Kissing Ethan rocked.
Kissing Ethan was like taking a rocket to outer space, floating in zero gravity, and marveling at the incomprehensible beauty of the creations of the universe. Kissing Ethan was sweet like the last piece of baklava, drenched in honey, snatched from the bottom of the box. Kissing Ethan was the answer to an unasked prayer.
And then there was being kissed by Ethan.
Being kissed by Ethan was not the same as kissing him.
Being kissed by Ethan was rapture, surrender. Being kissed was surfing a wave of joy, unpredictable and uncontrollable, that could break any moment and send you tumbling, an endless series of surprises.
Being kissed by Ethan was endorphins kicking in two hours into a tennis match, transforming pain into euphoria. It was being a ship in a violent storm, hoping you wouldn’t be torn apart as the ocean churned beneath you. It was feeling like your skin, your very body, would explode because it couldn’t possibly contain all the joy pulsing through it.
Alek brought Ethan’s face back up to his own. He kissed Ethan back.
Kissing Ethan was safer than being kissed by him.
“Whoa.” Alek pulled away, gasping for air, as if he’d just edged out a victory in the tiebreaker of a five-set tennis match, full of baseline strokes, cross-court slams, and net game saves.
“Come on,” Ethan purred. “We’re just getting started.”
Hundreds of half-naked men stared at Alek from the images Ethan had plastered around his room, cut from magazine ads—a kaleidoscopic homage to homoeroticism. The effect was dizzying as wall and ceiling and floor merged, seemingly seamlessly, with sculpted torsos and abs and chests and calves.
“I promised my mom I’d help get ready for Thanksgiving.” Alek retrieved his bright purple shirt with plaid-gray details from the chair by Ethan’s desk, the only pieces of furniture in the room other than the bed, where Ethan remained.
“I hate to point out the obvious, but Thanksgiving isn’t for another week.” Ethan rolled over. “Or is this some weird Armenian thing, like Christmas, that you celebrate at a different time than everyone else in the whole freakin’ world?”
“We Armenians celebrate Thanksgiving just like everyone else in this country, thank you very much. Although, did you know that Canadian Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday in October?”
“No, I did not know that.” Ethan sat up, surrendering to Alek’s departure. “You’re going to your grandma’s for Thanksgiving, right?”
“That was the plan.” Alek finished the last buttons on his shirt and grabbed his leather book bag, groaning under its nearing-midterms weight. “But then Nana twisted her ankle, so she decided she wasn’t up to hosting Thanksgiving. I will try to spare you the political saga that ensued as my dad and his two siblings negotiated who would assume the mantle, but suffice to say it involved three instances of blackmail, two of coercion, the reemergence of a fight from twenty years ago when my dad and his older sister were in college that had something to do with a cat, tears, apologies, more tears, and a complicated negotiation involving a credenza that both my dad and his younger brother would like once Nana finally passes to the next world. We’re talking backroom deals that would almost put 45’s presidential administration to shame.”
“And this is sparing me the saga?”
Alek nodded. “The long and short of it is that we will be hosting Thanksgiving this year, so yes—seven days is barely enough time to prepare. My mom took the week off from the UN. THE ENTIRE WEEK. Because she knows that hosting her in-laws is a prime opportunity for Nana to judge my mom’s cooking, housekeeping, and child-rearing. In fact, one of the Sunday-morning news shows theorized that Nana intentionally twisted her ankle just to have the opportunity to criticize whoever was fool enough to step up.”
Ethan rolled over on his back, defeated. “Are all Armenian families this complicated?”
“From what I hear at church, we’re on the simpler side. My mom has six siblings who all live in the same town in Southern Cali. I’m amazed they haven’t had a Romeo and Juliet–style feud spring up there.” Alek finished tying his shoes. “I’ll see you soon, okay?”
“‘Wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?’” Ethan asked, eyes batting innocence from the bed.
“‘What satisfaction canst thou expect?’” Alek flirted back. “See, I can quote R and J, too, but I’m still outta here.”
Ethan hopped out of bed and threw on a plaid flannel that hung open on his wiry frame. He kissed his boyfriend goodbye. “I’ll see you soon, okay?”
As Alek pedaled his way home, he tried to imagine what his life would be like if he hadn’t met Ethan last summer. They had lived in the same township for the entirety of their lives, but Ethan was a badass skater boy who hung out with other badass skater boys, and Alek was a geek/nerd combo with honor roll aspirations. They hadn’t met until they found themselves in summer school last June: Ethan because he’d failed Standard Geometry as a junior, and Alek to raise his C in Freshman Algebra to an honors grade.
Alek jumped the curb, landing lightly, his body hovering in midair, before lowering back down on the frame of his bike. Soon, it would be too cold to ride and he’d exile his bike to the shed until spring rolled around to liberate it. He adjusted the secondhand leather backpack that Ethan had found for him during one of their clandestine trips into NYC, early in their relationship.
It was easy to imagine what life would be like without the external stuff that had come from Ethan, like the backpack and the haircut and the clothes infinitely hipper than the suburban fare to which his mother had restricted him. He wouldn’t have any of those things if Ethan hadn’t strutted into his life. But those weren’t important.
It was the emotional stuff that had wrapped itself around his very being, like ivy around a building, that was impossible to untangle from his imagination. For one thing, he probably wouldn’t have come out if not for the super-chill pixie skater boy who made his insides yearn every time they were within arm’s reach. And if Ethan hadn’t taken Alek into New York City, Alek would’ve never discovered the one place where he truly felt himself, unlike the suburbs where he’d spent all 14 and 11/12 years of his life. It wasn’t that Ethan had changed Alek: rather, he’d helped Alek discover who he was. The alternate-universe Alek who’d never cut summer school to go with Ethan into New York on that first fateful trip would have no way of knowing how unrealized he was. But luckily, Alek wasn’t that Alek anymore.
Copyright © 2019 by Michael Barakiva