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If This is Love

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It hurts to look at him. 

He is less beautiful than all of the musicians and actors and models you’ve had ambiguous crushes on when you were a kid, but he’s more beautiful because nothing about him is ambiguous, you can reach out and touch him for yourself if you want to and when you call his name he’ll respond. He’s solid, he’s real, he’s attainable — except that he’s not as attainable as you thought he’d be. Hoped he’d be.

You see him more from behind than you ever see him from the front; because he’s standing guard at the shop, because you’re pulling him away from a fight, because he can’t stand to look you in the eye as you slowly sink into him. He is breathtaking, though, what you have seen of him. What you will see.

He is everything you’ve always longed to have and he’s not yours but you want him to be. The pursuit is as futile as getting into West Point seems to be. He is not something that can be tamed, but you are, and you so desperately want to be tamed by him.

It hurts to touch him. 

The only time he lets you is when he’s sure nobody will see. You can hold him when it’s dark and there’s miles between him and anyone he knows but you can’t kiss him or stare for too long unless you want a black eye to show for it.

Touching him feels like having fireworks set off too close to your skin, the illegal kind that your younger brother likes to tie his action figures to so they’ll blow up in a hail of plastic chunks across the yard. You feel just as displaced every time you do, just as scattered, violently ripped to pieces by a searing heat that will escape the same encounter unscathed. Or at least you think it will, until you find the charred rocket a week later and his bottom lip wobbles as you button up your jeans.

It hurts to smell him.

On his pillow, in the air, that cigarette smoke wafting from his clothes like warm breath on a cold day. You associate common things with him, things you knew before you knew him. Your piece of shit father will pass out on the kitchen floor reeking of cheap beer every other week, but whenever he drinks the same brand as him you take a furtive whiff as you hop over his prostrate body and it conjures blue eyes in the back of your mind. 

Maybe his scent is unpleasant to most, but to you it has become something akin to muscle memory at this point.

He is gruff and unwashed and he smells like the greenhouse full of weed your neighbor tried to grow under his bar. Your older brother doesn’t understand the appeal, but he’s just started sleeping with the guy’s sister, so he doesn’t have much room to talk.

You accidentally wore his shirt home one time and you haven’t given it back. You won’t. He asks about it sometimes, but every time you insist ignorance. He can’t know that on some nights — the bad ones, the lonely ones — burying your nose in his scent is the only thing that calms you down enough to get you to sleep. 

It hurts to taste him.

He tastes of summer sweat and spilled beer and the girl down the street he made a show of fucking last Friday after his brothers almost caught you two together in his empty house. 

It leaves a bitter aftertaste on the back of your tongue in the long intervals between stolen moments. You savor it, though, knowing it is the most he will ever give you. Sometimes you worry that if you open your mouth too wide all his flavor will slip out, so you’ve started talking less to the people that matter — or maybe that’s because of all the secrets you’ve been keeping for him. 

You take him like an ecstasy tab; he dissolves directly onto your tastebuds and floods you with an untouchable joy, something so strong you shake with it. Nothing can hurt you when you’re with him except him, and you’re fine with the pain if he’s the one doling it out.

It doesn’t truly hurt until the comedown, when he’s pulling away and you’re alone again with your thoughts, with the aftermath of what he’s said.

You wonder what his lips would taste like, but you’re too afraid he’ll leave you if you ask. 

It hurts to listen to him.

Whether he’s speaking or laughing or snoring, everything is cloaked in the velvet tone of his Midwestern accent. You can’t get enough of it. He talks the most when you’re alone, the only time you can fool yourself into thinking he takes on a softer edge just for you.

When he says your name it’s either raucous or breathy and never anything in between. You’ve brought yourself off to the thought of his voice alone, testing out how it would sound if he called you Ian instead of Gallagher and babe instead of firecrotch

The things he says are cruel, whether sweet or biting in nature. The latter are just that, wrapped in barbed wire and curses that he wields like a battle axe into war. Always on the defensive, always seeking out an argument if he’s not given one. He is a bitterly sad young man housed in a bitterly angry shell.

His sweeter sentiments catch you off guard, though. They’re not calculated, not designed to weaken you or strike right where it hurts. They do exactly that. His voice will waver and his hands will fidget and it takes everything in you not to melt into a puddle at his feet. To drop every pretense and beg him to let you in like this all the time.

He has enough power over you already, you think. It’s not fair that he’s got you trained to the sound of his call like you’re Pavlov’s fucking dog. 

It hurts to think of him.

He’s all you think about, these days. You wrack your brain wondering if all these thoughts amount to love or obsession, but you’re only a teenager and he is the first person you’ve felt like this for, so you won’t find out until he’s already gone. You won’t know until then that he’s the only person you’ll ever feel this way for. That you’ll ever think about this much.

It hurts to be around him.

It hurts to be without him.

It hurts. But that’s nothing new by now.