Authors: Jude Sierra
Copyright © Jude Sierra, 2015
All Rights Reserved
ISBN 13: 978-1-941530-27-6 (trade)
ISBN 13: 978-1-941530-31-3 (ebook)
Published by Consent, an imprint of
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, and places are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to real persons, either living or dead, is
All trademarks and registered trademarks are the property of their
by Lex Huffman
by Buckeyegrrl Designs
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Cimms—if I’d never read the first of your beautiful stories, I wouldn’t have known I had this in me.
Cameron Vargas’s introduction
from its first days into weeks, turns out to be a blur. Later he’ll think back to that time and wonder at how he managed to create the canvas of such a pivotal time in his life as a sort of watercolor, pastels that blurred into one another with few distinct shapes or forms.
There was a canvas: complete, yes, and from a distance a scene portrayed. But the finer points were lost, a fact he wouldn’t realize until later. Until
Cam would like, in part, to say the difference is simple, that there was a distinct before and after. That his life before was simply
In chaos, in months of searching to find the ground, he’d say this: that Wren had come into his life like a freak storm, unexpected and swamping, leaving him capsized and floundering.
It’s a great joke really, on himself, to realize that he has valued boundaries so much in his life—knowing and placing and naming—only to look back and comprehend that a life of such care and precision served only to blur one moment into another, and to so easily erase himself.
It’s the second hour of
on the third day of his second semester when he sees Wren Allister for the first time. The class is absolutely packed, only a few chairs of the two hundred-person capacity lecture hall left unfilled.
There’s nothing here to look forward to.
Stats are not his thing; he’s here to fill a requirement quickly and move past something he’ll hate. He’s never been one for close crowds. He’d say he dislikes large crowds, but that’s untested. And silly, really, considering that he’s moved here, to Chicago, from a town smaller than any of the suburbs surrounding Carlina University.
A heat rises from so many young, bored bodies, a humidity shared by many lungs. The constant rustle and squeak of restless bodies confined to sit quietly for a two-hour period surrounds him. He’d tried to snag an aisle seat, but come just a little too late and is now sitting somewhere in the middle of a long bank of seats that curves around the podium and projector in the amphitheater classroom. The fold-out desk is roughly the size of his notebook, which is really irritating; as is trying to fit his entire six feet into this space without infringing on someone else’s. At the end of a row, he’d at least be able to stretch his legs into the aisle.
Cam has only been awake for two hours, and it seems as though the rest of the day will go on forever, as if stats alone have the power to stretch time like taffy.
The professor is late—by four minutes, according to the clock on the wall—and Cam feels too hemmed in to do more than look around. The girl on his left leans toward him, which makes him feel self-conscious about getting on his phone. He can only see the few rows in front of him on his side of the room, just the backs of heads really; but he can see more to his right: faces and expressions and clothes. Looking at them makes for an interesting few minutes. He observes that patterned shirts seem to be the norm for guys his age. Nothing stands out to him.
That is, until he sees
He’s seated two rows below Cam, close to the middle aisle. His dark hair contrasts with his pale, glowing skin. He’s wearing a brown knit sweater; its collar droops to the side, exposing part of his shoulder and collarbone. There is also a hole in one sleeve. Cam can’t tell if this is by design or from wear.
Cam has no idea why this boy has drawn his eye. He’s looking away, and Cam can only see his face in quarter profile. One of his legs is crossed over the other and he jiggles a foot impatiently; the half-undone laces of his Chucks twitch. He’s looking at his phone, scrolling over something with his thumb.
Suddenly, the boy seems to stiffen; he sits up a bit and looks up and around. Then he turns abruptly and looks Cam right in the eyes just as their professor bangs in through the double door, shuffling papers and apologizing.
The look is fleeting; just a moment and it is gone, as the focus of the room shifts toward the front. It’s nothing.
Only it’s not.
Two hours later Cam is still sitting in class, watching the other students stream out the doors and feeling his body vibrate from something so intense he doesn’t even have the words to comprehend it.
It’s not that
Wren’s never connected with someone, just that he can’t remember ever doing so when he wasn’t open to it, or searching and testing the waters. Closed, sleepy and bored, he’d felt the moment that boy had seen him: a new warmth had rolled through him, and when he’d turned around, the boy’s eyes on Wren had felt like wildfire.
On his long walk home, Wren takes a breath and looks up at the great big sky, watery blue and gray with scattered stratocumulus clouds. Nora would laugh, knowing he now names the clouds. Over a year of living with her and he can name weather patterns in his sleep.
He flips his keys at the door of the apartment building and tries to focus on the warm metal in his hands, the slight dig of a key’s ridge on his thumb, the faint metallic smell that lingers. He can’t manage to ground himself with details—instead he feels exposed, as if that boy touched something deeply personal with just one look.
Wren will see him again, and he’ll have to be more careful with himself, stay watchful until he understands what that boy wants or needs. It’s a large enough class that he can easily avoid direct contact until he has a better grip on the situation. In the meantime, Wren tries to ignore how it felt to look into the eyes of a boy so handsome it makes him ache.
“Hello? Wren? You in there
somewhere?” Nora taps his forehead with her fork.
“Oh god, gross!” Wren wipes at his skin with a napkin. “Nora Chelsie Engle, what the hell?”
“I’ve been talking to you for five minutes and you’re just staring into space. What’s going on?”
Wren shifts a little. “Nothing.”
“You’re bouncing your leg like crazy, Wren,” she points out, and he tries to still it. “I know your tells.”
“It’s…” He looks at her carefully. Nora does know him, and he knows she’s safe. But— “I’m working it out,” he says after a moment. “I promise I’ll talk to you if I need to.”
She looks down at her plate of cacciatore. “All right.”
Wren bumps her foot with his under the table in a gentle acknowledgment of thanks and affection. “So, tell me about your day again, and this time I promise to listen.”
Cam gets home from school
early on Wednesdays—before his roommate Nate does, before dinner, with just enough time to go for a run and shower. Mostly, Cam is an evening runner; he enjoys the lingering ebb of day as night bleeds into the sky, the night air in summer and the crisp dark that presses in on him in the winter. In warmer months, the transition of late summer sky into night makes him feel expansive, connected, as if his body is melting into his surroundings. When December leeches the heat from everything, when night comes for the day sooner, the sky feels farther away. Winter is when he feels the smallest, the great big sky impossible above him, he himself shrinking against such a vast backdrop.
Cam may live here, but this isn’t home. It’s taken him months to figure out how to adjust to changes in schedule, how to fit all the things he likes into his day when his days are so different. He can’t say that he has adjusted without resentment. He runs when he can, now. It’s easier to run in the daytime or morning here, when it is quieter. He is still learning how to live surrounded by so many people and buildings.
A new semester and different classes have forced him to adjust again. Maybe he’s growing a bit too, because while repeatedly having to figure out how to manage his time has been a pain in the ass, now at least he grasps the scope of the change to come before it happens. He explores a little more these days, takes trips into the city and soaks in the buildings, tall enough to take his breath away, and the bodies, so many bodies filling every space around him.
And he runs. He runs because his body asks for it, because running gives him what nothing else in his life has offered: an indescribable feeling he chases as fast and as far as his legs will take him.
* * *
Friday Wren comes prepared,
it’s still not enough: his whole body alerts him when the boy swings through the classroom door. Inside—where he usually keeps his gifts held tight—he wants to unfurl, wants to know how the boy would look with all of Wren’s focus on his pleasure. This urge strains against his insides, seeking the soaring rush that comes from making someone submit to what he can give.
The boy sits opposite him in the class, but Wren can tell he’s hardly paying attention. Instead his eyes are seeking, scanning the crowd until they meet with Wren’s.
Wren sucks in a breath, stills his bouncing leg. A seeking feeling pierces him. The boy must know; there’s no way they could connect so easily otherwise. Wren returns the look with cautious intent, gives the energy a tiny boost and can tell the moment the boy absorbs it; Wren senses the reciprocal heat of longing. He smiles smugly. It’s been a long time since he’s played this game, a long time since he’s found someone who understands the rules and wants to play.
He lowers his eyes coquettishly, picks up his pen and runs his fingers over it. More open now, he can feel this boy’s desire even without eye contact. Anticipation is much better than confusion, delicious and heady and so, so welcome.
Wren lightly kicks shut
door to his apartment, shopping bag swinging from his arm.
“Hello!” he calls for Nora. He flings the bag on the table and calls out again. “Are you home?”
“Yes, yes, stop yelling,” she says, coming from her room, pulling her sweater close around her body. Her long hair is in a loose and messy knot; her naturally blonde hair is darker now as the sun-kissed highlights of summer fade. “What is your deal?”
“I’m in a good mood,” he says lightly. “I bought some new clothes and I thought we’d make something awful but delicious for dinner and maybe go out tonight.”
“Wren.” She gives him a smiling, indulgent look.
“Stop,” Wren says with a laugh. “Do not read me right now, I’m just in a good mood.” He’s in a fantastic mood, which is a lovely change of pace. He’s been bored and itching for something interesting for months.
“You found someone to play with, didn’t you?” Now she looks a little condescending, or judgmental; it’s hard to tell. Nora has no problem preventing him from reading her; it’s not his primary gift, and he’s not worked exceptionally hard at developing it. Mostly, the skill has come into its own as he’s grown older. Reading peoples’ feelings and moods has always seemed potentially intrusive; at least he can consciously choose to compel someone or not, and his sense of respect for others’ boundaries and wills has always kept him from violating them.
“Don’t read me,” he repeats. It’s a little annoying that she can see things he doesn’t mean to emote. Her intuition works differently than his—she can see in his aura a lot of what he’s feeling because she’s not as good at controlling gifts as he is. Nora struggles a lot more, too, with closing off her perception of people she’s intimately connected to. Early in their friendship, and then later, when they became roommates, he’d sat her down for a few conversations about it.
“I know you are struggling to control it,” Wren had said, as he slid a cup of coffee across the table to her. “But can we figure out a way for you to respect my privacy, or
that won’t feel so much like I don’t have any?”
“Should I just not say anything to you?” Nora had suggested.
Fiddling with the lid of his coffee, Wren had thought about it. He shrugged one shoulder. “I guess that will work, for now.”
Later, when they became closer and began talking about living together, it was more apparent that even when she didn’t broadcast his feelings to other people in small jokes or observations, she still read them and based her behavior and advice on them. There was little she could do about it.
“Listen,” he’d said, “I need to you try
to change your behavior based on what you see. And I am going to ask you to please consider finding a mentor, because this can’t go on.”
“Wren,” she’d replied, “I don’t think I can. It’s just how I work. You
this, it’s how I function.”
“It doesn’t have to be that way. I know it’s challenging finding people to help, and I know it
like you can’t change these things. But I really feel like you need to at least try. It’s not just the reading. You know things even before I do, and then you change the way you say things and act patronizing. It’s annoying, and I feel like I can never have anything for myself.”
“I’m sorry.” He knew she was sincere.
“And often,” he continued, on a roll, “you assume you know what the reason behind what I’m feeling is, and you
Nora swallowed and looked away, twisting a lock of hair in her fingers over and over, the way she often did when she was thinking. “Okay. That’s valid. I guess I didn’t realize that I alter my behavior that drastically based on what I’m reading.”
“Listen,” Wren said, laying his hands flat on the flea market table. Its cracked linoleum top was a hideous shade of pea green Nora had inexplicably fallen in love with. “If you see something that you are concerned about and you feel like it needs to be immediately addressed, ask me if I want to talk and let me know what you see. If not, you have to wait for me to come to you, like any normal person would.”
“Wren, that’s not entirely fair,” Nora said. “Even if I weren’t gifted, I’d be able to see you’re in a bad mood based on your posture or face, and friends do shit like ask how your day was. Or, like, hey are you okay?”
Wren wrinkled his nose; she was right, but the whole thing annoyed him. “Yeah, that’s probably true. But it doesn’t have to be for us because
different. I think the rules have to be different.”