Be me:

the patron twink of yesterday's scene who, in college, was desired by e-girls, power tops, and genderqueers in pursuit of undercuts; and who, after college, has a mom who knocks when he smokes in the bathroom and a father who brings cheese pizza home at the end of each workweek. The Exodus, to flee the Magnolia City, because
      gone is Dorian
      Angelo & his ponytail
      gone is the bratty bratpack
      the art kids and their muses,
as they journey forth to Gotham, to acquire internships, modeling careers, experiences which'll add to their air of culture. I stay here.

      My mother says, Happy hour. She says, We’ve invited the Mendozas...

  "Here" is a stretch of houses with the same color brick.

        . . .Mables, Ambersons. . .

  “Here” is a mall, restaurant, movie theater; all with their crowded parking lots.

        ....Goldsteins, Goldsmiths, and then the Domkes next door. Will you be ready by three?

    I drop the joint into the toilet. Watch it swirl away. Does the bathroom smell? Do I? Quick, pretend you're invisible. Pretend you don't have a mother. Knock. Knock.

        My mother says, River, I need a response.

    Puh! Whatever happens, don't lose your cool. For if you lose your cool then it’ll be obvious. I unlock the door. Peeping outside; she with her arms crossed.  

          Jesus River.

          I. . .   

          Have you not showered? 

          I was about to—

    Then comes the dramatics & how I, boo hoo, was uncleanly, unready, wa wa, the day of her luncheon. And what about the guests? What will they say? My mother grips the door knob. Smoke settle in my lungs; say something, say something, or you're dead! I clear my throat:

          Are you making quiche?

          Excuse me?

          I could leave if like...If that would like....Make you feel—

          No, she says. No.


          A pause. Then: well, where'd you think you'd go?

          I shrug my shoulders.

  My mother reaches inside her purse and takes out her wallet.  The movement is pristine and effortless like she spent half a rehearsal blocking it on stage.

      She hands me a twenty dollar bill.
      She says, Buy a quiche.

    I take it, sheepishly, and then my mother shuts the door. I sit on the toilet and listen to the fan as it hums; and later in my room I strip from my pajamas and into regular clothes but my laundry hasn't been done since the maids last came and nothing's clean except for a pair of bummy jeans (which I never wash) and a shirt I wore in the ninth grade but which now squeezes my body, compliments my figure, and anyone who looks can see my belly button: I wear women's sunglasses I thrifted the weekend before because I want the look to have a flavor of irony, or post irony, whichever one, as then it will seem like I have chosen to look like shit. And why aren't you dressed like me? I wear no socks or underwear.

    In the car I whisper affirmations. I won't crash. I won't crash. I swerve into a parking lot.
  Across the street from the mall there is a row of boutiques and other businesses where they sell cupcakes, scented candles, designer clothes, each brand with its own store, like Michael Kors, Balmain, and Prada; knick knacks, furniture, and then a café which I emerge from with a loaf of banana bread and iced tea; and each store within the row is tightly packed against the next store and the row itself is situated on a hill which makes it seem older and European and I walk down the incline as I eat banana bread with one hand and hold my iced tea tight with the other and the sunlight has only just started to make me produce back sweat — the blissful moments before heat is too unmanageable, sticky, when it still feels like a bath — and it's hard not to think of God when the caffeine starts to hit: she has olive skin and bleached hair with dark roots and I have seen her twice before, through the shop window, where inside there is ample makeup and perfume; and she's a salesgirl with a black sales uniform that compliments her complexion and is of course beautiful and the caffeine hits in the exact moment when we have locked eyes and what a privilege, yes, to be found pretty by someone who is pretty, not that I accept it immediately, of course, as I always entertain the variable of my narcissism, how it must alway be about me, me, and me, that one should not even look in my general direction becauce I will interpret it as an open compliment of my sex: I look to the traffic and the trees planted next to the sidewalk like I am a very curious guy, observing my surroundings, taking note, and was I staring? because I didn't mean to, I apologize, I'm only a Very Curious Guy, with his banana bread, iced tea, who raises his tea to his lips after he has taken a bite of the bread and then awaits the sublime; and it tastes like shit (yucky!) but I have completed the 360 view of my surroundings and can now cyclically return to her: she looks aways, instantly, and it sends a shock to my heart, and why wouldn't it, it is confirmation, the undeniable proof, how I wasn't actually a narcissist, and did I say I was? because I didn't mean it, because it's simply untrue, as everything really is about me, yes, and  how can I be a narcissist, see, when I'm only reacting to the facts, yes, and the fact is I am the most beautiful boy who has ever graced this Earth; I am Chalamet, I am Leo, I am Phoenix before the needle prick: I am all of them combined, rolled into one, and then smoked for the medicinal benefits; and all is well all is Heaven until the salesgirl—after she’s looked away, after I've snatched my victory—turns back around and looks at me again through the shop window; a single droplet of sweat trickles down my back and into my butthole as it tightens and several questions run through my head like 1.) Is this a play for dominance? because 2.) Does she want me to bottom for her? and — given this — does she 3.) still expect me to make the first move? as she must not be aware of the game we play, its rules, how the winner is chosen: I will never make the first move; I will always be the one who is sought and not the one who seeks; and I don't care about norms nor how many times she signals to me with her body, her eyes, it will never happen, it will truly never happen, and even if she were to build up the courage, even if she were to make the first move, I'd still decline; I would politely smile, listen as she spoke, and then interrupt mid speech; I’d walk away quickly so as to smear it in her face—I win! I win!—because it would be be true: I finish my banana bread and take my final sip of tea and wave madly at the salesgirl until she loses her cat-like smile and seems more and more uncomfortable as I laugh aloud because no matter how beautiful she is, how attractive, attention will always mean more to me than love. A customer taps her on the shoulder. The salesgirl turns away from me.  I continue my walk.

  I head back to the parking lot. I open the door to my car. I put on the AC and then a podcast and lean back into my seat. I have a headache. I think I'm dehydrated. Part of me knows I should probably drink something but I have already lapsed into dreams.

Eric Renee lives with his parents. This is his first publication.

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