Illustration by Priyanka Paul
I was on my knees wearing only my underwear with the tube of Troye’s cock in my mouth when his father opened the door. He didn’t say a word to either at us, not at first. He smelt of cake batter and icing. His eyes, red in the whites, pretended to express sorrow. I felt dirty and wrong. I put on my shirt, then my pants and stood behind Troye. He walked up to his father with his hand held out in front of him.
Dad, said Troye, I am so sorry.
His father said nothing. He covered his face with his hands and took a deep breath.
Troye touched his father’s shoulder, and repeated himself, Dad, I am so sorry.
There was a moment of silence from both of them, and then his father showed his face again. He looked the opposite as my father did when he first saw me intimate with another man. His face was wrinkled and mad, his look of scorn directed at me.
Who do you think you are? he asked me.
I reached for my shoes and tried to think of a good response. Troye was my closest friend. We had that respect to listen and try to understand one another, to not judge and attempt to change our perceptions and beliefs. It had been four months since Troye told me how he felt toward men and me. We were sitting under an overpass, listening to the train leave town for Richmond. I can’t really explain things completely, he had said, but I’m happy when I see you. Then he kissed me for the first time.
Can you promise me something? he asked me after his lips left mine.
What is it?
I need you to promise not to tell everyone else about this. Not until I say so.
I promise, I said, nourishing that special loyalty between us, and agreeing to keep what we had behind closed doors—either at my house on the weekends, or at his house right after school when his father would be away at work. Today, though, we met later than usual. I had went home when classes were done. I took an hour nap and then woke up to a text from Troye that read: Dad is running an hour or two late running deliveries. Want to come over for a quick bit and say hey? I told myself on the way home that I would rest and then do my homework for Chemistry II and fill out the forms for junior year photos, but I responded to Troy with delight. I said I would be over in a few minutes after I grabbed a quick snack.
I couldn’t help myself. It sucked going a day without seeing him face-to-face. Only I should have gotten over myself and stuck to our agreement. I should have told him no and reminded him about the risk of not knowing exactly when his father would be pulling up into the driveway.
Troye’s father pointed at me. He demanded of me, Answer me, faggot!
Dad, please stop.
His father punched him in jaw, knocking him against the wall behind me. The photos of Troye with his parents fell from their nails and off the dresser. Troye down against the wall and onto the carpet floor. I helped him up, and the two of us pushed past his father as he tried to swing and grab us. We ran out of the house. Troye’s cheeks, normally the color of paste, were swollen and turning into the color of an over-ripened plum.
We ran for a couple of blocks. The dust and dirt on the sidewalk we raised up fizzled and dissolved in the heat radiating up from the concrete. We passed by rows of house, all old and vinyl with dish satellites attached to their roofs. Each was one of a handful of colors: mint green, coral, white, or sky blue. We turned into a cul-de-sac and sat on a sidewalk bench. Troye rested his head on my shoulder and cried, while I stroked his hair and wiped the blood from off of his face with the sleeve of my shirt. Flies snarled and buzzed around our heads in the hot air. I bent over and gave him my shoes. I worried his feet may have blistered and ached. I told him everything would be okay and that I would help him in any way he needed.
A little more than a year later, two days before Christmas break, Troye and I met on the visiting-team bleachers of our high school’s football field. Our meeting was a favor he had asked of me. Since the deal with his father, and school getting foster care involved, we had taken a break from things. We were still friends, but friends that only kissed each other in the bathroom when no one was looking, and who cut class together every so often to grab a late breakfast together at Waffle House.
My dad tried to see me, again yesterday said Troye.
Do what my mamma told me to tell you, and tell whoever is in charge that you don’t want him near you.
It doesn’t matter. I think I’ll be moving in with my grandparents soon.
That sounds nice. Now you can have your own room again.
I smiled at him, but he didn’t smile back. I felt concern mixed with anger lift inside me as he remained silent and I realized that my comment had only brought more grief to Troye’s situation, that there was something else he had to tell me about moving in with his grandparents that would upset me.
He rolled a stone that was underneath his hands against the cold bleacher. They live pretty far. In Oklahoma. A thirteen-hour drive if you don’t stop to piss or get gas.
I chewed on my bottom lip and took his hands. He turned away from me and bowed his head. I asked him if there was a relative that lived closer that could take him in. But there were none that were accepting of what his father had told them. So I asked him about telling his grandparents that he would rather not live with them since he was so close to being done with school and didn’t want to say goodbye to his friends.
If they would only be so reluctant, he said.
Then what else is there? There has to be some way to keep you here. God damnit, why wouldn’t they cut you some slack? After all the hell you’ve been through?
Troye lifted his head. I stared at his hazel eyes then rubbed my nose against his and leaned in, leading his lips to mine. When we finally pulled away, I looked at the scar on his right cheek and ran my thumb across it. I thought about that day and said, I hope you never have to deal with that again.
He gave me a peck on the cheek as our rides home pulled up in the school parking lot. We grabbed our backpacks and walked together, hand in hand. As we approached my car, he told me in my ear, Call me tonight.
Just some time before you go to bed.
Is there a time you plan on turning in specifically? I don’t want to wake you.
You’re such a silly goose. He hugged me and walked away from me as I grabbed the door handle. Just text me if you’re that worried.
I waited until after dinner was over to call. There was no answer. He responded with a phone call around midnight. We spoke for only a few minutes. He told me that he got busy working on something and that his phone had died. I trusted him. I thought for sure that whatever he had been doing related to his grandparents and thinking about earlier. To make up for things, he asked me out for coffee in the morning at the coffee shop next to school. I told him that I was looking forward to it, and he promised me that he would call me if he ended up arriving their first or started running late.
But In the morning, I ordered my coffee from the barista without Troye, without any call or text. Steam lifted from the small sip hole of my cup. The sun was just over the parking garage across the street, and the sky was red with low, dark gray clouds. A flock of geese passed over my head, as a couple, a guy and girl, stepped outside, arm in arm, sharing a glazed doughnut with sprinkles. I took a sip from my coffee and burned my tongue. I spat what was in my mouth on to the ground and wiped my lips. Annoyed, I tried calling Troye. There was no answer. So, then I texted him—Where are you?
I waited five minutes after finishing my drink before zipping up my jacket and walking to school. I sat through class like I normally did and didn’t reach out to anyone about him. When I got picked up at the end of the day, I drew a picture of Troye and I in my math notebook and sent him a picture of it. What I had sent looked like crap and nothing like either one of us, but in the picture Troye was sitting on a rock overlooking a cliff and the ocean. I was sitting beside him with my legs crossed and my hand not far from his on the grass.
When I got home, I had dinner with my parents, then sat outside with my Mamma on the back porch. She smoked a cigarette and finished drinking a bottle of lime Smirnoff.
Haven’t heard from Troye today, I said.
Have you called and checked on him?
I did earlier, but not since.
She took another drag and flicked her ashes in the empty bottle between us. Doesn’t seem like him. You see him at school?
Well, maybe something important came up and he had to miss today. I wouldn’t sweat it, honey.
I leaned back and looked at the acorns and leaves of the trees all covered in ice that sparkled like gemstones and diamonds in the light from the porch. The sky was empty and dark, the air still and cold.
Weird how it’s almost a new year, isn’t it? I wish it were summer. Would be nice to go swimming. Troye enjoys going to Virginia Beach and Whitehurst.
Dear, we got at least two more months of this cold before it’s even spring. Not that I mind. I like when it’s cold and I get to wear my sweaters and coats.
Maybe I’ll wear that red cardigan you got me for Christmas last year and go see Troye tomorrow if he doesn’t say anything to me tonight.
You do that, son, said Mamma, but don’t go off pestering the boy if you get there tomorrow and he’s not in the mood to be all social. Give him space. Give him time to come to you. He’s got a lot on his plate.
My phone vibrated in my pocket. Troye had left a text. It read: Babe, getting to have you in my life has been such a blessing. You make me laugh all the time, and I have always counted on you to have my back. I will never forget when you took me to your house after my dad walked in on us in my room. You cleaned my face and put that silly Hello Kitty band aid on it. I’m sorry that I have no luck and have such a screwed-up life. I got a lot to make sense of right now, and you don’t need to be with someone who doesn’t know himself no more than he knows a stranger on the streets. I love you, and I’m sorry I’ve put you through all this.
I put down my phone not knowing if I should cry or scream. I thought of how there was nothing directly stated that said I wouldn’t be seeing Troye for a very long time, but I figured that Troye had probably made up his mind about moving away, and he was happy and open to the possibility of a fresh start after being hurt so badly. I imagined how life would have gone had I stayed home that day. This would have been the point in our relationship where we understand each other, completely, and we are beginning to map out rooming together in college. I pictured us beside one another, in our own house, sharing the same bed and looking back on our childhood as older men. But it was clear Troye didn’t want that anymore, and as much as I wanted to respond with something hateful from the shock of his message, I didn’t. I tried to be fine with that last moment of us together, on the bleachers, just talking as best friends.
My Mamma finished her cigarette and rubbed the side of my arm.
You ready to go inside, hun? It’s starting to get late.
I chuckled. I’m not sure why. I suddenly realized how cold it was. I leaned forward and slid my hands beneath me. The wood of the porch was warm from my body. I sucked on my upper teeth till my gums bled. Mamma put her arm around me.
Dear, you alright?
Sure, Mamma. You bet.
DEXTER BENJAMIN GORE is a native to Aynor, SC but has spent the past year traveling the Deep South and working on his MFA in Creative Writing at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA. He is currently working on his first novel. Dexter‘s stories have appeared in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, TEMPO Magazine, Archarios, KY Lavender Bluegrass: LGBT Writers on the South, and Deep South Magazine.
PRIYANKA PAUL is a humanities student at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. She’s a self taught artist and loves to experiment with different mediums. She also writes and most of her written work is accompanied by her illustrations. Her art is highly influenced by social issues, gender studies and a basic liberal outlook of the world.