i come out to my twin brother three weeks after i come to terms with the fact that i’m gay.
he pauses in his game only momentarily, to ask if i’m sure.
i say yes, i kissed a girl at summer camp and it was the best feeling of my life.
he asks me if i think that the girl who sits behind me in algebra class is attractive. i say yes, she's the one i kissed at summer camp.
he crinkles his nose in jealousy and asks me if i’d play video games with him. i say yes.
an hour into the game, he asks me if i’m dating her.
i say no. she’s straight, and she realized after she kissed me.
he turns back to the video game. so do i.
it starts on the first day of school, in our tenth grade english class. we’re somehow discussing the grand canyon and lindsey cheng comments on how it's amazing that something so beautiful could exist deep in the earth.
that's when roja, the new girl, speaks from across the room. "i've always thought things that go up are cooler than things that go down," she says confidently.
it’s a really stupid statement, i realize in retrospect, but i’ll learn that everything that comes out of roja’s mouth sounds smart.
i look at my brother, whom i expect to be wearing an amused smirk. instead, he's looking at her like she'd hung the stars.
when i realize that he's probably in love with her, i decide to be her friend.
for information purposes, of course. not because she's the most beautiful girl i’ve ever seen.
roja wakes up next to me on the first day of senior year. it's a nod to our friendship, but it’s mostly because roja had promised to walk with us to school.
after i find motivation to roll out of bed, i make my way to my brother’s room and knock loudly on his door to wake him.
when he doesn't respond, i open the door and flick his lights on.
he won’t yell, and never does, probably because he's grateful that i have roja over all the time.
i haven't told him that i’m in love with her yet.
he's good enough of a person that he’d back off, but i’m good enough friends with roja to know that i don't have a chance.
in my sophomore year, they alter the schedule so that every student in the school has a communal lunch, and roja and i eat every day on the gym floor.
most of the time, i catch my brother on the other side of the room staring. i text one of his friends and tell him to punch my brother when it gets too weird.
one day, i catch lindsey cheng hovering nearby, and wave her over to us.
“hey, roja, can i talk to you?” she asks.
i follow roja to lindsey and lindsey doesn't seem to care.
“i really like you,” she tells roja. “do you want to go out on a date?”
i admire lindsey. she’s smart and pretty and courageous.
“sorry,” roja replies, looking genuinely sorry. “i’m straight.”
“oh,” she nods, plastered smile on her face. i look right at her.
“congrats on not crying,” i mutter to her when roja leaves. she laughs.
lindsey and i date behind our parents’ backs for two months until we realize that we’re both too hung up on roja to be anything more than friends.
in junior year, lindsey falls in love with a boy. she doesn't have to hide that relationship from her parents.
in senior year, life shows me how miserable it can be. i don't have any classes with roja. my brother has four.
we sit together on the gym floor at communal lunch. my brother and his friends join us.
the punch is still delivered on cue.
my brother’s friend is named saathvi and he's in all my classes this year.
i’m almost looking forward to class, until our english teacher picks me to read my poem to the class.
it's about love—of course it is—so i keep my head down and hiss out the words just loud enough so that it’s audible.
saathvi asks me who it was about, and i flip him off when the teacher turns away.
it takes a solid week before he guesses roja. i try to pretend that the look he's giving me is of encouragement instead of pity.
my brother and i get honor roll in the first quarter of senior year. my mom treats us and roja to chinese food even though roja gets on the honor roll every quarter.
saathvi joins us. he's always on the honor roll, too.
my mom makes us talk about college. i don't talk about the fact that i’m thinking of doing rotc. no one knows that yet.
saathvi wants to become a pilot. it suits him, in a way.
this week, roja wants to be a wildlife conservationist. last week, she’d said she wants to be a touring fortune teller.
roja is the most indecisive person i know. she can barely choose between subway and taco bell, even though everyone knows taco bell is fifty million times better.
my brother wants to be a doctor. my mother is proud. medical school is expensive.
when it gets to my turn, i shrug, smile, and swallow my rice.
the conversation moves along.
i stop. “i love you.”
“mom, can i tell you something?”
“i would hope so.”
“i know what i want to do in college.”
my mom stirs the pasta on the stove. “yeah?”
“rotc,” i say, and brace for impact. “listen, i know what you're going to say—”
“yeah, you do.” she’s angry, like she never is.
“i really want to. i owe something to him.”
“you don't owe shit to him,” my mom hisses. the pasta bubbles. “you could die like he did.”
“i’d rather die than end up burying you under thousands of dollars of loans.”
“this is what this is about?” my mother remembers to turn off the stove. i take my cup of coffee out of the microwave.
“he wants to be a doctor. you can't pay tuition for both of us at the same time. i’ll get the scholarship, be back from service when he finishes school, and then i’ll, i don't know, help out at the bakery near the school or something? i’ll figure it out.”
“you're smarter than that. you can do things,” my mother insists. i knew she would; my mom loves me too much to see how stupid i am.
“i don't want to be a burden.”
“you're not,” she says, sadly, and i hug her.
she hugs me tighter. “even when he went to war when i didn't want him to, i loved your dad. i missed him every day.”
“you’ll miss me too, right?” i ask quietly.
it's the closest i’ll get to an okay.
we separate and my mom goes back to the pasta on the stove. i walk up the stairs to my room.
“what was that about?” my brother asks.
“i’m going to join the army,” i reply.
“oh,” he says, and nothing more. we’ll talk another time.
i open my laptop. i’ll have to give the application to my mom to look over.
on the kitchen counter, my cup of coffee goes cold.
it's march. i’ve passed my midterms. no honor roll.
roja and saathvi know that i’m going into rotc. apparently, i’d look badass in a uniform.
my brother won't stop talking about prom.
i consider telling him that i want to take roja to prom too, but i can't get the words out.
i haven’t thought about roja like that in a while, and i don’t have plans to, but it doesn't make it any better when i walk into his room and he's making a poster to ask her out.
“it's april,” i tell him.
he looks up at me. “i’m in love with her.”
i shrug. “me too.”
a pause. “what?”
i flinch. “sorry that i never told you. she's straight, anyway. go for it.”
he colors in the p for prom bright pink. “make it aquamarine blue,” i tell him. “that's her favorite.”
he colors the r. it’s purple. “i’m kind of over it anyway.”
his eyes are fixed on the poster.
i take quiet steps out of the room. when i look back, he's coloring in the o with aquamarine blue.
it’s april. my to-do list consists of passing high school, finding a job, and getting roja to fall for my brother.
they're surprisingly easy tasks.
my senior year classes are light, and i’m scoring a few a’s, mostly b’s, with a little bit of studying.
the bakery near the school loses its cashier. i grab the spot. i’ll spend up until mid-august surrounded by sweets, even if i’m not allowed in the kitchen.
when i invite roja over after work, my brother miraculously walks into the kitchen shirtless.
roja can't take her eyes off of him. i can't take my eyes off of roja.
“your brother’s kind of hot, you know?” roja tells me, when he leaves. i frown.
“gross,” i say, because it’s weird to hear that.
later, she glances at my brother’s room before heading out the door.
i walk up the stairs and congratulate him. he blushes.
the next day, i see roja following my brother with her eyes.
“do you like him or something?” i ask impulsively, because i really want to check that last item off my list.
“well,” she starts and then leans in. “you know when you see someone in a situation that compromises their innocence and then everything’s different?”
i think of all the times that roja’s changed in front of me. “no,” i say.
“really?” she asks.
“yep,” i reply.
“okay,” she says.
“okay,” i say back, and because i’m an idiot, “if he asked you to prom, would you say yes?”
“you're weird,” roja tells me.
“would you?” i press.
“you're weird,” she repeats. “but i probably would.”
my brother asks her. she says yes. i tell my brother to kneel at my feet, and he must really love her, because he does it.
he doesn't even use the poster, though, which makes me mad. at lunch, i tell saathvi to punch him. he complies.
in study hall, saathvi keeps looking over his book at me. i flick him on the ear. “what do you want?”
he smiles. i should have let him keep reading. “how do you feel?” he asks.
i play dumb. “how do i feel?”
“about roja and your brother.”
“don't really care,” i lie quickly.
i don't like lying. “no, i care a lot.”
saathvi's a good kid. he smiles. i should have let him keep reading.
“i’m kind of over it, though. i care less than i would have at the beginning of the year.”
“i still love her, just more as a friend.”
“i think it's kind of nice that i don't have to worry so much about her not liking me back.”
“saathvi’s a dumbass.”
saathvi looks up, offended. “i’m listening.” i laugh in response.
“okay,” i say and he scowls, even though i didn’t do anything.
“you’re awful,” he complains. i smile and look up at the clock. there’s twenty minutes left in the day.
“hey,” saathvi says. “wanna go to prom with me?”
“i’m a lesbian,” i reply.
he rolls his eyes. “i know,” he replies. “as friends.”
“you just want to date me,” i tell him, shrugging, and he laughs.
there's twenty days left in the school year.
“come to the bakery after school,” i not-really ask. “i’ll sneak out day-olds for you. they're still really good.”
“cool,” he says and then again, “cool.”
my dress is aquamarine blue. so is saathvi’s tie.
roja and my brother had gone with scarlet red. i’d checked with her first and she’d thought it was cute that i remembered her exact favorite color. i call it being the best friend ever.
my mother zips up the back of my dress while my brother struggles alone with his tuxedo in the other room.
“can i tell you something?”
“the last time you asked me that, you told me you wanted to go to war.”
“the last time your son asked you that, he told you that he was dating roja.”
my mom laughs. “i know that you're not secretly dating someone.”
“i have before,” i confess.
“i know,” she replies, brushing out the few tangles in my hair. “sophomore year. two months. i’d never seen you ‘study in the library’ so much.”
“okay, yeah, i was shit at excuses then.”
roja loves my mom. she thinks she's cool.
i think she's cool too.
“do you care who it was?” i ask.
my mom shrugs. “as long as he was a good kid, it doesn't really matter.”
my mom’s the type that knows everything. it had made me completely forget that i’d never actually come out to her. i almost start laughing.
“hey, you know i don't actually like saathvi, right?”
“you're going to prom with him,” my mom says.
“yeah, but, as friends. i don't really like him in that way.”
“that's fine,” she says, starting to braid my hair. “you don't have to go with someone you like.”
“no, it's like—” i can't seem to get the words out. “i don't like guys like that. i’m,
like, a lesbian.”
i hold my breath.
my mom doesn't say anything until she finishes my braid. “my best friend in college was gay. his family disowned him.”
i try not to think of what would happen if my mother disowned me.
“i dated lindsey cheng. the girl who helped me with math in middle school.”
“oh, she's a nice girl. very intelligent,” my mom says, smiling a little.
“and i was in love with roja for a while.”
“in love?” she asks me.
i think about it. “maybe not love. something like that, though.” i pause. “are you going to disown me?”
she laughs. “i’m a little surprised but no. i’m fine with it.” she hugs me from behind. “don't hide from me, please.”
“yeah, okay,” i agree and her hands leave my hair.
i go to the bathroom to wing my eyeliner.
my brother drives us to the venue. the hand that isn’t on the steering wheel is in roja’s hand.
saathvi and i share a look.
when we reach the venue, i make a beeline for the food. roja drags my brother into the dance floor while saathvi follows me to the snacks.
he inhales three cookies in two minutes. “nice,” i say. he grins.
later, roja takes a break from dancing to walk over to us. my brother follows her, tired but elated.
he’d never stopped staring at her like she’d hung the stars.
saathvi makes a disgusted face and i laugh. when i finish my cookie, he drags me onto the dance floor.
graduation is a short affair.
roja is valedictorian. she gives a speech about how we are stars and stars are the most beautiful things in the world because things that light up are cooler than things that dim down. i think i’m more like a meteorite.
at the end of it all, i throw my hat up in the air with the rest of my class. roja kisses my brother right there on the field, and i don't care at all.
my mom kisses me on the forehead and tells me she loves me.
i’ll miss that when i’m away.
they wait to get married until i’m back from my last tour in afghanistan.
my scarlet red dress covers up the bullet wound on my thigh.
roja refuses to give up aquamarine blue this time. she looks beautiful at the reception.
saathvi has a girlfriend. i tell him that i’m going to steal her from him.
he doesn't end up being a pilot. instead, he writes for the newspaper.
roja becomes a chemist.
my brother is a doctor. my mother was proud. she passed away two years ago. medical school (and cancer treatment) is still expensive.
i tell my brother that i got shot three weeks after i come to terms with the fact that it happened.
he tells me that i’m brave, but all i am is a meteorite, breaking through the atmosphere and hurtling down to earth with nothing to stop me.
the bakery across the high school is down a cashier. i take the spot.
this time, i’m allowed to go into the kitchen on my breaks. i make cookies and rope saathvi, roja, and my brother into tasting them.
saathvi makes a stupid best man speech. i love it. when he's done, he punches my brother in the shoulder and locks eyes with me. i didn't even have to text him.
i drink about four glasses of champagne before my speech. lindsey cheng grins at me when she hands me the microphone.
i mostly talk about my mother.
i talk about roja.
i talk about my brother a bit, too.
i talk about how we had a little bottle of bubbles that my comrade’s daughter sent to him, and we used to blow bubbles in our spare time because things that go up are better than things that go down.
i talk about how good they are for each other, and they should thank me for getting them together.
my brother really must love roja, because he actually does.
last, i read the love poem that i wrote in twelfth grade english class.