by Joel Caris
He sat in the coffee house, across the room from the two girls. One of them stared at him and pointed, surreptitiously but still visibly, lightly touching her friend on the shoulder to gain her attention. “Look at him,” she said. “His eyes are so dark; they're ringed. He looks like death and madness, restricted freedom. Do you see?”
Her friend nodded and smiled. The coffee house vibrated, the screech of milk being steamed and the angry buzz of brewing espresso. Customers walked in and out the front door. They were a steady stream of need and desire, fulfilled satisfaction and expectation. The girl loved the smell of sweat on the hot day and the pheromones the customers exuded, lust for flesh replaced by lust for substance. They shook and tapped their fingers on the counter, eagerly counted out their money and handed over their pieces of plastic, desperate for milk and caffeine and chocolate, syrups and brownies and pecans, peanuts, almonds, walnuts, tea and small, pre-packaged sandwiches, cookies and peppermint and foam, fix upon fix upon fix.
The friend left and the girl walked over to the boy, admiring the way his eyes wandered and he cocked his head slightly to the side, appearing thoughtful and considerate and deeply hungry. She sat down and he looked at her, stared at her, drinking slowly from his coffee and he smiled just hesitantly and slightly, with only his top row of teeth visible and only this for a moment. “Hello,” she said, and she placed her elbows on the table and squeezed her breasts together slightly, angling so he could see down her shirt. She smiled. She could not laugh until he said something.
“Hi,” he said, but she still could not laugh.
His life roiled behind his eyes--she could see years and months and days, hours and minutes boiled down to simplistically complicated emotions and conflicting thoughts, anger and desire and pleasure. Death, she thought, and it did seem as if he exuded this essence, this thought of drifting non-existence, as if life had tried to be something for him but had managed only to disappoint and fail extravagantly.
After peering down her shirt a moment--but not overt and he did not leer, did not even seem particularly motivated to look--he put his own elbows on the table and leaned in toward her, flashed again his smile and he asked her her name, which she told him, then he made a small joke about the customers--in and out--slightly sexual to gauge her reaction. She laughed at the joke and he touched her on the arm, lightly dragging his fingers down across her skin. She tingled. For a moment, she did not know what to do. He had taken her move and confused the situation. So she touched her dark, long hair and smiled enthusiastically and asked him why his eyes were so dark and abandoned.
All the way back to his house--"So big!" she exclaimed--she imagined him fucking her, again and again and a variety of ways and wondered if the death behind his eyes would rub off on her, if it would enter her and fester and where exactly it would stake its residence. But when they arrived, he took her into the living room and sat her down on his couch, offering food and drink. She told him that whiskey or vodka would be perfect--a request he accepted without hesitation. He returned with both and with two shot glasses. One for each drink.
They alternated and each had three shots--her two of vodka and him two of whiskey, then one of the others for both. The room grew hot and charged, electric, while she touched him tirelessly, again and again, and he touched her but neither become bold or forward and their clothes did not rustle or fall. Arms and legs, a shoulder, he stroked her hair and she touched him lightly on the neck, just beneath his jawline. They stared at each other and saw familiar hatreds and desires. They could understand each other and each touch brought everything closer and caused the night to become more stark and honest. It began to disturb her.
She tried to kiss him once, but he pushed her away. It somehow seemed appropriate. She drank another shot of whiskey at this point--which made three shots of vodka and two of whiskey--and they were both drunk and lost, with black eyes and constant touches--the way he stroked her hair--and at one point they simply sat with entwined fingers, palms touching and both of them staring intermittently at the ceiling and then at one another. She chafed at the intimacy of the moment but refused to listen to the part of her mind that screamed for her to leave or fuck, to take something or go. Calm calm calm, she repeated to herself, dared herself, and continued to let him touch her in brief and intimate and non-sexual ways.
Three hours after arriving at his house, she asked him, “Would you drive me back to my car if I asked, so I could go home?”
“Of course,” he answered.
But she did not ask.
Later--as they both struggled with consciousness and alcohol--he led her upstairs to his bedroom, where they took off their clothes. They stared at each other a moment and she felt both ashamed and exhilarated, wanting to grab hold of him and make him touch every part of her, to force him to see every thought that had ever entered her mind. Instead, though, they climbed into bed and pushed themselves close to each other. He touched her stomach, her legs, her breasts, her shoulders and face and hair and once he massaged her feet, only for a few moments, and another time he traced up her inner thigh and then over her hips. She ran her fingers along his chest and stomach, traced circles on the backs of his knees, put both hands on his face, dragged the back of her hand across his stubble, squeezed his shoulder and ran her hands up and down his back.
Then they fell asleep, innocent, and throughout the night she woke up again and again. She cried in her sleep and trembled and every time she awoke he would be staring at her. He would wrap his arms around her, sometimes placing his palm flat against her stomach and other times his arm across her breasts. Heat poured off him. Yet he kept his death to himself, offering only his quiet touch and eventually she stopped crying. She slept deep into the next day before she woke up confused and uneasy, searching the boy next to her for his darkness, for all the promised touches he had withheld.