135: I want to be with him every single day by bronx. | Flickr
The moon hung in the night whole and round and bright as the toll of a church bell promising salvation. Its reflection floated lazily on the lake’s surface, rippling when Blake or Johnny ran one of their naked feet through the water. The whole drive to the lake they had sung as loud as the pumped-up radio, wind tossing their hair, the headlights fairy-flashing on speed limit signs they blew by without regard for law or numbers. But now silence, or something like it considering the crickets and the trees and their breath rested over them like humidity, the bottle of whiskey between them almost empty, their fingers almost touching. Neither of them had said a word about the waterlogged corpse decaying not thirty feet away on the lake shore.
Blake broke the silence.
“We have to call the cops.”
Johnny sighed. “It can wait.”
“Could have been an axe murder, could be an axe murderer right behind us.”
“Only time I’d be caught with another boy like this.”
“We haven’t even touched.”
“You can’t—only you could try to hit on someone within ten yards of a festering, dead body.”
Johnny took a swig of whiskey, then carefully licked a stray drop off the bottle while side-eyeing Blake. “As if I’d hit on you,” he said.
Blake and Johnny had been not-exactly-friends-but-not-exactly-not for their three-year tenure of high school. They had the same home room and at least one class together every year, so they were no strangers to each other’s furtive glances, but had only encountered each other outside the pubescent halls of education three times, and two of those coincidentally. The first time was at the pizza parlor Blake worked at after school so he could save enough money to blow over summers on video games and whiskey (see the bottle between them, their fingers dancing around each other), the latter obtained by his older brother who never seemed able to actually finish community college. Johnny had been on a date with Brandy Barbie, not her real last name, who was blonde and had perfect, white teeth, and all three of them worked through the genial awkwardness of only sort of knowing each other while Blake served them slices of pepperoni and gluten-free Hawaiian until the end, when his hand accidentally brushed by Johnny’s as he reached for the bill on the table. The contact, both skin and eye that immediately followed, raised the hairs on their arms, drummed on their hearts, and plummeted their stomachs into that void stomachs plummet into when love and lust eat you whole then lick their lips. Stammering through the rest of the exchange, they gossiped over-enthusiastically about the weather as Johnny rushed Brandy Barbie out, murmuring a slant truth about his upset stomach.
The second time they were at the same party, Brandy Barbie’s, whose father was on a business trip and whose mother was stoned out of her mind in the master bedroom, and both Blake and Johnny were drunk on the plentiful vodka from the lockless liquor cabinet. They didn’t kiss. They didn’t kiss when they were the only two people waiting in line to go to the bathroom while Tippie Cauldron vomited into the toilet. They didn’t kiss when Brandy Barbie stormed out of her room, leaving them alone in it, to slap her best friend in the face. They didn’t kiss when they both bent over to pick up Blake’s phone, which he had nervously dropped, and their hands touched and their eyes locked and. They didn’t kiss.
And here was the third time, their third non-educational but entirely pubescent encounter, now their fingers not touching instead of their lips, the moon pristine and white in the night as a patch of snow on fresh asphalt. Johnny had invited Blake out in his new car his mother had given him for his seventeenth birthday and Blake had brought the whiskey. Chaste pretenses provided, of course. Johnny knew Blake was good at math and Johnny sucked at math and maybe he, Blake, could teach him, Johnny, a thing or two about biology. Math, Johnny quickly corrected his text. He meant math. LOL.
Because of course their romance, or lack thereof considering this midnight lake sojourn was about physics—no, math—was blossoming in the capital-S South, that grand ol’ monument whose soil is as red red as the blood of its people and whose hearts are always blessed. And of course Johnny’s dad, divorced from his mom and flitting from woman to woman like some middle-aged Casanova who can’t go two sentence without a “reckon,” well he’s the sheriff and Blake, sitting on the lake’s edge next to the sheriff’s son, was proposing they call the cops to explain why they had taken a not-at-all-romantic, midnight, lake-side stroll deep in backwater woods with a bottle of illegally-acquired whiskey and happened to stumble upon a dead body.
Could be worse. Johnny’s dad could be a preacher.
Like Blake’s dad.
You get the point. It wasn’t San Fran-fucking-cisco.
And these two lonely boys were trying to explore their sexualities and have their first kiss and of all the cockblockers in the world they had stumbled upon a corpse.
Blake took a heavy gulp from the bottle, but was not one to try to make it somehow sexy.
“I’m just saying we can’t not call it in, yeah?”
Johnny collapsed on his back and looked at the sheet of stars above them. And that moon.
“It’s a nice moon,” Johnny said.
Blake followed his gaze. Laid on his back. Their shoulders touched, and neither pulled away.
“We can make it anonymous,” Blake said.
“They’d recognize my voice at the precinct,” Johnny said.
“I can make it anonymous,” Blake said.
“Not if it’s from your cell phone,” Johnny said.
“Then. I mean, so what?” Blake fidgeted, making to reach for the whiskey, their arms rubbing together. He continued, “I’ll say we were studying.”
Johnny sighed. “You left your textbooks at my house.”
Blake frowned. “You’re the one who said, and I quote, ‘Hey-this-is-boring-let’s-go-to-some-lake-instead.’”
“I was nervous,” Johnny said. “And I’m not blaming you. It’s just my dad’s the sheriff.”
“Mine’s a preacher,” Blake mumbled.
Johnny laughed, a whole and round and bright laugh ringing from the pit of his stomach. Blake looked over, startled.
“How cliché,” Johnny said. “I could sing a country song.”
Infected more from Johnny’s laughter than the situation, Blake started laughing too, rolling onto his side to face Johnny. “As if you’re any better, sheriff’s son.”
“I know, I know,” Johnny chuckled. “It’s just.” He too rolled over, mirroring Blake. “It’s just so dumb.”
“Hiding from God and the law.” Blake smirked.
“Hiding gets exhausting,” Johnny said.
It was dumb. It was exhausting. It was inane. They just wanted to know if they even liked each other. They just wanted to kiss. To bring together those halves of angst and confusion into something like an answer to puberty. And the moon was reflecting off the lake, and their feet were wet. But their grins were tainted: their smirks harbored more cynicism than mirth. They were hiding from God and the law, and a fetid corpse was rotting so close to them they could smell it. Bless their hearts, I reckon.
“Why are you dating Brandy Barbie?”
“Don’t call her that,” Johnny said. Blake noticed Johnny’s eyes, as they darted away, had silvered in the moonlight from sapphires to storm clouds, and they billowed.
“I’m sorry. I’ve never heard her called anything else,” Blake said. Johnny noticed Blake’s hair had silvered in the moonlight from pitch to smoke, and it billowed.
“It’s actually Justine,” Johnny said.
“Johnny and Justine,” Blake said.
“Yeah,” Johnny said.
“You’ll have beautiful babies.”
“Yeah.” Blake rolled onto his back. After a moment, Johnny followed suit.
“It’s not just,” Blake said.
“My dad—” Johnny began.
“Mine too.” Blake cut him off.
“This place, this county—”
“Same as mine.”
“We can’t call the cops,” Johnny whispered. “We can’t call my father.”
“Do you think he’d hurt you?”
“No. I don’t know. What about your parents?”
“I don’t think either would hurt me, not like that. But I might not have a home tomorrow,” Blake said.
“Maybe, think, might,” Johnny said. “That’s the worst part.”
“Not knowing if someone cares about you,” Blake said. He looked over at Johnny.
Johnny stared back. Storm clouds and smoke. That rolling feeling, uncertain whether to lean in or not. “As if I’d hit on you.”
Crickets, trees rustling, breath. The moon, the stars, the night. Autumn not weeks away, a hint of something crisp in the air along with decay, a life lost. The grass under backs, the smoothness of a whiskey bottle. That charred taste, that oakiness. Everywhere: fear.
Blake, irritated, buzzed, aroused, confused, broke the bottle, lowered it too quickly after chugging the last two gulps of whiskey, smashing it on a rock. Large pieces of glass between him and Johnny, and the sound of shattering, and Johnny immediately sitting up and clasping Blake’s hand, bringing it close to his face, trying to diagnose any cuts, sniff out any blood, any red red blood like soil. Blake searched Johnny’s panicked face, then closed his hand on Johnny’s. They considered each other’s touch, considered lightning and a stomach’s void. Finally, Blake said, “How can we spend our lives like this? Apart, with the scent of death in the air?”
They sat like that, holding hands awkwardly, touching without reach, and that moon round and whole and promising something like salvation.
“I’m calling the cops,” Blake said.
“I’ll do it,” Johnny said.
Johnny leaned over and, without regard to the law or numbers or God or the shards of a whiskey bottle glinting in that moonlight or the cockblocking manifestation of death itself, dared kiss the palm of Blake’s unscarred hand.
Keith Frady is an Atlanta-based writer of prose and comics. He has been published in Behind the Mask: A Superhero Anthology, and writes an online comics anthology titled The Usual Choices.