THE ENGAGEMENT

            Kyle looked at the small box in his hands.  It was wrapped with silver-colored paper and had a shiny gold bow.  The card that had come with it lay in his lap.  On the front was a picture of two cats cuddling.   He and Nathan had three cats:  Sebastian, Beatrice, and Falafel (after Kyle's favorite food).  Inside the card, Nathan had written in big box letters "HAPPY 20TH ANNIVERSARY!"    Kyle tore the wrapping paper off the box carefully while Nathan sat next to him on the couch waiting. 

Inside the box was a white gold ring with a simple light blue stone in the center.

            "For your left hand," Nathan said, grinning.

            "What do you mean?" Kyle asked.  Beatrice jumped up onto the couch between them, demanding attention.  He patted her absentmindedly.

            "Kyle," Nathan sighed.  "Do I really have to get down on my knees?"  But he did.  The cats, wondering why he was on the floor, purred and rubbed against his legs.  "Will you marry me?"  His voice was confident.

            "Of course!" Kyle got down the ground and wrapped his arms around Nathan.  "I've considered us married for years now anyway."

            "But now it will be official.  We can go to Massachusetts."

            "Wow…" Kyle said, trying on the ring and letting the idea of marriage, which had before seemed impossible, set in.

Kyle first heard of homosexuality in kindergarten.  A pudgy girl with cherry lips stained from popsicles told him that in some tropical islands far away, men married men and women married women.   "Ew, that's not true!"  Kyle had said.  When he learned it wasn't just on tropical islands, he was ten.  He had heard kids talking about being "gay," and looked the term up in the dictionary in his living room, only to be redirected to "homosexuality", which then required him to find "homosexual."  Adj.: Of, relating to, or characterized by a tendency to direct sexual desire toward another of the same sex.  Kyle had long dismissed the popsicle girl's information as a myth.   He reread the definition to make sure he understood it correctly.  People actually were attracted to members of the same sex?  He closed the book quickly before his parents could see what he was looking up.  Years later, when he realized he liked guys, he thought of the detective work with the dictionary: the secretiveness and the shame of looking up that word.

A few weeks after the proposal, Kyle and Nathan's friend Simon called while they were eating dinner.  He voice was booming and rushed.

            "Have you heard?"

            "What?" Kyle asked.  He thought maybe someone unforeseen had won on a reality show.  Simon was big in the entertainment business, a producer of much trashy reality TV, with a hunger for money.   He was an old friend too old to get rid of, really.

Kyle could tell Simon was reading from an article as he said:  "Massachusetts Governor Romney said although same-sex marriage will be allowed starting May seventeenth, out of state couples will not be granted marriage licenses." 

Kyle and Nathan had met in their late twenties.  They worked in the same publishing house together, both editors of best-selling books.  When Nathan asked Kyle out to coffee, they discussed the books they had edited.  

"It amazes me how many adults, how many writers for that matter, still mix up their homophones," Nathan had said.

"I don't mind the grammar mistakes," said Kyle. "It's when the prose sounds awkward and disjointed that I get frustrated.  I think writing should sound good to the ears when read aloud.  I think a lot of writers forget that."

"Are you gay?"  Nathan asked suddenly.  The question hung in the air like a dart stopped in time.

"I, well… Um, yes."  The dart fell to the ground.

"You don't sound too sure," Nathan said, his smile wrinkling the edges of his lips.  Even when he was young, Nathan was old.   "Always like a little old man," his mother often told Kyle.  "Even when he was a baby."

"Yes," Kyle said more firmly.  "I am."

            Kyle told Nathan the news at the dinner table.  Nathan put his head in his hands and cried angry tears.  Kyle knew what Nathan was thinking.  Fifty percent of marriages ended in divorce.  They had been in a committed relationship for twenty years, a long time for anyone nowadays.  How did they not deserve to have the same legal rights straight couples had?  How did they not deserve to be recognized as a true couple?   How did they not deserve the human right to marry?  But he just said:

"There's always Canada."

"It wouldn't be recognized here anyway," Nathan sighed.  "It doesn't matter."

Nathan moved into Kyle's house two years after their first coffee date.  Kyle's house was airy with big windows.  From the bedroom, Nathan would look down at the sidewalks, at people walking their dogs or children learning to ride bikes without training wheels.  He and Kyle loved to "people watch." 

            "They're more interesting than birds," Nathan said.  "And I don't need binoculars to see them."

            The window was above the head of the bed, so they would sit up and turn around to spy on their neighbors.  So many couples in the world and it seemed they all walked past their window.  

            When Kyle and Nathan adopted their cats from the shelter throughout the years, they let the cats sleep with them at night.  Usually the cats would lie at the foot of the bed, but sometimes one would curl up and snuggle beneath Kyle's or Nathan's chin.  Its purr, loud as a motorboat, would drown out any snores from Nathan.  Kyle used to sleep with an electric fan on in his childhood bedroom so the steady whir was familiar and welcome.

"It does matter," Kyle said.  "You want to be treated like a human being, an equal with inalienable rights and all that American crap.  And you deserve to be.  But it's going to take some more time.  And effort."  He put his hand against one of Nathan's wet cheeks. 

"When do you think gay marriage will be legal throughout the whole country, Kyle?  Thirty, fifty, one hundred years?"

"I don't know," Kyle said.  "But I do believe it will happen.  Someday.  For now, all we can do is continue to love the way we were meant to."

Sebastian ran into the room, chasing some invisible creature, as cats do sometimes.  His eyes were wide and spooked.  He arched his back and jumped around, attacking air.  Kyle and Nathan watched him, quietly laughing.   Their cats always made them feel better, freer.  At least for a little while.