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Authors: Lane Hayes

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BOOK: A Kind of Truth
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“Speaking of names… I’m curious. Is your name really just Rand? Or is it a stage name?”

“It’s my real name. My parents are their generation’s version of total hippies. I’ll give you a buck if you can guess my sister’s previous name.”

“Previous name?” He furrowed his brow. “No clue.”

“You didn’t try.” I turned sideways on the bench, hooking my right leg over my knee before giving him an expectant look. He shrugged and tore off another chunk of bagel. “It’s Ayn, like the author. Get it? Ayn Rand.”

“I thought you said your parents were hippies. Ayn Rand’s philosophy was pretty conservative.”

“It’s classic O’Malley. We see or hear something we think is cool or want with a sudden passion and
bam
! Gotta have it. Then we get it and realize we were missing a major component. My mom just liked the way the name sounded. She hadn’t read Ms. Rand’s books and didn’t know anything about objectivism or its intellectual repressiveness. It wasn’t until I was a few months old that someone called her on her interesting name choices. It was obvious to anyone who looked at Mom with her flowy dresses and long, wavy hair that Stevie Nicks was more her style than some radical philosopher. So she did her research after the fact, like O’Malleys do, and was suitably distressed.”

“I bet.”

“Well, she fixed it by legally changing my sister’s name to Annabelle and calling her Bella. Think about it. Sis was already two! She’d been called ‘the name that could no longer be spoken’ for two formative years!” I shook my head in mock dismay.

Will chuckled. “Why didn’t she just change yours?”

“She liked it,” I said with an eye roll. “That story is the stuff of legend in our family. It comes up at Thanksgiving or at random big family events, and everyone gets a big laugh out of my liberal momma naming her kids after a right-leaning Russian radical. Luckily she has a great sense of humor. I would love to say we’ve learned a little bit about thinking things through, but as you can probably tell, I tend to learn as I go, which means I end up apologizing… a lot.”

“Hmm. Your mom sounds pretty cool.”

“She is. My dad is too. They’re nonconformist free spirits.”

“Very much the opposite of mine,” he said with a wry half laugh.

“Everyone comes from different places… and from people who’ve made some mistakes in life. Our job is to try a little harder. And make our own mistakes,” I added with a laugh. “As my mom always points out, it could have been worse. Rand is a decent enough name—”

“Yes, except for the politician who—”

“Yeah, yeah. What’s in a name? It’s the individual that matters. You can share a name and have completely different levels of intellect and life philosophies. Not every William is William Shakespeare.”

“True.” His eyes twinkled merrily as he took another bite of bagel.

“Well, she’s a big Tolkien fan too, and knowing Mom, I could have just as easily been named after a hobbit.”

Will gave me a wide-eyed look before covering his mouth and bursting into a fit of laughter. “Sorry. It’s not funny. It’s clever actually.”

“Hmph. I could have been Bilbo O’Malley. Poor George would have a rough time making that one sound a little more gentrified.”

This time Will nearly spit out his bagel as he doubled over. I looked on in amusement as he laughed hysterically. It really wasn’t that funny… and hell, knowing my folks, it wasn’t far from the truth, either.

“I’m sorry. I don’t know why….” He dabbed the corner of his eye with a napkin and let out a deep sigh. I watched him closely. Will had a nice laugh. The kind that made you want to join in, whether or not you knew what the joke was.

“Feel free to use my wacky family philosophy in one of your musicals.”

Will smiled. “I write music. Not dialogue. I’m no good at words.”

“I’m the opposite. I write everything down ’cause I’m sure I can use it in a song.” I pulled out a scrap of napkin from my pocket and took a quick glance to make sure I hadn’t written anything embarrassing on it before handing it over. “Here’s an example.”

“‘Golden brown. Green flecks. And soul.’ What is this?” He tilted his head quizzically and handed the napkin back to me.

“Nothing yet.” He didn’t need to know my silly scrawl had anything to do with him. I was still processing that information anyway. I gave him a self-deprecating smile before continuing. “I was eating dinner with my friends after practice, and I couldn’t get this vision out of my head. I don’t always know what my notes mean when I start writing, but it’s a habit now. One of the teachers I actually listened to in high school suggested it as a way to deal with negative feelings.” I shrugged self-consciously.

“What kind of negative feelings?”

“Teenage angst. I’d get so pissed off at all the injustice and hypocrisy in the world. I still do. The difference is I’ve learned how to temper my rage.”

“Do you write from personal experience?”

“Yes and no. Any decent writer puts a piece of themselves into their work. My early stuff was about my best friend Seth’s fucked-up family and all the bullshit he went through when they found out he was gay. That wall of uncertainty and fear is far too big for the average fifteen-year-old to take on. It was just… wrong. I hated what they put him through. His fear fed my anger. I railed against the injustice of those so-called good Christians like the Emo version of a holy roller with a microphone shouting the word of… truth. Reason. Seth would look at me like I was crazy too. I couldn’t help it. I was consumed. But he wasn’t. Not in the same way. He’d figured out on his own how to deal with his pain, and I realized in the last few months of our senior year in high school, I had to follow his lead or wind up doing time.”

“In jail?” Will’s eyes bugged out in horror.

“In summer school, genius.” I sipped my latte and took the piece of bagel Will handed over. “Anyway, Mr. Jacobs, my English teacher, suggested writing freestyle. No rules. Just go for it. I still had to do term papers and try my hand at haiku when he assigned it, but he told me he’d give me extra credit to write random thoughts down. Whenever I got pissed or was really excited about something, I got in the habit of jotting down a couple words or phrases. I wasn’t disciplined enough to keep a journal, but that little exercise helped quiet my mind, I guess. But because I was kind of an asshole, I’d write things to make the poor guy squirm.” I chuckled as I shifted on the bench to face him. “One time, I handed him this napkin I’d used to clean up some spilled milk. I’d written something crude about tasting jizz and waited to see how long it would take for Mr. Jacobs’s ears to turn pink. He dropped that crusty napkin so fast you’d have thought it was coated in anthrax. I laughed until I cried. Literally.”

I chuckled at the memory as I straightened my legs in front of me, scaring a couple pigeons away. Will wasn’t laughing now. In fact, he was staring at me intensely.

“Are you…?”

I took another sip of my now-lukewarm latte and waited for him to continue. He didn’t. He bit his lip in what I was beginning to realize was a sure sign of nerves.

“Am I what?”

He swallowed hard and looked down at the industrious pigeons hopping at his feet. I shooed them with a sweeping hand motion. They fluttered away noisily, leaving him no further distraction. I childishly wanted all of his attention. Although a moment later I wasn’t so sure.

“Are you gay?”

I was aware of his steady gaze and earnest calm. I shifted on the bench restlessly, wondering if I should be honest. Like Tim said, I wasn’t famous. And I was beginning to realize turning off the gay wasn’t so simple after all. What could it hurt to tell my guitar tutor the truth? I opened my mouth and—

“No,” I lied.

But it wasn’t a lie, I told myself. It was a half-truth. Or half-lie. However, it felt bigger than the average lie of omission or white lie. It was the awkward kind that made you instantly wish you could have a do-over.

Will seemed uncomfortable, and now I was too. The temperature may have been hovering around thirty degrees, but my face was warm with shame. I had to divert attention to him until I was back on solid ground.

“Hmm.”

“What does that noise mean?” I plucked at his beanie and tweaked his earlobe to get him to look at me.

He batted my hand away and turned so our knees touched on the bench. “Nothing. I’m sorry. It was a stupid question. I figured you were straight anyway. With a girlfriend.”

“No girlfriend.” I pushed his beanie over his eyes, then cocked my head curiously before I made myself ask, “How about you?”

“Cool it,” he said with a scowl, swatting my hand away as he pushed the beanie out of his eyes. “I’m gay. I thought you knew that. I was betting it would take Terry five minutes or less to out me.”

“Why would Terry care if you’re gay?”

“He doesn’t care exactly, but he’s a jerk. I could never tell if he was insecure or homophobic. I just knew I got a vibe I didn’t like.”

“Which is why you referred him to us. Thanks, asshole.”

“He’s a good guitarist,” he sputtered, turning a funny shade of pink. “I thought he was working out okay.”

“He’s fine. But I don’t want to talk about Terry. Tell me about you.” I tapped my empty cup on my knee and eyed him expectantly. “I take it you’re out and proud.”

“I’m out.” He scrunched his paper bag almost violently into a ball and stood abruptly. He walked a few steps to throw his trash away before turning back with a phony smile. “I’ve got to run. Thanks for the latte. See you next week.”

I jumped up and grabbed his elbow. “Whoa! What’s your hurry?”

“I have class soon. I should go.”

I glanced at my watch and then at him, wordlessly letting him know I was on to him. “Wait up. What did I say?”

His lips turned up on one side of his mouth. It wasn’t a smile because his eyes were definitely not involved in the gesture. No… it was an expression of acute sadness. Loneliness. I studied him for a moment, wondering if I was reading too much into it.

He sighed and looked at something in the distance. “You didn’t say anything. I’m out, but… I—my family didn’t take it well. Not quite as bad as your friend’s parents, but they don’t like it. So we don’t discuss it. Ever. They aren’t bohemian or cool, and frankly, they’d love the fact you were named after a right-leaning radical. They share those same rigid views and judgmental morals. The kind that don’t leave room for debate or… family members who don’t fit. I’m a nowhere man. It makes no difference if I’m out because the closet door isn’t wide enough for me to get through. I don’t even know if that makes sense, but being gay is a major distraction between my parents and me.” He scoffed derisively. “It’s a distraction to me most of the time too. The only thing that really matters to me is my music. I should be getting going. I’m cold.”

I pulled his arm when he started to walk away. “Hey. I don’t know your story but… you’re crazy talented, Will. You can be or do anything you want. You’re in the right place to make anything happen.” Ugh. I hated those placating words the second they left my mouth. I struggled to come up with something meaningful. I couldn’t let him leave like this, especially with my lie sitting between us like a giant elephant only I could see. “What’s your dream? What’s the one thing you want to accomplish while you’re on the planet?”

Will gave a half laugh, but his eyes twinkled with reluctant amusement. “Are you for real? We’re standing in the middle of a park on a freezing winter day and you want to talk about dreams?”

“It’s warmer than it’s been in days.”

“Which isn’t saying much.”

“You’re stalling.”

“I have class in twenty minutes.”

I grinned at him, then reached out and snagged his beanie off his head. I couldn’t help myself. I wanted to play with him. Be silly. I wanted to make him laugh.

“I’m keeping your hat hostage.”

His face was set in mock outrage as he held out his hand, tapping his boot on the ground impatiently. “How old are you?”

“Twenty-five. Hurry. Your ears are turning red.”

“You’re twenty-five going on five. Hand it over.” He pursed his lips, then burst out laughing.

“I wish there was snow on the ground. Next time it snows, we have to come back here for a snowball fight. You on?”

“Are you cra—where are you going? Hey! Come back!”

I pulled his hat over mine and waltzed away wearing two beanies as I embellished my considerable snowball-making skills. “I’m from Baltimore. We get enough snow that I’ve been able to perfect my craft over the years. You gotta go to the mountains to get to the really good powder but—”

“I’m not chasing after you.”

“Nah, you shouldn’t. I’m a fast runner too.”

“I’m not and I don’t want to play around.”

He started after me. He wasn’t joking. He was slow and awkward. Outmaneuvering him would have been easy. Too easy. I stalled and gave him a chance to catch me. It backfired when he tripped over my foot a second later. I caught him by the arm and pulled him against me. We stood chest to chest, our breath mingling visibly in the cool winter air. I detected a trace of desire in his eyes and immediately backed off. I yanked the hats from my head and stuffed mine in my pocket before gesturing for him to come closer. He stared at me for a second, then reluctantly complied. I pulled the navy cap over his head, making sure to tuck his hair underneath. This was the closest I’d ever been to him. I tried to imagine him with a wig, a blue dress, and a long black coat again, but it was too hard to see anything beyond his golden brown eyes, dark lashes, and the sweet freckles on his nose.

I jumped back with a start. What was I doing? Straight guys didn’t do things like this. They didn’t stare into another guy’s eyes or mess with their hats, unless they were stuffing them full of snow or tossing them halfway across the park for kicks. The rush of heat to my face was clawing. I plucked at my scarf and tried a smile I hoped looked somewhat confident.

“So tell me… what’s your dream?”

“I want to be a musician.” Will’s voice was so quiet. I was moved by an undercurrent of emotion in those simple words, as though he was telling me something important and it was up to me to read between the lines. The barren trees, cloudy skies, and sparsely populated park somehow lent an aura of significance to the moment.

BOOK: A Kind of Truth
13.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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