Ice could never quite figure out what set it off. It happened when he was stressed, when he was overjoyed, it happened when he laid awake in the dead of night for no reason, his eyes wide open staring at the ceiling, and it always ended the same. “Hey, Teddy,” he would say, scrambling for his cell phone, “can you watch the cubs for a few hours?” Teddy would nod and Ice would be out the door, down the hall, desperation floating in cellular packets through the air to Ceasar’s phone, setting off the midi ringtone.
“Hey,” Ceasar said, standing slumped against the doorframe, “Why you gotta be so short notice all the time?”
“Guess I’m just an impulsive kind of guy,” Ice would say, and smile.
* * *
Ceasar settled back on the steam room bench. “You could bring the kids if you wanted, you know,” he said, his towel tight across his splayed legs. “They’d probably like it.”
Ice pouted. “I don’t have to bring them with me everywhere,” he said. “This is my time, you know?”
“Yeah, I guess.” Ceasar leaned back, stretching the muscles of his chest taut. Sweat dripped down his face. “Pretty boring to spend the little time you get to yourself sitting in here, though, isn’t it? You used to party all the time before, I’ve heard stories.”
“This is a lot more relaxing,” Ice assured him. “Plus I don’t ever wake up with a killer headache and no pants.”
Ceasar laughed and brushed the damp hair out of his eyes. “I guess that’s true. Still, though.”
“‘Sides,” Ice continued, “I get to hang out with you for once.”
At this Ceasar ducked his head, and his face, already flushed with the heat, turned darker. “How long do you have to look after those kids, anyway?” he asked, changing the subject.
Long after you’re dead and gone, Ice thought to himself, and the words stuck in his throat. But he swallowed and smiled and told Ceasar, “I don’t know.”
* * *
“Ceasaaaaaar,” Ice whined, “You missed class!”
Ceasar made a face and set his lunch tray next to Ice’s, nodding at Teddy across the table. “Forgot to set my alarm clock,” he said. “I guess Fleance must’ve left early or something, else he’d have woke me up, right? Common courtesy.”
“Well, Fleance doesn’t really get common courtesy,” Ice reasoned, laughing. “Foreigner and everything, he’s from somewhere in Africa. Weird customs and stuff. Bet he doesn’t even use an alarm clock.”
“Maybe.” Ceasar poked at his food. “He mentions Africa a lot, but I never really thought about it before.”
“Yeah,” Ice said, “He’s here to learn about modern culture or whatever. Hey, aren’t you going to eat your nachos? What’s up?”
Ceasar shrugged and pushed his lunch tray aside. “I don’t know, I’m feeling kind of sick, I guess. Go ahead and eat it.”
“That’s not how I meant it,” Ice said, taking a chip in spite of himself, “I was just worried. You want mo to come over and keep an eye on you? I can heat you up some soup and do your homework. Teddy, can you watch the kids? Please, I haven’t asked you in awhile.”
Teddy was laughing and nodding and Ceasar couldn’t help smiling. “If I let you do my homework you’d cross out all the x’s in my algebra questions.”
* * *
The sound of heaving breathing filled the room.
“I thought you were sick,” Ice said, and his hands were everywhere and his lips and tongue were everywhere, and Ceasar’s body was smooth and warm and tasted of sweat.
“I am,” Ceasar told him. He dug his fingers hard into Ice’s back. “Tighter,” he choked, “hold me tighter, please, please, just don’t stop, please.”
* * *
Rufus took it better than Ice expected.
“He stamped on my foot and called me a tramp!” Ceasar complained. “What the heck did you tell him? I know he was never really my biggest fan but still, this is kind of extreme.”
“Sorry.” Ice kissed the injured foot and Ceasar made a face and kicked at him. “I told him we were going out. He had kind of a crush on me, so it was hard. Is your foot really okay? He’s pretty tough, maybe we should go the nurse’s office.”
“I already told you it’s fine, stop worrying.” Ceasar laughed as Ice kissed up his calf. “Stop that already, who does that? I’m not sure this’ll work out if you’ve got some weird leg fetish.”
“Not weird legs, just your legs,” Ice said. “They’re really smooth, do you shave them or something?”
“For surfing, yeah.” Ceasar kicked the covers away and Ice moved further up, to his thigh. “If I don’t then I look gross in my board shorts.”
“I bet you’d still look pretty hot with hairy surfer legs,” Ice assured him. “Don’t know if I’d want to kiss them so much, though.”
“I definitely don’t want to kiss yours,” Ceasar grinned, “It’s like a dog shed all over them.”
Ice tweaked Ceasar’s nose and then kissed him on the mouth. “Good thing no one’s asking you to,” he aid, “Or we’d have a problem. Would you dump me if I made you smooch my hairy legs?”
“Definitely, it’d be so gross.” Ceasar laughed and Ice kissed the upturned corners of his mouth. “Hey,” Ceasar said, “are you okay with this?”
“I don’t know,” Ceasar said, “With… I don’t know. I just kind of sprung it on yo0u. But I’d liked you for a really long time, but I don’t think you knew, so… I don’t know. Are you okay with stuff like this, or are you just kind of going with it?”
“I liked you for a long time, too,” Ice said, “I’m way okay.”
* * *
“It’s Stairway to Heaven, it’s really old, have you heard it before?” Ceasar turned up the stereo.
“Course I’ve heard it before,” Ice said, “Led Zeppelin’s great, they throw an awesome concert.”
“You’ve seen a recording, then? They’re hard to find!”
“Yeah,” Ice said after a confused pause, “Yeah, I’ve got a disc… Rocko didn’t want me spending money on that kind of thing, so I had to get a part-time job without him knowing.” Ice stretched out on Ceasar’s bed and tapped his fingers to the beat. “It was worth it, though.”
“What a cheapskate, not even shelling out for a lousy movie.” Ceasar set the stereo on shuffle. “Move over,” he said, and lied down next to Ice.
* * *
“I couldn’t get a hold of you,” Ice said, cradling his cell phone against his ear with his shoulder, “I got Teddy to watch the kids again and I couldn’t find you anywhere!”
“Sorry,” Ceasar said on the other end, “I was at the beach and my phone went dead. What did you want?”
Ice shrugged out of habit while he read the instructions on a bottle of detergent for the umpteenth time. “I just wanted to see you, I guess,” he said, “Nothing really special.”
Ice could almost hear Ceasar grinning. “If you weren’t so short-notice all the time this wouldn’t happen, you know. Try making plans a little in advance for once.”
“Fuck,” Ice swore as he spilled detergent all over the washing machine, “Sorry that wasn’t at you, anyway, how about tomorrow night then, are you free?”
* * *
“Hey,” Ice said, “Tell me about yourself.”
Ceasar ran a towel through his hair. “Tell you about myself? What for?”
Ice propped himself up on his elbows. “I don’t know a whole lot about you,” he said, “I’m just curious.”
“Well, I don’t know much about you, either. Aside from you liking nachos so much.” Ceasar said, his words slow and careful. He let the damp towel drape across his shoulders. “You’ve got way more secretive shifty stuff going on than I do, if anyone’s going to spill some personal info it should be you.”
“I asked first,” Ice argued. “Tell you what, how about we play truth or dare? Except we’ll use all truths.”
Ceasar considered the idea. “Alright,” he relented, “but I get to ask you the first question. What’s the deal with the kids? I’ve asked you tons of times but you always avoid answering me.”
“Ah, well, I can’t really get into most of it,” Ice said, “Privacy issues and stuff like that. Basically they’re under Titus’ care, but they like me so I’m looking after them.” The lie—which was hardly a lie at all, Ice told himself so often now—was smooth and practiced. He smiled and ruffled the towel over Ceasar’s hair again, where water still dripped off the ends. “My turn. What’s your Dad’s name?”
“David,” Ceasar said, batting Ice’s hands away and reaching for his glasses on the nightstand. “Whatever happened to that Led Zeppelin video you said you had?”
“Lost it, years ago. What’s your favourite food?”
“Fresh crab. Why doesn’t Teddy talk?”
Ice frowned. “I told you before, he’s self-conscious about his voice. What—”
“Why doesn’t Fleance know anything about basic social norms?” Ceasar continued, cutting Ice off.
“I already told you that, too, he’s—”
Suddenly Ceasar’s fist slammed against the wall. “How stupid do you think I am?” he asked, and his voice was tight and quiet. “I know you’re not normal, I don’t care, I just want you to tell me so.”
“There’s nothing to tell,” Ice said, raking his fingers through his hair.
“Right, the random kids, the mute best friend, all these ‘foreign’ students, it’s all just the planets aligning to make bizarre things happen wherever you go.” As quickly as it came, the anger fell out of Ceasar’s face and he slumped against the wall. “I just want the truth,” he said. “Tell me something true.”
“I love you,” Ice said helplessly, and Ceasar slammed the door behind himself.
* * *
Ice could here the tinny sound of Ceasar’s ringtone through the door, pulsing in sync to the ringing of the phone at Ice’s ear. Both clicked off at once without warning. “Come over,” the text message had said. They hadn’t spoken in a week. Ice opened the door.
Ceasar lied naked in his bed, facing the wall, the sheets bunched up around his legs. The smell of sweat and sex lingered heavy in the hot summer air. Ice walked up to the bed.
“Sorry,” Ceasar said. “I was mad about this and I took it out on you.”
Ice swallowed hard and sat gingerly on the bed. “The virus?
“It happens all the time.”
Ice put a hand on Ceasar’s shoulder. “Why didn’t you just tell me it was this bad? I know it’s not you, I wouldn’t have got mad, I’d understand.”
Ceasar’s fiddled with the sheets. “It’s because I liked you for a long time,” he said. “I thought you wouldn’t want me if you knew. No one wants a guy who sleep around, even if it isn’t on purpose.” He turned around and looked up at Ice through damp bangs. “Sorry,” he said again, “this isn’t what you signed up for. I should have told you. I’m telling you now.”
Ice moved the bunched-up bedcovers and lied down next to Ceasar. “I guess this is the part where I tell you I’m not normal, either,” he said.
“I already knew,” Ceasar said, “I never cared. I just wanted you to say it. It doesn’t matter.”
Ice took Ceasar’s hand. “Neither does this,” he said. “Not even a little bit.”
They fell asleep hand-in-hand near dawn, a thousand questions later.