The first time he sees artwork bearing the name Rumi, he’s almost seventeen and he’s in love. He’s on a rooftop with Spec and Lazer, passing a joint between them, the air so cold that they’re breathing smoke even when they’re not taking hits.
They’re waiting to see Spec’s new piece and when the train rushes by she whoops loudly at the purple Spectre painted across the car. She’s new to the scene but a good bomber and quick on her feet. Thor likes her enthusiasm though she’s kind of sloppy with her movement and he’s always been a lot more focused on the exact way to move his hands to get the paint to dance like he wants. He’s about to commend her for a job well done when he sees the last car.
On an electric blue background, it says do what your soul directs, yellow lights dancing across the words. Just at the corner he catches the handle, Rumi 411.
Later, he’ll wonder if it’s just the high, but he feels himself falter. It thuds inside him like the echo of something he was told long ago, twists to merge with the thunder rushing through his veins. He’s used to seeing art of the metal sides of trains, searching out beauty in the darkest tunnels, but wisdom – that one’s new.
As inconspicuously as possible, he waits until the talk turns from Spec’s piece – which he has totally forgotten about in his daze – to ask about it.
“Rumi?” Lazer repeats, scratches at his chin where a spot of paint has dried. Lazer is a wanderer and strikes up friendships with taggers all around the city. He’s possibly the most mellow guy Thor has ever met. “I’ve seen him a couple of times, in the Bronx. Think he’s new. Dunno what he’s doing out here.”
Thor lets it slide, pretends as if there hasn’t been burnt a patch of electric blue in his vision that is filled with the sound of wings, and accepts the last puff of the blunt with freezing fingers that still manage to tingle, but not from the cold.
It’s been years since art made him feel this way, he realizes later, as he’s on the subway back home. He keeps turning his head to catch the bursts of writing on the trains going in the opposite direction, as if he can make this Rumi magically appear. His eyes are still prickling when he crawls into bed, curtains shut to block out the incoming morning. He dreams of blue and splashes of yellow.
From then on he takes care to catch the trains around the Bronx. On particularly restless days he takes the train uptown and wanders around. He becomes comfortable with the names there, Crash and Daze, Blade and Comet, follows the trail of spray paint around like a bird eating up the bread crumbs left behind by fairytale children.
More importantly, he sees Rumi’s pieces and gets to revel in the mystery of his art. He sits on benches of subway stations for hours, watching the trains go by. He’s got his sketchbook in his bag but mostly he just observes, even when the ones he has already seen pass by again. He only has a handful of seconds to take it all in and there’s so much to see.
He always was a greedy child, he thinks, remembers the drawn lines of his grandmother’s mouth as he asks for more, more please. Cookies, stories, smiles, please, more? He has always hungered and the thick lines on moving metal only sates him for a few moments at a time.
There’s a lot of creative force in this neighborhood, he considers, feasting his eyes on the train car currently in front of him, but Rumi’s work fills him differently than the others’. It sends a secret thrill through him when he recognizes the little alien with its top hat that has come to fill out the space in Thor’s mind where Rumi’s face goes.
He goes to the clubs he’s become familiar with by now, greeting people by names with smiles and feels himself shake off some of the heaviness he carries in the daytime. He goes a lot with Mags, whose dad works with his father and is possibly an even bigger asshole. While she’s not into the graffiti scene, she loves the rebellion and wild art of it. Thor likes the earnest wonder that hides underneath her jadedness. They’ve hooked up before and she’s all fragile bones and warm angles in his arms. They have been joined by another girl or guy before, as well. Neither of them are particularly picky, both in love with the beauty of people and their fleeting smiles.
He hooks up with a couple of guys, a couple of girls as well, here and there. Never as many as people seem to think but he doesn’t particularly care. People will always talk, he reminds himself. And it’s not because he dislikes the attention to be honest. The queens tug on his hair and brush glitter over his cheekbones and call him baby doll. He likes the way he’s recognized, the way they all know him as Thor. He likes dancing and he likes kissing so he lets himself do just that.
Most nights, like tonight, he doesn’t hook up with anyone. For some of the people here it seems like it’s like a necessity, like an addiction to hands and skin, and it scares him sometimes. Tonight he just relaxes in the casual brush of dancing bodies around him, the occasional kiss from a loving stranger, and lets himself flow through the music.
That morning by the breakfast table, his father barely glances at him over his newspaper, inhaling sharply in the way that speaks louder than any glare. There’s probably been another phone call from the school about his absence. He’ll probably be called into the office upstairs later on.
Thor stares down at the breakfast he doesn’t taste and chews mechanically. He wonders if his life will ever hold as much color as those subway tunnels.
He is sixteen and he gets thrown out of boarding school in a blaze of glory. And he doesn’t even try. It’s his second year there and he wakes every morning in the stiff sheets of his dorm bed and wants to scream until he splits into bare atoms. Instead he stares at the grey ceiling as he listens to the snores of his roommate.
Thor puts on the expensive, drab uniform clothes and feels his own identity being stripped away until he’s just a mass of anonymous meat. His father had forced him into a barber’s over the summer. He had stared into his own eyes as the light crunch of scissors slicing through hair filled his ears, turning him into someone he couldn’t recognize anymore. He saw the layer of flint in his own eyes as he became the picture of what his father wants him to be, and it was terrifying.
It’s had months to grow out now and it has started to curl under his ears, a soft reminder, a promise of gentleness.
He does sports, runs track and plays baseball because it’s what’s expected of him. He’s not the best but he’s not bad either, his genes lending themselves to a natural athleticism.
His saving grace is the art department. It doesn’t have any cans of spray paint, obviously, and he longs for the heft of metal in his hands, but it has an endless stretch of paper, color and canvas. They do a lot of watercolors and while it’s still not his thing – there are so many rules, their motives always fixed for them in advance – it still has a soothing quality that reminds him of times spent with his mother when she still had interest.
It’s also slightly numbing, the faint washes of color bleeding into each other so quietly, that he thinks, perhaps, the Valium wasn’t the beginning of the end for her, just an extension of the fall that had already begun with each miniscule flick of a tiny brush.
A few years earlier, the school merged with its sister school. Girls are allowed on the premises for the first time in the school’s history and a lot of the other boys seem to go a little crazy in the worst ways.
Girls are beautiful, all fire wrapped up in silk, but Thor finds it a lot easier to talk to them than most of the boys do. He’s not sure if it’s his generally easy-going nature or if they recognize something in him, see the hair and the paint-stained nails and think, this one listens.
Debbie was his first girlfriend the year before and while they broke up after a few months after the initial excitement had fizzled out, she’s still one of his best friends. She was the one who had tugged on his hair one day in English and called him Thor for the first time. By the time class ended, he’d been reborn. It’s fitting he thinks. He’s always felt like there’s a storm raging inside his chest.
He doesn’t think he can ever find the words to thank her for that so he doesn’t try. He paints her a sunset and she hangs it on the ceiling above her bed.
They cut class to go sit on the roof of the science building, smoking joints and cigarettes. Sometimes he brings his guitar, plucking distractedly at the strings while they talk. She tells him that she’s dating two guys simultaneously, both of them named David. One of them is on Thor’s baseball team, the other on the rowing team.
Thor furrows his brow. “I thought that was the same person,” he admits, sending Debbie into hiccups of laughter. She’s soft all over, from the plumpness of her lips to the curve of her thighs. Thor has spent a lot of time between those thighs, worshipping sensitive pink and brown skin. But there’s steel beneath the softness; people still whisper about her in the hallways as she passes by, about her immigrant mother, about her much older father. Thor used to get so angry on her behalf until she had yelled at him, shocking him into silence.
“People are always going to talk,” she’d said, eyes as dark as earthquakes, “so fucking let them. I’m not going to spend my life afraid of what people are going to say behind my back. I’m too important to me.”
Thor remembers wishing he had just a little of that courage. Later that week he’d admitted to her that he liked looking at boys as much as he liked looking at girls, and she’d hugged him tight. He’s glad she was most of his firsts.
“Andrew Boseman kissed me Wednesday,” he tells her, handing her the cigarette she’d just lit.
“Again?” she asks. When he nods she says, “He didn’t try to punch you this time, did he?”
Thor laughs, shakes his head. He feels a little bad for Boseman whose father is a governor, who had looked almost gray after that frankly terrible kiss. Thor had promised never to tell anyone but he doesn’t think Debbie counts. Instead he changes the subject and tells her about one of the incidents of this summer, almost getting caught while tagging a train, and forgets all about it.
It’s exactly three days after that everything goes to shit. Thor’s going down the hallway on his way to geography and he doesn’t even notice Boseman or his friends until he hears the harsh sing-songy syllables of faggot trailing after him.
The whole world is frozen for a long second. Thor turns slowly to see the group of boys, Boseman leaning against a wall with an ugly smirk on his face. One of his friend calls out, “What is it – cock got your tongue?” It sends them all into laughter, grating sounds of acid.
Thor’s heartbeat is hammering through every single cell of his body, roaring in his synapses like lightning. His palms are hot but, somehow, his voice is cold when he looks directly into Boseman’s eyes and says, “You sad that I refused to suck yours?”
Even though he isn’t yelling the words echo through the suddenly tomb-like hallway. There’s a thousand eyes on him. And then there’s a fist.
Boseman’s friends seem almost shocked at the ferocity with which he throws himself against Thor, and Thor is strong but he’s not a fighter, refuses to be one. Instead he lets out a loud, fake moan when Boseman straddles him, one hand clenched in Thor’s collar the other raised, ready for another punch, where it freezes at the sound.
“Yes, baby, just like that,” Thor says loudly, gripping onto Boseman’s thighs, who’s suddenly scrambling to get away from him. Thor sits up and looks at his wan face and even though he’s the one with a pulsing pain over his cheekbone and blood trailing from the corner of his mouth from where he bit his cheek when falling, he feels unspeakably cruel.
Thor’s not a fighter but maybe he is.
He has a long rep sheet already, ranging from cutting class, to smoking on the premises, to being caught one time with Debbie in her dorm room – he’s honestly never tried to hide how much he detests this place and its rules – but this is evidently the straw that broke the school’s back. His parents are rich but they’re no governor and that makes all of the difference, apparently. Spittle flies from the principal’s mouth as he yells about disgraceful behavior but Thor can’t find it in himself to care. There’s still the rush of wind soaring through his bones. He doesn’t know where Boseman is but he’s definitely not here in this room. When he looks down there’s still blood on his shirt.
Walking out, even without knowing what awaits him back in New York, with the stares and loud whispers at his back, he feels lighter than he has in years.
As it turns out, nothing much happens when he returns to the house on the Upper East Side. He’s enrolled in a private school. His parents don’t speak to him in over a month, eyes going blank whenever he’s in the room. He calls Debbie and she tells him people still talk about him, that one minute of cruelty somehow catapulting him into a divine status.
Thor feels his edges showing, sharp in the silence of his home. At school, he ties his hair back, hackles raised and teeth blunt at the stares he gets. He hates it.
He’s ten and he’s never felt more horrible in his life. What started out as any other little cold has turned into a whooping cough and a fever that feels as though it’s burning him up from the inside. He’s sure that at some point he’ll char right down into ashes.
He’s confined to his bed, has been for who knows how long now – the days bleed into each other like watercolors dropped onto his sweaty skin. Simultaneously, he’s both hot and cold, teeth clattering hard enough to ring in his skull, sheets and pajamas soaked through and sticking wetly to his skin.
There are times when the dreadfulness clears up, leaving him restless and exhausted. There are newly bought comics on his bedside and he’d normally devour them with joy but he finds that his eyes can barely focus on comprehending the simple outline of a shape, and parsing its movement and narrative is a completely lost cause.
Instead he stares up at the striped wallpaper in his bedroom and wonders who chose it. It’s in neutral blues and browns like someone who didn’t know him picked it out. He considers the crystal vases around the house, the sofas he’s not allowed to sit in, the books that nobody ever touches. Maybe it’s not a surprise that his wallpaper is like that, too.
He sleeps and dreams a lot, but never remembers any of it.
Ana María brings him food, hot soup mostly, and stays while he eats, making sure that the spoon reaches his mouth. He’s not throwing up anymore, at least. Still, she watches him with a worried little nook between her eyebrows. It’s nothing like the harsh line that lives on his father’s brow. She never talks when his parents are around, only when asked, but she talks to him. He knows she has two kids at home, both girls, and she always seems a bit surprised that he remembers them. He’s not sure why yet; why wouldn’t he listen when she talks?
“You have a kind heart,” she tells him as she takes the bowl of half-finished soup out of his hands. He can’t eat anymore, stomach already full and painful. “Remember to stay kind.”
“How do you say ‘kind’ in Spanish?” he asks her. She had him sit on a chair while she changed the sheets for clean ones, opening all the windows up to let in fresh air. The last time he’d been dizzy with fever, she’d rubbed something onto his chest and he still smells the menthol of it. It clears his head a little bit.
“Càlido,” she says and he tries to repeat it but his tongue is too heavy in his mouth. She strokes a cool hand over his forehead and he almost startles at the touch, staring at her bewilderedly. She looks suddenly sad at his confusion. “You fever is clearing up, finally,” she says, but keeps her hand on his forehead a while longer, a cool blessing. He tries to remember the last time someone touched him like this, tender and with worry, and comes up short. There are flashes of blue sky and birds but they’re gone too fast to pinpoint.
Like she foresees, his fever simmers down into nothing over the next few days. He’s still sluggish and weak in the legs. His parents are already sitting at the dinner table when he comes down to eat. They give him the same weirdly flat smile when they see him.
“Are you feeling better?” his mother asks, her voice placid. She’s looking just a fraction too much to the left to properly look him in the eyes. He’s not sure when she became this distant. Surely, it can’t always have been that way? When did she start collecting pill bottles like his father collects pinned down butterflies in glass frames?
Halfway through cutting a potato in half, he realizes that she never came up to see him. Neither did his father, but that’s less of a surprise. He spends most of his time at work, and most of the time he’s not at work he spends in the apartment downtown that they all pretend not to know about.
He’s been sick for a week, almost.
His father catches him looking, barely pausing in cutting the meat on his plate into precise morsels. “You’ve missed a lot of schoolwork, being away for so long,” he comments. “You’re going to have to work extra hard to catch up on it.”
A sudden wave of anger catches him by surprise, flashing somewhere behind his eyes like a burst of lightning. Who cares? He wants to scream it but his voice is hoarse and broken still, and the dining room is as silent as ever. His father has already begun talking about sending him to the same boarding school as his mother and grandparents attended in a handful of years or so, talking about it like it’s something he should be happy about. His fingers cramp around the cutlery.
Maybe, he thinks as he cuts another potato into tiny pieces, they expect him to come back all changed. His father has made it clear on several occasions that the art thing is a waste of time, the same as with the guitar he’s recently begun learning to play, even though his art teacher has nothing but praise for him.
A few months ago, she’d brought out a painting he’d done last year in class, put it next to one he’d just done that day, and pointed out the firmer, smoother lines, how the colors worked better together now.
“You have talent,” she had told him and he remember being so proud of himself, a feeling as bright as sunshine in his belly. She told him to bring them both home to his parents for them to see and he told her he would.
They’re still in his room, hidden away amongst his many sketchbooks. He’s not sure what the teacher thought his parents would say if he had presented them with his work. It’s only ever strangers who seem impressed with it. His father has never been taken with art except for the price tags and names attached to the pieces, and he hasn’t seen his mother paint in years. He’s not sure what happened to all those watercolors she used to paint with. Maybe they’re hidden away somewhere beneath her pill bottles.
He has learned not to ask for more than they can give.
He’s fifteen and he grows his hair out over the summer. Well, starts to; even though it gets shaggy fast, it seems like it takes a much longer time for it grow once it reaches his jawline.
His father glares at his tangled head over the dinner table but doesn’t comment. He’s been even more absent as of late, rarely home for dinner. When Thor had ducked into his empty home office a few days ago, searching for something, he doesn’t even remember anymore, he’d seen a note sticking out of the personal organizer on the large, wooden desk, citing an appointment next Thursday at the OB/GYN department at the MHC. He’d quietly closed the office door behind him when he left.
After the meal, as he’s about to excuse himself, his mother looks at him. Her eyes are not exactly clear but she blinks at him with realization. Of what, he isn’t sure.
She lifts a hand up, wrist like glass under the strip of her golden watch, and tucks one of the curling ends behind his ear. He freezes. The movement has a gentleness that makes him feel all of five years old, too small for his skin and shrinking still. The tips of her fingers are cold but soft over his cheekbone and he swallows down the sudden urge to grasp her grasp her hand, to curl up in her lap and beg for him to hold him again. More, always more.
Instead, she withdraws her hand again, placing it carefully on the shiny arm of the dining room chair. The thin curve of wood has the same width as her wrist.
“You look very pretty, darling,” she tells him. Out of the corner of his eye, Thor can see a muscle in his father’s jaw jump. He doesn’t smile like he wants to, like all the summer inside him hasn’t just bloomed, but he thanks her.
They’re both gone during the next day, his mother out to lunch with women who don’t care about the food, only the restaurant’s social standing, his father – well, possibly he’s at work, possibly in the apartment downtown again. He’s a busy man these days, after all.
He can hear Ana María humming softly while washing the floor downstairs, the only human who ever makes any noise in this house – and then, only when she thinks no one else can hear it. He lets himself into his mother’s boudoir.
It hasn’t changed since he was a child, the polished wood of the table, the light bouncing of the large mirror. Rows of necklaces and bracelets and rings are displayed in stacks of jewelry cases to his left. On the right, there are bottles of perfume and little boxes of makeup neatly placed together. He knows that in the drawer, there’s nothing but rattling pill bottles.
He picks up the hairbrush there and combs through the snarls in his hair. When he’s done it falls in soft, golden waves around his face. It brings out the softer parts of his face that always felt garish when he had short hair. The fullness of his lips, the way his eyelashes frame his big eyes, how his nose is an upwards curve instead of a broken angle like his father’s.
He feels pretty. It feels good.
From the bottom of a jewelry box he takes out an old ring. He can’t remember his mother ever wearing it. It only fits on his little finger, his hands too broad and fingers too thick, but it winks at him in the light like a smile. He doesn’t dare touch the makeup, doesn’t know how to apply it or, more importantly, remove it again, but he picks up a blue cylindrical bottle with silver and black stripes and puts a touch of it on the inside of his wrists like he remembers seeing her do years before.
Immediately, he’s overwhelmed by the sweetness of florals, peach and lemon, transported to a time of endless light and summer. He stares at himself in the mirror and thinks he sees a softer version of his mother somewhere in the reflection.
He keeps the ring.
He’s seventeen and there’s a banquet. He has to attend with his parents, pretending to be a real boy like his father wants for the people in their social circle. He’ll be finishing high school soon but nobody talks about his boarding school scandal upstate although he’s sure absolutely everyone knows. Instead people look at his father while they ask him about colleges.
Thor’s allowed one glass of wine as he’s only a year away from the legal drinking age and longingly thinks of last weekend’s party where he drank Harvey Wallbangers until the room span faster than the records on the DJ’s turntables.
So he studies his nails where a line of green has etched itself in so deeply that it won’t come out no matter how hard he scrubs. When he looks up he catches the eye of a guy on the other side of the room. The guy doesn’t avert his gaze but sends him a coded smile. He’s handsome, broad shouldered with perfectly coiffed hair. Probably a college athlete if Thor had to guess. He tilts his head slightly and walks off towards the bathrooms.
Thor waits a moment and excuses himself from the conversation he was never a part of. The hall has separate bathrooms instead of stalls, and he finds the guy leaning against the doorway of one. His eyes rake over Thor’s body with a smirk before he meets his eyes, then slips into the bathroom. Thor goes after and lets the door lock behind him.
“I’ve been watching you all night,” the guy mumbles by his ear, his body a warm line against Thor’s back. Thor can feel the hardness pressing against his ass. “You look hot in this suit.”
“Likewise,” says Thor, turning around to appreciate the muscled body against his own, sliding his hands down the broad chest in front of him.
They kiss, and there’s a bit too much tongue for Thor’s taste but it’s still good. They grind together and it gets him from half-hard to fully hard quickly enough. They fumble open belts and zippers, hard cocks slotting against each other, a shared groan meeting in between their mouths. Time is not on their side so it’s rushed; Thor cups his hand over them as the other guy shudders and comes, taking care not to spill come on their dark suit pants. When he catches his breath, the guy goes to his knees and sucks him off. He spits in the sink afterwards and Thor washes his hands.
“Thanks,” the guy says and winks before slipping back out into the banquet hall. Thor feel like he should be a little weirded out by being thanked for sex but the orgasm has left him a lot less tense, too, so he can relate.
A little while later, his father grabs his shoulder and says, “Come on, there’s someone I want you to meet.”
He drags Thor over to a small group of younger people. They’re still a bit older than Thor. “This is Charlie, he’s John’s son,” his father says, unwittingly introducing his son to the guy who had his cock in his mouth barely half an hour ago.
Charlie smiles and shakes his hand with a smile and blank eyes. Then he introduces the woman next to him as his fiancée. Thor shakes her hand while his stomach turns.
He’s too caught up in the roil of his own inside to pay much attention to the following conversation but apparently Charlie is to work at Thor’s father’s bank when he’s done with college. There’s a twitch to his father’s face that is the closest thing to a smile Thor has seen in years. Thor wonders if Charlie’s mouth still tastes like semen, if he went straight out of that bathroom and kissed his fiancée afterwards.
When Charlie excuses himself and his future wife, Thor takes a big gulp of the sparkling water in his glass, trying to clear his tight throat. His father claps him heavily on his shoulder and promises, “See, that’ll be you in a few years, mark my words.”
Thor mutters a controlled apology, walks away carefully and barely has time to make it to the bathroom again before he throws up. Acidity burns through him as he gags. He imagines his life spread out like his father’s plans, imagines himself as Charlie, a girl on his arm he doesn’t care for while he fucks strangers in bathrooms, men or women, whenever he can get the chance. The heavy stone in the pit of his stomach threatens to consume him. Specks of pain dance along the joints of his fingers.
He splashes ice cold water on his face and makes a decision right there, sweating in his stiff collar.
He doesn’t wait too long. The next day he calls Debbie who’s still in school upstate to tell her of his plans. She asks soberly if he has a back-up plan, and he tells her about the abandoned loft out at the piers that he’s found. She wishes him luck and he can hear the worry in her voice. He calls Mags, too, and she whispers to him in heated excitement.
He isn’t stupid and definitely not naïve, he tells himself, trying his best to quench the traitorous hope that flutters around in his chest that it may just work out after all. That it will turn out better than expected.
He packs a large duffel with essentials.
Waiting to be called down for dinner is monstrous, clawing at his throat from the inside. He plucks out the same melodies over and over on his guitar just to fill the silence, the same reason why he wanted to pick it up to begin with all those years ago.
When the clock finally turns seven, he makes his way down the stairs, feeling more present in this house than he ever has. He notices everything: the spotless shine of the hardwood beneath his feet, the sofa in the living room whose cushions are a spotless as the day it was bought, the white bouquets of lilies that never get to wilt before being replaced. How the books on the bookshelves have unbroken backs, how there’s neither a single fingerprint nor a speck of dust on the piano in the parlor. The windows that Ana María keeps meticulously clean, still.
All through dinner he’s on edge, barely tasting what he’s putting in his mouth, too busy wondering, is now the time? He might as well have been chewing ash.
He sees his parents for the first time in years. When did they get so old? His father’s hairline is receding and his eternal glare has carved a gorge into the space between his eyebrows, his mouth tight and thin on aging skin. The lines on his mother’s skin look like someone has taken a pencil to her brow, two straight slashes of grey line underneath her eyes. Where his father’s face is going soft, like the strings keeping it attached to his cranium has loosened, his mother’s has done the opposite, turning her into hard lines of cheekbones and jawline.
She’s still beautiful in her anaesthetized, distant way. He wonders if she would have had more wrinkles if she had laughed more. If she would have been even more beautiful like that.
They speak little and normally the silence feels oppressing. Now it feels like there’s too little air in the room, words piling up on the back of Thor’s tongue, wanting to escape into the open vacuum. He sees his father swallow and open his mouth, and the fear that he’ll start talking and fill up the space, leaving no air for Thor, is overwhelming. It’s like there’s a limited capacity for the amount of words these four walls can hold and if Thor doesn’t speak now he’ll never get the chance again.
“I like boys,” he blurts out, too loud. His parents turn their heads toward him, a miniscule motion. “And girls. I like both, actually, but also boys.” Now that he’s begun, it seems like his mouth won’t stop moving, clumsily running a mile a minute, tripping over his own words. “And I don’t want to go to any of those colleges you’ve been talking about, I don’t want to go into business. I want to do art, for real, and I just – want to be me,” he finishes weakly, voice like a draft, cracking.
For a long moment, nobody says anything. Thor mostly feels numb, staring at his parents who are just staring back at him, atoms frozen on their lips, moving too slowly through time.
They don’t look angry, something inside him points out breathlessly, maybe they’re not, maybe he’s –
His father puts down his cutlery with a small clink against the porcelain plate. With steady hands he wipes his mouth with a napkin, puts it down perfectly parallel to the edge of the table. He folds his hands and says, “Get out.”
What? “What,” Thor croaks.
His father looks at him over the rim of his glasses with the same facial expression he had when he asked Thor to pass the sauce earlier. “You heard me. Don’t make me repeat myself.”
In the steadiness of his voice there’s the threat of ruin. It catches in the marrow of Thor’s bones, sending spider web fractures of agony through them. His hands ache.
He’s feeling everything and nothing at the same time when he turns to his mother with wild, pleading eyes. The skin of his face is hot, scorching, electricity building along his nerve ends and his thoughts are flying on a whirlwind, they didn’t look angry, what went wrong, they must love him, they didn’t look angry, more, always more –
She looks back at her only son with unreadable eyes. He used to think he got his eyes from her. He used to think of them in terms of watercolors, too wet for the thin paper of her world. She blinks and says, “Do as your father says.”
He’s five and they’re in the garden, trees stretching their branches into the endless summer sky as his mother sits underneath them by her easel. She’s the prettiest person in the whole wide world, sunshine bouncing off her braided hair like spun gold, warm hands and smiles that show in her eyes, and he desperately wishes that he could be like her.
Little birds rustle around in the treetops, hopping around on branches, sometimes spreading their wings to glide from one end of the garden to the other. He kind of wishes he had wings. There are butterflies dancing in the air like little colorful kites and he watches intently as they flutter around his mother’s shoulders.
He wants to go look at what she’s doing, what magic she’s creating with the ease of her hands over paper, but his father told him to go play. His father doesn’t want him painting and drawing too much even though it’s his favorite thing to do. He is to ride his bike or maybe play with his new toy soldiers, get his knees dirty. But it’s so hot, much too hot to ride a bike around, and the toy soldiers don’t hold his attention for long without anyone else around to play with, most of his friends away on vacations by now. And he doesn’t understand why he should dirty his knees when he’s constantly getting scolded for tracking dirt into the house in the first place.
Instead he watches furtively as a world of color spreads over the paper at his mother’s direction as he pretends to play in the grass behind her. He must not be very good at it, though, because after a while she puts her brush down and looks at him over her shoulder.
“Do you want to come look?” she asks, voice mild like the rustle in the trees.
He nods and she lets him clamber into her lap, securing an arm around his waist, holding him safely against her. It’s really too hot to be sitting this close together, they both have sweat beading on their foreheads, but he leans into her still, relaxing in that smell of mom he doesn’t yet know how to identify.
She begins painting again and he’s spell-bound. Normally his brain is full of questions and he can’t get them out quick enough which makes his father sigh and mother quietly shush him. But now he can only follow the focused move of her wrist as she twists her paintbrush in small, controlled movements.
He can’t imagine being that precise; when he draws, it’s like the crayons and pencils have a mind of their own, slipping out of the trajectory he places them in. He’s never been unhappy with his drawings before because his mother has never been unhappy with them before. Neither has his father, really, but he rarely seems to be very happy or unhappy at all, too caught up in papers with only numbers on them. He’s tried to decorate some of them for his father, make them a little more bright and exciting, but his father clenched his jaw just a little bit and told him not to do that again so maybe he doesn’t like the drawings.
Suddenly, it’s like there’s so much more to learn apart from just picking out what color crayon he wants to draw with that day, secrets hidden in the way his mother wets her brush just-so before carefully dipping the tip in two – two! – different colors.
Before his eyes, the brush tip explodes into color, wet and shiny on the paper. It makes something cloudy and excited pick up in his chest.
“I want to do that, too,” he decides, “paint like you.”
“It takes a lot of practice,” she warns him with a smile.
“I’ll practice,” he promises with all of the conviction in his five-year-old body. “It’s so pretty, like you.”
“You’re pretty,” she says, tugging at where his hair has started to curl every so slightly, and he laughs, delightedly. He’s pretty sure boys aren’t supposed to be pretty but his mother says it like it’s not a bad thing at all. “Maybe not watercolors though, at least not yet,” she continues, as if to herself. “Something with bolder colors, I think.”
He thinks her painting is very colorful, even if the water makes it a bit faint around the edges. He gets all lost in the precise movements of her hand again, how it fills up the paper with shapes and light. The begonia bush in the corner of their garden comes to life at her fingertips.
After a while, he’s called in for the snack that Ana María has prepared in the kitchen. He kicks his feet against the chair’s legs as he chews on a slice of apple, thinking about all the things he wants to draw now, gardens and butterflies and the swirling wind inside him.
He’s drawn out of his daydreams harshly by a dull, loud thud from the window. He barely sees the dark shape of feathers against glass before it drops out of sight. He gasps, horrified and rushes out to the garden again, crouching down by the window.
The little brown bird is lying completely still in the freshly cut grass, its head at an odd angle. It’s only when his mother comes running over, pulling him away by the hand, he realizes the twist inside his stomach is sadness. He cries for the little bird in the kitchen while Ana María wipes at the speck of brown left behind on the glass until it’s so clean again that it’s transparent. No wonder the bird flew into it, the glass so invisible that it seemed like clean, free air. It just trusted what it saw. It’s terribly unfair, even though he doesn’t know how to say it.
“Don’t worry, don’t cry, sweetheart,” his mother says, wiping at his cheeks. “It was just a bird.”
The word just seems all wrong, like he’s not supposed to care just because it had wings instead of hands. His own hands hurt.
That night, the heat breaks into the rumbling bellow of a thunderstorm.
Bright flashes of lightning carves across the night sky followed by deafening roars of thunder. It should be frightening because that’s what the other kids at kindergarten all say but instead he presses his nose against the cold glass of his window to see it more clearly.
It’s momentary shocks of beauty unraveling before his eyes, heat breaking open to currents of wild wind and fire, and he feels it reverberate inside his small hands where they’re pressed against the window. It’s like his mother’s art except bolder, wilder, yellow on electric blue.
He’s eighteen and there’s a beautiful boy in his bed, all warm skin and easy breathing. Thor can’t go back to sleep. He’s afraid to close his eyes and wake up to light and more goodbyes. He’s scared to death that every goodbye might be the last, that Dizzee will realize that he can have so much more than Thor’s paltry offerings; a mattress on the floor, four walls dressed in paint and canvas, a live, beating heart.
They haven’t defined this thing between them, Thor’s mouth too clumsy around the words, the feeling in his chest too great to be encompassed in simple syllables. Dizzee is the one with the words; he speaks in metaphors and riddles but it comes across clearer than any instruction Thor has ever heard.
He’s not sure how Dizzee does it, plucks the hurricane of thoughts from Thor’s brain and puts them into poetry. Then looks cautious afterwards, as if he expects to be asked for a translation he cannot give, never mind that the language he speaks feels like the only one Thor’s fluent in.
Thor strokes careful fingers over the soft skin of Dizzee’s chest, mapping out the valleys and curves of the muscle there. He wants to memorize every inch of skin, wants to recreate it on canvases and shape it into clay. Wants to teach the soil, this is what true beauty is. Wants to remind himself, he’s real, he’s here.
Thor has had both boyfriends and girlfriends before and the experience is completely useless the moment Dizzee as much as breathes in his general direction. Last night, while making out fully clothed on the mattress on his floor, he’d felt Dizzee’s hardness against his thigh, his hand a brand on Thor’s neck, and Thor had confessed against his lips, “Can I suck you off? I can’t stop thinking about it.”
Dizzee had blinked up at him, all dark eyes and kiss-slick lips like everything Thor’s ever wanted, and said, “Holy shit. Really?”
Thor had nodded, well-knowing that his face must be burning.
“Well,” Dizzee had said weakly, “who am I to stop you achieving your dreams?” like he wasn’t already one himself.
With a grin, he’d gotten to tug off Dizzee’s clothes, unveiling stretches of hidden skin the color of burnished terracotta, the art that made up Dizzee himself. Sitting between Dizzee’s bent legs, he’d gotten to watch muscle ripple beneath skin, Dizzee’s limbs a spill of silk against the paint-stained sheets. He had kissed his way down that lovely chest, stopping to tease at small tight nipples and listen to the surprised gasp from Dizzee’s mouth, sweeter than any smoke he’d ever inhaled.
Then he’d gingerly stroked a hand down Dizzee’s side and nearly taken a knee to the ribs for it. “Ticklish, sorry,” Dizzee had mumbled and Thor was almost sure he was blushing. He couldn’t help the small chuckle that escaped him, and then Dizzee was laughing too, warm and silly and, oh, how was this boy real?
Thor had ducked down to press sucking kisses against the thin skin where Dizzee’s pants had ridden down, against the ridge of his hip when Dizzee fumbled his belt open. Then he was sliding fabric down over long legs, leaving Dizzee naked on Thor’s sheets.
Thor had taken a second just to commit him to memory, mouth dry, uncomfortably hard in his jeans, a storm inside his chest.
“You’re staring,” Dizzee had pointed out, voice shaky like Thor had never heard before.
“You’re fucking gorgeous,” Thor had blurted, graceless as ever, but maybe it was the right thing to say because Dizzee bit his lip on a sweet little smile.
He’s not sure how long he spent between Dizzee’s thighs. It could have been hours. He would gladly have spent hours, sucking hickeys into the secret skin by the inner crease of his inner thighs, tasting the clean salt of sweat, learning the cadence of Dizzee’s voice in pleasure, the rhythm of his hips rolling.
“I think I’m gonna die,” Dizzee had complained and then groaned loudly when Thor had finally taken him into his mouth, hand curving around the part of the shaft where his mouth couldn’t reach. It was quite possibly the sloppiest blowjob Thor had ever given, too caught up in the smell and feel and taste of this miracle of a boy who was celestial in ways he didn’t realize himself. Thor had shoved his other hand into his own jeans, tugging roughly at himself, far too dry and more turned on than he’d ever been.
Dizzee came first, into the wet heat of Thor’s mouth around him, and Thor wasn’t far behind him, spilling in his underwear like he hadn’t done in years. Dizzee had looked strangely pleased when he’d realized and had tugged him up for a lazy kiss, apparently not minding the taste of himself on Thor’s tongue. If Thor hadn’t just come in his pants like a thirteen-year-old, it would probably have gotten him hard again. His dick gave a valiant twitch in any case, and he grinned stupidly happy against Dizzee’s neck, high on orgasm and in love.
Dizzee had wrapped a firm arm around his waist, settling Thor in against his side after letting him wiggle out of his clothes. The surprising strength of his narrow frame made Thor feel safe and dizzy, cradled against the hard muscle of his body. He let himself nuzzle into the warmth of Dizzee’s throat, breathing in the smell of soap, sweat, and paint that seemed to cling to Dizzee like an aura, and closed his eyes.
Apparently, they haven’t moved during the short slumber Thor has gotten. The world is still dark outside and Thor really needs to take a piss but that would mean leaving this safe haven of limbs and cotton. Instead he just slides his leg across Dizzee’s hips to alleviate the pressure on his bladder, luxuriating in the feeling of skin against skin.
He hasn’t spoken to his family in months. He has no future prospects, earns money working odd jobs painting houses, scrubbing floors, sometimes getting shifts in a small bookstore, and spends the rest of his days working, hands cramping but not aching around brushes and spray cans, until he’s certain that the paints have filtered through his skin to settle into bone. He’s not going to college, and he’s not going to be miserable for the rest of his life, even if it means never having his mother’s hand stroke his cheek again.
Instead, he gets to know the presence of Dizzee working by his side, the way they move around each other without having to talk, how his hands never hurt when Dizzee’s around. He always gives, even when Thor doesn’t know how to ask for it, makes Thor feel soft like a summer wind.
Dizzee, Diz, Rumi, Marcus. Thor’s grandmother, in her odd accent, used to say that a loved child has many names.
“You’re thinking too loud,” Dizzee mumbles, voice gravelly with sleep and something else that makes Thor’s stomach all warm and light. He presses the cold tip of his nose into the juncture of Dizzee’s jaw where his heartbeat is strong, the rhythm in the song of the boy Thor loves. He wants to play it loud enough that the stars know it too, so that the whole universe will know the beauty of it.
It’s not a fair ultimatum he’s been given, he thinks sometimes, and occasionally still longs for some half-forgotten version of a summer spent with a mother that hasn’t been real for years, still moves his hands in precise twists when he paints. He thinks that there are parts of him that will always once have been part of her. But hers is a silent house and he is a storm.
Being with Dizzee makes him feel like he doesn’t have to contain it. Sometimes he catches Dizzee looking at with gold in his deep eyes and it’s still a shock to the system, realizing that maybe he can have this, all of it. That, when Dizzee presses a smiling kiss against his lips and his eyelashes flutter against Thor’s cheek, he’s actually saying, you deserve this.