Two Boys Kissing

Page 9


A small crowd is starting to form. People from town walking by, wondering what’s going on at the school. Kids from play practice—some knew this would be happening, but others are learning about it for the first time. Mykal is organizing their friends and other people they know to get the word out, to get some cheering going. Some people—mostly adults—are curious enough to come over and look, then are disgusted when they find out what it is.
“Do their parents know?” one woman, walking her poodle, asks. “How could they let something like this happen?”
“His parents are right here,” Mrs. Ramirez answers fiercely.
The woman shakes her head and walks away.
Other people—mostly kids—are asking how they can help. Lots of pictures are being taken on lots of phones.
One of the kids who asks to pitch in is eleven years old. His name is Max, and his dad brought him to see this.
Max is a marvel to us. He will never have to come out because he will have never been kept in. Even though he has a mom and a dad, they made sure from the beginning to tell him that it didn’t have to be a mom and a dad. It could be a mom and a mom, a dad and a dad, just a mom, or just a dad. When Max’s early affections became clear, he didn’t think twice about them. He doesn’t see it as defining him. It is just a part of his definition.
What does Max see when he looks at Harry and Craig? He sees two boys kissing. But it’s not the two boys part that gives him pause. It’s the kissing. He can’t imagine ever wanting to kiss anyone for that long.
Just wait, we want to tell him. Just you wait.
After pancakes, Neil and Peter convince Peter’s mom to drive them to the Clinton Bookshop. There are closer bookstores, but they’re in the mood for a drive. Along the way, they don’t say much, but their relationship has reached that stage where silence is comfortable, not threatening. Silence only harms when there are things that aren’t being said, or when there’s the fear that the well is empty and there’s nothing left to say. Neither is the case here. They still have plenty to say to each other, just not anything right now.
At the bookstore, Neil looks for a doorstop biography to give his father for his birthday while Peter peruses the Young Adult section. It is there that Peter’s phone buzzes, and he finds a message from his debate friend Simon. There’s a link attached.
Peter takes a look, then tracks down Neil. “Want to see something awesome?” he asks, showing Neil the message, then clicking the link. “It’s two boys in Millburn. They’re trying to break the world record for kissing.”
Neil looks at the grainy feed on the phone. “Do we know either of them?”
“I don’t think so. But isn’t that cool?”
Neil thinks it’s cool. But his mind is stuck on something he doesn’t think is cool at all.
“ ‘Hey, beautiful’?” he asks.
Peter doesn’t get it. “What?”
“That’s how Simon started his text to you. ‘Hey, beautiful.’ ”
“That’s just the way Simon talks.”
“I’m just making an observation.”
“Don’t dismiss me like that.”
“Do we really have to have this conversation again?”
“Why don’t you tell me, beautiful?”
“He’s just a flirty friend. We both have flirty friends.”
“Yeah, but mine are female.”
“Clark? Clark is female?”
“Clark isn’t flirty. He’s too scientific to be flirty.”
“He thinks lab partners should have full marriage rights.”
“The only thing Clark has ever called beautiful in his life is an algebraic equation.”
“Oh, but he’d love to see how his x corresponds to your y.”
“Wait—how is this about Clark? I seem to recall it’s about Simon.”
“Simon is harmless.”
“Simon is calling you beautiful and sending you a link to two guys kissing.”
“Really? Of all the places to go, you’re going to go there?”
They are a bit too loud. They don’t notice the bookseller behind the counter, smiling. He knows firsthand that every relationship falls into this groove at some point.
Neil doesn’t really think Peter is cheating on him. He doesn’t think Peter would ever cheat on him. That’s not what this is about. It’s about Neil’s fear that Peter will want to cheat on him, that he will someday realize there’s someone better out there.
Peter is young enough to not really understand this. He thinks Neil is being foolish, slightly paranoid. He has done nothing wrong, and resents being attacked, anyway.
“Look,” he says, “I think we need to step away for a sec. I’m going to go down the street and get coffee. Do you want anything?”
Neil shakes his head.
“Okay. I’ll be back in a few minutes. Which is hopefully the amount of time it will take for you to realize that even if a million other guys say ‘Hey, beautiful’ to me, it doesn’t change what we are, not one little bit.”
“A million? Who said anything about a million?”
“There happen to be a lot of people who use ‘Hey, beautiful’ as a greeting when I am involved.”
“Well, you are beautiful. I grant you that. It must be the hey I object to. It’s so common. For horses, really. And you are so uncommonly, unhorsily beautiful.”
Peter realizes this last twist in the conversation means things with Neil are curving back into being better, but now that he’s mentioned coffee, he wants it. So he heads out, gets an iced latte, drinks it in a few gulps (too many damn ice cubes), then heads back to the bookstore. He finds Neil still in the YA section, his arms full of books.
“Wow,” Peter says. “Are they putting you on bed rest or something?”
Neil puts the books on a table and shushes Peter with a finger to his lips.
Then he picks up the first book and holds it so Peter can read the title.
I Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This
Peter quiets. Watches as Neil holds up the books one by one.
Just Listen
You’re the One That I Want
So Much Closer
Where I Want to Be
The Difference Between You and Me
You Are Here
Where I Belong
I’ll Be There
Along for the Ride
The Future of Us
Real Live Boyfriends
Keep Holding On
When Neil is through, Peter smiles and holds up his hand, gesturing Neil to wait there, to not say a word. He picks out two books from the YA section, then runs to the fiction section for a third. He is still smiling when he returns to Neil and shows his selections one by one.
Take a Bow
A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You
Keep Holding On
Peter makes a stack of his books and takes a picture of the spines, to send to Neil. Neil then does the same for Peter. They put a few of the books back on the shelves and buy a few of them. (They’d buy them all, if only they had the money to do so.)
As they map their way in ribbons through the store, as they traverse the alphabetical and the topical and the arcane, we are reminded of bookstores where we went, of coffee shops and sex shops and Barneys and the Piggly Wiggly—all the aisles where we navigated relationships, all the conversations that were part of the aggregate conversation of our love.
It isn’t until they’re in the back of Peter’s mom’s car that Neil remembers the two boys kissing in Millburn. With his permission, Neil takes Peter’s phone and clicks on the link again.
Neither one of them can believe it. Right there, in the town next to theirs, two boys kissing for hours in front of the high school.
“Not your typical Saturday,” Peter says.
“No,” Neil agrees. “Not at all.”
Cooper had to leave Walmart after he bumped into Sloan, so now he’s at a Starbucks a few towns away. It’s full of people who are the same type of people who go to his high school and live in his town, but they’re not the same people. Cooper feels anonymous, and that suits him fine.
He’s flipping through three different hook-up apps, finding a lot of the same guys on each one. Forty-seven-year-olds who want him to come over. Eighteen-year-olds who want to flirt aimlessly. Twenty-nine-year-olds who want to know what he’s into. He never starts the conversations. He never picks them out. It means more if they come to him, because that means he’s desirable. And if he’s desirable, he has the upper hand.
We think he is too young to know this. But he knows this. You learn it now at a much younger age.
By now, he’s seen that there are at least a dozen messages on his phone, all from his parents. The house line. Each of their cell phones. He’s not going to listen to them, and he’s not going to call them back. He is blacking all that out. It is on the other side of the barrier. He doesn’t know where he’s going to sleep tonight, but it’s not tonight yet, is it? He’s sure some people would think it’s denial, but it’s not. He doesn’t care. In order to be in denial, you have to in some way care.
All he feels is the bored emptiness of the flat, flat world. And there’s no one who bores him more than himself. He looks again at the men on the apps, and this time a new one has popped up. Twenty-three. Hot. His screen name is Antimatter. His stats are the right stats. His one line of description is Trying to find the sensible strain in the midst of all the chaos.
Cooper waits for five minutes. He wants Antimatter to contact him first. But he’s impatient. After five minutes, he thinks, Fine.
He goes ahead and makes the first move.
The question, in Avery’s mind, is whether or not they’ll kiss.
They’ve been on the boat for a couple of hours now. They’ve talked, they’ve paddled, they’ve talked some more. As the sun angles closer to the horizon, it’s getting warmer. The canoe is metal, and it’s becoming hot to the touch. They haven’t brought anything to drink or eat, and the sun is starting to make them drowsy. Avery wishes the boat was wide enough for them to sit next to each other. It’s so much easier to kiss when you’re right there.
“I think I’m starting to bake,” Ryan says. “Maybe we should go in.”
Avery agrees. They start to paddle in earnest, and Avery is startled by the satisfaction he feels as he levers through the water, how gratifying it is to push through the resistance, to feel the effort in his arms. He is still a long way from being proud of his body, but sometimes a movement will catch him the right way.
The air cools as they move, but their bodies remain warm. They find their tandem and row in rhythm. Not a word needs to be said.
When they get back to the dock, they both have to wipe the sweat from their foreheads. Ryan jumps out first and ties down the bow. Then he holds out his hand to Avery. Even though he’s an overheated mess, Avery takes it. Ryan pulls him onto the dock and keeps hold. They stand there, the canoe clanking against the dock in the slight tide.
“That was fun,” the blue-haired boy says.
“It was,” the pink-haired boy replies.
These words are inadequate.
Ryan keeps hold of Avery’s hand as he ties down the stern. Then he rises back up and turns their bodies so they’re face to face, toe to toe.
“Hey!” a voice calls out—Ryan’s aunt, coming down from the house. “How was the river?”
She walks a little closer, sees how they’ve moved a little bit apart, but are still holding hands. They’re not looking at each other now; they’re looking at her.
“So, Ryan,” she says, “are you going to introduce me to your friend? I’m guessing you boys are thirsty. I have just the thing.”