I wake to find Adam has left his badly-beaten copy of Stranger in a Strange Land next to my bed for the fifth or sixth morning in a row. It would take something like Valentine to coax him to part with it - something like my accidental discovery of how a thing called Valentine and a boy called Michael might be the same thing.
"A stranger," he iterates to me every time I mention it casually. "In a strange land."
I understand exactly what it took for him to part with this beloved relic of his, but he doesn't understand it will take more for me to actually read the damn thing.
"I also didn't read The Illustrated Man when Matthew came home," I explain to Brad, who rolls his eyes.
"I swear Adam is the only guy I know that knowing him means doing fucking book reports and shit."
I tear off my cuticles in thought, and the ivy creeps in my cabin. Brad pulls his shirt over his head, the two necklaces he's wearing clicking against the four buttons.
Of course, that's not true. Knowing Brad takes just as many book reports, if not more. Knowing any of us takes at least 3, and Brad and I have done most of them, if not read the Cliffs-notes.
"It's not about knowing him, it's about know us," I remind Brad, and he tucks his necklaces into his shirt and ties a scarf around them.
"Knowing Valentine," he agrees, and I keep biting the skin on my nails.
Brad paces the length of the cabin, looking for his battered Keds. He's cagey because for the last year, Bonnie and I have tried to rip into his ordered facade and find the facets underneath that are the less-than-sparkling men of his nature. Killers like Freddy and Tex, poets like William and Jim Morrison and Gordon Gano. The sickest and most freakish of his deviants - boys like Ladder, the gun-toting, shaved head fan of ballgowns. And Valentine.
And here it is, 8 in the morning, and I have fresh nails.
I light a cigarette with them, and smoke it with feminine delicacy, peering at him as he slips his wedding ring on, and combs his hair. He knows I'm watching him, but he pretends he doesn't.
"What?" he finally asks, looking over at me.
"Nothing," I tell him in a tone that means clearly, everything. It was once hard for me to understand the kind of boy Brad was, at the core of him, until I found something in myself I believed and still believe was the same boy. The kind of boy who yes, breaks mirrors in anger and marches off to war, but also the boy who does not understand the gender differences in elegance and grace. I don't smoke like an inelegant creature; some kind of brute that Clyde is; not today. Our hands are the tools which create the fine-tipped elaborations on the skin of murder victims and react with a disdain that would make the world call us faggots.
"The other night, something happened when I was fucking Bonnie," I tell him. Perspectives change, silent on the heels of the movements of our hands. He knows I mean this: The other night, I was this boy I am now, that you are also becoming, and I understood something strange while I was fucking Bonnie, who was girl that on our best days, the two of us together only half understand, jointly in our obsession with her.
"Mhm, what?" he asks. He does it in a tone to mean he doesn't care, or is not interested in the answer. He does this purposely, to antagonize me into poetry; to seduce him. The relationship we have, this boy of me and this boy of him, is of two brothers who also perform on the stage. Genderless vaudevillian egomaniacs, who both may as well be drawing on our blue tuxedos, and pasting surprised expressions on our faces.
Instead, we are buried deep in 1978, Brad's green Henley and my blue Venice Beach t-shirt our costumes.
"I went to the woods. Somewhere...kind of pagan. We were in ruins of some kind."
He glances up at me as he ties his shoes. It would be ruins that grasped his attention, both of us believing ourselves the victims of some tragedy that limited our eventual greatness. It would be this play on our shared egotism that would make him wistful and romantic enough to stand hearing more.
"What kind?" he asks me. Brad is, himself, a city of ruin, and a desert in which all ruins are buried. And by extension, Brad thinks himself to be so old, and so forgotten; his secrets buried deep beneath sand and stone, where Jim and William and Ladder wait.
"There was tile on a piece of wall left standing. A mosaic, maybe. It was of a man."
He nods, and considers his Rolodex of knowledge. All his former book reports. His eyes search inside him for something I don't already know, and fail to find it.
"Hm," he says.
"But last night," I continue, "I dreamed the same thing, except I was with you in the desert."
"Oh yeah?" he asks.
"Yeah, there was a hill, and something...maybe under the hill. And there was all this native shit all over it and around it. And we were waiting for some guy."
"What kind of guy?"
"An Indian guy, maybe," I tell him, my voice carefully neutral. Brad is very sensitive about Indians in dreams, and understandably so.
"What kind of Indian guy?" he asks me.
"Well, he isn't a naked one," I tell him, and he flinches.
I try again, squinting hard at him through the light coming in through the window.
"I guess I'd say he was supposed to be a little like Taylor. That's how it feels, you know? Like the kind of guy who..."
I trail off, struggling to find meaning.
"Steals your car?" Brad asks, referencing Poltergeist. I snort.
"Maybe. He wasn't the strong and dignified silent type, anyway. It felt like...when you realize all the stuff from the movies is basically true, and it feels like cheesy somehow."
"Reality, not the movie," he clarifies, and I nod.
"Yeah. I guess I feel indignant about it. Like it would've been a really powerful and moving dream if I hadn't seen McLintock."
Brad lights his own cigarette, and hovers at the door, hesitating to leave for the day.
"They're burial mounds," he tells me. "Some are left in the States. I don't know about any in the desert. They're usually near rivers."
I hug my knees to myself, and rest my chin on them.
"Right," I answer, and he glances back.
"Right," he says, and leaves.