I saw the couch in the alley and didn't think much of it, other than it was a strange thing to be rotting in the humid weather. I carried on around it, and for a moment, despised it for making my trip to work that many more steps, so I took vengeance with a pause to scrutinize. It was an outdated piece but not hideous: classically molded, scraped wooden legs, brass-studded embellishment on the arms, and hunter green upholstery. There wasn't a stain on it, and I found myself obsessing. Even when I got to the salon, clocked in and started perusing my appointment schedule, I had its image in my head.
Phyllis, a woman who comes in to get her hair permed once a week, looked at me and said, "Honey, what are you thinking about?" She had gotten her nails manicured that morning, the Barbie-pink glittering against her paper skin and bulging veins, chasing youth that had long been turned over to the clock. She wasn't my favorite customer, but there was something horrifyingly aesthetic about her: she looked like every Great Aunt Phyllis that pop culture could imagine, with her thin painted lips and blue eyeshadow and spiderleg eyelashes.
Had to admit, she was at least pleasant. She talked to me and called me every pet name under the sun and always tipped well. So I smiled and told her, "A couch."
"A couch?" She tilted her head back over the tub and closed her eyes, which provided me the opportunity to marvel her shoddy botox. "That's...odd."
"It's just sitting in the alley behind my house." The shampoo was cold in my hand. "I think I might bring it back to my place, maybe reupholster it. It looks like an antique."
"Oh." She wasn't interested. I lathered her hair, rinsed it, and then brought her to Adelaide. "Well Jonathan, darling, if it's bound for the trash perhaps you should leave it there. It might be infested."
"I'm sure it isn't." I watched Ade roll curlers into her bottle-blonde hair, then pushed her under the dryer. I washed my hands, wondering where I could put that couch; perhaps it would look nice in the sitting room, and I could always call Dane for help to move it. I'd get it done that afternoon. My shift was over as soon as Phyllis walked out the door.
It wasn't my idea, this moving in together thing. Arturo said, baby, if it's official, we gotta live together, but I didn't think that was true. Arturo gets a lot of ideas, big ideas, these strange notions that he wants to and has to fulfill. I'm usually part of them. He grabs me and says, Rob, baby, you're gonna come with me. Rob, baby, we're gonna get this place, you're gonna see, you're gonna love it, you're gonna never wanna leave. Don't got anywhere else for you to stay now, do you? I know you're sleeping on your daddy's couch-
He locks his arms around my waist and says, you want me. I do want him sometimes, but he doesn't get that I'm not like him. I'm not always aching, not always pining for the next greatness. I want to be content, and he wants a condominium down in the city, filled with good furniture and good food and us.
You want it too, he tells me, you don't got anywhere else to go.
I was set on bringing that couch home. I'm not a big guy, so I phoned Dane on my walk, "Is Micah there?"
He said no, and I said, "Thank goodness. How is he doing, by the way?"
"Better." Micah was always doing better and never well. It gave me the kind of hope that curdled in my stomach and told me I was a sick human being for trying to pry the two apart. It was just, someone so great as Dane, wasted on someone so neurotic as Micah- it boiled my blood. The man had good days and bad days, certainly, and Dane liked to tell me the good outnumbered the bad, but the wear under his eyes told me otherwise.
Better meant Worse. "Oh, that's good. You busy?"
"Not at all. Do you need something?"
"Yeah, I found this couch..."
He found the perfect place, he told me over the phone. The one we'd been dreaming of, with special emphasis that this was our decision and going to be our place. He said to me, Rob, just meet me outside, I'munna pick you up.
I keep telling him I don't like to be called Rob. It doesn't sound like a name, doesn't have the same strength as Robert, but he says okay, Rob. With this smile that tells me he thinks it's funny, so I called him Artie. He didn't think that was very funny, and I haven't called him Artie again. Just Arturo and sometimes babe, but he doesn't really like that, either.
Arturo or Sir, he reminds me when I get in the car, because maybe I'm thinking aloud a little. I forget in front of him because we share a mind. Not literally, I guess, but he always knows what's on my mind and half the time I can tell what's on his. I can tell now because he's obvious, because he's pouring words from his lips without having to part them. We're going to see our condo and maybe we'll shop around for furniture and fixings and maybe he'll give me more than a tight squeeze to my leg.
His hands always leave me breathless; strong like his arms, fingers that grip like iron. He showed me pictures of his father, and he has the man's hands: palms to encompass, veins green in olive skin, wrists thick and powerful, and calluses earned. Arturo grips my knee and then my wrist and then dances up my arm and rubs my shoulder. Presses too hard into the junction of my neck and whispers, Rob, we made it.
Not a cent of my money climbs into our decision because I have none to spend.
"Damn, Jonny, that's fucking ugly."
Dane's the only person who called me Jonny or sometimes Jon. We had known each other since boyhood, when his dad used to come over to shoot shit with my dad, and we'd keep each other company. I thought I was always in love with him; I remembered lying on my bedroom floor and looking up at him sprawled on my bed while he played an Atari game I wasn't any good at. He had the same intense blue eyes, a jaw that would only chisel itself stronger, and an unruly mess of blond curls he never learned to tame.
I had been too young to know I was gay. I had been too young to know what a soulmate was. But when Dane was around, I used to swoon like an adolescent girl and admired him with wide eyes. He had been the ringleader in our schemes, and I thought he never lost that leadership charisma. When he looked at me, muscled that green couch off to the side, I was almost inclined to listen.
Almost. "You're ugly." Earned a laugh but-
He wasn't. There's nothing worse than watching the man you were meant to be with suffer in some other relationship. Especially when he still loved me enough to drag the "fucking ugly" couch up to my flat.
I like this one.
Arturo says it to me and sits down on the monstrosity and repeats, I like this one. It matches the ottoman, but I think, I didn't like the ottoman either. His eyes bore into mine, blue into black, and I fear that I am opening like a book. He tears through my pages and announces, we're getting this couch. This couch right here.
The dark green couch with the lion claw feet.
Some people aren't meant to be together, I thought.
I repeated it under my breath and peeked at Dane from around the doorway, drank in his soaked brow and matted hair, the dark V forming at the front of his shirt. He reclined on that couch, the one we'd spent forty-five minutes carrying up to my top floor flat, maneuvering it through narrow doorways while he gasped exasperated directions. He told me I wasn't very practical and then we both laughed. We knew I'd never been very practical.
"It's gin and Squirt." I pressed the drink into his hand when I returned from the kitchen; the cheap concoction sweated in a red plastic cup, and he pressed it to his temple and then took a sip.
"Pretty good, Jonny." I sat beside him with my own and thanked the couch for its too little space. Our thighs touched, and he said nothing of it. Instead, "I thought that was going to take all afternoon, but we still have some time left. Got a television in here yet? Put on the game or something."
"No...Can I ask you something? Promise you won't be offended."
He quirked his mouth and shrugged, gulped soothing intoxication and shrugged again. A go-ahead, if I knew him well enough.
"Is Micah really doing any better?"
A pause. The pregnant kind that told me he wasn't before Dane spoke, before he straightened out and puffed his chest with defense, before he hollowed it because my gaze knew and his gaze knew I knew. He set down his drink. "Why do you always ask about him? He's doing... good as he can. I told you, when I got with him, I knew what I was getting myself into. I love him, and I know what you think, but I don't care."
"But I know you're more sexual than he is."
"It doesn't matter."
"I know he hasn't been eating."
"It doesn't matter. He's in a program. It's-"
"I know he still calls his brother, even after everything came out."
"You can't blame him for that!" Dane stood and kicked the coffee table. It stuttered and tipped, fell back onto four legs and sent the red cup to the floor. Ice and alcohol melted, sweltered, and dried on my hardwood, and I stared into him. Watched him throw his arms and furrow his countenance and demand, "Why are you asking all this shit? He's fucked up, yeah, but it isn't his fault! It doesn't make him any more or less loveable! The shit that happened wasn't his fault, and his whole fucking family will burn in hell, and I am going to love him! He deserves that much, and I'm sick of you doing this!"
"Tempting me! I'm not a fucking moron, I know what you're-"
I stood and shut him up with my lips, and he'd never gripped my hips so hard as when he slammed me against the couch with carnal ferocity, ripping at sweat-soaked clothing.
I don't like the couch, I tell Arturo, and he says that doesn't matter. I sit on it anyway, I sit on it beside him, and he encases me against himself and starts whispering the sweet nothings he thinks bring me to his side. They are the Devil's incantations, the temptations of the flesh; when he fucks me, he does it with a lustful gleam, and when he says he loves me, he whispers it to the mirror. He pushes himself into me, eases his character over mine, bites me and tastes my blood to own me.
On the couch, he rakes his nails over my thighs and says, you love it here. You love the couch. You love me. His mouth is chapped, and he's so handsome I can't say no. I mold into him, I turn myself over and contort into shapes to suit him, moan for myself and for him, but he whispers, you're gonna love it here.
I want to go home, I think, and after he leaves me on the couch, I think again, I want to go home, and this isn't home. The upholstery is thick and coarse, tearing my raw skin and coaxing me to sleep. It wants to lull me with its presence, to tell me I can't move, and I don't have the power to-
One mind and it's his. One sex and it's his. One life and it's his. One couch and it's his.
I am taken by whim. I dress in his clothes because they are nearer than mine, and I disregard his instruction to stay put. He went out for cigarettes, and he'll make me smoke one, and I never liked cigarettes, and did I ever love him, or did he need me? I need him because he is me-
The couch is dark and heavy, heavier in the night so thick with moisture. I dampen into the dark, I press upon its cover, and I wonder if I have an identity. Dragging that couch against cement, damaging its expensive legs, and wondering where I'm going to go; I think I have no self. I collect stares, I collect horror and admiration, and someone wonders what I'm doing.
The couch is left in an alley I'll forget, and I don't know what I'm doing. I just walk away.
Dane departed, separated from our tangled limbs and heady cum, and left a message on my phone. He said he can't see me if I do this to him. He said he can't see me if I don't understand. He said he loves Micah, and I need to get over myself. He said he can't stop thinking about me, and it isn't fair. He sobbed it isn't fair and that he'd call me back tomorrow and that he was sorry, and we need to talk.
I looked at fabrics for the couch and thought to reupholster it in velvet red.