Two Boys Kissing

Page 17


But who wants a family life like fairy tales, like mythology?
You’re g*y. Mrs. Kim can hear the words in her head. She can hear them clearly. Once she’s said them to herself, it should be easy to say them out loud. But still she hesitates, for the same reason that Neil needs so much to hear it.
Saying the truth out loud makes it more real.
Peter is your boyfriend.
Somehow, this seems a safer place to start. So she looks at her son and says it.
“Peter is your boyfriend.”
That would be enough for Neil. Just to hear these words from his mother. Because the implications are clear, even if not said.
But it’s not enough for Miranda.
“And,” she says.
The strangest thing happens then. Mrs. Kim smiles. Her daughter’s irritation has made her smile, and has given her the springboard she needs to take the dive.
“And,” she says, “Neil is g*y.” She looks at all three of them in turn. “Now, if that’s settled, I am going to go finish my paper in the den.”
There will be no embraces here. No tears besides Neil’s. No further conversation. Unless you count Mr. Kim telling his son again to have some breakfast. Unless you count Miranda’s smile as he sits down, the distinct pride she feels in both him and herself. Unless you count the way the words sink into Neil, the way his life feels a little more solid than it did five minutes before, the way he no longer feels the overpowering urge to run away.
How could this happen? some of our parents asked us near the end. We knew what they were really asking, and some of us found the grace to say, It was nothing you did.
We return to the kiss. The crowd has started to count down the minutes until Craig and Harry hit the twenty-four-hour mark.
Not everyone is counting. There are jeers now—people from town and people from other towns who have come to protest, who’ve come to yell, who’ve come to break whatever spell that two boys kissing can cast. Some of them make a production of praying for Craig’s and Harry’s souls. Some hold hastily scrawled posters: ADAM AND EVE NOT ADAM AND STEVE, HOMOSEXUALITY IS A SIN, YOU CAN’T KISS YOUR WAY OUT OF HELL. Some have brought their children.
The police don’t know what to do—separate everyone into two camps or let them mingle? It takes only one shoving match for the separation to start. But the protestors will not be hidden. They want to be within hearing range of the cameras, of the boys.
The ring around the boys holds on. When someone needs to leave, whether to go home or just go to the bathroom, another person takes his or her place. They keep their backs to the protestors, their eyes on Craig and Harry.
Tariq has now been awake for almost thirty hours. His body is wracked with caffeine, his eyes blurred by so much screen time. People keep telling him to go home, take a nap, but he doesn’t want to miss a moment. If Craig and Harry are going to stay awake, he’ll stay awake, too. Solidarity.
He keeps thinking of Walt Whitman, of two boys together clinging. He wonders what Whitman would make of all this. He’s kept Whitman’s bust on the table next to him, watching over the scene.
Craig and Harry can hear the jeering, the rumble of antipathy, but they can’t hear it very clearly. Tariq offered to get them headphones to block it all out, but they’re sticking to the speakers, sticking to the playlist. It helps to have words to reach for, an element of unpredictability.
The day is getting warmer. Harry signals for the removal of his hoodie, but even after it’s off, he’s still hot. Sweating. Craig can feel it, too—the blush rising from Harry’s skin, the dampness of his shirt. What he doesn’t feel is how much Harry’s legs are killing him. No matter how he shifts and kicks, he can’t get them to feel normal. The ache is becoming unbearable, like someone is twisting each and every vein around each and every muscle. He tries to think of other things, but pain is the loudest broadcast.
He’s brought back by the twenty-nineteen-eighteen of a countdown. He feels Craig smile under his lips. Seventeen-sixteen-fifteen. People are pressing in to see. It’s getting hotter and hotter. Fourteen-thirteen-twelve. He tries to focus. Eleven. Ten. Nine. Tariq calls out that there are over three hundred thousand people watching online. Eight. Seven. Six. One of the news stations burns them with their lights, wants to capture this moment. Five. Four. Three. Craig is kissing him now. Really kissing him. Like when they were together. Two. It is so hot. The lights are so bright. One. An enormous wave of cheering.
They have made it to twenty-four hours. They have made it for a day.
Amid the wild press of celebration, Harry starts to pass out.
At exactly the same moment, Avery pulls into Ryan’s driveway. Ryan is already outside waiting for him, smiling as he arrives. Avery parks the car, turns off the motor. But before he can get out of the car, Ryan jumps in.
“Let’s go,” Ryan says.
“Could I go inside for a sec?” Avery asks. “I have to pee.”
“We’ll find someplace else,” Ryan tells him. “I promise, it won’t be long.”
Avery doesn’t want to explain that it’s much easier for him to use a private bathroom than a public one. Especially in a town like Kindling. So he drives, all the time wondering why Ryan doesn’t want him inside his house.
“I have a plan,” Ryan says. “Are you up for a plan?”
Avery nods.
“Okay. But first, a bathroom.” He tells Avery to turn left, then right. They get to a strip mall road, and Ryan indicates a McDonald’s coming up. “That work?”
Avery pulls in. “You hungry?”
“Not yet. Not unless you’re hungry. I just figured you could pee here.”
Again, Avery doesn’t want to explain. So he gets out of the car, heads inside. He feels eyes on him as he goes over to the men’s room. People behind the counter glaring because he hasn’t bought anything. People at tables staring because they know where he’s going, know what he’s doing. Nobody has to be watching for Avery to feel watched. He is almost used to it, but will never truly get used to it. The feeling that he’s trespassing. The feeling that he will be confronted. The feeling that the world is full of people who think different is synonymous with wrong.
No matter how strong Avery gets, there will always be this subterranean fear, this nagging shame. We want to whisper to him that the only way to free yourself from shame is to realize how completely arbitrary it is—just what he was saying a day ago. Stupid arbitrary shit. He needs to take those words to heart. There is power in saying, I am not wrong. Society is wrong. Because there is no reason that men and women should have separate bathrooms. There is no reason that we should ever be ashamed of our bodies or ashamed of our love. We are told to cover ourselves up, hide ourselves away, so that other people can have control over us, can make us follow their rules. It is a bastardization of the concept of morality, this rule of shame. Avery should be able to walk into any restroom, any restaurant, without any fear, without any hesitation.
He is relieved that it’s a one-stall bathroom, that he can lock the door and have privacy. He is embarrassed by his relief, uncomfortable with the fact that he’s so uncomfortable. Ryan remains oblivious in the car. Avery envies that, and is also annoyed by it.
On the way out, the eyes are still there, the extra self-consciousness. Avery won’t let it change his actions, not anymore. But he can’t deny it’s there. It’s always there.
We didn’t lose our fear until we didn’t have anything left. But we still feel fear for other people.
When Avery gets back to the car, Ryan is texting with some of his friends.
“Everyone wants to meet you,” Ryan says. This fills Avery with another kind of anxiety.
“Everyone?” he asks.
“I may have told one or two or seven of my friends about you. I mean, they saw us dancing the other night. I had to keep them updated.”
Avery starts the car and asks, “Where to?”
“Do you want to meet some of my friends?”
The answer is yes, and the answer is no. The answer is that Avery wants to see more of Ryan’s life, for sure. And the answer is that he likes it just being the two of them for now.
“Maybe later?”
“Oh, definitely later. I just need to know whether to put them on standby or not. But we’ve got hours of us-time to spend before that.”
Avery likes the sound of this. But he still feels uneasy. Not because Ryan’s making him feel wrong. Maybe he’s just uneasy because nothing is easy. Unease is the natural state.
Cooper is driving his car around to recharge his phone’s battery. He wants to go back on the hunt, see if maybe he can find someone better than the guy from last night. One last chance. One last time.
He goes back to the Starbucks and sits in a corner so no one can see the screen. It’s just past noon on a Sunday, but the sex sites are full of people, full of come-ons. He’s got ten messages from last night, people he ignored while he was chatting with Antimatter.
It’s all so boring. He feels like he’s spent his life looking at these faces, even though he’s only had this app for a couple of months.
Twinkhunter’s the one who pushes him over the edge. He’s blocked this guy at least ten times. But the guy just creates a new profile and starts sending messages again. You’re so cute. You’re so hot. I think we’d have a great time. The guy looks like he works in a bank. He’s got a shirtless photo even though he’s too old to have a shirtless photo.
Before, Cooper’s just hit the block key. This time, though, he types back.
You’re disgusting.
Twinkhunter responds:
You into that?
And Cooper doesn’t care anymore. Why the f**k does he have to be polite to people like this?
You are nothing more than a desperate, pathetic pedophile.
Within ten seconds, Twinkhunter’s blocked him.
Cooper likes the way that feels. So he goes on.
He tells the guys who want “masculine only” that they’re just as bad as homophobes, trying to make masculine into some macho gym ideal.
He tells the guys who say “whites only” that they’re racist scum.
He tells the sixty-year-olds who are looking for “under 18s” that they are pedophiles.
He tells the younger guys with naked pics that they should stop prostituting themselves.
You’re pathetic, he writes.
You’re desperate.
Are you afraid to show your face? Is that why you show your dick?
Does your boyfriend know you do this?
I think there’s something wrong with my screen. I can’t tell if that’s your ass or your face.
You’re looking for a good time? Do you really think you’ll find it here?
They all start blocking him. Just like that, they disappear from his phone, disappear from his life. Antimatter isn’t on right now, but Cooper feels that if he were, he’d easily find a way to get blocked there, too.
There’s one guy, thirty-four, who says he’s long-term-relationship oriented. Cooper writes back, How long-term do you think these relationships are? Two hours? Three? If you want to find a husband, maybe you should stop looking for someone to f**k.
Cooper figures he’ll get blocked in record time. But the guy, whose screen name is TZ, writes back:
Why are you so angry?
Cooper responds, I’m not angry. I’m just truthful.
TZ doesn’t buy it. Who hurt you? he asks. Do you need help?
Cooper blocks him right away. No way to undo it. Gone.
He takes down another Daddy looking for a Son, another Son looking for a Daddy, telling them this is no way to find family. He finds the guy from a week ago who suggested they meet in a park. He tells him to be there in fifteen minutes. Then, when the guy says he’s on his way, he blocks him. Let him wonder.
Cooper’s enjoying himself. Because every time he’s blocked, a new face appears. It’s like an endless source of desperate discontent. (Yes, there are some guys who look perfectly happy and have a sense of humor about the whole thing, but Cooper ignores them.) Five miles away. Fifteen miles away. Thirty.