Skylar Gray was five days and six nights into his search, and getting nowhere. His eyes were dry from staring at his computer, and the backs of his hands were beginning to ache from typing. He clicked a link to yet another social networking website.
The noise from the traffic nine floors below his window was muffled by the heavy vinyl shades, and his monitor cast a dim green light across the otherwise dark apartment, making shadows of the balls of crumpled paper scattered around the floor. A pot of coffee had already begun to stain the top of his desk, and a collection of dirty mugs crowded the floor by his feet.
He picked up the coffee pot and walked, shirtless, to the bathroom sink for more water. Straying from the dark spot in the floral wallpaper where a mirror had once been, his eyes wandered around the room as the water filled the pot, and came to rest on a red toothbrush in his pile of toiletries. Ethan's toothbrush. He squinted, and flipped the brush into the trash, throwing some toilet paper on top of it before closing the lid. He wondered how he had missed it until now. Massaging a stiff knot in his neck, he returned to his desk.
The phone rang. He contemplated answering it. "I need caller ID," he croaked, and picked up the receiver.
"Skylar?" a timid, middle aged woman's voice.
Skylar face dropped into an exasperated frown. "Mom, I'm busy."
"I— I just haven't heard from you in a while, and I wanted to make sure—"
"I'm fine, Mom," he cut her off.
"Oh. OK." She paused for a moment. "I saw you in the magazine today."
"What?" he snapped, "Don't look at those! Didn't I tell you it creeps me out?"
"It was at the oncologist's office. In the waiting room? I... just wanted to tell you that I thought you looked—"
"Naked and airbrushed?" He completed the sentence for her. "Mom, you I don't want you ogling me in a fucking underwear ad; it's disgusting. You're not to do it."
"I'm sorry..." She paused again. "Well," she said, "I'm glad you're doing alright."
"Yeah," he said, "listen, I'll talk to you later."
He preemptively hung up before she could ask about the possibility of a visit. He didn't have time for her clinginess. Everyone was so clingy. Ethan had been clingy, his mother was clingy... He almost appreciated how perspicacious his father had been in taking off before he was born, burdening him with nothing but a last name. If he'd stuck around he probably would have been one more person Skylar had to put energy into avoiding.
He shook his head and reset himself upon the problem. The trouble was that, when he got down to it, he had nothing but a visual to go by. He wanted to wish away that American freedom to privacy—wanted a publicly-available, indexed description of everyone in New York City down to the pore. Everyone else, anyway. But all he had were MySpace, Facebook, Google, and the pile of DMV records his hacker friend had hooked him up with, "free of charge for you, Sky."
For the millionth time he replayed the memory in his head like a movie reel. It hadn't faded at all. In fact, it seemed to become more vivid day by day.
He was taking the bus to the studio, and wishing he hadn't forgotten his sunglasses. He was late; the cop that morning had taken absolutely forever to question him about Ethan's death. The bus was stopped at a crosswalk, and beams of sunlight projected an aurora of golden dust into the aisle. He heard the sharp release of air from the brakes as the light turned green, and glanced out at the street...
And that was when he saw The Boy. It was only for a split second, through the back seat window of a white Toyota Corolla. Then the bus jerked forward, and the car turned right, down Canal St. and into the shadowy depths of anonymity.
Skylar sat frozen in shock and awe. The image of The Boy's face, somehow crystal clear behind the layer of glass was burned into the back of his retinas. Every strand of blond hair against his smooth skin was distinct—his upturned nose, his slightly pursed lips, everything was instantly etched beyond any semblance of a doubt into each level of Skylar's memory.
But mostly it was his eyes. Clear blue like a January dawn; like sapphires set in flesh; like distant galaxies they shone—too deep, too cold, and too beautiful to look away. You could completely and utterly lose yourself in the blueness of his eyes.
And Skylar had. He knew more than anything he had ever known in his life that he could never be happy unless he saw them again—again, and forever.
Determined, he turned to the next page of his unending list of white Toyota Corollas, and after taking another sip of coffee he began again to mechanically type names into the search bar, all the while turning the image over in his head.
The strangest part was that he felt he must have seen The Boy before. Perhaps at work or at Starbucks. Or perhaps he had been cruising the streets of Manhattan, his hand in the pocket of his too-tight jeans as he leaned against a wall, breathing smoke out of his nose.
Skylar had been putting off writing the statement for the police. He didn't understand why he had to write one when everything had been so cut and dry. He didn't like telling people about his personal life, and putting it on paper was worse. Not that there was much to tell.
He had met Ethan two weeks ago at a club on 16th Street, and they had come back to his apartment and hooked up. He remembered being disturbed by how Ethan had always seemed to be staring into his face, examining him. You weren't supposed to look at each other during sex. Worse, he had still been there the next morning. Sklyar had had to practically order him out the door.
But it didn't end there. In his drunkenness he'd made the mistake of giving Ethan his number. Over the course of several awkward telephone conversations, he'd made his feelings, or lack thereof, perfectly clear, but the man wouldn't stop stalking him. And then one night he'd shown up on Sklyar's doorstep. Skylar had furiously flung open the window, making the cheap glass rattle in its ill-fitted frame.
"What the fuck do you want from me?" the boy shouted down, his breath visible in the cold air.
Ethan looked up at him, tired and thin, his arms wrapped tight around his torso.
"I can't sleep." He said. "Listen, I know it's crazy. But I can't get you out of my head."
He inhaled roughly, and frost bit at his lungs. His dark hair was a wiry mess, and his five-o-clock shadow lent a sullen quality to his face.
"Since I met you, it's like I don't even know who I am anymore. I'll do anything, just let me in," he pleaded.
"I can't turn off the lights without seeing your face. I just... I can't sleep."
Skylar had turned away from the window, opened the bottom drawer of his desk, and pulled out the bottle of Ambien he had persuaded his doctor to prescribe for him. He'd returned to the window and hurled it down at Ethan, who had instinctively raised his hands to protect himself. The bottle had made a decisive snap as it hit the sidewalk, and Ethan had looked back up at him with a pathetic combination of anger and despair.
Skylar had slammed the window shut and closed the blinds. They would stay closed, he had decided.
And they were closed still. The door was locked as well. No one was allowed in—no one but The Boy. Everyone else was a shadow. He had seen the true meaning of beauty, and the rest of the world had become repulsive in comparison, from the polluted sky down to the loathsome, meaningless people that scampered around the streets below him like so many cockroaches.
His hand clutched the last page of license plate numbers. He had checked and double-checked the names of all the drivers and their families online. All of them except the final one. His breath caught in his throat as he typed in the name of the last of 1,083 Toyota Corolla owners in the greater NYC area. "Joseph Contadino," he murmured. He closed his eyes for a moment, and hit enter.
A picture of a balding Italian man assaulted him.
He stood violently from his chair and screamed at the room. His finger nails dug into his scalp as he doubled over in frustration and rage, his heel sending a coffee cup skidding across the floor.
There had to be a way! He fell back into his chair and strained again to remember where he had seen The Boy before. He was more and more certain that it hadn't just been in passing, that he had known him in earnest, and known everything about him—his clothes, his smell, the timbre of his voice! But only the image in the car window surfaced, replaying again and again, faster and faster until he cried aloud for it to stop.
He reached out to steady himself on his desk, and his hand brushed the corner of a buried piece of paper. He ripped it out, and squinted to read it in the dim light. It was his résumé. His name, address, phone number, work experience. And at the bottom, a description of his—
The color left Skylar's face. He ran into the bathroom, then back out again. It wasn't true. It couldn't be true. He'd prove it wasn't true if he could just find a flat piece of metal, or a sheet of glass, or—his head jerked up, and he ran to the window, ripped open the shades, and—
Time froze. The noise of the traffic below went silent, as if a mute button had been pressed. Snowflakes passed in slow motion through the image floating just beyond the windowpane, stark white against the heavy gray.
His hand extended of its own accord, but when his fingertips lightly met the fingertips that extended toward him, they were smooth and cold, like a porcelain doll. The coldness extended up his arm, his neck, his perfectly blond and disheveled hair, and illuminated at last the twin centers of his face.
In that moment, all thoughts and all emotions left him, siphoned from his breath into the ghostly figure staring back at him from out of those clear, blue, empty eyes.
His body fell forward into the reflection. Reality shattered, and shards of it traced red across his flesh as gravity slipped away, and the street spiraled up, and the city that never sleeps closed in on him as the winter night closes in upon a daffodil that crumples for the last time, never to re-bloom.
(Based on the Hellenic telling of the story of Narcissus.)