While You Were Sleeping

Sunlight is the first thing to pierce Jack's consciousness, warming his face and turning his eyelids orange. For a single, discombobulating moment, he doesn't know where he is or why he can't feel his arm. The sunshine reveals everything -- it all comes rushing back as he stares at the stark white ceiling that isn't his, fingers someone else's cotton, enjoys the warmth of another person's breath on his neck.

A garbage truck rumbles past outside, echoing the cacophony of thoughts reverberating in Jack's brain, and leaving him a little calmer when it fades away.

The digital clock displays 12:03 pm. It's Sunday. If he was in his own apartment, Jack might be rolling out of bed to make coffee, scrub off the stamps from last night's bars, maybe to pour the remaining tequila down the drain. Coffee would be perfect right now, and Jack knows where it's kept here and how best to jiggle the ancient coffee maker when it stops halfway through the brew, but Sunday coffee is for friends and couples. They have left the realm of one and stalled along the path to the other.

Jack blinks at the ceiling, head still fuzzy from lack of sleep, barely daring himself to remember last night's transgressions.

It must have been a fever dream, a mirage, a trick of the heat. For Christ's sake, it was a hundred in the shade and the skies were dark and swollen with water, giving every surface in the city a thin, humid residue. It had been a clothes-optional summer, the thick-aired evenings somehow hotter than the bright, dry days. Everyone was trying to beat the heat, with popsicles and sprinklers and, in Jack's case, margaritas.

And when an old best friend calls on a Saturday night, promising a bucket of ice, it doesn't even take the promise of booze to get you there. It wasn't even the booze that kept him there, though there was something both appropriate and wildly taboo about watching his best friend lick salt off his glass, and then his hand, and then Jack's hand.

It was that trickle of sweat, from neck to back, that suddenly streamed down his back not from the suffocating humidity, but when his best friend's knee knocked against his completely on purpose for the third time.

They'd had a rule in college, when they found themselves forced to share a bed on more than one occasion, that the first one awake had to be the first one to leave, preferably without waking the other. Often, the first one awake just stumbled into the bathroom to puke or ran across the street to pick up tacos or headed home to change their underpants.

It would be a breach of protocol to roll over and watch his best friend sleep. Lingering is strictly forbidden. But, all things and last night considered, they'll have to seriously review their standard procedures anyway.

David is a deep, but twitchy sleeper -- legs kicking, arms flailing, nostrils flaring -- and his loud, violent sleep patterns were notorious. It had never occurred to Jack to actually watch his best friend while he slept, to watch his eyelashes flutter and curls quiver like a cartoon cherub, mouth hanging open, slack-jawed and echoing with light, long snoring. Jack suddenly notices that David is completely uncovered by the sheets, letting Jack curl into them all, and doesn't know whether to feel touched or exasperated. There is a crusty drool stain forming on the pillow.

How has it never occurred to him to linger?

Gingerly removing David's dead-weight arm from its haphazard landing spot on across his chest, Jack carefully rolls out of bed, causing the bed springs to creak anyway. The snoring is cut short, replaced by sleepy grumbles and slow blinking. Jack watches as David looks at his bed, then squints up at Jack, smiling.

"You stayed," he croaks, grinning with half-open eyes. Jack smiles, thinking of the breach in protocol.

"I'm staying," he says, and sits back down on the bed to linger a little bit longer.