Shylah heard muffled voices between bursts of laughter coming from the back of
the house as she walked along the driveway toward the side gate leading to the
backyard. Her boots clicked against the moldy pavement as the afternoon sun
dried up what little was left of a light spring shower. She knew she wasn't
dressed for a picnic. She was never dressed for a picnic, and no one would be
expecting her to arrive appropriately attired. Black, vinyl, thigh-high boots
were hardly the sort of thing to wear for running around on the grass and
playing Frisbee in, but the boots were a late birthday gift from her boyfriend,
Christian, and he'd be expecting to see her in them. She wondered, in part, why
he'd bothered to buy them for her. Lately he'd wanted to stay in all the time,
and Shylah had to beg him to go out to clubs and parties. But these boots were
her style, and made to be seen. She loved the way they flashed in the sunlight.
She loved the extra four inches of height they gave her, and the looks she'd
gotten from the neighbors' kids as she'd swung her legs out of her parked, black
car and climbed out. No one seemed to expect to see a pale-faced girl in all
black, with neon red hair, on a respectable family street, at a respectable
post-church hour. As far as Shylah was concerned, Sundays were perfect days for
wearing big boots and all black to a picnic.
She pushed back her hair with her dark sunglasses and pressed her palms against the side gate. It creaked as she lightly pushed it open a few inches and kicked her left leg in with can can flair. She heard the chatter and laughter stop, then peeked her head around the gate door, smiling.
"Look at you, Miss Thang." Her friend Veronica laughed from the other side of the screen door that lead into the dining room. Her usually feathered, brown hair was pulled up into a high ponytail and she was wearing faded blue jeans and a Led Zeppelin t-shirt. "Those look fabulous."
"Thanks." Shylah grinned, squinting her eyes to survey the crowd in the yard. Christian was sitting in a white plastic patio chair near the far end of the house, slapping his hands against the black denim jeans of his pants, offering her a seat on his lap. His black hair was loose around his shoulders, the way she liked to see him wear it, and a rare smile bent his mouth. She stepped toward where he sat, swiveling her hips and taking exaggerated strides, knowing Christian would get a kick out of it. He always told her he loved her natural knack for camping it up, though lately she'd started to feel that maybe her goofiness was starting to embarrass him. Why else would they spend most of their time in the room he rented at the house, listening to music, watching old episodes of The Prisoner, and laying in bed? Even the sex was routine and Shylah couldn't remember the last time they had gone out to a movie or for dinner. Moving into the eleventh month of their relationship, and Shylah was feeling that the honeymoon phase was long over. Christian was sweet to her, and right now it felt good to be dressed up for him, even if it wasn't to go to a club or party.
She slid into Christian's lap and he leaned forward to kiss her. His kiss was a bit too urgent. She suddenly felt as though he were branding her with his tongue, marking her as his, and when she pulled away it was then that she noticed the man sitting in the chair next to them. He was a pretty boy with the sort of pale skin she was used to seeing her club friends with. The sort of complexion that was revered in the Gothic group of people she hung out with. His hair was chin length, perfectly trimmed and midnight blue. He wore silver rings on his slender, bone-white fingers and dark, metallic blue varnish on his fingernails. Tight black pants, belted with a thin, silvery glitter belt covered his legs that were crossed very much like a girl's. He was smiling at her with a toothy grin.
"Your boots are fantastic, love. Not too many girls could work a pair of hooker boots like a lady, but you waltzed in here and I wanted a torch song." His voice carried a perfect tone. It was the sort of voice most of Shylah's theatre friends had developed from years of performing on stage. There was a faint British accent riding the edges of his words. Shylah loved British accents.
"Torrin and I were just talking about you," Christian said. "He likes that god awful band that you love so much … Alien Sex Fiend."
Shylah gasped. "Really? I adore Alien Sex Fiend, and I can never find anyone else who appreciates their sick sense of humor like I do!" She turned in Christian's lap to face Torrin. Everything about him screamed 'gay'. As her friend, Gavin, used to proclaim himself, "As gay as the sun is bright." Shylah sobered, slightly, at the thought of Gavin. He'd died of AIDS just three months ago. A winter funeral for Gavin, but now it was spring and there was a delightful boy grinning at her like the goddamn Cheshire Cat. Torrin reminded her of Gavin in a way. He had the same immaculate and perfectly balanced mouth. The sort of mouth that lipstick advertisers would pay good money for, and his eyes were the same shade of bitter chocolate brown as Gavin's. The longer she looked at him, the more she could see Gavin revealing himself in his characteristics. His face was full of expression, as once Gavin's had been. Torrin held his hands in his lap, cupped together, one over the other, and when he spoke, he rubbed them together.
"I've seen you out at the pubs and clubs before! Practically everywhere!" Torrin said, breaking her from her silence. She realised she'd been staring, but he didn't seem to notice. There had been a time when Gavin had chatted away at her enthusiastically, as Torrin did now, and she'd loved every minute of it. Getting caught up in his excitement had always been easy for her. His taste for romance and mystery had been brilliant, and he'd had a way of seemingly pressing secrets into the palm her hand every time he was around.
Torrin leaned forward in his chair and Shylah caught a glimpse of the necklace he wore. A series of chains linked together, with the front six rings in red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. Inside each ring was a smooth bead of hematite. There was no question then. Shylah had seen enough necklaces like this one to know that it was a gay pride necklace. She helped a friend of hers who made jewelry make several of them once before the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade. Shylah remembered that day. Remembered driving up with a bunch of her friends to show her support.
Remembered Gavin playing air guitar on the corner of Castro Street and the beautiful lesbian couple who stood kissing just next to him. The pinwheel of his arm in pretend mid-stroke across imagined guitar strings had eclipsed the sun. She had a picture of Gavin from that weekend tucked away in a box under her bed. Sun burnt cheeks and a smile as wide as his pride. Yes. Gavin had known happiness. And yes. She had shared in some of it with him. And yes, she missed him more than anything.
"Did you know Gavin Morrison?" His name still hurt to say. The curse of the girl who always fell in love with the safe ones. She'd loved Gavin. It had turned out to be just as un-safe as any other love. It hurt like hell to think of him, but all she could do right now was to think of him.
"Is he the bloke who dated the deejay from Thursday nights at club Devolve?" Torrin scratched at his head. "Haven't seen him around much lately."
"Yeah. That was him," Shylah choked out. "He died last December."
"Oh shit. I'm sorry, love." Torrin turned his big brown eyes away, then slid his hand into Shylah's hand. "You and he were close, weren't you? I always saw you about together."
She nodded. She felt Christian's legs tense under her. He never wanted to talk or hear about her relationship with Gavin. In the time since Gavin's death, Christian had not asked her once how she was feeling.
"I've got to help Steve with the barbecue," Christian said, "Keep my seat warm?" Christian's mouth was drawn down at the corner as he asked. He pursed his lips as Shylah climbed off his lap to let him up, but Torrin didn't let go of her hand. She slid back into the patio seat and watched Christian walk off, a black shadow against the pale blue sky.
"How do you know Christian?" Shylah asked, turning back to Torrin. His fingers still lingered in hers.
"I don't, really. I know Veronica, but just a little bit. She cuts my hair, and it just so happened that I came in this week. She invited me to this thing."
"That's really funny then, that you should be here, and that we go to some of the same clubs." Shylah said. "You know, Christian and I used to go out a lot too, but it's been a while. I'm surprised you don't remember him as well."
"Hey, I've got a secret for you." Torrin started, pulling his chair closer to hers. The legs of the chair scuffed against the concrete patio. Torrin dropped his voice, turned his head left, then right, before looking her right in the eyes. Shylah leaned in, eagerly. "Veronica set us up. She thought you and I would get on well. Looking around this crowd, I can see why she might think that." He laughed and Shylah giggled.
"I do feel a bit the odd one out. I haven't worn jeans since 1980." Shylah said, realising that everyone else in the yard was in jeans and a concert t-shirt of some kind. "It's not really my style."
"Speaking of style. I fancy I'll try on those boots before the end of the day." Torrin reached out with his right hand and touched her left leg.
Shylah almost pushed his hand away. There was something painful in what she felt for him. Even after only a few minutes. Something was swelling inside of her and she didn't know what to make of it. But his slightly crooked teeth were beaming at her and the faint trace of eyeliner around his eyes reminded her that he was the closest thing to a kindred spirit she had here.
Veronica walked over, smiling. "I knew you two would hit it off. I was telling Torrin that if we shot you into space, you'd find the one planet inhabited by gay aliens."
Shylah laughed, resting her hand on top of Torrin's and turning to see where Christian was. He was standing by the barbecue, near Steve, looking at her, though when she smiled he seemed not to notice. He was only a few yards away from her, but it felt like a great distance. "It's a bloody wonder that I managed to land myself a straight boyfriend, innit?" Shylah laughed, turning back to Torrin and Veronica. Veronica raised an eyebrow.
The moon was up, a bright white ball with the faint shadow of a rabbit trapped inside. Shylah wiggled her bare feet in the cool grass, setting her glass of Merlot down on the edge of the patio. The picnic crowd had thinned down to just a few stragglers. Veronica was inside, putting her daughter to bed, and Christian had gone to the store to get more beer. He'd wanted Shylah to join him, but she hadn't felt up for a waltz through the fluorescent lighting of the corner store, so she'd stayed at the house.
Torrin sat next to her, unbuckling his boots. His face was a beautiful silver blue in the night-light, and as he flicked his hair back and threw one of his boots off, Shylah was overwhelmed with the sudden urge to hug him. Without much thought, she wrapped her arms around his bird like shoulders and giggled. "Your hair smells like the fanfare of funerals. Flowers all crowded in circles, white and precious. Lilies and iris and maybe some roses." Her voice felt as warm as she felt. Too much wine, and too much sparkle coming off the boy in her arms.
Torrin hugged her back, burying his face in her shoulder and twirling his fingers into her hair. "Little girls smile at the scent of your hair. That is all they can fathom." She finished.
"You're gorgeous when you're drunk." Torrin whispered.
"You mean, I'm gorgeous when you're drunk." She ran her fingers through his hair and laughed.
"No, you're just gorgeous." He turned his head up towards her and touched her check. "If I was any more drunk, or any less gay, I'd kiss you right now."
Shylah felt familiar trappings. She knew this wasn't Gavin, but he may as well have been. From the moment she'd seen him, their courtship had played out much the same as her and Gavin's. It was a courtship in almost all senses of the word. Shylah knew it, and had been given much grief for it from her friends. She closed her eyes for seconds, gathering her voice again.
"I've got to warn you. I'd never try to change you, but I do have a bad habit of falling madly in love with my best friends." Shylah wanted to smile, to lighten the mood, but barely managed to turn up the corners of her mouth.
"I'm willing to take the chance. Are you?" Torrin narrowed his eyes, and then burst into laughter. "Maybe I'll know the answer to that once I am in your shoes." With that, he grabbed at her boots and started pulling them on. They slid easily over his slim legs and over his thighs. He pushed himself up, out of the chair, took a second to distribute his weight in the shoes, and then took a few strides across the grass. Seeing Torrin's eyes grow wide, Shylah smiled knowingly. The heels sunk, slightly into the lawn. She'd found that one out the hard way, herself.
"You look better in those than I do!" Shylah laughed, standing up and helping Torrin step onto the concrete part of the patio. Music was drifting out the screen door from inside the house.
Torrin was well over six feet tall in those boots, and when he bent at the waist in a bow and looked up at her, Shylah felt herself swoon.
"May I have this dance?" He asked, holding out his hand. Shylah took it and he pulled her against him. Dizzy from the wine, her heart pounding in her chest, Shylah allowed Torrin to lead her around in a series of twirls and moves.
"¡Cuándo bailas conmígo. Ay, ay, ay! Qué locura!" He sang with a fake Latin accent, and Shylah remembered hearing those words in a song by Charo. When you dance with me. Ay, ay, ay! What madness!
"You're insane!" she kidded, just as Veronica and her husband Steve came to the screen door to watch them.
"You're going to kill yourself in those boots!" Veronica laughed, forcing the screen door open and stepping out. She crossed her arms and Steve wrapped his arms around her waist from behind. Shylah spotted Christian coming in from the front door carrying a brown paper bag in his arms. He looked at her but she turned her eyes away, feeling guilty for enjoying herself this much without him.
"It will take a lot more than a great pair of boots to do me in!" Torrin shouted, plunging Shylah into a deep dip across his knee. His hand and arm came under her back, supporting her, but for a moment, Shylah was afraid she or Torrin would loose their balance and he'd come crashing down on top of her. She felt the sensation of falling, but the ground wasn't rushing up at her. The blood rushed to her head and warmed the tips of her ears as the world flipped upside down. She caught a glimpse of Christian glaring at them from inside.
Shylah sat at a table in the club, looking around at familiar faces she had not seen it months. A few people smiled at her, but mostly she averted her eyes and pretending not to notice. She wasn't ready to hear one after another of them telling her how sorry they were about Gavin. Every time someone started to give her that sympathetic head tilting look, she wanted to scream, "What? Did you kill him?"
No one could possibly know what it was like to watch him die. They'd all been too busy gossiping to visit him in the hospital. But Shylah had gone as often as she could, everyday toward the end, and each day she had counted the steps from her car to the hospital room, and each day the number of steps had grown larger. One thousand and twenty-three steps the day he died. She'd held his hand, holding her tears in until she thought she might drown. He'd tried to smile at her, but his face was only a shadow of what it had been. His once perfect lips had cracked against his teeth. He'd kept asking her, over and over if it was time to go home. His head was so light, it had barely left an impression on the pillows under him, and Shylah had told herself that he weighed so little so that it would be easier for his wings to carry him to wherever it was he was going. In one instant, his question changed and he'd asked, "How long have you been waiting?" Then he was gone, and Shylah had crumpled against him, desperately trying to pull him back. To pull back the fullness of his lips, the colour in his cheeks, the bounce in his walk.
No one in this club could possibly know what that was like.
The table she and Gavin had always staked out and claimed each week was currently crowded with a few pale-faced androgynous kids in all black. They all seemed to be gazing, vacuously at everything but one another. Shylah remembered how one night, after too many rum and cokes, Gavin and her had kissed in one of the bathroom stalls of this club. It was a kiss that made little sense in a world defined by sexuality, but in a world defined by absolute love, it had made absolute sense. Gavin had smiled, traces of Shylah's deep red lipstick smudged faintly on his lips. Why was it that gay boys were the only ones who ever seemed to know when to kiss her? Even Torrin was good at selecting the moments pressed between all the other moments when a kiss would be the answer. Like that first night they had met, and just a week ago when they were watching music videos in Torrin's dark room. Torrin had rolled over on the bed, put his arms around her and said, "I feel like we should be making out, or something," with his slightly crooked smile.
Torrin came bouncing away from the deejay's booth, all perfect and pretty in his best club clothes. Shylah pulled herself up in her chair and wiped at the tears she'd not realised were sliding down her cheeks. Shylah had helped Torrin spray flakes of silver glitter into his deep blue hair because he'd said he wanted to have his head in the sky - to be in the stars. Now, his hair twinkled under the club lights. They'd dressed up to the fullest tonight, and Shylah cringed at the thought of the pile of rejected outfits they had left all over her bedroom floor. Thigh-high boots were much harder to co-ordinate with outfits than she'd ever imagined. Fortunately, Torrin was the perfect helper. Perched on the edge of her bed, he'd burst into the chorus of ABBA's Dancing Queen every time Shylah had slinked out of the closet in something new. Ironically, she had never felt quite as sexy as she did when Torrin helped her get ready. The thought of the things he said made her smile.
"I'm making him play our favorite song, and you, my darling and wonderful vixen, are going to dance with me when they play it, or else I will never forgive you." Torrin slipped onto her lap. He was so light. She felt like the Madonna and Child.
Shylah nodded her head and sipped from her cup. The rum and coke mixture was about two thirds gone, and she figured that by the time she was done with it she'd be ready to noodle around on the dance floor with the other spooky kids. If only Christian had decided to come. If he hadn't yelled at her earlier on the telephone when she'd told him she wanted to go out instead of staying home and watching another bloody episode of The Prisoner, again. She'd asked him to come out with her, but he'd turned her down and told her he didn't need to be in the thick of the social party scene to be happy. She'd told him that if spending time with her meant so much to him, it shouldn't matter where that time was spent, but before she'd had a chance to finish her point, Christian had hung up on her.
"Hey, darling. What's with the long face? You're not allowed to pout like that unless you're trying to catch dust bunnies with your lower lip," Torrin pressed his hands against her cheeks and pushed the corners of her mouth up until she was smiling. "That's better. Oh, Douglas says he's really glad to see you." Torrin lifted his drink from the table and took the last sip of it before setting the empty cup down.
Douglas was the deejay, and Gavin's ex-boyfriend. The last time she had seen him was at Gavin's funeral about six months ago. Had it already been six months? That meant she and Torrin had been friends for a little over three months, a season. Their relationship was still young, but she felt as close to him as she had felt to Gavin and they had been friends for years. Shylah swallowed and shook her head of the constant reminders of Gavin. "It feels nice to be back here. It's been so long. I was afraid I might not like it once I came, but thank you for talking me into it." Shylah curled her arms around Torrin's small waist and nuzzled her head into his shoulder. She felt his lips brush against her bangs.
"Anytime, darling. I'm here to make you face your fears."
"And why am I here?" She asked, lost in feeling of his head bent against hers. She wasn't sure if he'd heard her over the music because he was quiet for a long time before answering.
"You're here to hold me, just like this." Torrin squeezed her closer, and her vision blurred as the universe became nothing but the dark space of her face against him.
The dance floor was a sea of moving bodies, and Shylah felt her head spinning with the spinning of the lights as Torrin danced close to her. The music was a strange mixture of a catchy melody blended with a haunting vocals. It was their favorite song, and Doug had played it just for them.
And we're changing our ways, taking different roads. Then love, love will tear us apart … again.
Torrin's eyes were closed as his head turned up to the lights. Shylah loved to watch him dance. She knew half the people in the club did too. He was graceful and beautiful - some wispy eldritch entity with fingers like tapered candles. Shylah always felt as though she were dancing with an otherworldly creature when she danced with Gavin, and dancing with Torrin felt exactly the same. Girls and guys envied her, she knew, because Torrin was the prettiest boy there, and he was dancing with her. He always danced with her.
Shylah knew if she closed her eyes she'd lose track of where she was and crash into something. The curse of a rum and coke buzz under the assault of a strobe light. Instead she focused on the words of the song and the look on Torrin's face. Torrin opened his eyes and winked at her. Reaching out with his right hand, he pulled her closer and they moved together, singing the words into one another.
You cry out in your sleep - all my failings exposed. There's a taste in my mouth, as desperation takes hold. Just that something so good just can't function no more.
When love, love will tear us apart … again.
Shylah pressed her lips to Torrin's cheek. She wondered why he never had a boyfriend. Why, every time a cute, sweet boy came up and asked him on a date, Torrin would smile politely and say no. He was so beautiful, so full of light and sweetness. His skin was like lotus flower petals.
"Tor, tell me something," she put her lips close to his ear so that he would hear her.
"Purple isn't your best colour." Torrin whispered back in faux seriousness.
"Something else, I mean. Tell me why I'm the closest thing you've got to a lover."
Torrin pulled his head back and looked at her. His eyes were wide, then wet. He smiled despite the tears that dove from the rims of his eyes, cascading in sparkling trails down his face.
"Don't cry, Tor. I didn't mean anything by it, I just …"
He pressed his finger to her lips. "There are lots of reasons we're not perfect for one another. The first one being that we can't fulfill one another sexually. But there are lots of reasons we are perfect for one another. I love you, Shy. If I could find a boy that I loved the way I love you, then I'd have the perfect boyfriend. Instead, I'll gladly settle for the perfect girlfriend."
"And I'll gladly settle for the perfect dance partner," she wrapped her arms around him. Hugged him, kissed his ear and whispered, "I love you too, Torrin."
Shylah spotted Christian out of the corner of her eye, just as she turned her head slightly, and only had a second to register that he was heading straight for where she and Torrin were embraced on the dance floor. Her heart rose in her chest. She was glad to see him there. Maybe he had changed his mind about wanting to come out. Maybe he was there to dance with her. But as Christian moved closer to them she saw his eyes were slits of shadow in the dark room, and from the pace of his steps, Shylah could sense he was upset.
"We need to talk, Shylah." Christian wrapped his hand around her left wrist and pulled her, gently from Torrin. "Outside."
"What is it, Christian?" She pulled her hand back from him and felt the heat rise up her cheeks.
"I'll tell you outside. Now, come on." He grabbed her again, and this time, with more force, pulled her away from where Torrin stood, his mouth a dark 'O' in the dance floor lights. His eyes were wide.
"It'll be okay. I'll be right back." Shylah said, not wanting to cause a big scene. She followed Christian through the crowd. She saw Torrin looking nervous when she turned one last time on the way out the door.
The street was filled with people standing around smoking cigarettes and talking. There wasn't much of a chance of getting away from everyone, but Christian didn't stop until they were nearly halfway down the block, near an alleyway. He stopped, released her hand and pushed his hair back behind his ears with both hands. He stood for a few seconds, not looking at her, not saying anything, and then he licked his lips and started.
"I was sitting at home, thinking, and I realised that it didn't matter if Torrin was gay or not. I realised that my girlfriend was out with another guy, and that she was spending way more time with him than she was spending with me." He shifted his weight, settling firmly into the concrete of the sidewalk. He looked down at her, his eyes hardly blinking.
"I know you think that, but you don't like going to clubs, and I want to get out and dance from time to time, you know? I'm twenty-one for Christ's sake! I'm supposed to run around getting fall down drunk with my friends once in awhile. It's compulsory." She smiled at Christian, hoping he'd lighten up.
"Compulsory? What's that supposed to mean? Is that another one of Torrin's British phrases? You talk like a stuck up Brit now, you know? You don't sound anything like yourself." He shoved his right hand into the front pocket of his jeans.
"Bollocks!" She replied before even realising what she was saying. "I've always been an anglophile. Before I met you, and before I met Torrin. He just happens to bring it out in me a bit more than usual. What's the big deal, anyhow? What does how I talk have to do with anything?" She wasn't in the mood for a fight tonight. Not after the wonderful night she'd been having. Even with all the reminders of Gavin, dancing with Torrin had reminded her of all the fun there was to be had in life.
"Sometimes I think you're in love with Torrin, and not with me." Christian looked at her with his brown eyes and she felt a slight twinge of guilt. "I mean, you spend all your free time with him. I can't remember the last time we hung out on a weeknight."
"I see you on the weekends. And I've invited you out with us on the weeknights. I'd like you to come sometime. I think you'd have fun. I know I would. It would be like old times. Remember? We used to dance and forget anyone was watching us. Remember?" She felt an overwhelming sense of love for Christian when she thought of the times he'd kissed her on the dance floor and the first time he'd told her that he loved her. That was sitting in her car after the club had closed, waiting for one of them to sober up enough to drive home. Christian had been dressed up for the occasion, his black hair down and free, his eyes lined with black. He'd even had two bright red streaks in the front of his hair, he'd said, to match hers. Sometimes, Shylah wondered if that had all been just a reflection of who he thought she wanted him to be.
"Of course I remember." He sighed.
"You're here right now. Why don't you come inside with me and dance with me. I miss dancing with you, baby." She reached her hands out for his and he took them. "I loved it when you'd dance with me." His fingernails had patches of black nail polish left on the tips; traces of the last time he'd let her paint them. She let him pull her close to him, rested her head against his shoulder, and felt him touch his lips to the top of her head. She felt warm there, and for the first time in months wanted him to kiss her against the nearest surface like they had done when they'd first started dating. He held her for a moment, and then she felt his chest rise as he took a deep breath.
"That's all in the past. Why do we need to go out and be seen now? I've got you and you've got me, and these places are mostly about picking up on
people anyhow." Christian curled his fingers into hers, but what he'd just said hurt and she wished she could make him understand.
"What's that supposed to mean? You've 'got' me? I love you Christian, but I'll be damned if I am going to become this domestic little girlfriend you seem to want me to be. I'm young, and I like having fun. I want to go out and dance and have a good time. I'd prefer to do that with my boyfriend, but you never want to, so I've found someone who wants to go out with me, and I don't see what the big problem is. It's not like there's any sexual tension between Torrin and me. I don't understand why you're acting like you're jealous." She pulled her hands away and pressed the palms against her hips. If only she could tell him that she was turned on by Torrin's romance, that she wished Christian would act more like he had in the beginning of their relationship, but she'd already told a half truth, and she wasn't going to back down now.
"Have you kissed him?" Christian's face changed under the streetlights. His eyes squinted and his fists started to twitch into balls.
"What? Christian, in case you hadn't noticed, Torrin is gay. They don't get any gayer than Torrin. And, in case you hadn't noticed, you are my boyfriend, not Torrin." She wanted to stop this argument before it got out of hand, but Christian's question had hit a nerve and she couldn't let it go at that.
"I know that, but do you? You act like he's your boyfriend. Hell, he acts like he's your boyfriend. You know what he told Veronica the other day? He said that he wished he were straight, because you two would make the perfect couple." Christian took a few steps closer to her. "He actually said that."
"He did not. I am sure it was a misunderstanding. Gawd, what does it matter anyhow? Don't you trust me?" Shylah straightened up. Her eyes started to water.
"Yeah, I trust you, I guess. It's him I don't know about. I'm just worried, you know?" His voice was quieter now. Somehow it was more frightening to her than when he raised it.
"Worried about what?"
"That you'll get so attached, like you did with Gavin, and then you'll get your heart broken all over again."
"What? Torrin wouldn't break my heart. Never."
"It's not like he has a choice, you know. He's going to get sick and he's going to die."
"What?" What was Christian talking about? It was the strangest thing for him to say something like this - to be so insensitive. " Don't be so naive, Christian. I told you that just because someone's gay it doesn't mean certain death."
"He's got AIDS, Shylah." He must have seen her eyes widen, and added quickly, "I thought you knew. I thought he would have told you by now. Especially as close as you and he are."
Her heart thumped in her chest. She felt a lump in her throat too big to swallow, to large to ignore. "You're making that up. He doesn't have AIDS. He would have told me."
"It's true, Shylah. That's why I'm worried about the time you spend with him. I know you. I know you're going to get hurt." His face softened again and he reached for her. "I wouldn't make something like that up."
Shylah shook her head. There was no way Christian could be right. Torrin would have said something. Torrin knew what she'd been through with Gavin. It had to be a lie. Christian was just jealous and trying to force her to stop spending time with Torrin. "Fuck you, Christian. You're making it up!" She started to turn and head back to the club when she saw Torrin coming in their direction.
"Come on, Shylah. Come home with me." Christian said. His voice was still very calm and quiet. She wanted to hit him.
"I don't think so." She answered. "I came here to have a good time, and you're not going to ruin that. If you want to be a stick in the mud, then fine. If you want to act like some middle-aged guy, then you go right ahead. I am not ready for that sort of life."
Torrin jogged up. "Everything okay?"
"Butt out of this one, Torrin." Christian spat.
"You don't talk to him like that." Shylah said, pointing her finger at Christian. "You don't get to tell me what to do and you certainly don't get to tell him what to do."
"What's going on?" Torrin looked at her, then at Christian. His eyes widened the longer the silence grew. "Are you two breaking up?"
"You'd be quite happy if that were the case, wouldn't you?" Christian mumbled under his breath.
"What? Of course not. That's a ridiculous accusation to make."
"Well, you'd have all her time. You wouldn't have to share any of it with me. The two of you could spend the rest of your days just running amok like some perfect fucking couple, but that's not going to happen. "Christian turned his gaze to Shylah. "He is never going to fuck you, you know?"
"Fuck you!" Shylah pushed him with the palm of her hand. "I can't believe you'd even say something like that. Fuck off!" She was so angry all she could think to do was to hurt him with her words, even if she couldn't hurt him with her fists. "What Torrin gives me, you never could. You used to, but now you're not the same person. You might be able to fuck me, but you don't know how to love me!"
"Christian, maybe you two should talk about this tomorrow." Torrin said.
"Maybe you should shut the fuck up." Shylah wasn't sure if he was responding to her or to Torrin. Christian wouldn't take his eyes from hers. She knew she'd hurt him good and deep, and she didn't care. Every thing he had ever done to irritate her came rushing up through her. She felt lied to. The person she had signed on to dating was just someone Christian had conjured out of nowhere to dazzle her with, and now he'd dropped the mask. Hell, she was dating an old man, not a young romantic like she'd been promised.
"I'm so done with this!" Shylah yelled. "Torrin, I'm going to get my purse. Would you drive me home?"
"That's it, Shy. If you don't come with me now, then that's it. You can live your little short lived sexless fantasy with him, or you can come home with me." Christian took a hold of her arm one last time. There was no desperation in his grasp. Maybe if he'd held on harder, she'd have thought twice, but she easily pulled away from him.
She turned her entire body around to face Christian. "Sexless? He's got more sexy in his pinky finger than you've got in your entire body! You're idea of foreplay is watching television." Torrin was right behind her, and she felt his hand slip into hers. His fingers squeezed hers between them. She felt the trembling in her voice calm slightly. "If you think a relationship is only about putting tab a into slot b, you couldn't be more wrong."
"You think that is all that I offer to this relationship? Is that it?" Christian folded his arms across his chest. His legs were spread apart, his feet planted firmly into the ground.
"These days? Yes! Everything's a fecking itinerary with you. There's no challenge, there is no veering off the path just to see what might be hiding in the shadows. We never do anything different, and when was the last time you and I went out together?"
"We went out last Saturday, didn't we?"
"We went to your friends house, where we sat and watched the same movies we've been watching for months." Shylah felt the heat rising in her again. The more she thought about it, the angrier she was getting. "You know what I really wanted to do that night? I wanted to go see Love and Rockets with Torrin. I like Love and Rockets. They happen to be a band that I enjoy, and you called them amateur and made me feel stupid and guilty. So I went with you to Dave's and I was bored out of my fecking skull."
"Is it that you would have rather seen Love and Rockets, or that you would have rather seen Torrin?" Christian asked. His voice was even, but he had started to rock his feet from side to side, slightly, Shylah could tell she was getting to him, and she was glad.
"Come on, you two. This isn't the place for this." Torrin spoke up and his grip on Shylah's hand tightened. " You're angry, and you've had a bit to drink." The second part was directed at Shylah. He knew she was speaking out of anger and that she would probably say something she would later regret. He knew her better than anyone.
"Let's just go." She said. "I don't think I have anything left to say."
"Then this is it? Like this? Don't you have anything else to say?" Christian demanded.
Shylah thought about things. She thought about everything that had transpired over the course of their relationship. How he had changed. How she had changed. And she realised that her hopes that he would somehow return to the former version of Christian were coming unwoven. That Christian had been nothing but a false front, and the domestic, boring Christian was the one she would be stuck with if she stayed with him. She looked at him. He was beautiful. He had been sweet to her once upon a time, and even now a part of her still wanted to believe that given time things would change.
But the truth was obvious.
"Yeah, Christian. This is it." She thought she might accidentally snap Torrin's wrist as she clenched her hand in his.
Veronica climbed into the passenger seat of Shylah's car and pulled the door shut.
"Would you lock it, please?" Shylah asked. She'd pulled her car up and honked, hoping that Christian wasn't home. "If he's home, maybe I should just drive around the block a few times while we talk."
Veronica clicked the lock on the door and turned to face her. "He's not home right now. Listen, Christian told me what happened. I should have mentioned it sooner. I just thought that Torrin would tell you in his own good time."
"Then it's true?" Shylah slammed her hands against the steering wheel. The horn sounded, an accidental cacophony on the still street. Shylah felt herself convulse, and then the hot tears spilled down her cheeks at a feverish pace.
"Yeah." Veronica popped opened the glove box and rummaged around. "You've got some tissue in here?" She pulled a small plastic package of Kleenex from the glove box and pulled one sheet free and handed it to Shylah. "Here."
Shylah took it and wiped the spidery trails of black eyeliner from under her eyes. "I don't know what to do, Veronica. I don't think I can go through it again. I can't believe he didn't tell me! We've talked so much about Gavin. Oh gawd, that first night we met, I told him his hair smelled like the fanfare of funerals!" The thought of how Torrin must have felt hearing that made her feel sick to her stomach.
"I think he just … didn't want to worry you. He knows how hard it was on you when Gavin died. He also knows you've been through this at least one other time, and he's not entirely prepared to accept that he's going to die any time soon." Veronica handed her another tissue. "Christian wanted me to tell you he's sorry he's the one you heard it from."
"I was so awful to him, Veronica. I told him to fuck off." Shylah folded the tissue in her hands and dabbed at her nose. "I thought he was just being jealous and selfish."
"I don't think he's upset with you. You should talk to him and try to straighten things out. I know he's miserable without you. But maybe you should talk to Torrin first. I doubt he's going to be too pleased you found out this way. He's been trying to call you, you know?"
"I need to think about things a bit before I talk to anyone. Thanks for talking to me, Veronica. It means a lot to me." Shylah grabbed the keys from her lap and shoved them into the ignition. "I'm just going to go for a drive. Tell Christian I'll call him later."
"You going to be okay?" Veronica touched Shylah's shoulder.
"I'll do what I have to," she answered. She didn't plan on calling either Christian or Torrin anytime soon.
Shylah pushed the last of her few belongings into her large black velvet bag and took one last look around Christian's room to make sure she had everything. There where the things that she wasn't sure about, things he had given to her that she'd left on the bed. Knowing that she was coming over to get her things, Christian had left the house and she couldn't ask him what he wanted her to do with the books he'd bought her. She placed them in a stack next to the television. The chances were that she wouldn't step foot into this room or into this house again. Since she and Christian were broken up, there was little chance she'd see either Christian or Veronica again. Realistically, the only thing they had ever really had in common was Christian.
Shylah shut the door behind her and headed down the hallway to the front room. Veronica was smoking a cigarette out on the back patio. The patio door was closed to keep the smoke from drifting in, and Shylah raised her hand to wave, silently. Veronica waved back with a slight smile. The grass behind Veronica was turning to mush from the winter rains.
Torrin was kneeling outside Shylah's house. It had been two weeks since the night at the club. But now, here he was, so beautiful, standing outside, petting her black cat in the sun. Mojo rolled over under Torrin's hands, his legs stretching in the air, his belly exposed and head turned out in bliss.
Shylah pulled her car into the driveway and took a few seconds before climbing out.
"Shy, honey, I couldn't take it. Not hearing from you. I had to know what you were thinking and what was going on with you. Christian and Veronica won't tell me anything." He stood up, brushing dirt from his knees. He reached out to take her hand.
Shylah couldn't pull her hand away, though part of her wanted to. "I was going to call you. I've just been busy with school and everything."
"Bollocks. You've been avoiding me. And I know you found out from Christian. That's the only thing I could think of in the last two weeks. I kept wondering why you would suddenly drop out of my universe, and that's the only reason I could come up with." He looked down at the ground, his hands on his hips, and Shylah realised just how pale he was, even without the make up on. His fingers were as thins as bones and just as white.
"This is exactly what I was afraid of, Shy! I knew that the minute you found out you'd start living in the past again. That I'd become your next Gavin, but I'm not, Shylah! I'm not Gavin, and I am not going to die on you like that!"
"You don't know that!" Shylah picked up Mojo and cradled him in her arms. "Gavin swore up and down he wasn't going to go, but in the end, he did. And it wasn't quick, and it wasn't painless, and every time he looked at me he was asking me with his eyes to please help him end it." Shylah yanked her hand away. "It was awful!"
"You don't think I know that? You don't think I'm terrified? I'm scared fucking shitless, but I'm fighting this, Shylah. And I want you to fight it with me. Can't you fight this with me?"
"I don't know, Torrin. I just don't know." She couldn't raise her face to look at him. She knew the minute she did she'd never be able to walk away from him. She knew, even though she could now see the sunken hallows of his eyes were more than just the traces of too much clubbing, pubbing, and drugging, that if she looked just once into those eyes, she'd be signing on for another ride on the sorrow train. "I need some time to think about things."
What a bunch of fucking madness this was, indeed.
"Please, Shylah. Can we just talk for a minute?" Torrin stood by the front door of the Club, Devolve as Shylah was making her way in. She wasn't really sure what she was thinking coming here. It wasn't a surprise that Torrin would be here looking for her. She had spent the past two weeks screening her calls, avoiding the phone calls from both Christian and Torrin. For some reason she knew she needed to tell him face to face that she couldn't see him through this. Even now, knowing, she could hardly bring herself to look at him.
"Yeah, I guess. Just a few minutes though. I've got people waiting for me inside," she lied. Of course, as soon as she went inside she'd be able to find someone she knew and pretend they had been waiting for her.
Torrin reached for her hand, then stopped. "Can we walk a bit?"
Shylah nodded and followed him toward the same alleyway where she and Christian had last spoken. The same place she had broken things off with him. The irony wasn't lost on her, and didn't appear to be lost on Torrin either.
He turned to her. "Is it that you are scared of me?"
Shylah sighed, "Of course not. That's a stupid thing to say. I know all about how it works, you know. More than I ever wanted to know."
"Then what it is? Why won't you return my phone calls? Why can't we hang out like we used to?" He wrapped his arms around himself. Shylah wanted to hold him, but the thought of his fragile bones in her arms made her stop.
"I just can't. Don't you understand that? I just can't go through it."
"You've already killed me off in your universe, huh? You aren't even going to believe in my life? In my living?" He unfolded his arms and grabbed her around the waist. "I'm not fucking dead yet, Shylah! I'm not fucking dead!"
"Let me go, Torrin. Let me go, please?" She shook herself free from his embrace. Her eyes burned with tears as she tried to look at him. Nothing but a blur of his shape in her eyes as she whispered, "Let me go."
"Shylah, please." She heard his voice tremble. It tore her heart out. "I can't just walk away from this. You and me, we're Bonnie and fucking Clyde, right?"
"No Torrin. Not anymore. I just can't." She took a few steps back from him.
"Shylah! Don't ditch me like this! You're all I've got."
"I'm sorry, Torrin."
"Yes, you are sorry. Not nearly the person I thought you to be." He hissed, and his words stung. There was truth in them, she knew that, but there was nothing in the world that could change her mind. She would rather remember him like this; angry at her than like the memories she had of Gavin in the hospital.
"I love you. I'm sorry, and I love you." She turned and started counting the steps back to her car.
The street pavement clicked under her feet as Shylah crossed over to the block the club was on. It was only a few more minutes until she would reach the door. A nervous excitement flooded her stomach. She knew she had a lot of apologizing to do, and she only hoped that Torrin would forgive her. It had been three months since she had left him in the alley on this very street. Three months she had spent not answering her telephone. Three months she had thrown herself into school. But none of it had helped her forget Torrin. Nothing had prepared her for how alone she felt after breaking things off with him. Breaking up with Christian had been the right thing to do. There was nothing promised there but disappointment and heartache, but Torrin was one of her soul mates. Her kindred spirits, and she intended to stick it out with him until the end. She only hoped he would be willing to let her.
The bouncer at the door nodded his head at her and let her in. It was nice to know that she could be away for months at a time, but they always remembered her here.
Inside, the room was swimming with people. There was a certain calm to everyone that Shylah found a bit odd. Everyone seemed trapped in repose. The dance floor was empty despite the number of people crowded inside. Too many for her to get a good look around for Torrin. Shylah saw several boys with their hair styled the same way as Torrin styled his. Each time she saw one, she felt anxious. She still wasn't sure what she was going to say to him. How could she make up for being so selfish and chicken shit?
She pushed her way through towards the dance floor, just as the song changed. Shylah had to laugh. It was the song she and Torrin always danced to. She moved out on to the dance floor, hoping Torrin would join her. What a reunion that would be. But no one came out on to the dance floor. She was alone, moving to the music without her beautiful angel next to her. Perhaps he had decided not to come out tonight. She had no idea if he even still came to the club, but she had been hoping.
Why is the bedroom so cold? You've turned away on your side. Is my timing that flawed? Our respect run so dry? Yet there's still this appeal that we've kept through our lives. Love, love will tear us apart … again.
She danced, aware that everyone in the club was watching her. It felt a little strange, but maybe, if she danced enough Torrin would show up. Maybe if she just kept dancing, he would walk in the door. And maybe, if she pulled him into her arms as she had done so many times to this very song, he would forgive her.
"Shylah!" She jumped when she heard her name. The voice didn't sound familiar, but when Shylah turned she saw Doug waving to her from the deejay booth. He was just starting the next song, and then he came running out from behind the deejay decks and toward her.
"Hey Doug. You were playing our song. Me and Torrin's song, that is." Shylah said.
Doug hugged her tightly. "I am so glad you're here. I was afraid you wouldn't show up."
"What do you mean? I know it's been a few months since I've been here, but what's so special about tonight?"
Doug's eyes dropped to the floor. "You don't know, do you?"
"Know what?" Shylah asked. A familiar sense of panic started to move through her.
"Tonight's sort of special, yeah." Doug took her hands. "I don't know how to say it," He nodded his head toward a journal book sitting on the ledge outside the deejay booth.
Shylah headed for it, confused about what this could all mean. Doug followed behind her. She looked at the open pages of the book and there were messages written down in different handwriting across the pages. It was too dark to read most of them, but Shylah had a bad feeling. She picked up the book, closed it, and examined the cover. It was nice black leather, with silver etched around the edges and corners. In shiny metallic silver writing it read:
In Loving Memory of Torrin Jacob Richardson
(September 23, 1967 - March 12, 1989)
"Time takes us. We are Eternal." - Conrad Aiken
Shylah dropped the book. It crashed to the floor and onto her foot. She stepped back, crashing into Doug who must have been right behind her.
"I'm sorry, Shylah. I thought you were here because you knew."
Shylah nodded. Everything had started to slow down in the room, and the exit door seemed so far away. She felt the world shift and Doug grabbed a hold of her to keep her from falling. "I need to go." She managed, licking her lips to get her mouth to work. Doug helped her through the crowd, but she hardly registered his hand in hers as he pushed them through. She thought she might be floating. Her legs were numb.
How could it be that she'd just missed her chance to see him one last time? How could she have been so selfish? If she had just been brave enough to find him sooner. She'd been thinking about it since the day after she'd gathered her things from Christian's. She'd known then that she would find Torrin again. All she'd needed was a little bit of time.
Doug stopped at the door and pulled her into a hug. "If you want to talk, or if you need anything, please let me know. I think we have much in common."
Shylah moved her head up and down, slowly. At least it felt slow, but she couldn't speak. Stepping out into the street, she was hit by a blast of cool air. The wind broke against the tears on her cheeks, blowing her hair in front of her eyes. The world was a blur behind wet. She stumbled a few yards down the street and found herself standing near the alleyway. She kicked at the wall, twisted her fingers into fists and pounded against the bricks until her knuckles stung with raw red heat. Something she could feel. If only she had been brave enough to love Torrin without fear, to feel the raw red heat of fearless devotion. Damned alley! Damned short cut to nowhere! It was so quiet here, only the faint pulse of the music coming from the club down the way shook weakly in the bricks touching her hands and the concrete under her feet. She forced air from her gut and it came out sounding like a laugh. She'd forgotten how to breathe.
She crept her fingers up the wall until her forehead lay resting against the cool surface. Inside the blur of her eyes she could force out the white lines of the brick wall in front of her, and instead conjure the evening sky. She could populate that sky with thousands of stars, like holes poked in black construction paper, or the silver glitter in Torrin's hair. She could perfectly place the full moon spilling down its white light onto Torrin's face in the backyard as he moved closer, then further away from her, spinning her and twirling her to the music. She could practically taste the Merlot on her lips, feel the concrete under her bare feet, and hear the click of those damned vinyl boots as Torrin teetered dangerously in them.
"¡Cuándo bailas conmígo. Ay, ay, ay! Qué locura!" She cried out into the silence. There was no echo. She had hoped for one.
When you dance with me. Ay, ay, ay! What madness!