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FICTION / Arsenokoitai / Rebecca Peters

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He hands the stranger a 10 dollar bill, waits for the gate to open, parks his truck and makes his way to the beach crowded on a summer day with families and with fisherman aware that the lake’s catfish population was restored that morning.

I watch him follow Kiko’s trail, hands full, to the other side of Puddingstone. The cacti stand next to him and the hawk watches over him. Three’s company. He sits down at the edge of the water, ties his lure, and casts out, hoping for something to make him smile.

At least that’s what I’d like to think. 

He doesn’t look up from where his line broke the still reflection of the trees and the sky and the clouds. He doesn’t take a moment to breathe in the Californian air or to ask his friends how they’d been since the season ended. In fact, he doesn’t even care that anybody is here.

But I’m here. From the trail, I’m falling in love with his carelessness all over again. This time, though, it’s not young love. This time, I know more about him. 

He reels in the line. Nothing. He casts. He waits. This absent-minded repetition tells me that in one whole year, nothing has gotten better for him.

We met in the 3rd grade. We were best friends, inseparable, until I lied straight to his face and told him I had a family and that we were moving across the country. I’d never felt worse. 

Years passed and I held off on my return, hoping for a sign that he understood what he felt. 

We were on the same baseball team in 8th grade. I broke my arm sliding into third base after he hit the ball over the fence at La Puente. The umpire ended the game, I quit the team and I lied again, telling him I was going to a different high school. We were just teammates, though. He didn’t recognize me. He quit, too. 

After his first year playing for the varsity hockey team and going to two dances with forgettable girls, he knew. He came to the lake for solitude, but also to appease his teammates. We fished at this same lake last summer until my jet ski decided it was a horse and bucked me off as my body decided to breathe in water instead of air. 

Time passes and my back begins to ache from leaning against the tire. He just exists. I want to go home to his parents and tell them about their son and how wonderful he is on the ice and how beautifully the sun makes his black hair shine. I want to tell them about his precision, his need for perfection. But I already know they don’t care. Because if they did, he would, too. 

He spends a lot of time surrounded by people, yet still alone. His father, a lawyer, big name and big bucks in our small town. His mother, a science professor at the college of every valedictorian’s dream. But the son they brought into this world knows nothing about his father’s intoxication therapy, or his mother’s need for attention from her male students. 

And he won’t go home to a meal cooked and a table set and a family dinner. He will go home to whatever home he feels like making for himself that night. 

So he stands there, underneath the light of the sun, unable to feel its warmth. His friends, caught in a game of who-has-the-best-insult, as every teenage boy gets wrapped up in (unwillingly, of course) notice his solitude and eventually make their way over. He ignores them. I don’t know if he even saw them. They take offense to his coldness and leave him to drive around to sunbathing girls. 

He didn’t even glance at the truck driving down the dirt road. 

I watch him for a little longer before I decide I need to borrow some of his bait.  Casually, if there is such a way, I ask him for a worm, already entranced, remembering the way he smells and noticing how strong his hands have become. 

He places two in my hand and I can’t help but hold his hand a little longer than a stranger ever should. He pulls away quickly and his fair cheeks turn bright, rosy red that I’ve missed for so long. How human of him. 

His next move embarasses me. He asks me who I’m with. I’m always alone, but never lonely. I tell him that. He says I’m too poetic for fishing on a summer afternoon. I ask if I can sit down. He says nothing. We still haven’t made eye contact, but I remember that his blue eyes are the same blue as the water in front of us. 

I sit down anyways because the land is not his and I will do what I want. And because he smells so clean and I don’t ever want to leave his side again. 

That he chooses to respond to me is a work of God for which I cannot take credit. 

I told you not to come today. I told you not to do this to yourself. Why don’t you listen to me? I created you. I know your every move. You have the same ability I do now, why don’t you listen to me?

Because I just can’t. I’ll talk to you after I help him.

I’ll be waiting.

He asks me why my hand is on his shoulder. Um, well I don’t know, I respond. He takes my hand from his shoulder and holds it. He examines my hand, as if he has never seen it before. I wonder if he’ll do the same to my eyes, just like he used to when we’d spend our time alone. If I could, I’d faint.

He holds mine in his until our eyes meet. Blue eyes iced with torment, a weak protection from criticism, ignorance and pleas for change. 

Mine are just brown, in case you were wondering. 

The sun has shifted into its highest point of the day, raising the moderate Californian weather a few degrees higher than normal. Beads of sweat escape his obsidian hair, sprinting down his jawline. He doesn’t care to wipe them away. I do though, only because I want to feel his skin. He isn’t surprised by my touch. I don’t know if he even feels my hand. 

He is comfortable with me there, almost as if he remembers the afternoons we’d spent building bridges over the creek in my backyard. 

His friends, they’re on their way back with some girls. Surprise. We watch them pull into the grass parking lot and everyone hops out. Some introduce themselves to him, but his gaze is locked on the lake. 

He asks if I want to go somewhere else, because he has something to tell me. 

This is what I’ve been waiting for.

I nod. Puddingstone Lake in the rearview mirror, we head towards Edgewood High School. The purr of the engine stops and I take that as my cue to open the door. But his hand on my arm tells me to shut my door and stay, so I do. 

His eyes are locked on the stadium, where anybody who’s somebody gathers and anybody who isn’t a somebody tries to become one. He has never been in the stadium. 

Neither have I. 

No, he’s been too busy trying to melt the ice. He blinks, breaking in half the vision that made him blind. He’s ready to ask, and he goes for it. 

He asks me if I believe in God. And I ask why? And he tells me to just answer.

 

I nod.

His heart opens and out pours the beast that’s been trying to escape since the moment he told me goodbye, four short, but terrifying, months ago. My love is struggling with something that is a part of him. Something he cannot control but is controlling him. Something others use to control him. It wraps its desires and misnamed demons through every inch of his perfect body. It follows him to sleep every night, their reactions twisting and turning his thoughts into such horrific and terrifying images that he is afraid to fall asleep and see what his mind creates. He walks as though he is preparing for war, eats and talks the same way. Seldom does he not have the urge to jump off the nearest bridge. When he drinks with his friends, the same voices visit his head, pushing him out of windows and steering his cars into trees. Unnecessary, familial enemies in a fictitious battle forces blades to his porcelain skin, turning the snow white to a deep, addicting red. Only speaking to him when they’re against him, the same bastards lit the fire that turned God’s written words to ash and his spoken ones to silence. This encompassing beast turned him into everything he said he never wanted to be.

Weak.

I ask about the war he wages against them. Success at minimum wage. Defeat for free. 

His lack of response tells me he has used all of his words.

Education does not necessitate understanding. 

So I say, “Let Him take the place of the evil that consumes you. Let Heaven be your Earth.” 

“But what if I don’t want Heaven?” he responds.

“Why wouldn’t you want Heaven?”

“Don’t you think you have to be happy in Heaven all the time? My demon, my sin doesn’t let me be happy on Earth, why would things change in Heaven? I’m not going to try to work for something I’m not going to get.” 

Baffled, I’m baffled. 

I told you. You know I told you. It’s too soon. You dragged yourself into this and you know what you have to do to get out.  

I take his hand and hold it and his eyes move from the campus to our hands to my eyes.

He’s thinking of my brown eyes, but he doesn’t say anything.

I ask him if he has ever been to Heaven and he says he hasn’t. 

“I know how your life seems to be controlled by someone other than God right now and how weak you feel when you try to fight against your earthly controllers. But you will never fight with God. To get rid of your christened villains, you need to replace them with Him and allow yourself to be free from their curses.”

He’s thinking about my eyes again, but says nothing. He turns to face the wheel and I stay where I am, still in love with him after all this time. 

He starts the engine for the drive back to the lake and the cars move past us in the other lane and one just happens to kiss the front of his truck. As we spin in circles against the straight lanes of traffic, I keep my eyes on him. He is stone, marble, granite.

But our eyes meet one last time and he tells me he loves me. I smile knowingly. 

“I love you too.”

It seems now as though he is barely breathing. Even upside down, he is the image of perfection. 

The truck meets with a few more cars before deciding to stop its tantrum, giving the police and paramedics a much bigger pill to swallow. 

I make sure he is fine. Unconscious, a tad bloody from some minor wounds but nothing more than he can handle, the work of God for which I cannot take credit. Chaos erupts and the sirens become louder by the minute. I can’t stand that sound. It makes me think of death. The other drivers are out of their cars, making phone calls and checking on one another. The first ambulance arrives, and the stretcher reaches the boy I love in a matter of seconds. 

At the hospital, his parents are cancelling meetings and classes for tomorrow. Another near death experience will change nothing. They ask his friends where he was and what he was doing, but they should’ve asked him at the breakfast they skipped this morning. 

His recovers quickly, the stitches dissolving into his forehead, now invisible but forever within him. A month later, he is back at the same lake with the same friends, thinking that he didn’t catch anything last time, so he should try to catch a little more this time.

I’m watching him again.

I told you, you can’t keep doing this to yourself, Jude. Try someone new, come back to him later.

I will continue watching him from the clouds, lovingly, but knowing I alone will never be enough.


Rebecca Peters is a senior English Writing and Political Science major at the University of Pittsburgh. She has previously written for The Pitt News, the only daily student-run newspaper on campus, in their news section. Rebecca enjoys running on Pitt's Cross Country and Track teams, volunteering in the community and traveling.