Written for Torquere Press’s 2010 Charity Sip Blitz.
The sign on the front of the gray and cheerless building looked more utilitarian than friendly: Herrick Street Yoga Studio. As Caleb waited in his car in the parking lot, a dozen or so people came out in a clump, and there were hugs and waves before they went their separate ways.
Caleb put a sun blocker in his windshield and got out of his Volvo, opened his trunk, and took out his gym bag. He was attending this class mostly to humor his sister, and so he’d have something to tell his doctor on his next visit. The words from his last checkup still worried and frightened him: “You’re too young to have blood pressure this high. You have to do something to reduce your stress levels or you’re not going to make it to fifty.”
But he couldn’t quit his job: he had to make a living, and he was a good salesman, even if he often had dizzy spells and nosebleeds. Taking a vacation was only a temporary solution. Caleb had never been good at vacations.
Yoga was Katie’s idea. She’d been doing it for years, ever since she had a hippie roommate in college who also introduced her to the music of Bob Marley and the joys of organic cotton (and her brother’s roommate, who Katie’d ended up marrying), and she said it was a perfect blend of exercise and meditation.
Caleb was certain he wouldn’t like it. Katie found this New Age stuff soothing and believed it made her a better person and a better mom, but Caleb had never found solace in intangible things.
Katie’s green minivan pulled into the parking lot, and she honked at him and waved. Caleb waved back, and waited to the side of the cars as she parked and hopped out of the van. “You came!” she said as she wrapped her arms around him.
“I said I would,” Caleb reminded her and they walked arm-and-arm across the parking lot to the studio. “I feel overdressed,” he added, indicating his sweatpants and T-shirt. Katie wore loose cotton pants and a tank top with the name of the studio on the front in a flowing script.
“As long as you can move freely you’ll be fine.”
“Will I also be the only guy?” The group he’d seen earlier had been mostly women. Except for Katie, he didn’t spend much time around women: his social life, such as it was, was exclusively men, as was his team at work.
“The teacher is a guy. You won’t be overwhelmed by estrogen.”
“Thank you for looking out for me,” he said indulgently, and she laughed as she led him into the studio.
Inside was cool and airy, with pale gray walls and a small electric water fountain on the reception desk. There, Caleb paid for a single class and looked through some brochures as Katie hugged her classmates. The brochures didn’t surprise him: massage therapy, classes in aromatherapy and crystals, and pictures of yoga poses. Some of them were positions Caleb had never been able to get his body into.
Caleb took a deep breath as he accompanied Katie to the classroom. “Am I going to have to stand on my head?” he whispered to her.
She laughed. “Not on the first day!”
Everyone unrolled their rubbery mats and spread them on the wood floor, leaving their bags at the back of the classroom. Caleb picked up one from the basket of spares and unrolled his next to Katie’s. Like the class Caleb had seen leaving, it was about a dozen people, mostly women, many of them in loose pants and tank tops like Katie. Most of them were already sitting on the floor and massaging their bare feet.
“Cal,” Katie whispered, “take off your shoes.” She sat on the floor and began massaging her feet with both thumbs. She’d painted her toenails bright purple.
Caleb knelt to untie his sneakers. “I haven’t had a pedicure in a long time.”
A pair of bare, slender feet stopped in front of him. “That’s okay. We’re not picky about the state of your feet.”
Caleb looked up, meaning to make a witty retort, but his mouth dropped open instead. The slender feet –unpainted nails, a toe ring on the left foot — led to a pair of long legs in cotton pants, a lean chest in a loose Tshirt, arms that were wiry and lightly tanned, and a handsome, angular face that was amused and gentle. The man’s eyes, clear and gray, crinkled at the corners when he smiled — which he was doing now as he waited for Caleb to speak.
Twenty years had passed and that face was a lot more lined, that body a lot more solid, than Caleb remembered — but the mouth was exactly the same. You never forget the first mouth you kiss.
“Sasha, this is my brother I told you about,” Katie was saying as Caleb stared, and the man smiled. “Cal–”
“Caleb Smith,” the other man said quietly. “I remember you.”
“Sasha Volsky,” Caleb answered. “Long time.” He ducked his head as he finished untying his sneakers and snuck a glance up as he pulled them off. Still familiar, still smiling, still looking at Caleb.
“You know each other?” said Katie. “How did I not know this?”
“We were in high school together,” Caleb said. “You were still in junior high.”
“You use your married name,” Sasha told her. “I didn’t make the connection until I saw you together. Now know why you remind me of him.”
“I remind you of him, huh? Caleb’s here for your help now. His blood pressure is terrible and doctor’s orders are to bring it down.”
“Katie,” Caleb said, embarrassed.
“Dealing with stress is one of the main reasons people start yoga. You’ll be fine.” Sasha touched Caleb’s shoulder, his fingers warm through Caleb’s shirt, and went to the front of the class.
Caleb whispered to Katie as Sasha put a CD into the little stereo at the front of the classroom, “You didn’t need to tell him about my blood pressure problems.”
“He should know about any health issues. Yoga is gentle but you still have to adjust to your limitations.” She stood, her feet apart and flat on the floor. “And you’re telling me all about you two in high school.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Cal stood in the same way and tried not to stare at Sasha.
All through his first two years of high school he’d heard stories about Sasha Volsky, some believable, some ridiculous. They were put into the same biology class their junior year, and when Sasha refused to dissect a fetal pig for ethical reasons, Caleb joined in the protest, mostly because of Sasha’s smile and slim hips. They were given detention — and his father screamed at him at home once he found out, of course — but Caleb had so much fun passing notes with Sasha all afternoon he didn’t care.
Sasha had been in possession of his driver’s license and a rust bucket of a car, so they’d drive out to the lake and lie on the hood, looking at the stars, sometimes talking, sometimes not. They saw movies at the dollar theater, sneaking in burgers and fries under their coats. When Caleb’s drama class put on its play for the semester, Sasha sat in the first row and brought him flowers. Sasha didn’t mock him for being a drama geek, didn’t think his obsession with musicals and black-and-white movies was weird, would rather kiss Caleb than any girl. Caleb had been young enough to think it would last forever.
It hadn’t, of course. Caleb’s father died, Caleb’s mother decided to move closer to her parents, and one day Caleb realized he’d gotten a letter from Sasha three months ago and hadn’t answered it.
So he never did.
Caleb took a deep breath and tried not to feel self-conscious when Sasha said, “We’ve got a new class member today. Everybody, say hello to Caleb.” People smiled at him and murmured hello, and Caleb waved a little and looked at his feet. “Let’s get started with a sun salute! No groaning.”
At the end of class, Sasha turned off the lights, had everyone lie on their backs, and told them to wake up each part of their body from their little toes up to the tops of their heads. His voice was so soothing as he spoke to each new joint and muscle that Caleb felt his body relax instead of waking. He closed his eyes, adrift in the music and Sasha’s soft voice.
Abruptly Caleb felt a tug on his foot. He blinked, snorted and opened his eyes, to find that the lights were on and the other students were putting on their shoes and rolling up their mats. Sasha knelt at his feet and gave Caleb’s big toe another tug as he smiled mischievously.
“You fell asleep.”
“Sorry,” Caleb muttered.
“It’s okay. It means you were relaxed.” Sasha held out his hand. Caleb took it and let Sasha pull him upright. “I’m glad you came, Caleb. It was nice to see you again.”
“Good to see you too,” Caleb said, and then blurted, “Are you going anywhere after this?”
Sasha paused. “Just home.”
“Could we go somewhere and talk?”
Sasha’s pause was even longer. “There’s a place here I’d like you to see. Give me a few minutes.” Caleb laced up his sneakers, said good night to Katie and waited for Sasha to finish tidying the classroom, which he did quickly and then nodded to the hallway with a, “Come on.” He led Caleb through the building to a glass door. “This is why I’m glad we rented this building.” He opened the door and let Caleb through.
In the center of the building was a small grassy courtyard, with one large oak tree, a rock garden, a small burbling fountain and benches for people to sit and enjoy the tranquility. It was an unexpected oasis in this institutional building.
“This is beautiful,” Caleb said quietly.
Sasha nodded, looking pleased. “High blood pressure, huh?”
“It runs in the family.”
“I remember people saying that’s what killed your dad.” Caleb nodded and looked up at the oak, and Sasha said, “It can help your blood pressure if you walk barefoot on grass when you feel stressed.”
Caleb gave him a disbelieving look. “Are you pulling my leg?”
“No. I’m pulling your hand. Take off your shoes.” He took Caleb’s hand and tugged.
“I just put them back on,” Caleb grumbled but toed off his sneakers and took a step onto the grass.
“You need to be barefoot for this to work.” Sasha took Caleb’s other hand and held them both loosely. His slender fingers were warm in Caleb’s hands. “Now breathe.”
Caleb breathed, slowly and deeply like in class. “Do you do this with all your new students?”
Sasha shook his head. “No.”
“Oh, I get it. It’s exclusive to old friends.”
“Old friends,” Sasha murmured. “You should think about calming things right now.”
“Calming things,” Caleb repeated. “Gotcha.” They walked in silence across the grass for a few minutes, then Caleb said, “It makes sense that you ended up doing something like this.”
“I took a detour into journalism for a decade or so. Yoga ended up being more practical. What about you? Do you act now?”
Caleb barked a laugh. “No. I’m in sales. It’s also turned out to be more practical.”
“You always were persuasive. You talked your way into my pants more than once.”
“That was mutual,” Caleb began, and Sasha laughed.
“Yes, it was. Very mutual. Let’s see if this is helping you any.” He stopped walking and put his palm flat on Caleb’s chest, over his heart, and then raised his eyebrows. “That’s your resting heart rate?”
“I know. It’s fast.”
“It’s really fast.” Sasha frowned at Caleb’s chest. “I hope you’ll continue with yoga, Caleb. I think it’ll do you a lot of good.”
“I don’t know,” said Caleb. “It’s kind of weird, to exercise by stretching and breathing and taking a nap.”
“It’s meditation, not taking a nap.” He pulled Caleb a little farther into the courtyard so they were under the shade of the oak tree. “How often are you just still during a regular day? No TV, no radio, no computer, nobody talking. Just you.”
“Not very often,” Caleb admitted.
“Sometimes you just need to let yourself think,” said Sasha. He was still walking and still holding Caleb’s hands, and Caleb walked with him, once more under the spell of his voice. “Or not think. Just be still and breathe.”
Caleb closed his eyes and breathed deeply. This place reminded him of those nights by the lake, the hood of Sasha’s car cooling under his back and Sasha’s hands exploring his body. Even the scent was similar, water and growing things — and the sounds, wind blowing softly through the tree branches, water splashing.
He opened his eyes just long enough to find Sasha’s mouth.
It was a questioning sort of kiss until Sasha sighed and wound his arms around Caleb’s neck. Caleb held Sasha’s face and kept him close, letting the kiss grow more insistent and deep. Sasha tasted delicious, clean as water. His pulse thrummed under Caleb’s thumb as Caleb brushed it over his neck.
Sasha pulled away first, but not far, and he leaned his forehead against Caleb’s as they breathed hard against each other’s lips. Caleb could feel Sasha’s hands trembling on his neck.
He heard Sasha say, “Oh,” before he felt blood gush down his face. He jerked away from Sasha and held his hands to his nose, and didn’t look at Sasha as he guided Caleb to the bench around the oak tree. “I’ll get you some paper towels.”
“Thanks,” Caleb muttered, sitting, and he tilted back his head.
Sasha returned with a stack of rough paper towels from one of the restrooms, and he held two of them to Caleb’s nose, frowning with concern. “Does this happen often?”
“About once or twice a week.”
“Oh, Caleb,” he said. “When the bleeding’s stopped, let me drive you home.”
“You’ve got a car?”
“I have a bike. We’ll take your car.”
“Okay.” Caleb took a fresh towel from Sasha’s pile and held it to his nose. “We can put your bike in the trunk.” He checked the towel — the blood was slowing to a trickle.
Sasha took another towel and gently cleaned his face. “I think this is going to take more than barefoot therapy.” He tilted Caleb’s face this way and that, studying him. “Let’s get you home.”
Caleb lived near the city’s river walk, where the shops were expensive and gleaming and every restaurant put tables outside when the weather was good. Caleb’s condo was narrow and tall, sparsely furnished, decorated only with a few family pictures on the walls and books on designer shelves.
Caleb flopped on the couch as soon as they were inside and lay with his eyes closed when Sasha went back out to get his bike and bring it inside. He smiled when he felt Sasha sit at his feet. “Thanks, man,” he said and touched Sasha’s hip with his foot.
“If you’re okay I’ll be on my way,” Sasha said. “Are you okay?”
“I think so. But you don’t have to go.” Caleb ran his toes up Sasha’s back. He had a good back, strong and slender like the rest of him. Sasha made a soft sound and his back arched, and then he abruptly moved off the couch.
“You see a doctor about this, right?”
“Right,” Caleb said, watching Sasha as he studied the bookshelves, his hands clasped behind his back. “This was his idea. Well, yoga was Katie’s; me doing more than the medication was my doctor’s.”
“Medication that doesn’t really help.”
“It helps a little. It would help me more if you’d get back here and make out with me again.”
Sasha turned to him. “We’re not teenagers anymore, and now you’ve got a heart condition to worry about.”
“Skin-to-skin contact is supposed to be good for relaxation, too.”
Sasha shook his head. “I don’t think I’m ready for that yet.”
Caleb sighed, not hiding his frustration. He wanted Sasha closer — he wanted to relearn the angles of Sasha’s face and the softness of his hair. “So you’re going to be just another caretaker, I guess? You’re going to make me eat tofu and walk barefoot on grass?”
“I don’t make anyone do anything. I suggest.” He came back to the sofa and picked up Caleb’s hand. He drew his fingers over the back as he said, “I suggest you walk barefoot on grass more often, get some aerobic exercise in addition to yoga, follow whatever dietary advice your doctor has given you and drink more tea. Do you have any tea in the house?”
“I must have forgotten it this week,” Caleb said, sliding his fingers along Sasha’s.
“Lucky for you I have backup.” Sasha touched the tip of Caleb’s nose, smiling when Caleb wrinkled it, and went back to the front hall where he’d left his bag.
“Seriously? You carry tea with you?”
“Yes,” Sasha said as he went into the kitchen. “Mint today. Where’s your tea kettle?”
“I have a coffee pot.”
Sasha gave him an amused look, poured water into two mugs and put them into the microwave to warm. “So what happened to you after high school?”
“The usual,” Caleb said. “Went to college, found a sales job after graduation and have been living the dream ever since. You?”
“About the same. I suspect I travel more than you do, though.”
“On a yoga teacher’s salary?”
“It’s not hard to travel cheap,” said Sasha with a shrug, and then took out the mugs when the microwave dinged. He dropped a tea bag into each mug, releasing the scent of mint. “It’s worth the sacrifices. Travel gives me perspective. How strong do you like your tea?”
“I have no idea,” Caleb said.
Sasha chuckled. “I’ll let it steep a little bit longer.”
Caleb lounged on the couch, and figured it would be better to acknowledge the elephant in the room than continue trying to ignore it. “So were you mad at me for never writing you back?”
“At first,” Sasha admitted. “But teenagers are resilient. I mean, your first love never really leaves you, but I found other loves. You did too, I’m sure.”
Caleb felt a shiver at the thought of being Sasha’s first love. “I did.” Nobody who had lasted, though. “And now? Who makes tea for you?”
“I’m currently between tea-makers.” Sasha brought the mugs over to the couch and sat cross-legged at Caleb’s feet.
Caleb sipped his tea. It was sweet and minty, and the steam felt good on his face. He inhaled the scent and had a deeper drink. “So there’s nobody.”
“Nobody permanent,” Sasha said and sipped his own. “Can I see how you’re doing?”
“Yes.” He smiled when Sasha’s hand pressed against his chest, over his heart.
“Your heart speeds up when I touch you,” Sasha said softly.
Caleb met Sasha’s eyes. “Always did.”
They stared at each other until Sasha shook his head and took his hand away. “I am not ready for this, Cal.” He made a face. “Caleb. I never thought Cal suited you.”
“You can call me Wanda if you want to,” Caleb said, “just kiss me.” He leaned into Sasha but Sasha moved off the couch, clutching his mug.
“You just had a severe nosebleed and your resting heart rate is too fast for my liking. And I don’t know how I feel about you suddenly around again.”
“I feel pretty good about it.” Caleb bit his lip. “I’ve missed you. I didn’t realize until today how much.”
Sasha leaned over him and kissed his forehead, making Caleb ache with longing at the familiarity of his lips. “That’s enough for now. Take care of yourself. Do all those things we talked about. Meditate. Find a yoga class. It’ll be worth it.”
“Can I at least have your number?” Caleb said, getting off the couch. “We should have dinner.”
Sasha hesitated, studying Caleb, then wrote his phone number on Caleb’s grocery list on the fridge. “Dinner would be nice. Good night, Caleb.”
“Good night, Sasha,” Caleb said and saw him out.
No, he wouldn’t go back to yoga, Caleb decided. It was fine for Katie, for people who wanted a little spirituality with their exercise, but it wasn’t for someone like him. He’d renew that lapsed gym membership, spend more time on the treadmill, take the stairs instead of the elevator at work.
But it would just be too weird to be around Sasha again. If it were a reunion with an old boyfriend, that would be one thing, but being his student would be awkward and Caleb hated awkward. They’d have dinner and it would have to be enough.
Katie didn’t hide her disappointment when she called the next Wednesday and Caleb said he didn’t want to go back to yoga. “Are you going to the gym, at least?” she said, and he said, “I’ve been taking the stairs at work,” which wasn’t technically a lie since he’d done it twice.
He had called Sasha a few days after their first meeting, but it took a few tries to find a night they both were free. Sasha had other classes, meetings to attend and a second job playing piano in a bar, and Caleb worked until ten o’clock or later most nights.
Finally it was Saturday night, their night, and Caleb was beaming with excitement at the prospect of seeing Sasha again as he waited in the restaurant Sasha had suggested. They’d never really done a formal date as teenagers — they had met when they could, even if it meant sneaking out of the house.
Caleb had dressed in a silk shirt he knew brought out the green in his hazel eyes and jeans that he hoped did something good for his ass, shaved close and even put on cologne. He saw Sasha had dressed with care too, in a white Oxford shirt and dark blue blazer, and he’d pulled back his dark hair. Caleb kissed his cheek. “Hey, gorgeous.”
“Hi, Caleb,” Sasha said and stood with his hands in his pockets while they waited for their table to be ready. “Have you eaten here before?”
“Never,” Caleb said. “I don’t eat at a whole lot of vegetarian places. I guess I won’t get a steak here.”
“You’re not supposed to eat steaks anyway,” Sasha said after a pause. “Lean proteins, Caleb.”
“One steak is not going to kill me.”
“And how many ‘one’ steaks have you had lately?” Sasha arched an eyebrow at him.
“A few,” Caleb admitted. “More than one.”
Sasha sighed and looked around a moment. “Let’s go outside, okay?”
“What?” Caleb followed him out of the waiting area. “What’d I say?”
“Caleb,” Sasha said as he stopped on the restaurant’s little porch, and he stepped out of the way to let another couple pass. He said seriously, “I’ve missed you. I’ve thought about you so much, and I’ve hoped you were happy, and I know a lot of things have happened to both of us in the last twenty years — but Caleb, I don’t want you back just to lose you again.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about you, Caleb! I’m talking about your doctor giving you ten years to live and you carrying on like nothing’s wrong!” He put his hands on Caleb’s shoulders and pulled him close enough to whisper in his ear, “I want you around for a long time. If you’re not going to try, why should I?” He let Caleb go and stepped away.
Caleb felt his heart pound against his breastbone. “It’s not that bad.”
“I saw for myself how bad it is. Are you doing anything that we talked about? I haven’t seen you around the studio.”
“Not really,” Caleb mumbled, and was about to defend himself when he saw tears glint in Sasha’s eyes.
“You are the most frustrating person,” Sasha said. “I don’t feel like eating anymore.”
“Sasha — we need to catch up–”
“Why? So you can just leave me behind again? Permanently, this time? No, thanks.”
“Sasha,” Caleb said again, “don’t leave like this,” but Sasha was already down the steps and on the street. Caleb stood there for a moment, not quite sure what had just happened, and then went inside to cancel the reservation.
He was on his way to his car when he realized what Sasha meant. He wasn’t eating the way his doctor said he should. He wasn’t doing anything to relieve his stress aside from a beer or two when he got home. He was still waking during the night because his heart was racing, and still felt wrung out at the end of the work day. He wasn’t taking care of himself, and Sasha couldn’t bear it.
Sasha had said he didn’t make anyone do anything, but Caleb thought as he drove home that begging someone to take action could be more powerful than forcing them.
He dialed Sasha’s number as soon as he turned off the car’s engine, and Sasha didn’t sound surprised to hear his voice. “I get it,” Caleb said. “I’m sorry. I never thought it was that big of a deal.”
“Your life is a big deal to the people who care about you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Katie cry because she’s so worried about her big brother.”
Caleb rubbed his eyes. “I’m coming back to your class.”
“That’s a start.”
“I’ll follow the stupid diet. I’ll walk barefoot on fucking grass. I’ll do whatever you say I should, just don’t give up on me, okay?”
Sasha was quiet. “My bus is here. I have to go.”
“Sasha! I’ll see you Wednesday, okay?”
“Okay,” Sasha said. “I’ll see you Wednesday.”
He joined two other classes, but Wednesday night yoga class was Caleb’s favorite. He got to spend more time with Katie and started to make friends with the other students, like Mitch the football player who wanted to be more agile, and Rosemary who was using yoga to recover from back surgery.
Most important was Sasha. As a teacher he was gentle, patient and challenging — as a friend-maybe-more he was a constant temptation. Caleb often forgot to listen to instructions because he was so distracted by Sasha’s voice, his mouth, the way his body moved as he demonstrated new poses. If that meant he had to ask Sasha to explain it again, or give a personal demonstration, Caleb was okay with that. It was the only way to get Sasha to touch him again, and he longed for Sasha to touch him.
Sometimes Caleb lingered after class, hoping for another kiss, but all he got was, “See you next week, Caleb. Take care of yourself.”
He was trying to take care of himself, really. His doctor had given him a diet to follow — and now with Katie’s help he found ways to follow it without feeling deprived. He took the stairs at work more often, until one day he realized he’d run up them and wasn’t even breathing hard. He started using the next hole in his belts, and then the next one after that. He found a few places where he could walk barefoot on grass when he needed it, and sometimes he sat under a tree and listened to the wind through the leaves.
He hadn’t had a nosebleed for weeks. He didn’t fall asleep to the sound of his heart pounding. He could walk to Katie’s in fifteen minutes and wasn’t drenched in sweat when he arrived. He could bend his body in ways he’d never thought possible.
Something was going right.
Caleb thought that right thing was mostly Sasha. When Caleb went to the Wednesday night class he watched Sasha throughout, enjoying everything from the way Sasha knelt and helped the students who needed it, to the way he smiled when someone made a joke, no matter how silly or obvious, to his voice during meditation and the words he used to help them relax.
Mostly he enjoyed the way Sasha’s hands lingered on him to get him into new poses, and the way he gently scolded Caleb about drinking too much coffee, and the way Sasha’s eyes would lose their calm when they gazed at each other.
He knew Sasha wanted him. What he didn’t know was how to move Sasha from “I’m not ready” to “I’m ready now.”
“Headstands,” Sasha said near the end of class, and a few people groaned and a few people laughed. Caleb looked around, wondering if Sasha was joking, but already some of the students were getting onto their knees. Sasha stopped in front of Caleb and stood with his hands clasped behind his back. “Do you want to try it today?”
“If I say no, will you think less of me?”
“Yes,” Sasha said.
Caleb heaved a sigh. “Then I guess I have to. What’s it supposed to do? Aside from amuse you.”
Sasha’s tone was no less patient. “It is very amusing. But it’s also good for you to have your brain beneath your heart, so your heart doesn’t have to work so hard.”
“I’m all for things that make it easier on my heart.” Caleb tried to vault himself into a handstand like when he was a kid. He immediately flopped onto his back, hard enough to knock the air out of him.
“Caleb!” Sasha exclaimed and dropped onto his knees. He cradled Caleb’s head in his palm. “Don’t move, just breathe, okay?”
“I’m okay,” Caleb coughed out as the students clustered around him and Katie knelt at his other side. “I’m okay.”
“Just lie still. How many fingers am I holding up?” Sasha showed him two fingers, and then changed it to three, and then flashed them between three and two until Caleb grabbed his hand.
“Quit it, smartass.”
“Sorry. I’ve always wanted to do that. Slowly,” Sasha added as Caleb sat up. Katie stroked his hair, looking anxious, and Caleb leaned into her hand a moment.
“I’m fine. I’m not seeing double or anything.”
Katie finally removed her hand. “I don’t think you have a bump, at least.”
“I’d like you to sit out the rest of class,” said Sasha and held up a hand when Caleb protested. “No headstands for you today.”
“If you say so.” Caleb couldn’t keep the disappointment out of his voice, but lay back on his mat as the other students went back to work, laughing as they helped each other get into position.
When class was over and everyone was rolling up their mats and gathering their things, Caleb stayed lying on the floor, his eyes closed. He smiled as he listened to snatches of small talk and affectionate goodbyes, and smiled wider when he felt Sasha tug on his toes.
“Are you asleep?”
“I’m awake,” said Caleb, opening his eyes. “Do you have further instructions for me, Master?”
Sasha cracked a smile, but his tone was serious. “May I feel your heart?”
“Yes.” Caleb sat up and inhaled sharply when Sasha laid a palm on his chest. No one was paying attention to them, or if they were they were probably chalking it up to Sasha being Sasha, concerned and a little overfamiliar. Caleb slowly exhaled. “How does it feel?”
“Good.” He raised his eyes to meet Caleb’s. “Your resting heart rate, it’s slower than before.”
“Yeah,” Caleb whispered.
Sasha looked down at his hand, then back up at Caleb. “Beating a little faster now.”
“Yes,” Caleb said and suddenly he wasn’t smiling anymore.
Sasha took his hand away. “You’re going to be fine.”
“I’m sure I will be,” Caleb said, disappointed that the welcome weight was gone.
“And if you’re not — well, you have to be.”
Caleb blinked at him and then laughed. “Don’t ever change, Sasha.”
Sasha said, almost shyly, “I like you just the way you are, too,” and then added even more shyly, “Come home with me tonight.”
Caleb wanted to laugh out loud. “Yeah, okay, yeah. All it took was me falling on my face, huh?”
“You didn’t fall on your face, you fell on your back,” said Sasha.
“That’s what I meant. Never mind. Do you have your bike again?”
“Okay. Let me know when you’re ready to go.” Sasha stood in a fluid movement and quickly put away the stereo and the few remaining mats. “Good night, everyone.” He ushered the remaining students out, and said, “I’m ready,” as he hung his brightly-colored satchel over his shoulder.
“Me, too,” Caleb said. He stood and picked up his own bag, and said, “Hey,” softly as he joined Sasha by the door.
“Hey,” Sasha said, looking delicious, smelling of water and fresh air. He touched Caleb’s cheek. “You gave me a scare earlier, you know.”
“Not badly enough.” Caleb lifted his chin. “You still gave me a hard time.”
Sasha smiled, and Caleb forgave him instantly. “You bring out the kid in me. Let’s go home.”
Sasha’s apartment was as cluttered and colorful as Caleb’s was Spartan and monochrome, but despite this, Caleb felt relaxed the moment he stepped inside. Maybe it was the chunks of stained glass that hung from fishing line in front of the blinds, maybe it was the scent of pancakes in the air (and the plastic-wrapped stack on a plate on the counter), or maybe it was the way Sasha’s hand lingered on his back and then lightly slid away as Sasha said, “Make yourself at home. I’m going to change clothes.”
“Could I use your shower?” Caleb blurted. “I’m gross.”
“Sure,” Sasha said and gestured to a small room off the kitchen. “It’s right there.” He went into the bedroom, taking off his satchel.
Caleb watched him go and then went into the bathroom and shut the door. The shower sputtered to life when Caleb turned it on, and he stood under the cool spray for a few minutes, letting the water rinse off sweat and nerves, then washed up quickly and put on the clean clothes from his gym bag.
When he came out, Sasha was in the kitchen, moving almost silently on his bare feet as he filled a kettle with water and put it on the stove. Caleb leaned against the counter. “You look good enough to eat.”
Sasha gave him another of his patient, amused looks. “Are you that hungry?”
“Not for food.” He moved closer to Sasha and took Sasha’s face in his hands. Sasha’s lashes were thick, black and long, and they brushed against Caleb’s cheek like butterfly wings when they leaned their heads together.
He ran his thumb along Caleb’s cheek and then stepped back. “I don’t know what to make for dinner, unless you don’t mind leftover pancakes.”
“Are they blueberry?”
“Then I’d love leftover pancakes.”
Sasha peeled off the plastic wrap. “You’re so easy to please.”
“We’ve come a long way from gorging on cheeseburgers and candy,” Caleb said. “Can I help with anything?”
“You can set the table. I think we’ll just have tea with these.” He turned on the oven.
Caleb went to the cupboard where there was a stack of multi-colored plates and brightly-painted mugs. “I haven’t had pancakes for weeks. Too many carbs.”
“You look healthier,” Sasha remarked and Caleb smiled at him over his shoulder. “Your eyes are brighter. You move like you’re at home in your skin.”
“I don’t know about that, but I do know I’m healthier — even if I can’t stand on my head.” He chose two plates and two mugs and put them on Sasha’s little round table.
“The important thing is that you want to.” Sasha put the pan into the oven. “This won’t take long — oh, good,” he added when the kettle began to whistle.
“Drawer.” Sasha pointed and moved the kettle off the burner. Caleb finished setting the table as Sasha arranged a canister of tea leaves, the kettle and a tea pot on the counter. As Caleb watched Sasha poured hot water into the tea pot, swirled it around and poured it out again, then filled the teapot and added a handful of loose tea leaves.
“It’s like a ceremony,” said Caleb, fascinated.
“In some parts of the world, it is. What do you like on your pancakes? I have homemade blueberry syrup.”
“That sounds delicious.” He leaned his head on his hand. “I like it here. I feel like I can breathe here.”
“I like it, too,” Sasha said and stopped making tea to close his eyes and inhale slowly through his nose. He exhaled, opened his eyes and smiled.
“Ocean breath,” said Caleb, feeling knowledgeable.
“Very good.” He pushed back the striped curtain that covered the pantry and took out a glass bottle with a stopper in the top, filled with dark purple syrup. “Let’s eat.”
As they ate, Sasha told Caleb about the places he’d traveled, about doing tai chi on the Great Wall of China and climbing the pyramids in Guatemala. Caleb told him about Katie and her family, how being with his nephews was often the best part of his week, about how he used to go to the theater to relax but it had lost that power for him in recent years.
Sasha listened, his eyes wide and rarely leaving Caleb’s, and he smiled when Caleb hoped he would. He’d always been the perfect audience, like Caleb was the center of the universe.
“You know what I think it is,” Sasha said as they cleaned up the kitchen. “You’ve forgotten how to lose yourself. How’s your meditation been going? ”
“Not well,” Caleb admitted. “I think I hate silence.”
“A lot of people do. When I first started teaching yoga I used to have silence while we did meditation and people complained that they couldn’t tune out their own thoughts.” He reached over and pushed his hand through Caleb’s hair. “But I still think it’s necessary, especially for you.”
“You’ll help me, right?”
Sasha chuckled, his fingers still combing through Caleb’s hair. “Of course I’ll help you.”
Caleb held Sasha’s hand and kissed his palm. “Admit it. You want me around.”
“Oh, Caleb,” Sasha said quietly. “I always did.”
Caleb kissed Sasha, unable to hold himself back any longer. Sasha’s mouth tasted like honey and spices, and he held Caleb’s face and stroked his cheekbone with a thumb. They kissed slow and sweet, and Sasha’s hand slid down Caleb’s neck to his chest to rub over the center.
“Checking my heartbeat again?”
“Yes,” Sasha whispered. “It seems healthy to me. How do you feel?”
“Great,” Caleb said, “I feel great,” and he kissed Sasha deeper. His heart was beating fast, but no trapped, helpless feeling came with it — instead he felt wide open.
“Come with me,” Sasha whispered and rose as he pulled Caleb out of his chair.
“Always,” Caleb said as Sasha led him to a bright and cheerful bedroom. Sasha gave Caleb a push, and Caleb let himself fall onto the pillow-covered bed, laughing as Sasha joined him and kissed him again, even slower and deeper. He watched through half-closed eyes as Sasha moved down his body, stroking Caleb’s chest and kissing him through his shirt. Sasha pushed up his shirt and kissed his stomach, his breath soft against Caleb’s skin.
He paused, holding Caleb’s waist, and whispered, “You’re so relaxed right now. I feel like I could bend you any way I wanted.”
“You probably could,” said Caleb as his hips shifted. He ached for more contact, for Sasha’s tongue and fingers.
Sasha smiled as he slid his hands up under Caleb’s legs and pushed them toward his chest. Caleb pulled Sasha closer with his legs, hands twisting into Sasha’s shirt.
Caleb tried to kiss him but Sasha ducked away. “Slowly. I’ve been thinking about this for a long time.”
“Fuck, so have I.” He whimpered when Sasha took hold of his foot and ran gentle fingers along the instep.
“Slowly,” Sasha admonished him and began to massage his toes. Caleb lay back, an arm thrown over his head.
He could feel every little manipulation from his toes throughout his body. “I do this three times week,” he whispered. “It’s never been such a turn-on.”
“Sometimes it depends on who’s doing the rubbing.” Sasha put down Caleb’s foot and picked up the other, and Caleb moaned and rubbed his freed foot on Sasha’s thigh. “Hush, now. I’ll take care of you.” He kissed the bottom of Caleb’s foot. Caleb closed his eyes and slowly breathed as Sasha massaged up his legs, from ankles to calves to knees to thighs. Sasha stopped at Caleb’s hips and Caleb opened his eyes. “Do you want me to go on?”
“I’m going to fall asleep if you do.” He paused. “Do you want that?”
Sasha studied him, then smiled, eager, filthy and promising — a much different smile from the patient one Caleb knew so well and the mischievous one Caleb loved. “No.” Sasha kissed Caleb’s stomach and slowly unbuttoned his jeans. “I am very selfish sometimes. I should help you meditate, but all I want to do is touch you.”
“We can meditate in the morning.”
“Oh?” Sasha’s smile was even dirtier. “You think you’re staying the night?”
“Yes?” Caleb tried, smiling at Sasha like when he wanted to close a deal. Sasha laughed and kissed him.
Sasha barely seemed to weigh anything, his body was so light, and Caleb wrapped both arms and legs around him to keep him anchored. “If I keep doing yoga am I going to look like you?”
“If you’re lucky,” Sasha said. “Do you wish I had big bulky muscles instead?”
Caleb wrapped his hands around Sasha’s upper arms and slid them down to his wrists. “I think you’re perfect the way you are.”
“So are you,” Sasha whispered with a shiver.
“I’ve still got a gut.”
Sasha held Caleb’s hands over his head and kissed him. “I think you look perfect.”
“Perfect,” Caleb whispered and lifted his head, asking silently for another kiss. Sasha gave it and more, and when Caleb finally released Sasha’s wrists they wrapped around each other to make out for a while. Sasha’s body was responsive, which surprised Caleb not at all — he trembled when Caleb passed his lips over the artery in his neck, goosepimples rose when Caleb stroked his inner arm, and when Caleb kissed his chest Sasha tilted back his head and breathed in with a shudder. Caleb rubbed him with his palm and smiled when he felt Sasha’s cock, hard through the soft khaki. He kissed Sasha’s taut stomach. “Should I go on? I think you want me to go on.”
“You know what I want?” He pushed Caleb onto his back again and Caleb let him, arms trapped by Sasha’s slender hands. Sasha straddled Caleb’s hips and stooped low so their eyes met. “I want your legs over my shoulders.” His lips grazed Caleb’s. “I want to look into your eyes while I’m inside you.”
Caleb swallowed hard. “Okay.”
Sasha smiled and kissed Caleb, and knelt up to pull off his T-shirt. He’d been a lanky boy, and he’d become a lean and wiry man, his skin smooth, his chest dusted with dark hair. Caleb ran his hands over Sasha’s body from his shoulders to his hips as Sasha pulled off the rest of their clothes. Sasha’s hands slid over Caleb’s skin, gentle as ever as they wrapped around his cock.
“Sasha,” Caleb breathed, pushing into Sasha’s hands. He grabbed Sasha’s head so he could bite his neck, and felt Sasha shiver with laughter as he tongued the marks left behind.
“Playing rough, are we?” Sasha’s eyes sparkled as he looked at Caleb, and then he kissed Caleb deeply and grabbed his ass to pull their hips together. Caleb ran his hand down Sasha’ body to grasp his cock, fingers lingering over the head. Sasha’s eyes closed and he rocked into Caleb’s hand as Caleb whispered that he was gorgeous, so sexy, so hot.
They both were trembling when Sasha finally knelt between Caleb’s thighs. Caleb clutched at the headboard to keep from grabbing Sasha the moment the condom was on, and he moaned outright when Sasha lifted his leg over a shoulder. He turned his face away, embarrassed, until Sasha turned it back and ran a thumb over his lips. “Make all the noise you want,” Sasha whispered. “Yell if you want to. I want to hear you.” He arched his hips, entering Caleb in a slow push.
Caleb didn’t yell, but he let himself moan Sasha’s name over and over. He clutched at Sasha’s back and raked his hands through Sasha’s hair. Sasha felt amazing inside him, thrusting slow and deep and then fast and shallow, and Caleb held Sasha close with his legs and arched up to kiss and tease his mouth. “Sasha,” Caleb gasped, “Sasha,” and Sasha let go of his leg to wrap his hand around Caleb’s prick and stroke him tight. As Caleb gasped and shook, Sasha’s face was blissful, his eyes closed as he rocked in deep. Caleb smoothed over Sasha’s skin, and clutched at Sasha’s arms. Sasha stroked him hard and fast and whispered in Caleb’s ear, “Come for me, beautiful. I want to see you come.”
Caleb’s breath shuddered and his eyes were open wide, and his body snapped as he spurted over Sasha’s fingers.
He was still breathing, “Oh, Sasha, oh, man,” as Sasha moaned low and thrust fast. He kissed Sasha sloppily, his hands in Sasha’s hair, and he couldn’t stop himself from laughing with happiness as Sasha exhaled once, sharply, and his fingers curled into the blankets.
Sasha looked astonished as he pulled out of Caleb and flopped onto his back. Caleb rolled to him and pressed his lips to Sasha’s hair. He kissed Sasha a few times and stroked his cheek. “Hey, there,” Caleb whispered.
Sasha kissed him. “Hey,” he said and held Caleb as their breathing slowed.
There was a new student in class one Wednesday, a man who found the poses ridiculous and mediation absurd. Caleb had never seen Sasha this close to losing his temper before, and he almost went to the man after class to tell him he wasn’t welcome there again.
Instead, Caleb stayed in the classroom to help Sasha tidy up and when that chore was done said, “Come with me,” as he held out his hands.
“Where are we going?” said Sasha, putting his hands in Caleb’s.
“I have a hankerin’ for being barefoot on grass.”
“Oh?” Sasha said, smiling as Caleb led him through the studio. “I think this hankering is new.”
“I have other methods of stress relief around you.” He brought Sasha out to the courtyard and toed off his shoes. “Today seems like a good day for this.”
“You are so right,” Sasha said, and he closed his eyes and inhaled slowly as Caleb led him out onto the grass. Caleb pulled him close enough to wrap his arms around Sasha’s waist and rub their noses together.
Abruptly Sasha chuckled. “You’ve come such a long way.”
“It’s your fault. You showed up again and remade everything I am.”
“I don’t know about everything,” Sasha said. “You had a lot of good stuff already. I just helped.”
“It’s my turn to help now,” said Caleb, tightening his hold. They swayed on the cool grass to the sound of water and wind.
Copyright © 2010