Michael encountered Sadio on one of those unlikely sunny days in March, empty of snow and rain, when the sky is a vast blue emptiness. Sadio was lying on a bench under a tree with his legs crossed at the ankles and his arm draped across his eyes. A book rested on his chest and rose and fell with his breathing—he had been reading something by Faulkner, the title long vanished in memory, lost in time, but he remembers that it was by Faulkner because that had been the semester they were both in the same literature course: Southern Gothic. Michael stood just askance of him, this rangy boy with dark brown hair. He recognized his body, or rather, Michael recognized the energy coming from that body, which had drawn his attention from the very first moment of class, when Sadio had strolled in with all the casual grace of someone frightfully sure of himself. He gave the impression that the very air around him had been arranged by a meticulous hand guided by an artful restlessness. His eyes, Michael knew, were hazel and bright.
It was the first warm day in several weeks, maybe even a month, and Sadio could hardly be blamed for taking advantage of it in this way. Michael himself was trying to get reading done for that very class, and so had come to the bench near the library, his favorite on the whole campus, to do just that, but here now was another person, a person he watched closely, carefully during all of their lectures. He had studied for example, the way Sadio tapped his pencil against his lips when the professor was trying to expound upon some minor point; he was also familiar with the way that Sadio’s shoulders tensed when the professor attempted to direct them toward an author’s view on race in the South, as if his whole body were winding up inside of itself, coiling and coiling to release and spring him forward in attack. There were other things, too, as in how Sadio leaned back in his chair and folded his palms across the nape of his neck, and ran his thumb up and down the hair there. Michael had imagined what that hair must feel like, seemingly so different in texture from the fine, brown hair elsewhere on his head. It seemed coarser, darker. In a moment of drifting focus, he had imagined his own hand brushing against that hair, testing it against himself. Other than these physical details, he knew little about Sadio. He didn’t seem to have friends in class either, and the few times that Michael had glimpsed around campus, he had always been alone, moving as if apart from everyone around him, sealed in some private space that only he could enter. But suddenly, here he was, lying underneath the tree, perfectly exposed to the air and to Michael’s gaze, which rested on the exposed skin of one of his hips, where his shirt had slid higher and his jeans hitched low.
“I’m not asleep,” Sadio called abruptly, and Michael nearly dropped his book in surprise. Sadio laughed and sat up, turning his bright, hazel gaze upon Michael. “Or, I’m not now.”
“I’m sorry,” Michael said, stuttering. “I was just looking for a place to read.”
“Oh, is that true?” Sadio’s voice was heavy with implication, and he raised his eyebrows once, only briefly. But if he were angry, he dismissed it quickly with a brush of his hand. He held up the novel and nodded to the place on the bench next to him. “You can read here. I don’t mind.”
“I don’t want to intrude,” Michael said, finding some measure of control, finding his way back to the warmth and charm that had seen him make many friends. His smile was genuine, though his heart was fluttering wildly in his chest. His stomach clenched, and his hands grew sweaty. “I’d hate to intrude.”
“Who said you were intruding?”
“Then sit—don’t make me beg you,” Sadio’s full lips curled into a smile, and his teeth slid into view. His eyes were not as bright as Michael remembered—no, they were bright, but were clouded with fatigue. He had been sleeping, this much was obvious to Michael now, but he was willing to share his bench in the sun despite the interruption.
“Well, if you insist,” Michael said, closing the distance between them and sitting nervously beside Sadio. He could feel Sadio’s gaze on him, and when he turned to meet it, he found Sadio still smiling. He smelled good, wonderful, like a damp forest after a heavy rain. It was not the acerbic cleanliness of the boys at the pool, boys he had gone home with once or twice before because he thought for a moment that they smelled like the sea. Sadio smelled like something alive and warm, musky and heady, and Michael wanted to put his face into it and let that smell wash over him. His pulse quickened.
“I do insist,” Sadio said. “I don’t know your name. I’m Sadio.”
“Michael—I already know your name.”
“Ah, how is that?”
“On the first day, they take attendance.”
“And you’ve remembered all this time.”
“It’s easy to remember your name,” Michael said, caught off-guard by the easiness between them. Sadio was equally surprised and turned a little more toward as if to take stock of some fundamental shift in his estimation of Michael. A warm tide rolled through Michael at that thought, at the thought of rising in Sadio’s estimation, and then he felt embarrassed at how openly he thrilled to that idea.
“You’re flirting with me,” Sadio said, laughing softly. He turned completely and lifted his legs to the bench, crossing them against himself. Michael’s eyes dropped immediately to inspect the way that Sadio’s thighs bulged in his jeans. He had very thick thighs and muscular calves, and his body gave off a tremendous heat that Michael absorbed slowly through his skin. Today, Sadio was wearing dark jeans and a light yellow sweater emblazoned with a picture of a sheep. Michael’s eyes swept upward, taking in the broadness of his shoulders and length of his neck. He had not realized how athletic Sadio was until that very moment on the bench, and it was a fact not articulated by an expansion of his body but a contraction, a gathering together around some core self. It was in the ease with which Sadio controlled his body, that immutable characteristic of athleticism. Michael nearly gasped at it. What a simple motion it had been, to lift his legs and fold them, and yet in that simple motion, such elegance and precision. Michael felt clumsy, terribly clumsy and stiff.
“I’m not,” Michael said.
“No? What a shame,” Sadio said, resting his chin on his palm as he leaned forward a little and brought with him that wonderfully warm scent.
“Oh whatever,” Michael said, not retreating in physical terms but trying to draw up a boundary between himself and Sadio, who sat studying him keenly.
“Am I not your type?”
“Then what is it? Why wouldn’t you flirt with me?”
“What do you think of the latest assigned reading?”
“Ouch,” Sadio said, pressing his hand to his chest and leaning back. He wore a look of amused, surprised pain. Michael rolled his eyes and held up the novel between them, but Sadio would not be deterred. He pressed against Michael’s hand, lowering the book so that their eyes could meet. The point of contact burned Michael. He could feel, in a distant and hazy way, the rhythm of Sadio’s pulse. The feigned pain faded, and Sadio wrapped his fingers around Michael’s wrist. “Answer my question,” he said gently.
“I was not flirting with you,” Michael repeated slowly, not quite leaning on each word, but pressing firmly against the sentiment.
“Fair,” Sadio said in a measured tone. “But would you?” The question was playful, but to Michael, it seemed rooted in something far more substantial. Would he? Oh yes, he wanted to say. Oh yes, certainly, he would flirt with Sadio. He would flirt with him and kiss him and go home with him. He would let himself be opened by him and taken in whatever way, however many times—what a silly, pointless question, he thought, stupid, needless. Michael pressed his lips together tightly and stared not into Sadio’s eyes, but into the hollow of his throat, where he had once imagined placing kisses.
“You’re very good-looking, Sadio. Anyone would flirt with you.”
“But would you,” Sadio pressed. His fingers grew insistent and pulled at Michael’s hand. Michael resisted, but only faintly, letting himself shift in a small way toward Sadio on the bench.
“Yes,” Michael said in a voice that might have belonged to a dream. It seemed to be all Sadio wanted or needed to hear because he let Michael go and turned his face away, smiling.
“I see,” he said.
“Is that it?”
“Yes, that’s it,” Sadio said, opening his book. He rolled his shoulders and pointed his eyes down into the novel. Michael sat watching him for several moments, not knowing what to make of the exchange nor what quite to make of their present posture. Had that really been it? Had he simply wanted to know about the possibility of a flirtation between them? Michael felt foolish and stupid, played like a child. Michael sighed a shaky breath and opened his own novel. The words swam before his eyes, and the abundance of sunlight against the white pages made it difficult to read. His eyes stung, moistening at their edges from the strain.
“I think I better go,” he said eventually.
“Oh, why?” Sadio asked, looking up with an expression of boyish confusion. Michael saw for the first time the constellation of freckles across the bridge of his nose.
“Ah, the light’s getting to me, I guess.”
“That’s true. It’s pretty bright out here.”
“Yeah—well, it was wonderful to meet you, Sadio. Officially.”
Sadio leaned forward on his knee again and studied Michael with a long gaze. Michael felt himself warming beneath it. It bore none of the false heat of the winter sun in the sky—no, this was a raw heat, a consuming heat, filled with the promise of some great dissolution and taking apart. Sadio’s gaze was searing as it cut along his cheeks and his lips and shoulders, down to his belly and legs. He was being appraised. He was being burnt. Sadio hummed, and Michael swallowed anxiously, rising to leave.
“I live near here,” Sadio said. “We could read there.”
“Oh,” Michael said, lowering back to the bench. Sadio rested a hand on his knee, curling his fingers inward. The sensation sent shivers all along Michael’s skin. He wet his lips. “That would be good. That would be great.”
“Then come on,” Sadio said, giving up Michael’s knee to take his hand and pull him from the bench. “Let’s go.”
Sadio was not lying about living close to the library. He didn’t live on campus, but in a collection of apartments owned by the university. To get there, you needed only cross the ravine behind the library into the woods and then wind your way toward the sounds of traffic, which at a distance sounded so much like the sea. He lived alone, in a clean one-bedroom. His apartment was sparsely furnished, but not out of a sense of frugality. All of his furniture matched—dark, burnished wood and comfortable, practical looking cushions. White was the dominant tone, but there were inflections of brilliant color: burnt sienna, crisp orange, deep pomegranate. Carvings and small statuettes were placed strategically throughout. It was the sort of apartment decorated with an attitude in mind, with thoughtful care. Michael thought back to his dorm, which was cramped and small, smelling of sour socks and old food.
He stood near the counter in the kitchen while Sadio poured them some water from an expensive-looking pitcher. Nearby, there was a black and white picture of an incredibly muscular man standing on a tennis court with a baby on his shoulder. Michael leaned in to inspect the picture.
“That’s my dad,” Sadio said. “Mon père.”
“Your dad plays tennis?” Michael asked, taking the cool glass that Sadio had poured for him.
“Yes. He was a professional for several years. He was my first coach.”
“You play tennis?”
“Yes,” Sadio said, smiling ruefully, which to Michael seemed strange.
“I don’t mean to pry if it’s a problem.”
“It’s no problem. I play tennis. Just like my dad, who would rather I not be here wasting my talent,” Sadio said. His voice was dry and resigned, though his eyes showed that the hurt was molten and fresh.
“He thinks you’re wasting your talent?”
“Oh yes, oh yes,” Sadio said. He set his cup on the counter and reached to brush his hand against Michael’s arm. “Are you warm? Do you want to take off your sweater?”
“I’m okay,” Michael said. Sadio’s face fell a little, in disappointment.
“Well, I’m warm,” Sadio said, and just like that he pulled his sweater with the sheep up over his head and set it on the counter. He now wore only a thin white shirt, and his skin seemed so much darker than Michael would have imagined. Now, his muscularity was even more apparent, and Michael found his gaze drawn to his chest and his shoulders. “Are you sure you’re not warm,” Sadio asked, sipping from his water.
“I’m okay,” Michael repeated, his voice a little airy. “I’m fine.”
“Then let’s have a seat. Get comfortable.” Sadio motioned toward the couch, and Michael sat down as instructed. Sadio sat very close to him and rested one arm against the back of the sofa. He turned toward Michael as he crossed his legs. “Tell me about yourself.”
“What’s there to know,” Michael said, laughing, fidgeting with his glass. “I’m…me.”
“And who is that?”
“Well, you know my name already.”
“Yes, yes, I do.”
“And you know we’re in a class together.”
“I know that too,” Sadio said, coming ever closer, the impressive mass of his body looming close enough for Michael to touch if only he could find the courage to do so. He stared down between his legs, gripping the cool glass. If he had looked up, he would have seen directly in front of him an open window with a view of the woods and the sky, going forever into the distance. He would have seen the imprint of some distant mountain. Michael wet his lips and smiled.
“I’m not good at this,” he said.
“It’s okay,” Sadio said, resting his hand against the nape of Michael’s neck. It was a strangely tender gesture, to feel the small circles that Sadio’s thumb made in his skin. Pass after pass, it wore away the tension and the anxiety inside of him. He felt the faint brush of Sadio’s lips against his neck, and he bristled with heat as his body came to life against Sadio. Michael sighed as Sadio took the glass away and set it on the table. Then he came back and stretched Michael out along the floor and lowered his body against him. Michael wrapped his arms around Sadio as again and again, Sadio kissed his neck and his cheeks and shoulder. Michael shuddered when Sadio slid a hand beneath his shirt and touched his skin with the rough contour of his palm. He let out a sigh when Sadio spread his legs and slid between his thighs.
“You’re so warm,” Michael said, losing himself. “You’re so warm.”
“So are you,” Sadio said, laughing. He had begun to kiss Michael’s stomach and to undo his pants. Michael reached to stop him, feeling embarrassed and exposed, but Sadio persisted, taking away his clothes one layer at a time and finally guiding Michael into his mouth. Michael convulsed in ecstasy and Sadio swallowed him completely.
Eventually, it was dark, and the two of them were in the kitchen naked. Michael sat on the stool with his hands covering himself while Sadio made them both sandwiches. There was coffee and cream and yogurt with fruit. And the sandwiches were on freshly toasted bread that Sadio had obtained from a bakery in the next town.
“You’ve spent the whole day with me,” Sadio said, smiling.
“Yes,” Michael said as a surge of memory went through him. He saw their bodies twisting and writhing together, the slow rise and fall of their chests, the pressure building up and suddenly giving way—he could still feel the heat of Sadio pulsing inside of him. “The whole day.”
“We didn’t do any of the reading though.”
“There’s always tomorrow, I guess.”
“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow—” Sadio began with a smile, but the smile faded as he thought, or seemed to think, about some time in the future. The quote withered between them, and Michael wondered if he was supposed to complete it. Sadio stirred out of the momentary distraction, rolled shoulders, and served the sandwiches. He leaned across the counter to kiss Michael on the mouth, and Michael let him.
“There’s tonight, too.”
“Yes, tonight, too,” Sadio said. They ate their sandwiches in the quiet of the evening. A wind had begun to blow, cold and northerly, like a deep, sad moan. It pressed the black of night against the window.
The growing dark was like gathering wool on the horizon. There would be a storm, snow, or rain. Lightning would cleave the air. Michael gazed out into the night. How like the weather, he thought, to change so suddenly.