by Amy Martin
Glimpses of his dreams pass by his eyes in the calm solitude of the waiting window. It’s one thing in Sean’s life that he wants slow and still and calm. One of few. He always seems in a rush. In a way, he is; in a way no one but James has ever been able to describe. Even James can’t explain him in words. James uses art that is enchanting. Sean’s constant movement blurs the edges of James’ sketches, and the movement is tangible. That art, that inherent magical quality when putting charcoal to paper- it is something Sean has only ever known James to posses. It is beyond his words. It is perfection. It is glorious. Sean hardly thinks he’s seen anything quite so breathtaking. He jokes that it’s because he is the subject of these creative endeavors, but he can hardly lie to himself.
Now he sits patiently, cold leaching into him from the unsealed cracks around the edges of the glass pane, he waits for the other thing he wants slow and still and calm. James enters. Sean can sense him, and his stomach does that odd flip he hasn’t yet accustomed himself to. He wants to hear the quiet voice say “Sean?” half a question, half an announcement of his presence. Instead, James simply crosses the room to him, standing silently beside him as the view into the swirling snowy darkness changes.
James doesn’t say the view is beautiful, or picturesque, or magical, or any of the sappy things that Sean suspects he’s thinking. Sean suspects James would love to sketch this scene; he is no doubt imagining how much black he’d need to cover the canvas, how to make the pinprick flakes of white swirl in a whorl that swallows you in the same way he makes Sean move. Sean guesses James isn’t quite sure himself how he makes his art come alive, that it’s simply a natural talent that surprises James as much as it amazes others. Sean has no reason to think this, but he guesses from the way James will stare blankly at a canvas or his sketchpad for full minutes, stops work and simply gazes, before becoming once more absorbed. Sean has always wondered if there is anything else in the world that can absorb James the way creating art does. He hasn’t yet found anything that does.
James shifts beside him, and Sean finally tears his gaze from the mesmerizing snowfall, tears his brain from its racing commentary, his senses from drinking in the presence of the man he knows too well yet not enough. He grins, and looks into the dark-soft eyes that have accompanied him through six years of friendship. James’ smile is broad, James the artist, James the quiet one, James whose innate happiness most people cannot see. But Sean has always seen it, and he will until the day that inner brightness fades.
Somehow, Sean knows James isn’t thinking about drawing or painting or art or the view out the cold glass, because that smile is for Sean, and no one else can see it. James’s eyes are subject to that goofy grin when they adore him in that moment. Sean lifts a hand from his lap, the crinkle of plastic too harsh between his fingers and real as is any noise in these moments with James he tells himself every day mean nothing.
“Cracker?” he offers, and it is the first word spoken between them and the sign for them both that this is just going to be another normal, casual, friendly encounter, and once again they won’t address the sparking fire that has been lit by their smiles. Sean doesn’t know James is slightly crestfallen, this time as well as every other; James himself refuses to acknowledge the slight lurch in his gut as he reaches out to take a salty delight from the proffered package.
He holds the foodstuff delicately, nibbling at the corner, and Sean laughs uproariously as is his custom when seeing James behave overly politely. To enhance the disparity between their eating methods, Sean shoves his fist into the plastic sack and, still chuckling, shoves a handful of crackers into his gaping mouth. He chews with his mouth open, too. James grins. The humor of this friendship is infectious. Even if no one but Sean sees it, James’s secret smile is never more satisfied than when they’re together.
Sean shrugs his legs off the window ledge, kicking his heels against the wall and staring at James, who no longer has a cracker to conceal his unrefined glee. It wouldn’t have had much chance, in any case.
After a moment, not a second too soon, Sean leaps off the windowsill, eyes sliding past James into their living room, where he spins in a dramatic circle before falling back onto the couch. It’s not long before he’s rifling through James’s things, James sitting in the armchair beside, ignoring the constant commentating Sean has running about the half-concealed personal belongings he’s sifted through a million times before. James is unconcerned, an empty page in front of him being filled with darkness by his nimble fingers. He’s recognized by now that he’d waived his right to privacy when he’d accepted Sean as his friend, even more so when they’d become roommates. He learned on the first day he’d ever met Sean that nothing would ever be safe from his sticky fingers and prying eyes. Prying, in Sean’ case, simply translated to curious. Or bored. Or, even, very occasionally, suspicious. But, it was always a good-natured suspicion, and James had never since kept anything he didn’t want Sean to see.
This was why he was confident as Sean rambled on about the state of his underwear, the hideous porn that Roger had slipped to him, and even James’ handwriting on business documents and meeting notes. James smiled and laughed and let his eyes wander to survey Sean discreetly, only to return them instantly to his fresh drawing when Sean held up a new object for inspection. Sean fell silent for the first time in ten minutes, and for the first time fear crept into his veins. As the waves of sound rolled away, James’s ears pricked and he froze, waiting for the moment when Sean would rip James’ attention from the sketchbook and demand an explanation behind the acquisition of some new addition to James’ belongings. It didn’t come. Slowly, James raised his eyes to examine Sean. A page of James’ notes was clutched in Sean’s hand. There were doodles in the margins partially concealed by Sean’s fingertips. Sean’s eyes had gone blank as he gazed down at the paper. James tried to surreptitiously sneak the page from his friend’s hands, but Sean drew back to life, and held it tighter to himself. Before James got the chance to ask what was wrong, Sean pulled a fresh stack of paper from a pile beside him on the coffee table and covered the offending document, launching quickly into a new rant on the CEO and how he was an enormous greasy jerk. James let it pass. He returned to his charcoal drawing, but kept an eye on where Sean placed that pile of parchments, keeping track of where he moved it six different times. He wanted to know what Sean had seen that had made him so uncharacteristically silent and distant.
Sean was cold, colder than he’d been at the windowpane even though he had a warm comforter bunched up around his waist and James’s long legs stretching out across the sofa beside him. In fact, James’s closeness had made him warm in a way he refused to acknowledge, but the chill in his brain and his chest had not been touched. Office meetings were ridiculously boring, notoriously so- had James spaced out so much that he’d not realized what he’d doodled? The picture of the man, from waist up and shirtless, on the side of the page was unmistakably the same as the image Sean faced in the mirror each morning. James must have done the doodle from memory, which begged the question- how much did James stare at him half-naked? So, alright, he was shirtless quite often at the gym or parties or swimming in the summer, or hell just wandering around their apartment- but that didn’t give James an excuse to remember the lines of his body so well.
Surely, this was a fluke. James had never drawn anything like this before, at least not that Sean had managed to get his hands on. Either James’s imagination had gone haywire while listening to the boss’s droning, a real possibility, or he’d been concealing immoral feelings for his best friend for an undetermined length of time. Sean hoped to God it was the first.
After he’d scattered James’ possessions everywhere, Sean retired to the kitchen for a beer. Since the tense moment with his notes, everything had been normal, or at least he thought it had. The camaraderie and easy routine the two of them had had only skipped a beat, then Sean had been back to cracking jokes and leaving the both of them laughing. Still, as soon as Sean had left the room James picked up his things and carefully replaced them into piles around his briefcase. On the pretext of organizing them, James hurriedly rifled through the stack that contained that particular page of his notes. Despite their near-instantaneous return to friendly banter, James was curious what had caused Sean’s momentary lack of composure. He had not yet located the correct page when Sean returned, holding out a beer for him, his hair tousled messily in his usual fashion. Sean’s eyes were drawn to James at once, and suddenly James felt guilty for prying, although the notes he was shuffling through were his own. For a moment, Sean stared at him with an expression that James had never seen before. It left him feeling raw and thoroughly examined. Sean raised the beer to his mouth and disappeared towards the kitchen once more. James was struck still for a moment, then returned to his task as quickly as he could.
Eventually, he found it in the stack. He scanned the doodles that filled the sides of the page until his eyes found it and fixated. His brain took a few seconds to process the drawing, and in that time his jaw dropped open. When his brain caught up, he quickly scanned the room, relieved to see that he was still alone. He slid the paper out of the stack and into his pocket, and hurriedly replaced the pile on the table where Sean had found it. He finished organizing the last of his belongings, and walked into the kitchen.
Sean didn’t look at James as he leaned against the edge of the counter. It wasn’t really awkward, just silent for a few minutes until Sean announced he was going to bed, and disappeared into the other room.
James heaved a deep breath, finished his beer, and decided that retiring was probably a good idea. After shutting the door to his room behind him, he pulled the paper from his pocket, his charcoal stained fingerprints smearing the edges of the page. The drawing of Sean was left intact. James didn’t remember drawing it. The boss’ lecture had been droning on, and he’d spent the lesson staring at Sean’ head. His face was in profile to James, and he could see himself idly scratching out the lines of his nose, the familiar angles of his face, but he’d thought that then he’d dozed off. James tried to confront himself honestly. What were his feelings for Sean? At this point, no matter what they were, Sean deserved to know the truth.
Sean, who had been raised devoutly Irish Catholic.
Sean, whose Dad had disowned his Uncle Matthew when he’d come out to the family.
Sean, whose priest had had such a kind face and such gentle fingers when they’d lain themselves across his arms while he’d said his prayers.
Sean, who’d been such a disappointment to his father.
Sean, who’d discovered that kissing Sadie Brown after the Christmas Party was not half as exciting to him as being close to James.
Sean, who was even now curled in a ball against his bedroom door, clutching at his rosary and chanting, repressing the tears leaking from the corners of his eyes.
Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum…
Amy Martin is a senior studying abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland. She is an Environmental Writing individualized major and an Ecology and Evolutionary Biology minor. She loves dogs, travel, and food.