The summer of 1994 is long and hot, spent on the baking asphalt of the skate park and the sterile tiles of the mall. It's a summer of boys vs. girls for Mikey, of laughing as his friends bail on the half-pipe while the girls, in a group by the water fountain, shriek with laughter and then self-consciously cover their mouths.
Sometimes in the evenings, when Gerard is home from art camp at the community centre, Mikey asks him why girls are so confusing, when two years ago they were so easy to talk to. Gerard laughs but his eyes are cast down when he says "No fucking clue, Mikes. I’m in grade twelve and they still are."
Late in August Mikey gets invited to a tenth-grade party by a kid who he knows from the store where he buys second-hand cassette tapes. It isn't boys vs. girls there; those giggling packs disband at the door and some of the girls stride into the house confidently, cornering boys on the sofa or in the hallway. The girls are tall and wear make-up while most of the boys still look like they belong in middle school, sleeves of their Soundgarden t-shirts sagging below their elbows. Maybe that's why one of the girls finds Mikey, the thirteen-year old, ninth-grade impostor whose wide shoulders and big hands don't seem like his yet but who has a few inches on the girls in their heels and their Docs.
Mikey gets his first kiss in the kitchen that night, under a swaying yellow light fixture, one hand skidding through a wet patch on the counter behind him and Kurt Cobain in the tinny stereo in the next room singing I need an easy friend. She's wearing denim overalls and a white men's undershirt beneath, her hair messy and swept to one side, and she tastes like vodka. Mikey feels like she's devouring him, her hands splayed over his skinny chest like she's holding him in place, her tongue sweeping the inside of his mouth like an examination. It feels gigantic, and wet, and Mikey is so caught up in the absurdity of it that he doesn't find it all that sexy.
Later though, sitting on the back steps with a beer can at his feet and cicadas buzzing in the bushes of the backyard, one of her hands on his thigh as she leans over him, Mikey learns how to get lost in the feeling. He thinks about how warm and real her body is, and how easily her jaw fits into his broad, clammy palms. It's wet but Mikey likes that, can't really figure out why, and that night in bed he runs his tongue over his lips to chase that vodka taste while Gerard snores lightly across the room.
One month after Mikey turns fourteen, he's walking home from school in the cool October sunshine when Gerard flings both his hands out in front of himself and sighs.
"What?" Mikey listens to the sound of their feet on the pavement, the rubber of his Chucks and the clunk of Gerard's heavy black boots, the ones he got last Christmas for the snow.
"I can't—" Gerard twists suddenly, looking left and right over his hunched shoulders before hitching his backpack up a little higher. "I can't stop staring at this guy in my Lit. class."
Gerard doesn't elaborate as they step off the curb and cross a street, dry leaves in the gutter crunching underfoot, so Mikey asks "Is there something wrong with him?"
"I dunno. He's just different. He's got, like, a weird haircut, like a girl haircut, it's shaved in the back? But then long in the front where—" Gerard jerks, looking over his shoulder again. "Whatever. He wears these acid-washed jeans, they're like seriously tiny, I don't even think they're guy's jeans."
"So you don’t like him?"
Gerard's hands go out again. "Fuck, I don't know! It just. It just pisses me off that he never gets shit from anyone, looking like that."
Gerard gets a lot of shit at school. Mikey gets it too sometimes, but he has a couple of guys he hangs out with. There are girls in the grade above him who have heard things from their friends, who find him at parties sometimes, who tuck fingers into the front pocket of his jeans and pull him into hallways and kiss him. It earns Mikey a bit of respect from the dickheads at school, so they mostly leave him alone. Gerard doesn't really talk to any girls. Mikey figures that, in a way, he doesn't really talk to them much either.
"How do you know he doesn't get any shit?" Mikey asks.
"I just know, okay?" Gerard sounds indignant.
That night Mikey goes to the movie theatre with a couple of friends. Jordan hops over the two rows of seats ahead of them to sit with this girl he likes, but she's got a wall of girlfriends on the other side so Mikey and Adam are left in the back row of the theatre. The movie, Clerks, ends up being hilarious, so it doesn't even matter.
"I'm gonna shit in that motherfucker's bag!" Adam repeats after Jay in a stage whisper, raking his fingers through his bangs to push them out of his face as he meets Mikey's eyes, grinning, "shit in his bag?" Mikey shakes his head, sides hurting from silent laughter.
After the movie, Jordan makes them play lookout in the alley behind the theatre while he takes the girl up the fire escape and into the projector rooms upstairs.
Leaning against the brick, Mikey and Adam laugh and trade lines from the movie. "Oh, shit and when Jay—when he says he'd go down on Silent Bob, like a circus seal? What the fuck?" Mikey busts up laughing, nodding, hair falling in his eyes. He has no idea what that joke even means.
Adam huffs another laugh, playing with the buttons of his flannel shirt and kicking at some dirty cigarette butts with his boot. "Hey man," he starts, and Mikey looks up but Adam's eyes are still on his feet, "do you know anyone who's like that? Who's a fag?"
Mikey shrugs, doesn't know what the right answer is supposed to be because he's always been crappy at reading into things. That's why he's never called any of the numbers that girls slip into his pocket or scrawl up his forearm. "I don't know."
Adam looks up above them at the fire escape, even though Jordan and the girl disappeared into one of the upstairs doors a little while ago. His adam's apple bobs as he swallows. "Do you think it's weird?"
"Not really." Mikey's eyes fall shut and he exhales, a cool wood-smoke breeze shifting the hair on his neck. Weird is a strange word. Normal is even stranger. Mikey's used to feeling like he never got to see the rules to high school. He doesn't understand why girls have to speak in code or why guys on the soccer team have to laugh in the locker room about the way his brother runs in gym class.
After a beat of silence, Mikey opens his eyes and startles because Adam is right there in front of him and he's saying "Your, um. Your eyes are kind of like a girl's, you know?" Mikey can smell Adam's sweat, feel the heat of his body inches away. He doesn't know what to say.
Adam suddenly barks out a laugh, which makes Mikey straighten up in surprise, and then Adam's leaning in with his eyes on Mikey's lips, one hand fisting in the front of Mikey's hoodie. Mikey feels like his eyebrows are creeping up into his hairline but he licks his lips, parts them just slightly as Adam does the same, closing the few inches between them to slant his mouth lightly over Mikey's. Mikey had no clue. Adam rides a skateboard and listens to Green Day and wears his jeans half-way down his ass so his boxers stick out. He always laughs the loudest.
Mikey feels Adam's chest hitch against his own, feels Adam's breath in his own mouth, and Adam slides his tongue out but doesn't close his lips against Mikey's. It's strange, Adam's hands braced on either side of Mikey's head, leaning his body weight forward, and then it's just the sensation of Adam's tongue slipping warm and popcorn-salty against his own. Mikey closes his eyes against the almost feral way Adam's lips are curled back over his teeth as he does it.
Their tongues slide wet and messy along each other, hot breath on each other's lips, and Mikey's eyes are closed but he's feeling it all, he's incredibly sober, and this is such a change from the girls at parties. Mikey can still visualize Adam behind his eyelids, sees his eyes shining with laughter in the dark of the movie theatre, sees him land an ollie on his board and run over grinning, the wheels still spinning as he holds it over his head in triumph.
Adam bends his elbows and leans in further, wrapping his lips around Mikey's tongue and sucking. It's overwhelming how good it feels, like Mikey is being stretched out taught like a wire, and he moans into it. Adam's hips push forwards to pin Mikey against the brick and it's just a lot of sensation at once, being pulled one way and pushed the other and Mikey knows the solid warmth against his thigh is Adam's hard-on.
"Shit, Mikey," Adam mutters against Mikey's lips, voice low like he’s saying something dirty. Mikey can feel Adam's smile. Mikey is brave—so fucking brave—and he rocks his hips forwards with his eyes still squeezed shut, his breath hitching, making Adam laugh in disbelief again, that clear, full laughter that he never holds in. "You're fuckin’—"
"Retreat! Retreat!" Jordan calls, the door at the top of the fire escape banging open. He and the girl come clambering down the metal stairs, laughing and falling into each other. Mikey's eyes fly open but Adam is still there, still right there, grinning in a secret sort of way. Like Mikey's the secret.
"Coast is clear," Adam replies, smoothly pushing off the wall and stepping backwards out into the dark of the alley, boots heavy on the gravel, smiling eyes still on Mikey. "Let's fucking jet!"
That night, Mikey sneaks in under the garage door and through the kitchen, lifting the bedroom door up as he pulls it closed behind him to avoid the squeaky hinge. He shucks his hoodie and jeans and lowers himself as quietly as possible into his bed.
"What'd you see?" Gerard whispers. With his glasses off Mikey can only make out that his brother's lying facing the wall.
"Yeah." Mikey turns away on his side too, but he's kind of buzzing, and his mouth tastes like concession stand butter. "I'll see it with you, if you want." Mikey could ask him about the seal joke.
Mikey doesn't know if Gerard means maybe he'll have someone else to see it with or maybe he doesn't want to see it. He shifts around a bit, closes his eyes, tries to settle his body down.
"Do you think that it means I like that guy in my Lit. class, that I keep looking at him?"
Mikey's eyes are closed and it's only been ten minutes at the most, but it's surprising how easy it is to remember his fingers twitching against brick, the strange feeling of another chest, flat and warm like his own, crowding him. "Do you, like, think about him?"
"I guess, yeah. I can't tell if I'm thinking about him because he stands out, or because..." Gerard trails off.
Mikey remembers Gerard saying the guy had girl hair and girl jeans. Adam said Mikey had girl eyes. "Or because what?”
There's a lot of rustling and Gerard's voice is clearer, which means he's rolled over. Mikey turns to face him too, squinting at him in the darkness. "Mikey. Mikey, are you okay with that?"
"Oh my god. You don't need my permission or whatever."
Gerard's eyebrows draw up in the middle, and Mikey can easily imagine the expression he’s making, his crinkly-eyed smile. "Thanks."
Every day that week walking home from school, Gerard talks about the guy from his class—Jason—and Mikey spends a lot of time rolling his eyes. "It feels kind of liberating, you know?" Gerard is smiling, ducking out around a fire hydrant before falling into step with Mikey again. "Like, when those assholes ask if I'm a fag, I kind of want to turn it back at them, like yeah, so what?" He laughs softly, crooked mouth twisted in a smile.
After dinner they're watching TV in the basement and in the commercials Mikey points out the creepy doll that pees water, and wonders out loud why girls are so weird. Gerard turns towards him suddenly, plucking his hoodie away from his chest, looking really serious. "You know, maybe someday you'll like a guy too. You know I'll be totally cool about it, right?"
Mikey thinks about sharp, clear laughter against his lips and the way Adam had grinned at him in the hallway that afternoon, pointing his thumb and forefinger at Mikey like the barrel of a gun as he walked away.