Obstinate (aka What Else Should I Be?)

After "All Apologies" by Nirvana

A FEW MOMENTS after the first cockcrow, just as the first glint of the sun clawed its way out of the horizon, Clive shifted his gaze from the crossword puzzle that he was working on to Ralph, who entered the living room all sweaty from his ritual, early-morning run.

"Hey, kiddo," Ralph said as he took off his shirt. "Good morning!"

This made Clive uncomfortable so he immediately went back to 23-across—a nine-letter word for 'intransigent.' "Good morning," Clive managed to mumble through clenched teeth.

"Anything the matter?" Ralph, shirtless, walked over to the kitchen table, behind which Clive was sitting, and ruffled the young man's hair. "You sound mad."

"I'm not mad. I'm just hungry."

The truth was, Clive was neither mad nor hungry; he was uncomfortable. When he met Ralph a few months back, they sparked an instant friendship despite Clive being seventeen and Ralph thirty-one. They felt comfortable with each other. Ralph was interviewing Clive in his home-office for the part-time Web designer job he needed filled at the time but they only talked professionally for the first ten minutes. The rest of their conversation was transferred to the living room where it flowed organically from hobbies to food, books to movies, their dislike for noontime variety shows to sex, religion, and Jack Daniel's. Ralph ultimately had to open a bottle of their favorite whiskey and told Clive that he wasn't going to hire him, but that he would very much like to see him for breakfast the next day—"I make the meanest coffee, kiddo. Not to mention the best omelet in the world." Clive said he'd appreciate it, and true enough, he showed up the next morning, tasting Ralph's idea of the best omelet in the world, which was so bland Clive had to point it out. Ralph laughed then, and said that its blandness was what made it special. So virtually every weekday after that, before going to school, Clive would drop by Ralph's for breakfast. On weekends, they would go out, usually with Clive's friends in tow, and get drunk on whiskey. It was all a leisurely, "these are the best days of our lives" kind of friendship. But now, as Ralph disappeared into his bedroom to put a new shirt on, Clive could not help but sigh. He ran his fingers through his hair, the very hair that Ralph ruffled just a few minutes ago, and stopped himself from crying. This kind of unsettling feeling started two weeks ago, the night they got so drunk that Ralph fell asleep on Clive's shoulder on their cab ride home. The proximity made Clive feel Ralph's warmth, skin to skin, and Ralph's hot and heavy breathing meeting his. Clive thought it was electrifying. Since then, Ralph's omelet tasted like the best omelet that Clive ever had to put in his mouth, and the bacons that used to be half-done became the juiciest and crispiest in the world. Clive looked up again as Ralph headed back to the kitchen to start breaking eggs.

"Hungry, huh?" Ralph said. "Don't worry, kiddo. This should be done in a jiffy."

Clive noted how true that was; Ralph cooked the quickest omelets. "Ralph…"

"Yeah?" At this point, milk and eggs were poured into the skillet.

"I love you." Clive froze for a second. He couldn't believe he just blurted it out, without so much as an iota of thought given to how that was going to affect the rest of their lives. "I think I'm in love with you," he added, and then froze again.

Ralph himself felt that time stood still. It took him a while before he composed himself and pulled the chair across Clive. The hiss that came out of Ralph's mouth told the young man that he was not going to hear something pleasant. "Oh, man…" Ralph said, looking all worried. "That's not a very good idea."

Clive looked down, more uncomfortable now than when their morning started. With his voice shaky, he found the courage to ask, "Hey, what's a nine-letter word for intransigent?"

Deciding that it was best to go back to his cooking, Ralph stood up and turned his back on Clive. He stared absentmindedly at the contents inside the skillet. The mixture had turned brown and too solid now to add the fillings in. All the cheese, bell peppers, and ham were lying cold in a plate on the table. "I'm not a goddamned thesaurus, Clive," he said. When all the sides of the mixture finally turned black, he turned around. Clive was already gone. Ralph remained frozen staring at the closed door across the room until finally the burnt smell of the best omelet in the world bit his nose, an added evidence of a ruined breakfast.

TO BE CONTINUED…