East Seventy-Seventh

#3 of 16 Stories

            The heater was making noises again, jumping and clicking with age -- a monster in the radiator, keeping me awake; it sizzled and cracked across the room, lining the window that looked out on East Seventy-Seventh Street. So many times I'd stared out that window, hoping to see him turn the corner. Often times he'd just walk by, sometimes twice a day or more; he'd offer a friendly wave and a casual smile, knowing he'd find my face in the window.
            I longed for these moments...all these moments...a smile stretching tightly across my face, the jumping beans in my belly coming violently to life. If he only knew -- a shy gaze, a fleeting glance, a warm smile -- it mattered not...a look from him could shatter me.
            `What time is it?' I wondered as I reached for the clock -- 2:45am; like a snail it was creeping slowly toward the hour. I needed fresh air so got out of bed, stealthily making my way to the window; opening it, the cold air rushed toward my face -- clean, refreshing, and smelling of winter. I sat and stared at the deserted street -- the left over snow packed tightly against the curb, the single tree with its branches lined in white; it all looked so peaceful. Sighing, I turned and looked west toward Third Avenue, wondering what he was doing now. Probably sleeping. But just as I went to go back to bed, hoping to finally fall asleep, I noticed a boy with his hands in his pockets slowly turning down East Seventy-Seventh.
            I didn't bother changing...sweatpants, sweatshirt, and a winter coat -- in my fuzzy slippers I trudged through the apartment. Out in the brightly lit hallway, I glanced at the numbers on top of the elevator, watching intently as they quickly fell -- 5, 4, 3...ding.
             The cold air hit my face so hard it stung, the open doorway forming a suction-like grip; the air was forcing itself from outside in, and I had to pull hard to get the door closed. I blew on my hands -- no gloves. Great. I pulled my coat closed and hid my bare hands inside its arms.

            "Hey Justin," he said smiling.
            "Hey," I said shyly, like it was the first time.
            "It's late," he said.
            "I know, I couldn't sleep." I sat on the stoop beneath the overhang and shifted so he could sit next to me.
            "Me neither," he said as he sat down.
            We were quiet for a moment.
            "You know what I was thinking about before I came over here?" he asked.
            "About how it took us so long to be friends."
            I laughed. "So you couldn't sleep cause you couldn't stop thinking about me?"
            "Shut up," he said and nudged my shoulder.
            It had  taken us awhile, though. We'd grown up together, that much was true; since five we'd shared a single classroom, since fourteen - many hallways and teachers. Though we weren't friends exactly, I couldn't say that -- there was always something there, constantly lingering, and I wondered if he could feel it too.
            We'd never failed to make eye contact, no matter where we were; often we'd be with friends, him laughing casually with his as he'd carefully catch my eye in passing, me with mine, debating the trivial issues of the day. Sometimes we'd be alone, my head in a book or my eyes looking south -- yet I'd sense his presence, every time, and when I'd look up I'd catch his warm eyes in mine.
            He was kind -- anyone could tell that just by looking. He was kind when he walked, he was kind when he ate, and he was kind on the day that he finally came up to me, sitting on my stoop on East Seventy-Seventh. I was fifteen at the time, only just -- and he...just about.
            "Hey Justin," he'd said, as if he'd said it a million times.
            "Hey," I'd said shyly, meeting his familiar gaze.
             That time, however, there were words both spoken and understood. Friendship...genuine and tangible...the offer was there and I graciously accepted.
            His friends were wonderful; good-natured, if not a bit rowdy. Mine were mostly serious, yet sincere. We all got along, borders breached -- yet the bond was between him and me, and anyone could see that.
            "Hey Justin," his friends would tease, "your boyfriend says he can't come out tonight. You got other plans?" They'd wink at us and we'd all laugh...yet I'd always smile at their recognition. It was only friendship -- a deep one, no doubt -- but there was something there when the two of us were together...something kinetic...and everyone could feel it.
            "So, how'd it go today?" he asked, breaking my train of thought.
            "With the girls."
            "Oh," I said, "that. I didn't go over."
            "Why not?" he asked.
            "I Dunno. Guess I'm shy."
            "Yea," he said, "that's probably it."
            I thought back to this afternoon, sitting on my stoop with him beside me:  

              "She likes you, man," he said.
              "I dunno."
              "She does, it's obvious." He got quiet, looking down at his feet.
              "I guess." We sat there on my stoop, watching the girls from our grade laughing as they talked together in a circle. A tall blonde one kept glancing over at me, giving me shy smiles and blushing every now and then. She looked nice enough, I guess.
              "I don't know," I said, "what do you think?" I looked up at him.
              "About what?" I tried hard to meet his gaze, but it hurt too much and I had to look away.
              "You know," I said, forcing myself to look back at him. We stared at each other for a moment and I thought...maybe...maybe he knows what I'm really asking.
              "I think you should probably go for it, man. With the girls and all."
              "Yea," I said and looked down at my shoes, tracing invisible circles on the ground with my toe. "Yea, you're probably right."
              "If you want to," he added. We were both looking down and my heart was breaking...maybe he knew that.
              "Yea...no, definitely. You're right."
              He looked up at me again, no trace of a smile, and his eyes were nothing if not a bit glassy. But then again it was cold -- they were probably tearing up from the dry air.
              "OK, well, good luck man," he said, "I gotta go, it's getting late."
              "Sure...see ya," I answered back.
              "Let me know how it goes," he added, gesturing toward the pack of girls.
              And then he was gone, trudging around the corner of Third...East Seventy-Seventh, never so alone.

            "I hope it snows," he said breaking me from my thoughts, "like it did the night before your birthday."
            "Huh?" I asked. "Oh yea, that was crazy."
            "It was so much fun that day, though," he said, "in the park."
            I turned quickly to look at him. I couldn't believe he was bringing it up.
            "On my sixteenth birthday?" I asked incredulously. This couldn't be right.
            "Yea of course, what other birthday could it be?" This couldn't be right...didn't he remember?
            "Yea, I guess. I mean it was fun..." Maybe he didn't remember.
            "Don't you remember?" he asked, his eyes burning into mine, "it was only a month ago."
            "Of course I remember," I said. How could I forget? "Do YOU remember?" I asked.
            "Of course I remember," he said quietly, "I'll always remember that, Justin."
            "Oh," I said. I didn't know what to say.
              It had snowed so hard the night before my sixteenth birthday, the sky turning from whitish grey to clouded black. It was cold but cozy, I remember thinking, as I snuggled beneath my blankets:

              I looked over at the clock, like I do so often, and saw the seconds counting down to midnight. Maybe he'll call, I hoped, but pushed the notion aside; no one does that, I thought -- it's midnight and he's sleeping, like normal people do. But at 12am my phone started ringing, and excitedly I reached across my blankets to answer.
              "Happy birthday, man" I heard his voice on the other line, "Did I wake you?"
              "No," I said smiling, "I was hoping you'd call."
              "Of course I called," he said, "You're my best friend."
              I was hugging my pillow tightly with one arm, trying to control the excitement in my voice. I couldn't believe he called at midnight. "You're mine, too."
               We were quiet for a moment -- me, listening to his breath on the other line, him, breathing softly, soothingly. It was late and I was tired, but I didn't want to hang up.
              "Get some sleep," he finally said, "maybe we won't have school tomorrow."
              "Yea," I said, "hopefully." I loosened my grip on my pillow slightly; my knuckles, I realized, were turning white.
              "Well, goodnight," he said, "happy sixteenth!"
              "Night," I said, "love you man." My stomach dropped and I clenched my fists -- my God, I thought...too far.
              He paused. "No problem." I started to hang up, my stomach in my throat. "Wait...Justin?"
              "Yea?" I answered, a bit too quickly.
              "I love you too." He placed his phone on the receiver. Click.
              The next morning I awoke to a blanket of white, the street cleaners couldn't even keep up with the snowfall. I lifted my window, the air rushing toward my face -- and I put my hand out to catch the snow. Laughing, I looked west toward Third Avenue and saw a figure rushing round the corner.
              "NO SCHOOL!" I barely heard him shout, "NO SCHOOL, JUSTIN, COME ON!" I laughed as he got closer, looking into the face of the boy I loved; snowflakes were falling onto his hat and burying themselves in his dark brown eyelashes. He looked beautiful. "Come on, man!" he shouted up at me from beneath my window, "buzz me up!"
              Central park wasn't empty, but not everyone was as daring as we; the snow was coming down pretty hard, and I reckoned when it stopped, it would be packed.
              He tackled me and we tumbled over each other, arms tightly wound around the other's torso. Laughing, we wrestled as we rolled and rolled in the snow. He lost his hat along the way, and as our momentum waned, so too did our laughter. I was lying on top of him, looking into his smiling eyes, his bright red cheeks, shining and cold. His lips were parted as he pushed the air in and out heavily; we were exhausted but happy...and stuck in this funny sort of embrace.
              I stared at him, a chuckle here and there...we were both breathing hard, the wind knocked out of our tired bodies.
              "You lost your hat," I said laughing from on top of him, ruffling his hair with my frozen fingers.
              "I know, it fell somewhere back there." He motioned with his neck to a few yards back, but his eyes stayed locked with mine.
              "Better be careful," I said, picking up a handful of snow, "someone could take advantage of this situation."
              "Don't!!" He laughed and squirmed beneath me, the friction of our bodies -- exciting and new.
              "Why would you EVER think I would do such a thing?" I asked playfully and struggled to keep him from escaping my hold. He writhed underneath me, wrestling in the snow -- both of us excited beyond recognition.
              He looked up at me, breathing heavily...his arms pinned over his head beneath mine, and me -- straddling his torso and moving against him. Such wonderful friction, such a wonderful boy -- and soon I felt him move beneath me too. Our eyes went wide and our mouths were open, rubbing together and breathing hard. I could hear him beneath me, shallow breaths and slight sounds. "Justin" he said quietly, closing his eyes.
              I was terrified. "Do you want me to stop?" I asked, praying he'd say no.
              "No," he said as he twined his fingers in mine, "Don't stop." He started moving faster still, and I heard a noise escape from his lips.
              Suddenly a snowball hit me in my face, and we turned to see another friend rushing toward us. I quickly got off of him -- both of us flushed beyond repair. Painfully avoiding each other's eyes, we stood up and brushed ourselves off. "Happy Birthday Justin!" our friend shouted as he ran toward us, and I struggled to put a smile on my face. We weren't laughing anymore.

            The wind was whistling through the single tree in front of my building, breaking me from my reverie; the branches shook and rattled lightly, both of us watching its solemn dance. We hadn't spoken of that day since, and thinking of it now was making me sad.
            I noticed a couple walking down my street, laughing easily with each other and holding hands. `What are they doing out now?' I wondered as I watched them lost in each other's eyes. They looked so happy together, so free -- and a few yards away from us, they stole a kiss.
            "Justin?" he asked, tearing his eyes away from them.
            "Yea?" I answered, swallowing my thoughts.
            "Have you ever kissed anyone?" I felt his body heat across from me, his jacket arm pressed against my own.
            "Once when I was twelve my neighbor kissed me."
            "Joann?" he asked, eyes wide open. He'd met her once last year.
            "Yea," I said smiling, looking up at him.
            "Why?" he asked, the laughter pressing against his lips.
            "I dunno...she just came up to me and did it...and then walked away. She's weird like that, I guess." He shook his head and we both started laughing; Joann, now twenty, had recently moved to Queens with her biker boyfriend.
            "That's rough, man," he said, laughing still. I nodded in agreement.
            "Have you?" I asked after a few seconds had passed.
            "Nah," he said, "who'd want to kiss me?" I looked at him like he was crazy.
            "Plenty of people," I said, and he laughed a self-conscious laugh.
            "Like who?" he asked, looking up at me.
            Our eyes communicated silently. "Plenty of people," I said, looking down.
            "Oh," he said.
            The air grew colder but we stayed sitting in silence -- not uncomfortable -- just no need for words. And then the wind howled, breaking our trance; the sky was hazy and dark, but snow -- white and sparkling -- began to fall. We looked at each other and shared a smile, perhaps both of us recalling that day in the park. He looked so beautiful in the lamplight, his eyes, bright and shining -- his smile, warming the frigid air so much so that I scarcely felt its sting. His eyes were killing me, and as he stared deeply into mine, I felt my lips say, "I would."
            "What?" He asked.
            I looked away.
            "You would what?" he asked again.
            "Kiss you." My face was glued to the pavement.
            "No way dude, that's gay" he said, laughing lightly.
            "Yea, gay." I said. It got quiet again and I felt so foolish. "I was only joking."
            "Okay," he said.
            "I shouldn't have said anything..."
            "I said, okay."
            "I know," I said quietly, hopelessly.
            "No, Justin...I mean, okay. Kiss me."
            He looked at me...his eyes, so trusting. The streetlight cast on him an ethereal glow, his skin, radiant and red from the cold. I sat there...speechless.
            "I don't know," I said scarcely breathing, the frosted air escaping from between my lips. He moved closer to me and our legs were touching. Looking down, I saw him tracing patterns on the pavement with his finger.
            "If you don't want to, you don't have to," he said as his eyes bore into the ground. We were silent, the tree branches quaking in the gentle wind. I moved closer still, daring to reach my arm around him and pull him into me. He came easily, leaning his head onto my shoulder. I sighed and rubbed his arm, resting my head on top of his.
            "I want to," I said quietly, holding him in my arms.
            "Me too," he said back.
            Turning my neck, I pressed my lips into his hair, letting them linger for a few moments. He looked up at me and I could barely breathe...just waiting beneath the pale street light.
            "My lips," he whispered and I smiled, leaning in a second time. He lifted his head and pushed his mouth into mine, his lips moving against my own, our eyes closed and our hearts beating.
            We said nothing as we pulled apart, my arm still around him, his head resuming its spot on my shoulder. He sniffed and I looked down to see him crying, silent tears escaping from beneath closed lids.
            He snuggled closer and took my free hand in his, kissing my fingers before resting them in his lap. 'This is our place,' I thought as we sat there together, silently watching the falling snow.

Author's Note: This is my third installment in the Sixteen-Series and I'd love to hear from you. Any questions, comments, or criticism can be sent directly to me at Doveglion@gmail.com - I'm grateful for the feedback. And a special thanks to James for your continued support...I really do appreciate it. Also, I started a yahoo group where you can find more things written by me: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Simple_Stories
Check it out if you have time, and as always, thank you so much for reading!