Two Boys Kissing

Page 18


He could go on for hours. But the app is on to him. There must be complaints. Because suddenly a message pops up telling him his account has been suspended. He’s been frozen. Shut out for bad behavior. On a sex site.
Fine, he thinks. He deletes the account. Deletes the app.
It’s too easy. He heads over to another app and starts doing the same thing. They suspend him in a matter of minutes. He deletes his profile.
He heads to Facebook. Instead of his “friends,” he decides to go after pop stars and politicians. He posts links to g*y  p**n  on Justin Bieber’s page. He posts links to Nazi groups on the page for a Republican congressman who compared rape to bad weather. For Taylor Swift’s page, he finds a video of a sheep being decapitated.
It only takes two and a half minutes before his profile is killed. That part of his life is over.
He gets kicked out of every site he’s ever created a profile on. A block on each and every one. Stacked up, these blocks make a wall. Him on one side. The rest of the world on the other. It might be his most successful barrier yet.
It only takes an hour in a Starbucks for him to abandon his virtual life. Which is, if he’s honest, most of his real life, too.
One by one he deletes his contacts, until his phone is blank.
What’s left? he asks himself.
The answer is a satisfying nothing.
Craig thought at least his mother would come for the twenty-four-hour mark. But the fact that she’s not here means that maybe she’s not watching. Maybe she doesn’t know it’s been a full day. Or maybe she does, and has decided to stay away.
With a couple minutes left, Craig turns his thoughts back to Harry. Sweaty, sticky Harry. From the way he shifts and tenses, Craig knows he’s hurting. But he’s not going to back down, and Craig loves him for it. Genuinely loves him. At this point, he’s not even sure where Harry’s body ends and his own body begins. At this point, even their souls have become a Venn diagram, and the overlapping space grows and grows. Forget the togetherness of dating, the togetherness of sex. This is something higher. A piece of them has stopped being together and started to be the same.
The countdown begins. Craig wants Harry to know what he’s feeling. Craig wants to kiss him and mean it. They may be weary, they may be broken up, but he wants them to always have this. No matter what happens after, he wants them to be at one for this. He kisses Harry as the numbers trickle down, as the second day begins. He feels so close to Harry, and then all of a sudden he can feel Harry slipping away. As the crowd goes crazy, Harry goes slack. Craig grabs him tighter, feels the edges of their lips separating, but keeps the middle there, keeps their lips together even as Harry isn’t responding. He squeezes harder, and Harry reacts. As a matter of instinct, Harry begins to turn his head, but Craig stays on top of him. Harry’s eyelids flutter open, and Craig, propping him up, makes the sign for water. Harry is burning up now. The crowd doesn’t understand; the crowd is still cheering. But Tariq knows. Smita knows. Harry’s parents know. Craig can see it in their eyes, in their rush to get Harry water.
Harry is back on his feet now, wincing. He drinks some water through a straw, as Craig’s lips seal their mouths shut. But Harry’s still too hot. He needs air. He starts pulling up his shirt, exposing his skin. But it’s a T-shirt. Stupidly, he wore a T-shirt. So there’s no way to get it off.
Mr. and Mrs. Ramirez are at his side, asking questions.
Is he all right?
He signals yes. Because he knows what will happen if he signals no.
Is he hot?
Does he need his shirt off?
Will he be okay without a shirt?
Mrs. Ramirez heads off for a second. The crowd has now realized that something’s going on. The cheering has stopped, and the jeering can be heard behind it.
Someone’s offering to get a fan, but Harry can’t wait. His mother comes back with a scissors and asks him if he’s sure.
She hands over the scissors and he awkwardly starts cutting the back of his shirt. Right down the middle. And when it’s been bisected, the two boys choreograph its delicate removal. For the first time in twenty-four hours, Craig’s hands must sit lifeless at his side. Their lips are their only point of contact. It makes Craig feel distant, fragile.
As soon as the shirt is off, Harry feels better. The fan, when it comes, brings more relief.
Craig returns his hands to Harry’s shoulders, his back. The heat of his skin, the slick of his sweat. Harry moves his arm around Craig, too. He moves his hand under the back of Craig’s shirt. Skin on skin. Dizzying.
For a moment there, Tariq thought it was over. Staring at the screen, he didn’t dare to breathe. As if holding his breath could prevent Harry’s lips from slipping from Craig’s. But we feel this connection all the time, don’t we? Our bodies don’t have to be touching to be connected to one another. Our heart races without contact. Our breath holds until the threat is gone.
“What is it?”
Neil walks into Peter’s bedroom and sees a deep look of concern on his face.
Peter gestures to the screen. “It looked for a second like Harry was going to pass out. Now they’re cutting off his shirt.”
“Who’s Harry?”
“From the kiss.” Peter now points to one of the boys on the screen. “Harry. Haven’t you been watching?”
“I’ve been doing other things.”
“Well, it’s getting pretty intense.”
Neil knows that this is the moment to tell Peter what happened with his family, how things feel a little different now. But Peter’s too focused on the boys on the screen, isn’t asking him how his morning was. And Neil is still piecing his reaction together—he doesn’t want Peter’s take on the situation until he has his own. Or at least that’s what he tells himself, to justify staying silent. The truth is, Peter will understand, but only up to a point. Peter has never had to have such a conversation with his parents. Peter has never felt like an outsider in his own house. He might claim there were moments he has. But he hasn’t really. Not from Neil’s point of view.
“It looks like he’s rallying,” Peter says. “It’s been twenty-four hours. Only eight more to go.”
Neil gets closer. He’s looking at the kiss, yes. But his eye naturally goes to Harry’s torso.
In 1992, when over two hundred thousand of us were infected and over ten thousand had died, Calvin Klein launched a new ad campaign with a white rapper named Marky Mark. If you are young and you are male, most conceptions you have of your bodily ideal can be traced to those advertisements. Every Hollister model that calls out to you, every voice in your head that tells you that abs need “definition,” every ounce of the Abercrombie myth can be traced directly to Marky Mark. Whether you subscribe to these ideals or reject them, they are the unrealistic standard you must face. It’s what’s being sold to you.
Harry’s torso is not like this. It dares to be a regular body as it is broadcast out among all the ideals. He is neither fat nor thin. There is a line of hair from his chest to his jeans. His stomach is not taut. You cannot see his abs.
In other words, he reminds us of the way we were as teenagers, the way we were before the world set in.
Why is Marky Mark smiling in those ads? It’s not just that he has a perfect body. No, it’s as if he knows that soon enough, our bodies will be broadcast. Soon enough, our images will enter the ether. Everyone will want to look like him, because they will feel like they are being looked at all the time.
Harry, of course, knows he is being looked at. But what he looks like is the farthest thing from his mind. When your body starts to turn against you—when the surface value of the skin is nothing compared to the fireworks of pain in your muscles and your bones—the supposed truth of beauty falls away, because there are more important concerns to attend to.
Believe us. We know this.
Avery wonders why Ryan is looking at him out of the corner of his eye, why Ryan would rather watch him than watch the road. Even when friends look at Avery, a small part of him still worries they are looking for flaws, irregularities. In this, Avery isn’t all that different from anyone else. We all worry that looking at is really looking for.
Finally, Avery can’t stand it. The look. Then a knowing smile. Then another look.
“What?” he asks.
This only makes Ryan smile more. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I don’t usually like people. So when I do, part of me is really amused and the other part refuses to believe it’s happening.”
Maybe this is why we like watching you so much. Everything is still new to you. We are long past the experience, although we witness new things all the time. But you. New is not just a fact. New can be an emotion.
“What are we doing?” Avery asks. It is not meant as an existential question. He just wants to know what they’re doing next.
“I figured we’d start with pancakes. Do you want pancakes?”
“It’s hard to imagine a scenario where someone would say no to pancakes.”
So they go to the pancake house. Because it’s a small town, Avery notices Ryan checking out who else is inside before committing to a table.
“Looking for anyone in particular?”
Ryan smiles again. “No. Just habit, I guess.”
“How many people are in your high school?”
“About two hundred. You?”
“You must stick out. I mean, with the pink hair and all.”
“I bet you blend right in.”
“Trying to blend in would be like being put through a blender. I abstain.”
Avery finds this funny. “What did you just say?”
“I said, ‘I abstain.’ ”
“Is that what you say when the popular kids try to get you to hang out with them? ‘I’m sorry, but I abstain from blending in. There are just too many perks to being a wallflower.’ ”
“Yup. That’s precisely what I say. But do they stop? No. The popular kids keep bugging me. Calling. Texting. Showing up on my doorstep. Begging like dogs. I’m embarrassed for them.”
“I know precisely how you feel.”
To emphasize his point, Avery squeezes Ryan’s hand. It’s such an openly lame excuse to touch him, and both of them smile in acknowledgment of this.
“Part of you is amused,” Avery says. “And part of you doesn’t believe this is happening.”
Ryan nods. “And in the Pancake Century Diner, of all places.”
“Well,” Avery says, “it is the Pancake Century, after all.”
The waitress comes to take their order. Each of them thinks about pulling his hand away, but neither of them does.
Craig thinks of pancakes. He thinks of warm maple syrup and blueberries and butter melting. He thinks of the savory smoke of bacon on his tongue. A glass of cold orange juice. He tries to conjure their taste, but taste is elusive when it comes to memory. So instead he has to rely on his memory of how they look. How they smell. How happy they make him.
He focuses back on Harry. Harry, who is fading. Craig feels awful for thinking it, but the thought is there: If they don’t make it now, it will probably be because of Harry. Craig’s texted over his shoulder, asked him if he’s okay, and Harry keeps saying he is, keeps saying now that he’s cooled down, he’s back on track. But Craig can feel the lie throughout Harry’s body, can touch the tight muscles, can notice all the small movements Harry is making to keep himself upright, to keep himself going.
And I was never the stronger one. Craig allows himself to say it, if only to himself. All through their relationship, Harry was the one in charge, Harry was the one who gave them direction. This wasn’t because Harry was smarter or even better at it than Craig was; it just meant more to him, to be in control. And Craig didn’t really care, so he ceded it away. He liked not being responsible all the time.