By Tyler Page
St. Petersburg High, Florida
Ruan and Samreena had been making out in the boy’s restroom for a good ten minutes. When Ruan’s wrist watch started beeping, he unfurled his arms around her, and went over to the sink to swallow pills that made his slow death at 17, just a bit slower. AIDS is a real mood killer, even when he smoked weed with Samreena’s boyfriend, Andre. But, Ruan saw Samreena from the mirror take hold of one of his rough, Boer hands, with her small and soft ones that felt like a bundle of tissues given form.
“Ruan,” Samreena said, “I want to do it.”
Ruan looked back to her over his sunburnt shoulder, putting a white cap on the amber Emtricitabine prescription bottle.
“Now?” he asked.
“No,” She said pressed against his back and tracing the hills of calluses at the top of his palms. “Tomorrow at the party or something. When Andre’s out getting high, we’ll sneak away.” She was never one for bathroom sex. Andre, had complained plenty to Ruan about it.
“How?” Ruan asked, turning to her and leaning his back on the sink. Something cold and curdling griped his stomach, probably the Emtricitabine. Probably. He leaned his head upward, letting his stick body expand and contract in a deep breath that ended in a cough.
Samreena came up to him and brought his face down to lay a kiss. A kiss that was long, that let them feel the heat that scoured across the capillaries of their faces. After a moment, she pulled back.
“Bring some of that moonshine you dad has.” Samreena said, “The one in that water bottle we had on spring break. Andre can’t handle his shit.” Ruan shook his head, laughing.
Whether she liked Ruan, or whether she enjoyed his farm-boy visage didn’t have bearing on the warmth that was radiating from his heart. Warm blood that shrunk the block of ice in his stomach that encroached into all things like a glacier. Ruan pledged to get it. They swapped spit for another minute or so, then the bell rang and summer began.
“I’m not scared.” She said, and unlocked the stall door.
Ruan’s bike stopped at a house, painted in a Salmon coat, with its front door, in a vibrant aqua blue. Gloria, Andre’s mother had said it was to draw guests in. Its coat was the first thing Ruan saw, before the sea of weeds that had all but colonized the front lawn. Ruan aired his moist tank-top and didn’t get more than two feet down the driveway before Andre came running up to him like Ruan was some lover, home from some war. Andre’s hug was sudden as it was tight.
“So psyched you came.” He said waiting a minute to finally loosen his arms. “You look like you could use some loud man, you look like shit.” They both laughed and Ruan wiped the sweat from his brow. Andre pulled out at a fat reefer.
“Made it to summer, man.” Andre said. It was true, Ruan hadn’t had any other infections since last summer. Andre was the first one he told and the first one to tell him the reefers like the one between Andre’s middle and index finger, were good for him. The internet said so.
“Is that all for me?” Ruan asked.
“Shit yeah. You got some catching up to do, bro.” Andre’s eyes were pink as hell. Andre motioned to the small huddle of seven adolescent bodies under the aluminum awning that covered Andre’s driveway. The shadows on and around their faces were becoming ever the starker as the summer sun rolled its orange sky back, obscuring their features. Music was playing from an amp Andre had brought out. Ruan asked the strain, and Andre told him it was a hybrid. Powerful and euphoric.
Ruan stuck the reefer in his mouth and Andre held out a lighter with the image of a cobra wrapped around it. Ruan took his drag. He took it slow, like sipping a rich milkshake; savoring the flavor and minding the temperature. When he exhaled, Ruan let viscous smoke spill into the air from his half-open mouth. Andre shook his head, smiling, and said he had never seen a fiend like him.
“I mean, it’s not just the high.” Ruan said taking a shorter drag this time, “It’s the whole experience of it. But…” he set his backpack on the cracked driveway and pulled the zipper, “I got you a little something that’ll blow your dick off.” Ruan pulled the moonshine halfway out, like a dealer of sorts. Andre took a step back as though he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
“Aw shit!” Andre said, Ruan then revealed the whole thing.
“Dear old Dad was passed out.” Ruan said, “Same shit from spring break.”
“This is le-GIT, Holmes.” Andre balled a fist to his mouth, “You’re on that real shit, man.”
“We made it, right?.” Andre nodded
“Yeah man, we did. Fucking thank you, dude.” They bumped knuckles, and Andre put his arm around Ruan,
They walked toward the huddle, toward a party of unsteady legs and Newport cigarettes. Andre called the group to attention praising Ruan like a hero returned from war, holding up the bottle like the head of an enemy Ruan had slain. The guests said their thank-yous and moved on.
As Ruan and Andre mixed into the huddle of people (not including Samreena, Andre and Ruan), the hybrid kicked into high gear. Ruan’s eyes became warm with the rushing of blood. He saw Samreena scrolling on her phone, in a plastic chair. They said hey to one another and asked how teach other was. She was glad he could make it. He asked if he she knew anyone present. Turned out Andre had branched out from his Caribbean brothers for American ones. They knew no one.
“It was real last minute, but that’s how these people roll.” Samreena said, “Can I get a hit?”
“Sure”, Ruan said, letting her get a strong toke in, before she handed it back “I guess he wanted to wine-and-dine them.”
“Apparently, there’s another party the Dominican kids are throwing.” Samreena said, letting the smoke escape as she talked.
Andre pulled out a beach chair lying about the side, sun damaged and full of holes. Ruan sat down taking a firm hold of the chair as though he could fly off at any given time. Samreena asked how he was.
“High.” Ruan said, and they laughed. Andre laughed and even some of the guests smiled. But a big guy flirting with the two girls, was stone faced and turned his back from the commotion when Ruan’s eyes met his.
Andre asked if anyone wanted to do shots. Samreena and two guys smoking cigs at the front, took on his challenge. Ruan took another slow drag, eyeing Samreena’s cleavage through her low-cut t-shirt.
The first two shots looked to have gone fine, but after their third, only Samreena was managing a stable balance. Two other guests had held out their cups like parishioners, and Andre gave them what remained, then they too swayed like palms in the breeze, and laughed harder than before. Ruan closed his eyes and reclined the chair, tapping his foot rapidly.
It was a little after 11:00 when one of the other boys who had taken a moonshine shot, helped himself to the swallow pool of hunch punch that was left. He already had one arm planted on the table, holding him like a kick stand. Attempting to stand, he bumped into the big guy, knocking his drink contents onto one of the girls.
“Hey, what the fuck?” The big guy said jabbing his with his three fingers between his pinky and thumb, into chest of the boy’s Flash t-shirt, sending him back at least three feet. Andre, still reeling, came in between the two.
“Fuck, Marcus, chill” Andre said wobbling, “Ruan’s shit’s just wicked, tell him Ruan!”
Ruan was beside himself. Laughing like it was Abbott and Costello right in front of him.
“It’s fokken harsh, dude.” Ruan said.
“Man, shut up, and keep your eyes off of me, faggot.” Marcus said, coming out of left field with a deliberative, almost authoritative tone; the kind that you’d expect from a Marine. And for five seconds, no one said a word. Ruan, sunk back into his chair but still smiling. Marcus had shifted his body in Ruan’s direction.
“What the fuck do you mean, Marcus? “Andre shouted.
“Oh come on Andre!” Marcus retorted, “What the fuck you doing bringing one of these diseased motherfuckers around?”
“He’s my friend, and he ain’t a fag!” Andre told him (more yelled) that Ruan had got it on a trip to South Africa, and that in Johannesburg, an Indian woman he met at a club gave it to him. She had big tits too.
“Psh, that’s a load of shit.” Marcus said
“Ruan, back me up dude!” Andre pleaded, “Tell him!”
“Yeah.” Ruan said, looking out where the driveway met the road, before taking another drag, leaning back in the chair as though there was a crushing blanket that was smothering him. “Viji, was her name. Technically, she was from Sri Lanka.”
Marcus called bullshit again and insisted that Ruan was dangerous just by touching the seats and brushing up against shoulders. Dangerous because he touched the bottle. And then the rest of the guests looked at each other.
“It’s an STD guys!” Samreena said, holding her forehead “There’s got to be intercourse to transmit it. So…chill., okay?”
“No asked you Samree, or whatever the hell your name is.” Marcus replied, wiping the sweat off his brick-like forehead “This whole party is fucked. You can’t mix some goddamn punch? How are you Dominican and don’t have any rum to mix? Fucking Skol?!” The grimace that Andre wore was fading.
“And to top it all off,” Marcus said pointing to Ruan, “ You’ve gone and given the last fucking fatty we all spotted for, to Gaylord over there, who brought this fucking… hick-juice!”
Andre stood there swaying and panned his eyes across the party goers. He looked at Ruan. Andre was blinking as though he was on sandman’s doorstep and his shoulders slumped as though he carried the sum of all the liquor and weed he had ingested on them. Marcus shoved Andre and he did nothing. And then, on Ruan’s end, the unwonted became wonted; familiar with the heat and smell of peach moonshine and the blacked-out look Andre wore. The look of defeat.
“Hey man,” Ruan said, “Jus- I’ll just, leave man, I don’t give a shit.” Samreena gave him a look, then put her head back down.
“No, no.” Marcus said making a b-line for the driveway, “This shit is wack, I’m out.” The other guests began to follow. They drifted out into the city; some alone and other’s in pairs. Andre sat down, and held his head in his hands. Samreena kneeled, asking him to look at her. Ruan joined her, and put his hand on his shoulder. Ruan’s mouth was open, only air coming out, as though the words were lodged in his throat. Samreena kissed Andre’s cheek, saying,
“Let’s go to bed.” They all went in inside without another word.
“So where’s Gloria?” Ruan asked, as he and Samreena laid, tangled on Andre’s living room couch, whose cushions had dipped in the center, creating a trench of fabric and foam.
“Probably still working.” She said, kissing Ruan’s neck.
“I guess St. Jude changed her hours.” Ruan said, petting the top of Samreena’s head. For a while they said nothing. At some point Samreena moved her body upwards and planted a wet kiss on his cheek. Ruan stared at the ceiling.
“I just thought he’d pass out, you know?” Ruan said before coughing.
“I thought he had better taste in people.” Samreena said, her hand on Ruan’s atrophied chest.
“I feel like shit.” Ruan said, “Andre doesn’t deserve this.”
“Andre ghosted on his friends to set this shit up. Probably would’ve happened, even if you hadn’t brought the moonshine.”
She pressed her lips hard against his, smothering and moving forward. She took off her black shirt, and un undid her leopard print bra. Samreena took his hands and let them cup her breasts. His lip quivered and he let out a sigh as warmth spread within him. Ruan massaged them, feeling out their volume and curvature in a darkness only penetrated by the amber light from the porch. It was a wake of their destruction, with a graveyard of cups, on the ground, around the drained punch bowl, which sat atop table that was sticky and covered in the smell of peach. She grinded against the bugle in Ruan’s jeans. He reached for his backpack, and got a Trojan out of the from the front pocket. She unzipped his pants. Their breathing became deeper, and shorter, like a soldier panicking. It was the real deal this time. Ruan slipped the Trojan on and Samreena mounted him.
“Do me like that Indian girl.” She said. Ruan’s eyes widened. His upward thrusting became violent, fast as though he could expel the disease in his veins entirely and it couldn’t come out fast enough. He pulled her thick hair, he would once run his fingers through. She moaned and he covered her mouth. For five minutes, Samreena breathed out her nose, while Ruan pounded her, and muffled her screams.
When he finished, Ruan’s face strained, tightening his grip on her hips. Samreena put her hands on his cheeks and kissed him. Her lips were smooth, her breath stunk of peach.
“You’re cold, Ruan.” Samreena whispered, Ruan was shaking, he swallowed hard and slid off the couch. “Is everything cool, baby?”
Facing away from Samreena, Ruan looked down at his cock. There was tear in the condom, a hole that looked like it caught snag inside Samreena, the gap being small at the head of the condom that expanded halfway down.
“Don’t call me baby.” Ruan took off the condom and zipped up. He looked out onto the table where Andre delivered the origin of Ruan’s sickness, like a monologue. Where he took lashings from people he hardly knew himself, so drunk he could hardly stand, and so drunk he let them have their way. Marcus and the six others leaving to spread the word. Andre loves faggots.
“Ruan, what’s wrong?”
“I was never in Jo-burg,” He grabbed his backpack, “I was on my Uncle’s farm the whole time. I drank Witblits when the work was done. He…” He paused a moment, then balled the condom in his fist and threw it away as he walked out. Samreena said something through the pitch darkness, but Ruan did not turn around. He walked into the same heat he felt in the West Cape a year ago. When he got on his bike, he stared back at Andre’s place. Ruan traced the sharp angles of his face, felt the crevasses of his ribs. He rubbed his arm around where the doctors took his blood.
After a minute, Ruan put the kickstand out, and went back. He jimmied the door handle, but found it locked. His breathing was dipping into hyperventilation. He went through Andre’s backyard, to the side that bore the window to Andre’s room. He saw a light come on, and stopped a foot short of peering in. Samreena and Andre’s voices were low and after a minute or so, Ruan finally inched over his right eye, past the corner between wall and window. He could see Andre burying his head in Samreena’s bosom, before she titled his head up stuck her tongue in his mouth. Ruan pulled away, and sat down with his knees at chest, almost vibrating against the wall. Only when he heard flesh slapping against flesh, and gasps of pleasure, did Ruan pick himself up, and walked back to the driveway. As he rounded the corner, a rusted Sedan pulled into it, plain to see the s. There was a dark woman in scrubs, with even darker circles around her eyes.
Ruan waved at her and smiled, “Good evening, Miss Perez. You’re home early!” Then something shattered inside the house. He looked back to it, and saw Andre’s light go out.