The memories are whitewashed lies, and they shouldn't be remembered with fondness and laughter. But AJ does, wedged between the table and the back of the booth, like a body stuffed in a culvert, a position that shouldn't be comfortable, isn't comfortable, yet AJ laughs, with one leg stretched across the rest of the bench. Casual-looking, but you know it's because he needs to elevate that knee.
AJ with a sweet tea and a chewed up straw, and you with a half-empty glass of tap. Beer, not water. He talks about your punches like other people talk about pitches and free-throws, but it's never been a game or a spectator sport between the two of you, least of all now. He pushes his plastic glass toward the waitress when she comes by, smiles sweetly for a refill, all please and thank-you's, just like his mama taught him. It's no country boy in his eyes when he looks at you though, no please and thank-you's there. Politeness would be a charade, and he grins, like a schoolboy with a fistful of rocks and a dozen windshields to crack, when he tells you the pure satisfaction of smacking you in the face when your mouth got too smart.
You hated him, and he hated you. But this camaraderie is no front, and he isn't sizing you up to cut you down later. That isn't his style, and you find you haven't the taste for it either, not right now. Even if AJ is telling you all the ways you two used to hurt each other like you were brothers roughhousing in the backyard. It was never that simple, and never that sweet. Murder may not have been on your agenda, but you can't forget the way it felt to smear his blood across your chest like a trophy. If you'd had your way, you would've worn his blood like a badge of honor every day.
That was a long time ago, but not that long. Not long enough for AJ to chuckle and lift his shirt to show off a faint scar on his chest that's of your making. You've never been one for propriety, but even you're scandalized by that flash of bare flesh.
It's cue for you to leave.
AJ protests, but doesn't make too much of a fuss. He twists himself out of the booth, doesn't even stumble, and that reminds you all over again why you used to hate him. It's always so easy for him. While you clawed and scratched, clutched and scraped, AJ just is. Your grace is a craft, product of painstaking practice. But all AJ has to do is breathe.
Envy is too easy a word. Jealousy isn't ugly enough.
He comes with you outside, the swelter of Orlando in early summer unabated even at one in the morning. You cross the parking lot toward the Doubletree and you wish AJ were following you like a puppy, because then you can kick him, except AJ has too much confidence for that. Except you've both moved past that. But you won't stand for the whitewashing of your hatred. AJ can't forget so easily the tear of flesh and the twist of tendons. When you get back to the hotel room you share, you shove AJ against the wall, hands on his shoulders, your forehead on his, and you're ready to make it hurt.
Don't forget, you want to tell him with your mouth but not with words. Don't forget that I hate you. Don't forget that I've always hated you and will always hate you. But then you breathe, and AJ doesn't smell like fear, doesn't reek of loathing.
AJ smells like longing, and he tastes it, too, when you crush your mouth to his. He surges against you, like he's been waiting for so long that this is the final snowflake to break the bough. AJ tumbles. AJ falls. And AJ can't be so perfect after all if he wants the likes of you. He's all jagged edges in your mouth, and you think he'll cut your soul if you have one.
You push him onto the bed. You climb on top of him. You grab a fistful of his hair and yank his head back, open his mouth to yours, and your search for knowledge is nothing less than biblical. You don't poke, you don't prod. You open. You wrench and pry and tear, because you don't know any other way, and you don't stop until AJ is nothing but a mess under you, shaking. Shaking and shaking, and if AJ were a girl, he'd be crying, but he isn't and so he doesn't. He makes a sound almost like a sob when he comes. You've never heard a sound like that from him. You've never had him under you like this.
He sits, afterwards, on the edge of the bed, with opened jeans and bare chest, disheveled hair and kiss-swollen lips. He makes a picture that belongs in magazines found in stores with red-lit backrooms. Then he looks at you with doe-eyes, and you think maybe this picture ought to be a sight unseen by anyone but you.
He kisses you, soft as a feather, chaste on your lips. He's not a poker or a prodder either, not a kid with his handful of rocks, but he cracks you anyway. Just like that. He kisses you and cups your face, and he's sweet as can be, please and thank-you's, and he's asking for a hell of a lot more from you than a glass of tea. You remember the crack of your fist against his face, and there will be no whitewashing. You hate him, you've always hated him, but not when he's looking at you like this.
You drag him back into a kiss. You know all the ways you can make it hurt. Make him hurt.
But you don't.