Icy raindrops slid down the collar of Darren’s shirt as he opened the door to his apartment complex and hurried inside, drying his feet on the welcome mat before sprinting up the staircase. The lobby was dimly lit as usual but he didn’t miss a step as he raced to number 203.
The air inside his apartment was warm, even a little stuffy, contrasting greatly with the nautical breeze he had just left behind at the bus stop. He welcomed the thought of a hot shower and a cup of coffee as he stripped off his Abercrombie jacket and dropped his book bag on the faux leather sofa. But before indulging in either of these things, Darren pulled out his cell phone from the back pocket of his faded jeans and dialed the first number that appeared on his list of contacts.
“Hi.. Are you doing anything right now?” Darren asked the other person on the line.
The reply sounded muffled and he wondered if the boy had just woken up. “No.. I’m not working today.”
“Come over, then,” Darren said quickly. “We could go out for dinner.” Darren wondered why he felt so excited over something mundane as going out to dinner with his boyfriend but he figured it was probably because he hadn’t seen him in awhile. Caleb had just returned from a trip to his hometown and they hadn’t met up since last Sunday when Darren had picked him at the bus stop.
“It’s raining,” Caleb exclaimed as Darren sat on the couch and untied his shoes.
“So?” he wondered out loud. “We don’t have to go to Leighton or anything. We could just walk around the harbor, eat at that place where the boats are docked.. I just want to see you.”
He wondered if the last part was too mushy, but once it was said, he couldn’t take it back, and so he just hoped Caleb would concede.
After a quiet pause, Caleb mumbled something that sounded like, “Sure. I’m on my way,” and hung up.
Dropping his phone on the coffee table, Darren pulled off his shirt, and turned towards the bathroom to get cleaned up.
The doorbell rang as Darren was drying his hair with a moss green towel. He checked his reflection in the bathroom mirror; his straight tar-colored hair dipping into his doe brown eyes and wondered why his cheeks had suddenly gotten rosier.
The doorbell rang a second time and he hurried across the tight corridor to answer it, his cargo pants hanging low at his hips and bare feet still a little wet on the hardwood floor.
“Hey!” Darren exclaimed with a wide smile as he pulled the door open to reveal a blond boy in a denim jacket, jeans and red t-shirt standing with his arms folded around his torso.
“Aren’t you cold?” Darren asked as the boy stepped past him inside. “That jacket’s falling apart.”
Caleb shrugged. “It stopped raining, so..” He hesitated before returning Darren’s one-armed hug.
It felt weird, like he didn’t really want to be there but had no choice. Darren brushed that thought aside before closing the door and turning back to Caleb who was now sitting on the sofa.
“So what were you doing when I called?”
To his surprise, Caleb looked kind of annoyed by the question that Darren had meant to sound casual.
Caleb sighed. “Just listening to some music. I tried reading “For Whom the Bell Tolls” for my English class, but it’s annoying as hell.”
“Oh..” Darren sat down next to Caleb and stared at the coffee table for a moment. He wasn’t sure if he should try to embrace him again when he seemed so frustrated. It was hard. He didn’t want Caleb to shut him out just because of one little wrong move. But there was no way of telling why Caleb was upset because he didn’t like being prodded.
“Let’s go, then?” Darren finally offered, making to stand.
Darren wrapped a scarf around his neck as he followed Caleb into the January air that enveloped the scene outside. They turned down the sidewalk in the direction of Wilhelm Harbor. The seagulls’ familiar call comforted Darren as he thought that perhaps things could go smoother once they approached the restaurant.
As the birds circled overhead, he reached for Caleb’s hand. The other boy let him take it but barely glanced in his direction. Rather than discourage Darren, however, this only made him tighten his grip around Caleb’s pale fingers.
“How was it back home?” Darren wanted to know all of a sudden. He wondered if there was something that had happened in Lansing, Caleb’s hometown, that Caleb hadn’t told him about, that had upset him.
“It was fine,” Caleb answered in that indifferent voice again. “I went to my mom’s. She was fine.”
“And your dad?” Darren looked at him sideways.
Caleb just shook his head.
“He still doesn’t want to see you?” Darren asked carefully. Caleb shrugged and continued walking, his strides getting a little faster than Darren’s, though their hands were still clasped together.
“Hey.” Darren jerked on his hand, making him stop and turn around. Caleb’s green eyes looked irritated for a second before they became completely empty.
“He’s an idiot,” Darren said with a short humorless laugh. “Plain and simple. You don’t have to keep trying.”
Caleb’s lips turned up in a grim smile. “Somebody has to.”
“Yeah, and that’s your dad,” Darren insisted, not liking the way Caleb looked and sounded so defeated, not like his usual laid-back self. “If he doesn’t want to, then it’s his loss.”
Caleb sucked in a slow breath. He let go of Darren’s hand and gave him an awkward pat on the shoulder. “Let’s just go eat, okay?”
Darren suppressed a sigh and watched him walk across the street to Sampson’s, the little diner near the wharf.
Dinner wasn’t very enjoyable, though the food tasted good. Darren barely touched his lobster pasta and Caleb seemed only interested in devouring his tilapia meal, hardly saying a word to his companion the entire time. Both boys cast long glances out the window next to their booth, seeming to want to dive out into the metallic ocean and not be forced to exist in that uncomfortable moment.
Darren hated to think that he’d failed already but on the walk back home, they didn’t even hold hands.
“Do you want some coffee?” Darren asked the second they stepped into his apartment. His tone was rough, even though he hadn’t intended it to be. But he was running out of ideas on how to get Caleb to have fun. Sometimes nothing he did mattered.
“Sure,” Caleb said, taking off his denim jacket and throwing it on the sofa. Darren went into the kitchen and quickly busied himself with opening the tin of hazelnut and filling the coffeepot with water from the tap.
Darren walked into the living room a few minutes later, carrying two mugs of coffee. He found Caleb kneeling on the floor next to the table, peering at the sketchpad that Darren had left next to his bag.
For a moment, Darren was annoyed by Caleb’s snooping. But he dismissed it when he saw what drawing Caleb was staring at. It was a portrait of him, standing in Darren’s bedroom, wearing nothing but a t-shirt and boxer shorts. Caleb’s body was facing the square window in the picture, but his head was turned towards the artist and there was a hint of a smile on his lips. The only color in the portrait was the vivid sea-glass tint of his irises.
“When did you do this?” Caleb asked now, examining the drawing with a softer expression on his face than he had worn an hour ago.
Darren set the coffee mugs down on the table and knelt beside him. “Awhile back,” he replied. “Maybe the week before winter break.”
Caleb glanced up at him. “It’s great.”
“No, really.” Caleb looked down at the picture again, his fingers lightly tracing the lines of charcoal on the thick cream paper. “It doesn’t look like me, though. Not really.”
“What are you talking about?” Darren demanded. “I drew you exactly as you were, standing in front of me. Don’t you remember? I think it was the day after we went to that concert in Penbrook. You spent the night here..”
“Yeah,” Caleb interrupted. “I meant that it doesn’t feel like it’s me right now. This guy you drew,” he brushed his fingers over the figure’s jaw and chin. “He looks sort of.. Mischievous, like he’s having fun.”
Darren thought for a moment. “He was,” he confessed. “I was hoping I’d see him today.”
They shared a leveled stare.
Then Darren asked what he’d wanted to from the start. “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Caleb answered immediately.
“Okay,” Darren whispered. “But don’t get mad at me for something I didn’t do.”
“I’m not.” Caleb turned to him and pressed his hands on both sides of his face, tracing his cheekbones with his fingertips. “I’m not mad at you,” he said, his voice husky. “I’m sorry.”
Darren just closed his eyes. “Stay.”
Caleb ducked his head, brushing his lips against Darren’s throat and dropped his hands to his sides over the other boy’s ribs. “If you want me to..” he murmured.
Both eager and frustrated, Darren raked a hand through Caleb’s straw-tinted hair, twisting his fingers in the strands and tilting the boy’s head back, capturing his mouth in a hard kiss.
Caleb responded by slipping his hands underneath Darren’s shirt and feeling his way up his abdomen. Darren continued kissing the other boy roughly, then slower as he cradled Caleb’s head with one hand and bent his body back until he was lying down on the floor next to the coffee table. Darren pressed his hands on the hardwood floor as they broke apart and Caleb uttered a shuddering breath. Their eyes met for a moment and there was a little bit of excitement in Caleb’s that encouraged Darren to pull off his t-shirt. Caleb mimicked the gesture and both boys discarded their shirts in a blend of dark red and green under the table.
Darren slid a hand slowly over Caleb’s lean stomach, up his pearlescent chest. His bare skin was cool, even though it had been some time since they’d been outside.
“You’re still so cold..” he murmured as Caleb laid back.
“Maybe because you’re not here,” Caleb said, his tone petulant as his jade-colored eyes roamed over the line of muscle running down Darren’s shoulders and forearms.
Darren smirked and inched closer, cradling his face with both hands and kissing him softly, before straddling his legs. He licked a path down Caleb’s neck and across his collarbone before pressing his body tighter against Caleb’s middle and moving so that a soft groan escaped Caleb’s lips.
“I missed you,” Darren whispered later, his head laying on Caleb’s shoulder, his cheek pressing against the flesh that was now sticky with a thin sheen of sweat.
Caleb hummed something that sounded like “me too,” and shifted so that his arms wrapped around Darren’s form.
It was still difficult to tell if they were okay. Darren had thought Caleb was in the moment with him just a short while ago when he’d been thrusting inside him and Caleb’s eyes had been closed, his breaths short, his hands slack and losing their grip around his hips. Afterward, Darren had just collapsed on top of him, waiting for his heartbeat to slow.
Caleb turned them over so that Darren wasn’t lying on top of him anymore, his body sliding to the floor, but Darren didn’t mind. He even smiled, as he didn’t know if he felt tired or not. In some places he did, but then some of his limbs were also tingling as if they were wired or anxious, sort of. He didn’t know.
Turning his head, he looked at Caleb. All he knew was that he didn’t want him going too far again.
“You look amazing,” he said, his voice slightly wrecked.
Caleb chuckled, lowering his head on the arm that he had stretched out on the floor. “Do you want to draw me again?” He asked with a hint of irony in his voice, but Darren just sighed and continued staring at the smattering of cinnamon freckles that ran across the bridge of Caleb nose.
He thought he looked adorable; innocent, almost. And that made Darren want to get out his sketchpad and recreate this fragile scene.
Caleb snickered a few minutes later when he came out of the bathroom and found Darren sitting on the floor with his back against the sofa, his sketchpad on his lap and a worn pencil in his hand.
“I was kidding!”
Darren grinned. “I wasn’t.”
Caleb crouched beside Darren and peered at the drawing. “What’s that?”
“I thought you were drawing me.”
“I am.” Darren gave a rueful smile. “I’m drawing you when we first met on the bench outside of school, remember?”
Caleb’s expression became unreadable, the teasing grin fading. “Of course, I remember,” he mumbled.
“I was sitting there, drawing and you walked by and asked if I’d gotten the textbook for our history class.”
Caleb nodded. “Yeah,” he said quietly.
Darren dropped his gaze back to the sketchpad. He remembered that it had been autumn and the campus was decorated with bronze leaves. He remembered looking up at the sound of someone’s voice and seeing Caleb approaching with a messenger bag slung across his chest. His blond hair had been windblown, the two buttons on his polo shirt unbuttoned. Darren had thought he’d never seen a cuter boy.
They’d sat down and had their first conversation then.
“I’m going to take a shower,” Caleb exclaimed, dragging Darren back to the present.
Caleb pressed his lips to Darren’s bare shoulder before standing to his full height and turning towards the bathroom.
Darren went back to drawing, but soon his hand started cramping and he let out a yawn. He set the sketchpad down and moved over to the sofa. He intended on waiting for Caleb to finish his shower so he could take one himself, but his eyes started watering soon with exhaustion.
Caleb opened the door of the bathroom and peeked around it, catching sight of Darren lying on the sofa, his face pressed against the armrest. With a towel wrapped around his waist, Caleb approached the sofa and took the pencil that was still clutched in Darren's hand, setting it on the table. Darren flinched but didn’t wake.
He only stirred again when a clock’s ticking pulled him from the dream he was in. Still, disoriented, he couldn’t recall all the details; only that he’d been standing on a street, looking up at the sky and there were birds everywhere, circling overhead.
He slowly sat up, realizing that he was still on the sofa, and carded a hand through his hair. He glanced around the dark apartment. It was night, he could tell. The light in the entryway was the only one on.
“Caleb?” Darren asked the quiet darkness, rising slowly. He stumbled over Caleb’s backpack, which was on the floor next to the sofa, and made his way towards the open door of the bathroom.
He peered inside but it was empty.
“Of course,” Darren muttered. “Why would he still be in there? Idiot..” He scolded himself as he turned towards his bedroom.
Pushing the door open, his eyes landed on the bed where Caleb lay face-down on top of the navy sheets.
Chuckling under his breath, Darren walked over to the bed and perched on the edge of the mattress, sliding a hand down the length of Caleb’s back. He was only wearing a pair of pajama shorts.
“Hey, wake up.” Darren shook Caleb’s shoulder gently. “It‘s freezing..”
There was no reply and Darren tried once more. “Caleb.”
He sighed and turned Caleb's body over so that he was lying on his back.
Caleb’s eyes were closed and he didn’t speak or move at the contact. Darren shook him again.
“Ca-” Darren stopped. He stared at Caleb’s silent form a second longer, then turned and raced out of his room. He ran back to the living room and picked up the jacket Caleb had draped over the back of the sofa. Sticking his hand inside one of the front pockets, he felt around, finding nothing but some coins. He open the other pocket. Darren couldn’t understand the twisting in his stomach until his fingers scraped against a cylinder object. Then his breathing hitched as he pulled out a bottle of Valium.
It wasn’t completely empty, but Caleb still didn’t wake up when Darren went back into his room and shook him for the third time.
Tears blurred Darren’s vision as he cupped a hand around Caleb’s cheek, feeling how the pale skin was warm for once.