Note: Takes place just before Plebe Summer. “Que s’est-il passé?” means “What happened?”
We had been packing for days now. The storage unit we’d rented was filled to capacity with the more valuable and fragile things, and the remaining boxes were piled in one corner of the living room, to be shipped to Santa Cruz tomorrow. The house was a tree in autumn, slowly shedding the leaves of our personal effects and becoming less ours as each one hit the ground.
The furniture was staying, though. If I concentrated hard, I could ignore the empty bookcases, the missing photos on our nightstands, and the fridge that held only a carton of eggs, some vegetables, and a butter compartment full of insulin. None of it had to mean anything.
Zain had carried out the last few cases of my art supplies earlier today, while I’d handled stacking them in the Jeep. I hadn’t seen my studio afterward. We’d dropped off the load, come back, and started cooking dinner right away. It wasn’t until Zain was washing the dishes that I remembered I needed to cover Babar with a drop cloth. I slipped off to do it, and got three feet through the door of the studio before I stopped dead.
It looked barren.
The shelves and drying racks Zain helped me build during our first summer here were cleared off. No more collection of cigar boxes, flower pots, woven baskets, and the other random containers I used to organize things in a system that only made sense to me. Only the hooks remained on my pegboard. My paints, brushes, easels, canvases… all of it was shut up in a dark, climate-controlled, concrete room. We’d even taken my bucket of paint stirrers, half of which had been used to spank me at some point. Zain had asked me why I wanted to keep something so easily replaceable, and I didn’t know what to tell him.
Babar was the one thing not missing. He was still standing by the huge window overlooking the side yard, with his trunk raised in a familiar greeting. I went to him and held onto his ear as I tried my trick of imagining nothing was gone. It didn’t work. The room was just as desolate from this angle.
I must have lost track of time, because Zain came to find me. He poked his head in, frowned, and crossed the room in a few strides. “Babe? What’s wrong?”
I swallowed. “It’s… different.”
He glanced over his shoulder at the gaping space, and when he looked back at me, his expression was compassionate and understanding. “Yeah, it is. C’mon, let’s go sit outside.”
“I need to cover up Babar.”
Giving no sign that he’d even heard me, he grabbed my wrist and pulled me behind him through the living room, out the sliding glass door onto the lanai, and over the lawn to the beach.
High tide was in. He sat us both down on top of the seawall with our feet dangling over the lapping waves and draped his arm around my shoulders. “I’m going to miss this place while we’re gone.”
Less than a week left, now. My heart started beating faster every time I thought about it. As surreptitiously as possible, I inched closer to him. I thought I saw his lips twitch, but he just hugged me against his side and continued gazing out at the ocean, so I leaned into him and watched it, too. This view, at least, was the same as it always had been. I wanted to memorize it, and the feeling of his embrace, so I could conjure them back in my mind whenever I needed them.
Dusk was starting to fall when he stirred and asked, “Habibi, what do you think about camping out in the backyard for the next few days?”
I lifted my head off his shoulder to look at him, and then back at the house. Slowly, I nodded.
We pitched the tent as the sun went down. By the time we’d filled the air mattress and made it up with our bedding, it was fully dark. Zain went back into the house to run an extension cord out so we could charge our phones. While he was gone, I sat in half-lotus on the bed, staring by the illumination of a battery-powered lantern at the plastic bin that held my diabetes supplies.
He’d been giving me my long-acting insulin shot every night since mid-April. Taking over parts of my treatment that way is something he only does when I’m seriously flipping out. Not because he thinks I can’t manage it by myself — although it feels like that occasionally — but as a clear, tangible reminder that I don’t need to, that he’s there for me and he’s not going to let me close him out. It’s annoying as hell and, at the same time, deeply, deeply reassuring. I had bounced between welcoming it and adamantly refusing to cooperate with him for nearly six weeks. Tonight, the annoyance won.
After checking that he was still in the house, I opened the bin and took out my Lantus pen, a new needle, and an alcohol wipe. Kneeling, with my head brushing against the sloped roof of the tent, I undid my jeans and pushed them down on one side just enough to clear my upper buttock for the injection. Then I ripped open the wipe and quickly ran it in a circle over my skin before reaching for the pen and needle.
“Babe, you do realize I can see your shadow on the wall of the tent, right?”
He was calling from the house, but the humor in his voice told me he’d made out everything, even at that distance.
A moment later, I heard the sliding glass door open. His own shadow grew over me, cast from the light on the lanai as he walked across the yard. I could see the extension cord trailing from his hand, and for an instant I wondered if he would make a couple of loops with it and use it as an implement, the way he’s done a few times in the past when we needed something quiet.
Thankfully, he dropped it on the ground outside the tent as he crouched down to unzip the entrance, and then crawled in without it. I was still on my knees with my pants half-down, my stomach doing acrobatics. Zain’s smile didn’t help to settle it. Nor did him sitting down on the mattress next to me, with his legs stretched out in front of him, and holding out his palm. My eyes flicked between that and his face for a few seconds. Hesitantly, I passed him the pen and needle.
“I meant ‘gimme your hand,’” he said, twisting a little to drop them on his pillow, “but thanks, I’ll need those later. C’mere.” Wiggling his fingers at me, he patted his thigh with his other palm.
That was the definitive sign I’d be going bottom-up for more than the injection. Not that I expected anything else. I started to push my jeans down farther, and he leaned over, took my wrist, yanked, and I fell across his lap. The swat for trying to remove my own pants landed hard on my thigh. I couldn’t help a little kick.
“Lift up a sec.”
Grimacing, I did, and felt his thumbs slide under the sides of my waistband. He peeled my jeans and underwear well clear, all the way down to my calves.
The reason for that became apparent when he started spanking. He concentrated on the area just below my sit-spots, so the rush of blood wouldn’t be near enough to my injection site to affect the insulin’s absorption rate. It also meant his hand was the only implement he needed. Even then, I was sobbing much sooner than was at all justifiable.
Oddly, I felt the same desire I’d had earlier on the seawall to memorize this exact sensation — the intimacy, and the sting, and the palpability of his strength and his love. Who knew when I would experience it again?
He went on for longer than he usually does after I’m crying, slowing down towards the end so it morphed into more of a punishment spanking. He never swats as heavily for those. The last few, he was almost patting me. It hardly made a difference, though. Knowing I had disappointed him made me weep harder.
Stopping, he massaged my back until I quieted, and then asked, “Ready to have me do your injection now, babe?”
I jerked my head in a nod. He kept his hand on my spine as he grabbed the supplies, including a new alcohol wipe from the bin. I held myself completely still while he disinfected my skin again, attached the needle to the pen, made sure the air was pushed out, and dialled in my dose.
“Okay, almost done,” he said. “Here we go.” I felt the pain of the needle piercing me. Softly, he counted to ten to allow the full dose to penetrate, and then removed it. There was a click of the safety cap going back on, followed by, “All finished. You can get up.”
I rose onto my knees again, automatically turning to check for blood, although there’s hardly ever any when he gives me a shot. The only redness I saw was where he’d spanked me. “I’m sorry I tried to do it myself,” I said through a few remaining sniffles, watching him detach the needle from the pen and drop it in my sharps container.
He smiled at me. “Habibi, we’re done, which means you’re forgiven, remember?”
“Yeah, but I’m still sorry.”
“Apology accepted,” he said. “I’m gonna finish setting up the chargers. Where’s your phone?”
It was in the pocket of my jeans, which were in a heap, along with my underwear, on the floor. I grabbed them and gave it to him.
The breeze off the water was chilly, yet I had no wish to dress again. Instead, I climbed under the duvet and lay down while Zain lifted the flap of the entrance and pulled the extension cord, with a surge protector already plugged into it, through. He got both our phones charging before joining me and snuggling into my neck.
“Wanna do shadow puppets?” he asked. “Pretty please?”
Rolling my eyes, I said, “Sure.”
His puppets rapidly turned dirty, making me blush and snort with laughter, and then he rolled on top of me, and the lewd shadows became life-sized.
I was woken out of a sound sleep by ringing. At first, completely disoriented from the darkness and my surroundings, I thought I had somehow already moved to college and it was a fire drill. Then Zain groaned next to me, and I remembered we were in the tent. I climbed over him and snatched my phone off the charger.
When I saw the time and the caller ID, worry bloomed in my stomach. “Keegan? Que s’est-il passé?”
“Sebby! Oh my god, Sebby, we won.”
She sounded happy. I breathed a sigh of relief, but I was still confused. “What?”
“The Supreme Court just ruled that same-sex marriage is legal everywhere! All fifty states!”
“What?” I repeated, dumbly.
Zain had propped himself up on one elbow and was squinting at me.
“Marriage equality, baby!” Keegan crowed. “Love wins!”
As it sank in, tears sprang into my eyes. Before I could speak, though, Zain reached over, grabbed the phone from my hand, and asked, “Kee, what’s going on and why is Seb crying?” A few seconds later, he beamed. “Really? That’s awesome!… Why would we want to get married in Texas?… No, yeah, it’s nice to have options, options are good, but we’re still doing it in California… Uh-huh… Well, anyway, we’re both very happy, and thanks for letting us know, just next time maybe check a clock and text the news, because it’s four in the morning here… Yeah, it’s okay. Talk to you later.” He hung up and tackled me onto the mattress. “Babe.”
The phrase ‘making love’ has always seemed hokey to me, yet sometimes there is no other way to describe it.
The sun had risen when I woke the second time, though I knew it was still early by the feeling of fresh dew in the air. Zain was lying next to me, holding his phone and looking at the lockscreen like he was waiting for something. When it went dark, he pressed the button to turn it on again.
“Is something wrong?” I asked.
“Hmm?” He glanced up, like he’d only now noticed I was awake. “Hey, good morning! Your parents, at least, remembered the time difference. They texted us both a few minutes ago, and Quinn before that. She said Dax is still asleep. I was just… hoping for one more.”
He did a careful little shrug. “My own family, maybe.”
My lips parted. I felt awful; they hadn’t crossed my mind. Here my relatives could hardly wait to congratulate us, and his were silent.
“Oh, don’t look like that, habibi,” he said, with a note of pleading in his voice. “I wasn’t expecting anything, really, it was just a wish.” He put the phone down and tugged me into his arms. I kissed him gently on the cheek.
“I’m sorry, Z.”
“It’s not your fault,” he said. “And anyway, people’s hearts can change, given time and patience. They’ve got four years to come around. Maybe they’ll be at our wedding yet!”
He was trying to convince himself of that, I could tell. I curled into him, to offer what comfort I could in allowing him to comfort me.
Four years from now, we would be married. It seemed like an eternity to wait and to be away from him more often than not, an eternity of Babar standing lonely in my empty studio and Zain unable to casually tell me he’d be doing this injection when he thought I needed it. But if that time was what gave him hope that his parents would be standing with us on our wedding day… well, I could bear it.