“Cyrus, this is Jacob,” Hayden said, gesturing towards the disheveled middle aged man. He looked tired and like he could use a shave, but more or less normal. “Jake, meet my friend Cyrus.”
Jacob offered a calloused hand that Cyrus accepted. “Nice to meet you,” Cyrus said.
“Eh, any friend of Hayden’s is a friend of mine,” he drawled in return. Jacob let go of Cyrus’s hand and pulled his keys out of his pocket. “Well? You ready?”
“‘Course,” Hayden said, heading towards the parking lot. “Come on, Cy.”
Cyrus eyed the beat up pickup truck warily. It was an odd mustard yellow color and splotches of rust were beginning to show around the wheel wells. Nevertheless, it looked pretty stable, so Cyrus climbed in after Hayden on the long bench seat, glad to be scoring the seat by the window.
“He’s not as mean as he looks,” Hayden whispered, leaning over. “Really, he’s a good guy.”
“My mother used to tell me not to get in a car with strangers,” Cyrus muttered. “And here I am, sitting in a sketchy truck with a sketchy-looking bearded guy.”
Hayden rolled his eyes. “I’ve hopped a ride with him dozens of times, and he’s never once kidnapped or murdered me.”
“This could be the time.”
“Shut up; you told me you’d come,” Hayden said, his breath just barely tickling Cyrus’s cheek.
“I am coming,” Cyrus replied. “I didn’t say I wouldn’t point out the clear precariousness of our situation, though.”
Before Hayden could reply, the driver’s side door opened, and Jacob climbed in. “Town’s not far,” he grunted, firing up the engine. Cyrus was no car expert, but he wasn’t sure that the knock in the engine was something that should be ignored. “I’ll need ‘bout an hour or two at the supply store. Can you kids kill that much time?”
“No problem,” Hayden replied. “We’ll find stuff to do.”
Cyrus nodded, then turned to the window to watch as the trees flew by. The road was twisty, and every few seconds Cyrus was either flung into the window or into Hayden. “Sorry,” Cyrus muttered the second time he practically landed in Hayden’s lap.
“S’okay,” Hayden replied, straightening up.
Cyrus’s leg was pressed right up against Hayden’s, and he was all too aware of it. He wasn’t sure what had been happening lately, but it was becoming harder and harder to shake the tingling feeling in his stomach whenever Hayden was around. So, in other words, almost all the time. It was stupid; Hayden was his best friend. That was all.
Besides, even in the very hypothetical situation that he did have feelings for Hayden, there was so little chance that he would ever like him back in that way. Hayden was into cars and rock and roll. He had a poster of a half naked woman on his wall. The chances-
“We’re here,” Jacob declared.
Cyrus blinked, feeling jarred as he came back to reality. He hadn’t even realized it, but the scenery had at some point changed from forests into a small town. It was mildly populated, but still compact and quaint. They turned down a narrow street and Jacob parallel parked in front of a store with a faded red and white sign proclaiming, “Terry’s Records: Buy and Sell Turntables, Records and More.” Beside the lettering was a cartoon guy smiling over a turntable.
“Go ahead,” Hayden said, gesturing towards the car door.
Cyrus pulled on the handle and stepped out onto the sidewalk. Hayden joined him a second later, and the knocking of the pickup’s engine faded as Jacob pulled away. “You ready for this?” Hayden asked.
“Hayden, it’s just a store,” Cyrus said, his lips quirking in amusement.
Hayden grinned. “You don’t understand. This is the store. It’s the be-all, end-all of record stores. You haven’t lived until you’ve been inside this place.”
Cyrus snorted. “Well, don’t oversell it. Let’s see this.” He pushed the door open, and a few bells rang above his head. Instead of walking into the main part of the store, Cyrus was surprised to find a set of rickety steps that led up to a second floor. He shot Hayden a sidelong glance. Hayden encouraged him with a nod. “If I get murdered somewhere along this trip, it is so on your conscience,” Cyrus breathed.
“Duly noted,” Hayden replied. “Maybe you just have an unhealthy obsession with death,” he said as they climbed up the stairs.
Cyrus shot a glare over his shoulder. He shifted his weight onto the next step, and it creaked and bowed so loudly that he was afraid it might give out. As soon as his heart slowed back down to its normal pace, he continued up to the second floor and squeezed through a narrow doorway.
The store wasn’t what Cyrus had been expecting at all. He pictured a dim, musty warehouse type with rats in the corner and mildew in the air. Instead, as he walked through a short aisle of boxes of records and into the main store, Cyrus found an orderly collection of vinyls. They filled every spare inch; most of the shelves were waist high, but some stretched all the way to the ceiling. Organized by genre, they were sorted alphabetically, and each was individually packaged in a plastic sleeve. The sheer number of vinyls was overwhelming.
“Wow,” Cyrus breathed.
“Go on in further,” Hayden encouraged. “Look around.”
Cyrus stepped further into the shop, heart leaping to his throat when someone coughed beside him in what seemed like an empty store. He spun towards the sound, finding a counter that he hadn’t realized was there before, it was so buried in records. An old, heavy set man nodded at him from behind a stack of papers and cardboard. Giving a tentative nod back, Cyrus turned down the nearest row, browsing idly. He sensed Hayden coming up behind him. “This is incredible,” Cyrus said. “How many records do you suppose are here?”
“Thousands,” Hayden replied with certainty. “Let’s go to the rock section,” he said. “You finally have the chance to pick what you want.”
“I don’t know the first thing,” Cyrus said, frowning. “I don’t know what I like.”
“I do,” Hayden assured him. “I’ll help you out.”
Following his friend towards an aisle a few rows away, Cyrus breathed in the familiar smell of vinyl, only this time it was multiplied and spread around the room. It was oddly comforting. All of a sudden, Hayden stopped. Cyrus waited a beat, but he didn't move, eyebrows pulled together in a scowl.
“What’s wrong?” Cyrus asked.
“Oh, nothing. I was just wondering whether you’re ready for Led Zeppelin.”
Cyrus shrugged. “I don’t know. Am I?”
Hayden’s face was one of deep concentration, broken only when he paused to flip a strand of blond hair out of his eye. “I’m thinking Houses of the Holy would be okay. I’m not sure Physical Graffiti would really be your style.”
“Whatever you say,” Cyrus said, taking the record that Hayden handed him. The cover art featured a group of naked women climbing on rocks. Cyrus wasn’t particularly sure what to make of that, especially combined with the title “Houses of the Holy.” Figuring it would probably be useless to try and figure it out, he just tucked it under his arm and moved on.
In the next half hour, the stack of records that Cyrus was holding grew. A few he picked out, primarily ones with cool covers, but, for the most part, he pointed out the artists that he liked and Hayden decided on the specific album. Cyrus was just fine with the arrangement, and glad that Hayden was picking up some new ones too. By the end, Cyrus had Bad Company, Boston, E.L.O., Aerosmith and others that he couldn’t remember. They were going to have a lot of listening to do.
“Hey, set those down for a sec,” Hayden said, gesturing to a table strewn with singles. “I want to show you something.”
“Show me what?” Cyrus asked.
“A hidden aisle,” Hayden said. He walked past the rows of waist high shelves to a wall of records that reached the ceiling. Slipping in behind the tall shelf, Hayden disappeared. Curious, Cyrus followed. He found himself sandwiched between two huge shelves, packed with records. The aisle was so narrow that his shoulders brushed plastic sleeves on either side of him. “This is where they keep the extras that have already been sorted. No one really knows about this, though, so sometimes you can get stuff here that they haven’t put out yet.” He glanced at a row, but didn’t seem to find what he was looking for.
Cyrus ran a finger down the spines of the nearest shelf of records. “This is remarkable.”
Hayden nodded. “I come down here to look for stuff, but… I get so damn claustrophobic.” As if saying the word brought some new reality to the situation, Hayden’s eyes darted to the ceiling-high shelves on either side of him. He swallowed, his voice tight as he asked, “Can you let me out?”
“Of course,” Cyrus said, but Hayden was already heading towards him. Cyrus managed to maneuver his body around, and headed back the way he had come. He could feel Hayden’s breath on his neck the whole time, he was so eager to get out of there.
When they burst into open space, Hayden drew in a deep breath. “Sorry,” he said. “If you want to go back and look for something, have at it.”
“It’s alright,” Cyrus insisted. He gestured to the stack of records on the table. “I think we’ve got enough.”
“Enough?” Hayden asked. “You haven’t even seen the singles yet.”
He pointed towards a whole other section of the store where towering shelves were stacked with white cardboard boxes labeled with their contents. Ladders were strewn around to help reach the highest shelves. Cyrus stared at them all and gulped. This was going to take a while.
Cyrus tried to keep up with the speed at which the chocolate ice cream melted and ran down the cone, but he could see it was a losing battle. Swirling his tongue around the edge, Cyrus felt the gooey liquid slipping past his guard and seeping between his fingers.
“You missed a spot,” Hayden pointed out helpfully. Cyrus favored him with a look.
“I don’t get why we’re eating ice cream in the dead of winter in the first place,” he replied, reaching for a napkin.
Hayden cleaned up his own cone with expert ease, keeping it neat and off of his hands. “It’s never too cold for ice cream. Besides, how else would we pass the time until Jacob gets back?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Cyrus began, his voice laden with sarcasm. “Maybe getting a hot drink? Because it’s kind of freezing outside?”
“Eh,” Hayden grunted. “I prefer ice cream.”
Cyrus scowled and took another bite of his own. Their shopping trip had been highly successful, and a heavy bag of vinyl records leaned against Cyrus’s chair in the ice cream parlor. Though Cyrus had been stubborn in the beginning, Hayden’s style of music had grown on him. In fact, he found himself looking forward to getting back and listening to some of these records.
A few minutes later, Cyrus finished off his cone and wiped his napkin across his face to clean up.
“You missed a spot,” Hayden said again, gesturing towards his own lip so that Cyrus could mirror him. Cyrus rubbed at his face with the napkin. “Still there. Here,” he said, leaning forward and using his rough thumb to clear it away. “Got it.”
Cyrus didn’t respond, for he was in the midst of feeling one of those odd emotions that was becoming more and more difficult to ignore. He felt like his heart was beating so fast it would burst, and looking at Hayden sitting so innocently across from him only made it worse. Cyrus turned away with a mumbled, “Thanks.” He hoped to God that his face wasn’t as red as it felt.
When they got up to leave, Cyrus hung back, watching Hayden as he went. He caught the glass door as it was falling closed and held it open for a pretty blonde and her friend. The blonde smiled at Hayden, touching his arm as she brushed by. Hayden’s answering grin made Cyrus’s stomach drop, and the way his gaze followed them caused Cyrus to turn away. He took his time throwing away his napkins, berating himself.
Hayden was handsome and charming and funny, and Cyrus could easily imagine a pretty girl hanging off his arm. It seemed the logical course of things, and Cyrus had no reason to begrudge him that. He didn’t want these feelings, this inexplicable jealousy. He didn’t want to admit to himself that he might not be exclusively attracted to girls, or that he liked Hayden as anything more than his best friend.
Most of all, Cyrus didn’t want to admit that he was so completely screwed.