J rose from his bed when he saw that it was time.

Stepping the few feet to where he had left the clothes he had worn the previous day, he sedately picked through them and got dressed.

When he had quietly shut his room door behind him, being very careful not to disturb his housemates, he slid down the studio apartment hallway, making his way to the front door in soft whooshes of his socked feet, skimming across the wood panel floor.

The tip of his pocketed studio room key dug into his thigh as he bent down at the door to put on his boots, and when he went out, he used the key out of habit, not necessity.

As J clanged down the clunky metal stairs, the end of his favorite scarf, which he held loosely in his hand, touched the edges of his previous steps as it trailed just behind him.

/

Outside the apartment and on the sidewalk, he made his way through the side road until he reached the main street, where he paused to wrap his scarf loosely but securely around his neck before proceeding.

Going down the main street, he only glanced at the shop signs flanking both sides of the road to check for a specific two that signified a certain back street that lay in between. Finding it, his pace quickened with a growing sense of purpose and destination and he strode down the empty alley until he stood expectantly in front of the doorsteps of a tenant building.

J looked at his watch as he waited, squinting in the dim light. Already, he was getting anxious, though he refused to admit it, and after checking the time twice with difficulty, he pulled his shirt sleeve over his watch and decisively smoothed the thin fabric over. Leaning on the iron hand rail next to him and alternating his limited standing on the three concrete steps, he waited for D to slip out the door in front of him.

As J waited, his fists harshly twisted the scarf in his hands in deliberate movements.

When the third figure had swept past the opening of the alleyway, causing the light from the main street to blink on him for the third time, J sat on the steps with his back turned. The rough brick of the step bruising his tailbone through his pants, he thought about how he had been naked and tired and comfortable while lying on the sheets back in his room. He thought about how he had watched for the time with his eyes never straying from the clock, confident despite his exhaustion that he would not fall asleep even while he heard the throaty breathing of his housemates through the walls.

Vindictively, he imagined himself back on his bed, his chest lightly heaving with hard, rhythmic breaths.

Somewhere underneath the throbbing mix of rushing cars and faint club music, J heard the drone of the sleep-deprived city that he always held inside him whenever he felt particularly alone. He thought that he heard voices, murmurings from behind his exposed back, and waited for the door behind him to slam outwards and bash him in the back of the head.

Envisioning what would happen if he were to be discovered on the doorstep he was now sitting on, several different possibilities came to his mind, the least worst of which resulted in him crawling out of the alley, beaten and bloodied and crushed. Arms wrapped around his knees, he rocked himself back and forth on the bottom of the steps and waited, cradling himself in his heightening insomnia. His body felt as limp as his mind was tense.

Despite himself, he glanced over his shoulder at the door. He thought about how he would react when it would crack open and yield D to him, D who he was trying to keep from resenting. He would get up with a serious expression and just stand there for a moment. The street lamp a couple meters away would cast a shadow on his face. He would wordlessly stare at D to show his distress with having been kept waiting, and they would walk out the alley.

He thought about walking together to the nearby public park, of spreading his coat on the grass of a private alcove, of pressing firm dry kisses on firm dry skin and being pressed down in return.

The vision he had, of feeling the fluent flexes of D's muscles and bone and flesh against his own, of looking up at the shimmer of the ever-constant city lights bouncing off the night clouds, and of bearing the healthy weight of D that he was never unwilling to take on, was so close to being achieved in reality that he dared not call it a fantasy.

Pushing back his sleeve, J glanced at his watch before he remembered that he had been trying not to and gripped his wrist, using his fingernails, until the resulting pain subsided and his arm was marked with crescents.

/

Then he got up, overtaken by fierce disappointment. He felt his heartbeat on his pulsing tailbone as he brushed the gravel from the seat of his pants and he blinked several times, slowly. Fully aware that it would be the end of him in that alleyway if he were to be heard and caught at his liaison, he went down the alley, hard boots on hard pavement, with his thumbs hooked in his pants pockets. With every step he resisted the thought that the echoes of his own footsteps down the passageway were the sounds of another's footsteps running after him.

On the other side of the door that he had just abandoned, two dark figures still stood, as they had been doing unwittingly to J for the entirety of his stay. What was the meaning of outdoor clothes in the middle of the night, one demanded to know, pointing at D with a rare nighttime cigarette at the end of a thick arm, as D could only hold on to the stair railing in wordless desperation and despair as the glow died.