Pavane by Ryan Amato

Snowflakes remind me of angels. But I don’t mean snow angels. I’m talking about how no two flakes are the same and the way they flutter down to the ground. I used to wake up on snowy mornings and stare out the window as long as I could before my mom made me get ready for school. Something about the way the snow blankets everything, kind of erasing what lies underneath. Almost gives you a sense of starting over.
I was thinking of this as I stood on Dylan’s doorstep, my breath punctuating the air. His neighborhood was quiet; all the families were shut up behind insulated walls, probably eating dinner together. My nose burned from the cold, but I just rubbed until I couldn’t feel it anymore.
From inside there was a yell, followed by approaching footsteps. A lock slid out of place, and the door swung open to reveal Dylan, dressed in gray flannel bottoms and a Paramore t-shirt.
“Hey, dude,” he said, yawning and stepping aside. “Sorry I’m wearing my pajamas still. I was too lazy to put on real clothes.”
“Not like I haven’t seen you in that before,” I replied, shaking the snow from my jeans. In the warmth of his house, my nose stung. Dylan took my heavy coat and hung it on the rack in the hall, next to his own and his father’s.
Dylan’s father sat on the couch in the living room. As we passed, he looked up from his phone and gave a warm wave in my direction. “Nathaniel! What’s up, bud?” he boomed.
“Not much, just getting through school,” I offered, before Dylan ushered me quickly into his room.
Once it was just us, Dylan sighed loudly and collapsed onto his bed. “It’s getting harder and harder to live with that man. He’s been on my ass about joining the baseball team when he knows damn well that’s not going to happen.” With his face pressed in the sheets, it was hard to make out what he was saying. Then he turned his head. “Talk to me about anything other than sports. Please, I’m begging you.”
Laughing, I took a seat at the edge of the bed, pushing aside a pile of shirts. “I don’t think your dad is doing that to torture you.”
Dylan pushed himself up so that we were sitting side by side, thighs touching. His head tilted back, eyes closed. “I beg to differ.”
“When was the last time you did anything extracurricular?” I gave him a knowing look.
He tilted his chin up. “Well, he should know that sports is not the way to get to me.”
“He’s trying at least,” I offered. “Think of it this way: finding a girl should be easy for you. They don’t like sports.”
“You would think so,” Dylan said flatly. “But that doesn’t seem to stop them from ignoring my existence.” He suddenly hopped off the bed. “Hang on, I want to show you a piece that I love. You mind?” When I shook my head, he crossed the room to where a small stereo sat on top of a rolling shelf rack. He flicked it on, and the room swelled with the sound of strings. As they played, it made the room feel fuller and emptier all at the same time.
Most of the time, our days ended like this. I was in his room, or he was in mine, and someone was playing music—him classical, me rap. I’ve never seen Groundhog Day, but I’m assuming that it went something like that. We sat side by side, or one of us laid on the floor while we complained about our respective families. We ran this play day after day, just a different film against a vignette. Thinking back on it now, the days and the months we had known each other bled together like ink. If someone had said high school should have been any different, I may not have believed them—or even agreed.
————— Dylan and I met one day in gym class shortly after he transferred to our school system. He was a tall, lanky sophomore who still needed his P.E. credits, and I was one of the Faceless, the freshmen who served as a backdrop for the rest of the school. No one had any reason to talk to either of us, so by nature we ended up paired together whenever there was a group activity.
At first, there wasn’t much chemistry. He would make it really clear that athletics were not his Thing, and I found his constant complaining to be a bit annoying. Even though I didn’t have the friends to play sports with, I still liked them. At the time, my house had an old basketball hoop in the driveway, which nobody used except for me, when I would head out there to clear my head. So, when the activity every week ended up being something related to basketball, I tried not to get on Dylan’s case when he would make it known how much he didn’t want to be involved. Since there weren’t many other options for company, I didn’t have much choice besides grinning and bearing it.
By the time P.E. ended we had started talking about things other than school. I invited him over to my house every week, and we’d pull out my PlayStation to play whatever game I had on my shelf. He would tell me about the new music he was listening to and explain why I should check it out, too.
He never invited me to his house. Only once I asked to go, but something dark passed over his face, and he dismissed the question pretty vaguely. “I like it better at your house,” was his answer. So, I never pushed it, and he never offered.
Until one day I decided to just show up; no one but Dylan was home. He opened the door and, when he saw me, blanched. But after a failed attempt to get me to go home, he invited me inside.
The first thing I noticed was the smell. Musky and deep like a less intense
boys’ locker room. Coming from a house with a mother and sister, the scent was completely foreign. And going deeper into the house, little clues kept popping up at me—there were only men’s shoes stacked haphazardly by the doorway; the only magazines on the side tables were Men’s Health and Sports Illustrated; family photos of a woman with Dylan’s dark hair. I noticed all of this but said nothing, and Dylan did not try to explain.
He led me to his bedroom, which looked pretty similar to mine; where he had video game posters, I would hang posters of my favorite rappers.
Then, his dad came home. I studied Dylan the whole time like some National Geographic researcher. His father sat us down in the living room and offered me something to drink. When I refused, he got himself a beer. Beside me, Dylan tensed.
The conversation was largely normal; I was asked how I liked school, what I did in my free time, what my family was like. He said something about how he doesn’t normally get to talk to the guys that Dylan hangs out with from school, to which Dylan tried to change the subject.
“You seem like a fine young man, Nathaniel,” his dad said toward the end of my interrogation. He finished off his beer and put it on the table next to the couch. “You could be good for my son. Get him out of the house a bit more. Maybe even get him to join a team or two.”
“Dad!” Dylan hissed, eyebrows arched.
His father shrugged. “It wouldn’t kill you to find a group of guys to hang with. When I was your age, I had—”
“—the football and basketball teams to call ‘your boys,’” Dylan recited, getting to his feet. “Yeah, I know. We’re going to my room now, Dad.”
But as he moved past the couch, his dad bolted to his feet and grabbed Dylan’s wrist so hard Dylan gasped in pain. His face was dark. “Don’t you—” And then he seemed to remember I was in the room. His face cleared, and he immediately released Dylan, who rubbed his wrist angrily. “Well,” he coughed, “all I’m trying to say is that having a good social group will help.”
“Thanks,” Dylan said flatly, and he motioned for me to follow him down the hallway.
“Nice to meet you,” I offered meekly, but his dad had sunken to the couch, distracted.
Once in Dylan’s bedroom, we sat together on his bed. Neither one of us said much of anything for a while until Dylan sighed loudly and fell onto his back. “I’m sorry for my dad. He’s the main reason I don’t really like inviting anybody over.”
“He seems like he’s trying,” I said, but Dylan’s jaw set. “No offense, Nate, but you don’t really know the half of it,” he shot weakly, as if he wanted more venom but nothing came out. “He’s trying, sure, but not in the way he should be.”
I nodded, though I wasn’t sure I really understood. I just needed him to think that I did. And it seemed to be enough. Dylan offered a brief smile. “Okay, well, you’re in my house, so let’s do something, I guess. I got a new
stereo last week, want to listen to some music?”
————— “Hang on, I want to show you a piece that I love. You mind?”
Dylan turned the stereo on, and strings and woodwinds flooded the small bedroom, bouncing off the walls and back again. He whirled around with his hands waving methodically, watching for my reaction.
I tried my best to look focused, but classical music had a sedating effect on me. It wasn’t something that I could easily get into—that’s why I needed music like rap to keep my blood flowing—but music was just Dylan’s Thing. We’ve all got a Thing, and that was his, so it was untouchable. I made the effort because of the way he got so animated when he tried to explain foreign concepts to me. When you’ve seen the light in someone’s eyes, it gets harder to sacrifice their happiness for your own indifference.
But it wasn’t enough for him, and a vacuum sucked the sound from the room as he turned the music off. “Okay, I want you to listen to this again.” Before I could roll my eyes, he quickly added, “This piece—‘Pavane’—it’s one of my favorites. So, I have to do it justice.” He pressed play, and strings filled the room once more. He crossed the room and sat on the bed with me, and I couldn’t help but laugh.
“Dylan, I can’t just feel something from your classical stuff.”
“Yes, you can. Tell me—what do you see?” His gaze was rigid, expecting. It took me a moment to realize that he wasn’t joking.
“See?” “Yes, see.” Dylan moved closer and spun me around so that I was facing the blankness of his bedroom wall. His breath was warm against my neck, making my skin prickle. I pretended not to notice. “Close your eyes, Nate. Just listen and tell me what you see.”
I obliged, but nothing was happening. The strings were soothing, but something was missing, as if I was meant to be taken aback by some strange sensation; I let the flutes flood my headspace and tried to make sense of them, grasping at whatever images I could. But I couldn’t think like Dylan did; my brain didn’t go as deep as his.
“It’s definitely not my style,” I replied, but upon seeing his face fall, quickly added, “But I didn’t hate it. I mean—it was good. I liked it. The flutes were cool.”A smile reappeared on Dylan’s face as he cocked his head, studying me. I felt my face flush. “What?”
Dylan’s smile faded as he dropped his eyes to his lap. The silence between us grew thicker and thicker until his sharp inhale sliced through the space between us. He looked up, though his eyes were trained on something behind me. “‘Pavane’ means so much to me.”
“It’s a really nice piece,” I offered.
He shook his head. “No, I mean—this piece, it was one of the first ones I found when I moved here. It was—I found it right after we met, and it’s been one of my favorites ever since. It’s just one of those things that makes me think of, you know, how much we’ve been through here. Takes me back to gym class that first year and how I gave you hell for actually being interested in sports.” We both chuckled. Dylan sighed and cocked his head. “I know I’m
talking about my emotions, and we don’t talk about our emotions, but I was listening to it today and needed to get it off my chest.”
We sat there, staring each other in the eye in silence for a moment. My throat had gone dry, because all of my thoughts had collapsed in on each other until there was nothing. The only word I could force out was, “Thanks,” just barely a whisper.
And then Dylan was leaning in, and I had every opportunity to turn away, but because I couldn’t tell if the adrenaline coursing through my veins meant I wanted it, I let him kiss me. I reached to grab him, but as he touched me, my body fell back into my control. My body pulled away as if electrified, and I shakily got to my feet.
It was the hurt etched in his face that made me look back, but as I tried to write an apology with my stare, his face blanked, completely unreadable. “I have to go,” I said in a voice that wasn’t mine. He didn’t stop me on my way out, and I didn’t look back.
“Leaving so soon?” Dylan’s dad asked from the same spot in the living room, and all I could do was nod, cheeks burning at the thought of leaving Dylan alone.
Outside, I stood on the doorstep and let the air pinch my cheeks. The snow was still falling like angels. The footprints I had made earlier were already soft around the edges, and in their silent beauty threw what had just happened back in my face. To turn back meant having a conversation meant for someone not me, someone buried deep in the ventricles of my heart who called out every time I pumped blood through my veins. Instead of making a new set of footprints, I lined up my feet in the old ones and walked until I was far enough away to hear my heart scream.

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