He takes you running. His hand, his whispers in your ear, I’m nearly there, baby, I’m doing this for you, for us. Doubled over, panting, cheeks hot and red like blood.
Sometimes, you stop, stumbling to a halt, so out of breath that you feel like you're drowning, and he’ll nudge you gently on, words of encouragement falling rough and sincere from his mouth. He says you’re beautiful, appreciatively, as if it was something you could control, or, indeed, put great work into. As if you woke up early every morning and spent an hour pulling at your face until it was pretty.
He gives you his jacket and a lewd, unoriginal play on words and you laugh because his is comforting, a familiar, dorkish snicker, and the leather is warm and smooth against the bare skin of your back. Summer dresses trip you up, but he thinks you look good in them, and you like the inelegant flap-flap of fabric against your thighs.
He takes you running, tells you to tie up your hair, and you wear a differently-coloured ribbon every day of the week and his grin is sweeter than fresh water. The breeze lifting up your sweat-soaked hair, ponytail bouncing soft against your neck. His hand, running through the strands of blonde. His hand, every line caked with grease, clammy, pressed so tight to yours.
Late at night, he calls and says he misses you and you put a little moan into your voice, baby, baby, baby. He says, I’ll take you running tomorrow. You toy with the cord, thinking of his hands following the same motions in his half-dark you should be asleep room.
He takes you to the movies. It smells of salt and forbidden fun and messy hair and so do you, doubled over, coughing. His hands tugging at you, invisible in the dark. You fall in love with the taste of someone else’s mouth and the feeling of hiding secrets under your pastel cardigans, glowing serenely and faithfully next to your heart. Family dinners, cutlery clinking fervently, rushing upstairs to call him.
Machines, he works machines. He’s a machine and you are his oil, needed, necessary, fundamental. Rev me up, baby. Doubled over, blushing, using his shower and coming out embraced by his ratty old towel and pressing your nose deep into it, inhaling it as if you’re a chain-smoker and it’s your last cigarette for a long time.
He lets you see him without his hair grease. He looks younger, and it makes you feel sad somehow.
You trace the smallest tattoo, the one that only you and him and a tattoo artist somewhere far away know about. It says your name in delicate cursive, and something inside you twinges with delight at the thought of something so effeminate printed upon the raw toughness of his skin, a private contrast just for you. The thought plays quietly by itself in the back of your head on loop, chasing its tail on repeat.
He smells like off-brand freedom, bootleg flying, sweat and the back of closets. He smells like love, the love he gives you, chuckling self-consciously and toeing the ground, eyes lifting up to nervously look deep into yours. The love of yours that rubs off on him, wearing his ring on a string around your neck. A little like home, more like a hotel. A respite, resting place. Not safety, not security, just somewhere to stay for a night or a week or a month or a year.
He takes you running, just you and him, in the dim sweetness of early morning, legs pounding in primal motion, thudding against the ground, the scent of leaves and wet grass embedded deep into your skin. Content to drown in him, you run harder than your heartbeat.
When you letter in track, no coach’s grin widens in pride. There are no claps on your back, no shouts of Atta boy! None of your jock peers give you a detached but approving nod, a little surprised, hey, the guy actually did it. No one sheepishly offers to buy you a bottle of water or a beer or something, a reluctant apology for doubting you, for all the jeers and laughter that didn't really upset you anyway.
There are no coaches or peers at all, just the both of you alone in the must of his room, the soft blanket lapping gently at your ankles and the beach of your waists. There's just the firm line of body heat you share, birthed by your torsos pressed together, your head leaning on his broad shoulder. Just him presenting the jacket to you, fresh and pristine, so new the letter’s still sticky. Smelling it, like plastic and fabric and success. There's just him sliding it so carefully onto your shoulders, like a shawl, wrapped around you, loving.
There’s just him, and that is all you need.