They Can’t Take That Away from Me

by Yamanashi Moe (山梨もえ)
illustrated by crowfish

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/85227.html)

Although I can’t dismiss
the mem’ry of his kiss,
I guess he’s not for me.
-“But Not For Me,” George and Ira Gershwin

Jake can’t remember where he got this CD and it’s driving him absolutely crazy. A burnt CD, of course, like most of his music collection, but he doesn’t recognize the brand of CD-R. It isn’t even really labeled; he just wrote ‘Jazz Music’ all in caps around the middle at some point.

The music is an hour and a half of jazz standards improvised on piano. And whoever’s playing them really knows his stuff, even he can figure that out. A couple of the songs he recognizes: “My Funny Valentine”, and that one Frank Sinatra sang, “Fly Me to the Moon”. Some of them he has no clue. They’re all just really beautiful, clearly played by someone who knows what he’s doing.

He’s always been kind of a forgetful guy. God knows there are plenty of things about his university life he doesn’t remember at all. But this one thing has gotten under his skin for reasons he can’t explain. Why is it in his apartment? Who gave it to him? The only person he knows who likes jazz is his brother’s fiancée Carla, in the voice department, and why the fuck would she burn him a CD?

Once he almost asked Carla if she knew any really good jazz pianists in the music program. Because maybe it’s someone at the university. But Mike would hear about it – Carla tells Mike nearly everything – and think he was crazy, because Mike knows him well enough to know that he isn’t that interested in jazz.

It’s just plain weird, that’s all. It’s gotten under his skin. Like the song. On the stupid CD.

And the really funny thing is that it’s somehow become his favourite possession. He doesn’t take it out with him for fear of losing it somewhere, but he has it on repeat almost every time he’s alone in his apartment. He can be walking down the street and find himself humming one of the tracks. And yet he has no idea where it’s from, where he got it, why he got it, or who’s playing the piano.

Actually, once he was listening to it and he started crying for no reason. And if anyone knew that, they really would think he was going crazy.

Maybe they’d be right.

***

Mike and Tessa have been fighting for years. Partly it’s just the way they were raised. The family didn’t move up from Missouri until Mike was sixteen, and at that point Mom and Dad were pretty conservative, especially when dealing with a teenage son. They mellowed out a little for Jake, and Tessa was raised pretty damn casually – which in Jake’s opinion goes a long way towards explaining why Mike goes to True Believers’ Baptist every Sunday while Tessa’s majoring in Women’s Studies.

Mom was an engineer and Dad was an accountant, which put the family pretty solidly in the middle class. They all went to public school, did stupid things but never got into too much trouble. And all three had trust funds, so while they couldn’t afford Harvard, they had enough to go to Uni.

Despite the luxury of being townies, all of the Wilson siblings moved out of their parents’ house early, deciding they would rather pay rent and have some privacy than live at home any longer than they needed to. So Tessa lives on campus and Jake has a studio apartment. As he’s a computer genius, Mike is the only one of them with a half-decent job, enough to afford a house. While Jake and Tessa slave away at burger joints and grocery stores, Mike is doing technician work with a company called Lacuna downtown. Apparently this has something to do with mapping brain waves or something, Jake isn’t really sure.

He did ask about it once when they were eating lunch together.

“Oh, it’s amazing,” said Mike quickly. “It’s absolutely cutting-edge technology, it’s going to revolutionize everything. See, there’s this non-surgical procedure, and the patient-” Then he stopped, looking a little bit awkward. “…Well, it’s kind of hard to explain.”

Jake only nodded. “That’s cool. I have no idea what you’re talking about anyway.”

Anyway, Mike and Tessa have had trouble ever since they were little and stealing each other’s candy canes at Christmas. Tessa pretty much hates Mike now, and judging by the comments Mike makes to him about women needing to understand their God-given role, the feeling is mutual.

Of course Jake is stuck in the middle of their fights. They don’t really talk, but he’s in frequent contact with both of them – Tessa and him have lunch all the time, and Mike’s always dragging him to parties that turn out to consist entirely of his friends from church – so they can fight through him. And they do. All the time.

“For one thing,” says Tessa frequently, “he talks about sex being a sin outside of marriage, but he’s living with Carla, isn’t he? You don’t think that’s a little hypocritical?”

“Well, it’s a two-bedroom. Maybe they’re not having sex.”

“Yeah, right. Do you really believe that?”

“It’s none of my business.”

“Well, Mike sure as hell thinks your sex life is his business.”

Jake is about to answer that Mike doesn’t know anything about his sex life, and then realizes that it’s because he doesn’t have one – a sex life, that is – so in the end he doesn’t answer her. And they talk about something else. Tessa’s always been good about noticing subjects he wants to avoid.

When Mike trash-talks Tessa he does it a little more discreetly. Like, he’ll move the conversation in such a way that they have to bring her up, and then when Jake mentions that she’s doing one thing or another, Mike will sigh and say something like “someday, Tessa is going to end up all alone, and she’ll have nobody but herself to blame.”

There are times when Jake feels like he’s spent most his life being the middle ground between the two of them. They both have this charisma that he doesn’t. He’s had a lot of friends, but not many of them were close, and his friends at Uni are sort of casual too. In high school he was on the football team, smoked pot at parties sometimes, but didn’t do anything interesting or valuable.

University hasn’t changed much. He hoped that he would find something to inspire him, but so far it’s been just like high school with less parties.

Right now he’s getting his degree in Poly Sci, but he’s not sure what he’s going to do with it, or even if he’ll bother seeing it through. It’s not interesting for him. One of his friends suggested that he transfer into something else, and he remembers having had this thought before, but the idea worries him because he’s not sure what else he would do. The main thing University is doing for him right now is making his writing less legible.

His tastes are bland. He likes most of the music he hears, including all the crap on the radio, and whatever books people recommend to him. He has a PS2, but he doesn’t really play video games. Probably everyone feels like this sometimes – that their interests aren’t interesting, that their life has no purpose – but Jake can’t help but think that in his case, it might just be the truth. He can’t shake the feeling that there’s something missing.

Unlike Tessa and Mike, he has nothing to ground him in reality, except maybe his stupid freaking CD. But at least that might give him a certain objectivity that they lack.

And his objective opinion is that they really both need to calm down. Obviously Mike is a little too conservative, and he needs to get over the fact that other people’s personal lives are none of his business, but he doesn’t actually interfere with them the way Tessa seems to think he does. And Tessa shouldn’t treat him like some kind of fascist fundamentalist nutcase. Mike’s a normal guy, after all. So what’s the problem?

***

Jake does this thing where he’ll get off class and start to wander around, and then somehow before he knows it his feet will take him to the music buildings. They’re located off near the edge of campus, little old buildings in need of renos but still nice-looking in a seventies kind of way, and there’s a grassy courtyard with a giant iron-cast tuning fork in the middle. He finds it kind of hilarious, and he likes to sit and read there before lunch.

He’s never taken any classes near here, but probably he met a friend here once and liked it. He can’t remember exactly when.

Today he’s sitting on the bench reading an economics textbook, and none of it is getting through to his brain. Eventually he closes the book, leans back in his seat and looks up at the sky. It’s a nice day; the kind you get just before the cold really sets in, where the sky is clear and the breeze is still warm.

Somebody must have left a classroom window open because he can hear a piano playing nearby. It sounds–

It sounds familiar, that’s what.

He jumps to his feet. Heads in the direction of the sound. He leaves his book on the bench without even thinking about it, he’ll pick it up later, if he remembers, because the music? Is what’s on his mystery CD. As he turns the corner of the Gillespie Building he can recognize it even more clearly – he knows enough about jazz to know that everyone plays in a different way, and this arrangement is identical to the one on the CD. And considering how many times he’s listened to it, he should know.

The music is coming from a room in the north wing, one of the basement rooms. Jake has to get on his hands and knees to look through the window.

It’s a little lecture room, built to hold maybe twenty people, empty except for the musician seated at the piano. He’s a black kid – no, not a kid, actually he looks old enough to be like a grad student – with close-cropped hair and beautiful elegant fingers, and he’s playing with his eyes closed, grimacing in concentration like the music is physically hurting him.

Without really thinking about it, Jake gets up off the ground and walks around to the nearest door into the building. He descends the staircase into the basement, stands in front of the door to the room for a moment, then takes a deep breath and walks in.

There’s a horribly clashing chord as the guy sees him and abruptly stops playing. He’s staring at Jake like he’s seen a ghost. “What.” He rises to his feet. “What are you doing here?”

Jake winces, instantly feeling really creepy. He should have known better than to barge into someone’s practice room, especially someone he doesn’t know. “Sorry!” He holds his hands up in a non-threatening way. “I didn’t mean to interrupt you, man. I just heard you playing and I thought it sounded really good.”

“Ah, no, that’s okay.” The guy is still visibly shaken, but gathers up his music and stuffs it in the backpack beside the piano. “I’ve gotta go anyway.”

“Hey, uh,” and Jake knows he should just leave it at this, but the idea of leaving it here when he’s so close to finding out about his stupid fucking CD is too much. “What’s that song you were playing? I’ve heard it before.”

“‘Stormy Weather,’ Arlen and Koehler, from the thirties,” says the guy, sounding like he’s reciting from rote memory. He has a nice voice – it’s pleasant to listen to, kind of rich. “Uh, Frank Sinatra sang it once, and Lena Horne did it in a movie, you might have heard one of those. It’s used as lounge music a lot, these days.” He cracks a wry grin. “Which is a shame, it’s a pretty song.”

Jake nods. “Yeah, it is.” He can’t help but add, “so are you in the Music department?”

“I’m doing my Masters. In piano. Jazz.” The guy is speaking in a weird, sort of halting way, as if he’s having trouble forming the words.

“Cool. Yeah, I’m just doing my bachelor’s. Uh, not in music, though-”

The guy nods. “I know.” Then stops. “I mean, I figured. I mean, I haven’t seen you…” All of a sudden he looks like there’s something he’s forgotten, and this really awful expression comes onto his face. “Listen, like I said, I really need to get going…” He slings his backpack over his shoulder.

“That’s cool.” Jake is sort of fumbling for something to say now. “I’m, uh, Jake Wilson, by the way.”

The guy nods back. “Yeah. Okay.” Either he’s really not interested or just really in a hurry, Jake can’t quite figure which. “I. I… yeah.” He sighs and spreads his hands in what looks like a gesture of defeat. “Um, nice meeting you.”

He starts to head out the door. Jake realizes that this conversation is now officially over, and if he doesn’t act soon, he’s going to lose his chance to solve the mystery of the burnt CD. But there’s no way he can say anything without this guy thinking he’s totally nuts.

So he decides to let it go for now. Except that his voice doesn’t seem to clue in.

“Uh, what’s your name?”

The guy turns around one last time. “Adrian Hines,” and then just as quickly he walks out the door.

Jake is left staring after him.

Mike and Carla invite him over for dinner that night. Carla makes spaghetti with meatballs; Jake eats them dutifully, unsure of how to tell her he’s been thinking of going vegetarian. Jars of Clay is playing on the stereo as they eat. Over the last few years Mike has pretty much stopped listening to quote-unquote secular music, although he will let Carla play her opera CDs as long as they’re not too loud.

“There’s this new girl at True Believer, and she’s in Poly Sci too,” says Mike, too casually to actually be casual. “And she’s your age. You guys would probably get along. You know, show her around town…”

“Not much to show,” replies Jake. He’s experienced this enough times to know when Mike is trying to set him up, and how best to deflect it. He has no interest in meeting this girl. Or any other girl from True Believer. Possibly any other girl period, but that’s something he hasn’t really thought through, and doesn’t want to.

Carla passes around the garlic bread one last time. “Jake? You want some more?”

“Yeah, thanks,” he says, grateful for the opportunity to change the subject. “I still can’t believe you make this stuff by yourself. It’s so good.”

This is an excellent thing to say, because Mike now looks mock-indignant and has forgotten to continue the previous line of conversation. “I helped!”

“Yes, yes, of course you did,” says Carla soothingly. “Now hand me the salt, please?”

And all of a sudden Jake remembers that he’s seen Adrian before. On the first day of classes this year he was walking to the Student Union Building and on his way there, he made eye contact with someone for just a moment, before the other guy looked down and walked away. And he’s positive that was Adrian.

And actually, now that he thinks about it, that time, didn’t Adrian look really… weird… when their eyes met? Like, shocked? Or was that just his imagination?

“Carla,” he says haltingly, “do you know a guy… no, never mind.”

For some reason, he doesn’t want to share his meeting Adrian with Mike and Carla. Not that there was anything that unusual about it. But it’s his private business and he wants to keep it to himself.

***

The next time he sees Adrian is a few weeks later, and the air has gotten colder. Jake has started wearing his windbreaker. Already it seems like the dead of winter, although intellectually he knows it’s going to get a lot colder before spring comes around again. Mike and Carla have invited him to a fundraiser concert for the Voice Program: Carla’s singing the Jewel Song from Faust and she’s asked everyone she knows to come for extra support.

Inside the auditorium is a little too warm, in the way institutional buildings tend to be in the winter. He sees some of the guys he knows, but takes a seat next to Mike, so he’ll be sure to know that Jake’s there.

“Hey!” says Mike cheerfully. “How’s it going, dude? I’ve been praying for you!”

“Not too bad,” replies Jake, ignoring the last comment as he usually does. Mike should know exactly how he is, since they talked yesterday, but he seems to like keeping tabs on Jake’s life. This is probably a typical big brother kind of thing. “How about you?”

Mike shakes his head. “Can’t complain. Work’s pretty busy right now, but when is it not?”

Jake is about to ask what they’re working on, but the head of the program comes on to say a few words and thank everyone for coming, and the concert begins.

First up are the Classical vocalists. This isn’t really Jake’s kind of music, but it’s interesting to listen to anyway. Of course Carla does a fantastic job, and both Mike and Jake cheer uproariously when she finishes her song. “She’s so blessed,” says Mike proudly.

“She’s got a great voice, that’s for sure,” replies Jake.

After that come a couple opera singers. Jake starts to lose interest pretty quickly. He’ll probably go home during intermission, after he gets a chance to congratulate Carla. He’s almost dozing off when someone comes on to announce the last section before intermission – the Jazz vocalists.

The music is pretty good, and the crowd is definitely more interested now than they were before. Jake even recognizes some of the tunes. But he doesn’t take much notice until the last singer of the first half gets up on stage.

She’s a heavy-set black woman in a ruffled shirt who introduces herself as Evangeline Arquez. And with the first halting chords of the piano, she bursts into a standard jazz ballad with a voice so strong and passionate it blows the audience away. Jake is so stunned by her voice, he doesn’t notice until the second verse that the accompanist at the grand piano is none other than Adrian Hines.

Adrian plays the piano with a delicate, masterful hand. In the half-shadows of his position on the stage he looks like something out of an old movie.

“It started out so well, but what an end
This is the time a fella needs a friend…”

He was aware before that Adrian’s an attractive man, but something about the way he looks tonight, when he’s performing rather than just practicing, is stunning. Jake literally can’t take his eyes off him for the entire song. It’s as if all the confusion in his life melts away until Adrian is the only thing left in the world.

“When every happy plot
Ends with a marriage knot
And there’s no knot…”

As Evangeline pauses, Adrian holds the chord. His eyes close for a moment, and when he breathes, it looks as though he’s shuddering.

“…for me.”

The audience explodes with applause, but Jake is barely aware of it. He leaps to his feet as soon as the intermission starts. The only thought in his mind is that he wants to see Adrian right now, that he can’t wait.

He finds him in the crush of performers, standing against a wall unbuttoning the top of his shirt. There’s a touch of sweat on his bare collarbone and the sight of it makes Jake’s mouth dry for some reason. Evangeline is standing beside him, fanning herself with a sheaf of sheet music, and they are talking.

“-See, I don’t know if I feel right about playing with them. After all, I’m not really part of the group, you know? What if I mess up the dynamics?”

“Oh, come on. You are thinking way too hard about this. You guys are all friends, they’re talented, you’re talented, what’s the problem? I guarantee the quartet’s gonna sound ten times better once you’re playing. Besides, you need to get out of the house more often.”

“Yeah. I guess you’re right. Well, I’ll talk to them about it-”

“Uh, hey,” starts Jake awkwardly.

Adrian turns to look at him. Moments later, so does Evangeline. When she sees Jake her eyes narrow, and she takes a step forward to place herself almost protectively in front of Adrian. “What,” she says, and Jake is shocked at the obvious anger in her voice, “are you doing here.”

“I, uh, just wanted to-”

“There is nothing you can say.” Evangeline is almost spitting her words now. “Do you have any idea what you’ve done to him? What he went through after you…”

Adrian shakes his head. He looks about as uncomfortable as Jake feels. “Chill, Eva. It’s okay.”

“It’s not okay!”

“Look-”

But Evangeline ignores him. “…You just stay away from him, if you know what’s good for you. You’d better believe I’m not the only friend of Adrian’s who’d be happy to see you in intensive care.” Looking at Adrian, her expression becomes gentle. “Come on, Ay, let’s go grab some coffee or something. My treat, okay?”

She turns and heads for the exit. Just like before, Jake is left standing alone as Adrian follows her away.

No, he thinks belatedly. I have no idea what I’ve done to him. Will someone please tell me?

Out of the corner of his eye he can see Mike and Carla. They are arguing about something, Mike says “you didn’t tell me he would” and Carla says “I didn’t know” and then they are out of earshot because Jake is heading – not through the same exit, that would look creepy and wrong – out of the building. He has no desire now to stay for the rest of the concert.

***

Over winter break Jake prays that he will accidentally run into Adrian somewhere. It doesn’t work. But he’s become hyper-aware of the fact that Adrian is living in this town, that maybe while he’s walking someplace he will glimpse Adrian in the crowd. He finds the thought of him coming up at odd times: his hesitant, begrudging smile, his rich voice, the way he shakes his head just a little as he gently but inexorably pushes Jake away.

At least before this all he had to worry about was the stupid CD.

As far back as he can remember, Jake has never actually been interested… sexually… in another human being. He had a couple of girlfriends in high school but things never got too far. They broke up with him because he didn’t care enough about them. It was a totally legitimate reason, and he never got really mad about it.

He’s kissed a couple of guys in his life, too, but that didn’t go anywhere. Not that it was bad. It wasn’t what he wanted, though. Really, nothing has been. He had his friends and family and that’s been all.

So it’s hard for him to understand what it is about Adrian. It’s just that… when Jake talks to him, it feels like he knows him really well, even though they’re barely acquaintances, let alone friends. It’s confusing. But instead of making him uncomfortable, it just makes him want to know more.

Of course he keeps listening to the CD. Except now when he does it he thinks about Adrian, and wonders if maybe the fact that it’s Adrian playing these songs that makes it so special to him. It makes no sense. But what does?

He can’t remember ever having felt this way about anyone before.

And he’s been having dreams. Some are obviously sexual, and so real that they wake him up throbbing hard and force him to jerk off before he can think about anything else.

But there are others, too, where he’s just sitting on a couch or lying in bed with someone he can’t see clearly. And those ones are the worst, because it feels like there’s something outside the edge of his conscious mind, and if he could just grasp it, everything would fall back into place. And his life would make sense.

The first school day of the new year, Adrian is outside the Gillespie Building as Jake is not-really-coincidentally passing by.

“Hey,” he says, and Adrian nods in response. “How was your break?”

Adrian shrugs his shoulders. “It was fine,” he says. Then, uncharacteristically, he offers more information. “I did some playing with a friend’s quartet. That went pretty well.”

Maybe he feels guilty about what happened at the benefit concert. And Jake would feel guilty himself for taking advantage of that, but this may be his chance to really talk to Adrian. “Yeah? I wish I could have heard it. I’m sure people tell you this all the time, but you’re so talented. Are you going to go professional, or what?”

“I dunno.” Adrian shakes his head. “It’s tough to make a living doing music full-time. Especially jazz. I’ll see what happens. Maybe I’ll do some teaching, if things don’t work out.”

Jake nods appreciatively. “I think you can make it, though. Oh, and, uh, so I wanted to tell you, I’m really sorry about that thing at intermission at the show. That was just a mess, I don’t even know what happened there.” He scratches his head rather sheepishly, all the while examining Adrian for clues, like some kind of detective.

But the guy’s got his game face on. “Yeah, I’m sorry, too. Eva isn’t usually like that. I think she must have mistook you for someone else.”

“Oh, yeah, no worries. She’s really good though! And so are you.”

“Thanks…”

Jake takes a deep breath. He had no idea what he was planning when he started this conversation, but for him, this is what it all comes down to. It’s not even about the CD anymore. It’s about Adrian. And it’s about time he admitted that to himself.

“Do you maybe want to have coffee sometime?”

Apparently this is the wrong thing to say.

“No,” says Adrian quietly, turning his eyes away from Jake. “Look, if I’ve given you the impression… I’m sorry. Just trust me on this one, that’s an amazingly bad idea. In fact, I don’t want to… I mean, I’ve been meaning to… it would really be better if we didn’t speak any more. I’m sorry.”

Jake shakes his head. “No, no, I’m the one who should apologize… I’m not sure what I… well, anyway. I guess it doesn’t matter.” He tries to smile. “I didn’t mean to bother you.”

“You don’t bother me.” Adrian’s hands clench into fists. “Please believe that.”

And with that he walks away.

But there was this slight tremour in his voice. So even though he’s just been completely hardcore rejected by someone he likes very much and – well – is attracted to, and he feels so low he could pretty much sink into the concrete and die, Jake can’t help but wonder what the hell is going on.

***

Occasionally Tessa will invite him out to WS events. The department has matinees at the campus movie theatre on Thursdays – this time it’s a screening of Dreamgirls, which Jake saw when it came out, although he can’t remember who he was with. Maybe Tessa. Or maybe not.

It’s got to be the biggest turn-out he’s ever seen at one of these things. People are yelling things at the screen and singing along with the songs. Jake doesn’t do any of that, but he has a good time anyway.

“And I am TELLING YOU!” shouts Tessa, exhilarated, as they spill out the theatre doors with the rest of the noisy crowd. “IIIIIII’M NOT GOOOOING!”

Jake has to laugh. She’s a terrible singer, but her enthusiasm is contagious. “Jennifer Hudson would be proud.”

“Orrrrr maybe she’d punch me in the face.” Tessa laughs sheepishly. “Well, whatever. Uh, hey, wanna sit down for a second?” She points to a bench next to the exit.

Jake nods. “Yeah, sure. What’s up?”

They sit down together, watching as the moviegoers trail off around the campus. Tessa shrugs her shoulders. In her ratty jeans and t-shirt she almost looks like a kid again. “Not a whole lot. Lots of schoolwork, doing some projects, working, roommate is probably insane, you know how it goes. How about you?”

“Nothing, really.” Jake shrugs right back. “Work, school, don’t have a roommate anymore, Mike keeps hovering over my shoulder implying I should date a girl from True Believer.”

“Yeah?” Tessa pauses for a moment and continues very carefully. “So what, are you seeing anyone?”

And Jake can only laugh at that, because she’s asking this question for the first time, just after his first real — although completely disastrous — attempt to, well, ‘see someone.’ Tessa has always had excellent timing. “No, of course not. You know me. What about you?”

“Oh god, no way.”

“Well, I guess that makes us two of a kind, huh.”

Now Tessa looks slightly awkward. She takes a deep breath. “…Jake, do you maybe want to talk about it?”

Jake frowns. “Talk about what?”

“Look.” Tessa’s voice has gone tight. “I didn’t want to be the first one to mention this. Mike said you didn’t ever want to talk about it, and I respect that. …But I’ve been waiting all this time for you to say something and you’ve– you’ve never even brought it up once! Why did you guys break up?”

“…What…?”

“You and Adrian,” says Tessa, as if this is the most obvious thing in the world. “Why did you break up? It doesn’t make any sense! I’ve asked him, too, but he won’t tell me what happened. All I know is that one day-”

Jake stares. “What… are you talking about?”

Tessa throws her hands in the air in frustration. “See? This is exactly what I mean! You just keep trying to pretend it never happened, and it’s messed up! Jake, you guys were together for nearly two years! You were going to move in together! I mean, you had normal fights, like everybody, but you were in love! And now you ask me what I’m talking about? You can’t just throw it all away, you need to deal with it! Why did you break up?”

Everything stops.

As if from a great distance, Jake can hear his CD playing, the chords of Adrian’s music echoing in his mind. He feels sick enough to vomit. At the same time he feels as though something has finally fallen into place.

“Tessa,” he says quietly.

She turns to look at him. Her eyes are shining with a concern that he realizes now has been there all along. “Yeah?”

“Tessa, this is so fucked up. I…” Jake buries his head in his hands. “There’s something seriously wrong with me. There’s got to be, because I don’t remember any of this.”

Now it’s Tessa’s turn to be confused. “What do you mean…?”

“For a while now I’ve felt like there’s something really important missing in my life. And this makes so much sense, because I see him and it’s like I know him, and I…” He thinks for a second of Adrian, and that second is all it takes to realize how he feels, and it’s enough to nearly kill him. “Yeah, I really do love him, don’t I? It makes so much sense. But it’s all gone, I know it sounds insane. You have to believe me. I don’t remember.”

A gust of wind comes up from nowhere. Suddenly the afternoon is getting cold.

Jake looks up to see Tessa watching him. She is crying. “Oh my god,” she says, and wraps her arms around him. “Oh my god, you don’t.”

***

“I need to talk to you.”

Mike is sitting in his armchair in the living room, watching some worship music show on TV. He turns his head when Jake walks in, and smiles. “Hey! What’s up, man? You wanna stay for dinner? Carla’s making-”

“I know what you did.”

Jake slams the papers down on the coffee table. The receptionist at Lacuna gave him an informational pamphlet and finally, after he pressed her hard enough, a photocopy of his registration forms. He read everything. Now he knows the truth. And it’s tearing him up inside.

“It was so strange that I never knew anything about your job. But it’s not that I didn’t know – I used to know. It got erased… along with everything else.”

Silence.

“Adrian and I were dating. And you erased all my memories of him. That’s why my life is so weird now.” Jake grits his teeth hard to keep himself from yelling. “Mike. This is your job at Lacuna? You’ve been… this is so fucked up. It’s so wrong.”

“It’s not wrong.” Mike sighs deeply, turning off the TV. “The company just… gives people what they want.”

I didn’t want this!”

“Look, man. If you’ve seen the waiver, you should know, right? That’s your signature. You signed those forms.” His shakes his head a little regretfully. It’s a good act. “I didn’t do anything. This was your idea.”

“That’s not my signature.”

“What are you talking about? It’s right there-”

“No,” says Jake loudly. “I thought it was mine, at first. But you know something? I changed how I write my signature when I started University, because someone told me it was too legible. This is my signature from high school. And I know you could copy my writing in high school because you used to do homework for me. Remember?” His voice gets louder. Belatedly he realizes that if Carla’s in the kitchen she can probably hear what they’re saying, but he goes on. “You forged my signature. I… can’t believe you could do this to me.”

And now Mike stands up, tries to put an arm around Jake, although he shrugs it off. “Jake, I was trying to help you.”

“So you admit it.”

“Because I care about you! And I can’t stand the thought that I could lose you for… for eternity!” Mike sighs again. “We’ve talked about this, but you just didn’t understand the danger you were in. Homosexuality is a mortal sin, Jake. And God doesn’t forgive you just because you think you’re in love.”

Jake had a sick feeling this was coming. But it doesn’t make it any easier. “This is about religion, then.”

“It’s about saving your soul. You’re my little brother, and it’s my job to look out for you. And you were making a terrible mistake. How could I just sit back and watch while you destroyed your chance for salvation? Look, I know it seems unfair, but this is what God wants for you. Someday you’ll understand.”

“So Tessa was right.” Jake shakes his head, slowly. “I always thought she was exaggerating. I just didn’t want to see it. You are a fundamentalist nutcase.”

Mike looks genuinely hurt, then angry. “Did Tessa say that about me?”

“Well, it’s the truth, isn’t it? What you did is illegal. And sick.

“It was the only way to keep you from him. What choice did I have?” And the sick thing is that Jake knows Mike enough to know that he totally believes all the bullshit he’s spouting. In a messed up way, his logic is totally right – if you’ve got the technology to save your brother from the fiery pits of hell, and you do nothing, you’re aiding and abetting the forces of darkness. But right now, that doesn’t make things any easier.

“What about Adrian?”

“…What?”

Jake thinks back over the times he’s met Adrian. No wonder he acted so confusingly. “If you’re so worried about saving souls, what about his? I broke his heart. I think. And I don’t know if there’s anything I can say to make it better, let alone… well, I’m pretty sure that even if I explain…”

“I’m sorry, Jake. He’s a lost cause.” Mike spreads his hands in a gesture of helplessness. “I tried to talk to him. About Lacuna. But he didn’t want to have anything to do with it.”

“Well of course not.” Jake stops. “Wait. Did you tell him…”

“About what you did, yeah. And I said it would be best if he didn’t contact you. That’s standard procedure.”

“So he thinks that I… oh my God. This is so fucked up. I trusted you. You’re my brother, man. And you destroyed a part of me just because you thought you had the right to control my life.” Jake turns around. Partly this is because he doesn’t want to let Mike see him start to cry. “I have to go find him. He deserves to know the truth, at least.”

“Wait, Jake!”

Jake turns around for the last time. Against hope he wants to believe that Mike might apologize, say it was all a mistake. But Mike doesn’t look apologetic. He looks angry.

“How do you know it was going to work out anyway?”

“…What?”

“How do you know things were going to work out?” Mike looks disgustingly self-righteous. “Gays aren’t like normal people. You can’t build a lasting relationship on lies. Maybe he was already planning on leaving you. Maybe you were planning on it, and I just got there before you could. Think about it, Jake. You’re playing a dangerous game. And this time, when your soul is in danger, I’m not going to be there to save you.”

Jake doesn’t even bother to dignify that with a response.

Carla approaches him as he is heading out the door. Her face is tight with shock.

“Listen, Jake,” she says, reaching out tentatively as if to touch his shoulder, “I need to tell you. I didn’t know. I swear I didn’t. Mike said you guys broke up. I mean, I don’t approve of… you know… but I never would have-” she grimaces, “you have to know that. I’m so sorry.”

“I understand,” Jake says, and surprisingly, it’s the truth. “It’s okay. I just… I’ve gotta go find Adrian right now.”

***

By the time he gets to the Gillespie Building it’s almost ten, and although the lights are on inside, the front door is locked. But that’s okay. Jake knows where he’s going. He heads around the corner to that basement room in the north wing. The one where he’s probably been more than just that once.

Adrian is sitting at the piano. His hands are on the keyboard but he’s not playing.

The window is unlocked, and it’s just big enough that with some effort, Jake manages to wedge it open and climb into the room. Adrian looks up, startled.

“Adrian.” Jake gives an awkward little wave. Then he has to blink to keep tears from forming in his eyes. “I know about everything now. I don’t remember, but I know. And… my God, I’m so sorry.” He keeps going, speaking quickly. “I never meant to hurt you like this. If it means anything… Mike did it without my consent. I never would have… but that probably doesn’t make any difference now, huh…?”

Adrian takes a sort of shaky breath. “…I thought as much,” he says, and his voice is so quiet Jake has to step closer to hear him. “He told me it had been your decision. But I didn’t really believe that.”

“You didn’t.”

“Yeah, well.” Adrian shrugs his shoulders half-heartedly. “And then he offered to pay for it if I… if I wanted the procedure done. So I sort of punched him.”

“Good,” says Jake emphatically. And then, “I’m so sorry. I mean, no wonder you didn’t want to see me-”

“Of course I’ve wanted to see you.” Adrian stands up. “I wanted to see you ever since Mike told me what happened. I was just too scared. Then I saw you at the Student Union Building, and you didn’t even recognize me… and I couldn’t say anything. I mean, you would have thought that I was crazy.”

Jake shrugs his shoulders, sighing. “You know something? I… might have believed you, to be honest. I’ve already been feeling crazy. Which I guess is understandable, now.”

“Yeah.” And Adrian actually smiles, albeit wistfully. “You know, when you asked me out for coffee the other day, that was the exact same thing you said when we first met? That’s why I… I mean, I could have been nicer about that. But it was so weird.”

“No, it’s not that you weren’t nice about it.” Jake scratches his head a little sheepishly. “It just wasn’t what I wanted to hear.”

That gets him a little laugh. “Sorry. I’m glad about that, though.”

Jake isn’t sure if he’s supposed to do this, if it’s okay. But automatically he steps forward and enfolds Adrian in a hug. “I’m so sorry. You have no idea.” Adrian is stiff and awkward for a moment, and Jake is almost going to draw back. But then he relaxes and lays his head on Jake’s shoulder. “I just don’t know what to say.”

“It’s not your fault.”

“But I should have realized something like this was going to happen. I mean, I don’t know…” Jake shakes his head. “It just about kills me that I lost you because of something so stupid.”

Adrian’s voice is very quiet. “Well. You didn’t lose me forever.”

“I, uh-”

“It’s true that I was hurt,” Adrian continues quickly. “And I went through a lot of stuff after you… Okay, there was a period where I didn’t deal with it very well. And Eva was sort of taking care of me, which is why she hates you so much.” He winces. “She’d be a lot happier if I never saw you again. And I admit for a while I thought that would be best. But I can’t give up just because I got hurt. I’m not a quitter.”

Jake grins weakly. “Neither am I, I guess. …Look, even if I don’t remember, I think I’m probably still in love with you.” The words feel right the second they’re out of his mouth. “And I know… that I don’t have the right to ask this. But I want another chance.”

“Me too,” says Adrian.

And before Jake is entirely sure what just happened Adrian is leaning in to kiss him. Finally. It’s like all the tension in his body evaporates, so that he almost can’t stay standing up. He returns the kiss eagerly, gratefully, and then it deepens and he needs to hold Adrian closer.

Pressed up against each other he can feel that Adrian is hard, and just the thought of that makes him hard too. Automatically his hands reach for the button of Adrian’s jeans. Then he realizes he might be going too fast. “Uh, do you want…?”

“Of course.” Adrian looks a little embarrassed. “But… here?”

That’s right, they’re in a classroom. Jake had sort of forgotten. He thinks for a moment. “Well, I guess we could go to my place. Or yours. But I mean, it would take a while.”

“You’re right,” says Adrian, with a shaky smile. “Here’s good.”

And without another thought Jake drops to his knees.

The instant he takes Adrian’s cock into his mouth he knows he’s done this before. It’s uncut, maybe the same size as his and somehow it… fits. When he presses his tongue to the tip, Adrian makes a little choking noise at the back of his throat and sinks back onto the piano bench.

“Oh my god,” he says, and then, “Jake, you don’t have to…”

“I know. But I want to.”

He’s not really surprised to find that he enjoys this. Soon enough he settles into a rhythm, easy, kind of slow, he doesn’t want it to be over too soon. His right hand is steady at the base of Adrian’s cock. Adrian’s hips jerk up every time Jake bobs his head. He looks up to see him watching with half-lidded eyes. From the way he looks right now it won’t take long.

He manages to unzip his fly one-handed and get his own cock out but it’s too dry. He takes his right hand off Adrian’s cock and strokes himself like that. It’s wet and sticky with spit, and it’s not perfect, but close enough.

“Oh my god,” whispers Adrian between panting breaths.

Usually when he jerks off it’s more like scratching an itch that anything else. But he can feel Adrian’s eyes on him now, and Adrian’s cock is hot in his mouth, and that makes all the difference in the world. He jerks himself off clumsily in the same rhythm he’s sucking Adrian, on his knees on the tiled floor of the classroom, and he can’t remember ever feeling this good in his life.

But he has. And when he thinks of that – how many times they must have done this, maybe even in this room, how, oh God, Adrian must have sucked his cock too – he can’t help actually moaning.

Then Adrian’s fingers catch in his hair and hold so tight Jake thinks maybe he did something wrong. He pulls away for a second. “Uh, is everything okay? I mean… is it good?”

“It’s really good, it’s just been a while, that’s all,” and Adrian looks almost embarrassed, “I’m almost…”

“Cool.” Jake looks up at Adrian. “Uh, do I usually swallow?”

Adrian’s eyes go slightly wide at this question. “N-no,” he manages.

“Really?” Jake briefly wonders why. Then a grin spreads across his face, and he shrugs. “Well. First time for everything.”

And that finishes Adrian off, just like he thought it would. The taste is salty and kind of weird. But he does swallow it, and it’s worth it to watch Adrian’s eyelids flutter, to hear him moan as he comes. Then he whimpers “Jake” and obviously there’s no way he can last any longer after that.

Afterwards they sit together on the classroom floor, sweaty and messy and happy, and Adrian tells him about how they met. It was a fundraiser for the Music department – not a concert, just a bake sale. Jake had come by at Carla’s insistence and dropped a tray of cupcakes on Adrian’s lap while he was manning the table. They hit it off when they went to the washroom to clean his pants. After that it was all downhill.

Jake knows it’s going to be weird. Adrian has memories of the entire two years they spent together, memories that Jake can never get back. But as cheesy as it sounds, there can be other memories. And he believes in his heart that between the two of them they can make this work.

He knows where his place is now.

“…Did you ever… burn me a CD?” he asks.

Adrian thinks for a moment. Then he smiles. “Yeah, I did. A few months after we started dating. You wanted to know more about jazz, so I recorded some stuff and gave it to you. You… still have it?”

“Yeah, I do.” Jake thinks of the CD. Maybe it was sitting on his dresser drawer, or maybe in his CD player, unlabeled, overlooked when everything else connecting him to Adrian was taken or destroyed. He feels a sudden rush of gratitude towards the universe and puts his arm around Adrian’s shoulders.

“Cool,” says Adrian, snuggling in closer.

Jake grins. “Yeah.”

illustrated by crowfish

END

Note: Much thanks to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

[soundtrack]



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