by Domashita Romero (地下ロメロ)
“Before you do this I need you to record a message to your mom absolving me of any guilt if you die,” Ben said as he got the framing right on the video on his phone.
“It’s going to be fine,” Jey said, and then grinned at the camera. “Mom, I promise it’ll be fine.”
“That doesn’t count,” Ben said. “I wasn’t recording yet.”
Jey let out a sigh and put a hand on his hip, tucking his skateboard under his arm on the other side. “Start recording! This is all content, man! Content.”
“Content,” Ben repeated, dully, and tapped the button to start filming. Jey gave him a huge grin, that kind that made his eyes crinkle up and Ben’s heart do a couple of skips. Yeah, that was content, all right.
He’d met Jevaun Harris when he was a freshman and Jey was a senior, out in the fields behind school. It was after marching band practice, when Ben was sitting on the bleachers catching his breath slash waiting for his mom to come pick him up, and then suddenly there’d been a guy with a lot of curly hair in a soccer uniform standing in front of him. Well, in front of and slightly down, looking up at him in a way that all five feet and three inches of Ben rarely got to experience.
“Sick trumpet, dude,” the guy had said, and Ben instinctively held it a little closer to himself, worried about the famed jock-on-nerd bullying that he’d heard was rampant in high school.
“Thanks?” Ben said. “It’s just a trumpet.”
“Yeah, but I saw you playing it,” he said, and then bounced a little from foot to foot while he held his hands up to his mouth in a mime of playing a trumpet. “You’ve got, like, style.”
Ben laughed a little. No one had ever remotely described him as having style before. “Mr. Winstead doesn’t like my style. Says we should all be uniform. It just helps me keep rhythm.”
“You are literally marching to the beat of your own drummer,” the guy said. “That’s awesome. I’m Jey, by the way.” He stepped a few steps up the bleachers and held out his hand. Ben had never had someone anywhere near his own age try to shake his hand before. It seemed so bizarrely grown up. He took Jey’s hand and hoped he wasn’t too much of a dead fish.
“I’m Ben.” He looked around the field and saw other kids packing up, others waiting for their rides, the soccer team that Jey had clearly come from horsing around. “Were you seriously watching us play?”
“Hell yeah,” Jey said, and came up closer to sit down next to Ben. Ben could smell him, that slightly astringent smell of sweat that came from exercise. “I think that shit is really cool. I’d be into it myself, but you know, conflicts.” He looked over at Ben and gave him a grin. He had a broad smile, almost horse-mouthed, but something about it made Ben feel like something was caught in his throat. “Also, I can’t play any instruments. You should have heard me try to oboe.”
“More like ‘oh no’?” Ben said, and then cringed. Why did he talk? But Jey leaned his head back and laughed, in a way that didn’t seem cruel.
“Yeah, something like that,” Jey said, and started picking at his cuticles in what was clearly, from the state of them, a common nervous tic. “This is your first year, right?”
“Yeah,” Ben said, like it wasn’t extremely obvious how very fourteen he was, gangly limbs and greasy skin. Jey looked almost grown-up, like he was finished getting put together. Ben bet he could buy beer without getting carded.
“Well, welcome to the ride,” Jey said, and laughed a little. “It’s not so bad. I’m ready to go, though.”
Ben didn’t really know what to say to that, so he just sat in squirming silence next to Jey, watching the fireflies come out and twinkle around them. He had to do something. He had to say something. “Hey, so, like… did you want something? Why is this happening,” he said, giving voice to the question he asked himself about a hundred times a day.
Jey laughed again and put a hand on his shoulder, making that feeling in Ben’s throat get heavier. “Don’t worry about it, man. I just thought you seemed cool.”
It was good to know early on when meeting someone that they were crazy or stupid, and Jey was clearly both if he thought Ben was cool. “Oh, okay,” Ben said, though. “You seem cool, too.”
Jey squeezed his shoulder a little. “Do you need a ride home or anything? I’ve got a car.”
Ben knew he absolutely would get in trouble for taking a ride home with an older kid without permission, but he still wanted to say yes. “My mom’s coming,” he said, feeling like the tiniest nerd.
“Yeah, okay, figured, but I thought I should offer.” Jey squeezed his shoulder and took his hand away, leaving Ben feeling tingling where his fingers had been. “Let me know if you want one in the future. We clearly have practice at the same time, so it’d be no problem.”
“Thanks,” Ben said, and then leaned away a little to look at Jey. “This isn’t a prank, right? You’re not setting me up for something?”
Jey looked a little hurt then, but quickly returned with a smile. “No, no, it’s not. Sorry, I didn’t mean to weird you out. You just looked like someone I wanted to get to know.”
Ben had to laugh a little then. Crazy, stupid, and blind. “If you say so.” His pocket buzzed then, and he took his phone out to see a text from his mom. “My mom’s here. I gotta go.”
“Cool, see you around?” Jey said, leaning back to smile at him. It was funny; when Jey looked at him like that, he actually, in the smallest way, started to feel just a little bit cool.
“Yeah,” Ben said. “Yeah, sure.”
Jey did not die that night, but he also did not pull off any particularly cool skateboard stunts. Certainly not the kind that would go viral or even get more than thirty hits on YouTube. That had been Jey’s obsession since he dropped out of DePaul three semesters in — he wanted to be famous on the internet. He’d roped Ben into it — well, it wasn’t like it took much to talk Ben into anything, not when Jey was the one doing the talking.
Jey had done just about every stupid “challenge” there was out there. Ben sometimes thought he could still smell cinnamon from the time Jey sprayed it in his face. He did stunts, he did pranks, he even tried to pretend to be a soldier coming home to his pets, though his cats were less than impressed. And Ben stayed behind the camera for all of it, because he just wanted to make Jey smile.
Then there was the time he’d seen more than just Jey’s smile, when he’d filmed Jey streaking through a grocery store, yelping wildly as he ran down the frozen foods aisle. He’d sat next to Jey in his car as he wriggled into his jeans afterwards, trying not to look, and then at least trying to not get caught looking. “That was so much fun,” Jey had said, laughing as he zipped up. “I got like half a chub doing that. Guess I’m an exhibitionist.” Then Ben had had to look absolutely anywhere else and hoped the lights of the Meijer parking lot hid how red his face had gone.
Ben figured he was bi, though he’d had no one to particularly test any of his theories on. He really just had Jey, and Jey was… Jey always had someone. Jey was popular, in the way where he knew everyone and everyone knew him, and for some reason he kept Ben around as his little pale shadow. For some reason Ben was the one he called when he had a new crazy idea. Maybe it was just that Ben was the only one dumb enough to keep encouraging this.
“So, like…” Ben said after the light had gone, no more magic hour for skateboard tricks. He and Jey sat side by side on the edge of the skate bowl, legs dangling into it, staring up at the few stars that were bright enough to shine through the light pollution of the city. You could still see some stars out in the ‘burbs like this, which Ben would never admit he liked. “So, like, what’s your goal, here?”
“My goal was to do a 720, and I’ll totally get it next time,” Jey said. He hadn’t even really managed a 360, but it was important to reach for your dreams.
“No, I mean, like,” Ben began, and swallowed. Maybe he shouldn’t ask. Maybe it would break the spell of all of this, these dumb nights they spent together, if he did. But he always had to ask. “What’s the point of this? The videos. Why do you want to go viral or whatever so bad? Do you just, like, want to be on Ellen?”
Jey laughed a little, soft with the sound of crickets starting to emerge around them. “I mean, that wouldn’t be bad. Ellen rules,” he said, and then he sighed. “I just want… I want to know people are seeing me. I want everyone to see me.”
I see you, Ben felt on his lips, but managed to bite it back. “It’s just the internet.”
“Yeah, I know,” Jey said, and stretched his arms up over his head until his hands brushed the grass that started a little ways back from the skate bowl. “But it’s something. It’s something more than… this.”
Ben’s stomach clenched. “This isn’t so bad.”
Jey laughed again, a little more bitter. “Yeah, right. I’m a college dropout who works at a gas station, lives in my parents’ basement, and drives his mom’s old minivan. I don’t exactly look good on paper.”
“Yeah, but…” Ben said, and the rest came bubbling out of him. “You’re amazing.”
And he was, he absolutely was, he was the most amazing part of Ben’s life. Even when he was being an absolute idiot trying to make a video trying to eat ghost peppers, Ben never felt like he was wasting his time. Jey had stood by him all the way through high school, even after he’d graduated. Ben had had other friends, nerds in band and the kind of people that floated through your life in high school, but Jey was the one who was really there. He was the one driving him into Chicago on weekends and showing him how life could be exciting, what things could be when Ben got just a little older. He was the only thing in Ben’s life that made him feel like he just might be special.
“I’m amazing?” Jey said, and then snorted. “No, I’m just some asshole. You’re amazing.”
“Bullshit,” Ben said, automatically. It was one thing for him to get the feeling sometimes that Jey thought that, but something entirely different to hear him say it. It might be real if he said it.
“No bullshit,” Jey said, and propped himself up on one elbow so he could look at him. “You’re brilliant, and your funny, and you’re going to take over the world someday.” Ben couldn’t quite meet his eyes and Jey collapsed back onto the ground. “Like, not even someday. Soon. Like the end of this summer.”
They hadn’t really talked about that much. Ben was going to college at the end of the summer, but it wasn’t like he was going far. Just to Northwestern, and he’d come back and hang on weekends, and it wasn’t like cellphones had stopped existing. “It’s just college, Jey,” he said.
“Yeah, just college,” Jey said, with a pout in his voice. “You’re going to go to college and you’ll meet actual cool people, and you’ll learn all kinds of cool stuff, and then before I know it you’re just going to be…”
“Be what?” Ben said.
“Gone. I’m just going to lose you,” Jey said, and his voice was a little shaky. “Maybe I keep doing these stupid videos because I want there to be a reason you have to keep hanging out with me. Before you grow out of me.”
Ben sat up then. “Jey… that is the stupidest thing you’ve ever said.”
“It’s not stupid, it’s true,” Jey said, and his eyes were closed. “You’ve got, you know, potential. You’re about to go out and fulfill it. And I’m just a loser.”
Ben took in a few deep breaths. The fireflies were starting to come out, little flickers of bright around them. “You’re not a loser,” he said, and in an act of bravery, reached over and rested his hand on Jey’s chest. “I can see you. I see you, and you’re not a loser. You’re my best friend, you’re…”
And then he was cut off by Jey suddenly pushing himself off the ground and kissing him.
The shock of it made Ben go still, and then as quickly as it had happened Jey was pulling away, starting to apologize. “Shit, I’m sorry, I’m such an idiot,” he said, and Ben gathered his wits enough to put his hand completely over Jey’s face.
“Shut up. Yes. Idiot. Oh my god.” He took a few deep breaths and slid his hand to cup Jey’s cheek before leaning in to kiss him again.
He’d had a few kisses in his life before, but nothing very serious. This, though, this was serious, this was his hands going into Jey’s curls and Jey wrapping his arms around Ben’s waist. “Oh my god,” Ben said again into Jey’s mouth, because he’d only been thinking of this every day since he was fourteen.
“In a good way, yeah?” Jey murmured back, and Ben just gave him a little tap on the head to let him know that was a dumb question.
“The best way,” Ben said, and then immediately proved himself a liar, because the next ‘oh my god’ that escaped his lips was due to Jey pressing his hips to his, letting him feel that he was hard. He pressed his face into Jey’s neck and moaned a little, riding Jey’s thigh when he nudged it between his legs.
“I really like you,” Jey said against Ben’s ear, making goosebumps rise on the back of his neck. Ben clutched at his back and whimpered, embarrassed for how strong he was reacting to all this. But it wasn’t like Jey didn’t already know he was a virgin. Jey knew everything about him.
“I really like you, too,” Ben said, and somehow it didn’t feel stupid. Jey rolled him onto his back and kissed him harder, getting another groan out of him as he grinded into his hip. He was just working his fingers into Ben’s soft, fine hair when the honk of a car horn made Jey break away and look up.
Ben looked around, world half-upside-down, and determined that the honk had not been intended for them, at least. He could feel how red his face was while Jey looked down at him. That smile of Jey’s had never felt so good as it did from this angle.
“You wanna, um, go somewhere more private?” Jey said.
“My parents are home…” Ben said, feeling stupid that he was eighteen and still cared about his parents catching him making out.
“I meant, like, the back of my van,” Jey said, stroking his fingers gently through Ben’s hair.
“Yes,” Ben said quickly. Jey had modified his mom’s old minivan to take out the back seat, turning it into a mobile crash pad slash meditation space. He liked to let the engine idle while he sat in his pile of sleeping bags and pillows, breathing deep while the vibrations took him to higher states of mind. The friends his age that Jey had made fun of it, but it’d always seemed the coolest thing in the world to Ben.
And now he was climbing in to the back of the minivan, the slippery sounds of nylon sleeping bag material following him as he tried to find a place to be that didn’t make him feel awkward. Jey got in the van behind him and closed the door, and there was that smile, crinkled up around the eyes but also heated now, as he looked Ben over, eyes fixing on where his jeans bulged out.
“Hi,” Jey said as he swish-swished on his knees across the sleeping bags to be in front of Ben, urging him down on his back. Ben felt like his heart was going to pop, his body flooded with excitement and fear and pure horniness all at once. Jey was kissing him, Jey kept kissing him, and touching him, and absolutely some kind of sex was about to happen.
“I’m sorry,” he said automatically, stupidly as Jey’s hand moved down over where his stomach stuck out too much, and then whimpered high when it settled on his cock.
“What for?” Jey said against his ear, going still when Ben wanted him to do anything but stop.
“I don’t know,” Ben said. “I don’t know what I’m even saying. I just really want this, oh my god, you have no idea how much I want this.”
He could feel Jey’s smile against his neck and it felt incredible. “Tell me about it later,” he said, and then undid the fastenings of Ben’s jeans.
Ben bit his lip hard when Jey touched his cock for the first time, twisting away from his kissing mouth because it was all just too much, too much and he couldn’t live with himself if he came too quickly. His cock was already leaking so much; he could feel the way Jey’s palm got wet with it, the way it slipped over the head in a way that he could feel in his spine. “Oh god, oh god,” he said again, voice shaking and ridiculous. Jey stroked him once and he found himself biting into his shoulder. “Sorry, sorry,” he said, at least having something reasonable to apologize for.
“You’re good, it’s good,” Jey said against his ear and kissed his cheek sweetly. “I’ve got you. You feel so good.”
Ben made the van squeak a little as his hips rolled into Jey’s touch. “Oh god, I’m going to come really fast, I’m so sorry.”
Jey laughed in that way that wasn’t at him, wasn’t cruel. “Don’t worry, gonna have lots more times to make it last.”
“Oh god,” Ben said, and in another two strokes was coming hard into Jey’s hand, shaking against him, overwhelmed by the smell and feel of him. As he came down from it his cheek was pressed to Jey’s throat, and he could feel his pulse racing. All of this, all of this was happening and somehow Jey wanted it just as much. He kissed Jey again and put his hand on his cock, feeling him out through his jeans.
Jey whimpered into his mouth as he touched him, grabbed at his shirt and his hips, and then shouted out Ben’s name as he was suddenly coming too, in his jeans, button not even undone.
When his breathing slowed and they lay against the pile of pillows together, Jey laughed. “See? I told you not to worry.” He kissed Ben slow. “We’ll do better next time. In like. Ten minutes.”
“Yeah,” Ben said, and laughed, because half an hour ago he’d been watching Jey eat it in a skate bowl and now he’d just had sex with him and was going to be having more sex with him. “Wow,” was all he could think of to say.
“Yeah,” Jey said and laughed. He lifted his head up and smiled at him. “You know, I bet that would have made a really good video though. Like, ‘You won’t believe it! Guy kisses his crush for the first time when he’s not expecting it!””
“Yeah, but I’d kill you if you put that anywhere,” Ben said, closing his eyes.
“Oh, it’d be subscriber-only content,” Jey said as he wrapped his arm around Ben’s shoulders and pulled him close. “Premium.”
They stayed curled up like that for a while, breathing. Ben had to say something, though; he always had to say something. “I promise this won’t end when summer’s over, okay? You’re the most important person in my life.”
Jey opened his eyes and put a hand on Ben’s face. “You’re the most important person in mine, so I’m going to believe you when you say that.”
“Promise,” Ben said, and sighed. They were quiet again for a while, and then Jey laughed, loud and brash. “What?”
“Okay, just give me a few years, but you know the internet loves a proposal video…”
“Oh my god,” Ben said, and hid his face in the pillows to hide just how much he was smiling.