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I woke to dad's voice calling, "Son? Alex, you there?"
I rolled over, instantly noticing that I had slept, and worried about how long.
"Yeah!" I answered, wondering how I had gotten my room so totally dark.
Us'ly there's the streetlight comin' in the window, at least. Unless the power's out. I bet it's a blackout. Cool.
"Are you in the van?"
I felt around me, finding a fuzzy, curved mattress, no pillows, no blankets, upholstery on the wall, and a sink next to my bed.
"Yeah!" I answered back, propping myself up on an elbow, and wondering how I didn't know where I was.
I was suddenly blinded by a brilliant white light, and blinking, I saw that Dad was watching me from the open sliding door where he had hit the switch to turn on all the inside lights. The events of what seemed years ago, but just moments ago as well, played out in my head. I remembered where I was, and why, but not why it was so dark.
"Room for one more?" he asked as he stood there.
"Sure," I said, clearing my throat and stretching. "What time is it?"
"Just after seven."
That didn't tell me enough. Inside the van, inside the garage, I couldn't tell if it was day or night. I had gotten home later than seven in the morning, and I had been up for another couple of hours before ending up in the van. Again. So I guessed it was seven in the evening.
That meant some seven hours.
"Seven? Where's Jeff? And Todd?"
"Their mom came a few minutes after we got home. Todd called her, he said. He said you and Jeff had a fight. What about?"
"Nothing," I said, knowing that I wasn't going to fool him one bit.
"Son. You guys tried to hide it, but we can tell something is wrong. Now, what's going on?"
It was becoming too much for me. I could have handled it if dad hadn't told me that Jeff had been crying, but it wasn't possible after that. I sniffled at first, then began to shake in the effort to stop the tears. Dad climbed in and sat down beside me on the bed, put his hands on my shoulders, and pulled me into a tight hug. He was silent, just waiting as I cried.
Falling asleep crying, then waking up and crying again does something to your guts. They get sore and tired, and they hurt when you sob or breathe deeply; at least that was how it was then. Then there was the embarrassment and disgust at myself for being a sissy, faggot cry-baby.
I wished that I knew something that dad could do to help, or that I could do myself, but there seemed to be nothing; nothing but questions.
"How did you know mom was the right one? Or that you even loved her?"
"I didn't. I just loved her, and I knew it. That's all. I didn't know if she was, the one. I knew there wasn't anyone else I wanted. Just her. Now, what happened?'
"It's, he, I... we... upstairs I, shit!"
"Alex, language, thank you."
I suddenly felt that everything was just too strange. I was sitting in a van, my van, talking to my dad about kissing Jeff! It seemed so unreal, but still so frightening. I wanted to talk to someone about such things, wanted to badly, but, my father?
Who else? I wondered. Tom? I can talk some things with him, but not everything, and sure not about kissing Jeff! Fuck no! So why not dad?
With a sudden gasp I began crying again. I hugged my dad with all my strength and cried on his shoulder for a long time before I could talk to dad about what had happened.
"Sorry, pops. I, just, I, kissed him. And he said it was nice."
Dad pushed me away to look into my face.
"He said it was nice?"
"That's good, isn't it? I mean, if a girl said I kissed nice, well, in my day that was a good thing."
Again I thought how stupid adults could be, and hoped that I wasn't as thick when I got that old.
"No. Dad. Geeze. It's how he said it. And what he said after. He said it wasn't right, and he couldn't do it. He wanted out but couldn't unlock the door. I had to open it for him. He just wanted away from me."
There was a solid knock on the door to the kitchen as Tom's voice called out my name.
"Yeah, here, Tom," I said, wiping my eyes and pulling away from dad's arms.
"Yeah, don't want the buddy to see you hugging your old man and crying. I understand. And I should leave you guys to talk. I think you need to. I'll go keep him occupied for a few minutes first, so you can sort of clean up, okay?"
"Thanks," I said as dad crouch-walked to the sliding door and hopped out.
"He's inside, Tom, but can I borrow you for a few minutes?" dad said to him out of sight of me.
I didn't know how long I had, or what dad had in mind to keep Tom occupied, but I was very grateful that Dad not only understood, but helped.
I gathered my thoughts and emotions, trying to come to ground. I was ready to give up on Jeff, or anything ever existing between us. It hurt, especially after the brief hopes and wonders of the party last night. I was already sure that such things weren't mine to have. I stopped that line of thought, not wanting to stay where I wanted to leave, so to speak.
I looked around and wondered if Tim had cleaned the van out completely, or just well, or if the cops had stripped and searched it. I dug between the bed and the walls, the bed and the sink, and other obvious places. After looking almost everywhere, I sat in the spot on the bed that Tim usually sat in and tried to imagine places to hide it. That helped me to remember Tim once reaching for a joint from behind the sink, where it met the paneling. I traced my fingers there and found a small seam between two sheets of the paneling where the mirror's edge helped hide it, but nothing big enough to get my fingers into. I knew I had seen him reach there and easily pull a joint out from somewhere near there. I poked and prodded, then pushed against the paneling in just the right spot. It gave, I pushed harder, and my fingers slid into a small square-sided opening. I felt what had to be several joints. I dragged one out. Indeed, a large, fat doobie.
"Thank you, Tim!" I breathed. "Now," I said, again aloud and to myself, "where's a fucking lighter?"
There were several in the top drawer, an obvious place, but I had been looking in hiding spaces for the joints. I lit the doobie, wondering what else was still tucked away where. I made a mental note to ask Tim tomorrow.
I smoked and thought for a while about Tim and his leaving before I heard the garage door and Tom's tennies squeaking on the concrete. He leaned in, looking at the carpet, not me, as he said, "So, what's the story?"
"Yeah. Hi. Ummm, come on in. Wanna hit?"
It was a stupid question, I thought, as Tom nodded and sat in the center of the van floor. We smoked the remainder of the joint in silence. I didn't feel uncomfortable, or really sad, just down and so blah that I wondered if I looked like I was a character out of a black and white movie. We grinned a bit at each other from time to time, even made small comments about this or that doing with the van. It wasn't an awkward time, but it wasn't a fun one.
I thought of the many times Tom and I had smoked joints, bowls, or bongs, just sitting in silence and enjoying the buzz, or the company, or both; no television, no movie, no music, just us in silence, buzzed. I knew Tom was more than just a friend, and less than a boyfriend. I didn't know exactly what, but I liked what we had. I knew there wouldn't be anything relationship-wise with him, and soon nothing more sexual, but I knew that wasn't any kind of big deal. A big loss, but not a big deal. And I knew that I needed his friendship at least as much as I wanted it. There was no doubt that I enjoyed having him as my best friend. I knew I'd trade the sex off to keep his friendship, but I'd never trade off his friendship for just sex.
Sitting cross-legged on the van floor, Tom was leaning back on both arms, mostly watching nothing. I liked how he looked, though I knew most people would call him a nerd or geek. He wasn't ugly by any means, but he wasn't your usual handsome, either. His straight, black hair was always worn in that constant Moe Howard bowl-cut. It was thin, too. His face wasn't anything stunning, but I liked it. His fine, dark eyebrows went well with his pale complexion and dark eyes. His eyes weren't black, but so dark a brown as to be black in all but the brightest light. His face was rounded, soft, mild. Thin, dark lips didn't help him come any closer to what it seemed everyone else thought was sexy. He was short and about average build, with short arms and legs. He was always smallish, and would always be. I didn't care what most people thought; I thought Tom was hot.
No wonder I like him, the things he does for me all the time. And how nice he looks. Nice to me anyway. And a better friend would be hard to find. I'm glad we mess around, but if he's not wanting to, then that'll be fine. As long as we hang out and do shit. As long as we're friends, I don't care if I don't get to play around with him anymore. I'll miss it, and wish I could, but you can't have everything you want. Like the Stones say, you can't always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you just might find, that you get what you need.
What do I need? Jeff? Someone else? Do I even have a good idea what I do really need? Or are those just things I want and think I need? I think I need someone like Toby was. That's what I want, anyway. Is it what I need? And how hard do I have to try?
The joint was down to a roach, and without any clips or such, I stubbed it out in the ashtray. I sighed and we locked eyes. His curiosity was still evident, so I set off to satisfy it if possible.
"He's upset, to say the least. He don't know what to do. He's scared, I guess."
"Yeah, okay. I am too."
"His mom," Tom said with certainty.
"Then what else is he afraid of? Or you?"
"What else? Of it all. All of it! His mom. His dad. The guys at school. Our futures. Our lives. Everything!" I ended with a widening flourish of both arms.
Tom nodded, seemingly understanding.
"You gotta call him," he said, moving to get out of the van.
I didn't move.
"What? You've got to talk to him," he said, now standing outside the van and waiting for me to move.
"And say what? It sounds sooo easy! Talk to him ! That's all! " I said in a nasally, whiny way.
"Exactly! Talk to him. It don't matter about what. Just talk about something. School. You both got Superior English Comp, so ask if he gets the last stuff or not. You prob'ly do, but maybe he don't get it all, or something."
"It's easy to say. And he gets better grades than I do in it."
Tom shook his head in exasperation and slapped both thighs with his palms. After a few breaths, as I sat nearly breathlessly in dread, he went on.
"Who calls you when we get stupid and have a fight about something? Huh? I know it's not easy. Trust me. It's not easy. But once you do it you're so glad you did!"
You got more balls than I do, don't matter the size of your real pair, Tom, I thought. If I had emotional ones that big, I'd be on the phone already. Or before. Just fucking call. Why not? Tom can do it.
"Why not?" I asked, moving at last.
My stomach rolled as we walked through the garage. The closer we got to the kitchen and the phone, the shakier and more nervous I became. I tried to prepare something to say, to think of the right words to use, but I couldn't even think of anything to say after hello. Once there, I stood looking at the phone for long minutes, Tom quietly and patiently waiting at my side.
All I can think of is to say I'm sorry, even if I didn't do anything. Maybe went too fast, or acted too sure. But he was the one who wanted Todd to leave us alone in my room to start with! Why should I apologize? What am I sorry for? That he's nuts? Or scared of it? But I am sorry. I'm sorry I told him how I feel about him. No! No I'm fucking not. I'm glad I told him. What I'm sorry about is he can't handle it. But he could if he let me help, I think. He could if he would face it. And I just want to talk to him. Fuck, I'd forget this whole being gay shit if we could just be friends.
That idea appealed strongly to me. I thought of being around him, with the guys and strangers, and how great it would be to no longer have my feelings looming over me, casting me into their shadows. I wished I could do that. But whatever it took, I wanted to keep our friendship .
After I dialed Jeff's number, I saw Tom give me a thumbs-up and a smile. I nodded upward and put on a faint smile, pushed my glasses up my nose, and waited for the clicks to stop and the phone to ring. He leaned against the door frame with a grinning smirk, obviously going to listen in, at least until things got going.
I suddenly worried that their mom might answer. I saw by the clock that she would normally be at some church function or another and relaxed.
"Hey, Todd. Alex. Can I talk to Jeff? Will he?"
"You got great timing!" Todd said in a soft voice. "Mom just went to church for a few hours! Can you get over here?"
"Get over there? It's night! And it's freaking cold! And I'm not sure I should say what I wanna say in person anyway. Whatever it is."
"Shit, I don't know! Just get over here! And what'd'ya wanna say ya can't say in person?"
"I can't, stupid! I ain't got wings, ya know! And, that's between me and Jeff. Okay?"
"Yeah, well, you better think about this. Jeff ain't said a word since you guys, whatever it was at your place! Not except what he, well, just don't give up yet if that's what you're thinking! You just gotta get over here and talk to him! Now!"
Hadn't said a word since? Except what? Don't give up? On what? Why not? What the fuck?
"Go over there and talk about what?"
"Just anything! Mostly about, you know, whatever, between you guys. You know. You guys. It! I know he's a putz, and there's reasons and shit, but he wants to be with you. It's just, not easy is all. Call Jon! Bus it! Just, get, over here!"
Todd's voice, or his words, were working. I felt a sense of growing hope, of there being a chance it could work out. The prospect that Jeff and I could be together took over my thoughts and reason again.
I had barely opened my mouth to ask him as Tom answered, "Heather's working and he's waiting around to pick her up later tonight. I bet he'll give ya a ride."
"Freaking fantastic! Lemme find out first! Hang on Todd!"
I put the phone down and ran to ask dad if it would be okay to go to Jeff and Todd's for a while, that Jon would drive me there and back. Dad obviously never so much as thought about it. He ordered me back by midnight and no later if I wasn't staying the night. I ran back to the kitchen were Tom was on the phone with Todd. He nodded at me as he told Todd that I was back, then handed me the phone.
"Yeah. If Jon will drive me, it's okay!"
"Will he?" Todd asked.
"Will he?" I asked Tom.
Tom shrugged. shrugged, and took off all out.
"Tom's going to ask. Wait. Why do you want me to come over so bad?"
" 'Cause mom's gone! Stupid! You guys can talk! And he fucking needs to!"
"What's his deal? I think I might have an idea, but I don't know."
"He's just freaking out, ya know?"
Boy, do I know! I thought.
"You don't think it's your mom?"
"Oh, sure, some. I mean, her, and the church nuts, and she's not ever gonna just, like, say okay, you're gay, tada, or anything. But, uh, she's suspicious!"
"Suspicious? Of what?"
I had sudden worries of having said or done something to tip her off, as I had apparently done in spades in front of every other person whom I had spent any time with.
"Get over here and I'll tell ya!"
"I don't even know if I have a ride yet! Geeze. But what about it? Suspicious of what?"
"Jon won't let ya down. Especially if Tom has anything to say about it."
"Yeah, I know. I owe him a lot!"
"Jon or Tom?"
"You're an idiot!" I said, then realized it was probably a far more valid question than I was aware of. "What's Jon done now that I don't know about?"
"You have no idea!"
"What the hell?"
Todd laughed and said, "Sometime other, okay? You won't understand anyway."
"Todd, you're twelve. Don't tell me that."
"If you put all those smarts to use, you'd see it."
"What? See fucking what?"
"Just get the fuck over here!"
"Tom's back! Well?"
When Tom nodded and waved me toward the door, completely breathless, I told Todd that I was on the way and hung up the phone. When Tom stood in front of me, blocking the door, I began to worry. He stood with his arms crossed, a mild look of annoyance on his face. I began to wonder if there was something to the seemingly quite popular idea that Tom was gay; I thought that maybe he was feeling a bit jealous, and didn't want me to see Jeff. He rolled his eyes and pointed from my head to my feet.
"Your shoes and coat?" he asked.
I looked down at myself; I had the toga on, jeans underneath it, and a t-shirt over the top half of it, just as I had drunkenly changed to leave Tim's. Laughing at myself, and the stupid thought I had let myself consider despite my certainty of it's stupidity, I ran upstairs and slammed my feet into the red and white tennies, grabbed my coat, figured the red knit cap was good enough as it was close by, and was back downstairs in under a minute, ready for Chicago's early March weather. Tom laughed when he saw me enter the kitchen, but he held the door open and closed it behind me as I adjusted the red cap and zipped the blue down coat over the black t-shirt over the white toga over my blue jeans. Once we were in the car, Jon laughed, then just smiled at my puzzled frown.
"Where's that fashion sense I hear about?"
"What the fuck are you talking about?"
He grinned and shook his head, then asked what had happened after the party.
"I just don't have a fucking clue. So I got a suspicion or a dozen, but I'm gonna find out for sure!" I said as the station wagon backed out of the driveway.
The drive was quiet, only short comments on seemingly random things were made in between songs the entire way. As Jon pulled up in front of the apartment building, he told me he would be waiting for my call at his house until ten, then he would be back by midnight.
I said thanks and shot out of the car. I waved to Todd, who was standing on the balcony, waiting so that I wouldn't have to ring the bell. I ran up the stairs and pulled on the buzzing glass door, throwing a thumbs-up at the two waiting in the car. As I stepped off the elevator, I saw Todd leaning out into the hallway. He waved me to hurry and be quiet. I patted him on the head as I passed him in the doorway.
"Be quiet, I wanna talk to ya for a sec," Todd said, waving me to the couch. He closed the door behind us quietly, joined me on the couch, and said softly, "I'm not thinking mom is a big deal, ya know? He's scared. He rubs his fingers together when he's scared, and he's been doing that all day. His hands are all red! And he hasn't called me a name since we left your place. He's freaking out, Alex."
"What do you think we should do?" I asked, knowing that Todd would have the best insight into his brother.
I started berating myself for not talking to him more about his brother and the situation. I was willing to do anything to make Jeff comfortable, even if we ended up just friends, but especially if it made him comfortable enough to go through with all of it.
"First, Alex, you gotta not move in on him. Don't be pushy. He can't handle that. Go slow. You've had a boyfriend before, he ain't. He's never had anything so heavy. He likes you a lot, at least, like I say. I know he has it for you."
I was blushing; having Todd talk like that was intensely embarrassing. His words also placed another puzzle piece, but I was far too busy to work on it; there was too much to deal with already.
"What else?" I asked.
"Um, don't kiss him. Not 'till he asks or makes a move to. And don't if he seems not sure. He's a putz, Alex, you know that, and owww!"
I sharply smacked the back of Todd's head, with more force than I had intended. I flinched in sympathy and apologized.
"Careful or I'll shut up and you two can keep hating each other!"
"We never hated each other!" I said too loudly. "At least, I never hated Jeff!"
"Keep your voice down! He's got the tee-vee on, but not paying attention to it I bet. And I can't turn this one up loud or he'd be suspicious. So just listen. Jeff, he likes being in control. Not so much the boss. He's always been that way. This is way scary. I think he just wants to make sure he don't look it. And he sure don't want to hurt you. And then, there's Tom."
"Would you guys leave Tom out of this? He's so not gay! Why do you guys keep harping on that? It was just messing around!"
"How sure are you of that?" Todd asked, his head askew.
"Fucking sure!" I hissed.
"Okay. Fine. Then I'll forget it. You know him way better. But Jeff thinks Tom is the same way for you and he thinks he's getting in the way of that. Ya see?"
"I'm sure beginning to. But it's Tom trying to, I don't know, take care of me. Just being my friend is all!"
"If you ask me that again, I'm gonna pop you! And harder!" I said with a glare.
"Fine. Okay. Look, just go talk to Jeff. Be slow. Just tell him Tom isn't that way, isn't gonna be a problem. Tell him you want to be with him. That you'll let him take his time. Ya get it?"
"Yeah," I said, knowing exactly what Todd was talking about.
"So go talk to him. Our room," Todd said, pushing me off the couch.
I was incredibly nervous. Excited and elated, but nervous as hell. I wiped my hands on my jeans and took several deep breaths. Todd threw me a thumbs-up and a smile over the back of the couch. I returned the smile as best I could as I walked toward the door. Eventually I stood before it, nearly shaking, sweating, and unable to swallow. I closed my eyes and took several deep breaths, trying to relax.
I steeled myself, and finally knocked my Circle knock.
"Go away, Todd, and it's not funny!" Jeff said so horribly that I could feel his anguish from the other side of the closed door.
He sounds miserable! I thought. I've never heard his voice so low! Shit! Why is this so hard? And so rough? And so difficult? I've got to do this! It's Jeff!
"It's not Todd. It's me. It's Alex."
No answer came from beyond the door.
"Jeff, please, let me in. Or I'll talk to you through the door."
Nothing. No sounds at all. I glanced at Todd, who shrugged.
"And Todd'll hear," I tried.
Todd threw a thumbs-up and a grin.
There was a scuffling sound or two, the door flew open, then his arm shot out and pulled me inside so fast that I almost lost my feet. As I regained my balance and turned around, Jeff closed the door and leaned against it.
"How did you get here?" he asked, nearly frantic. "Why even?"
He looked pretty terrible; his eyes were rimmed with red, proving he'd been crying at some point very recently; his face was otherwise very pale, making his lips seem too dark a red; his wonderful hair was mussed and messy, more so than I had ever seen it before; the worst was his expression and the way he stood against the door. He looked as if he had been beaten or teased to tears, he hunched forward, and his eyes flickered around the room constantly.
"Jon," I said simply.
"Mom could come home early!"
He seemed about to overload. I wondered if he somehow took some cocaine, or speed. He looked wired, but I knew it had to be natural. I tried to calm him down with gestures, almost afraid to touch him.
"So? It's not too late. No big surprise if she saw me here right now."
He nodded almost absently, then seemed to suddenly agree with me, then nod and perhaps relax a bit.
"I'm sorry if that was too fast. At my house."
"Yeah. I wasn't, like, ready. And I wanted to talk to you, was all. That didn't help. Then there's Tom... "
Tom? Tom, still? What the fuck? Come on!
"Okay, Jeff. Listen to me. Tom isn't. He ain't. He's so not."
I stood with both arms at my sides, fist clenched, jaw tight, glaring at him, willing the truth through my words.
Jeff laughed and tried to quell it immediately.
"You said, he's so not. And you look... I don't know, just, I don't know."
He was grinning, cutely, like when sharing something private or secret, and a little sexy. I felt the mood or emotions shift between us, and I suddenly couldn't stop smiling.
"Stop it! I'm trying to be serious here," I said, doing my best not to grin.
"I know. It's, just... "
"Ugh! Man... "
I was becoming as embarrassed as I had been last night. I laughed as I thought of the party again. Of the good times, the laughter, the jokes, the points game...
The points game!
"Jeff. You guys set up the points game so I'd lose and you'd win."
"Yeah, it was set up that way."
"Who's idea?" I asked, knowing, just wanting Jeff to say it.
Jeff did as he took a seat on his bed. I sat on Todd's bed, across from Jeff, our feet almost touching.
"Tom don't. He isn't. He's outside this. It's you, and it's me. He's helped make sure we got together."
"And mom?" Jeff asked, downcast, the darkness coming back to his expression.
"And she don't need to know!"
"Yeah, right. She'll find out."
"She already knows," came through the door, followed by, "Oh, shit."
We shared an angry glare before shaking our heads. Jeff turned the television up to cover our conversation. As he sat again, he froze, his eyes grew wide, and his mouth hung open suddenly. He stood, shot to the door, and after opening it, told Todd to come back.
"Todd. I ain't pissed. I wanna know what the hell you meant."
"Oh. Mom knows. She was talking to Cindy on the phone the other day. She said she thinks you might not like girls."
Jeff tisked and grunted, then fell against the doorframe. He put a hand to his head and the other over his stomach.
"I'm gonna be sick," he said before running down the hallway to the bathroom.
Todd and I stood at the bathroom door as Jeff emptied very little into the toilet, then knelt on the floor, hovering over the bowl. Todd flushed the toilet and I ran water on a cloth, passing it over Jeff's forehead as I knelt next to him on the floor.
"Scary, huh?" I asked rhetorically.
Jeff nodded, letting me cool his brow and face with the cloth.
"I know. When mom and dad cornered Tom and me on Tuesday, I thought I was just gonna die."
"Mom can't know. She'd have drug me there by now!"
"No way, bro. And she don't know, she's starting to wonder, though."
"What the hell do I do?" Jeff asked, looking and sounding near tears.
"Just tell her."
"Easy to say when your folks just told you!"
"Yup. And I mean it. I'll stay tonight, if my folks let me. I can get 'em to. Tell 'em why."
"Oh, shit! Too fast!"
"I know, Jeff, I know. But damn it, I love you. I want to make you happy. And this will, I bet."
"Happy? What are you talking about? It'll be a nightmare!"
Jeff's face became compressed in fear and loathing. He was pale and sweaty, even though I still wiped his face with the cloth.
"Jeff, no way. Like I said, she's been talking about it. It's not gonna be a shock," Todd said softly, actually smoothing Jeff's hair with a hand.
Jeff groaned and shook his head. I put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. It was very painful to watch Jeff in such a situation, and it was only made worse by the fact that I was at the very center of the reason why. I only wanted to make him happy, not cause him so much distress.
I wanted to make things better, but I couldn't, not quickly enough. There was only one thing I could think of to do to help at all, and I wanted it, too.
"Jeff. Can I have a hug?" I asked, my voice nearly breaking.
Jeff didn't answer, he instead threw his arms over my shoulders and pulled himself against me. Jeff cried on my shoulder, his younger brother patting his back. I let my tears fall onto Jeff's hair.
"This is way too fucked," Jeff declared softly after a time.
"I know. But I don't care, not if it gets me you," I said firmly.
"Me too. Me too!" He squeezed me tighter as he spoke those words. "It's just, just so, so much!"
"Jeff, Jeff," I repeated, holding him tightly as we all sat on the floor. "I'll do anything to make you happy. Just anything. Just let me. Just tell me what."
After long minutes there, Jeff pulled away from me and made to stand. We all walked to the living room where Jeff and I sat on the couch next to each other. Todd sat in the big recliner and picked up the phone, unnoticed by us.
"I just don't like being, being so worried," Jeff tried to explain. "I don't know what's going on, ya know? I don't have a damned clue what's gonna happen!"
"Neither do I. I don't care. As long as I have a chance to be with you, I don't give a fuck."
Jeff smiled and reached out to touch my face. His fingers traced from my left eyebrow, across the slightly sore bruise, to my ear, then downa long my chin. When Jeff took his hand back, mine snapped out and grabbed it, placed it back and held it there. Jeff smiled wider and leaned closer, putting his head on my shoulder again.
I saw Todd on the phone, and threw a questioning look at him. He held up one finger, signaling me to hold on. When he finished talking, he hung up the phone, smiling widely. My eyes squinted at him in suspicion.
"Your dad says okay, but you have to call before ten, and mom has to call when she gets home."
"You little shit! What did you tell him?"
"You and Jeff were making up and talking and you needed time and it was alright if you stayed even if mom didn't know yet."
"He agreed?" I asked in a loud, surprised voice.
"Yup. Mom has to call him, too, before midnight, or he wants you home."
I shook my head at the boy.
"I'm gonna go Dig-Dug. You guys wanna a soda or anything before I do?"
"Naw," we replied.
"Just go play and leave us alone, squirt," Jeff said softly. "Punk," he added as his little brother walked by us.
"Freaks," Todd said with a smile over his shoulder as he walked down the hallway to the bedroom.
"You got a hell of a bro there, dude."
"Yeah. When he wants to be. He's a royal pain when he wants to be one, too."
Jeff sat up and met my eyes, smiled and hiccupped and burped at the same time.
We both laughed until Todd peeked around the corner of his door in curiosity, muttered with a smile, then ducked back inside the bedroom.
"I gotta brush," Jeff said, grimacing.
Saying he would be right back, he went to the bathroom. I realized that I had to pee. Suddenly I had to very badly. I went to the bathroom door, which was open, a good sign I thought. I knocked on the frame.
"What?" he said around the brush.
"Just me. I, ah, I really gotta go," I hinted.
"So go ahead. No big deal, right?"
It wasn't. So I did. We didn't talk, it was already difficult with him brushing, but at least the toilet faced the other side of the room. I was quick and out, Jeff not far behind me.
"Alex, mom really doesn't want to move. She's talking about staying here and letting dad finish this job and see where he goes next. If Todd and I pester her enough, I about guarantee she won't move. And I would, if there were a big enough reason."
"Being friends isn't enough reason? What about your other friends? What about if, we, love each other?"
Oh my gawd! I don't believe I just said that!
Jeff obviously was stunned too. His mouth hung open in that cute, sexy way, slanted a bit to his left side so that his braces showed there, and his eyes so slightly squinted. It was all of course led off by his wonderful tisk. When his expression melted away, it was replaced with something sullen and heart-emptying.
"Tim's already called saying stuff. Mom wanted to know if my friends wanted us to stay. I mean, I'd like to stay, if you, like me. Like, that."
"How can you even wonder if I like you? You're already one of my best friends! And you're so... sexy!"
Wow! I did it again! Why can't I say this stuff all the time? So, go ahead and say more. Say it.
"I really think I love you. But, if it isn't... if that isn't enough, what is?"
He leaned in slowly, so slowly. I didn't move. We kissed again, experimenting, learning and teaching at the same time.
After we separated, Jeff said, "When you said last night that you and Tom were really just playing around after all, not, more, that you didn't have any boyfriend, or anyone like that, I yelled inside. because it meant maybe we could."
"But you were so hard to even get to, to, uh, even, do anything."
"It felt weird. I thought, you know, the sex stuff, was just playing around, nothing serious or more than a fun time. I was so stoned! And it felt weird all of a sudden, and I didn't know what to do, and I panicked. I always wanted to tell you that. I wanted to turn back and say I was sorry for leaving and it was okay. But I thought you were dating Tom. And its all so sneaky and dirty, and not like I want it to."
"You really thought I was together with Tom?"
"Well, but, together, yeah."
"Man, we were obvious and it wasn't even true!"
We laughed again, relieving some more of the tension between us.
"Oh, come on, you guys did each other silly all the time!"
"No! Really! We played around a lot, but it was just playing around. And Tom don't want it to go on much longer. He really likes Helen, and girls. And you were so in the closet I never saw you back there!"
More laughter brought us closer together, physically and emotionally.
Jeff suddenly kissed me again.
Oh, shit, yes!
" 'Bout fucking time," Todd said approvingly. "Will you be less pissy if you get some regular?"
"Fuck off, you little shit-head!"
"Just do it and get it over with! Maybe if you tell mom you're in love she won't move."
"Yeah, sure. Mom, by the way, I'm gay and in love with Alex."
"See? See how easy?" I teased, grinning.
"Yeah, right! Todd, go away!"
"She already knows, anyway, I bet. She caught me with the Playboys and she still ain't seen you with no girlfriend, and sleeping with a bunch of boys every Friday."
"You sleep with a bunch of boys every Friday, too!"
"Yeah, but she caught me with the Playboy and kissing Sally Bearfield in the hall. And I'm only twelve. You she ain't seen nothing like with. If she don't know she's really suspicious of it. You know she searches our room, and she's found my porn mags. But you ain't got any but your older and should, ya know? And you still ain't had a girlfriend she knows about. She knows, just tell her," Todd said with finality.
Jeff's mouth gaped in reaction.
"What?" I asked.
"Of course he's serious," I answered.
"I mean, he's serious. She prob'ly knows!"
"And that's good, right?" I asked, nearly relieved, but still worried. "It's your opportunity. I've learned to take opportunities when they come up. Almost always take 'em."
"Oh please!" Todd declared loudly. "Jeff here's had a boner for you for like a year and you're the gayest guy I know and never knew anything!"
"I didn't see the possibility. It was there, yeah, but I never saw it. I don't know why, but I didn't," I said with a shrug. "And what do you mean, the gayest guy you know?"
"You are! Except Liberace!"
"I am not even close!" I said loudly in horror.
"No. But you are gay, and it wasn't hard to figure out, because I'm your friend, and I know stuff. And my brother's gay and got the hots for ya."
Jeff sat up suddenly.
"Just when did you come to this gloriously bright conclusion that your older brother is gay, anyway?" he asked, pursing his lips sideways, proving he was a bit annoyed.
"Uh. Well. Not sure when I really was sure, not until Tyler and Scott. When we visited the cousins in Wisconsin, and you got along real good with their friend while we was there. Then, well... " he answered, ending shyly and blushing.
"Did you-" Jeff began angrily at Todd, then stopped, embarrassed. He turned to me. "And you didn't see because I acted like it was nothing. I didn't want you to know how much I wanted to. Not with you and Tom together, especially."
"WE, WEREN'T, TOGETHER!" I grunted through my teeth.
"Then you shouldn't been acting like it! Everyone in the circle thought you two were!" Todd exclaimed.
"That's why Tom wants to stop before he gets a gay rep!" I explained.
"Too late!" Todd and Jeff said together, laughing.
"Perdiddle!" Jeff said suddenly.
Todd rolled his eyes and approached for the hit to the shoulder for being so late on the call. Jeff reared his arm back to give a painful knuckling to Todd's shoulder. I grimaced in anticipation, knowing Jeff had a lot frustration to vent. Jeff's fist flew forward, then suddenly pulled Todd over the back of the couch. Jeff's hand still holding his shoulder tightly, he rolled Todd over and used his other hand to tickle Todd's ribs.
Todd went into defensive motions and slight laugher, but once I joined in, he was doomed and laughing uncontrollably.
"Okay you guys! Stop! Enough!" he pleaded.
Jeff and I scrunched our faces at each other, signaling a bit more before we let him up. Todd was doing a good job of squirming toward the floor and out of the tickle torture anyway, so we let him escape, having his victory. We both made weak attempts to grab his shirt tail or feet, just to make sure he thought he had actually gotten away himself.
He stood and straightened his clothes with dignity, declaring, "You got notin' fo' me!"
"He knows we let him out," Jeff said grinning.
"Oh? Yeah. Otherwise he'd be teasing us about being weak or slow."
"Geeze, you guys are incredible! Both gay, both smart, and neither one got the guts to be each other! Like a stupid soap opera! Why don't you just get on with things?" Todd asked as he turned on the television.
He switched it over to channel nine and the regular Saturday night science-fiction show. We got lucky, and "Journey to the Center of the Earth" was on. Jeff and I actually snuggled up on the couch and watched it, Todd on the floor in front of us.
I almost told them of my fantasy of being on the Lindenbrook Expedition. I almost told them how I had dreamed and fantasized for years already of being lost underground with just the big Icelander. Nearly, but I didn't. I thought instead how lucky I was, or could be, if things would just work out with my own gorgeous, sweet, wonderful, Nordic stud: Jeff.
"You know, you look like him, sorta," I said softly in his ear.
"Who? Alec? No way! He looks a lot like Tom, though."
"No! Hans! The gorgeous Icelander! Duh!"
"He don't look like me!"
"Sure he does," Todd agreed. "When you're older I bet you do look like him. Not totally, but yeah. And not as tall, but you're gonna be tall enough, ya troll."
After a few minutes, Jeff said questioningly, "Todd? Give us some privacy?"
"Go to the bedroom. I can watch teevee out here," he offered.
Jeff looked like that was disgusting.
"Oh, Christ! Fine! I'll go watch the little tee-vee!"
I couldn't wait to lean over and take Jeff's face in my hands and kiss those soft, wonderful lips. It seemed so strange, though, especially with Todd so near, even if it was in another room. I sat in confused sexual frustration for several seconds before Jeff said, "Fuck it," and leaned toward me, put his hands on my shoulders, and kissed me.
Yes! This is more like it! Oh, man, his lips are so soft!
"Ahem! Ahem! I'm closing the door now. If it makes any difference!" Todd said wickedly before we heard the door close..
Cuddled against each other, kissing from time to time, tickling and touching, we watched the movie in silence. As the time his mom would get home grew nearer, Jeff became restless and agitated, separating from me and sitting alone. He wrung his fingers between each other in his lap and hardly looked at me. I knew things were going badly before he spoke.
I wasn't in the best of condition myself; I was nearly shaking, slightly nauseous, and very worried. I wanted Jeff clear of the constant worry that his mom would find out that he was gay. I remembered well what it was like to have that hanging over you, and now that I knew what it was like to no longer have that dread and fear, I wanted to help him get out from under it. I
"I don't want to tell mom."
"After Todd went through all this trouble? And me? Why? This is your chance."
"I know. I know. But, why risk it? She don't have to know. Tom's folks don't know-"
"Tom's not the same!" I said a bit harsher than I intended to. Jeff raised his head to look at me as I said, "Sorry. But, well, he ain't. You know what I mean."
"Yeah. I do. It's, just, why tell her?" Jeff asked, meeting my eyes.
Jeff, damn it, just do this, for me, I thought before forcing myself to say it.
"Why for you?"
"Because, for me. If you do this, you'll be free of it. It won't be something between you and your mom. Or us. It's better, I know that. Just say it, Jeff, just tell her. I'm right here. Just do it, please."
Jeff's forehead wrinkled in thought and concern. He dropped his chin back onto his chest and sighed.
"What if she looses it, goes totally ballistic? You never seen her do it. She does. Then, everything'll be, different."
It would have been impossible for me to miss the fear and worry in Jeff's voice, even two years ago when we had first met.
How can I convince him when I'm not convinced? He and Todd once talked about their mom's temper. They told me of the time Todd had been caught with those magazines, how she had rolled one up and used it to spank him violently with it. I remember Todd walked weirdly one day, and when one of us had asked why, he said he fell off his skateboard. But later, alone without everyone else around, I asked him what he was doing on his board when he screwed up so bad. Then Todd told me the truth, Jeff nodding seriously along with him.
What if she does go off? She could hurt him. Not just his feelings, really hurt him; I'd hate her then. I like her now, always have, she's never seemed mean, just strict and caring. If she makes this harder for him, it's gonna be harder to keep liking her. What if she throws him out? Is that legal? He's not eighteen, she can't do that, can she? She can move, though. Or send him off to relatives, or military school, or something else. And I'm thinking all this, what's Jeff thinking? Oh, shit, he has to be so scared!
I knew that I was.
"Jeff, I'm scared. Really. I don't know how your mom is gonna take it. Maybe Todd is right, she knows and stuff, ya know? Maybe it won't be a surprise and she'll just smile and say, no shit, Sherlock."
I knew how weak that was, but it was all I could come up with. Jeff laughed shortly and met my face again, smiling his small, worried grin that pursed his lips.
"She won't. She just won't. Todd don't know. He's just a kid. He's just trying to make it easier to tell her. I know him. That's all he's doing. He don't know."
"Jeff. When she gets here, just tell her. Blurt it out."
"What? Are you crazy? She will go off, then! No fucking way, man. No. If I tell her, I have to, like, work up to it, ya know?"
We began to seriously consider how it could best be done. Plans were made, examined, modified or discarded. We were still talking plans, when we were surprised by the sound of a key in the door. We quickly moved further apart on the couch just as the door swung open and Jeff's mom walked in, smiling.
"Hello, boys. What's going on?" she asked, walking into the kitchen with a shopping bag in her arm.
"Nothing, mom," Jeff said fairly normally.
If you only knew, I thought.
"So what have you guys been up to?" her voice came from the kitchen, sounding normal.
"Watching teevee," Jeff said smoothly.
If only you knew!
"Anything good?" she asked, the sounds of groceries being put away also coming from the kitchen.
"Pretty good old one, just ended. Nothing good on now," he said, looking worried and shifting endlessly.
No! Jeff, don't! Calm down, get a grip!
I couldn't say it, not with the television turned so low, and risking miming it meant his mother could see us from the kitchen.
"Where's your brother?"
"Of course. Anything interesting happen today?"
We looked to each other, hearing the opportunity. Jeff looked like he was just about to throw up. I knew not to push it.
"Nothing much," he answered, sounding nervous.
"I'm going to get comfortable, be out in a bit boys. My show's on in half an hour, by the way," she said, hinting that control of the living room set was without doubt during "The Love Boat."
"Can you go home?" Jeff asked quietly.
He wiped his hands on his thighs and leaned to look down the hallway.
"Just go. I'll call you later. Or tomorrow. I promise! Honest! I just can't tell her. Okay? Please?"
"Why? Just don't tell her tonight. I can stay a while yet. Maybe overnight."
"No! I... shit. I just, no. Go home! Please!"
"I don't want to leave! We can talk or play a game with Todd, or watch something."
"No. Just please go! She's gonna be out here any minute!"
"So? Is this like you're afraid she'll figure us out just sitting here? Even if we don't say anything? Do you think we're going to give it away?"
I knew I had feared much the same thing when being in public with him until so recently. I had realized how stupid it was, and knew it then. I tried to show Jeff the same lesson.
"It's not that! It's not comfortable anyway, though! You got to know what I mean!"
I did. I understood. I had been there. I had just left that place. I had to wait for him to get past it. I could help if I could, and I was trying, but he wasn't ready. He was mired deeply there.
"It's... fuck! I know if she finds out it's gonna mean... And the church, and... all that! Them all thinking I'm evil, and need the demons cast out of me! The fucking retards! It'll be hell! It'll be fucking purgatory!"
He was near tears, frantic with worry, glancing back and forth between the hall and me as he spoke in a rush.
"You're my slave right? Just go home then. Please. You'll see. I can't!"
Jeff's demand left me with no choice. I had to do as Jeff wanted, even if it did make me angry. And it did. I was his slave until Friday and the meeting, and he had used that to make me leave. I suddenly wanted away from him. I picked up the phone and dialed Tom's number. It was picked up instantly.
"Yeah?" Jon's voice asked.
"I need a ride home," I said flatly.
"Why? What's up? But sure. But why?"
"Just, okay?" I asked, sounding angry without raising my voice.
"Sure. Guess just you?"
"Fuck!" There was a long pause during which I could hear him talking, but his words were indistinct and muffled. "We're on the way."
"Thanks," I said and hung up. "I'll fucking wait downstairs," I said rudely, and almost loud enough for his mom to hear, as I grabbed my coat and left without looking back.
I punched the button for the elevator far harder and far more times than necessary. When the elevator proved not to be immediately responding to me, I turned to take the stairs. As I pushed the stairwell door open, I heard the elevator bell and smirked. The door closed behind me, echoing emptily in the stairwell.
Fitting sounds, that. I always miss the elevators in life, and the sound of empty space echoing is all I have now. Nothing. That's all I got. Fucking nothing. I should turn back, pound on the door until it opens and scream the truth at her. Fuck her! What right does she have to make Jeff afraid of what he is? So, she's his mom. He knows what he is, what he wants, she should just accept that and love him, like my folks do. Why does her stupid church have to make it their business?
The door on the first floor was stuck. I pulled and kicked it, trying to open it. The latch clicked, but not like normal, and the door wouldn't budge. It swung toward me, so pushing didn't help, or the kicking, but I still did both until I sat crying with my back against it.
Now I'm crying like a kid, in a stairwell! I'm such a fucking faggot pussy! He's just upstairs, so close, so fucking close, but he might as well be on the moon! I just, just, I don't know what I want, but this isn't fucking it! I should be upstairs, laughing with Jeff and his mom about how stupid we were not telling her sooner. Jeff should be holding his mom, smiling and saying he loved her, that he loved me! He should be holding me! Saying that we love each other!
The door at my back jostled, startling me. I shot to my feet as a very tall, blond man in a blue suit met my eyes momentarily. I moved so the man could enter the stairwell, then shot around him and into the lobby. I walked quickly to the glass doors and pushed my way out into the cold and the dark. I sat down on the cold, wet curb, wiping my eyes and wondering what the stranger thought of the little kid crying in the stairwell wearing a toga over some of his clothes.
Why would I give a fuck? Why would he? Why would anyone? It's just another fag, crying like a pussy, alone.
Eventually I heard the familiar rumble of the station wagon's rusty exhaust. I wiped my eyes and face as inconspicuously as possible and stood up as the green monster stopped in front of me. Tom opened the front passenger door as it stopped. I got in, not meeting the face of either of my friends.
The ride home was silent as I stared at the passing city. I felt as if I spoke a single word, that I would end up crying, so I grunted when I had to, making it obvious I didn't want to talk. When the wagon pulled up my drive, I had the door open and was climbing out before it was completely stopped. I heard Tom, or Jon, say something, but I didn't care.
When my parents' voices called out from the den, I said goodnight and slipped to the garage door, then closed it quietly behind me. I walked slowly to the van in the darkness, making my way around the family car by touch. I climbed in and lay down on the bed.
What the hell? I should just give up. Jeff can't tell his mom. He wont' tell her. He never will. But will he still want to be... be my boyfriend? And why is that so hard to even think? Not like I've never had one! Toby was. I want Jeff as one. I do want Jeff. More than anybody. He's so fun, cute, tender, funny, good looking, caring, sweet. All of it. FUCK!
If I can't have Jeff, I don't want to even bother living. Why live when I can't have anyone to make me happy while I made them happy? What's the point? Just teasing? Some God! Or is this the purgatory, my perdition for being gay? Only teased with the possibility of lifelong happiness, to have it ripped away after a taste so that I'll know what I'm missing.
I rolled onto my side and punched the back door repeatedly. I gave that up when I didn't feel any better. I curled up and cried, again, eventually falling asleep.