Two Boys Kissing

Page 14


Tariq’s pulse is still racing, but he lets the music take off the edge, take him away from what just happened. He starts to sway along, show some moves, imagine this is their club, their space, their domain. Smita gets into the groove, too, and even Mr. Bellamy starts to dance in a grown-up kind of way. Tariq can’t believe it when Mr. Ramirez and Mrs. Archer, the coffee-bringing neighbor, start to sing along. They probably know the songs from Glee—who knows? The police officer now on shift is the only one not joining in, but Tariq is pretty sure there’s some Zeppelin later in the mix for him.
It’s crazy, because Harry is feeling fully conscious again. Is he completely tired of kissing Craig? Oh, totally. They’ve both been tired of it for hours at this point. But that’s the challenge, to get through all that. If you’re running a marathon, you’re not expecting to find pleasure in every step. The music is helping, reminding him that the time after midnight can be used for things other than sleeping.
He feels something hit his back, and at first he doesn’t understand what it is. It could almost be Craig’s hand, marking the beat. But then the second egg hits him right on the side of his head. He hears it breaking beside his ear. Feels the shock of it, the slime of it. Another hits his leg. His instinct is to recoil, to turn. But luckily Craig is there, right there, to reach his hand up to shield him, to reach up his hand to remind Harry to stay where he is. The yolk is beginning to run down his face, down his neck. Craig tries to wipe it away, as Harry’s father shouts something, goes running into the darkness beyond the lights. The police officer is on alert now, talking into his radio. Smita is hurrying over with a towel so Craig can get the egg off Harry’s face. (No one else is allowed to touch them, lest it be construed as “propping.”) Tariq is stopped cold for a second, looking in the direction Mr. Ramirez went, wondering what he should do. He looks at his computer, and the feed comments are going crazy, everyone asking, What was that? What’s happening? So now he has something to do, and stupidly he finds himself calling out to Harry and Craig, “Keep kissing!” Because that’s what he needs to see right now, that’s what everyone needs to see. But Harry is shaking. He can’t help it—he’s shaking. He can’t believe what happened, and knows he shouldn’t be embarrassed, but he is. He feels reduced, ridiculed. By shitheads. He can smell the egg, smell it on his skin. Even though Smita’s dampening the towel with bottled water now so Craig can get it all off, he can still feel it on his skin, the shock of its impact.
His father comes back empty-handed, says something to the police officer. No way to tell who it was. They ran away on foot. Could have gone in any direction. Mr. Ramirez thinks it was more than one kid. But it was hard to tell in the dark.
Craig feels Harry shivering. He holds Harry closer, feels the egg stain on the back of Harry’s shirt. Craig makes a C sign with his hand—clothes—and points to Harry. Mr. Bellamy understands and offers Harry a hoodie. Harry is shivering harder now, and Craig has to hold the back of his head, to make sure he doesn’t shiver away from him. Harry holds out his arms so Craig can help him put on the hoodie, one arm at a time. It feels strange to be dressed in this way, but he’s grateful for the warmth.
It’s over, he tells himself.
But it’s not over. Not yet. Because now there are voices in the dark. Voices getting closer. And pinpoints of light—flashlights. It is 12:23 in the morning, and people are coming to be here, coming to help. They saw what happened, and they can’t stay in their houses. Not just Harry and Craig’s friends. But their friends’ parents, too. Jim from the tech crew has sped over with more lights from his basement. There have to be at least a dozen people. Then more than a dozen. Smita’s mom is here. Two more police officers. And a man Harry’s never seen before walks up and goes straight to Mr. Bellamy, saying, “I’m staying right here with you.” They wear matching rings.
The site becomes a hive of activity. Jim puts up more lights so the lawn can be seen more clearly. And whereas before when people watched, they did so in conversational clumps, now they make a line, a wall, between Harry and Craig and the outside world. Protecting them.
The whole time, the music hasn’t stopped. “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” is pumping through the air. Harry senses Craig coming alert to something. He looks off to the side and sees the two figures coming closer.
Craig’s mother. His oldest brother, Sam, a senior at the high school.
They head right to Craig, and Craig’s mother asks him if he’s okay.
He nods slightly.
“Sam was watching, and he came to get us.”
Us. Craig hears the us, and at first doesn’t understand it. Then his father and his other brother, Kevin, are there, too.
“Parked the car,” Craig’s father says. “Your mom couldn’t wait.”
It hits Craig fully: He is, right now, kissing Harry right in front of his father. His mind can’t really acclimate to this. At all.
Harry’s dad comes over to introduce himself to Craig’s father and brothers, and also, more subtly, to make sure they don’t end up blocking all of the cameras. Craig can see his father measure Harry’s dad up; for his part, Harry’s dad is trying his hardest to make a good impression.
Kevin, a seventh grader, seems to not understand why he was woken up for this. Sam, though, keeps staring at Craig. Ten minutes ago, if you’d told Craig that Sam had been in the car with the guys yelling “FAGGOTS!”, he wouldn’t have been that surprised. But now he has to accept that his brother’s staring is more complicated than that. It’s not an older-brother death stare. He’s probably just trying to understand the situation as much as Craig is.
“We’re not staying for long,” Craig’s father is saying.
“But we just got here,” Kevin whines.
“It’s late. We wanted to make sure he’s okay, and he’s okay.”
Craig can feel his father keeping his distance—but still, he’s closer than Craig thought he would be. He wonders what his mother said to him, how she explained.
“I’m going to stay,” Sam mumbles.
Craig’s father does not look happy with this.
“It’s well after midnight,” he intones. “You’re coming home.”
Sam smiles mischievously and says, “But Craig gets to stay out.…”
Craig can feel the tremor of Harry’s laugh at this line.
Craig’s father doesn’t think it’s funny, though.
“Don’t push me,” he says. “This is about as far as I can go.”
Craig can see Sam considering it. He tries to use his eyes to implore his brother, Just go. Not that Sam has ever listened to him before.
Craig’s mom steps in. “We can all come back tomorrow,” she says, shepherding Sam back in the direction of the car.
“We’ll be here!” Harry’s dad says, maybe a little too cheerily.
Craig’s mom takes in the wall of supporters that has formed. When she turns back to Craig, it’s hard to read the expression on her face. Or maybe that’s what’s being expressed: a complete lack of definition.
Craig points toward the parking lot, then makes an okay sign. So she knows it’s okay for her to go. Even though nobody’s asked him.
Just as quickly as they appeared, his family heads back home.
The two of them have twenty-three hours to go.
Harry can still smell the egg on his skin.
At two in the morning, Cooper wakes up in the backseat of his own car. His body is sore from trying to fit. The seat belt has been digging into his back. He looks at his watch and feels only disappointment in the hour—he wants it to be five or six or oblivion. He has never slept in his car before, and he doesn’t know how long he’ll be able to do it. If this is his life now, if this is what his life has become, it’s even more pathetic to him than it was before. He should have taken clothes with him. He should have taken food. There aren’t even voices in his head telling him this—it would be much easier if there were voices, because then it could be a conversation. But these are things that he knows, and no voice needs to bother to say them. He could try to distract himself with his phone, but the battery’s low and the car needs to be on to work the charger. He’s sick of the phone, too. Sick of the men and the boys. Sick of everyone wanting so badly to be turned on that they become these one-track minds living from one one-track minute to the next. And where does that track lead? Men and boys all across America getting off, and not a single one cares about Cooper. Yeah, if they read about him in the paper, they’d be sad. But Cooper doesn’t think they’d realize it was him, the boy they were chatting with last night.
Cooper doesn’t believe tomorrow will be better. Or any tomorrow. Not really. We want to tell him in a thousand different ways that he’s wrong. But who are we? Even if we could speak, even if we could knock on that window and get him to roll it down, he would never believe what we have to say, not compared to what he believes about himself, and about the world.
His mind is on fire now, and it will be hours until it cools itself back into the right temperature for sleep. He is angry at his father, angry at his mother, but mostly he’s come to feel that all this was inevitable, that he was born to be a boy who must sleep in his car, that there was no way he was going to make it through high school without being caught. He feels he’s been soured by his own desires, squandered by his own impulses. He despises himself, and that is the flame that sets his mind on fire.
He is too tired to do anything about it. Too tired to turn on the car to charge his phone. Too tired to figure out a better place to be. Too tired to run away somewhere. Too tired to end it all. So he stays in that back seat, contorting himself but never finding comfort. Unable to sleep. Unable to live. Unable to leave.
We would wake in the middle of the night. Sometimes there were tubes down our throats. Sometimes we were attached to machines that seemed more alive than we were. Sometimes the darkness was laced with light. Sometimes we had been dreaming we were home, and that our mother was in the next room. We didn’t know the room we woke into, or we knew it too well. The last stop. Final destination. And there we were, trapped in those endless, unforgiving hours. Unable to sleep. Unable to live. Unable to leave.
The world is quieter now. It is never quiet, but it can get quieter. What strange creatures we are, to find silence peaceful, when permanent silence is the thing we most dread. Nighttime is not that. Nighttime still rustles, still creaks and whispers and trembles in its throat. It is not darkness we fear, but our own helplessness within it. How merciful to have been granted the other senses.
There are very few lights on in this town at four in the morning. Most of the ones that are on were left on by accident. There are one or two night readers, one or two night wanderers, one or two night workers to be found. But most everyone else is asleep.
We are the ones who are awake.
Except on the front lawn of the local high school. There, two boys remain kissing. Muscles sore, mouths tired, eyelids weighty, Harry and Craig hold on to each other, hold on to the forces inside them that will keep them awake. At four in the morning, you can be so light-headed that even the stars seem to have a sound. Harry and Craig sway to the sound of those stars—the few that glimmer over their heads—but also to the sound of all of the unseen stars, all the nebulae that are out of reach but still present. At four in the morning, you can imagine the whole universe is looking down at you. Harry and Craig dance for the universe, and also for the friends who have gathered, the ring of people that remains around them. Mr. Ramirez is snoring lightly in his chair. Tariq’s fingers tap out a language on his keyboard as he responds to questions from Rome and Edinburgh and Dubai. Smita’s mom takes orders for coffee. Jim laughs at something another boy from tech crew has said. Mr. Bellamy, our Tom, tells his husband all is well, that he should go home and get some sleep. Harry and Craig dance to these sounds, too. Craig needs to be held, and Harry is holding him. Harry is letting his mind wander—to books he’s read, to movies he’s seen, to things he may want to say to the tens of thousands of people who are watching them. But Craig’s mind doesn’t wander much farther than Harry. With everything that’s happened, Craig is retreating into the closeness of Harry, the familiarity of his body, of him. This is what he missed when it was gone, what his loneliness calls out for. He knows the reason Harry is kissing him, but he still feels it as a kiss. He can’t help it, because it helps him. He can’t help it, because right now he needs it so much.