Artificial Flavoring

"We could be at the beach right now, you know." David squinted into the sun, which was still high enough to be visible above the buildings along the cramped Manhattan street. "We could be swimming. We could be in the water."

Jack rolled his eyes at his friend and stretched out on his back, balancing on the wide concrete banister that lined the stoop in front of his foster mom's apartment building. "Quit grumblin', Davey." He felt quite content in the heat, and besides, he'd never learned to swim not that David needed to know that. "You didn't really wanna spend the day with Les and his buddies on some church trip with those muckety-mucks."

David let out a high-pitched laugh of disbelief. "Oh, I didn't? The chance to be go swimming? Maybe go on the rides at the amusement park? I guarantee even you would have had fun, Jack. Just because rich people live in Rye doesn't mean Rye Beach is only for them. And there'd be girls. In bikinis," he added, though he didn't sound very convinced of their appeal.

Jack dug a knuckle into his eye and turned his head back toward the sky. "Yeah, well, this is plenty fun for me, thanks."

"It's hot."

"It's a gorgeous summer day, and you're spending it with your best friend. What more could you want?" Jack smirked into the sun. Antagonizing David was not only fun, it had the added bonus of being easy.

"Water. A breeze. Water." He shook his head. "I don't know why I came."

"You whine like a girl, Dave. And you came 'cause I'm your friend, and 'cause you didn't want to watch your little brother flirt with girls from church. And for the air conditioner."

"Yeah, the air conditioner which is broken," he shot back, and Jack was reasonably sure he could feel David's glare.

"Never said it wasn't, just said Cheryl's apartment had an air conditioner."

David muttered something about Jack's truth-improving abilities then said more clearly, "I'm getting a sunburn."

"You could use a tan, whitey." Jack smiled openly, turning his head to look at David. He wasn't as pale as he had been just a month ago when school let out, actually. A few freckles now speckled his nose, and his blue eyes were even more vibrant because of the slight darkening in color.

"Yeah, well, not everyone is impervious to skin cancer like you, Jack."

Jack shrugged against the warm concrete, his contentedness unruffled. "You'd get sunburned at the beach, too."

He smiled as David opened his mouth then snapped it shut into a frown.

The boys sat listening to the sounds of summer in the city for a while: the whir of other tenants' working air conditioners, light midday traffic, footsteps and shouts of boys carrying out a duel with toy lightsabers up the street.

David watched Jack in the corner of his vision. His athletic form lay back, hands cupped under his head and legs dangling off the banister's sides. If David was "perpetually preppy," as Jack had dubbed him (personally he saw nothing wrong with coordinating short-sleeved button-downs to his t-shirts, and he liked his cargo shorts, thankyouverymuch), Jack was a common jock. He wore a white tee on its second (or third?) day with black soccer shorts and that stupid red bandana slung around his neck.

"Hey Davey, I'll be right back."

David sat up straight, his eyes wide. "What? Why?"

"Relax. I'll be back in sec." Jack swung easily off the railing and mounted the steps two at a time toward the door. He disappeared inside the walk-up.

Shifting position to lean against the wall so he could watch for Jack to come back out, David sighed. Putting up with Les and his pre-pubescent friends honestly would have been worth a day at Rye Beach with Jack. They hadn't done much more than hang out and play video games this summer so far. But, in his typical style, Jack had managed to guilt David into changing plans without overtly rejecting the invite. How did he always do that? Or, really, why did David let him do that?

The door swung open and Jack reappeared holding a popsicle in each hand. David couldn't stop his smile.

Jack held out the blue popsicle, a broad grin on his face. "Maybe this'll help cool you down, Dave. I got you blue so it'll match your shirt in case you drop it."

David sent his eyes rolling in mock annoyance. "Thanks. You're a pal." He moved his legs and Jack sat down next to him on the steps.

Almost immediately, Jack started making lewd noises and tongue motions with the popsicle.

"Jaaaack. That's gross." David willed himself not to blush. Or at least for it to look like sunburn if he did.

Jack took a good long lick of his strawberry popsicle, swirling his tongue around it, and said nothing. He slurped his lips away from the frozen treat and flashed the dopey grin David knew so well, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively.

To spite him, David made tidy work of his own popsicle, biting off small chunks to chew starting at the bottom and working up so he wouldn't have to gag himself with the stick or risk dropping the last bite on his shirt. . . . Yeah, Jack knew him pretty well.

After a few minutes he looked over at Jack, who was twirling what was left of his popsicle in his mouth. His lips were stained red by the juice but, David thought, it was the right shade of red. He blinked, unsure of what he'd meant by that. It wasn't the same red as Jack's blasted bandana, but it was bright on his lips and brought out the brown of his eyes.

Jack licked his lips slowly and watched as David's eyes grew round and he took a sudden interest in studying the frost pattern on his own popsicle. "You still hot?" Jack asked.

David shrugged at the sidewalk. "Not as much."

"You look like you're cold now -- your lips are blue," Jack joked, and noted that David squirmed just the slightest bit. Really, the kid was so easy to read. He loved it.

And just like that, Jack's chest swelled so much it rearranged the smile on his face, widening the corners, parting his teeth. Only Davey could do that to him -- whiney, girly, adorable David. Without giving it much more thought than that, Jack swooped in under David's hung head and kissed him.

Startled by the sudden presence of Jack's mouth against his, David did the first, natural, rational thing: he dropped his popsicle.

He yanked away from Jack, eyes wide. "Oh, crap."

"The popsicle?" Jack had a smirk plastered across his face. "Don't worry, blends right in."

"No, Jack. Well, yeah, the popsicle, but no, I mean... What did you plan that or something?"

David's eyebrows knit over his popsicle-blue eyes and Jack wanted to kiss him again just for that. So he did.

This time, with no popsicle to drop, David had no choice but to give in to the kiss. No, that wasn't true. He did have a choice. Just like he'd had a choice about going to the beach or going over to Jack's. And he'd chosen Jack. Things weren't as good, as fun, as exciting without Jack. Sitting on Jack's front stoop in a city heat wave was the most exciting thing David had done in weeks. And that was why he kissed his best friend back.

David even opened his mouth slightly and let Jack's tongue dart in and do something that felt like what he'd been doing to the popsicle. Their lips and tongues explored each other a little tentatively, here and there encountering bursts of fruity artificial flavoring. Jack was the first to pull away this time.

The boys sat shoulder to shoulder on the stoop, looking at one another. Both were surprised at the other's lack of surprise. Wasn't it supposed to turn into some big horrendous mess if you kissed your best friend who also happened to be male? Apparently not, in this case.

"Well, you wanna go in?" Jack asked nonchalantly, jerking his head back toward the door. He held his empty popsicle stick in his hand, and what was left of David's was now a puddle of blue goo on the bottom step.

"What happened to Mr. Gorgeous-Summer-Day?" David chided.

Jack knuckled his eye again. "Well, it looks like you might be getting a sunburn, Dave, so I thought we better head in. Wouldn't want to be out here all day until Cheryl got home. Could fry your skin off."

David played along. "Right. Not until Cheryl gets home," he echoed. "I don't want to end up with skin cancer."

"The air conditioner's busted, you know," Jack continued, "so it'll be pretty hot. And it's no beach, but we have a shower. Maybe you want to wash off some of that sticky popsicle?"

"Mmm," David nodded sagely as he matched Jack's mischievous smile with his own. "Water."