Today’s Friday Flash Fics sort of hung around in my head for the week without doing much, and then a discussion earlier today reminded me how important it was to remember queer friendships in fiction, and I ended up wondering what Grayson would be up to these days, and “Kissing Frogs” happened. The sharp-eyed may notice another crossover moment here, with “Pentimento” from Of Echoes Born. (Grayson appears in Exit Plans for Teenage Freaks.)
“Okay, this is adorable.”
Carter glanced over to see what Grayson was talking about, but couldn’t see what was on the little rack. FunkArt, a cute little gallery in the Village, had been Grayson’s idea, but Carter had to admit he was enjoying himself. This was the first time they’d explored the Village since Frosh Week, and if nothing else, getting out of their “cozy” res room gave the idea merit.
Now that he’d seen the Village, though, Carter was starting to think he might change his routine. He had a bus pass, and it wasn’t too long a trip. Instead of hanging out in the library or the quad to try to get through all his reading during what off time he had—there was so much reading—he could come to the Village. There was a café, NiceTeas, and a coffee place, Bittersweets.
There was also a candy shop that he was dying to get to, but Grayson had dragged him into the little art gallery and Carter had forgotten candy while he looked at some of the paintings. There was one, and abstract with waves of yellow and blue that made him think of the fields back home. He wasn’t homesick, exactly, but he did miss some things.
“Oh! No! This, this is the one,” Grayson said, and Carter gave up and crossed the small store. Grayson was standing in front of a display of silver jewelry, pointing at a ring with a little silver frog.
“It’s wearing a crown,” Carter said.
“It’s a frog prince,” Grayson said. “And it’s perfect.”
Carter eyed the little price tag, and, okay, the ring was cute, but they both had part-time jobs and not much support from home. It wasn’t super expensive, but…
He saw Grayson’s eyes check the tag, and imagined the same thoughts running through Grayson’s head. Grayson didn’t have much in the way of filters, and he sure wasn’t like anyone Carter had known in high school. They’d met during Frosh Week, done the tentative “is he or isn’t he?” dance for all of ten minutes before Grayson had flat out said, “So, I’m a big ‘mo. I’m getting tentative ‘mo vibes, but I could be wrong. My gaydar is for shit.” He’d tilted his head. “Come clean, Flannel. ’Mo? Or No?”
“’Mo,” Carter had said, stunned. He’d also wondered what was wrong with his flannel shirt, but then he’d realized it was the first time he’d said it to an almost stranger, and kind of had a mini-meltdown. Grayson had given him a big hug, and then promptly told him he needed a better haircut.
Once he’d made Carter laugh, Grayson had clapped. “This is going to be a great year.”
There hadn’t been any tension at all between them, and Carter got the impression Grayson understood that when it came to being “a ‘Mo” Carter was in uncharted waters for the most part.
So when Grayson got home from the cafeteria where he schlepped food between his classes, and Carter was done at the cellular place in the nearby mall—being able to transfer from the store in his home town had been amazingly lucky—Grayson would turn on some music or put on a movie and they’d just be.
He wasn’t sure he’d ever just been before. And he owed that to Grayson. His first gay friend.
“Let me get it,” Carter said, deciding in the moment. “Early Christmas present.”
“It’s not even October,” Grayson said, but he smiled.
“I’m an Aries.”
“I don’t know when that is,” Carter said.
“March,” Grayson said.
But Carter pulled the little ring out of the display and was already on his way to the counter. The guy behind the counter was on the phone, and he winced when he saw Carter approach. He mouthed the word “sorry” but Carter waved a hand.
“Don’t worry,” he said. He’d wait. Besides, the guy was hot, if a bit too old. Okay, a lot too old. Like, maybe he was thirty. But he had great shoulders and a tight shirt and really nice eyes. Green. You didn’t see that very often.
“Is it something I can help you with?” the guy said, still talking to whoever it was he was on the phone with.
Carter felt his face heat up as he considered some answers to that question, but swallowed them. Grayson might be good at saying everything he thought as he thought it, but Carter had a lot of catching up to do there.
“Good luck,” the man said now. “I’ll let you get to it.” A second later he’d hung up, and flashed an apologetic smile at Carter. He had a little gap between his front teeth. Carter wondered why the man hadn’t gotten braces.
“Sorry about that.”
“It’s fine,” Carter said, putting the ring on the counter. “I’d like to get this, please.”
Grayson had joined him now. “Are you sure?” he said.
“You have been my guru. Consider it a thank-you gift.”
“Your guru?” Grayson laughed. “More like a gayru. But I’ll take the thank you.”
The older man was smiling at them as Carter paid, and he reached for a little ring-box.
“I’ll just wear it,” Grayson said, picking up the ring. He slipped it on a finger. He grinned. “Now I’ll never run out of frogs to kiss.”
“The artist who makes those says they’re lucky,” the man said.
Carter looked at him. “Really?”
The man shrugged. “Just passing it on.”
“I could use the luck,” Grayson said. “I’m basically a disaster in the frog-kissing sense.”
“You are not,” Carter said, nudging his shoulder. “You’re cute.”
“And you’re good for my ego,” Grayson said, nudging back.
“You’re supposed to say I’m cute, too.”
“It’s worse than that,” Grayson said. “You’re cuter. You’ve got farm-boy cuteness. Flannel cuteness.”
“He’s making fun of me. I’m from Saskatchewan,” Carter said to the man, who laughed and thanked them for visiting the gallery.
They walked out onto the street, and turned their faces up to the sun. Carter noticed the banners on the street-lamps, each one telling a little piece of Village history. It blew his mind. It wasn’t large, but there were a few blocks where everything was queer.
“Now candy?” Carter said.
“Sure.” Grayson was holding out his hand and staring at the little frog on his finger. “How do you think I turn on the luck?”
“Here,” Carter said, and took Grayson’s hand. He leaned in and gave the frog a quick kiss. “Luck activated.”
Grayson laughed, and Carter shrugged. “Hey, I hear you gotta kiss frogs. It’s a thing.”
“You totally just kissed a boy’s hand. In public. On the street,” Grayson said. He ran his other hand through his dark hair, which showed off the purple streak. “You, Carter, are getting way, way better at this being out thing.”
Carter felt something warm in his chest. “Well. I have a good gayru.”
“You have a great gayru.”
“Fine. A gret gayru. Now candy?”
They started for the little candy shop.
“Speaking of fine,” Grayson said. “Blond man at the gallery.”
“Shoulders,” Carter agreed.
“Eyes,” Grayson countered.
“But a bit too old,” Carter said.
“Yeah,” Grayson blew out a breath. “Still fine to look at.”
“Fine art, even.”
Grayson winced. “You remind me of my friend Cole so much sometimes.”
“I do?” Carter said. “One of your rainbow club friends?” Grayson had gone to a high school where they actually had a gay-straight alliance. Carter could only imagine what that must have been like.
“Yeah,” Grayson said. Then, a beat later: “He’s bad at jokes, too.”
“Just for that, I’m not getting you any candy.”
“Don’t worry about it, Flannel. The candy is on me.”
“You’re sweet.” Carter wagged his eyebrows. “Get it? Because—”
“So bad at jokes. Like, apocalyptic.”