Lake Champlain, VT - Summer 2012
Ben and Joshua met in their youth, working at a summer camp. More than fifteen years after their bitter sendoff, they meet again and spend a weekend together in a secluded house in Vermont, by Lake Champlain.
Switching back and forth between past and present, coasting on issues of class, gender, and identity, the three-part story explores the anguish and beauty of growing up and of getting older.
It was only later that evening that I would notice some sparse grey hair salting his otherwise jet-black beard. When he appeared on his driveway, walking around his house from the front garden, all I saw was his open shirt, his bare feet and his warm, tentative smile. I immediately looked for signs of his age, the signs I had pondered and speculated about in the three and half hours it took me to drive from Boston to his house, nested in a small Vermont bay on Lake Champlain. I was too self-conscious and rattled, however, to take in anything else than the quaint beauty of the house, of the orange sun low behind the pine trees, the beauty of Joshua himself. As he made his final steps towards me, I remembered in a flash the joke I had silently made as I was filling the tank somewhere on the I-89: this is the longest I've driven for a booty call.
The joke, the picturing of how reaching his late thirties would look on him, the loud singing-along to the Franz Ferdinand CD I had brought for the drive in the rented car, had all been conscious attempts to alternately damp the oddity of the forthcoming weekend and to gear up my resolve to take it in stride. I hadn't seen Joshua in fifteen years and we hadn't parted on the most cordial terms. He had found me on LinkedIn, of all places, and had dropped me a casual message, punctuated by a couple of exclamation points as if to stress an innocuous cheerfulness in his enquiring of my well-being and whereabouts. I had responded in kind and, a few laidback dispatches later, an open invitation had been extended to come and visit him in Vermont, where he now lived and worked.
The logistics had seemed daunting, as I lived in DC and my job afforded me little free time, and the concrete implications of spending a weekend with a man most likely a stranger to his former young self were murky. It would have been disingenuous and futile to discard the likelihood of the invitation involving sex, yet our written exchange had been outwardly chummy and platonic. This would mean, I forecasted and pictured, an awkwardness in the first few hours of my stay, a slow and clumsy climb to mandated intimacy, before a perfunctory round of intercourse with hidden crossed fingers to conjure up the physical sparks necessary to avoid a two-day long disaster.
Then a late July, pre-vacation professional trip to Boston fell on my lap, an omen I found myself quite willing to seize upon. My local friends Charlie and Chuck would be out of town for the summer, depriving me of any good reasons to extend my stay in the city I briefly lived in. I was still drawn to the general idea of escaping from the crumbling moist heat of July in DC however. Fresh air, nature, a lake, an old friend. New England. I messaged Joshua and booked a rental car - it felt a bit like holding my breath and stepping swiftly to the end of the high diving board. Click here to confirm your reservation. I did. Quickly.
As Joshua hugged me briefly and patted me on the shoulders, I came to think, with some relief, that we would neither instantly jump on each other nor limp awkwardly through banalities and discomfort. Joshua was graceful in his greetings and genuine in his polite affection.
"I'm so glad you could make it, Ben," he said simply and warmly.
"Yes, it worked out well."
"Let me show you around," he said with a spark in his eyes, as if that idea had suddenly come to him.
When he dropped my bag in the entryway and said we'd settle me later (leaving the question of which room I would stay in for a later time when it could more comfortably be answered), I felt the last pang of apprehension leave me. Everything indeed can be decided later, when the moment comes, when the moment is right.
"I'm sorry it's a bit of a mess. I've been working a lot these last few weeks. Spring and the first part of the summer are always damn busy in my business. I just got home a half hour ago and just had the time to take a shower." He was walking fairly fast across his living room and dining room, opening doors which led to the kitchen, to a bathroom, to a study. The tone of his voice and the set-up of the house indicated he wasn't much invested in interior design and furniture. The rooms were airy and sunny, thanks to large windows and French doors, but the house was otherwise rustic and plain in style, functional even if cluttered in appearance.
"No worries," I said. "This looks great."
"It's alright. Just wait till we get outdoors. That's where this place is truly wonderful."
And it was, as I instantly found out when he led me out to the deck behind the French doors, overlooking a garden sliding down to some rocks and a few wooden stairs, themselves trickling to a long dock on the Lake.
"This is fucking amazing," I couldn't help but grin.
"Yes. The mountains on the other side, that's Upstate New York."
"Do you have a boat on that dock?"
"I do. It's just not here now. A friend of mine wanted to borrow it for the weekend. His wife's family is visiting and he wanted to entertain them. Sorry".
"No, that's fine. This is perfect."
"I understand why you moved here," I added, a little disingenuously since I couldn't quite fathom not living in a city.
"Well, I didn't move here for this house. I moved here a while ago to help with the family business."
"Right. The hardware store."
"The biggest independent hardware stores chains in Northern Vermont, thank you very much," he smiled willfully.
"Of course. So how long have you been in this house?"
"I bought it about seven years ago, but did a lot of work on it for over two years. I mean, everything needed fixing: structure, roof, garden, patio. Working almost every weekend."
"Wow. Well, it looks great."
"I know where to buy the right instruments."
We both leaned on the railing of the deck, staring at the view pensively. He turned towards me and I met his gaze. He still had the same dark small eyes, thick black eyebrows, long straight nose and square jaw. His beard was distracting, however, as if painted over the face I remembered; it was morphing him, costuming the young athletic suburbanite soccer player I knew into a rugged, outdoorsy man. The elegance of his fine features had mixed well with the t-shirts, sweatpants, sneakers and tortured fratboy antics when he was 22; it still complimented the plaid shirt, cargo shorts, various work boots scattered in the entryway, and the solid and warm presence of the 39 year-old man he had become. He used to seemingly take great pains to look like a jock; he now effortlessly and organically had the appearance my hipster friends try to emulate. I wondered if he had any tattoos.
"Are you hungry, Ben?" he said, breaking softly the silence.
"I am, actually, I'm famished."
"I didn't have time to shop or cook much, as I warned you. But I can grill some hamburgers and fix a salad if that works for you."
"Yes, that's great."
"And beers, indeed."
"Listen, make yourself at home. Walk around, go see the water. I'll start the barbecue and set things up here."
"Sounds good," I said, starting to walk down the stairs. As I reached the lawn, I felt the urge to feel my naked feet on the ground. I was hot and sweaty, the drive had been long and the July heat was barely tamed by the light breeze from the lake. I turned to Joshua, as if needing permission, but he was already inside. I removed my sneakers and socks and pressed firmly my bare soles on the dry, brittle grass. It felt wonderful.
I walked down to the dock; it was sturdy and looked recently made. I figured it was one of those transformations Joshua had worked on, during these weekends of what seemed like impossibly hard labor to me. I scanned the breathtaking surroundings. The early evening sun was already low but I knew that at this time of the year, we probably had an hour or two still left of fading daylight. I could make out other, similar docks further up and down the lake, even if the privacy of the properties were lushly secured by trees, bushes, rocks, and the gracious small curvatures and indentations of the bay. I felt a sort of high from the silence, from the sun's starry projectile reflections on the wavelets of the water, from the uncertainties of the weekend. I also felt an urge to dive in the water, to wash off the sweat of the drive, the grime of office work, and the clutter of an overactive mind. I glimpsed back to the house and saw the patio empty. I undressed quickly, keeping on my boxer briefs. I was about to dive when I realized a straight horizontal dash in the water would make me lose my underwear. I jumped with the ungraceful keenness of a child.
The petrifying coldness of the water made me rush to the surface and crawl furiously to the ladder. I lifted myself out as quickly as I had darted in. I started laughing, from the shock, from pure happiness. I lay down on the dock, dripping, panting, still hiccupping with occasional giggles. I let the comfortably warm sun dry my skin and I closed my eyes.
* * *
I met Joshua when we were both working at a summer camp, in a small liberal arts college in Central Pennsylvania. I had turned 18 and was eagerly about to enter university; he was 22 and had just finished his lackluster studies at La Roche in Pittsburgh. Our three-week long dalliance started in awkward circumstances and ended sourly.
The camp offered various athletic and artistic activities: most kids came to practice sports, but some had joined the music or drama programs. They all dined together and slept in the same dorms, but cliques formed and solidified quickly: the baseball kids didn't mingle with the soccer group, nor with the theater bunch. Coaches, instructors and their assistants were all spread out on the various floors on the two residential halls the camp occupied. Most of us college kid employees shared a suite of two separate bedrooms with someone from a different program. I had attended the camp when I was myself an eleven-year old soccer enthusiast and had decided that being paid to assist a coach, getting some exercise, and meeting new people would be a nice way to partly fill the unending summer that lay ahead.
I arrived late on the day of orientation. My mother had flown from California to Philly to spend some time with me before I headed to camp, but had ended up being too busy socializing to actually share more than a dinner with me. She thus decided to borrow the car of a friend and drive me to the camp. We left very late, drove slowly, got lost. I was too weary of her to get upset. I let her talk the whole drive and accepted hurriedly her apologies when we finally arrived, way past dinner time.
One of the counselors welcomed me and led me to my room. Everything was eerily quiet and dark. "The kids only arrive tomorrow," she said, "and it seems I was the only one interested in going out. They all went to their room. Well, big day tomorrow, right?"
"Yes," I said as we reached my door, distracted by the mild anxiety about the kind of roommate I had been assigned.
"Well, this is you, Ben. Settle down, relax. We'll see you tomorrow, 7:30am sharp, rise and shine!" she said in a probably average pitch, but which sounded like loud shrieking in the empty, silent corridor.
The door opened to a tiny square hall, the door to the right leading to the toilet, the one on the left to a kitchenette. Ahead were two doors, each for one bedroom. The left one was ajar and dark. The other was closed, with a ray of light licking the carpet. My roommate, who I would later find out was named Aaron and was working in the volleyball program, had already shut himself in his room. If he heard me (which he must have), he didn't give any sign of it. I decided to postpone the introduction till the morning and dropped my bag on my bed.
I needed a shower before going to sleep, so I stripped to my boxers and t-shirt, grabbed a towel and a bar of soap, and set out to find the communal bathroom. I quickly did, helped by the sound of running water. Someone was taking a shower in one of the four stalls. As soon I started to undress, the water got turned off and the shower curtain was briskly pulled open. A young man emerged, naked, dripping wet and wearing Adidas flip-flops. He was startled to see me and looked briefly alarmed. I was just slipping out of my boxers; his surprise caught me off guard and I nearly fell. But I noticed his cock. I did because it seemed at first freakishly large; within a second, however, I realized it was swollen and slightly reddened. It wasn't growing, it was throbbing but deflating, as a dick does after ejaculation.
I looked away and mumbled my name, casually. He did the same ('Sup. I'm Joshua), while quickly reaching for his towel and covering himself. I entered the stall next to the one he had just left - next to the one where he had just cum, I couldn't help but thinking. I jerked off.
The next morning, I quickly found out Joshua was one of the other two assistants to the soccer coach. I wasn't thrilled initially with the idea of spending so much time with him. Our encounter the previous night had made us somewhat distant with each other, despite the efforts and enthusiasm of our middle-age coach to rally us around the prospect of "the best summer of all time!" But as the day progressed, as we welcomed our group of kids, as we got our bearings of our field, material and duties, we slowly warmed to each other. By the end of the afternoon, he called me "dude".
It was Joshua's third year at the camp and he was close to two guys who had been working in the football program for the last four summers. Mike and Rob were in the same fraternity at one of the lesser known campuses of Penn State; they were somewhat predictably brash, loud and cocky. They were also a little obnoxious. When Joshua and I ran into them at the end of the afternoon, on the way to our dorm, they greeted me with a mixture of friendliness and conceit, with which they apparently treated every "newbie". It immediately struck me as pathetic that their greatest claim of superiority, infused with macho assertiveness, was to having spent their last four summers teaching football to kids, for a mediocre salary in Central Pennsylvania. I felt snobbish, briefly.
It irritated me most to witness Joshua's change of behavior when Mike and Rob mingled with us, a pattern I would notice with increasing annoyance over the following three weeks. Throughout the day, he had been displaying a rather endearing combination of reserve and intensity, punctuated by awkward jokes, abrupt outbursts of anger and frustration, and furtive, flustered glances at me. He had alternated clumsily between assertions of his superiority in age and experience, and uncomfortable gauges of my approval.
After a round of crude remarks on this year's coaches, kids and various female members of the staff, Rob nodded towards me and asked Joshua: "And how's your newbie?" "Ben's fucking good," Joshua answered, without looking at me.
Joshua seemed a little dismayed and upset later, when we reached our floor and I told him I'd try to hang out with Aaron, my roommate. "I've barely seen him so far. I should try to get to know him."
"Don't bother," he said dismissively. "He was here last year. He only hangs out with the other volleyball guys. And goes home for the weekend, he lives in Harrisburg or something. You'll never see him. Come hang with us, dude."
"Nah. I'll try anyway. But thanks. I'm gonna hit the showers now." I think I may have startled myself a small second at the mention of showers. If Joshua shared the same flash image of me facing his post-jacking off semi-limp dick, he didn't show it.
"Cool. I'll see you at dinner," he just waved.
"Yeah, probably," I answered, non-committal. I had hit it off over lunch with Erin. A soon-to-be senior at Brown, she was a beautiful, vivacious, sexy brunette from the theater program. We had been flirting innocuously, and she had struck me as the kind of witty, fun and slightly subversive friend I always enjoy making. It had seemed to me we had parted with a tacit understanding that we would have dinner at the same table, that we would be spending a lot of time together afterwards, and that we would probably have sex at one point or another.
The evening ended up running its expected course. Aaron civilly declined my offer to hang out; we seemingly sealed a deal of courteous yet distant suite-sharing. I joined Erin for dinner and shared the table with the group of friends she had already made: a few people from the theater and arts program and the strikingly handsome young baseball coach. We all ended up in her room, doing some tequila shots and having a sort of collective flirtatious moment. I loved it. I went back to my room and decided to take a shower. I wasn't dirty or sweaty; I was horny and was hoping, somehow, to repeat the previous night experience, daring myself to find a way to exhibit my semi-hardon casually to Joshua, to test him and challenge him. The showers were empty, however, and stayed so until I went back to my room.
The next few days were spent on the soccer field solidifying my friendship with Joshua and in the dining hall and various rooms expanding and deepening my social circle (Erin was terrific, Mike and Rob were not that bad, Joshua seemed complex but charming). Erin kissed me one night, after an hour alone talking about books, politics and sex; Joshua patted me awkwardly but intensely one evening after two hours of talking about sports, school, our families. "We have so much in common," he said feebly, with a cracked voice. I couldn't see any of the strongly bonding similarities that had seemed to draw him close to me, but I was clearly enthralled by his husky voice and his undetermined longing, by the frailty of his dreams and the strength of his legs.
My two social groups at camp didn't really mingle but, as is usual, gossip travelled fast and wide. The furtive kiss Erin and I had exchanged, the few confessions or anecdotes about our respective love and sex lives made in confidence to our various friends, circulated briskly and somehow made of us both figures of sexual boldness and candid promiscuity. It amused me, probably flattered me too, even if I felt a slight unease at the misrepresentation: I had been sexually active since I was sixteen (an age which appeared to have been average in my high school, but which apparently wasn't among the more sociologically diverse camp assistants group) and had indeed had my share of experiences. But I didn't feel I had bragged about it and I was uncomfortably aware I had left out any mentions of my recent familiarity with gay sex. Erin was more visibly upset than I was: "You'll see, within a few days of this, I'll be the slut, you'll be the last international playboy." When we did have sex on Thursday night, she made me comically yet solemnly swear that I would not tell anyone about it.
The first week kids left at the end of the afternoon on Friday. The new batch would be arriving on Monday morning. Sunday was supposed to be dedicated to debriefing and preparation, Saturday was our day off. Some of the assistants went back home for the weekend, as was the case with Aaron. But for the majority of us, the departure of the last kid meant that, as Rob screamed when we were waving goodbye to a station wagon, "It's party time!"
Mike and Rob were heading out to Harrisburg for a loudly promised "wild night out". The prospect seemed exhausting, however much I wanted to spend time with Joshua. I declined, coolly and casually, but Joshua insisted I tag along.
"I don't have a fake ID with me," I argued.
"I'm sure we can find a way."
"It's gonna be a drag. Plus it looks like the two cars are already way full. Go ahead and have fun."
"What will you be up to, Ben?"
"I don't know. Hang out with Erin and her friends, I guess. You're welcome to join us," I said tentatively. I saw him hesitate. "What?" I pushed.
"I don't know... I'm not sure about her friends..."
"Why? You don't know them."
"I know. It's just, I don't know. They're, like, theater people. I don't think we have much to say to each other."
"Man, you don't have to be uncomfortable, you just "
"--I'm not uncomfortable."
"You just... Fine. I'll tell you what, why don't we spend the evening you, me and Erin? Something quiet but fun. She's awesome, you know."
"Dude, you're sick. I don't want to be in the middle of your little love fest," he chuckled.
"It's nothing like that," I said, firmly but invitingly.
We did end up spending the evening together, the three of us. Erin was actually thrilled by the idea: "That should stop the rumors about us. That is, if you behave, Ben. You will behave, right? Plus, I do dig the idea of finding a way to loosen up an uptight frat boy. It feels a little subversive."
"He's not uptight," I smiled.
"Fine. He is not. But promise me we won't be talking about football and chicks all night, ok?"
"I promise. If you get us tequila."
The three of us went to my room after dinner, as I was the only one to have a suite all to myself. Dinner had been fun. I was pretty sure I caught Erin being flirtatious to one of the girls, which thrilled me a bit; Joshua was relaxed but spent most of the time talking to the baseball coach.
Erin theatrically pulled out a full bottle of tequila from her bag, as we all sat down on the floor. Joshua pushed the bed against the wall, to make the little space available a bit more comfortable. We sat cross-legged in a triangle and Joshua avidly unscrewed the cap of the bottle.
"How do we drink?" he asked.
"What do you mean?"
"Do we, like, just drink, or do we play a drinking game?"
"First," Erin said, "I want to know everything you gleaned about Mister Baseball Heartthrob over at dinner."
Joshua laughed. "He's married, Erin."
"Well, I know that. How happily married are we talking about?"
"Pretty happily, I guess. I don't know, we talked mostly about, well, baseball."
"It figures," Erin said, mockingly dismissive. "He has a cute butt."
I couldn't help but laughing at Erin's transparent attempt to shock Joshua, who mumbled, struggling hard to appear casual, "If you say so."
"As cute as the butt of the girl you've been drooling over this evening?" I asked Erin with tender mischief.
"I'm not into girls' butts. I'm only after girls' intellect and, well, their boobs."
"Wow," Joshua interjected.
"I'll drink to that," I said, raising the bottle more in Joshua's direction than Erin's. I handed him the bottle after I took a big gulp.
"Let's play 'I never', guys," Erin suggested. "This seems like the perfect moment. And you'll have your drinking game, Joshua."
"Ok," we both said, rather cautiously.
Erin looked luminous, beautiful, and playful. Her red flowery dress, the thin straps over her bare shoulders, her black little combat boots. I glimpsed at Joshua to check whether he too was a little beguiled by Erin's flirtatious and vibrant energy. I caught him looking at me. He turned away and, nervously, pulled up his white tennis socks, as if gearing up for a game of 'I never' necessitated his full attention and a straightened outfit. My eyes lingered on his hairy legs, then on his loose navy nylon shorts, on his grey Gap t-shirt, on his arms, on his neck.
"Alright, who starts?" clamored Erin, whirling us into attention.
Erin seemed to be a pro at the game, asking easy questions to make sure all of us got to drink profusely and quickly, loosening our reserve and smashing any hints of prudishness. She was almost systematically drinking after saying an 'I never': she was obviously one of those players of the game who have done much, are eager to publicize it and find allies and fellow libertines. Most of the traditional topics, situations and positions were duly combed through ("I never had sex in an elevator", "I never had sex with a foreign person, "I never had anal sex"...). The rules forbade anyone to ask for explanations or details about anyone's answers, a rule Erin repeatedly and unsuccessfully tried to break ("Come on Joshua, if you have jacked off in a public place, you have to tell us how and where!").
Joshua wasn't actually drinking much, which Erin didn't have qualms to affectionately point out: "For a frat boy, you seem awfully tame."
"I am not a frat boy," Joshua said, inebriated enough to respond gently and genuinely. "I just come from a very conservative family, I guess. And I had a girlfriend for most of my time in college, so that limits the fucking around thing."
"Yet, you never fucked her in the butt," Erin quipped.
I burst out laughing and, thankfully, so did Joshua, who jokingly punched Erin in the arm while saying "Not that I didn't try." Which made us laugh even more, stupidly.
"I love you guys," Erin said when the giggles subsided. She put one hand on Joshua's knee, delicately, then the other on mine. I saw her caress Joshua's tan skin, I felt her play with the hair on my lower thigh. The moment didn't last, it wasn't intended to, but it was electrifying.
"So, it's my turn," Erin resumed abruptly. And she came up with another question, then another, then another. At some point, she was indeed the only one to submit any, avowedly looking for ways to get Joshua to drink more. She managed a few times. "I've never slept with someone at least ten years older than I was" we all drank. "I've never had sex in a kitchen" Erin and Joshua both jumped on the bottle before I had even have time to conclude that, no, I didn't think I had.
The rules also loosened, as the bottle was scarily nearing its end. We did part with some stories and personal details prompted by our answers. Joshua and I share a few anecdotes about our past girlfriends, which made Erin judge that we were both "closeted romantics and almost true gentlemen". The room was hot, the air was stuffy. It could feel some sweat on my back sticking on my black t-shirt. I opened the window for some air - Erin hated air-conditioning.
As I was kneeling back down, Erin said "I've never had a same-sex experience" and she drank. I froze, then clumsily folded my legs. I was flustered and couldn't look at Joshua, though a part of me was screamingly begging him to take the bottle, to make it easier for me to take it myself - something that, oddly, I never doubted I would do. He just uttered one of the many wow he had greeted Erin's swigs with. I grabbed the bottle and drank.
"Niiiice," Erin said, her eyes lightening up. And she bent forward to kiss me loudly on the lips. "You are the last of the international playboys."
The silence that followed was excruciating, even if it probably didn't last as long as it felt. Erin may have sensed it, for she adroitly swerved back the conversation to safer, more neutral grounds, asking questions that she actually had already asked earlier. Neither Joshua nor I corrected her. Erin also rapidly placed her hands back on our legs, though she placed them a bit higher and often ventured up, inside our shorts. But these hands seemed to be acting on their own: all three of us were laughing and talking as if our bodies were doing their own thing in another room, as if no one noticed Joshua's tenting bulge in his shorts (I did), as if our minds weren't bursting with overexcitement, uncertainty and lust (mine was).
I felt so drunk I couldn't quite properly concentrate any longer on anything that was being said. I also felt a form of suffocating horniness that was pushing me uncontrollably to act, to do something, to lift myself out of the drowning waters of sexual tension. So I interrupted Erin's monologue by grabbing and squeezing Joshua's hand and leaning towards Erin to kiss her. She welcomed my kiss hungrily, if not sloppily. I felt Joshua tense up as the kiss lasted, so I placed my other hand on Erin's shoulders, nudging her gently towards Joshua. She took my obvious hint, disengaged herself from my mouth and started kissing Joshua. He made an attempt to remove his hand from mine but I held it firm. I moved closer to both of them and Erin moved from Joshua's lips to mine, then back again, then back once more. I glimpsed down at Joshua's crotch and shivered at the sight of his now very hard cock. I realized that my erection was equally obvious to anyone who'd be watching, even though my dick looked a long tube pushed sideways by the tightness of my green khaki shorts while Joshua displayed an erect tentpole sharply drawn by the loose fabric of his shorts.
Erin suddenly stopped, catching her breath. "We have to stop this," she said, eyes wide open towards the ceiling. "If we do this, we shouldn't be this drunk. I'm really close to passing out." She then started laughing, tenderly and soothingly. Joshua and I did too, some relief taking precedence over frustration.
"Let's call it a night," she said decisively, standing up. "This was lovely and fun."
Joshua looked briefly lost and hesitant, then stood up too. I followed them both to the hallway, relieved at the quick subsiding of my erection. Erin planted a quick peck on Joshua's lips, then on mine. "Good night, boys," she said, before walking unsteadily to the stairs. "Well, good night Ben," Joshua said, awkwardly patting me on the shoulder before turning around and heading to his room at the far end of our floor.
I closed the door and went to splash my face with cold water in the kitchenette sink. I undressed to my boxers and lay on the bed, oddly out of breath. I lay thinking about Erin, about Joshua, about Joshua's erection. I went back to splash more water. I tried to smoke a cigarette at the opened window, convinced that any tobacco smell would have disappeared before Aaron came back. The cigarette made me feel sick, however, and I quickly stubbed it out. I used some mouthwash in the kitchen and felt slightly better. I was too wired to go to bed, too feeble and hesitant to go and knock at Joshua's door. I needed a shower. I grabbed a towel, headed for the bathroom and, as every night since my arrival here, I hoped that Joshua would be there.
This time, he was. He was naked, with his flip-flops on, sitting on the tiled floor, his head drooped down. I didn't startle him this time, he had probably heard me arriving. But he didn't move, didn't cover himself, didn't speak. I kneeled down next to him and asked softly: "Hey, Joshua, are you all right?"
"I'm fine, yeah. Sorry," he mumbled.
I only had boxers and a t-shirt on, but the contrast with his completely naked body, curled up inches away from me was disturbing. "Do you want me to help you get in the shower?"
He lifted his head up and chuckled softly but cheerfully: "No, I'm fine, I'm not sick or anything, I'm just really drunk. Just give me a minute or something."
"Okay," I said and undressed casually, before hopping in the shower. I didn't close the curtain, however, ostensibly to make sure I could keep an eye on him and provide help if needed. I started showering, letting the water invigorate my face, my hair, my back, my stomach. When I opened my eyes again, I saw Joshua staring at me. I summoned all the strength I had left to hold his gaze. He didn't blink, and neither did I.
He then stood, with some difficulty, then walked slowly towards me. He entered the shower stall and I took him in my arms. I tried to kiss him, but he turned his face away. I just held him for a while, letting the water run over both our bodies.
I felt him grab my dick, which had hardened enough to caress his thigh, to sword against his own half-erection. He started to jerk me off, slowly, his head buried in my neck. I took a step back and reached for his cock. We were now facing each other, staring at each other intently, jacking each other off. His rhythm began to increase and I followed his example. I watched him, scanning every part of his body as the movement of his hand around my cock began to feel more assured, skilled, and comfortable. We were about the same height, I was thinner but with slightly broader shoulders. His fleshy and defined muscles were clearly those of a young man, mine still had the wiriness of those of an old teenager. He had wide and powerful wrists and ankles, wide and powerful hands and feet - the former wonderfully pumping my dick, the latter hitting the tiles and water whenever he felt edging.
Just before he started to cum, he quickly replaced my hand with his, to finish himself off in a grunting and grimacing orgasm that sprayed semen on my stomach and thighs. I came too, aiming at the shower wall, unsure about his welcoming of a guy's spunk on his body once his orgasm would subside.
We rinsed ourselves off silently. I stepped out of the shower, grabbed my towel and handed him his. His "Thank you" was quiet, sweet and lovely.
I didn't know what came next and walked slowly and apprehensively to the bathroom door. "Can I sleep with you tonight?" I heard him whisper, so softly that I made him repeat. When it was obvious that he wouldn't, I said "Of course" and walked ahead to my room.
We crammed on the small single bed, which suddenly seemed smaller than it had been for a week. I let him spoon me, because, however much I wanted to spoon him, I wasn't sure he would let me.
* * *
"How was the water?"
"Freezing cold, Joshua, you could have warned me," I smiled.
"It's not that bad. Or you get used to it. I have a swim every morning."
"How's the grill going?"
"Looks good. I should get started with the meat soon. You should get changed. Your t-shirt is all wet and you don't want to catch a cold. Not in the middle of summer."
"I know. I feel like wearing an old sweatshirt."
"An old sweatshirt."
"Yes. You know, something worn, comfy, snuggly."
"Nope. I have a bunch of shirts and t-shirts. And one sweater."
"Just get to the master bedroom. It's straight ahead when you reach the landing. Rummage through the big pine wardrobe. You'll find something."
I knew, as I climbed up the stairs, that my venturing inside served another purpose, vaguely defined but clearly felt. I needed to get my bearings in the house, to observe, inquire and absorb some of Joshua's intimacy to comfortably adjust to my presence, fresh if not abrupt, in his personal space.
Joshua's room was huge and flooded with the orange sun. The king size bed was in the middle, just below large windows opening to an astounding lake view. There were a few clothes bunched on the floor in a corner, otherwise the bedroom was less cluttered than downstairs. I noticed that there were no books in the room, as there hadn't been any in the living room either. I thought briefly about an ex-boyfriend who had repeatedly complained that my apartment looked like a "fucking second-hand bookstore".
Next to the wardrobe stood a few pairs of shoes. More boots, a couple of sandals and sneakers, and, I noticed with amusement, the kind of Adidas flip-flops Joshua used to wear to the shower. They looked old and worn and I wondered if they were still the same pair. My eyes also caught one pair of Nike high-top sneakers in the middle of the bunch. They looked humongous, probably size 15.
I opened the wardrobe and quickly spotted a pile of sweat-shirts. I lifted out the one on top and unfolded it. It had the Patriots' logo printed on the front and looked tattered and snugly comfortable, even if a little large and baggy. I changed into some jeans I had brought and decided to stay barefoot something which, for me, had always embodied summertime. Joshua's sweat-shirt smelled like laundry. It was perfect.
"Good, you found one," Joshua said appreciatively while turning over the sizzling hamburgers.
"Yes, it's perfect, thanks. Whose is it? It feels big."
"It's mine," he answered, puzzled. "It's old, like late nineties. We wore things looser back then, didn't we?"
"I guess, yes."
"Plus, who else's could it be?"
"I don't know. It could belong to the guy who also owns the Nike sneakers and has the feet of a fucking giant," I smiled.
"Oh, those. No, those are Corey's." Joshua subtly looked down before adding "My ex-boyfriend Corey."
"Sorry, I didn't mean to pry, actually."
"No, it's okay."
"When did you guys break up?"
"Em, about four months, I guess. Maybe five now."
"Wow. That sucks," I said, tuning it slightly as a question.
"Yeah. You'd think hanging out in the house all day, playing video games and jerking off would have been enough for a 26-year old," he joked. "But no, he decided he needed the excitement of the big city."
"He's in New York now?"
Joshua dropped a fat hamburger on each of our plates and added the salad he had quickly made. He hesitated before leading us to the table on the corner of the patio.
"Listen, it's still early and the sun is setting, which, you'll see, is gorgeous. I often just sit down on the floor against the windows there, with some pillows to make it cozy. It's the best way to enjoy the view. You want to do that?"
"Yes, that sounds lovely. I'll fetch the beers in the fridge while you set us up."
"Sorry, I still haven't offered you anything to drink. Fucking rude. I just don't drink all that much."
"Well, I do, and I'll be right back."
We both sat down, our legs stretched out ahead of us, our plates resting on our laps, trying to eat without making a mess. The view was indeed beautiful and the peacefulness a little intoxicating. Joshua's bare legs were still strikingly beautiful. Our knees were lightly touching at first; at some point, one of us, I wasn't sure who, firmly set them together. I regretted my decision to wear jeans; I wished I could have felt his hairy knuckle rest on mine. I noticed too that Joshua still had the habit of wiggling his toes when he talked excitedly as he did now when he listed all the renovations he'd made on his own.
"I wasn't completely on my own, though," he added as way of conclusion. "Corey helped me a lot."
"You were together already when you bought the house?"
"Not when I got the house, no, but soon after. I didn't buy the house, by the way, it was my grandparents'."
"So you guys were together for like, what, seven years?"
"Something like that. A little less, but close."
"How did you guys meet? Is there like a hotbed of gay nightlife in Burlington, Vermont?"
"Ha, no. Burlington has many qualities, but not that one, I'm afraid. No, we met at work, in a way. He worked in one of the stores."
"Okay," I said, unsure to stress the obvious and rather trite notion that mixing work and romance is never a good idea. Joshua cut me before I said anything:
"It's even worse, actually. I hired him," he said, smiling, turning towards me. "He came to my office after we'd posted an ad, he obviously wasn't qualified, he had a record "
" a record?"
"Nothing serious. Petty thefts. Corey was... troubled, I guess. He was lost. He seemed desperate to get a grip on his life, that's the sense I got, that's what made me want to give him a chance."
"How was he troubled?"
"You know, horrible and abusing family, high school dropout, hanging out with the wrong crowd. That sort of thing. But he was sweet, he was naοve too and blunt, which I liked. He was hurt. I guess I wanted to help him. I thought I could make a difference."
"And you did, it seems."
"I think so, yes. It didn't work out at the store, though. That was quickly obvious."
"He arrived late all the time, couldn't deal with rude or obnoxious customers, he never glued with the rest of the staff."
"So you had to let him go?"
"Was that before or after you started seeing each other?"
"Before, thank God." Joshua laughed at the thought.
A pensive silence followed, which I broke by saying: "Again, I didn't mean to be intrusive. We don't have to talk about this. I don't want to make you sad or anything."
"No, it really is fine," Joshua said graciously. "I tried to motivate him, you know, when I had to fire him. I encouraged him to go to a community college or to take some evening classes somewhere. He had skills. He just needed structure and discipline."
"But he didn't?"
"Nope. I checked in on him a month later and got a sense he was still headed nowhere. So I suggested he helped me with the work here."
"Yes. I'd like to think it was purely out of the goodness of my heart and it surely was, for the most part. But there might have been a part of me that was a little lonely. And another part that was a bit daunted by the extent of the work needed."
"Did you know he was gay?"
"No, absolutely not. And there had never been any ambiguity or flirtation on either part. Until one day."
"Until one day," I smiled teasingly.
"We were working on the bannister and, out of the blue, he unzipped my fly and took my cock in his mouth."
"That sounds like porn."
"It does, doesn't it?" Joshua said, with a satisfied smirk. "Well, I was little taken aback. Plus, Corey was very tall, is very tall. About six five or something, so he looked both uncomfortable and a little bit ridiculous as he crouched down to blow me. So I told him to stop."
"It just didn't feel right. I told him he didn't have to do this."
"You felt he didn't actually want to?"
"Something like that. He spent so much time thanking me for taking him on, it was a bit much. So it felt like he was blowing me as a way to repay me for the work and wage I gave him. I don't know, it just made me uncomfortable."
"How did he react?"
"He was confused. He looked hurt too. So I lifted him up and, when our eyes met, well, I saw something completely different in them."
"Pleading. Hunger. So I kissed him. And kissed him some more. We went to the dining room, which was empty and dusty, except for an old sofa I had stored there for napping when needed. We lay there and we kissed, I think, for a whole afternoon."
"It was," Joshua said, looking straight ahead, squinting at the sun which was almost set. "Two months later, he moved in with me. A few months later, we both moved in the not quite finished house."
"And did he get any work?"
"He did at first. I gave him good recommendations and word of mouth worked reasonably well. But, it's strange, as soon as we moved in here, he seemed to have lost all interest in working, in making his own money. His workload dwindled until he did nothing at all and barely ever left the house."
"And you were okay with that?"
"Yes, of course. All I wanted was for him to be happy and, well, for us both to be happy together. And we were, very much so."
"What did you guys do? What did you guys talk about?"
Joshua looked at me, genuinely puzzled. "I don't know. Stuff, you know. We did a lot of swimming, hiking, running. We took the boat out, went fishing. We watched sports. Movies, video games. Plus there was always something to do with the house."
"Okay," I said, retreating.
"You need another beer," he said, bringing the subject to a close.
"I do. I'll fetch a few. The night is young."
* * *
When a screeching hangover woke me the next morning, it took me a few seconds to make sense of my surroundings. My bed had moved in a room that was still unfamiliar to me, my aching naked body was perched on the edge on the mattress, the sheets were rumpled and mostly drooping down to the floor. The air in the dorm room was stuffy and musky. Joshua's light snoring was the only sound.
I got up to stretch my legs, to splash some water on my face, to make some coffee. Beyond these cleansing and sobering tasks I couldn't quite see what to do next. I realized that the sound and smell of the coffee machine would wake Joshua up. We'd have to talk, we'd have to interact. I decided to forego being passive and reactive. Whatever his attitude might be, my infatuation for him wasn't intense or solid enough to actually be hurt. I wanted to kiss him good morning, so I did.
His reaction didn't give much away. "'Sup, man?" was all he mumbled. I pushed him a bit to give me the space for me to sit on the bed. He slowly raised himself to sit next to me and accepted the mug of coffee with his first smile of the day.
Our ensuing conversation was slow, frequently interrupted by silences, sips and yawns. We dispensed with the expected "How did you sleep?" and "Are you hung over too?" Then I kissed him again and he seemed to relax, to welcome my affection, to be eager and relieved to reciprocate it. I didn't mention his refusal to kiss the previous night, when we stood naked and hard in the shower.
He didn't want to leave the room, not right then, not for a while. He wasn't ready to go through "the whole sneaking out and covering up". I told him we'd have to get out eventually. "I know," he said. "We'll wait for lunchtime, okay?"
He asked me how experienced I was with "all this". I told him about jerking off with a buddy, about my first real experience with a married man in his late twenties at a resort abroad, about the other, more recent attempts to replicate the sexual intensity I had then felt attempts that almost all proved unsatisfactory.
He was much more elusive about his own past, to the extent that it was actually difficult to gauge the amount and nature of the experiences he'd had. It sounded more than mine, which was to be expected since he was almost four years older. Through the elliptic maze of his narrative, I could deduce, however, that all his previous forays into gay sex had been secretive and tormenting one may even have been not entirely consensual.
He was very eager to know about the girls I'd had sex with, how good the sex was, whether I still considered myself straight or "you know, bi". My own questions about his long-term girlfriend in college was received with great discomfort and a mix of sadness and fear in his eyes. "It was hard," he said searchingly. "I loved her, I still do, but it never felt right. I never felt right."
I tried to lighten the mood by asking if he had ever hooked up with a guy at this camp. The thought made him snigger. "I wish," he said, giving me the second smile of the day. So I kissed him again. His breath was foul and I assume mine was too, but the intensity of our embrace seemed to supersede all my hang-ups. We had sex for the first time, real sex: hugs and grips, blow jobs and hand jobs, kisses on the neck and licks in the arm pits. It was intense and aggressive for most of it, intense and tender the last few minutes. We wiped ourselves off with his t-shirt and planned a strategy to head for the showers.
Lunch was an altogether less pleasant affair. We sat with Mike and Rob, who also looked terrible from their own excesses of the previous night but who, contrary to Joshua and me, endlessly and smugly enumerated all the grimy, boorish, drunken details of their expedition. Joshua was grating on me too: mimetically, he was too keen and too crude, and his sexist bravado seemed lame to the point of being pathetic. Even his posture changed: his shoulders dropped, his elbows spread wide on the table, and he chewed loudly with his mouth open.
I caught up with Erin at the desserts section of the dreary buffet and begged her to save me from the Neanderthals and take me away somewhere. "You are an awful snob," she jokingly chided me. "I shouldn't do you any favors, but I need an arm candy for the afternoon. So you're in luck. We're going to catch a movie. We're leaving soon, actually, because there's only one car and there's like six of us already. So I'm taking the bus. Come with me."
Joshua frowned when I told him I'd rush out to catch a bus. As I was pushing open the door of the dining hall, I felt his strong hand grip my arm.
"Are you okay?" he asked worriedly.
"Yes, of course," I said, as I couldn't fathom any reason for his concern.
"I'm not suddenly on your shit list or anything?"
"No," I laughed. "Not at all. I think I need to get out of here for a bit. But I want to see you. I want to see you tonight. Should we try to sneak out from everybody and spend the evening just the two of us?"
"Awesome," he mouthed, sexily.
I don't remember the movie. I do remember thinking about Joshua through most of it, feeling a little guilt and a tremendous excitement about the forthcoming evening. I remember Erin holding my hand at times and eating most of my popcorn.
As we walked towards the bus stop afterwards, Erin hooked her arm in mine.
"Are you gay, Ben?" she asked airily.
I froze for a second and frowned. "Why do you ask that?"
"What about last night?"
"I don't know, I felt something. Between you and Joshua. In Joshua, certainly. In you, I thought too."
I refrained from asking what she had "certainly" seen in Joshua, even if my self-discipline was piercingly frustrating. I couldn't fathom what she could possibly have sensed in him, since he had been so sexually opaque to me. "You were there, too," I simply said. "We were this close to a threesome, don't you think?"
"That we were. But I felt like a proxy."
"Is that the word? I felt like the conduit, the mediator, the safe third party, to sort of allow you guys to safely rip each other's clothes off."
"I'm sorry you felt that way."
"It's fine. It's cute, in a way."
"Ugh, don't say that."
"Okay, it wasn't cute. It was kind of hot."
"It was hot, yes. How did we get there?"
"The tequila helped," Erin winked. "But you could cut the sexual tension between you two with a knife."
"I think you're rewriting history."
"Perhaps I am. But, anyway, are you gay? It's okay if you are, you know that, right?"
"Yes, I know that. I'm not sure. Yes, I guess. Probably a little," I said casually.
"Can anyone be a little gay?"
"Ah. Yes. I hate to say this, and I know I shouldn't, but I feel it's different for boys."
"If you hate to say it, don't. Saying it does make it different."
"You know me."
She kissed me on the cheek, with a loud cheek, before asking wistfully: "Do I? Do I know you?"
"Well," I replied, "within a week, you've kissed me, fucked me, almost had a threesome with me, and witnessed me with a raging boner next to another guy. I'd say we became pretty close."
"Yes. I was your lover. I love saying that. I was Ben's lover."
Her words and her joyful spirit were enchanting. I felt relaxed and happy, so much so that I suddenly dreaded going back to campus, to the possible awkwardness waiting for me there, to the loutish rants of Mike and Rob, to the silence of my roommate. "Do we really have to go back?" I asked.
"I think we should. If we just hang out together any longer, I'll just want to have sex with you again. And I'll never get a clear answer on my question."
"Would it be so bad to have sex again?"
"It would be lovely. You are an attentive and acrobatic lover, two precious qualities, especially when combined. But I think, and I don't often say this, that sex would make things a bit complicated."
"Between you and Joshua."
"There is no me and Joshua."
"Well, until I'm convinced about that, I don't think we should have sex."
"That's ridiculous. Are you jealous or something?"
"Oh, Ben. No, I'm not jealous. I like you and he is growing on me. I don't know what's going to happen between you two, but it might become a little, I don't know, volatile. Trust me, I've been there. So, if the shit hits the fan, I'd rather be there on the sidelines as friend for you or him, rather than right in the middle as the sex-crazed mistress. Does that make any sense?"
Joshua and I managed to slip out of the group after dinner, unnoticed within the complex and loud negotiations taking place to decide where and what they should all be doing on a Saturday night before work started again the following day. We spent three hours all over the campus fields and small parks, hiding behind trees and cars whenever we heard someone coming over. It wasn't exactly joyful, but it was playfully dangerous and darkly erotic. We tried to talk on few occasions, but we mostly kissed and fondled each other. We lay among the bushes when we got tired of moving around and kissed some more. We pulled down our pants and blew each other. Then Joshua wanted us to go jerk off somewhere on or by the soccer field, which I thought was creepy. We settled on relocating to the football field, under the bleachers. As soon as we arrived, Joshua kneeled down and opened my jeans. He gave me a blow job while jerking himself off, insisted I come in his mouth. I did, quite violently, and the yelps of his own simultaneous orgasm were muffled by my throbbing dick in his mouth.
We lay down next to each other, holding hands, our pants down to our knees. The ground actually felt cold on my naked ass, but I didn't want to move.
For the following two weeks and until the last, ugly day, Joshua and I essentially repeated, adjusted, expanded or amended the essence of that night. Our relationship was to be clandestine and thrilling, our intimacy cagey but liberating, our attraction raw and visceral. We would choreograph our encounters and organize our interactions with our other friends seamlessly.
We made sure not to share more than a meal together every day and we alternated these meals at the tables of our two quite distinct cliques. I made every effort to try and appreciate Mike and Rob a little better and Joshua was increasingly comfortable with Erin's gang, even if he did spend most of the meals talking sports with Baseball Heartthrob as we all had nicknamed the coach.
We stole every moment possible to be alone, even for a few minutes, but were always careful not to be conspicuous. We only spent entire nights (and mornings) together during the two weekends, thanks to my roommate's closeness to his local family, but we met up, somewhere, somehow, every end of the evening. We kissed a lot too.
* * *
"Are you comfortable?" Joshua asked, refilling my half-empty glass. He had switched us to brandy an hour before, claiming we needed an "old man's drink".
"I am, yes. I'm a little drunk, though. You hold your alcohol remarkably well for someone who doesn't drink much."
"I don't drink much now," he said elliptically.
We sat in comfortable silence, basking in the warmth of the summer night and the view of the dark lake. We had been talking uninterrupted for the last hour. I had filled him in on the broad outlines of my life since I graduated from college. He had asked delicate, thoughtful questions about my love life, past and present. He had talked more about his house, about Vermont, about the beauty of changing seasons. Our knees were still touching, but so were our calves and, sometimes, our feet.
"Do you smoke pot?" he suddenly asked.
"Not often, but I do, yes. You have any?"
"Yes, some. Corey and I used to smoke a joint every night before bed. I've dropped the routine, but I still like to enjoy one sometimes. I feel like one now."
He got up, with an ease and grace that my numbed state wouldn't have allowed me to, and went inside. He came back with a lit joint and an ashtray which made me realize I hadn't smoked a cigarette since I had gotten here. Nature was good to me.
We smoked in renewed silence, occasionally glancing at each other, smiling. I couldn't think of anything to say, anything to ask that wouldn't have spoiled the simple bliss I was experiencing. He wasn't more talkative. After a few minutes, he stubbed out the joint in the ashtray and took my hand in his, settling back to his previous comfortable slouch on the pillows. I squeezed his hand. He squeezed back.
I wanted to tell him how beautiful he was and I remembered how uncomfortable that made him when I used to say it back then, more than fifteen years ago. I couldn't resist testing the change in his confidence. I turned towards him and told him. He looked at me warmly and pensively, then smiled, then looked up at the stars.
He emptied his glass. I emptied mine. He raised himself slowly, turned towards me and placed a delicate kiss on my lips. He retreated back, just a little, just enough for us to see each other's face clearly and fully, to smile. I placed a hand on his cheek, caressed his soft beard and smiled some more. I nudged him to kiss me again. He did.
He did, and we kissed for a long time, with a growing intensity, with delicacy morphing into hunger. We kissed, and my fingers gripped the back of his face, and his crotch pressed against mine, and our legs started twirling, grinding, rubbing, and he lost some of his balance, and I caught him firmly and nestled him briskly against me, and his hands, now moving freely and eagerly, travelled, grazed, grabbed, multiplied.
He disengaged himself, stood up, and extended a hand to help lift me up. He led us up the stairs, to the landing, to his dark bedroom. He pulled me and dropped us both on the bed, a king size large enough to welcome the weight, the length, the spread, and the yearning of two enthralled adult men.
We kissed again, and our hands found each other and squeezed, and his legs wrapped around me, his heels kicked on the small of my back, his knees bumped into my elbows, and his hands moved to harass our t-shirts, jeans and shorts, to tug at them, lift them, pull and push them, discard them out of the way, and I buried my face in his neck, a neck that acted as a magnet to my kisses, licks, bites, and his finger nails imprinted my ass, his hands kneaded my hips, his tongue chewed on my ear, and I looked up and I saw him, illuminated by the moonlight, the hair and the muscles and the shadows drawing the beauty of a man I didn't recognize, of a flesh without a past, and we turned and thrashed and thrashed some more, and I saw thighs, and shoulder blades, and toes, and biceps, and ankles, and underarms, and I saw his face and his eyes and his frown, intense and yearning, and I smelled him, the soap of his shower, the sweat of his desire, the musk of his age, and I felt his mouth around my dick just as I had barely absorbed the astonishing hardness of his own cock, a cock I thought I should recognize but didn't, because it belonged to a different man, to a different time, because I had seen so many since I last marveled at his, and I felt him and heard him and saw him getting lost in me, in us, in sex, and I blew him too, with an ease and passion that felt like symbiosis, and I got lost in my own pleasure, in the waves of brutal abandon to the moment, and I felt him pull out of my mouth and I saw him grip and jerk and thrash his cock, and I felt his suction on my dick tightened and I saw him cum, I saw him buck and shake, I saw him drench my stomach with sperm that looked fluorescent in the sparkling white shine of the moon, and I came too, just after I sprung my dick out his mouth, just after I understood his tacit wish to see up close, up very close, the spraying proof of the beauty of the moment.
We didn't move. The bundled, distorted mass of our entwined bodies only gradually and very slowly shifted, as if drawing by numbers the elegant shape of two sleeping figures warmly burrowed in each other.
* * *
"Joshua is kind of a mystery to me," Erin once said, one day when she and I had decided to skip lunch and preferred to lie on the grass next to each other, taking the sun in.
Joshua was indeed guarded, he melted a little strenuously in the various social groups we found ourselves in. When he and I talked, his very tone when he confided made me wary of passing along, to Erin or to anyone, the sparse and innocuous pieces of information shared. "I guess, a little," I replied, disengaged and uninviting.
Joshua didn't like to talk about his past, not in great details. I had gathered that his parents had gotten divorced when he was ten; he had moved with his mother to Pittsburgh, only returning to Vermont, where he had grown up, during the school holidays. Both his parents had quickly remarried. He never got along with his distant and sanctimonious stepfather, nor with his stepmother, subjugated by and subservient to his father. College didn't seem to have been for him the socially liberating and intellectually exhilarating experience I was hoping it'd be for me, but he never voiced explicit regret about it he never quite made clear those were his expectations or yearnings to begin with.
Joshua seemed eager, but cagey, to talk about his future. My questions circling around his plans for the months coming ahead of the summer were often met with hesitation, then a brief sparkle in his eyes, then a labored and vague response, then eventually evasion, with a faint anguish and unease he couldn't quite hide. Once, however, he brought the subject up himself. We lay on the ground, beneath the football field bleachers. It was two in the morning and he had just given me a long, avid blowjob, something he was increasingly eager to do, with or without the expectation of reciprocation.
"I really wonder what my life will be like a year from now," he pensively said.
"I'm still not clear what your ambitions are."
"It's hard and unrealistic for some people to have ambitions, you know. Not everyone goes to an Ivy League college," he said curtly, expressing out loud a sort of sullenness about my going to Princeton in the fall that had usually been more of a subtext in our exchanges.
"Fine," I said patiently. "What are your dreams then, what is it that you'd really want to do?"
"I don't know. Something to do with sports. Definitely something to do with sports. Coaching in college. Or sports manager or agent. Sports journalist would be awesome too. It wouldn't even have to be on TV. Writing about sports in a newspaper or something, you know?"
I had read Joshua's prose on the frequent notes he left under my door, to arrange and plan the logistics of our meetings; they were fraught with spelling blunders, sketched with the handwriting of a child. I also had seen daily Joshua assisting a coach on the soccer field. I had found him too impatient, a little aggressive at times. He did seem to dote on some of the kids, the ones in whom he claimed to see a lot of potential (I didn't agree with some of his assessments), the ones I noticed were rather those most prone to display expressive admiration for him something I couldn't help but regularly notice he craved.
"What kind of skills does one need to be a sports agent? I never really got exactly what it is they do," I asked, trying to sound earnest. His answer was vague and he quickly changed the subject.
But Joshua liked to talk about the present, the day and the next, about the camp, about the summer. He seemed to lighten up when we concocted our plans or when, alone, he recounted for me our secret expedition of the previous night. He had the odd but endearing habit of going through, with much details and glee, sequences of events we had shared. He was always oblique when mentioning or naming sex, however, which surprised me as he was so eager and relentless to engage in it. Mike and Rob sounded fucking wasted when we almost ran into them yesterday. We were actually blowing each other like maniacs behind the heavy bushes next to the central quad and we almost got caught. It was so funny last night when we saw that possum, after we hooked up. It was funny, indeed, but it also was the first time we'd had anal sex together.
* * *
I was first awoken by the sound of the bath running in Joshua's en-suite bathroom. I actually opened my eyes some five minutes later, when he nudged a mug of warm coffee on my cheek.
"Come on, wake up," he said. "We need to get you clean and awake. I want to start the day."
"Shouldn't I drink my coffee first, before it gets cold?" I asked, nodding, a little puzzled, towards the sound of the bath.
"We can do both at the same time. Come on, get up, bring your mug and join me in the bath."
I had always hated sharing a bath, put off by the discomfort and cold knees more than by any hygienic concerns. My reluctance was somewhat assuaged, however, when I found out that Joshua's bathtub was, as everything else seemed to be on that floor, very big - big enough for us both to fit in. Joshua had moved a little side table right by the tub and indicated I put my coffee mug on it, next to his. The bathroom was flooded by rays of morning sun. Joshua, already in the bath, was squashing playfully the bundles of soap foam on the surface of the water.
"I don't even know what time it is," I said as I stepped carefully into the tub, facing him.
"It's about ten. It's late. That's why I didn't feel too bad about waking you."
"I'm glad you did. I don't usually sleep in that late anymore."
"What are your Saturdays like in DC?" he asked, his foot gently rubbing my inner thigh.
"I don't have much of a Saturday routine, not really."
"Everyone has a Saturday routine. Well, what's your perfect Saturday like, then?"
"Hm. I love weekends in the spring for some reason. So I've had quite a few perfect Saturdays these last few months, I guess."
"Tell me," he said, his toes now fondling my balls.
"I like to wake up early, have coffee, read the paper, smoke a cigarette."
"I know, sorry."
"Then I take a shower. Then breezily surf through some nice internet porn and take a nice, slow time to jack off. Then snug back into bed and read a book until noon. I fix some lunch. Go grocery shopping."
"Going grocery shopping is part of your perfect Saturday?"
"It's not," I chuckled. "I'm just trying to give you a realistic account of a close-to-perfect Saturday."
"I love going grocery shopping, actually. I love the planning and rejoicing that goes with it."
"Well, you know, finding the soda that Corey really liked and that they rarely have in stock. Or thinking about a new marinade for the meat I'll grill for him. Stuff like that."
"I hate grocery shopping."
"Okay. Then what?"
"I don't know. I love going to exhibitions or to the museums on the Mall with a friend. I like to have coffee with my best friends in the afternoon. I'll go to the gym, if I find the discipline. Then have another shower. Have dinner at some friend's house. Go for drinks later, at a nice bar."
"A gay bar?"
"Not specifically, no. But often, yes."
"You still sleep with women?"
"Nope," I said, frowning and amused. "That hasn't happened for a very long time."
"You pick up guys in these bars?" he said, now rubbing my ankle, soaping my feet, kneading my calf.
"Ha. Not really, no. But I do like to meet new people. Talk with them. Listen to their stories."
"And you sleep with them."
"It happens. If they have really good stories," I smiled.
I bent my knees and pulled back my feet, trying to place them on Joshua's. He followed my lead and our feet were pressing against each other, the pressure lifting them up above the water surface. We both looked at them, they were almost the same size, which I didn't quite remember; mine were a little wider, his a little hairier.
"What's a good story?" he asked, still staring at our feet.
"I don't know. Something surprising, or intriguing, or endearing."
"Like what?" he insisted.
"Well," I was thinking out loud, "bisexual guys, for instance, the healthy ones, not the confused, annoying closeted cases, they usually have interesting life stories or, you know, outlook on things and people. I also like people with strong views and who are really committed to a cause. You meet a lot of those in DC. People who travel can be interesting and fun, when not too smug or self-absorbed. People with vibrant energy, with infectious optimism."
"Recently I spent a whole hour in a club talking to a young graduate student from Georgetown about American political history."
"And that was fun," Joshua said, frowning.
"What was fun was how we were in this gay club with a bunch of shirtless boys dancing all around us to loud cheap techno music, and this guy and I were trying to list all the American presidents in order."
"You're such a dork."
"I don't think so. The point is, he was touching my leg, touching my shoulder, grabbing my arm, all excitedly. It didn't really matter what we were talking about, we were acting like two avid teenagers, forgetting the traditional rules of flirting or cruising in a gay bar."
"And you slept with him?"
"How was it?"
"I don't know. Great, actually. Yes, it was really nice," I answered, a little puzzled, but piqued by his eagerness to delve into sexual details.
"Well, it's hard to meet new people, gay people, around here. That's the drawback of living far out."
"I'm sure. Do you, though?"
"Meet gay people. Have sex. Since Corey, I mean. Or during Corey I don't know what kind of arrangement you guys had."
"We were monogamous," he said, with the hint of a satisfied, happy smile. "Sex was great," he added a little defensively. Then: "And no, I don't really meet other gay guys for sex. I have a few gay friends here, really close friends, but nothing sexual. I tried the internet but, I don't know, it wasn't really for me."
"I'm not sure. I would get all horny and excited in front of my computer, then it'd always be a letdown. Not just because it always involved driving quite a bit, or waiting for them to drive here. The wait was a bit of buzzkill. But, I don't know, I think I would form too much of an image of what I wanted to happen, of what the guy would be like. And it never works quite like that, you know?"
"Was it for dating or hookups?"
"Hookups," he said, before quickly resuming his line of thought: "And I'm sure it was the same thing for them." He hesitated a little before saying pensively, "Plus, the few guys I actually hooked up with all turned out to be bottoms, whatever they'd said in their profile or during the chat."
"And..." I ventured, "that wasn't what you were looking for?"
"No, not really. I certainly didn't like the lack of options," he smiled meekly. "But no, I realized that it wasn't what I was looking for."
I let the silence help him decide whether he wanted to tell me more. He seemed hesitant and I didn't want to appear like I was pushing him. I realized the water was getting cold. Joshua was looking sideways, either absorbed by his thoughts or pondering what to tell me. He turned towards me and gazed at me, tenderly. "You look cold," he said. "Come over here." He gestured for me to draw closer to him, between his legs. I shuffled and moved around with difficulty and little grace, sending water over the edge of the tub. But I settled nicely, my back against his stomach, his arms wrapped around my belly after he turned the hot water on. "I'd like to stay a little longer," Joshua said, kissing me briefly on the neck.
"I haven't been fucked in a very long time," he resumed a little solemnly. "Well, for almost seven years, I guess."
"You and Corey weren't... versatile?"
"Ha," he chuckled at the word. "No. At the very beginning, yes, we were. But I quickly felt fucking me wasn't doing much for him, and I also had to nudge him a little too obviously for him to do it. So I asked him and he told me as much. But I can do it if you want, whatever, he told me."
"Hot," I said, then hoped Joshua would catch the affectionate sarcasm.
"I know, right? So we stopped doing that. And frankly, I really didn't miss it much, even though I had kind of come to think of myself as more of a bottom."
"But the sex was good?"
"That's the thing. Fucking him was so incredibly hot. I mean, the sight of him! He was very tall, I told you that. Huge arms and legs, huge feet and "
"I saw the shoes, yes," I interrupted.
"Exactly. I don't know, the sight of this big, masculine, young body being fucked by me was such a turn-on. Always. So, no, I didn't miss getting fucked much."
"And you never got, I don't know, bored?"
"Why would you say that?"
"I don't know. It's just I haven't really been in a long term relationship, so how people keep things spiced up is still kind of a mystery to me. It wasn't a loaded question."
"That's okay. No, I don't think we got actually bored. The frequency of sex became lower of course, and things evolved, but "
"How? How did things evolve?" I asked.
"Well, Corey was never really expressive in bed. But I got to know him, his body, what he liked. It was a bit of detective work at first, but then you get a sixth sense or something."
"And what did he like?"
"Things became a little aggressive for a while, then we retreated back. I sensed he also had something about cum, so we... I don't know, experimented a little. At some point too, I realized he was spending an awful lot of time watching porn on the computer during the day, when I was at work. So I asked him and he was very cool about the whole thing. So I tried to, well, take an interest in his hobby, I guess. He got really excited and happy about it and from then on, we'd spend some evenings with him showing me the best porn he had found the past few days. We'd jerk off together. Often, I'd fuck him."
"But you guys never cheated or brought someone in your bed?"
"No, I'm pretty sure there was no cheating. I asked him at some point, if he needed to see other people, fuck with other people, that I'd understand if I wasn't enough for him. He got really offended, then he lashed out at me. Then he cried. He panicked, thinking he was the one who wasn't enough for me. I did my best to reassure him and we never brought up the subject again."
"That's kind of sweet."
"He was sweet," Joshua said, as if himself reaching that conclusion. "He said he loved me all the time, like a million times a day. Very sweetly in the morning and at night and, I don't know, in his own kind of dude way during the day or on the phone. And he'd always want to fall asleep curled up against me, nested in my arms. Which wasn't easy, given his size."
Joshua buried his face in my neck and let it rest there. I grabbed his hand and lifted it to my lips. I wasn't sure whether to push the subject of Corey further. Joshua was now nibbling at my ear, then whispered: "I want to make you breakfast. I'm dying for some really fucking greasy bacon."
* * *
Things that turned me on about Joshua in the summer of 1995:
The way Erin's sexual frankness made him blush for the first two weeks, then smile for the last.
How often he would urgently and earnestly whispered to me, among an unsuspecting crowd, that he was horny, and the tone he used, making it sound overpowering and worrisome.
The crease underneath his knee.
The two laughs he had: the genuine one and the one he couldn't help but use when he wasn't sure he understood Erin's irony or Mike's sarcasm.
The powerful girth of his wrists. His beautiful strong hands. The huskiness of his voice.
The way he'd ask me to fuck him.
The childlike admiration with which he talked to and about Baseball Heartthrob and the way he snapped at anyone who'd use that nickname.
His earnestness, his sensitivity, his raw emotions. His bubble butt, too.
The marvel and awe in his eyes whenever he witnessed (and commented on) the hardness of his cock, and of mine, or whenever we managed to cum at exactly the same time.
The way he ran, his feet slamming the ground as if with strength and anger; the way he played soccer, aggressive and focused and committed; his rants against tennis and lacrosse. How competitive he'd get, how bluntly happy he was to win, at anything.
The abandon he was sometimes capable of when we had sex.
How he laced his sneakers, how he put a sweater on, how he took his pants off.
How, whenever we had to part, he would turn back around and give me one more kiss, furtively and clumsily.
* * *
"Jump! It's fucking wonderful!" Joshua was screaming from the water, as I was still standing on the edge of the dock, hesitating to dive in the lake. We were both naked, the sun was now high, bright and scorching. "Jump!" he repeated. I dove, deciding to display some dignity and masculine prowess, before the inevitable and humbling screech of pain from the cold.
It wasn't, indeed, actually that bad, I realized as I gasped for air emerging back to the surface. He waved me to swim towards him and grabbed me in his arms when I reached him. "Relax, now," he said. "Let your body get used to the temperature." Our legs kept bumping into each other, as did both our shriveled penises. His body felt warm in the freezing water, his smile was bright, his eyes radiant. There was a distinct beam of pride too in his luminous, decisive embrace: the beauty of the Lake, my overcoming the initial reluctance to get in the cold water, the strength of his heartening grip, the elation of the moment - they all seemed to be presents from Joshua, who lay them at my feet with the glee of a child crafting gifts for his parents.
We kissed and swam and laughed, until the water really did become too cold for me. I crawled back to the deck, followed by a still jostling Joshua. We lay panting and naked on the deck, letting the sun dry our bodies, our legs intertwined, our hands holding each other. Then he briskly stood up and told me we needed to down a shot of brandy, that it was his healthy habit after a cold swim. He reassured me we'd stick to apple juice for the rest of the day, until the proper time came for a real drink. "I make a mean Long Island Ice Tea," he said.
I never really had been used to walking naked freely and casually. I followed Joshua to the house, distracted and flustered by the sight of Joshua's beautiful body stomping ahead, with equally arousing assurance and joy.
The brandy burned my throat briefly, before the predictable wave of warmth rushing inside me. We were standing in the kitchen, facing each other, eyeing each other, grinning at each other. My hand, on its own volition, reached for his dick and started to fondle it playfully. I felt like a child, or a teenager rather, as my impulse was clearly borne out of impish horniness. I smiled at him, but his look had turned serious and warm. He placed a hand on my chest and moved it slowly all around my upper body, my hips, my chest again, my neck. He seemed focused on examining, by sight and by touch, every inch of my body, as if he finally became conscious of the very physicality of my presence. I felt the same. Since I'd arrived the previous evening, our glances, touches, and sexual fondles had been intense, flowing, and unfocused, they had been wrapped and polished by the sheer yet unexpected thrill of being together again. As I let go of his now hardened cock and started my own exploration of his body, as I took in every detail of his beautifully ageing masculinity, I realized neither of us had been looking into each other's eyes for a while, dedicated and absorbed as we were by the crude but intoxicating moment.
Without either of us touching my cock, I became incredibly hard. I could actually feel the blood pumping up in rhythmic gushes, inflating and unfolding and lifting the lump of flesh, the head gorging and yawning its way out of the foreskin.
I turned him gently around and placed his hands on the kitchen counter. I kneeled down and delicately nudged his legs to spread, his back to arch. His ass was as splendid as it had been years ago, but fuller, firmer, rounder. Joshua was hairy but his ass was bare, unshaven, silky. He was tan all over, but as I spread his ass cheeks, I uncovered a very white, cold and moist crack. I kissed it and licked it and buried my face in it, waiting for Joshua's reaction, then feeling alternately the tensing of his buttocks and the loosening of his hole.
I rimmed him for a long time, I rimmed him until my knees hurt against the stone floor, until his raspy moaning finally began to subside, until he told me, just seconds probably before I'd be saying it myself: "I want you".
For the first time since I had arrived at his house on the lake, those words had a real, tangible, actual echo to words young Joshua had said in 1995. As he repeated them, however, and repeated them again, that spell was quickly broken: the words were the same, the voice barely altered, but the hunger was different. He had wanted me in anguished determination, in overpowering recklessness, he had wished me to fuck his torments out of him. He now wanted me with confident lust, he wished me to fuck him into little pieces of bliss.
I positioned my cock to enter him, but he turned around, kissed me, took my hand and led me upstairs. His bedroom was bright and stifling. He opened the windows and drew the white veils, which all started to flow and dance with the breeze. He lay on his back on the bed, made his head comfortable on the pillows and smiled at me. He nodded towards the bed stand, where I found lube and an unopened box of condoms.
I took my time to lube his ass and my cock, all the while staring at him. He closed his eyes and smilingly squirmed with the coldness of the KY, touched his chest and nipples, then put both hands under his knees and lifted his legs up. I slipped the condom on and grabbed his ankles. "Go slow," he whispered.
The breeze gave me occasional goose bumps and hardened my nipples. A ray of sunlight was faintly blinding me, forcing me to look down, to look at my dick making its slow, moist way into Joshua. I put his ankles on my shoulder and grabbed his ass cheeks, to spread them further, to knead them, to press my fingers into his reddening flesh.
Once I was fully inside, or inside enough, I lowered myself to kiss him. I grabbed his head and kissed him hard and deep, my movements inside him quickening along. I couldn't tell whether my frenzied kissing was propelling my pounding of him or whether the incredible sensation of being inside Joshua again, of fucking him with a condom out of a box bought a while ago but never used, was engulfing me in loving warmth.
He gasped for air, laughed loudly with amazement and ecstasy ("Oh my fucking god!"), then kissed me more, then tumbled me sideways, then begged grinningly to fuck him every which way I could think of, to hurry because he might very well cum at any second, to take it slow because he wanted it to last, because he needed it to last.
We made it last. Every time one of us came close to orgasm or when his ass started to hurt, we would stop, pause, giggle, kiss, catch our breath, stick our heads of out the window to cool off our sweaty foreheads. Then we'd start again.
When he finally came, my body was pressing against his, our chafed lips glued to each other. His furious jerking movement was punching me in the stomach, then the spray of his cum slimed both our chests. I came inside him instantly, thrashing violently, hugged tightly by his orgasmic spasms.
"Oh my fucking god," he said again, or whispered rather, between hiccupped exhaling and chuckles. I felt stung with sadness, briefly but powerfully, at the thought that it was over, that we had cum (and cum so much and so hard it felt sex couldn't be had again for a long, long time), that Joshua had been fucked for the first time in years and that it would be years before that happened again (if ever), that the box of condoms was now unsealed, was now common. But his smile, oh his smile, washed all of it away. He even burst into laughter, uncontrollable, childish laughter, kicking his legs on the mattress. "Oh my fucking god!" he shouted once more.
* * *
The way I remember it, Joshua and I had sex almost every day, and quite often twice, during our two weeks of camp together. It seems physiologically impossible, even for two young men in their sexual prime. And yet.
We certainly didn't sleep much, which, looking back, is also biologically puzzling. But we could only truly be alone whenever everyone else had gone to bed. We did both sometimes pretend to be tired and have an early night (within an inconspicuous fifteen-minute interval), and it helped that neither of our respective roommates ever socialized with us or with anyone in our groups of friends. Since it was mostly conducted outside, our affair was also made possible by the summer weather and the scarcity of rain - even though one nightly storm had made us feel safer about the absence of onlookers and bolder during the long, loud, rough fuck we had, protected under the bleachers. We did make full use of the absence of my roommate the second weekend, but otherwise we walked around the campus, lay in the bushes, sat on the ground behind buildings. We tried, unsuccessfully, to break into the swimming pool, but managed once to enter a classroom (Joshua had instantly wanted to jerk off together there, sitting in adjacent chairs in the back of the class). The secrecy was thrilling, of course, and the daring, playful stealth suited well the exalted post-graduation mood I was basking in, the sense of possibility, mischief, and self-challenge I was so eager to indulge in.
There were very few evenings we didn't spend together; I can only remember one. The baseball coach had decided to treat his two assistants to a dinner and a movie, but had extended the invitation to a thrilled Joshua. It gave me the chance to spend time alone with Erin, something I had been craving. She had tacitly established that Joshua and I were a couple of some sort, but had kept her conviction from the others. The few moments we found ourselves alone, she tactfully doted on me with unambiguous friendship. In front of the others, however, she often made flirtatious and suggestive jabs, but whether this was intended to keep up her own image or to shield me from suspicion, I couldn't tell.
She too was thrilled we'd be having some alone time and set out to make arrangements: she got the car of one of her friends and told me she'd take me to a bar. She was 21 and I wasn't, but she waved off any concern. "The place I have in mind is full of old people. Like old old, way past forty-year old, you know. They never card and I really can't see the ATF raiding it. We'll be fine."
We got in fine indeed and sat in a booth. Our youth didn't seem to make us conspicuous; we were rather ignored by a rowdy ageing crowd, indifferent to two giddy youngsters. I had to wave three times before the heavily made-up old waitress came to take our orders. She did call me "honey", though, in a raspy, tired voice.
"So, I can't ask you about Joshua, right?" Erin asked as soon as we had the first sip of our beers.
"I don't know, what do you want to ask?"
"I'm not sure, actually. A part of me wants to know everything. Another, well, not so much. Also, I don't think you'd actually tell me everything even if I asked. Not right here, not right now."
"If not now, when?" I smiled, hoping that Erin, who proudly boasted her expertise in all things Jewish, would catch the Hillel reference. She did.
"When you're not for yourself and I will be for you," she quipped back.
"We're such dorks."
"Obfuscatingly so, yes."
"Nice one, Erin. I don't think it's a word, though."
"What I meant," she said, steering herself back on track, "is that I have a feeling we'll actually be able to have this conversation when we'll be away from each other. Like, you'll write to me and tell me things you don't or wouldn't while we're here."
"I don't know, I just have that strong inkling. I hope I'm right too: I really do want to stay in touch with you and become your confidante. I know some good stories are in store and I don't want to miss out," she winked.
"How very Madame de Merteuil of you."
"Exactly. You'll be my gay Valmont."
"Don't they end up, like, killing each other at the end?"
"We don't have to be so literal."
"So I'm gay?" I asked after a pause.
"Oh, I don't know. My bad, I guess I like to think you are. I don't want to be the confidante of a boring straight man."
"So I'm either a gay lothario or a boring straight man?"
"Kind of. If you were, like, a hundred percent straight, you're going to meet and marry this astounding chick, very smart, and witty, and a bit distant. And she'll be a cool lawyer or an awesome doctor, or something. And she'll also be really hot, so, naturally, I'll hate her and I'll hate hearing you babbling about how cool your loft in Tribeca is and how your daughter Rainbow plays the piano so well and all that."
"My daughter's name is Rainbow?" I chuckled.
"Or Alexandra. Or Myrtille. Yes, it is."
I smiled at her and drank some more. I tried to play footsy, for reason I couldn't quite grasp, but she pulled her foot away and grabbed my hand over the table instead.
"So we won't talk about Joshua," she said leaning forward, conspiratorially. "I guess you'll have to listen to my very vivid fantasies about Baseball Heartthrob."
"You fancy him?"
"Don't act surprised. All the girls at camp do."
"That doesn't surprise me. It surprises me that you do."
"I don't know. I saw you as going for someone more, like, edgy."
"You think you're edgy? Dark, troubled, and nefarious, Mister Bad Boy?"
"So you fancy me?" I asked mischievously.
"You know I do. And no, he is not edgy, much less than you for sure. But he is hot. His non-edginess is hot."
"There's some boiling water underneath that clean-cut, model handsome face surface. Don't you think?"
"I don't know. Maybe. He is married, though."
"Yes and he decides to spend five weeks of his summer boarding with college-age kids. With just the occasional visits from the wifey. I'm thinking he is highly negotiable, sex wise. Whatever he gets at home doesn't seem that fulfilling."
"Oh, come on. Poor guy. He is so nice and friendly. We don't know what his home life is like."
"He is very nice and friendly. I know that, he has lunch and dinner at my table every fucking day. He is lovely and endearing. And I'd like to fuck his brains out."
"Do you think he'd be good in bed?"
"I'd unleash his inner sex god," she said, with a satisfied smile. "It'd be fucking awesome," she added, earnestly.
"I could see that," I said, actually visualizing the two of them going at it, in places on campus and in positions not unlike those Joshua and I had experienced.
We ordered more beers. A soft, delicate silence had fallen upon our table. I felt a pang of sadness clouding my mood. I didn't know whether it was the earlier mention of the forthcoming time when Erin and I would only talk through letters, or my reluctance to talk about Joshua, or the withering of the sexual tension between Erin and me. It was something else, I realized more clearly, while taking a gulp of my second beer.
"It's kind of sad, all this," I said, searchingly.
"Well, the way you seem to envision love and sex when we're adults, like real adults. Rainbow is the daughter of boringly perfect marriage, Baseball Heartthrob is unfulfilled and is tailing young women at a summer camp. I mean, is this what we're headed for?"
"Not if we can avoid it."
"I think so," she replied decidedly. "I hope so. I think it requires some work and effort not to let yourself trap in the mold of dullness. But I hope it can be done. For a while, at least. Until you're exhausted, and worn, and ready to get in slippers and drink chamomile."
"I guess," I said meekly.
"Are you worried about any of this?"
"In a way, I probably am, yes. I'm entering college at the end of the summer and, I don't know, I want it to be extraordinary and thrilling."
"Epic, exactly. Or something like that. I want it to be intense. And now you're saying that I'm going to fall in love and be boring."
"Not if you're gay."
"Oh come on," I said, a little annoyed.
"Sorry. I'm only kidding. Or not. My point is, I wouldn't worry. Whatever you are, you strike me as being a lot like me and --"
"I'm nothing like you."
"You are, a bit. I think you and I fall in love easily but not deeply. We get exalted. We are Romantics. You know, with a capital R. But, and I know it's trite, but there you have it: we fall in love with love, we are excited by the excitement."
"Like Fitzgerald and Zelda."
"We will never be boring because we will never be bored," I quoted.
"Did they say that?"
"Yes, I think they did."
"What freaking clichιd snobs we are then."
"That, we are," I concurred.
"You'll see, you'll have a grand time in college. Tormenting, exhilarating time. I certainly do."
"Then we'll need to stay on course, to live the life, you know. I don't mean to be crass, but I fully intend on fucking a lot of people, even after I graduate. Like, a lot," she said, gleaming.
"I'll drink to that."
"You're very intense, Benjamin. And intense people either get a whole lot of sex - or none at all."
"My god, we're so young and stupid," I jokingly lamented.
"And I, my friend Ben, will drink to that."
* * *
Joshua wanted to take a drive and show me the natural beauties of Vermont. It was appealing, even though it meant putting on clothes, something neither of us had done since our late morning swim.
We climbed into his large pick-up truck and took off. The windows were open wide, to forego air conditioning. The wind and the motor combined to produce a mellowing, even if slightly deafening, noise which precluded much conversation. Joshua did occasionally and quite excitedly point at and name sites, flora and fauna. I felt relaxed and happy; I kicked off my sneakers, pulled off my socks, and stretched my legs over the window, my feet getting a rough cool-off from the speedy air.
"You're like my dog," Joshua said appreciatively. "He loves sticking his head out of the window when we drive."
"I didn't see a dog at your place."
"Corey has him this month. I miss him."
"The dog?" I asked jokingly.
"Yes, you fucker, the dog."
We drove for more than an hour among forests and plains, picturesque bridges and off roads. Joshua had put some on some horrible country music radio station; when I finally, and discreetly, attempted to change the tune, I realized it was a CD.
"I want to be naked again," I said, bemused. "It's like my new addiction."
"Well, try to keep your clothes on for a little longer," he said as we entered what looked like a little village. "I'm a pillar of this community, remember? But I know just the place."
We reached the place he had in mind twenty minutes later. We parked by the road and hiked for another twenty minutes, until we got to a creek, shaded by luscious trees and scattered with rocks of various sizes. Joshua started to undress and I followed his example. He then walked tentatively, stepping from one small rock to another, until he reached a boulder in the middle of the running, freezing water. He lay down and watched me make my way towards him. I lay next to him, shuffling my body to find the position that would alleviate the discomfort of my naked body against the rough surface of the rock. I felt it scratch my flesh.
It was warm, very warm. There was no breeze, but the cold water seemed to cool us off a bit. I felt Joshua reach for my hand; I lay one of my legs on top of his.
"Can I ask you something, Joshua?" I said tentatively. "And it's okay if it's none of my business."
"You can ask me anything," he said casually, not opening his eyes.
"Okay. Well. The summer we met, we talked about our past a bit, our previous experiences."
"You said something that has been gnawing at me ever since. I've always felt a bit guilty about not asking you about it back then."
"Yes, like I didn't care or something. But it wasn't that I didn't care, I just didn't want to force you to talk about something which made you uncomfortable."
"What is it?" he said, still looking up, basking eyes closed.
"I had the feeling that one of your early experiences wasn't, I don't know, consensual or something. That you were trying to tell me that maybe you had been... molested?"
"Wow. Molested? No, never. I don't know where you got that from."
"Never mind, then."
"Well, actually, I think I do know where you may have got that from. And I'm sorry if the misunderstanding stayed with you like that."
"What was it?"
"Nothing. I mean, not much." He stayed silent for a long a while. I stayed quiet and immobile, save from a squeezing of his hand. "I've never really talked about this with anyone, I don't know why."
"Okay," I said patiently.
"My first experience was with an older man. With the father of a friend."
"Yeah, I know."
"Who was he? Someone close?"
"No, not really. His name was Jim. He was the dad of Scotty, a guy I met at soccer practice. Scotty and I were good buddies, but not really close friends. But I hung out at his house occasionally. Both his houses, actually: Scotty's parents were divorced and had joint custody. I was sleeping over one night, at his dad's place, and the three of us were talking, quite late, drinking the one beer he had allowed us to share."
"How progressive of him."
"He was a drunken mess, rather."
"Scotty was kind of a brat. He said he was heading to bed and just stood up and left. I felt a little weird because we didn't offer help to clean up. So I did. I thought his dad would just say, No, that's fine, just go, but he didn't. So I helped him, then he said we should share one last beer together. I wanted to look cool so I said yes. We talked a little bit, sitting on the couch next to each other. He was really drunk, it seemed, and he was going on and on about women being bitches, about Scotty's mother, about how I should pick wisely when I get hitched, and all that. Then he was silent so I took it as my cue to leave. But he lay a hand on my thigh and just mumbled something about him missing sex. I left the room as casually as I could and went to bed. But I couldn't sleep. I could still feel the imprint of his hand of my thigh. And I was fucking hard."
"He was hot."
"Yeah. I mean, I thought so. I thought so then, that night. I had never really considered it before. It's funny because Jim was probably not much older than what we are now."
"Then what happened?"
"Some weeks later, I had to drop some equipment for Scotty. I stopped by his place but he was at his mother's house that week. His dad opened the door. He looked a little disheveled, with his shirt open and old sweatpants. He also smelled of beer, I think. But I was a little petrified. I played it cool of course --"
"He let me in and insisted I have a drink with him. It was late afternoon and I was freaking out my mother would smell something on my breath when I got home. I declined, but he insisted I stay, watch ESPN or something with him for a minute. It's fucking good to see you, he kept saying."
"And you stayed."
"I did. I had jerked off so many times in the weeks before thinking about him, that it felt like I couldn't not stay, you know?"
"What did you think about when you jerked off?"
"I don't know. Mostly jerking off together. Or peeping and spying to see him jerking off. Fucking a woman together, once. Stuff like that. Maybe getting a blow job from him, too. But I always felt wretched after I came. Guilty, nauseated, disgusted."
"I see. So you stayed."
"I did and we watched some TV in total silence for a while. Then he said something like how before I arrived he was going to watch a porn tape he had rented and that I should either leave or watch it with him, because he really wanted to watch it before he had to go out or something."
"So you stayed," I repeated.
"Yes. And we jerked off together in silence, and I thought I was going to explode with horniness and guilt. We came and he fetched a dirty t-shirt that was on the floor and wiped both our stomachs with it. I remember, because I remember I was dying to take that t-shirt away with me, keep it for me forever. I was already thinking about jerking off again sniffing that t-shirt." He turned his head towards me and looked at me, querying my reaction. When none came, he resumed: "He called me two weeks later and said that Scotty was at his mom's again and that I was welcome to stop by and, you know, hang out. And so it started: every other week, two or three times, I'd go to Jim's house after school. We jerked off, then started blowing each other, then fucking too. The first time he fucked me, it hurt like hell, and I felt dirty and hateful and disgusting. But I got used to it and started to enjoy it a bit. I liked fucking him, because I liked how crazy wild he'd get."
"Did you guys ever talk or, you know, kiss and cuddle?" I asked, feeling a bit sheepish.
"Yes and no, not really. I think I was too horny when I'd get to his place, and too fucked up with guilt after we were done with the sex."
"How long did it last?"
"A few weeks. Months. I'm not sure. One day, we were groping each other on the sofa and he stood up and motioned me to follow him. We had always had sex in the living room, so I wasn't sure what he was up to. He climbed the stairs and pushed open the door of Scotty's bedroom. He had a nasty grin on his face and was touching his hard cock when he sat down on Scotty's bed, on his son's bed. I freaked out. I really did. I yelled at him that he was sick and disgusting and ran downstairs, got dressed and ran out."
"Yeah. He tried to call me several times, but I never returned his calls. Plus my mom was starting to wonder why Scotty's dad was calling more often than Scotty himself. I felt so ashamed, it was horrible. I couldn't sleep well, my appetite was dwindling, I was abrasive with everyone. Not happy times."
"Are you okay," I asked after he'd been silent for a while. "I'm sorry I brought all this up."
"Stop being sorry," he said, smiling, and planted a kiss on my lips. "I'm fine. That was so long ago. And I live very far away from all that. This is Vermont, beautiful Vermont."
"Yes," I said, as I climbed on him, lifted his legs to wrap them around me, and kissed his left ear. "Beautiful Vermont," I whispered.
* * *
Once, we made up some excuse and skipped dinner with everyone in the Hall. I had wanted to enjoy the particular light you get in summers' early dusks. I wanted to be away from the noise and the neon lights. I wanted to walk.
So we did. We left the confines of the campus and we started to walk. We passed some strip malls and gas stations, we veered right, then left, then left, then right again. We walked on country roads side by side, in silence, our hands softly grazing. At some point, Joshua took out from his backpack a small of bottle of alcohol - gin or vodka, I can't remember - the kind of small bottles you get in a hotel minibar. I smiled quizzically. "Don't ask," he said, theatrically mysterious, "I know people." We drank as we walked, keeping up the steady pace of men with a purpose.
We tried to find a forest, we only saw trees; we hoped to run across a river or a stream, we only saw small, despondent ponds; we tried to get lost, I think, but we didn't. Not really.
But we kept walking and all my glances at Joshua seemed to sparkle a little beauty. The glistening sweat on his neck. His frowning face bronzed by the evening sun. The tense muscles sculpting his hairy calves. His half open mouth, breathing rhythmically and drying his lips.
"What?" he asked when he caught me looking at him.
"Nothing," I smiled.
He threw the empty tiny bottle in a garbage bin, another telling sign that we hadn't veered that far off civilization. He pulled another bottle from his bag, this one had brown liquid in it, probably whisky.
We walked and drank for another two hours. It got really dark at some point, but we had conveniently walked full circle and were close to the college when our legs and our drunk brains started to show signs of failing us. Soon we passed the gates, we saw lights and heard noises. Joshua led the way, turning left when a right would have taken us back to our dorm. We reached a shed where some sports equipment was stored. Behind it was one of our spots, secluded, but open on a hill, shedding us from the rest of campus and offering us quiet, privacy and the stars. Joshua dropped and lay on the ground and exhaled loudly. I sat next to him, moving his head on my lap. He grabbed my hand, placed it on his chest and closed his eyes. We had barely exchanged a word that evening but I had never felt closer to him.
"I think I'm gay, Ben," he suddenly said, looking away.
I stayed silent for a long time. I felt disloyal for not joining in the confession and introspection, but it was a step I wasn't ready to make, a statement I wouldn't be ready to utter for a few more months. "It's going to be all right," was all I said, lamely.
"We live in different worlds, Ben."
"Do we, though?"
"Do people in your family randomly use the word 'faggot' to insult anyone and everyone?"
"We live in different worlds, Ben."
"Okay." Uncomfortable with the ensuing silence, I added, perfunctorily: "What makes you think you're gay?"
He chuckled. "You gotta be kidding me."
I felt stupid and sulking and useless. I wanted to get up again and resume our walk, not letting tiredness and aimlessness stop us this time, hold firmly his hand, instead of letting our pendulum movements decide when they connected, hug him from behind and kiss him on his sweaty neck, for the world to see my affection for him, for Joshua to feel the care and warmth on which I wanted him to get drunk. I wanted to find the words for him to believe the blotched truth that he would be fine somehow, someday, even if I actually didn't know how nor when. For I had no idea where Joshua was headed; he seemed at a forked road, when my path looked like a straight arrow. He seemed to have to choose between Dudetown and Faggotville; I was headed to Princeton.
"Fuck, I don't want this summer to end," he said with mocked anger, but underlying anguish.
"Me neither," I said, meekly, for I knew that I couldn't wait for September to come.
* * *
"This is Corey, I'm guessing?" I asked, pointing at a young man in a framed photograph perched on the fireplace.
"Yes," Joshua said casually, passing me briskly, heading outdoors. "Come on, let's have another quick swim."
"Oh please, spare me."
"You're all sweaty and you have stinky feet. We need to get in the water."
"And the lake will wash us off?"
"The lake will cleanse you of all your sins," he jibed, undressing as he marched on.
* * *
It was harder to sneak away and leave the group behind on weekend nights. That second Friday night, at the dawn of the second Saturday without the curbing presence of my roommate, we lay on my bed naked, exhausted after an evening of beer and cards with Mike and Rob. We had taken our clothes off silently but briskly, communing in our eagerness for peace, quiet, and a good night of rest. The prospect of falling asleep and waking up together seemed to supersede and dampen any sexual urgency - as if, now that we could, we didn't really have to.
The bed was small. We crammed next to each other, without turning the lights off, not just yet. Our legs mingled, our arms contorted around each other. There was the whiff of a stench, beer and sweat and feet. The crude light made Joshua and I look paler than we actually were.
The view of his body was disconcerting and halting. He was naked, he was very naked. He was casually, ordinarily, everyday-manly naked. It was most likely the absence of an erection, on his part as well as on mine, that made the moment, his presence, his flesh so illicitly foreign. He didn't have a dick or a cock, he had a penis. His arms, his thighs, his mouth or his ass weren't the agents and the subjects of sexual exertions, they were the limbs, organs and body parts with which he grabbed a tray in the dining hall, kicked a ball on the field, sipped a beer, or toweled dry after a shower. But they lay, moved, and shuffled right next to me, naked, thick, and exposed. Mine.
The awe of a naked female body is different, I thought, completely different. Naked girls exist almost exclusively, and for the longest time, in pictures. Movies, ads, porn. Moving or still images revealing what can only be guessed, grazed, or mentally drawn. Sleeping with a girl is bringing the uncommon, the extraordinary, into the very common: your bed, your body, your hands. Sex with a man, I realized, is initially the opposite. The very common nakedness of guys, glanced at, studiously ignored, forced upon you in locker rooms, sleepovers and showers, is thrown at you in the most uncommon, the most extraordinary setting: a forbidden and overpowering sexual disorientation. When you first sleep with a girl, you get the affirming feeling you've arrived. When you first sleep with a guy, you are drunk with displacement.
"Woah. There is a naked dude on the bed, right next to me," Joshua suddenly said, echoing and expressing out loud very much the essence of my thoughts.
* * *
I was sitting on the kitchen counter while Joshua was cooking pasta. The proximity of a stove and boiling tomato sauce had made us both instinctively put boxers on, but I was gazing at Joshua's large, tan back while sipping a beer distractedly.
"What did you actually do after college, Joshua? After that summer?"
"That's right, we never really talked after camp," he said casually, the first time either of us acknowledged the ugliness of our parting.
"I remember you said you wanted to do something related to sports?"
"Well," he said turning around and flashing me a grin, "I got a job at a Footlocker in Pittsburgh."
"Yeah. I actually stayed there for a while. I was assistant manager for, like, three years I think. Then I left and came up here. Best thing I ever did."
"What made you decide to move?"
"It was either that or jumping off a bridge really," he chuckled, while turning his spoon in the sauce. "I was in a really bad place. I just had to get out."
"Tell me," I said, more confident that he was comfortable sharing with me.
"I was involved with a married man."
"For how long?"
"Well, almost three years. It started soon after that summer."
"I see," I said, feeling stupid for being a tad stung that I had been replaced so fast.
"You know him, actually," he said, turning to face me, setting his dripping spoon down.
"Todd, the baseball coach."
"Todd, the baseball coach," he repeated, with a roguish smile.
"That's so fucking random."
"Not really. He lived in Pittsburgh too, remember, and it's not far-fetched to run into a baseball coach in a Footlocker."
"Baseball fucking Heartthrob."
"Ha. I forgot you guys called him that."
"So, that's where you saw him again. You sold him shoes?"
"Yes. And we swapped numbers so that we could hang out. We went out for beers a few times until, well, it became sort of obvious that something was going on."
"How did it actually happen?"
"It's kind of thanks to you, actually. Or you and me, I guess. One night, we were fairly drunk and he started asking questions about you, about how close we seemed to be and all that. I think I may have blushed or something, but I definitely gave us away. Then he started telling me that he had had such a close friendship with a dude when he was in college too. Then he got all teary-eyed telling me about it. So I drove him home and we kissed in the car."
"Yes. And that's how it started."
"And it lasted three years?
"Almost, yes. It was fantastic at first. I was really falling for him and I thought he was falling for me. But he wouldn't come out to his wife, let alone leave her. He never said that in so many words and I liked to believe he'd leave her for me at some point. But, you know, after a while, there is only so much denial you can indulge in."
"I'm sorry, I know it's such a terrible sad boring story. The mistress who pines for the man to leave his wife. I felt like shit most of the time we were together. So fucking pathetic."
"Well, why did you stay, you think?"
"I think I was really in love with him, actually. I thought I was, definitely. I was unhappy, but when we were actually together, it was pretty awesome. But we had to hide all the time, everywhere and to everyone. It gets at you, you know."
"Then his wife got fucking pregnant and still I stayed. And waited. And pined." He turned back to the sauce, ground some salt and pepper, then resumed: "It was also very, very shallow, but, you know, he was so fucking gorgeous. I mean, he was seriously hot."
"I know," I laughed, "I remember."
"Man, guys can be so freaking stupid when they're young. I was such a dumb ass."
"Did he ever hit on you when we were at camp?"
"No, never. I mean, he took an interest in me, which felt great, but I never felt anything sexual. Maybe I had a terrible gaydar."
"None of us suspected anything like that. I remember Erin had a sex crush on him."
"Yes," I remembered, smiling, "she wanted to do all sorts of things with him and to him."
"Ha. Well, he certainly was a bit wild in bed. But not with women, I think. Not with his wife, at least."
"Do you know where he is now?"
"Nope, I broke off all contacts with him. I never looked back."
"You didn't message him on LinkedIn?" I joked teasingly.
"He's too hot to be on LinkedIn," he volleyed back.
I laughed and he told me to move, so he could drain the pasta. He served two full, gigantic plates and led us outside, on the pillows and with the view we had enjoyed the evening before.
"So what made you finally leave?" I asked.
"I told you. I was miserable. I was lonely, I felt worthless and stupid and ugly. It was horrible. I guess some survival instinct kicked in and I decided I had to get out. Go far and leave everything behind. I quit my job, packed my stuff, wrote him a letter, came out to my mother on the phone and drove north."
"Wow. How did she take it?"
"Not great. But I didn't care. I knew she'd be so ashamed that she wouldn't tell any living soul, so it gave me some time to decide who and when to tell next. I got here, found a small place and asked my dad for a job at one of the store."
"How was your relationship with him?"
"Not much of one. He was puzzled to see me on his front door, but I guess the old man liked the idea of his son working for the family business."
"You came out to him?"
"About a year later. Then he stopped talking to me. Outside of work, that is. At the store or in the offices, he never flinched or gave anything away. I was good and committed so, you know, I climbed up the ranks. We were co-managers after a couple of years, but still, he would not talk to me outside of work."
"I didn't really care. I had decided to set up my life here, not to let anyone bully me any longer. I figured he'd come round eventually."
"Kind of. He's had health issues for a while, so he's barely at work now. I decided to start visiting him and he never threw me out. That's progress, right? His dumb wife was always petrified, though, as if I was trying to wake up a monster. It was kind of funny."
"I see them from time to time. I have a stepbrother and a stepsister, did I tell you that? I don't hang out with them much, though. I'm happy here. This is my life, you know?"
"I mean, I made this. All of it. The job, this house, Corey."
Perplexed, I let that last part go, and slipped a huge amount of pasta in my mouth.
* * *
Young Joshua was obsessed with masturbation. He relished talking about it, about his experiences and that of others, mine included. On numerous occasions, he asked detailed questions about my habits and history. When did I start? How often did I do it? Where had I done it? He shared the same information about himself and passed on animatedly every answer he had gotten to these questions from other guys (friends, cousins, hookups). He apparently had a knack to make guys talk about jerking off; I noticed it myself once, when we were hanging out with Mike and Rob and we spent thirty minutes discussing the thrills and perils of jacking off in college dorms, without either of them once bemoaning that the conversation was "too fucking gay" (a complain they rarely hesitated to voice).
During the first few days together, we indeed mostly jerked off together in increasingly random or far-fetched places or settings. The glee in his eyes when he was furiously stroking his cock and avidly watching me doing the same, was astounding. It was even more so when he voiced out loud, just after orgasm, his thrill that he had sprayed his cum on places or objects which he both happily defiled and proudly made his own, not unlike an animal marking his territory. A classroom, a bathroom, a sport field, a tree, a door, a path, a ball: he also loved thinking and talking about the further life of these places and objects, now that they had been soiled by his semen. "Woaw, some dude is going to kick on this ball! Can you imagine?"
Whereas masturbating together was a bonding and playful activity, oral sex seemed always somehow to be more of a personal experience for Joshua. He wasn't a man to look you in the eyes while hungrily slurping on your cock. He sucked fervently, dedicatedly, using mouth and hands and tongue and lips, often brushing off my attempts to blow him too, making me wait to do so until he had assuaged his need to lose himself in the act. He was good, astonishingly good at times, but he was never more disconnected from me than when he was sucking my cock, sucking another man's cock.
Fucking was altogether another experience. He fucked me once. It was my first time, but it didn't feel momentous. It happened behind a bush, where we had switched uncomfortably from one sucking position to another hand job posture. His cock had pressed against my ass at some point, on the taint actually, but he had thought he was against my hole. He had a questioning look, to which I answered with an authorizing smile. I turned on my stomach and I positioned his dick where it should be. He entered me with difficulty, but I didn't want to stop him, grateful as I was that he had let me fuck him on numerous occasions, without ever expressing demands of reciprocation. It felt equitable and polite to let him inside me. It hurt for a while, then it stopped hurting, but it never became pleasant. He fucked me rhythmically, rather studiously too, and I wondered for a brief moment if he had been a good lover to his girlfriend, as fantastic a lover as he had generally been with me. I was very aware that I was most likely, at that very moment, a lousy one. I was waiting for him to finish, my cheek muddied and scratched on the ground. He couldn't cum, however, and asked me if he could suck me some more.
Joshua was very puzzled that I hadn't enjoyed the penetration. He was very puzzled that he did himself enjoy so much being fucked. The first time I had been inside him had indeed been for both of us an almost revelatory experience. We each had had some practice with previous lovers (though I had concluded that my limited one must have been much smaller than his vaguely described own) but the nature and the intensity of the connection we shared, of the shuddering pleasure we felt, seemed to us new and transformative. On my part, I remember knowing then, when we were panting in each other's arms, post-orgasm, that we would be together for the rest of the camp, at least, that our awe would carry us through, would lock us close until only distance could undo us.
We fucked often - Joshua usually, though not always, initiating it, and I can't recall an instance when it didn't feel brutally astounding, viscerally amazing. It was difficult to share these feelings with Joshua, however. Before the actual sex, his horniness was never really conducive for open-hearted confessions about the beauty of fucking. He liked to talk about sex, but with a graphic and foretelling urgency: positions tried and positions yet to be executed. After sex, while his post-orgasmic silences brought our hands, legs or shoulders together, I had quickly learned that any attempt at a conversation related to fucking would be unsuccessful, would only be met by an uneasy shrug.
* * *
It was much later, and darker, when we were sprawled naked on the deck, surrounded by scattered empty beer bottles, and Joshua asked me "Why are you single, Ben?"
I scoffed. "It's an impossible question to answer and surely you know this is something you never ask anybody who's single and over the age of thirty."
"You're not anybody."
"I am everybody."
"I mean it," he insisted.
"Please, don't give me the whole 'you're attractive and smart, anybody should be lucky to have you' and all that."
"I wasn't going to. I might have said you're kind and affectionate. You seem pretty mature too."
"And being single is a sign of immaturity?"
"Yes," he said gently, with a resolve that surprised me. "Have you never been in love?"
"A thousand times."
"I mean it. I think. I don't know, Joshua. I'm not sure what you want me to say."
"You were a pretty intense and introspective guy when you were young. I figure you must have some thoughts."
"Well, I'm not sure I do."
He crawled closer to me and lay his head on my stomach. He raised and moved his left arm, signaling that he was looking for mine. When I offered my hand to his, he grabbed it and rested both on his chest.
"Are you single by choice?" he tried again.
"No. That, I am not. But I'm not pining for it. It'll come."
"Yes," he said, "I don't doubt that. You never met someone you could see yourself spending a long, long time with?"
"Yes, I have. Once." I told him about the man whom I had loved deeply and seriously, who had loved me genuinely in return (I'm pretty sure) but who had firmly rebuffed my then habitual and self-defeating attempts at dictatorially establishing co-dependence. A man who had asserted his own independence and free-will so plainly he had turned me into the kind of unsecure and neurotic mess I myself had always dashed away from.
"So, you got hurt," he concluded equably.
"Yes, I did. And to be honest, I feel like I'm only emerging out of the slut phase I dove into to get over him," I said, uncovering along that simplistic truth which had eluded me so far.
"So, you don't rebound."
"No, I bang, I guess."
"Deep thoughts. I told you." He moved and lay on me, kissing me sweetly.
"So, you didn't have a slut phase when Corey left?" I asked when he released my mouth.
"No. Not really. Not at all, actually."
"Did you try to rebound then?" I asked, suddenly wary and uncertain about the turn of the conversation I had just steered, about its implication for my very presence in that house.
"Nope. Right now, it's all about me," he said before kissing me again.
* * *
Our last evening at the camp turned ugly.
Joshua and I had been nervous and touchy with each other the whole day on the field. We only had a few hours left together, less than twenty-four by the time training was over and we bid farewell to the kids and coach. Neither of us seemed to find the appropriate attitude to convey our sadness to the other, nor to come up with plans for the evening that would give us enough time together while getting to hang out with our two groups of friends. There had never been much hope that these two groups might one day really mingle and enjoy each other's company. The rants voiced at lunch by Erin and some of the theater girls against Mike and Rob (Such pigs. Chauvinistic pigs too.) had eradicated any possibilities of a big, inclusive get-together, one from which Joshua and I may have slipped out discreetly at a reasonable hour. My roommate was going back home at some point that evening; we would hence have the whole suite to ourselves. For the night and for the morning. That freedom and beguiling prospect made us more open to pack the evening with various plans and to resign ourselves to party-hop across the campus until, finally, we could hold each other and be silent.
We settled on a tentative and slightly improbable plan: we'd have dinner separately with our respective friends, then I'd meet up with him, Mike and Rob and hang for a while before joining Erin and her group again. Joshua would stay "for a couple of beers" with the football guys, most likely joined at some point by the wrestlers. He'd then come up with an excuse to find me and take me away to my room, to our room.
I was slightly irritated by all the reasons why this plan could go awry, I became even more so when I saw Joshua enter the dining hall, an hour later: as had been his habit since I'd met him, he was dressed differently when he was hanging out Mike and Rob. He dressed down, definitely; I even noticed he wouldn't wear cologne or deodorant, his idea of masculinity (or rather, his idea of Mike and Rob's idea of masculinity) apparently involving baggy jeans or sweatpants and a whiff of B.O. I knew I shouldn't have gotten upset or care too much about it, but I had bought Joshua a rather cool, vintage-looking t-shirt with the emblem of the college we were staying in as a goodbye gift; when he high-fived the footballers while picking up a tray, I saw he was wearing his stained Bon Jovi shirt.
This last dinner was a bit emotional. Baseball Heartthrob seemed genuinely disheartened by the prospects of most of us leaving the next day. Erin was even sweeter than usual, her hands always seemed to be somewhere on me. I promised I would meet up with them later in her room; she kissed me on the lips goodnight, not entirely believing I would be keeping that pledge.
"Look who's here," Rob exclaimed, unsurprised, as I entered his stuffy, drab room.
"It figures," Mike quipped ambivalently. He was lounging on the bed, his legs spread wide, overlooking Rob and Joshua, seated cross-legged on the floor. All three had a beer bottle in their hands; all three looked comfortably and leisurely lethargic.
"Hey man, you've made it," smiled Joshua.
Joshua had been dropping hints the previous days that Mike and Rob had seemed to resent my monopolizing of their friend. They seemed to feel entitled to a seniority claim on Joshua and, despite a couple of occasions when we had all hung out together and had reasonable, but not crazy-wild, fun, I had effectively steered him away from the pair at the end of most evenings.
"Are you here to take him away from us?" Rob asked, half-joking.
I felt hesitant and uncomfortable, somewhat unwelcome too. I nodded "no".
"Sit down," ordered Mike. "You're making me dizzy standing up like that. If we are to enjoy your company, get a beer and chill with us. It's a long night ahead."
"Cool, thanks. I'm only here for a little while, though. I just wanted to have some time with you guys," I said, rather non-committedly.
"Seeing Erin, tonight?" Rob asked, leering and a bit lecherous.
"Yeah," I answered neutrally, sipping on my beer.
"So, is he taking you away from us?" Rob repeated his question, this time directed at Joshua.
"Dunno," Joshua shrugged, before drinking and emitting a slight burp.
They talked about camp. They talked about the coaches, the kids. They talked about the parties they'd had the previous years. They exchanged their worst hang-overs stories. They talked about one girl, Tiffany or something, that Joshua supposedly had sex with two years ago (he never told me about her, so I didn't know whether he had omitted it or had lied to them). They made a lot of private jokes, making it even more difficult for me to pretend I was enjoying myself. They talked about the pranks they had played on a couple of "dorks" the year before. That really seemed to get them going; Mike and Rob couldn't stop laughing, Joshua couldn't hide his delight. Then, when the roaring subsided, Mike glanced at me, with the tiniest hint of spite, then turned to Joshua.
"I feel like we've barely seen you this year, Joshua my man," Mike said, rather coldly.
"It sucked," added a more cordial Rob.
"Well, you're seeing me now, dude," Joshua quipped, lightly punching Rob in the shoulder and obviously enjoying the attention of the twosome.
"Our little city boy really put a spell on you, buddy," Mike told Joshua, nodding at me.
"Yeah, like we're not good enough for you," Rob joked, unaware of what I thought was a large amount of truth in his statement.
"If you hadn't screwed that Erin chick, I would have thought you a proper faggot," Mike said to me, barely making the effort to have his comment appear playfully teasing.
"Nah, he doesn't look like a faggot," Rob disagreed genially.
"Not like that Kyle sissy from last year, remember?" Joshua said, overeager to shield me perhaps, to shield himself more obviously. As the laughter erupted, I shot him a stabbing glance, which he ignored.
"And what did Kyle look like?" I asked icily.
"He ran like a girl and --" Rob started, giggling.
"-- lisp, limp wrists, shrieky voice," Mike enumerated spitefully.
"I know, right!" Rob gurgled.
"Fucking drama queen too," Joshua lamented, joining his two friends.
Bilious emulation led them to talk over each other, recalling shreds of anecdotes and burping rants about the various "faggots" they had met at the camp the last few years. I felt nauseous and shaking. Weak, too. My head was buzzing, I heard mentions of "dropping the soap in the shower", some scatological jokes about asses, and other slurs and jabs. I know Joshua volunteered many of those because I was staring at him. I wanted to scream, briefly, I wanted to punch him, to stand up and violently kick his cheekbone. But I said and did nothing for a long while. I found the strength to interrupt them: "So none of you guys have any gay friends?"
Rob looked at me befuddled, Mike answered curtly "None that we know of, no."
"Good answer, dude! Wicked." Rob chuckled, impressed by his friend's wit.
"It's not like we actively seek their company, you know," Mike added, staring coldly at me.
"I'm sure you don't."
"You have gay friends?" Rob asked, unaware of the escalating tension between Mike and me and blind to Joshua's unease.
"Yes, I do. Guess what, I have black friends too. And girls. And people who can read."
I was breathing fast, but concealing my agitation, staring Mike down.
"I know your type, dude," Mike said, staring back at me, mixing joke and menace. "There are, like, tons of you at Penn State."
"And what's my type, Mike?"
"Self-righteous know-it-all. But fucking chicken shit."
The atmosphere tensed and I felt Joshua's contained panic ooze right next to me.
"Chicken shit?" I probed, a little thrown.
"Yes. Have you ever dated a black girl?"
"How many black kids actually go to your school?"
"I don't know. Some."
"Right," he continued. "And if you were a homo, would you tell us right now, right here, that you are gay, Mister liberal fucking preacher?"
"Yes, of course, I would," I said quickly, shaken with cold adrenaline.
"You would, huh?" Mike challenged me.
"Yes, I would," I repeated with exaggerated resolve.
"Okay, fine, then, my bad," Mike said smugly, raising his beer towards me, smiling with hateful malice.
"Chill out, guys. If Ben was gay, maybe you'd finally get your cock sucked, you fat looser," Rob punched Mike and laughed, oblivious and idiotic. I wanted to vomit my own cowardice. Joshua's face was still frozen in a constructed dumb jock look.
"We all could use more pussy this summer. Or fucking blow jobs," Rob continued, hoping to steer the conversation back to safer, familiar grounds.
"And what about you, Joshua," I glared at him nastily, "how are the blow jobs coming along? Or am I cock blocking you?"
He was looking down, his face contorted with pain and anger. Rob finally caught up with the vile atmosphere and tried to joke it away with a lame "Come on, guys".
"It's all right," I said, standing up, "I'll leave you guys to it. I certainly don't want to get in the way between you and all that pussy action."
"Dude, stay," entreated Rob as I slammed the door behind me.
My legs were shaking and I was breathing hard as I made my way back to my room. I wanted to get out and away, I felt like running outside, out of campus, out on the roads, but I couldn't bear the thought of encountering anyone anywhere. My room seemed safe and comforting, all I'd need would be to fall asleep and fast-forward to the morning, to the packing, to the drive back to Philly.
As I fumbled with my key trying to open the door, I heard the fast and heavy steps of someone coming towards me then felt the strong grip of Joshua on my biceps, forcefully pulling me towards him. "Ben, please," he pleaded, somehow between a shout and a whisper.
"Get off me, you fucking cunt," I barked between my clenched teeth, violently shrugging away from him.
The door finally opened and he pushed me inside and shut the door behind us. He looked terrified and hurt.
"Leave, Joshua," I said slowly. "Just fucking leave. Get out."
He didn't say anything for a long while, he just stared at me. I too felt rigid and immobile. "Leave," I managed to repeat, breathing out.
"It's all so easy for you, isn't it?" he said, evenly.
I was still choking on my shame, an effort that appeared harder than digesting my resentment. "Don't even try to go there, Joshua."
"But it is, Ben. You can just wave a fucking gay flag, leave the room with your head high, all the while not peeping a word about yourself. You can feel safe and superior. You're leaving tomorrow and it's so fucking easy to leave all this behind."
"It's your last day here too, Joshua."
"It's my last day here, Ben. It's not my last day with people like that. It's not my last day of lying, of being fucking scared, of feeling like shit about myself."
I felt painfully uncomfortable. "Listen, if you came here to say you're sorry, then fine, it's done. You can really get the fuck out now."
He looked at me silently, expressionlessly. The uncertainty of the moment was suffocating. Then, suddenly, rapidly, violently, he took a step forward and punched me in the stomach.
I fell on the floor, knocked by the briefly excruciating pain, bunched up in two. But a wave of rage propelled me towards his legs. My fury pulled him down and he crashed on the floor. I jumped on him and tried every move, every thrust I could to hurt him. He resisted and we wrestled on the floor, grunting and exhaling violent hatred. We brawled some more until both our bodies seemed locked in a tight, wrathful embrace, until I saw him cry.
He went limp and I looked at him, panting and dumbfounded. It didn't soften or mellow me, to my surprise. I yelled insults at him instead. He grabbed me and hugged me so tight his fingernails were clawing on my back through my t-shirt. He sobbed, buried his face in my neck. When I felt myself getting hard, I really thought I was going to pass out with anger and self-disgust. Instead, I lost it.
I brusquely turned him over on his stomach and pulled down his shorts and underwear. I spit on my fingers and lubed his ass. I spit on my fingers and lubed my cock, which was now appallingly hard. I entered him and he grunted with pain. I wasn't going to stop and I wasn't going to ask him what he meant by the "Oh, Ben" he gagged. As I fucked him, roughly and rhythmically on the linoleum floor of the entryway, as I saw him cry and mutter "yes" and "oh, Ben", as I myself was fighting tears, my head was spinning with horror and animal lust. I finally and inexplicably snapped out of it, pulled out of him in frightened retreat and sat on the floor, holding my head with both hands. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Joshua."
He stood up silently and pulled his shorts up. He didn't look at me, just glanced back briefly, confused, before he opened the door and disappeared in the hall.
After a fitful night, I packed my things and locked the room behind me. I looked for and found Erin; she stayed silent about my not showing up the previous evening. She also mistook my miserable state for sweet heartbreak and hugged me tightly. "Remember, you and I are Romantics," she said as she kissed my ear. I wanted to scream.
My brother was there to pick me up. I climbed in his car. I did not see Joshua.
* * *
I opened one eye. I could tell it was still early, I couldn't tell precisely how early it was. We hadn't shut the curtains before we fell asleep the previous night, locked in post-orgasmic embrace. The morning sun flooded Joshua's bedroom, a breeze coming through the open windows was giving me light shivers. I sat on the bed and looked at him, sleeping on his stomach next to me, facing me, possibly dreaming.
I gently pulled the white sheet down his body, uncovering his large tan back, his round naked ass, his hairy thighs. I dropped the sheet on the back of his knees and looked at him some more. The black of his hair and beard was accentuated by the crisp white of the pillow. The sunrays made his skin golden. I smiled, giddy that my awe at male beauty had subsisted through years of nonchalance and growing wisdom, of porn and promiscuity, of bodies met, gazed at and possessed. I placed a kiss on his left ass cheek, which seemed to stir him a little. "Hi," I heard and turned to see him looking at me and smiling dazedly. "Hi," I said back, before kissing his right ass cheek and telling him to go back to sleep. He mumbled something I didn't get and closed back his eyes. He clenched his buttocks, though, then softened them, bucking his back a bit. I lay on my elbow and moved my hand softly over his back, his shoulder blades. I scratched lightly the base of his neck then started down, until I reached his ass, cupped his cheeks, grazed his crack with my index finger.
"What are you thinking about?" he asked.
"Nothing. I'm just watching you."
He opened his eyes again, yawned, then asked: "Have you been thinking about the summer we met?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, this weekend, since you've been here. Have you been thinking about the summer we met?"
"A little," I said, lying. "Have you?"
"A little. Flashes. How you've changed, how you haven't. You know."
"How hot it was, too."
"As in, the temperature?" I said, not fully certain what he meant.
"Nah. As in, how often we had sex and how hot it was."
"You don't agree?"
"I do. I fully agree," I winked.
I kissed the small of his back. He closed his eyes briefly, before resuming: "What is your hottest memory? You know, of us two?"
I smiled. "Joshua, I sit here with a semi-hardon, kissing your ass and your back. Yes, I'm easily flooded with hot images of the past, but it's hard to pick one."
"Okay," I thought for a moment. "There's actually one. It's hard to explain, but here it goes. We were having sex, past the shed, just before the trees, remember?"
"I remember the place. We often had sex there."
"Yes. We did. Actually, that time we were closer to the trees, like almost inside the woods."
"Does it matter how far into the trees we were?"
"Kind of, yes. Bear with me."
"So we were fucking. You were on all fours."
"Ha, yes. I never liked that idiom, though."
"Yes, anyway. I was so into it, like really batshit with lust, you know? And I raised myself a little and ended up like squatting while fucking you. You know, knees bent, standing on feet and toes, grabbing you by the waist to keep my balance, and pounding like a fucking rabbit."
"Well, that's it. That's one of the hottest moment I remember. The sensation was amazing but the position itself was, I don't know... animal. I know it's a fairly common position but, you know, I was still kind of new to all this and it was the first time I had used it. So I remember kind of losing it, fucking away like we were two actual animals in the woods, like our dicks and horniness had taken us over the edge, had made us beasts with primal instincts. Like we were mating, like we were in rut."
"Do you get what I'm trying to say?"
"I think so. It is hot."
"I came inside you."
"Yeah, we never did that, not that I remember. But that time, I just couldn't hold it. And I wanted it, I wanted to ejaculate inside you."
He stayed silent for a while, long enough for me to panic a little, fearing I had sullied both that moment in the past, and the moment in our present. "I'm sorry if it's weird."
"Not at all," he said with a large smile.
"Why are you smiling like that?"
"Well, because after what you just said, my hottest memory is either going to make you feel terrible or make me feel lame."
"What is it?" I asked eagerly.
"Well, it's when you told me you loved me," he said.
I could feel myself freeze; I am fairly sure I did not actually frown, but my mild puzzlement was nevertheless obvious to him.
"You don't remember, do you?" he said, laughing and punching me in the shoulder.
"I... I don't know. Yes, I think I do."
"Ha. You are so full of shit. My dear Ben, you are an awful person," he said, his words contradicted by the very large smile on his face.
"Fine, I'm sorry, I don't remember. Are you sure?"
"Yup. Positive. And it was after sex, not during, in case you were going to use that excuse."
"Yes, we were just hanging out, watching the stars, you know, and you said it."
"Okay. I don't think I remember. Does that make me a douche?"
"It does. It makes you a massive douche."
I licked and nibbled his back and his ass, trying to kiss away my embarrassment, trying to actually remember that moment. After a couple of minutes, I pushed myself closer to him, right to his face, and kissed the beard on his chin before telling him: "That makes you even more of a douche."
"How do you figure?"
"You didn't say 'I love you' back, did you?"
I volunteered to make coffee and squeeze some fresh grapefruits. When I brought it all on a tray, Joshua was sitting outside, on the steps of the deck leading to the lawn. He was naked and silent, just staring ahead, leaving unread the Sunday paper next to him. I slipped out of my boxers and sat next to him, handing him a mug and a glass. He smiled gently and looked back to the lake. It was my turn to ask "What are you thinking about?" It was his to reply "Nothing."
I left it at that, guessing, projecting maybe, that he was, not unlike me, becoming aware of the little time we had left together before I had to pack and drive back to Boston, to catch my late afternoon flight to DC. I wasn't sure he was, like me, pondering whether we needed to bring up the way things had ended years ago, whether we needed to make amends or get closure or whatever it is people do when trying to deal with an unpleasant past. I said nothing, neither did he. We just sipped and drank and watched the lake.
He did take my hand in his at some point. I did put my left foot on top of his right one. Our knees did touch, then touch again, then stayed together, glued by a light sweat. We were warmed by the sun, but protected by the shade of a nearby, tall pine tree.
When he had sipped the last of his coffee, he asked, without turning, "Could you get the lube and a condom?" I stood up silently, went upstairs, before coming back out with the objects I had been sent to fetch. Joshua hadn't moved. When I started to sit, however, he rose and motioned me gently towards the pillows on the deck. He shuffled them a bit into the shape of a bed and lay on his back all over them. He raised his hand, motioning me to give him the lube. He started to apply a copious amount on his hole, while staring at me. I felt myself getting hard, I saw myself getting hard. He waved me closer to him and, lying down in front of me towering above him, he stroked me with the cold lube gently, bringing me fast to full erection. I slipped on a condom and lowered myself between his slightly raised legs and, as I was about to enter him, he said: "I want to do it like this, stay like this. I know you like to change and switch positions, which is awesome, it really is. But right now, this time, I don't want to move, I just want to watch you inside me, watch you fuck me."
I nodded and felt the tip of my cock slide in easily. I kept the position for a few seconds, letting him get accustomed to my throbbing cock, letting him loosen to welcome me further in.
I did what he had wanted. I only changed and varied the rhythm, the depth, or the angle. But our eyes were locked, we were muted, save from the moans, groans and gasps that neither of us could hold in. I couldn't indeed take my eyes off him, off the beauty of his face, contorted in pleasure and amazement, of his body, quaking and tensing. It was only towards the end that he put his hand on his cock, to jerk himself off. I brushed it away and replaced it with mine, stroking him to climax in a few thrusts. As I felt his dick throbbing semen out through my tight grip, I let myself cum, filling the condom, filling him.
This time, however, he didn't linger, we didn't cuddle, we didn't doze. He stood up and, warmly but resolutely, said we both needed a shower. He let me have mine first, while he brushed his teeth for the second time that morning. While he took his, I packed the little stuff I had brought. In twenty minutes, we were clean, we were wearing clothes, we had nothing to do. My bag lay on the landing, at the top of the stairs, reminding me somehow of a dog, ready to follow its master.
I picked it up, thinking that getting it downstairs didn't have to carry any meaning. It may have, however, as Joshua said, when reaching the last step behind me, "I should fix you a sandwich before you go." I let him ahead and followed him to the kitchen, where I lifted myself to sit on the counter. As he opened the fridge, I told him to come over and I spread my legs a little, to welcome him close. He kissed me on the lips, I kissed him on his ear.
"Listen, Joshua," I said softly, "I need to tell you something."
"What?" he whispered, his head buried in my neck.
"I need to... apologize. I've been thinking about it all weekend and I don't want to leave without saying it."
"Apologize for what?" he said, much more audibly.
"For... I need to apologize for the way things ended, for what I did to you."
"What are you talking about?" he said, genuinely puzzled.
"Come on Joshua, you know. Our last night. The way I... forced myself on you."
"Ben, please. I am the one who needs to fucking apologize. I was the asshole."
"No, no, seriously. I was awful that evening with these guys. Then I fucking beat the crap out of you. I've felt like shit about the whole thing ever since."
"You didn't beat the crap out of me," I smiled, attempting some humor to lighten up a confusing conversation. When it didn't appear to work, I repeated more seriously "Joshua, I forced myself on you. How worse does it get?"
"Jesus, Ben, have been you thinking for, what, the last fifteen years or so, that you have raped me?"
"Well, it felt a little rapey."
"It wasn't. It was ugly and nasty and shitty, but you didn't force yourself on me. It was my botched attempt at making things right, but it was a disaster and I left in shame, not in anger."
"Okay," I said meekly.
He slipped out away from me to pour himself a glass of water, forgetting to offer me some. He gulped it down, then stared at the floor. He started towards the fridge again, presumably to resume his sandwich making task.
"Is this why you made contact with me, why you invited me here? Guilt?" I asked neutrally.
He paused for a second then looked up towards me. "Is this why you accepted the invitation? Guilt?"
We stared at each other for long, silent seconds, before I replied "Maybe," then broke into a smile. He laughed out loud, which I took to indicate a similar, even if tacit, answer from him. "Let me make us those sandwiches," was all he said.
We ate on the stairs of the deck, surrounded by the remnants of our morning: the mugs, the glasses, the condom wrap, and the lube. It was implicitly clear that I would take off when lunch was over. We both chewed very slowly, I noticed.
"Do you feel old?" he asked pensively, in between bites.
"Not really, no."
"I feel old. Like the years start to slip away. It's not an anguish or anxiety, not really," he said, searching for his words. "I feel like I haven't accomplished everything I need to, everything I want to accomplish. I've come a long way, but I still need to work on myself."
I wasn't sure what to answer so I softly said, after a pause, "I'm sorry Corey left you. I really am. It shouldn't set you back."
"It doesn't," he said decidedly. "I haven't been entirely truthful, Ben. Corey didn't leave me. I broke up with him."
"Okay. Why would you lie about that?"
"Because it has to do with what I just said, about the years slipping away, about needing to work on myself. I didn't really want to get into all that when you arrived. I didn't want to smother you with an existential crisis as soon as you got here. I'm a better host than that."
"You're an excellent host. So why did you break up with him?"
"It's going to sound lame or, worse, condescending, but I felt like I had offered him everything I could hope to offer him. That it was time to push him off the nest, you know?"
"Did you want him to leave the nest?"
"No, I didn't. That is, I was happy with our life. But complacent perhaps. We had reached the end of something, of us, a while ago and we were just enjoying some bonus happy times, before the inevitable."
"Well, again, I've always felt that I could help Corey, help him do something with his life, with himself. Once I came to the conclusion that my job was done, it was time to let him go. It was time to think about me and just me. He really has been the center of my life for the past seven years, you know? At some point, I needed to focus on myself again."
"Couldn't you do both? Help him and work on yourself? Aren't they connected?"
"To a point, yes. I wanted to help Corey because, well, I saw a bit of my young self in him. It's never purely altruistic, I'm afraid. I wished, I really wished, I had had someone to pull me up, someone who believed in me and wanted me to be a better, happier person. I've looked for that person for so long. I thought Jim, my friend's dad, could be him. Then Todd. You too, probably, I guess. But it never happened. All these men were just dragging me down. No offense to you, Ben. You didn't mean to, it just happened that way, and because of me. But Todd, especially Todd, was really killing me from the inside. He was the worst sort of cruel asshole: he was a coward and couldn't bear the thought of me being more courageous or happier than he was."
"So you left."
"Yes, I left. Finally, I decided that it was only up to me. I had tried and failed: I had to stop looking for role models, or fathers, or brothers, or whatever. I pulled myself up. So when I met Corey, I did see something I recognize: insecurity, low self-esteem. You know. And I realized I could be for him what Todd or Jim hadn't been for me."
"And you succeeded."
"I don't know. I like to think I did, at least partly. But Corey wasn't ready to leave, he really didn't see the point, my point. He was really hurt. It was fucking hard to push him out."
"I'm sure. How is he doing now?"
"I don't know. He is proud, so he wouldn't tell me if he was doing poorly. But he got a job. He has an apartment, friends too."
"Yes, and he came out to his parents, which he hadn't done in all the years we were together. So, yes, that's something."
Joshua stood up a little abruptly and took my plate off my hands, walking back indoors. "I don't want to make you late."
I followed him to the kitchen, though at a slower pace than his own. "Do you think I've had it had too easy? I think you used to think that."
"I don't know what I used to think," he replied, dropping the plates in the sink, before making his way to the entrance, where my bag lay. "I think you've been lucky, that's different. And as long as you're not a self-entitled prick, I don't think there's anything wrong with that."
"How do I know if I am or if I turn into a self-entitled prick?"
"You won't know. But people will let you in on the secret."
"So I don't need to work on myself?" I asked, picking up my bag and opening the front door.
"You need to fall in love. Then you'll be all done, mature and completed."
I leaned to kiss Joshua goodbye. My bag dropped and we hugged tightly. I felt him holding on to me.
"Why am I sad?" I asked, kissing his hair.
"I don't know. Why are you sad?"
We hugged some more, before he told me, warmly and reassuringly, "I'll be fine, Ben. Remember, I'm a work in progress."
"Well, we all are, aren't we?"
"Probably. Some people just have more work to do. But I'm right where I'm supposed to be. And I'll keep working on, you know, building things, building my life. Things are going to be awesome for me. I am going to be awesome, Ben."
There was a tear sparkling by his left eye, something I wasn't ready to see. I moved toward my car, made a couple of steps, but turned back around and gave him two last kisses: one licking his tear, the other where his collar met his neck.
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