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Romance Coming of Age Gay

I told myself I wouldn’t let him break my heart in a parking lot.


When Nick returned home for the summer, his parents had converted his room into a pilates studio. That meant he was sleeping on a pull-out in the living room. Spending time at his house had been difficult back when they were in high school, but now there was nowhere for them to hide. Maybe that had been the point of eradicating his homeward privacy. His parents, like many who suspected their child was growing up in ways they couldn’t adjust to, might have thought the solution was radical visibility. No choice but to spend an entire summer looking at their son while simultaneously refusing to see him.


Meanwhile, my house was ripe with nooks and pockets of discrepancy where two college students could listen to mixtapes without curious eyes surveying them. The trouble was, these spaces were all created by my father’s abandoned renovation projects that had turned our residence into something resembling the Winchester mansion had Lady Winchester been an out-of-work shop teacher who lost his job after showing up to work drunk for two weeks straight. My father had managed to stay sober since July 4th. He used the fireworks as a marker for his newfound stability. I didn’t expect it to last past Labor Day. Seasons seemed to hit him fairly hard, and my mother had left us both several Septembers ago. That meant autumn was a hurricane in his mind that rarely left anything undamaged. His sobriety also brought about this sudden interest in construction, and I refused to welcome anybody into a home that smelled of sawdust and broken attention.


That left us spending hours a day parked in a campus lot at the state school I attended while Nick was at a school in Maine studying Impressionism and discreetly dating adjunct professors. My college years were nowhere near as exciting. Most of the students were commuters, which filled up the dozen or so gray buildings that made up the college with a ghost town vibe on weekends and over breaks. We chose the parking lot outside the arts building as our rendezvous spot, because it was off the campus security checkpoint route when classes weren’t in session. I suppose the logic was that nobody would want to spend more than five seconds staring at the hideous mural of two trombones dancing together that was painted on the west wall of the building facing the lot.


Our one bit of luck was that it had been a tepid summer. The heat never reached more than eighty-five degrees, and that meant we could get away with having the windows of my beat-up Buick open instead of running the A/C which would have siphoned away precious gas. Whatever money I had was squirreled away from my summer job at the shaved ice emporium downtown, but it wasn’t much, and my father would borrow twenty dollars from me every other day or so for a tool he needed or extra screws.


“Where are you going,” he asked me one Wednesday, knowing I had the day off, “I thought you were going to help me take down that wall between the kitchen and the dining room?”


I told him I was going to hang out with Nick. There was no reason to lie to my father. He knew Nick was my best friend, and without making it explicit, I believe he assumed that there was something present beyond just two men who had spent their high school years isolating themselves from everyone else around them. Perhaps he was relieved that we might simply be gay instead of emotionally disturbed. Either way, he never brought it up, except to ask that I pick up a can of white paint on my way home.


“I put the remix of ‘Better in the Afternoon’ after ‘Lost Morning,’” Nick would explain his mixtapes like an artist doing a crit, “Because I wanted you to have something you could listen to all day long, and the remix is, like, twelve minutes. Right after that, I have ‘Afternoon Delight’ and ‘Every Day at Three and Five.’ I couldn’t find as many songs with ‘Evening’ in the title, but I found a few. I should have just done songs with the word ‘Night’ in them, but I know you like the word ‘Evening’ better, because you’re a weirdo.”


We had begun making the tapes that would have to last us until the holidays. This was a ritual we adopted when it became clear that I was not going to get into the university in Maine that would allow me to be close to Nick. My grades weren’t good enough, and even if they were, I have no idea how I would afford the tuition. My father’s financial background would never allow for any kind of loan, and the smart thing was to stay local, ace my undergrad career, and reconvene with Nick in grad school. We would both get on the phone every night and talk about Chicago or Seattle. It was only lately that I started to feel his dreams veer slightly from mine. To me, cities more than an hour away were as fantastical as Narnia or Oz. Nick had already had his world expanded just by virtue of being a train ride away. Now he was considering advanced education in Europe. Traveling. One of his recent ex-boyfriends suggested that he spend a year working on his art at this remote colony outside of Lisbon where he would have no contact with the outside world.


But what about me, I thought, All your dreams used to have me in them.


My mixtapes to him were meant to signal my distress with what I saw as our inevitable separation. I stockpiled Fiona Apple on top of Ella Fitzgerald on top of Amanda Marshall. Joss Stone dovetailed into Tracy Chapman. Barely any male singers were present other than, of course, Rufus Wainwright. I avoided the obvious torch tributes like Garland and Horne only because the energy between us at that point was still lingering somewhere between romance and uncertainty. Both of us were comfortable with who we were, but we weren’t sure who we wanted to be together. I had suggested a friends with benefits scenario multiple times, but Nick was intelligent enough to see that anything casual would derail what we had spent years constructing. I can see now that he was right, but at the time, I felt sure I could handle the sort of sophisticated purely sexual relationship with a friend that I had seen portrayed on various HBO shows. The folly of youth is being able to convince yourself that you can do quantum mechanics when you’ve only just learned basic subtraction.


In what was to be our last mixtape swap and listening session before Nick went back to Maine, we took turns recounting how we first met in Introduction to English Literature. It started when both of us centered individual projects on the play “Macbeth” around the music of Fleetwood Mac. We couldn’t believe the serendipity of our choice, even though, in theory, what other music would you use if you were doing a project on a Scottish tragedy? Both of us saw Stevie as Lady M and Lindsay as the doomed protagonist. Over lunch in the cafeteria, we began trading superlatives across the musical spectrum.


Best Song from the 70’s

Best Song from the 80’s

Best Break-Up Song

Best Song Everybody Can Sing

Best Song Nobody Can Sing But the Original Artist


We began bringing in mixtapes and leaving them taped to each other’s lockers. When we skipped prom, we spent the night walking around the city listening to mixtapes we made entitled “Songs for When You Didn’t Go to Prom.” At graduation, I told Nick if he gave me a mixtape with Vitamin C on it I would never speak to him again. He handed me a tape that had nothing on it but Vitamin C. I had prepared one just like it for him. My father wasn’t at graduation, because he had fallen asleep on the floor of the basement after looking at photos of my mother and drinking himself into unconsciousness. It didn’t phase me. I had Nick and I had Vitamin C. What else did I need?


That last day in the parking lot, I thought about how August might be the cruelest month. It’s the last chapter of the novel. It’s the final look someone gives you before they turn to walk away forever. It’s a constant feeling of looking for meaningful words to express something that was never meant to be expressed. Nick told me that he loved me and I said it back. We had reached the end of the mixtape he’d prepared. “Silver Springs” was playing and I was trying my hardest not to sweat, because I could sense that this was a powerful, emotional moment and I didn’t want to ruin it with perspiration. I could see that he was searching for a way to tell me that he’d always be there for me, but that our path had diverged. I knew he’d feel guilty about leaving me behind. I knew I would never push myself if I thought he might swoop in and rescue me at any moment. We both knew that we were great songs by the same band that belonged on different albums.


Stevie was singing about time and spells and how the person she was singing to would never forget her. I was trying not to look at Nick as he rolled up the windows and cleared his throat. The two trombones were dancing in front of me. Life seemed to be both absurd and much too real all at the same time. When I finally turned to look at him, he wasn’t trying to say anything at all. He was waiting for me to see him as I always had.


The thing about a broken heart is that I think we might all be born with our hearts broken. Then we spend the rest of our lives finding the people who know how to put it all back together. Sitting in that car in August, I realized that in bracing for something I was afraid of the one thing that might happen, I hadn’t opened myself up to the possibility of anything else happening either. I had created stasis. An unending August instead of a welcome to September. To whatever would be coming next. It wasn’t sustainable. Stevie would have told me to sing the damn song and move on. So that’s what I did. I leaned across the cup holders and I kissed my best friend for the very first time knowing it might also be the last. I’m proud to say I was only a little bit sweaty when it happened.


Later that night, I sat in one of my house’s many crannies listening to one of Nick’s mixtapes with a notebook writing down all the places I was determined to see at some point. I had nearly filled up two pages when the last song of the tape came on, and I had to put down my pen. It wasn’t a song at all. Just Nick’s voice.


Hey weirdo, if you’re listening to this, congratulations. I’m buying you a train ticket to Maine for Labor Day Weekend. I’m not ready for us to be tragic yet.


And wouldn’t you know it?


On the list of places I wrote down in my notebook--


Maine was Number One.

June 10, 2022 19:44

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33 comments

Mister X
20:13 Jun 11, 2022

Kevin, forgive me in advance if this comes out wrong especially because I really enjoyed your story. For the most part I tend to skip stories where there is any sort of romance between men. Mainly because I don't get it. I find absolutely nothing attractive about men, in fact I have no idea why women like us. We are hairy and smelly and for the most part infantile. Not a pleasant picture. That being said you have such a talent for description that I broke my rule to read this story. Truth in advertising, in my mind I changed the name of th...

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K. Antonio
23:48 Jun 10, 2022

Believe it or not, my initial thought this week was actually to write a story involving characters and a mixtape (guess it's true what they say about great minds 🤣😂). I enjoyed how this was a study between the two characters' relationship, how it starts at a zone of friendship and isolation and goes into a place of romance (but ultimately, still a feeling of friendship). This was actually my favorite line: "Perhaps he was relieved that we might simply be gay instead of emotionally disturbed." LOL. Oddly enough, when I was young I also ...

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Story Time
00:03 Jun 11, 2022

Thank you, my friend!

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Story Time
00:04 Jun 11, 2022

Normally everything in me as a writer resists giving characters a happy ending, but I justified it in my mind by saying a) we don't *know* that it's a happy ending, it's just the possibility of one and b) I really, really want to.

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Claude Gomes
15:03 Jun 15, 2022

u r very gifted

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Story Time
20:36 Jun 15, 2022

<3

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Rama Shaar
12:38 Jun 15, 2022

What a fantastic read that was! I have too many lines to commend you on. Wow!

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Story Time
20:37 Jun 15, 2022

Thank you, Rama!

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Samantha Cullen
15:47 Jun 14, 2022

"We both knew that we were great songs by the same band that belonged on different albums." I love that. Beautiful story, thank you!

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Story Time
21:40 Jun 14, 2022

Thank you, Samantha!

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Andrea Doig
15:38 Jun 14, 2022

Oh yay! I enjoyed the ending! I write stories that seem to not have happy endings most of the time - and I actually LOVE a happy ending. Thank you for inspiring me ;) My favourite line was: 'We had reached the end of the mixtape he’d prepared. “Silver Springs” was playing and I was trying my hardest not to sweat, because I could sense that this was a powerful, emotional moment and I didn’t want to ruin it with perspiration." That made me giggle a little - it is so easy to identify with! Thanks for sharing! x

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Story Time
21:40 Jun 14, 2022

Thank you, Andrea!

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Beth Jackson
07:50 Jun 14, 2022

Aww, Kevin, I really connected with this story! Oof, that line “…spend an entire summer looking at their son while simultaneously refusing to see him.” So much truth there and through the story. Thank you for sharing. :-)

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Story Time
21:41 Jun 14, 2022

Thank you, Beth!

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Shea West
19:15 Jun 12, 2022

Two lines that hit me the most: The thing about a broken heart is that I think we might all be born with our hearts broken. Then we spend the rest of our lives finding the people who know how to put it all back together. (This carries so much truth. It's like that Japanese pottery that gets shattered, and they put it back together with gold.) I had created stasis. An unending August instead of a welcome to September. (I dunno, this just felt so John Hughes to me and I loved it.) This was a great read! You had me at Fiona Apple and Tracy ...

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Story Time
23:43 Jun 12, 2022

Thank you Shea!

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Zack Powell
13:13 Jun 12, 2022

This story gives me big "Boy in the Pink Tuxedo" vibes, and we all know how that did in the contest. You do such a great job on these coming of age gay romance stories, Kevin. Full of humor and wisdom, and they're always infinitely relatable. You understand and empathize with your characters, and that translates to the page. Lot of great stuff to like in this piece, too. The mixtape symbolism, the strong characterization of the narrator and Ron and even the father, the opening and closing lines of the story. I love the wistful tone of the p...

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Story Time
18:16 Jun 12, 2022

Thank you, my friend!

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Michał Przywara
19:23 Jun 11, 2022

This was a great story, with good characterization throughout. We are very much inside the narrator's head, which I think sets up the ending nicely. Is it a happy ending? I don't know. Something has changed. But it seems like a positive one, opening the door to possibilities. The opening was strong, specifically because of that very specific "in a parking lot." Lots of other great passages. This one stood out to me: "Perhaps he was relieved that we might simply be gay instead of emotionally disturbed." Ha! How does one line manage to come ...

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Story Time
05:53 Jun 12, 2022

Thank you, Michal!

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Patrick Samuel
17:18 Jun 11, 2022

"We both knew that we were great songs by the same band that belonged on different albums." A beautiful way to sum up a love that cannot live yet never dies.

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Story Time
17:31 Jun 11, 2022

Thank you, Patrick!

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Jeannette Miller
15:17 Jun 23, 2022

I love this story so much. The words hit me so lightly with incredible depth as I read them. "Silver Springs" is one of my favorite songs and also my most requested when I was a lead singer in a cover band a few years ago. After I left the band, I taught myself how to play it on the piano. I was still doing it until Covid shut things down. You captured it perfectly. Thank you :) A few of my favorite lines: "The folly of youth is being able to convince yourself that you can do quantum mechanics when you’ve only just learned basic subtraction...

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Story Time
16:46 Jun 23, 2022

Thank you so much, Jeannette!

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Wendy M
07:33 Jun 12, 2022

I loved reading this story. The line, "We both knew that we were great songs by the same band that belonged on different albums." Bowled me over, such a clever use of the metaphor.

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J.C. Lovero
02:17 Jun 12, 2022

Hello Kevin! Nice hook there at the beginning, and a bookend with a happy for now. Always a fan of gay romance, and you did not disappoint 😍 🥰 😘 The whole paragraph about the dad and autumn hurricane was perfection. So many beautiful lines throughout. I wouldn't be able to give you specific ones because I'd probably just copy/paste the whole damn story lol. Loved how you tied up the ending with the message and the list. So cute and wholesome. Thanks for sharing this with the world!

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Story Time
05:52 Jun 12, 2022

Thank you, my friend!

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Ace Quinnton
01:38 Jun 12, 2022

Great story, though I have a bit of critique for you. It's your choice if you want to follow it or not: I suggest that you break down the bigger paragraphs into smaller ones. Probably about 5 to 6 sentences at a time. They were very intimidating to read, so I stopped midway because I was going cross-eyed trying to read this.

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20:54 Jun 11, 2022

First of all, who doesn't like Fleetwood Mac? Second of all, God you are good. Infinite talent, Mr. B. This neologism: radical visibility YES. Every parent just nodded their stupid head. There is almost too much "Flavortown" in here (apologies for the Guy Fieri reference) -- but truly, an embarrassment of riches. The father alone is worth exploring in his own novella. Drunk shop teacher whose wife left him? Oh, do go on.... ("Extra screws...") heh heh Pure gospel here: The folly of youth is being able to convince yourself that you can d...

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Story Time
05:52 Jun 12, 2022

Thank you, maestro!

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10:34 Jun 12, 2022

This is the one to watch this week. Deserved win.

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11:37 Jun 11, 2022

Kevin, your romances are brilliant and I learn something new every time. They always manage to be subtle, insightful, and memorable. I confess I understood very few of the musical references, which I suspect would have added another layer of meaning to the story. My favourite part is the paragraph with 'August might be the cruelest month'. It was beautiful. Bravo. Thanks for sharing!

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Story Time
17:17 Jun 11, 2022

Thank you so much. Don't worry about the references--I'll make you a mixtape.

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