By Candle Beck
A long summer behind them and brand-new scars to learn in the jaundiced porchlight that got sicker as they grew strong. Danny Haren was living in California once more and the place where he went to get his car washed gave away popcorn and lemonade, picnic benches to sit at and Rich Harden across from him with a baseball cap pulled down low over his eyes. Rich licked his fingers and there was salt on his mouth, a song stuck in Danny’s head.
Rich talked carefully like words were more expensive than their new cars, and all around them was chrome and plastic headlights catching the sun and throwing it back in their faces. Danny had to keep his eyes most of the way closed.
Soapy water ran down the black slope of the asphalt into the gutter, and Rich said, “You have to ask him at the right time, and he’ll tell you anything.”
Danny wasn’t sure who Rich was talking about; it was possible his mind had wandered. He nodded, biting the inside of his lip. “That’s good to know.”
Rich shrugged. “Of course, there’s exceptions to every rule.”
“And anyway, not everything is something you want to know. You know?”
Danny grinned. The street was steaming, the car-wash guys twirling white rally towels in the air to call over the drivers. Some kids were playing basketball across the street, shirtless and clanging against the netless metal rim. He couldn’t imagine anything that Rich might tell him that he wouldn’t want to know.
“What are we doing after this?” Danny asked.
“Who can say?” Rich answered, his mouth curling. “I kinda like it here.”
“You wanna hang out at the car wash all day?” The lemonade powder had become sediment at the bottom of Danny’s paper cup, a slight tang to the water and it would be so sweet when he drained it that his throat would hurt, but that wasn’t anything new.
“It’s so fucking nice out here,” Rich said, staring off over Danny’s shoulder. He had a popcorn kernel stuck in his teeth, and Danny could see him trying to work it free with his tongue.
Danny swallowed. “It was good of you to come with me. I, um. Appreciate the company.”
Rich looked back at him, his eyes the exact color of the season. “I appreciate the free popcorn.”
Danny kicked him under the table, just for something to do. Somebody whistled, high and sharp. Somebody nearby laughed. It had been an almost-perfect year.
“Listen,” Danny said, staring at the collar of Rich’s T-shirt. The strength of the light made him feel wrung out. Last night Rich had grabbed him by the back of the neck and kissed him hard. Not for the first time, but everything felt new right now.
“Hey?” Rich said, and Danny realized he’d trailed off. He looked up and gave Rich a shrugging grin.
“Nothing,” Danny said.
Rich took off his cap and rubbed his hand through his hair. He was squinting into the reflected light, his forehead pale, his ears sunburned. Danny had never once seen him surprised, nor afraid, and when Danny’s hands had shook too badly to get Rich’s jeans undone, Rich had pushed him to sit on the bed and stood in front of him, slowly popping each button and his briefs showing through as white as a paint, and Danny had watched the flush sinking down Rich’s chest, the rusty hum of his breath and his hand curving around Danny’s face.
“We could stay out here,” Rich said, picking at a splinter in the pad of his thumb. “I wouldn’t mind.”
Danny didn’t know what to say. Rich lifted his hand to his mouth and set his teeth in the splinter, pulling it free and spitting it to the side. Danny’s blood thickened to syrup, because he knew that twist of Rich’s neck very well.
“Okay,” he managed. “Whatever you want, man.”
Rich smiled at him, and the guy working on Danny’s car raised his arm, whipped his towel in a tight little circle. Danny kept his eyes wide, his heart skipping like a stone, his life in one piece. The power lines dipped and ran, and from a car radio somewhere, a cracked-open back window, and I’d never make it through without you around, no I’d never make it through without you around, yeah yeah.
okay. that was written in about a half hour. let's discuss. firstly, the first names, how fuckin' strange. secondly, ha! happy ending! thirdly, anyone know the song, hmmmmmmm?
right. i have to go to sleep now.