Note: Slash. Kind of cheesy. Actually, very cheesy. But who doesn't love cheese? Anyway, chapter titles and story title go to the Smith's and their album Strangeways, Here We Come, because I'm unoriginal and can't stop listening to it. Relations between a sixteen year old and a twenty-seven year old. Yeah. First story.
Summary: Infatuation is a tricky thing, especially when there's eleven years separating the two of them. That, and the fact that Jory Kilver is a complete and absolute spaz.
I was stuck on my fire escape the first time I met Jack Carter.
The black, wrought iron of the escape had always existed just outside of the emergency window of the apartment, but seemed untouchable to my five year old hands. It held the same kind of mysterious danger that calling 911 did. You didn't do it unless it was an emergency. Ever. While all the other windows in the apartment were smudged with sticky fingerprints, and in the right light you could see condensation drawn smiley-faces and crossed out cuss words, the emergency window was so clean it seemed like the glass wasn't even there. I remember my mom obsessively wiping it down with Windex and paper towels daily, like the more streak-free the emergency window was, the more of a chance we all had of escaping a a terrible fiery death.
But my older brother Harp had double-pinky promised me that mom left a surprise just outside, and all I had to do was climb through the window and get it. And I mean really—a surprise? One that I'd automatically assumed had to be the most-coveted, yet most-allusive Tamagatchi? How was a five-year-old me supposed to resist?
And not a fucking second after I'd swung my last leg over the ledge, Harp had slammed the pane down, locked it, and made a face against the glass, skin smearing hot breath across it.
It's not something I like to talk about, mostly because I was out there in the rain for forever, crying into my hands and trying not to make too much noise because our neighbor Mrs. Hannerdy always yelled when I cried too loudly.
And it was probably the darkest moment of my entire existence. Even worse than the time I cracked open a Magic Eight Ball and drank the blue liquid inside.
I heard the whoosh of the window being opened and my tiny kindergarten heart soared—because maybe I wouldn't die a horrible frozen death after all. Maybe Harp had grown a conscious and was going to let me back in!
And then I realized it was the window on the escape above me, and my heart sank like the Titanic (a movie which at that point in time, I'd like to brag, I'd seen both VHS tapes of—even the naked parts, thank you very much Stoned Babysitter).
Jack was sixteen and sneaking out of his apartment for a quick smoke on the fire escape (and we sing irony), at least that's how he tells it. I've seen pictures, and he looked so young back then, and so scrawny with a dimpled face and his 5'2 frame still drowning in unwanted baby fat. But the one thing I really remember from when I first met him, Jack seemed like the tallest, most grown-up person in the world. Impossibly big, in all black, with stubble. And that was before he shot up ten inches, joined his high school wrestling team and grew a formidable 'stache.
He said something that's now lost in my memory, probably a 'what's wrong, kiddo?' or a 'hey, don't cry dude'—something like that. But I do remember his smile, slashed wide through his face, and I knew he was safe. I was safe. Even though I'd been briefed countless times by that point to never, ever go anywhere with strangers no matter who they were, what they promised, or what kind of shoes they wore—Jack seemed different. Even if he was wearing beat up Adidas.
Jack helped me climb up to his escape and through the window—his apartment was different from ours, with no orange Hot Wheel tracks laid out on the carpet, or any Nerf Guns in the corner fully stocked with their foam bullets. Just baskets of unfolded laundry and stacks of thick books with titles I couldn't read.
His bedroom was different from mine, too—it didn't look like he shared it with anybody, just himself, and there were more huge books and crumpled papers, and tacked into the green walls were posters of men dressed in all black, growling at me with glazed eyes and sneering mouths. I only remember Jack saying one thing to me, even though he was talking the whole time, comforting me in smooth tones. He pointed to one of the posters, this one on the ceiling, tacked over his bed, different. There were no men dressed in black sneering, just one man in black and white with tall hair. Jack pointed his chin to the poster, "Hot, right?"
I didn't know what he meant so I just nodded, and he just threw his head back and laughed.
He led me back to my apartment by the hand down the stairs and up the hall, my wet clothes in a plastic shopping bag and an oversized t-shirt hanging past my knees. Before I got the chance to even tell him which door was mine, it slammed open with my crazy-haired, wild eyed mother bursting through it, tossing off her Minolo Blahniks behind her and gushing panic.
She'd hugged me so hard, then Jack, our cheeks matching with red lipstick smeared across them.
I don't remember much after that, except I was sick for a week and Harp was punished for a lot longer.
That, and Jack Carter would become a permanent fixture in my life, whether I liked it or not.
"We shouldn't be in here."
"Yeah? Well Jack shouldn't hog all the good Will Farrell movies. I mean, there are just so few of them to go around nowadays. It's like Communist Russia in my room, except instead of no food we don't have Anchorman."
Eleven years later, and things have changed, for better and for worse. For one, my surroundings have gone from Play-Doh and Fruit-Roll Ups to AP Chemistry textbooks and Lean Cuisines.
"If he finds out we've been in here he's going to kill us. Slow and painful. Rip off our nipples and press salted lemon slices to the open wounds."
"You'd like that, wouldn't you sweetheart?"
"Leave it to you to find a sexual connotation to extreme and unusual punishment."
Casey Loughlin has been my best friend for way too long. We should've gotten bored with each other, sick of our habits and faces by the start of middle school. But sixth grade came and went and we made it through switching classes and Tuck Everlasting, then seventh with braces and different lunch periods, and at eighth grade graduation we were so sure that it had to be the end now. There was no way we were going to get through Freshman year together, maybe the summer before if that. Now, almost at the end of our sophomore year, we're still going strong. We've lasted longer than anyone else. We are young, heartache to heartache we stand, so on and so forth.
The reason why probably also has to do with the fact that she's Jack's younger cousin, and they live together. Growing up I'd hero-worshipped the crap out of Jack, idolizing everything he did and said, marveling at just his general awesomeness. He listened to bands I never heard of, read whole books in one sitting, taught me swear words and how to properly right-hook someone. And I took any opportunity to be near him, even if it meant play dates with his loud, brassy, K-Mart sandal wearing cousin.
But somewhere along the line things changed. They tend to do that over the span of a decade. Casey became more than just an excuse to see Jack, though she herself didn't change at all. Another thing that changed was Jack—something that I've never been able to put my finger on other than the fact that he was a man now. And oh God did I love it.
Casey pulls out a cardboard box full of plastic DVD cases from under Jack's bed, "Ooh, jackpot."
I just stand uncomfortable in the doorway, arms crossed and legs brought tightly together, eyes scanning the clutter and the walls. Jack's room smells too much like him. In the few times I've actually gotten close enough to breathe in the bleeding scent of acrylic paint, drug store deodorant, and Fruity Pebbles cereal, I'd taken to memorizing it. The walls leaked this smell, overpowering the tiny space full of stacked books and CDs, half-finished canvases and pinned doodles on the corkboard popped up behind his desk. The poster of a young, black and white Morrissey still hangs over his unmade bed just like it did the day I first saw it.
"He won't care that we're in here. I bet he'd love the idea of you in his bedroom."
My face burns, "Casey."
"Don't get your sweater vest in a bunch, I'm only fucking with you," she snorts and hold up two cases. "Dilemma—Step Brothers or Anchorman?"
"Can't we just watch those episodes of the Millionaire Matchmaker you have recorded on your DVR?" I whine, leaning against the doorframe.
"I swear to God—how has no one figured out that you're gay yet?"
Heat creeps up my neck again, and I feel like people can hear it through the walls—Jory Kilver, apartment 6B, is gay. Please feel free to stereotype him as an overly flamboyant, overtly sexual, Godless heathen with an extensive knowledge of all things Cher.
"Because I told the boys in the locker room I got to second base with you."
"Was this before or after you got caught staring at their packages?"
A voice breaths into my ear, "Who's package are we staring at?"
I jump, driving my shoulder into the doorframe, but the pain is drowned out by the pounding pulse of my heart against my rib cage and my lung's desperate grasp for oxygen.
"Hey kiddo—how's it hanging?" Jack shoots me a messy grin and ruffles my curls—his face so close to mine I can count the faded summertime freckles across the bridge of his nose. Words…I need them, but I can't say anything. He slings an arm around my neck and says in saturated sweetness, "What've I told you guys about going through my room?"
"That we could possibly find your stash of homoerotic S&M magazines and you won't be held responsible for exposing minors of hardcore pornography?" Casey blinks.
"Something along those lines. So what are we watching?" his arm is still around me, his arm is still around me, his arm is still around me.
"Debating with which Will Farrell flick will make my pants happy," Casey shrugs.
"Huh…I was kind of hankering to watch those Millionaire Matchmaker episodes we have on the TiVo."
Casey huffs, tossing the DVDs over her shoulders, not caring when they crash against the far bedroom wall. She rockets to her feet and pushes past us in the doorway, muttering, "God I never thought I'd be double-teamed by two gay guys."