Skyglass: Chapter 6
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Dream and Divulge
For the first time in four years, I couldn’t sleep.
I tried pillows first. I buried my head in one and wrapped another around my head, but the apartment was still too loud, even though Phoenix was probably off in a teahouse somewhere, plotting murder with Zinn. I could hear drunks yelling outside my vine-matted window; I could hear the crackling hiss of the vus sliding along its lines. The beat of rain on roof and bioplast made me want to drum. I wanted to make music with the storm.
Nerves chewed at me. I was terrified. In four hours, I had work. And then, three hours into my shift, Marko would arrive. I hadn’t seen him since…that night. Just the evening before last. A night I didn’t want to think about, but my brain wasn’t cooperating. Instead of helping me along the path to apathy like it once had, conveniently killing anything and everything that might make me feel, my mind had decided to examine in great detail all the piss I was in. I was sopping with it.
I couldn’t be selfish like Phoenix had suggested. It didn’t matter that Marko had kissed me back, or that he’d laughed and swigged his drink when we’d spoken afterward. Everything felt wrong.
I gave up on sleep and left the apartment, pulling my hood up against the rain, heading for the Gut. I needed a place to think, and the coffin in the forest was the quietest place I knew.
I approached the black, root-cradled box carefully, keeping an eye out for creepy, red-furred felines. My fear was absurd, though–that particular cat was somewhere deep in the city, plotting revenge with my bassist. Shadows clogged the forest, settling my nerves. They were all the company I needed.
I sealed myself up in the space-faring tomb and forced myself to relive my visit to Marko’s. The heat and vulnerability of his mouth. That alone was a…good memory. It didn’t make me happy, but I felt a little warmer. A part of me wished I had stayed longer–not because I wanted something more (I didn’t), but to feel safe. To feel heat. To be side by side with another human body, in his bed, and know I was wanted.
I napped a while in the coffin, until I had to leave. I was still nervous, but it was no longer a sick sort of anxiety. I wasn’t going to throw up. The only nerves shivering in me were the sort anyone might feel after kissing their boss. They weren’t pleasant, but I could handle their jitter.
I walked through the leaden rain with my headphones and hood around my neck, ears tuned to the storm. When I reached the Abyss, and the stairwell above Marko’s shop, I paused. I was a couple minutes early–I had time to breathe before opening. I leaned over the railing, staring at Myriad’s metal patchwork roof. Drips of residual rainfall slipped from the wet tips of my hair like beads from a broken string. When I stared too hard at the dark around the hunched, broken shop, I could see faint, amoeba-ish shapes and colors filling the black. Fatigue and hunger were getting to me, and it took me a moment to realize what my brain was actively trying to ignore: Marko’s van, parked beside the shop’s back entrance. He wasn’t supposed to be here yet.
Now I wanted to vomit. My fingers squeezed the railing. I made them relax. I made my feet take a step down. Again. Again.
He was waiting for me in the back, among the boxes and leaning shelves. I couldn’t see his face–only the broadness of his shoulders. The rain outside was freezing, but he was in short sleeves (deep red, a color he rarely wore); I wasn’t surprised, though, now that I’d spent some time with him, close enough to feel his heat. He was unnaturally warm. Even his pale mass of wet, carroty hair seemed warm, though it looked like he’d been standing in the downpour for hours.
I closed the door with a click. I wanted him to know I was there, but I didn’t want to open my mouth.
Marko turned slowly when he heard the door. There was a soft smile on his face and shadows beneath his eyes. How early had he arrived?
“Hey Moss,” he said. The words slid up against one another. Was he drunk? Just tired?
“You’re early,” I said, pulling off the hat he’d given me, balling it up in my left fist. Somehow, wearing the thing made me feel more conspicuous than complete exposure.
My breath snagged. “You are?”
“Yeah.” He lifted a shoulder, dropped it, tugged nervously at his hair. “There’s a big festival happening across the Waste. I should be able to collect some pretty rare piss for the shop, and I decided to close for a couple days while I’m away, but…”
He fumbled in a pocket and took out a wad of money, then took an uneven step toward me, and placed the cash on a box between us. “I had to give you this before I went. I know you need money, and it’s not really fair I’m shutting Myriad down for a bit, so that’s compensation.” He looked down at his feet, chewing on his bottom lip. “If it’s not enough–” he started, but I interrupted.
“It’s fine,” I said, and stuffed the money in my jacket. It would be plenty. Now that Phoenix was paying for rent, I’d actually started to save a little. Having a buffer like that–it was nice. It felt safe.
“Right. Good,” he said. “Anyway, I’m heading for the train now.” He didn’t move.
I stared at him incredulously, at his body’s exhausted half-tilt. “Are you safe to drive?”
He smiled fleetingly, mouth mashed together and lopsided. “I guess.” He dragged his fingers through his hair, working through the knots. “I didn’t really sleep last night.”
Marko laughed. It sounded subdued, but genuine. “’Cause I’m stupid and scared. I hate going on trips. It just takes so…long. I get anxious. But if I stay up the night before, I can sleep all the way there.”
I started, and found something far-off to stare at. I hadn’t known he was scared of traveling. I hadn’t known he was scared of anything.
“But you’re still driving to the station–your van’s out front. Why not take the vus?”
He shrugged, eyes lowered. They flitted up to my face for half a moment, then darted back to the ground. “You could drive me,” he suggested quietly. “To the station. It’s not far.”
“I’m not sure that would be any safer,” I said with half a grin. “I haven’t driven in years.” Not since I’d sold my parent’s car.
“Yeah, so? Least you’re not sleep deprived.”
I sighed. I was, actually, but he didn’t need to know that. “Come on, then.”
The drive to the station was silent. I was glad for it. Part of me wanted to talk, to say something about the night before last, but what would be the point? I’d screwed up and taken advantage of his kindness. But he’d enjoyed it, so that meant we were even, right? Obviously nothing was going to come of it–it wasn’t going to happen again. There was nothing to talk about.
“Feel free to borrow the van while I’m gone,” he said, when I stopped at the curb beside the station. “You know the code. Just leave it at my place when you’re done. I’ll take the vus when I get back.” He reached down and grabbed his backpack. “The last show of the festival’s on Sunday, so I should be back for our usual Monday shift. See you then.”
I tapped a hand restlessly against my leg as he walked around the front of the van. When he stalled by my window, I tapped harder. “Okay,” I murmured. “Thanks for the money.”
“Yeah.” He jerked his head over his shoulder, eyeing the sleek metallic worm that would soon speed him from the city toward better places. He swung his head back around and studied me intently, swallowing hard.
“This is gonna sound really…weird,” he mumbled. “But, um…can I kiss you goodbye?”
The question wiped my mind. I didn’t know what to do or say, so I nodded my head, just barely.
He swallowed again, smiled hesitantly, and dropped his pack so he could lean through the van’s open window.
Marko’s palms warmed my ears as his fingers tugged at the soft hair behind them. The heaviness of his jaw leaned into mine; my stomach jumped when I realized I was pressing back, catching my fingers around his wrist, loosening my mouth, letting his tongue in. His scent–rainwater, fiddleheads–cocooned around my head. My other hand reached up to clench at his shirt. His long fingers slid back to support my skull, the soft skin of his inner forearms slipping against my cheeks.
I kissed him back, because his mouth felt secure, and warm, and a little bit needy–like I had something necessary. Like I was necessary, though I knew I wasn’t; I’d never been needed like that, not by my friends, not by my parents, even if I liked to pretend otherwise.
I didn’t want Marko to go, I realized. He’d been stable like no one else–until now. I’d probably miss him, and that realization made me wonder why he was going so suddenly, why he was kissing me now. Why hadn’t he given me any warning? Was his mouth on mine because he knew I needed someone close and forgiving? Did he think I wanted something more from him than friendship? Then why was he leaving? Was this his way of saying, I wish I could give you what you want, but I can’t. Goodbye?
I hoped not–how rotting awkward would it be, to tell him, It’s not like that, I just need something to grip. I just need to know that I’m the thing you need to keep you stable. You keep me stable.
I shuddered, just slightly. Kissing him two nights ago had been a mistake. Right now was a mistake. I was losing control, definition. Had I ruined everything?
Mark pulled away, and grabbed his pack. “Sorry,” he said.
I wanted to tell him to wait, that I’d screwed up, that he should stay and not sleep away his fear on some rotsucking train, but my jaw was locked and by the time I’d gotten it open, he had already vanished into the station.
Proceed to Chapter 6, page 2–>