Four-Letter Word


Love. When spoken, it was a four-letter word that meant nothing at all. Justin heard it all the time once he stopped listening for it to be said. Lovers, friends, children and parents, the word tumbled easily from their lips. But it fell just as easily from the guy receiving a blowjob as he came, or was shouted at a passing celebrity, or was declared at the sight of an article of clothing or jewelry. I love cock, I love ass. I love this song. Preachers spoke about loving thy neighbor and then turned their backs on people who didn’t fit their religious mould. Spouses screamed that they loved their partner as they beat them. Capitalists plastered the word on anything that didn’t move and sold it for profit.

Justin no longer trusted verbalizations of love, and not only because he’d been burned by a relationship. Actions spoke louder than words - a trite saying, but the complete truth. Lindsey gave him gallery space and Mel got him out of legal trouble without asking. Emmett made him truffles because he was “looking blue.” His mother marched on Pride, Debbie opened her door at any hour, and Daphne let him stay. He knew they loved him without saying anything.

“Christ, how long does it take to microwave a bag of popcorn?” Brian complained from the couch. Across from him, the flat screen television flickered in black and white as the movie began.

“It’s done.” Justin dumped the popcorn into the large bowl and carried it over to the couch. He gave it to Brian and sat down beside him.

Brian laid his arm along the back of the couch, behind Justin’s head. Justin put his feet on the pillow with Brian’s, on the coffee table. The opening music swelled from the speakers.

“Are we watching the one where the car drives off the cliff or the one where the car drives off the cliff?” Justin asked, grabbing a handful of popcorn from the bowl in Brian’s lap.

Brian smacked him on the back of the head. “Smart ass.”

Justin grinned and settled in to watch the movie he’d seen with Brian a hundred times before. And when he dozed off like always, with Brian lightly tracing the shell of his ear, that four-letter word never had to be spoken.

He heard it anyway.