A storm was approaching the day I realised what love was. The clouds streaked with yellow and grey and lit by lightening that stung my eyes painfully as I watched it flash out the kitchen window of our trailer.
"I don't think I should go to school today." I murmured, without expecting a response.
A month had passed since Dorothy had lost her last job and she spent most days now lying near catatonic in front of the fuzzy portable t.v. we had scrounged from granddad. Today looked as though it would be no different. She lay behind me propped up by cushions on the long uncomfortable bench we called a sofa. I saw her nod out the corner of my eye. It could mean anything. I just wanted her to care, but it bothered me less and less. I could feel myself closing off those painful areas inside, sectioning my feelings so I would no longer hurt. And the more I did it the easier it became.
The lightening flashed again so quick and bright it burned the distant skyline onto my retinas. The storm was going to be big. I tried to count the thunder claps but they were still too far away to distinguish from the traffic rushing along the highway behind us.
I kissed her cheek as I left, it was still warm and soft as the mother who'd held me if I woke in the night, ghosts in my dreams. But I knew this vacant woman wasn't the same person, she couldn't be.
The door to our van was broken, so I lifted it off its rusted hinges before peering outside. The air seemed heavy somehow, it tasted ominously like blood, the day was growing darker instead of lighter. I leaned in and grabbed my sweatshirt with the hood and wondered when the rain would start.
It had already been raining for a good twenty minutes by the time the bus finally arrived at my stop.
"Hey Mateo, not so close!"
"Fuck you, Ezra." I replied sitting my soggy ass down next to him anyway.
Did he think I enjoyed standing out in the rain? Did he think I had a choice?
Ezra edged his tall frame away toward the window, tucking his backpack under the seat as far away from me as possible.
It was safe to say we were more friends of convenience than friends who genuinely liked one another. I think he pitied me.
Ezra lived over on the east side in a nice detached house. His sisters went to a private girls school.
Like me, he didn't have many friends. But I was Hispanic trailer trash on a scholarship- it wasn't hard to figure out why I was shunned at a school whose fees per term cost more than the average salary on the park, and whose student population, here in the midwest, was still 95% white.
The reason for Ezra's loneliness, however, was more difficult to work out. But it wasn't something I was going to dwell on. So he was shy as fuck, I couldn't make friends for him, even if I'd had any! Thing is I had had friends, at the skate park, at my old school, but I'd seen where they'd been headed, clear as if it was a map hung on the wall and I was terrified of going the same way. I'd wanted more. But now that I'd got it, now that I'd worked so fucking hard for this chance- nice school, nice prospects- I wasn't sure I wanted it anymore. I mean yeah, so what, I get good grades, I get into college, but was I happy? Where was the fun?
The rain hammered onto the roof of the bus, made the streets a wild grey mess of water.
"What do you do for fun, Ezra?" I asked wistfully.
Ezra looked at me blankly, his white blond hair falling into his eyes. Sometimes he did this when he didn't want to talk about stuff. We had conversations that stopped and started, boundaries that couldn't be breached.
"I watch the storms."
As if to prove a point he pressed his face against the glass.
Me too, I thought, but…
"Apart from that?" I asked.
I was curious, I admit. He didn't give much away freely.
"Sometimes I write." He said eventually, shrugging off the words as though they were unimportant. It surprised me- I didn't take him for a writer.
"What sort of stuff? Stories, poems?"
He took out his phone, started fiddling with the screen. I knew he wasn't going to answer, I'd asked too many questions. I sighed. It was going to be a long bus ride to school.
The school was one of the oldest buildings in this part of the state- a beautiful stone monolith with carved cherry wood doors and a hundred perfect sash windows. It would be shallow to say I chose it because of those things, but I loved the architecture, and sometimes I thought I put up with all the shit I did because the place did something to my soul when I looked at it.
Today, I could barely see it through the rain as the bus pulled over.
We hung back as we always did, waiting until everyone else got off and ran through the rain toward the school doors.
Ezra couldn't run. He had something wrong with his legs that made his gait shaky and uncoordinated. We'd never spoken about it. Somehow I knew he didn't want me to ask. I could see how self-conscious he felt.
The bus driver hummed impatiently as we made our way slowly down the aisle- he was new and ignorant. On the last step out before the street, Ezra extended a black umbrella, so the walk to the school wasn't as torturous as it might have been had we been getting soaked.
"Later, Ezra." I called as I reached the doors.
Ezra nodded. "See you at lunch." He replied quietly.
We only saw each other on the bus and at lunch. I didn't even know what classes he took.
There was a time months ago I am ashamed to admit I considered avoiding Ezra at lunch- I mean was everyone really avoiding me because my ancestors originated across the border (about 1000 miles from here) and the state of my worn out converse? In the dark of my mind I reasoned that maybe if I avoided Ezra I would make other friends. But I knew what sort of person that would make me, and I hated that I'd had those thoughts.
Buckets lined the top corridor- the roof was leaking under the deluge, and the bright flashes, when they happened, seemed closer and closer. Every time the thunder rolled we all glanced toward the window thinking we'd spot the point at which the sky had cracked in two.
Midway through morning classes, the rain became so heavy we were ushered into the first floor dining hall to organise how we were to be collected and taken home. The ground floor had flooded suddenly, the generators packed up.
Looking round the room, I saw a sense of excitement etched on everyone's faces- something was happening, an event to be talked about, remembered.
I spotted Ezra tucked in a corner on the far side of the room looking round. The glasses he occasionally wore, gave him an owlish look and even though he hated to give anything away about how he was feeling, he looked hopeful, expectant. I liked seeing him like this, it was like holding a secret. Sometimes if I was stood far back from the bus stop I would catch the same look on his face as he stared out from the bus window.
I started to make my way over to him, but a warm hand on my arm stopped me. My heart stuttered. Luca.
Now if Ezra and I were friends of convenience, Luca and I were a friendship waiting to happen. I liked him. A lot. But we just couldn't seem to get over the initial getting to know one another stage- something Ezra and I had just bypassed- with Ezra I felt I just knew things about him that didn't need to be spoken aloud. With Luca, I knew nothing, I was flailing in the dark, and it made us awkward with one another. Plus, I was constantly trying to supress how much I wanted to kiss him.
"Hey Mateo" He said as I turned, his voice always deeper than I expected. Sometimes I tried to recapture it late at night, sometimes I dreamed of him just saying my name.
His smile was the brightest fucking thing in my life.
"Hey." I said, smiling back.
I always seemed to be desperately searching for something to say with Luca when all I wanted to do was hold his hand and take him home with me. I imagined his autumn gold hair smelled of summer meadows and his lips were are soft as rain.
We looked at one another awkwardly.
"This is fucked." I said, kind of meaning the storm, kind of not.
He nodded, brushing his heavy fringe out of his eyes with blunt fingertips. He bit his nails, I watched him do it in class.
"I um…" Luca started, but a surge of more students coming into the hall pushed us apart. I struggled to stay with him.
"Do you want to come back with me? My dad's coming to pick me up." He spoke quickly, the crowd moving forward.
I couldn't believe he'd asked me.
"Yes." I said, hoping my eagerness wasn't written all over my face.
"Great." He grinned. "Meet me by the front steps in…"
But I didn't hear the rest as we were separated. Oh well, it didn't matter, I figured I could go out and wait for him once I'd found Ezra. I didn't question why I had to find him. I just did. It was how things were between us.
I knew Ezra wouldn't like the crush of so many people, so I wasn't surprised when I looked over to the corner and saw he'd gone. He'd rather be stood out in the rain than in this packed hall.
I made my way toward the door. It was hard going. The empty corridor was a relief of quiet. I slipped passed the staff guarding the way and darted down the stairs. Water lapped up to the bottom step. I couldn't imagine Ezra wading through that, so I walked back up peering into the class rooms as I went along the hallways.
It didn't take long to find him- the science lab had the best view, an unobstructed vista out across the plain, no city blocks marring the landscape.
He jumped as I opened the door.
"It's a pretty good one huh?" I said as I walked over to him.
He's pushed a desk over to the window and his long legs were stretched out, resting on the window frame, but he pulled them back and seemed to curl in on himself a little as I sat on the table beside him.
For a long time we sat in silence together, watching in awe the great swathes of rain as they drifted across the fields. I could feel Ezra's warmth beside me, hear the quiet way he breathed. And even though it was far from peaceful, I felt at peace, and strangely powerless- this storm was so much bigger than us, but it couldn't reach us here. For a moment, I even forgot about meeting Luca.
When Ezra spoke, his voice was low, quiet as the rain splattering the glass.
"When I was five we lived in Antigua. One night there was a storm and all the trees in out garden set alight. The day before I'd killed a lizard I'd caught under our house and I thought God was punishing me for it."
I didn't know what to say. This was the most he had ever said to me in one go.
"I'm moving back there tomorrow."
A deep roll of thunder made the window frames shake.
"Oh." I heard myself say, but it was more like a sharp intake of breath, only I didn't have any.
The edge of the table dug into my palms from where I was gripping it so tightly.
For a second lightening lit everything around us so starkly, so much colder than the warm light of the sun.
"Why didn't you say anything before?" I hated how small my voice sounded against the hugeness of everything.
The gesture made me angry. Maybe he just didn't care, maybe this stupid idea I had that we were friends at all was just one sided, ridiculous.
All of a sudden I needed to get out of there. I needed to feel the rain pummel into my skull. I needed the certainty of its pressure.
"I wanted to tell you."
There was an odd pleading edge to his voice as I shifted to get up. In my idiotic rush to find him, I realised I'd left my bag in the dining hall.
Suddenly my left hand was enveloped in warmth. I looked down and saw he'd covered it with his own. Shocked, I pulled away and stepped back.
Not once this whole time had Ezra looked at me, now he glanced up quickly, embarrassed.
"I thought I'd have lunch time with you, I thought we'd sit together on the way home." He murmured.
"What?" I swallowed. I was so confused I felt sick. I didn't understand why he hadn't told me he was leaving, why he'd just held my hand.
"I'm sorry" He whispered, and looked down at the floor, my feet, his feet.
When he looked up, I wasn't at all prepared for what he said next. His words stunned me. No one had ever said them to me. As I stared at him I saw that his eyes were brown flecked with gold and his eyelashes were sooty and long, and when he looked back at me so openly like this it did something to me, something so unexpected.
I don't remember him standing up, but I remember him trembling as I put my arms around him. Or maybe it was me. I thought we would be gentle with one another but it wasn't like that at all. I hadn't been so close to many other boys, and my breath caught the entire time. When we broke apart, I left. I didn't look back. I didn't say goodbye. More than the sky had cracked apart.
In the hours that followed his words still echoed through me, his touch still vibrated against my skin. I couldn't let it go.
I went to Luca's and we played video games but his smile was somehow dimmer now, and when the storm eventually stopped on the ride home with Luca's dad, I noticed things I'd never noticed before. I saw beauty everywhere- the strong bright wildflowers that lined the roadside, the tiny plants with intense yellow blooms growing out of the guttering, my mother's hands, careworn yet tender as she stroked my hair as I sobbed into her lap.
I saw Ezra in my dreams, and all his secrets were just questions and the answers were the words he had given me repeated over and over. And even though I knew I could have forgotten it if I'd wanted, that moment in the science lab changed everything forever.