I hope it's love. I'm trying really hard to make it love.
Self-Portrait Against Red Wallpaper, Richard Siken.
It’s December 29.
He taps out a short message.
happy Birthday. [00:00]
Vi looks over his shoulder and tells him to personalise it a bit more.
(in Russian). [00:01]
“MORE THAN THAT, JAYCE.”
“WHAT IS A RUSSIAN CAKE SUPPOSED TO BE?”
“I don’t know, it’s the first image I saw on Google.”
“YOU ARE AN AWFUL BOYFRIEND.”
“I’m his favourite.”
“YOU’RE HIS ONLY.”
“But his favourite.”
The reply comes in eight minutes later.
Thank you. (In Russian). [00:11]
How did you know my favourite cake? [00:11]
Vi squints at the screen while he does a little victory fist pump. “WEIRDOS,” she diagnoses them, “MADE FOR EACH OTHER.”
you Are Dating A Genius. [00:13]
where Are You Right Now? [00:13]
Library. Leaving. [00:13]
stay There. [00:13]
i’m Coming. [00:13]
It is 12am on a weekday. [00:13]
i’m COMING. [00:13]
He pulls a sweater over his head, nabs the satchel with the bottle, and grabs his coat off the rack. He pats the pockets down, bike keys jingling in one and the silhouette of a box in the other. Vi puts her headphones back on and dismisses him with a wave. “STAY SAFE. USE PROTECTION.”
It’s freezing, but Jayce Giopara hasn’t regretted anything in his life and he’s not about to start. The ride takes maybe six minutes as he roars through the light snow. They have a couple of weeks left of winter break for the snow to get heavier, then it’s mornings of misery and grey slush that make him wish he’d gotten a car with heating instead. Then his CB1100 EX roars underneath him and he remembers that he’s never regretted anything in his life.
He finds Viktor standing outside the library, arms wrapped around himself with an unimpressed expression as Jayce hops off the bike. “Couldn’t you have waited inside the library?” he asks amusedly, taking his jacket off and throwing it around the other man’s shoulders.
Viktor huffs at the chivalry. “It is closed, if you could use your eyes to look.” Bold words for someone folding himself up in Jayce’s jacket.
He sticks his tongue out (only for a moment– it’s cold.) and then winks. “Sorry, my eyes are fixed on this handsome, beautiful, attractive, Adonis of a man in front of me.” He swaggles his brow to accompany the statement.
Viktor pins him with a pellucid glare. “You are what the leading experts in the field call ‘cringe’.”
“Your face is red.”
“It is cold.”
It is cold, so he tosses Viktor a helmet and motions for him to get on. He leans against his motorcycle as he waits for Viktor to finish adjusting the strap. “Did the librarians really kick you out at 12?”
“It is their closing time,” replies Viktor, words manifesting in small clouds.
He crosses his arms. “It’s freezing. And it’s your birthday.”
Viktor makes an amused noise, done with the helmet. “The world does not revolve around me, unfortunately.”
He swings his leg over his bike and revs the engine. “Yeah, it’s too busy revolving around me. ”
Viktor’s only response is a roll of the eyes as he gets on behind Jayce. He can’t help but smile when he feels the other man’s arms around him. Touch has always been hard for Viktor, an affection that is– well, not unknown, but one that has been unpracticed for a long time. He doesn’t know the extent of Viktor’s hurt but he doesn’t have to to just revel in the feeling.
“Drive, will you?” Viktor grumbles behind him.
“Demanding as always. Try not to squeeze my insides out on the way.” And then they’re off.
Viktor does make a valiant effort to empty Jayce of his organs (“Forgive me if I am not entirely confident on a glorified death machine.”) but they make it to the warmth of Viktor’s apartment without incident. The place is a mess of papers and materials to which Viktor insists there is a system to, with a pantry that’s more filled up by Jayce than Viktor due to the latter’s unfortunate habit of accidental fasting when working on something major, and Viktor is always working on something major.
Jayce pulls the bottle out of his satchel. “Do you have any wine glasses?” He asks, and Viktor maintains constant eye contact while pulling two coffee mugs out of his cupboard. “Jesus, you’re disturbed.”
“It’s this or the bottle,” says Viktor, a wry look dancing across his features. Jayce takes the mugs begrudgingly and tops them up. Meanwhile, Viktor pulls out another spirit from his fridge.
Jayce furrows his brow. “How do you have alcohol but nothing to drink it with?”
“I do have something to drink it with: my mouth.”
“Close it.” He nudges the mug across the counter. “Drink up.”
Viktor’s mugs are covered in awfully quirky designs, by merit of having all been purchased by Jayce. He almost regrets it (but, again, Jayce Giopara has never regretted anything in his life) when he considers the image of two men in their twenties drinking twenty-dollar wine out of mugs that read “YOU’RE BREW-TIFUL” and “panda.” at one in the morning. He isn’t too sure what the point of the latter is, whether it’s 21st-Century-typical absurdism or a high-level reference he isn’t getting, or both.
Time passes in the form of empty bottles adding up in the sink. It’s midway through the fourth when they’re both comfortably buzzed (and maybe more than buzzed) and lying on the sofa, staring up at the peeling ceiling and discussing the moon landing.
“I think,” declares Jayce, “it was faked. Like, if you think about it, the lighting and everything was kind of odd in the video. And I know it’s an old video, but you can’t capture what isn’t there.”
“Wow, Giopara,” says Viktor, haughty slant to his words. “You still believe in the moon?” Jayce is losing the discussion. A thought occurs to him the way thoughts do.
“I want to meet your parents some day,” says Jayce, sudden in the way drunk thoughts are.
Viktor blinks at him once, twice, three times before he seems to process the words. His lips pull into that familiar lopsided not-quite smile. “There is a reason I am spending the holidays on campus.”
“I know, I’m here too.” Jayce regards the Calibri font size 28 “panda.” “But for formalities. Worst case scenario, I’ll punch your dad and bail myself out.”
Viktor huffs a laugh, “I think that is the best case scenario.”
“Next year,” Jayce promises. “It’ll be your birthday gift.”
“And what is my birthday gift this year?” He can feel Viktor’s hand absentmindedly threading through his hair. It’s something he quietly enjoys– when Viktor forgets to close himself off and is just present with him.
He leans into the touch. “Me.”
“Give me the receipt for a refund.”
“You wound me. What could be better than me, this marble statue brought to life?”
“A rocket ship. A bell pepper. I’m not picky.”
Jayce reaches over the sofa to grab his jacket. “Well I hope you’re fine with this.”
He pulls the small box out and gets on his knee. “Viktor, will you make me the happiest man alive on this fine day at three in the morning?” He can barely finish the statement without bursting into giggles, but when he looks up Viktor’s got a frantic expression on his face, alcohol-induced honesty.
“Fuck, wait, this isn’t– no, I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking–” Shit, the alcohol. He forces down the urge to reach out and backs away instead.
Silence eclipses them for a moment and something inside Jayce writhes. He always does this, no matter how careful he promises to be, no matter how– “It is… fine,” Viktor says tightly. He can see the effort of a smile. “What did you get? I do not think a rocket ship would fit in there.”
He laughs, opens the box slowly and pulls the gift up for Viktor to see. The metal glimmers. “The design’s a little tacky but I tried my best to make sure all the gears were functional and…” Viktor outstretches a hand to take it, leaving a lingering touch between their fingers.
“Go on, open it.” He’d spent at least a week working out all the little gritty details of the steampunk-esque locket. Sure, a simple opening and closing mechanism would’ve worked, but Jayce Giopara has never been a simple man.
Viktor turns the brass circle around in his hands and then– click –it opens, the gears spinning hypnotically to reveal the picture inside. Jayce can’t help but fidget with his hands, the small itch of worry digging at his wrists. After a moment of eternity, the silence breaks. “It is nice,” Viktor says quietly. “I like it.”
He sits back down, a conscious gap between both of them. Viktor closes it after a beat and he can’t help the flutter of relief in his heart. He’s staring at the photograph (the two of them wrapped in the same scarf from last winter) with an odd expression on his features. “Thank you.” Jayce gets the feeling it’s not just for the gift.
“I.” Viktor pauses, reconsidering his words as they come out, which is a feat for his current state of sobriety (or lack thereof). “Am not the best boyfriend. I know I rarely show affection as much as would be nice, and I know I shy away from your intimacy, and I know after a year of dating we should be living together, and–” He stops there, voice tight and cheeks flushed and on the verge of deniable tears.
Jayce interrupts the silence. “I know you’re not the best boyfriend. That’s me, but as far as I’m concerned you’re a close second best. Just like in class.” Viktor laughs at that, small and hesitant but honest. He cups Viktor’s cheek, warm even in the heated apartment, and tilts his head up so their eyes meet. “All I need you to do is what you want to do. I’ve got all the time in the world to love you.”
Tears really do start running then and Jayce wipes them away. He thinks I will do anything for the man in my hands. He’d drink wine from a mug, he’d build a rocket ship, he’d rope the moon down from the sky and fuck over the tides because who gives a shit about the ocean when they have a universe in front of them?
He presses a light kiss to Viktor’s forehead and pulls him into a hug. Viktor’s breathing slows and his muscles relax and after a minute passes Jayce thinks he may have fallen asleep. He scoops him up (and he’d gripe about how heavy it is if Viktor were awake but really why is he so light? ) and moves to the bedroom.
When he’s tucking him in, Viktor’s eyes flutter open for a brief moment, dazed and mellow. A hand reaches out to grab at his wrist and there’s a whisper so soft he almost doesn’t catch it.
“Stay,” he sighs, and Jayce would do anything for him, so he does. (Though he crawls out after he’s sure Viktor’s asleep for real this time to take a shower and return.)
Not every day is as tender, or as loving, or as successful, and Viktor wasn’t lying about his habits regarding love, but if you were to ask if Jayce ever regretted being together with him?
He regards the body in the dark. Face to face, the space between them under the covers spans a lifetime and a universe for Jayce. Viktor believes himself unlovable and unable to love, asserts himself above it in some subconscious defence, constructs himself electric and invulnerable to compensate for whatever esoteric pain only he knows the name of. But the man a few inches away from Jayce is brilliant, and beatific, and bursting with emotion he’s forgotten how to feel. He’s lovely, sharp, a pain and amazing.
Jayce regards the body in the dark: the slight furrow of the brow that seems ever-present, the steady inhale-exhale that make the metronome of his soul, the untameable hair splayed across the pillow. He reaches out, slow, to the event horizon that divides breath from air, and gently runs his thumb over where the tears have dried. The furrow fades, and the breathing deepens, and though Viktor doesn’t lean into the touch, he doesn’t shy away either.
Jayce Giopara has never regretted anything in his life.
When I met Ana, I knew:
I loved her to the point of invention.
The Clean House and Other Plays, Sarah Ruhl.