I'll begin by giving the opening of MO1, my sequel to PULL MY STRING today.
Where the heck is Carl?
He worried about first semester finals last week. I understood when he said he had no time to get together. Carl’s always been silent and moody. Artists can be like that. I understand. But he’s grown worse since school started again after winter break.
No. Even before.
Carl’s acted strange ever since his uncle, the old guy who claims he’s no longer gay, lost his job and moved into the family’s basement. The whole Redkin family acts different. They even skipped church yesterday. Probably the first time Carl’s mother’s voice didn’t overpower the choir since the days of Noah.
Most students moving around me and climbing the stairs to Farrington High School’s doors act like I’m just another lump of dirty snow. Doesn’t matter, I see Carl at the end of the block.
His solid frame looks better than usual. Or maybe it’s just that I haven’t seen him in so long. Even bundled in that bulky down coat his parents insisted on buying him, the one he says makes him look like a human marshmallow, he looks good.
I feel hard and tight and ready to go off like a Fourth of July bottle rocket as I jump to his side and give him a slap on the back. “Where you been, man? Damn near froze my ass off waiting on you.”
“Don’t.” He jumps and pulls himself free like my fingers are knives. “I…we need to talk.”
I know what that means. Code for, I’ve found someone else. It all comes together. His silence, the way he’s found excuses not to meet, the unanswered phone calls.
Who is he, I want to ask. What’s the name of the guy who’s taken Carl away? I’m ready to order him to stay with me. Dad used to call me Orders ’R Us, and even my big brother sometimes finds it easier to just salute and let me rule. But that’s not what I want with Carl.
“It was all a mistake.” Carl bites his lower lip the way he always does when he’s nervous. “I’m not gay. I’m…I want to be normal.”
“What are you talking about?”
Carl stands with his arms crossed tightly around himself, as if to push off an attack. “I just want to be normal. Is that too much to ask?”
For Carl to be normal, he has to dump me.
Maybe I didn’t really think we could be a forever couple.
Or maybe I did.
I thrust my hands deep into my pockets so he can’t see them shake and try making a joke. “We’re not abby-normal.” Stupid, and way below my usual standards. “There’s nothing wrong with us. Nothing except we’re standing out here with our nuts freezing when we should be smart enough to get inside.”
He frowns so hard his cheeks bulge. “My uncle says it’s a choice I have to make. He did, and it worked for him.” The eyes barely visible below his cap are wide and so dark they’re almost black instead of the coconut brown I fell for a year ago. The visor keeps snow from landing on his face, but moisture gleams on his cheeks and the tips of his eyelashes are white. The future doctor in me wants to tell him to brush the tears away before they freeze and make him sick. The lover in me wants to kiss him and make all this go away.
When I move closer, his eyes open and he steps back. “I’ve gotta change. You can handle this Neill, you’re strong. But I can’t deal anymore.”
Strong? It’s ten below and snowing and every word he says leaves me ready to melt into the salt-strewn sidewalk. “Nothing’s wrong with us.”
“There is no us anymore. I won’t be gay anymore.”
Just like that. As if he can turn his feelings off.
Maybe he can.
“I can’t deal,” Carl continues. “My family says--”
“Don’t listen to them.” I know what they tell him. I’ve heard it myself. God hates you fags. Homos are an abomination.
How do you argue with the God thing?
“Don’t listen to Mom and Dad? My uncle? I’m tired of being called a queer, faggot, or fudge-packer. Listening to my mother crying and praying because I’m on the fast path to hell.”
I jump forward and grab his sleeve.
People stream around us. The first period bell will ring in a few minutes. Neither Carl nor I are invisible. Bet the talk’s already raging about the family squabble.
“Are you saying you don’t love me anymore?” My heart pounds as I wait for his answer.
He doesn’t turn and look me in the face. Just nods like some bobble-head doll. “We can still be friends.”
Friends. The word is a knife in my chest.
When I release him, he heads up the stairs to the school entrance. As he disappears through the doors, the words of Kanye’s song run through my head. Now that that don’t kill me can only make me stronger.
Who’d ever want to be so fucking strong?
If Mom and Dad were still alive--
What would I do? Run home through the snow and throw myself in Mom’s lap? Been there, done that back in seventh grade, the first time a kid called me a butt-eating faggot. I won’t let my feelings control me. I’m Neill. My parents knew what they were doing when they named me chief. I know what I am and I won’t drop to my knees and go bitching about what Carl and I have.
What we had.
Yeah, my hero's gay. And he's got a heck of an arc to go through.
Tomorrow I'll go for Girl Marked X (Adult Romantic Suspense)