Neither Johnny nor Jay had noticed Mike as he went through the early stages of an attack, and so the ceremony moved on. Ancient secrets played their part; secrets that have no business appearing in any account. The peyote played its. Then the time came when the initiates were to lay their souls as bare as their bodies.
'The truth? Okay. That's cool. But have we got all day? I mean some of us might have a whole lot more guilt crap to unload.'
Johnny nodded. 'If it's on the edge, Mike, tip it over. Get rid of it. We got as long as it takes.'
Mike breathed in deep, his eyes closed, then snapped open and he locked on, eyeball to eyeball with Johnny. His face set hard, as if to throw up a shield against any response his imminent revelations would cause. 'Until I came here, I made money selling my ass. My father and brother is the same person. I'm gay. And Johnny,' Mike's racing heart went into overdrive. 'Johnny, I'm in love with you.'
In the silence that followed Mike forgot to breathe and as he waited for a response, the moments wove a black web about the periphery of his vision and his ears began to buzz.
Jay was transfixed, his jaw agape. He didn't know what to think. Would Johnny explode and swing for Mike? Would Mike crack up and say it was all a big joke? The moments stretched to fill a span of years.
'Phew! That took some guts, Mike,' said Johnny softly, The tension eased for Jay, but still Mike didn't breathe and the wreath of black constricted.
'Look Mike. We're telling the truth here. And I feel kind of weird saying this, but hearing as how someone loves me; it makes me smile in my heart. Hell, it would be smiling a lot more if you were Julia Roberts. I'd know what to do with that. But Mike, I...'
'It's okay Johnny. It's cool,' said Mike, remembering to breathe at last. And suddenly Mike's heart was smiling too - in an instant his feelings for Johnny had changed. There remained love, but somehow Mike no longer felt gay. It was a word that confined him, sought to mould him. The seed that was to take root later in the ceremony put out its first tender shoots.
The feeling in Mike's heart spread. He was no longer outside looking in at the candy-store window. He was part of something; he belonged. A smile sparked in his heart, blossomed and burst out transfiguring his face, spreading from mouth to eyes. And then, as he saw the same reflected in Johnny, it bounced back to his heart setting up a feedback-loop of joy. Then the two men were laughing, a deep song of happiness that reached the stars and made them shine more brightly.
Jay smiled too despite his confusion. In its own unhurried time, the laughing subsided; Mike and Johnny became joyfully solemn.
'What about you, Jay?' said Johnny. 'It's your turn, if us two haven't destroyed the mood.'
'God damn a potato!' said Jay, drawing quizzical looks from his friends. 'Hell, no!' he continued. 'It just makes what I've got to say easier. Jeez, Mike. Like Johnny said, that took guts.' It was Jay's turn to breathe deep. 'Well, you know that great ancestor of mine - the Shoshone chief? His big speech?'
Johnny and Mike nodded.
' "God damn a potato!" ' said Jay.
'Huh?' from Mike.
'That was it. The whole speech from start to finish. "God damn a potato"!'
'And that's what you're ashamed of?' said Johnny. 'That's your big secret? We all know about the speech. That old Shoshone couldn't have dealt a better blow if he'd jaw-flapped for a whole day.'
'No, brother. I'm ashamed of being ashamed of it. I'm pissed at myself for cutting off my past. God knows what's in this cactus junk but I'm feeling things I never felt before. Like maybe my old man's right after all.'
'Like the great philosopher once said. "We are what we are and that's all we are",' said Johnny.
'That's Popeye!' said Mike.
'Got him in one,' chuckled Johnny.
The solemnity re-established itself, and Johnny shook the rattle. 'We're ready. We move on. Now we wait for our hearts to see.'
'What about you, Johnny?' asked Jay. 'What's your hang up?'
Johnny gave a lop-sided grin. 'You're the initiates here. I'm exempt.'