Eros would never forget.
The pain, the humiliation, the fear: these were the small pieces of humanity buried deep within him. Even as he sat at his desk, head bent over the sketch pad he carried, he could not ignore the ache within his own soul. A brush twirled between his fingers, the thin body slick with violet and red paint. Lips pursed, he eyed his newest doodle.
It was a heart.
Not the organ, but the image children were fed when they were nothing more than young, impressional minds. Violet and red, two sides of the same force.
The two colors wrapped around one another, like two different sorts of fire at war on his paper. His classmates paid no mind to him as he rose and fetched the white paint, his eyes narrowing as he bled the multicolored, flaming heart with streaks of silver.
“Today’s assignment is to represent yourself,” his teacher said as she rose from her desk, plump hands slowly dancing through the air. When she passed him, Eros felt her still at his back. He knew she was eyeing the simple, yet complex, heart burning on a black backdrop. “Mr. Lockett, how does this represent you?”
Eros paused, gaze on the gray swirls that drifted off the image like tendrils of smoke. He set his brush down, pressed his palms flat on the table as he answered, “Each of us has layers, Mrs. Tullio. Some burn, others freeze. Few do both simultaneously.”
She was silent for a moment. Her hand was inches from his shoulder, and Eros was stiff. A small part of him wondered if she would go all the way, if she would set her hand on his taunt shoulder. She withdrew, settled her hand on the shoulder of a girl two seats down from him as she said, “Right you are, Mr. Lockett.”
No one else spoke. His gaze remained on his picture, his representation. It was a battle. It was a war, the battlefield caught between love and obsession.
Beautiful but shimmering with darkness just the same. The heart was a fickle thing. It weighed on his mind as he packed his bags.
Eros paused to stare at his picture, his body still as a river of students flowed from the room. Should he take it with him or leave it behind, as the teacher instructed? His gaze shifted to the shelves on the wall behind the teacher’s desk, to all the pictures crammed within the limited space. He tucked his picture into his backpack when Mrs. Tullio had her back turned. He left the room with his gaze cast down, his arms pressed close to his body.
The hallways were crowded. People jostled him as he passed. As he neared the doors leading outside, he knew, in that moment, his day had only gotten worse. It was raining, the sky dark and unfriendly.
He stood in the doorway and looked out at the school grounds. Wet grass and the rivulets of water zigzagged across the hard, unforgiving earth. A harsh shove at his back had him hurtling through the doorway, and he landed, hard, on the drowning sidewalk outside the door.
Behind him, laughter.
As he tried to stand, someone kicked him. His arm wrapped around his middle, protecting the ribs residing under his skin as his assailant laughed. Then there was a moment of silence before his attacker said, “Go on, Lockett. Up you go! You’re where you belong.“
Eros rose to his feet, picked up his backpack. He stepped further into the rain, silent as his tormentors went quiet. He heard them muttering, “Deplorable, isn’t he? What a bore.”
He trekked his way across the grounds, skin rapidly discoloring. He clutched his bag close to his chest and prayed his picture was safe. Once he was on the other side, he eased his way through the cafeteria door. He paused by the door, rummaged through his backpack.
With shaking hands, he pulled out the damp picture. The colors seemed to move and glow, to writhe and twist on the page like a living thing. He tugged his bag over his shoulder, made his way across the cafeteria. Eros carried many things with him, small shards of thought and logic and humanity. They were wedged deep within him, caught between the vivid purples and reds that were love and obsession.
He should have known, really.
Drawing the truth made the dark, hidden corners of his being, of his soul, stand out. If he had known how the day would unfold, if he had fully grasped, had fully understood…
The heart was a fickle thing, but fate was far crueler. He was Eros, violet and pink and purple and glowing with brimming passion.
Yet the violets were tainted, harsh and burning red searing the cool torrents of his soul and leaving him aflame within. His Eros would always have its counterpart, have its Mania.
His love would always have an undercurrent of obsession.
Part of him knew it was wrong, long before his own father raised his hand to him.
He had sat through enough services in his youth to know love was bound by rules. Love was sacred, it was holy, and it had to be guarded. Eros wasn’t guarded, his soul too open to a touch of darkness and unholy longing. He knew this, but, against good conscience, he could not deny the flutter in his stomach, not when something crimson burned within his gaze.
His Mania. It was illogical, profane. Yet, as he moved closer, hunched into himself, his pulse quickened. His palms began to sweat, leaving him shuddering as he neared the group he had hoped to avoid. Mania was never in the cafeteria during the morning, his soul more inclined for the gym and its endless uses of self, physical torture.
“Party?” Eros glanced up through his bangs, once Mania’s words reached his ears. The older boy laughed, shoved one of his many friends in the shoulder with a wide grin. The others howled with laughter as Mania said, “Do you honestly think I have any interest in the childish get-togethers your sisters throw together? I ought to be insulted, but, as we are friends, that would be bad for your health.”
“Shove it, —“
Eros clutched his photo closer, feeling that, if Mania looked, he would see the burning beckon of sin writhing in his arms. He tucked his chin, turned his gaze on the floor. As he came closer, his father came to mind.
Obsession, his father had once told him, was lust.
It was wrong to crave that which belonged to another. Mania was often in the arms of a woman, long nails stroking the side of his neck. On a rare occasion, the older student’s hand would travel south, vanishing between his partner’s thighs. No one ever saw them, no one but Eros.
He had watched as she would grind against his hand, lips caught between her teeth as she fought back whatever instinct was running through her veins.
He might be obsessed, he might be a victim of sinful lust, but at least he had the modesty of not displaying it so openly. Nor did he have the lack of self-control she had. It couldn’t be helped. Mania was popular. Adored. Eros could only watch from the sidelines, a ghost that simply watched.
Even in those moments, when he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, they never noticed him. No one did, unless he was in the way. It was best to be invisible, to be overlooked, than to drown in the filth polluting his soul.
He wrinkled his nose. He pushed the thoughts from his mind, content in the knowledge that the memories had no effect on him. A curse and a blessing.
Yet he could not lie to himself, not when he craved his obsession in a way that oft’ frightened him. This desire, this longing, for another man. It was wrong.
Profane, he told himself.
Pray, his mind would urge.
He would pray. He would sin. He would move on. Another few months, he told himself. Another few months and he would be home for the summer.
Yet he watched, hungry for the forbidden. As long as he did not act on the warmth blooming inside of him—
As long as he did not act on the warmth blooming inside of him—
Whatever thought was crossing his mind was gone as the finicky nature of the world rose up and made itself known. Eros was passing the group, mind calm.
Mania was a few feet ahead of him, to the left. He was talking to a group of friends, seeing nothing but those he stood with. Eros was closing the distance between them, keeping at a safe distance.
Then, much like what had happened shortly after his class was let out, someone shoved him. A hard push to the back, the air rushing from his body in one fell swoop. Eros clutched his eyes shut, braced for an impact that would never happen. There was silence, a lack of pain, and the sensation of being seen.
Eros’s heart slammed to a complete halt as his eyes flew open. The ground, he could see it as clearly as he could see the arm strapped across his shoulders and the other wound tight around his waist. He could see the ground as surely as he could feel the hot, hard presence of another living being pressed against his back.
He was pulled backward, righted on his feet. When he swayed, the grip returned with a vengeance. It pulled him back, a hand wrapping around his wrist like he might fall into a dark, bottomless pit. Against his ear there was a sharp inhale and then a question.
A firm hand turned him, slowly. Eros couldn’t see anything but darkness, the edges of his vision flashing. A hand brushed the hair from his face, someone took the prized photo he held.
“For fuck’s sake, you’re about to pass out. Breathe, Lockett.”
When he didn’t imminently do as he was told, his chin was caught and his head forced to look up. Eros inhaled, sharp. His entire body locked, he tried to withdraw. Panic crawled at him from the inside, screamed at him to move away, but the other’s grip was relentless.
Then Eros could see, his violet-blue eyes clashing with the brown-red that was Mania. His backpack clattered to the floor, the contents spilling across the ground as his eyes widened in comprehension. Mania was looking at him. Seeing him. His mouth was dry, then.
“You’re okay,” Mania’s hands were on his shoulders, grounding him. “You’re fine.”
Eros laughed, but the sound was broken. “Alright?”
Mania frowned. The grip on his shoulders, it was tightening as Eros shook his head. The younger wanted to step back, but knew, somehow, the other would not let him. He could feel it in the way the other held him, see it in the clenched muscles in the arms of his obsession. Eros giggled.
This was the beginning of the end, the light that burned before darkness fell.
Eros laughed, numb. His soul burned as the world began to bleed violet and red.