I'd been sitting talking to Jake for a few hours already. Claire had long since left, gone home at what was a reasonable hour for a weekday. But Jake still wasn't ready to leave. Just the opposite, he seemed increasingly interested in talking to me. It was a little odd, since we'd only just met. I couldn't really figure out how I'd ended up in the conversation.
I'd been at the bar like usual, having a beer with Nancy. We hadn't seen each other for a while, so we'd planned a quick five to seven to catch up and make sure we were both still alive and well and friends with each other. I was glad for her company that night. Brad was working late and wouldn't be meeting me.
Nance left early, but I stayed on for a while nursing my beer and reading a book. I wasn't ready to head home yet. I hated being home alone, and since Brad wouldn't be there for another few hours, I decided to kill some time where I was.
After another pint and a few chapters devoured, I was ready to pack it in. But then Claire popped up out of nowhere, escorted by an adorable piece of arm candy. Tall, dark, and blue-eyed, armed with a killer smile and a well-fitting suit. I found myself envying her, if only a little. Brad was my own personal dreamboat dinner, but he would never reach the GQ status this guy had attained.
Claire was my smoking buddy at work. We worked on different floors of the same building, and somehow always found ourselves outside at the same time of day. We engaged in idle chit-chat whenever we bumped into each other, but she wasn't really what I'd call a friend.
She came over and said hi as soon as she spotted me. She was friendly like that. I was happy enough to see her, but surprised to be meeting her there, in my own little dive bar. As it turned out, she felt the same way. Her boyfriend and she only lived a few blocks away and stopped by there for a drink fairly regularly. I was there almost every night. How we had missed each other until then was a mystery.
She introduced me to her man. His name was Jake. They made a lovely couple. Her, small and blonde, and him, tall and dark. She fit perfectly under his arm. He was friendly, too. I invited them to join me, and the three of us ordered a round.
Jake and I fell into conversation easily. It all started out casually enough, but our conversation gradually became more intense as the night wore on. Eventually Claire excused herself and left, leaving Jake behind. She seemed a little annoyed with him as she left, but it appeared he had no intention of going with her. I felt awkward about it, but what was I going to do? It was almost as if he had been waiting her out, waiting for her to tire and go. There was a change in him as soon as she left, like a weight was lifted off his shoulders. Like he could relax.
He seemed fascinated with the fact that I was gay, and asked a lot of questions about my life. It was nothing too personal, so I didn't mind answering him. He was oddly interested, though. And he became more animated as the conversation wore on. It seemed like he was trying to lead the conversation in a certain direction, like he was trying to say something but couldn't quite get it out. Finally, after quite a few beers and a cigarette he bummed off me, he let the dam burst.
"I'm going to let you in on a secret. I don't know if it's because I'm a few beers deep or what, but I'm going to tell you something." It was pretty strange, watching this charismatic guy opening up like that.
"I've never shared this with anyone. Not even Claire. Especially not Claire. This really can't get back to her, okay? I'm trusting you with this. Can I do that, Bob?" I'd only just met him, but I wanted him to be able to trust me. I liked him, and he seemed so sincere. My father used to tell me that I was too soft, that people would take advantage of me in life. But I've always seen my ability to care about people as a personal strength. I told him to go on.
"Shit, I don't know why I'm saying this to you. But it's coming out. I have to tell someone." He seemed a bit upset. I tried to look encouraging.
"Man, I really hope that my gut is right about you. Because I love Claire, I really do. And if she found out what I'm about to tell you, well, my whole life would kind of go to shit. I can't have that. I finally feel like I've gotten some things sorted out. So please don't tell her." He was compelling in his earnestness. I would keep quiet, whatever it was. He continued.
"If you were to ask anyone who knows me -- and I do mean anyone, my parents, my friends, my cousins, my priest -- they would all tell you that my first love was a girl named Anna Patterson. I met her my first semester of college, and we dated for almost three years after that. I really did love her. She was interesting, loving, beautiful. Not hard to love at all.
"But she wasn't my first love. My first love came earlier than her, in my junior year of high school. His name was Peter." He paused there for a moment, to let his statement sink in, I guess. I would be lying if I said I wasn't a little shocked by it, but I tried not to let it show on my face. I wasn't judging him -- that would have been hypocritical. But he just seemed so... straight. Of course, he'd given me some hints over the course of our conversation, but I didn't fully see it coming. I didn't want to discourage him, though. So I kept my mouth shut and let him go on.
"Peter was my best friend. I never would have admitted at the time that I was in love with him. It's only been very recently that I finally came to terms with that fact. Back then, if it had ever come out, which thank God it didn't, I would have sworn up and down that we were just messing around. That's what I told myself for years.
"We weren't even friends publicly. He was my neighbour. He lived down the street from me. We'd grown up around each other, but not really together, you know? I'd always thought he was handsome in an offhand kind of way, but never really spent a lot of time thinking about it. Then around the Christmas I was 16 that started to change.
"The weather was brutal that December. A huge blizzard blew through right before we were supposed to break for the holiday season, forcing the school to close down a few days early. It took a while for them to get all of the roads cleared, and our subdivision seemed to be amongst the last on the plough list. The whole neighbourhood was kind of shut down for a few days. There was too much snow on the ground to really get the car out or go anywhere.
"It got boring pretty quick. I was out of school, but isolated from my friends because my parents certainly wouldn't let me drive with the conditions what they were, and the bus service was temporarily suspended. The only person I knew around my age within walking distance was Peter.
"He was the one who did the seeking out. He just showed up and started talking to me one afternoon while I was outside making a snowman with my sister Kelly. She was still pretty young then, only 9 or so. Making a snowman was something to do. It got us outside and away from the TV for a while.
"I guess Pete saw us out the window or something, because he came over to say hi and offered to help. He must have been feeling as bored and cooped up as I was. We had fun, the three of us. He was nice to my sister, didn't seem to mind hanging out with a little kid at all. It was a pleasant afternoon. He was easier to be around than my other friends. Simpler, less concerned about image. I'd always liked Pete, but like I said, we never really knew each other that well. After spending some time with him that day, I liked him more.
"When we were finished, I invited him inside for some hot chocolate. My parents must have been out somewhere, because I remember slipping some liquor into our drinks after we'd gotten Kelly settled down with a movie. I felt like such a hot shot. The big man with the booze. Pete was into it and his approval felt good. I could tell he liked me. It was a good feeling.
"We spent a lot of time together over that Christmas break. It was a really convenient hang out. Everyone seemed to always just sort of hunker down around the house during the holidays back then. It was a lot easier heading down the street than trying to convince my parents to lend me the car or give me a lift out to a friend's house, especially with the bad weather. So I resorted to spending all my time with Pete.
"Plus, I really liked hanging out with him. He was funny, and he was handsome, and he was cool. I was glad we had finally made friends, and wondered why it hadn't happened earlier. The friendship had come so easily. I couldn't see any reason why it had been delayed for so long. I figured it was maybe only habit that had kept us apart.
"By the time school rolled back around in January, we had been hanging out pretty much every day for three weeks straight. I'd even seen him on Christmas Day. Late that night, after each of our families had exhausted their booze supplies, we'd snuck out into the park around the corner and smoked a joint. I remember the snow was falling softly and the yellow glow from the streetlights illuminated his face from behind. I was high and silly, but I remember thinking he looked like an angel, and being momentarily lost in his big brown eyes. Then I shook my head and laughed at myself. The thought passed quickly. That was the first time I can remember feeling attracted to him.
"We became fast friends over Christmas break. But when we got back to school, we both slipped into our old routines. We didn't have any classes together, and our friends weren't friends with each other, so our paths didn't really cross. It was only after school that we found ourselves spending time together, ambling home side by side, occasionally sneaking off to the park to get high. It wasn't intentional that our friendship remained a secret. It just sort of happened that way.
"But in retrospect, I guess I can see that I did more to keep our relationship under wraps than I realized, even from those early days. I remember one specific instance. I forget how the conversation arose, but it was between my friends Maggie and Gavin while the three of us ate lunch one day. Maggie was always a bit of a gossip and loved to talk about other people. Again, I don't remember how it came up, but they ended up discussing how they thought Peter was weird. I started to panic inside. I probably should have defended him, but all I could say was that I had never noticed before. I was genuinely shocked. I'd always thought that Peter was well-liked. But they began to offer various examples of what they'd deemed odd behaviour as proof. I remember feeling really ashamed in that moment about our relationship. I kept my mouth shut and didn't say another word about him.
"It was from that moment on that I think I began to feel a little torn about the whole Peter thing. He was still just my friend at this point. Nothing had happened between us. But I was starting to feel really confused about him. Part of me thought he was awesome, loved spending time with him, and was really stoked to be his friend. Another part was beginning to worry that maybe I liked him too much. Also, and I'm ashamed to admit this, I was partially swayed by the Mags' and Gav's judgement of him. I started to worry that I was trapped in a friendship with some sort of loser. In any respect, I knew that I definitely didn't want my friends knowing how much time we spent together.
"It was easy to forget about my misgivings over our friendship when were alone, though. During the March break, they all but disappeared. Once again I found myself spending every day with him, and feeling nothing but excited about the prospect of seeing him. He made me feel good inside.
"He was becoming a bigger and bigger part of my life. I didn't spend much time analysing it, but sometimes late at night his face would sneak into my mind. They weren't sexy thoughts I was having about him at first. He was just there, a comforting thought as I fell asleep.
"As we grew closer, our relationship started to become touchy. I touched him, he touched me. Not in any excessive or lingering kind of way, but we would grasp each other's shoulders, let our legs touch a bit when we sat next to each other on the couch, that sort of thing. I liked the touching, and started to seek out new ways for it to happen.
"It was a nice friendship. I could just be myself around him. I didn't have to worry about saying something stupid and being ridiculed. Ridicule wasn't in his nature. He just accepted me, and I him. I felt closer to him than I'd ever felt to another friend. He made me feel good, and I liked that. He made me happy when I thought about him.
"Around about Easter of that year, just before my 17th birthday, I was thinking about him more and more. Actually, I think by then it had gotten to the point where I thought about him all the time. I was by now actively hiding our friendship from my other friends. Partially because I was embarrassed they thought he was weird, and partially because I was starting to come to terms with what I really wanted from him. He was in my thoughts every night as I fell asleep. And he'd started to pop into my brain at other times too.
"When I jerked off, I always thought about hot girls. Melissa Jarvis from my Chemistry class or Jennifer Lopez or something. Remember how hot Jennifer Lopez was? Anyway, I always tried really hard to picture those girls, imagine what they'd look like naked, imagine touching them. But as hard as I tried to focus on them, Pete's face started to somehow sneak into my mind towards the end, just before I would, well, you know. It kind of disturbed me, but I'd be spent and fall asleep right after, and it'd be out of my mind by the time I woke up.
"Things changed over Easter weekend. We spent a lot of time together that weekend, as had become the norm for us over holidays. But it didn't feel like it used to. We somehow became even touchier than normal during those few days. The air between us was different. I began carrying a tight knot around in my stomach over him. And on the Saturday night, I let myself for the first time ever toss one off completely to the thought of him. I'd never come so hard in my life. You'd think I'd have been freaking out, but as I fell asleep afterward I remember feeling oddly at peace over what was happening.
"Terror started to rise at the prospect of seeing him again when I woke up the next morning, though. I couldn't get the image I'd conjured of him as I'd come out of my mind. It was stuck there. I felt completely guilty about it.
"I wasn't sure if I knew how to act around him anymore. I felt a little self-conscious about all the touching, and began to doubt whether it hadn't all been one-sided, like I was some weird gay predator or something. No offense.
"I kind of coasted through that Easter Sunday and the holiday dinner, not saying much to anyone. I don't think people really noticed. Everyone was busy and kind of drunk. I have a pretty big family, so I just sailed under the radar and let the talkers do the talking all night.
"A big part of me just wanted to hide from Peter, let our friendship die and those feelings go away. But I was inexplicably drawn to him. As much as the prospect scared me, I had to see him. As the festivities were winding down that night, I slipped out of my house and down the road to his. He knew I was coming. I think I'd MSNed him or something. He met me by his side door, greeting me warmly.
"It was pretty nice that Easter, actually one of the first warm nights of the year. We stood outside for a while, just shooting the shit. I think his parents were probably asleep at this point, because I'm fairly certain we smoked a joint before going in. It was pretty late, my family's party having gone on past midnight. Like I said, big family, big parties.
"I was nervous about going in. I was always nervous around him those days, but it was worse that night. I felt guilty about what I'd done the night before, but there was more to it. It was like I almost knew what was coming. Maybe I did. Maybe things had already shifted between the of two us and we just hadn't acknowledged it yet.
"I did end up going into his house eventually. He had a basement bedroom that he inherited when his older brother left for college. It was pretty sweet. There was a TV and a couch down there, and you could access it from the side door without having to walk through the rest house. It made it pretty easy for him to sneak out, or for me to sneak in.
"We plopped down on his couch and started watching a movie, The World is Not Enough. Funny how I can still remember. It had just come out on video, I think, and I hadn't seen it yet. Pete had a dvd player, and my family didn't, so I had been holding out to watch it at his house.
"We popped the movie in and sat back on the couch, our legs finding their way towards each other as they so often did. It felt different this time, though. My heart was beating harder than normal, and I was very aware of the body heat that was rolling off of him. I think I was squirming a lot, not really able to get comfortable. He was shifty too. We must have both felt it. Somehow in the course of our moving around, our fingers ended up touching. Only a little at first, but then it seemed like each of us was intentionally nudging the contact forward. I'd graze his hand a little with my pinkie, and he'd graze mine a little with his. And then out of nowhere we were holding hands. Just like that. I'd never felt more nervous about anything in my life.
"We sat like that for a while, not really looking at each other but connected through our palms. I was pretending with all my might to be so engrossed in the movie that I didn't notice what was going on. I was scared of what would happen if the situation was acknowledged. But the truth was the only thing in the room I was aware of was the contact between our two hands, our touching palms, our intertwined fingers. His hand felt so strong. Mine was a little sweaty. I was embarrassed about that, but I couldn't help it. I was terrified.
"He started to gently rub my hand with his thumb. I loved the feeling, but it scared me. I didn't know what to do. I had very little sexual experience at this point. I'd made out with precisely two girls. That was all. I had no idea what I was doing, what I was getting into. He kept rubbing my hand. I knew it was going somewhere but I didn't know what to do about it. I think I let out a little sigh, maybe out of pleasure, maybe out of frustration. The next thing I knew, he'd pulled me towards him and somehow I found myself lying on top of him, lost in those big brown eyes of his.
"We stared at each other, and my breath caught in my throat. We were closer than I'd ever dreamed we'd be. And then we were kissing. It was miraculous. I remember being surprised at how naturally it all came. I'd felt a little unsure about those two previous make out sessions. My tongue had felt too big for my mouth, and I'd been convinced I was a bad kisser. But with Peter, I didn't even think. It just came. I was swept up in it. All of the anxiety I'd been experiencing over this eventuality disappeared as my pulse pounded hard through my body.
"I think we probably made out for hours, until our lips were dry. At least it felt that way. We rubbed up against each other forever, dangling over the edge of coming. All the feelings I'd been repressing for months came out in that one explosive moment. It was hard to stop, hard to leave him. I think I tried about 5 or 6 times before I managed to make it out the door. When I finally got to my own bed, I rubbed out the hardest orgasm I'd ever experienced in my life and fell asleep with a smile on my face. I smiled all the way through Easter Monday.
"Back at school I felt a little bit weird about the whole situation. We hadn't talked since that night, and I was really scared that what had happened would somehow get out. I was also scared to see him at school, because I had no idea how I was supposed to act around him. No one really knew we were friends. And now it seemed that we were maybe more than friends. Was I supposed to say hi to him? Go up and put my arm around him? I didn't know.
"Luckily, I didn't need to figure it out that quickly. As I've already mentioned, I didn't see him around school that often on account of us having different schedules and different friends. I also avoided him for those first few days, going in the opposite direction if I saw him coming, that sort of thing. I didn't want to see him at school before we'd had a chance to talk away from the prying eyes of our peers.
"So I invited myself over that Wednesday. Or, more accurately, I showed up at his door. He let me in, but seemed a little annoyed with me. Things were awkward as we sat down on his couch, the same couch we'd made out for hours on just a few days earlier. A big part of me wanted to pick things right back up where they'd been left off. But that wasn't why I had gone over. Well, it wasn't the full reason why. I really wanted to figure out where we stood with each other.
"He was the first one to talk. I think he said something along the lines of, "you've been avoiding me." I felt really guilty about that. Like a dumbass, I hadn't realized he would noticed. I should have. I mean, he's really smart. You can't get much by him. But I didn't know him as well back then.
"I somewhat ashamedly admitted to him that he was right. But I did my best to explain why. To explain about how I wasn't sure how to act around him at school. How I knew what I wanted to do when I saw him, but how I was pretty sure the rest of the student body wouldn't react too well if I did it. He just shrugged. I guess he could understand that a little.
"Unfortunately, the conversation led us more toward making out than resolving anything. We were really young. Neither of us had ever been in a relationship before and we had no idea how they were supposed to work. And our hormones were so crazy. Looking back now I can see that afternoon was the beginning of a pretty obvious pattern in our relationship. We never learned how to properly work things out. Instead we just always ending up fooling around and skirting over the issues. It was a mistake, of course. But you can't possibly understand that when you're 16 or 17. Nothing seems that important, and it's much easier to just get off than to try and explain how you're feeling.
"Anyway, we ended up making out again that afternoon. And a lot of other afternoons. But we never really resolved the whole `how do we act around each other in public?' question. Eventually, we settled into a habit of ignoring each other, I think mostly because it was the easiest option. Of course, it sucked in a lot of ways. I hated not being able to talk to him when we bumped into each other in the halls, but I was terrified that if I did the whole world would somehow instantly know what we did together behind closed doors. I don't know if it was the same fears that held him back, or if he was just afraid I would be mad at him if he tried to initiate contact. The truth is I probably would have been.
"I even kept him away from my family as much as possible, not really completely consciously. But I knew what I was doing. Of course, they knew we were friends. But I didn't invite him over very often, at least not when my parents were around. I didn't really care as much when it was only Kelly, but I didn't want him getting close with my parents. Or having them remark at all at this new and very intense relationship I had developed with the boy from down the road. They thought he was a friend of convenience, and I wanted to keep it that way.
"Things went on like that for a while. We got really close during the summer, when I saw him pretty much every day. We had a lot of chances to be alone together, as both of our parents worked and left us alone in the house. Only Kelly had any idea of how much time we spent together, but she was just a little kid so I didn't really care. I still saw my regular friends, but only once every week or two. I always tended to drift from them a little bit over the summer months.
"I was closer than ever with Petey, though. We'd progressed from merely making out to sucking each other off and coming pretty spectacularly together on a fairly regularly basis. That was more of a symptom of our closeness than the the cause of it. For the most part, I'd never been happier in my entire life. But sometimes, when I would think too hard about what was going on, I'd seize up in panic. I never even let the word `gay' enter my mind. He was just my friend. We were just fooling around. We most certainly were not in love. And he was definitely not my boyfriend.
"This went on all through our senior year as well. It got progressively harder to keep our relationship under wraps, but we managed to do it. I don't even know how. To be honest, he didn't want to. Not really. I don't think he resented me that much over it back then, though. We were young and things were new and he knew where I was coming from. We'd talked a little about it, not really in as much detail as we should have, but we knew where the other one stood. I didn't think I was gay. I didn't want the relationship getting out. And for the most part, he respected that.
"Midway through our senior year, he, for lack of a better term, came out to me. Basically, he admitted that he was fully gay. I don't know why, I but I felt surprised and a little weirded out when he told me. Looking back I realize that was a really stupid reaction, but it was how I felt. I'd maintained my heterosexuality throughout our whole affair. We'd even talked about girls before, which ones we thought were hot in our grade, which celebrities we liked. You know, the usual types of stuff. I thought he felt the same way about things as I did. So when he told me he was gay, I was caught a little off guard.
"But I swallowed the idea down pretty quick. It almost made it easier in some ways. When my panic about the whole situation started getting really bad, I managed to convince myself that I was just using him to get off because he was gay and easy. Of course, that wasn't true. I really cared about him. And when we were having sex, that was an expression of those feelings.
"I really was in love with him. I just couldn't admit it to myself. Seeing him always put me in a better mood, even if I was having a shitty day. I told him everything about my day, my life. I told him about how I was worried about going to college. I told him if I was stressed out over homework. I told him everything. Just thinking about him made me smile. And he could make me laugh like no one else. We MSNed regularly, talked on the phone. I thought about him all the time. He filled me with a feeling of nervous excitement. I was in love with him. But I couldn't accept it.
"I ended things somewhat abruptly in August before leaving for university. We were going to school in different cities, so it kind of gave me a good excuse. I told him that I didn't think we should feel attached to each other going into school. I didn't want to hold him back. And I wanted to feel free to date hot college chicks. We'd never formally laid out anything regarding exclusivity, which made things easier. I just acted on the premise that all we'd ever been was friends, because I'd never called him my boyfriend and he'd never used the label on me. I told him it was cool if we continued to be friends, but the whole sex thing had to end now that we were grown ups. Pretty douchey of me, I know.
"He was understandably pissed about the whole thing. After that conversation, he didn't talk to me for a week. Idiot kid that I was, I'd thought that he'd be okay with it, you know? That he'd see things my way. And I'd convinced myself that if he didn't, well, he wasn't that important to me anyway. In truth, I was completely blindsided by how devastated I felt at suddenly not having him in my life. It couldn't understand it. It was what I had wanted. I'd psyched myself up for weeks before ending things. And I'd managed to convince myself that it would be no big deal, that we were just friends of convenience, that I'd be better off without him in my life. But when it came right down to it, I missed him.
"I was pretty miserable that whole week, and deeply regretted having said goodbye to him before I had to. I tried to tell myself that it was for the best, that I'd done the right thing. But I finally broke and called him the night before he was supposed to be leaving. Reluctantly, he let me come over.
"When I got there, I apologized for being a dick. I don't fully remember what we talked about, but I do remember the feeling of instant comfort and safety that washed over me around him. It had always been there, but I never felt it more acutely than that night as I begged for his forgiveness. I felt like such an asshole about the way I'd broken things off. He was the only person I could be myself around. He really mattered to me.
"I eventually got him to forgive me. I don't even think it took that long. I think he'd missed me as much as I'd missed him. He relented, and we fell into each other as easily as always. We made love that night. Actually, we did more than that. We lost our virginities.We'd never gone there before but it felt right all of a sudden. When I slipped inside him, I'd never felt more alive or alright with who I was. I was happy.
"Like I said, we had a bad habit of fucking around instead of properly talking things through. We didn't solve anything that night, and ended up leaving things off on kind of an ambiguous note. We hadn't officially gotten back together, there was nothing official to get back to. We parted ways as `friends,' not that either of us understood what that meant. He knew I wanted to feel free to sleep with girls in college, and either he was okay with that or was doing his best to pretend he was.
"We e-mailed and spoke over MSN regularly for the first month or so. But then our communication started to fall by the wayside. I got really busy with school, and I met Anna. I was keeping really busy between writing papers, going to the gym, partying, and seeing her. I got worse at writing Pete back. I felt guilty about it. But then I would look at Anna and Pete would seem less important. She made me feel normal, normal like I'd never felt through the course of my relationship with Petey. It was too easy to push him out of my head and focus on a future without him in it. A future with Anna.
"I didn't see Pete that Thanksgiving. We both tried a little to meet up, but I was scared to see him and he claimed to be buried in school work. I think he was equally scared to see me and discover he had lost me. There was one night where it might have worked, but I pussied out and chose to go drinking with my other friends instead. So we missed each other.
"We did see each other over Christmas, though. The second day I got back. It had been a while since I'd heard from him, and to be honest I'd been thinking that I probably wouldn't see him while I was home. But he walked by me while I was outside shoveling the driveway. We started chatting a bit, and he ended up offering to help. I wanted to say no, but I didn't want him to leave. We worked in silence together for about an hour, doing a good job and working up a bit of a cold sweat. When we were finished, I invited him in for a drink and to warm up a bit.
"We sat at my kitchen table drinking beer and thawing out. There was a bit of cold air between us, but it seemed to melt away as the radiator worked to warm us up. It was a little awkward, but it was good to see him. I was scared to tell him about Anna, though. I should have mentioned her in one of my infrequent e-mails, it would have been much easier that way. But I was a chicken and couldn't do it. Seeing him in person, though, I had to tell him. I didn't want to lie to him. And I didn't want him making any moves. I wanted to be with Anna. I was happy just being his friend.
"I could tell he was sad when I broke the news to him, but he did his best to hide it. I think he wanted to keep me in his life, regardless of in what form. So he pretended to be happy for me, happy that I had finally found someone. As if I hadn't already found him.
"We sat for about an hour in my kitchen that afternoon, just drinking beer, shooting the shit and catching up with one another. Then he announced he had to be getting home. He finished his beer, pulled on his coat, and left. And that was it, I thought. Our old relationship was over. We would just be friends. It would be fine. It would be like it had never happened.
"But it didn't last. Two days later, I found myself in his basement next to him on that couch of ours. We were both buzzing a little bit, having smoked a joint and put away a couple of beers. That old energy between the two of us was back and stronger than ever. Before I even knew what was happening, we were half naked and ravaging each other. And it felt amazing. More ferocious than anything I'd been experiencing with Anna.
"We were together that whole Christmas break. All month. Anna wasn't mentioned once. I think he was content to have me while he could and not worry about what would happen when I was out of sight. It wasn't the perfect situation for him, but it was the best he could get. God, that makes me sound so full of myself. But I think that's maybe how he felt.
"I, on the other hand, was more confused than ever. When I'd met Anna, I'd really thought I was moving on from what had just been a weird, teenaged phase. I thought that I was fully straight. Peter in many ways had become just a distant memory. But that had all been flipped upside down so easily.
"Going back to see her, I wasn't sure how to feel. Pete and I had parted ways much the same as we had the last time, as loosely defined `friends.' I vowed to myself as I kissed him goodbye that it was for the last time, that things were over. But I missed him as I headed back to school.
"I was apprehensive about seeing Anna. I was second-guessing everything I'd thought I'd felt for her, because it had been so easily swept away when I'd seen Peter again. I'd thought that I was well on my way to falling in love with her, that I was incredibly lucky to have scored such a babe, that she held my future. Suddenly I wasn't sure if any of that was true.
"Surprisingly, seeing her again ended up being fine. It wasn't nearly as awkward as I'd thought it would be. She was easy to kiss. It was easy to get wrapped up in her. Easy to push Peter out of my mind. Once again, I started to put him behind me and look ahead to a future with her. I didn't e-mail him once that term. By the time my freshman year of college was over, Anna and I had gelled into a solid relationship unit. I had declared my love for her. I wanted her to come home and meet my family. I was happy with her. Peter was hardly a thought.
"But then I got home for the summer. Somehow being at home again, knowing he was so near, caused him to invade my thoughts. I'd planned on avoiding him, but I found myself calling him up within a week of getting home. I couldn't help it. I needed to see him. Even then, I planned on just being friends with him, on drawing a line on our physical relationship. But it didn't last. It couldn't. We fell back into each other as easily as ever. And it was as good, if not slightly more strained than it used to be. I was still with Anna, but it was easy to forget about her when he held me in his arms. I don't really know how I was able to resolve it all in my head, but I somehow convinced myself that it wasn't cheating. Actually, to this day, I'm not really sure who I was cheating on who with.
"It was weird when Anna came to visit for a week. Peter wanted to meet her, but I wouldn't let him. He let it slide. It should have been a good week. Peter stayed away, my parents and Kelly loved Anna, and so did my high school friends. But I couldn't shake the feeling that she was somehow invading my and Peter's territory. I couldn't wait for her to leave.
"The pattern of our relationships carried on this way until Christmas of junior year. I was with Anna completely throughout the school terms. We even moved in together eventually. But on holidays, I was always with Pete. And he was with me. I would always forget how I felt about him, convince myself that it was gone, move happily forward with Anna, until he was in front of me again. And then, well, then he was impossible to resist. I never asked much about his life at college, and he never offered any information. I didn't want to know. I liked our little island too much. What I did pick up was that he seemed to be living an openly gay life at school, which I secretly respected him for. I knew deep down I would never have those guts. I don't know if he dated at all. He must have a little. He was really good looking.
"The point was the rest of the world didn't matter when we were together. It was just him and me. We were all that existed. Everything else just sort of floated off into the distance. Life would stop when we were together, and we could forget all of our problems. But that one Christmas things changed. They were bound to eventually.
"What happened was Anna came to visit for a week, from Boxing Day to New Year's Day. Her visiting naturally happened a few times over the course of our relationship, and Peter had never really liked it but never said much on the subject. Of course, I had to shut him out while she was around. I couldn't have them meeting each other.
"I think it finally go to be too much for him. He didn't like seeing her win. Seeing her be an open, accepted part of my life. And I can't blame him. That would have hurt a lot.
"Her visit that year was kind of last minute. Pete and I had plans to spend New Years together, but then she showed and he got bumped. It all came to a head one night right after she left. I can't say what triggered it, but he exploded at me. And I exploded back. I couldn't deal with the emotions he was putting on me. I'd fooled myself into thinking that what had was casual, just two friends messing around. Of course that wasn't the case, but superficially that was how I saw it, how I justified it.
That night, everything we'd never said to each other over all of those years came out. All of the anxiety caused by our illicit affair came crashing outward. He felt used. I felt trapped. We both felt dirty. And after everything was said, it couldn't possible have gone on.
"We just cut each other out. Well, he cut me out and I let him. It was easier that way. Easier for him to finally move on. Easier for me to give it a real go with Anna. Easier to forget about each other. It was for the best, breaking things off. We could never have given each other what we were looking for. He wanted to have an open gay relationship. He was okay with his sexuality. He wanted a partner who was as well. And me, I wanted a successful relationship with a woman. I wanted the house, the kids, the wife. He couldn't provide that for me any more than he could slam dunk a basketball.
"So I pushed him out of my mind, and compartmentalized away the way I felt about him. He'd just been a friend. We weren't friends anymore. That was all. I loved Anna. That was unrelated. I just moved forward, as if nothing had ever happened.
"I did break down about it once, about 8 months later. I was having a shit time in general around then, and one night the weight of everything I lost when I'd let him walk away from me started crushing down. I lay in bed sobbing, remembering his strong, tanned arms, his smile, how he used to look at me. The pain was excruciating. When I woke up the next morning, I felt numb and cathartic and pushed him out of my mind again. That was the only time I ever let myself cry over him, or really feel anything about what had happened between us.
"I didn't see him for three years. I know that sounds amazing considering we lived just down the street from each other, but I didn't. I think he stayed away over the next summer. Then he stayed away for work once he got his degree.
"Of course, I eventually broke up with Anna. Less than 6 months after I broke up with Peter, actually. Our relationship was built on a broken foundation. It could never have lasted. The guilt over how I had treated her became too much for me to bear.
"That year was really bad for me. I ended up dropping out of school for a semester and staying home and working. I hated everything about my life. I hated that my relationship with Anna had failed. I hated what I was learning. And I hated that Pete probably hated me. But there was nothing I could do but just grind ahead.
"Eventually I heard through the grapevine that Pete came out to his family and the world in general. I was proud of him, but it was weird hearing my friends gossiping about his sexuality in front of me. Weird hearing Maggie say `see, I always knew there was something different about him.' Generally, no one seemed to be that negative about it, but the way the news fueled conversation further cemented the fact that no one could ever know about me.
"I got back on track after a while. I decided to switch majors, got a degree, got a job. Peter became nothing but an old memory, mostly happy but a little sad. I started dating a bit again. Nothing serious, always girls. Occasionally guys snuck into my thoughts, but I was for the most part able to suppress or ignore it. I really did convince myself that Peter had just been a phase.
"Then I saw him in the grocery store while I was home for Christmas three years ago. We didn't speak. We just stared at each other across the organic produce to the sound of Calvin and the Chipmunks' version of "Winter Wonderland". I was immediately lost again in those big brown eyes. My heart rate quickened. I could barely breathe. I wanted to go to him, but I couldn't move. Then he looked away and continued pushing his cart down the aisle. That was the extent of it. But it was enough to shake my soul. I realized at that moment that I had been in love with him, that I was still in love with him.
"It wasn't long after that I met Claire. Maybe I was looking for someone to distract me from the thoughts I was having about Peter again. I don't know. But I liked Claire instantly. She reminded me of Anna in a lot of ways. Mostly in that when I looked at her, I saw a future. And I still see one. I want to marry that girl, Bob. I want to give her a house, give her kids. I want to build a life with her. But I'm not sure that I deserve her. I'm not sure if I could ever love her properly.
"Sometimes Peter still pops into my head at the least expected times. Actually, more often lately than he used to. I'm not sure why. He makes me smile when he does. But he also makes my chest cease up in panic because I know that I missed my chance with him. And then I think of Claire, and the life we're building, and it's all right. But it's nothing compared to how he used to make me feel.
"I try not to let those thoughts in. Claire and I, the two of us, we're on a path, you know? I like that path. It relaxes me because I know things are set up. If I just let go and let life do the driving, I know that I'll end up with Claire, married. And that's good because that's what I've always wanted. But it's also terrifying. Because deep down I'm not sure if it will make me happy.
"Anyway, it's getting pretty late, Bob. Thanks for listening to me. These things have been boiling closer to the surface than usual lately. It's good to get them off my chest."
With that, Jake picked up the tab, put his coat on, and left. It was a pretty unbelievable story. I never would have guessed it when I first met him, when I first saw him walk in with Claire. They seemed really happy together. I guess you never know.