Josh woke up with a start. A burning sensation was piercing his left ear lobe like the sting from a hornet. He rushed to the bathroom mirror to have a look and found instead the lobe of his ear was glowing from the inside with an intense pink-blood-red color. He felt the lobe and pinched it slightly which only increased the pain and seemingly the intensity of the color. Staring into the mirror and seeing his reflection illuminated by this otherworldly light, his mind was suddenly awash with images. The light blazing from inside his earlobe, processed by layers of his own cells now reflecting off the mirror and tunneling into his eyes where tens of thousands of neurons were now being stimulated sending confusing information directly into his brain. He closed his eyes suddenly in an attempt to stop the sharp intrusion, only to find control of his own mind slowing being stripped away. His eyelids shot open, and the penetrating light resumed its course seemingly hellbent on rewriting what was once him. Struggling to accommodate the influx of powerful information, he tried to make sense of the images. They were both foreboding yet serene. Another world? Another planet? Two moons. It was too obvious. He grasped and tried to cover his left ear with his right hand trying one last desperate attempt to shield his eyes from the light, but it was too late. His arm shot back down with the same elastic force that reopened his eyes. He stood there in a daze staring into the mirror; and, then, just as quickly as it had started, the light and searing pain ceased leaving him standing there — a nearly catatonic statue — observably frozen in fear but actually with every muscle in his entire body contracted and controlled.
Peter, rolled over, sensing that Josh was not there. Instinctively, he opened his eyes and searched around the room. He could see Josh’s shadow, cast by the moon shining through the bathroom window, stretched across the floor. “Josh?” He called out. “Are you okay, Babe?”
Josh and Peter had basically been partners for nearly seven years. Truth be told, they were non-stereotypical, yet stereotypical high school sweethearts. Josh was the libero of their high school volleyball team, and Peter was the captain of the cheer squad, and they both worked together on the yearbook which is also how they first met. At the time, Peter was the more shy one and, also, very much sealed behind the so-called closet door. The only son of somewhat conservative, wealthy, religious parents who wanted a son who was ‘different’ about as much as they wanted their capital gains taxes to rise — he had grown up hiding his true identity behind an iron gate from his family.
Josh, on the other hand, came out to his parents at age 12 in what turned out to be an anticlimactic event. They had put two and two together when he was five years old. While they had no definitive proof, just a collection of mostly stereotypical preferences in his behavior, they suspected an announcement some day of his own choosing. Being the kind of ultra-perfect and supportive parents they were, they never said anything or directed him one way or another, they always just let him become the person nature intended him to become. This was something for which Josh had always been grateful, especially when he met Peter.
Therefore, for Josh, it was love at first sight. While, for Peter, there was nothing even on his radar.
Peter was 5’11”, 140 pounds at age 15 with a slim athletic build. He looked like he could play basketball and eventually grew to 6’1” by graduation, but he mostly hated sports, apart from cheerleading, much to the chagrin of his athletically successful and sport-loving father — although, his father loved sports, he actually played mostly golf. Josh thought Peter’s best facial features were his gorgeous honey-chocolate-colored eyes and deep nasolabial lines that deepened when he smiled to almost intoxicating levels encircling his mouth made of thin lips and perfectly pearl-white teeth. He wore his hair up revealing a wavy hairline with a shallow, off-center widow’s peak that was literally the only asymmetrical part of his long, rugged face countered on the opposite end by a fierce, dimpled, chin. To be honest, his left eyebrow was also slightly asymmetrical, if one wanted to get technical about things. It was a lot curvier than his right adding a distinctively devilishly handsome accent to the entire left side of his face. He did not have a natural smile or frown — his facial muscles set sort of in the middle between these two states — a factor that drove Josh crazy. Having been seemingly born with a permanent smile, Peter used to always tease Josh that he would be smiling at his dog’s funeral.
Peter, while not instantly in love with Josh, eventually succumbed to his incessant requests for ‘hang-out’ time with him — something, however, that would take Josh a long time and many frustrating attempts at boy-bro courtship to draw out. That natural smile was hard not to adore, it made Josh seem to be in a nearly constant state of happiness — one that was purely infectious to everyone around him. Of course, this made him the near center of everyone’s attention — something Josh neither wanted nor especially enjoyed, but that was the way it had always been for him. He wore his hair short, but not crewcut short, more like what one would picture on the head of an action hero’s collectible doll. His forehead was high with a mostly straight hairline. Unlike Peter, Josh’s face was anything but symmetrical apart from the straight hairline. His left ear was slightly bigger — not so much as one would notice instantly — and longer. His right eye, also, was just a hair longer along the mid-line. The permanent smile was ringed only on the left side by a cleft of muscle line from the nose to the top of his smile. He was born with not one but three beauty marks: one slightly off-center on his chin, one to the left of the left corner of his smiling mouth, and the third just about 3 cm diagonally lower. If connected, they might look like the stars of Orion’s Belt. Noticing this, gave Peter the occasion to give Josh one of his most enduring nicknames, Mintaka. Josh was also about an inch taller and ten pounds of pure muscle stronger than Peter — both factors he maintained to this day due to his intense, daily workout regimen something which Peter thought was excessive especially given their current age and lifestyle. Josh, however, said that it was what kept him looking and feeling young.
Near the end of sophomore year, Josh, having failed to convince Peter that the two should hang out sometime — at that time, he was uncertain if his so-called gaydar was reading correctly because Peter seemed to show zero interest in him at all — finally decided to go out on a limb and do something crazy. He decided to ask Peter to the Sadie Hawkins dance. “Why not?” He had thought. The tradition was for a girl to ask out a guy. “So, why not a gay guy asking out a ‘seemingly straight’ guy?” Well, the logic was imperfect, of course, still, this was his rationale. Not wanting to embarrass either of them, he planned it out very carefully. He would arrive at Peter’s house in the morning. He knew that Peter departed his house every day around 7:45 to get to school by 8 o’clock sharp — not because school started at 8, it did not, but because he liked to have 15 minutes to get everything ready for the day. Instead of walking, Josh would offer him a ride. For his 15th birthday, Josh’s parents had bequeathed him their family’s antiquated minivan to fix up and use upon turning sixteen. After picking Peter up, he planned the perfect way to pop the proposal.
On the Monday of the week of the dance, Josh pulled up in front of Peter’s house as planned. He rolled down the passenger side window and called to Peter as Peter exited the gate of the upscale home and sauntered out onto the sidewalk. “Hey, Pete, wanna ride?” Josh called out.
Peter looked startled. “Hey, Dude, what are you doing here?”
“Oh, uh, I’ve seen you walking to school the past couple of weeks since I got my license and thought maybe you might like a ride.” Peter accepted without giving it too much thought. He liked Josh well enough. He got in and put on his seat belt even though the distance to school was not that far. After Josh restarted up the van, he popped in a mix CD he’d made to play his favorite “Savage Garden” song and started to sing. Much to his surprise, Peter started singing along. After the brief duet, Josh exclaimed “Dude, you’ve got a great voice! I didn’t know you liked SG.” He lowered the volume for the next song — a “Pet Shop Boys” tune he had loved in middle school.
“Um, yeah, SV’s great! I mean, I don’t listen to a lot of their music, because I guess I like newer stuff better, but some oldies are great.”
“Glad to hear it!” Josh said with enthusiasm. “So, I guess you’re a fan?”
“Well, sort of, maybe. I mean, that song sort of became an anthem for me the first time I heard it.”
“Oh?” Josh said curiously wondering if this was a hint. Peter looked at him strangely as if confused by Josh’s contorted facial expressions. “What?” Josh said finally, “I am guessing you didn’t realize that song resonates with gay people?”
Peter paused, and then said bluntly, “No, um, yeah, I mean the lyrics are kind of obvious now that I think about it.”
“So, why so quiet all of the sudden?”
“I don’t know. I’m just wondering about all of this. I mean, you dropping by my house out of the blue, offering me a ride, and cueing up some pre-planned tunes. Most importantly, however, you missed the turn back there, and this is not the way to school.”
“Okay, dude, you are on to me.”
“You’re not going to kidnap, kill me, and toss my body off a cliff are you?”
“Twisted, dude, something like that would never even cross my mind! I promise, I have only good and honorable intentions.” Josh giggled and slapped his hand on Peter’s knee for half a second. Peter stared out the window seeming lost in thought, but the knee grab caught him off guard.
“Cut it out,” Peter said firmly.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean anything, um, not to offend you. Anyway, we’re here.” Josh pulled the van into a parking space in the small lot on the hill over looking the serene valley that protected their coastal town from the outside world. “Come on!” He urged Peter out of the van and over to the fence that provided the only protection between an incredible sunrise vista and plummeting to one’s death down a steep and rocky incline. Josh climbed up on the bottom rail of the fence bracing himself against the top rail and locking in. He held his arms straight out in an iron cross position. “Come on up,” he said to Peter who was still planted firmly on the ground. Josh extended his hand down to help Peter climb up more easily. Soon, Peter, too, was locked in.
“Wow, this is glorious,” Peter said gazing majestically over the valley like a young prince being shown his future kingdom for the first time. “How’d you find this place?”
“My parents told me about it. It’s where they got engaged, and, I guess, coeds from the junior college drive up here at night to make out.”
“Wait, this isn’t the infamous Lookout Point is it?”
“At night it is. Can you imagine it at night? Stars as far as the eyes can see in every direction above and twinkling lights from our town below.” At that moment, Josh suddenly made his appeal shouting at the top of his lungs, “Peter Palisade, will you go to Sadie Hawkins dance with me?!?!” He then turned and drove his gaze into Peter’s eyes, eyes so deeply as to nearly drown in their honey-dripped, chocolate lava cake color. Unexpectedly, maybe even for Peter, Peter grabbed Josh’s hand and pulled him down as he leaped off the fence to the ground. He then wrapped both of his arms around Josh and kissed him strongly on the mouth with one hand on Josh’s neck and the other supporting the back of his head running his fingers through Josh’s hair.
Though Peter had never kissed anyone before, his lack of experience was not in evidence on this occasion. Josh surrendered completely to his embrace and then the slight but perfectly pleasant penetration of his lips by Peter’s strong exploring tongue. As they touched and slightly intertwined, the sensation of their tongues melding in Josh’s mouth caused a nearly instant swelling in his loins. He wrapped his arms around Peter’s torso holding him tightly and longingly. Much to his surprise, Peter did not recoil as their simultaneously engorging extremities came bulging together with only thin layers of cotton boxer briefs and blue jeans separating their longing. After a minute more, and after nearly exhausting all of the oxygen in his lungs, Josh could not help but pull back a bit despite his mind, heart, body, and soul all desiring this moment to last forever. As he withdrew from the match, he opened his eyes to confirm that the boy of his angst and long-time desire over the past sixteen or seventeen, give or take, consecutive months was truly there with him. Peter noticed for the first time that the boy with the natural smile he had envied from afar, could smile even bigger and more adorably than he had ever allowed himself to imagine. As Josh started to pull closer for a second round, Peter raised a finger between their lips halting Josh’s progress.
“Yes! Yes, Josh Harbour, I will go to Sadie Hawkins with you!” Peter’s wildly unexpected agreement was beyond Josh’s imagination. This moment, about which he had been dreaming nightly and uncontrollably, was upon him in reality. Josh nudged Peter’s finger out of the way with his nose and planted a kiss of his own on Peter’s willing lips. Truth be told, this was not Josh’s first kiss. That had gone to Billy Eisenstein his summer camp cabin mate from sixth grade. This kiss, however, jettisoned the old Billy Eisenstein kiss right out of his memory. Peter’s kiss exceeded his wildest dreams. It reminded him more of the first time he tasted a now seemingly ironically named Colorado Palisade peach. While most Americans associate Georgia with being the peach state because it says so on their license plate, Josh’s parents, thought differently when it came to peaches. They introduced Josh to the Palisade peaches of Colorado when he was three years old, and the family was on a road trip back east from California to New England to visit his grandparents. They stopped at a roadside stand and bought a bag of peaches. Not the candies that Josh had been pining over for fifty some odd miles. He threw a minor tantrum for not getting his way, but it only lasted thirty seconds before his mom popped the larger-than-life, delicious-smelling, perfectly ripened, and most tantalizing peach on earth between his lips. As tears streamed down his face, the juice dripped out from perforations in the thin but protective skin of the peach onto his sugar-seeking tongue. The taste was one he would never forget, that was, until this first kiss with Peter.
This time it was Josh’s turn to pull back a bit and stare again into Peter’s eyes. “Pete, are you sure? Do you want to come out? You want to go with ME to the dance?” He had prepared himself for a monumental rejection that was, instead, met with a resounding affirmative, life-altering kiss. Now, he was mentally prepared again for the reality of the rubber hitting the proverbial road when Peter would suddenly realize the gravity of his declaration.
Peter, who had never taken back his hands and arms from their embrace, still held him tightly. For a moment, Josh felt more connected to Peter than he had ever believed could be possible and certainly more than he had ever before felt. Peter’s eyes pierced into his own going deeper than he had dared with his own gaze. Then Peter squeezed him tightly and lifted him off his feet despite his height and muscular disadvantages. Josh would later be unable to deny that he had long fantasized about dating a guy who could pick him up. He did not know why the idea of that caused his legs to turn to wet noodles and his teeth to chatter a bit with anticipation. It was silly yet powerful. As he looked down at Peter’s face, Peter then spun around clockwise a few times before putting Josh down. “Um, I’ve never wanted anything more in my life.” Peter stepped away from the embrace for the first time. He walked back over to the fence and climbed back up. “Look out world, I’m Peter Palisade, and I am gay!” Josh climbed quickly up next to him steadying Peter who looked like he might fall from the weight of his words as they settled in the valley below.
“Do you think your parents heard you?” Josh asked.
“I hope they did,” Peter said. “They’ve kept me in the closet for too long, and I can’t stand it anymore. I need to be free to be me.” Josh held him around the waist as Peter put his arm around Josh’s shoulder.
“I know it’s way too soon to say this, but...”.
“I think I like you, dude.”
“Isn’t it too soon to say that?”
“No, why would you ask somebody out to Sadie Hawkins that you don’t?”
“Ok, then, good point.”
Peter called again, “Josh! Baby, are you ok?” Peter climbed out of bed and walked slowly toward the shadow turning to peer into the bathroom. Josh’s shadow did not move. Peter then walked toward him growing worried something was wrong. Just at that moment as Peter crossed the marble threshold into the bathroom his bare feet feeling the intensely cold feeling of the bathroom floor tiles, Josh’s frozen muscles melted, and he turned to meet Peter’s curious presence.
“What’s going on?” Josh asked now startled.
“I don’t know, I just woke up and found you gone from bed. I noticed your shadow from the bathroom and got up to see what was happening.”
“Ok, thanks, Pete, it’s ok. I’m fine. I just….I don’t know,” Josh said as he started walking unsteadily back to the bedroom.
“Here, Mintaka, take my hand.” Peter took Josh’s hand in his and led him back to their bed. Josh got in, pulled up the covers, and immediately fell back to sleep. Peter stroked his head for a while before, he too, drifted off.