A category one hurricane swells the San Francisco bay area, winter of 2001. There has never been a hurricane off the coast of California, but for the last few years, strange things have been happening around it. Broderick and Adam huddle beneath Broderick’s electric blanket on their couch, Broderick tracing patterns along the base of Adam’s hairline as Adam sits in his lap. They’re watching television. They probably should be tracking the storm’s path on the nightly news, but they’d rather watch the feature stories, documentaries about the past, as they normally do.
“There has been a steep decline in adoption for foster children older than six in the East Bay,” the social worker being interviewed on TV is saying. The video shows a group of young black girls dancing in a circle, in a park near their foster home. “Last year, in 2000, almost seventy percent of adopting couples in Oakland wanted a child under the age of two. These older kids feel the sting of abandonment. Many are left in care their whole lives.”
“That’s awful,” Adam mumbles. “Look at them all. If we had a house big enough, I’d take them all. It makes you wonder how each of them got there, you know? I know not every parent wants to, I know circumstances are varied. Still. I just wish I could change it.”
Broderick smiles, kisses Adam’s temple “You’d take in every stray in the world, if you could,” he says. He means it as the highest compliment he can give.
Broderick closes his eyes, then, holding his lover closer and listening to the rain beat against the roof. Broderick is calmed by storm noise, the wind howl, the walls of the house starting to tremble; he grew up in Louisiana where stronger music than this was orchestrated. In 1992, a category five swept his childhood home up off the ground and destroyed it; just another day. In the aftermath, he used to sail a boat down the river-streets of his neighborhood, drenched, rescuing people or picking up his latest boyfriend for a joyride.
He looks to his husband, now, this boy who grew up in Riverside, a Los Angeles desert, who’s probably never seen rain like this. Still, he’s calm. In that moment, then, in the cacophony, Broderick swears he hears something that shouldn’t be a part of the storm.
He nudges Adam off his lap, moves to the door, presses the shell of his ear against it. He thinks he hears a child’s voice screaming.
“What is it?” Adam says, still watching TV.
Broderick feels the cold through the wood of the door. He also knows, for sure, that there’s a kid out there screaming.
“Adam,” Broderick says.
His pulse jumps as he unlocks the door, finds the little black girl standing there. Screaming. Her purple dressed is soaked, her hair a tangle of dreads and ribbons about her face.
The electric blanket is still draped Adam’s body, but when he sees the kid, he drops it.
“Oh, God,” Adam says
The girl stops crying, backing away from the doorstep.
“No, please, you can’t stay out there alone,” Adam says. “It’s okay.”
Broderick watches as Adam slips outside and picks the girl up, bringing her and a draft of cold wind inside. Broderick locks the door back, still watching Adam sit the girl on the couch, kneel in front of her, check for injuries.
“How do you do this?” Broderick says.
On TV behind them, the video of black girls dancing shows again; the narrating reporter says the foster home profiled for the film, on West Market street in Oakland, was burned down in a gas fire by its mother in 1996.
“How do you do this?” Broderick says again, watching Adam. This is not the first time that Adam has caused strange, unimaginable things to pass through their door.
“How do you do this?”
Adam picks the girl up and hoists her over his shoulder, his eyes wet.
The first time it happened, it was 1999. Adam and Broderick had just graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of California, Berkeley, respectively, when they were 23. They had just moved in to the rickety, crooked, Victorian Queen Anne home that they would rest in in San Francisco for about a year. Adam was wearing one of Broderick’s old Berkeley sweatshirts–it always happened when Adam was touching a fabric of Broderick’s that he loved–when their front door, which they kept open in the afternoon for the light, was passed through by a friendly intruder.
“Hello, hello!” A man in his early twenties walked through the door, white, brunette, wearing a crewneck that had HARVEY MILK IS ALIVE printed on it, and a backpack with dozens of AIDS rights pins on the straps. “I was told I might find you here.”
Broderick came to the door first.
“I’m sorry, who are you?”
Adam came to the door second, not looking as shocked.
“Oh,” said the young intruder, “I’m sorry. This house used to belong to someone else.”
Broderick looked back at Adam, who was holding a spatula midair, still wearing his pink apron sloshed with bits of egg and pancake batter.
“Harvey Milk was shot in the head,” Adam said, casual, to the stranger. “Don’t you think?”
Cue Adam inviting the stranger in for brunch, feeding him flapjacks one-by-one at the kitchen table. Broderick was sitting on their Goodwill couch, trying to pay attention to the black and white documentary about Desert Storm, but sometimes, turning to watch his husband. Adam seemed to be able to make friends in minutes. This guy could’ve been a homeless axe murderer and Adam was still cooking for him. Just because he had too much.
Anyway, Adam’s guest, the kid, was harmless. Clearly a college student. He had a band-aid on his cheek, his school insignia cap was turned back, his legs bounced under the table like a kid who knew dessert was coming.
It seemed the young man was urgent to finally say this to Adam:
“It was an illusion,” he said, as Adam stood at the stove. “It was staged. You can make someone look like they’re dead when they aren’t Haven’t you ever heard of Hollywood? What if it’s just convenient for the government to make us think he’s gone?”
“That’s interesting,” Adam said.
Adam left the stranger alone in the kitchen for a moment, after having made a foot high stack of pancakes, and came to stand behind the couch where Broderick sat.
“Come eat?” Adam said. Broderick looked back at him and reached for his hands at the same time Adam extended them towards him. Broderick held onto them, feeling the cold of the silver band that he gave Adam during their “wedding,” which was less legal ceremony than it was them deciding on a hilltop, one day, that they were husbands.
“I’m alright.” He looked past Adam at their momentary friend at the table, smiling at the silliness of it all. “Who is that?”
Adam smiled, too, shrugged. “I don’t know.” His gaze was beyond Broderick, watching soldiers march on TV. “His parents had friends who lived here two years before us. I think he thinks I know them. It’s cool. We’re friends now.”
The young man simply ate his stack of cakes, talked to Adam for thirty minutes about the state of gay activism in the U.S., and then left, saying “Goodbye, goodbye!” cheerfully, knocking on the open door three times as he exited.
Weeks later, Broderick and Adam were still living in the Queen Anne house, discovering where all the floorboards creaked, the paint chipped, the asbestos gathered, and the ancient heating system hardly worked to defeat the cold. Broderick was watching the nightly news, which was telling a feature story about veterans adjusting back to civilian life.
He recognized the young man’s face in the film. “Adam,” he called, feeling chills wash over him as the boy spoke on camera, shaken up, about an IED attack he barely survived.
Adam came, wrapped in a red quilt that Broderick’s mother gave them as a “wedding” gift, standing behind the couch where Broderick sat.
“It’s cold,” Adam said. He quieted, then, staring into the familiar face.
“That’s that guy,” Broderick said.
The documentary said that the young man had killed himself in 1998, a few months after being profiled for the interview.
Broderick turned around to look at him. Adam still stared at the screen.
“Oh,” he said.
In the present, at the new house, Adam has had no problem understanding the little girl’s broken words and hiccups. Broderick watches them while on the landline with the police, half-listening to the officer give him instructions.
“Can you remember where you before this?” Adam says.
“I can’t find Mommy. I been outside a long time. I try to find her.”
“When was the last time you saw her?”
“She say come home if I lost. I try to find house.”
“Where do you live? Did Mommy tell you your address?”
“3, 2, 3. Market.”
“Market street. Oakland.”
“But God say I come here.”
Broderick has stopped listening to the officer on the line.
“I sorry.” The little girls shakes. “I get lost. I walk all way here.”
“It’s alright.” Adam holds her, looking over at Broderick. “You’re safe now. I’ve got you.”
“As soon as it’s safe, bring the child to the precinct,” the officer says in Broderick’s ear. “We’ll take care of her. Thank you.”
Broderick runs upstairs, closes their bedroom door behind them. This one’s not the same as the others, he starts to think, there’s no way. Usually, they aren’t kids. There’s nothing else to do but involve the police. They have to.
He rushes their walk-in closet, ruffles through the box he keeps closed, full of things of his that Adam has once worn. The things that, while Adam wore them, caused things that had once disappeared from the world to return. Broderick takes out the Berkeley sweatshirt, a pair of gloves, the red quilt. When he touches each, that same chill washes over him.
At first, he’d thought it was house, the Queen Anne with its 1800s structure that maybe had history, had one too many families that had once passed through it. But here they are in this new house, and still, it follows Adam here. Broderick asks them their names, looks them up, sometimes, to make sure they’re really dead.
They all are.
When Broderick comes back downstairs, its quiet. Adam and the girl are lying on the couch. Broderick wonders how, how he got her so calm, stopped tears and hyperventilation in just seconds. Adam looks to Broderick on the staircase, motions for him to stay quiet. The girl is not asleep, but close to it.
She blinks softly, watching the television, which briefly shows a close-up of her face. Adam’s talking to her, low enough that Broderick can’t make it out, but he knows it’s a story or a myth of a some kind. Adam has this look about him when he’s talking history. He has thousands of anecdotes piled up, from all times, so many, one would think he actually lived through all of them.
The way he looks right now makes Broderick wish he could give Adam more than he actually can. It makes him imagine Adam as a father, a good, careful, nurturing one. Broderick heart aches to give Adam children of his own, though science would disagree. But Adam would, Broderick knows, takes this lost girl as his own if he could.
He has, in his way.
As Broderick descends the stairs, Adam takes to gently retying the purple ribbons in the girl’s hair. He fastens them into bows as she closes her eyes, begins to snore. Once every braid is reconnected, Adam wraps the child tight in the electric blanket, lifting her again.
“I don’t know,” Adam says to him. “I can’t explain this. I don’t know.”
“They say when I was born,” Adam said, on one of Broderick’s first dates with him in a pub, 1995, when they were both broke college students, “I was so translucent, you could see through my skin to all my organs. It’s a tale my mother told. My adoptive parents once got in touch with her, on the phone. It was the only thing she told them and the only time they were ever able to find anyone I’m related to. She called them. Anyway, apparently my translucence was a condition of some kind, but my adoptive dad used to have a theory that I’m a nymph. A light nymph.”
Adam said this so casually that Broderick almost believed him. But, thinking on it, there was no such thing as a light nypmh; they both grew up reading fantasy books. There was certainly something about him, though, this guy, Broderick had walked into that college bar three weeks ago and been stunned by the way he looked. His otherworldly aura. He hadn’t been able to leave until they spoke.
“You said ‘used to,’” Broderick said. “Has his theory changed?”
“Probably not. He passed over. He and my adoptive mother both, when I was fourteen.”
“God. I’m sorry.”
“It’s alright. It happens. But I’ve been on my own ever since.”
“You won’t be. Not anymore.”
Even then, Broderick knew.
Adam took Broderick’s hands. “Okay.”
“Was she real?”
In the lobby of the precinct, Broderick holds Adam’s hands. Broderick’s hands tremble. They wait to find out what will be done by social services, to give the police a statement.
“Hm?” says Adam. “What’s that?”
“Was she real?”
Adam notices his lover is shaking.
The Twin Peaks were shrouded in light. At the top of the hill Eureka, the thick gray cloud cover rolled away, letting the sky re-emerge with rainbows misting throughout. Broderick and Adam stood at it’s apex, cool breeze wisping through the grass, its leaves tickling Adam and Broderick’s ankles.
“Do you take me,” Broderick was saying, grinning, “Broderick Ziegfield, former headache and frat boy nightmare transformed into a decent human by one Adam Necessary, to be your unlawfully wedded husband?”
Adam chuckled, squeezing Broderick’s hands in his own. “I do.
“Do you take me, Adam Necessary, once an orphan with an active imagination and reckless abandon, who’s found a home in Broderick Ziegfield, to be your unlawfully wedded husband?”
“Um, hell yes.”
“We should kiss, then.”
Broderick has never felt, and will never feel again, anything like that moment and that kiss, full of love, that defined their unity. He was so filled with elation, and trust, and light, that he thought he could transcend life itself because of it. He felt he had reached the pinnacle of joy, that there was nothing that would ever compare.
He looked down at Adam’s face after their kiss and found that Adam’s skin was glittering, actually glittering. Broderick blinked several times. The illusion still didn’t pass.
“What?” Adam said, at Broderick’s long stare.
Adam looked down and around at himself. “Oh.”
Broderick laughed, tears brimming his eyes. “Are you real?”
Adam snorted. “Of course I am.”
Broderick was overcome once more, picking Adam up into a tight hug and spinning him around.
“I don’t know,” Broderick said as he pressed his lover’s feet back onto the earth, “if I’ve imagined you or if heaven’s really allowed me to be so lucky.”
Adam winked. “You’re lucky.”
“They say that when you die,” Adam said on the night of their honeymoon, which they spent on a simple rowboat in the shallow of bay, the stars alight above their heads, “you see a flash of light.”
Broderick pondered Adam, who sipped a glass of champagne. “Why are you saying that?”
Adam shrugged, smiling light. “I just wonder if I’m going to see a flash before I die. Getting married, you know, it makes me think about time. We said to each other today, ‘until death do us part.’ Don’t you wonder what death will be like?”
Broderick wanted to hold Adam, so he did. “Come here.” Adam sat between Broderick’s legs, leaning his body against his lover’s. Broderick encompassed him, kissing the side of his face, as cold swelled around them.
“All I know is,” Broderick said, “that I’ll be here, until you die, after that. And I’ll always be loving you.”