It's just after five in the morning and your digital clock casts an eerie blue, the colour children use to draw icebergs. The room feels like an alien abduction.
"Brett." Your voice is quiet, rough around the edges, like leaning against warm bricks. I try to picture your face and there's an elastic shiver at the base of my skull, anxiety that my memory of you is wrong, that I've forgotten some important detail of your features in the minutes or centuries since I last looked at you. 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 you and it takes a few seconds to bring the shapes in the darkness into focus. Your eyes, your mouth, the way your hair falls across your forehead, all fit perfectly into the image I was holding in my mind, so I can relax again. I involuntarily add the moment to my 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 in front of me 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 you to cushion the impact with long cashmere coats and flasks of Hawaiian coffee. Time and space have always been two sides of the same coin. Motion is a hesitant dimension.
You rest 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 it 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 it doesn't matter.
You speak and something tightens around my throat. "Does everyone who sees those scars ask how you got them?" You're tracing the lines on my back with your fingertips now and I have a brief flashback to being twenty-one years old, but I don't know why.
"Some take longer to get to it than others, but yeah." Because my brain likes to fuck with me when I'm high, I think of Cain. It feels wrong to be thinking about her at all right now and I'm not thinking about her that way, but she's there in my head and I feel what I imagine real people would describe as guilt. It's not as much as shame, but it's more than a passing discomfort. I don't feel bad because of who I am, but there's a twinge of remorse because of what I did, which I'm fairly sure is the difference between shame and guilt, although I have no significant working knowledge of either. I push the thought away and let you flood into the vacant space and drown me.
"Brett?" Your voice gets better every time I hear it and I could listen to you say my name all day, every day, forever. I don't know how to put that into words, so I don't even try. I don't know how to put anything into words. God. Remorse. Prison. Alchemy. None of it means a thing. I'm struck by the sudden and profound understanding that I'm going to die in your arms. Not now, but when it happens.
"Mmm?" Your hand slides from my back to my hip and I almost can't handle how it feels. I want you, but it's too much right now. I watch the involuntary flicker of your eyes trying to focus in the dark through the chemical haze and all I can think is I've found something. I've found something.
"I want to ask, but I don't want to make you tell me." Your words are gentle, but your tone is grit gathering at the side of a snow-slick road. The room's dark apart from the alien abduction clock and your eyes look almost black. For half a second, I crave their deep blue in daylight and you're an ocean around me. I blink and the thought splinters into diamonds.
"You couldn't make me do anything, although you're more than welcome to try." Language is colour and silk sliding through my fingers. "Can I give you a general overview of the scars? I can't remember every single one and I'm high as fuck still."
"Yeah. And so am I." Your hand tightens on my hip and I don't think you're doing it on purpose, but I'm lost. I yawn and it makes you yawn.
"Fighting, climbing up things, jumping off them, being into what I'm into. Use your imagination. People always expect some tragic story, but there isn't one. 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 what amounts to years of voluntarily experienced violence and a pathological lack of concern for my own vulnerability. 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?" You don't talk about work, ever, and I want you to. I want to know the severity of your extremes.
"The shoulder was security. The leg was the police."
My hand finds the texture left by the bullet traveling through you. It's too dark to see much, but I can fill in the detail from my fingertips and it manifests as a wire frame diagram with writhing veins and glowing indigo scar tissue piercing your body. I want to dig my fingers through your skin and let your ligaments grow like vines around them. "I still can't get my head around that. You being in the police, I mean."
"It wasn't for me. Too many other people's rules and not enough actually being able to do anything about anything." You exhale into a cross between a sigh and a laugh, and close your eyes.
A creeping melancholy worms through my gut at the thought of you falling asleep.
But you speak. "It's been eleven days. Since we met."
YOU ARE READING
Winter FollowsGeneral Fiction
One month, one city, five lives colliding with the forces of fate. A thrill-seeking tech genius with an appetite for dangerous extremes. A retired contract killer fighting to escape his past and himself. An underworld driver tempted deeper into a li...