Alex Adams, the Dyke Who Wouldn’t Grow Up
BY MARISA CRANE
Not all queers grow up, though most of us are on a different schedule than the straights. Most of us never got a true adolescence full of impulsive, dumbass decisions, sharing our crushes with our friends, and actually liking the person we went to prom with (my date was a 6 ft. 3 in. guy who got cut from the basketball team and walked like a rhinoceros) ((I spent the whole time texting my secret girlfriend about how I wished she could be there)). When we come out, whether it’s at eighteen or forty, that’s when our real adolescence begins. But I don’t have to tell you that—you had your own reckless, irresponsible phase. That’s why you’re here, because you’re still not over it, because you’ve heard the legend of Alex Adams, even your moms, flustered and fanning themselves, have heard the legend, but you’ve yet to hear a story firsthand from someone who knows her. You’ve come to take the gospel of Alex in your mouth. You’ve come to dispel your regrets about growing up, once and for all.
That part I can’t do for you. Sorry, but regret can’t be treated with stories. I’m not sure anything is strong enough to treat regret.
But, what I can do is tell you how I was thirty-two when I finally grew up. I always knew that I would one day, and the way I knew was that I started getting sick of myself, of the games I was playing, of the blackouts and burning in my throat and nose from toilet bowl nights. I grew tired of the same old stories I told myself about the pleasure of wanting nothing and no one.
After a long stretch of commitment issues, I finally moved in with someone—this cute little nonbinary femme, Comet, who wanted a big stinking family but not yet; for now, they were happy to make us steaks on the weekends and buy red wine that didn’t taste as if it belonged in a plastic cup. My therapist was proud of me, said this was what happened when I gave myself time and space to mature. And I’d needed to settle down anyway. I mean, who did I think I was, a rapper? An NBA player? Even a few of them were faithful, I suspected. Anyway, things were going well, I was settling into domestic life, remembering to clean my Chewbacca hairballs from the drain and do the dishes before they turned so crusty that I had no choice but to throw them out. Comet and I made a pretty good team, except for when we played the Untitled Goose Game on PlayStation 4. The goal of the game was to be a really horrible goose, but Comet was horrible at being horrible. One of those. They wanted to clean up for the gardeners and organize the fruits and veggies for the grocers; they wanted harmony in the village. I wanted splattered tomatoes in the street, underwear in the pond. To see my horrible goose face on TV. At times, I grew antsy: was this the life I’d imagined for myself?
One night we were doing our little nighttime routine: the meditation app, lavender lotion we rubbed on each other’s legs, and tidying up each other’s minds. In Comet’s, I saw images of babies and neighborhood BBQs and school plays; I saw a queer utopia on a farm and backpacking in the mountains. As always, they were tidying up my mind as well, though they never brought up the things they found in there like my reservations about moving out of the city and how I sometimes missed the old days. I know they must have wondered about some of the names, people I’d never spoken about. Namely, Alex, her name written bolder than any of the other names. I’m sure she was curious about who she was to me, why her name hadn’t faded over time. But I found that choosing to be with, and love, someone was choosing to be intimate strangers.
Anyway, we were doing our nighttime routine when I saw a face in the window. I screamed, squeezing Comet’s thigh so hard they yelped, which only made me scream louder. The face was grinning, all of its teeth lit up in the window like an X-ray.
“What the fuck, do something,” said Comet, shoving me.
In response, I ducked my head under the covers. Admittedly, not my most butch moment. I’d have to do something to make up for it later like swing a baseball bat really convincingly, throw a perfect spiral, or fix the leak in the bathroom sink. Anything, really, as long as Comet could bear witness.
“Wow,” said a woman’s voice, an octave lower than mine and raspy from years of chain smoking. “I knew you’d gone suburban, but wow.” The voice was familiar in a resistant sort of way, like an old song you don’t want to remember because of who you loved it with.
I slowly lowered my side of the covers and looked at Alex’s stupid cocky face, that same old slouch beanie pinned to her head. She looked exactly the same as the last time I’d seen her three years ago: forever young like she’d gotten a lot of Botox or as if she invests in those creams made of baby stem cells or whatever. Comet had their side of the covers pulled up over their bare chest. We tended to sleep in just our underwear, but I wasn’t covering my boobs because lord knew Alex had already seen enough of them during blackout nights at Neverland in which we’d flash everyone on the dance floor, even if they were our mortal enemy—especially if they were our mortal enemy.
“Jo,” said Comet, slowly, their tone urging me to explain why, instead of spooning them in the soft darkness while they tolerated my breath on the back of their neck, even when it smelled like beer or pepperoni, were we looking at this dyke in our bedroom.
“Alex, what are you doing in my house?” I asked, trying to act hard.
“I left my beanie here,” she said. For some fucking reason, she lifted her shirt up, just for a second, and I watched Comet actively try not to look at her lower abs, the V cut on her hips.
“Why would your beanie be here?” I asked.
“Yeah, why would her beanie be here?” said Comet, accusing me with their eyebrows.
Alex said, “Oh, relax, lovebirds, it fell off the other night when I was outside.”
We both made this face like, how does that explain anything?
Alex lifted her shirt up again while she examined the room, our framed artwork and couple’s photos, our mouthguards and our earplugs, our white noise machine. “Ever since you’ve been leaving your window cracked, I come over and listen to you two, like, talk before bed.”
“You,” said Comet. “Listen,” said Comet. “To us talk before bed.”
They spoke very slowly, as if trying to calm themself, though I could tell they wanted to dip their toe in horrible goose territory. Destroy the town, set fire to anyone who got in their way. I wanted to say something both mean and clever, but my brain felt like it had been run through a garbage disposal.
Alex shrugged, still looking around the room. “There’s a huge party tomorrow night at Neverland. The cast from Dyke Night is going to be there. There’s going to be a make-out booth, too.”
“Sounds fun, but we go to bed at 9:30,” said Comet. They rubbed my thigh under the covers, which felt nice.
I laughed. “Yeah, we’re old now,” I said, feigning disinterest. I desperately hoped Alex could see my desire to go to the big bash, to relive our old Neverland times. How domestic life made me worry I was a frog being slowly boiled on a stove.
“Suit yourselves,” said Alex. Again, that cocky shrug.
“Don’t you ever get sick of that shit hole?” I asked.
Alex released a loud, maniacal laugh, untamed and wall-shaking. She bent over at the waist to show us just how outrageous she found my question. I climbed out of bed and told Alex I thought she should go. With my boxer briefs riding up so far they were giving me a camel toe, I pushed her toward the window, figuring if she could find a way up, she could surely figure out how to climb down.
“No need for violence, old friend,” she said. “I’m going, I’m going.”
With my back to Comet, I winked at Alex. “Don’t come back,” I said.
Alex caught my wink and sucked her cheeks in to avoid smiling. Off she went out the window, using a nearby tree to help her back to safety. I made a big show of locking the window, knowing the next night I would unlock it when Comet wasn’t looking. When I turned around, Comet was staring at me with these big doe eyes, and I knew I needed to hold them extra tightly when we went to sleep. We silently agreed that was enough of tidying up each other’s minds for one night. We slept like koalas, clinging, and I dreamt I was kissing a beautiful stranger at the bar, our sweaty bodies slipping and sliding against each other.
The next night, Comet and I did our routine like usual, though I couldn’t pay attention to the meditation app on account of my nerves. I kept running my tongue over my teeth, worried that no amount of teeth brushing could get them clean enough, that my fresh breath would soon turn sour. When it came time, I spooned Comet, hoping they couldn’t feel my guilty heart pounding on their back. Eventually, their gentle wheezing (they refused to call it snoring) signaled that they were asleep. I lay there, the sleep starting to come for me, and wondered if I was an idiot for believing Alex would come to retrieve me tonight. My eyes flitted toward the window: no one but the shadow of the tree outside. I waited and waited.
After I don’t know how long, I caught a blur of movement in the window, then, her huge mischievous smile. She knew better than to rap on the window. I climbed out of bed and slipped on joggers, a henley, and Chucks I’d tucked under the bed, no bra, I hated the things. I tiptoed over to the window, making sure to avoid all the creaky spots on the floor, opened the window, and climbed out, following Alex’s path down the tree.
Once we were safely on the ground, she slapped me on the back. “Good to have you back, buddy.”
“It’s just for the night,” I said.
We walked around the side of the house to the front, where there were two electric scooters waiting for us, though I’d never seen them out by us in the suburbs.
“Where did these come from?”
“They’re always there when I need them,” she said. There was that cocky smile again.
We hopped on the scooters and sped out of my neighborhood, past the single-family homes and tow-behind trailers parked on the street, past the piled-up dishes and never-ending laundry (those don’t exist in Neverland!), past the orange trees and swings on front lawns, past the library and grocery store, and toward Neverland. The cool wind burned my cheeks, my ponytail whipped around my head like an out-of-control lasso. This was it; this was what freedom felt like.
Though I felt invigorated, filled to the brim with possibility, the late hour was still dragging me down. I wanted a Monster energy drink the size of my face. When we approached a liquor store, I waved Alex down and pointed to the building. I braked out front, but the scooter didn’t come to a stop, no matter what I did. Instead, like a horse with a mind of its own, it yanked me forward, toward Neverland, speeding up. I swore I felt the scooter buzzing with excitement. Alex caught up with me, laughing.
“What the fuck?” I said.
“The scooter will only take you to Neverland,” she said.
She nodded. Too scared to find out what type of magic I was dealing with, I couldn’t think of anything to do but laugh, to give in to my circumstances. To the bar, we went. A nervous shudder crept up my spine, but I chalked it up to my guilt at having lied to Comet and snuck out. But I wasn’t planning on misbehaving.
When we arrived at Neverland, which had a line that wrapped around the corner, Alex nodded to the bouncer, who let us cut the line without paying the $5 cover. As soon as we walked in, a white woman with maroon hair and gauges looked Alex up and down, smiling playfully. Alex ignored her and we made our way toward the bar. I was dying for the attention Alex received so readily. I’d always been a bit jealous of her. She wasn’t that hot. Okay, fine, she was hot, though I resent saying it. She’s the type that everyone thinks is hot, which, I don’t know, doesn’t that sort of negate the hotness? What’s the point if everyone agrees? As I think you realize, she’s the type to take her shirt off at every opportunity, which drives me crazy. And she keeps it casual with women by spending all of her time with them for six weeks straight and then telling them that they knew from the start that she didn’t want anything serious, that she was on a one-woman journey of discovery. There was this brief period she got into a real relationship with a trauma therapist I’d kissed twice—once at Neverland, once on the sidewalk outside Neverland—but that ended after a few months because, according to Alex’s followers, the Lost Dykes, as they were commonly called, Kat was trying to change Alex. One of the examples someone cited was that Kat encouraged Alex to quit smoking so they could have more time on Earth together.
“How dare she!” I’d said, throwing back my beer.
“I know,” said the Lost Dyke. “You can’t smother Alex’s Alexness, you know?”
“The horror,” I said.
But tonight wasn’t about rehashing Alex’s flaws. It was about trying to manipulate myself into loving Alex Adams and the decision I’d made to step back in time. Truth is, I missed this place with its tacky neon signs, nearly naked bartenders, and three-finger pours. I was delighted to find that the same old bartenders were still working. It was as if I hadn’t missed a thing. And the same old crowd was still there, looking as young as ever. They, with their bandanas, and oversized tees, and tattoo sleeves, and old-school Vans. They, with their bro leans, and snapbacks, and pretending not to be on the prowl. Their loud, riotous laughter. Oh, god, it was beautiful! How had I not noticed its beauty before?
“I’ve got this round,” said Alex. She slapped me on the back again, this time harder. The one bartender, Britt, who I’d had a little thing with back in the day, bit her lip in my direction and I pretended not to notice. I was back, Jo was back, baby.
We ordered two shots of Jack, then chased them with Jack and Cokes. We turned to lean against the bar and examine the crowd. Everyone was eying each other up. A few people were grabby as they walked by, with a few of the hands even being for me. Alex could really suck all the attention up, but I’d always proved a nice foil to Alex: the quiet, chill, I-don’t-care-if-you-look-at-me-but-please-do-actually-look-at-me type next to her. Decent looking enough, appealing mostly because of my disinterest.
We drank our drinks and tried to act like we owned the place. Man, was it good to be back. I counted at least eight people I’d drunkenly hooked up with, one of whom I’d never seen wear anything but the same Kelly Kapowski T-shirt and ripped black jeans. Our makeout had felt like kissing a snake. Ah, there was nothing like indulging in bad hookup nostalgia at the lesbian bar. I felt reinvigorated, like a vibrator fresh off the charger.
Alex nudged me and nodded in the direction of a straight couple looking far too comfortable, arms around each other, confidently ordering their his-and-hers drinks. She side-eyed them real hard, shooting her best you-could-have-gone-anywhere-else face. I didn’t really see what the problem was; they weren’t hurting anyone. And wasn’t wanting to be around us better than fearing us? I don’t know, maybe domestic life had softened me—Comet and I spent a lot of time hanging out with our straight neighbors, tossing their children in the air, trying out for our future positions as parents. The straights weren’t so bad if you could ignore the fact that the woman was always the one feeding and watering the child, and if you didn’t bring up anything about your basic human rights while you were with them.
Before long, in walked the Lost Dykes, led by Ryann, white with long, straight, strawberry blonde hair that reminded me of a lighter blowing in the wind. Alex’s childhood best friend I’m convinced Alex is secretly in love with. They moved here together, that’s all I really remember about Ryann, though we’d spent many drunken nights inside these four walls. Well, that’s a lie. I did remember one detail, and it’s that once when Ryann went for a pap smear, the OBGYN told her to “open wide” and then later that night, inspired by humor or humiliation or a twisted game of telephone, she said the very same to a hookup right before going down on her. I ordered a round of Fireball shots and when Ryann approached us, I handed her a shot and said the two magic words.
“You bitch,” she said, delighted. “Look who crawled out of their boo’s ass to meet us out.”
I pulled her in for a hug. “Fuck off.”
The others, Jamie, Carmen, and Shae, grabbed their shots with their grubby, hungry hands, clinked them, then poured them down their throats.
“Welcome back,” said Shae. Shae was short, shorter than Comet, and dark skinned with her hair pulled back in a tiny bun, and these big square glasses.
“We missed you, buddy,” said Carmen. I’d always hated how they called me buddy—it had felt as if they were preemptively rejecting me even though I’d never made a move, would never dare hit on someone as hot as them; them with their muscle tees and biceps and long, delicious eyelashes.
“Married life everything you dreamed of and more?” asked Jamie, not really asking at all. Jamie, pale with a blonde buzzcut and smart mouth, had always been my least favorite of the bunch.
Alex threw her arm around my shoulder and squeezed me tight. “I just barely saved this one from growing up,” she said. She turned to me, breathing her sour whiskey breath into my mouth. “Right?”
The Lost Dykes looked at me expectantly. My answer, whether I realized it or not at the time, would set the tone for the entire night. I thought about Comet, what they might be dreaming about at that very moment. They tended to have mundane “nightmares” about us: me trying to drive over boulders in our 4Runner, them fighting with their insurance over the phone, losing each other in the grocery store, getting swallowed whole by the shelves of “deals” that were really just marked up then marked back down to the everyday sale price. Fortunately, before bed, Comet hadn’t put up much of a fight when I said I needed a night off from tidying up each other’s brains. It was a big responsibility, making sure another person’s mind was just right, and they knew it stressed me out when I accidentally left a worry or fear lying around for them to pick up and carry around all day.
“Right,” I said to Alex and the Lost Dykes, and just like that, our intentions were set for the night. Whatever happened, we would face it head-on; we would live tomorrowless. I swallowed my guilt, thick and rancid, and felt it swirl around in my belly, feeling in the dark for an escape hatch.
We drank and shot the shit, dancing whenever a particularly good song came on, everyone’s head on a swivel, on high alert for a hot girl and if not a hot girl, then an interested girl. A regular I remembered from years ago vomited in a trashcan next to the bar and then was kindly escorted out. A bachelorette party danced in the middle of the dance floor. The bride-to-be’s sash might as well have been a bullseye for Alex, who infiltrated their group and ripped off her shirt to reveal nipples covered by rainbow pasties. It wasn’t even Pride—that’s just how Alex was: extra, all the time. The Lost Dykes stuck their faces in their phones: swipe, swipe, swipe, edit bio, upload a new picture, swipe, swipe, swipe; curse Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, Her, and anyone who has ever dared use them.
I eavesdropped on a nearby conversation between two jocks—softball and basketball by the looks of them. They were about twenty-five or so.
“Don’t get me wrong, I love it here, but I don’t want to still be coming here in ten years.”
“Hell no. I want something real.”
“This is fun for now.”
“Imagine being here when you’re forty.”
“Yeah, you might as well be dead.”
“Who wants to be that weird old person who’s still hanging around?”
I’d heard this same conversation a million times before, had even participated a time or two. It had been my biggest fear, to overstay my welcome at Neverland. Nothing was more embarrassing than that. But now that I’d gotten out, I desperately wanted back in. To experience the magic, the intoxicating potential.
After a little while, Alex returned to us, sweaty and flushed, showing off the teeth marks on her shoulder from where the bride had bitten her, right there, in the middle of the dance floor. We all made a big stink over it, hooting and hollering as if she’d come home from a game show with a brand-new car. I was, of course, jealous that no one at the bar wanted to bite me, though I’m not sure how I would have explained that to Comet. Alex ordered us another round of shots and while her back was turned, a group of straight white men entered the bar like cowboys entering a saloon, and their eyes were all set on Alex. I nudged her and she turned around, spotting them.
“Shit, fuck,” she said.
“I told you, what did I tell you?” said Ryann, smacking Alex in the chest with the back of her hand.
“Not these guys again,” groaned Carmen.
Jamie seemed stunned into silence and Shae was clutching onto her hand.
“What?” I asked, but no one filled me in.
The men moved together in a V. The man who was front and center was massive, at least 6 ft. 6 in. and pushing 400 pounds. He pointed to his left ear, which was heavily and sloppily bandaged.
“Remember me?” he said.
I was scared; I also didn’t want my one night of freedom to be ruined by a fight. “Whatever she did, I’m sure we can figure this out,” I said.
The dude turned to me, appraising me. “She assaulted me.”
Alex turned to me. “I ripped out his little earring.”
“Assaulted,” he said, speaking over us. As if on cue, his friends, still standing behind him in a V, sang the word “assault” a capella, drawing it out so it had at least twelve syllables. I felt like I was in a special musical episode of a CW show.
“It was an accident,” Alex told me.
“Like, your sleeve snagged on his ear?” I offered.
“No, well, I mean, I reached out, grabbed the earring, and ripped it out, but I didn’t mean to. All of a sudden, I was just doing it.”
“Someone get this bitch a defense attorney,” I shouted, hoping I could break the tension with some humor.
She smiled at me; nobody teased her like that. They were too busy being afraid of her or asking her to choose them.
The man moved toward Alex until they were touching, her nose tickling his sternum.
“What do you have against me?” he asked. I could almost taste his sadness mixed with fury.
Alex took a step back and waved to the bouncer who released an exaggerated sigh and then approached our groups.
“What now, Adams?”
“I need you to kick these guys out.”
“They aren’t doing anything wrong,” said the bouncer.
“They’re doing everything wrong just by being here,” she said. For a second there, I thought she was going to stomp her feet like a child, but she held the tantrum in.
“This is a safe space for everyone.”
“But every fucking space is safe for them,” she complained. “This is our sanctuary.”
I pictured the Big Cat and Bear sanctuary out east where they rescued the animals from the circus and breeders and rappers and gave them a place to live out their days, fat and happy. Me, I was an old, retired cat. But Alex wouldn’t hear any of it. She would stay forever young, an adolescent lion rolling around in the grass, biting the ears of its siblings.
The bouncer shrugged, unmoved by her plight. “Take it up with the boss lady, not me.”
The ringleader folded his arms across his chest and smiled a smug, victorious smile. He leaned on the bar and said, “I’ll have a martini, she’s buying.” He nodded toward Alex then whispered, so only she could hear, he said, “I’ll get my revenge, you wait and see.”
“Change of plans,” said Alex, grabbing my hand. “Let’s get out of here.” Alex and I ran like that, hand in hand, while the Lost Dykes followed at our heels.
“Where are we going?” I shouted, not wanting to turn around to check if the men were following us.
No answer. We ran and ran, even when it seemed Alex might pass out from the tobacco lining her lungs. Eventually, we arrived at an apartment complex, made of eight or so apartments. A white, nondescript, two-story building with outdoor stairs leading to the upstairs apartments. Alex led us up the stairs to apartment 4, burst in the door—I guess she didn’t lock her place—and collapsed on the couch, her laughter interrupted by fits of coughing. Once we realized the men hadn’t followed us, we broke down laughing at our near-death experience. Soon we were throwing back shots at the kitchen table, rehashing our craziest moments over the years. Even Jamie was making me laugh.
“Remember that time you punched Fiona in the face?”
“What about when you fucked that MILF in the bathroom?”
“Girl. In. The. Big. Bird. Costume. That’s all I’m gonna say.”
“Who blacked out and got matching tattoos with a one-night-stand?”
Carmen sheepishly raised their hand. “I remember nothing.”
Alex’s face lit up. “We should give each other stick-and-pokes.” She ran over to her hallway closet and started digging around in there like a rodent. Ryann joined her, the two of them pushing and shoving each other like little boys.
Before long, I was sprawled on the couch and Alex was giving me a stick-and-poke tattoo on the inside of my left ankle while Shae fed me a pill—it must have been molly judging by the way sounds started to take on beautiful, warm shapes and I thought maybe life would be okay if we all stayed together forever, petting the hair on each other’s arms. The tattoo felt like being pecked to death by a chicken, by which I mean I loved it. Once the tattoo was done, I examined it. It wasn’t anything, just an uneven circle.
“It’s an island,” said Alex. “Since nobody can ever really get to you.”
“I am a rock, I am an island,” I sang, but no one heard me or understood the reference.
I wasn’t really sure what she meant. I was settled down in a relationship; I’d been in love plenty of times before Comet.
For some reason, I remembered the one and only time my parents took me on vacation growing up. I was seven and we stayed in a condo right on the beach in Florida, I don’t know where we were, if it was the gulf or ocean side. I remember being so excited at the prospect of swimming with manatees. But once we got there, I fell in love with the balcony, its view and coziness—you could experience everything without ever leaving the condo. I spent all my time there on the balcony, trying out all of the reclining chairs. I could never relax; the second I laid down in one, I missed the old one, so I’d stand up and move back. But once I did, I’d feel I was missing out on the other chairs. What I wanted were more bodies. More bodies so I didn’t have to choose. On the last night of the trip, I was busy drinking lemonade and giving all the chairs my attention when my mom, hair wet and tangled in her ponytail, burst through the door, screaming that she’d just swum next to a baby manatee. I’d assumed she was high like usual, but then I heard people on the beach squealing about how beautiful the ocean cow was and I knew she was telling the truth. My dad picked her up in a hug and spun her in circles like she was a little kid. It was the only time I remember seeing them touch.
Throughout the night, Alex would take calls outside while chain-smoking, pacing back and forth at the top of the stairs, then come back inside and say, “Everything’s fine, everything’s fine” in a way that indicated everything was not fine. I couldn’t hear her over the music—anything from Britney Spears to Ja Rule—but I thought I heard Ryann say Alex was the most important person in modern history. Or maybe she said she was the best hula-hooper of the bunch. Whatever she said, everyone agreed, nodding sagely. In the lull between songs, Carmen suggested that Alex was a hero since she was keeping the queer bar queer, after all, and I wanted to say something, but I didn’t want to ruin the mood. I felt happy, even if it was a chemical, manufactured happiness. Hell, maybe Alex was a hero, and I was too dense to recognize it because my brain had been smoothed out by the rolling pin of adulthood. Adults were so fucking stupid. What had I been thinking, becoming one?
I checked my phone. No texts from Comet; they were fast asleep with their little sleep mask on and earplugs in. I swear, I could be jerking it right next to them while the gay men on my phone grunted about tight holes and Comet would never know. But fuck, they were so cute when they slept. So still and sweet but with a hardness that told me they were conquering whatever evil disrupted their dreams.
Eventually, around 4 a.m., I decided it was time to go home. I wasn’t like Alex—it took me forever to find an electric scooter, but once I did, I raced home. I snuck in the front door, tiptoed to the bathroom, where I washed the night off of me, cursed myself for having a shitty new tattoo I wouldn’t be able to explain, and swished mouthwash from cheek to cheek. By the time I crawled into bed, I only had about three hours to sleep before Comet was up and ready to take on the day.
“You look like shit,” they said. “Did you not sleep well?”
“Thank you,” I said. “I had a dream I was being baked inside a lasagna.”
“That’ll do it,” they said, kissing my cheek before climbing out of bed.
The day was a blur of domestic tasks. Omelets, then Home Depot, then the local plant nursery—Comet needed some bonsai advice. Then we met some straight friends to go rock climbing, heading to a brewery afterward. Even though it was hot out, I wore my climbing pants all day so Comet wouldn’t see my ankle. At the bar, my stomach was queasy, but I forced the beer down, pretending to love it. Back home, we made dinner and settled in to watch our stories and shout at the television about how stupid all of the people inside of it were, how, if we were them, we would not be so careless as to reveal our secret spy identities to anyone. I had to admit, it was a beautiful life. Joyful, and tender, and peaceful. But I’d never known what to do with peace. When I was a kid, shortly after that Florida trip, my mom, having taken too many pills again, got into a four-car pile-up picking me up from school. Serenity gave me anxiety, made my jaw hurt, my teeth clatter against one another. I wondered, would I always crave chaos?
“You seem different today,” said Comet. We were getting ready for bed. They had a meditation picked out on their phone. I tidied up their mind, tossing out their insecurities about our relationship; they didn’t need those. It was my own shit that needed fixing.
“I’m just me,” I said, maybe a little too quickly. I knew they were tidying up my mind, were wondering why Neverland was in there at all—hadn’t I spent enough time killing myself there?
“You are less horrible goose and more disturbed townsperson.”
“Maybe I’m branching out,” I offered.
Again, that night, after Comet was fast asleep, Alex came to our window and off we scooted to Neverland, the world rich and glimmering before us. At the bar, the music pounded inside my body and people sweat and spit all over each other, the room full of ravenous want. I watched Alex dance between two hot femmes who had sandwiched her between their half-naked bodies. I perhaps would have hated her less if at any point she had looked up at me and waved, acknowledging that this was all a performance, an ongoing act of creation in which the real Alex fell into the background, slowly replaced by the Neverland Alex. But no, she never looked up once, too engrossed in ass and titties to remember I even existed.
I went to grab another beer from the bar and next to me was this tall, hot terrifying woman in leather. I pretended that when I was born, the doctors performed a procedure so that my eyes would filter out tall, hot terrifying women. She turned to me and told me I was cute, introducing herself as Rose. Out of all the women in the bar, I couldn’t believe she’d set her sights on me. Alex could fucking suck it. Quality over quantity, baby. We flirted for a while. I learned that Rose played rugby and was poly. I learned that she liked astrophysics and lifting weights but hated CrossFit because of the douchebags. I was convinced that if I kept smiling and nodding, I could get her to keep going, to tell me her entire life, the secrets she never told anyone, the dreams she’d never admit to, where I could find the monsters hiding in her body. Alex pushed through the crowd, making her way toward us. No, no, no, I wanted to say, let me have just this one thing—haven’t you had enough? But when she arrived, she simply continued past us, brushing my shoulder and whisper-shouting in my ear. “Go on, there are no rules here.”
“Shut up,” I said. Rose gave me an amused look but granted me the kindness of staying quiet.<
Alex turned and talked to me as she walked backward, bumping into people left and right. “It can always be this way,” she said. “You don’t have to grow up.”
And then she disappeared into the crowd, and with her, any desire I had to flirt. Someone had punctured a hole in me, and I was slowly emptying out. I wanted to go home; I wanted to cuddle Comet in bed. I wanted to know that’s what I wanted without having to leave first. Rose asked me if everything was okay, and I told her I had a partner at home and that we were thinking about getting a fish tank, that my partner wanted to name all the fish after the lesbians on that show with the shipwreck and time travel. Rose shook her head, mumbling something about monogamists, then raised her beer in mock ceremony and walked away.
I finished my beer and peeled through the crowd until I found Alex and the Lost Dykes. Jamie had Shae in a headlock on the ground and Alex was reffing, counting down, 3-2-1, and then the two broke up, wiping off their shirts and talking shit while also shaking hands. They reminded me of little boys on the playground, pushing and shoving and tackling and calling each other butthead, coming home with ripped knees, covered in grass stains. I thought about my own adolescence, how it wasn’t real, how the hookups and the parties and the school dances and the crushes and the milestones were all for show, and I felt a softness toward Alex and the Lost Dykes, these idiots I didn’t really know but loved with everything I had. I threw my arms around them in this big, sloppy group hug, and we passed smiles around that hug, little face nuzzles. Maybe we were in our thirties and forties, but we were really fifteen. What did we know about the world except for our desires? But what if I wanted one foot at home and one foot in Neverland? What if I could never be happy with where I was, playing a forever game of musical recliner chairs? I made a decision, then and there, that I would choose Comet, continue to choose Comet every day that Neverland was still open and roaring with life and want, and I would be okay, I would hear the distant roar and know that other people were falling in and out of love and fear and heartache and regret, and that despite it all, I had to let them.
The rest of the night was full of remember whens and bet you won’ts and I felt settled knowing that this would be my last time in Neverland. I looked forward to gardening with Comet, to checking on my broccoli plant and listening to them rant about their bonsai. I thought we might get chickens, even learn to compost with worms. Every Sunday, I would make a quiche for the week. I would learn to make elaborate, beautiful meals. I would build a table from scratch and serve Comet like a prince. We would run errands together and I would do minimal complaining. We would become WNBA fanatics and wear matching jerseys on the couch, happy to be home and in our jammies by 7 p.m. We would attend a fertility seminar and I would take detailed notes in a notebook labeled “Make babies with me.” I would whisper to Comet’s pregnant belly every night: I can’t wait to meet you, I can’t wait, I can’t wait. I would teach the kids to skateboard instead of scooter; I would keep all the windows locked, would make sure Alex Adams never visited our children in the night.
A cacophony of screams disrupted my reverie. I looked up and found everyone running in different directions while a few men in black ski masks parted the crowd. I don’t know why they were wearing ski masks. The ringleader would have been recognizable anywhere; nobody just walked around looking like a linebacker without being a linebacker. None of us could move, we stood in a half circle, waiting for our fate to arrive. The huge guy grabbed Alex and threw her over his shoulder, the other men following suit with Ryann, Carmen, Shae, Jamie, and finally, me. We kicked and screamed and scratched at their backs, but we were only children, tiny, embarrassing beings with no power. We later learned that the bouncers didn’t do shit, too distracted by firecrackers the men had set off outside the bar. Before I knew it, I was thrown in the trunk of a truck, along with the other five, rolling on top of each other like a litter of puppies. And then the truck was moving, and someone, I think Ryann, whispered the word “kidnapped.”
“God fucking damnit, fuck,” said Alex, kicking at the trunk door.
“Someone smells like ass,” said Ryann.
“This has got to be a joke,” said Jamie.
“I told you they gave me a bad feeling,” said Alex.
“Fuck you, Alex,” I said.
“Me? You’re mad at me? I saved you,” she said.
The truck took a hard right and we all slammed into the wall. My brain felt like a pinball inside my head.
“Oh, come on, Alex, just tell her the truth already,” said Shae.
“What?” I said.
Another hard right. Groans all around.
“Might as well,” offered Ryann. I couldn’t see but I could sense Ryann was giving Alex a loving nudge.
“Fine,” said Alex. “Haven’t you been wondering why I was coming around outside your window to listen to you two?”
“I mean, yeah …”
I tried reaching into Alex’s brain, to extract the answer at its core before her words would ruin it, but I ran up against a wall—she had me and everyone around her blocked. With no one to tidy up her mind, she must get awfully messed up inside. She must seep in a tea of jealousy and sadness and lust and anxiety and infatuation and resentment. She must have no idea where to put it all.
“I wanted to know what it was like to have what you and Comet have. Something real.”
“We all do,” said Ryann.
“Yeah,” murmured the others.
“Everyone shut the fuck up back there,” yelled one of the men.
Later, the men would park the truck. They would drag us one by one into a beautiful casita full of pictures of a smiling white family. They would take us to the basement, where they would tie us to chairs, pierce our ears with needles, and then rip the earrings out, our screams muffled by weird house music blaring out of speakers. An earring for an earring. I would wonder how I was going to explain the injury, the blood, to Comet. Oh, this? It’s a funny story, actually. Have you ever heard of this place called Neverland? I wasn’t looking for it, I swear—it was out looking for me.
But for now, in the back of the truck, I didn’t think of the future, of where we were going, where we had been. I could think of nothing but the way Comet held the PlayStation controller in their hands, gently, loosely, fingers barely tapping on the buttons, almost as if they were afraid to hurt it; I could hear the honk honk honk of their goose on the screen, its pleas for the townspeople to just give it a chance: we aren’t all horrible, I swear.