"On what wings dare he aspire?" William Blake
| He stood alone in an alcove outside the campus cafeteria, his face slightly upturned, sampling the air with his senses. His almost-violet eyes scanned the skies above him as he grinned in expectation. His thumb absently flicked at the forgotten cigarette between his fingers, dropping tiny flakes of ash that vanished in an instant into the wind that whipped around him, dancing about his sleeves, cuffs, and collar with an almost palpable mischief. He stood as a rapt witness to the storm as it whispered its secrets in his ears.
The door behind him opened; he knew who it was but didn’t turn, kept his face and his eyes and his grin fixed. Joey joined him, taking a few steps forward to stand at his side. Carly could feel him staring, smiling at his child-like awe in the face of a forming storm. Directly above their heads the clouds swirled, dove, and exploded up again, violent and graceful. Joey gently raised his hand, brushing the backs of his knuckles against Carly’s recently buzzed-cut hair. It gave him goose-bumps, just as it always would. Carly finally turned, grinning, his face still all alight with that playful electricity.
“Look at you,” Joey said, unable to resist such a contagious smile. Carly glanced at him, briefly, winked and then looked skyward again at the fast approaching remnants of hurricane what’s-his-name.
“It’s beautiful,” he breathed, barely able to be heard above the wind. Joey dropped his hand onto Carly’s far shoulder, pulling him in close.
“So are you,” he said, kissing him quick just above the ear. “Come on.”
They walked together through a swirl of leaves, across the concrete patio and out onto the main campus, where a handful of students made their hurried way to some form of shelter. Joey kept his hand on Carly’s shoulder, as much to guide him as it was any form of affection. Short bursts of white light bounced around in the clouds, each followed by its own slow roll of thunder that ricocheted from building to building across the courtyard. Carly would laugh and point at each brief illumination. Joey would laugh as well as he steered them around benches and trees, slowly making their way to the courtyard outside Carly’s dorm.
“We should go in,” Joey said once they’d reached it. He looked up, somewhat nervous. Carly stepped out from under his hand instead, still staring at the sky, turning slowly in a circle. Then his eyes fell and landed on Joey; he reached out in invitation.
“C’mere,” Carly said, no longer smiling. Joey did as instructed, closing the distance between them and taking Carly’s hands in his own. The courtyard was deserted, thunder bouncing all around them as they came together. Joey, several inches taller, leaned down, smiling slightly just before their mouths met. The whole world around them vanished, save the breath they shared and the wind in their ears. Another burst of lightning flared above them, with a massive thunderclap just an instant on its heels. They both ducked on instinct, already laughing at each other and themselves the second they did so.
“Holy shit,” Carly said, looking up, having actually fallen into a sitting position in the brick-covered commons. He held out his hands again, this time for a help up.
“I thought…” Joey began, but the words hung in his mouth. Lightning flashed again so bright it cast their shadows out across the courtyard before him. This time the thunder was instantaneous. Carly, looking up as it was, had watched in slow motion as a blue-white ball of light exploded upward off the building’s roof at the end of the row. He blinked several times as Joey hauled him up off the ground. Another burst of light and sound had them cringing again.
“Jesus Christ,” Joey shouted, moving toward the patio.
“Wait,” Carly said, catching him by the arm, looking up again. “Listen.”
Joey followed his gaze, noticing the hush that had descended all around them, and how the wind had shifted, straight down. Carly let him go, holding his arms out wide, eyes closed and smiling. Lightning flared above them again, not white but flashing in a thousand different colors, as if filtered through a prism. Joey stared in awe, even as a wall of water crashed down upon them from the heavens. They were instantly soaked to the skin; the rain was warm and salty as tears, carried some sixty miles inland from the coast. Something tugged at his hand and he looked over.
“Come on!” Carly yelled above the roar of the storm. Something in his eyes was a little off, wild with childish excitement. Hand in hand, they bolted across the commons area.
Once inside, Carly let him go and ran, feet squelching against the linoleum, into the stairwell. Joey stopped at the doorway, confused. Carly’s room was on the first floor.
“Come on!” Carly shouted again, already a floor or so ahead of him. He stood for a moment, listening to the wet slap of running shoes upon the steps above.
“Where are you…” Joey yelled, but then answered his own question. “Ah, shit. Carly!”
He lunged for the stairs, taking them three at a time. The entire dorm shook with another roll of thunder, followed by a breathless howl of laughter from above. Joey couldn’t help but chuckle as well, as he followed Carly sprinting hell-bent for the damned roof. He heard something in that laughter, something foolish and innocent, something beautiful. Hopeful. He wondered if somewhere between the first and second floors he’d fallen in love. He had always imagined it would hit him on the beach or in a bed. A stairwell, well, not so much.
The door to the roof banged open and the roar of the storm returned. He’d gained a good bit, but Carly was still out of sight by the time he reached the top floor. Lightning flashed, thunder rolled, and he heard another breathless whoop in return. Reaching the doorway, Joey arrived in time to see Carly walking quickly toward the edge, kicking a small spray of water out with every step. Joey raised his hands to shield his eyes, stepping out onto the roof.
“Carly!” he shouted. If he heard him, Carly didn’t stop. Instead, reaching the end of the building, he jumped onto the two-foot ledge surrounding the roof, lifting up his arms into a triumphant V.
“Come on!” Carly screamed, this time directed upward into the storm. Hurricane what’s-his-name responded with a wave of rain so hard it stung the skin. Joey stopped halfway across the rooftop, realizing his own foolishness, stepping out into a half-inch of standing water with all electrical hell breaking loose a hundred yards above them. At the edge of the roof, Carly lowered his arms and turned. He seemed disappointed, or frustrated. He looked at Joey as if he’d forgotten he was there. Smiling in recognition, he raised one hand to wave.
Then he disappeared in a blue-white ball of light. The water at Joey’s feet exploded, hurling him end over end to land, crumpled, a foot shy of the stairwell door. Pushing himself into a sitting position, he shook his head to clear the cobwebs. He didn’t realize he’d gone deaf until his hearing returned.
“Joey?” Carly asked, a few feet behind him. “Are we dead?”
Joey’s heart skipped twice, once in surprise and then again in realization. He groaned, laughed to himself quietly, and then twisted around, just to be certain.
“Look at you,” Carly said, wincing as he crouched down beside him. “You look awful.”
“You’re no prize yourself, there, handsome.”
Carly laughed out loud. “Where’s your other shoe?”
“Ah, hell, I dunno.” Joey looked around briefly. “Maryland?” They both snorted laughter. The rain had eased up some, the lightning almost altogether.
“You’re nuts, you know that?”
“Probably,” Carly said, grinning. “Should we go in?”
Joey had scooched his back against the outer wall of the stairwell and sat, looking up through the rain. Carly joined him, resting his head against Joey’s shoulder. A quiet moment passed as hurricane what’s-his-name lumbered its way across the sky above them.
“So,” Carly said, looking around. “Come here often?”
A very special thanks to Mia - in motion for some amazing critiques.