Their conversation is stiff and short, and today Arthur knows that it will be like that for the rest of his life. He sits down at their breakfast counter in their nice apartment (nicer than anything he’s ever had). The morning light comes in through the nearby window.
“Almost finished packing?” he asks, trying to sound casual. To sound normal.
Trevor only grunts, before saying, “yeah”, and shoveling a spoonful of cereal in his mouth. Arthur knows the cereal isn’t that good. The brand Trevor actually likes was out at the store the last time Arthur went grocery shopping, and so he’s been forced to subsist on Arthur’s until it comes back.
“ - That’s good,” he says, and pretends that he didn’t falter. Maybe by thirty-three years old he should know how to talk to Trevor by now, but the facts are that he doesn’t, and at this rate he’s not going to.
He only knew what Trevor’s cereal was after he noticed a surplus of the boxes during a summer where Trevor was gone. It just never occurred to him to check who was eating it. He knows he won’t forget it now.
He gets back up, walks out of the room, and barely whispers, good luck. The path out of the room, out of their apartment, to the complex stairs and finally the roof has become a familiar one these days. Despite the punishing summer heat, he can’t seem to shake the habit, can’t seem to even want to. Whenever he’s starting to swelter a bit, looking at the harsh shadow he’s cast on the ground, all he can think is that it’s a small price to pay.
To pay for what, exactly, he doesn’t know. Atonement? Solitude? The latter is near guaranteed – the roof, while it isn’t in squalor, is bare. The view’s not bad, but every apartment in the building has windows. When he was younger, he’d sometimes come out here in the evenings, watch the cool magenta of the sky settle around the city. Occasionally he’d bring Trevor, though more than anything it was when he knew Trevor couldn’t be left alone.
He puts his head in his hands. A bird, used to the searing sun, chirps in the background. Hell of thing. Maybe he should consider that fact that both he and Trevor know what kind of job he did a comparative improvement. He’s heard the stories, the hallowed adults speaking of fear, and pain, and more than that the ever-present sentiment I thought it was normal. Trevor doesn’t make it a secret how he feels about Arthur, and Arthur, for his part, knows exactly how much he’s erred.
Somehow, it doesn’t comfort him. He’d always had the hanging feeling he was fucking it up, somehow, occasionally checking out books on child-rearing from the library in town, all the good that did him. He can think back now, of how at times he’d freeze at Trevor’s distress, whether it was exhaustion from walking, or something that’d happened at school, or countless other moments that shook the kid’s shaky foundation on life. He’d try to soothe Trevor, whatever way he could - he can remember a specific time, where Trevor had come to their home (a decent if somewhat small apartment) complaining about his second-grade teacher’s bias against him as a trouble student. He’d had his head resting on the table, arms crossed with his hands clenched into fists. His complexion was heated, and his hands tensed and loosened, as he let it spill that it just wasn’t fair. He’d brightened when Arthur promised him ice cream, but even as he was driving to the grocery store, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he should’ve had something comforting and real to say. He tried not to think about his school life - all too recent - living it up in the 90s as a cocky counter-culture jackass, all the while deathly afraid that anyone, anyone would see how he looked at the girls in their class. Or, really, how he didn’t.
He never got around to telling his parents about it. It had seemed like a foregone conclusion. (He never got around to telling his parents much at all, really – it’s hardly like they’d ever cared to know.) The second time Trevor came with a story about his teacher, Arthur considered talking to the school, and then trashed the idea as soon as it’d entered his mind. What could he do? Why would the school give half a shit? Who would think twice about the complaints from a twenty-something year old man who looked young enough to be the son of some of the staff? Trevor would have to deal with teachers being assholes. Arthur had had to, and he was fine. That was just life, sometimes. That was just life when he sent Trevor back to bed after a nightmare, too paranoid about the kind of rumors that could spread if anyone found out. Besides, he’d just be tense with the kid next to him. He just wasn’t a touch-feely kind of guy. And that was just life when he found less and less reason to look in the mirror.
He can’t say he was all that surprised when Trevor came home to the apartment with another boy in the middle of the night. He was always a light sleeper, but whenever Trevor decided to stay up into the night, he never got up to ask what he was doing. He figured the kid needed his privacy, and the lack of sleep the next morning would prove consequence enough. The only time he even mentioned it was after a week in which the kid had stayed up every night, worried it might become a habit. It was near-afternoon on the Saturday after, with Trevor gulping down his breakfast-turned-brunch. Arthur had sat across from him, reading a newspaper (a habit he was slowly adjusting to).
“Hey. You sleeping alright? You look – tired.”
Trevor had looked up, slightly startled, before reverting to an uninterested expression and tonelessly replying, “Yeah. I’ve got it under control.”
“Okay. That’s good. That’s good.”
And that had been that. He never tried talking to Trevor about the bringing boys home. Seemed like a waste of time. What could he do, give the kid advice about exploring his sexuality? As if his own exploration hadn’t been anything but a disaster? He never tried to think too much about what he was doing with Trevor, had barely even responded when Laylah asked him what his plans were for his, their child. He didn’t know what to say – he thought she’d just been relieved to have the burden taken off her shoulders.
But then, maybe he should’ve given it more thought. Maybe he just wasn’t cut out to raise a kid – it’s not like he ever had a good example. He kept with it though, through every sleepless night, through every moment of trying to understand what was going through Trevor’s head, through every time he wondered why he wasn’t better at this, before immediately wondering where he got off to pretending to be authority.
And he’d wanted a brother. He never liked to think about it much, but that was the truth, one he’d never been able to really hide. He had heard about what an a pain in the ass they were from the few people he actually talked to, but as they complained about some incident or another, he’d just casually agree, and joke, and think, still sounds better than nothing. Just to have someone who was stuck in the same mess with you, who could have your back, to have a bond beyond sight. Maybe when he was younger he would’ve only wanted an older one, but by fifteen years old he had stopped caring about being picky. But Trevor deserved a father, he knew that, knew it whenever he tried to play the older brother because it felt more comfortable than his own skin. And he knew that he was probably fucking it up on some magnitude, had known it the moment Laylah said that she was putting the baby up for adoption and he said, I’ll take him.
But damn him, he’d been too proud to give up what he’d made - too proud to just be queer in the open and some poor girl, no, a friend, got - even though he hadn’t any damn skill required to raise an infant. Hadn’t had much of a reason to try and do high school the straight way other than short-minded spite and cruel amusement.
He remembers his old pocket knife, still lying on his drawer. He’d felt so fucking clever when he’d bought it, would occasionally run his hand over his trouser pocket during the day just to feel it sitting there. A small bit of sharp metal, a little bit of insurance for walking around at night or taking detours through alleyways. As if it could really make a difference for a 15 year old boy living off of any source of income he could. (As if his presence was that much of an upgrade from nothing.)
But he’d made it, hadn’t he? Scraped his way high enough that he didn’t need to go anywhere he’d need the pocket knife anyway. A broke queer turned into a functioning member of society. And what did it do for him?
An accidental opening of an envelope from the mail pile to learn Trevor had gotten a free fucking ride to college. He’d looked the college up, after. It wasn’t the top, but it hardly something to sneer at. Free ride. Free like nothing he’s ever seen before. He could have paid for it – that had been a goal when he was younger. He wonders if Trevor knows what he’s getting into, with college. It’s not like he could give the kid tips. And he doubts he needs them. Trevor’s become independent, capable (someone maybe Arthur could’ve been, in another life). For better or worse.
He walks back down the stairs, the inside of the building comfortably cool. Inside the apartment, it’s empty. The apartment is near- silent. Only the air conditioning can be heard in the background. Everything seems pale in the afternoon light. Arthur sits down on the couch. Looks around. He’s going to have to get used to the view, sooner or later.
When the pictures too scared for the work, or
Well, it's for the walls we could never break down
Well, this place is left empty
There's too many places
For the ones who just can't hang around
Yeah, your hum-hem-home
- Arthur Hall, Nana Grizol