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This is Just to Say

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Chris has a degree in English, which means that he's the one Zach texts when he's up before dawn, jittery or still-drunk from the night before, and has a hankering to quote Whitman at someone.

Chris takes the texts in stride. It's just a thing they do, a little bit of bonding between working together. Sometimes he sends back the next line of the poem, if he knows it, and sometimes he just reads them and then slides his phone back into his pocket. In the ensuing silence, Zach will either barrel on with the rest of the poem, or let the stanza sit between them.

It becomes something of a ritual, Zach sending Chris poetry even when they're on different sides of the country - especially when they're on different sides of the country - because when they're both in LA he just shows up on Chris' doorstep waving the collected poems of Yeats and reciting until Chris lets him in and they get into a somewhat ridiculous and often pretentious argument on the function of metaphor and Irish nationalism within Yeats' work, but Chris likes it. He can tell what mood Zach is in by the poetry he receives, whether he's been drinking or lonely, or manic, or heartbroken.

The worst is when Zach gets his heart broken.

Because then he texts Chris at five in the morning with: "I can write the saddest verses tonight..." and continues morosely until Chris feels like he's had his own heart broken, and also like he wants to punch Zach's ex in the throat for making him glum enough to wake Chris up with a mournful rendition of Neruda.

Also, Zach replaces all of the feminine pronouns with masculine ones, and when Chris calls him on altering the classics, he sends back a dense text that is essentially a crash course in queer theory, and then sends the poem again, just to be obnoxious, this time with all gender neutral pronouns. And after reading: "I loved hir, and at times ze loved me..." Chris relents and just lets Zach do whatever the fuck he wants.

The gloomy recitation of Neruda continues for about a week and then Zach goes out with friends in New York and gets drunk and sends Chris a series of increasingly misspelled texts that form a sloppy retelling of Annabel Lee. Chris drinks a few beers himself, after Zach stumbles through the first couple stanzas, mainly to make Zach's spelling less grating, and when Zach calls him two hours later they're both drunk and they recite the last lines of the poem together on the same tipsy wavelength.

"I'm in Union Square." Zach tells him, when they leave Annabel Lee in her tomb by the sea, and are done drunkenly massacring Poe for the night. He's saying his words carefully, trying to not sound as drunk as he is, and Chris throws an arm over his eyes. He can picture Zach, tall and a little wavery, carefully setting one foot in front of the other, all the way down to his apartment in the East Village.

Zach rambles at him while he walks, his voice quiet and dusky in Chris' ear. Chris tucks the phone against his shoulder and peels himself off the couch, moving around in the half-dark of his apartment, picking up beer bottles, and humming quietly in response to Zach's stories. When Zach makes it home - Chris can hear the keys jangle sharply and the thumping tread of shoes up the stairs - Chris is already lying in bed, waiting until Zach is home safe to turn off his phone and go to sleep. There's a pause after Zach slams the door, and Chris says quietly:

"Miss you."

Zach huffs, but he sounds pleased. "Miss you too." Zach says, slowly, and Chris yawns and stretches.

"I've gotta go to sleep, man," he says, "early morning tomorrow. Take care of yourself, okay? And send me some happy poems."

Zach makes a soft noise, and Chris can hear his hair scratch over the receiver when he nods.



Zach doesn't text him for about a week after that, but when he does, he's quoting Allen Ginsberg.

"Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy!..." is all the text says, and Chris' phone beeps with a picture message of the criss-cross wires of the Brooklyn Bridge and the sun setting behind Manhattan, along with the words (Zach's own): "Goddamn, this place is so beautiful."

It makes Chris beam all morning and when he goes for a run later that afternoon he pauses at the top of a hill near his house and snaps a picture of the butter-yellow California sunlight turning the streets gold. He sends it to Zach, along with the line: "'America, two dollars and twenty seven cents' and so fucking beautiful..." He sprints down the hill, back to his house, and when he gets out of the shower a little while later there's a message from Zach.

It just says, "I'm with you, Carl Solomon," and it makes Chris smile.

Zach texts him another picture the next day, probably from that farmer's market he loves in Union Square. It's a stack of watermelons, green and plump, and the blurred figures of people walking by on the edges of the photo. Zach is posing in the middle of the picture, ridiculously, kneeling by the fruit. Chris tries his best to not think about who might have taken the picture, and caught Zach's goofy smile, and opens the next message.

"And you, Garcia Lorca," it reads, "what are you doing among the watermelons?"

Chris grins so wide his ears hurt. He fucking loves that poem. "I fucking love that poem." He texts Zach.

Zach's reply, sent fifteen minutes later, and sounding as wistful as text messages can sound, says merely: "I know."

There's a heaviness, after that. It means something that Chris can't quite put his finger on. Something static, and poised on the lip of an edge; something that, if pushed, might roll itself into something that Chris probably isn't ready to think about yet.

Zach sends him modernist poetry, weighted and clunky, then sends him a picture of a crowded, sunny street, somewhere in Manhattan - Broadway, Chris guesses, from the sheer volume of people milling about in the sunlight - and the caption says: "Oh, brave new world!"

Chris is glad that Zach finds people and places in New York that make him happy, but sometimes he wishes that Zach lived down the road again. He spends a day or two trying to come up with lines that evoke how much he's missing Zach - without sounding too sappy - and fails. He's rescued from this strange spiral of goopy emotions by Zach, who texts him first.

He sounds breathless, even through the text message, and it's Langston Hughes' love songs to Harlem, and it sounds like he stayed up all night having the time of his life. Chris has been going to bed early - he wakes up and drinks his coffee and does the crossword and reads the paper.

The Langston Hughes quotes make him feel a little sick to his stomach. Because what if Zach doesn't ever come back to LA and live down the street from Chris, again? What if he packs up the rest of his stuff, drives Noah and Harold and his ridiculous little car cross country and stays down in the East Village with the rest of the hipsters? They've built a bridge across the country founded on a shared knowledge of poetry, but Chris doesn't know how well that's going to work when Zach and his menagerie are fully established in New York.

Chris goes for a long run and some to a stop outside of Zach's house. He hops the fence, after a quick glance around to make sure that there are no cameras around to catch him trespassing, and walks around the house to Zach's backyard. Which is sort of overgrown, but still beautiful in the hazy California sun. There's a porch swing, and a grill that Zach makes Chris cook on whenever he wants barbecue. Chris takes a picture with his phone and sends it to Zach with the message, "Don't forget Innisfree. I miss you, man."

There's a long silence, and Chris is back home reading Hemingway when Zach calls him.

"Did you break into my house?" He asks, instead of hello. Chris assures him that all he did was jump the fence. Zach hmms thoughtfully and is silent for a long moment.

"You know I miss you too, right?" Zach says suddenly. "I can text you sonnets if you're not convinced."

Chris laughs. "Just making sure you don't forget us losers here in LA."

Zach huffs and asks Chris what he's doing and then demands that Chris read him Hemingway. Chris does, for nearly an hour, and when Zach says goodbye his voice is soft and low.

There's a week or so where Zach sends him lines from poems that never seem to coalesce into something bigger, a coherent thought along the lines of what Chris has been waiting to hear. That Zach is coming back to LA, and they'll live in the same neighbourhood. They'll get coffee and go running and go to flea markets. And Zach will make Chris come to the theatre with him, and Chris will make him watch Indiana Jones. They'll fall back into the old routines, and it will be amazing.

Communicating through poetry via text is messing with Chris' head a little bit. Because he still has that english major brain, culling allusion and subtext from Zach's poetry selections. There's something bigger than an exchange of literature happening, but Chris can't quite put his finger on the pulse of what Zach is saying.

There's a week where even Zach seems to be unable to make up his mind. He quotes Sylvia Plath and Lucille Clifton for a few days, and then sends a quote from that Owl and the Pussycat poem, which is just sort of strange.

Then silence for a day, and then Chris wakes up to the crisp lines of one of his favourite poems.

"This is just to say..."

Chris yawns widely and smiles, and types: "I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox, and which you were probably saving for breakfast. Forgive me."

And Zach replies, because this is how these things work: "They were delicious, so sweet and so cold."

Chris imagines Zach smiling, and he smiles into his pillow. He gets another message a minute later, and all it says is: "Coming home."

'This is Just to Say' is a poem that Chris likes because of how it feels. It feels soft and cool, and it spreads juicily around in his mind like that first bite of a plum. Or the sweet wetness of a first kiss. Or the dewy freshness of the first summer day, and the knowledge that Zach's coming back to LA.

Also, Zach called LA home. New York had been limbo for the better part of a year, but Zach's house and dog and cat and brother are in LA. And so is Chris, actually, but he's sure that that's not the main reason why Zach is coming back. He probably misses Noah and Harold and the smog, and... plums.

Chris spends the week before Zach comes back caught in a highly energetic state. He runs sprints up and down the hills near their neighbourhood, drinks too much coffee, and doesn't get enough sleep. There are butterflies running through his veins, and he's not entirely sure what it all means. Just that he's finally going absolutely insane. He runs some more to stop thinking about it, and recites TS Eliot when the sounds of what he won't let himself think about get too loud. The stanzas in 'The Wasteland' are abrupt and sublime and he loses himself in them for a while.

Zach has asked him to pick him up from LAX before, but when he calls this time, Zach says he already has it figured out. Chris considers waiting on Zach's porch until he comes home, decides that that's creepy and sinks down into the couch instead. He reads for a long while, and then falls asleep.

He's woken up a few hours later by a light rapping on the door and is still rubbing the sleep out of his eyes when he opens it.

It's Zach, looking highly bemused. He must have gotten off the plane and then gone home and freshened up, because he's clean-shaven, his hair is falling artfully over his brow and he's wearing a snappy button down and a clean, dark blue cardigan that Chris has never seen before. In comparison, Chris feels a bit like a slob. He's not even wearing socks.

Zach just beams though, and laughs a little, no matter how sloppy Chris must look, and he pulls him into a hug. Which is warm and perfect and smells like Zach. Zach hugs like he's never going to let go, and like he's going to sweep Chris backwards like those soldiers in all of those World War II pictures. And Chris finds that he's not actually against that idea. Although they're both sort of the same size, so he thinks they might fall over.

Zach works his long fingers under Chris' chin while Chris is having these thoughts and when Chris pulls out of the hug enough to look at him, Zach's eyes are burning.

"I'm going to kiss you now, okay?"

"Okay." Chris says gamely, and then, "Isn't there a line in Romeo and Juliet about hands and pilgrims. From the first time he kisses her?"

And Zach says, "Oh my god, I love you so much," and kisses him. And its like all sorts of poetry, all this Zach poetry that Chris has been trying to pin down with words when all he really needed was Zach's mouth open beneath his, and his slim shoulders and hips.

When they pull apart for breath, Zach buries his nose in the crease of Chris' neck and shoulder and mumbles: "Shall I compare thee to a summer day?"

And Chris shoves him and says, "Don't be corny." And Zach smiles into his shoulder and tells him that he's delicious. So sweet, and so cold.