Tonight, Marcus's grandmother had asked him to re-start In Memoriam from the eighth canto. Having read through the poem twice already, Marcus knows what those lines are about. It's beautiful, but it's also sad, and he doesn't understand why his grandmother wants to hear it again.
There's also the annoying fact that the poem is written by a man to another man and it's difficult to deny the affectionateness of it.
His grandmother places a hand on his forehead. "Sweetie. You're so angry your head is hot," she rubs his temple, "Is everything okay?"
Not really, but he can't tell her. She's sick and blind and needs peace in her life, not the dramatics of a seventeen year old.
"I'm fine, Gram," he says and smiles and leans into her touch, "This poem is sad, is all."
"I'm sorry hun. Did you want to read a different one?" She asks, and Marcus swears he sees a spark in her eyes.
He blames his answer on it. "No. No, I like it."
At the twenty-first canto he stops, because he has to be at the school by seven. He kisses her cheek and says goodbye to Miss Daea on his way out the door. It all seems to run together though. He's done this so often, and he's never thought of it before, but now he's wondering when will be the last time. He turns his back to the care home and heads to school.
The walk is dark, as always, but he feels separate from everything. The sky is farther away than ever, the trees of the park spread out, moving away as he walks through. Pushing him back. It's like he's some disease the earth around him doesn't want to catch. The sky pushing him away, the dirt screaming under his feet, rejecting him. It's familiar. It's exactly what he does to his own feelings, rejecting them like a disease he doesn't want to catch.
Mia meets him at the front door. She's smiling.
"Hey," she says, "Hey, are you okay?"
He hangs his shoulders low, uncertain, cautious, terrified of doing what he wants. "Are you sure… um." Marcus tries to look up at her hopefully, but he can't and he sets his eyes onto her feet. "That he…"
"Look at me." He does. Her gaze are set and serious. "I'm sure. He's in the attic." She smiles at Marcus, and squeezes his arm. "You have to use the other entrance though, 'cause he forgot the key."
Marcus laughs, but the falsity of it rings back through his own ears, and he stops. But he does try to keep his voice light.
"I haven't been in the old entrance since ninth grade. You sure I can even fit?"
Mia holds the front doors wide open, leading to the hallway. Light explodes out at him like a bright yellow storm. The only thing warmer are her calm, lambent words.
"I think you'll be a perfect fit."
Marcus walks, a bit dizzy, until he's in front of locker 444. Like every locker on the fourth floor, it's tall and grey and old. Unlike every other locker though, it's never used by a student and has had the same combination attached to it since he'd started at this school: 08-05-09.
He opens the metal door with a quick creak. Dust flies out from it. It smells like rotten, wet celery.
Marcus grips the door and more than anything, he wants to shut it and lock Rheed in and go home. Someone would let him out eventually. This is the last night of their detentions - if he shut Rheed in there, it could all be over. Marcus is good at avoiding him at school, they only have one class together, and they sit three rows apart, and Rheed never talks anyway. So it would be easier. Marcus could put all of this away.
Still holding the cold metal door in his fingers, he looks down. Three dead mice are lying on the black, dirty bottom of the locker. White bugs are picking at their electric red eyes, which are too soft from months of decay. The mice must've been trapped in here by someone else who knew the combination. Caged up, forgotten about. It would be easier to lock Rheed in the attic like these mice, but Marcus isn't like that, he's not. No matter what he says tonight, he would never hurt Rheed, not like that.
He doesn't want to look at the dead mice anymore, so he takes a breath from the hallway and squishes himself inside. One carcass flattens under his foot with a watery sound. He shakes it off the bottom of his shoe as he lifts himself up towards the ceiling, using the ventilation grates in the side of the locker as a ladder. Then he slides over the floor of the attic on his belly, dust collecting across his chest.
He doesn't stand up straight away. The floor is hardwood and rough, covered with dust that flies up in the air in flecks. Following the long planks of light wood, he sees three unfilled bottles of beer, and a few cigarette butts. Two of them are on their sides, the third propped up with strings of silver dusted cobwebs hanging off it as if tethering it to the ground.
There's one window. The attic is very small - so the light from the one window is enough to fill the room, but it's a grey and misty light, like a bout of smoke is building around them.
Rheed is across the room, scrubbing the window. His back is straight and pulled tight, like a cord down the neck of a violin. He's wearing shorts and his hips are swaying as he cleans grime out of an apparently very dirty crack in the pane; Marcus watches him for longer than he should. The bend of his calves and how hard he works at the musty window.
As Marcus stands up his knees scrape the floor. Rheed turns at the sound, looking surprised.
"Oh - I, I unlocked the door for you," he says, ringing the rag in his fingers, "So you wouldn't have to go through that…"
Marcus's mind jumps into absurdity as he thinks of all the things those words could mean.
"Anyway, we need to rake the courtyard tonight," Rheed says. He drops the blue cloth onto the windowsill and turns to face Marcus; Marcus is flushed with shame when he has to tear his eyes away from those toned legs. He tries to look at Rheed like he hadn't been looking at him earlier, liked he had never looked at him before. "I'll go do it, alright? I need the air."
Throat going dry, Marcus opens his lips to talk, explain, say something that will keep him there, but nothing makes it through. Rheed walks past him. The door, the one he'd unlocked for Marcus (so I wouldn't have to go through that), is shut carefully. Exactly eleven of Rheed's footsteps can be heard as he walks away.
The bones and ligaments and everything in his legs melt to a thick, burning liquid; Marcus collapses onto his ass in the middle of the floor. His face goes red.
Oh god, he'd been staring at Rheed's calves, his hips, all the way up his spine to his neck and down again. That fucking curve his back does. How had he always looked at it but never really looked at it? Why is he noticing now, why the hell does he have to be noticing now? Why is there no answer for all the shit spinning around in his head?
He needs to clean the attic. This is the last night of their detentions. He needs to do it, so all of this can be over.
Marcus doesn't move. His jeans tighten and he feels hot shame wash over him again.
Why does he have to be like this?
His phone vibrates and he takes it out quickly, fumbles; he's thankful for the distraction.
Ceeber said attic dsnt need to be cleaned. Help me in the theatre? Already told Ty.
If he were a dog, he knows his tail would be between his legs, but he can't be any braver. Marcus leaves the dirty room quickly and heads out the same door Rheed had used. It leads directly to the balcony of the theatre, through a door that is always locked from the outside.
Mia hands him a mop as soon as he meets her on the stage. "It's ruining my nails… do you mind?" Her voice is as sweet and warm and feminine as ever, but it does nothing to him. In fact, the whole thing seems so far displaced from him that he could be watching her on a television. She smiles and hands him the mop through the screen in his imagination and walks away and Marcus doesn't feel any spark of anything as he watches her hips and her legs. His head starts to ache. But at least he has one, he reminds himself.
He has the front half the stage mopped with soapy water, and he's straining his thoughts around what he should do: If he just waits this night out, he wont ever have to think about it again. All of this anxiety will leave and, to him, that sounds better.
Tycho sticks the rake to the ground and halls leaves towards him into a large pile. It's the third one he's made in the past thirty minutes. His fingers are dry and cracked around the broom's wooden handle, but he grips it as tight as ever, knowing the harder he works, the sooner it'll be finished. If only that same basic logic applied to Marcus - Tycho would be set if it did. He's great at hard work. He's great at enduring and pursuing and has a high level of stamina for anything. His mother used to call him her tiny bulldozer; not a very cute name, but it was to the point. Tycho has lots of energy.
None of it seems to do him any good with Marcus, though. What's a guy supposed to do? Paint it on his own face? If Marcus doesn't like him too, fine. But can't he be honest? Or does Tycho have to ask? To be the one to bring it up would be humiliating. He bets that no matter how Marcus feels, he'd make a joke out of it and say something like Are you serious? I'm not a faggot! Because for all of his Romanticism, liberal ideals, and passion, he's sort of a coward.
Behind him, towards the school, Tycho hears something heavy click, followed by the strong sound of running water. Instantly his heart drives into a quicker pace. His nerves recognize the sound before his head, and he drops the rake. With a zap, the imbedded sprinkler system around him turns on. There's a quaky shiver, like a motor that wont start. Then he's being sprayed from all directions with freezing water. He brings his hands up to cover his face, and Tycho runs towards the school, legs on automatic; what the fuck! what the fuck! His mind screams, terrified, as his shoes beat the ground.
By the time he reaches the side of the school, he's drenched. His sweater is cold and itchy against his arms, and his shorts are sticking to his thighs. This is what he hates about being wet, this uncomfortable, weak, clingy feeling. The sprinklers aren't timed - someone had to have turned them on manually. Mia would never; Marcus seems to have a thing for seeing Tycho soaked, regardless of whether this 'thing' is malicious or not. And that's it.
Rheed's done. He snaps.
He'd propped the emergency exit door open when he'd gone outside. He pushes his way back through it, right onto the stage of the theatre. Even though he's usually level headed, even though he's put up with this for years, even though it's all nothing at all, Tycho can only see blood red as he storms over to Marcus. He's alone on the stage, mopping, acting like he isn't an asshole. What the fuck gave him the right?
"WHAT— THE— HELL—"
But Tycho's shout is cut off as he slips on the wet floor. He lands on his stomach with a wet splat, shaking the old stage. Of course, of course the moment he stops being meek and quiet about the whole thing - the second he thinks he might stand up for himself, that he doesn't deserve this bullshit, he falls flat on his face!
Someone else falls too, down beside him. Tycho bats the hand that tries to touch his shoulder away. "Get off."
He stands up and Marcus stands up with him. If he looks shaken, he doesn't notice.
"Fuck," Tycho almost spits it. "Fuck you. What the hell is your problem? I wasn't even near you, I've barely even spoken to you all night. The hell did I do to piss you off this time?"
"My problem? You're the one who almost broke you neck!"
"Only because of you!"
Marcus seems to be listening to the drip drip drip drip of water falling from Tycho's soaked sweater. Then he takes a deep breath and says, "I didn't do anything. You ran in here and tripped all on your own."
But Tycho isn't calming down, and snaps a bit further. "You turned the sprinklers on!"
"The ones in the courtyard?"
"Like you don't know!"
"I didn't touch them."
"Yes you did!"
"Why would I?"
Tycho leans back a little and laughs viciously, sarcastically, like someone is telling him suicide could prolong his health. "How the hell should I know? You're fucking crazy!"
"Yeah, so what? You're depressed."
"No I'm not," Tycho says, eyes locked on his.
"Yes you are." There's an annoying prideful sound to Marcus's words, the tone he usually takes in class when he knows all of the answers to just fucking everything and says all of them out loud like the arrogant assfuck he is. "There's probably some stupid sad reason why you're afraid of water, isn't there. Did your puppy drown? What is it?"
Tycho can't keep his voice steady. "There isn't one."
"I just don't like it."
"Right. Water isn't scary, Rheed."
Why don't you get it?
"Well you're one to talk! You're scared of your own family!"
Oh fuck. That's not what he wants to say.
The hurt in Marcus's eyes is obvious and raw. Tycho opens his mouth to fix it, but Marcus barks at him, low and hollowing, "Shut up. What would you even understand? You probably go home to a quiet house."
And then he's gone. Dragging his feet and the mop off to the hallway.
For the third night in a row, Tycho is left alone, cold, and wet, contemplating why the hell his brain or soul or whatever would bother liking a guy like him, and generally feeling sorry for himself, and angry more than that, because who does Marcus think he is? Walking away every freaking time!
"Wait," he says under his breath.
A shoulder bumps him in the back, sending him lurching forward an inch.
"Stupid," a voice like sweet caramel says, "Go after him."
Tycho steps out into the bright hallway. The sound of his wet runners hitting the floor bounces off the lockers. Quickly he looks left at the entrance of the school, and right to the stairwell at the end of the hall. He can't see anyone, but there's a resounding click of a door, the kind with a bar to push it open. It's a metallic sound and echos better than his footsteps had.
Breaking into a run, Tycho swings down the stairs. He's wary of going so fast, knows he can be clumsy despite playing soccer, but he needs to get to the bottom floor in time to see where Marcus goes next. He makes it, and catches the back of a sneakergoing for the smaller staircase just off the exit, the one that leads to the pool.
Reaching the entrance just as it shuts, Tycho stops. All of the air he's breathing finds a crack in his throat and sticks there. But he doesn't want to be scared, to stand here forever. He pushes the door to the pool open slowly. It creeks and a warm wall of heat wafts into his face as Tycho steps inside.
The room is black. All he can see is faint blue-green water-refections against the tall, dark-white walls to the left of him, and more above him along the ceiling. But as he walks further inside, the yellow light from the boys' bathroom is flipped on. Tycho freezes at the sudden brightness.
He can hear footsteps around him, and circles his eyes everywhere for some sign of the other boy.
"Marcus, stop with the theatrics. This is stu - "
Two large hands grab him around his waist and pull Tycho into the water. He screams like he's being stabbed, but his head goes under and the shout drowns mute. He opens his eyes, everything an algae-green colour splashed with yellow from the lights on deck. He lets out all of his air, and then Tycho stands up. As he breaks the surface, flakes of water drip off the end of his nose, but he's not freaked out about it. Because Marcus is two feet away from him, back turned, and just as wet.
"C'mon Marcus, turn around," Rheed is saying, "Whether you do or not, I…"
But Marcus can't turn around. One look will probably kill him. There's a swish of water as Rheed gets closer.
"It's - it's easy, you know," he sets his fingers on the back of Marcus's neck, rubbing, "It's not complicated like you're making it. I mean - " Rheed laughs, but it's nervous, " - this is so backwards!" His fingers rub harder and Marcus's shoulders tighten, but he stays where he is, "Usually you can't shut up, and I'm the quiet one." His voice falls. "I'm gonna stop."
"No - " Marcus grabs the cold fingers on the back of his neck, "No, you - " But he doesn't know what he's saying.
Marcus turns around suddenly, facing the other guy. He takes two breaths. Then he drags Rheed's fingers into his chest, falling back against the wall of the pool. Marcus pulls on his arm until Rheed is on top of him. The weight of it is warm. They look at each other and Marcus knows he's probably really red and shaking harder than an old rotten tree in a wind storm, but he doesn't try to steady himself at all; carefully but fixed, sure of it, he presses their mouths together.
Something hot rages down Marcus's tailbone as Rheed moves his lips against his. And then when Rheed parts them that heat flicks back up Marcus's spine. He pulls him closer and slides a tongue into his mouth, hurried and his heart jumps six feet into the air when Rheed opens his lips wider and rubs their chests together with one, long grind. Marcus makes a low sound, lost somewhere in the back of his throat. He can't take his spinning head and pulls back.
Rheed stares, wide-eyed at him, and then looks somewhere away, but doesn't move. His fingers grip at Marcus's wet forearms. "I - um, um."
"You look really hot when you're wet."
His whole face turns bright red. "What?"
Marcus looks at his eyes because fuck it they're pretty and he's sick of pretending he hates them. They're huge and blue and clear. Without meaning to, he shifts his gaze down between their hips. His cheeks flash into a red heat because there is no space between anything lower than their belts. He keeps his gaze down and says, "Fuck."
Rheed fidgets. "You should just kiss me again."
Marcus nods. "I'm just gonna kiss you again."
He does. Rheed's hands get tangled and stuck between their bodies. The press of them against Marcus's chest is almost as amazing as the press between their lips until Rheed moves his hands to the hem of Marcus's shirt and opens his mouth again. Marcus lets his tongue wander everywhere, and Rheed's fingers start working up his stomach. Marcus bites his bottom lip accidentally when Rheed runs a hand just below his navel. He licks his bottom lip after, trying to be slow about it, but that hand gets even lower and Marcus just ends up groaning with his tongue caught on Rheed's lip.
He's about to pull back and laugh about it, because it felt silly, his tongue stuck out like that - but then Rheed's hand goes as low as it needs to.
Marcus chokes and bucks into his grip. It feels better than perfect, but it should be the other way around - he should be - He pulls his head away.
"We need to talk."
Rheed moves forward, pressing him against the deck and leans in for his lips. " Don't - wanna - " He kisses him again and grabs his dick through his wet jeans again and Marcus doesn't really want to talk, either. He'd rather let Rheed jerk him off in this dark, musty pool, and then go back to his place and jerk Rheed off in his shower, and then...
"Just," he says against Rheed's mouth. Marcus pulls away. "Just listen."
Rheed looks him up and down, and then he sighs.
He moves away from Marcus, and jumps onto the deck, sitting with his legs in the water.
Marcus's whole body is shaking from the sudden loss of warmth. He wants to grab him again, shove his own hand down Rheed's soaked pants and forget everything else; but Marcus takes a full breath and sits next to him instead. Honest. He needs to be honest.
"How long - " He stops. And starts again, "How long have you…"
Rheed grins wide and bright. Looking at the ceiling he says, "How long have I liked you?"
Marcus shakes his head. "No. How long have you known you were… you know."
"Gay?" He blinks at Marcus who looks at the water and nods. "Oh," Rheed sounds disappointed, "I've aways known. I've never found girls attractive."
"I find girls attractive," Marcus says, too quickly.
Rheed's shoulders sink. "This is why I didn't want to talk. If you're just gonna explain you're way out of this…" He moves to stand up.
Marcus turns his shoulders to face Rheed in a hurry, "I mean, I - I find girls attractive too."
"I just said I don't find them attractive."
"No, no! I think I like girls and, and I… " Fuck he can't say it. Marcus grips the grate of the pool and leans over the water. "Look. I'm sorry I swear at you all the time, I'm sorry I keep getting you we - er, covering you in water," He shuffles over a bit, towards Rheed, "I'm sorry for getting you stuck in these detentions." Marcus grabs his hand. "I'm sorry I can't say it," and brings it to his lap, "But you know what I want to say - right?"
Rheed doesn't say anything. When Marcus lets himself look, the black haired boy is staring at him. He might be mad. Marcus isn't sure so he lets go of his hand.
Rheed snatches it back.
"None of those things really bother me," he says, "And I don't actually know what you're trying to say. Do you just like guys, or do you like, um, this." He holds up their hands. "Because if it's just guys in general and not this, I'm out." He rests their hands on his lap.
Marcus shivers, cold from being wet. "How long have you liked me?"
That's a bit earth-shattering. "Three years?"
"Can we just go back to kissing?"
"When did you start?"
"Oh no," Rheed says, "You're the one who wanted to talk; so talk. Why'd you kiss me and why are you holding my hand?"
It's easy, he can say it. It's not like he's going to get rejected, and no one else is here, and Rheed will probably kick him in the face with those amazing legs if he doesn't. Right. Excuses. Marcus sighs. "Do you remember when the soccer steam stole Emma-Lyn Stevenson's clothes from the girls' changing room?"
Rheed nods, silent.
"All she had was her underwear, and you gave her your clothes and walked home in your swim-trunks."
The black haired boy doesn't look at him. "Yeah. So what?"
"It was nice of you." Rheed lets go of his hand, but Marcus keeps talking, "I like that about you. You're considerate. You notice things, like… Like how you knew I'd be in here - your intuition, it's amazing."
"So what?" he says again, "Why'd you kiss me?"
Marcus feels his head heat up. There's a dead silence. He can't take it anymore. Is his whole life going to be dead and silent and dark? He pushes his face into Rheed's neck and says against it, "I kissed you because I like you."
All of the weight leaves his shoulders immediately and dies somewhere else. Nothing is tight, and when Rheed shivers Marcus can really feel it, and he wraps his arms around the other boy and says it again. "I kissed you because I like you," he presses his lips into his neck, "I had this dream, a few nights ago, about having - about…" Rheed shivers again - it makes Marcus continue. "We were having sex. I couldn't get it out of my head. I'd always told myself you were lazy and boring. But you aren't. You're a hyperactive soccer player with these unbelievable eyes…"
"Marcus," Rheed says, "You can shut up now."
"No - they change colour. They - "
"Seriously. Quit talking."
Marcus kisses his neck. "No. Take your shirt off. I want to - I want - "
Rheed pulls him away from his neck and into a long kiss. Then he moves back, grinning and blushing, "I like you too, but I'm really cold."
Marcus stands up and pulls the other guy up with him, rubbing his arms. "Sorry, sorry, it's just easier when you're wet."
"What's easier?" Rheed asks.
Marcus lifts his dry sweater off the bench and wraps it around two muscled shoulders, built from three years of soccer. Then he sets their foreheads together, eyes closed and taking in the heat.
"Keeping my head."