(Content Warning: Murder and Violence)
Through my bedroom window, I watch the police cruisers make tracks along our muddy driveway, dying off like fireflies as they recede into the dark backwater. They came here to ask me questions about you. A pair of vehicles rolled up with the moon-tide, men with arms but of little action. They wanted to know everything about us, our relationship.
They stayed here for hours, and it seems that no one knows a damn thing. You’re nothing to them but a mystery, a body that they dragged out of the banks this morning and stuffed in a drawer.
My eyes, for the hundredth time today, scan through the obituary of The Louisiana Huff to make sure it’s true, though your face, your name, and your picture are stamped across the first page. The newspaper says you're dead. Two fishermen reported finding your body to the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. It states here that they didn’t understand how a crocodile hadn’t fed on any of your limbs while you floated along the bayou. The official news report doesn’t confirm foul play, much like last month's edition when a boy only a bit older than you was found in a freshly carved trench. The article does, however, highlight how your hands were bound behind your back. It also states how crimes similar to these are on the rise in the state.
I don’t understand; I was with you last night. We went out together, ordered burgers and fries at Slim’s. You said something about going out for the football team, about getting yourself a letterman’s jacket, and asked me to head down to tryouts with you in three days.
“But three days from now is a Sunday,” I replied.
“So? Tell your Ma that you have a thing.”
“You know she never lets me skip out on church.”
You threw a half-eaten fry at my face and called me lame. You hunched over the table and begged me to go, “Please, just talk to her, Luke. It’s just one day.”
I promised you that I’d try to get out of it, but only if you swore that you’d make the team and take me to the parties.
“Don’t forget about us, little folk, once all the fame builds up in your brain.”
The medical report on the next page says you suffered a head injury, a blow to the occipital, that even if you had been rescued in time, the chances of permanent damage to your spine were great.
We were sitting close in our booth, we hugged outside the diner. I asked you if you wanted a ride.
“No, I’ll be alright, Luke. Get yourself home before your Ma has a fit. Don’t forget to ask her about Sunday, okay?”
How did it happen? Was it one guy, two, or a whole gang?
Ma knocks on the door. I crumble the newspaper and attempt to rub away the tears nearly plastered to my face.
“Are you reading that thing, again?” she asks.
Ma sits right next to me, brings my head into her chest. She runs her fingers through my hair, combs them all the way back.
“It’s getting late, dear. You need to get some rest.”
“Why JC, Ma? Why him?” I mumble with my head below her neck.
You were always polite; you smiled at everyone. You had smarts, were white, from an educated family with diplomas lined across the walls of your living room. You had a loving mother, a father that gave you his name. You had everything.
Ma pulls me away slightly, looks at my flooded eyes.
“Did you know?” she asks.
“That Julius was gay?”
I remember us swimming in our t-shirts no matter how overcast the day was. We sat on the plywood dock, dipped our feet in the water, attracting catfish to the nubs of our toes. We laughed as the clouds amassed, bravely taunting Hurricane Lili as a tropical storm formed at a distance.
The tides rose. Trees began to slant, bending to the currents of Lili’s rage. The wind blew the leaves off the willows and driftwood over our heads. Our moms came out, calling us back inside, but before we could register the circumstance, your dad had grabbed us by the waists and carried us back to my place.
The storm caused you and me to tremor, and the window panes to shake.
Your dad, Private Julius Caesar the First, ordered us to complete a mission, “Be brave, you two, look out for one another, and don’t misbehave.”
“Ay-ay,” you said with a salute to the head and turned my way. “Don’t worry, Luke, I’m here with you. This storm’s got nothing on us.”
I returned your gesture a bit confused by your enthusiasm and also worried that the storm would uproot our house and carry the people I loved away.
The water swallowed the dock while the marsh crept to our doorstep. Your dad thought it would be fun to build us a tent and have us hide under the kitchen table. Ma handed us two flashlights which you ended up calling lightsabers. She traced crosses along both our foreheads for protection. “May God keep you two safe.”
“What was that for?” you asked, furrowing your brows as soon as she left.
I explained that Ma being a pastor meant she believed intensely in her faith. You shrugged your shoulders, not really understanding my words, laid down in our make-shift cot, and started casting shadowy figures over the underside of the kitchen table.
“What a wild sleepover,” you whispered minutes before falling asleep.
I looked over at you, sat up, and clasped my hands together while your back was turned. I prayed for the storm to pass, for the winds to dissipate, the water to abate, for your safety.
The next day after breakfast, your mom helped Ma clean up the house and put the place in order.
Your dad commended us both on surviving the storm. “Comrades like Luke here aren’t easy to come by,” he said. “Wouldn’t you agree, son?”
“Yeah, dad, you’re right!” you answered, wrapping your arm behind my neck. “Luke and I can survive anything. We’re a two-man army!”
You all went home, waved goodbye to Ma and me, thanking our hospitality. That night Ma and I recited some verses together as I laid in bed, and after she left, I included you in my wishes and prayed that our friendship would always last.
Ma organized a church thing for you, though you and your family never attended a single Sunday service. People in town find it strange that Ma’s the pastor; they probably fantasize that we don’t pray, that we simply drown baby pigs and possums under the full moon.
She’s wearing a white robe and handing out pictures of you to everyone entering the church. Behind each laminated photo, there’s a prayer for the faithful departed: Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
I’m not sure you would have approved of this. I’m not sure if the people heading inside approve of it either, of us sitting down, kneeling, and singing in your name. Some families step inside the temple with doubt, creasing the skin of their foreheads the moment they see your face. I understand; some of them didn’t even know you, you’re not their son, brother, or even cousin. Word about you is spreading around town like wildfire, and believe it or not, a lot of people think you had it coming. They don't find it unjust; to some of them, it’s what people get for coming out of the closet and shouting to the world that they’re gay.
I knew you for years. You weren’t precocious, you didn’t blossom like the flowers, you never stood out for your beauty or for acting a certain way. You worked with your dad in the summer every year after he officially hung up his uniform. You could push a motorboat onto the river without any help and knew how to fix my car better than me.
You spoke French, never drank, never got into trouble. You didn’t pick a fight you couldn’t win. You could drive a motorcycle and pop a wheelie on one, much to your mother’s dismay. In a way, you were flawless, a perfect thing. In their eyes, you got killed, maybe deserved it, because preferring boys was your only mistake.
The police officers asked me if we were ever intimate. They alluded to the fact that maybe we had mutually kept secrets. Ma leaned into the kitchen table, hands digging into the side of her face. She shook her head, told them to stop, that you and I loved each other, but only as friends.
“Did you guys ever…”
I offered no response, waited for the policeman to finish his question, forced him to complete his train of thought.
“Did we ever what?”
“You know?” he swung his eyes to the ceiling, then to the floor, turned back to his partner, who grinned at his demise.
I think if they had asked the question directly, I could have offered them a dignified answer instead of stoking the flames of their curiosity.
Did we ever lay beside one another, closer and closer under the starlit sky? We did.
Would we watch the clouds form, hug each other while sitting on the hood of my car, listening to the wind? We would.
Did I pray for you? Look for us in The Bible, try to find references for the very thing that we harbored in our chests for one another? I did.
Could I imagine who might have wanted to do something so horrifying to you, throw you into the deep end of the bayou, restrain your wrists with zip-ties, smack you so hard across the head that you would drown, and even if you didn’t, even if you made it to the shore, you would still end up dead? No, not a single goddamn person comes to mind.
Did you have any enemies, people willing to torture you? Did I know anyone you seriously disliked? Were you seeing someone? Did you have a good relationship with your parents? Could your dad maybe have…? No. No. No.
You were like an icon, something to be treasured. People at school treated you the same way they treated me, even better. Your mother and father loved you, knew everything about you, didn’t call what you felt a phase, a page you would turn and throw away.
“Could it have been a crime a passion?” one of the policemen speculated.
Passion, but what kind of person shows their love for another through pain?
The officers noted down my responses up until the cicadas sang. Ma made coffee, keeping all of us awake. They left in the middle of the night after salting my wounds and draining me like leeches. I gave them my prints, the pictures I had of us, let them take bits and pieces of you, leaving me only with the lingering thoughts and decay.
Last night Ma came into my room, she let me drink my tears, dry my eyes, and in the end, I didn’t pray for you.
You’ve never been in here, so I should let you know that the church is small. If one is to go to the bathroom, the people to the side have to hug in their knees to give them enough space to transit between the aisle. There’s a single ceiling fan that judders over us, whirs as it spins, causing Ma to speak up over the noise.
There are cherubs painted behind the pulpit with wings stemming from their floating heads. Each window is like a kaleidoscope, depicting young children in prayer, three kings, ornamental flowers in every hue available.
Ma raises The Bible, calls your name, though the chapters never once mention us.
I can’t tell anyone JC, say how we layered over one another like the foam and the sand. I can’t wish to the stars for you to come back. I want to hide under the table, to repeat your name so that it never dispels like a hurricane.
I prayed for you until your last day. I’ll still pray for you; repeat your name daily. I’ll name an angel in your homage. Dense, gray clouds will cow me into glamours, noticing the sound of your laughter during each tropical storm.
I’ll sob when I see you in history books, highlight your name, and memorize the numbers on each page. I’ll pray for you eternally. You’ll never be forgotten, I swear. I'll also pray for the pain to pass someday.