by Richie

For Timothy Stillman, who listened when nobody else could hear me.

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Ramblin, where to begin

Just after ten thirty PM, in a gentrified suburb of Boston, Massachusetts, in a one-story pre-war whose lights have just clicked off for the night, a twelve year old boy reaches deep under his bed and retrieves what he thinks of, privately, in his mind, as his Secrets Box.

It's a little tin, about the size of a shoebox, with a combination lock built into the latch. It has stickers plastered all over it: the Radiohead bear, Element, Vans, Waterloo Records, his name in variously sized and colored letters: C O d Y.

Cody is the only one who knows the combination: 13-27-9.

Inside there are secret and private things: an old cassette tape that doesn't work, a story about a puppy that he wrote in third grade ("A++," swirls the green ink at the top, "great job!"), a two-dollar bill, one dusty Marlboro Red, the last photograph of his dad. Beyond that: a piece of paper with dirty words scribbled all over it, several self-taken polaroids of his most private places, a pair of underwear stolen from Riley's dirty clothes hamper.

Cody, more and more these days, finds himself overwhelmed by a prepubescent curiosity about the hidden world that lives just beneath the surface of everything he sees. In the shower or under the covers, he finds himself fascinated by his own body, as if he had never really noticed it before: all elbows and knees and ankles and hands and hips, shaggy golden blond hair that is all tousled and shining and sunny, big bright green eyes, soft and slight nose, narrow chest with brown nipples and rippling ribs and jutting collarbone and soft underarms that are impossible to conceal, hands decorated by nicks and cuts, dark crescents under fingernails chewed to almost nothing, bruised shins that tell stories about learning how to ride a skateboard, small feet and toes so eager to feel the grass and the dirt and the sand of a hot summer day.

He catches his reflection in the floor mirror in his room and, for an instant, out of the corner of his eye, he perceives this image as a boy, and all at once his senses say look at that boy, he looks so nice and you should go and hug him and lay down with him because he cares, look in his eyes, you can see it, you just want to touch his skin and cuddle with him—but it's not another boy, he realizes with amazement as his eyes meet the eyes in the mirror, it's me, and this is my body, and then he realizes (though maybe not in these words) I am a human being and I am a boy and all that I am is not my name.

So anxious to experience that ephemeral ecstasy for the fourth time in one day, he pulls and pulls on his penis, pale in comparison with the deep tan over the rest of him: still three inches, the ruler insists so infuriatingly, but does it maybe feel like it's a little thicker than it used to be? Could that be some peach fuzz at its base? He squirms with keen interest on those humid summer nights when his scrotum hangs loose even though his balls—small, almost inconsequential—are still flush with his body, and he rolls the light velvety skin around between his fingers thinking man it's so soft and my balls will probably start hanging real soon.

In the locker room after PE or at the pool, or playing football in the park or Xbox 360 in messy bedrooms, his mind narrows to an intense interest in his friends' bodies. He desperately wants to know more about colorless fuzz gracing narrow shins, underwear peeking out of black nylon shorts, wet bathing suits clinging to little bulges, small stains on bedsheets, sweat that smells a little different than it did last summer.

With the memories of his senses playing these things back to him like a fuzzy filmstrip, his fingers fly up and down his favorite toy and he wonders: do they get hard and jerk off? How big are their dicks, their balls? Do they have any pubic hair? Can they cum yet, or do they just wish furiously like he does? And then of course come the dreaded questions that fill him with anxiety: are they curious about this stuff too, or is he just a pervert? Are they into girls already? Or do they even think about stuff like this?

Enter Riley, stage everywhere. Riley with reddish-brown hair sticking up in all directions and bright eyes that capture and embody the very living sky, Riley whose voice sounds like springtime, Riley who smells like the sun. Cody's best friend, who sits next to him to gaze out the window and share the invisible world they want to see so badly. In this life like weeds, everything between them is as one, every hope and fear and anxiety and trivial preteen secret of one boy belongs to the other. They steal cigarettes from Riley's older sister's room and puff on them but don't realize or care that they're supposed to inhale the smoke. They squeeze into the best hiding spots in the dark laser tag arena and whisper giggles and secretly enjoy the feeling of being so close under blacklights and pounding dance music. Late on Friday nights they strip to their underwear and disappear under the covers of Riley's double bed, and they they talk about how girls from school have crushes on them, but how honestly the thought of going out with a girl kind of freaks them out, and then they feel relieved that they're not alone in that respect, and they whisper about getting boners and vacation plans and how they want to start wearing boxers and what do you think middle school will be like?

It means a great deal to Cody to be able to talk to Riley about things like that—things that, as boys, they are supposed to be tough and aloof about, but whose complex causes and effects really just gnaw away at them every time they crawl in bed and swim in their own thoughts. And, in some subconscious way that Cody can't quite put in words, the fact that they always have these discussions in their underwear, next to naked, reinforces their absolute submission and trust in each other. He wonders if maybe there's something more between them, like maybe they are twins who were separated at birth (even though their birthdays are three months apart), or they knew each other in a past life (even though they were both raised Protestant). The way he dresses, the way he moves, the way he smells, the sound of his voice, his little half-sideways mischievous grin, his laugh, the mess of his bedroom, every infinitesimal bit of minutia that contributes to the definition of Riley elicits from Cody new, exciting, unfamiliar feelings. Desire. Envy. Longing. Infatuation.

Cody has no older brother to teach him about himself, to tell him don't try to make sense of it all, it's impossible, just take it for what it is, enjoy it while you can, TRUST ME. He is an only child. The boy clearly takes after his father, whom he knows only through photographs and home movies.

After immigrating from Sweden in 1991, Isak Jaeger tirelessly scratched and fought his way up the New York social ladder, married a Texan art student named Deidre Chapman, and finally landed his dream job at the United Nations. Then, during the Bosnian War, he was chosen to administer the command force that was to take over the Srebrenica safe area from the weakening Dutch Battalion.

On the seventh day of February, 1995, Isak Jaeger telephoned his wife from an airbase in Italy, and she revealed that their child would be a boy. He was ecstatic, and immediately suggested the name Cody—his favorite boys' name, he said. He told her how much he loved her, and promised to return as soon as possible.

Four hours later, his plane was shot down on the Adriatic coast by a Croatian Serb militia group. There were no survivors.

Three months and six days later, Cody Jaeger was born in Mount Sinai Hospital. And when Deidre brought her newborn son home to her Greenwich Village apartment for the first time, she nursed him and cared for him and changed his diapers, and every time she cradled him while she watched the news she could not stop her tears. The story came in bits and pieces, over several days, weeks maybe—she couldn't quite remember, it was all an emotional blur—the bottom line was eight thousand dead. Old men down through little boys. Eight thousand—she tried so many times to fathom the number, but found herself unable. Eight thousand men and boys murdered by the Republika Srpska. Eight thousand lives that her one true love had died trying to save.

Isak left behind a modest amount of money. That, combined with the profits from selling the family's apartment, was enough for Deidre to start a new life in Boston and put some away to send Cody to college, and not much more. She bought a small house in a quiet but depressed area of town.

When Cody was three, his mother hit a bout of depression, which she attempted to soothe by enrolling in evening classes at Bunker Hill Community College. She decided that was what she truly needed, and she worked harder than she ever thought possible to support her son and her schooling. It was worth it: in 2002, she received her bachelor's in interior design from the Art Institute, and she and a friend started their own firm. Over the next two years they eventually became a hot commodity, and the timing was perfect: the Jaegers' neighborhood was gentrifying into an affluent area, and Deidre's salary climbed fast enough that she was able to keep her house.

Things are on the up. Deidre can finally afford to send Cody to a decent private school, and to renovate their house. Their neighborhood is now one of the most fashionable in Boston, and Cody is finally getting the quality of education he deserves. And for the first time in almost five years, Deidre Jaeger has a date.

Around three o'clock, the expected message is left on the answering machine: "This message is to inform you that your child was absent from one or more classes today. If you are—" Cody gleefully deletes it with a beep. And the doorbell rings, Cody lets Riley in, and they sit on the big soft leather couch, basking in the warm sun through the big front window, and they share their monumental ephemera.

+    +    +


I taste the summer on your peppery skin

And in the next instant, it seems, they are pressing against each other, not so much watching the TV as staring through it, all of their senses' undivided attention focused on absorbing every aspect of the moment: Riley's socked foot rubbing against Cody's bare foot, their fingers laced, thumbs dancing a tango that is excited and anxious and nervous about the next unpredictable moment.

Cody couldn't even explain how it happened. His heart is pounding, his head spinning, his fingers tingling, his armpits damp. His stomach must be halfway up his ribcage, his breathing is shallow and silent, and he is too anxious and excited to notice that Riley is just as nervous as he is. He swallows, and it sounds like a bowling ball being dropped in a bathtub, and both boys offer whispered giggles, their eyes connecting for the briefest of moments.

He feels like he is conducting an electric current with Riley: Positive and negative, X and Y. And he wants to scream when Riley stands up—God, he looks so perfect in his black shorts and white t-shirt—and offers Cody a little grin, saying I'm going to get a drink and do you want anything?

"No, thanks." As Riley disappears into the kitchen, Cody has some kind of a reaction—some kind of spasm—and his shirt peels from his back with a rush of cool air. It is the greatest day of his life.

Riley comes back with a little round bottle of Orangina, and he takes one swig and leaves it to be forgotten on the end table as they resume the exact position they just left, and Cody thinks that nothing ever felt so perfect, so absolutely right.

His arm twitches, and as it brushes against Riley's it is electric.

Riley swallows a lot of courage when he says: "Man, you're... really warm. Girls..."—he pauses for a long time, weighing the gravity of what he is saying—"Girls aren't warm like you."

Cody feels like he's melting. He's overcome by something, possessed, and, without a thought in his head, a puppet of his own instinct, he twists his head and kisses Riley's neck, up near the jaw, just below his ear.

Riley goes rigid, he stops moving immediately. His hands tremble slightly. He takes a deep breath, then stands up—to Cody, he is savagely torn away.

"I—" Cody stammers an apology in a high voice, his tone peaking at: "God, Riley, I'm so sorry, please—"

"It's not you," Riley says, one hand in his hair. "I..."

"I'm sorry," Cody repeats, very near tears.

"You didn't do anything wrong," Riley says, unable to hide his discomfort as he feels hot semen running down the inside of his left thigh. "I just—I need a minute."

He goes to the front door, grabs his backpack, and slips into the half-bath. He yanks down his shorts, extracts the messed boxers, and shoves them in the front pocket of his backpack.

How did it happen? He didn't even touch it. It was hard—hard as a piece of friggin rebar—but he didn't even touch it. Just the same instant that Cody's lips touched his neck, without any sort of buildup or warning, he ejaculated. More importantly than how, why did it happen? It was just a kiss, nothing more—everything was absolutely perfect, and then—that kiss—God, it was amazing, wonderful, sweet and sexy and sensuous and everything he'd ever hoped to feel, then he just—

Eight million questions race through Riley's mind. What should he do now? What can he do?

In the living room, Cody is shaking like a leaf. His stomach wrenches, cold and cruel. He fucked up. He fucked up big time, it was the biggest fuckup he could have possibly fucked up.

Riley emerges slowly from the bathroom. He says quietly: "I think I should go."

"Riley, no—"

But he is already out the door. He stands on the step for a second. Even through the door, he can hear Cody's hysterical sobs. Riley feels a lump in his throat and a burning blur in his eyes as he starts to amble, uncoordinated, down the front walk, down the street, not home but just—God, somewhere he can think for a while.

Cody can't breathe through his tears. That's it: it's all over. Not only did he just destroy his friendship with Riley, he threw his entire life away for a kiss. He will forever be the faggot, the pervert, the worthless little piece of shit faggot queerboy who falls for his best friend, he wants to die, he just wants to go to Mr. Connolly's house next door and get that big shiny revolver he has on the mantle, then go back to his bedroom and put Eliot Smith on repeat and just blow his fucking brains out, paint the olive green wall crimson with blood and bits of brain and bone, and then his mom will find him when she gets back from her date, and she won't even wonder because by then surely even she will know that her son, her only child, is just a worthless faggot piece of shit cocksucker, and...

...and that will be it. It will all be over, the noisy punchline to the convoluted joke that is his life. All over a stupid STUPID kiss.

He feels sick. Horrible, overwhelming, dizzy nausea. He feels churning heat in the pit of his stomach, and he stumbles and lurches for the bathroom, and then—

—Riley doesn't even knock, he just throws open the door and leaps inside, and Cody is right there, eyes red, cheeks glistening, mouth agape, and Riley wraps his arms around his best friend's neck and kisses him hard, hard, on the lips, hard, Cody doesn't even react except to let one arm slip slowly around Riley's neck, and finally he returns the kiss, and just like that it's over.

Cody struggles to find words.

"Don't," Riley says, his voice shaky. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry, I should never..."

He sees something in Cody's eyes just now, underneath the tears and the redness, that he has never seen before, in Cody's eyes or anyone's. But somehow—somehow, deep down—he knows what it is. Cody leaps on him in a bear hug that constricts his airflow, and he kisses his sweat-slick neck over and over—up, up, up his jawline and chin—then his lips, twice, three, four, five times.

On that particular Saturday morning, Deidre and Cody both have a noticeable spring in their step. "How was your date?" he asks his mom.

"It was really nice. He took me to this place on Tremont I've never been to, then we took a walk in the public garden and the Common for like two hours."

"That's cool. Is he nice?"

"Yeah, he's really... I don't know, there's just something about him." She smiles a warm fuzzy smile, and Cody smiles too, because he knows exactly how she feels. "How 'bout you, what'd you and Riley do?"

"Just hung out," Cody says, smile still high on his face.

They sit on the big leather couch and Deidre drinks coffee and Cody drinks Coke and milk, and they both hum and bounce, suddenly so full of energy and life that they might be the same age.

Cody watches the TV and imagines that he can still feel Riley's warmth infused in the leather, it somehow feels alive, and he imagines how wonderful it will feel to fall asleep in Riley's arms. Deidre watches the TV and imagines how wonderful it will feel to wake up next to someone, warm and happy, and she will cook for three and he will take Cody fishing in Cape Cod and camping in New Hampshire, and they will sit on the back patio late into the evening, and the two of them will share Guiness and a few Dunhills, and Cody will have that green apple soda, and to the orchestra of birds settling into the trees for the night and the bugs of the evening awakening, they will just sit and share their lives, laughing and living and loving, and they will be a family.

+    +    +


Waylay the din of the day

They meet him for lunch: sushi. He arrives in an olive green Infiniti. His name is Liam, and he is tall and narrow-framed, neatly groomed and immaculately dressed, gelled brown hair with the faintest hint of grey, a neatly-trimmed goatee, black-rimmed glasses, a soft English accent.

Cody likes Liam right away. He stuffs a California roll into his mouth and Liam asks him what kind of music he likes. "Oh, a lot of stuff," Cody says, and swallows. "The Shins and Radiohead and Björk and Sonic Youth. But I like a lotta older stuff too—The Beatles, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Tom Petty... that sort of thing."

Liam smiles.

"How old are you?"

"Cody!" Deidre hisses.

Liam just laughs. "Thirty-six." Cody doesn't think he looks that old. "So, have you got a girlfriend?"

"No," Cody grins.

"Yes you do. Look at you, you're blushing."

"I don't," he laughs, "I swear."

"Right, sure," Liam smiles. "Whatever you say."

A funny word not so much drifts as barges into the front of Cody's mind, crossing its arms defiantly: boyfriend. He suddenly becomes very quiet, and he chews thoughtfully on his sushi, tuning out the adults' conversation.

Late that night, warm and safe in Riley's bed, their customary secretive Friday night conversation breaks early so that they can explore the physically simple but emotionally complex pleasures of cuddling and kissing—at first tentatively, then tenderly, then passionately. They explore each other's necks and chests and backs and arms with fumbling slender fingers, and they experiment with their tongues. And when their lips grow tired, they just lie still and touch each other, humming with the wonderful feeling of just lying so close, so close that each can feel the other's breath caressing his chest. It is a strange and beautiful thing to behold: Riley so close, Riley so caring, Riley so soft and warm as he slowly drifts to sleep even as his knowing hands play over Cody's tantalized skin—some more, please, just a little while longer...

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The summer arrives with a length of lights

One month later: the first day of summer vacation. As he steps off the bus for the last time, Cody feels his chains dry up and wither to the consistency of dead leaves, and accordingly disintegrate and blow away. No longer is he a clueless, childish little sixth grader: in the fall he will be a casual, blasé, effortlessly cool seventh grader.

He can hardly sit still in the back seat of Liam's Infiniti as they enter Riley's neighborhood: all huge, sprawling houses, hidden by hedges and shaded by thick tall pines.

Mr. Carraway answers the door, shirtless and holding a laptop like a serving tray. "H'lo," he says, shaking Liam's hand and accepting a sideways hug from Deidre. "Party's in the pool."

He leads them through the huge house and into the sprawling, wooded backyard: Riley does a backflip off the diving board, and his nine-year-old brother Hayden hollers to show how impressed he is.

Cody has come prepared: he shucks off his sleeveless t-shirt and cannonballs in before Riley even sees him, and when he comes up Riley sends a savage wave into his face, choking his attempt at a breath. Cody spits out chlorine water and tries his best to push Riley's head under, and all the while Hayden giggles like a mental patient.

Riley struggles and finally surfaces, and they grin at each other. The boys laugh and splash wildly and the adults push slices of lime down the necks of their Coronas.

Cody asks Riley: "Where's your sister?"

"Graduation retreat with her youth group," he says with a smirk—that's what eighteen-year-old Heather instructed him to say—then he mouths rave.

Cody has long imagined what it would be like to have a big family like Riley's. He has always wished and wished that he could have a little brother to play with and tease and trade secrets with while watching movies late into the night. Riley is as close to a brother as he knows he'll ever have, and at that moment he absolutely can't wait until they are alone and—he fights to change his train of thought before he becomes visibly aroused: pre-algebra, the Red Sox, what does tree bark taste like, la grenouille mange le pamplemousse.

The boys splash and dive and race and smack each other with Funnoodles for hours, periodically emerging from the pool to wolf down Philly cheese steak or guzzle Mountain Dew or try to coax Liam into the pool. And then, so quietly and slowly and inoffensively that nobody even notices it happening, the sun slips under the horizon and the air begins to cool and everything smells unmistakably like summer.

"Cody," Deidre calls after what is either ten minutes or ten hours: "come on now."

Cody and Riley both protest loudly. "Da-aad," Riley moans, "can't Cody stay over? C'mon, it's the first day of summer, pleeeaase!"

"Doesn't matter to me," Mr. Carraway says. "Objections?"

"I... well, no," Deidre says, then leans in: "actually, it'd be nice for us to have an evening alone for once."

Mr. Carraway smiles. "You kids enjoy yourselves. Just gimme a call tomorrow and I'll drop him off."

The boys cheer and triumphantly dunk each other as Liam and Deidre leave, and after a while Hayden retreats inside and Riley's parents follow, admonishing the older boys not to do anything stupid like drown.

Cody and Riley slip into the hot tub. The jets massage their tired muscles and turn the surface of the water frothy and turbulent, and Cody watches as the spillover splashes down the tile waterfall into the pool, and they just enjoy the sounds of summer: the bugs buzzing, the low rumble of a distant train, a lonesome bird offering one last song for anyone who might want to listen.

In the midst of an argument over who would win in a fight between Marv from Sin City and the chick from Kill Bill, Riley says abruptly: "This is so great."

Cody stops. "Yeah," he says after a while.

Somewhere in the distance, the wailing ghost of a siren.

Riley leans back, stretching his arms out across the edge of the hot tub, and his legs begin to rub sensually against Cody's. He says: "You know those old movies where people are always saying stuff like 'if it feels good, do it?'"

Cody nods slowly.

"Well... this feels good."

It does feel good. It is the best feeling in the world, he is alone in the hot tub with the boy he needs desperately, their legs are rubbing together, and they could just stay like that all night and not say anything, he wouldn't care, the feeling of skin on skin is indescribable, and that's all the communication he needs.

Still: the urge to masturbate is overwhelming.

Riley lies nearly motionless, head tilted back, and Cody wonders momentarily if he is asleep—until the light in his parents' bedroom clicks off and the blinds draw shut. He stirs and comes back to life: he has the unmistakable glint in his eyes that says he is about to do something crazy.

He glides across the surface of the water and comes to rest sitting on Cody's thighs. Their arms go around each other's necks, and there's a deep breath from one and grins from both the instant before lips connect.

Cody feels a rush of adrenaline coursing through him, knowing that they are out there, in plain view, totally exposed, and he doesn't care who might see or who they might tell. Riley's tongue slips into his mouth as the world grows still and silent, like a dream.

They have to wait until their cocks deflate before they get out of the hot tub. They slip inside the house and silently creep up the stairs: Riley's dad's snores echo softly up after them.

They lie down on the bed, the greatest secrets of all hidden under the vibrantly colored beach towels wrapped around their waists. Riley rolls onto his side and rests his hand on Cody's bare stomach.

He says: "I wanna be naked."

Under the covers, with the lights off, everything is black as pitch. Cody wants to see so badly, but somehow the thought of what he might see makes him nervous.

All secrets are laid bare. Cody's penis throbs even as Riley's hand wraps around it. He can feel Riley's own cock—an antenna—nestled between his bare butt cheeks. He can hear his heart pounding in his ears and he can feel it in his throat and he thinks: this is it. Tonight is the night, and it's already started. There's no going back now.

Riley's arm is across Cody's chest, and the boy's damp hair tickles his nose. He breathes deep and kisses the back of his neck, and the skin feels so warm and alive. Everything smells like chlorine.

He takes his own cock in his hand, heavy and stubborn as concrete, and he aims it down. He positions it between Cody's thighs, and he pushes.

His head nudges Cody's taut scrotum, massaging it from behind. Cody squeaks and Riley fucks between his thighs. He whispers a moan and kisses Cody's shoulder and his hand slides down his chest, the boy's stomach flutters when Riley passes over the swirl of his bellybutton, and Cody squeaks again as Riley's hand returns to his straining cock.

He forms a fist and tries to pull: No, won't work—not very well—fingertips: yes, that's just perfect.

Cody feels like someone else. He can almost see himself from above, Riley wrapped around him, warm skin melting against warm skin in a communion that is cosmic in consequence. This is what it is to be close to someone. This is what it is to have sex. This is what it is to love and be loved, to want and to have that want fulfilled. Moksha. They are communicating without talking, every tiny nerve in every inch of his skin talking to the strange new skin it has just met and shrieking like a delighted infant as it considers this exotic new caress.

This is sex. It doesn't feel like Cody and Riley. There is only one person in this bed, a single being of pure energy, luminous and radiant, glowing, exploding in the night, a perpetual motion machine, this is life to the power of life, they are floating in darkness, them, an intangible omnipotence with two minds and no name, and there is nothing beyond this, nothing else in the world exists, has existed, or will ever exist. This is what infinity feels like, and it feels like divine light that expunges all shadow from even the deepest corridors of his soul.

They're breathing hard, starting to sweat, and even after these two and a half minutes Riley's thrusts are growing shorter, quicker, his body starts to curl even around Cody's, and with a shudder everything he is comes rushing out of him. Cody feels the hot and the wet—he knows exactly what it is as it sticks to his skin, drips down it.

Riley stops moving altogether, and after a few seconds seems to remember to continue manipulating Cody.

He dances like a puppet, pulled by the only string that matters in this place out of space and time. His leg stretches back around to wrap around Riley's legs and he tries to sink back further into him, trying to invade him and to become as one.

He digs his fingernails into Riley's arm so hard it probably hurts. His body tenses and his breathing stops and his ears bulge with pressure and he breaks his climax with a strangled yelp.

He says: "You can stop now."

Riley does so instantly. "Did you..."

"Yeah," he breathes.

They separate, and lay panting next to each other. The smell of sweat supersedes the smell of chlorine, and Cody feels the euphoria of the afterglow and he realizes that he has cum cum CUM RILEY'S CUM on his balls and in the creases of his thighs, and it's all so much, he thinks, we just had SEX.

Riley whispers: "I can't believe we did that," and they both giggle, and their fingers intertwine and Cody yawns and they become themselves again.

+    +    +


The summer blows away and quietly gets swallowed by a wave

The morning is lazy and it smells like rain. Outside, the breakers are crashing and the little kids are hollering and shrieking as they run back for the hotel—what, are they afraid of getting wet? And today is for spacing out, for stretching out across the world and soaking it all in and not doing anything at all. This is Florida, and there is nothing to come to terms with here, no reputations to defend, no appearances to make or anyone to impress, there is nothing to fear and nothing to doubt.

Cody wants to stay in bed forever. He doesn't want his mom to knock on the door and tell them to get up. He doesn't want the maids to come in to make—what's this?—only one bed, he doesn't want a continental breakfast and he doesn't want to lie on the sand or swim in the surf. He wants the goddamn clock to stop, just take a little break, y'know, take it easy for a while. He hopes Riley will never wake up, because when he does then he'll realize his arm is probably asleep and then the cuddling will end. He just wants to dwell here like a barnacle and touch Riley's skin, warm and alive yet unfeeling, unaware. His deep breathing is a song that sings I am here and I am yours, right now, I'm here but I'm not here so go ahead and do what you want to me, I don't mind. When Cody grazes his fingertip over the brown nipple it silently reacts, and though Riley will not know about it, somehow he does know. Cody touches it with his tongue and it turns to a point, a candy bump that tastes like everything and nothing, and tells him everything. That's all he wants to do, to spend forever saying without telling: this feels good, I like this, keep doing this, more, more, don't stop, now or ever.

His morning wood aches.

The sea is the horizon here, seeming to stretch on forever and then—just when you least expect it—it abruptly terminates, and there is only sky. This morning, though, the dizzying end of the earth melts into a forever of indigo, and thunder rolls over the sea. The raindrops start to drum against the sliding glass patio door, a quiet staccato that says y'know you're right, don't get up, stay inside today.

He's glad it's raining. Today is not a day for sandcastles or muddy holes or tiny crabs or sand all in your lunch and in the lining of your bathing suit. It's not a day for seafood, either, nor for souvenirs or sweating or canvas umbrellas or the oily smell of sunscreen. No, today is a day for catatonia, a day for yawns and pulling off socks and dark clouds and penises and cartoons and maybe a shower and cuddling under the covers, out of the rain and out of the world.

He feels so very safe.

But outside in the hall he can hear footsteps. No, he thinks, please no, please don't take this moment away from me. But the knock comes, and: "Boys, are you awake?"

Riley stirs; Cody thinks: no no no no no no no no.

Again the knock; again Liam's voice: "Cody, Riley."

Cody croaks: "We're not feeling very good, I think maybe we're gonna stay in for a while."

"Do you need anything?"

"No, thanks."

"Well, alright. We'll be out, so call us if you need us."

And Riley says: "You're awesome." They smile and laugh a lazy morning laugh that is really more of a pleased sigh. Cody again touches Riley's nipple with his tongue—he tastes of olive green.

Cody pushes off the covers and pivots himself around after deciding it's a day for leisurely blowjobs. He pulls Riley's underwear down and greets the thing he enjoys playing with so much, the thing that is a bit bigger than his and thicker too, the thing that is crowned by a glorious smattering of soft, almost colorless hairs. It's already stiff and tense, and Cody takes it into his mouth to suckle it.

Riley, not even fully awake yet, indeterminately vocalizes his feeling of yes please, let's do just that. For a while he just holds Cody's hips in his hands, and finally he begins to reciprocate, and oh yes he knows just the exact right way to do it.

There is very little up-and-down, in-and-out here—it has to be one of those times where it's more like working on a lollypop. There is lots of squeezing buttocks and stroking legs, and generous tongues tickling and swirling around heads and balls and leaving glistening trails that stray as far away as bellybuttons. Sixty-nine—what a cruelly base nickname for an experience so powerful, so intense and bright, but so quiet and slow they can't hear anything over the rain.

Cody yields his orgasm more quickly than Riley anticipated. By now he can recognize the signs of Cody's dry orgasm: he releases the slick organ from his lips, gives it a few last licks, and allows his breathing to return to normal. He yearns impatiently for the morning when Cody's cock will give forth its first glistening pearl of boy juice, and when it does he will lick it off the amazed and intoxicated boy's head and keep it deep inside him, always.

Riley dances in a subtle but drawn-out convulsion and, with a slight thrust of his hips, he offers his essence, thin and clear and sweet, to Cody's waiting tongue. Cody knows to stop sucking right away—he knows how sensitive Riley's head becomes immediately afterwards—but he savors the incredible taste for a while before he swallows it.

Cody crawls back up level with Riley and he pulls the covers over them, and they bathe in the sleepy afterglow and lazily stroke and caress each other. Riley rests one hand behind his head; the other hand's fingers draw meandering paths through Cody's shaggy hair. He says: "Wanna take a shower?"

Cody yawns, he turns onto his side and drapes his arm across Riley's chest, and he says: "Maybe later."

Ten silent minutes pass, and Riley says: "I love you."

Cody experiences the disorientation of realizing consciously for the first time something that he has known deep down for a long time. He says: "I love you too," and before the words are even out of his mouth he realizes that Riley is constant. Riley will be there when he ejaculates for the first time, he will be there to point out the first hair to sprout at the root of his dick and on his legs and under his arms and on his chin. The first time Cody feels a sense of irreplaceable loss, Riley will be there to curl up with him and pet his hair and catch his tears with his skin. These will be turbulent years, he knows, and everything will change, but there will always be tomorrow and there will always be Riley, and that's just how it will be.

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