“He remembers flickering lights and desperately grasping at the man with the hazel eyes’ hand, sweaty and terrified of the occurrences outside of the closet they were concealed in.”
They haven’t spoken since the unspeakable happened, and here they are again.
The one with the darker hair and luminescent hazel eyes calls first. His voice is a little gravelly, and there’s an unmistakable tightness in his throat that he tries his best not to let out. They mumble to each other awkwardly, trying to create small talk. The man with the amber eyes and reddish hair is doing alright. He’s two years into his engineering program, and he lives in the city now. He mutters a lame joke about engineers and railroads, and the man with the eyes of a pond that’s still and reflects the trees that tower above laughs. It’s a soft, lilting laugh that hasn’t changed at all, and the man with eyes of fire feels his heart twist into knots. He proposes coffee, and the man with the eyes the color of light flowing through an emerald stained glass window almost drops the phone, but agrees. They set up a time and date and hang up simultaneously. The man with the eyes of a phoenix ablaze counts down from three, just like they used to, and he can hear the smile in the man with the apple green eyes flecked with goldenrod as he whispers a goodbye. The man with the eyes of burning foliage in fall slides down against the kitchen counter and onto the cool tile floor, the groceries he was bringing in forgotten.
A day later, they meet at the arranged shop. The man with the amber eyes can’t help but marvel at how much his old… colleague has grown in the last year. His darkened hair has grown a little longer, down to his chin. He wears a bright green flannel and dark jeans. He’s filled out into the shirt, the man with the amber eyes notes.
The man with the hazel eyes is too busy studying the ground to notice his… partner standing near him. His eyes analyze the tile patterns, and to keep his mind from wandering, he tries to count the number of tiles on the floor in the room. He hears the man with the amber eyes say um, and he’s so startled that the first words he says face to face to someone for whom he once spent nights sobbing into his hands, sitting on his bed next to the bloodied bathtub of his nightmares, are the following:
“Three hundred and eighty six.”
The man with the hazel eyes ducks his head back down, a warm rose blush spreading over his cheeks. He thinks he’s really messed it up now, mumbling an apology that was mainly composed of ums and sorrys rather than anything else. But the man with hints of muted scarlet in his eyes just lets a quiet chuckle –– more a giggle than anything else –– pulls out the metal stool and heaves himself onto the cool, shining seat. He allows his eyes to make contact with his former ally, the only person he could have ever trusted in that darkened abyss of cynical laughter and unreciprocated deals. He remembers flickering lights and desperately grasping at the man with the hazel eyes’s hand, sweaty and terrified of the occurrences outside of the closet they were concealed in.
He blinks his eyes, startled from his unpleasant reverie when the man sitting across from him says his name for what could have been the first or fiftieth time. They make eye contact, and the man with the hazel eyes allows himself a smile. He asks again, “Do you still take your coffee black?”
“I allow myself a Splenda once in awhile. Do you still hate the taste of coffee?”
“You’d think a year in medical school would have taught me something, but no.”
“Don’t tell me you got hot chocolate. Please.”
Their drinks arrive, and the man with the hazel eyes curls his fingers around the mug and draws it near. The black sharpie has his name horrifically spelled wrong, but has an unmistakable HC scrawled onto the side. He grins. “Guilty as charged. So, uh, how’s Aveline?”
“She’s doing better. In a few weeks, she’s going to college.”
“Really? Which one?”
“You wouldn’t believe me.”
“Try me.” The man with the hazel eyes lifts his steaming drink to his lips. The gentle taste of chocolate floods his mouth, and he tips his head back, savoring the flavor.
“In a few weeks, she’s flying out to Cornell.”
The man with the hazel eyes almost chokes on his drink. He leans forwards, eyes wide and an uncontrollable smile on his face. “Really?”
“Yeah. When we got the letter, she almost cried. I gave her a high five at first, being a cool older brother, but — ”
“You started crying too.”
The man with the amber eyes points a finger gun at his companion. “Bingo.”
The man with the hazel eyes tips back in his chair, still smiling. “Aveline. Cornell. That’s incredible, Ezra. Who’d’ve thought?”
“After the… incident, Sanjay, I wasn’t sure. But she made it. She sure did.”
Ezra knew he would be the one who would bring it up. He had paced in front of his mirror, coaching himself on lines to practice, things that would pale before the elephant in the room. But the beast had reared its head and released the damn word. Incident.
Sanjay let his eyes meet the floor, partially relieved that the source of the tension had been meet, and partially terrified for the same reason. His throat tightens, phrases echoing around his brain with no route for escape. He analyzes the pattern of the tiles this time, if the mortar between forms parallel lines. He briefly considers pulling out a protractor to determine if a pair of angles is supplementary, but Ezra speaks up again, his voice soft.
“I, uh, got out of therapy a few days ago.”
Silence. A few moments of background babble fills the space that their conversation before had left vacant, but then Sanjay picks it up. “My last week’s coming up, but to be perfectly honest I doubt I’m ready for it.”
“I’ve taken up piano again. It helps in that you don’t always need to let your mind wander, ya know? Sometimes I immerse myself in a –– oh, I don’t know –– some Chopin sonata, and all I really have to think about is the progression, the dynamics, the flow. But other times, I can let my hands go across the keys and think. It’s weird. Sometimes I just stare into the hallway adjacent to the piano, and when I played in Aveline’s house, my head just drifted to where the hallway would be. There’s a sort of liberation with some pieces — it’s called a rubato. Essentially, the tempo ebbs and flows, going faster at some points and slowing down at others. I just… oh, I’m sorry.”
“I’ve, uh, gone on for too lo — ”
“Nonsense.” Hazel eyes become rust again. We’ve mastered the art of awkward eye contact, Ezra muses.
Awkward eye contact when they first saw each other in the coffee shop. Awkward eye contact when they first met outside the inferno, the blaze that took down the hotel single handedly. Awkward eye contact when neither of them knew how to proceed, which door to knock on first with the scent of old house lingering in the air. Awkward side eye when listening to something they realized too late they shouldn’t have, awkward eye contact when the woman who was in front of them had a breakdown, calling for someone neither of them knew but recognized from a headstone. Awkward eye contact that led to so many things –– gentle, bright laughter to stinging tears brimming in bloodshot eyes. Damp sweaty hands entwining, sprinting away from something unknown but emitting waves of terror.
Ezra tried to talk, but there was something stuck in his throat. Something made of angst, something birthed from trauma, something that he felt when he woke up from the nightmares and something that has shaped who he was, something that made him stand out from the person he once was.
Sanjay let his hand settle over Ezra’s. Hazel eyes met amber eyes. Eyes the color of rust, the color of dried blood, eyes that glistened with tears, eyes that had seen the unspeakable met eyes of a mix of colors, of muted green and caramel, eyes that crinkled at the sides when he smiled and eyes that couldn’t process certain stimuli but were forced to eventually.
Ezra cleared his throat. He dropped his gaze from his old friend, someone who could’ve been more than a friend, but too much had settled between them. They hadn’t spoken, and while they both regretted the radio silence, it was most likely for the best. They had too much emotion, too much raw unfiltered grief and a single day that scarred their minds forever. They had nightmare fuel to keep them in the terrors of the atmosphere, but slowly, slowly, they began to fall back down. And by now, they were halfway down to a comforting, familiar Earth.
They hadn’t spoken since the unspeakable happened, yet there they were again.