Hopeful Little Heart

"Hey, uh, Michael?" Pete is buried inside the refrigerator, but I can hear him anyway.

"What?" I yell through the open patio door.

"Where the hell is your beer?" he retreats, gasping, mostly because I have leftover stir-fry in the back.

I don't recall ever having eaten stir-fry since I moved in.

"Dude," Pete staggers towards the balcony, "that is a toxic waste zone."

"I know," I grin at him, fighting the urge to giggle like a little girl. "Hee."

"The hell?" Pete looks at me.

"Oh, uh," I flush, "I giggle like a little girl."

"I've noticed," Pete says. "It's a little weird."

"I know," I sigh, flick loose ash off my cigarette.

"So seriously, no beer?" He asks.

"Nope," I say. "We could go and get some."

"That involves effort," Pete says, draping an arm over my shoulders. "And I don't think we're ready for that step."

"Naw," I say, stubbing the cigarette out on the railing and tossing it to the pavement below. "I'd have to put on shoes."

"You're wearing shoes," Pete points out. "Birkenstocks."

"They are not," I protest, kicking one off. "See? Sand n Sun. Eight ninety four at Wal-Mart."

"Fakenstocks, then," Pete amends. "I can't believe you shopped at Wal-Mart."

"I didn't," I say, even though I did.

"Did so." He takes my hand and sticks his fingers through mine. "I was there."

"You went into Wal-Mart?" I say disbelievingly. "Get out."

"For real," he says. "I wore my button."

"Are we even talking about the same thing?" I ask, suddenly confused.

He shrugs. "I dunno."

"Okay," I say, shrug him off and head back inside.

"can I leave the door open?" Pete asks, tugging his sock up.

"Sure, I guess," I say, not caring. "Did you bring detergent?"

"What?" he says, stopping mid-step.

"Did you bring laundry detergent over?" I repeat.

He looks blank.

"Like I asked you?" I clarify, but he still looks lost.

"Aw, Jesus, Pete, I have to wash my clothes," I whine. "I haven't had lemony freshness in six days. Six days."

"Which is like four years in Michael time," Tomy says, reappearing from his room.

"You shut up," I say, pointing at him.

Whatever, he mouths, returning to his room.

"Does he have beer?" Pete says, nodding towards Tomy's door.

I shrug. "He doesn't have laundry detergent."

"I forgot, I'm sorry," he says. "Come on. You forgot the beer."

"No I didn't," I say. "Priority one is clean clothing so I can go and buy beer without shame."

"You're overreacting," Pete says, sitting down on the couch.

"No I'm not," I say, pulling my shirt out and smelling it. "I stink."

"Right, yeah," Pete says, searching for the remote. "You're still overreacting."

"No, I'm—" I see movement outside, so I step over Pete's legs and look outside. "Goddamnit, it's that fucking neighbor kid," I say, but I can't see where he went.

"Yeah, seriously, Mike, you're overreacting."

"Shut the fuck up," I say, stepping back over his legs to grab my cigarettes. "I'm going for a walk."

"Maybe you should go and get some laundry detergent," Pete wisecracks, dodging the shoe I throw at him.

I slam the door shut after me, checking to make sure that I have a lighter and keys to get back in. It wouldn't be the first time Tomy and Pete got cute and locked me out.

The first time it happened I slept in the hallway and there was that stupid fucking kid—who was standing right in front of me.

"Uh, excuse me?" I say, cigarette hanging loosely out of my mouth, but he was right in my way.

"Sorry," he says, whispers low, and clings to the wall like I'm going to hit him.

I give him a weird look as I pass, and notice the kid's got a purpling bruise on his face that wasn't there before.

As I turn the corner I feel his eyes on me and when I look back he's staring.

He looks away.

I shrug and keep going to the stairs. Then I go down. Then I go out and end up in these bushes that get puked on and peed in by drunk teenagers.

I'm taking the last drag off my cigarette and feeling fat and sassy when something hits me in the back of my neck.

I shrug it off and step on the cigarette butt. I leave it there but then I'm hit again. I look up, I see nothing. My neck feels wet so I wipe away with my hand and find it red, like blood.

Suddenly afraid, I duck and press myself against the building, protecting myself. Then it falls in front of me, and I inch forward to pick it up. A cherry pit.

"Fucking Christ," I say, flicking the pit away.

Another falls directly in front of me. I back up and yell upwards. "Knock it off."

Another falls. "There's people down here," I yell.

Another falls, so I dash for the bush and hope that whoever it is can see me. "This is not a public waste dump."

"Sorry," a voice says.

I squint up but I can't see anything. "You should be."

"I am," the voice laughs low. I can't help but get a little turned on.

"How sorry?" I ask, fold my arms over my chest.

"Very, very sorry." The voice says.

"Okay," I agree. "Then please don't do it again."

"But your antics were amusing," the voice says. I wonder who this is.

"Antics? Are you channelling fucking grandfathers?" I raise an eyebrow, hope that he can see.

"I hope not," he laughs, no, it's more of a snorting cough but amuses me. I smirk despite myself.

"Considering," he goes on, "that grandfathers should not fuck anyone, least of all each other."

"Sick," I say, "totally sick."

"You said it," he points out.

"Christfuck, you're right," I say. "Golly gee."

"Now who's channelling grandfathers?"

"Still you," I laugh. "You and your antics."

"You and your antics," he corrects.

I shrug. "I can't see your face."

"I know," he says but doesn't sound bothered.

"I would like to," I say.

"It's all right like this," he says.

"Fine," I sigh, "but I'm going to have another cigarette."

"I could stop you how?" he asks, a question, but it seems rhetorical so I don't answer.

I shrug and dig in my pockets and now I can't find my lighter. I remember having it five minutes ago, but now it has disappeared. I pat myself down and dig deep in my pockets.

"If you're trying to make me hot and bothered it's working," he says.

"What?" I say, cigarette stuck in my mouth for safekeeping, lighter unfound.

"Your free show. Fondling yourself?" he says, like it should make me remember.

"I don't….oh, no," I say, "I'm looking for my lighter."

"Here," he says, tossing something down and lands at my feet.

"More cherry pits?" I ask, but bend down and pick it up. A lighter.

"No," he says, "obviously."

"Thanks," I say, light my cigarette and breathe in deep then blow out a cloud of blue grey smoke.

"Do you like that?" he asks.

"Wha?" I say, blink and look up in his direction. I still can't see from the shadow on the building.

"Sucking off a fag," he says.

"What?" I take the cigarette out, tap the ash, glare up at him.

"Cigarette, you know, it's a fag?" He tries, sounds uncertain.

"I know that," I say, still glaring. "That's still rather familiar."

"Familiar?" he says.

"I don't know you that well," I clarify. "You know?"

"I…" he trails off. "I didn't mean anything by it."

"I know," I say, "but consider if I had a gun in my pocket."

"I thought you were just happy to see me," he jokes.

I smile despite myself, take another drag from the cigarette. "Fine. We'll leave that one."

"Consider it done," he says. "Can I ask you something?"

"Consider it done," I mock, "you just did."

"No, not like that," he says, and I can imagine the withering look, "you live in 304?"

I blink. "No, 307."

"Oh." He says, clears his throat.

"You?" I ask.

"Oh, uh, I'm…309," he stutters. "I'm asking you something else now."

"Ask away," I say, shrug and decide I only want half the cigarette and rub it out carefully on the pavement. I straighten and tuck the unsmoked bit into my pocket.

"Can I take you out?" He rushes this out.

"Uh, sure," I say. "When?"

"Tonight," he says.

I debate it. There is Pete and Tomy back upstairs, but I doubt we would do anything tonight.

"Sure."

"Great," he sounds excited and I wonder now what I have gotten into. "Will you pretend to be my boyfriend?"

"Hello, what?" I pause in digging for my keys.

"I uh, well, my friends think I have a boyfriend, and uh… well, would you?" he sounds nervous now.

"What's in it for me?" I say, surprising myself when I don't immediately object.

"I hear you need laundry detergent," he says slyly.

I blink, startled. "How the fuck do you know that?"

"I have my ways," he says. "So is it a deal?"

"All right, fine," I say. "Meet me here in ten minutes."

"Okay," he says, and then I stand there and stare as I hear a door slam shut on the third floor. This was too creepy for me not to get excited.

I run inside and up the stairs, feel my keys hard in my pocket. I feel other things like the rough brick against my fingertips and the air warming against my face as I go higher.

I open the apartment door.

Pete is sitting on the couch and Tomy has his bare feet in Pete's lap. They are drinking expired orange juice and watching What Not to Wear. Barely notice me as I pass through, searching my clothes for something that looks like something someone's boyfriend would wear and doesn't stink.

I find a tee shirt that is not mine and so doesn't smell like smoke. It's Tomy's and is too small on him so it's too long on me and even though I cover it with a jacket I still feel like I'm wearing a dress.

But if I am wearing a dress I am at least wearing a dress that doesn't smell like body odour. I take a half full mickey of vodka out of my dresser drawer and tuck it into my back pocket, take my keys and make sure I have my cigarettes.

"Where you going?" Pete asks, sees me with my coat on.

"Out," I say.

"Bring back beer," Tomy says.

"And laundry detergent," Pete adds.

I slam the door with no comment. Then take the stairs slowly, feel the plastic bottle slam against my leg with each step.

At the bottom I open the door and see no one. So I wait and light another cigarette and notice I have about seven left. If the night is like piano recital boring, I would have to stop to get more.

The door opens and someone steps out, catches sight of me, comes over and as I realise it's the fucking neighbour kid he's already taking the cigarette out of my mouth. "You like sucking off fags?"

"Wha?" I say, stare at him blankly.

"Uh, hi," the kid says, waves my cigarette and then hands it back.

I blink, then shrug. "I totally didn't know you were gay and liked to pick guys up from the balcony."

"Heh," the kid says, shrugs and I take my cigarette back. "I totally um, well, I told my friends you were my boyfriend so I guess it wouldn't get any worse."

"Oh. Why?" I finish the cigarette and stamp it out.

"I, uh, well," he stammers and starts moving so I follow. I am surprisingly less weirded out over the whole neighbour kid and lying about me factors.

"There was that time you on the balcony…" he trails off.

"Oh," I say, flush a bit. "You saw that?"

"Yeah." He snorts. "I'm pretty sure everyone saw that."

"Right," I say.

"It was hot," he says.

"Really?" I say, look at him.

"Yeah," he shrugs.

"Oh." I pause; realize I don't even know his name. "Well, um, here," I say, and take a sip from the bottle of vodka and offer it to him.

"Wait—you have vodka?" he says like it is plutonium.

"No, it's liquid nitrogen," I say, and when he doesn't take it I drink again. It burns.

"Is that even—" he stares at me.

"You're a little gullible," I break in.

"You're a little mean," he says.

"You're a little liar," I say.

"You used to call me that neighbour kid," he says.

I shrug. "I didn't know your name."

"It's Jarett," he offers even though I didn't ask.

"Oh."

"Oh?" he repeats.

"Yeah. Just oh." I say. It is not a thing to be made a deal over.

"Um, all right." He swallows. "…can I call you Mikey?"

"Uh, no." I say.

"Please?" he says.

"No."

"Come on," he whines.

"You do realise I'm doing you a favour and that asking to call me a stupid nickname is not helping?" I offer helpfully.

"Right. Sorry." He apologises then tries again. "Mikey lee?"

I blink. "What the hell, kid."

He shrugs awkwardly. "I kind of call you Mikey in my head."

I blink again. I am floored. "Right. And in your head am I actually there?"

"Well, yeah," he says, acting shocked I would ask.

"And what am I doing?" I ask.

"You're… well, you're supposed to be this older mature guy who is showing me the ways of the world."

"The gay ways," I say, rolling my eyes.

"Not like that," he rushes out, assuring me.

"Then what?" I say.

"You're like my first real boyfriend," he says.

"I am your first fake boyfriend," I retort.

"Right, right," he sighs. "It's just we're all together, you know? Like none of us really have experience or anything and I didn't want to be seen like I didn't know anything."

"Even surrounded by those less experienced than yourself?" I raise an eyebrow.

"Well, that's it," he says, "it's like I'm a leadership figure. I have the older boyfriend who—" he cuts himself off abruptly.

"Who…" I draw the word out.

"Who know you, is like the real thing."

"I am not real, I am soulless," I say, "I work at futureshop."

"Jesus," he says, "that doesn't matter."

"So I am just a symbol?" I ask.

"No, you're… I don't know."

"You should. You asked me. Or would you just have asked whatever fucking random person who walked around smoking outside to fake date you?"

"No, I just saw you and I was like yeah, that's what I want—"

"So you've been stalking me," I accuse him.

He is guilty. "No, I've—"

"Do people actually act like this in real life? …cos in real life I would definitely be walking away."

"But you're not," he says observantly.

"No," I start, "but that's cos you've got the lighter."

"Oh."

"Yeah."

We stop in front of a house.

"This is my friend's place," he says.

I think. "Does he still live with his parents?"

"Yes. He's seventeen."

"Right. You're…" I trail off to let him finish.

"Seventeen."

"And I'm…" I offer this ending.

"I don't know," he says.

"I'm twenty-four. Don't you find this weird?"

"Not really, no," he says. "Except for the part where you're doing this all as a favour."

"Yeah, there's that," I say, though it is the least of the worries that could be.

"But his parents aren't home tonight," he says, like it should make all things right in the world. Except for molestation charges.

"So I'm what, the babysitter?" I say sarcastically.

"Shut up," he says, shrugs his hands into his pockets metaphysically.

"No, seriously," I say, keep going. "Can you afford me? My wages are stiff."

"That's not the only thing," he mutters.

"Excuse me?" I say. "Is that even appropriate?"

"Are you even appropriate," he retorts.

"Probably not. I should be kept away from teenaged boys." I grin. It should be my warning label.

"And astro-glide, if the balcony is anything to go by," he says, startles me with sparkling wit.

"Jesus will I ever live that down," I mumble.

"I don't think he'll answer," Jarett says. I should give him a terribly clever and awful nickname for this nightmare he has made my life into.

"I don't think anyone will come to this door," I say sharply.

"We can just walk in," he says, so we do.

"And besides," I say, turning to him look up and notice that though I have seven years on him he has at least four inches on me. I blink and continue. "Could you imagine that on the balcony without the astro-glide?"

"Jesus," says someone else. "You weren't lying about that."

"Would I lie?" Jarett says with a practiced grin.

"Yes," says the someone else. "This is Mikey?"

"Reluctantly," I say, offer my hand. This boy seems like he has barely had to shave.

This disturbs me more than I can say.

"Ah," he says. "We've heard lots of things about you. We've all come for the viewing."

This also disturbs me.

I feel dead. They are here to pay their respects to a man and his balcony.

I am not sure I like being famous. Even to a group of seventeen-year-old semi-homosexuals who are probably in it for the feeling of alienation and togetherness.

"All lies, I'm sure," I say, with a practiced look at Jarett. He seems fine with it. I seem to take advantage.

"Let's see the rest of the crew." I smile engagingly I am like a superhero.

I am totally sarcastic.

"Are you being sarcastic?" he says.

"Yes," I say without being sarcastic.

"Hey, guys," a group of boys that appear to be homosexual lie sprawled on the floor. "Jarett brought his boyfriend."

"Now that they've seen me, can we go? I am horny," I say and punctuate this with a hard thrust against his hip.

They seem scandalized.

"Dude," one says.

I would hate to see them and a porno.

"Mike," Jarett says awkwardly, holds me off. "Not right now."

"That's what you always say," I whine, press my face into his neck. "That or you have a headache."

He tries to shrug me away but I stick and wrap my arm around his waist. He sighs and pretends it's routine.

I smirk. "We never bang like frypans anymore," I tell the skinny blond sitting next to me.

"Uh, frypans?" he repeats, not meeting my eyes.

"Frypans," I clarify. "Like rabbits, only with more noise."

"Oh," he says, and no one talks to me anymore. It's awkward conversation with the rest of them. Everyone is pointedly not looking as us hanging on each other and I find it odd that despite their latent sexuality they are not touching at all and are staring at our display. Which isn't much of a display at that.

Then after fifteen aching minutes someone stands up they all stand up we stand up and we are all walking away because the visitation is over. There are short goodbyes and we head in a different direction than the rest of them.

"God, ass like that," one says as we walk away.

"Really, the point of that?" I ask, we are outside and I am lighting another cigarette with his lighter.

He shrugs. "Seduction?"

"Wrong answer," I say, taking a quick puff to be sure I'm lit and then hand the lighter back.

"Uh, showing you off?" he tries again.

I take that, "getting closer."

"I don't know," he says.

"You trick me into coming here with you, we don't do a thing involving either tongues or alcohol and now we are walking back to an apartment building I don't want to go to." I sigh. "And there is no chance of me getting my bone on. I am bitter."

"I didn't trick you," he says moodily.

"Yes you did," I say. "I should stab you with my cigarette."

"What?" he turns wide eyes on me.

I blink. "Yeah."

"No, what did you say?"

"I said I should stab you with my cigarette," I punctuate this by holding the cigarette in front of his face.

"Oh," he is visibly relieved.

"What did you think I said?" I ask, curious.

"Nothing," he says.

"Come on now," I say.

"I thought," here he looks down and goes red, "that you said you were going to stab me with your lumberdick."

"Eww," I say with a weird look. "That so does not turn me on at all."

"Me neither," he says.

I shudder for good measure. "Let's go to the 7-11."

"Why?" he asks.

"Because it is there," I say and drop my cigarette to the sidewalk. "And I need cigarettes."

He follows me across the street and slows when we cross the parking lot. "Come on, jetset, I want to make it before they close."

I can tell he is about to say something about the unlikelihood of that when he realises my sarcasm. "Jetset?"

I shrug in answer.

"Oh Jesus," he says, dropping right in behind me.

"What?" I spin and turn to face him.

"I know those assholes," he says, nods towards a group of kids on the curb, with one shitty car between the eight or so of them.

"Really?" I say. "Should I care?"

"No, it's just—" he sighs, stops.

"Just what?"

I wait for his answer.

"They're going to give us a hard time," he finally says.

We get closer, and I can see them shifting around excitedly like a group of unwashed vultures with bad haircuts.

"Hey, it's Jarett," one says.

"Hey Jarett," the others parrot.

I roll my eyes and drag him into the store behind me. They watch us through the window, and I wait for my cigarettes as Jarett flutters nervously.

"Stop it," I tell him.

"I can't," he says, continues to do it.

"Christfuck," I say, ignore the glare of the woman in line behind us and put my money down on the counter for a pack of Du Maurier. "They aren't going to hurt you."

"The hell," he mutters unhappily.

I sigh, take my cigarettes and jam them into my jacket pocket. "Listen I'm not just happy to see you this really is a gun in my pocket."

The woman is staring now both fearful and disgusted.

I take his hand and drag him outside. "Now we can go back and you won't miss curfew."

"Fag," one of the kids mutters in a way meant to be heard by accident.

I ignore him but Jarett's breath quickens just a bit, just enough to make me turn around and kiss him hard and wet and deep even though he's only seventeen. It was the kind of kiss girls dream about and straight teenaged boys never think about with other guys.

One of them says wow and the others just stare.

Jarett stumbles. He follows me. We get back to the apartment and climb three sets of stairs and I am at my door before he has exited the stairwell.

"Um, thanks," he says, jogging to catch up to me. I can't hear anything from inside the apartment. I open my door and step inside.

I shrug.

"So, uh, can I see you again sometime?" he looks painfully hopeful. "Maybe I could check out your balcony?"

I try to think of a way to let him down gently but fail and am going to be brutal.

Then his apartment opens.

"Jarett?" His mother pokes her head out of the door. "Oh, good, you're home."

"Right, yeah," he says, looks at me with his eyes and his hopeful little heart.

"Bye," I say, and close the door in his face.