“You know, what if I just keep asking my parents for Cary Grant biographies? Then, eventually, they’ll have to surmise I’m gay, right?”
She didn’t want to tell him that he could parade himself in nothing more than a rainbow flag, and they still wouldn’t pick up on the “subtlety.” George and Erin Baker refused to see their only son as anything other than straight, which is why they billed him, at seventeen years old, as merely “choosy.” Blake was not choosy. He had been with roughly twenty men in the past month. All trysts that Arielle helped furnish. She was the only person he could have told about his “true identity,” even though anyone with eyes could see it. It was just a matter of nobody in this town wanting to. But Blake was reaching his wit’s end in terms of always “suppressing.”
So it was that he came up with this Cary Grant biography notion at the book shop they were perusing. Such a “plan” seemed too ineffective to bother with, as far as Arielle was concerned. Why not just run away? No one would ever register that something was genuinely “wrong” otherwise.
“There’s no point in running away now. I’m practically eighteen,” Blake retorted.
Arielle picked up a copy of Catch-22, realizing it was one of the major classics she had never read and replied, “Yeah, but what would really get their attention is if you didn’t go to college. Didn’t use their money—their one true source of power over you.”
Blake rolled his eyes. “That’s a little more involved and life-altering than just asking for some Cary Grant biographies.”
“Your parents won’t even pick up on what that’s supposed to mean.”
“Oh, they will.” And with that, he grabbed the latest book on “the subject” off the shelf and started thumbing through it.
Arielle demanded, “Any juicy tidbits?”
“…a definitely working-class ancestry somehow managed to produce one of the world’s most convincing representations of an aristocrat, albeit an aristocrat who could summon at will a touch of the gutter.”
Arielle raised her eyebrows salaciously. “Sounds like the author is already suggesting that Grant liked to slum it in alleyways and take it up the rear like you.”
Blake glared at her. “I haven’t been doing anything in alleyways.”
She shrugged. “Sure, sure. That just happens to be why I’m dropping you off next to one in the Castro almost every week.”
Arielle decided to buy the copy of Catch-22, while Blake held off on purchasing anything so he could make the request from his parents instead. The two walked out and ambled toward the nearest coffee outpost, something called Bean There, Done That. It was very typical of their town. So close to, yet so far from a place like San Francisco, where Blake made Arielle drive him at every opportunity, squeezing in multiple fucks from different men in a single “session.” But Arielle was only so willing after a while, suddenly feeling that the friendship between them was all take and no give.
She was still conceding to these jaunts that would allow Blake the opportunity to bang with abandon as his birthday approached. After all, that would not be the best instant to cut him off completely. But it was time he either 1) learned to stand on his own, 2) get his own fucking car or 3) confess everything to his parents so they could work toward accepting him and then maybe, predictably, buying him a car. The third option was certainly never going to happen. So Arielle would have to angle for one of the other two.
On the drive down, they listened to Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia, and it didn’t provide much chance for Arielle to get a word in edgewise, though she was able to glean from Blake that his first Cary Grant biography had been bequeathed slightly ahead of his eighteenth birthday, with his mother insisting, “This isn’t all we can be giving you for such a milestone. Your real gifts are still yet to come.”
“In other words, your attempt to announce your gayness through a literary lens failed miserably.”
“Not necessarily. My father was looking at me rather strangely when I opened it and was sure to ask, ‘Since when do you like Cary Grant? Have you ever even seen a movie of his?’ And then I responded, ‘Oh yes, all of them.’ It got a bit tense. Like, I really think he was picking up on my meaning. Erin, of course, kept blathering on obliviously.”
“As the mothers of gay men so often do.”
But other than this exchange, it was Dua’s voice who got the most input on the way down. Arielle decided she would pass the time by walking around aimlessly, since most everything was still closed or only semi-operating. There had to be, at the bare minimum, some coffee option she could get something to go from. How long could a light “railing” take anyway? In her experience, no more than twenty minutes—which still seemed hardly worth the tradeoff of the hour-plus commute required to get here. Why was she doing this? Why was she supporting his continued ability to keep who he truly was a secret? She knew she had to tell him that she was never going to give him a ride again. At least not so long as he refused to inform “the masses” of who he was. At the same time, she had to wonder why it bothered her so much. Beyond just dipping into her gas expenses.
She passed the iconic bar, Twin Peaks, called in its heyday: “the glass coffin.” A reference to AIDS, and the fact that you could see all the queens sitting at the bar through the window, as though awaiting some grim fate. Though some say it was called that because of the old men that went there. Either way, it wasn’t cheery, and Arielle could see “going out” going the way of the dodo altogether. What with all these alleys available amid the pandemic closure. The risk now, however, was ending up in some homeless person’s “abode” and setting them off for being on their turf. But that perhaps only added to the “thrill.”
When Blake was finished, they met in front of The Castro Theater. It was glaring enough as a meeting point. Arielle had wanted to go to Corona Heights Park afterward, but here Blake was suddenly telling her that he was “spent.” A.k.a. his asshole had just been ripped apart and he didn’t feel like doing any kind of “nature hike.” Another strike against him in Arielle’s mind, who snapped back, “So you just wanna drive home right now? We’re not even gonna see anything else?”
“We’ve seen it all, haven’t we?”
“No. We fucking haven’t.” She started to traipse away from him, in the direction of the park. She would no longer be at the mercy of his whims just because she happened to be the only person he felt comfortable confessing his “sins” to. The moment had come for him to get knocked on his freshly-penetrated ass.
“Where are you going?”
“Away from you. Figure out your own way home, okay?”
“Are you serious?” he called out, not bothering to run after her.
“As a sexual orientation!” she shouted back.
The months passed and she didn’t hear from him, as though he knew that to contact her would be an exercise in futility if she wasn’t going to “give him” something in return. And that she would expect some kind of apology that he wasn’t willing to offer. He didn’t see his behavior as leeching or opportunistic in the least. And so, they both went their separate ways, attending their respective colleges that were still close enough to home, but far away enough, too. Arielle, in fact, opted to go to USF, while Blake foolishly chose the not nearly gay-friendly enough Cal Poly. He could have gone to San Francisco as well, but his masochism prevented him. Some sick aspect of him did want to forever be seen as straight by his parents. He wanted them to die thinking that the Baker “legacy” would live on untarnished by the “stain” of homosexuality or anything else “untoward.”
Arielle did, at certain times, feel the urge to text Blake about something, but would always resist. Their friendship was in the past now, even if they were both at home for Christmas. Fittingly, Blake reached out to her on Christmas Eve, in one last instance of showboating, with a picture of another Cary Grant biography and the message, “They still haven’t figured it out.”