Hurt Me Here
Burning flesh smells like cooked meat. Noah knows because he takes a lighter to his arm, and watches as it eats away at the hair and skin. It hurts like a motherfucker. He rubs salt into the groove afterward, clenching his teeth.
His mother doesn’t ask him about it the day after. Noah wraps it up in gauze, secures it with a butterfly snap. Ron asks him about it. Noah says, “I burned myself.” Ron snorts and pushes Noah against a wall, and opens the gauze. He looks at the wound. “That’s fucking nasty,” he murmurs, and bites around it, creating a red ring around the pit of the burn.
They smoke in Ron’s garage that evening. Ron rolls a joint on the floor, the cold seeping through the rug, in through their jeans, and into their skin. When he’s done, Ron lifts the joint to his lips and wraps his mouth around it, pulls in. He lets the smoke out after a while, watching it as it drifts up to the ceiling. Noah smokes next, the two alternating in the quiet of the garage.
Ron pulls in another drag, then stubs out the mostly dead joint. He slowly blows the smoke up before dropping the snubbed end into the bin. He reaches over to Noah. Noah doesn’t move as Ron cups his face, turning his head. Ron presses his lips on Noah’s neck, careful and sweet, before he pulls aside the collar of his shirt, and bites his shoulder, hard, hard enough that Noah wonders if it’s bleeding.
“You better not having fucking rabies, man,” Noah says.
“Got rid of that shit ages ago,” Ron says, and Noah laughs.
Ron’s funny, Noah thinks.
Noah follows Ron up to his bedroom–his parents are out for the night. He sits on the bed next to Ron, thighs touching as they stare out the window, eyes dry. Then Ron turns to Noah and pushes him down into the bed. The bed is more comfortable than the cold floor of the garage. Noah stares out at the small plastic dinosaurs relegated to the closet in the corner of the room. They are bent and some are missing parts, all tangled together, sharp ends and sharper teeth.
Ron pulls off Noah’s shirt, flips him over so he can bite along his spine. Noah stares at the dinosaurs. Stares until they blur out of focus and all he can see is the dark green spot where they used to be.
Ron murmurs into Noah’s spine, “Can I burn you?”
Noah pauses, pressing his face into the pillow, which smells like sweat and Ron’s shampoo. Whispers into it, “Yeah. Yeah, okay.”
Ron reaches into his back pocket, pulls out his lighter. He flicks it, watching the flame for a moment, and then holds Noah’s arm above it. He moves the lighter a bit, watching as it rolls on Noah’s skin.
Noah doesn’t say anything, but when the flame begins to burn past the oils of his skin, his eyes water. Ron moves the lighter in a tight circle, pressing the fire up into Noah’s arm, creating a mark small but so indelible it radiates through his bones. Noah whispers, “Stop.” Ron flicks his thumb off the lighter, and slips it into his back pocket. Noah sits up, bare feet hanging off the edge of the bed. He cradles his arm to his chest, and looks.
It’s ugly: pink and raw and peeling at the edges, fresh skin trying to escape the pit. The center looks wet. Ron smiles when he sees it, and leans down. Before Noah can jerk his arm away, Ron’s biting around it again, ringing it, a house surrounded by a white picket fence. Noah chokes on a sob. Ron looks up at Noah’s face. “Shhh,” he whispers, holding Noah’s head in between his hands. Tears run down Noah’s face, and he can do nothing to stop them, just grab Ron’s arms, and hold on.
The one time Ron came over to Noah’s house was alright. Ron walked in around midnight, idly glancing over the place. Noah’s mom was sitting on the couch, sipping beer and watching TV.
Ron said, “This cool, Noah? With her, or whatever?”
Noah just shrugged, said, “She doesn’t notice.” Her slumped figure seems molded into the aged couch, her lumps mirrored in the padding.
Ron had shrugged too, followed Noah into his room.
Ron left a particularly horrific bite mark on Noah’s inner thigh. So perfect and intense that Noah could see each separate tooth mark. He traced it in the shower the next morning, watching as water sluiced over it.
Noah used to bring home girls at first. Girls and girls and girls: pretty girls, happy girls, drunk girls. High girls. He would bring them in, arm slung around their shoulders. Pull them into his bedroom as they giggled and posed questions about his mother. It’s fine, it’s fine, she doesn’t mind, he would murmur into their perfumed necks, repeating the words until they were placated.
When he brought home his first boy, he was burnt out of his mind, a pile of ashes wrapped in a dry carcass. The boy had his arm slung around Noah’s shoulder, and he was pressing wet kisses on Noah’s neck. He didn’t ask about Noah’s mother. Noah slowly stumbled his way to his room, the boy letting Noah lean on him heavily. The boy closed the door behind them, the sound echoing through the apartment, unsettling the dust on the crooked floorboards.
Noah stops bringing people home after he brings Ron.
The burn on his arm is swollen and puffy, full of pus. Noah is tempted to poke the bulb with a pin, but he’s more chickenshit than anything so he leaves it be. Noah wonders why injuries get swollen. Like they’re trying to put themselves further out there, like trying to point out to everyone: this is where I’m hurt, this is where I’m sore. If you want to hurt me, hurt me here.
The next day, Noah goes over to Ron’s. They sit in the garage, huddled around a space heater on an old rug. They split a bowl, and then Ron drinks a beer while Noah smokes a cigarette.
Ron puts down the empty bottle, and pushes Noah to the ground. He doesn’t do anything for a while, just sits next to him, stares down at his face. Noah doesn’t ask why. Noah waits, feeling the nubby rug against his back. It smells like spilled beer and weed, and he watches Ron. Ron leans down, kisses Noah’s mouth, bites his lower lip. Leaves nasty hickies by his collarbone because Noah hates them.
Ron leaves a truly horrific hickey on Noah’s cheek, near his hairline. Noah feels him leave it, tells him, “Stop, you’re ruining my gorgeous face, man.”
Ron just bites at the spot, and says, “Nah, nothing could ruin your gorgeous face,” before leaning down to suck and bite at it further.
When Noah gets home, he stares at the hickey in the mirror. It’s fucking disgusting and deeply purple, red emanating from the mark like fire. He pokes at it, prods it with his fingernails. Leaves moon-shaped gouges in it.
The next day, Noah can’t even pretend to hide the mark along his cheekbone, so he goes to school with his hair pulled away from his face. He knows when people see it, watching as their eyes slide across his cheek to the bruise. His homeroom teacher downright stares, so he flashes her a smile and rests his chin on his hand so she can get a better look. At lunch, Ron and Noah sit on the back steps, drinking boxed chocolate milk and smoking cigarettes. Ron laughs at Noah’s face and says, “You know concealer is a thing, right?”
“Yeah, well, I’d rather just have a huge hickey instead of a crappily hid one,” Noah says, leaning his head onto Ron’s shoulder.
Ron runs his hand through Noah’s hair, and Noah closes his eyes.
Noah goes out some nights, on the weekends, meeting up with friends he hasn’t seen in weeks. They meet in abandoned alleys or fields, warehouses. Noah watches as they take shots, scrunching up their noses at the taste. Then they head out, arms slung over shoulders, voices drifting through the air. Usually they hit up a party. Noah separates from the group, off into the thickest of the crowd, letting people surround him. Takes a small pill out of his pocket, sticks it on his tongue and swallows. He stands, still, and waits for it to hit. The bodies around him sway and jostle, and he lets himself be moved by the crowd. He closes his eyes, the flashing lights reflecting on his eyelids.
When it hits, and he opens his eyes, and the lights are swirling and bright. Noah feels like he could forget anything, everything. The music thrums through him–he’s a conduit, sparks running along his veins. The world feels like an inkblot around him, rich and vibrant and alive, moving how he moves, the thrum of heat pulsing through everyone like a live wire.
Suddenly there’s a boy, a blond boy, in front of him. Noah smiles, the grin stretching his muscles up into the back of his head. The boy walks over, and kisses Noah on the mouth. Noah feels the boy’s hands on his hair, at the back of his neck, and then moving down to his hips, pulling him in, closer. Noah smiles into the kiss and the boy murmurs, “Hey, wanna get out of here?”
“Okay,” Noah replies, eyes closed. The boy takes Noah’s hand, leading him through the noise and the warmth, until a door opens with a horrific creak and the cool air sinks deep into Noah. Noah still feels incredibly warm, as if the cold is only quickening his pulse. The boy presses Noah against the cold wall of the building next door. Noah shivers, and the shiver seems uncontrollable, shattering its way through his body like glass against the floor. The boy presses his mouth against Noah’s. His tongue feels like heaven, or angels, or something else Noah doesn’t believe in–but right now, he could. He would form a religion of tongues, if he could. The boy takes Noah’s hand again. They walk out into the night, Noah smiling at the boy, the pavement, the sky. The boy seems charmed by Noah, and why the fuck shouldn’t he be. This is the Noah he always wants to be. The boy rests a hand on the back of Noah’s neck, a hot brand.
They come to a crummy apartment building, the bricks faded and some crumbling near the edges. Noah wraps his hand and fingers more fully into the boy’s. The boy mentions something about a third floor walk-up, and then they’re taking the stairs. The stairs creak under their weight and Noah thinks he hears the thumping of a headboard against a wall. But none of that matters because Noah revels in the feeling of how warm the boy is, a human ablaze. Someone who could burn a person to ashes and still leave them whole.
He’s being pushed, back, back, hitting the wall of the boy’s bedroom. A warm hand grips the back of his neck, and they’re kissing again. Noah thinks he might be making noise, but it all seems to buzz outwards from him, dissolving into the air before he can tell whether he’s said anything. The boy presses his chest against Noah’s, and god, that feels amazing. Noah feels like he’s living in a burrito, or a pile of blankets, or he’s tucked in a nest.
The boy slams Noah’s head back into the wall, biting at his neck. Noah is vaguely aware that there are going to be more hickies tomorrow, but at the moment, that seems sweet, almost reverent. A hand grips the back of his skull, and he’s going down, down, until his knees crack onto the floor.
It’s not always Ron, but it usually feels like it is.
A few hours later, Noah wakes up in bed with the boy, curled a few inches from him in a tight ball. He retrieves his shirt from the corner of the room and zips his jeans. He uses the toilet in the small bathroom before staring at himself in the mirror. He has deep purple bruises beneath his eyes, and his lips are chapped. His jaw is tight, sore, and his ears are still a bit red at the tips. Noah runs a hand through his hair and winces when he comes in contact with a bump roughly the diameter of a golf ball at the base of his skull. He presses at it, tenderly, watches his face contort in pain. He splashes water on his face, sipping some from his cupped palms and swishing it around his mouth. He spits it out, sticky spittle hanging from lower lip. He wipes it off with the back of his hand. His jacket is slung over a chair, and he picks it up before leaving the apartment.
The stairs groan underneath him as he goes.
Because his mom is home, Noah walks to Ron’s house. Ron says that Noah’s mom freaks him out; he won’t go over if she’s there, and Noah can’t say he disagrees. So he goes to Ron’s. When Noah walks through the door, Ron stares at the hickey on his neck and whistles lowly. “That boy did a number on you,” he murmurs, “I don’t even go that hardcore.”
“Whatever, I think he was on coke,” Noah mutters. “He fuckin’ smashed my head against the wall too,” he says, feeling around the back of his scalp for the bump. It’s tender and raised. Noah folds himself into the chair where Ron’s sitting. They barely fit, not since middle school–Noah’s more on top of Ron that anything–but Noah refuses to stop, despite how their bony hips fit together. Ron runs his hand through Noah’s hair and drags his fingers over the bump. Noah winces slightly; Ron murmurs a small apology and wraps his arms around Noah’s waist. Ron rests his chin on Noah’s shoulder, the tip of bone digging into muscle. Ron kisses the inside of Noah’s neck, but then just leans and hugs tighter. It’s on the edge of too tight, almost painful, but Noah leans back into Ron’s chest, letting the back of his head hit the headrest. The back of his head is sore, and the pain in his arm is flaring up again, but Noah can only really feel Ron’s heat.
It’s getting late- almost 4am, but they like to wait until the sleepiness becomes its own mind-altering substance, when the edges of everything become softer. They fall asleep on the rug in the garage, facing each other, Ron cradling Noah’s burnt arm close to his chest.