Axl looked at his watch. It seemed to be stuck again. Rolling his eyes in exasperation, he banged in against the checkout counter.
"Ma'am?" An old woman asked, breaking him out of his annoyed state.
"I'm a guy." Axl frowned at her, taking her groceries off the conveyor belt and checking them through one by one.
"Oh, I'm sorry." She didn't sound sorry.
"Cash or credit?" Axl leaned over the counter and grabbed a paper bag, tossing the groceries in one by one as fast as he could without breaking them.
"Cash." She said.
"It'll be 50 bucks." Axl grimaced, taking the three 20's she handed him and expertly opening the cash register, flicking up the metal pin and sticking the 20s under, then flicking it down. He quickly flicked up the other pin, pulling out a ten and handing it to her along with her grocery bag, lifting it off the counter with the other hand.
"Thanks for shopping with us." Axl said, but it probably sounded like he wished he was dead, because, frankly, that would be preferable.
Axl's watch still wasn't working, and hitting it had only dented it, not made it work better. He leaned over into the other row and tapped his coworker, Nikki, who also played in a band and was pretty cool.
"Dude, what time is it?" Axl asked.
"Uhhhh..." Nikki opened the drawer, pulling out a little clock, "2:25."
"Ugh. My shift ends at 3:00..." Axl whined.
"Dude, you'll get fired if you just leave." Nikki pointed out.
Axl looked around fervently and whispered to Nikki, "Listen. You know my boyfriend Izzy? He just came back from a week long visit to his family in Indiana and he's probably just arrived at the house. I'm kinda worried about him because every time he called from the trip it sounded like something was seriously wrong..." Axl's voice trailed off.
Nikki nodded, "Yeah, yeah I understand. My girlfriend's parents are kinda shitty people. She almost had a mental breakdown last time she saw them. I'll cover your shift. I'll tell the boss that you felt sick."
"Thanks so much man." Axl said, relieved.
"No problem, that's what friends are for." Nikki pulled Axl into a one-armed hug across the counter and then pushed him playfully in the middle of his back, "Now go get your princess from his tower."
Axl laughed, taking off his apron, gloves, and hat, and putting them on his hook. He grabbed his jacket off it and threw it over his shoulders, running his fingers through his hair to puff it up. He looked at himself briefly in his reflection in the window, his green eyes blazing in the warped glass and his mouth turned up in a crooked grin. Then he remember how worried he was about Izzy and watched detachedly as the smile melted into a worried straight line.
Axl grabbed the handle on the door and walked outside, where the was an awning and the store's flower section was. Looking around to make sure no one was watching, Axl grabbed a bouquet of yellow roses and held it close to his thigh so that no one would see it from the inside. He walked quickly down the ramp that led out of the store's foyer area, past the shopping carts, past the delivery trucks, and through the parking lot at lightening speed. Once he was on the sidewalk, he gently lifted up the bouquet, holding it carefully so as not to crush the delicate roses.
From here, the walk to the apartment he and Izzy shared was easy enough to remember. He could have walked it with his eyes closed. Axl turned by the small record shop, its sign painted a garish red, walked two more blocks, passed the public middle school with its peeling bleachers and bleached tables arranged in the yard in front of it, turn to the left, past the needle exchange, two more blocks, then straight through the park, and made a right on the sidewalk. He walked right by the Salvation Army, walked by the zombified Burger King and the few hostels and live in hotels that scattered the street. Axl always ran bythe Methadone clinic. It wasn't that he thought the people there were inferior to him; it wasn't like he didn't use drugs and know people who used drugs, it was just that if he walked they would get up and try to rip him to shreds. He knew from experience.
After he ran past the large Methadone clinic, Axl made a right and walked two more blocks, then arrived directly at his apartment building. He walked to the door and took out his key, unlocking it quickly, then shutting it behind him. The lock in the door clicked when it shut, and Axl walked past the elevator which was always out of order, and opened the door to the stairwell. The stairway was partially outdoors, and had probably been designed for emergency situations, but had instead come into general use by all the building's residents, given that they really didn't have any other option with the elevator never being unbroken.
The stairs were textured metal and the bottom of each one was hollow. Axl could hear his boots clicking loudly against the stairs, as his rings scratched against the railing. He peeked out over the edge of the railing and looked down at the street below, which was deserted and grey but still strangely beautiful from above. Axl had always appreciated images that seemed like their proportions were just right. The sidewalk took up about a third of the "frame" and little green spurts of grass protruded here and their from the cracks on it. The road was black LA asphalt, always a little melted and shining in the sun. Across the street, there was a live in hotel and the building's roof was a blue-grey, the side of it perfectly straight and filling out the image nicely.
After looking a little while, Axl continued up the stairs until he reached the 5th floor. He opened the prison-like grey door to the inside of the building with a great deal of effort, as usual, since it weighed about 50 pounds. He let it slam shut behind him, and regretted it immediately, because the sound rattled his skull. He walked down the red carpeted hall, which was soft and swooshy, although the carpet was stained and looked a little trashy. Not that Axl cared. The building was comfortable enough.
The doors of the apartments were thickly lacquered imitation mahogany with silver colored number labels in the center, and pewter, breakable knockers aligned underneath. Axl watched the doors whiz by like windows on a train as he looked for number 526, his and Izzy's apartment. When he arrived at it, he slid the key into the lock and turned it hard, then rattled it around a little, and the door clicked open.
Axl popped his head into the apartment, "Izzy?" He whispered, shutting the door behind him as he entered.
There was a soft pitiful moan and something moved from under the sheet.
"Izzy, is that you?" Axl asked.
"Yeah." Came a muffled comment.
"Sweetheart, I've gotta take off my boots and then I'll be over okay?" Axl sat down on the floor, pulling off one boot and then the other and then throwing his jacket down on top of them.
"What's wrong Izz?" Axl asked, sitting down on the bed next to the bump covered in blankets.
"You'll be mad." Izzy said, worriedly.
"I won't be mad, I swear." Axl said, voice uncharacteristically soft and sweet.
"You're sure?" Izzy said muffledly.
"Yeah, babe, I promise." Axl laid his hand gently on what he hoped was Izzy's head and stroked his hair gently.
"I'm dope sick." Izzy said.
"Darling..." Axl's voice trailed off, and he stood up.
"Told you you'd be mad that I was using again." Izzy said, assuming Axl was leaving.
Axl lifted up the edge of the blanket so as not to bother Izzy's light sensitivity and slid under it, facing his boyfriend. He placed a gentle kiss on Izzy's pronounced nose.
"Told you I wouldn't." Axl pulled the thin, frail body up to his chest.
"Why aren't you mad at me? Aren't junkies useless?" Izzy spat.
"You're my darling, though." Axl kissed Izzy's flushed cheek, "I'll still love you even if you're drugged up."
"Why are you being so sweet?" Izzy said, worriedly.
"When have I not cared about you, Izz?" Axl whispered, hurt, "Why would I hurt you?"
"I-I love you." Izzy buried his face in Axl's shoulder.
"Hey, I love you too." Axl stroked his fingers through Izzy's hair, not caring that it was unwashed.
"I love you." Izzy said again, clutching onto Axl's shirt desperately.
"Love you too."
"I love you I love you I love you...." Izzy's voice trailed off.
"I love you just as much." Axl kissed Izzy's mouth gently.
Izzy stiffened at the intimate touch, then melted into it. Axl laid a hand on Izzy's cheek, and deepened the kiss. Izzy could feel the roughness of Axl's fingers, weathered from grasping the mic stand and carrying gear. Izzy slid a hand gently over the back of Axl's neck, pulling their mouths as close as they could get. Axl's round nose pressed softly into the bone of Izzy's cheek, and Izzy's fingers dug into the hollow in the back of Axl's neck, as the two Indiana boys, now men, linked together again.
Izzy gasped when the kiss broke, "Being home without you was awful."
"That ain't home for me anymore." Axl whispered.
"I thought maybe it was for me, but I realized my home was with you." Izzy said, "It wasn't the same without you."
"I'm never going back there again." Axl said, a bit defensive.
"I don't think I am either." Izzy whispered, his light eyes full of tears, "I felt so alone."
"You're not alone anymore." Axl pulled Izzy into his arms again.
"Promise me I'll never lose you?" Izzy asked.
"I promise I won't leave you." Axl thought about what Nikki said, "I'll always be here to rescue my princess from his castle."
Izzy laughed, "Where'd that come from?"
"Nikki told me 'go rescue your princess from his castle' when I went to leave work early to check on you." Axl laughed.
"You're a sweetheart." Izzy laughed.
"I'm not!" Axl whined.
"Sure, babe." Izzy kissed Axl's neck softly.
There was a bit of silence, and then Axl whispered.
"You know, you make all the pain go away. You always have." Axl looked Izzy in the eyes.
"How could I not? I love you." Izzy kissed Axl on the cheek.
"Love you too, darling." Axl smiled, "Wanna sleep here in my arms?"
"It's like 3 in the afternoon." Izzy said, contradicting himself immediately with a huge yawn.
"Who said we couldn't sleep? Now wanna sleep in my arms?"
"Is that even a question?" Izzy asked, snuggling himself into Axl, and shutting his eyes, and in that moment, dope sick and all, he was happy.