Excerpt

From Tips on Having a Gay (ex) Boyfriend, Flux, 2007

We walk outside first. We walk outside beneath the October stars and hold hands in the cold, cold air. The dim light from neighbor’s windows wishes us well. No cars drive by because there aren’t that many people in Eastbrook, Maine driving around at eleven, a sad fact but true.

I wait and walk, quiet, because in the house Dylan said he had something important to tell me. I figure it has to do with college next year, seeing other people, that whole thing, all that stuff we’ve already decided about how we’d finish out this year and the summer together and then see how things go. His mouth makes a cute little worried line the way it does right before he has an advanced algebra test. I want to kiss it, make him stop worrying about the things I know he’s worried about.

The cold keeps me from reaching up and kissing my lips against that cute line. Every time I open my mouth, the cold shrieks my teeth. We walk past the houses in my little subdivision. It’s just a mile of road with homes stacked along the sides. That’s what it’s like in Eastbrook, subdivisions spaced out on miles of rural roads, blueberry barrens and forests scattered between. Every subdivision is far from one another, but the houses clump together. Everyone here knows everyone’s business.

I imagine that Eddie Caron’s turned away from his NASCAR reruns and watches us trot down the street. Or maybe Mrs. Darrow has pulled aside her curtain and shut off the light in her living room so that she can peer out and see if we kiss. Tomorrow they’ll tell their friends and then by Monday everyone will know that Mrs. Darrow saw us kiss, that Eddie Caron saw us act moony beneath the stars.

That’s just how Eastbrook is, everybody knows everybody and most of the time that makes me scream and want to hide in a city somewhere, but tonight it just makes me a little warmer in the cold, makes me feel like if Dylan and I fell down, frozen solid from the cold, someone would come and pick us up, call an ambulance, make things okay.

“It’s freezing,” I say to Dylan.

“Yeah.”

“You think Eddie Caron’s watching NASCAR?”

“Probably porn.”

I laugh, but Dylan doesn’t even smile. I make an attempt at humor. “Bodylicious Babes in Big Trucks.”

Dylan doesn’t say anything. Normally, he’d come back with something like, Nasty Housewives and their Vacuum Accessories.

“Dylan, what’s up?” I say. “It’s cold out. Want to go back?”

He shakes his head. “Give me a second, Belle. Okay?”

Cranky. Cranky. I pull my body a step away from his. I march around the cracks on the road, made by last winter’s frost, pushing up the tar, heaving things around. It’s almost winter again and still the town hasn’t fixed the road. I hop over the cracks to try to warm up.

In my pocket lumps the note Dylan wrote me in school Friday. I always keep his latest note in my pocket like a good luck charm or maybe proof that I have a boyfriend. In case I face the boyfriend inquisition, I can whip it out and say, “No. No. He exists. Really. Here. Here’s a note.”

Like everyone in Eastbrook doesn’t already know that.

The note in my pocket heavies my hip.

“Belle Philbrick, I love you,” he wrote, “and if I seem weird today it’s cause the dark days are getting to me. I hate when the days get shorter.”

Maybe that’s what’s wrong, I think. Maybe it’s because it’s getting so cold and so dark out. The wind swirls some dead leaves across the road. I shiver.

Dylan stops walking, runs his free hand through his blonde hair, then turns to face me. He takes my other hand in his, the way men do when they propose. In the dark light, I can’t tell that his eyes are green. They are just shadows, sad shadows. I shiver again. I want to go inside.

“Belle,” he says, voice serious, voice husky. This voice sounds nothing like his normal voice, all mellow and song like. A cat screeches down the road and it makes us both jump. I laugh because of it but Dylan doesn’t. He just stares and stares and starts again with that same serious voice. He sounds like a dad. “Belle, I want you to know that I’ll never love another woman.”

Not this again. I groan. Dylan is a skipping cd sometimes, stuck on the same track so I give him my normal response and think about how good it’ll feel when all this is over and we can go snuggle on the nice warm couch in my nice warm house. “That’s stupid. You’ll love lots of other women.”

He shakes his head.

“You will!” I say and repeat the lines I’ve been telling him all fall. “And that’s okay. That’s what happens in relationships sometimes. Love isn’t always an exclusive thing. We’ll take a break from each other in college and you’ll find girls who are way way prettier, and way smarter and way sexier than—”

He drops my hands and throws his own hand in the air. “Will you shut up for a second?”

“Hey…” My blood presses hot against my skin and I almost like it, because it isn’t cold.

“I am trying to tell you that I will never love another woman,” he accentuates every word. A dog barks. They sound the same.

“And I’m saying you will.” I blow on my fingers to keep them from freezing.

“No, I won’t! I won’t! Alright?” He whips around, walks away two steps and comes back.

A plane flies above us. Its lights blink. It’s on its way to Europe probably. Sometimes when planes leave from Boston or New York they have emergency stops in the little airport nearby. It’s the last stop before Europe, the last chance for planes and crews. It’s a tiny airport but it’s got the longest runway in the nation, just a big strip of asphalt with nowhere to go but up.

Ice cracks on a stream behind me and I jump at the bang, but Dylan’s body stays still. His face though, turns hectic. He yanks in a breath. I wait for the explosion that always comes when his lips disappear and his fingers curl into themselves. I am not scared. I know him too well to be scared. He would never hurt me. The plane gets farther away.

Instead of an explosion, his voice is steady and strong, “I won’t ever love another woman because I’m gay!”

The world stops.

One century passes. Two. My mouth drops open. My legs bring me backwards, one step, another, and into the breakdown lane beside the road. My hand finds my mouth and covers it.

Dylan moves towards me, his hands outstretched. “I’m sorry, Belle. I had to tell you.”

My head nods. My mouth stays open but no words come out. My body slumps into itself and I crumble down onto the cold ground at the side of the road. It’s a praying position, on my knees, hands in front of me.

Dylan kneels too, and hugs me into him. “I love you, you know.”

I don’t say anything. What can I say?

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