by T.F. Grognon
“Hey, rent-a-cop!” the hot busker out front calls when Huck’s hurrying to clock in on time. “Back that ass up!”
The busker is obnoxious, and not that great at making money, thanks to his tendency to mock passers-by and question their taste when they try to make requests. He’s also remarkably handsome, if you like dark olive skin, a large assertive nose, a short shiny black beard, bottomless brown eyes under sleepy curved lids, and absurdly long lashes.
Huck does like those things, a lot. Even more, he likes their particular combination on this dude.
“Later, man,” Huck tells him, breaking into a run.
He has to take a crosstown bus to get here, to the heart of the financial district, from his suburban campus. It doesn’t matter when he leaves. He is, invariably, almost late. His best friend Bobbi says it’s psychological, even Freudian, that he can’t be on time for work or class. There’s somewhere, she says, that he’d rather be.
Huck’s not convinced. He thinks public transit just might suck.
“Holding you to that!” the busker yells after him.
Huck makes it to the clock with 84 seconds to spare, a new personal close shave record.
He has only had this job for about a month, but it’s already better than any other he’s had for one simple reason. He can sit down. Sure, he has to do patrols every couple hours, through the public areas inside and out, but the rest of the time, he can sit. He has a desk, even, and as long as he’s neat about it, he can do homework.
Every other job he’s had involved both a uniform and standing, either at a fryer, a dishwasher, or a cash register. On some shifts, all three.
Now he’s down to just a uniform. He hopes to move past that, too, but even if everything goes according to plan, he won’t make detective for about eight years.
He’s getting ahead of himself, since he’s only halfway through the criminal justice certificate, not even a cop yet.
When he sets out for his first set of rounds, the busker — Huck’s sure the guy’s name can’t be “Pym,” because what kind of name is that? (says the guy named Huck; he can hear Bobbi laughing at him) — motions him over with a lazy head tilt and coquettish finger wave.
He’s perched on a long slab of black granite, acoustic guitar in his lap, smirk on his handsome bearded face.
“Man, you know you can’t sit here,” Huck tells him. “Private property. You’re free to set up right over there –” He points at the municipal bench just off the complex’s grounds, mere paces away.
“But the acoustics suck over there!”
“Got to move you along, I’m sorry.” Huck makes shooing motions with his hand and the guy just smirks harder, if that’s physically possible.
“If I didn’t sit here, you wouldn’t talk to me,” he says.
Huck runs a hand over his head. He just got a fade, and though the evening is cool, he can feel sweat beading on what’s left of his hair. “That’s bullshit. Of course I’d talk to you.”
Busker grins then, an entirely different expression from his usual dyspeptic smirk. It’s broad, and bright, and Huck feels like someone in a cartoon, blinking at the radiance. “No way?”
“Way,” Huck says. With his toe, he nudges the guitar case on the ground between them. “C’mon, man. Move?”
He shouldn’t phrase it as a question. He’s supposed to have authority, and the first secret to having authority is acting like you already have it.
He really doesn’t like telling people what to do.
(Which makes becoming a cop pretty much a ridiculous goal, but he’s not going to think about that right now.)
“I’m going, I’m going,” the busker mumbles, without moving in the least. In fact, if anything, he looks looser. “Did you listen to the songs I told you about yet?”
“Yeah, I did.” Huck nods. “First, though, I’m totally blanking on your name and I know it can’t be Pym, because that sounds like something my granny drank back home on the island.”
“Which island?” he asks.
They’ve had this particular mini-conversation at least three times since Huck started working here. “Jamaica. And you’re Cuban and Nicaraguan, right?”
“Spooooopy!” He makes a very sloppy sign of the cross. “How’d you guess?”
“I’m a great detective,” Huck says. “Seriously, though. Pym? Not Pym?”
“Nah, that’s it,” Pym says, grinning again, reaching over to clap Huck’s elbow. “You remembered! Touched, dude.”
There’s heat spilling up Huck’s chest and across his face. He grins back, rocking a little on his heels. It feels like way too long before he remembers himself. “Anyway, I have to get going, finish this out. Move, okay? It’s seriously maybe ten yards.”
Pym bites his lower lip and cocks his head, squinting up at Huck. His beard looks silky in the low light. Touchable. “Okay. But only if you tell me you listened to the playlist.”
“I did,” Huck says, holding out his hand, as if Pym needs help standing up. This doesn’t work, so now he looks incredibly stupid. “Good stuff.”
“Because you were like, ‘hey, what’s that song?’ and I didn’t even know which one you meant!” Pym sounds deeply, sincerely amused by this anecdote and Huck just shakes his head. Stoners; he knows way too many of them, in his personal life and now in his professional one, too. “Why are you laughing at me?”
“Just thinking I’m acquainted with a lot of stoners,” Huck says, “personally and now professionally.”
“Wait, that makes me just a professional acquaintance?”
“Yeah?” Huck frowns a little. “Why?”
Pym looks down, shoulders slumping. He’s wearing a very old, highly faded Mr. Bubble pink t-shirt today; it’s shrunken, or maybe it was always a size too small, because the knobs of his shoulders are super-prominent in it, and the old decal is stretched a little tautly across his pecs.
His forearms sport the same curling black hair as on his face and head. Sparser, of course, but Huck notices that fact, thinks it looks like a kid practicing cursive writing, all loops and swirls, and files it away.
“You okay?” Huck adds.
“How do I get to know you, like –” Pym looks up now, through heavy lashes. “Personally?”
Huck laughs. The guy’s trolling him, and well. He pats Huck on the shoulder and gets going.
“I’m serious!” Pym yells after him.
“Move off private property,” Huck calls back, without turning around, “and we’ll talk.”
“What about the songs?” Pym yells, so loudly that his voice bounces and echoes off the towers surrounding the courtyard.
He’s right. The acoustics there are great.
The last time they talked, Pym had written down a list for Huck. Huck merely wanted to know the name of the song he’d been playing when he’d last passed by, but Pym insisted that he sit down, take the whole list, and, further, promise “on a stack of Bibles or whatever” to listen to each original version as well as any covers that looked interesting. Scrawled on the back of a bill envelope, it took several attempts for Huck to decipher it.
Mister Charlie Lindbergh – Woody!
Tom Lehrer – Werner von Braun (Bobbi helped him figure out which was the singer, which was the title)
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
The The – lonely planet (if you can’t change the world, change yourself)
Billy Bragg – Great Leap Forward
RISE – pil or Brazilian Urban Legion (trans.?)
“That is a lot of songs,” Huck had said when Pym finally stopped writing.
“It’s what I play when I’m here. Just like sticking it to the pigs.” Pym grinned as he handed the list over.
Huck drew back a little. “Which pigs?”
“So many, man. Not you! Don’t get me wrong, you’re cool. You’re just wearing the uniform of a pig.”
“Generous of you.”
Pym ducked his head. “Yeah, well.” He pointed up at Mies’s towers tilting over them. “I meant those pigs. Rich ones running the world, fucking the rest of us and the planet for their own amusement.”
“Got it,” Huck said. “Of course. How didn’t I see this before?”
“Glad to be of service.” Pym licked his lower lip after he said that. Suddenly Huck was unsure who exactly was being sarcastic here, let alone to what end.
He isn’t sure if he even likes this guy. As a person, that is, rather than a very satisfying aesthetic experience. But he doesn’t dislike him; he’s good company when Huck’s on break. His music is great, much better than the white man with dreads who tries to beatbox only to sound like he’s having a long, very loud stroke or the chorus of creepy little kids who, Huck is half-convinced, must belong to a cult.
He’s also incredibly easy on the eyes. Even if he does dress like an overgrown toddler — cartoon tees, rubber-toe-capped velcro sneakers — crossed with a cranky grampa — fuzzy cardigans and plaid overshirts — he is almost absurdly handsome.
After his first patrol round, Huck has ninety minutes until the next. It’s getting dark, finally, blue shadows stretching like geometry problems across the courtyard. Pym’s not in evidence, but he often wanders away for a cigarette or jay throughout the evening. Huck is buried in homework, with an essay and four chapters due next week, and a midterm on Tuesday.
He isn’t exactly enthralled with the material, so when he hears shouts, then the odd, sickening thump of guitar hitting the ground, he’s on his feet immediately.
Also, he reminds himself, it’s his job. There is that.
When he gets outside, he pulls up short. There’s a group of guys in suits — four? maybe five, he really needs to work on his eyewitness skills — in a tight, mean circle, shuffling and hooting.
“Hey!” Huck yells, putting all the authority he can into it. “Yo! What’s the problem here?”
They don’t respond at first, so as he runs over, he gets out the walkie clipped to his belt, the one he never uses, and punches in the emergency code to get the two guys from the other buildings around the courtyard.
Then one of the suits pulls back his foot and kicks something; Huck hears the expensive wingtip collide with flesh just before someone moans and cough-whimpers-spits. He drops the walkie to get out his cell and call the real cops.
“Hey, hey,” he says, just as firmly, but more gently, when he’s made it over. The suits are elbowing each other and laughing; one takes out a handkerchief and dabs the sweat off his forehead. “Gentlemen. Is there a problem?”
“Gentlemen!” They get a good laugh out of that. They’re investment bankers, from the private firm up on the 46th floor. Frat boys graduated from backwards baseball caps to thousand-dollar suits, from beer to coke. “Nah, bruh. Nothing we couldn’t handle.”
“Fuck you, pigs –” Pym’s on the ground, pulling himself back to lean against the same stone slab where Huck last saw him. His nose is bleeding and he’s holding his side. “Fucking dickhead masters of the universe.”
“What’s going on?” Huck puts his hands on his hips. That’s authoritative, he’s pretty sure.
“Go back to your desk, junior,” the ugliest suit says. “We’re good.”
“Tell him, Kyle,” his buddy says, elbowing him. “Though maybe if he did his fucking job and cleaned up the trash, we wouldn’t have to.”
Huck drops to a crouch to check on Pym. “You okay?”
“That’s cute,” Kyle says. “Checking him first? What about us? Don’t you work for us?”
“Yeah,” Pym mutters, shaking Huck’s hand off his shoulder. “I’m fine.”
He doesn’t look fine, not close up. Huck glances up. “I work for the property management company.”
“Who the fuck called the cops?” another suit yells, running back to them.
“You guys need to stick around,” Huck says as they start to leave. “Come on, this doesn’t have to be –” He trails off as they continue to swagger away.
“Work for us, boy!” Kyle says, spinning around, doing that stupid I’m watching you gesture. “Don’t forget that!”
“Racist dicks!” Pym yells after them, then sags over, coughing hard, blood still dripping from his nose.
“You want to say that again?” There’s a cop approaching, a real cop, accompanied by the two other guards Huck had called first.
“Not you, not you, sir,” Huck says quickly, jumping to his feet, but then he hears himself, hears how wheedling he sounds. “He was yelling at the assailants. They cut through back that way.”
“Assailants, huh?” The cop doesn’t move, doesn’t even look at where Huck’s pointing. “That’s a big, impressive word.”
Huck drops back to a crouch, digging out extra napkins from his pocket for Pym. “It’s what they are. They work up on the 46th, at Furst and Serie.”
“Working this late on a Friday?” the cop scoffs. He kicks at Pym’s leg. “What were you up to, guy?”
“Hanging out.” Pym’s voice is thick, muffled by the napkin he’s holding to his nose.
“He likes to panhandle around here,” one of the guards says. He’s trying to impress the cop. Huck sees, suddenly, all the hierarchies at work here, the rich suits, the official cop, wanna-bes, all the way down to the guy who’s not homeless but might as well be. “Caught him with a doobie last winter.”
Pym laughs, but it sounds like a gargle. “Doobie? Seriously?”
“He doesn’t panhandle,” Huck tells the cop. “He plays guitar.”
The cop writes Pym a citation for trespassing on private property and panhandling, then makes a big deal out of not patting him down for “drugs and/or drug paraphernalia”.
“Like I’m supposed to be grateful? Yay, thanks, asshole, for not feeling me up like Big Brother’s favorite punkass jerk.” Pym is still ranting about this three hours later, long after they’ve been escorted off the premises and are at his place.
That’s the truly thrilling, horrible-but-amazing thing, in fact: Huck got fired. He argued with the cop, then, when things were sort of simmering down, the other guard got a call on his walkie from their supervisor, terminating Huck for “irresponsible conduct endangering both property and personal safety”.
He has less than no idea what he’s going to do. He’s about a foot off the ground, floating on a mixture of panic and what the actual fuck? and, to be perfectly honest, pure horniness.
He rode across town on the handles of Pym’s bike, wind on his face, clutching the guitar case across his lap. At the first red light, Pym wrapped his arms around Huck’s waist, tugging him backward, sliding his mouth over the side of Huck’s neck, up his throat, along his jaw. He almost fell off, they almost crashed, but he didn’t, they stayed upright, and he can still feel the kiss on his skin, burned in, sizzling.
They made out at every light after that. Huck, out of breath, dizzy, thrilled, doesn’t have the first clue where they are. Somewhere downtown, a pretty rundown neighborhood, that’s all he knows. He’s from the suburbs! He knows how to get to the baseball stadium and the natural history museum. And the financial district, not that he’s ever going back there, that’s about it.
He’s lost, upended, maybe half-hysterical. In a stranger’s room — Pym doesn’t even have an apartment, just a big room in the bay window of a ramshackle house — lying sprawled out on the guy’s bed, with kiss-numb lips and laughter effervescing through his veins. Pym’s room looks like a college dorm room on television — much bigger than actual dorm rooms that Huck has seen on friends’ Facebook posts, broad hardwood floors and heavy moldings, dirty sky-blue painted walls that are covered with gig posters and slap-up stickers and stolen street signs. It’s a little strange that Pym has a few silver threads in his hair and beard, and crows’ feet radiating out from his big, dark eyes, but his sense of decoration — in fact, his whole way of living, mode of being — is that of a nineteen year old.
Some people go gray early, that’s probably all it is.
“Are you sure you don’t want to go to the hospital?” Huck asks, again, because although Pym’s nose has stopped bleeding, the bruise on his side is swollen and getting ugly.
“What, am I made out of money?” Pym lifts one shoulder and smiles, knocking his foot against the bong on the floor. “There’s more than one way to kill the pain.”
“That’s –” Huck snorts. “I was thinking more about getting your ribs wrapped or your nose set, but okay.”
“What?” Pym touches the bridge of his nose, face twisting up in a frown. “Does it need work? Help?”
“No, it’s okay. Stop touching it! I was worried before –”
“No, check it, fuck –” Pym leans in until he’s about three inches from Huck. “Tell the truth. Promise me you’ll tell the truth.”
Huck squints; it’s impossible to see much of anything from this close, except for Pym’s lashes, the curls of his mustache and beard. “You look great.”
“Yeah?” He smiles, his hand dropping to Huck’s arm, then his shoulder. “Promise?”
“Vain weirdo, yeah, I promise.”
Pym slides his hand around the back of Huck’s neck. “Can’t take it back, then.” He kisses him then, softly, and Huck hears himself sigh as his lips part and Pym deepens the kiss. He’s suspended here, not breathing, buoyed up by currents of warm air and Pym’s strong grip.
“I won’t?” He tries to sound firm. It comes out — not firm. Breathy, even. To make himself stop talking, he nips on Pym’s lower lip and sucks on it lightly. It’s slick, a little swollen, and vibrates when Pym groans and pushes into it.
Pym twists Huck’s shirt in his other hand, holding on even as he leans back. “Fuck.”
He’d never fully appreciated how much you can see with just one curse word. Pym makes it into poetry, and essays, scientific observation and heart rending confession.
“This is amazing,” Huck says. He feels like the biggest dork in the world, but it’s not like he knows how to act cool, so — honesty it is. “I’ve never done anything like this.”
Pym is bent over, digging something out of a shoebox. He’s been showing off various prized possessions to Huck, reading his responses, telling him stories about the most random things — a deck of circular cards he found (“for free!”) in Chinatown, an LP of Coltrane’s Love Supreme, a half-eaten candy necklace he likes to wear when he plays gigs, the paperback first edition of a short story collection by someone Huck’s never heard of. It’s like a kid sharing treasures. Or a magpie.
Leaning over, his shirt rides nearly halfway up his back, exposing the valley of his spine, the broad hollow just above his ass, the hint of dark hair at his crack. He swings around, chin planted on his shoulder, eyes wide.
“Oh, Christ. You’re not a virgin, are you? It’s totally cool if you are, I just — I should know and maybe do something special for you? Different? I don’t know. Are you?”
“No,” Huck says, and laughter’s burbling up his chest so fast he could choke on it. “No, I’m not a virgin.”
Pym exhales as he settles back, lying on his side, looking up at Huck. “Good, good. No offense to virgins. But that’s a lot of pressure. That’s like rom-com level pressure, you know? Shit.”
“Showing up with a cake and candles for your sixteenth birthday, yeah,” Huck says.
“Shit. You’re sixteen? Happy birthday!” Pym goes to hug him, then stops. “That makes this illegal, though, right?”
“I’m 21,” Huck says.
“But it is your birthday?”
“No. It’s a movie –. Forget it.” Huck pulls him in the rest of the way, completing the hug, and kisses him.
“It’d be worth it, though,” Pym whispers against his neck, a little later. His mouth feels slick, his beard silky-tickly, against Huck. “If you were illegal.”
Huck has to close his eyes at that; he feels like he’s going to fall, or he’s in the process of falling, maybe, end over end through sunshowers. As it is, he trembles a little. “Thanks?”
“Yeah,” Pym says, and tightens his grip on Huck’s upper arm, holding him still, kissing him really deep and wet. He pulls back a little, rolling his forehead against Huck’s. “Totally worth it.”
“Dude, we haven’t even –” Huck wants to say we haven’t even fucked yet, but his voice falters. There’s dorky, but then there’s shooting yourself in the foot for no good reason whatsoever. “Yeah?”
“Yeah.” Pym swings one leg over Huck’s lap, straddling him, bouncing the heels of his hands against Huck’s shoulders in a parody of urgency. “Move back –”
Huck pulls himself all the way back across the broad bed until he’s leaning against the wall; Pym’s still in his lap like a particularly large, awkward monkey or something, kissing him, petting his head, trying to pull up Huck’s shirt.
“One thing at a time –” Huck tries to say, but Pym’s cupping his face again, lifting himself into another kiss as he rocks against Huck. Or not, Huck finishes silently, arms going around Pym’s waist.
He’s so warm, soft skin sliding under Huck’s hands, muscles shifting smoothly, and he makes these small, hoarse grunts when Huck reaches a new patch of skin — fits his palms around the curve of his pelvis, or tucks them into the hollow just under his waistband — that then sink into long, contented sighs. His kiss goes shallow then, little more than texture and temperature, but it’s still so much that Huck’s half-convinced he’s floating in his own skin, aloft on helium, moments away from evaporating.
But then Pym presses his palms flat on Huck’s shoulders, lifting himself a little, then rocking back down. He looks down, smiling, and grinds his hips slowly, back and forth. His face is serious, probably for the first time Huck’s ever seen, not counting when he sings. His eyes are hooded, his lips slightly parted, his hair wild.
Huck tries to hold his breath, tries to hold still, but that’s stupid. His hips want to buck up, he wants to grab at Pym, haul him down, just rub against him.
He’s smiling, he realizes, and, gradually, Pym smiles back, slow as melting ice cream. His eyes are still dark and serious, but when he reaches to cup Huck’s crotch, finds him hard, they crinkle up, finally.
“Hey-o,” he says, a little roughly, tightening his fingers. “What do we have here?”
Huck palms his ass, both hands, pulling Pym right up against him, trapping his hand between their dicks. It feels so damn good, grinding up, Pym’s weight pushing him down, his cock just sparking and swelling and asking for more.
“I’m going to blow –” Pym says, licking Huck’s cheek, biting his lips, fucking his tongue in. “Fuck. I’m going to blow you so good.”
Huck laughs a little, so turned on he can’t control it, and thrusts up again. Not if I blow you first, he almost hears himself say, but doesn’t, thank God. He tips over, spilling Pym on his good side, and they rush to open their flies, tug up shirts, tangle up all over again.
He stuffs his fist into his mouth when Pym gets his lips on Huck’s cock; he wants to howl, or shriek, celebrate.
“Make noise,” Pym tells him, pulling off, wrapping his hand around Huck’s shaft. He tilts his head a little and his eyes are soft, almost gentle, even as his mouth is a slick red slash in all that dark hair. “Really want to hear you, okay?”
Huck gulps and nods and drops his hand. He doesn’t have anything to hang onto, so he grabs at the covers, sheet and blanket, then Pym’s hair, as he arches into Pym’s mouth, the angle bending, bowing, his ass lifting up and tightening.
Pym pushes Huck’s legs farther open, impossibly wide, then rolls his balls across his palm. He looks up, eyes flickering, mouth distended around Huck’s purple-dark shaft, and when his cheeks hollow out, he smiles, somehow, then swallows. Huck’s hips push ragged and desperate up and up, and he thinks he hears himself babbling like a fool, all but singing and moaning, but the sound is very distant. What’s close, so near it’s out of focus, is the hot pressure of Pym’s mouth, the slide and squelch of his lips and little approving noises he keeps giving Huck in reply.
Way too soon, cringingly soon, Huck’s cock flexes, his spine dropping and fluorescing. He almost jack-knifes off to the left, trying to push Pym’s head away to safety, but Pym grunts and pushes further down, and then he moans when Huck shoots, and everything is so wet and tight and Huck just spasms this way and that.
He’s got his arm over his eyes as he’s coming down, as Pym slowly, achingly, lets his cock drop from his mouth. He hears him smack his lips, then the bed creak a little.
“Hey,” Pym says, so quietly that Huck has to turn his head to make sure he heard that. He nudges Huck’s arm down, off his eyes, and smiles. There are white drops in his beard, a smear in the corner of his mouth. His eyes close when Huck touches his cheek, cups it, then kisses the droplets away.
He moans again, briefly, when Huck sucks his lips clean, rocking his hips against Huck’s leg. When he moans, Huck realizes, Pym sounds more sincere than any other time. His eyes are wide and clear, bright; above the beard, his cheeks flushed. There’s another flush spilling down his chest, and he butts against Huck’s mouth, wrapping his arms around Huck’s head as Huck pushes himself down the bed, down Pym’s body. He kisses the edge of the bruise and Pym moans really loudly at that. And again when Huck grazes his teeth along it.
“Perv,” Huck mutters, glancing up.
Pym grins down at him, blows an exaggerated kiss, then flops on his back, sprawling. He’s open, offering his entire body at once. Huck’s never seen anything like it. All he can think of is sheets blowing on a clothesline in a commercial, flapping and billowing. It’s not sexy, that image, but he’s a little distracted at the moment. It captures the whole open spread of Pym’s body, how it’s just there, beautiful, for the taking.
He’s not going to tell Pym this — the guy is obviously more experienced than anyone Huck’s ever been with, or actually all of them, combined — but Huck has only done this three times. Almost four, but Jason Beeton came in the narrow interval of time between them getting his dick out and Huck getting down on his knees. That was disappointing, to say the least.
No better time, though, to practice, and God knows he’s thought about exactly this. Maybe not with Pym specifically, until right now. Right now, sucking Pym off is all he can think about. Huck’s shivering a little as he kisses down the thick patch of hair below Pym’s navel, but he can do this. He tugs down Pym’s old-man boxers, decorated with…he thinks that’s Scooby and Scrappy Doo.
“Fuck, man, please,” Pym says, pushing up on one elbow and looking down at Huck. His mouth is twisted, slanted, his eyes are, too. Intense. “Do it, please?”
“Make me,” Huck says without thinking.
Pym’s whole body tightens, twists, and he’s on Huck in a flash, tackling him, rolling him onto his back to straddle his chest. He’s got his dick in his hand, the other hand cupped around the back of Huck’s skull, pulling him up as he pushes his hips forward. He bunches up the blanket and stuffs it behind Huck’s head, under his shoulders.
Huck moans, his mouth open, then filled. Pym’s staring down at him, wild-eyed, thrusting fast but shallow, both hands on Huck’s cheeks now. He hooks one thumb in the corner of Huck’s lips and then rubs it all over Huck’s cheek. Huck’s mouth overruns with spit, mixing with the sour taste of Pym’s pre-come. Pym’s cock is thick, feverishly hot, curving down over his tongue and nudging the back of his throat. His lips burn, stretched around, and he sucks like this is food, and he’s starving, and maybe he is. There’s something about being kneeled on, held in place, his face fucked, that settles all that hysteria inside him, replaces it with some kind of calm certainty — satisfaction, even.
“Jesus, you look so hot –” Pym’s torso twists, even as he shoves in deeper, and then he’s bending over, hands planted past Huck, fucking faster, almost glaring at Huck. “Fuck, just like that, buddy, you’re so –. You –”
He grunts, the noise breaking all around Huck, falling like shards of something. The muscles in his ass bunch under Huck’s hands as he surges forward, coming across Huck’s tongue, then popping out, painting Huck’s cheek and neck with the last spurts.
Huck tries to breathe through his nose. He’s getting hard again, way too soon, and it aches, kind of raw and too much, but he feels so good. He wraps his arms as far as they’ll go around Pym’s legs, his ass, and holds on, face buried against one hairy thigh, stuck there with sweat and come. He has to remember how to breathe.
It can’t be that hard, he’s done it his whole life.
“Do you want to do something?” Pym asks at some point early that morning. Maybe it’s still very late at night. The sky outside the bay window is an indeterminate stony gray.
Huck’s sitting up, cross-legged, paging through one of Pym’s graphic novels. There are rocket ship mechanics and punk lesbians and exceptionally large-breasted women. He’s been wondering how to ask if that’s something else Pym likes. But like asking him how old he is, Huck just can’t figure out how, let alone if he wants to know. “Do something like what?”
Pym walks two fingers up and down Huck’s thigh. “Do me, do you, do it hard.”
“Yeah,” Huck says, putting the book aside. “Cool.”
“Actually, dude, I’m tapped out for a while,” Pym says and pulls a face of real tragedy. “Which, like. If you’re not, awesome. Tell me.”
There’s a very strong, very enthusiastic part of Huck that wants to stock up on sex, as if that’s even possible. Who knows how long he’ll be here, whether or when Pym’s going to get sick of him? He’s never met someone who just opened his life up like that, pulled Huck in, and didn’t look back. He doesn’t want to waste this opportunity.
On the other hand, though. “I’m kind of sore,” he admits.
Pym rolls and flops around until his head’s in Huck’s lap. “I could rub it out?”
“Yeah, no,” Huck tells him, playing with a few locks of curls right above Pym’s forehead. He can’t remember the word for it, but there’s a science and math thing about patterns, where you can split them down to smaller ones that recapitulate the larger version. Pym’s curls are like that: break them into two, and then again, and they’ll just keep spiraling. “Think it probably needs to recharge or whatever.”
“Ugh, fuck you, God,” Pym announces, addressing the ceiling. “Celibacy is the worst!”
“What else do you want to do?”
If anything, Huck feels like he’s seven years old again, debating Transformers’ powers and flopping around, bored and lazy, with his best friend. Except he’s a lot taller now and he’s had a fairly mind blowing amount of sex in a very short time.
“We could jam?” Pym throws out one arm in the very general direction of his guitar. “You sing, right?”
“No way! I used to play trumpet? But that was in high school.”
“Yeah?” For some reason, Pym actually seems interested in that. Usually if Huck even mentions it, he gets a load of teasing about being an incredible nerd. But Pym’s sitting up now, cocking his head, appraising Huck. “Like, jazz? Miles and Dizzy? Chet?”
“Jazz band, yeah,” Huck says and tries not to fidget under the strange, intense attention. He mumbles the rest. “And marching band.”
“Sousa and Mancini, rad!” Pym claps him on the shoulder, then somehow pours himself up and over Huck’s lap until he’s kissing him again, smearing their mouths together before sucking on Huck’s lower lip until Huck is shuddering and his dick’s twitching painfully. “Knew I liked your mouth.”
Huck’s breath pants out his nose and he tries, very gently, to nudge Pym away. “All about the embouchure.”
“Right, what you said. That,” Pym says, attention flip-flopping just like that. He pulls away, rolling-somersaulting over to the window. “I’ll do the guitar and you can beat good old el cajón.”
“Beat what now?”
Pym springs to his feet — Huck’s starting to get that he has two speeds, lazy languor and jittery velocity — and bounces on his toes as he reaches for his guitar.
“Cajón! Box drum. Great sound.” Pym slides what Huck had assumed was an old wine crate or something for storage over to him. “They’re getting a little popular with poseurs? But I got this one from Havana, so.”
So…? Huck wonders, but doesn’t pursue. “What do I do?”
“Sit on it, man! Beat out the rhythm. Let it move you.”
The cajón isn’t nearly as silly as he first thought. Huck takes to it right away, actually, rocking it back on its far edge, tip-tapping his fingers as inspiration strikes. His knee knocks Pym’s when they get going, but that becomes part of the rhythm, too.
“Here, check this out –” Pym touches Huck’s shoulder. “Watch me.”
“I already was,” he says and Pym grins.
“Oh, rad. But watch harder.”
He strums the strings in a quick, complicated little roll of his hand that makes it sound like four guitars are playing together.
Huck looks down at his palms, then back up. “How?”
“There –” Pym kicks the cajón’s side. “Try rolling your fingers like that.”
“Do it again, let me watch.”
Pym knocks their knees together, then presses his knee against Huck’s thigh and leaves it there. He says, low and gritty, “You like to watch?”
“Jackass, I think you already figured that out,” Huck says; Pym waggles his eyebrows and it’s stupid, over-the-top, and still sexy. “No. Do the guitar thingie.”
“Tremolo,” Pym says, and does it again, more slowly, naming his fingers as they lift and strum. “It’s a flamenco technique, pretty fucking cool, right?”
“Flamenco, huh? That’s pretty intense.”
“Yeah, I took, like. Eons of lessons.” He says that in the same lazy, disaffected way he shrugged off eating a real dinner or going to the ER. Huck can’t make head or tails of this guy. It’s hard to imagine him summoning up the energy to get fully dressed, but a decade of specialty guitar lessons? Sure, no problem.
He’s too busy watching, anyway, to think about how confusing Pym is. Huck’s getting dizzy, right in the pit of his stomach, watching Pym’s long fingers and big knuckles work. Smooth skin laced with silky black hair, blurring, then lifting. It’s impossible not to think of them doing that on him, earlier. Hopefully again soon, too. “Do it again.”
“Think you’ve got it, dude.”
Huck glances up. Without looking away from Pym’s face, he taps out one sequence, then another a little faster, rolling his wrist. He tries with both hands, left then right, then back over to left. By the time he finishes, Pym’s sitting forward, shifting the guitar aside, tilting his head just a tiny bit.
“Yeah,” he says, nodding slowly, “you’ve got it. Damn, good job.”
Huck has been warm this whole time, so it makes no sense how hearing that makes him feel… warmer, as if something’s spilling right down his chest, down his arms, across his face.
Pym brings the guitar back to his lap and starts playing. Huck nods along, lets the tune skip and unfurl until he’s familiar with it, and then tries to drum along. His wrists are going to start hurting soon, his fingertips already feel weird, sort of blunted and numb, but this is too cool to even think about stopping. He keeps going, the warmth from Pym’s praise fuelling the regular, hey-I’m-getting-horny warmth, everything twisting together as the music speeds up.
Jazz band was never like this.
A little later, Pym is seized with the need for Huck to listen to a particular Dizzy Gillespie track. But he can’t remember what album it’s on, and his CD collection is basically a very large pile.
“Why don’t you google it?” Huck asks, and it’s then that he realizes he’s never seen Pym with a phone. There’s no computer in the room, either. He isn’t judging — he knows plenty of people who can’t afford a computer and don’t really feel the lack of one anyway. It just seems strange for someone relatively close to his age, with imported musical instruments and a high-end turntable and everything.
Pym lets his head fall back as he groans long and loud. “I’d have to ask Carissa and then she’ll give me shit, so much shit, and is it even worth it?”
Huck thinks that’s a rhetorical question.
“Maybe if Donny’s not home, we could use his laptop…” Pym performs someone “thinking it over,” head cocked, finger tapping against his lip, eyes narrowed. “But he keeps changing his password, the fucker.” He gives Huck an apologetic look. “Never mind, it’s cool.”
“Want me to look it up?” Huck offers. His phone is around here somewhere.
“Forget it,” Pym says, waving away the whole topic. “Let’s fuck.”
Huck laughs, startled and thrilled, but Pym looks entirely serious. “Wait, really?”
Pym rolls his eyes. “No, I just take hot guys home to teach ’em cajón.”
Huck’s skin is very tight, then super loose, suddenly. Every pore a furnace. He’s a hot guy? He’s a hot guy. “Complicated long con, huh?”
“C’mere –” Pym plucks at the waistband to Pym’s pants, a little impatiently. “Why aren’t you naked yet?”
They don’t go anywhere for almost 24 hours. Huck lets his phone battery run down, happy to lie back on Pym’s bed and just be. They doze, stir, fool around, then doze some more. Occasionally Pym wanders away, then returns with food — nothing like a meal, but snacks, lots of snacks, both Pocky and dried apple slices, caramel clusters and root vegetable chips.
At one point, someone bangs hard on Pym’s door, yelling. “I know you took my shit, asshole! You owe me those Pringles and about seven boxes of mac and cheese, fucker!”
Huck slides down flat on his back, as if that might protect him somehow, but Pym just smirks and puts his index finger to his lips.
“And I want my fifty bucks! Carissa says you’ve got her toaster oven, too?”
Pym tosses a sweater over the offending appliance, then rolls over to bump against Huck. He whispers, “Hey.”
Widening his eyes, Huck jabs his finger toward the door.
“He’ll get tired, always does.” Pym kisses him then, hand pushing up under Huck’s shirt.
He’s so blithely unconcerned that Huck adopts the same perspective. For all he knows, this is just how housemates talk to each other; he wouldn’t know. Before he moved in with his aunt and her husband, he’d lived with just his grandma.
When he ventures out to the washroom, padding down the creaky hall in bare feet, Huck feels almost like he’s on a secret mission. No one knows where he is. He could be anywhere, with anyone. He could be anyone. That giddy thrill bumps into him again and he smiles, widely, at nothing in particular.
In the narrow mirror of the common bathroom, he studies himself. He doesn’t look any different. Whatever enormous changes he feels underway are not visible, at least not yet. He just looks tired — a little puffy-eyed — and happy. Weird, how happy he looks, even not smiling.
“Who’re you?” a guy asks, flinging the door open, knocking Huck against the sink basin. Before Huck can answer, the guy opens his fly and starts pissing. “You’re with Jackass McMoocher, right?”
Huck finishes washing his hands. “Hey. I’m Huck.”
“Don –” The guy reaches over his shoulder, offering his hand, then, thankfully, thinks better of it. “If I were you, man, I’d get going.”
“On my way.” Huck edges out from between the door and the sink.
He only realizes Don must have meant “get going out of here/away from Pym” when he’s back in the room. But by then, Pym’s setting aside his guitar and opening his arms, and Huck’s on his knees, kissing him again.
That night, they walk several blocks — Huck doesn’t know which direction — to find a party that Pym swears he knows about. His memory, like his focus, is as chancy and quicksilver as a kid’s, however, and they end up in the middle of a street so Pym can turn around, arms spread, eyes closed. Where he stops, pointing, is where they’ll find the party.
Huck showered quickly, not taking Pym’s offer of “use any product you want, they don’t mind” up, and then he had to borrow something to wear. He feels dumb in this very old tee shirt of Pym’s. It used to be white, with a decal for Glen Campbell’s Basic album; now it’s creamy yellow, like buttermilk, and so well-laundered it’s softer than suede. The decal has rippled and broken apart so it looks like stained glass.
“See, in case it’s a costume party,” Pym had said, grinning a little maniacally, hugging Huck from behind and running his hands up and down Huck’s forearms, “you’re my basic bitch!”
“Seriously?” Huck had asked.
Pym grabbed his ass. “Seriously ironically, yeah.”
Huck’s built a little broader than Pym, so the shirt feels too tight; this is, according to Pym, “just right”, a principle that he decides applies to “everything, and I mean everything.” Then he makes it into a jingle: “Too tight, just right! How tight? Too tight!”.
He’s so gross. Huck can’t figure out how he makes it charming. Part of it has to be the delight he takes in being gross, how he amuses himself first and bystanders incidentally.
Luckily, they are spared Pym’s attempts at divination when a girl riding a big, boxy bike like the schoolteacher at the start of The Wizard of Oz clatters to a stop. “Are you looking for Amelia’s hootenanny?”
Huck glances at Pym, who shrugs. “Yeah. Where to?”
“You don’t know Amelia, do you?” Huck whispers as they pick their way through an overgrown yard.
“Maybe I do, though,” Pym says and grabs his hand to squeeze it. “Life is full of surprises.”
Huck doesn’t remember much from the party later. He remembers, in no particular order, sitting on Pym’s lap in an enormous La-Z-Boy; fooling around in some girl’s room that smelled like Bath & Body Works at the mall; eating a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs that never seemed to diminish in size; fooling around again, this time on the back porch, with him leaning over the railing and Pym fingering his ass until he shouted so much that a dog nearby started barking along.
It was a great party, so far as he knows. The simplest facts keep delighting him – small, obvious things that anyone with a modicum of experience would find laughably self-evident, but for him they sparkle and swell. He’s out with a guy. People assumed they’re boyfriends. He’s actually doing this, not daydreaming about it, only to file it away for a later that never comes.
He wakes with a terrible headache, the foul taste of sweat and come and marinara sauce in his mouth, and bright afternoon sun cutting through the bay window, superheating him.
Pym is sitting in the window, bent over his guitar, hardly playing it. Embracing it, occasionally petting it.
Huck is not jealous of a musical instrument.
He lies there without saying anything, watching Pym pick at the strings, frown, try again. He must have just bathed; his hair still looks damp, dry curls lifting away from the rest, haloing the dark mass. His feet are bare, toes curled against the floorboards. He has very delicate ankles; Huck hadn’t noticed that until now.
After a little bit, Pym seems to figure out what he’s playing, or how he wants it to sound, because there’s less heavy petting and a lot more strumming.
Finally, he catches Huck looking and grins, ducking his head like he suddenly remembered how to be shy.
“What is that?” Huck asks, sitting up, pulling the sheet over his lap.
“Just some bullshit.”
“Sounded good to me.”
“Because you’re a good guy,” Pym says, not looking up. He sounds a little hoarse.
Huck longs for a huge glass of ice water and four-egg breakfast. “That your tune? Or someone else’s?”
“Let’s go eat,” Pym says suddenly, putting the guitar down. “Do you have any money?”
“Yes,” Huck says, and, “yes.”
“Fucking sweet,” Pym says, helping Huck up, letting him sway against him.
Pym takes him to a dive called “Breakfast All-Day; Also Beer”. They have a narrow booth all the way in the back, where the seat’s springs are long since sprung and the naugahyde upholstery is patched with several generations of duct tape.
Huck drinks four glasses of water and three cups of terrible coffee before he feels competent to venture talking. Last night’s sweat still coats him in a grubby film.
“You write your own music?”
Pym is sitting crosswise in his side of the booth, back against the wall, elbow up along the back of the bench. He squints a little, considering, before he answers. “Eh. Used to, but it’s, ugh. It’s so much work, you know?”
He’s right, Huck knows, but that sounds like a pretty bad excuse all the same.
Pym must see the doubt on his face, because he shakes out his hair, grinning, and continues, “No, work with me here. There’s already so much stuff out there in the world, right? Why is it worse to play with that? Why is it quote-unquote better to make up something that’s probably going to be shitty just because then you’re supposedly quote-unquote original?”
“I don’t know,” Huck says. He leans back a little. Sometimes it’s hard to think when all he can see and feel is Pym. He’s always been a little too easily distracted. “I never thought about it much.”
“Everything’s recycled! We’re sharing the same molecules that Neanderthals breathed and dinosaurs farted! So why are we pretending that art is any different?” He sits further forward, grabbing Huck’s wrist and squeezing, as if Huck is about to run away. “These are all rhetorical questions, by the way. They just bug me, you know? They really bug me.”
“Yeah, totally.” Huck turns his hand in Pym’s grip and holds him back, admiring the way his fingers look against the soft hair on the back of Pym’s arm.
“You’re humoring me.”
“No.” Huck looks up, finds Pym biting his lip, his eyes narrowed. “I’m thinking about it.”
“About humoring me?”
“No, about what you said.”
“Oh,” Pym says and a little tension Huck hadn’t realized was there seems to ebb out of him. “Rad.”
Maybe it’s finally having a full meal, protein and caffeine, but on the walk back, Huck lets himself think about this ending. He doesn’t want to. Given the choice, he’d stay right here, running to catch up with Pym who has set off in pursuit of a crow he says he knows. He’d be here forever, jogging in the hot afternoon sunlight, about to reach Pym, moments away from being able to touch him again.
But this isn’t forever (at least, the sappy romantic part of his brain insists, not yet anyway). He hasn’t even been able to ask Pym how old he is, so how is he supposed to ask where this might be going, what he might mean, what how why? He needs to get back to his old life, clean that up, shut it all down. Then he can get back here.
He puts it off, however. Maybe he’s a coward, maybe he’s just treating himself a little more kindly than usual. He waits until Monday, after his midterm has already started, to raise the issue.
“Aww, no!” Pym says, frowning extravagantly. “Where are you going? Why? Can I come with?”
Huck waits for the wisecrack he’s sure is coming, some pun on coming, but Pym’s focus actually persists.
“I don’t want to impose,” Huck tries, but Pym waves that off. “I should probably check in at home?”
That sounds good.
Pym draws back, feigning shock. “Dude, are you stepping out on someone?”
It’s too absurd, and Huck should be able to play along, string out the joke, but he can’t. He just cracks up. “Only a middle-aged Pentecostal couple.”
“Yeah, well –” Huck leans against Pym, tucking his head into the curve between neck and shoulder. He smells like someone’s spruce-fir bodywash. “I like to live dangerously.”
Pym’s arm goes around him, his cheek pressing against the crown of Huck’s skull. “You should stay.”
“I can come back?” Huck didn’t want that to be a question.
“You better,” Pym says. “Or I’ll, I don’t know. Watch out, though. Vengeance shall be mine.”
The logistics of getting back then take over. His phone is dead and there’s no one home to borrow a charger from. He can’t find a pay phone until he’s walked a good twenty minutes in who knows what direction. Pym is no help; he “doesn’t deal with goodbyes”, so he kissed Huck goodbye on the porch, with tongue and long ass massage, then padded back inside.
Bobbi meets him at the bus depot. It takes the rest of his cash to pay for the cab over there.
“They’re freaking out,” Bobbi tells him about his aunt and uncle. “Lost their shit.”
Their deal with him was clear, after all. He was welcome to stay so long as he made a plan and kept to it. Get a job, stay in school, finish out the cop thing. Huck tries rubbing the tension in his neck, but it doesn’t do anything. Just reminds him how much pain there is there. “I’m fine, God.”
“I know that.”
“I’m a grown man!” he shouts, then remembers they’re in public. And that if you have to shout about how mature and grown-up you are, maybe you really aren’t. He slumps down and kicks out his legs. “Well, technically.”
“Stay with me for a little while,” Bobbi suggests. “Let them cool down.”
“Yeah, okay.” He knows they’re not going to cool down. He’s not going back to school, and he’s never going to be a cop. Even if he kept up that end of the bargain, they’ll be kicking him out just as soon as he comes out. “It might be, I don’t know. A long while.”
“I know,” Bobbi says, serenely, lifting one eyebrow. “Luckily, I kind of like your company.”
“Just because I make you look cool,” he replies.
“And like I’ve got my shit together,” she says. “You’re very multifaceted and useful that way.”
She elbows him hard, and he grabs her back, and they wrestle it out until a tense lady with lemon-sucking mouth tells them to settle down or she’ll call security.
He calls down a shitstorm when he moves out. Nothing goes right, nothing at all except for the life-saving fact that Bobbi’s offer is still good. But he ends up on her couch without a dime to his name, since, having dropped out, he has to repay his uncle for the loan he co-signed. They keep his phone, too, and the laptop.
Those are just things. You can live without things. He tries to believe that, but he hardly has anyone’s number memorized. He basically disappears.
Panic crawls just under his skin, all the time, tightening his chest and making it hard to concentrate on any one thing for any length of time. As days pass, one, then the next, so slowly he could scream, he thinks about Pym. He longs to get back there. He’s convinced that if he could just see the guy again, it will help set things right. He’ll have a positive reminder of why he’s done all this, why he junked his old life into the shitter, why he’s staring into a blank future.
“Plus,” Bobbi says, sinking down next to him, handing him his plate of Rice-A-Roni (if you add enough beans, a box can be a meal in itself). “You’ll get laid. Win-win, basically.”
Huck feels his face twist up. He’s going to need more time than he expected to get used to talking about this kind of thing like it’s no big deal. “Sure, that, too.”
She jabs her fork, laden with rice, shedding beans, towards him. “You’re gonna get la-aid!”
Finally, finally, Huck gets back downtown when a friend of his cousin’s is doing deliveries. He feels dressed up — freshly showered, new-to-him but-actually-old shirt that Bobbi bought him as a surprise — and worries for a couple moments that Marco’s going to say something. He catches a glimpse of himself, however, and realizes that he looks, if anything, messier than he ever used to. More casual, at least.
More like himself, he thinks. Hopes.
Marco drops him off on Broadway, and then Huck has to figure out how the hell to get to Parkdale. (“Yeah, this is my boss’s truck,” Marco had said. “No way am I driving it out there.”) Huck has studied Google Maps, checked it out on satellite and street view, but he’s still not entirely sure how to get there from here. Let alone where to go when he does make it there.
He has his trumpet and Pym’s t-shirt, freshly laundered, in his bag. He’ll just walk; it can’t be that far. As he moves away from downtown, the blocks get longer, the trees increasing in inverse proportion to the amount of traffic. He has severely underestimated how far he has to go.
When he does finds Pym’s ramshackle house, he is soaked in sweat and limping a little, thanks to the new shoes he hasn’t yet broken in.
He can’t seem to wipe off the sweat. Every time he thinks he’s cleaned up and halfway presentable and starts to make for the porch stairs, he feels wet and gross all over again.
“Dude, are you lost? Or casing the joint?” someone calls from the front door. “Either way, you’re kind of creeping my shit here.”
Huck swallows hard and takes the uneven steps two at a time. “Sorry, just trying to get my head together. Is Pym home?”
Now he’s sweaty but also cold. Frigid. Huck grins and tries to shake it off. “Pym. Beard, guitar…? Lives in the bay window?”
The guy he’s talking to is a redhead, lanky, at least half a head taller than he is. He’s shirtless, skinny like a war survivor. He shrugs. “Don’t know anyone like that. I mean, beard and guitar, that’s got to be 85% of people I know. But not bay window or weird name.” Grabbing the doorjamb, he leans back into the gloom of the house. “Do you know a Pym, dude?”
Huck wipes, pointlessly, at the sweat on his cheeks, the back of his neck.
“Yeah, he moved out,” the redhead says, swinging back into view. “First of the month.”
“He –” Huck hears it but fails to understand. “Just moved out?”
“Apparently,” the guy replies. He shakes the hair out of his eyes. “You want to come in or something? Smoke a bowl?”
Huck shakes his head. There’s this sensation — cold, but worse than that, lonely, grainy, worry crawling up his throat and all over his skin — that he remembers from those times no one picked him up at the bus stop, when the apartment door was locked when he got home. Yellow sheriff’s notice of eviction on another apartment door.
“He was just here,” he tells the redhead. “I –.” He bangs his hand against the side of his bag. “I brought my fucking trumpet.”
“Why would you do that? And who owns a trumpet anyway?”
He shakes his head. He’d spent a big chunk of what little money he had to his name to get to the storage facility they put all his grandmother’s stuff in when she went into the home. It took him half a day to dig out the stupid thing. He’s angry, and confused, but now he’s also really embarrassed. “We were going to jam. He said he –. He liked my mouth.”
The guy fails to cover up the laugh he lets go at that. “Man, you’ve got it bad. Let me check again.”
He disappears inside. Huck gets a beautiful, fleeting inspiration to just run away. Start running, leap off this swaybacked porch, hit the ground, and keep going. Run for days, faster, until he pulls a Barry Allen and runs into the future, another dimension, anywhere but here.
He stands there, instead. The redhead wanders past the open door about five minutes later and says, “Oh, hey, you’re still here?”
“You said –. Forget it.”
“So this Plimsoll guy, he left to move in with his boyfriend?”
“Are you asking me?” Huck says. “Because I’m the one looking for him.”
“No, I’m telling you.” Redhead knuckles his eyes. “I am so wasted right now.”
Tell me something I don’t know, Huck doesn’t say. “Okay, thanks. Do you have his new number? Address?”
That’s a stupid question. Pym has a boyfriend. Last thing he’d want is some stupid kid turning up on his doorstep, looking for round two. Hi, I junked my entire life because you said I was hot. Take me in?
“Nah, man.” Redhead scratches his stomach; he’s so pale the red marks his nails leave look lurid.
“He just left?” Huck asks. “That’s…how? How do you do that?”
“I don’t know, hire a van? Don’t know what to tell you, bro,” the guy says. “Sucks to be you?”
“Yeah,” Huck says. “Sure does.” He turns to go, but then pauses on the top step, hand on the splintery banister. “Thanks, though. I appreciate it.”
Redhead — his name is Jackie, which Huck will learn in another couple months when they become housemates — beams at him. “You’re so welcome!”
Later, much later, when Huck can tell the story, this is chapter one, maybe the prologue, of How I Broke Up With Normalcy and Kicked Conformity to the Curb. “First I got fired, then spent a weekend in bed with a guy I was sure I loved at first sight….”
The story becomes, in fact, the subject of his first comic. (Technically, the fifth, but the first one he finishes and thinks might be worth sharing.)
Right now, however, he isn’t sure how he’s going to last through today. Or make it to the end of the block.
If he could just understand what Pym was up to, maybe the rest of the mess of his life will start to make sense. Huck clutches at that belief like a kid and his blankie. How exactly does someone do what Pym does? Just plunge into the present moment so completely, give it everything he has, then — leave? Like it’s nothing, leave and never look back?
Huck spends way too much time wondering about this. While he’s broke as hell, looking for a new job and still living on Bobbi’s futon, he thinks about very little else. When he figures it out, then he’ll feel better. He has to.
It’s very easy to make Pym the villain in all of this. Without his presence in Huck’s life, nothing would have gone wrong. Would have had to go wrong. He’d be finishing up his certificate, still working the security desk at the office tower, getting ready to take the cop entrance exam next winter. He’d still be living with his aunt and uncle. He’d still be boring, muffled, closeted. Safe.
But no, instead the handsome dickhead had to go and flirt with him, toy with him, suggest that, hey, maybe life could be different, even for Huck.
Huck had been doing fine! He tries to believe that, tries to remember living like he’d been swaddled in layers of cotton wool, keeping everything perfectly separated. A compartment for work, one for school, one for the future, one for family-church-neighborhood, and then another, smaller and darker, narrow and misshapen, the crawlspace where everything else went to hide.
It’s not fair to blame Pym. Not for most of this, anyway. Huck’s stupid compartments were becoming harder and harder to maintain by the day.
For fucking off like that, yes. Huck is more than okay with blaming Pym for that, and copiously.
Those first couple months at Bobbi’s last forever. Once he’s saved up a little and moved downtown, however, time accelerates. Sometimes he feels a little lost, permanently a step behind. Everything happens so much.
At his new job waiting tables at a weird hole-in-the-wall but remarkably popular rum bar-slash-steakhouse, Huck doesn’t get to sit, ever. But he doesn’t have to wear a uniform, so he is ahead of the game, according to his new set of criteria. Is he protecting rich people’s property for ten bucks an hour and no benefits? No. Do his feet hurt like hell every day? Yes, definitely, and he comes home smelling like meat and alcohol, but that can be showered away.
He dates a little, but a lot of the guys on Grindr want him to be some kind of big scary black dude — one actually tells him in full detail how hot it would be to get Mandingo’d — and it’s equal parts revolting, deeply offensive, and hysterically funny. He even recoils from saying something when he gets cut in line for coffee. The idea of him pushing someone around in bed is beyond absurd. He figures out quickly not to mention the cop thing, either, because that leads to guys sharing equally gross, violent fantasies that, honestly, can make him a little worried for humanity.
He draws a lot. He’s always liked it but never was very good at it. Something Pym said, about embracing being shitty, has stuck with him. The graphic novels he first looked at in Pym’s room were beautifully drawn, to be sure, but they were also so much plainer than the garish full-color, highly-muscled superhero stuff he’d always loved and failed at imitating. These comics are different. Monochrome, straightforward, often (but not always) incredibly personal: he spends a good chunk of his paychecks acquiring them for himself over the next months.
There is a real kind of authenticity, even liberation, in refusing to consider traditional notions of quality. He doesn’t say that aloud, barely even thinks it in those words, but it’s true. He can draw whatever he wants, tell whatever weird story occurs to him, and since no one’s ever going to pay him, he can just keep going. Black ink and scratchy nibs and some white paper are cheaper than just about any other hobby he can think of.
The first comic he finishes and doesn’t hate with the fiery passion of millions of suns is about Pym, of course. But he still loves superheroes and rocket ships, so Huck draws himself as a shiny police-bot who starts to malfunction when it arrives at the scene of a zeppelin crash. He tries to help the wounded pilot to the consternation of other bots who want to arrest him for being a sky pirate.
It’s dumb but it makes him grin.
Of course when the pirate gets better, he runs away, just vanishes into the literal ether. The cop-bot is now isolated, awaiting a memory wipe and reprogramming. The whole sci-fi set-up lets Huck down here. He can’t figure out how to translate the part where he escaped and started a new kind of life without it sounding tacked on, cheesy, improbable.
He titles that one Savior. He makes other comics as the months pass, refining his technique until it’s as passable as he thinks it’ll ever be, boiling down his stories to moments that he can capture in a few panels. He’s still no good at drawing people, so the stories tend to star robots or talking animals.
He’s okay with that. He trades copies of his comics with people online, even sells a couple on commission at the off-puttingly indie comic book shop in his neighborhood. He keeps it casual, however. He just wants to draw and hang out with his friends, earn enough to keep a (leaking) roof over his head and decent food in his belly. Ambition, he has come to believe, is a hell of a drug, and he’s glad to be off it.
It’s Bobbi who signs him up for a table at the Graphic Arts and Zine Expo at the main library that winter. Huck had checked out GAZE a few times over the years, but he’d never, ever felt comfortable. He was looking for brawny heroes in tights and wisecracking space pirates; what he found were sensitive, enervated souls with beautiful art styles and the opposite of storytelling.
“Still won’t fit in,” he grumbles to Bobbi when she’s helping him set up the table. He’s more nervous than he wants to admit. He’s supposed to sit here for two days while people judge his shitty comics right in front of him? “This is stupid.”
“You’re welcome!” She punches his arm before taking out another stack of comics fresh from the copy shop. “If it doesn’t work, no big loss, right?”
“I guess,” he says, smoothing down the cover of the reprinted Savior. He sprang for a risograph cover — just two colors, mint green and cobalt blue, he’s not a millionaire — and it looks really cool. Like it’s someone else’s work he can admire, that cool. “What’s the criteria for it working?”
She shakes her head and hip-checks him. “You tell me, bro.”
They’re wearing matching Blerd Power shirts from a stencil he drew; it was supposed to be the Black Power fist made out of Legos, but he’s afraid it just looks like The Thing from Fantastic Four. Also, they didn’t leave nearly enough time for the silk-screening ink to dry, so he hopes like hell that it’s nontoxic and he’s not about to die from transdermal poisoning.
He doesn’t know what to expect from all this. Things seem to go pretty well, however. A lot of people stop at his table; some even look at the comics for longer than half a second, and a fairly good proportion of those people bother to talk to him. He meets a couple people he only knew online who have come into town from all over. GAZE is kind of a much bigger deal than he knew.
He’s stuck at the table for seven hours, sucking on the same cold coffee that he arrived here with. He’s hungry and really has to pee, but it’s too busy to risk leaving. Bobbi ventured out in search of food about half an hour ago, so Huck tells himself to be patient and wait it out.
So of course it’s when he’s jittery with a full bladder and a yawningly-empty stomach, when he’s been sitting in place like a lump all day, that Pym wanders past.
Huck ducks his head and tries to look very absorbed in the flyer in his hands. Considering it’s for an all-female burlesque-and-theory show, that is a lot more difficult than you might think.
He tries to check Pym out through lowered lashes, the corner of his eye, except Pym’s standing right in front of his table, picking up each of his comics in turn.
He’s shaved the beard, though his stubble is heavy, not a five o’clock shadow so much as a ten, maybe eleven o’clock gloom clinging to his strong jaw. His burgundy knit cap is pushed back on his head, exposing his hairline. His only concession to the foul winter weather outside is a short pink and yellow ski jacket from the 80s. It’s funny — when they met, it was summer, and Pym usually had a big scarf wrapped around his neck. Now it’s freezing out there, and he’s barely covered at all.
He looks good and Huck kind of hates him for it. Not much, but a little.
“Hey, I know you,” Pym says. His smile is slow, like he’s savoring what he’s saying, but also what he’s looking at. Savoring Huck.
Snorting, Huck shakes his head a little. “Yeah, you do.”
“How do I know you?”
“Are you kidding me right now, man?”
Pym squints, rocking back on his heels, then forward. “Edgefest?”
“No. It was summer.”
“You skate?” Aren’t you a little old?, he wants to add. Huck waves that off. “Forget it.”
“I appreciate skating,” Pym says, like it’s a point of honor. “Fuck. How do I know you? Please tell me we tricked, because shit you are gorgeous.”
Huck swallows hard. “Don’t you have a boyfriend?”
Pym makes a big deal of looking around him, as if checking whether he’s being followed or filmed. “News to me. Is he hot?”
“Do you want those?” Huck asks, pointing to the comics in Pym’s hand.
“Probably not as hot as you,” Pym says, nodding slowly, coming to a decision. “That’s it, I’m breaking up with Mr. Invisible so we can go out.”
“They’re five each or three for twelve,” Huck tells him. He touches the cover of Savior. “That one’s –” He tries to think of an exorbitant price to scare Pym off. “Eight, though. Eighteen, I mean.”
Pym whistles through his teeth. “You’re not going to comfort me post-breakup? Just take all my cash and leave me alone and heartbroken?”
Huck grins at that. Sounds good to him. “That’s the plan.”
“Can I have your number at least?” Pym asks, handing over thirty dollars.
“Contact info’s in the back,” Huck tells him, folding away the cash. “So you finally got a phone?”
After storing away his comics in the little Pan-Am satchel he’s using as a purse, Pym points at Huck, shaking his head. “I do know you.”
“Well,” Huck says. “You did.”
Pym’s grin is wide and bright, but it starts to fade — and quickly — just as soon as he realizes Huck’s not smiling back. He edges away, hand protectively over his bag, not looking where he’s going so he doesn’t break their eye contact. Then he steps on a little kid’s stroller and things get ugly before he’s swallowed up by the crowd.
Huck should be proud of himself. He’s angry and let himself feel it: that’s kind of a breakthrough, to be honest.
“I don’t get it,” Bobbi says when they’re finished inhaling the three cartons of pad thai she brought back. “Shouldn’t you, like. Jump into his arms? Run to him through a field of daisies? Reunited and it feels so good, et cetera?”
“He didn’t even remember me,” Huck says. Again, for about the fortieth time. Anger is fermenting into misery already. “How do you do that?”
Shrugging, Bobbi drains her bottle of water. “I find you very memorable, for what it’s worth.”
“Thanks,” he says. She’s not taking him very seriously, and he should trust that. She’s way better adjusted than he is. If she doesn’t think this is worth getting upset over, she’s probably right.
Still. In the face of Pym’s cheerful, utterly blithe obliviousness, Huck wants to — he doesn’t know what he wants to do. But it should be dramatic, and irrevocable, and huge. Everything that he’s thought about, felt, done over the past eighteen months is suddenly and completely tiny, worthless, if he looks at it from Pym’s perspective. Huck is just that forgettable as he always half-feared. That he let himself matter, let himself think that he could do things differently, now seems like a particularly shitty joke.
“You did make thirty bucks off him,” she points out a little later, when they’re packing up for the night. “Nothing to sneeze at.”
The problem, of course, is that Huck only has his own dumb life to live. So he’s embarrassed as hell to realize just how insignificant it is from Pym’s perspective.
That night, he goes to three different GAZE parties, talks way too much about things he cares about (the Soviet space program’s achievements) and things he knows less than nothing about (hairy dude manga) while drinking a lot. The distraction helps. He’s nearly lost his voice for the second and final day of the expo, and his headache is epic, but all he has to do, really, is sit here and make change.
“I read it,” Pym announces when he turns up that afternoon. At least a third of the tables are empty already, and the rest are starting to close down.
“Good for you,” Huck tells him. “What was this ‘it’?”
Pym’s shoulders sag a little and he leans forward, both hands on the edge of the rickety table. “C’mon, man. Give me a break.”
“Sorry,” Huck says, not meaning it in the least. “What did you read and why do I need to know?”
Pym digs around in his jacket pockets, each and every one, before finally pulling out Savior. Holding it up by his cheek, he shakes it hard. For a second he looks like some kind of mad street-corner prophet foretelling doomsday. “This! I read this, I don’t know. Eight times? Maybe ten.”
“It’s fucking good, man.”
“And it’s sad, too,” Pym says. He flips through the booklet, then glances across the table. “It’s real, you know?”
Huck is stuck in place. An earwig or something, pinned to the scientist’s board. “Thanks.”
He doesn’t know what else to say. He’s not a dick, but this is stupid and embarrassing and he wants to be somewhere, anywhere, else. Pym’s shaking the comic at him again, like the physical object itself means something.
“I’m an asshole!” Pym says, too loudly, and the girls at the next table over giggle. “Not like that’s news, but fuck.” He pushes one hand through his hair, again and again, twisting his fingers against the curls until Huck’s eyes are watering in sympathy. “Shit.”
“It was a while ago,” Huck tells him. He shouldn’t have to be the nice one here. Why is he being nice? “Things are different. We’re different.”
“Ha,” Pym says, flatly. “You’d think so.”
Crossing his arms, tipping back in his chair, Huck looks away, thinking, sucking on the inside of his cheek. He knows he should say something cutting — or, since that would never going to happen, something final. Just get this conversation done with.
“Tell you what,” he says, tipping forward, too fast so the table rocks against him and his display goes sliding to the right. “You want to get something to drink?”
Pym’s brows jump up and his eyes widen, like he’s excited, but all he does is swallow — Huck has thought a lot over the months about that long line of his throat, how big his Adam’s apple is and how it bobs, just like that — and nod. “Yeah. Now?”
“Dude. Paid good money for this table, so I’d like to finish here, if that’s okay with you.”
Pym bobs his head. “Right, yeah, yeah. Sorry. Shit.”
Right now, it’s almost like Pym doesn’t know how to say what he’s feeling, what he wants to share, so he’s imitating how people do it on television or in shitty novels. Huck almost feels sorry for him, but then he catches himself.
“There’s a coffee place around the corner,” he tells Pym. “Not Starbucks. The other one.”
Before he moved out, Huck thought that Starbucks was the shit. It wasn’t the donut place! Things were expensive and complicated and depended on a whole array of insider knowledge that he was desperate to acquire.
He was such a baby, it’s awful to think about.
When GAZE is officially over, it takes him all of ten minutes to pack up his stuff. He didn’t have a fancy plastic sign or rotating display racks. He just has to put the (few) unsold comics back in the box from the copy shop, hand in his badge to the library security guy, and he’s free.
He could go home right now. He’s sorely tempted to just go home, leave Pym waiting and wondering.
That would be sweet. Also really mean and rude; besides, with his luck, Pym’s mortally short attention span would kick in and he’d forget what he was waiting for, order another hot chocolate with extra bourbon marshmallows, and probably end up hooking up with the barista.
So here he is, setting down the box on an extra chair and sinking into another. At least Pym looks a little surprised to see him. That’s something.
“Damn, I wish I remembered you. I was pretty much on K that whole summer, though.” He grins, rubbing his chin. “Well, that spring, really, all the way through fall, but you said summer?”
“Summer,” Huck says. He should not be impressed that Pym remembers one fact he heard just yesterday, but he is. He’s almost flattered, in fact.
“I’m fucking pissed!” He bangs the table, making the mismatched porcelain cups rattle ominously, then reaches over to grab Huck’s shoulder. “Don’t do drugs, okay? They fuck you up. All the commercials were right.”
“I’ve never seen a commercial for ketamine. I mean, a commercial against it.”
“They’re out there,” Pym says and nods sagely. “Got to know where to look, and most times it’s subtext, but they’re out there.” He pauses and tilts his head. “Why are you smiling at me like that?”
“It’s just — what would be the point of a commercial having subtext? Commercials are all text. Supertext, even.”
Pym sounds a little sullen. “Don’t ask me, I’m not in marketing.” Then he brightens up. “I’m clean now, by the way. Well, clean-ish. No K.”
“That’s cool. Must’ve been hard.”
Pym waves his hand; Huck immediately misses its warmth and pressure. “It was like, who do I care more about? Me, who I know to be awesome as fuck, or this weird mysterious death god thing beckoning me to the void?”
“No choice at all, really.”
“All right,” Huck says. He’s having trouble keeping up with the swoops and loop-de-loops of Pym’s focus and energy, but that doesn’t bother him. He’s actually kind of enjoying the ride.
God, he is such a sucker. He’s never going to learn, is he?
Neither, it seems, is Pym going to learn. He proceeds to erase nearly every shred of benevolence that Huck has.
“I found this,” Pym says, digging in his satchel. Then he looks at the Polaroid in his hands for a long time before shaking himself back to awareness and handing it to Huck. “This is you, isn’t it?”
The picture was taken the night of the party, when Pym was laughing hard enough to shake the floor. He was all but lying down in the big fat armchair, reclining like a goddamn pasha, his shirt rucked up, his legs wide apart. He has his face against Huck’s shoulder, shoulders heaving, eyes crinkled up, hair sweaty and standing out every which way. One arm bisects Huck’s torso, Pym’s fingers spread possessively right over one pec. Huck was perched precariously on Pym’s lap, straddling one of his legs, one arm wrapped around Pym’s neck. His knit toque is askew, pushed up high on his brow. He looks so comfortable, it almost hurts to see. Definitely hurts to remember.
They look like they’ve been together for years already.
“That’s us, yeah,” Huck tells him. It’s like looking at a historical relic. He’s face to face with that stupid kid who was three feet off the ground in love and lust. This was more than a year ago, not quite two, but everything looks so ephemeral and out of date — that stupid shirt he had to borrow, and Pym’s snug corduroy trousers and ugly sneakers. The colors are faded, gone that smoky chlorine blue that old Polaroids get, and the image was never quite in focus to begin with. His own skin is washed jaundice-yellow in the highlights, while Pym looks deathly pale, all thanks to the crappy flash.
All that said, it’s beautiful, horribly so.
He goes to hand it back, but in his rush — if he doesn’t give it back now, he’s not going to be able to let it go — he flicks the photo toward Pym. It goes skittering end over end and off the table.
“Sorry, shit, sorry –” He leans over to retrieve it, bangs his head on the underside of the table, then smacks Pym’s arm as he makes to grab it.
“Hey,” Pym says, grabbing Huck by the wrist and squeezing. They’re both bent over under the table, a little wild-eyed. “Chill. It’s just a picture.”
“Figured you’d say that,” Huck says. He gets a slight headrush as he sits back up too fast.
“It’s a cool picture,” Pym says, struggling to sit up, gripping the Polaroid by one corner, his tongue caught in his teeth with effort. When he’s upright again, he places the picture gently on the table before him, evens out its position, and takes a deep breath. “Don’t get me wrong. It’s a great picture.”
“But it’s just a picture, yeah. I heard you.” He can’t let himself forget Pym’s genius for forgetting, minimizing, drifting away like a lovely stupid butterfly.
Pym squares the picture again, then looks up at Huck. His lashes are every bit as long, thick and dark as they ever were, so pretty and soft that it has to violate several human rights accords.
“I just didn’t want you to freak out,” Pym says and looks back down. When he shakes his head, a lock of hair slips across his forehead. “That was supposed to be nice. I suck at being nice. That was, like. The hardest I’ve tried in forever.”
“That was you trying?”
He snorts and meets Huck’s eyes again. “Yeah. No good?”
“Man.” Huck drums his fingers on the table. “I don’t know what to tell you.”
The look Pym gives him is a little beseeching — lip caught in his teeth, eyes shining through lashes — but more than that, quiet. Scared, maybe. He’s not drifting away. He looks like he’s struggling to stay right here, in fact.
Huck could be projecting. He probably is. That doesn’t change the odd, fine-grained feeling drifting through him.
“Tell me it’s okay,” Pym says finally. He sounds as hoarse as Huck feels, but his voice is still so soft. Huck thinks of the silky twist of Pym’s hair in his fingers, the scratch of stubble that results in soft, bright warmth, how he sang to himself and stroked his guitar like a lover.
“Fuck if I know, man. Just wanted to hear it.” Elbow on the edge of the table, he drops his head into his hand, fingers splayed over his forehead like they’re trying to hold something in, and peers at Huck. “Sorry.”
Huck swallows the ingrained response, the automatic no, I’m sorry, but smiles a little. At himself, at Pym. “It is okay.”
He breathes out. It’s true, he realizes. He’s not all that angry anymore. The anger was a quick, strong thing, but it’s burned out now, and he’s somewhere else. Shivering in this under-heated cafe, toying with a dessert spoon, staring at the guy across from him.
He can’t punish Pym for the illusions Huck had about him.
“Well,” Pym says, every bit as softly. “I can try a lot harder this time.”
“This time, huh?” Huck asks. “Confident.”
Pym kicks him under the table, then leaves his leg pressed against Huck’s, hooks his foot around Huck’s ankle. “I have my moments.”
Every time Huck blinks, it’s a little more difficult to open his eyes again. Something a little like sleepiness is swamping him, filling him up. He scoots his chair a little closer to Pym, so their legs are almost completely interleaved now.
He takes Pym back home with him, but not without admonishing him about borrowing food from his roommates.
“Yeah,” Pym says, “I need to watch that.”
He wanders around Huck’s little room, peering at books and posters like he’s at the Louvre. Huck reclines crossways on his bed, boots kicked off, watching Pym.
“There’s nothing that interesting,” he says at last.
“Disagree.” Pym does turn away, however, from his rickety bookcase and drop down on Huck’s lap like it’s a move he does every day, just easy as anything.
Huck’s hands settle on Pym’s waist, under his shirt hem, just above the low waistband of his ridiculously tight pants. Pym leans back a little, tongue in his teeth, touching Huck’s face, the curve of his cheek, swell of lip, all the way down to the hollow in his throat.
“See, this is all new to me,” Pym says. “Hot, right?”
“Sure,” Huck replies, laughing, “when you put it like that –”
“What do you look like naked? How big’s your dick? What face do you make when you come? I get to find out! Again!”
“You are really damn confident, aren’t you?”
“Prefer to think of it as hopeful,” Pym replies, pulling his shirt off, wiggling free. When his head pops out, he adds, “I’m, like. Very hopeful.”
Huck tips forward, pulling him down until Pym’s laughing into his mouth and their hips are starting to rock together.
“A huge optimist?” Huck suggests.
Pym nods emphatically, working open Huck’s fly, grazing knuckles over his stiffening dick. “It me.”