We walked outside holding each other’s gloved hands into the snow and mildly cold air. We walked down the street and turned in the opposite direction of Hilana’s house. Porter said he was going to show me his elementary and middle school. He was explaining how he met Hilana back in second grade, and how she was kind of his gateway to making friends or just having people to hang out with, in general, until high school hit and everything came out.
I wished someone had stuck around long enough at that age to be like Hilana. I’d be a different person then though. I felt heat pouring from Porter’s body through his mitts to my hand.
We walked for about four or five blocks and arrived in front of Porter’s elementary school. It was a dark gray and black building. The windows were covered in kid’s artwork. It was silent and empty here. The front step of the school, the roof, the side doors, and the playground all had a dusting of snow. We went to the playground, Porter sat on the swing, and I stood in front of him watching him swing back and forth at a safe distance.
I hadn’t been to a playground in years. I normally stirred clear of them because of all the people they attracted and how loud it could be around them.
I heard a slow methodic guitar in the distance. I looked around for a person. Suddenly, a piano joined in with the guitar. It reminded me of “And Then You” by Greg Laswell. I spot a figure standing by the fence between the street and the park about fifteen meters away. They look to be the same age as us, maybe a bit older. They have shoulder-length black hair and are dressed in dark clothing.
Their song gives off an eerily sounding vibe. I can’t see them clearly from here. But they seem to be watching us. I wondered who they were. Why were they out here on Christmas? I see them start to move on their way down the street.
Porter comes to sliding halt on the swing and stands up.
“What is it?” he asks looking in the direction of where the figure had been.
“Nothing,” I replied turning back to him.
“Tag, you’re it,” I say excitedly and bolt away from him.
His feet start moving once his mind registered what I said. My feet carry me through the snow and gravel of the park, around the platforms up onto the climbing apparatuses. My shoes slide a bit on the wet plastic but I keep my balance, I jump from the platform from about three feet up and land, sinking into the gravel and snow. I take off again as soon as I land almost stumbling. I run down the side of the park around the back of it to a rope wall. I run inside the rope wall and climb up it onto a hanging bar that is at about a few inches taller than Porter’s waist. I sit on the bar and Porter approaches the bar.
He comes to stand between my legs like he was earlier this morning in the kitchen.
“Will you be okay to go back to school with Hilana here?” I ask suddenly.
He looks up at me.
“Her death, as far as we know isn’t impending or soon. I think I’ll be fine,” he replies quietly. “I’ll call her more.”
I lean down and kiss him lightly on the lips. My cold cheeks touching his and causing my glasses to fog up.
“I’m here for you,” I whisper quietly in his ear.
I sit back taking my glasses off to clean them.
“I know, me too,” he whispers touching my hand.
I put my glasses back on so I can see.
“Should we move onto my middle school?” he asks.
“Sure,” I reply. He takes a step back so I can jump down, sinking into the gravel and snow again.
We leave the park, he leads me by the hand down another series of streets, I’m not sure how to get back to his house from here but he clearly does.
We arrive at the school, which is clearly older than the last, made out of red brick, with blue doors that clearly need to be replaced, paint chipping off them. There were benches sitting under snow-covered pine trees in front of the school.
We walked under the trees out of the sunlight that was shining brightly through the gray clouds in the sky. Porter reaches up and tugs on one of the tree branches and snow rains down on us. He turns to me laughing as I shiver and try to shake the snow off and out of my clothes. His dark hair is dusted with it.
He reaches over and takes my glasses and cleans them off and puts them back on my face so I can see at least. He leans in and kisses me as snow continues to fall around us until all of it has settled again.
“I’m glad you came home with me,” he whispers against my lips.
“I’m glad I got to spend Christmas somewhere else than the four walls of my dorm room,” I reply.
He laughs, brushing snow off of my shoulders and head. He takes my hand and we continue to walk. Eventually, I recognize the streets again, we must have made one big circle. We turn onto Porter’s street and walk down to his house, it’s about 4:30 pm.
The sun is starting to set because of the short days and the moon has hidden itself amongst the gray clouds, navy sky, and twinkling white stars.
We go inside the house and strip ourselves of our wet and cold outdoor clothing. The coats, boots, scarves, mittens, and beanies. We hang them to dry on the coat rack and over the vent, and go upstairs to warm up before supper.
I change my pants and wrap the blanket on Porter’s bed around me. We lay on the bed together, Porter wraps his arms around me, his nose and lips are nuzzled in the crook of my neck. His forehead is resting against the side of my cheek and his dark hair is tickling the bottom of my ear.
Porter’s mother calls us down for dinner soon after. I was glad to eat something other than cafeteria food which wasn’t always the greatest while I was there. I hadn’t had home-cooked meals in a long time either.
We lay in the bed together, exhausted from the past two days. His mouth is next to my ear. He starts whispering a song quietly.
“I love you more than the sun and the stars that I taught how to shine. You are mine, and you shine for me, too. I love yesterday, and today, and tomorrow and I’ll say it again and again. I love you more. Just a face in the city, just a tear in a crowded street, but you are one in a million and you belong to me. And I want you to know, that I’m not letting go, even when you come undone. I love you more than the sun and the stars that I taught how to shine. You are mine, and you shine for me, too. I love yesterday, and today, and tomorrow and I’ll say it again and again. I love you more,” he mumbles under his breath into my ear.
I fall asleep listening to him sing, almost as if he had his own song playing rather than being silent, I wondered what Porter’s songs would sound like if he did have them. Sometimes I wonder what my own would sound like.
We are awakened early the next morning by Porter’s father calling through the door that Hilana is here to give Porter his gifts.
Porter sighs, kisses me on the cheek, and rolls out of the bed to get Hilana. I get up and go to the bathroom and fix my hair and wash my face. I step back out and Hilana is coming into the room with Porter. She’s carrying a stack of presents that tower over her head and she’s having trouble keeping them balanced so they don’t slip off onto the floor.
“Do you need help?” I ask.
“I tried, she insisted she can carry them,” Porter replies.
Hilana sets them down on Porter’s bed, the top ones bounce off landing on the pillows and blanket. She hands one to Porter.
“Open this one first,” she states.
She then turns to me and gives me a similar box to Porter’s.
“You got me something?” I question.
“I got you a few things,” she replied honestly.
“You didn’t have to do that,” I reply quickly.
“I wanted to,” she continues. “Open them.”
I and Porter rip the wrapping paper off to reveal non-descript boxes that are not helping my guesses of what she could have got me.
I open the box to reveal a folded bisexual flag. I was never one to flaunt what I was mostly because I already had issues with being accepted in society, I didn’t need more. But I still like that she knows, acknowledges, and sees who I am.
“No one should feel invisible,” she continues.
Porter’s reveal a big rainbow flag. I hug her.
“Thank you,” I reply.
“You’re welcome,” she replies smiling.
We open the rest of our gifts before she leaves to walk home and Porter asks his parents to borrow their car to drive to the mall.
I’d never learned to drive, mainly because I never had anyone to teach me to drive. It would also most likely be too noisy in traffic to concentrate on the road for me. I quickly realized I’d also never been to the mall without parental supervision. Porter and I went around the stores, we’d mainly stay out of smaller ones unless they were empty because of the sales the mall was very crowded and noisy, not just with actual noise but life and death songs as well. Eventually, I had to use my earplugs though and Porter and I communicated through notes on our phones and me reading his lips.
He picks up a necklace with the zodiac sign of a Leo on it.
He holds it up in front of me and asks, “Which one are you?”
I point to the Cancer sign, I never believed any of the associations that these things come with but one thing I did do was dislike the word cancer, why did they choose a word associated with a disease that kills thousands every year?
Porter picks up the necklace and carries the other things he’s decided to purchase to the register. He has a few shirts, some Panic! At the Disco jogging pants, music-note cuff earring set, and our necklaces.
We pay and we go to the food court to eat lunch. We sit off in a corner away from people so I can take my earplugs out and actually enjoy lunch. Porter gets Subway and I get Chinese food.
A sad melodic piano comes into the range of my ears and I look up to who is around us. Soon a guitar and drums join the piano, it reminds me of “The Memory” by Mayday Parade. I look up and see two boys a few tables over from us. One looks like your typical nerd. Tall, skinny with black-rimmed glasses. The boy sitting across from him looks to be intimidating him slightly. He is clearly a few inches taller than the boy, his legs sprawled under the table, he has a letterman jacket, black hair and dark eyes, he looks to be of Korean descent.
I pinpoint that the music is coming from the taller boy and not the nerd–looking one, as far as I can tell the nerd looking kid like Porter is silent.
Porter opens the bag and pulls out the necklaces. He sets the Leo one down on the table and attempts to disconnect the Cancer one from the cardboard holder, he opens the clasp and attempts to put it around his neck.
I get up to help him, but I can feel the kid with piano song watching me. I do the clasp up quickly and sit back down.
“Thanks,” Porter states.
I glance over at the table where the two boys are, despite the fact that the larger one is watching me, it’s the nerd who’s disconcerting. Because he has no song, what if he was like me? But Porter is like me and he can’t hear things. But the other one was staring at me for a reason. I feel uncomfortable, like a test rat in a maze being watched.
I shift uncomfortably in my seat until Porter holds up his Leo necklace to me. I lean forward and he clasps it around my neck. I glance down at the small gold lion inside of a circle.
“Reminders of each other,” he says smiling.
I don’t respond.
“Are you okay, Ryker?” he asks.
“It’s just a little loud here,” I reply.
“Do you want to go wait in the car while I go to one last store?” he asks.
I considered this, but I didn’t want to leave Porter alone in the mall. The kid was looking at me for some reason.
I shake my head, “Let’s just go quickly,” I reply.
We gather our things, threw out our trash, and made our way to the last store. I keep an eye out for them, just in case. After the last store, we leave the mall and go back to the car. I’m relieved once we are in the safety of the car.
We drive home along the highway, I’m glad for the silence after that haunting melody I heard from the kid in the food court. It was almost like when my mother was lying in the front seat dying that day. I shook it off.
“I’m tired,” I told Porter. “I’m going to lie down.”
I climbed upstairs to Porter’s room and lie in his bed with my headphones on trying to distract myself from the melody and boys.
I put on “Feel Again” by OneRepublic. I set my glasses on the bedside table and close my eyes.
I remember when I was young I’d run out of any crowded, noisy places with my hands covering my ears. They use to think I was autistic and overstimulated but when they heard the stories about the music coming from people they then thought I was schizophrenic even though it was uncommon in children that young. They tested though and I had no other delusions, I think they even tried to medicate me for it despite that. Obviously, the pills didn’t help.
Eventually, the tests stopped, I was labeled as an anomaly, with a learning disability and not clinically or physically dangerous, told to go buy earplugs or wear headphones and go on with my life. I did but I also carried around the weight of being an anomaly now.
I wondered if there were others like me. I think I would know about them though. Unless they, like me, were given some odd label and told to get on with their lives normally despite not being normal.
They should have been able to identify something, maybe they should have done another brain scan. Maybe when I died my brain would be studied like Einstein’s. Maybe then they’d find some explanation for me. For what I heard and knew.
Porter came upstairs after dinner, I don’t know what he told his parents about why I wasn’t joining them. Maybe he said I didn’t feel good, or what I told him, that I was tired. I stayed still when he entered, pretending to sleep, I felt him touch my forehead, moving my bangs off of it.
He laid down on the opposite of the bed, I shifted towards him, pulling my headphones off my head. I touched the Cancer sign around his neck, a representation of me. He glanced at me.
“Do you feel better?” he asks.
“Kind of,” I reply quietly.
I lay my head against his heart and listen to it beat against my ear.
“Thank you, for just…everything,” I continue quietly.
“You’re welcome, I’m here for you. Just in case you’ve forgotten,” he says with a smirk.
“I know,” I whisper.
I move, lifting my head up so I’m face to face with him.
I lean in and kiss him.
“I love you,” I whisper against his lips.
“I know,” he replies and presses his lips back against mine. “I love you, too.”
We settle into bed soon after and fall asleep together. I’m grateful I’m not alone anymore, it would have been a lot more jarring and scary to be thinking of those childhood memories and the loneliness I felt about being the outcast. Nowadays, I’m used to it but when you’re a child you don’t understand a lot so it can be confusing and terrifying.
It was nice to have some consistency in terms of people who were there for you, loved you and believed in you, too.