"In a perfect world, I'd just be wasted." (Alice Cooper, 1996)
"And sigh for lack of heaven." (Emily Dickinson, 1890)
Gene tapped at the computer keys absently, reading debate forums and sending emails. He had a well-worn Baylor 2001 debate camp tee shirt on and faded 501s that fit loose on his spare frame. His hair was still damp from the shower and clinging moist against his neck. A Marlboro 27 cigarette waited in the glass ashtray beside the keyboard, all but forgotten, sending up tendrils of curly gray smoke. The HP printer hummed softly, chucking out GSA information into the plastic tray. Flash lay in Gene's lap, his head half off Gene's thigh as he snored catwise, dainty despite the awkward position on his master. Gene reached down to stroke him without looking, rumbling his own version of a purr back at the slumbering cat. On Gene's favorite debate website, an obscure argument on topicality caught him like a spider web and he read through its threads with interest. Topicality was always good for interesting arguments; after all, it could be so crucial to a round.
But topicality was like pregnancy; you could never be just a little bit topical. If you weren't, or couldn't prove that you were to the judge, you lost and nothing else you said would matter. So when a case was seriously challenged on whether it even met the topic, the battle could get pretty intense. Gene remembered that debater last year who had dared to poke him in the chest while making his point in rebuttal, which he wasn't even supposed to be doing, all because he was dead sure his case was topical. Gene, with a hauteur even an Englishman would envy, had not responded in kind, had simply and utterly destroyed him in the next speech. Gene's partner Kerri had been quietly amused. Maybe Gene would have won anyway, she had said, but it never hurt to have an added impetus. He smiled at the memory. He posted a few comments on the T thread and rubbed the cat's scruffy ears, the fur and skin gone rough with the years.
Matty entered the room in his usual way, banging against the door and making as much noise as possible. He tossed his duffle bag to the floor at the end of Gene's bed and then fell onto it with no grace whatsoever, pulling his dirty sneakers up onto the worn chenille bedspread. Gene turned around carefully, mindful of Flash, and watched his new debate partner without comment. Matty dug down into his pocket for his cigarettes, wiggling to get them out in his prone position and mussing up the covers. He looked up and caught Gene's eye.
"Must you, at all times, be a complete and total slob?" Gene asked.
Matty grimaced and sat up. "Jesus, Gene, you sound like my mom."
Gene looked up at the ceiling for a moment, then back at his friend.
"At least take off your shoes." Gene said.
Matty rolled his eyes but did as Gene asked, pushing the sneaker off of each foot with the other, not bothering to untie either of them. Gene sighed.
"Maybe this wasn't such a good idea, Matty." Gene said; feeling suddenly very tired.
Matty grinned. "You don't mind; you love me."
Gene made a wry face.
Matty's eyes were taking in the room as he lounged on the bed, the austere furnishings, the Star Trek posters and paraphernalia, the well-equipped computer area. Gene saw him looking but said nothing, looking away in embarrassment when Matty noticed the elaborate two-foot long model of the starship Enterprise that sat on the top of the bookshelf. Gene had spent the long, lonely summer before junior high assembling it. Now that he thought of that, he remembered the sharp, pungent scent of the model glue and paint. His room had smelled like that for a year afterward. That fall, of course, he'd discovered debate. Less time for Star Trek. Less time for a lot of things.
Gene fiddled with the cat's collar and then looked up. Matty was shaking his head in disgust.
"If these sheets have Captain Kirk on them, I'm sleeping on the floor." Matty said.
"What makes you think you aren't sleeping on the floor anyhow?" Gene asked crossly.
"Cause I'm too cute for you to make me sleep on the floor, Gene." Matty said. He sat up to light a cigarette at the bedside table.
"You wish." Gene said neutrally as he carefully put the cat down, the old animal waking slowly as he felt the floor beneath his paws. Gene stroked down his back, scruffling the fur at the base of his tail the way Flash had always liked. Flash purred roughly, lazing his eyes at Gene in a cat smile.
Matty suddenly picked up the dark green teddy bear on the bedside table.
"Friend of yours?" Matty asked. Gene ignored him. Matty raised an eyebrow and, still holding the bear, stood and began a search of the room. Gene pointedly turned back to the keyboard, saying nothing. Matty was searching the shelves and top of the dresser, making rustling noises behind Gene as he pretended to work. Matty picked up a 5X7 in a silver frame and held it aloft with the bear.
"What the hell is this doing here?" Matty asked angrily. Gene turned to regard him without expression.
"I wish you'd just leave things alone." Gene said quietly.
Matty scowled. "You do know that you two broke up, right? I mean, you don't have to keep this shit anymore, Gene. You're allowed to throw it away. Hell, burn the shit." Matty's blue eyes continued to sweep the room as he spoke, then came to rest on a far shelf. He raised his pierced eyebrows and looked over at Gene in disgust. Gene, seeing what Matty was looking at, stood quickly and beat him to the shelf. Matty reached around him and Gene pushed him away, angry now. Matty pulled back, his face red. He hated to be pushed. Damn Gene anyway.
"What the fuck is that?" Matty demanded. Gene folded his arms over his chest, silent. "Looks like a box of Valentine candy." Matty said, "What'd you do, bronze the chocolate so it'd last forever? Or maybe it's rotting, like that crazy lady's wedding cake in Wuthering Heights." Matty's face was twisted, his voice bitter. Gene didn't answer, wouldn't look in Matty's eyes. Matty growled, frustrated, and threw the bear on the floor. It hit with a soft thud, the beanbag insides shifting for a moment and then settling. Gene still looked at the far wall.
"Aren't you afraid of bugs in your room? With the candy?" Matty asked Gene nastily.
"There's no candy in it." Gene said quietly, resisting the impulse to kneel down and pick up the little bear. It lay on its side, one leg thrown behind it, black button eyes looking up at Gene. When Gene was small, he always kept his stuffed animals tidy, sitting up straight in neat rows along his bed. Barbara used to tease him because he couldn't sleep if his animals weren't comfortable. He didn't care now, Gene told himself, really. He took a deep breath.
"No candy? What, you keep a goddam empty Valentine box? What the fuck, Gene?" Matty was asking, his face more angry than Gene could understand. What did this have to do with him anyway? Gene didn't want to talk about this, about any of it really, didn't want to talk about Mike at all. Matty gripped the framed photo tightly, shaking it at Gene as he spoke.
"You two broke the fuck up, Gene. Get rid of his shit, you asshole, get rid of his pictures, get rid of whatever it is in your head that is making you so crazy lately." Matty said. "How the hell can you debate if you don't get your act together?"
Gene looked up, meeting Matty's fierce eyes. His voice was low. "Fuck you, Matty, I'm not the one with a face full of metal that'll lose us rounds. Deal with your own crap, don't worry about mine." Gene said. He reached for the photo. Matty raised it, as if to throw it down after the bear, his gaze on Gene's face. Gene's dark eyes narrowed.
"Don't." Gene said very, very softly. Matty stared at him for a moment, and then brought his hand down. Gene carefully took the frame from him, still looking him in the eyes.
"I think you should go somewhere else for awhile, Matty." Gene said, his face now without expression, his voice quiet. "Take the car, the keys are on the dresser."
"Fine. Whatever." Matty said, sullen. "I think you're being an asshole, Gene, I mean..." Matty stared at his partner. "I care about you, Gene. This guy, he's a jerk and he's with someone else now. You gotta get it together. Maybe...go out with someone else or...something..." Matty's voice trailed off and he sighed. Dammit. He wasn't any good at this shit, that was for sure. He went to the dresser and picked up the car keys, then turned back to where Gene stood, holding the frame and looking down at the bear on the floor.
"I'm...sorry. I mean, I...I didn't mean to..." Matty searched for words, finding nothing. "I didn't mean anything, Gene." Matty finished, knowing how lame he sounded. "I just...you know.
"Yeah." Gene said, not looking.
"See you later?" Matty asked, suddenly anxious.
Matty sighed and left the room, pulling the door closed after him. Flash looked up briefly from his spot on the bed, and then lay his head back down. The room seemed very empty suddenly; the printer's hum filling the space, the tiny IM alerts louder in the silence. Gene went to one knee to pick up the bear and hold it, as he looked down at the heavy silver frame in his hand.
Inside it, Michael wrapped his arms around Gene as they sat together on the sofa in the living room. Barbara had snapped the picture not long after they started seeing each other. The Kodachrome Gene in the photo was smiling from his mouth all the way up to his black eyes as he looked at his handsome lover. And that long ago Michael only had eyes for Gene. How long he stood there, staring at the photo in his hand, Gene didn't know. He finally turned and picked up the heart shaped box from the shelf behind him and sat down on the rumpled bed, setting the frame and bear down beside the sleeping Flash. Gene lifted off the lace and satin covered top and laid it gently alongside the photo. He reached his slender fingers into the box, smelling the scent of the vanished chocolate. The smell of another year's Valentine's Day wafted up as he sifted carefully through the letters and photos inside, his angular face intent, serious.
Gene lifted a folded paper out and began to read as the sunlight slowly dimmed in the window, sending long shadows across the floor. Flash rolled to his side, twitching his legs as he chased deliciously slow mice across bright green fields in his dreams, once again a kitten. Gene lay down beside him, his left hand curled around the little green bear, reading silently to himself in a darkening room.
"It's just a heartache that got caught in my eye."
I Never Cry (Alice Cooper)
Angel sat at the computer, wishing for the umpteenth time for a cigarette, reading through the stack of emails from Gene on the GSA. Several posters and signs for Angel to choose from, to print out and put up at school, lists of ways to encourage membership and avoid problems, all downloaded from the GSA Network site. Angel kept thinking that he wasn't the one to do this, that this was all too much and what if he screwed up, what if it didn't work? He thought of Gene. Gene believed that Angel could do this, Gene trusted him, and Gene needed him to try. Well, he was going to try. He just wasn't sure that he was going to succeed. Not with guys like Ryan Sellers at Northside. How can people just wake up in the morning and hate so much? What was the point of living like that?
Behind him, Jaye sat on the bed with his cell phone at his ear, talking in low tones as he looked through Angel's CDs, finally getting up to put one on the deck. He pushed play and the Buddy Holly atonal tones of Elvis Costello filled the room. Nonsense prevails, modesty fails, grace and virtue turn into stupidity... What shall we do, what shall we do, with all this useless beauty? Angel looked up from the computer and smiled at his friend. Jaye looked lush, Angel thought, his jeans molded to his body and a tight navy blue tee shirt with `Addicted to Boys' in square yellow letters across the chest, his blond hair spiked up a little with gel. Jaye was dreamy eyed as he flipped the Nokia closed and tucked it back into his pocket. All this useless beauty.
"So what's up with Trey?" Angel asked. Jaye smiled shyly, secretively.
"He's fine, he's coming home in the morning." Jaye said. Angel watched his friend's face.
"Trey's pretty cute." Angel said finally.
Jaye blushed. Angel stood up and moved to Jaye's side, wrapping one arm around the other boy's waist.
"I think its great, that you like each other. Trey...he's sweet, kind of, and everybody likes him." Angel said.
Jaye frowned. "Everybody who?"
Angel chuckled, "Not like that. You know how Trey is, I think this is the first time he's like liked anyone. In drama anyhow."
Jaye smiled, relaxing into Angel's embrace. He leaned close and kissed Angel on the cheek, then pulled away to go sit at the computer. He leafed through the printouts Angel had made from Gene's attachments.
"What's all this stuff?" Jaye asked.
Angel walked up behind him and put his hands on Jaye's shoulders.
"From Gene. GSA stuff. Shit, you know? There's a lot more to this than I thought, Jaye." Angel said, biting his lower lip slightly as he looked at the papers in Jaye's hands. Jaye patted the hand on his shoulder absently.
"You're doing great, Princess, don't worry. The meeting was great; you were great. Don't worry so much." Jaye said.
"Don't `princess' me, princess." Angel said, grinning. Jaye laughed.
"That reminds me. Can I borrow your silver sequin shirt?"
"Ah, come on, hon." Jaye wheedled.
"What for, you got a date?" Angel asked.
"No. Well," Jaye hesitated. "I might go see Bobby. But I want the shirt for school."
"Bobby? You're going over there tonight?" Angel asked, thoughtful.
"Yeah, maybe. I was thinking about it. I mean, his mom won't let us in but what she doesn't know won't hurt her. Or Bobby." Jaye said.
Angel looked off into the distance and finally sighed. "Yeah, that's a good idea. Seeing Bobby."
"I think he's coming to school tomorrow, I'll find out for sure. If I go." Jaye said.
"Hmm." Angel said, his brows drawing together as he considered this. "Listen, Jaye, don't talk too much about...well, about any bad stuff, okay? I mean, yanno, don't upset Bobby. He just got home."
Jaye snorted. "What, you want me to lie? About Ryan or whatever? That stuff?"
"No, well...maybe. I mean, just don't...I dunno. Just don't...upset him, okay?"
"Whatever," Jaye said with a shrug. Then he smiled up at Angel and cocked his head to one side, aware that it made him a little less resistible. "So...can I borrow the shirt, Princess?"
Angel pinched his neck suddenly, making him jump. Jaye turned around in the chair and grabbed for Angel's hands, grinning like a Cheshire Cat. Angel smiled again and shook his head.
"Come on. You weren't gonna wear it tomorrow anyway, right?" Jaye pointed out.
Angel frowned and pulled his hands from Jaye's.
"No, I wasn't." Angel said, annoyed. Jaye raised an eyebrow.
"Oh, right. Mike might not like that."
"Fuck you, Jaye."
"You shouldn't put up with that shit, Angel." Jaye told him.
"Don't worry." Angel said, his voice sharp. "Who the fuck does he think he is?"
Jaye gave him a snarky look. "He thinks he's your famous football boyfriend, Princess."
"I said fuck you, Jaye."
"Well? Honey, what'd you expect from a jock?" Jaye asked, unruffled.
"I dunno. Not that. I mean, fuck, I dress how I dress and I act how I act. If he didn't like it, what the fuck did he ask me out for?" Angel demanded. Jaye shrugged.
"He was horny? Stupid? Had a death wish?" Jaye suggested. Angel laughed.
"Yeah, maybe a death wish. He fucking told me to `tone it down'. Tone it down! Fuck him."
"I thought you already did that." Jaye said slyly. He reached up to take Angel's hand again. Angel squeezed it. Hard. He was frowning at Jaye again.
"I shouldn't have told you that." Angel said, studying his friend's face. "If you tell anyone about me and Mike, anything at all like that, you'll wish you hadn't, sugarpop."
Jaye looked offended. "Like I ever tell people stuff. Please."
Angel relaxed. "Yeah, okay. Sorry."
Jaye shrugged. "No biggie. You're kinda stressed, Princess."
Angel pulled his hand back and mock-slapped Jaye's cheek. Jaye pretended to stagger in the chair from the terrific impact. Angel giggled.
"What a sissy."
"Yep and you love it." Jaye said, pulling Angel down onto his lap for a brief, and very noisy, kiss on the cheek. Angel wriggled away and stood up, brushing at his jeans.
"Okay, you can borrow the shirt but don't get it dirty." Angel said, pulling Jaye out of the computer chair and sitting back down.
Jaye went to the closet and began sorting through the
hangers, pulling out a few things to hold up to himself as he looked into the
long mirror on the inside of the closet door. Elvis Costello's soft sounds
moved through the room like the last long shadows of the day, shifting and
changing with each moment. But it's darker than you know in those
complicated shadows... The setting sun slid in through the blinds, giving lie
to the forecast of rain again tonight.
The room seemed peaceful to them both, comforting in its familiarity
from the days and years of their friendship.
Angel looked back over his shoulder.
"Just the silver sequin one. Don't go crazy, Jaye-bird."
Jaye made a rude sound. Angel turned around and began sorting through the papers, trying to make sense of them before emailing Gene. Maybe he should just go over later and talk to him. This GSA stuff, it might end up great, he told himself with pleasure. God knows we need it at Northside. The slinking sounds of the hangers along the closet rack competed with the insistent computer noises and the music from the stereo. The last of the sun left the room, reluctantly but finally delivering the evening into their care.
Angel put his fingers on the keyboard and began typing.
"I'll be your Mr. Perfect if you can overlook my flaws."
I Can Walk the Line If It Ain't Too Straight (Joe Diffie)
Michael slapped the cordless phone onto the counter, not realizing he was growling until Quirksy lowered his ears and crouched down to the floor beside him. Sighing, Michael reached down to ruffle the dog's silky fur.
"It's okay, boy." Michael told him.
Joe was watching him from the table where he sat working. Stacks of folders surrounded the open laptop computer; a precise mess littered with yellow post-it notes and index cards filled with neat square handwriting. His dad's face was worn, tired looking, Michael thought, a little old suddenly. On the wall, against the tasteful floral wallpaper, a brass pendulum clock ticked, the mechanical heartbeat loud in the tidy kitchen.
"Get Angel yet?" Joe asked. Michael shook his head, not meeting his father's eyes. He could feel his father watching him, though, and saw him lean back in his chair as he studied his son carefully. His father exhaled slowly.
"There something you want to talk about, Stud?" asked Joe.
Michael shook his head.
"You sure? I've got time to listen, there's no rush." Joe said despite the computer blinking in front of him, demanding his attention. Family came first.
Michael shrugged. "Nothing to talk about." He was watching the dog at his feet. Joe was silent for a moment.
"You know," Joe said, " I've had a few problems with Cupid over the years. Sometimes I do the stupidest things and then wonder who the hell took over my brain. Couldn't have been me, I'm too smart for that." Joe smiled gently. "Smart guys never do stupid things, right?"
Michael let out a shuddering breath.
"Dad?" Michael said, finally looking up at his father.
"Hmm?" Joe answered, his voice mild.
"How do you know if someone's...how do you know if someone's the one you should be with, you know?" Michael's words came out in a heavy exhaled rush of breath. "How do you know if its gonna work out? How do you know? Know for sure."
Joe looked down at the computer screen, not seeing it, and folded his arms before speaking. The clock tapped softly against the momentary silence.
"Son, I wish I could tell you how to do that, how to know what's going to happen or how to solve all your problems," Joe said quietly, "but it just doesn't work that way. No one knows those things; people just...they just do their best at the time, that's all. You just do your best."
Michael looked away, shifting on his feet and pushing his hands down into his pockets. Joe watched him, thinking how young Michael looked and how much like himself at that age. It was strange, like looking into a magical mirror, a vision of himself at eighteen, captain of the football team and the campus Romeo. Joe shook his head to clear it, wondering what he could possibly say to Michael to rid his face of its sadness.
Michael didn't answer; his green eyes were on the patient dog at his feet. His father coughed, clearing his throat. He sat up in the chair, his elbows on the table and hands clasped together above them. He waited another moment, then spoke.
"Mike, I know today must have been hard for you. Do you want to tell me what happened?" asked Joe.
Michael sighed. "Not really, Dad."
"Mike, what happened? Is this, this tonight, about Angel?" asked Joe.
"I guess." Michael muttered. He didn't look up.
Joe hesitated, uncertain of the terrain when talking about his son's...boyfriend. "Did you two have a fight?"
"Yeah. I guess so." Michael said reluctantly. He was breathing a little harder now; he didn't much want to talk about Angel with his father. But what about dinner tonight? If Angel didn't answer the phone, didn't show up, what was he supposed to tell his dad? Dammit. Couldn't Angel stop embarrassing him for one single minute? Christ!
"Yeah, I guess we...had a fight...sort of." Michael said; pulling the words out slowly and letting them drop heavy. His father said nothing, listening and searching his son's face. After a moment, the words burst out.
"Shit! Dad, all I did was ask him, ask him, to please dress a little less...I mean, Dad, you should see how he looks at school! Shit, you should've heard what the guys said! I mean, fuck! I can't do everything at once, its like he's rushing me or something, like he wants me to change, right now, today, this second! I mean, haven't I done enough?
"Hell, I told people I was gay today, Dad, and it sucked! It sucked!" Michael was breathing hard, his face flushed, his hands out of his pockets and slashing through the air as he spoke. His voice was shaking as he said, again, his voice lowering, "I told them I was gay, Dad. I...told them." Michael looked away from his father, ashamed of his outburst, ashamed of his words, ashamed of himself. He felt like he'd been ashamed forever, like this day had turned him into someone else, someone he couldn't bear to look at in the mirror, someone he couldn't bear to live inside. His chest hurt and he swallowed hard.
Joe stood and went quickly to his son's side, feeling helpless, feeling too old and too old-fashioned for this, whatever this was. But he loved his son and could see with a clarity that pained him how badly his son was hurting. And how afraid he was. The knot in his own chest seemed connected to Michael, as if their bodies hurt together, as if somehow the blood that bound them had linked their beating hearts. But only when they were breaking.
He gathered his only son into his arms and held him close, against his chest, saying nothing. He couldn't imagine one of his own friends in high school telling him that he was a homosexual, couldn't even begin to draw the picture in his mind. And what would he have said to that friend? Joe was afraid he knew the answer to that and that knowledge cut deep, the thought that he could have hurt someone like his son. Because clearly someone else's son had hurt Michael today. In a flash, for a moment that immediately shamed him; Joe wished his son were not gay. Damn, will I never get this right?
Father and son stood there in the quiet kitchen, the beat of the clock keeping time with their hearts as they held each other, each bereft of words, clinging to each other. There was no language to shape their feelings, so nothing was said. Just two men, so much alike and yet completely separate, each one alone in his own thoughts. The dog watched them passively, his head upon his shaggy paws, knowing, as all dogs do, that this too shall pass and all will be well. The heart of a dog is pure and patient, content under heaven. And so Quirksy watched his people with his wise dog eyes...and waited.
"Somewhere under the rainbow
Just watching the late show
And livin' on love."
Somewhere Under the Rainbow (Joe Diffie)
Angel laughed. "Yeah, yeah."
"So how's that going, the not smoking?" Gene asked.
Angel shrugged. The cell phone beside him vibrated again, buzzing against the wooden surface of the table. Angel snatched it up and pushed a button on the side, then laid it back down. He looked across the room at Gene. "About like you'd expect. The not smoking sucks," Angel sighed, "so I try not to think about it."
Gene frowned. "And my smoking isn't helping, I guess."
"It's okay, I know how it is," Angel said, then paused and bit his lip. "Um, if I have one, you won't tell, right?"
Gene picked up the pack, lighter and ashtray and walked over to the bed. He dumped the ashtray out in the wastebasket and set it on the bed next to Angel, pushing aside most of the papers and handing him the pack. He held up the lighter, thumb poised to strike a flame.
Angel put a cigarette to his lips and leaned into the tiny fire, looking at up Gene as he inhaled. Gene sat beside him on the bed, moving aside the rest of the papers, the sooty glass ashtray between them. Gene looked distracted, Angel thought, and almost cute in his baggy Levis, a white tee shirt loose around his neck. A silver chain lay under it, against Gene's cream-colored skin. Angel reached out to run his fingers under the chain, lifting it up from the tee shirt, the weight telling him that something hung on it. Gene smiled, exhaling and blowing the smoke upwards and away from Angel.
"Yes?" Gene asked.
The medallion lay in Angel's hand, outside Gene's tee shirt. It was heavy silver, shaped like a shield and worked in detail. Angel leaned slightly closer to peer at it. A sort of winged knight stood in the center with a sword or spear. At his feet lay a dragon. The legend read, `St. Michael, Protect Us'.
"I didn't know you were religious, Gene." Angel said. Gene blushed. And Angel was astonished, he wasn't sure he'd ever seen Gene blush before, it lit up his face as the flush traveled down, warming the neck under Angel's hand. His black hair was sleek and straight, shining in the lamplight like a seal pelt. Gene was very nearly handsome, really, if you looked, Angel realized. And how long have I known Gene and never looked? Amazing, what you never notice that's right in front of you. Angel could feel the heat from Gene's skin against the back of his hand.
"Not very," said Gene. He didn't want Angel to ask, didn't want to tell Angel who'd given him the St. Michael.
But Angel didn't ask. Angel was looking at him from under those thick dark lashes with the strangest expression. Gene wanted to pull back, to rescue his medal and hide it again inside his clothes but didn't want to seem rude. And he didn't mind, after all, being this close to Angel, those huge ebony eyes on him, that dark hair falling loose alongside Angel's face. Weren't we supposed to be working? Gene had a vivid image suddenly of Angel in Michael's arms, as they'd been this afternoon, and he swallowed reflexively. Michael's hand had been tucked into Angel's tight back pocket. Had Michael ever done that with him? Not in public, surely. Gene's chest hurt and he looked down at his hands, pulling back ever so slightly to free his medallion from Angel's manicured fingers without giving offense. Gene looked up, meeting Angel's intense eyes. Gene was suddenly, sharply aware of how close they were. He caught the faint scent of flowers. Angel leaned closer.
And Angel kissed him. His lips were soft on Gene's for a moment, and then Angel leaned back, releasing the chain and picking up his cigarette. Gene sat motionless, staring at Angel. There was a small smile around the corners of Angel's mouth.
"I think you're fabulous Gene, don't be mad." Angel said, his quiet voice echoing the smile on his face.
Mad? "Uh...I'm not mad." Gene managed to say. He slipped the chain back under his tee shirt and fished his abandoned cigarette out of the ashtray. He took a deep breath. "Just...surprised."
Angel laughed. Gene cleared his throat and picked up a stack of papers from beside Angel and handed them to him, taking another stack for himself. Angel bent his head and began to read, reaching out to stroke Flash on the pillow as he did. Gene watched them for several moments before starting in on his own work. At the computer, a soft beep sounded, signaling a new email received.
Gene didn't look up.
"If you go, who will I have left to hate?"
It's Time (Elvis Costello)
Ryan sat in his truck, the jet-black fully loaded 2005 Wrangler Rubicon U (for Unlimited) that the Judge had given him for his birthday, and watched the windows of Michael's house, his face expressionless. The ashtray was full of dead cigarettes and a roach lay on the dashboard, snuffed out an hour ago. There'd been no movement in the windows for two hours now. Where the fuck was Michael? Ryan needed to talk to him, needed to fix things between them, needed to get some answers. He felt confused, resentful, sullen.
Ryan had a headache. Too much was happening. The fucking meeting with the Judge hadn't gone well at all. And Ryan would have to do something about that drama kid fast before things got worse. The charges would have to be retracted. The Judge had made that clear. Whatever Ryan had to do, whomever he had to grovel to, whatever it cost, those charges would be retracted immediately. The Judge's political career might depend on it; he couldn't afford this kind of thing, not the way things were now with liberals infesting city government like cockroaches. Fucking niggers and fag lovers everywhere you looked. Even the goddam Jews were better. The Judge had made himself understood, then turned to his desk as if his son was no longer in the room.
Ryan had no intention of disappointing his father.
"Are you alive or not?
Is there nothing in your head?"
The Wasteland (T.S. Eliot, 1922)
Michael threw the cordless phone hard across the back patio and against the wall, perversely pleased with the crunching sound it made on the bricks. Fuck it. He'd had it with this drama, more than had it. He fucking wasn't going to call that number again as long as he lived. If Angel wanted to make up, he could fucking call. Fucking selfish little shit. Fuck.
This wasn't how Michael had planned his Monday. Its like everything had just gone to shit gradually but surely throughout the day. When had he lost control of things? Michael had no idea. He needed to think but he couldn't sit still long enough to try. He'd eaten several times, standing at the refrigerator with a sandwich in his hand while still searching for something else, as if unable to fill the hole inside.
He had emailed Gene twice but hadn't yet heard back. What was Gene supposed to be doing tonight? Michael couldn't remember. But then he couldn't remember much about today, it was all a blur. Flashes of moments, the locker room in gym, the GSA meeting, arguing with Angel in the car. Breakfast...but he shoved that out of his head, he didn't want to think about that, he was too angry with Angel. Fucking jerk. He yanked open the patio door, slamming it against the back of the runner and shivering the glass.
In his darkened room, Michael sat down at his computer to email Gene again. He ignored the silent cell phone beside the keyboard. No fucking way was he gonna call that number again. Michael wiped at his eyes with the back of his hand.
Those weren't tears. He wasn't crying.
The Glass Menagerie (Tennessee Williams, 1945)
Jaye tapped softly at Bobby's bedroom window three times before he saw the light brighten behind the blinds. A hand pushed aside some of the slats and a face peered out into the night before withdrawing. The blinds lifted up and caught high, revealing Bobby's room, the light spilling out yellow into the dark yard, and Bobby shirtless in rumpled blue pajama bottoms. Bobby stared out as if still caught up in sleep, one hand rubbing his eyes.
"Jaye?" Bobby said; his voice muffled by the glass between them.
Jaye put a shushing finger to his lips and made a lift gesture at the window. Bobby unfastened the lock and slowly raised the window. Jaye removed the screen and set it aside, against the bricks, and checked to make sure he hadn't trampled down any flowers. Mrs. Boyd had eyes like a bird of prey. Jaye slid inside the mouth of the window as Bobby stepped back. Jaye stood up beside Bobby and then stopped, staring at his friend. He looked thinner, somehow frail. How long had it been? Or maybe it wasn't how long but that so much had happened. He thought of Bobby that afternoon on his bed, the paramedics standing over him like spiritualists at a sťance, asking for a sign. On impulse, Jaye moved closer and hugged Bobby.
Bobby hesitated, and then tightly hugged him back. Jaye felt a catch in his throat and the heat of a week's worth of tears behind his eyes. Bobby squeezed him harder, his own body starting to tremble with relief, with happiness. Bobby didn't know what it was, only that it felt better than anything had in longer than he wanted to remember. He knew Jaye, his body knew Jaye, his heart knew Jaye. He and Angel and Jaye been best friends for years, had spent endless nights in rehearsal and stolen moments alone that always ended too soon. A feeling of comfort rushed through Bobby, warming him and waking him fully to where he was and who he was with. He hugged Jaye to him, feeling the warmth of him and the love in that tight embrace and those hot tears against his bare chest. And Bobby remembered something he'd thought about doing, something long overdue.
Bobby lifted up Jaye's chin and looked at that tear stained face, kohl liner streaked at the corners of the blue eyes, the blond hair mussed from the hug. His heart lurched in his chest and a tightness that he hadn't even been aware of loosened, making him feel suddenly light, as if he could rise right up into the air. Jaye was looking at him with such longing, such intense love, the glitter of tears in his eyes, that Bobby simply couldn't speak. There were no words. He stared into Jaye's eyes long minutes, caught in them, a butterfly in amber, immobile. Jaye loved him. And Bobby needed to be loved right now more than anything in the whole entire world.
Bobby leaned down carefully, gently, and very slowly kissed Jaye on the lips.
"Might I but moor tonight in thee!"
Michael quietly opened the door, feeling like a thief in the shadowy apartment, and stood watching Gene at the computer, his hand on the doorknob. The room was dark save for the light from the computer that played colors across Gene's arms and hands as he tapped at the mouse. Each time his slim finger touched it, red glowed from the underside and lit up the mouse pad. The stereo was turned off and Michael could hear nothing but the small noises from the computer station. The feeling of relief that flooded through him at the sight of Gene's room and Gene in it was overpowering and he let out the lungful of breath he'd been unconsciously holding in. This room felt like home. Why did that thought make him want to cry?
He must have made some noise because Gene paused, tilting his head, his hand on the computer mouse.
"Forget something?" Gene asked without looking.
Michael closed his eyes. "Yeah, I think so."
Gene turned around so fast that the chair nearly tipped over.
"Mike?" Gene's voice sounded rough, his features were hidden in the darkness.
"Uh-huh." Michael said, unable to organize his thoughts to say more. He'd been angry for hours and he hurt, he was past even remembering why. When Gene had answered his email, he'd simply gotten right into the car and driven over rather than type out an answer. What do you need, the message had said, and Michael could only think of one thing. He needed Gene. He needed to feel the way he felt right now, standing in Gene's doorway and hearing his voice. Anything else was just too much. Michael wanted to scoop out his brain so it wouldn't bother him anymore, wouldn't fill the insides of his skull so tightly that it hurt like knives. He wanted very badly not to think at all.
"Gene?" Michael could hear the tremor in his voice. Gene stood watching him, the computer light behind him outlining his shape without revealing more.
"Are you okay, Mikey?" Gene said, his voice soft. At that, at the name Gene had called him since they'd met, the name he'd heard in so many tones from Gene's lips, teasing, passionate, loving, playful, Michael simply lost all control. He was crying before he knew it and there didn't seem to be anything he could do to stop it. He felt Gene's arms encircle him and pull him close, tight against his chest, and that just made it worse. Michael was sobbing harder now than he could ever remember doing, clinging to Gene as if he were drowning in his own tears. He felt like such a fool but he felt safe and so he cried and cried until it finally stopped, Gene pulling them both to the end of the bed where they sat, holding onto each other without speaking until the end.
"Mike?" Gene's voice was gentle, worried, soft as a kitten.
But Michael didn't want to talk, the words seemed to have dried up and blown away in the storm of what he'd been feeling all night. He pulled Gene's face to him in the dark and kissed him on the mouth. Tentative at first, then he gained strength from Gene himself, from Gene's heat and ardent response, so familiar to Michael that it seemed to urge him on, into the patterns that his body knew. Gene's skin on his, Gene's lips on his, the smell and taste of Gene that were coded down in his bones after so long together, these were more welcome than any words could ever have been, had he let Gene speak. Michael's mind was a whirlwind of wanting and at the center of the storm, right now, was Gene. And his firestorm seemed to spark one in Gene who, after first seeming to hesitate, was matching his passion, touch for touch, kiss for kiss.
Michael pulled at Gene's tee shirt as they kissed, untucking and lifting it up and over Gene's head, tousling his dark hair. Gene was breathing hard, clumsy, his hands helping with the shirt and then returning to Michael's shoulders and back, grasping, moving against the athlete's body. He pulled at the buttons of Michael's shirt as if he couldn't remember how they worked, making sounds of frustration deep in his throat. Michael pulled back just enough to get his shirt off and then stood up, looking down at Gene in the darkness, seeing only the side of his face in the light from the monitor but knowing that face and body without seeing it, by the tactile memory alone.
He ran his fingers over Gene's face and down his neck like a blind man reading Braille, reading Gene's response from the warmth of the skin and the rapid heartbeat under the surface. Michael unbuttoned his pants, pushing them down and away as he kicked off his shoes. Gene's hands were sliding along his flesh as it became available, the occasional frictions excruciating and delicious, as if urging him to undress faster, in a universal language of sign. Michael stood before Gene in his socks, panting and sweating in the cool air, gasping to fill his lungs. His cell phone beeped softly, indistinctly, from the tangle of his pants and Michael kicked it away from him and looked down at Gene.
Gene looked up at him, his shadowed expression unreadable, and then sank down to his knees, taking Michael into his mouth in one smooth movement that was as graceful as genuflecting. Michael groaned aloud and grabbed onto the back of Gene's head, fingers tangling in hair as he pushed into the wet heat. Christ! This was electric, like a live socket, Michael felt as if he was on fire, a fire that could only be quenched in this moist cavern. He was shoving inside, then pulling out only to feel the incredible shivering joy of pushing back in again with Gene's hands cupping and kneading at his backside. Low sounds were escaping Gene's throat, a deep primal growling vibration that sent frissons of pleasure through Michael. Close, so close. Gene's hand touched him low, cradling his more fragile parts as they drew up against his body and finally squeezing lightly as he took Michael deep in, to the root.
Michael threw back his head and made a strangled noise, finally yelling out loud as he finished, the release almost painful, a series of shocks to the system that left him dizzy finally, and momentarily spent. He sank to the bed, pulling Gene up beside him and close as he recovered, feeling Gene's heartbeat against his own sweaty chest, Gene's lips on his closed eyelids. He reached down between them and found Gene's Levis already open. They both pushed impatiently at them, slipping the denim and briefs down Gene's hips and off of his body.
Gene was hard, very hard and when Michael took him in his hand, Gene gasped and then groaned as Michael stroked him. Gene was kissing him, pulling at his mouth as Michael's hand fisted Gene, rough and insistent. Michael leaned back and let go, eliciting a moan from his lover, and moved higher up onto the bedspread. Gene was right behind him, a heat seeking missile in Michael's wake. Michael rolled onto his stomach, wordless, and spread his legs, taking Gene's hand and pulling him over his body like a blanket.
Michael's whole body was a lightening rod, struck again by fire, and he was hard again against his belly. He felt Gene lay down full length across him, his hardness pressing into Michael's thighs as he reached down to touch gently at his hot center. Michael moaned into the pillow, arching back into Gene's fingers. The entry hurt and then it didn't and then he needed it and made an unconscious and urgent noise of protest when the pressure was finally gone. He felt Gene above him, positioning himself, and reached back to guide him home. Gene was slow, very slow, and Michael gritted his teeth and pushed back until they were joined deeply. They both lay still for a moment, breathing hard, the sweat-slicked skin moving their bodies easily against each other.
Finally Gene moved, thrusting carefully at first and then, as Michael begged with only sounds, first faster and then harder, pulling out only to slam in again. Twisting under him, Michael was cresting again, almost at the peak again, and grunting with each long stroke. This was delicious, this was a blinding light piercing through his skull, this was a mindless and physical delirium that swept up all thought, all words, all images in his brain and it was centered on Gene's heat against him and in him and around him.
Michael came before Gene did, his hand on his own aching organ, and when Gene finally stopped and held still, groaning, Michael was still trembling from the force of his own finish. He was exhausted and when Gene rolled off to lie down beside him, one arm thrown across him, he slid down into sleep without even being aware of it. The heat and warmth and darkness simply bled into dreamless slumber with Gene at his side. Gene followed him down into sleep and their breathing was that of longtime lovers, long accustomed to each other in the night.
But when Gene woke, Michael was gone.
"And you're sorry for what you've done,
You should never have been playing with a gun
In those complicated shadows..."
Complicated Shadows (Elvis Costello)
Bobby lay against Jaye in the bed, relishing the feel of Jaye's naked body against his. The door was blocked with a chair and the light was off, the window closed and the covers drawn over them both as they whispered together in the dark. This felt so familiar, so wonderful to Bobby that he couldn't think how to tell Jaye, how to say it the way that he felt it so he tried to say it with his body, with his fingers on Jaye as they softly spoke, their intertwining voices a sleepy susurration.
Bobby had been so very lonely at Refuge or not just lonely but more than lonely; he felt as if he'd come unmoored somehow and drifted but now there was a light ashore for him to steer by. A familiar voice and face to guide him back into himself. Jaye. Bobby could hardly believe how much he'd missed his friends and how good it was to be home. Impulsively, he hugged Jaye yet again and felt Jaye hugging him back, automatic and yet authentic with his loving friendship. For a moment, Bobby wished Angel were here, too. But how much happiness could he stand?
The sex had been luscious, a love attack with Jaye pulling at his clothes and licking parts Bobby had never even thought about. Was it because he'd kissed Jaye? God, that had felt so good, to touch and kiss at the same time, why had he never done it before when Jaye had asked? Bobby felt himself emerging from a long dark tunnel and he was having trouble remembering what it looked like back in the shadows. He wanted to keep that feeling, to curl himself around it and save it and savor it, not giving in and going back to what he felt before. Would this last? He had no idea. He just wanted it to be, right now, here in bed with Jaye, their bodies cooling alongside each other in the night. Jaye was telling him about Trey, about the cast party last Saturday and what happened after. Bobby was trying not to listen too hard; not wanting to wake the red demon he hoped was asleep inside him. But Jaye was insistent.
"Bobby, are you listening? Trey's coming home tomorrow, I'm gonna see if his mom will let me pick him up after school and drive him up to see everyone, and to check on the stage." Jaye laughed, "He's worried about construction for Camelot and whether the sets were broken down right or the damn light board reset. Like nobody else can do it if he's not there to watch."
Bobby smiled in the dark.
"Maybe he's right," Bobby said.
"Hey, dummy, I'm the one who supervised the set strike." Jaye objected.
Bobby snickered, "Uh-huh."
Jaye poked him and then kissed him. "Everything's perfect backstage, don't worry your little head."
Bobby snuggled down into the cleft of the other boy's arm, his head on Jaye's shoulder.
"But listen, Bobby, you have to listen," Jaye said, his voice growing serious, "There's been trouble with Ryan since that, too. He's been bothering Angel and me and hanging around the drama building."
The room seemed colder. Bobby reached for the comforter, pulling it up over their legs. He tried not to listen but Jaye's voice kept talking at him.
"Trey said he's gotten calls from Ryan's father's office, asking about those charges. I don't know what's gonna happen so you have to be careful at school. Okay?
"Ryan's crazy. So stay with me, okay? Or Angel. Or Gene Kuo, I guess. Or John, if he's around. I just don't want you by yourself at school, okay? Bobby?"
Bobby had grown silent, inscribing circles on Jaye's belly with his finger and he didn't answer. Jaye shook him.
"Bobby!" he hissed, trying to keep quiet, "I'm serious! You have to stay away from Ryan, stick with me and Angel tomorrow, okay? Bobby?"
Bobby was thinking. His hand fell quiet on Jaye's stomach. Ryan. He was remembering Ryan in the parking lot, Ryan in the cafeteria, Ryan in the gym. Images of Ryan graced a room of mirrors in Bobby's mind, those steel blue eyes narrowed at Bobby, mouth in a snarl, prisming out into a thousand broken shards of Ryan's face, shattered glass, shattered masks of Ryan, all surrounding Bobby and filling up his eyes. He felt as if he couldn't breathe, then drew a breath, wondering why. Why is it so easy to touch the inside where it hurts, Bobby wondered? Why is it so hard to let the bad thing die?
Jaye was shaking him gently. "Bobby?" But his voice came from a distant place.
"What?" Bobby's voice also came from that far place. The room felt smaller, was it shrinking?
"Bobby, did you hear what I said? What're you thinking about?"
Bobby, far away and cold, didn't answer. He lay in the dark, pressed against flesh that seemed suddenly foreign, like plastic, like an android's false skin. Jaye's pale face hovered above him, suspended in the shadows.
"Bobby?" Jaye's voice was a remote wind. His fingers touched the mask on Bobby's face. "What are you thinking?" Jaye demanded, a little louder.
Bobby shook his head. "Nothing, I'm thinking nothing."
And that was true for there was a nothing inside Bobby that was getting bigger, making it hard to feel Jaye's skin on him, his hands touching. Numbing him. He wanted to get under the bed, to see if it felt better under there but he knew Jaye wouldn't like that. He wouldn't understand. Bobby loved Jaye but he knew he couldn't explain those things. No one could explain those things. There was no explanation, they just were. Those things, those feelings. He wanted the light on again; he couldn't possibly sleep with the light off. Not now. Not ever. He couldn't sleep when he could see the shadows.
"Bobby?" Jaye's voice was light and the air weighed it down, muffling it.
Bobby wondered if he should start taking those pills again, the ones that Mother had been giving him. He spit them out when she wasn't looking but...
"Bobby, listen to me. Please don't go weird on me, I need you."
Did Mother somehow know I spit out the pills? How could she know? She knew a lot of things though, things that other people don't. She knows there's something bad inside of me.
What if she put the pills into something else and didn't tell me? What if she hid the pills, what if they were there like poison in my food, in my sugared tea, in my dessert? Do they have color? Taste? Could she have put them in my mouth while I was sleeping?
Bobby's tongue felt dry and he swallowed hard. He had to have the light on. But it was so far away from him; he could never reach it. His limbs felt heavy, leaden.
"Bobby, please, please answer me!" Jaye was begging. Or was it Trey? He heard Trey's voice as if it were on the tech mic system, fuzzy and indistinct. What was he saying? Bobby turned onto his side and pulled the covers over his body, that small effort costing all his energy. He wished Trey would turn on the lamp so he could sleep. He was very tired.
The voice again, much too loud now. "Bobby!"
Noises in the hallway.
Mother's coming. Mother will turn on the light; she knows I can't sleep without the light because I told her so.
Bobby closed his eyes. He heard rustling sounds and that voice again. Jaye? Trey?
"Bobby, I gotta go, I gotta leave but...are you okay, Bobby? Are you alright?"
Steps in the hall. A light. Yellow brightness sliding in under the door and through the jamb.
"Dammit! Bobby! I know you hear me! Answer me!" The voice was frantic, flat noise on the air.
Window sash opening. More sounds. The door opened, slight sound of hinge and wood. Bobby opened his eyes and sat up in bed slowly, as if moving through water, hugging the comforter to his naked body.
"In their entwined sleep, they exchanged arms and legs
In their dreams their brains took each other hostage
In the morning they wore each other's face."
Lovesong (Ted Hughes)
Matty stood at Gene's front door, pulling the keys from his pocket, and then stopped cold as the door magically opened inward. His jaw actually dropped, just like in the movies.
Michael Morrison still had one hand on the doorknob; keys in the other hand, his shirt untucked and unbuttoned, his brown hair matted down, dark with sweat. He let go of the door and combed his hair back from his face with his hand, the very picture of nonchalance.
"What the fucking hell are you doing here?" Matty snarled.
Michael flushed, his hand tightening on his keys. He frowned.
"None of your business." Michael said in a low voice.
Matty looked slowly up and down the football player. Michael's fly was unzipped.
Without thinking, Matty punched Michael in the stomach as hard as he could. The athlete doubled over with a groan, clutching at his belly as the air gusted out of his lungs, and then staggered backwards. Matty watched him for a second, then stepped around him, pushed open the front door and went in, closed it behind him and locked both deadbolts. He flicked off the outside light switch and waited, straining to hear sounds from the other side of the door. Nothing.
He went to Gene's doorway and stood watching his partner sleep, listening to his even, regular breathing. Gene was naked on top of the bedspread; curled on his side, Flash a dark pool against the back of his knees. Gene's skin shone bright against the blue in the dim light from the monitor, and Matty spent some time studying the details of that slender body before stepping into the room. He paused inside the door, thinking about what he'd just done to Michael. He hoped the asshole wouldn't tell Gene.
And he wished he'd taken Michael's goddam key while he had the chance.
"I'd not be just a nothin'
My head all fulla stuffin'
My heart all fulla pain...
If I only had a brain."
The Wizard of Oz (Warner Bros., 1939)
Michael crept through the house, hoping to get to his room without disturbing his dad, but Quirksy's tags kept jingling as he pranced at his master's side. Michael shushed him and slipped off his shoes, holding them in his hand as he reached for his bedroom door. His stomach ached, his head swam and he was more confused than a virgin in a brothel, one of his dad's favorite sayings. He truly hoped that tomorrow wouldn't be half as crazy as today was, he didn't think that he could take it. He drew a deep breath and pushed his bedroom door carefully open, mindful of noise and the happy dog at his feet.
Michael would be glad to see his heated waterbed; he was exhausted. The door swung open to his bedroom but Michael just stood there, poised like a Greek statue, staring at his bed.
Ryan Sellers sat on the side of Michael's bed with an ashtray on his knees, smoking a Camel cigarette. He exhaled, wreathing the air above his head with smoke.
"We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Headpiece filled with straw."
The Hollow Men (T. S. Eliot, 1925)
[End of Part 19]
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Thanks again for your support! I'm still learning and all of you are helping me even if it's just by reading Drama Club or joining the list, but the emails really keep me going firstname.lastname@example.org Endless computer problems have delayed the conclusion of Drama Club Act I but if you bear with me, I think you'll enjoy it. Part 20 is in the works and should be out in a week or so. Other fiction is in process right now and several new poems are on the sites and list. The Tragic Rabbit website is finally up, though still being tweaked and twiddled and fiddled with on a daily basis. Feel free to visit, to contribute ideas, art or just your readership and appreciation because that's what we're there for. I love you all and apologize for all the lost emails, lost connections, lost files and delayed dreams. May all your endings be happy ones!