He bumped into him at the grocery store.
“Dave,” he said.
“Shit,” Dave said, but he wasn’t saying that to John. He didn’t say things like that about John, and he never would. He was saying it to the basket he dropped, and John picked it up without grace. John had bananas and protein shakes and cereal and a slab of marbled meat in his cart. Dave had a basket with a single bag of Doritos.
“I didn’t know you were in town. Long time no see, dude. You look—okay.” John leaned against his cart. He looked at him, at the skinny torn jeans and the pallid color in his face. Dave used to have two studs in his ears, and now he had three. He looked worse, if John had been honest, but they told him long ago he shouldn’t be so honest. Dave was thin and wiry and had dark bags underneath his eyes, and he had a sweatshirt with the hood drawn over his face. John glanced up to make sure no security cameras were turned their way.
“Thanks. For that.” Dave took back his basket, holding it against his chest. A shield to the world.
“You’re welcome. For that. Nobody said you were in town. Does Rose know?”
“No,” followed by, “Don’t tell her.”
“Where are you staying?”
“At a five star camper. Out in the woods, couple miles back, it’s like an enchanted forest for drunk sodomites and Pooh the redneck.”
“I haven’t seen you since—you look good, Dave. You look really good.”
“Sure.” Dave pushed his hands into his sweatshirt, stretching the fabric into thin lines.
“Can I walk you back to your trailer?”
“I’m not a fifties maiden, Egbert. I’ll be fine. I’ve gotta get lunch at Wendy’s, and it’s a pretty busy schedule, shooting the breeze with my rifle and all.”
“I’ll buy you lunch.”
“I’m not a charity case.”
“I’ll buy it, and—a blanket. You always get cold, Dave. And—you’ll need one of those things, that boil water. They should have those here, right? They have everything here, it’s really great—”
“Don’t buy me anything,” Dave said, shoulders hunching down. “I don’t need your money.”
“But you get cold, Dave. You get really cold.” John touched his elbow, because it was the only body part he could reach, especially in the public of the fluorescent lights, next to the soda bottles standing in identical rows, mothers with toddlers passing them on creaky wheels. He thought he sounded pathetic, but Dave never told him not to be honest. He wasn’t like the rest of them. He told John that he was the dweebiest guy he’d ever met, said that John talked his way into everything. But he never told him to lie.
“Okay. Yeah. Get me a pink blanket,” he said, loosening his hands. “But you can’t follow me, Egbert. Promise me that you won’t follow me with your damned stubby puppy legs. We’re not Thelma and Louise.”
“You need water.” John grabbed him by the arm, and pulled him down the aisles.
John bought a backpack, and put the groceries inside the bag. He was excited to go back into the woods. He hadn’t been there since he was a child, still wearing loose shorts and untied tennis shoes. Rose and Jade used to come, too, with him and Dave. They were younger, then, and Jade didn’t wear a shirt, not even when Dave started insisting. Jade still didn’t wear a shirt, not when it was just the four of them in the woods. They used to play by the creek, and the water would splash over them and crawl over thick rocks and long tree roots. Dave would sometimes stand in the water, holding a stick, and the water would run down and part from him, like everything was moving except him.
They would go, all four of them, and Rose would wear a purple bikini top and a flattering shade of book, sometimes Ulysses, and when they were older, she would sometimes untie the strings of her top and lie down on her stomach. John used to sit next to her, and she would read out loud for him, because he couldn’t understand the words on the paper, but they made sense in her calm voice. The light would string in through the canopy, and as it grew darker, the shadows of the leaves would flicker over her bare back and over the scars of Dave’s chest.
He thinks Dave slept with Jade. Dave started looking at Jade differently, and Jade would laugh with all her teeth. Sometimes Dave would leave her house in the mornings, wearing the same rumpled clothes. John never asked, and he never slept with Rose. But they stopped coming into the woods, so John was excited that he saw Dave at the store, that they could slip inside the forest, Dave shuffling next to him.
They walked through the parking lot of the store, down the streets, down the empty dark houses with broken windows and tan grass with empty patches. People passed them, in cars, on bicycles, by foot, and Dave shrank away. John didn’t like people, either. This surprised people, because nobody knew him anymore. Rose wrote dismal books about her girlfriend, Jade grew Venus flytraps miles away, and he was alone. People were all right, and they liked him, but he never liked them as much. Sometimes he would think they were too much like him, too human, that in another life, he could be that man sitting across the table in the business suit, or the woman with too much lipstick smeared across her face, the child who sat there with a broken toy. He could be any of them. So he didn’t like people. He liked Dave, though.
The streets thinned out, and then there were the woods, which always seemed to arrive suddenly upon them. He was thankful, and Dave stood up straighter. The woods were special. The trees were older, straighter, and smarter. But they were never frightening, not even in the dark, where they stood over them. It was a kind and gentle forest, with a greenish tinge to the light, like the whole world was filtered through his glasses. The entire forest smelled like earth and wet bark.
“It’s been a long time, huh?” John stepped through the dry dirt, past the trees that grew together with melded branches. Somewhere, on some tree, there were carvings. One would say JOHN IS A GOOBER and the other DAVE LOVES PUPPET BUTT. Except the trees would have grown, and brought along the carvings like emotional baggage, and John arched his head up but he couldn’t see because the sunlight glimmering through the leaves was too bright.
“It’s been a while.” Dave lowered his sweatshirt hood, his clumped hair springing free.
“You used to talk more. Like, remember the time you ran out of apple juice? And you dropped on your knees and you started moaning about how you lost your lady love and Rose was laughing—”
“No. I don’t remember.”
“Oh.” John grinned. “Well, it happened. And you were totally stupid.”
“Look. Egbert. It’s been years. We don’t have anything to talk about. We haven’t talked in years, we got nothing in common anymore. So you can shut your whiny trap, I’m giving you authoritative permission, it’s permissive as fuck in here.” Dave stepped over a log.
“Oh. Okay. Yeah, it’s nice to enjoy the woods all peacefullike. They say that in books. And those Bob Ross videos. He speaks really quiet, so I have to turn up the volume, and then whenever I change the channels, it gets super loud. It’s kinda annoying, so I don’t usually watch quiet stuff. Just all loud stuff.” His voice echoed through the branches, driving away the tails of squirrels and the thick scampering of rabbits. He was still looking up, still looking for the carvings, still remembering when Dave drew out the pen knife from his pocket and dug it into the innocent wood, peeling away the thickened bark and shaving away at the new fresh wood beneath.
“Jesus Christ,” Dave said. “You never stop.”
But it was different when Dave said it. When other people said it to John, it hurt. It always hurt, like a pinprick darting into his heart. It wasn’t the strength, but the shock, the sudden realization that he’d been talking about ghosts for too long and the woman with wiry red hair had been frowning for five minutes and his gyro had gone limp, soaking into his napkins. But when Dave said it, he was relieved. Like something had slipped off his shoulders, something he hadn’t realized had been perched on there.
“You used to wear those huge headphones,” John said, kicking over a fallen branch. “And you danced for us. Me, Jade, and Rose. Remember? You wiggled your stupid chicken legs, like you were something.”
“I don’t remember, Egbert.”
“It was rap. You loved rap. Remember? You had a whole page of MC names. I thought you were going to become a DJ. A really stupid one. It would’ve been cool, you could get me into the sweetest nightclubs.”
“John, what do you want from me? I don’t remember. I told you, I don’t remember.” Dave stopped in front of a tree, one with a hole inside that was stuck full of twigs and candy wrappers, and he turned towards him. He still had the skinny silhouette, the one John used to see in front of him often, except it had been shorter and holding a big slushie from 7-11 and he used to smile more, laugh more.
“I don’t want anything from you, Dave. I promise. You don’t have to pay me back! I can go. If you want. I don’t want anything, I swear.” John hooked his fingers into the straps of the backpack. Dave looked at him, then turned away, starting to walk down the rugged woods, over the dirt and grass and the gentle slope of the moss.
They were nearing the creek, and Dave ducked underneath the branch where Rose used to sit, hand clutching over the knot. The clear water trickled over the rocks, tumbling through, and John could remember Dave with his T-shirt, the faded logo of an unknown brand soaking into his chest, trying to catch frogs for Jade. And Jade, blending in with the dark trees, bare to the waist and holding up a frog in triumph. Rose’s voice swept into his ears, Think you're escaping and run into yourself. Longest way round is the shortest way home.
“I parked the trailer by the lake.” Dave nodded down the stream. “Let’s go.”
His shoes got wet as they crossed the stream. Dave wore beat-up Converse shoes, and the cloth grew soaked. But they were already dirty, mud and something else creeping up from the soles. John liked the lake, too. The journey was longer than he remembered, though, maybe because Dave wasn’t saying anything. Dave had a quiet mouth, but he usually talked a lot more. But he only asked one question along the way, a question that floated peacefully down the stream.
“I haven’t talked to her in a while.” In his excitement, John’s words were tripping over themselves, like the leaves in the stream. “She was good. Last I saw, she was really good. She cut her hair. It’s shorter, now, since she cut her hair. When I saw her, I was like, wow! I think I have a picture.”
“I don’t want to see it.”
“She’s good, though. She’s doing real good. She’s like, a botanist? Something sciencey. With plants. Lotta plants.”
“Good.” Dave broke into the opening, where the open lake laid bare before them. There was something so clean about the lake without being sterile, the blue water so quiet, and so deep. But the reflection of the cold tree trunks looked so shaky in the water, trembling in silent ripples.
John could taste the beer in his mouth, too warm in the can, as he and Dave used to recline out and watch the clumps of birds fly overhead. There would only be the wind rustling through the leaves to disturb them. Nobody ever came in that far, and nobody in town seemed to care. The girls would come sometime, but they usually didn’t, and so it would be just him and Dave with the thin scars on his back, and Dave would sometimes have warm beer because nobody ever looked out for him that way. He would have beer, and he’d give some to John, and then he would smoke a cigarette until his thin clothes caught the smell, and he sometimes shot up and laid back and stared at the sky.
He’d only give John the beer, though, and never enough to lose control. Dave looked out for him in the way nobody looked out for Dave. If John asked, he might have a taste of the cigarettes, still warm from where Dave had held it in his mouth, but never the drugs. Even if he asked, Dave wouldn’t let him. It wasn’t about the money. Sometimes John would ask his father for money to buy Dave new shoes, new jeans. Dave stole from him once. John knew, because he didn’t have enough money for a Snapple, and he usually did. It must’ve been for the strange little powder, because Dave didn’t look him in the eyes for days, and he eventually paid him back in faded bills with cigarette smoke still clinging onto them, slipping them into his wallet without another word. John used the money to get him some better clothes.
“We should get going,” Dave said. “My trailer’s just a stretch away.”
“I want to swim.” John stared into the lake, tasting the lukewarm beer from years ago. “I’m going to swim.”
“Are you kidding me? It’s freezing in there.”
“You don’t have to come.”
John took off his dress shoes, first. They’d been pinching his toes all day. Then he rolled down his socks over his ankles, and put them in his shoes. He stood unhooked the backpack, placing it down to the grass, and Dave was watching him. So he loosened his tie, then took off his suit jacket, then his suit shirt, so bleached white against his skin and the lake and the trees. He took off his belt, then his trousers, and folded them all up into the grass, and Dave watched him.
This, even the girls had seen, and they had probably seen more. They were together and maybe too together, sometimes, when he sat on the low hanging branch on the creek, Rose might have seen up his shorts. But now he pulled over his underwear with a sharp tug, pushing them past his sharp ankles. These, too, he folded on the pile. His skin prickled in goosebumps and the wind blew over him, and Dave wasn’t watching him anymore. He was looking into the woods, like he’d grown disinterested. He was like that sometimes. John knew Dave like nobody else did, and that was enviable when they were high school and everybody wanted to be like Dave, who drank beer and smoked cigarettes and drove himself to school and never turned in his homework. Except Dave didn’t want to be like Dave.
John stepped down the grass and into the water. The cold was shocking, and he yelped. Some years ago, Dave would have laughed. He heard nothing behind him, but he wasn’t fooled, because he knew Dave better than anybody. And Dave was wrong. They had plenty to talk about, but Dave was hurt in ways nobody could see, and he knew Dave was snickering on the inside, and he’d forgotten how to bring it out.
The water rocked against his shins, and when he withdrew, left a tingling sensation where the wind hit his damp skin. He plunged deeper into the cold water, hissing from the frigid sensation, of the way the water surrounded him and pulled him in and pushed him out, until he ducked his head under the water and came back up with a startled gasp at how everything was suddenly colder now.
He swam to keep himself warm, broad strokes that lead him towards the center of the lake, where his feet couldn’t touch the water. The trees surrounded him, and the sky pressed down upon him, like the blue skies and white clouds were a ceiling looming inwards. It was nice, swimming in the reflection of the trees, ducking underneath the water with his eyes wide open to see the pebbles beneath him, the downed tree trunk near the shallower waters.
He started kicking back towards the shore, feeling the water pull down on his arm as he tried to lift it up, and the sudden chill of the wind against his wet arm before he plunged him back again into the eager water. When he paused in the water, keeping himself upright and his feet kicking, his arms floated weightlessly away from him. It was a strange feeling, not to have to hold himself up. But he was close enough to see Dave, to see him stare out on the trees, pretending not to look.
“It’s warm enough in here,” he called out to the shore, swimming closer.
“I’m not coming in.”
“Are you sure? It’s real nice.”
“And I’m real sure. I’m not some uncivilized idiot. There’s germs in that lake. Tiny germs. You’re gonna get syphilis.”
“Come on, Dave. Nobody can see.”
“You’re gonna get syphilis and die.”
Reluctant and slow, Dave pulled up his sweatshirt by the hem. He brought it over his head, and his hair ruffled more. His thin T-shirt underneath had a logo of a crying elephant, and he took that off, too, until it was only his skin wearing over his bones, and the lined scares that had stretched with age. They were dark against his skin, those gaps where his body failed to mend. Long slashes stretched from shoulder to hip, and even though he was facing the lake, John could remember the scars on his back. They seemed harder on his back, thicker and heavier.
Dave rolled down his jeans, because that was the only way to take off skinny jeans, and he took off his shoes while they were sunken around his ankles. He didn’t fold his clothes, but left them in a trailing heap, like he was leaving parts of himself behind. His underwear was red and dirty, and he took that off, too, and he looked naked and frightened. His hips stood out, and his penis dangled between his legs, flopping against his thighs as he started to wade into the water.
“You little shit,” he said, “It’s cold.”
“It’s not that cold. Not after you’ve been in it for a while.” He floated on his back, waiting for him, watching him from the corner of his eyes as he soaked in the sun that coveted his stomach. He listened Dave splash around, flounder. He liked it here, in the lake, without people who didn’t know him tell him what to do.
A splash of water was tossed on his face, and he spluttered, twisting around.
“Asshole!” John splashed away, shaking the water from his eyes.
“Yeah? What happened to the pranking master? Corporate America took away your sense of humor?” Dave was grinning, skinny arms whipping up a small storm of waves that crashed over John’s face. John barely had enough time to take in a gasp of air and duck underneath, and he could see enough to tickle around Dave’s ribs. Dave had always been ticklish, and this was no different, Dave wheezing and gasping and pulling away with sharp laughter that John could hear, even underneath the water, except the laughs seemed deeper to him.
He came up for air, and got another splash of water to his face. Dave’s entire face had grown red, and John could feel himself grinning madly. He started to approach him again, but Dave had wised up, and he was splashing away and swimming like a cut over the surface of the water. Whenever John drew closer, since he was the better and faster swimmer, Dave only kicked the water harder. The waves crashed over John’s face and he had to dive underneath the water into the flurry of bubbles to save himself. When he rose again, he could only see Dave’s bare pale form swimming away, his ass arching up into the water whenever he dove.
“Asshole!” he yelled out again, and Dave was laughing. He had a peculiar way of laughing, his shoulders raised and his mouth twisted upward, an uncontrollable spread of an awkward smile over his lips. John swam closer to him, and Dave was floating on the lake, arms stretched out over the water. His blond hair seemed softer underneath the water, thin like a web, and sticking over his face over the water. He was sinking in and out, water thumbing over his ears, but he didn’t complain. His sunglasses reflected the bright sky.
“Where are you going after this?”
“McDonalds. Probably. Dinner.”
“No, stupid. I mean, which state? Or city? Or whatever? You always wanted to take pictures of Las Vegas, didn’t you? You still have your camera, right?”
“Maybe. Jesus. I don’t know, maybe Boston. Or, you know, whatever tourist trap has the world’s second largest ball of twine.”
“You’ll call this time, right? You always say you will, then you don’t.”
“Sure. Yeah. I’ll call.”
John stared out at where the wind was running through the trees, and at the freckles smattering over Dave’s shoulders. They used to go on adventures. They dressed up in outfits, and Dave would borrow hats from John’s father and they would run around the forest, screaming and yelling about ghosts and monsters. They used magnifying glasses to search for the paranormal, fending themselves with whisks, until Dave came across a dead bird one day. John could still remember it, Dave hunkered down over the black bird’s body, his face looked crushed and vulnerable.
It was too much. John grabbed the Dave in front of him and pulled him down in the water, releasing him before he could even struggle. Dave popped up again out of the water, not even gasping for breath, but scowling, and he grabbed John and they were wrestling. John laughed, water getting into his mouth as Dave pushed him down, and he was scrabbling at Dave’s sides until Dave was laughing, and they were pressed together until they’d somehow floated towards the shallow end, shoulders barely out of the water when they stood up, the tree trunk leaning against the rocks. Dave was wet and warm against him, his skin flushed and damp, and they were slippery against each other, grabbing and touching their shoulders and hips and gripping down the thighs, tossing and tumbling into each other by the water, but Dave was turning away. It was slowly, in increments, like the ticking of a clock, but John noticed. He noticed the feeling of his bare skin pressed against him, the way their chests were brought together, thighs rubbing down over their knees, and Dave was turning away, shoving him off, face turning bright as he put his hand out to the trunk.
“Nothing’s wrong,” Dave said. “I’m just tired. Can’t a guy get a little tired around here?”
“Well. Yeah. I guess.” John stepped back, feeling the sand and pebbles part underneath his feet.
“You didn’t do anything wrong.”
And that was Dave. Because nobody else would say that to John, but Dave would say it, Dave always said it. His shoulders were cold out of the water, and the trees seemed tall, even in the watery reflections, the grass yielding to the wind, and he stepped forward again. The water was clear enough that he could see the dim shapes, and he could see, where Dave was somewhat turned towards the tree trunk, that he was partially erect.
This wasn’t unusual, not that it was particularly usual. They tumbled together when they were far younger, and far more excitable, and he knew the feeling of Dave’s erection pressed against him when they were fighting, mud splattered up to their faces, but they didn’t talk about it. But he was older, now, and it was quiet in this part of the woods. The woods brought a sense of serenity, the branches stretching out like fingertips to the sky, the contrast of the blue to the darkness hidden between their trunks, and the mountain with the noble rocky slump in the distance.
John pressed against him, and he could smell Dave, now, and it was lake water mingled with hotel shampoo, too fresh and sharp, and apples. He put his hand on Dave’s hip, hard and angled, and slid it until he was touching his cock.
“John,” Dave said. But it wasn’t a rebuke. It wasn’t much of anything, and John couldn’t understand why Dave was saying it. He lowered his hand, rubbing his cock, and Dave leaned against the tree with his elbows. His head was lowered, and John couldn’t see his expression, but his hips were jerking into his hand and he was breathing in a shallow way.
“You don’t know what you’re doing,” Dave said, and John kissed him on the neck. His neck felt cold underneath his lips, so he kissed it again, and again, to warm it up. John had lost his virginity at a strange house, that had a proper porch, to a girl who was older than him, and she had a music box on her dresser, and John felt it was wrong, because there was a music box on her dresser. He had liked her, but she had liked him more, and it felt confusing and strange and he was all elbows and he licked between her legs and even when it was all done, it didn’t feel like he had lost his virginity at all.
But touching Dave was different, it felt good, pressed up against his back with the water rippling around them by the shaking of his arm. Dave was still hiding his face, but he had a slump in his shoulders with every shuddery breath, the outlines of his back standing out like wings appearing in fossilized bone.
“Let’s get out of the water,” Dave said, finally, and he pushed his arm away to step out onto the grass. John followed him, watching his wet form, the way he looked out of the water. Dave bent down by his skinny jeans, dumping out the contents of a cell phone with a cracked face and a wallet. He was checking the other pocket, then, still kneeling down with his feet turned inwards beneath him, strangely like a child.
John stepped around him to open the backpack, pulling out the rolled up blanket that still had the flat tags looped at the corner. He spread it out on the grass, and Dave had found what was in his pockets, and he rejoined him. John wasn’t paying much attention to what Dave had in his hands, because he had never seen Dave naked, and never seen his erection in full daylight. It arched in front of him, hard and still wet, and Dave put down a half-empty bottle of lube.
“You carry that around with you?” John gawked. “In those tiny pockets?”
“Yeah. I do.” Dave shrugged, once. “I go around and ask guys to fuck me. Any guy. I go to bars and beg the big ones to ram me in those seedy little bathrooms that smell like shit until my face is up against that bathroom graffiti, and I memorize the number to call to have a good time, and they’re grunting over me like it’s the football wimbletons until they come all over my ass.”
“Football isn’t at Wimbledon.”
“You don’t know what you’re doing.” Dave pushed a condom at him, still wrapped in plastic. “You don’t know what I’ve been doing. I’m not your stupid little friend anymore, John.”
“Do you remember,” John said, ripping open the condom package, “the time you found the dead bird in the woods?”
“I’m going to drive away tomorrow. I’m never going to fucking call. I didn’t even want to see your ugly beaver face, I just didn’t have enough money for gas, so I had to stop here.”
“And you looked so sad, Dave. You looked like you were going to cry.”
“I’m going to take whatever you got in your wallet. I once took money out of your wallet. I stole money from you to get some weed, and I knew you were going to use that money for club dues, and it was the last day to pay, and you didn’t pay. I never told you. I had sex with your sister, too. I never told you.”
“You had bruises on your face, Dave. You really did. It made you look even sadder, and you didn’t move from that spot, and the blanket over your shoulders got real muddy. I’ve never seen you that sad before.”
“I don’t love you. I’m just going to use you to have sex. I’m going to have you fuck me with your giantass meat monkey and I’m going to use you and toss you away. You don’t know what you’re doing, John, I’m going to fuck you up. You don’t know me anymore.”
“And you buried the bird, even though it was really dark, and I know you’re scared of being in the woods in the dark. You didn’t ask for help, either, and you didn’t ask Jade or Rose to stay, and I was there, but you didn’t ask for my help, either, because you don’t ask for help. You still don’t. You don’t change, Dave, you’ve never changed, except all your bruises are inside now. I know you more than I know me.”
John rolled the condom over his cock, and Dave got on his hands and knees. At the creek, the trees were slanted, but here, the trees were straight. John looked at the trees, and then at Dave’s pale thighs, where the drops of water trickled down his stringy muscles. He put his hand on Dave’s hip, nudging him over until he turned him on his back, and Dave was looking up at him. He was breathing fast, like a bird, his chest rising and falling in crests. He was scarred, old ones and new ones, red cuts on his forearms where he had leaned and dug his skin against the tree because John had touched him.
“Fuck,” Dave said, and John kissed him. He kissed him on the mouth first, slow and wandering, because it was the decent thing to do. It was the sign he would treat him right, do right by him, and Dave whimpered underneath him in a way he would deny he could ever make those noises. The blanket was warm, but it was thin, and John could feel the hard rocks underneath leaving bruises on his knees and bunch up on Dave’s back. He kissed him, and dragged his mouth to behind his ear, breathing in the ticklish spot that he used to wiggle his fingers upon to freak Dave out, except Dave was breathing fast and hard, like something had caught inside him.
Dave tasted like lake water, and beads of water still rolled down his arched chest. The sun was bright, but Dave still felt cold, skin pale and stark against the pink blankets, and his fingers were pruny, and John kissed his neck. He kissed the lump in his throat and the dip of his clavicle, the way the scars mended him and hurt him, thin lines over his everything, and Dave felt so damp and cold. Dave arched up against him, his erection rubbing against his stomach, and it felt hot and heavy. And Dave’s cock was smaller, and he wondered if Dave knew this, but he didn’t wonder right and all the words vanished and he was kissing his chest, where the scars laid in brittle pieces, tied together by membrane and tissue.
“Fuck, John—” And Dave was stopping and starting like a car, engines gutted, and John bit down into his skin, and sucked at his chest until the part underneath his mouth was warm, and Dave was rutting against him in short jerks of his hips. They were tangled together, bare thigh pressed between his legs against his soft balls and hard cock, expansive spread of skin, and John had never realized how much skin that Dave had underneath his torn T-shirts, smooth over bone, and he slid over it, touching it, mesmerized, biting down on his dark nipple and still touching over damp and warming flesh, wanting.
He was a strange mix of soft and hard, squirming underneath him, and John could touch flesh wherever he reached, and his nipple was hard and his skin was soft and his knit bones barely held him together as he moaned and grabbed John’s hair, weaving his fingers over his scalp, leaving electrifying sensations in his wake, and his head was arching back, half his hair plastered over his forehead and the other half already drying in the sun, spread out like a fan beneath him on the blankets, sunglasses reflecting only sun.
And he scrambled back, and Dave spread out his legs, awkward and bow-legged, frantic and aware, and it just wasn’t like this anymore, it was never good like these moments underneath the beating sun drying out his skin and Dave laid before him moaning and shaking, nowadays it was all paperwork in skyscrapers and when he looked at people he could only wonder who would be the first to say an eulogy, and he kissed down Dave’s stomach, at the jolts and the skin stretched thin like a drum, at the piercings over his belly button, at the way Dave’s hips canted and keened forward into the air, cock swollen and needy and dark.
It was Dave who opened the bottle, Dave who drizzled the goop over his balls, down over the condom, squeezed the bottle out and over his asshole and over the scars of his ass and over John’s fingers pressed against the pucker, long fingers, sharp and bony, and he couldn’t grasp him anymore, there wasn’t a firm grip, it was cold, and Dave dug his own fingers over his cheeks and left red marks behind, little trails over his thin ass, spreading himself, and it was abject and cruel, so John kissed him and Dave moaned.
“You look good,” John said, heartbeat echoing in his cock, big and strained underneath the condom that showed the veins running to the head.
“Shut up and fuck me, Egbert.”
“No.” John pushed him back, and Dave’s slick fingers flew up, grasping the edges of the blankets, his body arched and focused over his chest, shoulders drawn out and chest breathing, and Dave shook.
“Don’t make it nice,” Dave said, “Don’t you fucking dare make it nice, just fuck me, fuck me with your meat train, don’t make it like it used to be, Egbert, I swear.”
They had never had sex before, but John knew what he was talking about, the way it used to be in the woods, sitting next to each other on a log covered in ants and dirt, talking about the things at school, because everybody wanted to be like Dave who said cuss words two years early and drank even earlier than that, but Dave didn’t want to be like Dave, and they’d sit out there inventing identities for him, new names to slip over his body like clothes, Tom the car mechanic, Wally the ship captain, Jay the pilot, under the streaming light where everything was soft and John had his arm slung around him and Dave was whole. But Dave didn’t want the forest light, he wanted seedy bar bathrooms where he sucked a man’s cock and he was rammed until scars formed on the back of his throat and he could never talk again, left dead and abandoned surrounded by bright flyers for the next band.
John kissed him, and slid into him, hand guiding the sleekness of his cock into his hole, and Dave shuddered and moaned and shouted. The sun was warming him, and his fingers scrabbled down John’s back, and John breathed out a deep sigh because it felt good to slide in him, to feel the warmth pulsating around his cock, at the way Dave was inviting in him. He moved, and he breathed out, and he grinned down at him because it was fine, now, everything was good again, under the fresh light of the sun and the feeling inside him that made his arms shake and stomach scorching hot.
“Move,” Dave said, “Move, you fucking ass.”
“No,” but he didn’t mean it this time. He moved, and the feeling of being so encompassed made him bite down on his lips, still smiling, and Dave was looking at him, mouth stupid and open and ankles hooking around his back, trying to draw him in, trying never to let go.
“Harder, do it harder,” Dave was saying, and John kissed him and he didn’t plunge inside any harder, because the shifts of his weight was enough. Dave might want to be reamed, or want something to fill him up inside, but John didn’t want to hurt him. Everything felt so good, being inside Dave, so connected to him and feeling him completely, clawing at his knees to bring them up, to angle inside to make Dave shut up and jerk himself higher and moan louder with his toes, covered with sandy and dirt, curl up.
He smelled like lake water and goosebumps covered his skinny legs. John grabbed his cock and Dave grunted even louder, fingers clenched over John’s spine, and so he stroked him, down over loose skin and lava centers and it felt so good inside him, so good, the way Dave pulled him closer until he lost his balance and toppled over, the way Dave smelled fresh and young and clean and wanting, at the drug marks on his arms and the thin scars on his collar, and it was warm and enveloping and John fucked him. He fucked him in short juts, and when he pulled out in short bursts, the condom gleamed with the sweat of lube, and he fucked him in the vulgar way, the right way, where Dave’s cock was red and sensitive and his hard thighs shook and Dave was naked and shouting and his thighs rubbed against his sides and their skins made sounds slapped together and Dave dragged his fingers down and John was sweating, sweating under his armpits and dripping down his neck.
But he did it nice, too, he could only do it nice, kissing him on the mouth and feeling the studs press down against his face they were cold and he was drinking him in, tasting him in his throat, jerking him off in twists of his wrists that made Dave shake from the inside, and he pounded him under the sun. He mouthed words against his damp neck that tasted like warm skin, he mouthed I love you and I missed you and I know you stole and I know you had sex with my sister and I know you’re fucked up inside so please forgive me and forgive me for loving you so much and nobody says it’s okay here dave nobody in the real world likes me and forgives me like you and remember and it soared, a bird, it held its flight, a swift pure cry, soar silver orb it leaped serene, speeding, sustained, to come, don't spin it out too long long breath he breath long life, soaring high, high resplendent, aflame, crowned, high in the effulgence symbolistic, high, of the ethereal bosom, high, of the high vast irradiation everywhere all soaring all around about the all, the endlessnessnessness or maybe he said nothing at all.
He fucked him and felt the sweat slide down the nape of his neck and Dave was grinding down into him and trying to get off but all the heat had swam in him and it felt good, so good, everything was tightening in his body like the string of a bow and he came, gasping, clutching him tight, and he was glad for the condom, or else he would have come inside him and liked it too much, liked too much to watch his semen fill him up and dribble down his soft yielding thighs, but it was enough and he gasped against his shoulder and Dave shuddered.
Everything seemed so soft and bright. He pulled out, and slipped his hand over his cock and tugged even harder, palm full along his shaft, pressing against the wiry hair, and Dave still had his legs spread like an idiot and his fingers were digging into his shoulders as he pressed against him, swallowing like he had no water, the shadows casting down over the hills of his ribs only to meet the bright light spreading across his bare stomach, and the lube made everything wet and damp and he seemed whole and healthy, hair spread out like a halo, only the sound of his hard breathing and the birds in the woods echoing in his ears. He grinned down at Dave, and anybody else would have thought he was stupid, but Dave laughed back in a short sound, and it was right and it felt right. He looked nice and good and John would fuck him again in a second if he could, but he settled for rubbing him off and Dave gave a sharp cry, and the semen dripped across his stomach in hot splashes.
John kissed his neck, and Dave breathed. The dry grass prickled his back as he laid down, the blanket being smaller than he thought. He rolled over and pushed Dave over to spoon him, kissing down the back of his neck and pressing his knees on his thighs. Somehow, he found the energy to unroll the condom, tying it off and tossing it close to the backpacks, because he didn’t litter. He threw an arm over his thin sides, smearing the semen over his stomach, and he drew words over his chest.
“I remember,” Dave said, and John couldn’t see his face. “I remember the things you said. Coming here. Doing shit.”
“It was nice,” Dave said, and his chest rose and fell. “Sometimes it was just you and me.”
“It was really nice.”
“Promise not to follow me.”
John kissed his neck, at the small hairs, and spread his fingers wide against Dave’s stomach. Dave had hunched his shoulders again, hard and protective, and John kissed him harder for the softest parts of him.
“John. I’m serious. I don’t need a Thelma. You’ll slow me down. You’ll mess up everything. You’ll bring the damned cops right to my doorstep. Jesus, John, just don’t follow me. Don’t come with me. I’ll mess you up.”
“Remember by the creek?” John nudged him with his nose. “You used to find this big branch. And you’d stand there, all stupid, like you were Moses. And everything would go by you and you’d just stand there, like all the water was time and you weren’t moving with it. Do you remember?”
“I remember.” Dave’s voice was soft, contrite.
“Let’s go somewhere where there’s creeks like that. Nice soft creeks. We’ll go there, next.”
Dave sighed, like all the breath had run its course inside him, and John hugged him tighter on the warm blanket, bathing underneath the sun. The trees moved with a gentle peace, the mountain high above them, and he closed his eyes, fingers soft against him.