[My second flash fiction piece, published by The Dillydoun Review.]
I looked once, then again after a pause, and like each time before, he was just then approaching down the sidewalk.
I spin my head back to my book as if hiding my shame from some unknown witness. Yes, I was ashamed to want him, to see him even, walking by our little stoop.
Not ashamed to see him I suppose, but to be seen looking. My eyes couldn’t possibly hide my heart.
His schedule had become irregular and tortuous, his timing twisting me into knots as I tried to time my reading to his arrival. I could never know, and often spent extra hours on the hard stone steps rising up to my family’s brownstone, trying to focus and not focus on whatever book I had that day.
It was strange to be so alone and feel so encumbered by those around me all at once, so public felt my presence.
Yet there I sat, day after day, well-worn pages of my paperback in hand, like a bumblebee waiting for the first sign of spring, as if that happened every day.
He was not entirely handsome, yet somehow appealed to my most entrenched desires. Not terribly tall, but tall enough. Not slender or slight, but built just so, somewhere between beautiful and frightening. Athletic to be sure, but a bit grotesque with his wrestler’s ears.
I didn’t mind that extra flesh aside his skull. It matched all the other thick and meaty parts and pieces I could see as he sauntered down the sidewalk towards me.
That’s how I imagined it, him walking to me, not by me. In my mind he saw me as I saw him. Not in the same way, as a thing of beauty and majesty to witness and behold. Not that, given my condition. No, as I saw him in the moment – I witnessed his movement and, in that experience, he witnessed my stillness.
One day he did see me.
His eyes were darker than I expected when they landed on mine for the first time. I meant to take note of this when it happened, not after, but he shattered my inner life with his smile.
He stopped, there on the walk, right at my feet, where I sat atop the rampart of my family fortress.
Perhaps I only imagined the rays of sunlight splashing around his shoulders, reflecting black sheen off his glossy cropped hair. If I did, it was a sweet dream of a moment. If I did not, then it was a glorious thing to know.
He looked up and smiled, his slight olive skin flowing effortlessly into his close-cropped cut, all that tussle left atop his head, like brambles along the edge of a freshly topped road.
Then he spoke, his voice flowing into me like the air I’d stopped breathing when he stopped walking.
“Hi,” he said, as if he planned it, “you’re Randy, Tommy’s little brother, right?”
I’d spent innumerable hours imagining our first conversation, playing out in my mind how it might happen, how I would impress and enthrall him with my genius, my erudite wit.
When the time came, all I could say was “Yeah, he’s my brother. He’s a jerk.”
I cringed at my utter failure, knew all my dreams had just been ruined, felt my soul caving into nothing, blood rushed to my face and I was about to bolt into the refuge of our castle and was stopped cold when he said, “Yep, that’s Tommy alright,” a smile filled with knowing writ large across his face.
“So,” he went on, “watch ya doin’?”
I held up my book, Moby Dick, for him to see, incapable of speech.
“Oh, yeah, guess I shoulda known, book in ya hand an all,” and now he was blushing.
In that moment, everything changed, a little. The universe shifted to one direction just a fraction of an inch and I knew he was just like me. Nervous and hopeful and wanting, all alone.
“Where ya goin’,” I asked, as if I didn’t know.
“I’m goin’ for a swim, down at L Street, wanna come with?”
“What,” I say to give my heart a chance to slow, “you got a membership down there?”
“Well yeah, my pops does, I wouldn’t be goin if I didn’t,” he tells me and I feel my face burn again.
“Cm’on,” he says, “I get to bring a pal anytime, whatdya say?”
Faced with the realization of a dream come true, I’m frozen into inaction born of one simple truth.
“I don’t have no suit,” I say, and it’s the truth.
“You don’t need one down L Street, it’s all fellas, everybody goes skinny,” he says with a smile that could win lotteries.
I set free my desire so it could crush my fear and say, projecting a casual air with as much success as someone caught stealing, “Okay, sure.”
“Let’s go then buddy, the free sodas ain’t gonna last long so we gotta get a move on.”
He sweeps one arm out southward toward the water and I stand, leaving my book to flutter its lost pages in the breeze on the stoop. I step down and rejoice when I find we’re almost the same height, me just a tad shorter.
He throws his arm across my shoulders bringing heaven down upon me and we walk south together as he tells me all about the L Street Swimming club and how we’ll have so much fun and the sodas are free and I am already there before we reach the next block.
It’s early summer, and my life has just begun.