Two Boys Kissing

Page 22


“I think I know where they might be,” he says. He tells Avery to pull out and make a left.
Avery makes it through two green lights. When a red light stops them at the third intersection and Ryan says to take another left, Avery decides he’s neither going to give in or give up. Instead he’s going to give Ryan one last chance.
Ryan’s confused when Avery shifts to the right lane and makes a right turn. Even more so when Avery pulls over into the parking lot of a law office.
“What are you doing?” he asks Avery.
And Avery says, “You’re ruining it. You have to stop now before you ruin it completely.”
Cooper pulls his car onto the highway. He is leaving his town for good. He doesn’t give it a second thought. He doesn’t feel anyone there deserves a goodbye.
Only two hours to go.
More camera crews, more protestors. More heat, more noise.
For all the booster shots of caffeine, Craig wants sleep as badly as he wants to sit down. He tries to keep his mind from slipping into the bad questions, but at this point, he’s somewhat defenseless against them. All of his unspoken, even unacknowledged, reasons for doing this are falling away. Didn’t he think it would bring his family together around him? Didn’t he think they’d be proud? And wasn’t Smita right—didn’t he think this would get Harry back, make them a couple again? And what about what happened to Tariq—did he really think this would somehow correct that, would prevent such things from ever happening again? If anything, isn’t he making it worse, giving a reason for the camera crews to sell the other side’s hate into the airwaves?
Why are you doing this? he asks himself, and with all the other answers falling away, he’s not sure what’s left. We could tell him, but he has to figure it out for himself. We know that. It’s impossible for us to arm him against despair. He must arm himself.
Harry is so hot. He’s been making the W sign for water, has been drinking what feels to be so much of it. (It’s really just half a bottle.) And now he has to pee so badly. But all these people are watching. All of these people are here. He can’t imagine taking a pee break in front of them. This is the ultimate pee shy. He tries to hold it in. It’s painful.
The police are blocking off the street now. The whole force is out, but there aren’t really that many of them. There’s no way to screen everyone coming in. Any fool could bring a gun. Anyone who wanted to stop the kiss could.
Most of the people who are coming at this point are like the two who step out of Peter’s mom’s car. While there’s no shortage of protestors, most of the people who are migrating here are doing so because they feel some connection to the kiss. In their actions, Craig and Harry are saying the thing that they want to say. So they find themselves hopping on buses, getting into cars. They find themselves at the Millburn train station, where a helpful old woman tells them how to walk on over to the high school, and not to confuse it with the middle school, which is much closer. Now that there are less than two hours left, there’s an excitement buzzing through the yard when Peter and Neil get there. They’re astonished to see all the people, to see the wall of friends that is protecting Craig and Harry from the protestors, from any threat that may come. In the throng, Craig and Harry are just two bodies curving into an A. They are the steady center of a wider celebration, the first and tightest ripple.
Peter and Neil pause at the outskirts to get the lay of the land. Or at least that’s why Peter pauses, to get a sense of where everyone else is and to see if he knows anyone there. Neil pauses to look at Peter—to really look at him and ask himself what he wants. He knows he loves Peter, and also knows he’s not sure what that means. There is no one else in the world that he wants to kiss or screw or talk to or share his life with. So why, he wonders, does a part of it still feel empty? Why, after a year, isn’t it complete?
He’s on the verge of it—we can tell. He is on the verge of finding that very hard truth—that it will never be complete, or feel complete. This is usually something you only have to learn once—that just like there is no such thing as forever, there is no such thing as total. When you’re in the thrall of your first love, this discovery feels like the breaking of all momentum, the undermining of all promise. For the past year, Neil has assumed that love was like a liquid pouring into a vessel, and that the longer you loved, the more full the vessel became, until it was entirely full. The truth is that over time, the vessel expands as well. You grow. Your life widens. And you can’t expect your partner’s love alone to fill you. There will always be space for other things. And that space isn’t empty as much as it’s filled by another element. Even though the liquid is easier to see, you have to learn to appreciate the air.
We didn’t learn this all at once. Some of us didn’t learn it at all, or learned it and then forgot it as things became really bad. But for all of us, there was a moment like this—the record skips, and you have the chance to either switch away from the song or to let it play through, a little more flawed than before.
“Look at all these people,” Peter says to Neil. “Look at this!”
Neil looks at him and sees a big nerdy goofball. He looks at him and sees someone whose mom would drive him here and will pick them up later. He looks at him and sees maybe not his future, but definitely his present.
When Neil tells Peter what happened at his house this morning, as he will in about forty seconds, Peter will at first be confused and hurt that Neil didn’t tell him right away. Neil will see this, but won’t apologize. Within another five minutes, Peter won’t really care, because he’ll want to know everything that happened, will want to be there with Neil, even after the fact, to give support. He’ll hug Neil into him, and Neil will hug him right back, and more love will flow into each of the vessels, and each of the vessels will expand a little bit more.
“Ruining it?” Ryan says. When he starts the first word, he genuinely doesn’t understand what Avery means, but by the time he hits the question mark, he does. So before Avery can answer he says, “Oh. Yeah.”
“I want to get the day back,” Avery says.
And Ryan, defensive, replies, “I wasn’t the one who took it away.”
As soon as he says this, we know Ryan has to make a decision, and that it’s an important one. Because if he makes the wrong decision here, the odds are good that he will keep making it. Those of us who died angry can recognize the pattern. It is unfair that Ryan needs to make this choice—he is absolutely correct that the day was taken away from him. But now it’s in his power to get it back. Only he’ll need to get past his anger in order to do so.
Avery doesn’t know the stakes are this high. All he knows is that if Ryan’s going to stay like this, Avery’s not going to stay in Kindling much longer. He knows this is a shame, but also knows it’s true.
“Please,” he says. To Ryan. To the universe.
Ryan knocks the back of his head into the passenger seat’s headrest. Then he turns and looks Avery in the eye.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “Truly, I’m sorry. I’m such a dick.”
“It’s okay. We haven’t passed the point of no return.”
Ryan shakes his head. “Yeah, but I almost put us there, didn’t I?” His phone buzzes in his pocket, and he takes it out. When he sees the screen, he laughs. He shows it to Avery—a text from Alicia.
You’re f**king this up, boy. Don’t be a dick.
“Guess she liked you,” Ryan says.
“I liked her,” Avery says. “All of them.”
“Even Dez?”
“Eighty percent.”
Ryan nods. “Sounds about right. And where did I stand, two minutes ago?”
“Forty percent? Thirty-seven?”
“So what should we do? I want to get back up into the nineties.”
What do you want to do?
I don’t know—what do you want to do?
This time, Avery answers.
“Let’s go get your aunt’s boat,” he says. “I want to head back to the water.”
It’s not that Ryan has forgotten. And he certainly hasn’t forgiven. But he’s remembered: He only has another year of this. Skylar and his friends will never leave. But Ryan will get away. Even if it’s as simple as stealing away with a pink-haired boy.
Meanwhile, Harry can’t hold it in anymore. He just can’t. His body makes up his mind for him, and right there, right in front of everyone else, he is peeing himself. Once it starts it’s almost impossible to stop. In horror, he feels his underwear grow wet. The front of his jeans.
Craig feels Harry tense, doesn’t know what’s going on. Neither one of them can really see down, not the way they’re standing. Harry spells out an S, then an O, R, R, and Y on Craig’s back. Craig responds with a question mark. Then Harry responds with a P, and instead of being disgusted, Craig snorts out a laugh.
Smita notices, but nobody else does. Harry wouldn’t even know that she knows, but she walks over and adjusts the fan so it’s blowing lower, right onto his pants.
An hour left. All they want is for there to be an hour left. And then there is only an hour left.
The sun is dropping from the sky, taking a little of the day’s warmth with it. The local news stations are beaming their reports to the national news. Tonight, late-night talk-show hosts will talk about two boys kissing. Radio switchboards will light up. Fox News will ignore it, then decry it. Wherever he is, Craig’s father will make sure the televisions and radios stay off, the computers unconnected from the wider world.
He doesn’t want his other sons to see.
Harry doesn’t want to drink any more water, any more energy drinks. As a result, he feels light-headed. Unbelievable as it may seem, there are moments when he barely knows where he is. He slaps himself on the chest to keep awake.
Cooper approaches a big bridge that spans a big river, with a big city on the other side. When we were growing up, this scene was what we always envisioned as the opening credits of our new life. Even those of us born in the city imagined this. Whether we were driving ourselves or in the back of a yellow cab, the city would spread out in its infinite wonder, each window glittering with invitation, the skyscrapers pointing like arrows to the heights we might attain. For most of us, it didn’t play out as easily, but there was still the thrill of those opening credits that carried us through the harder times, that sustained our faith in a city that often didn’t show much faith in us. Even as we were dying, we’d remember that first arrival, or we would remember how we’d pictured how the arrival would be, or we would conflate the two things—the memory, the dream—into one reality, and that would seem to us like a long time ago, but still a time worth visiting.
As Cooper nears the city, we can’t help but feel a little of that excitement, a little recognition of the escapes we made, of the finish line we crossed, only to find so many other finish lines waiting after it.
We watch Cooper’s car in the parade of headlights. All those cars. All those pilgrims. But Cooper’s car breaks free. His headlights change direction. We watch as he pulls out of the toll lane, narrows onto the local roads. Right under the bridge, right near the joint where it juts from the land and into the air, he pulls over. Turns off the ignition. Steps out of the car.
He’s parked illegally and doesn’t care. The sign right there says NO PARKING AT ANY TIME. He shuts the car door without locking it. Then, without looking back, he heads for the bridge. We peer in and see his wallet on the passenger seat. The phone charger. Some receipts and change. He’s left everything behind, except for his phone, which he’s taken with him.
Our first reaction is, Don’t leave your wallet in an unlocked car.
Then we step back. We have to step back. We have to stop thinking about the city, remembering the city. We have to focus. Up until this moment, there was room to believe he was heading in another direction. But now there’s only one direction.