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I wish that I could say that it was easier to relax this time around. That being around Niles had somehow become a much less stressful experience, now that the official rules of the game had been presented to me.
But that would be a lie.
I wish that I could say that I was emotionally prepared for today. That I had strategized and anticipated and observed everything from a distance, getting the chance to see things logically before charging into this whole thing without thinking.
But that would be a lie also.
No matter how badly I wanted to just step BACK for a few seconds and just...get some time to THINK about all this...time just kept rushing by and pushing me to make one snap decision after another. I just felt...awkward and uneasy. Why was I sooooo awkward and uneasy???
We were in the same place, ordered the same cider drinks...we were almost sitting at the exact same table, as last time. But the entire vibe was different. My careful observations detected it right away. Something had definitely changed. I wasn't quite sure what it was...but the joyful environment surrounding us couldn't hide it from me. I was WAY too smart to be fooled by that!
I'm *on* to you, random teenage infatuation love affair! You won't sucker me in THAT easily, you sneaky fucking demon, you!
"You've been pretty quiet, Gabe..." Summer said, trying to get me to talk more. It snatched me out of my obsessive daze, but left me without anything clever to say in response.
Instead, I just mumbled, "Sorry...what were you guys talking about?"
They all sort of looked at one another, but nobody answered me. I saw Niles smile at me...those amazing eyes nearly knocking me right out of my chair. And he said, "New subject. How 'bout it?" He said.
Wait...what did I miss? Awww, why wasn't I paying closer attention? This is why he's always ten steps ahead of me. I need to be watching. Listening. Taking notes. I'm NEVER going to make a decent impression on him this way! He just...he's SO damn cute! And he basically just asked me out on a date a few minutes ago! Like an actual date!
I just want to put the brakes on for a bit! I can't think straight! This train could totally derail itself at any minute if I'm not given time to contemplate and observe!
Where are the BRAKES on this runaway contraption???
"A...a new...umm...?" I stammered. Well, what did you EXPECT when I wasn't given enough time to be...well...spontaneous?
Shut up! I know what 'spontaneous' means, I just...I'm trying to...ARRRGHHH!!!
Summer said, "We were talking about some of the TV shows we were into, but...Gabe here doesn't watch much TV."
Jason added, "Yeah. He says it dulls your personal creativity. Or something like that."
Did he...? Did she...? Why on Earth would they tell him that??? WHY???
Niles gave me a smirk. "Is that so? Sharpening your creative edge for something special, I take it? Must be something amazing."
I could feel my body temperature rising, ten degrees at a time. I fought the urge to stare down at my hands, fidgeting with a clumsy twitch as I tried to push myself to think faster than normal. Predict and anticipate. It just wasn't working!
"Hehehe, yeah...I mean...well, probably. Yeah..." God that sounded stupid. Totally stupid. I'm RUINING this date!
"Are you more of a reader, then?" Niles asked me. Not only did I have those mesmerizing eyes fixed on my 'perspiration glazed' face...but now I had Summer and Jason sitting there waiting for me to answer as well. The pressure was enough to cause my brittle bones to crack at this point. "What was the last book you read?"
"I...I just...well...you know..." What do I say? I could just...make something up, right? I read, but my brain is drawing a total blank on every word of text that I've ever read since I was able to master 'Cat In The Hat', and somehow I don't think Niles will find that selection all that impressive. I could lie, but...what if he asks follow up questions? What if he's read that book too and wants to talk about it. Then I'll look like an illiterate, and numbskull, AND a liar! What the fuck did I get myself in to today???
Summer was like, "Gabe...?"
But before she could ask me if I was alright, I lifted my head and said, "Well...you know...all the books I have at home? They're all so outdated. I read a lot of stuff online mostly nowadays. Short stories. Just enough to...stimulate the mind, you know?"
Ok. That was good, right? If I had some more time to think about it, I might have worded it differently...given it a bit more pizazz...but I think it sounds natural enough.
"Hehehe, it was porn, wasn't it?" Niles said, and gave me a wink.
Suddenly, as I was sipping my cider, my throat locked up and I choked and sputtered from hearing him say that out loud! Cider dribbled down my chin, and even though there was obviously some liquid that seemed to be balancing right on the rim of my windpipe, I attempted to keep my loud and desperate coughing fit to a low roar.
Jesus! I don't know what's worse...the fact that he would even suggest something like that...or the fact that, when I really think about it...it might be true! I think I WAS reading porn last night! Great! Now I'm blushing! Sweating, stuttering, mumbling, coughing, and blushing! I'm half expecting a team of soldiers in hazmat suits to come rushing into the café to quarantine the place for Malaria!
"I...I...." I started, but Niles just laughed, graciously handing me a napkin.
"It was for me. I read porn all the time." He said.
Summer's jaw dropped a little bit, while Jason simply looked confused. Jason asked, "You read porn? What's the point of that? Aren't you missing out on all the good stuff?"
"Good stuff, like what?" Niles asked.
"Good stuff like...like pictures, man! Tits and ass and sexy lips and stuff? You can get online and find sooooo many hot porn videos for free! The girls are so freakin' hot! You get to see them do it and hear them moan and stuff...it's the best."
Niles told him, "Well, I used to think that was the most amazing thing too a while back. First it was hot guys in speedos, then pictures of them naked, then the pornographic vids with them doing everything you always wanted to do with each other. I won't deny that I didn't get my jollies off of it every now and then. Still do, on occasion." He said 'jollies'. With an Irish accent, I really like the way he says 'jollies'. It just sounds cute. "But after a while...I started reading online stories about it. Erotica, you know? And it was soooo much better! You get to let your mind run wild, pick your own perfect boys to play the main characters, you get to build the whole fantasy yourself. Up in your noggin, ya know? There's nothing else like it in the world. It beats being spoonfed somebody else's sexual fantasy all the time. Reading erotic stories is different. It puts your brain and your emotions to work. You get to become a part of the whole fantasy building process, right?"
Were we really talking about this? Was he saying what I thought he was saying? I mean, not only was I totally on board with the erotic fiction thing...just hearing him say it out loud as though it was the most normal thing in the world got me to wiggle playfully in my seat, struggling not to smile from his unrehearsed reply. How is this so easy for him? He must be some sort of conversational ninja!
Then...I started to think about Niles naked.
I, HONESTLY, didn't meant to do it! It just sort of...happened! Niles...reading naughty stories online...hard and focused and checking to make sure his bedroom door was closed all the way. Eyes...hazy and half closed. Mouth slightly open, heated breath passing between the moisture of those blushed lips...gently parted to allow an extra flow of oxygen. God, how I wanted to be there when he does it. If not to taste...if not to touch...then just to watch.
Jason said, "Well, I'll have to take your word on that. But if you ask me, there's too much 'real' stuff out there to get all wrapped up in something imaginary."
And that's when Niles looked over at me with that boyish smile of his and said, "Well, perhaps I take after Gabe over here. I see a lot of value in keeping my mind sharp. Don't want to 'dull my creativity', after all."
Whoah...where am I going? I'm melting! HELP! I'm melting! My legs are so weak that I am literally sliding under the goddamn table now!
And all I could do was look down at my cup of cider and giggle bashfully while trying to avoid his gaze. He was seriously more than I could ever possibly hope to handle. Like...ever. He has the uncanny ability to just be so riveting, so amazingly perfect....and just 'on the fly' too! I can't do that! I can't! But I'm trying. I swear...I'm not going to let a super charming beauty like this get away from me without a fight.
I just...wish I knew how to fight...
I wish I could say that the rest of our afternoon together went off without a hitch. That I had somehow found my courage and got comfortable with the whole situation and turned into this awesome, well-spoken, dynamo at our café table once I realized that he still liked me, aside from all of my nervous jitters and flopping around.
But that would be lie number three, wouldn't it?
By the time we were all ready to leave, my brain was trembling inside my head, wondering what kind of impression I was going to leave on Niles once we parted ways for the day. I mean...I had been totally ambushed the last time we were together. So I had an excuse for being so graceless during our time together. But this afternoon should have gone off without a hitch. I should have been better prepared for the beauty of that smile. And the sweet little lilt of his accent. And the terror that he inspired whenever his bluish green eyes connected their cherished contact to mine. I should have had a list of things written on a piece of paper in my pocket to talk about. I should have practiced a few jokes ahead of time. I should have spent the previous evening watching movies of people being 'cool' so I would know how to act. The George Clooneys and the Brad Pitts and the Will Smiths of the cinema. People who can just conjure up charm and wit and charisma at the drop of the hat and talk anybody into loving them for life. Why didn't I do THAT instead of running into this date so blinded? Next time, I'll be better. Next time I'll...
"Had a great time, Gabe." Niles said to me as we stepped outside. I didn't realize how hard I had been kicking myself until he broke the spell. If only for a couple of cute filled moments.
"Uhhh, well, sweet! I did too." I worked up a smile, but I think he saw right through it.
"You know, if you're still worried about impressing me...don't. M'kay? I'm impressed." He said. "I think shy guys are cute and all, but...c'mon now...give me a little credit, will you? Otherwise, I'm gonna start thinking that I'm giving you all the wrong signals. Then we'll both be a nervous wreck." He gave me another brief wink. He could be so cute when he does that. I agreed that I needed to calm down a little bit, and he said, "Good. So you'll think a bit more about what I said in there, right? About you and me? I've got nothing going on this Thursday if you want to get together. I'd really like to make a habit out of seeing you, Gabe. No big commitments. No pressure to tie yourself down. I just...I have fun with you. And you have fun with me too, right?"
Say yes! Dammit, Gabe! SAY YES!!!
"Yeah. Hehehe, I do..." I told him.
"Well, splendid then. Let's say we keep the momentum going and hang out this week. You game?"
I nodded. "Ok. I'm game. I'm...totally game." The tremors going on in my heart threatened to shut it down completely. But I fought to keep it beating just long enough to accept Niles' invitation. If I died right here on the sidewalk afterward, it'd be worth it to know that I actually took a leap of faith on this. And that's saying a LOT!
In case you haven't noticed...leaps of faith aren't really my specialty...
Niles looked closely at me, and his smile shrank. But just a little bit. It's not that he lost enthusiasm or interest, he just...his face kind of...I don't know....it changed. It was almost as if his already soft features had been airbrushed by the sensuality of the moment. Was it my dreamy eyes that suddenly increased his immaculate appeal? Or was this some kind of supernatural enchantment that he had cast over me? I was so infatuated at the moment, I found it hard to tell the difference.
"Well..." He said softly, taking a half inch step closer to me.
"Well..." I replied. Wishing I had something more to say.
We stood there like a couple of lost puppies for a moment. I knew what I wanted. I think he did too. My breath got shorter and shorter by the second. I could almost taste his kiss on my lips. But it just...it was hard to figure out how to make that magic moment come to life, you know?
I looked over at Summer and Jason, who both instantly looked away from me. Eyes to the sky, pretending to be oblivious.
Then...as though Niles could see how unbelievably 'panicked' I was...he simply leaned in and gave me a firm and loving hug around the waist instead.
As badly as I wanted that breathless first kiss from him...I can't deny that I let out a sigh of relief when he just went in for the hug instead. I wish I could explain why. Me just being a dumb ol' virgin, I guess.
He looked me in the eyes as he let go, and he used his thumb to gently rub my cheek. "Next time?"
At first I thought he was talking about the kiss. Then I thought...well, maybe he just meant that we'll get together soon. I don't know. Maybe he meant both. Either way, I just nodded sheepishly and said, "Uh huh..."
"Great. Take care of yourself, Gabe..." Then he backed away, and waved goodbye to Jason and Summer.
"Did you kiss him?" Jason asked.
"NO!" Summer replied. Obviously, someone had been peeking! "Why didn't you give him the big smooch? He was SO waiting for it!"
"Shut up, he was not!" I said.
"Omigod, I'm gonna totally STRANGLE you one of these days!!!" Summer shrieked, and I walked away to try to save myself any further embarrassment.
He really was going to kiss me, wasn't he? I could still be kissing him right now if I wasn't such a...
We got back to my house and raced to my bedroom for a meeting. I think I heard my mom mumble some sort of pleasant greeting on our way in, but it got cut off as soon as I shut the bedroom door. Sorry, Mom...we've got serious teen stuff to discuss here, and I don't want to risk a security break if I can help it.
I let my feet dangle over the edge on one side of the bed, Summer let hers dangle over the other. Jason's feet dangled over the foot of the bed...and all three of us laid back so all of our heads were touching, staring up at the ceiling.
I started with, "Ok...on a scale of one to ten, how badly did I do today?"
"With ten being the best or the worst?" Jason asked.
"Arrrrgh! Was I really that bad???" I groaned, but Summer gave Jason a pinch.
"He's just messing with your head, Gabe. Don't pay Jason any attention."
"But it WAS pretty bad though, right?" I cringed.
Summer sighed to herself, and said, "It wasn't exactly your best performance, no. But you wanna know what the awesome thing is? I don't think he cares. In fact, I think Niles might actually think it's cute."
"I was kinda getting that vibe too." Jason said. "It's like...you can do no wrong in his eyes. Every word that comes out of your mouth was all sugar treats and fine poetry as far as he was concerned. I'm pretty sure that you've got nothing to worry about. He's totally into you."
I felt a queasy little ache in the center of my stomach and whined, "Him being into me is plenty to worry about, Jason. Believe me."
"I don't get it. Why is that a bad thing?" He asked.
"No..." He said. "Finding a really cute boy to love is complicated. Trying to figure out if he's gay is complicated. Then trying to find a cute boy, who's gay, and actually likes you back, is CRAZY complicated! But you're already three for three, Gabe. All you have to do now is say 'yes' to the guy and enjoy the butt sex."
Another pinch from Summer was inevitable.
"What Jason MEANS to say is that the most difficult parts of this whole process are over. He's inviting you to give this a try. Just say 'yes', Gabe. Say yes and try going out on an actual date with someone that's truly interested in you..."
"I can't just...say 'yes', ok???" I told them.
"Because...it's not..." I knew what it was, but I didn't know how to describe the feeling. "...I can't just have him ask me out, and then I just...let him...well, I don't want to say yes and just...give in like that. You know?"
They were silent for a second or two, and then they both sat up simultaneously and said, "WHAT?!?!"
With a frustrated grunt, I sat up too. "It's like...why can't I just make all the first moves, huh? And then...and then *HE* can just say yes, and then things will balance out a little bit better. Right?"
Summer was like, "I have absolutely NO idea what the heck you're talking about right now..."
I said, "I'm saying that...if Niles is making all the moves and all the plans, and all I'm doing is trying to keep up, then that I means...I don't know...it's like I have to submit to him or something. Surrender. It makes me uncomfortable, ok? I just want to get away from all this and THINK for a little bit. Get a bird's eye view on the situation and make sure that I don't make any big mistakes. That's all."
Jason asked me, "Do you have any clue how incredibly psychotic you sound right now?"
Summer shook her head for a moment, and said, "Gabe...sweetie? That's totally mental. I mean, I know you had a few control issues, but..."
"It's NOT about control issues! I just want a chance to develop an educated perspective. Nothing more."
"No it's not. Gabe, honey...you're squirming over this because it's not under your direct control. Aren't you?" Summer asked.
Jason rolled his eyes, "Awww, seriously, dude? I mean, what are you gonna do? Write out a script for you two on your next date? Just GO with it, dude. Let it happen."
"I don't like that idea. I don't like that idea at ALL." I said, feeling my breath getting short just thinking about it. A deadly cocktail of helplessness and frustration began to slip into my bloodstream, and I stood up from the bed...beginning to pace back and forth to work off the excess energy.
Summer said, "Ok, look...you're nervous. I get that. We all get nervous, Gabe. Everybody is a little shaky when it comes to someone they have REAL feelings for. And that's ok. There's nothing wrong with that. I mean...like you remember a couple of months ago when Jason used to practically run out of the cafeteria every time that girl, Leila, from my pottery class came to get her lunch?"
"God, she was hot..." Jason said under his breath.
"Well? Jason was scared, but he got up the guts to finally walk over and talk to her a couple of times, and it worked out fine. She hadn't even noticed that he was watching at first. Shortly after he got the stones to actually talk to her, she said he was really cute."
"She DID?" Jason asked.
"The point is...if you take a few risks, a few leaps of faith...sometimes you find out that it was totally worth it."
"So wait...Leila said she thought I was cute? When? How long after? How did she say it? Like...did you bring it up, or did she bring it up?" Jason asked, but Summer put her hand up to ignore him.
She said, "Gabe...this is something really special here. People would KILL for an opportunity like this!"
I said, "I don't know, Summer. I feel like I'm driving blindfolded at top speed here. I just...I want to back up and look at what my options are..."
"Your options?" She said. "Here are your options...you let go of the wheel for once and experience what it's like to have a boyfriend who loves you for everything you are....or you walk away from this and spend the rest of your life regretting the fact that you had something sooooo special right in the palm of your ands, and you threw it all away for nothing. Absolutely nothing." They were both sitting there...staring at me. I wish I had a way to make them understand.
Taking a deep breath, I told them, "When he's around...I don't think I like how I feel." It was both true and untrue at the same time. God, this is confusing. "It just feels like I'm falling. All the time. A total freefall, with nothing to grab on to, and no idea if my parachute is going to work or not in case of an emergency. He makes me nervous, he makes me laugh, he makes me speechless...it bothers me. Maybe you guys think it's silly, but I don't like someone else having that kind of power over me. I like to have some level of control. I like to be able to predict what I'm going to do in any given situation. What I'm going to say, or think, or feel. And Niles takes that away from me. ALL of it. It just makes me feel so helpless sometimes." Then I looked up and asked, "I mean...can you guys at least pretend that I'm not crazy when I say that I hate being this vulnerable in front of someone that I'm so infatuated with?"
At this point, Summer got up from the bed and gave me a hug. "I know, sweetie. I do. But you can't just go around looking for someone who's going to let you orchestrate every aspect of your interaction just for comfort's sake. Sometimes you've got to place your trust in someone and just let the cards fall where they may. Give people a chance to 'surprise' you once in a while. You might just enjoy it."
Jason stood up and said, "Too true, Gabe. Totally." But then said, "Speaking of surprises...I mean...getting back to this thing with Leila..."
Summer grunted, "Let it go, Jason! Geez!"
"I'm just asking...I mean, she thinks I'm cute, right? That means she likes me..."
"She's got a boyfriend now, Jason."
"Yeah, but...she likes ME, though, right? So...?"
Cutting him off, she said, "I know that there are a lot of creeps, liars, and losers, out there...but be honest...does Niles really seem like one of them?"
I hated to admit it, but I couldn't even find a flaw worth joking about in response. I just hugged her back and said, "No...he doesn't."
"Good. Then maybe you can stop digging your heels in the dirt with the 'Flintstone brakes' and just enjoy the ride for a little while. Maybe you two can create one of those online erotic fiction stories you guys love so much." She smiled.
"Oh please..." I smirked. "...If this was online fiction, people would already be extremely pissed and angry and throwing bottles at me to hurry up and force me into this before I was ready. I doubt I'd make for great 3-minute jack off material..."
"Well, good. Maybe the world has enough 3-minute jack off material as it is." She grinned. "You're a gay teenager. You're entitled to a certain level of angst and hesitation. But enough is enough. So go get your dreamy boyfriend and go out on a REAL date before *I* start throwing bottles at you!"
At that moment, my mom knocked on the door and saw Summer hugging me around the waist, and Jason standing nearby. "Is everything alright?"
"Yeah, Mom...we're fine. Just..."
"Leaving." Jason said. "We were getting ready to go."
My mom asked, "Are you sure? I can make you guys some snacks if you want." But they were already saying their goodbyes.
Summer kissed me on the cheek, and said, "Remember...just let go of the wheel for a bit, Gabe. Fall. It's OK to fall." She smiled at me and said, "Sometimes...the fall is the most exciting part."
Jason gave me a boyish hug of his own and told me to take care of himself. But on the way, I heard him ask Summer, "So...did you ask Leila if I was cute? Or did she just, like...blurt it out? Like, 'Omigod, Jason is so cute...'?"
"Really? Are we doing this the whole way home?" She said, and I watched them leave the house. Leaving me all alone with my thoughts again. And, right now, they don't make for good company.
Falling. That's all I can feel. A weightless discomfort. No up. No down. No control over my speed as the hard concrete comes rushing up at me. Can't stop myself from getting goofy over him. Can't stop myself from getting hurt if he chooses to reject me. Can't stop feeling afraid whenever I think about him...which sucks because I CAN'T STOP THINKING ABOUT HIM!!!
So what now? What's next? I've got no plan. None.
Should I call him? I'm too scared to call him! But if I DON'T call him, then that means he might call me first. And I'll be sitting here like some silly damsel in distress, jumping at his random beckoning like some sort of deranged court jester.
Yeah, I should call first. I'll call. And...and I'll lay down some rules or something. Come up with a strategy that won't leave me spinning so far out of control. He's 'pretty'. I get that. But I can keep my wits about me when I get around a pretty face, right? I'm not a completely irrational lunatic...