by Andrew Hahn
I lay on Burt’s bed in the Kennesaw State dorms, wondering why I texted him last week and asked to meet up after two years. I left for Liberty University at the end of the summer to start my freshman year. My parents were happy, maybe even relieved, that I was attending a conservative, evangelical school. When I visited Liberty last year, it felt like glorified Wednesday night church with academics. I felt comfortable there—no Greek life, no on-campus parties, a dry campus, relaxed—like I was moving from my parents’ house into a Christian boarding school. I had gone to a fundamental Baptist elementary and middle school and attended public high school, so Liberty was a natural selection for me. That, and I received the most scholarship money.
The fact that I was Liberty-bound while in Burt’s bed didn’t register.
We had mutual friends. I met Katie my sophomore year who introduced me to all of her senior friends. Burt was Katie’s other best friend. He was thin, wore ill-fitting jeans, Etnies skate shoes, and punny t-shirts from Hot Topic: “I put the ‘fun’ in funeral,” or “Finding Emo.” His greasy hair parted down the middle and barely brushed the tops of his shoulders.
Once, he pleaded with me to ask this girl he was on and off with to the prom because he didn’t want to take her. I was too young for prom. The plan wouldn’t work.
“What would I tell her?” I asked. “How would I get her to say yes?”
“Tell her you’ll ride her like the last helicopter out of Vietnam,” he said. A week later, they got in a fight over prom in the cafeteria. She chased him down the hallway and beat him up. He took out a restraining order insisting she was abusive and mentally unstable.
Our interactions had always been similar; we found common ground over the punk band AFI and their lead singer Davey Havok. We loved the way he yelled Oh!, the pain and the white noise of his screams, the darkness of his lyrics about what it meant to be lost and to search for personal truth.
Now Burt’s hair was shorter and styled. He wore a plain white t-shirt and athletic shorts that hit above his knee. He had been going to the gym. He involved himself in Greek life, attended fraternity events, and found popularity in a crowd who, in high school, he would have readily rejected.
The bed in his dorm room eased under my skinny frame. At 125 pounds, boys in high school asked if I threw up my food after lunch with the jock-like tact reflected in Lifetime movies. I too thought I was too skinny, though my girlfriends enjoyed the limited experience they had with my slim figure. Burt stood near his desk against the wall opposite the bed. The sun from the window lit up his strong body from underneath the white tee. Thick pre-law textbooks splayed open, revealing columns of small print heavy with yellow and green highlights. A glass of water sat next to the open MacBook. I thought of the water spilling onto the keyboard, the bright screen flickering like an arrhythmic heart before the dead beat.
“You still like AFI?” he asked.
“Of course I do,” I said. “Do you like Decemberunderground?” My stepmom wouldn’t let me buy Decemberunderground when it was released three years ago in 2006 because she thought the lyrics reflected very un-Christian messages. The song titles “Miss Murder,” “Kiss and Control,” “The Killing Lights,” and “37mm” among others, didn’t help. My neighbor Lauren and I would listen to the album on her iPod on the bus after school. They were my favorite band.
Burt’s eyes lit up. He leaned over and selected AFI on shuffle. His shirt hiked up as his body curved. I could see the surf of his tanned abs. My insides twisted. My heart pounded in my throat. Burt lay in bed with me and positioned himself with his back along the wall.
“I love this song,” I said.
“Me too.” Burt ran his arm underneath my neck. My pulse intensified, but he didn’t seem to notice. “Reminds me so much of high school. I hated that place so much. I would never go back.”
“We were all finding ourselves then,” I said. “Some of us still are.”
Davey sang softly in the background: Your sins into me, oh my beautiful one.
“So…” Burt said.
“I guess I should just do this, huh?”
Then he kissed me and rolled over on top of me. His firm body pressed against me like a heavy comforter, and the waves of muscles in his upper back pushed and pulled with our bodies’ twisting. We turned over.
I thought of what Davey was singing, about shaking on his knees in prayer and begging God or whomever for forgiveness for his sins. What the hell was I doing with Burt? Why did I love feeling his soft hairs against my body, the stubble of his chin on my neck? I needed to stop before I found myself too deep in whatever we were doing. I needed to pull away from the surf of his body, thank him for offering himself to me to explore, and head back to the safe shore of the last week’s life.
But we continued rolling out into the ocean on the waves of his blue sheets, caught in a storm. I held onto his body like a life raft. In moments, we were swallowed by the swells. I lost my breath under the sprays. I thought I might never breathe the same air again.
Burt left me on the bed while he fetched a towel from his bathroom. My dick felt sore from the hand jobs, my throat from him in my mouth. This was the first time I ever kissed and touched a boy like that. I felt conflicted in the sense that everything in my life taught me this is wrong, an “abomination.” Churches in the South hardly addressed homosexuality, but I heard the word “abomination” slipping from the lips of church members quoting Scripture, hearing a distant family member was found in bed with someone of the same sex, particularly a man. I didn’t want to be the subject of church gossip, and I knew my parents didn’t either.
The comedown from the climax highlighted the reality of my nakedness. I was not ashamed. I was naked for the first time with someone else, and it felt freeing, exhilarating even, but I felt guilty at the same time. I knew I committed a sin, but how could a sin have felt that exciting? I didn’t think I was going to contract HIV or be stricken with STDs—God didn’t work like that anymore. What was the consequence of fooling around with someone of the same sex? It wasn’t like drugs or alcohol where my body would show signs of wear then break down. How could it be different than fooling around with a girl, not that I ever got as far as fooling around?
He came back with a towel, wiped my chest, and lay down next to me.
“So?” he asked.
“That was really nice.”
“Well, good.” He smiled, pleased with himself.
“I should go.” I started to roll off the bed to find my clothes. His hand around my side pulled me back.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I just told my stepmom that I’d be home for dinner. That’s all.” It wasn’t a complete lie. The longer I stayed, the more I felt consumed by guilt. As I got dressed, he looked at me with soft eyes and a slightly frowned lip.
“If you say so,” he said.
I leaned in and kissed him. I loved the scratchiness of his upper lip. “I’ll text you later.”
“Okay,” he said with the sinking cadence of rejection.
I felt nothing, my body sucked of life.
When I sat in my car I burst into tears. I screamed at the top of my lungs. I pounded my steering wheel hoping the airbag would knock me unconscious. I hurt someplace inside I couldn’t reach and open in someplace I couldn’t feel. I felt like a captive. I felt free. I felt disgusting. I felt new. I felt like the world’s biggest disappointment. Everything I knew about God flared up like hives across my arms. I wanted to throw up.
The deep, untouchable conflict of homosexuality’s sinfulness and the freedom I felt in it awakened a part of me that had been dormant for years. Though I fantasized about men, I never thought to touch one, to kiss one, to wrap my mouth around one. I cried harder than I ever had, past the silent, gaping mouth cry into a harrowing scream.
I looked around to see if anyone was watching. I was the only one who seemed to exist for miles: no cars, no people, just me in my beat-up 91’ Maxima, sweating in the Georgia heat and from sobbing. My entire body wept like Jesus when Lazarus died. As I started the car, I realized I had parked beside a dumpster on my left. That is where I belong, I thought.
My stepmom Kelly was almost finished with dinner. I could tell by how the house smelled fully like the cream sauce for Swedish meatballs. When I walked into the kitchen, she asked me to set the table, which was one of my main responsibilities around dinnertime. My brother and I took turns washing dishes.
“How was hanging out with Burt?” she asked, stirring the sauce. Her long, thick hair was pulled up in a tortoise hair claw clip. I had told her I liked her hair pulled up like that, but she said it looked “sloppy.” We talked across the kitchen over the bar countertop.
“It was fun,” I said, not lying.
“What’d you do?”
“We played some video games and then we went to the Starbucks on Chastain.” Lying.
“Is Burt a Christian?” she asked. This was her main concern with anyone I hung out with and was usually part of the pre-screening questionnaire before I was allowed to leave the house. Other questions surrounded the main “good boy / bad boy” dichotomy: Does he smoke? He’s quit since high school. Does he swear? Yes. Does he go to church? Wouldn’t be caught dead in one. Are his parents together? No. Does he party? God, I don’t know!
“No,” I said. Some of my friends weren’t Christians despite living in the Bible Belt. My parents knew this but didn’t like it.
“How do you know him?” She was facing me now. She held the spatula in one hand as if she might beat me for lying.
“We were in the same friend group in high school.” I didn’t tell her what friends. Kelly wasn’t too fond of some of the friends I made, even though they were good people who were positive influences. I tried to leave them out whenever I could.
“Okay.” She handed me an egg noodle to taste to see if they were cooked enough. I walked around the counter and popped the al dente noodle in my mouth. I gave a thumbs up and sat on the counter. My armpits were still sweaty from crying in the car.
“Are you and Stephanie doing anything this week?”
“I’ll probably bring her lunch during work one day and then maybe we’ll go out to dinner or see a movie,” I said. Kelly dumped some of the sauce into the pot of strained noodles so they didn’t stick together.
“You should invite Burt to church one week,” she said.
“Yeah, sure. If we start hanging out more I’ll ask.”
Over his dead body would he ever go to church.
I went downstairs to my room. I plopped on my bed with my phone in my hand and texted Burt.
Me: Hey, I’m home. Thanks for today.
Burt: Hey. You’re welcome. Are you okay?
Me: Yeah. It’s just hard with the Christian stuff.
Burt: We don’t have to do it again if you don’t want to.
Me: I know. I want to.
Burt: Next weekend?
I sat up against my headboard and debated the invitation. It felt too good to pass up, but I didn’t want to cry again. I didn’t want to get caught in the lie by my parents. I didn’t want to be punished by God for the sins I was compiling.
Me: Will your roommates be there?
Burt: They’re never here so any time is good. It just depends on my classes.
Me: This weekend is good for me.
I drove to the movie theater to have lunch with Stephanie on her break. I sat down on the side of the building, outside the door on the smoother section of the concrete, took out our food, and arranged it as if it were for Bon Appetit. I wished I brought my boom box. I wished I was meeting a boy for lunch—maybe a boy I was getting to know, one who was interested in me, one I would want to bring home one day.
But when Stephanie, in her work uniform of khaki pants and blue shirt, came outside, I smiled. She blushed when she saw the picnic and hugged me. Her head rested on my chest. Part of me wanted to rest my head on a guy’s chest, part of me felt secure holding her.
“You’re the greatest,” she said, picking up the Capri Sun and inserting the straw. “I’m so glad you’re here."
“Me too.” I was glad, but I wasn’t glad in the way she was. Stephanie typically seemed sad, even when her little mouth pushed her cheeks into her small, almond eyes. She carried herself like she would rather be elsewhere. She moved like she hated the way she lived in her own body, like anyone who could love her would save her.
“You want to pray for the food?” she asked.
I hated praying out loud. I never volunteered to pray in Sunday school because I didn’t want to stumble over my words or sound unintelligent. I bowed my head and closed my eyes to pray.
“Dear Lord. Thank you for this marvelous day and that Stephanie and I get to spend time together even though she works all day. I pray that you will give her the boost she needs to make it through this day and I ask for her mind to be filled with happy thoughts. Also bless this food in Jesus’ name. Amen.”
When I opened my eyes, I noticed the contrast between the concrete and the blacktop, the white and the black, the good and the evil, heaven and hell. I froze. I currently sat on the “good” side, but where did my soul rest?
“Oh my god, I’m starving,” she said. “This is so delicious. Thank you so much.”
“What?” I shook off the existential thoughts and looked at her. For a moment I didn’t know who she was. For a moment she wasn’t what I wanted her to be.
“I said, ‘Thank you.’”
“It’s only because I like you. Only a little though.” I winked at her.
“I like you only a little too.” She didn’t wink back.
I waited for Burt outside the doors of the courtyard entrance to go out to lunch. When he let me inside, he said hello and kissed me on the cheek. I looked around to see if anyone was watching. Red rushed to my cheeks. I sweat a little.
“My car’s back here.”
I followed him out to a parking garage. I thought about it collapsing and all the levels squishing the ones beneath them like a multi-layer cake. I thought about it happening when Burt and I walked onto the third level to his green Honda accord. I thought about a Mission Impossible style escape when the garage collapsed while we drive away, careening around the corners and down the levels, barely making it out.
We went to the Chinese buffet around the corner from his dorm. Even in high school we found ourselves together with friends at Chinese restaurants; it was a comfortable setting for us. We sat down at our table for two and ordered waters to drink. I sampled a few of the chicken and vegetable dishes while Burt piled his plate with crab rangoon—he knew what he liked.
Sometimes Burt and I had trouble finding things to talk about. I felt I was too soft to hang with most guys: I wasn’t crass, I didn’t really understand sex, I didn’t play sports anymore, I didn’t go to the gym. I was too much of a “good boy” to fit in. With Burt, it was different. I didn’t know what to talk about because I didn’t want to sound like an idiot in front of him. I wanted him to like me even though I didn’t want to date him. I was too afraid.
“So…” he said. “Do your parents think we’re still playing video games?” He laughed.
“I will always let them think that,” I said. “I could never tell them what’s really going on. They would disown me or kick me out or something.” My parents were strict and lived bound to their interpretation of the Bible. I knew I would be rejected from the family because my parents didn’t associate with sin, and “God said” homosexuality was wrong. My parents placed too much energy in keeping up appearances, so I feared the worst when it came to tarnishing their image with my sin.
“Well, what is really going on?” He leaned forward over his crossed arms.
“I’m not sure.” I slouched. I wanted to shrink under the table. “I don’t really know. I’m going to break up with Stephanie before I move to school because I don’t want to have a reason to come back. I’ve waited so long to get out of my parents’ house, and this is my chance.”
“Do you like her?”
“I mean yeah, but I haven’t kissed her.” My ears grew warm from the mild embarrassment of admitting I didn’t want to share those special moments with a girl. It wasn’t something I was used to addressing. “I kind of don’t want to. Is that weird?”
“No, I totally know the feeling.” He laughed some more. “You ready to go?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I can’t believe how not hungry I was.”
I got up to leave first, and he lightly touched the small of my back—softly, like a wound—and when I winced, he kept his touch on my shirt. I wanted him to let go of me. I wanted to run away, but I could’ve only run to his car, a thing that smelled like him and held the scattered contents of him.
He played AFI’s Decemberunderground on the drive back.
When we returned to campus, I lay on his bed in my underwear. He rolled from the bed, naked, and turned the album back on.
“What’s your favorite song on this one?” I asked.
“‘Kiss and Control.’ Here.” He played the song, then covered me with his body.
He pressed down on me so hard I could feel his heart beneath his ribs and the vibrations of his light moans. I felt butterflies touch down on my skin, licking me with their long tongues. I felt like I was floating—the great monarch migration in my body up to my head, down to my stomach, up to my throat, their butterfly kisses between my legs. I turned in the waves of their brittle wings.
Davey sang of swallowing his lover’s fears. I imagined the struggles of morality escaping from my mouth like a vapor. Each time Burt sucked on my tongue, he inhaled those anxieties. His body expanded and pumped breath into me between kisses like I took on the essence of his inner struggles, whatever they were.
“Do you want to let me fuck you?” he mumbled.
“What?” I pulled away to look at his face.
“Do you want to let me fuck you?”
I didn’t answer, just kept kissing him and feeling wanted, feeling his stubble scratch against and redden my lip’s fair skin.
“Hey,” he said. “Do you want to?”
“No,” I said. “Not now.”
He backed his head away from mine so that he could look at me. There was a hunger in his eyes. He kissed me hard, held onto my bottom lip with his teeth, and ran his tongue along my lip’s soft edge. I hope I tasted good.
I picked Stephanie up after her shift to go grab dinner at Zaxby’s, then to go to church like we did every Wednesday. For the past few days, I hadn’t been texting her with as much interest, mostly because I was thinking about sex with Burt and if it was something I wanted to try. The possibility of sex overrode my ongoing questions about biblical morality. I went back and forth between, If I enjoy the sex then I’ll know I’m gay, and, If I don’t like it does that still make me gay?
Lady Gaga’s song “Paparazzi” played on the radio, so I didn’t feel like I had to say much to Stephanie, not that I didn’t want to. My mental capacity for conversation didn’t exist if I was focusing on something else, mainly music. She checked her eye makeup in the mirror and examined her new bob haircut from both sides. I had complimented her on the haircut, but I didn’t like it as much as her shoulder-length cut before. She pushed the mirror up hard with a thud.
“What?” I asked, turning down the radio.
“Are you okay?”
“Yes? Why would you think I’m not?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I kind of get the feeling you’re hiding something from me.”
“Steph. . .”
“I can’t describe it.” She started to cry. “But it feels like something crazy is going on and you’re not telling me about it. Like, I feel like you’re pulling away from me and I keep thinking it’s because there’s someone else.”
“Stephanie, no,” I said. “Nothing is going on.”
And when I said that, it was true, because even when I was with Burt, I never felt like I was cheating. Though it seemed Stephanie’s insecurity was based on a feeling, I knew my answer was accurate when I said it. Somewhere deep inside though, I knew the truth was directly linked to my actions. I knew I was cheating. I knew Burt was a romantic experiment and Stephanie was a product of the pressures of church culture. I felt like a bomb—I had the potential to destroy two good people.
“I promise you I would say something,” I said.
“Okay.” She used a tissue from the glove box to wipe the mascara from under her eyes. I put my hand on her leg.
“Yeah?” I asked. I needed to hear her believe me and for the door on this conversation to close and lock.
It surprised me how easily I could lie to her. I never used to be able to lie because I had a guilty conscience, but with Stephanie I was acting. Every lie I told supported the role of the good boyfriend I was adept at playing. Before these past few weeks, my relationship with Stephanie hadn’t been a façade, and now it was. It worried me just as much as it did her.
Kelly made chicken divan and crescent rolls for dinner, the family favorite. Dad was always served first as head of the household and man of the house. Kelly usually served herself last as the woman of the house. There was always enough for seconds.
“Have you started packing for school yet?” Dad asked.
“I mean I’ve started folding clothes and sectioning them. And, like, packing books and stuff.”
“So, yes.” Dad liked short and sweet. He wasn’t really much of a talker or a listener. After working at the restaurant all day, he liked to come home to quiet and rest.
“How was work?”
“Dumb,” he said. He shoveled a full bite into his mouth. I dropped the idea of talking to him. Sometimes it seemed pointless, but not all the time.
“So,” Kelly said. “You’ve been hanging out with Burt a lot.”
“Yup,” I replied, buttering a roll. I wondered what would happen if I added, And he asked me if I wanted to have gay sex with him, but I don’t think I’m ready yet. What do you think about that? I had read stories on the internet of parents beating their gay kids and kicking them out of the house. I didn’t know why I thought that would happen to me. My dad never hit me. He hardly spanked me when I was a child, but he had a temper. I thought any indication of homosexuality might push him into a blind fury.
In high school, I was asked to be on the competitive cheerleading team because I could tumble. Our school’s team was regionally ranked. I could’ve received scholarships. I just wanted to flip after school with the other girls, but my parents did everything in their power to keep me from being on the team, mostly by telling me, “No,” over and over again. They said, “Don’t you know how embarrassing it would be to tell people our son is a cheerleader?” I couldn’t imagine how embarrassed they would be to know I was gay.
Kelly took a small bite of food. She looked at me from across the table. “Have you invited him to church yet?” she asked.
“Yeah, but he doesn’t want to come.”
“Who’s Burt?” Dad asked.
Kelly motioned she wanted to say something, but needed to swallow first. “You should really be pushing for him to come. We need to do our part as believers.”
“I know,” I said. “I mean we’ve talked about it and stuff. I’m not going to force him to go.”
“Everyone needs Jesus.” I resisted rolling my eyes. She didn’t understand that the more an idea, especially a religion, was pushed on someone, the more that person resisted. The last thing an unchurched person wanted to feel like was that they were part of an evangelism project.
“It’s fine,” I said.
She took a bite of a roll and chased it with a big gulp of water, but I bet she wished it was a full glass of wine.
Me: My stepmom keeps bugging me about asking you to come to church.
Burt: I would rather walk on hot coals.
He told me he was moving into an apartment with a guy named Alex who was also gay. I looked Alex up on Facebook. He was hot. I was curious about him, but I didn’t want to make my life messier than it already was.
Burt: He’s pretty cool. Minds his own business. And he’s never here, which is just how I like it.
Me: That’s gotta be nice. Can’t wait to see it.
Burt: This weekend is good : ) Still video games?
Me: Still video games.
Burt: But we can at least play video games naked right?
Me: Haha, if that’s something people do then yes.
Burt: Sounds fun!
I knocked on Burt’s apartment door.
“Hey,” he said as the door swung open. “Come in come in!” He got a haircut, a sleeker and polished appearance than the frat boy haircut before. The apartment was cozy. Alex brought in his new furniture and had hung tasteful pictures of cityscapes and men on the walls. On the nearest end table sat Men’s Health, Out, and GQ. Vodka SKYY bottles lined the top of the kitchen cabinets and reflected glints of sapphire on the near walls.
“Drink a lot?” I asked. My mother was an alcoholic. One of my deepest fears was ending up with someone who had a drinking problem, or falling into a friend group who drank too much. Even worse, I didn’t want to be like her and was afraid of acquiring a taste for liquor, specifically vodka.
“Not really. These were here before we moved in. Alex decided to keep them.”
I sat on the left side of the couch and watched the large flat-screen. A commercial aired for the Latter Day Saints, telling viewers they need to call the toll-free 1-800 number and repent or else they’ll go to hell. The commercial listed off the types of people who won’t inherit the Kingdom of God: gluttons, gamblers, prostitutes, adulterers, homosexuals, liars, thieves.
“Enough of this bullshit.” Burt took the remote and turned the channel. After a short while he muted the television. He looked at me as if he didn’t know how to phrase what he wanted to say.
“Am I going to hell?”
“I. . . uh. . .” I had never been asked that question so directly. “I mean. . .”
“The Bible says I am,” he said. “In a few places.”
“I mean, yeah, it does say that,” I said. “But I don’t really know.” I had trouble making eye contact with him. I was embarrassed at the commercial’s aggressiveness and that he associated me with people who hate homosexuals. He saw me as a biblical authority and I couldn’t even form a complete thought.
“Does this mean you’re going to hell too?” He wouldn’t take his eyes off me.
“I believe the Bible,” I said.
“So then you believe that what you’re doing with me is wrong.”
I took a deep breath. I surveyed the room, the poster on the wall of a hot celebrity I didn’t recognize, the perfect shirtless men on the cover of Men’s Health.
“I don’t know.”
“Well, I think the Bible is bullshit, so I guess I’m going to hell then.” He stood up and adjusted his pants, then walked to the bathroom.
I didn’t want to believe it was wrong to be gay. I had grown to like Burt, and I couldn’t imagine believing that someone I liked would go to hell just for being gay. Doubt swallowed me. I could’ve made up excuses saying the commercial was about Mormons and not the Baptists, but in that moment, they were the same. They both hated my friend, thought he was an abomination, the scum of the earth.
The bells on my parents’ front door jingled as I walked inside. Kelly was coming up from downstairs holding a basket of clean laundry.
“Hey,” she said. “Are you okay?”
She walked passed me and started folding laundry on the back of the sofa. I looked in the hall mirror to the right of the door. My face looked worried. My body lacked a casual looseness. I couldn’t decide where to put my hands. My shoulders were clinched. My eyes darted around as if I were being watched. I felt cornered, and there was nothing left to do but tell the truth for once.
“I found out recently that Burt is gay, and he just asked me if he was going to hell.” I straddled the couch’s armrest, facing her.
“So, what did you tell him?”
“I told him I didn’t know.”
“What’s not to know?”
“I don’t know,” I said. I stood up and walked into the kitchen for a glass of water. “It’s hard to tell a friend that the Bible says he’s going to hell, and that, since I believe the Bible, I believe he’s going to hell.” I thought of the AFI song “…But Home is Nowhere” where Davey sings about how his prayers go to no one and that he was marked as infernal from the beginning.
“We shouldn’t have a problem telling the truth.” She folded a pair of my jeans, the skinny pair she tried to hide from me years before. “The truth will set you free. God gives us the strength to say the right thing.”
I knew her “right thing” was telling Burt that he was hell-bound, but I didn’t want to believe it. If God gave us the strength to say the right thing, did that mean Burt, or me, was safe from hell since I couldn’t tell him? I went down into my room and lay on my bed, contemplating everything I thought I knew about God. My brain spun in circles—angry, sad, confused, despondent—until I was faint. Were we hell-bound like Davey sang about?
I took out my phone and texted Burt.
Me: I’m sorry about earlier. I’m still working through the Christian stuff and trying not to see everything in terms of heaven and hell.
He didn’t respond, and I thought I might have ruined our friendship or relationship, whatever it was. I hated my parents’ Christianity for being more destructive than edifying. I hated how it was interfering in my relationships, but I couldn’t bring myself to think about walking away from faith—there had to be another way.
The air in my room was cold, like the visiting of an evil spirit, like I was taught in church, the demon of homosexuality. I sang along in my head with AFI in ambient reverb, revisiting the tracks Burt and I sang together in his car on the way home from lunch at the Chinese buffet.
I was leaving for college in two weeks. I drove Stephanie home from Wednesday night church and walked her to the door. The porch light was off.
“Hey,” I said. I reached for the soft curve of her elbow. “Can we sit over here for a little?” We sat on the wicker chairs separated by a small table on the far side of the porch. The full moon was still faded in the twilight. Crickets had already started their night calls.
Her bottom lip started to quiver. She knew I was breaking up with her.
“I don’t want to make this about you,” I said. “You’re great. I mean it.”
She leaned forward in her chair and wiped her eyes.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to go to college and be thinking of home,” I said. “I want to be one hundred percent there and not have anything to make me look back.” I thought of Lot’s wife in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, how she turned to a pillar of salt after God commanded her not to look back as He destroyed the cities with fire. I knew I would come back on breaks and see Burt, and I wondered if God would punish me for it.
“I understand,” she said, crying into her hands. “I wish that it didn’t have to happen though.”
“I know.” I couldn’t bring myself to cry, but knowing I was upsetting her was the worst part. “I’m sorry. I thought a lot about it. I don’t want you to think this is a rash decision.”
“No,” she said. “I know you wouldn’t just do something like this.”
“Thank you.” The table between us had a small flower. It was full, pretty, pink, and bright in the moon’s low glow.
“I want to go inside,” she said. We stood up, and she hugged me harder than she had all summer. “I’ll miss you.”
She went inside without looking at me. The deadbolt clicked.
I sat in my car and texted my parents that I had broken up with Stephanie. Their responses were, “I’m sorry, but good for you.”
I took glances at the large, full moon the whole ride home. I thought myself a werewolf—a monster, but completely alive and free under the moon.
When I arrived home, I lay on my bed unable to sleep, unable to stop thinking about the next time Burt and I would play video games.
Me: Hey, can’t wait to play video games with you.
Burt: Can’t sneak out?
Me: My parents would murder me.
Burt: Guess we’ll just have to wait a few more days.
Me: I’m sure the anticipation will be worth it.
Burt: Think so?
Me: Yeah. I think I’m ready.
Like the other times, Burt turned up AFI on his computer. He pushed me down on the bed and kissed me more intensely than before. Soon our bare skin pressed and slid against each other like silk. I wanted our bodies to continue touching. I didn’t want to leave him here while I went to school, even though I knew there was no future for us because of our beliefs. Still, I loved his built physique and the way I felt in his hands.
“Hey,” he said.
“Yeah?” I pulled away to look at him.
“I think I like you.”
Instead of responding, I kissed him back and turned him over so he was on top of me like lying underneath heavy blankets.
“Do you want to let me fuck you?” he asked.
I nodded my head. “Yeah.”
He smiled. “Okay, hold on.” He went to his sock drawer, just like in movies, and grabbed lubricant and a condom. He repositioned me so I was leaning over the bedside. “Are you ready?”
“Yeah, I think so,” I said.
With his left hand, he held my hip, and he maneuvered himself in me with his right. I winced at the initial pain, the sharp pain of exploring unfamiliar territory, and took a deep breath. I heard gay jokes in the hallways in school where guys would say, “Just relax,” and so I did. I took their joke and made it my guide to learning the mechanics of love.
I looked at the teddy bear from his ex-boyfriend on the bedside table, squinted at the yellow-white glare of the sun through the blinds, cocked my head at the clamped fabric that flowered from his dresser drawers like dandelions on a sidewalk. Our bodies clapped out of time with the music, and I was unable to think of anything else.
I put my clothes back on, and I went into the bathroom to clean up. I re-entered his room to see if my parents had texted me. They hadn’t. Burt leaned against the doorframe, still naked, semi-hard.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
I smiled at him. “Yeah.”
“Sorry if it hurt.”
“It did at first, but I got the hang of it.” I sighed. “I do have to go now.”
“Got to finish packing?”
“Yeah, I leave for school next week.”
“I’m leaving for Italy for a class trip this week, so this looks like the last time.”
“I’ll be back in town,” I said. I wanted to see him again, but I knew I would be okay if we didn’t. “I’ll text you later.”
I left without kissing or hugging him, without smiling, without the promise of a next time, even though I wanted there to be one. In my car, I took the first left, then left at the street, and left out of the neighborhood coming almost full circle, but not quite. I felt different than when I arrived in a way I couldn’t identify, but I was happy. I turned on the AFI track “The Leaving Song, Pt. II” and sang along with Davey: I saw its birth. I watched it grow. I felt it change me. I took the life. I ate it slow. I pounded my fists on the steering wheel in time with the music.
Andrew Hahn is a current MFA in Writing candidate at Vermont College of Fine Arts. His work has been featured in Lamp Literary Journal, R.kv.r.y Quarterly, Lavender Bluegrass: LGBT Writers on the South, Past-ten, and All the Sins, and is forthcoming in Crab Creek Review. He currently lives in Woodstock, Georgia.