"Sean," his mother said, kneeling next to him. Tears began to fall from her eyes. "I knew this day would come, but I thought we would have more time."
"Mom," Sean said, breathing calmly, "What are you talking about?"
"You fully transformed," Linda said, wiping tears from her eyes. "You have to go back to the sea."
"What? No I don't," Sean argued.
"Sean," she said again, clearly under distress. "I know you don't want to go. I don't want to go either. But you have to go back. You can't live up here like this." She gave a laugh. "What, are you going to go around in a wheelchair and cover it up?"
"We've done it before," Ben interrupted.
Linda was speechless as she was caught off guard.
"Look, Mom, it's only temporary," said Sean. He reached to drain the tub. As the water level went down, the full length of his tail became visible. As a few more minutes passed, his face fell as the scales remained.
His mother looked sorrowful. "Sweetie," she said, "It was always meant to be. We just thought it would be another ten years before this happened. They told us they would come back for you."
"Who? The merfolk?"
Linda nodded. "Your real parents. We kept in touch with them since then."
"What?" Sean said, entirely shocked. He exchanged glances with Ben. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"You were never supposed to know. We wanted you to live a normal childhood," Linda explained.
"No, I mean, I went to CDC." said Sean. "Wouldn't they have recognized me?"
"They kept in touch with us, not you," said Linda.
"For fuck's sake," said Sean, rubbing his forehead.
"Watch your language," his mother admonished.
"What's CDC?" Ben interrupted.
"Challenger Deep City," Sean explained. "So the mermaid capitol is in the Mariana Trench, pretty much everyone lives there." He turned to his mother, shaking his head. "I don't understand. How do you even know who they are? My identification records said you found me abandoned on the beach!"
"Those records are false. We made a deal with them to take care of you until you came of age."
Sean was silent for a moment, digging his face into his hands. "What happened?" he said, his voice shaking.
His mother put a hand on his arm, rubbing it in consolation. "We can talk about it more when your father gets home. But for now, I need to finish my lunch and go back to work."
She patted him on the shoulder, stood up, and left the room. Ben waited until she was out of earshot to help Sean out of the tub and into his wheelchair. "What a bunch of bullshit."
Sean rested his head in his hand. "What are we supposed to do? I was supposed to help Cynthia with her thing."
Ben laughed. "Sean, you always have to put other people first."
Sean just rubbed his face in distress, glanced at Ben through one eye.
"Oh!" Ben said in realization. "We should talk to Gina."
As soon as Sean's mom had left, Ben sat down at the desk in the living room where Sean's dad left his laptop. As Sean rolled up beside him, wearing a t-shirt for video conference purposes, Ben powered on the machine.
"I don't know the password," Sean said abruptly.
Ben's hands hovered over the keyboard. "What's your mom's birthday?"
"May 6th, 1968," said Sean. "Why?"
Ben typed in the numbers and the computer began to load the desktop. He flashed Sean a smug grin.
"How do you know my parents better than I do?" Sean said with a laugh, playfully hitting Ben in the side.
Ben logged into his Skype account. "Let's see if she's online."
Sean frowned. "What time is it there?"
Ben pulled up another window and googled "current time italy."
"It's 2am," he said. "Oh, look, she is online."
"Really?" Sean said in surprise. "Okay, so should we message her?"
Ben had already called her. A video feed popped up and they saw her blurry image against the dim walls of her bedroom.
"Hey, Ben, what's up?" she said with a wave.
"Not much," Ben answered in a upbeat, melodic tone. "Sean wants to know what you're doing up at 2am."
"Oh, Sean's there?" Her face lit up. Sean leaned into the picture and waved awkwardly. "Hi, Sean! I was just up reading some old texts. And scrolling on Tumblr."
"Sounds like it," Ben said with a laugh.
"Wait, so where are you?" Gina said, squinting at her screen. "Are you still in Steel City?"
"No, we're at Sean's house in Hawaii. There was a Tsunami and an earthquake or something...anyway, Sean swam us here."
"So Sean just brought you to his house and you met his parents? That sounds awkward."
Ben laughed. "Oh my god, it's been so awkward," he said, rolling his eyes.
Gina laughed at his response. "That's amazing that you trust him so much. You must really like him," she remarked.
Ben blushed a little. "Yeah," he said, glancing sideways at Sean.
Sean laughed, his own face gaining some color. "She's right; if you didn't follow me everywhere, you wouldn't be getting into so much trouble."
"Trouble? You remember where I was before you found me a year ago?"
As they spoke, their hands grasped each other's on top of the desk. Gina's jaw dropped.
"What?" he looked up to see her eyes widen.
"You can talk!"
Sean frowned and nodded as though this were common knowledge.
"Oh, right!" Ben said suddenly. "I forgot I haven't been keeping you updated. Sorry about that."
"Why? What's different?" Gina tilted her head.
"I did what you suggested and found Sean, and then we were able to break the spell or whatever, he got legs and a voice again and I got my memory back."
"Oh, wow," Gina said, sitting back in her chair. "I didn't even know that was possible! What I meant earlier was I thought you were brave to go with Sean even though
he couldn't talk to you and you didn't remember who he was."
"Oh," Ben said, furrowing his brow. His eyes shyly looked up at Sean. "I would have followed you anyway."
"Shut up," Sean said, putting his arms around him as Ben laughed. He hugged him tightly for a moment before letting go.
Gina was lost in thought. "You probably could still talk as a mermaid, but from my understanding it's more of a brain wavelength undetectable to humans."
"Oh, yeah, that was the worst," Sean complained. "They were always doing that telepathy thing."
"Oh, you met them?" Gina said, suddenly leaning in with interest. "What happened?"
"Yeah, you didn't tell me what happened," Ben said.
Sean looked guilty. "I should have told you. I just...I don't like to think about it."
"Why don't you like to--" Ben stopped himself. He remembered back to the night on the beach when Sean was pulled away from him. "You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to."
"It's okay, you should know," Sean said, staring down at his hands, twitching his thumb in restless thought. "I'm not entirely sure what happened, but this is what happened as far as I understand.
"That night the mer authorities pulled me away was because they recognized I was one of them, but didn't have any documentation. I was escorted to downtown CDC so they could check my image and fingerprints. I should mention, they needed a translator to explain this to me, for a time I didn't understand their weird mind language. I still don't completely understand it. The city's kind of a creepy place, really dark, even with the deflectors to keep light contained in it. That's how humans look into the trench and can't see anything. Anyway, they looked up my records, and my status was listed as abandonment, like I was born to unknown parents, fingerprints taken, and then left on a beach somewhere. Once they figured that out, the authorities let me go. I think they just wanted to make sure I wasn't a fugitive. I had the option to stay in CDC, but you can imagine I wanted to get the hell out of there. And I missed Ben," he added, squeezing Ben's hand.
Ben flashed a smile, but not enough to cover his shock. "That sounds...unreal."
"Fascinating," said Gina. "I would think they would be based on a coral reef somewhere."
Sean thought about it. "You'd think so, but they try to limit their contact with humans. Doing all that memory erasure is costly to the state."
Ben raised his eyebrows. "Is that all it was when they took my memory? A cost to the state?"
"No, it cost them much more than that," Sean said, pulling Ben's arms to his shoulders. "It didn't even work."
Ben's elbows dropped against Sean's chest as he breathed a laugh.
"Speaking of which," Gina cut in, "how did you get your memory back?"
"Oh," Ben said, turning his head back to the screen. "I don't know, I just..." His eyes met Sean's once again.
Sean finished his thought. "I asked you to kiss me."
"You asked me to kiss you," Ben repeated. "And then..."
Their eyes grabbed onto each other's energy, pulling them together until their lips met. For a moment, they breathed each other in, Ben's hands feeling an electric shock as they pressed into Sean. He felt a smile forming on Sean's lips, and when he pulled away, their eyes remained locked. He blinked, his own teeth showing in a wide grin, and his hands fell to Sean's waist. He let out a yelp.
"What's wrong?" Sean said with a serious expression, grabbing Ben's shoulders. He followed Ben's gaze down to his hips where he was sitting half naked in a wheelchair.
"I'll get you some clothes," Ben said, immediately standing up. "Gina, you're going to have to wait for a moment."
"Why? What happened--" she said as Ben turned the laptop around to face the wall.
"We're having some technical difficulties," Sean explained as Ben ran out of the room.
"Technical difficulties, huh?" Gina said, laughing. "Or a wardrobe malfunction?"
"Well the good news is I have legs again," Sean said. "Thanks," he said as Ben returned with some jeans and boxer briefs.
"Can you stand?" Ben asked as he helped him up.
"I'm good," Sean said, holding up his hand. He dressed briefly and sat back down, the wheelchair rolling backwards under his weight, causing him to slide out of it and land on his back on the floor. He breathed laughter.
"Are you okay?" Ben said, putting his hand to his own forehead and laughing along. He extended his arm and pulled Sean up, followed by Sean sitting down in his chair. "Hey!"
"Shh, we can share," Sean said, pulling Ben onto his lap. For another minute, they shared a fit of laughter.
"What's going on over there?" Gina piped in.
Ben turned the laptop around. "Aaaand we're back."
"I see that," Gina said, leaning into her elbows with interest.
"Anyway, so that's what happened," Ben said, finishing the story. "We kissed and everything went back to normal, and we went back to school, and then there was an
earthquake and now we're here."
"Fantastic," said Gina. "I'm glad everything worked out for you two, after all that we went through." She frowned. "I don't think Antonio will ever forgive me, though."
"Oh, how is he?" Ben asked.
"He's good, he finished working at the shop and went back to school in the city."
"Aw, that's nice," Ben remarked. "I hope everything works out for him, and whatever that was he was planning to do."
"I'll tell him you said hi," said Gina.
"Say hi from me, too," said Sean, "Although I never really talked to him."
"I'll tell him the other gays said hi," Gina smiled.
"Okay, it was good to talk to you," Ben said with a laugh.
"Good to talk to you, too. I should probably sleep now."
"Go get some sleep," Sean jokingly admonished.
"I'll try. Ciao!"
"Ciao!" Sean repeated as Ben gave a quick "Bye!" and Gina ended the call.
Ben and Sean looked at each other.
"I thought you were going to say Ciao, so that's what I said," Sean said as they broke out laughing.
"Babe, you know great minds think alike." Ben interlaced his fingers behind Sean's neck. He pressed his nose against Sean's. "I feel like we should celebrate."
"You want to celebrate?" Sean said with a grin. "Here or on the couch?"
Ben jumped up and walked over to the couch, where he flopped onto his back, laughter still bubbling out of him. Sean crawled on top of him, staring down at him with anticipation, when suddenly, they heard the sound of a key in the door. In less than a split second, Ben was sitting upright on the couch, and Sean seated next to him with his arms sprawled over the back, his feet gripping the floor.
Sean's mother burst into the room. "Sean, I called your father and told him what happened, so we decided to contact your birth parents."
"You're going to contact my birth parents?" Sean said, glancing briefly at Ben before keeping his gaze on Linda.
"No," she said, grabbing her purse. "I already talked to them. They want to meet you in an hour. Ben, I can drive you to the airport."
"But Mom," Sean said, getting up off the couch, "I got my legs back; the problem's solved!"
"It doesn't matter. Your parents wanted us to bring you back as soon as you began to transform. Say goodbye to your friend, and tell him to pack his things, so he can go home."
"What?" Sean exchanged a look of panic with Ben.
"What?" Ben said, standing up next to Sean. "I can't leave!"
"I'm sorry, dear," Linda said, folding her arms. "This is a family affair."
"Ben is family," Sean said firmly, placing a hand on his boyfriend's shoulder.
Linda blinked in surprise. "Are you sure you want to come, Ben? We have to take a boat out to the middle of the ocean."
"Well, yeah," Ben said with a shrug. "At least so I can say goodbye."
"Hmm," Linda paused to think. "Did they say we couldn't bring anyone else? Ah, well, it's too late. Let's go."
"Now?" said Sean. "I thought we had to wait for Dad."
"He's going to meet us at the docks. Get your shoes on, I'll be in the car." And with that, she left.
Ben turned to him. "You know you don't have to go through with this, right? They can't just make you go with them."
"I know that," Sean said with a sigh. "But if those are my real parents...shouldn't I at least know who they are?"
Ben watched the shore disappear from the back of the motorboat as he, Sean, and his human parents sped out towards the ocean. Ling watched the coordinates on his navigation system.
"A few more miles due north," he told his wife. She nodded and turned the wheel of the boat to straighten its trajectory.
Ben clutched the straps of his life vest and turned to face Sean. "What are we looking for?" he called over the sound of the motor.
"No idea," Sean called back. His parents were also dressed in life vests, but he didn't seem to need one. "Mom, where are we going?"
"The meeting point," she called back from the driver's seat, as though that didn't need an explanation.
"There!" Ling called, pointing ahead at what seemed to be a completely open sea.
Sean and Ben watched as Linda turned off the engines. The boat kept most of its speed as it sailed ahead. After coasting for a hundred yards, the boat was almost still, when suddenly it jerked them back as though it hit something.
"We're here!" Linda called, jumping out of the boat onto an invisible platform.
As she began to tie it up, the dock slowly faded into view. A massive stone structure stretched into the water before them, symbols etched into the surface, and in the center, a large square of water, a staircase leading into its depths.
"Wow," Ben said, jumping off the boat onto the structure. Sean stepped onto it after him.
"We're here, so where are they?" Ling said, tying up the other side of the boat. He looked around and folded his arms in disappointment.
"What about...do you see that?" Linda asked, pointing into the pool of water, where a faint blue light glimmered in its depths.
"What is that?" Ben asked.
"Bioluminescence," Sean softly said to himself. He turned to his mother. "Did they really plan on waiting all this time before meeting me for the first time?"
"Yes, it's all explained into the contract," said Linda.
"Contract? What contract?'
To his surprise, she opened up her purse and pulled out the laminated copy.
"We couldn't speak directly to them, so they drew up this contract. But you can speak to them, right, Honey? I told them you could be our translator."
"What? Ugh," Sean said, clutching his forehead. "Okay, I guess I can translate. But how did you even contact them in the first place?"
Linda placed a hand on his arm. "Sweetie, before you were born, your father and I were having fertility problems. That's why we found Clarissa and Kyle, your father and I felt taking care of you for the first part of your life would be a good compromise."
Sean looked at her, completely baffled. "I meant how did you contact them if you couldn't talk to them?"
"Oh," said Linda. "We saw their post on Craigslist."
"There they are!" called Ling.
At the far edge of the pool, two heads appeared above the surface. They slowly approached, a barechested merman and a merwoman with long straight hair, seemingly gliding while hovering in the water. Sean heard their conversation when they came close.
"What is this? Who are all these people? Where's Sean?"
"Maybe he's in the water. Do you see him anywhere?"
The two mers began to twist their necks around, searching for their son.
"I'm Sean," Sean said, raising his arm.
"That can't be him, he has legs," the merman complained.
"It is me," Sean protested.
"Sean, what's going on?" asked Linda. "Can you understand them?"
"They don't believe it's me," Sean told her.
Linda nodded and turned to the couple, raising her voice as she spoke. "This is your son, Sean." She looked to Sean expectantly. "Go on, show them."
"Can you stop looking at me first?" Sean said defensively.
"Okay, honey," said Linda. She put a hand on Ling's shoulder and moved to face away from Sean. "Let's give him some privacy."
Surprisingly enough, the mers also followed the instructions. Sean looked to Ben reluctantly. Ben frowned and held up his palms in the universal symbol of "I don't know."
Sean removed his shirt and held it out to Ben. He undressed and slipped into the water. It was seconds before his tail was fully formed. "Okay, I'm ready."
His mer-parents immediatley spun around and greeted him.
"Oh, Sean!" said the merman, putting his arms around him. "Good to meet you. I'm Kyle, in essence, your father. This is Clarissa, your birth mother."
Sean didn't notice as the merwoman dove under the water and appeared behind him. "He has good bones," she remarked.
"What do you mean 'in essence'?" Sean wondered. "You're not my birth father?"
Linda cut in. "Sean, you're only biologically related to Marissa. Before you were born, we gave Kyle and Marissa a sample of your father's sperm. It's true that you're half human," she explained.
"What?" Sean said, looking at his human father in puzzlement. Ling watched the interaction as though it were a normal family gathering.
"Around the time you were born, there were a lot of things going on politically," Sean's mer-father explained. "We had been following much research on mer-human offspring development, and we decided it would be safer to have a human child who could live away from us for a short time."
Sean's face twisted further. "And twenty years is a short time?"
"What's going on?" Ben wondered. "Sean, are they talking to you?"
"Mermaids live longer than humans," Kyle explained. "We expected you to mature closer to age thirty or fourty, at which point your tail would have developed normally."
"Yes, why have you matured early?" Clarissa inquired, swimming around to his front. "Haven't you had no contact with mermaids since your birth?"
"No, I got picked up by the MPD a few months ago."
"The MPD? Ah, they must have recognized you and taken you to immigration for questioning," Clarissa concluded. "This is fascinating, that level of contact somehow expedited the maturation process. I'll have to tell my colleagues about this."
"This is fantastic," Kyle said, putting his arm around Sean's shoulders. "I'm so glad you can come with us. We'll get you enrolled at school right away, maybe what you've learned can transfer already. What exactly is your professional field, again?"
"Um," Sean mumbled. "I do makeup?"
"Makeup?" said Kyle, furrowing his brow as though he had heard of the concept, but it was still foreign to him. "Well, we'll get you into a respectable field."
"I'll give you some of my papers to read," Clarissa cut in. "Maybe you'll find an interest and take after me!"
"Uh, okay?" said Sean, trying to be accommodating.
"Although..." Kyle swam back, cupping his chin in thought. "Your mer form isn't stable, is that correct? You were a human earlier."
"Yeah, I kind of switch back and forth," Sean explained. He watched with caution as his mer-mother approached him.
"Switching forms? That's not good. You haven't been seduced by any humans, have you?"
"I haven't been..." Sean repeated the question and grew silent.
Clarissa folded her arms. "You have, haven't you."
"Who is she?" Kyle interrogated. "Whoever it is, she's not worth giving up your future."
"Actually," said Sean, nervously fidgeting with his hands. "He's a guy."
"It doesn't matter," said Clarissa. "You're not dating a human, and that's how it's going to be."
Sean was taken aback. When he finally realized what she was saying, he became defensive. "What do you mean? "What's wrong with dating a human?"
"I don't know why you would," said Kyle. "They're disgusting."
Sean looked up at Ben, then back at his parents, who were blissfully unaware of the conversation.
"All that physical contact," Kyle continued. "That's what separates them from us civilized mer."
Sean closed his eyes and dove beneath the surface. When he reemerged, he rested his elbows on the stone ledge where Ben was standing.
"What's going on? What have they been saying?" Ben asked, kneeling beside him.
Sean lowered his voice as he spoke to Ben. "They're saying I can't date you because you're a human, and it's your fault I can't commit to a mermaid form."
Ben laughed. "What? I definitely didn't catch that part of the conversation."
Sean snickered. He motioned for Ben to hold out his hand, and he took it in his own before bringing his lips to Ben's knuckles. Behind him, his mer parents sounded in disapproval.
"I hope you're done saying goodbye so we can return to CDC already," Kyle said, closing his eyes as though trying to forget what he had just seen.
"No," said Sean, turning to face him. "Ben and I are together, and there's nothing you can do to change that."
"Sean, be reasonable," his mer-mother pleaded. "There are so many respectable merboys out there. You can't actually choose to be with a human?"
"Sure I can!" Sean protested.
"Even if you choose to be with him, dare I say it," said Kyle, shaking his head, "he can't accompany you to your new life in CDC. Why would you give all that up?"
"Ben is my boyfriend!" Sean said, hearing his voice ring out much louder than he anticipated. He breathed for a moment in the silence around him. He glanced back at Ben briefly before turning to his mer-parents and stating, "I don't care what you think, we're staying together."
"Sean!" Ben called, his excitement overpowering the horrified reactions of both Sean's sets of parents. He backed up on the dock and took off sprinting, finally jumping into a cannonball position and landing next to Sean with a splash that pushed him and everyone away. As the lifejacket pulled his head above the surface, he gasped for air.
Sean darted towards him, moving his hands to the sides of Ben's face. "Are you okay?" he asked as Ben coughed up water.
"Are you kidding?" Ben said.
Sean laughed, and without another word, he pulled Ben towards him, their lips meeting in a passionate display of affection.
"Ugh, I can't believe you'd do this!"
"How could you!"
Sean pulled away with a smile. "They think it's disgusting," he whispered to Ben.
Ben glanced over at Sean's mer-parents, who were scowling and averting their eyes. He laughed.
"That's it, Clarissa," said the merman. "I don't see how we can take this any further."
"You're right," she agreed. "It is indeed unfortunate, but he clearly can't be changed. I think we should just leave him."
"Yes," said Kyle, "But can we really? The MPD won't question it?"
"His records have no mention of us. In fact, it may be better if we just pretend this never happened."
"You're right. Well, Sean," Kyle said, looking to Sean, who still had his arms around Ben as they bobbed in the water together. "It was...interesting to meet you. I hope we never see each other again."
"Goodbye," said Clarissa, and with that, they both dove beneath the surface and disappeared.
"Now what's going on?" Ben asked.
"They aren't taking me with them," Sean told him. "I would rather be with you."
Sean and Ben exchanged warm smiles. Slowly, they turned their attention to Sean's human parents, who were watching the incident in shock.
"This is going to be a long boat ride," said Ben.
Ben held Sean's hand as they sat in the boat and approached the shore as the sky became tinted with the golden light of sunset.
As the motor turned off and the boat drifted into the harbor, Linda stood and faced them. "You could have told us, we wouldn't have treated you any differently."
Sean glanced at his father, who pursed his lips.
"Right, Ling?" Linda said, nodding towards her husband.
He folded his arms and turned away, refusing to speak.
"Oh, he'll come around," Linda told them, her expression apologetic.
Sean stood up without speaking and hopped onto the dock as the boat approached it. He knelt down and steadied the side with one hand and held the other out to Ben. Ben took his hand, and he helped him onto the dry surface, both of them staggering as the dock swayed. Sean helped Ben out of his life jacket and pulled him close, and Ben realized how much he had been shivering.
"We need to get you some dry clothes," Sean said, his chin resting on Ben's shoulder.
"Are we still going to go to the dance...music...thing?"
Sean gazed into his eyes. "What? Oh, right." He looked into the boat, where his mother was trying to talk with his father. "Hey mom! Ben and I are going to be late for something!"
She looked up at him, and back to her husband. She glanced around nervously. "Take my car," she said, tossing him her keys.
Sean caught them in a fluid motion, but stood still in shock.
"Thanks, Mrs. Goodin," Ben called to her.
Again, she smiled apologetically, while Ben gently pressed on Sean's arm until he could move again.
The street was dim as Sean pulled into the driveway and turned off the engine. They could hear the ambient music drifting over from the community center, just a few blocks away.
Ben turned to face him under the dim light of the street. "I can't believe you just stood up to them like that."
Sean stared into the darkness ahead of him. "They were strangers. It was nothing."
"But you did that in front of your parents, too. I mean, the ones you grew up with. I don't think I've ever seen you stand up to them."
"I guess I learned that from you." Sean looked over at him, tilting his head slightly.
"Sean." Ben sat back in his seat. "Running away from someone isn't the same as standing up to them."
"True, but..." Sean leaned his elbow on the car window in thought. "My whole life I always knew what my parents wanted and that's what I did. Like my mom wanted me to go to drama club, and I went to drama club. And she wanted me to make friends with boys, so I made friends with Adam. And she wanted me to learn makeup, so I learned makeup. And she wanted me to go to Steel City U, so I went to Steel City U. Like," he breathed a humorless laugh and shook his head. "I was the perfect kid. And it doesn't seem like it now, but she also had, like, a constant list of girls I should date. And I dated some of them. Penny, if you remember her."
"Wait, if you dated Penny, then why didn't you tell me?"
Sean sighed. He closed his eyes, a pained expression on his face. "I'm sorry. It's just...so fucking embarrassing."
Ben glanced at him in the dark, eyebrows realized with concern, for once unsure what to say.
Sean rubbed his eyes with one hand. "We should go," he said, unfastening his seatbelt and opening the car door.
Ben followed him onto the driveway. "But Sean," he said over the hood of the car, "I don't get it, like, compared to your dad? She seemed so supportive."
Sean froze for a minute, then continued walking towards the house. Ben followed him.
"She acts supportive but it's all a front," Sean said from the foot of his bed as Ben was changing out of his wet clothes. "Really, she's in pain and she won't let me forget that it's my fault."
"Why? What did she say to you?" Ben stepped out of his jeans and held up his hands as Sean threw him a towel.
"Well," Sean said, leaning back on the bed, "i said I didn't take my phone on that trip to Italy because I didn't want to spend money on the international data plan. But also...I couldn't stand talking to her anymore."
"What do you mean?" Ben said, looking up as he pulled on one of Sean's shirts.
Sean swallowed uncomfortably. "We used to be really close. I used to call her every week in college. I was isolated. Don't you get it? I dated a thirty five year old, then you...my friends consist of Adam, who I've known since elementary school, and maybe my Calc TA?"
"I still don't get it," said Ben. "How would talking to her keep you from making friends?"
"Ben, she had me convinced I wasn't gay!"
Ben nearly fell over as he pulled on one leg of Sean's jeans. "What?" he said with a laugh. "How would you not know you were gay?"
Sean leaned forward, his face in his hands. "I know. And you know Robbie? That was...a whole story."
"Yeah? How did it happen?" Ben asked, looking up at him from the floor where he continued to pull on his pants.
Sean laughed to himself. "So I was taking Penny to prom..."
Ben burst into laughter, literally rolling on the floor. "Are you kidding me?"
"I wish I was, I really do," Sean said, one hand pushing the hair off his forehead. "So, me, her, her friend Sarah, and Sarah's date Robbie all got dinner at her parents' house beforehand. Anyway, Robbie disappeared, and I went to go look for him, and I found him smoking in the backyard behind the shed. So I asked him how's it going, and I got him to admit he was nervous about being with a girl, what if she doesn't like his dick. So I said let me see. And if he were completely straight, he wouldn't have done what he did next."
Ben rested his head back in his elbow, quite amused. "He took it out?!"
"No, he couldn't get his pants undone, and asked me to help him."
Ben laughed. "Excuse me, what?"
"Oh, it was a total ploy," Sean explained. "And suddenly I forgot I was straight and didn't need to be asked, just took it out and knelt down."
"Wow," said Ben, unable to keep in laughter. "So did you go to the dance still?"
"Oh, we went, alright," Sean said with a laugh. "It was super awkward, but we went with our straight girl dates. I think I still have the tux, actually."
"No," Ben said, incredulous. He jumped off the floor and began digging through Sean's closet. Finally, he pulled out the worn suit. He chuckled to himself. "I'm wondering what this would look like on you," he said, holding it up to Sean.
"Don't get any ideas," Sean said, lifting an eyebrow, still flashing his usual grin.
Ben pulled a different shirt out from the closet and studied it carefully. After consideration, he took of the shirt he was wearing and tried on the other. He looked at himself in the mirror, and ultimately removed the second shirt. He turned to Sean.
"Which of these shirts do you like best?"
"That one," Sean said, pointing.
Ben looked down at his bare chest and closed his eyes with laughter. "No, I mean which shirt."
"That one," Sean insisted.
Ben rolled his eyes. "Babe, you're making it real hard to make a decision." His eyes widened as he heard the sound of a zipper being undone. "Whatcha...whatcha doing there?"
Sean didn't break eye contact as he slowly unzipped his pants.
Ben laughed. "Babe. Your parents could be home at any time."
Sean leaned back onto one hand. "Just come over here," he murmured in a low voice.
It was lightning speed that Ben shut and locked the door and hurried towards him, rushing to remove the pants he had just spent a decent amount of time putting on.
Later, Sean and Ben were lying in Sean's childhood bed, their naked bodies pressed against each other, Sean running a hand through Ben's hair. Ben closed his eyes, listening to Sean's heartbeat. They stayed like that for some time.
Ben rolled off of Sean and stood up.
Sean kept his hand interlocked in Ben's, giving his arm a tug. "Aw, why do you have to leave?"
"I have to pee," Ben said, breathing a few laughs.
Sean let go. "Fine."
He watched as Ben pulled on some shorts and a T-shirt. "Just to go to the bathroom?"
"Your mom and your friends have a habit of walking in on us. I'm not making the same mistake again," Ben said. He leaned down to kiss Sean on the forehead. He was surprised as Sean sat up and kissed him on the lips.
"Hurry back," Sean said, falling back onto his pillow as Ben stood still, blushing slightly.
When Ben came out of the bathroom, he heard the front door open. He stepped from the hallway into the living room and saw Sean's mom.
"Oh, hey, Ben, I thought you and Sean had somewhere to go," she said as she took off her shoes by the door.
"Um yeah, we'll leave soon," Ben said, acting as casual as possible.
"Oh, where is he?" she asked, looking up at him.
"He's just taking a nap," Ben said. "Where's Ling?"
"He just left to go out with his friends. They get drinks every Friday." She set her purse on the counter.
"Nice," Ben said, rubbing the back of his neck.
Suddenly there was a knock at the door. Linda quickly answered it.
"Hi," said Cynthia. She was standing on the porch in her dress, her hair done in soft ringlets, her hands fidgeting in a way that made apparent her anxiety. "Is Sean here?"
"I think so," said Linda, stepping back to look at Ben.
"Oh, Ben!" Cynthia said with some relief. She stepped past Linda and walked up to him. "I didn't know what to do after you guys didn't show up. It's just starting."
"Oh, yeah, I'll go get Sean," Ben said, pointing his thumb over his shoulder.
"Okay, let's go," said Cynthia, stepping towards the hallway.
Ben grabbed her arm and she stood still. "I'll go get Sean," he repeated.
Cynthia's brow furrowed, but she nodded.
When Ben entered Sean's room, he was snoring softly. Ben sat down next to him and gently shook his shoulder.
"What?" Sean mumbled, his eyes still closed.
"I can't believe you fell asleep so fast." Ben lied down beside him. "There's a girl here who needs you to do her makeup."
"Tell her I'm busy," said Sean.
He stayed still, softly dozing, and when he finally opened his eyes, he saw Ben's staring into him.
"Hey," Ben said.
Sean grinned. "What?"
Ben blinked. "I just like lookin' at you."
Sean gave a chuckle. He pushed Ben away as he sat up. "You can look at me some other time; we've got work to do."
"Aw," Ben protested as Sean put on some jeans and a T-shirt.
"C'mon, we can't keep her waiting," Sean teased as he swung open the door. Ben rolled his eyes and jumped up from the bed.
"Hi, Cynthia," Sean said as he entered the living room.
Cynthia looked to Sean's mother with a forced smile and turned back to Sean. "Can we go?" she asked in a hushed tone.
Sean looked at her with a calm expression. "Step into my office."
Once they were in his room, Cynthia shut the door behind her.
"Thank God," she said. "Your mom was starting to ask me questions. 'You were friends with Sean in highschool? How do you know Ben?'" she said in a mocking tone.
"She just found out we're dating," Sean said flatly. He motioned to his desk chair. "Come sit down."
"What? She just found out?" Cynthia said, sitting down and rummaging through her bag. "Haven't you been staying here for like, days?"
"I was just Sean's 'friend' from college," Ben said, making airquotes around the word "friend."
Cythnia gave a harsh laugh. "I don't know how you could have pulled that off."
Sean took out a brush and palette, and shrugged. "People believe what they want to believe." He tilted her head with his hand. "Look up."
"I'm just gonna get changed," Ben said behind her.
Cynthia turned her head slightly before Sean stopped her.
"Don't look," he admonished. He began to work on her face, but stopped to admire Ben as he took his shirt off.
Cynthia saw the exaggerated "ooh" of Sean's facial expression and nearly turned to look again.
"Stay still," Sean said with a grin.
"Ugh," said Cynthia, rolling her eyes. "You guys are really gay, aren't you."
Sean blinked. "What a stupid fucking question."
Ben gave a harsh laugh. Cynthia grimaced.
Sean continued to apply foundation to Cynthia's face. "Are you ready to see him?" he asked, his tone softer.
"I guess," said Cynthia. "I mean, I already saw him earlier, when he was setting up. It was...awkward?"
"I bet," said Sean. "What'd he do?"
"I don't know, just...a quick 'hi' and then he went back to messing with some cords."
"What kind of 'hi' are we talking?" said Ben, standing where she couldn't see him in his boxer shorts. Sean's, to be exact. "Like an 'I know what happened and I'm sorry' hi, or a 'leave me alone' kind of hi?"
"Ummm, like the first one?" Cynthia said with a shrug.
"Oh, good," Sean said in a more hopeful tone. "Sounds like you still have a chance with him."
"I hope you're right," said Cynthia, her eyes widening.
"Almost done," Sean murmured, and for a few minutes she silently waited for him to finish. Ben, on the other hand, came and wrapped his arms around Sean's waist. Sean nudged him away with his elbow. "Babe, I'm working."
"Aww, then when can we make out?" Ben said, leaning against Sean's dresser with a grin.
"Later," said Sean, carefully drawing a line on Cynthia's eyebrow.
Ben folded his arms. "When's later?"
Sean turned around and pressed him against the dresser. "Now."
Ben grinned as Sean leaned in for a kiss, sweet and simple. He backed away and they matched eyes before he slowly turned to face Cynthia again.
"You're done, you can go take a look," he said, pointing to the mirror on the wall by his closet.
"Oh!" She stood up and turned to look in the mirror, tilting her head to see the look from different angles. "I look...really good," she admitted. "Thanks, Sean. Sean?"
She turned to see Sean and Ben engaged in another drawn-out display of affection.
As Sean pulled away, Ben smiled and tilted his head. "C'mon, don't you want to go to this concert?"
"Ugh, do we have to?" Sean moaned. Despite his protest, he spun around and slipped on his shoes.
Ben stepped forward and put one elbow around Sean's neck.
"Let's go," Sean told Cynthia.
The three of them stepped into the community center and saw the crowd formed around the stage at the far end. Robbie was standing at a table with his laptop and digs, playing dance music for the crowd to move to.
"Hey, is that food?" Ben said, his eyes widening at the table off to the side of the room where some vendors were selling . He tugged on Sean's arm. "Babe, we gotta go!"
"Shit, what am I gonna do?" Cynthia said, her face turning pale. "Do I just...go up there?"
"Yeah. Just go wow him," Sean said without hesitation.
"You say that like you're telling me to go to the store and pick up some milk," Cynthia breaking a nervous laugh. "Is it really that simple?"
"Yeah," Ben chimed in, clinging to Sean's arm. "Sean, I haven't eaten like all day."
"Fine," Sean said, rolling his eyes with a grin. "Good luck, Cynthia."
Ben flashed her a wave as he pulled Sean away.
Cynthia walked to the edge of the crowd, looking up at him, his body nodding with the pulsing beat of the music. She skirted around it, finally making her way towards the edge of the stage, watching him from the side.
The crowed was in moderate spirits, people swaying along. Robbie made an effortless switch to the next song, and the crowd started to warm to the quicker beat. She watched some guys pumping their fists in the air, girls jumping along. Cynthia closed her eyes and soaked it in. Suddenly, the beat changed, and concordant sounds played as he switched on the microphone at the wrong time.
"Uh...sorry, folks," his voice echoed over the loudspeakers as he switched to a remix of a Rihanna song, but the volume was off, and it could barely be heard. A chatter began growing in the crowd as people talked over the music in confusion. Finally, Robbie threw his hands up, and the music stopped.
The angry voices in the crowd grew louder in the silence. Cynthia stepped up the stairs, her ankles wobbling slightly in her heels.
"What's going on?" she said when she approached Robbie.
"Oh, hey, um, I don't know," he said, only briefly glancing up at her before returning to checking the connections on his laptop. "I think the sound's cut off."
He tried tapping on the microphone, and the crowd cried in response to the discordant sounds.
"Hey," Cynthia said, taking it from him. She stepped in front and the crowd grew quiet. A spotlight in the back focused on her. Without hesitating any further, she continued to sing where the song left off. "You got me like oh...don't stop loving me...don't quit loving me...just start loving me..."
She glanced out in the crowd. A few people started cheering, some of the boys in the front looking captivated by her.
She closed her eyes and threw out her voice, singing the rest of the song. "Baby I'm fist fighting with fire, Just to get close to you...I run for miles just to get a taste...must be love on the brain."
Just as she had sung the last note, the beat started up again. She looked to Robbie, who gave her the thumbs up as he continued spinning the rest of the song. The crowd cheered. As the melody carried into the next verse, she continued to sing.
As the song finished, the crowd erupted into applause. Cynthia curtsied and stepped offstage.
"We're going to take a brief intermission, be back in ten," Robbie announced before he left the set to approach her.
"Robbie," she said, her eyes opening with joy. "I just went up there, and decided to sing!"
"You were great!" he said, his hands clutching the sides of her arms.
He pulled her into a close hug, and when he backed away, their eyes met. Cynthia leaned in ever so slightly, her lips parting. Robbie stared back, a soft smile on his face as he leaned in for a passive kiss. As the flame of the moment began to fade, Cynthia looked away. She immediately spotted Ben walking up to them.
"Hey, Ben," she said, running a strand of hair behind her ear with her fingers. "What's up?"
"Have you seen Sean? I lost him after we went to get tamales." He took a look at Robbie. "Hi."
Robbie looked perplexed. "Do I know you?"
"Uh," Ben scratched the back of his neck. "I just have one of those faces."
Robbie continued to stare at him for a moment, but then just nodded and looked away. Suddenly, his face turned pale with fright as he looked behind Cynthia.
"Are you okay?" Cynthia asked. "You look like you've seen a ghost."
"No, uh," he stuttered, looking at the floor, "I've got to go. Tell everyone I'll...I'll be back..."
"Hey!" she said as he nearly pushed her on his way out of the room. She turned to Ben. "What was that about?"
She was surprised to see Ben wasn't paying attention. Turning her neck, she saw Sean approach them, fully dressed in his highschool prom tux, a satisfied half-smile on his face.
"Sean, what are you wearing?" Ben laughed, grabbing Sean's arm. "You look...kinda hot," he said, grinning.
"Just kind of hot," Sean said, rolling his eyes.
"No, really," Ben said. "You know I never got to do that stuff in high school."
"So will you dance with me?" Sean asked, holding out his hand.
Ben took his hand and wrapped the other around his waist. He dropped his chin onto Sean's shoulder and they swayed gently together.
"There isn't even music playing," Sean mumbled.
"So?" Ben joked. He glanced at the far side of the room, and suddenly tensed up.
"What's wrong?" Sean murmured in his ear.
"Don't look now, but your parents are here."
Sean immediately let go of him and spun around. "Fuck, really?"
"I said don't look," Ben said with a laugh.
Sean squinted at the couple who was now making their way towards the crowd, looking around for familiar faces.
Ben put a hand on Sean's sleeve. "It's okay. We don't have to act like we're a couple in front of them if you don't want to."
Sean looked to him, his jaw hung slightly hung open. He regained his composure and smiled, taking Ben's hand.
"Wait, where are we going?" Ben said as Sean pulled him towards the stage. He didn't protest as Sean led him in front of the crowd. Robbie was still absent, and the crowd paid little attention in the brief intermission.
"What are you--" Ben watched as Sean knelt down in front of him. His face turned red as Sean pulled out a ring from his pocket and presented it to him.
Sean looked up to him, eyes earnest, a slight smirk on his face.
Ben breathed a laugh. He knew exactly what was going on. "What are you doing," he said.
"Being young and stupid," Sean quipped. He grabbed Ben's hand. "I love you so much. I want to be with you for--" He stopped and swallowed, realizing how nervous he was.
Ben knelt down and threw his arms around Sean. After a tender moment, he pulled away and held Sean's face in his hands. "I love you, Sean."
"Yeah?" Sean uttered, his mouth still hanging open.
"I want to spend the rest of my life with you."
Sean's eyes locked on Ben's, and he leaned in for a deep and passionate kiss.
When they finally pulled away, the crowd was cheering. Sean hadn't noticed how quiet it had been earlier. He looked out over the crowd, seeing many faces he recognized: old classmates from school, neighbors, teachers. They slowly stood up, and Ben took the ring from Sean's hand.
"Wait, let me," Sean said under breaths of laughter. Ben held his hand as Sean slid the ring onto his finger.
Ben held up his hand to look at it, and then threw his arms around Sean once again. Sean pulled him close as the crowd continued to applaud.
When they finally made their way off the stage, hands clasped together, the audience went back to chatting amongst themselves. Robbie was waiting off to the side.
"Hey, Sean," he said, sounding, for the most part, nonchalant. "Long time no see."
"Yeah, man," Sean said in an equally casual tone. "How have you been?"
"Good." Robbie nodded cordially. He turned to Ben. "Hi, I'm Robbie."
"I know," Ben said with a grin. "Nice to meet you, though. I'm Ben." He let go of Sean's hand briefly enough to shake hands with Robbie.
"So, Robbie," Sean said, Ben's hand returning to his, "How's Cynthia? I heard you're dating."
"Oh," Robbie said, his tone shifting. "We just broke up."
"Aw, shit," Sean said, effecting sympathy. "Sorry, man."
Robbie shrugged. "It is what it is. Hey, um, I'm gonna go back up and play some more songs. Do you have any requests?"
Sean looked to Ben. Ben laughed. "I bet Sean wants you to play some Island Heart."
"Shut up," Sean said, snickering as his face reddened.
"I actually have a remix of one of his more recent songs," said Robbie. "It's one of my favorites."
"Go ahead," Sean said, making a gesture.
"Alright," Robbie said. "It was good to see you. You too," he told Ben. He gave a wave and headed back towards the stage.
Ben watched him go, and then turned to Sean. "He seems nice."
Sean frowned and nodded. "Can we go to the back, now?"
Ben laughed. "Had enough of the spotlight?"
"I think enough to last a few years," Sean said, breathing a sigh.
"A few years?" Ben said in surprise. "What about our wedding? I have to invite all our families, friends...all your exes, John..."
"No," Sean said firmly. Ben's eyes twinkled as he gently pulled Sean's hand up to kiss it.
Once they reached the back of the room, a young woman came running towards them.
"Oh my god!" Cynthia said, reaching to hug both of them. "You guys are really engaged?"
Sean and Ben looked to each other, breaking into smiles.
"Ooh, can I see the ring?" Cynthia asked eagerly.
Ben held his hand out. "It's Sean's class ring."
"I needed something short notice," Sean explained. "I'll get you something nicer."
"Okay, but I'm keeping this forever," Ben said as Cynthia examined the ring. "Don't forget I need to get one for you, too." He pulled his hand away from her and placed it on the side of Sean's face. Cynthia watched as they shared another brief kiss.
"Aww," Cynthia cooed when they finished. "Okay, so after my impromptu solo, this woman came up to me. Turns out she's a talent scout, here on vacation. She wants to hook me up to produce a single!"
"Oh my god, congratulations!" Sean said. He gave her a hug.
"And it's thanks in part to you, of course," Cynthia beamed. "You too, Ben."
"That's great!" Ben said. "I'm so happy for you." He held out his arms, and they briefly hugged each other.
"Thanks," said Cynthia. She lowered her voice. "You know what the woman said? She said she was going to get me a producer better than this 'amateur.'" She pointed a thumb back at Robbie.
Sean and Ben both smirked.
"Well, I wish you the best," Sean said, putting an arm on her shoulder.
"Thank you," She beamed. "And I wish the best for you two. Ooh, can I come to the wedding?"
"Well, duh!" Ben said with a laugh.
"You can be a bridesmaid," Sean said. "Do they have those at gay weddings?"
Ben wrapped an arm around Sean's waist. "We can do whatever we want."
Cynthia gave a laugh. "Okay, then."
"Okay," Sean said as Ben rested his head on Sean's shoulder.
"Goodbye," Cynthia said in a melodic voice, before giving a wave and heading back towards the stage.
Sean and Ben stayed behind, arms wrapped around each other, swaying to rhythmic samples of Adam's voice.