by Yamanashi Moe (山梨もえ)
“Throughout history,” intoned Mark with mock solemnity in his voice, “there have been a select few men and women whose potent beauty can only be seen as the blessing of Venus, Goddess of Love. Their power bewitched millions. They are the faces that, literally or metaphorically, launched a thousand ships. Helen of Troy… Adonis… Mona Lisa… Mata Hari… Cary Grant… and now, in the twenty-first century, born into our very own household, the radiant Lucas Falkins!”
“On this, the day of your eighteenth birthday,” continued Shelley, dropping to one knee, “we, as your humble elder siblings, present you with this gift: a mirror, in the hopes that unlike Narcissus of antiquity, you will not fall prey to the entrancing vision it presents you with.”
“Also, we feel the need to remind you that Valentine’s Day is now only two short months away.”
“By which we mean that you’d better find someone special soon, or else.”
“Not that we’re pressuring you!”
“Of course not. We only want to ensure your happiness for that important day.”
“Besides, your thousands of ardent admirers have been waiting for years for you to-”
“Go away,” said Lucas loudly, turning over and burying his face in his pillow. He had to wonder if they actually rehearsed this stuff beforehand, or if they were just naturally talented improvers.
Shelley laughed. “Happy birthday, Lucas,” she said, and patted him on the head.
“Your real presents are downstairs,” said Mark. “But you’d better hurry, or we’ll take them all.”
When the door finally closed behind them, Lucas groaned and turned onto his back. He checked the clock: to his mind, it was way too early to be getting up on a Sunday morning, but everyone else in his family was a morning person. Even his parents would probably be up.
He pulled himself gingerly out of bed. The mirror was still on the floor, staring up at him with what he imagined to be a self-satisfied air. He picked it up and chucked it in the garbage.
Lucas had always been unusually attractive. When he was a boy, he had been cute, which was acceptable: grownups would pinch his cheeks and coo about how precious he was, and children his own age would maybe admire him a little and then ignore it. At that point he was still just one of them.
As he got older, though, he got increasingly more beautiful. People started to take notice. He started to stand out from his peers.
By the time he was a teenager it seemed that everybody was always looking at him. He amassed ridiculous amounts of admirers, both male and female, in whose eyes he could do no wrong. Even the people who didn’t love him treated him like royalty. At work, he could sell books simply by standing next to them. His looks could practically stop traffic.
He hated every minute of it.
“Do you have any idea how frustrating this is?” he asked his siblings once, after nearly being mauled at a school dance. “I’m constantly surrounded by people who are practically attacking me for my body!”
Mark looked unimpressed. “Yeah. Constantly surrounded by people who want to have sex with you. My sympathies.”
“You don’t understand! The second I step outside this house it’s like I’m in a war zone and everyone’s out to get me. I never get a minute to myself. I can’t do anything because everybody wants to either do it with me or do it for me. I have to deal with at least two confessions of love every day, and you have no idea what these people are like when they get turned down…”
“Okay, think of it this way,” said Shelley. “You’re popular! Everyone loves you! That’s a good thing! You’ve got your problems, but who doesn’t? Just relax and enjoy the attention. Would you rather that everyone hated your guts?”
Mark punched him lightly on the shoulder. “Then suck it up.”
So Lucas tried to ignore it, but it was hard, and he probably would have gone crazy if it weren’t for the Venus de Milo in the park down the street. It was a cheap bronze copy about his height. Whenever he got overwhelmed by the constant attention, he would slip on a hoodie and sunglasses, go down to the park, and throw rocks at her. He always came home feeling better.
Still, it got harder and harder to escape as he got older, and sometimes he wished there was even one person outside his own family who didn’t care about his looks.
The day after his birthday he went to school and tried to be inconspicuous. Of course it didn’t work. He recieved maybe twenty belated birthday presents. They wouldn’t fit in his backpack, but people were only too happy to carry them for him.
He also recieved ten love letters and seven face to face confessions. One of the guys tried to kiss him after being turned down, and he ended up decking him in the face, which made him feel awful.
Overall the entire day was kind of depressing. He knew he should be grateful that so many people wanted him to have a happy birthday, but he really wished they could just say “happy birthday” like they did to everyone else and not make him three-tier birthday cakes with detailed icing portraits of themselves. By the time he went into work that afternoon he was willing to write the whole day off.
The bookshop was more crowded than usual with people from school who didn’t get to wish him a happy birthday while he was there. He tried to ignore them and do his job, but it was increasingly difficult as they got more and more frustrated.
He was just being backed into a corner by a girl from his History class – she practically had little hearts floating in her eyes – when her speech was interrupted by a tap on the shoulder.
“Excuse me. Are you here to buy a book? Because if not, you should let your friend here actually do the job he gets paid for.”
The girl apologized and scuttled away. Lucas was about to thank his rescuer, a tall man wearing designer sunglasses, but before he got the chance the man turned to him with his brow furrowed.
“Lucas, right? You shouldn’t encourage them,” he said. “Now get back to work.”
“…I’m sorry?” said Lucas.
“I said you should get back to work.” The man shooed off several of Lucas’ admirers. “And if you can’t keep your little fanclub out of the store, you can at least sell them some books.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“You guess? It’s your job, isn’t it? Pay more attention.”
Lucas stood there for a moment watching him walk away. Then he went to the counter to talk to his boss.
“Oh, then you’ve met Jake!” said Mrs. Edwards, who Lucas had decided to work for mainly because she was middle aged and too happily married to be interested in him. “I would have introduced you sooner, but it’s so crowded right now, I … He’s my nephew, you know.”
“Is he… uh… going to be working here?”
“Oh, yes. You might think that’s a little odd, seeing as he’s-”
“Yes. But he loves to read. You know they’ve got all these books out on CD nowdays.”
“Yeah. Listen, he… uh… doesn’t seem to like me very much.”
“Well, he’s a bit crusty sometimes.”
“Yeah,” said Lucas, and smiled. The day was looking a lot better.
“Well, someone’s in a good mood,” commented Shelley dryly, putting down her pencil and closing her textbook as Lucas all but skipped through the kitchen door. “I guess I shouldn’t ruin it by telling you you’ve got eighty calls on the answering machine.”
Lucas stopped at the fridge and rummaged through it for his leftover birthday cake. “Nothing you say can ruin my mood,” he said, triumphantly. “Not even that. I’ve just met the only person in the world who doesn’t like me.”
“What, is he blind?”
Shelley snickered. “That’s perfect.”
“Yeah, actually, it is,” said Lucas with a grin. He couldn’t even bring himself to berate her for laughing. “Want some cake?”
Mark came in through from the living room. “Did I hear something about cake?” he asked, grabbing a fork and spearing a piece of the cake on Lucas’ plate. Lucas didn’t stop him, even though Mark had probably already eaten more of the cake than he had. It wasn’t worth it.
“You won’t believe this,” said Shelley in a mock whisper, “but Lucas has finally found true love with a blind guy who hates his guts!”
“Oh, good,” said Mark approvingly.
Lucas took his own fork and sat down at the kitchen table. “You know what, no matter how much you tease me, I don’t care anymore,” he said. “I intend to enjoy every minute of knowing that there is at least one person who won’t fawn all over me every time I say hi.”
“And we intend to mock you relentlessly for it.”
Over the course of the next few weeks, Lucas devoted himself to basking in the presence of the one person outside of his family who wasn’t attracted to him.
It was more difficult than he had thought it would be. Jake was a dutiful employee, and whenever he caught Lucas hanging around him he would berate him for slacking off. It was a pleasant change to work with someone who wouldn’t go easy on him all the time, but it would have been interesting to talk to him, too, and that was hard.
“So,” he said one day as the store was just about to close, in the latest in a series of attempts to engage him in conversation, “um, Mrs. Edwards said you’re her nephew.”
“You’re at university now, right?”
“What are you studying?”
“Oh. Is it hard?”
“A bit,” said Jake, who then left as a boy from school approached Lucas.
That was the longest conversation they’d had. It was basically what happened any time Lucas tried to strike up a conversation with him: he would be indulged with one-word answers for a little while, then ignored at the first opportunity. Lucas had to wonder if his own conversational skills were at fault. When other people talked to him, they spent the whole time flattering him, and it didn’t require much input on his part.
Possibly he just wasn’t that interesting to talk to. It was a disheartening thought.
Sometimes he got lucky and overheard Jake helping a customer – he was relatively popular at the store, even compared to Lucas. He could usually find a book they liked, often one they had never heard of before. He was helpful, informative… still a little gruff, but ultimately a nice guy.
Lucas didn’t want Jake to talk with him as though he was a customer, and he certainly didn’t want from him the mindless admiration he got from others. Still, he sometimes wondered how it would feel if Jake actually liked him.
Gradually, the pleasure he had felt at first faded and was replaced by a strange disatisfaction. By the middle of January his mood had returned to pretty much the same as before he met Jake.
“Well, someone’s in a rotten mood,” said Mark from the kitchen table as Lucas walked in. Apparently he had been doing his homework, but his siblings always found torturing him more entertaining. “How was work? Let me guess. You got mauled again.”
Lucas glared at him. “Shut up.”
“Oh, worse, you got ignored by the blind guy at work.” Mark shook his head sadly. “Whatever happened to the pleasure of… let’s see… what was it? ‘Knowing that there’s at least one person who won’t fawn all over me every time I say hi?'”
Shelley walked in with an empty glass. “Oh, am I missing a fight? I hate it when that happens.”
“No, I’m just teasing Lucas about his first love.”
“I hate missing that too!”
“I did say something about shutting up, right?”
“Yes, and I ignored you.” Mark laughed, in a vaguely ominous way. “Remember Claire? And Sarah? Both of whom dumped me because they decided they liked you better? I have bided my time, and payback day is finally here.”
Shelley took her glass to the sink. “Well, at least yours were still heterosexual. Remember Dan?”
“Of course. We obviously both have excellent reasons to mock our brother about his repressed sexual or romantic desires.”
Lucas sighed. “I’ve told you already,” he said, slowly, “there is nothing repressed going on here. I just decided it might be nice, for once, to have a friend who isn’t scheming to get into my pants. And Jake seems like the ideal choice. Okay?”
“But if he doesn’t like you, then he obviously isn’t the ideal choice.” Shelley, who had finished refilling her glass of water, perched on the kitchen counter and gave Lucas what she obviously considered to be her sisterly advice smile. “I’m sure Jake isn’t the only blind guy in town. Why not just go find somebody else and make friends with them?”
“It has to be him!”
“Why?” asked Mark mildly.
Lucas stopped dead in the middle of the floor. He felt sure he was turning red. He was embarrased because he didn’t know why. There was no good reason. Jake was cool, but Shelley was absolutely right: he should move on.
There was no reason to be bothered by the fact that Jake didn’t like him. That was what he had wished for in the first place, wasn’t it? So why couldn’t he just accept it?
“Shut up,” he hissed, eventually, and stormed out of the kitchen.
After that, work became a lot more confusing. Lucas was torn between continuing his quest to make friends with Jake and avoiding him altogether. Neither seemed to work. He felt painfully awkward and still didn’t know why.
He started running into Jake all the time outside of work, too. That was even worse. Jake couldn’t notice him unless he heard his voice, so it wasn’t a problem, but when Jake was with another person, Lucas couldn’t help but feel a little jealous of how friendly they looked together.
In fact, the first few times he saw Jake with another person, he mistakenly said hi. Instantly Jake’s companion’s attention would shift to him, especially if it was a girl, so he stopped. He felt guilty that he might be messing with Jake’s personal life.
The week before Valentine’s Day they were stocking shelves after closing time. They were there later than usual: Mrs. Edwards had ordered in a number of books that Jake had suggested, and that Lucas had been convincing the people who visited him at work to buy. He was just sliding another book into place when he glanced to the side and saw Jake slip his sunglasses off to rub his eyes.
Lucas had gotten used to seeing Jake with sunglasses. They obviously had to come off sometimes, though. Without them his face looked strangely vulnerable. His eyes were blue, and they didn’t look particularly unusual – only slightly unfocused.
“You’re staring,” said Jake quietly.
“Sorry. …Uh, how did you know?”
Jake put the sunglasses back on. “The noise from the books stopped.”
“Oh.” Lucas began working again, noticing for once the sound of the books hitting the shelf. He cast another quick glace at Jake. “Have you always been blind?” Immediately he regretted asking. “I’m sorry. You don’t have to answer that.”
“It’s fine,” said Jake with a shake of his head. “No, I haven’t always been blind. I was in a car accident when I was little.”
Lucas nodded. “Oh,” he said. “That’s harsh. It, uh, must have been hard.” Once again he cursed himself for saying such stupid things. What was wrong with him?
They worked in silence for a little while longer before Jake turned to him with an nervous smile. It was the most expression Jake had ever directed at him, and seeing it gave him embarressing little flutters in the region of his stomach.
“Listen,” said Jake, almost awkwardly. “I. Uh. Do you mind if I see your face?”
“Huh? Sure,” said Lucas, without really thinking about the question. By the time he realized what that meant, it was too late to say anything.
Jake reached out until his fingers brushed Lucas’ neck, just below his ear. From there, his hands wandered slowly across his face, tracing the lines and contours as though committing them to memory. Each movement felt like a caress. Lucas flushed; he felt strange, almost dizzy. The world around them narrowed until it was just Jake and himself. He tried not to breathe, tried to slow the rythmn of his pulse to an acceptable rate. It didn’t do any good at all.
It was then that he realized that he was, actually, in love.
When Jake’s hand touched his lips it was too much. He took a step backwards.
“S-sorry. I…” ‘I just realized that all that complaining about my looks must have made someone angry, and now I’m getting punished by falling for the only guy I know who isn’t entranced by my beauty. And I feel really, really lousy now.’ “I didn’t mean…” ‘That you’re a freak or that I’m creeped out. just can’t handle the fact that you touching me is a turn on.’
“No, it’s alright,” said Jake, somewhat curtly. He withdrew his hands and went back to stocking the shelf.
For the whole of the next week, Lucas felt pretty much the worst he had ever felt. Five girls and two boys confessed their undying love for him. He barely noticed. In fact, he spent the week in a funk so thick that the other seven boys and girls who were hoping to get their confessions in before Valentine’s Day decided to either postpone or forgo confessing altogether.
He called in sick to work. Mrs. Edwards didn’t mind, as he sounded just awful over the phone, and anyway he hadn’t asked for time off since Jake began working at the store.
Occasionally one sibling or another would ask him what was wrong. He told them to shut up. They would try to say something and try to make him feel better. Maybe it would even work, a little bit, but right now he wanted nothing more than to wallow in his own miserable love.
“It’s really can’t be that bad,” said Mark a few times, and Shelley patted him on the shoulder and told him to cheer up, but mainly they left him alone.
On Valentine’s Day he didn’t even bother going to school. Instead, he put on his rattiest sweatshirt and jeans, slunk out of the house with his hands shoved into his pockets, and went down to the park to see Venus.
“I’m sorry,” he said, standing in front of her, hands clasped as if in prayer. “I’m sorry for throwing rocks at you and calling you mean names. I’m sorry for not appreciating the good looks you gave me. I should have… I don’t know, brought flowers to you sometimes or something. My life has been way easier than other people’s, thanks to you.”
The statue said nothing in return.
“It’s not fair, though!” continued Lucas. “I mean, I really like this guy… even if-” He stopped for a moment, a new thought dawning on him. “Is it because of my personality? Do people really only like me because I’m attractive? I mean… if I was just normal looking, would people not like me anymore? Maybe he doesn’t like me because I’m just… not a good person…?”
He was staring so intently into the blank bronze eyes of Venus that he barely noticed the voice.
“Lucas. Lucas, is that you?”
Lucas turned around to see Jake standing on the gravel pathway, shifting his weight awkwardly from foot to foot. In his right hand was a cane that he was clearly trying to keep discreetly behind him. Lucas was so startled he almost yelped. “Jake! What are you doing here?”
“Your brother called the bookstore and told my aunt he was worried about you. He said this is where you usually go.” Jake continued to look almost uncomfortable. “I’ve, uh, never been to this park before, so I had to ask directions from a whole bunch of people along the way. But I got here. So, hi.”
“Hi,” responded Lucas stupidly. “Did you hear… all that?”
Jake shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know how long you’ve been talking. There’s a statue there, right?” He took a step forward. “Your brother said you’d be with the Venus de Milo.”
Lucas laughed nervously. “Yeah, that’s her. Standing there. Mocking me. Listen…”
“Incidently, I don’t dislike you.” Jake looked sheepish, which Lucas hadn’t even thought was possible. “I’m sorry if I gave you that impression. I’m just sort of used to being, uh, pitied.” He said the last word with no small amount of bitterness. “So it takes me a while to warm up to people. Sorry.”
“I do actually like you. Quite a lot.”
Somehow, instead of making Lucas feel better, that made him feel worse. If Jake had hated him he at least could have blamed it on some malevolent higher power. If Jake liked him, he didn’t have that luxury, only a very awkward situation.
“But it’s… it’s, uh, not the same,” he said quietly. “As how I…”
Jake took another step forward. After a moment of feeling the air, he found Lucas’ shoulders and put his arm around them. “I wouldn’t be so sure.”
Before Jake could say anything else, Lucas leaned up and kissed him on the lips. If it was supposed to be some kind of joke, he didn’t care. He could do at least this much. It didn’t seem to be a joke, though: Jake kissed him back in a way that felt so good it was embarrasing. He wrapped his arms around Jake’s neck, temporarily forgetting where they were… until he saw a neighbor walking their dog down the path.
“Ah, there’s someone coming,” he said quickly.
“Well, we could go somewhere else.”
“Good idea,” said Jake. He took Lucas’ hand. “Let’s go.”
Before they left, Lucas turned to look at the Venus de Milo, a smile on his face. He hoped she was happy. He certainly was.
Twenty minutes later he was lying half-undressed on his bed with Jake lying on top of him. The dizzy pleasure he had felt when Jake touched him at the store had returned in full force, and he was incredibly hard: it was all he could do not to cry out, let alone keep his composure, which was already long since gone.
“Calm down,” said Jake softly, unbuttoning his pants. That only made him wriggle harder. “…Is this your first time?”
“Yeah,” said Lucas, then slid his pants down, reached up and tried somewhat vainly to unbutton the rest of Jake’s shirt. “But I… ahhh…” He blushed, frowned, and bit his lip in an attempt to stop making noise. “I’ll be fine. There’s… Vaseline in the drawer.”
Jake paused for a moment and leaned down. “And what are we going to do, exactly?” he asked, pressing his lips to Lucas’ ear.
“…Don’t make me say it,” said Lucas, flushing. He reached for the drawer himself and guided Jake’s hand to the jar. “Just do it.”
“Are you sure?”
Lucas nodded, pushing his head against Jake’s chest so he could feel the gesture. “Please.”
Jake nearly growled in agreement, leaning forward and kissing him fiercely.
It felt different than he thought it would, the times he had thought about it. He had expected it to hurt a bit. He hadn’t expected it to feel quite as good as it did – he shuddered as Jake slid into him, it felt so strange, but soon afterwards the strangeness was replaced by a melting sort of pleasure that left him breathless and straining for more.
“Please,” he gasped, legs braced against Jake’s shoulders. He placed his trembling hand over Jake’s, which was wrapped around his cock. “It’s good… ah…”
Jake began to stroke him faster, his other hand cradling Lucas’ back. “God, you’re beautiful,” he whispered horsely.
From anyone else it would have been annoying. From Jake it sent shivers through his body. He came, moaning and completely overwhelmed as Jake thrust into him harder and came himself only moments later.
The two older siblings of the Falkins family walked in through the kitchen door at exactly lunch that day to find Jake and Lucas, sitting at the kitchen table, drinking tea and holding hands. Lucas blushed as they came in, and dropped Jake’s hand, but continued smiling.
“Welcome home!” he said cheerfully, getting up from the table. “Shelley, Mark, this is Jake Edwards. Jake, these are my annoying siblings.”
Shelley shook Jake’s hand firmly, amd Mark followed suit. “Pleased to finally meet the object of my little brother’s affections.” He sniffed the air. “…House smells like romance. You two haven’t been up to any Valentine’s day antics, have you?”
“Nice to meet you too,” commented Jake dryly, taking a sip of his tea.
“Don’t worry about Mark, he’s just offensive by nature,” said Shelley. “…I tell you, though, I don’t envy your situation. Lucas is really popular. Everybody in the world is going to want to kill you and steal him for themself, you know?”
“They can try.”
Lucas looked to the frying pan on the back burner of the oven. “Are you guys just going to mock us, or did you actually want some food?”
“Both. I’m starved.” Mark pulled the top off the pan and looked inside. Immediately he burst into laughter. “Grilled cheese sandwiches?”
“Oh my god.” Shelley looked over and snickered. “That is so cute. You should have cut them into little hearts, too, that would have been perfect.”
Lucas turned red. “Shut up!”
“Never!” said Mark and Shelley in unison.
Jake took his hand again and squeezed. “Don’t worry,” he said quietly. “We can kill them if you like.”
Lucas grinned and squeezed back. “No, that’s fine,” he said. “I’m good.” Not even his brother and sister could ruin his mood today. In fact, he had a feeling that nothing was going to ruin his mood now for quite some time.