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Blooming Flowers

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            The liquor burns all the way down his throat, in the special way that only comes from ordering cheap swill. Like asking the bartender to unhinge his jaw and pour razor blades in. Diego savors it, ordering another glass while the sting mellows out. His bartender, a stout man whose head is better served breaking a rack on the pool table than on his shoulders, serves the next glass like the last; a downturn sneer to his lips. It’s not an uncommon expression, Diego familiar with the way people look at him. At least when he had his uniform on, people would try and mask it with a healthy indifference.

            His badge was a shield, protecting him from the worst of the hate. The kind that left scars he carries for the rest of his life. That passing thought makes the puckered skin cut across his right ear tingle, and he presses on it while guzzling down his drink.

            He can live without it, though. Diego managed for most his life, and the past week wasn’t any harder than usual. There was one fight, after a wrong turn landed him in the middle of trouble. Four men, piss drunk and ornery, eyes red and ready for someone to pull their triggers. They followed him, yelling how it was people like him that caused them to be fired. If he had half a mind to give them the attention they craved, he would have told them it was his job that was stolen.

            One wrong punch was all it took: for Diego to take the suckers down without question, and for him to be fired. At least with the former, there weren’t any serious repercussions.

            Four years he gave to them. Walked the beats he was assigned, did the tasks no one wanted to, and put up with the bigots who seemed to get promotion after promotion. They were always looking for ways to take him down, Diego knew. He had a better idea of what the sergeant’s desk looked like than his own with how many times he was called in because of an ‘employee complaint’. The final time Diego was called in, his boss had the most pleasant expression of remorse painted across his face.

            A few days ago he and some other cops were sent down to break up a group of protesters. Easy clean up duty he enjoyed because then his brothers-in-arms weren’t picking on him. They used their usual tactics, and when those hadn’t worked swung their batons wildly into the crowd. Diego lost himself in the violence, turning his brain off and redirecting every ounce of pain locked away onto someone else. It’s the only thing he learned from the academy that actually helped him survive working as a cop. When he and his fellow cops joined up to beat down on someone else their acid smiles didn’t poison him.

            Except one of the ‘protesters’ was the son of a wealthy industrialist. Took his complaints up to the mayor, about how his son was in the wrong place at the wrong time. That someone must be punished for attacking his darling boy.

            Maybe the father was right, and his son didn’t deserve the police’s cruel version of justice, but that never mattered before. No one had the power to question their authority, until him. The problems trickled down until it landed squarely on his shoulders, and Diego was forced to turn in his badge and gun.

            All this wasn’t reason enough to wallow in a dive, wasting the last of his meager paycheck on barely effective liquor. He didn’t miss going into a building filled with people who couldn’t stand his guts, except that it was a welcome relief from the shitty apartment he can’t afford anymore. The straw that broke his back was named Eudora.

            Diego loved her, and he thought she felt the same. There were a few hitches in their relationship, but he figured their bond was stronger than any bump that came along their path. This time he tripped, and she wasn’t there to pick him back up. Eudora called it quits a few days after his lay off. Did it outside her apartment, citing his firing as the biggest reason.

            “You’re so angry Diego,” she said.

            Diego shrugged, “How is that different from any other man.”

            “Maybe that’s what I’m looking for then,” she told him, “Someone who’s not like all the other men.”

            He wanted to scream, to punch walls, to kick her door down and give him a better excuse than that. Diego barely managed to stutter out her name before turning tail and locking himself away and tearing into his own apartment. By the time he was done, everything looked either vastly improved or like he did no damage at all.

            Raucous laugher pulls him from his dark spiral, and he turns a bleary, bloodshot glare over to the table in the back packed with colorful kids. Almost the same rainbow pattern that formed inside the protest except there’s far less red than what he remembers. He wasn’t the only one eyeing the flower children. The patrons of this bar were rough neck and grizzled like him, who preferred to live their lives in black and mostly white. That took any step outside societal lines as a personal offense, and sought to rectify it with unmatched fury.

            One from the pack broke away, wobbling over to the bar and right next to Diego. He tracks him, taking in the lean figure next to him. How his curls bounce and hang over his ears, chestnut in the low glow of the bar’s lighting. The fringe of his vest swayed with every move, the thin suede lines disappearing into the pinstripes of the lilac pants. As he brings his gaze back up, the other man has turned to him. He grins cheekily, vacantly, green eyes barely seen past the gaping blackness of his pupils. “Like what you see?” he asks, blowing a kiss at Diego.

            Diego ignores him. He waits for the hippie to leave him, but as the minutes tick by he realizes the itch under his skin comes from the same man. Staring at him, sipping at his glass, waiting for a response from Diego; maybe wondering if he can get a rise out of him? They always tried when he was a cop, maybe the man sensed it even without his badge.

            “So,” the hippie continues, even as Diego scowls into his drink, “how do you like it here?”

            Nothing. That doesn’t deter him. “Without words, you say? Well I can understand… there’s something about the place that’s quaint. I got some really happening vibes when my friends and I passed – looked like a good place to keep the good times going after a killer party.”

            The bartender trudges over, wiping down the counter menacingly. Diego signals for another drink. His unwanted conversation partner does the same. “I’ll have what he’s having,” he says, “Must be amazing, left him speechless.” He claps him on the shoulder, and all he does is growl. It drags a hearty chuckle from the other man.

            Time passes easily after that. A good while goes by before Diego manages to tune the other man out, finding the background chatter somewhat comforting once it becomes a mindless hum. He probably works through two-thirds of a bottle by the time something happens.

            The other man had slowly been inching ever closer to Diego until his uncovered, tanned arm as pressed up against his. Even through his jacket, Diego felt the blazing warmth glowing out from his skin. He bit back a gasp after the first touch, drowning it in his drink. It went unnoticed, and Diego left it that way until the line of heat was torn away, ripped off like a Band-Aid.

            “Please,” the hippie crows, now held up by shaking fists of a red-faced brute, “I’m sure we can have this kind of discussion without resorting to violence.”

            “It’s what you deserve,” his attacker growls, “Talkin’ that way ‘bout the army. And our President!” He shakes him, “Maybe seeing some action’ll do you well. Teach you what all ‘em boys out there are fighting for.”

            He sees the loose lines of the hippie stiffen. Diego watches his easy expression shift into something harder, like a shadow fell across his features. A light flickered on behind the eyes before being snuffed out. “Believe me,” he says, “I know well enough what’s going on out there. Better than any of you plastic nitwits.”

            Diego huffs a laugh into his drink. For someone who’s entire outfit screamed peace, in that moment he looked ready for war. The drunken man threatening him seemed the same, if his furrowed brow is anything to go by. He rears his fist back to strike; only the blow never lands.

            When he thinks back on this moment, Diego won’t recall what made him catch the drunk before his fist struck. Or why he stood and pushed him off the hippie, shoving him onto the counter and squeezing his neck until the red turned purple. All he can say is that one moment he sucked down the last few drops from his glass and the next he and the hippie were kicked out of the bar.

            “My hero,” the hippie says, throwing his arms around Diego’s shoulders. He shrugged him off, stalking off in the opposite direction. Hippie didn’t get the hint. Trailing after Diego, he wouldn’t stop talking. “Really, I could have handled myself all well and fine back there. But even I can admit that your display of chivalry warmed my heart and… other places…”

            Still flushed from the alcohol, Diego finally gives his first response of the night. He laughs in a mocking tone. “You? Handle him? What would you’ve done? Strangle him with some love beads or throw flowers until he sneezed himself unconscious?”

            “I’ve got a few more tricks up my sleeve than that.”

            “You’re not even wearing sleeves.”

            “Fair point,” hippie sighs. He stops, and Diego does the same. They stare at each other, Diego sure that the other man studies him under the neon glow of another bar they’re standing outside. Searching for answers that Diego knows won’t be found. There’s nothing deeper than what he presents to the surface. All he’ll see is a man in a stained button down, thin slacks, and a worn leather jacket. His examination ceases, and a smile returns to the hippie’s face. He reaches out with an open hand, “My name is Séance.”

            Diego blinks at him, forgetting the proffered hand. “Séance?”

            “That’s funny,” Séance giggles, “We both have the same name?”

            Growling, Diego pushes the hand away. “My name isn't Séance. And I doubt yours is either.”

            “It wasn’t,” Séance says, “Not for a long time until I decided it was.” He starts moving, his last comment like a hook dangling in a lake. Diego grabs for it like the fish he is, reeled alongside him.

            “Decided?” Diego scoffs, “Fella, you can’t decide shit like that.”

            “I did.”

            “That’s impossible.”

            “Not to me,” Séance shrugs, “It was actually rather simple. One day I realized I didn’t want to carry the baggage of my old name and just… dumped it. Picked a new name for myself, for a new life.”

            “Baggage, huh?” Diego mutters, “Silver spoon made everything taste too bitter? Or did you not want to live the American Dream when there were chicks to bag whenever because of all this free love?”

            Séance shoots him his first scowl of the evening, the shadowed expression sobering him up somewhat. “Don’t presume to talk about things you don’t know about,” he says. They drop the conversation for a while after that, walking beside each other to some unnamed destination.

            Diego glances at Séance again and lets a chuckle slip out. Séance rolls his eyes, “What’s so funny.”

            He shrugs, debating on whether or not to tell the truth. Deciding on honesty, Diego says, “This. You ‘n’ me walking together.”

            “How’s that funny?”

            “Because I never would have thought it possible. Before last week I wouldn’t have been caught dead with someone like you… I’d have been harassing you off the streets alongside all the other cops –“

            “Well then I’m glad we’re meeting now.”

            “All it takes is one little mistake and look how far I’ve fallen,” Diego laughs, slightly manic, “Back with the outcasts… At least as a cop I had some kind of safety net. Now? I’m just another Latino for racists to spit at.”

            “From one outcast to another, all I can say is that the spit doesn’t smell too bad,” Séance says, “They might be foul mouthed but they have good hygiene.”

            “Surprised you’d know anything about that.”

            “Sometimes I shower,” Séance tells him, “…When the mood strikes.”

            “Great…”

            “So is that why you were in the bar, then?” Séance asks, “Trying to forget what rock bottom feels like with a little help from alcohol?”

            Diego bristles. “At least it’s legal,” he fires back, “Surprised you and your buddies were there, when there’re so many other shit you could’ve been taking.”

            “We’d already taken all we could earlier in the night,” Séance says off-handedly, “Besides, I like the taste of beer.”

            “You’d be the first.”

            “You don’t like how it tastes?”

            “I don’t drink to taste, I drink to get drunk.”

            “And you think that’s better than the shit I do?”

            “Yeah.”

            “You’re an interesting man,” Séance says, “I’m having a hard time reading you.”

            “Good,” Diego huffs, “All my life I’ve been called difficult… would be a shame to stop now.”

            “I’d call you something else if you ever told me your name.”

            He mulls it over, debating whether or not to give in. They round a corner, and Diego glances over at Séance once more. Séance’s enchanting eyes pull him in, and he offers his name easily to the hippie in an awed whisper. “Diego.”

            “Diego,” Séance purrs, stretching it out around his lips. “It’s a nice name.”

            “It’s the only name I have.”

            “Well that’s not my fault, now is it?” He stops again, Diego with him. “You wanna come in?”

            “…What?”

            Séance gestures to the building behind him, a somewhat run down looking complex with a stoop littered with bottles and magazines. “This is where I crash for the night, unless… you’re looking to keep this going?”

            It’s a bad idea. The cool night air did wonders for Diego’s booze-addled mind, shaking the effects of his drinking into something more manageable. He knew walking in with Séance would mean he’d be turning his back on all the values and lessons and laws he’s respected for so long.

            But then he thinks about how all of those ideals he looked up to on their pedestal never did him much help. The ones who benefited from them also did their best to tear him down. That maybe he should follow the green-eyed hippie. A less logical, more intense feeling seconds this action. Séance’s presence did more for him than any of the drinks he slowly consumed since being fired. He wasn’t overrun with giddiness and optimism like some drug-addled freak, and he didn’t suffer under the heavy burdens of his aggravated depression. Being with Séance left him numb, a sensation Diego appreciates after the emotional roller coaster he was stuck on.

            “Okay.”

            Séance lives on the third floor. They pass a few people on their way up; others dressed similarly to his new acquaintance. On the second floor a woman in a billowy skirt and not much else hands him a flower. He twirls it in hand as he stomps behind Séance, sniffing at it for a moment before they reached Séance’s apartment door.

            “Welcome to my groovin’ pad!” he says, “Make yourself comfortable – I know I will.” Séance tosses his keys somewhere to his left, shucking off his flimsy leather sandals and leaving them at the entrance. He disappears behind beaded curtains, leaving Diego to explore the main room.

            Its furnishings are hodge-podge. A hot pink carpet in the center, with a beat up sofa on one end and a patchwork chair sit opposite each other on the edges of the rug. A small table between them holds many things he remembers locking away as evidence after different raids on people like Séance. He drops the flower there. Moving past that, he trails thoughtful eyes across the many different pieces of art hanging on the wall. The paintings are shimmering explosions of color, arranged in a way as if they were notes and Séance was playing a melody. Even the curtains play a part, the paint-speckled burlap blocking out any outside light.

            Diego takes a closer look at one. It’s a hurricane of greys, browns, and blacks streaked across the canvas as if the artist was in an argument with the painting. In the center a small yellow squiggle broke through the noise, drawing all the focus to it. Staring at it is like having a small vice squeeze around his heart.

            “Was going through a lot during the creative process,” Séance says from behind him, “Think it turned out all right, don’t you?”

            Diego turns, immediately freezing when he sets his sight on the other man. Séance cocks his head to the side, smirking. He made himself comfortable, now standing before Diego wearing nothing but a pair of dog tags.

            Focusing on that, Diego suffocates his embarrassment with confusion. He hadn’t noticed them at first, but admits he tried avoiding staring at Séance’s chest the entirety of their time together until now. His chest was a beacon of safety given the other options lain before him. Tempting him like dark waters, with unknown creatures ready to latch on and drag him under.

            “Dog tags?” he asks, “What’re you doing with those?”

            Séance shrugs, crossing his arms over his chest. “What does anyone do to earn them?”

            “Well they go to war, but…” Diego chuckles, waving at him, “you don’t look like someone who went to war.”

            He smiles dismally at Diego’s flippant response. “You’d be surprised. I’m an average example of America’s best and brightest after returning from war. The kind of people the government props up when they’re useful, only to toss ‘em off to the side after they’ve been broken into bits.”

            Diego steps back, startled by how Séance’s light and airy voice hardened into a heavier tone. “Wow, now I think I get what set that drunk off earlier.”

            “The truth?”

            “…You’re a fucking freak.”

            The stormy expression doesn’t clear up. “Inventive. Haven’t heard that before.”

            “Seriously,” Diego continues, advancing on him, “Like, I can’t even imagine what must’ve happened to turn you from a soldier to a hippie.”

            Séance meets him in the middle, bumping his chest up against Diego’s. “That’s right. You can’t. And because I’m such a nice person I hope you never do.” His face flickers with the same shadow he saw appear earlier in the bar and on the streets, a warning that he’s toed his way onto dangerous territory.

            He doesn’t back away. Instead Diego leans even closer, unsure of what he wants by snarling in front of a loaded gun. It comes as no surprise he triggers Séance into action. The shock is that instead of feeling knuckles connecting with his cheek it’s the rough press of lips against his. Seconds tick by as Séance kisses him, his mind racing to catch up with the present.

            When it does, he lets his eyes fall close and Diego embraces Séance. The fires they sparked within each other release in raging infernos, every touch searing itself to his skin. Séance tugs him forward, the beaded curtains knocking against him until they trip and fall onto a mattress on the floor. He paws at Diego’s clothes, knocking them away. “Get comfortable,” he whispers, “Now’s a good a time as any.”

            Diego helps, kicking his shoes off onto the floor. Séance shrugs his jacket free before focusing on his buttons. Sliding his pants down while still kissing Séance, Diego winds up as naked as his companion soon enough.

            He’s never done this with another man. The thought crossed his mind in the past, stray thoughts he’d imagine came from nowhere before forgetting they even existed. His best friend from high school after a summer day spent by the local watering hole. Actors like Tab Hunter or Cary Grant. A passing cop in the locker room that took too long to change out of their uniform; all were subjects of his latent, deviant desire. Séance was the first man who made him want to act on them. Or the first to cross his path on a night where he figured most of his life was already going up in smoke, one more thing wouldn’t make it hurt worse.

            And it didn’t. His honey kisses are the sweetest thing he’s tasted. After his clothes were scattered around them, they slowed down. Diego swipes his hands down across Séance’s body, marveling in the hard lines underneath him. Séance growls into his next kiss, flipping them over until he rests over him. He grinds their crotches together, Diego stuttering a curse out from the contact.

            “Relax, Diego,” Séance says, “Let me show you what to do…”

            He does what he’s told. All his life Diego worked to take control, to lead the kind of life he thought he wanted. At each turn someone waited to slap his hands away from the wheel, and every time he would keep pushing forward. Now that the car of his life is rolling alone, battered and broken, Diego decides to let go willingly and give someone else a turn.

            Séance knows how to steer. He trails kisses down Diego’s chest, tongue swirling around one of his nipples and leaving it a sharp nub. Sinking further, he pecks at his trail of hair until coming to his leaking dick. His chapped lips brush against the sensitive head, and Diego jerks at the touch. Séance laughs, “Enjoying it so far?”

            “Sh – sh – shut up,” he whimpers, his stutter returning in the moment, “Just keep… just keep go – go –“

            “Hush,” Séance tells him, “It’s okay… you don’t have to speak.”

            The vines around his throat loosen and they fall back into their positions. Séance continues his reverence of Diego’s privates, doing things he never thought would have his pulse race. Like his attention to his balls, a place most women avoided when confronted with it. He lowers his mouth around Diego’s dick, taking it as far as he can, until he hits up against the back of his throat. Diego nearly comes from that.

            Séance hums with dick in mouth and pops back up. “Nope,” he says, “Not yet…” He descends once more and begins bobbing up and down in an unknown rhythm. The vibrations make his body tense and toes curl. Alongside his dick, Séance crams two of his fingers into his mouth. Diego stares as he pulls them out, a saliva string still connecting them to his mouth, wondering where they’re going.

            Séance uses his non-spit covered hand to raise his legs up. Still glued mouth to dick, he guides his hand towards his ass and pokes at his rim. Diego sucks in a gasp at the contact. Séance breaks off once more to soothe him. “It’ll be pleasant, trust me… but only if you relax…”

            He sucks at his dick, stealing any lingering fight away. Diego shivers at Séance’s probing touch, gasping as he slips the first finger in.

            Séance works him over nicely, so that every time he drags his mouth up from the base of his dick to the head, he pushes his finger in. On one dip Séance brushes up against something inside of him that wretches a moan out from his lungs. “Yeah,” Séance says, “I bet you’re seeing colors now, man.” His dick leaks harder, come sticking to Séance’s lips.

            Diego’s eyes roll into the back of his head, mind lost in the intensity of his ecstasy. Séance sneaks another finger in and begins scissoring his fingers together. It becomes too much, like being surrounded and all sides and bombarded. Except each hit racks his body with pleasure and not pain. “’m gonna… I’m gonna…”

            “Do it,” Séance orders him. “Come.” He drops his leg with his free hand and pumps Diego’s dick until he ejaculates all over his fist. Diego cants his hips up, as if he was being held up on a string tied to his crotch. His muscles and bones disintegrate into jelly as the last of his seed is milked out of him. Diego lies on the mattress like a starfish far from the ocean.

            Séance takes the come on his hand and slathers it on his dick before it dries. Then he raises Diego’s hips one last time, comforting him. “It’ll hurt at first baby but then you’re going to feel something so good…” Without prompting, Séance sinks his stiff cock into Diego’s ass with a gruff moan. He waits, panting alongside Diego.

            He shifts his hips around, adjusting against Séance’s length. His ass feels full, but not uncomfortable. Séance asks if he can keep going, and Diego nods his head. Picking up the rhythm from earlier, Séance rams into Diego with furious abandon. He strikes the spot from earlier, and even as he winds down from his earlier orgasm the loose sensation draws itself out with Séance’s help.

            Séance blows his load into Diego’s ass, pulling out with a wet squish. It leaks out from his hole, but Diego pays it no mind. Instead he waits for Séance to drag himself up to his side. He almost falls asleep before Séance collapses next to him. When he does, he immediately grabs his face and kisses him. Slipping a tongue into his mouth, Diego claws at his shoulders until they run out of air and break.

            “So,” he asks him, “what did you think of that.”

            Diego smirks, shrugging. “I kinda get why you and your friends are into this whole free love thing.”

            “It’s the best,” Séance says, “And while the sex part is always great, I find the next thing to be much more intimate.”

            “What do you mean? Cuddling?”

            Séance chuckles. “No, the part where we drop acid together, baby.”

            Diego freezes. He sits up, gaping as Séance relaxes further into his mattress. “The hell? Acid? I’m not… that shit’s illegal.”

            “I thought you weren’t a cop anymore.”

            “Still, you know what’d happen to me if a cop busted us right now?”

            “That’s not going to happen –“

            “No, sodomy is one thing but I am not –“

            “You already did baby,” Séance tells him, “So take the stick out of your ass, should be easy after I fucked your hole wide open.”

            Diego’s heart skyrockets; snarling, he grabs for Séance’s neck and squeezes. “The hell? You doped me? When?”

            “The kiss, man, the kiss,” Séance says, “After we did it, I slipped more than just my tongue in.”

            Muscles seizing with anger, he nearly chokes Séance out. But his snarky wink and pouty lips sends him reeling backwards. “Were you enjoying that?”

            “It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been choked in bed.”

            “Oh God,” Diego cries, “I can’t believe I’m doing this. I’ve heard so many stories, seen so many psychos freak out on the stuff… I don’t want to…”

            “Hey, hey slow down, man.” Séance sits up as well, wrapping his arms around Diego’s shaking shoulders. “Listen, I have the good stuff. The only way you’d lose it is by being all tense and shit like you are now. Get loose… you have nothing to worry about if you open yourself up to the experience and let me guide you through it.”

            “…Won’t you be tripping as well?”

            “Yeah but when you’ve gone through it once you can find your way a thousand times.”

            Diego stares at him, chewing on his bottom lip. Séance flutters his eyelashes, wide mouth turned up at the sides. He doesn’t fight as Séance brings him back down; unsure of whether it’s the drug or the sex that keeps him weak. What he knows, though, is that he already shook up most of his life by engaging the hippie in the bar. This would barely seem as life altering as the sex they had minutes ago.

            “It might not even affect me,” Diego mumbles, “I’ve been pounding down drinks since before I left high school.”

            “Sure…”

            “They teach you how to handle yourself in the Academy,” he continues, “In case you ingest anything by mistake, or to keep cover. I’ve got training.”

            “I believe you.”

            His own words slur together, blending into one low pitch that vibrates within, shaking his bones so hard Diego’s afraid they’ll pour out from beneath his skin. He imagines how that might look, and presses his face into Séance’s chest to contain the giggles.

            It’s nothing like he was told. In the Academy, they warned him and all the other cadets that acid messes with your morals. One drop could fry your brain completely. Stories about mothers cooking and eating their newborns because the acid made them hallucinate steaks, or men charging without notice of bullets – having the strength of ten men. Diego feels none of that.

            His body rests comfortably on the mattress, while his soul untethers itself to fly above. Diego soars out from the building and into the night, flying past an array of colors he never knew the sky had. They’re hidden, only free when Diego stabs at the inky darkness with knives he pulls out from his imagination. A rainbow bursts out from the wounds, cascading down into the city below like waterfalls of light and love. He directs himself to pass under one, and the heat sears off his old scars. When he touches the right side of his face, the skin is smooth and unblemished.

            Diego feels a phantom twinge on his shoulder, and descends back to Séance’s apartment to see what’s happening. Lounging on the ceiling, he stares into the blown out pupils of his own body. Physical-Diego shivers, crying as Klaus threads his fingers into his hair.

            His spirit and his body speak as one, mouths moving in tandem. “My mother used to do just that, every night before I went to sleep.”

            “Did what?”

            “This. She’d slip in next to me and pet my hair until I drifted off. It was nice, because she was so busy throughout the day going from job to job. But every night she’d set aside a few minutes for me. And I’d tell her about my day as she pet my hair and then she’d kiss me good night.”

            “Your mother sounds like a wonderful woman.”

            “She was,” Diego chokes back a sob, “I… I miss her. I miss being a kid. Life is so hard. Like… fuck. Every day I got up and kept my head down, thinking that maybe if I work hard enough people can see past the color of my skin and notice me. Praise me. Promote me.

            “You’re playing by their rules, man,” Séance says, “You’re losing because the rules were designed so that’s all you can do.”

            “I don’t wanna lose anymore,” Diego confesses, “What do I do?”

            “You gotta make your own rules. Decide what you want to do. What is it you want, Diego?”

            “I… I wa – want…” He takes a deep breath, visualizing the words like his mother taught him. “I want to be a kid again.”

            “You do?”

            “No job… no trying to impress people who will never like me… I don’t want to have to worry anymore.”

            “Well then do you want to know a secret?” Diego pushes away from the ceiling, floating back down to hover over Séance. He turns away from Diego’s body and leans up to where his soul waits to listen. “The power is within you.”

            He merges back with his body; his eyes shooting wide open. Trembling fingers move up to dab at his cheeks, tips wet from tears. The ceiling above him bends and swirls as it mixes with the colors floating around in the air. “Power… within me…”

            Diego doesn’t move for the rest of his trip. Mesmerized by the visions that appear before him, he contents himself with watching everything unfold from his nest on the bed. It’s all strange but somehow familiar. The scenes were accompanied by a beautiful melody played on an ivory violin. A gorilla wearing a space helmet chases after lilted whispers, following them to the moon and back. A mannequin rolls into the center of the ceiling and cries with a deep voice for her lost love. And the last thing he remembers is his mother visiting from Heaven to tell her how proud she is of her little boy for making it this far. Her kiss to his forehead opened his mind up to a tidal wave of senses drowning him into unconsciousness.

            He wakes up alone, with a raggedy blanket over him. Diego smells smoke, and bunches the fabric around his shoulders before following the scent.

            Séance stands before the painting he admired hours ago, a baggy, torn pair of jeans the only protector of his modesty. He takes a drag from his marijuana cigarette, gazing into the art as if he could jump in. Diego watches from between the beads.

            “Do you want to know what it’s about?” he asks him, focus still on the painting.

            Diego nods, and then remembers Séance can’t see him. “Okay.”

            “Come closer.” Diego shuffles over, joining him. He offers the cigarette to him, and Diego accepts it. “How the mighty have fallen.”

            “It’s not like I haven’t smoked a cigarette before,” Diego says, coughing slightly, “This just comes with a little punch. Anyway, the painting…?”

            “Right, yes, the painting.” Séance puffs out a shaky smokescreen, hiding behind it as he begins his story. “I was in Vietnam a few years ago.”

            “Figured, what with the dog tags.”

            “They’re not mine.”

            Diego glances at him, raising a brow. “They’re not?”

            “No.”

            “…Did you even fight?”

            “Of course I did,” Séance snaps, “Are you going to keep interrupting me or let me get this all out. You’re harshing my vibes, man.”

            “Sorry, sorry… vibe away.”

            “Where was I… I was in Vietnam, drafted, and I fought. I fought for as long as I could. Day in and day out, it was hard to keep going… seeing what we were doing in the name of what? Freedom? No one there had any of that – not the civilians, and especially not us, the soldiers. If we did, none of us would have been there in the first place.”

            Diego considers his story, holding it up against the one handed down from high above, the greatest power in the world, the President of the United States. Then he adds it along to the patchwork of other people he’s seen who shared in Séance’s beliefs. He always figured the drugs messed so hard with people’s minds that they turned good American citizens against their own country. But it took only a few hours with this man to make him realize he was the one being brainwashed.

            “With freedom so hard to come by, we abused it with every chance we had. Got high from it more than the drugs we managed to sneak in. One night we all went to this local club, many of the men were dancing with the working women, money raining all around. I didn’t feel too keen on a romp in the sack, so I ordered myself a drink. Then promptly spilled it onto the next person I bumped into. Dave.” He chokes the name out between clenched teeth, his fist strangling the dog chains around his neck. “I fell in love on the battlefield. Something I wouldn’t recommend doing.”

            With his free hand, he traces the yellow squiggle on the canvas. “I found him like this. We were ambushed, attacked on all sides. It was a maelstrom of death and debris, but in it all I was able to see my love, my light get shot and die. Bleeding out in the middle of a damned jungle.”

            “Shit…”

            “There’s no coming back after that,” Séance tells him, “I tried, but most of the time my mind was back on the front. Some nights I frightened my parents so much thinking some Vietnamese mercenary was about to sneak in and murder us all in our sleep. In the end I packed up and left. It was for the better, I couldn’t stand being there; everyone looking at me with pity, thinking that they knew me even when they didn’t. They knew the boy I was before the war. But Klaus died the day Dave did.”

            “Klaus?”

            Séance grins, turning to finally look at him. “Yeah, that was the name my parents gave me. Did you think it was something else?”

            “It suits you,” Diego shrugs, “I have to ask though… why Séance.”

            “A séance is a ritual done to form a connection with a wandering spirit, a ghost that hasn’t moved on,” Séance explains, “Coming back from the war, that’s how I felt. Like I was connected to all the men I lost in my time overseas. Kept seeing them everywhere, especially Dave. The drugs they… they help me break the barrier down. Talk with them, help them move on and bring me back to a sense of peace.”

            “…That’s beautiful.” Acting on instinct, Diego wraps his arms around Séance’s shoulders. The contact startles him, but soon enough the other man leans into Diego’s touch, wrapping his arms around him. He pretends to not hear the pronounced sniffle buried into his collarbone.

            “And that’s more emotion than I was planning on sharing this fine morning,” Séance says, pulling away. He moves towards the sofa, grabbing at a shirt and tugging it on. It’s thin cotton, dyed an exceptional array of colors. “I hate to cut and run, but I promised my friend Ben that I’d meet him in the park, there’s supposed to be an exceptional group of musicians playing and that’s always fun to listen to when high.”

            Diego tilts his head to the side. “What am I supposed to do?”

            “Stay here… go home, honestly you can do whatever you want. It’s not like you have a job or anything waiting for you.”

            He chuckles, scratching at his neck. Deciding to follow his gut, he steps forward and blocks Séance’s path. “Can I come with?”

            Séance blinks at him. “You want to join me?”

            “Yeah,” he says, “I mean… I was thinking about everything that happened and… you’re right. I have the power within me to make changes in my life. Yours seems pretty interesting; I’d love to learn more. You’ve been a pretty good teacher so far.”

            Séance leers at him. “Yes well I did give you extra attention now didn’t I?”

            “Is it okay, then, if I join?”

            He draws it out unnecessarily, the relaxed grin on his face telling Diego everything he needs to know. “I wouldn’t stop you if you did. You might want to change though, that’s an indoor blanket.”

            Diego rolls his eyes and disappears behind the beaded curtains to collect his clothes. He holds his pants out, ready to step into them when he pauses. Staring at the pants, Diego wonders if he’s making the right choice. “I always thought I was making the right choice before,” he says to himself, “And look where that got me. Maybe doing the opposite of what I think was the key all along?”

            He tosses the pants back onto the mattress and pulls together an outfit from the scraps lying around the bedroom.

            Séance whistles when he reappears. “Those are some lovely threads you picked up,” he says, “Although I’m sure I’ve seen them somewhere before…”

            Diego shoves at him, laughing. He wears a denim shirt decorated in a variety of patches, the buttons undone and exposing his chest. His pants are similar to the ones Séance wore the other night, except yellow in color. To complete the look, Diego plucks the flower from yesterday off the table and sticks it behind his ear. “Ready to go?”

            “I was waiting for you,” Séance scoffs, already moving towards the door. He slips his sandals on, frowning. “I only have the one pair,” he tells him, “And your shoes from before will totally clash with your happening style.”

            Diego shrugs, toes flexing against the hardwood floors. “I can manage. Hippies go around barefoot, sometimes, I’ve seen it once or twice.”

            “You’re taking to this far easier than I expected you would.”

            “Well it’s like this… sometimes you get tired of carrying around some heavy baggage, and it’s easier to just drop it and start fresh.”

            “…I totally said that, didn’t I?”

            “Yes, yes you did.”

            Séance beams, lunging forward to sweep him up in a passionate kiss. He pulls back, inches away from his face. “I think we were supposed to meet, Diego,” he tells him, “I can already tell our paths have shifted on a cosmic scale.”

            “I can’t believe I’m saying this… but I think so, too.”

            “Very good,” Séance says, pressing one final kiss against his lips. “Now, let’s dip,” he guides Diego from the apartment with his arm over his shoulders, “There’s this certain spot in the park where the sound echoes at just the right pitch it’ll feel like an orgasm for your ears.”

            “Sounds groovy, man,” Diego laughs, “Sounds groovy.”