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A Thousand Years in Isolation

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Cal’s looking at him across the dining table over just-blown-out candles. He’s the first thing Andre films. Just a hypnotic blue through the dimmed lighting of the kitchen. The camera barely catches it—Andre can’t tell which one is the night vision button.

Andre’s dad gets up to turn the lights back on, crossing the linoleum in his socks. Cal’s still staring over the empty plates, the German chocolate cake, smoke wisping upwards between them from melted candles. He tucks a lock of blond hair behind one ear and smiles for Andre, for the camera, who knows. There’s a warm puddle at the pit of Andre’s stomach and it trickles out to every extremity. At this point, he’s more puddle than blood. Cal looks so good through the lens. He looks like he knows it.

Andre’s mom asks, “So? What’d you wish for, Birthday Boy?”

Did he even need to make one?

*

In the last wheat flare of summer, Andre has felt the dread of being discovered seep right out through his skin. It’s hard to say if this is summer simplicity: the ability to disremember the school year and trials therein. It’s happened before. But not to this extent.

There hasn’t been one day over the last few months that Andre and Cal haven’t been together— stitched at the hip his mom says when she sees Cal following Andre down into the basement or out to the car. He’s become a staple in the Kriegman home, as often seen as the cat or living room couch. Andre’s been to the Gabriel home of course, has sat with Cal’s parents and young brother and sister and been used generally as their jungle gym. But when it’s time for secrets and syncing, Cal is too worried about his upstairs bedroom only yards from his little siblings, the thinness of the walls. For some reason, his bedroom door doesn’t have a lock.

Cal was even present on the yearly trip to Andre’s summer home on the coast. They ate barbeque every dinnertime and Andre’s dad smothered even the fish in luxurious sauces. Eating out on the deck with the sun drowning in the ocean, Andre looked at Cal licking his fingers like a cat cleaning itself and was overcome with a thousand emotions he couldn’t put a name to. Like seeing someone in the street and swearing you were childhood friends. It’s still hard to believe Andre wasn’t a knight, a girl, a lover with this boy.

When Andre’s family was asleep, the summer home was densely quiet and cool. Andre and Cal shared one bedroom, one bed, and synced with such deliberation it seemed to go on forever. Stretched thinly over the girth of eternity. There was one small mandarin and basil-scented candle in the corner of the room, enough light to guess by. It was somehow always midnight. Strange owls cooed and called outside the windows and Cal once made a comment about them watching, enjoying. But what was there to watch? Andre kept them under the thin blankets, on the off chance someone might come in. He swallowed Cal’s moans like peppermints and moved slowly inside him to keep the bed from creaking. Trenchlike shadows threw themselves into the dip of Cal’s collarbones, the stretch of skin between each rib, the hollows beneath his eyes. He clasped his hands behind Andre’s neck or ran them down Andre’s sides before gripping his backside and insisting him deeper. Andre came so hard his own name was a pleasant surprise.

Those small hot nights felt like a vision, in any sense. What could become of him, of them, if everything only lasted long enough. Sometimes he loses himself in fantasy and before he gets too deep, his heart begs him, Don’t do this to yourself. There is still a chance for tragedy. Every new day: a chance for tragedy.

But then he looks at Cal looking back at him and tells his heart to shut the fuck up.

Though it was never nonsense. Even Cal felt it—June was the world’s longest month after the death of Warren Adley, who Cal had stabbed that last day of junior year. They only concerned themselves with his name when they looked at the student ID in his back pocket among his learner’s permit, a Blockbuster membership card and old movie tickets. There was a chewed-up ten dollar bill too, the only thing they left in the wallet. They didn’t want to be thieves, whatever else they were. And it was hard work—both of them drenched in sweat by the time Warren was buried miles from school in a dense patch of woods. They searched for a place free of debris and litter, showing that few people went there. And Andre told Cal that if and when someone did ever dig him up, or a curious dog snuffled too deep, he’d be wormfood and hard to identify.

That night they both sat in Andre’s car in front of Cal’s house on the street. Dirt and grime coated them both, rooted in under their fingernails, and the day behind felt like a lucid nightmare that had wrung them of any cheer or light-heartedness. Cal looked up at his house lit like a beacon in the dark. Then back at Andre.

“Do you still like me?” he asked.

Andre looked away from the steering wheel, the road ahead. He was tired, his muscles hurt in a sour way. He had enough in him to raise a playful eyebrow. “What do you think?”

Cal smiled. It looked like a smile, anyway, or an expression trying to be one. At that time, Andre was on the fence—something he had a hard time even admitting to himself. But he was tired, he was hungry, he’d just buried a body and his pride was still sporting a black eye and busted lip from Cal’s lies. He went home turning the whole thing over like a pebble in hand, feeling it’s rough edges, smooth sides. It would be hard to throw Cal away, especially after what they’d just done, but it could be done. This would be the rift where the break was. If he let it go on any longer, he would be cast to the roaring current that was undeniable, infinite adoration and there would be no lifeline for him, no one to save him, no one to want to save him.

The very next time he saw Cal, washed and pale in the high noontime, eyes like melting glaciers, Andre tossed his own self into that sea and didn’t look back for the shore.

*

“What’s the filming for?”

“Documenting,” Cal says, humming laughter from behind the camera. He sits in the passenger seat with his legs pressed towards Andre as they pull into the student parking lot behind the school building. The place is packed already—buses flooding in from the side, green lawns crawling with classmates. Andre has withstood so many first days of school and none of them have been any good. He parks, pulls the keys from the ignition, and looks over at Cal still with the camera on him.

“Okay, Spielberg, documenting what?”

“Life as we know it. You look hot like this, you know.”

Andre looks away, groans. Cal’s a quick study in how to get Andre’s neck red. “They’re not gonna let you film around inside school unless it’s for a project or some shit.”

Cal lowers the camera, sets it on his lap. The crowd heaves around the car like something alive. Cal looks out, bottom lip pinched in his teeth. “Is it… is it really pussy to say I’m kind of scared? That we get found out?”

Found out. That could mean so many things. But Andre’s answer is the same to all of them: “Look, we were careful, and we’ll continue to be. You’re not some fucko who killed just because. Warren had it coming. If we weren’t found out all summer, there’s no way they can pin it on us now.”

“Us,” Cal says softly.

“Yeah, us.”

“But you didn’t kill him, Andre, I did.”

“Hey, I helped bury the body. I didn’t say shit. If, in some unholy way, you were ever found out, I’d be right there with you beating my cup on the bars of our cell.”

Cal’s smile bursts out from its hiding place. “Idiot. You know they wouldn’t let us in the same cell.” He places a hand on Andre’s, just barely. Even in the car, safety is relative. Eyes are everywhere and the looming boulder of faggot is swinging gently overhead, ready to drop at a moment’s notice. Cal’s fingertips brushing Andre’s in the small space over the cupholders. Andre looks from where they’re connected up to Cal’s face in the morning light through the window. Outside the trees blush with green and the softest line of peach fuzz against Cal’s cheek lights up in a solar flare. His eyes are so blue it’s physical pain.

Andre rubs his fingers against Cal’s. “Hey, uh…”

“Mmm?”

He can feel it—he must be scarlet all over. The idea that he might choke up the world’s sappiest line in his sweaty car in a school parking lot is too much to take. And it’s just a thought, anyway. All things: just thoughts.

Cal tilts his head. “Yeah?”

“N-Nothing,” Andre says and slowly withdraws his hand. He shrugs, shakes the cobwebs of sentiment from his body. “It’s just—it’s gonna be a good year, Cal.”

Cal smiles, equal parts confused and accepting.

And it’s like a premonition, almost. The day’s not bad. He and Cal once again share only two classes and a lunch period but it’s enough to not feel like he’s dying of thirst. The most exciting thing is finally having a willing lab partner—in Advanced Chemistry, they try to make it look like a natural gravitation instead of a mad rush for the other and when Andre sees Cal in an oversized lab coat and goggles he has to grip the table to keep from melting into the linoleum. Maybe it’s all in his imagination, but as he goes through the day, few people seem to even look his way. He can’t speak for Cal but this time last year, he was bombarded with insults, taunts at every corner—every jock within spitting distance making a comment about his hair, his clothes, the look on his face. It feels almost as if people have turned their backs to him purposefully and if he were the social sort he’d consider this worrisome. But it’s much better than lobbing torture his way and when they sit at lunch, Andre says as much.

“It’s like they all forgot they hate my guts,” he says, pushing forward the cafeteria’s freezer-burnt First Day of School carrot cake. “It’s pretty great.”

Cal looks down at his two cakes and tenderly begins removing the layer of icing. He stacks them, places them on his tray to save for last. Dessert of dessert. He looks up, eyebrows knitted. “I don’t think it’s as great as all that… I can hear people talking about you… Brad is in my PE and he asked if you hacked up Warren’s body into pieces.”

Somehow, this isn’t surprising. He barely feels anything. “Well,” he just says.

Cal shakes his head. “I told him to fuck off. That you’re not like that.”

Andre looks around in what he hopes is a casual manner. He leans in, slightly. “Well, I am a little like that…”

“You don’t understand. I don’t want you taking any kind of fall for this.”

“It’s not a big deal. Of course these idiots would blame the creepy kid. But they don’t have any proof. What’re they gonna do?”

“You’re not creepy.”

“Sure I am,” Andre says, grinning, “I’m a regular psychopath.” He bounces his eyebrows, hoping this will lighten Cal’s dour mood. Cal just sighs and shakes his head again, this low sweeping motion. He leaves the icing on his tray, says he isn’t in the mood.

*

For a while Andre considered that, since all that past and future stuff was baloney, it should no longer be referred to as syncing . They aren’t lining up timelines, they aren’t doing anything cosmic—though it sure as hell feels cosmic when Cal’s squirming around beneath him, one eye winced, back arched so deeply monuments should be chiseled in awe of it. The fact is they’re fucking like their lives depend on it and Andre can’t kid himself any longer that it’s for a greater purpose. It feels good. It’s Cal. Of course Andre’s going to want to do it every time they’re alone.

But over summer break he did find a practical use: he and Cal were watching a movie on Andre’s living room couch. It was going on 1 AM and Cal’s socked feet settled in Andre’s lap. Andre looked at him in the blue light of the screen.

He said, “I wanna go sync downstairs.”

Cal glanced over and slowly smiled. “Oh yeah?”

“Hell yeah.”

“You boys shouldn’t be staying up so late,” Andre’s mom said from too close, nearly causing her own son a heart-attack. Andre gasped for air and whipped around to see his mom in her bathrobe at the kitchen entrance, hands on her hips. “I don’t care if it is summer, it’s going to be so hard for you to get back into a real routine when—”

“Jesus, Mom, don’t—don’t lurk like that!”

“What?” She tilted her head. “Afraid I’ll hear all your secret boy plans of mischief?”

Andre was glad for the darkness of the room. He had to be blaring red.

“Don’t let me stand in the way of imagination.” She made her way towards the second floor stairwell. “Syncing sounds like something your father and his friends used to do in their clubhouse. Ah, youth.”

When she disappeared Cal was limp with laughter and Andre felt suddenly doused with cold water.

Since then, it’s seemed pretty important to keep up with the name. It makes it easier to refer to it during school hours, or even at the dinner table which Andre still does not condone and Cal seems to do it only to annoy and embarrass him. One night on the first week of school, Cal uses the term to refer to watching porn down in Andre’s basement. He’s slowly been exposing more and more of his interests to Andre since coming out with the truth; they sit amongst strewn pillows and blankets on the hard floor, watching a blonde woman aggressively riding a bald man. The volume is so low it’s almost muted and Cal watches placidly beside Andre.

“So you ever… you know,” Andre says and makes a flippant jacking off motion with his hand.

Cal looks at him, expression pinched in rudimentary concern. “No. Gross.”

“What’s gross about that?”

“This is purely for research purposes only,” he says, adjusting a set of imaginary glasses, “I’m not some kind of savage.”

“Oh, savage, right. Well, tell me, Freud—what kind of research can you—”

She must be screaming, because he can hear it at a reasonable pitch: “Fuck yes, there, give it to me there—”

Andre feels his own jaw drop, pulled as if by gravity, and he makes an empty aghast noise. “You said that,” he tells Cal’s wide blinking eyes, “you said that just yesterday to me! When we were—when we were—”

“Yeah. So?”

“Is this where you get that stuff?”

“If I didn’t watch and learn, we’d both be like you , fumbling around.”

“I don’t fumble!”

Cal’s expression spreads to a low grin. “But it’s hot when you do. It makes me feel like you’re enjoying it. It’s just we can’t both be like that or else nothing’d get done. As for what I say—I like it. It’s fun. You hardly say any thing.”

“What the hell am I supposed to say?”

“You could call me a slut.”

Andre can’t tell if Cal is kidding or not. He’s still got that grin on his face but his eyes have hardened in the dimmed basement lighting. Finally, Andre says, “I’m not doing that.”

“Why not? You scared?”

“No, it’s just—” He pauses, looks at Cal looking back at him, then averts his eyes. “I dunno. It sounds mean.”

Cal laughs, leaning into Andre’s shoulder. “Andre, you’re a good person.” And, of all things, why does that sound like such a slight?

*

They almost make it a full week. If this hadn’t happened, Andre could have finally said he made it the first week of school without incident. So much for that.

It’s just before lunch on Friday and Andre’s walking to the cafeteria. The lunch schedule for the month said today is pizza and it’s by far the worst simile the school’s kitchen can churn out. Cheese like rubber, sauce like ketchup. But his stomach growls anyway because breakfast was a slice of bread with jam on it—he rushed out to pick up Cal on time. Their lives would be so much easier if they simply lived together. But as much as Andre’s parents adore Cal and as much as Cal’s folks seem into Andre, he knows that isn’t going to happen while they’re still in high school. No, not now, but maybe after? It’s hard to imagine life after high school. Life after high school with Cal.

Andre gets the wind knocked out of him—breath’s there then it’s gone. He catches a familiar sight as he doubles over: Brad Huff’s sharp green eyes, his big teeth. In the throes of pain, Andre wonders why he doesn’t get picked on for those giant Bugs Bunny—

“Hey, pussy, what’d you do with Warren?” His breath is hot in Andre’s ear. There’s a distinct absence of hooting and hollering from others nearby, something Andre has grown to associate with Huff assaults. But the hallway is dense, quiet, and Brad is speaking to no one but Andre. “I know you had something to do with him. People saw him fucking with your girlfriend last year. You snap and blow his brains out?”

Andre holds still, hands clenched over his stomach. He whispers, “If I did… what makes you think… I wouldn’t do the same to you?”

“Big talk, little man.”

And he considers rearing back and punching him. Brad’s got a good half a foot on Andre and who knows how many pounds. But even he would be taken by a surprise punch to the temple.

Then he thinks about suspension.

“Leave him alone,” Cal says. Andre would recognize that voice amid explosions, desecration, at the end of the world. He looks over at Cal standing in the lonely hall, the way his thin arms hang from his shirtsleeves, the way he bites his bottom lip.

“Oh Jesus,” Brad says. “Hey, Kriegman, you let your bitch fight for you?”

Cal flinches and Andre stands upright, turning with a fist raised toward Brad. He catches it by the wrist and uses his larger mass to body Andre into a row of lockers, the sound ringing down the hall. Brad presses up against Andre, the plains of their stomachs meshing into one. Andre takes in a breath, prepares for another blow that doesn’t come.

“I’m sure that pussy of hers feels nice,” he whispers low into Andre’s ear. “But don’t let getting laid puff up that ego, Kriegman. I could still take you a hundred times over. I’m not Warren.”

He gives Andre a final shove against the lockers and leaves. When Andre looks after him, he finds they’ve been alone.

At lunch, he keeps his trembling fingers under the table. He looks at his lunch tray, the table, and Cal’s hands on the formica just a foot away. It’s quiet between them for a long time.

Cal finally asks, in his gentle prodding way, “What’d he say? In your ear?”

Andre tangles his fingers in each other under the table. Pinching the webbing between each. He’s silently begging the heat and heaviness between his legs to leave.

*

Andre syncs with Cal from behind tonight: a rarity. He likes to see Cal’s face. He likes to see him wince, bite his lip, look like he wants to call quits because it’s too much, on the verge of too much, past the line of too much. He likes to see Cal smile, open-mouthed and exhausted by joy. The flooding pink of his tongue against the inside of his cheek.

Cal must’ve seen another porno that got him turned on to this. Andre’s not really complaining—something about Cal’s pale backside and the noise Andre’s hips make when they smack together. There’s also the minute detail of Cal being bent over Andre’s computer desk in the part of the basement not protected by the bedroom door. If his mom was of the mind, she could stroll right on down here to check for laundry and there wouldn’t be a damn thing either of them could do about it. Everything on the precipice of breaking apart. That’s probably what makes Andre come in under a minute.

Cal shudders as Andre pulls out of him with a wet pop. He arches his back and looks over his shoulder, grinning kitten teeth. “Oh, you liked that, huh?”

“Jesus Christ, shut up,” Andre says and takes Cal’s hips to whirl him around. Andre drops to his knees and takes all of Cal in one deep swallow, to the back of his throat. If someone had told him two years ago that he’d be so adept at blowjobs, he would’ve decked them.

Cal’s hands are in Andre’s hair, massaging more than pulling. But even this doesn’t shut him up.

“Let’s quit school,” he moans, sighs, “and just do this every—everyday. All the—” jerks his hips, “time. Andre… you’re gonna make me come. You—yeah—I love it, I love this—” his voice is so lofty and gentle, like he’s coercing , he’s never had to coerce Andre, “Perfect, you’re perfect, let’s kill Brad, let’s do it, he deserves it, Andre—”

Cal comes hot in Andre’s mouth and he swallows it all down. The taste of salt never bothers him. He likes salty things.

He stands up again and the two of them are in the half-light of the basement. They are naked before each other, Cal’s come on Andre’s lips, Andre’s come dripping down Cal’s back thigh.

Andre thinks a little and licks his lips. “Mmm. I guess you’re right.”

“You guess I’m right or you know I’m right?”

Andre smirks. “I know you’re right.”

*

Just like that. Andre can’t help but walk around in an after-haze not so dissimilar to when Cal first spiraled down from the heavens, Ohio , and declared that he was soulmates with Andre. The simplicity with which Andre is coming to live his life is quite complicated.

They put their heads together and come up with a plan between late-night kisses on the floor of Andre’s basement.

Kiss One: they poison him.

Kiss Two: that’s so clean.

Kiss Three: they shoot him.

Kiss Four: that’s so loud.

Kiss Five: they knife him.

Kiss Six: oh, good idea.

Kiss Seven: no one can know it was them.

Kiss Eight: obviously.

Andre loses count somewhere after twenty and they slip into contemplative silence basslined only by the soft click of their lips. A darkening thundercloud they fall into and don’t emerge from until morning. They keep the idea ruminating in this sticky sheen between them all weekend, wallowing in it, testing its strength, viscosity , and by Monday morning, they’re ready with refined details. It takes the first half of the week to watch Brad Huff’s lunchtime routine and learn it. He doesn’t change it up much. He usually comes in from the southern double-doors in the social studies wing and makes a beeline for the table closest to the northern doors. He sits there while his girlfriend grabs his lunch and spends the majority of the time picking and choosing his food off his friends’ trays and making paper footballs.

The one thing he always seems to gobble down is his dessert, his and his girlfriend’s and anyone else he can pluck it from before a bite’s taken out—Andre makes note of this to Cal, who only frowns at the comparison. But at least it gives them an in.

They don’t want to arouse any suspicion: that’s the heart of it. Searching online for apt poisons is out because anyone could retrace their search history. Instead, they put their heads together and come up with something that must be able to make someone at least a little sick. Ebola isn’t needed but a sore stomach and queasiness is. They get together in Cal’s kitchen one night while his brother and sister play in the living room. There’s a little glass mixing bowl that Andre and Cal dump expired mayonnaise into and the pulp of some old fruit and their joint saliva and some water from the toilet bowl and, as a final fuck you, a little bit of Lysol. Cal is wearing an apron for whatever reason and it cinches tight around his infinitesimal waist. Andre glances over at him stirring the mixture gently and silently battles an unnameable emotion from scrambling his guts.

Cal’s little brother comes running in, panting like a dog. He grips Andre’s leg and says, “Are you making dinner ?”

“No. You can’t eat this,” Andre says.

“Why not?” he whines.

“Uh.”

“Because you’ll get sick,” Cal tells him easily. “We’re the worst cooks ever and anyone who eats our cooking shall perish in a fiery ball of intestines.”

“Ooh,” Cal’s brother says, seemingly delighted by the idea. He whirls away as quickly as he arrived and Andre guesses this brand of insanity runs in the family.

Cal’s eyes light and he looks over at Andre. “I feel like a witch! This is too cool.”

The poison is the least of it. Perhaps the hardest part comes next, because one of them have to open themselves to possibly being embarrassed in public and there’s no way they can fight back without causing a scene. The two of them rock paper scissors it, best two out of three, and Cal wins, meaning he gets to pick which one of them do the switch. He picks himself, the self-sacrificing idiot. Andre gets it in his head to argue, but then it seems wrong to argue against the sanctity of a rock paper scissors duel.

They have to do it on a Thursday, which is chocolate cake day. Andre had worried it’d be some kind of pudding, but this bodes nicely. They get Cal’s dessert and smear a healthily even glob of their mixture on the bottom. The two of them watch from afar as Brad’s girlfriend gets both his and her lunch trays and they flank her before she’s quite left the end register.

Andre bends down in front of her to tie his shoe.

“Move,” she says plainly.

Andre glances up. “Huh?”

“I said move ! You’re in the way!”

Behind her, Cal switches his cake with one of the trays. His shaking fingers seem to jolt her a bit and she looks back immediately to see him standing there.

“Oh my God. What’re you two doing?”

“Nothing,” Cal says.

“Yeah, I bet. Don’t talk to me.” She squeezes herself from between the two of them and jaunts off in a huff, skirt swishing at her pale thighs. Andre doesn’t linger and heads back to their table, at length followed by Cal. They sit in silence and Cal has a dessert meant for Brad and doesn’t eat it. They try to be inconspicuous, staring across the lunch table while Brad and his friends laugh and talk and Brad eats both desserts like usual. He doesn’t seem to make it entirely through the second one.

Rising, he coughs heavily and knocks over a chair. A friend pats him on the back.

“Fuck, that thing is old as hell,” he cries while trying to hack it back up.

Andre takes a fistful of his jeans under the table. “Damn it,” he mutters.

“You think we put in too much old mayonnaise?” Cal asks.

“Maybe…”

Brad makes a big production which most people save his friends and girlfriend seem to ignore. He even goes back to the lunch line and yells at the workers behind, most of them sending him looks of extreme distaste. This settles Andre, provides him with further proof that they’re doing something worthy, necessary. But there’s a wobbly feeling in his stomach that Cal looks to share. They don’t know if they can enact part two of their plan until tomorrow, as Brad did not eat it all. Will he really get sick? Will he really stay home?

Yes.

Whether he is truly sick or not from that little bit of poison, Brad Huff does not show up to school on Friday. This is confirmed by Cal who has his same first period PE—there was an empty spot as big as life in the gymnasium. His girlfriend is present and accounted for, languishing in the halls to tell anyone who’ll listen about her poor Brad and how the school should be sued for unhygenic kitchen practices.

At lunch, Andre and Cal meet at the student parking lot, the sun in their hair and the wind whispering low. Cal is shimmering he looks so excited.

“Got what you need?” Andre asks.

“Yes, captain, my captain.”

His eyes roll to the sound of Cal’s laughter.

They’ve already resigned themselves to not driving. Andre’s car can’t be anywhere near the scene of the crime. When Andre first told Cal this, he thought it may be common sense, but the sun seemed to rise in his sleepy eyes, as if Andre had imparted great information. Andre’s still slightly unsure if Cal is just massaging his ego until it is moist and limp—if so, it’s working. He adores the way Cal looks at him when he suggests an alteration to their plan. He thinks it must be druglike. He always told himself he would never get into drugs; pills and liquor slow you down, dumb you down, but Cal may be the benevolent combination of the two. He could get drunk off Cal, high off Cal, forever and never feel dumber for it.

They travel quickly on foot to the Huff residence. As anticipated, only the Range Rover is in the driveway—his parents are still out at work. No one would stay home to babysit Brad, big baby though he is. The house sits quietly in the shade of sugarberries, leaning with a flash of hot wind. They sidle around back and note the open downstairs windows, the screens too easy to cut through with their Swiss Army knives. When they tear through and climb in, standing in the great room of the house feels euphoric. It is cool inside, the overhead fan swinging in lazy revolutions. Birds outside chirp at the noontime sun. Andre looks over at Cal reaching to touch a framed picture on a side table.

Andre grabs his wrist. He shakes his head severely and drops his bag, taking out the cleaning gloves he bought for them. Cal slips his on, Andre does the same. He’s only vaguely aware of how ridiculous this must look to any third party—the two of them in dense shadow in an immaculate home, wearing stark yellow cleaning gloves and holding knives.

There’s the sound of a television upstairs, followed by a familiar bit of raucous laughter.

Cal points cheerily up.

Andre nods. Moving upstairs, slowly on the carpeted walnut steps, he thinks about this being a turning point. They got away with it once, who’s to say they’ll manage it again? Is this just another of their lives that ends in catastrophe?

It was all just pretend , he tells himself, in comfort, in despair. None of it was real.

Yes, but that’s what Cal would say. The heft of such a burden would be too much, even for a strange moonchild like Cal. He would shove it away, lock it away, beg it away, under any means necessary. Lies on top of lies? What’s a little pathological lying between best friends ?

Brad’s bedroom door is cracked open. There’s the scent of weed, and Andre and Cal stand soaked in hallway shadow.

The television volume lowers.

“Mom?” Brad calls. “You home?”

Andre can’t see Cal’s eyes in the darkness. And that means Cal can’t see his either. But they can feel each other, as if it were skin against skin, or a movement in a pool, or when Cal arches his back deep enough to meet Andre’s thrust. They kick open the door and lunge and the screams don’t deter Andre like he thought they would, worried they would. Cal’s knife slides into his throat and Andre’s is stuck low in his stomach.

The blood runs like that from a white water rapid and Andre’s choked by the heavy penny scent of it. With Warren Adley, it was muted somehow, pushed down. Now it’s on top of him, and Cal is screaming over Brad—

Stop moving around !”

Brad’s incapable of real speech as Cal keeps knifing him in the neck, pulling out chunks of flesh and trachea. Cal’s arms are covered with bits of gore, his pretty face mangled in a snarl.

“Are you complaining ?” he asks Brad. “But you asked for this! You asked for it!”

Just bubbling noises, large pops of blood on Brad’s face. It is a handsome face, when looked at objectively. Andre had never noticed before, not when he was yelling insults or whispering terrible things.

He’s dead but his eyes are open and Cal has to be pulled off him.

“Cal, it’s good, it’s enough,” Andre tells him, hearing his own voice warbling.

Cal whirls around to face him in the streaming sunlight. He is streaked red and his pupils wash his eyes black. His chest heaves and he’s visibly hard in his jeans.

“I want you to fuck me,” he says, though it comes out as a whine. “Andre, please.”

Andre can’t help the startled expression that must come on him. “What? Y-You mean now?”

“Yes, now, here.” He steps forward and presses their stomachs together, the warmth of the blood cooling quickly. “I need it. I need you.”

“Cal, we can’t do that, think of the DNA—”

“I don’t care,” he says and, yeah, it’s really a whine. Cal looks like his kid brother seconds before a tantrum. “Do I look like I care?”

“You’ll care when we’re in prison!”

Cal doesn’t have a retort for that, but he seems to have an action—he grabs Andre’s shirt hem and tries pulling it up and Andre struggles to keep it down. He feels Cal’s erection against his thigh and can’t think of a way to keep this from escalating except—

He grits his teeth, grabs Cal and shoves him up against the nearest wall. It’s covered in pictures from the wrestling team, one of his girlfriend and a giant sagging Eminem poster. Of course. Cal’s head slams against the wall and Andre chases his lips, covering them in a wet kiss. Wet from saliva, blood, who knows anymore. Sweat. He tastes their joint salt and Cal is moaning openly, grinding against him, his body so hot he might well burn up. Andre is of the mind that, perhaps, there have been past lives. Hard to tell how they ended up but he won’t let themselves throw away this one. He bites Cal’s upper lip until it’s torn and bruised and shoves his hips so hard against Cal’s that he’s pinned to the wall, immobile. He says into the boy’s ear, “Listen. We’re going to finish up here and we’re going to clean up and we’re going back to school before we’re missed. Then we’re going back to my place and I’ll fuck you bloody like the psychotic slut you are. But until then, you’re gonna keep cool and help me through this. You get me?”

He slowly pulls back and when he and Cal lock gazes, there’s this look on Cal’s face that would take Andre a thousand years in isolation to explain.

*

They made it look like a robbery. Kicked things around downstairs, pulled out drawers and trashed some TVs. By rights they had to steal some money, jewelry, but they didn’t want to keep it so they found a place a ways away and buried it three feet below ground. In immediate retrospect, they realize that when Brad is found, he will be lauded as a hero who tried to fight off common crooks from his family home. Andre broods over this but Cal doesn’t seem to mind. He hums as they’re washing the blood from themselves in the downstairs sinks.

Finishing out the day at school is also harder than Andre anticipated. He spends most of his time staring at the classroom doors, waiting for the FBI to bust in and slap him with handcuffs, or worse—simply shoot him point-blank and he can never see Cal again or tell him he’s sorry for fucking up. Every time he sees Brad’s girlfriend in the hall, he feels a little shiver in his low spine and hopes his eyes don’t give him away. It’s in his nature, too, to be concerned over Cal’s mental wellbeing but he seems finer than fine, if you overlook his terribly thirsty gazes at Andre in Chemistry and the way he takes every tiny opportunity to whisper something obscene in his ear when the teacher isn’t looking.

But the FBI, the death sentence, those things don’t come. The final bell rings. Life goes on. Life goes on.

Andre’s mom is the only one home when they come in and she waves cheerily and they descend into the basement—an average Friday evening. It almost is, except Andre and Cal end up syncing three times in a row and Andre’s got no idea where either of them get the stamina for it after a day of murdering a heavy wrestler. He hears all sorts of things about the tenacity of young men but this must be on another level. It feels on another level, at least.

At first Andre has trouble subduing Cal—he’s near gone feral, scratching and biting so much that Andre has to turn him on his stomach and press his face into the mattress. When they both come, Andre looks at Cal’s tear-streaked face and immediately devolves into panic, wondering if he was too rough. Cal bites Andre’s neck quick as a snake and growls, “It’s not enough. It’s never enough. I want you burned into me, tattooed onto me.”

Andre gets the sentiment and feels it too, but has this instinct to try and do something for it. Nothing can be done for it. They will always be two separate beings, no matter how much or how fervently they sync. Still, it’s fun to try.

They wrestle around on the quickly dampening sheets and either Cal really does bully his way on top or Andre just lets him up. Cal sits back and takes Andre inside him with a slow kind of desperation. He bows his head like a man in mourning and his blond bangs darken with sweat. Andre can’t help but think of him as some kind of religious figure up there. Archangel. Is it blasphemy to think about fucking a high angel? Probably, but too late now. If there is a Hell, they’re both surely on their way. He can feel the fires licking his ankles already.

And then there’s the third round which is somehow a perfect mimicry of the weighted summer nights in the shore house. The two of them, the bed, all so wet and thick with sweat and come and nothing is dry and Andre’s hands slip on Cal’s hips, his side, his throat. Cal mewls beneath him with lankening breath, quick little gasps. He wraps those long alabaster legs around Andre’s waist and clenches in, makes it hard to move. Andre tries to pull back out, raising up on one elbow, and Cal grabs him, pulls at him with sweaty fingertips.

“No,” he says, soft.

Andre winces, shudders. “W-What d’you mean, no?”

“Stay,” Cal says, every bit the captain in his serene way, and Andre gives up and stays like that and kisses Cal until they both fidget themselves into orgasm.

Pulling apart is a labor. Laying side by side on the sweated-through bottom sheet, feeling like his vital points are all throbbing, is also slightly difficult. Even breathing he’s aware of. Every movement of his ribcage.

After what feels like half an hour of silence, Andre sucks the sweat from his top lip and sighs. “You like killing people.”

“Mmm,” Cal says.

“I like it too.”

“Because I like it or because you like it?”

“I don’t really know. Does it matter?”

Cal giggles lightly. “Guess not.”

“Think we should maybe cool it though? For a little while?” Andre scratches his hair. “People might get… suspicious. They’re only so dumb.”

“You give people too much credit. Cooling it sounds lame.”

Andre shrugs a little to himself. Listening to Cal and pleasing Cal could very well get him the electric chair. Oh well.

Cal reaches up lazily to place the back of his hand to Andre’s chest. It sticks there. “I was so worried. I was worried you wouldn’t like this, wouldn’t want this. I know you helped with Warren, but… this was something else.”

Andre can’t think of anything but sappy shit. He amends one of them to: “You never needed to worry, Cal.”

There’s a sudden and horrifically startling knock on the closed bedroom door followed by Andre’s mom’s voice: “Hey, you two, are you ever coming up for dinner? I’ve called five times!”

“Jesus fucking Christ, Mom!”

“Andre, you watch your mouth!”

Cal’s already standing up, searching the floor for his clothes. “W-We’re coming up, don’t worry!”

“Thank you, Cal, dear. Andre, you could learn from Cal’s manners.”

“Mom, please leave, we’ll be up,” Andre says, voice cracking, trying not to pay Cal’s barely withheld laughter any mind. He finds his jeans and pulls them up and glares at the door as his mom gives one final and flippant knock.

“Okay, okay. Such secrets! I hope this syncing thing isn’t very dangerous.”

The two of them pause in their dressing, listening as her footsteps retreat and can be heard on the stairwell. When they’re finally gone, Cal utterly collapses to the ground. He looks up through teary eyes at what must be a terribly red-faced Andre and simply points, wordlessly.

“Get up!” Andre shoves his shirt down over his head. “It’s not that funny!”

He nods aggressively, flinging tears everywhere. Andre sighs in an exaggerated way and heads for the bedroom door. He reaches the doorknob and hears from behind, half hoarse: “Hey.”

He glances back. Cal is still kneeling on the floor, legs parted wide, and Andre is overcome with a wave of emotion like deja vu. His heart stutters in its bone prison and he knits his eyebrows. Why does he feel like he’s seen this before?

“Yeah?”

“Andre, I…” Cal bites his lower lip, just gentle. He snorts. “I think it really is gonna be a good year.”

Andre blinks. He watches Cal heave himself from the floor, smile as he passes Andre by, and head through the threshold. Andre stands there for a long moment, feels the granules of time trickle by. Then, of course, he follows.