“Better bring a jacket, man.”
Chris winces as the words leave his mouth, can see the crooked grin forming on Josh’s face before he’s even finished the sentence.
“This is LA, bro!” Josh exclaims, all shit-eating grin and a punch on Chris’ arm, a touch too hard for playful. “Like anyone’s ever needed a jacket in LA!”
“Dude, it’s like January.” Chris hates the dumb whine in his voice, hates the way he can’t help himself from adding, “And it’s gonna rain today.”
“Your phone tell you that, App-meister?” God, Josh is such a piece of shit sometimes.
“Yes, douchebro, my phone has the fucking weather on it. Just like yours does. Get your goddamn coat or you’ll be cold. You’re always cold.” Josh is always cold, and never brings his stupid jacket. And Chris is such a fucking chump, which is how he always ends up freezing his ass off while Josh bundles around in his clothes.
Chris scowls, but all Josh does is laugh. “Oh my god! Chill, bro. You sound like my mom.”
Chris can feel his cheeks go scarlet, and tells himself it’s because he’s pissed off at Josh “Douchebag” Washington, King of the Douchebags. Pissed off, and not… not some other feeling.
“I do not sound—” is about as far as he gets, hand pushing up his glasses to hide his face. Josh just laughs, big and loud and easy, one arm swinging around Chris’ shoulders, as high as he can reach, steering him towards the door.
“C’mon, mom,” he says. “Those hot OC bitches aren’t gonna send themselves to the Bone Zone. Let’s get this party started, untz untz untz.” He throws up horns with his free hand, head sliding back and forth in time to his imagined soundtrack.
Chris, who is not deeply invested in the idea of taking any local girls to any zone, bone or otherwise, just sighs and allows himself to be manhandled out the door.
Chris has to admit, for a January, it is a beautiful day; the sky clear and bright and blue, the sun warm, the air just cool enough to keep the humidity in check. He’s walking half a step behind Josh, along some boardwalk in between lines of yachts and the sorts of houses owned by the sorts of people who own yachts.
“Yeah, man,” says Chris. “You were right.” It seems easier than arguing. Josh is manic today, but he’s also… happy. Or as close an approximation to happy as Josh ever gets.
“What about that one?” Josh is suddenly back up in Chris’ face again, pressed against his side.
“Over there.” Josh gestures with his head, and Chris looks over to see a girl, sitting on a pylon, drinking a frappé behind enormous sunglasses.
“What about her?”
“No, no, you’re right,” Josh says, nodding sagely as he pulls away. “Not your type. She’s not, yanno. Square enough. Or made of glass.”
“Fuck off,” says Chris, which earns him a laugh and a grin big enough to eat every piece of shit in California.
“Dude, wing me,” Josh says, slapping Chris on the chest. “I’m going in.”
But Josh is already halfway across the boardwalk, jogging up to the frappé girl. The looks she turns on him as he approaches is suspicious for at least fifteen seconds. Then crumples into a giggle she tries to hide behind one red-nailed hand.
Chris looks away, and tell himself the queasy jealous feeling is because of Josh, not the girl. Josh, with his big dumb grin and smooth bronze skin and wide, soulful eyes. Who walks around Orange County like he’s born to be there, yachts and all. Not like Chris’s ten dollar Wal-Mart jeans, like the Chucks made more from holes than canvas, like the ugly hoodie his dad picked up free from some conference, dumb company logo emblazoned on the chest.
Chris might have the blond hair and the glasses, but that’s about where his similarity to the frappé girl ends.
“Aww yi-ii-is. Who da man?”
Then Josh is back, barreling back into Chris’ personal space. “Check. It. O-oo-out,” he says, shoving his cellphone up under Chris’ nose. “Mad. Is. Son. Phone number, email. Ooh, yeah boy. Put ‘er there.” He holds up a hand, ready for high-fiving. Chris obliges, trying a smile.
“Good work, bro,” he says, and tries to feel it.
“You know, she’s got a sister, bro. CompSci major. I told her we should double-date sometime.”
“She was totally into it.”
Josh just laughs, pleased with himself and the world. A part of Chris wonders, just briefly, whether any of the stuff Josh’s saying is true or not. Then Chris wonders why he cares.
They wander aimlessly for a while, ending up in some kind of shopping arcade Josh knows and in which Chris can’t even afford the Starbucks, let alone anything else. Josh does not, Chris notes, buy a jacket, despite complaining about the wind picking up when they walked in.
Eventually, Josh proclaims the mall to be “lame”, and drags Chris back outside. They wander through neat little streets of beautifully manicured gardens, past quaint little shops and a gas station finished in carved sandstone, and eventually end up on a curve of white-gold beach, looking out into the ocean.
“Let’s swim!” Josh announces, pushing Chris closer to the water.
“It’s gonna be cold,” Chris says. “Really, really fucking cold.”
“God, you’re such a baby.” And then Josh is kicking off his shoes, rolling up his jeans even as he hops into the ocean. “Oh, fuck!” he announces when the surf swells over his feet. “Fuck, it’s freezing!”
Chris just sighs, and picks up Josh’s discarded footwear.
Ten minutes later, the storm breaks.
“This isn’t LA,” Chris says. “It’s Orange County.” Which earns him a raspberry and a half-hearted attempt to push him out into the storm.
When the rain came, it came hard. Which is why they’re now huddling on the rocks underneath a concrete staircase, watching the sea churn up like angry mercury.
Chris hears a metallic sloshing, smells the sharp burn of alcohol. When he looks over, Josh has produced a hip flask from somewhere, is offering it to Chris.
“Nah, man,” Chris says. “I’m okay.”
Josh just shrugs, and chugs back a mouthful. “Suit yourself,” he says. “More for me. Gotta warm up, bro. It’s fuckin’ cold.”
Chris just sighs. “That’s what you get for wading in the ocean with your jeans on, dumbass.”
“Yeah, what-the-fuck-ever, bro.” Josh, whose pants are soaked up to the knee, takes another swig from his flask. “Fuckin’ Hibiki, man,” he says. “The good shit, that they only sell in Japan. Dad brings it back duty free. You sure you don’t want some?”
“I’m sure,” says Chris. “One of us has to be sober enough to get you home.” Josh has been sneaking his dad’s liquor, all day every day, since he was fifteen. Chris has long since given up trying to stop him. Josh “Hot Mess” Washington. In more ways than one.
There’s a pause while they watch the rain. Chris can feel Josh start to shiver next to him, starts counting down the seconds in his head until:
“Bro. Bro… I’m cold.”
But Chris is already sighing, already pulling off his stupid ugly hoodie. “Here,” he says, holding it out. “Wear this, dumbass. I told you it was going to rain.
Josh starts shrugging into the hoodie. “You were right, and—” He stops, sniffing exaggeratedly at the inside of the fabric. “Dayum. Smells like… It smells like…” He leans over, burying his nose against Chris’ neck, still sniffing. “A-hah!” he announces. “Thought so. Smells like hot fuckin’ nerd up in this thing!”
Chris pushes him away, tries to pretend he’s not blushing, tries to pretend the words don’t hurt. “Fuck you, asshole.”
Josh just laughs again, downing the rest of his whiskey.
Ten minutes later, Josh is thoroughly trashed and the rain is still coming down. The wind’s picked up, too, and even though Chris layered this morning—coming prepared for Josh’s clothes-thieving ways—he still starts to shiver.
Josh looks up from where he’s been staring, scowling drunkenly at the sea. “You’re cold,” he says.
“No shit,” says Chris, not looking up from his phone. “Some jackass stole my hoodie.”
Josh looks down at himself, then back at Chris. “We can share,” he announces. When he cuddles up against Chris’ side, Chris just sighs and wraps an arm around his shoulders. Drunk Josh is maudlin Josh is cuddly Josh. They’ve been through this a thousand time. At least he’s warm.
There’s a long, empty moment; just the roar of rain and the sharp smell of whiskey. Then Josh says. “I sorry I steal your hoodie. I just… I really like it.”
“You can have it,” Chris says. “If it means that much to you. You just have to remember to actually bring it next time.”
“It wouldn’t be the same. You have to wear it first.” Josh’s voice is very quiet, and very slurred. “It wouldn’t smell right otherwise. It wouldn’t smell like you.” A pause, as if Josh expects Chris to have some reaction to this confession. When Chris does not, he adds, “I like the way you smell,” as if Chris was too stupid to pick up the hints the first time.
Chris says nothing, because Chris doesn’t know of anything to say. After a moment, Josh laughs, punches Chris on the shoulder. “No homo, bro,” he announces.
No fucking homo. Fuck. Josh…
There is a universe somewhere out there, Chris thinks, where a completely sober Josh Washington will push his nose into the soft flesh of Chris’ neck. I like the way you smell, he’ll say, lips curling into a smile Chris will be able to feel, even as they trace kisses up Chris’ neck. Chris will groan, and lean his head back, hands pushing up under a familiar hoodie, finding soft bronze skin beneath and—
Chris sighs. “Yeah, bro?”
“I’m sorry our day got rained out.” At least, Chris is pretty sure the word Josh says it day.
“It’s okay. That’s not your fault.” Even if it kind of is. Kind of.
“And thanks for the hoodie.”
“Anytime, bro.” Maybe it’s a lie, but it’s a lie Chris can live with.
“I… You’re my best friend,” Josh mutters, half into Chris’ neck. “I just… I wanted you to have a good time. To thank you. For coming to see me while…” He trails off, and Chris can see Josh’s fists, curling and uncurling against his jeans. “You’re my best friend,” he finally repeats, an odd firmness in his voice. Like he’s trying to remind himself of something.
“Until the end, bro,” Chris says. “Always.”
“Yeah,” says Josh, curling into himself. “Until the end.”
Then they watch the rain.