Squire leaned in close to the bathroom mirror, letting the edge of the sink push into his stomach so he'd have a nice close-up view for putting on his eyeliner. It was Molly Turnbaugh's eyeliner technically, one of a handful of small items she'd left at his house at some time or other that he'd decided he'd rather keep than return. He was dressed to go out, his hair spiked, white ribbed undershirt, bright plaid boxer shorts showing above the waistband of his baggy carpenter's jeans, his best black sneakers, a dog's chain collar around his neck, fastened with a small padlock.
"Chris Murphy is in the driveway," his dad hollered from down the hall. "Tell him if he honks again, I'm going to kick his ass." He didn't mean that seriously. The honking did annoy him.
Squire opened the door a crack. "Sorry, Dad. I'll be right out." Chris was driving them to an all-ages party at a strip-mall dance club in Middletown. He hoped to rush out without letting his dad get a good look at him. His father didn't care for the 'connotations' of the dog collar, he'd said before, and Squire doubted he'd look any more favorably on the eye liner. He examined his teeth once more, honed some of the spikes in his hair with a couple spitty fingers, opened the bathroom door and sprinted down the hall. His dad wasn't in the living room. He was standing in the driveway talking to Chris and looking at his car, probably pumping him for information about where they were going and what they were doing.
"Bye, I'll be home late," Squire said as he opened the door to Chris's car.
"One o'clock," Squire's dad said.
"Are you going to be here," Squire said, "or are you gonna be at Robin's?"
"That's for me to know and for you to find out. I'm giving you an hour extra for the drive, otherwise your curfew's still midnight." He grabbed Squire's wrist, covered in beaded elastic bracelets and a braided string, before he could climb into the car, and said, "Hey!" before kissing him on the forehead. "Have fun."
Squire sighed and rolled his eyes for Chris as he settled into the passenger side bucket seat. "He's not going to be home at one. He's going to be out fucking his girlfriend."
"I hope so," Chris said. "The party won't get started really until midnight." Chris had his shoes kicked off under his seat and was driving barefoot, which annoyed Squire because Chris had ugly feet. He wouldn't say anything right now because when he said Chris's feet were ugly, Chris would try and touch him with them. Chris Murphy could flex his individual toes with a surprising degree of independence.
Chris started his recitation of who would be at the party, mostly people they'd met at earlier parties and Squire was bad at keeping track. It never seemed to matter much in any case, just something Chris liked to do, remember a bunch of people and their names and faces for no particular purpose beyond saying "hello" when he ran into them. Of the kids they expected to see, Squire had a few favorites. There were Kendra and Raven, who Chris called "the Goth Lesbians," because they were, sort of, although Squire had messed around with both of them. Nicole and Meaghan were two girls from Middletown about their age, although they came to meet older boys. Chris had kissed Meaghan once, while Squire talked about cooking with Nicole. They both had to make dinner a couple times a week, and liked some of the same cooking programs on public television. Squire did like dancing, sometimes, if he was in the proper mood and people he knew and liked were there. This guy Charlie had taught him to dance like a robot and a couple other choice moves, like this little 180 degree pivot on one foot which, done quickly and smooth enough, looked pretty hot. Mostly he'd just bounce up and down and side to side until he was sweaty, the frontmost spikes in his hair collapsing and sticking to his forehead.
There were at least two dozen kids that Chris was on good terms with, and most of the time Squire wouldn't get busted for not remembering their names, exactly. Brian, Ryan, Seven, Dex, Jax, Mikey, Mike, etcetera. A lot of them were on drugs anyhow, and this made Squire especially indifferent to them as individuals. Chris had suggested, a couple times, that they should try it themselves, there was a kid selling E for thirty bucks a hit. Squire was angry his mentioning this, delivering an anti-drug lecture moralistic in the only acceptable way: it was stupid to pay so much money to make a bunch of people who were in reality boring as fuck seem interesting. Because it worked by making you as stupid as they were. Chris was swaying Squire a lot more than he'd let on by casually adding, "We don't have to take it here. We should go camping and roll and totally lay back and watch the stars and shit."
Squire had a difficult time not being angry at the environment these all-ages parties took place in, a "dance club" with a "juice bar" -- that is, a regular bar with a dance floor that, once a week, put away the liquor and put out a soda dispenser pumping seltzer, lemonade and red tropical punch. It was hard not to see that it sucked, although Chris seemed to manage the feat. Middletown sucked, just an ugly boring suburban center, and Pine Branch, where Chris and Squire actually lived, super-sucked, sleepy enough to be considered officially comatose. There were rumors -- rumors that Chris liked repeating -- that someone was planning a genuine outlaw party in the old Middletown Plaza, boarded up for the last eight years since the new Middletown Highlands Galleria was built across the highway. The Plaza was a backdrop for Squire's childhood memories, shoe-shopping with his mom and haircuts with his dad and the Klein's department store Santa, a bubbling blue cement fountain with pennies and nickels at its bottom. It was strange to see the Plaza closed up, partly because there was so little to indicate its being closed. It had never had any windows; its textured concrete block walls didn't need painting. The only evidence of its demise was the vast empty parking lot, the plywood over the doors, the rust-colored stains that formed a connect-the-dot memory of the removed and discarded Klein's logo. Squire would have loved to go to a party inside, to see what it looked like, to remember which stores had been where. He had always been fascinated by the senseless complexity of its floor plan, the illogical sequence of nearly identical spaces. This outlaw party would have been actually exciting, for a change, if it had been anything more than a rumor. But rumors were, in and of themselves, lame.
The latest rumors were about a Homecoming-season genital-wart infestation being passed around one particularly incestuous eleventh-grade clique. This had a basis in truth. Squire was rumored to be one of the kids affected. This was not true but it easily could have been. It was just his good luck he wasn't. He'd had an astonishing promiscuity streak going ever since Christmas tenth grade, when something in him had suddenly clicked on. Since then he had had actual sexual intercourse with five females, had done oral or something else with eight more, estimating conservatively. He had led three males, including his best friend Chris Murphy, into stimulating acts, and over the summer he had been indisputably devirginized by an unlikeable twenty-year-old he met in an internet chat room he'd gone to initially with the conscious intent to make fun of gay guys on a boring school night. Pine Branch, New York, was possibly the most boring place on earth. You had to do something to kill the time.
Despite this rich experience, he didn't have much of a sexual imagination. When he jerked off, he pictured things he'd done, things he'd seen, porno clips he'd downloaded. He didn't have crushes. His occasional obsessions were strategic in nature, procedural, methodical.
He'd heard a cruel rumor, for example, that Kristy Johansen, a quiet, tall girl with thin white-blond hair, fragile eyelashes and a doughy complexion, had been born a hermaphrodite, had had surgery as a baby to fix her up female on the outside, and he decided then that he would seduce her; he would see for himself. It must have been true, he figured, because she wouldn't give in to his overtures, even though she was plain and socially awkward and didn't have any other boys chasing her, was almost certainly a virgin. He devoted time to it, hung with her after school, took her to the movies -- although she always insisted on their buying their own tickets. She let him kiss her in her car, let him feel her up, bare and suckle her breasts, but she wouldn't allow his hand below her waist. This baffled and irritated him. He made her presents, handmade notebooks for her poetry, sheets of rag paper sewn with ribbons between covers of sturdy cardboard covered in wallpaper scraps. He made her mix tapes, carefully alternating romantic pop songs with innuendo-laden dance tracks. Squire asked Kristy to the Junior Prom even though he could have easily gotten a hotter date. He let her pick out his tuxedo with a cummerbund and tie to match her dress. He even picked up a bottle of champagne and a couple tabs of acid for afterwards. And when, afterwards, he took her to the foot of Cheneys Point to watch the stars streak and shake in the sky, he brought out his best material, holding her hand, musing aloud about the cruelty of nature -- about his mother dying, about his dad hating him, about the tragic possibility that he was somehow malformed, twisted, something wrong with him from the day he was born. He pulled it off spectacular, he even cried, and she held him, and his performance was so superb that he himself was taken in at some moments. "Oh Kristy," he said with his wet face against her neck, his hand creeping up her leg. "I just want to be with you, just once at least."
"Squire," she said, holding him gently at a bent arm's length. "You don't have to. I mean. You're gay, aren't you? I mean, I know. I still like you a lot. You don't have to prove anything to me, I don't care."
"God you're such a fucking freak," he said, pulling away, furious. "What's wrong with you you stupid bitch?"
Kristy's doughy face took on an expression of great profundity.
"Don't you ever fucking tell anyone you think I'm gay, you dumb ugly bitch. I'll kill you. I'll fucking kill your cat, how about that?"
"Just take me home," Kristy said, folding her hands in her lap. "I'm not going to say anything." She cried quietly on the drive back to town. Squire figured it was because he called her ugly.
Squire's big test case senior year was one of Chris's buddies from the soccer team.
Angelo Fonzone had school spirit. Angelo was abstinent. When guys swapped bullshit stories about their alleged sexual conquests, Angelo would join in, in the same loud-mouth boastful jocky tone, and say, "Me -- no, I'm still a virgin." Angelo was Christian with a capital C. Squire thought religion was the stupidest thing ever. He teased Chris Murphy, who was Catholic, for going to church with his parents every Sunday but since Chris didn't believe any of the things he pledged to believe at his confirmation it wasn't much use teasing him. Angelo did believe things, but he wasn't obviously and clearly a dumb fuck like most obviously religious kids. Angelo went to all the jock parties even though he didn't drink or smoke pot, and he never bitched at anybody for drinking or smoking though he would take guys' car keys away. He never told Squire he was going to Hell. He seemed to think nothing serious of Squire's atheism. In fact, at parties he talked to Squire more than he did his jock friends, who never had anything interesting to say and even less when they were drunk. He listened to Squire's antagonistic rants pleasantly and followed some of Squire's social experiments with appreciation and interest, particularly the one he called "the gallon-of-water trick."
The gallon-of-water trick was where Squire would dare some meathead to chug a gallon of water in ten minutes or less. You could always find a milk jug or container at a house party. After the chosen victim had verbally accepted the challenge, Squire would demur, try to stop the guy, say it was a cruel joke, the guy shouldn't really try it. The capacity of the human stomach was less than a gallon, he'd explain, and if you drank a gallon of water that fast you would throw up before you finished. No bones about it, no willpower or stamina could make a difference, it was just physically impossible.
That, of course -- he confided -- was the real set up. Once the dumb shit had heard that it was impossible, he'd be determined to do it, would sit down in a circle of his cheering friends and shoot Squire defiant, triumphant glances as he chugged from the gallon jug, paused for breath, took another chug, repeatedly, for nearly ten minutes, until, finally, having finished most of it, he'd stand up uneasily, stagger away and barf it all back up.
Angelo was impressed by this. "It's amazing," he'd say, smiling a straight-toothed smile. "You can't tell people they're limited. They never listen. They'll try to prove you wrong every time."
"No, you don't get it," Squire said. "Smart people don't fall for it. It's all about who I pick."
"If you know they're going to do it," Angelo said, "why do you test them?"
"I'm not testing them," Squire said, watching Angelo's mouth. "I'm torturing them."
Chris Murphy detested Squire's interest in Angelo Fonzone. He would tell Angelo about Squire's drugs and drinking. He would hint about Squire's sexual recklessness. It didn't work: Angelo wasn't timid.
In a wholly insincere way Chris admired Angelo's religiousness. He thought he ought to find it admirable, though he did not envy it at all. One Saturday Chris had slept over at Angelo's house and gone to church along with the Fonzones the next day and felt very uncomfortable. The church itself was more like an auditorium or a theater than a normal church, there were plays with costumes and singers with microphones and a bunch of different people got up to talk about Jesus. Compared to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel it was a strange ordeal, requiring not simply endurance, as per usual, but alertness, responsiveness, sociability -- in other words, like one of the cults they talked about on the television newsmagazines Chris's mom watched. Nevertheless Angelo was very handsome, dark-haired and tall and well-formed, exotic in his half-Italian, half-Filipino-ness, and Chris was drawn to him. Chris had a hard time distinguishing between feelings of admiration and feelings of sexual desire. He preferred not to dwell on this confusion. Angelo hugged his friends and Chris liked to be hugged. He liked to belong, to be liked. He didn't enjoy having ugly or unpopular friends.
It bothered Chris a lot when Squire made sexual comments about Angelo. He very much regretted having done anything to give Squire the idea it was okay to talk about same-sex desire in front of him. He would say, "That's so uncool, man," or "Shit, you're just nasty, you know that? Nasty," or "Shut the fuck up, man. He's my friend."
Squire would react by squirming on Chris's bed, throwing his legs up in the air while murmuring, "Angelo... Oh yeah, baby, give it to me." He knew this would provoke Chris into hitting him but he did it anyhow.
Angelo Fonzone had a big family, four sisters and two brothers. He shared a room with his brother Alessandro -- Alex -- which is why, Squire figured, he was so casual about changing clothes in front of other guys.
It hadn't been at all hard to instigate a personal relationship between them. Angelo liked to watch art movies the rest of his gang derided. Squire would go with him, and found that he was as knowledgeable about the alleged religious inclinations of various Hollywood directors and actors as the Gothic Lesbians were about alleged sexual preferences. He could likewise read subtexts into films based on this knowledge. Squire liked to tell him he was full of shit but sometimes his arguments were pretty convincing. Angelo had read real books, the Narnia books and the Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis and he knew Waiting for Godot and other stuff Squire thought he alone knew about. They didn't always agree on interpretation, and enjoyed fighting about it. When they were thoughtless enough to do this out in public with their friends, Chris, because he felt left out, could usually marshal the other guys into a chorus of offended boredom. "Jesus, get a room, you two," he'd say, which passed as an innocent dig but which he hoped would shame Squire.
It didn't. "Goodness," Angelo would say, with such abruptness that it seemed as serviceable as any real curse word. "Don't mean to disturb you all with intelligent conversation." And he'd bite his lip playfully and kick Squire under the diner table and turn his attention to debunking his friends' exaggerated tales of athletic heroics while Squire chewed the end of his milkshake straw, watching him.
In the winter, after soccer was over, while some of his friends played basketball and Chris ran indoor track, Angelo wrestled. They all teased him about it a little but he wasn't easily demeaned. His own stories were more self-effacing than anything his friends could have arrived at maliciously. He spoke of uncomfortably-placed hands and accidental hard-ons with perfect good humor. "You should have tried out, man," he said to Squire.
"Me?" Squire said in alarm. "Why?"
"We could have used someone in your weight class. What are you, a hundred? A hundred five?"
"A hundred and twenty," Squire said.
"Really?" Angelo said. "You don't look it. Let me pick you up."
"I hate sports," Squire said.
"You should take care of your body," Angelo said and Squire felt his face flush as he contemplated Angelo considering his body.
On the first snow day of the school year, Angelo phoned Squire and asked if he wanted to join him and his brothers tobogganing at the state park which had a good sledding hill. He picked Squire up in his family's station wagon, with Alex and Andy in the back seat, and they spent the day clinging to each other as they sped down the slope on the well-worn wooden sled, dragging it back up again while dodging little kids on snowboards. It was tiring. Squire could feel the muscles burning in his thighs. He imagined how rank he must smell under his long undershirt, flannel shirt, sweater and coat; but it felt great -- Squire wished he could sled for gym class, or swim or hike or anything that was fun and normal instead of regimented and humiliating: he might take care of his body then. He was probably as light as Andy Fonzone who was an eighth grader, both of them were often flung off the toboggan before they reached the bottom of the hill. "Sure you don't want some?" Squire asked, pulling his flask of peppermint schnapps from the side pocket of his cargo pants.
"Holy cow, you drunk!" Angelo laughed. "Just this once, one sip, because it's so darn cold." And he winked as he took a slug. "Aach," he sputtered, making a face.
"I can't believe you did that," Squire said.
"It's just a sip," Angelo said.
They dropped off Angelo's brothers and drove around the whitened countryside for a while, ending up at last on Squire's front porch steps, sitting. "The thing is," Squire said, watching the snow come down, the woods glittering in the twilight, "is I can understand why someone would want to believe it. Chris's shit, the Catholic stuff, I don't really understand, the rituals and the rules and symbols and all that, but the Protestant crap -- sure, it would be great to feel that whatever else happens to you in life, no matter what kind of shit you get dealt or how rotten other people are, there's somebody who loves you, who's always going to love you, and who's specialer than anybody in the whole world. It's like what little kids do with imaginary friends. I just don't get how grownups get away with pretending. And thinking all the other fucked up shit that goes with it."
"That's not a big point with me," Angelo said. "It's not the point. If you could prove to me, I mean scientifically prove, that Jesus was just some Palestinian preacher guy and that God doesn't exist, it wouldn't make a bit of difference to how I believe. If you think it's a great thing to pretend, why is it wrong to go ahead and pretend?"
Squire pretended the steam of his breath was smoke. He couldn't make rings with it. "Because it's not true. Because Jesus doesn't love you. Because a whole bunch of assholes who've never done anything decent for anyone in their lives can give themselves a free pass because of this bullshit idea that God forgives them."
"Nah," Angelo said. "Some people are always like that, whether they call themselves Christian or not. But it changes you, if you let it. If you believe that God loves you no matter who you are or what you've done, whatever regular people might hate you for -- if you really believe that, you can't act like a shit."
"Sure you can," Squire said. "You want some coffee or something? We should go inside."
"You have cocoa? I don't want caffeine," Angelo said. "But, wow, isn't this beautiful? Aren't the trees and the snow and the moon coming up...?" He fixed Squire with a pretentiously solemn look in his dark eyes and a Buddha-like smirk. "I know why it's all a big joke to you, man. Say it's all a load of bull puckey, there's no God, no nothing: you couldn't even pretend that God loves you. God existing isn't the problem for you. You have problems believing anybody loves you. You want to act all rotten and devious so you can pretend it's your choice, but it's not. And maybe I'm an idiot for believing in some invisible guy who may or may not exist, but I love you, and I'm real."
"Yeah," Squire said, flustered. "But you have to say that."
"You jerk," Angelo said, laughing. "You see what I mean? I'm not talking about 'love thy neighbor' stuff. I love you, me personally, you personally. I know you, man, you're a good friend. You're a good guy. I love you."
"I'm freezing my nuts off," Squire said. "Let's go inside." He hocked and spit a snot ball into the snow and stood up.
Angelo stood up too, and gave Squire a gentle sock in the shoulder before hugging him. Angelo's chin brushed Squire's forehead, his skin smelled like metal. "I really do love you, you know," he said. "I don't know why that's so hard for you."
There is a moment that happens, when you're talking to someone you're going to mess around with, when you look each other in the eyes and you know it's okay then to lean in and press your lips to that person's lips. And from that kiss, everything unravels naturally, most of the time without a single necessary word. You couldn't say why you knew right then that it was okay to go ahead. You just knew. Sometimes you'd try it when it didn't feel a hundred percent right, your putative partner, chin tucked in, eyebrow raised, asking, "What are you doing?" Squire had gotten very good at managing these moments, so much so that he no longer felt personally implicated at all in them.
He could read other people, but for some reason not Angelo. That's what was hard. Squire had had friends before. You do things with your friends. He didn't know what he was supposed to do with Angelo Fonzone. He felt like he used to have a plan, that he was going to "bag" him, but he could no longer imagine what that meant. Angelo seemed happy when Squire finally told him, "I love you, Angelo." He squeezed Squire tightly, holding him in his muscular arms, letting Squire's cheek rub against his downy neck. Angelo seemed happy with the attention he got. Squire had told him he had a nice body, the best body in the school. Squire had told him he had a body like guys in magazines. Angelo was flattered. He'd just said, knowingly, eyebrow cocked, "What kind of magazines, man?"
Squire tried to pretend that this fictitious Squire, the one worthy of being loved by Angelo Fonzone, was real. He tried not to jerk off anymore, for starters. He tried never to picture Angelo's bare chest. He pictured his grandmother naked whenever he started to get aroused. Chris Murphy said, "How can you be in love with him, you homo? He so completely likes girls." And Squire said, "Angelo's never slept with a girl," and then added, embarrassed, "Anyhow I'm not in love with him. He's just my friend."
"He was my friend first," Chris said. "I introduced you."
"No you didn't," Squire said. "He introduced himself. You're so rude, man."
"They're my friends," Chris said, only mildly annoyed. "All of those guys. That's how you know them." They were sitting around Chris's room. "My parents are out to dinner tonight," Chris said in a vague and tentative way. "You wanna do -- you know -- something?"
"You said you didn't want to any more," Squire snapped. "You want to do it now?" Chris shrugged noncommittally. Squire ignored him and continued reading. When Chris started throwing objects from his desk at him, he looked up and said, "You know what? You can't call me a homo and then expect to get your mouth on my dick. You can fuck yourself, fucker."
"God you're so nasty," Chris said. "Forget it."
"I just like him," Squire said. "He's just my friend."
This was pretty much bullshit and Squire knew it. Keeping one of Angelo Fonzone's undershirts between his mattress and box spring didn't have much to do with friendship. He'd slept with it as long as it smelled like Angelo. Once the scent had faded away or been obliterated by his own, he used it as a cum rag. He knew he was deceiving himself about something. Not sex, which seemed like the obvious answer. He wasn't very confused about his sexual feelings but he was confused.
"You're not a virgin," Angelo said to him. He meant it as a question.
"No," Squire said. "Of course not." And then, responding to the way Angelo looked at him, he added, "Not like I'm bragging. You already know I'm not. I've had sex a lot."
"Well you know," Angelo said. "Some people say things that aren't true."
"You mean me?" Squire asked, "or what people say about me?"
"Either really. I was just wondering."
"You've heard that I fool around with guys."
"Maybe. People say a lot of stuff. I don't care."
"Did Chris Murphy tell you that?" Squire said. "Because if he did I'm going to kick his ass. I guess he didn't tell you who I might be doing it with."
"I'm not really interested," Angelo said. "And no, it wasn't Chris. He's your friend, man. Why would you say that?"
Squire pursed his lips and cursed himself. He found himself doing or saying awkward wrong things when he hung out at Angelo's house. It smelled too much like boys and Angelo's mother's cooking. Angelo's parents looked at him so strangely. Angelo's parents must have thought he was strange. He tried hard not to be. They were always offering him food he felt obliged to eat even if he disliked it, which was either a sign of true love or a sign of his fear of making another misstep, worth swallowing some mouthfuls of corned beef hash or savory jello salad.
When Mrs. Fonzone smiled at him for seeming to relish her food, Squire felt worthy of love, a potential son-in-law, a stranger accepted because he was loved by a boy. When it was just the two of them in Angelo's room, Alex kicked out but still occasionally intruding searching for some object or another he probably could have let be if he hadn't felt like intruding, Squire felt edgy, dislocated. He didn't like sitting on Alex's bed, didn't like sitting on Angelo's next to him. And then there was the crucifix over the night stand. The little male figure tortured upon it, its tense rib cage and stomach, reminded Squire of Angelo when he yawned. It seemed very wrong, a dangerous place for him to be.
"You're not going to want to be friends with me after this," Squire said.
"Don't be stupid," Angelo laughed. "I don't give a shit what people say."
"It's not a joke," Squire said. "I'm bi. I've been with a guy before."
"I heard it was me," Angelo said. "I heard we're sleeping together."
Squire was mortified. "God," he said. "Who told you that?"
"Nah," Angelo said. "It's not important. Don't worry about it."
"Fuck, man. You can't say that and then not tell me who."
Angelo licked his lips, looked away, turned back to him with an apologetic shrug. "Your friend, you know, that orange-haired girl. I guess she thinks it makes me some kind of hypocrite, you know."
"Kendra? She said that to you?"
"Yeah. You know. It's not very cool of me to be all Mr. Christian Chastity when the two of us are secretly getting it on."
"She's jealous," Squire said. "She used to be in love with me. God, that fucking bitch."
He was angry for real. She shouldn't have said anything. Kendra was a dumb bitch. He told her he was in love with Angelo and she made fun of him, said it was cute, asked him if he was going to start going to church with the snake handlers. "It's not like that," he'd said, defensively, impulsively. "He told me he loves me, for your information," and when that did not quite seem to suffice, he added, "The first time we made out, I came in my pants."
Squire make up stories whenever the truth was more painful than he wanted to admit. In his mind this was not the same as lying because he had no special interest in deceiving anybody with his untruth beyond wanting them, at that moment, to be sympathetic. It never occurred to him beforehand that someone might repeat it and cause him to be further obligated to the maintenance of a falsehood.
"What do you expect, you big jerk? You can't have sex with a person and not expect her to have feelings." Angelo rolled his eyes. "There's no such thing as casual sex."
"Do you think it's a sin?" Squire said. "Being bi? Am I going to hell? Aren't you supposed to think that?"
"There's so many other things you're going to hell for first," Angelo said, and when that did not seem to amuse his friend, he said. "Come on, Squire. I don't know. I don't know what God thinks about everything. Maybe if you knew how loved you really were you wouldn't want to do some things, is all I know."
Squire followed Angelo into his bedroom. Alex Fonzone was standing in front of his dresser trying to tie an upholstery-fabric-looking blue tie around his neck. He wore a crisp white shirt and had his black hair neatly parted and moussed. He hadn't put on his pants yet, was dashing around the room in his shirt, socks, and baggy boxer shorts. "Help me," Alex said, pulling at the grossly asymmetrical knot at his throat. A youth group was having its dance at their church community building that afternoon.
"Goodness gracious, Alex! What the heck did you do to this thing?"
Mrs. Fonzone started yelling from the kitchen, the car was ready. She poked her head in the door. "You can come, Angelo," she said. "Squire can come. They have cake."
"No Ma," Angelo said, "We're going to see a movie."
"It's all right," she repeated, "if you want to come."
"Ma, you know Squire doesn't want to come to a church dance," Angelo said. "Besides, isn't Alex meeting somebody? Isn't that the whole point?"
"Shut up," Alex said.
"Alex has a girlfriend!" Angelo sang in nursery-rhyme fashion.
Alex looked to see where his mother was. He mouthed the words 'Fuck You' to Angelo. Angelo laughed. "Alex likes this girl," he explained. "I mean, come on. A fellowship social? Do you buy that he wants to go to that just because?" Alex could hear him clearly, was shooting him daggers. Angelo liked teasing his brother in this way.
When Alex was dressed and gone, Angelo turned on his stereo and put in a CD. It was electronic music without words. It was what they call "ambient." He reclined on his bed. Angelo let Squire run his hand through his hair without protesting, seeming to like it. Why? Squire thought. He was not sure the answer would be interesting. "Does jerking off count?" Squire asked him. "I mean, do you think it's a sin?"
"Do I think it's sin," Angelo asked, "or do I do it?"
"Well, both," Squire said. "I am just wondering."
"I used to think it was a sin," Angelo said, "when I was twelve or thirteen. It really worried me. It doesn't now. It's not a big deal. Everything's not about never-do-this or never-do-that. It's the meaning of it."
"Are you going to wait until you get married?"
"I don't know," Angelo said, shrugging away the question and Squire's hand. "I'd like to think I will."
Squire was just beginning to understand that Angelo worked at being the way he was. He knew this, rationally, but he couldn't imagine what it was like to struggle in that way. "But what do you think about when you jerk off? Doesn't thinking about sex and jerking off get you thinking about having sex?"
"Yeah," Angelo said. "And that's why I try not to do it all that much."
"But when you do do it," Squire insisted, "what do you think about?" Angelo looked distressed, his forehead creased. He crossed his arms over his chest.
"Tell me," Squire said. "I really need to know."
"Listen," Angelo said. "I'm not really comfortable talking about this."
"Angelo!" Squire said, honestly taken aback. "I was just asking."
"And I told you no." Squire stared at him. "Listen to me, man," Angelo said. "I understand and everything and I don't want to get mad at you but we're not going there, okay? I love you, Squire, but I am not going to get into sex with you."
"I just wanted to know," Squire said. "You have to tell me. Angelo. Please."
Angelo sat up, got off his bed, went to his dresser and started combing his hair. "Don't you understand," Angelo said, "that there's a reason we can't do this?"
"Yes," Squire said sullenly. Angelo didn't say a word as he stood with his back to Squire. He was sort of looking at Squire in the mirror. When his reflected eyes met Squire's, they darted away. "You're afraid you want to," Squire said. "You kind of want to."
"Just stop it," Angelo said, refusing to turn as Squire walked toward him. He was looking, rather too intensely, at his hair. Squire lowered his chin so that the crown of head came into contact with Angelo's back, between his shoulder blades. He wrapped his arms around Angelo's waist. His hands were on Angelo's flat, warm stomach. He pictured his grandmother naked. "I don't know if I can be friends with you, Squire," Angelo said as he turned around, extricating himself from the embrace. "Not if you're going to be like this."
"Oh you're fucking kidding me," Squire said, grinning, as if Angelo was teasing him as he'd teased his brother earlier. "You're fucking insane. You like it, even, you asshole! You like that I'm in love with you."
"Can you shut up a little, man? There's people in this house."
"Jesus Fucking Christ," Squire said, dodging the hand Angelo wanted to clamp over his mouth. "What is your problem?"
"My dad is here, man!" Angelo barked. "Please shut the hell up!"
Squire wanted to be out of Angelo Fonzone's house. He regretted ever having spoken to him. He regretted everything he had ever done with his life. Squire wanted to be beautiful and happy and empty inside like people on TV. He wanted his mind to blink out like a candle the moment he lay his head on his pillow. He wanted someone to stick a coat hanger wire up his nose and give his brain a good scramble.
He wanted the world to come to a crashing end -- any definite end.
What is anyone supposed to be, is the question. This past winter, Angelo had told Squire he loved him as they sat on his front porch watching the snow fall and listening to the strange silent sound of a million crystals the size of pinpoints ringing as they fluttered to the ground. Wanting to say it back, "I love you," but withholding, he had loved Angelo perfectly and felt satiated. He should have died at that exact moment. If God existed and was merciful a lightning bolt would have reduced him to ashes right then.
When he was younger he felt that way about Chris Murphy, when they were young enough to feel perfectly complete in the other, the idea of a best friend who was always there and always would be. Now most of the time he looked at Chris Murphy and thought, "What a dumb ass," and if things kept on this way Squire knew he would never feel part of another person again. When he left Angelo's this night he would fall into his bed alone and dream separate dreams and wake up as his same separate self again tomorrow, and the next tomorrow, and the next, forever.
When he started to cry, Angelo apologized for swearing and tried to make things right as best as he could. He said he didn't want to hurt Squire and he thought maybe Squire was right but they couldn't be this close anymore. He touched Squire's upper arm and felt tainted by that. But Squire wasn't crying because of the end of their friendship. He was living in a moment, only dimly recalled now, when he rested half-asleep on his mother's lap as the television played in the darkened living room, and she brushed his hair away from his face as his cheek rested against her warm, soft thigh. And she whispered, "He's exhausted," as his dad tickled the bottom of his foot through his sock, and he leaned in to kiss her and Squire was cradled in the warmth between them. And she said, "Come on," as she moved forward and sat up straight, raising his head to his shoulder where he could breathe in her smell of shampoo and milk, her cradling arm supporting him. "It's time for big boys to go to Sleepytown." He wished he could remember that feeling because he knew he would never feel it again.
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