Halloween in The City is nothing like what it is in the burbs. Kids making their way from house to house seeking treats just doesn’t mix with rushing taxis, Ubers and city buses. The only real “houses” in Manhattan are brownstones, which are almost unaffordable to all but the super-rich or those lucky enough to have inherited one. The vast majority of Manhattanites live in apartment buildings – 80% of them in rentals and for those who can afford it, condos and co-ops. Dyker Heights in Brooklyn, Bayside in Queens, Riverdale in the Bronx and Shore Acres in Staten Island are neighborhoods with stately homes that are known for their lavish decoration at Halloween and Christmastime, but those are in the boroughs. There are row houses in the boroughs too, but The City is synonymous with Manhattan – another world entirely.
Asher White lived with his parents in East River Co-op, one of four cooperative apartment complexes on the Lower East Side. Built originally after WWII as middle-income housing for garment workers, they were still considered relatively affordable for Manhattan. Although they were surrounded by housing projects where tenements had once stood, Co-op Village, as it was called, afforded some of the most breathtaking views in all of Manhattan.
Asher’s parents owned a small Asian take-out restaurant in one of the other co-op buildings, right on Grand Street. Not only were Asher’s parents able to walk to work, but although outrageous, the insider rate made the rent somewhat reasonable for Manhattan. However, Chinatown was just a 20-minute walk away, so the only way they could compete was based on convenience and price. Of course, the food was exceptional, and they offered free delivery within the neighborhood too. They did a very brisk business, but their margins were razor thin and they worked very long hours. As a consequence, they were never home, and young Asher was pretty much on his own.
Their apartment was a very modest two-bedroom, one-bathroom flat on the ninth floor, with a small balcony that overlooked a large playground and park between two of the co-op buildings. By craning his head, Asher could see a tiny sliver of the East River and the Brooklyn Navy Pier in one direction, and the Empire State Building in the other. As one might expect of restaurant owners, his parents had completely remodeled their kitchen and opened it up to the living room, giving the apartment a modern feel, but otherwise the apartment was pretty much as they’d found it when they moved in. The bedrooms were tiny with minuscule closets, and the one and only bathroom was barely large enough for one person to use it at a time. With college being less than four years away, the family had to live frugally and save every penny.
Asher’s bedroom was hardly large enough for a teenage boy to sleep in, let alone spend any time, but his bedroom was precisely where he spent most of his time, playing video games on his computer and, increasingly, reading and watching on-line porn. He was fortunate enough to go to Stuyvesant High School, an elite city school located on the Hudson River, right in the shadow of the World Trade Center. The competition to get into one of New York’s elite high schools was brutal and if offered a slot, kids often commuted hours by subway and bus, every day. Asher was very fortunate in that regard, as all he had to do was to get on the 22 bus across from his building and get off at the other end of the route.
Because admission was based on test scores alone, without regard to racial or ethnic background, the overwhelming majority of the students who attended Stuyvesant were Asian, and most of them lived in Queens. That made it very difficult for Asher to make friends, as very few of his classmates lived nearby. Making matters worse, Asher was of mixed race, with a Chinese mother and an African American father. A lot of the girls found his Tiger Woods appearance to be cute, but Asher wasn’t interested in the girls, and the boys looked down on his mixed heritage. The fact that he couldn’t afford to wear the latest designer fashions or to carry the newest iPhone didn’t help matters either. Without any friends, when Asher wasn’t in school, he could be found either at the Seward Park Library, or on his Chromebook in his tiny bedroom, seated at his tiny desk.
Sadly, Asher’s social isolation was very recent. Although never a part of the popular crowd, he did have friends when he was in middle school. None of them were close friends, but at least they were kids he could hang with after school. However none of them went to Stuyvesant, and with different schedules and coursework, there seemed little point in getting together with kids whose lives no longer had anything to do with his own. Asher wasn’t aware of any kids his age on the Lower East Side who went to Stuyvesant, and so in the less than two months since school began, he had become a loner.
The approach of Halloween left Asher with a dilemma. He’d assumed that last year would be the last time he went trick-or-treating with his friends. But the school dance was already over – not that he would have gone anyway – and with none of his classmates living in the area and given his social isolation, he wasn’t invited to any parties either. There were parties for teens he could have gone to, hosted by several youth organizations and by the two settlement houses in the neighborhood, but those were mostly attended by kids in the projects. He assumed he would have never fit in, and so he didn’t even consider going.
The last thing Asher wanted to do was to spend the holiday alone in his apartment. That might have been the way he spent most of his evenings anyway, but somehow it just felt wrong to be alone on Halloween. Of course, there was the opportunity to give out candy to trick-or-treaters, but giving out candy on Halloween was optional in the co-ops. A lot of the residents were original owners who were elderly and frail. The co-ops had long ago adopted a policy in which giving out candy was strictly voluntary, and so his parents saw no reason why they should spend money on Halloween candy. Also, all of the younger kids went to a party down in the play room and did their trick-or-treating down there.
On the other hand, there was still the option of going trick-or-treating by himself. He’d seen kids his age and even older doing it, although not many, but the thing that sold him on the idea was that most of the teenagers he’d seen trick-or-treating over the years had been alone. That meant he could get his candy and be out on Halloween without appearing to be a loser. He already felt like a loser as it was, but there was no need to advertise it.
As a major Star Trek fan, over the years he’d dressed up as just about every major character from each of the television series and from the movies – everyone from James T. Kirk to Benjamin Sisko to Kahn. There was a new series on television, Star Trek Discovery, but it was only available by streaming with a subscription to CBS All Access. It had been hard enough to get his parents to subscribe to basic cable when the local stations stopped using the Empire State Building for their transmissions, but a streaming subscription was out of the question. In the end, he’d been reduced to binge watching Discovery at the end of the season using CBS’s free trial. Because of its limited availability, however, most people would have no idea who he was trying to be if he dressed up as a character from Discovery, even if it was one of the main characters. It was time to try something different – something not related to Trek.
The thing was, even though he looked a lot like Tiger Woods, Asher had never actually dressed up as Tiger Woods before. He just wasn’t interested in sports at all, and especially not golf. But Tiger Woods was about so much more than golf. He was the first man of color to break into a sport that was the traditional bastion of white male privilege. He was a celebrity. He was a personality and he’d just staged a comeback.
So, on the evening of October 31, Asher donned a white polo shirt, white khakis, a decent pair of sneakers and a light-weight jacket. The only props he had to buy were a sun visor, some golf clubs and a small golf bag. The clubs didn’t even cost him anything, as he was able to get a set of warped clubs for free. The clothes and props alone weren’t enough to define his character, but his combination of Asian and African American features made the costume obvious, especially when he smiled.
Although there were four co-ops comprising Co-op Village, he only had access to his own East River Co-op, but with well over a thousand apartments in four buildings, that was more than enough. Only a fraction of them would be offering candy, but he’d have a hard-enough time visiting a hundred apartments, let alone a thousand.
The physical layout of the buildings was definitely not conducive to trick-or-treating! Each of the buildings was comprised of three connected towers, each with its own set of elevators. The towers didn’t connect to each other, however, except on the ground floor. Hence each floor was comprised of at most six apartments, very few of which would be giving out candy. Taking the elevators between floors would have been an exercise in futility as he’d have had to wait several minutes, jut to go up or down one floor. Therefore, he took the elevators to the top floor of each tower in each building and walked down the stairs until reaching the ground floor.
In order to avoid visiting every floor and disturbing the residents by accidentally slamming the stairwell doors, a sticker was placed on the inside of the stairwell door on each floor where someone was giving out candy. A small pumpkin was placed in front of each apartment with candy, making those apartments easy to spot.
The logical thing would have been for Asher to start in his own building, in his own tower, where people might recognize him, but Asher definitely did not want to be recognized by his neighbors. Therefore, he decided to start across Grand Street and to work his way back, saving his own building for last.
Grabbing his golf bag, which not only held his golf clubs and served as a prop, but also served for collecting his candy, Asher checked the battery on his phone, emptied his bladder one last time, washed his hands and exited his apartment, locking the door on the way out. He exited the building and crossed Grand Street at the light, and then used his key to enter the building across the way. Taking the first elevator he came to, to the twentieth floor, he got out on the top floor and seeing no pumpkins, entered one of the stairwells across the hall. He had to walk down six flights before he saw a pumpkin sticker, but there were three apartments on the fourteenth floor with pumpkins in front of their doors. Smiling and saying, “Trick or treat!”, he quickly had a pack of Reece’s, a couple bags of M&Ms and a Kit-Kat bar.
Proceeding down the stairwells, Asher made stops on several more floors before reaching the ground floor. Already his golf bag was noticeably heavier than when he’d started, and there were two more towers to go, just in this building!
Heading to the lobby, the next set of elevators was directly behind the doorman’s desk. Again, Asher worked his way down from the top floor, more than doubling his stash. Finally heading to the other end of the building, he took an elevator to the top and was pleased to see a pumpkin at the end of the hall. Knocking on the door, he was greeted by a smiling boy with the curliest blond hair and greenest eyes he’d ever seen. The kid looked like a young teen – probably thirteen, but he could have easily passed for twelve, and he was wearing a T-shirt with the Star Fleet insignia used in the original Star Trek series.
Asher was so taken by the boy in front of him that he jumped right in, without even saying ‘trick or treat’. “You’re David,” he began, “Kirk’s son from The Wrath of Kahn and The Search for Spock, right?”
Grinning widely, the kid replied, “Man, everyone gets that it’s a Star Trek character, but you’re the first person tonight to recognize exactly who I am!” Then getting a more serious look on his face, he said, “You’re Asher, right?”
Taken aback, Asher responded, “Otherwise known as Tiger Woods but, yeah. How do you know my name?”
“’Cause we have Biology together, and World History, and Gym,” the boy answered. “And I’ve seen you on the M22, riding to and from school.”
“You go to Stuyvesant?” Asher asked, and the boy nodded his head in the affirmative. “How come I’ve never seen you before? You new to the neighborhood?”
Shaking his head, the boy replied, “I’ve lived here all my life, but I’ve always been home schooled.” Then lowering his voice, he added, “My dad didn’t think the city schools were good enough. Obviously, my parents did a good job, or I wouldn’t have gotten into Stuyvesant.”
“But there’s a lot of choice in schools,” Asher pointed out. “I went to grade school and middle school in The East Village. The schools were excellent, and I got into Stuyvesant too,” he added, sticking out his tongue. “But how come you noticed me when I didn’t notice you?”
“You’re just not observant,” said the boy as he stuck out his own tongue. “Actually, I’d noticed you around the neighborhood before, and so I recognized you in some of my classes. After all, there aren’t that many black kids at Stuyvesant. And of course, I saw a lot of you in Gym,” he added as he colored up deeply. Asher couldn’t help but notice how cute the boy was when he blushed.
“In other words, you just noticed my hot bod, you perve,” Asher responded as he himself colored up. That only made the boy blush even deeper.
“In your dreams,” replied the boy.
Just then, the elevator dinged and a group of five kids, who looked like fourth or fifth graders, got off the elevator.
“Why don’t you come inside, and we can talk some more between groups of kids,” the boy suggested, and Asher shrugged his shoulders. “Just grab a seat in the living room,” the boy added.
Definitely wanting to get to know the boy better, and realizing he could use a friend, particularly one who went to his high school, Asher hoisted his golf bag onto his shoulder, stepped around the boy and walked through the open apartment door. Looking around, he spotted the living room to the left and headed for it, past a series of built-in bookcases. Before he could even sit down, he stopped dead in his tracks and just stared out the picture window, straight ahead.
“Pretty neat view, isn’t it?” the boy said as he walked up beside Asher. “I’ve always lived in the co-ops, but we just moved into this apartment over the summer. We used to live in a large two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment on a lower floor over in Seward Park. It didn’t even have a balcony, let alone a terrace. We saw this one when they had an open house and we fell in love with the view, even though it only has one bedroom and one bathroom. My parents made an offer on the apartment next to this one, hoping to break through the wall between them, but the owner wouldn’t sell at any price. They tried again with the apartment behind us and the one below us, but still no sale, so this is all we’re gonna have for the foreseeable future. But with a view like this, I don’t care if I hafta sleep in a closet. Besides, in four years I’ll be in college anyway.”
“Speaking of which, where do you sleep?” Asher asked.
“Come… I’ll show you,” the boy answered as he grabbed hold of Asher’s hand and dragged him away from the window. Directly across from the bathroom and next to the bedroom was what appeared to be a large linen closet with bi-fold doors. However, the boy opened the doors to reveal a tiny bedroom that was literally carved out of what had been a closet. There were two narrow bunk beds above that reminded Asher of pictures he’d seen of old Pullman railroad cars, and there was chest of drawers below, as well as a small desk with a MacBook Pro laptop on top of it. There were some shelves and closet space in the alcoves at both ends that were crammed with the boy’s clothes to the point that Asher wondered how he could find anything. There wasn’t even a window and there wasn’t room to climb up to the beds or to sit at the desk without the doors being open. It was a bedroom in a box.
“This is amazing, but you can’t even get dressed in privacy,” Asher commented.
“My parents are never around anyway, so I have the entire apartment to myself. I can run around in the nude if I want and no one will be the wiser.”
“I can relate to that,” Asher responded knowingly.
“You mean to running around in the nude?” the boy asked with a smirk.
“No doofus,” Asher replied as he colored up. “I meant that my parents are never home. They own a restaurant on Grand Street, so they work from early in the morning to late at night. Like you, I’m pretty much on my own.”
Just then there was a knock on the front door and the boy went to take care of another group of trick-or-treaters. When he came back, he was carrying the pumpkin that had been in front of the door. With a devious smile, he said, “Now, we don’t have to worry about being disturbed by any more trick-or-treaters.” He then set the pumpkin down on the kitchen counter.
“What do your parents do,” Asher asked, “and why are you stuck here alone giving out candy tonight?”
Straightening up and getting an obviously exaggerated haughty look on his face, the boy replied, “My dad is your state assemblyman, and my mom is his assistant and campaign manager.
“And as to why I’m left here alone to give out all the candy, it’s ’cause there’s a little thing coming up in less than a week called the election. Not that my dad’s in any real danger of losing in a district with twice as many Democrats as Republicans, but as I’m sure you know, the mid-terms are a big deal this year. My dad’s convinced we can win back the House and there are a few seats Upstate that are very likely to flip. My parents are at a costume party fundraiser to help make that happen. It’s also a good way to make the connections he’ll need when my dad makes his own run for Senate, when Schumer retires.”
Suddenly Asher knew exactly who the boy was, even though he still didn’t know his name. “Your dad is Frank Moore?” he asked.
“Guilty as charged,” the boy answered. “Assemblyman Frank Moore, his wife, Dr. Julie Donahue Moore, and their son, Seth.”
“Seth,” Asher repeated. “And I was getting used to just thinking of you as, ‘Hey You’.”
Both boys laughed, and Seth replied, “I guess my role as host needs improvement.” Then taking hold of Asher’s hand, he said, “Come let me show you the view.”
Running back into the living room, Seth pulled Asher through a glass door at the end of the living room, out onto a very long and narrow terrace. It was maybe only five or six feet deep, but it ran the entire length of the living room, making it enormous. To have any outdoor space at all in Manhattan was extraordinary, but a terrace of that size and with such a spectacular, unobstructed view was almost unheard of.
Standing together and still holding hands, Asher could see all of lower Manhattan, and much more than that too. To the left was the start of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which he could see from his own apartment, but in addition to the tiny piece of the East River he could see at home, from Seth’s terrace he could see all of New York Harbor, with the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges in the foreground. Then noticing a glimmer of green and gold through the right side of the Manhattan Bridge, he asked Seth, “Is that the Statue of Liberty?”
Grinning back at Asher, Seth answered, “Very good, Ashe. Most people don’t notice it unless the sun’s shining right on it, but yeah!” Asher couldn’t help but grin back.
Continuing to take in the view, the financial district was right ahead, with the World Trade Center towering above it all. To the right was what people referred to as the Lego Building, which looked like a narrow apartment tower made up of jumbled Lego blocks, and to the right of that was the vast project under construction at Hudson Yard, and then the unmistakable buildings around Union Square. Then there was the emerging Essex Crossing development with the new Trader Joe’s, Target and the subway station. Further to the right were several tall buildings that he knew were on Delancey and on Houston Street, including a new one that was being built right on top of the world-famous Katz’s Deli. And to the right of that was the unmistakable profile of the Empire State Building, the only other landmark that he could see from his own apartment.
“Wow, this is really something!” Asher exclaimed. “I can’t imagine what this must’ve cost.”
“Just shy of a million,” Seth responded.
“Ours is supposedly worth about half that,” Asher replied. “True, we have two bedrooms, but we have a tiny balcony, and our view’s nothing like this.
“I’d be willing to bet you could get more for your place than that, especially with two bedrooms. Our old place went for over a million, even though it had no balcony and no view, but it did have two bedrooms and two renovated bathrooms, a renovated kitchen and nearly double the space. This terrace is nice and the view’s fantastic, but you can’t put your kid out on the terrace.”
“Apparently you can put them in a closet,” Asher countered.
Lowering his voice, Seth responded, “Technically my bedroom’s not legal. A bedroom has to have a window at the least. Of course, we coulda made it legal by removing the doors, but then I wouldn’t’ve had any privacy at all. We got away with it because we told the management we were just remodeling a closet, which was technically true. We didn’t even get a building permit for the work.
“But I don’t mind sleepin’ in a closet, just so long as I don’t hafta live in one. After all, I’ve been outta the closet since I was twelve,” he added with a mischievous smile. Asher couldn’t help but wonder if he meant it literally or figuratively.
“Look at this view, man,” Seth continued. “In the summer, the sun sets right down the middle of Grand Street, and at the fall equinox, it sets behind the World Trade Center. I’m guessing that at the winter solstice, it’ll set right over the water. The sunsets are spectacular, but so are the sunrises. Even though the sun rises behind us, the fiery glow reflects right off the windows of the buildings in front of us, and the bright orange glow of the entire skyline against a dark blue sky is unbelievable.
“And when they have fireworks over the bridges, it’s incredible. We missed the July Four fireworks this year, and I hear they had them up-river anyway, but they had an impressive display for Columbus Day. It was awesome.
“It’s worth sleepin’ in a closet for this view. I’ll never tire of this view. Even when it’s raining or snowing outside, it’s still beautiful. Besides which, who spends their time in their bedroom anyway.”
“I do,” Asher sadly admitted.
“What a shame,” Seth responded. “You have all of New York at your doorstep, and yet you spend all your time alone, holed up in your room? The student bus pass will get you all over the city. You could go to the Museum of Natural History and the Hayden Planetarium, or to the Metropolitan Museum and the Cloisters. There’s MOMA, the Guggenheim and the Whitney, Lincoln Center, Times Square and Central Park. And if you get an NYC ID card, you can get free memberships for all the museums for a year, and even after that, most of them have student rates or will let you donate what you can afford for entry. Or you could go as my guest.”
Both boys were silent for a while as they just leaned against the railing of the terrace and stared at the skyline in front of them.
Finally, Seth turned back to Asher and said, “It must get pretty lonely, holed up in your bedroom alone.”
Asher couldn’t help it as a tear escaped his left eye and ran down his cheek. The boys were still holding hands and so Seth used his left hand to wipe the tear away.
“I really hope we can spend some time together, Ashe,” Seth went on, “but I should probably tell you that I meant what I said about being out of the closet. I’m gay, Ashe, and I like you… a lot. I hope that doesn’t bother you, but I was kinda hoping you’re gay too.”
Turning a brilliant scarlet, he went on, “Yeah, I like how you look in the showers, but it’s your face in particular that attracts me… and your intelligence. Not only are you one of the cutest boys in school, but when you speak up in class, you’re always insightful. You don’t just say stupid shit to look good in front of our classmates. You say stuff that adds to the discussion… the sort of things I wish I had thought to say. And you have a dry, wicked sense of humor. You recognize the irony in things and have a way of bringing out the humor in them without making it sound like a joke.”
Sitting down in one of the chairs on the terrace, Asher sheepishly admitted, “Wow! Yes, I’m gay too… but you’re the very first person I’ve ever told. I have no intention of coming out, though. My parents would freak if they knew.”
Then looking up at Seth, he continued, “The only reason I haven’t noticed you in class was because I was so wrapped up in my own problems and fears that I didn’t really pay attention to anyone else. It’s embarrassing to admit it, but I’ve been a self-centered jerk.”
“I think that’s a good part of the definition of puberty,” Seth responded with a chuckle, “but seriously, there really wasn’t any reason for you to notice me before now.”
“Yeah there was,” Asher countered. “For one thing, you’re the cute one. I can’t believe I never noticed you in class… or in the showers for sure.”
“Let’s face it, I look young for a high school freshman,” Seth countered. “I am young. I’m only thirteen and won’t be fourteen until next May. I don’t even have my pubes yet. I’m so much shorter than everyone else, it’s no wonder you didn’t notice me!”
“Yeah, but age doesn’t matter when it comes to smarts,” Asher countered, “and if anything, you’re tall for your age, so I expect you’ll catch up by next year. “You’re obviously very intelligent to get into Stuyvesant a year earlier than me, and the fact that you’re really into Trek elevates you above 99% of the rest of the kids in school.”
“It’s a shame that not so many kids care about Trek any more. Everyone’s into Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones and DC and Marvel comics… all the fantasy stuff. I like sci-fi ’cause it could be real someday, you know?”
“Yeah, I do know,” Asher agreed. “So, what do you think of the Star Trek reboot, and have you been watching the Discovery series?”
“Don’t get me wrong,” Seth began, “J. J. Abrams has done a fantastic job with the franchise, but why do they keep having to destroy things? They’ve managed to trash the original Star Ship Enterprise, twice, the Enterprise A, the Enterprise C and the Enterprise D, but is that enough? Nooo, they have to destroy Vulcan itself, so they can change the timeline and start all over again. Killing off billions of Vulcans in the name of a fresh start is wrong, man.”
“Yeah, but I can understand why they did it,” Asher countered. “When I go back and watch the original series, the tech looks ridiculous. They really did need to update it to look more like the twenty-second century ought to look, given what we know about tech today.”
“But destroying Vulcan went way too far. They shoulda let the original alone and just kept on with the Next Generation timeline, you know?”
“Yeah, I agree with you, but look what happened with Enterprise,” Asher challenged. “They had to make it consistent with the original series with all its faults, and so it never did catch on. I didn’t like what they did with destroying Vulcan, but the reboot really does open up the series for development in the past as well as the future.”
“Enterprise flopped ’cause it was beating a dead horse,” Seth countered. “They shoulda just stuck to the TNG timeline, but they wanted to try a prequel, and it coulda been great! But instead of sticking with Trek cannon, they decided they needed to do something new, so right off the bat they introduced the Temporal Cold War, and when that didn’t bring viewers, they concocted the Xindi and wiped Florida off the map. Four seasons wasn’t exactly a flop, mind you, but the series didn’t resonate with Trekkers. It was too contrived.”
“Revisionist time lines can’t help but alienate viewers,” Asher agreed. “It’s one thing to create and fix a temporal rift, like in City on the Edge of Forever, or Yesterday’s Enterprise, but throwing out everything we thought we knew about Trek… that’s just stupid.
“Star Trek and Beyond was good, real good, but Into Darkness was absurd,” Asher continued. “If the Federation really did develop all that advanced tech back then, why in the world would they have lost it. And Kahn might have had superior intelligence, but why couldn’t a whole team of scientists have done the same thing? It was just so… contrived, as you said. You know?”
“Yeah, and you see that with Discovery too,” Seth agreed. “I mean it’s a prequel and it was cool to see how they interwove known Trek lore into the plot, and I loved the way they made Spock’s half-sister the main character, but some of the tech was just so advanced, you know? Some of that shoulda survived into the subsequent series. Contrived is the right word for it. Still, I can’t wait for it to come back this spring.”
“If only,” Asher lamented. “No way my parents will go for subscribing to CBS All Access, so I’ll have to wait ’til the end of the season again and binge watch it with a free trial.”
“Not if you watch it with me,” Seth suggested as he wiggled his eyebrows. “Seriously, we can watch it together when my parents are away. You could even sleep over if you want.”
“They’ll let you have friends stay over when they’re away?” Asher asked in surprise.
“They trust me, Ashe,” Seth answered. “I’ve never given them reason not to. They know I’ll never throw a party without their permission, and they know I’ll be responsible when I have a boyfriend over,” he added as he colored up.
A moment of silence passed, and then what began as a chuckle for Asher became a full-fledged laugh.
“What’s so funny?” Seth asked.
Asher answered, “I think this is the part where we’re supposed to turn and look into each other’s eyes, our lips are supposed to magically come together, our tongues are supposed to end up exploring each other’s tonsils and then fireworks should erupt over the Brooklyn Bridge any moment now. Then we’re supposed to have wild passionate sex right here on your terrace. At least that’s what’d happen in your typical story on the Nifty Archive.”
“So, you read that junk too,” Seth replied with a hearty laugh of his own. “Actually, there are much better sites on the Net for gay fiction than Nifty… sites like GayAuthors and IOMFATS.”
“Not to mention AwesomeDude and Codey’s World,” Asher added. “Yeah, I know, but Nifty seemed more… entertaining for what I was thinking.”
“You mean about having wild passionate sex out here in the open?”
“Yeah, and maybe we will… later,” Asher replied with a blush. “Much later. For one thing, it’s too cold out here.”
“At least you’re wearing a jacket,” Seth agreed as he gave an involuntary shiver, sat down next to Asher and wrapped his arms around his body. Asher responded by putting his arm around Seth and pulling him close to his own body. Immediately the mood shifted, and neither boy was feeling cold anymore.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” Seth responded. “I’ve been crushing on you since school started, and here we are, cuddling together on my terrace and lookin’ at this view.
“Yeah,” Asher responded, “This is nice. Here I’ve been feeling so alone, spending all my time by myself in my bedroom. Now, maybe I’ve found a friend… a close friend. I really like you, Seth. We seem to have a lot in common.”
“I like you too, Ashe. I think we’re already close friends. Maybe this is even the start of becoming boyfriends.”
“’Course if this was a Nifty story, this bein’ Halloween and all, one of us would turn out to be a zombie tryin’ to eat the other’s brains out, or possessed by a ghost tryin’ to steal the other’s soul.”
Rather than reply, Seth turned and brought his lips toward Asher’s, gently kissing him. “Nope, neither of us is dead or undead.” He then initiated another kiss and this time Asher kissed him back. Pulling each other into a tight hug, the kiss deepened and what started out as a tentative gesture of affection turned into a full-blown make-out session.
When they finally came up for air, Seth said, “I’ve been wanting to do that since you recognized my character.”
“I’ve been wanting to do that since you answered the door,” replied Asher.
After an awkward moment had passed, Seth suggested, “I seem to have a lot of candy left over. You wanna help me polish it off?”
With a wicked grin, Asher responded, “Can’t think of a better way to spend Halloween than munchin’ on candy and makin’ out.”
Once inside, Seth grabbed a bag of peanut M&Ms and a bag of Reece’s glow-in-the-dark peanut butter cups and poured them out into a big bowl. Setting it down on the kitchen table, he and Asher sat next to each other and started to devour the candy.
“So, I know you like Star Trek, but what do you think about Star Wars?” Asher asked Seth.
Chuckling, he answered, “If you looked at my Blu-ray collection, you’d think I’m a fanatic. I have steel book versions of all ten movies, with the most recent ones in 4k HDR and 3D, but when it comes to Trek, I have all the movies, all six TV series including the animated one, I’ve pre-ordered the first season of Discovery, and I’ve got whole bookshelves of Trek books. There’s no comparison. I don’t have any Star Wars books.
“The thing is, Star Trek is true science fiction. Everything in Trek is plausible. It seems real. The first-released Star Wars film, Episode IV, A New Hope, was more like that. It was real sci-fi. Even The Force was introduced as sort of a collective consciousness shared by all living things. It was in all the subsequent episodes that it took on more of a mystical role, which made the whole series more science fantasy than fiction. Don’t get me wrong… I enjoyed watching every movie, particularly because of all the tech, but it’s no Star Trek.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” Asher stated as he munched away. “But even Trek has taken largess with science, particularly with all the altered timelines.”
“A lot of cosmologists believe in alternative timelines, you know.” Seth countered.
“Yes, and I understand the ‘Many Worlds’ hypothesis and why it’s gained in popularity,” Asher responded. “It fits nicely with String Theory, but there isn’t exactly a way to test it. Even if it’s true, the way I see it, the many worlds concept really only works at the quantum level. The concept of multiple realities or altered realities is truly the stuff of science fiction. It’s a pretty big leap in going from any and all possible quantum states of subatomic particles, to people being both dead and alive in different realities of the universe, Schrodinger’s Cat notwithstanding. If every random event leads to every possible outcome, how can you determine what’s real from what’s not?”
“But that’s just it,” Seth disagreed, “Everything is real in the Many Worlds hypothesis. All possibilities exist, side-by-side.”
“Which would infer that there are millions upon millions of alternative universes with me and you in them, but in slightly different situations, and there are a far larger number of universes in which we were never born.”
“All things are possible in the vast infinity of space and time,” Seth pointed out.
“But space and time are not infinite,” Asher countered. “The Universe arose from a singularity and unless our understanding of the Big Bang is wrong, there can never be more matter and energy in combination that there were at the moment of the Big Bang.”
“Fuck, you’re right,” Seth realized, “but that has implications for the Many Worlds hypothesis too. No matter how many outcomes there are, the number will always be finite, which means that even if every outcome occurs, the number of universes will be finite, too.”
“And there’s more,” Asher went on. “The conservation of mass and energy still applies, so even if all outcomes occur, it cannot increase or decrease the number of universes without affecting the mass of each universe. In other words, the number of universes has to remain fixed and therefore each random outcome has to be balanced by an equal and opposite outcome.”
Nodding his head, Seth replied, “That makes sense, but it could lead to some pretty bizarre consequences… You know there was a really neat story where everyone on earth disappeared at once except for two boys…”
“Yeah, that was on AwesomeDude, right?”
“I take it you read it?” Seth asked.
“Once again, we seem to have the same interests,” Asher answered with a grin. “You know, I really liked that story, but there’s a fundamental flaw in the logic. The idea that a person could simply vanish without a trace must be due to proton decay, which is hypothetical to begin with. The theoretical half-life of a proton is…”
“somewhere around ten to the thirty-second and ten to the thirty-seventh power in years, I think I read,” Seth interjected.
“Good memory, and right! But the universe is only about…”
“Thirteen billion years old,” answered Seth.
“The typical human body contains some ten to the twenty-seventh protons,” Asher continued, “so the probability of even one proton decaying in a typical lifetime is at best one in a thousand. The probability of all protons decaying in just one second is…”
Seth whistled, and then made the calculation aloud, “In a year, one in ten to the thirty-second power, raised to the twenty-seventh power, which is one in ten to the 864th power, and we have to divide that by the number of seconds in a year, which is 31,536,000.”
“So, it’s about one in three times ten to the 870th power, give or take, at best,” Asher agreed. “Now if the universe were truly infinite, the chance of that happening to one person, simultaneous with everyone else, would still be infinite, ’cause any subset of infinity is infinity.”
“But the universe is finite,” Seth added, “and so it all boils down to time!”
“Exactly!” Asher agreed. “And it’s the age of the earth… not the age of the universe… that matters.”
“Actually, it’s the age of humanity that matters,” Seth corrected. “Any way you look at it, the probability of one person disappearing is about as likely as that of the Red Sox winning the World Series, 2018 notwithstanding.”
“The Red Sox?” Asher asked. “You’re comparing it to football?”
“It’s baseball, doofus,” Seth corrected, but then added, “I think. In other words, it’s pretty near zero, except for rare aberrations. But is it even possible to go back in time at all? They do it all the time in Trek, but if you could go back in time, could you actually alter time, or would you just create an alternate reality?”
“You’d still have to deal with conservation of mass,” Asher challenged.
“Not if you could split time without splitting the universe,” Seth suggested.
“Oh, I think I read a story on AwesomeDude about that too!” Asher exclaimed. “The cool thing was that you didn’t need to actually travel back in time, which violates a whole host of things and requires negative energy. In the story I’m thinking of, they sent their thoughts back in time through their dreams. But information has no mass, so it doesn’t become infinite as it approaches the speed of light and energy doesn’t become negative when it travels faster than light and, hence, back in time.
“The question is, if you send information back in time, do you alter time, or does time split to create a new reality? And if time splits, does it create two versions of the universe, each with half as much mass and energy, or is really just one universe with two versions of time?”
“In Star Trek, they kinda treated it both ways, you know?” Seth interjected. “There were several instances of temporal rifts, which are like wormholes back in time. Now that I think, is utterly possible. Look at what happened in Yesterday’s Enterprise. The Enterprise C was thrown forward in time and everything changed. Instead of having peace with the Klingons, we were at war with them, and losing badly. And Tasha Yar was still the security officer on the Enterprise D, instead of being dead, which was just as well, ’cause Warf couldn’t exactly be in Star Fleet if we were at war with the Klingons. So, Tasha helped get the Enterprise C back in time to where it was supposed to be, but to do that, she had to go back with the Enterprise C. In the end, the timeline was restored, and all was as it should be…”
“Except that Tasha ended up having a daughter who was now an officer in the Romulan army.” Asher interrupted.
“Exactly! But did time split or was it actually altered?” Seth asked.
“We may never know,” Asher replied. And then noticing that the candy bowl was empty, Seth grabbed another two bags of candy and refilled it. After a pause, Asher continued, “Yesterday’s Enterprise was definitely one of my favorite episodes of all time, right up there with The Inner Light, and The Visitor from Deep Space Nine, and of course City on the Edge of Forever from the original series. Perhaps the most profound episode of all, though, was The Chase from The Next Generation.”
“That was cool,” Seth agreed, “but not very realistic.”
“What do you mean it wasn’t realistic?” Asher questioned. “I think it was very realistic. All through the entire Star Trek series, we encountered species after species of humanoids, all with the same compatible DNA that allowed them to interbreed, and many of them were at the same level of technological development as our own, with no explanation as to why that was. The Chase explained the whole thing. Instead of there being hundreds of different courses of evolution, each with its own version of DNA and each with its own rate of development, there was only one place in the galaxy where life evolved to the point of intelligence, and that one species planted their DNA all over the galaxy, seeding it with the roots of what became their progeny, including us.”
“It may have explained why the Star Trek universe was the way it was, but certainly not the real universe in which we live. Given enough time and space and the right conditions, life is inevitable, and intelligent life a near certainty.”
“Oh, that idea is sooo twentieth century, my man,” Asher countered.
“What makes you say that?” Seth asked incredulously.
“Do you remember in that story on AwesomeDude about sending information back in time, they said that the formation of life was about as likely as a pile of iron and silicon spontaneously assembling itself into an iPhone?”
“I think it was an iPod, actually,” Seth countered, “but it doesn’t matter. That story was fiction. The reality is that DNA will assemble itself in a Petri dish. The formation of chains of DNA is bound to happen, and with it the fundamental building blocks of life will form on their own without the need for any external intervention.”
“Yes, DNA will self-assemble,” Asher agreed, “and yes, strands of DNA will replicate themselves, but that doesn’t equate with life. Naked strands of DNA aren’t even as alive as the most basic virus, let alone bacteria, algae, fungi or ferns. Unless that DNA encodes something that can maintain and facilitate the reproduction of the associated DNA, it isn’t alive. Life requires that the instructions encoded in DNA be transcribed into proteins. Even the most basic bacterium contains the machinery to do that. Those proteins then form the structure of the cell, the enzymes that transcribe and replicate DNA, the enzymes that metabolize nutrients and the enzymes that process and excrete waste products. DNA can encode for the structural proteins that make up ribosomes, but they can’t actually make ribosomes without there being ribosomes to begin with.
“It’s the ultimate chicken and egg scenario. You need ribosomes to transcode DNA, but you need DNA transcription to make ribosomes.”
“Are you suggesting intelligent design… that there had to be a god to create the building blocks of life?” Seth asked.
“To paraphrase another story I read, if there is a god, they’re nothing but a highly intelligent entity. I’m not discounting the possibility of intervention by an extracorporeal life form, but the main point I’m making is that life is rare. The only reason we’re aware of it is because we’re here. The reality is probably that life arises so seldom and is separated by so much space and time that we may never encounter it outside of our own solar system.”
“Playing Devil’s advocate, I once read that life could have been brought here by a comet,” Seth responded. “Conversely, life that arose on Earth could have been spread elsewhere by comets and meteors. For example, that asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs caused tons of debris to be ejected into space. That debris would’ve included some living cells, and some of those would’ve survived in a field of debris around the sun. A comet could’ve carried some of those cells out into the outer reaches of the solar system, and a meteor could’ve captured or nudged the comet, sending it to another star system, spreading our life throughout the galaxy.”
“Planet of the dinosaurs,” Asher agreed with a laugh. “I don’t discount the possibility of just such a mechanism for dispersing life to other planets, but I’m pretty sure that if there is anywhere in the universe that life arose spontaneously, it did so right here on Earth. We’re in the so-called Goldilocks zone, with liquid water. The planet’s geologically active, has a thick atmosphere, a preponderance of organics and a large moon to create tidal basins, the perfect incubators for life.”
“Actually, I think the gaseous giants would be much better incubators for life,” Seth countered. “With them, you have a very active atmosphere that’s rich with organics, charged with huge storm systems that could combine and recombine molecules in every conceivable way. I’m not saying that life as we know it developed on Jupiter, but the fundamental building blocks of DNA, RNA, ribosomes and so on may have developed in the atmosphere of a gaseous giant, and then been carried here by comets. The tidal basins might have then been seeded with those precursors of life, and served as the incubators for actual cells to form.”
The discussion continued on and on as the two boys consumed bag after bag of candy, discussing every nuance of life, reality, the existence of God and the nature of time, all the while invoking Star Trek lore as if it were the Bible. The entire time while as they argued, discussed, conjected and supported one-another’s ideas, they became closer and closer to the point that they were becoming inseparable. Although unaware of it, their closeness and friendship were infused with an undercurrent of admiration and love that would cement their relationship for a lifetime if they’d let it.
As the hours passed and the supply of candy diminished, the arguments gave way to teasing, trash talk and more and more frequently, to kisses and episodes of making out. But it was the talking that formed the true bond that would bring them together as one. Each point and counterpoint showed them a little more of their thought processes, and increasingly they came to respect and assimilate each other’s way of thinking.
And so that was how Seth’s parents found the boys when they returned from their party in the early morning hours of November 1. The first thing they noticed on opening the door to their apartment was the banter of two teenage boys engaged in an animated conversation. As they rounded the corner and entered the living room, they came upon the boys, seated at the kitchen table, an empty bowl between them and the two of them holding hands. Their son was dressed exactly as they’d left him earlier that evening, and the other boy was dressed in a golf outfit. Indeed, a bag of golf clubs lay on the living room sofa. From his mixed Asian and African features, they knew immediately who he had to be, as they knew his parents and were frequent patrons of their restaurant.
The boys were so engrossed in a conversation about the Klingon language that they didn’t notice they were no longer alone, and so they were stunned when Frank Moore cleared his throat.
“Dad!” Seth exclaimed. “I thought you and Mom weren’t gonna be home ’til after midnight!”
“It’s 1:13 in the morning,” Julia Donahue Moore responded, surprising both boys. Then going up to her son’s guest, she said, “You must be Asher White,” as she extended her hand to shake his.
A look of shock extending across his face, Asher asked, “How did you know my name?”
“Your parents serve the best Asian food north of Canal Street,” Frank said as he too shook Asher’s hand, and then he asked, “By the way, do your parents know where you are?”
“Oh fuck! I forgot!” Asher blurted out. Then realizing what he’d said and to whom he’d said it, he quickly apologized… sort of… saying, “Shit, I’m sorry. I had no idea it was so late!”
Chuckling, Frank said, “It’s nothing we haven’t heard coming from the angelic face of our own son, so don’t sweat it, but don’t make a habit of it either.”
“I won’t, I promise,” Asher swore as he shook his head with such sincerity that it was almost comical.
“Why don’t you call your parents to let them know you’ll be right home,” Frank suggested.
Pulling out his phone, Asher speed-dialed his landline and immediately got his dad.
“Where the hell are you?” screamed his father so loudly that all could clearly hear what he said.
“I’m sorry, Dad,” Asher began. “I went trick-or-treating, but then I came to the apartment of a friend from school, and we spent the entire night talking and eating candy,” he explained.
“Here, let me,” Frank said as he took the phone from Asher.
“Hi Gary, it’s Frank Moore,” he said into the phone. “Our sons really were just talking when we walked in a few minutes ago. Talking… and holding hands.”
“What!” Asher practically screamed.
“Yeah, they were very cute,” Frank continued. “They were so deep into discussing Star Trek, they didn’t even notice us.” Then after a pause, he continued, “Yeah, that’s our son too… obsessed with boys, but much more obsessed with Star Trek.
“Anyway, nice talking to you. I’ll send your son right home.”
“You told my parents we were holding hands!” Asher practically shouted, as soon as Frank had hung up the phone and handed it back.
Shrugging his shoulders, “They’ve known about you for a while, if that’s what you’re worried about,” Frank answered. “It was maybe a year ago that I mentioned that Seth had just come out to us, and Gary responded that he was pretty sure his son was gay too, and so we’ve chatted a lot about the issues in raising gay kids, just about every time we come in for take-out.”
Sitting back down, Asher said, “I can’t believe my parents know.”
“But think about it,” Seth responded as he draped his arm across Asher’s shoulders. “We can both be out and proud… and boyfriends.”
“There is that,” Frank echoed.
“Dad, don’t try to talk kidspeak,” Seth admonished his father.
“Seth, ‘there is that’ was a common expression back when I was a kid,” Frank explained.
Standing up, Asher said, “I better get on home.”
“See you in the morning,” Seth responded as he kissed Asher, right on the lips and in front of his parents.
Asher kissed Seth back.
Grabbing his golf bag, he headed out into the hall and pressed the button for the elevator. Seth watched him from the door, right up to the point when Asher got on the elevator and the doors closed behind him.
In contrast to suburbia, where no parent would feel safe letting their young teen walk home at 1:30 in the morning, neither Asher’s parents nor Seth’s gave a moment’s thought to letting Asher walk home in the big bad city. For one thing, the crime rate is one of the lowest in the nation, and New York really is the city that never sleeps. There was a 24-hour bodega at the corner of Grand and Madison, and there was a steady stream of patrons stopping there for a late Halloween snack. There were three cross-town buses running 24 hours a day along Grand Street, and a lot of people were still out and about. And as always, a police van was parked nearby. Asher truly never was really alone on the street.
Asher could barely look at his parents when he walked in the door. They knew! But it was a school night and they weren’t about to discuss it at such a late hour. High on sugar, Asher tossed and turned in bed for quite a while, but the next thing he knew, his cell phone alarm clock was going off.
Quickly grabbing a shower, shaving and brushing his teeth, he dressed in his best pair of jeans and a polo shirt, and plopped down into his usual seat in the kitchen, where his dad had a plate of Cajun scrambled eggs waiting for him. It was ironic that his father, who grew up in New Orleans and was an outstanding Cajun chef in his own right, should spend his days preparing Asian food, but the Asian restaurant was a sure thing and it was essential to saving for Asher’s education. Perhaps someday, he’d try his hand at opening a Cajun restaurant, but now was not the time.
Digging into his eggs and drinking his coffee, Asher couldn’t help but ask, “How?”
“How did we know you’re gay?” Gary asked, and Asher nodded his head. “The first inkling was when you were eleven and we stopped in the bike shop next to the restaurant, just to look. You really wanted a bike for your twelfth birthday, but thankfully you came to realize you didn’t need one, and the only ones we could’ve afforded were used and pretty beat up. But there was another boy there at the time… a kid who was maybe thirteen… and you couldn’t take your eyes off of him.”
“I remember that,” Asher admitted, “but I thought I was being discreet.”
“Ashe, you were anything but discreet,” Gary responded. “Boys get crushes on other boys at that age, but your eyes showed something more than infatuation. You just couldn’t look away. It looked more like lust.”
“It was lust,” Asher admitted sheepishly as he turned bright red. “I didn’t think it was that obvious.”
“It was,” Gary sighed, “and there were other times too. I’ll admit that at first, we were freaked out about it, but you’re our pride and joy and your mom and I talked about it, and we realized that if you were gay, it wasn’t something we could change. And so, we resolved that we weren’t about to let your sexuality change the way we feel about the extraordinary son we have.”
Asher couldn’t help it as tears sprung from his eyes. His father grabbed him from his chair and they hugged each other tightly before Asher grabbed his jacket and his book bag, checked the MTA Bus Time app on his phone, and left the apartment.
Asher crossed Grand street and noticed that the bus was already parked nearby, but the driver was nowhere in sight and was undoubtedly taking a restroom break. Asher found Seth waiting for him, standing next to the bus shelter and dressed in a lavender polo shirt, black jeans and a black leather jacket. The combination was stunning, particularly in contrast to Seth’s curly blond hair. “Hey,” Asher said as he approached, “I wasn’t sure if you took this bus ’cause I’ve never seen you get on at this stop before.”
Chuckling, Seth answered, “I usually get on at Jackson. It saves me about two minutes, which is another two minutes of sleep. Sometimes I miss this bus though…”
“But the next one barely gets you there in time!” Asher noted. “And if there’s heavy traffic…”
“Yeah, I know,” Seth acknowledged. “Detention is not fun.”
“Well now you have an incentive to get to the bus on time,” Asher stated.
“Definitely,” Seth replied with a sly smile.
Just then, the driver got on the bus, started up the motor and pulled up to the bus stop, opening the door as he did so. The boys got their student bus passes out of their wallets and each one dropped it into the MetroCard scanner as they boarded, putting it back in their wallets afterwards.
Because this was the start of the route, the boys had their choice of seats. In the past, Asher would have taken one of the three single seats, so he could think to himself during the journey and not be bothered by a chatty old lady or a man speaking loudly into his phone in Chinese. Today Asher headed right for a double seat and plopped down into the window seat, Seth sat down next to him and right away, grabbed Asher’s hand and held it tightly.
“You ready to be out, Ashe?” Seth asked with evident tenderness in his voice.
“I’ll never be ready for it,” Asher replied, “but I’m more than ready to be your boyfriend,” he stated as he tightened his grip on Seth’s hand.
The bus lurched forward and made its usual loop around the co-ops on Cherry and Jackson Streets, and then turned onto Madison and passed through the Vladeck and Rutgers housing projects, before turning off at Pike and then heading down East Broadway, right through the heart of China Town. At first the boys were quiet, being too nervous to think about talking, so they just held each other’s hand and smiled at each other.
Finally, Seth said, “Spending last night with you was great.”
“I can’t believe we spent more than five hours together,” Asher chimed in. “It went so fast.”
“I know,” agreed Seth. “Truthfully, I’ve never found anyone before that I could talk to the way I talked to you.”
“Likewise,” Asher agreed. “You’re the first person I’ve met who can hold an intelligent conversation!”
“I love you, Ashe,” Seth said out of the blue, and he clearly meant it.
“I love you too,” Asher replied with equal sincerity.
The bus turned onto Bowery as the boys sat, holding hands in companionable silence. It then immediately turned onto Worth Street, making a short detour for the construction at Center Street that had seemingly been going on forever. It turned down Lafayette and then turned right onto Chambers Street, just past City Hall and in front of the impressive architecture of the David Dinkins Municipal Building. The bus headed down Chambers until it ended at North End Avenue, right in front of Stuyvesant High School.
As the bus came to a stop at the city bus stop in front of the school, Seth and Asher got up from their seats and moved to the rear door, never letting go of each other’s hand. They continued holding hands as they got off the bus and approached the front entrance of the school, getting a few smiles in the process and not a single derogatory comment.
Turning to look at his boyfriend, Seth asked, “You ready?”
Meeting his eyes, Asher answered, “With you, I’m always ready,” and then he reached out and pulled open the door. The boys walked through the door and into their future together.
Disclaimer: This story is a fictional account involving gay teenage boys. There are references to gay sex and anyone who is uncomfortable with this should obviously not be reading it. The reader takes all responsibility for the legality of reading this type of story where they live. All characters are fictional and any resemblance to real people is purely coincidental. The author retains full copyright.