Two Boys Kissing(26)

Within an hour the whole place is rigged. Harry is grateful for the distraction. His feet feel like uncomfortable blocks of cement, no matter how often he moves them. He is also starting to feel his eyelids grow heavier, so he signals an E and gets an energy drink. It’s a tricky operation—kissing Craig and sipping from a straw at the same time. But Craig makes sure Harry’s covered, and gets more than a few drops of energy drink in his own mouth as a result. Almost immediately, Harry can feel his heart race as the drink goes through his system. He’ll be good for a few hours, and then might need another boost. Luckily, his bladder is behaving.

Craig is upset, but not surprised, that his mother hasn’t returned. That must have been his father’s order. To ignore. To deny.

He could text her. He could beg her to come back. He could ask her what’s going on.

But he stops himself. His parents have to figure it out themselves. Because he’s not the one with the problem—they are.

Harry senses him drifting. He pulls Craig closer. Kisses him like he means it. Kisses him to draw him back.

People cheer. But not everyone. At this point there are people in the crowd who aren’t smiling at all. Their disgust would be visible to anyone next to them, if the people next to them were watching. But for now they are invisible—except to us. We see them, and we have no doubt they will not stay invisible. Not for long.

The night pushes on.

“Don’t mind the mess,” Julian says as he turns the key in the door.

Cooper promises he won’t. He’d bet his room is messier, anyway.

Sure enough, when he gets in the apartment, he doesn’t know what Julian’s talking about. Everything seems to be in order. It’s not that big a place, but it’s not like there’s underwear everywhere, or pipes leaking through the ceiling. There are canvases in various states of completion all over the living room.

Julian sees Cooper looking, and feels the need to explain. “It’s just the way I work—I’ll spend an hour on one thing, then switch to something else, then switch again. I’m usually working on at least twenty paintings at the same time. Very ADD, I know. But I’ve tried doing it the other way, and the paintings get tired.”

Cooper gestures at the painting on the easel. “Is that your mom or something?”

Julian blushes. “No. It’s actually Joni Mitchell. I listen to her a lot when I paint, so I figured I’d return the favor. Although I’m not sure she’d appreciate the gesture. Did you know she’s a painter, too?”

Cooper clearly has no idea what Julian’s talking about, and when Julian realizes this, he blushes further.

“I’m being a bad host,” he says. “I haven’t even offered you a drink yet, Drake. What do you want?”

Cooper almost trips up on that Drake—he’s forgotten that’s his name right now. But he recovers quickly, and asks for a Jack and Coke. He’s never really had a drink with anyone else before, just in the company of his dad’s liquor cabinet when his parents have been away. Jack and Coke is the first thing that comes to his mind.

“It might have to be a Jack and Diet Coke,” Julian says. “Let me check.” He goes into the kitchen and yells out, “Yeah, Diet Coke.”

“That’s fine!” Cooper yells back.

Cooper can hear the ice maker doing its work, then the clink of ice cubes being dropped into glasses, and the release of the Diet Coke bottle when its cap is turned. He looks at some of the paintings and likes them more than he thought he would. Julian isn’t bad at all. And there’s something he likes about the way all of the paintings are unfinished. It seems more real that way. People are caught between being sketches and being complete. Cooper has no idea who any of them are. But he doesn’t expect to, so that’s okay. There’s one that looks like it could be his English teacher from eighth grade. But he’s sure it probably isn’t, and he barely remembers her, anyway.

Julian comes in with two glasses of the same drink. Cooper likes the taste of his—there’s just the right balance, the Jack tasting like alcoholic caramel at the core of the chemical Diet Coke fizz. Julian asks him who his favorite painter is, and Cooper says Picasso, because that’s the first painter he can think of. Then Julian asks him what his favorite period of Picasso’s is, and from the recesses of his mind, the phrase blue period rises, so that’s his answer, and from Julian’s pleased reaction, he can tell it’s a good one.

Julian goes off on a tangent about how the Impressionists are overappreciated by the general population, which leads to them being underappreciated by art snobs. Cooper polishes off his drink and wants Julian to stop talking about Monet, because it wasn’t an art appreciation app they met on, it was a sex app. Julian realizes he’s lost Cooper and ties off the sentence he’s speaking, then takes a sip of his own quarter-empty drink. “Let me put on some music,” he says, and asks if Cooper has any requests. Cooper says whatever is fine with him, then is impressed when Julian goes over to his computer and puts on some Arcade Fire.

“I like them,” Cooper says, and even though it’s just three words, he feels strange saying them, as if he’s just given something away.

“Me too,” Julian says, and takes another sip.

Cooper wants something to start, and he wants it to start now. So he moves closer to Julian. Much closer. Undeniably closer. Julian is about to begin a sentence, but Cooper’s movement blocks it. Cooper thinks: This is what we’re after, isn’t it? He puts his glass down, careful not to put it too close to any of the paintings. It’s time to move in. He’s seen so many scenes of guys doing this—gotten hard to them doing this, jerked off to them doing this. Now here it is. Julian’s got a great body, a nice face. Cooper wants to see what will happen, wants to see if this changes anything. Julian’s putting down his own drink, running his hand down Cooper’s arm. Cooper knows he has him, knows he has it. He reaches out and puts his hand on the side of Julian’s neck. Leans in. And here it is, them pressing their mouths together, pressing their bodies together. Cooper wants it so badly, wants something, and he doesn’t want to stop for breath, he wants to keep going and going. It’s Julian who pulls away for a second, who actually asks if this is okay. And Cooper says yes, of course it’s okay, and then they’re pressing back in. It’s what he thought it would be and it’s not what he’d thought it would be, because Julian is gentler than he imagined a stranger would be, and when Cooper tries to push it harder, Julian slows it down. It’s a subtle disagreement, and they play it like the game it is. Cooper wants to pull him down to the couch, wants to get him horizontal, but the couch is covered in paintings, so he lets it go on for a little bit longer, then surfaces and asks, “The bedroom?” And when Julian gives him a surprised look, he says, “I don’t want to crush your paintings.” Julian smiles at that, takes him by the hand, and they’re in the tiny bedroom, still standing up and kissing, so Cooper topples them over onto the bed. Julian laughs, and Cooper kisses that laugh. It goes away, the laugh, and instead there are hands exploring—Cooper, not knowing any better, moves out of sequence, goes right for the groin, and Julian pulls away, directs him back above the waist, but Cooper’s not satisfied, Cooper’s not feeling what he wants to feel. He retreats for a few minutes, kissing with him on top, then rolling them over so they’re kissing with him on the bottom, groins touching now, him feeling what’s going on beneath Julian’s jeans, then rolling over again so he can take off his shirt and then take off Julian’s shirt. Now it’s skin on skin, sweat on sweat, and it’s hot, it’s really hot, but Cooper’s still not feeling what he wants to feel—it still feels empty to him—he’s still feeling empty—so he kisses Julian harder, moves his hands down there, and Julian whispers, “Not yet,” and Cooper feels he can’t wait much longer, it’s going too slow and he wants it to be fast enough that he doesn’t feel anything else, doesn’t think anything else, because isn’t that what sex is supposed to be like, isn’t it supposed to be a form of oblivion, and he’s not there yet—not there—and Julian is slowing things down again, easing things down, and Cooper doesn’t understand why they’re not naked yet, so he moves to Julian’s belt, but Julian moves them around so it’s impossible to undo the buckle. Cooper goes for the buttons on his own jeans, only Julian takes his hand, forces his hands up so they’re over his head, and Cooper likes the strong movement of that, likes the force, feels Julian’s chest hair against his bare chest, gasps involuntarily when Julian kisses his neck, then the intersection of his neck and his shoulder blade, a spot he didn’t even know he had. He wants more, even more, so he bends them so they’re side by side, moves his hands down, disengages them from Julian’s, starts innocently enough at his shoulders, but then thrusts them down, down, and Julian’s hands are there again, blocking him. Julian says, “Let’s go a little slower. It’s just the first date.” And Cooper wants to tell him they’re only going to have a first date, so they might as well go all the way, might as well see what’s going on under those jeans. If this were porn, they’d be naked by now, they’d be blowing each other. But of course he doesn’t say that, doesn’t say this is the only date they’re going to have, doesn’t want to end things entirely, wants to deny that maybe somewhere in his mind he was hoping he would find a boyfriend tonight, because everybody knows you don’t go on a sex app to find a boyfriend, and Julian would never want to be with him, anyway, because Julian thinks that right now he’s tonguing the nipple of a nineteen-year-old college student with two roommates back home, a nineteen-year-old college student who has his shit together, and Cooper’s thinking, Where’s the oblivion? because now even his body is starting to fall out of it, and that’s ridiculous because he’s a seventeen-year-old boy and a breeze can make him hard, and while he’s still hard, he feels like it’s not going to go anywhere, and now Julian realizes they’ve fallen out of step, and he curls away, lies back on a pillow, leans on his side and strokes Cooper’s shoulder, touches Cooper’s cheek, says, “You’re so lovely,” and Cooper doesn’t want to be lovely, he doesn’t want to be a painting, he wants to be screwing himself into oblivion, and he knows, completely knows, that Julian is not the guy for the job. In fact, the only guy for the job would probably be someone who didn’t give a shit at all about him, and that would only be worse. So this is one path ended. This is one relief crossed out. Julian asks, “Are you okay?” And Cooper says he’s great, because what’s one more empty lie? Julian kisses him again, and then they exist like that, half entwined, Julian touching his hair, his chest. Breathing softly, trying to wrap them inside something softer than regular life. Cooper knows he should feel lovely, or at least relaxed. But lying there, he feels like he’s made of stone. Or no, not even stone. He feels like flesh. Not skin, not heartbeat. Just flesh. Julian is treating him like someone special, but Julian doesn’t know anything at all, because Cooper’s a piece of shit, and Julian’s lying there, admiring it.

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