Lapse

The day drew on and less and less hope remained. The butterflies in his stomach became nothing more than an ulcer. Holding the hope in his chest as he did was starting to feel like watching a time-lapse of a desiccating flower.

He would not be receiving a call.

They never called.

Brent

 

I hadn’t even known you could go swimming in the lake.

For the last few weeks I’d thought it was just another austere campus feature, like the stone cherub over Wexley Hall, or the Greco-Roman pillars of the main building.

But there we were, a good ways through September, walking barefoot across the grass, towels in hand. It was Brent’s idea, something about “getting our feet wet at this school in more ways than one.” In other words, it was fruitless and joyful like most things Brent wanted to do. I didn’t mind.

We threw down our towels, and as Brent lathered sunscreen on his cheeks and nose I savoured the coolness of the grass beneath my toes. I took one look at the perfectly blue sky and held it in my mind as I closed my eyes, breathing deeply of the fading summer air.

I was glad the lawn was like this now, I thought, a different animal from the dark and damp of those first few nights where I thought I might lose Brent before we even really knew each other.

I open my eyes to look at him as I exhale. I think about the frequency at which his upper arms are revealed and yet he can’t be bothered to take his hat off at dinner. I have a strange feeling, almost an anger at my past self: you almost lost this. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t feel this way.

“Where is everyone else?” I ask.

“I’m sure they’re coming. They wouldn’t waste this perfect day, this perfect swimming opportunity, would they?”

“Hmm…”

I step forward, curious. Grass turns to course sand, and then I dip my toes into the water.

“Good god,” I say. Maybe you can’t go swimming in the lake. “So cold already?”

Brent just laughs, mimicking my “good god” in a patronizing and yet caring way. “It’ll be good, man. No worries.”

I felt like “no worries” could be the title of Brent’s biography, while mine might be something like “Neuroses: A Consideration.” We were complementary in that way.

Brent did finally remove his cap, and to my great surprise his short dark hair was still there beneath. He also reached down and peeled his black muscle shirt off over his head.

He had little hair, and looked smooth and soft. Toned but not chiselled, stockier. Comfortable.

“Uh, hey?”

I blink at his voice.

He cracks a nervous smile, “you’re weirdin me out a bit.”

I blink again, realizing I’d been staring. This was like me and many other social quirks and moors: I had no way of knowing it was wrong.

It was new, certainly.

I turn away and remove my own shirt.

Almost the moment it leaves my hand, I feel a palm on my back and then the water is rushing up to meet me.

It is deeper than I thought, and I see sand and darkness living in the blur of water.

When I raise my head, sitting in the shallows with small, freshwater waves lapping at my neck, I turn to see Brent laughing. The cold pushes a hoarse breath out of me.

“Quite humorous…” I say with a dollop of sarcasm.

Quite humorous,” he mocks.

I stand and deliver a great kick, spraying water in a wide arc and catching his legs and stomach.

He yelps a little and jumps back, “oh shit that’s cold!”

I shake my head, but can’t help but smile. “No one swims out here in September, do they?”

“They do now,” he says with a grin, dashing for the water, making sure to churn up the water and soak me on his way by as he dives.

I’m already in, so I turn and dive after him.

I haven’t had the luxury of telling Brent this yet, but I’ve always felt quite at home in the water.

When I’m just floating there, it’s a rare occurrence where outside and inside seem to match. My wayward direction, my wandering nature, my unsure heart. Finally, they are in a context just as formless as I feel.

When I come back up Brent is treading water enough to raise his arms in a raucous yell. He chuckles a little, unbidden, and floats onto his back, looking up at the crisp blue sky.

As I look at him, the unrestrained sunlight sparkling off the drops on his cheek, I know that none of the books I worshipped had told me about this. They told me about many other things I could not have: a prom, a graduation with my parents in the audience. They told me about girls who could change one’s entire life, it seemed. But nothing about this.

Which is unfortunate, because there, looking at him, I feel something like I felt when I hid that trunk away in the abandoned boat-house, that rusted but sturdy lock in my hand. Something solid.

The Flames Go Out

Her hand was awash with flame, and in that light, I could see Bradley’s terrified face.

He was on his ass, back against the brick wall behind the school. His eyes were wide, and he held his hand in front of his sweaty face, as if to stem the heat coming off the girl before him.

Monica had her back to me, but judging by the vibrancy and thickness of the lick of flame that danced around and over her fist, I knew her long dormant rage had reached the end of its journey.

“Don’t do this Monica,” I said from behind her, inching my way closer.

Her head whipped around, and I saw a single deranged green eye flashing from between the strands of her dyed crimson hair.

“Why? This is what you said, right? This is why we trained so hard isn’t it? So that we can work out what we’ve been through. Well I wanna thank you, Chase, because I’ve realized that torching this piece of shit for what he did to me is how I work it out.”

“No. No Monica, that’s not it at all.”

“What was all that about wearing our pain with pride then, huh? Our scars make us stronger? How does that even make sense? All my pain ever gave me was nightmares, and-“ she raised her hand, looking at her flaming hand as if it were new, though she’d seen such a thing many times before. “…and burning.”

She lowered her hand, clenching it again, and turning back toward Bradley. She took a step closer, her other hand igniting now. Bradley whimpered, and tried to scurry off to the left, but Monica’s hand shot forward, chucking a fireball that slammed into the brick near Bradley, creating a great singe mark next to the bully’s head and stopping him in his tracks.

“The only reason we have these powers is because we’re different, Monica,” I said. Because we’ve suffered. But we don’t have to walk around thinking we’re broken all the time. That’s when they- when he wins. We survived, Monica. And that’s a badge of honour, along with that fire of yours.”

“Easy for you to say,” said Monica, not even turning to look at me now. “You’re a star athlete. The whole school loves you. You’ve got a whole team backing you up most of the time, including this piece of shit. What pain do you have? You don’t have to show anything that makes you different. You got the powers without the pain.”

She was almost on top of him now, another ball of fire coalescing in her palm.

I had to do something, or Monica was about to roast Bradley, and make herself a murderer.

It was then I realized: I couldn’t hold back anymore. I’d always thought “pride” only pertained to something you made, not things that happened to you. Monica and the others, for them having pride in her powers and in herself as a survivor, it was like having pride in the fact that they’d been born with blue eyes, or brown hair, or ten fingers and toes. It wasn’t like having built a sandcastle, or passing a test, and saying “look what I’ve accomplished.” And I understood that now, that sometimes the thing you accomplished was just enduring. Just kept on going.

Which is why I couldn’t hold back anymore. I’d had my way of enduring for a long time, but now, I needed to take on more of a burden for the sake of the rest of them. I needed to be willing to lose it all at any moment, because that was the kind of thing they lived with every day. I did to, but it was time to let people know.

I sighed. “I’m gay, Monica.”

She froze, and I saw her shoulders stiffen.

And then, the flames went out.

Reunion

“Stay away from them Guy,” said Bartholomew. “They did things to you. They made an experiment of their own son, tried to force you into a life of killing that you didn’t want. I know they’re your parents, but they haven’t made you who you are. You’re not them. You’ve fought hard for that.”

Guy heard what his professor was saying, but he also saw his mom’s deep blue eyes wide with something akin to compassion, her thick blonde braid resting over her shoulder, becoming more and more shot through with grey. He remembered the smell of that braid, no matter where they went it always ensured she carried the smooth and crisp scent of the pines behind their house with her. She’d done her hair that way for as long as he could remember, he remembered it tickling his nose when he was little and she’d held him in her arms.

His father was as stoic as ever, grey hair seeming slicked back though Guy had never seen him put an ounce of product in it. He didn’t seem to have the same compassion in his eyes as his mother did. But, the way his mouth, usually so firm, like a tight crack in a cliff-face, it softened. Guy had also never seen his father soften to anything.

“Guysborough,” said his mother faintly.

And that was all he needed to hear.

He stepped forward. Bartholomew thrust his hand out, Guys chest running into it, stopping.

“Guy, don’t. They would have ruined you they- you were so brave to leave them. It made you better. They… they don’t deserve you.” Guy couldn’t help but notice the flicker of pain that had crept into the older man’s voice, but there was something more powerful tugging at him now.

He knew everything Bartholomew was saying was true. If he’d stayed with his parents two years ago, he would have been a murderer in his own eyes. He knew his parents were still like that, still members of The Hunt.

But the fact that they were here, that they looked like they had any care about him at all… it was too much. It overrode everything he’d learned, everything that had taught him they were the enemy. He only saw his parents, the people he’d wanted not to disappoint, who he’d wanted to accept him all his life. He saw his parents, and he knew he still loved them.

Guy turned his head to look up at Bartholomew, his mentor’s face cloudy and unstable through the haze of tears in his eyes.

“I don’t care,” said Guy.

Bartholomew’s eyes widened, and his mouth opened as if to speak. Instead, the man’s eyes closed, fighting himself, until finally his hand fell away.

And Guy ran into his mother’s arms, while Bartholomew looked to the ground, shoulders hunched, before turning and walking away.

Others Like You

I’d heard the stories of a girl who came out of the bricks in an alley on the lower east side. They said she was a fairy, or a nymph, or something. My cousin Clarence had come back from the city in a full suit and tie darker than midnight, saying this woman granted wishes. I thought his brain had finally been baked by the sun from being out in the fields too long, but I’d also never seen Clarence in anything other than dirt caked jeans and a stained undershirt for most of my life.

And, I was desperate. I wonder why Mom and Pop wanted me to read all those books about so many different places when I was little if they never wanted me to stop tilling fields and planting crops.

So, I made an excuse. I told them I wanted a vacation. They didn’t like it, but I told them that if I couldn’t live there, then could I at least see it?

They grumbled, but agreed.

So, I drove at a hundred past those humble pastures until they gave way to bright and showy glass and concrete, all the while wondering if I would actually check if what Clarence said was true.

The hotel was nice, though the bed was a bit too soft for me. At first, I found it strangely hard to breath, wondering how there could be enough air for all these people. All the food tasted sweeter, like every dish had sugar as a secret ingredient. I liked it though. It was just a lot all at once.

After a couple days, I decided to go.

A curtain of black stretched over the alley, the narrow space permitting only a few feet of light through, though that was already a cold colour from the shadows of the surrounding industrial monoliths.

I hesitantly took a few steps, letting the grid of bricks on either side surround me. I listened to the gentle rattling of the spray can I moved back and forth in my hand. They said you had to leave something of yourself on the walls here, or she wouldn’t come. An offering, of sorts.

As I went further, I saw a beautiful mess of tags scrawled up, out, and along the wall. Names and sentiments of every colour of the rainbow, contained and effused via stark outlines. Pictures and depictions, more detailed than I could ever hope to create, all overlapping one another, jostling for space. This was my favourite thing I’d seen here so far.

I didn’t want to disturb all of it too much, so I found a relatively clear spot. I gave my can a last good shake and removed the cap, before letting the red paint fly with a hiss.

I start writing before I know what I really want to say. In the end, it’s just my name, scrawled on this wall in a city where I can’t stay.

This is stupid, I think.

I get up and turn to leave, only to feel a hand rest gently on my shoulder.

I turn, and am nearly blinded by a woman who looks to be made of as many colours as the art on the wall was. Her hair was rippling back and up, flowing like water in a stream of coloured energy. Strands of the stuff ran off her from everywhere in smaller amounts, and the darks of her eyes were somehow visible against all that light.

She smiled at me, and my heart seized in my chest.

Before I knew what to think, she leaned in and kissed me lightly. She tasted sweet, like everything else here.

It felt strange, like I’d been given a purpose that hadn’t been there before. The part of me that felt like it had always been roving grew still. And somehow, too late, I realized I had lost something too.

She pulled away and brought her mouth close to my ear, whispering to me with the sound of that missing thing. When she said the words I knew I’d follow them, because that was all there was left, and that was fine. No turmoil, no questions, a terrible peace.

“Go back where you came from, and tell others like you to come.”

Feeling A.H.

“So…” I said across the coffee shop table. “Here we are.”

“Yup,” he said back.

I put some sugar in my coffee trying to avoid the silence.

“Mm! So,” I bobbed my head in the direction of the S on his shirt, “you like comics?”

“Yeah! I do actually.”

“What are your favorites?”

“Well, there’s-“

“Let me guess: Superman? And for Marvel you’re probably into any characters that they haven’t made black or women yet. Am I wrong?”

“… did you agree to this so you could get dirt on me or something?”

“What? No.”

“So, you don’t have any interest in me at all…”

I almost heard what he’d said but his biceps were louder.

“…well, I’ll have you know, I like all kinds of graphic novels. Alan Moore, Building Stories, more Avant-garde stuff like that. I mean… I do like Superman too… and I think Marvel does force the issue on a lot of things.”

“Ugh,” I said, unable to hold it in any longer. “Can I ask you a favor? Stop bringing down Sci-fi class with all these anachronistic examples. Huxley didn’t know about the finer points of genetics that we do now, and of course the Island of Doctor Moreau isn’t possible but that’s a lot less interesting than what the story itself presents.”

It was his turn to “ugh.”

But instead of saying anything he waved his hand for the barista and ordered two beers instead.

“I’m guessing those are for you,” I said, “because there’s no way you think I’m actually staying for this whole date.”

“Look,” he said. “I find a lot of your viewpoints irreconcilable, and you think the same of me. We’re not made to get along. But, maybe the thing we have in common, is a curiosity about whether we can hash it out and come to some sort of middle ground.”

“That’s not curiosity. That’s stubbornness, and while I can tell you no part of me wants to be in any kind of middle ground with you, I’m not stubborn enough to stay here with you and reaffirm that.”

He chuckled. “I know you won’t leave.” He put his big arms up on the table, obviously flexing them a bit, and he ran a hand through his long and inky hair before scratching at his stubble. When he opened his midnight blue eyes again, they seemed to flash with purpose. “…because there’s at least one thing about me that interests you.”

My hands clenched near the elbows of my crossed arms and I looked at that shit-eating smile of his before looking down and away, cursing under my breath. “Damn it…”

Sam by the Sea

Sam sat looking out over the sea and the setting sun. The tips of the knee-high grass appeared to be on fire in the orange light, dithering in the breeze.

He felt like crying, as he often did when he came up here, but he’d stopped being able to a while back. Whatever he was feeling, it just went on, and on, and on, with no release. Not unlike life in Moorcove.

He thought of the simple scene, of Meredith and Paul together. He wondered how he could love two people so much, and also carry this feeling. A feeling like- like his wish for them to be apart was slowly leading him down a path, at the end of which he would revile them.

What have I done? He asked himself, as if his decision to follow a man he loved to Moorcove and lay down the rest of his life was a simple decision he’d made yesterday, like finding you have extra time and running to the store, or calling up a friend and seeing if they wanted to meet at the pub. It never occurred to him that he could maybe pick up what he’d lain down and start anew; he’d felt his own life was out of his control for too long.

He felt the breeze touch his cheek, and slid his eyelids closed, breathing deeply. He wanted to feel his lungs filled with the beauty of this place he was beginning to hate, and let it invigorate him. But he could never get them to feel full enough, everything dulled.

He heard the whispering of the grass change behind him.

“Hey Brains,” came Almon’s voice by way of greeting.

Sam said nothing. He wanted to be alone.

“Come on,” Almon’s meaty hand gave a gentle shove of Sam’s shoulder. “It doesn’t work if you don’t say it.”

Sam breathed out the breath he’d been holding in a great sigh, returning what he’d borrowed. “Hey Brawn,” he said, by way of greeting his friend.