Mooi

by Geron Kees

The First Tale

© 2016 by Geron Kees. All rights reserved.

This is a work of fiction. All characters and situations are imaginary. No real people were harmed in the creation of this presentation. Please observe the laws of your jurisdiction with regards to reading this material.

If you are not 18, you shouldn't be reading this at all. Go find a boyfriend and talk stuff over with him.

Ah, the sunset.

Coby had a good view of it from the steel platform; the great golden orb of old Sol as he sank into colors of red and violet that marked good sailing for those at sea. Beneath that great eye in the sky, Damsko spread out in ancient splendor, it's old towers and it's newer, taller buildings only adding to the dignified cluster of it's timeworn, leaning houses and businesses. There was a warm and comfortable charm to the city, a sense of vertrouwdheid, that touched the small place inside Coby's heart that was always reserved for home.

Amsterdam was mooi - beautiful, and it held his eye for a long time. Too long, as it turned out. He had time to think, and perhaps to dream a little; and so he did not jump when he heard the train coming.

The tracks went by, ten meters beneath him; three lines of them, so closely spaced that one would be sure that the trains using them must surely rub together as they swept by one another. But they did not, charging past each other with amicable blasts of air and tiny clouds of swirling debris from the tracks beneath, as those who rode them went about their business, oblivious to the closeness of the passage, and the potential nearness of death should fate toss the wrong card onto the table.

This train that passed now was the City Night Line, just out from Centraal Station and on it's way to Munich, loaded with locals and tourists on their way to explore the continent. The train was still gaining speed, still building the sound of its passing from a squeaky metallic yowl to the full-throated roar it would soon attain as it paralleled the Piet Hein Kade along the docklands, curved south and then east, and then headed out across the flats on its way to the Duits border.

Briefly he imagined what might have been had he jumped just ahead of the train's passing: a short, sudden plummet; an equally sudden, and likely painful, stop; and then oblivion as the monster of steel was upon him, consuming his tiny life in it's race to be away into the coming night. And, perhaps, no one aboard would even have noticed the tiny mote that was his body as it fell beneath the churning wheels; the body that held his heart of dreams - something that was nothing to them, just as it was nothing to everyone else.

It would have been a quick end to the emptiness that spurred him on to such evening perches as this one, high above the steel lines that connected Damsko to the rest of Europe. Someone would surely have found him at some point later- or what was left him - and perhaps even have identified him from the identity card he had carried for the last two years, since he was fourteen. If it survived the impact, as he surely would not. There would be an inquiry, and speculation - was it an accident, or had he taken his own life? - and then his poor Uncle Geroit in Indische Buurt would be notified that he had been found. Briefly, he could imagine the look of grief upon his uncle's face, and was sadly glad that he had not decided to take the drop this night.

There was time, yet.

He often imagined his uncle's grief; and perhaps this was the leading cause for the many postponements of his death that Coby had endured this past month, since he had made up his mind to go away forever. That he was being selfish he knew; that he could not help it, he lamented.

It was unfair to the man, and Coby knew it. But life had become so disconnected these days - so without meaning. Coby had lost something integral that same dark night that his parents had lost their lives, even though he had not been there with them in the last seconds. He had lost the ability to connect to the world. To talk to people. To share. To be a part. A coldness had come over him - a coldness that froze out the world, and the people in it.

It had not always been so. His head was full of the moments of his youth - warm remembrances from a time before the vacuum had come and drawn away all the things that were right in his life. A single, dark night on the A1, and his parent's car against a bridge abutment at 80 kilometers-per-hour, and life was pretty much done with Coby. His Uncle Geroit - his mother's brother - had tried to fill some of that vacuum - and for a moment, Coby felt tears in his eyes. Uncle Geroit tried so hard.

He worked long hours at his job, six days a week, cooking in the little coffee shop down the street from the small flat where they lived. It was an honest wage - comfortable enough for one to survive - a little thin now that Uncle Geroit had to look out for two. But he never complained; they had enough to eat, and even some for the small extras that made life a little easier. Too bad that Coby could not seem to enjoy those extras. Or anything else, anymore.

I should have been with them, that night. Mijn moeder en vader.

Again he remembered the selfish impulse - the one that had sent him off in a huff that evening - the evening that he and his parents were to drive to Naarden to see Dunya and Bas - his parent's friends from their old days in Leiden as children. Coby had wanted to stop to get the new shoes his father had been promising him - he wanted to look good for his parent's friends. His father had said no - they would get them another day - and had been irritated at Coby's stubbornness when he moped. Coby had hidden himself in anger, and the time came to leave, and he could not be found. Leave him home, Coby had heard his father say, as he and Coby's mother had gotten into the car to go. Coby had remained hidden behind the hedge next door, pouting and being infantile - and his parents had driven off and left him.

Forever.

Serves me right, he thought, wiping the regrets from his eyes.

He sighed, watching the rear lights of the train as they faded away into the darkening distance.

Another night of life.

In a way, Coby was glad. It would mean another chance to see the one - to see the face. The only thing that seemed to crack the sheet of ice around his heart these days. It meant a ride over to Kerkstraat, to the club that had become a sort of haven for his thoughts. So be it. Life should have some thought in it - and something to dream about. As long as he was staying around another evening, he might as well get something for it. If possible.

He turned and walked along the steel beam he'd been perched atop. For just a moment his foot slipped, and Coby did a small dance to regain his balance. No. Not by accident.

He reclaimed his balance, moved to the end of the beam and stepped onto the ladder that dropped back down to the quay. He heard the slight tick-tick of some sort of equipment as the lights that adorned both sides of the steel crossing high above the tracks changed colors, again indicating clear tracks ahead.

He hadn't locked his bicycle. There was no one about, here along the tracks, and Coby had not worried about someone stealing his old tweewieler. And had he had the courage to complete the mission for which he had climbed the steel in the first place, it would not have mattered. The first person to come along would have been welcome to it.

He straddled the bike just as the air seemed to darken around him; the sun had finally gone west for the night. He pedaled off into the twilight, back along Oosterdocksstraat and across the water, and followed the last traces of the sun towards Kerkstraat, and Samen.

Samen was a new club, still in its first season of tryouts. It was less crowded than the other clubs in the area, and it had a flavor that Coby liked. There he could sit among a hundred other souls and not feel a single one of them, not be burdened with the lives they carried with them, which he could no longer touch. People there minded their own business, left him alone for the most part, which was what he wanted. To see, but not be seen.

And, it was the only club that Coby could get into. At sixteen, he was too young to legally enter such places. Had he looked older, he could have gotten away with it; but he didn't. He barely looked his sixteen years as it was, with his wild, sandy hair; small, lean frame; and guileless blue eyes - he looked like everyone's kid brother, and that curse had barred him from every club of interest along Kerkstraat and in Old Town.

Except for Samen, that is. Coby had seen the flyers for the opening, and had tried to squeeze into the entry the moment the door had opened for business, mingling with the crowd of curiosity seekers and zwervers thronging inside.

That was how he had met Turtle - doorman and uitsmijter, and third cousin to the owner himself.

"Ah, ah, ah," the man had said, thrusting out a hand and dragging Coby from the center of the crowd. "Not you, mijn ventje."

Coby had stood his ground. "I am eighteen."

Turtle was tall, with big shoulders and arms, his head shaved bald, and a toothy white grin overshadowed by a dark mustache. Gold hoops adorned his earlobes, and the silk tee-shirt he wore rippled with the movements of his chest muscles underneath.

"And I am Saint Boniface of Tarsus," Turtle had said, grinning. "If you can show me ID that says you are of age, I am certain I can produce one that states I am a pagan saint."

"I don't have my license," Coby had said. "I forgot it. " That never worked anywhere else, and he hadn't expected it to work at the front door to Samen.

But Turtle was a man with eyes connected to something other than just his brain. He had looked Coby over in silence, his grin slipping away, until the quiet between them had grown long.

"You'd like to meet someone, eh?" the big man had finally said. "A little lonely, perhaps?"

That would work, even though Coby was never lonely anymore. "Ja."

Turtle had nodded. "You don't look like a drinker."

"I'm not."

Turtle had frowned. "I do believe if I turn my back, you could slip by. But if I see you drinking alcohol, you will be out so fast that your clothing will catch fire. Understand me, mijn kleine?"

"Ja."

Coby had abided by that agreement, and in the following weeks had become a regular at the club. It had become a habit, and a need - a place to go to be away, to be alone, but with people still around, and the sounds of their voices, and music, and time to think.

Coby locked his bike and went in through the entry door, and through the little alcove where Turtle waved him by with a warm smile. Coby stopped inside the inner doorway, his eyes moving about the dimly-lit yet pulsing interior of the club - and Gearhardt, the Duits barkeep, started fixing Coby's Nojito the moment he saw the boy standing there.

A Nojito was a Mojito, minus the kick. Crushed ice, 8 mint leaves, a little lime juice, a squirt of sugar syrup, and a couple of spritzes of club soda. No alcohol. Coby could drink two of them on his daily budget, and he generally made them last for the two hours he sat at the bar and watched and listened.

Watched and listened to people.

Like with the drinks he made, Gearhardt had taken a measure of the ingredients of Coby's soul, and knew exactly how to deal with him. Most of the time, that entailed leaving Coby alone. Occasionally, if he saw the boy smile at something, he would massage that smile with a grin or a comment. If Coby spoke, Gearhardt would engage him in conversation, for as long as the lights of interest showed in Coby's eyes. Usually, that was not for long.

That the boy was running away from something was plain; that he paused here each evening to rest, equally evident. Gearhardt was a man with a soul, too, and he had taken its measure a long time before. So he allowed Coby his space, and shooed away the occasional miscreant who thought he might pick the boy up. Coby was, even to Gearhardt, quite cute; and while Coby was the correct sex for the barkeep to be interested, the boy's evident fragility of spirit and questionable age were more than enough to change the barkeep's interest to the fatherly sort that Coby seemed so much to need, but so actively shied away from.

"Hallo, Coby," he said, placing the boy's drink in front of him."Would you like something to eat?"

The boy shook his head, picked up his drink, took a sip. "No. Dank je, Gearhardt." His interest faded away.

The barkeep saw that, and moved away to deal with other customers.

Coby looked around the dance floor, at the couples moving quickly to the rapid techno beat. Mindless Self Indulgence. An American band.

Briefly, Coby let his eyes touch the faces of the dansers, wondering if he was here tonight. That special one. The one that made Coby's heart beat oddly.

There were perhaps twenty couples dancing tonight - Samen was small, and the dance floor tight. Coby liked small, and was glad his in had come at a place like this. His eyes moved among the gyrating bodies as he sipped his drink, but did not land upon the face he sought.

Coby had first noticed the face the third night he had come in. The other had been sitting at a table with another guy, both of them looking too young to be here. Just like Coby.

The other boy had been smiling - laughing - as Coby's eyes had found him, and Coby's gaze had immediately been arrested. He had paused, his drink momentarily forgotten. Even in the multi-hued glow of the lights from the club's many illuminated wall signs, and the dazzle of the lightshow overhead, Coby had been struck by the other boy's looks.

It was hard to tell anything in the club's pulsing lights - hair color, eye color - everything was black here. But with this one, it had not mattered. This one would be gorgeous anyplace.

In the nights that had followed, Coby had managed to see more of the fellow. The club closed at one a.m. for most of the week, and the lights came up to let everyone know it was time. On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights most clubs were open until five a.m. - but that was beyond what Coby would dare. Coby was on a long leash during the month of summer break from school - Uncle Geroit had given up trying to reign him in and just told him to be careful and not stay out all night without phoning. That the man had no idea how to raise a boy was obvious, and Coby had only the smallest of guilts in taking advantage of the situation. But fair was fair, and he had been kindly asked not to stay out all night without calling - and Coby disliked to call.

The other boy had black hair, and green eyes. In the full white lights of closing time, those green eyes danced in dazzling fashion, causing Coby's breath to get short. The other boy was as lean as was Coby, but perhaps five centimeters taller, moved with a precise grace that bespoke of a practiced self-assurance, and dressed like money was no object. He looked more like he belonged at Jimmy Woo or Rain than at Samen; Coby wondered why someone so beautiful would settle for a club that was adequate, but far from among the very best. He was everything that Coby was not, everything that Coby could only wish to be.

But he seemed not to be here tonight, unless he was on the other side of the room, in the dark line of tables barely visible there.

Coby sighed. In a world gone to dusk for him, that face was a small light. There was so much there to see: laughter, and deviltry, and an animated passion for people and things. The face had all of the things that Coby wanted, but could no longer find. It made him happy to watch the face, and it made him sad to see that it would never be his.

He went back to his drink, finished it more quickly than he had intended. He dropped some money on the bar, signaled Gearhardt for a refill.

Someone was at his side. Coby looked up, startled. A man stood beside him, holding a drink in one hand, and smiling. He was young, had dark eyes, was handsome in a wild fashion, and looked like he bent thick metal bars for a living. Coby let a small breath escape - he often caught the eye of someone cruising, and was used to guys trying to pick him up. He usually just ignored them, and they would go away. Or, if they were insistent, Gearhardt would shoo them off.

Coby stared at the wall, sending as plain a message as he could manage.

The man touched him. "Oh, do not be like that, my sweet one. It is only I, Bertrand, come to sweep you off your feet."

Gearhardt arrived with Coby's drink and set it down. "I think you will find more interested prospects on the floor," he said to Bertrand, pointedly.

Perhaps Bertrand had had too many drinks. A stubborn look came onto his face. "I was speaking to this one, I believe."

The barkeep looked at Coby, who continued to examine the wall.

"He looks uninterested in making your acquaintance," Gearhardt said quietly. "Move along, why don't you?"

"I do not think I will." Bertrand gave Coby a playful nudge. "You do not know me yet. You will like me when you do, I think."

Gearhardt leaned closer to the man. "Shall I call Turtle?"

Bertrand's stubborn look intensified. "This is a club, is it not? Your business is people meeting people, am I correct?" He looked at Coby. "Well, I wish to meet this one." His eyes jerked back to the barkeep. "Your Turtle likes the young ones. Perhaps the politie should look this place over a bit more closely?"

Coby noted the quiet look that entered the barkeep's eyes. If the man was afraid of the law, he did not show it. There was more of patience than fear here, and yet Gearhardt pulled back a bit, and Bertrand smiled.

"I thought not. Mind your manners, Gearhardt, and go away."

This was not going well. Coby did not want to be a source of trouble for the barkeep, who had been nothing but kind to him. He looked at Bertrand. "Verdwijnen. Take off."

The big man smiled. "Ah, you speak. And in a voice that sounds as sweet to my ears as your face is to my eyes."

Coby started downing his drink, and stood to leave.

Bertrand put out a hand and grasped Coby's arm. "Not yet, my sweet."

Quite suddenly, someone else was there beside them. "I am sorry I am late."

Coby looked up, and his heart briefly stilled. The Face.

The other boy was looking at him, smiling; but then his eyes went to Bertrand's. "I believe you have your hand on my friend."

Bertrand blinked, and then laughed. "Ah, Mooi. Are you saying this one is yours?"

The new boy's smile simply vanished. "I believe I just said so."

Bertrand pulled his hand back, but did not move away from Coby's side. "I am not sure I believe you, Mooi. I have watched this one the past several nights, and not one time have you so much as spoken to him. You have been here with a different date each night."

"And this is my date for this night," the new boy said, dropping a hand on Coby's shoulder and giving him a fond rub. Coby's breath simply refused to fill his lungs at the touch; he gulped, trying to breathe.

At the same time, his eyes on their own looked the other boy over, noted his fine, stylish dark clothing, and the black leather jacket that would probably set Uncle Geroit back a month's pay. And, of course, the stunning face, so perfect it could only be described with that very word.

But - Mooi? Was that actually this boy's name? Bertrand used it as such - but could it be? A nickname, more likely...but certainly appropriate in this case.

Coby smiled. Mooi saw it, and smiled in return. Bertrand frowned, though, feeling he was missing something but not knowing what is was. "I think you both lie. You with your words, Mooi; this one with his face."

Mooi's hand tightened on Coby's shoulder, a sure plea for him not to move. At the same time, the boy's other hand dropped to his side and slid into the pocket of his jacket.

"I believe you insulted us," Mooi said quietly. The statement was somehow oddly threatening. Bertrand's eyes dropped to where Mooi's hand bulged inside the pocket of his jacket. He licked his lips, looking unsettled for the first time. The big man's eyes came back up to settle on Coby's, and all he saw there was emptiness.

"Ja. I see when I am not wanted." Bertrand smiled then. "Your loss, my sweet. I would have taken you to places of joy, you know."

Gearhardt, who had been watching quietly, simply nodded. "A drink, Bertrand? On me?"

The big man smiled. "Now you have manners." He looked at Coby, shook his head; then his eyes went to Mooi, once again noted the hand in the pocket of his jacket. "I feel a chill here, however. I believe I will sit at the other end of the bar."

He turned then, and walked away. Gearhardt smiled at Coby, and followed.

Mooi relaxed his grip on Coby's shoulder. "Shall we go?"

Coby had trouble finding his voice. When it appeared, it had an embarrassing squeak in it. "Where?"

Mooi laughed. "To the moon, or to the rings of Saturn. Where would you like to go, gast?"

The other boy's manner was relaxing. Coby took a breath, and then another, and felt his shoulders drop just a bit as the tension went out of them.

"Better," Mooi said, feeling the reaction under his hand. "Come."

They went for the door, and out into the little alcove, where Turtle was kicked back in a chair. He spied Coby - and then saw who was with him. Turtle's eyes grew larger, and a beautiful smile emerged beneath his mustache. "Have a wonderful evening, heren."

The look in the uitsmijter's eyes as they touched Coby's said it all: Veel geluk!

They stepped out onto the street. The night air had a noticeable chill to it. Coby pulled his cell from his pocket - it was past eleven now.

He stopped, looked at the other boy, who smiled at him. "Yes? A question?"

Coby found, to his very great surprise, that he had to return the smile. "Is Mooi really your name?"

The other shrugged, let his eyes briefly scan the sky before coming back to Coby's. "It is what many call me. Do you not like it?"

There was no doubt about that. "It's very appropriate," Coby said, feeling just a touch of shyness.

Mooi nodded. "And not just for me. You could wear it just as easily."

Coby was stunned. "Me? I am not so beautiful as you."

The other tsked at him. "We must find you a mirror, then."

Mooi took Coby by the arm and they started off down the street. Coby was mesmerized by the presence of the boy he had not even dared quite to dream about, and they had gone only a short ways in silence before Coby suddenly stopped, remembering. "My bicycle. I left it back there."

But Mooi only nodded. "Mine is there, too. We will go back for them, after our walk."

Coby nodded. It was a beautiful night, if just a little chilly. "Cool, for summer," he said, for want of anything else to say. He felt out of his element now - aloneness had been his state of being for some time now. Other than Uncle Geroit, he seldom spoke to anyone now that school was out.

But then he recalled something, and looked at Mooi. "Your pocket - what do you have there?"

Mooi grinned at him, pulled his fist from the pocket of the beautiful leather coat, and opened it. It was empty.

"Nothing, you see. Only Bertrand's fears were ever there."

Coby had to smile again. "You bluffed him."

Mooi closed his eyes, opened them again. "He fooled himself."

Kerkstraat was alive with other strollers, despite the coolness of the evening - mostly couples walking hand-in-hand. There was a group of men, also, some dressed in leathers that gleamed eerily in the glow of the streetlamps; they passed, heading the other way. Church crowd, Coby mused. On Friday and the weekend nights there would be even more people here, until the very last club closed at five or six in the morning. And not just gay couples, but people of all sorts. Plenty of people lived along the way, coexisiting as peacefully as possible with the sometimes boisterous visitors.

"You are underage, gast," Mooi stated, matter-of-factly. "I see Turtle's hand in you being in the club."

Coby was not surprised. "Yes. Bertrand said Turtle has an eye for the young."

"Not quite true. Turtle has sympathy for the young." Mooi nodded. "Good thing, or I would not have been there to rescue you, either."

Coby stopped and looked at the other boy. "You are not eighteen?"

"No. Not for eleven more months."

Coby was amazed. He'd simply assumed that the other boy was of age, despite his youthful appearance. "I'd not have guessed."

Mooi laughed. "And your age?"

"Sixteen, for another four months."

Mooi sighed. "We are of a kind, then. Let us act as such."

With that, he turned, pulled Coby close, and kissed him gently.

Coby thought he would melt. His initial surprise was immediately wiped away as Mooi gently probed into Coby's mouth with his tongue - and then Coby's mind simply ceased thinking and all he could feel was the closeness and warmth of the other boy, the gentle questing of his tongue, and a faint tingle that coursed throughout his body and settled in his groin.

Mooi pulled back, releasing him. "As sweet as I imagined it would be."

Coby simply looked at him. "Why?"

"Why...am I here?"

That was what Coby was asking, more or less. He nodded.

"I have seen you watching me," Mooi said. "Quite a few nights now. I was enchanted at first, and then curious. Who was this sweet boy watching me so intently? I decided to find out. I just happened to be late arriving tonight, and walked right into your difficulty with Bertrand."

Coby was not sure how to react. He was disused to reacting now, he so seldom interacted with anyone.

Mooi smiled. "Are you shy? I would not have guessed, by the bold manner in which you watched me."

Coby felt a warmth in his face. He had been totally unaware that the other boy had even noticed him. Unaware that he had been staring. Coby had just thought of it as observing, never once even thinking of the fact that such things went both ways.

"I'm sorry," he managed. "I did not realize --"

Mooi cut him off by linking their arms and pulling Coby closer. "A small bit of moon out tonight. Beautiful, don't you think?"

Coby looked up at the glowing shard, nodded. "It is, quite."

"It is a wonderful thing to have a watcher, Coby." Mooi waved his free hand at the moon. "A companion in our travels through the universe, gazing down on us, face alight, casting away the shadows that clutter our route ahead. It is wonderful to be cared for, in such fashion."

Coby stared at the silvery arc, never once having considered it in such a manner. But then another thought came to him.

He looked at Mooi. "I did not tell you my name."

Even in the soft light, the other boy's smile glowed. "I asked Turtle who you were. Who is the lovely boy at the bar? I said. And he told me."

Coby felt his breath go out. "Truly?"

"Yes. As I said, it is a wonderful thing to be watched, when you know that the watcher's heart is pure."

Coby did not know how to take that. His heart? Pure? Surely not.

Mooi seemed to detect Coby's thoughts, and snuggled a bit against him. "I am enjoying our walk. Are you?"

The night seemed unusually beautiful to Coby. The streetlamps glowed and the buildings seemed full of light. The watchful slit of moon overhead, and the stars beyond. He had not felt so peaceful in a small eternity, and did not know how to react to this experience.

He let Mooi move him along the sidewalk, beneath trees that waved slowly in the cool night air, past people that smiled and nodded at them, past businesses and flats he had seen and never visited. Along a street of gold, it seemed, with the bright summer lights of the Magere Brug - the Skinny Bridge - ahead of them.

"I love the bridge," Mooi said softly, gazing ahead. "Do you ever come here?"

Coby had walked or pedaled across the bridge so many times in his life that he never even thought of it. And, especially, he had never thought of it as a place to visit on its own.

"I have been here, certainly."

Mooi seemed to frown at that. "One comes to the bridge, Coby. The bridge is special, you know."

Coby knew the tales of the bridge. That the sisters Mager had had the original one built because they lived on opposite sides of the Amstel river, and wished for an easy way to visit each other. There were other tales about the bridge - lover's tales - that to kiss upon the bridge was to ensure love eternal, and luck - and all sorts of things that Coby no longer believed in.

Doubt came upon him; but the moment with Mooi was somehow too special to let it take root. "I have heard about it."

The other boy chuckled. "Only heard? Then you must be shown, I think."

They passed the last house and crossed the Amstel road, and started up the incline of the bridge. The center span was brightly-lit, and there were people here and there along the railings - couples, too, mostly snuggled close together, staring silently into the glowing waters that passed beneath. A few stood on the center span, mindful that it could open, but knowing there would be time to move if the alert was given.

Mooi drew Coby to the rail just before the center span, and they stared off down the river at the lights of the city to either side.

"Beautiful, yes?" Mooi asked. He unlocked their arms, slid his arm around Coby's waist and gently pulled him closer.

Coby's breathing was short and rapid, and he simply couldn't understand how this was happening. "You don't know me," he said, shaking his head. "I don't know you."

Mooi stared a moment longer at the pleasant motion of the waters, then turned to look at him. "Oh, no, Coby. I do know you." He leaned in closer, and their lips again came together. Coby could not understand this; but the feeling was so wonderfully warm and intimate that he could not pull away. Again Coby's thoughts went silent and his body tingled with a new desire.

"I am a killer," Coby said then.

Mooi drew back, looked at him. "I find that difficult to believe."

So Coby told the other boy, of the afternoon that he was supposed to go to Naarden with his parents, and how he had hidden himself when it came time to go, and how he had been selfishly angry at his father because he could not get a new pair of shoes first.

"I delayed them," he said miserably, staring into the waters passing by. "They left me behind. On the way to Naarden, a car swerved into them on the A1, and they hit the base of a bridge." He stared into Mooi's beautiful eyes, his own filling with tears. "Had I not acted such an ezel, they would have been far ahead then, and missed that car altogether." He sobbed a bit, unable not to do it. "I killed them."

Mooi wrapped his arms about Coby and held him tightly. "No, Coby. It was not your fault. The world does not work that way, my love. The world does not offer such choices, not with the cause and effect so clearly defined. You could not know what might happen."

Coby had never shared his secret thoughts - not with anyone. Not even Uncle Geroit. To have them suddenly paraded before his eyes was devastating all over again. He cried then, for the first time in a long, long time. Mooi simply held him, as the ancient city clustered about them, full of secret things and secret places, and the others on the bridge seemed not to notice. Lights danced blurrily in front of Coby's tear-filled eyes, and the cool night air touched his face; but the warmth and assurance of Mooi's embrace was what held his thoughts.

Who is this boy? he made time to wonder, between all the things that came and went in his thoughts.

That he was not directly responsible for his parent's deaths was a new thought for Coby - that happenstance had played a part, a variable not considered. The complexity of events stared at him all over again, as he considered the role of choices made in the glaring lights of memory.

"Yes," Mooi said, as if he could hear Coby's musings. "It could be argued just as easily that your father's choice to leave you instead of wait and find you led to the accident. Or your mother's decision to allow that to occur. Or the roads they chose to the A1, or the flow of traffic, or the speed at which they drove. All a series of equations within the convoluted mathematics of reality."

What?

"It's been nearly two years now," Mooi said then. "It is time to let go of your grief."

Coby jerked his head back in astonishment and alarm. "You can't know that. How can you know that?"

Mooi smiled at him. "I love you, Coby."

Coby jerked away then, pulling from the other boy's embrace and stepping backwards in a panic. "Who are you, Mooi?"

The other boy's beautiful eyes sparkled in the reflected lights of the bridge. "I just told you. I am someone that loves you, Coby."

Coby turned and ran. His head seemed so full it would explode, as he relived the day he had hidden from his parents, and the night where he had met Mooi. His feet pounded the stones of the walk as he fled back down Kerkstraat, dancing past startled couples, shying around trees and signposts and streetlamps. Others, walking along, stepped out of the way as they saw him coming, alarmed at his speed, looking past him as he passed them, to see just what might be chasing him.

The run seemed eternal - far longer than the walk down to the river. But he finally reached Samen, found his bike, hurriedly unlocked it, and pedaled away into the night.

His mind was in the grip of a kind of horror - that he had been somehow found out, and made to look into the mirror of his fears, and see the face of guilt that lived within. He pedaled furiously, letting his feet and his hands guide him, and so was somewhat surprised to find himself once again on the quay, with the tall steel latticework of the railroad indicators above him. He threw his bicycle to the ground, grabbed at the ladder, started up.

A train, his thoughts screamed at him. I need a train!

The whirlwind that were his thoughts crashed to a sudden stillness as Coby reached up for the top rung of the ladder and felt something there.

He looked up.

Outlined with stars, with the moon just behind, was the dim shape of a head and shoulders - someone staring down at him. Eyes that sparkled in the night.

"No, Coby," came Mooi's voice then. "You won't."

And with that, the other boy reached down and pushed Coby off the ladder.


When he awoke, he was in a bright room, with sun streaming into the window. He was laying in a bed, and his Uncle Geroit was sitting in a chair next to him, his head nodding with sleep.

The door to the room was open, and people were walking by in the corridor beyond. No one looked in, no one noticed him.

Coby shifted, and groaned at the sudden ache that came to his head and side. His uncle's eyes popped open, and he looked sleepily at Coby a moment before his eyes opened all the way and he smiled.

"Jakob. I am so happy to see you awake." The man leaned forward, found Coby's hand and squeezed it. "You've been asleep for quite some time."

Coby was utterly confused. "What happened?"

His uncle frowned. "You tell me. You were found by the side of the railroad tracks near Piet Hein Kade, apparently having fallen from some tall signaling tower. What were you doing, Coby?"

With a rush he could almost hear, the night came back to him. Mooi.

"He pushed me," Coby said, his voice subdued with disbelief.

Uncle Geroit leaned closer. "Who pushed you?"

Coby blinked, as the impossibility of what had happened - what he remembered happening - came to the fore.

There was no way that Mooi could have beaten him to the tower in the first place.

He looked at his uncle, feeling confused. "I don't know what happened, Uncle."

The man compressed his lips, gave a little nod. "The doctor said there might be some loss of memory." He shook his head. "Coby, what were you doing up there? You could have been killed."

Killed.

Coby closed his eyes, seeing now how close he had come, and seeing now how glad he was that death had not claimed him.

It was not my fault.

"I didn't kill them," Coby said slowly.

Uncle Geroit stared at him. "Who?"

"Mijn moeder en vader."

Uncle Geroit looked horrified. "Of course you didn't kill them." He leaned closer, looking intently at Coby. "Did you think that you did?"

Haltingly, Coby told his uncle of that day, two years before, and how he had hidden from his parents and they had driven off without him.

Uncle Geroit shook his head. "No, Coby. No. You are not to blame. Why did you not tell me this before now?"

"It was my secret thing," Coby whispered. "I was afraid of it - and ashamed."

Uncle Geroit rose from the chair, sat by Coby, and gently laid his hand upon him, and leaned down and kissed his cheek. "No, son. No. You are not to blame. You must remove that idea from your mind." He sighed. "All this time I have been unable to reach you. All this time I watched as you moved about life behind a thick wall that kept me from understanding you. And now I see why. I am so sorry."

"It's not your fault," Coby said immediately - and then felt wonder. Now he understood.

Uncle Geroit sighed. "You were so lucky, Coby. You were very high up. When you fell, your jacket caught on something and slowed your fall. It ripped, and dropped you, but you were much closer to the ground. You hit your head, and you bruised your ribs severely, but you are not hurt badly, considering."

Coby looked up at the man, could see the concern in his eyes. "I love you, Uncle. Do you know that?"

Uncle Geroit's mouth compressed, and tears came to his eyes. "Oh, Coby. You are all the family I have left. To have lost you would have been the end of my last happiness."

He leaned down and gently hugged Coby, and Coby felt an unfamiliar warmth inside himself. It took a moment, but then he knew what it was.

He was happy.


He was released from hospital, and slowly went back to living. But now it seemed different. He was happy to wake up in the morning, and happy to have the day before him. He healed a bit, and Uncle Geroit stopped watching him so closely. They reached an understanding about freedom, and Coby was there each evening to have dinner with his uncle, and promised not to be out to all hours.

The first night he was free to go roaming, he went straight to Kerkstraat, and Samen.

It was not there.

Confused, Coby turned and walked back to Cafe de Biecht, turned around again and went back to where the club should have been.

Nothing. A building full of flats stood before him, looking nothing like the brightly-lit facade of Samen.

A man came along the sidewalk, and Coby turned to him. "Your pardon. Do you know what happened to Club Samen, that used to be here?"

The man paused, looked at him strangely. "You mean right here? There has never been a club here."

Coby simply stared. "No club? But I have been here before."

"Not here. Maybe further along, you mean. I have lived in this block for twenty years, and these apartments have always been here." He looked at Coby strangely. "You look too young to have just come from a coffee house."

Coby gave a small laugh. "I am not high, sir. But thank you."

The man shrugged, moved on. Coby stared at the building in front of him, unable to believe that this was happening. He turned, walked all the way down to Church, but there was no Club Samen anywhere between.

He walked slowly back to where he had locked his bike, wondering at what had happened to his world. The memories seemed so clear, and yet - perhaps the bump to his head? But...he remembered Mooi's face so clearly, remembered his beautiful smile, and his beautiful eyes. That he could have somehow created all of it inside his head seemed unlikely.

So...where was Samen?

Losing the nightclub was one thing; but the thought of never seeing Mooi again gave Coby a genuine pain in his heart. That Coby could at last find his feet beneath him and move away from the loss of his parents had severely lightened the load under which he had been living. But to then lose Mooi among the shadowy halls of memory was a damper on his newfound sense of happiness.

He was going to head home, but then had a thought, and instead pedaled to where Kerkstraat met the Amstel. He locked his bike, and walked slowly up the incline of the Margere Brug, looking at the illuminated center span of the bridge. He walked to the very railing where he remembered standing with Mooi, on a night now lost somewhere in time.

He gazed into the glowing waters below, saw the reflections of the city lights around him. And...

A glowing arc - the moon. He turned and looked up at it, still small in the sky, not yet even a quarter. Far away, yet interested. Watching.

"Hallo, Coby."

Coby jerked his eyes down to earth.

Mooi.

The other boy stood just before him, dressed exactly like he had been the other night - the night of dreams.

"Oh, Mooi," Coby breathed, stepping forward and taking the other boy into his arms. Mooi came willingly, warmly, the real softness and warmth of flesh pressing against Coby as Mooi wrapped him in a hug and kissed him.

"Coby. I have missed you."

Coby had his eyes squeezed shut, only thinking of the boy in his arms. Mooi kissed him again, and Coby pulled back and pushed his lips against Mooi's. It was a long kiss, passionate on both ends, and when Coby finally took a breath his head spun and his eyes seemed blurry.

"Where is Samen?" Coby whispered.

Mooi smiled, lifted a hand and touched a fingertip to Coby's temple. "In here."

Coby shook his head. "Who are you, Mooi? What...are you?

Mooi nodded. "I knew you would see." He withdrew his arms from around Coby - reluctantly, it seemed - and drew Coby back to the railing. They both stared out at the river, and the long, twin rows of lights that marked buildings, marching away into the distance along each side of the water.

"Damsko is ancient," Mooi said softly. "A thousand years of being. Cities have souls, Coby - did you know that?"

Coby nodded. "After a fashion."

Mooi placed an arm around Coby's waist and squeezed him closer. "People leave their marks, Coby. For so many to live in one place for so long - a place that they love - it creates a spirit that loves them back. Yes, a soul, Coby. I am part of the soul of Damsko. You called, and I came for you. Do you understand?"

Coby sighed. "No. Not really." A sadness was coming over him. He was not well - maybe crazy, even. But that Mooi was somehow not real was becoming plain, and that knowledge hurt Coby immensely. It meant that there was no future between them, no possibility for Coby to express the love he knew he was now feeling for this odd and mysterious boy with the dark hair and bright green eyes.

And yet, Coby's darkness had been lifted. The emptiness inside him, long eschewing companionship, now ached to be filled. There was light ahead - someplace along the way. This boy - this spirit - had brought it to him.

Mooi laughed. "I know what you are thinking. I have plans for you, my little one. I see times past - and times yet to come. Your times yet to come."

Coby smiled. "I would not be surprised." He sighed. "I will miss you, Mooi."

Mooi squeezed him again. "You forget - we have kissed here, on the Skinny Bridge. That makes it eternal, you know."

Coby nodded. "If you are the city, then it will be so. For I will always love this city." Coby licked his lips. "I will always love you, Mooi."

The other boy smiled, kissed Coby again. "Then have patience, and you will see. Love goes both ways, in the heart of Damsko."


The rest of summer break was quiet. Coby finally decided that he was not crazy - just stressed. Two years of self-blame concealed inside of himself had left a vast hollow when removed. Uncle Geroit seemed determined to fill it with love, if possible, and Coby was letting him.

An opening for a dishwasher appeared at the coffee shop where his uncle worked - part time, and just for the summer tourist rush - two hours in the late afternoon, seven days a week. His uncle recommended Coby to his employer, and Coby got the job. It meant two hours each day spent in the kitchen with his uncle, and the two of them grew even closer, capping the end of their workdays by eating together and then walking home. The next best thing about the job after spending time with his uncle was that Coby could contribute to things at home, plus have a little pocket money for his own needs. It made him feel even better about himself, which was a long time coming.

And, he could keep the job even when school resumed, until the tourist season was over. This year, Coby intended to improve himself at school, as well. He had been getting by, just maintaining a grade six in his classes, and given a lot of latitude by his instructors after the death of his parents. Before that, Coby had consistently scored a seven or eight in his classes, with the ones he liked best even hitting nine in grading. He wanted to go back to that. He was VWO, wanted to attend University some day. He would never make that goal the way he had been going.

School resumed, and Coby returned to the Athenaeum. His schedule varied, with some classes taught four times a week, while others he attended only twice or even once. This scheduling allowed students to focus on the subjects that were most important to their futures.

Coby had determined early in his life that he was science-bound for a career, and had placed those classes first in his day so that he would be fresh and interested. The day began with a group circle - the table chairs all circled together so that students developed bonds. Coby thought it a good idea, actually; in the previous two years, all of his friends had moved away from him due to his disinterest in life - but only moved so far. They knew about his parents, and he was aware from time to time of someone looking after him in class. He had stumbled along through each day, and they had let him do that - unless it looked like he might fall, at which point out came a hand to steady him. That was something he wanted to pay back on a bit, too.

Coby sat in his chair, folded his hands in his lap. Across from him, Dereck Chargier took a seat. Coby had known him for years. Dereck's eyes came up, and he frowned at Coby. Coby smiled, raised a hand and waved. Dereck's eyes widened, and he instantly smiled and returned the wave.

Others came in, took seats. Coby turned and talked for a moment to the girl next to him, whom he also knew. He was aware that someone sat down on his other side, but only turned back at the last moment and looked to see who it was.

Mooi.

Coby gaped. The other boy was sorting through his things, and not paying attention. But then he looked up, and his eyes met Coby's. His green eyes.

The other boy blinked. "Hé, gast, hoe is het?"

Coby gasped. "Mooi!"

His neighbor blinked, examined the expression on Coby's face, and then smiled. "Did you just call me beautiful?"

Coby immediately recognized that this boy spoke with a faint accent. The voice was the same, but the words felt different. Not Mooi.

Coby was embarrassed, but in an uncharacteristic move, let boldness overcome him. "He whom the shoe fits..."

The other boy laughed, and reddened slightly. But he stuck out his hand, "I'm David Scott."

"American," Coby decided, taking the hand. It just felt right.

The boy's handshake was warm and friendly. Coby liked him immediately. Familiar, but different.

"Yes. I guess you can hear the accent."

"Your Nederlands is excellent. Just not perfect."

David nodded. "I've been speaking it since I was seven. I guess it's hard to totally drown out the old red, white, and blue, though."

"What are you doing here?" Coby finally asked, marveling at this new turn of events.

David shrugged. "My dad works for Phillips. He got a permanent position, so now I will be going to school here." He grinned. "And I've made an interesting new friend already."

Coby nodded. "Yes. You have."

David looked at him for a moment, looking directly into Coby's eyes, as if searching for something. "Did you mean...did you mean what you said? About me being...you know." The other boy looked about a bit nervously.

"About you being beautiful?" Coby asked, lowering his voice and leaning closer. "Yes."

The other boy frowned. "Does it show that clearly? That I'm, well...I'm gay?"

Coby shook his head. "No. Not at all. I did not immediately think you were gay. Just that you were beautiful." Coby shook his head. "You need not whisper about this thing here, David. No one will bother you in the least about it. It is your business, only." But then he smiled. "Your business...and mine."

A little smile tugged at the corners of David's mouth. "You...?"

Coby nodded.

David's smile was beautiful, and Coby's heart gave a leap inside his chest. "Shall we talk after classes?"

"Yes."

The instructeur came in then, and everyone's attention went to him.

But for a moment, Coby's thoughts wandered away, to a bridge in the heart of a city suspended in time. A bridge where a kiss was eternal.

Love goes both ways, in the heart of Damsko, the soul of the city had told him.

Those who love, will always find it returned.

The central span of the Magere Brug, the Skinny Bridge, in Amsterdam, Where Jakob, Coby, kissed Mooi, a part of the soul of Damsko, and where a kiss is eternal
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