Days pass and I haven’t heard from Gato. It’s clear he hates me if not worse. It isn’t until Sunday that I expect to even see him. We go to the same church. I walk downstairs and Juan Martin is messing with Sara Sofia arguing about whether the cure for the Phase was real or not. I don’t know how either of the two of them come down on the side of it. Honestly it doesn’t matter. It seemed like people were talking less and less about everyday things and more about the Phase. No more talks on sports, or clothes, or music or pop culture. Everything was about the Phase.
I find myself in the kitchen ready to have another conversation about the Phase. This time it’s with my mother.
“Morning,” Ma states.
“You’re in a good mood.”
I can tell by the smile she’s had on her face. Ever since my father left, Ma has been struggling so the fact that she is smiling right now definitely seems weird to say the least.
“It’s Sunday, God’s day, why wouldn’t I be in a good mood.”
My mother used religion sometimes as a crutch. I guess in a way we all did. I remember all the times Gato and I would steal food out of the local store and somehow we felt like God would forgive us if we held hands and prayed afterwards. Even to this day, I felt like everything wrong in my world could be prayed away. I had prayed about Gato…
No answer yet.
“I need to talk to you.”
I wonder if she can feel the angst in my voice. Sara Sofia can feel it. She keeps asking me every day if I’m OK. It’s strange that I was able to even get in the room without Sara Sofia questioning me. Now my mother gives me this serious look like she is onto something.
“Well sit first. This sounds serious.”
She had no idea.
“Mama, when you fell in love with Papi, were the two of you friends first?” I ask.
Her smile gets wider, “Absolutely. He was actually dating someone else at the time that I was friends with…”
She laughs, “It wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t his fault either. You see God put him in my life for reason. God made him smile at me the right way on the right certain Sunday. And it was God who decided that we were meant to be together.”
“I think the same thing might be happening with me,” I tell her, “I feel like I’m falling for a friend.”
“You and Michelle?”
“Not Michelle, mama…”
“Ma…there’s something you need to know,” I explain, “Something you need to know about me that I think I should tell you sooner rather than later.”
I’d prayed about this the night before. Now was the time. Could she possibly take this well? How could I get real advice from my mother on mending the friendship with Gato and seeing how to navigate through my own feelings for him if she didn’t know I had problems with him.
And that’s when my father walks in the room.
I’m confused. Why was he here?”
“Hey son,” he says.
My father brushes me up against my shoulder. That was his way of hugging me. He was never an overly affectionate person. Never had been. He was one of those fathers that was completely closed off to his family because he spent so much time at work. He strictly mastered the role of providing financial support while letting my mother go into the normal emotional support role. My family was very traditional in that way. Gender roles still played a huge role in our day today.
“What are you doing here?”
That’s when I see him walk over to my mother. He kisses her on the cheek. She smiles. Now I see where the happiness was coming from.
“The Phase is over for me,” he states.
I think I’m misunderstanding what he is trying to say. I lean in a little bit, “Excuse me.”
“The Phase is over for me.”
“Your father went to get the cure,” my mother states, “You know they have a cure for that sinful disease now…”
Is that really what my mother thought about the disease.
“The cure has saved my soul from the homosexual demons,” my dad responds.
I am uncomfortable in this situation. It’s not just the fact that my mother and father felt like the Phase was triggered by religion and these were actual demons. It’s strange to me that he was able to get back to himself so quickly. It’s odd how my mother took him back as though he was returning from out-patient surgery and not bent over getting some rich guy’s dick. He was in my kitchen now pretending like everything is perfect. There are smiles everywhere.
“So what was it that you wanted to talk about?” my mother asks still showing so many teeth that I could count them without pulling back her cheeks.
“Nothing…I’ll go warm up the car for family service,” I state.
I smile as hard as I can but I’m glad the two of them are so into each other that they don’t realize how strange my smile is.
I know I should be happy. My family was back together.
But I can’t help thinking as I watch how my dad leans over and fawns over my mother that something wasn’t right.
“So, he just takes a pill and he isn’t gay anymore?” I ask Sara Sofia.
We are at church. My parents are at the end of the aisle we are sitting in. I’m in the middle between Juan Martin and Sara Sofia.
“I guess so,” Sara Sofia shrugs, “I wonder how Gonzalez feels about this…”
“Gonzalez?” my brother interrupts, “Fuck that fag…”
“Watch your mouth and mind your business,” I tell my brother.
I’m still pissed about him bringing F.A.M to my door like that. The fact that he had the nerve to go report the fact that he thought I was going through the Phase was ridiculous.
That’s when I see my brother smile, “Since when am I not allowed to say fag? Me and you used to say that all the time.”
“It’s a disrespectful word.”
“You changed,” he states out of nowhere, “No. You’re changing. Something is different about you…”
The way he says that is heavy. I can look in his eyes and see what he means. My brother is suspicious of me. I exchange looks with Sara Sofia. She is worried. If my brother was capable of calling F.A.M on me once then he would do it again.
“It’s just that we are in church,” I state, “You don’t want to use that kind of word in church.”
I’m hoping that this excuse will throw him off a little bit. By the way, Juan Martin turns away and smiles I think it works. I knew my brother. He was a loud mouth and tried to hide the fact that he was more sensitive than all of us combined underneath a tough exterior. He wasn’t that smart and moments like this proved it.
“Why can’t we talk about fags?” he asks, “It’s not like the pastor isn’t…”
He was right.
It had been going on all service. The pastor going in on the Homosexual demon.
“Don’t be fooled!” The Pastor rants from the pulpit, raising his hands up high and causing people in the church to shout back in both Spanish and English, “The Phase had torn families apart. We must pray that God strikes down this great evil, or else the world itself will end. There is a cure, thank God. But we must root out those who refuse the cure. There are those poor souls who have been taken by those homosexual demons and they don’t realize the dangers they are in. If you see something, SAY SOMETHING! With prayer anything is possible. Look at Sister Maria—Sister Maria sat with me and prayed with me. Together God brought her husband back to her.”
I’m embarrassed when I realize that the Sister Maria the Pastor was talking about was indeed my mother. There are a lot of Marias in the church and I’m hoping no one notices, but then I see my mother stand up and catch the spirit.
“Praise God! Praise God!” she is saying.
She is so loud and happy that people in the church turn to witness her. That’s when the Pastor pulls her up to the pulpit and my mother continues—–to my horror——to tell the entire congregation explicit details about her husband leaving, sleeping with another man and finally coming back to her.
The whole time I can see my father blushed in red. He’s so quiet. I notice that his skin is almost blue as he’s sitting there. It’s weird…
I also notice something else.
“Hey…” I mouth off the words when I see him looking over my way. I wonder if he’s as embarrassed for me as I think he is.
He doesn’t respond though. He turns away as though he doesn’t even see me…
It isn’t until after the service that I see him again. People love to gather outside after service and talk. It’s not like we had a lot of choice in the matter. Gato is standing there with some girl that I’d never met. I’m assuming he’s managed to move on. That was what Gato did best.
“She’s not even THAT pretty,” Sara Sofia whispers in my ear, “It’s like sometimes I think he just dates girls to prove that he doesn’t have a heart.”
I know she’s talking about Gato. She’s looking over his way. I wonder why she’s saying it to me though because she knows that I’ll always defend him.
“He has a heart,” I tell Sara Sofia.
“Still his best friend, even when he is ignoring you?” Sara Sofia asks.
“I love him.”
The words come out of my mouth quickly and by the way, Sara Sofia responds, I realize that I got lucky that my little brother wasn’t eavesdropping on our conversation again. It definitely sounded suspect and I can tell by Sara Sofia’s laugh.
“In love?” she asks for clarification.
“You said it. You can’t just say something like that and don’t expect me to try to get more detail out of you,” she asks, follows it up by a sigh when she realizes I’m not going to say anything else, “Well fine. Don’t say something to me. But at least go talk to him.”
She had a point. My friendship with Gato meant the world to me. The least I can do is go talk to him. I take a few steps over towards him. Gato doesn’t look back over my way.
When I approach he gives me a look.
“Hey…” I state.
He turns to the girl he is talking to and tries to strike up a forced conversation. It’s about the weather. It doesn’t matter what he says because I know he’s forcing it. I can see from the way the girl reacts that she heard me speak to Gato as well and feels a little awkward being used as a pawn.
“You can’t ignore me forever,” I state.
“Sara Sofia told me she saw you with Nina just yesterday at the mall,” I state, forgetting that he was out here with a date.
“What?” the date asks.
“Sorry,” I realize.
Gato gives me a look, especially when the girl turns around and walks away. I knew Gato though. He was a playboy. He probably didn’t even know the girl’s name and if she expected to get a reaction from storming off in the way that she did, then she was wrong. He didn’t follow her. He probably didn’t even notice she was gone.
“What’s your point?” he asks.
“My point is you aren’t even mad at Nina. She was pursuing me,” I state.
“I don’t give a fuck about Nina,” he states, “And you know that.” He pauses for a few awkward moments before turning back to me and putting on the most serious face that he had ever put on before, “I didn’t think it was possible for me to be hurt like this.”
Seeing the pain in his voice and on his face is almost crippling.
I’d never seen Gato like this either. Gato wasn’t someone who took a lot of things seriously. So as I’m staring at him and I notice a tear run down his face I’m shocked. I’m speechless when he grabs it. I’d known Gato for a long time and never known him to cry. Not even when his Grandma died. When Granny Lily died I cried like a fucking baby. Gato literally had to be the one to comfort me at HIS grandmother’s funeral. He never showed that kind of emotion. The only time he showed that kind of emotion was now.
Finally, I muster the words to say something.
“I know you probably hate me now…” I state, “But I want to let you know that I am sorry I disappointed you. I’m sorry I even betrayed our friendship like that. This friendship means more to me than anything in the world.”
“I don’t hate you.”
That’s all he says. His face hasn’t changed. It’s still just sore. I’m sitting there desperate to get him to open up but none of that works.
“So can we hang out?”
That’s when he shakes his head.
“No, we can’t…”
“But you just said—-”
He stops me and shakes his head, “I know what I said. But I also don’t think right now is the best time for us to be friends.”
I’m so confused.
I don’t get any response. It feels like the entire world is folding in. He just confirmed that he no longer wanted to be friends with me and I didn’t understand why. He said he didn’t hate me. I guess the opposite of love wasn’t hate. The opposite of love—–especially for Gato—–was indifference.
And for the first time, I feel like anyone else when he walks away from me. He doesn’t cater to the fact that I’m upset. He doesn’t even acknowledge my question as he walks away.
He just completely walks away.
I can’t sleep that night. I wake up in the middle of the night feeling incomplete. That’s the only way to describe it. It feels as though something huge was missing out of my life. It’s physical pain. Like someone just ran up to me and snatched my left arm. And here I am walking around armless in the middle of the night without Gato in my life.
I walk through the dark kitchen barely able to see something when I hear a voice.
“I saw you with him.”
I turn into the darkness and still don’t see anyone until the light is flicked on. There is my father standing there. His eyes are wide open and he is just watching me silently without saying much of anything. It’s clear he has something on his mind.
“Were you just in the dark?” I ask.
“Couldn’t sleep,” he states.
“The pills,” he states, “They are…hard on the body.”
I give him a look. I notice he still has that weird blue tint to him that I recognized earlier at church.
“You don’t look too good,” I state.
“I feel even worse.”
He has the pills in his hands. He’s just been holding them for some reason. It’s really weird. He was just in the dark holding these fucking pills. I walk over to him and get a look at these pills. The name on the bottle says hethylphanaline but that’s it.
“Did the doctor tell you there will be side effects?”
“They don’t tell you much of anything. They just tell you that it’s the cure.”
“That does even sound legal.”
My father shrugs, “When people start panicking, they take short cuts when it comes to what’s legal and what’s not.”
He sounded concerned. I can hear the concern all in his voice. There is a reason he’s up holding these pills in the middle of the night. They were on his mind in the same way that Gato was on my mind. When he looks down at the pills he just keeps squinting as though trying to figure it out. Before I thought something wasn’t right but now I knew.
“Maybe you should stop taking those,” I tell him.
“What’s the alternative?” he asks, “Be gay. Continue breaking your mother’s heart. Have a son that hates my guts.”
He was talking about Juan Martin clearly. I would never hate my father for being gay. Still, I could understand the resentment. Our community wasn’t really open to gay people even before the Phase. It had gotten worse.
“I’m not telling you what to do but I’m saying I’m concerned,” I state.
“So am I—-about you,” is his response.
He’s trying to change the subject and I see it a mile away. The problem is though that it works regardless. For a moment he looks at me as though he sees me. It’s strange because me and my father don’t have that sort of relationship. But I swear when he looks at me I swear I feel like I know him.
“Why do you say that?”
“I told you—I saw you with him. Gato.”
“I’m always with Gato.”
“This was different,” my father states, “You were different. How you were at church. It was intimate. I could feel it a mile away when I watched you too…”
All of a sudden I’m panicking.
“I don’t know what you are talking about—-” I explain.
“The Phase. You’re going through it. Aren’t you?”
There is a pause. I look up at my father. We never had father/son talks growing up. Gato was the person who taught me everything I knew about being a man and he learned it the hard way so that I wouldn’t have to. Talking to my father about this now was bittersweet. I knew he had just gone through this so he would know a lot about it. But at the same time, I don’t know who to trust. People were really going crazy about the Phase.
I pause. I can’t even say it, but he knows what I mean when I turn away and stop talking seeming more interested in a bottle that I’m sure Juan Martin left out on the dining room table.
“I won’t tell anyone,” my dad says, “You shouldn’t either. There is something you need to know. I didn’t want to take these pills.”
“You didn’t?” I ask.
My dad shakes his head, “No. They caught me and Gonzalez together. We were actually about to leave the state. And they gave us two options. Take these pills or…”
“Go with them to some sort of Phase-Rehab camp,” He states, “I decided to take the pills but honestly—- I don’t know. I don’t feel good man. I just don’t fucking feel good…”
“Dad you need to stop taking them if they are having an effect on your body.”
My father gets quiet.
“Listen this isn’t about me,” he states changing the subject again, “You should tell Gato how you feel about him.”
“Gato doesn’t even want to be around me right now.”
“Do you want to be with him?”
“Of course but—”
“No buts,” my dad corrects me, “You need to go to him. You need to tell him.”
“I’m scared it’ll ruin the hope of us going back to friends.”
“It might, but you owe him your honesty.”
With that, my dad taps me on the shoulder and brushes past me like he always does. He was right. He was fucking right. I owed Gato honesty about my feelings for him. Over everything, this is the most important thing.
I go to work the next day and get to Elias’s office, “Hey Elias, is Gato working today?”
Elias had the shift written up on his wall but he always has just told me in the past. I’m assuming this would be the same but he doesn’t tell me. He just gets up off his desk and walks over to me.
“You always looking for Gato. Never for me…”
That’s when he starts touching me. He has a way of touching you to make you feel wanted. I had to admit after been turned down by Elias it felt good as hell to have someone touch me. It felt amazing to have the hand glide across my arm. There is a shiver up my spine in the next few seconds. He slowly leans in and starts kissing me, pressing his lips up against my lips. It’s not the small short kisses from before.
“Let’s fuck now…” I whisper back to him when I realize my dick was getting hard.
I needed the release and that’s what Elias was good at. I wanted him to push me over his desk and fuck me harder than I could ever imagine.
“I want more than a fuck,” Elias states at that moment taking a step back and avoiding me physically all together, “I broke up with Olivia. I told her it wasn’t going to work between us because—-I want to be with someone else. I want to take you out on a date…”
I’d noticed Olivia acting extra bitchy. I had thought it was just because Raisin Bran was being a dickhead but now I realize it’s because she no longer was with Elias.
“Elias—-this—-Phase, it has us all acting weird,” I explain, “And I don’t want to complicate things even more than I have to.”
“You’re saying no to me because you’d rather stick around hoping that Gato goes through the Phase. Well, he’s not. He got tested the other day. His results came in. Negative.”
I stop talking. All of a sudden I remember what my father said. He said I owed Gato the truth. Was I willing to fuck up our friendship by giving Gato the truth and getting nothing in return?
“Fuck it,” I state, “Let’s go on a date.”
“Yes. Let’s do it,” I state, “But after we fuck.”
He smiles dropping his pants and revealing this amazing long thick dick. I stare at it and immediately turn around. My asshole is dripping within a matter of seconds when he dives into me. He grabs me by the waist and before I know it we are doggy style on his office floor as he pounds my prostate out and I bite into my shirt hoping not to scream and disturb the restaurant customers.
I think we are in the middle of switching positions when the door opens.
That’s when I see who it is. Gato.
At first, I think he looks concerned as though I was being raped or something but then he realizes how calm I am. I would expect that would cause him to be calm as well knowing it’s consensual but it doesn’t. He doesn’t look mad.
He does seem bothered, however.
“I can explain,’ I find myself saying.
It’s awkward as I’m getting dressed. It’s awkward to even more when Elias slams his fist on his table. I’m not sure if it’s because he doesn’t want to see Gato or if it’s because he’s pissed that he has blue balls from not being able to finish what we started. Gato doesn’t run out of the room like others would. He just stays there and it seems to make that even weirder.
“You don’t have to,” is his response, “I’m not here for that.”
“Then why the fuck are you here?” Elias shouts, “Everyone knows you don’t open my door without knocking..”
Gato doesn’t even look at Elias.
He looks at me.
“I’m here for you.”
Hearing him say that warms my smile. At that moment I don’t know what happens but it feels like some spirit of romance has taken over me. Maybe that’s why I do something that I never thought I would do. I walk over to Gato and I do it.
I kiss him.
“What the—-” Elias starts.
He says some other things but I don’t pay attention. I ignore him. The only thing that matters to me is the fact that my lips are pressed up against Gato. His lips are so soft. They were literally like perfect pillows. And then as we’re kissing I realize he stops and pulls back to stop me.
“What was that?” Gato asks.
“You just said you came here for me…”
The look on his face shows that it was wrong. What the fuck was wrong with me? Wishful thinking had caused me to do one of the most embarrassing things in my life and Gato is looking at me like I have 30 heads.
Gato shakes his head, “JD I came for you because of your father…”
“What about my father?”
“I just got a call from your mother crying. You haven’t been picking up yours. JD——-your father killed himself.”