THE SPIRIT OF SUMMER
Liam shows up the second week of summer.
This year he’s in a white t-shirt and basketball shorts, standing barefoot on the front lawn. He meanders shyly while Eric watches from the porch, both of them awkward after so long apart.
“You cut your hair,” Eric calls.
Last year, wavy brown curls cascaded past Liam’s neck to his shoulders. Eric remembers; he’s dreamt of the feeling beneath his fingers for those months when everything’s dead and Liam is long gone to wherever he goes when it’s not summer.
Liam’s buzzcut gives an intimate look at his head. Eric can make out a divot near the back of the man’s skull, a scar above his ear.
“It was too hot,” Liam says with a voice as gentle as the smell of hibiscus in the air.
“I remember you saying so.” Eric bites the inside of his cheek. “I remember everything.”
Liam smiles softly. “Me too.”
They share a silent look of fond remembrance of all that has happened together and without each other.
“Ah, he's back again?” Dennis spits over a hand of queens and jacks.
They’re playing cards at the metal table on the porch while Liam leans against the wall of the house holding a transparent blue water pistol in his right hand. He’s picked it up from somewhere out in the yard on his way to the porch.
There's mud caked on the side. There's water still inside.
“He's fine,” Reina says, throwing down an ace and two tens.
“I gotta go piss,” Eric says as he stands from the table.
The light coming in through the gaps in the trees speckles Eric’s dick like luminescent herpes. He guides the stream to the knotted roots that tear up the dry ground.
The screen door slams somewhere behind him. Eric looks over his shoulder. He watches as Liam touches the metal frame as if he were fond of the sound.
Liam seems taken with all that makes summer.
Eric and his friends smoke cigarettes all day, cigars most nights. Liam doesn't smoke but he perches himself on any one of their metal chair armrests, leans his cheek against their sweaty foreheads and lowers his nose in the direction of the smoke escaping from between their parted lips.
They buy a bag of ninety-nine cent popsicles and save the blue ones for Liam. He sits on the porch fencing and sucks up the remaining syrup from the wrapper hanging limply from his mouth. Eric finds himself captivated by the way the liquid crawls up the sides to his stained lips.
There’s a night where Liam rests his cheek on Eric’s sunburned back and remarks of how it must be hotter than the surface of Venus. He aids in shedding him of long sheets of dead skin with the scrape of his bitten fingernails and then he teases Eric while holding up the fluttering skin of his shoulder and says that he’ll eat him and Eric says that he’s gross and that he won’t but Liam actually does and Eric throws his head back in a deep kind of laughter that may sound like he’s crying.
Liam’s velvet hair emits the dizzying scent of chlorine. His sweat spreads like melting ice across Eric’s tongue. His every touch buzzes like a lightning bug.
His aura is one of fleeting love.
“Your friends,” Liam says once the sky is dark and everyone else has gone inside to sleep. “What do they say about me?”
“They think they’re funny,” Eric says. “They say you're an alien. Or a ghost. They think you're a tourist just here on your summer vacation every year.”
“And what do you say about me?”
“I say you know this place too well to be a tourist.”
All summer long, Liam finds a place on the porch, room in his stomach for snow cones and a place for his nose inside of Eric’s mouth. Time moves faster these few months, even after Eric exiles all clocks and watches and calendars to the space under his bed.
June is July is August and the wind suddenly blows cooler in the mornings.
Eric spots a single yellowing leaf cascade to the ground one afternoon out in the front yard. He stands from where he lays in Liam’s lap and promptly hurries inside to cry in the bathroom.
When he returns, red-faced and quiet, Liam holds him tight and says nothing.
The last week of summer, in the woods, by the riverside, Eric and Liam crawl through cold water and sink down onto the smooth rocks with nothing on. They pretend it is Eden for however long it takes for them to melt completely into each other.
Liam’s lips taste of blue syrup. The hairs on his arms have turned blonde from the sunshine that kisses every part of him hotter than Eric ever could.
He's babbling, suddenly talkative as he makes up for all those months that he’s missed out on. Eric acknowledges the elusiveness of the moment and its definite end because it’s ended exactly like this so many summers before.
With tears behind his face and a tightness in his throat, Eric places a palm over Liam’s drooling mouth.
“Shut up,” Eric pleads because he wants to believe it won’t end. “Shut up, shut up, shut up.”
Liam gurgles in between the spaces of the fingers over his plush lips.
“I know you,” Eric chokes out when his blood catches fire. “Consummate. The spirit of summer.”
The tongue wrapping around his middle finger soothes him like the shade under the trees.
“You'll remember me,” Eric says when they’re laying beside each other with their eyes set skyward.
Liam smiles at the sun. “Until next summer.”
Their sweaty fingers lace together. Warmth embraces every part of them.
Eric closes his eyes and tries to commit the burn of the sun to his memory before it’s gone.
Lydia slips her tongue behind Fisher’s teeth just as the screaming down the hall crescendos into threats of suicide.
They're on Lydia’s bedroom floor, leaning up against the side of her bed and they’re really trying to ignore the fighting when they’re here recycling each other’s breath but Lydia’s mother’s talk of hanging herself over an argument about an armchair totally dashes the mood.
Lydia pulls back. She leans her left cheek against her boyfriend’s right. Stubble grates at the corner of her lips. Her grip on the carpet only tightens as curses vibrate the walls.
“It’s not your fault,” Fisher mutters.
“I’m sorry for inviting you over,” Lydia clarifies. “I honestly thought they were gonna be done by the time you showed up.”
She guesses she misinterpreted it. Sometimes her parents’ fights sizzle out into tense silence. Other times they explode.
If Lydia were a geologist, she would be the responsible for the lost lives of those she failed to evacuate before the eruption of complete marital insanity.
“It's okay,” Fisher says.
“I don't feel like it is.”
Her phone on the floor beside them buzzes. The screen illuminates with the simple request of a bored and craving young man just down the street.
A few leaf emojis. A winky face.
The couple shares a look of relief just as someone punches a wall in the living room.
Fisher slips on his flip flops. Lydia grabs a bag of weed from her underwear drawer. They sneak hand in hand through the dark of the hallway, stepping heel toe, heel toe all the way to the front door.
Perched on the handlebars of Fisher’s bike moving down the street, it’s finally quiet.
The mild acceleration is enough to push Lydia’s hair from her face and have it flutter behind her. She can feel the ends of one piece sandwiched between two lips, a soft tug, a few chews.
She smiles but her fingers still tremble with something more than tires over inconsistencies in the road.
They pull up to Jonathan’s. He's been expecting them.
Bud is exchanged for the few bills held in the hands of the smiling junior standing in the doorway. Jonathan smiles, hugs the tense pair, kisses their foreheads. His stretched out shirt smells of body odor. His lips feel like wet sandpaper. Low grit.
The couple sends out a text to the others in the neighborhood, notifying them in a few emojis that they’re around and equipped with a bag full of weed.
Gabrielle texts back three minutes later with a request for two joints. They pet her cat when it comes to the door. The calico’s once straight whiskers now grow crooked as evidence of time passed since Lydia and Gabrielle used to hang out in fourth grade.
Mr. Paxton texts them a little while later information about an after-school tutoring program and then sends another text that says he'll buy whatever they have left.
He and his wife have just had a baby. Mr. Paxton talks about him during the physics class Lydia and Fisher have together. When he opens the door, they can hear a baby crying inside.
“You two need to finish your review packets,” their teacher says as he opens the bag and deeply inhales the pungent contents. “I let it go last time but both of you failed the test. You need to take your grades seriously. You need to take your futures seriously.”
Fisher is all ready pedaling down the street before Lydia even has the chance to pocket the crispy twenties in her grip.
The sun sets ahead of them. The oranges and pinks of the sky burn her corneas but Lydia refrains from looking away.
Vision spotty and darkness impending, she almost misses the way her dad’s sedan backs out and nearly hits them.
A violent whoosh of air, the shriek of tires.
Lydia and Fisher watch from the middle of the street two brake lights melt away in the fiery sunset.
Through the side gate and into the backyard, the couple pauses poolside to stare down at the armchair at the bottom of the swimming pool.
The gaudy, brown print warps underwater. One of the pillows clogs the pool filter.
“I don’t ever want to get married.”
Lydia sits on the edge of the pool. Fisher sits beside her. Their ankles hook together under the water. The automated pool lights turn on just as the transparent figure of the half-full moon can be made out in the darkening sky.
“Do your parents still love each other?”
Lydia exhales a laugh through her nose.
“If they do, it’s not in a way I understand.”
Fisher parts his lips as if he wants to say sorry but he ultimately refrains as Lydia has yet to allow him to. It’s neither of their faults; there’s no reason for them to apologize for something that is solely her parents’ fault.
There’s a pinky atop her own and a soft exhale against her shoulder and a hairy ankle gently guiding her own back and forth in the warm water and Lydia thinks she’d like to never marry Fisher, rather, date him forever.
Lydia looks at Fisher. Fisher looks at Lydia.
They share a smile that reflects gentler than the pool lights that illuminate the silent world below their feet.
JAMES EZRA lives in Texas. Her work has been featured or is upcoming in Likely Red Press, Moonchild Magazine, Show Your Skin, Occulum, and Faded Out.