"Matthew, Pawtucket, RI" *somewhereX a gay Mormon portrait project because we exist! 72" x 72" oil on canvas

"Matthew, Pawtucket, RI"
*somewhereX
a gay Mormon portrait project
because we exist!
72" x 72"
oil on canvas

WORK BY ALEX DIFRANCESCO

Rising

    When it ended, David sat alone in the bedroom that seemed to have shrunk. The room was so quiet and so small, the carpet under the window faded from the sun in a way he had never noticed, the shelf of paperback books so miniscule and filled with childishness that he could barely believe had once so entranced him, the open closet full of clothes he had not seen in so long that they might be new if it weren’t for how worn they all were. His breath was the loudest sound between the four walls, echoing in such a way that it seemed those muted green walls were breathing, too. He walked to the desk. It was a child’s desk, a rectangle of thin wood he had sat at when he was in grade school to do his homework, a desk he had long since outgrown and never noticed until that moment. He sat at the chair and drew his knees together in the small space meant for them. There was a white envelope on the desk, lying face-down. He took it and turned it in his giant hands so that he could see Wes’s name and an APO address in the upper left corner and his own name and address in the middle. David slid his finger under the flap of the envelope more gently than he could ever remember doing anything in his life.

    The letter looked just like a note Wes might have scrawled in class what seemed like forever ago. His new life was in that page. David read through the front of the page and onto the back where the letter ended. He read the lines: it was like when I was in boot camp and there was this faggot there that none of us knew was a faggot until he came onto a buddy of mine. It was bad enough having to know you were going to get sent out here to get shot at by a bunch of sand niggers without having to worry about things like that.

    David’s hands weren’t shaking, it was the lined page, the words scrawled in black ink that were shaking and blurring. Through everything, David had not cried, so those must not have been his tears ruining the ink.

    David was not weeping, in that small room, for everything he had lost.

*

    The lights in the police station were bright. David’s father had driven all that way. The police brought David out to the linoleum lobby, to the oak bench where his father sat. His father would not meet the police officers’ eyes when they spoke to him.

*

    David didn’t know what clothes to put on. He had plastic bags in his duffel bag to put all his dirty socks and underwear in so they would be separate from the rest of his clothes, but the whole inside of the bag smelled like sweaty socks and the orange disinfectant soap he washed his clothes with in the motel bathrooms, anyway. He didn’t have any clothes that didn’t stink. He kept going back and forth between thinking it mattered and thinking it didn’t. He wished Josh was there to talk to about his dilemma, but Josh wasn’t and when he came back there would be no time for questions.

    He could shower, at least.

    David turned the shower on as hot as it would go. As the steam began to billow from behind the cheap plastic curtain, he took his clothes off. It was fall, but his body had remained pale over the summer, and appeared whiter at that moment than he could ever remember it being. He was skinnier than ever before, too, though he had never been able to gain weight very well. The small patch of hair in the slight depression in the middle of his chest seemed wider than it had been, darker against his pale skin. Hot as the water was, he stepped under the stream of it, letting it turn his skin red. The heat of the water was like a punishment he was ready to accept. He opened his mouth and the water streamed into it. It tasted like chemicals.

    David soaped his body then rinsed it off. He stepped back onto the tiled floor and into a thin towel that barely absorbed the water off his skin. He wiped a watery streak into the steamed mirror and looked at his face. Who was this person looking back? Even I’m not sure, though he’s been with me for a year now, first as someone who spoke for himself and could fill hundreds of pages, now as someone in enough dense and resonant images to fill these few pages. He was so young, fifteen, hardly the person he will be someday except in glimmers. I like him quite a lot, and I am sad that he did not recognize the person he saw in the mirror, the person nurturing this secret and horrible feeling that his life had become as bad as he always knew was possible. He was scared, but a part of him was excited and knew that this was a moment that would define him.

    He walked out of the bathroom with the cheap white towel wrapped around his waist. Josh was there, and the man was with him. I like Josh, too (despite what he will do) because of his pain and his eyes. His pain we will learn later, but his eyes were there in the motel room, sharp and dark, looking through things into how they worked as the mind behind them tore these workings apart and found a way inside them. Josh knew how to survive; it is what he learned before anything else. His eyes were inside the man, watching the way he watched David. The man was much older than both of them, in years neither Josh nor David will be able to fathom until it is much too late and the people they were are buried. The man had a heavy mustache and a truck driver’s mesh cap. He looked strong. David wondered. Josh observed.

    “That’s him?” the man said.

    “Yeah.”

    “He looks older than you said he would be.”

David did not like the way the man talked about him as if he were not able to hear.

“No, he’s young. Trust me.”

The man’s eyes moved over David’s bare chest (the patch of hair seemed to have shrunk again, to the wisps it was when he was thirteen), his thin, hairy legs poking out from beneath the towel. He spoke to him.

“What’s your name?”

David wondered if Josh had told him, but decided to lie despite his possibility. “Wes,” he said.

“Sit on the bed, Wes,” the man said. He turned to Josh. “You wait outside.”

Josh looked at David before he went. He didn’t look into him, though he could have and had in the past. He looked towards him. They cared for each other, these boys. That I know, and that you should know, too, despite what you think to the contrary. David nodded. Josh opened the door and stepped through.

The man stepped towards where David sat. He put his hand half on David’s hair and half on the side of his face. His hands were much softer than David expected. He expected a worker’s hands, hands that were flat and calloused. I know better, but that’s what David expected.

“Why are you doing this, Wes?” the man asked. Outside, there was the sound of something heavy hitting the wall. David turned towards the door, and there was not time to answer before it burst in. In the hallway, David saw his best friend handcuffed and held against the wall by a uniformed cop. David looked back up at the man, knowing what I knew already. The man’s hand was still on David’s face, so gentle, his eyes sad.

*

    David was in the car, in the woods, hungry. Josh was off in a mall parking lot, siphoning gas from full tanks.

*

    Hotel rooms were a luxury, but they had decided upon one that night. David and Josh were in separate beds, absorbed by the television. It was turned to late night reruns, shows from the seventies. They laughed about the haircuts and the thick mustaches on the men. Early on, when they had first started out, they watched the pay-per-view pornos when they stayed in hotel rooms, and sometimes they had come across old ones where the men had handlebar mustaches and huge patches of pubic hair and didn’t wear condoms. The boys had laughed at them as they laughed at these TV shows. Even as they laughed, they were as still as toddlers watching a beloved cartoon full of bright colors. The television soothed them with muted blue and yellow light. Alone in the car, in the woods, in the truck stops, they did not have the blissfully thoughtless space television provided.

    When the show ended, Josh got up to turn the TV off. The dingy motel room was out in the middle of nowhere. It and all the other rooms like it opened out onto a bleak parking lot. There were coffee cans full of sand and cigarette butts outside the doors. The motel keeper had called their room a “cottage,” but it was really a tiny cube with chipping, faded paint. There wasn’t even a Bible in the nightstand.

    In the new darkness, David turned over onto his side and curled up. He tried to make his breaths long instead of shallow as Josh walked to the bathroom and turned the light on and closed the door. David didn’t have such a hard time maintaining his long breaths, but he couldn’t make his heart beat any slower. He waited.

    The bathroom door opened and the light went out. In the dark, David heard Josh walking. He felt his mattress lower under the weight of Josh’s body. Josh’s arm slid between David’s arm and his torso, his hand coming to rest on David’s chest. Josh’s smooth cheek rested against the side of David’s neck. David, once, had marveled over how like his own Josh’s body was. It seemed such a simple truth, and therefore made such a novel revelation. His body so much like mine, David thought. And he never stopped thinking it.

    David cupped his hand around Josh’s hip, pulling their bodies together. He reached back to stroke his friend’s hair, but Josh stopped him.

    “I’m so tired,” Josh said. Isn’t it an odd thing for a boy of eighteen to say at the prospect of sex? Yet he did. David brought his hand back in front of his chest, where it cupped Josh’s.

*

    When I first met David, he was home again, after all this. Josh was in jail and David was alone, speaking quickly and smoothly, stealing pain killers from an old lady whose yard work his father was making him do. He had a friend named Fat Fred who he treated with contempt and loyalty. He had a girl around named Alice Dee who loved hallucinogenic drugs (funny, aren’t I?) and was making his life hell. He was going to a psychologist who was very bad, very inexperienced, and very well meaning. Who got tired of David’s fronting and asked him to write down his mind if he wouldn’t speak it. That David was a lie, to himself and to everyone else. My plan was to make him lie and lie and lie, beautifully and entertainingly for hundreds of pages until, at the climax, he was true. Until the David we see now in glimpses and glimmers and a backwards narrative came through honestly and heartbreakingly.

    But David wouldn’t lie for that long. He wouldn’t be tragic and funny like Holden Caulfield. He wouldn’t pretend to be someone he wasn’t so endlessly. So I pretended to forget about David. I deleted files with his name in them. I wrote him off as a failed National Novel Writing Month concept.

    But David wouldn’t go away. I kept seeing him in the woods. In the headlights of Josh’s father’s stolen car. In the motel room with the undercover cop’s hand on his face. Driving around a loop like the one that circles Athens, Georgia, hair whipping across his face, cigarette smoke billowing around him. In the woods (which are not so unlike the woods I grew up around) in the spring in a shitty little town (which is not so unlike the town I grew up in), plotting freedom with his friends, who he loved in that way you love the friends of your youth, simultaneously thinking of and unable to truly conceive of loving them forever.

    David refused to lie, and he refused to go away. That is why he is here. Then David wouldn’t let me tell his story until I stopped lying, too.

*

    David was sleeping under his jacket in the front seat, using it to block out the harsh, high lights that made the asphalt expanse around the car as bright as daytime. He was dreaming of his mother. She was walking tentatively and slowly, gaining strength, and he was so proud of her. She spoke to him in a voice that started as a whisper and gained strength as she went on. She was talking about mundane things, grocery shopping, the laundry. He was crying, saying, “Mom. You’re doing so well. You’re doing so well.”

    The sound of the car door opening jerked David awake. He threw off the jacket and looked around wildly. When he saw that it was Josh, he sat back in the seat. He closed his eyes and tried to make his heart beat slower. He sat there for a moment, dazed, before he smelled the oil of fast food nearby. He opened his eyes and saw a McDonald’s bag on the seat next to him. His stomach growled audibly as he grabbed it.

    “Did you eat, Josh?” he asked, reaching into the bag and stuffing several French fries into his mouth. It had been days since either of them had eaten anything warm, anything that wasn’t already half-eaten when they got to it.

    “I ate,” Josh said. He wasn’t looking at David. He was looking out the windshield, his hands tight around the steering wheel as if he were concentrating on driving an unknown road in the dark of night.

    David plowed through the fries, the chicken nuggets, and the two cheese burgers in succession, not bothering with the ketchup and dipping sauces his searching fingers found inside the bag. After he had finished, he leaned back in the seat and exhaled. Through the lingering scent of grease, he could smell cigarette and cigar smoke wafting up off of Josh’s jacket. Josh turned towards him for the first time since getting in the car. Those sharp eyes that I told you about before were simmering. David could smell the alcohol on his breath, muted and sour.

    “I can’t keep doing this,” he said. “Every time we need money, every couple of days. Then the money’s gone and we’re back to these fucking parking lots.”

    “What can we do, Josh?” David asked. He asked the same question all the time. They never had a new or satisfactory answer, but it was always clear what they couldn’t do. They couldn’t go back.

    “I met a man in the diner,” Josh said finally. He was back to looking out the window, his knuckles white on the steering wheel. “He was looking for someone younger than me.”

*

    When David thought of his father, he thought of him as a ghost. For months he had disappeared around corners, slid soundlessly along walls, moved in darkness. He stopped speaking. From the steady intervals of coughs and throat clearings that came from his room at night, David gathered that he did not sleep.

    While David was gone, his father took out a list every night. Every night he called every hospital on the list, making sure his son was not there.

*

    Josh was eighteen. His father, when he left, started thinking of what he could turn Josh’s room into. Finally, he moved in an old TV and recliner, and the beer refrigerator he kept in the garage.

*

    One of the times David came to me, he was a seventeen-year-old girl. Previous to that time, someone had read a draft of him and assumed the first person narrative was coming from a female. I thought perhaps I couldn’t write him convincingly at all, having never once been a teenage boy.

    Girl-David (she didn’t have a name) was a poet. She saw the beauty as well as the horror in all the images I saw her in. She loved Josh just as much as David does. She ran past mirrors in dark rooms because she had said “Bloody Mary” three times into one two years before. She shopped for clothes at the Salvation Army, and bought shirts with silly, insincere words printed on them. Happy Caturday. God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It. She wrote essays for English class on The Ramones.

    Ultimately, I killed girl-David because writing a teenage hetero-romance story, tragic as it may have been, killed me.

*

    Things were getting hard. The money Josh had stolen from his father, the money his father kept rolled up in his sock drawer, had begun to run out. They had spent too much on diners, on hotel rooms, on pay-per-view pornos. They were sleeping in the car that night. They had driven down a dirt path, pulled off to the side of it for the night. Somewhere, over the sound of crickets, there was the sound of a stream. Every now and then, in the dark blue between the branches of trees, they saw the form of a bat wheeling across the sky.

    Josh had convinced an old drunk outside a dive bar to buy them two six packs. The man had been holding a cigarette in hands that shook. Josh gave him the money for the beer plus ten dollars. Now the two six packs of Miller High Life sat between them in the dirt, a happy girl swinging from the moon on their labels. The ground beneath them was slightly wet from a thunder storm that had marched across the sky that afternoon when they had been walking the unfamiliar streets of the small town they were passing through. They turned on the headlights of the car. The headlights shot out in a solid yellow beam that contrasted the darkness around them. During the first beer, Josh and David were quiet. The day had been a failure. They town had remained impenetrable, the streets harboring, if any life, only a secret one that ran ahead as they grasped after it. No doors had opened, no windows had offered them anything more than glimpses. Josh had tried to start a conversation with two girls their age in the parking lot of a McDonalds, had tried to offer them a ride, had asked them where to get weed, had offered to share their beer, later, when they got it. The girls had stared at them, had raised hands with chipped fingernail polish up to their mouths to cover giggles.

    The second beer began to erase the defeat. Josh began to talk about construction work he had done last summer. If it came down to it, he said, he could find that sort of job. Then he would get David work. They would get an apartment somewhere.

    By the fourth beer, they were wishing Wes was there with his guitar. They had wished this more than once in the last year, the year Wes had been half-way around the world. They began to sing a song that Wes used to play. Take a load off, Fannie. Take a load for free. Take a load off, Fannie. And—and—and you put the load right on me.

    They were on their last beer when Josh dropped his bottle on the wet ground. It hit a rock and broke into pieces. Josh cursed the lost beer, reached down to pick up the bottle, and cursed again. His hand came up into the yellow headlights covered in blood. The cut was deep, and blood was pouring down his wrist.

    David searched the ground around him until he found a bottle that they’d filled at the last motel, a motel where the front desk man had bragged about how their drinking water was well water, was the purest, best tasting water you could find. David found the bottle and poured it over Josh’s hand until the dark red blood became thin and pink. He pulled a dirty bandana out of his pocket. He began mopping up the blood and water from Josh’s hand. He felt dizzy. The blood was so red in the light. Josh was maybe laughing. David kept hearing himself ask, Are you okay? Are you okay?

    Stupid, Josh said. Yes, he was laughing. He pulled David close to him in a hug. We’re going to do this, you know? We’re going to be fine.

    Josh and David on the ground. David felt his shirt pull up. Wet leaves stuck to his back. His mouth on Josh’s, Josh’s mouth on his. And in the yellow headlights so alien to the dark night, David thought: His body so much like mine.

*

    I work in a restaurant in mid-town Manhattan. When the night is over, when we have swept and put chairs up on tables and cleaned menus and check carriers and condiment bottles, a coworker who lives near me and I walk to our subway together. One night, we walked by a bar that was up a few concrete stairs. The door was made of etched glass. There were well-dressed men in front of it. My coworker said as we passed, “That’s a hustler bar.”

    The next night when we were walking by it, I saw a young man with dark hair and eyes standing in front of the door, talking to two older men. He was looking through those men with his dark eyes, his sharp eyes. I saw him (he never saw me for a second) and, because I was writing this story, I thought, Those are Josh’s eyes.

    They were eyes I recognized. They were the eyes of the boys I knew when I was young, when I was crazy and artistic and wild. The boys who did dope and swiveled their hips when they walked. The boys who wanted to be poets and painters and rock stars. They boys who fucked boys and girls and got what they wanted and did what they wanted. The boys, who, now, over a decade later, are sad or insane or dead.

    When I saw Josh’s eyes outside that hustler bar, I realized that I, like David, like girl-David, loved Josh, too.

*

    David and Josh were in a cheap motel, in separate beds. There was no air conditioning in that particular hotel room. They lay in their underwear in the separate beds, sweating.

    “Put your clothes on, come on,” Josh said.

    David protested slightly, but then dragged on his jeans and his tee-shirt. They stood out on the parking lot, the asphalt still warm from the departed sun. When there was a break in the traffic on the highway, Josh led David out into it, across the lanes, over the concrete divider in the middle. They walked through the parking lot of a Holiday Inn, around the side of the hotel, to the fence around the back, which they climbed over. Behind the fence, lit from below, was a still, sparkling expanse of clear water: a pool closed for the night.

    Josh began taking his clothes off. David hesitated, looking towards the building. He was still fully clothed when Josh lowered himself into the water.

The water smelled of chemicals. It reflected moving diamonds of light up onto the back of the hotel and the fence. David stood and watched as Josh’s body cut through the water. He swam silently from one end of the pool to the other. He stopped near the edge.

“Come in,” he said, softly.

“We’ll get caught,” David replied. He stepped back towards the shadow cast by the tall fence.

Josh shrugged and continued moving his arms and legs through the water. He swam until a man came out of the hotel.

“Hey, kid! What are you doing?”

David hid back in the shadows. He felt satisfied that he’d been right. He had told Josh to get out.

Josh stopped swimming. He began telling the man how he was there with his parents, how he couldn’t sleep. David pulled back further. The man raised his voice a bit, talking about safety. Josh apologized, climbing out of the pool.

“I should wake your parents up right now,” the man said.

David watched as Josh walked into the Holiday Inn, carrying his clothes. From the shadows, David thought, What if he goes into a room? To some family who decides to take him with them? What if he walks into that hotel and never comes back?

David hid in the shadows for some time before climbing the fence and heading back across the highway to their motel room. Watching Josh walk into that lighted hotel had been like watching a character in a movie walk off into the sunset.

Josh came back half an hour later.

“I can’t believe you didn’t swim,” was all he said. He got in bed and went to sleep.

*

    As a teenager, I ran past mirrors in dark rooms, fearing the urban legend “Bloody Mary.” One of my teenage best friends had a tee-shirt that said “God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It.” When I was twenty-one, and the US occupation of Iraq started, a friend of mine wrote me a letter from the military using the epithet “sand niggers,” breaking my heart. The dreams that David has of his dead mother are dreams I had after my own mother was paralyzed by a stroke.

    David won’t let me lie, not even the lies of omission that are fiction.

*

    When David was going to talk for hundreds of pages, his story began:

    Steve says I’m supposed to write.

    Since David’s story has become pithier, it has started:

    I ran away from home when I was sixteen.

and

    You’ve asked me to write it all down.

and

    What I remember most floats to the top of my mind like photographs floating on water, out of the windows of a flooded house and to the top of a serene new lake left by a horrible storm: the shafts of sunlight between the newly leaved branches of spring trees; the wind whipping Josh’s long hair and my cigarette smoke around the car as we drove on the highway that lead out of town; the magazines on the table in the waiting room of the doctor’s office, the ones that changed so much that they story I was reading but never finished before my mom’s visit was over was never there again; the man’s hand on my face, close to my ear, so gentle; the smell of the orange disinfectant soaps in the cheap motel rooms; the blood running from Josh’s hand in the stark headlights of the car.

and

    It was after my mother’s funeral that Josh took me to the spot in the woods that I’d never been to before.

and

    I came up out of the water gasping for air, the cold streams of wetness running down from my hair, over my face, in my eyes.

    I started and started and started this story, but none of the beginnings seemed right. It was only when I started at the end, when David was in his childhood bedroom after having traveled so far from that childhood, that a dam broke, that I was able to write this story.

    Part of this is because I’m difficult in everything I do. In a male-dominated world, I’m a feminist. In a straight world, I’m queer. In a choice between liberal and conservative, I pick anarchist. In a formula of beginning, rising action, climax and denouement, I start at the beginning ten times, then draw black Xs through everything and start at the end.

    There is also another reason I have told this story this way. It is wrapped up in Josh and David, and the way I care for them, in the way they care for each other. I will tell you about it soon, when things begin to end.

*

    There is a highway that loops around town. The day they had planned for their departure, Josh and David drove down the narrow streets, through the woods, and onto that loop that wound forever left around the town before finally bursting right into the bigger highway, into freedom. They were in Josh’s dad’s car, which, because of their intentions, was by that point officially stolen. The windows were down and Josh’s chin-length hair was whipping around his face in the wind, just as David’s cigarette smoke was swirling frantically in the air, looking for escape through the windows. David’s book bag was packed full of things he would need: tee-shirts with funny, insincere words printed on them (Happy Caturday; God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It), deodorant, socks, razors, underwear, plastic bags to put the dirty socks and underwear in. The school books that had filled the bag just yesterday were stuffed under his bed. This was the morning they had planned for for so long. He and Josh met each other’s eyes and smiled. The smoke swirled. Josh’s hair whipped in the wind. They edged forever left around the loop, left, left, then burst right and out and away.

*

    There has been no rising action in this story. In its place, something else has risen.

    I never intended for Josh and David to have things easy, or very good. Josh was in jail from the start. David began with the weight of the undercover cop’s hand on his face. I did these things to them. And here I keep telling you how I love them. What a strange way to love.

    But something has risen. The reason I wrote this story backwards is not just because I am a difficult person who won’t do anything the way it's supposed to be done. The thing that has risen, in the place of action, or narrative, is hope. We follow them backwards. Josh gets out of jail. David’s father drives away from a police station his son is not at. David leaves the bed where he sits with the undercover cop’s hand on his face and goes to take a shower. Josh walks out of the cab of a truck whose driver wants to have sex with him, back to the car David is in, they drive backwards away from the lot. Blood runs up Josh’s arm, into a cut that miraculously heals as his beer bottle unsmashes. Josh hands two six packs back to an old alcoholic outside a bar. David and Josh drive together on a highway, so happy. So free. Wes comes back from Afghanistan, then from basic training, to play them a song on his guitar. From their desolation, from the truck stop parking lots, David and Josh move in reverse, their hope growing, until:

    The day of David’s mother’s funeral, Josh and Wes took him to a spot in the woods he had never been to before. Through the crumbling concrete tunnel. Past the place where the old road ran. Over the field of broken boulders. To a tiny pool held so close by the surrounding trees that it felt like a world that existed just for the three of them. David knew he was supposed to be sadder. But all the sadness had been used up in the last year as his mom tried miracle diets and surgeries and radiation treatments, as he sat in waiting rooms reading magazine articles that he never got to the end of, that weren’t there the next time they came back. That day, the day of the funeral, David knew he was supposed to be sad. But it was spring, and he was alive, and there was something good about that.

    Wes sat on a rock and opened up his guitar case. He had come back a few weeks before from rehab, and in a few weeks more he would be going off to boot camp, the only option he’d felt he had left when his parents told him he’d screwed up too many times and he had to get out of their house. The older boy looked untroubled by all that as he turned his guitar and smoked his cigarette. Josh sat next to him, smoking his own.

    David was not quite sure what he had done to deserve the affection of these two older and impossibly cooler boys. But there it was. And there they had been, after the church and after the funeral, waiting to pick him up in Wes’s dad’s car, to drive him out here, to take him over the old road, past the field of boulders.

    David reached down to feel the water in the pool. It was like ice. The little silver fish under its surface darted away from his hand. Despite the cold, David undid his tie. He kicked off his dress shoes. He tore off his suit jacket and his button down. He dove in.

    He came up from the water gasping for air, the cold streams of wetness running down from his hair, over his face, in his eyes. On the shore, Josh was standing up and grinding his cigarette out beneath his shoe. Wes was playing guitar. Take a load off, Fannie. Take a load for free. Josh reached down to the hem of his long-sleeved shirt and pulled it up over his head. Across his chest and shoulders, black and purple bruises spread like the Milky Way. Wes saw and kept singing. David stared.

    “My father gets mad when he drinks,” Josh said, matter-of-factly. “He found out I was getting left back again.”

    Then Josh took off his pants, and for a moment a thought flashed through David’s head that was new and did not mean what it would mean one day: his body so much like mine. And then Josh was in the water, too.

    Josh and David looked at each other. Wes was still on the shore playing. He had left Afghanistan, unbuilt muscle and unlearned discipline at boot camp, and was back here playing and singing and echoing through the woods. Josh turned his eyes, his hustler eyes on David. He looked into him. He could tear things apart with those eyes, but he didn’t do it to David. He disassembled him gently.

    “When I die,” David said, finally, “I want Wes to play to play at my funeral.”

    Josh smiled at him. “I want to be cremated and shot out of a cannon.”

    The three of them stayed in the woods for hours. When night began to fall, they built a fire in a pit near the pool. David talked about how his father had become a ghost as his mother died. Wes talked about how he was going to see the world. Josh didn’t say much, until the end of the night, when he turned directly to David and said, “There’s nothing left here. You and I need to get out, too.”

    David could see how it would go, could see all the way up to when the wind would whip around Josh’s hair and his cigarette smoke, to when they would turn right on to the highway, to freedom.

    “Yeah,” he said. “Yes. Let’s go.”