BRUCE THE SECOND
What am I doing in this closet?
Surely, when Ely told me not to leave, he didn’t mean to stay in here.
After a good two minutes (I count to 120), I step out. I don’t close the door behind me, though. I look in and see all of Ely’s pretty shirts. They look like they’re made of wrapping paper.
I shop at the Gap. I don’t even have the body for Abercrombie’s non-muscle wear. I own three pairs of jeans and rotate them. (For those, I splurged and went Banana Republic.) What am I doing here?
I know Ely’s not toying with me. I trust him. But I also feel that life is toying with me. This can’t be right. The Cosmic Screenwriter is doing this as a joke.
Ely would never fall for a guy wearing a Gap button-down and Banana Republic jeans. Especially not L, 34/32.
And I would never fall for a guy who was . . . well . . . a guy. That was the script, right? I mean, I’m all for falling for the person, not the gender . . . but this is not exactly where I thought I’d be. I won’t lie: I’ve definitely thought about the guy thing before. And then I’ve dismissed it. Until this. This won’t be dismissed.
I know I should leave. Just go. Because there’s a point where a mistake turns into a big mistake, and I should probably come to my senses before I get there.
But of course, ‘come to my senses’ makes no sense. My senses are happy here. Or they will be, when he comes back.
I wonder if I should still be hiding. I crouch down to look under the bed, to see if maybe I could fit there.
And that’s how I find it.
The mother lode.
At first I don’t get it. I see all the plastic sleeves, and since the lode’s under the bed, my first reaction is, He keeps his porn in mint condition?
Then I reach in and pull one out.
It can’t be.
But it is. It looks like he has every single X-Men comic published in the last ten – no, twenty – years. None of the desperate spin-offs. Just the core series. Wolverine. Jane Grey. Emma Frost. Mmmm…Emma Frost.
The X-men were pivotal heroes for me. Before them, I always liked the more conventional superheroes, the ones like Superman and Batman who had their “normal” alter egos – their Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne lives to hide behind. But the X-Men were different. They were always exactly who they were. Wolverine couldn’t shave himself and put on a tie and go to work at a newspaper. Poison Ivy couldn’t touch anyone whether she was at school or at war. Cyclops couldn’t change out of a cape and attend fancy dinner parties. No, the mutants were full-time mutants. Their powers and their weaknesses were all out in the open.
That appealed to me.
I was never allowed to collect comics. My mother didn’t like the clutter. She said I should donate my old comics to poor children who didn’t have any comics of their own to read. How could I argue with that?
Ely, clearly, has a different philosophy.
I leave the comics in their clear plastic sleeves. I can’t violate them with my fingerprints. Not without asking.
But I look at the covers, all the Jim Lee scenes, so many different shades of mutant. There are even star-stickers stuck onto a few of the sleeves. Ely’s favorites, no doubt.
I never would have guessed. Underneath the wrapping paper, there’s an X-Men heart. Uncanny.
I’m so transfixed that I don’t hear the footsteps or the door opening. But I sense a presence in the room, because I look up from my side of the bed and see one of Ely’s moms hovering over it.
“Hello,” she says. She does not seem particularly startled to see me.
“Hey,” I say, starting to stand up.
“No, no – you can stay there. I’m sure you’re just waiting for Ely. Make yourself comfortable.”
And that’s it. She turns around and leaves.
Which makes me wonder if this happens a lot.
Which makes me wonder why I’m still here.
I mean, I know Ely’s slept with a lot of guys. Naomi has certainly mentioned what a boyslut he is. I mean, whenever we were together, she boasted on his behalf. Not just the sex part.
Everything. The boys, I sensed, were disposable. Naomi was granite. And Ely was granite to her. There was no way for me to compete with that. So I let her talk. I always let her talk. Mostly about Ely.
Do all the boys feel like this? I mean, is this the way it usually goes?
It’s like I’m joining a club. The Boys Who’ve Fallen For Ely club. Hundreds throughout the greater Metropolitan area. Every year they have a potluck and compare their broken hearts.
How long do they usually wait for him in situations like this? An hour? Two? The whole night?
I’m not even supposed to like boys.
But, yeah. Here I am.
I lie down on the floor. Close my eyes. I can hear a television in another room – maybe his moms’, maybe from the apartment downstairs. If I can hear them, can they hear me? I’m really nothing but a heartbeat and thoughts right now. Not restful or restless. The rest.
“You could use the bed, you know.”
I open my eyes, and Ely is smiling over me. So damn sexy that I can’t help but love it and fear it and resent it and want it.
“What time is it?” I ask. Did I fall asleep? Am I really awake?
“I’ve only been gone about ten minutes,” he answers. “Miss me?”
I just say it. “Yes.” Like that.
Please may this not be a game. Please may this not be a game. Because if it’s a game, I know I’m going to lose.
I sit up and he sits down next to me. His breath smells like Orbit. He looks a little sad, but he’s trying to hide it from me.
“Where’s Naomi?” I ask.
“She left without me. Made a date with Bruce the First.”
This is news. If you separate two people who are usually as fused together as an atom, there’s bound to be an explosion.
But Ely’s keeping it muted.
“I see you found the stash,” he says, gesturing beneath the bed.
“It’s awesome,” I tell him.
I’ve entered the land of Bonus Points.
“You’re into X-Men?” he asks, putting whatever’s going on with Naomi aside in order to be with me.
“Are you kidding?” I tell him. “When I was nine, I actually mailed in an application to go to Xavier’s school. Put a stamp on the envelope, put it in a mailbox – everything. I didn’t hear from them, but the next year I did it again. And again.”
“Their queer quota is probably full up.”
I feel a little weird about him saying that – I don’t think he realizes what new territory this is for me.
“I’m not sure I would’ve put that on the application then,” I tell him. “But, yeah, maybe they have ways of knowing.”
Ely looks at me in a way that feels like he’s touching me.
“And how else are you a mutant?” he asks.
Sometimes attraction is the only truth serum you need. “I dunno,” I begin. But I do know, and I’m going to tell him. “I’m afraid of the number six. I have a microscopic third nipple, which would have made me a witch in Medieval times. I can roll my tongue. I’m unable to throw a Frisbee, no matter how hard I try. I avoid red foods.”
“Even foods that have a little red in them?”
“No. They have to be all red. Pizza’s okay, tomatoes not so much.”
He nods sagely. “I see.”
I’m glad that he sees. But what I really wish he’d see is how much I want him to kiss me right now.
But instead he says, “Naomi never told me what a mutant you were.”
That sound you hear is my spirits falling to earth.
“Where’d she go, anyway?” I ask.
“I actually don’t know.” He seems annoyed when he says it — hurt, even. But then he covers it with, “I can’t say I minded. I’d much rather be here with you.”
I don’t know why, but I find myself asking, “Is that really true?”
Ely shakes his head. “Man, I can only imagine what you must think of me.”
“Naomi’s told me stories,” I say.
“I’m sure she has. Were they any good?”
“Not really,” I tell him. “I mean, the one with the TA serenading you at B-Bar with ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ was kinda funny. The one with the guy who wanted you to write your phone number on his dick with a Sharpie — not so much. And I’m still not entirely sure how why that guy gave you the maple syrup. I guess the truth is, I like you better in person.”
“That’s funny. I’ve always liked Naomi’s version of me the best. I’m always much more interesting when she talks about me.”
“Well, maybe you’re mistaken,” I say.
And he looks me in the eye and says, “Well, maybe I am.”
The two of us are just sitting there. And it’s not as if the air is charged with sexual electricity. But the air isn’t empty, either. It’s just a…normal moment. We’re living in real time.
“And how are you a mutant?” I ask.
“Well,” he says, “my skull is made of titanium. I have the ability to read minds and part seas. I can make my left arm invisible, if I’m wearing blue. I only need an hour of sleep every night. And I have a third nipple, too.”
“Your skull is made of titanium?”
He leans in.
“Yeah. Wanna see?”
And it is like electricity now. That first shock. Then the amazement that it happened. I touch his hair, his skull underneath. All the fragile non-fragile parts.
Hands in his hair, fingers touching the back of his head, I know this is not love.
But I am afraid – I am amazed – that it could be.
I wish my heart were titanium, too.