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A heartfelt story about a gay Indian American boy coming into his own

Maulik Pancholy's 'The Best At It' is all about the courage it takes to live your truth

'The Best At It' has just been recognised as a Stonewall Honor Book, which awards exceptional writing in the LGBTQIA space. Photo: courtesy Harper Collins Children's Books
'The Best At It' has just been recognised as a Stonewall Honor Book, which awards exceptional writing in the LGBTQIA space. Photo: courtesy Harper Collins Children's Books

Finally, everyone is gone. In my room, I pull my plaid pajama pants out of my drawer and unfold them on top of my bed with a sigh. Somehow, I made it to the end of the week. Parts of today were actually kinda fun. The Auntie Squad ended up making a huge feast, and then all their husbands—or as I call them, the Uncle Brigade—came over for a dinner party. Dad sang a couple verses of a Bollywood Supply song, and it was like 70 percent on key. Jeet Uncle banged out the rhythm, his head bobbing up and down as his fingers played the dining room table like a pair of tablas. Everyone clapped along.

Even Nandita Auntie finally let up on the whole Chelsea thing. She only brought it up once. “Arre, Anish,” she said to Dad, “I told Rahul that it’s never too early to start thinking about marriage. Next dinner, I’m inviting Chelsea’s dad!” Which, of course, made everyone laugh all over again. Everyone except Vinay Uncle. He pushed the bhindi masala around on his plate with a piece of paratha and muttered under his breath, just loud enough to make sure everybody could hear, “Let’s hope he’s interested in marriage someday, right Anish?”

There was this pause, then Dad laughed a little too loudly, and quickly asked Mit Uncle how he thought the stock market was going to hold up. But no one had even been talking about the stock market. And then the moment was over. Except that it wasn’t. Not for me. Somehow I felt . . . I don’t know. Like I’d done something wrong. I grab the towel hanging on the back of my door and walk down the hall toward the bathroom. Downstairs, Mom and Dad are doing the dishes. Their voices float into the hallway, muffled by the running faucet and the clinking of plates. Dad’s humming a tune, and then Mom must say something funny, because Dad laughs. Then the water turns off and there’s a moment of silence. I hear Mom say, “Can you believe Vinay? Talking about Rahul and marriage that way? Why would he say something like that?” I bend my ear toward the stairs, straining to hear better.

Dad sighs. “Well, he might have a point. I mean, come on, Sarita.” “Come on, what?” “You must see the same things I see,” Dad says. “First of all.” Mom’s voice is firm. “That still doesn’t mean Vinay should talk like that. And what? What do you see?” Dad exhales through his nose. “You know.” There’s a pause. Know what? What does he see? What? And then the door to the dishwasher closes, like a cymbal crashing. The motor turns on and their voices disintegrate into muted sounds again. I wait for a few seconds, but I can no longer make out a word they’re saying, so I head into the bathroom.

I peel off my shirt and eyeball myself in the mirror. Then I ball up my fists and squeeze my pecs together like I’m the Incredible Hulk. “Woof!” I say. I lift up my elbow and lean closer to the mirror and flex my arm. Where on earth is my bicep? I would kill to be Justin. Just for a day, even. I bet no one at his house ever says he’s too skinny. I mean, why would they? He’s not. He’s perfect. I slide off my socks, wiggle out of my jeans, and hop in the shower. And what was Brent’s deal today? And why did he have to see those stupid hearts? I picture his face, and I scrub shampoo into my scalp so hard it almost hurts. Someone bangs on the door. “Who is it?” I yell. “Hurry up!” Arun calls. “I need to go number two. I ate too many of Nandita Auntie’s samosas!” Ugh. “You’re disgusting!” I shout. “Use the downstairs bathroom and stop bothering me!” And then, somehow, over the pounding of the shower and the whirring of the bathroom fan, I swear

I hear him rip a fart. “Yup. The samosas are definitely pushing!” He laughs. I roll my eyes. How are we even related? I turn off the shower and towel off. A blanket of steam has crept up over the entire bathroom mirror. I rub at it with my forearm, and a brown blur stares back at me. I pop on my glasses. Still skinny. I wrap myself in my towel and head back to my room. But I stop in the hallway. It’s like I’m paralyzed or something. For some reason, every fiber of my being suddenly feels like I need to check whether the front door is locked. Like maybe when all the aunties and uncles left, Mom and Dad might have just pulled the door shut behind them and forgotten to lock it. And who knows what will happen if it stays unlocked all night? What if something bad happens? Not just to me, but to everyone in the house? A little drop of water slides down my ankle and into the carpet. I need to go down. I have to check it. But I don’t want anyone to see me.

Arun must have actually listened to me for once and gone to use the downstairs bathroom. Light spills out of his open bedroom door and into the hall. The only sound coming from the kitchen is the humming of the dishwasher, so I’m guessing Mom and Dad have finished up in there. Bhai is probably in the living room, reading about Indian politics on his iPad like he does every night. I tighten my towel and fly down the stairs. I’m in the foyer. I glance to the left and to the right. The coast is clear. I claw at the dead bolt. It’s locked. I unlock it and lock it again. Definitely locked. But somehow doing this makes a whole new wave of panic flood my body. I pull on the doorknob a few times just to make sure. And then I hear the faintest sound behind me. Shoot. Is it Arun? I slowly peek over my shoulder. No one’s there.

Excerpted with permission from 'The Best At It', published by Harper Collins Children's Books

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