The ritual: Ian lay face-down on the bed with a white sheet covering him from his head and shoulders down to the waist. Scottie gripped and thrust. Neither spoke. Cocooned in the sheet, Ian’s breath was warm. He made believe the pain was pleasure. Breeze from the oscillating floor fan rippled the fabric against his face, like his mother’s hair tickling his cheek when she kissed goodbye. When Scottie finished, Ian sat up and removed the sheet, stared down at his hands and saw sweat, his lifeline, fingernail marks in both palms.
“You’re lucky to have a pool,” Scottie said. He pulled on red, white, and blue swimming trunks. They were fifteen years old and had spent every day that summer by the pool.
Ian had never suspected him of being patriotic.
“My mom says there’s too much chlorine,” Ian said.
“Never killed nobody.” Scottie leaned against the dresser. He picked at the scraggly brown hairs at his chest. “Look at this hair I’m growing.”
“It’s not much.”
“You’re hairless as a girl.” He left the room. “Come on,” he shouted from the other end of the hallway.
They walked next door to Ian’s house. Ian went through the sliding glass doors into the air-conditioned kitchen and glanced around a corner into the small dining room, which Yolanda had turned into an exercise room equipped with a treadmill, yoga ball, and yoga mat. A small television stood on a table opposite the treadmill. Yolanda’s back was to Ian as she jogged on the treadmill, earbuds in her ears. She had recently read the story “Brokeback Mountain” to “immerse herself in gay life,” and then purchased all of Annie Proulx’s books on tape. She was currently halfway through The Shipping News. This was her workout routine before she headed off to her night shift tending bar at the Wander Inn. They always did it at Scottie’s because his mom worked a nine to five, consistently. Ian retrieved two Cokes and glasses filled with crushed ice. “Here’s a pop,” he said to Scottie.
“Maybe later.” Scottie was standing at the glass table with the umbrella overhead. He picked up the book Ian had been reading earlier that morning, shook his head, and tossed it back down. Then, he placed his hand on the table. “So hot you could cook an egg.” He took two lunging steps, then cannonballed into the in-ground pool and back stroked toward the deep end.
Ian sat sipping his Coke and watched. He could barely doggie paddle. Both boys were fifteen, Ian gangly compared to Scottie, who was short, sturdy, and—according to Ian’s mother Yolanda—“a spitting image of a tree trunk.” And, as far as Ian was concerned, just as dumb. But that didn’t matter. Aside from touching one other boy, Scottie was Ian’s first.
And like previous days, Scottie swam while Ian read and drank soda, having no idea what to say. Occasionally Scottie would call out, “Hey, watch this,” and do a back flip into the water, or have Ian time how long he could hold his breath. Once, he took a squirt gun and soaked Ian, sending him for cover behind the locked kitchen door.
They never discussed what happened in Scottie’s bedroom.
Yolanda had dragged Ian through eight states by the time he was thirteen. After Ian came out her fourth husband’s fists sent Ian fleeing. He’d gone up north to the gay father he’d never known. There, he was nobody’s convenient punching bag. His return to Loogootee that summer—nearly two years after the beating—came with the promise from Yolanda that she would drop the husband, which she had done reluctantly, though she took his house, something she liked to brag about after a few gin and tonics. The day she picked Ian up him from the bus station, he coaxed her into driving two towns over to the bookstore where he used all the money his father had given him to load his arms with books. He had chosen Dickens and Tolstoy, ones that could keep him indoors the longest.
That first night Yolanda sat on his bed and said, “I’m glad you’re home. And this is your home.” And as usual, when he had tried talking to her about his father, she’d shut down and repeated the same sentence as before, “If he had thrown himself out of the closet when he was your age, he could have saved me a lot of pain.”
Ian told no one about the ritual. Instead, one evening he told Yolanda he had feelings for Scottie. This made her giggle.
“I shouldn’t have told you. His mom can’t find out, and you can’t keep a secret.”
“Of course I can!” Yolanda said. “Look, I want you to enjoy your time here. I’ve missed you. I won’t say a word to anyone about your boyfriend.”
“Oh my god.” Ian rested his face in his hands.
They were sitting on the leather sofa in the living room. Ian was only half reading Franny and Zooey. Yolanda split her attention between a History Channel documentary on the Aztecs and flipping pages in a biography on Oscar Wilde, a book she’d been insisting Ian read next. She seemed far less interested in the documentary and lowered the volume. She had nuked cheese and hot sauce, and they scooped up the spicy mix with tortilla chips, until there were only crumbs.
“You should invite him over for a get-together,” Yolanda said, dog-earing her book. She grabbed her pack of cigarettes and took the last one and lit it. “Swimming and music. And hell, I’ll even barbeque ribs. Not tomorrow, but the next day.”
“I don’t know if he’d go for it.”
“Of course he will. Y’all love to eat and swim.”
Ian pulled at the blond hairs on his arm. “I just don’t want it to be weird. Okay?”
“It won’t be awkward. Tell me about him.”
“Well, his dad killed himself two years ago, I guess.”
“You guess? I’ve never even talked to the woman. She seems boring as hell.”
“He drove out to some dirt road and took a bunch of pills. Scottie doesn’t like to talk about it. He says it doesn’t bother him, but I don’t know. I think he’s angry about it.”
“Baby, just don’t let him, you know, hurt you. Emotionally, I mean.” She leaned in and rubbed his hair. “Enjoy yourself. Who knows, maybe you won’t want to go back. Your dad’s world can’t be all that great.”
“Everything is so pedestrian here.” He rose. “I’m thirsty. Want anything?”
“Just get me another pack of cigs from the freezer.” She studied him. “He a cutie? I’ve only seen him from a distance.”
“Mom, don’t even start.”
“What? These are the kinds of things moms ask. It’ll be a nice little get-together. All about you and this boy, your boy.” Yolanda laughed. “How cute.”
“Oh my god. I already regret this.”
“Don’t.” She turned the TV channel, called into the kitchen, “Let’s watch a movie. I know you hate my shows.”
“They’re crap,” Ian said, returning with a Coke.
“So sophisticated.” She reached for her gin and tonic on the coffee table. “Notice I’ve been sipping on this all evening? Told you, things are different now. No more going out after work, no more drinking like I’ve just turned twenty-one. I’m really cutting back. I promise.”
Ian flinched, recalling the three day benders she used to go on.
But she did seem different now. He actually did believe her, that she had cut back and was trying. There was a time when she would have never sat at home watching television and reading, or if she had, she would have constantly been checking the time and planning her escape. She would have been dressed up for a man and ready to go out. Instead she sat in pajamas, apparently content to spend the evening with Ian doing very little. Though he could of course never bring himself to say so, her being there on the couch made him feel something strange. Like comfort, though not exactly. He didn’t have words for the feeling, but knew he didn’t want it to go away.
Nevertheless, Ian didn’t want her to continue as he knew where the conversation was going. Next she would launch into a monologue about how sobriety and single life had freed her, shown her the potential she’d been ignoring. Now, she was ready to be the best mother possible. Ian quickly suggested they see what was on TCM.
The motor of Scottie’s dirt bike woke Ian the next morning. The room was humid. He lay atop the sheets in his boxers enjoying the breeze of the ceiling fan and listened to the bike. He knew he had been hearing it for some time, probably even in his sleep. Once dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, he went to the kitchen, where he ate Cap’n Crunch Berries and drank coffee with skim milk and three spoons of sugar. It was quiet, the note on the fridge informing him his mother was at the supermarket buying ribs and barbecue sauce for the get-together tomorrow, and would he please hang up the laundry from the washer. And make SURE to tell Scottie to come over at three o’clock tomorrow. She signed the note “love Mom,” and with a smiley face.
Ian and Scottie’s houses were directly beside one another, two in a strip of twelve identical ones that sat on the edge of town. To the rear of the houses was an open field, where Scottie rode his bike. Directly behind Ian’s house was the swimming pool, and two clothes lines to the right. Hanging the whites was a chore he could do quickly, moving down the lines with the wooden clothes pins between his lips and jammed in his pockets. Sheets, towels, undershirts, underwear, socks, the whole assortment covered the length of the two clothes lines. Then he sat by the pool enjoying a Coke and lots of ice. The whine of the bike came closer and closer until there was Scottie, straddling the vibrating thing fifty or so feet away, the pool separating them. Ian lifted a hand and waved, then yelled, “Go for a swim?” Scottie couldn’t hear. Scottie killed the motor and extended the kickstand. He wasn’t wearing a helmet or shirt, only gym shorts. It was exciting — he wasn’t tall, but his body was muscular. Ian could see him playing football.
“My mom’s out getting food for tomorrow. She wants you to come over at three,” Ian said. Scottie was closer now, within three feet, and Ian could smell the sweat. “You’ve been up a long time.”
“Like to wake the neighbors.”
“I used to have a scooter,” Ian said. He was staring up at Scottie, squinting against the sun. He had no idea what to say, and usually just tossed off casual sentences that seemed uninteresting, words whose only purpose was to fill the blank space.
“Last one in sucks balls,” Scottie said, moving toward the pool. He jumped and went under and then came back up. “Figures you’d let me win.”
At first Ian didn’t join him. Scottie spat water like a fountain and floated lazily on the inflatable raft, looking half dead. Ian recalled what had started it all. The beginning of summer and the heat, Scottie asking if he could use the pool and Ian saying sure, why not? Scottie came back a second day, saying he was just so hot, though Ian suspected Scottie was lonely in the house all by himself. Ian was all too familiar with that loneliness. And again Ian watched him swim laps, his arms and legs sturdy and assured, and continued watching when Scottie emerged from the pool with a tent in his swim trunks. They didn’t speak. Scottie had seemed shy, hesitant. Ian was anything but hesitant, and told Scottie they should go next door, that he wanted to see inside Scottie’s house. Minutes later they were sitting on Scottie’s bed, Ian letting his hand caress Scottie’s knee, his chest, finally resting his hand on Scottie’s crotch. Nothing more. Just the hand on the crotch, heavy breathing, with both sets of eyes focusing on the cowboy wallpaper before them, a leftover from childhood. This went on for several minutes till Scottie removed Ian’s hand and said, “Please stop.” Ian nodded and they went to the living room to watch some loud action film Ian paid little attention to. Toward the end of the movie Ian wetted his lips, willed words from his mouth. “After a month, I’ll be gone.”
That was all he’d needed to say.
Scottie had led Ian to his bedroom, hesitated, then walked to his closet and yanked down a folded sheet. In a quiet voice, he said, “Let’s try it this way.”
Now, Scottie got out of the water and shook his head like a dog, spraying Ian. He leaned his knuckles on the table and said, “Come to my place. I want to show you something.”
Whatever he wanted Ian to see was in the master bedroom. The room was all female: white area rug, pink bedspread and fluffy matching pillows, a vanity with glaring bulbs around the mirror.
“What’re we doing in here?”
“Don’t worry, she’s working.” Scottie went to the walk-in closet and took out a shoe box.
“A few days ago I was bored and snooped around.” He placed the box on the bed and removed the lid.
Ian took a step back, his face corpse-pale.
Inside were an assortment of sex toys. A twelve-inch, flesh colored dildo, an even larger one that was completely black and included testicles at the end, as well as beads ranging from the size of marbles to golf balls. What looked to be police issue handcuffs. Massage oil. Disinfectant. Other objects that Ian couldn’t name included an anal plug with an actual horse’s mane extending from one end, a silver vibrator, and several cock rings. Frowning, Scottie twirled one of the cock rings on his right index finger. “What the fuck is this? A bracelet?”
“I don’t know, but I wouldn’t touch it.”
“It’s just some toys,” Scottie said.
“It’s disgusting. Why’d you have to show me?”
Scottie laughed and sat on the bed. It groaned beneath him, a noise that sent shivers over every inch of Ian’s body. He just knew those were the noises that earthquaked from the room every time Scottie’s mom got that box out of the closet. “They’re funny. Lighten up. I wonder if my parents used them together.”
“Maybe she got them after.” Scottie slapped the flesh dildo into the palm of his hand, the smack seeming to echo about the bedroom.
“Why would you want to go anywhere near them?” Ian eased closer to the box, his arms wrapped around his body. “They’ve been in the worst places.”
“What do you know about those places? You’ve never even seen a girl naked.” Scottie grinned and pressed his thumbs and pointers together in the shape of a rhombus. “I have.”
“Did you get lost in the girl’s down there?” He made a face. “No thanks, it’s like a dark cave that goes on forever.”
“Take an anatomy class, it’s not that big.” Scottie brushed his fingers through the horse’s mane extending from the anal plug.
“Big enough for babies to shoot out of it,” Ian said.
“Mom says cleanliness is next to godliness.” Scottie held up the bottle of disinfectant and the black dildo. “I read that you just throw the silicone ones in the dishwasher with the plates and cups.”
“Gross dot com,” Ian said, feeling dizzy. “I won’t be eating off your plates.”
Smiling, Scottie waved the black dildo around and said, “I guess this replaced my dad.” The smile dropping from his face, Scottie neatly returned the toys to the box and hid them away in the closet. He touched Ian’s arm. “Lie down.”
During the dozen times they had been together, Ian always thought it would play out differently. Scottie would put Ian on his back and hold his legs, kiss him, make eye contact. But here he was, pressing his face into the pillow to muffle any noises that might reveal that beneath the sheet was a boy, not a girl. One, two, three, he counted the seconds it hurt. After ten the hurt became more of a pressure, neither pleasant nor unpleasant. But he knew it should be something else.
Ian removed the sheet from his head and glanced back at Scottie, whose eyes were closed. He placed his hand on Scottie’s thigh, snapping Scottie from his reverie. Scottie’s face was stretched in fear, like a child’s Halloween mask. He stopped. Ian twisted around so that he was on his back, kissed him and whispered, “It’s okay.” Ian continued kissing, and after a pause, Scottie returned to his motions, though slower. Ian knew this was how it was supposed to feel.
“I don’t want to talk to you right now,” Scottie said as they dressed.
Ian began to speak, but stopped. Then he nodded and left the house.
As Ian was passing the pool and approaching his own house, he felt two arms wrap tightly around his body and then he was in the pool. The arms held him under. He struggled, screamed, and swallowed water. Minutes passed, or so it seemed, and he was sure he would drown. Then he was free. He kicked to the surface, spat and coughed. Snot mixed with water and covered his face. Scottie was climbing from the pool. Ian yelled, “What is wrong with you? You almost killed me.”
“I should have.” He was standing with his feet wide apart, glaring.
Ian watched Scottie walk away. He doggie-paddled to the rim of the pool and rested his crossed arms on the concrete. Ian buried his face in the wet curves of his arms.
Ian wanted to hate Scottie.
He wanted to burst into his room and throw him on the floor, pummel him with his fists. When Scottie cried and asked him to stop, Ian would laugh and keep going. No. He knew he would never do that. He was sitting at the small desk that faced directly into Scottie’s bedroom window. The curtains were pulled. He would kiss him, hold Scottie’s head to his chest, and say, “Scottie, do you hear?”
Ian sat at the bare desk and crunched cereal, his dinner. After his mother returned with the ribs, she left him another note on the fridge that said to order pizza for dinner, that she was off to a shift at the Wander Inn. He had heard her come and go, but hadn’t left his room to speak to her. She had only left a ten, leaving nothing for a tip. Not that he cared. He touched his stomach, which was flatter than Scottie’s, and thought of the fat kids who were mocked during PE class. He recalled his father quoting some model: “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” He went to the bed and opened David Copperfield, felt its heaviness. But then his mind began to wander.
Knowing that focusing on David Copperfield’s problems would be useless, Ian put the book aside and walked outside to the pool. The full moon reflected in the wavy water. The field beyond the pool was expansive and silent and dark. He looked out at the darkness, and he moved onto the top step leading into the shallow end of the pool. Ian then submerged himself so that water lapped at his collar bone. His next thought was a wish: that Scottie and he were alone together in some place that had no name. A beach in summer. They ran into the frothy water and body-surfed for hours, for now Ian could swim and was not afraid, and later, when they lay on the beach they touched one another’s skin, which was bumpy to the touch. Like small children, they buried one another in sand, made castles. When they became thirsty they knifed coconuts and held the fruit up to the sky and sucked the juice. All day they ate breakfast, tossing chunks of fruit and bits of sandwiches into one another’s mouths. When the sun warmed them, like sea creatures they let the surf take them back to sea. Night came and crickets did their chant. Finally, exhausted and sunburnt, they slept and it was right.
His reverie ended when he heard someone bumping around inside the house. The sliding door was open. He heard a chair knock over and Yolanda hiss, “Damn it.” He watched her in the kitchen. She was wearing a short red dress and matching heels. Her hair was down and looked like a fire flickering across back. Softly singing, she danced to the refrigerator and filled a glass with ice. She poured gin, and as if an afterthought, added a drop of tonic. Ian considered asking where she had been and why she was so dressed up, but he knew the “I was out with a couple girlfriends” or “Just work” would be a lie, and he’d had enough of people who couldn’t be truthful. He waited for her to go to bed and then went back to his room. He crawled beneath the comforter and stared up at the ceiling. Then he slept.
The next morning Yolanda burst into Ian’s room wearing a flowing summer dress and wide belt. She tossed a new outfit on top of him.
“Here, I went shopping. It’s a button up, but summery.” She did a little spin, the hem of her dress slightly lifting up. “How do I look, Baby?”
“I’m still half asleep.” He turned away from her. “Come back in a couple hours.”
“Almost noon, lazy.” She walked to the window and yanked back the heavy, dark curtains. “You could vanish in this cave of a room.”
Later, Yolanda was lathering the ribs with barbecue sauce when Ian entered the kitchen wearing the new shirt. “It’s too baggy.”
“But don’t you look handsome. It’s fine.” She fixed the collar. “A catch.”
“Last time I saw Scottie, I told him three o’clock.”
“Perfect. I’ve got to get these ribs ready to go and then start on some potato salad and deviled eggs.” She returned to the ribs. “You have your music, right? I know you don’t want to hear my old stuff.”
“I’ll be outside reading if you need anything,” Ian said, moving toward the door.
“In a bit I’ll have you help me string up some lights.” She smiled at him. “White Christmas lights. Kind of festive, right?”
“Yep.” Ian didn’t have the heart to tell her that his father’s boyfriend had said hanging lights after Christmas was as tacky as sofas with loose fabric at the bottom.
Scottie arrived at three o’clock on the dot. He was dressed in shorts and a polo. He flicked Ian’s shirt, saying, “Real cute.”
“I didn’t pick it. But you did choose a polo, which is pedestrian.”
“Where’d you hear that? Vogue?” He shook his head and grinned. “You piss rainbows.”
“Yeah, right on you.” Ian walked to the glass table and poured lemonade. “Want some?”
“Sure. So this is a party?”
“I don’t have any other friends here. We only lived here a little while before I moved up north to my dad’s. My mom’s excited to meet you.”
“Why?” Scottie glared at him. “What did you tell her?”
“Nothing.” Ian handed him the lemonade. “Drink.”
Yolanda stepped from the doorway, trailed by a tall man with curly blond hair and a goatee. He held a green canvas bag in one hand. Yolanda hurried over and hugged Scottie.
“You must be Scottie. Well, of course you are. I always see you riding your motorcycle thing. It’s so loud…” She glanced from Ian back to Scottie. “Well, aren’t you looking nice.”
“Thanks,” Scottie said, unsmiling.
“Oh, this is Steve.” She motioned for Steve to come over. “Three is awkward, four is a party. Steve is an insurance salesman.”
“Car insurance,” Steve said, and laughed for no apparent reason. His cheeks were filled with pock marks and he looked as though he had played goalie for a dart team. “Come see me when you turn sixteen, I’ll cut you a good rate.”
“He’s so funny.” Yolanda put her arm through his.
“They tell me insurance humor is hot dot com right now,” Ian said. “Mom, I’ll help you get the food.”
Inside, Yolanda handed him the platter of ribs. “I’ll get the other food, Baby.”
“You didn’t say your boyfriend was coming.”
“Steve isn’t my boyfriend.” She crossed her arms, serious. “Honestly it was just going to be us three, but then Steve’s plans with his own kids fell through and I felt bad.”
“That guy has kids? Oh, my god.”
“Be nice.” She touched his hair. “If you want, I’ll tell him to go. I can see him any time.”
Ian groaned. “It’s fine. But he looks like a loser.”
“Don’t be so mean!” Outside, she put a CD into the stereo. “Steve, apparently this band is called Bright Eyes.”
Once they were seated, Steve reached into his canvas bag and withdrew a quart of Titos vodka. “It’s not a party without drinks, right?”
Yolanda forced a smile at Ian. “I’ll just have one, with some water. After one, I’m done these days.” She leaned in and whispered to Ian, “I didn’t know he had that, Baby.”
“Let’s just eat,” Ian groaned at her.
“Everyone have some ribs,” Yolanda said, passing the platter. “So, boys, Steve here played football all through high school.”
“I was quarterback my senior year,” Steve said. He placed a rack of ribs on his plate, licked his fingers. “Could have played in college.”
“Loogootee doesn’t have a football team,” Scottie said. He frowned at the ribs on his plate, poked at them with his fork. He leaned over and whispered to Ian, “I don’t like ribs.”
“Steve isn’t from here,” Yolanda said.
“There must be basketball here,” Steve said. “Ian, you’re wiry. Bet you’d be great.”
Ian spread his legs wide and burped, then punched Scottie in the arm and in a macho voice asked, “Catch that game last night?”
“Ian is such kidder”—Yolanda kicked him under the table—“aren’t you, Baby?”
“Scottie, want to hang out in my room?” Ian asked. “It’s hot out.”
“Don’t be rude,” Yolanda said. “The get-together is outside.”
Mostly the adults talked while Ian and Scottie sat uncomfortably. When Yolanda wasn’t watching Ian took the ribs from Scottie’s plate and returned them to the platter. Scottie mouthed “thanks” and ate a deviled egg in one bite. Steve did a shot of vodka, then chased it with another. Yolanda sipped her drink, said, “I guess Steve thinks it’s happy hour now.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” Steve said. He took another shot.
“Okay now.” Yolanda screwed the cap back onto the vodka. She smiled at Steve and he just shrugged and leaned back in his seat. “Though I can’t blame Steve for drinking, listening to this music. This singer sounds like a drowning goat.”
“Might as well give me a shot, too,” Scottie said.
“Our secret,” Steve said and poured a shot for Scottie.
“He’s a child! His mother would kill me.”
“Yes, she would,” Ian hissed. “Any dessert?”
“There’s ice cream in the fridge, I think.” Yolanda lit a cigarette. “I’ll smoke my dessert.”
“I’ll drink this one,” Steve said about the shot he had poured. “Good stuff.”
“Say, Scottie, can you believe I’m thirty-one with a fifteen-year-old? I was so young.” Yolanda threw her head back and laughed. “How old is your mom? We never talk, but I’ve seen her mowing the lawn. If I was her, I’d make your dad mow.”
“Oh my god,” Ian said, glancing from Yolanda to Scottie.
“What?” She paused a moment and then put her hand over her mouth. “Oh, I forgot about your dad, Scottie. I’m so sorry.”
“What happened to his dad?” Steve asked.
“My dad was a pussy,” Scottie said, staring at the pool, away from everyone.
“Poor boy,” Yolanda said. She leaned across the table and patted Scottie’s hand. When Scottie allowed her hand to linger, Ian was surprised. Then hurt.
“Hey, Steve, you know she’s thirty-six?” Ian suddenly said to Steve.
“What?” Yolanda asked.
“I was letting Steve know your real age. You’re thirty-six, not thirty-one like you said.”
Steve shot Yolanda a suspicious look, then shrugged and said, “Goddamn, I’m drunk.”
Yolanda put her arm around Steve’s neck. “Steve, you’re dull as hell. I mean, insurance? Kill me! But I like you anyway.”
Ian was about to ask to go inside when Yolanda stood, saying she wanted that dessert. “Oh, you two,” she said, pointing at Ian and Scottie. “You keep your hands on the table. I have eyes in the back of my head.” She laughed and led Steve to the sliding door.
“What the hell did she mean by that?” Scottie asked.
“Ignore her. Let’s go to your house.”
“My mom is home.”
“Then we’ll walk in the field.”
Suddenly Yolanda was back outside switching the music. The Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Woman” began playing. Yolanda called to them, “Sorry, kids, but I couldn’t take any more of your music.”
They walked into the middle of the field, and then, at Scottie’s insistence, further. He did not want to be seen. Finally, when they could not be seen from the houses, they lay on the ground. The grass was unwalked but dried out and scratchy as hay. Ian picked at a blade of grass and twisted it in his hand. When he spoke, his voice was small. “I’m sorry about that. I knew it was a mistake.”
“Mostly because you have a big mouth.” Scottie raised his eyebrows at him. “And Steve? He really sucks balls.”
“I’ll die myself before I sell insurance.”
Scottie ran ahead and faced Ian, pretended to do one shot after another and said, mockingly, “Hey, I coulda played football in college. I was a goddamn quarterback.”
“You idiot,” Ian said, laughing. He leaned in and touched Scottie’s face. At first Scottie moved away, but Ian was persistent and gradually Scottie conceded. Then he again moved away. “Just let me.”
“No, I can’t. I promised I wouldn’t.”
“Break it. When we kissed last time it was better.” Ian paused. “I want you to like me. You know, like me. It’ll be easy.”
“It’ll turn out wrong. People will find out.” He roughly shoved Ian away, so that Ian landed on his back. “I know you already told your mom about us. Couldn’t keep your fucking mouth shut.”
“I don’t care who knows about us.”
“Once you start seeing us as something we’re not, you’ll tell the world. I like it the way it is.”
“If it’s a secret you want, then I can keep it. I swear—”
“You told your mom, and if you deny it I’ll break every bone in your face. Let’s just do like before.” He removed his shirt and shoved Ian down onto his stomach. He lay the shirt over Ian’s head, then unclasped the suspenders and yanked down Ian’s pants. “I’ll go easier, if you want.”
“No, stop. I don’t want it like this anymore.” Ian tossed the shirt aside and rolled onto his back. “Like this, with you looking at me.”
Ian clenched his fists. “A fairy? Well, look at us, just two fucking fairies out in a field about to fuck each other. You’re a fucking coward. Coward. A fucking coward. And I can’t wait till everyone finds out what you are.”
“Fuck you,” Scottie hissed.
After contemplating how Scottie would react, Ian said, “A coward faggot.”
“I’ll kill you,” Scottie lunged and sat on Ian’s chest, punched him in the mouth, once, twice. “If you ever talk to me, look at me, I’ll beat the shit out of you and drown your ass in the pool. I swear, I’ll do it.”
His face bloody, Ian tried to roll to his side but remained pinned to the ground. His breathing was ragged, and he didn’t dare speak.
Scottie leaned his face close to Ian’s and glared at him. Then the glare softened and his gaze became distant. He leaned back, wiping the blood from his knuckles on Ian’s shirt. He let out a long sigh and stared in the direction of the houses. When he spoke, his voice was so low Ian had to struggle to hear. “I’m sorry. Please leave me alone.” Then he rose and walked home.
Ian’s lip stung to the touch. He tasted blood. For several moments he lay unmoving, simply studying the cloudless blue sky. The longer he stared, the closer it seemed to get, until he felt he could reach out and grab it. When the sun began to set, he returned home.
Ian passed his mother and Steve, who were sitting with their feet in the pool. He was headed for the kitchen, for his bedroom. Yolanda spoke, “Ian, what happened to you? You’re bleeding.”
“Maybe boxing isn’t his sport.” Steve said, laughing.
“Go sell some fucking insurance, why don’t you?” Ian said.
“Kid has a mouth on him,” Steve said.
“Oh, shut up, Steve.” Yolanda hurried after Ian. She caught him by the arm. “Move into the light next to the sink so I can see that cut. Did you get into a fight with Scottie?” She dabbed a moist paper towel on it. “If he did this I’ll go over there and—”
“Leave it alone, Mom.” Ian turned away, faced the sink. “And leave me alone.”
It was unstoppable: Ian leaned over and rested his forehead against the cool counter top and began to sob.
“I thought the evening went well. I was trying to be fun—”
“Mom,” Ian said, staring at her. “I don’t want fun.”
“Baby, tell me what happened.”
“He—you, what you said—”
“I said?” She shushed him and combed her hands through his hair. “He’s just a big dumb boy, and there will be plenty of others.”
Ian spoke into the sink and his voice echoed. “Let me go.”
Yolanda slept late the next morning. When Ian left her in the kitchen the night before, Yolanda’s eyes were puffy and she was lighting one cigarette with another. Ian set his alarm for eight o’clock, but he was awake hours before it sounded, lying in the middle of the bed, thinking. He rose and showered and dressed, called his father, and then brushed his hair. Twice when he heard the sounds of the dirt bike he almost stared into the field, but at the last second stopped himself. That was no good.
In the kitchen Ian found a note in Yolanda’s handwriting. The letters were shaky, and he could only make out a few words, his own name and: love, forgive. An empty bottle of vodka sat next to the letter. He set coffee to percolating and sat at the table in the glow of sunlight and drank coffee with lots of skim milk and sugar and stared at the note. Outside, the daily newspaper made a whack as it struck the front door. He did not fetch it, knowing Yolanda would not feel up to reading. He reached for the letter and tried to make out more of the words but could not. Tears stung his eyes, but he willed them away.
He poured a cup of coffee, made some dry toast, and carried it all to Yolanda’s room. He sat the food on the carpet and peeked inside the room, making sure she was alone. It was a mess with clothes thrown over every surface, shoes kicked about randomly, and magazines placed from the door to the bed, like stepping stones. Ian set the coffee and toast next to the bed. He pretended not to notice the empty bottle of vodka.
“Thought you might want this.”
“Thank you,” Yolanda said. She marked her spot in The Shipping News and tossed it onto the bed next to her. “My head is split open, I think.”
“No, the pain reminds me how stupid I am.” She lit a cigarette. “Awake long?”
“Making Mom look bad.” She smiled. She blew a smoke ring. “Call your father?”
“Look, I’ll drive you. It’s not far.”
“He’s already on his way, don’t worry about it.” Ian sat on the bed and stared at her. “You’ll visit.”
She nodded, rubbed at her eyes. “Of course. Thanksgiving, Christmas. Every holiday.” She put the cigarette out. “Even Valentine’s Day. You’ll be sick of me.”
“You can have my bed, I’ll take the couch.”
“That’d be nice.”
They sat for a bit, neither speaking. Yolanda had not closed the blinds the night before, and the sun shone in, making her squint. She nibbled on the toast but didn’t touch the coffee. She brushed crumbs onto the floor.
“Well,” Yolanda said, throwing back the cover. “Let me get dressed.”
“Okay.” Ian walked to the door.
He waited, but did not look at her.
“We don’t have much to say, do we?”
Ian watched her walk to the closet and take out an outfit, lay it on the bed. Her skin was yellow in the sun, and her red hair looked thin. Gently, he closed the door. He moved down the hallway into the living room, where he sat on the sofa and waited.