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Her Men Used to be Boys

by Naomi Leigh

The saving grace was that the bar was loud and whatever comments Connor did or didn’t make and whatever comments Esme did or didn’t hear were probably at least partially drowned out by Kylie Minogue and whirring floor fans.

Stay forever and ever,

and ever, and ever

La la la la la la la la

But he did make the comments, of course. She knew he did because she knew Connor Anderson and she’d known him since he was a boy with a bowl cut and a gap between his crooked front teeth that his tongue was always glued to and he used to walk up to her door at the end of the cul-de-sac and jump high enough that he could reach the doorbell and her mom would answer. Hi Mrs. Findlay, is Natalie there? And she always was there, and when they sat in the basement frozen in time beneath the humming of the HVAC and the incandescent lights she was pretty sure they could play Mario Kart and munch on Oreos together forever if not for the ill-timed interjections of beeping ovens and dinner calls from moms. And sure, Connor never let her play Mario, but she liked Toad almost just as well anyway.

She also remembers when Connor became a man. It happened in ninth grade, four or five years after the halcyon days of Mario Kart—she was on the lacrosse field because the girls’ team played right before the boys’ team and when Connor showed up with his teammates she ran to hug him. At first she thought he was wearing shoulder pads underneath his pinny but he wasn’t, and he towered over the defense pole which he gripped with one hand as the other half-heartedly encircled her. She heard his teammate say Get it, Ando and she saw Connor smirk and raise his fist and make a little humping motion before mouthing I’m sorry to her quietly enough that his teammates couldn’t hear. It wasn’t so bad, all things considered, Natalie figured. Antonio became a man when he sent her a Snapchat of his dick. Hunter became a man when he got his first girlfriend and stopped talking to her for a year. I don’t know, Nat, she’s being fucking crazy. That night her mom tried to comfort her with Carvel chocolate hazelnut from the mall food court, and it worked for a minute until she noticed a stray Oreo chunk had found its way to the lower corner of the waffle cone and the memories felt so close and the present so distant.

Natalie snapped back to the present and the lacrosse field faded from her vision, replaced by the bar’s floor-length mirrors and gauche lounge chairs and double entendre cocktails. She saw Esme standing there, her short hair curly and her skin glowing despite the heat, but Esme’s characteristic wide smile was gone and in its place was a furrowed brow. She was sweaty and her eyeshadow mixed in with her sweat and it was dripping down her face while she yelled at her. She couldn’t make out every word but she was able to hear the important ones—This fucking cis white guy…I swear to God Natalie tell me I won’t get thrown out of this bar right now…This fucking city needs to ban transplants…

She met Esme’s crew through some mutual friends at The New School and she thought it might be good for Connor to tag along. After all, Connor had confided in Natalie after one too many G&Ts that he wanted new friends and that the other guys were fine, but they were kind of assholes. All they talked about was work. And Connor didn’t want to be an asshole. He told her he wanted to party in Brooklyn, and she didn’t have the heart to tell him that there were assholes there too, with different asshole styles and different asshole words but assholes all the way down. She also didn’t have the heart to correct him when he’d tell her she was so chill, because who doesn’t want to be chill? After all, Natalie reasoned, compared to her friends, maybe she was chill. She never policed her exes’ following lists, and it even made her laugh when Connor showed her Dave Chappelle’s skit about women who dress slutty. Natalie’s mom used to groan when her dad laughed at old Sam Kinison skits about frigid wives and repressed husbands, but her mom also thought Friends was the pinnacle of comedy, so what did she know anyway?

The last time Natalie brought Connor out with her friends, it went about as smoothly as a drunk night with him could. They had all just left a downtown Manhattan gallery meet-and-greet with an open bar where they saw their friend Angel’s latest exhibition–Uncarved Dreams. Connor behaved about as well as she could have hoped in a room full of “totemic wooden sculptures dedicated to honoring queer Afro-Indigenous bodies,” although he did whisper “my body’s got some wood, too” at one point to her, and Natalie giggled after quickly looking around to make sure nobody else heard.

They were about to descend to the train at Chambers Street when Esme saw the City Hall Park fountain behind them.

“It’s so hot, I swear I could jump into that fountain right now if I didn’t spend two hours on a full beat,” Esme sighed.

“You dare me?” Connor interjected.

Natalie’s chest tightened. Here it is, she thought. But Esme didn’t flinch.

“I fucking dare you Connor.”

Before she even finished the sentence, he was off to the races. He threw off his white linen button down and chinos until he was only in his boxers, sprinting to the fountain and swan diving into the pool of water. After several seconds he emerged, and soon began to thrust against the phallic sculpture at the center of the fountain, like it was the most natural next course of action in the world.

“My totemic queer body, ladies!” he shouted.

To Natalie’s relief, Esme was laughing so hard she was struggling to stand upright. He smirked at Natalie from the fountain, and raised his eyebrows at her. See? He said with his eyes. It’s all good, Nat. And then she laughed some more.

Connor made her cry sometimes, too. Ever since sixth grade when Connor and his dad moved to a smaller apartment with fewer ghosts, Connor’s mom changed every few months. Sometimes it was whichever marketing major he was dating at the time. Other times it was a bottle of Woodford Reserve, or Roxicodone, or the unwashed cotton sheets of his bed in Kips Bay that sheltered him for hours longer than they were supposed to on a weekday morning. But most often it was Natalie. On one such morning Natalie was tucked under those sheets with him, after yet another failed attempt to get him out of the house, he leaned over to her and kissed her on the forehead. She would’ve loved you, Nat, he whispered. And he held her tight and she held him back because he needed it and because, she figured, sometimes you just do a job not because it feels good or because it even makes much sense at all, but because somebody asked.

And now Esme wasn’t yelling anymore but crying. Connor looked at Natalie and she hoped desperately to find another knowing look in his eyes that would assure her it’s all good, but it wasn’t there. Instead he shrugged and he mouthed that he was sorry but his teeth were perfectly straight and his hair was combed to the side and she pretended not to notice his gestures. It occurred to her that she’d held Connor through tears so many times and Esme so few—and she saw before her another job to do—so she pulled Esme toward her and ran her fingers through her hair as she guided her to the bathroom.

Just to be there in your arms

Won't you stay

Won't you lay

Stay forever and ever, and ever, and ever

Naomi Leigh is a writer based in New York City.


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