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You’re in the Car with a Beautiful Boy Who Doesn’t Know She’s a Boy

T H E O   S T E W A R T

after Richard Siken


The day after you meet her for the first time, you see her face everywhere. She’s the personal injury lawyer in the ad at the bus stop, she’s the grocery clerk who asks you if you found everything alright today, she’s every firefly swarming lazily around the clovers at night and, what the hell, she’s the clovers too. You’re not sure what this means. You’re not sure of anything.



You are best friends, and thirteen. She kisses you on the cheek in front of everyone. Boys do not interest you as much as her. You like the way her mind works, fast like a rubber band shooting off someone’s thumb. You like when she lets you cuddle her. You like when she holds your hand. You have rivers and undercurrents and they pulse with something new and old. It will never be this simple again.



She meets Will. Will is tall and blond and has a deep voice like a radio announcer. He picks at the skin on his thumb and you watch him do it. When she and Will hold hands, it makes you feel like you’re being run over by a car. You don’t understand why. You don’t understand anything.



She once told you that the first time your eyes met she felt something. She once told you she’d kissed a boy but couldn’t remember it; her mind went blank. She just remembered the leaning in and the pulling away. You catch yourself wishing you could know the leaning in and the pulling away. You’d give anything to know that, even if you never got the kiss. The fireflies have gone back to normal, just tiny faces too small to see, but the thought of them makes your skin crawl, if you bothered to think about it.



You try vodka for the first time together. You nearly choke on it. When she’s drunk, she asks to kiss you. You say no. You don’t know why. You don’t know anything.



You are best friends, and fifteen. You’re walking through a sculpture garden full of shining naked men carved from stone. You watch pools of sunlight shimmer in the hollows of their bronze-cast collarbones. She tells you she’s a boy. He tells you he’s a boy. You feel closer to him than you have ever felt to your mother.



You split the cost of his first binder. You order it in discreet packaging so his parents won’t see. He takes the packaging in his hands and crushes it, buries it in the garbage can under last night’s leftovers. He cuts his hair short, carves away at it like stone, and you begin to see his interior shine through. One day, you ask to kiss him. He says yes, but you never do it.



You are best friends, and sixteen. You get your driver’s licenses. You spend a lot of time driving around together, blasting music and not saying anything at all and taking turns standing up in the sky roof of his parents’ minivan. For a second, when you’re watching him perched against the movement of the air, his hair going every which way and his smile river-wide, you believe he could do it—he could really do it. You’re not sure what it is yet, but you’re becoming less uncertain.



Car as containment. Car as house. Car as snow globe. Car as fishbowl. Car as incubator. Car as fire. Car as red. Car as blur. Car as spaceship. Car as possibility. Car as the only place where you can be close to each other without needing to know why you want to be close to each other.



A boy calls him a faggot in PE. His mom starts making comments. He stops cutting his hair. One day he tells you he’s a girl again. She won’t meet your eyes.



You are not you. You are a bug that’s crawled into the wrong environment, through a window into the wrong story. You scuttle along the perimeter trying to find a way out, when really all you want is a way in, a way for this place to be your place. It isn’t. It never will be.



You’re in the car with a beautiful boy who doesn’t know she’s a boy. And you’re so afraid to say anything that is true, like that you remember that day in the sculpture garden, or that you hate her parents, or that when you see her the palm of your heart squeezes into a fist, or that for a brief moment you really knew her. You’re in the car with a beautiful boy and she will grow her hair out and stay in your hometown and find a man to belong to and you will always recognize the thing that lives in both of you, what she will know so well but never name.


Theo Stewart is a writer and musician. They’re a senior English major and Creative Writing minor at Bryn Mawr College. They live in Philadelphia.

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