August (again): pomodoro, pomme d'amour

A plant which can be found on every continent is called cosmopolitan. Jackson could be called cosmopolitan too. He had been on, not every continent, but several continents. Human cultivation can create a cosmopolitan plant from endemic ancestors. A plant which is native to and confined to a well-defined geographic area is called endemic. It's not unusual for an endemic species to be descended from a cosmopolitan family. Marek was endemic to a well-defined geographic area -- the California floristic province, no less: but his family was from all over the globe.

The tomato is a cosmopolitan plant, but this has only been the case for a few hundred years. Like Jackson, it flourished and improved and became sophisticated in lands far from the place of its ancestors. There is no documentation of the tomato's domestication in its original home, the west coast of South America. The tomato is first documented in culinary use a few hundred miles north of there, in Mayan Mexico, only a century before the first European cookbook includes recipes for it. This leaves a small mystery about the tomato's early days and its transition from wild to domestic.

It's not true, as many people have asserted, that the tomato wasn't considered to be food by anyone in Europe and North America until the late eighteen-hundreds. But there were some decades early on when many people in those places thought that the tomato was an ornamental nightshade, not fit for eating. Like Jackson with Marek, their attraction to the tomato's lush growth and green scent was diluted by repulsion.

But -- again like Jackson with Marek -- there are few peoples in the world today who have not embraced the tomato with enthusiasm on the same scale as the ubiquitous onion. By midsummer, Jackson couldn't get enough of Marek, who grinned a lot when Jackson was around and worried a lot when he wasn't.

Marek was, by nature, an easy-spreading kind of guy, as much at home in the cool coastal fog and rich alluvial valleys as in the granitic highlands where the air was thin and the weather harsh. He could talk to almost anybody for a few minutes at least. There was always something an endemic boy could talk about -- possibly in broken Cantonese, Portuguese, Spanish or Croatian -- that is, if he was not trying to talk to Jackson. Even now, when Jackson had kissed him several times, when Marek had allowed him to please him, when Jackson had still been there in the morning, elegant in the sunlight that streaked across the bed.

Marek kept gazing at Jackson as the morning progressed. He was blissfully stupid, today, until Jackson reminded him: "You said you had to go to the farmer's market this morning."

"Yeah," Marek said. "You coming?"

"Wouldn't miss it," said Jackson, though his only interest in it was to stay close to Marek for that much longer. "Lead me around. I'll be your porter."

Marek laughed, but he was blushing.

At the farmer's market Marek regained the power of speech, in a way. He kept putting things under Jackson's nose and commenting on their smell, their color, their texture, their weight or size. Jackson absorbed the sensory details but what he was really watching was Marek. By the time they had arrived at the tomatoes, Jackson remembered why he had run from Marek when they first met. What Jackson had been seeing between times had been a muted Marek, Marek retiring and abashed -- half of Marek. At the farmer's market, possessed by Jackson, focused on his favorite things, Marek was all enthusiasm, all sensual ecstasy. Jackson felt in danger of ravishment right there among the oozing melons. Worse: he felt himself in danger of ravishing Marek in a bed of brilliant sweating peppers. Worst: the tumescent tomatoes and leering eggplants in all their respective variety. And Marek oblivious, as a fish is oblivious to water.

Which is to say, not oblivious, really. Just as you are not really oblivious to the air you breathe.

Marek made Jackson carry a ridiculous basket. Jackson saw things go into it he couldn't identify. "Every one of those is a tomato," Marek said. "Even the black one."

"That's not black," Jackson said.

"Okay," Marek said. The name of the tomato was Black Krim, but it was only a little darker than the one called Cherokee Purple.

"Marek, remember we're walking back," Jackson said a little later. "This is all pretty heavy."

"I'll take more of it in a minute," Marek said. "I just want my hands free to look at these plums."

"The sign says pluots."

"That's dumb. I know a plum when I see one." Meaning: I have an uncle who grows these, I better know.

Jackson was aching all over when they got back to Marek's tiny apartment. "You owe me a massage," he said.

"Okay," Marek said. But first he put everything in bowls and baskets around the kitchen. There wasn't a surface unconquered by fruits and leaves. He even set the tomato basket on the floor.

"My massage now?" Jackson asked. ""I'm all knots."

"In a bit," Marek said. "Just relax. I'll make you something."

Truthfully, Jackson was hungry. It was a steep climb back to Marek's apartment from the farmers' market. And now it was hours from breakfast.

Marek held up a glowing yellow tomato. "Pomodoro," he said. "The tomato is the 'golden apple.' I think the first tomatoes in Italy must have been the yellow kind." With a knife so sharp it set Jackson's teeth on edge, Marek sliced up a plate full of yellow and striped green tomatoes, all soft-colored crescents like a calico print from the Art Deco era. "Now I drizzle walnut oil," Marek said. "And here, I rip basil. Some feta cheese. Salad."

He placed the plate before Jackson, and a few minutes later, a bowl of chestnut-colored broth with purple tomato slices floating in it.

"Seaweed?" Jackson asked, poking at black threads in the broth.

"No, black chanterelles. Mushrooms. Dried last winter," Marek said. And replaced the salad plate with yet more tomatoes, grilled on French bread with Swiss cheese.

Good thing the portions were not gigantic: but Marek had noticed that Jackson was not a gourmand.

Finally, Marek produced a tiny red tomato, glistening, as translucent and tender as a gooseberry and not all that much bigger. "Pomme d'amour," he whispered, feeling silly, but he went through with popping it into Jackson's mouth. "Let's get your muscles rubbed." Then he walked into the livingroom where the couch bed was still pulled out from the night before. Jackson followed him.

"You should have your clothes off," Marek said. But he made no move towards Jackson.

"You can do it," Jackson said. Suddenly Marek was very serious, undressing Jackson carefully as if it was a service he was doing Jackson. Jackson suppressed his laughter, maintaining a serene expression. When he saw Marek's hands shaking he was glad he hadn't laughed. When he saw Marek looking at him, he wished he had laughed, but it was too late.

Marek swallowed. "Make yourself comfortable. Back in a second." In the kitchen, he leaned against the table briefly and caught his breath.

He laughed as he came up to the couch bed and found Jackson lightly asleep. Then he sat on the edge of the bed and just looked at Jackson. The color of the light near to midday was very kind to Jackson's skin.

Jackson stirred from the doze he'd fallen into. "What is that?" he asked.

"Walnut oil," Marek said. "For your tired muscles."

"Umm . . . that wouldn't be water-based walnut oil, would it?"

"No, it wouldn't," Marek said. "Should it be?"

"Depends on just exactly which muscles you plan on massaging." Jackson said, opening his eyes: he saw Marek, biting his lip, focusing on the task at hand, which happened to be Jackson's left hand. Marek looked up, his pupils wide, his face speckled with red, his hands still working Jackson's fingers.

"I'm not planning on anything," Marek said, and then winced. "I mean I just want to do whatever you want." He felt stupid. He'd thought Jackson really meant he wanted a massage. The partial erection hadn't clued him in. Guys would do that if you were undressing them and rubbing them with oil, even if they weren't particularly interested at the moment. But -- it's not like they hadn't been fucking the night before. Why hadn't Marek thought of it?

Because he still couldn't believe it, that's why.

"I want what you want, Alphonse," Jackson said.

"Oh."

Marek poured more oil on his hands and shifted so that he was working on Jackson's other hand. He worked on that hand for a moment and then asked, "Why did you call me Alphonse?"

"Alphonse and Gaston," Jackson murmured. "After you, Alphonse. No, my dear Gaston, after you. Each one waiting for the other to go first."

"Oh, right," Marek said. "I heard that before. Old comics or something." He worked his way up Jackson's arm.

Jackson was too relaxed to force himself back on the topic he wanted to pursue, or even to suggest that Marek was overdressed in his t-shirt and shorts. But some moments later when Marek had moved to Jackson's legs and worked his way up past the knees he became more alert. "Nice," he said, as Marek's thumbs did something to his thighs, both of them at once. A finger slid away from the thumb on one leg. Marek's hand had a lot of spread.

"Yeah," Marek said. And, "You taste nice with a walnut oil dressing."

That was a tongue, then, not a finger. And it was behaving like a tongue now, lapping, not just sliding.

And -- "Look, we're just not going to without condoms," Jackson said, getting a little nervous.

"Sure," Marek said, reaching to the little bookshelf next to the couch bed.

"I'm all oily," Jackson said.

"Yeah, it's nice," Marek said, opening the packet. "All slippery and shiny."

Jackson sighed. "You know oil ruins latex."

Marek's eyes went wide and he laughed. "It's okay. This is vinyl. Now --" he held up the condom, still rolled into a disk. "Where does this go?"

"Where do you think?" Jackson asked.

It was Marek's turn to sigh. "I think I can only read your mind when the stars are aligned just so, and I know I'm just as happy either way."

"So just do the opposite of last night," Jackson said, smirking. "Turn and turn about."

A/N: And that's all there is for Jackson and Marek and their golden apples of love . . .

(really, being happy in love is interesting to do, but boring to write about)