Jose carefully takes the blue cardboard box out of the closet, where it stood hidden underneath Christmas decorations, old winter coats and Riley's old dog toys - so anything his boyfriend would never go near. He carries it into the living room, listens, checking if he is really alone. There are things in this box that his boyfriend doesn't need to know about.
Just, every once in a while he likes to open the box and reminisce, maybe have a good cry over it, before he locks the box and the memories away again until the next time. He wipes the dust off with his sleeve, before he takes the lid off the box. He comes face to face with his past, captured in pictures that exist only in his mind and in this little cardboard square. It's his past with his first and only love, his first kiss, his first heartbreak. It's something he cannot share with his boyfriend. He's been mocked by too many people about this box.
Like a fragile treasure he takes out picture after picture as he reclines back against the armchair, with nothing but silence around him, that he does not notice, as in his mind he is travelling back in time.
Photograph: Nine year old Jose, dressed in a blue T-shirt, hair styled, smiling widely into the camera of a school picture.
"Mama, I don't wanna go! Can't I stay home?" Jose feels sick. He doesn't want to go to school. He hates school and he especially hates new schools. Being the new kid always sucks and finding new friends each time is hard. His older brother doesn't care, he's too cool for that and his younger brother is too small to even understand that he'll be in a new kindergarten again. However Jose…. he doesn't want to go.
"Jose, shut up! You've been whining all morning. It's driving me crazy!"
"Leave your brother alone, mijo. And yes, you will go to school today." His mother breaks up the fight between him and his brother, but he still gets slapped in the head by him.
"They all talk funny here," he pouts and feels like crying.
"You talk funny!" He gets shoved into the wall as his brother passes him.
"Hey! Leave me alone," he whines and feels the tears coming.
"Leave me alone," his brother mocks his whining and takes his backpack. "I'm leaving, ma." He says and is out of the house, the door slamming behind him.
"Jose, this is your last warning! Put your shoes on! You are not going to be late for your first day," his mother means business and he knows he will get a spanking before school, if he doesn't do what she says.
Reluctantly he slips into his shoes and jacket. "Can't I just go to work with you? I'm good with make-up," he tries one last time.
"I know you are, papi, but you need to finish school first. They even have a hiphop class you can go to. You wanted to dance again, right?"
"Right," he sniffs and wipes the tears and snot away with the sleeve of his jacket. Then he lifts his heavy backpack and puts it on. It's nearly bigger than him.
"You remember the way?" his mother asks him, because they live in walking distance of the school for once. He nods. They've walked the way at least ten times over the weekend, so he will find his school.
Everything is so different here. Smaller, greener, greyer, colder and people have a funny accent when they talk. He misses Florida, the palm trees and the beach, his friends and his grandma. But this is home now, because his mother's boyfriend works here. And he likes him, he's good to his mom. So, here he is, on his first day of school in Canada.
He gets a kiss on the forehead and his mother fiddles with his hair a bit before he finally leaves. Kids come from every direction and throw him curious looks as he walks in the same direction as they do. It's just a ten minute walk and still, he is glad when he arrives at the school building because it's so cold outside. His little brother was so happy to see his first snow, but Jose doesn't like it.
He looks around and doesn't know where to go once he enters the building. This part they couldn't rehearse. Children are everywhere and one corridor looks like the other. Jose feels scared and lonely and he wants to go home. He tries not to cry as he tries to find his way.
There are signs on the walls but the words are long, unfamiliar and hard to read. He hopes the teachers here won't make fun of him when he can't put the words together. Some did at his old school and then all the kids in his class laughed. But it's not his fault the letters start dancing in front of his eyes, twist into weird forms and blur into each other. His mom says there is something wrong in his brain that makes him see them this way. His brother always mocks him for it.
Finally he sees an adult come through the crowd of children in the hallways. A tall, blonde man with a beard. He looks nice.
"Excuse me, Sir, can you tell me where the headmaster's office is?" he asks him as politely as he can. His mother always tells him it is important to make a good first impression.
"Already gotten into trouble on the first day, young man?" The man smiles warmly at him and Jose decides that he likes him.
"No, I'm new and my mama told me I have to check in with the headmaster first and give him all them papers. She couldn't come, she has to get my brother to kindergarten and go to work."
"Alright then, I'll show you the way. Follow me," he is told and tries to keep up with the long strides of the tall man. "I'm the guidance counsellor Mr. Hayhoe."
Jose has to giggle. "Like the dwarves song in snowwhite?"
"Spelled a bit differently, but basically, yes," the man laughs with him. "And you are?"
"I'm Jose," he smiles up at him and holds out his hand.
"Very nice to meet you, Jose," he shakes his hand and ruffles his hair. Suddenly Jose doesn't feel as awful anymore.
Photograph: His mother is sitting on a chair in a large room, his little brother in her lap and Jose to her right, all in their Sunday's best. Several adults are sitting at the table as well and a large buffet with cakes can be seen in the background of the picture.
"We absolutely recommend the special lessons. It will help him to catch up and improve his reading and writing. It is hard work, but he's a bright boy and he can catch up," Jose hears Mr. Hayhoe tell his mother.
They are attending church for the first time since they moved here. His mother says, now that they are settled in it's important to meet new friends and become part of the community. Jose didn't know half of his teachers and the guidance counsellor would also be here. They are trying to talk his mother into making him go to some special reading class. He doesn't want to. He hates reading. And maths. And history. It's all so boring. At least he gets to go to dance and make some friends there. He's better than most of them because he had a very good teacher back in Florida and he and his friends always used to dance, even after practice.
"Mama, I'm bored," he pouts, because he is sick and tired of sitting around. Service was long and his mother stopped his fidgeting several times when he kicked his legs, goofed around for his younger brother or tried to dodge his older brother's kicks and jabs with his elbow when his mother wasn't looking. Of course he gets into trouble for it, because he's not a good liar.
"Jose, stop saying that. Go and play," she replies and he knows he shouldn't have interrupted the adults.
"There's no one here I know," he whines. "Can we go home? I wanna play with Rocky." He doesn't understand why they just can't take their dog to church with them. It would be so much more fun and he'd have someone to play with now.
"My kids are outside playing as well. Maybe you can find my youngest son? I'm sure he'd love to introduce you to everyone. They're playing basketball." Mr Hayhoe suggests and Jose decides going outside is better than bumming around here.
"Can I?" he asks his mother.
"Yes, of course. But don't go anywhere else."
He runs outside and over the large field of grass. Some younger kids are playing catch, his older brother is over by the teens and has already made friends. He spots the basketball court and runs over to the kids who are playing. He has no idea which one of them is Mr. Hayhoe's son, but at least they all look to be about his age, maybe a bit older.
He leans against the fence and watches for a second but they don't take notice of him.
"Hey, can I play with you?" he finally yells, after one team just scored a point.
"Who are you?" a boy with red hair and freckles asks.
"I'm Jose. I'm new here. We moved here from Florida a few months ago," he tells them and they all stare at him. He looks around and his eyes stop at a thin, tall boy. He has blonde curls, blue eyes and wears braces.
Jose wants braces, too, because all the kids have them now, but his mom says he doesn't need them. The boy stares back and their eyes meet. He has really blue eyes and is so pretty; Jose really wants to be his friend. "So, can I play with you?" he asks him directly and gives him a shy smile.
All the boys now look to the blonde one. He seems to be the boss.
"Brock, what do you say?" a dark haired boy asks him.
"No, you can't," he decides and passes the ball to one of his friends. They walk back to middle of the court, their backs to Jose.
"Why not?" he asks, so disappointed he feels like crying.
"Because you're a baby," Brock tells him and the others laugh.
"Am not!" he yells and stomps his foot. "I'm nearly ten!"
"Look, at you! You're crying! You're a little cry baby," Brock goes on and suddenly Jose doesn't like him anymore. He's mean.
So Jose does what his older brother would do: He runs across the court and pushes Brock as hard as he can, before he runs off. Ok, his brother wouldn't cry while doing so, but still. He hides underneath a broken slide nearby until he can stop crying. He builds a sand castle all alone. Then he walks back inside the hall of the church, where his mother is still talking to other adults. His little brother is asleep.
"Ah Jose, there you are. Did you have a nice time with the other kids?" She asks him with a smile. He doesn't want to worry her more than he already does because of his reading.
"Yeah," he shrugs and hopes she believes him.
"Can you go and find your brother? We're leaving in a minute." He gets a kiss on his hair before he runs off again to find his brother. He avoids all other kids on his way.
Photograph: Jose blowing out candles on a cake that has a large 11 on it. He wears a pink birthday hat and several girls and boys are standing around watching and obviously singing to him.
Jose didn't want to celebrate his birthday at the church's Sunday picnic. Only once he is allowed to invite his friends from school and dance, he is ok with it.
There is only one kid at church that he wants at his birthday party, even though he is always so mean to him: Brock. He still wants him as his friend.
Brock has started calling him a creep baby or stalker baby, because Jose always follows him around and watches him, like a lost puppy. Jose knows it is stupid, but maybe he'll be able to get into Brock's clique and be his friend, if he doesn't give up?
And here Brock is now at his birthday party and Jose is happy.
"Hey, you want some cake?" he asks him and holds out a paper plate for him.
"Yeah, thanks," Brock replies and takes a small package out of his backpack. "Here, your present," he says and looks around. His parents are with the other parents over by the benches.
"Thank you," Jose feels so happy he wants to give him a hug. Brock brought him a present! This is his best birthday ever! "I'm at your school now."
"Yeah, I've seen you around."
"Cool! Can we hang out at lunch tomorrow?" He really, really wants to sit with Brock at lunch. Or have Brock sit with him and his friends. "My friends are cool, you'll like them and then we can all be friends."
"No, I don't wanna. And we're not friends." Brock lowers his voice and seems to make sure no one hears him.
"But you came to my party and you brought me a present," Jose holds the package up, clings to it.
"Yeah, because my parents made me come. I wanted to stay home."
"Why don't you wanna be my friend?" Jose asks, his voice quivering and tears coming to his eyes.
"Why do you wanna be mine? You're always following me around, all annoying with your yelling and dancing all the time. It's embarrassing."
"Because… " Jose doesn't know how to explain it. "You're pretty," he finally says with a small shrug.
"Oh god… are you…. Jesus, you did not just say that!" Brock looks disgusted and Jose feels even more stupid now.
"Don't swear, we're at church," he sniffs, so snot doesn't trip from his nose like the tears from his eyes.
"God, you're such a sissy boy," Brock rolls his eyes and walks off. Jose just stands there, still holding on to the present. He doesn't want it no more and wants to throw it at Brock's head. But his mother would beat him if she saw that. Curiosity wins in the end and he seeks out a quiet corner where he can unwrap it and get himself under control at the same time.
Inside, he finds a red basketball hat of his favourite team. He wonders how Brock knows, but then realises that most likely his parents got the gift and just asked his mother. He loves the hat, loves it even more because Brock gave it to him, even if he doesn't like him.
"Jose? Mijo, where are you?" he hears his mother call. "Dios mio, that boy will be the death of me, always running off somewhere," she adds more quietly.
"Mama, I'm here. I just unwrapped the gift Brock gave me," he tells her after he wiped his tears away. He puts the hat on and pulls it deep into his face so she doesn't realise that he's been crying again.
"Did you thank him?"
"And his parents?"
"No, he just gave it to me," he tries to defend himself.
"Go and tell them thank you," she orders.
"Yes ma'am," he mutters and runs off to where Brock's parents are sitting and eating cake. Brock is sitting beside them, but Jose decides to ignore him. He is eleven now and if Brock doesn't want to be his friend, then he will be a grown up and accept it.
Photograph: A polaroid of Jose in shorts and a basketball Jersey, sporting a black eye and having a bandage above his right eyebrow.
"Hey, Jose," he is greeted by a friend of his brother as he walks into the room. He can see Brock slouched in his chair at the back of the room, but he ignores him like he usually does. They hardly ever see each other at school, because Brock is two years above him and has a different schedule. Yet, they still see each other at church and Jose sticks to his plan and has stayed away from him ever since his birthday party over a year ago.
"Hey, Nick," he replies and sits down in the chair next to him.
"What did you do to end up here?"
"Didn't stop talking in class again, " he says honestly. "You?"
"Got caught smoking behind the gym. You only here today?"
"Yeah, two hours and they called my mom," Jose sighs and takes out the extra work he was given.
"That sucks. I'm just glad my parents never pick up their phones," Nick laughs and Jose joins him, even though he doesn't really think it's funny. "Hey, blondie!" Nick addresses Brock. "What did you do? Blow someone in the bathroom and got caught?" Jose doesn't know exactly what Nick is talking about, but he knows it's really bad and rude.
In the year that he's been in the same school as Brock, he has learned that while Brock might be the queen B at church, he's not one of the cool kids here at school. Jose has way more friends and way cooler friends than the crowd Brock usually hangs out with.
Sometimes he thinks it's only fair that Brock gets treated as badly at school as he treats Jose at church, but then he feels bad for thinking that way. If Brock were his friend, he'd let no one treat him that way, that's for sure.
"Leave me alone," Brock grumbles and goes back to scribbling.
"Watch how you talk to me! You better show me some respect," Nick warns him. Jose knows he has a temper and he knows he is an idiot, like most of his brother's friends are. So far he has always been nice to him though, maybe because he's embarrassed he still hasn't left middle school, even though he should have been out for two years. "You better stay away from him or you might catch something," he warns Jose.
"What do you mean? He sick?" He starts worrying immediately. What could Brock have that is so bad?
"He's a sicko. Everybody knows he's a fag."
"A faggot, a gay. He likes to fuck other boys," Nick spells it out for him.
"I do not!" Brock protests.
"My mama says everybody can love who they love," Jose shrugs. He knows 'gay' is supposed to be bad and most kids use it as an insult. Yet, if he is honest with himself he'd rather kiss a boy than a girl. He told his mother a while ago when they were alone and she said that was just fine, but that he shouldn't tell anyone until he was sure.
He can feel Brock's eyes on him, burning a hole into the back of his head, but he can't turn around. Not with Nick there, who will tell everything to his brother.
"Well, I think it's disgusting," Nick says with another nasty look at Brock. Then the teacher comes in and they have to be quiet.
By the time Brock and Nick are allowed to leave, Jose is still trying to copy the text he was given. But the letters are dancing in front of his eyes again and he can't seem to make them stop. With a sigh he rubs his eyes. This is so frustrating.
"You ok, Jose?" his teacher asks him from her desk.
"The letters… sometimes they move," he tries to explain and then stops, because he doesn't want her to laugh at him. He knows he is just stupid and letters can't dance, but that's what it looks like to him.
"I know it's hard sometimes. But there are things we can do to help you and things you can do on your own to make it better," she says instead and walks towards him, sits down in the chair beside him.
"Has no one ever done a dyslexia training with you? I mean, you have the diagnosis, right?"
"Who that is?"
"I mean the reason why it is so hard for you to read."
"Cause my brain doesn't work right?"
"Your brain works just fine. Just a bit differently. You know what, why don't you stop by tomorrow and I'll help you with your text. We call it quits for today and you can go home," she suggests.
"So I'm not too stupid to read?"
"No, absolutely not. Come on, darling, pack your things. Let's go home, it's late," she decides and Jose has rarely packed his things so quickly and with such a wide smile.
"Thank you Miss Johnson. You're the best! See you tomorrow!" he hurries out of the classroom and runs down the long corridors of the school. Usually they are not allowed to run, but there's no one around to stop him. He bursts through the door and out into the darkness. His mother is still at work and can't pick him up, so he has to take the bus.
"Let me go!" he hears someone scream and he knows that voice. Brock! Quickly he runs around the next corner and finds Nick and Brock in an alley way. Nick has Brock pressed against the wall, blood dripping from his nose already. Brock tries to get away, but Nick is stronger.
Jose doesn't think before he acts and runs towards them, shoves Nick as hard as he can, kicking his shin for good measure. "Let him go!" he yells.
"Hey, stay out of this Jo!"
"Leave him alone," he says again and puts himself between Nick and Brock. Both boys are taler than him, but he is so angry that he isn't scared at all.
"I told you to get the fuck out of the way and leave!" Nick roars and comes at them. He tries to get to Brock, but Jose fights him.
He might be small, but he has been fighting with his older brother for years and knows how to land a few painful blows or how to duck and cover. Brock tries to help, but it's obvious he's not used to physical fights. When Nick hits him hard in the face, Jose's face slams sideways into the wall behind him. It makes him furious and he lunges at Nick, tackles him to the ground and hits him until Brock pulls him off and tells him to stop. Then they quickly grab their bags and run, only stop when they are back at school. Thank god, the building is still open.
"You're bleeding really bad," Brock says and gently touches his forehead. Jose looks at him and while his face and shirt are blood stained, Brock's nose seems fine now.
"I'm ok," Jose shrugs and tries to wipe the blood away that seems to be tripping from his forehead.
"No, you're really not. I think you gonna need stitches," Brock lets him know and presses a tissue to his forehead, careful not to hurt him. "Let's call our parents so they can pick us up."
"My mom's still at work. I guess I just missed my bus," Jose knows after checking the time.
"We can take you," Brock offers and stirs him in the direction of the secretaries office. The two ladies in there are worried when they see them. The headmaster even lets them wait on his office couch, as they try to get Jose's wound to stop bleeding. Jose doesn't care though, it doesn't even hurt with Brock sitting by his side, looking all worried.
"Brock's parents will take you to the hospital. We reached your mom, she said it's ok," the headmaster finally tells them. "They should be here any second."
"Ok," Jose nods and winces when the wound starts stinging.
"Does it hurt?" Brock asks.
"No," Jose decides to be brave.
"Hey Jose?" he Brock says, very quietly.
"It's ok," he replies but can't stop the wide smile that spreads on his face. He'd get beaten up any day for him, if it means that Brock will finally be his friend. And he is.
Photograph: Jose and Brock leaning against a wall, both trying to look really cool in a gangster style kind of way.
"You sure no one will see us here?" Jose worries as he follows Brock along the train tracks towards an abandoned building.
"I'm sure. No one is ever here." Brock assures him and climbs over the small wall, Jose hot on his heels. "You got them?"
"Yeah, sure. My brother always leaves them lying around everywhere," Jose nods and pulls the pack of cigarettes and the lighter out of his backpack.
"You've tried one before?" Brock wants to know and takes one cigarette.
"No, I told you I haven't. My mom will whoop my ass, if she catches me smoking." Still, he takes a cigarette as well and they both light up. "Why haven't you tried it before?"
"My other church friends would tell their parents and get me into deep shit and I didn't wanna do it alone," Brock admits.
"You know I'm always there for the stupid shit," Jose laughs. They both take a drag of their cigarettes.
Jose watches in fascination how cool Brock looks doing it. He wishes he was that beautiful. But Jose isn't as cool and starts coughing immediately. "Yuck, shit, that's disgusting!" He throws the cigarette away and spits on the ground, trying to get the horrible taste out of his mouth. "Why do people do this?" he asks and grabs a gum out of his pocket. Brock just leans against the wall and watches him, laughs at his display of absolute un-coolness.
"Cause it looks good?" Brock wonders and takes another drag of the cigarette.
"Want one too, dumb-ass?" Jose asks him, when he sees Brock scrunch up his face, and holds out the gum. Brock stubs the cigarette out and takes the gum.
"That was a bust. But at least we can cross it off our list now. Thought it would be… better," Brock admits.
"Yeah, me, too," Jose laughs. "Bit like kissing… that sucks too."
"Yeah it's nasty. You like it?" Jose looks stunned.
"I've never kissed anyone," Brock admits and looks to the ground.
"You what? 16 and you never kissed anyone?" Jose doesn't believe it.
"No. And how come you have kissed someone? You're like 12!"
"14, asshole!" Jose punches his arm.
"Who did you kiss? You never told me," Brock asks.
"You know Tara?"
"The pretty blonde cheerleader?" Brock's eyes go wide.
"Yeah, I was invited to her birthday party and we played 'spin the bottle' and her friends made me kiss her. She asked me to be her boyfriend afterwards, but I said no."
"You really didn't like kissing her," Brock chuckles.
"No. I mean… if it's someone you like, I guess it can be nice. But I don't like her… like that." Jose tries to explain.
"I wouldn't know," Brock mutters and seems embarrassed.
"Just kiss someone, then you do know." It's not that hard, right?
"Who? It's not like the other kids at school line up to hang out with me and certainly not to kiss me."
"I'd kiss ya," Jose tells him honestly and with absolute conviction.
"You… Jo… but… you're a guy," Brock stutters, eyes wide.
"So? Guys can kiss guys," he shrugs. "And everyone says you're gay anyway. If you don't like kissing me, at least you know that you're really not, and can get yourself a girlfriend. It's a good way to stop the gossip. I'll tell them, if you want me to; Tell them how I kissed you and how you didn't like it and how you're not gay."
"You'd do that?"
"Yeah. Deal?" Jose asks.
"Deal," Brock finally nods and seems very unsure about what to do.
"Just relax and let me show ya," Jose laughs, brings his hands up to Brock's face, pulls him down towards him and kisses him.
Ok, this really feels different from when he kissed Tara. Brock smells like cologne and he tastes like gum and maybe a hint of cigarettes. Jose reluctantly pulls back a bit and looks up at Brock. His pupils are wide and there's a blush on his cheeks. Their eyes meet and they both lean in again.
Jose learns a thing or two as well that day. The difference between a simple peck and a kiss. A kiss with tongue. The cigarettes lie forgotten on the ground as they make out against the wall until their lips are swollen and the sun starts to set. They have to go home.
"Hey Jo?" Brock asks as they walk back along the tracks towards civilisation. "Can you please not tell anyone anything about… what happened?"
"Because my parents will ship me off to god knows where, if they find out I kissed a boy… and really liked it," he admits.
Jose can't help it, he has to kiss him again right there in the middle of nowhere. "Promise," he vows. "But you better keep them kisses coming," he smirks.
Brock shoves him playfully and they both chase each other the rest of the way home, laughing and touching each other as much as they dare.
Back at home Brock doesn't tell anyone about his first kiss, but Jose tells his mother as soon as he sees her and she promises to keep their secret. So, now he really knows he is gay.
Photograph: A polaroid of two hands, fingers intertwined, tanned skin against pale skin
"I think it's cool that you going to ballet camp this summer," Jose says. He is sitting between Brock's outstretched legs, his arms wrapped around his waist, both hidden under the school bleachers.
"My dad nearly had a fit. But I really want it. I just… love to dance," Brock emphasises.
"I know, boo," Jose smiles and kisses him.
"But I'm gonna miss you during the break. Camp is gonna be four weeks. We've never been four weeks apart," Brock is pouting now.
"We'll text and call. I mean, I wish I could come too, but with the shit going on at home… I can't leave my mom," he sighs.
"They're still fighting?"
"Every fucking day. Mostly about the shit my brother gets into. I don't wanna stress her out more. And camp is kinda expensive." Jose sighs heavily.
Life at home sucks at the moment. His older brother is getting more and more out of control and his mother and her boyfriend are fighting constantly. Jose tries to keep his younger brother out of the line of fire, but of course he notices. And then his mom comes to him, crying and upset and asks for advice about what to do. How is he supposed to know? He's a fifteen year old teenager.
"I'm sorry, papi."Brock holds him closer and places a kiss on his neck. He likes it when Brock does that and he wishes they could do more, but it's hard. Neither of them is out at school and besides Jose's mom, no one knows about them.
But they can't go to his house because of the fighting and his brother's fucked up friends. And they can't go to Brock's house because his parents watch them like hawks. Sometimes Jose thinks they know that they're more than just best friends.
"Not your fault. I'm glad you're here." Jose turns his head and kisses him on the mouth. They make out for a while. "I brought something," he remembers then. "I need something until you're back," he pulls out the old polaroid camera he found at home and which still works, to his biggest surprise.
Brock gladly poses with him for picture after picture; some sweet, some funny, some abstract- like when they take a picture of their hands, fingers linked like they usually are when they are alone.
"I really wanna have one," Brock looks at the different shots they've taken.
"Pick one," Jose smiles.
"I can't. If my parents find this…." He trails off.
"Pick one and Imma keep it save for ya until you can have it," Jose suggests and makes Brock smile. He taps his finger at one where they are both smiling at the camera, Brock kissing his cheek.
"This one's mine then," he says. "Promise you'll keep it save for me?"
"Promise," Jose nods and kisses his mouth. "Love ya, B."
"Love you, too, J," Brock says and flinches when the alarm on his phone goes off. "Fuck, I have to go or I'll be late for dinner."
"See you tomorrow?"
Another kiss and then he's gone.
Photograph: Picture of Jose. Hair bleached blonde, dark eye make up, lip gloss, earrings and a large tattoo on his chest.
He's sixteen when he decides that he wants to look how he feels on the inside. He's done hiding. And what's a better time for that than the start of a new school year. He wears all black now, all the time. And gets tattoos. And jewellery, as much as he can get. He is gay and he's feeling all types of ways, so he might let people around him know.
His brothers hate his new look, his mother doesn't say anything, mainly because they are barely speaking these days.
He's still not over the day when he came home shortly before the summer break and she told him they were leaving, going back to Florida. Just like that. It didn't work out with her boyfriend, his brother needed other surroundings and it's a good time for his younger brother to change schools.
"But what about me?" he yells at her. "What about me and Brock?"
"You'll get over him, mijo. You're so young. And as you can see, love never lasts," she tells him and looks so heartbroken that he doesn't find it in him to yell at her some more. Instead he slams the door of his room shut behind him, throws himself on the bed and sobs desperately.
He tells Brock the next day after school. Brock can't break down in public, because no one knows about them, but he starts shaking so bad that Jose thinks he might fall to the ground any second.
"What about us?" he asks, a broken sob breaking free.
"I don't know." Jose sniffs.
"I can't," Jose starts crying right there on the street. Brock gives him a hug and for once stops worrying about what others might think.
"We'll text and call and we can visit each other," Brock tries to fool them both into believing it. They both know there won't be no visits. Neither family can afford the travel.
Back in Florida Jose is glad to be with his extended family again, but the hole in his heart doesn't go away. It feels like a part of him is missing.
The text messages get rare as Brock joins ballet school after summer camp. Soon they stop texting altogether. Where's the sense in it anyway? He's fallen in love with Brock when he was still a kid and now he has to grow up, finish school and get a job.
When they are talking again, his mother asks sometimes if he heard anything from Brock, but it always makes him sad and angry, so after a while she stops. Just his brothers tease him about his 'boyfriend' sometimes, like it's some kind of joke that his heart is broken.
He finishes school, gets a job, continues to dance and hangs out at the clubs. Boyfriends come and go and it doesn't matter who it is or if he's with someone or single; Sometimes he just has to dig the little blue box out, that holds the photographs and polaroids of the time with his one true love. For years that's all he has left.
Jose hears the key turn in the door lock and freezes. He's forgotten the time while looking through the pictures. Quickly he tries to throw them all back in the box, but they are scattered on the sofa, the couch table and the floor.
"Hey, I'm back," his boyfriend lets him know unnecessarily and leans over the back of the armchair to give him a kiss hello. Jose throws one last picture back into the box and then closes it. "What's this?" He points to the box.
"Nothing," Jose shrugs and holds the box tighter, wishes he could just make it disappear.
"That's not nothing. Why do you look so guilty? What's in there? Sex toys?" he laughs, comes around the couch and tries to take the box from him. Jose holds it tightly. "Come on, what's in there?"
"Just stuff… old photos," he shrugs and tries to downplay it.
"Let me see."
"'Cause it's embarrassing," he mutters, but knows he doesn't stand a chance anymore. He can't keep this a secret anymore without making a huge deal out of it.
Thing just is, it is a huge deal to him and he doesn't really know how to explain it. He doesn't want to come clean about his first crush in detail. How stupid is it, to have fallen in love with someone when you're so young? Sure, he didn't realise it back then, but… it is what it is.
His man lifts the lid and sits down on the couch. "Awwww, look at you," he gushes when he sees the first school picture of him taken in Canada. "You were so adorable…. well, still are," he smiles and presses his lips to Jose's cheek before he continues digging.
"Oh my god, I can't believe you still have that picture! I remember that day. You told me I was pretty and had me so twisted, I was even meaner to you than usual. I'm sorry," Brock laughs when he sees the picture of his birthday party.
"You gave me the hat," Jose supplies.
"And you wore it every day for years until it nearly fell apart. I loved that hat on you." Brock puts the box down on the table and pulls Jose close by wrapping an arm around his shoulders. "Why didn't you tell me you still have these?"
"'Cause it's stupid…" He pouts.
"'Cause it's embarrassing as fuck to tell your man you fell in love with him, when you were nine years old and he hated you," Jose finally spills and huffs. He crosses his arms in front of his chest.
"I didn't hate you. I didn't know what I felt back then, but it had nothing to do with hate," Brock laughs and cuddles him close. "I thought you were the cutest boy I'd ever seen, when you walked onto the basketball court and shoved me so hard I fell."
"Yeah?" Jose perks up, a small smile playing on his lips.
"Yeah." Brock kisses him. "How about we look through these together and I tell you what I really thought, while I was being an absolute asshole to you?"
"You gonna tell me something sweet?"
"Of course," Brock chuckles and Jose puckers his lips so he can get another kiss. "Now, look, this one I remember because you…" Brock starts telling him his side of the story and Jose realises that the picture isn't complete until he knows what really went through Brock's mind back then and what he was really feeling.
Afterwards, the pictures are not going back into the box, but are framed and put up on the wall in the living room of their house. It's not every day that you find your true love at ages nine and eleven, and it's certainly nothing to be ashamed of when it's a story told in photographs on your living-room wall.