I raced to pack up our lunches and to herd Chris and the dog back down the trail. Chris kept asking where Brian went and I told him he'd started down the mountain ahead of us. I wasn't sure he'd even be there when we got to the bottom. I didn't have a clue what to think; I was stunned.
He was waiting for us when we got to the car. He was sitting on the hood of my car, looking lost. He didn't say anything, though, and as we loaded up, he climbed into the car without saying a word.
During the drive home, the silence between the two of us was oppressive; it was nothing like the serene quiet I'd experienced up on the mountain. Chris, being Chris, filled it with a moment-by-moment review of the the hawks and the rocks and the whole day. Thank God.
When we got home, we bumped around the house for a while. Jonah was teaching that night, so I knew he wouldn't be home until late. If he came home at all.
Chris wasn't ready to be indoors for the rest of the day. It had rained a good bit earlier in the week; he literally dragged Brian outside to play in the mud puddles with him.
They were gone for a couple of hours and during that time I don't think I had a lucid thought.
I finally couldn't stand the silence of the house and the white noise in my brain, so I logged on to Yahoo! Messenger to see if Duane was online.
He was. I double-clicked on his name and opened up a chat box.
"Hey...I have to talk to you about something," I typed.
"Excellent," he responded. "I love to be needed."
I told him everything about the day, about how great it felt up until the surprise ending. I told him about the kiss. And I went into loony-and-incoherent mode, constantly repeating myself, asking Duane, "Why did he do that? What does it mean?" A loop of dialog began to run and repeat: I'd ask him, "What does it mean?" He'd say something like, "I think it should be clear what it means." But it wasn't. Not to me. Nothing was clear, and it was all scary. It was the mother of all scary. There had been too much history. Too many feelings had flamed up, and flamed out, and been suppressed, and tied me in knots. And, dammit, things had been going so well between me and Brian. I was managing my way into a place I'd never been with him before. And then this. I was totally thrown; I didn't understand what Brian was trying to say to me, why he did that.
After about the fifth iteration of this question-answer cycle, I started up yet another time:
"Why did he kiss me?"
Duane, clearly exasperated, finally typed back, "You idiot, why do you think he kissed you?"
I knew what he was getting at, but that was beyond ridiculous. It was absurd.
I responded, "But he's straight. You're just wrong."
"Obviously not," Duane typed.
"Just stop," I said. "I guess I know him a little better than you."
"Maybe you do," he answered. "But you're being stupid."
"What I am being stupid about?" I typed back, irritated.
"Would you please think," he wrote.
There was a long pause. Then he typed one word:
It was like being struck by lightning.
Matt. Drew's best friend in high school. In Rip Current Drew tells the story of how his straight best friend nevertheless loves him and has an intimate encounter with him.
Somehow I had never even considered the possibility that the best explanation for what Brian had done was also the simplest one.
But still...could it even be possible? Brian loved me? I mean, like that? A bolt of panic shot through me.
I didn't have time to continue the conversation, though. I heard Brian and Chris come back into the house, laughing and talking. I said goodbye to Duane, signed off, and met them in the living room.
Chris was covered in mud and grinning from ear to ear. Brian looked and acted about the same.
"I think we need to get cleaned up," he said, a little sheepishly.
In spite of the rising terror in me, I had to laugh.
They grabbed separate bathrooms and got cleaned up. We all watched a little TV together, and then Brian went with me to tuck Chris into bed.
* * * * * * * * *
After Chris was asleep, Brian and I sat down and watched TV together for a while. Nobody said a word. I pretended to be absorbed in the show, but my brain kept returning to the mountain, to the feel of his lips on mine, to the IM conversation I'd had with Duane.
We sat there in silence; it was one of the most awkward experiences of my life. I had no idea what to say. I had no idea what to think.
I was trying to get absorbed in the TV show, trying to shut down the noise in my head, when I heard Brian softly say, "I could get used to this."
I turned to look at him, startled. "Get used to what?"
He smiled a little. "Us."
My brain scrambled again.
I don't know whether my face looked totally befuddled or totally panicked, but when he looked into my eyes, he got an expression on his face that a person might get when he's trying to explain calculus to a first-grader. He sighed, shrugged, and said, "I wanted that for a long time."
Still puzzled, I frowned at him and said, "You wanted what?"
"That," he said.
"What's 'that'?" I asked.
"The kiss," he said quietly.
I didn't know what to say, so I didn't say anything. For a whole minute. Finally, I mumbled, "But you're straight."
He looked deep into my eyes and said, "But I love you."
* * * * * * * * *
I shivered inside. And somewhere deep inside, something that had been tied up years ago began struggling against its ropes.
I looked at him and repeated, "But you're straight."
"Yes," he said.
"I love you," he repeated.
I stared at him for what must have been three full minutes. He just stared right back into my eyes.
"Brian, do you realize how completely out of the blue all this is?" I finally managed to get out. "I never...I mean, all those years...and you're...well, you're not...I just don't understand."
He put a hand on my shoulder. "I'll try to say it, Sammy. We have to go way back if this is gonna make sense. Let's talk about high school."
I nodded, and let him open the door to the past.
* * * * * * * * *
"I guess I've always loved you,"
he began. "From the first day we met. I never put it that way in my
head, but I think it's true.
"You were so special...I can't really explain it. There was this tug from the start. You're a pretty weird mix, buddy."
I had to respond to that one. "Gee, thanks."
He laughed. "No, it's a good thing. On the one hand, you were all grown up and calm. You had such a fuckin' strong will. And you were always so rational, even back then. But also you were all kind of innocent too. And so hurt.
"Part of me saw all that innocence and hurt and wanted to protect you. Another part of me wanted to lean on you, needed to lean on you. My parents were great and I have a great family, but I always had to do the right thing, always had to take care of my diabetes, always had to do shit right. So there was a part of me that just always wanted to say "fuck that" and just escape, just cut loose. I think that's what got me started with the drinking, and Sammy, already by then I knew that I made trouble for myself, especially at parties. You fuckin' saved my life at one of those, remember? And having you around, man...not only did I have these feelings for you, you made me better. I wanted you to think of me as a great guy and I tried to be worthy of you, you know? And sometimes I needed you just to keep me sane, keep me on the right path." He paused for a minute, searching for other words. "I guess that sounds stupid; I can't explain it any better."
He stopped talking, waiting for a response from me. When he didn't get one, he went on.
"Everybody liked you," he said. "You were as popular as any of us. You never saw it, but it's true. You were athletic, you were good in drama, you could play music, and you were fuckin' brilliant. It was an honor to be your friend. And I loved it when you started going out with my sister. I felt like it brought us even closer."
He looked at me and his face flushed a little. "I knew you liked me in a way...well, not just like best friends. Like more. It was kinda hard to miss, Sammy. You'd look at me and blush and stare at your feet. Not all the time, but enough. Or I'd see you checking me out when you didn't think I was looking. If I was ever naked around you, your eyes practically popped out of your head."
Now it was my turn to blush.
"Seems like I saw you look the same way at Tom and Dave and a couple of others, but didn't think anything of it. I never thought of you as gay. And it didn't bother me."
He hesitated momentarily, then said, "I've done stuff with guys before, and it wasn't any big deal. It didn't bother me to think that you were interested in me like that."
I was blown away. "What...uh, I mean what...what did you do with guys?"
"Shit, Sammy," he replied. "You know, just kid stuff. With Tom, mainly; but actually, most of the football team fooled around a little once in a while. Mostly just handjob shit, but you know, probably traded blowjobs a few times, I guess. Just horny fooling-around shit," he said. "It was never any big deal. It didn't gross me out, but it didn't turn me on all that much. But you know, I'd done it, and I didn't mind lookin at guys' dicks and screwing around kinda shit. So it didn't bother me that you looked at me like that."
I had to smile at the irony; There I was, back then in high school, aching to have Brian sexually, occasionally looking at other guys that way, and all the time these straight jocks are getting more gay sex than I could even imagine ever having! It was one of those "no justice in the world" moments.
I put myself back into the present, listening to him talk about the past. A thought occurred to me: "When I was with Mary did you think I--"
He didn't let me finish. "I told you, I never thought you were gay. I never gave much thought about what you were, and I didn't think too much about what you were thinking about me. I mean, I knew it was more than just liking to look at me. I just didn't get how much more." He looked off into the distance. "I knew you loved Mary, it was obvious you were nuts about her. You'd blush and smile and get all goofy just talking about her. So with you and me, I didn't think it was more than just a matter of you maybe liking guys too, or maybe a little more with me because we were close."
He stroked his chin with one hand and drummed his fingers on his knee with the other. Trying to decide whether or not to continue, it seemed to me.
"I swear, Sammy, I never thought you loved me like you loved Mary. Sometimes when you looked at me like that I'd think about...well, you know, about doing stuff with you like I'd done with the other guys, but I figured you'd freak if I ever even brought it up. Sex things always made you nervous, and I kind of figured why. I never knew any details about your asshole cousins, but I knew enough to guess what happened; you were jumpy about being touched even back then. Still, I'd think about it from time to time."
I looked at him and stammered out, "I don't...I don't know what to say..."
He smiled and patted my shoulder. "Don't say anything, Sam; not yet. I have more to say. A lot more."
He stared at the floor afor a minute, then said, "I guess I didn't think too much about what I was thinking about you, either."
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Everything I'd experienced since we were up on the mountain seemed to be trying to rewrite history. I tried to hang in, though. No way was I going to stop him.
"I'd fucked around with Tom and some of the other guys on the team, but it was just getting off. You know what I mean. It's like I said: Guys' dicks didn't gross me out, but didn't really turn me on either. And I sure as hell liked getting with the girls. I think that's why I didn't really get what I was feeling."
He looked me straight in the eye and said, "I'd never been in love before and I didn't expect to fall in love with a guy."
* * * * * * * * *
There it was; he'd said it again. Duane
was right. And he'd felt it years ago.
I was so floored I couldn't sit still. I got up and began to pace the room. I'm not sure I even believed it. Even after the mountain. Even after Duane. Even after he'd just admitted it.
I looked over at him on the sofa and said, "You mean...you mean already back then you...you were..."
"You always had me kind of mixed up, Sam," he said. "Always. Part of me wanted to protect you or something; sometimes I could see so much hurt in you, it just hit me in the gut.
"But you were so strong, so amazing strong. You'd zip all that hurt up and keep on going, and I'd just be in awe of you."
He stood up and walked over to me and, facing me, he said, tenderly, "You took care of me. You kept me from doing really stupid shit. Do you know how incredible it was to feel how much you cared?"
He continued. "There was so much other stuff. I can't count the number of times I saw you give your lunch, or even your coat, to some random homeless guy. Or you'd notice some crying kid three streets over and you'd go help. And you always acted like it was just normal. You really didn't get that most people don't give a damn."
He went back to the sofa and sat down. "I was in awe of you. Even back then. I never felt better, never felt more right, than when I was spending time with you."
For a while he fell silent. I stood there, staring at his face. I could see that part of him was far away; far back in time, reliving. I understood; the memories rushed back to the front of my brain too, and I felt it all again: the ecstasy of being young, and being accepted for the first time in my life; and the joy of having a best friend, and a girlfriend; the pain and the terror of loving them both, and above all else, the way he was constantly, always, in my heart and in my thoughts.
I got up the nerve to ask, "Brian...why did it take all these years? I had no idea. Things might have been so different; why did you take so long to tell me?"
The answer came out without a second's hesitation. "Tom."
He sighed. "Oh Jesus, I messed up so bad, Sam. I need to tell you about me and Tom. I've never told anybody about this, all these years."
He took a deep breath. His body language struck me; I could tell he was steeling himself for what he was about to say.
* * * * * * * * *
"Tom and I grew up together," he began, "and I'm talkin' from diapers onward. We were together all the time. You know how fucked-up Tom's family was. His parents fought all the time. They lived just around the corner from us, and as he got older, he stayed with us most of the time just to get away from the war zone at his house.
"I can't even remember when we first started screwing around together. It wasn't a big deal to me. Mostly just jacking off at the same time at first. Hell, it woulda been hard not to, as much as he stayed in my room. It wasn't like there were a lot of places to go for privacy; not with all my sibs and just a few bathrooms. Plus, I have to admit, it was kinda more exciting with someone else.
"He always suggested doing other stuff. I wasn't always up for it, but I went along. We jacked each other off sometimes. And traded blowjobs sometimes. It was nothing major. And, you know, I was always kinda curious; who isn't at that age? You wanna see how another guy's dick looks, how his stuff comes out, shit like that. It wasn't bad, but it sure as shit didn't get me going like girls did.
"In high school it mostly stopped. Just now and then, mostly when I was single and horny. I swear to God, I didn't think it meant any more to him than it did to me. But you know, I have to admit that once I met you, well...you had kind of crept into those thoughts and I didn't have a fuckin clue what to do with that. I figured out pretty fast that you might even want that, but I knew you; I figured you'd shit a brick if it actually happened.
"I tried not to think about that. It's not like screwing around with guys is a real thing of mine anyway, and it was your friendship I really needed, not doing sex shit with you.
"I wasn't spending as much time with just Tom after you came along; we continued to mess around sometimes, but it's like you'd gotten in my head, and doing shit with him made it harder not to think about doing it with you. So I just stopped doing that kind of stuff with him as much.
"My feelings for Tom didn't change at all when I met you. He was like a brother to me, is basically how I always felt. We'd known each other forever. I had no idea I was hurting him, because I had no idea he felt different from the way I did. Anyway, it was never like I pushed him away. But you had kinda come into our circle, and so I wasn't alone with him as much anymore. And he liked you too. He felt the same way as I did about you, at least about some things. He was even more protective of you than me, prolly. And he picked up on how you felt about me faster than I did...
"He picked up on how I was feeling, too, before I did.
"I'd been single for a while when we went up the canyon that day, and I was fucking horny. And I'll admit now that being with you on that trip was getting me more worked up. I don't know, it's so hard to explain. It's not even like I'm bisexual, dicks don't really do it for me. But my feelings for you were so strong, and there was something about the thought of being with you that way... I couldn't get out of my head. It wasn't about your dick, you know, it was about sharing this kind of intimate thing with a guy I cared so much for. Especially because I knew you'd get off to it as well. But I knew you'd freak out so I never brought it up. Anyway, I was pretty horny that whole trip, and I figured Tom and I could take care of that problem when we went to get water.
"I just assumed it would be okay. I mean, I never even thought about it. I knew he liked doing it. It had been a while since we'd done any shit, but not that long. So, you know, we got off by ourselves, and I start to make a move on him, and he goes, 'what the fuck are you doing?'"
Brian's face flushed a second time, replaying the scene in his head. "I was totally fucking lost. I mean, we'd done shit all the time and it was just fine, and here he was, pissed as all hell, and it seemed like it came out of nowhere."
He stood up. "I need a Coke; you got any?"
I didn't answer. It was almost like I was hearing the words from miles away. My mind was back in the canyon, reliving that trip. The odd way the two of them looked when they got back. The uneasy silence that seemed to grow between them.
"Sam?" He looked at me. "Did you hear what I said?
I jolted back into the present. "Uhh...yeah. Uhh...oh, Cokes! Yeah, we have some in the fridge. Grab me one too, okay?"
He went to the kitchen and pulled a couple out of the fridge. I sat back down while he was gone. When he got back to the living room, he handed me a can and sat down next to me.
"Tom just poured out his guts to me," he said. "Told me he loved me and he'd loved me forever. He was angry and he was crying, and he told me I was a fucking idiot for missing it. He started telling me how it was breaking his heart, how bad it hurt. He had tried to make himself okay with it, and he had done okay, because he figured I couldn't feel like that about a guy. But then he started picking up on the fact that I was having those feelings. For you. And that made him just die inside.
"He said, 'You're in love with Sam and you're a chickenshit. And now you come up to me and you wanna dick around. You're just fuckin' using me. I don't want you fuckin' touching me to get your damn rocks off when I've loved you all my life and you're in love with some other dude.' "
I watched him stand up again, take a swig of his Coke, and begin to pace the floor like I had before. "He was yelling at me and crying, and I was totally freaked out. I wasn't ready to hear what he said. I was so damn confused about you, Sam. I didn't want hearing it from Tom, hearing something about me I wasn't even ready to own up to. I didn't know what I wanted with you but I didn't think it was that. You know, love. Like, you know, like a guy and a girl.
"I felt like shit now as I thought back on how he must have felt, how bad I must have hurt him; but at the same time it threw me so much. It felt like Tom had changed all of a sudden while I wasn't looking, and it started to piss me off as we were standing there. I started getting mad that he hadn't told me before. If he'd told me, I wouldn't have tried any shit with him that day. I didn't know it would hurt him, I was just horny. This whole miserable scene felt like his fault. So I fuckin' blew up at him."
He stood still and looked into my eyes. Misery was written all over his face. "I was so...I...I was mean to him. I said horrible things. He grabbed my arm at some point, and I knocked him away. I told him, 'Get your filthy faggot hands off me.' Oh Jesus, Sammy, how could I have said something so horrible? My lifelong best friend..."
He practically fell onto the couch, crying. "I regretted it the second I said it. How could I have said that? God, Sammy, you should have seen his face, the look in his eyes. Every inch was covered over in pain. It was all you could see.
"I...I couldn't have hurt him worse if I'd taken a knife and started stabbing him over and over."
I watched Brian's own face cover over with grief and remorse as he struggled to continue with the story.
"I said I was sorry; but it was too late. He walked off. He wouldn't talk to me for days. And to make it worse, I was still pissed that he hadn't told me before. And I was scared because he'd discovered the truth about my feelings for you before I even understood them; I wasn't ready to face those.
"After a few days I got over being pissed. I started to understand that he's waited so long to tell me how he felt because he was scared. He didn't want to lose me as a friend. I got it, and I stopped being mad. But when he finally tried to talk to me, I didn't treat him much better than I had at the canyon. I told him I was pissed that he'd lied to me for so long. I actually wasn't; more than anything, I was scared that he knew I had feelings for you. I was upset over having to face those. So I let him think I was still pissed off.
"Well, that made him feel like shit all over again. And after that it just got hard to fix. He started avoiding me. I was all confused anyway, so I avoided him back. As the days went by, I think we'd both gotten over being pissed, but we still hadn't talked."
He took a deep breath, and his eyes drilled into mine.
"And then he was gone."
The room went silent. Memories of Tom, now that they'd been evoked, hung in the room's air. I started thinking back on how Brian seemed to fold up into himself after Tom died.
Lost in thought, I was still aware of the oppressive silence in the room, and of Brian's steady, quiet breathing.
Finally he said, "When I heard the news, I just kept seeing his face that day at the canyon after I told him to get his faggot hands off me. And I'd replay those words and his face over and over, and it felt like I was the one who killed him. My oldest friend had died thinking I hated him because he loved me. I never saw it, never saw how he felt about me, and I'd totally bailed on him when I met you."
His chest was heaving and he was struggling to get himself under control, but tears were streaming down his face. The pain and grief radiating from his face broke my heart. I started crying too. For poor Tom; for poor Brian; for me. And for people everywhere who feel alone and unaccepted because they're wired to love people of their own gender.
"He thought I hated him now for being a queer and being in love with me. And he was too embarrassed to come to me and talk it out. I wasn't embarrassed, for either him or me; and god, I didn't hate him. I was just confused...confused about you and guilty over hurting him, over what I'd said to him. Oh god, Sammy, I wish he'd known I didn't mean it, I wish I'd had a chance to tell him 'I'm sorry.' If only he hadn't died thinking I hated him..." He trailed off, crying too hard to continue. I couldn't keep the tears from running down my own face.
After he'd regained some control, he went on. "The main thing was, I realized he'd called me out on something. I...things had gotten different between him and me, and it was because of you. You came into my life and all of a sudden you were more important to me than the rest of them guys. More important then Tom, even. Thinking about that kinda freaked me out. Tom was wrong about me using him, but he saw something else, and that part bothered me so much I was too chicken to make things right with him.
"When he died, it tore me up inside and I couldn't shake the guilt."
He paused, and looked at me.
"He died thinking I hated him, Sammy; I was such a pussy I didn't have the balls to tell him it was okay...and then it was too late."
He squinted his eyes shut and took several deep breaths before he continued. "Anyway, that messed me up for months. I glazed over. I was like an emotional zombie for a long time."
"I remember," I said quietly.
"Slowly things got better. And you were my friend through all that. You never pushed me about things, you were there looking after me. I started thinking more and more about what was going on between the two of us. After the cast party, though, you know, the second one where you. uhh...saw me with Katie, remember? Where you...you heard us...god, we thought you were asleep, and then...well, then after that you kind of pulled away from me. And I knew you were probably thinking like Tom must have been thinking. Feeling that way too. God, I didn't want that. I didn't want you to think I hated you for liking me like that, and I felt awful when I knew you heard me going after it with Katie. I just couldn't quit thinking that doing that in the same room with you was like doing the same thing I'd done to Tom all over again. Rubbing it in your face that you couldn't have me.
"I couldn't stand it," he said, "knowing I'd hurt you like that. I got it in my head that if we...you know, if we did something, you and me, that would convince you that I didn't mind you liking me like that. I thought that might show you. You know, I thought we could get together like that just once and screw around a little. That way we could both get it out of our systems and go on with our friendship. I was confused about what I was feeling for you anyway, and I thought maybe we'd get past all the crazy shit if we did it once. Then you could put me out of your head like that and focus on Mary, and I thought it would make our friendship stronger if I showed you it was okay for you to like me like that. And maybe I'd stop being so damn obsessed with it myself."
I had to smile at the garbled thinking behind that naive teenager's plan. Brian saw the smile and said, "Yeah, I know. Pretty stupid. I guess I didn't think that one through too good. Anyway, after you pulled away from me after the cast party, you know, where you saw me...where you...
His face grew dark.
"You stopped talking to me."
He let the words hang in the air; I felt as though I'd been punched in the stomach.
"It hurt so bad," he continued; "and then it was like for days, you looked terrified every time you saw me...and that hurt even worse."
He stood up. He didn't seem to keep from standing up, pacing, sitting down, and repeating the process. This whole trip through the past was putting us both through the wringer.
"I kept after you. I couldn't let you shut me out of your life, Sammy. And at the canyon, what I was trying to tell you was I wanted us to do that, I was ready and willing, and I was just yapping on about us just doing it once so you'd see I didn't give a shit...
"But you didn't hear a word I said. It was prolly a good thing; I know you woulda freaked. But it was like the words didn't even register with you. I guess because you were so caught up in your own hurt.
He smiled a little. "You just let loose. First of all, you were drunk. I'd never seen that before," he grinned. "But it was worse than that. I'd never seen you that...that emotional before. It scared me some. And anyway, it was like Tom all over. Fuckin' déjà vu. But ten times worse.
"Why? Why was it ten times worse? Why were my guts being twisted around my fuckin' heart when you went off on me? All of a sudden, it slammed home to me. I knew, Sammy. I understood. I realized. Right there in the canyon."
I heart the words coming--he'd already said them tonight--but they still slammed into me with the force of a freight train:
"I was in love with you."
My brain felt like a boxer's might after taking a hard uppercut to the jaw. I was dizzy; reeling.
He sat down next to me. "I couldn't find you after we got home, I had no idea where you were, so I spend a lot of time thinking instead. Back at the canyon, I finally got what I was feeling--I knew Tom had been right--and I realized what a stupid idea it was to just jerk off with you once or something. I didn't wanna just fuck around with you. I was in love with you.
"That fucked me up. I didn't know what the hell to do with it. It had already hit me back when we were at the canyon, but I didn't really think through what it might mean until I'd gotten home, and by then Amy had gone off the fucking deep end and told the world what she'd heard you say to me. Christ, what a bitch; I was so mad at her.
"I still wasn't ready for what I was feeling; I was a guy, for fuck's sake...in love with another guy? It wasn't exactly something you discussed with the neighbors.
"But I couldn't avoid it anymore. It wouldn't leave me alone. As worried as we all were about you. And I was having to hide those feelings and deal with them on my own. When I was talking to Mary about what had happened, for the first time ever I held stuff back from her, and you know how close we've always been. I didn't tell her what I was feeling; I knew what a mess it would make. I mean, how do you tell your sister that you want her boyfriend?
"Another thing that was haunting me. I used to talk to Dad a lot about all kinds of stuff. You know how he is, what a great guy he is. He told me once that I'd know I found the right person to love forever when that person made me want to be better. All that came back to me now. But on top of everything else, I can't tell you how guilty I felt about wanting my sister's boyfriend. In those hours after the canyon, everything I was feeling and thinking went against everything I'd always thought about right and wrong. Guys don't fall for guys. A person doesn't steal his sister's boyfriend. You don't fall for your best friend. Tom had learned that lesson, and look what it did to him.
"I knew what needed to happen. I figured the best way out of all this shit now that Amy had told the whole world you were gay was for you to get back with Mary, and then all this other shit would go away eventually. I knew I wasn't gay, and whatever you were, you weren't gay, so it would just go away."
He laughed a little. It wasn't a humorous laugh. "But once I had started thinking about being with you like that, it was hard to shake those thoughts. I figured I could live without ever...without ever being with you like that, but I couldn't live with not ever talking to you. And it seemed like things would get ugly if we ever did anything sexual. It was a lot more complicated than it was with Tom or the guys. Well, it was more complicated with Tom than I had known, but even so, with you, this time I knew there were real feelings involved. With both of us. I knew it wouldn't be 'just sex' for either of us. So I figured we should just get past this mess, and you should get back with Mary, and we should just go on being best friends."
He looked away for a minute, then looked back at me and said, "Easier said than done. You know when you live in a house and you sort of don't see it because it's your house, then somebody comes along and says, 'hey, there's a crack in this wall,"--well then, every time you look at that wall, it's all you can see.
"It was like that. Once I really thought about it--about being in love with you and about...about making love to you--I couldn't stop thinking about it."
He reached for my hand. I let him clasp in it mine.
"When we got back, that night you spent in my bed, after your parents kicked you out of the house...with you lying between me and Mary...I pulled you into my arms and it just felt so right. I kept thinking about how everything felt right whenever I was with you. I thought about all that, and I just kept looking at you, watching you sleep, and then I'd look at Mary, and then back at you. You and Mary...you were so good together. I had no right to be feeling what I was feeling. I knew I had to keep my mouth shut about my feelings. To tell you would just be selfish. How could I do that to my sister? How could I do it to you? You already felt guilty; I knew if I told you how I felt and you chose me over Mary, you'd crucify yourself over the fuckin' guilt.
"I finally had to leave the bed just to get my head clear. When I got back I just lay there, watching you sleep."
I gawked at him as he told this story. Of all the things I'd experienced that night--of all the things I'd thought and felt--the thought that Brian loved me like that never even entered my mind.
"When you woke up," he said, "you looked so lost, and abso-fuckin-lutely terrified. It ripped my heart out. I tried to hold you but you were so freaked out; you were shaking from head to toe. Oh god, Sam, I wanted to hold you and make it okay so fuckin' bad..." He trailed off.
"I had no idea what you were seeing when you looked at me, what you were thinking about. I was trying not to let you see how torn up I was. You were already beating the shit out of yourself and if you'd known how messed up I was, you'd have felt even more guilty. So I just tried to suck it up and just be there but not push too hard. It killed me that I couldn't comfort you, that I seemed to scare you even more than ever. And I was loving you so much, and more and more, and that was fucking me up too. I knew what was coming down and how you were going to have to face this shit in public, and I didn't think any of us wanted to go through that, so I decided I should shove my feelings for you back in the box, and I decided you should get back with Mary, and we could all deny you'd said anything like that to me and make Amy out to be a big liar, and then just move on down the road like it had never happened. Part of me knew that was wrong, but I guess the whole thing just fucked me up. I mean, no sooner do I realize I'm in love with you than some bitch outs you to the whole town.
"I couldn't deal with it," he said quietly. "I got totally shitfaced drunk for the next two days."
He stopped talking, and we sat there, together, my hand held in his.
I let my mind run through that ancient history he'd gone over. I'd been clueless about everything he just told me. I was having trouble factoring all this new information into those old memories. And I was starting to be overwhelmed by feelings. If I'd known all this back then...wouldn't it have been so much better? Maybe all kinds of things would have been different. Maybe the thing with Neal would never have happened; maybe...
I stopped myself. It was pointless to go there. The past was in the past. What I needed to deal with was the present. But Brian wasn't finished talking.
He took a breath, and started again.
Thanks, readers, for your ongoing interest in Dan's story. There are three chapters to go, and as I might have mentioned before, the final one was written by Dan himself, several months before his death. I'll be assembling material from his notes and will put together Chapters 27 and 28 in the next couple of weeks. We're into the home stretch, and I appreciate you hanging with me through this labor of love, this effort to keep a promise. If you'd like to email me about the story or about Dan or just to say hi, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.