Clay takes Reed in both hands and cradles him. Reed shakes from his sudden stupor, finding his head in Clay’s strong chest as it had been hundreds of times throughout hundreds of consolations. Hesitating only a moment, Reed grabs Clay around his midsection and does not release.
Reed realizes he hadn’t said a word of the sudden onrush of images through his mind.
“Yeah,” he says, finally, as though he were forcing himself to speak in a silent dream.
“Let’s go back, you don’t have to do this,” Clay says. “Let me walk you back the way you came.”
Reed suddenly perks his head and his ears up. But he was not alert; the dream was not finished.
“Not this one. Platform A.”
Reed moves. His hand does not unclench from Clay’s, as he drags him away from the mid-left platform to the far right one.
“Reed? What’s … What are you doing?”
They step onto the platform. Eyes are all around, but hidden among the green shrubs a distance away. They were nonetheless witnesses who say Reed face Clay on top of the ancient stonework, fully unclothed before each other.
In another time and place, it might have been an opportunity to shock, mocking, or jeers, but there was none of that here. The stones were sacred, and they sanctify the ones who stand on them.
“Clay …” Reed says, voice choking but unimpeded, “I don’t understand what’s happening, but I have a lot of things to say that I’ve denied myself from speaking about.”
“Go on,” Clay says, in a state of perfect understanding.
“I love you,” Reed says. He’d only said it once before, that time at the foot of the bed.
“I know that,”Clay says, smiling.
“And I’m gay. At least bisexual.”
“Yeah,” Clay says, “I was wondering when you’d admit that.”
“I didn’t say because I didn’t know if you’d reciprocate. I was terrified of driving you away—I mean, if you are straight, you’d be put off. If my mom or my step-dad didn’t approve, and I still don’t know if they would—then you could have been taken from me. And you being my friend is more important than that … But still.”
“There’s also the matter of admitting it to yourself,” Clay said. “That’s also important.”
“But that … are you, Clay? Are you attracted to me? Even a little, even if just a sliver. I ended up building a second, secret life for myself, one that hung on whether or not you’d accept me after you knew—”
“That’s always how it is …”
“Can’t you tell me?!” Reed says, his voice not cracking as though desperate, but a thunderous anticipation rising to a climax.
“Reed, that’s the other thing they say about these stones. It’s that it doesn’t matter what one was before they stepped on. Only what goes on after.”
“Yes, Reed. I love you. I’ve always loved you. And I always will.”
Reed’s tongue hangs in his mouth; his eyes dart every which way. Should he cry? Should he be elated? He does the only thing he had intended when he first stepped on the platform—he kisses Clay on the mouth. Clay returns it, and it is the sweetest, and most passionate gesture that Reed ever thought he’d have the pleasure to experience.
It does not occur to him how warm he feels, though the icy early-autumn wind flows between their fur. Reed could only think how wonderful it is to honor his love before everyone, to revere his closest friend, his now-husband, before all the witnesses.
“Did you hear the new story? Pedestal A. Two naked guys jumped on it and made out.”
The porcupine scratches her chin and shifts the phone cradled in her shoulder. She looks at a printout of the photo she took, of the cute russet kangaroo who’d brought his calm and considerate husband onto the platform with him.
“No, not in an exhibitionist sense, you’re just not supposed to do it with clothes on is all. The rumor? Yeah, the rumor was they were married up on that platform, but all indication is that they were already married.”
She pins the photograph next to six others of the couple. They are arranged on the wall next to hundreds of other photos. The pictures immediately to the right of the roos are of a beautiful, confident lioness standing on a stone platform.
“I mean, marriage records can’t just appear out of nowhere, can they? It’s only a rumor. There’s always another story about what happens on Campus Avenue.”