A few weeks after the Dowager Dance, Noah and I are in his studio, painting music. I don't spend all my free time with him (I'm not about to make that mistake after the fiasco with Joni), but now that we're together, I make a point of spending at least a few hours with him almost every day.
Today, though, Noah doesn't seem as into his art as usual. We've been working side by side for a couple of hours, but right now, he's just standing there, staring at the canvas, cheeks flushed and eyes unfocussed, with the paint drying on his brush. I put the finishing touches on my own painting -- an abstract piece of the two of us dancing, the sky behind us a mixture of the color of his eyes and mine -- and go over to see what he's been working on.
He is clearly Elsewhere, and doesn't notice me right away. His painting is a wild jumble, with swathes and slashes of red, edged in a dark, mysterious purple. I think I see two overlapping shadowy pairs of lips hidden amid the storm of feeling.
I put a hand on his arm, and Noah comes back to earth with a start.
"Sorry," I say. "What is it?"
His eyes turn away from the painting to find mine. "It's what it feels like, kissing you," he says quietly. His eyes are very green, and his expression is intense. "But I can't get it quite right. Help me?"
Entranced by his eyes, I slowly raise my hand to wrap around his, holding the brush, and I lean in to kiss him.
His mouth opens to mine, his tongue a spark that sends heat racing through me. The paintbrush clatters to the floor and my body is pinned between Noah's and the wall, with no memory of the steps we must have taken to get there. An animal whine escapes from between our lips, but I'm not sure if it's him or me who made it. My hands clutch at the fabric of his shirt, and his slide up under mine, feeling the bare skin of my back. Noah's body presses against mine, like he's dying and I've got what he needs to survive. I feel dizzy. We are the axis on which the universe rotates, and everything is spinning but us.
His hand touches the button of my jeans and he stops, drawing back a little. "Do you want to?" he asks hoarsely.
"Yes," I whisper over the thunder of my pulse.
"Have you ever --?"
I've had a few boyfriends before, for days or weeks or even months once or twice, but when you don't feel right being naked with someone in other ways, somehow taking your clothes off with them never made much sense to me. But in the months since I met Noah, we've been naked to one another in every way possible -- every way but this.
"No," I tell him. "I've never done this before."
My hands go to the fly of his jeans, and I swallow the nervous feeling fluttering in my throat. Noah is going to be my first. I have never wanted anything so much. The fact that he thought to verbally check in before proceeding makes me all the more glad to be with him. My eyes never leave his as I unbutton, unzip, slide my hand down into his boxerbriefs.
His erection is hot and sticky with sweat in my hand. He closes his eyes and moans -- he moans. It's the most gorgeous sound I've ever heard. Then his mouth is on mine again, and his fingers are back, fumbling with my jeans, unfastening them and shoving them down over my hips.
The cool air of the studio hits my skin like a shockwave. Noah's hand wraps tight around me, stroking, and it feels better than anything I've ever felt or imagined, because it's Noah doing it.
He's awkwardly trying to shove his own pants farther down, one-handed, so I help him. Then we're pressed together, skin to skin, with Noah's paint-smeared hand wrapped around both of us, stroking us both. I feel like now I'm the one who'll die if he ever stops touching me like that.
"Please --" I murmur against his lips.
"Oh god, Paul --"
Noah throws his head back with a whimper, and suddenly the hand stroking our erections is slippery. It's just too much. I'm making some noises of my own now, but there's no help for that. I press my forehead against his shoulder and come harder than I've ever come before in my life.
For a moment, everything stops. The only sound in the studio is our breathing. Then the next song starts, and the world falls back into place. Noah steps away. My knees give out and my back slides down the wall until I'm sitting on the floor, stunned. A moment later, he's back with the towel he keeps handy for painting mishaps. He's already buttoned up, but his awe at what we've just done is written all over his face as he crouches down and hands me the towel.
"You OK?" he asks.
"Yeah." I'm still too overwhelmed for facial expressions. "Never better. What time is it?"
"Time you should be getting home for dinner," Noah admits regretfully.
He gives me a hand up, and doesn't avert his eyes as I put myself back together.
"Can I see you tomorrow?" I ask, once my clothes are in something like order.
"No," he says, surprising me. I'm not sure I can breathe without him after what we just did. "There are some things I need to do tomorrow. How about the day after?"
The day after tomorrow is my sixteenth birthday. There's going to be a big party in the evening, courtesy of my parents and my brother Jay. But Noah's not talking about the party. That's fine with me; I'm looking forward to having everyone over for a big get-together, but right now, there's no gift I would rather have for my birthday than a few hours alone with Noah.
"Day after tomorrow," I agree, a grin slowly spreading over my face.
Noah has destroyed me. Two days feels like a year, and I can't focus on anything. I try. School is important, and my friends doubly so. I half-listen and nod sympathetically when Kyle complains to me about Tony's ultra-religious parents, and all the rules and sneaking around they have to do to spend time together. I do my best to give my attention to Joni. She and Chuck broke up the week after the Dowager Dance, and we're still feeling our way toward putting our friendship back together.
My mind is Elsewhere, but it's a Somewhere kind of Elsewhere, because it's in the studio with Noah. He and I exchange smiles in the halls between classes, and every now and then, our hands touch, but we don't pass any notes -- things have gone beyond words -- and we never kiss at school; it's too public. What we have is special and private and not to be shared with anyone else.
After school on my birthday, I'm waiting at Noah's locker almost as soon as the final bell has rung. Noah arrives a minute later and smiles at me. Our fingers lace together, and without a word, we walk the short distance to Noah's house. His parents are out of town on business again, and his little sister Claudia goes to school across town, and has band practice on Thursday afternoons. Someone's mom will drop her off at my party later. For now, the house is ours.
We don't have to go to the studio for privacy; we can have that in Noah's whimsical bedroom. But the bedroom feels like family space -- too public for us, even if we're the only ones there. The studio is ours and ours alone. I follow Noah through the closet passageway and up into the old chimney, trying not to feel nervous. It's Noah; being nervous of him seems ridiculous to me.
Noah has decorated the studio. There are four paintings tacked up -- one on each wall, like an art gallery -- and a single red rose standing in a vase next to a bed laid out on the floor.
He takes my hand and leads me to the first painting. It's not one I recognise. The shapes in it are spiky black squiggles of excitement and electricity, stark against the white paper, with here and there a spark of hopeful color.
"I painted this the day after I met you," Noah says. It needs no further explanation.
The second painting is the one Noah did the other day. He's finished it off with a swirling double-helix in silver and gold, which barely seems able to contain the heart-pounding red and passionate purple.
The third painting I can tell is new. It's an abstract again, but right away, I see what it's meant to be.
"It's us," I say, awed.
Noah nods, wordless.
Two indistinct black shapes appear to be struggling to merge with one another against a background like a fireworks display, shimmering in every color imaginable.
The last painting isn't abstract. It's of the bed on the floor. The blanket is even rumpled in exactly the same way. In the painting, the rose is lying on the pillow, and to either side of it, are painted two words: "you" and "me".
Noah bends down and plucks the rose from its vase, then turns to me. He wraps my hands around the stem, and his hands around mine, searching my eyes.
He takes a deep breath. "I just wanted to say -- before we go any further -- I love you, Paul. I love what we have. I don't want -- I don't mean for you to feel pressured, or anything. If you're not ready, or you're not sure, we don't have to --"
"I'm sure," I say, stepping closer and kissing him softly. "I love you, too, Noah. I want to have this with you."
He gives me a nervous half smile that leaves me a little weak in the knees. "Oh. Good. Happy birthday."
I draw him down to sit beside me on the bed, since he seems suddenly unsure how to proceed. It's really more of a mat with pillows and blankets than a bed -- a real bed would have been impossible to get into the secret room -- but it's more than adequate for our purposes.
I reach for the buttons of his shirt, my fingers fumbling with nervousness. It takes us an unusually long time to get one another unbuttoned, and by the time we do, we're giggling uncontrollably.
"Maybe it'll be faster if we do our own pants?" I suggest.
Laughing, Noah agrees.
In a moment, we're naked. Noah reaches for my hand and draws me close to him. When our lips meet, there's no more room for laughter -- not now -- just for the feel of skin against skin, and the air and the music twining around our bodies as we lie down together.
For a minute, we lie just looking at one another, Noah tracing the curve of my collarbone, me discovering his appendicitis scar with my fingers.
"Have you done this before?" I ask softly.
It's not really any of my business, but I'm curious. Noah looks away.
"I've -- done some things. Just a couple of times. But not everything."
With Pitt, he doesn't say, but I know. He called Pitt his first, but I've never asked him what he meant by it. It doesn't matter. I want Noah to be my first, but if I'm not his, that's OK; I can be the first who doesn't break his heart.
I kiss him again. "Show me?"
Noah smiles at that. He kisses me for a long time, tasting my mouth and letting his hands wander over my body. I put my arms around him, stroking the smooth planes of his back, enjoying the shiver of goosebumps as I run my fingernails lightly down his spine. Noah nuzzles at the juncture of my neck and shoulder, then squirms his way down the bed, and I know where this is going. I may be a virgin, but I'm not entirely ignorant of sex.
Noah meets my eyes, flashing me a quick, shy smile, and then his tongue is -- oh, god! Noah's mouth is hot and sure and I want to watch him do what he's doing, but my mind is busy exploding in a swirl of shapes and colors. I suddenly feel like I'm the music, and Noah is painting me, translating me from sound and emotion to color and form. He's awfully damn good at what he's doing. That marvelous, wild hair is between my fingers, and his mouth is moving, sucking, licking, and I'm arching my back and crying out and collapsing and gasping, boneless as paint.
Noah's chin rests on my hip bone. "You still there?" he asks.
"I think so. Gimme a minute?"
He laughs softly and moves up to lie beside me. My eyes are slowly coming back into focus.
"Wow. That was --"
"Glad you liked it," he says with a sly grin.
"Did you?" I ask, curious.
"Yeah. You were -- beautiful," he says softly, touching my cheek.
My brow furrows. It doesn't seem quite fair. "But you didn't get to --"
Noah shrugs, grinning again. "We've still got an hour or so. I'm not finished with you yet."
I can't help smiling. This sounds promising. "What did you have in mind?"
"Well," he says slowly, "we could try that again, the other way around, if you want to. Or --"
Noah is blushing. It's adorable.
"Well, like I said, there's things I haven't done. We could try -- something new. For both of us."
My breath catches in my throat. "You mean, um --"
"Only if you want to," he says hastily, going even redder.
"Do you have condoms?" It's important for us to be safe, even the first time.
He nods. "I bought some yesterday, just in case."
I reach to brush his wild hair back from his face. "OK."
Noah swallows nervously. "You're sure?"
"Yeah, if you are."
I've read up on the hows and whys of penetration, since it's something I had thought about trying someday, and it looks like Noah has, too. He retrieves not only a small, foil-wrapped packet from under the edge of the mat, but a bottle of lube as well. Some of my nervousness evaporates. Noah knows what he's doing.
"So -- how do you want to do this?" he asks.
I consider for a moment. "Um, we could try it with you on top. Maybe with me on my back?"
His hand squeezes mine. "You're sure?" he asks again.
I lean in to kiss him. "I trust you, Noah."
He lets out the breath he has been holding. "OK."
My hands are shaking, and he kisses me again, reminding me we're not in any hurry. We lie down again, just kissing and touching and being comfortable with one another for a few minutes until we feel more relaxed. Noah's hands are warm. It feels good when he touches me.
I hold my breath as he squeezes some of the lube out onto his fingers, rubbing them together to warm it. Then his hand moves between my legs and I'm spreading them apart and pulling up my knees to make room for him. His touch is slippery and hesitant at first, but feels very good. When he slides a finger inside, I actually moan.
Noah looks entranced. "Good?"
I nod, but can't find any words to tell him how good it is.
He goes slowly, fingers oh-so-gentle, opening me to his touch, his eyes searching my face for any sign of discomfort, and I am overwhelmed with gratitude that I have a boyfriend who treats me so carefully, wanting this new experience to be as good for me as it is for him.
"I'm ready if you are," I tell him, when I begin to feel more eager than nervous at the prospect of having him inside me.
Noah looks more scared than I feel. "I'll go slow," he promises.
"I trust you," I tell him again.
My heart is hammering as I watch Noah put on the condom. He squeezes some more lube onto his hand and strokes himself with it before settling between my thighs.
"I love you, Paul," he says, looking into my eyes.
I can feel the tip of his erection slide against my anus, and I twine my arms around his back.
"I love you, Noah," I say.
And then I can feel myself opening, feel Noah pushing into me, guiding himself with his hand, and it's the strangest, most amazing feeling ever. His face is a mirror of my own, eyes wide with fear and desire staring into one another, cheeks flushed, hair tousled, swollen lips held fast between slightly crooked teeth.
For one moment, we're as still as a painting, suspended in time between one song and the next.
"OK?" Noah asks.
"Yeah. Keep going."
And then we're flying. It's nothing like I expected, but somehow, it's exactly like I knew it would be. Paul and Noah disappear -- innocence and youth forgotten -- and the timeless, mindless pulse of sex takes hold, deep and eternal. Skin and sweat and gasping breath and clutching hands and lips searching, seeking, finding, hips moving together slowly at first, and then faster.
There's this wild, ancient look in Noah's eyes. It's like looking into something primal and perfect, like fire. It's beautiful, and I want to give myself to it.
"Paul," Noah gasps, "I'm -- oh,"
His cry is the only music I ever want to paint as his hips stutter to a halt and he collapses on top of me, as if his spine has been severed.
When he finally raises his head, there's concern shining in his eyes. "Did I hurt you?" he asks.
"No," I say, quickly dashing away the tears that are pure joy. "It was just --"
A slow smile uncurls on my lips, and an answering one illuminates Noah's beautiful face.
"Yeah, it was, wasn't it?" he says.
Our smiles meet, and we kiss for a long time, finding that a more satisfactory way to explain to one another how it was for each of us.
At last, Noah rolls over. He disposes of the condom, and we lie side by side, staring up at the blank canvas of the ceiling, fingers and feet intertwined.
"What are you thinking?" I ask.
"That we should probably grab a shower before we head over to your place."
I laugh. "Yeah, probably."
"What were you thinking about?" he asks, raising himself up on an elbow.
"I'm trying to imagine what the painting you'll do of this will look like."
Noah smiles down at me and ruffles my hair. "I could never paint something like that. Not by myself. Will you help me?"
"Of course," I grin, the colors already dancing in my mind.