I was there when he fell. We were fucking around in Central Park. Had been smacking bitches on their asses and then had been running away from them. Then one started yelling real loud and this cop appeared out of nowhere and we just started running. Nene was behind me, he was always smaller, more frail–that cat was always sick, ever since he was a little kid, there was always some shit wrong with him. So I’m just jettin but I always used to look over my shoulder for him. That was a habit. But this time I heard him scream before I looked, and then I see my man go down over some rocks. And he tumbles and I imagine that the rocks pierce his back and he’s stuck there for life. Me and the cop get to him at the same time, and my instinct is just to grab him. But this cop dude is like no, you should leave him where he is, that I’ll hurt him more. But everything in me is fighting to grab him and pull him up. He looks all fucked up, like someone dropped Humpty Dumpty, and I want to put him back together. Set everything right, so he’s whole again. Nene was always strong, I mean he was always sick but you know he was always down to go outside with us and terrorize the neighborhood. And he would play with that sick shit too. See everyone on the block knew that he was the sick one and no matter what he had done the previous day, they always let the shit go. So sometimes I would have to leave him where he was because I knew that he wasn’t going to catch it but my ass would if I stayed long enough.
It didn’t even start with his sucking my dick. No foreplay shit like that. I read books, watch movies and it always starts like that, the inevitable creep to the dick. Nene was sleeping over my house and my house was finally quiet at three in the morning and that’s when he starts. I have my back to him with nothing but my underwear on. And then I feel it next to me, on my skin. Right up against my ass. Then he’s pushing harder, trying to find the hole and then he breaks through and it’s a whole new life.
The next morning he looks sick as shit, coughing all over the place, so my moms takes him home because she’s scared I’ll catch whatever he has. But she doesn’t understand that never have I caught what Nene has. But she becomes the concerned mother all of a sudden and she takes him away.
After the fall, we are all sitting in the hospital waiting. And I cry, but not those tears of sadness, it’s the tears of anger. The kind where you can’t breath, my face gets all hot and I can’t hold it in anymore. Guttural noises are scattered in with my language. My fists are in a ball and I just want to hit myself. My mother doesn’t understand this rage, but if only she would just shut the fuck up and let me cry…all she’s done is tell me that I have to be strong and not cry. But what does strength have to do with love?
He doesn’t get out of the hospital for weeks and when he does, he can’t walk anymore. I’m on the stoop and we see him coming down the street, but Nene doesn’t look all sad and shit. For us nothing has changed, so we’re just happy to have him home. His mother won’t let him come out today, though. She says he has to rest in his bed first, figure out how to go to the bathroom and shit like that. That makes him sad. But then he knows he’ll be out tomorrow. I come out the next day and I wait for him. It’s me and Kenny that are just waiting and by like 11 he’s still not down there. So I stand on the sidewalk and I yell, Neeeneeee, Neeeneeee, over and over again until his moms sticks her head out the window and starts yelling at me. Don’t I know he can’t walk? So I need to get my lazy ass upstairs and knock on the door like a normal human being. I laugh and I run up because at least I know he can come out and hang with us. He’s still sitting in his bed when I get there. The lock of hair on his forehead is wet. And I’m like my man you need a haircut, you look like John Travolta and shit. His house is mad hot. I pull the covers off of him and his legs look like my sisters, thin and pale. Not me. I’m already brown but this burning summer has me even darker, so if I was sick you wouldn’t be able to tell just by looking at me. You can see everything written on this cat’s face. On his body. I pick him up and I put him in his chair. Then I wheel him to the bathroom. But I make the ride exciting, I’m crashing into the wall, I try to zoom here and there, but in reality his apartment is too small for that. I call his mother to shower him. I’d be scared to undress him, to see him naked. I always have my back to him and it’s always unexpected. I expect it whenever he’s in my house, but I can’t tell you the precise moment, only that it is after the house is quiet. I tell her I’ll be downstairs waiting for him. She’s like you better not fuck around, I need you to come back up here because I need you to carry Nene down the stairs.
I go downstairs and have all this energy, but all I can do is wait for Nene. Kenny sits on the stoop but I’m on the sidewalk, walking from here to there, the length of the stairs, and I’m telling him a story real loud. Then Jessica, this girl in my eighth-grade class walks by, and Jessica has the fattest ass. And she’s like, Hey Jimmy, what’s up? Then Kenny perks up. She stands in front of me and the way she moves from side to side, I know she’s showing off for me. And I look at her and smile. I give her that papi smile. And in that instant, I’ve moved from boy to man. I think of this bitch under me. I know who I’m supposed to be. With Nene though, I know who I am. She starts laughing at whatever shit I tell her and she glitters in the sun. In mid-laugh, hers, Nene appears. His stepfather has brought him down and barks at me to get his wheelchair. He leaves Nene at the bottom of the stoop and I run upstairs. When I get back downstairs, I’ve forgotten all about Jessica.
I never realized how important words are until I see them fight. I watch them to see what it’s like to be in a real grown up relationship. They spend all their time in front of the T.V. now. No giggles coming from her bedroom. No desire to be alone, alone with their love. When I come in, I sit in the living room with them because if they are going to fight, they’ll do it with me in the living room. It won’t matter. They won’t notice that I’m there. What they have to say to each other is much more important than my being there. I have never seen so much of my mother before this summer, so much of her emotions. Sure, she’s fought with her other boyfriends before this, but I have never paid so much attention before. It held no interest for me. In the middle of their fighting, I look at the picture of them next to the T.V. They are at a picnic and he’s hugging her from behind. The way they fight though it’s like the fights they have on T.V. It’s like they don’t have their own words. She says things like: How can you do this to me and don’t you love me anymore? Her words may not be real but I know that her pain is. Even if her reaction is straight out of a soap opera.
I can see the arteries in her heart choking her. The way that she can barely breathe and the tears stream down her face. Cutting off her breath.
It almost breaks my heart.
He says things too that I have heard before: You make me do this. You’re overreacting. I don’t know what you’re talking about.
I know what they are going to say that I can almost mouth along and anticipate what their next words will be. And it seems like the same fight every few days. This time though she turns and punches the wall and leaves. And he does nothing that I don’t expect him to do; he doesn’t cry, he doesn’t sit in a chair and try to talk to me about this. Nothing. He does what he is supposed to do. He yells some curses at the slammed door. And he leaves a few minutes later saying how he doesn’t need this shit. Then there is silence.
In the middle of the summer Kenny’s mother goes to PR and the first night that she is gone he invites us over, me and Nene and some of the other fellas from the block. He also invites some girls over. As soon as the girls get there I start to get nervous. We sit on the living room floor and we start to play spin the bottle. But the girl gets to decide where she is going to kiss the guy. Jessica spins first and she gets Kenny and she kisses him on the cheek. Rebecca spins next and she gets Nene; she giggles nervously, stands up and kisses him on the cheek. But when Jessica spins again she gets me and she takes me into Kenny’s moms room and just keeps kissing and kissing me on the mouth. We both come out smiling because everyone is looking at us. I look at Nene but he looks beyond us.
As soon as the girls leave, Kenny turns to me and asks me what happened with Jessica.
“Naw, nothing really happened. It was no big deal.”
“Yeah, tell us what happened,” Nene chimes in before he turns around and goes down the hall to the bathroom.
“No big deal? Is that why you had that kool-aid smile on your face? Come on man, tell us what happened. Did you touch her titties? Anything?”
“Naw, she was talking at first waiting for me to kiss her then she must’ve got tired of waiting and kissed me. She’s cute, but you know, I’m not really feeling her.”
“Nigga, are you gay? What’s not to like? That bitch is fine.”
By the time that Nene returns, Kenny has moved on and is telling me about him and Rebecca.
We never speak about what we do. Our words come in the form of knots in our hearts, glances, and brief touches on the hot of my back. After the girls go home, we all go into Kenny’s room to sleep. He has two twin beds and Nene and I crawl into one. I know he won’t touch me tonight because Kenny is here. But I can’t sleep. He’s so close to me. And I don’t know if he will understand about Jessica. That there is no desire there. It’s not so much mechanical, but I love the fact that I can kiss her in front of so many people. The flaunting of it. And when I let her kiss me, I think of Nene, and I wish that she was him. That he could sit across from me, spin bottles and that we could kiss in front of a 2, 3, 6 people. He’s asleep and his breath is against my neck and it warms my entire body. I push against him, so I can feel the part of his lips on my back. And maybe this is as public as we can get.
It has to be the hottest day that we have had all summer long. But of course we say that every day. The little girls across the street have been sucking on icees and limbés all morning. They’ve been running back and forth to the bodega since they have been out here. Kenny and I are too hot to even talk. We’ve been waiting for Nene to come down for like at least half an hour but in this heat it seems like 2 hours. I lay back on the step and look up at the sun and wonder how the fuck it can get so hot. When Nene gets downstairs, he’s pale as shit and I’m like how come this dude doesn’t get any darker in the summer. It’s hot out here.
“Damn, I just found out I have to go to Wilson High School next year,” Nene says when his stepfather leaves.
We’re sitting on his stoop in the middle of the summer and this comes as a blow because for the past few days we had been making plans about how we were going to take care of Nene during the school year. How we were going to take turns picking him up in the morning and walking with him, carrying his books and shit like that.
“Why?” Kenny and I ask.
“Richmond High says they can’t accommodate students in wheelchairs,” Nene responds. “This shit sucks man, can’t do shit because of this fucking wheelchair. Everything is getting all fucked up.”
Kenny and I don’t say anything to that. We see that Nene is about to cry. This is the only time that we have seen him get upset about the wheelchair. I can’t imagine a time that we haven’t all been in school together.
“Damn, and that’s a tech school, what are you going to do there?” Kenny asks.
“I don’t know man. I don’t think I even know someone that goes to school there,” Nene says.
“Yeah, me either,” Kenny says.
We sit in silence and behind my sunglasses, I watch Nene. Because of the heat, Nene is sweating a lot. The back of his legs stick to the cloth of his seat. The heat makes it unbearable to just be in my shorts, so I can imagine how miserable he must be now.
“Man, it’s too hot to be out here, I’m going back upstairs. Jimmy, take me upstairs. I’ll see you guys later,” Nene says.
“Naw, man, don’t go. We can go to my house and chill in the AC or we can go somewhere,” I say.
“No, I’m just going to get back in bed,” Nene says. “I’ll find you guys later.”
Kenny and I eventually make it over to his moms house. He turns on the AC, even though his mother will kill him if the bill is too high when she gets back. We lay under the AC and start watching T.V. Kenny turns to me and asks me what’s been on my mind ever since I’ve known Nene.
“I don’t know, Kenny,” I say, for once allowing myself to take the question seriously. “He’s always been sick. You weren’t there the day he transferred into our third grade class. He fainted that first day but then he came in the next day and punched this kid in the face that had laughed at him for fainting. He’s a tough little fucker, but I don’t know man. This summer has been worse than usual but that’s probably just because of the accident.”
When I had taken him upstairs, he had his arms around my neck and for the first time ever he kissed me, and it’s the same way with the sex, he rushes in, no soft kisses, but insistent and throbbing. And when he pulls away, because it’s always him pulling away, I feel sapped and like my world isn’t the same; it’s depleted. He takes my strength from me, but it’s just to take, because he never gets stronger.
She stands above me and dares me to kiss her. Kenny leans against a car in front of us and smirks at me. She’s wearing a tank top and I can see that she’s not wearing a bra. She has long legs that are covered with tiny black shorts. She is pretty, and I can see how pretty she will be in years to come. I lean back and I lick my lips. I tell her to come here and when she leans in I kiss her. I taste every corner of her mouth and I think about T.V. and how people fall in love, have families and spend lives together. Not like it is around here, though people do fall in love, at least for a little while. My mother’s last boyfriend was around for a year but before that she had had boyfriends here and there. And I wonder what makes love last.
I have spent all week waiting for his mother to leave. Nene’s mother and stepfather were going away to the Dominican Republic for a week, so she asked me if I could stay with Nene for the week. I got my moms to agree real quick. I’ve been imagining that we can act like a married couple. We can watch videos in the bed. We can eat cereal when we want or just whatever we want. Nene’s mother said she was going to leave me money and food in the refrigerator for us. I take a shower before I get there and try to look a little nicer than I have all summer. I knock on the door and my heart is beating real fast. I thought about buying him flowers or something but I didn’t know how that would look or how he would feel about that. So I just show up empty-handed. He opens the door and I smile at him like I smile at Jessica. He looks unhappy and he turns and goes into the living room.
“Hey, what’s wrong man?” I ask.
I turn to look at him and I see that his hair is flopping down on his forehead. I reach out to smooth it away from his forehead so he won’t be hot and he glares at me. I take my hand away and think about what it is that could be bugging him. I’m thinking that maybe Kenny told him about Jessica.
“Yo, man, aren’t you excited that we are going to spend the whole week together?” I ask.
I don’t know if I should proceed because we have never talked about what goes on between us. But I feel like I will burst if I sit here and don’t say anything. I’ve been waiting all week to be alone with him, just so we can have this one week, even if it’s the only week that we’ll ever have together. So I gather the courage. I walk over to his chair and I pick him up. He doesn’t say anything. I walk to his room in silence and I lay him on his bed. Now he just looks at me. I take off his shirt and kiss him on his neck. I pull down his shorts and rub my hands over his legs. I work my way up and down with my tongue. I finally put him in my mouth and he quivers and quivers under me, until he can’t move anymore.
In the middle of the night he wakes me up and asks me if it’s true, if it’s true about Jessica.
“What’s true?” I mumble.
“I’ve seen her looking for you. She’s always asking Kenny where you’re at.”
“You know she likes me. Especially, from Kenny’s party. I don’t like her. I kissed her another time other than that but that’s only because Kenny was there. I don’t like her at all.”
“So why kiss her at all?”
I explain that she comes looking for me. Usually I can keep from doing anything with her, but sometimes she persists and Kenny is there so I feel that I have to kiss her.
He lies on his back and whispers, “That’s not a really good reason. You kiss her because you like her or you don’t kiss her because you don’t like her.”
I stay silent. Our silence and the air conditioner are the only sounds that hang between us. I know he’s right and I know he’s wrong. I think about the inevitable, that this summer will come to an end, that in next year’s school hallways there will be no Nene there and Jessica will surround me at every turn. I look at him as he sleeps and at least I know that this will never deteriorate like my mother’s relationships, that we’ll only be left with the pretty hum of this love and the last thing that we won’t remember is the slamming of doors.
The next day when I bring Nene outside to meet Kenny, he’s quivering in my arms, almost like a fish out of water. And I feel the sun melding us together as we stick to each other. And all I can do is look at him in public, this one time, no back to his, his breath on the front of my neck this time. I’ll never have the words. And I think that’s better–I think they could destroy, never tell what’s in the heart, something close, so close but they could trap the wrong sentiment, the wrong what I was trying to get at and Nene would get stuck there. So I look at him and he stops moving and both our hot hearts are sticking to the hot concrete.
A radio turns on on the first floor, Kenny starts to talk about what we should do, the gypsy cabs start honking, a lady is yelling at her man. The world wakes up.
Previously published by Boston Review.