When we first meet, your right cheek is a little bruised. You tell me you stumbled, you took a little fall -- you don't tell me anything else. I go with it, willing to believe anything you tell me at this point. The gas station we walk to has a few run-down candy machines. We buy gumballs. We try to blow bigger bubbles than each other, and I win every time.
When we meet again, there are a few more bruises on your cheek. You don't explain how you got them -- they're just there. We walk together. You clutch at your left arm, almost constantly, shaking. We buy sodas, and you gulp yours down so quickly I'm surprised you don't burp the alphabet on the way home.
The next time we meet, the bruises are worse, and there are a few cuts. Your right eye looks tired, as though it's seen more than it could ever hope to see. I hold your hand with both of mine, and you tremble, but say nothing. We walk down to the river, and we sing -- loud, our voices carrying through the harbor. People on the boats yell at us, telling us to go home to our mothers. We laugh.
You're growing your hair out when I see you again. The left side of your bangs is being pushed back with a couple of rusty pins. The right side is growing out, falling over your face. Your skin looks red and irritated. I see marks I never expected to see. We head down to the comic book store and look for new issues. One of the little kids from down the street shows up with some sour candy and some old X-Mens. We get sugar all over the pages. He doesn't mind.
They invite us to a party -- the younger kids. There's no one our age here, and the younger kids are more fun than the uppity college students that visit in the spring. Somehow, they've gotten their parents out of the house, and someone's brought drugs. We sit on the couch and watch the news. There's something about a fire downtown. Your face is covered in scars. The right side of your lip is twisted into a frown.
You meet me by the garbage cans. I've been sifting through them. We find some neat little pieces of scrap metal and a few shards of glass. You handle the metal, but not the glass -- never the glass. I cut my hands on a few of the fragments. You grasp my hands, trying to staunch the flow of blood, and I notice how glassy and blank your right eye looks. You have the nastiest black eye I've ever seen. Your smile is genuine, though, and I smile back, even though it hurts.
A few of the students come back that evening, while we're watching the sun set from out behind the whore house. This part of town is the most dangerous, so we're both surprised when the students show up, their collars loose, their noses Rudolph-red. One of them has a couple of bottles in his hand, and I can feel you shudder, your shoulder pressed to mine. We take off running and duck into a seedy little diner, where it seems like everyone is looking at us funny. Your nose is bleeding, but I don't say anything about it. There's nothing to be said.
We meet up in front of my house on a rainy evening. You keep your right hand tightly clasped over your face as I take your other hand and lead you down to the bar. The men just let us in -- they're used to us, even if we're still too young to be here. I hand you a glass of water, and you sip it, slowly, turning away from me so I don't see your face. I tell you it's okay -- it won't frighten me. I can hear you making soft moans of pain beside me.
We wake up on the front porch of the clinic. The man sweeping dust off the front steps tells us to piss off, so I drag you away. We sit in an alleyway, and I examine you. Your cheek is bloody, and your face is swollen -- I can barely see your right eye at all. I ask you, my voice shaky, what happened last night. You say nothing, but lean forward and start planting trails of kisses down my neck, whispering words I don't quite understand.
When I get home, I pull out an elementary-level English book from what used to be my parents' room. I want to look up those words, but instead of finding definitions, I find stories -- stories about lives different from our own. I tuck the book under my arm and walk toward your house, knocking at your door. The door feels like it's breaking down. I decide to stay outside out of courtesy, but you never come. I sit on your front steps and read, reciting stories to the birds that flutter down from above.
I don't see you again, and it's painful. It's like a chunk of my heart has been torn out of my chest. The younger kids invite us to another party, and get upset when you don't make it. I walk the streets without you. For the first time in months, I feel vulnerable. I miss you and the soft, delicate feeling of your lips on my skin. I go back to that diner, and now I know everyone is staring at me. They silently ask me where you are. All I can do is shake my head.
They hold a funeral for you -- the little kids do. They put a couple of rocks in one of the few patches of grass you can still find around here, and tried to etch your name into one of them with a stick. Once the stick broke, they gave up. It's a silly thing to witness, especially when they try to give eulogies. Their words come out muddy and wet, dripping of hangovers and candy. I wonder if they ever knew you for who you truly were.
By the following week, you don't come back. I want to be the courteous one, the one who doesn't enter your house without your permission. I wait outside for you, but you never come out. I want to say that I'll wait forever, but nothing lasts forever. Instead, I take my English book with me, and I read the stories inside it. There's a piece in there from a bigger book -- a book I don't have. I keep reading the same sentence over and over again. Stay gold. Stay gold. Stay gold.
The college kids invite me to a party, and I think I see you there. Your face is covered with gauze, and you look sickly and weak, but you're smiling. You're enjoying yourself. I want to ask you about it, but something won't let me. I can only recite words from my book, words that land, flat and lifeless, on the floor. Perhaps you've grown up. I feel like a small child, waiting for you to come back, stubbornly curling my fists and mumbling useless insults.
When I'm sleeping alone that night, the bed sheets feeling pathetic and weak around my shivering form, you come to me. I feel you slip into the bed beside me, I feel your bandaged hands run over my back, and I feel you plant a kiss on my neck. The gauze brushes against me, but I don't feel it. I try to pretend you're the same, and that everything's okay. The way you whisper those words to me -- those words I still don't know -- makes it easier.
Late at night, I'm shaking harder than I ever have. You're beside me, holding me, no longer whispering, but breathing softly, exhaling into my shoulder. My eyes grow wet for some reason, which is odd, since I haven't cried in years. Your eyes are wet too, even though one of them looks faded and unrecognizable. We kiss, as tenderly and as honestly as we can, promising to never separate again -- the two fish, the star-crossed lovers, in a corrupt, polluted sea.
We die together. The clinic tried to fix you, but they only made it worse. They couldn't have predicted me, though -- frostbite? It seems like a pathetic way to die. They find me with blue lips and you with an infection across your face, and they pronounce us gone when they do. The funeral is a little more elaborate -- they use tombstones instead of rocks. With no surviving relatives, they plant our little graves together.
Like we were always meant to be.