You stand in front of your closet, frantically tearing articles of clothing from their hangers and laying them on your bed, your heart churning. Ba-bum ba-bum ba-bum. A regular two-beat rhythm pulses quickly yet softly in your chest, so paradoxical that you think it might give out. You gingerly lay a burgundy button-up streaked with heathers atop a pair of khaki jeans. You look up across the room, searching for approval. Cooper walks over and pores over the selection.
“You can’t wear khaki,” Cooper says after a moment of consideration, a tinge of playful revulsion in his voice. He splays across the stitched gray loveseat in the bedroom and stretches his arms behind his head and toward the ceiling, communicating his authority on the topic. “The gays hate khaki.”
A pang jolts through your stomach. You quickly hang up the khakis and double back for a pair of holey dark wash jeans. After cuffing the denim around your ankles to reveal a pair of worn Converse, you slink down the staircase of your childhood home and make your way out of the house with Cooper. The staircase is decorated with various pictures of you and your siblings, including a collection of milestones: first days of school, baptisms, and award ceremonies. You yell your I love yous to your parents, who are making baked ziti in the kitchen one room over as you escape through the front door. You make sure to keep your voice steady when you say goodbye, so as to conceal any notion of deceptions or wrongdoings soon to be committed.
The groomed wooden door of the Victorian abode closes with a wham as Alicia runs across the lawn towards her getaway car. Her sequined romper glitters in the dim illumination of the street lamps. She opens the silver car door with a gleeful screech, hopping into the backseat.
“You guys,” Alicia exclaims, a smile crinkling from cheek to cheek as she leans forward and places her left hand on your shoulder. She pauses for emphasis. Everything is emphasis with Alicia. “This is going to be so fun.” She takes a moment to adjust her romper to expose a greater amount of cleavage, giggling at the prospect of the night ahead.
“Okay, ground rules though,” you say shakily, pivoting your body to address the entire vehicle. Your hands remain at the 10 and 2 positions. You won’t let go of the wheel, not tonight. “No posts where I’m in the picture, we go to Alicia’s afterwards to wash off the marker, we’re back before my parents can find out where we are.”
“You got it. No one will ever know,” Alicia says with a sarcastic wink. Cooper cackles, which makes you blush red with embarrassment.
Nobody. Rigid. Masculinize. Normalize and Systematize.
You grip the wheel more tightly, lock the car doors with a click, and begin to drive. Cooper takes the AUX and begins to blast “We R Who We R” by Kesha, the bass rhythmically shaking the aged SUV. Alicia dances in the back seat to the music, throwing her hands up in the air and whipping her curly dark locks to and fro. You tap your thumb on the steering wheel to the beat of the song, focusing on the road ahead, continuing to guide the automobile as it zooms through your familiar expanse of American suburbia.
The worn tires of your father’s 2005 Chevrolet Blazer skid over an ant-hill of slush and ice into an opening on the edge of the parking lot.
You glance at the digital clock in the center console: 9:58.
“We have two minutes to get in to avoid the cover charge,” reminds Alicia, who in her excitement for a night of rhythm and debauchery is childishly bouncing up and down in the backseat. You shift the transmission into park and kill the engine. You check your phone, reading a text from Mom.
Come home from Alicia’s by 2. Love you, have fun
You look past the scuffed windshield of your timeworn automobile and gaze at the woman guarding the frosted glass door of a building across the way. The neon sign at the forefront of the building broadcasts a colorful defiance to the catchpenny establishments of the strip mall: a greasy Little Caesar’s, a collection of thrift shops and Chinese restaurants, and the Baptist church situated just adjacent to your destination.
“Come on,” Alicia implores, stepping out of the passenger seat into the brisk January air.
Hesitate? Sick of hesitating. Wavering . . . If not now, when?
You take your phone, turn off location services. You pause for a moment to catch your breath, gathering up a certain amount of courage. Hand-in-hand with Alicia and Cooper, you march across the parking lot towards the fiery-haired woman.
“Twenty one?” the crimson-haired woman asks, surveying your trio with a discerning gaze.
“Not tonight,” Cooper replies cheerfully, throwing out his hands for the acquisition of two black Xs across the back of his hands. This earns a quiet chuckle from the woman, who happily obliges with four quick swipes of her Sharpie. You and Alicia follow suit. You appraise the marks, wondering how easily it will wash out before you go home. After everyone is marked up, Alicia swings the glass door open, eager to start the night.
Next thing you know, you’re enveloped in a cloud of vibrant darkness and raucous screeches. The club is dingier than you expected. There’s a bar with a tabletop stained from years of spilled liquor, a few billiards tables, and a modest wooden stage. The stage is illuminated by a handful of flickering stage lights affixed to the ceiling, most of which obviously need a repair or two. Alicia pulls you and Cooper into the crowd surrounding the stage, so as to get a better view of the performance.
The stage is occupied by four drag queens, three of whom are sitting at a fold-out table bathed in a sparkly purple cloth.
“So Ms. Lola,” says the brunette queen holding the microphone. “What is your idea of an ideal first date?”
“Well,” she begins, snatching the microphone from the brunette queen’s grasp. “I would say a date that allows me to scam a white man of his coin,” she says with an overwhelming cheek in her tone, pointing her index finger to the crowd. “Because that’s the kinda bitch I strive to be.” The whole crowd erupts into shrieks of joy. The middle-aged man to your left hollers while lifting his right hand into the air and snapping to showcase his approval.
Intrigued . . . ? Yes, intrigued.
You stop for a moment, and a bubbly laugh escapes your mouth. You look at Cooper, who has a told-you-so expression on his face, his lips pursed, arms crossed, and right hip slightly ajar. You embrace Cooper and Alicia, pulling them in close, excited to experience the night ahead with your two best friends by your side.
Alicia opens her front door and you stumble in with Cooper. She leads you to the kitchen and hands you a half-empty bottle of Windex and a wad of paper towels. You look up at her, confusion darting across your face.
“It’s to remove the marker,” explains Alicia, chuckling. “Remember?” She proceeds to pantomime a circular scrubbing motion on the back of her right hand.
The idea of removing the black Xs is strangely upsetting, like losing an old friend you can’t imagine yourself without. Nevertheless, your home life rockets to the forefront of your brain. With a newfound urgency, you grasp the Windex, spray it into the paper towel, and begin scrubbing the backs of your hands to hide the night’s events from your hopefully unknowing parents.
“How’d you like it?” Cooper asks pointedly as you cleanse your skin, the corners of his mouth pointing upwards. “That is, your first time clubbing?”
“I would say that he loved it,” Alicia says pointedly. “I mean, look at him!” She comes over to hug you, fastening her arms around your waist and resting her head on your shoulder. “Didn’t you?”
“He must have. I mean did you see how he was dancing?” Cooper asks, proceeding to jerk his body, his hips moving in discord with his arms. Rhythm is out of the question. Alicia squeals with amusement.
You tell your friends to fuck off, but you can’t help but let out a tiny giggle as well.
“Well, I would love to do it all again,” Alicia declares discreetly, making a point to avoid your eyes, while also attempting to gauge your willingness to deceive your parents once more. Cooper pauses and peers over to the corner of the kitchen in which you are standing.
You burst into heaps of agreement regarding the possibility of future nighttime excursions, to which Alicia and Cooper rejoice.
“Well, aren’t you just a little sneak now?” Alicia exclaims passionately.
You turn the key in the lock, swinging the front door open with utmost precaution. You tiptoe across the hardwood of your house’s foyer, conscious to avoid stepping on the loose floorboards that could wake your sleeping parents.
“Well, it’s nice to see you come home.”
You immediately tense up, then turn to find your father sitting in the living room just off the front entrance to the house. He has crossed his legs and his fingers are tapping against the leather arm of the chair. A look of exhaustion dances across his face. The clock on the wall foretells the unholy retribution that is to come: 2:43 A.M.
You begin to apologize, tell him it won’t happen again, that you have never felt so guil-
“Listen, bud, I’m not mad,” he states, cutting you off. “Just tell us the plan next time, okay? Now that I know you’re alive, I’m heading to bed.”
Right. Tell him the plan. Could never happen, truly.
“I hope you had fun at Alicia’s,” he says, pulling you in for a hug.
Surprisingly? Terrifyingly? So much fun.
You turn your back to your father to walk up the stairs to your bedroom, beaming the whole way, not proud of your secrets, but relishing them nonetheless.
he, him, his
College of Arts & Sciences
Class of 2021, Political and Social Thought & Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
He has very little formal artistic involvements, but likes to journal, listen to music, and write short stories when he is in need of inspiration.
“I wrote this piece in a fiction writing workshop two years ago. It came together amidst the gradual disappearance of the inner turmoil that had suffocated me during my childhood years. The glimmering moment of hope that accompanied my entrance into spaces made for and by my queer siblings was unforgettable. In “Sneak,” I try to capture what this moment could have been for someone else: the illumination of a broader community that can displace feelings of isolation in favor of joy, belonging, and celebration of difference.”