly, greatly-bearded d-man Sunny—pulling a bright orange tube of passion fruit lip balm out of his bag and slicking it on in front of everyone that he knows for sure that it’s okay.