I stare at the wall, listening to the beat of my heart count off seconds, concentrating on keeping my breath slow and steady. I'm not twelve anymore. I'm twenty-six. I'm a successful accountant. I shouldn't be this freaked out.
I close my eyes again. Take a few deep breaths. Open them.
The fresh paint of the wall stares back at me. Polished plastic tiles on the floor. It's a mask, a sterile plastic mask of health and hygiene, to hide the sickness and the pain behind the mask, the rotting red stench of death. If you smile and put on sky-blue nighties, you can pretend you're not dying.
I realize I'm shaking. I hate hospitals.
I draw my hand over my eyes. Look at my watch. Fidget. Will the door to open. Focus on breathing again. Don't faint. Don't hyperventilate. Don't.
"Your name was on the contact card," the voice on the phone said.
"My name?" I'd replied. I wondered if the person on the other line could hear my hysteria. "But how'd you get my number? I haven't seen him in seven years."
Seven years. It's been seven years.
The door opens.
"Mr.,"—the nurse has to consult her chart—"Davies?"
I stand up a little too fast. "Yes."
"His condition has stabilized. You can see him now."
I'm through the door before she's finished talking, bumping around another nurse in a bubble-pink uniform the color of medicine, headed straight for the figure on the bed. He's connected to way too many cords, plugging him into machines like a saline-drip puppet. I stop, eyes tracing helplessly over the bandaged face. I know the features under the bandages. Long nose, hazel eyes, wide lips, brown hair hidden—I know every detail. I see that face every day in the mirror.
Sinking into a chair, I watch the steady breathing of the broken figure on the bed. The breath and heartbeat match my own. I watch. I see the eyelashes flicker, see the confused frown on the wrinkled brow, the pursed lips. I feel—mimic—the hesitation of breath. Watch him stare at the ceiling, try to move—the wince of pain. His fingers stretch out, then his arm lifts, counting the fingers in front of his face. His other arm does not lift. It's broken. His eyes turn to the side, and look straight into mine.
I feel my face redden. My reply gets stuck in my throat.
I wish I could look away. "I didn't know if you had anyone else."
"I'm glad you came."
I look away, breaking his gaze. I look at the floor instead, studying a crack in the linoleum. "Why is my name on your contact card?"
"Because," my brother laughs, winces, takes a breath. "I thought maybe if I was dying, you'd come to see me one last time."
"You're not dying," I retort. "Go back to sleep."
I sigh. "Erik."
The corners of Erik's mouth twitch upwards in a smile. "Miss me?"
I'm not used to lying. I do it anyway. "No."
I watch the smile on his face dim. "You're a bad liar, Bryan," Erik says.
"Go to sleep."
I don't realize that I've fallen asleep, until I find myself startled awake by voices outside. I get to my feet, glancing over at my twin on the bed. Erik twitches in his sleep, dreaming. I notice a slight tent in the sheets around his waist and roll my eyes, blushing.
I push the door open, blinking at the static brightness, and squint at the nurses' station, where the trouble is. A giant of a man, well over six feet, is arguing with one of the nurses.
"I'm sorry, sir," she's saying, "but it's past visiting hours. Please come back tomorrow."
"Five minutes," the man growls. "Just let me see him."
"I'm sorry, but I can't, our policy—"
"Fuck your policy!"
He shoves away from the counter, well over six feet of dark skin and muscle, and I nearly faint when his eyes lock on mine. "What the fuck," he comments.
I hope that if I remain very still, maybe he will move on and stare at someone else. It doesn't work.
"You're his brother, aren't you?"
I wonder if giant black men can smell fear. I wish my heart would stop hammering; it makes it hard to hear myself think. Somehow I realize my head is nodding. "My name is Bryan," I say.
"I didn't know he had a brother. I'm his boyfriend."
My mouth is very dry. I swallow awkwardly. "I didn't know he had a boyfriend."
"Where is he?"
I nod towards the door I'd only just exited. "He's sleeping."
He's through the door before I've finished talking. I follow him inside. I hesitate in the doorway, watching the black man stop by the bed, caressing Erik's cheek, kissing his forehead as he sleeps. I wonder if this stinging feeling in my heart is jealousy.
"Lucas," the stranger says. His hand is held out in offering towards me.
I shake it, doubtful. "Bryan."
"So you said. I'll buy you coffee. Let's let him sleep."
My mouth moves, despite my best efforts to keep it shut. "Sure."
I'm staring at his hands. They're big hands, but not clumsy. The fingers are long and graceful. They're the kind of hands people like to draw. The kind of hands I used to like to draw.
He's holding the cup of coffee out to me. It's dwarfed by the size of his hand, curled around it. I watch the trail of steam trickle up from the cup. I'm staring at his hands. This is awkward.
I take the cup. He sits down, folds his hands on the table. I wonder how he uses his hands. Strong hands. Callused. I see him running those hands over the pale skin of my brother's body. My brother's body looks like my body. I burn my tongue on the coffee and gag.
"So Erik has a brother," he says. "Why haven't I ever met you?"
I take another sip of my coffee, more careful this time. Hospital coffee. It tastes like caffeinated Styrofoam. "We haven't spoken in seven years."
"Shit. Seven years?"
"My name was on his contact card. I don't know why."
"I never even knew he had a brother."
I sigh. I don't want to have this conversation. "How much do you know?"
"He told me his mother died of cancer when he was eleven. Never knew his father."
I nod in agreement.
"Bounced in and out of foster homes until he was seventeen. Been working crappy jobs ever since. He's a motorcycle delivery boy at Pizza Hut."
"He is? Oh." I stare down at my own hands. They seem so frail and awkward. "I didn't know that. He got hit by a drunk housewife in a minivan, I think they said."
"What else did they say?"
"A lot of medical stuff. Broken arm, ribs, both legs. Blood loss. He'll be okay."
"So what's your story? He's a delivery boy, you're wearing a fancy suit?"
"I got a scholarship. Went away to college. I saw him once when we were nineteen. Other than that, we've been separated since we were fifteen."
I can see the coffee quivering in my cup. My hands are shaking.
"They separated you?" he asks. "Who? Why?"
I can hear the anger in his voice. He's angry that anyone dared to separate Erik from the only family he has. He's protective of my brother, maybe a little bit possessive. I wonder if I should be angry, too.
"The psychologist at the social services office thought it was unhealthy for us to be together."
I shrug and get to my feet. I'm avoiding looking at him. "I'm going back upstairs. I don't want him to be alone when he wakes up. He's terrified of hospitals."
"You both are," Lucas says.
We go back upstairs. Erik's awake. He's going through my wallet. I don't know how he got it out of my coat pocket, since he can't get out of the bed. He must have asked the nurse to grab my coat off the chair, where I left it, so he could rifle through the pockets. It's something Erik would do.
"Hi." He greets us both with a dizzy grin.
"You're supposed to be sleeping," Lucas says. He sounds amused.
Erik greets him with a kiss. "I guess you've met the love of my life."
"Me?" Lucas chuckles, shaking his head. "You must've hit your head harder than they thought."
"Nah," Erik says. "I meant Bryan."
His voice says he's teasing. His eyes meet mine when he says this. He hasn't changed at all. Wild, impulsive, irresponsible Erik.
"Funny, Erik," I say. "Give me my wallet back."
He hands it over.
"I have to go," I say. "Wouldn't want to be a third wheel."
"Please stay, Bryan," he says.
I won't look at him.
"I missed you," he says.
I put my coat on and head for the door.
"Bryan," he says.
"Thanks for coming."
I walk out of the door. I pretend none of this happened. I go back to the familiar monotony of my life.
I can't sleep. I dream of Erik.
I decide to tell my therapist the truth. About Erik. About us.
"I saw Erik," I begin.
"Oh?" She looks at me over the wire rims of her glasses. "Your twin."
"He got hit by a car. I was on his contact card."
"Did you two get a chance to talk?"
I shake my head. "Not really."
She purses her lips. She's watching me suspiciously. "Something's bothering you."
"I told you—" I hesitate. I don't want to tell her. I take a deep breath. "The official report when we were separated said we were too close, and it was inhibiting our ability to interact with the world outside of each other."
"Yes," she prompts.
"It wasn't true. Erik, at least, made friends just fine. He was always popular. He's always been really friendly and outgoing. Everyone likes him. I was still quiet and shy, I hadn't gotten over losing our mom, but Erik dragged me along with him in everything he did. He was popular, so I was popular."
"So why the separation?"
"Because the found out." I close my eyes. My fingers curl into fists. This doesn't keep them from shaking. "We were close. Intimate." I choke on the next word, forcing it out. "Sexual."
"I understand," she says. She doesn't.
A week later I get a call from him.
My heart skips. I lick my lips, suddenly finding it hard to speak. "Erik."
"My casts are coming off tomorrow. Lucas is taking me out to dinner to celebrate. I want you to come."
"No," I say, automatically.
"Jesus, Bryan, it's been seven years. And you're the only family I've got. We're not teenagers anymore. I've grown up, I swear. I'm mature enough to keep my damn hands off you. Please come. I've fucking missed you."
I start chewing on my lip, unsure.
"We can catch up," he says. "You're my brother. Come."
"Okay," I let out the breath I was holding.
"Tomorrow. At the Piazza Luna on 14th. Seven o'clock."
I hang up the phone.
I stare in the window of the Piazza Luna, a surprisingly upscale restaurant. I can see him inside with Lucas. Erik is practically bouncing, eyes fixed on the door. He's chatting with Lucas, and laughs every so often. I'm surprised to realize I like seeing them together. The grins he shoots Lucas are adoring. They're in love.
I see the way Erik's face lights up when I walk through the door. He waves me over and stands up, grabbing me when I get within range.
His arms are tight around my waist. I hug back loosely, awkward. His shampoo smells like vanilla. I can feel every line of his body, pressed flush against me. I know how badly I'm blushing.
"God, look at you." Erik laughs. "Do you wear any clothing that's not suits?"
Erik's dressed in this skin-tight red shirt and black leather pants. These days his hair is short and spiked, and he's dyed it red since I saw him at the hospital. Primary color red. He doesn't belong in a restaurant, he belongs in a club, where he can have all the boys he wants, fawning over his slim body, the way his pants hang low on his hips, tantalizingly flashing a strip of flesh.
My head jerks up, and my face is red when I meet Erik's eyes. He saw me looking.
I sit down, already regretting my decision to come. I look over at Lucas instead. Safer.
"Hello, Bryan," he says.
We make small talk. Lucas works for a hardwood flooring company, which makes good money and keeps them in a nice apartment. Erik just got a new job as a bartender. He gets up to pee while we're waiting for the food to come.
I'm slowly shredding my roll into tiny pieces. "Can I ask you something?" I blurt out.
Lucas watches me, surprised. "Hm? Sure."
"What do you love about him?"
He laughs. "More like what don't I love about him. You want to be here all night? He's fun and energetic; he's great in a club, playful and flirtatious, but completely loyal and adoring. He's irresponsible and immature, sure, but that's a small price to pay for a cheerful, affectionate boyfriend who's incredible in bed."
"I'm really glad to hear that," I say. "That he's cheerful, I mean. Last time I saw him—well, before the hospital, um—he was in the middle of a goth phase. It wasn't like him at all."
"You're talking about me," Erik says, plopping into his chair.
He looked me up at college.
I hadn't seen him for four years, when he showed up at my dorm room door. I didn't recognize him at first, my outgoing, optimistic brother hidden under a layer of dark eyeshadow and dark clothes, but he recognized me at once. He tackled me to the floor. I think I may have yelped.
"Bryan," he said.
I stared. "Erik?"
He let me up. I closed the door and got him a soda.
"Been looking for you," he said. "I missed you like hell. Ever since those assholes separated us."
"It was for the best," I said, weakly.
He stared at me. "You actually believe that?'
I stared back, stubborn. "What we did was wrong."
"What we did was natural," he retorted. "I love you."
"As a brother."
"As my twin. As my lover. As my other half."
"It was perverted."
He turned his head away in disgust. "They brainwashed you."
"You shouldn't have come."
"Bryan! You're my brother." He crossed the room to me. Grabbed me by the arm. "Look at me."
I shook my head.
"Look at me."
I looked. I'd seen that face in the mirror every day, but this wasn't like looking in a mirror. I can see things in his eyes when he looks at me. Things I never saw in his eyes when he looked at anyone else. Not even Lucas. He's different with Lucas.
"Tell me you don't dream of me. Tell me you don't want me. Tell me you don't care."
He shoved me down on the bed and held me there. Kissed me like we used to. Tickled me until I begged for mercy and kissed me again, tongue pushing past my lips and into my mouth like he owned it. He pulled my pants off me, and his mouth... Erik never shuts up unless his mouth is full, and even then he's pretty noisy.
That will always be my most vivid memory. Me, sprawled across my bed, tangling the covers as I clawed at them, voice choked with gasping cries as he touched me. We'd done this many times before, straddling each other's bodies, swallowing each other's cries and cocks and come, worshipping each other with hands and mouths and whole bodies. He grinned and hummed around my cock, and I wondered later where he'd learned to do that.
And when he pulled a little bottle of lube out of the pocket of my jeans, I remember seeing it, wondering what it was for. I remember how I screamed and bucked and came into his mouth when he pushed two fingers inside me and twisted them around. He kept his fingers inside me as he swallowed, grinning proudly at me.
I panted, squirming uncomfortably at the invasion. "Erik, what are you doing?"
He held me on his lap, not letting me wiggle away. "I want to have sex for real," he says.
I stared at him. "You mean in my – in me – there?"
"It's gotta be with you," he said. "We've gotta lose our virginity to each other. Here. Now."
He lay on top of me, twisting around until he could figure out the right angle and fit it inside. I grunted, screwing up my eyes at the pain.
"Erik," I complained. "You're sure?"
"Trust me," he said.
I trusted him.
We were awkward. He pulled out too far and slipped, and started swearing when he tried to get it back in, and I gasped and whimpered and suddenly screamed, my body arching.
Erik froze, frightened that he'd hurt me for real. "Bryan?"
I moaned, senses shot through with overwhelming dizziness, hips rutting up against him, wanting to find that spot he'd just barely brushed. "Please," I begged. "That spot. Again. Erik!"
Carefully imitating his previous thrust, he pushed back into me, head of his cock rubbing over that spot, and I dissolved, babbling his name and begging him not to stop. I saw the grin that spread over his face, wildly happy. We came together, my ejaculation spattering over our bellies. He pulled out of me, tangling our bodies together as we panted for breath.
"Erik," I murmured.
We rolled over.
"It's your turn," he said, kissing me. "I want you inside me."
We went again.
I'm not sure why I find myself at their apartment a few days later, curled up on the couch with Erik and Lucas, watching an action movie. Erik likes action movies.
Erik keeps his promise to keep his hands off—at least sexually. Erik's a very physical person, so he's constantly hugging and tickling and pouncing. Lucas doesn't get jealous, because he knows how Erik is. Like a big puppy.
It's not long before I find myself spending more time at their place than my own. Erik works weird hours, and Lucas gets called away often on weekends, so it's pretty frequent that I'll be keeping one or the other of them company alone. Lucas and I talk books, politics, philosophy. Erik and I play video games and watch porn. And when we're all three together, we just talk and laugh, make dinner or play Monopoly. When I spend Christmas with them, Erik makes jokes about how we've gone domestic. They give me a key to their place.
The only issue between us is sex. Erik is absolutely sex crazed, so I know how much they must be doing it, and once or twice I accidentally walk in on them together. Erik likes wrestling games, sometimes his hand slips somewhere it shouldn't while he's grappling with me. We both freeze, and he scrambles back, apologizing. Even worse when he doesn't scramble back, and we stare at each other, tense. He knows how much I want him, but he doesn't dare make a noise. He's terrified he'll lose me again.
When I return home at night, I close my eyes and think that the three of us are almost happy together. I wonder how long before it falls apart. Happiness always falls apart.
Lucas and I drag Erik to the opera, which he endures good-naturedly and buffoons the plot on the way home. It's snowing, a thick frosty layer over the ice underneath, and I slip. Lucas catches me.
He takes a moment too long before he sets me on my feet, pulling his hands back. I listen to my breath, the slight quickened flutter of my heart, and I meet Erik's eyes.
He knows. I'm completely in love with his boyfriend, and he knows.
I take a step and go down again, with a yelp. Lucas picks me up, laughing. "You okay?"
"I'm fine," I reply, striding forward confidently.
This time I fall forward, and it's Erik who catches me, both of them laughing.
"So I guess ice-skating is out," Lucas teases.
"Sorry," I mutter, blushing.
"Bryan's never had a sense of balance," Erik comments. "Just carry him, Luke. We'll be here all night picking him up off his ass."
He pushes me back towards Lucas, and slips himself, laughing. Lucas catches me before I fall again. "Do I have to carry both of you?"
"I'm fine." Erik grins. "Just Bryan rubbing off on me."
Lucas crouches for me. "Get on."
My face is red. "No."
"C'mon, Bryan." Erik smirks at me. "My ass is fucking freezing." He throws a snowball at me. I duck and slip on the ice again.
Lucas picks me up. "Get on, before I sling you over my shoulder and carry you like that."
I let him carry me home piggyback.
Erik starts digging in the freezer once we get there. "I want popsicles."
Lucas shuts the door behind us, laughing at him. "It's the coldest weather we've had all year, and you want popsicles?"
"Yep," Erik says, tossing him one of the frozen packages, then one to me. Lucas catches his. Erik knows I can't catch. I miss and drop it, rolling my eyes as I pick it up and unwrap it.