by Takiguchi Aiko (滝口アイコ)
Rebecca Tietney was one of those mothers, Jeremy’s own mother would have said darkly; the kind of parent who opened up the liquor cabinet at parties because it was better to have the kids drinking in the safety of her home rather than outside it where safety was not guaranteed. She may have been regretting this policy lately, as Rog and Jeremy were making friends with a college and post-college crowd that was not always respectful with free alcohol. But her philosophy was still clearly that kids were determined to make endless hurtful mistakes and her job was primarily damage control, because when they went up to Rog’s room with their avocado sandwiches a pile of condoms, looking not unlike gummy candy, and a few sample packets of lube were lying on top of Roger’s folded laundry.
“She got flavored lube,” Rog marveled, crinkling the plastic between his fingers. Jeremy was sorting the condoms into piles by color. He vaguely wanted Skittles. “Where did she even find that in Utah? She must have ordered it off the internet.”
“She’s very thoughtful,” Jeremy said. They were both stubbornly determined to avoid the implication that Rebecca assumed they were doing more in the basement than writing songs and punching each other. Even at their least savory, Rog just smoked up while Jeremy burned mixes of his favorite Pavement songs. But Rebecca had only met Finn once and very briefly, even though Finn was a signal flare of a person, the human equivalent of the sparks you saw when you pressed your fingers against your closed eyelids. If she had made any connections there Rebecca wouldn’t be this oblique about it.
Roger made a noise of agreement, smoothing the packet between his index and middle finger so the liquid inside collected at the bottom. He looked at Jeremy from underneath his hair. It was at an awkward stage right now, growing out before he could do anything interesting with it. “Dare you to put it in your sandwich.”
“Yeah, that’s what I want on my death certificate. Cause of death: overdosed on lube.”
Rog rolled his eyes. “It’s edible, Motard. Otherwise it wouldn’t be flavored.”
Rog had given him a Chinese burn when Jeremy told him this in fifth grade, but his power animal was a badger. Rog had been upset because of the allegations of near-sighted and rolly-pollyness, but Jeremy had mostly meant that he never, ever gave up once he got an idea. He just kept snuffling and digging and making increasingly hurtful and heretical snipes about Joseph Smith. Jeremy had learned a long time ago to roll gently into the onslaught rather than struggle; the same principle applied to a bear attack or the undertow. It was practically Confucian. “What do I get?”
“My respect?” Rog said, hopefully.
“Your respect and twenty bucks,” Jeremy said.
Rog considered it. “You got to use the whole thing up. And then eat the whole sandwich. And not hurl.”
“Deal,” Jeremy said. He was a man of his word, but Rog was as suspicious as a BBC detective and poured it on Jeremy’s sandwich himself, oozing out every last potential drop.
Jeremy figured it wouldn’t be so bad since avocado was a domineering texture, but he took one bite and Rog started cackling like an evil little monkey at the expression on his face. Jeremy glared at him and forced himself to swallow. “Oh, eff you in the a, Tietney.”
“What’s it taste like?” Rog asked with genuine curiosity. “Does it taste like strawberries?”
Jeremy ate another mouthful, mulling it over. “It’s like if a tub of Vaseline had sex with a jolly rancher.” He hadn’t been minding it so much until the analogy brought it home and he made an urping noise.
“Hold the line,” Rog said sternly. “Hold it.”
“You better have that twenty on you.” The back of Jeremy’s throat was definitely sour now under the layer of artificial sweetener, bilious.
Rog fished a crumpled bill out of his pocket and waved it in front of his nose. “Smell it, Motard. Smell the money. Smell how sweet it is, like freedom.”
“All I smell is your ball sweat,” Jeremy said, but he finished his sandwich without incident and Roger handed over the twenty. Jeremy suspected uncomfortably that Rog would have found an excuse to give it to him regardless.
He wasn’t homeless, technically, or starving even in the hypothetical, but Jeremy’s finances were in a nebulous state, worrying and unclear as theoretical mathematics and just as easy to ignore in his daily life. He had avoided his parents or they, with an unexpected finesse, had been avoiding him, for two months at the least, but there was always food at home and a place to sleep at the Tietney’s. Still, he had lost that job at the Pretzel Hut when band practice took precedent over responsibility, although he would argue in a conversation he felt coming that his responsibilities had shifted and he was beholding to a different family now. And when that conversation came, he wouldn’t feel comfortable mooching off Rebecca and Jake afterwards, even though that was so seductive, falling into the well of their kindness. Even in the here and now, he didn’t want to give his parents ammunition; he needed new guitar strings and he was gee-dee sure that he wasn’t going to have to tell them their money was paying for them. And Rog generally knew Jeremy’s slippery internal processes like it was his job, which maybe it was in the fiercely loyal mess of his own brain.
The guitar string plan, however, only lasted as long as it took Finn to call him about Chinese that night. “Bill and Harry’s,” he said. Finn never exactly purred but everything he said sounded velvet anyway. “They’re doing some two-for-one special on appetizers and Stace wants vegetable dumplings.”
So Stacy would be there. That didn’t rule out necessarily that it was a date – Finn’s social boundaries were uneven and mysterious – but he felt a roil of disappointment all the same. “Would it be okay if we ordered spareribs too? I’m seriously craving some meat.” Jeremy’s whole face went hot when he realized what he had said. He bit his lip to keep from backpedaling; it would only make him seem more retarded.
But Finn just laughed. “No, it’s cool. You gotta have pig at a Chinese place. Veggies over here, they get so excited about tofu and assumes the Chinese all subscribe this meatless, ascetic lifestyle, but really in China if you go one meal without pork they look at you funny.”
“Yeah,” Jeremy said agreeably, like this was something he could have possibly known. “So, see you at six?”
“Six works,” Finn said. His voice went a little lower, conspiratorial. “And just so you know, it took a lot of effort not to say I was going to help you out with your obvious protein deficiency.”
“Us growing boys,” Jeremy squeaked, not a little dizzy, and hung up before he had a seizure.
Roger was giving him a look, brows drawn together, thoughtful and not so much aggrieved as grimly unimpressed. “What?” Jeremy said.
Roger rolled his eyes and threw a condom at his head.
Stacy was straight-edge and a lot more ballsy about being an ex-mo than Jeremy, although a sharp and gristly part of him complained that her parents hadn’t cut off her tuition when she told them or even when she came home with green bangs and a Marilyn piercing. She was rebelling with bowling bumpers. But Jeremy liked her; she was older than he was and smart and funny and hugely enthusiastic about the band in the way only someone without much musical expertise could be. No technical critique, just a possessive love.
Right now Jeremy was drinking an orange soda and staring at her tattoos. She had a half-sleeve on her forearm, koi fish intertwining, speckled sunset colors pooling together on her wrist while she and Finn talked about politics. Jeremy was still slightly terrified someone were going to jump them anytime one of his friends said the word Iraq.
Jeremy was thinking of a pretty warm-toned melody to match her tat when Finn tucked a hand between the waistband of his jeans and his boxers, casual and proprietary. Jeremy had gotten better about not freezing and, like, immediately popping wood when Finn did stuff like that. Partly it was just from practice; Finn touched him all the time, thoughtless and ruthless, almost from the day they met, an arm over Jeremy’s shoulder, a finger wiping an eyelash off his cheek. It had gotten more blatant since they had started… whatever they were doing, or maybe just more confident, like Finn, at least, assumed they had defined their terms.
Stacy smirked at them as she dunked her dumpling into the sauce, shredding it inelegantly with her chopstick. “So, playing at Kilby. That’s pretty cool.”
“We’re just opening,” Jeremy said. Finn curled his fingers around Jeremy’s hipbone and gave him a half-smile when Jeremy shot him a look and squirmed. “Yeah, it’s cool, but we should probably hold off on buying fur coats.”
“But I look so good in mink,” Finn said. Jeremy thought glumly that he probably did. Like a gay mobster’s bit on the side.
“But you’re opening for Drew Michelin,” Stacy insisted. “That’s a big deal. You know he’s signed up for Coachella this year?”
Jeremy perked up a little. “Really?” Finn kept rubbing a warm, rough thumb against the jut of Jeremy’s hip, smoothing down the wrinkles of Jeremy’s underwear. Jeremy could feel his pulse in the spot, the beat of his blood.
Finn had, like, post-graduate degrees in surreptitious touching and Stacy just kept giving Jeremy concerned looks as he couldn’t sit still. “Yeah. On the second stage but still. But you’re a better writer than he is though. Lyrically, definitely. I mean, you’re doing some Mountain Goats level shit.”
Jeremy was pretty sure John Darnielle could skin and eat him alive without any real effort, but he stammered out something gracious. Finn beamed. Early on, Jeremy had tried to concede frontman duty to Finn. It had stung, but Finn looked and played like that; Rog had pretty much kicked over a rock and discovered a miracle. But Rog and Finn had been weirdly insistent, seamlessly united in an early display of their effortless cohesion. Jeremy had the better voice. Jeremy had something. Jeremy thought that if he had something, Finn had the whole stock of it. But so far Finn blended in with the rest of the band contentedly, just providing a flash of unexpected color when approached from certain angles.
“Yeah, our boy’s got talent.” Finn said it at the same time as he slid his fingers below the waistband of Jeremy’s boxers and .2 seconds before Jeremy choked on his soda. Finn only looked more pleased, in a muted, sly way.
“Oh screw you, the food’s spicy, shut up,” Jeremy said when Stacy laughed in great hoarse peals. He shot Finn a glare. Finn propped his chin on his free hand and just grinned, innocent as a crocodile, and Jeremy could have stumbled from the weight of his own stupid heart.
“If you really think this is spicy,” Stacy said. “That’s seriously sad. You need to man up, Monson.”
“Gender is a fluid construct,” said Jeremy, scowling. “There are a lot of ways to be manly.” But he was pleased when Finn and Stacy laughed.
Finn was starting to say something about CPR when the restaurant door opened with a little tinkle of the bell, and he yanked his hand out of Jeremy’s boxers so abruptly the elastic snapped. Jeremy winced, but Finn, who usually monitored his physical condition like a home health aid, didn’t even notice. Jeremy and Stacy exchanged a baffled glance before looking at the door.
It was a couple, both with dark good looks and strong noses. Mediterranean maybe. Stunning. The woman actually was wearing a fur coat, floor-length and deadly white. As cold as Salt Lake got, Jeremy didn’t think he had ever seen one in person. Even in stilettos she barely came up to the man’s shoulder. Finn was Jeremy reference for a tall guy, and his length was emphasized by his narrowness, like he was once normal-sized but had been mysteriously stretched out. This man, though, owned his height, all boxy angles and broad shoulders under his leather jacket. He had a goatee even. They looked otherworldly in the fluorescent lights of the tacky one-room Chinese place, like they should have been in Europe or a soap opera.
“Shit,” Finn murmured so quietly Jeremy doubted he was supposed to hear him. Finn looked somewhere between sheepish and chagrined, almost exactly like he had been caught with his hand down a teenager’s pants by people he knew.
“Well, hello!” the woman trilled, her eyes lighting up when they trained on Finn. She put a hand on his shoulder. It looked like a shell or the hand of a statue, realer than real in its perfection. “Fancy meeting you here.” The man just smiled out of the corner of his mouth. Jeremy had spent three years and change as a short, skinny kid in high school with a best friend who was also short but inherently obnoxious and who ruled the drama club with an iron fist. He had a good sense for how people could mock you through the judicial application of small talk; how you could be defeated by a thousand paper cuts. He put a hand on Finn’s thigh but Finn jiggled his leg until he took it off again.
“This is quite a coincidence,” he said, with more composure than Jeremy would have anticipated. Finn was using a dinner party voice, as depicted by the WB. “Let me guess. You’re here for the season.”
“Just passing through,” the woman said breezily. And okay, that had to be a lie. No one ever just stopped by Salt Lake – you either pilgrimaged there as a Mormon tourist or you were fervently hoping to escape the sticks. If you lived there, your family had been in the valley for five generations, and maybe that was exactly the reason you were desperately trying to leave. Salt Lake was about proving things to yourself, one way or another. People barely came for the skiing in the only interesting season they had, which was winter. “Of course we had to say hello. So, who are these… people?”
“I’m Stacy,” Stacy said, bright as gunfire.
The woman took her in with one sweeping glance. “I’m sure you are.” She looked at Jeremy and her smile, somehow, became even more knowing. “Ah,” she said, with her full, ripe mouth, and Jeremy was having an unexpected and bewildering reverse-sexual-crisis.
“Do you ever stray from type?” the man asked, his voice higher than Jeremy would have expected but abrupt and terrible.
Finn just smiled blandly but his knuckles went white where he was gripping the table.
“So how do you know Finn?” Stacy asked, all brassy, and Jeremy could have written a whole album about girls who grew up to be tough when they didn’t have this lady’s Veronica Lake hair.
“Finn,” the woman said, like the name delighted and amused her. “Well we and Finn go back many years, but oh, it’s complicated. How would you describe it, darling?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Finn said pleasantly. “But I had the opportunity to speak with your son several months ago. He asked me to pass his regards along to his father.”
Her amazing mouth fell into a perfect ‘o’ while the man’s expression darkened. “Fucking hilarious, pretty boy.”
Stacy stood up with a screech of the chair legs against the floor. “Powdering my nose!” She grabbed Jeremy by the wrist. “Keep me company, Jer.” And she dragged him, protesting feebly, off to the ladies room and locked the door.
Jeremy had never been in a woman’s bathroom before and the experience was disappointing. This one was a single stall and the only major difference was the lack of a urinal. Stacy put the seat down and sat on the toilet. “Holy shit.”
“I know, what the junk,” Jeremy said.
“Don’t ask me,” Stacy said. “He’s your… guitarist. And okay, Jeremy, really ‘what the junk’?”
Jeremy shrugged. He slid down against the wall into a sitting position, his knees drawn up. “It’s kind of lamer to intentionally practice swearing, I think. Like, this is something you have to work at? It’s just weird.”
She looked briefly annoyed, but that was replaced by an expression he was growing familiar with from both sides of the fence, the ‘he’ll come around eventually’ look. “You know, they’re still holding that ex-mormon support group at the Y. Thursday nights at 7:00.”
“I have band practice then.”
“You could switch it around. Sometimes it really helps to talk about these things. It’s important to have a safe space.”
The crappy little practice space they rented for 250 a month was as safe as any he knew, but that sounded corny and pretentious besides. Instead he just told her he would think about it, which hopefully didn’t seem insincere. They gossiped for a while about a girl from Jeremy’s ward who was probably pregnant until they judged enough time had gone by that it was safe to come back. Stacy peaked her head out and round the corner to make sure it was safe and waved him out. All the other customers must have left. Finn was sitting half a foot away from the table, like he had kicked his chair out. His arms were crossed and he was glaring moodily at his brown rice. Jeremy sat down across from him, feeling like he always did after ducking out of a confrontation: guilty and rubbery and relieved.
When Jeremy caught Finn’s eye though, Finn tilted his head, his hair spilling in front of his eyes and the curve of his neck exposed, the effect as natural and striking as good ballet. “Hey Jeremy,” he said thoughtfully. “Can I talk to you outside for a minute?”
“Sure.” Jeremy got his coat and kicked Stacy’s chair on his way out the door when she smirked at him. In the doorway the spring air hit with surprising force. Finn lit a cigarette and offered it to Jeremy. Jeremy took a drag as Finn stretched his arms over his head.
“Sorry about that,” he said.
“It’s cool,” Jeremy said. “Who were they?” And when Finn didn’t respond, actually froze a little, he hurried to add. “You don’t – it’s okay. You don’t have to tell me. We all have our stuff.”
Finn said, almost like he was embarrassed. “Family. Sort of. My dad’s side is pretty much a clusterfuck.”
“Dude,” Jeremy said, laughing a little. “I understand complicated families. I’m Mormon. I have, like, seventeen cousins on my mom’s side alone, seriously, you don’t have to-”
Finn grabbed him, not ungently, by the back of the neck, and dragged Jeremy into a kiss he had to stand on his tip-toes to reciprocate. The cigarette fell to the sidewalk where it smoldered, a single, unnoticed point of light. Finn’s mouth was wet and a little frantic and Jeremy felt clumsy answering it. Finn usually took control, but Jeremy was usually the one desperate for it.
Finn broke away, his mouth still brushing Jeremy’s. His other hand ran up and down Jeremy’s side. “I really like you.”
Part of Jeremy wanted to say no shit, they were making out in public, but the rest of him smothered it in a giddy volcanic flow. “I – you too.”
Finn grinned. “You’re going to go amazing places. And even if you don’t, it’s worth it to be here just so I can be with you.”
“How are you even real?” Jeremy asked. Finn just laughed, which was good because Jeremy legitimately wanted to know. He couldn’t say so, not yet, but he had barely felt real before Finn. If Finn ever left, Jeremy would follow.
Finn just smiled some more, securing a hand on Jeremy’s ass. And then he assumed an expression of genuine curiosity when he felt… oh, right. The bulge of the condom and lube there. Jeremy’s face flared up. “That’s… uh. Yeah. It’s a long story.”
“I don’t want to pressure you,” Finn said quietly but gritty with heat.
Jeremy smiled crookedly. “That wouldn’t be a problem.”
Finn nodded, almost to himself, and let Jeremy go, smoothing out his own jacket. “Let’s go.”
Jeremy glanced back at the restaurant. “But Stacy…”
“We’ll owe her,” Finn said, tugging on his elbow. “Come on.”
Jeremy thought he saw a flash of white fur in his peripheral vision on their way to the parking lot, but it was probably just his imagination.
Years later, Jeremy would remember their first time with over-exaggerated awkwardness, himself as gangly and unsure and approaching sex as clinically and skittishly as health class. At the moment, though, he was nervous but a lot more eager, naked and watching Finn from the futon while Finn tugged off his pants, not exactly doing a striptease but not methodical either. He was hard, which Jeremy had seen before but not enough that he wasn’t still fascinated by it.
Jeremy however did have sort of an episode when Finn worked two of his slicked-up fingers inside him and planted a kiss on the inside of Jeremy’s lower thigh. Episode was the word Jeremy preferred to use; Finn immediately labeled it as a hysterical giggle fit.
He paused in his ministrations, his hair hanging black and fine into his eyes. He was glowing almost, turning anyone else’s flushed and sweaty into something almost ethereal. Jeremy felt like he was being laid down on the dissection table. Finn cocked his head slightly. A lot of his gestures looked screen-ready and practiced, but so fluid he might as well have invented them. Like every other iteration was a copy. “What?”
Jeremy covered his mouth with the back of his wrist, his shoulders still shaking. “Nothing.”
Finn sat back on his haunches. His fingers only slipped out slightly, but Jeremy felt the loss. “You’re not exactly boosting my confidence here.”
“No, it’s… shit,” Jeremy hiccuped, forcing himself to take a few deep breaths. “It’s just… wow. Woo. You know?”
Finn glided his fingers out completely and Jeremy moaned a little at the loss, which oh god, that was mortifying, just totally slutty wasn’t it, not that it really mattered since Finn must already have him pegged as a sure thing. “I think,” Finn said. “You need to be a little more relaxed.”
And Jeremy’s brain wasn’t working right, of course, but he still should have expected the wet heat of Finn’s mouth around his cock.
Finn smirked at him when Jeremy groaned, but of course, Jeremy already knew he was a man of skill. This they had done, but Finn was using his fingers now too, and his smirk only widened when Jeremy slammed his hand down on the floor by the futon. The other he wound through Finn’s hair. It felt better than it looked. It wasn’t like Finn didn’t have flaws – he was pro-life and took film way too seriously and only used deodorant when you bugged him about it – but every layer of quirk and character Jeremy had uncovered was better than the last. He wanted to spend the rest of his life with Finn’s talented mouth and talented fingers and weird, wonderful brain.
He came with another moan and Finn swallowed with alarming neatness. He kissed Jeremy and crooked his fingers and said, “You want to try again?”
Finn apparently had The District Sleeps Alone as one of his ringtones, which was actually pretty funny and something Jeremy would have made fun of him for if the noise weren’t infiltrating the crusty morning layer of his brain. He groaned and batted half-heartedly at Finn, who slept on, and eventually staggered to his feet and fished Finn’s phone out of his jeans. “Finn’s pants.”
There was a pause and then Jamie’s voice. “Jeremy?”
Jeremy rubbed his forehead. “Yeah. It’s me.” Awareness was trickling in: he was wearing a sock, his contacts were burning, as was his butt, and he vaguely needed to pee. He looked over his shoulder at Finn, whose face was somehow superior and contented even in his sleep, and smiled. Finn’s hair was a mess. “You want Ruefenacht?”
“No, it’s cool. I was trying to reach you too. Rog said you were probably crashing at Finn’s. You have got to get yourself a cell, man.”
Getting cold, Jeremy half-hopped his way back to the futon and burrowed in. Finn made a little noise and immediately rolled over half on top of him. Jeremy sighed. “Yeah, I know. So, uh… is this band stuff?”
“Hell yeah, band stuff!” His voice crackled with more than static. “We got a gig in Vegas!”
Finn slid off him with a thump when Jeremy sat up. “No fucking way!”
“I would not joke about this,” said Jamie, who really wouldn’t. “Not on the strip, obviously, but that venue whose Myspace we were looking at? They emailed me back! They want us in May! This is a full-fledged out of state gig, Jeremy!”
Finn sat up groggily, smoothing his hair back. Jeremy mouthed ‘gig!’ at him and he brightened a little. The corner of his mouth twitched up when he saw a suspiciously located bulge under the covers, and Jeremy had to lunge forward and kiss him hard. Finn wrapped his arms around Jeremy’s waist, one of them quickly traveling south, and eased back on the mattress.
After a time Jeremy became aware of Jamie saying, “Okay, are you even there anymore?”
“Call you back,” Jeremy gasped, snapping the cell shut and throwing it towards Finn’s laundry bin.
“Where’s the gig?” Finn asked, nipping at Jeremy’s jaw.
“No shit,” Finn said brightly. “Okay, first actual rule of Vegas is to avoid the buffets. They’re liquid death. I can call in a few favors and get us tables at some quality restaurants.”