WARNING: THE FOLLOWING POST CONTAINS PROFANITY, EXPLICIT ADULT CONTENT, HOMOSEXUAL THEMES, AND MATERIAL THAT MAY OFFEND LARGE PORTIONS OF THE POPULATION. IF YOU ARE UNDER 18, ENTERTAIN CONSERVATIVE POLITICAL VIEWS, OR SUFFER FROM A HEART CONDITION, PLEASE CLOSE YOUR BROWSER NOW TO AVOID OFFENSE, ILLEGALITY, OR A DANGEROUS RISE IN BLOOD PRESSURE.
At the top of a dark granite cliff, a two foot wide stream turned into a long, crystal cascade that tumbled over ledges and fell in clear sheets like ice, until it finally tumbled into the pool. A granite bolder had tumbled down from the cliff, probably hundreds of years before, and formed a natural dam. Half of the bolder was flat and dry, and the water from the pool spread out and tumbled over the other half, where it fell hundreds of feet to another pool hidden beneath the canopy of trees.
“Alright,” Anders said beside him. “This was worth it.” Anders unbuckled his pack and leaned it against one of the higher stones, then sat down and began to unlace his boots.
“What are you doing?”
“Cooling off!” Anders shouted, setting his boots aside. He stripped off his long sleeved shirt and the thin Under Armor tank top he wore beneath it, zipped the legs off of his pants, and waded into the water. “Come on! You didn’t drag us ten miles to see this just to sit there, did you?”
Kevin rocked his head from side to side. It had gotten up to seventy-five this afternoon, and the water did look lice. It also looked cold. “I think I’ll pass. There’s a real shower and a hot tub somewhere in Franklin with my name on it.”
“You’re kidding! It’s nice!”
“Yes,” Anders nodded, “That’s one of the features people tend to like about water!”
“Fuck you,” Kevin grinned.
“Shouldn’t insult the guy who’s already soaked!” Anders shouted. “I don’t have anything to lose by splashing you, you know!”
“I’m out of range!” Kevin shouted, not quite sure if he was.
“Ha!” Anders bent down raced back towards him, scooping up a handful of water as he moved.
The water arched towards him and dropped, as if by magic, right over his head.
“Bastard.” Kevin wiped the water away from his eyes, glared and Anders, and stood up. He hadn’t even taken his pack of yet. He dropped his back quickly, though, and slipped out of his trail running shoes and thick wool socks. He had more layers to shed than Anders, and the skinny man laughed and scooted away, making use of the extra time to get deeper into the pool.
When Kevin tossed his shirt aside and plunged into the water after Anders, he stopped, struck by the cold and the opened mouthed shock on Anders’s face.
His first thought, aside from trying to block out the stabbing cold as the blood vessels in his toes constricted, was that he probably looked like shit. He tried to cover up his chest, sure that the dusky pink splotches that made his skin look speckled were obvious. He felt the blush rising through his neck and he knew that there was nothing he could do to stop it. He backed out of the water and reached for his shirt again.
“What’s wrong?” Anders laughed. “You can’t possibly be shy!”
Kevin pulled his undershirt on and turned away. He didn’t need to hear any jokes about it. He knew what his body looked like. Ordinarily, he wouldn’t care, and he didn’t want to think about why it bothered him bow.
“Kev, what’s wrong? I was just having fun!”
Kevin sat down to dry off his feet and pull his socks back on.
Anders waded towards him and climbed up onto bolder. He left wet footprints as he made his way towards Kevin. “Is this the whole definitely not interested thing? Because I didn’t mean to stare. I was just surprised, that’s all. But, hell, man if anyone here has a reason to feel shy, it’s me.”
Kevin slipped on his shoe and began to tighten the laces. “Anders,” he said quietly, “It’s alright. You can ask.”
“About the marks on my skin. It’s not my favorite subject, but I’m not ashamed of it, either.”
“Are you serious? Do you really think a few freckles are going to make you any less hot? Now I don’t feel so bad for always falling behind, though. I had no idea you were in such amazing shape.”
“Freckles?” Kevin laughed. He ran his fingers over the muscles on his own chest, wondering how Anders could be so distracted by the muscle definition that he didn’t see the alternating areas of pink inflammation and white skin that came after. Looking at his own arms and shoulders, though, Kevin was relieved to see that his skin wasn’t so bad.
“They’re not freckles?”
Kevin shook head slowly, the humor of the situation vanishing.
“So what is it, then?” Anders sat down beside him, but he made no move to retrieve his own clothes.
Kevin took a deep breath and stared at the water. The ripples and sediment that Anders had stirred up playing in the water had settled and the pool was clear down to the bottom now. “I’m sick,” he admitted. He took another deep breath. “I’ve got a disease called lupus. It’s like…” he shook his head and squeezed his eyes shut. The clinical definition, with all of the many ways that it could impact the body, was long and drawn out. “It’s like a combination of arthritis and an allergy to sunshine.”
“An allergy to sunshine?”
“But you spend all day outside. Every day.”
“In case you didn’t notice,” Kevin nodded up towards the trees above them, “There’s not actually much for sunshine on this section of the trail. And I stick to long sleeves and sun screen.”
“And four prescriptions?”
“What all do you have to take for it?”
“Basic stuff. Arthritis medication, prednisone, another arthritis drug, blood pressure medication, Motrin. Lots of Motrin.”
“Damn… So, you’ve got to take all of that medication every day? For the rest of your life?”
“Yeah.” Until his kidneys failed, or the inflammation started to cause fibrosis in his lungs. Theoretically, treating the condition early could prolong those complications, and maybe even prevent them, but Kevin wasn’t putting much stock in that. The same treatments hadn’t stopped it from killing his dad in the end.
“Is it serious?”
Kevin picked up a small shard of rock and tossed it into the pool. “Yeah.”
“Well—barring random car accidents, my own stupidity, and plagues of zombies—it’ll probably kill me.”
Anders was quiet beside him, but Kevin could almost feel the air around them getting colder.
“Not for awhile, though, so you don’t need to worry about dragging my corpse off the trail. My doctor’s pretty optimistic, anyway.”
“But you’re not optimistic.”
Kevin tossed another rock into the water. “I have my optimistic moments. Most of the time, I’d gladly put money on the whole plague of zombies thing.”
“Because no one ever gets killed by something as mundane as a car accident,” Anders nodded.
“Exactly. That’s so normal that it could never possibly happen.”
Anders rolled over and crawled to his pack. He came back a moment later with two candy bars and dropped one into Kevin’s lap. “I’d bake something, but…” Anders gestured around at the rocks and water.
He looked down at the candy bar and reluctantly picked it up. “You know,” he muttered, tearing into the wrapper. “When pity comes in Snickers Bar form, it’s not so bad.”
The walk into Franklin was cut short when a pickup truck stopped beside them and offered them a lift. They got a room at the Comfort Inn, and Anders began stripping off his clothes again as soon as the door shut behind them.
“You want to shower first?” Anders asked, hesitating at the bathroom door.
“You go ahead. I intend to use all of the hot water in the hotel, so I can wait.”
Anders hurried into the bathroom, his grin huge. In a moment, Kevin heard the shower start running and finally let himself relax. He went through his pack, emptying trash from his garbage bag, sorting through his laundry, and wishing he could wash his pack and sleeping bag. As soon as he was in clean clothes, he knew he would feel better.
When Kevin ran out of things to do, he fell back onto one of the queen sized beds and enjoyed the soft give of the mattress. The moment he shut his eyes, he saw that open-mouthed stare again. He couldn’t get that memory out of his head.
Anders had covered up his shocked reaction well enough, and Kevin was touched that he would even bother. Anders really was a nice guy, emasculating himself just to save Kevin’s ego. Somehow, being able to laugh about it was a relief. He knew that Anders had just been humoring him, but the wish that he hadn’t been, the desire to see Anders look at him like that for real, had left him reeling.
The water shut off far too quickly. Kevin sat up, half wishing that Anders would just stay in the bathroom. He needed more time to clear his head. Even if Anders stare had just been indulgent pity, the image had worked its way into his brain and refused to quit niggling away at him, making him imagine things he needed to stop imagining.
When Anders walked out of the bathroom dripping and wearing nothing by the small hotel towel wrapped around his waist, Kevin wanted to scream.
“Shower’s all yours. If you toss your clothes out, I’ll go throw all of them I the wash together.”
Kevin groaned as he pushed himself off of the bed. His muscles and joints all ached, but enough hot water would get him moving again. He nodded slowly, not trusting himself to speak, and hurried into the bathroom. As soon as the door was closed, Kevin turned the water on to its hottest setting. He leaned on the counter while the bathroom around him filled with steam. He met his own gaze in the mirror and felt like breaking the glass. He could see the pink tint beneath his beard, and the last thing he wanted to do was take off his clothes and see just how terrible his skin looked. He didn’t want to see what Anders actually saw when he looked at him.
When the mirror was coated with steam, Kevin stripped off his clothing and adjusted the shower temperature to the hottest he could stand. Under the spray of the water, he rolled his shoulders and stretched his hands and wrists, trying to work some of the stiffness out of his body. He kept his eyes closed and let the heat wash over him. Despite himself, he let his imagination wander. With his eyes closed, he didn’t have to see the strange colors of his skin. He imagined the way his body had looked before he got sick. Holding fast to that memory, he could delude himself into thinking that someone like Anders might actually want him. His body, so long condemned to being isolated and alone, surged to life in an instant. He used what was left o f the hotel conditioner and stroked his already weeping cock. Just thinking about Anders’s narrow nips and tight ass, along with imagining Anders looking at him the way he had pretended to that afternoon, was all it took to push him over the edge. He swallowed the cry that nearly escaped as he came in his own hand, then collapsed against the tile wall of the shower.
“Fuck…” Kevin whispered.
As he came back down, he opened his eyes, took a few deep breaths, and reached for the shampoo. He heard the echo of metal clicking against metal and froze. That could not have been what it sounded like. Because it sounded a lot like someone closing the bathroom door very quietly.