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a bowl of dark water, rinsing your face

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Jared says nothing the entire ride home. The click of the car door as he exits sounds like a slam to Jensen’s ears.

Danni waits until Jared is in his building before moving to the front seat, buckling up as Jensen pulls away.

Jensen glances at the ocean longingly but it’s going to rain and it’s not safe to be out. He wishes he could just pull over and breathe the damp air, salty and sharp, the ocean takes no prisoners. He knows that for some the constant motion is soothing, but not for Jensen. There’s something about the turbulence, never knowing which way the current will rip or how easy it would be to succumb to her eerie depths, that makes his blood thrum.

He parks in front of the house but doesn’t get out. Danni speaks for the first time since entering the car. “Are you coming in or heading to the studio?”

That’s when Jensen realizes he’s been twitching his hand as if holding a brush. He wants to get lost in his art, sink into the familiar gray palette and submerge his feelings beneath shadowy shades. Another rumble of thunder heralds the oncoming storm. Normally, he stays home in any storm, but tonight he is too restless. Danni will want to talk and blame his mother and ask Jensen to be reasonable.

He needs to be alone.

“Studio,” he replies. He can see Danni hesitate as the sky growls again, knows she wants to ask if he’ll be alright. Jensen feels the itch beneath his skin to be away.

She steps out silently and disappears into their house.

He walks the few blocks to his studio hoping that the brisk, moist air will help calm him. They will both blame his mother – Jared and Danni. It’s what they do. They don’t understand her and as a consequence Jensen knows they don’t understand him. He is like her in so many ways.

He hopes that he’s picked up her best qualities and not those that angered him through the years.

Another lightning flash and boom, and he flinches. They blame his mother for his silly fear of thunderstorms. It’s not her fault. She tried to cure him of that weakness. Pointed out how ridiculous it is to fear rain. It’s the same water that fills his ocean after all. Lightning and thunder are just electricity and noise.

He’s been working on a rain painting the past few days. Maybe he sensed the heaviness in the air, it’s been sluggish lately, like when Dot eats too much and her belly droops.

Just as he reaches the studio, the first cold raindrops splatter on the walk as another flash illuminates the wooden door. Jensen jumps involuntarily at the closeness of the crash that follows and hurries into his sanctuary. Not bothering with lights in the gallery front space, he flips the switch for the overhead halogen lamps in the back studio. Since he is working with water colors for this particular piece, he misses the pungency of solvents that usually greets him. Their odors are harsh but they help get him in the zone. But the fluidity of water colors were needed for this painting of the beach (when isn’t it the beach) with dark, swollen clouds, hovering low, rich with expectancy. The waves are shallow, cowed into submission by the weight of the impending storm.

Earbuds in place, Jensen cranks the music to block the outside noise, shuts his mind to dinner’s angry words, and puts brush to canvas.

The world dissolves into streaming slate streaks against leaden, rolling crests as time passes in a hazy blur.

He lifts the brush to evaluate the placement of the next wave when a wet hand on his shoulder makes him shriek like a five-year-old discovering a spider in his bed.

“Sorry … sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.”

Jensen can’t breathe for several seconds as his heart attempts to leave his body. He plucks the earbuds out to catch the tail end of a thunderous boom. The storm must be overhead.

“Jared,” he finally utters, eyes adjusting to something other than the storm on his canvas to comprehend his thoroughly drenched boyfriend shivering before him. “What the--?”

Dropping his paint brush Jensen grabs a nearby tarp and pushes it around Jared’s trembling shoulders. “What are you doing? Did you walk here?”

Jared nods shakily. “I was walking. And then … I thought. I dunno, you hate storms.”

“Idiot,” Jensen says but the insult holds no bite.

“I’m sorry,” Jared says.

Jensen shakes his head. “You have nothing to apologize for. For god’s sake, you can’t stay in those clothes.” Jared’s wearing only a rain-soaked field jacket over a tee-shirt and sodden jeans.

Shelves along the side wall hold some extra sweats and tee-shirts. Jensen has ended up sleeping on the beat-up sofa in the front more nights than he can count. He shoves some clothes at Jared. “Here, they may be a little short but at least you won’t get pneumonia.” He finds he can’t get over Jared’s pathetic state. “You do realize it’s winter, right?”

Jensen fishes around a bin for some dry socks while Jared changes. Eventually Jared is wrapped up on the gallery sofa with the blanket Jensen keeps for those nights he never makes it home. He’s dry and he’s safe and Jensen allows himself a deep exhale as he announces, “You need something hot to drink.”

Removing two cups of tea from the microwave Jensen sits on the other end of the sofa, tucking one foot under his thigh and turning to face his boyfriend. Jared sips the warm beverage appreciatively and is about to say something when a shocking white flash lights up the room.

The lights go out.

Sighing, Jensen moves behind the counter and by touch alone brings out a camping lantern. It takes only a moment to light the wick and set it close to them on the floor. It gives off a pale, sickly light but it’s better than sitting in darkness. As predictable as a clock’s hand moving forward another lightning and thunder pair rocks the darkness and both men jump but neither says anything.

Jared finishes his tea and stands, sets the mug back on the counter, walks a slow circle around the wide space. Jensen painted the walls of his gallery like an underwater grotto but in the dim light it looks more like a prehistoric cave with ancient drawings etched along the walls.

“So …“ Jared begins slowly. “Dinner with mom.”

“Don’t,” Jensen interrupts. “This isn’t about her. Don’t make it about my mother. She didn’t do anything.”

“You’re right,” Jared agrees. “She didn’t. She just told the truth.”

“I never lied.”

“You omitted a whole bunch. Same thing.”

“Jared …“

“No, Jensen. I … Your mom is right about some things.”

That gets Jensen’s attention because Jared has never agreed with his mother about anything. He waits for Jared to continue.

“I’ve turned a blind eye on some things because, well, I love you so damn much.”

The sky chooses that moment to flare again and Jensen appreciates the appropriateness even though his pulse is accelerating. So it goes. It’s really not different than anything else. There has been very little in his life that he’s loved and gotten to keep.

“But it’s raining.”

“What does that have to do with anything? Jensen, we agreed to donate things to charity today. Although this thing is so ratty even the charity would put it out of its misery before giving it to a child. And you are a young man now. We agreed that today was the day and the weather has nothing to do with it.”

She is right. He is thirteen. Much too old for stuffed toys. Bunny goes in the box with the puzzles and board games and GI Joe dolls. She found some Barbies as well that used to belong to Danni but never made it home.

She found everything.

He watches her seal the box with packing tape and pulls his arms around himself as the thunder sounds in the distance. His mother smiles and pats his shoulder before carrying the box out to the trunk of her car. He realizes then that he’d held out a secret hope that if it got bad that night he’d be able to sneak down and retrieve Bunny and reseal the box without her realizing.

After returning, his mother looks him over as if reading his mind and places her car keys in her pocket.

“… ignored the co-dependency but now I can’t anymore.”

Jensen blinks and meets Jared’s determined gaze. “What?”

“You and Danneel. I get that you’re best friends. And she’s been there for you when you needed someone and I’m so glad for that. I am. But now I’m not sure what to think. It’s like as I was walking around tonight I saw things clearly for the first time.”

The thunderous roar vibrates through the glass front like an avalanche of snow pummeling down a mountain. This would normally terrify Jensen, but this evening he channels his fear until his blood feels hot under his skin. “First it’s about my mother and now it’s about Danni. Will you ever admit to what this is really about?”

“And what’s that?” Jared asks, tossing the blanket from his shoulders to land mostly on the sofa.

“You.” Jensen shifts forward, hands on his thighs. “It’s always been about you. You have a dream and for whatever reason you’re scared to pursue it and are using me as an excuse. You should have moved to California last fall when we broke up. I was wrong to let you back out. Wrong to ask you to stay. I get that now.”

“No.”

Jensen rises and walks to the window. The clouds are overhead and the rain pelts like a solid sheet but he feels he is seeing clearly for the first time. He smiles bitterly realizing that Jared said the same thing minutes ago.

He looks at Jared as he resumes speaking. “Yes. You’re right, Jay. About Danni and me. It’s fucked up. My mom said as much when you were gone and I got angry at first but then when I pushed my emotions aside I could see it. She’s giving up too much to be my friend. More than is reasonable. More than anyone should.” He takes a deep breath. “If you saw that about Danni and me then why can’t you see it about me and you?”

“It’s not the same—“

“Yes it is. It’s exactly the same. Jay, you have to accept the offer, move to California and finish your graduate degree. After that … well, we’ll see.”

Jared pushes his wet hair off his forehead. “It’s two years Jensen – I can’t ask you to wait that long.”

She drove the box to Goodwill in the morning. He’d lain awake most of the night as the thunder shook the walls and reverberated through the old wooden floors. He tried twisting the blanket into a bunny-like shape but it wasn’t the same and the tear-soaked blanket felt stiff and not comforting like Bunny used to be.

Picturing his mother listening to this conversation there was no doubt what she’d say to him.

It’s not you who Jared thinks can’t wait, Jensen, it’s himself. You don’t really believe someone like Jared isn’t going to fall in love again well before two years are up? Some people are made to fall in love easily. Some aren’t. It’s okay, dear, we are made of stronger stuff.

The glass window is cold against his back as Jensen pushes against it. Icy spikes travel up his spine and wrap around his heart. “Fuck, Jay, I can tell you right now I ain’t gonna wait that long. And neither should you. Clean break is the best way.”

Tears streak down Jared’s cheek, which is no surprise. Jensen’s eyes are dry. He feels preternaturally calm, like he’s still wearing his earbuds and not hearing the storm. Like he’s still in his paint zone and the rain is made up of dripping aquamarine.

“Do you have any idea how this is killing me?” Jared grits out.

“It gets easier,” Jensen says.

Danni asks after Bunny on a random day several weeks after it was given away.

“Charity donation,” he explains.

“What? No. You didn’t.”

“It’s no big deal. Was old.”

She’d turned furious eyes at him. “Are you going to get rid of me one day just like that?”

One down. One to go.

Outside the rain is lessening and with a little click the lights suddenly come back on, blinding Jensen momentarily. He blinks them open to discover Jared is reaching for the wet jacket he’d discarded earlier.

“We’re gonna talk again when you’re with me.”

“Been right here,” Jensen replies. “Nothing is going to change the situation no matter when we talk.”

Jared moves closer. “You may be in the room with me, but you are far from being here.” He is no longer crying and has that dog-with-a-bone look hardening his features.

Jensen steps away from the window, he no longer needs the coolness to harden him, he’s as solid as a glacier and moves with a similar slow glide away from Jared. He never met his father, never even saw a photo. In his mind he sees a man about his height with brown hair. One evening when she’d had an extra glass of wine, his mother had volunteered his father’s eyes were brown and pretty. Now when Jensen conjures pretty brown eyes they sparkle with gold flecks. Same sparks that shine in Jared’s eyes now.

His mother let his father go follow his dreams and she made her own life. She’s not perfect but she’s the strongest person he knows.

“I made a choice, Jensen. It’s as simple as that.”

Did his father’s eyes glow a molten gold when he walked away? Or were they a solid amber?

“Jay, you’re going to make a fine teacher one day.” He allows one moment of naked truth. “Maybe if we’d met earlier … “

“We’ve been here before, Jen.”

Finally something they can agree on. “Yes, we have. And let’s face it, if we don’t stop the merry-go-round, we’ll never get anywhere.”

“You can’t make me go,” Jared says, voice challenging.

Jensen laughs, cold and quick, and later Jensen will think that it was the laugh that did it. “I won’t have to.”

Though the thunderstorm is over, it’s still raining when Jared walks out, dissolved into a soft silky shower. Jensen’s not going anywhere because he has a painting to finish. But he’s glad that Jared will have the gentle fingers of the rain to keep him company on his way home.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Rain
By Kazim Ali

With thick strokes of ink the sky fills with rain.
Pretending to run for cover but secretly praying for more rain.

Over the echo of the water, I hear a voice saying my name.
No one in the city moves under the quick sightless rain.

The pages of my notebook soak, then curl. I’ve written:
“Yogis opened their mouths for hours to drink the rain.”

The sky is a bowl of dark water, rinsing your face.
The window trembles; liquid glass could shatter into rain.

I am a dark bowl, waiting to be filled.
If I open my mouth now, I could drown in the rain.

I hurry home as though someone is there waiting for me.
The night collapses into your skin. I am the rain.