CN: Sibling Abuse, Homophobic Slurs
I ride my new green bike around the neighborhood and try to think of it as my own. I can hear boys shouting and laughing as I turn the corner of Sunnydale, and I creep closer to investigate.
There’s five boys total, and they’re all older than me except for maybe the smallest one. Three of them are shirtless and the others wear t-shirts tight with sweat. Backs glisten as they wrestle each other to the ground over a football, rubbing grass and dirt into their knees and chests. The smallest boy has long black bangs he constantly pushes from his face as it drips with sweat. I like watching him the most.
It’s only when they all go inside the house that I realize I’ve been staring. Next time I should bring a notebook.
“Nana!” Cloud shouts as she bolts to me from the front yard of Gramon’s House.
“Gimme a piggyback ride!”
“Can I at least put up my bike first?”
She’s only in kindergarten. Too little to know we’re not just visiting Gramon, but staying here and never going back to our old house. I’m only a few inches taller than her even though I’m already in 4th grade, so we tumble and giggle our way into the kitchen as I try to carry her.
Gramon’s kitchen is so big it has its own dining room, completely separate from the fancy one where we only eat for Thanksgiving and Christmas. On the wall are two big pictures of Daddy and Aunt Jantha when they were in school. Daddy has the same mustache but much bigger hair, with a tuxedo and serious expression while holding his trombone that he never plays. Aunt Jantha has long braided hair, round sunglasses, and a big leather jacket as she smiles on top of a big red motorcycle she doesn’t own anymore.
“Well that was fast!” Gramon teases, “You couldn’t have been gone for more than half an hour.”
“Oh well,” I shrug, “Better luck tomorrow.”
I’m not stupid enough to tell Gramon I’ve been spying on older boys. Instead I focus on her hands as she rolls hamburger meat into little balls and thwaps them onto a cookie sheet.
“What are you making?”
“Spaghetti. Y’all’s favorite, right?” Gramon has a Southern accent, which is weird, because she grew up in San Francisco with Aunt Carole and Grandma Binger before she met Papa Phil.
“Can I help?”
“Ooh, me too!” Cloud chimes in. She always wants to do whatever I’m doing. Sometimes it’s annoying, but I love my little sister.
“Sure! Go wash your hands and bring those barstools over here.”
We race to the bathroom and pretend to push each other as we both wash our hands under the faucet. Then Gramon has us roll the meat into balls and drop them onto the sheet so we can bake them while the noodles boil.
I love to cook. It’s like magic, spinning gold from straw.
The backyard of boys is deserted the next day, so I pedal aimlessly along Cloverdale toward what’s supposed to be my new school. And then I see him. The Boy With Long Black Bangs sitting on a bike at the corner.
I try to think of something cool to say, but the closer I get the harder it is to think. He’s actually much taller once I get next to him, and he’s probably at least a grade older too.
“Hi, my name’s Dorian. I noticed you and your brothers playing in your backyard the other day,” I blush fiercely as the words suddenly catch up with me. Way to go, now I look like a creep.
“Just one brother. Jason. The rest are his friends.” His bangs rustle in the breeze and his voice is soft and deep.
Oh no. I’m staring at him again.
“Do you want to come hang out in my treehouse?”
My face gets redder.
“Oh wow! Of course. I’ve always wanted a treehouse. My dad was supposed to build one at our old house but he never finished it. Or started it, really.”
He gives me a halfway smile through his curtain of hair and suddenly I forget all about The Divorce. Forget I’m going to a new school next week where I won’t have any friends.
He leads me to the same spot of his fence where I spied on them yesterday, and for a moment I wonder if he noticed me yesterday.
The treehouse is everything you could ever want. Windows. A porch. Even a rope ladder so you can keep anyone else from climbing up. There’s a clothesline stretching across their huge yard to a stack of firewood along the back of their fence, and he shows me how to ride across it on an old set of handlebars. He calls it a zip-line.
“You have the coolest treehouse ever!” And he shows off, jumping and flipping off the zip-line while I try not to laugh.
“Thanks, but my dad and brother built it, so technically it’s not really mine. Do you want to come over tomorrow? My brother won’t be home all day.”
“Sure,” I wish I could think of something intelligent to say. But he smiles at me anyway.
“Guess what Mommy?”
“I made a new friend today. He has a treehouse and a zip-line and long black hair.”
“That’s nice sweetie. What’s his name?”
And then it dawns on me, “I—I don’t know.”
She laughs, “What do you mean you don’t know?”
“I forgot to ask him, and he never told me!” I protest.
“He has an older brother named Jason,” I offer as an after-thought. Mommy only laughs more.
“You’re so cute. I love you!”
Tomorrow. I will learn his name tomorrow.
“What’s your name?” I ask as soon as The Boy With Long Black Bangs answers his door.
“Ryan,” he mumbles. He walks into his house without saying anything else. Should I follow?
“Ryan, okay,” I repeat nervously as I follow him down a dark hallway, “My name’s Dorian, in case I forgot to tell you. I do that a lot. What are you up to?”
Why is my voice going higher and faster? I bet he’s already sick of me. Maybe I should have invited him to Gramon’s instead of only going to his house? That was probably rude of me.
He leads me into his bedroom and locks the door behind us.
“This is my room. I used to share it with my brother but he has his own now. We still have to share the Nintendo though.”
It’s only then I realize he actually has a TV in his room! His parents must be rich.
“You’ve got a Nintendo in your room? That’s so cool! I’ve got a Gameboy and a Super Nintendo, but I can only play when nobody’s watching TV. What are your favorite games? Mine are Zelda and Donkey Kong Country.”
I manage to shut up long enough for him to answer as he stretches out on his bed, looking thoughtfully up at the ceiling.
“I like Street Fighter. Ever played that game?”
“No,” I hope this isn’t a trick question. I hope he doesn’t think I’m a dork. I hope he thinks I’m cool.
“Here I’ll show you,” he hands me a controller and flicks on the console before grabbing his own, “These buttons make you punch and these make you kick and these make you move around. Whoever dies last wins. Ready?”
I’m not very good, but eventually I learn a few of the combos and even win a round or two. It’s nice to play video games with someone else. Most of my games are only one player.
But then there’s stomping and a bang on the door and Ryan jumps to his feet to let a much bigger boy into the room. He has short bristly hair and a nasty look on his face as he glares at Ryan and then me.
“What are you and your new girlfriend up to, faggot?” He looks at our paused game and then Ryan stares blankly back at him.
I’ve never actually seen a real fight in real life before, but they happen a lot quicker than on TV. The boys fling each other to the floor and snarl like dogs while I climb onto Ryan’s bed to stay out of the way. In less than a minute the large boy has Ryan’s arm twisted around his back and keeps pulling until Ryan calls out, “Uncle!”
“That’s what I thought. I’m taking the Nintendo. Stay out of my room,” and then he slams the door behind him just as quickly.
I let out a low whistle while Ryan gingerly picks himself off the ground, “So I’m guessing that’s your brother, huh? Real master of conversation, isn’t he?”
Ryan lets out a big laugh. I like to think I’m the only one who can make Ryan laugh like that. He usually looks sad.
“Yeah, That’s Jason. Wait until you meet his friends. He’s the smart one,” he lifts his elbow to reveal a nasty rug burn that makes my stomach lurch in sympathy.
“Oh my God, are you okay?” I say a bit more dramatically than intended.
“Oh this is nothing,” he brags, “I’ve had a lot worse. I take it you don’t have a big brother?”
“No, just a little sister. And we’re actually nice to each other,” I’m down on the floor closely examining his wound before I stand up and grab his hand for the hallway.
He doesn’t protest, and I quickly find the bathroom and the medicine cabinet and the peroxide. You can always find peroxide if you look hard enough.
I run a wet washcloth over his elbow to clean any carpet fuzz and then tilt a bit of the peroxide into my outstretched hand.
“This might sting,” I warn him playfully, and he smirks through his bangs at me.
By the time I finish the job and stand up, I’m blushing again. So I pretend to wash my hand, try to get a grip on myself. We stare at each other as I exit the bathroom back to his room.
“So now what?” He’s sitting on his bed, grinning at me through that long black hair. I love how happy he looks whenever he looks at his wound and then back at me.
My heart is pumping too fast and my head is too light. I can’t remember who I am. Can’t remember what’s happening.
“Lost for words? That seems unlikely for you,” he laughs again, “Want to learn how to jump off my roof?”
“No!” I giggle, “But I’ll watch you.”
That night I lay awake on the couch in Papa’s Study. Normally I think boys are stupid, but even when Ryan was jumping off his roof into prickly bushes I still like being around him. And I like looking at him. And today I discovered I liked touching him even more. What if I like Ryan? I can’t like boys, can I? Not unless I’m a girl, and I know that’s not going to happen.
What would Papa Phil say if he was watching me and Ryan up in Heaven? I already know it would make him mad. But isn’t he supposed to always be happy in Heaven anyway? I fall asleep dreaming of two shirtless brothers wrestling on the floor.