The basketball thuds and Nick runs up to the basket. He sees the arc of an elbow, and then he falls to the floor. There is a bright red trail down his chin; it drips from his nose as he glares at the one who knocked him down. There is a snicker that passes through the group. No one will make a move to help Nick on the floor. He knows this; but his eyes flicker to a tall boy for just a moment. He looks away.
Nick picks himself up and wipes the blood away deliberately. He looks around at the circle of boys. His eyes meet each pair and they flicker to the side. He looks until someone coughs. Someone tries to break the silence. "Yo, Nick! Think fast!" and he whirls around to catch the ball as it speeds toward him.
The basketball thuds and Nick returns to the game.
Nick stands in the locker room alone.
"I thought you would come today. I was looking for you," he says into his phone quietly. "I asked you to come. I thought... Well, yes, I know it's your birthday. That's why I thought we could hang out after the game. Yeah...yeah... Look, can I come by your place/" He waits; his voice is low with need. "I want to be with you."
From the other end, there is an assent.
He's never been in this neighborhood before. His mom always tells him, "Don't go there. We don't mix with those Koreans. Small eyes. Bad tempers. You hear?" He always shrugs.
The porch is dark as he walks up to it and knocks on the door. Voices seep outside, but the words are unfamiliar to him. Still, he tries to understand. Then his knock is answered; light spills onto him so that he has to blink.
The tall boy who looked away stands in front of him.
"Jay," he says, and steps forward. The need is in his voice again. He's pretty sure it'll be showing up inside his pants if he's not careful. "This..." He stumbles a little when the boy remains silent, leaning on the door frame. This is for you. For your birthday." He holds out a small box, gift wrapped.
Jay pockets it with a mumbled "Thank you." He looks over his shoulder when someone calls him.
"Ani, umma--" and Nick loses the rest.
"Can I come in?" His mom will nag him for this later, but of course he doesn't care.
There is hesitation. Then, "Okay. But nothing's going to happen. My family's here."
"I got it, and...Thanks."
Jay gestures for him to come inside, closing the door behind him. They walk into the kitchen, where an array of people are chatting.
"Bow," Jay hisses, and Nick does it. There is some conversation between Jay and a woman who can only be his mother. Nick knows they are talking about him; he can barely breathe until they are in Jay's room, alone.
"Why did you want to come in?"
"I wanted to be with you for a little." He chances a kiss and is happy when Jay reciprocates.
They stand there for moments, enjoying the exploration of each other's mouths. Then Nick's hand brushes under Jay's shirt, and Jay breaks the contact.
"Mianhae," he mumbles. "I'm sorry." His cheeks are flushed.
'It's okay." Nick tries to think of something that will break this sudden awkwardness. "Why don't you open your present?"
Jay reaches into his pocket and takes out the box. Slowly, he opens it. There is no moonlight in the room, but there is a soft metallic glow from the box. Jay's eyes widen. "You didn't..."
Nick wonders again at Jay's softness, something that can almost be called feminine. The Korean boy is tall but thin, and his voice is soft. He doesn't push or shove. He doesn't yell. He stays quiet and unobtrusive, out of the way like Nick's mother wishes his sister is. He likes pretty clothes and pretty jewelry, like the two thick silver earrings he is now holding in his hand. Nick just likes pretty Jay, who kisses him on the cheek in gratitude.
"I guess you like them."
"Yes. Please put them in for me?"
Nick gets a dirty thought about putting something else entirely in Jay, but he wills it to pass and slips the earrings in silently. "There. They look great on you."
There is some more stilted conversation, and then Jay leads Nick downstairs. He bows to the relatives and smiles at Jay as he stands on the porch. "Come to my game next week."
Jay suddenly looks nervous. "I can't."
"I...won't be here."
"What? Are you going on a trip?"
"Sort of. I'm going to Korea."
"...A couple of years."
Nick is floored. "What? Why didn't you tell me sooner?"
"I...I was too scared to." The quiet admission is pained.
"You have nothing to be scared of. We--we'll make this work. We can--"
"We can't. It's--" Jay's voice breaks. "We can't see each other. We can't talk to each other except on the phone. We can't--we can't make it work. It'll hurt too much, for both of us. That's why I didn't want to tell you. Because I think it's best if we...if we just stopped. Now."
"You tell me this right after we were making out? After I gave you your present?" He hates the pettiness of those words, but he can't take them back.
"I'm sorry. Do you want them back? I shouldn't have taken them. I know it was selfish of me. I'm sorry. I should have told you sooner. I'm sorry. I'm--" He's like a scratched CD, jolting over the same words over and over.
"Stop. I don't want to hear your apologies."
"Don't tell me you're sorry."
"I..." Nick waits for him to say something else, to say "I'm sorry," or "I"ll miss you," maybe. But when there is no sound for too long, Jay closes the door, and Nick waits.
He waits until the voices fade, until the lights turn off. He waits until all he can do is leave, and then he does.
The halls are crowded, but Nick finds Jay.
"Stop avoiding me."
"You are. You're a fucking coward and you're avoiding me."
"Don't call me that."
"I'll call you whatever I want." His anger loosens his tongue. "You're a coward. An asshole. A hiding, scared, shitfaced, asshole of a coward."
Nick wonders over Jay's softness a lot, so that sometimes he forgets about Jay's temper. It runs deep, it runs strong, and when it rises to the surface there is no dam to stop it.
Jay rams a fist into Nicks' face and they are fighting on the floor.
"How could you just forget about me--"
A crowd gathers around them, calling, shouting, jeering. A crowd attracts attention, of course, and soon there are teachers pulling them apart.
They sit on opposite sides outside the principal's office. Nick's bruises are rising and his anger is ebbing. There is only guilt and loneliness, so he wishes he could talk to Jay. But the other boy is looking at the floor. He has walled himself off.
The door opens and a prim, female voice alls. "Jay Song. The principal is waiting for you."
Jay stands up. He brushes his long hair out of the way. Nick starts, says, "Jay--" but the door closes.
Nick is left wondering over the glint of a thick silver earring that curved against Jay's ear.
Jay (10 years later)
The airport is gray and abandoned on this rainy day as Jay sits by himself. America is foreign to him now, he thinks, looking around. The fast, clipped English leaves him dazed. His tongue around the words are rough and clumsy. Maybe practice will help him; he hopes so.
He blinks. Jay. His American name. In Korea they called him nothing but Ji Hoon, so even this is unfamiliar. "Ne? I mean--yes?"
He looks up. A man is standing in front of him: average height, black hair shorter than he remembers, still trim and fit despite ten years' passage. His eyes, lined and tired with worries Jay only vaguely knows about, flicker over him, examining. He sits still until the man is done. Then he says, softly, "Hi, Nick."
Who approached who first? Jay can't remember, but he is pretty sure that it was Nick who called to him. He was too quiet, too reserved. He would never have gone with Nick if the other wasn't so insistent, so warm, so goddamn good-looking. He made Jay feel flustered and fluttery; he made him feel real.
"Hold still," he murmured to Jay when they first had sex. His fingers curled deep inside the other boy, who bit into his hand to stop the scream that welled up.
"St-Stop," Jay whimpered. "It hurts!"
"Shh, it's okay. It'll feel better soon, I promise."
Jay's muffled moans didn't stop as Nick held his legs apart and started pushing in. There was another scream. "Nick, Nick, please don't, oh god, it hurts!"
Nick kissed him and Jay could feel his ragged breath. "It's okay, it's okay...shh, it'll be okay." He didn't move, letting Jay adjust to the intrusion. Jay whimpered and clutched at the sheets, his muscles clenching around Nick's arousal. "Jay...relax. You need to relax."
"I can't." Nick was inside him, and he wasn't used to that feeling, the sensation of someone filling him completely.
The other boy started stroking his hair. "Jay, look at me." Jay stared at him with eyes brimming with tears. "Jay, you know I wouldn't hurt you..." He kissed Jay's forehead, then his cheek, soft butterfly kisses that deepened when he reached Jay's lips. "Trust me, baby...I want to make you feel good." Jay opened his mouth when Nick's tongue ran along his lower lip, and he moaned as the boy's practiced tongue massaged his. Slowly, he began to relax. "Better?" Nick whispered.
"Okay..." Nick started pushing in and out. Jay could tell he was controlling himself, going slow for Jay's sake, and he kissed him gratefully. His hands ran up and down the other's back, fingertips pressing into the muscles. He knew Nick liked it when he did that, and he seemed to like it even more now. A moan rippled through the room as Nick began to thrust in faster.
Jay cried out again, but his tone was changed, a small shift from pain to pleasure. He was getting used to it, now. His legs wrapped around Nick, holding him, pushing him in deeper. Nick eagerly responded, and Jay, mind going hazy, wondered if that was his voice making all those strangled, needy sounds.
"How does it feel now?" Nick whispered.
Jay answered him with a needy, forceful kiss.
Nick says, "You told me you needed a ride, so..."
"I did. Thank you." Jay stands up, remembering how much taller than Nick he is.
"My car's outside. Come on."
He still walks with confidence, Jay thinks. His shoulders are stooped with worry but his gaze is straight ahead. Jay knows he will never back down from anything his mind is set on. He unconsciously steps closer. Their shoulders, then hands, brush together.
He moves away. "So how have you been?"
"Same as I was last time I e-mailed you."
"Work's going fine?"
"Yeah, it pays well. Just--it's harder when it's not just you."
"Oh." They get to Nick's car, and throw in Jay's scarce luggage.
For the last ten years, they have been keeping in contact. But the messages are distant, impersonal e-mails and the yearly Christmas card. The one time Nick called there was a long silence; when he finally hung up it was permanent.
And the emails got more and more perfunctory. At first Nick wrote, "I miss you. I need you." Then he just began to list his day-to-day activities. Once in a while, he added, "I wish you were here."
Jay wishes he had replied with something more worthwhile than his own automatic routine. He wrote about everyday thing because he thought Nick would eventually do it. He wrote about boring things because he expected that Nick would lose interest anyway. But he wanted to write, "I miss you too. I want to be with you." He wanted to write, "I dream about you. In my dreams we make love again. I taste your cock in my mouth and then you are inside me, I am inside you."
In reality Jay had been too shy to ever blow Nick, but he wishes he had done that too.
Now they sit together in the car. Nick pulls up to Jay's hotel. Jay breathes in, then out. He invites Nick to his room, and Nick says yes. They kiss in the elevator, hungry. Jay can't believe how much he missed being with Nick, actually touching him, feeling him.
In his room Jay goes down on Nick, closing his eyes. He licks up the other's erection, then down, then takes just the tip into his mouth. It is like his dreams. It is better than his dreams. Nick moans, desperate, and says, "Fuck, Jay." Jay takes him all the way inside, swallowing. Nick pants, "Jay, please. I need to be inside you." So Jay takes his mouth away obediently, and lies down on his back. Nick spreads his legs apart. One hand reaches between his legs, the other brushes down his cheek. The cold of metal seeps into skin.
Jay shuts his eyes again as Nick begins to fuck him so he doesn't have to see what he knows is there: a slim gold ring that curves around Nick's finger, shining.