So, anyway, here are the things Owen remembers:
1) Being a child and looking up at the stars over the African coast, knowing that he is privileged in ways he doesn’t quite know how to be aware of yet, and that his mother is dying from an illness that lacks a cure.
2) The reanimation of dinosaurs and other things long since dead. (He wonders, just for a moment, if that same universal science can bring back his mother – this is something he quickly dismisses because he’s not in the habit of interfering with things he has no right interfering with.)
3) Two tours in the Navy and spending hours looking up at the stars, memorizing the constellations’ names and wondering how impossible it was, that the stars above him were dying, had died years ago, just so that he could see their light.
4) Seeing Blue’s eye stare at him from the first aperture in her egg’s murky beige exoskeleton, looking at him with such awareness and comprehension, that he wonders if this is what it’s like to have a child.
5) Hands on his neck, slick with salt-water, burning as if Owen has a million open wounds along his skin and he knows he doesn’t, but Zach’s mouth brushes against his and it feels red hot, it feels like he's been stabbed a dozen times over, and even if this is a mistake, a stomach-turning moment filled with regret, Owen doesn’t think about it.
It’s easier to understand the statement ‘what you know does not apply to Claire Dearing’ than it is trying to understand how your lungs take in air, and why the sky is blue. Claire Dearing – with her red hair and always white clothes – is immeasurable. Claire Dearing – with her hitched, bated breath, and steady hands – is as much of a miracle as the revival of things long since dead.
Owen should love Claire. He does, actually, if you were to sweep the dirt and dust away from his heart, and use an excavator’s tools to search underneath the sandstone. He loves Claire like the sun loves the moon; he loves her in the same way, because he knows they can’t coexist.
Claire needs the sea, needs to be able to ebb and flow against someone. Claire loves, trusts, Owen the same way the moon loves, trusts, the sun. But being with Owen is a completely different concept.
Zach has sun-kissed freckles spread against his shoulders, down his back, against his nose. In the dark, Owen likens them to stars, dusted against the tanned skin that substitutes the inky backdrop of space. Zach’s skin is new skin – there are a few scars here and there, but nothing like Owen’s torn skin, ravaged from knife and gun wounds, burns and bites (most of which come from animals outside of velociraptors). His skin is old, and it holds pages and pages of history.
“I like your skin,” Zach says, murmurs really, into Owen's temple. There is salt-water dewed in the dip of Zach's clavicle and it’s the most natural thing in the world for Owen to place his lips there and kiss it away. Owen should be wary of how easily his hands fit against Zach’s hips, against the grooves where his bones come to an end. He should be worried how easy it was to follow Zach here, how easy it was to let Zach push him into the sand. Most importantly, he knows he should be worried about how much he isn't worried.
Zach is staring, and in the dim light his brown eyes look pitch black. He stares at Owen and has no end, is a continuous singularity, and Owen is caught on the never-ending horizon. There’s an entire nebula sprayed against the bridge of his nose, the curve of his cheeks. He looks like the stars Owen had seen a millennia ago, over the African coast, and no, no.
There is a drowsiness in Zach’s eyes that tells Owen he’s more than comfortable and willing to sleep on this beach, even though Owen can feel sand on his skin and in the folds behind his knees and in his elbows. It’s the kind of drowsiness that tells Owen the tide could swallow them whole and Zach would be content, as long as Owen’s hands stayed on his hips and their legs could stay entangled.
Owen remembers standing on the African coast, heart in his hands, ready to throw it into the ocean, but the stars above him said ‘you are not that great’ and ‘this, too, shall pass’ and so Owen took his heart back into his chest and buried it whole.
It’s not that this world is out of kilter, it’s that Owen wonders if they were never supposed to pretend they had the hand of God. It’s that maybe their world was never supposed to meddle in fundamentalness of what makes their heart beat. Maybe it’s that Owen has always been a skeptic when it comes to science and religion, but a firm believer in not interfering with the universe at it’s base.
The world is out of kilter. This is a fact. Owen feels it every morning when he wakes, and every night when he sleeps. Almost everything is a fraction of an inch off of where it’s supposed to rest. Almost.
Claire is right where she’s supposed to be; a lighthouse for Owen to set a course and find his way home. She is nervous, and has anxious fingertips that tap against her arm, but she is steady. She is always, always, steady.
And if Claire is a lighthouse, then Zach is the lattice of stars over him. Zach is the collection that makes up the Pleiades, he’s Polaris directing Owen north, he’s Orion immortalized in the sky.
Zach’s elbow brushes against Owen’s side, his hand dusts against Owen’s, and this is not allowed but the world is shifting to the left, and Owen can’t seem to get his footing back underneath him.
There are specifics to the story, of course. There is a plot, and a problem to which there is hopefully a resolution. There are questions about morals that, surprisingly, do not relate to pressing lips against a boy much younger than Owen, inhaling his skin and writing hymns with finger tips. Those questions about morals relate more to questions about God, about creation, about where do you draw the line when you begin using extinct DNA to regrow limbs and tear countries apart.
Another thing Owen remembers: he and Zach are not supposed to happen.
Owen is never supposed to take Zach’s hand. They are never supposed to lower to the white sand, and Zach is never supposed to abort his breath because Owen’s fingers interlace with his. They are never supposed to share the same air, and Zach is never supposed to breathe out ‘I want–’ and Owen is never supposed to say ‘I know’ and they are never supposed to press their foreheads against each other and Zach is never supposed to shake, never supposed to struggle to catch his breath, and Owen is not supposed to kiss him, he’s not, this is not what is supposed to happen–
It does, though. What does happen is this: Owen presses his lips against Zach’s in an impression of a kiss, a fragile moment where Owen’s lips rest against Zach’s, and Zach inhales and his body stills for a moment. What happens is that Zach catches up with the rest of the world and uses his free hand to grab at Owen’s crumpled shirt. What happens is that they fit perfectly, like it’s the most natural thing in the world. What happens is that the tide crashes against them, licks at their chests because they were foolish enough to fall too close to the end of the shore. What happens is that Zach gives a hysteric little laugh when Owen pulls away, and then Zach is grabbing at their soaked shirts and pulling them off.
What happens is not what is supposed to happen, which is: nothing. But what happens is also not a mistake, or something to be later looked at with regret.
What happens is that the sun rises, and sand bakes onto Owen’s skin and Zach studies his face and tries to memorize the way Owen breathes, and the way his heart beats. And Owen–
Owen presses his lips to Zach’s forehead, inhales him in, and thinks about the constellations trapped in the sky and how stars had died long ago just so that Owen could marvel at their light. He thinks about the galaxy littered on Zach’s skin and how maybe Zach was older than Owen realized, how maybe he had been waiting a millennia for Owen to finally marvel at him.
They pick themselves up, eventually, once the sun began to move from bake to burn, and they shrug on shirts caked with white salt and sand and Owen lets Zach drag him into a million kisses because they both can feel the inevitability in the way the earth turns.
There is this, though, hours earlier when Owen’s mouth slid off of Zach’s, and his hand moved from the hem of his pants to Zach’s jawline. When Zach braced himself on aching palms above Owen, and his chest heaved to catch all the oxygen he had missed, Owen had thought, I could, you know, I could love you.
The stars above them had not been the same as the ones above the African coast, had only been slightly reminiscent of the ones Owen used to study for hours. They had, however, been bright and mirrored the freckles powdered on the bridge of Zach’s nose, and Owen was a child again, trying to understand how the universe was so great and he was so small.
And Zach, who was not small, who was filled with stars a million years old and kisses and soft skin, said, “We’re going to be okay.”
And, so: we’re going to be okay.
Owen believed him.