The worst day of Adam’s life was the day of his mother’s wedding. There had never been a first wedding, not even close. Maybe the whole thing was her trying to rewrite that—so despite having never stepped foot in the old church before that day, it was where their families gathered, sweating in the June heat, whispering behind waving fans. Mom wore white and a long tulle veil. She smiled so big standing in front of the priest, her hands holding Coach Morgan’s. Frank. Whatever.
Adam was supposed to be standing next to her, but since that morning he hadn’t been able to dislodge the heavy, sucking feeling from his chest. Like a blackhole or maelstrom. By the time they’d arrived to All Saints Presbytarian, he couldn’t catch his breath. Lining up in the back hall, his face went red and fat tears poured over his cheeks. It didn’t matter if he was mostly holding back the sobs as best as he could. Grandma was summoned and returned to her seat with Adam beside her. He kept his head down.
This was only the third wedding Adam had ever been to, including his Aunt Tracy’s, where he served as the ring bearer but was too young to remember it. The flowers were pretty; so was his mom’s dress. She seemed really happy.
His heart was racing so bad. Burning. Worse than when they had to run the mile in gym class. It didn’t feel real. Weren’t weddings supposed to be happy? Aren’t families supposed to be? How could this be happening, in this stuffy church with uncomfortable benches and too-white walls? Where was the magic? Wouldn’t some prince storm through the front door, declaring himself as Adam’s true father and that he’d loved them both all along before whisking them off to some castle far away?
An elbow landed sharp in his ribs. Adam flinched automatically but tried to ignore it as long as he could, which was until fingers pinched at the back of hand as hard they could. To his left sat the perfect boy in a suit matching Adam’s, neat blond hair, transparent blue eyes. His face was perfectly clear as he whispered, “Quit being such a fucking pussy.”
A handful of minutes later, his mother—their mother—said I do, and it was done.
Coach Morgan led the Silver Novice Guppies at the Mayfield YMCA. Swimming was a hardfought compromise between Adam and his mom. Sports, in general, did not appeal to him, particularly team sports, but it was the least offensive compared to tennis or karate or just, like, running around. He might have even liked it, if it wasn’t for Kyle.
Adam didn’t know what he ever did to Kyle to make him hate him so much. They met in preschool; Mayfield’s small enough that they hadn’t been freed from each other since.
When he was really young, Adam spent a lot of time out on his grandparents’ house, a lot tucked up against a bigger farm that only had a little barn with enough room for two pigs and the babies they sometimes had. Years passed with him in the dirt digging up worms, catching frogs and lightning bugs. He didn’t even know to be afraid of other boys until he met Kyle.
It was a lesson he learned fast: splinters in his hands and knees, chlorine in his eyes, the ground rushing at him, Kyle’s hands on him, his smile even wider than the other kids laughing behind him.
He did try to tell his mom, haltingly, not wanting to seem too weak. But she was very concerned about the lack of male figures in Adam’s life, how easily he cried at home, too, the limp way he carried himself.
“That’s just how most boys are,” she said. “He’s just playing. Maybe if you just laughed it off, or tried sticking up for yourself, you two could be friends! You can’t keep getting this upset by everything for the rest of your life.”
Then he started crying again, and she sent him to his room until he stopped. Eventually he started seeing more of Coach Morgan outside of swim practice, then more of Kyle outside of swim practice, school, and the bus, until Adam couldn’t escape him anywhere. And then they were brothers.
For a brief window in middle school, their teachers started assuming they were twins. It wouldn’t last long—Adam was four months and six days older, but Kyle would hit a bigger growth spurt earlier—but it was enough, apparently, that they shared parents, car rides to school, occasionally needed to hunt each other down for lunch money or doctor’s notes.
The years had worn down Adam’s resistance to their lives unifying. It also made the hate that lived in his belly grow all over.
The first time he told his mom that he hated Kyle was probably the only time he’d truly been in trouble before. Her hands were so tight on his shoulders as she kneeled, eye to eye, and said, “We never say we hate another person. That’s like—wishing that someone is dead, and no one deserves that. Or very, very few people. You need to tell me if Kyle did anything to make you think that way, okay?”
He thought I do and I did, but didn’t say anything else, not when he got in trouble for losing his new lunchbox and was an hour late walking home, snow falling fat and apathetic from the darkened sky.
They were wrestling, or at least that was what it was called between two boys who liked each other, when it first happened. Adam’s arm was twisted back, but he was starting to break free when he felt something hot and wet against his bicep, and then something sharp. It wasn’t the first time Kyle bit him, the dirty asshole, but it felt different almost immediately, deeper, piercing. Like he might actually take a chunk out of Adam.
He screamed. It wasn’t dignified or manly or anything else that had been building up inside him, just raw fear, and for once someone must have heard it. A moment later they weren’t alone anymore, hands pulling them apart.
“That’s such a fucking bitch move!” Adam howled. His mom snapped a warning at him, but Frank was laughing as he helped Kyle to his feet.
“You’d know about that, huh?” Kyle shot back over his shoulder as Frank led him into the kitchen, probably on their way out to the deck for some father-son commiserations. He smiled—his teeth were red.
“Am I bleeding?” Adam said, frantic and resigned, already knowing the answer before he reached a hand back and felt it wet from more than just spit. “I’m bleeding, and you’re yelling at me?”
He didn’t scream when Kyle snuck into his bed late at night, even before he fit a wide palm over Adam’s mouth. Under the quilt stitched together by his grandmother, he felt too hot, then ice cold, then hot again.
Kyle always looked gleeful when he made Adam cry, but for once he wasn’t boasting or laughing. His hands were clumsy but surprisingly soft as they wiped the tears from Adam’s face, voice no more than a whisper as he said, “You’re fine, please, everything’s fine, please stop crying.”