Standing patiently in the locker room entrance, I watched as each football player came out to greet his proud cheerleader with a sloppy kiss and the knowledge that he was about to get laid. After a whole football season I began to notice that the team and the cheerleaders held some sort of sick rotation so that every player got to sleep with every cheerleader. Every player, that is, exept Gabe. The couples that formed at the locker room doors came and went as simple passerbys that barely diluted my memory. Finally, as the stadium cleared Gabe emerged from the locker room and glanced around.
"Are you ready to go, man?" Gabe asked.
"Yeah." I should have said something like 'good game' or 'that was an awsome tackle you made,' but Gabe was a benchwarmer. The momentary lack of words was routine. I fumbled carelessly with my car keys to fill the silence. By the time we reached the parking lot, it was empty, save my car and the occasional abandoned hot dog that was only half eaten. The football game was soon for gotten, and Gabe's mouth found its normal, talkative state. I slid the key into the ignition and shifted the gear. Compared to the friendly warmth of Gabe's voice, the steering wheel was like a ring of ice in my hands. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and pryed my eyelids apart. Then I began to drive.
I drove down the back streets to Gabe's house and stopped the car. As Gabe opened the car door, the akward silence regained its composure. The stiff air folded itself over the fake leather apolstery and forced its way into my lungs. The only sounds were the gentle hum of the car engine and the malicious barks coming from the house. We sat in the ally listening to the ruthless argument. Something about a job quickly changed to a quarrel from years ago, something about a lawsuit, then the conversation turned to Gabe.
"You can't do anything right! Just look at your son, Victor." The first voice, a woman's.
"What do you mean look and my son? It's not my fault Gabe is a..."
The hollow thud of the car door cut off the man's words. The shouting voices transformed into inaudible murmers, stifled by the humming metal cage in which w sat. The blood drained from Gabe's face.
"Gabe, do you want to stay at my house tonight?" I voulenteered.
"Sure." His voice sounded empty and distant. He acted like that until we got to my house, like a python had lid down his throat and curled up in his stomach.
The lights in my house were turned off. My parents had already gone to bed. I parked the car in the driveway. Reluctantly, Gabe and I got out of the car and went inside. I locked the door behind me. The melodic click of the latch echoed through the dormant house. We made our way to my bedroom, careful not to wake anyone up.
Pulling the extra matress off of my bed and several blankets from my closet, I made a bed on the floor for Gabe. Then, in the dim moonlight protruding from my window, we began to undress. Unconsiously, I watched as Gabe pulled off his shirt. The light creased gently over the muscels in his back, but dissapeared as the hem of one of my old t-shirts drifted down and fell just below his waist. I tore my eyes away and changed into my pajamas. We laid down on the beds and stared up at the ceiling.
"Hey, Caleb," Gabe said. "Thanks for getting me away from there tonight."
"What are friends for?" I replied. "Do they always fight like that?"
Gabe forced a laugh. "Yeah. You know, sometimes I wish I had a reason for living."
I want to be your reason for living, I thought. I tried to say something, anything, but my mouth couldn't form the words.
"Thanks again, man."
"I love you, man." I ushered the words out, but Gabe was already asleep. Away I lay, watching the steady rise and fall of his chest, listening to the rythmic pattern of his breathing. I waited several long, tiring hours, stoking the fire among my thoughts, mustering all my courage. Then, slowly, I got up and kneeled next to Gabe's make-shift bed. Placing one hand softly on Gabe's shoulder and the other firmly on the floor next to the matress, I poised my head over his. Then I pressed my lips against his cheek, his nose, and finally his lips. Gabe's lips. Gabe's lips were like candy against my own, and in my mind there was only one thought. The thought pierced through the kiss like so many daggers spearing my limbs.
This is wrong.
In one swift movement I pulled away and stood. Through the corner of my eye I say a shadow. It was alive. No, I corrected myself, it was my sister. As she turned to run I caught her by the arm. My teeth clenched in fear.
"What did you see?" I demanded.
"Caleb," she cried, "let go."
"What did you see?" I repeated
She stopped trying to pull away and looked up at my with her giant eyes. She knew.
"Darcy, you have to promise me you won't tell."
She didn't say anything.
"Darcy, promise me."
Darcy began to cry. "Caleb, I promise."
I wiped a tear from her cheek. She jumped up, swung her arms around my neck, and sobbed.
"Hey, it's okay." I embraced her. "It's going to be okay."
I fell asleep in the doorway with my sister in my arms.
When I woke up the next morning Darcy and Gabe were gone. I changed clothes and went downstairs. My mother eyed me viciously when I entered the kitchen. It smelt like fried eggs. She was wearing a dress. She took one look at my faded jeans and ripped up sweat shirt and shook her head.
"Caleb," she said in a lulaby voice, "go change into a suit."
"Why?" I asked.
"The preacher is coming over for breakfast."
"Why?" I joked, "Are you and Dad getting a divorce?"
Mom didn't laugh.
She didn't even smile.
Darcy flipped an egg.
"Darcy told me about last night," Mom finally said.
"Mom!" Darcy yelled.
She flipped another egg.
I was furious. "Is that why the preacher is coming over? Just so he can tell me I'm going to Hell?"
Mom said nothing.
Darcy flipped another egg.
"Good-bye, Mom," I said.
"Caleb, wait!" Darcy pleaded after me.
I walked away. Walking still I stepped outside into the morning sun. I kept walking. Five minutes to the convinience store. Ten to the park. An hour to the other side of town. I walked until I couldn't walk anymore. When I stopped I was at Gabe's house. At first I didn'trealize it was his house. There was no yelling, no fighting. Then I looked again. It was the right house number ont the right street. Still, I looked yet again. A police car was sitting in the drive way. Maybe this is the right house, I thought. I followed the sidewalk to the front door. The doorbell was a sad series of chimes. Mrs. Patterson, Gabe's mother, answered the door.
Her face grew stiff with anger as she flew over the threshold, pounding her delicate fists into my chest, screaming inaudible curses. I made a feeble atempt to pin her fragile arms to her sides. The aged woman crumpled into my embrace, bawling.
After many tearful minutes I asked, "What happened?"
Mrs. Patterson leaned away from me. As she looked me over, her glare became a soft gaze of understanding. Blowing her nose into a tissue, she motioned for me to follow her. She led me to the den only to be stopped by a tall cop with a mullet. He looked as though he was covered in a thin layer of dust and smelled a little too much like bourbon, like he had been pulled right out of a bad 80's cop movie.
"I think I have all the evidence I need. I'm terribly sorry for your loss ma'am." The cop looked from me to Mrs. Patterson and back at me. "They'll come for the body in about half an hour." Then he left.
Mrs. Patterson pointed to the den. "Take as long as you like," she squeaked.
I moved towards the den. Gabe's dead body lay on the floor next to the computer. I reached for one of his hands. He was cold. There was blood on his shirt, on his stomach. It had seeped through. I glanced at the computer. A document was open. Look, closer, my insides screamed. It was a letter. Look closer! It was to me.
My parents have been fighting for a while now. Lately, though, they started fighting about me. I love you. I don't think you understand. I really love you. When my parents found out they started fighting over who's fault it was that I was gay. I just couldn't take it anymore. Don't ever think it was you fault I shot myself. It wasn't anyone's fault. I couldn't live a lie with you and be and argument to my parents at the same time. Don't think of me any differently. Please. I'm still the same guy. I'm jsut dead now.
I love you.
I turned around to look at the corpse. It was still Gabe. Except now he loved me, too. I leaned over Gabe and kissed him. His lips were still like candy against mine. His lips. Gabe's lips. My lips. I kissed him until I couldn't tell where he ended and I began. This time it wasn't wrong. This time there was no shame.
And I swear I felt him kiss me back.