THE DUTIES OF MAN • by Angela Hui

I think I’m supposed to kiss her now.

She’s staring intently into my eyes, and I can feel her breathing on me, her bubblegum lip gloss coming too close, too close. I pretend to be fascinated by the water cooler behind her.

Everyone else is dancing, talking, smiling through braces and acne. All I can think about is how uncomfortably humid it feels, how my brother’s tie is too tight, my father’s suit jacket too large –

“You okay?” Her whisper is warm and musty on my ear.

“I’m gonna go get something to drink,” I tell her, and she strokes my hand as I pull away.

My best friend Will greets me at the cooler with a punch on the arm. He looks much better in a suit than I do. His mother is a designer and found him a tie in a rusty green to match his eyes. “Looks like Kara’s enjoying herself,” he says. “You’re doing great. Just lean in and go for it.”

He doesn’t get it. He’s my best friend but he doesn’t get it. I’m not like him, no matter how much I want to be. I’m not like him, tall and broad-shouldered and infallibly self-assured. I don’t know how to go for it, don’t know if I even want to, but I know I’m supposed to. “I’m trying,” I tell him.

“Trying? Man, I’d take your sloppy seconds in a heartbeat.” He grins as my face reddens with a hot hazy jealousy I cannot place. “You’d better go before someone else takes your spot.” With a warm firm hand on each of my shoulders, he pushes me back in her direction. “Seriously, look at her!”

And I do look at her, wanting to see what he sees. She’s alright, I suppose, pretty like a painting that I have no desire to touch. Her hair is too long, her dress too pink, her features too soft. She looks comical, almost, like a princess escaped from a fairytale.

“You’re back,” she says, as if I’ve been gone for more than two minutes. I try not to recoil when her hands migrate to my shirt collar. “You look so good,” she sighs.

Mom always says open doors for girls buy them flowers tell them they’re beautiful. Dad says son you’re gonna have girls going crazy for you someday. Will says she’s hot she’s hot she’s even hotter. I know, I know, I know. You’re supposed to grab a girl, kiss her, screw her, marry her, check off your list and enjoy it too. But Kara’s fingers feel uncomfortably foreign on the back of my neck, and my shoulders tense as she pulls me closer.

How many more excuses can I make?

Will makes it seem so easy, so natural. A knowing look, a shy smile, a pocketful of breath mints. Another blink, another step, another girl. He wants me to catch up to him. He wants me to be normal. He says come on man don’t be so uptight don’t you have a crush on anyone and I say I do I do of course I do and he says well stop acting like such a pansy and tell me her name and I know I can’t tell him because I don’t have the right answer. But he keeps asking while I keep silent and I am begging myself be better be better be better—

So here I am. Hands hovering over Kara Song’s waist while she buries her makeup-caked cheeks in my chest. Here I am.

Peering over Kara’s head, I scan the room for Will. But his green tie is tangled in the fingers of some fawning blonde, his green eyes caught in the details of her face. Another girl. Of course. They flock to him like they are searching for God. I don’t blame them. But he drifts farther from me every day, floating off atop soft pink lips and flowing hair, and I’m not sure whether the things I can’t tell him would bring him back or chase him away.

Kara murmurs something into my neck. The music muffles her words. I keep my lips busy by mouthing along with the lyrics. Mom says if you want to show a girl you love her then really listen to her. And I remember lazy July nights at Will’s house. Sipping stolen liquor and indulging teenage cliches. Listening while he told me everything about his life. Letting his words soak in my brain. Wishing I could make him know me like I know him. Trying to calculate how much I could say without everything spilling out –

He’s turned away from me to face her, the doe-eyed girl du jour. Kara is nuzzling up against my jaw, blocking my view, and I ease her back until she’s an arm’s length away so I can see him, watch him. He spins her around and her doe eyes glisten and I know what’s coming next, because I’ve witnessed it so many times already, because the story goes boy meets girl boy kisses girl scene fades to black lather rinse repeat, because this is what you do when you’re doing what you’re supposed to do, and I know I should look away but I never do what I should and I can’t stop watching.

He’s tasting her tonsils. He’s feeling her up. She’s running her fingers through his hair. My throat closes, my lungs collapse, and I stand there and let everything hurt until I finally turn away, finally admit defeat, finally force myself to meet Kara’s expectant gaze.

I know what I have to do. So I straighten my suit jacket, tighten my tie, and press my lips onto her eager mouth.

Angela Hui writes in Lamont Library study carrels from 8pm to 6am.

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