Yes, I Am
A hint of light slipped into the bedroom as Brian opened his eyes. He didn't know if the light came from the first hint of dawn or from the lone streetlamp halfway down the street. After living in the city for several years, Brian fell back into the silence of the small-town, winter morning as if he’d never left.
Brian’s back pressed against Michael’s shoulder, and he resisted the urge to snuggle into his boyfriend’s warm, comfortable body in the tiny twin bed that had once seemed so big when he was a kid growing up in his parents’ house. Instead of returning to Michael’s embrace, Brian slid his bare feet over the bedside, barely moving the bed to keep from disturbing Michael’s well-earned sleep.
In seconds, Brian was cloaked in two pairs of socks, a double helping of sweat pants, and several layers of fleece as he padded through the door of his childhood bedroom and into the dark hallway.
Two snow shovels leaned against the inner back wall of the garage, the same two that had been there since long before Brian had left for college nearly a decade ago. He grabbed the purple one with the bent handle, leaving the gray one with the straight handle for his twin brother, Ryan.
The snow had stopped sometime around midnight, and Brian guessed there was about a foot. He’d seen much worse growing up here.
He shoveled the most difficult section first: the brick patio connecting the porch steps to the blacktop driveway. The slightly uneven bricks kept the shovel from sliding smoothly, but Brian knew from years of experience that he just had to take smaller scoops and wiggle the blade to clear this section. And he also knew how to lift the blade a fraction to keep his work silent and not awaken anyone in the house.
Brian was on his last patio shovelful when his twin appeared on the porch in boxers and a t-shirt.
“Dude,” Ryan said. “You got out here before me.”
“Shhh,” Brian replied. “Everybody else is still in bed.”
“And you did the hard part,” Ryan continued. “I wanted to do the hard part.”
“I was awake anyway,” Brian said. “Figured I’d get it started.”
“Going for brownie points from Mom and Dad, eh?” Ryan teased.
“I’ll bet it worked. I’ll be their favorite at long last,” Brian kidded. “C’mon. There’s still plenty left. Get some pants on. We’ll finish this before Dad wakes up and wants to do it himself.”
Three minutes later, Ryan reemerged, now as bundled as Brian. He ducked into the garage and used his straight gray shovel to mirror his brother’s efforts. Brian tossed snow off to the left of the driveway while Ryan threw to the right. Without planning, they occasionally matched their strokes and transformed the driveway into a two-man rowing team setting out across a river of snow-white driveway.
The two worked in steady silence for twenty minutes. To a casual observer, they would seem identical. Closer inspection would show that Ryan was a bit heavier beneath his layers, and his face glowed pinker and fuller than Brian’s.
When they were halfway to the street, Ryan stopped shoveling and leaned hard on his handle. His breath moved in long, white clouds that disappeared during quick inhales.
Brian stopped as well, his breathing slower and deeper. “You okay there?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Ryan said. “Been stuck at work so much I can’t get enough exercise.”
“How’s the business?” Brian asked.
“Dad might retire this year,” Ryan said. “Maybe put me in charge.”
“No kidding?” Brian replied. “That’s fantastic.”
“I don’t know if I’m ready,” Ryan confessed. “Or if I want it.”
“Really?” Brain asked. “You’d be great.”
“Maybe,” Ryan replied. “But do I want the rest of my life to be spent running a storage company? Am I really the ‘take-over-the-family-business’ type?”
Brian kicked sticky snow from the blade of his shovel. “I always thought that’s what you wanted.”
“I do,” Ryan said. “And I don’t.”
The two stood silent as the plow truck rumbled by, burying the end of the driveway in three feet of hard-packed snow tossed in from the street. Neither brother complained because they knew it was coming, and they accepted it as a part of winter life.
“Sometimes I think I made the wrong choice and should have gone to college like you did,” Ryan said.
“Dude,” Brian chuckled. “Then you’d just be poor like me.”
“Yeah, I’ve put away a few bucks,” Ryan said. “That’s good, no doubt. But I’ll be thirty next year.”
“Me too,” Brian said.
“Would college have made me a gay commie?” Ryan asked.
Brian laughed. “Not if you weren’t already a gay commie when you got there,” he replied. “But, if you were gay, college would have helped you feel okay about it, like you weren’t the only one in the world.”
“What about the commies?” Ryan asked.
“I didn’t know any in college,” Brian replied. “You have to stop watching Fox News, brother.”
They each shuffled their feet for a moment and scraped their shovels over blacktop that they’d already cleared.
“You’d have done well in college,” Brian said at last. “And I think you would have liked it.”
“I might be running out of chances to be something different,” Ryan said.
“Like what?” Brian asked.
“Hell if I know,” Ryan shrugged. “Whatever ‘different’ is.”
“You could go to Vondonn,” Brian suggested. “Lots of people our age and even older are going to community college. It’s not too late for that.”
“VDCC?” Ryan asked. “Hadn’t thought of that. Probably not too many commies there. I guess I could look into it.”
They stared silently toward the street as the snowplow went the other way, burying the ends of their neighbors’ driveways as well. Then, as if the brothers received an unheard command, they both started shoveling again. Both moved with skill and strength to clear the driveway faster than any other two men could have. They’d shared this task since they used half-size, toy shovels, and they knew every crack, divot, and dip of the blacktop. Within a few minutes, they’d reached the edge of the snowplow’s deep drift.
“I saw that you have a guest staying over,” Ryan said. “You must have gotten in after I went to bed last night. I saw the extra shoes in the entryway. Your girlfriend has big feet.”
“Uh, Ryan, there’s something I need …” Brian began before drifting off.
“No, you don’t,” Ryan replied. “I always suspected.”
“Really?” Brian asked.
“It was the way you looked at me in the bathtub when we were toddlers,” Ryan quipped.
“Fuck you,” Brian said.
Ryan laughed. “You wish.” Then he looked directly at his brother. “But please tell me you’re not one of those types who rubs it in people’s faces.”
“Stop,” Brian said.
Ryan didn’t stop. “You’re not one of those types who has to tell Mom and Dad. Just tell them this guy is a friend from college and keep whatever else to yourself.”
“He is a friend from college,” Brian said. “His name is Michael. We reconnected on Facebook, and we’ve been together for a year now. You’re going to meet him as soon as we’re done with the driveway.”
Ryan pretended he didn’t hear what Brian had just said. “You know what? I don’t care where you stick your—”
“Stop!” Brian cut in. “It’s not about my—”
“Stop!” Ryan cut right back.
“It’s about where I stick my heart and my thoughts and my time and my love,” Brian said, on the edge of rambling.
“I know that, dumbass,” Ryan hissed. Then he almost whispered, “I just don’t like talking about this shit. Gay, not gay, whatever. I’d rather everybody kept this shit to themselves.”
“Sorry,” Brian said.
“I mean,” Ryan continued, “do you know how long it’s been since …” And then he trailed off.
“Sorry,” Brian repeated, softer this time. “Seriously, man. Sorry. It’ll happen for you.”
“Will it?” Ryan asked.
“Probably,” Brian replied. “It happened for me. You’re only a little more of a dumbass than I am, so it should happen for you too.”
“Yeah, thanks, I guess,” Ryan replied with a brief laugh, and he feebly tossed a few lumps of snow with his shovel against Brian’s legs. For once, Brian didn’t feel the need to toss anything back at his brother, so he just brushed the snow from his sweatpants.
“You’re not one of those types who can’t keep your private stuff private, are you?” Ryan asked. “This would really mess up Mom and Dad.”
“If you don’t stop saying, ‘one of those types,’ I’m going to become ‘one of those types’ who messes up your fat head with this shovel,” Brian said, just on the border of being angry.
Ryan continued. “Mom and Dad don’t need to hear it.”
“Well,” Brian replied, “they already heard it. Last night while you were sleeping like a baby in his crib, Michael and I had a grown-up conversation with Mom and Dad.”
“No way,” Ryan said.
“Yes way,” Brian said. “They said they knew, just like you knew. Mom worried that I got beat up or people insulted me, and Dad worried that I might get fired from a job. That shit still happens these days.”
“Technically, you’d have to have a job for more than six months at a time for getting fired to be a problem, so you’re safe on that account,” Ryan said.
“Funny guy,” Brian replied. “They just want me to be safe and happy. That’s all I want from you, too.”
“I have to say, this might be too much,” Ryan said.
“Come on, tough guy! You’ve got a gay brother. Big deal,” Brian protested. “It’s not like I’ve got a terminal disease or I’m going to prison. I know you love me, even if your tight-ass, macho, Republican, attitude gets in the way. You’re not as narrow-minded and petty as you want people to think. Are you?”
“No, dip-shit,” Ryan said. “I mean this big-ass pile at the end of the driveway might be too much. We’re not fifteen anymore. This shoveling crap is hard work.”
Brian laughed. “You might not be fifteen, but I’m still a youngster. Race ya?”
Brian sunk his shovel deep into the heavy drift and muscled the snow with a grunt. Ryan dug in as well, and the two spent the next five minutes in a near-frenzy. Their shovels nearly sparked on the pavement, and the massive clumps of snow arced through the frigid morning air.
When they broke through to the street, Ryan let his shovel clatter to the ground. He plopped down heavily on one of the piles he had just built alongside the driveway. Brian was no better off, sinking to his knees and folding his body into itself. If the plow truck had gone by at that moment, the driver might have dialed 9-1-1.
When they both recovered enough to talk, Ryan said between raspy breaths, “You’re not gonna be one of those queers who wants a big, fancy wedding, are you?”
“Yes, I am,” Brian replied, struggling to his feet. “Well, not really. Wedding? Yes. Big and fancy? No.”
Ryan rose and approached his brother. He stepped so close that anyone could see that they were exactly the same height, had nearly the same profile, and weren’t nearly as different as they had sometimes thought they were.
“You’re getting married?” Ryan asked, serious now. “To Michael?”
“Yeah,” Brian replied. “That’s the plan. I was going to tell you about it later, during breakfast, when you had too many pancakes stuffed in your big mouth to object.”
“Am I invited?” Ryan asked.
“Of course, dumbass,” Brian said. He put both hands on his brother’s shoulders. “But you have to leave your ‘Trump 2020’ t-shirt in the closet.”
Ryan shoved Brian backward into the snow pile. “I hate that jackass as much as you do!” he objected.
“Since when?” Brian asked, staring up at his brother in surprise.
“Since forever,” Ryan replied. “I’m a little conservative, but I’m not an idiot.”
“Jury’s still out, bro,” Brian joked.
“Tessa!” Ryan said, urgency on his face. “You can’t get married without our little sister being here!”
“I know!” Brian said. “We’re not getting married for a while. Her Olympic-development team will be back from playing in Europe by then.”
“Do you think she’ll make it all the way to the Olympics?” Ryan asked.
“She was the best high school soccer player in the state,” Brian said. “She’s starting for the university team as a freshman, and they’re ranked in the top ten, so she’s got a great shot.”
“Just as long as she helps them beat Mexico,” Ryan said.
“Build that wall,” Brian fake-chanted.
“No, numb-nuts,” Ryan said. “Like I said, not an idiot. I want to beat Mexico and Canada. Continental bragging rights.”
“I don’t think that’s a thing,” Brian said.
“It is now,” Ryan replied.
Just then the front door opened and their mother stepped out onto the porch. “What the hell are you boys doing?” she called in a voice every son would recognize. Between her feet was their ancient, little dog Ruby. Nearly twenty, she should be blind, deaf, and arthritic. Border Terriers seldom live that long. She had slowed, of course, but she was still spry enough to come out to play in the snow with the brothers when the temperatures reached the thirties that afternoon.
“Nothing!” Ryan and Brian called out in unison.
“Come in here, then,” their mother said. “Michael is making omelets.” Ruby’s little tail swished like a windshield wiper, as if she knew that she would soon be treated with bits of cheese and sausage. Brian was glad that Michael finally got to meet the little hairy beast. Her longevity and vitality were almost otherworldly. If the wedding this summer was a little fancy after all, as Brian secretly hoped it would be, then Ruby could serve as ringbearer.
“Omelets?” Ryan asked. “Okay, now I approve.”
He helped his brother out of the snow. Together they picked up their shovels and headed back toward the warmth of their family home.