Authors: Todd Hasak-Lowy
As he kept walking, and maybe faster than normal, he had this weird sensation. It was like the music was making his life feel bigger, much bigger, than it usually felt. Because there he was, walking down the same stupid sidewalk and past the same stupid street signs, watching the same stupid cars with the same stupid Illinois license plates driving by, but somehow none of these things bothered him. In fact, he walked right past the house, confused and maybe even a little happy, because he was almost certain the music was telling him that someday his life would be much better. And Darren totally believed the music and didn't feel like an idiot for doing so.
The only bad part about all this was him knowing that he wouldn't entirely be able to hide this from Ray or his dad. Because he really wanted to just give Ray the finger in every last way, but now he couldn't.
Â Just two weeks ago, when he overheard the very end of this phone conversation his dad was having with Ray. Darren had been in his bedroom, with the door closed and his headphones on, which is how he spends at least 87 percent of his time at his dad's apartment. But then he had to go to the bathroom. When he got to the hallway he heard his dad's half of the call:
“Yes, I know.”
“You're so right, Ray. You are.”
“So smart. Of course. I'll just call over there in the morning and see if they'll go up to three twenty-five.”
“Right.” His dad laughed. “I'm sure it will turn out to be nothing.”
Darren knew from the “go up to three twenty-five” thing that they were talking about real estate. But that wasn't the point, wasn't the thing that made Darren just stop right there in the middle of the hallway. Because there was something in his dad's voice. Like Darren almost wasn't sure it was his dad talking at all. So Darren turned around and quietly walked toward his dad's room instead of the bathroom and peeked in through the partially open door.
“I know. Amazing. You're amazing. You are.”
His dad soundedâwhat was it?âhe sounded sort of relaxed and confident. He sounded like this version of his dad Darren hadn't heard in a long time. So long, he had sort of forgotten until just then that this version of his dad ever existed in the first place.
“Yes, of course.”
There he was, Darren's dad, hanging up the phone and facing the bed so that Darren could see the side of his face. He looked so happy. But not like “Yippee!” happy. So maybe it wasn't happy at all. But it was something good, something positive, something really positive, something so positive that it made Darren almost want to spend time with him. Almost.
And he's been sounding and looking that way more and more lately. Thanks to Ray, who's singing to Darren in Spanish at this very moment. Because that's how out of whack Darren's life has gotten: His dad's boyfriend seems as likely as anyone to make things better at this point.
Presents Darren Gets from His Dad (and Maybe Ray) for His Sixteenth Birthday
Â A $25.00 iTunes gift card
Â A gray zip-up hoodie lined with the stuff they make long underwear out of
Â These new, probably expensive earbud headphones that go right into your ears that his dad says might take some time to get used to but will sound a million times better than the lousy ones that came with his iPod
Â A small keychain in the shape of a
, made out of thin, dark metal wires woven together, with some kind of car key already on it
Reassurances/Encouragements/Explanations His Dad and Ray Give Darren After It Becomes Clear That the Key on Darren's New Keychain Goes to Ray's Infiniti G37
Â Don't worry, it's insured and so are you.
Â Your sixteenth birthday should be special.
Â Ray will take the train to work today. I will drive him to the station.
Â You're a good driver. If we didn't think you could handle it, we wouldn't have given it to you.
Â It's just for today. Seriously, don't get too used to it.
Â You're going to feel really cool in it. Trust us.
Features of Ray's Car Darren Can't Help but Like, Even Though He Wishes He Didn't, Because Then None of Him Would Want to Drive It
Â It's a coupe, which is sporty but not exactly a sports car. Which matters and is good, since Darren can't help but sort of assume that anyone who drives a sports car, especially if he's a guy, is a dick, like Mr. Krickstein and his I'm-a-dick goatee, who lives next door to the house and drives a Porsche and always looks at Darren like Darren smells bad.
Â The color and paint job are pretty killer. The exact name of the color is probably something ridiculous like Evening Smoke, but still, it's not gray or silver or black, it's somehow all of them. Plus it's both shiny and not.
Â It's a fancy car, but not a super fancy car, which, like sports cars, sort of means you're a dick, because Mr. Krickstein's Porsche is much fancier than Ray's car.
Â “G37” just seems like a good letter/number combination; Darren's not sure why.
Â The sound system, and he hasn't even turned it on yet.
Â The main curve from front to back, which is nice to look at.
Adjustments Darren Makes to Ray's Car While Waiting for His Dad
Â MOVES THE SEAT UP ABOUT TWO INCHES
Which is less than Darren would have guessed he'd need to move it up, since Ray is over six feet. And this makes Darren a little happy, because he's definitely getting taller, a realization that somehow almost has him thinking that this birthday might not be so bad after all.
Â TILTS THE REARVIEW MIRROR DOWN A BIT
At which point he sees a black Prius drive by, the same car his mom has. And there's something about how Darren's suddenly not feeling all the way cruddy has him thinking about just how much she's the opposite of cruddy these days. She got her hair done differently a couple weeks ago, and it looks really good. Plus she keeps talking about how her work is developing in very promising directions. And even though it's weird to him, she seems to think that keeping kosher and not checking e-mail on Saturday are super meaningful developments in her life. Thankfully, she hasn't even so much as hinted at having her own Ray hidden somewhere, but even so, Darren kind of gets the sense that she could find someone if she wanted to.
Â BRINGS THE LEFT SIDE MIRROR IN JUST A TAD
Which means that both of them, his dad and his mom, are doing better now than they were doing before the divorce. Maybe even way better. But so is Darren supposed to be happy for them about this? Should he even be happy for himself in some way, seeing how having happy divorced parents has got to be better than having miserable married parents? Which is pretty much what they were by the end, if he's going to be totally honest about it. And so does turning sixteen mean turning the age when you're just supposed to figure out how to be happy for other people even if their happiness means a little suckiness for you?
Â BRINGS THE RIGHT SIDE MIRROR IN JUST A TAD
But he can't help it. What's he supposed to do? He liked having the family together. And he didn't like the divorce. So whatever, maybe it's best for his parents that his dad finally admitted he's gay and that his mom got to start her new life before she was super old. But what Darren would really like for his birthday, more than this car or anything like that, is to get replacement parents, married (and, yes, straight, or maybe even just both gay to begin with) replacement parents who are actually just his parents from when he was around nine years old. That would be perfect.
Â TILTS THE STEERING WHEEL UP, THEN DOWN, THEN UP AGAIN
But apparently that's not happening, because here's his new and improved and officially gay dad, buckling himself in and rubbing his hands together.
“All righty! Next stop: DMV!”
Darren takes the car out of park and notices this part of him that wants to plow the car straight into the wall of his dad's apartment building. This part also wouldn't mind if Ray, and maybe even his dad (and mom, too?) were standing in between the car and the building.
So maybe it's not going to be such a great birthday after all.
Moving Violations Darren Wants to (But Simply Cannot) Execute (in Order to Purposely Fail the Driving Test), Since for Some Reason the Part of Him That Does What It's Supposed to Do Sort of Kicks the Ass of the Part of Him That Intends to Blow It, as If It Were God and Not the State of Illinois That Placed These Signs and Established These Rules
Â Running the stop sign at the corner of Lawler and Berwyn.
Â Exceeding the 40 miles per hour speed limit on Milwaukee.
Â Failing to signal while changing lanes on Central.
Â Failing to yield to a pedestrian at the designated crosswalk at Bryn Mawr and Menard.
Sign That the Troubling Impulse Darren Had Back in Front of the Apartment Building Is Still Lurking inside Him Somewhere
Â “You passed your driving test on the first try,” his dad says, “and with flying colors at that!”
Darren turns right back onto Elston. It's a simple turn and there's basically no traffic, but the maneuver still gives him an excuse to ignore what was just said to him.
“And the weather's magnificent,” his dad says. “Especially for late November.”
“Mm-hmm,” Darren says.
“I can't remember the weather ever being so nice on your birthday. The universe decided to give you a little gift. How considerate.”
“It's your birthday, Darren. You're sixteen!”
“You're smart. You're handsome. You've got this
car at your disposal for the whole day.” His dad does this sometimes. The gratitude roll call, or whatever he calls it. And he does call it something, something with the word “gratitude” in it. Probably picked it up at his “men's group,” the creepiest gathering in the history of humanity. “And healthy, thank God.”
Darren nods his head. They drive in silence for a while. Ray's car is a very good car. The stereo is probably insane. He'll be able to check it out soon enough.
His dad makes some sort of awkward sniffling sound. They're at a red light, so Darren turns his head an eighth of the way around; his eyes can do the rest. His dad is crying. Not a lot, but he's definitely crying.
He wipes off the tears with the back of his hand. The gesture strikes Darren as unforgivably effeminate. “I'm sorry, I'm sorry,” his dad says. “But Darren, you bring me so much joy. You're such a joy. I love you so much. I just can'tâ”
“Will you fucking stop it? For once?” It just comes out.
Then they're driving again, so Darren looks straight ahead. His dad will get out soon. Just a little bit longer.
Parking Lots Darren Turns into within Ten Minutes of Dropping Off His Dad and Enduring an Awkward Good-bye, Parking Lots in Which He Now Tries to Thwart the Freak-out Building Slowly and Steadily inside Him
Â Shell gas station
Â The liquor store right next to the beauty salon, which has an electronic sign with red lights that keeps flashing:
EYEBROW THREADING $5
Excuses Darren Has Recently Come Up With for Not Turning On His Cell Phone Most Mornings
Â No one really calls or texts him, and so it kind of bums him out to turn his phone on, watch it boot up, but then just sit there. So then what's the point of turning the thing on?
Â Pretty much the main reason he has a phone at this point is so his parents can check in on him, which is a pretty lame reason. But they don't tend to do this in the morning, plus he can claim he just forgot to turn it on if they do, and in that way be a little bit defiant without them knowing for sure if that's what he's being.
Â Nate is the main person who calls and texts. And sometimes it's still okay talking to Nate, because he can be pretty funny and Darren does like the sound of his voice, but a lot of times he can tell that Nate's just high because he's not really talking about anything, just sort of going on about something that happened at work or some band he's into or some show they should go see, even though Darren can't get into bars (Nate isn't twenty-one either, but his beard is getting thick enough that his fake ID works almost every time). Still, Darren hates actively ignoring Nate's calls, meaning that when he turns his phone on he's sort of saying to himself,
If Nate calls, you have to answer.
Â He doesn't really like his actual, physical phone, either. For some reason the thing gets pretty warm after about forty-five seconds of talking to someone, so his cheek is almost sweaty by the time he's done talking to Nate. If he wanted one, he could probably get his parents to buy him a new one, but he doesn't, because:
Â He just doesn't really like cell phones in general. Sometimes it can be fun to text, but it's not like he ever thought to himself,
Wow, I'm so happy I have this phone.
Of course, if he had more friends, or even just a couple, or even just one he truly liked, who he couldn't wait to talk to, maybe things would be different.