His name was Brandon, is what I remember, and he taught me everything I know about lightshaping.
I met Brandon when I was twelve. It was the first day of middle school and, as I approached the end of the single, off-pink painted building and the wide hallway with the four doors that would be our classrooms, from the shadows, Brandon appeared.
“Hey, you must be new,” he said and gave me his name.
His amber eyes, like two crystallized stars aglow in the night sky, and his soft, lunar smile invited me into his world. I’d never met someone so beautiful. I didn’t know what to do.
So, I nodded and said, “I’m Alejandro.”
Brandon held out his brown hand, hairless arm at an angle, and said, “welcome to the Arcanium.”
My desire twitched, grabbed his hand and he showed me how to greet him, like we were wrestling in midair. With a snap of his finger on mine, he let me go. I felt special. It was our moment, one between me and the most beautiful man I’d ever seen.
The gurgling morning bell rang out in the gloom of the hallway. He motioned for me to follow as he strolled over to a series of steel shelves where the kids gathered before classes—it was a very small community school—and grabbed his backpack.
He threw his arm over my shoulder and said, “stick with me and you’ll be a master Alicanto.”
I didn’t get why he liked me so much; we’d only just met and as far as he knew I could’ve been some psycho. Maybe he saw something in me that I couldn’t. Or maybe it was me, for the first time, experiencing a desire I couldn’t understand. I let the beautiful man guide me toward a jungle green painted door. I couldn’t help. He was very beautiful.
After we were settled, and he insisted I sit in the back of the room, “so we can talk,” another student—unusually lanky and pale—wandered to the window and tilted the blinds. Sunlight trickled onto the tile. It blebbed and congealed, taking form and rising from the floor, into a woman. Her hair was perfectly straight, the deep black sheet framed her brown face, and she grinned as she scanned the classroom. She linked her fingers over her stomach and said,
“Welcome to Lumology. I’m Tunda, your teacher. We are going to have a great time this year.”
She waved her hand, swatting the air, and the walls were consumed with light. When the glow faded, the classroom was gone. We sat at our desks in a field of golden grass and blue flowers. The other students seemed to know what to do. They all stood up and gathered to sit around Tunda. Brandon stood beside me and offered me his hand.
“Come on,” he said. “Tell me where you came from?”
I didn’t want to talk to him, and I did. I wanted to listen to Tunda describe the magical science of lightshaping, the physical properties of light, and something about our relatives—which she pronounced funny—and I didn’t. I wanted to ask Brandon where we were and why no one else seemed as intrigued.
“I came from a public school down the street,” I said, trying to see what Ms. Tunda was going to do with a sliver of sunlight she plucked from the air. “We don’t study magic there.”
“Lucky you,” he said and sighed when Ms. Tunda threw open her hand, freeing creatures, no people! They were acting out something from history, I heard Ms. Tunda say.
The people floated into the sky, breaking the clouds and saturating the blue sky with light. Brandon tapped my bicep.
“Lay back,” he said.
Our shoulders connected on the grass. An electric pulse nagged my attention, begging me to savor and commit to memory every feeling I was having. I couldn’t keep my focus on the dimming sky, the cosmic dance of the stars performing the discovery of what I learned was General Relativity. I felt a tingling in my gut, a nervous, empty twitch like I was hungry and scared.
He laughed for no reason and said, “you really like this stuff huh?”
He scoffed. “Guess I’m just used to it. Dad’s a master Alicanto, mom’s a master Oscurera, and my older brothers all want to study the elements. Me, I’m supposed to learn this stuff,” he motions to the rain of meteors all swerving around Jupiter, “like my dad.”
The show settles. The planets and stars all return to their places and the clouds return. I wait for his cue to sit up, but it doesn’t come. I glance over to him, pensive.
“Wish I could be a regular guy, you know? You’ve been around the regs, right? Are they happy?”
I didn’t want to tell him being regular wasn’t that special. I didn’t know I had magic for a long time. It wasn’t until I lit Mr. Elmer’s snake tank on fire after he tried to get me to touch the stupid python that anyone knew what I was. They called me a freak then. I didn’t want to tell Brandon I was glad to be out of there. He didn’t know what he was missing because if he did, I might never smile again. And that would be the worst thing the regs ever did.
“Ah, don’t tell. Let me dream a little bit more,” he said and sat up.
Tunda motioned for everyone to stand. “Find a partner! We’re going to learn a basic spell, one everyone your age learns. Watch me.”
She took a deep breath.
“Feel the warm sun on your skin.”
“The tingle of your body.”
She held out a hand.
“Let it move through your arm.”
And an orb of pure, silver light appeared and hovered over her palm. She opened her eyes.
“It takes time to feel the sensations, but a partner helps. Talk to each other. Tell each other how you feel until you get it. Everyone should feel the same thing.”
Brandon turned to me. With a cool grin, his hand swam up to his chest and from his palm, a light erupted.
“Very good, Brandon!” Ms. Tunda said, clapping and smiling as she turned to the other students.
“I could do this since I was four years-old,” he said. I didn’t think his eyes were capable of dimming, but they did. I wanted him to come back, to ignite again.
I held out my hand, focused on a burn I felt, like I had been scratching for too long. I didn’t feel any tingling.
“It takes a little while,” said Brandon.
I opened my eyes and he walked toward me, standing so close my finger needed to just move an inch and I would touch his chest. His hand came to my arm, right on the place I felt the burning.
“You need to go to the beach more,” he said and laughed. “That’s a sunburn. The feeling doesn’t hurt. It feels kinda gooey like if you let it go everywhere, you’ll melt.” His free hand came to my gut. “It’s in here usually. Mine is anyway.”
His touch moved from my arm to my lower back. His stance shifted from lack to firm and his breath tickled my neck. My nerves felt every drop of pressure his body placed on mine. My brain had no concept of the sun’s warmth at that moment. It was all about Brandon.
“Try again. Trust me. Focus here,” he said and tickled my flabby abdomen.
I almost collapsed, folded inward like a chair but he kept me up.
And I tried. I closed my eyes as Tunda did. Ignored the burn on my arms, and let Brandon’s hand have my attention. Those muscles there quivered. The hungry sense had never left, but it didn’t feel gooey, more hollow. Until these fingers caressed me. And in that brief, infinitesimal touch, I melted.
The tingle coursed through my body. I felt it in my throat, but I suppressed the word. I willed into my hand and an unmistakable heat emerged from my skin. I opened my eyes and stared at the seething orb of fire.
“Whoa,” said Brandon. “You’re better than I am.” He patted me on the back, a strike that transformed into a grab, into a massage, then a headbutt on my cheek. I felt his pride. I still do.
Ms. Tunda congratulated me. She said I had a knack for elemental magic and I should consider specializing in pyrology. It sounded like a good idea but I didn’t want to leave Brandon, so I stayed in Lumology for the rest of the year.
He taught me so much about lightshaping and I showed him how to harness the energy, to send the particles into violent convulsions that could erupt. He loved it. I’d never seen him so happy. For some reason, when I saw him smile, it made me want to connect our smiles. But we never did.
I called him when school started the following year. I thought we’d had a great summer together. We showed him what regs do and he showed me what the magic folk normally do for vacation. It was the best time of my life. I called him so many times, but he never answered.
Ms. Tunda told me his dad had taken him out of school to put him in another one that specializes in Lumology. She smiled when she told me, she genuinely seemed excited for Brandon, she was convincing. I couldn’t be happy for him like she was. He was my friend and I missed him.
“Alé,” I heard one day from the bushes by the main gate as I was leaving to walk home. I turned and peeking out from the honeysuckle was Brandon’s smoldering eyes.
“Get in here,” he hissed.
He pulled me down into the dirt and held me against the concrete wall, which I realized wasn’t painted with that awful pink—it looked better just plain gray than pink.
“Sorry I haven’t been answering,” he said, his mouth closed, his breath tipping toward foul, but I didn’t care. He was here. “My dad wasn’t letting me answer. He didn’t like that I was learning pyro stuff. Wanted me to stay away from you. I can’t keep doing that. I hate that new school, I hate it. Everyone’s so stupid and ugly and all they talk about is freaking light and I don’t care and nothing cool.” He went on and on.
When he was tired, he huffed and smiled. And he made me smile. And we sat there for a moment, staring at each other like old friends who missed each other.
“Listen,” he said, setting his hand on my cheek. “I’m going to a party tomorrow. Some kids at the new school invited me and I don’t want to go, but with you, it might not be so bad. You’re coming right?”
Of course, I had to ask my parents first, but I nodded and said, “sure.”
“Good,” he said. He brought his lips forward. My body clenched tight, wondering where he was going. He connected with my forehead. As he ruffled my curls, he said, “see you tomorrow, Alé. We’ll meet here and go.”
He hopped out of the bushes and vanished into the afternoon.
The party was loud and wild for my taste. The parents didn’t seem to care about kids running around the mansion casting their light orbs and launching scalding luminous ribbons at each other as a joke. Several boys were burned pretty badly, but the party went on. Brandon and I managed to find a quiet place to hide until the nightmare was over and we could go home.
“This is pretty cool,” he said as we laid in the backyard, gazing up at the stars.
Brandon held out his hand and with the curl of his finger, he plucked a light from the heavens and kept it in his palm.
“Spica,” he said, “is what they call this star. Have you started Astrology yet?”
“Yeah, but I don’t think we’ve gotten to fixed stars yet.”
He ran his free fingers through my hair, shook my head, and said, “you’ve gotta pay attention, dumbass.”
“I do!” I laughed and swatted away his hand. I didn’t want him to stop touching me and he didn’t. His hand fell to my gut as he leaned over to me, bringing the star before me.
“You remember the feeling? Use it again. Hold the star like you did the orb. Don’t let go or you’ll set the place on fire.”
I was about to reach out and accept the light, but I panicked and pulled away.
“Don’t be a pussy.”
I didn’t like it when he called me that word.
“Sorry,” he said and pried my hand away from crossed arms, breaking my pout. “Look, just grab it, okay. Have I ever led you wrong?”
I was about to answer, but his finger rushed up to my lips and he said, “don’t answer that.”
His hand dropped to my knee. His elbow buried into my waist as he brought the light right in front of me. I moved my hand under it, and felt the stinging fire of the cosmos. I had learned to cast my own fire, but it wasn’t as heavy, or violent as this one. I held on to it though. I steadied my hand with the other and I held on to the light, the fire of a star.
“It’s the star of beauty, they say,” Brandon said. “It’s my favorite. A beautiful joining of fire and light. I love it.”
He leaned his head against my shoulder. It was the perfect moment. We sat there for a while, watching the star burn, and when the party began to quiet, Brandon set the star back into the sky.
We walked back to the school together. I made fire and he siphoned the light from it, making little creatures dance on the pavement as we strolled through the night. It was nice. So nice I wish it had gone on longer.
“I have to tell you something,” said Brandon when we arrived at the open field in front of the school where the parents parked.
He stood right in front of me and smacked my arm down to quench the fire.
“What was that for?” I asked.
“Let’s run away. Right now,” he said. “We can just run away somewhere and it can just be you and me forever. Doesn’t that sound awesome?”
It did. I would’ve done it too.
“Be serious. Where would we go?”
“Doesn’t matter, Alé!” He said, sleeking my hair back, pulling my head with it as he huddled close to me. “We go together. To the end of the world. I don’t care.”
I pushed him away and laughed. “Let’s just go home, dude. It’s getting late.”
He shook his head. “I can’t go home, Alé. My dad’s gonna kill me.”
“What are you talking about?”
The very mention, the very idea that Brandon’s life was in danger, joke or not, sent my body into a rage. I wanted to grab him and hold him so close that if anything wanted to even touch him they would have to go through me. But Brandon kept his distance. He just laughed kind of maniacally and said, “I snuck out.”
You nodded over and over.
“I’m fucked, Alé. He’s going to beat the shit out of me. I’m dead.”
I didn’t know if he was serious. I’d never seen any evidence of abuse when we went into the pool or were changing afterward and I would remember if I had. I couldn’t help studying every inch of his beauty. All I wanted was to understand it. He was flawless. I would have seen something.
He began to cry. A hard, convulsing cry and he started to fold in, but I got him. I got him. Just like he always got me. I held him so close and so tight I could feel the air moving inside him and I squeezed the tears from his body. He was safe right here.
He stayed there in the worn, tattered grass and pale stones for a while. No magic passed between us. It was just us. When he was finished, I let him go and shuffled away from me.
“Can we hang out tomorrow?” He asked, glancing back at me.
“Of course,” I said.
He smiled and walked away.
I watched him stroll into the darkness, listening to the crunch of stones under his feet and the rush of passing cars. I couldn’t let him walk away. I was sure that if I did, I would never see him again. I called out to him, but he didn’t turn around. I ran after him and tackled him to the ground.
“What the fuck?” He cried, laughing as fell, shoving fists into my chest and arms.
When the dust settled and we laid on our backs staring at the fading stars, I turned to him and said, “let’s go.”
He patted my chest and got up. “You’re right. I gotta face my dad.”
“I mean let’s run away.”
I stared up at him, face stern. He chuckled. It was hard for me not to laugh when he did, but I did it.
I nodded. I was serious.
“Where are we going?”
I didn’t have a plan except I knew that as long as I had him by my side I would be okay. We could do it. An Alicanto and an Elemental taking on the world together.
I heard the hiss of the bus as it stopped at the intersection. I stood up and met his amber eyes, ablaze with possibility. We could do it; we just have to try.
“Come on, Brandon. Let’s go.”
I started to walk toward the bus. I hoped to hear the crunch of his shoes. I didn’t. But I felt his arm over my shoulder.
“And I’ll teach you a few more things about lightshaping. We’ll need them on the road.”
And that’s how I’ll always remember him, the boy who taught me everything I know about lightshaping.
Kevin (he/they) is a gay, Latine fiction writer, and cardiovascular research scientist. His fiction work appears (or forthcoming) in Idle Ink, Medusa Tales Magazine, Pyre Magazine, and more. He is Editor/Publisher of Tree and Stone Magazine, an HWA/SFWA/Codex member, and First Reader for Interstellar Flight Press. For more about him, please see his website: https://kevinmcasin.wordpress.com/. Please follow his Twitter: @kevinthedruid.