A/N: This story involves homosexual relations and coarse language, in other words, everything that makes a good story.
The Elevator Music in the Background Only Makes the Revolution Taking Place More Ironic
Inside, what a wonderful caricature of intimacy
--Panic! at the DiscoBuildGod, Then We'll Talk
"Death is inevitable, so it's just stupid to be afraid of it. It's like being afraid to piss or take a shit."
"But that's the whole point of religion, expecting something after…"
"Even if I didn't think religion was complete bull, you still have to die to get to Nirvana, Heaven, Moksha, wherever the fuck you're going."
I hate it when Lawrence makes sense; I really do because it means I lost another argument. I stood silently refusing to look him in the eye, but I could see the sneer creeping across his face anyway. He knew he had me beat. "Fuck you," I whispered under my breath, loud enough so only he could hear me, but it only made him smile broader.
I turned to face Mr. Gavard leaning against his desk staring intently at the two of us. "I give," I said simply and then headed for my desk amid the applause of the rest of the Debate Club. Lawrence followed closed behind.
Mr. Gavard got up from his seat in one of the desks and walked to the front of the class. "That was excellent. Both of you. You both hit on some interesting points. Zeke, nice try. Lawrence, let's not be so harsh on the language next time. "Our next topic is..." The bell signaling the end of the lunch period drowned out the end of his statement. It was immediately followed by the din of zipping book bags, talking kids, and feet shuffling toward the exit. "Our next topic," Mr. Gavard's voice boomed over all the chaos, "is the existence of homosexuality."
Immediately I froze. Everything froze. I could feel every pair of eyes in the room staring at me. Like they were penetrating my soul. Each trying to predict how I would respond. I didn't. I couldn't. It was almost like a physical pain. I wouldn't have to because I felt a pair of arms slip around my chest, and time resumed and nothing hurt. "Sammy," I sighed and spun around to face the beaming smile on her face.
"Fuck them. All of them. Let's go to English. "I let her grab my hand and lead me out of the dark room and into the cool heat of an early September afternoon. We walked in silence for about two minutes through the unsubtle subtleties and unwhispered whispers of stupid homophobic high school students and jealous closet cases. Somehow, with the combined effect of Samantha's arm wrapped around my side and the sunshine beating soothingly down onto every inch of exposed skin, it all faded away into a dull buzz of ignorance. That is, until he stopped directly in front of us.
He is a boy, obviously, but not just any boy. He is the boy. The boy that I fell in love with. The boy that was confused. The boy that broke my heart. He was the boy I couldn't talk to.
He was the boy I wouldn't have to talk to because Samantha stepped between us so I could find sudden interesting my shoelaces.
"Zeke…"His voice was soft, shaking, sad, dejected. I could hear the same insecurity in his voice that made me kiss him so many times before. The voice that left our half-naked bodies pressed against each other so often.
"We have to get to class, Charlie, and I think you do too." Sam's voice was sharp.
"I just wanted, needed to say…" He seemed as fascinated with my shoelaces as I was.
"Hey, Charles, I do believe Sam told you to fuck off." Lawrence rested one hand on my shoulder and pointed directly into Charlie's eye with the other.
"Shut up, Lawrence," he mumbled. He wouldn't look any of us in the eye, "Zeke, it's a new year and…"
"Fuck. Off. Charles." Lawrence pushed his finger into Charlie's forehead with every word. Charlie wouldn't fight him. Not here. Not in front of me.
"I'll…I'll see you, then," Charlie whispered shuffling away brushing past me and Lawrence. His shoulder grazed mine and I instantly felt a surge of electricity coursing through my body. Every hair on my body stood straight up.
"When are you going to tell me what happened there?" Lawrence said throwing one arm around Samantha and escorting both of us to fifth period. When neither of us answered him, he took the hint. That's why you have to love Lawrence. He's not stupid. "So you like me kicking your ass once a week or would you prefer I did it more often?" He was referring to our debate.
"Shut up,' I shrugged his arm off my shoulder. He's not stupid, but he's still an idiot.
We reached the door just as Anthony Hopkins slid past us to grab the door handle. I meant to steal a look at his god-like figure, but ended up catching his eye staring back. I felt my face instantly burning from embarrassment. I feigned a coughing attack to break eye contact. At that moment he slipped into the class leaving me to face the knowing Cheshire grins of Sam and Lawrence. "Shut up," I said to their silence.
It didn't matter though. Anthony was straight, and straight-boy crushes are the most unrequited of all, but it was still nice to hold to them. I'd like to think unattainable dreams keep my ego in check. Plus a good guy like Ant was a distraction from hot heartbreakers.
We broke ranks and entered the class heading for those desks that, even though Mr. Gavard refused to keep a seating chart, we had designated our own. It's just something everybody knows. The three desks in the far left corner of the room were the permanent residence of Lawrence, Sam, and me. No one ever challenged it, it just was. Maybe it was out of respect of Lawrence, or aversion of me or Sam. I don't know, I'm not a psychologist and I never will be. Whatever the reason, it was and it didn't exactly bother us. The whole world secretly runs this don't-ask-don't-tell policy, and everyone blindly accepts it. Just further proof that we're all sheep.
I try to pay attention to Mr. Gavard, I really do. I feel like he's earned that much from me. He's gained this level of respect from me that few have, especially after what happened freshman year. But after running into Charlie, my brain was shot, and all my thoughts revolved around one topic. We might as well have been dating again."
"Show me what it's like, you know, being with another guy."
Charlie was my drug and I was injecting him straight into my veins. Inhaling him through a cloth. One taste and I was addicted again. All of this was making me sick. Making me dizzy. Fucking Charlie. Like fucking heroin in my blood stream. Somewhere in the distance Mr. Gavard was saying something about something to someone. I couldn't keep doing this. To Sam. To him. To myself.
"Either you are or you're not. I'm not going to be some fucked experiment for you, football boy."
It was enough to drive me insane. All of it. His smile, his eyes. The way his shirt would cling to his sweaty body after football.
"How was that?"
My head was spinning. Kissing him behind the school. Kissing him on the slide. Kissing him on my bed. Kissing him on the lips. Kissing him everywhere else.
"You still confused, football boy? You done with me? You finished playing fag?
I needed to vomit, shit, bleed. Anything to get whatever was in me out. To get him out. Out of my head. Out of my heart. How could he still do this to me? How could one failed conversation pull me back?
"I need to think. Give me time. I'm not used to this…this whole thing."
"Zeke…Zeke." Maybe this was how it was supposed to feel. Because I couldn't sit here pining after him the way I was and honestly consider myself over him. I couldn't still drag Sam to every one of his Varsity football games and call myself "emotionally detached." Couldn't linger in the locker room a while longer still hoping we'd have our first kiss again, and believe I had moved on.
Pop. The sound echoed through the quiet shattering the silent spell that had fallen over the class, but no one turned around. They're too busy bleating to notice. That's right, keep eating your grass. A hand connected with the side of my face for a second time. Harder. Much Harder.
"Shhhhiit," I hissed. My left hand instinctively rose to cup the side of my face. I looked up to see Lawrence flash me his award-winning smile. Everywhere around us our classmates, our antagonists, were scribbling furiously pouring empty thoughts onto empty pages.
"Stop thinking about Charlie. The guy's got you really messed up in the head, huh?"
I followed his line of vision as it traveled down my face to the journal lying open to random page on my desk. It was blank. Blank expect from where the date should have been, it read "Charlie". The rest of my face heated up to match the burn already stinging in my left cheek.
I used my other hand to flip him off.
"No one can know. You have to understand. I don't want to be, I can't be…"
"Shouldn't you be writing?" I whispered.
"Shouldn't you?" He slapped his open journal down on my desk. It had four pages filled with words, which if I had taken the time to read them would probably form not only coherent sentences, but exceptional ones. Note to self: never challenge the academic abilities of a cocky genius. In response, with one fluid motion, I swept my arm across the desk knocking his journal to the floor. There was a dull thud as it hid carpet. His smile dissolved into a frown and he bent down to pick it up.
"How are you so sure?"
"Right now I'm only sure that I just kissed the school's hottest closet case. And, for now, that's enough."
Lawrence didn't bother me for the rest of the period, but as soon as he stopped I wished he hadn't because an annoying as it was, Lawrence's constant interruptions kept my mind off of last year.
"I can't be gay."
"Confused kids don't kiss like that, football boy. Sorry, you're queer."
I needed to get out of here. Anything that would take my mind off of Charlie.
"You have two choices: Leave, pretend this never happened; or meet me here tomorrow, same time."
The bell rang and I grabbed the bag I hadn't even opened though the entire class. A hand caught my shoulder as I strode through the door. I spun around to face Lawrence standing there with a look a concern on his face. "What!" my voice cracked.
"What happened last year, Z?" God, he can read me like a book. His voice was cool though. If he felt cheated or lied to, I couldn't read it from his expression. "I think I deserve an explanation."
"You want an explanation?" My words died to a shaky whisper, Charlie weighing heavy on my mind. "You have been there last year. Where were you, Lawrence? Huh? Where were you when my life went to shit?"
His eyes went cold, his jaw locked and suddenly anything else I was going to throw at him stuck in my throat. Because when Lawrence talks, chances are: it's something important, something that will make you think. Something that will matter. "Wake up, Zeke. People die. Everyday. People go home to nothing. Everyday. People lose it all. Everyday. Think next time, Zeke. Because you life, it's fucking gold to someone."
His voice never left the relaxed air it always had, but somewhere under everything. His pompous ego, his intangible confidence, his perfect composure. Was a truth. Something that made every feeling I'd ever had seem infinitesimal by comparison. He never failed to disappoint.
"I officially hate everything English-related," Sam burst through the door. I didn't respond. "Did you even do yours, Zeke?"
"How much do you know about me, Sam?" I asked as my eyes followed Lawrence sauntering away to his sixth period. His hands clenched in fists.
"I don't have any secrets from you. I tell you everything. You know me inside and out."
She slipped her arms around my waist. She knows it's the one thing that makes me feel like I'm safe. Like somehow, no matter what happens, I'll make it as long as her arms are around me. She followed my gaze to his fleeting form. "Is this about Lawrence?"
"It's just hard, you know, figuring people out?"
"Zeke, what happened?"
"Promise me something", I said still staring at the last spot I'd seem Lawrence before he'd disappeared in to the crowd. "Promise me that we know everything about each other. That we can make it together."
"Zeke…" He voice was barely audible.
"Just tell me."
"Zeke! Can I speak with you?" Both of us jumped. Mr. Gavard's head appeared at the door next to us.
"Sure," I said, shaking out of my daze. Sam let her hands fall from around me. I was no long safe. I walked toward the door.
"Ms. Garcia, you can go to class, I'm not going to hurt him."
Sam hesitated a moment before walking to Geometry. I followed Mr. Gavard into the classroom. It was quiet except for the hum of the air conditioner in the corner.
"You didn't write your essay." It was a statement, not a question, so I didn't know how to reply.
"Mmhmm." Silence. Even though I never took my eyes off the carpet, I knew he was staring directly at me. Calculating. Trying to figure me out.
He let out an enormous sigh. "I know what this is about." My head shot straight up to meet his gaze. How could he know about Charlie? About what Lawrence had just said?
"It's about the debate next week, isn't it? The topic I know it hits pretty close to home for you, but it's a huge political topic of current news and I think that it's important that our debate club deal with it now."
So he didn't know. Even for all his insight, he was still just a teacher. I was so caught up in his possible understanding that I took me a moment to realize what he was doing. He was explaining himself to me, like an equal. In retrospect, I guess there was no way he could have known, but I decided to go with it. "Mr. Gavard," I was plugging his verbal leak. "It's all right, but I think that I'll skip the next meeting, if you don't mind.
"Yes, yes, of course."
"It's just that I don't need to know everyone thinks of us homos. I get enough of it everyday. Now, I need to get to sixth…" I remember what my sixth period and casually changed the direction of the conversation, "unless, of course, you need help heer." He smiled knowingly.
"What class do you have right now, Zeke?"
"P.E." His grin broadened.
"I do need some papers sorted." I grinned back, because he's cool like that. "I have to go to the front office though and check out some things, will you be fine here by yourself?" I nodded eagerly. He pulled out a few folders overflowing with student papers and explained how we wanted them organized. I gave him a thumbs-up and he left.
The door slammed against its frame and the room was quiet. I picked up the mess of paper and sat being Mr. G's desk. His chair had cushions. I focused hard on what I was doing, pushing echoes of Charlie from my mind. It was about the time that I had separated the papers that belonged to his first period and successfully organized them that I discovered the other benefits of Mr. Gavard's chair. It spun. And suddenly I was about ten years old and, in spite of Charlie, Lawrence, and everyone else, I laughed. As the classroom whizzed by, blurring into a smear of colors, I tried to remember what it was like to be that young, no dating, not heartbreak. Girls still had cooties, which I guess, in a way I never got over. That's why I didn't realize I wasn't alone until I heard the door shut. I slammed my feet hard against the ground and the chair ground to an immediate stop. I felt like throwing up and my vision hadn't stopped spinning yet, but I figured it was Gavard, so it shocked me when the laughter I heard sounded closer to driver's license than marriage license. As he came into focus, I finally understood the definition of embarrassment because standing there in all his sophomoric radiance was Anthony.
He always stood with a slight lean. He had that cliché brown hair that fell messily over his head like a curtain shading his unreadable eyes from view. It made me love clichés. "Err…Zeke?" His voice was muffled behind a sinewy hand in an attempt to disguise his smile. His tan skin tinted red barely giving away his own humility. With my lighter complexion, I wasn't quite as fortunate. "Is Mr. Gavard here?" He damn well knew the answer to that question, but it broke the tension that had built, so I welcomed it.
"He went to the office. He should be back in a couple of minutes. If you want to wait…" my voice trailed off.
"No, just tell him I was here and that I'll be back after sixth."
"Will do." Will do? I sounded like a freaking secretary.
"Thanks." I looked back down at the mess of papers. I dragged my hand purposefully through them trying to appear busy. The door never opened. There was something in the air. It wasn't a sexual tension or sordid past like with Charlie. There was something not being said. "What are you doing here, anyways?"
That wasn't it, but he was making conversation while he grew the balls to ask the real question, so I bit. "Mr. Gavard is aiding in my truancy from sixth period.
He grinned. "What class is it?" God damn it! Yes, you're hot, but that doesn't mean I'm going to have any more patience with you than I have with anyone else.
"P.E." Well, maybe a little more.
"Oh," silence stole over us again as the air conditioner roared back to life. I allowed myself to go back to filing the papers constantly aware of his presence.
I finally couldn't take it any more. "What is it, Anthony?" I demanded trying to keep the irritation out of my voice.
"How did you know?" He quickly blurted out. His question echoed in my head for a second. I had caught me off guard, but I knew exactly what he was talking about because it the same question my sister had asked me two years earlier. "That you were gay," he clarified, "I mean, when did you know that you were." He'd taken my stunned silence for confusion.
"Probably about sixth, seventh grade, I started considering it because that's about the time I learned what gay was. By eighth, I knew."
"Is it the same with everyone?" That one threw me. Where was he going with this?
I decided to give him the answer I'd read on every one of those GBLT websites. "Well some people say they've always know, since, like, birth. Some don't realize it until they're in their twenties or whatever." Those websites were never much help. Every answer was as ambiguous as possible. Instead of "You might be gay, or just curious", they should say. "Fuck it. Welcome to life as fag."
"But how's you know you were gay, not bi, or pan, or trans?" He dovetailed my answer, not leaving me the chance to ask why. I'm pretty sure it was intentional.
"Whoa, trans is way different. I'm perfectly happy being a guy liking guys. As for being bi, I don't like the idea of bouncing back and forth between sexes, but I guess it's possible." I'd never thought about it. "Plus dicks are hotter than vaginas." I grinned, but the truth was I needed conversation stopper. This interrogation was making me uncomfortable; I didn't even talk about it this much with Sam. It was another example of that don't-ask-don't-tell policy.
Anthony tried to mask a slight grimace and I felt bad about leaving it on that note. "It's just something you know inside, you know?"
"Thanks a lot, Zeke, I'll see you Monday." He vanished instantly and I found myself trying to remember whether or not Anthony was in journalism and if I'd just been interviewed. Or was it possible that Anthony thought he was gay? I personally hoped for the latter.
Mr. Gavard didn't get back until a few minutes before the bell rang, and by then I'd finished organizing all the papers for his five periods. "Thanks, Zeke," he said as I threw my bag over my shoulder and walked into the sunshine. Into the path of the football team.
An enormous pair of hands shoved my side jarring my entire body. It was like an out-of-body experience in slow motion. I saw myself lose balance. I saw my bag fly up into the air and hit the ground at the same time as I did.
"Watch where you're walking, faggot." It was Dennis Miller: senior, varsity football captain, asshole, and evidently my being gay had insulted him, as it seemed to do so often. Ignorant laughter erupted behind him. There stood the rest of the team fully dressed in game attire.
"Dennis," a voice came from the back of the group. It sounded exasperated, like it didn't want to be in this situation. Again. "Leave him alone." Charlie appeared next to Dennis and grabbed him. It took both of Charlie's slender hands to wrap around Dennis's massive bicep which was tattooed with an inexplicable bright red W. I had no idea what the W stood for.
Don't say anything, I commanded myself, he's about to leave. "Nah," I said standing up wiping my face, "It's alright. He's just jealous that I fucked his dad last night and…"
I wonder if verbal diarrhea is a treatable disease. His fist collided with my face before I could finish the sentence. Even Charlie could hold him back with an insult like that. I've really got to learn to keep my mouth shut. I hit the ground again. Hard. The rest of the team was silent. Whether they aggress with him or not didn't matter, they wouldn't rat out their star quarterback. Morals only went as far as affecting victory. "Dude, stop. Let's go." Someone else had managed to restrain Dennis and was leading him away. My head was still spinning and my face was on fire. This time I played opossum. I stayed down until I couldn't here their footsteps anymore.
"Zeke, I'm sorry." Charlie's voice rang in my ear. His hand grazed the side of my face, gently touching the spot where I'd been hit. I pulled away and turned to start picking up my things. He tried again. "Zeke, I'm…"
"Can't you say anything else," I tried to keep my voice emotionless, but the tears in my eyes were seeping into my throat.
"What am I supposed to say?"
I love you. "Just don't say anything. I never looked at him; I just kept picking up the papers now strewn around me.
"Zeke…" The bell signaling the end of the day rang, "Just fuck you." He sounded angry, which was complete bullshit seeing as how I was the one with a potentially broken jaw. He stormed off to catch up with his team.
"I wish you would!" I yelled after him, but I doubt he heard me as the area filled with the sound of a recently liberated people. I cradled my swollen jaw. It was bleed. I really need to learn to shut up. I stood; my legs shaking under me, and went to find Sam.
When I found her, she was already on the front steps of the school waiting for me. I grabbed her hand and kept walking. "We have to go now."
"Zeke, what's up with you today?" I flashed her a painful smile, so she could see my growing bright purple cheek. "Zeke…you…"
"I told Dennis I fucked his dad." She smiled in spite of herself. "Let's go to your house. I need make- up." She stopped. Unzipping her bag, Sam produced a bottle of cover-up matching my complexion.
"You always get your ass kicked on Fridays," she explained before I could ask. I smiled and she went to work applying it thickly to my face. I stood perfectly still as she rubbed the cold make-up over my jaw. She finished and stared at me tracing the side of my face with her finger, like Charlie had. "You're done," she sighed.
We stopped at the gas station for ice. We walked in silence for a bit. I figured it was because of the bag of ice smashed against the side of my face. "So what was that whole thing after fifth?" I could tell she'd been waiting to ask that for a while. Sam thinks a lot more than most people give her credit for. Between Charlie, Anthony, and Dennis, I hadn't thought of Lawrence since I'd talked to Mr. Gavard.
"Oh that." I really didn't want to get into it. I was still running off the high of telling off the Varsity football captain. "He was just saying some stuff about how people's lives can be worse that mine. Made me think, you know?"
"Yeah, Lawrence can do that," she said thoughtfully. "But he's right. You've never been pregnant."
"And you've never been gay."
"Well, I don't know, this one girl in my bio is pretty fine."
"Yeah, and my period's late." We both laugh and continued on the way to Sam's house. As soon as we reached the base of the front steps, my cell phone started vibrating. I checked the caller ID. "It's my sister," I said aloud for Sam's benefit. "Hey Tara."
"Zeke. Where are you? I was waiting at school for you!"
"Oh, yeah, I forgot." I didn't forget. "I'm at Sam's." Trying not to look like a child services case.
"Well, Dad wants you home. Some people are coming over."
"Dad's home?" That was enough of a surprise.
"Yeah, exactly. So get home fast."
I hung up on her and turned to Sam waiting patiently. "I've got to go home." She looked disappointed. I was too. Friday nights at Sam's are the only thing that gets me through the week. I hugged and kissed my girl.
"Call me," she yelled as I walked away. As if she even had to ask.
It was the same path I took home everyday. I knew the exact number of telephone poles en route, thirty-seven. I knew every signature etched into the cement forever, Randy Diane 4ever. I could name every street I had to cross, make a left onto Ruby Lane. There was a park about half way between my house and Sam's. Nobody ever went to it, and it was dying a slow death. All the metal blushed with rust. The swings creaked in agony. The grass had begun to get unruly so that feel it tickle my calves whenever I ran through it. I spent so much time here. If I need to think things over, this was my safe haven. Even now the breeze that swept off the swing set seemed to soothe my swollen face. I trudged on.
As soon as I walked through the front door, I knew something was up. I could feel an excitement in the house. "What's up, Danny?" My little brother was washing potatoes in the kitchen.
"Dad's at the market, Mom and Tara are upstairs." He didn't even look up ate me, so I headed up the stairs to my parents' room.
"Zeke," she sounded excited, "I have a surprise for you!"
"What is it?"
"Do you remember that story your dad used to always tell you?" I was drawing a blank. "The one about your name."
"Yeah," I answered cautiously. I couldn't see how this tied to guests and surprises.
"The woman coming over tonight, her name is Ellie." The way she said it sounded like I should know what it meant. So I nodded feigning understanding while I put it together, but my mom saw through it. "Her son's name is Zeke."
Are you shitting me? "No way."
"I thought you might get a kick out of that. Now go change and get ready. They'll be here at about five." I gave her a hug and left.
It really was a stupid pact, but I couldn't change it since it had been made probably thirty years before I'd even been born by three people I didn't know and my dad. I bet they were drunk. When I was younger and my dad told me the story, it made me feel important, like I was carrying on a legacy. Now it just felt like the end result of an inebriated high school friendship. I used to imagine meeting one of the other Zeke's, like meeting my twin even though all we had in common was a name. Tonight would prove interesting, if not more.
By the time the doorbell rang the entire house was filled the tantalizing scent of homemade food, a rare occurrence in my house. I was wearing faded jeans and a polo, no different that what I'd wear to school. But my sister looked miserable in a semi-formal dress, and my brother kept fidgeting in his slacks and sweater. There are definite perks to being a gay male. Case and point.
She was gorgeous. If I hadn't known that was the same age as my father, I would have never guessed it. Her skin was the perfect hue of light brown to pull of her slender black dress. God, I'm so queer. He exceeded the expectations the expectations I would have had, had I had any. His smooth skin was slightly darker than hers; his black hair perfectly combed obscured one eye from view. The one visible brown eye shimmered with an anxiety that reminded me of Charlie. I'm a sucker for hot guys with hot eyes. He was tall, too. I like tall guys. Charlie was tall. He was wearing a black T-shirt and worn jeans with paint splashed on the legs. His face told me he didn't want to be here.
"Kevin!" From the moment the door opened they were hugging. I had to laugh. My dad never showed that much emotion. From the corner of my eye I could see Tara trying to suppress her own amusement. My mother had her placid I'm-happy-that-you're-happy smile painted onto her face.
After a while though, the room got eerily quiet as the rest of us stood there with nothing to say, all of us staring at the reunited friends who still hadn't broken their embrace. My sister's face had shifted to an unreadable expression, so had Zeke's. I imagine I looked the same. Awkward.
My mom cleared her throat meaningfully. "I'm Laura." She stretched her hand out toward Ellie.
"Oh, I apologize, Ellie." They finally separated and the rest of us were allowed to exhale. "This is my beautiful wife, Laura. That is my daughter, Tara, my son, Danny, and of course, "he used an inflection that made my cheeks flare up, "Zeke."
"This," he said shifting to point at the mother and son, "is Eleanor Rigley." Her surname didn't match her skin color. "And her son, Zeke." He put the same emphasis on the name so that Zeke looked away in embarrassment.
"Pleasure to meet you both," my mom shook each of their hands. Then no one said anything, but my dad still had a stupid grin plaster to his face. And tonight had seemed so full of promise, too. "Why don't we eat?' my mom suggested gesturing toward the dining room.
Dinner, which usually consisted of something that came in a bucket or out of a microwave, today had three courses, a salad, steak and potatoes, and fresh pound cake. But I don't know what was more surprising that my mother could actually cook or that my dad could actually talk. For the first time I saw him, this human being with flaws, desires, and a childhood, rater than some passive aggressive provider with an Athena-like birth.. I saw him in three dimensions. Even dinner conversation was interesting making up for that first faux pas at the door.
From what I could gather, my dad had run into Ellie and Zeke at Home Depot. They had been buying some things to help fix up the apartment they'd moved into earlier this week. The apartment complex wasn't far either, I passed it everyday on the way home from Sam's. It was about a block from the park. It was just the two of them living together. Ellie had been offered a higher paying job closer to here, so they moved from about fifty miles away. Zeke was a sophomore like me and was going to be attending San Luis with me.
Only once such pleasantries were exchanged, did conversation really get interesting. I noticed, though, that Zeke had remained mute through the entire meal. I watched as he cut his meat into smaller and smaller pieces only pausing to fake a laugh when everyone else laughed. It was hard to believe this was the guy I'd dreamed about meeting when I was younger. It wasn't that I was disappointed, but I wondered if he had thought about meeting me, if he'd pictured our first encounter. I wondered if I had disappointed him. That was when I realized I hadn't heard his voice yet. Not really. Even as we'd shaken hands he mumbled something that I could only assume was something along the lines of "Nice to meet you".
It's kind of like when you're little and you imagine clouds as amazingly soft pillows. You could spend hours just looking up at them and see yourself lying among them. Then you find out that they're nothing more than water vapor. It's a major let down. But, then there are those sunny semi-clear days where they look so peaceful and inviting, like floating cotton, that, regardless of every science class you've ever taken, you still want climb atop them and sleep forever, restoring your faith in possibility. I wondered if I looked like water vapor to him. Just give me a chance. Give me a sunny day.
Conversation shifted to discussions about my dad and Ellie's glory days of junior high and high school. With their best friends Echo and Zachary, they'd lived though every teenage cliché I'd ever seen in any coming-of-age film. I'd only heard the bare essentials of all of it before, but that night at dinner, I got details on hook-ups, break-ups, lies, truths, events, and that infamous road trip after junior year. Stories spilled from my father's mouth effortlessly. It was endearing to hear them all recalled with such clarity, like they'd happened thirty minutes earlier rather than thirty years. We heard recounts of fights, romance, truancies, ex's.
"…and do you remember that time Michael and Echo tried those fake ID's?" Ellie asked.
My dad's face darkened. "No." There were his one word answers I was more accustomed to. My curiosity was peaked. I'd never heard his name mentioned before, and my dad's reaction showed that there was reason.
"Who was Michael?" Everyone looked at me incredulously. Ellie and my dad had held such a monopoly on the conversation that anyone else's voice seemed foreign.
"Echo's ex-boyfriend," Ellie said casually because my dad wouldn't answer. I stand corrected. Now my curiosity was peaked, but I said no more.
Eventually the "do-you-remembers" gave way to "whatever-happened to's" and the dialogue slowed. My mom took advantage of the situation. Standing up with her empty plate in hand, "Well let's clean up. Kevin, Ellie, why don't you help me wash dishes? Zeke, why don't you show Zeke around the house?" She spoke very diplomatically and I couldn't help but feel bad for her, competing for the attention of her husband. Sure she had love on her side, but this other woman had an unfathomably long history on hers. In spite of it all she was playing nice. Better than I could do. I don't share. Especially not my boyfriend. This isn't about me.
My dad collected the plates and he and Ellie followed my mom through the door into the kitchen. The room instantly fell to a painful silence. "I need to call Michelle," Tara said pushing away from the table.
"Tara." I look at her pleadingly. Get the fuck back here.
He eyes locked on mine. She feigned apologetic. "It's about homework." It's about getting out of this room. "Why don't you show Zeke your room?" she said walking away, her cell phone already firmly attached to her ear. She disappeared.
Zeke stood patiently behind his chair. He wasn't stupid he could tell he was being passed off. I looked from Danny to him and back. "Shall we?" I took a step, but froze as laughter erupted from the kitchen. I smiled. I smiled because there were three voices involved. I looked at the two again. Danny just seemed frustrated, inconvenienced. It probably was because that kid had an enormous social life, something I'd never have. He probably liked girls, too. Nothing in common. Zeke was smiling looking in the direction of the kitchen door as well. He swung his head mechanically so that for the first time the entire night I saw both of his eyes. They seemed to swim within themselves, reflecting light like tiny iridescent pools. In the process our eyes caught, and my entire body seized up.
"You know what, football boy, you're hot."
"So are you."
"DannytakeZekeupstairs." It all came out as one word. I looked directly at him so that I could turn my back on Zeke before my face told everything. My emotions are transparent. He looked flustered, and I felt bad, but I need to get away for a second. "I'll be right there," I promised. He nodded and beckoned Zeke to follow him to the stairs. I raced to the bathroom and locked the door. Breathe. Breathe. How can I not escape Charlie in my own home? I splashed my face with cold water. Charlie. Anthony. Zeke. Guys suck. Two-thirds of them were straight; the other third was an asshole. I dried my face and left the bathroom.
There's a distinct line between my half of the room and Danny's, so when I pushed the door open it didn't surprise me to find Zeke sitting on my bed. Charlie'd sat on the bed just like that. His hands pressed down against the mattress. Waiting.
"And do you like her?
"Well that's a stupid question?"
What did surprise me, and it took me a moment to realize, was that he was laughing. They both looked up at me.
"I told him about last summer at the beach. When you fainted and that one guy had to give you CPR." I smiled. I did get that hot lifeguard to kiss me. Sam still owes me five bucks.
"Enough about me," even though we barely grazed the topic, "tell us about you, Zeke."
"What do you want to know?" His voice was nothing special, especially compared to the hype his eyes had promised. I'm a sucker for killer eyes. Except that lifeguard. He was just plain hot.
I respect my brother's ability to break ice. He's only in the sixth grade, but he managed to resuscitate what would have most likely have been a socially flat-lining evening.
"When are you starting at San Luis High?" My one chance to say something, to be the cloud instead of the vapor, and I ask stupid shit like that.
"Friday," he said quietly. Damnit! The silence began to creep in again. I always figured it'd be easier to talk to my twin.
"Where's your dad?" Danny was never one for tact. I held my breath, waiting to see how he'd respond. He shrugged, "Dunno, I don't remember him." That was it. The question didn't seem to faze him. To be honest it made me jealous. I could keep my feeling out of anything I did or said. My mom always called me a "passionate speaker."
"Hey!" Tara stood in the doorway.
"Get your jackets on; we're going for a ride." Danny looked at Zeke. "All four of us. We're gonna show Zeke the town."
We all pounded down the stairs to find my parents and Ellie sitting in the living room, each with a drink in hand. They all laughed too loudly. Ellie's and my mom's cheeks were slightly flushed, but my dad's face shone bright red with nostalgia and alcohol.
"Mom, is it all right if we take Zeke for a ride to see the town?"
"That's great idea," she said, "as long as it's alright with his mother."
"I don't know," Ellie looked troubled, "besides, it's getting late."
"Nonsense!" my dad shouted so that the four of us jumped. "Let him see the sights." San Luis has no sights.
"Tara's a safe driver," my mother assured her. "And I want to hear more about my husband as a kid. The good stuff." She wrapped her arm around my dad. It made me feel so basically warm seeing them so comfortable with each other, something I hadn't seen in so long.
"Well then, let's…as soon as I get my keys."
"Oh and I need my sweatshirt."
"You want me to get it for you."
"Good luck finding it under all Danny's crap. No, I'll get it." I raced up the stairs behind my sister because together we are the most forgetful people in the world.
The moment I entered my room I gave up any hope of finding my sweatshirt -the chaos that is my brother made that futile- and got my blue track jacket from the closet. I crept into my sister's room to watch as she frantically tore through pants pockets and desk drawers. She stopped for a second and sighed. She slipped her hand into the pocket of the jeans she was wearing producing the keys.
"Wow." I said alerting her to my presence. I clapped. "That's why you're the smart one.
"Hey, but seriously, thanks."
"For, you know, saving me from a night of awkwardness and discomfort."
"Of course, you know I've got your back." I started to leave. "And you know," her voice dropped to an almost inaudible level, "I'm here if there's something else you wanted to do."
"Where are you going with this?" I knew where she was going with this.
"What are you afraid of? You know you've…"
"Tara," I said it sternly so that she'd stop. "Thanks, but it's not time. I'm not ready yet."
"Is it because you're…" I started to walk away so that she knew that the conversation was over. I knew she had my back though, because together we were an impenetrable force. We always had been. It was hard to believe that she was graduating and moving on. To University of Too Far for It to Matter.
Tara's car was/is/always had been a piece of crap. There was no way to save the pitiful jeep from its own hideous appearance. I should know, we'd tried everything. It was still the same sickly color with a destroyed interior. A fixer-upper, our parents said. A we-bought-this-with-the-money-we-found-in-the-couch, they meant. And until Tara's job at the book store started paying more, that's exactly what it would remain.
But she was proud of it. And I was proud of her for being proud of it. She continued to drive it to and from school daily, and I continued to walk to and from school daily. Not that there was much that could damage my reputation further than had already been done.
We piled into the vehicle, if you can all it that, my brother and sister sat up front and Zeke and I in the back. Part of my sister's pride, included leaving the top down permanently. Except for the days when it rained, but since this was southern California, those days were few and far between.
"Where to first guys? Zeke, what do you want to see?" I took it that the question wasn't direct at me.
"I don't know. What there is to see?" His voice seemed deeper in the dark.
"Zeke, brother Zeke, where should we take him?"
I took at a deep breath and stared up at the sky. When I was younger, my mother tried to teach me the constellations. I never could see all the bears and dogs and fish she insisted were right above me. The only one I could ever identify was Orion because of his three-star belt. Tonight I could see him in stillness. "Let's just drive," I suggested.
And we did. The stars hung above us and the silence wasn't awkward. Orion chased our car down the side streets and across intersections. I sat there with my head turned straight up drinking in the calmness night. I noticed Zeke beside me doing the same. For that night, for that hour we spent in that car, there was no Charlie, no Lawrence, no right or wrong, no straight or gay. There was me. There was the stars.