Issuu on Google+

ANTHOLOGY VOL. 1

f i r s t l o v e

v o l u m e

1

f i r s t l o v e

A N T H O LO G Y

f i r s t l o v e

A N T H O LO G Y

Š 2012 BLUSH | http://www.blush-con.org

One-time rights reserved. All content in this anthology is rightfully owned by its creators. No part of this publication may be reproduced or distributed unless permitted by their respective authors. Cover art by Hanaoka Book design and layout by Clarissa Ines Edited by the Blush Editorial Team Rochelle Dumlao, Chris Mariano, Israel Realin, Kristine Santos, Tricia Santos-Fermin and Jill Solidum Printed in the Republic of the Philippines.

contents

Ho s hi co

a daydream away Ch e sra Lee

05

it was june

12

nearly a valediction

22

the beautiful one

58

mr. and mr. darkness

CP Coulter N ofa v rell

76 78

harana

96

Zen Maldita, Mo otec ky an d Kas uouh

Shi roni j i

42

the alkaline affair M.C. Jos e

Yomi ki r i

20

40

Yeehun

Ha na oka

116

N i x de Pa n o

118

phantom

134

screwballs

K a i ka Ha na Ci nna mon R u b

by Hanaoka

first love |

It was June

5

6

It was June

| first love

first love |

It was June

7

It was June 8

| first love

first love |

It was June

9

It was June 10

| first love

nearly a valediction

by Yomikiri

D

uring Shu’s second year,

the school festival committee decided they wanted them to do something other than food stalls for the evening. ‘Them’ being Shu’s class, because the other classes had already sorted out what they would do by then: the usual gamut of haunted houses, maid cafes, and plays (crossdressing optional, because it was just that kind of school).

12

Nearly a Valediction

| first love

So, really, it was down to 2-1 to come up with plans for the evening event. And they did: Takaya-kun was in a band! Takaya-kun, who dyed his hair and was so cool all his friends were university students. Takaya-kun, who was so charming the teachers let him get away with wearing band shirts underneath his uniform. Takaya-kun, who was so laid-back he was frequently missing from class meetings, and actually, Kobayashi-kun, could you look for him and tell him the plan?

Shu had been elected as class president not because he had qualities that made him a good leader, exactly. He looked the part, so some extent: as a freshman he was gawkier than the rest of his class, and had worn thick glasses because he didn’t know any better. But what really got him the position was that he had a hard time saying no to people and took his responsibilities seriously, even when what they were asking for was extremely inconvenient for him. Like now, for instance. After checking the library, the music room, the field, and the area behind the school building where they kept the incinerator, Shu found Takaya, unsurprisingly, on the rooftop. Of course. Shu flung the door open with a bang and strode up to him, scowling. “Endo-kun!” Shu tried, and failed, to keep the irritation out from his voice. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere!” Most of his peers steamrollered over him quite easily, but Takaya, while irresponsible, had always been fairly laid-back and took Shu’s scoldings with fairly good-humor. “Class president,” Takaya replied easily. “To what do I owe the honor?” True to his classmates’ claims, Takaya did have a red electric guitar with him, and he was absently drumming his fingers against the body of it as they spoke. He had a musician’s hands, Shu noted absently. “We were supposed to discuss what our class would do for the cultural festival today!”

first love |

Nearly a Valediction

13

“But what does that have to do with me?” Takaya said reasonably. “It has everything to do with you!” Shu exclaimed, finally losing all patience. “Your band’s supposed to play for the evening event!” Takaya’s eyebrows were steadily climbing up, but he raised his hands in a conciliatory gesture and said, voice gentle, “No need to get worked up. It’s a bit late notice, but if it means that much to you, I’ll do it.” Shu deflated in the face of Takaya’s calm acceptance. “We wanted to ask you properly, but you skipped out on us again.” “Fair enough,” Takaya said agreeably. He gave Shu the grin that was the notorious cause for girls stuffing chocolate every Valentine’s Day into his shoe locker, and Shu, to his mortification, felt himself flush. Takaya looked amused, damn him, and continued to look at him, considering, from underneath his eyelashes. Was he—was he flirting? There was a cloud of rumors that regularly followed Takaya around, the most prominent one being the fact that he never once paid attention to the girls that gave him chocolate year after year. Shu fidgeted a bit before finally saying, “Well, I’m going then. Thank you for your help, Takaya-kun.” “I’ll go with you,” Takaya said smoothly, standing up and slinging his guitar over his shoulder. His very wide shoulders. “As a matter of fact, “ he continued, adjusting the guitar strap and giving Shu a friendly look, “Why don’t I walk you home, class president?” Shu gulped.

As the day of the cultural festival came closer, Takaya began to show up to the after-school meetings, which Shu had mixed feelings about. On the one hand, he was the main reason the class was holding them at all, and he behaved perfectly: attentive and deferring politely to the class’ suggestions. On the other hand—Takaya was

14

Nearly a Valediction

| first love

sometimes...a little...too attentive. Specifically, to Shu. It was driving him to distraction. Today he had brought his bandmates in for a sound check/rehearsal. Shu had gotten special permission from the principal for them to be allowed in; they were all university students already, and only one of them was an alumnus. Their arrival had caused a minor commotion, with the class focusing on them and swarming them with questions while they were setting up the stage and not Takaya, for once. Takaya had introduced them around with his usual carefree smile, and when they had gotten to Shu, he had only managed to bow and say his last name when they all shared a look and gave him matching predatory grins. “Ah, the class president! It’s good to finally meet you.” “Knock it off, Daisuke,” Takaya said, slinging a companiable arm around Shu’s shoulders. “Go set up.” He had gotten a new haircut and his hair kept falling into his eyes, which shouldn’t have been attractive but Shu had resigned himself to his fate. “Kobayashi and I still need to work out how to get our equipment here.” “Sure,” Daisuke said dubiously, but he grinned and left them to it. “What are you doing?” Shu muttered, after Takaya had settled them to a desk in the corner, away from the stage. “What am I doing?” Takaya echoed innocently. They were sitting across from each other but Takaya had leaned in close. “Aren’t we supposed to discuss logistics today?” “Yes,” Shu said uncomfortably. “But—you’re not usually—I’m not—” He gave up and buried his face in his arms, and said, muffled, “I wish you’d stop fooling around.” Silence. Shu felt his ears burn and kept his head down, embarrassed. He had never—he had always been disinterested in girls. But he had never been particularly interested in boys either, right up until Takaya had

first love |

Nearly a Valediction

15

shown up and kept sticking around and smiling at him. If Takaya was going to make him do this...reassessment, he wished— he wished— “Kobayashi,” Takaya said quietly. “Would you look up, please?”

Takaya was up on stage now and butterflies were multiplying endlessly in Shu’s stomach.

Shu swallowed hard, then slowly lifted his head. His glasses had been knocked askew and Takaya smiled at him gently before reaching up and adjusting them for him. Shu stopped breathing. “I’m writing a song,” Takaya began, seemingly out of nowhere. He had finally looked away from Shu and had leaned back, watching the rest of the class with studied nonchalance. “When it’s done, I’d really like you to listen to it.” “O...okay,” Shu said, throat dry. The implications of Takaya’s statement made him light-headed. “Okay, I will.”

Perhaps because the class wanted to impress their recently acquired senpais, when the cultural festival day finally arrived the tiny stage where Takaya’s band would be was both impressively decorated and well-populated: string lights hung around the area, and the girls had gone around earlier in the day handing out flyers and bullying friends

16

Nearly a Valediction

| first love

from other classes into attending. They even hadshirts made with Takaya’s face silk-screened in front and Konnichiwa Baby! printed in obnoxious fonts at the back. Takaya had left him pretty much alone after their talk, and was uncharacteristically serious whenever Shu saw him during class. Then, the days seemed so long, but Takaya was up on stage now and butterflies were multiplying endlessly in Shu’s stomach. Takaya tapped on the mic, once, then twice, to see if the speakers were working. “Hi,” he said. “We’re Konnichiwa Baby and I’d like to thank everyone for coming to see us today.” “Special thanks to 2-1 for the invite!” Daisuke chimed in, to loud and enthusiastic cheering. “Okay, okay,” Takaya said, laughing and waving at them to be quiet as the rest of the band finally, finally struck their opening chords, “We were originally going to do covers first, but I just finished this yesterday and I’m pretty excited to take it out for a spin. I hope you enjoy.”

Because I’ve waited for so long, it feels like a calculating move now. But in this brightly-lit room, I want to tell you about what I saw in you. Oh, you won’t believe me when I tell you that I know you. They were good. They were really good, actually. Shu hadn’t listenedto a lot of bands, but they played well and Takaya’s voice was warm and personal Shu felt like his heart would burst from happiness.

The day I finally confess straightforwardly I hope you look for me when you start to want someone steady. I hope you look for me when your heart is finally ready. Up on the stage, Takaya caught his eyes and smiled, devastating.

I’m going to wear my heart on my sleeve. I’m going to give you every advantage.

first love |

Nearly a Valediction

17

The day I finally confess straightforwardly Please consider me. Please consider me.

Takaya was the one to come looking for him, this time. Shu, overwhelmed, had slipped away after the first song, and Takaya eventually found him back on the rooftop. “Hey,” he said sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck. Shu was sitting near the railings with his arms wrapped around his knees, and watched quietly as Takaya went to take a seat next to him. “That was pretty serious, I think,” Takaya said eventually. Shu was pretty sure he had lost the ability to speak. No one had ever fallen in love with him before: his looks were average at best, his personality too high strung. Takaya basically sang about his feelings in public. The silence stretched. Takaya’s left hand was resting—probably purposefully—barely an inch away from Shu, palms turned upwards. Using up the last of his courage, Shu grabbed it and held on. Takaya squeezed back, and, encouraged, Shu wailed, “But why?” Takaya grinned, this one a little deprecating, and looked up at the sky. “Why not? I like the way you look. I like how you take things so seriously.” He stroked his thumb across the back of Shu’s hand. His eyes were honest and sure. “I’m so happy,” Shu confessed. Takaya turned to face him, smiling. “Me too.”

18

Nearly a Valediction

| first love

Illustration by Hoshico

a daydream away

by Chesra Lee

T

he facts were these: (1) His name was Lex.

(2) Short for Alexander, though Isaac had to do a bit of digging to learn that. (3) He could play the drums. (4) But he was much, much better at singing (okay, this was more of a biased thought as opposed to an actual fact).

22

A Daydream Away

| first love

(5) He’s never had a girlfriend ever. (6) And he was heading straight for Isaac’s table. Isaac tried not to look panicked. In fact, he tried not to look anywhere but at his notebook, where he had been drawing miniature versions of Lex on the margins, his notes on Biology be damned. Fortunately, his lack of artistic expertise would ensure that no one, not even the man himself, would assume that he was the crudely drawn stick figures on his notebook. There was very little resemblance. Isaac took comfort in that. Lex was still walking towards their table, and Isaac had a brief, terrible premonition of being called out on his creepy, stalker-ish ways. It served him right for watching all his YouTube videos in one night. Isaac was glad he hadn’t finished downloading the song Lex had covered. If he had, it would be on his phone right now and it would serve as evidence. “James?” There it was, his speaking voice. A little deeper than his singing voice, but just as melodious. Isaac kept his head bowed and his eyes trained on his notebook. James, who was the person sitting beside Isaac at the table, lifted his head. James was clearly unaware of any internal panic Isaac was experiencing at that moment. It wasn’t as if James had any idea of how Isaac felt for Lex. It wasn’t as if James knew that Isaac even knew Lex, and Isaac had no plans of letting him cotton on to that idea anytime soon. “Are you going to the gig this Friday?” Isaac knew that James, unlike his own boring self, often went to band gigs. He went to clubs and bars and got back to their dorm room at three in the morning smelling like beer and cheap cigarettes. Beside him, James shrugged. “Maybe. Leslie said she and her mates might be hosting.” Leslie was the tall girl in Isaac’s Math class. She was pretty the way supermodels were; tall, thin, gorgeous hair,

first love |

A Daydream Away

23

and a really charming smile. She was friendly, too. Half the guys in the college were in love with her. Even Diana wouldn’t stop talking about her. “We need some help with setting up,” Lex said. “So if you don’t mind coming early, it would be really cool.” “Okay, dude. See you.” James gave a half-hearted wave, and then Lex was walking away. James turned to Isaac. “I’m going back to sleep,” he said. “Wake me up ten minutes before class, okay?” Isaac nodded, and soon the other boy was back to dreamland. Isaac sighed quietly, and went back to the little Lexes on his notebook. The problem with Isaac was that he never knew how to talk to people, not like James and Leslie and Lex, who were friendly and nice to everyone. Isaac had never been schooled in the arts of small talk, and he often wished someone would teach him. Ah well. Even if he knew how, it wasn’t like it would give him a chance with Lex, anyway. “He has a gig this Friday,” Isaac said to Diana the next day, as they sat cross-legged on her bed. Diana was curling her hair. She often complained that it never had enough volume. Isaac never knew why she would want volume. His hair looked like a mess every day, and he kept it short in an attempt to make it look tidier. It never worked. “Oh really,” Diana said, in that tone that meant she was listening but wasn’t particularly interested. “Yeah. James might help his band set up their stuff,” he continued. “Hmm.” Diana moved on the next section of her hair. Her hair was straight as a ruler, and the curls always loosened in a couple of hours. It never stopped her from waking up early to attack her hair with a curling iron. “It’s not like you’re going to watch.”

24

A Daydream Away

| first love

Isaac nodded miserably. Gigs always started late, and Isaac had tutoring sessions on Saturday mornings. Oh well. The YouTube video would be up in a couple of days, anyway. “I don’t even know what you see in him,” Diana said, her voice muffled from the mass of curls in front of her face. Right now, with half of her hair pinned up at the top of her head, she looked like an extra in a Lady Gaga music video. “I mean okay, he’s good-looking, and he’s friends with a lot of people. But you’ve never even talked to him, so how would you know anything about his personality?” Diana was big on personality. She was always going on and on about loving the person and not the gender. The thing was, Lex was special to him. He was the first boy Isaac had really ever fallen for. He had never been smitten with anyone during high school, when most of his friends were busy making out with each other in discreet corners of the school buildings. He always thought he was immune to it. Then college rolled around and he caught sight of Lex and—

“I mean okay, he’s goodlooking, and he’s friends with a lot of people. But you’ve never even talked to him, so how would you know anything about his personality?”

Well. He was currently listening to Lex’s singing in his iPod, so there was that. He had never been a great believer of love at first sight but Lex had certainly turned that around.

first love |

A Daydream Away

25

“If you watched his videos maybe you’d catch on,” Isaac told Diana. “He’s just so...vibrant, that’s all.” She snorted. “If I wanted vibrant I’d get a neon t-shirt,” she said. “But then I guess you’ve always need some spice in your life. Opposites do attract, after all.” “So you’re saying I’m boring,” Isaac said, frowning at her. “I’m saying vibrant isn’t a word people normally would use to describe you.” Diana flipped her hair, having finished curling the entire thing. She looked at herself in the mirror, casually fluffing it. “You’ve always been more lavender or lemon chiffon.” “Sorry we can’t all be bright colors like you,” Isaac grumbled. But it was true. Half the school only knew him by virtue of Diana. Now she was hard to miss, with her hair the way it was. Diana shrugged. “If you want to catch someone’s attention, you’ve got to be a red flag.” “Do you mean that literally?” Isaac asked cheekily, gesturing to Diana’s dyed hair, and Diana stuck her tongue out at him. “Haha,” she said. “I’m just saying, Isaac, if you wanted Lex to know you exist by now, then you better do something about it soon.” Isaac sighed. “Well, what can I do?” “For starters, maybe go to that stupid gig on Friday,” she said pointedly. “As if I can even get tickets,” Isaac said morosely. Nope. There was absolutely no way he’d get to talk to Lex any time this century. On Friday afternoon, James crashed into their dorm room, looking harassed. “Are you doing anything tonight?” he asked as he sat on Isaac’s bed, not even bothering with hellos. That was James for you. He was a man who often did not bother with niceties.

26

A Daydream Away

| first love

“Probably my homework,” Isaac said honestly. James sighed. “That can wait until the weekend,” his roommate said impatiently. “George just backed out on me and I can’t exactly set up by myself.” Isaac blinked. “What?” “Oh right, you don’t know.” James sighed again. “There’s an event at the club tonight, and The Clankers are playing.” The Clankers was Lex’s band. “Anyway, I need help in setting up their stuff and dude, you are my backup person.” “But I don’t know how to set up,” Isaac said slowly. “And you know I need to go home tonight.” Isaac’s mother always expected him to come home during Friday nights. She always went on and on about precious family time, especially since Isaac was living in a dormitory for five days of the week. “I’ll get you home in time for your curfew, don’t you worry. And setting up is easy. You just have to follow what I say and plug the things in the right places. Come on, please?” James looked pleadingly at him. Isaac sighed. On one hand, he really wanted to see Lex perform. But on the other hand... “You talk to my mom,” he said to James. “She likes you anyway.” The good thing about James was that their parents were pretty close friends and his mom usually let him go whenever James asked. In fact, Isaac wouldn’t have ended up in a dorm room if James hadn’t been looking for a roommate. His mom didn’t trust any of his college friends—she had taken one look at Diana’s bright red hair and called her a harlot once she was out of earshot. Isaac often despaired of his mother’s narrow view of the world, but he couldn’t exactly do anything to change her mind. Isaac could just imagine what she would say about Lex—multiple earrings on one ear, a tattoo on the back of his neck, and blue streaks on his hair? His mother would have a heart attack.

first love |

A Daydream Away

27

Not that his mother knew that he liked boys. That mere fact would send her in hysterics. “Yeah, okay, thanks Mrs. Jones!” Isaac looked up. James was just getting off the phone, grinning. “You called her already?” Isaac said incredulously. James shrugged. “Gotta move fast, dude. Gig’s tonight and we have to be there in half an hour. Don’t worry, I just have to get you home before the day officially ends and your mom will be okay with it. So come on, hurry up!” James was right; setting up wasn’t particularly difficult. It had just been lugging a lot of equipment and making sure the wires weren’t criss-crossed or anything. James had done most of the actual checking. Isaac stared at the musical instruments, feeling excited. There was no one at the club yet; of course nobody would be there during set up time. But he could already imagine The Clankers playing there later. It would be amazing. “Looks good,” a voice said behind them, and Isaac turned around. Lex was walking towards them. Isaac fought the instinct to turn and hide by digging his nails in his palm. “No thanks to you,” James said, rolling his eyes. “Didn’t I tell you jerks to get here earlier to help out?” Lex raised up his hands defensively. “Peter’s car had a problem,” he said. “You’re lucky we got here at all.” “Heh. The show will go on without you guys. Plenty of better bands are gonna play tonight.” Lex elbowed him jokingly, and James allowed himself to be jostled. “Whatever, man. You better be good. I don’t normally do this shit out of the goodness of my heart.” “No, you’re doing it because you get a free pass inside the club,” Lex said. Then he turned to Isaac, smiling. “Hi?”

28

A Daydream Away

| first love

Isaac made a strangled noise. Lex raised his eyebrow in confusion. Isaac felt mortified. “Uhm. Hi,” he managed. There was an awkward pause as Isaac prayed for the ground to swallow him up. Fortunately, James came to his rescue. “Right,” he said, jerking a finger towards Isaac’s direction. “You know Isaac? From...” he paused, as if trying to recall if Isaac and Lex had any classes together. They didn’t, which was beside the point. Isaac waited for Lex to say so. So it was a bit of a shock when Lex smiled and nodded. “Yeah. You’re Diana’s friend, right?” Isaac stared at him. “I see you guys around the cafeteria.” Isaac thought he was invisible with the hundreds of people milling around the cafeteria. “I’m Lex,” he said, holding out a hand. Isaac stared at it too, half in horror. There was a voice in his head screaming that he was finally going to be able to touch Lex, something he hadn’t even dreamed of. It made movement impossible. James elbowed Lex before Isaac could reach out and touch the proffered hand. “Dude, stop being so formal,” he grumbled. “You are shit at introductions, James,” Lex said, and he sheepishly withdrew his hand to awkwardly scratch his shoulder. Isaac’s chance of ever touching Lex was gone in that instant. “Whatever. Call Peter and the others, okay? Test this out before people start coming in.” Lex nodded, and walked away from them. Isaac let out an audible sigh of relief. James glanced at him. “I didn’t know you didn’t know Lex,” he said. “I’ve never even talked to him,” Isaac said, slightly confused. He had no idea why James would even assume they knew each other.

first love |

A Daydream Away

29

“Really? Well, he—” James paused. He looked like he wanted to say something more, but then he just shook his head. “Whatever, never mind. We get to watch a free show tonight. Better enjoy it.” “I have to be home before midnight, though,” Isaac told him. His mother had texted him earlier to remind him of that fact. “Yeah, I got it covered. This place is going to get full soon, so if you don’t find me, just meet me outside at around eleven, okay?” Isaac nodded.

Much later on, Isaac stumbled outside of the club, dazed. Loud music was still drumming in his ears. He wasn’t eager to experience being smooshed against dozens of dancing people ever again. It had been okay at the beginning. A couple of bands had played and there had been a lot of cheering. Isaac found himself lucky to be standing so near the stage. And then people started pouring in when The Clankers clambered on stage. Isaac had never realized how popular they were. Then the cheering turned to screaming, and Isaac had been jostled back and forth by people. He had enjoyed listening, but it was difficult without someone he knew there beside him. He wished Diana was with him. A few more bands played after, and the people were already in a frenzy. It took Isaac half an hour just to get back near the door. By then it was nearly eleven, and he had been looking out in vain for a sign of James. No luck so far. So now here he was, shivering outside the club. He checked his phone miserably. James was still not replying to his texts. “Isaac?” He looked up; surprised that someone would recognize him here. It was a bit of a shock when he saw Lex standing in front of him.

30

A Daydream Away

| first love

“Hi,” Isaac said softly. He pulled his jacket tighter around his body. “Uhm. Shouldn’t you be inside?” Lex shrugged. “Our band finished playing a while ago.” He smiled. “I don’t know if you saw us play.” Isaac nodded wildly. “Yeah,” he said. “I...you were good. Really good.” “Thanks.” Lex awkwardly scratched his shoulder. It was a reflex Isaac was starting to associate with him. “Anyway, it got really crowded inside, so I thought I’d go out and get some air.” “Oh.” Isaac nodded again. There was a long pause. “So,” Lex said, obviously in an attempt to make small talk. Isaac would feel sorry for him if he wasn’t too busy feeling sorry for himself. He had no idea what to say to Lex at all, even though he had dreamed of talking to him hundreds of times. Now every single topic had flown right out of his head. “Are you waiting for someone, or...?” “I’m waiting for James,” Isaac said quickly. “Oh,” Lex said, sounding strangely disappointed. Isaac felt the need to clarify. “I, uh, he’s my ride home. He told me to wait outside around this time.” “Oh,” Lex said again. He nodded. “Has he contacted you?” “Not yet.” As if on cue, his phone began to ring. It was James. Isaac pressed the answer button. “Isaac!” He winced; James’ voice was really loud, like he was in a ridiculously noisy area. “James,” he said, hopelessly. “I’m outside the club—”

first love |

A Daydream Away

31

“Hey dude, look. I don’t think we can go home early tonight! There’s this girl, and damn. You will not believe it!” His voice was happy and hyper. Isaac felt despair. Of course. There was always this girl. “So do you mind sticking around just a bit longer?” Isaac felt terrible. “James, I can’t, my mom will kill me,” he said, really quietly. He turned away from Lex, who had politely moved away as he talked on the phone. “I have to be home before midnight.” “Don’t worry, I’ll talk to Mrs. Jones for you,” James promised. “James, I don’t think—” Isaac bit his lip. He didn’t want to ruin James’ fun. It wasn’t his fault Isaac was here, and that he had to leave before midnight like Cinderella. “I’ll just go take a taxi,” he said, bravely. Never mind the fact that he had never ridden a taxi alone, especially at this time of night. Sometimes Isaac cursed his sheltered existence. “Okay man, just stay safe.” Isaac could hear a girl’s voice in the background. “Look, I gotta go! See you at school, dude!” and with that, the line went dead. “You okay?” Lex said, once Isaac had stuffed the phone back into his pocket. Isaac tried to smile. “Yeah, I just have to go home by myself, I guess.” Lex sighed. “ I’m guessing he’s too busy to take you home?” Isaac nodded. “It’s no big deal, really. He deserves to have fun. I mean I shouldn’t even be out this late. Uh. Yeah.” Isaac felt it was better to stop talking. Lex looked so concerned, and he didn’t want him to worry. “I guess I’ll just...go now...” Isaac said after another awkward pause. “My mom’s likely to freak out any time soon.” He turned to go. “Wait.” Lex grabbed his shoulder. “If you don’t mind waiting for a few more minutes, I can probably give you a ride.”

32

A Daydream Away

| first love

Isaac’s eyes widened. “Oh no no no,” he babbled in a panic. “You don’t have to do that. I’ll be okay!” “Dude, I insist.” Lex smiled warmly at him. “I was getting pretty bored anyway, plus our band’s finished playing. Let me just go say my goodbyes and we can go.” “But—” Isaac protested. “Look, the same crowd goes every single time. I’m not missing out on anything.” Lex shrugged. “Plus, I’d feel a lot better knowing you got home safely. So wait here, okay?” And as if to make sure Isaac wouldn’t just up and leave, Lex fished out his car keys from his left pocket and pressed it onto Isaac’s palm. Then he headed inside the club. Isaac clenched the car keys in his left hand, torn between shock and disbelief. Lex was driving him home.

This was definitely not something he expected to happen tonight. Lex’s car was a Lexus. Isaac wondered if it was pun or something, but he decided not to point it out in case it wasn’t. He made the mistake of reaching for the backseat car door. On the other side of the car, Lex raised his eyebrow. “You can sit in the passenger side, you know,” he said. “Oh.” Isaac blushed. “I. Sorry.” He pulled away from the door and reached for the other one. He got into the car, feeling foolish. “Do you normally not sit shotgun?” Lex asked jokingly as he got in.

first love |

A Daydream Away

33

“James keeps a bunch of stuff in the passenger seat,” Isaac replied honestly. “And my mom usually sits beside my dad.” He paused. “I don’t ride cars very often,” he confessed. Lex smiled at him. “Don’t sweat it, Isaac.” He put his keys into the ignition. Meanwhile, Isaac was quietly floating in bliss from hearing his name from Lex’s mouth. “So. You’ll have to tell me where you live,” Lex said after a while of listening to the car’s engine, jolting Isaac’s thoughts. Isaac blushed again. He was such an idiot around Lex. “Right,” he said. He gave Lex the name of his street and directions on how to get there. Isaac put on his seatbelt as Lex pulled out of the parking space. He looked out the window as Lex drove. The streetlights shone brightly on the mostly empty streets. It felt strange being out this late, though Isaac knew people likely stayed up later than this most of the time. There was a companionable silence between him and Lex throughout the drive. Isaac was loath to break it up. He turned to look at Lex, who was focused on watching the road. He was gorgeous even in the dim light of the car. But it wasn’t just his good looks that drew Isaac to him. Isaac had seen him playing the drums earlier with electrifying energy. He was just so passionate about things. Even now Isaac could feel that energy from him as he drove down the streets with intense concentration. There was just a bright spark inside Lex that made Isaac want him. Even in low quality YouTube videos, he could see the fire in Lex’s eyes as he sang All Time Low covers in his room. Even when he was a faraway speck in band videos, Isaac enjoyed simply watching him. He was so alive. “Thanks for driving me home tonight,” he said unexpectedly, as they entered his subdivision. He blushed and looked down at his hands. “I really appreciate it.”

34

A Daydream Away

| first love

“No problem.” Lex looked his way and smiled. “I couldn’t just leave you there, you know.” “Yeah but, you could’ve. I mean...you barely know me. Not everyone goes out of their way for me.” Then he blushed again. “I don’t mean to sound whiny,” Isaac said. “I’m just saying that you’re a very nice person to someone who’s mostly a total stranger and I’m really grateful you’re driving me home tonight.” He was babbling, for goodness’ sake. It was silent for a moment. Isaac silently stared at his fingernails, wishing he could melt into the car seat. Then Lex spoke up. “You’re not really a total stranger,” he said. Isaac snuck a look at him; he was still staring at the road, but his face had a strange expression. “Do you remember sixth grade?” Isaac blinked; he had not been expecting that. “What?” “Sixth grade. Miss May’s special remedial class, held after the last bell. You were one of the smart kids helping her teach us less fortunate souls.” Isaac looked up from his hands. He remembered that class. He had always stuck around after classes ended because his mother couldn’t pick him up until her shift was done, and that meant two hours of waiting. He had volunteered to help Miss May out due to having nothing better to do. There had been quite a number of kids in that class. Most of them needed help in Math or Science. There was one particular kid who had trouble in both, and Isaac was the one especially assigned to help him out. Isaac paused. “Alex?” he suddenly said, his mouth falling open. “Alex Stein?” Lex finally turned to look at him. He smiled awkwardly. “Yeah. Hi.” Isaac stared. Oh wow. Time and puberty had been very good to Alexander Stein. The last Isaac remembered of his grade school schoolmate was a ridiculous overbite and a smattering of pimples

first love |

A Daydream Away

35

all over his face. And he had been, well, chubbier. But then again his memory was a bit hazy; it had been nearly six years since Isaac had last seen him. He was like a totally different person. “I kept expecting you to remember me,” Lex said softly. “You didn’t, though. You never say hi. I thought you were ignoring me or something but it turned out you didn’t really remember at all. Yeah.” He laughed harshly. Isaac felt a bit sick. “You moved to a different town a year after,” Lex continued. “And you didn’t really keep in touch with anyone.” Isaac bit his lip. “I didn’t really know how,” he said helplessly. And this was true. The Internet was not what it was six years ago. Facebook didn’t exist. Isaac didn’t even have a cellphone back then. “I know. You’re adorable that way.” Lex grinned at him. Isaac blushed again, not knowing what to say to that. “I always wanted to thank you, you know? I knew I was a shitty snot back then.” Lex laughed again. “Damn I was really fucking dumb. Miss May despaired of me. You didn’t give up, though. You just kept going over and over those stupid formulas until I finally got it.” Isaac wondered if Lex was giving him more credit for what he had actually done. He just remembered being particularly patient with that boy. Besides, he wasn’t exactly persistent, he just did his job. He really had nothing better to do. “I couldn’t get you out of my head,” Lex said suddenly. “When you went away. I­­—well, I was expecting to see you again the following year. It’s not like we were classmates or we hung out, so I was never really nice to you back then. I only ever saw you in Miss May’s class and you weren’t really sociable. I think I asked you if you played basketball once and you told me you couldn’t dribble to save your life.”

36

A Daydream Away

| first love

“So when I stopped seeing you around I asked people. They said you moved, and nobody knew which school you went to. I didn’t even know your last name. Miss May justcalled you Isaac and I—” Lex let out a frustrated sigh. “I didn’t know how to find you. Then a couple of years later I see you again in college. You’ve hardly changed at all.” Isaac wrung his hands. “Well, you have,” he said. Lex laughed. “Yeah, everyone who remembers me from grade school says the same.” They drove into Isaac’s street. Isaac watched the familiar houses go by, feeling numb. Everything felt foreign at the moment. “I tried really hard during high school,” Lex continued. “Studied like crazy. I don’t know. I kept thinking of you. You and your stupid smartness. I always thought if I stopped being such a failure in academics I’d find a way to see you again.” “Did it work?” Isaac asked stupidly. Lex paused to think about it. “Well, I passed the entrance exams, so I guess I could say yeah,” he said. “I’m never going to be good at it, though. The music thing is what I’m better at.”

“I kept expecting you to remember me,” Lex said softly. “You didn’t, though. You never say hi.”

Isaac nodded in agreement. “You sing really well,” he said. The car screeched to an abrupt stop. Isaac peered outside his window; they were

first love |

A Daydream Away

37

almost in front of his house. He turned to look at Lex, about to ask him how he knew where he lived. Then he saw Lex’s expression, which was total shock. He had hit the brakes in panic. “How’d you know I sing?” he asked. “I didn’t—I’ve never sung in public before.” Isaac felt his face go hot. “I,” he said. Then he looked back down at his hands. He had pulled them together, as if in prayer. He had no idea what he was praying for. How was he supposed to say he’d been in love with Lex since he had seen him in college? “I watch your Youtube videos. Sometimes. And I think you’re good. Like really good. And not just that. You’re really nice and cool and I’ve liked you since I’ve seen you play during the Battle of the Bands during freshman year and I’ve been—” wanting to talk to you since forever, Isaac wanted to say, but the words wouldn’t come out of his mouth anymore. He wanted to talk about the little Lex drawings on his notebook, the songs on his iPod, the candid photos he had saved on his computer. But he didn’t know how to say it without scaring Lex off. He didn’t know what words to say. He heard the car’s engine being switched off. He looked up, and Lex was unbuckling his seatbelt. Their eyes met. Isaac saw the same fire he always saw in Lex’s eyes, and it was breathtaking to realize it was all directed at him. Isaac didn’t even get to unbuckle his own seatbelt. Lex leaned over and pressed his lips against his, very gently. Isaac made a sort of noise, before reaching up to put his hand on Lex’s nape, pulling him closer. After a few seconds, Lex slowly broke off the kiss to sigh at Isaac’s neck. “Shit,” he murmured. He was smiling; Isaac could feel it in the way Lex’s hands were holding onto his shoulder. “Holy shit, Isaac.” Isaac didn’t know what to say to that, so he just turned his head to meet Lex’s face. He could see Lex’s smile now; it was wide enough to rival the Cheshire Cat. For some reason it made Isaac feel tingly all over. He bit his lip, and Lex’s smile became downright wicked.

38

A Daydream Away

| first love

“I,” he said, his face so close that Isaac could actually see the breath coming from his lips, “am going to kiss you again, okay?” At this point Isaac realized he didn’t need a lot of words to make this work. He was never going to figure out what to say since he’s never been good at small talk. So instead he said, “Okay,” and let Lex lean in to kiss him once more.

The facts were these: (1) His name was Lex. (2) Short for Alexander, and his last name is Stein. (3) He could play the drums. (4) But he was much, much better at singing (and it was so much better live, Isaac could attest to that). (5) He’s never had a girlfriend ever. (6) But he definitely had a boyfriend now.

first love |

A Daydream Away

39

Illustration by Shironiji

Illustration by Shironiji

the beautiful one

by CP Coulter

I

t had been the very first night—

but it was hard to tell really, as since then, it had just felt like one long unstopping night—when I  had first glimpsed Tal.

It wasn’t as though everyone else in the Club talked about him (most of the people in the Club had their own problems), even though he was a popular reason and source for the rumors and gossip that filtered through the walls.

42

The Beautiful One

| first love

It also wasn’t his performances, which actually did make him worthy of his rank, and the darling of all the patrons. What really caught me, I think, was that famous smile. My experience with the Club began, as most of the people in it might relate to, with a lot of debt. But that sort of thing happened when you ran a business and owed certain people money. To be fair, it wasn’t my business; it had been my father’s. The shop that my father ran was pretty much all we had as a source of income after my mother left us. I was very little then, and I don’t remember much about it. For many years, Dad tried his level best to raise me, send me to school and give me all that I wanted. I guess you could say he allowed me to be as free as I could with my own money. He tried to give me things that I wanted without spoiling me too much...it made me think that nothing was wrong, that we were okay. I guess maybe dad may have been trying to do what he could for me, to make up for the fact that he raised me all alone. And then he had the heart attack. And it wasn’t until the bills landed to me did I start wondering exactly where the money was coming from. I should have been more observant maybe, recognizing the fact that it had to be impossible that the life I lived came from the earnings from a single job. When I found myself neck deep with bills, worries about the shop, dad’s hospital bills and funeral bills...I found out where the money came from. It goes without saying that as I was incapable of paying any of the money back, the people who dad owed money to decided to take me instead. Have me work off my debt from them. I was told by a lot of people in the club that this was a common thing, and that a lot of them had ended up in the club for exactly the same reason.

first love |

The Beautiful One

43

It was the first night—it had been raining, I remember—when I arrived at the club to begin training in my new job...well, as much training as you could give someone who was about to become a plaything. Mr. Jed came to meet me when they came for me, and he looked kind. Not at all like someone who sent young men into places like this so their bodies could be sold. I was glad to have him, because he eased my terror. A kind face does that, in the face of desperation. The Club didn’t make an impression on me. I don’t remember much past the rain, and the fact I was taken in the back way. Everything had been dark there, but I remember the water running off the brick, shining, and everything looking like black glass. He had just introduced me to my temporary companion, Cary, who was short, stocky, and impossibly handsome. That was unexpected. And I didn’t realize that when he was walking me down the halls of the quarters, he was going to take me to mine. Here in the quarters, bodies of various shapes and forms were on display without any shame whatsoever. Most of them seemed to not see me at all—the young men who were also driven to work here by circumstance. But there were ones who did gave me this look, as though they were watching someone about to go to judgment. Maybe that was why I noticed him. He alone had been different from the jaded expressions and the eyes clouded by the mist of drugs. He had been bright, smiling, when he tossed his head back to laugh. When he met my eyes, I realized that I’d been watching him. “Hey, Tal!” I heard Cary say to him, as he rose from a velvet perch to approach us. “You slept in the guests’ boudoir last night again, didn’t you?” Cary’s tone was laced with just enough envy to inform me that this wasn’t supposed to happen. Tal merely laughed again, leaning against his door in such a way that his silk robe that barely covered his extremities fell open, and I saw that he was an expanse of golden skin. He was beautiful, and he had known it very well.

44

The Beautiful One

| first love

He leveled a penetrating gaze at me, and seemed to see through to my life for the next eight years, though he would ever only know three of it. “Well, he’s a looker, at least. Good for you, kid. If you watch your step, you might just leave this place alive. Careful not to let yourself get too flogged.” “Tal.” Mr. Jed’s tone was warning. “I’m just being glib, Jed.” And he smiled. And that smile is one that I would remember for the rest of my life, whenever I reached through my memories of the Club. The first few weeks, to me, were jarring. I came from a home that, while not particularly wealthy or well-off, had warmth. And there was a sense of hope. There was no such thing inside the Club. You couldn’t find warmth in the Club unless it was in the harsh lights of the stage, where the bodies danced. It wasn’t like any other club I had ever heard about. I didn’t know places like these existed. When young men and women, bound by contract, danced and performed the way you only saw in major theatre performances, with cinematographic dazzle, all for the sole reason of roping a captive audience further in. An audience comprised of the wealthy, patrons of the dancers…and friends of the major Families who controlled things beyond my comprehension. I thought that this only happened in movies. But it looks like that this world, being real, was just so much worse when the curtains go down... and you realize that the show isn’t over. And yet in spite of all the banks of heat and light in the stage, the lust and the flowing alcohol, there was no warmth. Not even in the beds that they—us, all of us—eventually end up in, should the offer for the right body be the right price. The beds were always cold. I know that because for the first several weeks, I wasn’t allowed to dance. The new ones were always made to look after the ones

first love |

The Beautiful One

45

with “tenure” in this Purgatory, where we sold ourselves to pay off our debts. We were made to work using our bodies, first as servants for the more beautiful, and then, when we became trained and… better, and more desirable…we would be auctioned off too.

“Hey, wake up!” I tugged on the sheet, but immediately stepped back and turned my eyes away when it revealed that Tal was naked as the day he was born.

46

The Beautiful One

Those first few weeks, I was the only newcomer. I was made to clean and help the others prepare before they were launched onstage to be salivated over. In those dark hours of the morning into dawn, I would be woken, and I would have to usher clients out, and straighten the boudoirs while the dancers wandered back into the quarters to bathe, and sleep. And for many days in the span of time that I was doing this work, I would run into Tal, curledup in a boudoir bed that wasn’t meant for dancers. The first time I found him, it was by accident. It had been dark when I wandered into the wall where the most exclusive rooms were, where the high rollers brought their paid goods to enjoy them. I didn’t know about all that—I just knew that I was told to straighten them out. It was dark in the room when I went inside. The drapes were down, and everything smelled like heady perfume, and sex. I couldn’t see much, not even the features of the room. It wasn’t until I reached the drapes and opened them into cold dawn that I saw that the room was large and | first love

ornate, in the style of old French rooms I recognize in museums, a complete disaster ground of food and drink. And Tal was curled in the sheets like a cat, sleeping and warm. I saw him when I turned around, and recognized him immediately. Mostly because of what Cary said, about Tal sleeping in guest rooms. And second because he was Tal. Because the Club, where the more beautiful you are made you more desired, made you more precious to the lusting audience, and gave you more worth…Tal was the beautiful one. “Hey.” No response. I walked to the bed. “Hey, come on.” Not even a stir. I was starting to get a little apprehensive. For all I knew, his lover last night was too rough and smothered him. “Hey, wake up!” I tugged on the sheet, but immediately stepped back and turned my eyes away when it revealed that Tal was naked as the day he was born. I’d glimpsed him onstage dancing to allure women and men, but not this up close and I didn’t plan on doing so anytime soon. The cold air woke Tal, and he opened his eyes without even appearing to care that there was someone in the room who could see him naked. “Oh, you…” he stretched and I looked further away, starting to grab fallen pillows and sheets. “Already doing drudge work…?” “You’re not supposed to be in here,” I replied. “God, you’re just as bad as Cary and the rest of them.” Tal pushed himself up and smiled at me in a really unsettling way, like a Cheshire Cat resting on a tree. “Ask Jed and the rest yourself if you want— I can stay here if I want to.” “Like you deserve any special treatment.” Since I couldn’t glare at him, I glared at the bottles of wine and the glasses. What the hell was this suite—the flatware was gold-plated. What kind of club has this luxury anyway?

first love |

The Beautiful One

47

Tal shrugged. “Of course I do. I’m the hardest working body in this Club.” Much as I would’ve liked to contradict him, it was clear enough even to a stranger like me that this was true. It wasn’t just that Tal looked the way he did—all golden skin in spite of being trapped in this place and working at night, eyes that blazed amber in the stage lights, and an absolute lack of shame over his every movement onstage or off— it was that look of loathing that some of the dancers bestowed on him whenever he passed. It was a sure sign that someone was making enough money to achieve freedom in a few years, whereas the rest of them, like me, well… Tal scooped up a silk sheet and wrapped it around himself like a toga, reaching for a half-full glass of champagne. “God, I’m starving. Did you bring me anything?” “You’re not an invalid, go downstairs and find something yourself.” I dumped the filthy plates of congealing sauces into my cart. Whoever Tal was with last night, they’d had a feast. When I looked at Tal again, he looked very pleased, smirking at me as though he knew something I didn’t. I hated the sight of his eyes then. He looked as though he knew me so well, when I was sure he knew nothing at all. “What are you smiling at?” I demanded. “You should keep that attitude,” he told me, looking impressed. “It’ll help you here. So take care not to lose it, no matter who’s talking to you.” I only glared at him then, and he had laughed even more when I did, because I didn’t know what he had meant. I learned later on that talking like that, especially to someone who “outranked” me, gave you some pretty serious problems. I found that out later that morning. The suite Tal was in took so long to clean that I was late to everything. I was told off by one of the bartenders for not being on time to restock the liquor, and was in a horrible mood. So when one of the other male

48

The Beautiful One

| first love

dancers knocked past me in the hallway—when he could’ve moved out of the way easily—I snarled back. I don’t know what Taylor was so angry about at that time (and apparently this was his “default”), but when we started fighting, I was taken entirely by surprise when my world spun. I felt the rail of the stairwell biting into my back and realized that my balance was going—was about to fall and Taylor was smiling over me like he knew exactly what he was going to do, and he didn’t care. I don’t remember if I screamed. I think I was too terrified to really make a sound. I remember the breath leaving my lungs and that horrendous moment of panic and I remember thinking: was I going to die here? I think I scratched three streaks of red into Cary’s arm when I clutched at him in desperation, both for pulling me back from the brink and again when I was stopping him from leaping onto Taylor, who just snarled and walked off. He didn’t get into any trouble over it. It had been my fault, apparently, for provoking him. And even if Cary tried to protect me, it didn’t mean anything. Because I was nothing. Unless I was earning like they were, until I was being bedded by patrons, unless I was worth something out on those stage lights and in those suites, I was nothing to them. Until I could be sold, I wasn’t anything. Cary tried to see if I was all right, but I barely heard him. I saw Tal at the doorway of one of the rooms, watching us. He had an odd, small smile on his face. It was the kind of smile you have when you’re watching someone do something so ultimately futile, that in spite of yourself, you find their persistence miserably amusing. Cary was trying to protect me. I knew that each time I’d find him next to me or just nearby, even though he had to perform and I was the drudge of the Club. To be honest, at first I was often so afraid that he wanted something else. A few of the dancers had made passes at me, male and female, even though I’d turned them all down, especially the girls—since

first love |

The Beautiful One

49

I wasn’t interested at all in women. I’d never been with anyone. And Tal told me, one day, that it was to my credit. “You have three possible results,” he told me, when I found him again in the same suite he’d slept in before. He was wearing a luxurious robe, although there’s not much good it did as he let it hang open like that. “When your virginity is sold off, you would either hate the bed, in which case, you’re in for a lot of hell… Or you would find yourself going back to it over and over, which means you’ve been ruined.” “What’s my third result?” He smiled, looking for his own answers at the bottom of his champagne glass. I mostly tried to tune out the things Tal tells me. It wasn’t fair of him to talk to me the way he did because he existed in a completely different plane. I didn’t believe he understood at all. And why should he? He was at one end, and I was on the other. It was different, for certain others. You could see that difference when they cross the pathways towards the stage. When they walked forth with the others, they stood at the lead. The patrons often always looked at them and them only, and the rest of us had to fight tooth and nail to get to where they were—regardless of what we had to do with ourselves. Tal pulled the gazes of the men and women who waited for his presence. And the patrons paid—oh, they definitely paid—to see him. To watch him dance. To watch him seduce them. And then, if they paid even more, to bed him. The more they paid, the faster you get to freedom. And that was the goal, wasn’t it? To survive long enough to leave. “Many die here.” I looked up when I heard Tal’s voice. He wasn’t talking to me at the time. Management had finally deemed I was ready, you see, and

50

The Beautiful One

| first love

Mr. Jed told me that I was to perform for the first time today. Preparing didn’t seem real, and it sped time up too fast. I was in a state of denial, until today, when I found myself sitting in the costume area. I had been shaking all day, and didn’t like to be touched. Cary sat by me, watching over me. We both looked up when Tal spoke. He wasn’t talking to me, or Cary. He was talking to the Twins, and they were all standing at the wings. The Twins were two of his more or less regular lovers in the Club. The Club didn’t mind so much if you were of rank and you bedded another dancer, as long as you can get it up when it comes to the bed with a patron. He looked at the identical blond boys. “Don’t they?” The Twins only smiled at him. They were a popular act, those two—you can’t get just one, you have to get both identical boys, and considering the way sound penetrated the suite’s walls when they were with Tal at night, the combination must be deadly. “You don’t care about that kind of thing,” one of them said. The other, identical to the last eyelash, smiled, half naked, has his arm around his brother’s waist in a possessive fashion. “So why bring it up now?”

Tal pulled the gazes of the men and women who waited for his presence. And the patrons paid— oh, they definitely paid—to see him.

Tal stared at the both of them before he looked to the stage lights. There were

first love |

The Beautiful One

51

girls out there right now, seducing men and women, but I knew it wasn’t the girls that Tal was staring at. I watched his reflection from my mirror, when he added, “Do you think he knows that?”

I felt misery rise up in my throat like bile— because from this night onward, I would have to dance when I was told to and bed another man if I was bought to do so.

The Twins smiled. “…he should.” I didn’t have to ask Cary who it was. I’ve seen who Tal was talking about, I’ve seen him enough times when I would be catching dancers’ props when they ran into the wings after their performance. I’d seen him leave that opulent suite, kissing Tal, who was in his arms as though in complete surrender, stripped away of everything that made him so spiteful and arrogant. Tal was almost exclusively his. He paid exorbitant amounts to keep own Tal for the night, but the extent of his power seemed to spill over even when he wasn’t there. There he was, Callan, sitting in one of the exclusive booths with perfect view of the stage. Under a fringe of immaculate blonde hair, a pair of penetrating green eyes that didn’t even seem to be looking to the performers on stage stared into the wings as though in spite of the darkness and the fact that there was no way he could really see anything from his distance there, he could meet Tal’s eyes. But Tal could see him for sure…and Tal stared as though he was drinking him in the way he swilled wine and champagne, looking

52

The Beautiful One

| first love

for answers in oblivion. The way he stared at the guy in that booth—he really couldn’t possibly have been much older than Tal—was a mix of emotions that I couldn’t really understand. Love, hatred, longing, lust… Of all the many things it showed, it was the first emotion that made it wrong. Difficult to swallow, or accept. In my honest opinion, that was a truly miserable thought, plaguing my mind when Tal found me. The first night I performed was the first night I was bought. For an extraordinary price, from what I heard. It was the first night I was bedded by a patron. Tal found me at the back stairwell, sitting at the steps. I don’t recall how I got there. I just remember staring at that long flight of steps in the dimness of the building, steps that eventually led to some door marked freedom, for all of us. I felt him drop a blanket onto my shoulder. “Welcome,” he said, in a tone that sounded too airy to be truly apologetic. “I’m fine.” “I’m sure you are.” I felt his hand on my shoulder. I tried what I could to ignore him. He looked curious as he stared at me, penetrating me again with those eyes, that looked all the more golden in the old yellow bulbs of the back stairwell. “That patron,” he began, an odd glint in his eyes, “…wasn’t the first time you’ve bedded a man, was it?’ I kept my eyes on the stairs. “…No, it wasn’t.” A smile, faint, ghastly, began to show on his face. “You gave yourself to Cary, didn’t you?” I was in love with Cary. And he loved me. For no reason in the world other than that. And it was terrible because it was so bleak a concept in this place. “Yes.”

first love |

The Beautiful One

53

Tal carefully stood up again, noiseless. I wondered, again, why he stayed. Surely he’d paid his debts by now? Surely he was skilled enough to stage escape? I felt misery rise up in my throat like bile—because from this night onward, I would have to dance when I was told to and bed another man if I was bought to do so. There was no room for dreams or love and Cary. And Tal would know, wouldn’t he? With the way he looked at his blond patron? The same patron who bought him tonight. Who must’ve already slipped away—so recently that I’m sure Tal’s bed must still be warm. The one who held Tal possessively, and was allowed to by him. Tal who was never owned by anyone. Sometimes, not even the Club. Tal should know why I felt this way. “If you’ve fallen for Cary…” I looked at him, he was already walking back to the access door, robe askew on him again. He was smiling at me in that strange way again—like the time he saw Taylor nearly kill me. “…then you had better learn to protect each other. Clever, that… letting him take you before anyone else… One less scar than the rest of us.” That was how life moved in the Club. Each day melted onto the next. We hardly saw the daylight—we were so used to being up only in the night. After I lost my virginity, everyone believed I would coast, like everyone else, because now I had lost this attribute. Tal told me otherwise—because of the price people paid for in order to bed me, he was sure that I would rise to the ranks. And he reminded me yet again that he believed I’d survive. Practice, dance, get put up for auction like an animal, get bought, get bedded… One day after another. It took me months for my mind to accept that I would be impaled onto a different man every night. Cary even told me, when he’d be in my bed, that I still tremble a little even when it was the both of us.

54

The Beautiful One

| first love

Maybe that was something I envied about Tal. In the real world, it was frowned upon—that ability to simply bed and move on, friend or patron. I wanted the apathy he had. After the first few nights, I wanted his easy countenance, that mindless seduction he performed on those who doted on him and loved him in all senses of the world. I wanted the ruin that he had crowned upon himself. He rated it himself, didn’t he? Because he searched for this, wanted this the way he did, he was ruined. He was beautiful and he was ruined, and he loved as madly as the rest of us, and yet no matter what he did, he wasn’t ever free. Not even with that gorgeous patron he was mad about, Callan, who he loved, and loved him with such possessiveness, that it was breaking them. He demanded for Tal more than anyone… and sometimes, when he couldn’t come to the Club, he would send his friend to buy Tal for the night simply so no one else could have him. Tal was at his worst during those times—when he expected his beloved who would buy him off and yet not arrive. He’d feign his usual shine. Tal was always brightest when he was pretending. The way Tal searched for a body to warm his bed made me wonder sometimes, if he was really in love with Callan or if he was someone who satisfied this craving that was steadily driving him mad. It was a dangerous game to play, I decided, the night I heard raised voices in the suite—crashing and glass breaking—and the next day Tal couldn’t dance, recovering, after Callan had heard that he had bed another famous patron. I imagine…if Callan was angry about this kind of thing, he must’ve already raised his hand to Tal more than once. But never too much, I suppose… because that wasn’t allowed here in the Club. There were people that specialized in that. But not Tal. Tal was the pinnacle, the beautiful one. He couldn’t be touched or harmed.

first love |

The Beautiful One

55

“Besides,” Tal told me, as he walked downstairs with me to steal food in the kitchens, around four am in the morning, “There’s nothing they can ruin that I haven’t already ruined.” “Why are you here?” I finally asked him. “Why are you still here? If you’re so wanted, if they pay so much for you…why aren’t you out of here?” “You’ve said it exactly, haven’t you?” Tal replied, smiling in that way again, looking older. So much older than he ought to have been, in the dim light. “Because I’m so wanted… because they pay so much for me… because I’m so desired… I have to stay.” “…that’s ridiculous, we both know that you—” “And besides…” He looked out the window, waiting for the sky to light. He looked so tired. “…where would I go?” “Callan wants you so badly,” I told him, touching the bruise on Tal’s naked waist. “He should buy you for good.” I had never felt like an idiot before in front of Tal…until that moment. When he looked at me so strangely. Where he had looked so much older earlier, now he looked so young. Like the young man that he really was. “Do you think…that I’d like to be his that way? That I would like myself to be ‘owned’? Isn’t it enough that in here…we’re playthings?” He looked away from me, and into the dark sky. “…if Callan loves me as he says he does…he would never buy me. He would leave me here.” I didn’t understand what Tal meant. I didn’t know why anyone would like to stay and live this way. How did that express love? Everyone wondered about him. The strange, beautiful boy who people paid fortunes to see, half-mad with lust, and destructively in love. There were many questions, assumptions, about the way Tal was and what made him this way. The rumors have not ended to this day. He just left such a strange impression, and such a bittersweet taste.

56

The Beautiful One

| first love

No one would ever know the answers to all the questions, or the truth. I wish I had asked, because I was almost sure he would answer these questions. The bullet hole was still in the carpet to this day. One of Tal’s many lovers had grown jealous of his devotion to Callan, and loathed Callan’s possession of him. Weapons were forbidden in the Club—more to stop dancers from killing themselves—but he had brought one in. He had drawn the gun and aimed for the booth where Callan always was. It was Tal whom the bullet penetrated. And as Tal lay dying in Callan’s arms, the gunman had been thrashed to death by the people of the Club, and chaos reigned. But you should’ve seen it. You should have seen the peace I saw in Tal’s eyes, when Callan held him so gently. You should’ve seen how his eyes lit up and suddenly all the strife had sloughed off him. He was so young and so unbelievably innocent. He loved with such purity that it made me wonder if everything he had ever done, all the madness, was the fuel for that white hot flame. You should’ve seen his eyes when he settled them on Callan for the final time, touched his face, and said he’d do it again and again, and that he’d wait for him in hell. I’d remember it over and over again, for years after his death, and even after Cary and I escaped the Club five years later. He was beautiful.

first love |

The Beautiful One

57

58

Mr. and Mr. Darkness

| first love

first love |

Mr. and Mr. Darkness

59

60

Mr. and Mr. Darkness

| first love

first love |

Mr. and Mr. Darkness

61

62

Mr. and Mr. Darkness

| first love

first love |

Mr. and Mr. Darkness

63

64

| first love

first love |

65

66

| first love

first love |

67

68

Mr. and Mr. Darkness

| first love

first love |

Mr. and Mr. Darkness

69

70

Mr. and Mr. Darkness

| first love

first love |

Mr. and Mr. Darkness

71

72

| first love

first love |

73

74

Mr. and Mr. Darkness

| first love

!

by Yeehun e . r e c t o

the alkaline affair

by M.C. Jose

L

ong before the film adaptation

was released (aka the year 2006), I stumbled upon a copy of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close in a local bookstore. I didn’t go looking in my father’s closet for a mystery key that could possibly open a locked door or run around New York City—I’m not even from New York, mind you—to track down every single person named Black. I did, however, begin to collect notebooks to come up with my own edition of Oskar Schell’s Stuff That Happened to Me.

78

The Alkaline Affair

| first love

I’ve never been fond of keeping diaries, but putting pieces of my life together in one form or another has proven to be therapeutic. I don’t just write down the stuff that happened to me; I include tangible things like photos, bumper stickers, concert tickets, dried flowers and all sorts of other doodads as well. I think of them as stuff that happened to me, but I don’t call my collection by that name—that’s Oskar’s right, and it always will be. Instead, I call them by different names. I have a few strange ones you might not want to pick up because things like I Must Have Been Born Female or Tinky Winky, Barney and Other Creatures that Scare Me (they still do) sound like childish first world pains. By the way, I do have a girl’s name. My legal documents list me as Quinzel Galt, but I’ve managed to wade through life insisting that people call me Quinn. But those things aren’t very important right now—I’m here to talk about the stuff that happened to me and to someone that I used to know. I’m here to talk about what he and I decided to call The Alkaline Affair.

Sometimes, I’m scared of how fast people’s hands move. I don’t know if this is a skill you can learn, but I’ve seen people take advantage of that skill by using it to steal people’s pocketbooks while they aren’t looking. However, some can use that skill to make people happy—think of those magicians who do magic shows for children’s birthday parties. In my case, it’s a note. A second ago, it wasn’t there. Now, it is, and I’m staring at it like an idiot because no one has ever given me some sort of love letter before.

Hey, I know I’m going to sound like a creeper, but I thought I’d give it a shot a write you, anyway. I don’t know if you’ll consider this a compliment—I’ve met some boys who have never even considered dating me because

first love |

The Alkaline Affair

79

of this—but believe me when I say that I find you pretty. I see you now; you’re hunched over at your table doing some sort of DIY art project. I hope you had a good jog/run this morning! I like running during the fall season; the air is crisp and cool, and a cup of Joe after makes everything perfect. Maybe we could run together sometime if you’re open to the idea. I’ll stop here—I’m running out of space so the words are starting to cram together. Mind if I move over and join you at your table? Give me a wave if I’m welcome. C. Hawke Well, how forward of him. It’s easy to tell who C. Hawke is. There are very few people in the coffee shop this morning and hardly any of them are paying me any attention. Of course, C. Hawke just has to be this handsome, dark-haired person with a killer smile that belongs on a movie star’s face. Sometimes, it bothers me how unaffected I am by such charming approaches. His ridiculously forward attitude intrigues me, however. “What are you waiting for, an invitation?” Mr. Movie Star chuckles as he moves to sit next to me. It’s not fair how someone can look so refreshed at seven in the morning while the rest of us look like drowned rats after a jog. “Well, I did ask you for one,” he replies cheerfully. “Thanks for not making a scene by throwing my note back in my face, though.” I snort. “Do I look like the dramatic type to you? I’m sitting here in my sweats gluing stuff to a giant notebook. That’s not dramatic at all.” “It could be if you wanted,” he points out. “My name’s Caleb, by the way— Caleb Hawke.”

80

The Alkaline Affair

| first love

“I’m Quinn Galt. Well, I’m really Quinzel Galt, but that name sucks, so I force people to call me Quinn. So, if you want to stay on my good side, call me Quinn.” “Quinn.” He tries it out. My name almost sounds sexy rolling off his very British tongue. “Exactly.” He grins. “So, Quinn, can I get you anything? A muffin? Their blueberry muffins are ace.” “I have glue all over my fingers.” I’ve got to make excuses. My mother told me never to accept food from strangers—it doesn’t matter that I’ve allowed him to sit at my table. He concedes. “Point taken. I have a good idea of how people look when they’re really immersed in something; you’ve been wearing that look on your face since I stepped in.” “Well, I like putting things together,” I say. “As a kid, I enjoyed arts and crafts the most even if I was shit at drawing, painting or any of those artistic skills. I didn’t really put my heart into making things look pretty—I just wanted to make things.” He glances at my latest collage-in-progress. It’s the one messily chronicling my curious visit to the red-light district. I’m fighting the urge to cover it up. Instead, he sounds genuinely curious when he asks his next question. “How are they? I can’t imagine how tough it is to have to fend for yourself like that.” “Reactions vary,” I reply. “Most of them are doing it because they have to—financial reasons, mostly—or because they’re being forced to. Others, however, actually like what they’re doing; they say it makes them feel empowered because some people really are slaves to desire. Of course, you also have those who simply do it for the pleasure of sex.”

first love |

The Alkaline Affair

81

I’m baffled by how much I’ve already said. I don’t hate people, but I don’t usually talk this much. “Does it bother you that there are people who suffer far more than you do?” I decide to be honest. “Sometimes, it does. I mean, it’s plastered all over the news, so there’s always something that makes me sad each day. It’s pretty easy to forget other people’s misfortunes at times becaus I become so absorbed in my own dilemmas.” “Now, there’s an actual honest answer.” Caleb sighs. “I’ve a shitload of problems myself, so I get where you’re coming from.” I stare at my open scrapbook, wondering if all these things that line the shelves in my room are testaments to my own true selfishness. It makes me feel sick all of a sudden. “I’ve got to go,” I blurt out. He doesn’t stop me from running out. It only occurs to me that I’ve left everything on the table when I look down at my hands and find them empty.

I don’t visit the café for at least a week. It’s extremely cowardly of me, but I just can’t seem to picture myself politely asking for my scrapbook back as if I didn’t just bail on him. My cowardice has been affecting my mood, though; my little sister says I’ve been scowling into my cereal for the past few days. “You really need to deal with what’s bothering you,” says Dad. “You need to sort your emotional storm out, dear,” says Mom. “You need to see that guy again,” says Talia (my brat of a little sister).

82

The Alkaline Affair

| first love

I hate them all. Of course, they know I don’t mean it. Monday finds me standing in front of the coffee shop. I give into peer pressure that easily. I can easily distinguish him from my spot by the doorway; he has his back turned to be, but it’s the same dark hair and the same broad shoulders from nearly two weeks ago. I decide it’s time to be brave. “A latte for the gentleman in a white shirt and blue jeans, please,” I tell the server in a hushed tone. “As soon as he gets it, tell him to turn around—he’ll know who gave it to him.” Shelley—that’s the name on her plate— is cooperative enough; by the way she’s giggling, I fear she feels she’s some sort of accomplice in a cute little love story. I have the sudden urge to tell her that it isn’t the case, but to keep the odds in my favor, I need all the help I can get. “I was wondering when you’d show up again.”

“It’s pretty easy to forget other people’s misfortunes at times because I become so absorbed in my own dilemmas.”

His tone isn’t accusatory. He’s smiling at me with those eyes that should look feral— they’re a sharp, pale blue—on another face but are deceptively kind on his. “I was a coward, okay?” I mumble. “People don’t really get me to acknowledge my selfishness.”

first love |

The Alkaline Affair

83

“Aren’t we all selfish?” He pulls out the chair across from mine with his foot and sits down. “A good friend of mine always liked to say that selfishness is human nature. Of course, you can counter that argument by saying generosity is human nature—here’s proof right here.” He toasts me with his latte before sipping from it. “Thanks for this, by the way.” I am extremely bothered with how at ease he seems to be with everything. “I kept your things for you,” he continues, pushing a large manila envelope across the table. “I have to apologize for intruding, though. I promised myself I wouldn’t look, but the way you put things together is just so…I don’t know, calming? You unconsciously widened my perspective towards how things in our world work. I ought to thank you for that. “Do you think that…we could learn from each other?” Again, my audacity shocks me. Why is it that I cannot seem to hold my tongue around this guy? He smiles. “I’m sure we could. You’re very different, you and I.” “Well, I should warn you that I’m not that interesting,” I say. “I’m a college student taking up communication arts at the University of Cambridge. I’m not even a local; my family migrated from Louisiana when I was nine.” “Which explains the gentle Southern accent,” he observes. “You’ve got nothing to worry about, Quinn—I don’t think you’re boring at all. I do wish you’d stop being so jumpy, though.” “I can’t,” I protest. “Telling me to calm down is like telling an egg to grow hair.” “Okay, so let’s put that down as something we should work on,” he says cheerfully. “Maybe you could get me to stop being so Zen about everything while we’re at it.”

84

The Alkaline Affair

| first love

I can feel his eyes on me as I pull the scrapbook I had been working on so religiously for the past few days out of the envelope. Before I can change my mind, I rip out every single page that has something from my past on it, only stopping until I get to the next available blank page. I retrieve a Sharpie marker from my pocket and hastily scribble down the first two words that come to me. WHAT NOW??? I push the scrapbook towards him. It’s the first time I ever let someone else into my world. “Your turn.”

Caleb makes me promise to see him every day of this week as soon as I get off from school. He even makes it a point to wait for me outside the school gates so we can drive off to wherever we want to go that day. My friends think it’s cute; they’re accusing me of getting a secret boyfriend without telling them anything. I thought of correcting them and saying that he’s a long-lost cousin, but it would be very peculiar if said long-lost cousin made the effort to pick me up everyday. Caleb’s cool with the charade. He has a way of wrapping his arm around my waist and dropping kisses on my forehead without making it seem like some form of pretense. If it had been another person, I would have minded greatly; I don’t like being touched, after all. Caleb, I’ve come to realize, just makes you want to give into his little whims. “Cars are such a weird place to meet up,” I remark as soon as I settle into the front seat. “What happened to you meeting me at the school gates?” “I dunno; I guess I felt like going the secret agent route today,” he says with a grin. “It makes everything ten times more adventurous, don’t you think?”

first love |

The Alkaline Affair

85

“Is that why you’re wearing aviators, too?” I snort. “What were you watching last night?”

“I haven’t known you for very long, but that was the most carefree I’ve seen you so far. Most of the time, you look as if something’s just going to jump at you and attack you.”

“24,” he replies. “I bought boxed sets of all the seasons and started a marathon last night. I woke up today wanting to be like Jack Bauer.” “Well, whatever makes you happy,” I say, passing a small envelope to him. “Here, photos from yesterday; I developed them in my darkroom last night. I have a pretty good idea of which ones should go into the book, but I want to make sure that you and I are on the same page.” “You didn’t have to wait for me to stick them, y’know? You’re the one with the camera collection and the photography skills here; I’m pants at this stuff.” “But you’re better when it comes to the emotional aspect of things,” I point out. “Sure, I’m technically good at what I do, but some of my photos come out cold at times.” He taps me lightly on the chest, right over where my heart is. “You’ve just got to remember that you can think with this, too. It’s not always about the correct framing or the right lighting.” “This is why you have to help me out,” I say. “I want these stories to actually mean something to the both of us. Now, help me make some choices here.”

86

The Alkaline Affair

| first love

Before we began our little journey, we agreed that we would take turns in taking charge of the project. Our rules are simple—they should be places that mean something to one and should be completely unknown to the other. Monday was my day, and I chose to take him to the playground of the small neighborhood daycare center my mother used to take Talia and me to when we were younger. To me, that was where life in this (back then) strange city had begun. “One of the best things that ever happened to me here was that I learned how to pump on my own,” I’d told him as we made ourselves at home on the recently replaced swing set. “Whenever my mom wasn’t looking, my dad would push me so I could go as high as I wanted. Here, I learned how to do it by myself.” “You’re not afraid of heights?” he’d asked teasingly. I’d snorted. Just because I’m a little bit paranoid (and claustrophobic) doesn’t mean I had to be afraid of everything. Contrary to what most people think, I actually love heights. So I told him, “Fuck off, Hawke.” He’d laughed so hard because I had never sworn at him before. And then he kissed the top of my head, which kind of freaked me out a little because it felt weird. “This one I took of you swinging should definitely go into the album,” Caleb is saying, “I haven’t known you for very long, but that was the most carefree I’ve seen you so far. Most of the time, you look as if something’s just going to jump at you and attack you.” “Which could happen,” I insist. “But yes, as I told you, I really do enjoy the feeling of being somewhat off the earth. When I was little, I wanted to be an astronaut so I could float around in space and see the earth as a tiny, tiny round ball.” “What stopped you?”

first love |

The Alkaline Affair

87

“The idea of living in a space shuttle with other people for months. I told you that I was claustrophobic, yes? If they could ever send up a flying house to space, I’d be down for the job.” He begins to draw a house with wings next to where he glued my photo. “That’s an idea. If I could invent one to make sure you realize your dreams, I would.” I laugh. “I can picture myself living the way Carl from Up did. I just hope I won’t turn out to be as grumpy—living alone can do that to you.” “I’m adding in the balloons for good measure,” Caleb informs me. “It’s always good to have backup just in case the wings get tired. Plus, balloons can be replenished.” “I love how you’re talking as if this could all happen someday.” “Hey, nothing is impossible,” he says with a smirk, “especially now that it’s the year 2007. If you want to make something happen, there’s always a way to ensure that it does. The human brain’s capacity is next to limitless—so many miracles in various fields were engineered by man.” “We can contemplate the brilliance of the human race all day, or you can take me where we’re supposed to be going today. “I’m glad you brought that up,” Caleb remarks, snapping the scrapbook shut. “We can continue with this after our little road trip. I don’t think going from one university to another will seriously thrill you, though.” “I’ll be alright,” I say. “The worst a visit to another educational institution can do to me is to remind me that I have a shitload of papers to do as soon as I arrive home later.” Caleb frowns. “You didn’t tell me this would interrupt your schoolwork.” “Caleb, I’ve been going home right after school to do my homework since the beginning of time,” I protest. “I’m a serious introvert

88

The Alkaline Affair

| first love

who doesn’t mingle much outside a small group of friends that he feels comfortable with. For once in my life, I want to be a wee bit bad.” “You know, most kids rebel against rules set by authority figures,” he remarks. “In your case, you’re rebelling against rules that you may have sort of enforced on yourself.” “That’s how it is for the uptight. Not everyone can be all sunshine and salt.” “Salt?” He arches an eyebrow quizzically. “Sometimes, when I close my eyes, I can almost imagine smelling the sea on you.”

“Did you attend classes here?” I ask Caleb. “You don’t seem like the ritzy all-boys private boarding school type.” “I didn’t,” he responds. “In fact, I hardly spent any time here. I remember setting foot here exactly once in my life. That one time, though? It changed my life.” Okay, now I’m curious. I’m half-expecting to be led to a secret room in the school. Imagine my surprise when he takes me to one of the nondescript waiting areas designated for visitors. “I spent the most nerve-wracking two and a half hours of my life here,” Caleb explains. “I know it seems shitty compared to where you brought me yesterday, but I promise there’s a story.” I take a seat on one of the plush couches. For generic school furniture, they’re actually quite comfortable. “It’s alright. I do have all day this time.”

first love |

The Alkaline Affair

89

“Ready the scrapbook,” he tells me. “And your laptop, if you want to. I need you to take down as much information as possible. Can you do that for me?” “You’re talking to Cambridge’s master note taker. Oh, and I brought crackers and mineral water if you want some. I can tell this is going to be a long discussion.” “I never knew my birth mother,” he begins. “All I know is that she was a woman my father had an affair with, and he took me in because he could and she couldn’t. That doesn’t mean he didn’t love me, though. Even my stepmother—although I saw her as my real mother— loved me as if I was her own. They married when I was around three years old and had a son together. We were really happy for some time, the four of us. One night, my parents took us out for dinner; I had no idea that we were never going to come back home.” I swallow. I don’t like it when people talk about death. My parents made the mistake of taking me to my first funeral at age eight; I had no concept of death as a reality at that time. I couldn’t bring myself to believe that I would simply stop breathing one day and cease to exist. “There was an accident,” he says quietly. “I was the only one who survived.” I’m tempted to say something that could soothe him, but sometimes, words do more harm than good. Instead, I take his hand, silently urging him to go on. “I woke up in a hospital alone,” he continues. “As soon as the doctors felt that I was alright enough to leave, they brought me here to be placed under the care of my godfather.” “Oh my god,” I murmur. “I’m so sorry, Caleb. I wish I could come up with something more comforting to say, but I don’t know if I’m going to sound sincere because I have no idea how losing someone so suddenly feels.”

90

The Alkaline Affair

| first love

“Well, I’m a lot better now than I was at that time,” he says with a heavy sigh. “I was nine years old and completely, unexpectedly alone. I managed, though; my godfather—he runs this school—made sure I lived a decent life. Somehow, I turned out okay.” I smile at him. “You turned out just fine. I’m sort of a peoplehater, so if I say you’re okay, you really are. You’ve got to trust me on this.” He doesn’t seem to hear me, but bends down to kiss my hand. “My lucky strike,” he says quietly. “If all roads lead to Rome, then everything I’ve dealt with will be worth it in the end.” “And I’m suddenly the new deciding factor?” I mutter, feeling my cheeks heat up. “How can you say such things when we’ve only just met?” “I’ve never learned to measure life in seconds, minutes and hours,” he explains. “Time is a quantifier; you’ve got to deal with the fact that you can’t meddle with it. Sure, it’s something you obsess over when you’ve got to get up in the morning or if you’ve got an appointment that you must keep, but when you’re completely at peace with yourself, it just doesn’t matter anymore.” The bell rings, and students are suddenly all over the place. I realize that Caleb is right—I don’t care whether it’s four or four-thirty. I don’t care that I have to submit a paper by eight PM sharp. All I know is that I’m sitting here with a boy, and all that matters is that he’s holding my hand.

Tuesday’s session gets me very busy with the scrapbook. I spent my night creating a brothers Grimm-inspired page to represent Caleb’s story. Somehow, Saint Alban’s turns into a castle made of glass, and the little prince inside it morphs into a young Caleb. I took a few photos of him with my Diana F+ that day, too. You can’t see his face, but his posture is rigid and his knuckles are white. It’s one of the saddest photos that I’ve ever taken.

first love |

The Alkaline Affair

91

I didn’t want our Wednesday session to be too much of an emotional whirlwind, so I decided to play it safe by taking him to the fire exit of our own apartment because that’s where I like doing my thinking. Of course, this involved me having to introduce him to my family, which was pretty embarrassing just because they’re all talkative busybodies (I must have been adopted). My parents loved him; my mother kept shooting me sly glances across the dinner table the whole time because she’s been notso-secretly spying on us since he arrived. My dad did nothing but peer at Caleb over the top of his newspaper and grunt, but coming from him, that’s a really good sign. I don’t even want to talk about his interactions with Talia. I think everyone knows by now that she’s dead set on showing her love for me by means of putting me in tight spots I can hardly wriggle out of. The next time Caleb comes over, I am kicking her out of the house. But all that hullaballoo aside, Wednesday and Thursday were significantly quiet. All we did was add more stuff to the scrapbook and talk about random, seemingly insignificant little things. I wasn’t one to complain, though; all I ever really wanted was to be able to spend time with him. Friday pretty much ruined everything for me. Caleb had asked me to meet him at some hole-in-the-wall bistro near my school. As soon as I step out of the building, the rain comes pouring in torrents. I have no choice but to make a run for it because I forgot my umbrella at home. He’s going to tease me about being so childish again. He’ll give me grief about it for a few minutes before taking pity on me and signaling to the barista for a cup of hot cocoa. Well, that was what I was expecting. I did not expect to see him hurtling down the sidewalk looking every bit the part of a drowned rat. “For heaven’s sake, stop!” I’m practically shrieking. “The sky is fucking weeping and you’re not carrying an umbrella. You should have waited for me inside like we’d agreed on.”

92

The Alkaline Affair

| first love

He slows to a walk and reaches out to grip my shoulders. It doesn’t take me long to sense that something is wrong; Caleb is the most carefree person that I have ever met, and he would never look at me the way he’s doing so now. “What’s the matter?” I ask, concerned. “You don’t seem like yourself right now.” He smiles. It’s the saddest one I’ve ever seen him wear. “I really need to stop this.” I am completely and utterly confused. “What do you mean? Stop what?” He doesn’t answer. Instead, he moves his hand to the nape of my neck and pulls me in for a kiss. They say all first kisses should be mind-blowing. Each time a Disney princess gets kissed by her prince, something magical happens. In Sleeping Beauty, Phillip’s kiss woke Aurora up from a long sleep. In Snow White, the prince’s kiss somehow brought her back to life. Caleb’s kiss, however, tastes like tears and a bitter sense of loss. I broke the kiss in an attempt to catch my breath. “What’s the matter? You’re clinging to me as if we’re never going to see each other again.” He presses a gentle kiss to my forehead. “It’s time for me to wake up. Goodbye, Quinn.”

“How do you feel? Any pains, aches or symptoms of nausea?” I shake my head. “I have none, sir. I feel a little dizzy, but that’s about it.” “You should see the physician before you leave the premises, though,” Jonathan Wolfe says. “I know he’s cleared you for release, but it won’t

first love |

The Alkaline Affair

93

hurt to check twice. Also, I insist on pouring you a glass of brandy—it stimulates the senses quite wonderfully.” “How am I going to be like for the next few days?” I blurt out. “For the longest time, I’ve been living a life that isn’t actually mine. Heck, I’ve even been dating someone who isn’t real!” “Oh, but that life is yours,” Wolfe responds. “Just because it isn’t real doesn’t mean it isn’t yours. Quinzel Galt was, in a sense, yours as well, Caleb. The Initiative may have been responsible for writing him into your dream, but the fictional relationship that you forged with him was the doing of your own subconscious.” “I know,” I sigh. “But it’s not that easy to forget. I did love him.” “Love in the dream world is alkaline in nature,” Wolfe explains. “You didn’t have to wake up, Caleb, but you chose to. I make my money by selling dreams, but I do admire my clients who express an actual intent to return to the real world. It’s a very brave choice to make. Quinn may not exist out here, but that’s the lesson we all learn when we enter the dream world. It’s not going to be easy, but some people do manage to find happiness in the real world.” He signs my release form and leaves me to my privy. Thinking of Quinn, I detach a page from my client file, scribble a question mark onto it, and send it flying out of the window in the form of a paper airplane. “Your turn,” I say to no one in particular.

94

The Alkaline Affair

| first love

96

| first love

first love |

97

98

Harana

| first love

first love |

Harana

99

100

Harana

| first love

first love |

101

102

Harana

| first love

first love |

Harana

103

104

Harana

| first love

first love |

Harana

105

106

Harana

| first love

first love |

107

108

Harana

| first love

first love |

Harana

109

110

Harana

| first love

first love |

Harana

111

112

Harana

| first love

first love |

113

114

| first love

first love |

Harana

115

Kuroyuki by Nix de Pano

first love |

117

phantom

by Kaika Hana

A

nd as the colors fade to gray…

Ah, no Hiroki, you’re behind,” I said calmly as we tried practicing a song for our first live house performance. “The chords are right, but you need to play it a little faster,” I said to the maroon-eyed guitarist as I observed his hands on the guitar. Hiroki’s face contorted in slight annoyance as he said, “Don’t the emotions of the song matter more than the precision though?”

118

Phantom

| first love

“You’ve got a point there…” I said, scratching the back of my head. “Small mistakes are okay, but we don’t want the audience to think we don’t practice at all, do we?” I smiled at the man with long green hair, who at least seemed to agree with that. “Okay guys, take five,” said the eldest member of the band as he handed us bottles of water to cool down with. I sat down and looked over the composition to check for any flaws in the music or anything of the sort, when the shadow of a tall figure covered my light source. The shadow quickly disappeared though, as the said figure sat down behind me. “Do you see anything wrong here, Kyosuke?” I asked the blue-haired drummer as he looked over my shoulder to peer at the paper. “We wrote this song together, so obviously, I don’t see anything wrong with it.” He smirked before running his fingers through his spiked up hair. I rolled my eyes and chuckled as I looked at the paper one more time. He was right though. I couldn’t see anything wrong with it either. I was probably just paranoid. “You’ve written songs before, Yuki-san. I don’t see why you’re getting so scared about it,” Kira-chan, the youngest member of the group and the one who handled the rhythm, said as he gulped his water. “I don’t know, I always get nervous about performing original songs… I always wonder, what if people don’t like them?” I sighed and leaned back on Kyosuke’s chest. “Then screw them,” Hiroki laughed. He had a point. We couldn’t please everyone. Actually, the fact that we had pleased anyone in the one year that our band had existed was surprising enough. The rock and roll world wasn’t exactly an easy place to be in, after all.

first love |

Phantom

119

I sighed as Kyosuke rubbed my shoulders reassuringly. All of us in the band were friends, but of course, there were special connections. One such connection would be between Kira-chan and Hiroki, who never failed to mess with the younger, due to his naïve nature. Another was Kyosuke and me, who had been pretty inseparable since the band was formed. “All right you guys, the festival is two months from now. You’ve got a time slot of forty minutes, so you need to make sure that the songs you will choose are the ones that will catch people’s attention. This is a good chance to earn more fans and rise up the ladder,” Minako-san, our “number one fan,” best girl friend and owner of the live house we were to perform at, explained as her big brown eyes shifted around to look at each of the five of us. “Got it?” “Yes, ma’am,” Yuuto-san, our bassist and the one who called for a break earlier, said before planting a small kiss on Minako-san’s cheek. This made her cheeks turn almost as red as her hair. Ah, right, I forgot to mention the third pair in the group: the only straight couple, Yuuto-san and Minako-san. “Y-Yuuto, not now!” She chastised her purple haired boyfriend as any tsundere would, before telling us to get back to practicing. “All right, let’s do this! One, two, three,” Kyosuke counted as he tapped his drumsticks together. We were taking this event seriously, even if we were only an opening act, due to the opportunities it presented to us. As a fairly new band, this would be a good way to earn more fans, as well as a better rep. That’s why we were so dedicated to play at our very best. We had been preparing for this festival for a long time, and now that it was coming closer, final decisions had to be made.

120

Phantom

| first love

“Okay, so as of now, we’ve got five songs on our list. Two are songs that all of us made together, one is a song composed by Hiroki and Kirachan, while the other two are songs by Yuki-kun and Kyosuke,” Yuutosan said with his gold eyes fixated on the paper in his hand. This day was dedicated to fixing the set list. “Well, we’ve got forty minutes on the stage. On average, our songs last for about four minutes. So we would need around ten songs or less in total,” Kyosuke thought out loud. No one seemed to question his calculations, and so we racked our brains for more possible songs to play. “We can add the one that Yuuto-nii and Minako-nee made,” Kira-chan suggested with a grin on his face. After a short argument between the two composers, we agreed to add it to the list. “We can complete the set with our good covers,” Hiroki suggested as he leaned back on his hands. “All right, let’s go with that, but I want our last song to be another Kyouki song. Those seem to get good responses, after all,” Yuuto-san said, looking at both Kyosuke and me with a smile on his face. “Wait, you want us to debut ‘Phantom’ for the live house event?” I asked as I pushed my silver bangs out of my face. “Why not? I don’t see any better time to do so,” he answered with a shrug and a semi-smirk. “All right, I’ve got no problems with that,” Kyosuke smiled before ruffling my hair. I don’t know why, but that habit of his always made me slightly embarrassed. “So we’re good for today. See you guys on Saturday!” Yuuto-san said before linking arms with Minako-san and going on their way. Kyosuke and I both left the mini-studio then and decided to head to our favorite place to compose songs—a sakura park that was the exact midpoint between both our houses.

first love |

Phantom

121

It was quite late in the afternoon and the sky had turned a deep orange hue as Kyosuke sat under our favorite tree and I lay my head on his lap. Somehow, this position had become a staple thing for the two of us.

Kyosuke and I could always connect our thoughts. It was as if there was an invisible bridge between our minds that let us communicate without any words being spoken.

“All right, so we need to check if ‘Phantom’ is good to go before we even practice it,” Kyosuke said as he brought out the sheets of paper where we wrote the whole composition. “Is anything missing?” I asked, taking the paper from his hands. I glanced at the lyrics and notes for a few seconds before Kyosuke yanked it back from me. “No, it’s fine,” he chuckled before scanning through the document. “You know, I think this may actually be the best song we’ve written yet.” Kyosuke smirked as he read through the work. “The phantom guardian, who protects his beloved from afar,” he mumbled the story behind the song. “And the speaker who fell in love with that protector, because they could only find their sanctuary through the guardian,” I said as he nodded. “You are the phantom that holds me in my dreams. My sole protector, my only companion…” I sang softly. Kyosuke and I could always connect our thoughts. It was as if there was an invisible bridge between our minds that let us communicate without any words being

122

Phantom

| first love

spoken. It was always like this, ever since we became close friends a few years back. I first met Kyosuke at a musical contest that we’d both signed up for. It was probably just a coincidence, but somehow, we ended up talking for hours on end, waiting for our respective turns to perform. Both of us knew how to play different instruments aside from those we currently utilized in the band, so it was pretty easy for us to switch around to keep our performances interesting. I don’t recall exactly how long that contest lasted, but I do remember it being long enough for us to become really close. Even if we didn’t make it to the finals, we were pretty content with how everything had turned out. We were able to meet each other, after all. After the competition ended for us, we continued hanging out on an almost daily basis, and ended up growing attached to each other. I had some friends back in high school, sure, but no one was ever able to connect to me the way Kyosuke did. It was on one hot summer day that the two of us discovered that spot in the sakura park which we loved so much. We hid under the tree’s shadow for some shade and decided to relax there for a while, when we opened up more about personal things, like our pasts and family backgrounds. “See, my parents were always overseas due to work, so I grew up living with my uncle,” Kyosuke explained with his back against the tree trunk. “I guess you could say our family was pretty well off, but the fact that I had no real parental guidance kinda screwed me over. My uncle was a really nice guy though, don’t get me wrong.” He looked down at me as I lay my head on his lap, nodding to ask for a continuation. “Well, he wasn’t married and he liked sleeping around a lot, so obviously, I thought that it was okay to do that. I ended up in bed with almost anyone who looked like they’d show me a good time.” He shrugged, then put his hands behind his head.

first love |

Phantom

123

“I’m over it now though. Kinda got boring doing it without any real emotional attachment,” Kyosuke chuckled, before talking about how he found drinking to be more pleasurable than unattached sex. Well, I really trusted Kyosuke, so it didn’t matter much to me what vices he had. Besides, I had no right to judge him at all. When I met Kyosuke, I was addicted to heroin. I didn’t tell him during that time under the tree, but one day, he decided to come over to my house. Since I lived alone, he would just randomly barge in whenever he wanted to. I had given him a spare key, as a best friend privilege. So as fate would have it, he walked in on me right before I stabbed the needle into my arm. He completely freaked out and tried to take it away from me, which ended up with the two of us having a huge argument over it. He won in the end and was able to confiscate my stash, which somewhat left me in a state of shock. I had been addicted to heroin for a good three years at the time, so having it suddenly stripped from me right when I wanted it most made me feel weird. “Yuki, please don’t do this anymore. I don’t want anything bad to happen to you. Please, I don’t want to lose you,” he begged as he threw my needle haphazardly away from me. “Why do you care so much anyway?” I asked curiously, my body starting to shake slightly from wanting the euphoric feeling of the heroin. “Yuki,” he said, holding me still by the shoulders. “You’re my best friend. You’re probably my only real friend. I don’t want you to be taken away from me. So please?” he said almost inaudibly. My heart sank at his honesty, and out of pure emotion, I agreed. However, considering the amount of time that I had been hooked to the stuff, it took a whole lot to give it up completely.

124

Phantom

| first love

Kyosuke would constantly come to my house to check on me, and he would always catch me right when I had my eye on a needle. This of course, would always result to an argument between us, which would always end with him taking away my new stash and throwing it out. I was really trying my best to stay off the drugs, but the withdrawal was pure hell. I wanted to escape from it. However, the thought of Kyosuke’s words were the only things keeping me from plunging the needle into my skin whenever he wasn’t around. It was on one dark, rainy day when I was hit by an alarmingly intense withdrawal syndrome. I was alone at home, as usual, when I suddenly started shivering and craving for the elated feeling that the drug had given me in the past. My head was throbbing and I started feeling anxious about every little thought that came into my head. I slowly searched my bedroom drawer for a stash I thought I had hidden in the past, before realizing that Kyosuke had made a thorough search of the place to rid it of all of the drugs I possessed. I fell to my bed and curled up into a ball, repeating the words, “Do it for Kyosuke,” on an endless loop, when I heard the main door to the house open. I suddenly panicked and screamed the name of the only person who could’ve possibly entered, begging for him to help me. “Yuki, what’s wrong?!” Kyosuke asked, in as much panic as I was as he entered my room. His eyes widened when he saw my pathetic state and he rushed over to try and calm me down. He pulled me up into his arms and slowly rocked me back and forth, hushing my whimpers with soft kisses to my forehead. This went on for quite some time before the symptoms finally receded. Kyosuke breathed a sigh of relief as I normalized once more. “Are you okay?” He asked, threading his fingers through my hair. I merely nodded and tried my best to smile for him. He gave a lopsided grin and pulled me close to him. He was my savior. My phantom savior.

first love |

Phantom

125

After about a year or so, I was completely rehabilitated from my addiction, thanks to Kyosuke. I was forever indebted to him. It was also right about that time when Minako-san found us both and asked if we were interested to be members of a new rock and roll band. Of course, we both agreed. And now, we were both here, under the leafless sakura tree in the dead of winter. We were able to finalize the song by the time the sky had turned dark and was only illuminated by the light of the moon. We were both still so full of energy though, and didn’t want to let it go to waste. “How about you come over to my place so we can keep working on this little baby?” Kyosuke offered as he packed our materials back into his bag. I quickly agreed and the two of us walked in the serene darkness of the evening to reach his home. Once there, we were able to experiment on how each of us could possibly play our respective instruments by fiddling around with the multiple instruments laying around his house. It was actually roaring and ready to go. The night had grown deep by the time we decided to stop experimenting on the song, so Kyosuke invited me to stay over for the night to relax a bit. I had slept over at Kyosuke’s place so many times; I memorized how his whole house was arranged. Kyosuke suggested we just goof off for the rest of the night, and I completely agreed. We wouldn’t have practice the following day anyway, so it was absolutely fine for us to waste the night away. We then decided to watch a few movies in the living room with a bowl of chips and a few cans of beer. It was our favorite way to chill out after a tiring day. It had been a while since the last time we were able to do this; chill out. Just the two of us, completely alone. After we had finished a whole case of beer, our conversations became completely random, as expected of two tipsy young adults. Kyosuke had me leaning on his shoulder under a big blanket that covered us both,

126

Phantom

| first love

when he asked, “Yuki, correct me if I’m wrong, but you’ve never had a girlfriend before, right?” I was still more sober than he was, so this confused me. “Why do you ask?” I gulped, hoping he wouldn’t notice in his slightly drunken stupor. “I was just checking. So, judging by your reaction, you’ve never been in love, have you?” He smirked and ruffled my hair as he always did. “Well, no, I don’t think so. I know you haven’t ever had a serious girlfriend,” I said as I munched on some chips in hopes of distracting myself from the growing embarrassment. “Yeah, you’re right, I’ve never fallen in love with anyone.” He shrugged. “Well, maybe not until a few years ago,” he snickered. What? This was the first I’d heard of this. Who was it that was able to captivate this blue haired drumming demon? I gulped. Why was I so affected anyway? I should be happy, if he were really my best friend, right? So… what the hell was wrong with me? “Yuki? You okay?” Kyosuke suddenly asked, surprised by my silence. “A-ah, yeah, I’m fine. So, who is this girl, huh?” I asked, trying my best to appear unaffected. “It isn’t a girl. It’s a guy,” he said with his arm draped around my shoulder. “Oh,” I muttered under my breath. He had told me before how the only thing that mattered to him if ever he would actually get into a serious relationship was the person’s personality and compatibility with him, so it wasn’t too much of a surprise to me. “So who is it?” I finally had the guts to say. God, this was killing me. And the worst part was that I thought I knew exactly why. “Dumbass. It’s you,” He chuckled before pulling me closer to him.

first love |

Phantom

127

Wait, what? Did I hear that right? Me? Did he just say he was in love with me? “You don’t believe me, do you?” he asked with a half smile that made him look like he was in pain. Shit, he was dead serious. Why���did that make me feel so happy? Ah, not that it was even a question to ask. I knew exactly why it made me happy. My brain was probably playing tricks on me again. “No, I do believe you…” I said, holding onto his wrist and looking at him calmly. “But you don’t feel the same,” he said, hiding his own eyes under his bangs. “No, that’s not it!” I quickly rebutted. He then looked at me with expectant eyes, wondering what else I had to say. “I…I’ve never been together with anyone, so I don’t really know what love is, but what I do know is that I wouldn’t be here now if it weren’t for you. I’d still be the drug addict you met three years ago. You saved me, Kyosuke,” I poured out my heart to him. “You’re my phantom protector,” I smiled. “Except I actually do show myself,” He chuckled as he recalled our song. It was at that exact moment that I felt a pair of comforting arms wrap themselves around me, accompanied by the feeling of a pair of lips on my cheek. “You have no idea how happy that just made me, Yuki,” Kyosuke said in a low voice. He had kissed me on the forehead and cheek many times before, but this one kiss felt so different. My cheeks burned bright red as I squirmed in my place. How embarrassing, that a twenty-four year old would get so flustered over a kiss on the cheek from his best friend who was only a mere two years older than him. “Yuki, I want you,” Kyosuke whispered, which made me shiver.

128

Phantom

| first love

“W-wait a minute, Kyosuke…” I pushed him away slightly as my head started throbbing. “I-I don’t know about this…” I gulped audibly. He was really experienced with this, but I knew nothing about sex in all honesty. “Don’t worry about it. I promise, I’ll take care of you, just like I always have for the past three years,” he whispered sweetly, holding my hand in his. Somehow, this reassured me. I knew those weren’t just some drunken words or actions, considering the lengths he had gone through in the past to protect me. I knew he wouldn’t hurt me. He stood up from the sofa and offered his hand to me. I gripped it tightly and followed him up to his bedroom, which was only lit by the full moon’s glow shining through the curtains. As he shut the door, he embraced me tightly. I always felt safe in his arms, especially during those weak moments of the past. He began planting small, chaste kisses all over my face before letting his fingers grip my jaw softly. His purple eyes locked with my brown ones as he let his forehead touch mine. He smiled sweetly and let one of his hands play with my hair that fell over my shoulders before uttering one short sentence.

“I don’t really know what love is, but what I do know is that I wouldn’t be here now if it weren’t for you.”

“I love you, Yuki.” At that, he let our lips touch for the first time. It started out with slow, gentle movements, that escalated into a more passionate and

first love |

Phantom

129

breathtaking kiss. I’d never felt so… alive. As we parted, I looked up at him and wrapped my arms around his neck. “I love you too, Kyosuke.” Kyosuke smiled before lifting me up and bringing me over to his king-sized bed. I would have focused on how soft the bed was, if I weren’t being stripped of all my clothing. As my shirt was thrown to the floor, I pulled on Kyosuke’s clothing as well. “No fair… Take it off,” I complained. He quickly caught my drift and took his clothes off as well before finishing me off, leaving us both completely bare. He ravished my upper body with sweet kisses that left me writhing and gripping tightly onto the sheets. He knew I had absolutely no experience with this kind of thing at all, so he decided to take it slow, for my sake. I appreciated him even more for that. “Ah!” I cried out as his lips latched onto one of the buds on my chest. It felt weird. I had always wondered why men had these, if only women really used them. After that feeling though, I thought I kind of understood. Kyosuke didn’t speak for most of the time, as his lips were always attached to one part of me or another. However, through my own gasps, I could hear and feel him groaning lowly as well. He travelled from my chest up to my neck and up to my lips once more, engulfing them in another passionate kiss. I moaned as our tongues fought to dominate each other, but I was obviously defeated due to the inexperience. He pulled away again and travelled down to a part of me that had never been touched by anyone else before. The fact that he was just staring at it made me blush furiously. To add to the embarrassment, it decided to harden at his gaze. He chuckled before letting his fingers playfully touch it, making me whimper. “You’re so cute, Yuki,” he teased me verbally before doing so physically. I was about to answer back when all the words that were about to be

130

Phantom

| first love

said were replaced by moans of pleasure. It was amazing. Probably the most amazing thing I ever felt, until he decided to take it into his mouth. I screamed out in ecstasy, wondering if I had died and gone to heaven. “Kyo…suke!” I panted his name as he continued bobbing his head up and down. I knotted my fingers in his messed up spikes as I involuntarily bucked up into his mouth. He held my hips down with his strong hands to stop me from choking him, until things started becoming too much for me. “Kyosuke, I’m gonna…” I warned, which made him pull away. I tried to catch my breath as he licked his lips in the sexiest manner that I could have ever imagined. He then leaned over me to grab a tube of some sort from the bedside table, and squirted some kind of liquid onto his fingers. “This might be a bit uncomfortable,” he warned me before letting his digits enter me. I winced at the strange sensation of his fingers penetrating me. “Sorry,” he whispered. “I need to prepare you so it won’t hurt as much later,” he explained as he spread his fingers out. I clenched my teeth as he slowly moved around, trying to get me to loosen up, when he brushed against something that made me shout in pleasure. What the hell was that? Kyosuke snickered. “Meet your prostate, Yuki,” he said before brushing against it a few more times. I guess he must have found my cries quite amusing, considering how much he repeated it before finally pulling out. He grabbed the tube once again, this time slathering the liquid on his own member. He positioned himself at my entrance and I wrapped my trembling arms around his neck. “Just relax, Yuki,” He whispered before slowly plunging in. My breath got caught in my throat as he pushed in inch by inch, until he was fully sheathed. He had silenced my cries with his lips. “Shh, it’s okay, Yuki,” He called me name sweetly and stroked my hair as he waited for me to adjust to the strange intrusion. I was panting, wincing and trembling from the feeling, but he continued to try and calm me down, just as

first love |

Phantom

131

he did during my withdrawal days. The feel of his protective kisses helped me relax. After a few minutes, I finally felt loose enough to continue. I looked up to him and nodded, deeming myself ready for what was to come. “Are you sure?” He asked one more time. I nodded again, and he moved. God, it felt so strange. It hurt, but it felt so good. He continued moving in and out of me slowly, searching for that spot that made me scream earlier. When he did find it, the pleasure I felt escalated tenfold. I begged for him to move faster as the sounds of our moans mixed together in perfect harmony, just as our music always had. “Kyosuke… ah,” I moaned as my grip on my own arms switched to his shoulders. He held me close as he slammed into me harder and faster. He nibbled on my ear, and whispered, “Yuki, does it feel good?” He ended his sentence with a particularly hard thrust straight to that spot inside of me, and I screamed, leaving red scratch marks on his back. “S-so… good… Kyo!” I became totally incoherent from the pleasure I felt. It was amazing. I never thought anything could make me feel so… indescribably hot. The smell of our act mixed with the scent of our sweat as our lips meshed together again. This was completely new to me, yet everything felt so natural. Everything was how it should be. Everything was perfect. His hand moved down to stroke me, and then it became too much for me. I screamed his name and held on to him tightly, before I felt his own essence spill inside of me. He slowly pulled out and rolled over next to me before letting one arm drape over me. We were both completely exhausted. He pulled the blankets over us using his free arm before leaving another kiss on my cheek and silently whispering, “Oyasumi, Yuki. I love you.”

132

Phantom

| first love

I let my arms fall over the one wrapped around me and smiled to myself. “I love you too, Kyosuke. Oyasumi.” From that day, Kyosuke and I never let go of each other. We would take turns living in each other’s houses and always go everywhere together. The band continued practicing and pretty much perfected every song on our list, including the latest song that we wrote. Then, at last, our debut for the live house event finally came. Each song was played without a hitch, and we were pretty well received by the crowd. Finally, we were down to our last song. As Kyosuke started setting the beat, I spoke on the microphone. “All right, this will be our last song for tonight. Once again, on drums, we have Akutagawa Kyosuke!” The audience cheered as he played a quick solo with his blue hair flying everywhere. “On bass, Sawaki Yuuto!” Yuuto-san played a few quick notes with a naughty glint in his gold eyes. “On lead guitar, Morukawa Hiroki!” Hiroki went all out on his electric guitar, his long green hair being flipped back and forth from his headbanging. “Rhythm guitar, Maboroshi Kira!” Kira-chan tilted his head to the side, letting his wavy blonde hair cover his blue eyes, before playing his favorite chords. “And I am Kitamori Yuki. Together, we are Jikan to Muzic!” I looked to the side to see Minako-san give us a thumbs-up and a wink. I grinned at her before looking back to the crowd. “This will be our first time to play this song live, so I hope you all enjoy. This is ‘Phantom!’”

first love |

Phantom

133

134

Screwballs

| first love

first love |

Screwballs

135

136

Screwballs

| first love

first love |

Screwballs

137

138

Screwballs

| first love

first love |

Screwballs

139

140

Screwballs

| first love

first love |

Screwballs

141

142

Screwballs

| first love

first love |

Screwballs

143

144

Screwballs

| first love

first love |

Screwballs

145

146

Screwballs

| first love

first love |

Screwballs

147

148

Screwballs

| first love

first love |

Screwballs

149

150

| first love

first love |

Screwballs

151

152

Screwballs

| first love

first love |

Screwballs

153

contributors

Hoshico

Shironiji

Nix de Pano

Yeehun

Chesra Lee

M.C. Jose

Cinnamon Rub

Nofavrell

CP Coulter

Yomikiri

Hanaoka

Zen Maldita, Mootecky and Kasuouh

http://hossico.tumblr.com/

http://starrywhitewall.tumblr.com

FICTION | A Daydream Away

COMIC | Screwballs http://cinnamonrub.me

FICTION | The Beautiful One

COMIC | It was June http://hanaoka.tumblr.com

http://shironiji.deviantart.com/

http://yeehun.tumblr.com

FICTION | The Alkaline Affair

COMIC | Mr. and Mr. Darkness

FICTION | Nearly a Valediction

COMIC | Harana

Kaika Hana

FICTION | Phantom

154

| first love

about the blush anthology Someone once sang that it only takes a minute to fall in love. But we all know the truth ― it could span a second, or last a lifetime. As a gift to fans of the genre, the first BLush fanthology “ : First Love,” highlights that moment boys fall in love. The 2012 BLush Anthology is a fan anthology dedicated to original stories, comics, illustrations, and essays. We hope to provide an avenue for creative individuals who would like to have a space for their Boy’s Love fantasies and opinions. The BLush fanthology is a non-profit project of the BLush Convention. This is an independent and amateur publication. The convention and its organizers will hold no claim to any work submitted in our fanthology.

about blush BLush Convention is a not-for-profit BL event organized for fans in Southeast Asia. It aims to provide a space for Boy’s Love fans to enjoy this genre and their fantasies without judgment.

first love |

155

acknowledgements This anthology would not have happened if not for our editors who conceptualized this anthology as a space for BL artists and writers’s imagination. Warm hugs and kisses to Khursten Santos, Rael Realin, Rochelle Dumlao, Chris Mariano, Tricia Santos-Fermin, and Jill Solidum. Thank you also to our contributors who did a smashing job in creating fantastic works and meeting our deadlines. Our graphic designer, Cla Ines, deserve a lot of credit for putting this book together, making it absolutely gorgeous. Lastly, we want to thank you for supporting this book. We hope you enjoyed reading this anthology. Until the next issue!

http://www.blush-con.org


Blush Anthology