Dorian and Frank lay out next to one another on the damp grass. The highway across the lake droned with the constant thrum of traffic. A few ducks drifted across the lake toward the city lights. They were on the far shore, near the park, and so the trees cast a cool shadow against their backs. The wind curled in on them and then twisted away, rattling the branches of the trees.
Frank wore shorts out of season, and not for the first time, Dorian could see how dark and thick Frank’s leg hair was, much thicker than his own, though their hairs themselves were long and thin. Dorian slid his hand against the side of Frank’s leg and pulled a few of the hairs loose, which made Frank whistle sharply and roll away from him.
“Stop it,” he said.
“Stop what,” Dorian asked, crossing his own legs at the ankle and staring up into the sky, which at that moment was empty except for the edges of the black trees.
“You know what you’re doing,” Frank said. Dorian knew it had little to do with the hairs he had pulled from Frank’s body and more to do with the gathering heat that had been building between them for the past few weeks. He knew it had to do more with the weight of silence resting between them and how suddenly it had come up, more to do with the threat of retreat and refusal than with how easily those hairs had come away into his hands. He blew against his palm and let the hairs rise on his breath until they were invisible against the sky.
“Do I know,” Dorian asked, and Frank let out a low hum. He had rolled away onto his stomach, and Dorian braced himself on his elbow so that he could look at him. He saw the back of Frank’s head, that great abundance of dark hair, shiny in the dusk light. Dorian’s eyes slid lower, to the broad space between Frank’s shoulders. He wore a red sweater, covered in leaves and dirt. Dorian wanted to brush the leaves away, but instead he put his face against the edge of Frank’s arm. So close to the ground, the scent of the earth and of things giving way rose up around them. Dorian draped his arm across Frank’s back.
He was aware at all times of the great quiet hanging around them—this feature of the Midwest was something that he found difficult to accept, the abundance of silence in the air. In the Deep South where he had been a boy, cicadas filled every empty space with their cries for mating and for oneness. Even his dreams then had been pierced by their clattering, clamoring song. But he lived in the Midwest now, where there was only the sound of the cars and their wind rushing by. At times like these, the quiet felt like a heavy blanket thrown over the world, muffling everyone and everything. Yet, he could hear Frank’s heartbeat. He could feel its steady rhythm. This noise was reassuring.
He felt Frank turn toward him. Their cheeks pressed against the ground, and their lips brushed the dirt. Frank’s eyes were so brown that the pupil and the iris were indistinguishable. Tonight, he had not worn his glasses, and so his eyes seemed small and delicate. His lips were full, though they were chapped and red as always.
“Hello,” Frank said.
“Hello,” Dorian said, his arm sliding down Frank’s back. Their legs briefly entangled, and Frank slid closer to him. But then Frank slid his arm away and stood up. He dusted the loose grass and dirt from his clothes.
“We should go,” Frank said, lighting a cigarette. The flame was orange and bright, and the wind tried to snatch it away.
“Go where?” Dorian asked from the ground, lying on his back. His sweater had slid up, and he could feel the cold on his stomach. He put his arm across his forehead, and his sweater blotted out his view of some of Frank’s body.
“I should take you home, I think.”
Frank watched him, his eyes dark. Dorian smiled.
“Alright,” Frank said, breathing through his nose, the smoke a long grey trail extending into the night. Frank extended a hand to him. Dorian took it. Frank’s fingers were hard and nimble as they slid up to Dorian’s wrist. Dorian sat on the ground, watching Frank’s hand move against his own. The warmth of Frank’s grip was comforting but he didn’t want to stand and have to quit their spot near the lake for home, or anywhere else but where Frank would be. Home felt like the worst kind of purgatory, full of waiting: for the phone to ring, for bad news, for his roommates’ return from wherever they had gone.
He let Frank pull him up, and suddenly they were embracing. Frank had dropped his cigarette on the ground. Its orange head gleamed among the many slick leaves. Frank put his arms around Dorian’s waist, knotting his fingers over the base of Dorian’s spine. He leaned close, so that their bodies were touching, rubbing through the folds in their clothes. Frank’s arms encircled and contained him. Dorian put his face against Frank’s hair and inhaled the sour scent of his sweat and his smoke and the too mild scent of his shampoo. He closed his eyes against stinging tears that came either from the smoke or the surprise of so much closeness.
Frank put his face against Dorian’s chest. He inhaled with his eyes closed—Dorian smelled sweet and a little like sweat. His body was warm despite the coldness of the ground and the climbing wind. Frank’s heart was beating harder than normal, picking up speed. The past few weeks had been difficult—it was not the lack of communication that had done the damage. Frank had always lived apart from those he loved. He had grown up in the relative exile of private schools miles away from home. For Frank, love had always been tinged with distance and loss. The unfamiliar necessity of his own desire to see Dorian had done the damage: the uneasiness he felt at not hearing from Dorian was as sore and awkward as a newly emerged tooth. The difficulty of the past few weeks lifted from him. How easy this was, how easy it was to hold Dorian this way.
He didn’t know if he would ever be able to go further than the two of them holding each other this way. It meant a great deal to him, and perhaps this would be enough for both of them. Frank pressed his lips to Dorian’s chest and exhaled the last of his smoke.
“You should take me home.”
“I am. In a minute.”
They began to sway back and forth to a song in a minor chord, plaintive and slow-rising. Frank became aroused by the pressure and the hitching friction of their bodies, and he laughed, his eyes crinkling at their corners.
“Oh, I see,” Dorian said. And then they both laughed, stupidly, loudly, until they fell away again and were on their backs staring up at the sky, empty except for a couple of stars bright enough to pierce the light pollution. Frank put his hands behind his head and hummed from somewhere deep in his chest. Happiness rippled beneath the surface of his skin.
“Oh, you see,” he repeated, “okay.” He only spoke so things weren’t awkward. He only spoke to chase away the uneasiness of silence, but there was never really a danger of that, was there? There was never really a danger of losing out to quiet. Not after they had broken it the way they had, with their bodies and the violence of their laughter. Dorian, however, said nothing. They lay on their backs in the grass, and Dorian let his eyes drift closed. Frank’s humming was sending him off to sleep. He felt Frank’s fingers brush the corner of his mouth, sliding down the edge of his jaw. He felt himself going farther and farther away.
“What’s wrong, Dorian?”
“I think I’m sad, Frank.”
“Oh? Why’s that?”
“I don’t know.”
Frank rolled on to his stomach and gazed at him, this beautiful boy with dark, wild hair and bright, vivid eyes. He was surprised to find tears there, slick and gleaming in the night. He reached out to touch them and brush them away. “Don’t do that, Dorian.” He smiled down at him, but Dorian merely gazed up at him with a watery laugh.
“I’m trying. Doesn’t seem to do much good.”
“Such a baby,” Frank said. And then he kissed him. He hadn’t known what else to do or what else could be done. Dorian’s laughter pitched higher until it turned into a soft wail that broke off into nothing. He was trembling, shivering with a cold that Frank couldn’t feel. “Oh, Dorian. What’s wrong? What’s wrong?”
“I think my mom’s dying.”
“Oh, Dorian.”
“It’s fine, it’s fine.”
“Of course it’s not.”
“It’s gotta be, right?”
“It’s not okay.”
“It’s fine, Frank. I’m fine. I shouldn’t have said anything,” Dorian said as he sat up and started wiping at his eyes. Frank gripped his arm and pulled him close. Dorian’s tears were damp and hot against his lips as he kissed them away. He kissed Dorian’s thick eyelashes and the warm, shivering lids of his eyes. “Stop,” Dorian said, pushing at his chest, but Frank couldn’t stop himself. Dorian pushed at him harder, his voice turning reedy and cold. “Stop, Frank, please, I can’t.”
“I’m so sorry,” Frank said. He buried his face against Dorian’s shoulder.
“You smell like smoke.”
“Don’t be a jerk.”
“I’m sorry.”
“How much time?”
“Who knows? One month? Two? A year, maybe?”
“I’m sorry.”
“Oh, this is turning into a tedious conversation,” Dorian said with a laugh, vibrating in Frank’s arms. Frank bit his shoulder, and Dorian let out a soft moan. Dorian gripped the back of Frank’s shirt. “We look incredibly gay right now.”
“We don’t.”
“We definitely do.”
“Is that so bad?”
“I’m not the one you need to ask that, am I?”
Frank did not answer because he knew that Dorian was right. Dorian sighed and pulled away from him, but this time, Frank let him go. Dorian stood up slowly and dusted loose dirt and leaves from his legs and his back. Dorian was tall and long. His hair was curly and wild. His skin was darker than Frank’s, though he had many red freckles splashed across his cheeks and down his neck.
“Stop staring at me,” Dorian said, squinting down at him. “You said you’d take me home.”
Frank sighed and leaned forward to tug at Dorian’s pants. “I suppose I should.”
“Maybe you should.” Dorian’s voice was raw, streaked with sadness. But his eyes were smiling again. His face was flushed. He was trying in every way to smooth things over. Frank wanted to kiss away that shyness. He didn’t want to drive Dorian back home to shitty roommates who made snide comments about him. Frank wanted to take Dorian back to his own apartment, to make him some tea and put him to bed.
“You can come to my place,” Frank said cautiously, watching Dorian’s face flicker with fear.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“Oh, come on. I always go to your place.”
“You said it’s convenient for you.”
“Do you really want to go back to your place, Dorian? Do you really want to be alone there tonight?”
“Then come home with me.”
“What about your roommates?”
“I don’t have any extra clothes.”
“We can wash yours.” Frank couldn’t suppress the smile in his voice. He knew that he looked ridiculous, grinning on the ground, tugging at Dorian’s leg like a small child.
“Fantastic,” Frank said, standing. He pulled Dorian into another embrace. “Wonderful.”
Dorian sighed and let himself be held. Dorian’s grief pulsed inside of him like a second heart, and Frank could feel its rhythm through both of their bodies, could feel its pace gathering speed.