He’s a beautiful, beautiful boy.
The shiny red car, glamorous and expensive and anything but modest in appearance, makes its trek across the roads of Hemlock Grove, Pennsylvania, and inside the car Roman Godfrey stares at Peter Rumancek and thinks about how beautiful he is.
“Look at the fucking road, Godfrey,” he says.
Roman reddens and he looks away and the gravel that he is covering becomes the subject of his fury. Goddamn, Rumancek.
“You have a spot on your face,” Roman lies.
Curious eyes glance at the car’s rearview mirror, study the face in the reflection, and then gentle lips curve to point down and showcase their dissatisfaction. “There’s nothing there.”
“Stop shitting around,” Peter says. He closes his eyes and leans back in his seat. Roman allows himself to trail his gaze across Peter’s tan neck. His mind’s eye begins to map out the sections on the sheen flesh that, in a month’s time, will fall from the bones and muscle and be consumed by a raging beast, made from the same blood that the beautiful boy is made out of, another side of a gold coin. “You’re not funny.”
Roman faces forward again, his shoulder slouched, looking comical in this position with his height, and a strand of auburn hair falls between his eyes. “Matter of opinion.”
“Nah, you’re just not funny,” says Peter, and his tone is not insistent, it is placid and his way of saying that he doesn’t take this conversation seriously and wants Roman to shut up. Roman has heard this countenance hanging about the things that he verbalizes more than once and to hear it now, of all times, prompts the blood in his veins to boil and he bids himself to not say anything more. But his powers of persuasion fail to work on himself and he says:
“You’re not allowed to have an opinion.” He may as well bite his tongue off now; it will never do him good again. “You left.”
This causes Peter to sober up in his act of apathy – if it is truly an act – and he narrows his eyes and does not reply. One tally mark for Roman, nil for Peter.
They stop at the side of a road lit by green shadows, the sunlight pouring through the thick natural barriers and coming out tinted with the emerald shade. In the July sun, the birds are harmonizing to create a jovial melody. A squirrel darts in between a heavy clump of bushes, paying no mind to the car and the two boys sitting in it. To their right sits a trailer and a few sporadic items surround the decaying structure: a hammock, three dead birds, dry weeds, prospering trees, a lawn chair. Roman gets out of the car first and looks at the sight that is waiting for him and he thinks that it resembles a graveyard.
Peter was his best friend and this graveyard is the only evidence of their legacy because the beautiful boy sitting in his crimson Jaguar by the side of the road looks like Peter but is not truly Peter.
He has avoided glancing at this place when passing by for the past year.
“This place became a shithole.”
His friend slams the door of the car, if slam is the word – even now, Roman thinks. Even now, Peter is well aware that if he dares to mistreat the machine, punishment will meet him in some way, shape, or from. Smart boy, cruel boy, beautiful boy.
Peter’s hair is growing back. Roman looks away from Peter because he misses the head of hair that used to meet his eyes when he sought the other boy out and placed him in his line of vision, because he could hardly stand it when he wasn’t somewhere that he could be seen. Before, Peter’s head produced brown strands of what looked to be flayed ropes, wet with water to make them darker, and they would flop around his face and still hang straight down anyway and Roman was entranced. Once upon a miraculous time, he envisioned cream sheets and creaking mattresses and flayed rope hair bouffant against the ivory.
He misses that hair. It just might be what he misses the most about the old Peter Rumancek.
“It was always a shithole,” says Roman.
“Sure, but it was my shithole,” says Peter.
Roman bounds towards the pitiful thing, and Peter follows. They step over bird carcasses and the air becomes laden with unsaid words and actions not taken and unstinting tension.
“How’s your mom?” Peter asks. Roman shrugs in response, and Peter dares to continue with, “Shelley?”
“Gone,” Roman deadpans. “Like everything I’ve ever loved.”
But I came back, Roman imagines Peter saying.
“Sorry,” says Peter. He does sound sincerely sorry. It is not enough.
“I get by,” Roman shrugs, again, and he takes out a pack of cigarettes and his little black lighter and when the lighter does not work, he gets frustrated and throws the damn thing on the dead ground to rot where it deserves rot.
Peter kicks at a lifeless bird. “Tough, though.”
Silence meets them. Peter takes the initiative to make the next move and enters the trailer, still unlocked. No Hemlock Grove resident has dared to enter the old thing since the Rumanceks called it quits, there is a general understanding that this would be something wrong to do and those that impose on the abandoned trailer do not want what will befall them, whatever that may be.
Roman is the one to follow now.
Peter sprawls on the dusty ground and the bright summer shine streams in through the windows and lights his chest, pressed against his soft white cotton shirt and Roman thinks about what that chest feels like.
“Feels like home,” says Peter.
Roman takes his place next to him, like old times, and stares at the dirty ceiling. “You don’t have a home.”
“No, that’s not true,” says Peter, indignantly, “I have a lot of homes.”
“Because one isn’t enough,” says Roman, indifferent in tone, hiding his fury.
Peter appears to be thinking. His mouth does a crease thing, his eyelashes poke the skin underneath his eyes and stay there, his nose emits more air than usual. “Say what you have to say.”
“It was shitty of you to show up at my door after a year.”
“You’re an asshole for pretending like nothing has happened.”
“You fucked off and abandoned me.”
And I hate you, he thinks.
“You could have called,” says Roman.
“Letha died and I have a different method for grieving than most,” Peter turns to the side and avoids looking at Roman. In turn, Roman fixes his gaze on dust particles floating above him. It seems that they are doing a danse macabre and it is fitting. They are worlds apart and in these shambles of a previous life only the danse macabre can link them again.
“You still could have called.” He is persistent because he is in pain.
“Give me a break,” Peter says. “I don’t deserve one, but give me one.”
“You’re a bag of cocks.”
Isn’t that what you like? Roman can almost hear it rolling off Peter’s tongue because Peter knows because Peter always knows because Peter is Peter is Peter and a gypsy is a gypsy is gypsy.
Roman continues. He finds the ability to voice what is brewing in his organs and says, “I hate you.”
“Okay,” says Peter. He is complacent in the wrath of his friend because there is nothing to do in the storm that is Roman Godfrey when he has felt the knife of betrayal making a thousand revolutions in his heart, unceasing and vexatious. Now he can look at Roman again. They eye each other. Roman’s lips quiver for a miniscule portion of a half second. Peter sees it. Their irises reflect in each other.
“Shee-it.” Roman, wide-eyed and keeling and nauseous and warped all over, stands up. He places his hand on a dirty window sill, the likes of which he became acquainted with during his time with Peter. He looks out and sees the greenery and the subtle flickers of life and thinks that maybe this isn’t a graveyard and even if it isn’t, it still embodies the death of his heart. “You just should’ve called.”
“I couldn’t have,” Peter says, slowly. “I didn’t know what I was doing.”
“Then you should’ve called to tell me that.”
“That’s not the way I do things.”
“Fuck the way you do things.”
They fall into their uncomfortable silence and Roman remembers that silence between them used to be nothing more than their modus operandi. Peter, for all of his rough edges and casual way of hurting everyone around him with his nature—something that Roman identifies with, although he isn’t wont to admit that—always served as his anchor in the storm. Sounds ridiculous, but it’s true.
It goes like this:
Peter moves and so then Roman moves. Peter leads and Roman is at his heels. Peter is a crutch and Roman is leaning on him, always; Peter is the stars and Roman is the lonely stargazer. Peter sleeps like the dog that he is and Roman paints his likeness into his dreams.
Sure, Peter doesn’t know as much as he pretends he knows, but he sees this as clearly as anyone does and Roman is perfectly aware that he knows what to make of it.
He's his best friend.
He's his only friend.
“I lied,” says Roman, suddenly. “I don’t hate you.”
This frustrates Roman beyond measure. “I know you know but pretend that you don’t.”
“Fine,” says Peter, always one to humor Roman in sporadic intervals. In a show of what Roman can only take to be something akin to a flippant dominance, Peter stands up. It is not a challenge but it occurs to Roman that he can't stand the idea of them standing on equal footing. Not anymore. “I had no idea you didn’t hate me. Oh my god.”
The casual plastic quality of Peter’s tone irks Roman further. He doesn’t know what overcomes him but it is something primal that he imagines is felt by Peter whenever the full moon comes around; it is sharp, jagged, ugly, savage, horrible. His fist connects with Peter’s face but not before Peter reacts, fight taking heed over flight, and then they tumble down to the ground in a mess of knotted, mangled limbs. They quiver and shake and it’s for the wrong reasons, Roman can’t stop thinking, they should be doing this but not because of the wrong kind of pain.
They fall in such a way that Roman has the advantage and he is able to pin Peter down despite how much stronger Peter is, the veins bulging in Roman’s arms just to keep him down like this. Their eyes aren’t human anymore, they’re some kind of under-the-bed beast brand of angry.
“I’ll kill you.” The trepidation in Roman’s voice is enough to make those words sound less like a threat and more like a cry for help, a shriek in the night that wakes the neighbors and alarms the sleeping child. Something’s wrong, mommy. Just go to bed, honey. Hide from the gaze of the universe. “I’ll kill you right here and no one will ever know. No one but me knows you’re back. You know what else? No one but me would even care and don’t be so sure that I care. I’ll rip you apart. You’ll rot here until the world blows up and no one will ever know. No one will ever care.”
Two words—they resemble bullets from a gun falling on an unsuspecting civilian. Roman settles back, his rump on Peter’s stomach, the grip of arm loosening and dragging back; his hands settle on the collar of Peter’s shirt.
“I don’t want to care about you,” Roman says.
“Do you always get what you want?” Peter’s gaze is unwavering and it frightens Roman how much he still loves this boy’s eyes.
“Ideally." His voice is thinning. “But not always.”
“I’m okay with you…caring.”
And this is too much. Roman’s hands tighten into the fabric of Peter’s shirt. “You don’t have the right to talk about this.”
“Don’t you think it’s about time to talk about it?” Is that desperation on his face? The moment passes so quickly Roman is only just able to take note of it before it has run away as quickly as it came.
“You don’t have the right, Peter,” with that, his nails dig into the flesh surrounding his friend’s sharp collarbone. “You did once. You lost it. Too bad.”
“Fuck, Roman. You were so far gone back then, I couldn’t find you in the haze.”
“Maybe I didn’t want to be found. Maybe I’m still lost.”
“Let me stand up, will you?”
Roman does nothing and the seconds drag on. The sun is beginning to sink in the sky. Where there were streams of bright yellow light before there are now only lazy rivers of darkening orange light in which dust particles are more difficult to discern.
“Get lost in the haze with me,” Roman says. It surprises them both.
Peter’s canine eyes are wet when he says, “I can’t.”
An overwhelming pause befalls them, and then, “Okay.”
(In another universe, Peter would clasp Roman’s hand and press it to his heart and tell him, with heartbreaking sincerity: It’s not you, it’s me. But in this universe, Roman can only envision the opposite being true.)
Roman looks out the window and directly into the dying sun with his dead eyes for a good minute before he says, “Let’s go.”
He stands up, not waiting for Peter to stand up and straighten himself out before he storms out the door and heads for the car, keys already in his hand, ready to jam into the engine. He wants nothing more than to get the hell out of here, except maybe for Peter to get the hell out of his life. Again.
The irony in this is that he also wants Peter to stay with him forever—in the haze or out of it. Whatever.
A hand grabs him by the arm before he can even open the door, and he turns around so quickly he thinks he’s going to fall over. In fact, he almost does; Peter, however, catches him by the neck and wrist, one body part in each of his big dog hands, before he can stumble down to the dirt.
“Give me time,” Peter’s gaze is cutting, it is raw, it is terrifying. “I’ll find you. I wouldn’t have come back if I wasn’t already looking.”
Roman finds it in himself to nod before jerking his head away. Anything. He’ll look at anything but those eyes.
He’ll have them eventually, anyway.
He’s already put all of his faith in the boy. What’s a little more going to cost him?