Usually Connor took the light rail the few stops from his boss’s downtown studio to his cozy, walk-in-closet-sized apartment on the fringes of Seattle’s international district, using the smooth, easy ride to gradually slip free of the day and ready himself for weed, meditation, and yoga. He got a lot out of his self-empowering nightly ritual, and it didn’t hurt if it was supplemented by, if he kept his door strategically open, the occasional glimpse of the very cute, extra-bashful bike-riding neighbor with the dark buzz cut and short goatee who’d been living across from him, and passing back and forth with his bike (in those skin-tight bike shorts that flattered his butt and legs no end), for a couple months now, occasionally offering him a sweet, curious smile as he slipped past. Normally Connor got on the Link looking forward to getting home quickly, climbing up to his flat, shedding shoes and socks, cracking his window for the fresh air, and starting his evening, folding his body, relaxing his mind, and being himself in his own space.
But it was a beautiful clear day out today, cool and fragrant, and with Roger having let everyone go early (after all three of the models for today’s shoot had failed to show up) Connor had most of the afternoon ahead of him to do with as he willed. He decided to walk home, but indirectly, taking the long way around and seeing what turned up.
His feet took him down through one of the parks along the waterfront, and he ambled along the pedestrian side of the shared foot-bike path with his largish hands stuffed in his jeans pockets, enjoying the feel of the ocean breeze playfully tossing around his long, mop-like mane of curly dark-gold hair and ruffling the thin, brick-red long-sleeved “Bud/Wiser” tee-shirt he was wearing against his thin, fit torso. He wondered whimsically if his bike-riding neighbor rode these paths, or if he had special, secret bike routes of his own where he could open up and go any speed he wanted. Connor leaned against the barrier and took a deep breath of the salty air, glancing up at the blue sky soaring overhead with a smile. His heart felt full, somehow, like something big was imminent.
As he turned a corner the ferry terminals came into view, and, never one to ignore a sudden whim, Connor redirected his steps toward one of the big, gleaming boats that plied the Sound between Seattle and the islands to the west. He boarded the next one to depart and spent the whole trip in the bow, letting the wind buffet him from head to toe in a way that made him keenly aware of his physical form as a single, organic entity, a complex sensory apparatus tied to his mind and soul, and just as fluid, if only he could see and understand it from just the right angle. He wished he had some weed on him so he could feel it even deeper, but for now this sensory bombardment, plowing happily through the sea air on a fast ferry across the Sound, was enough. He smiled into the wind, almost disappointed when the terminal on Bainbridge Island came into view.
There was a botanical garden on the island he’d always meant to visit, and, though it turned out to be at the far end of the island from the harbor where the ferry terminal was, there was a bus that took him near enough, and he walked the rest of the way. He was glad he did. The narrow roads were quiet, winding through lush, sparsely populated woodland, and all the while his friend the sea air stayed with him, whiffing mischievously around him like an excitable puppy as he walked. The preserve itself seemed strangely more ordered than the half-settled lands around it, though the natural systems and gentle patterns of this place of appreciation appealed to Connor as he passed its gates and began wandering the fragrant paths.
He’d been exploring the garden more or less randomly for over an hour when the breeze brought him a scent he instantly recognized, and he smiled wide. Sure enough, around a few bends, deep in a secluded corner of shoreward reach of the park, Connor found a perfectly round, shady clearing at the heart of a stand of very tall white pine and grand fir trees, and in that clearing sat a circle of five youngish guys sharing quiet conversation and what smelled like some very potent weed. Even better, they were all sitting in the grass cross-legged and relaxed, every one of them completely barefoot. Just the sight of them all made Connor aware of his body again, and especially of the soft, battered Vans his feet longed to be free of.
One of the guys immediately caught Connor’s eye, standing out from the others like he was their leader, or maybe their focus, though he sat around the circle and not in it. He seemed to be in his thirties, with clear, brown eyes and longish wavy blond hair. Oddly, he struck Connor as a veteran surfer type, the kind who still plows the waves for the joy of it, and abides the intensity of the young surfer pups with an easy, selfless confidence. He was the only member of the group who was shirtless despite the cool breeze, exposing a defined, golden-hued torso. He glanced up at Connor and smiled wide in simple, uncomplicated welcome. “Join us,” he said.
Connor eagerly toed off his sneaks and peeled off his ankle socks, placing them in the shoes, which he set by the edge of the clearing with the others’ (very varied) footwear. When he turned back he saw that the circle had reconfigured slightly, enough that there was now a opening between surfer dude and the cute, messy-haired guy with the dark-framed glasses and jeans jacket who’d been sitting next to them. The gap seemed like a concession, as though something might be let out of it were left open too long, and Connor hurried to take his place between surfer dude and glasses guy, consciously completing the circle with his own physical and mental presence.
Looking around the group he saw they were all extending him the same unconditional welcome surfer dude had, though in different ways that were no doubt characteristic of their individual personalities. All of them had clearly been partaking for a while and were obviously stoned, but far from making them oblivious or disconnected they were all palpably connected to each other and aware the potentially connection-intensifying shift resulting from Connor’s inclusion in whatever they were experiencing. He smiled at them, hoping to convey his gratitude to them all as as he took them in.
To glasses guy’s left was a very pretty guy in very tight, trendy-looking clothes; he looked to Connor alarmingly like one of those celebrity twins who were famous almost exclusively for their Instagram feeds. His grin was wry and a little crooked, as if he knew he was too pretty and hoped Connor was enlightened enough to see that wasn’t all he was. Next to him was a young, quiet-looking Japanese guy in a fluffy blue sweater. He had a thick head of dark, straight hair and a brush of dark hair along the ridges of his feet as well, and soulful eyes that made Connor revise upward his guess at the man’s age. He met Connor’s gaze steadily, offering him a shy smile. The remaining member of the group, sitting to surfer dude’s right, was a tall, loose-limbed, athletic, biracial-looking guy in a cobalt-blue V-neck whose tight-trimmed hair created a sharp line across his golden-brown forehead. His dark eyebrows and large eyes were even more striking, and his wide, white-toothed grin made Connor feel like he was the last piece of a puzzle they’d been trying to solve all afternoon.
He had the blunt, it turned out, and he passed it immediately to surfer dude to give to Connor. Connor took it gratefully. “Thanks,” he said, offering his smile around the whole group. Just the smell was already having an effect, and he savored just holding it and taking in the scent for a moment. “What were we all talking about?” he asked, hoping to get the circle going again before he finally lifted the blunt to his lips and took a long toke.
Maybe it was psychological, but the impact was almost instantaneous. His body and mind loosened and relaxed as if they were one and the same, and Connor was immediately filled with a yearning to put himself through his yoga routines, certain that the methodical external disciple would open up paths to new understanding and capabilities he hadn’t been aware of before. At first he wanted to do this alone in his apartment, as he was accustomed to doing, but as he took another toke he realized that it was being part of the circle of men, sharing this experience, that helped him see these possibilities. He looked to his left, holding out the blunt to pass, and saw that glasses guy was staring at Connor’s newly bared feet, biting his lower lip as if concentrating on taking in everything he could about them. When he realized Connor was offering him the blunt his green eyes jumped to Connor’s. He offered him a chagrined smile.
“You have really nice feet,” he told Connor, by way of explanation. His cheeks colored only slightly as he took the blunt and drew in a long drag, passing it once he’d done so to the quiet Japanese guy. His eyes never left Connor’s the whole time.
“Thanks,” Connor said. “I’ll lend ‘em to you if you like,” he added, an idea that made perfect sense to him in that moment. “You have really nice… lots of stuff,” he told glasses guy with a grin.
Glasses guy grinned back. “I’ll have to, um, return the favor then,” he said, nodding at Connor’s feet.
“You’re going to lend him all of you?” giggled biracial V-neck guy.
“You gotta share, though,” Instagram model guy said, sounding a little coy, like he knew more about the subject than he was saying. “You gotta go home with all of us.”
“Yeah, definitely,” glasses guy agreed, looking happily around the circle of hot guys, though his gaze landed on Connor. “One o’ me for each of you,” he said, looking Connor in the eyes and giving him a smile that Connor thought, despite his words, might be just for him.
“Fuck, wouldn’t that be hot,” biracial V-neck guy said, a hint of a giggle still in his voice. Connor looked over at him, wondering if he’d missed glasses guy’s secret meaning. The blunt had made it back to biracial V-neck guy and he was taking a long draw as he stared hard across the circle, though Connor saw that his gleeful look was aimed not at glasses guy but at Instagram model guy. Instagram model guy smirked back at him.
“It’s not that hard,” surfer dude offered blandly as he took the blunt, his tone again suggesting the casual self-assurance that came from long experience. He drew in a long pull and said without breathing out, “You just have to find the right… path.” Connor turned his head to look at him, feeling like the man’s wording was somehow significant. Hadn’t he just been thinking about outward regimens and inward paths? Surfer dude released his smoke and handed him the mostly depleted blunt. Connor took it absently and pulled a serious toke, his gaze locked on surfer dude’s. His mind circled around the two linked ideas, regimens and paths. He had another sudden urge to move through his yoga routine, right there and then, repeating and varying the routine until he saw things the right way. The extra-powerful weed seemed not so much to be clouding his brain as reshaping it. Surfer dude’s calm eyes seemed to fill his vision as if representing the universe he might fall into if he found the way to it.
“Oh, it’s very hard,” he heard Instagram model guy snark. “I get hard-ons whenever I think about it.” Connor was sufficiently distracted by this remark that he forgot about what he’d just been thinking and turned to look at Instagram model guy. He was looking at Connor with his eyebrows raised, as if challenging him to call him out on the double meaning.
At them moment, the world seemed to twist around him, the last toke hitting him hard. “Whoa,” he said, reeling a bit, and suddenly he snickered. “This is some serious shit,” he said, and snickered again. It all seemed like a joke suddenly. “My brain is opening up!” he cracked, like a deejay taking about raising the roof.
As he said this his eyes fell on the Japanese guy with the thick hair and the soulful eyes. He was weaving slightly—or maybe that was the Earth swirling around—and as his position shifted left and right the number of arms in his thick blue sweater seemed to vary alarmingly. Criminy, Connor thought, this really is some serious shit.
“You’re almost as high as I am,” Japanese guy observed, speaking for the first time. His voice was lower than Connor had expected—much lower, and smooth. Connor wanted to hear him sing.
He was watching Connor closely. “You’ll see it soon,” he said.
Connor felt like he couldn’t focus on him. “See?” he said. “See what?”
“All the paths,” Japanese guy said, sounding sure Connor would understand soon. “Each of us has our own patterns—and our own paths.” He was still weaving around like a livecast from a plummeting drone, though, and Connor yanked his eyes off him, feeling like his brain would go cross-eyed if he kept looking at him. His slipped to the his right, but biracial V-neck guy had been replaced by a much taller version of himself, and his brain couldn’t quite make that work. He lurched his gaze the other way over Instagram model guy, but there seemed to be two of him for some reason, so Connor kept going and landed on glasses guy.
Connor grinned at him, for no reason he could really put a finger on. Then he realized it was because he was looking at glasses guy’s lap, not his face, and his lap was full of crossed legs and at least half a dozen very nice bare feet. They looked nice—really nice. And hot. “Whooa,” he giggled, abruptly aware of being rock-hard in his jeans without knowing how or when he’d gotten that way. He looked down at his own pale, bare feet and wondered if his hot bike-riding neighbor would like him like that. Connor, not glasses guy. Bike guy was all his.
Then he was on his back, the shifting grass tickling him through his thin, long-sleeved tee shirt, and he giggled again, wondering what happened to him. He was usually better at handling his pot! “Wow, I smoked too much of your weed, guys,” Connor admitted with a groan. Only… he was talking to the pine and fir trees that were soaring up away from him, waving in the breeze. Had he gotten the weed from them? He shook his head—it didn’t matter. “Next time I’ll bring for everyone,” he promised the trees solemnly. “All on me.”
“Relax,” surfer dude’s calm voice drifted across him. “This is my own special make,” it went on, “and I’ve got plenty for all my friends.”
Connor frowned—the trees were all silhouetted, now, and there was something wrong with the sky. It was all black, and full of little white pinpricks of light. Like stars, or—
He sat up on his elbows, wide-eyed. The perfectly circular clearing was empty except for surfer dude, who was sitting cross-legged directly opposite him, still shirtless, his eyes closed and his wrists resting on his knees. There was no sign of the others. “What time is it?” Connor asked urgently. He looked up again at the stars, then back at surfer dude.
“Late,” surfer dude solemnly informed him without opening his eyes.
“Damn,” Connor said. He fell back onto the grass. “Missed the last ferry, I’ll bet.” He took stock of his mental state. He was still feeling buzzed from that super-strong weed, but at least now he could think clearly. In fact his mental acuity seemed much sharper and more focused than usual.
“Probably,” surfer dude agreed. “Don’t worry,” he added. “My house isn’t far. You can stay with me, if you need to.”
Connor felt a taste of disappointment. He wanted to be home, doing his exercises and capping the day with his regular dose of the bike-riding neighbor’s shy smile and nod as he returned from his own nightly exertions, and the accompanying bonus look at his hot legs and butt in those bike shorts. Surfer dude’s last words abruptly caught up with him. “Wait,” he said, propping himself up on his elbows again. “What do you mean—if I need to?”
“You already know most of the answer to that question,” surfer dude replied, still without opening his eyes or moving in any way.
Connor frowned. Did he mean what Connor thought he meant? Slowly he sat all the way up, drawing his legs in as he did so until he was facing surfer dude and more or less mimicking his position. “Maybe I do,” Connor said cautiously. “But I don’t see it all.”
“Your mind is the universe,” surfer dude intoned, still not moving so much as an eyelash, “and your body is the universe. They are two aspects of the same unity. But our mind hides this from us. A million competing sensations, a million stimulations, and in the confusion we just can’t see the paths our mind and body can take.” Abruptly, surfer dude opened his eyes. “Do you see?”
And whether it was the hopped-up megaweed, or the afternoon’s shared experience in the circle, Connor did see. “Order and regimen,” Connor said. “They train the mind, regularizing, simplifying. Clearing away everything else but the simplicity of your mind’s relationship with the body.”
Surfer dude nodded, pleased that his latest friend had seen what he he come to understand long ago. He grinned, a boyish surfboard jockey again, and Connor grinned back at him. He moved to stand so that he could get to work on his full yoga routine, sure that the physical trials would finish attuning his mind to where it needed to be.
“Wait,” surfer dude interjected, and Connor paused in the act of unfolding his legs. At Connor’s inquiring glance, his new friend said, “Try it in your head this time. You’ll need to keep up with your regimen to keep your body trained, of course, but—”
“One universe,” Connor finished, tapping his head knowingly. “It’s already in there.” Surfer guy nodded, and Connor refolded his legs, closing his eyes and drawing into himself. Slowly, methodically, Connor started working through his routine in his mind. His mind-universe. He connected with the still-present potency of the strangely augmented high he’d gotten from the weed, and his focus intensified, his routine expanding to fill reality. He stepped through each pose, feeling the fluid motion of his body within his mind until there was no difference. Ten poses, then twenty. More, and again, starting at the beginning. A circle, repeating itself.
“See what you need to be where you need to be, within your mind-universe,” he heard surfer dude say from somewhere within him. Pose, and another. Another. Another. His weed-focused mind remembered his friends from the circle, and they joined him, with their changes, moving through the routine with him, laughing at the exertions—they were still stoned as fuck, he thought with amusement, and the intense high was bleeding into Connor, winding through his routine as he moved. Pose, and another.
“Have you become where you need to be?” surfer dude’s voice asked, still situated somewhere inside him. Tentatively, he reached out with his external senses, touching the edges of his universe. He felt softness under his legs and ass—different kinds of softness. A mattress, and grassy soil. Home, and the park. The ghostly images of his new friends were all grinning at him, like he’d gotten it all slightly wrong on purpose.
“Yes,” Connor said distantly, “and also no. I am in… both places?” His senses were still pulled back, and he didn’t want to risk his focus opening himself up to the outside much further.
“Good,” the surfer dude said, sounding pleased. “Then you need only to choose.” Already as he spoke his voice was fading: Connor was exhausted, suddenly, and there was no reality in which he would choose anything but his own bed. “Goodbye, Connor Madigan,” the voice said from afar. “I will see you again soon.” And then he was gone, and some unmeasured amount of time later, though it seemed scarcely a moment, Connor was in his bed. He was so incredibly tired that he didn’t even bother with his clothes. He just checked to make sure all his feet were appropriately bare before curling up under the sheets and falling into a sleep deeper than any he’d ever known.
He got up in the night to pee, and was still stoned enough that it was kind of funny how he stumbled as he made his way to his tiny bathroom, neither of him used to walking around on four big, bare feet. Not being sure which of his seemingly many hands to grab the doorknob with was pretty funny too; but he gave the mirror an “aw, man!” when he finally got the overhead light on and saw that he was too tall for the mirror now—all he could see was two iterations of his favorite “Bud/Wiser” tee, longer now and still snug against his trim, fit torso. Peeing from multiple dicks on two different bodies was wild but required a bit of concentration, so he was already almost asleep again when he stumbled back out of the bedroom, clambered into bed, and snuggled with himself for the rest of the cool, breezy night, dreaming about bikes and bike shorts and bashfully curious bike-riding neighbors.
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