Rhymes spin in your head like tilt-a-whirls, the bile rising in your mouth with every grimy thought you push away. Can’t say that without crying. Can’t say that without someone else crying. Your mind is empty, so is your heart, so is this crappy dumpster studio on the wrong side of town.
There’s rain tonight, providing a rhythm to words on the tip of your tongue that just want to stick there, like lemmings afraid of jumping off a cliff. The rain is peaceful. The rain doesn’t make you think of home. Home was hot and fire and sticky nights when the air conditioning didn’t work. Rain like this drips down your back and cleans away the sweat. This fire escape dangles over an alley, and watching the heavy droplets fall to the dirty ground below makes you think of gravity, makes you think of how nothing can fly forever.
Something hits the glass window beside you but doesn’t shatter it, and you send a prayer up to something that you’ve been saved an email to the super. The rock is a chunk of pavement from some broken sidewalk or another, and it rolls to a sloping stop next to you, shudders like it’s anticipating something.
“Thought you were in there.” The voice isn’t shuddering. Clear like bells, like harpsichords, like sweet things and cool rain. You think of the rough voices at home and how they got that way. You want to snatch that cigarette out of his fingers.
“I’m out here.”
“I can see that.”
He’s wet like you are, soaked through to the bone. His t-shirt sticks to his skin in places, his shorts are waterlogged, and his skin glistens with the sheen of this storm, this restart. He looks like he was made to stand there, casually leaning on a skateboard, looking up at you like there’s nothing more important than this moment. Do you want me to go, his eyes say, and you try to make your eyes say no but you were always better at words.
People didn’t look like him back home. Back home people had scarred faces, patchy beards, dark eyes and downturned lips and curved spines and the smoke and sweat rolled off them in waves. You couldn’t go anywhere without smelling hurt and regret and wasted time.
No one back home had pretty blue eyes and shiny, smooth-looking skin and the kind of hair that smells clean and looks it, too. No one back home smiled like it didn’t matter. People back home wouldn’t wait out in the rain for you and they weren’t afraid to tell you that.
He drops his skateboard to the ground and reaches for the fire escape ladder. It’s slippery under his hand but he’s a risk-taker, scrambles all the way up in sneakers that are worn with the rain-soaked climbs of a thousand other nights.
“You like it out here, don’t you?” He swings his leg over the metal railing and lands on the other side with a clang and a rattle and the noise kind of shocks you. Things are quiet in the rain, but this time you find yourself liking the loudness.
“I like it.” You can’t explain any more than that. Not that you don’t want to. You can’t.
He sits beside you, his legs dangling, his clean smell smoothing your nostrils and his leg pressed against yours, warm and malleable like this moment. The rain lets up just a little, lets the beads slide down your skin once they fall, gentle to match the beating of your heart.
Rhymes come easy until they don’t, and that’s been the hard part for as long as you can remember. With his leg pressed to yours, suddenly, the rhymes are coming easy again. Your notebook is inside, the window closed, and you could get up and get it but for once the rhymes don’t seem as important as the peace of this moment, gentle nighttime and light showers and everything easing up for once in a lifetime.
“Are you hungry?” He asks it like he knows the answer, but you’re determined tonight to prove him wrong. Prove them all wrong, show them that red dust and dirt wash off in the rain, that maybe the broken, war-torn boys can be loved, or learn to love too.
“I could go for some pizza,” you tell him, and his smile shines brighter than the moon tonight, you’ve decided.
He helps you down and into something else that isn’t quite rain but isn’t quite hot. And you like it, this warm tepid place with his hand in yours and rhymes that feel more like melodies singing in your skull.