——

L U S T
L E T T E R S

——

'Dana's Ersatz Happy' for the possible pleasure of Dr. Pepper 14, Goddess Genius and the best friend I could ever want.
So, Nora Muse, in gratitude of tummy-splitting laughs, salt-watered Kleenexes Hilarious, never-failing support, catchy writing lessons, invaluable inspiration, and the quirky world of human Dr. Pepper that threatens to usurp my root beer, this little scribble is dedicated to you with armloads of huggy love, presuming you will forgive the following (sadly true) equation.

Dana Humor plus Dana Diction equals (insert word that begins with c, has an r and an a in the middle, and ends with p here)

And guess what? Me thinks me wuv you! Sucky, huh?
(Hang on to your pants just a second. I'm not done yet.)
You also have exclusive copyright on the story. Yes, this one, and yes, that means it's yours. Pretty useless stuff, I know, but it's—yours? Burn it, rape it (s'not virgin, so cherries are irrelevant), dress it up, whatever, and I won't say a word.

You may now officially kill me.

(But there was more waiting in my computer, ma'am…)

WARNING. You should not read this story if italics in offend, irritate, infuriate, or depress you. If they turn you on, I suggest you scroll on with Parent/Teacher Alert at your door. Your fingertips.
Also, this story is one of the most moronic pieces I have ever read in my entire life. Just keep that in mind. All criticism is more than welcome—if it's possible to even criticize something this stinky. (Now you know how serious the situation is.)

Ehhh, bye.

——

"He wants you."

I glare at her over the frothy rim of my vanilla-flavored cappuccino. Looking at something with my eyeballs rolled upwards like this enlarges my whites and makes me look dumb as shit, but fuck that for the moment. "What?"

There is a distinct smirk on Kalee's lips. I don't like it. I've never liked her lips in the first place. They're just, well—lips. Twenty-year-old lips overdosed on gloss. There's simply no reason for me to like Kalee's lips—or the stuff that goes on around them. (Seest thou the italics? They be for emphasis, mortal.) And I should let you know that anything belonging to a less than endurable person is way unlikable.

"You are such a dumb arse, Brannie."

(You see?)

I give the cappuccino a savage poke. It's less satisfying than you might think.

"I mean seriously, Brannie, just take a look around you."

"Sorry," I smirk. "I have a neck problem."

(At least she doesn't try to look pretty when she grimaces. I should be thankful for that. But am I?)

"Oh, grow up, Brandon, for God's sakes!"

Denying the Trinity, eh, Kalee? Or believing in your own way, whichever you want.

"Everybody is happy, hun. And you're so—not. D'you even know what Christmas is? Christmas is when…"

For God's sake… "Shut the fuck up."

"Hm-hm-hm."

She's drinking lemonade. Why any goddamned person with a brain would want to drink lemonade when the weather is 29 degrees, I have no idea. Why this fucking café even has lemonade in December, simply don't ask.

Kalee swallows a contemplative mouthful of the freezing yellow shit. (She has this weird habit of drinking everything as if it's Chivas Regal. Rolls in her mouth and everything. Freaky.) Meanwhile, her eyes are p-h-o-t-o-c-o-p-y-i-n-g me. That's never a good sign. "You know, Brannie, you would be like soooo hot if we could get you just one, little, decent makeover."

Ah—hah. My cappuccino is now in danger of being topped with incredulous snot. Maybe it actually is already—a little bit.

"Yeah, right, Kale."

It's absolutely pointless, though, calling her Kale. She actually prefers Kale to Kalee. And she loves being called Kal. Feels it's the perfect name for the horny gay guy living in her gut or whatever. And that's logically bullshit. What girl who thinks she's really male would want to have sex with a man? (Don't throw things. Listen to me.) Gay means you wanna fuck guys. And, uh, normally (I hate language), guys fuck chicks, and vice versa. So, being female with a supposedly 'fruity' sex drive equals being female and wanting to fuck guys. And that's gunna get godly America puking in shock, I know. Actually, it means you're no queen except in Het. Oh fuck, Kalee'll assassinate me if she knows what I'm thinking right now. That would be baaad. Why—I don't know. I seem to remember that dying is always bad for protagonists. (You know, that last word? It's the love child of Father Pentagon and Mother Protein.) On the other hand, I know as a fact that my karma is Kalee Administrated Death. My heart tells me so. Which in turn makes me wonder whether death worries are even mildly feasible for my brain.

Scenario I – In Which Brandon Is Ducky Darling, and Will Therefore Come to Death through Any of the Below

1) Copia Verborum Homophilia (Latin is not my thing.)
2) Extreme Makeover Extremo ( Perm poisoning?)
3) Ecstasy Trampling (Groupie hugs.)
4) Etc., etc., etc.

Scenario II – In Which Brandon Is Frickin' Frank, and Will Therefore Come to Death through Any of the Below

1) KO Homicide (If only.)
2) Verbal Knifing (Sounds familiar.)
3) Scaly Pink Rack Torture (Ohhhhh, God. More of number three later.)
4) Etc., etc., etc.

Shut up, brain. Shut up. Death to your voice and you shall live. Hearken to the kale. Kale. Hearken to the fucking, fucking Kale.

"…takes to be gorgeous. I am so perfectly serious, Brannie hun. Like hold your body a little straighter, put on the right clothes, do the whole punk attitude thing you've got there, and you could be like, oh my God!"

"'Oh my Gawd!'" I shrill, waving my hands around in imitation of a paranoid chicken. I sit up to my full advantage, fuss with my limp collar. "Like, 'Oh my Gawd!'"

(Shut up, body.)

Her eyes narrow until all I can see under her brows is mascara, mascara, and did I mention mascara? Next minute, there's a purse coming at my head. Owwwww. God damn it, it's one of her hard ones. Err, that scaly pink bag with the really cold metal clasps. Jesus—shit.

"Motherfucker," she growls.

Oh, lookie at the pretty bird aiming for my nose. It's a parrot. Pretty parrot.

(Hey, neat! I'm going all zany and stuff!)

I bang a sigh back down my throat with my tongue, pick up the pinkly innocent dragon scales on the tiled floor, deposit them in front of—her. "Kale, you're my fag hag, okay? Mine. I'm the fag," pointing at my chest, "and you," pointing at her chest, "follow me," pointing at my chest, "around—wherever." A pause (because my IQ is 180, ya). "So shut up," pointing at her chest.

"Whatever, you piece of bastard shit." There's a distinct Kale-y bounce in the way she rolls her eyeballs.

Jesus Christ, the damned bounce! (For the record, I do not like anything on a woman to bounce. Especially not in front of my nose.) That bounce is the reason why I haven't managed to get rid of this girl yet. Kale's obsession with gay guys—now that is really like, "Oh my Gawd!" I mean, fuckin' gimme a break, woman!

"You—are sans brain."

"Pffft!" Kalee snorts and tosses some strawberry blonde hair over her shoulder. "Apart from the teeny, weeny little fact that I still get fantastic sex on a weekly basis with…"

'Boyfriend Aaron Veck, twenty-two, six foot three and diabolically delicious…'

"Whereas you…"

I flush like a whipped arse, throw my napkin in her face, and take a huge drag of the cappuccino. "I am fucking twenty-one years old, I know how to get myself laid—bitch!"

"Oh? Tell me all about it, hun."

She's leaning forward a bit, eyes all dreee-mee with the fangirl stars. Oh God, bad sign again. And that's as in bad sign.

(By the way, boyfriend Aaron Veck must either be of Francis of Assisi's bloodline, or too frigid to give a damn about shit. He's been going with her for a mean year and a half!)

"I am not your fucking hunKale!"

"Of course not," she says airily. "I don't even wanna fuck you, doofus. I wanna see you fucked. You are like such a bottom. But that hunk," flash of mascaraed eyelashes to the right, "over there," flash of pink manicured fingernail to the right, "just wants to tie you down on the counter and slam it up until you scream."

I cross my arms and look at her for a while. My mouth quirks. "Shizy shizy bang bang. Kale goes shizy shizy bang bang and faggie says wah!" I croon. Then jump half an inch off my seat. But it's fine, it's fine. Yeah, it's fine. (Breathe, Brandon, breathe.) I just imagined her hand moving again towards the scaly pink ba…ahhh! Ghh. "Shiiit, Kale, like tone down a notch already!"

"How about not?"

My incensed groupie slurps murderously on her straw. Kalee Darrows, the daughter of Brenda Lane Darrows—slurping. Yet another bad sign. At this rate, I'm going to have philophobia before the sun goes down on Jesus' birthday.

"You man bitch."

Yeah, cheers to you too, Kal, dar-lin'. Mewwy Chwismas and a Hefty New Year screwing Aaron. I really don't know what the fuck I'm doing, sitting here in a dumb little hellhole with you just because I can't get myself one shitty date. And this is supposed to be fucking Christmas. I loathe Christmas, by the way. It's a retarded holiday that makes you come up with retarded excuses like—Christmas. (What? Stop looking at me, fuck you.)

"Say—something— Brandon." (Despotic.)

Er—yeah—right. (Craven.) I am such a milksop. "You should have been born an Amazon, fag hag." (Hah, insurgence!)

"Shit, yeah! I'd've made Achilles my boy toy. Then Hector could've had a threesome with us. Eric Bana is like sooo hot."

"…Whatever." (Oh God, why am I with this girl?)

"I love this place."

"Was that comment supposed to be related to what we were saying before?"

"No."

"Thought not."

"I love this place."

"Yeah."

Personally can't see why. What can you love and what can you hate about a graying old café with cherry wood interior? (It's my question. I'm not gunna answer it, Genius. You tell me.) The cappuccino's okay. The cups look clean. Saucers do, too. Kalee's lemonade looks lemony enough. The floor is flaking (peeling?). But then again, all floors do. Somebody used Wite-Out to write 'Lauren ♥ Jessica' on our tabletop. (Hello, sisters in damnation. Or is it sister?) Forty-something Husband and Thirty-something Wife in the Corner really want to get divorced. Would probably be beneficial to society if they did. Silver-haired Lady's eyes kind of creep me out. Honestly, the only thing I really like about this place is the sign hanging at the front door.

SEEK NO CAROL EXPECTORATION WITHIN

That's good. Because if I hear just one more goddamn carol that wishes me a merry Christmas in vocals as pink 'n' purple as the gay stereotype, I will personally offer up my insides to the stereo as a peace offering. And fortunately, The Ram (sounds like a pub, doesn't it?) seems to be fine at keeping promises. Its graying old speakers have been puffing out Laura Veirs and Fiona Apple and blessed stuff like that; no holy nights, no verbally perfumed mangers, no virgins. I'm enough of that (last thing) myself, thank you very much.

(Shut up, tongue.)

Slow Motion by David Gray has just come on when Kalee's Motorola beeps. I tilt back a little in my chair, kind of watching her carnation pink fingernails hastily take the red cell-phone out of the Dragon and punch away at the keys. She's totally engrossed, thank God. Text-messaging is the second greatest joy in my groupie's life. It's also functioning as my peace pie.

Interim is good, and so is my coffee. I think I just might be able to forgive today for being Christmas.

(By the way, I really do not get women… Thank God for that, too.)

David Gray's 'Ya-da-dap, ya-da-dap, ya-da-dap, ya-da-ya-da, woah-oh' chorus ends. I'm starting to feel seriously comfy when a droning organ sound starts spilling out of the speakers. The hairs back of my neck suddenly wake up. And a minute later, one hushed male falsetto tells me why.

When you try your best / but you don't succeed

"Oh God, gah!"

There are cappuccino intestines all over our pretty gay table, but fuck if I care. Just fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.

When you get what you want / but not what you need

"Shit."

I think I hear Kalee say, "You okay, hun?" and immediately shriek, "NO!"

That's right, 'shriek.' Trademark loud voice of chicks and fairies. (Kalee is rubbing off on me. Normally, I'm like—this! Don't throw things, people!)

"No, huh? Well, that's favorable."

Oh wow. Maybe text-messaging has been promoted from Second Greatest Joy to First. That would mean it usurped me. A pacifying thought, so I can afford to turn my organism volume down.

"I fucking despise this song."

Kale's eyes are glued on the Motorola. "Really, what's it called?"

"Fix—You."

"Humh—eh?"

"Coldplay," I hiss.

She looks up from her text-messaging for a minute, bemused. "I thought you said it was called 'Fix You.'"

I glare at her furiously. She closes the cell.

(Wow.)

"NO, you poop-brain! I said it was called 'Fix You,' and I mean it's by Coldplay!"

Her mouth puckers, hands fluttering in some wormy gesture of ignorance.

(Weird.)

"Oh, I wouldn't know, hun. I, personally, am a Gackt fan."

Kalee immediately launches into a gushy physical of 'the Gackt.' I'm too busy staring at her to notice.

"You don't know Coldplay."

"Oh pish, hun, I never said I didn't know Coldplay. I just don't listen to them. So I wouldn't know."

"Whatever."

"Hmmm."

I put my head down on the table. I'm not sure why, but I'm afraid that I might puke if someone talks to me. Oh good, it's getting better right away!

"You okay, Bran?"

"Nope. What kind of fucking conversation is this?" The question comes out like a sigh.

(Damn it.)

"Yours, sweetheart."

"Hmmnph." What, no cooing about the perfect equation between sighs and 'gay fragility'? This is almost getting a bit too easy. But who am I to pass up an extra helping of easy?

Meanwhile, Coldplay just won't shut up. They're doing the same chorus for like the second or third time. Looks like I'm not the only one snatching extra helpings of easy. Besides, they get paid to do it. Fuck fair play.

Lights will guide you home / and ignite your bones / and I will try to fix you

I snort. Fix me? What the hell do I look like, a fucking mechanical mammoth rusted over in the Ice Age? Do I have springs and cogwheels busting out my ass? My God. I'm about to put my head down on the table again and relieve the skyrocketing pressure gauge in my ears when I notice puddles. Brown puddles, all over the tabletop. It takes me about one minute to identify the puddles as spilled coffee. It takes me another thirty seconds to realize that they're my fault, and then two minutes to finally comprehend that we are not in Starbucks (which has employees bursting out of every light bulb at a frequency of five seconds), recognize the white things in the little steel rack to my left as paper napkins, and proceed to debauch them in my horny cappuccino piss.

(Yes, I'm lame. Sheesh, thought someone with your intelligence would've figured that out at the summary.)

I'm almost at the nirvana of mutual depression with the soggy napkins when Kalee opens her mouth to mention something.

"Did you know you still haven't looked at the hottie? I swear to God, he's worth it."

Oooooh! It's my turn to roll my eyeballs now! My turn, my turn! Lookie, lookie, look at me!

(Shut up— Brandon.)

"Kale, your deranged mind can make gay porn out of the slightest pinch of male optic concentration. For all I know, Hottie probably wants to do you."

"Oh? And why's that?"

I have the irrational desire to pinch her. "Point taken, since chick flicks say that hot straight guys loathe screwing tall, brainless blondes, right?"

(Soggy Napkin Nirvana, where are you?)

"What in the world are you talking about."

It's not exactly a question, the way she says it, but I don't think I care. "Jesus Christ, Kale, you look like Reese Witherspoon OD'd on everything and all things popsicle-colored. Ask Leo and Orli to have sex with you and they'd puke, I'm sure, Barbie."

(Okay, I'll come clean. Kalee Darrows is actually a little prettier than Barbie. A little. And don't start the crap that chicks look like Harpies to queers. Grow up, kiddo. Gayness doesn't equal screwed eyeballs, 'kay? We can tell when a woman is good-looking. It just doesn't mean a damn thing to the troublesome half of us. Savvy?)

"Who says I like Leo and Orli?"

(Well, that's surprising—for real.)

"Huh?"

"Still," she says (do I smell complacence?), "they're better than K-Fed and Timberlake, that's for sure."

"You just don't like them because they're popular."

(Oh good. Does this mean I still have a functioning brain somewhere in my nose?)

"Try me."

"All right, all right. God, I can't believe I'm going along with this. So, Kale Darrows, who's your hottest guy?"

"There're three, sweetie."

(You greedy, vacillating bitch.)

"All of them."

"Viggo Mortensen, Ryan Gosling, and Kevin Zegers."

(Not half bad. Not a quarter bad, either. Actually quite good. She'll just never know.)

"Zegers, huh? Do you like him because he looks like Aaron, or do you like Aaron because he looks like Zegers?"

Kalee immediately tries to throw her purse at me again, but this time she misses. "You—shut—up, Brandon William Markel!"

William. I hate that name. It sounds so—willy. Willie? Whatever. You decide. But hang on. Is Kale blushing? Oh no, no, no, no, no. Reality is never this sweet.

"Sooooo—it's Aaron because of Zegers, is it, Ms. Darrows?"

"No, it is not, you—you fucktard!"

(Oh my God, she is blushing! That's because she's telling the truth, mind.)

I push my chair back onto its rear legs and relax with the tips of my fingers together. "I should record this and slip it to Aaron for an early Valentine's Day gift."

I'm taking a huge risk here, and it appears to be that my early Valentine's Day gift is a sparkly pink box of Kalee Co.'s—uh—Uncultivated (read 'Feral') Blueberry Truffles. Super, isn't it? (Preserve me from this optic homicide. Preserve me from… Preserve me…)

"Oh, shut up, you. You have thoughts like disco music. I like my stupid, good-looking Aaron Veck, okay? I like him a lot. So shut up."

Kalee's shockingly blue eyes are still glaring at me, but I guess I'll live. I hazard a weak smile.

"Come to think of it, Robert Pattinson isn't terrible, either," she muses.

I raise an eyebrow. "Who's Robert Pattinson?"

"The Cedric Diggory guy."

(Ding.)

"Oh yeah. Robert Pattinson." I shrug. "He looks kind of like a rich boy gangster, though. I'd say same category as Jude Law and Hayden Christensen."

Kalee shakes her head at me, grinning. "You are just dead gone on dick, Brannie, aren't cha?"

I feel my cheeks going hot. Kale's groupie grin grows wider.

"Awwww, honey, that's why I love you."

"You're s'posed to love Aaron, you moron."

"'Course I do. We're engaged, you know. He asked me before we went to his parents' house for Christmas Eve and I said yes. It's funny, isn't it, how he can possibly propose to a silly little girl like me? But we both love each other. I love him, at least. So it's okay."

I look down at my lap and bite my lip. She's happy. I can really tell. And part of me is almost glad to see this rather more serious side of my hyperactive groupie. Yeah, I definitely am glad to hear her say that she's engaged; that she loves her stunning Aaron Veck enough to tell me so. But damn, I want that. (I'm not talking about Aaron, you idiots!) I want to be able to have someone in the world I can look at and think about and just love as much as my sappy heart wants. I want to be able to look at someone who's all mine and know that it'll all be okay as long as I'm with him. Yeah, sure, I'd like some sex first, because right now I'm so freaking horny I can't do anything about it. But I don't want just sex. I want my somebody. Heartwise, I'm just another sad, crappy human looking for this weird thing called love that you can't even see. And I will have my somebody—when I find the nonexistent minority that can in one way or another manage to put up with a superbly blah-featured and cornily sarcastic bastard. Go figure.

"Thanks for being candid, Barbie."

I give her an apologetic smile, and she understands. It's been three years, after all. She likes gay men too much for us to really be, uh, friends, but I guess we read each other okay.

"And thank you, Bran. You're a sweetie, you know?"

"When's the wedding?"

(I think I'm sort of starting to remember why I'm always with this girl.)

Kalee squints mysteriously through her lowered eyelashes. "You tell me, hun."

"Stop shitting around and tell me when the goddamn wedding is."

She smiles and laughs at my mock glare, somehow looking mature for the first time since I've met her. "Well, I told Aaron that it probably won't be for a while yet."

"How come? You love, he loves. End of story. Go make babies, Kale. Don't draw it out."

"You sound like a wise old mother hen."

"Look like one, too, oh joy," I mutter under my breath. "Anyway, I order you to marry the love of your life before winter's over."

"I can't."

"Well, why not?"

"Ican't. I may be a tall, brainless blonde, Brannie, but I'm not going to make you lonelier than you already are."

(Hello, Kalee? Are you still there under that makeup?)

"Oh, so this is another one of those 'It's all your gay fault' things?"

"I never said that. I just told Aaron that he'd have to wait until you got a boyfriend. A decent boyfriend."

I snort. (It kind of hurts.) "Then you two will just have to die old, waiting, and unmarried. You'd still have sex, of course, but it wouldn't be the same as being family. Just stop wasting your time over something useless and tie the knot, Kale. Stop being an idiot. You deserve having someone to love you after all that shit with David."

She fidgets awkwardly in her chair. Her fingers start playing with the little rose charm on her cell like she always does when she's bothered about something. I swear, if that last sentence wasn't a necessary statement, I would feel bad about having said it. But it was, and I don't. At least not much, because David, Kalee's boyfriend before Aaron, could only be summarized as 'fucked up.' The guy was like totally psycho. He'd be Mr. Sweet Guy over the phone, start screaming absolute jabberwocky at Kale at the restaurant, stomp home, and then slash his wrists from remorse. Christ. Kalee cried a million times too many because of him, that's for sure. So it's, uh, kind of important to me that she gets to be absolutely happy with Aaron, who is the perfect guy for her. (He's—level-headed, okay? He has balance in things. Plus, he's dead romantic. I mean, that's always a plus, isn't it?)

"You just had to remind me about David, you bastard."

"Yes, Ma'am Bitch, because I wanna see you married!"

Kalee shakes her head stubbornly, lips folding. "Can't. I'm not going to flaunt my newly-wed bliss around when you are starving for love and a good fuck, 'kay?"

(The floor is suddenly of great interest to me. Wow, look how intricate it is! Same pattern over and over and over…)

"Don't make me cry. And don't say that, either, because you want to get married anyway."

"I know, dumbass. And Aaron really wants it, too. But it just isn't worth it yet. Not until you're comfortable and happy, all right?"

(Ooh, look. There's a coffee stain on the floor. Why's the stain all blurry?)

"So will you hurry up?"

"Well, find me a boyfriend, then!" I shout, quickly raising my eyes to yet another Kalee smile.

Only this time, it's evil.

(I might as well say, "God's in His heaven—all's right with the world." Back to the old beat. Dum-dum-dum-dum-dump-da-dump-da-dump-dump. Straight to it. C'mon, people, dance!)

"I already have, hun. But you won't look at him."

I groan. "Good God, Kale, I thought we sorted this out already! I told you he's just captivated by your Legally Blonde beauty, Little Miss Clueless."

"He's looking at you, Big Mr. Clueless. Right at you."

"Pff. How would you know?"

"Because we girls do, sweetheart. That's how we know when our babies are lying about the cookies or when friends are in de-NI-al."

"Uh… Uh…" (Come to think of it, the back of my head has been feeling kind of—lasered. Shut up. I know that's not a word.) "Then Hottie is some fucked up, overly-concerned idiot who's afraid you're gunna murder me with your drag—purse."

"My dragpurse?"

(It's her favorite purse. And explaining was never my forte. Never will be. That's final.)

"…I'm—gunna get another drink."

Immediately, Kalee starts smirking again. "Please do."

I'm a bit puzzled, frankly. I remember that Kale always turns bamboozling when she's not majorly pissing me off, yeah, but what the hell is there to delight her homophilia in my getting a drink? (Women. Now, don't get me wrong. I like women. I like them a lot. I just don't like them.)

"You're not okay, Kale, are you?"

"I'm fine. Or, at least, I will be once you get that drink and cool off."

(Weirder and weirder.)

"I'm not drinking that fucking lemonade, Kale."

"Whatever. Get whatever you like. Just shoo."

I rest my palms on the edge of the table, about to get up. But Groupie Girl has more to say. She's leaning across the table (again, I—think), with a very sweet smile on her face. I have a duper bad feeling about that.

"Didja know, hun, that Hottie is the counter guy?"

"W-W-WHAT?!"

(My duper bad feelings are never wrong.)

I'm staring at her in abject horror. ('Abject.' How me.) Jaw hanging open. Ears red and pounding. I can't think. Well, technically I can, but, you know—I can't think.

"Aw, there's no reason to look scared," Kale coos. Then comes the wink.

(Flinch.)

"You've got an awesome ass you can use, hun."

The pounding in my ears rises to a fucking bloody screech. "D-d-don'ttalk—about my ass in public!"

(…Did I just talk about my ass in public?)

"Damn," I say quietly, getting up. "I really need to get a dri—"

Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh—my—God.

Fucking curse my head for turning, and oh God he's beautiful lounging across the counter like that.

Hottie turns out to be one of those preppily dangerous-looking types that flick my dick switch on (damn him); large, clearly penciled cobalt eyes, short brown hair that curls into gold at the tips, and—God—a mouth from Satan's orchards—curved into the smile of Lucifer's twin brother. (Did you know, my tolerance level is—ha ha—like, NIL when it comes to devilish smiles? WELL NOW YOU DO, DAMMIT.) And oh God, is he tall. He's got to be a fucking six foot two at least—and he's got broad shoulders. I am so dead. Dead, dead, just dead!

"Kale. Kale? Christ—fuckKALE!"

(Once again the paranoid chicken—only this time it's not imitation.)

"Hm?"

"Distract me," I hiss.

"Hmmmmn?"

"Distract—me!"

"Whatever for, hun?"

"So I won't—I won't—like walk behind that counter and stick my tongue down his throat or…"

"Ooooh. You know how to do that?"

I hear her, but I don't. I can't react to her. It's irrelevant. Totally irrelevant. Useless. Shitty. Crap. Bullshit. Pea-brained.

(I know. I should have written Markel's International Thesaurus of Asinine Vocabulary. So be quiet, will you?)

"I love boy-boy kissing."

I'm blushing horribly—and I know it.

(Wanna be retarded, wanna be retarded, retarded, retarded.)

"…or do something horribly embarrassing like—whatever and—and—ah…" I seem to be having trouble petrifying my fucking mouth.

"'Whatever'—would be hott."

(Note the Double T, Mark of the Yaoi Fangirl.)

"No, it is not. Well, yeah, it is—NO!—but please, Kal, please distract me. I do not need another sacrilegiously cute straightie looking at me like I'm shit on Christmas, not now. Oh God, I'm officially going bonkers."

If this keeps up I'll start pulling out my hair. Trust me, you do not want to see that. I look better naked—which is really serious shit.

Nudity—ummmmm… Ohhhhh, no. Bad Brannie, very bad Brannie! Mommy nixed you from gorgeous boy skin, remember? Remember the Jesus Girl—whassername—Faith, back in high school. Think about Bible verses. She taught you a lot. A lot. C'mon, you know this! Like, um…

'I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl.'

Somehow that doesn't sound right.

…It is my favorite Bible verse, though.

('Cause Hottie naked would be just—thank God for the table.)

"KALE!!"

(I seem to be chasing away all the customers from The Ram, by the way. Everybody's gone and nobody's coming in.)

"Okay, luv." Kalee puts down her lemonade. Grins at me. (Grins!)

Grin is good. I immediately take out my best ducky face and somehow manage to make it look piteous.

(Please, Kal, let me love you?)

"Let's play the Alphabet Game."

(Insert short silence here.)

"Let's play the Alphabet Game."

"Yup."

(Kale, I love you not.)

I put a mighty scowl on my face and begin. "A, alligator, B, brownies, C, Chiquita, D, damn—you, Kalee Darrows, WHAT?!"

"You might want to sit down."

I do. And I do. Oh God. I've been standing up all this time. And I could swear that somebody behind me is smiling because of that. Aren't I lucky?

"Besides, the rules come first," she says coolly. "Come on."

"Awwww, Kale, do I have to?"

"Yup."

"Fine," I snap. "No using the same word twice, no thinking more than five seconds, and no use of brand names. There."

I might as well be saying, "Donkey sat on the bagels to watch Leno while Dog cried for our breakfast in the pink bathroom." (Something to that effect, anyway.)

"Excellent. And whoever loses has to get a drink at the counter. Now, let's play. A."

"Ah…what?"

" Brandon, A."

"Uh, right. Alligator. B."

"Browallia."

"Ugh."

She sticks her tongue out at me. "C."

"Chi—caterpillar. D."

"Naughty, naughty. Daguerreotype. E."

"Ehm—estrogen." (What?!) "Yeah, estrogen. F."

Kalee is giggling fit to burst her underwear. "F-f-fickle. G."

"Gladiator. H."

"Hormone."

(Insert more giggles from Kalee here.)

"I."

"Ichthyosaurus." (Where did that come from?) "J."

"Jelly. K."

"Keyhole. L."

"Layman. M."

"Mouse. N."

"Nail. O."

"Octopus. P."

"Plasma. Q."

"Ah…um…Q-Tip."

(Damnit.)

Kalee tsks. The image is disturbingly somewhere between a cat and a fly.

"That's not a word."

"It is too a word!"

The look in Kalee's eyes is—austere. (Pink sparkle eye shadow, curded mascara, oozy strawberry gloss, and she looks austere. Mah-fah.)

"No brand names."

"Yes, maim," I sigh.

(I'm suddenly very tired of everything. I just am, okay? Don't ask questions or I'll hate you. I'm not that sure I like you, anyway.)

"Good boy, Brannie."

She smiles at me for a long, long, loooong time. The corners of my mouth wiggle back at her anxiously until I realize, 'Oh my God, she looks like MOM!' Considering my mom is just another Fundamentalist with a hackneyed brain, you can imagine how much that delights me.

(Yeah, I trust you. I'm not sure I like you but I trust you. See how fucked up I am?)

"The counter's right behind you, hun."

"Right."

(See, I told you I was tired. Hey, Hottie, here comes Ugly!)

I walk over to the counter, feeling like I've just finished two hours of running on the treadmill. Floaty. He straightens, staring at me so hard that it's impossible not to blush. He's even taller than I thought. Okay, now my chest really hurts. Damn my heart for being alive. And why do I have such humongous hands? Why?

There's something almost elfin dancing beneath the cool blue shimmer of his eyes. Said eyes seem to be very effective in—eh—the tightening of the pants (shit), so I immediately train my gaze on the wooden countertop.

(Much better.)

"Hi—I, um, think I need another drink, because my girlfriend—I mean, not girlfriend, just as in girl-friend­—she's right over there—she's playing a game with me and I kinda lost right now, so—uh—I need another drink. Yeah."

(Don't look at his lips, Brandon. Don't look at his lips, you'll be fine. Spectacular. Brilliant. Fantastic. Oh, shut up, brain.)

Hottie smiles. It's like a cross between Peter Sarsgaard and Christian Bale. I feel like I have anemia. I want to pull his hair and scream at him never to do that again. I need to want to. Maybe if I turn into a mantra, God will…

"So what can I get you?"

(Oh gosh.)

"Uhhh-uhm, uh, tea. Uh, no, coffee. Black. Actually, hot chocolate'll be fine—I think."

He smiles again and winks. He's got dimples.

(Ohhhh gosh.)

"Good choice. Coming right up."

"Th-thanks."

"My pleasure."

He turns around to put together whatever it is I ordered. I can't take my eyes off the wooden countertop.

Wooden countertop.

(His back is sexy.)

Wooden countertop.

(Really sexy.)

WOODEN COUNTERTOP…!

"Heyya, sexy."

(Huh?)

"Hey, baby. I missed you."

(S'not me, I swear!)

"Oh, shut up and snog me, Aaron Veck."

(Tolja.)

But oh—dear—God—NO. Kalee is whispering something between kisses to the twenty-two-year-old, six foot three, and diabolically delicious dark-haired (and you do not get to give me points for alliteration) guy who happens to be her boyfriend—fiancé. (He just came into the shop, in case you can't deduce that.) He glances at me and grins. He glances at Hottie and grins.

"Artistic."

I open my eyes wide. I did not just hear Aaron Veck say that. No, shut up. He didn't.

"Really artistic."

(I did.)

"Aren't you a smartie?" says his girlfriend, giggling.

He whispers something in Kale's ear that makes her blush and hide her face. She looks up a minute later, grins at me like the homoholic she is and mouths, "Buh-bye, Brannie."

"Buh-bye"? Whassat—supposed to mean…

(Click.)

Oh no, you don't! No, no, no, no, no, NOOOO! You cannot just leave me here and set me up! I forbid it! You don't even know shit about him! I—forbid it!

(…And then again, what's the use. It's Christmas. Something was bound to go more wrong than usual.)

"We'll see you around later, Brandon."

Aaron is still grinning. I offer him a strained smile back.

(You bastard.)

"Go out 'n' get him, gorgeous."

(Hah, "gorgeous." Very funny, Kale.)

"Yes, maim, Xanthippe."

I still have a smile fit to knock the socks of Diogenes on my face five minutes later, long after Aaron James Veck and Kalee Darrows Veck-To-Be have wished me good luck, waved their fingers like the jackasses they are, and exited The Ram.

"Someone looks upset," comes a smooth, mellow-toned voice from behind me.

"Yes, maim, Xanthippe," I shoot back at whoever opened—his mouth.

(Jesus—Christ.)

I whirl around. "Oh God, I'm sorry!" I have reason to suspect I'm shrieking (which is baaad), but right now it's more important that I do something fast about that queer look on Hottie's face.

(I notice he's lounging across the counter again—which makes his ass look criminally hot… Mustn't think, mustn't think, mustn't think…)

"Sorry? What for?"

My hands are swaying around helplessly in the air. Worse, I have no idea why. "Just—'cause."

Hottie quirks one of his eyebrows at me. If I didn't know better I'd say he looked almost suggestive—which is ridiculous. Damn, I'm blushing again.

"Sorry."

"Are you like a compulsive apologizer or something?" he asks, clearly amused.

"Uhhhh… No."

"Good."

"Yeah. Sorry."

He smiles as if he's trying not to burst out laughing. "You are so weird."

"That's why I'm alone." The words come out a trifle more sharply than I intended. "Weird people should stay alone. They're contagious."

He cocks his head in a perfect provocative angle. "I beg to differ, Gorgeous."

I immediately leap away from the wooden countertop. I'm afraid I might singe it. "WHAT—did you just call me?!"

Hottie leans forward, pulls me forward by the front of my shirt, and puts his lips to my ear. "Gorgeous. How about you play with me, hmm?"

(Oh, so that's it.)

"And I'll be Experiment Number What?"

He looks shocked. I mean, really shocked.

"I beg your pardon?"

(This is going to be difficult. I'll sigh my way through it somehow, I guess.)

"Look, I know you can't be gay."

Hottie grins in a casually shy kind of way that sends a jolt—down there. Hating him may just be inevitable if I'm to preserve my honor.

"You can't be gay," I repeat, since that never hurts.

"I'm allergic to naked boobs," he says calmly. "And to pussy. Believe me, my father tried."

(Ha…)

"I don't believe you."

Hottie sighs and shakes his head. "As skeptic as you're beautiful, huh? And here I am, poor gay me, really wanting to blow you."

I feel like a phoenix. Burning. And it sucks. "Are you always this—crass?"

"No."

And suddenly he's not behind the counter anymore. He's standing right in front of me, palms cradling the back of my neck as he captures my lips in a slow, (supposedly) chaste kiss. He smells like Tommy Hilfiger aftershave and coffee beans, and something deep and spicy that I can't place. We break away a few minutes later, holding on with our eyes. And then we're at each other's mouths again, nipping, sucking, licking, while I blindly back into wherever he's pushing me. We crash into a door. I crash into a cold tile wall.

…Which wakes up my brain a little—to a bathroom.

"W-w-wait—wait—wait."

"Hmmmn?"

"I don't know your name yet." I'm panting a little as I look up at him.

(Somehow, with him, I don't mind being short.)

"It's not fair, you know."

(But I do mind being a less than mediocre pouter.)

"I know."

"So…?"

"Josh," he murmurs silkily in my hair. "Call me Josh."

I fight the urge to give in to violent shudders. "Uhhhh, right—Joshua."

"Josh."

He insists and I'm too paralyzed to move. It's a hopeless situation.

"J-Josh, then."

He chuckles lowly.

(Why oh why does his laugh have to be sexy on top of it all?)

"W-what?" I ask. It's like I'm back in kindergarten, stammering for all the shit I'm worth.

Unfortunately, that just makes Josh laugh more. "You're fucking adorable, Brandon Markel, that's all."

He starts kissing me again. Open mouth, with his hand in a very dangerous zone.

(Bless me or save me. He tastes like—heaven. Okay, okay, he tastes like saliva and mint gum, but there's an incredibly heady addictiveness to what we're doing right now. And you can't have any.)

There's just one problem with this situation.

I'm a twenty-one-year-old queer, utterly virgin and tragically out of love with propriety. If you happen to be a guy, touching me is just about the worst thing you could ever do—except for kissing me, that is—or French kissing me—or touching my dick.

…Damned if I tell Josh that, though.

(What? He's smart. He'll figure it out on his own. And if he doesn't, well—I have no duper bad feelings about him. So there.)

Josh and I both dislike using cruise control when we kiss. Apparently. Our tongues are as officially bonkers as Kalee at her worst is capable of making me—which isn't half bad. And in the meantime, our hands are going cross country. (Stop "ooohing.") It's no longer possible to think that you're feeling. You just are—fucking around.

When we finally break apart for air, Josh starts kissing every inch of my skin that he can find. By now, I could record moans for porn videos. God, I'm losing myself.

"You really don't recognize me, do you?"

He mumbles the words against my neck, so I, being more than a little drunk soaking up Josh on the Tiles with a splash of Tongue, have no choice but to ask him, "Huh?" It comes out stupid and bleary, more like "Mmurphm-huh?" than "Huh?" The voice mirrors the soul, you know.

(I made that up. Just the last part, though.)

"You don't know who I am."

The weird ruefulness in his voice miraculously gets me a bit un-drunk, since I don't seem to remember hearing it there before. I stare at him.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Josh places a gentle kiss my right cheekbone and looks straight at me.

(Why's he like this all of a sudden?)

There's a warm silver glow in his sea-blue eyes that makes my toes curl. Common sense tells me to dismiss as a 'wanna fuck you.' But the stupid damn ache in my chest just wants me to let go, stop all this gay worrying, and get a boyfriend.

(I'm deranged.)

"What are you thinking about?" he asks softly.

I shiver. I'm trying not to get too turned on by the way his perfect lips are swollen with the onslaught of my virgin fervor. I'm also trying not to get turned on by the peek of his bare chest I'm getting. (It matches my height. I really like my height.) Apparently, I ripped open the front of his dark navy polo during afore mentioned onslaught of virgin fervor, and God do I want that forbidden fruit. (Who needs Eden when it's up against Josh's sinfully hot chest?) He's as gorgeous as he was at the counter—even more so, actually. Damn he's making it hard for me to remember that this is just a casual fuck around in a café bathroom.

(And by the way, I don't care if anyone comes in. So stay out.)

"Not much."

"Okay." He looks down at the floor for a while before bringing his eyes up to align with mine again. " Brandon, I have to tell you something."

"Hum?"

"How would you feel—if I said I knew things about you?"

My stomach does a nauseating belly flop. "…Butyoudont."

"Huh? Pardon?"

"BUT. YOU. DON'T—know…do you?"

Josh's cheeks flush pink. It's sweet despite the circumstances.

"I kind of—do—actually."

"B-but—you can't!"

"I can."

"No, you can't! I say so!"

"Try me," he says, grinning guiltily. "I know about the antique shop. I know that you like putting mint green ceramic plates all over your apartment on Forty-second Street. I know that you eat cough drops every Tuesday while you're sitting up in the oak tree by the library and writing about everybody that passes by…"

(Oh God, I think he does know.)

"I know…"

"Okay, okay, stop, stop, stop, stop, stop!"

I've managed to make him look concerned. I can't whether that's good or bad.

"H-how did you find out?"

"We go to the same college."

"Wha—okay. Okay, already! We go to the same school. Schoolmates, yeah. That doesn't mean you can just—know like that!"

His blush deepens until he's positively ruby. "I followed you."

I stare at him with all the eyeball area I can possibly uncover. "You're a stalker?!"

"I—uh…"

"Oh my GOD, you are!"

(I'm really hyperventilating now. What on earth has this guy been doing?)

Meanwhile, Josh is panicking along with me. He's gripping my shoulders so hard I'm sure they'll get even narrower than before. (Yay.) He has his forehead against mine, too. Couple trauma, how nice. Oh, is he saying something?

"…don't do this. Breathe, Bran, breathe. Breathe with me, okay? Goddammit. Brandon?"

Josh is clutching my cheeks now and it hurts. I immediately cop out.

"I'm fine."

"You're—you're sure?"

I beam (something I rarely, if ever, do). "Yep. I'm standing in a bathroom with my shirt open and I've just learned I have a stalker. Sure, I'm swell."

Josh lets out a slow sigh and takes a step away from me. Oddly enough, my tummy does the nauseating belly flop yet again, only this time the queasiness is ice cold.

"So why'd you do it?"

"I liked you a lot." His laugh is rather shaky as he runs a self-conscious hand through his hair. "And I wanted you to notice me so badly."

"You should've given me some time to do that, at least." I mock glare at him.

"I dunno…" Josh shrugs, and somehow it looks painful. "Is almost three years too short for you?"

I gape. "Three years?"

"Yeah."

"B-but—that's like—as long as I've known Kale!"

He smiles forlornly. "Yeah."

"You've been stalking me all that time?"

Josh smiles. "I saw you once on campus during freshman year and I was hooked. You were so damned cute."

(And can you hear the blush tonight?)

"You never, ever noticed me, though. I followed you almost everywhere, but you," (he kisses my temple) "were always too busy thinking."

"So…"

"I asked Kalee Darrows for help."

(Oh my God.)

"You what?!"

Josh laughingly shushes me. "At first I thought she must be your girlfriend."

(Something in my eyeball just popped.)

"You were always with her when you weren't alone, you know. But then I saw her at the multiplex with a guy called Aaron, so I got her number from a classmate of mine and called her the next day. She was—a bit—more enthusiastic then I'd expected, um, so she's been finding out practically everything about me since then to make sure I'm legitimate boyfriend material. I finally convinced her to bring you here, though. That's why I'm working Christmas shift. I'd have done it sooner, except I've always sucked with women."

I shake my head. "She thinks you're hot. Hott."

The news doesn't seem to impress him that much, (thank God).

"Uh, and you?"

I'm blushing furiously as I touch the sleeve of his polo. "It's one of the few things we agree on."

Josh flashes me a beautifully sunny smile and buries his face in my neck. "So, um, can I ask you something?"

"Yeah."

"I've convinced Kalee, so—um—will you go out with me?"

(Good God…! He did not just say that—did he? Well, I said he did, so he did, but—did he really?)

I take slow, deep breaths. "Are you at all up to handling a horny twenty-one-year-old virgin gay guy?"

Josh's smile widens. "If it's you, definitely."

"Then yes."

(This is getting extraordinarily crap sappy…but shut up.)

"Thank you," he whispers.

(What bullshit. Nose, I order you not to snort.)

"It's really terrible," Josh admits, "but right now, I just want to kiss you and kiss you and kiss you…"

"You sound almost as oversexed as I actually am."

He laughs mysteriously. "Peeping makes kink."

(Josh seems to like neck snuggling. A lot.)

We stand there for a while, breathing in each other's scent, unconsciously memorizing it… Stuff like that. I'm about to move a bit when he grabs my waist tighter.

"The game's not over yet."

(Okay. The possible implications of that sentence really freak me out. Really.)

"W-what? Josh?"

He nuzzles gently under my chin. "May I?"

"May you what? Snuggle my chin?"

Josh laughs. "No. I was actually thinking kinda lower."

I make a sound. I think you call it a squeak? A SQUEAK!! Ohhhhhh, God…strike me dead.

He's laughing against my Adam's apple now, and shit does it turn me on.

"You can't die yet, Bran. Not yet."

I'd like to shriek (yet again) and ask him whether he knows how to read minds, but am suddenly aware of the fact that his cool fingers are stroking the skin under my waistband.

(If you don't realize the implications of that, getout. You're underage.)

And then he says something in my ear.

"Q. Querulous. R to you, Bran."

(Oh. That game.)

I bang my head once against the tiles to kick it into motion. "Retrospect. S."

Josh holds my gaze steadily, smiling. "Samite."

"Huh? What's that?"

"Fabric. T."

"Turbulence. Why are we doing this anyway?"

The expression in his eyes deepens. "So you won't be lonely."

"Uhhhh—okay. U."

"Umbrella. Your favorite umbrella is green, isn't it? V."

"Vainglory."

Josh chortles. "Odd choice."

"I learned it from a Jesus girl when I was in high school. W."

"Walrus."

"I knew you were going to say that. Eh—ex. Xy—xylophone."

There's a feverish hot trail of kisses going down the side of my neck. To put it mildly, it's distracting.

"Y."

(I am never going to be able to get un-hard after this.)

"Yesterday," Josh says—at my waistband.

I have absolutely no idea what's happening. All I know is that two seconds ago, I had American Eagle jeans fastened snugly around my waist. Now, they're gone…

…as are my boxers…

…and he just kissed someplace awfully nice.

(Aieeeeeeeeeeeeeee!)

"It's your turn, Bran," he breathes against the tip of my cock.

I don't answer him. I want to scream from sheer ecstasy and antagonism.

(The fucking tease, he looks so innocent. I hereby order a recall of words. I was wrong. Josh is not Lucifer's twin brother. Hardly. He's Lucifer.)

"Say something, Brandon."

That sounds familiar—only two worlds more delicious. Ummmmm

"Dun…"

"Brandon?" he whispers, lacing his fingers lightly with mine before taking me deep into him.

OHMYGOD. Oh my God, oh my God, oh my GOD.

Where this is going, I have no idea, but that does it. To fuck with Z. A bloody Christmas to you all.

(And I am not British, stupids.)

Now get out of the bathroom.

Please?

——

W R I T I N G
M U S I C

——

BRANDON MARKEL — Roxy (Supergrass) / Cool Shoes (The Arrogants) / Runaround (Arlo)
JOSH LUCAS — Wisemen (James Blunt) / My Town (Armor for Sleep) / Maybe Won't Do (American Hi-Fi)
KALEE DARROWS — Hollabeck Girl (Gwen Stefani) / Things Are What You Make of Them (Bishop Allen)
AARON VECK — Eyes (Apollo Sunshine)

Hey Hey Blah Blah Goddamn Life (Chick Maggot) / American Idiot (Green Day) / In This Home On Ice (Clap Your Hands Say Yeah), Get Your Way (Jamie Cullum), Out of Zone (Marbles), E-Pro (Beck), Morning's Eleven (The Magic Numbers), TV Riot (The Adored), Halo of Gold (Beck), Wishing Well (The Arrogants)

——

S C R I B B L E S

——

A. I started writing this around Christmas 2005.
B. It was originally dedicated to Dr. Pepper 14.
C. It still is.
D. I do not hate Coldplay.
E. Brandon's comments concerning women who think of themselves as gay guys are all © 2002 Justin Kellis Aguilar.
F. He was a friend of mine. (Justin, I mean.)
G. A gay friend.
H. He's dead.
I. I'm not as cool about it as you think.
J. I might just hate car accidents more than you do.
K. But I wouldn't know.
L. I do not think that all female friends of homosexual men are like Kalee Darrows, Annoying Version.
M. Don't hit me.
N. Know the limits of your computer screen.
O. I'm drunk—on root beer.
P. I love root beer.
Q. It's very bad for me.
R. I'm underage.
S.
Whoopee.
T.
The Bible says…
U.
Uh—I used to know the answer to that.
V.
I still do.
W.
I just forgot.
X.
This story belongs to Dr. Pepper 14.
Y.
She will make it sexy if you worship her. (It's unconfirmed, though.)
Z.
I'm drunk.

(Somebody pass me a hangover.)

P.S. 1. The Bible verse Brandon remembers is a real one, I swear. It's the first verse of Job 31. Just so you know.
P.S. 2. And the line "God's in His heaven—all's right with the world" is also a real quote. It's from the poem "Pippa Passes" by Robert Browning. I learned it from the Anne books. Yeah, I'm a girl.