Chapter 27

Have you ever had a conversation so confusing that you keep covering the same ground over and over? The remainder of my talk with Brian reminded me of how people sometimes got lost in the woods, and in trying to walk their way out, they keep ending up right where they started. I didn't know it at the time, but by the time the night was over, I'd feel like one of those people.

"I went off to college intending to put it all behind me," Brian said, continuing to try to explain his feelings to me. "I couldn't. And believe me, I tried."

He paused. His facial expression suggested that he wasn't sure whether or not to keep talking.

None of what he'd said so far was adding up for me. Initially, I was shocked at his words, at the thought that Brian had loved me--like that--in high school. As he kept talking, though, I found myself thinking that whatever he may have felt for me back then, it wasn't the sort of love I'd craved from him. Brian had had some hard roads to walk in the years after high school, just as I had. I felt guilty about that, because I was convinced that much of it was my fault, but as he kept talking I just couldn't make myself believe that the things he was saying and thinking reflected reality. It seemed to me that he was trying to find a way back to a more stable world, a world that had some meaning, and that he was reaching out to something good he knew from his past, stretching it beyond its original size, and pinning all his hopes on it, defying all reason and good sense.

I frowned. "I don't want to talk about college," I said. "I want to talk about now."

He said, "Okay. I want to be with you. We can make it work."

The words pulled at me hard, like the proverbial rip current in Drew's story. Immediately, though, good sense--and fear--strode to the forefront in my brain. Give into what he's saying and it could kill you, I told myself.

There was a huge issue that got in the way of what he was saying. An issue that made the whole conversation absurd. Unless, of course, he wasn't being fully upfront with me.

"The stuff with Tom," I began.

He looked uncomfortable, but I kept going.

"Did you love Tom?"

He took a deep breath. "He was...well, you know what I said. He was like a brother."

"But you did stuff with him...well, you did stuff with some of the other guys..."

"Yeah," he said. "But like I was trying to tell you, it was just stupid shit. I mean it was okay, but it was just gettin' off."

"And that's what it was with Tom?"

"Well, yeah, basically," I said. "I just told you. We were tight. He liked it. I liked it too I guess."

"Brian, are you trying to tell me you're bisexual maybe? Because...I mean...well, if you are, I would get what you're trying to...what you're saying you want. Then it would make some...or, I mean, well, at least then, we'd have..."

He shook his head and answered before I could spit it out. "No. I'm not."

My face flushed for even having thrown the subject out there. Talk about wishful thinking. "Okay," I said. "I knew that. I've always known it. I was just making sure. I was thinking that maybe if you were...but...I mean, you're not, so...well, then I don't get it."

He looked at me, blankly. He seemed as confused as I was. "What don't you get?"

"You said you could get used to..."

"Us," he said, completing my sentence.

"But you're straight."


It didn't make any sense to me.

I asked, "You want be with me?"


"Like, in a relationship?"


"And not get married, not have a wife?"


"But you're straight," I said, frowning.

"But I love you," he said.

I looked at him, sighed, and shook my head. "No," I said. "That stuff back in high school...I...I was young and stupid," I stuttered. "It was a bad time, all that know, the stuff with Amy, and with my parents. You got dragged into it because I couldn't keep my damn mouth shut, and then all hell broke loose. You and I, we never got back on track after that."

I paused, collecting my thoughts as best I could. "Senior year was crazy; but we're grown up now and we have to be real. I don't know what you want, why you're saying this. It's not real."

"Yes it is," he said quietly.

The conviction in his voice threw me. I didn't know how to respond. "You would...I mean, if I..."

My mouth kept stumbling, because my brain kept stumbling. I was getting exasperated with myself. Finally, I blurted out, "What do you mean, really? You don't like guys like that. So what's all this 'love' stuff about? What do you want from me?"

"I want to love you," he said. "I kissed you. I've wanted to kiss you for a long, long time. You must have felt it even before I said all this stuff; you must know it's true."

I squeezed my eyes shut and pushed away the temptation to fall into his arms and give myself to him. I held myself back by thinking about the danger in his words. "I don't know anything," I replied. "I don't know why you kissed me. It...Brian, I can't do it; please, I don't know what you want, but if I let myself..."

He started to move toward me.

"Don't," I said, backing up from him.

"Okay," he said. "But I feel what I feel. I would never hurt you. Never again, Sammy. That's not what I want, that's not what I'm asking you, to let me hurt you."

I said again, this time a little more vehemently, "But you're straight."

"Yeah," he said. "But I love you."

There it was again. As if saying it another time made it any less irrational.

"You want to be together with me."


I stared at him a while. "You...I don't understand. I always knew you couldn't be like...I mean, I had to try to put it behind me. I've been through a lot since then. I went on with my life...I loved Erica. I love Jonah." I winced as I thought about the mountain of problems Jonah and I were facing. "You don't have to do this for us to be best friends again," I told him, practically pleading.  "Why are you doing this?"

He wouldn't let up. "You wrote me that email, Sam. You sent me the link to that story about Drew and Matt. You still wish it could be like that. I didn't know you still felt that way until then, and when I realized..."

"I know what this is about," I said, interrupting him. "You feel sorry for me. You think I need this. You pity me. You think you can fix something between us you screwed up. But you didn't screw anything up. And anyway, you can't give me this. You're straight."

He looked at me and said again, "But I love you." The look on his face told me he believed that those four words settled the matter.

"I know that, Brian," I said, my frustration level rising. "Look...getting your friendship back means everything to me. But you're straight. You can't think that doesn't matter."

He sighed, and rolled his eyes, but didn't respond.

I couldn't stand the silence, so I said, "Just being friends again, that's enough for me."

"But you wished you could have more," he said,  "and all those years, I...well, what I mean is I finally..."

I wouldn't let him finish. "You can't love me like that out of pity. That's what it is. And you don't have to prove anything to me. You're saying you want to be in a relationship with me. Like that'll prove something to me, that you're okay with me?"

"No, I...I mean...yes, if it...Not just that," he stammered. And then grew silent again.

"Well," I said, "what else.?"

"I want to love you. Forever. I might do it like that, too. I want you like that."

"You might do it," I repeated. "I don't know what that means."

"It means what it means," he said.

Confusion and denial and doubt and rising panic inside all struggled with the desire to let him have what he was asking for, to let me have what I'd longed to have for over ten years. But I couldn't afford to let my guard down; I couldn't let that young, love-stricken high school boy inside me entertain, for even a second, the possibility that after all these years, the secret desire of his heart could be his for the taking.

I couldn't give up control; I reminded myself that for my whole life, whenever I'd done that, life had beaten me up.

My inner defenses searched through the emotional armory. "So you're saying we should be together, just like that," I said.


"No," I said. "You've always been with women. It's who you are. You'll want to settle down and get married, raise a family..."

"I don't want my own kids," he said, interrupting me.

"I see the way you light up when you're with Chris," I said. "You're a natural father, Brian. And you're straight. Why wouldn't you want a wife? And you grew up in a household full of kids and look how great your family is...all of you are so close. I know you're gonna want a big family like that too. That's what'll make you happy. The stuff you're saying, it...that's not what you want. You just think you have to do that for us to be good again."

"Sam...I don't want my own kids," he said again. The significance of the word he'd emphasized sailed right over my head.
I must have looked at him as if he were speaking Lithuanian, I was so confused.

I knew that If he could get his act just a little more together, down the road Brian would be a great husband and father. And a guy like that is not the kind of guy who sets up house with another man. But even if what he'd just told me was true--even if he didn't want kids--then things wouldn't work for us either; I came with a kid, and if that didn't register with him, he had no clue how important my son was in every decision I make.

"Which is it, Brian?" I asked. "Either way, I don't fit into your needs."


"Even if what you say is true," I replied, "I come with Chris."

He frowned, as if he didn't understand why I'd said that. "So?"

I sighed.
"Well, Chris is a kid."


"Well? You said you don't--"

"But I want Chris," he said, interrupting me.

I sat down on the sofa with a sigh and put my head in my hands.

"I don't need kids," he said. "I want to be with you."

Now I didn't know what to think. He seemed to be talking out of both sides of his mouth. Did he want kids or not? It was a big deal with me, and I don't think either answer got us toward what he was telling me he wanted. It sounded to me as though he was saying he'd take Chris in the bargain to have a chance at this crazy idea of his.
My mind was going a hundred miles a minute, as I tried to process everything and react in a reasonably intelligent way. But the longer I tried, the more I began to panic. It was becoming more and more difficult to think. I'd loved him for so many years; that was threatening my control.

I could feel a civil war mounting inside me.

Part of me was dying to let him take me in his arms, dying to believe everything he said, and to arrange my life accordingly.

The sane part of me, though, was screaming that I should avoid that at all costs.

I didn't know how much longer I could resist the onslaught of his irrational, stupid, beautiful, seductive words. I kept looking into his beautiful face and losing resolve.

And that would spell disaster.

I began taking slow, steady breaths and trying to hold onto my sense of reason and sanity, coaxing myself to stay in reality and not to go off on this fantasy-ride he was trying to get me to take.

After I while, I heard him say, "Well?"

I guess that meant I had to say something. But what?
There was nothing coherent I could say; I was having to wrestle with the warring needs inside of me, with the opposing voices in my head.


My head and heart were pounding.

"You know that I..." I paused, trying to collect myself, as the tears came. "For years. I loved you for years. Like that. It's what ruined everything in high school."

I looked into his eyes and pleaded, "Why are you doing this?"

"Sam...I want to be with you," he said "I'll be good to you. I think we both want it."

We fell silent, standing there, staring at each other. My head was reeling. It was all I could do to keep myself together. It seemed as though I was talking to Brian across a great distance. I didn't feel fully there. And I could feel myself starting to tremble.

I looked at him, desperate. "It's too much," I mumbled, looking at the floor.

He paused, and then stammered, "I don't know what you mean...I mean...what do you..."

I broke in: "I can't think anymore," I said. "I..."

I shuddered. "I can't even think. It's too much. Jonah. He and I...we...I can't just stop, can't just walk away from..."

I shook my head, trying to clear it. "And Neal..." I shut my eyes tightly, trying to keep the memories at bay.

"And now you..."

Overwhelmed and emotionally spent, I repeated quietly, "It's too much."

I couldn't find another word to say. And I was nearly immobilized. His voice, his image, seemed to move farther and farther away.

I'd reached my limit. "I can't talk any more," I said. "I can't think anymore. I need to sleep."

He looked at me, defeated. "Okay," he said, sighing. It's been a crazy day."

I looked at the floor. "Yeah," I mumbled. "We can...we can talk tomorrow."

I walked away without waiting for a response, climbed the stairs, and fell onto the bed, partly numbed and partly scared, more scared than I'd been in years.

* * * * * * * * *

Brian made us breakfast the next morning. I'd tossed and turned all night, tortured by dreams I couldn't remember, and spending long periods of time awake, assaulted by thoughts of him.

Chris chattered happily to both of us as we ate, oblivious to the tension in the air. It was a relief to have him there, but breakfast was over before long, and he went to his room to play.

When it was just the two of us, after we'd cleaned up the kitchen, Brian said, "Will you sit down and talk with me?"

I didn't want to. I wasn't feeling much better than I'd felt the night before, and for some reason, in the breaks between sleeping and wakefulness that I'd suffered through during the night, what Brian had said about Tom kept surfacing. Beyond the impossible barrier of Brian's "straightness," and beyond the issue of kids and marriage, what he'd said about Tom had lodged in a hard place in my heart and was stirring up all kinds of negative feelings.

All those things were on my mind, but I didn't know how to sort it all out in words, so how could I sit down and talk with him? I didn't know if I'd ever have anything intelligible to say on all this.

Nevertheless, I nodded affirmatively, and followed him to the sofa.

We sat down together and he began. "I have to go back today," he said.

"I know," I said.

"Sam, I feel awful. I had no right. I put too much pressure on you."

I stared at my feet. I didn't know what to say. He wasn't wrong.

The silence was merciless and neither of us were able to cut it.

"I shouldn't have put all this on you right now," he said. "It means everything to me that we're friends again."

"Me too," I mumbled, but when he leaned toward me I pulled away.

He frowned. "I'm sorry," he said. "You're pissed at me."

"No," I began. "Well...maybe. I don't know."

He asked, quietly, "Can I fix it?"

"I don't know," I said. "I think I just need some time."

He didn't answer at first. Then he said, "I'm sorry I kissed you. I know you're with Jonah. Maybe I didn't have the right. Not right now."

That wasn't what was on my mind at the moment.

I looked hard at him. "Why didn't you tell me about Tom back then?"

He blushed. "How could I tell you about Tom? I mean how could I, once I knew..."

I felt something red and menacing rising up inside me. "I wanted you like that, I needed you so much..." I blinked at the excess moisture pooling in my eyes. "But I held it all in," I said,  "because you weren't like that."

Lifting my gaze up from the floor, my eyes connected with his and flashed fire. "And the whole time, you and he..."

I shook my head. "And when I admitted it to you back then, when I told you how I never said a word about...about doing things with him. To me, you were someone I couldn't have because you didn't do that, weren't like that..."

Memories crowded in; memories of the dizzy, spinning ecstasy I felt back then whenever I was with him; memories of the paralyzing fear that came along with those feelings of ecstasy; fear that I would let my secret slip and lose him as a friend. Memories of how my secret love for him had exploded in my face, ripped up my family, and, ultimately, had gotten me together with a man who'd almost killed me.

"I tried to tell you, dammit," he said. "Not about Tom, I tried to tell you I wanted to..."

I looked up at him, my eyes wide. "You wanted to what?"

He shook his head. "It was just getting off with Tom, that's all it was," he said.

"I understand that," I told him. "But if what you're saying is true, if you had those feelings for me in high school, and you had done that kind of stuff before, why didn't...why couldn't you..." I couldn't finish. It was embarrassing. I knew he understood, though. I stared at him, waiting for an answer.

He seemed as tongue-tied as I was. "I...fuck, this is hard to talk about." He looked up at the ceiling, took a breath, and looked back at me.

"It was because of my feelings I couldn't do that with you. Fooling-around shit, getting off together like I did with Tom? No way could I have ever done that with you."

"Why not?" I asked.

"That wasn't you, Sam," he said, smiling wistfully. "It never has been. If there was gonna be sexual stuff with you, I knew it had to be the whole nine yards. The love. The emotions. All of it. And I...
you were kind of messed up about those sex things already, and I was...I wasn't ready to admit to myself how I I..."

He trailed off, then started again. "I didn't know if I could do that back then. I was already having these feelings for you. It was different from the way I felt about Tom, and it was freaking me out. And I was afraid of mixing all that shit up. I didn't know if I know, love a guy sexually even though I...I think I was in love with you. And so if we did stuff and I discovered I couldn't be that way...I couldn't love you like that...sexually and all...I knew how awful it would hurt you, I knew you'd be devastated. I mean, look what it did to Tom, and I never even tried to tell him I had any feelings for him like that, because I didn't."

He closed his eyes; I could tell he was reliving the pain of Tom's death and of the words left unsaid between them. He shook it off and continued:

"But mainly, you loved my sister. And she loved you. You were so good together. I didn't wanna fuck that up. What kind of scumbag steals his sister's boyfriend?"

He looked into my eyes. "Even so, I was ready to do it, part of me wanted to, just once, so you and I could get it out of our systems maybe and you could go on with Mary and I could maybe put those crazy thoughts behind me. I even told you that time in the canyon, but you weren't even listening. It was probably a good thing. I wasn't ready and neither were you."

I nodded, silently agreeing with him.

"I get all of that," I finally said. "But nothing's different now."

"Everything's different now," he said.


"I know I can love you like that now," he said.  "I want to love you like that now. You think I want to do this this to make you feel better. I'm trying to tell you I want to do this because I want to love you like that. I wish I could make you believe me. You think I love you like best friends. I'm trying to tell you I love you more than that and I want us to be together."

I didn't know what to say. I didn't believe him. Maybe he thought that's what he needed, but I just couldn't see it. As much as I wished I could. Straight men don't fall in love with their best friends.

We stood there, looking at each other. He'd said all I was ready to hear, and I'd said all I was ready to say.

I tried to bring things to a close. "I can't...I can't doesn't make any sense to me," I told him. "And I...I think I can't talk about this anymore, okay?"

He looked at me sadly and said, "Okay. But at least don't close your mind yet. Think about it."

I couldn't say anything in reply. I just stared.

Finally I said, "I need to go check on Chris."

I got up and headed toward Chris's room. As I walked out of the room I heard Brian turning the TV on.

* * * * * * * * *

He and I spent the rest of the morning together, talking small talk, playing with Chris. There was some tentativeness between us, though. He'd messed with my head, and frankly I was scared to death.

His visit had started so well. I'd been thrilled to see him again, and things were feeling good between us.

Those things were still there, at the heart of it all. It felt like we'd recovered what we'd lost.

But now, with all this weird new talk from Brian, I was ready for him to leave. I needed some time away from him. The things he said reached too far inside. They threatened to wake up dormant hopes I'd locked away years ago. Impossible hopes. Hopes that would hurt me--maybe even destroy me--if I mistook them for real possibilities.

I felt myself pulling away from him the whole visit, emotionally and physically. When he'd get too close, I'd get jumpy. When he'd try to talk serious, I felt miles away from him, withdrawn, self-protective.

After lunch, he loaded up his things and said good-bye to Chris.

I walked with him to his car.

"I'm glad I came," he said, as we stood in the drive. "But I'm sorry for the pressure."

"I know," I said.

We looked at each other in silence.

"Would it be okay if I called you?" he asked.

"Why would you even have to ask?" I said.

"I know," he sighed. "I just...this didn't turn out like...oh, man, I don't know."

"It's okay, Brian; I mean it," I said. "I...I'm not really mad at anything you did or anything you said. I'm just so confused. I need to sort things out."

"Okay," he said.

"I'll call," he said. "A lot."

"A lot would be okay," I said, trying to be upbeat. " time you visit I think my head will be better."

"All right, then." We shook hands. "I'm sorry," he said.

"I know," I told him.

He looked at me, waiting for me to say something else.

All of a sudden, I couldn't talk. In spite of needing him to leave, I didn't want him to leave. Ever.

I looked into his beautiful eyes. He reached out and pulled me into him. I didn't resist. As I felt his arms around me, my entire body was alive and attuned to the love I had--the love I'd always had--for him. At the same time, everything he'd said to me after that kiss on the mountain was swirling around in my brain with all the other realities in my life, and I was panicked.

"I'm scared, Brian," I said.

He rubbed my back as he held me. "You're shaking like a leaf," he said.

"I know," I said into his shoulder. "I'm sorry."

"You don't have to be scared, Sam," he said.

He held me for a long time. I could feel him loving me, and I could feel myself responding, and that almost terrified me more than all the words he'd said during his visit. I didn't know whether to run screaming or whether I'd be so unable to let go that he'd have to tear himself away, leaving me staring after him, holding the pieces of his shirt I couldn't turn loose of.

Finally I managed to loosen my grip on him.

"That felt so good," he said. "So right. I wish I could..."

He stopped himself. He looked at me with such love, such longing, that it made me feel lightheaded.

He smiled at me and got into his car. "I'll call you when I get home," he said.

I needed to say something. Needed to let him know something. "'s good, you know? It feels I have you back."

"I know," he said. "Me too. It feels good."

He paused for a minute, then said, " do have me back. As much of me as you want. More than you've ever had before. And I'm prepared to be patient."

I felt myself blush. "Have a safe trip."

"You know it," he said as he backed his car out.

Watching him drive away, I wondered where we were headed, and found that I had no clue.

That's the end of this episode. Thanks for staying with Sam's story, everyone. If you'd like to contact me, I'd love to hear from you. My email address is The remaining chapters should come more quickly now. This thing is a moving target, but right now it looks to me as though it'll be 34 chapters long when all is said and done. Stay tuned.