We end up at Dennis’s house. I’m nervous. It’s not every day someone tells you that he is aware of the fact that some group started a disease and also started the cure for the exact same disease. It’s a strange thing and seems just as confusing as Dennis’s apartment. The apartment has papers all over the place. It seemed like Dennis definitely did have a hobby that everyone at work didn’t know about. It seemed like he was obsessed with figuring out what was going on with the Phase.
“You guys can sit,” Dennis states, “Here, Gato, come take a seat next to me.”
“He can sit here,” I state.
I give Gato a look. The kind of look that tells him that he better come sit next to me. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust Dennis. I just didn’t know much about him. We talked at work casually between Raisin Bran picking on him and Olivia bossing him around Dennis really tried to avoid getting too close to the rest of us.
“Sorry,” Gato immediately apologizes for me, “JD has been going through a lot recently.”
He sits next to me and puts a hand on my knee. Either he is trying to comfort me or trying to get me to lay off Dennis a little bit.
“You said you had some sort of proof about the Phase?”
“Yes,” Dennis states, “The Phase was started by F.A.M.”
He pauses at that moment as though not understanding the words coming out of my mouth. I look over at Gato. What the hell?”
“I don’t exactly have solid proof,” he states, “But my ex-boyfriend sent me this letter. He was taken away to one of those camps.”
I’m confused, “Wait so your ex-boyfriend was going through the Phase.”
Dennis nods, “Yeah.”
“Didn’t you feel that was wrong?” I ask him, “I mean you’re gay. Isn’t it sort of taking advantage of a sick person by dating someone going through the Phase?’
“If they were happy and sexually compatible does it matter how they got to be that way?” Gato asks me.
He was defending this sort of action. I don’t know how to feel about what Dennis admitted to or the fact that Gato doesn’t think it’s wrong.
Dennis smiles over at Gato, “We were happy. For a time. I mean he wasn’t some super handsome guy like you but—-”
Dennis smiles immensely, “You’re a lot more than that and you know it.”
He was flirting with him. He was clearly fucking flirting with him. I find myself almost immediately outraged by it.
I interrupt immediately, “So your ex-boyfriend writes you a letter from a F.A.M camp and you reach out to Gato…because….”
“I trust Gato,” Dennis states, “He’s a friend. Plus he told me about what happened with your dad.”
I pause, “Can I see the letter?”
Dennis hands me the letter that his ex wrote him, “He writes in there that he tried to send more letters but F.A.M took them.”
“Is he still there?” I ask.
Dennis nods, “Haven’t heard from him again.”
Gato shakes his head, “It’s almost like they are…I don’t know, taking prisoners. These are some sort of modern-day concentration camps or something. How is this legal?”
I finish reading the letter. Sure enough, Dennis was right about it all. I hand him back the letter and nod. This was sick.
Sick and frightening.
“What if they find me?” I ask.
“Wait….you are in the Phase?” Dennis asks.
I nod, “I’ve been sick for some time now.”
“Stop calling it that,” Gato explains, “You’re not fucking sick.”
“They are calling it a chronic disease…”
“You’re not sick,” Gato tells me, “I don’t know what this is but it’s not that. And regardless I would never let them do anything to do you.”
“I agree with Gato,” Dennis states, “I would love to help out in any way I can. Are both of you in the Phase?”
Of course, he agrees with Gato. I don’t know what Gato did to girls when he sprinkled some enchanting dust on them but clearly, that enchantment worked with gay men as well because Dennis is damn near drooling.
“Just me,” I tell Dennis.
“Actually…I don’t know,” Gato states.
“You don’t know?” I ask, “Didn’t you get tested?”
Gato shakes his head, “No. Who told you that?”
I roll my eyes. I should have known better than to trust Elias. Clearly, he lied to me when he told me that Gato got tested for the Phase.
“You don’t have the phase,” I tell Gato, “You would know. TRUST ME.”
Gato shrugs, “How though?”
“Are you attracted to men?” Dennis asks more than ready to get the answer.
“I mean not that I know of,” Gato explains, “But I mean I’ll be honest, things have been weird between me and…JD.”
When Gato explains this he looks over at me. I am so confused. Why was he telling Dennis our business? Who was Dennis? Some sort of gay Oprah or something. Why was he confessing everything to him like this?
“Weird how?” Dennis asks.
“Everything’s fine,” I state.
“Everything’s not fine and you know it,” he states, “There is this…I don’t even know what it is. This thing between us. It’s not like how it used to be.”
“Because I have been acting weird because I have the Phase.”
“But how do I know for sure it’s just you?” Gato asks.
“There’s one way to find out,” Dennis states.
I’m shocked when Dennis walks over to Gato. I’m sitting in the chair still watching what’s happening as he climbs on top of Gato. I’m even more surprised when Gato doesn’t stop him. I’m watching almost outraged when Dennis continues to…STRADDLE Gato. He places his hands on the back of Gato’s neck. I’m standing there seeming completely out of it.
This wasn’t happening.
The way Dennis begins to massage Gato’s neck is intimate. It feels as though I’m looking in on a private moment. Dennis is staring all deep in Gato’s eyes and Gato just is looking like someone who is having some sort of sexual lapdance. I mean he’s leaning back and getting more comfortable by the second as Dennis begins to slowly grind his hips on Gato.
That’s when Gato grabs his hips. Dennis moves in. He’s close. They are so close that each second I wonder if they kiss. Their mouths so close I wonder if they are going to press up against one another.
“Gato…” I state.
My voice comes off weak and I’m assuming he doesn’t care because he doesn’t respond. He ignores me. I don’t know why that feels like a stab straight in the chest when it happens.
I’m not imagining it when I see Gato’s hand on Dennis’s ass. I’m not imagining it when I see their foreheads smash together. This deep attraction is between them. It’s the kind of attraction I’d never thought Gato could have with another guy besides me…
It’s pointless. He’s having a moment.
And fuck it hurts.
It hurts so much that I leave. I literally grab my things and leave. I don’t even think Gato realizes I’m gone.
It’s the next morning and I’m awoken by arguing. The screaming is in the hallway. I’ve already had a bad day especially seeing Dennis intimate with Gato and Gato almost forgetting I’m there. He called me 5 times but I let it all go to voicemail. I really didn’t want to talk to him and I hated that I had to go to work because I didn’t even want to see him.
“You’re not going anywhere!”
It’s Sara Sofia and when I realize she’s that loud I know the only person she could be talking to is my brother. I walk into the room and see him standing at the door. Only he doesn’t have on his regular clothes. My brother has something else on.
Clothes that say SA on them.
“What’s happening?” I ask.
“Tell your brother he’s not joining a fucking militia!” Sara Sofia demands.
I look over at Juan Martin. I walk up to him and notice he has this look in his eyes. This determined look. I’ve wanted Juan Martin to have this look when it came to school, or sports or something positive, but he never did. He never cared about anything. ANYTHING. But all of a sudden that seems to have changed.
“What Militia?” I ask him. No answer. I pause, take a deep breath and get a little calmer, “Juan Martin, please talk to me.”
“You wouldn’t understand.”
“All across the country militias are breaking out. They call it the agenda. We are at war. At war with this gay….plague sweeping across our country.”
I would think he’s making a joke if he weren’t so serious. I would think the punchline was going to come any second now. It doesn’t.
“You think you’re at war with gay people?”
“This disease ruined our family. This disease killed our father!”
That’s what this was about. I see the disgust in his voice. Where was my mother? Right now she was locked in her room. She probably heard the raised voices like me but she was too depressed to come to deal with life. So here it was left to me and my sister to play Juan Martin’s parent and tell him he’s making a mistake.
“Juan Martin, our father died because he took pills that are not supposed to be taken.”
“That’s a lie. Our father died because of the gayness…”
“You mean the Phase right? Being gay and having the phase is two different things. The enemy isn’t gay people. You understand that right?”
He isn’t looking past me. It’s to the point I don’t think Juan Martin understands a single word coming out of my mouth. He looks completely past me and shakes his head after realizing that I’ve stopped talking. I had a feeling he would have shaken his head no matter what I said. He didn’t hear anything. Juan Martin had his mind made up already.
“There’s no difference. Gays are the enemy. We have to save the family unit,” Juan Martin explains, “I’m going to join the militia to help inflict the new laws. And if I were you…brother…I’d figure out what to do. People who are not getting tested are being arrested under the assumption of being positive. The Agenda is coming…”
“Is that a threat?” he asks.
“It’s a warning,” he states, “Testing is going to be mandatory whether you want it to be or not. This is the only time I’m going to warn you. If you get caught testing positive—–not even being my brother will help you.”
He sounds so cold. He sounds like I’m not the guy who taught him how to ride a bike. I’m not the guy who went to the clinic with him when he thought his little girlfriend in middle school was pregnant when he was having sex way too early. I was the one who was always there for him but right now I was worse than a stranger.
I was a gay man.
And that was something that he couldn’t abide. I don’t know who was talking to my brother, but I knew they had him convinced. And if they had Juan Martin convinced, how many other people would be convinced as well.
I go to work and I’m nervous. I’m looking around confused.
“Hey Elias,” I state smiling, “I may need to take some time off…”
I’m staring at a poster. I’m not sure who put it up on the bulletin board in the hallway. It had to be Olivia I’m thinking or maybe even Elias himself. Those were the only two people who would bother hanging anything up in here. The poster reads: THE FAMILY IS BEING DESTROYED. FIGHT BACK. JOIN THE AGENDA.
It was propaganda but it was effective. People were so afraid. It’s shocking me that this has happened but I realize how many times this has happened before. This fear mongering about a specific race. It happened with Native Americans, with blacks, with jews and now it was popular with illegal immigrants and Muslims. Gays are just the latest thing that people were horrified about.
I turn away from the poster and try to put on a brave face.
Elias has me in the back near the kitchen. Maybe that’s why he presses up against me in a sexual way. Ever since the first time we got together the sexual intimacy between the two of us seems to be spiking but not much more. The way that Elias looks at me sometimes makes me think he wished it was a little bit more.
Even now he is brushing his hand up against my face looking worried, “Tell me what I can do to help. Whatever it is…”
“Keep F.A.M out of here if they come.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Testing is the law right now…” Elias explains, “Don’t worry. I got tested positive. All they do is make you wear this bracelet and they give you a pill.”
“Don’t take those,” I state.
“JD it’s the cure—”
“Don’t take them,” I warn Elias, “And if I were you I wouldn’t keep that bracelet on either. I don’t trust these people.”
“Everything OK?” a voice states.
We turn at that moment and see Olivia. She’s looking over at us with this real suspicious look. I don’t trust her especially when she sees her ex-fiance pressed up against me in a way that makes me completely uncomfortable. She squints when she realizes it but I just shake my head. Fuck—-Olivia was the last person I wanted to see me like this.
I walk away at that moment away from Elias. I would have to revisit the idea of getting some time off and maybe waiting for this whole Phase to be over with. People were getting more irritated and that’s what everyone was talking about.
Even when I walk to the front of the restaurant I see the television talking about F.A.M and their new initiatives. I hear them talking about fixing the Phase.
“Can you believe birthrates are going down?” I hear Juanita say to Raisin Bran.
“If they don’t stop the phase soon, humanity will be extinct,” Raisin Bran responds and looks over at me probably because he can feel my eyes on him, “Don’t you think JD?”
I go to my table and try to ignore everything. It doesn’t help that all day I go from table to table trying to deliver tacos and mind my business but I’m confronted with speculation about how dangerous the Phase is.
Gato has walked in. He smiles over at me and gives a little wave. I’m about to wave back when I realize that he didn’t walk into work alone. He walked into work with Dennis. Weird. They’d never come into work together before. Had then driven together? Had they spent the night together? I don’t wave back. I turn away from him and go off to my tables.
Gato continues to try to get my attention throughout the day but I pretend to just be busy. Truthfully I am, especially when the tables in the restaurant all seem to rather have interesting conversations about the Phase than eating their food and leaving.
“Supposedly a lot of people are refusing the testing,” one girl tells her group of friends at a table that I’m serving food at, “It’s like they want to make the rest of us sick.”
She had no idea how the Phase spread. It didn’t matter. This was how things started.
“They are arresting them, taking them to camps,” another girl in her circle says.
That’s when the original girl looks confused, “What happens at the camps? Do they like to force them to take the pills?”
That’s when I see Raisin Bran walk by, overhear what the table is saying and quickly adds in, “I hear they kill them at the camps. I think that’s perfect. Just get rid of them. They are ruining America…”
I look at Raisin Bran and I’m shocked he would say something like that. I’m so shocked that I open my mouth to say something but right when I open my mouth to say something I hear laughter from the table of customers he was talking to. They enjoyed his cruel joke. They find it hilarious actually. Raisin Bran joins in on the convo.
It’s at that moment I realize how serious things have become. It’s that moment I realize that things were definitely spiraling out of control. F.A.M has changed the dynamic of our society right underneath my nose.
That’s when I drop my tray. Water goes spilling out on the ground.
“You OK bro?” Raisin Bran asks, “Did something I say bother you?”
Raisin Bran gives me a suspicious look. He’s always thought I was gay even before the Phase. He had made the comment to Gato. Of course, back then it didn’t matter. I just thought Raisin Bran was an idiot and didn’t care what his opinion was. Now was different. The look he gives me now seems to almost be revisiting those old thoughts he had. And he is looking at me wondering.
And for some reason, I can’t say anything. I can’t deny it. I’m so shocked how weird everyone is behaving that I let him do it.
It isn’t until I feel an arm over my shoulder that I’m snapped out of it. It’s a Gato.
“Everything good Bran,” Gato states, “JD can you help me in the kitchen for a second…”
We get into the kitchen at that moment. Gato nearly has to pull me in the kitchen. I can tell he’s concerned especially when we get in the kitchen and he’s almost pouring water down my throat.
“You’re not OK, you’re shaking,” he states, “You need to pull it together. Here. Come here…”
“I don’t need a hug.”
“Yes, you do.”
He was right. I did. He knew me like that. So when he hugs me I almost cry in his arms and the thing is Gato was OK with it. He was always OK with it even back in the day. This wasn’t gay. Not to him. Not to me. He was just my best friend being there for me in the way that he had always been there for me. There was no difference. There was nothing really stopping him from doing this.
That’s when I break down to him, “I didn’t get tested. Juan Martin tells me people who are refusing to get tested are going to be arrested and sent to those camps under the assumption.”
“Juan Martin doesn’t know shit.”
“Juan Martin is trying out to be in the militia. He knows things…”
“Fuck Juan? The militia! I heard about that too.”
“He kept calling it the agenda…”
“The Straight Agenda,” he explains to me, “That’s the next Phase of F.A.M. They feel like they are at war with gay people. They are rounding people up. It’s like some sort of Gay Holocaust…”
“How do you know about all this?”
“Dennis showed me all the articles he’s collecting online,” he explains, “The media is in cahoots with the Agenda. They are all trying to cover up the stories about what’s happening online. People have beenripped away from their family and taken somewhere…”
“Hell if I know. I saw some articles where people have been being held for months now. No contact with the outside world,” he explains, “Dennis knows all about this.”
“You spent a long time there with Dennis huh?”
“Yeah, we had to figure out what was going on,” he explains, “Why’d you just leave?”
“Seemed like the two of you wanted to be alone.”
“Wait—–you weren’t talking about him playing his little lap dance on me huh?” he asks, “Dennis was just trying to see if I was turned on.”
“And were you?”
He seems to think about it.
“No,” he explains, “I guess I don’t have the Phase.”
“Were you jealous?” he asks.
“Jealous?” I ask, “Why the hell would I be jealous? I’m just…I don’t know. Curious. It seemed like you were into it.”
“I was trying to figure something out. But no. My dick was limp. So I felt emboldened and this morning I went to take the test…the real test…”
“Inconclusive,” Gato explains, “The person reading the tests said she isn’t sure what it means. She feels like this is popular with sapiosexuals, who are people who find intelligence sexually attractive. They haven’t been able to quantify that so I didn’t have to be given a cure or taken away…”
Someone runs into the kitchen at that moment. I jerk when I realize that the person is Elias. Elias has this look on his eyes that says something has him frightened. Something has him really frightened.
“They cleared out the restaurant,” Elias explains, “They are taking people who didn’t test. Run out the back…”
“Run out of the fucking back!” Elias states.
“Go!” Gato urges me on.
I see the two of them walking out front to distract them for me. I’m nervous. What the fuck was happening? Why would they empty the restaurant? Sweat rolls down my forehead and I take a mad dash towards the door. My feet reflect all the anxiety I’m holding in. My wobbly feet make it to the door and I’m so weak that I nearly tumble out the back.
I stop though, look around. I am hearing sirens. All across the streets, there are white vans. The white vans line up clearly up and down. I’m staring with confusion outlined in my eyes.
What the hell was this?
I try to make a mad dash to the street but that’s when I see a van pull up blocking my path. All these fucking people jump out. These people wearing uniforms. Uniforms almost similar to what my brother had on.
“Where’d you think you were going?”
I’m lined up in the restaurant with the rest of my co-workers. I don’t get it. I don’t fucking understand what the hell is happening. My mouth is going dry. I don’t get it. I look around at the others. Most of them seem confused and some of them scared. Gato looks anxious. He paces when he’s anxious. Even with his handsome face, he can look intimidating so I realize these men from the Agenda have their eyes on him.
They have guns too. Military style guns.
“Gato…calm down,” I warn him.
“Who gave these mothafuckas guns?” he asks.
I don’t get it either. How was this legal? Then I remember how upset my little brother was. I could imagine families all across America feeling just so upset. How far would they have gone? Looks like now we were finding out first hand.
“We have been told there are those who have undergone the Phase working here,” one of the men in white says.
There is silence. It’s a heavy silence. I think I hear crying. I think it may be coming from Liza but I’m not sure because I’m scared to turn around. This is intimidating even if you were straight. We were literally being gathered around as though we had done something wrong. It was as though we were criminals.
But by the size of the white vans on the street, I had an idea that this shakedown was happening everywhere. I should have listened to my brother. I guess he was trying to give me a warning about it after all.
One of the men slaps the other one, “Nick you had the list—-”
The guy named Nick starts slapping around his legs. Clearly he’s lost the list.
“Nick, what the fuck?”
I look over at Gato. Gato leans in and whispers to me, “This is what happens when you give authority to a bunch of fucking idiots like your brother. They don’t know what they are doing…”
He had a point. There was a level of inexperience with these people. They had military uniforms. They had military guns. They had military transportation. But they weren’t the military. I could look into their eyes and see it. How much training did they receive? Months? Weeks? Hell—–any training at all?
Still, they had guns. Even an idiot with a gun was dangerous.
“Goddamit NICK! You had one job. We had to leave here with three people. We had to fucking leave here with three people.”
There were three people here affected by the Phase?
I look around at my coworkers seeming even more confused.
“Actually I think it was four,” Nick states.
He seems unsure.
“Listen you guys can’t find the list so how about you just go,” Gato suggests.
He takes a step forward to the guy and all hell breaks loose! I swear a gun misfires. My heart races hoping it didn’t hit Gato and I’m right. The bullet went right past his head. The inexperienced men in the militia get nervous and scared at first about the misfire, then as though hoping to reclaim their authority they get a little tougher, now all pointing their guns. Before I know it I’m standing in front of Gato.
I mean I’m completely blocking him off. I look back at him to see if he’s OK and I see him just staring at me.
He’s staring at me in the weirdest way. Our eyes just locking on one another.
It isn’t until the militiaman talks, “Stay back or I’ll blow your fucking heads off. You understand?”
Gato doesn’t answer, but I do, “He understands.”
I notice Gato walking close to me after that. Real close. I think he realized how quickly I jumped in front of him when a gun came out. Maybe that’s why he feels like he wants to be close to me. I don’t realize how close he is until it happens though. I don’t realize how close until I feel his crotch up against the sweat of my pants. I feel his breath against the back of my neck. I feel his hands swaying almost right next to mine.
Our fingers could touch.
And that’s when Gato says something. It’s the strangest thing.
But he whispers, “Damn I love you…”
I think I hear it wrong so I replay it over and over in my mind. Did he really just say that? I don’t make sense of any other words but it doesn’t make sense. Maybe he just meant it in a friendly way. He had to. I was just overthinking it. I had to be.
“I can remember the names,” Nick states, “I remember…a…a uh…Juanita…”
We all turn at that moment shocked when we see Juanita being grappled up and taken. I see Liz screaming out. I feel Gato’s body get tense. Real tense. Tense like he was going to do something. Tense like he was really feeling it.
Juanita is being pulled out by two men. She’s kicking and screaming. I could only imagine how scared she was. Where were they taking her?
“The next name was a…El…dammnit.. El…” Nick, the sloppy militia officer was rattling off.
That’s when Olivia jumps in way too happily, “Elias.”
“Wait. Wait this has to be a mistake,” Elias explains, “I know I’m going through the Phase….but I’m taking pills. I’m taking—-PILLS!”
“You must not have heard about the new laws,” the Militia officer says, “Taking the cure is no longer enough. We are taking you to the Quarantine.”
I can almost see a smile spread over Olivia’s lips. I feel nervous. I move forward trying to speak for Elias and stop this from happening but I feel a firm hand pressing up against my diaphragm. It’s Gato stopping me.
“We can’t help him,” he states.
That’s when Nick says the next name, “Dennis…”
“Wait no—-” Gato states, “He was gay. He was gay way before the Phase. He doesn’t have the Phase!”
A couple of other people are saying the same thing. Us telling them that Dennis was gay causes them to want to arrest him EVEN MORE. They pull out their guns and separate us from Dennis. Dennis is screaming at the top of his lungs.
“THEY ARE GOING TO KILL US! THEY ARE GOING TO KILL US!” Dennis is screaming.
My heart is racing. It’s hard to hold Gato back. It’s hard to stop the rest of my restaurant for going crazy. At this point they too three of our own. They were taking them and we didn’t know where they were taking them. What the fuck was happening? What the hell was going on.
“One more person…” the militia officer states, “One more name.”
My heart swells in my throat. It was me. My brother told me they were arresting people who failed to take the test. They were treating them the same as the people who actually failed. I’m standing there looking at the officer with the lapsed memory.
He seems so unsure.
“Dammit, I forget the name. It was one of those Spanish names.”
“C` mon Nick…we don’t have all day.”
“I think I know who it is,” I hear Olivia say.
Olivia looks over at me for a moment. She has this look in her eye saying she’d happy to give up the guy who got her fiance’s attention away from her. She hadn’t attacked me yet but I knew that she was only playing low because she didn’t have a leg to stand on. Now she did. Now she could get her revenge.
“It was me…” Gato states.
I turn to Gato grabbing him, “What the hell.”
He whispers next to me, “I’m not going to let them take you.”
I want to stop them. I want to say something but that’s when I see the officer Nick seem to nod in agreement, “Yes. That was it. Gato. Yeah…”
He’s lying trying to save face. And I’m screaming. I’m screaming that it’s ME! I’m the 4th person.
But no one hears me.
And they are taking Gato away…