By nightfall, word had spread through Rael’s gang on the streets that there was a spraypaint raid tonight. Many of the boys decided to miss out on it, as they weren’t fans of the “sissy” raids. A little bird told John about it, and he decided he might as well go. Rael would be sorry he missed it.
But at the moment, Rael wasn’t sorry about anything. He was in the restaurant of his choice, waiting for Marina.
The restaurant of Rael’s choice was noisy and flashing with multicolored lights. A bass backbeat pulsated over the speakers, throbbing in the diners’ chests. An arcade was attached to the restaurant, and some gamers wandered in to stay and beat the high scores. It was Rael’s kind of place, where one could easily get lost amidst the sound and vision.
Rael, standing unnoticed in the middle of it all, looked a tad bit out of place. He’d spent much of the day scrounging for money on the streets and in the subways, enough to pay for tonight’s dinner. It had been long and hard work, and the eventual profit did not leave enough to buy flowers. The blooms that now sat clutched in Rael’s hands were stolen from a vendor. They were purple, a rare, attractive color, and gave off a wonderful scent. The flowers’ beauty made up for Rael’s appearance.
As it was a warm day, Rael hadn’t bothered to wear his leather jacket at all. The T-shirt he’d put on instead had started out white, but soon grew dusty gray as Rael loitered around subway stations and on the streets. He wanted to change it, but it was the only shirt he owned, and it wouldn’t do to show up for his date without one. Rael’s faded, formerly blue jeans were ripped in several places across the knee, a constant reminder that he should turn them into cutoffs but one that Rael never heeded. As usual, his hair was a spiky black mess, unbrushed cowlicks flying everywhere. With his beat-up sneakers completing the picture, Rael looked nowhere near ready to go out with Marina. But there was no time to straighten up, and besides, it was given that Marina would outshine him anyway. Rael only hoped that she hadn’t dressed formally for the occasion.
His blue eyes were permanently affixed to the door. There was no way he could miss Marina’s entrance. And yet when she did come in, Rael fell back into his old habits and mistook her for a man. In a similar jeans and T-shirt ensemble, it was entirely possible- at least until Marina was right in front of Rael. “Hello!”
Rael jerked, realizing he’d been caught unaware. “Hi, Marina-“ Quickly, he offered her the bouquet of wilting flowers, which she took and brought up to her nose.
“Mmm. These smell good. Thanks for the present, Rael!” Marina smiled.
“You’re welcome,” he mumbled. “Let’s go get a table.”
The young couple sat down and a waiter handed out menus. Rael’s preferred restaurant luckily offered alcoholic drinks, and to Rael’s satisfaction Marina went and ordered one herself. When Rael asked for soda, however, it created a brief moment of humiliation.
“Don’t you want anything stronger?” Marina questioned him.
“I don’t have my ID on me,” Rael mumbled.
“You don’t need an ID to order drinks,” Marina laughed. But almost immediately after that- “Wait. How old are you?”
“Eighteen,” Rael muttered, hoping that Marina would not hear him over the radio. However, her ears were sharp.
“You’re only eighteen?”
“Yeah, what’s it to you?” Rael snapped, his face flushing. Marina laughed. “If I hadn’t known better I’d say you were at least twenty-one! Eighteen. I’m sorry… kid.”
Rael winced at her light jesting and looked away. The night wasn’t off to a great start.
But after that mishap, things turned around. Rael and Marina fell into an easy conversation, learning about each other and, along the way, themselves. Rael did tell his share of lies- he never mentioned the warehouse, or his life on the streets, or the gang- but managed to beguile Marina all the same. He told her about his apartment, his job in an office, and mentioned that he was paying for everything tonight. Marina openly admired this, and in return described her life in Colombia to Rael. He listened intently, fascinated.
“So where are you from?” Marina eventually asked.
“Like I said- I’m from here.”
“No, not New York, silly,” Marina said. “I mean, what country are your parents from? Or one of them, anyway.”
“Uh, Puerto Rico,” Rael replied. It was one of the few truths he’d told all night.
“Puerto Rico,” Marina repeated. “Well. I can’t say I know the place well, but I have been there and it’s not too shabby.”
“Yeah, not too shabby…” echoed Rael.
He wasn’t in the mood to talk about himself. Marina had only had one drink tonight, and it didn’t seem to be bringing her any closer to intoxication. Rael knew from Erogenous Zones’ advice that without the aid of alcohol, things would go less smoothly at the apartment. In fact, he might not even convince Marina to go there unless she was too drunk to protest. Rael had to act. But how? His budget was low, and there was barely enough room for another drink.
Just as Rael was beginning to despair and considering just swiping some drinks, a deus ex machina appeared. It came in the form of a waiter, carrying an entire tray of cold beers. He set it down on a nearby table- Rael could almost feel its chill- and raised his voice, calling all diners to attention.
“Hello- everybody! Excuse me!” The music blaring over the speakers was abruptly turned down. Everyone, including Rael, glued their eyes to the waiter, wondering what the big deal was.
The waiter began again. “Just letting everyone know- we’re holding a contest and the winner gets this entire tray of drinks, free.”
Just my luck! Rael’s heart leapt.
“The contest will be at the arcade,” the waiter said, motioning with his hands. “The first person to beat three levels on a game will win. I encourage you all to join in.”
A few of the gamers, who were staked out in the arcade, realized that their habitat was being invaded and slunk away from the precious machines into the shadows to watch.
Rael stared at the hulking game machines. He hadn’t played one of them in a long time. But he was determined to win those beers for Marina. Some diners started to stand and walk over to the arcade, and Rael went with them, leaving his lover behind.
“Step right up…” the waiter was saying. Rael slipped unnoticed through the line of people and scanned the inward arcade warily, drumming his fingers on his jeans. Did it matter which game he played? He stood back for a moment and watched as the diners went to separate machines, and tried to decide as they played which game would be right for him.
None of the diners were particularly good at the games. Rael watched as many of them died during the first level. He made notes of their mistakes, trying to teach himself what to do for when his time came to play.
A soft hand landed on Rael’s shoulder. He whirled around, finding himself face to face with one of the gamers who had emerged from the shadows.
“Hey.” The tone was welcoming, friendly in a cool manner. The speaker was a boy about Rael’s age, maybe younger, with sunglasses pushing his hair back and a tanned face. “You’re going to play the games? You look like one of us.”
“I’m not,” Rael said. “I’ve hardly played before. I just want to win the prize for my date.”
The gamer sized him up. “You’ll probably do a lot better than those amateurs.” He nodded to the diners, who were still failing to win anything. “What’s your name?”
“Okay. Well, Rael, as soon as that machine’s free-“ he nodded to one in the far right- “you should go and play it. I’ll stand next to you behind it if you need any help. They won’t notice me at all.”
“Thank you,” Rael said, turning away from the gamer. In a short time the machine was free and the diner was walking disgruntled back to his table. Rael made his move.
“Anyone else?” the waiter was saying, looking around. Rael cleared his throat. “Um, there’s me.”
“Ah, good! Let’s see what you can do.” The waiter turned to look at Rael as he went over to his game of choice, and the gamer slipped into place next to the machine. Rael inserted a coin into the machine- one of the last on his budget- and with a whirring noise, the game started up. Rael selected his car- it was one of those racing games- and prepared to speed his way through level one.
The hidden gamer whispered tips to Rael, who employed them to the best of his ability. He was soon so enraptured by the game that he didn’t notice when people started to crowd, realizing that this skinny, quiet teenager was going to win the free beers. Rael blew past level one and moved to the second level, hands moving rapidly at the controls. He was so close- so close.
The surrounding crowd cheered when Rael neared the finish line, moving on to the third level. Rael didn’t hear them. His ears were tuned only to the whispers of the gamer at his side, controlling him with words. The diners held their breaths, waiting. Suddenly Rael’s car sped past the finish line at the end of Level Three. The diners burst into celebration.
“You’ve won!” the waiter cried, rushing towards Rael, who still stood uncertainly at the controls.
“You won,” whispered his friend the gamer. “Congratulations. I knew you could do it.”
Rael blinked, his vision slowly adjusting to the real world once more. “I… I did?”
Just then the waiter came running, excited. “Congratulations!” he cried out, clapping his hands down on Rael’s shoulders. “You win the drinks! What’s your name, boy?”
“Rael,” Rael murmured, staring about himself. His gaze latched onto the drinks greedily, and then onto Marina. His date had stood up when Rael won, cheering. Her brown eyes reflected happiness and joy. For Rael, that was all the prize he would need.
“And how old are you?” the waiter asked.
Rael stared up at him. “Eighteen,” he murmured in a daze.
The waiter’s face closed up.
“Well, Rael, it looks like you’re not old enough to win the prize.”
“No!” Rael cried. “I’m not old enough, but my date Marina is!”
“Oh?” The waiter took his hands from Rael’s shoulders and looked around the room. “Where is she?”
“Right there,” Rael said, pointing to his table. He beckoned Marina up. She came skipping to his side.
“Congrats, Rael! I didn’t know you were good at games.”
“Miss- Marina, was it?” the waiter addressed her. Marina stepped back from hugging Rael and stared at him. “Yes, that’s my name.”
“How old are you?” the waiter pressed her.
Marina continued to stare. “Twenty-one. What’s it to you?”
“Are you going to drink all this beer yourself?”
“What, you mean the prize? I’m not going to let Rael touch it, if that’s what you mean.”
“Let’s just get back to the table,” Rael spoke up. He was feeling uncomfortable with the waiter nearby. Marina tossed her head and strode forward to grasp the tray of beers. She saucily pranced back to the table, with Rael following.
“Bottoms up,” Marina said, lifting a mug in her hands. “Cheers. A toast- or whatever you want to say.”
Rael picked up his free-refilled-glass-of-soda and clinked it with Marina’s, a smile blooming on his face that Marina would fail to interpret correctly. The night was back on track again.
They exited the restaurant broke, drunk, and happy, with nothing but the clothes on their backs- Marina had, in her intoxicated stupor, left Rael’s flower bouquet behind. Rael himself was not drunk in the least, as Marina had kept to her word about not letting him touch the drinks. But little by little, he had persuaded her to drink every glass, which had led to fascinating results. Marina clutched Rael tightly to her and pressed her lips fervently to his, winding her fingers into his shaggy hair. Rael’s head spun. He wrapped his arms around her waist, never wanting to let her go. It was his first kiss.
They let go of each other and Rael whispered in Marina’s ear, “Want to go see my apartment?” She giggled and nodded quickly, sticking her finger in Rael’s own ear. He jumped and tugged on her hand. “Come on, let’s go!” They dashed through the New York streets together.
Henry’s apartment lay ahead, stretching its lit windows outward to any strays and vagrants. Rael opened the door and hauled Marina into the building, who moaned and collapsed about on his shoulder. “Come on, Marina, move it!” Rael shook her shoulder gently, hoping he had not gotten her so drunk that she could not move. But she hadn’t. She roused and soon was supporting herself on Rael’s body, moving with him as he got to the top of the building and fumbled for Henry’s keys.
“Won’t they find us?” Marina whispered, her lips very close to Rael’s ear. Rael stuck the key into the lock and steeled himself for Marina’s tongue in his ear. “Who’s ‘they’?”
“…they,” Marina mumbled, clasping Rael from behind. They pushed in through the door together. Rael disentangled Marina and flipped the lights on, illuminating Henry’s penthouse.
“No one will find us, Marina,” Rael said. “My brother’s out and everyone else is asleep.”
The place was spotless, with lush curtains and a large TV and glistening chrome in the kitchen area. The sofa was large enough to fit two people, but Rael wouldn’t settle for anything but the bed. His heart was racing with nervousness and excitement. Would he pass tonight’s test like he had done with himself last night? Would Marina be impressed? He stifled his fears by rushing back over to her and leading her towards the bedroom.
The lights were off and Rael found no reason to turn them on. He knew where the bed was- no one could miss it. It was the biggest piece of furniture Rael had ever seen in his life, and the mattress was soft and free of noisy springs. He closed the door behind himself and Marina, leading her through total darkness, and then they fell back along plush pillows and down comforters.
Once they had undressed among this opulence, Rael went into testing mode. His lips were busy with Marina’s, who lay still, her arms wrapped tight around Rael’s chest. Just lie there still, and I’ll get you turned on just fine, Rael thought, breaking their final barrier. Now they lay together as one being.
Rael frantically dredged up the teachings of Erogenous Zones… from the back of his mind. He knew where all the zones were located on his body, and he knew how to use Marina properly. To help himself remember, Rael began mentally counting out time.
There were the hotspots, 1-6… Rael had no problem unlocking those. Zone number 7 was a bit tricky… he had to remember all of his tricks… Marina gripped the hair at the back of Rael’s neck a bit painfully. Did she have a hair fetish or something? She seemed to really love touching his… ah! 7 was over and done with. Now on to 8, 9, 10… bam! Rael was flooded with the most beautiful pleasure, washing over his body. Heaven was in 11, for sure! His countings began to unravel, moving backwards in time. 3…2… It was rather like the way John had pinned Rael during wrestling, wasn’t it?...1! Rael rolled over, and Marina sprang up, suddenly lively. She switched on the light, revealing her naked self in all its glory. A goofy smile fell upon Rael’s lips.
But Marina wasn’t smiling. “If I had a drink I’d toss it at ya. You call that a roll in the hay?!” She was livid, nearly literally hopping mad, her lithe womanly frame shaking with anger.
“I call that a test, actually,” Rael said.
“A test! More like a pop quiz. That only took a minute!”
“78 seconds, actually,” said Rael. “I was counting. So it was more than a minute.”
“Well, it sure as hell wasn’t long enough!” Marina bent over and began to pick up her clothes.
“I thought it was too long, personally. I’m trying to cut it down to at least less than a minute…” Rael watched as Marina dressed, his heart starting to sink. “Hey, where are you going?”
She looked up at him, a glare on her face. “I can’t believe you. I’m not staying with you any longer tonight. I’m going out.”
“But- Marina!” Rael exclaimed as she rushed for the door. “I’ll do better if you give me the chance, I promise! I’m a red-blooded male, and the book said I couldn’t fail…”
“Book?” Marina arched her eyebrows. “What book?”
“Erogenous Zones and Difficulties in Overcoming Finding Them. It taught me everything about sex I know!”
Marina’s face was hard. “Goodbye, Rael. Don’t try to find me again.” She turned and ran, slamming the door behind her.
“No, wait! Marina!”
Only silence answered him. Marina had left the building.
“Yeah- well, you’re a bitch, too!” Rael yelled, and his voice echoed and bounced across the walls. He stood up, suddenly unable to stay in Henry’s apartment a moment longer. The bedsheets were a bit tangled, but Rael found no time to straighten them. He left the apartment, headed for home, unable to believe he had missed a spraypaint raid for this.
Upon returning to the warehouse, Rael, being a sore loser, decided to practice the book’s teachings one last time before he returned it and got his money back from the bookstore the next day. “Stupid woman,” he grunted to himself. “I never needed her. She doesn’t deserve to have me… mmmmmm.”
When it was over, Rael kicked Erogenous Zones… across the room and sank to his knees on the floor. That was when he heard what sounded like footsteps coming up the metal stairs. The wind whistled through the broken window.
“John?” Rael called out hopefully, but his hopes were wrong to be lifted. No one appeared in the door, not John with his bomber jacket and a spray can in his hand. Rael sighed and dropped to the floor, acknowledging that John was not going to come home when he was still awake. He curled up into a ball on the newspaper, resting his head on his bare, skinny arms, and was asleep within seconds.
Moments later, John appeared standing next to Rael, his hands stained with black and red paint. He watched Rael sleeping, uninterested, his arms folded across his chest, before taking off his jacket and lying down himself. John threw one arm around Rael and huddled into him for warmth, closing his eyes. Soon there was no sound but that of their hairless hearts beating in time, almost as if they were one.