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Count to One

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One night when Alex is barely fifteen the storm gets so bad it sounds like the village is folding in on itself. He crawls under a sturdy table in his neighbor’s cellar and clamps his hands over his ears as if that will stop the world from crumbling down around him. He counts, very slowly, backwards from ten, thinking that once he gets to one the hurricane will pick up the entire island and hurl it into the sun like a malformed frisbee and everything will go quiet in a violent sort of flash of white. People are shouting, and it’s so dim in the flickering candlelight that he can’t focus his eyes on anything without squinting, but Alex doesn’t lose count. Nine, eight, seven, six... When he gets to one, the world doesn’t end; a baby starts to cry somewhere to his left and the wind keeps pulling at the hinges of the house stubbornly sitting above him. Alex is relieved, and a little bit disappointed.

He spots Aaron in a crowd at ten. He nearly stumbles over his own feet chasing after the slim figure slipping effortlessly through the crowd, advancing seemingly without getting into anyone’s way.

Aaron offers to buy him a drink at nine, looking curious and a little bit vary like he can’t quite tell if he’s being pranked.

At eight, Alexander’s friends are all too drunk to remember what they were laughing about in the first place. He chuckles into his rum and coke and spots Aaron leaning on a kitchen counter with his sleeves rolled up to his elbows, occasionally glancing up from his phone and smiling as if he’s in on the joke. Hercules tells him to down his drink and he makes some quip that makes the hollering group forget about it and move on to teasing John. When his eyes finally meet Alex’s, he raises an eyebrow and draws his fingertip from one corner of his mouth to the other: smile more. Alex rolls his eyes. Aaron grins and makes for the porch, digging a pack of cigarettes from his pocket. It’s probably not an invitation to follow, but Alex does anyway.

At seven, Aaron’s hands ball into the front of Alexander’s shirt as if the wind might blow him out of his reach otherwise, and Alex learns to like the taste of lager the second Aaron’s lips crash into his. He doesn’t know this yet at seven, but Aaron’s mouth and hands and skin and eyes have the power to recontextualize almost anything for him, make him change his preferences quite unlike anything else. Aaron nips on his jawbone and his knees go weak.

At six, Aaron buys him a bottle of prosecco and a box of fresh strawberries from Marks & Spencer’s. ‘To celebrate, for getting promoted so quickly’, he says as they toast on the couch. Alex swallows down the aftertaste of Aaron’s unarticulated bitterness. Aaron is a reasonable person and can’t possibly blame Alex for succeeding. He works hard, after all. The bottle goes quick and Alex straddles Aaron’s lap, feeding him strawberries until the skin of his fingertips is stained red.

At five, Alex wakes up right before dawn to a dream about being a rogue moon detached from its orbit, hurling through space with the only hope of stopping being a devastating, atom-crushing impact with some heavenly body bigger than him. Every muscle of his body jerks and trembles and he gasps for air, unable to focus his eyes on the ceiling with the ambient light of the city alone. Aaron rolls over like Alex is just an alarm that went off too early, drapes an arm over his middle and buries his face into the stray hairs that escaped his ponytail while he was tossing and turning. Alex matches his breathing to Aaron’s until his heartbeat co-operates too, but doesn’t manage to fall asleep again.

They scream at each other for the first time at four. Aaron has finally reached partner position in a law firm by joining Jefferson & Madison, taking his clients with him. The betrayal makes Alex tear up in frustration in a way he hasn’t since his first trial six years ago. ‘After everything Washington has done for you´, he shrieks until his voice cracks. And it’s like he tastes the prosecco as Aaron says ‘He’s not as impartial as you think he is. Besides, this isn’t The Good Wife, this is real life and we’re adults, and adults take the necessary steps to advance their careers. We’ll talk again once you’ve calmed down.’ He doesn’t even slam the door on his way out.

Aaron comes back smelling like cheap perfume and motel toiletries at three.

At two, Alex publishes an article on a case Aaron and his colleagues won defending a toy company against a class action by parents whose children were poisoned by cheap plastic. It’s ten pages long originally, but an editor makes him cut it down to six. The article goes viral and an uproar from the public causes the case to be opened again in a different court. The company loses half a million and Aaron resigns next week. Alex finds out from a friend of a friend that he has sold some engagement rings he’d bought a while back to tide himself over until his next job. Alex hates the taste of lager again.

He finds Aaron sitting on his porch at one. ‘Are you here to fight me?’ he asks only half-jokingly, but then he notices the tremor of his shoulders and kneels down next to him. Alex loses his balance as he gets drawn into a drunken embrace. ‘I’m sorry,’ Aaron says again and again by his ear, his voice thick yet clear enough that Alex realizes he might actually mean it. ‘I love you so much, I’m sorry, I'm so sorry.’

And Alex is relieved, so relieved the ground seems to tilt under his feet and his heart feels like a rogue moon snapping back into its orbit - and a little bit disappointed.