THE MAELSTROM'S CUP
Tyler blinked in the early morning sunlight; the low sounds of Mikael and Conchetta talking and moving about in the bedroom had woken him up. He was sprawled on his belly on the couch, with Jon Moxley laying next to him on the floor. They'd fallen asleep holding hands. Tyler slipped free and lowered Jon's hand to lay across his chest. Sitting up on the couch, brushing his wild, tangled hair out of his face, Tyler sighed. There was a feeling in his chest, something that hadn't been there before; a feeling that Tyler was afraid to put a name to. Unconsciously mirroring Jon's pose, Tyler pressed the palm of his hand to the center of his chest and closed his eyes. He felt a little ridiculous; what did he expect to feel, a gaping hole in his breastplate?
Startled, Tyler's eyes snapped open to find Jon looking up at him. "Hey," he replied lamely.
Jon looked relaxed, his lips open a little, his eyes as clear and blue as ocean water first thing in the morning. He yawned and sat up, kneeling before Tyler on his knees. From his vantage point on the couch, Tyler was a head taller than him. In a rush of inspiration, he leaned forward and cupped Jon's face in his hands, pressing a kiss to his forehead. He felt Jon tense a little. "What are you doing?"
"Kissing you good morning," Tyler said. He let go of Jon's face and sat back. Jon gave him that penetrating look, the look that said he was trying to figure Tyler's game out, waiting for the catch. Without a word, he stood, rising to his feet with surprising grace, their bodies brushing one another so close that Tyler could inhale him, smell Jon's personal scent, could open his mouth and taste him. Now Jon loomed over him, and a trickle of sweat slid down Tyler's back that had nothing to do with the island heat. Jon caressed his jaw; Tyler turned to press his cheek into the palm of Jon's hand and nipped at the pads of his fingers.
A high-pitched giggle shattered the moment. Mikael and Conchetta were awake without a doubt. Jon stalked away from him, disappearing into the bathroom. Tyler released a shaky breath and wiped his face with the corner of his t-shirt. Grimacing, he dug around in his bag for clean clothes, and when Jon emerged from the bathroom he tossed a t-shirt to him.
Catching the shirt out of the air, Jon asked, "What the hell am I supposed to do with this?"
Tyler tipped his head in the direction of the bedroom. By now they could both hear delighted, breathy sounds, accompanied by a symphony of mattress squeaks. "You really want to go barging in there hunting for a shirt to wear?"
Jon considered this for a moment. "Fair enough." He tugged the shirt over his head. It was a plain white tee, a little too tight on him, and he looked fantastic. Tyler took a moment to take him in before finishing dressing. He ducked into the bathroom to brush his teeth, and found the power was still out. At least the water was still on.
After they'd cleaned up, Jon and Tyler headed to Luke's office to pick up their checks. They found him asleep in his chair, head tipped back and mouth wide open as he snorted and sawed wood. Jon stole a cigarette out of the pack in Luke's shirt pocket, lit it, sucked in a lungful, and then breathed the smoke right into Luke's face.
"Fuckin' hell -" Luke sputtered to wakefulness, glaring at them both with bloodshot eyes. "Tha' hell ye want -"
"Our money, Luke." Jon cut right to the chase. The cigarette dangling from his lip seemed to punctuate each word. "Sign our fuckin' checks, old man."
"Old man! Fuck ye! Wouldn't even have a career were it not for me!" But Luke fumbled in the desk, pulled out two envelopes, and stuffed them into their hands.
Tyler put his into his back pocket, but Jon ripped his open and said, "Where's the rest of it?"
Jon slapped his hands down on the desk and leaned into Luke's personal space. "My money. Where's the rest of it?"
"Tha's all of it! Eh, ye think yer such a big draw? Think they're linin' up to see the great Jon Moxley?" Luke scoffed at him.
Cluing in, Tyler opened his check. "This isn't even half of what I was promised," he said, feeling like he'd been punched in the gut. The check would barely pay his parents back for the Western Union money they'd sent him, much less give him anything to live on til the next payday. What the hell had he gotten himself into?
Luke shrugged. "Airfare comes out of yer pay."
The look in Moxley's eyes was dangerous. "When I first got here, you paid me like a fuckin' rock star. Now the cuts are getting leaner and leaner. You can't even pay the utilities on time, they cut off the fucking electricity last night! And now you're shorting Black for his plane ticket? Do you think this is a joke? Do you see me laughing?"
"I'll pay the bloody fuckin' utility! Get out of meh face, ye pack of hoons!" Luke was nigh-unintelligible by now, red in the face with fury or embarrassment or maybe both. Tyler glanced sideways at Jon, deciding to take his cue from him.
"This is bullshit. C'mon, Tyler." Jon seemed to think of something, then he snatched up the car keys from Luke's desk. Wondering what the hell was going on, Tyler followed after him.
"What're ye doin' with my car, ye thickhead - !" Luke was outraged.
"Cool it, old man," snapped Moxley. "We're taking the old clunker for a day-trip. We'll bring it back in one piece, and you'd better come up with some money between now and then, got it?" His tone was positively poisonous. Luke ranted and raved but Tyler could tell it was all bluster - Luke was trying to save face. Tyler followed Jon over to Luke's car and took shotgun. They peeled out while Luke stood in the doorway, sweating through his cheap shirt, waving his arms and cursing them.
They grabbed some breakfast, then stopped at a bank to cash their pitiful checks. Tyler charmed the bank receptionist into letting him make a long-distance phone call. His mom and dad told him to keep the money; he thanked them and got off the phone feeling like shit. His parents busted their asses to take care of him and his sisters, and he'd never had to hit them up for money to fund his career, not until now.
Jon leaned against the hood of the car, looking like a teenage fantasy in his ripped jeans and tight shirt. He pushed his sunglasses up to sit atop his head as Tyler walked across the parking lot to him. "What are you smiling at?" Jon asked him.
"I'm thinking about how much you look like James Dean right now," Tyler told him, his smile widening at the quirk of Jon's lips, the way he glanced aside a little self-consciously. Tyler wondered how conscious of his own appeal Jon really was. They took off down the road, and Tyler thought they would perhaps head to the gym, but instead Jon took him along the coast, rolling down the windows so that the ocean breezes cooled them down. Tyler fiddled with the radio until he found that classic rock station, and soon he was singing along as Mick Jagger mournfully calling out to Angie. Despite the confrontation with Luke, he felt great, and Jon wore his smirk, the one that showed he was secretly enjoying himself. They'd just rounded a corner when Jon cursed and slowed to a crawl.
"What's wrong?" Tyler looked in the rear-view mirror. No one behind them, and they hadn't been driving fast enough for a cop to come after them. Up ahead, the only people around were a couple of kids standing on the side of the road. They pulled over and Jon put the car in park. Only when they'd gotten out of the car did Tyler see what was going on: one of the kids was sobbing his eyes out over a little dun-colored mongrel dog, while another kid, probably his sister, was rubbing his shoulders. He and Jon approached them, and Tyler called out, "No pasa nada" to let the kids know they were here to help.
The little boy looked up at them with tragic eyes and pointed at the dog, as though commanding them to fix everything. Jon knelt beside the dog, pressing his fingers to its throat, searching for a pulse. "Hit by a car, I think," he said. He put his ear to the dog's chest, listening and feeling for any sign of life. "Tell them he's dead, Tyler. You gotta tell them."
Damnit. Tyler's heart sank. The kids looked to him, and he could tell that part of them already knew what he was about to say, but another part was hoping against hope that he'd give them good news. "Está muerto," he told the little boy as gently as he could. "Lo siento, lo siento." The kid burst into fresh tears, and the little girl's face crumbled. Tyler fumbled through some inarticulate Spanglish to calm them down.
Jon stood up, wiping his hands. "Tell them we'll bury the dog."
"What?" Tyler blinked in surprise.
"A funeral. It'll help."
So Tyler asked the kids if they wanted help giving the dog - his name was Rocky, the little girl informed him - a funeral. They sniffled, dried their tears, and said yes. Jon popped the trunk and found an old towel in the back that they used as a burial shroud, and gave the kids a lift up the hill to their house. The little girl brought Tyler a shovel and he and Jon took turns digging out a grave beside the house. After the hot work, they laid Rocky to rest in a shoebox along with his favorite toy. Tyler double-checked to make sure the dog really was dead - hopefully the poor pooch had died instantly on impact. Then they solemnly buried Rocky and laid some flowers over the grave. The kids were still heartbroken but they weren't crying and, indeed, it seemed as though the funeral had consoled them in some way. Afterward, Tyler and Jon washed up in their kitchen sink and the kids gave them some fruit juice boxes for the road.
They were about to head back to the car when a truck pulled up and a man - surely the kid's father - stepped out. The kids ran up to tell him what had happened. Tyler watched the look on the dad's heavily-lined face go from confused to shocked to wondering, all in the space of a minute or so. "C'mon," said Jon. "Let's go. There's nothing else for us to do here."
But the dad cut them off and said, in English, "It was kind of you to do what you did."
"It was nothing, man," Jon told him. "We gotta get going."
"No, wait!" The dad looked from Jon to Tyler and back to Jon. "Let me do something for you." Jon looked at him warily but the dad gestured for them to follow him. Behind the house, in a shed, there was a little boat. Tyler was a Midwestern boy so he didn't know a lot about boats, but he guessed it was some kind of canoe. The dad strapped the boat to the back of his truck and Tyler and Jon jumped in the truck with him, with the kids wedged in the middle. They didn't go far before reaching a small pier next to a red mangrove lagoon that seemed like the entrance to a fairy land.
The dad put the boat in the water and gave Tyler and Jon the paddles. "Take it out for an hour," he told them. "No one will bother you out here. This place is very special... there's only a handful of lagoons like this in all the world."
"What do you mean?" asked Tyler.
He smiled. "You'll see."
So they got in the boat, dipped the paddles in the water, and in a matter of moments, took off into the sheltering mangroves. The sun dipped low on the horizon; living things that slept all day were awakening, and the night came alive. Sea birds watched them from the shore or branches or skimmed alongside the boat on silent wings. They caught glimpses of stars overhead through gaps in the canopy. They hadn't gone far when Jon breathed, "Oh my god, look at that." He dipped the paddle into the water, and a faint but unmistakable glow outlined the paddle. Gasping, Tyler dipped his hand into the warm water and was astonished to see the glow surrounding his own hands, almost electric blue in color.
"It's a kind of magic," said Jon, swirling his hands in the water to make it light up, looking for all the world like he was playing with lightning. They paddled a little further along, and peered over the edges of the boat to see schools of fish swimming below them, their bodies outlined by blue glow as they flicked their fins.
On impulse, Tyler flicked his wet hand at Jon. A few droplets landed on his upper arm; gleaming like diamonds, they slid down the length of his arm until they dropped from the tips of his fingers back into the lagoon.
They found a spot to turn the boat around, then stretched out to relax. With one at each end, their heads hanging off one end and their feet dangling off the other end, they perfectly balanced. The boat drifted languorously back the way they'd came. In the deliciously warm evening atmosphere, floating in on a glowing pathway, Tyler had never felt so content. The world took on a dreamlike quality that he'd never known before. In the dim light, he studied Jon as he tipped his head back, his expression rapturous. "This has never been mine," Jon rasped. "Moments like this. Being here with you. Nothing like this has ever belonged to me."
Tyler reached out and clasped their hands. Their fingers interlocked. Something inside him thrummed like a struck guitar string. They drifted back the way they came, and the dad and his kids were waiting for them. Only with great reluctance did Jon and Tyler leave the mangrove lagoon; and something in both of them remained there always, in that place of unspoiled beauty.