Science of Matter
Rich Harden should be happy, and he is. Mostly. All these stupid fucking tendencies like his magnetic attraction to blue neon and lime in his Coke and buying overpriced oranges in the wintertime. Laughing at dumb commercials and keeping Huston Street in the corner of his mind like something that was said once that won't shake free--you look about sixteen years old.
You look like somebody sketched you out on white paper in charcoal and watercolor and folded you up, stuck you in my wallet and stole all my money.
Harden dreams of Supersoaker wars in the backyard and Huston Street hiding on the roof, his back to the chimney and water balloon grenades heavy in his hands. Street doesn't understand the principle of an ambush. He'd walk through the forest in a red uniform with a white cross on his chest, for no other reason than that that was how gentlemen fought wars.
Happiest moment of his life. Go.
Harden woke up in the middle of July, when the team was good and so was the weather and so were the movies on the TV, and somebody had made waffles (Crosby, probably, Crosby with flour on his face), and there was orange juice and vodka already mixed in a plastic bottle that once held glacier water. God bless off-days.
Huston Street in pajama pants and a T-shirt with the outline of a longhorn on it, slumped on the couch like he was liquid underneath and his skin shone. He was eating Apple Jacks dry out of a coffee mug because all the plates were dirty, and his hair stuck up the color
of copper and the color of gold and Harden hadn't been drunk so early in the day since college.
All Huston did was smile at him, sideways smile as if he were driving, and Harden ran through it like a field, you're a mispelled city, let me move in. You're everything and you look about sixteen years old.
He wanted an encyclopedia of California law, wanted to know exactly how many laws he'd be breaking. Street made room for him on the couch and Harden settled with his too-strong drink and the heat in his chest making him fucked up around the eyes and mouth, aware with perfect clarity that he was happy, right here right now, happy like people talked about in songs, and unable to stop thinking about how this would end, this was as much joy as would ever be allowed him and it'd be over soon.
Street doesn't know.
Street wants Harden to stop drinking so much and stop dry-swallowing painkillers on the plane before cross-country flights. Street doesn't understand claustrophobia, though he should, because the sky in Texas is exactly as big as it is in Canada, and Harden can't breathe when he can't look up and see it.
Harden is deeply asleep and he can still feel when Street takes the seat beside him, his shoulder bumping Harden's and their jeans rasping together. He can hear Street click his seatbelt shut and Harden's heart almost stops. Who the fuck buckles their seatbelt without being told to, in this day and age?
This day and age, when all Harden can do is thank god for cell phones and thank god for weight training machines and thankgodthankgod for electricity, the roar of static in his ears and Street changing the light bulb in the hallway, risking his life. The
switch is thrown, and the light blinks on as Street screws it in, standing on a chair with his tongue poking out of the corner of his mouth and making Harden expect the slider. Light crashing down onto his body like gravity is somehow to blame. Rich Harden standing beneath Street with his arms out, waiting to catch him when he falls.
Street believes him to be a friend, and Harden is. It's the only thing that makes sense, because Street believes in God and Harden wants to fuck him. Everybody in the world is going to hell, and Street will look down on them with such unbearable pity. Like now, like always.
Screaming at Street in dream after dream, you believe in something invisible but i'm right here.
Again and again: i'm right here.
Harden is going to set up road signs in their house, YIELD and ONE WAY and THIS WAY FOR MEANINGLESS SEX. He pictures Bobby Crosby drunk and assuming that the offer applies to everyone. Turn the tires towards the street and be baselessly certain that the hills mean something more than they do.
Because he can roll. Gravity is the same everywhere, though Harden failed physics in high school, too busy fucking his lab partner and fucking his girlfriend and winning every baseball game that was thrown before him, the stands empty and even the players wished they could be on the ice.
Roll. This is how it goes, Street bright like a campfire, his very-good friend here in the middle of his twenty-third year. Street pitches as if he were foretold in prophecy, and Harden is just drunk enough to trust that. He wants to press his face against Street's chest and realize that Street's got no heartbeat. Street is not of this world.
Harden is kinda losing his mind.
It was probably always gonna be like this, and Harden can't blame anyone, not Street for being so fucking pretty it's impossible to look at him with eyes wide open, and not Crosby for making the drinks this strong, and not Zito for putting on a song that sounds like sex, and not Mulder for teaching them the rules of Supersoaker war and then leaving them all alone.
Nobody's fault, really. And he's just gonna be perfect all the time no matter how much everything else changes. He's just this kid, fuck the slider and fuck the hundred miles an hour that comes out of someone else's hand and fuck you, fuck you.
Oakland is made up of dirty streets and girls checking their makeup in rearview mirrors, but Harden doesn't live in Oakland, he just works there. Street lives right down the hall. They hang out. Sometimes they eat breakfast together. The pool waits for them patiently, sparking blue and yellow and Harden doesn't fit in his own skin. The weather has betrayed him, constantly too hot and Street lies on the floor without a shirt on. He won't lie on the couch like that because he'll sweat and stick to the leather and they'll have to peel him up like decal.
The couch is a rental, anyway. Rich Harden's whole life is short-term: six-month leases, hotel room keys, Corvettes lent in exchange for magazine interviews, and Barry Zito hasn't paid for a pair of sunglasses in six years.
Life like this is no good, waiting for the next trade, the next injury, the next momentary event that will taint every day for weeks and he'll remember it in capital letters, like When Mulder Was On The DL. Harden doesn't like the extent of the emphasis here, the creeping sensation that this will be with him always.
When I Accidentally Fell In Love With Huston Street.
No, fuck it. That's not what's happening here. And Harden can chase it off with bad fantasies, Street bent over the kitchen counter and spread out on the living room carpet with sweat slicked on his chest and gathering in his hips, making it impossible to keep a grip. Push Street's cross between his lips with the thin chain cutting lines across his cheeks and feel cold metal alongside a hot mouth on his cock. More painful than it looks, and Harden is going to hell, praying for nothing other than that it'll happen quick.
Street wants to stay pure but Harden can't allow him that. He can feel the speed of it, highway driving and the city of San Francisco a long way off across the water and the Christmas lights of the bridge, held up against the sky as if flight were really possible and Huston Street was open to him like a doorway and on the other side he could be free and good and without fear.
God, without fear.
As it is, Harden listens through the walls of their house, high-drunk on gin or vodka or whatever it was tonight, the endless scope of his life spiraling through him in the moment when his knees hit concrete and he opens his mouth. He's listening for Street's heartbeat, far enough gone to believe that he can hear it. Plaster is nothing, insulation, plywood, stucco paint as pale as fingertips. Listen hard enough and everything makes it through. Sound doesn't die, it just gets softer and softer until even the best technology in the world can't pick it up.
Harden is listening and maybe Street's pulse catches in his throat, maybe he can taste the thickness of blood in his mouth the way Harden can. Harden has been around and he's nothing like what he once was. Street makes him brand-new and Harden took
enough psych classes in college to understand this for what it is, though he can't remember the clinical term for it. Not right now. There are other things to concentrate on right now.
Like his face when he's happy and the way he almost always looks happy and his hands flared on the grass, green and soft as feathers between his fingers. The day when Street squinted against the sun and smiled at anyone who came upon him, looking like a
reward for all the right they'd done and a curse for all the wrong.
Never before has Harden been like this. Mulder couldn't make him this way, all attempts to the contrary aside. Mulder was just something to fill the space, breaking him in at the big league level and making him understand that a scrape of teeth on his throat was a declaration up here.
Harden can't get free from it, and in his dreams Street appears as a fierce mix of demon and angel, but mainly just so good-looking it tears at him from the inside out. He's laid all bare, skin stripped back, hands shaking, Huston Street hovering and offering him Band-Aids and Tylenol.
Street with his back to the fireworks is the most beautiful thing that Rich Harden has ever seen. He can't for the life of him figure out what he ever did to deserve this. Clean sight and the brush of cold metal low on his stomach, abstractly recognized as his belt buckle, but Harden is all eyes right now. Red and green and blue explode over Street's shoulders, blossoming in the hooks of his shoulders, tucking neatly into the triangles formed by his arms. Street's hands are on his hips and he's standing even though everyone else is sitting or lying on picnic blankets and beach towels. Street is scanning the parking lot as the fireworks shatter behind him, looking for Zito because Zito had already been stoned before they left the house and it'd only gotten worse from there.
Harden wants to say, danny's with him, they'll be fine, but his throat doesn't work and neither does his heart, which steadfastly refuses to beat, and the image of Street, motionless and standing in the blast of dark and light, it will be with him forever, carried like a good-luck piece in his sock.
The Fourth of July means very little to Harden, but he likes fireworks. He likes the will-never-happen image of Street ripped down to skin and twisting carefully on the grass.
Harden has a brilliant grasp of reality. It's been his best and most enduring attribute ever since he was a level-headed little kid saving half his Oreos for an afternoon snack when everyone else ate theirs at lunch.
Reality means that Huston Street is off-limits and always has been and always will be, and the sooner he accepts that, the bettter. Reality is not trusting Apple Jacks and screwdrivers at ten in the morning on the couch with 'Back to the Future' playing in the background, cut up by commercials and edited for content. Harden is obsessed with content that would never make it onto basic cable.
Because Street is a moment of true happiness where none ever existed and that's too big to give up over something as inconsequential as a blowjob. Blowjobs never before having been inconsequential, but they've fucked up all the rules and it's not a game anymore.
Street stumbles upon him with his face looking tense and overexposed like a driver's license photo, and Harden is lying on the pool deck, his shoulder blades digging hard into the concrete and the fingernail moon above him. Harden fears the moon when drunk, the
slice of it like a raptor claw. He has dreamed of being split open, standing on the arms of a bridge with his insides spilling out into the water.
Street doesn't want to get him dehydrated, pushing an expensive bottle of mineral water into his hand and balancing Harden as he sits up. Harden is desperately aware of Street's hand flat in the middle of his back, feeling fifteen years old again.
Street's fingers on the underside of his jaw and water pouring down his throat until he is frozen and white on the inside and Street is a hallucination. Street picks him up off the ground and takes him into the house, saying something low and worried about how you
shouldn't drink so much, richie, and what were you doing out there, and what if you get sick, richie, what'll we do then.
Harden wants nothing at this moment but to hear Huston Street call him Richie over and over again as if he's earned the name.
Harden pretends to trip and he is rewarded when Street pushes him up against the wall, hands on his stomach and big childish eyes blinking at him in the dim hallway light. The wall shivers and maybe that's Harden trembling, maybe that's Crosby listening to
techno music in his room. Street is holding him still, making sure he catches his balance. Harden will put his hands on Street, the rough give of denim and worn cotton, and Street will gasp.
Street will gasp, a tiny little sound like a train whistle from five miles out, and Harden will smile and cup the back of his head and say, do you get it now?
Not tonight, though, because Harden is so caught up in the fantasy that he doesn't notice Street looping an arm around his waist and levering him off the wall, guiding him into his room and laying him down like any good friend, like nothing more.
Street doesn't even take off Harden's shoes, and he wakes up with his sheets all messed up, mud and pine needles, wondering endlessly, what the fuck did I do last night.
It's not because of how Street looks in the ninth inning, though that doesn't help. It's the full picture, Street on the field and Street in the kitchen drinking milk and Street next to him on the plane, headphones in and his head lolling close to Street's
shoulder. Street is like everything that was ever barely out of Harden's reach, like a really good curveball and a passing grade in physics and the ability to drink tequila without getting sick.
Huston Street is concrete proof that prayer works, and Rich Harden is becoming more gay by the second. He tries not to listen when the traveling secretary is handing out their room keys in some new hotel lobby, but he can't help but hear, and for the rest of the
night all he hears is, two-seventeen, two-seventeen. Hopelessly picturing Street's red-and-white toothbrush on the bathroom counter and Street's shirt for tomorrow carefully hung on the back of the closet door, his shoes lined up at a right angle to the wall.
Stupid stuff like that. Harden's whole life composed of stupid stuff like that.
Street is grinning, his face reflected in the vending machine, and he comes on like he never left, like it means nothing. He plays as if this is just the best way to kill time until they reach whatever's coming next, and his chest is sunken as he holds his breath. Street can't be repaired because no part of him is broken.
Fantastic world of stadium lights and asphalt parking lots and Street is there when Harden doesn't expect him. He should know better by now. Street smells like Old Spice and sugar and rope and Harden can feel him coming, the hand around his heart clenching
slightly with Street's approach. It should be enough time to get away, but Harden is frozen in place and Street is sidling up to him, lips parted and a fraction of white teeth showing through.
They're in a stairwell; the elevator must be broken. This happens a lot. Mechanical difficulty trails the team like a lost puppy. Zito's iPod hasn't worked in months.
Stairwell, gray paint and fire exit signs. Street has a hand on the rail and he's several steps above Harden, the only way he'll ever be taller. Street is asking, are you coming to dinner? And Harden is nodding, swallowing hard. He wants to reach up and close the few steps that separate them and with his hands on Street's face, he might say, i swear.
But Street is only smiling at him and looking too good to ruin. Street is as whole and complete as a nickel, his edges shiny and smooth. Street is everything that's keeping him alive right now, and Harden is confident in his ability to pitch drunk if he has to.
He makes a grin and says, yeah huston i'll be there, wouldn't miss it. And Street says, cool, and continues on his way, descending past Harden with another friendly smile, and then Street is a slight pair of shoulders and minted limited-edition hair disappearing around the jackknife of the stairs.
Harden is held motionless, one hand clutching the rail as a lifeline, and he can feel his bones cracking and his blood run slow. He can watch Huston Street disappear again and again, until he's blind to everything but this, and all he can hear is:
look what you've done.