Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for mature content.
Though it may seem so on the surface, the fact is, Finn wasn’t always by my side. We met when we were both around the age of four, and after that, no one could ever pull us apart. We were magnetized to each other; it was only our nature.
Poking around, first our yards, and then the woods of Walsh Creek, we were always trapped in the idyll of rural Illinois— so far removed from the rest of the world. We were nine when we first left the county, together, of course, and Finn’s grandfather took us north to Chicago. It was so different from what we were used to. Finn cried.
That beautiful, comforting warmth of childhood, so warm it could be considered the summer of our lives, chilled into a crisp autumn. I had to get used to the bitter wind blowing in my face. Still, autumn had its hot days, and Finn and I both settled into a strange sort of relationship that we had previously been too young to consider. We never discussed it and rarely mentioned it outside of those isolated moments of fumbling, exploratory passion. It took us a year to learn that what we did was considered taboo, but we found ourselves unwilling to care. Once, I tried to end it, taking Emma Bell to the junior high Winter Ball and kissing her once, awkwardly, not quite on the lips, in front of Finn. After that, I ditched her to make up and make out with Finn in the bathroom.
What had once seemed isolated began to creep into other aspects of our lives. We could no longer pretend that it was just experimental. We both cared too much, but deep down, neither of us could admit it even to ourselves. That struggle, however, was just one in a series of many.
The pew was hard, and something Finn had said once came back to me. I had to stifle a snort remembering it. The pews are uncomfortable because Pastor Will doesn’t want anyone getting too comfortable with God. Grinning to myself, I glanced at Finn from across the aisle. It seemed like the pastor was winding down his sermon, and it was apparent that Finn was getting antsy from the way his knee kept bouncing up and down. He cleared his throat rather loudly, and I watched as his grandpa elbowed him in the ribs. His eyes met mine and the church seemed a little hotter, a little stuffier than it usually did. All too suddenly, the pianist began to bang out out-of-tune chords and my dad was dragging me to stand by the bicep. With everyone else caught up in the music, I took the opportunity to stare at Finn, mouthing the words to the hymn being played.
Praise the Mount.
I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of thy redeeming love.
Finn’s face brightened to a satisfying red, and he refused to meet my eyes again for the rest of the service. When it finally ended, the obligatory time of socializing with all the old ladies who acted like they hadn’t seen you just last Sunday began. My grandma always liked to humor them, parading Finn and me around like dolls to be cooed over. I crossed the aisle, grinning up at Finn. He glared at me, turning to his grandfather. “Ethan and I are going to wait for you guys outside. It’s so stuffy in here I think I might pass out.”
He just nodded. “Go on then before anyone can catch you trying to avoid them.”
I grinned and Finn rubbed the back of his neck, looking a little embarrassed. “Come on, Finn. If we want to get out of here, we need to go now.”
Finn allowed me to lead him out the door and outside.
The air outside, despite being a similar temperature to the inside air, was somehow so much more freeing. It was as if the eyes of God couldn't follow us out here. He only existed within the walls of that tiny, weather-beaten building. I climbed into the bed of the beat up pickup truck Finn's grandfather had owned longer than either of us could remember. The grooved bottom was hard against my back as I lay down. Finn plopped himself beside me in a sham of platonic camaraderie. But, he couldn't keep it up for long, rolling on top of me and head-butting my face before kissing me in that strange, gentle way of his.
All too suddenly, he broke away, leaving me choking on air. "What?" I gasped.
He mock glared at me. "You know what."
I chuckled, feigning ignorance. "Enlighten me."
"Saying that! In church!" His face brightened, and he hissed, "I can't believe you."
"I can't believe you." I countered. "How filthy minded you are, interpreting that hymn like you are." I ducked my head to his neck, toying with the skin between my teeth.
He groaned. "Oh my God."
"Not in church," I mocked.
"We're not in church now, are we?"
“I suppose not.” I leaned up and caught his lips once again. It went on in that way, the air around us warming until it was like summer again. After what felt like at once an eternity and no time at all, Finn broke the kiss, a string of spit connecting us for a moment before it broke. “What is it this time?” A pit of fear settled in my stomach, and my voice dropped to a tremulous whisper. “No one’s coming, right?”
“No one’s coming,” he affirmed, rolling off of me.
I sat up. “Then what is it?”
He sighed, an unreadable look overcoming his face. I bit my lip. It was only rarely that I was unable to read Finn.
“What is this?”
“What do you mean?”
He sighed. “I just mean that we’ve refused to define this for years. Years! I think the time has come to at least acknowledge it. We do this and then just go on pretending like it never happened. If that’s going to be forever, then we should just stop now.” He looked down but eyed me carefully. “I don’t think I can do this for much longer.”
I opened my mouth for a moment, but I shut it, knowing I needed to consider my next words carefully. Why did we need to define this? I was perfectly fine with this arrangement. On the other hand, looking at Finn’s face, I could read it without a doubt. He was scared, and I found myself mirroring his fear. I could very well lose Finn with my next words. Maybe it was time to face this. “I think you’re right,” I said. “I—” I couldn’t bring myself to finish that phrase despite what I had just said.
Finn finished the phrase for me, “I think I love you.” He giggled nervously at himself. “It sounds so stupid out loud, doesn’t it?”
“It- It doesn’t,” I fumbled. “It doesn’t sound stupid to me at all.” I paused. “And I think I might love you too.”
This time Finn laughed for real, a sharp, familiar bark, taking my hand in his.
A door slammed, and we jumped apart. I was certain that our hearts thudded in panicked sync as Finn combed through his tangled hair and I prayed that my face wasn’t too flushed. Slow footsteps scraped through the broken, graying asphalt, and I let out a heavy breath. “Boys? You out here? Cynthia’s ready to leave now, and she’s fixing to leave you behind if you don’t hurry up, Ethan.”
“I’m already out here,” I countered shakily, heart still stuttering in my chest. “I don’t see her out here yet.”
Mr. Cotes— Keith, he was always telling me to call him, laughed, and Finn and I hopped out of the back of his pickup. Finn opened up the passenger side door. “See you at your place if Cynthia doesn’t beat us there.”
We exchanged knowing grins as he climbed in the truck. “See you.”
The door banged open as the truck pulled out of the lot, throwing up loose gravel. “Let’s go, Ethan.” My grandmother said. “The roast will be dry if we don’t get there soon.”
Finn and Keith were already in the house; my grandmother never locked the doors. I jumped out of the truck while it was pulling to a stop, my father’s and grandmother’s shouts of protest disappearing behind me as I sprinted to the front door. Inside, Finn was pulling plates from the cabinets, and Keith already had potatoes simmering in a large pot filled with water and a can of beans warming in a smaller pot. I helped Finn with the dishes, the clatter of them unable to drown out the strange thrum that now reverberated between us.
When my grandmother came inside, she shooed everyone out of the kitchen to finish up. The four of us— me, Finn, Keith, and Dad sat in the living room, listening to the whir of the mixer and the bang of pots and pans coming from the kitchen. The silence was comfortable, practiced, having done the same thing for years. Sunday dinner with the Cotes: tradition. Everyone perked up when we heard the call for us to come to the kitchen for grace. Like always, Keith prayed. “Dear heavenly father…” It always started that way, but I never figured out if he said the same prayer every single time. I always zoned out after the beginning, whispering ‘amen’ a split second after everyone else.
We sat down at the large dining room table that Finn had broken his nose on when he was six, playing hide and seek. After that, we weren’t allowed to play that inside the house. Everything seemed normal on the outside. The same sort of conversations flowed between the adults. Finn and I had our own exchange going on— above and below the table.
A forkful of beans slid out of my open mouth as Finn’s socked foot slid higher up my calf. Glancing to my right, I saw Finn holding back a snort before I kicked him in the shin. “Stop it!” I hissed.
“Hmm?” My grandmother hummed.
“Nothing,” I said. “Finn’s just an idiot.”
His foot found mine again. “Am not,” he retorted.
It inched higher. “Okay, maybe not.”
The adults all chuckled fondly, and a strange sense of power began to grow in my chest. They didn’t know. I controlled whether they got to know this or not. I controlled their opinions of me. It was heady, but I also felt ridiculous. Still, I smiled and allowed Finn to inch his way up my leg, toying with the hem of my pants with his toe.