I'm uncertain. I'm uncertain about a lot of things. How many friends do I really have? Why aren't people liking any of the pictures of books I post on Instagram and Snapchat? Is there someone out there for me? Will I spend the rest of my young adult years being a quiet African American adolescent? Will I forever be an outsider and never fully understand what it means to truly be a teenager just living in the moment? These are the unnecessary thoughts that creep into my mind as I lie awake each night in my grey hoodie and black pajama pants, listening to Oh Wonder letting their deep wistful voices plunge me into the deeper parts of my imagination.
To me, my birth is a cosmic mistake. A hiccup in the space-time continuum. I don't live. I only exist. I count each day instead of living them. I watch from the sidelines as others make plans to hang out. Even last month, while my fellow seniors were at Prom, probably dancing to the Chain-smokers, the guys in their cleaned pressed suits and the girls in their colorful knee-high dresses, I was at home, buried deep in homework and submitting final college applications after facing rejection from four others (Madison, Marquette, UW Milwaukee, Washington University in St. Louis). I didn't mind, really. It's not like I had anyone to go with. My existence has to mean something, and I ponder that while Lucas leads me towards the Seattle Pier.
I've never been to the Seattle Pier. It's similar to Chicago with its Ferris wheel overlooking the ocean and the booths where overstuffed animals and other small gifts are won over. The planks wobble slightly under my feet as Lucas pulls me along the pier. There's still grains of sand between my toes. I can feel them each step of the way in my sand ridden socks. Lucas insisted that he show me the best part of Seattle while Val and Brian have lunch somewhere else. It's ten o clock and the pier is alive with the movement of the Seattle residents coming and going. The Ferris wheel spins, its pink and red colors becoming long streams of lights going nonstop, an infinite loop that illuminates the concessions around it.
I can't help but notice how exceedingly attractive Lucas is right now. He's wearing a blue collared shirt that highlights the muscles in his arms and grey khakis. His chocolate brown hair is still soaked from us swimming earlier, clumps of wet hair that almost cover his eyes. He has to keep pushing it out of the way.
"Daniel?" We've stopped in front of a bright yellow booth.
"Yeah," I said, looking into his eyes. I notice he's still holding my hand. I blush. The two things that prevent him from noticing it is my dark skin and the multi colors.
"C'mon, I want to win you something." I look at the stuffed animals on the shelf behind the carnie. A SpongeBob plushy next to Patrick. Hello, Kitty. The bulldog in Tom and Jerry. Three hearts that say I Love You written in white stitched yarn.
"You don't have to." I look down and up again. Lucas's smile is too bright.
"I know I don't have to, I want to." With my hand still in his, he leads me to the booth. I sit down next to him, watching him grab hold of the stationary water gun with both hands. His eyes narrow to focus. He sticks out his tongue slightly. I smile.
To our right, a guy in a letterman's jacket is holding his bottle-blonde girlfriend in his lap. He's too busy making out with her, devouring her whole mouth, to focus on the game.
"What do you make of that?" I point to the couple. Lucas looks over at the hormonally charged teens.
"I think that the carnie may need to put a plastic cover over the seat just in case that guy …erupts."
"That's freaking gross, man." Lucas raises his eyebrows.
"What? It's practical. The last thing someone wants to do is sit in someone else's man butter."
I punch his shoulder and he laughs, a quick one that combines a snort and a scoff. It's cute. The carny, in his peppermint collared shirt and black suspenders, starts to countdown.
"Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Go!" The water shoots from the nozzle and into the clown's mouth and the red balloon above his head begins to rapidly fill with water. The horny teenagers abandoned their make-out session and the jock is matching Lucas. His girlfriend is sitting in his lap, her right arm around his meaty neck, and with the other, she's pointing her perfectly manicured nails at the clown. Both balloons are about halfway filled. I gaze at Lucas. His face is determined, his eyes locked onto the poorly painted clown. I wouldn't care if he lost. It was just a stuffed animal anyway. I wouldn't even know what to do with it. Probably tuck it away in my closet at home where it can spend its days collecting dust. It was Lucas that I was afraid for. He deserves to win, at least for tonight.
Lucas's balloon pops first and the red siren above it flashes. The jock's been defeated. Lucas slaps his palms on the table and stands. He extends a hand to the jock, who slammed his fist against the gun, sad to not win anything.
"You were a worthy opponent," he said, smiling a genuine smile. The jock stares him down at first but reluctantly shakes his hand in hospitality. He smiles at Lucas and he and his girlfriend leave the booth hand in hand, despite their loss.
"Pick your prize!" The carny shouts, and gestures towards the many prizes. Lucas crosses his arms and sets his feet apart.
"I'll take…the Valentine's Day Heart." The carny uses his cane to retrieve it and once it's in his hands, he hands it to Lucas. "Congratulations!" He thanks the carny and we both walk side by side. The night has grown cooler, the sun descending over the horizon, and the moon slowly rising to take its place. I tuck my hands into the pockets of my North Face Jacket and I put on my beanie for extra warmth. Lucas, however, pays no attention to the dropping temperature. He walks with confidence, his fists moving back and forth and his shoulders back. Lucas unbuttons his shirt, exposing his white wrinkled t-shirt that's still damp from the water with wrinkles everywhere. It's taking all my effort not to reach out and touch him, but it's too damn cold. Was it with black people fearing the cold and white people embracing it?
We reach a curved bench that sits between the concession stands and the Ferris Wheel. The piece of architecture creaks under our weight. Lucas sets the velvet heart in his lap and stretches his arms along the bench. His fingertips are practically touching my shoulder. Not entirely. Just barely.
"How's Seattle so far, Danny?" Lucas asks. His head is tilt back and his short hair hands over the back of the bench. His eyes are closed.
"It's pretty cool. Like I said before, I've never been."
"Beat's working in that restaurant, huh?"
I nod my head, even though he can't see me. "Yes, this is a pace that I can get used to."
He opens his eyes and sits up. His left arm is still around my shoulder. He uses the other to grab the velvet heart and place it in my lap. "For you, good sir." I trace my index finger along the words I Love You. I squeeze the heart with both hands because it feels as though my own may explode from pumping blood too fast.
"Thanks," I mutter. I'm attracted to him. Should I be? I'm still trying to figure out what I like. I don't know whether I like boys or girls. It's strange. I've always focused on my academics, staying up past midnight during the school year to finish assignments and typing exceedingly long seven-page papers that, to be honest, I bullshitted my way through, not even worrying about citing my sources. I've never paid attention to the people around me, to the sensations and feelings that they derive from me. When I'm with Lucas, I don't know what I feel.
"Danny?" He removes the heart from my hands and takes hold of my left hand. My right one rests on my right thigh.
"Yeah?" I look into his eyes, but I can't make them out under the red and pink lights of the Ferris wheel and the concession stands.
"Yeah, I always eat when I'm nervous." Shit.
I try to play it cool. "Umm…yeah…I…I can eat." Yeah, really cool.
He nods and stands up. He shoots two fingers at me and heads towards the concession stand. After a while, he returns with a see-through container of nachos with jalapenos on the side.
"Dinner is served." I roll my eyes and grab a chip from the container and add a few jalapeños on top as he sits down. Lucas takes a chip that's smoldered with cheese and pops it into his mouth.
"No jalapeños?" I watch him swallow. He shakes his head.
"Not me, I can't handle all that spice."
"Probably because you're white." I take a jalapeño and drop it onto my tongue, sucking in the juices before chewing it.
Lucas crosses his arms over his stomach. "Are you saying white people can't handle spicy foods?"
"Of course not, I'm saying you can't handle spicy foods. You just happen to be white." I take a chip and add two more spices onto it and take a bite.
He laughs and runs a hand through his brown hair, untangling the matted mess. "You know what, how about I make a deal with you?" The color of the Ferris Wheel changes and Lucas is bathed in a shade of dark blue.
"What'd you have in mind?" I take another chip, holding a hand under it so the cheese doesn't drip onto my jacket.
"If I can eat five of those jalapeños and last thirty seconds without running over to the concession stand for lemonade," he points to the concession stand where lemonade served in big plastic cups with silly straws is being served, "you have to let me kiss you."
The cheese and chip in my throat become stuck and I nearly choke on it. I manage to swallow it and cough some more. Kiss? Kiss me? He's insane.
"Kiss me? If you can eat five jalapenos?" A knot begins to form in my stomach and I'm worried that the hot cheese residing there will seep through it, creating more unease and discomfort.
Lucas nods his head and places both hands on his knees, tapping his fingers impatiently.
"Why?" I ask. The knot becomes tighter in my stomach. My heart feels as though someone placed a lighter under it, slowly setting it on fire.
"Well, let's see. One. I really like you. Two. I know you like me even though you won't admit it." He leans in closer, his hands still resting on his knees. "Three. I think you're an incredible human being and I want to show you how incredible you are by rewarding myself with a kiss.
I'm still unsure. I've never kissed a guy, let alone a girl. The truth of the matter is; I do like him. I like him because he spoke to me two weeks ago at Italiana's when my hands were shaking trying to balance the glassware and bread and butter plates on a circular tray. As I was tipping it, he stood from the booth and caught it for me.
"Are you okay?" He asked me. Lucas's eyes made my heart stop for a second or five and my legs were reduced to jelly. He was wearing a blue fitted sweater and black jeans with holes at the knees. His comb-over haircut made me want to run my fingers through the strands of his brown hair.
"I'm okay," I said, still stunned by his presence. Brian and Val were sitting at the booth behind him, watching us. It soon became a routine, the three of them meeting me every day at six o clock at Italiana's. I was amazed at them, how the three of them talked to each other effortlessly, not stumbling over their words. I envied their carelessness. I envied it and I adored it.
Lucas is still waiting for my answer to his little challenge. The noise from the other attendees becomes background noise and the screaming from the Ferris wheel fades into oblivion in the back of my mind.
"Okay," I said. "Deal."
Lucas smiles. He takes five jalapeños, counts them, and pops them into his mouth. Now, we wait.
At first, he seems cool. He's not sweating. He's not fanning himself like a grandma sitting in an air-conditioned church. He's leaning back on the bench now with his arms crossed at the back of his head. His right eye twitches slightly. Again. Then again. Then again. The twitching then heads for his nose. It wiggles like a rabbit's nose when sensing danger. Lucas starts to sniffle. He opens his mouth and looks as though he's ready to sneeze. He doesn't. Ten seconds have passed. He looks towards the lemonade stand.
"Thirsty? I ask. I'm sitting cross-legged now with the container of nachos in my lap.
"Me? Please." His voice is dry, void of all moisture that makes his voice usually sound smooth and slightly high pitched. He starts to cough and through the dark red and blue colors I can see his eyes tearing up. He pounds a fist to his chest and I jump a little. If he succeeds, he kisses me and I don't want him to. But I want to. I swallow hard. His lips on mine would be a dream come true. Twenty seconds have passed.
He gets up but then sits back down. He does it again, stand up and sit back down. He crosses his legs then uncrosses them. He runs a hand through his hair again. He rubs his neck and rubs his thighs. I make a fist over my mouth so he can't see me smile, though I doubt he can see it through his watery vision. Five seconds left. Four. Three. Two.
"Hey, guys!" I turn around and I see Val and Brian, both of them holding two cups of lemonade. Upon sight, Lucas jumps from his seat and snatches one of the drinks from Val, even taking off the cap along with the straw to gulp it down.
"Sup with him?" Brian asks.
I look at Lucas. "He couldn't handle the heat." I stand at pat him on the back.
Lucas, after finishing the last drop, wipes his mouth and crosses his arms over his chest. "I was close. This close." He pinches his thumb and index finger, leaving space in between.
Val takes out her phone. "It's eleven, you guys maybe want to head back to the hotel?"
Brian shoots her an incredulous look and straightens his glasses. "No, let's ride the Ferris wheel before we leave. C'mon, please?"
I look at the rotating wheel a few feet away and how it sends people above into the night sky, coming back down again to repeat the same process. Oh, and I don't do heights.
"Fine," Val sighs. Brian's fist pumps and grabs her by the hand before they take off.
Now it's just us again. Lucas turns his attention to me and takes a step towards me. He's right in my face. I can smell the seawater in his hair and the cologne on his face. He takes my hand and wraps his fingers around mine and uses his thumb to caress the back of my hand.
"I'll get you next time," he whispers. It sends chills down my spine.
I squeeze his hand in retaliation. "I doubt it."
He lets go of my hand and gestures towards the Ferris wheel, where Val and Brian are already strapping themselves into the swinging seat. She's laughing, probably at a joke Brian mentioned when he whispered in her ear.
Lucas and I walk side by side to the Ferris wheel and each step of the way, breathing in the cool night air, free from the one-thousand-degree heat of Italiana's, I can't help but wonder how lucky I am to have stumbled onto these people. Brian's love for photography, dressing in designer collared shirts and suspenders. Val, who carries herself with confidence and grace. Lucas, who shows strength, even after failing to win back his dad after he came out of the closet two weeks ago.
We're next to the Ferris wheel. The carny takes our tickets and he straps us in. The material is smooth and I fear that I might slip from the metal bar onto the pier. The moon is in full view. It shed's its light onto us, bathing us in its peaceful glow. Lucas takes my hand and massages the back of it with his thumb and does this as we are ascended into the night sky into the unknown. I already feel less afraid.