Warmth in the Cold

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Two - Spying

As Jake got his breakfast, taking cereal from the cupboard and milk from the fridge, Joshua gave him a stare from the table. It wasn’t of annoyance, or pity, or joy, or sadness, or anger, or frustration, or anything like that. It was a stare Jacob tried to ignore. A stare that told him, without his lips moving at all, “You sneaking little bastard….” The face he gave was half admiration for what Jake had done and half disappointment in himself that he had let it slip without noticing. He was meant to be on his toes, and yet, here he was, not. So much for Joshua meeting Blake the next time Blake was with Jacob. Early in the morning, as Blake was leaving through the window, Joshua had gone down to the street to get himself the newspaper and a cigarette. Only, he saw something else, too. Blake climbing down the fire escape from Jacob’s room. As he made his way down, he didn’t think to look at the man who’d been staring at him in disbelief. Even when he got to the ground, he said, “Hi,” to Joshua. Josh stood in silence, trying to contain his laughter as it happened. How could someone like Blake be so oblivious to it all? Maybe it was just a mistake. Jake, of course, had told him to leave at that time because he assumed no one would be awake. Why should Blake think anything else? Jacob knew his family far better.

“Morning,” Joshua said.

“You look weird,” Jake replied, sitting down across from him.

“He always looks like that,” Abel smiled, turning to the two of them from the stove, at which he was making pancakes. Abel was the aforementioned boyfriend of Joshua.

“What?” Jake asked. Joshua sat gripping his coffee as his lips moved in displeasure before shaking his head and faintly squinting his eyes. “Yeah, I don’t understand what that means,” he added.

“Talk about it later,” Josh said.

“Talk about what?”

“You’ll know.”

“Ok…. I doubt it.”

“Think about it for the rest of the day,” Josh requested.

“Don’t do it to him, too,” Abel told.

“Do what?” Jake asked.

“The thing he does where he makes you wonder what he knows all day before actually telling you. Does it to me all the time.”

“When did this start?”

“Psychology class.”

“What does being a dick have to do with psychology?” Jake asked. Abel laughed a bit.

“The professor told us to inform people we knew something about them that would have them thinking about it all day. Makes breaking the news of what you actually know easier because they’ve already prepared themselves mentally.”

“Sounds fucked. Did you teacher just come out of a mental hospital?”

“No, he came out of school and became a teacher.”

“Good morning,” Denise said, striding into the kitchen with a smile and a shawl.

“Morning,” Joshua and Abel said, Jake mumbling it after.

“What’s happening here?” she asked, coming up beside Abel to observe the pancakes.

“Mom,” Joshua said.

“What? They look good,” she said, taking out the coffee pot and a mug already set out. It was white with “Bellevue Hospital” printed on it. Funnily enough, it was even official merchandise. (Most hospitals don’t sell such things.) Denise actually had it ordered from a service that made mugs with logos or prints of the buyer’s choice.

“Save me one,” she added to Abel who was finishing up his last pan-full.

“What’s today like?” Jake asked.

“Who? Me?” Denise replied, sitting at the table.

“Yeah.”

“You never ask me that.”

“And I won’t ever again if this is the answer,” Jake replied.

“I’m on a double, should be home by 12:30.”

“Why so many doubles? Do they not hire enough people?” Joshua asked.

“What you sign up for, don’t have much of a choice. I’ve been doing it since before you were born.”

“Isn’t it tiring?”

“For the moment. I don’t really get put with back-to-back doubles anymore so it’s fine,” she said. Abel plated the pancakes, setting them out in the middle of the table before giving plates to everyone else.

“Want one?” he asked. Jake turned him down, already into the cereal and not in the mood for much more. “Alright, but you’re trying them eventually.”

“First time you’ve made them,” Jake pointed out.

“I guess it’s the first time I’ve made them here.”

“I like them,” Joshua said, almost to spite Jake even though Jake hadn’t said they were bad.

“I know,” Abel replied, sitting down opposite Denise.

“When do you work?” Josh asked.

“I don’t,” Jake said, trying to be funny.

“Nine,” Abel replied.

“They’re getting worse…. Two more found last night,” Denise said, still on the front page.

“It has to be an animal,” Josh said.

“But what animal does that?” she asked. “Those bite marks are too distinct. We even had one of the victims in two nights ago. Clear as day, human teeth. But they were too long to be human teeth, the tooth pattern and layout was just the same.”

“They brought you a dead person?” Abel asked.

“No, this one was still alive. Didn’t say anything except for some panicky nonsense. Blood was fading quickly like the wound had been made and then left there.”

“Have they analyzed the blood? Maybe it’s some kind of venom or drug,” Josh pondered.

“Could be, like some kind of injection. But why the teeth marks?”

“A tooth-shaped weapon? Maybe they had some kind of machine based on someone’s actual teeth and everything that bites down and injects something,” Jake proposed.

“This isn’t Gotham city,” Joshua replied.

“No fighting at breakfast,” Denise said.

“We’re not even fighting,” Jake denied.

“Whatever it is, I have to get going. Thank you for the pancake. And I’ll see you boys tonight. Say goodbye to Madison for me. I think she’s still sleeping.”

“Will do…” Josh said with a hint of a smile. His mind came back to his Jake-related issue.

As Denise left, Jake finished his cereal.

“So,” Jake said.

“Yes?” Joshua asked.

“When should I be expecting this conversation?”

“Can’t tell you that. Ruins the effect.”

“Then maybe I don’t come home tonight,” Jake smirked.

“Wouldn’t that just make things worse?” Joshua asked.

“Yes, and, no.”

“I think just “yes” will do. Be home, please.”

“You’re not my dad.”

“No, but Dad is. I can just tell him to tell you.”

“Hey, no fighting at breakfast,” Abel said before giving off a self-contained chuckle.

“Just tell me,” Jake said.

“No. It’s already working.”

“Fuck off,” Jake replied, heading to his room.

“Don’t say that,” Stephen urged, passing Jake in the hall.

“Spicy morning conversation,” Abel said.

“Yeah… my favourite,” Joshua replied, pulling the newspaper over to him.

“Good morning,” Mr. Crawford said, entering the kitchen.

“Morning,” the two replied.

“Denise left?” he asked.

“Yeah.”

“Thought so, I was hoping to make it out in time,” he said, still wearing pyjama pants.

“You see her every day.”

“Yeah, but not until night today. Long time for a Saturday.”

“You’ll be all alone.”

“Got Madison here,” he said, taking a pancake while using Denise’s plate.

“Jake’ll be out all day….”

“As usual.”

Joshua shook his head, knowing he was unable to speak about what he wished if he wanted to maintain his relationship with Jacob.

“Wanna head out?” Joshua asked.

“Sure,” Abel replied.

“Alright, I’ll be in the bathroom,” Josh said before kissing Abel and heading down the hall. Their house was older than one might expect. For high income earners, managing to get over $300,000 between them yearly, they sure loved the older New York charm of apartment 79. One of the big issues was room. They liked to have a lot of it, and most apartment buildings didn’t allow for that. They had five bedrooms, one for each child and one for the parents, of course. Five bedroom apartments were rare, too rare. They’d not found another in their years of searching. The one they lived in wasn’t even technically five bedrooms, it was four and one office. The office was originally used by Stephen, then, Madison came along and occupied it. She was fine with the smaller space. It just meant she wouldn’t have a closet. How atypical; their one girl had the least space for clothes.

The Crawfords weren’t ones to follow stereotypes. Really, two (mostly) openly gay children and a mother who earned more than double what her husband did? They were really a family ahead of their time. Never did Stephen ask his sons if they had “girlfriends.” It was always phrased as “are you seeing anyone?” And he meant anyone. His wordage was entirely intentional. And good for it to be so. His only confirmed heterosexual child was Andrew. Even Madison had not spoken about her own interests. So, Stephen nor Denise prodded with questions about boys. Why should they? It was none of their business, and they’d learnt early that what was expected was not always what they got.

Jake would leave then. He wanted to go to the library where he was meeting Brooklyn. By eight, he was showered and out of the house, making sure to dry his hair as much as possible before putting his winter hat on. He didn’t want his hair drying under the hat, it would ruin it for the rest of the day.

On the subway, he silently grooved to Backstreet’s Back playing on his iPod. Jacob was a big fan of boy bands. He had trouble deciding if he liked Backstreet Boys or *NSYNC more. Most people favoured Backstreet over *NSYNC, but Jake found himself more attracted to the members of *NSYNC. Really, it wasn’t such a big preference. The battle mostly, for him, waged between Nick Carter and Justin Timberlake, but Nick always won, as Jake hated Justin’s hair. He never liked curly hair, especially not dyed-blond curls. It made them so obvious. Really, he could only imagine him with shorter hair to be turned on by what was left, something he did like; his face and movement.

The subway was colder that morning than the last, fewer people allowing for less heat. The emptiness of it all and the mood it portrayed so effortlessly gave him a bout of morning inspiration and a desire to purchase something at a coffee shop. Maybe he’d pick up a latte and a bagel. The subtle morning cold, paired with his being away from anyone he knew, it gave him such a sense of inexplicable freedom and desire to pursue it. Maybe it was his being at the end of living at home that begged him to leave sooner, to experience this every day. He already did, somewhat. It was more so days that did not include solo travel caused by necessity that gave him the feeling, but rather days where he was free to do as he pleased.

Maybe he and Brooklyn could go to the coffee shop together. Jacob was sure he might prefer that, having an interest in incessant caffeine consumption. Brooklyn was one to enjoy energy drinks on school grounds despite their being banned. Most days, Brooklyn suffered from minor headaches in the late afternoon. It was the result of an imbalance in consumption. Too much one day and not enough the next, always swaying back and forth between high energy and regret of immense tiredness when caffeine was left absent.

Jake had no such dependency. He drank coffee, and not a lot of it, usually once a day. It was more for the taste than anything. He didn’t need a rush, not that Brooklyn ever felt those after so long of having them. His body was too used to it.

“What do you think of this?” Jake asked, pushing his laptop over to Brooklyn. They were sitting at an empty table, third floor of the main branch of the New York Public Library. The third floor, two up from the ground, was actually called the second floor. Brooklyn and Jacob often had disputes early on about which floor they were meant to meet on, as saying second could mean the first or the third, depending on whether the ground floor was considered the first. It meant the third if one thought of the ground floor as not being the first, or the first floor if one did. All of it was confusing. Eventually, they started calling the floors by certain characteristics of them, rather than fighting over which floor was the first.

“I think it lacks description,” Brooklyn replied, pushing the laptop back. He was reading Jacob’s writing. In times of inspiration, like that morning, Jacob resorted to writing to get it out of him, not forcing himself to sit on it and hope it passed.

“I don’t know if I want any more,” Jake said, staring at the paragraph. It was more of a current feeling he was writing than any kind of scene he’d meant to set up. The setting itself was more there because it seemed necessary to act as a base for the rest of what he wanted to write. Brooklyn didn’t quite understand the purpose of the writing.

“What is it for?”

“Nothing.”

“Just for fun?”

“Maybe not even for that.”

“You’re writing something you don’t enjoy?”

“Enjoyment doesn’t have to be fun,” Jake replied. “I could be enjoying it for the wrong reasons.”

“What’s so wrong?” he asked.

“I don’t know. Just stupid hypothetical shit. Do you wanna go to a coffee shop or something? Continue there?” Jacob asked.

“Sure,” Brooklyn replied.

“K, I’m just going to the bathroom first,” Jake said, closing his laptop and leaving it at the table.

Heading to said bathroom, he entered, feeling it might be empty. Of course, one could never say for sure. He didn’t hear anyone, but that didn’t guarantee anything.

Deciding to head into a stall, he locked it. Often public bathrooms made him desire privacy, so using the urinals was rare.

It appeared the bathroom wasn’t empty. He could hear someone. But was it even coming from within the bathroom? No, it seemed to echo into the bathroom from just outside, moving closer. Eventually, they were inside. Jake stood silently, already finished peeing, merely to listen and detract attention to himself. He even decided to sit on the toilet seat if anyone looked into the stall, wondering why he’d be standing there doing nothing. Everything to hear what was going on.

The voices were still indiscernible, the number of people speaking, too.

He caught some intent, seeming like a plead. Was someone making a threat? Leaning to the side, he tried to look through the cracks in the door to see if he could see any of it. Nothing. They must’ve been standing on the left of him, maybe behind the wall. He couldn’t tell their position because the room distorted the origin of their voices, making it sound like they were where they weren’t.

Making him jump, Jake heard one of them, probably the pleading one, being slammed against a wall. A harsh whisper came next.

“Hey, people are in here,” a man called out. The stalls hadn’t been empty after all. Just like that, the voices stopped. Jake heard a sound he couldn’t distinguish, then, one he could. It was the sound of a body falling to the floor. By the shadow under the door, he could tell it was in front of his stall.

Then, like a spilled glass of coffee, dark red blood began to flow, pooling around the man Jake couldn’t see, even moving slowly under the stall. Jake held his breath, preparing to lift his feet if the blood came near. A moment later, after Jake waited, knowing not what to do, the man who’d spoken emerged from his own stall far to the right of Jake.

“What the fuck is that?” he asked, stepping toward the blood. Lifting his feet, Jake tried to hide himself. The last thing he wanted was to be questioned by a man about something he knew not of.

Hearing him walk around the blood and out of the bathroom, he seemed to be looking for those who did it, the one’s there just minutes earlier. But he had no luck, even calling down the hall, he saw nobody. Eventually, the man left to tell someone of the body. He knew all too well what had happened after getting a closer look, prepared to tell an employee about what happened.

Leaving Jake alone in the bathroom, he got up and out of the stall, opening the door slowly to reveal the body. He didn’t recognize the person, thankfully. Jumping over the blood, he peered down, heart still beating quite quickly, to find his suspicions confirmed. Distinct bite marks on the neck. It was why the man never bothered to check on the victim, he knew already that he was unable to deal with the situation, probably afraid that the thing who did it was still around.

Jacob shared his sentiment, leaving the bathroom as quickly as possible. He was going to get Brooklyn and leave, trying to forget he ever saw it.

That didn’t last. After ordering their food and drinks, Jake was bursting at the seam to tell Brooklyn what he’d witnessed.

“Just tell me,” Brooklyn said, the two in a corner booth together, sitting close. Jake wanted to be closer to Brooklyn now, even having their elbows touch. He chose the corner booth so he could see everyone in the coffee shop. It was all a result of the thing he’d just experienced and the paranoia that followed.

“You know the killings, the bite marks?” Jake asked.

“It’s literally the only thing on the news right now.”

“I just saw one.”

“You saw it? Where?”

“I didn’t see it, I was there when it was happening. In the library bathroom. I was in a stall, and I couldn’t see what was happening, but I heard a bunch of shit, and eventually this guy falls to the floor, right in front of my stall. Blood’s going everywhere. I looked at his neck when I left. Bite marks and everything,” Jake explained, like a story he’d been hoping to confirm that was finally verified.

“No shit.”

“No shit. Guy in the bathroom got out first, saw it, and left. I think he went to tell someone. Either way, they’ll find the body eventually.”

“You didn’t tell anyone?” Brooklyn asked.

“No, I just got out. It’s not like it does anything; this guy was 100% dead already.”

“Was it scary?”

“I didn’t see any of it.”

“But did you hear anything?”

“Not really, nothing that surprised me.”

“I guess people are just used to it now,” he said.

“They sure seem to be, I feel I’m getting used to it already.”

“Do you think they’re vampires?”

“I think they’re people pretending they’re vampires. Like a plot to trick New York, you know? Make us think we have a vampire problem or something.”

“But to kill people for it?”

“Some people are crazy.”

“That crazy?”

“Some people think God is real.”

He smiled, “I suppose that’s true.”

“Nope, I like my idea. Psycho cult tries to make New York believe vampires exist. I mean why else would it only be New York? No one else is reporting anything. Pretty sure actual vampires wouldn’t restrict themselves to just New York.”

“I mean, New York’s pretty big. Maybe they’re trying to eat all of New York first, before moving on.”

“They don’t eat people,” Jake corrected.

“Well, they drink people.”

“This one was weird, though. The guy had tons of blood. It was literally like he dropped to the ground when they stopped talking, and was just left there.”

“Maybe it’s not linked? What if someone stabbed him in the neck and let him bleed out to make it look like one of the killings? Try to pass it off.”

“Makes more sense that way…” Jacob agreed. “Why would a vampire kill someone and then leave their blood? I didn’t buy this bagel just to not eat it.”

“Are you going to?” Brooklyn asked. Jacob hadn’t touched it in the five minutes they’d been sitting.

“Yeah, yeah,” he replied, still not so hungry after seeing what he saw. The sight of blood didn’t necessarily make him lose appetite, but it certainly didn’t increase it. The shock more than anything was what caused the lack of eating.

“I can take half,” Brooklyn offered.

“Go ahead.”

“Sure?”

“Yeah, I ate cereal an hour ago.”

Brooklyn gave the now-distant Jake a glance as he stared vacantly across the room. But he looked away right after. There was something more weighing on his mind. Something he’d meant to ask a lot sooner. It was something he’d been planning to ask all night before. Not so much one question as a series. A genre of questions, all pertaining to helping Brooklyn sort through unknown territory that seemed very familiar to Jacob.

They sat together, Jake eventually picking up his half of the bagel and eating it slowly as he continued his empty stare.

“How’s Blake? Or how are things with him?” Brooklyn asked. It was an awkward but unassuming start to the topic. He knew he shouldn’t be afraid to discuss it with Jake, but he was afraid to discuss it with anyone.

“He’s fine, I guess.”

“Any luck? I assume not based on that answer.”

“Not really. No, we’re still in the phase of not wanting to try anything. I hate it. Tried to get more out of him, tried talking to him. Didn’t get very far.”

“Do you know why?”

“I don’t want to say it, but I think he has a very serious case of internalized homophobia. And I don’t know how to fix it. I thought trying more would fix it by now, but it doesn’t seem to be working.”

“That’s sad.”

“That it isn’t working?”

“That you have to deal with it, too. I couldn’t imagine that, being with someone who didn’t even let themselves like you.”

“It’s a bad situation. You want to help them but get frustrated trying to. It’s easier for you than it is for them, and if you don’t try to help them, they might never get better. And then you have the knowledge that you kind of let it continue, maybe even get worse. It’s like ruining someone’s life because you didn’t try hard enough.”

“You aren’t ruining his life. It’s not your job to just fix him like that. If he doesn’t want the help, stop trying.”

“Easier said than done. I want to hold out because it’s really not easy finding guys, and finding a guy with mutual interest, or spoken interest, is not so easy.”

“Spoken interest?”

“He’s a lot of talk, not a lot of action. He’ll talk about sex on SMS for hours but actually doing it? Nope. No, that’s too far for him. And he’s trying to instil within me that in-person interactions and messages are totally different, that what we say online isn’t part of our real-life desires at all. I’m the same person, I’ve proven to him he’s wrong already. Do I act differently when messaging you?”

“No.”

“Exactly.”

“I think he’s projecting.”

“Probably. ‘If I’m going to act this way, it means everyone else does.’ I hate it.”

“I would.”

“Now I just feel I want someone else, someone better.”

“I think you’ll find it.”

“Let’s hope.”

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