Over the years, our friendship has been forged through fire as well as through happiness. He was there for me when my father died in a car accident. A drunk driver plowed into my father’s car at three in the afternoon. The driver had eight previous DWIs, but hadn’t spent any real time in jail. Killing Dad netted him a year behind bars. A year! He took away a man’s life, and he got a year. It was disgraceful. I was a sophomore at Berkeley and almost went insane. I had been Daddy’s girl since I was born, and his death hit me hard. If it hadn’t for Paris, I would have been in horrible shape. He was the one who held my hair—it was waist-length then—while I puked night after night of heavy drinking. He would go to the parties with me, though he rarely drank himself, making sure I didn’t get myself into trouble. He’s the one who kept telling me that it was going to be all right when I felt as if I had no more heart or will to go on. He was the one who stopped me from slashing my wrists at one especially low point that year. My mom adores him.
In return, I was the one who ran interference between him and his mother. She sent him letters every week while we were in college just as she does now, but he wasn’t as inured to them then. Each letter would upset him for days. Unlike me, he didn’t realize he was attracted to both males and females until he was a junior in high school. His mom caught him kissing a boy that year. Ever since, she has been preaching to him, trying to save his soul. After reading each letter, he would rush to our apartment and sit in the dark for hours, not moving from whatever position he was in. Paris became so distraught after one letter—where his mom wrote she’d rather see him cut off his testicles and become a eunuch than for him to fornicate the way he did—he refused to speak for days, even in class. I decided to take matters into my own hands. His mother’s letters arrived on Friday without fail—I wouldn’t put it past her to have calculated when she’d have to send the letter from Memphis to get it there on Friday just so his weekend would be ruined. I intercepted the next one and opened it. I refused to let him see it, then read the innocuous parts to him such as how his mother was doing. That’s how we read the letters until Paris felt strong enough to read them on his own. I was also the one who kept him together after the love of his life died from AIDS, but I don’t like thinking about that.
“What are you thinking so hard about?” Paris asks softly.
“Family,” I reply. “Us.” I take a deep breath before continuing. “Do you ever think how much easier it’d be if we were a couple?” We’ve talked about this before, but it’s a subject we revisit from time to time.
“Yeah, no doubt,” Paris sighs, ruffling my hair. I move so that I am in his arms, rather than lying in his lap. It’s not like we haven’t tried. Paris was my first kiss from a boy. I had been very unpopular in high school, more teased than dated. The only physical contact I had was when a boy snapped my bra then ran away. I messed around with female friends from time to time, but boys left me strictly alone. Paris was popular, but had been gallant enough to take me to our junior prom. When he dropped me off for the night, he kissed me on my front porch. My parents had left the porch light on, but that hadn’t daunted Paris. In some ways, it’s still my most cherished kiss.