One. Deux. Tre.
Copyright 2016 Anthony Ramirez
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
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Table of Contents
The bar echoed with the sound of ice clinking in empty glasses. The pitter-patter of rain soothed those inside that drank away their troubles and basked in their own vices. At the bar on the far left side, a woman named Iris sat sleepily with her head resting in her palm as she waited for the bartender to finish speaking to a man a few seats down from her.
The bartender politely asked what the man would like to drink, to which Mark responded, “Anything that might put me to sleep.” Iris sort of chuckled at this, wishing for something similar. The bartender quickly informed Mark that he was in the business of making cocktails, not potions. To this Mark could only shake his head and smile as he pulled his lengthy black hair back behind his ears. To the young scholar, there couldn’t be much of a difference. Mark had written his dissertation on the history of occult practices. He knew the two concoctions were very similar in nature.
After all, people drank them both desiring change.
The bartender darted toward Iris to get her order.
“You look tired,” Mark said sweetly to her across the bar. She only smiled and nodded her head, chin-length blonde hair bouncing about as she did.
Though neither of them knew, both had been going to that bar for the five years they’d both lived in Seattle. The crowd had dwindled that night, and the two rarely came unaccompanied. But it being a Sunday, their friends were working early the next day. Both had strolled soberly into the bar alone, hoping to drink just enough to drag themselves home.
“You look pretty tired, yourself,” Iris told Mark as he let out a brazen yawn.
“I haven’t slept since 1999.”
“Y2K anxiety?” she asked, to which Mark could only laugh. The truth of the matter wasn’t something as trivial as that. Five years prior, Mark life carried him to Washington after finishing school. He obtained a good job, made new friends, and fell in love with a woman who would later break his heart. He cared less about that as time swept away. Insomnia ravaged Mark during that relationship. Even after they’d broken up, proper sleep never found the young man. He went out looking for another companion, participating in affairs that had not ended well. Still, Mark could not sleep.
Iris could relate. With her art school degree in hand, she too had moved to Seattle hoping to find an answer to a question still not posited. Maybe that was the reason she herself could not sleep. She continuously searched for an answer to a question, but remained completely unaware of what exactly the question was. Unlike Mark, she’d isolated herself to her paintings and a few friends. She had no time for love affairs or the occasional animalistic romp. She coveted nothing more than a restful night of sleep.
“You paint?” Mark asked.
“I try,” Iris said with an embarrassed smile.
“You have a picture of anything you’ve painted?” he asked her.
Iris smiled and pulled her phone into her hands before flashing it back to Mark.
The painting was simple, or maybe it was abstract. Brushed with swirls of dark blues and deep purples, tiny splashes of yellows tickled the piece in many places. In the center of the canvas hovered what could have been easily dismissed as an odd leaf to the casual passerby. But Mark was not the casual passerby. He had studied the occult and the practices of old, folk magic.
“Belladonna?” he asked.
“How’d you know?” she replied, erupting into laughter.
“I wrote my dissertation over occult practices,” he told her. “I studied a lot of the herbs and such.”
“Interesting,” she said quite genuinely.
She yawned again, and Mark echoed her.
They then ordered one more drink, which was followed by another, and then one last one as the clock struck one-fifty in the morning.
In that time they learned a lot about each other. Mark gathered that Iris’s father had died when she was very young; and Iris found that Mark had never known his father at all. They discovered they both enjoyed the theatre, and that on the very same night they attended the musical Wicked at the Paramount Theatre. In addition, they both agreed that neither was a fan of dogs, though both concurred that cats were more tolerable.
Two o’clock came quickly. They talked so much over the course of those hours that they seemed to have caught some kind of second wind. They were surprised to find that when they parted ways to head home, they both lived in the building across from the bar.
“Shit!” Iris snapped as she got into the elevator.
“What?” Mark asked, looking down at her with a queer expression.
“I left my keys at the bar,” she told him, frustrated with herself. “And I bet they’ve already locked up.”
“You can stay with me,” he offered, to which Iris could only laugh.
“Nice,” she told him with a scoff.
“Do you have any other options?” he posed.
And with that Mark showed Iris to his bedroom, pulled back the covers, and let her lay down while he went to brush his teeth. He observed himself in the mirror. Gravity tugged extra tightly on his eyelids that night. His second wind evaded him, and he retreated to his bed with haste. As he climbed into his bed, he saw that Iris stared up at him as he turned off the lamp.
“This isn’t a sex thing, is it?” she asked him, relieved, although confused. She too was now drained of energy once more. Still, she smiled, completely taken aback by this strange, exhausted man she had only just met.
“I think I’d rather just go to sleep.”
That they did. For the first time since migrating to Seattle, both Mark and Iris slept through the entire night.
Just the way they should have all along.
The sound of her husband’s tools tinkering from the garage was her own version of nails on a chalkboard. That man spent every free moment he had in their garage, fooling with science experiments that had cost him his job, resulting in the second mortgage on their home. She found herself hating her husband more and more each time he snuck into bed at some godforsaken hour from the garage, reeking of chemicals and cigarette smoke.
More times than a few, as she gazed at the dying aloe vera plant sitting on the granite bar above her sink, Annabelle’s mind played a game in which she invented scenarios about her husband’s experiments backfiring, blowing up the entire front of her home, killing George in the process. Yes, that’s right. She wouldn’t even mind losing her home. It was the home they’d spent fifteen years together in—had raised their children in! Still, Annabelle would let it all go if it meant that she could escape this life. She may not be able to collect insurance money, but surely she could start her life anew. She and her children would pack up their most cherished and only remaining belongings and go somewhere where no one recognized them. She’d learned French in college. She might as well utilize it at some point in her life.
The aloe was turning brown in its tiny, metallic pot. The pointed, flesh-like leaves seemed to atrophy now, and in many places looked as though someone had tried to squeeze them in half. Annabelle knew it was partly her fault. She’d stopped watering the damn thing some weeks ago, just as she’d stopped dusting the woodwork and photo frames on the pale lavender walls of her home. It was the first time in fifteen years that Annabelle had stopped putting forth any effort at all. The cherry floors were coated with dirt and grime. The banister leading up the staircase was embalmed with a thick layer of dust. The children were away at camp for the remainder of the summer, and Annabelle was working sixty hours a week to compensate for her bum-of-a-husband’s lack of employment. He certainly was not to come out of his hole where her car once took residence to do the dishes or to mop the floors. Why should she bother? George left for the garage before the sun was up and came to bed long after it was down. In the dark, he may not have even noticed the filth in which he and his wife lived. It always amused Annabelle when he thought he might try and slip his dick inside her when he came to bed.
As if she needed any more filth in her life.
Annabelle looked up from the aloe and toward the photos hanging on the subtle, lavender wall. She stared with nostalgia at the old family photos that hung on the wall. George, their twin daughters, and Annabelle posed together year-after-year for the church’s family photos. The abhorrence that crawled under her skin when her husband slipped into bed hadn’t existed in those years that had come to pass. There was a time when she liked him, loved him even. There was a time when she dreamt premonitions of hope and joy for their lives to come, as they grew old together.
Yet, staring at those photographs of happier times, Annabelle’s hatred and disgust for her husband only exacerbated. The sensation pulsated through her as she looked at pictures of George playing with their daughters in the yard—an activity he had grown too busy for since beginning his experimentation in the garage, like a modern Dr. Frankenstein, obsessed with his work and himself alike.
Then, as Annabelle recollected on all the things that made her stomach turn about George, as she zeroed in on just how much she actually hated him, she felt the floor begin to shake. The pictures that she stared at on the walls rattled for just a brief moment, a few falling from their nails and shattering upon the floors, dust and glass spewing into the air like smoke from the barrel of a gun. The metal pot that the aloe sat inside rattled and clicked against the granite countertop. A foul, metallic stench permeated past the lavender walls and crusting banister until it punched Annabelle in the face.
George’s wife turned her head as the door leading into the garage flew open, relinquishing its bar on a river of yellow smoke.
“I’m hurt!” the tall, slender man yelled as he shuffled through the nicotine-colored gas. “I’ve been burned!” George yelled, crouching over slightly as he felt for the walls.
Annabelle could finally see him clearly. His eyes were closed and his face the color of a radish. He clung to the lavender wall with one hand and he covered his eyes with the other.
“Holy fuck,” Annabelle muttered as she rushed toward her husband. “Take my hand,” she told him, leading him across the dirt-laden floors toward the periwinkle couch upon which no one had been seated since the children had left for camp. Her heart in her throat, Annabelle dashed without thought to the bar and laid her hand upon a sprig of the aloe. In her own episode of worry, Annabelle did not notice the vibrant green color of the aloe as she plucked off one of its leaves and ran it back to her husband.
“Shh, shh, shh,” Annabelle cooed to her groaning husband. She pulled his hair back behind his ears, which had grown long in the time he had spent without human contact. She squeezed the flesh from the leaves, which felt fuller and plumper than she had remembered. “It’s going to be all right,” she whispered with hesitation as her husband’s tears mixed with the aloe she applied around his eyes.
“I’m so sorry,” George whispered to his wife.
“Shh,” Annabelle implored.
“I love you.”
She stopped and pulled away.
“I love you, too.”
“Irksome,” Charlie finally whispered. “That’s the word I’ve been looking for.” Charlie Beaumont sat for five straight minutes in front of the guidance counselor looking up at the ceiling tiles trying to find the proper adjective to describe his reaction to the counselor’s words. “What you just said irks me.”
“What about it irks you, Charles?” Ms. Roundtree inquired. “I certainly didn’t mean to offend you with what I said.”
“Charlie,” he corrected her. “And you’ve not offended me, but it seems a bit reductive for you to say that you or anyone else had always known that I was gay. If everyone knew, why didn’t anyone tell me? It might have saved me a lot of trouble.”
“It wouldn’t have done you any good for someone else to have told you who you are, Charles—” Ms. Roundtree cut herself off as Charlie’s eyebrows creeped up his forehead reactively. “Charlie,” she corrected herself with a smile.
“Well, then I feel inclined to ask what good it does to bring it up, now? What purpose does it serve?”
Ms. Roundtree raised her own eyebrows. Charlie had been coming to see her every single week since his freshman year. Now, a junior, Ms. Roundtree had come to know quite a bit about Charlie, like the fact that he was quite intelligent for his age. He often answered questions by posing other, more thoughtful questions; ones that made Ms. Roundtree consider more carefully what she was saying. She enjoyed the challenge, to be honest. She had not become a counselor with the hopes of organizing student class schedules and proctoring state-mandated tests. Her interest was with the children—children like Charlie.
Charlie, on the other hand, hadn’t felt he was interesting enough to be analyzed the way that Ms. Roundtree found necessary. He was not depressed, necessarily. He was just a teenager in high school. A gay teenager in high school. Sure, he was bullied—often incessantly—and he was the brunt of some very cruel jokes. However, Charlie was smart enough to know that everyone’s need to make him feel small only came from their own desire to seem important. Not one of his classmates could say that they knew him well enough to hate him the way they acted as though they did.
Still, Charlie had to admit the last week had been more difficult than most. The taunting and the teasing seemed to have escalated. He’d certainly been called a faggot by Aaron Wilcox more times than he normally had in the past. And Erin Burkower—the female Erin—had even asked who was going to wear the dress at his wedding to his (straight) best friend, Mitchell.
Then, of course, there was the note. It’d been placed in his locker just days before—some sort of sick joke by some type of sporty shithead—a jock, more likely than not. Walking to his locker on Monday—two days prior—Charlie had seen the little slip of paper slipping out of the vents up top even from down the hall. Mitchell walked beside him, unnoticing of the sheet of paper poking from within. The note was not very well written—that was the first thing Charlie had noticed. Moreover, it seemed more like a home economics project than it did a threatening letter—the way every letter had been cut from a magazine. It was very cliché in his opinion.
Kill you, faggot.
He couldn’t remember the exact wording of it.
He only looked it over once before tossing it to the bottom of his messenger bag. Mitchell had read it, too. He seemed far more concerned about the violence threatened than Charlie had. Still, it wasn’t something that Charlie felt prompted to share with Ms. Roundtree. What good could telling he about it do? If they meant what they said, the domestic terrorist would find some way to make it happen. After all, Charlie rationalized to himself, domestic terrorists don’t typically have a great deal of regard for authority.
Still, the letter had been threatening.
There was a knock at the door that killed the awkward silence between them.
“I’m here for trash,” Bethany, the school’s custodian that many had dubbed the “world’s oldest lesbian,” smiled as she poked her head in the room.
“Okay,” Ms. Roundtree said with a roll of her eyes.
Charlie looked around the room as Bethany spruced up, waiting for Ms. Roundtree to add to the discussion. On her walls hung her degrees, along with several family photos. Ms. Roundtree was neither married, nor did she have any children. Still photos with her parents and from what appeared to be her childhood littered the walls. One photo in particular caught Charlie’s eye. It was a standard four-by-six frame that sat on a table next to a state of magazines from Psychology Today, Swim Monthly, and Reader’s Digest. The photo bore an unsmiling Ms. Roundtree next to a man who was clearly related to her in some way. What struck Charlie, however, was the way in which another person had been trimmed from the photo, a crooked line creating the photo’s left edge as if someone had taken scissors to it. A man’s hand poked out from that side, but nothing more.
“Who’s that with you in the picture?” Charlie asked.
“My brother,” Ms. Roundtree replied.
“Who’s that you cropped out?” he inquired further.
Ms. Roundtree took a breath and sighed. “It was his best man from his wedding. I never liked the guy. Between you and I, his behavior toward the women at the wedding was less-than-appropriate for the occasion.” Ms. Roundtree snapped her eyes from the photo back to Charlie.
“Do you want these magazines thrown out?” Bethany asked as her attention had now diverted to the side-table, as well.
“Just throw them in the waiting room,” Ms. Roundtree scoffed. Her attention going back to Charlie as Bethany made a quiet exit from the room. “And how is the crush on Mitchell developing?” She went on. “Are you doing okay with that?”
“I’d hardly call it a crush, Ms. Roundtree,” he (again) corrected her. “He’s my best friend, and we kissed one time during spin-the-bottle at a party. That’s the extent of it. Besides, he’s straight. I don’t hang myself up on straight boys. Our friendship isn’t worth abolishing because I had some confusedness once a very, very long time ago.”
Ms. Roundtree smiled and nodded her head. She was impressed by his grown-up attitude toward the situation, even if he was lying to her. Of course he had feelings for Mitchell. That was his first kiss—a kiss he’d shared with the only person he’d ever been able to be himself around; a kiss he’d shared with the very first person he’d ever come out to; a kiss that had been reciprocated with the person him for who he was, not in spite of it. Of course, Charlie knew just how cliché that sounded. The magazine-lettered note seemed quite novel in comparison to his own dreaminess.
“Well,” Ms. Roundtree huffed as she tapped a pen impatiently against her the desk. “If you’re sure there’s nothing else you want to talk about—”
“There isn’t,” he interjected. Although, Ms. Roundtree knew that wasn’t true, either. Still, she stood from her desk and showed him to the door that was only a few feet form her desk. She opened the door and smiled at him as he stepped out, his face bearing a placid façade that she could see right through. True, she wanted to push him for more information. But those last few years with Charlie had taught her that no matter how pressed he became, the boy only spoke when he was ready to do so.
Erin & Aaron
“Do either of you understand that we have a zero-tolerance policy for bullying—physical or otherwise?” Mr. Sanderson asked Erin Burkower and her boyfriend, Aaron Wilcox, across Ms. Roundtree’s desk. Charlie had only once ever breathed their names to Ms. Roundtree. He had made a joke that the only reason he could imagine that their relationship worked was because both were such narcissists that they were only capable of screaming their own names out during sex.
“Obviously we didn’t run him over,” Erin sighed. She popped a piece of Juicy Fruit in her mouth. “I’m not saying that we were his best friends, but we certainly didn’t try and kill him.”
“Neither of us have our own cars,” the other Aaron pointed out. “Besides, I had basketball practice after school yesterday. Check with Coach Murray.”
“Yeah,” Erin agreed. “I had swim practice. Ask Coach Deb.”
Ms. Roundtree sighed and took her glasses off of her face. She looked first at the ceiling tiles and then toward the couple before her. “I’ll check with the coaches, but you two aren’t off the hook for this. There’s a young man in lying in a coma in the hospital. God only knows whether or not he’ll wake up. Anything you two may have added to the fuel of the fire that is the person who is behind this will be dealt with in the most serious fashion.”
Both Aaron and Erin scooted forward in their chairs, having had enough of the scolding for one day. Each took the few steps it took to go toward the door, then exited into the waiting room where the secretary was absent from her seat. As they walked past the door, Erin gazed down at some magazines sitting on the coffee table. There was a Swimmer’s Monthly caught her eye.
She did a double take around the room to make sure the irritable secretary wasn’t around, before snatching up the magazine and darting out into the hall.
“Mr. Hunter,” Ms. Roundtree required his attention. Mitchell looked up from the grungy brown carpet and to his guidance counselor. He could have counted on one hand how many times in his near-three years at Adkins High School how many times he’d sat in that office. Just once each year when classes had begun. Three times. Four, counting this visit.
A police officer with some paperwork sat on one side of her, his vice principal—Mr. Sanderson—on the other. Neither of them looked particularly glad to see him. Neither of them looked particularly dissatisfied to seem him, either. They remained indifferent, which Mitchell assumed was just a part of the standard procedures of this sort of thing. He wasn’t entirely sure, though. He’d never been through it.
“Mr. Hunter,” Ms. Roundtree repeated, “I need you to tell me about what happened the afternoon Charlie—”
“Charlie,” Mitchell corrected her. He knew that Charlie hated to be called Charlie. He knew that every time they spoke, Charlie corrected Ms. Roundtree about what to call him. It was the only thing about their weekly meetings that Charlie ever shared with Mitchell. Now, with Charlie lying in the ICU of the St. Anthony’s Hospital, it seemed like the only thing that Mitchell could do for his best friend—to remedy the name by which the guidance counselor called him.
“Right,” Ms. Roundtree whispered, her patience getting the better of her. “I need you to tell us about the afternoon that Charlie was struck by the vehicle. I need to know everything that you know.”
Mitchell took a deep breath and returned his gaze to the ugly brown carpet that lined the floor of the office. It had to be thirty-years-old, maybe more. It smelled of bad carpet cleaner and mildew, as if someone had spilled a jug of water years ago and never bothered to clean it.
“I wasn’t with him when it happened,” Mitchell confessed. “I asked him to let me walk him home, but he told me no.”
“Why wouldn’t he let you?”
“He knew it would be a long walk from school to his house, then from his house to mine. He didn’t want me to feel inconvenienced. But it didn’t matter to me. I was concerned about the letter that was in his locker. I didn’t want anything happening to him.”
Ms. Roundtree’s brow furrowed. She looked from the paper she was taking notes on up to meet Mitchell’s gaze. The officer and Mr. Sanderson did the very same thing. All their eyes on him felt like a wave of heat being cast over him, so strong he broke out into a nervous sweat. Had they not found the letter in his bag? Did they even have his bag?
“What letter, Mitchell?” Ms. Roundtree asked.
A knock at the door kept Mitchell from answering. After a moment of no response, Bethany poked her head inside and pointed a finger at the trashcan by Ms. Roundtree’s desk. Irritated that Bethany could not have waited a moment longer to take care of the trash, Ms. Roundtree let out an exasperated breath of air and nodded for Bethany to take out the trash as Mitchell went on to tell the three officials before him about the note in Charlie’s locker.
Standing at Charlie’s locker waiting for him to return from Ms. Roundtree’s office in all his caramel-colored glory was Mitchell. Mitchell dressed in all-black majority of the time. It wasn’t a statement of any sort, the way many teenagers made it, or at least this is what Charlie had gathered over the years. He just preferred black. Mitchell was significantly taller than Charlie, one of the many things he found so attractive about his best friend. He was neither popular nor quite the pariah that Charlie had become. Still, befriending Charlie their freshman year had done not one positive thing for his social image.
“Hey, babe,” Mitchell spoke from across the hall. The ‘babe’ endearment had started off as a joke between the two of them, back after the spin-the-bottle incident. The two had both been teased mercilessly as to when they were finally going to just together. Mitchell liked it because he liked when people had a reason to talk about him. The rumors humored him. Still, even over a year later, hearing it pass through Mitchell’s lips still took Charlie’s breath away a little bit.
“What’s up?” Charlie asked, avoiding eye contact. He did that a lot when he left Ms. Roundtree’s office. Something about the intimate setting made him feel terribly vulnerable upon his displacement from the chair across from the guidance counselor’s desk. Even with Mitchell, the only person he ever really showed himself to, there was a hesitancy he could not explain.
“Nothin’ much. What about you?”
“Going home . . . -o” Charlie snickered as he pushed his chemistry textbook to the back of his locker and pulled forward his calculus book to slide into his bag. He pulled his copy of “The Catcher in the Rye” out from his messenger bag first and slid it into his locker to make room. He’d read the entire book the night before, and finished the accompanying essay. There was no need for it, now. Yet, as he went to place his calculus book in his bag, Charlie caught sight of the note sitting squished in the bottom of his bag.
Kill you, faggot.
“Let me walk you,” Mitchell insisted, closing Charlie’s locker for him and reaching for his hand.
Then came the obligatory skipped heartbeat. A part of Charlie wanted to let him, just so that they could walk hand-in-hand through their suburb and back to his home. Although Charlie knew how unfair that would be to Mitchell. Mitchell’s house was clear on the other side of their neighborhood. He’d have an extra thirty-minutes worth of walking from Charlie’s home if he were to joint him.
Charlie swung their hands back and forth for a minute, smiling up at his best friend. It was nice to feel like someone wanted to protect him. It was nice to feel like not everyone disliked him the way all the other kids in their school did. Still, Charlie knew that nothing bad was going to happen. He knew he’d be fine. Mitchell did enough for him, at least in Charlie’s opinion. To further trouble him was needless.
Charlie pulled Mitchell closer by the hand, and then stood on his tippy-toes to give him a peck on the cheek. Though Charlie was a bit too embarrassed to look at his best friend’s face and see, Mitchell’s cheeks flashed a temperate shade of scarlet.
“I’ll be okay,” Charlie told him without looking up again. He squeezed Mitchell’s hand and walked past him out the doors of the Adkins High.
As Mitchell turned toward the door to watch Charlie saunter off, he noticed Bethany the Elderly Custodian emptying a pale of garbage into a cart she pushed around the halls.
“He’s very cute,” Bethany said with a smile.
“He is,” Mitchell agreed, smiling at Bethany as he took off past her.
Mitchell ventured his own path two blocks through the suburb in the opposite direction. The whole two blocks, Mitchell berated himself for not going with Charlie anyway. His stomach turned and twisted into knots until he could take it no longer. Before he could talk himself out of it, Mitchell took a 180-degree spin and dashed back off in the opposite direction. He sprinted, the clump of guts inside of him feeling heavier-and-heavier with each stomp of his feet against the pavement.
However, just as Mitchell could have sworn he was gaining ground on his friend, a car horn honked in three quick staccatos.
Falling forward, Mitchell’s face smacked against the pavement.
A thud from afar synchronized with the one that came from Mitchell’s own fall.
He was too late.
A heart monitored beeped at a steady frequency as Charlie slept through the noise of it and the shuffling and whispers coming from the hallway. To his left, Mitchell sat in a chair, holding Charlie’s hand within his own.
If you had asked him, Mitchell would not hesitate to tell you that he loved Charlie. He wouldn’t preface it with a heteronormative “no homo, but” or followed it up with “like a brother.” He would just leave it at that. Charlie was his only friend, and had been since they’d met on their first day of freshman year. The love that Mitchell felt for Charlie didn’t have limitations or boundaries or conditions or terms. It was just love in its purest form.
Often, however, he did ask himself if maybe there was something more to it than his mind had been capable of expanding upon in the past. Once or twice since that party with the infamous spin-the-bottle game, Mitchell had pictured himself in a similar position to that which he’d found himself in with Charlie yesterday: holding hands in the hall as Charlie reached up to kiss him on the cheek. However, in his mind, Mitchell always found himself turning his cheek just before Charlie could reach it, leaving him to plant his lips right upon Mitchell’s.
He’d never worked up the nerve to make it happen. The feeling he experience when he imagined it was hard to decipher. He stomach felt loose, like something was making room to move around inside.
Instead, as they sat there in the hospital room, Mitchell stood to his feet, never letting go of Charlie’s hand. It seemed silly what he was readying himself to do, but who knew? Maybe there’d be some sort of magical moment like in the movies, and Charlie would wake up to fall in love with his best friend. Mitchell wasn’t really sure how Charlie felt about him in that way. They were best friends, and Charlie was gay, and they were affectionate. That didn’t, in Mitchell’s mind, necessarily mean Charlie had feelings for him.
Still, Mitchell stepped closer the side of the bed, and reached down to place a kiss on Charlie’s lips. It was odd, kissing someone who wasn’t prepared to be kissed—the mouth felt different, though not bad. Still the exchanged felt like nothing Mitchell had ever experienced before.
Despite the fact that Charlie did not wake up, Mitchell still felt magic in the room then. It was as if someone had pointed a magic wand right at him and sparked a fire inside his tummy. Charlie was, after all, the one person with which Mitchell felt most at home. He was the rock Mitchell clung too when the tides grew too intense. He was then, and always would be, Mitchell’s home base.
A year prior, Mitchell and Charlie sat next to one another at a party that Erin Burkower was throwing while her parents were out. Every classmate was invited, including the two outcasts Mitchell and Charlie were just becoming. They were the only two in the room, however, that were not completely trashed. Mitchell had been on a nice buzz for the better part of an hour, while Charlie was still perfectly sober, because one of them needed to drive.
In their inebriation, the sophomore class of Adkins High elected to play a game of spin-the-bottle, in which everyone seemed more than happy to participate. The rules were simple: boys on kissed girls, and girls only kissed boys. Erin spun her bottle, which landed on Aaron Wilcox. Though they didn’t know it yet, it would be the beginning of a relationship that would span at least into the next year. Soon it was Mitchell’s turn to spin the bottle, which made him incredibly nervous considering he barely knew any of the girls in his class. He’d never kissed a girl he didn’t know; and really had only kissed on in the past at all. It was his first girlfriend, whom he dated freshman year for roughly one month. Mitchell was not confident in anything about the game, from his kissing ability to his liquor-coated breath.
The bottle spun quickly, and then came to a slow, steady stop. Mitchell’s eyes followed the neck of the bottle right back next to him. He looked up at Charlie—who had only been out of the closet for a month or so at the time—and let out a roar of laughter. Charlie could not help it, either. He laughed, as well.
“Spin again!” Erin yelled.
“Yeah! No fag kisses!” Aaron chastised.
“Don’t call him a fag, asshole,” Mitchell spat back at the two most deplorable human beings he’d ever encountered.
“Oh, maybe he wants to kiss his boyfriend,” Erin mocked.
“Maybe I do!” Mitchell shouted back, a unified gasp echoing off the walls in the room. Mitchell turned his attention back to Charlie, who sat there smiling at him like a kid who’d just found his presents under the Christmas tree.
“Do you?” Charlie asked, his teeth clenching his bottom lip.
“Yeah,” Mitchell chuckled, his face turning red, as he looked away.
Charlie took his hand and lifted Mitchell’s gaze back to him so that they could look in one another’s eyes.
Thus, if for nothing more than to agitate everyone else in the room, Mitchell leaned forward and kissed Charlie right on his lips for what felt like a very long time. The feeling in his stomach wouldn’t return to him again for another year, ‘til he kissed Charlie again in ICU. Still, Mitchell could sometimes conjure up fragments of it—shards of something he didn’t even know he missed.
Standing over Charlie, leaning in to kiss him again-and-again, Mitchell whispered to his best friend, “Who did this to you?” He kissed him one more time, then he rested his forehead against Charlie’s as the heart monitor chirped beside them both.
Bethany sympathized for Charlie. She may not have known his name until that very day, but she knew him and could sympathize with his ostracized social inadequacy well enough. It hadn’t been that many years ago—or at least so it seemed to Bethany, even in her old age—that she had been outcast for being the school’s token queer. The difference between now and then was simply that it wasn’t considered polite conversation among company when Bethany had been a teenager. These sorts of things were kept quiet, despite the fact that everyone knew. Still, the hatred and the bigotry came—it always found a way.
She thought about Charlie as she emptied the trashcans up and down the halls of Adkins High School, and wished there were something that she could do.
Somewhere alongside her train of thought, she found Aaron and Erin traveling against it, as Erin flipped through an old magazine and popped a piece of gum in her mouth.
“Ugh,” Erin muttered. “There’s a ton of cut out pieces in this magazine,” she complained as she tossed the magazine into Bethany’s trash cart in pass.
“It was her,” the custodian told Mr. Sanderson and the police officer sitting in Ms. Roundtree’s office. “She’s the one who hit him with her car. She’s the one who left the letter in his locker.”
“How do you know about the letter?” Ms. Roundtree posed.
“I was in here taking the garbage out when Mitchell was telling you about it. He said it had been clipped out magazines. Well, look what that spoiled little witch Erin dropped in my trash cart today,” Bethany begged as she lifted a Swimmer’s Monthly out of the trash. “And now look at the other magazines that were sitting in her waiting room.” Bethany then held up the old copies of Reader’s Digest and Psychology Today. She tossed them on the desk, one magazine to each party seated before her. “She had me take these out of her office yesterday to put in the waiting room. They’re all missing clipped-out letters.
“I’d even be willing to bet that that isn’t your brother’s best man you cropped out of that photo. Huh?” Bethany accused as she pointed down to the picture Charlie had just made an inquiry about yesterday. All eyes went down to the photo of Ms. Roundtree and her brother on the table that had been cropped so that the back of frame sat exposed on the left side. “It’s probably his husband you cut out of it.” Ms. Roundtree’s jaw dropped. “What’re you? Some kind of homophobe?”
“Shut up, dyke!” Ms. Roundtree bellowed.
The room went silent for a moment. Bethany’s jaw dropped she pushed her cart back out the door. She wasn’t quite sure what to say, but knew that this was no time to argue on her own behalf. Instead, she looked at the officer seated across the tiny office and suggested, “You might wanna compare those magazines to that letter if you can find it.”
Charlie & Mitchell
“Bitch crazy,” Charlie laughed as Mitchell wrapped up the story of Ms. Roundtree’s downward spiral. “I cannot believe I’ve been talking to this woman for three years and she’s been trying to kill me the entire time.”
“You always said you didn’t like to tell her too much. Maybe you had a hard time trusting her.”
It had only been a day since Charlie had opened his eyes for the first time, and nearly two weeks since he’d been struck by Ms. Roundtree’s car. Mitchell was unmoving. He didn’t want to leave Charlie alone to fend for himself in the event that some other psychopath came looking for him with a death warrant in his or her hand. He reached forward and held Charlie’s hand, though he was careful not to squeeze too tight. He had only just now learned that Charlie had three broken bones in his hand that would later require surgery.
“You know, I did something while you were sleeping. We did something, that is. Sort of,” Mitchell stammered. “It’s hard to explain.
“How is hard to explain?” Charlie asked, his cheeks flushing and the corners of his mouth turning upward.
“It just is,” Mitchell went on, his own cheeks now flaring red.
“Okay,” Charlie shrugged. “Then don’t tell me.”
“Fine,” Mitchell replied.
With that, both boys laughed a bit awkwardly. Mitchell scooted off his seat and took a place on the edge of the bed next to Charlie.
“You ready?” he asked, Charlie now looking confused by his motions.
“Show me,” Charlie repeated.
Then, as if he’d never done it before, Mitchell made a slow, quivering movement toward Charlie, and kissed him once more right on the lips.
If he’d thought he’d felt magic before, he had no idea what sort of spell he was under in that moment.
Mitchell pulled away and looked down at his friend, both erupting into a fit of laughter like two drunken hyenas.
“I love you,” Mitchell told him, his face as red as perfectly ripe apple.
“Don’t tell me that,” Charlie told him, giggling to himself. “Show me.”
And Mitchell did just that—one kiss at a time.
About the author:
Anthony Ramirez is a television writer and novelist. His screenwriting credits include Win(e)ding Down with Anthony and the forthcoming sitcom The Anthony Project, in which he will also play the lead role. He has written and released two novels, entitled The Write Thing, and Witches of the Deep South. He is currently finishing his degree in Creative Writing for Entertainment at Full Sail University. He is also the current fiction editor for ELJ Publications. When he is not writing or acting, Anthony can most likely be found finishing a glass of wine while scouting out potential husbands on Tinder to the music of Adele. He lives and writes from his home in Houston. You can find him online at anthonywritestoo.wordpress.com.
Discover other titles by Anthony Ramirez
The Write Thing
Witches of the Deep South
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Comprised of three stories set in Galveston, Texas, ONE. DEUX. TRE. examines the issues that plague relationships at their various stages. In "All Along,: a young, could-be couple meets for the first time in a state of exhaustion and delirium after not having slept adequately in weeks. In order to finally rest, the two must put their trust in one another without really knowing one another at all. in "Show Me", Charlie Good is struck by a hit-and-run driver, while his boyfriend frantically searches to discover his whereabouts and whether or not his boyfriend is still alive. In "VItas Vit," an accident leaves a Annabelle Black a widow, though her grappling discontent with her husband causes the grieving process to be difficult.