A yellow light jumped out onto the deck, and the porch door opened again behind Aiden. He flinched, and without thought his hand threw the cigarette over the railing. It went dark when its burning ember hit the water. Aiden turned quick ready to face Kate. This had happened before, with other girls, and he’d never known what to say. He’d apologized to all of them, but they’d blamed themselves. He dreaded the questions Kate would ask, the questions they’d all asked.
“Did you just throw a cig in our pool?” Kate’s brother Maliki said.
“Yeah, um sorry.” Aiden leaned away, against the railing. His shoulders curled into a hunch and he let out a breath.
Maliki smiled. He stepped closer, escaping the yellow glow of the porch light. He tossed his red bangs to the side and pulled out a pack of his own cigarettes.
“So, can you, do you think I—” Aiden paused.
“Damn it,” Maliki slurred with a cigarette hanging between his lips. “Got a light?”
“Yeah.” Without hesitation, Aiden forked over his red lighter. Maliki’s hand brushed against his fingers. “So, can you um…” Aiden started again.
“What? Afraid I’ll tell your girlfriend?” Maliki looked up at Aiden through dark rimmed glasses.
“She’s already pissed enough at me,” Aiden said. He reached into his crumpled pack of cigarettes again. His hand shook, like it did in Kate’s room when he’d ripped open the condom wrapper. She’d spread herself on the bed for him, but he knew it was a waste. He knew.
Smoke poured out of Maliki’s nose. “Did she catch you fooling around?” he asked. “You look like the type…”
“No, no,” Aiden’s eyes got wider. “Nothing like that. I swear. She just—”
“My sister hates when I smoke too,” Maliki said. “It’s cool, our secret. She doesn’t need to know everything all the time.” He looked past Aiden as if he might be remembering something else. Aiden kept looking at him. Then there was a silence, and smoke drifted up in to the moonlight between them. Aiden’s eyes focused again on the hundreds of stars caught in the black tar of the sky. It reminded him of the black tar in his lungs. Kate was always going on about his smoking, nagging him to quit. He wondered if Kate nagged Maliki too.
After a few minutes, Maliki tossed the end of his cigarette into the mix of gravel and grass below the deck. He turned towards Aiden and looked like he was going to say something, but then he took off his black T-shirt instead.
“What are you—”
“It’s been a while since I’ve gone for a night swim,” Maliki said. “Come on, come in with me.”
“Huh?” Aiden caught the shine of moonlight that fell into the creases of Maliki’s muscles. His chest was solid, defined in a way Aiden hadn’t ever seen in person.
“We should go get it. The evidence I mean….”
Aiden looked back down at the pool. Water still cradled the soaked carcass of his cigarette. They could just reach in and pull it out, he thought.
“Let’s go,” Maliki called to him. “It’ll be fun.”
Aiden watched Maliki drop down into the grass. He looked back at the porch door expecting to see Kate but there was nothing behind the screen. He shivered lifting the grey hoodie up and over his shoulders. He thought about just going back to Kate’s room where it was dark and warm. He could crawl into bed beside her and make up something. He could close his eyes and kiss her strawberry-glossed lips. Hair tickled the back of Aiden’s neck. He wondered what lips tasted like that weren’t glossed, if they felt rough. Aiden heard the water splash as Maliki jumped into the pool.
Maliki called to him, and Aiden wandered closer. He made his way down each porch step. Maliki was staring up at the sky, floating in a glassy coat of moonlight. Aiden’s toes curled against the damp, cracked edge of cement. “Maliki’s hardly home,” Aiden remembered Kate telling him. “We used to be close, but now I don’t know any of his friends. He’s never brought home a girlfriend or anything. Don’t worry if he doesn’t like you, he’s just, he’s different.” Aiden watched Maliki’s body twist into the water.
“You getting in?” Maliki asked.
Their eyes met, and Aiden wondered how different he really was.
Maliki shook his red hair to the side. Droplets leapt back into the water, some spread out and grazed against Aiden’s shins. Aiden dropped his eyes and held in his breath. The dead cigarette stared at him through the water. Maliki threw himself into a backstroke, waiting. Aiden looked up again. He let himself fall. He crashed down into Maliki and the two fell against each other. Aiden felt the heat of Maliki’s flesh against his own. The water rippled over them so simply, and so simply their lips merged in a rough and tender kiss. Aiden drew back, and Maliki threw himself deeper under the water. He started kicking away. Aiden looked up. The white and silver moon hung above them with an audience of glittering stars.