I tell you I’ve only ever shown it to a girl who I met on a tour bus in Moscow, where I was traveling with my parents. She had bad acne, and she really liked Duran Duran. We found this dark abandoned bar in the hotel basement. She showed me hers, too, but we didn’t go all the way.
You read your poetry out loud to me. It’s nothing you’ve tried to publish. I’m the first person you’ve ever shared it with. Incinerate me, you recite. Impale me.
I’ve got love handles. I was a heavy kid, until I started running cross-country. I ran and ran. Didn’t make varsity, but I dropped 30 pounds. Never lost my love handles though. It’s why I’m afraid to take my shirt off in front of people.
You roll back your sleeve, “FUCK LIFE” carved in scabs on your skin. You’re wearing your varsity cheerleading outfit.
I could never tell my father I want to harm myself. He wouldn’t understand. He escaped the Communists in China, came to this country with nothing. I grew up in comfort. He’d say I have no reason to be depressed.
You tell me about the older guy from your after-school job, the guy you slept with. He told you last week that he’s HIV positive. Though you’d been careful, you’re still scared shitless. You have to wait 6 months to get tested.
I write poetry, too. But it’s really bad, and I published it in the school lit mag just so I could put it on my college applications. Please don’t read it.
Your parents have been sending you to dance lessons since you were five. Your mother is a proud cheerleading mom. You’re thankful your uniform has long sleeves. Everything you wear around your parents has long sleeves.
I don’t feel like anyone would ever want to have sex with me. I look at myself in the mirror, and I’m just this Asian boy with a flat face that doesn’t move much. Behind that face, I’m always feeling sad. I don’t think anyone could find that attractive.
Last night, your dad screamed hang up the goddamn phone! because you were tying up the line when he wanted to use it. You went to your room and tried to cry, but couldn’t. You felt like killing yourself. You were hurt in your most vulnerable spots, yet somehow you also liked that feeling of being vulnerable.
I say studying together is a bad idea, because we’ll just keep talking and never get any actual work done.
You throw your pre-calculus textbook onto the carpet. As you move closer, the mattress squeaks.
I can feel your breath on my forearm. It gives me goosebumps. I don’t want you to ask me why I have goosebumps.
You say I’ve got goosebumps. You ask if I’m cold.
I’m not cold.
You put your arms around me. You want me to be warm.
I feel your breath against my neck.
Eliot Li lives in California. His recent work appears or is forthcoming in Trampset, CRAFT, Vestal Review, Gone Lawn, Smokelong Quarterly, and elsewhere.