The present was beautiful. A box wrapped in cream white, topped with a glittering golden bow. Each fold crafted and taped meticulously; each curl placed with intent. The inside was just as perfect. They had selected a painting as a gift. A painting of Japanese blossoms, simple and elegant. The canvas was protected in delicately wrapped tissue paper. The whole package was cast in a blue gray light, from the tinted window of the limo.
It was resting in the lap of slacks clad legs, legs who belonged to Dan. Dan’s fingers rested on the sides of the box, keeping it secure. His absentminded gaze fell to the window. It had begun raining. He watched how the water beading on the glass reflected the light from streetlamps. It wasn’t late, but it was November, so it was dark outside.
“Daniel,” His mother said sharply, breaking the silence. “Take your fingers off the wrapping paper.” Dan did so. “The oil from your fingers will make a mark. You know how much thought I put into that gift.”
“Yes, Mother.” Dan said. Then he silently returned his attention to the raindrops on the window. Light glided across his pale face, highlighting his soft brown curls and glinting in his similarly toned eyes. He wore a crisp light pink button with a black blazer and bowtie. The rest of his family was dressed just as smartly. His father and younger brother in suits and his mother in a gray dress and a white fur coat. They each sat reserved in their leather seats, waiting until they arrived at the party.
About two months prior, a new family had moved in. Not a mile from the Howell’s residence. They were the Lester’s. There was Mrs. Lester, Mr. Lester, and their two sons Martyn and Phillip. Dan’s mother had baked a variety of sweets, drove to their home, and invited Mrs. Lester for tea and to join her book club. She had fit right in with the whole group of rich housewives.
But there were some rumors, of course. There were always rumors. Though the ones around the Lester’s were especially wild. It was a huge mystery as to why they had moved. Before, they lived much farther north, their accents were big tellers of this, but that was information freely given. Whenever someone asked, Mrs. Lester would shrug off the question and change the subject. Some people thought that Mr. Lester had gotten fired from his old job for sexual harassment, or that they had gotten into some controversy with another family. Others rumored that one of the sons had murdered some kid from their school.
The Lester’s pretended no one was saying these things.
At that moment, the Howells were headed to the Lester’s house for a dinner party. It was Mrs. Lester’s birthday. And even though they didn’t live at all far from the house, they did a small lap around the area just show off that they’re travelling in a limousine. But in no time at all they were driving through the Lester’s white gates and getting out behind their spitting-dolphin fountain. The Lester’s staff rushed forward with umbrellas and urged them into the house and out of the rain. Dan liked the rain, but he knew that the water would muss his thoughtfully placed curls, so he abandoned the idea of lingering outside, even if just for a few seconds.
The doors were pulled open and Dan was immediately met with organized chaos. There were men in suits who offered to take Mrs. Howell’s coat and another man giving Dan a curt bow before sweeping his arm in the direction of the ballroom. Anywhere Dan looked, lavishly dressed women hung on the arms of men in crisp suits, families wandered about, looking for their seats, and staff members rushed about to finish preparations. Music from a live orchestra floated above people’s voices and everyone was settling at the long table down the ballroom floor. Each plate had a name card, so an usher helped the Howell’s find their places. It didn’t take long for the wine to be poured and the first course served.
Dan usually stayed reserved during parties. He kept to himself, speaking only when spoken to, enjoying his food quietly, trying to relax under the golden lights and appreciating the décor. There were brightly colored streamers that swung from one wall to the other and balloons that were tied together with glinting ribbons to brighten up each corner of the room. For a while, Dan was quiet, content with listening to his own thoughts. The orchestra sang undemandingly over the hush of talking and clinking of wine glasses.
But it was sometime during the second course that Dan met the eye of a boy. He was sitting across from Dan, but a little to his left. He had black hair combed up into a quiff and blue eyes that crinkled from a handsome smile. He looked familiar, but Dan couldn’t place where from. It took Dan a while before he realized he was staring and broke eye contact. The boy seemed to take bask in Dan’s gawking, and grinned while taking a sip from his glass.
After a few minutes, the woman to Dan’s right decided to try and make small talk with him. She was asking the standard questions, you know, what school do you go to, what’s your favorite class, do you do any sports. Dan is used to answering these kinds questions. But this boy was distracting him, and he could hardly focus. It didn’t take long for the woman to give up on Dan’s stutters.
At some point, Mr. Lester stood up, raised his wine glass and recited a toast to his wife. He went on and on about trials and tribulations and how lucky he was to have her constantly at his side etcetera, etcetera. Dan wasn’t really listening. He was still watching that boy. Dan couldn’t hear what the boy was saying or what was being said to him, but he noticed how he talked to the people around him, so politely, how even through the conversation he’d take time to return Dan’s stares pridefully, and Dan especially noticed his laugh. It was a precious giggle. The boy would stick out his tongue just a bit.
After dinner, the table was cleared away, the lights dimmed, the music kicked up, and the dancing began. Dan stood at a loss to the side the of the dance floor. Someone grabbed his elbow and whispered sharply into his ear.
“Daniel, please don’t embarrass us? Please find a nice girl or two to ask to dance.” It was his father. “I’m sure there are plenty of girls who need you to boost their confidence.” Dan didn’t respond. His father tossed a look over his shoulder while he took Dan’s mother’s arm and walked, their heels clicking, to the dance floor. Dan sighed and scanned the room. He couldn’t see the boy. Maybe he was at the dessert table.
He wasn’t, but Dan helped himself to plate of eclairs and cheesecake squares anyways. And then, like the antisocial person he is, he lingered against the wall and people watched. A girl with red lipstick was resting her on the shoulder of a man in a blue button up. She was smiling, just a bit. It was the content and unintentional smile of a happy person. She wasn’t wearing shoes. There were two boys sitting against the opposite wall talking and laughing rather loudly. One boy was sharing something on his phone with the other boy, resulting in an eruption of laughter. Dan could only assume they were exchanging memes of some kind. The thought put the idea of a smile on Dan’s lips.
“Hey, you look almost happy.” Said a voice. Dan snapped his attention to the left.
“Oh!” It was the boy. His voice was deep and had a different accent to what Dan was used to hearing. “Sorry.”
“What are you apologizing for?” Said the boy. Dan shrugged, finding it hard to look at him for probably a stupid reason. “Well, I feel a bit bad, but I happen to not know your name.”
“Dan,” He looked up. “Well, my full name is Daniel James Howell, but just call me Dan.”
“And I’m Philip Michael Lester, but to most I’m just Phil.” The boy held out his hand. Dan shook it firmly (good handshakes was one skill Dan learned from being in a wealthy household that was probably actually useful.)
“Lester. That’s why you looked to familiar.” Dan remarked.
“And you’re of the famed Howell family,” Phil said, “my mother thinks very highly of your mother.”
“Yes.” Dan said. Internally, he cringed at his bad small talk. He’s really good at replying with one word and throwing the whole conversation into an awkward halt. Dan put down his empty plate and rocked ever so slightly against the wall. Phil took a sip from his cup.
“Do you like parties?” Phil asked. Dan eyed him wearily.
“Not really.” He said. “Do you?”
“Are you enjoying this party? It is your mother’s birthday, right?”
“Eh,” Phil shrugged, “I mean, yeah, it’s a great party. I just don’t really like a lot of the people they invited. My parents, I mean. At least they invited you, though.” Dan blushed.
There was another excruciating silence.
“Sorry, “Dan said, rubbing the bridge of his nose with his fingers, “I’m not the best at conversation.”
“That can’t be true.”
“What do you mean?”
“When you’re born into a rich family like our families, you learn how to make good conversation.”
“Okay, you’re right, “Dan smiled, “I’m not the best at conversation with cute boys.” Phil giggled into his glass. Dan internally high fived himself for the 10/10 flirting.
“Good one.” Phil said, his cheeks just a bit pink.
Dan shrugged, “Thanks.” It was silent again for few second, but it was a comfortable break in their conversation. Phil broke the silence with a little puff of a sigh.
“Hey,” He said, “Do you want to escape from the party for a little bit.”
“Ooh,” Dan began, “Like in the movies?”
“Yeah, like in the movies.”
Somehow, two hours passed until Dan regained consciousness of time again. He’d followed Phil out of the ballroom and into the hallway, where a few guests lingered to answer phone calls or take a breather from the crowd. They went down a hallway brightened with a wonderful taste in décor and then up a gold railed staircase, and then came to a stop in Phil’s bedroom. It was small. Well, small for a house this size. Here, they wandered around for a while. They sat on Phil’s blue and green patterned bed and reminisced about things from their childhood. They shared some stupid memes that were saved on their phones while lying on the grown, comforted by the soft carpet. Dan discovered that they had a lot in common. They had a very similar humor, and they shared a love for video games, memes, and a band called Muse. Now, Dan found himself lying with Phil on one of those giant bean bags that someone could live on. His ankles were relaxing on Phil’s shins and his head was cradled between his elbows. Phil had put on Origin of Symmetry by Muse to be ignored while the two boys avoided responsibility. A fall spice candle burned somewhere in the background. Their ties and suit coats laid abandoned against the back of a chair.
They’d been discussing the pros and cons of the British school system, when their conversation came to a natural end. Phil turned on his side and placed an unsure hand on Dan’s arm.
“Yes?” Dan said.
Phil pulled in a breath, “Do you know about the rumors? The ones talking about why my family moved here?”
“Do you believe any of them?”
“No… not particularly.”
Phil leaned closer to Dan. Dan turned his body just a bit, to convey to Phil that he had his full attention.
“Do you want me to tell you the real reason why?”
“I have a feeling you’re going to tell me no matter what.”
“Yeah.” Phil’s hand migrated from Dan’s arm to his chest. Dan really wanted to return some kind of gentle touch, but he didn’t know how to so without making everything awkward. “I was caught doing something I shouldn’t have been doing.” Phil’s eyesight wasn’t lingering on Dan’s eyes anymore.
“What were you doing?” Dan asked softly, leaning in just a bit closer.
“This.” Phil closed the distance and placed a kiss on Dan’s lips. He pulled Dan closer, his hand resting on Dan’s hip. Dan put one hand gently against Phil’s chest and tangled the fingers of his other hand into Phil’s black hair to keep their faces close together.
There was a hot burning sensation in Dan’s chest. It felt like when you read a poem and one particular line throws a baseball in your gut and soon you have the whole poem memorized. It was like listening to an orchestra play a broken dissonant chord and in the next beat it resolves to a major triad. Dan felt his whole body lose any meaning, except to kiss this one boy. And then Phil pulled away. They were both breathing heavily, even though the kiss had only lasted a few seconds. Dan let out a slow breath and smiled.
“I think I’d remember if you’d kissed me before.” He said, his eyes opening.
“What?” Phil giggled, “No, I mean, I got caught kissing a boy, word got out, and my parents moved us down here so that no one would know they had a gay son.” Dan frowned.
“...I’m sorry your parents aren’t accepting.”
“Well… at least my brother doesn’t care. Sometimes, when my parents aren’t around, he teases me about boy crushes. Like he used to with girls, before he knew.” It was silent for a few seconds, no noise except the two boys’ breathing.
“Are you out to your parents?” Phil asked.
“Did you tell them, or did they just find out? Are they accepting?”
“I told them, and sort of? It’s more like tolerance, I guess. I walked into their room one night and said, ‘Mom, Dad, I’m gay’ and my mom looked up at me and said, ‘okay, don’t have sex with boys in my house and can you please finish cleaning your room.’” Dan shook his head. “We haven’t mentioned it since. I’m not sure what they’d think if I brought a male date to a party like this.” Phil sighed and looked up at Dan with puppy-dog eyes.
“I want to kiss you again.” He said.
Dan got all the same feelings as before, but this kiss lasted much longer. Phil pulled back after a while.
“I wish, “He said, “I wish I could march on down there holding your hand and dance with you among the whole crowd. I wish I didn’t have to be kissing you behind closed doors. It’s so lame.”
“Hey.” Dan smiled, “Who said we had to dance among the crowd? C’mon.” Dan pulled Phil off the bean bag and changed Phil’s Muse Spotify playlist to slow dancing music.
“No, Dan.” Phil giggled. “Let’s just make out on the bean bag.” But Dan was already putting his arms over Phil’s shoulders.
“Hey! Dancing with me was your wish.” Dan said. Phil rolled his eyes and wrapped his arms around Dan’s waist. Their noses touched while they slowly rotated in a circle like you’re supposed to do when you dance with someone.
After maybe five songs, Phil must have been getting bored because he pushed Dan back onto the bean bag and started kissing him again. Dan didn’t protest.
When their lips and lungs got tired, they switched to talking, like before, but this time with cuddling and stolen kisses. At some point, Dan realized that time was probably still passing outside of Phil’s bedroom.
“Phil, what time is it? My phone fell on the floor sometime ago.” Dan said.
“It’s, uh,” Phil pulled out his phone. “Oh.” He sat up.
“What is it?” Dan said.
Phil looked longingly at Dan. “It’s 12:45. The party ends in fifteen minutes.”
Dan felt his heart drop. “Oh.” He stood up and started to fix the buttons on his shirt. “I guess that means we should… un-disappear.”
“I guess it does.”
Dan re-tied his tie. “Hey, aren’t you going to put your stuff back on?” He asked Phil.
“Oh,” Phil rubbed his forehead. “Yeah.”
Just before they left Phil bedroom, Phil pressed Dan against the door and kissed him once more. Phil pulled away and looked at the ground. He pulled in a breath and was probably about to give one of those cheesy speeches people give in the movies, when Dan gasped.
“We are such idiots.” He said.
“What?” Phil looked alarmed.
“We forgot to get each other’s numbers!”
“Oh. You’re right!” Phil laughed. “And here I was, worrying about never getting to talk to you again.” So, they exchanged numbers, kissed for the actual last time that evening, then descended the same staircase, went back down the same hallway, and finally reentered the ballroom. Phil said goodbye cordially, rather than with a hug and a passionate kiss. Then he disappeared into the crowd.
Dan found his family again, who were definitely ready to leave. His mother was complaining about her soar feet under her breath, his father was just a bit drunk, and his little brother had clonked out on the floor. Dan supposed that a party that late was a bit much for a twelve-year-old.
All the way home Dan couldn’t get the imagine of a certain boy out of his head. Couldn’t the rid of the taste of his lips, or the feel of his fingers against his skin, or even the smell of his cologne. Phil was still floating in his head like a dream when Dan got home and while he was getting ready for bed. Maybe, just maybe, Phil was slipping from his mind while Dan curled up under the covers, eyes shut tight. Then his phone buzzed. It was a text message.
Phil <3: Hey 😉