SATURDAY 24TH NOVEMBER 2018
We get in the lift and you punch the button for the ground floor. There are always people in the building, no matter how late or early it is, but there are three lifts and the chance of someone getting into ours is minimal. Still, it’s enough of a risk to entertain you. You reach for the front of my coat with both hands, lean back against the mirrored wall and pull me with you. Neither of us closes the last breath of space between us.
No shortage of temptations.
This has always been our challenge. Wanting to, but not, but wanting to. And waiting. Your mouth quirks into the torturous smile that drives an ache through the tendons in my arms. Your face will be my downfall and I don’t even care anymore. I stopped caring a long time ago.
No shortage of views.
With each step away from the building, your hand loosens in mine. Out here, you can almost let go and trust that someone will still be walking beside you. A mist of rain clings to street and skin, and your breathing slows and deepens. We stop in the glow of a streetlight and you look up, shadows falling from under your eyes. It might be a trick of the light, but there’s something exquisite in the momentary softness and I kiss you because I want to, because I need to, because I can.
You hold one of my hands in both of yours, lift it to your mouth and whisper against my fingers. “It’s the structure of it. No matter what else was happening, what else I was doing, there’s always been that structure to lean on. To be contained by.” You release my hand.
“But it suffocates you.” I rest my knuckles against your jaw.
“But everything suffocates me.” You half bow your head and half lean into my touch, almost both, but not completely either.
“What if you could breathe, though?”
You take a step back, straighten your collar, and reach up to straighten mine. One of your shoulders rises for a fraction of a heartbeat, then drops. “What if I can’t?”
It isn’t cold enough yet for the pavement to freeze, but it’s cold enough for us. A taxi with a lit sign swings around the corner and I flag it down. You give the driver our address and it still lights a small fire in my chest to hear you say it. Our address. Ours.
The journey home is filled with sideways glances and almost smiles. I’ve always been comfortable with silence. More than comfortable. Silence is deep water and heavy settling calm. You’re the first person I’ve ever known who can sink through it next to me. More than next to me. With me.
And I want to tell you. I want to say it out loud, an entirely burnt truth instead of euphemisms that barely disguise the reality of anything. I don’t doubt that you’ve always recognised it and I’m well beyond expecting you to turn away, but there’s something in the speaking of it, the hearing of it. I still don’t know how to be ready for that.
SATURDAY 24TH NOVEMBER 2018
The taxi drives away, lonely headlights on a salt-stained ribbon of road. Our house is warmly lit and welcoming, but neither of us feels like warmth and welcome yet. You reach a cold hand towards mine and lead me beyond the garden to the beach. The rain didn’t follow us home, but the damp coastal air is always waiting and the tide’s coming in.
You lift a piece of sea glass, weigh it in your hand, then throw it past the shallow froth at the edge of the water. We stand side by side, both staring straight ahead. A confessional arrangement.
I breathe an offering into the empty space in front of us with no warning or context, but I know you’ll know. “I don’t remember how many, if I ever knew, and I’ve never felt a moment of remorse. It was work, but also it wasn’t. And it felt like…” You turn to face me now and I still can’t look at you, but also I can’t not. My unfinished sentence pierces my temple like a migraine until you lean into me and I have no choice. “It felt like all I was ever meant to do and I couldn’t live without it. I tried, but I couldn’t.”
“But you live without it now?”
“But I live without it now.”
“And here you are.”
“Here we are.”
There’s a boat beyond the bay. All I can see of it is flickers of light, but it reminds me of this disposals expert I worked with a few times. It’s been years since we spoke and I wonder how many people are in pieces at the bottom of the sea because of him. He skippered a fishing boat too and I could never figure out which was his side gig, fishing or making bodies disappear. Maybe he was one of those people who could split his focus effectively. Was. Is. I don’t know. I’ve lost touch with a lot of people, mostly on purpose, and it’s fine.
You pick up another piece of sea glass, not worn as smooth as the last one, and slide your thumb along its sharpest remaining edge, then grip it tightly with its point pressing into your palm. When you loosen your fingers and look at your hand, undamaged, unbleeding, there’s a taste of disappointment in your breath.
The glass follows the last piece into the water. You crack your knuckles. Something hovers unspoken behind your lips and you walk towards the sea, half cold determination and half total surrender. You get to the edge and keep walking. Waist-deep, you stop and turn around. You swim in all weather—you have done since we moved here—but never in a suit before, never in boots, never with that look on your face.
“Brett, what are you doing? It’s freezing. Come back. Stop being so you about everything.”
You lift your arms like you’re raising the tide with your hands. Then you tilt your face up, as if you’re the kind of person who prays, take three steps backwards, and fall in and under.
The water closes over you with a heavy swallow. I wait. I know you too well. A better person would wonder if this time the worst will happen, if this time I should do more than stand here and tempt fate to satisfy my curiosity. But I’m not a better person.
You surface and shout, towards the shore, towards the sky. “But what if I could breathe, Noah? What if I could fucking breathe?” There’s a shiver in your voice, a shiver and a shadow of something like laughter.
“You’re going to get hypothermia. You won’t even drown. There’ll be no romance or drama to it. You’ll just freeze and die. It’ll be painfully dull.” And I need you, whatever that means. I am completely and utterly obsessed with every last shade of chaos in your soul. At the mercy of it even, if I had a more comprehensive working knowledge of mercy.
You wait a moment, then wade ashore. When you get to the edge, you push your hair back with shaking hands and there’s that smile again, the one that has hooks in my blood. “The thing is,” you tell me, water swirling around your feet, “it’s not that I’m scared to find out what I’d do without the structure. I know exactly what I’d do. That’s the point. I’ve always been me about everything.”
The ocean spits you out, and we close the space between us slowly. I take off my coat to wrap around your dripping shoulders and you kiss me, all salt and reckless abandon. I shiver with you. “You’re like ice.”
You slide glacial fingers around my hand and start walking up the beach towards the house, pulling me after you. You barely turn back when you reply. “But aren’t we, though? I mean both of us, right now. Aren’t we?”