by Abi Z.

If he hadn't liked Rubin so much--his intensity, his eccentricity, his ability to link any two or three or eighteen concepts together no matter how disparate they might seem--Josh would have moved out the first week of college. It was the smell. Rubin smoked continuously, casually, and Josh, who before high school graduation had limited his rebellion to a few beers on the weekend, hadn't even needed to join him that first semester; the contact high was enough.

Rubin smoked in social situations, while watching TV, while studying. He smoked marijuana, drank filtered water, ate organic navel oranges and Slim Jims, and read. He devoured pot like he devoured books. Rubin's family was not particularly wealthy--his father was a Reform rabbi in Teaneck, New Jersey, and his mom was a social worker--and Josh had wondered how Rubin paid for the pot until he discovered that Rubin grew it himself.

Rubin was generous with it--he offered it to guests like Josh's mom offered beverages or sandwiches--but he refused to sell, probably because he had an idea of the danger involved. Josh had heard people insist on paying him, but Rubin refused money. Growing hydroponic pot in the Plant House was one thing--he would only get caught if he refused to share with his professor--but selling was another, and in addition to being a felony would probably infringe on someone's territory or another. Josh was sure Rubin could have figured out the drug trade without much trouble, but Rubin didn't seem to want to bother.

Josh was considered lucky to be Rubin Carver's roommate--all the pot he wanted, for free, and high-grade pot, at that--although membership did have its prices, such as Barry, and such as the several times Mitch had escaped from his cage and gone to terrorize the freshman girls' hall. But Josh and Rubin had lived together happily and harmoniously since their respective arrivals at college: Josh needed Rubin to keep him in school, and Rubin needed Josh to keep him from imploding.

Josh came back from his political theory final, mind drained, too tired to do anything more than sleepily, happily kiss Beth and tell her he'd call her that night when he'd gotten some sleep. There was a lump of Rubin asleep in the other bed--he didn't have class on Thursdays, or almost ever, since he'd managed to work his way into seminars and tutorials that only met once a week. The room didn't smell; Rubin must have been so exhausted that he'd been able to sleep without chemical intervention. Josh realized that he, however, must smell like ass--or unwashed boy, it was a tough distinction--and that he'd best shower. He did so, he came back, he climbed into bed.

And he couldn't sleep.

His mind raced--the thought of another night with Beth, the thought of Tiffany with anyone else, the thought of Kyle with anyone at all. The thought that he hadn't been there for Tiffany when her beloved Pop-Pop had died; the thought that maybe she'd cheated, too, under frustrations similar to his.

He took his pillow out from under his head and threw it at his motionless roommate. "Wake up, man."

The lump turned over. A half-open brown eye peered out from under the pile of covers. "You have got to be joking."

"Rubin, wake up, dude. I can't sleep."

"I'm not having that problem. Go away."

"I'm too wired. I can't settle down."

Rubin gave a frustrated sigh and turned over to face Josh. "Man, you're the one who ought to be the most knocked out of all of us."

"I know. That's just it. There's so much on my mind. So much has happened."

Rubin got up and stretched; he was still wearing the same gray sweater and pants he'd had on for the past four days. He seemed to realize this at the same time Josh did. Rubin looked down at himself. "God, I must reek."

"I can't smell you."

"Neither can I, but I can't smell much of anything anymore." Rubin opened up the back of the iMac and pulled out a small plastic-wrapped bundle. Their room had been searched before--an RA with a crush on a girl who had liked Rubin instead--but most people, including law enforcement, wouldn't think or know how to open up a computer. Rolling papers--legal--were in the desk drawer, and expert fingers had a joint rolled in less than a minute.

"I thought your stash got destroyed in the fire."

"I didn't take the whole thing with me. It seemed excessive."

"And I know how hard it would be to grow some more in the greenhouse."

The flash of a smile--white teeth, full lips. Rubin's smiles, absent of malice, were rare and precious. He found a lighter on the desk and sat down on Josh's bed, back to the wall. He lit the joint, inhaled deeply, and handed it to Josh.

Some might not have believed it, but Josh didn't smoke all that often. He didn't need it--he was a mellow enough person to begin with--and the substance was around so much that it was more a fact of life than a commodity. He'd smoked at parties, of course, and occasionally when bored and Rubin had one lit, but it wasn't something Josh sought out. Living with a legendary pothead, Josh had discovered, tended to kill one's appetite for illegal drugs.

"This should calm you down," Rubin said. "Don't smoke too much, or you'll get the munchies and it'll keep you awake."

"I hope you didn't miss anything important while we were gone."

"I don't even go to class when I'm here." A pause. "So you really broke up with Tiffany?"

"We really did. I dunno... I think it was the right thing to do."

"Everyone's gotta grow up sometime."

"What about you, man?"

"I've been grown up since I was a kid."

"Well, maybe you should try to grown down. Live a little."

"'Grow down.' Now there's the pot talking."

"You know what I mean. Have some fun. Play while you can."

"I went on the road trip, didn't I?"

"Yeah, you did. It was fun."

Mid-toke, Rubin laughed. "Josh, that trip was many things--unpredictable, dangerous--"

"But it was also a lot of fun."

"Yeah," Rubin said after a moment. "It was."

"And little Kyle even got laid." Josh took a hit and passed back to Rubin. "I saw you talking to some girl at that party. Anything happen?"

"I didn't get laid, if that's what you're asking."

"I guess that's what I'm asking." Josh's head was light; when he moved, he could hear the cotton/polyester of the sheets brushing together. He thought he could even hear Rubin's heart beating from the other end of the bed. "Man, do you ever get laid?"

"It's a good thing you don't smoke more. You've got a mouth on you when you're stoned."

"I'm not stoned."

"Like hell you're not."

"You're not stoned."

"I don't get stoned anymore. I get normal."

"So answer my question. When was the last time?"

"Last week."

"Last week?! With who?"


"Larissa the physics chick?"

"Larissa the physics chick. The physics lounge has a door that locks. So does the darkroom in the art building, as does the mediation room on the third floor of the Labor Relations building."

"And you know this because?"

"Hey, man, I respect you. I like living with you. So I find other places to take my sex life besides our room where you might be trying to sleep, or, God forbid, study."

"The darkroom?"

"It's private. And pitch blackness is kind of a kick. It's like being a blind sea mammal. If you're into risk, though, I recommend the Japanese gardens once it gets warmer, or the stage in Marlin."

"You've had sex on the stage in Marlin."


"Jocelyn the theatre major?"

"Right. And Eric. Not at the same time, though."


"Eric the drama professor."

"You had sex with a professor?"

"Assistant professor. He's only 27."


"You ever met a girl named Eric?"

"OK, dude, ten minutes ago I didn't even know you had a sex life, and apparently you've got quite a healthy one. Now you're telling me that your healthy sex life includes men?"

"It always has."

"Oh shit," Josh breathed, and took another hit.

"You can finish it," Rubin said. "I've had enough."

"Weren't you supposed to be helping me fall asleep?"

"Hey, man, it wasn't my idea to get interrogated about my sex life."

"Right. Fine."

Rubin was smiling again. There was perhaps a hint of malice in it, but it was mild, and mostly amused. "So let's talk about something else."

"Fine. What do you want to talk about?"

"I think we were talking about Tiffany."

"We broke up."

"I gathered."

"I just... I just don't know. I mean, I was having all these problems being with Tiffany, but I don't know if Beth is the answer."

"What do you mean, the answer?"

"Like, the reason I would have broken up with Tiffany. I think Beth was a nice excuse. But I don't think she's the reason I broke up with Tiffany."

"So why did you break up with her?"

"I think... it was something else entirely."

Josh didn't continue, and Rubin shrugged and leaned forward. He pulled a crate of oranges from under the bed--his parents always sent two, one for Rubin and one for Josh--and took one out. "Want an orange?"

"No, thanks."

Rubin neatly peeled the fruit and piled the detritus in a tidy heap on the trunk Josh used as a bedside table. He bisected the citrus, and was starting to dismember one of the halves when Josh kissed him.

Josh heard Rubin's breath go in with surprise, but lost track of his exhale when Rubin's mouth opened under his. Josh had never kissed a man--had really only groped at some dark and very drunken parties--and he was surprised to find out that it was more aggressive than kissing a woman, but still gentle, and a little awkward the first time. There were noses and teeth and chins, but also the warm mobility of tongues, and the taste of sighed breaths. After a moment, Rubin broke away and laughed a little, and Josh was afraid that he'd come out with one of his typical ego-slashing remarks, but instead he just put the remains of the orange on Josh's government book, and leaned in for another kiss. This time Josh's hands found Rubin's shoulder blades, and Rubin's hands moved from Josh's knees to his thighs to his hips to his chest. It was less awkward, a little more graceful, and Josh slid his hands under Rubin's sweater to press his palms against the smooth skin of Rubin's back.

He could kiss Rubin for hours, Josh discovered: he could trace the curve of his ears, the line of his jawbone, the soft fur of the hair on his neck. He could listen to Rubin moan when his earlobe was sucked upon, or when his throat was nibbled. He could let Rubin push him down onto the bed where it was more comfortable, where Rubin's leg could wrap around his, where they could rub gently against each other. Josh discovered that he liked being on top, but that Rubin's weight on top of him--with his hands in Josh's hair, a long leg on either side of Josh's hips--was also very fine.

They kissed until Josh was spanning the strange continuum between sleeping and waking, kissing Rubin and dreaming about him at the same time. They were standing on a bridge, but the bridge was covered with trees and went over a mountain. Then the bridge morphed into a desert, and he and Rubin were sitting under a huge pine tree that most certainly did not belong in a desert, and Josh wondered why he was noticing that when kissing Rubin was much more interesting.

They fell asleep in Josh's bed, Josh's head on Rubin's chest, Rubin's hand in Josh's hair.

Josh woke up when he heard the door open. One part of his mind was interpreting the lack of knock as Barry while the other part was saying: oh fuck.

It must have been quite a surprise for Barry, because Josh had not previously known anything to shut this man up. But Barry just stood in silent shock until his mouth began to work. "Josh. Rubin. I don't-- Did E.L. put you up to this? It must be a conspiracy. It must be the FBI. They want to test my reactions. It's the CIA. They want to know if I'm complacent about this sort of thing. It's a test of my morals. Well, I'll show them. I'll--"

Rubin groaned and opened his eyes. He sat up a little. "Man, shut the fuck up."

"I can't believe it. It's a dream. It's--"

"Barry, close the damn door and get the hell out of here."

"But this image. It will be burned on my eyes forever. I can't--"

"I don't give a rat's ass what you can or cannot do. I told you to close the door and leave, and if you don't, I'm calling public safety."

Rubin was so rarely confrontational that even Barry seemed surprised. Without another word, he shut the door and left.

Rubin pulled the covers over them and settled an arm around Josh. He closed his eyes. "What are you doing?" Josh asked.

"Going back to sleep. I suggest you do the same."

"But-- what just happened?"

"Barry came in, woke us up, acted like a bloody fool, and left. Now that he's gone, I'd like to continue sleeping."

"But he's going to tell people."

Rubin reopened his eyes. "Josh, it's Barry. He has Ted Kaczinski's grip on reality--not to mention his stellar social skills--only without the intelligence. He'll probably also tell everyone he saw pink bunnies hopping around the room singing 'Bad to the Bone.'"

"But what if they come in to look?"

Rubin got out of bed, crossed the room, and thunked the deadbolt into place. "The door's locked. Is that the issue, or do you just not want me in bed with you?"

"No. Um. I would-- I want you in bed with me."

"Good," Rubin said. He curled around Josh, Josh's back to his chest, Rubin's sleepy fingers gentle in Josh's hair. The steadiness of his heartbeat sang Josh back to sleep.


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