The ground had opened up, and he was screaming.
He was outside the cave, and the trees were falling down everywhere. His broken leg was throbbing and Ujaruk was nowhere to be seen. And then, with a heaving like a bear rolling over a boulder, the thin crack in the ground widened into a huge fissure less than five feet from where he lay on the slanted hillside. Anders screamed again as he began to slide helplessly down the slope toward the yawning, gaping mouth of the hungry earth.
As he grabbed at the turf sliding away beneath him, he saw Ujaruk running toward him from the other side of the widening part in the earth. “Anders? Anders!”
But Anders was sliding down the slope into the chasm, helpless, screaming all the way as Ujaruk shouted his name…
He jerked awake.
His hands were grasping bedsheets, not turf. He was here in his bed, in his house, nowhere near that cave. Safe. He was safe.
It had just been a dream. He hadn’t been swallowed up by the earth. He hadn’t been in danger at all — Ujaruk had got him out of the cave and to the hospital.
Why did I want to be a geologist, again? He wondered muzzily.
Then he realized that part of the dream had been real. Ujaruk was calling his name. “Anders? You awake yet, hon?” There was a knock at the door, which creaked open as Ujaruk shouldered it aside. “Good morning!”
“You’re still here,” Anders said, turning over in the rumpled bed and trying on a smile. “Good morning.”
“Where else would I be?” Ujaruk grinned, holding out a cup of coffee with one hand and a breakfast tray with the other. Four strips of bacon and a scramble of eggs sat on a plate in the middle of it, overshadowed slightly by a bobbing yellow daisy that threatened to fall out of the too-short bud vase it was standing in.
“I had a dream,” Anders said. “I dreamed that — that you’d taken a job in Arizona.” He turned his face away so that the lie didn’t show. His heart was still racing.
“Crazy dream,” Ujaruk commented. “Can you see me in Arizona? I’d roast in nothing flat.”
Anders smiled. “I’m glad it was only a dream, then.”
I wonder how much longer I can stay in this cast, he thought as Ujaruk put the tray over him in the bed, smiling weakly at his—boyfriend? Roommate? Coworker…
He turned his mind to the food in front of him as Ujaruk sat down in the single chair next to the bed.
It’s been two months. How many more do we have?
§ § §
After the big earthquake, when Ujaruk’s apartment had collapsed and he had no place to live, Anders had agreed to let him sleep on the couch. That had been nearly two months ago, and the couch had been a thing of the past for nearly six weeks.
It had been almost too easy. They matched well, and before a week had passed, they had fallen into a number of habits—like breakfast in bed with an awkward flower on the tray. With Anders stuck in bed in a cast from above his knee down to his toes, Ujaruk shopped, cleaned, did laundry, cooked, and waited on Anders hand and foot while still going to work every day. The cast was awkward, but Ujaruk never complained, lifting Anders to and from the bathroom, giving sponge baths like a trained nurse, and keeping him from going crazy with inactivity. The cast had been on so long that they’d both devised ways to scratch the itch.
The itch got worse the longer it went on. The first few times, Anders just put up with it. But then came the afternoon when it felt like a thousand ants crawling down his shin, biting madly as they brought a lunch to their queen. Ujaruk had been at work, and Anders had clawed uselessly at the fiberglass surface of the cast, even ripping a nail as he drilled a finger between leg and cast, trying to reach the ants so he could squash them.
In his thrashing, he’d turned half over on his belly. A dull silver glint caught his eye, peeking out from under the bed. He’d strained to reach the wire coat hanger with his good leg hanging off the too-tall bed, and just managed to hook it on his big toe.
Once he had it in his hands, Anders twisted the hanger into a long, bent loop and drove it down into the cast to his shin. The relief of scratching that itch was just as orgasmic as any climax he’d had thinking about Ujaruk.
Only thinking, of course. What they’d done together was better.
§ § §
“I have a surprise for you,” Ujaruk said as Anders finished his coffee and pushed away the tray.
“You do?” Anders asked. “Could you hand me that coat hanger? I need to get at an itch again.”
“Nope,” Ujaruk said. “I’ll be right back.” He grabbed up the tray and the empty cup and disappeared.
“Can’t you give me the—” Anders started, and then gave up. The ants were biting the top of his foot this time, and he’d need Ujaruk’s help to get at those.
It didn’t take long. With a squeak of hinges, Ujaruk jumped back through the door. “Aha! I’ve made a scratcher for you that puts that old thing to shame. Mine is the deluxe cast scratcher.” He handed Anders a long, thin, flexible wire contraption with a leather-bound handle on one end. “Please to notice the detailed leatherwork along the handle,” Ujaruk directed as Anders examined it. The solid handle was indeed wrapped with black leather strips woven around it in a spiral design.
“I’ll be sure to use yours when we are out on the town. Can you get at the top of my foot with it?” Anders smiled as Ujaruk took it back and put it through the bottom of the cast. “Ahhh… that feels amazing.”
“It better. I worked on this for two weeks,” Ujaruk said, setting it where Anders could reach it easily. “I just couldn’t see letting you use that old thing any longer.” He went around the foot of the bed and lay down next to Anders on the less-rumpled side. They smiled at each other across the pillows.
I’m used to you now, Anders thought. It’s right, having you here. But you’ll leave me soon, and then what will I do?
He and Ujaruk worked together. That was the fatal flaw. Anders had a strict rule: coworkers could not be his lovers. But during his recovery from the broken leg, that rule had somehow been suspended, without him realizing he’d suspended it. After all, while he was off on disability, they weren’t really coworkers. Were they?
It was an issue he hadn’t resolved yet, and he’d left it on the back burner of his mind, hoping that at some point, a solution would present itself.