Two Boys Kissing

Page 11


Caitlin is the girl we would’ve let ourselves be paired with, if we were going to be paired with a girl. After years of trying to rise in the world of corporate insurance, she quit and is now going for her library degree. Her sense of humor is indistinguishable from her sense of self. And her love for Ryan is the most unconditional love he will ever feel. It is unfreighted by expectations, untempered by motives. All she has to do is like him, and love him, and both are things she does well. Her responsibility to him is completely voluntary, and that’s what makes it matter.
Avery wants to make a good impression, and is too nervous to realize this won’t be hard. When Caitlin asks how they met, he turns it into the longest story in the history of humankind, telling her everything short of the amount of gas that was left in his tank after the drive home to Marigold. Halfway through, he knows he’s talking too much, but Ryan and Caitlin don’t seem to notice it as much as he does, so he goes on. When it’s over, Caitlin asks, “And this was how many weeks ago?” It’s Ryan who smiles and says, “This was all last night.”
“It makes sense,” Caitlin says. “With some people, the minute you start talking, it feels like you’ve known them for years. It only means that you were supposed to meet sooner. You’re feeling all the time you should’ve known each other, but didn’t. That time still counts. You can definitely feel it.”
Avery knows he should be trying to get Ryan away, should be trying to get him alone, get him close enough to kiss. Time is quietly ticking down to the moment he’ll have to leave—he promised his mother he’d be home before dark. But he is enjoying the company, the lemonade, the cookies. He feels it’s probably wrong to think of this as more worthy than kissing and making out. But right now, it is.
“Do you want to see some embarrassing photos of Ryan dressed up as Britney Spears for Halloween?” Caitlin asks.
How can Avery say no?
Meanwhile, Cooper has been chatting with Antimatter for almost an hour. As far as Antimatter knows, Cooper is a nineteen-year-old student at the local county college. He’s majoring in finance and has two roommates, one of whom is a drunk. Antimatter doesn’t question this, and says that he’s just gotten his own place and is working as the manager of a coffee shop. He’s a painter, too, but there hasn’t been much money in that so far. Cooper used to want to be a painter, and finds himself telling Antimatter this. Antimatter asks what happened, and Cooper says he lost interest. Story of my life, Cooper tells him. Antimatter responds, Story isn’t over yet.
Cooper is a little interested and a little bored. To up the ante, he sends a shirtless pic to Antimatter, and Antimatter responds in kind. He’s got a great body. Cooper asks him if he wants to meet up. Antimatter says sure—maybe after dinner? Cooper wonders what dinner plans Antimatter has, but doesn’t ask. He just says that’d be fine. He suggests the Starbucks he’s sitting in. Antimatter says that will work, as long as they don’t have to drink the coffee. Cooper, who’s already had three, is okay with that.
Now that the date is set, Antimatter says he probably should go do some IRL things.
But before I go … what’s your name?
Drake, Cooper answers.
Hi, Drake. I’m Julian.
Cooper can’t help it—he liked him better as Antimatter.
But he doesn’t cancel the meet-up. It would be stupid to cancel over something as dumb as a name.
When you have been dead as long as we have, you begin to see all the angles that existed in your life, especially the ones you were too blind to see at the time. You have plenty of time to chart the paths of your major and minor mistakes, and to have a newfound sympathy for the mistakes other people make. At times, we were helpless, it’s true. But other times we were heartless. We screwed ourselves up, screwed other people over, said words we didn’t know would hurt, said words precisely because we knew they would wound. Even after what we went through, no retroactive saintliness can be granted. We understand our f**k ups more now from a distance, but that doesn’t make them any less real.
You must understand: We were like Cooper. Or at least we had moments when we were like Cooper. Just as we had moments when we were like Neil, Peter, Harry, Craig, Tariq, Avery, Ryan. We had moments when we were like each of you.
This is how we understand. We wore your flaws. We wore your fears. We made your mistakes.
Six hours and ten minutes into Harry and Craig’s kiss, a popular blogger with hair an even brighter pink than Avery’s posts about Harry and Craig and tells the world to get behind what they’re doing.
The number of people viewing the kiss goes from 3,928 to 40,102 within five minutes, and then to 103,039 five minutes after that.
At the same time this is happening, Craig’s mother stands up from her chair and walks over to him. She asks Smita if it’s possible for her to remain off camera, and for the sound to be turned off while she is speaking to her son. Smita passes the request to Tariq, who obliges.
“I need to get back home,” Craig’s mother tells him. “Your father and your brothers will be home soon, and I should be there.” She pauses. It is clear from his eyes that Craig is listening, even though he is kissing Harry at the same time. “I hope you realize that I am going to have to tell them what you are doing. If they find out from anyone else, it will be … worse. Do you understand?”
Craig wants to say yes, knows he could make his voice say “uh-huh” at the very least, but that doesn’t feel right. The sign they agreed upon for yes is a thumbs-up, which also feels wrong. But Craig can’t think of anything else. So he gives his mother a thumbs-up.
Craig’s mother takes a deep breath. She is not finished. After she exhales she says, in a voice as level as she can manage, “I love you, Craig. I am also very angry at you. Not because you are g*y. We will deal with that. But to find out this way … it’s not what I would have wanted. I am sure you had your reasons, and I hope you will be willing to talk about them with us when this whole … thing is through.”
Again, Craig gives his mother a thumbs-up. He feels ridiculous.
His mother’s expression softens. “Do you need anything?” she asks.
For a moment, Craig’s heart feels entirely porous. Not because his mother has asked such a monumental question, but because it’s such an ordinary one. This is the mother he knows. Do you need anything? As if she were running to Walgreens or the grocery store. As if nothing has changed.
There is no way for Craig to say, I need you to convince Dad and Sam and Kevin that this is fine. I need you to support me as much as Harry’s parents support him. I need you to be proud of what I’m doing, because it will matter so much more if you are. I need you to come back. I need to know that neither of us is going to drown from this.
His fingers make an okay sign.
“All right, then,” she says. “I’ll go.”
He wants her to come over and hug him. Or at least put her hand on his shoulder.
But instead she turns and starts her walk home. Harry, sensing what’s happening, starts to switch their positions, so Craig doesn’t have to see her go. But Craig holds firm. He watches as she says goodbye to Smita—not to Harry’s parents, not to anyone else, just to Smita—and then steps into the crowd. They all face forward, but she faces home. He watches as she becomes a small shape on the sidewalk, then moves out of his sight line. It is about a ten-minute walk home from here, and he’s sure his heartbeat will count off the steps until she gets there. Then it will stop.
It is only after she is gone, only after he pictures her alone, walking, that his vision draws back closer. For the first time since she arrived, he realizes how thick the crowd has become. There are so many unfamiliar faces here, as well as familiar ones. Someone starts a chant—“Harry and Craig, All the Way! Harry and Craig, All the Way!” He knows he should be taking strength from this, that he should be encouraged. But the truth is, he has left his body for a little while. He is hovering over his house, too far up in the air to see his mother return, too human to see through the ceiling or hear through the wind how the conversation in his parents’ bedroom goes.
Peter and Neil are in Peter’s room, watching the live feed online.
“Was that his mother?” Peter asks.
“I think so,” Neil says. “They cut in so fast, it was hard to tell. But I think it was.”
“Do you think she knew about it ahead of time?”
“From the way she looked before, probably not.” Neil can imagine his own mother looking the same way, and is trying not to think about that.
“How long do you think we could last?” Peter asks.
“Having a son like Craig? Pretty long, I think.”
“Ha ha. I mean kissing.”
“Not thirty-two hours. But a few hours.”
“Here.” Peter pulls Neil off his desk chair, stands him in the middle of the room. “Let’s try.”
“Right this moment?”
“No time like the present.”
Before Neil can protest, Peter kisses him … and stays there. For the first minute or two, it feels totally normal—the tender pressure, tongues corresponding, hands tracing spines, gliding down hips. Then comes the moment in the rhythm when they would usually take a breath—smile or say something or pull back so fingers could trail down. They move through the pause, draw out their ardor. Peter lingers his hand down Neil’s back, slips his fingers beneath his waistband, rests on the skin there, the heat. Neil moves in the opposite direction, his hand rising under the back of Peter’s shirt, between his shoulder blades. Peter still tastes like coffee and milk; Neil tastes like winter mint. Peter’s breath staggers a little in his lungs. Neil touches the nape of his neck, then slowly retreats back down, fingernails raking skin. They are hyperconscious of their bodies, hyperconscious of their breathing. Peter brings his hand around, lifts his palm to Neil’s heartbeat. Minutes pass. Their bodies grow hotter. Their kiss is wetter. Peter’s stubble presses prickly against Neil’s chin. Peter feels the silence of the room, the lack of music. Their hips lock against each other. Neil’s breath quickens. Peter’s underwear grows tighter. Neither wants to be the one who pulls away. Eleven minutes. Twelve minutes. Peter loses track of his breathing, exhales when he should inhale. Instinctively, he pulls back for more breath, and just like that, the kiss is broken. The moment it breaks, Neil lets his arms fall. They step away from each other. They look at the clock.
“That was intense,” Peter says, adjusting his jeans.
“Yeah,” Neil says, wiping some saliva from his stubble-suffering chin.
They turn back to the screen, see Harry and Craig in their dance.
Peter is about to say something else, but his father calls up to say that dinner is ready, it’s time to come down.
Avery can try to ignore the clock, but it’s harder to ignore the sun. He and Ryan say goodbye to Caitlin, each of them giving her a hug and a kiss on the cheek. Avery’s already called home, looking for an extension. But he’s only had a license for a little while, and has never driven at night on the highway before. His mother doesn’t want his first time to be alone, and it’s hard to argue with that. But he will push dusk as late as it can go, knowing that even after sunset, there’s a gap before the entire sky goes the shade of night.
Ryan has him pull over a couple of minutes before his house will appear.
“This is a good spot,” he tells Avery. “I don’t want to say goodbye in front of my house, if you know what I mean.”
Avery thinks he knows what Ryan means, knows what Ryan wants to do, and immediately all of his senses are reaching out for it. The radio is on low, the dashboard glowing dimly in the increasing twilight.
“I’ve had a great time,” Avery says, because he feels it needs to be said.