This story was written in response to homophobic comments made by a certain writer. The story features characters with names featured in the famous work by said writer, but the characters are unrelated (unless you’d like to headcanon them that way, in which case, my control dies here). Enjoy.
He’d always had one of those smiles—so bright it was as if he’d kidnapped the sun. Carla used to joke that it was all those tic tacs, tiny cut outs of a burning star that fed his ever-present joy. I just nodded along because the year was 1969, and boys like me, boys who liked other boys, were just as new as those sun-bright breath mints Johnny seemed to live off of.
That didn’t stop me from getting close, attempting to bask in just enough heat so as not to get burned. I lent Johnny my books because he loved to read and my notebook because he was too busy reading to take notes. I walked home from school with him, our sneakers scuffing up gravel and our backpacks thumping our shoulder blades in a syncopated rhythm. He’d whistle and I’d hum along, our heartbeats the metronome to keep the tempo consistent.
And then his mother would be waiting at the door, a sharp glint in her eye like a violent meteor with its course set to tear a hole between us. She always kept her hair tidily in a bun, her lipstick soft and pink, the color women were supposed to wear to please their husbands, boys like Johnny who would never like boys like me.
The summer of 1971 came hard and fast, heat blazing down each Midwestern sidewalk and burning holes into our backs. Carla and I spent most of the summer at the park, our last summer of high school, before we were off into the work force with our childhoods left in the dust. Johnny wasn’t there. His parents kept him home that summer, piling his desk high with textbooks and test prep so he could get into a good college, a college far away from delinquents and steamy Midwestern summers.
What his parents didn’t know was that Johnny didn’t want to go away to school. He didn’t want to study or do summer work, and while his parents kept the doors locked to keep him from falling off the track they had envisioned for him, he let me in the window.
The summer days were the hottest I’d experienced in Ohio, but they were dull and lifeless, as if a perpetual film hung over the sun. No, it was the evenings that shone the brightest, just after Johnny’s parents would go out to dinner or to a drive-in, and Johnny would slide the glass open as he waited for me to make my way down the street. It was the evening’s when my hands found a home against his skin, his lips pressing against mine in search of air. The world was an explosion of color, endless doors and possibilities unfolding before my closed eyelids up until the moment Johnny would pull away, run a hand through his hair, and tell me that it was time to go, that his parents would be home soon.
And I always left because I knew that boys like Johnny weren’t allowed to like boys like me, and I was willing to wait until they were.
August of 1972 found me standing in the street, eyes focused on the closed window before me. It was the last day of the month, and I knew that the following first would also be Johnny’s last day in Ohio. I could feel our time together dwindling, but I couldn’t process the closed window. I couldn’t let him leave without saying goodbye.
And then I heard a crack, the front door slowly swinging open. I turned, my eyes squinting into the light pouring out onto the porch, expecting to see his parents there to chase me away with a shotgun or baseball bat. Instead I saw Johnny, his hair in disarray, his shirt rumpled.
“What are you doing out here?” he asked.
“I couldn’t let you leave without saying goodbye,” I said.
He smiled, the brightness of his teeth far outshining the light gushing out of his living room. And then he was in my arms, our faces pressed together, noses compressed as he pulled me closer.
“I-I love you,” I said, my voice broken. I should have known that it would come to this, his body slipping away from me into the night. He was the sun, an uncontrollable force of never-ending light, and I was just the boy who couldn’t pull myself out of his orbit.
He smiled again, his hand reaching out to take my own. “I was going to come see you tomorrow.”
“Why wait? We’re running out of time as it is,” I said, and I hated how desperate the words sounded, but what else could I say? How could I lose the one thing giving my life light?
He laughed. “Dallas, I’m not leaving. I’m not going anywhere.”
My mouth opened and closed, my mind not comprehending. “What do you—”
“I told my parents,” he said. His face was flushed as if he couldn’t control his own flame. “I told my parents and they’re not making me leave.”
“Told your parents what?” I asked.
“That I love you,” he said.
And his mouth found mine again, and I knew that even in a world that might not approve of boys who liked boys, there wasn’t anything that could snuff out the light of the sun.