Published on February 2nd, 2014 | by Apuntes LJ0
Always and Forever, Love Alex
A short story by Charles Rice-González
The first time I heard “Always and Forever” by Heatwave, I was in Alex’s room and we were about to kiss. He had written down all the words to the song, put them in a sealed envelope that said “Private Open Later” and included it inside the birthday card he’d given me along with a bottle of Paco Rabonne cologne. I was fourteen years old and at first he told me it was a poem he’d written, and then confessed that it was a song and he wanted me to hear it.
The words floated off the page and made me dizzy. “Each moment with you is just like a dream to me that somehow came true.”
Alex had been coming around our apartment a lot, lately. I thought it was because of my cousin Carmela who was sixteen, like him, and gorgeous, well, like him, too. He’d stare at me when no one was looking almost as if he were in a trance. His dark green eyes made my heart play a different beat. After he’d go home from hanging out at our apartment listening to records, Carmela would tell me that she was into him and that he stared at her. I just nodded although I wanted to say, “He stares at me, too,” but I couldn’t, and what if he wasn’t?
Alex and I had grown up in the same building in the Soundview Projects in the Bronx. He and his family, eight brothers and sisters, lived in an apartment across the hall. As little kids, his father would drive a bunch of us out to Orchard Beach, or we’d all go play in the big park down by the river. Alex loved salsa music and his favorite singer was Hector Lavoe. Alex sang his ballads like Tus Ojos, Emborráchame de Amor, and De Ti Depende.
“I was gonna write down a Hector song,” he told me, “but you are not into Spanish music, plus this song really speaks about how I feel.” We entered the room he shared with his two brothers. The door didn’t have a lock. His mother allowed us to be in the room with the door closed because we were both boys. My cousin Carmela couldn’t be in this room, even if Alex wanted her to come. He and I had been passing notes to one another for about two weeks. He sent me the first note. “I like to look at you. I like to hang with you. How do you feel?” He’d spray his notes with his cologne and I’d inhale the notebook paper before I read each one. I kept them hidden inside my pillow case through which I could smell them when I slept. When I received that first note, my heart made itself known. His three simple lines were answered by a three page letter that I had written, edited and re-written. A few days later as he passed me in the hall, he slipped me another note. “I want you to be mine. I don’t want your cousin Carmela, she is nothing to me. It’s you that I need, baby. But we gotta keep it quiet. Nobody can know or it’s over.”
Alex was a soap opera freak, and his favorite was All My Children. So, his notes and actions always had a touch of melodrama.
I was so happy that I wanted to let the world know, but his note was clear, Nobody can know or it’s over.
When we entered his room, it was no surprise that he had lit a candle, a religious kind from his mother’s altar, and had the needle to the record ready to land on the spot where the song was to begin. I sat on his bed. He closed the door. He turned off the light. The room glowed a cool indigo from the twilight sky. The flickering candlelight made our shadows dance. A faint whiff of garlic filled the air from the chicken his mother had cooked that evening. The needle landed on the record and Heatwave’s song oozed into the room. Alex extended his hand and led me to the door. “Lean against it in case somebody tries to come in.” He extended his arms and pressed against the door facing me, each hand on either side of my head. With his face inches from mine, he smiled. He smelled like his letters. He craned his neck, tilted his head and pressed his lips to mine. He bent his elbows, bringing his body closer and pressed his crotch to mine making slow circles in tune with the song’s swirling rhythms.
We would have kissed for the entire extended 12 inch version of the song, had it not been for the push on the door. “Yo, what the fuck?” came from the other side of it. Alex flicked on the light. I sat on the bed with my arms covering my crotch. Alex opened the door. Alex’s older brother came in and grabbed a football that was under his bed. “What you two doing?”
“What does it look like?” Alex lifted the needle and started the song over.
“Y’all two need some girls up in here if y’all gonna be playing romantic shit like that.” Then he looked at me and left. Alex let the record play as we sat side by side, holding the lyrics he had written and singing along with Heatwave. His voice was sweet and earnest.
Stolen kisses followed – on stairwells, in my room, riding the elevator, inside the barrel at the big park – and the notes continued and were signed Always and Forever, Love Alex.
Everyone knew us as best friends. “Those two are inseparable.”
My cousin continued her attempts at wooing him. She asked him to take her roller skating, to take her to the movies, to take her out to Central Park, but he refused. I always felt closer to him each time he rejected her.
One night, while we were in my living room listening to records and stealing glances my cousin suggested that we listen to salsa. She was up to something.
“Alex, let’s dance.” One thing Carmela could do better than anyone I knew was dance salsa. Alex’s jumped up and they danced to one song and then another, by the fifth song I was in a rage. I marched to my room turned off the light, dived into my twin bed and buried my head under the pillow. I could still smell his letters and the scent intensified my pain. After they’d danced to about two LPs of salsa music, they came looking for me.
“Johnnie, you asleep?” Carmela sounded concerned.
“No.” I held the pillow to my head.
“You OK?” Alex asked.
I peeked and saw their silhouettes in my doorway. “I have a stomach ache.”
“You want some Pepto?” She asked.
“Can I talk to him in private, Carmela?”
I felt my bed sag as Alex sat next to me in the darkness. He placed a hand on my back. “It’s you that I need.” I sobbed into my pillow and he rested his head on my back. I continued to sob even though I was so happy to feel the weight of his head. His letters smelled good to me again, but I sobbed because this little moment of joy, cloaked in the darkness, would end when Carmela showed up with the Pepto.
Always and Forever, Love Alex is a short story by Charles Rice-Gonzalez, who wrote Chulito and is currently writing Hunts Point. His work can be seen and purchased from his website, www.charlesricegonzalez.com