THE first time Turner Watts met Luca Kennedy, he learned the true meaning of the phrase, “taken aback.” Luca wore dark aviator sunglasses, awkwardly big on his gaunt face, and looked like he had just come from rolling around in a yard sale down the street. Despite his small, wiry frame and being several inches shorter than Turner, he instantly conveyed the vibe he could eat worlds and slay giants.
“I’m sorry,” Turner said. “I don’t know what BASE jumping is.”
They were loitering in front of a coffee shop on Melrose Avenue, the trendiest people in the world drifting by, the California sun beating down hot. Luca explained to him that the name of the band he fronted, Salto, meant “to jump” in Portuguese, his cultural heritage. He then explained why he’d chosen the word.
“It”—Turner struggled not to sound foolish—“has something… to do with the military?” This sounded reasonable.
Luca grinned, flashing over-white teeth. His pale skin looked impossibly smooth, like whipped butter. Dark hair streaked with bleached-blond stripes hung to his shoulders, drawing attention to a long, slender neck above the collar of a ragged pea-green T-shirt.
“No, it’s just regular civilians jumping off shit like maniacs.” Turner’s new acquaintance and Luca’s best friend, Christian Holden, provided an answer. He stood next to Luca, and in stark contrast, Christian was dark, burly, tall, and tattooed. Turner himself presented a rather gritty figure—tattoos down his arms, spiky blond hair, someone who wouldn’t be caught dead in a business suit.
When Christian told Turner he would introduce him to his “best friend,” Turner had expected someone very much like Christian—a hardcore, leather-clad rocker—not a tiny, frail waif Turner suspected could scoop him up in one hand and fling him to the pavement.
“It is jumping off shit like a maniac,” Luca said. “But with a parachute. And for glory. I’ll tell you all about it sometime. Right now, we’re here for other things. Christian tells me you can play guitar.”
Weeks passed before Turner saw Luca and Christian again. Turner brought his guitar to a small, cluttered apartment in Beverly Hills, where Luca gave him his audition. Luca looked less like a homeless person this time, dressed in a slim black sweater despite the heat, jeans looking fresh off the rack, and beat-up blue Converse sneakers.
Luca sat in a chair behind a small table scattered with papers, and Christian hovered over him like a bodyguard. Turner played his guitar but couldn’t get over how ethereal Luca’s eyes were: a shocking color, blue bordering on violet, and impossibly wide.
He didn’t actually expect to get in the band.
“You need to have dinner with us.” Luca stuffed a piece of paper into Turner’s hand, on which he’d scribbled the name of a restaurant and an address. “Seven-thirty sound all right?”
In the years after, Turner could never remember the name of the restaurant. He could remember the way the light shone in Luca’s eyes, the way he moved as if he were only half there, like a phantom, like a beguiling angel. The restaurant served foreign fare and had a strange name. Turner could never bring himself to ask.
Turner also couldn’t bring himself to ask all the things he wanted to know about Luca. Every time they were together he found his tongue tied and couldn’t force himself to make even the smallest of small talk. Luca could be incredibly intense, sometimes even stressful to be around. He was always writing, or working out chords, or creating artwork, and his devotion to perfection bled onto everyone and everything around him. Practices were particularly painful, as Luca would make everyone stay until they had achieved a level of performance he found acceptable.
Sometimes they hung out in bars—after practice, if the session hadn’t gone on too long, or on weekends when Turner left work early. Even then, Luca would be writing in a notebook and never really engaged in conversation. Turner wanted to know about him—his family, his background, why he chose music, what the hell BASE jumping meant. But one look from Luca, one of his appraising stares that burrowed right under Turner’s flesh, and he couldn’t say a word.
Turner also thought Luca might be bipolar, given his frantic ups and downs. At times he became intensely focused and withdrawn, and then other times he became hyper, overly friendly, and giddy, clamoring for attention.
Turner asked Christian about his behavior.
“Is Luca on medication or something? He seems kind of manic.”
Christian chortled. “He sure is.” He mimed snorting something up his nose.
The revelation Luca might be an addict worried Turner greatly. Not for his future with the band, but Luca’s health. Turner kept himself clean because he’d seen too many people destroy their lives with drugs.
He realized, lying in bed one night, what all his worrying, and his desire to talk to Luca and get to know him better, meant: he had a crush on him.
From the time Turner began to have a sexual identity, he knew he didn’t just go for girls, though he liked girls just fine. However, he had never been what most or even he would consider a “practicing bisexual.” Largely because, growing up in his little corner of suburbia, being anything less than straight equated to being like one of those drug addicts he would later meet—certainly there were others out there, but you didn’t just go up to people and ask. The extent of his “practicing bisexuality” included fooling around with a few guys in high school and once going on a date with a guy. He wasn’t entirely sure the guy considered the outing a date, however.
He thought with despair, It’s just like you to fall for the bad boy.
Not long after Turner’s realization, the band played a show in a seedy little club, and seven people were nice enough to show up. After this failure, Luca dragged Turner to another, much busier club down the street. Luca didn’t seem at all depressed they had just done little more than annoy a handful of people. He was in one of his hyper states, and Turner wondered if he’d snorted up in the bathroom after the show.
LA clubs had not changed a bit since Turner had last been in one—when he’d turned twenty-one, three years before. Several friends, not even in his social circle anymore, had taken him out for his birthday. In the trendy California underworld, the worst things could be found in the best clubs. Turner stayed away from the back rooms, where too many things could go up his nose or into his arm—or in orifices, if he wasn’t careful.
Luca disappeared as soon as they arrived, saying he had to talk to some people. Awkward and out of place, Turner went to the bar. He ordered a whiskey and water on the rocks. The opportunity lay ahead to make a fool of himself, and he didn’t want anything stronger. Drink acquired, he tried to relax and remind himself he was still young, and young people hung out in clubs. The thumping music vibrated through his body, and he watched people gyrate on the dance floor. While lost in thought, circling a fingertip around the edge of his glass, he suddenly felt a jostling against his back and hands on his waist. He caught a whiff of familiar cologne.
“You are a beautiful boy,” Luca murmured against his ear. “Have I told you that yet?”
A tingle rushed through Turner, so hot and swift he thought someone had touched a bare electrical wire to his skin. He struggled to ignore the twitch in the crotch of his way-too-tight pants. “You haven’t, but thanks.” As Turner took a quick drink, Luca ground his narrow hips against his ass, and Turner almost choked.
“Come dance with me,” Luca said.
Turner arched an eyebrow and glanced over his shoulder. “You really want to?”
“Would I ask if I didn’t?” He tugged at his belt. “You’re always so uptight. Relax a little.”
Turner threw back the rest of his drink for courage and followed. He didn’t seem to have a choice. He would also kick himself forever if he didn’t comply.
On the floor, Turner got the impression Luca didn’t care if he danced, he just wanted someone to watch him dance. People were packed around them, writhing and jerking, moving to the insistent rhythm of the music. The air felt heavy, like a tangible thing pressed against Turner’s back and shoulders. Couples around them were making out. Turner caught glimpses of things he didn’t want to think about, things he didn’t want to want.
Luca looked amazing in the constantly changing, pulsing light. The colors ran over him like water, over his pale skin and fine cheekbones, glowing in his wide, shimmering eyes, ringed darkly with eyeliner. He tossed his hair and moved his hips, putting Turner in a trance.
He barely had his senses when Luca grabbed his hands and put them on his body. Luca wore vinyl pants and a silk shirt, and both fabrics felt exquisite under his fingers. He thought he might be dreaming. Then Luca turned and pressed his back against his chest, and he instinctively knew he had permission to touch wherever he wanted. He caressed his hands over Luca’s chest, down his hips, across his thighs, getting bolder as Luca responded positively. He couldn’t have hid his erection if he wanted to, and Turner didn’t even try, pressing fully against Luca’s ass.
Then, the music ended and Luca abruptly withdrew, saying he wanted a drink. Turner followed him to the bar, head spinning, aching with desire. To his dismay, when they reached the bar, Christian appeared. He seemed peeved they’d left him behind and started berating Luca. After this outburst, Luca turned all his attention on Christian. Turner, feeling like he’d had cold water thrown on him and not knowing what to do, bowed out and left the club.
He had scarcely got through the door of his apartment when he unzipped his jeans and started furiously stroking his cock. Despite the sudden damper, he’d stayed hard all the way home, the feel of Luca’s body emblazoned on his senses. He fell on the couch and closed his eyes, picturing Luca’s face in the club lights. When he came, he shot in hot bursts across his stomach, saying Luca’s name.
Luca never brought up the incident: no apology, no explanation, thankfully no declaration he’d experienced a drug-induced moment of bad decision-making. Like everything else about Luca, his motivation for driving Turner out of his mind remained a mystery.