(DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. It’s important to remember this is all totally fabricated, embellished, and exaggerated for entertainment purposes.)
I shut the faucet off with my toes, stewing in the tub. Damn near lulled to sleep by the jets, I inhaled the steam and closed my eyes. It was cold here. If it weren’t for the water, I’d be trembling. The lights were out, apart from the black tea candle flickering on the vanity. It let off an eerie glow that barely penetrated the darkness, its bittersweet perfumes filling the room.
It was 3am and he was asleep, buried beneath the duvet like a wounded animal the last I saw him. I’d been up for a while, watching him frown in his sleep; fighting the urge to smooth his brow with my fingertips. I stopped myself, thinking they’d be too cold. It was hard not to kiss him just then; but I told myself it’d be evil to disturb his sleep considering how jetlagged he was. Overcoming my fixation to read his dreams, I took a walk around the house in nothing but my briefs to make sure it was secured. Once he’d gotten here, it slipped my mind to lock everything up, since I was buzzin’ from the moment he stepped out of the car. Last thing I needed now was for some overzealous fan to hop the gate and find any trace of him here.
At the front door I looked down the walkway, recalling a hundred different times I’d watched him come and go——sometimes glad, too often mad, a time or two enraged. His storming away played before my mind’s eye so vividly, only for him to turn back and shout at me again. White t-shirts with the sleeves rolled to the shoulder. Ripped skinny jeans. Bandanas and headbands. Distressed Chelsea boots. Now wild Gucci florals barely buttoned to his midriff, billowing open to expose the butterfly——just the way he liked it. Big hats covering long, gorgeous curls. Messy topknots. Always with the Chelsea boots. The cross around his neck swinging violently anytime he gesticulated in anger.
It was hard to talk over him when he got like this. It was incredibly rare that he shouted, but when he did, it was with good reason. Apparently, I had that effect on people. Always pushing him to that point; and I was probably the only one on the planet capable of upsetting him this much. It was a weird flex that gave me a front row seat to the worst sides of him, but I liked that I was exceptional——for better or for worse. He could use me for target practice for all I cared, and I wouldn’t complain a lick——long as I stood out from among the rest.
Most days he’d say a heated word or two, then he’d clam up and leave before I saw the tears. When he cried, he got red in the face first, and a vein slowly swelled at the temple. Those were the telltale signs I looked for and I knew to ease up when I spotted them. Don’t make him cry, don’t make him cry—I forever scolded myself. I couldn’t stand to see him tearing up over me. Nothing was ever worth it.
Typically, he got like this when I wouldn’t budge on my position or wouldn’t do what he wanted——‘wouldn’t break’ as he’d say. I regretted not breaking sometimes just to let him know I cared. I always cared about the things he was upset about, even if I didn’t understand how best to express it at the time. With me and emotions, I was pretty much the same; meaning I dipped before he ever pushed me remotely close to tears. I liked to cry alone and as soundlessly as possible because I hated the sound of my own sobs. It was a repulsive sound that spoke of fragility and worst of all, discomposure.
If there was anything my dad taught me well, it was the importance of self-possession. How could you expect to win an argument or be taken seriously if you didn’t have a firm hold on yourself? It wasn’t like that toxic mentality in some households where men weren’t allowed to show any emotion whatsoever. Hell no. In fact, he encouraged me to deal with my feelings and to confront the things that were bothering me in a conscientious way. To not keep things pinned up because they would ultimately affect my health. And he was a fitness freak, insisting that good physical health would help you keep a firm check on the mental.
He was a huge proponent of talking through shit and not letting it eat away at you (which I still fell short of doing despite his careful instruction.) But on the flip side, he wasn’t overly emotional either. He led by example; inspiring me to maintain composure in all things, because only then would you know how best to conquer any given situation. My dad was a mean strategist and a relentless thinker, and a lot of that had rubbed off on me. We were a quiet, dignified kind; an introspective kind, but others would be wrong to mistake our silence for oblivion. We were always involved, even if it didn’t seem we were. We liked to observe and process things before committing to speech, and in most arguments I found that this was the best practice to adhere to.
Harry didn’t like that I didn’t talk much when he was upset. He couldn’t understand I was just observing him to get a hold on what he was saying; and trying not to offend by saying the wrong thing at the wrong time while he was overly sensitive. I tended to say the wrong things when I rushed into speaking, and so whenever I stayed silent, he got the sense that I was ignoring him or being condescending.
He accused me of thinking he was crazy too; but that wasn’t the case in the least. He was one of the most rational people I knew. Super stable and well-adjusted for his age. Despite divorce, he’d come from good stock and had absorbed the best of two successful dads. That’s why I liked to be around him. He made me think beyond the now. Beyond the mundane; down the road to what was possible. And he kept me balanced; merely by possessing all the things I lacked——extroversion, congeniality, naivety, warmth, a sense nobility. My infinite——if we were one person, we’d be immeasurably perfect.
I wanted to be him when I grew up, or so I’d always thought whenever I watched his type on TV as a kid, winning souls with nothing but a smile and a carefully worded phrase or two. He had a lot of them tricks in the stash. The ace up his sleeve, so to speak. It was a legit superpower that left me wondering the last seven years how he and I could be so alike and so drawn to one another, yet so utterly different.
Even if we didn’t see eye-to-eye, he was the sort of person who could respect that we saw things differently——and he genuinely respected it too, not harboring secret contempt that we had disagreed long after we moved on to new subjects like other people I knew. And he made it a point to view things from my perspective before he gave up on any discussion. He needed to understand me just as badly as I needed to understand him, and he put the work in to achieve that at all costs.
How could I dismiss someone like that as crazy? Just because he got a little emotional every now and then? That’s nonsense. But I suppose I was guilty of having called crazy a time or two when we were younger and still figuring things out, but the truth was, his reasoning was to be admired, whether I wanted to hear the lectures or not. That old soul talked more sense than a lot of people twice his age. Gave him a worldly way of viewing things, while I could sometimes be a little narrow in my thinking. My man was a progressive, cosmopolitan, altruist, and that was wildly beautiful.
Remembering him from three years ago as I stood at the front door made my throat constrict with the threat of tears. Summer rain whet my senses as though it were yesterday. I could smell the wind that carried it from afar. Hear his fist and his rings banging on the metal door until I opened it. Felt the humidity greet me, wafting pass my face to suffocate the rest of the house. I can’t remember why he was upset. I can’t remember what day it was. It was some time in 2014, just before sunset. There were already tears streaming down his face. He’d been crying on the drive over, which was dangerous. Driving emotional was just as bad as driving drunk. In my experience, emotions could be equally as impairing.
From then on, he would hide these sorts of reactions from me and I would never see him this way again. The pit in my stomach became unbearable after seeing him like this. I needed to leave this memory before I got lost here again. I let the drape fall back in place over the window adjacent to the front door, shutting out the past indefinitely.
Upstairs, in an attempt to unwind, I lay back in the jacuzzi tub and shut my eyes. There was only the sound of water, like I was in one of them old European bathing houses for invalids. There was the unchanging smell of soap and flesh. My flesh. Warm water, reviving me on a molecular level. The jets massaged the kinks out of my joints, soothing over the bruises I’d acquired in bed earlier tonight. Fortunately, I had a day or two to recover before I needed to be seen by anyone; otherwise there would be questions. My cousins wouldn’t given me a moment’s peace.
Every time we met up, he made certain to impart damage so I’d remember who I belonged to when he wasn’t around. A few hickeys down my neck, fingerprints around my arms, and now I was beginning to suffer the repercussions of the scratches along my ribs and back. They didn’t feel so sexy once they were met with hot water. The pain was searing, like I’d been flayed alive and set on fire afterwards. Wild sex was only theoretically good in the moment—like when his nails were raking every part of me in stupefying ecstasy. Great shouting orgasms; one after another. It’s like he hadn’t came in years. Who could blame him though? When it was good, it was gooood, and I needed to hear him cry out whenever I touched him the way he liked. Yet with total abandonment came total savagery, and he’d bitten me a time or two on my thighs and pecks—and that shit hurt. Marking his territory, I suppose. There was no stopping him when he got like this. But I guess there was no stopping me either.
The morning would of course see us parting again. I wasn’t ready for how he might react this time. Typically, it was absolute scenes and left me stressed for the remainder of the day. He got more angry than sad whenever the time came to part, because he didn’t like for me to see him cry; so, he just got pissed instead. Sometimes the separation hit us like a mule-kick straight to the Solar Plexus, winding us for days.
The moment he left, I knew I would spend the rest of the week sulking, not eating well, smoking too much, not wanting to speak to anyone else. It’s how it always played out. At night I’d lay awake and remember every second we’d spent together until I fell asleep. It was the only way I could sleep really, hypnotizing myself with all the dizzying memories I’d collected of him. Either that or scrolling through my phone’s gallery until I was too tired to hold it in front of my face. When I was feeling extra pathetic, I’d even kiss the screen, imaging the inviting warmth of his lips that never denied me contact.
Bare footsteps padded across the tiles towards the tub, just as I began to doze. I never heard the door open. My eyes were still shut, involuntarily. My body grew heavier the closer he got, not allowing me to dislodge from this unsightly slump. I knew it was him. It had to be him. I could smell the muted remnants of his cologne wafting from his body after a bit of perspiring. He stopped to take a leak and I relished the sound of his piss hitting the toilet bowl in a loud, forceful torrent; like he was wielding a firehose.
The running water must’ve woken him up, and he was probably upset I wasn’t in bed. I sensed his movements still, each and every one, like I was stalking prey through a dense forest after dark. He was probably running his fingers through his hair or rubbing his eye. Then he was upon me, but I had yet to shift in the slightest. It was the worst sleep paralysis of my life. I prayed to God he wouldn’t shove my head beneath the surface and keep it there until I checked out. Not that I believed he would, but being incapacitated and left to the mercy of another human was one of my top three worst fears in life.
Proving me to be a paranoid idiot, he pressed his lips to mine; sleepily. It was a heartfelt caress that said: Where were you? Stolen kisses were the best kisses, and this one worked like a proper disenchantment. Soon I was free of the spell, finally able to open my eyes and see him for what he was: entirely nude and half-awake himself.
For a while all I could make out was his shifting form, then slowly his skin glowed with all the luminosity of a northern star. He kissed me all over my face, measured and contemplatively. Hungrily, like my skin was made of sugarcane. Then he asked where I’d gone. He couldn’t sleep without me. These things were whispered between honeyed kisses, and I could smell my dried saliva around his mouth from earlier.
“Grab my smokes, babe,” I breathed, shutting my eyes as his lips landed repeatedly on my temple. When he left, I exhaled shakily, meditating on the overwhelming intimacy of the moment. We were undoubtedly the only two people left on earth. This was the only inhabited place. There was no tomorrow, no yesterday, only now; only us.
He returned with the empty pack, rolling the last cylinder between his pretty fingers. I rested my head on the brim of the tub and he popped the filter between my lips, lighting it with the pack of matches from my nightstand——they were from a dodgy strip club I’d visited with Mike and Ant the last time they stopped by. With the help of the flame I saw his face with an almost supernatural clarity. His eyes were half-lidded and tired. Unfocused when they landed on me, but soon staring diligently at the tip of the cigarette. That was all I could spot before he blew the match out and tossed it into the bin beside the vanity. Now he sat bare-assed on the floor beside the tub, freezing on the tiles; lighting and blowing out the remainder of the matches one by one.
“Wasting good matches, youh are,” I remarked, taking a pull from the Marlboro and exhaling the smoke away from him.
“It’s kinda fun…” he mumbled, chin propped on the brim of the tub with a childlike listlessness.
“Yeah…” he chuckled.
“Since when are youh soh obsessed with fire, then?”
“Am I obsessed?”
“I’d say soh…first downstairs with the lighter. Now this…”
“Y’know there’s a word for that, right?”
“What’s that? Arson?”
“Pyro—…pyyyyy—uh, shit what is it?”
“It’s alright, then—”
“P-pyro—…fucks sake—” he got up and ran into the bedroom for something. I enjoyed watching his ass jiggle the entire way. When he came back, he was scrolling through his phone, then shouted, “Pyromania! Yeah, that’s the one.”
“Well, I’ll be damned…”
“Guess I’m a pyromanic now.”
“Nothing to be proud of—”
“You’re right. Probably not—”
“—but isn’t that like,” He set his phone on the sink, half-listening, then sat down. “For people who actually want to start fires all the time, though?”
“Shit,” he laughed. “you’re right again, I guess. Actually, it is. Maybe, uh…maybe I’m not that specifically, but I just like the way it looks, y’know? I could stare at it all day. But I’m not gonna set anything on fire—”
“I know youh won’t—”
“I almost can’t sleep without a fire in the winter—”
“Or autumn. Trust me, I know better than anyone.”
I felt him staring at me so I turned my face to stare back. Dipping a hand in the water, he made idle circles on the surface in front of my chest before suddenly flicking a handful at my face.
“Hazzz!” I snapped, flinging a handful back at him. His laughter echoed throughout the room, reverberating off the water. “Chill, babe!” I flung his hand out of the water and he rested his wet face on the brim of the tub again, subdued. I took another pull of the cigarette and watched the ceiling.
“Look at me.”
“M’leaving tomorrow. You ought to look at me while you still can.” I looked at him right away, drowning in his eyes. When I looked down at his lips, he kissed his first two fingers and then set them to my mouth, dragging them down my parted lips.
“Is that all I get?” I asked, sitting up and shutting off the nearest jets.
“For now.” He leaned across the tub to steal my smoke, which lay burning between my fingers on the opposite side of the brim. I slid my free hand (dripping wet) down his spine to his ass; massaging the silky curves of his flesh until I was practically hard again. When he managed to grab the cigarette, he took a big hit and blew the smoke directly into my face by accident. He laughed as I fanned it away, plumes of smoke spouting from his chuckles. Then the entire thing fell into the tub and was snuffed by the water.