Two Boys Kissing

Page 20


As a kid he wished for money or fame or toys or friends. More recent wishes were for so many other things, all of them synonymous with love or escape.
He worries he’s ruined it now, by suddenly being serious. That’s always been his problem, his inability to live in false worlds for that long.
Avery doesn’t ask him what he wished for. He doesn’t need to.
“Here,” he says. “Maybe you didn’t do it right.”
Avery takes the penny and moves it to Ryan’s lips. Ryan holds there, not really knowing what’s happening. Then Avery leans in and kisses him, kisses him so that they are both kissing the penny. When he pulls back, the penny falls, and he catches it in his palm.
“Now make a wish,” he says.
And Ryan thinks, I want to be happy.
“Got it?” Avery asks.
Ryan nods, and Avery tosses the penny into the well. They both listen, but neither hears it land. Then Avery returns to him, comes closer again, and now they are kissing with nothing between them. Lips closed, then lips open. Hands empty, then hands entwined.
A minute or two of this, then Avery pulls back and says, “We’re only half done!”
They walk, fingers still woven together, to the tenth hole.
“It’s a cloud,” Ryan says. “The whole thing is a cloud.”
They become so caught in their discussion of golfing within clouds that they don’t hear the footsteps, don’t hear the laughter coming their way. Then the voices are too loud to ignore.
Ryan turns and sees who’s coming.
“What?” Avery asks.
And Ryan says, “Oh shit.”
Harry is crying. He is in so much pain that he’s started to cry. His legs are seizing up, and his bladder feels like it’s full of rocks, and he isn’t choosing to cry, but his eyes are crying nonetheless. He’s lost control of them. He’s lost control of everything, except for his lips. All of the control that he has left, he has to put there. Even as his body is shouting surrender. Even as his mind is telling him there is no way to last another five hours.
There are four of them. Avery has no idea who they are, and neither do we, but just like us, Avery has some idea of where this is going. It’s the sneering looks, the swagger in the walk, the almost aimless spite in their laughter. It’s a particular brand of ass**le, easily found in teenage boys traveling in packs.
“What’s up, Ryan?” one of them taunts. “Who’s your boyfriend?”
Ryan lets go of Avery’s hand.
“What do you want, Skylar?” he says.
“We saw a car out front. What are you boys up to?”
Avery sees now that Skylar and one of the other guys are holding golf clubs. Skylar sees him looking and smiles. Then he spots a bottle on the ground and swings the club, knocking the bottle in Ryan and Avery’s direction. Ryan doesn’t flinch, but Avery does.
We don’t need to tell you what Skylar’s like, do we? You must already know. In the big scheme of things, he’s a powerless cog. So he exerts as much power as he can in any situation he can dominate. He tries to build his self-worth on the backs of others, and it works a little, but never enough. It doesn’t make him any smarter. It doesn’t give him more of a future. It gives him the same instant gratification as sex or drugs. He doesn’t hate Ryan, not really. He just sees in him an opportunity to be in control. Especially with an audience.
Ryan tries to stay away from him—tries to stay away from all of them. Because there are always more of them, and because if he fights them, he’s going to have to fight them every day after that, whereas if he manages to avoid them, ultimately he will disappear altogether. Or that’s what he’s told himself—that’s what we always told ourselves. Do not engage. Do not make it worse. Walk away. Not run away—don’t be a coward, don’t let them see your fear. Walk away.
If Avery wasn’t here, that’s what he’d be doing. Tell them to have a fun game, then walk away like he was handing over the course to them. But there’s no getting away with that now. It’s more fun for Skylar to go for the kill with Avery watching.
Skylar lines up another bottle, and this time it smashes on impact, glass flying everywhere. The other guys find this hilarious.
Avery can feel himself shutting down, going into survival mode.
“What the f**k do you guys want?” Ryan spits out.
“So tough!” Skylar mocks. Then he throws his golf club at Ryan’s face.
Or at least he makes it look like he’s going to throw the golf club at Ryan’s face. At the last possible moment, he holds on to it. But not before Ryan’s lifted up his arm, cringed from the blow that never comes.
Avery can see Ryan’s humiliation at falling for the fakeout. As the guys are laughing some more, Avery wants to walk over and put a comforting hand on Ryan’s back, wants to tell him it’s okay. But he can’t do that, because he’s not sure what kind of reaction that will get, and also he’s not sure if it really is okay.
What Avery doesn’t know is that Ryan’s humiliation isn’t just from the moment, but is the accumulation of abuse from Skylar and other guys like Skylar. They’ve trespassed all over his life, spit and stomped and sabotaged any degree of safety or comfort he’d managed to build. This is the true tyranny—not the actual taunts or shoves, but the exhaustion that comes from living with it for so long, so relentlessly.
It killed us, to be picked on, to be ridiculed for being something we weren’t even allowed to be. So many of us first heard the word g*y as an insult, an abomination. So many of us were called a faggot before we even knew what that meant. Not all of us—some of us hid so deep that no one could find our weakness. Some of us were bullies ourselves in order to cover our tracks, or because we hated what we were so much that we had to attack it in other people. A lot of us had to suffer at the hands of people who were dumber and/or meaner than we were, just because they were bigger, just because they were louder, just because of who their fathers were or what team they were on, or because they had the sheer nerve to kick us around while we didn’t have the defenses to fight back.
There was always a time before we were marked. For Ryan, there’s a time that he played Little League with Skylar. Their mothers even carpooled. But that history means nothing here.
“Did we interrupt you guys making out?” Skylar says with a playful disgust. “Did we miss the show?” He’s close now, too close. He takes the golf club and uses it to push Avery toward Ryan. “Don’t let us stop you. Let’s see what you’ve got.”
Avery feels the guys’ eyes on him and has no idea what they see.
“Come on!” one of the guys calls out. “Do it!”
Ryan is coiled with anger, but he can’t uncoil it into action. Not until Skylar starts to poke him with the golf club, making rude kissing noises. It’s too much. Ryan grabs at the club, tries to pull it out of Skylar’s hands. He expects Skylar to pull back, but instead Skylar surprises Ryan by pushing instead. Ryan’s caught off balance and falls back on his ass, knocking into Avery. Then Skylar pulls back on the club, easily shifting it out of Ryan’s hand.
Everyone is staring at Ryan on the ground, even Avery. The other guys are loving it, laying on the insults. But Skylar stays quiet. He lets his satisfaction speak for him. No matter what Ryan does now, Skylar’s already won.
“You need to get a new boyfriend,” he tells Avery. “This one’s damaged.”
“Fuck you,” Avery says. It feels lame to say it. Stupid. There has to be something better for him to say, but that’s all he’s got.
“No,” Skylar says. “Fuck you.”
Ryan is getting up now. Skylar steps back and putts a piece of glass so it hits Ryan’s sneaker.
“Let’s go,” Avery says.
“What, so soon?” Skylar taunts. “That wasn’t much of a show!”
Avery tries to read the expression in Ryan’s eyes, but he can’t. He has no idea what Ryan is thinking right now, what he’s going to do next. It’s like none of the rest of them are there—it’s just Ryan and Skylar, facing off.
“I want to go,” Avery says. Let them blame him. Let him be the weak one, if that will get them out of here.
“Okay,” Ryan says. It’s directed at Avery, but he doesn’t take his eyes off Skylar. “It was great to see you guys.”
“Yeah, fag, great to see you, too,” Skylar replies.
Ryan and Avery start to walk away. The guys respond by knocking more cans and bottles in their direction. Ryan doesn’t break into a run. He just keeps walking, and Avery keeps pace. Glass and aluminum are hitting them, flying all around them. The guys are whooping with joy. They follow for a short distance, then finally, at the sixth hole, let them go. Ryan despises how thankful he is for this.
As soon as they are out of range, safely crawling back through the opening in the gate, the cork pops on all the words Avery has been keeping inside. “That was scary,” he says. “But we’re fine. We’re totally fine. Those guys are ass**les. The important thing is that we’re okay. Let’s just forget about it, because there’s no use in worrying about it now. We’re okay, right?”
“I’m really sorry,” Ryan says, “but I think I need us to be quiet for a second.”
He tries to say it gently, tries to make it clear that it’s nothing personal against Avery, but Avery can’t help but feel a little rebuked.
Skylar’s parked his car so that it’s blocking Avery’s. And it’s a truck, so it’s not like Avery can ram his way out. Instead Avery has to do a twenty-point turn and run over a sidewalk to get out. The whole time, Ryan seethes.
“It’s all right,” Avery says.
“No, it’s not,” Ryan snaps.
Avery finishes the maneuvering and gets them out of the parking lot.
“What’s next?” he asks.
Ryan knows he needs to extricate himself from what just happened, needs to step outside of it and return to the day that he and Avery were having. But the rage he’s feeling is volcanic. If Avery weren’t here, he’d be going back there with a golf club of his own. He’d wait until they weren’t looking, and then he’d beat the hell out of them. Or at least that’s what he wants to tell himself. These scenarios are much clearer when they’re not actually happening.
Ryan hasn’t heard Avery’s question, and doesn’t realize that Avery needs to know where they’re going. He looks at his watch and realizes he told Alicia they’d drop by in about fifteen minutes.
“Make a left,” he says.
Avery wants to ask more, but settles into patience instead. Let it out, he wants to tell Ryan. Say what you need to say.
But Ryan’s not there yet. He can’t say it out loud. And he can’t let it go.
Cooper goes to McDonald’s to get something to eat and realizes he doesn’t have that much money left. This should bother him, but it doesn’t. He barely even notices it.
Instead he sits at a corner table and eats his Quarter Pounder. People talk and laugh and push around him, but he stares off into a space that isn’t there, his thoughts as anonymous as his surroundings. He finishes the burger in six minutes, then sits around for another thirty. Playing things out in his mind. Talking to himself because there is no one else to talk to.
Death is hard, and facing death is painful. But even more painful is the feeling that no one cares. To not have a friend in the world. Some of us died surrounded by loved ones. Some of us had loved ones who couldn’t make it in time, who were too far away or just off getting some sleep. But there are also those of us who can tell you what it’s like to have no one who you love, no one who loves you. It is very hard to stay alive just for your own sake. It is very hard to stare into day after day after day without another familiar face staring back. It turns your heart into a purposeless muscle.