by David McLeod
Patrick's First Kiss
Samantha stood on a stepladder erasing and re-writing prices. Lucy stood beside the ladder reading the prices. They were all going up. "That's really high," Stephen said as Lucy called out the price of a latte.
"Still cheaper than Warbucks," Lucy said. "And ain't none of their baristas as cute as me."
"None of their baristas are as cute as I am," Samantha said. "Honestly, Lucy, you're never going to pass the Comps unless you start thinking in correct English."
"Who's minding the store?" Larry walked in. He whipped his head around. Snow that had already begun to melt fell from his cap. More snow began to puddle from his boots. Paul followed Larry in the door and added to the growing body of water.
"Hey! I just mopped that!" Lucy said. "Larry, I know you were reared in a barn, but I thought Paul knew better." She looked up the ladder. "How was that?"
"Reared is correct, but what you said is an idiom, and it's commonly–if incorrectly–stated, raised in a barn." Samantha climbed down the ladder and dusted her hands.
"You still trying to teach Lucy the Queen's English?" Larry asked.
"Queen's English? If that ain't–isn't–the pot calling the kettle black," Lucy said. "Now, if one of you young ladies would clean up your mess–the mop's beside the door–I'll fix your drinks. I should probably ask to see your money, first."
The banter, despite the words, was among friends, and no one took offense. Stephen, who sat by himself in a corner, felt a pang of jealousy, and loneliness.
"Elementary, my dear Watson!" Toby's voice, a clear, crisp tenor, carried. Heads turned.
"Sherlock Holmes never said that," Gary asserted. He crossed his arms and glared at his twin.
"Of course he did," Toby replied. He crossed his arms and glared back.
"Basil Rathbone or Jeremy Brent might have; Sherlock Holmes never did."
"And who played the better Sherlock Holmes?" Toby asked. It was a familiar argument. Discussion rather. Although both boys were passionate about the subject, they were not only brothers and twins, but very close friends. Stephen looked into his coffee cup. He had no brothers or sisters, and even fewer friends.
"Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York!" Patrick lurched across the stage. He was rehearsing for his initiation into the high school Thespian League: a one-boy-show of the more famous speeches from Shakespeare's Richard III.
"Are you really going to play him like that?"
Patrick stumbled in surprise, and looked into the wings. He hadn't seen Stephen sketching on one of the flats.
"Huh? What do you mean?"
"Are you just going to copy Olivier and McKellen and play King Richard as a hunchback with a withered arm, or are you going to be true to history rather than propaganda?"
"Whoa!" Patrick said. "Um, what the heck, over?"
"Ah, you probably don't care, anyway," Stephen said, and turned back to the flat.
"No, come on," Patrick said. "What are you talking about?"
"Do you really want to know?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I do," Patrick affirmed.
"Okay, a guy named John Rous wrote a History of the Kings of England. He wrote when King Richard III was alive. In the original, there's a line drawing of Richard as a handsome…beautiful, actually…young man, wearing armor, and holding a sword in his right hand and supporting Warwick Castle in his left. There is no hint of deformity. Rous also wrote that Richard was a good person, and a powerful warrior.
"Most copies of the original ‘Rous Roll' were destroyed. During the reign of Henry VII, a modified version was issued in which Rous declared that Richard was a Scorpio, and had a scorpion's sting. In truth, Richard was a Libra. In the old version, Rous praises Richard as a mighty prince and a good king. In the new version, Rous claimed that Richard murdered–or ordered the murder of–his brother, George Duke of Clarence and his wife, Anne Neville.
"There's other evidence that Richard was maligned by the Tudors and that he wasn't deformed."
Patrick sat, stunned. Then, "You're serious."
Stephen merely nodded his head.
"Can we get a copy of that picture?" Patrick asked.
"Sure, there's at least two books in the school library." Stephen set down his charcoal pencil and gestured. "Come on."
Patrick sat at a table in the library while Stephen went to find the books. When Stephen returned, he pulled out the chair across from Patrick.
"Sit here, beside me," Patrick said.
"I can't read upside down!" Patrick said.
Stephen walked around the end of the table, and sat. He flipped through the book, and then stopped at a section of glossy pictures. "That's the one." He pointed to a line drawing. "He looks small and thin, but he probably was a little smaller than average."
"He's not hunchbacked," Patrick said. "But you can't see his arm."
"If it were ‘like a blasted sapling, wither'd up,' as Shakespeare said–"
"You know that?" Patrick was surprised.
"Well, yeah," Stephen said. "If it were withered, he couldn't even lift the armor. Besides, history is clear that he was a soldier. He was a commander of his brother's forces in many battles. Back then, you couldn't be a soldier, much less a commander, if you weren't on top, physically. He used a battle ax at Bosworth, and that's a two-handed weapon."
Patrick nodded. "He's kinda cute," Patrick said, and gestured for Stephen to turn the page.
"Look at this one," Patrick said, pointing to a portrait of a man with black hair and a thin smile. "Can you imagine what he might have looked like at our age? He'd have been more than cute; he'd have been hot!"
Stephen flushed. Patrick's leg was pressed against his. Patrick was reading, devouring, the sentences and paragraphs Stephen pointed out to him. _He doesn't know–he hasn't noticed–_Stephen thought.
Stephen is blushing, Patrick thought. He moved his leg away. It's not fair to make him uncomfortable. Besides, what makes you think he'd be interested, anyway?
"Wait!" Stephen said. He put his hand on Patrick's to prevent him from turning the page. "Read the legend on that picture. Richard's motto was, ‘Loyeautlé me lie.' That means, ‘Loyalty binds me.' See? Here the author of this book says it's ‘Tant le desiere.' That means, ‘I have desired it so much.'
"They use that to prove he was ambitious, and wanted the crown for himself. But they never can say just what it was that he desired. Maybe it wasn't what they thought."
After too long an interval, Stephen pulled his hand away from Patrick's. The two boys looked up at the same moment. At the same moment, their eyes met. Stephen blushed, and looked away. Patrick laughed. It was not a mocking laugh, but a laugh filled with joy. He moved his leg until it pressed once more against Stephen's. Then, he turned the page.
"I don't think I've ever seen anyone as passionate about something in my life," Mr. Canon muttered. He knelt on the platform that held the stage lighting controls, and watched Patrick and Stephen sketching on a tall flat. Patrick would draw a line or a curve, and look at Stephen. Stephen would laugh, and add a stroke of charcoal. Stephen scratched his cheek. Now it was Patrick's turn to laugh at the smudge of charcoal that covered the spot on Stephen's cheek. At Patrick's laugh, Stephen realized what he'd done. His finger flicked to Patrick's nose; now, that boy's face was smudged with charcoal. Patrick laughed, again, and so went the afternoon.
By five o'clock, the sketch of the young King Richard III was complete, and the two boys were slapping their hands together to knock off the charcoal.
"Come on," Patrick said. "My house is close. We can clean up, there, and probably talk my folks into letting us go out for pizza."
"I can't," Stephen said.
"Oh, come on. You got a better offer? A previous engagement, maybe?"
"No." Stephen's voice was edgy, tight. Patrick didn't notice.
"Then why not?"
Stephen bit off each word. "I can't afford it, that's why."
"Oh, that. That's okay. My dad will pay. Come on!"
Stephen's voice was soft. His head tilted and he looked at Patrick. "Oh, Patrick, why did you have to spoil it?" He turned away, but not before Patrick saw tears glistening in the corners of his eyes. Patrick stood, frozen, as Stephen ran toward the stage door.
Mr. Cannon snapped the cover onto the last of the lighting relays. "Go after him, boy," he said.
"Huh?" Patrick looked up toward the platform.
"Go after him, boy. Never saw two people who got along so good as you two did. Go on, now. I'll put your flat away."
Patrick tossed a ‘Thank you, sir' over his shoulder and ran out the stage door.
Perhaps a hundred yards from the school, Stephen trudged down the sidewalk. "Stephen! Wait! Please!" Patrick called. Stephen began to walk faster. Patrick began to run.
"Wait, Stephen! Help me, please!"
Stephen stopped and turned around. Patrick nearly collided with him. "What do you mean, ‘help you'?" Stephen asked.
"I want to say that I'm sorry," Patrick said, "but I don't know what to be sorry for. Please help me know what I did wrong?"
Stephen tucked his hands into his pockets. "It's cold. Can we go to your house?"
Patrick punched numbers on a keypad. "There's a sink in the garage," he said as the door opened. "We can clean up, there." Stephen followed him past a tear-drop-shaped, hybrid car parked on one side of the garage. The other side was empty. Patrick turned on the water at a utility sink, and adjusted the temperature.
"Here," he said, as he handed Stephen a couple of paper towels. "You've got some on your cheek. Hold still…" He wiped Stephen's cheek with a damp towel.
"You've got some on your nose," Stephen said. He put his hand behind Patrick's neck to steady him, and raised a wet paper towel.
Whether Stephen pulled, or Patrick leaned forward, the boy's faces were inches apart, and then their lips touched. An eternity later, Patrick leaned back and gasped. Stephen cocked his head, and stared at Patrick. Patrick leaned forward. This time, he opened his lips to Stephen. This time, it was Stephen who leaned back and gasped. "You're a great kisser," Stephen said, softly.
"Beginner's luck," Patrick whispered. "You're the first boy I've ever kissed."
"Hmmm. You've still got charcoal on your nose."
"I never took something for nothing, ever. I can't buy pizza, not even for me, and sure not for you. So, I can't let you buy for me." Stephen took a bite of the peanut butter sandwich that Patrick had made. They sat in the kitchen. The note from Patrick's father and the cash for pizza had been stuffed into a drawer.
Patrick's mind flashed through images of Stephen, images he'd seen, but not thought about. Stephen in the coffee house, nursing all night a single cup of coffee. Stephen not getting his picture taken for the school yearbook. Stephen in a hoodie when the other kids were wearing parkas. Stephen in blue jeans that were patched from necessity, and not from design. Stephen selling hot dogs at the football games, when the other kids were buying hot dogs. Stephen at home–. Patrick suddenly faced the reality that he had no idea where Stephen lived, nor what his home might have looked like.
"Stephen, I understand. Well, I don't understand everything, but I do understand reciprocity. And I understand that you don't want to accept pizza, which costs money, from me–" Patrick laughed "–even though it's not really from me, but from my father, when you don't have money to reciprocate.
"Wait!" Patrick held up his hand. "Let me finish. You, my…my friend, my dear friend, don't understand reciprocity as well as I do. It's not just about money. It's about…well, other things, too. You gave me a great gift: your stories and knowledge of King Richard III. They were a pearl of great price, and more valuable than fine gold. Don't you know that?"
Stephen's mouth snapped shut, smothering whatever he'd been about to say. There was a long silence. "Do you really mean that?"
"Yeah, I really mean it. Do you really think that a fucking pizza could ever equal what you taught me, today? Could equal the fun I had this afternoon? Could ever repay…God, can I say this? Could ever repay the smile on your face when you rubbed charcoal on my nose?"
"What about the kiss?" Stephen asked. His voice was soft. Patrick thought he sounded wistful.
"Um, a kiss like that? It can't be bought, I don't think. There's no price you could put on it."
Nobody but Patrick and Stephen knew how it happened, and they weren't telling. Suddenly, though, they were the hottest new couple in J'ville. They say that opposites attract, and there weren't any more opposite than those two. Patrick's folks were well off: his dad owned the biggest car dealership in town and his mother ran a temporary staffing agency. Stephen lived with his mother–there was no dad–in a single-wide trailer way on the wrong side of the tracks. Patrick was extroverted and loud; Stephen was solitary and quiet. Patrick loved crowds; Stephen was a lone wolf. Patrick was blond, with blue eyes; Stephen's black hair matched his eyes. In Richard III, they found something in common, and it was good for both of them. Patrick learned to sit quietly and to listen to what others had to say; Stephen came out of his shell and learned to laugh.
Some of the people who hung out at the coffee shop talked a lot about sex: about who was having it with whom, and who was top or bottom. Patrick and Stephen never said, but everyone knew when they did it for the first time: we could see it in their faces, their posture, and in how they looked at one another. They had been a couple for six months, and they stayed together for as long as we knew them.