There’s a statue that quietly ornaments my small town. I only notice it tonight because of the rain. It’s a bronze man sitting astride a muscular horse, his feathered headdress falling down his back, his arms outstretched and head tilted to the sky, embracing the droplets that roll off his bare chest and glisten like sweat.
I drive to the address Clair gave me, glad for the rain so no one at the party will notice my own sweat. I wipe my brow and look at the dashboard clock, noting that I’m a few hours late. My tardiness is purposeful. I hate parties. But now I’m regretting it, wondering if I should have come earlier.
I park close to the building and turn off my car. My phone glows with a snap from Clair. I check it and find myself staring at a familiar face, and my heart stops. Dean smiles and he and Clair take shots. I sit, unmoving. The rain grows more relentless, and I watch the cascading bullets pelt my windshield. In the distance, white cracks sear across the dark sky.
I can still go home. I haven’t committed to anything. I can go home and read in bed with Ethan, each of us listening to the rain. He was right. I shouldn’t have come to this party.
I breathe. I get out and sprint to the breezeway, not wanting to arrive drenched. I find the apartment, knock, and stand shivering. Rumbling thunder echoes through the breezeway.
A girl I don’t know opens the door for me, and I step inside. Her stare is cold. I want to go home, to leave before Clair or Liv see me here and I’m forced to stay.
I take too long deciding because I hear my name. It’s Clair, her head peaking around a corner. She waves me over, and I leave the staring girl.
As I approach, I’m not sure whether I should hug Clair. It’s been so long. But she holds her arms out for me, and I fall into them. I suddenly remember every road trip and spring break with her and Liv. I remember Montreal and New Orleans and New York City. I remember dancing on Bourbon Street and smoking weed in an alley just outside the MET.
“How’ve you been?” Clair asks.
She leads me into the kitchen, and I see Dean leaning against a counter, drink in hand. My heart feels like a boxer, my ribcage its punching bag.
“Want anything?” Clair asks. She offers different drinks, and I take a beer. I start chugging.
“Is Liv here?” I ask.
“She left a while ago. She has to wake up early tomorrow, and we didn’t know if you were coming.” Clair says.
“Sorry,” I say awkwardly.
She gives me this look she has, not pity but almost. I haven’t seen the look in so long. It reminds me of the first time I brought Ethan to meet Clair and Liv. The girls laughed at Ethan’s jokes, and I told myself that it would be the four of us from then on, and we would see all of the places and things we’d yet to see. The next day, Clair was driving and she and Liv told me they thought Ethan was annoying. I slouched into the back seat. I picked at the place on the seat where I’d once dropped ketchup. That back seat had always been mine, my room in our little family home of a Honda. But I felt like I didn’t belong anymore, like I’d been cast out of the family. “You okay?” the girls kept saying. Later, over dinner with Ethan, he asked if the girls liked him. “Yeah.”
I stopped hanging out with the girls. Ethan pulled me in one direction, and the girls pulled me in another, and I guess I kept choosing Ethan. After a while, Dean started showing up in the girls’ snapchat stories and Instagram posts. I realized they’d replaced one gay for another, because we’re all the same.
“So how are you and Ethan?” Clair asks. Dean shifts uncomfortably against the counter. I glance at him, and he looks away. Does Clair not know? I’ve never told her. It never came up when we were close, because she didn’t know Dean then, and since she’s known him, I haven’t really talked to her. Has Dean not told her? I suppose not, because she wouldn’t ask such an awkward question if she knew. My heart races faster, and I wonder if it’ll stop altogether before the night is over.
“We’re good,” I say. “He got offered a job after we graduate.”
“That’s awesome. Are you guys staying here or moving?”
“Definitely moving. Columbus.”
“Do you have a job yet?” she asks.
I’m embarrassed. “I should hear back in a couple weeks from Ohio State about my grad school application.”
“Is that the only place you’ve applied?”
“Yeah,” I say nervously. “What about you? What are your plans after graduation?”
“Liv and I are staying here for the summer then moving to New York.”
I want to go with them. I remember New York with them. I remember the little dive where we saw an experimental theatre rock show, the wail of the cello and the singer’s raspy yodels. I want to go with them. I want the late nights and early mornings on skyscraper rooftops. I want the hungover brunches. “That’s awesome. A sitcom waiting to happen,” I say and laugh.
Clair forces a laugh too. Dean is still quiet, sipping his drink, listening.
A girl comes in and grabs Clair, pulling her out of the kitchen, and I’m left standing alone with Dean, like two stags in a clearing. I reach to sip my beer but I’ve already finished it.
“Do you need another drink?” Dean asks.
He reaches in a cooler and fishes one out for me. I take it from him and smell his cologne. It’s the same as the last time, the first time I met him, at a party just like this. I want to leave.
“Thanks,” I say. I don’t chug this one.
I think about saying I’m tired, anything to get out of here.
“So, what’s your major?” Dean asks.
I’m hesitant. “Sociology.”
“Are you going to grad school for Sociology?”
“What about you? What’s your major?” I ask.
“I’m going to get some air,” he says.
He leaves, and I’m left standing there. I drink. I wait a few minutes, hoping Clair will come back, hoping I can talk to her. She doesn’t, and I don’t.
A loud group converges on the kitchen. I turn from them and force my eyes closed. I decide to leave.
I open the front door and Dean’s standing in the breezeway, leaning on a railing and watching the grey, dusk-lit sky. He reminds me of someone, something I once had. I don’t know why but I go and stand beside him. The rain is calmer, and we listen to its patter on the awning above.
“I love the rain,” Dean says.
“Me too,” I say.
The wind whistles.
“So, have you been to Japan?” I ask.
“I visited in high school. It was amazing.” He tells me about feeding deer, eating sushi, and seeing temples and castles. He describes visions of the sunrise from Mt. Fuji’s peak. “Cosmic, ethereal,” he says. He shows me an image: two dark halves divided by a brilliant orange-yellow line, the horizon, emanating soft white and blue.
We discuss our favorite movies, his Onibaba and mine Bride of Frankenstein, and discover we share a love of old horror movies. We gush over torturous, haunted masks and the ear-piercing scream of the woman with coiled, skunk-striped hair and, moving on to other films, Harry Powell’s inked knuckles and a panther’s roar echoing eerily in an empty pool.
We talk until the sky is black. Eventually, there’s a pause, and we end up just standing there.
“I’m sorry about last time,” I say. “I was a little drunk and…I don’t know. That was a weird night.” I remember Ethan introducing me to Dean, his Chippendale of an ex, and wanting to throw up. I remember crying on the porch while Ethan told me Dean meant nothing to him anymore. I remember Dean coming outside and seeing us.
“I’m sorry too. That was a rough time for me. I shouldn’t have texted Ethan.”
My chest is thumping again. “What do you mean?”
“Wait,” he says. “You didn’t know…I figured that was why you were so upset.”
“Did you guys—” I feel like glass.
“We didn’t hook up. I texted him and told him I missed him and still loved him a few days before the party. He was nice but that’s all. I immediately regretted it. Then seeing him at the party and seeing you—”
We’re both quiet for a moment.
“Anyway,” he says. “I’m the one who should be sorry.”
“Don’t be,” I say feebly.
We watch a girl walking with an umbrella, alone, headphones in, nodding her head just a little.
I think of something else to say. “So, are you going back to Japan anytime soon?” I ask.
“After graduation. I’m going to live over there for a while.”
“That sounds cool.”
“Have you ever travelled?” he asks. “Out of the country I mean.”
“I went to Mexico once on a cruise. I also went to Montreal once, with Clair and Liv actually. It was incredible.” My breath falls away.
“Why don’t you guys hang out anymore?”
“I don’t know.” But I did, and he did too. “Anyway, I want to travel a lot more.”
There’s a flash in the distance and a loud roar rips through the air.
Dean says, “Did you know we were in History 150 together? I sat a couple rows behind you. The girl between us never showed up.”
I don’t remember him, but I didn’t know him then, and I never talked to people. I never hung out with anyone but the girls, and then Ethan.
“I thought you were really cute,” Dean says.
The thumping in my chest grows louder. Can he hear it? I wonder if his heart is racing too. I want to reach out and place my hand on his chest. What is happening? A second ago I was scared he’d slept with Ethan. So why do I feel like this? “Why didn’t you talk to me?” I ask.
“You didn’t look like you wanted to be talked to.”
He turns and our eyes meet. Dean leans over and kisses me. I have to deliberately, effortfully, try not to kiss him back. For a moment, I think that I will give in but I push him away, gently.
“I’m sorry,” he says. He runs his hand through his hair nervously.
“It’s okay,” I say. “I’m going to say goodbye to Claire and go.”
I rush inside the apartment and back toward the bedrooms. I interrupt Claire chatting with a couple other girls.
“You’re going?” she asks.
I hug her saying, “Tell Liv I miss her.”
“I will. Let’s hang out again before we graduate.”
I nod but I doubt she’ll text me. I know now that the three of us will never be the same.
As I leave, Dean is still in the breezeway.
“Look, I’m—” he starts.
“What’s your number?” I ask him. What am I doing? I give him my phone and he enters his information with shaky fingers. I text him, I think you’re cute too, as I hurry to my car.
I drive home, passing the bronze man again, and the rain looks like tears streaming down his face. I turn on music and stare into the night.
I remember a night that felt just like this, and memories stir of a cruise and a boy, a dancer. Of the eyes we made at one another after his show. Of my first kiss and our amateur fondling. Of laying in our wet heat. Of standing at the stern and staring out at the great expanse of blue, watching the sunset together, rose-colored scars cast across the horizon. I felt small and the world felt round. We stood there until we saw stars, until we saw moonlit clouds painted like a pleading symphony.
And I wonder. I wonder what it would be like to run away with Dean, to live with him in Japan. I imagine exploring crowded city streets, shopping during the day, dancing at night; I imagine fooling around in onsen and private karaoke studios; I imagine waking up each day to new marvels of food and architecture; I imagine the sunrise from Fuji’s peak; I imagine everything.
I arrive home and receive a text from Dean, Don’t hate me.
I get out and walk to our apartment, droplets hitting my phone. I wipe them away as I type, I don’t. Rain gets in my eyelashes and everything blurs.
Ethan is inside, sitting by the window, reading by lamplight.
“How was the party?” he asks.
“Good,” I say.
I hug him, holding him for a moment, breathing him in. Then I grab my book and sit beside him.
“I love the rain,” he says.
“I know,” I say.
Cole is a graduate student living in the Midwest. He dreams of one day sailing the world and seeing every lighthouse imaginable. He knows nothing about sailing.
Author website: brayfieldwriting.com