Max and Aidan disappeared one day, holding hands through the tall summer grass. A haze of late afternoon sun illuminated dragonflies and moths, stirred from the shade of its aromatic blades. Wildflowers blazed gold and swayed at their passing. Aidan was fair and followed slightly behind trusting Max, whose dark head bobbed as he chose his path, to lead the way. They were ten years old, old enough to know they were different and young enough to believe they could stay together.
Max liked Aidan right from the start. Beginning the fifth grade was hard for a boy who wasn’t like the other boys. Max knew that, and could tell Aidan would need a friend. His golden head hardly ever left the safety of his books. Once he looked at Max and that’s when Max knew what eternity meant. He sat with Aidan during recess that day and every day after.
Aidan’s mother was kind. Her velvety alto trilled and cooed when she spoke to him—like a mourning dove—a marked difference from Max’s own mother’s gruff, nicotine-rattled grumblings. Gloria wondered why her son was so obsessed with such a pansy of a child; a boy who never ran and yelled along with the others in the neighborhood, who picked dandelions and rode his bicycle side-saddle. A boy whose dungarees were never torn or stained, whose hair was never out of place. Who cartwheeled in the grass, for God’s sake.
Max admired all of those things and was the exact opposite. His clothes were always a mess, his dark hair a tangled disarray of curls and waves, his voice carrying across backyards as he whooped and cajoled along with the rough-and-tumble. Max played baseball and dug up worms for fishing. He was a boy’s boy. Exactly how it should be. Yet he had abandoned most of those things at the beginning of the school year, now practically fawning over the golden child.
“I don’t like you playing with that boy,” Gloria would rant.
“He’s my friend.”
“There’s something funny about him. Can’t you play with the other boys?”
Max would stare in shock and horror. “Then he would be all alone.”
Gloria would drag on her cigarette and blow smoke in his face, then look away from her son’s unwavering coal-dark eyes.
Aidan was always quiet. He liked that Max would take the lead and guide him throughout their day. Max knew where the brook went and how to capture lightning bugs, where the trails came out and the names of constellations. He could always find a four leaf clover and would gift them to Aidan with a flourish and a bow. His hands were strong and his movements self-assured. They held hands when no one could see, sure they would one day be found out. Possibly by Aidan’s father.
“You need to stop coddling him, Nadine,” he would say.
“He needs me.”
“You’re making him soft.”
“There’s nothing wrong with a sensitive boy, John.”
His father would harrumph and slam the door to the garage. Aidan knew he was a disappointment to his father. Sometimes, when he couldn’t sleep, he would pad silently into his parents’ bedroom and stare wonderingly at this man he loved so much, whom he was certain would never love him back if he knew. With a heavy heart he would sigh and think of Max’s father, Roy, who took Max fishing and chased him around their yard with the garden hose. Aidan wished he could be more like Max. Instead, he reveled in being with Max, who was not afraid to hug him close.
The neighborhood boys called him queer and sissy, and he tried not to let it hurt his feelings. But it did anyway.
“We can run away,” Max said, “where no one else can follow. We can always be together.”
“Somewhere we can hold hands out in the open?”
Max reached out, his palm turned up.
Nadine looked up from the kitchen sink and out the window at 7:38 to find him missing from the landscaped yard, with its neatly trimmed hedges and borders of trained vines and perennials. Everything in order. The angle of the sun’s glare burned the screen in a fiery glaze. She turned her head about, searching for her boy, so precious and delicate. Her heart skipped beats when she discovered he was gone. A frantic search ensued.
They lay down together, side by side. Aidan rested his head in solace while Max thumbed a rhythm against his belly. Their young heads turned toward one another and they stared intently each into the eyes of the other. Cicadas hummed and clicked nearby. The haze descended as Max closed his eyes. Aidan followed suit and they slept the sleep of devotion. Together forever, asleep in the tall grass
JD McFarren is a writer and public historian. He has been published in Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore, Warm Brothers Magazine, and Helen: A Literary Magazine. His middle grade mystery October Jones: The Lightning Pines Mystery was published in December 2017 by Wild Dreams Publishing.