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Shousetsu Bang*Bang
Issue 28: Theme Free

Edited by Shousetsu Bang*Bang
Smashwords Edition
Copyright 2010 Shousetsu Bang*Bang

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Table of contents

This Christmas, by Yamanashi Moe (山梨もえ)

Coming Undone, by Roumonte Emi (竜主天 蝦)

so werd ich dich auf meinem Blute tragen, by shukyou (主教),

illustrated by safelybeds

Gordian Knot, by bupparo

But It’s Better If You Do, by Hinotori (火鳥)

Where You Have Yet To Go, by Ogiwara Saki (荻原咲),

illustrated by pseudonymeter

Chasing the Fox, by drakonlily

Dragon’s Head, Snake’s Tail, by MYŌGADANI Mōra (茗荷谷 望裸)

The Imitated Rose, by Kagamine Marin (鏡音愛鈴)

Happiness Is, by Marin Karen (マリン カレン)

The Library, by Yoiyami

Fantasies & Desires, by Phail

A Day in the Life of an Onmyouji, by Kikuchi Makoto (菊池 誠)

10-11-01, by Azia C. Ita,

illustrated by erli

A Holiday Romance of Sorts, by Diabla616,

illustrated by scistor_skizzer

Advance to Go, by Usagi Anami (兎あなみ)

The Pen, by Kougyoku (紅玉)

———

Dare I Say, by Lord Mune

Disciple, by Chickenteeth

Yeah, Merry Christmas to You Too, Asshole!, by Seiwa Kaiyura

Detention, by ms_greency

Warmth, by Bluejuice (青液)

What Price to Pay, by adayume

Front cover by image by agentagnes

Edited and published by the Shousetsu Bang*Bang editorial staff. Read more about this issue at http://www.shousetsubangbang.com/wiki/index.php?title=Issue_28

This Christmas

by Yamanashi Moe (山梨もえ)

The Loft was this platform in the back of the store where we kept boxes of breakfast cereal and toilet paper and junk that wasn’t too heavy and took up a lot of space. On one side was a bare concrete wall. The other three opened onto what would have been the second story of the building – there wasn’t even a railing, and if you took one step too far, you hit the bare floor below. Lots of people hated going up there because the platform was plywood and it felt like it could break at any time. I tried my best to avoid it too, until around September, when I realized that Jesse Harman was living up there.

I had kind of suspected for a while that something weird was going on with that guy. We both worked in Grocery – I was full time, he was part time, and pretty new. For about a month he’d been trying to get as many closing shifts as possible, and you notice that kind of thing. Or at least I did. Anyway, I went up there one night just before closing to look for the monogrammed pens the cashiers used and he was laying out a sleeping bag between the concrete wall and a stack of potato chip boxes.

For a second we just stared at each other. Jesse’s face was expressionless, but his eyes filled with shock, then fear. Slowly, he lifted a finger to his lips.

I nodded. “I don’t see them,” I shouted down to Kevin, the chubby, balding Grocery manager.

“Are you sure?”

“They might be up there somewhere,” I answered, climbing down the ladder, “But it’s gonna take a while to find them. Maybe if you helped…” Kevin especially hated it in the Loft, and while I’m sure the platform would hold him if it’d hold me, I couldn’t blame him. In fact, I appreciated it that night, because anyone else might have climbed up there themselves to make extra sure.

But Kevin just shrugged. “It’s fine. I’ll get someone to look for them in the morning. Good night, Pat.”

So when we locked up that night, Jesse was still in the store, spending the night in the Loft.

Pretty much the only stuff I knew about Jesse was that he worked part time, like I said before, and that he was doing a Master’s in something or other at the university. Like most guys who barely made it through high school, I was suspicious of that kind of love of education.

Plus Jesse just had this attitude that told people he would rather they fuck off. He was kind of a little guy, but toned, with shaggy dirty-blonde hair and blue eyes. We didn’t interact much – he was usually reading during his breaks, and like I said, the attitude was sort of an issue.

But the next time I saw him at work, it was a totally different story. His eyes kept darting towards me while we were stocking the baking aisle, like he needed to say something but couldn’t think of a good way to start.

So I figured I might as well reassure him. “It’s okay, you know. I’m not going to say anything.”

Jesse put down a box of wheat germ. “Um,” he said, hesitantly, “yeah. About that.”

“No, I mean it. I don’t really care.” I shrugged my shoulders. “I mean, I’ve done tons of stupid shit that’d get me fired.”

“Oh.” He looked vaguely relieved, or at least a little less twitchy. “Um, thanks.”

I nodded, and turned back to the spice rack. For a little while we just stocked in silence.

“Why?”

“I’m sorry?”

I pointed up at the Dairy sign at the back of the store. The Loft was on the other side, hidden from the customers, like a secret world of concrete and stacks of toilet paper. “You know. I’m just sort of curious, that’s all.”

“I, uh, don’t have anywhere else to go right now.”

“Yeah, I figured. So what gives?”

The slight frown on Jesse’s face grew deeper. “Personal reasons.”

“Look, I’m not going to push it, but you do kind of owe me an explanation, man.”

He sighed. “Okay, you’re right. Fine.”

“So?” I prompted.

The words started coming, but each one was completely distinct from the next, like saying them was so painful he had to spit them out one by one instead. “I was living with my ex. He found a new boyfriend. I said I’d move out, but I can’t afford rent.”

“He kicked you out?” I hadn’t particularly thought Jesse was gay, but it’s not like I was surprised, either. “Asshole.”

“No. I just told you, I said I’d move out. I told him I found a new place.”

“So you lied to him?”

“He wouldn’t have let me leave, otherwise.”

“Then why did you?”

Jesse just looked at me, and immediately I felt stupid. A guy like this would never put his pride on the shelf just to have a roof over his head.

“It shouldn’t be that long,” he said. “I know someone who needs a new roommate in the spring. Until then, I just have to deal with it.”

I shrugged my shoulders. “Well, okay. Like I said, I’ve done stupid shit before, so it’s not a big deal. Just, uh, be more careful, I guess.”

He kind of glared at me, as if to suggest that much was obvious.

Later that day, when I went into the back to look for a can of pickled beans for a little old lady, Walter Chen was waiting for me.

“So what were you talking about with Jesse?”

Walter was the only other guy in Grocery who was my age and not in post-secondary. He was also one of the few people at work who knew I was gay, although he only knew because we got drunk and had sex at the Christmas party a couple of years back.

Not that I gave a shit who knew, I just didn’t want to talk about my sex life at work, and I hadn’t had a boyfriend since high school. People just make assumptions. I’m a redhead, freckles, tall, skinny, pale, and I look like I’ve never seen the inside of a gym, so I guess I don’t look gay, whatever the fuck that’s supposed to mean.

Anyway, Walter had decided that having sex once meant he had the right to complete control of my love life. Or lack thereof.

“Nothing,” I replied, knowing that it wouldn’t stop him. “And there’s a customer waiting for me.”

To his credit, Walter let me get her the pickles before he continued. “I thought I heard something about an ex-boyfriend?”

“Eavesdropping is a bad habit, Walt,” I said, hoping I didn’t sound nervous. Walter wouldn’t give a shit about Jesse sleeping in the store, but he might spread the word accidentally. Guy was a hell of a gossip.

“I was on my way to the front to bag groceries. That’s all I heard, I swear.”

“Hey, it’s all good.”

“Well, yeah, I guess it is.” Walter had a sort of knowing expression on his face. “He’s pretty cute. Not my type, but cute.”

“He’s not Kevin, I guess.” Walter was constantly joking about wanting Kevin’s body, and it frustrated me sometimes that I couldn’t fucking tell whether he was joking or not. “Seriously, man, we just talked. It’s not a big deal.”

“Okay.” Walter shrugged his shoulders. “Well, when it’s a big deal, let me know and I’ll hire the caterers.”

“Shut up.”

xxxx

It was about the time of year when the Christmas music started to play.

Don’t get me wrong, I like some Christmas music – my family’s Anglican, I grew up singing tenor in the church choir, doing the solo in ‘O Holy Night’. It’s just the cheesy country-pop Christmas ballads that they play in stores I can’t stand. Plus, my brother was spending Christmas with his girlfriend’s family, and my parents had taken the opportunity to go to Hawaii. I thought it was a great idea and I told them so, but this would be my first Christmas alone.

Anyway, I sort of tried to ignore the Christmas music, which is why I was confused when I saw Jesse moving his lips as I walked by him on the way to buy a loaf of bread for lunch.

At first I thought he was talking to himself, or something. When I glanced back, though, my brain started to register the music playing over the loudspeaker. It was ‘Silver Bells’, and Jesse’s lip movements were him singing along under his breath.

I kept watching to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. It was unexpected, to say the least. But he kept going, stopping when a customer entered his field of vision, and starting again when they left it. I’d never really thought that some people actually enjoyed the Christmas music they play in stores, but I guess if nobody did, they wouldn’t play it. And Jesse was one of those who did.

Silver bells,” sang the guy on the track, and when I cupped my hand to my ear, I could just barely hear Jesse, singing the same thing.

The song started to do a fade-out, and I realized what I was doing. I walked away before Jesse could catch me staring at him.

I fucking hate ‘Silver Bells’, I think it’s a sappy, horrible song. But the sight of Jesse quietly singing about Santa and shopping for presents was weirdly touching. It was so out of character for him – what I knew of him, anyway. Which reminded me that, like everyone else who worked at the store, Jesse had a whole other side to him I didn’t know.

So next time we had a break together I tried to talk to him.

“What do you do?” I asked, over the folding table in the break room.

“I’m sorry?” With a look on his face which suggested that far from being sorry, he wanted me to mind my own fucking business.

“When you’re not at work.” I sort of regretted asking already, but figured I might as well keep going. “I mean, where do you go?”

“Uh, I go to school.”

“All the time?”

“Most of the time, yeah.” He shrugged his shoulders. “I’m a grad student. Even if I had a place I’d be living in the library.”

“What about your stuff? Do you have a storage locker somewhere?”

“I have a regular locker.” His gaze fell to the table. “I don’t have a lot of stuff.”

It took me a second to think that one through and realize what he was actually telling me was that all his stuff had been his ex’s stuff.

I decided to change the subject. “So what’s your major, anyway?”

“History. I’m doing my dissertation on, uh, the sexuality of castrati.”

“…You mean those guys who got their balls cut off?”

“Crushed, actually, most of the time,” responded Jesse, without even wincing. I guess if he was squeamish he’d have chosen another focus area. Then the corner of his mouth turned up just a little. “You know, every other time I’ve told someone that, they’ve just changed the subject.”

I shrugged my shoulders. “Hey, it sounds like a good subject to me. You’re not gonna bore anyone, that’s for sure.”

“Here’s hoping,” replied Jesse, with a chuckle. “But yeah. What about you?”

“What about me?”

“What’s your major? You are an undergrad, right?”

“Nope.”

“Oh.” Jesse’s expression turned a little uncomfortable. “Uh, sorry.”

“Naw, no worries, I get that a lot.” Sometimes I started in on people for assuming that everyone could afford university, just because I thought it was funny, but I wanted to tell Jesse the truth. “I just figure people should figure out what they want and then do it. I don’t know what I want, but I hate school. At least this way I get to make some money while I get my shit together.”

Jesse nodded. “Fair enough. I’ll probably spend the rest of my life paying off my student loans, so…” He shrugged his shoulders and chuckled sardonically. “You’ve probably got your shit together better than I do.”

“No, I don’t think so,” I said. “If researching guys with their balls cut off is your passion, I think that’s awesome! I’m sure you’ll be the best, uh, castrato expert ever. And I mean that as a compliment. Seriously, I’m not being sarcastic.”

With a half-smile, Jesse lowered his eyes, like he was embarrassed or something. “Well, thanks. I think.”

xxxx
Anyway, after that we started talking more often. We weren’t exactly best buddies or anything, but we’d hang out together on our breaks. He was sort of sarcastic and cynical sometimes, which wasn’t really surprising, but other times he could be sweet and considerate, which sort of was. He was also more talkative than I’d thought, and I ended up learning a little about his life.

He grew up in a little town up north, getting the shit kicked out of him for being openly gay in high school, and he moved down here for University just as soon as he got his diploma. His parents stayed put – they weren’t really close.

At University he made a lot of friends, fucked a lot of guys – his words, not mine – and joined the men’s chorus, although he looked a little embarrassed when he told me that. He pretty much knew from the first History class he took that it was what he wanted a degree in. He told his parents when he applied for graduation. Of all the things they had apparently put up with, that was what finally did it. They stopped sending him money.

“It would have come to this sooner,” he said, gesturing at the Loft around us, “but around that time I met, uh, my ex.”

When I asked about this guy he would always change the subject. I got the impression that he was still kind of hurting from his breakup. Considering that was the main reason he was living in a grocery store, he had every right to be.

I tried to kind of keep other people out of the Loft when I could, but if nobody noticed Jesse was living there it was more to his credit than mine. I was the one who went up there regularly before closing to hang out with him. We mostly just bantered back and forth, gossiping about people in the store, or trading insults in a friendly kind of way.

That was also the month I started buying lottery tickets. I’d always thought it was stupid and a waste of money, and I’d said so like a million times, so when I came up to MJ at the Customer Service counter and asked for a ticket she looked at me like I’d lost my fucking mind.

MJ was about sixty, with a mouse-brown perm. Her name wasn’t actually MJ, it was Irene or something. MJ was short for Mary Jane, because MJ was a serious stoner who toked up in the parking lot after work. She was smart when she wasn’t high, though.

“Yeah, I know, I know,” I said, before she could say anything. “Let’s just say I figure I might as well.”

“Even though the odds of winning the lottery are lower than the odds of getting struck by lightning?”

“Yes, okay, I said that. Fine. I’m stupid and wasting my money, just give me the ticket.”

MJ rang me up. “Alright, Pat. But if you win, I expect a pearl necklace.” She paused. “No, the other kind.”

I had to laugh at that. “I’ll see what I can do.”

I wasn’t about to admit this to MJ, or even myself, really, but I had this semi-conscious fantasy where I’d win the lottery and buy a house or an apartment or something for Jesse. I’d hand him the deed and he’d get this big smile on his face, like I’d never seen. It was just one of those things I’d think about to pass the time on my shifts. I knew exactly how stupid it was and it persisted anyway.

Being as I never expected anything to happen, I had no idea what to do when I actually won fifty bucks one day.

Obviously he wouldn’t take the money. And it would be kind of stupid to offer it to him, seeing as it was only fifty bucks. But it was because of him that I started buying the fucking things in the first place, so it felt wrong to spend it on gas money.

All of a sudden I got an idea.

I headed over to the Deli. Kiran was working in the front, which was perfect: I wasn’t particularly fond of her, but she was one of the few people at the store completely uninterested in gossip, and she wouldn’t tell anyone what I was about to do.

“I have kind of a stupid question.”

“Yeah?”

“You know Jesse, right?”

“Uh, is he from Grocery?”

“Yeah. Short blonde hair, yea high, wears a nametag that says ‘Jesse’ on it?”

Kiran just rolled her eyes. “Okay, what about him?”

“Have you ever seen him get anything from the deli? Do you know what he likes or anything?”

Kiran popped her gum. We weren’t actually allowed to chew gum on shift, and I have no idea how she got away with it, but she always seemed to have a wad in her cheek, like a squirrel. “Uh, not really. Sometimes he gets a sandwich, but he changes it up a lot.”

“Oh.” I started walking away. “Well, thanks.”

I was almost to Produce when Kiran called out from behind me. “Cheese!”

“What?”

“He likes cheese.” She gestured to the display cooler to my left, where gourmet cheeses were spread out like fancy, edible jewelry. “He always comes and looks at the cheese. He never takes anything, but he sure looks like he wants to.”

“Kiran, thank you so much.” I took a deep breath and reached into my back pocket for my wallet. “Okay. I need to make an order.”

Jesse was reading a book when I climbed the ladder up to the Loft later that evening, awkwardly balancing a tray in the crook of my arm.

“Hey,” I said, plunking it down on the plywood floor before climbing the rest of the way up. “Do you want this? Whoever ordered it never picked it up and Kiran said I should take it, but I’m lactose intolerant.”

“Sure,” he said, before he had quite looked up. Then his breath kind of hitched. “Oh, wow.”

I don’t know much about cheese, but I’d told Kiran to load it up with the most expensive stuff they had, and she seemed to have done a good job – it cost more than fifty in the end. I’d even bought a pack of the fancy baked crackers that cost like seven bucks.

“Yeah, uh, I don’t know why they didn’t just sell it. Anyway, I figure you can put it in the fridge in the staff room, it should be good for a couple weeks.”

Jesse pried the lid off, gazing at the cheese eagerly. “Do you have a knife?” When I shook my head, he shrugged, picked up a round of brie, and broke it open with his hands. His eyes fluttered shut as he took a bite. “Mm. Shit, that’s good.”

“I’m glad you like it.”

“Yeah, this is really good stuff.” It came out a little muffled because his mouth was filled with cheese, and he blushed. “Uh, excuse me.”

“No worries.”

Watching Jesse lick brie off his fingers was kind of uncomfortably enjoyable, so I turned my gaze to the root vegetable chips. For a couple minutes, the only sound was Jesse pretty much moaning as he ate. I was about to leave when the sound stopped.

“You know, usually when someone doesn’t pick up an order, they put it in sandwiches.” The comment was made so casually that at first I mistook it for small talk.

“Oh.” I turned back to Jesse, who was watching me expressionlessly. “Well–”

“And I’ve seen you drink four litres of milk in one sitting.”

I probably blushed. “Yeah. Okay. Well.”

“Pat?” Jesse didn’t quite look me in the eyes, but he was smiling. “Thanks.”

“No problem. …Hey, so uh, can I have some cheese?”

“I’ll think about it.”

xxx

I was in Aisle 1 facing jam jars, and all of a sudden someone tapped me on the back. “Hey, you,” hissed Walter, “better get over to Produce. Someone’s chatting up Jesse.”

“None of my business.”

Walter didn’t even have to say anything. He just gave me a look, and I threw up my hands and headed over to Produce, because we both knew I was lying.

Jesse was in the freezer aisle, talking to a customer.

The second I saw this guy I knew he was the ex. He was exactly the way I had pictured him: a good-looking guy in a classy suit, maybe in his late thirties, probably a lawyer. I hated him.

My feet started moving before I had any idea what I was going to do.

If I’d been a cute girl I’d have hugged him from behind. Since I couldn’t get away with that, I did the next best thing, and stood just close enough that I was intruding suspiciously on his personal space. Beside me Jesse looked shocked, but I didn’t care. “Hi,” I said, with a big, bright smile, putting out my hand. “I’m Patrick. You must be…”

I didn’t actually know the guy’s name, of course, but fortunately he finished my sentence for me. “…James Mumford. Pleasure to meet you, Patrick.”

“It’s great to meet you, too. I mean, Jesse’s told me so much about you.”

James, to his credit, managed not to look confused. “Yes, we were just catching up. It’s been a while.”

“Yeah,” said Jesse, sounding slightly dazed. “It’s, um, it was good to see you. I’m glad things are going well with…”

“So am I,” answered James. “I mean, I’m glad things are going well for you, too. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m afraid I have an appointment… Nice running into you.”

“Yeah, um, you too.”

I chuckled as he walked away. “Jesse James. Hah.”

Jesse, now fully recovered and apparently completely unamused, whirled around to face me. “What the fuck was that? What did you think you were doing?”

“Oh, come on. You don’t want him to think you’re single when he’s already found somebody else, do you?”

“Actually, I don’t care, because I’m not in high school.” Jesse’s frown grew deeper. “Seriously, I was the one who broke up with him in the first place. It’s not a big deal.”

I couldn’t help but feel a little bit pleased to hear that. “Glad to hear it. You’re too good for him.”

“You don’t have to be sarcastic, Pat.”

“I’m not being sarcastic.”

For a second Jesse had kind of a weird look on his face, like he wasn’t sure what I just said. Then he went right on back to angry. “You know what? Fine. Whatever. Anyway, I really don’t appreciate you coming up to me when I haven’t seen James in a month and acting like we’re together when you’re not even…”

“Oh, come on. Everyone wants to impress their exes!”

“If I wanted to impress my ex,” said Jesse sharply, “I’d find a fake boyfriend who didn’t work at the grocery store.”

“Oh, ouch,” I said, and even winced, to cover up the fact that I was really genuinely hurt by that remark even though I should have seen it coming a mile away.

xxx

In previous years, we’d had this really huge Christmas party with all the different stores from the chain together in this huge rec centre halfway across town, but this year we’d had to cut back and it was just us. Although “just us” was still about a hundred and fifty people eating cheesecake and enjoying the fuck out of the open bar.

It was a formal party, so I was wearing a suit and drinking wine even though I didn’t like it that much, because that’s what you do. The DJ had stayed away from the Christmas music so far, but now she was playing ‘The Christmas Waltz’ – the Sinatra version, not Karen Carpenter.

“Sweet moves,” I yelled to MJ, who was waltzing across the floor with one of the guys from Seafood. “Where’d you learn to dance?”

“Monte Carlo,” she yelled back, with a wink. I had no idea if she was kidding. Sometimes people who work in grocery stores have unexpected histories.

I sipped my wine and gazed out good-naturedly over the crowd. Kiran – for once, sans gum – was chatting with a bunch of cashiers. Kevin, wearing a Santa suit, was showing off his prized iPhone to some of the kids who worked as baggers after school.

I couldn’t see Walter, but that was remedied the next second when I found him standing next to me.

“Nice suit.”

“Nice suit yourself.” Walter was wearing a lavender double-breasted jacket with a bow tie. I wasn’t actually being sarcastic – somehow it worked on him. “How’s it going?”

“Oh, pretty good. What are you hanging around by yourself for?”

“Nothing really.”

“What’s that? Oh, you’re waiting for Jesse to get here? I see.”

I was going to tell him to shut up, but I’d already had a drink, and I was in a good mood. “Maybe I am.”

Tonight was going to be my chance to apologize for pretending to be his boyfriend in front of James Mumford. We hadn’t talked about it, and although Jesse seemed pretty much content to pretend it didn’t happen, I’d thought about it and realized it was a pretty fucking stupid thing to have done. The fact was, I did what I did because I was jealous. And maybe if I got a little bit drunk I could even say so.

“You know he’s working the closing shift tonight, right?” Walter actually winked. “Cheer up, he’ll get here at some point. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go see if I can make Kevin gay for me.”

“Good luck with that, buddy.” I gave him a thumbs up as he went away.

Then then reality of what he just said sank in. Of course Jesse was working a closing shift – he had to stay in the store. If he came to the Christmas party, he’d be locked out. He’d have nowhere to spend the night. And like an idiot, I had spent the evening waiting for him without even thinking about it.

My mind conjured up an image of Jesse, alone in the store, without even a janitor to hide from. Maybe he was eating some cheese in the staff room. Maybe he was listening to the stupid Christmas music playing all night long, singing along by himself.

I got more than just a little bit drunk after that and I don’t remember very clearly what actually happened. Jesse actually did show up, eventually, and I remember my surprise, but I don’t remember hugging him, which according to Kiran was what I did when I saw him.

Apparently, after throwing up in the men’s room, I got cut off at the open bar. Jesse called me a cab, and I begged him to either “bring me home” or “come home with me,” depending on whose version you want to go by. I had to have someone else tell the driver my address.

I don’t remember coming home. I have a faint memory of Jesse tucking me in, but that could have just been wishful thinking, I guess.

The next morning there was a sheet missing from my bed. I found it crumpled up on the couch, but Jesse was gone. A little note in the kitchenette said “Thanks for breakfast” and there was a clean cereal bowl in the drying rack next to the sink. The radio was on, and “I Want a Hippopotamus For Christmas” was playing. I felt like the stupidest asshole who had ever walked the face of the earth.

xxx

The store is open almost every day of the year, but we close early on Christmas Eve, and then reopen the day after Boxing Day. I knew that. But as we came closer to Christmas, I realized that this would be a problem for Jesse. Unless he had some family members I didn’t know about, and I was pretty sure he would have moved in with them by now if he did, he would have nowhere to go.

I was almost thinking of inviting him to crash at my place, but when I asked, he already had a plan.

“You’re going to spend two days straight locked in a grocery store?”

“Yeah, I am.” Jesse sighed, as if he knew already he was in for an argument. “Look, it’s really not as bad as it sounds. I’ve got some books to read, I’ve got enough food in the fridge for more than two days, and I know how to stay off the security cameras. I’ll be fine.”

“But it’s Christmas!”

“So?” Jesse shrugged his shoulders.

“That’s bullshit. I know you like Christmas!” I was about to say I knew because I’d seen him singing along to the stupid Christmas music, but if he knew about that he’d probably get mad at me. “Everyone likes Christmas! Well, I mean, not everyone, but…” And I kind of trailed off stupidly.

Jesse cracked a smile at that, at least. “I’ll be okay,” he said.

I was about to argue with that, but the intercom went on calling all free staff on the floor to the front to bag groceries, and we had to go.

Christmas Eve Day is the worst time to work in a grocery store. There’s always some poor customer who doesn’t show up in time to get the right size turkey and asks you, hoping against reason, if you have any more in the back. Everyone else is trying to pick up carrots or potatoes or the one vegetable they forgot. It’s a madhouse.

Still, Walter found time to talk to me while we were cleaning up the muddy footprints just inside the doors.

“So, Jesse coming home with you tonight?”

“Uh, sorry?”

“Well, he’s not going to sleep here, is he?”

“Hey, I tried to tell him–” I said, before I realized what was weird about that last question. “Wait. You knew?”

“That Jesse was sleeping in the Loft? Yeah, well, there’s really no good way to hide a sleeping bag up there. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few people knew by now.”

“You didn’t, uh, tell anyone, right?”

Walter rolled his eyes. “I’m not stupid, you know. I may like to talk, but I can keep a secret. I never even told you I fucked Kevin at the Christmas party–”

“Hah!”

“I just told you that on purpose. To prove my point.” To his credit, Walter had the grace to look embarrassed. “Anyway, you need to make a move.”

I focused all of my attention on the wet floor in front of me. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Look. You’re a good guy, but you don’t ever put yourself out there. I mean, the only reason I know you’re gay is because we had sex, and even then it wasn’t a sure thing until I found out your homepage was GayNextDoor-dot-com.”

“It’s nobody’s business whether I’m gay or not.”

“It is if you want to get laid!” Walter sighed. “Pat, I know I drive you crazy with this stuff, but it’s because I want you to go for it. And I’m going to annoy you about it until you do. So go get ‘im, tiger.”

So Christmas Eve I went up to the Loft fifteen minutes before the end of my shift, resolved that I was going to get Jesse out of there if I had to throw him down the ladder.

“You’re sleeping on my couch tonight,” I proclaimed.

“That’s what she said.” Jesse immediately winced. “Shit, I can’t believe I just did that. I hate it when people do that.”

“Don’t you try to change the subject on me.” And now I was starting to sound like my dad. I decided to change tactics. “If you stay here tonight I’m going to be miserable thinking about you all alone on Christmas. This is for my good, not yours, okay?”

“I told you, I’ll be fine.”

“Look, what’s the big deal? You’ve slept on my couch before.”

“That was under totally different circumstances. You needed somebody to look after you.”

“Don’t you ever need somebody to look after you?”

As soon as I said it, I realized how cheesy it sounded. But Jesse didn’t call me on it. Instead, he turned his face to the wall of marshmallow crates filling the Loft that week. “I can’t go home with you again, Pat. It’s not going to happen.” He sounded tired, and sort of desperate. “Thanks for offering, but no.”

“…Do you really hate me that much?”

Jesse still wasn’t looking at me. “Don’t be stupid. I don’t hate you.”

I had meant it as a joke. But the way he answered was oddly detached, as though he were trying to keep some emotion out of his voice, and that worried me. What if that was what this was about after all? “Come on,” I said, frustrated. “At least look at me.”

For a second he didn’t react. Then, suddenly, he whipped around and looked me dead in the eyes. “I said, I don’t hate you.”

The look in his eyes was fear. Like the time I had caught him setting up his sleeping bag in the loft. Only this time, I got the feeling that he wasn’t afraid of me, exactly. There was something inside himself that he was afraid of. Something he might say, or do.

I realized that I had two choices. I could do like he told me: ignore the possibility that this wasn’t just a one-sided thing after all, leave Jesse alone in the Loft on Christmas Eve, lock up and go home. Pretend that I hadn’t even noticed that fear.

Or I could take a chance.

“If you don’t hate me,” I said, taking his hand and pulling him towards me, “then come home with me tonight.” Then I actually fucking kissed his hand, which was stupid as hell, but at the time I just wanted to touch him so badly and I wasn’t sure what to do. “Please.”

For a second, Jesse didn’t do anything but look at me like he’d never actually seen me before.

Then he buried his face in the crook of my neck. “Okay,” he said, kind of muffled, and also kind of hoarse. “Let’s go.”

xxx

I wasn’t actually sure what I thought would happen when we got home. What did happen is that the second I closed the apartment door, Jesse wrapped his arms around my shoulders, pulled me down and kissed me so hard I couldn’t breathe. Clumsily, I kissed back.

“You know I, uh, thought you were straight,” said Jesse, between kisses, as he pulled my coat off and dumped it on the floor. He had a kind of smile on his face I had only seen him wear in my imagination, when I offered him the deed to his brand-new apartment.

My first instinct was to say ‘sorry,’ but then I realized that was stupid. “Yeah, I get that a lot,” I said, and went right on back to kissing.

I’m pretty sure we only made it to the bedroom because the condoms and lube were in the drawer of my bedside table. The entire way there Jesse sort of had my fly down and his hands on my cock, which resulted in my hitting my head on the side of the door frame. I was so hard I barely noticed.

“Okay, I really hate to say this, but if you don’t stop doing that, I’m gonna…”

Laughing, Jesse drew his hands away. “I’ll take that as a compliment.” He pulled his tie off over his head and started unbuttoning his shirt. I followed suit, watching intently as his shirt came off. He was toned, that was for sure, but he also had a bit of a farmer’s tan, which made me feel better.

As he walked to the bedside table, he unbuttoned his pants and kicked them off along with his boxers, revealing his dick flushed and hard against his thigh. He tossed me a condom and pulled out the tube of K-Y. “I like to bottom. Does that work for you?”

“Yeah.” I glanced at the condom. I don’t think I had ever been so happy in my life to see an expiry date that hadn’t yet passed. “Yeah, that really, really works for me.”

Jesse sat down on the bed. “Yeah, I thought it might.” Swinging his legs up and kneeling, he squeezed some lube out onto his fingers.

“Uh, I can do that…”

Jesse just raised an eyebrow. “What? You don’t wanna watch?”

“Oh. Uh, yes please.”

With a look of concentration on his face, he slipped two fingers all the way inside himself. After a second, he started fucking himself on his fingers, slowly at first, and then faster as his expression changed from concentration to a tense, frustrated pleasure. He added another finger, brought his other hand up to his dick, and started jerking off. His breath was coming in gasps now, and there was this soft wet sound every time his fingers slid in and out of his hole.

“Uh,” I started, and then swallowed. My throat had gone totally dry. “Are you–?”

Jesse, flushed and breathing heavily, grinned at me. “Yeah. I’m ready.”

I had this whole plan of how I was going to be really gentle and considerate, but I kind of lost it when I slid into him. He was just so fucking tight and perfect I couldn’t really think anymore. Fortunately, Jesse didn’t seem to mind.

“Oh,” he sort of groaned, as I started pumping in and out of his ass. “Oh, fuck.”

“Yeah,” I said, from between my gritted teeth. “That’s… that’s the plan.”

Jesse let out a brief laugh. “Do you always have to–” Then I thrust deeper and the sentence trailed off into a moan.

“You like that?” I had never tried to talk dirty during sex before, but the words came easily. “Feels pretty good getting fucked like this, huh?”

“Holy shit, yeah…” Jesse whimpered. “It feels amazing…”

“Good.” Still thrusting, I leaned forward, close enough that my lips were brushing his ear. “Feels amazing for me, too. You have no idea how sexy you are, Jesse.”

As I said his name, Jesse contracted around my dick so tight I had to force myself not to come right then. With him moaning and rocking back on me, though, it was only a matter of time. I at least had the courtesy to reach around and stroke his dick a few times before I gasped and came, shuddering.

“Oh, shit. I’m sorry.” Humiliated, I pulled out. “Um, I don’t… It’s been a while. I’m really sorry.”

Jesse sat up and turned around. “Hey, don’t worry about it,” he said, putting his arms around me. “That was really great.” Then his hand went down to my cock, and the minute he touched it, it was as hard as if I’d been celibate my whole life. “There, see?” he said, licking his lips. “Wanna go again?”

So we ended up doing it again. Actually, twice more – it was the most sex I’d ever had in one day. Finally, completely exhausted, I flopped back on the bed.

“You’re incredible, you know that?”

From beside me, Jesse laughed, a little awkwardly. “Yeah. Well. Um, you know what they say about History majors. And, um, you too. Thanks.”

“Oh. Glad you enjoyed it.” I turned my face to the side so he couldn’t see me blush. As I watched, my alarm clock turned from 11:59 to 12:00. “Oh, hey. It’s Christmas.”

“Is it?” Jesse propped himself up so he could see the clock. When he did, he smiled. “Merry Christmas, Pat,” he said, and leaned over, kissing me lovingly on the mouth.

I kissed back. “Merry Christmas, Jesse.”

In the morning, I made pancakes from a box mix. The radio was playing “All I Want For Christmas is You.” Jesse slept in until eleven. When he came into the kitchen, wearing nothing but my comforter and yawning like crazy, then breaking into a smile when he saw me standing at the counter, I felt like I had won the lottery after all.

* * *

A few months later Jesse asked me why I started talking to him all the sudden that fall. We were having dinner together at the little Mexican place across from the store, like we did sometimes when he was going to stay over and I was too lazy to cook.

“Because I fell in love with you when I saw you singing along to ‘Silver Bells’,” I said, and took another bite of my burrito. I actually said it without even fucking thinking about it. I had never actually, concretely thought it before. When I said it, though, I realized it was the truth.

Jesse just stared at me for a second, like I’d told him I was moving to the Arctic Circle to study caribou migration patterns. His face was flushed. “Oh,” he said. And then again, “Oh. You saw that?”

“Sure did.”

“Oh. …Um, I love you too.”

“Yeah, I know.” I had to grin. “You told me so. Last night.”

“Shut up.” But he was laughing as he said it.

* * *

Thanks to spacetart for the beta.

Coming Undone

by Roumonte Emi (竜主天 蝦)

I do not think that I will ever get used to the sight of my come lifting off the belly of my lover and flowing back into me, like a river reversing to flow back to its source. It is exactly as odd a sensation as one might think; however, the throb of my orgasm unhappening distracts me utterly.

Benjamin’s eyebrows both shoot up, making Damon fight to control his amusement. If nothing else comes of this evening’s diversions, at least he’s managed to make his writing partner react with something other than his usual helpful-puppy earnestness. It doesn’t last long. Benjamin recovers himself with an anxious laugh, as he always does. Benjamin laughs at himself constantly, laughs along with everything, attempting to ingratiate himself with the world. Damon finds it both charming and exasperating.

To rewind time: it is a knack which I have always had. I find it impossible to describe. Like surrendering and falling backwards, in perfect faith that there is a featherbed there to cushion the blow; like being jerked backwards from life as an opening parachute jerks one backwards from free-fall; like stepping back behind cover in the last second before the basilisk sees one–it is like all these things, and yet unlike them.

“Okay,” Benjamin says, his voice a little uneven. “I’m not going to take you to task for the language, because I do that every week, and we’re probably both tired of it. You like the flowery stuff, so… more power to you.”

Damon arches an eyebrow. “Why, thank you,” he says. “So kind of you to grant me permission.”

Benjamin acknowledges this with yet another weak laugh, then raps a knuckle against the thin manuscript. “But I am going to have to take exception to your saying that something is ‘impossible to describe’ and then describing it, even inaccurately.” He delivers this blow with the usual apologetic smile, his head dipping slightly.

“Touche’,” Damon murmurs, glancing away. He picks up his coffee and hides his little smile behind it.

“That’s all I’ve got so far,” says Benjamin, and he looks back at the manuscript.

His cock hardens within me once more, swelling back to full. The orgasm that he has just had, he has again, but backwards, leaving him panting in anticipation of it; I ride him, slower and slower, until I have gentled him down into careful, exploratory strokes. My body tightens around him again as the reversal of time takes up the slack which his cock had induced in my ass. I ride out the initial discomfort with equanimity, knowing that soon it will be over, or will not yet have begun, and that I have his fingers to look forward to again, as they press eagerly into me (first two, and then one) and withdraw themselves glistening with lubrication, which his fingers will then roll into neat tubes and transfer into the bottle by the bed, the pump sucking the lube, like snippets of wet ribbon, from his fingers.

“This is definitely a different, ah, direction for you,” Benjamin says. He feathers quivering fingers back through his ridiculous hair. Damon, looking at him, wonders if Benjamin knows just how flushed he has become, or how attractive it makes him. Benjamin clears his throat. “Ah, okay,” he says. “I’m not sure that the, ah, vulgarity works all that well with your usual flowery style, but that’s… obviously just a stylistic choice.”

“Vulgarity?” Damon asks, playing innocent, purely in revenge.

“Yes. Ah.” Benjamin slaps the back of his hand lightly against the manuscript. “You use, ah, ‘cock’ twice. And ‘ass’. I’d kind of expected you to opt for euphemism there. It seems… more in keeping with your usual habits.”

Say ‘cock’ again, Benjamin, Damon thinks, and he is completely unable to keep himself from wetting his lips with his tongue. “You were counting?” he says instead, making it a little thrust.

Benjamin laughs it off, uneasily. “It really stands out,” he says. “Uh. Also. In the last sentence, you use the word ‘fingers’ three times, which comes off as a little repetitive, as does this ‘lubrication’/’lube’ repetition…”

“‘Repetitive’ and ‘repetition’ in the same sentence, Benjamin?”

“Ouch,” says Benjamin, attempting a version of his lopsided grin. “Whose turn for critique is it, anyway?”

Damon flicks his fingers at Benjamin, impatient. “Go on,” he says, and after a moment, Benjamin does.

I ride the currents of time back and back again, through our play, watching as we become less and less excited, gaining more and more control over ourselves. I watch as we dress each other, fumbling buttons closed and neckties tied. It is only when he pulls me from the room, towing me backwards via my grip on his tie, that I let time go; it rebounds with a snap.

To return to normal time: it is a knack which I have, necessarily, also always had. It is much easier to describe: like being shoved bodily into a group of people and interrupting their conversation, like tripping over an invisible rise in the sidewalk, like having a forming poem driven out of one’s head by the impatient honk of a car horn. Still, the momentary unpleasantness always passes.

Laughing, I tow him into the bedroom by his tie, anticipating the fuck to come. It is early in our relationship and I am still consumed by my lust for him. My talent allows me to fuck him again and again, often three or four times before I am emotionally sated enough to let the moment go. He does not know. He will never know.

Benjamin’s half-hearted, earnest critique has dried up, Damon notes, smiling to himself. Instead Benjamin wordlessly flicks to the next page, fascinated, like a small mammal transfixed by the gaze of a cobra.

He really is an adorable thing, Damon thinks. Precious in the way that only college boys can be, with his smooth, pretty face and his self-consciously artsy hair, with four carefully-chosen facial piercings–five, if you count the snakebites as two separate piercings, which Damon does not–and the discreet-but-not-too-discreet rainbow-striped badge pinned to his army-surplus backpack. Damon has predicted the existence of a fifth (or sixth) piercing underneath Benjamin’s clothing. He intends to confirm or deny that prediction soon.

Six months later, the magic is gone. He is possessed of unfortunate personality defects that my lust initially allowed me to overlook. Were I anyone else, I would have only the memory of excellent fucking to fall back on, and the unpleasantness of a break-up to look forward to; however, I am not anyone else.

I fall backwards into time, and this time, I do not stop. I fall faster, and faster, until I reach terminal velocity. Days flicker by in ridiculous speeded-up minutes. Weeks soon pass in seconds. My hair shortens, then abruptly lengthens, then shortens again. A small scar on my hand reddens, scabs over, bleeds, and vanishes. He flickers around me like a specter, talking like a record player stuck on 78 or a videotape being rewound; eventually he and I find ourselves in a dim bar, somewhere in midtown. I kick myself out of free-fall just before he would have vanished backwards into the crowd. “Can I buy you a drink, whoever you are?” he asks, his voice low. “Can I take you out of here? Can I at least get your name?”

I allow myself to enjoy the vague frisson of interest. It is all that is left of my interest in him, and soon enough, it’s gone. “I’m sorry,” I tell him, with an apologetic smile. “I’m waiting for someone else.” And I pick up my drink, and I leave him there.

“Wow,” Benjamin says, shaking his head slightly as he finishes the story. Light catches on his earrings, and the bleached spikes of his faux-hawk quiver. “That’s… that’s definitely different.”

Damon looks away. He has to. Otherwise, he’ll laugh. “I don’t think it’s very good,” he says dismissively. In fact, he knows it isn’t very good. He did not join their writing circle to learn to write.

“No, no,” Benjamin says, developing that earnest look again. “I mean, okay.” Putting down the manuscript, he ticks his points off on his fingers. “It could use some more polishing, yes. And you might want to fine-tune the tempo, it’s rushed in places. And I’m still not sure that the flowery tone suits it, but I always say that–” he undercuts the critique with a nervous laugh, like he always does “–but it’s definitely a cool idea and I think you did it credit, for the most part.”

The criticisms slide off Damon like so much water. He toys with his empty mug. Benjamin’s eyes flick across Damon’s moving fingers, then rise again. “I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve failed to get my point across,” Damon says, putting on a serious face. A Pained Artiste face. “Still, I… had this need to try.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” Benjamin says. He takes writing so seriously. “I mean, wow. So, uh, not to be a living cliche’ or anything, but… where’d you get the idea?”

Damon makes him wait for it. Damon rearranges himself, settling back in the booth and folding his legs together, enjoying this lead-in, enjoying Benjamin’s puppyish eyes on him as he moves. “Actually,” Damon says, lowering his voice, “I got the idea when I discovered that I can travel backwards through time.”

The earnest, half-embarrassed smile on Benjamin’s face does not fade. “Oh, sure,” he says, laughing, anxious not to be the butt of anyone’s joke. “I should have known. The minute I saw you, I said to myself, self, there’s a guy who can travel backwards in time, I’d know that look anywhere.”

Damon laughs at Benjamin’s joke, just a little, to show that there are no hard feelings. Benjamin laughs along, and is still laughing when Damon stops. “But it’s true,” Damon says, undercutting Benjamin’s uncomfortable laughter. “I can rewind time. That is exactly what I am saying.”

“Sure,” Benjamin says again, but his amusement is starting to look a little strained.

Damon spreads his hands wide. “I can’t blame you for not believing me,” he says. “It’s a ridiculous claim.”

“Yeah, it is.” Benjamin smiles, thinking–or hoping–that the teasing is over.

“I can prove it to you,” Damon says, tapping the table between them. The noise makes Benjamin’s eyes jerk down before rising again, fastening onto Damon’s, both hunted and intrigued. Damon leans forward, lacing his fingers together on the tabletop. “Tell me something that I shouldn’t know. That you’re convinced I don’t know.”

Benjamin sits back in his seat, so abruptly that the cushion under him sighs. “Look,” he says. “This isn’t cool–quit teasing me.”

“I’m not!” Damon protests. “I’m not asking you to divulge your deeply-held secrets. Give me something like… the name of the first pet you ever had. Or some possession that you value. Anything.”

Benjamin chews on the inside of his cheek, staring at Damon with flat-eyed distrust and a dawning dislike. Damon feels comfortable in ignoring these warning signs.

Finally Benjamin makes a frustrated sound. He pulls his backpack up onto the seat beside him and scrabbles through it, fishing out a small leather drawstring bag, battered and blotched with stains. Benjamin undoes the drawstring and pulls out an amethyst point as long as his thumb, the pale end broken off, the brilliant purple end coming to its natural point. It’s a lopsided thing, not the prettiest crystal Damon has ever seen. “My high-school drama teacher gave me this,” Benjamin says, brandishing the amethyst in Damon’s direction like a weapon.

“That will do,” Damon says approvingly. Because he can, he asks, “And you keep it with you always?”

“Yeah?” Benjamin’s voice is weedy and truculent. “So?”

“He must have meant a lot to you,” says Damon.

“He–yeah,” Benjamin says. He fumbles the crystal bag into the bag and the bag back into his backpack. His eyes look bruised now. His shoulders are hunched. Damon has surely damaged their rapport, perhaps irreversibly.

Damon does not care. “Just so you know,” he says, “I’m going to fuck you in every orifice.” Benjamin’s head jerks up, his eyes going wide in shock, a sudden pink flush blooming in his cheeks, and Damon smiles at Benjamin and lets himself fall backwards out of time.

The past catches him like a monstrous pile of feathers, billowing up around him as he falls back into it. Damon unlives the last few minutes of his life, watching them unhappen, watching Benjamin brighten and laugh again. Damon’s trespasses, all of them, are not forgotten; rather, they never happened, save in Damon’s memory. Benjamin’s eyes are bright and cheerful and guileless on his.

Damon steps forward out of the past with an unpleasant mental lurch. His metaphors are flowery, yes, but accurate enough. “Yeah, it is,” Benjamin says once more, smiling in hopes that the teasing is over.

“I can prove it to you,” Damon says, smiling to himself. He taps the table between them, attracting Benjamin’s attention for a split second.

“Oh, yeah?” says Benjamin. He’s not really comfortable–that can’t be helped–but he’s unwilling to look uncool, anxious to get along. “So… prove it.”

Damon folds his hands on the table and waits, for just a second. “There’s a little drawstring bag in your backpack,” he says. “It’s made of pale tan suede. It’s battered and stained. Inside the bag there’s an amethyst crystal about–” he pinches off a section of air “–this long. The pale end is broken off square, and the purple end comes to an off-center point.”

Benjamin is left sucking wind. For a moment, literally. Then he rallies. “You’ve been snooping in my stuff–?”

“You told me that your high-school drama teacher gave it to you,” Damon says, ignoring the outburst. “And that you still carry it everywhere with you, two years after the fact, because the man was special to you.”

It silences Benjamin nicely. The beginnings of that distrust start to flower in his eyes again.

“I didn’t want to pry further than that,” Damon says quietly, arranging his face so that he looks embarrassed. “But that’s what you told me.”

“I don’t…” Benjamin hesitates. “I don’t believe it,” he says, but his voice is uncertain. “I don’t believe you. This is some kind of trick.”

“It’s not a trick!” Damon takes a breath, then lets himself fold in, looking down at his hands. “I’m not surprised that you don’t believe me, though,” he says, putting a decent pretense of discouragement into his voice. “It’s hard to believe, I know. I… I don’t even know why I brought it up. It was stupid of me.”

“No… I mean, I…” Benjamin’s sucking wind again.

Damon looks at the far wall, to hide his amusement. Say ‘cock’ again, Benjamin. “I suppose it’s just that… well. I’ve read the stories that you’ve written.” Fantasy tripe, mostly. “They made me think that maybe you’d… maybe you’d believe me.”

The result does not surprise Damon in the least. Benjamin is no different than half a million boys of his age. Just the suggestion that he’s failed to understand something makes him hurry to try: “It’s not that,” Benjamin says, tentatively touching the knot of Damon’s hands on the tabletop, then drawing his fingers away. “I mean, I want to believe you. It’s just… well… you’re saying you have superpowers.” He gasps out that nervous little laugh again.


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