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  1. oat327

    Chapter 8

    Glad I am too! I’ve missed this story.
  2. oat327

    Chapter 8

    I don’t mean to shit too much on Becker! Haha. It’s a good story, and I’ve loved writing it. It’s the same thing, though: it’s a lot of harnessing your cringey old self into a story, which is sometimes fun nostalgia and sometimes an ugly mirror. I just have to be in the right mindset, and I’m less and less in it, is what I meant. But I do hope to finish it, at some point. And Becker hooking up with Tripp’s friend always makes me laugh because… that’s also something pulled from real life. Oops.
  3. oat327

    Chapter 8

    Yeah, that's totally it. I've actually written very rough first drafts of Becker all the way through the beginning of his senior year. Basically, the story is my college memories with a loose plot laid on top of it. Especially early on in the story, where there's some random events that don't really add to the main plot--those things generally happened to me or my friends. But yeah, the older I get, the less interesting I find a closeted 19-year-old, and the less fresh and life-shaping my college memories seem. Part of life, I guess. BUT THAT SAID, yes, there is a chapter of "Becker" almost done. Problem is, how Becker was originally structured, the original Sophomore Spring Chapter 2 follows the events of Chapter 9 of this story. I tried to add some fluff to stall for time but could never get it into a rhythm, so I just stopped updating. Basically: Chapter 9 of this story has to come first, BUT I think I might release both that and the next chapter of Becker simultaneously. Because I think it'd be fun to read them in tandem: Against the World first, then Best Four Years right after. (No spoilers though.)
  4. oat327

    Chapter 8

    Haha, I’ve said it before: Kevin writes himself. I’m just along for the ride.
  5. oat327

    Chapter 8

    I am too, actually. It gets harder and harder writing Becker, the older (and more removed from college—ten years!) I get. Kevin’s a meatier and more interesting character to me, at this point of my life. I’ve thought about where Kevin would be in 2020, and it’s something to think about. But who knows!
  6. oat327

    Chapter 8

    Thanks! That means a lot. We’re getting to the point where the storylines do start to overlap with the next one chronologically, so we’ll see that semester a bit. And yeah, that in particular been tough to write. I’ve been avoiding it, to be honest. (I also avoided Becker and Kevin’s breakup in “Best Four Years” for similar reasons.) I will say: I know this cliffhanger probably seems to set up a bad 90s conversion therapy melodrama, but that’s not where we go. Hope the ending (likely two chapters left) doesn’t disappoint!
  7. oat327

    Chapter 8

    Thanks! Glad you’re enjoying it. The way it’s plotted out, we’ve got two more chapters left, so things should be falling into place pretty quickly now.
  8. oat327

    Chapter 8

    Aw, thanks. It's been fun to write this story, and it's great to have a place to share it. I love Kevin too. And I also worry about him. In a weird way, he's writing himself--what happens is going to happen where I let it or not. That's part of why I had to edit a few Paris scenes, and a large part of why this chapter in particular was hard to write: everything in California is finally coming together for Kevin in this chapter--Matt, and a car, and a godson, and a college acceptance--and it's like, he's finally happy for probably the first time in his life... I knew I had to shit all over it in that last sentence. Which was hard to do to him. But it makes for a good story (I hope.) And I will keep writing! I promise that much.
  9. oat327

    Chapter 8

    I love that: outwardly resilient. It's just kind of funny, because he was written initially (and I think this is still true, if you look at his first appearance in "Best Four Years") as a kind of "hot, charismatic love interest," but I just fell in love with his character. There's definitely more development for him--both in this story and, in a few chapters, when he gets folded back into "Best Four Years."
  10. oat327

    Chapter 8

    Thank you! I think that’s such a defining part of Kevin: wanting to let go of the past, but being utterly unable to do so. It’s unexpectedly taxing writing this story, actually, just because Kevin’s memories are so heavy (and I think that’s why I needed a break.) And they’re not getting much lighter in the 2-3 chapters we have left, unfortunately, which just makes it hard to get the motivation—it’s tough writing all the bad things that happen to him.
  11. oat327

    Chapter 8

    Sneak up on him. Baby steps. Get him a toothbrush. Was Ben Farber’s advice. Maybe I was being too literal. Or I just wanted to see Becker’s reaction. As expected: the panicked and confused look of someone who had just been handed heroin at airport security. He seemed to sniff out a trap: “What do you mean, you got me a toothbrush?” “For when you’re here.” He was so close to melting down. So I downplayed: “It’s gross that you don’t have one. Because, if you think about it, you’re missing two toothbrushing sessions. Night and morning.” Becker was staring at me. Trying to process why I would make such a bold and dramatic gesture like giving him an eighty-seven cent toothbrush in the privacy of my own bedroom. “I brush when I get home,” he replied. “And half the time, when I’m drunk, I pass out without brushing my teeth anyway.” I kept flossing. Trying to be as nonchalant as I could. To stress that this was not a very big deal but, rather, something that was done in the course of every romantic relationship. “Well, you have one here now,” I told him, flatly. “It’s a toothbrush, not an engagement ring. And it’s as much for me as it is for you because, periodontal health aside, I’m the one that has to smell your lousy-ass breath.” “You love my lousy-ass breath.” “No, I love you in spite of it.” Fuck. Love. That was the second time I had said that to Becker, the second time completely by accident. I didn’t know what I felt towards Peter Adam Becker, except that I cared about him and didn’t want to lose him and didn’t want to keep hiding the fact that we were crazy about each other. Maybe it was love. Maybe frustration. Maybe those were the same thing, at the end of the day. I used the word “love” in my own head. When I thought about Becker. That was why I slipped up. “Dump Richie Rich and come to Paris,” Carver had said, via AIM, the night before. “You can stay in New Orleans and let him imprison you in the closet until the end of eternity, or you can come to Paris have meaningless coitus for four months with dozens of libidinous Frenchmen.” Neither sounded especially appealing. To be honest. “I bought him a toothbrush.” “Well. Please regale me of his inevitable meltdown when you tell him that.” Becker was trying so hard not to panic. Over a snowballing avalanche: first a toothbrush, now a four-letter word. He was cute when he was trying not to panic. In a twisted way. “Just when it seems like you can’t get more fastidious,” he joked, unconvincingly, as if I had used any other word instead of the L-bomb, “you do. I’m learning so much about you.” I sat down on the next to him, with a smile. “There’s not that much to learn about me, really.” “What kind of talk is that, Philosophy Major?” “Everyone likes to say they’re like an iceberg. You know--90% of their mass below the surface? It’s all such a load of bullshit. I’m at least honest enough to admit it I’m not deep or unique or special.” I put my arm around his waist. Held him close, the way you held someone after sex. “I think you’re special,” he told me. “And deep, and unique.” “Well, sure,” I said. “You’re my boyfriend. Of course you’re supposed to think that.” He didn’t say anything. I continued to hold him. “I like this,” he said, finally. The best he could do, but it was enough in the moment. “I like this too.” Someone pounding on the door. I looked at my alarm clock: middle of the night, just before five. “Um, just a sec,” I called, and the knocking stopped. I turned to Becker, who was only partially awake. “Maybe hide? Just in case someone comes in?” Or I could just open the door. And let this be done with. No--Becker wouldn’t allow that sort of thing. Becker slowly grabbed his pillow, the edge of the comforter, and skulked zombily with both of them into my closet. I quickly pulled on a pair of shorts, and opened the bedroom door. A drunken Chris Baker, disheveled, crying. “I’m so sorry,” he stumbled. “I’m so sorry, I need your car keys. Charlie’s in Central Lockup. DUI.” Charlie, Chris Baker’s younger brother--who, at the time, was a pledge at Tulane’s most infamous fraternity. The blanks didn’t need much filling in. Regardless, Chris was in no shape to drive a car, let alone my Tercel. And certainly not capable, physically or emotionally, of waiting at Orleans Parish Central Lockup in the middle of the night by himself. “I’ll drive you,” I told him. “Let me get dressed, and I’ll meet you outside.” I realized only after we got into the waiting room that, in my haste, in the dark, I had thrown on Becker’s Iota Chi sweatshirt--strictly verbotten, especially with the new president of that fraternity sitting in my passenger’s seat. And it was a size too small. Chris didn’t seem to notice. He wasn’t noticing anything at this point. I pulled off the sweatshirt, folded it so the letters wouldn’t show, and put it on the empty chair next to me. I didn’t know what I’d say if he did ask. Maybe the truth. But probably not. “Thanks for waiting with me,” he said, finally, looking up from his book--it was about five o’clock in the morning, the waiting room surprisingly crowded. “You didn’t have to.” “Well, I didn’t want you to have to do this alone.” “It’s going to be a while,” he said. “Have to wait for the courts to open so he can post bail.” “I know.” I smirked. “As you can imagine, I have some familiarity with the criminal justice system.” He grinned, slightly, closed his book. “I never even thought about that: have you ever been arrested?” “Twice,” I told him. “Charges were dropped both times, thank God.” “Lucky,” he agreed. He lowered his voice, salaciously. “For doing what you do?” I shook my head. “Unrelated, actually. I stole a bike when I was fourteen. And then a few months before I came to Tulane, I punched my best friend at a pizza place.” His smile grew, just slightly. “Uh-oh, am I in danger?” And his smile fell. Knowing that he had overplayed his hand, that he had admitted I was his best friend, which in Chris’s insecure mind was far too much of anything. I didn’t let the words hang. Every second would’ve been cruelty to him. “He wasn’t my best friend by then,” I told him, quickly. “We’d had a falling out.” He wouldn’t take no for an answer, and it still hurt to think about Matt Barber. When I thought about him, which I didn’t. “What happened?” Chris asked, finally. “You hardly ever talk about high school.” How did I answer that. I realized, for the first time but not the last, that I had never actually told anyone what happened. Not out loud. “We were dumb kids,” I say, finally. With a manufactured chuckle: “Did anyone actually enjoy high school? I was happy to get away.” “Me too,” Chris replied. “I’m happier here.” He motioned around the jail waiting room. “Not here here, but.” But his mind was already dragged back to the current predicament, to Charlie. His eyes welled up again. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m not a crier.” Chris absolutely was, especially when drunk, but I wasn’t going to correct him on this. Instead, I did what a good friend, a good person should do, and told him, “You can do anything you want. I don’t care.” Chris wiped his eyes. Said nothing. “I’ve bailed my brother out of jail four times,” I told him. “It doesn’t get easier, but at least your parents will set him straight after a DUI. He’ll bounce back.” “Four times?” Chris repeated. “Yeah, Nick’s a deadbeat,” I said. “I tried. But. You know. You can’t make people do things they don’t want to do. It’s just who he is.” “Why is family stuff so difficult?” “Because you don’t pick them,” I told him. “Permanently shackled to people who you wouldn’t even like, if they weren’t related to you.” “I do like Charlie.” “I don’t like Nick.” And he wouldn’t like me. If. You know. He knew. I’d never said that before. I don’t like Nick. “But you bailed him out. Four times.” Protective? Yes. Love? Yes. But those were duty-bound. Not like like. I didn’t want to dwell on something like this. “And that’s why I told you to bring a book.” “I’m too hyped up to read,” he replied. “You didn’t drag your now-ex-best friend with you when you had to wait at Central Lock-Up?” Matt Barber, on a plastic chair in the waiting room at the San Bernardino County Jail. That was something I couldn’t imagine. As if Becker were here right now: dark tourism. I’d spent one night in jail. Juvenile wing, of course. Jail wasn’t so terrifying as it was dehumanizing. A place where nothing can survive--not joy, not anger, not sorrow. You only exist. And my mind wandered back to Becker, asleep in my room. The two of us: existing. And why? Because one or two Iota Chis might like him slightly less? “Well,” I told him, “we sold together, but he was a good kid. And I didn’t want him to… you know, look at me differently when he saw me in jail. Even in the waiting room.” Chris smiled. “Well, you look the same to me in this room as you do in every other room.” And I smiled too. At Chris’s clunky way. I didn’t think I’d ever heard that before. “So, Chris, what are you going to do,” Charlie Baker asked, “if New Orleans gets destroyed by Hurricane Katrina? Community college? Beg SMU or Rice to let you un-turn them down?” We were sitting around the firepit in the Bakers’ backyard in Dallas. Something I didn’t know could exist in a person’s backyard. But that was before I met Becker. “I don’t even want to think about that,” Chris said, shaking his head. “But I was looking at the tracker and it looks like it’s going to turn east towards Mississippi. They don’t really know but I have a gut feeling it’s going to miss New Orleans. I really do.” It was, officially, our second day as freshman roommates. Our first day, yesterday, had started with the usual anticipation: meeting the roommate, seeing if we were as sane as we had both pretended to be via email. Chris and his parents were a tableau. They had seven boxes to unpack, and I watched them as I pretended my one suitcase took that long too. I came to New Orleans with everything I owned, which turned out to be nothing, at least compared to the cities being moved through the carpeted hallways of Monroe Hall. My suitcase. My laptop. My trumpet. An old Bob Dylan poster I found at a vintage store in Pasadena, but now seemed far too small to cover the cinderblock tundra on my side of the room. But watching the Bakers--I felt connected. They didn’t know it or feel it, but I did. And I knew it wouldn’t ever be like the Barbers, but I had missed that sort of thing. He wouldn’t take no for an answer. But Lori and Ed Baker were like Van and Lynn Barber: the warm optimism that came with a lifetime of surrounding yourself with people who meant well. Chris was exasperated by them, sending me doe-eyed panic as Ed and Lori bickered about where the TV should go. I tossed him back a knowing and resigned nod. Parents, right? As if his was universal sentiment, all this obnoxious love and all this interference. How many times had I done that. With the Barbers, with the Taylors, with the Ericcsons, with the Yamamotos. Tolstoy was right: all alike. I had spent the last five months alone. In plain sight. Surrounded by people but alone in the most primal sense, sino populo. You adjust to it. To the silence. The cold shoulders. You do. Anyway, then you leave. And soon all of it means nothing. My dad used to say, Whenever God closes a door, he opens a window, and I was silly with excitement to have one. Clara Barber came home from UCSB and said the best way to make friends as a freshman in college was to prop your door open. “I’m Brett Morton,” he had said, poking his head through the open door. “This is my roommate, Tommy Pereira. We’re right across the hall.” Etcetera. At around one o’clock, Theo the RA came to invite us to an emergency convocation at McAlister Auditorium, all fifteen hundred freshmen and their helicopter harems of parents and siblings. Where they dropped a bomb. Tulane would be closed until at least September 1, depending on how much damage Hurricane Katrina inflicted on the school and city. Had I fucking been Hitler in a previous life? Or was I just, through no fault of my own, the unluckiest person in the universe? Students were encouraged to go home with their parents, or else get on a bus to Jackson State University in Mississippi to evacuate. I had no parents but I had my Tercel. So I’d just drive. Drive away and keep driving away, until I had to come back. “Oh, that’s ridiculous,” said Mrs. Baker. “Just come and stay with us in Dallas for the week. Chris can drive with you and we’ll all caravan back.” So Chris and I spent our first afternoon as roommates sitting in my Tercel in evacuation traffic on the 10, evacuation traffic on the 49, and evacuation traffic on the 20. Fleeing a hurricane that may or may not have been tumbling through the Gulf to land a kamikaze attack on the fresh next chapter of our lives. And our second day: wasting the afternoon in front of the Weather Channel, in his parents’ living room, eight hours away from where we were supposed to be. Hoping that, by some chance, the city of New Orleans did not take a direct hit from the most powerful hurricane ever to make landfall in the United States. And, nighttime: roasting marshmallows in the backyard firepit with Charlie, instead of puking at a frat party the way the good lord intended. “I just hope they actually let us back next week, not the week after,” Chris was saying. He was biting his nails; he had lost his confidence when we got an email from Tulane saying that the earliest reopening date was now September 7. “This is freshman move-in. I don’t want to spend it in Dallas.” Charlie recalled his marshmallow, which was on fire; he let it smolder for a few more seconds and then blew it out. “I wish we had something to smoke.” “Charlie!” Chris gasped, looking not at his brother but at me, and my apparent sensibilities. “Mom and Dad are right inside.” Chris Baker: super nice guy, hopeless square. I wasn’t sure how to breach the topic that I had a brick of weed wedged in my glovebox. That I had been planning to run a small pharmaceutical startup out of our dorm room in Butler Hall. I’d have to tell Chris. Of course. I knew I’d have to tell him, and I’d have to tell him I’d move out, because he was far too innocent--far too decent--for me to involve him in something like that. Assuming Hurricane Katrina didn’t level New Orleans. Which it did. I woke up the next morning, August 29, 2005, on the pull-out in the Bakers’ den. What would’ve been our first day of college classes. It was about ten o’clock in the morning; Mr. and Mrs. Baker had already gone to work, Charlie to his first day of senior year of high school. Chris was sitting cross-legged on the sofa, a blanket wrapped around his entire body like a peasant grandmother, head peering out at me, Kenny from South Park. “The storm passed to the east,” he said, flatly. “I think we’re out of the woods.” I poured myself a cup of coffee, and sat down next to him, in front of the Weather Channel. And he was right: the city had avoided a direct hit. Mississippi was flattened, of course, but New Orleans had only received tropical storm-force winds. By noon, we were confident enough to get dressed and venture out of the house so Chris could prove to me that Whataburger was superior to In-N-Out. And we were midway through our substandard burgers, back in front of the Weather Channel, when the first levee burst. “Holy fuck,” Chris said, as we saw the aerials of what used to be a city, the city, our city, if only for a moment. He had his mouth clapped over his mouth. I couldn’t tell if that was for swearing or from shock, but he kept it there. As the meteorologists explained what the Industrial Canal was. I said nothing. But I’d lost enough to know what this was. I went out to the car and chiseled some weed off one of my bricks. Chris said nothing. I packed a bowl, and he said, “We’ll need more than that to get through today,” but I think it was the first time he had ever done anything. We spent the rest of the day in front of the TV. Got high. And waited. As water flooded 80 percent of the city of New Orleans, and Tulane University sent an email saying they would be closing for the entire semester for the first time since the Civil War. On Thursday, Chris went to register for classes at the University of Texas-Dallas. And I was alone. In a big empty house, quiet, like the Barber house right after school. These were good people, like Van and Lynn Barber--had taken me into their lives and their home without a second thought, just because some computer algorithm sorted me and their son together into the same Tulane freshman dorm room. Tulane, a life that no longer existed in any relevant capacity. I didn’t know quite what to do, or what to say. Or how long I would be welcome at the Bakers’ house. If I hadn’t already worn out that welcome. Which I suspected without evidence that I already had. So I left Mr. and Mrs. Baker a note thanking them for their hospitality, and left Chris and Charlie an eighth of San Bernardino’s finest weed. And I packed up the three outfits I had brought from New Orleans in an H-E-B bag, and I hit the road again, just like I had a week ago when the world still seemed fresh and limitless. No destination in mind. No, that was a lie: I let myself pretend for a while that I was a nomad. That I could disappear into the night, tumble through the country, the main character in a road novel. The Tercel drove exactly one entire lap around Dallas before getting on the 20 and heading west. I had nothing. No money. My few possessions trapped in an abandoned Atlantis of a dorm room. I had a brick of weed in my glove box, three t-shirts, two pairs of jeans, and a trumpet--and a mattress twenty hours away in Colton, California. I was almost to Abilene by the time I got a call from Chris. “I just saw your note,” he said, and he sounded just a little bit sad. Maybe. “Did you really leave?” “Yeah, I just found out tomorrow’s the deadline for community college registration in California,” I lied, “so I figured I’d hit the road and try to make it there by morning.” “Too bad,” he said. He paused. “Thanks for the weed. I can’t believe you still had some, after all we’ve smoked the past few days.” “Well, I, um,” I told him. And I had to tell him. I owed him that after the last week. “I sell it.” “Oh! Jeez, I’m sorry--how much do I owe you?” I gave a faint laugh. “No, I just meant... I sell it. If that’s an issue.” Chris said nothing, so I continued: “Like, in case you want to request a room transfer for next semester. No hard feelings or anything. You can do it through the Housing website--you don’t even have to tell me if you do.” There was an amused sigh. But no pause. “Why would I want to do that?” Chris put down his book. Looked at his watch. “Well, at least the courts open soon.” “I thought they opened at eight.” “Well, yeah,” he said. “It’s almost eight.” I grabbed his wrist, squinted at his watch. “It’s 6:41.” “Yeah, so like an hour.” “And nineteen minutes.” Chris gave a long sigh. “I’m so tired. I’m just trying to make time go faster.” “Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall…” “Hard pass.” We sit in silence for a few seconds, until I turn to him: “Do you ever think of studying abroad?” “I can’t,” he says. “I’ll be Iota Chi president for the next two semesters.” He narrowed his eyes like I was about to confess to a crime. “Are you still thinking about Paris?” “Well, Carver brought it up again. Part of me wants to. Part of me doesn’t want to.” “What is each part saying?” And wow. I couldn’t tell him any of that. Could I. That part of me wanted to stay: with Becker, with my friends, with the life I built in New Orleans. The part of me that wanted to go: the part of me that still lived in New York. Where I got to be someone who didn’t deal drugs, who didn’t have secrets. Who didn’t live in fear of being exposed, because there was nothing to expose “It’s complicated,” I told him instead, but I knew it wasn’t. I gave him the most sanitized version of the truth: “I just feel like,” I continue, “if I stay here, I’m never going to get to be the person I’m supposed to be.” I could tell from Chris’s face that he was missing the point, without the piece that mattered. I pictured graduating at the end of next year, and I pictured Becker specifically not coming. “You don’t think that’d seem too intimate?” he’d ask me, his verdict in the form of a question. And maybe I’d stay in New Orleans another year, with him, get an apartment or a job and sit. And wait. Until, what, we could be long-term roommates? No one ever knowing the truth? In New York, everybody knew. And no one cared, and it was exhilarating. But I came back to New Orleans. To exist. “If you’re afraid, well, take it from the biggest scaredy-cat who ever lived: you shouldn’t let fear keep you from doing something that you think is good for you.” “It’s not that I’m afraid,” I tell him. “It’s just, what happens when I come back?” “And find that everything’s different?” Or that nothing’s different. That I’ve grown accustomed to some sort of life. That Becker would want to put me back in a box I didn’t fit in anymore, and I just pictured myself. “Or everything’s the same,” I tell him, “but you guys find out I’m different.” “Well, you’re stuck with me,” he said. “I don’t care how different you get or I get: you’re stuck with me.” Our eyes meet, for just a second, and I know that he’s right: that he’s the first person outside of my family that I would not ever throw away. And I had to tell him. As I looked into his eager eyes; the kind of person who deserved to know me, to know the truth. Becker would never forgive me if he knew I did this, but: “I’m gay,” I told him, in this sterile jail waiting room, “and I was out when I was in New York for the summer and it was incredible. But I’m afraid if I stay here, I won’t ever come out to anyone.” He just looked wistfully at me, cracked a hint of a smile. “Huh.” And that was Chris Baker, who could turn a Pizza Hut order into a distressingly anxious conversation, with the world’s most nonchalant response to someone's coming out. “What do you mean, ‘huh’?” “I just didn’t see that coming,” he replied. “I’m glad you told me.” “I thought you’d have a little more to say.” He shrugged. “Why would a thing like that matter to me? Obviously, it doesn’t change anything. You knew it wouldn’t.” “Well, it’s news. Is all. Isn’t it news when people tell you who they fuck?” “I haven’t fucked anyone,” he replied. “People always think going away solves things. Like, you know what the most embarrassing thing was from high school?” He wouldn’t take no for an answer. Wow, I definitely couldn’t say that. I shake my head. Chris continued: “I’d meet these really hot girls in class or wherever and if I tried to talk them, they’d say, ‘Oh, you’re Charlie Baker’s brother.’ And he’s a year younger than me. Shouldn’t he have been Chris Baker’s brother, not the other way around?” I assumed there was a point, though I didn’t put it past Chris to keep rambling through long after he lost his point. I nodded. “I guess so.” “And I just thought,” he said, “that if I could go away to Tulane, I could start fresh. And be different, you know? Someone better.” He studied me, for a second. “And I guess that’s what you think Paris would be like.” “Exactly,” I told him. “A chance to completely reinvent yourself into a different person.” “No, what I’m saying,” he interrupted, “is that it didn’t work. For me, at least.” “You were just elected president of a fraternity.” He bit his fingernail, didn’t meet my eyes. “Well, sure, but I’m not really different, am I? Maybe I got elected president, but as a compromise candidate because no one hates me. And I’m still the guy who can’t get out of the friendzone with Veronica, or anyone. I still don’t know how to talk to people, how to make friends with strangers. I’m still bailing Charlie out. I still feel exactly the same.” He continued to bite his fingernails. “So you take note of what didn’t stick,” I told him, “when you reinvent yourself again the next time.” “You’re going to be the same person in Paris and in New Orleans,” he told me. “I don’t know what you think you can do there that you can’t do here, other than avoid some awkward conversations.” I didn’t want him to think that I was scared of coming out. I was scared of. I didn’t even know. Two options, right? I come out, and Becker would break up with me, and I would spend the next two years living in the wreckage of this relationship. Or I don’t come out, I stay with Becker, and we keep this relationship under wraps for maybe forever. But Paris. Could be a third way: that things would be like they were when I was in New York. That maybe, at some point, Becker would realize he wanted to be with me and wanted other people to know it too. “Just,” I told him, “me. I’d be different.” It sounded lame the moment I said it, but there was nothing I could say without destroying my relationship with Becker. Chris realized it too: he gave me some dismissive eyes, but choose not to pursue the line of questioning any further. “Well, it won’t be the same around here without you.” “That’s a given.” He smiled at that. “You know, you shouldn’t be wearing Greek letters in here. And actually, you can’t be wearing our letters at all.” And that caught me off-guard. Fuck. I looked down at Becker’s inexcusable sweatshirt on the chair next to me. “Oh, I just picked it up off my floor in the dark,” I told him, with vaguely surprised nonchalance. “Must’ve taken it from the dryer accidentally—I think it’s Brett’s.” I hated lying. To Chris. To everyone, but especially Chris. Especially when he knew I was gay and he was so close to knowing the rest of the truth. “Oh,” he said. And he went back to his book. Because Chris would of course believe me when I told him something. We got home at around ten-thirty, dragging Charlie’s vomit-soaked carcass back to his bed in Irby Hall. Chris stayed with him. Curled up on the carpet and went to sleep. I didn’t know why, but I’d have done the same thing with Nicky. I went home. To Becker, still naked in my bed where I’d left him a million years ago. “Everything okay?” he greeted, groggily. “Okay enough.” I threw his wadded-up sweatshirt on the floor, hoped he wouldn’t notice I took it with me. Then quickly undressed so I could collapse into bed next to him. I woke up a couple hours later: Becker, dressed, in my desk chair, smoking a bowl. “Oh, just go ahead and help yourself to my weed,” I told him. “Boyfriend’s prerogative,” he replied, handing me the piece. “I get special privileges, don’t I?” “You know you do,” I told him. I thought of Chris--it was the first time in a while that Chris and I had stayed up all night talking, the first time since we were roommates. “‘Wake up, bake up.’ That’s what Chris and I used to call it freshman year.” “I forget you guys were roommates.” “Two years ago,” he said. I took a long puff, and handed it back to him. “Back when you were still going after speech and debate trophies at the Harrington School.” “Oh, whatever, Public School.” You had to be from a certain caste to wield “public school” as an insult. Of course, this was Tulane. When we played LSU a couple weeks ago, the whole Tulane student section started chanting, “State school, state school, state school,” during the halcyon minute we were beating them 9-7. Tulane was Tulane, Becker was Becker. In another timeline, I was smoking in bed with Matt Barber before our public school classes at the University of California, Berkeley. If only Becker knew what I went through to get to Las Palomas, to stay at Las Palomas. Maybe Becker realized he hit a pain point, because he backtracked. “Are you still tired?” “I’ll take a nap this afternoon.” I nuzzled my face into his neck. “I like you being here.” “I like being here too,” I replied, and we kissed, just once. There was another knock on the door. A soft one. Becker looked panicked. “Whatever, it’s not incriminating that you’re here at, like, noon,” I told him, as I pulled on a fresh t-shirt. “Say you just came over to smoke on your way to class.” It was Chris. “Oh, hey, Becker,” he said, as he came into the room without invitation. “He just came over for a little ‘wake up, bake up,’ on his way back from class,” I said, quickly. “I needed to calm my nerves, and I figured you were still at Charlie’s.” Chris smiled at me. “Been a while since we did ‘wake up, bake up.’” “Feel free,” I said, motioning to the bed. “Well,” Chris said slowly, dropping to the bed next to Becker, “I don’t know how much Kevin told you about our crazy night, but Charlie wrapped a car around a live oak on St. Charles Avenue. Wasted off his ass, coked out. I had to go bail him out at five in the morning.” “Wow!” gasped Becker, shockingly overwrought for someone who spent his entire life hoarding secrets. “He’s okay though, right?” “The little shit’s fine,” Baker said, shaking his head. “Kevin kept me sane.” He looked up at me, another smile--the warm, satisfied smile of a night that had undoubtedly brought the two of us closer together. “You know, I’ll miss you if you’re gone next semester.” Oh, God fucking damn it, Chris. Becker’s eyes narrowed, realized immediately he had caught some rogue scuttlebutt. “Next semester?” he said, methodically, glancing over at me. “What’s next semester?” It was so awkward to have to do this with Chris sitting between us. Chris, who was still casually smoking, as if he hadn’t just carpetbombed my day. “Well,” I said, “remember how I said I was thinking about going to Paris next semester, to study abroad?” Becker. Seething. For one moment, I was glad he was trapped in the closet, because there was a strict limit on how angry he was allowed to present in front of Chris. “No,” he said. “I remember you saying you were specifically not going to Paris.” He had a crazed smile on his face, which I assumed was his way of trying to act casual about the whole revelation, but he was failing miserably. Chris blew a smoke ring. “Nothing’s definite,” I told Becker. “It was just an idea.” Tried to talk him down with my eyes. He did not bite. “I see,” he told me. He couldn’t think of anything else to say, and he couldn’t seem to move forward on discussing this topic without risking a Chernobyl of unrestrained emotions, so he gave me one last smile. “I definitely think you should go. I hope you and Carver are very happy there.” Chris clicked the lighter, and lit the bowl again. “Yeah. I think if you want to go, you should go.” “Speaking of going,” Becker said, standing up, “I think I should head out. Lunch plans.” Without another word, he left through the side door. Slammed it behind him. I didn’t want to talk about this, but I also knew that if we didn’t talk about this, Becker was going to sit there and fester until Paris became an internal referendum on our relationship. So I told Chris I had lunch plans too--oh, is it noon already?--and quickly ushered him out of the room. And I caught Becker a half-block down, charging back towards campus. “Look,” I said, “I didn’t want Chris to bring it up like that. But I told you about this already--you knew this was a possibility.” “No, you told me you were definitely not going,” he said, flatly. He did not stop to wait for me--if anything, he started hustling faster down Broadway Street. “I didn’t say I was definitely not going. I said I was probably not going.” “And, somehow, now you probably are? And you didn’t even tell me?” “I didn’t say I’m probably going,” I replied. It was always going to be a tongue-twister of words with Becker. “I said I’m thinking about it. And God damn it, Becker. I’m telling you about it now, because I want us to discuss the possibility like adults.” “You’re not ‘telling me now,’” he spat, nothing but venom in his voice. “Baker told me. You got caught specifically not telling me. So don’t act like I’m being irrational, and trying to avoid the conversation, because there was a way to tell me about this, and you fucked it up.” I had to give Becker that one. Becker, who was almost always irrational and histrionic, but shouldn’t have heard it from Chris. “It just came up with Chris,” I told him. “While we were waiting at Central Lockup for eight hours.” But Becker was clearly not going to yield, so I fast-forwarded to the part where I came clean: “But you’re right: you should’ve been the first person I told, and I fucked that up royally. But now you know, and now I want to talk about it.” Telling him he was right did not satiate Becker. If anything, it made him more convinced that he had every right to be angry with me, and he kept walking. And fuck that, I kept following him, until we crossed onto campus near Rogers Chapel. “What do you want me to say?” he asked, abruptly wheeling around. “I want you here. I don’t want you to go.” I want you here. I don’t want you to go. Becker, who always held his emotions so tightly. And I had always wanted to hear that sort of thing from him, but t didn’t fill me the way I thought it would. What would be so different in Paris? Everything. What I wanted from Becker, I realized, was not him telling me he wanted me to stay. It was him telling everyone else that he wanted me to stay. “Everything in my life has always been so goddamn small and secretive. I don’t want it to be like that anymore.” Becker thought for a moment, for his best rebuttal: “It wouldn’t be cheap, you know. You couldn’t sell pot there.” And of course Becker would jump to money. To think I couldn’t afford it or that I hadn’t thought it through. He had gone to Buenos Aires to celebrate his father’s first congressional victory, and I had gone to exactly nowhere, but I resented the implication. “I can do it,” I told him. “Between waiting tables and slinging weed, do you know how much money I have saved? Eight thousand dollars. Even with expenses, even with sending money home. I’ve never even seen that much money before.” “Eight thousand dollars,” he repeated, with an eye roll. “That’s not anything. My mom has dresses she wears once that cost eight thousand dollars.” They said when regulatory agencies debated policy, they put a $10 million value on each human life, on average. But I’d imagine that being the average: some of us would be worth so much more and some of us so much less. So maybe Sen. David Becker (R-Nevada) would be worth twelve or twenty Linda Malleys, but I didn’t know if Becker would be worth twelve or twenty of me. My mom has dresses that cost eight thousand dollars. No. It didn’t matter. Because Becker: he did know it. And I felt what I assumed he wanted me to feel: irrefutable shame. Like lunch, during my first day at Las Palomas, when I finally got to the front of the lunch line. “Oh, I can’t take SNAP here--you have to go to window twelve.” SNAP: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Free school lunches for poor people. I looked over to window twelve. No line. Of course no line, because it was Las Palomas High School. Just a sad, lonely window with a sad printed sign: “12. SNAP Only, No Cash.” And all I could think of was that humiliation. On my first day: everyone I didn’t know already knowing me. “Well, I waited in this line already,” I told her, desperately, lowering my voice so that no one else around could hear me. “Can’t you make an exception?” She shook her head. “The machine’s only at window twelve.” And I spent the rest of the period toeing the edge of the empty space near window twelve. Standing alone and ashamed and quietly debating whether my hunger was worth the humiliation. Until the bell rang and I went to Latin, shooting pains in my empty stomach. But I never ever went to window twelve. I lost eight pounds in the five weeks before our first weed sale, but I never went to window twelve, and--replete with drug money ever since--I never ever felt like that again. Not at Las Palomas, not at Tulane. Not until I met Peter Adam Becker. With his mom’s eight thousand dollar dresses that she wore once. Who window-twelved me with every word that came out of his mouth. “Oh, yes, everything has always been so limitless for you, your Royal Fucking Highness.” “That’s not fair,” he said. “Just because I’ve been on vacation before doesn’t give you the right--look, my boyfriend wants to leave me for a whole semester. And I heard it from someone else. And somehow, you’re not satisifed with my reaction. Because, oh, why should I care that you’re going to disappear for six months, so you can go gallivanting around Europe with Carver? Carver, who hates me.” And, fuck, it was about Carver. Which meant it was really about Becker. Because everything was always about Becker, and his anxieties, and his insecurities, and what he wanted and when he wanted it. “I’m not going with Carver,” I told him. “I told you. And he doesn’t hate you. He treats everyone like shit.” He shook his head. “Not you. He’s so obviously in love with you. And now he’s gotten me out of the picture, and got you in another country all to himself, and I’m sure he’s already salivating at the prospect.” And I couldn’t help but give him a soft smile, and touch his arm, and say: “Is that what this is about? You think Carver’s going to come between us?” His anger was tempering too. “You can’t get me a toothbrush, and then turn around and tell me you’re leaving me.” In another world, I took Becker in my arms and kissed him, right in the middle of the quad, but I couldn’t do that and it killed me. No. I could do that: he wouldn’t let me. “I wouldn’t go if it came between us,” I told him, finally. “If I go. If I go, it’ll be with your blessing, okay? It’s only a semester. You could come for spring break, maybe. It’d just like it was in the summer. I waited for you then, and I still think you’re worth waiting for now.” “I don’t want you to go,” he whispered. “I don’t want a couple months where we don’t see each other. And spring break--what am I supposed to do? Tell my parents, tell everyone we know, that I’m just casually going across the world to visit a friend that I’m not secretly dating?” No. “Maybe you tell them the truth.” Becker looked at the ground, then shook his head. “You said you want me to give you my blessing. And you’re not going to get it.” And we stared at each other. Unwilling to move, both of us. Until he turned around. And walked away from me. Another email from Chris Baker: “Call your brother.” I can’t understand how Nick can’t guess “kmalley@tulane.edu” as my contact information. Then again, I don’t know his email either. If he has one--he may or may not. I dial Nick from the downstairs payphone, and he picks up in kind of a breathy huff, “Hello?” “Hey, it’s Kevin,” I tell him. “Are you okay?” “Am I okay?” he repeats. He pauses. “Yeah, I’m okay. I’ve been lugging boxes and shit--I’m moving out today.” “They’re not letting you stay until the end of March?” “I had to basically suck the landlord’s dick so he didn’t change the locks,” he replies. He gives a breathy laugh. “That’s just an expression.” “See, there’s something I could’ve helped with,” I joke, which is greeted with a stony silence. “Where are you going?” “Nowhere yet,” he says. “Got a couch to crash on for a few nights in San Bernardino. I was thinking maybe I’d go up north and visit J.C. though.” I don’t want to hear about J.C., I don’t; I close my eyes to head off the blow. All I can think of is Laura and Leo. J.C. in that awful place where there’s no humanity. And I don’t want to see J.C. Not like that. I’d rather remember him how it was. How things could be. Leo playing in the sprinkler. J.C. and Laura, beaming, standing out front of a nice house in Moreno Valley, pleasant suburbanites like the Barbers or the Bakers. Laura maybe pregnant again: the second or third addition to the Cardenas family, and I’d pull up in my Tercel. Leo would yell, “Uncle Kevin!” and run, run, run across the wet grass to grab onto my leg. Don’t Fucking Do Stupid Shit. “He’s working on his appeal,” Nicky adds. “He thinks he has a good chance this time, now that he’s gotten rid of that fucking dickhead lawyer.” “He’s not getting out,” I tell him. “Ever. He’s guilty. You know he’s guilty.” I shake my head, not that he can see me. “Anyway, Chris said I needed to call you?” “Yeah,” he replies, “I just wanted to know what to do with all your stuff.” Not that I have much in the way of possessions, but it’s all in Paris with me or in a storage locker in New Orleans. “I don’t have any stuff in Colton anymore.” “Mom kept a lot of your stuff,” he replies. “I found two boxes of shit at the top of her closet. Old yearbooks, report cards, macaroni necklaces, that sort of shit. And Fuffy.” Oh God. Fuffy. I’d forgotten about him. It, not him. The mangled stuffed moose that I carried around with me until about age six. I can’t believe Nicky remembers Fuffy. Or Mom would have kept Fuffy, that she would have kept all of those things. She was not sentimental. My Dad. Dad would’ve been the one to keep all of it. Anyway. “I don’t know if I’ll be back in California.” “Ever?” He sounds surprised at that--like he’s expecting water under the bridge, or something, but I don’t know if I’ll ever be back. What would be left for me there? Other than pain? “I don’t know. Not for a long time.” “Maybe when I get my new place set up, or something.” “I don’t think so.” There’s a long pause. “Well, I’ll just send this stuff to New Orleans, I guess. Chris is still at your old place, right?” The thought of Fuffy, my old yearbooks, random crafts I made for Mom and Dad. Winding up on Chris’s doorstep, and what the hell is he supposed to do with that shit? “Just throw it away.” There’s another pause--this one so long that, for a second, I think the call dropped. I hear his breath. “I’m not going to throw it away,” he says, finally. “Come on, man, this is all your fucking stuff from when you were a little kid.” “Who cares. I probably don’t even remember what half of it is.” “Don’t be like that.” He puts on a geeky, professorial voice: “I only move in one direction: forward.” “I do not sound like that.” “You always sound like that, it’s fucking bullshit,” he replies. “All you want to do is forget everything ever happened. Mom saved this stuff because she thought it’d mean something to you.” “I don’t want it!” “I’m so fucking glad I’m not like you,” he says. “How you could still hate Mom even when she’s fucking dead.” You warped-fucking-lunatic. “Mom was a degenerate alcoholic and she made me do every goddamn thing in that house when I was fourteen years old, because she was too incapable of being a basic functioning adult. If calling her out as a flawed human being makes me a bad person, how gives a shit.” “Flawed,” he repeats. “Yeah, she was very fucking flawed. But you know what she told me a few weeks ago? That Dad reminded her every fucking day about how she wasn’t good enough, and so did you. She couldn’t ever win, and she maybe couldn’t even win at the end, but at least she never stopped trying.” Neither of us say anything. For a long time. Nicky, want to color? As the book flies at the lamp, as the mother flies at the bookcase. But I can still hear his breathing on the other end of the line, like I’m sure he can still hear mine. “Anyway, I’m not throwing this shit away,” he says, finally. “So I guess it’s going to Paris. I’ll let you know how much it costs to send and you can wire it to me.” “Email me.” “What?” “Email me when you know how much it costs,” I tell him, quietly. “It’s kmalley@tulane.edu. So you don’t have to go through Chris whenever you want to talk to me.” “Okay,” he says. “I’ll talk to you soon.” Bye, I love you. Lena’s family would have said. “Okay,” I tell Nicky. I’m so fucking glad I’m not like you. When someone tells you something in a fight, and you just know you’ll always remember those words. Exactly how they said it. “You’re being quiet tonight,” Duncan says, as he hands me another drink. “I’m very shy,” I tell him, flatly. Duncan rolls his eyes, sits down on the couch next to me. “Do you like this?” I take a sip. I don’t remember what he called it, but I can taste the gin. “It’s good.” It's all good: the drink, the apartment, the gentle French music he has playing on the record player. The man. Everything the way it should be. Except I don't belong in this place. Not my apartment. Sébastien and Duncan's apartment. “Gin fizz,” he tells me. “Better or worse than the negroni?” “They’re both good,” I tell him. “Do you have a rotation for the men you bring home?” Duncan smiles. Sets down his cocktail. “No. I do whatever I feel in the moment.” “No, I feel like you’ve done this before,” I tell him. “What was Mark’s favorite drink?” Duncan glances over to me. “What?” I don’t repeat myself, but I don’t have to. He heard. “Sorry, I just wasn’t expecting that,” he adds. “Why?” “Did you make him negronis like you like me? Or gin fizzes?” “Neither,” he replies, with a delicate puff of air. “He was allergic to gin.” “How could someone be allergic to gin?” “The juniper berries,” he replies, and his voice sounds very far away. “He was allergic to juniper berries.” My mom died, and I don’t even care. I want to say. I don’t say. Instead, I put my hand on his thigh: “I’m sorry I slept with Aaron.” “Oh, I’m not the jealous type,” he replies, his voice once again becoming flat and measured, the Duncan voice. “Julien absolutely raved about you. He said you were absolutely barbaric.” “I was in a place. I am in a place.” “He loved it.” He grabs my arm, pulls himself in closer to me. “I can only imagine how out-of-this-world amazing you must be as a truly dominant top.” “You’d like that, you little bitch boy?” He settles into the crux of my arm. “I’m going to break up with Sébastien,” he says, finally. “I haven’t said it out loud to anyone yet.” For me? I want to ask. But I don’t ask. Because of course not. “Why?” “It’s,” he says, “not right. And I’ve been trying to make it right, but it’s not right.” “When?” “I don’t know,” he says, “probably not until I summon up the courage.” I lean in, to kiss his cheek. “And then we’ll go to Tahiti?” He gives a breathy laugh. “When you get home, I want you to put a reminder in your Google Calendar for ten years from now. ‘Email Duncan Rinehart and tell him what you’d say if a 21-year-old asked you to run away with him to Tahiti today.’ And I want you to tell me what you’d say.” My lips move to just under his ear, and he gives an involuntary shudder of pleasure. “I wouldn’t have to email you. I’d just roll over and tell you.” “You’re incorrigible,” he replies, with a laugh. “‘Who the fuck is Duncan Rinehart?’ is what you would really say.” I want to tell him I could never forget him. But how many people have I forgotten. Without realizing it. I put my lips on the side of his neck and I try to remember the way his hair smells, the way his body feels against mine. Everything. About Duncan Rinehart. “I’m serious,” he says. “March 9, 2018, I expect an email.” And I think: where would I be on March 9, 2018? Some life I can't even dream about yet. Or some life that had already passed me by. I could have reinvented myself three, four, five times by then, turned over a new leaf, a new city, new friends, a new everything, and all I can think about is how exhausting that sounds. To do that for another ten years. No end in sight. So I’d move again. “You’ll be forty,” I tell Duncan. “You’ll need your grandkids to help you check your email.” “Hardy-har-har,” Duncan replies. He looks at his watch. “Another drink? How much time do you have before you have to meet your mates?” “Not much,” I tell him. “I want to fuck you, and then I’ll leave.” Duncan never needed to be told twice. Lips on his, and it feels. So. I don’t know. He kisses me with a hunger that I can only imagine means passion. My hand on the back of his head, as we tumble down to the couch. His hands clawing at my back, his one leg instinctively wrapping around my waist, an appetizer. I could love someone like Duncan Rinehart. Someone like. He has made it that clear. And in four months, he’ll be gone. In ten years, a mystery. “I’m going to fuck you so hard,” I tell him, between kisses, as I unbuckle his pants. And I lower him. Onto the floor, onto his Persian rug, and our clothes are coming off--his shirt, and my shirt, and my pants, and I’m rock hard. He’s rock hard. I turn him over, face down into the carpet. And he could be anybody. Which is what happens in sex. “Give it to me,” Duncan grunts, as he spreads his cheeks for me. And I. Slowly sink my cock into Duncan, and. Slowly begin to rock my hips. Slowly move my hand down his ribcage, to his hip bone. And I go faster. Pump him faster, until he’s grunting and moaning, writhing in pleasure at my cock in his ass. “I fucking love your cock,” he tells me, and I wonder if he tells that to Sebastien. Which he probably does. Even as he tells me he’s going to end things with Sebastien, and by the time I get to the club in Le Marais, everyone’s already drunk and balkanized. Maybe I shouldn’t have gone. To see Ross and Nina grinding on the dance floor. To see Aaron making out with some random guy. Who’s cute and built, and the kind of guy that Aaron would want to go after. He had said he had a crush on me, but he goes for whoever the hell gives him the of day, that much is completely clear. Me: alone. I’m drunk. Off gin fizzes. There’s a girl that looks like Lena Taylor, who’s making eyes at me. I’m so fucking glad I’m not like you. I. Leave. Without saying anything, to anyone. And I wander down the street to that place where the guys dance in jockstraps on the bar. I don’t know the name but I know what it looks like, can find it from muscle memory. And I order a vodka soda, and this seems. Better. Not better, maybe. Different. My mom died, and I don't even care. Promise me one thing. Nicky, want to color? There’s a guy making eyes at me who looks nothing like Lena Taylor, but is in fact Julien from Antibes. Julien the game little bottom whose last name I don’t know or care to know. “Kevin!” he says, and that exhausts his English. Behind him is Sébastien Szabó, sticking a euro note in a dancer’s jockstrap. I fucked your boyfriend and he’s going to break up with you. I want to say. I do not say. He also thinks you’re working tonight. How many times had Sébastien lied about working? How many times had Duncan lied about working? Cocaine in the bathroom, and it’s been so long since I’ve done cocaine in the bathroom. “Something tells me you don’t do this with Dr. Rinehart,” I tell Sébastien. Sebastien smiles. “Duncan is Duncan.” Duncan is, indeed, Duncan. With his sweaters at a techno concert, his nice scotch at a dive bar. Duncan is Duncan. Becker is Becker. Matt is Matt. Kevin is never Kevin: a rorschach of when you met him and where it was and who he was with. I snort my line of coke, and I feel the bit of manufactured euphoria that comes with it. But it’s fleeting. Like anything. Lingers for a few minutes and slowly dissipates into the darkness of the bar’s bathroom. I’m so fucking glad I’m not like you. I tell Julien, as he crawls naked across his mattress. “Look at you,” I slur at him. “You’re pathetic.” Sébastien smiles, cigarette hanging out of his teeth. Finds this all very entertaining. Julien, like last time, doesn’t know the word but he gets the tone. “I said strip off your clothes, you worthless faggot.” Sebastien translates, and then looks at me. “I like this side of Kevin Malley.”” “I want to fuck him together.” “Good,” Sébastien says. He smashes his cigarette in the ashtray next to the bed. And we’re both naked. Both looming over Julien. Whose head is buried in the pillow like an ostrich, wiggling his ass for us. Ready for us. Little pink hole. Longing. For. Some cock. And. I wake up on the floor. Completely naked, used condom next to me, and Julien is passed out spread-eagle on top of the comforter on his bed. Sébastien, nowhere. Because of course Sébastien is nowhere: he had to go back to Duncan. Had to curl up into bed and say something about how work was dull or work was interesting or whatever people say when they lie to the person they say they love. My head’s throbbing. Drank too much. Should never drink this much. “Hey,” I whisper to Julien, but I don’t know why, and he doesn’t wake up. So I just pull my clothes back on and head downstairs into the searing light of the Parisian morning. I’d thought I’d have to take a cab, but there’s a Metro on the corner, in front of the Centre Pompidou, and I know where I am. Back at the Yé-Yé just nine o’clock in the morning, and I feel like absolutely shit as I stumble up the stairs, my drunken self falling into the. Well. Ross and Nina must be in her room. Faceplant onto my bed. I dream about this: my dad coming home from Kuwait, and Mom had had a few good months while he was away. She was holding Nicky, and I was holding a posterboard with “WELCOME HOME, DADDY” written on it. She’d written the letters, I traced and colored them. And I was holding Fuffy, because he’d want to see my dad too. “I can’t believe he still carries around that thing,” Dad said, finally, to Mom, as we packed up the Fort Sill apartment. “He’s not bringing it to Fort Ord, it has to stop.” “He’s six, Mike. He loves the thing.” “You can’t raise him like a little girl just because I’m not always around,” he replied. He looked at me, with a smile. “Don’t you think you’re a little too old to be carrying around Fuffy, bug? Only babies need to carry around stuffed animals still, and you’re a big boy, right?” I slowly nod, and I couldn’t look at Fuffy, couldn’t look to see the hurt and abandonment in his remaining eye. “See,” my dad said, as he plucked Fuffy rudely from my arms. “He gets it. Just because I’m not here doesn’t mean you can raise him like he’s a little girl, what’s the matter with you.” I swore, I could see my mom’s eyes flicker towards the liquor cabinet, but she didn’t move. I followed my dad into the kitchen, and I remembered not being entirely sure what was happening. Until he pushed the pedal to open the garbage can, and dropped Fuffy in. His plastic eye pleading with me one last time as the lid fell like a guillotine. “You won’t even remember him,” Dad tells me, picking me up. “When we move tomorrow, you’ll make all new friends--isn’t that exciting?” And I threw my arms around his neck and gave him a big kiss on the cheek, but how terrible I felt after that. For the whole day. Iust thinking about what a terrible thing I had done, but when I snuck back to the garbage can, later that afternoon, and dug through it: he was already gone. I couldn’t sleep. Because. This level of betrayal. And maybe she heard me getting up and down in the middle of the night, because my dad slept like a log but she could never sleep through the night when she wasn’t drinking. Because finally, I saw the door push open very slowly, the sharp light from the hallway. She stood there, silhouette in the doorway, white nightgown flowing like an angel. She kneeled next to my bed, almost in prayer, and as she placed Fuffy on the edge of the mattress, she whispered to me, “Don’t worry, I saved him for you.” I didn’t know what to say--that Dad had said Fuffy had to stay behind, and so Fuffy had to stay behind. But I wanted one last night. And maybe she understood that too, because when I woke up, he was gone. I thought forever, but just to a box in her closet. I guess I had fallen asleep, because the next thing I know, it’s daylight and Aaron is standing in the wide-open doorway. Still in his going-out clothes, hair messy, hadn’t slept much either. I picture him with that guy. Perched up on the bed on all fours like a slut, like Julien, a worthless piece of ass, ready to be mounted by two guys, three guys, fifty guys. “Good morning, sunshine.” “Just getting home?” Aaron ignores that. “You were pretty smashed when I saw you,” he goes, instead. “I’m just glad you survived. I looked up and you’d left us at the club.” “Well, you looked like you had your hands full, and I didn’t really want to stick around and watch you embarrass yourself. Aaron smiles. “By making out with a hot guy on the dance floor? When you could barely stand?” I close my eyes. “I don’t throw myself at people.” ”Uh-huh, sure,” he replies. “Could this be the ugly head of jealousy?” I prop myself up, best I can. “I could’ve had you if I wanted to,” and he gives a slight grimace, as if I had slapped him, so I hurry forward. “And I had a threesome last night with Sébastien and Julien, and we both know they’re way sexier than the guy you were making out with.” “Gee, aren’t you the little angel first thing in the morning,” Aaron replies, the smile falling from his face. “Anyway, just came to say I’m glad you’re not lying dead in a ditch somewhere. Was glad.” “I’m just saying.” “Don’t,” he replies, coldly, “Mom.” He shakes his head. “I’m not doing this thing where you don’t want me, but you don’t want anyone else to have me either. By the way.” “That’s absolutely not what this is.” “Good,” he says. “Because when we’re in Berlin next weekend, I plan on taking about as many dicks as I can find and I will not be taking any judgment from you.” I close my eyes again, and settle back into my pillow. “Vaya con Dios.” “You’re going to think it’s too much for a birthday gift,” Matt Barber said, as he turned his Eclipse onto Nason Street post-tacos. “And you can’t tell my parents I got it for you. You can’t tell anyone I got it for you. If anyone asks, you bought it for yourself with your money and I was just as shocked as anyone.” I grinned. “What’d you get me, a hooker or something?” He smiled for a second. Like he was going to make a joke. About sex. But didn’t. Instead, he put his hand on my thigh. Lightly. And left it there. I looked down at the giant gift bag between his legs. “Should I open it now? While you’re driving?” “Not yet.” He drove silently for another five or six seconds. “Okay. Now open it. Go, go, go.” It was. Large stacks of cash. Meticulously wrapped in paper. Money from our sales, obviously. “You’re giving me a refund? Just what I always wanted.” “Cheeky bastard,” he replied. “My money, not yours.” He put his signal on, turned onto a quiet side street. “You didn’t even look at what it’s wrapped in.” I unfold the paper that the cash had been wrapped: four sheets, printouts of Craigslist ads for different cars. “It’s a thousand dollars,” Matt replied. “You’re getting a car, dude. Happy birthday.” It was like the wind had gotten knocked out of me. A thousand dollars--a not-small chunk of the money Matt had saved over the last three years in that shoebox in his closet. “Dude, no,” I told him, slowly. “No, it’s way too much.” But I kept holding the cash, because I did need the money: money for rent and utilities, groceries, credit cards. Shoes for Nick, who had officially surpassed my hand-me-downs by a half-size. A car. No. Too irresponsible. Too much. When there was so much else that I… “You’re not leaving here with that cash,” he replies, turning onto another street. “So don’t even think about spending this money for anything to do with your family. I will take it back and light it on fire.” I rolled my eyes. “Fine.” Matt smiled at me. “It’s a gift to me too, dude,” he said, resolutely, “so I don’t have to keep driving your ass back and forth from Colton.” “You love it.” He smirked. “So which one do you want to get? The Lambo?” “Naw, dude,” I told him. “The Shelby Cobra all the way.” I shuffle through the different cars for sale that Matt had printed out: a 1997 Ford Escort, a 1996 Toyota Tercel, a 1994 Dodge Spirit, and a 1997 Chevy Cavalier. “I don’t even know where to begin.” “Let’s start with the Toyota. My dad says Japanese cars are the most reliable.” And it felt so grown up. Discussing car reliability, his hand on my thigh. He smiled, and put on his turn signal. “When we get there, don’t let the owner hassle you. First rule of negotiating: they want to make a sale more than you need what they’re selling.” “I also got the Van Barber Workshop on Negotiating. Don’t act like you’re special.” Matt’s hand was still on my thigh, which we both noticed. He let go and, somewhat sheepishly, told me, “It’s priced at thirteen-hundred, but let’s talk him down to a grand.” And we did. Very quickly: a 1996 Toyota Tercel. 80,000 miles, dark green. Excellent running condition. Wasn’t Lena’s Lexus SUV, or Matt’s Mitsubishi Eclipse. None of the gloss that populated the Las Palomas student parking lot. But it was mine. My. Car. My car! And not just mine, but mine and Matt’s. In a way. I leaned against the door of the Eclipse, Matt staring back up at me through the open window. “I don’t know what to say,” I told him, softly. “I love this.” Matt looked vaguely embarrassed. “Well, you know.” “I want to kiss you so fucking bad.” Matt was stonefaced. “Not here.” “Meet me at the overpass?” He nodded, and lowered his voice. “We’ve got to break in your new backseat.” And minutes later: the two of us parked at the end of some dark, quiet street, me tearing at Matt’s shirt. "Thank you," I whispered, as we kiss, as I lay on his chest. "For everything." "I just wanted," he whispered back, voice low even though we were alone. "I just wanted you to have what you need." Our lips met again. "I love this," I told him. “I want you so bad,” he told me. My lips on his lips, and there was nothing better than Matt Barber on my lips and in my arms. We never took our shirts off. Not when we were in a car. Plausible deniability. I uncork his pants, let his dick fall into place. He’s rock hard already. Matt’s always rock hard, hardens up even before I can get his pants down. I kiss his stomach, and Matt shuffles in the backseat to get more comfortable. “Suck it, dude.” I obliged. Of course: it’s Matt. Flicked the tip of his dick with my tongue, which I know he loves. He grunts in early pleasure, moves his hips to thrust his hard dick towards me even more. And I sucked the head. Just a bit. I could taste the precum already. Matt always precame a lot, the clear, salty dribbles out of his cock that I learned to love. And slowly, I began to sink his dick into my mouth. His dick always felt so perfect in my mouth, like it had been built for my mouth. Matt felt it too: he gave a deep whimper, as I began to go down his dick. Up and down. My head bouncing, Matt’s dick slamming the back of my throat. He grabbed the back of my head, to pull me down further. And began bucking his hips into me. Harder. Faster, until finally he grunted, “I’m cumming,” and I feel Matt’s hot cum shoot down the back of my throat. “Holy fuck,” he tells me. When he catches his breath. J.C. opened up the door. Smile on his face. Baby screeching in the background. “How’d I know you’d be the first person to stop by?” I grinned. “I didn’t know I was. I just got home and I saw your car. When’d you get back from the hospital?” “About five minutes ago,” he said. “Want to meet him?” We followed J.C. into the living room. Laura was sitting on the couch, holding a cooing bundle of blankets. Laura. There was never anyone as happy as Laura. Laura, who couldn’t look away from her baby’s smushed up face. I wasn’t thinking it then, in such a happy moment, but in retrospect I can understand. He took my world away. “Leo,” J.C. told me, uncharacteristically quiet, reticent, as we surrounded Laura. “His name is Leo.” “I love it.” The tiniest, most fragile thing I had ever seen. And he’d someday be a person. A person with trauma and fears and hardship and it broke my heart to think of little Leo as big Leo, as someone like me. But for now. His tiny blue eyes. Stared into the unknown, and he was beautiful. I pictured my dad. I had only smears of memory of the day Nick was born, and I couldn’t see the hospital or my mom or anything. But I remembered my dad, the gravity of his face when he met eyes with his second son, and I remembered wondering if he was like that with me. Dad would’ve been like Laura. Happier than anyone had ever been. “We want you to be his godfather,” J.C. said. “You’ll be up there with Laura’s sister. Because my brother, you know: slapdick. You’re Catholic, right?” “Catholic enough. Irish.” I grinned. “Can I hold him?” Laura nodded, and handed him off to me. This little model of a human being, and I wondered what it’d been like when I was so small. My dad. Beaming proudly, like J.C. How could you let this happen? You warped-fucking-lunatic. It was all a waste. How could someone be so innocent? And then. I held little Leo tightly. Instead. “So what is this, you guys die and the godfather gets him?” I grinned. “Just trying to figure out if I have to take you guys out.” “Yeah, we’re giving our baby to a dumb-shit seventeen-year-old drug dealer,” he said. He smirked. “Hey, but maybe won’t be too long before you and Lena…” I imagined Lena looking horrified, an upper-middle-class white seventeen-year-old girl threatened with motherhood. And I was glad she wasn’t here, because I didn’t want to reopen the sex conversation, which seemed to have been tabled successfully. In my arms, Leo started fussing. “Naptime,” Laura said, taking him back from me. “Hopefully.” J.C. watched her go. The beaming eyes of someone who had everything. “I’m going to be better,” he told me. “I don’t know how, but I’m going to do it.” “Can I borrow a swimsuit?” I told Matt, as he cranked up the temperature on the hot tub’s keypad. “Dude,” he said, with a smile, “you’re not going to need a swimsuit.” He had a point. “Cell phone alarm is set for 3:15,” he said, putting his phone back in his pocket. “Even if Mom brings Josh and Madelyn home in a rocket ship, they won’t be here until 3:30 at the earliest.” And I was little nervous. To do this. So openly. In the Barbers’ hot tub. We’d been getting a little bit desperate to find a place to fool around. It’d been the backseat of the Mitsubishi Eclipse, mostly. The backseat of the Toyota Tercel. Parked on secluded streets, where there was always the lurking terror of being discovered. But then, God smiled on a couple of horny teenagers: Brig announced on Friday that he had made the JV Lacrosse team. So suddenly, Matt no longer had to drive him home with us, and we had the house to ourselves for nearly one glorious hour every single day between the 2:30 Las Palomas final bell and Josh and Maddie’s 3:20 dismissal from the middle school. Matt pulled off his t-shirt as he walked through the back door, and threw it onto the pavement. And he turned back, just slightly, to make sure I was watching: as he undid his belt, and pulled down his shorts and boxers in one quick motion. And fuck. I loved that perky white ass of his. He stepped down into the jacuzzi, and then turned to face me, his hardening dick swinging. “You coming?” And of course I was. I tore off my shirt, dropped my shorts, followed him naked into the hot tub. We’d learned not to waste time: he was straddling my one leg, our dicks knocking against each other. And Matt needed no invitation: his lips on mine, his hand on the back of my head, pulling me into him as deep as we could. Fuck. He was a good kisser. There was nothing tame about his kissing, the way it was with Lena. He wanted it, he wanted it and it was an overture to something more and he wanted that too. We both did. His hand crept down, under the water, both of our rock hard dicks. Grabbed both of them together, and slowly began to stroke us off. “Holy fuck,” I whispered to him. And his lips. On my jawline. As he continued to stroke. Our dicks, against each other, in one solid and unified movement. Until I threw my head back, and Matt let out a grunt, and the two of us burst in the teal chlorine. Dear Kevin, Congratulations! I’m delighted to offer you admission to the University of California, Berkeley, for fall 2005. I didn’t text Matt right away. No: I wanted an unveiling. Because. College. Berkeley! No one in my family had ever dreamed of college, except my dad, who had dreamed of it for me. And I thought of him right after Matt. I’m so proud of you, bug. Berkeley was my first acceptance but the only one that mattered. Because of Matt. Who was in a foul mood when I picked him up from the student parking lot and drove him in the Tercel to Dante’s Pizza for our morning paper route. But this. This would cheer him up. “I got some good news yesterday,” I told him, as I pulled the glossy white Berkeley packet out from under my seat. “I wanted to tell you in person.” Matt looked at me. Saw what was happening, and looked back out the windshield. “Oh.” “Oh?” I repeated. I opened the folder. To pull out the letter. Congratulations! “What do you mean, ‘Oh?’” “I also got a letter from Berkeley yesterday,” he replied, curtly. Oh. And what would I do? I wasn’t sure. Move on and make Berkeley friends, and never give Matt Barber another thought? I put my hand on his thigh, and he shook me off. As if this was my fault. “You didn’t…?” “Well, I technically did,” he replied, coldly. “As a spring admit.” I didn’t entirely know what to say. “What does that mean?” “It means,” he snapped, as if it should’ve been obvious to me, “they’ll let me start in January. I have to go to community college for the fall semester if I want to go to Berkeley. I guess they’re expecting X number of freshmen to drop out after one semester, and I get one of their places.” Congratulations! my letter taunted. “It must’ve been my personal statement,” I told him. “That’s why I got in and you didn’t. But it doesn’t matter--we’ll go someplace else. Everywhere is college. I only wanted to go to Berkeley because you wanted to go there.” Matt looked like he was going to cry, but also that he was very strictly not going to let himself cry. Because that was Matt Barber. “I don’t want to talk about it,” he said, finally. “Kyle will be here soon, let’s go make our sale.” Lena’s head against my shoulder. As we sat in the last row of the Towngate Movie Theater, watching Hitch. Late night showing, a few weeks after the movie came out: a mostly-empty movie theater and maybe we came because she thought we could make out in the back row, but instead we were there, and her head was against my shoulder and the two of us struggled to stay awake. In another world. There would be Kevin and Lena Malley. High school sweethearts, photos from prom and photos from a wedding and kids and a house in a California or Texas suburb, and that sort of thing would be enough. And I thought: if I were straight, maybe I’d be happy. Get married young, and grow up. Never have to worry about being alone or aged or unwanted. “I love you,” she whispered. Even though she knew I hadn’t said it back. She grabs my bicep, and leans further into me, until we kiss. And we kiss, and kiss, and she tastes like cherry lip gloss like she always did, like Matt never did. But I knew where this was going. And where it couldn’t go. “Don’t you want to see how the movie ends?” I whispered, and she nodded, slowly, sadly, and put her head back on my shoulder. “Hooky tomorrow?” Matt texted me. “I need a mental health. We don’t have anything fun lined up.” “Don’t you have an AP Calc test?” “Yes, exactly,” he replied. “And it’s 11 and I still haven’t studied for it, so I need to be sick tomorrow. Come here after my parents go to work, and we can chill out all day.” This was mostly in code, in case his parents were reading his texts which I didn’t think was possible, but Matt wanted the plausible deniability. “Fun” meant we had a sale. “Chill out” meant we were getting naked. Linda Malley had fallen asleep on the couch, the withered prune of an empty Franzia bag on the coffee table next to her. I’m just watching a movie. She had said, barely. I wondered what it’d be like to have a mother. To have Lynn Barber in this house, with fresh cookies. In her canvas apron with two tiny pink handprints on the boobs, “Happy Mother’s Day, Love Clara, Kindergarten 1990,” scrawled on the crotch. That she wore anyway because it meant something. Where was Linda Malley in 1990? Probably on the couch. “Okay,” I told Matt Barber, and I was there at ten o’clock. He was already scrambling eggs. “You don’t think your mom will notice?” “Five kids, dude. She went to Price Club on Saturday and bought four dozen eggs--you think she’ll miss four of them?” He smiled. “Anyway, I’ve been looking at the dorms at UCLA and De Neve Hall has kitchens, I think. So I can cook us breakfast whenever you want.” When we’re at UCLA, we can do this all the time. Neither of us had heard back from UCLA yet but it didn’t matter. Not really. I’d go to the North Pole for a moment alone with Matt Barber. “I want to push our beds together next year,” I told him. “Deal.” “Permanently.” “No deal,” he replied. So nonchalantly, as he salted the eggs. “I’m not gay, dude. I have a girlfriend.” “I have a girlfriend too.” “No, I have a girlfriend,” he replied. “You have a--” He made dramatic air quotes, “girlfriend.” “Can you call into school and do the voice?” I had texted Lena this morning And she knew what “the voice” meant: “Yes, this is Linda Malley. I’m calling to tell you my son Kevin is sick and will be absent today.” She sounded like Katharine Hepburn when she did it, but that escaped everyone in the administration at Las Palomas High School. I felt very bad, of course. About everything to do with Lena. She had been pushing for sex hard the last months. And didn’t understand why I wasn’t. “Bye, I love you,” she said, on every occasion--when she left my car, when she hung up the phone. Her entire family did that to each other: “Bye, I love you,” all slurred together, to end every conversation, and it was so rote and so bizarre to me. “Just in case it’s the last thing you say,” she explained once, ominously. At some point, she would just say, “Bye,” to me. Or even say nothing. As one of us walked away. Matt served me my eggs. “We’ve got a full day. Eat up.” The full day, of course: We wanted to start naked in the jacuzzi, but the landscaper next door was weed-whacking and we felt too on display. “We’ve got the whole day,” Matt said, and he grabbed my hand and led me up the stairs to his awaiting bed. “Fuck,” I whispered to him, and we were alone in the house so we could really get into it. Our hands. Exploring each other’s bodies like we had never seen them before. Even though I knew every inch of Matt Barber by the spring of our senior year. His shirt flew off, and mine did too. Our lean, teenage torsos rubbing against each other. As we kissed. My lips landing on his, on his jawline, tonguing my way right behind his ear. “I fucking love that,” he whispered. And my hand went down to his rock hard dick, through his jeans. Begging to be free. I unzipped his pants. And pulled them down. He was straining his boxers, and I left him like that as I pulled down my own pants and underwear. Let my hard dick flop out. And I slowly began to kiss my way down Matt’s torso. Which I knew he loved. “I love that,” he told me again. And I slowly began to pull down the elastic waistband on his boxers. Pulled them down his leg until we were both naked. I crawled back up the bed. To kiss him. To lay on top of his body. Our digs enmeshed. Our hands on each other. Our lips on lips. And there was nothing ever as perfect, as beautiful, as poetic as me and Matt Barber on his bed on a weekday afternoon in March, the sun shining through the blinds. I kissed his jawline again. And he didn’t need to ask for more. I slowly began to move down his torso. Down. To his stomach. To that hard dick. And I gave it two strokes. And licked the tip. Like I knew he liked. And suddenly, a woman’s scream--one wretched smear, the end of the world: Mrs. Barber in the doorway, as a tray of chicken soup tumbled to the carpet.
  12. oat327

    Chapter 6

    Ha, I never know what notifications people get, I thought I was being so stealthy. Yes, I'm currently working on chapter 8 and it should be soon-ish... I've been fine-tuning the Paris sections just a bit, and am just finishing that up. It shouldn't change too much in the grand scheme of where the story currently is, but I started realizing I needed a few things to fall a little bit differently to set up the ending. Duncan dragged me a little too far into the weeds that I lost the plot a bit.
  13. oat327

    Chapter 7

    Haha, sorry to disappoint about Becker and Baker. (If it's any consolation, the guy Baker is loosely based on is married now.) Most secondary characters, including Baker, do get at least one arc, so there's still a lot to come with him. And yeah, I agree: Ryan's openness is definitely in contrast to Becker's closetedness... and I think it is a generational thing too (ugh, are we a different generation? I guess so.) Becker's intrigued by the specter of an openly gay guy in his fraternity, but also very threatened by it. (And, of course, openly gay Austin is now in the fraternity as well.)
  14. oat327

    Chapter 7

    1) So Rob and Ryan was totally something I had going on in the background since they were introduced (there are little hints whenever they're in a scene together in "Becker," and the scene with Rob's very Christian parents in St. Louis was also part of his secret character development.) It was going to be a late reveal in Becker's senior year but, when I revisited this particular scene, I realized that Kevin would absolutely have known they came into the room to hook up. That said, I can't reveal which--if any--other Iota Chis are gay... but sorry to disappoint: Chris Baker is straight--he's based off a friend of mine from college that really was just that bad with women. 2) Ryan is one of my favorite minor characters, because he's kind of the opposite of Becker--unapologetically gay, but still one of the boys, and one of those people who might not say much but always knows exactly what the deal is. I imagine that he has impeccable gaydar--would've guessed Becker was gay from the moment he met him, and figured out Kevin fairly quickly too. (And sniffed out Rob too, obviously.) That said, he suspects Kevin and Becker are banging, but he certainly doesn't know that they're in an actual romantic relationship. Becker obsessed about the eventual Austin-Kevin reveal but, in Ryan's mind, I don't think he was thinking about Becker at all when he said it.
  15. oat327

    Chapter 7

    They’re different, right? I started writing Becker 6(!) years ago when I was only two years out of college, with no intention of ever letting anyone see it—just to get words on a page. Which is why it’s semi-autobiographical and the first few chapters read almost memoir-like. Kevin’s less like me than Becker is, but I think he’s more fun to explore as a character: he’s deeper, darker, and funnier, and the stakes are higher. (And, honestly, the editing is just so much better in this story—there are whole chapters of Becker that should’ve wound up on the cutting room floor.)
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