James DiMascio, Jace for short, spends the summer getting clean at his father's house on Earth. He's been living on the street ever since the notorious drug called "Big Sug," developed by the military for bored soldiers but then smuggled to earth, has taken over his life. He's too thin, his nose is scarred from the drug's after effects, and he may have brain damage. But with the help of his father, he slowly recovers enough to visit one of the vacation planets close by: the water-based Hydro, known for its calming effects on its occupants and tourists alike, along with its dual moon system.
On the ride over, Jace meets Julian, a scared man mourning the loss of his former professor-turned-lover. He keeps his lover's ashes next to him the entire flight, and after a disastrous attempt to bury him in the planet's ocean, Julian and Jace seek solace in one another. They rent boats and surfboards, talk to the zany regulars who inhabit the planet like the Tin Man who collects trash and the local psychic Donna, all before signing up for the big surf competition at the end of their vacation.
When Julian leaves unannounced, Jace is left alone and without any mojo. Can he manage to live the clean life he's worked so hard to obtain -- even if it means being alone when he returns to Earth -- or should he stay on a planet filled with oddballs and freaks that he's used to?
The roar of the ocean caught me off-guard when we stepped into his room. I'd heard it as we disembarked from the ship's loading area to the resort, but the shuttle driver's windows had been thick, and there had been a cacophony of other noises competing. Now it was all I heard: the distinct roar, the splashing against the rocks, and the strange whirling molten core of the planet itself. I leaned in closer to the noise, allowing it to lap at my skin, as if it was touching me, as if the vibrations of the rocks and waves and moons were all communicating, like anything we had on earth turned up to seven.
"This is incredible," I said, putting my hands on the window next to his bed. There were flowers in a pitcher there, the water tinted blue. The drapes were thick, and I could have used them as a comforter. But the sky caught me, the sky won with its beautiful shade of black that was almost purple. The moons themselves held a hint of violet, and the stars around them conjured the same shade. I couldn't believe this was real. It seemed like a painting, like something Van Gogh might have done had he lived long enough to see the future like this.
"Want to go on the balcony?" Julian slipped the lock for the sliding screen door on the other side of the room, still within the ocean's view. This side also had the beach, and the shells and rocks on the surf speckled like glitter under the sky.
The air was salty and something else, something more like sugar but not the kind that made my heart pump and made me feel as if I was losing control. This was a sweetness like grapes off a vine; like strawberries at the end of summer. I inhaled as if I had never breathed before in my life, and Julian was doing the same.
"It's exactly like he said, but better," Julian said. I realized then he didn't have his box anymore. It was on the desk in the room. Not the bed, where the pillows were mounted high, but on the desk. Julian’s hands were on the railing, and I put one of mine over his. Just a small gesture, nothing too hard or filled with too much pressure for either one of us.
Julian looked at my hand, then at me. I gazed out at the beach and the waves that seemed to beat one another up like brothers too close in age as they scrambled for the shoreline, like their mother's dress hem. I couldn't imagine riding those waves, and Julian said as much aloud. "So much braver than me," he added sullenly.
"Nah. There are classes, I'm sure. And there." I pointed to a hut close to the beach, its sign painted in neon and glow-in-the dark writing. "That's where you can buy or rent a board. I'll probably head over there tomorrow afternoon."
"I'm going to rent a motorboat in the morning, I think. There's a part of the beach where the waves aren't so strong. I'll bury him there."
I nodded, understanding he meant his professor. I thought he'd carry him the entire trip, not discard him so quickly, even though he'd said he wanted to let him go. I said I wanted to be clean a long time before I was. "Do you want to be alone?"
"Now? Yes. but tomorrow, not really."
I nodded again. I rubbed my hand back and forth over his knuckles. Julian kissed me then, turned to me like he had a question, but only placed his mouth over mine. It was a soft kiss, gentle and kind. It did not last long.
"Thank you," he said as he pulled away. "This was a nice night."
I agreed. I lingered on the balcony with him for some time, part of me hoping for another kiss, another breath of the salty-sweet air, but I soon made my own excuses for bed. "I should sleep. Still in recovery, you know. I'll see you tomorrow."
Julian looked out at the waves as I left. We had no real plan, no distinct meeting time or place -- but I knew I'd find him. A man like that, with the rest of his life in a box on his desk, he was simply waiting to be found.