By Tim Mead
Bailey had gone to an open house at the home of one of the art history faculty, leaving Justin alone in their room on a dark Friday afternoon in February. Although the streets and sidewalks were clear, the ground was covered with six inches or so of snow, and it had looked all day as if more might fall at any moment. The only light was from the lamp on his desk, so most of the room was in darkness.
`What the fuck do you do on a Friday afternoon?' He'd suggested to Bailey that they go to Higgins for the weekend, just for the change of scenery and to give his mother some company, but then this affair at the prof's house had come up.
He put on Josh Groban's "Closer" CD which Gary had given him for Christmas and then sat in his computer chair, swiveling it so he could put his feet on his bed.
Gary seemed happy. The guy had never been exactly bubbly, but his emails were full of things he was doing in his classes. He'd tried out for the IU Symphonic Wind Ensemble and hadn't made it, but he was confident that he'd make it in the fall when the next try-outs were held. He and his boyfriend Otto were happy but frustrated because they couldn't find a place to do it. They were looking forward to the next year when they could room together. Justin couldn't help wondering what Otto was like. He'd have to ask Gare for a description.
`I guess I can't complain,' Justin thought. `You couldn't ask for a better friend than Bailey. I just wish we could be more than friends.' He thought about Brody and Bailey. Brody was fantastic to look at. Bailey's body was amazing, though his face was fairly ordinary. Not ugly by any means, but not gorgeous like Brody's. There was, however, something about Bailey's face. Its changing expressions, the light in his eyes, the smile which Justin could only describe as sweet – all of these made Bailey's a face Justin could stare at forever. He suspected neither one realized how sexy he was. Both of them had been supportive, caring when he'd needed them. He remembered that time the previous summer when he'd been really missing his dad, when Brody had held him and kissed the top of his head. Amazing that then last fall when he'd had a near breakdown over the night of "the party," Bailey had held him – and kissed the top of his head. He loved them both so much he ached. But neither was available as more than a bud.
He got out of the chair and lay down on his bed. A song with French lyrics and a great melody was just finishing. Then he heard Josh sing,
When I am down and, oh my soul, so weary
When troubles come and my heart burdened be
Then I am still and wait here in the silence
Until you come and sit a while with me.
`God! Bailey does that for me! He really does! But it's only gonna be a matter of time until he finds the right woman. And then . . .'
You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders
You raise me up . . . to more than I can be.
© 2002 Universal Music Publishing
He'd leaned on Bailey from the beginning. Bailey really had raised him up. He was always good-natured, always willing to listen – or to sit in shared silence. True, he'd seemed preoccupied from time to time lately, but that could very well have been because of his family. Bailey was obviously the second son in more ways than just chronology. His parents disapproved of his career choice. Maybe there was something more going on than he'd ever admitted to Justin. If he chose to go to Louisiana with Cale Coutrere instead of spending Christmas with his family, didn't that mean something was wrong?
But why would he go off with Coutrere? Surely he knew he would have been welcome to spend the holidays with Justin and his mom. Justin had longed to ask Bailey about that ever since they'd gotten back to campus after the break, but he'd never quite had the nerve. If Bailey chose to go off for two weeks with Coutrere, that was his right. It was just that . . . What was it? It was that Justin was jealous. He and Bailey were supposedly best friends. Even Brody, bless him, had been relegated to the status of beloved big brother.
But if they were best friends, why the trip to Louisiana? That had been two months ago and Justin told himself he should just drop it. Still, he couldn't help wondering.
Dr. Levi had said that in another week or so they could discontinue their sessions. He was pleased with the progress Justin had made. They'd talked about Justin's refusal to go to the police, and the doctor had understood that Justin wouldn't do that because he didn't really know whether he'd been raped or not, didn't really have any proof that anything had been put in his drinks. It might simply have been because he'd consumed too much gin during the course of the evening.
The doc had also been pleased that Justin's sense of self-worth had finally returned, along with his libido. Justin once more had a healthy interest in sex, yet he was frustrated because the object of his sexual desires, though present every day, wasn't available. Yes, Justin had told his counselor how he felt about Bailey. All the doc had been able to suggest on that score was to treasure their friendship but to look elsewhere for a sexual partner. And to look for someone he'd consider for a relationship, not just a few nights in the sack.
He was aware that the CD had finished playing and it had become fully dark outside. Although they hadn't discussed it, he assumed he and Bailey would go to the Commons or somewhere for supper when Bailey returned from his professor's open house.
When Bailey wasn't there by 7:00, he didn't know whether to be pissed off or worried. Thinking about it, he realized there was no cause for worry. What, after all, could have happened to Bailey as he walked across campus? But if he planned something for after the prof's "do," he might have said something. It wasn't like him to be thoughtless. Even if he'd hooked up with some girl he would have called, wouldn't he?
Which left the problem, what was Justin going to do for the evening, for the rest of the weekend? He'd need to do some studying on Sunday afternoon and evening, but until then he was free. And alone. College wasn't supposed to be like this. The long, empty weekend seemed to stretch endlessly before him. He decided to go upstairs and see what Cale and his roomie Ted were up to.
They weren't in.
That did it! He put on his winter shoes and his coat, grabbed his bag of empty laundry, and trekked to his car in the freshman parking area. It was so cold he began to reconsider, but he was not going back to that empty room. It began to snow as he drove to Higgins. He might as well spend some time with his mother. Although she didn't nag about it, he knew she was always happy when he came home.
When he arrived there at just after 8:00, he found the house dark and empty. Dropping his laundry bag in the utility room, he went into the kitchen. By this time he was famished, so he got a tv dinner from the freezer and nuked it. Of course Moira hadn't left a note saying where she was, for she hadn't expected him to be there. And wasn't that the pits?
What about Brody? He didn't want to seem needy, but he might call them just to say hello and see what happened from there. He got the voice mail. He didn't leave a message.
"Fuck!" he said aloud. "Everybody's out having fun but me!"
After he'd finished his dinner, he went into the pantry, took out a nearly full bottle of Jim Beam, grabbed a glass, and sat in one of the recliners in the family room. He switched on the tv and surfed until he came across a Pistons game. He poured himself a healthy slug of the whiskey. He knew he didn't like alcoholic beverages much and that he was easily overcome when he consumed alcohol. An inner voice reminded him of what happened at Blake's party.
`Fuck it!' he said to himself. `There's no one here but me, and if I wanna relax with some booze, I'm gonna fuckin' well do it!'
Alone! In his own fuckin' home, and alone. His room at school was empty. So here he was, drinking. Well, too damned bad! What the fuck else was there to do?
He watched the basketball game without really seeing it, and he had another drink.
* * *
"Justin, wake up, dear? What's wrong?"
"Huh? Oh, hi Mom. Guess I dropped off."
"Is something the matter? Why are you home? It's not like you to drink! Is that a habit you've picked up at Colby?"
His head still muzzy from sleep and whiskey, Justin tried to look alert. "No, mother, I just came home to spend some time with you, and you weren't here."
She gave him a skeptical look. "If I'd known you were coming, I could have changed my plans. I went to see "The Queen" with some friends. And why did you just suddenly decide to come home? Are you sure nothing's wrong?"
"Jeez, if I'd known I was gonna get the third degree, I'd have stayed in the room."
"I dunno. He went to some party at a prof's house this afternoon and never came home. So I thought instead of spending the evening in the room alone, I'd come home and see how you're doing."
Moira finally smiled. "I'm glad you did, though that doesn't explain your sitting here with an empty glass and a half-empty bottle of bourbon. But let that go for now. It's nearly midnight, sweetheart, and you look as if you need to go to bed and sleep it off. We can talk in the morning."
"Hey, Mom, I didn't drink half the stuff in that bottle. It wasn't full when I found it. But yeah, we can talk in the morning." He stretched his arms over his head and yawned. Please don't wake me up, though. I'd really like to sleep in tomorrow. If you've got things you need to do, go ahead. I'll fix myself breakfast."
"Okay. We'll see when you wake up and how you feel. I've got to go to the supermarket. Maybe if you're up you can come with me. Will you stay for the weekend? We can fix something special for supper tomorrow night and for dinner Sunday, and . . ."
Justin hugged his mother. "Let's play it by ear, okay? Right now I just want to sleep for a month."
She kissed him. "Okay, you go on upstairs. I'll be up after I turn out the lights and lock up."
`What? What world is it? It must be the middle of the night.'
He opened one eye. His bedside clock said 9:05. He had a headache, though nothing like the one he'd had when he woke up after Blake's party.
"Jeez, who is it?" he muttered. "Who'd be calling me here? Especially at this ungodly hour?"
He got up, put on a ratty old bathrobe that was too small for him, and went to the top of the stairs. "Who is it?"
"It's Bailey, dear."
"Tell him I'll call him later."
"Oh, I think you'd better talk with him, Jus. He sounds upset."
Justin sighed. "Okay, I'll take it up here."
"I'm glad to know you're still alive," he said into the phone. "Nice of you to call."
"Nice of me to call? You're the one who wasn't here when I got in last night and didn't leave a note, didn't come in all night. I've been worried about you, Jus."
"Well, you didn't come back to the room after the thing at your prof's house, didn't call, didn't tell me we wouldn't be having supper together. So I just came home to see Mom." Then, his voice full of sarcasm, he added, "Sorry I forgot to leave a note."
"Well," Bailey said with a voice that indicated his struggle to be patient, "when some of the other people in the class suggested we have supper together, I tried to call you but the battery in my cell was dead. I figured you were capable of getting to the Commons on your own."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Justin snorted. "I dunno. Just fuck! I was worried about you and pissed at the same time, and it sounds like you feel the same way."
"You got that right. Now, how long are you gonna stay there?"
"I had planned to stay until after church tomorrow. But I've got an idea. Last I heard you didn't have any plans for the weekend. Right?"
"Now that I've located my wandering boy, I'm going to the gym."
"Okay, here's what's gonna happen. I'll be in the parking lot behind the dorm at . . ." He looked at his watch]. ". . . 11:15. You be watching for me. We'll come back here. Mom will enjoy seeing your ugly face. We can talk. You can beat on me if you're still pissed. Maybe we can take in a flick tonight, although Mom will probably insist we have dinner at home before we go. How's that sound?"
"I think I could tolerate it. But I've gotta run if you're picking me up at 11:15. See ya. Hugs to your mom."
`Well,' Justin thought, `that could have gone worse.'
He picked up Bailey, they stopped by the house so Bailey could say hello to Moira and leave his bag, and then drove to the mall, where they had lunch and went to a movie.
They were grumpy with each other. Justin felt both pissed off and at the same time guilty, and he judged that Bailey was having similar feelings.
The three of them fixed supper together and, after the dinner mess was cleaned up, watched something completely forgettable on television. Moira, who obviously sensed something was wrong, attempted to keep the small talk flowing, asking questions about their classes, about Bailey's family, about anything. Finally, however, she excused herself and went to her bedroom.
"Okay, Jus," Bailey said after she'd left, "we obviously need to talk."
"Are you sure you wanna do that?"
Bailey looked straight at Justin and said, "I said, we need to talk. What the fuck's griping your ass?"
"I think that's what I said, yes. Why are you pissed with me?"
When Justin tried to come up with an answer, he couldn't think of a way to put his feelings that wouldn't make himself look childish. "I, uh, well . . ."
Bailey didn't show any signs of impatience. He simply sat there and waited.
"I thought we'd have supper together someplace. And when you didn't show up and didn't call, well, I, uh . . ."
Bailey's mouth showed a hint of a smile. "You were disappointed?"
"Really?" It became a full smile.
"Did you worry about me?"
"Uh huh. A little. And then I figured nothing much could happen to you on the way back to the dorm from the prof's house."
"Well, when I got home, I was looking forward to spending the evening with your miserable self. I was disappointed, too. I wanted to see how your day had gone, to tell you about Dr. Blandings' open house. But you weren't there. And there wasn't a note. I didn't have a clue where you were. But then, I thought, you'd probably gone somewhere after supper with somebody you'd met up with at the Commons. Then it got later and later. You didn't come in at all. I was really worried, but I kept telling myself you are a grownup, that you can take care of yourself. And then I thought of the party last fall. I couldn't help wondering if somehow you'd been enticed into going someplace like that again."
Justin was beginning to feel even guiltier. And to realize yet again that Bailey really cared for and worried about him.
"And then it got to be midnight, one A.M., and I was really concerned. I went upstairs to see if Cale and Ted had seen you, but they either weren't in or had gone to bed. I couldn't see any light under their door. I went downstairs to see if anyone was up in Harry and Cliff's room. Same story. So I said, `Fuck Quinn,' got undressed, and got in bed. But I couldn't sleep for the longest time.
"When I woke up this morning and you still weren't there, I got really scared. The only thing I could think of was that you might have come home. I debated about calling because I didn't want to worry your mother, but I figured I could make up something if she said you weren't here. But you were!" He took a deep breath. "I'm glad you're okay."
"Shit, man, I'm sorry you worried. I guess I was acting like a little kid when I came home to mommy last night. But I missed you and worried about you, as silly as that was."
"So, it's forgive and forget, Jus?"
They watched a Redwings match for a while, and then, yawning, Bailey said, "I'm afraid I've gotta turn in. Like I said, I didn't get much sleep last night."
Justin grinned. "Yeah, yeah. You're just layin' more guilt, ain't ya?"
"Would I do that?"
"Yessir, I think you would. But for your information, I didn't sleep well last night either. At least not until along toward morning. So let's turn in."
"Okay by me. But, Jus, I need a hug, okay?"
Grinning again, Justin stood and held his arms open. "Anytime, big dude."
They slept late the next morning. When Justin got up he used the bathroom, pulled on sweat pants and a tee, and went downstairs to the kitchen, thinking he'd have some coffee ready when Bailey got up. He found Bailey in the kitchen, sipping coffee and reading the newspaper.
"Oh, hi. You been up long?"
"Have you seen Mom?"
"She's gone to church. She left a note."
"Want some eggs and bacon?"
"Her note says we're supposed to stay around for Sunday dinner, which we'll start working on when she gets back. So I don't want to eat much now. There's o.j. in the fridge and some pecan rolls in the oven keeping warm. Let's make do with that."
Justin chuckled. "Damn, roomie, you know your way around this kitchen."
"Well, Jus, you and your mother have made me feel like one of the family."
A few minutes later they were seated across from each other at the breakfast table, eating pecan rolls and sipping coffee.
Justin set down his mug, looked at Bailey and blurted out, "Why did you go to Louisiana with Coutrere, man, why didn't you come here? Or at least spend some time with me?"
He'd wanted to ask that question since Christmas but had never quite mustered up the nerve. And he knew Bailey could have brushed him off, or told him he could go where he liked, or that Justin hadn't actually invited him by the time Cale asked him to go to Louisiana, or a number of other things. But he had to ask. He wanted more than anything for their friendship to last and grow stronger, but he simply had to know the answer to that question.
He sat with his hands in his lap. He was clasping them together so hard it hurt. Forcing himself to relax, he looked directly at Bailey -- who was looking back.
"I'm sorry, Jus."
"Sorry? For what?"
"For not telling you sooner."
`Oh fuck,' Justin thought. `He's gonna tell me he doesn't wanna be friends.'
"Look, Bailey, you can go wherever you want to. You don't owe me an explanation. You don't owe me anything! Forget I asked."
"I've been expecting you to ask me that question since Christmas. And you're entitled to an answer. It's just that I needed time, time to think, to get things straightened out in my head."
The discussion was interrupted by the sound of the garage door going up.
They helped Moira fix dinner, chatting as they did. Both young men were surprised to find they enjoyed the ham, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and chocolate silk pie despite the late hour at which they'd had their breakfast.
As she hugged Justin goodbye, Moira said softly to him, "We're still going to talk about what was bothering you last night, about the whisky, Justin Quinn."
Justin gave her an extra squeeze. "As it turns out, it wasn't important. I'll tell you more later, okay?"
"I'm glad it was nothing serious. But yes, we'll talk some more. Now, be careful driving back to campus." She turned to Bailey, who had just come back from Justin's car after putting their bags in it.
"Bailey, I know I can trust you to keep an eye on Justin. And remember, I think of you as one of my boys. This is home whenever you need it to be."
Justin caught a glimpse of a tear in Bailey's eye as he hugged Moira and said, "Thanks. I really appreciate that . . . Mom."
In the car on the way back to Colby, Justin said, "Now, where were we?"
"I remember exactly where we were, Jus. But I'd rather wait until we're back in the room, okay?"
"Sure, but I don't know whether I can stand to wait much longer."
Once in their room, they brushed their teeth, and Bailey removed his contacts, exchanging them for his glasses.
"Now," Justin said, pointing at Bailey's computer chair, "please sit."
Justin turned his chair to face his room mate. "I've turned off both our cells. The door's locked. If someone knocks, we'll ignore it, okay?"
"So talk to me."
Bailey took a deep breath, let it out, and stared at a spot on the wall somewhere behind Justin. Finally he looked directly at Justin.
"I pretty much expected you to invite me home for at least part of the Christmas break. That's why I was relieved when Cale asked me to come to Shreveport with him."
"What? I don't – "
Bailey held up his hand. "I didn't mean that the way it sounds. You see, Jus . . . you gotta understand, this is something I've really been wrestling with since last fall."
Though puzzled and somewhat surprised, Justin decided simply to wait for Bailey to continue.
"Look, there's never been any question in my mind that I'm straight. Never."
Again, Justin was surprised by the comment, especially since he agreed. He'd never questioned Bailey's sexual orientation and he wondered why Bailey was bringing that up now? He searched Bailey's face for a clue as to what was coming. His friend was frowning, apparently trying to think how to phrase what he wanted to say next.
"Oh, shit! Here's the thing. Not long after we came to CSU last fall, I started having feelings I couldn't explain, feelings I never had before."
Justin couldn't keep quiet any longer. "What kind of feelings?"
Bailey gave Justin a faint smile. "When I finally figured it out, I decided it was love. I mean not like I love my brother or my folks. Not like I felt for any of my buddies in high school. Or the girls I dated. It was more than that. Deeper. Stronger."
"Yeah? Sounds like you're in love, Bail. And you never told me? So you went to Louisiana with Coutrere to get your head straight? But why wouldn't you tell me? I thought there was something wrong with our friendship. I would have understood. Who is she?"
Bailey shook his head. "No, man, you don't understand. I needed to go spend some time with Cale because he's straight."
`Oh, god!' Justin thought. `He really is still bothered because I'm gay!'
"I wanted to, I dunno, just hang with him. To see if I could get this out of my system."
"Now I'm confused."
Bailey leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "The feelings I was having, the feelings I still have, are for you."
Justin gripped the arms of his chair to keep from sliding out of it. He was literally dizzy. After taking a huge breath he said, "Don't do this to me. That's a pretty cruel joke. And it's not like you."
"You're right. It's not like me. That's the whole thing. I'm straight. But, dammit, Quinn, I think I'm in love with you."
Justin remembered the times since Christmas break that Bailey had seemed pensive, withdrawn. Now it all made sense. But how could a straight guy be in love with him?
"But if you're straight, you can't be in love with me. We're best friends. You're the best friend I have. Brody will always have a special place in my heart, but you know me better than he does. What you're feeling is strong friendship, maybe the love of a brother for a brother. But don't get all knotted up. That doesn't mean you're gay."
"No, Jus, it's not just brotherly love. It's romantic love. I want to be with you. As you discovered yesterday morning, it's a very possessive love. I worry that something might happen to you. I worry when you're not around. I want to take care of you, to make things easier for you. Just to be with you." He ran his hand over the top of his head. "That's what's had me preoccupied and sometimes bitchy lately. It must have been hard on you, and I apologize. I just hope you won't get all weirded out knowing how I feel."
Justin stood up, thrust his hands in his jeans pockets and walked to the door. Then he turned around and walked back to his desk.
"Fuck! There's not much pacing room in here, is there?" He turned and grinned at Bailey.
Bailey allowed himself a little grin in return.
"Well, I'm just glad you didn't go out the door."
Justin sat down again, again facing Bailey.
"I'm not going anywhere. You see, I've been in love with my straight roomie since last fall. It started sometime after you were so cool with me about the party at Alexander's. But, of course, my friendship with my straight roomie meant so much to me, I didn't dare let him know how I really felt about him. I was afraid you'd be the one to get all weirded out if you knew. Pretty ironic, huh?"
Bailey's smile had grown broader and broader as Justin's narrative continued.
"No shit! We're not just buds? You really care for me? Like a, well, like a boyfriend?"
"Oh, god, yes! But more! Like I never felt about a boyfriend before."
Justin wanted to jump into Bailey's lap and put his arms around him, to kiss him. But he was afraid that might not be a good move. Yet.
"So, babe. What the fuck do we do now?"
Bailey shook his head. "Damned if I know, Jus, damned if I know."
To be continued
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