Bear, Otter, & the Kid 03 - The Art of Breathing (10 page)

“Not funny, Tyson,” he growls at me.

“You said it, not me. Don’t blame me for your crazy.”

“I’m not crazy!” I can see the panic in his eyes. I may have underestimated how much today would weigh on him. I really was only thinking about me. Goddammit. Tends to freak out, that one, in case you didn’t know. Needs to be handled with Kid gloves.

“I’m gay,” I tell him quietly.

He takes a shuddering breath. “Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“How do you know?”

I looked at a shirtless picture of Gerard Butler once and got a boner, but I don’t think I should say that out loud. Not to Bear, at least. “How did
you
know?”

“Fuck,” he mutters. “And you haven’t….”

“No, Bear. I haven’t.” I bet no other graduate here is being asked by their parents if they’ve had gay sex. God, adults are so
embarrassing.

“Is it me?”

“Is what you?”

“I’m gay. Or whatever.”

“And?”

“I raised you.”

“And?”

“Now you’re gay.”

“Are you broken right now?” I ask him. “Because you sound like you’re broken.”

“In your room,” he threatens. “For the rest of your life.”

“You didn’t make me gay, Bear. You’re not some kind of gay fairy princess who can magically turn others into homos by shooting rainbows out your ass. That’s not how it works. You of all people should know that.”

“I’m not a fairy princess!”

I groan. “I didn’t say you were. Focus! You know as well as I do that a person can’t choose to be gay, no matter what Pat Robertson says.”

“Who?”

I roll my eyes. “Some guy married to Jesus. Be a little more self-aware, huh?”

“Jesus was gay too? I don’t remember that part.”

“No… it’s not… never mind. I’m gay just because I am. That’s it.”

He turns back toward the sun. Arms up on the fence. Chin on his arms. Eyes closed. “This isn’t what I want for you.”

“What?”

“Everything I went through. It wasn’t easy, Ty.”

“I know. I was there, remember? But look where you are now.”

“Where?”

I stand next to him. The sun is warm on my hands and my arm brushes against his. I’m almost as tall as he is now, though that’s nothing to brag about. We’re little guys, he and I. Just little guys. “Here,” I tell him. “With me. And Otter. And all the rest of our family standing back there, knowing I did something over the top, and you had a meltdown that made no sense, and
they don’t care
. If everything we’ve gone through has led to this and to them, then I think we did pretty good.”

“Yeah?”

“We’re still here, Bear. After all that’s happened, we’re still here. That’s what counts. You told me something once. Remember? This is us. For better or worse, this is us. For all of our wrongs and for all of our rights, this is us.”

He opens his eyes. Bumps his arm against mine. “This is who we are.”

“See? It’ll all be okay.” I ignore my thudding heart, the blood rushing in my ears. I don’t want him to see just how close to losing it I was. My legs feel shaky.

“When did you get so smart?” Bear asks me.

“That’s like the gay thing. It has nothing to do with you.”

He laughs.

I lay my head on his shoulder. I don’t care who sees. For a little while, at least. I do have a reputation to maintain. I resist the urge to tug on his fingers. I haven’t done that in a long time. I’m too old for that, now. I’m not some kid—

Fuck it. I do it anyway. My heartbeat slows. I breathe, like I was taught. In. And out. Eventually I calm. Bear does too.

We don’t speak. And that’s okay.

Then, “Never thought this day would come,” he says. I don’t like the sadness in his voice.

“What?” I say lightly. “Me sashaying out of the closet in a much more spectacular fashion then you did?”

He snorts and buries his face in his hand. “No. And just so you know, that’s going to take me a while to get used to.”

“We’ve got the rest of our lives,” I assure him. “What day, then?”

“Graduating.”

“Oh. I had to do it sometime, right?”

He drops his hands. “Right,” he murmurs.

“I’m still me. I’ve still got the scar on my knee.”

I can hear the smile in his voice. “I know.”

“Bear?”

“Yeah?”

“I know what you meant. Earlier. And you’re right.”

“About?”

“About being more than my brother.”

“I know, Ty.”

“You know you’re stuck with me, right?”

“Yeah. Sure, Kid. You sure about leaving still?”

“For school? Yeah. Why wouldn’t I be? This doesn’t change anything.”

“Doesn’t it?”

“Why would it?”

He glances back at our family. Dom and Otter stand apart from the rest, watching us. They both lift their hands in a wave. Stacey moves up next to Dom and takes his hand in hers. “You’re right. It doesn’t change a thing.”

He knows.

“Do we have to talk about our feelings some more now?” I ask with a nervous chuckle. “Is that what gay guys do together? I haven’t gotten my gay card yet, so I don’t know.”

He laughs, but it sounds watery. I let it be.

“We’re okay?”

“We’re okay, Kid.”

The sun is almost gone. We watch it leave.

“Oh, and Otter already knew.”


What
?”

“Uh. Never mind, Papa Bear.”

Eventually, we walk back over to our family, who wait for us with bemused expressions. Otter whispers something to Bear, who shakes his head. Dominic puts his hand on my shoulder and squeezes.

For the rest of the night, Bear doesn’t leave my side. Or maybe I don’t leave his. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. I think we both need it.

And that’s okay too.

4.

Where Tyson Says Good-Bye

 

 

Three months later

 

K
EEP
IT
together,
I tell myself.
You can do this. You can do this just fine. It’s not forever. It’s just for now.

“Kid,” Bear says gently from behind me. “We have to get going. Daylight’s wasting.”

“Sure,” I say, taking one last look around my room in the Green Monstrosity.

He puts a hand on my shoulder. “We’ll be back before you know it,” he says. “Thanksgiving or Christmas, whatever you want.”

“Sure.”
I take it back! This isn’t what I want! Unpack everything! Put it all back where you got it!

“Dominic is waiting downstairs,” Bear says.

“Okay.” The ground shakes beneath my feet.

“You sure this is what you want?” he asks.

I laugh. It sounds slightly hysterical. “Little late now, isn’t it?”

He walks up behind me and puts his hand on my shoulder. “It’s never too late, Kid,” he says. “We do what you need to do. It’s that simple.”

It’s not, though. I’ve already uprooted our lives to move across the country. I can’t back out now. If I can’t do it for myself, then I can at least do it for my brother.

“I’m fine,” I say, trying to keep my voice level. “I’m ready.”

He wraps his arm around my shoulders and pulls me out of the room. The weight of his arm is a familiar thing, and it makes the long walk down the stairs easier. I am breathing. I am breathing.

I say good-bye to Anna, who has tears in her eyes.

I say good-bye to Creed, who roughly slaps my back when he hugs me.

I say good-bye to JJ, who doesn’t really seem to care what’s going on.

I say good-bye to Stephanie and Ian Grant, who tell me they’ll see me soon.

I say good-bye to Alice and Jerry Thompson, who say they’re so very proud of me.

I say good-bye to Stacey, and I think,
You won’t be around long, so don’t get too comfortable.
I’m ashamed at this thought and turn away before she can see it on my face.

I say good-bye to Erica Sharp, the attorney who helped me belong to Bear, who says she always knew I’d get this far.

I say good-bye to Georgia Erlichman, the social worker, who says something to me in German I can’t quite understand.

I’m handed a phone, and Eddie Egan, the therapist who taught me how to breathe, says he’s so sorry he can’t be there, but that he’s proud of me, and to remember what I’d learned from him.

I say good-bye to the Green Monstrosity, running my fingers along the wall near the door.

I say good-bye to Mrs. Paquinn, though she’s been gone a long time.

They gather, all of them, on the front lawn of our home. They talk. They laugh. They cry. I’m in the middle of them all, and I’m surrounded by so much that it’s like being caught in the middle of a storm that I don’t want to escape.

But then a hand grabs my own and pulls me away. Away from the crowd. Away from the noise. Away from the good-byes.

We go around the side of the Green Monstrosity, hiding away from the world. As soon as he lets go of my hand, I launch myself at him and he catches me in those big arms of his, and I can feel his heartbeat against my own. Everything is so bright. Everything feels so real. The hairs on his arms brush against the skin of my waist where my shirt has risen. His breath is harsh and heavy against my ear. He grips me tighter, as if he can stop this from happening, as if he can stop me from leaving. And I realize that he probably could. If he really wanted to. Even though we both know it’s too late, and we both know he won’t, he probably could.

Don’t go
, he’d say.
Please don’t ever leave me.

Okay,
I’d reply.
Okay.

But he doesn’t ask.

Minutes go by. Maybe hours. Days.

Finally, he sets me down.

I hope he held me close enough to cause bruises.

He opens his mouth to speak, but no sound comes out.

I don’t know what to say in return. How do you say thank you to someone who has made your life complete? How do you say thank you to someone you can’t imagine your life without?

I don’t know the answer to that.

Bear calls my name. It’s time to go, he says.

No. It can’t be. I still have so much left to say. The words won’t come, even though I know they’re there.

Bear calls my name again.

Dominic looks frustrated. He shakes his head.

“Good-bye,” I whisper.

Then I turn and walk away. I leave him there, standing next to the Green Monstrosity. Every step hurts, but I am going to do great things. I am going to make this world a better place.
Tell me to stay and I will!
that small part of me screams.
Call me back and tell me never to leave!

I’m in the car.

Our family waves. So long, they say. See you soon, they shout.

“You ready?” Otter asks me from the driver’s seat.

No.
“Yeah.”

“You okay?” Bear asks.

No.
“Yeah.”

“We’ll be back,” he says again.

“I can breathe,” I whisper.

Bear takes Otter’s hand and they smile at each other.

I look out the window as we start to pull away. Dom stands where I left him. I press my hand against the window, palm flat. He raises his hand in return, and even though he can’t hear me, I promise I’ll come back. For him. For us. It’s foolish, I know. It’s not how the world works. But I am sixteen years old, and though I may be different from most people my age, I am still young enough to believe that I can do anything I set my mind to. And so I promise him.
I love you,
I think.
And I believe I always will.

He disappears from view.

Twenty minutes later, we pass out of Seafare, Oregon. The sun rises in the sky ahead of us as we travel east, and I tell myself this is just a bump in the road. One day, I’ll look back at all of this and laugh.

I’ll just laugh.

5.

Where Tyson Gets the Mail

 

 

T
HE
HOUSE
is empty when I get home. Fridays are my short days, and Bear and Otter are still at work. The house is cold. New Hampshire in December is cold. This isn’t something I ever really thought about when we decided to come here. I’ve learned rather quickly that I hate the snow with an unbridled passion. It seeps into my bones. It gets my feet wet, even through my boots. I hate it. I hate every part of it.

I’m flipping through the mail in the hall, unwinding my scarf from around my neck, thinking I might just go up to my bed and curl under the covers and not worry about a damn thing for the next couple of hours. It’s been a rough day. School isn’t like I thought it’d be. The people aren’t like I thought they’d be. Apparently being a sixteen-year-old freshman in college is something of an anomaly. People here don’t know what to make of me any more than they did in high school. Apparently being a genius of sorts has a social stigma to it that I didn’t expect. People are ruthless and don’t care who they step on to get what they want.

Fuck it. The semester is almost over and then we’ll go home and I’ll get to see Dom and I’ll feel right as rain. Only a couple of more weeks. That’s it. I can make it. I have to make it. Maybe I’ll call him when I get upstairs. He doesn’t have to work today, I don’t think. And even if he does, I’ll still get to hear his voice mail message. His voice is all I need.

A white envelope catches my eye, feminine handwriting in a letter addressed to Bear, Otter, and me. Curious, I pick it up. It’s heavy and stiff. The return address is for Stacey Warner and… Dom? Wait. Why do they have the same address? It’s for Dom’s house, right down the road from the Green Monstrosity. They don’t live together. Dom would have told me. He would have told me she moved in.

I tear the envelope and my phone rings. I think about ignoring it, but it’s him. I know it’s him by the ringtone I’ve got set. I can’t ignore him. I’ve never been able to.

“Hey,” I say when I answer the phone, a grin coming unbidden to my face.

“Where are you?” he asks quickly. He doesn’t sound like himself. He sounds panicked.

“Home. Why? What’s wrong?” I tear the envelope.

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