Goldberg always thought he knew what love was. He loved hockey, he would say, grinning so that all his teeth showed, and thumping his chest with one hand, loved the way the team tore up the ice, as long as they kept the puck away from him. He loved his family, of course, because that's what people did, love family, and he really loved working in the deli, because he loved to see his mother smile, and helping out in the family business made that happen all the time, and loved the smell of fresh bread and meat mixed with cheese. He loved elephants and always stopped to watch them at the zoo, so long that anyone he was with would wander off, have an adventure, come back, and he still wouldn't have seen enough.
But now Goldberg knows that he knows nothing about love, or at least about how to deal with it, because he ruined the best love he ever had.
From the first time he kissed Russ, all fumbling hands and thick lips, he had the sneaking suspicion he loved him, but no one else he knew was gay, and he didn't want to label it as that, because he carried too many labels as it was, and besides, it was just something convenient, this slap and tickle as his Uncle Andy would call it, if he'd replaced Russ with a girl.
It was only when Russ wasn't there anymore, when he didn't sleep in his room, didn't practice punch lines, and tell raunchy stories when neither of them can sleep, that Goldberg realized it wasn't just a suspicion.
He loves Russ, and it's not just going to disappear when he goes to sleep, or fade away because he's a stupid kid, even if he is in high school, and he still knows nothing about anything important at all. It's all around him, everywhere that Russ isn't, and inside, too, melted into his lungs and intestines and warm in his veins.
It hurts most in the afternoons, after class, when he's not on the ice, distracted by the game and by trying not to stare at Russ, and when he's not doodling tiny cartoon characters in his notebooks while teachers drone on about whatever subject rules their mind. His drawings have gotten no better, and have probably become worse, and he tried only once to draw Russ from memory, and couldn't get even the eyes right.
In the afternoons, there are no distractions, because no seventeen- year-old boy would do homework, and his friends are all busy being couples, making out in the halls, and having hasty sex behind partially closed doors. They say it's love, when their flesh comes together, and he just rolls his eyes every time one of them starts to giggle and be giddy.
Because Goldberg knows all about love. He loves hockey, and his family, and elephants because they never forget, and he wouldn't mind becoming an elephant, as long as he got to keep his human memories. He never wants to forget what love is and was and will become, because to forget would be to lose what he once had. He already gave it up, because he's young and dumb, and if he can just remember Russ and not the details, necessarily, but the underlying color, then he'll be ok in the end, because he knows all about love.
Russ wants to know all about love.
He wanted to be in love when he was twelve, and this cute girl down the street smiled at him, and then let him buy her a soda, and then let him touch her breasts while she kissed him, and whispered about how nice it felt.
He knew he was young, and his brother smacked his head and made him skate around the basketball court until he fell over when he found out, but at the time, Russ didn't care, because she was cute, and she was there, and he really wanted to know about love.
If anyone asked, he would never admit he was a romantic, but he was always just a little obsessed with the gentle side of emotions, of life. He read stories of Arthur and had been enchanted by the idea of courtly love. At least, the way it took over his daydreams had been the closest thing to magic in his neighborhood.
L.A. was rough, and he spat out words that made his mother yell, and could throw a punch almost as easily as he could hit a knucklepuck, but he didn't really enjoy any of that. Sure it was fun, but he preferred night, when he could chew on a flashlight and squint his eyes and read about everything that he was not, but wanted to be.
Russ wondered, in the first day or two after he'd moved out of the dorm room, if Goldberg could teach him about love, or could have before he'd been so untrusting and so nasty without words. Russ understood the need to hide what they were, because good love was a secret, and it was easier to cherish something that no one else could touch, but he missed Goldberg in the mornings, when he had to brush his teeth by himself, and didn't have anyone to talk about the importance of eating before hockey practice, or to rub his back and remind him that no one really fit in at school, so he didn't have to try so hard.
Russ always wanted to know about love, but now he's not so sure he wants to learn any more, because he isn't in Goldberg's room anymore, and even though he knew that love hurt, because he'd read all the books, he didn't realize just how the pain settled in his spine, splintered bone and sinew until his arms and legs ached, even before he had to hit the ice, and pretend he wasn't ignoring Goldberg, but just wasn't trying to score.
He doesn't recognize his own voice when he has to ask Goldberg anything, so he sits far away, at the end of the table, and never goes to team study sessions. He knows that everyone feels left out in high school, because it's all one big mess of growing and hormones, but he's never felt quite so out of place as he does now.
Russ had always assumed love would make him feel better, but now he just feels worse, and he doesn't think he knows anything about love, but he doesn't think he wants to know anymore.
Author's Chapter Notes:
Dedication: To StalkyStar for being the best friend a friend could be.