The Sharp Taste of Citrus

Blink smelled the orange -- that sweet, distinct citrus smell -- and looked around the square like a drunk looking for a beer. The whole block was teeming with boys, though, mostly kids who'd just got home for the evening but didn't want to go inside just yet. It had been a good day, nice out, not too hot, and not even too muggy. The first day in weeks Blink had really been able to breathe. And the headline had been good, too. Papers had practically flown out of his hands, and his pockets were heavy with change. The best kind of day, really.

Blink was saving u his money so he'd be able to see a show on Friday night, but now that he smelled that orange... his mouth watered. He wanted it. He didn't care what he'd have to pay for it, he just wished he'd thought to buy it himself.

Standing on his tiptoes, hoping no one would notice 'cause a guy could only stand so much ribbing over his height, he finally figured out the direction it was coming from and pushed forward through the crowd of boys, nearer to the house. And then he caught it, barely in his field of vision thanks to the bum eye -- a flash of orange. Mush was standing in the shade, leaning against the house itself, peeling an orange like he didn't have a care in the world.

Blink grinned. Mush was his best friend in the world, a sweet guy who would give anyone the shirt off his back. Talking him into sharing an orange would be easy as cake. Blink strolled over, hands in his pockets, grinning. "Heya, Mush."

"Hey, Blink!" Mush smiled back at him, then stuck his thumb in his mouth to suck some juice off of it. Blink's mouth watered.

"Whattaya got there?" Blink asked.

"Your other eye goin' bad? It's an orange. Cost me ten whole cents, but," he paused to slide one delectable piece into his mouth, then said as he chewed, "worth every penny."

"Yeah, why's that?" Blink asked.

Mush separated off another section of the orange carefully, then paused to lick his fingers again before he answered. "Well, it's the best fruit there is. I mean, what's an apple taste like, huh?"

"...I dunno," Blink conceded.

"See, that's what I mean. Apples, they're crisp, an' I guess they taste okay, if you like that kinda thing. Me, I think they're bland. Oranges, though." He bit into another section, mouth still open as he spoke, and juice dripped down his lower lip. "You bite an orange, and you know what you're eating. Nothin' else like it in the world." He licked his lip, swiping his tongue across it, then kind of chewed it for a second.

"I haven't had an orange in years," Blink said, hands still in his pockets, drawing tiny circles in the dust with one foot.

"You shoulda bought one today, then," Mush said.

"Can't I have even one piece?"

"It cost me a whole dime, Blink."

"Please, Mushy? It looks so good." And it did, especially when Mush licked his lips like that, and sucked juice off his fingers. Mush frowned a little. "C'monnnnn," Blink wheedled. "Just one little piece."

"It was expensive, though," Mush said. "You gotta do something for me, first."

"Anything," Blink promised.

Mush glanced around furtively, then stepped closer to Blink, until they were almost chest-to-chest, nose-to-nose. Mush leaned down suddenly and closed the inch between them, kissing Blink so fast Blink wasn't even sure it had happened, and then he was gone again. Right back where he had been, leaning on the wall. Blink was only sure he hadn't imagined it because Mush's hat had kind of knocked into his and now it was just an inch or two askew.

Blink felt himself blushing and sputtered for a second, then demanded, "Nicholas Myers, what the heck was that?!"

Mush shrugged and pressed the orange into his hand. "Here, you can have the rest." He started to walk towards the open house door, but paused and glanced back. "I only got it 'cause you like 'em anyways." He licked his thumb off one more time. "Sure are tasty, though, huh, Blink?"

"Yeah," Blink said, dumb-founded.

Thing was, he wasn't sure he was talking about the orange at all.