“We are the three musketeers!” Charles shouted, a fist in the air, his other arm over Malik’s shoulders so that the world was a little more stable. “We will always be together!”
Standing outside of the closing club, 2 A.M. bringing them into the last day of Spring break. Even at that moment they knew that life was never going to be the same.
“That is unlikely,” Malik said softly, arm around Charles’ waist, holding him on his feet, “but we will always be Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. We will stay in touch.”
“We’ll live in the same town! We’ll join a new team together,” Charles declared, finding his feet. “Rugby forever!”
“You’ve had enough head injuries,” Kenji said firmly, reaching out to brush fingers over Charles’ gradient of a rainbow hair. “Maybe we should go back to Jessie’s place, get some sleep. Go surfing or something tomorrow.”
Charles turned to his friend, left pointer finger floating and bobbing as he pointed at his straight laced, proper, and organized friend. “You are not drunk enough to have a good time, Kenji. We are rugby stars! We’ll always be rugby stars!”
A pretty girl popped up in between them, her eyes done with glitter, lips pink gloss and confidence. She grabbed Charles’ finger and drew it to her mouth, warm wet tongue cradling him, mouth closing around him in a warmth that stole his focus completely. His lips parted, blue eyes widening as she leaned closer, the soft curves of her sweet caramel breasts moving closer and closer to his chest.
Kenji stared, feeling like a million miles had jumped between him and the blue eyed philosophy major friend. Malik on the other side was the tallest of them, his head tilted, eyes clearly on those soft curves that were more framed by shimmering pink cloth than covered. Just as fast as the moment started, Charles’ finger came out of the girl’s mouth with a pop and she winked. “You taste like rugby stars. Do you wanna go to a party?”
A couple steps towards the curb and a long white limo that none of them had seen arrive, “All three of you! Come on! Do you like champagne?”
“I love champagne,” Malik said. His deep voice caught her and suddenly she was pressed against him, rising up on the balls of her feet to press a kiss against his lips. One strong arm went around her, lifting her completely off her feet. Slender against him, she was electric and fairy dust. A moment later, she had his hand and Charles’, drawing them towards the open limo door. As she slipped inside, she turned a smile on Kenji, “Come on, Sweetheart! There’s room!”
And there was, even though there was already four other people, two of which seemed to be having actual sex, the girl straddling the lap of a tuxedo wearing man. He stretched out his legs, his hands sliding into her short golden hair.
Kenji looked back out the door, to the safety of the sidewalk, but the driver was already shutting the door, enclosing them in sweet scented mist and dim blue light. Warm hand touched his, and he realized he’d gone chill, that the world he knew was slipping away. The world had been Malik, Charles, and he since seventh grade when his family had moved from Japan. They’d taught him English, basketball, and pot. When his parents died, he’d moved in with Charles’ family. It wasn’t like Malik wasn’t there most of the time anyway.
Then there was college and the same rugby team for four years. He was father’s son through, proper, quiet, studious, and that was never meant to change. He followed the hand on his hand up to Charles’ face, softened by the blue light, the same blue light that lit up his hair like a rainbow halo. “It’s okay, Ken,” Charles said, “This is the passage to Underhill. We’ll dance with the fairies. Just don’t eat anything and we’ll be home by morning, safe and sound!”
His heart was beating almost so loud he had trouble hearing what Charles said. There was always some bullshit coming out of Charles’ mouth. It was more than just being a philosophy major too. There had always been some strange mythical stuff on Charles’ tongue. Malik had always been the more reasonable one, finding patterns and solutions for everything, clever and strong, but Kenji really wanted to close his hand around Charles’ hand, to lean close and see if breathing the same breath would make those sparkling fairies dance in his thoughts too. Instead he said, “Uh?”
“It’s British mythology,” Charles said, winking. “We’re in a transitional period, Ken. What happens tonight will change us, but not harm us. It’s a magical moment, a coming of age moment.”
Kenji did lean close then, not because he wanted to share breath, but because he didn’t want to share his words. “We’re in a strange limo, going God knows where, with a bunch of stoned strangers, and I think that woman is about to suck Malik’s dick.” Both of them looked obliquely at their friend, who had the pretty pink girl between his spread legs, his head leaning back, shaking hands on the seat beside him.
Charles grinned, that flyaway rainbow hair fanning across his cheek like he was some love child of a dark wizard and a mermaid - forbidden, dangerous, and all the things that good sailors don’t do. The mist in the car smelled of roses and lavender, but Kenji felt some understanding of magic space - where anything could happen, where anything was okay.
But he knew Charles was straight. Charles only had eyes for the girl between Malik’s legs and in a shock of clarity he knew that Charles was very straight and he was very not.
His hands washed his face, scrubbing at the residue of whatever was in the limo’s air, of glitter that had been in the air at the club, at the mask he’d worn all his life. The good son, the future father, the kindly doctor he was supposed to be, and there was how long he’d been in love with Charles, following him to parties, to rugby, to university, to Los Angeles, into strange cars... Pain tore open his chest because now there were places that he wasn’t going to follow. Suddenly there was a path that had no one ahead of him on. “Stop the car! I want to get out,” he shouted, voice echoing in the smoke filled space and not even bumping his friends or the strangers around them.
Charles looked over his shoulder, brows drawing down in irritation, and Kenji recognized that the gulf between them had always been there. The closeness they’d had had been completely in his own head.
Looking away, he saw out the tinted window that they were at a stop light, stopped, and he grabbed the door handle, pushing open against a hot gust of evening Los Angeles air and garish downtown light.
Then he was out.
Standing in traffic, his ear ringing, lungs filling with the completely wholesome Los Angeles traffic air. The door closed behind him, hiding all view of his friends and with it the past and all the daydreams he’d barely formed of the future. Horns honked and he ran to the crosswalk, then out of the traffic. The limo went on without him, but he just stood there, waiting for them to come back.
“Hey, you okay?”
“Yeah,” Kenji said, hand running over his own very short black hair, feeling goosebumps rise on the back of his neck. He turned to smile at what turned out to be a blond guy in beach shorts and a baggy tee-shirt. The guy was about as far from the spirit of a glittering nightclub as a person could get. “Thanks for asking.”
“I’m gonna go to the beach. Tide’s coming in in about an hour.”
Kenji pulled at his tie, realizing then that he’d been out of sync with his friends all night, probably much longer. “Yeah,” he said, feeling like it was someone else speaking as he said it. He held out a hand. “I’m Kenji.”
The man took his hand. His hand was warm, calloused, and gentle. “I’m Ridley.” A moment later a black car pulled up with a ridesharing sticker in the window. “Our ride’s here.”
Once in the car, Kenji finished pulling off his tie. He sat up straight, seat belt on, still polished shoes neatly next to each other. “Thank you.”
“Your welcome, man,” Ridley said. “You ditch your wedding or something?”
“Oh,” Kenji said, watching the city flow by outside. “It’s spring break.”
“Uh,” Ridley said, as if that explained everything. “You like to surf?”
“I’ve never done that. Is that why you’re going to the beach?”
“I think I’m gay,” he blurted out for the first time, terribly ashamed to have disappointed his father, his ancestors, to somehow have transgressed his friend’s boundaries in some imaginary. Way.
Ridley smirked. “I’m pan. It’s L.A. To each their own, man.”
“Will you please teach me to surf?” Kenji asked, bowing his head slightly.
“Oh fuck, man,” Ridley said, “I’ll teach you all about L.A. Anything you wanna know.
So there was surfing and Kenji bought some shorts and lost his suit, burned his shoulders, nearly drowned, but came back to the timeshare with a pocket of sea shells and a beach bum for breakfast. Crabs walk sideways. He had video of a little crab the size of a dime. In the green glass of the rising waves, he’d connected with ancestors much older than his father, and found that life was stranger than we might wish it to be.
Their other friends didn’t seem to find it even odd that he’d come back with a cute blond with buff pecs and eyes that kept wandering to Kenji’s virgin ass. Everything was okay.
When Charles and Malik rolled in, still not quite sober, but having lost half of their clothes as well, Kenji was just happy to see them.
“Oh god,” Malik said, holding up a hand, “I’m never eating again.” The tall, clever man ran off to the bathroom. The sounds echoing down the hall made Kenji really glad he had sunburn instead.
“Do we need to call 911 for him,” Ridley asked, eyebrow raised.
“No, no,” Charles said, pulling up to the breakfast bar, “He gets like this everytime he drinks too much.”
When Kenji stared at him, Charles shrugged. “We don’t study as much as you do, Ken. But oh my god,” he held up a hand, a crazy grin on his face. “We met a girl last night. It was the most amazing night. We taught her how to play poker! We played fo hours! Turns out she really got pretty good! But oh my god was she pretty and horny! She had red hair down to her ass, which was like, a beautiful ass! Kenji! If you weren’t gay, you shoulda been there. She blew us both! I like I’m in love!”
“Oh man,” Ridley said, after a sip of the orange juice Kenji had just handed him, “You were in the poker champion car last night. That must have been one hell of a party.”
“No, just rich kids, no poker players,” Charles said, making a face. Poker players were all overweight, middle aged men, as far as he’d ever seen. “But she was the real deal. She had such beautiful lips.”
Ridley smirked. “You get her name?”
“Oh, yeah,” Charles said, pulling a scrap of paper from his pocket. “And her phone number!”
“What’s her name?” Ridley asked, as he pulled out his phone.
Kenji kept making pancakes, content to just watch his old path and his new path brush against each other.
“Red,” Charles said, rubbing his thumb, lovingly over the handwritten phone number. “Her name was Red Cor Contritum.”
“Odd, man,” Ridley said, setting his phone face down on the bar. “Did you know,” he started, smirking as he winked at Kenji. “That Cor Contritum is Latin for broken heart.”
“Oh that’s a cool name,” Charles said, staring at his own glass of orange juice as if it were a bad dog. “She so cool. I’m telling you! I’m in love!”
Kenji pushed plates to both of them and then the stack of pancakes. “I’m very glad you had a good time! So you think you’ll see her again?”
“Oh yeah,” Charles purred as he speared some pancakes. “I’ll wait a couple days till I call her, just so she doesn’t think I’m needy or something.”
“Makes sense,” Ridley said, “So hey, is this her?” He showed his phone to them.
On it was a lovely red headed woman in a black evening gown, holding up her hand with a new poker championship ring on her finger. Around her waist lay a chain of gold, with several more rings like charms.
“Yeah, that’s her!” Charles said, taking the phone so he could zoom in on her face. “She’s so pretty. I bet she’s a model!”
“Yeah,” Ridley said, grabbing a pancake to just eat like a cookie. “That’s May Jane Anderson. She won the World Poker Tournament for the second time last night. If she’s a model, you’re a rocket scientist.”
“No,” Charles said, eyes wide, multi colored hair now tattered around his face. “We just taught her to play last night!”
“Oh man,” Ridley said, “She rolled your ass as licked you like a lollipop.”
“Kenji,” Charles said holding out the phone, “Read for me.”
Kenji wiped his hands then took the phone, zoomed out, scrolled, “Two time World Poker Tournament champion, May Jane Anderson of Tennessee. I’m sorry.”
“Oh my god,” Charles said, laying his head on his arms. “She thinks I’m an idiot.”
“Smart person,” Ridley said, then shrugged, “but you know ain’t nobody right about everything.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Charles said, nodding. “Oh my god, that was the best night of my life.”
In the bathroom, Malik sat on the floor, his dark face ashen. He pulled out his phone, pulled up his contacts. There was a picture of them together on her contact and he texted her, “I’m so sick!”
The reply came almost immediately. “I’ll send a car for you. You’ll feel better in Paris. I’ll have you back in two days.”
He rested his head against the wall, not sure how he was going to sit through a flight to Paris, but in the last few hours, they’d started talking as they played cards, not with words, but with a code based on the number of the cards, impacted by color and sequence and there was no more beautiful mind than he could imagine than hers and if she wanted to go to Paris. “Okay, Let me shower and get some clothes. I’ve ever been to Paris, but I have my passport.”
“You’ll love Paris,” she wrote back.
He was sure he was going to love Paris.