This week’s flash fiction prompt required me to come up with a title by randomly selecting a song from my music collection. I got “Thin Line,” by Jurassic 5 (featuring Nelly Furtado). While we weren’t required to use the song itself as an inspiration, I, uh, listened to Thin Line on repeat while I was writing. The result feels very different from most other pieces that I’ve written, and follows the song’s theme of questioning how romantic / erotic relationships can coexist with friendships. I was, quite honestly, surprised by the end. And that’s all I’ll say about that. Enjoy!
Dwayne’s chin rested on his crossed arms, lying on his belly on Raphe’s bed. His feet idly waved back and forth behind him while he watched Raphe pluck his guitar. Raphe was glad he was there, however it had happened.
“All I’m saying is, like, there’s no way she could say no to you man.” Raphe kept his eyes off Dwayne as he spoke.
Dwayne tsked, a little sound of disappointment and uncertainty. “You say that, but she’s never… I dunno, she’s never asked me anything. How the hell do you know she’s into me?”
Raphe stared wide-eyed at his friend, his face mock-stupid. “Uh, duh? Shit dude, do you even see the way she looks at you?” He definitely did not say, do you even see the way that I look at you?
Dwayne shook his head, a little wobble from the pivot point of his chin. “I don’t know.” He looked at Raphe, quiet fear in his eyes, “You’re not going to tell anyone else I like her, are you?”
“Jesus, Dwayne.” Raphe stuck his tongue out, then started singing in a high-pitched voice, strumming along on his guitar, “Dwayne and Latanya, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G…”
Dwayne’s face turned red. “Stop! Stop it Raphe!”
Raphe halted his song. “I can’t believe you could think that I’d tell someone.” Raphe shook his head, a sad smile pulling at the edges of his mouth.
Dwayne smiled back, still looking worried. “Yeah, uh, sorry.”
“Anyway, if you really like her, you should just fucking ask her out, man.” Raphe felt a little twinge of jealousy, wishing that Dwayne felt this way about him instead. He didn’t miss the irony of not taking his own advice. “She likes you dude. Just do it.”
Dwayne sighed, silent as Raphe fell back into playing his guitar again. Quietly, he said, “Yeah, I guess I’ll try that.”
Raphe lay on his bed, staring up at his poster of Prince that clung to his ceiling. His Hendrix poster loomed over his head, and Freddie Mercury watched him from the far wall. Dwayne had left about an hour earlier but the smell of him still lingered. Raphe inhaled deeply, eroticism mixing painfully with tension in his stomach, and let despair wash over him again. The whole situation felt impossible. Life felt impossible. Cradling his guitar to his chest, he plucked chords quietly, trying to find refuge in the sounds that his fingers could evoke. He’d done this so many times before, it was all painfully familiar.
Why did Dwayne have to be so blind? Raphe had been scouting for him, playing wingman since they were twelve, and every time Dwayne fell in love Raphe felt like he broke a little more inside. But he always just smiled and swallowed the tears that he knew he couldn’t show. He didn’t want to be that gay kid, much less that goddamn fag. What would happen if Dwayne knew? Raphe hadn’t even told his parents. Raphe knew he couldn’t keep going this way, not for much longer. He paused his playing for long enough to pull out his phone and stare at it, paralyzed with indecision.
Should he call and just tell Dwayne? It was the same thing he’d always told Dwayne to do, the same thing that had worked practically every time for his too lucky best friend. He could feel acid inside him churning with the tension. He opened up his chat with Dwayne, fingers poised over the keys.
A long pause, time enough for all of his horrible thoughts to come rushing through and feel like they were crushing him.
Raphe let out the breath he hadn’t known he was holding. He stared at his phone, tried starting his message three times.
R: I had a good time
He pushed closer to the brink.
D: Yeah, like we always do :)
Dwayne’s response was so simple. And it felt so close, but not close enough. Raphe took the plunge.
R: Look, I gotta tell you something
D: Like what?
Raphe sat there, uncertain. How the hell was he supposed to say something? What the hell was he supposed to say? Was this ‘the freeze,’ that moment that Dwayne always told him was so hard?
D: Dude, what’s up?
He’d left Dwayne hanging for too long.
R: I think I’m getting the freeze
There, it was out now. He could hear two different voices chanting in his head, please ask please ask please ask warring with ignore me ignore me ignore me.
D: Fuck man, I TOLD you it was hard!
Raphe stared in consternation. He’d paid attention, but he hadn’t asked. Why couldn’t he have picked one of the two? His fingers moved without feeling like he controlled them.
R: How do you do it? How do you ask?
There was a long pause.
D: I think of you
Raphe didn’t know what to say.
D: And I think of what I’d be missing if I didn’t ask
D: And then it’s kind of like jumping. You step off the edge and just keep falling until they answer
Raphe swallowed, and felt his stomach lurch as he stepped up to the edge. Then the edge stepped towards him.
D: Who’s the lucky lady
R: Not a lady
Raphe stared at the screen, awaiting his judgement. Dwayne was right. It did feel like falling, the pit of his stomach falling out from underneath him. It went on for too long, an eternity that barely took seconds.
D: Who then?
The first bounce was surprisingly soft. Raphe felt light-headed with the tension.
As soon as he’d entered it, he dropped his phone, staring in horror at his fingers. How could this have happened? How could he have said something like this? He was doomed. His phone buzzed.
D: I’ve wanted to hear that for years
Raphe stared. He hadn’t fallen. He’d flown.