By The Way
Chapter 16

I had a really hard time with Alan off at school.  We'd only had a couple of weeks after returning from St. George and they flew by, seemingly in the blink of an eye.  While on that trip he and I had come so much closer together.  He'd helped me to discover that I could love him even deeper by helping him discover new things in our relationship, and letting him embrace those new things much as I always had. 

Two weeks. 

When he first went off to UGA to begin football training I felt like I did when Don had left to go to North Carolina, full of hope and promise.  I'd had an honest to God boyfriend at only nineteen and we'd been together for nearly two yearsWith Alan gone my weekends looked to be boring and lonely.  Well, the weekdays too.  It was like the machinery in my life had come to a grinding halt.  Because we both worked for the same theater company we used to see each other a lot in work situations as well.  But no more late night screenings for me.  Oh sure, each theater had their own as always but it was just another reminder to me that he was gone.  I know I pouted for a while, even though that was silly of me to do.  Athens is just over an hour away from Stone Mountain out Hwy 78 and it was an easy trip.  But I had to work a lot to earn money for school; a lot more than the year before because the theater only paid at minimum wage, whereas the bank paid nearly double that.  The amount of time I had to work kept me from heading up to see him a lot.  Add that to his almost constant training schedule and I hardly saw him in August.  He was playing second string, being a freshman, but he still had to be there for every practice.  I understood that; I just didn't like it.  

He had a calling card but long distance phone calls were still expensive back then and not the wisest way to spend money when you're on a student's budget.  Still, he'd call twice a week and I'd call as often as I could.  A lot of times when I'd call him after I was done working there'd be no answer in his dorm room.  I wished I could be there but then I knew he was hanging out with and getting to know his new teammates, which was important.  You can play better as a team out on the field if you act like a team off of it.  I got this; I just didn't like it.  But I never said anything to him because I didn't want to be a nag.  Quite the opposite.  I encouraged him to hang out and be social with his new teammates and friends.

After about a month of this, my encouragement to him became like a knife sliding back and forth against my Achilles tendon.  I started losing weight.  I didn't work out as often as I used to and people slowly but surely made comments about the weight loss.  By September Philip had gone off to join Scott at UGA and they were both on the marching band.  Glen hadn't done so hot at Georgia State and had to sit the fall out at the school's request.  George continued to work at the theater along with Glen and I but he'd enlisted in the Air Force and would be going off to basic training in December.  After Matt joined the Navy he and I had written back and forth a few times.  Don and I had remained friendly, though we'd only had the one computer class together the previous year.  He transferred to Georgia State that fall. 

Blake, whom I'd mentioned before....well, he and I weren't exactly friends as much as we were always in social situations together.  His parents owned a house in what was then east bumble fuck Stone Mountain.  They were gone a lot of weekends or at parties, so we'd go over to his house to party a lot on the weekends.  He had a younger sister who was a year younger than Alan and so a lot of her friends knew of or were friends with him.  They'd always ask me how he was doing.  I guess I'd sort of taken for granted how much time he and I had spent together because I didn't realize it was often enough for other people to notice.  It started to get painful when they'd ask.

I was still going to DeKalb Community but after much soul searching (and thinking about how hard it is for architects to make really good money) I opted out of going to architecture school and also dual enrolled at Georgia State University in downtown Atlanta.  My new major, business.  How original.  In the mornings I was signed up for two or three classes at DeKalb and then I took my science at State.  It was geography; not the kind where you point out the states, but the kind where you discuss land formations and whatnot.  Our teacher was sort of a throwback to the hippies, with his leather sandals (this was before they became popular again) covering his socked feet.  He was actually a fluvial geomorphologist (say that one ten times fast) which is basically the study of water and rocks and was really an entertaining guy. 

School would keep me busy.

Football kept Alan busy.

Alan called to say that he was finally going to be able to come home after the first game of the season.  I could barely contain myself.  For days I was on a high anticipating seeing him.  It'd been nearly five weeks since I'd seen him and I was going bonkers.  I had lots of plans for us which included all parts of each other's body.  I couldn't fuckin' wait to see him.

That first week of school just creeped on by for me.  I had Monday, Wednesday and Friday classes at DeKalb and Tuesday / Thursday down at State in the evenings.  The science was two hours long but the lab was late Friday afternoon.  This meant that I had to haul ass from DeKalb to the Avondale Marta station for the train ride downtown.  My lab ended at five and I'd normally have to haul ass back to Stone Mountain to go to work.    Alan wouldn't be coming home until Saturday afternoon and I'd arranged to have that night off.  I had to work the afternoon shift, then went home to take a shower to get the popcorn smell off of me before heading over to his house.

When he answered the door I couldn't believe what I was seeing.

"My God!" I said.

"What?" he smiled.

"You're fuckin' huge dude."

He just laughed at me.  "I'm not that big."

"Christ!  The shit you ain't.  Dude, you must've gone up a couple inches in the waist....and the arms....your neck is starting to disappear.  You're not on the juice, are ya?" I joked.

He laughed again.  "Get in here," he reached for me and hugged me to him.  Fuck, I'd almost forgotten what that was like, having him hold me.  We held each other for a minute and as we did that familiar "Alan smell" wafted into my brain.  His body felt different because it was bulking up a little bit.  I was just kidding about the steroids but you could certainly see and feel more body mass.

"Ahem," someone cleared their throat.

He and I looked up to see his dad coming into the foyer with his mom.

"H'ar y'all doin'?" I asked.

"Nice to see you Paul.  It's been a while.  How's school going so far?"  his dad asked.

"Well, the first week seems to be okay.  I'm keeping busy, though."

"Good, good.  Well, we're on our way up to bed.  Good night boys."

" 'Night dad."

"Good night, y'all," I said.

They headed up and we went into the den.  Alan walked on ahead of me so I grabbed his arm and turned him around, then grabbed his face and kissed him.  God, that felt good!  We stayed like that for several minutes and I was finally able to take a breath.  That was when I noticed he was acting sort of weird, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it.  He walked over to the couch and fairly collapsed onto it, exhaling loudly.  He was in the middle and I sat down next to him.

"Man, you are such a sight for sore eyes," I said.

He smiled and nodded.  "You too," then he put his arm on the back of the couch - not around me - and started flipping through the channels.

"Excuse me?  Dude," I laughed a bit, "I haven't seen you in five weeks and you're gonna channel surf?"  He grinned a bit, but it seemed empty, like there was nothing in his eyes like there used to be when he smiled.  "Alan.  Is okay?  You seem kinda 'out there' tonight."

"Oh Paul, I'm just so friggin' tired.  I've never trained this hard in my life.  If it's not the practices, it's working out, then more practices....  We barely have time to just sit and veg."

"Hey, it's okay man, I understand.  Here," I said, laying a pillow on my lap and patting it.  "Lay down, I'll rub your back."  He looked at me and gave me another unsure smile before slowly leaning down onto my lap.  "Damn, son, you're heavy."

He laughed, then wrapped one arm around my back, between it and the couch, and the other he curled up onto my knees with his hand beneath his chin.  I couldn't move if I tried.  And while it wasn't quite the reaction that I'd expected after not seeing him for so long I figured that hell, this is his life now and I'll just have to adapt to his crazy schedule.

Within five minutes of rubbing his neck, shoulders and back his breathing became low and long.  He was asleep.  Dammit, I thought, I didn't even really get a chance to talk to him.  I kept the massage up, simply because I felt better when I had my hands on him.  I figured that even if he was asleep his mind would be aware of what I was doing, on a deeper level.  It wasn't long before I noticed that I was nodding off to sleep also.  Oh well, we'd talk tomorrow....

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

"Look dude, I know that you're busy, but even when you get the chance to come home you're not really 'here.'  You're always off in some other zone."  It was late in September and the temperatures outside weren't the only things that had cooled off.

"Paul....I'm sorry.  Things are so crazy with practice-"

"What practice!  I get so sick of-"  I stopped in mid-sentence and took a breath.  "Alan, I'm sorry."


"I really am.  Look man....I...I just friggin' miss you, that's all."

"I do too, Paul.  What am I supposed to do."  It wasn't really a question.

"Shit man....."  I left the rest of the sentence unsaid, mainly because I didn't know how to finish it.  "I really hate to sound like a nag, man, but....and I know how important all of the football is.  I really do.  Hell," I laughed a bit, "dude that's your ride."

"I know."  He didn't laugh back.

"Hey, at least I care enough to get irritated, right?" I tried to sound like I was being flip but didn't quite manage it.

More silence.

I said, "Okay, forget I'm being an idiot" he snorted "and just tell me, is everything okay?  Are things just too....difficult....up there? God, how do I say this," I muttered.  "I mean, hell, I really don't expect you to call me every day-"

"Why not?"

"I dunno....I guess because it's so far away-"

"But Paul, it's just a phone call."

Huh?  I was getting confused..."I know, man, what I'm trying to say is that....shit, I don't have a schedule on my wall saying when to call you, or when to expect to hear from you.  It's just...."  How do you say that you know something's wrong, that you've known it for weeks but you feel powerless because if you say something you could take a chance at saying it wrong and alienating the other person.  Or if you don't say anything and they later find out that you kept it from them - what if that would've pissed them off even more?

"It's just that this whole relationship thing is new to me-"

"No it's not," he said.

"I meant to say that the long-distance thing-"

"I know what you meant," he said sounding pretty curt.

Now I was getting a bit irritated.  "Wanna quit interrupting?"  I heard him exhale.  "Alan, we used to talk all the time on the phone when you were still at home, why does now have to be so different?"

"It's not that different."

"Shyah, right.  When's the last time we just shot the shit?  Everything seems so fuckin' scripted.  'How's your day - fine, how's yours - how was class - fine, yours?'  It's like the day to day stuff is just-"

"It's just day to day stuff, Paul, that's all there is.  Just fuckin' day to day stuff."  That got my attention because Alan didn't really cuss a whole lot.  Visions of Don going off to school kept coming back to haunt me.  Maybe I was thinking too damn much about the situation.  It wouldn't be the first time in my life I'd done that, and the last time put me into the hospital three times with stomach problems.

"So what's going on this weekend?  Other than practice and studying," I tried to make a light joke.

"Um....shit," he mumbled.  "Paul, I gotta tell you something" oh fuck "and I don't know why I didn't tell you before....well, I kinda do, but..."

I sat silent for a moment.  "What."

There was a long pause.  "I'm rushing a fraternity." 

I took a deep breath and blew it out.  "Is that all?" I asked quietly.

"Mm hmm."

"Christ, I thought you were going to lay some bad news on me, or something."  I laughed a bit nervously.  "Why didn't you tell me sooner?"

"I dunno....."

"Bullshit.  Alan, I told you a long time ago that we needed to tell each other everything, no matter what it was.  Did you think I'd have a problem with you joining a frat?"

"Hell, I don't know.  It's all stupid, I guess.  But on top of the football and school, plus there are always things going on with the fraternity and while I'm a pledge I have to-"

"Wait, you're a pledge?  When did this happen?"

"Well, rush week was the second week of school and now I'm pledging-"

Fuck!  Where did all of this come from?  "Which fraternity?"  He told me.  I was familiar with the name because I'd seen it down at Georgia State as well.  I chuckled a bit.  "Alan, you coulda told me."

"I know...." he hemmed a bit.  "I just felt bad because of all the time I was spending anyway on school stuff, and then throw a fraternity into the mix, I just-"

"Alan," now I was interrupting him, "hey, I get it man.  That doesn't bother me at all, dude.  Shit.  I wish you woulda told me,  It would've made things easier in this ol' boy's head, for sure."

"Man, I'm really sorry, I just thought you might think I'm picking a bunch of guys-"

"Booze hounds."

"-yeah, drunk guys" he laughed "over spending time with you."

"Well," I laughed a bit, "you did chose a bunch of drunken guys over me.  But hey, I'm cool with it.  I take it this is the jock fraternity?"

"Yeah," he laughed.

"Oh Christ, and naturally they're gonna try and get you laid."

"Good luck with that."

I couldn't help but laugh.  "And they'll start involving paddles and goats."

"Goats!" he laughed.

"Wasn't that on 'Animal House'?"

He laughed and I could hear that his voice sounded a little better now.  "Shit man, who knows."

"You're such a goof.  Next time, just tell me, okay?  I'm not your parent.  I'm not gonna scold you.  Ya gotta talk to me man."

"I know, I'm sorry."

" 'S okay.  I won't tell you about how much anguish I'd felt when you'd seemed so distant-"

"Shut the fuck up, dude," he laughed, and I joined in.

Later on after we'd hung up I was still shocked that he wouldn't tell me that he was even considering a fraternity, let alone that he'd actually gone and pledged one without saying a word.  I hated that something was happening between us where he felt he couldn't, or wouldn't, talk to me.  I just knew that if things kept going that way our relationship wouldn't work.  I had absolutely no problem with Alan having a social life while he was at school, and I didn't expect him to include me in every second of his life.  Shit, that's too hard to expect of anyone when they're so far away. 

I was starting to feel helpless which until then was an unknown feeling where Alan was concerned.  For two years I knew where I stood with him, and where 'we' stood with him.

I kept losing weight, one pound at a time....

*   *   *   *

I kept myself distracted, or tried to, by hanging out with Glen and George.  Since Glen wasn't going to school that quarter he'd picked up a lot of shifts at the theater.  George's time was winding down a bit as the clocked ticked closer to basic training.  Because I was spending so much time with the two of them we all started getting pretty close.  A lot of times after concession was closed and the rest of the crew would go home the three of us would hang out in the box office and play cards or just talk.

Glen had a girlfriend, Teresa, who also worked at the theater.  George was dating a girl named Jessica.  The two girls were seniors in high school and were best friends so the four of them dated a lot.  I think that George was completely head over heals for Jessica, so much so that he may have driven her crazy with all of the attention that he was giving her.  In fact looking back I think it's safe to say that his personality was pretty smothering.  I remember one time I was working projection and he came up there on a day off just to hang out, apparently after they'd gotten into a big fight.  He ended up following me as I threaded up all six movies.  At one point he just started crying thinking about how awful things might be once he went into the Air Force and whether or not he and Jessica would survive the separation.  Trust me, I knew what he was feeling as I threw my arm around his shoulder, the two of us sitting on the floor as he poured his heart out to me.  I think in that moment I started to let George into my heart a little bit.  Not in a way that was hopeful for a relationship like Alan and I had, but I guess I just ended up being there when he needed someone and it felt good to be friends with someone else in that way.

Glen and Teresa also had some issues.  Glen's pretty much a laid back guy with a great sense of self-deprecating sense of humor.  Sound familiar?  Teresa, on the other hand, was wound up pretty tight.  She had no problem cracking jokes if someone else were the brunt of it, but man if you'd try crackin' one on her - whew!  She could be a bitch on wheels.  I never really understood why the two of them became an item in the first place.  Regardless of her mood swings she could be really fun to hang out with.  A lot of times a bunch of us would go out to Applebees or Chili's and drink. 

Don was still trying to get onto a minor league team but at the time there wasn't one in Atlanta, so he'd just join whatever baseball or softball league he could find.  During this time he was playing softball with a bunch of guys sponsored by Applebees and I'd see him there a lot.  It was nice just hanging out with him and I really did miss the days when we were back in high school.  It was only two years before when I'd started my senior year and he'd gone off to college, but it felt like ten.  Many times he'd leave his buddies and come over to see me.  After a few times at the bar he'd go back and forth, then as he'd gotten to know Glen and George we'd all hang out and drink, then maybe go over to someone's house to play poker.

Alan was busy with school and football.  I'd finally come to accept it....somewhat.  Part of me really missed the sex, simply because it had gotten fuckin' incredible.  A bigger part of me just really, really just missed being with him.  It didn't matter if we were just sitting watching a movie or going out for a burger.  Canoing at Stone Mountain lake was one of the things that I'd enjoyed the most, and a lot of that time we didn't really talk.  It was nice just being in each other's company.  God, I'd'a done anything to get that back.  But it was slipping.

Funny.  An era had ended and for once I didn't really recognize that it was happening.  But maybe that's what's referred to as "denial."

Alan was constantly at school and even though we'd had a couple of heart-to-hearts things didn't improve at all.  I still hardly heard from him and when I did he was in between one or ten different things.  I shouldn't have been that surprised, given which school he was at.  UGA is definitely a party school.  I mean hell, this was a totally new experience for him and I wanted him to have fun while he could.  As long as he didn't forget about me.  I still wasn't sure how I felt about the whole fraternity thing.  It's not as though the Greek system appears all that great to people outside of it.  Most people unfamiliar with it are probably prejudiced against it in some way.  I figured people in fraternities were just paying a lot of dough for friends.  But what the hell did I know.  Now Alan was pledging in one so I'd have to get used to the idea.

But I was fuckin' spoiled and I think that what really made things sort of bittersweet was our trip to Florida with his parents.  It was a significant milestone in our relationship and it seemed to have been stolen in such a short time.  I knew that if I didn't watch it my mind would take control over my stomach and I'd end up back in a place where I swore I wouldn't be again.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

"Alan, I hope you get this message because I'm coming up tomorrow afternoon.  Call me, otherwise I'll see you around 4:00.  See ya."

That was what I told his answering machine.  Lucky for him the other guy assigned to his room had moved into another dorm room a couple of weeks into the quarter and it was too late to find a replacement, so Alan was able to have his own room.  Being a jock it was only natural that he was in the dorm with all of the other jocks next to the stadium.  If I recall correctly people refer to the games being played there as "between the hedges" because of the hedges that grow up on each side of the stadium.  Alan's dorm was an old building built probably in the 20's or 30's only steps away.  Some campus group had painted a cartoon of a UGA, the Bulldogs mascot, on one of the walls in the hallway around the corner from Alan's room. 

I got to his room and knocked.  It was just past 4:00 but there was no answer so I stood and leaned against the wall next to the door.  A minute or so later a guy came out of the bathroom dressed in a bathrobe and headed towards me in the hall.  "H'ar ya doin'?" he asked.

I nodded.  "Just fine.  You?"

"Aiiight.  Lookin' for Alan?"

I nodded again.

"You must be Paul, then.  I'm Jared."

"Good to see ya," I said.  He reached to shake my hand and I took it.

"He had to run to the store, said he'd be back in a minute, but that was like thirty minutes ago.  Said you'd be coming by 'round four o'clock," Jared said as he stepped to the door across from Alan's and opened it. 

"Cool.  Thanks man."

"Mm hmm," he said, then shut his door.  I just shook my head.  It was Sunday afternoon and before long guys started trickling in from their weekend.  I was really hyped to see Alan and every time I heard the door at the end of the hall creak open I'd look to see if it was him.  It was the week before Thanksgiving and my schools were shut down until the following week.  Alan had a class on Tuesday and would be going home that evening, but I just wanted to see him and have some alone time with him.

Jared's door opened and he stood there wearing jeans and pulling a UGA sweatshirt on over his head.  His hair was still wet but combed back.  "Hey Paul, you wanna wait in here until that numskull gets here?"

I laughed a bit.  "Yeah, if you don't mind...."

"Not a problem, buddy, come own in."  I detected a strong country accent but I couldn't tell which part of the state he was from.

I stepped into the room and sat down in the chair he offered.  "Thanks, man."  He left the door open so we'd know when Alan returned.

"No prob'em.  Wanna Coke?  Somethin' ta drank?" he offered.

"A Coke'd be just fine," I said.  Jared offered me a bottle of the drink.  You don't see that a whole lot.  Most people drink out of the cans but it really does taste better in the bottles.

"Peanuts?" he offered and gestured to my drink.

"Son, you are a true Southerner, aren't you?"  He laughed and opened up a can.  I took a handful and dropped them into my Coke.  This is something that I've only seen done in the South.  My northern cousins almost flipped their lids the first time I'd done this around them.  After you drink the Coke, and sometimes while there's still some in the bottle, you eat the peanuts.  Definitely a conversation starter.

"Is there any other kind?"  His accent was infectious; "any" came out sounding like "enne".

"So Jared, you come from around here?" I asked.

"No.  My fam'ly's from Rome.  A lot of my parent's folks are livin' outside of May'retta."  Actually it's Marietta but a lot of times it sounds like May'retta if your talking to some of the local people.

"I see."

"So where y'all from?  You in school?  That's a dumb question," he backtracked.  "Alan talks about you all the damn tahm," this time smiling.  "Paul did this.  Paul did that.  Paulie-"

"Paulie.  He actually said 'Paulie'?"

"Oh yeeah!"

I laughed and rolled my eyes!  "Well I know that he's been awful busy with football and the fraternity so I'm surprised that he has any time to socialize at all."

"I tell you!  That boy's in an' out of his room so much ya think they'd put a revolvin' door on it!"

I laughed again.  Jared had a way, as is true with many Southerners, to make you feel at home as soon as he met you. 

"So whereh ya from Paul?"

"Stone Mountain."

"Ahhh.  The rock."

"Mm hmm.  Originally from New York but Georgia's my home now."

"Well, we'll fuhgive the Yainkee pawrt o' you, 'long as you fuhgit ya past!"  And he laughed.  It was a really warm laugh and I could tell that if I'd lived here in this dorm I'd enjoy being friends with him.

Just then we heard the outside door creak open and shut again, followed by the sound of someone jogging down the hall.  In short order Alan appeared at his door with his back to us and slid the key into the lock.


"Hey Jared-"

"Paulie is heah."

Alan turned around and a big smile broke out on his face.  "Lyons!" he hollered. As I stood up to greet him he came into the room.  "Dude, I'm so friggin' sorry I'm late.  I ran to the store...." and the rest of his words soft of faded into the background.  I was so glad to see him I didn't even care that he was late.  His hair had gotten a bit longer and he wore it sort of mushed down onto his head.  "Jared keepin' you company, bud?"

"Yep.  And he's a true host.  Even offered peanuts for my Coke," I smiled at Jared.

"God that shit is so damned gross.  I don'know how y'all drink that crap then eat the nuts," he shook his head.  "Can I steal him away from ya Jared?"

"Steel away, Alan," Jared said in his drawl.

"Come on, dude," Alan gestured with his head towards his room.  He picked up his bag of groceries and we went into his room.  Once he shut the door he headed over to where his refrigerator and hot plate were set up, I reached around him and turned him to face me.  "I have so fuckin' missed you," but as I started to pull him to me he took a quick, deep breath and stiffened up a bit.  Totally different from his demeanor a second ago.  He saw that I picked up on it and averted his eyes away from mine.

I stepped back with my hands up in the air.  "Okay.  What the fuck was that."

"Nothin'," he said and turned back to putting the contents from the bag into the fridge.

"Don't 'nothin' ' me, Alan.  I wanna know, what the fuck was that?"

He stood there with his back to me, unmoving for a minute.  Finally he turned around and his eyes said it all in their sadness as well as their emptiness.  I stepped back a few paces until my back was against the other wall.

"Alan, we gotta talk.  And we gotta talk right now."

He tilted his face forward and put it into his hands.  After a minute of roaring silence he finally spoke.  "Paul.  I'm sorry.  I am just so....god damned...sorry."  He looked up and I could see that his lips twitched once or twice.

I took a deep breath.  "For what."

"I thought I could do this..."

"Do what?"

His mouth twitched down into a frown and I thought I saw his eyes glisten.  "It's not gonna work, Paul.  It's's not gonna..." and he bit his lip, again averting his eyes from me, this time with his hands on his hips.  I folded my arms in every attempt to tighten my body into itself.  I couldn't look at him.  I had no more stomach because it had dropped somewhere in the direction of the floor.  I wasn't even sure if I was breathing or not.  Alan wiped his face with one hand and walked over to his bed, sitting down on the edge.  I was still avoiding his eyes, all the while trying not to lose it there in front of him.

"Oh Paulie-"

"Please don't call me that."  It came out sounding pretty short but I knew if I said anything else it wouldn't be pretty.  I could see in my peripheral vision that he turned to look at me.  My gaze found his.  He held my eyes for a moment then looked down at the floor.

"God, I honestly thought I could do this....long-distance thing....but it's hard Paul.  Before talking on the phone was cool because we'd see each other so much during the week but this....this fuckin' sucks.  I never get to see you, I can't be around you, there's so much....crap...going on...."

"And you're busy being busy."  I said it rather coldly because I was really hurt and pouting.  God, how did I not see this coming?

"I thought that....well, I remembered what you said about Don going off to school and how it changed things with y'all....but I didn't think it'd happen.  Not to us."  His head dropped even lower on his shoulders.  "God, and the days when we didn't talk I'd think of you until it hurt."  At this point a tear escaped my eye and I flipped my hand up to wipe it away.  He saw the movement out of the corner of his eye and looked at me.  "I just can't.....I can't hold on anymore.  I feel like a pussy," here his voice cracked "because I can run through hundreds of pounds of guys but I'm so fuckin' lost without you.  And I can't handle that.  I have to be with you but...we just can't.  Not now."  He shook his head quickly, as if to clear his head. 

"Out of sight, out of mind, huh,"  I muttered.

"Oh my God, no.  I can't clear my head of you.  Christ.  I've never given...I've never cared for anyone like I have you.  I think the coach thinks I'm a bit retarded because he has to call me down to earth so much on the sidelines."  I couldn't help but smile at that.

"You're anything but that, Alan."

"God, and then during all of the rushing....crap....I'm thinkin' about you.  In class I can't shake your ghost."

There was a moment of silence.  "Jesus.  You make me sound like a disease...."

He stood up from the bed.  "Bullshit.  I'm not saying that and you know it." 

I nodded.  "I know.....I know."

"You told me once before, a long time ago, that you'd sacrifice 'us' in order to keep our friendship.  And I agree with you-"

"Then why have you been so damned...distant?"

"Because I fuckin' missed you, man!"  His voice cracked again and he rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands.  I had to be stoic.  No fuckin' way I was gonna let him see me cry.  "I've been thinkin'...worryin'...about how to tell you.  I'm so damn worried about our friendship.  I was.....oh shit, I was afraid that I'd lose that.  And dude," at this point he was standing right in front of me, his shoulders hunched into his body.  He's a big guy but damn he looked a lot smaller right then, "I can't lose your friendship.  I just can't do...."

My lips were quivering as I bit my lower one to keep from bawling.  Finally I spoke.  "You can't do the dating thing now."

He shook his head 'no.'  "I'm so sorry, Paul.  God, can we still be friends?"  His eyes were begging me but I had no voice.  I couldn't breathe and I couldn't swallow.  I held up my finger as if to say 'hold on', then I turned and opened the door.  I had my back to him and I composed my face so I wouldn't look like an idiot to anyone in the hall, stepped through and shut the door behind me.  As I was walking towards the bathroom I heard a loud "Fuck" followed by "Shit!", and then a "God-fuckin' DAMNIT!!!", all followed by a crash from Alan's room.  I hurried back and opened the door.  The things that were on his dresser were now across the room in one big heap.

"Alan, what are you doing?" I asked.

His chest was heaving with frustration.  I closed the door again behind me.

"You left!  I spill all of that and you fuckin' left me, Paul."

"I had to take a piss!  That Coke finally kicked in," nodding my head towards Jared's room.

Alan took a second to absorb this and then started laughing.  Slowly at first, which got me chuckling as well.  "Alan," I started to say, but he kept laughing.

"God, that makes me feel better," he said.

"What, that I had to take a leak?"  I was really trying to be strong and get through this and was trying desperately to use humor.

"No, dumb ass.  I thought you were leaving to go home."  He was still chuckling a bit.

"No.  Trust me, I have a thing or two to say, but I really gotta take a piss, okay?"

"Go 'head," he said as he started straightening up his room again.

I stepped outside and shut the door.  Then I leaned back against it and closed my eyes.  Thankfully nobody was walking up the hall and Jared's door was closed.  I took care of business and went back into Alan's room. 

"Look," I said, closing his door, "I hear what you're saying and I understand.  I really do."  I sat down on his bed as he finished up picking up the mess he'd made.  "I'm shocked and damn, it fuckin' tears me apart to think of you as anything else but what you've been to me for the past two years."  I took a deep breath and blew it out.  "But like I said after we first started seein' each other,  I'll do anything to keep our friendship.  Even if it means that we're no"  He was about to get up off the floor and I put my hands on his shoulders to face him to me.  "Alan Collin, I love you.  I gotta have you in my life and if it means only friendship then so be it."  Any acting coach would be proud because to Alan and the outside world I was just breezing by this, one of life's hurdles.  Inside I still felt like I couldn't take a breath.  I couldn't swallow, which was fine because I had no saliva to swallow.  If I kept talking about this I'd lose it and start bawling like a baby, which is not what I wanted to do in front of Alan.

He leaned up and hugged me for a long time.  "You're the best," he said.  His voice was muffled in my shoulder but I could hear it cracking all the same.  The tears started rolling from my eyes then and I squeezed them tight to try and keep them in.  Alan stood up and we both rubbed our eyes.

"Well, wanna eat?" I asked him.

He sniffed and reached onto a shelf that held his food near the hot plate.  "I got these Ramen noodles for the first time..."

"Dude, you're a fuckin' football player.  You need more than Ramen noodles."  He laughed.  "C'mon, I saw the Pizza Hut on the way in."  I headed towards the door which he blocked with his body.

"We gonna be okay?"  There was still a little concern in his eyes.

I nodded.  "We hafta be, buddy.  'Cause I ain't losin' you!"  I poked at his chest. 

Alan smirked then opened the door.  "After you," he gestured.

For all of our joking and laughing at Pizza Hut that night we actually ate very little.  We each knew the seriousness of what had just happened and neither one of us was in the mood to eat, no matter how hard we pretended to be okay.

*   *   *   *

Back in his room we undressed to go to bed.  He in a pair of boxers and me in my shorts.  Since the other bed was without sheets I climbed into his bed with him.  We talked for a little while about a lot; about nothing at all.  At one point we were lying facing each other, our heads on the pillow.  In the middle of some inane conversation all of the emotion from the day swelled up in me and I lost the ability to speak.

"Paul.  You okay?"  The lights were off but the room glowed from the parking lot lights outside his window.

I shook my head 'no.'  Then the floodwaters came.  We guys have this funny way of crying.  When we do it feels like we're struggling to blow a breath out of our noses, almost like a heavy hissing sound.  I tightened my eyes shut and was doing everything I could to not whimper or make a noise but I couldn't help it.  My body jerked a little bit with the sobs that were racking my brain.  I tilted my face forward until my forehead was against his chest and he pulled me into his body, his muscular and strong arm holding me as tight as he could.  We held each other like that for a solemn eternity and I bawled into his chest.  The chest that once held so much physical passion for me was now the rock holding my emotions.  He was crying too and I could hear him continually sniff as his arm would reach over my head to wipe his own eyes.  I felt the dampness of his tears on the tip of my ear when he spoke.

"God Paul....I hate to say it but I'm glad you're crying," then he laughed through his tears.

I sniffed.  "Why?"

"God, when you didn't react earlier tonight, and then just started cracking jokes, I wasn't sure if it was even bothering you that...."

"Damn!  Alan!" and I reached through his arm and his torso to pull him to me.  "Oh God...." and I cried even more.

*   *   *   * 

Well, that's it for this segment.  I apologize for taking so long to write it but you can see why it took me a while to get this one out.  The holidays were only an excuse to delay the inevitable.  Thank you for hanging in there with my story.  There's a lot more to go. 

copyright 2005 by Mark Logan