“Where are we going, mommy?”
“Somewhere special, sweetheart,” is his mother’s answer. “Somewhere safe.”
She is leading him by the hand through the churchyard, but not towards the church. They walk right past it, the bright afternoon sunlight giving way first to dappled shade, then to cool, damp dusk as they enter the woods beyond the churchyard.
“What’s so safe about the woods?” Eli asks. He is only six, young enough to follow his mother, but old enough to know something is different about her.
“He said he can fix you,” his mother says, although Eli thinks it is more to herself than to him. “He said he can make you better.”
“Am I sick?”
“Oh baby,” her voice softens, cracks. But her hand tightens around his, and her pace quickens. “Yes.”
Eli’s eyes snap open, as they often do when he reaches that point in the dream. He sits up in bed, heart pounding, breathing in and out as steadily as he can. He feels the heavy warmth of a hand over his, and looks down at Jerome. He has reached over without even opening his eyes. He could be fast asleep.
“Are you alright?” He asks, eyes still closed.
“I’m fine,” Eli says. “Just the usual.”
“I love you,” Jerome says, voice sleepier now. This middle of the night conversation is a well-worn part of the script that is their relationship.
“I love you too,” Eli echoes, as a restless feeling settles in his gut. Seconds later Jerome is snoring softly. He envies Jerome this. For Eli, this wakefulness, this sudden unease, can mean only one thing. He is in need of a sweeter dream than his own.
He eases himself off the bed as quietly as he can, and dresses in silence. In the corner of the room, his latest painting stands unfinished. He considers fetching his brushes to take his mind off the bad dream and this sudden craving, but he knows it won’t work. Nothing works.
He pads barefoot over hardwood floors to the front door, only stopping to put his shoes on when he is outside and the noise will not wake Jerome. The night outside is unseasonably warm; he unzips his hooded sweatshirt and savours the sensation of the night air on his bare chest. His jeans cling to his legs, heavy and tight.
He and Jerome have lived in Bellevue for nearly a year now, and he can navigate the streets at night with ease, but he doesn’t pay much attention to where he’s going. On nights like this it is never his eyes that lead him, but something on the inside.
He doesn’t know how long he walks. Each breath he takes is more rapid, more shallow. The heat builds under his skin and it feels like every muscle in his body is tightening. The familiar pressure below his stomach is there, the almost benign flow of blood that people call lust. But it isn’t lust alone that brings Eli out onto the streets at night, more frequently these last few weeks than ever before in his life. Rather, something much closer to hunger.
On Sheridan Street, he stops outside a small house. An unremarkable home; the front door needs a fresh lick of paint and the lawn hasn’t been cut in a while – if Eli didn’t know better, he might think it was abandoned. But he does know better. In a bedroom upstairs, somebody is sleeping. And, more importantly, dreaming.
Eli closes his eyes, and reaches out. The pounding in his chest abates slightly, as if an invisible beast knows it is about to be fed. In the darkness beneath his eyelids, Eli begins to see the man in his bed. It is like a Polaroid image clearing at first; he sees the rise and fall of his broad, hairless chest, then the outline of a muscular arm arched over his head. Eventually Eli can make out the slightest of creases on the thin sheet draped over the man’s waist. A thin, teasing line of hair makes its way down from his navel, thickening and darkening just before vanishing under the cotton.
Eli reaches out with his right hand. Instead of touching thin air, he feels the warmth of the man’s body. Gently, so lightly that the sensation is almost imperceptible even to him, he ghosts his fingers over the man’s muscular chest. Eli sees his nipples harden in arousal, an unconscious reaction to his presence.
Under his eyelids, the man’s pupils dart around rapidly. He is having a very pleasant dream. And he has no idea how much more pleasant it will get. Eli cups his face in his right hand, and the man instinctively nuzzles his palm. In sleep, his brow furrows in a slight frown. His lips form a soft pout.
His eyes, should they open, would be blue. His name is –
Eli pushes the thought away.
He lets his hand slide down from the man’s face, pausing for a second around his throat, savouring the sensation of the pulse beneath his palm, the ripple against his skin as the man swallows. It feels like he hasn’t shaved in a day, maybe two; the stubble grazes his hand gently. Eli allows his hand to linger on the strong, coarse jaw; Jerome is always so clean-shaven.
The sleeper’s breathing quickens. The edges of his mouth twitch in pleasure. He exhales loudly, bucks his hips lazily. It is impossible to notice the sizeable erection beneath the sheet. Eli lowers his hand to rest on his chest again, more heavily this time. He doesn’t know anymore whether it is his hand, or the man’s chest that is red hot.
A sharp intake of breath, a quiet moan. The sleeper’s lips form a silent name. Who is he dreaming of? Jules. The name appears unbidden in his own mouth. A man, or a woman? It doesn’t matter, he supposes.
The man thrusts upwards against the sheet one more time, harder, then again. It must be one hell of a dream. Eli’s hand doesn’t move from his chest. The stuffy warm bedroom air is thick around them, laden with electricity. Any moment now.
The man splays both his arms outwards wantonly, and for a split second Eli thinks of a crucified Jesus. He vehemently rejects this thought. The sleeper thrashes on the bed, panting hard. Seconds later, he comes loudly, his voice a wordless, guttural howl. Eli breathes in deeply. Something travels up through his hand; a pulse, a flex of muscle. He inhales the sleeper’s own breath, a heady mix of scotch and smoke.
He feels his own body open. The tension in his stomach evaporates, the need laughs silently as it is given what it wants. It is beyond sexual gratification; for the briefest of moments, it is akin to bliss.
Eli breathes out, feeling drunk and sated. When he looks down, he sees a pair of bright, fierce blue eyes looking up at him. Panic threatens to rise in his throat, then the eyes drift closed and the man is asleep once more. His chest and stomach glisten, the sheet lies crumpled around his thighs. His cock looks both happy and spent; Eli can relate.
He closes his eyes, and when he opens them again he is back in the yard. His cheeks are hot, flushed, and his heart is racing again, given new life, new blood. He feels like he could do anything. But all he wants to do is go home. He turns and walks, practically skips, away from Sheridan Street.
The moonlight this evening is weak, but Eli carries his own glow. The night, it almost seems, is singing to him. Welcoming him back. When he reaches the apartment, he clumsily rushes to take off his shoes and ends up walking out of his sweater and jeans, striding into the bedroom and standing before the unfinished painting, issuing an unspoken challenge.
By the time he finishes, the sun is peeking like a voyeur over the horizon. Eli looks back to the bed, where Jerome sleeps under a beam of half-light. In the morning, he will feel ashamed. But he’s riding too high a wave for any kind of guilt to reach him yet.
In the bottom right corner of the painting, in as small lettering as he can, he inscribes his name, then climbs back into bed beside his lover, wrapping cold, paint-stained hands around Jerome’s warm body.
Eli Cody, Bellevue, March 2011.