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Noggin(13)
John Corey Whaley

When I was dying, I mean in those last few weeks, Kyle would come over and keep me company until really late at night and sometimes into the early morning. My parents had to work, after all, and he wanted to spend as much time with me as he could. One night we were flipping through the channels and stopped on some of that really cheesy, bad music-ridden soft-core porn on Cinemax.

“Ah, every dying boy’s dream come true,” I said.

“Travis,” he said, oddly quiet and reserved.

“Yeah?”

“Can I tell you something?”

“This movie doesn’t do a thing for you, right?” I said.

“Not a thing,” he said, a sour look on his face.

“And did you think I would give a shit about that?”

“Not really. But no one else knows, okay?”

“Well, I’d say your secret’s safe with me, but that’s sort of a given,” I joked.

“I’m serious, Travis. I wouldn’t even be telling you if . . .”

“If I weren’t about to be curtains?”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t be. I understand. Secrets will kill you, you know?”

“You’re a good friend, Travis. Really.”

“Hey, hey. All right. I don’t care if you’re gay, but you don’t have to go spreading it with all this sappy shit.”

When this new Kyle, sitting in my kitchen and telling jokes about all of his former teachers and my soon-to-be-yet-again-current ones, nonchalantly said “my girlfriend,” I suddenly felt like my head had found a way to slightly float just above my new body, barely connected. My parents had been drifting in and out of the room all evening, almost incapable of staying away from us, of seeing us the way we used to be. I nearly blurted out and interrupted him to ask “Girlfriend? Why would you have a girlfriend?” But I caught myself and let him keep going. Maybe he just wasn’t sure if my parents knew about him. Maybe he was just using “girlfriend” as a code for “boyfriend” or “partner” or whatever. He mentioned her again, said she’d been in one of his college English classes. I wanted to know what the hell was going on here. I wanted to know why he was talking to me, me, about a girlfriend five years after he’d told me he had no interest in girls at all. I wanted to know why my best friend was pretending to be someone he wasn’t and why everyone was letting this happen.

When he eventually had to leave and after my mom had hugged him enough to embarrass us both, I walked him outside. I thought this would be my chance to get the truth out of him. I couldn’t let him leave with this huge thing hovering over us.

“Kyle, man. You . . . umm . . . said you had a girlfriend?”

“Yeah. Valerie. She’s cool. You’ll have to meet her soon.”

“Valerie?”

“Yeah, Travis. Valerie. I’m actually on my way to see her now. Running a little late.”

And then I realized I was the only one he’d ever told. There were no secret codes here, no hidden meanings behind his words to protect people like my parents from the truth. The truth was that he was still lying to everyone, including himself. His secret died with me on the operating table, and now it was back staring him right square in the face, scar and all.

CHAPTER SIX

SCAR AND ALL

Kyle eventually had to go, and I was never brave enough to confront him about his identity crisis. Maybe you can be gay and then not be gay a few years later. I wasn’t sure. That didn’t really sound right to me, though. But I’d been asleep for half a decade and was starting high school all over again the next day, so I didn’t have much time to figure it all out for him. Plus, who was I to disappear and then show back up all these years later and start calling people out on their problems?

There are certain things that change with time, things like the skyline of your city, the size and shape of the cars beside you on the road, and even how people are wearing their blue jeans, really tight on their calves. But other things, things like your parents, don’t really change at all. And I knew this immediately when my mom and dad started arguing over where to go shopping.

“The place with all the fancy stores? Do we really need to go there?” Dad asked.

“That’s the one. They have everything. It’s a nice evening—we can take our time, get some fresh air walking around, and do a little shopping.” Mom was ready for his dissent.

“Anywhere’s fine, really,” I said. “I just need some jeans and a shirt or two.”

“No, Travis. You’re not going to keep wearing the same outfit I bought you in Denver. School’s about to start, and you’re getting whatever you want today, no arguments.” Mom was using the visor mirror of my dad’s car to put on her mascara, something she’d done since I could remember.

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