The Kiss

Two boys lying on the ground


Cole Parker

When I was 11, I had a best friend named Noel. He was born three days after Christmas, which explains the name.

That’s true, but suggests he was a new friend, and that’s misleading. We’d been in nappies together. And besties ever since.

But at 11, my feelings were changing. Subtly at first, then they seemed to get stronger every day.

I was a very ordinary boy with long black hair that showed dark brown streaky highlights after I’d spent time outside in summer. I thought my hair was my best feature. Nothing else was at all special. Dark eyes; nose, lips, chin, ears and cheeks just plain; I was certainly nothing to stop people in their tracks and turn to watch after I’d strolled by.

I was ordinary in most other aspects, too. Dad said I liked to argue too much and would probably end up as a lawyer. I told him it was too soon to tell, and he shouldn’t put such high aspirations in front of me as the result could be a disappointing failure. He said see: arguing.

Noel, on the other hand . . . He was beautiful. His hair was the blondest blond, egg-white blond, long and loose and creeping down over his ears. His eyes were the brightest blue, and you could almost read his mind, know what he was thinking, just by looking into them. I did a lot of that. They laughed when he was amused; half-closed to complement his frown when he was upset; deepened in concentration when he was thoroughly engaged, focused while he was in thought. I always wondered how eyes could be so expressive. I never met anyone else whose eyes were like his. They seemed to reflect his soul; I felt you could read Noel’s nature in his eyes.

I was just a run-of-the-mill sort of boy. Perhaps I could be described by the words ‘careful’ and ‘quiet’. Not Noel. He was adventurous, a risk taker, always up for a dare. He loved a challenge.

I have a picture of him and me together when we were younger. We were lying in the grass in his backyard. I keep looking at that picture and it’s his eyes that I focus on. They show him thinking, entirely into himself, and it’s mischief he’s thinking about, probably something diabolic. It’s so easy to see in that picture.

If we got in trouble, it was Noel’s fault. He’d laugh off whatever the outcome of our adventure was. Outcomes frequently weighed on me. Consequences meant nothing to Noel.

But I was talking about how my feelings were changing at 11. I’d been in love with Noel since before I could remember. But love is a funny word with many shades of meaning. The love I was feeling for Noel now was nothing like the love I’d felt even a year before. At 11, it moved past friendship love and became sexual. The result was, our love became deeper, more grounded, more real.

Eleven was when that happened. Now we were 14 and in high school. Our love was part of us and would last a lifetime. We both understood that. We’d heard that we’d change as we matured. That our love would dim. We’d have different goals. Our likes and dislikes would change and become sources of friction.

But that was for everyone else. Not for us. Seemed those who knew about us were concerned about how heartbroken we’d be when the inevitable happened. Maybe not this year or next, but our love affair would be over by the time we hit our twenties. For sure.

We grew tired of hearing this. We knew we were together. We knew we had a lifetime connection. Case closed.

And then came the first sign of foreboding: an argument that wasn’t like most: over before it began.

Scene break

We were in his bedroom. We divided our time between places where we’d be alone. I liked his bedroom better than mine. His folks were a bit better off than mine; his room reflected that. And they were very good people. Yet that wasn’t the reason I preferred his bedroom. The reason was that they didn’t mind we were boyfriends. To seal that deal, his dad answered a question I had that cemented my thoughts about Noel’s bedroom when I was eating breakfast one morning with his dad and the others weren’t down yet; both Noel and his mom needed a crowbar to get them up in the morning on weekends.

My question: “Uh, well, this is embarrassing, but, um, why don’t you mind that we, well, you know, upstairs, together?”

He laughed. Maybe it was because Noel had been really noisy the night just past. I’d delayed the inevitable for him longer than usual, and I was sure the sounds he’d made had carried. Unmistakable sounds. But his dad’s laughter, I thought, was because I’d had the nerve to talk about this. I really did like him. He wasn’t quite as reserved as my dad was. Easier to talk to, really. I didn’t think I could ask my dad that question. Wanted to. Couldn’t.

“If it was my daughter, I’d feel differently,” he said, “but neither of you two will get pregnant, you’re both at the age where if you don’t find some way to relieve the pressure you’ll burst and your hand doesn’t seem enough, and where’s the harm of you finding out who you are at your age? Besides, if it’s only you two together, there isn’t the fear of disease I’d have if Noel was playing the field. Also, I really like you, Shane. You’re good for him. He’s a little wild, and you’re able to apply the brakes.”

We were out to both our families. We fooled around at both our houses, too. I’d sort of put my foot down. Not in a blatant way, but a firm one. We’d been sleeping together since we were six, so that was nothing new. We’d told our parents, both sets, that we were boyfriends when we were 11. After that, the first time we went far enough at a sleepover that we needed a rag afterwards was during a sleepover at his house.

Next came my house. I shut the door when we went up to bed. Dad came up right after that, opened the door back up and said, “No, from now on, this door should stay open when Noel is here.” He said it to me, not looking over at Noel.

I did look at Noel, and he was going to speak. I knew it. I could read him like a book. Better than a book. Books were often confusing. Rarely was I confused by anything Noel was about to do. He was about to argue with my dad. Tell him things my straitlaced dad would have trouble dealing with. Noel didn’t mind teasing the bull nearly as much as I did.

I beat him to the punch. This was more my job than his. I’d never let Noel fight my battles, and I wouldn’t this time, either. “Dad,” I said. “We’re boyfriends. We’re going to fool around. We do at Noel’s house, and we’re going to here. If you forbid that, then I’ll be sleeping over at his house a lot. Much more than here. Do you want that? Wherever we sleep, we’ll be doing the same thing. Preventing us from doing it here will make me feel unwanted. Why don’t you want us to do this?”

Dad was accustomed to me arguing with him. But I’d never used such a strong tone of voice with him, never been as adamant. He didn’t know how to respond. So I pushed the envelope. “We’re going to bed now. I’ll close the door. You don’t want to be listening in. It would embarrass both of us. But we will only be doing things millions of other boys our age are doing. I’m happy that you’ll be aware of that, and that you realize I’m no longer just a little boy, that I’m much closer to being a grownup, and that we have your blessing.”

Saying that, I moved toward him. He was still standing in the doorway where he’d been when he opened the door. As I approached, he took a reflexive and expected step backwards. I nodded, smiled, and closed the door. I’d been closing it ever since, and not a word had been said about it.

So, that’s where we were as a couple. It’s time for me to explain the argument that I mentioned a bit ago. I’ve been avoiding it. I don’t like to think about it.

We were out at home, but not at school. Noel wanted to be. He said he was proud that I was his boyfriend, and he wanted the world to know; that was how proud he was. He said he’d loved me forever, but he’d known for sure that time a couple of summers ago when we were lying on the grass we’d just mowed in his backyard, both on our backs with our heads almost touching each other but touching the other’s shoulder instead. That was the first time he’d said he loved me. I could tell it wasn’t kid talk, that he was serious.

We’d both been wearing dark blue tops. There’s a story there, too, how that came to be, how we’d been sweaty from the mowing and then the raking, and how we‘d had to take showers and used the outdoor one by the pool, showered together and then realized . . . but that doesn’t have much to do with this. That was the day the picture I have was taken. I look at it often. I remember what we did after that shower. And I still get goosebumps, looking at his eyes.

But the only thing that’s tangent to this story is that was when he first told me how he loved me and had for a long time, and he wanted me to know.

I knew. I told him I loved him, too. He also knew.

Now he wanted to tell the world about our love. I didn’t. I hadn’t then, and I sure as hell didn’t now. Yes, I loved him, probably more than he loved me, but why stir up the school? This had nothing to do with the people there. This was us; our feelings were ours. I saw no reason to share. We’d get no benefit from doing so and almost certainly would invite some problems. Big problems.

Why? Because we attended a Catholic school, one of the more conservative ones in our town. No gay students were enrolled there. Any students who came out, who proclaimed their sexuality, were quickly and quietly expelled. I liked the school, the kids, even the administrators, but rules were rules. Coming out there would mean being expelled, leaving the school and our friends, and why do it? No, my choice was not to tell.

For once, Noel didn’t give in. He wanted everyone to know we were a couple. He had strong feelings, but so did I, and often we compromised where we differed about something. This time, he wouldn’t compromise. It was a pride thing for him. He was proud of me, proud of us. Again, for him, consequences be damned. He wanted to do the right thing, and to him, the right thing was to proclaim who we were. Secrets were for sissies.

So we argued. I was surprised he wouldn’t back down. The more we argued, the surer he was that we should tell. I felt the opposite, and just as strongly as he did.

“Tell me one reason, just one, why we’d be better off if everyone knew we were gay and together?” I asked. My voice had risen to the same extent his had. It was possible by then that I was a bit strident.

“Easy. No one’ll hit on you if they know about us. Lydia is staring at you all the time. And I saw your friend Barry giving me the eye, too. We need to take ourselves out of play at school.”

Barry Thom was no friend of mine. More a nemesis than a friend. He was bigger than I was, and being a cautious kid, I managed to stay out of the occasional frays that occurred at our school like at all schools. Barry had seen me back away and decided I was an easy mark. He had subsequently started some low-key bullying that had gone on for a while.

He was wrong. I didn’t like confrontation, but I was well able to take care of myself. The last time he’d bumped me in the hallway hard enough to send my books flying, he’d laughed and turned to walk away. I’d stepped up and put my foot in front of his ankle and pushed him in the back. He tripped, hit the floor with a very satisfying thunk, and I leaned over him.

“Next time I’ll go for your nuts,” I said, loud enough that bystanders could hear. Then I kicked the books he was still holding out of his hands, picked up my own and walked off.

He’d been careful about physically confronting me again since then. He wasn’t even shooting baleful glares in my direction any longer.

But he was more devious than I’d given him credit for. Instead of giving me the evil eye, he transferred his stares to Noel. And they weren’t nasty—they were covetous.

I wasn’t exactly sure what he was doing. Did he really have the hots for Noel? He could have. I couldn’t understand why everyone didn’t. But maybe he was just coming on to Noel to make me jealous, to hurt me this way if he couldn’t with physical bullying. He did seem to be trying to get Noel’s attention. And I did think he wanted me to squirm. Everyone knew Noel and I were inseparable; we’d been a pair since kindergarten. No one knew, however, that we were more than friends. Barry probably was just trying to get with Noel to bug me. I tried to reassure myself by considering that. And I was pretty confident in Noel’s love.

The problem was, this was happening at the very same time that Noel and I were arguing about coming out at school. And what happened then to ice the cake was, Noel gave me an ultimatum: “Shane,” he said, “you need to rethink your position on this. You can’t think straight with me around because my presence fuzzes up your head. So, until you see the light, we’ll just keep our distance.”

“Since when do we give each other ultimatums? That isn’t who we are or how we settle differences!” I was shocked and pissed. How could we work this out without talking to each other?

He smiled at me, pissing me off further. He knew how that smile affected me. “I read somewhere that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Or was it distance? No matter. Same thing, really. When your heart breaks, maybe then you’ll realize how much better it would have been if you’d just agreed with me.”

Then he kissed me and left. Kissed me first! Damn him! We’d been going to spend the night at my place. Now we weren’t.

I knew this wouldn’t last long. He was as randy as I was. He couldn’t go three nights in a row without our bodies in contact from head to toe with nothing but skin in between. I wasn’t sure I could, either, but I was pretty confident I could hold out longer than he could. I’d give it three days, then reconsider my position.

Day one passed and he never even looked in my direction. I looked in his but only to be sure he was looking at me. He wasn’t.

Day two was much harder. I was used to spending most of my waking hours with Noel. I wasn’t used to spending them alone. We did homework together. We ate lunch together at school. We planned our weekends together. We talked on the phone together. We hanky-pankied together in the afternoons. Now all those things were being done alone. I didn’t like it one bit.

It was noticed, too. Kids were used to seeing us together. At our age, that didn’t mean anything other than that we were friends. A lot of boys spent more time with other boys than girls. Most of us, in fact. Girls were too complicated and wanted too much from us. But I was asked several times where Noel was? What was going on? When asked that at lunch, I just pointed to where he was sitting. I guess they could tell by my face this wasn’t something I wanted to pursue, and they left it alone.

Day three, and now worry seeped in for the first time. What if he wasn’t missing me as much as I was missing him? What if he realized he was enjoying this breath of fresh air after years and years of breathing the same air I did?

Too, I’d seen him talking with Barry yesterday. My nemesis Barry. And I’d seen Noel laugh. Effing Barry!

I think I was red as that oft-mentioned beet, witnessing that. I huffed and puffed and may even have growled. But I had to assume this was a ruse, a ploy. Noel knew I was there. He knew I was watching. He was egging me on!

I’d turned and walked away, congratulating myself for not running, either toward him or away. So I left, but I was pissed, and then sad, and then upset. I started to dial his cellphone five times but never pressed the last button. I didn’t eat much dinner that night, though, and didn’t sleep well, either. I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about him with Barry. Barry! If Noel wanted to knife me in my back, he’d chosen the best-ever sword-carrier.

Okay, this was day three. I was at school, and I was resolved. Resolved to let him come to me rather than giving up the high ground. He was either hurting as much as I was, or he wasn’t, and if he wasn’t, it would be best for us to make a clean break. So I made no effort to meet him. I did see him. He was on the school steps, scanning the kids coming in. I didn’t hide, but I didn’t wave and step out of the crowd, either. This had to be up to him.

And then I saw the unimaginable. I saw Barry approach him and saw Noel greet him with a huge smile. Man, did that get my attention. I even discovered that my feet had started walking of their own volition. Toward the steps.

I was nearing the steps when Barry stepped closer. He faced Noel and put one hand on each of Noel’s shoulders. Then he leaned forward, his lips nearing Noel’s, his intentions clear.

My feet hadn’t read the message about my resolve, it seemed, because by then, I was there. On the steps. And, roughly as I was able, I stepped up, put both hands on Barry’s chest, and pushed, and pushed, and kept on pushing him back farther and farther away from Noel till he slipped and fell down.

Then I turned back, saw Noel staring at me wide-eyed—this wasn’t the Shane, the mild mannered, controlled, non-confrontational Shane he was used to—and I walked back to him, grabbed him, and kissed him harder and longer than we’d ever kissed before.

When we stopped, everyone around us was applauding! And cheering! And me? I was blushing like there was no tomorrow.

Well, not everyone was applauding, it seemed. The vice-principal was fast approaching. And he for one wasn’t smiling.

Scene break

We were sitting in the vice-principal’s office. He wasn’t yelling at us, telling us to pick up our crap and get out, that we were expelled and he’d be happy seeing our asses going out the door. His face wasn’t the color of a cooked lobster. No, he was quiet at first, just looking at us with a sad expression on his face. His name was Wendel Farnlin, and I’d always liked him. He was not the scary type of vice-principal.

He finally spoke. He said, “I hate this part of my job. You’re fine young boys. You’re both well-liked here by both the students and faculty. You’re doing fine academically. But I get paid to enforce the rules. The rules say, we can’t have homosexuals at this school as part of our community. The rules say, no public displays of affection. So what can I do? Help me out here. What reasons can I bring to the board for not sending you packing?”

Well, this was something. He wanted to talk! Talking wasn’t Noel’s forte, but it was mine.

“All right,” I said, and I sat up a little straighter. “Let’s take the public displays of affection situation first. PDAs. Let’s look at it for what it is. We’re young. We’re full of vinegar. And we’re all together here, a whole mass of randy teens. Discipline, rules, they’re one thing, and opportunities for teens awash in surging hormones another. So PDAs do occur. And I’ve seen teachers witness them, and if the displays are not over-the-top, hands-where-hands-shouldn’t-be extravaganzas, if time isn’t passing unnoticed during the displays, often the teachers will look away. Students, too, as there’s nothing exciting or unusual about a quick kiss. Students and teachers alike realize that some instincts can’t be disciplined out of young teens. They understand it’s better not to fire a kid who allowed his primal instincts get the better of him for only a moment.”

Mr. Farnlin opened his mouth, but I rushed on. Going in for the kill.

“Last week, I saw Bonnie Escovar and Dennis Martin locking lips in the hall just outside the cafeteria. It wasn’t a huge kiss, just a kiss, couldn’t have lasted more than a second. Well, why shouldn’t they? They hadn’t seen each other for two whole classes! They had a physical need to reconnect. So they kissed, then went into the cafeteria to have lunch together. Everyone knows they’re a couple. Some of us know they’ve been having sex since they were in 8th grade. What’s the problem? Where’s the harm?”

I was on a roll and didn’t stop. “There isn’t one, other than the rule, and the rule has no wiggle room, which makes it a bad rule. Sure, we don’t want rampant fornication in the halls. A quick kiss, however, how does that play havoc with school discipline? It doesn’t. It simply shows we’re human. And I think the vast majority of intelligent people would agree. The rule should accept that on some occasions, we’re going to act the way nature intended us to act. Why, in fact, last week when I saw those two very briefly kiss, and while these two’s lips were locked, who should I see walk into the cafeteria but, well, I think you know, Mr. Farnlin. It was you. And where were your eyes? They were watching the students in the hall, they passed over Bonnie and Dennis, moved on, quickly returned to the pair and just as quickly looked away.”

Mr. Farnlin closed his eyes. I continued with a softer voice. “You were showing your humanity, and tacitly acknowledging the rule is overly rigid and, like all such rules, is often disobeyed without consequence. You’ve always been an administrator who commands great respect from the student body, a fair and just man, and this was just another example of why you are held in high esteem.”

Mr. Farnlin sat for a long moment before opening his eyes. He voice was soft, too, when he said, “Some rules can’t be ignored. I heard one of the members of the school board speak at the last meeting. I can remember his words verbatim: ‘We can’t have rampant homosexuality in our school. Never have, never will.’ His views run parallel with those of many on the board. Yes, they are fuddy-duddies and are out of date. But if I ignore this kiss, they’ll go bananas. To them, homosexuality is an abomination, an affront to God, and they will not tolerate it. Or any administrator who does.”

I nodded. Then I looked at Noel, gazed adoringly at him, and said, “Look at Noel. Look at him! He’s the best-looking boy in school, and it would be almost impossible for anyone not to at least wonder what it would be like to kiss him. To have a boy who looks like that kiss them back. It’s almost impossible for someone who’s in love with him not to. Someone like me, for example.”

I had to move on as his eyes opened wide. “So I was overcome for a moment, and I kissed him. We’ve already established that a quick kiss can be overlooked. And that’s what you have here. A kiss. But does that mean I’m gay? Can you use that I’m gay as grounds for termination based on what happened?”

I gave him a moment to consider that before rushing on. “No, you can’t, because I’m not old enough yet to be certain of my sexuality. Yes, I love him. But will I still in a year from now? Two years? We keep hearing that high school romances almost never succeed much past high school. We’re taught in Sex Ed here, in this school, that same-sex attractions are usual at our age but also change with advancing maturity. That boys who think they may be homosexuals turn out not to be.

“So I put it to you: can you, in the interests of fairness, say that because we kissed out in open—a kiss, by the way, that was brought on by jealousy more than anything else—we should be expelled on the basis of both of us being homosexuals? I think not. And I don’t think you feel we should, either.”

“Yet you are stating the need to kiss Noel was so dominant a need, you couldn’t help yourself. That sounds like something that at the very least suggests you’re gay!”

Before I could reply, Noel broke in. Not surprising to me. I was amazed he’d lasted this long being quiet. “No, that was my fault. I was goading him, and his jealousy got the better of him, as I thought it would. You didn’t see a display of wanton gayness. You saw raw jealousy. I hope you don’t punish kids for being jealous. You’d have the entire school in detention.”

I grinned at him, then at Mr. Farnlin. Just then, his desk phone rang. He scowled, then pressed the button to put the call on speaker and said, “I requested no calls, Marg.”

“Sorry, but it’s Mr. Jennings. He said it was important.”

“Okay, I’ll take it. Tell him it’ll be just a moment and put him on hold.”

He looked at the blinking button, then at us, and a creeping smile appeared on his lips. “You boys can go. We’ll overlook the kiss. This call is from my husband. We started dating in our freshman year in high school. Statistics be damned. Oh, and no more kissing in school.”

When we left the office, I looked at Noel. Touched him. Three days not touching him had been really hard! But I was grinning. “Sorry, but no kissing at school. You heard the man. No coming out, either. We’ll be expelled for sure if we do that. And hey, if Mr. Farnlin could get away with being with his future mate back in the dark ages where admitting you were gay had much worse consequences than just being expelled, you can accept the fact that it’s possible to be gay and not tell the world until we can without serious repercussions.”

He looked at me and grinned. Uh oh.

“We’ll see. I still might do it. After all, with you arguing the case, we’d probably get away with it.”


As usual, I’d like to thank my editors for the fine job they do, considering how much there is to do.

And while John prefers to go unsung, I cannot sing his praises loudly enough. Without him and several others, AD would be no more. Thanks, guys.

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