[November Breaks] THEN | 15 | Brett

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It’s just after five in the morning and Noah’s digital clock casts an eerie blue, the colour children use to draw icebergs. The room feels like an alien abduction.

“Brett.” His voice is quiet, rough around the edges, like leaning against warm bricks.

It gets better every time I hear it and I could listen to him say my name all day, every day, forever. I try to picture his face and there’s an elastic shiver at the base of my skull, anxiety that my memory of him is wrong, that I’ve forgotten some important detail of his features in the minutes or centuries since I last looked at him. I watch our lives stretch out into the space in front of me, blocks and boxes of years and decades that roll in on themselves, back between my eyes and down my spine.

“Noah.” I turn to face him and it takes a few seconds to bring the shapes in the darkness into focus. His eyes, his mouth, the way his hair falls across his forehead, all fit perfectly into the image I was holding in my mind, so I can relax again. I involuntarily add the moment to the catalogue of things I will remember on the day I find out I’m dying, when existence will feel cyclical and I will bask in my own prophetic imaginings.

Dark jaws open and gape somewhere inside my head and I will my blood to slow down, my heart to beat less, my skin to stay warm. The end of the world isn’t real because it happens to everyone at the same time. When I’m alone, the end is a cold mirror and I need him to cushion the impact with long cashmere coats and flasks of strong coffee. Time and space have always been two sides of the same coin. Motion is a hesitant dimension.

He rests a hand, palm-down and huge, against my back, and the significant quantity of MDMA still in my bloodstream makes its presence known. Jordan’s guy gets good shit. It takes its time wearing off and floods back at the slightest provocation, a cerebral high as much as a physical one. Using my assistant as a conduit for Class A drugs is probably crossing a few important professional boundaries, but that’s never bothered me. Or him.

Noah traces the lines on my back with his fingertips. “Does everyone who sees those scars ask how you got them?”

“Some take longer to get to it than others, but yeah.” 

His hand slides from my back to my hip and I almost can’t handle how it feels. I want him, but it’s too much right now. I watch the involuntary flicker of his eyes trying to focus in the dark through the chemical haze and all I can think is I’ve found something.

“I want to know, but I don’t want to make you tell me.” His words are gentle, but his tone is grit gathering at the side of a snow-slick road.

The room is dark apart from the alien abduction clock and his eyes look almost black. For half a second, I crave their deep blue in daylight and he’s an ocean around me. I blink and the thought splinters into diamonds.

“No-one’s ever been able to make me do anything,” I tell him, “although you’re more than welcome to try.” Language is colour and silk sliding through my fingers.

His hand tightens on my hip and I don’t think he’s doing it on purpose, but. I yawn and it makes him yawn. “How about if I just ask?”

“It’s nothing I didn’t want. Burns, blades, fingernails, whatever. Everything that feels like enough leaves scars. People always expect some tragic story, but there isn’t one. It isn’t that interesting. How did you get yours?”

“Shot in the shoulder, stabbed in the thigh, both occupational hazards. No tragedy here either.”

It’s reassuring. I don’t want to deal with some tale of childhood trauma after an admission of years of enthusiastically received violence. Also, I want us to have that in common, that we just are the way we are, without any foreshadowing catastrophe.

“A hazard of which occupation?” He doesn’t talk about work, ever, and I want him to. I want to know the severity of his extremes.

“The shoulder was security. The leg was the police.”

My hand finds the texture left by the bullet. It’s too dark to see much, but I can fill in the detail from my fingertips and it manifests as a wireframe diagram with writhing veins and glowing indigo scar tissue piercing his body. I want to dig my fingers through his skin and let his ligaments grow like vines around them. “I still can’t get my head around that. You being in the police, I mean.”

“Me neither.”

“What happened?”

“It wasn’t for me. Too many other people’s rules and not enough actually being able to do anything about anything. Still, there’s always some useful take-away from any experience. ”

“Are you usually so philosophical about it?”

“I usually don’t talk about it at all.” He exhales into a cross between a sigh and a laugh and closes his eyes.

A creeping melancholy worms through my gut at the thought of him falling asleep.

But he speaks. “It’s been thirteen days. Since we met.”

“Fifteen, if you count the night I got hit by the car.” And there’s more I want to say, but I don’t know how to put it into words, so I don’t even try. I don’t know how to put anything into words. 

Prison. Alchemy. None of it means a thing. And I’m struck by the sudden and profound understanding that I’m going to die in his arms. Not now, but when it happens.