Zach lit up, drew deep, held it tight. When it released I pulled on the air spilling from his lungs, feeling the current tickle down my throat. He grinned up at me, his left arm folded behind his head, making a pillow for it, propped so’s I could reach his mouth. Nice and easy. Soft and easy.
He let me lay on him long ways, him being bigger and taller, making me feel safe, holding the warm of his skin next to mine. The breeze that sprung up settled around us, cool in that clammy way the night had. We was running out of time so it was time we held close, close like our bodies.
Words never came easy, not for me, but Zach was hardest off, the sounds sometimes stuck inside and you could see them in his eyes or how he pursed his lips. We’d learned a code early on, making do with what Grams would call nonsense, but it built those bridges she was always going on about, touching hearts, connecting souls. When she said it, it touched you, stayed with you, stayed long enough you’d mull it over, change it up some, enough it would pop out when you most needed it.
Words like that coulda come from the Reverend, on the pulpit, droning on about life lessons and things what happened in a time and place that made no sense, had nothing to do with here, with now. Had nothing to do with Zach and me, but Grams … she had the right of it, talking on kin folk and doing what needed done in hard times and good.
“You ever seen a connecting bridge, Zach?”
He never looked at me like I was stupid for asking something like that. He thought on it, said no, inhaled and passed it to me. The rise and fall of his chest, then mine—like we was tied together, our skins glued the entire length, chest to belly to cock—seemed like what Grams might have meant. Connections.
He rolled us on our sides, cushioning my head with his hand. My hair needed cut, had done so for weeks, but Ma said money was tight and she’d do it, but I begged for her to leave it be. Zach liked it shaggy and long and thick. He liked getting a grip, a real handful, and twisting it ‘til it hurt, pulling and combing his fingers through it, going harder, tighter, faster, and the closer he got, the closer I pulled him to the end, the more he hung on.
It was like I was his bridge—his connection—the thing keeping him here, tied to Earth instead of exploding and floating off into space.
He palmed my face, asked, “Did you?” and pried my mouth open, sucking on the air inside, drawing it out, inviting my tongue to wander with his, back and forth, back and forth. When I tried to answer, he pressed my windpipe, pressed it hard, his tongue pushing deep and hard, hard as our cocks, pressing and rubbing, our skin sticky like we’d coated it with glue that hadn’t set up.
I wanted to talk about how we’d come together, like one person, instead of two, but instead, I asked, “Is it okay to be scared?”
His eyes questioned me. There was confusion, and he twitched like I’d tried to hit him but missed, and then I realized he thought I meant this, this wondrous thing we had, the touching and feeling and the blowups and how he struggled to say how it was, how it felt, and there weren’t words, none at all. For neither of us.
Sometimes he cried, even before the end of it, cried for the knowing, the waiting, being just there, on the edge of it where it hurt too much to stop. But tonight had been different. He’d slapped the trunk, hard … slap slap slap … not wrapping my hair in his fingers, just slapping and bending his knees and pushing himself as deep as I could take.
Then he’d howled to the sky, clear up through the branches, past the tallest one, howled at the clouds and the stars and moon we couldn’t see, howled the word that was him and me and everything we had and couldn’t keep.
It was wrong, so wrong. If they heard it—that deep throat moan of fuuuuuck—my Ma or his Pa, even his ass of a brother Eddy, if they heard it they’d whupp us so hard we’d walk funny for a week. And it would be worth it, to yodel like a coyote, to send out that message for everyone in the country to hear, to think on. To know we were together. More than together. We were connected. One.
We were bad, the both of us, bad bad bad, so bad it was good. Each time, in the time we had, it got better, each and every time I touched, he touched. Tonight he sang that touch. I felt it deep in my throat, tasted it—hot, bitter, thick and salty—shooting the rapids as I pulled it all from him.
When I looked up at him, the words poked through. “Is this how it’s supposed to be?”
I figured maybe he’d ignore it, that being one of those imponderables Grams went on about when the question was bigger than her or me or the farm. Bigger than the weather. Bigger than the politicians, and war, and all the other crap they seemed to care about, but it was shit that didn’t stick, not in ways that mattered.
There were other things I needed to say. Grams would call it looking for assurances, and that was wrong according to the Good Book, though why that was so made little sense, especially when Ma stood there watching me on my knees, too young to remember to tie my shoes let alone invoke God’s help, praying to be good, praying for forgiveness when I’d done nothing wrong.
Night after night, praying, saying sorry, asking for leave to wake up in the morning, but never sure it would be so.
Ma would say, “Ain’t no guarantees, boy,” like it was writ in stone. As if that’s what I’d been asking but truth was, I wasn’t asking for anything, leastways what the rest of them approved of.
Zach brushed the hair out of my eyes. “It ain’t wrong for us, Jackie. That’s all that counts. Do you understand?”
“Is that ’cause we got us a bridge? Between you and me?”
His face lit up, like maybe I was the smartest one in the room, and I’d just proved it by saying what he had bottled up inside.
Sometimes I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. Sometimes the words came out like they owned the night, spewing like a geyser before I even knew they was there.
“Am I dirty?”
Zach sat up, his face thunderous. “Fuck no, Jackie. Who said that?” He clenched his fists tight. I hadn’t meant to set him off, but it was out there so I figured it was too late to hold the rest back.
“You know who.”
I hung my head, the memories of their fists and taunts, me being too small, too fearful to fight back, turning the other cheek, back and forth, back and forth ’til both purpled and swelled and they left me there, like always. Tied up tight in a ball. Alone, until Zach found me. Then it was different. Now everything was different.
He took a breath and grabbed at me but I skittered away. I needed to know. “I’m dirty like they said. I know it.” I needed assurances.
“Yeah, you are.” He grinned. It split his face in the dark, near scaring the shit outa me. I didn’t understand so I whined, “Zach?”
“You’re dirty, farmboy.” He grabbed at my hand, missed and did it again. This time he had it. He held it up, sucked on a thumb, then a finger, humming to himself. “Real dirty dirt, tasty dirt.”
Ma’d sometimes talk about a heart beating double-time. That sounded odd, stupid maybe, but now I felt it, in my chest, thud-a-thud-a-thud, and the words settled there, in between the beats, settling the beats, soothing them down, thud, thud, thud.
“Fuck you, Zachary Wilkens, fu— fu— fuck you.”
I wanted to stand up, run, run as far as I could but he held me tight in his arms, tight enough I near melted, my head going light, dizzy with fear he’d turned, turned against me. My head said it was so but inside, in my chest, where the pain got so puffed up in there I could feel my ribs crack, that part of me said no.
He whispered, “They don’t know about this, Jackie. I swear to God.”
This… This was what turned me inside out. This was what clawed at me, day and night, until all I knew was soon it would be over and I’d be alone again.
Alone was one thing, I’d been that most all my life, my coming fifteen years of life on this planet. But Zach was my bridge now, my connection, and without that, without him in my life, how was I going to do alone?
Zach pushed me onto the cold ground, holding me still as he moved his tongue over my skin. I near choked on the words. “Zach, what’re you doing?”
“Building another bridge.”