Have you ever had a
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.
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
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
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
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
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
brain. Give into what he's saying
and it could
kill you, I
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
"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
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 said you
could get used to..."
"Us," he said, completing my
"But you're straight."
It didn't make any sense to me.
I asked, "You want...you want to...to be
"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
in high school...I...I was young and stupid," I stuttered.
"It was a bad time, all that stuff...that...you 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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
"I know what this is about," I said, interrupting him.
sorry for me. You think I need this. You pity me. You think you
can...you can fix something
between us you screwed up. But you didn't screw anything up. And
anyway, you can't give me
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
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
"You might do it," I
don't know what that means."
"It means what it means," he
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
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
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
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
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
"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
"Well? You said you don't--"
"But I want Chris," he said,
I sat down on the sofa with a
sigh and put my head in my
"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
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
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
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
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
I looked at the floor. "Yeah," I mumbled. "We can...we can talk
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
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
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
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...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 felt...you 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
along with those feelings of ecstasy; fear that I would let my secret
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
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
"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
"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 f...how
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
could...you 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
"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
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,"
"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
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 let...it 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
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
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
I walked with him to his car.
"I'm glad I came," he said, as we stood in the drive. "But I'm sorry
"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 visit...it 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.
"We...next 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.
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
He smiled at me and got into his car. "I'll call you when I get home,"
I needed to say something. Needed to let him know something. "I...it's
good, you know? It feels like...like I have you back."
"I know," he said. "Me too. It feels good."
He paused for a minute, then said, "Sam...you do have me back. As much of me as
you want. More than you've ever had before. And I'm prepared to be
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.