Dom comes up silently beside him, slouched with a hand burrowed in his pocket, a beer in the other. There’s a crisp sound as the ring is pulled back, pressure released and Billy can smell it too, sour and familiar.
It’s been a lazy day, a lazy weekend. Billy feels guiltily decadent; he’s the one without work at the moment, loose-limbed on the deck of the house Dom’s staying in while filming. But he’s toured the island twice already, scooter once and a day-long walk the day after, and apart from that he sits on the couch outside, or out here in oversized wicker seat, acts and feels just like a lazy bugger.
He puts out his hand for the can of beer anyway, thinks wryly: free drink and service, excellent. Save that Dom pre-empts him, raises the can to his own lips and drains most of it in continuing gulps. Billy frowns up at him, but Dom ignores it, taking his own sweet time. When he finally stops, he crouches down facing Billy, and it seems the most natural thing to lean forward to meet him, elbows on knees, face drawn into Dom’s orbit.
Two oceans meeting all around this little slice of land, and there’s only biking distance between them and there. But it’s with Dom so close that the brine tickles Billy’s nose, light touch and taste. Billy raises his hand slowly as if he would feel wet sand on the side of his face already, greetings of an ocean spray. His mouth curves into a smile at the whimsy.
“What’s funny, Billy?”
Dom reaches out with the same motion, as it to cup Billy’s cheek with his palm, and maybe he might feel the imaginary grains there too, Billy thinks. But Dom drops his hand at the last moment, downwards and sliding along the taut denim of his jeans.
“Open water, all around,” Billy says a little later, a nod to beyond. Dom grins as he pushes up, stretches out - stretching, sore muscles and tension.
“Soon, we’ll go soon,” he promises. Billy looks to him, unquestioning eyes, and Dom stills. The corner of his mouth looses, and he repeats, more softly, “Soon, yeah, let’s go tomorrow. You, me, a date with the sea.”
Billy glances back out to the gap of blue just visible between arching branches. He doesn’t say that Dom has a shooting schedule tacked to his fridge, messages from his agent on his phone. He says, “Sure, why not? Sounds great,” and the pause in his words means enough.
He puts out his hand again, and this time Dom slides the can against his palm. For a moment, cold shock and moisture, condensation around their fingers. Before Billy can get a good grip though, Dom pulls back and walks away. He swallows the remainder of the beer in one long draught, and Billy looks on, throat dry.
Elijah breathes out cloves, one puff after another. Nervous fingers thin around the filter, other hand splayed awkwardly on Dom’s knee. Dom drives on, hands wandering from the wheel only to change the music, one preset to the next. Heard it, hate it, eh, old favourite - no change for the minute it takes to reach its joyful guitar-laden end, and then off it goes again - god no, hey remember when..., hate this one too. There’s only a crack of window rolled down by Elijah’s side, and the smoke twines around the mirror and across Dom’s face, the sweet heady smell. By the time they get out of the car, there are two butts in the impromptu ashtray left on the dash, a discarded gum wrapper.
A third in Elijah’s hand, held by his side as they enter the room; crowded, dirty, dark. Too many casual frantic smokers, social addicts, and the nicotine stink hits hard after cold night air, the cloves. Dom says, “Wait - ” to see Elijah pause, time enough to curl a hand around his upper arm encased in soft corduroy, pull him aside. It’s a room of corners and shadows, a pure attraction on its own. With this cover, Dom puts his mouth on Elijah’s and breathes in. A second later to make a face at the foul layer coating his tongue, the true taste.
So maybe it’s a kiss, but Elijah can only laugh afterwards at the annoyance on Dom’s face. “What did you do that for?” he gasps, the last tendril of smoke crawling around his leg as he crushes the cigarette under his foot.
“It smelt a hell lot better than what’s out there,” Dom replies, still frowning. It only makes Elijah snigger harder, even as they make their way to seating. Two rounds, to start; and even though American beer is piss-weak it’s enough to wash away any other taste, enough to keep them lighthearted. Dom gets that nothing tonight should be taken seriously.
In the course of the night they talk about work, stories about the people they’re working with at the moment. There’s conversation about where friends are now, moving into a passing mention of Billy, then another round to follow the awkward silence. It’s definitely after two before one of them confesses to missing each other, only for the other to slur the same; and then a reply of the next person they miss, and so on. Dom stops after they say Billy’s name though, even as Elijah’s list meanders on mentioning crew members. He ends the night, starts the next day, with a tired head on Elijah’s shoulder, closing eyes to the persistent smoke in the air with all the sweetness leeched away.
Dom wakes up, an alien bed, same chill mist. There’s a buzzing in his head and he realises its his own thoughts that have roused him. Without glancing at the inoffensive clock by the bed, he knows its too early, drags himself blearily across the cold floorboards to the bag he tossed in the corner in his haste to fall into bed. No hotel, no schedule to keep to for a week, just the same beating rain on the corrugated iron roof and Billy.
From the inside pocket he digs out his journal, scrabbles for the first pen he feels within the lining. He gives a quick tug at the elastic of his pants before executing a running leap back under the covers, feeling the springs groan and dip. Someone’s taken great care to furnish the room in mint green and vertical stripes, from the tiny pattern on the drapes to the bedspread under his nose. With the gentle sway as the bed settles, it makes him slightly nauseous.
Dom opens to the next clean page and places it beside him, cheek pressed low. In a sluggish scrawl he writes down the idea that woke him in the first place, stealing from the dreams he remembers too. He scrunches up his face as he reaches the last sequence, the part just before he opened his eyes. No images come, but as he writes the same phrase patters in his head, thinking rhythm and melody, rhythm and melody. It makes no sense now, but it might come back to him and he writes rhythm on his hand in neat letters as a reminder. Over the page, on his skin, the ink runs into tiny grooves and makes sharp letters friendly, lined in a purple fuzz. Dom’s pretty sure it’s not a pen he would’ve bought for himself, and he wonders if he may have accidentally nicked it from an enthusiastic fan in town last week.
Billy enters without knocking, bounces onto the right side of the bed, feet up in following movement. The green lines curve and waver, up and down and back.
“You’re up already!” Billy says, delight on his face. He tucks him back against the headboard and peers down at the open book. Dom ignores the obvious interest, buries his head into his pillow and moans just audibly, “Don’t remind me.”
“Have you been eating?” Billy asks, sniffing suddenly. “I smell grapes in the room. You holding out on me, Dommie?”
Dom stays face down, but lifts his hand in Billy’s direction, so the word is clear on his skin.
“Rhy-thm,” Billy rolls the syllables like syrup, and puts his nose against Dom’s hand. “Oh, you think it’s the pen? It might be, might very well be.”
And then something tickles, lathes, across the back of his hand, wet warmth. Dom sits up abruptly and sees Billy lifting his head with a grimace, slick of saliva blurring the letters to illegibility.
The back of your hand is always good for taking temperature, checking for fever, Billy told Dom once, wisdom passed on from his gran. Palm’s no good, holds heat on its own, then freezin’ the next moment. Dom’s only been sick once during filming so far, and he remembers Billy demonstrating on him, eyes kind, smile on his face as he explained. Even then, properly feverish - the thermometer confirming Billy’s rough diagnosis later - Dom didn’t feel as hot as he does now.
“What’ve you written so far,” Billy says, peeking down again at the open journal between them. Hot, hotter, hottest; and all Dom can do is stutter through the gist of the this latest idea, the one on the page, not the one spelt out on his hand. How Billy makes him feel - the racing heartbeat a tattoo, rhythm.
Billy lies astride his surfboard, holds still in the calm. He lifts his eyes, and slides across the bluest water, to the tops of the lushest hills. Swells turning green in the distance, and he can see them, his goal, when he shades his gaze from the sun.
Dom paddles up beside him, bobbing on the gentle waves. It’s so clear Billy can see their pale legs, defined as jelly, dangling beneath the surface. Behind them is empty beach, caramel sands packed wet in a scalloped line, creeping towards the belongings they dumped haphazardly in their rush to plunge into the sea.
“What’re you thinking about, Billy?”
Dom follows his gaze, knowing the answer. His hand comes to rest low on Billy’s hip, warm just above the swell, warm through the material of the wetsuit even as the water washes over and over and over.
Everything is so bright it’s beautiful, though at times it’s too painful to look at directly. The sun reflects on and on, their shining faces. They’ll have to go back to cities and land, separate jobs, being away from here and each other, but right now, it’s perfection captured.
“From here on in,” Dom says at last, fist raised in mock toast as if clutching a goblet made of finest glass, finest light. Billy smiles, feels Dom’s hand sliding down his back as a final reassurance as he pushes himself up, ready to go.
From here, he thinks. Two pairs of hands in the water, paddling forward side by side.