When Lucas gave Olivia the letter his hands shook, squinting his green eyes at the blacktop and begging her to promise him again, promise him again that she wouldn’t open it until the bus pulled away and she could no longer see him standing on the blacktop. That she would sit in a seat by herself and that she wouldn’t mouth the words as she read; she had a tendency to do that and what if someone knew how to read lips on the bus?
He was right to be paranoid. Olivia could never wait to open presents and would reveal important, exciting secrets and ruin Christmas mornings with her exhalations at the sight of familiarly wrapped gifts (i.e. “Oh look that’s the one with the sweater you wanted in it! The cashmere one you saw at H&M!! Whee!!!!!).
She followed his instruction, though. The frantic look in Lucas’ eyes and the shake in his voice told her to to follow them precisely. He was one of her best friends. They had briefly been a junior high school item the first few weeks of seventh grade, mainly because he noticed that her ratty t-shirts (hand me-downs from her sister) featured bands that he liked, too. They started talking in class. They realized they were both funny and that they both had musically influential older siblings. Hipper siblings. They became an item, and made their romantic debut at the Halloween dance. She wore her Kimono and lined her eyes with kohl. She shoved her glasses into her purse which she hung in her locker, feeling an odd thrill while turning the combination. How strange to be at school at night, in a costume, with a boyfriend, at a dance.
Their affair ended after a girl in their Language Arts class claimed to have seen him “playing with himself at his desk”. Olivia uttered the requisite ew, gross and then performed the requisite break-up. She didn’t believe the girl for one minute but it gave her a reason to end things with Lucas. Seventh grade girls are fickle.
Now they were sophomores in high school, and their friendship had survived. Lucas was brilliant with a mind that didn’t evaporate under the effects of serious drug-use. He thought he had been abducted on a walk home from school one cloudy grey March day. He thought he might want to be an English teacher. He thought they should take a walk in the woods and smoke opium on a Tuesday. To adults he was crystal clear coherent; polite and courteous. He completed his assignments and found out what kind of music their teachers liked, forming his opinion of them sometimes solely based on that alone.
He was hiding something from her, though. Hiding something that she thought she could put her finger on if he’d let her. So when he pressed the note (written on soft, recycled paper, its secrets engraved in rich blue ink that she could see through the intricate folds) in her hand she had already guessed what it might read. When Olivia sat down at a lone seat near the front of the bus, she looked out the window at Lucas’ tiny frame, swimming in a white Smiths t-shirt. He waved and squinted up at her, then turned on his black Chuck Taylored feet and headed to the bike racks.
She did as she was told. She waited until she couldn’t see him anymore until she opened the letter, which was folded into a three inch square. When she began she bit her lips so she wouldn’t move them as she read.
This letter is to help me expel my true self and since you’re one of my closest, dearest friends I wanted you to be one of the first to know that I am gay. If you’re shocked that’s good because that means I’ve done a good job of playing the part of the straight guy. You must know that no one can know this, I’m afraid of being beat to within an inch of my life by someone at school. My family wouldn’t understand even though they love me very much. I have to hide my true self at home, at school…I just wanted some of my friends to know so I could breathe.
The letter went on for four pages, the front and back of two sheets of paper filled with indigo. She read it twice. She smiled and laughed and cried a little and was glad that he loved and trusted her so much. She would of course keep his secret truth.
What was funny was that he was the fourth or fifth friend who had chosen her to use as holy water to cast out their true selves from their invented personas. She was becoming a coming-out safehouse. A secret keeper. She, who sang out surprises and dropped hints by the thousandfold had somehow been chosen to be a guardian of the hidden. A patron saint for sad young ones. What others might find shameful she found natural. One lesbian friend had revealed her sexuality to Olivia in a smoky coffee house over cups of double espresso (with three packs of sugar dumped in). Another friend whispered I’m gay in her ear while they were in a movie theatre. Olivia loved and accepted without a drop of judgement. These were gifts that she wouldn’t blurt out the contents before it was time. The wrapping was too delicate. The object inside too vulnerable and beautiful.