Vanilla, p.1

Vanilla, page 1

 

Vanilla
 


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Vanilla


  For anyone who’s ever felt vanilla.

  And for Nico.

  CONTENTS

  Title Page

  Dedication

  WHAT IT’S LIKE WITH HUNTER

  EARLY DAYS

  OUR SECRET LANGUAGE

  THE SLEEPOVER

  MY FAVORITE PART (OF THE DAY)

  TICKLISH

  THE INVITATION

  WHAT IT’S LIKE WITH VANILLA

  LUST AT SEVENTEEN

  HOPELESS ROMANTIC

  WHY IS EVERYTHING ABOUT SEX?

  OUTSIDE PERSPECTIVE

  WHAT IS HE SO AFRAID OF?

  HONESTY

  HIDING TOGETHER

  HISTORY OF HURT

  A KISS IS JUST A KISS

  LONG GAME

  COUPLE’S COSTUME

  COUPLE’S COSTUME

  MY TURN TO WALK AWAY

  IT’S COMPLICATED

  NOVEMBER 1

  NOVEMBER 2

  NOVEMBER 2

  SOME WORDS REGARDING VANILLA

  VANILLA

  THE HAIRCUT

  PLATONIC

  SELFLESS

  HOPELESS ROMANTIC

  FIRST SEXT

  MEANWHILE (FROM THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN)

  WHAT IT’S LIKE WITH A COUPLE

  A KISS IS JUST A KISS

  AFTER PARTY

  EARLY DAYS

  DIAGRAMS

  I WANT TO BE A POET TOO

  ONE FOR ME

  HALLOWEEN

  HIDING TOGETHER

  WHY VINES?

  LOVE ME TENDER

  WHAT TRYING LOOKS LIKE

  WHAT TRYING LOOKS LIKE

  SELFLESS

  NOCTURNAL

  STRANGER DANGER (AMUSE-BOUCHE)

  THE LETTER

  SEX TALK

  TWO-FACED

  CRUSH

  LIP SERVICE

  SECOND ULTIMATUM

  PRE-PARTY

  REASONING

  PARTY AT HUNTER’S

  WHAT IT’S LIKE WITH MY FAMILY

  LABELS

  SELFLESS

  THE GREAT AND POWERFUL OZ

  SEX TALK

  NAMING ONESELF

  HOW AM I DIFFERENT?

  CONDITIONAL

  HIDE-AND-SEEK

  TO BE OR NOT TO BE?

  TO BE OR NOT TO BE?

  LOVE STORY

  TRIAL & ERROR

  SECRETS

  FIRST-PERSON ACCOUNT

  THE LAST KISS IS THE CRUELEST

  UNTIED BALLOON

  EMPATHY (WHAT NOT TO SAY)

  I NEVER MEANT TO HAUNT YOU

  SUMMER ANNIVERSARY

  UNEQUAL AFFECTION

  BACKING AWAY

  FIRST DATE

  MANIFEST DESTINY

  TIMID CORRESPONDENCE

  LIFE CYCLE

  KEEPSAKE

  KEEPSAKE

  GAY CARD

  LEARNING TO BE ALONE

  ANGEL

  SHORTHAND

  WRITING TO HUNTER

  GRAND GESTURES

  NOW OR NEVER

  MY PEOPLE

  PEP TALK

  LEARNING TO BE ALONE

  SEX NEEDS

  AIRPLANE MODE

  I FIGURED HUNTER OUT

  IMAGINING HIM, IMAGINING ME

  NO REGRETS

  RENAISSANCE MAN

  CLOWN

  TERRITORY

  ACE OF HEARTS

  THAT PLACE I’VE NEVER BEEN

  COMING OUT AGAIN

  KNEE-JERKS

  THREE STRIKES

  HOW DARE YOU BLAME ME

  MANSION APARTMENT SHACK HOUSE

  KING OF HEARTS

  PLAYING DEFENSE

  ANGEL CALLS THEM “PARTIAL TRUTHS“

  ALONE AT LUNCH

  SAINT VALENTINE

  HONEYSUCKLE

  SNEAKING OUT

  HONEYSUCKLE

  I DON’T WANT TO FEEL LIKE THIS FOREVER

  FINDING AN OLD PHOTO

  READING IS FUNDAMENTAL

  FREEDOM, FINALLY

  WITHOUT LOVE

  OUR SPOT (NOW THEIRS)

  SAD PAPER TIME MACHINE

  HOW I WANT TO BE REMEMBERED

  GRAND GESTURES

  SURPRISE

  NEWBIE

  WE WERE HERE

  WHAT GRAVITY FEELS LIKE

  Acknowledgments

  About the Author

  Copyright

  WHAT IT’S LIKE WITH HUNTER

  He calls me Vanilla

  and presses his warm nose to my neck.

  I don’t know what to do but laugh

  and let him.

  He sniffs and smiles and tells me

  I smell like myself.

  Says it like an inside joke

  until it becomes one.

  I feel him there, his touch

  settling against my skin.

  His gentle arms

  circling my shoulders.

  It’s as if a part of me has come loose,

  but instead of spinning off into space

  it turns back and stares at me

  so sweetly.

  “Vanilla,” he says, and I press my smile to his.

  He could say anything after,

  and it would seem a compliment.

  Like a backward sigh,

  he draws me in. Holds his breath.

  EARLY DAYS

  As easy as it feels being Vanilla’s boyfriend,

  it was hard being friends at first.

  He’d come over to hang out

  and his eyes would scan my room,

  making their way around

  like a sweeping clock hand.

  And I couldn’t help but tense up,

  wondering if he was smart enough

  to figure me out.

  When our eyes met again,

  he’d change the subject.

  It was always video games

  he wanted to play, anything

  as long as he didn’t have to

  look at me. And if I looked at him,

  he’d ask me, “What?”

  as if I wasn’t allowed to look

  without a reason.

  One afternoon, after a big test,

  when he’d been too busy

  to see me all week,

  I invited him over

  with something in mind.

  I said, “I’m tired of games.”

  We were almost teenagers,

  and as many other friends as I had,

  I’d chosen Vanilla to really know.

  “Let’s talk,” I said,

  but it turned into silence.

  “Let’s dance, then,” I said,

  putting on music.

  “You mean, together?” he asked.

  “Yeah,” I said. “Get up.”

  He looked at me like I was crazy.

  So I danced alone, holding back at first,

  then not caring.

  Vanilla tilted back and forth, still sitting,

  an embarrassed metronome.

  His eyes were locked

  on my dresser mirror.

  “I don’t know what I’m doing,” he said.

  I pulled him up onto his feet, said,

  “Then it’s a good thing you have me!”

  My left hand took his right,

  my right took his left.

  It occurred to me then

  that I was definitely gay.

  And following that thought was the thought

  that I might be in love with my maybe best friend.

  Vanilla sighed, then stood taller,

  becoming comfortable

  with my hands in his.

  “You make it look so easy,” he said,

  watching my feet.

  “It is easy,
” I said. “It’s the easiest

  once you let go and ride the music.”

  He turned to face the mirror,

  letting go of my hands.

  I told him not to be self-conscious.

  “I’m intimidated,” he said,

  and I took his honesty as a good sign.

  “Don’t be,” I told him. “I dance in here all the time.”

  “Practice makes perfect,” he said,

  calling me perfect.

  His back to me, I looked in the mirror to see him

  closing his eyes, committing to the dance.

  The diva was breaking it down, losing herself

  as if she didn’t care about hitting the notes at all.

  But Vanilla was still wiggling, tense,

  trying to make a wave

  instead of riding one.

  “I think it helps to pair some part of your body

  with some part of the song,” I offered.

  I put my hands on his shoulders,

  pulsing the blips and bleeps into his bloodstream.

  Vanilla stomped his feet to the swelling beat.

  “Yeah!” I encouraged, and he clapped.

  It was a bit off,

  but at least he was smiling.

  The song had a snare drum,

  and Vanilla rocked

  back and forth to its hiss,

  opening his eyes,

  catching my appraisal

  in the reflection.

  “You’re not dancing?” he said,

  and I realized I’d stopped.

  Without missing a beat, I threw my hands up,

  and matched my steps to his.

  I threw my head side to side as the vocals intensified,

  not knowing if he was watching,

  but hoping he was.

  As the song wrapped up, Vanilla asked for another.

  So I skipped to an old favorite.

  I mouthed the opening lines, pointing straight at him,

  willing him to be comfortable.

  I figured if I made myself the bigger fool,

  Vanilla might follow me all the way

  into oblivion.

  “Nice,” he said, copying my moves.

  The song was winding down,

  and I suddenly wished I’d played something longer.

  “See?” I said. “You’re a natural.”

  “Thanks to you,” he told me,

  dancing a little closer,

  boyfriend distance, not friend distance.

  I guess it startled me, because he apologized.

  “No,” I told him. “It’s okay.”

  But we stayed apart as the song ended.

  “Do you know other ways to dance?”

  Vanilla was looking through the songs on the playlist.

  “Like slow stuff?”

  I watched his finger scroll.

  “Pick a song and I’ll happily dance to it,” I said.

  When he did, it was a crooner.

  I swayed like a sea, like underwater leaves,

  and Vanilla swam around me like a fish, making fun.

  When we were face-to-face,

  he took my hands again,

  my right in his left,

  his left in my right.

  “Like this,” he said. “Teach me.”

  I put my hand on his waist, like I’d been taught,

  and moved his up to my shoulder. He looked down,

  his eyes tracing my arm to his waist.

  Then we both stared at our socks

  as we felt, together, for the beat.

  OUR SECRET LANGUAGE

  “You’re burning up,” I said,

  the first time we danced,

  because he was blushing so hard

  that I knew

  what we were doing

  was worth being done.

  I could barely name it,

  but it felt good,

  nagging deep inside

  like a kinship.

  I didn’t want to tell him

  I saw him blushing,

  because if he stopped dancing,

  a part of me would stop

  right on with it.

  So,

  “You’re burning up,” I said.

  And to this day, if we’re at a dance

  or walking

  or even standing still

  and I want him suddenly

  to spin me,

  I only need to say those words.

  THE SLEEPOVER

  1

  It stung like a hammer on nail,

  but also built us. He said, “No.” Said, “Never.”

  And I wanted to change him.

  Already I knew I could.

  We slipped into my sleeping bag

  and kissed like the meeting of two wings

  trembling out of their cocoon.

  The room no longer fit.

  I watched the two of us giggling,

  holding tight, like it wasn’t me there,

  like I didn’t deserve it.

  We were taking off.

  2

  I was so in love with him already

  that I took his word, never,

  and held it against my heart

  like a hand over a candle.

  And for the first time, it didn’t add up.

  I wanted so badly to be looked at like that

  by a boy. By him.

  To be cherished—that’s the word—

  and loved and kissed.

  Both of us

  a part of

  the same feeling.

  I looked in his eyes but this time

  he didn’t look back. I could tell.

  “I love you,” he said, but he wanted it returned.

  “I love you, too,” I said,

  wanting to be his echo,

  to feel his words in my throat.

  3

  “But,” I said,

  “never come out, not ever?”

  He looked so afraid. And I knew

  I could be bravery for us both.

  “Here,” I said, and I found some paper.

  He rolled against the wall, playing dead.

  “Pros and cons. Go,” I said.

  But Vanilla just sat there.

  “Pro, I could love you like this

  in front of people,” I said.

  “Con,” he said,

  “people will make fun of us.”

  “No they won’t,” I told him.

  “Not the people

  we care about.”

  But I wrote it down anyway.

  “Pro,” I said,

  “we wouldn’t have to use our silly code for everything.”

  But, “Con!” he said. “I like our code.”

  He wanted to kiss,

  but I was serious.

  I needed him

  to hear me.

  “Stop it,” I said. “Listen.”

  He crossed his slender arms,

  and I caught a whiff

  of his sweet smell.

  The buzz ran through me

  like electricity made of blood.

  “Pro, if people knew,

  I could do all sorts of things.

  I could put up a shrine to you, a freaking altar.

  And everyone could stop asking what I’m so happy about,

  ’cause they’d all know. Officially. Plus, let’s face it.

  They all suspect.”

  “You’re not writing all of that down, are you?”

  Vanilla was hugging his knees to his chest.

  “Boyfriend altar,” I said, writing it slow,

  doubling every pen stroke for effect.

  4

  We were both quiet for a long time.

  “Your turn,” I said. And what I meant was,

  it was his turn to make his case,

  to put me in my place, maybe.

  “Pro,” he said,

  “it will make you happy.”

  “I w
ant it to make you happy,” I told him,

  and he said, “Exactly!

  Everything you do

  is like that. As if my happiness

  is all that matters. But

  what about yours?”

  And my first thought was to correct him.

  Aren’t they the same? I thought,

  feeling again

  like wings.

  He let go of his knees finally,

  unclenched his body, kind of.

  I sat upright, following his lead.

  “Really?” I said. “Can we? Please?!”

  “I mean, not right this second,” he said.

  “I want your mom to let me sleep over.”

  And as we laughed, I swear

  a glow-in-the-dark star

  fell straight down onto us

  off my ceiling.

  It felt like another sign,

  even to Vanilla,

  who claims he doesn’t believe in signs,

  even after all we’ve been given.

  5

  “Before the dance,” he said. “I promise.”

  6

  The next day I found that star

  right there in the sleeping bag.

  I put it on my dresser

  and folded our list into a paper heart.

  I took the candle from the hall bathroom,

  lit it, and sat there, all quiet,

  with my hands barely touching.

  I was only a little bit scared,

  and feeling less and less so by the second.

  Because now I had a purpose

  other than to love him well.

  Frightening as it was, I’d gotten my way.

  MY FAVORITE PART (OF THE DAY)

  is when we get to Hunter’s apartment after school,

  and his mom’s not there, and his phone’s almost dead.

  He plugs it in and we take off our shoes,

  having said everything there is to say

  already on the walk.

  Hunter turns the TV on. I unravel

  one controller, then another,

  and plug them into his dad’s old game system,

  while Hunter moves the back cushions from the dirty sofa,

  making room for us both to lie parallel.

  We’ll start off upright, playing a round or two,

  fighting each other or teaming up against a boss.

  I can tell Hunter’s mood based on the game he picks,

  and for a while it feels like real life, real fighting.

  Then it doesn’t, and I can relax.

  That’s not the part I like.

  My favorite part comes after,

  when I get tired and quit,

  and lie with my head in his lap.

  I can hear his pulse,

  my ear hot against his thigh.

  If he tires first, he’ll put his legs across mine.

  Which always hurts, bony as his knees are.

  I’ll lift his legs and let them crash down with a bounce.

  Then I’ll lie down beside him, nuzzling deep,

  Hunter’s chest to my back as I lose the game.

  But so what?

  His arms come around me,

  and I feel entirely at ease.

 
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