Reagan grinned at the magenta spikes in the mirror. The boy wearing them didn’t look like him. But, he wasn’t feeling like his normal sad self, either. “It’s perfect.” As Kirk washed the excess dye out, Reagan pulled the list out of his pocket and crossed off the first two. “Two down. Next stop: the mall.”
3. Romantic movies
This was the list item that had started the whole adventure. One A+ partner project in APUSH had turned into doing every project together, but Kirk and Reagan were strictly school friends—until Kirk had asked Reagan to see a movie.
Reagan’s parents had been fine with it. The theater was practically an extension of the high school based on how popular it was with the 14-to-17 crowd. Then they had asked what movie it was. The answer was a completely heterosexual romantic comedy, but apparently anything that wasn’t action-adventure would turn their hanging out into a date, and that was not allowed. They had told Reagan that Kirk wasn’t a good influence… and then this plan had been born.
“Two tickets for Love, Simon,” Kirk said, his voice not shaking even a little. “I’m paying for both.” Reagan’s parents monitored his debit card. So did Kirk’s, but this purchase wasn’t weird for him. He’d been out since freshman year; his parents would only be surprised he hadn’t seen this on the night it premiered.
The woman behind the counter smiled at them. “On a date?”
“Oh, nope. I’m gay, but not….” Kirk trailed off.
“Got it,” she said, handing him the tickets. “I saw it with my girlfriend; it’s great. Might want to grab some napkins, though; she cried.”
The boys took her advice, which was good, because Reagan cried when Simon talked to his parents. “I want that,” he whispered to Kirk.
“You deserve that.” Not “you’ll get that.” Kirk had heard the unfunny jokes Reagan’s dad made, had seen which church Reagan’s mom ran fundraisers for.
4. Those clothes
Kirk wore clothes just like every other AP student at his school: jeans and a long-sleeve Lorde shirt today since it was a weekend, black slacks and dress code polos during the week. But this list item required the boys to travel to the Forbidden Land: the ladies section of Target. Some of the options wouldn’t work: Reagan couldn’t fit in women’s pants, and they decided against a dress in order to avoid an untimely heart attack. But Kirk found a cute tank top covered in cartoon hearts, and Reagan paired it with men’s-department ripped skinny jeans and Converse high-tops that matched his new hair. Finally, he clasped on a cross necklace. It wasn’t his religion he wanted to defy. Just his parents. Kirk paid, again, with Reagan promising to pay him back as soon as he could. Then it was on to the next stop.
5. Art of any kind
Mr. Lawrence welcomed the boys with a smile. “Kirk! It’s a pleasure to see you. And you must be Reagan. I love the hair.”
Reagan blushed. “I’m doing a makeover thing.”
“Yes, yes, your first masterpiece is yourself. Always remember that.” And Kirk’s teacher was a masterpiece. His clothes and long white hair were splattered with paint, but it was more than that. He had the same walk that Kirk did—like he was gently landing, not being pulled down. That was the walk Reagan wanted, the walk this day would hopefully earn him. “But as for second,” Mr. Lawrence said, handing Reagan a canvas, “try whatever you please. The studio’s empty until two.”
Kirk pulled out a work in progress from a shelf with his name on it, keeping it covered, then set up two easels back to back. He helped Reagan get paints and then they were off.
Reagan could see why Kirk loved this. As he mixed colors and methodically applied them, some of the tension eased from his body.
“It’s one-thirty,” Kirk said, after hours that had passed like seconds. “Almost done?”
Reagan put on a few finishing touches, then turned his canvas around. He had painted a beautifully decorated cupcake with puffy cloud icing and royal icing rainbows. The kind that he hoped to make for GSA’s Pride Month bake sale, if he still lived somewhere with a kitchen by June.
Kirk smirked. “I could go for one of those right now.”
“Soon,” Reagan said, though it was only April.
Kirk nodded. “Soon.” Then he turned his canvas around.
Over an explosion of color, he had painted two arms, the hands at the end clasped tightly together. The freckled arm had Kirk’s layers of plastic charity bracelets on it, while the non-freckled, tanner arm had a fancy watch. Reagan looked down at his wrist to confirm what part of him already knew: it was his own too-expensive watch, passed down through generations of his family along with the homophobia and the pie recipes. He didn’t know what to say.
Kirk did. “I know this isn’t something we’ve done. I don’t know if your list is because of me or if there’s someone else and I’m just helping you out as a friend, which would be… fine. But I thought you might need a reminder if why you’re doing this before you continue, so here goes. You’re going to get here with someone. Maybe not with me. Maybe not soon. But you’re going to get where you want, and the explosion is going to be gorgeous.”
Reagan bit his lip. “Thank you,” he said. The next part was going to be the hardest yet, but looking at the painting was exactly the reminder he needed. “Um, can we leave these here to dry?”
He nodded. “I’ll put them on the rack.”
Kirk drove Reagan home. “You’re going to be okay,” he said.
Reagan pretended to smile. “Yeah. It’s going to go great. I’m ready.” They both knew he wasn’t. They both pretended he was.
“You’re ready. They’re ready. They’re going to pull out a cake at the end, and then Troye Sivan is going to jump out and start singing to you, and they’ll be seeing rainbows from here to Russia.”
Reagan laughed despite himself. “Yeah, because the three of us can eat a cake big enough to hide an entire person.”
“You’re not going to share with me? Or Troye? Rude, dude.”
“I would share with you! If it happened.”
Reagan sighed. “If.”
Kirk bit his lip, a nervous habit he had picked up in his own closeted days. “Reagan… there’s an in between, you know? It’s probably not going to go as well as it could. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to go as bad as it could.”
Reagan’s smile was a little less fake this time. “Okay. I can believe that.”
When his parents got home, he thought that he shouldn’t have believed that. His mother cried. His father yelled. Why would he ruin his hair? Why would he ruin his life?
“They’re going to think you’re gay at school,” his mom said, her voice choked up. “What will you do, then? No girl’s going to want you when you look like that.”
“I don’t care what the girls think,” Reagan said. He blocked out his dad’s horrified face, pretending all he could see was Kirk’s painting. ‘You’re going to get here with someone.’ “I hope the boys think I’m gay, because I am.”
“Then you’re not a member of this family anymore,” his dad said.
“Just like that?”
“You could take it back,” his mom said.
“You taught me not to lie.”
None of them had anything to say after that. Reagan grabbed the already-packed suitcase from his bedroom, slipped his phone out of his pocket. How long until they cancel the cell service the practical part of him thought. He didn’t know, but he needed a place to stay first. He called Kirk.
“It’s okay,” Kirk said before Reagan could even say that something went wrong. Distantly, he heard a car start. “I see you. I’ll be right there.”
Kirk pulled his blue Toyota from the end of the street to where Reagan stood at the end of his driveway. For all his pretending earlier, he couldn’t drive away until he knew Reagan was safe. He hated being right… but at least Reagan was in his car now, and they couldn’t touch him anymore.
“How?” Reagan asked.
“I couldn’t leave you.”
“I didn’t—wouldn’t have asked you to stay.”
“Don’t you know that’s why I did it? Reagan, you… you hide yourself in more ways than one, you know. That first day in history, I was upset to be paired with you. I mean, you never speak in class. I thought you were one of those kids who just played with your phone under the desk. But no. You really get it. And your clothing choices belong on a forty-year-old usually, but today… I can’t not say it; you look so hot in that. I know you lost a lot today. But watching you: Reagan, you found yourself.”
Reagan looked at this boy, who’d gone all in on this crazy scheme, who’d paid for the rich kid without complaining, who’d told Reagan to be optimistic but prepared for the worst anyway so Reagan didn’t have to. “You know,” he said, “there was one thing on my list that I didn’t put. Because I didn’t want to make you feel at all obligated. But if I’ve picked up the hints you dropped today….”
“Yeah?” Kirk said.
Reagan pulled a pen out of his suitcase and the list out of his pocket, and added one last item.
6. Kissing boys
It was Reagan’s first kiss, and the first kiss that Kirk had any interest in repeating. Kirk’s love was an ocean, and Reagan was a goldfish. Reagan’s love was a match, and Kirk was a sparkler. Together, they were beauty and grace and just a touch of spite, as they were still parked in front of Reagan’s parents’ house. (Not his, not anymore.) Kirk hoped that they weren’t watching, but Reagan hoped they were.
When they pulled away, Reagan was smiling a real smile. Kirk wasn’t sure how, in all the times they’d worked together, in their planning, even in their adventure today, he had thought Reagan had smiled. No. This was Reagan’s smile; everything else had been held back, but here, he was himself.
He was gay. Not because of the pink, dyed hair. Not because of the movie or the clothes or the painting. Not even because he had just kissed a boy.
He was gay because he was Reagan. He was Reagan because he was gay. He was upset about losing the future he deserved. He was excited for the future he was getting. All of these would have seemed contradictory to his parents, but the day wasn’t really about his parents. It was about Reagan. And Reagan knew that was true. What turned boys gay wasn’t anything on the list. He was gay because God willed it to be so, and he was ready to live his life the way He intended.