Kevin sat on the stone wall that surrounded the park and watched Mickey toss his baseball at the tennis net. It was late evening and the sky was ripening into a brilliant orange.
The other boy had called him hours earlier and invited him out. Their group had included three others but they’d all had to go home, leaving just them. Mickey often wandered the streets like a stray dog until well into the night and Kevin often watched him from his window, committing the way he walked (which he then considered very cool and would later in life recognize as a limp of some sort) to memory.
“Hey, Kev?” Mickey asked, pausing to clumsily catch the ball that flew back at him. It was difficult to throw the ball hard enough for it to bounce rather than simply fall to the ground.
“Have you ever kissed anyone before?” Kevin watched an ant crawl in his direction, stop, and then change course to crawl down the wall.
“No.” He said. He didn’t see any need to hide it. A lot of kids in his class lied so transparently about their experience, he didn’t see the point in it. He had no desire to kiss a girl. His mother told him it was a trait she wished more boys his age had which made him glow.
“Oh, I have.”
“That’s nice.” He said sharply, standing up and balancing on the uneven stones. “You’re awful at throwing.”
“No, I’m not! What do you know about throwing?”
“More than you know about kissing.”
Mickey’s face reddened. His complexion was already ruddy which made him look perpetually chastened or in motion. His baseball cap was worn and soft like all his clothes were and he was often made fun of for wearing the same things over and over again. Not many people liked Mickey. He was loud and overenthusiastic and quick to anger. Not many people liked Kevin either.
“I’ll show you, I do too!” Kevin paused and squatted down as the other boy approached the wall with his head up high. He was always so proud, held himself in such high esteem despite his too-big hand-me-downs and shoes that pinched his feet so badly he often walked with them slung over his shoulder. Kevin looked down at him, wrapping his arms around his knees.
“Show me then.”
They were quiet on the walk to Kevin’s house and Kevin would later only remember seeing their shadows side by side on the sidewalk in the last vestiges of the evening sun and thinking it was romantic without knowing the meaning of the word. They made their way up the stairs almost completely silently except for Mickey stepping on a creaky floorboard. They held their breath. The night was quiet still.
Kevin suddenly felt self-conscious about his room. He sat on the bed as Mickey looked around and he observed it with unfamiliar eyes. He wondered if he had poems out on the desk, or if any of his baby books were visible. Recalling that, he quickly stuffed his toy rabbit under his pillow and winced at the star-print bedspread. It was odd having him in here, like hearing an episode of a tv show was filmed in your hometown. It was exciting but it also ruined the magic a bit, that was the price of being tangible he supposed.
“I like your room.” Mickey assessed. “I can tell it’s yours..”
Kevin picked at the edge of his blanket, it was old and the edge was worn from when he had chewed on it in his sleep as a baby. “It’s my room.”
“Yeah.” They paused for a moment before Mickey sat on the bed as well. “Uhh..so do you still wanna-”
“Yes.” Kevin rushed to answer. He wasn’t sure why but he didn’t want to hear the words. If he heard them then something would happen, something would happen and he’d have to say no.
“Ok. Cool.” They blinked at each other. “Uhh..close your eyes.”
“Ok.” Kevin said softly, closing them. His heart was pounding and his stomach felt uneasy. A wrongness was there, like a rock inside him but his heart wasn’t...his heart didn’t feel wrong. And he thought that was the worst part. He wished the world was black and white, he wished he didn’t feel so confused or anxious or-
Mickey kissed him softly. Kevin could feel the dampness of his lips and he thought he must have licked them recently. The sensation was strange and slightly unpleasant but there was a spark there that he’d dreaded.
Mickey leaned Kevin’s head back so that he seemed taller and it made Kevin’s heart flutter and that ohnoohno feeling rose. His fingers grasped the bedsheets, gripped so hard he thought he might tear them.
When Mickey pulled back, Kevin kept his eyes closed for a moment. When he opened them he was being stared at. His stomach did flips and he looked away. They were both flushed now.
“Do you want to do it again?” Mickey asked softly. Kevin balked, startled by the sound.
“No- Yes. I don’t know.”
“Oh.” Mickey’s face fell. “Was it bad?”
Kevin shook his head. “I don’t know, I’ve never kissed any-”
He suddenly felt as if he were being watched, a concept which horrified him. He turned towards the door to dispel this fear but was instead confronted by it.
He didn’t quite remember what happened next, it was as if he were beside himself. The fear expelled him from his body as he tore down the hall and shouted at his brother, pleaded for his silence. You can’t tell mom okay? You can’t tell her!
He came back into himself after he shut the door to his room, wishing for all the world he had a lock. He was exhausted and Mickey had fled. There was nothing left, nothing left but the wrongness that had seeped from his stomach into his bones. His heart was beating fast again but this time due to anxiety, exertion. There was no floating, no magic, nothing.
He crawled into bed, curling up around himself and sobbing. Nothing but wrongness.
That had been his first kiss.
Martin never mentioned what he saw and Kevin never spoke to Mickey alone again. He knew he was gay, he’d known for awhile but he’d known it in the dubious way one knows that someone’s following them home. The incident of his first kiss was him being ostensibly stabbed by his own homosexuality and left to cover up the blood.
His mother was a compassionate woman. It balanced his father’s impatient disinterest. He always felt that Martin was their father’s favorite and hoped that Martin thought he was Mother’s. He felt this was well reflected in their career choices, him studying literature and Martin shadowing their father at his clinic.
In college his mother wrote him in a letter;
It seems to me that the root of his homosexuality are his issues with his mother. She was a ghastly woman too, poor man.
She was reading a book Kevin had given her detailing the cases of a well-regarded therapist. He had read it through. It had been odd to see a man like him described as deviant. He wondered if he should be trying harder.
She coddled him too much, that’s the problem. And she was far too critical of the girls he would bring home. It says here that it became so that he was only bringing home girls to please her and not himself.
Kevin was in college now, reading the letter aloud in the lap of a guy he was maybe-seeing. The guy laughed low in his throat and kissed him on the neck. He had the beginnings of a beard and Kevin felt a shiver building at the base of his spine. He wondered if this was deviant enough to be put in a book.
This is why it’s important to know how to raise a boy. Girls are easy to raise, the mother has firsthand knowledge of what it’s like. Boys are on their own. Mothers often think too much of their maternal instincts but they’re completely different skills; Raising boys and raising girls.
Kevin’s breath hitched as he felt broad hands make their way up his torso.
“You’re going to leave a mark.” He remarked as Guy began sucking another hickey into his neck.
“Is that a problem?”
Kevin imagined people seeing him with a hickey- with multiple hickeys. Imagined sitting in class with hickeys. Imagined his friends gently ribbing him and smiling ‘who’s the lucky lady?’ Shame burned in the pit of his stomach. It always did. He’d learned years ago that he could use it to stroke the embers of desire.
“No.” He said, eyes already stinging.
I read so many books on how to raise a boy. Maybe that’s why I got two! You really should read this yourself if you haven’t already, Kevin. Even your father complimented it, and you know what a stodge he can be. I hope you’re keeping warm. The neighbors have recently adopted a mutt that barks at all hours of the day. If you can, please talk some sense into your brother. He’s threatening to drop out of school and run away with some girl he’s met at that retreat your father’s taken him to.
All love, Mother.
Kevin tried not to moan as Guy fucked him against the desk. If he moaned he’d die of embarrassment. He’d jump out a window. He’d find the nearest body of water and drown himself in it.
Partners either took his relative silence as a challenge or an insult. So far it hadn’t deterred anyone, so he saw no need to change. Guy was groaning a string of words into his ear. Ohyeahyoufuckinglikethatdon’tyou? Richbitchyoutakemycocksowelllikeyouweremadeforittryingtoactallshybutyou’rereallymywhorearen’tyou? Kevin tried not to listen, tried to focus on Guy’s voice and not the words. He felt awful, he was so hard it hurt, he couldn’t touch himself or he’d die of embarrassment.
Kevin came a few minutes later, out of his mind. Guy drove him wild like that. They both knew it wouldn’t last but you were only twenty-something for so long.
“Your mom sounds like a bitch.”
I have read it already, I wouldn’t recommend you a book that I hadn’t read. It would reflect poorly on me. I’m surprised to hear that Father thought it had merit though, I thought it might be a bit too sensationalist for him. Next thing you know he’ll be watching daytime television with us.
I got in touch with Martin and he’s agreed to postpone his plans to run off with his girlfriend on account of them no longer being attached. I expect he’ll call you soon and I suspect he hasn’t done so already out of embarrassment.
In regards to the poor gentleman I have to agree with your assessment. Though I wonder if there might be other factors to consider. Maybe the girls are surrogates; For him or the mother is the question. They seem to be quite entangled, to an unhealthy degree.
If the dog keeps you up at night with its barking it might constitute a disruption of the peace, or at least a noise complaint. See if Aunt Reece can’t pull a few strings. It might be beneficial to both you and the dog.
“I just don’t know why you said I was your friend, Kevin.”
“What would you have me call you?”
“Boyfriend? We’ve only been seeing each other a few months.”
“Eight months, Kevin. Nearly a year!”
“I don’t know why you’re making such a big deal of this. I didn’t want to upset Martin, he wasn’t feeling well.”
“Oh. You think he would...be upset?”
“He might be, I don’t know.”
“I can’t live like this.”
“You’re being dramatic.”
“No, I’m being serious. I can’t do this with you anymore. You’re so...closed off. You keep me at a distance.”
“I keep you at a distance? I introduced you to my brother.”
“As a friend!”
“You should be grateful I introduced you at all!”
“Oh here we go, now we’re getting somewhere! Yes, thank you so much for deigning to let me show my face to your family!”
“That’s not fair.”
“No, it’s not. It’s not fair to either of us….Kevin, I like you. I really like you. I think we have a shot at something real here and I’m ready to fight for that but if you aren’t...if you aren’t we need to have a real conversation about that.”
“Are you breaking up with me?”
“I thought we weren’t dating.”
“Are you breaking up with me?”
“I’m just saying if you’re not ready to-”
“Jesus, Yes! Yes Kevin, I’m fucking breaking up with you! Jesus, christ.”
Ronald buried his head in his hands, beginning to cry. “Jesus christ…”
Kevin loved Ronald more than anyone he’d ever met. He was a business major with a minor in poetry and he’d joked that business was the backup plan. He had a shy smile and thick glasses that he’d have to keep pushing up his nose when he read. He read at least one book a month and he’d read aloud to Kevin when they were alone in his apartment.
Sex with Ronald was tortorous. Ronald looked him in the eye and smiled and ran fingers gently through his hair and when he kissed his neck he didn’t leave marks. Sex with Ronald made his heart ache. There was no distraction from the shame, it felt like poking at a bruise rather than pulling off a bandaid. There was no thrill to accompany the pain, nothing to make it worth it.
When he was a child his mother told him that one of her friend’s colleagues had been found out to be gay. “A homosexual.” She’d said, the word dripping with pity. She explained it as something that happened to you, something you participated in; Willfully or not. The gay men and women she talked about were often poor dears who’d been enticed or tricked by some anonymous nare-do-well.
He’d spent a good chunk of his childhood on the lookout for this boogeyman, guarding himself and praying that if he was vigilant enough he could escape its grasp. “Please God don’t let me be-”
A few weeks ago he’d been visiting his mother when she’d sighed at the T.V. There was a news story running, a woman had proposed to her girlfriend in a restaurant and been asked to leave. “It’s a shame.” His mother said and Kevin didn’t dare hope for a moment that she was talking about the discrimination.
“She’s such a pretty girl too, the one with the long hair. I can’t believe the other one is calling this love. Look at what she’s resigning her to.” His mother shook her head, tutting. “A lifetime of pain. Is that what love’s called these days?”
Whenever the topic of gay marriage was brought up his mother invariably told the story of how she and Kevin’s father waited six months to get married after he’d proposed because her own father opposed the wedding.
“It was the longest six months of my life and every day I would beg Tim to throw caution to the wind and run off with me but he knew that in the long run I would be miserable in that life. Family is everything to me after all, not to mention my reputation.
It was hard on him too but he knew it was the right thing to do. Do you understand? That’s love. Doing everything to protect someone, even if it makes you miserable in the moment, even if they fight you. Throwing everything away for that momentary happiness is selfish in the end. Your father knew that and I want you to know that too.”
Kevin knew intellectually that this was a false equivalence and often made fun of the story at parties. Every time the room erupted in laughter he felt guilty and vindicated.
Kevin knew intellectually that this was a false equivalence but he couldn’t help the anxiety that rose in him whenever one of his partners called themself his boyfriend or brought up the topic of exclusivity.
He’d spent hours lying awake at night with Ronald tucked into his side, trying to figure out a way to know for sure that his feelings were strong enough to warrant risking anything for.
Yes he loved Ronald, but how much?
Yes he loved Ronald, but how strongly?
Yes he loved Ronald, but would it last?
Kevin went through every month like it was the last one they’d be together. He’d been holding his breath throughout their entire relationship like a soldier waiting for a bomb to drop.
When Ronald left for the last time he’d felt relieved and distraught.
He’d cried on and off for the rest of the day, he’d found a book that belonged to him and threw it out the window only to race downstairs and retrieve it from the alley. He was a wreck.
He’d loved him.
He loved him.
He comforted himself at night with the thought that if they broke up at all it was probably bound to happen. He was right, he was right. He had done the right thing. He’d protected him.
It would have been selfish to say yes.
It would have been selfish and stupid to say; “I’m sorry Ronald, I love you. Of course we’re dating, I don’t want to be with anyone else.”
He was right.
He was right.
He had done the right thing.
If his feelings for Ronald had been strong his feelings for Raymond were inviolable.
Of course, he was far older than he’d been when dating Ronald; Yes, that was it. He was more ready to settle down and he’d have to be on guard. He couldn’t confuse desperation for genuine feeling.
“-The bartender explains that if the man is able to touch the meat hanging there he will receive a free drink and if he misses he will be forced to buy a round for the bar.”
“Did he do it?”
“I’m afraid not. He thought the steaks were far too high.” Kevin laughed and Raymond chuckled along with him, pleased that the joke had gone over so well. He had been worried that Kevin perhaps preferred on-the-fly wordplay to a setup-punchline structure but it seemed he enjoyed both equally.
They were lounging on the couch in Raymond’s apartment. Raymond’s legs were draped over Kevin’s, who was sitting properly in order to circle spelling errors on a draft of his latest article in red ink.
“Raymond, you’re hilarious.”
“Thank you for the compliment.”
Raymond was handsome in a very classic way. His friends said he reminded them of a character on Barney Miller or Magnum PI but Kevin disagreed (though he wouldn’t say no to seeing Raymond in short shorts). He thought Raymond was handsome in a muse-like manner. Whenever he saw him at rest; Sleeping, deep in thought, watching television, he felt the urge to paint or sculpt wash over him. Every day spent with Raymond was a day spent cursing his lack of artistic talent.
“Kevin?” He blinked, taken out of his daydream by his now very close boyfriend.
“I was inquiring as to whether or not you would like to retire to the bedroom.”
Sex with Raymond was like nothing he’d ever experienced. The first time had been unremarkable but good, the second time much the same. The third time Raymond had stopped in the middle. “Are you alright?”
“You’re being quiet.”
“I don’t...it’s fine. I’m not a loud person.”
The fourth time when Kevin started to bring a hand up to his mouth Raymond had quickly switched positions, disorienting him. The new position left Kevin facing Raymond with his arms slung around his shoulders. When he saw Raymond’s eyes bearing down on him his heart began to pound and shame began to pool in his stomach.
Raymond was watching him.
Someone was watching him do this, watching him-
“Your face is red.” Kevin forced himself to laugh.
“We are exerting ourselves.”
“Why won’t you look at me?”
“I’m embarrassed. I don’t often have an audience.”
“There’s no audience, just me.”
Kevin didn’t have a response to that and Raymond apparently didn’t expect one as he pulled Kevin close and began to thrust into him, ending any conversation.
That continued for a while, Raymond slowly chipping away at Kevin’s defenses. He hadn’t noticed the extent of it until one day in the middle of sex Raymond quirked his head to the side, looking up at Kevin through his eyelashes.
“What is it?” He asked, still unused to how steady and calm his boyfriend could be even in the midst of intercourse.
“You look beautiful.” He’d replied before leaning up and wrapping him in a hug. His body was warm from the sun shining down on them. “I love you.”
They hadn’t been able to continue after that. Kevin was shaking and trying not to cry and Raymond was quietly letting him.
Kevin had never thought that sex could be something shameless. Of course because it was between two men there had been that extra layer but sex in and or itself had always been a shameful activity growing up.
At church and school he learned that men and women had sex to have a baby, because it was their duty, because they were man and woman. It was not a leisure activity. In college he learned that the shame could be perverted into something useful.
(“Hey, why do you always hide your face when we’re having sex?”
“Oh...that’s kinda hot.”)
But using the shame wasn’t the same as being rid of it.
Sex with Raymond didn’t make him hate himself, and that was terrifying.
“Sex can be a form of communication. At least that’s how I see it, I’m not an authority on such matters.”
“You’re being modest.”
“I’m being realistic.” Raymond paused, choosing his words. “I want sex between us to always be about...love. At the end of it it should always be about love.”
Kevin raised an eyebrow.
“You’re thinking it sounds bohemian.”
“Ah, but I didn’t say it.”
Raymond smiled despite himself. “What I’m saying is I don’t want you to feel ashamed. Sex isn’t anything to be ashamed about.”
Kevin looked out the window. “I know that. I understand that in theory, it’s just...difficult.”
Raymond placed a hand on his knee. Kevin took it.
“I understand, I will help you.” Kevin kissed Raymond’s knuckle.
“I love you, Raymond.”
“I love you as well.”
As Kevin sped down the highway in his newly purchased car he thought about doom and prophecy. He was thinking about prophecy due to thinking about soulmates due to thinking about Raymond. The idea of having a One was ridiculous and he’d never put any stock into it but in the moment he wished he did and that there was a way to know. He wished there was a point in a relationship where some outside force interrupted and gave them the green light to commit to each other forever.
“I’ve seen how this ends and it’s all going to work out just fine!”
He was thinking about doom because he loved Raymond and there was no way to know if it was enough. He felt like he was a herald, a grim reaper in a sleek convertible coming to drag Raymond to hell by loving him and admitting it.
He imagined he and Raymond riding down the river Styx. Raymond was patiently listening to Kevin go on a slight tangent about the mythology of the river. It would make an amusing portrait. Perhaps it would be captioned; Bored to death.
(“You could never bore me, Kevin.”)
They had had an argument last night, they were at a stalemate in their relationship where neither was willing to concede. They lived too far apart and it was miserable. It made dates a chore, it made life lonely.
“Perhaps one of us should purchase a vehicle.”
“Are you suggesting I buy a car?”
“Only that one of us might like to consider it.”
“I cannot afford a car on an adjunct professor’s salary.”
“And I cannot afford one on an officer’s. So we are at an impasse.”
“It seems that way.”
“Forget I even mentioned it.”
He had hung up and sat in his empty living room for all of five minutes before he knew that he was going to buy a car.
“What kinda car are ya looking for?”
“I have no idea.” He’d paused. “Something that makes a statement.”
And she certainly did. As he drove he imagined his mother tutting at him. This was reckless and stupid and selfish.
He drove faster. He grinned.
He would be selfish. He would throw it all away for Raymond. He would do anything to see him smile, he would risk life and limb for that momentary happiness.
He supposed that made him the boogeyman.
Later he would call his mother saying that he had a boyfriend and he was happy.
She would reply with concern; Who’s done this to you?
He wanted to tell her that it was he who was the corruptor. He wanted to tell her that for the first time in his life he’d had sex and thought only of the act and not how it would be perceived. He wanted to beg her forgiveness and plead for her understanding. He wanted to toss her overboard. He wanted a million things he would never have.
But he could have Raymond.
He could have Raymond so easily, as easily as Raymond had him.
The car cost a few hundred dollars, three of his closest friends, a few work opportunities, and his relationship with his parents.
Raymond’s smile when he saw him was worth it.
Raymond’s smile paid it all back instantly, with accumulating interest.
“Did you know my parents waited six months after proposing to get married because my mother’s father opposed the wedding?”
“They are very old fashioned.”
“I meant why did her father oppose their marriage?”
Kevin paused. “...You know, I don’t know. She never told me.”
And now you will never know. Even after years of silence the thought sometimes hit him; You will never speak to them again.
Raymond hummed thoughtfully. “Perhaps your father was a cad.”
Kevin smiled mischievously. “He wasn’t the golfing type.”
Raymond laughed and leaned against him and Kevin admired how their rings caught the light. They looked elegant in their simplicity.
They had considered themselves married for years before the courthouse steps of course. How could they not? After being together for decades.
“It still doesn’t feel real.” He remarked. “Legally wed.”
“Professor Kevin Holt and Lieutenant Raymond Cozner.” They laughed softly at the proposed name change. No, much too late for that. It would be a nightmare to adjust to. They already had monogrammed pajamas.
“I never thought I’d see the day.”
“If you told me that one day I’d be married to a man I would have called you a liar.”
He would have called the bearer of that particular news a lot more than that. He pictured himself brought back to the night of his first kiss and comforting that sobbing little boy. Hurt, confused, and deeply ashamed.
“Are you the boogeyman?”
“I’m not gay, not really. I’m not…”
“What are you then?”
“...I’m wrong. I don’t know. I’m something…”
“There’s nothing wrong with you.”
“How do you know?”
“I’m you. I’m from the future. I’ve been through this before.”
“...Does it get better?”
“Yes. It also gets much, much worse.”
“You’re bad at being comforting.”
“You’re not making this very enticing.”
He imagined telling him about Raymond, about how intelligent and passionate and patient he was. About how he would love him more than anyone else in the world and about how a younger him would be terrified by that.
He was terrified by it sometimes too even now, not the fact that he loved Raymond but the ferocity of it. He would do anything for Raymond; He would buy a car and drive that car into the side of a building for his husband.
“But how do you know it’s enough?”
“Your love. I mean...isn’t it scary? Aren’t you putting him in danger?”
“Oh right, this.”
“You don’t. You are. That’s the thing about love it is a...pool. And you are allowing yourself to fall into it, not knowing how deep the water is.”
“Why would you do it then?”
“Because that initial declaration might be the fall, the trust, the dramatic leap into the water but the relationship that follows is...swimming. And it doesn’t matter how deep the water is if you know how to swim well enough.”
Kevin kissed Raymond’s temple and laced their fingers together, suddenly struck with a wave of love for the other man. They had been swimming for years together now, never tiring. At first he’d felt like he was getting away with something, that such a happiness could never be something he could have so easily. He had gone the first few months after the purchase of Gertie waiting for the other shoe to drop.
And then one day he realized he wasn’t waiting anymore.
He hadn’t looked back since then.
“I love you Raymond, thank you.”
“I love you too, but for what?”
“For agreeing to marry me.”
“Of course, was there ever any doubt?”
“No.” Kevin laughed. “And thank you for that too.”
Kevin didn’t know a great many things in life.
He didn’t know how to quantify how much he loved Raymond, why he still missed his parents sometimes, why he speed-walked past open church doors, how to tell if someone is your soulmate and what the right ratio of trust to water was when diving from a height.
But, He turned to look at Raymond who was resting on his shoulder, eyes closed. There was a soft smile on his lips and Kevin accepted his dividends gratefully.
Kevin didn’t know a great many things in life, but he knew with absolute certainty that he loved Raymond and that he would never let him drown. And that, he supposed, was enough.