He drowned in his dreams. The air was stuffy and lacking oxygen. The humidity felt like a physical force pressing against his steps as if he was walking through water, drops forming on his skin from the wetness in the air. When he drove the glass door to the side it was like getting his head above the surface, breathing in the fresh air into his lungs. He staggered out on the deck, away from the sickening heat inside the house and landed on the sunbed closest to him. He groaned as he ran his hand over his face, trying to rub away the throbbing.
He never got hangovers. Once he had gotten alcohol poisoning, and that was a whole mess of its own porprotion. But never hangovers, he just got really tired. He did not feel sick nor did he make any proclamations about wanting to die. But he was tired.
The birds were screeching invisibly in the forest. Not as annoying as seagulls, but still a shriek that drove straight into his brain like a dentist’s drill. There was a humming, not like bees, the kind of humming that was always present at the water in the summer. He was unsure if it came from the mosquitos, the wind in the reed or if it was the sound of sunlight bouncing off the water. He opened his eyes when he heard the sound of a can being opened, though it naturally melted into the summer soundscape like it belonged right next to the quacking ducks.
“Good morning,” Jens said as he put the beer to his mouth. It made Emil feel dry in his mouth, even if he was not a beer-drinker. Water seemed very attractive now. He looked out from the deck out onto the lake. It seemed like there was a screen between them and the world of the lake. The tall beech trees enveloped the house in shadows, only cracks of spotted sunshine sneaking through the leaves. The branches reached out over the lake for some length, but eventually the pure sunlight shined down on the water with all the heat of the low summer sun.
“Did you sleep all right?” Emil asked, watching how a ray of sunlight played in his red hair. Everyone loved Jens, and it was not difficult to understand why. He was tall but never looked intimidating. His voice was impossible to describe, it was deep and otherworldly unique. He had been Emil’s first crush before either of them had realized they liked men. Before men meant anything other than male. Before he realized how much harm one person could do to another. When he needed no one and no one needed him. When he wanted no one. And no one wanted him.
“Yeah, well, I guess,” he said as if he had been asked a difficult mathematical question. “I think Mads closed the door. I could use with a few more hours.”
“Yeah, that wasn’t the brightest move,” he answered and leaned back into the sunbed again. He was tired. “Why do the others call him Aske?”
“Oh, that’s what he used to be named,” Jens answered and took another sip of his beer. It looked cold; the droplets formed on the outside of the can as the cool met with the warmth. It almost looked inviting, but then he remembered how badly he hated the taste of beer. “He went to a numerologist, who told him he’d have better luck if he changed his name. But the others knew him before, so they still call him by that name. When I met him, he called himself Mads.”
“It was nice of them to let you bring me along,” he said instead of commenting on the name-change. He was by no means an atheist, but astrology and numerology was purely pseudo-scientific. Mads did not seem like the kind of person who believed in that stuff.
“Yeah, well, there was a spare room, and it seemed like you could use a rest.”
He froze up even at the slight mention. He looked out past the screen of sunlight at the lake to avoid any eye-contact that might trigger something. He did need a rest. He was tired. But talking about it was not resting. Was it too early to begin the vodka?
“How long were you together?” Jens tried again, oblivious to Emil’s attempt at avoiding the topic. He felt it coming down. Like an invisible force gripping around his chest and making it harder to breathe. Like he was held under water, too tired of fighting to get above the surface.
“Just short of five years,” he answered and shifted his weight so he was lying on his side. A breeze crept through the trees, chilling the sweat on his body. He tugged his legs closer to himself and hugged them. Through the boards of the railing he watched a duck couple lazily float over the water together, the hen in front of the drake, but definitely together. When she got a bit too far ahead, he would speed up and swim over to her side, quacking wildly as if she would get eaten if he was not there to protect her. Like he was snapping at her for getting too far away, the same way Johan used to quack at him for forgetting to turn off the lights. And just like him, once she got what she wanted, she would leave him. She would get sick of him and leave.
“Are you being mopey?” a new voice asked behind him, before he felt weight on the part of the sunbed his feet had been at before. His voice was deep and low. It resonated in his ears, strung like music. The smell of his cigarettes crept in on him before he had even lit one, so strong he could almost taste the tobacco. The feeling of his guitar fingers on his leg made him turn to face him. He was not exactly smiling, but still there was a glimmer in his sea green eyes; the kind of shimmer that showed on the lake when the sun hit it. A stray lock of his light brown hair fell into his eyes, but he nodded hardly to the side to make it flip away.
“I need time,” Emil answered. He could feel the muscles in his leg stiffen under the pressure from Tor’s hard fingertips and the soft touch of his palm. His leg stayed completely still, refusing to move. Like he was a marionette and Tor held the strings.
He leaned down on his elbow, his weight making the mattress on the sunbed bulge downward right where Emil’s hip laid. His green eyes forced his gaze to meet him as a lock of his hair fell into his sight again. “What you need is alcohol and sex.”
“What I need is water,” he answered, his voice the only part of him that was not under Tor’s control. He smirked in response and got off the sunbed, disappearing into the house. Emil looked at Jens, but he was busy watching a heron land in the shallow part of the lake. Tor returned with a glass for him, and Emil thanked him but soon regretted it. He coughed as it got stuck in his throat. “This is vodka!”
“Vodka means little water,” Tor said and grinned as he sipped his own glass. Emil looked at the glass in his hand. Maybe he was right. Maybe this was what he needed. Drink until he hurt no more. And it was cool. Already drops of water was forming on the outside of the glass. He put the glass to his lips and swallowed the drink hole, the cool liquid running down his throat like water on fire.
The beat of the speakers mixed with the music of the night, harmonic electric guitars melting with the stringing of grasshoppers. Emil and Lasse were banging their heads in the air to make their hair flip like they were at a metal concert, even if the song that was playing was P!nk. When they got too dizzy they landed on the floor, looking up at the rotating fan and laughing. As the sun had set and the moon had risen, the boys inside the house had awoken, heeding the call of the drums on the stereo.
“Aske, the fuck you doing?” Lasse had asked him, running to grab the bottle out of Mads’ hand, almost flying over the edge of the railing and into the lake. “Do you have any idea how expensive alcohol is over here!?”
“You have to offer the Nøkk something too,” Mads explained then, slurring and looking at the other boy with one eye more open than the other. They were hazel, a mix of green and brown, though the light kept switching which color was clearer. “Or he’ll drown you.”
“He drinks brandy, not slave vodka!”
Jens' deep voice resonated in a sound that sounded like a laugh. His legs swung from the railing he sat on. He smelled of beer, the same way his grandfather smelled when he came home at night, and sunlight, the same way a cat smelled when it had taken a nap in the sun.
Emil hoisted himself on the railing, swinging his legs next to Jens’ and nudged him with his shoulder against his arm. Jens had broad shoulders, excused by his height, and his height made it perfect for resting one’s head on. But he would not do that.
“Look,” he said and pointed on the water below them. In the light of the waxing moon their reflections were illuminated in ghostly white. The waves in the lake obscured them slightly so their wrinkles and tear did not show. “Just like Ballerup.”
They sat there, one drinking beer and one drinking cider, like they did before. When together meant together ‘till the end. When a kiss was only a kiss. Before thousands of tears. Before they knew what it meant to be alone. Before they were alone. Before he wanted anyone and before anyone wanted him. When no one wanted him, before someone did not want him.
He felt his scream get caught in his lungs. From the railing he was snatched by a force around his stomach, pulled backwards down onto the sunbed, landing with his back up against a chest. “Are you moping again?”
Tor wrapped his drunken arms around him and he stiffened. The muscles in his back grew hard against his chest, his shoulders aiming for his ears. Tor pulled him tighter and put his chin on his shoulder. He could feel his breath on his ear, the slight dissonance in his voice as he whispered to him: “You’re not dead.”
But he felt like he was. He was a drowned corpse, stiff from life leaving his muscles, heavy from the stones in his pocket, rotten from the decay inside him. He had been young and lively once, but now all that was left was the shell and the stench of eternal sleep.
Tor pulled him closer still, his warmth floating from his embrace into Emil like small river; like waves against the sand. The beat of his heart drummed against his back, insisting on making the two heartbeats align and beat together. The soundwaves filled him, flowing from his chest out to his fingers. “You’re not dead.”
The embrace tightened, like an octopus trying to strangle its victim, Tor’s arms forcing him even closer against himself. His arms were so strong Emil could not escape if he wanted to. So tight his ribs could barely open up enough to breathe. He felt how it made him relax, how the muscles in his back stopped struggling and gave in to the pressure from the other boy’s chest, the hard form transforming into fluid. He could feel the beat of Tor’s heart fasten as he melted into his arms, echoing into his body faster and harder.
Under the scents of tobacco and booze he could smell the subtle hint of his cologne. It was different from Johan’s. It was not musky or woody, it was like citrus and grass. Not the freshly cut grass, the kind of grass that was turning yellow from the sun and smelt like lazy summer afternoons. He felt Tor’s chest broaden as he breathed in the fragrance from his neck.
His lips were soft and smooth. His eyelids fluttered closed. He had not realized what was happening until he tasted the cigarettes and Coca Cola on Tor. Before he knew it, he was no longer on the sunbed. He was floating weightlessly, Tor picking him up without effort, their lips never parting.
He ran his fingers through the locks of caramel hair while Tor brought his bounty up the stairs. The door slammed shut from the kick it had gotten from Tor’s foot. For a moment they stopped and looked each other in the eyes. They twinkled in the darkness. Gently, Tor laid him down on the bed and he let him take him.
He drowned in his dreams. His eyes flashed open to the surprise that he was not under water. He sucked in the cold air like a vacuum, his heart slowly regaining a normal pace. He turned his head to where the window had been opened and wondered why he had no done that to begin with. Because he was afraid of the creeps that would sneak in.
He watched a stray drop of sweat rush down Tor’s cheekbone and down his neck to the little dent between his neck bones. His chest rose gently in silent rhythm as the air from outside filled his lungs. His eyes were still closed, but there was the same smirk on his lips that seemed to accompany him everywhere. Like he was dreaming something naughty.
It was so different from how he had slept with Johan. They had always started out cuddling, but then split during the night. The way sane couple slept, he had told himself. Not like this, where he could feel part of his body connected to Tor’s fingertips all throughout the night.
The sound of glass against wood broke the silence as an empty bottle rolled across the floor, as a breeze rolled through the curtain, as Tor rolled on top of him with a lit cigarette in his mind and the same smirk that he had found on him earlier. He adjusted to the added weight on his body as he watched the curve of Tor’s upper lip flatten and restring when he took a dab from the white stick. He lifted his head from the bed long enough that Tor could put the cigarette to his lips and he could draw his own smoke only for it to be pressed back against the pillow when he kissed him, the smoke from his exhale disappearing into him.
A line of sweat ran from Tor’s hairline down the side of his face onto Emil’s chin and down between their heaving breaths. He tasted different in the morning. Still like tobacco, but more like dew. His tough fingers gripped at hair strands to force his head back. Strongly, deeply, he sucked his skin in between his teeth.
From inside the hut, the beginning to the birthday song began in a clear three-layered harmony as the rest of the boys came from the kitchen caring the ugliest birthday cake he had ever seen in his life. At least they had not gotten 25 candles, but instead written the number in whipped cream on top of the cake. At least the singing was one of the best renditions he had ever heard, meshing with the tunes of the night.
“What is that?” he asked as he furrowed his brow, which was a weird thing to do to begin with. No one actually saw better because they knitted their brows together, it just made them look like they were trying to focus on something.
“I don’t know,” Jens answered, mimicking the gesture while adding a straight hand over his eyes. “Must be fireflies.”
“It looks like eyes,” he answered as he took another sip from the cider. The two gleams hollowed just above the water, black except for when the waves moved just right to make the moonlight reflect there in the middle of the lake. Refusing to give into the chill that was creeping up his spine, he swung his legs around the railing again, turning his back on the lake’s stare.
From across the deck he saw Tor, eyes flickering in the light of the torches, put a piece of whipped cream on Aske’s lips and continue to lick it off and he wondered if he had looked as stupid the night before. Had his eyes widened at the attention? Had he played so easily into his hand, like a desperate piece of clay begging to be molded?
He tried to contain the scoff, but his body was physically incapable. His eyes rolled so far into the back of his skull it began to hurt. He had been lulled into a summer night’s dream and he had not even realized it was happening until he saw the spell be broken by the two boys kissing. Swiftly, he scooted off the railing and left down the stairs to the forest before anyone noticed.
In the dark he shook his head at his own stupidity. For a moment he had forgotten the world and the people in it, and he had been seduced by a troubadour.
He felt his scream get caught in his lungs. From the bank of the lake he was snatched by a force around his stomach, pulled backwards into the waterbed, landing with his back against a chest. A soft sound resonated next to his ear, jumping off the surface of the dark water.
He felt the two arms wrap around him and he stiffened. The muscles in his back grew hard against the cold chest, and as he tried to remain with his head above water the cold hands drew a violin from the water. The dissonance cancelled out all the other sounds of the night. The booming of the base from the house, the sounds of night creatures hunting, even the waves disappeared to the string of the instrument.
He looked up at the sky to see the moonlight peak through little holes in the leaves of the tree before the full starry sky opened itself up before him. His muscles felt stiff and his clothes began to heavy him down.
He was pulled closer still into the tight embrace as the music went on, the cold floating into him like the water he was lying in. His heart beat in the water, like little raindrops landing on the surface, flowing from his chest into the other’s violin fingers. The music danced to his heartbeat.
The embrace tightened, the cold arms forcing him even closer to him. So tight his ribs could not muster to open up to breathe. It made his body relax, the muscles in his back stopped struggling and gave into the pressure from the cold chest, the hard form transforming into fluid.
There was a scent of musk around them, like wood that had been wet for too long. It was like the rot of a tree when it needed to be cut down. Like the way sunflowers smelled when they needed to be thrown out.
His lips were wrinkled and cold. His eyelids fluttered shut. He had not realized they were kissing until he had tasted the sand. He was floating weightlessly until the violin pressed against his chest.
His hand got caught in the wet hair. The music of the lake muffled as his ears went under. He looked up to see starlight twinkle at the surface. Gently, the cold hands laid him down and he let the water take him.