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Out of nature or necessity, Whizzer has always dealt in extremes. Absolutes. Perfect polarity. Something is useful, or thrown away. Someone is good at sex, or a terrible mistake. He likes to be definitive, declarative. Stubborn, on his bad days. Decisive, when the weather's good.

But the weather is not good, and Whizzer thinks about these dichotomies as he stretches in bed, frowning.

He needs new sheets, but in this month of austerity, cuts have been made. At least the men don’t seem to notice, even if they leave his place absently scratching their stomachs. 

Or, perhaps they just don’t mention it. The threadbare quality, the probability of lice. Presently, one such man pulls on his socks, displaying to Whizzer the bare expanse of his back. A long scar originates from his shoulder blade and disappears into his tailbone. Whizzer doesn’t ask how he got it.

The man sips coffee against the countertop.

“You don’t want any?” he asks, gesturing with his mug. He has a grizzly beard that catches droplets of dark roast. Last night, it had caught tequila the same way, and Whizzer had noticed, even in his drunken haze, but declined to comment. Now, he just turns his head away.

“I’m not really a coffee person.”

The man exits cordially, leaving in his wake a kiss on Whizzer's cheek and a smell he would rather forget.

Curled under the blanket, Whizzer watches as his skin turns yellow in the growing dawn. It’s only a few days into the new year. They’re about to inaugurate a president he didn’t vote for and break ground on a hulking condominium down the street. His friends balk at their resolutions, at weight lost and weight gained. Whizzer feels the sun illuminate his bare arms, his chest. Pops an ibuprofen. Two ibuprofen. Feels in the midst of all this newness, very much the same.

The electricity bill arrives and is promptly slipped to the bottom of a featureless stack of flyers. Ads for new bars, mostly, and one particularly disreputable nightclub. 

The lights cut out later that week, as he combs his hair in the mirror. A non-issue: he already looks good, dishevelled in a way that suggests debauched, and heads for the bar earlier than usual.

He looks so good and debauched, apparently, that he finds himself quickly entwined with a soft-featured Jonathan. Wheedles out of the tall, thin man a free mojito and a vicious bathroom rendezvous, all limbs and chapped lips and unpent frustration. They split at the bar with knowing nods and a mutual sense of victory, Whizzer melting, wordlessly, into the darkened pulse of the club. On the subway home, he feels full and ripe, like a peach. He sinks into bed sometime after three, a profound heaviness overtaking him, unable even to trace his bruises before passing out.

When he wakes, the heat is gone. The first registered sensation: a soft tremor in his legs. Then: a paleness that even for January is extreme. He bangs on his landlord’s door -- a fat, sweaty lump of a man -- wrapped in a blanket, turning red from anger and January chill.

The word asshole leaves his mouth before something warm enters it, and Whizzer slinks out of the office, six fractured minutes later, wiping his lips.

Seven a.m and he pounds away at the street in the greying light of a month that has never liked him. His shoes let the wilting snow seep in. He adds good pair of sneakers to the list of things he will buy when he becomes suddenly, incredibly rich. 

He runs until the knot in his stomach relaxes, until the cheapness of the morning leaves him in heavy sheets of sweat. His destination: Central Park, where a gaggle of skating children clasp each other to stay upright and an old couple sip hot chocolate on a nearby bench. In the pond, a lone goose navigates small ice floes, squawking at nothing with its neck craned strangely. Whizzer wiggles his toes in the slush. Waits until they freeze. Wonders who the goose is calling to, and if anyone is listening. 

When he unlocks his apartment, the heat is back on.

 

+ + + 

 

He’s in this mood where the apartment never quite satisfies. Not that there’s much, square footage-wise, to be upset by, but he has a hankering for new curtains, a microwave that doesn’t make his food taste like plastic.

He brews tea. Oolong, because it sounds as exotic and mysterious as he wants to be. And he itches for a kettle that doesn’t rattle against the stovetop. Maybe that teal Le Creuset brand he had sold to so many yuppie mothers at Macy’s. But: he hasn’t worked there in ten months, hasn’t worked anywhere in three. Job listings languish on the table, circled in red, for which he’s either under-qualified or under-enthusiastic. He thinks of the stack of twenties under his mattress: his life accumulated in a pile of creased paper. The only reason the money doesn't disappear entirely is Bryan, who brings him into the bar when one of his bartenders flakes. The men love him, hurl money and phone numbers across the bartop, practically scream when he blesses them by working in one of his tight, black tank-tops, or flashes his most lascivious smile. 

Whizzer sighs, shivering in the growing cold of his apartment, and examines the listings with new determination.

January kisses the city goodbye and February slush says hello. Then this month, too, passes, and nothing changes except the length of his hair and the increasing thinness of his wrists. Winter has hardened him nicely, and he likes the brittle strength he is developing, his own hollowness reminding him less of someone starved and more of a bird, all lean and aerodynamic.

Now April calls, and reminds him of home. Of Brooklyn. Of the baseball diamond in Prospect Park and the hot-dog vendor who had given him free sausages when he was a kid.

There is a deli, where a man with Whizzer's name but none of his slick perceptiveness used to slice salami at dawn, the rhythmic clang of cleaver against counter suiting his hardened immigrant spine. Upstairs: a boy curls around a radio set, pretending he cannot hear, cannot see or speak. A woman with Whizzer's name and all of his grace cutting onions and wiping sweat from her brow. A dinner where little is exchanged. Sometimes, on nights when acid tinges the air, there is the smack of blistered skin, the thud of a woman with Whizzer's name and all of his stupid stubbornness meeting the fridge, then the floor. A boy who turns up the radio as the noise around him becomes unbearable.

The deli is now a coffee shop, and Whizzer orders an overpriced espresso because tea is not on the menu. He thinks the trembling of his hand will make him spill his drink, and he wonders how one dead man can loom over a borough so large.

Against his will, almost, he walks in the direction of his old high school. His parents could never decide on a Jewish or Catholic education, so he landed somewhere entirely secular. A uniformed place. All-boys, in a cruel twist of irony that makes Whizzer smile. (In retrospect, of course, because everything becomes palatable with the passage of time.)

When the ivy-lined school rises ahead of him, he stops in the middle of the street and buries his hands in his pockets, allowing himself a moment of reflection.

 

+ + + 

 

"Micah, would you like to show us how you solved last night's problem?"

He had not, in fact, solved last night's problem, but it takes him only a cursory glance at the question for the numbers to arrange themselves correctly in his head. He writes the answer, quickly and neatly, before sliding into his seat without a word, fidgeting absently with the cuff of his sleeve. 

The teacher nods, following along with a finger.

"Yes, yes, yes," she mutters, "Very good, Micah. Very good."

Naturally, he emerges as the foremost authority in eleventh grade math, finding something in the dichotomy of correct and incorrect very attractive.

"How do you do that?" the boy next to him, Nathaniel, asks one day.

"I'm sorry?" he looks at his seatmate, meeting the green eyes that widen expectantly, the slightly parted lips. 

"I know you don't do the homework," he explains in hushed tones, leaning in close. "Your notebook's always empty. So, how do you do keep getting hundreds?"

"How do you know my marks?" 

"You're not as discreet as you think you are," the boy smiles.

The thought of being observed, of being watched so closely and evaluated, makes Whizzer shift in his seat. He shrugs, looking down at his hands, but before he knows what's happening, he's agreed to tutor Nathaniel twice weekly after school. They huddle in a corner of the library, Whizzer explaining their homework and assuaging Nate's frustration when he doesn't understand the logic. Whizzer calms him with practiced ease, and he thinks life with his father has at least made him good for something.

A few months down the line, their studying shifts to a round kitchen table, and Nathaniel's mom adores Whizzer from the start.

"Oh, Micah, you have such good manners," she coos, a hand on his neck. "You could teach my son a thing or two."

He cracks a smile as she clears the hair from his eyes, cutting Nathaniel an impish look across the kitchen table. "I'm trying, Mrs. Davis."

Subsequently, their studying migrates to Nathaniel's bedroom, and Whizzer has to remember that he is there to explain trigonometric identities, not count the freckles that scatter across the boy's face like peach-toned constellations. Every session the strange heat in his chest becomes harder to ignore. Every session Nathaniel's mother sings his praises. Sometimes he eats dinner with the family, and Whizzer does not tell them it's the only meal he eats that doesn't end in screams, just clears his plate and compliments the cooking and watches the space between him and Nathaniel (Nate, now) slowly shrink.

Whizzer is drinking from the fountain by the school's gym when he hears him thundering down the deserted hall.

"Hey, Micah! Micah!" Whizzer is spun around by an eager hand, and Nathaniel is waving a report card in his face, a sprawling grin predicating the 92 he received in their math class. 

Whizzer wipes his mouth, his own smile blooming with genuine joy. "Nate! That's awesome!"

"All 'cause of you," he shrugs, chest heaving. 

Whizzer clears his throat. "It was nothing."

"No, really," he insists, voice suddenly low, and Whizzer notices that he is standing too close. "Thank you."

Suddenly, a pair of lips against Whizzer's own. So fleeting he doesn't even have time to close his eyes. So soft it could have been an accident. Nate's hand ghosts Whizzer's chin, and he smiles. He leaves the way he came, but the warmth in Whizzer's chest remains.

The boy does not come back to school in the fall. There is an announcement, tinny and desolate, at the end of the first week, informing the student body of a regrettable incident involving a fellow classmate. 

Whizzer learns, later, that regrettable in this instance means found hanging by his belt, feet swinging like a grandfather clock over the tub Whizzer had bathed in when he slept over. He takes calculus and vectors that year. It's his first failing grade.

The air in Brooklyn feels suddenly cold, and Whizzer moves on from his old haunt, striding quickly to the subway. He hears a voice, robust, Italian, and distinctly familiar, yell "Hey, Micah! Kiddo! Long time no see!"

The hot-dog vendor has a pink face full of hope, but Whizzer pretends not to see, keeping his head down and stopping for nobody.

 

+  +  +

 

The new year approaches. 1975: three-quarters into a new millennium and the more passionate of Whizzer's generation march for all manner of causes. For Vietnam, the homosexuals, Civil Rights. Weed.

Only one cause concerns him but he prefers to watch it develop at a distance, with a detached type of interest that borders on obligation, because as long as there are bars for people like him, and the men on Christopher Street continue to whistle as he walks by, he doesn't feel the urge to fight. Keeps his head down and sublimates into shadow when necessary. 

Summer comes and goes without incident. Bryan calls him more often, bringing him into the bar two, three times a week. Halloween approaches, and he hooks up with three men in costumes of varying kinkiness, to celebrate. They all ask for his name, and there is something thrilling about creating a new alias for each one. After all, Whizzer has always liked that saying, the one about never stepping in the same river twice.

The man he brings home one crisp night in November isn't particlarly attractive, with a receding hairline that reminds Whizzer too much of his own and a slightly pudgy stomach. Not skilled, either, lumbering and sweaty, leaving Whizzer to do the grunt work. His saving grace is that he doesn't ask to stay afterwards, or try to touch Whizzer, which he respects. Leave intimacy to the married, the half-dead. He stretches in bed, awash in the carnal feeling that remains for as long as his conquests do.

The current conquest perches on the edge of the bed, reminding Whizzer of another man, nameless, spilling coffee into a scratchy beard. This one's back has no scar, though, and his eyes remain averted when he says:  

“How much do I owe you?”

Whizzer, suddenly cold, blinks at the back of his head. “I’m sorry?”

“How much?” the man barks, digging in the pocket of his discarded trousers. Then he's thumbing through an absurdly thick wallet and the glint of a wedding band is unignorable. A sick feeling pools in Whizzer’s stomach, but his visceral disgust subsides as his thoughts float to the thinning pile of twenties that he presently sits on.

“Two-hundred," he says, in a voice approximating business-like.

"Here’s two-fifty,” the man replies, smugly. “Buy yourself some decent fucking sheets, alright?”

Whizzer only nods, watching him leave.

He scrambles to stuff the money under his mattress and runs the bath, too long. Rubs his skin raw. Sticks his head under water and counts until he's forced to come up for air. Makes tea. Earl grey, because his mother used to love it, and it’s nice to remember that he was a son, once.

He makes a habit out of patrolling certain streets after work, of spotting the more well-to-do men with their hooded looks and wedding bands, their stench of desperation like a homing signal. They pretend not to see him but with tight enough pants and a well-timed wink he has no lack of customers warming his bed. Some of them call out strange names or ask for outlandish favours, while the lonelier seem just to want his company. Whizzer tries not to think about those ones too much.

The lights don't cut out anymore, as he continues to pocket tips from the bar, and less legitimate sources. He gets new curtains, eyes the Le Creuset kettle but walks out at the last moment.

During his brief flirtation with photography, Whizzer learned that, in the composition of a picture, negative space is as important as the subject. He thinks this principle applies to the composition of a body, as well, and he burrows his fingers into the ever-expanding triangular dip of his collarbone, the hips which splay outward like flayed steak. 

He thinks if he had the money and the commitment he would build a telescope. Or a rocketship. Shoot himself into space, and finally be weightless. Men thumb his waist and call him pretty boy, and he stands on the scale, a frown twisting his face. One pound heavier than last week. Water weight, he hopes, but doesn't eat until Wednesday, to be sure.

There is something graceful in the mismatch of shapes. The smooth slope of a stomach and the square blockishness of a jaw. He thinks if he stares at his own reflection long enough he will disassociate into his individual parts, like salt into water, or a mannequin, unscrewed. 

Tea is the only thing that doesn't make his stomach turn. The flavour unimportant, as long as it's sugarless; he swears he can feel the glucose molecules clumping in his bloodstream.

The doctor says he's deficient in practically every nutrient. Whizzer smiles and says "that's all?"

A twist of the lips. A lowering of the clipboard. No. Not all. 

And there is something graceful, something addictive, in watching the body fall apart.

He read something, once, about entropy. Unending universal chaos. If you look at his disease-riddled body in those terms, there is no failing of character, just a failing of fate, though he has never had patience for such abstract concepts. 

It's an afternoon in June and he's shaving in the bathroom and the humidity makes his tanned skin sticky with sweat. He has trouble breathing, and he thinks of Nathaniel. Eyes like lilly pads, dark and easily snapped. Idly he considers the razor against his cheek, the blue crisscross of veins in his wrist. The bathtub. 

He drinks tea instead. Chamomile, for its calming properties, and it burns his throat on the way down. He shunts his straying thoughts into the medicine cabinet, along with a nearly empty jar of hair gel and a cocktail of pills, for everything from fever to syphilis

 

+ + +

 

Tonight's man is unremarkable from some angles, but devilishly handsome from others. Maybe in his late thirties, with pretty auburn curls and eyes that smile when his mouth does not, Whizzer imagines that he broke hearts in his youth, that his tired demeanour and senseless clothing are just side effects of marriage and artifice. He is standing with his hands on his hips, and Whizzer can tell he's the type to feign disinterest, though his blue eyes give him away, wandering down the line of Whizzer's legs as he approaches. 

"Hey there, handsome," Whizzer smiles, and his teeth float in the night, flash as cars zip past.

The man coughs, fiddling with something on his finger. A ring, of course, and Whizzer's smile widens, though the man remains stoic. "Hello," he says.

A skittish type. Whizzer can work with that. He leans against the brick wall behind them, and cocks his head. "Need some company?"

"I, uh --" the man scratches the back of his neck. He hasn't looked away from Whizzer once. "You could say that, yeah."

Whizzer just extends a hand; an open invitation, warm and unknown. The man swallows thickly as his eyes dart down the alley, as if expecting an ambush. He nods, though no question was posed, and takes the offered hand, letting himself be led into the night.

It doesn't take long after they cross the apartment threshold, only a transparent offer of coffee and a cursory rejection, before the man is being deftly unbuttoned and pushed onto the thin mattress. Hot, open-mouthed kisses are being trailed up his neck when he places a hand on each of Whizzer's shoulders, stalling him.

"What is it?" Whizzer raises his head.

"Uh," the man stutters, eyes screwed shut. "I've -- uh, I've --"

"Never done this before?" The man nods, and Whizzer grins. "Yeah, you're telling me."

"Hey-!" 

"Just relax," Whizzer whispers, massaging the man's thigh until his offended look melts into pleasure. His skittishness has revealed itself to be a cover for a nasty temper. "You're in good hands."

The man tries to interject but Whizzer catches his lips in a kiss, and the protest gets lost somewhere between throat and mouth.

They make quick work of each other, the man needier than one would expect and Whizzer more than happy to service his needs. He spends a lot of time studying Whizzer's body, eyes wide as he takes in its tautness and tightness, its faint scars and abundant freckles. Whizzer doesn't look at him much at all.

As the man basks in the feeling of sex that actually does something for him, Whizzer wonders how much he would be willing to pay. He seems rich enough, with an expensive if tacky watch and an air of being accustomed to finer things. Whizzer imagines, idly, what his wife might look like, while he waits for the transaction to occur. But: the man doesn't say anything, just tightens his arm around Whizzer's waist and pulls him flush against his chest. He twists to look at the man in the slanted moonlight, and he realizes, with a start, what's happening. He barely represses a sigh.

“On your way out?”

The man stirs, his contented smile receding into something more formal.

“Oh, um - yeah," he says. "I guess. I have work in the morning.”

“Right," Whizzer says, curtly. "See you, then.”

The man dresses awkwardly, fumbling with his belt, and Whizzer notes with delight his slightly uneven gait.

"You better fix that limp," he calls over his shoulder, padding to the kitchen. "Before your wife sees."

The man, dressed but satisfyingly dishevelled, blushes scarlet. He opens his mouth for a comeback, but closes it again, acutely aware that this is not his arena.

“I didn’t get your name,” he says instead, turning on the threshold, so absurdly hopeful that Whizzer feels bad for him.

“No,” he smiles, leaning close only to stoke the flame. “You didn’t.”

The door is shut and Whizzer makes tea. Orange pekoe, because he's never had it, and he likes not knowing what lies ahead of him.

 

 + + +

 

His birthday looms, and with it comes the heavy feeling of being, officially, out of his twenties. Bryan plans a small surprise party that turns out to be neither small nor a surprise, since he has a gaggle of men ready to celebrate him, and Alonzo spilled the plan days in advance.

Bryan calls, tells him some Leo guy called in sick at the last minute. Whizzer foregoes his black tank top for a silk button-down that he found at a Goodwill but looks good as new. He feigns surprise when they jump out from behind the bartop, and Bryan tells him to stop being an ass.

"Impossible," Whizzer informs him, wrapping an arm around his friend's waist and laughing in the glow of celebration.

There's a steady stream of drinks, as well as kind words from his friends, even a few speeches, and there is something so very normal about it all that Whizzer feels warm from crown to toe. Towards the end of the night, he spots a man huddled at the end of the bar, with a familiar mop of auburn hair and forlorn look in his eyes. Whizzer laughs around the rim of his glass, unable to believe his luck. He excuses himself from his conversation with Bryan and slinks over to his most recent non-customer, plopping himself in the seat directly next to him. He seems unsurprised by Whizzer's sudden presence, and he supposes he's been watched for a while now.

"Of all the gin joints," Whizzer says, shaking his head. 

The man smiles, and he's cute when he's not so angry and guarded. “I was hoping to see you here.”

Whizzer nods. “A lot of people are.”

The man scoots closer, unfazed by his cockiness. “What’s the occasion?” he asks, gesturing to the decorations.

“My birthday,” he sucks on the straw, perhaps a little longer than necessary, and notices the quick dart of eyes to lips, how they widen and darken. Somehow he knows they’re reliving the same memories.

“Which one?” the man asks.

“It’s rude to ask a woman’s age.”

“Would she rather I ask her weight?”

Whizzer laughs, and the sound is an uncaged thrill. The man leans closer.

“I’m Marvin,” he offers, on a surge of confidence.

“Whizzer,” he extends a hand, setting down his drink.

“Do, you, uh –" the man is uncomfortable in this place, or perhaps in his own skin, and Whizzer tilts his head, intrigued by the way he resists clean categorization. “Do you wanna get out of here?”

Whizzer does, and they unfold each other in the August heat, sweating and slipping between sheets that still need to be replaced. Marvin trembles with the urge to please and seems awed by every inch of Whizzer's skin, every shift in his muscles. There is something sweet in the reverence with which he touches him, though it's a sweetness that is never more than suggested.

Whizzer goes out on a limb and kisses the man when they finish, because, for all his bluster, something in him begs to be treated gently. 

It's cold in the morning, and Marvin hops sockless across the white tiled kitchen, mumbling excuses to his wife. Stupid, half-assed things Whizzer is certain only the quietly deluded could believe. Working late this, colleagues house that. Early meeting, other side of town, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. 

Whizzer watches silently, spreading margarine on charred toast. 

 

+ + +

 

He is wiping a martini glass clean when Bryan weakly fires him.

"What?" he exclaims, nearly shattering the glass with the strength of his grip. "What the fuck?"

"I'm sorry," the apology seems sincere, but Whizzer doesn't notice.

"Bryan, I never mess up drinks," he says. "And customers love me."

"It's not that."

Whizzer ducks, trying to catch his friend's sheepish eyes. "Well, what the fuck is it, then?"

Bryan looks at his hands. Mutters "Jordan doesn't want you around here."

Jordan, his goddamned jealous, whiny boyfriend. Of course. So typical he almost laughs. He doesn't, of course, just rakes a hand through his hair and sighs.

"So, I'm getting fucked over because Jordan's, what, insecure?" He keeps his tone hushed, never one to cause a scene. A long, strained pause, as brown eyes finally lift to meet his, and Whizzer sees it now: desire, and bitterness. He puts down the glass.

"I don't want you around either," Bryan finally says, and his voice is heavy.

Now this, this makes more sense. The long, raking looks, the gentle jokes. Whizzer is not surprised. Only disappointed, at the pathetic predictability of men, and their utter lack of discipline. 

They go to the bathroom and Whizzer takes him into his mouth. Out of pity, or maybe revenge. He relishes the sound of his name pushed through gritted teeth, of the frenzied pressure in his hair. He leaves Bryan gasping in the stall, and never sees him again.

 

+ + +

 

"I used to go to a psychiatrist, too, you know." 

Marvin lifts a brow. "Really?" 

Whizzer traces a line down his torso and the small scoop of his hip. Surprises himself with the conscious intimacy of it all. Marvin is a crescent moon, bent and outlined all in blue, like a van Gogh painting. Whizzer himself feels more shapeless, like an ink blot. Or a Rorschach test. See what you want to see, and all that. 

He nods. "Only a handful of times, though." 

Dr. Rosenfeld had been a devastatingly analytical woman of sixty-five. With a sharp withdrawn look that belied a heart too empathetic to broach a seventeen-year-old kid's attraction to men, let alone pathologize it (as his father had intended.)

"And what did she say?"

That Whizzer has an inability to trust. Problems with self-image and impulse control. Perhaps a touch of depressive and anxiety-adjacent symptoms. Not severe enough for a clinical diagnosis but enough to cause him trouble, under duress. That his father is the dictionary definition of duress. That his penchant for hyper-focus might, down the line, resurface in the form of addiction.

He tilts his head against the blue-green tint of a city asleep, laying a hand flat against Marvin's chest. 

"That I have an oral fixation," he says.

Marvin laughs. "Waste of money," he wraps a hand around Whizzer's thigh, and when he speaks again it's practically into his mouth. "I could've told you that."

 

+ + + 

 

He doesn't consciously stop picking up moneyed men. The activity just tires him, and in its place he picks up a job at a nearby gym. He likes the regimented nature, and having somewhere to go each day. He eats more, so he doesn't fall asleep on shift. He splurges on strawberries, his favourite fruit, and doesn't completely hate the new softness of his thighs.

Radio silence from the married man for six days. One for each time they've seen each other, and Whizzer doesn't know why he's counting. He lies awake, thoughts meandering with the warble of drunken shouts in the street. He hasn't had a boyfriend for four years but this pattern still seems familiar, of observing and listening and waiting. Though this time there is the small matter of the caring wife, the unsuspecting son. He closes his eyes, though it's fruitless; he hasn't slept in two days, hasn't eaten in three, and his strawberries rot in the fridge. He lets out nameless boys every day of the week, but always checks his answering machine when he gets back in, and it feels like a sick sort of faithfulness.

Marvin comes back, leaning against the doorjamb as if he had never left, the long line of him becoming familiar and languid. Marvin gets what he needs. Marvin splays, pathetically, undone. He dozes. Tangles the sheets. Stains them with shame. Placates his wife, who now has a name and therefore an identity. Adds consequence to a previously victimless crime. Comes back, again and again. Burns coffee. Whispers adoring things into Whizzer's sweat-soaked skin. Recoils. Forgets. Slips on his wedding band. Makes a mess. 

Leaves, unfailingly, as all men do.   

 

+ + +

 

Though not by any means wracked with guilt, Whizzer has to admit that the situation is a little fucked. The record player loops in lazy circles as Whizzer does the same with a hand against Marvin's chest. He is warm and smiling while Whizzer watches and croons and pictures himself as one of those grand dames, those divas. Or maybe Frank Sinatra. He was suave enough, to be sure. It's Friday, Marvin's day to pick up his son. Whizzer sings along to the gentle melody, wondering if he should know the kid's name by now.

"Hey," he nudges Marvin in the ribs, as the songs peters to an end. "Hey. Marvin," he shakes him by the shoulder. "You should get going." 

Maybe it's the stifling effect of the heat or their months of sneaking around but he suddenly needs, more than anything, an empty apartment.

Marvin stretches, making a series of small groans.

"What time is it?" he asks, yawning.

Whizzer tells him it's two though it's barely noon.

He hums happily. "I still have time," and pulls Whizzer closer, until the younger man is on top of him, straddling his hips. Marvin passes a hand absentmindedly down his thigh. Whizzer smiles because muscle memory is a powerful thing. He bows to kiss Marvin once, chastely, before pulling away and placing a hand against his chest - soft, but firm enough for him not to try anything.

He arches a brow. "Your wife'll be worried."

"What?"

Whizzer can see the storm clouds roll in, the souring, the self-righteous routine taking shape. It exasperates him before it begins. Marvin pushes him away and sits up against the bed. "Why would you say that?"

"Because it's true," Whizzer shrugs, passing a hand nonchalantly through his hair.

"Why are you doing this?" he is reddening quickly, and Whizzer thinks that he's nothing but a baby, just smashing his fists and hoping they land.

"Keep it down," he sighs. "Christ."

Marvin shakes his head, at a loss. "I just -- I 'm never going to understand why you like to fucking ruin good things."

A beat, as the words sink in. He doesn't know the answer. Maybe it's the guilt, or the cheapness of it all. Maybe because they had been having a good day, and almost felt like a couple. Maybe because he can't fucking stand the man next to him unless they're screaming or screwing.

"Go home, Marvin." He says, in lieu of get out.

 

+ + +

 

Whizzer goes into the city  because there's nowhere else. Finds himself, by the end of the night, in the Harlem apartment of an NYU student. When they finish, quickly and anti-climatically, the boy watches mournfully as Whizzer makes to leave. 

"Hey, can I at least know your name?" he calls into the dark. Whizzer looks back at the boy's moony's face. He's from Missouri, and retains a little of his native lilt, even after three years in New York. His face lights up when Whizzer winks and tells him, "It's Marvin."

 

+ + +

 

 

He tries cigarettes for their Old Hollywood glamour, or maybe for some stimulus, but they don't suit him. Make him cough something awful. In his ear, a hearty mocking laugh that sounds like his own. He trades the cigarette for a wet pair of lips, and they are writhing to an aggravating beat and tasting vodka on each other's mouths and his name could be Seth or Sean or Seb and all the while Whizzer is counting calories, minding the widening breadth of his hips, trying not to compare the feel of this warm body to Marvin or anyone else.

  

+ + +  

 

He buys dryer sheets because he's sure his wife uses them, and he operates best out of spite.

He screws out of spite, too. He screws until it bruises and he doesn't stay the night and he runs until it burns and he doesn't eat until he faints on the M train, en route to the opening of Eli's new club in Queens. He drags himself into a phonebooth (sorry I'm not feeling well) then into a corner store. Buys the cheapest black beans, which he eats on his couch, cocooned in pajamas straight out of the dryer. He buries his nose in the fabric. Clean, and warm, and smelling of the new dryer sheets.The phone rings. He knows, somehow, that it's Marvin. He lets it ring. Scoops every remaining bean from the can, and sleeps for a long, long time. 

He starts to turns people down. Enjoys the feeling of selectivity. The wielding of power and withholding of pleasure. The separation is clean and easily understood. He even turns Marvin down, in a moment of blinding self-worth.

The man himself shows up on his doorstep one December afternoon, like the lunatic he is, as Whizzer heads to a shift at the gym.

"I'm busy," he barks, pushing past an impatient Marvin, arms crossed, face red with the humiliation of being evaded.

"With what, work?" his tone slips into the derision Whizzer wishes he would save for his martyr of a wife.

"I have a date," Whizzer lies and keeps walking, but Marvin is at his heels. 

"A date?" 

He wheels around, restrains himself from grabbing Marvin around the neck. "Fine, a fuck," he sees a dangerous flash in Marvin's eyes, and he licks his lips, always loving the sight of him unhinged. "Yeah, a hot one, too," he continues, taking a step forward. "Real excited to see me."

Marvin is turning an unnatural color and Whizzer feels something sick and rewarding spread through his veins. 

"Have you considered not whoring around so much?" he sneers, crossing his arms.

This makes Whizzer laugh, a terrible, harsh thing that practically reverberates down the street. "Have you considered not being married so much?"

"Fuck you."

"Fuck you, Marvin," he shoves him. "Get the fuck out of my way."

He doesn't, because the bastard is stubborn when he wants to be, and they end up in bed, Whizzer's moment of self-worth having, at that point, decidedly passed. 

In the morning, Marvin makes excuses, Trina swallows them gratefully, and Whizzer chews toast, feeling very much the same.

 

 

 + + +

 

"You're an asshole," he says, as if realizing it for the first time. 

Whizzer snorts, passing his fingertips absently along the line of his shoulder. "I know."

"And mean."

"You flatter me."

Marvin ignores this, looking up at the indecipherable beauty of him. "I don't get why I keep coming back."

Whizzer has never much liked trying to find a definite cause for anything. Did the First World War start with the shooting of the Archduke? Or was it the mobilization of German forces, or the existing tensions between the Russians and the Ottoman Empire? Was it hundreds of years in the making, or sudden, like a gunshot? Was it the guns themselves, or just nationalism? He finds it futile to track something to it's origin, because eighteen million died in the conflict, either way.

But Marvin is still looking at him, as if expecting an answer, and he remembers something he read once, about the inherent randomness of the universe.

He clears the hair from Marvin's eyes, looking deep into their shuttered blueness:

"You ever heard of entropy?"

 

 

+ + +

 

They continue in this way, pushing and pulling and fighting when things get too stale. Whizzer pretends that Marvin's having a family bothers him more than it does. Marvin has no qualms about telling Whizzer exactly how he feels about his promiscuity. He starts spending a few nights a month in the apartment, and Whizzer thinks this should all feel less natural than it does.

Presently, he crosses the room, holding in laughter.

"What, did you really think my birth name was Whizzer?" he asks, in disbelief. "What the fuck kind of parents...?"

"No, I don't know what I thought," Marvin replies, hovering in the kitchen. "But... Micah?"

Whizzer flops onto the plush couch that Marvin bought for him, a few weeks back. "Yeah, well, nobody's called me that since I moved out."

Marvin makes a face that Whizzer has come to understand means he's hungry for information.

"That was when I was seventeen," he explains, not questioning why he hands everything over so freely. "I left because my dad was a piece of shit, and my mom died, so there was nothing keeping me there."

"Do you ever go back?"

"To Brooklyn?"

Marvin nods.

"Once, yeah," Whizzer thinks of his April visit and shivers.

"You've been once?" Marvin gapes. "In ten years?'

Whizzer smiles. "I don't step in the same river twice."

Now, Marvin's face folds in confusion. He leans against the kitchen counter, hands propped behind him. "What?"

"You know, that saying 'never step in the same river twice'?"

Marvin chuckles over the sink. "That's not how it goes."

Whizzer rolls his eyes, this pushy brand of intelligence tiring him, especially now that he keeps fewer men on the side to offset it. "How does it go, then?"

"'You can never step in the same river twice'," he says, as if it's such an important distinction. 

"Uh, alright, so?" he replies, wondering why they're talking semantics instead of christening the new couch.

"So, it's not cautionary," he continues. "It's supposed to mean that things are always changing. A current keeps moving, right?" Whizzer nods, listening closely. "So even if you step in the same river twice, it's not really the same river, because the water's different, and so are you."

"Oh," he looks down at his hands, considering this.

Marvin shakes his head. "I can't believe you didn't know that." He moves to fill the kettle with water, and now it's Whizzer's turn to be confused. 

"You don't want coffee?"

Marvin shrugs. "You never drink any," he says, as if it's self-explanatory, and rummages in the cupboard for teabags and mugs.

Whizzer clears his throat. "I'm not much of a coffee person."

"Yeah," Marvin laughs, not unkindly. "I've noticed. So," he gestures to the kettle. "Tea."

He makes darjeeling, because the word is pretty and he knows nothing about tea, or Whizzer's tastes. It turns out weak and too sweet, but Whizzer sips it thankfully, watching Marvin's ungraceful ambling about the apartment, his fiddling with this door handle or that remote.

Whizzer sits cross-legged on the couch as the tea pools hotly in his belly, and he can't explain what he feels now, only that it is something entirely new.