Disclaimer: All the normal rules apply.  Do not read if you'd be offended by material of a sexual nature; if local laws prohibit you from reading this, read no further.  Do not copy or reproduce, in whole or in part, without permission of the author, Nicholas Nurse.  All material is copyright Nicholas Nurse 2003.  All individuals depicted are imaginary, and any resemblance to real persons or events, express or implied, is purely coincidental.

That having been said--enjoy!  And feel free to contact me at viceroy12@hotmail.com.  All flames will, of course, be laughed at and summarily deleted.

Tristan's Redemption
By Nicholas Nurse

Chapter Three: Dreams and Choices

For the rest of the evening, I quietly seethed.  It wasn't the kind of anger where I stomped around and broke things; it was the kind of anger that led me to get home and start working out at a frantic pace, jogging around our backyard and swimming laps and jumping rope and practicing forms and strikes.  I was frustrated and filled with pent-up anger that translated itself into frenetic movement.  I knew I could call up other friends, like Sarah or Taylor, but I just didn't feel like reaching for the phone.  I would much rather just be alone when I was this mad—there were no guarantees as to what might come out of my mouth, and I had burned enough bridges for one day.

Finally, I sat down in front of my computer.  I had been working on a few expository essays, mostly political in nature, and I decided that now was as good a time as any to pore over some sources and do some basic fact-checking.  These weren't for school, so there wasn't a deadline.  They were just part of a website I ran.  I loved writing, you see, and I was hoping that one day I could be a journalist, or an essayist—I really loved the essayist's ability to construct and defend an argument logically and soundly through the written word.  Look, I know it sounds all dorky, but let it go.  I have my little dreams and aspirations—let me hold to them as long as possible, alright?  Anyway, so I worked for a few minutes, going through a pile of magazines at my feet and some of the internet resources that were fairly reliable.  Too much on the net wasn't reliable for me to trust anything I found without first corroborating it with printed text.

Unfortunately, my instant messenger program had auto-loaded.  That irritating ding! announced to me that I had a message.  I looked up.  The message read:

You ditched gym today

With a sigh, I set my work down for a few moments.  Maybe this would be a chance to vent a little.  I responded.

Tristantric: You're so observant.

How come?  And why are you home on a Friday night?

::sigh:: Long story.  Look, let me call you and explain, alright?

K, call me whenever.  I'm putting up my away msg

And that ended that.  Although now I was duty-bound to call him.  Ah well, it's not like that was a bad thing—Taylor was by far the most levelheaded person I knew.  I don't think I'd ever seen him get angry, or even irritated.  Granted, the converse to that was that I rarely if ever saw him get really excited about anything, but he seemed to ascribe to the idea that no ups meant no downs, either.  It seemed to work for him—his emotions were always on an even keel, and his sense of logic was keen—but I wasn't sure I agreed with his methodology.  I was too much a slave to my emotions.  Well, honestly, I'm a writer—writers have to be in tune with their emotions if they want to create anything that can reach readers on an emotional level.  A writer can't sacrifice emotion and still expect to impact people, to appeal to their ethos.  So I personally eschewed Taylor's unflappability in favor of emotion.  Anyway, he was probably waiting for me to call.  I picked up the phone and dialed Taylor's number.

Taylor answered right away.  "Alright, so what happened?"

"I got into a huge fight with Garrett and Liza."

"Nothing new there, really."

"No, that's true, but this time they really pissed me off.  And there are compounding factors."  Like how much I was in love with Garrett—not that I would tell Taylor that.  Although, come to think of it, if there was anybody I was going to tell, it would be Taylor.  I was certain he would have no reaction.

"Compounding factors?"

"I don't want to get into it."

"So how did they piss you off particularly badly this time?"

I proceeded to tell him the whole story.  I then decided to go out on a limb and expose a bit of myself to Taylor.  "And you know Liza and I are really close, but it's being angry with Garrett that really kills me.  I mean, we're best friends and I—"

"You love him."

"Well, yeah, I mean, we go way back.  So, yes, I do."

Taylor was quiet for a minute.  I could almost hear him measuring out his words.  "Is that it?" he asked, as though prompting me for more.

I could feel that he was already starting to leap to conclusions on his own.  Was I ready to walk down that path?  "What do you mean?" I returned, hedging my bets.

"That you would ask for clarification implies that there is more," Taylor replied.  "I mean, is there more to the . . . situation with Garrett?"

I couldn't do this.  Not yet, not now, maybe not ever.  "No," I replied.  "It's just frustrating because now I'm stuck here on a weekend with nothing to do."

"Look, Tris.  I'm gonna be honest with you."  Taylor paused.  "Actually, it'll be better if we talk in person.  Is that cool?"

My stomach had turned to lead.  "Yeah, that's fine," I said airily, playing it off that I was unconcerned.  "Come over.  My parents are out of town."

"Alright."  Taylor hung up.  He lived a few blocks away; while I waited, to calm my nerves I threw myself on my bed and stared at the ceiling.  My room was large and the ceiling was bare, with only the recessed lighting and the fan to relieve the monotony.  In fact, my room was relatively undecorated, minus a few concessions to my various hobbies here and there.  I closed my eyes.

There was water everywhere.

The sun was a distant thing, shimmering and twisting from above the surface.  My dark hair floated in front of my face like seaweed.

I breathed in the water and was filled with life.  It was warm here, like a womb, and safe.  If I listened very carefully I could hear a thrumming in the distance, like the beating of some vast and ancient heart.  In the stillness, something approached.  I squinted, peering into the distance, sight piercing the waters—

It was human, and male.  As it grew closer, I could make out more details—slender, pale—then the eyes, and I knew it was Garrett.  He swam to me and I stopped moving.  I did not sink.  I reached out and wrapped him in my arms and brought his face to mine, his lips to mine, and in that moment all distance between us vanished and as our tongues found each other's we turned, suspended.  I could feel his heartbeat loud in my ears, insistent and pounding, louder and louder until something was not right and—

The door.  Downstairs—someone was pounding on the door.  I gasped and snapped upright and dashed down the stairwell, stumbling on my way down.  "Hang on!" I yelled as I vaulted down the last few steps.  I flung the door open.  Taylor stood there in his leather jacket, looking rather chilly.  "How long have you been there?" I asked.

Taylor didn't even look mildly annoyed.  "About ten, fifteen minutes."

"Oh, I'm so sorry!  I dozed off and I was having a weird dream—come in, sorry, come in, let me get you something warm to drink."

"Do you have any coffee?"  Taylor took off his jacket and set it on the coatrack.  He raised one black eyebrow.  "You might need some just as much as I."

"Yeah, this morning's pot should still be there.  Come on, let me get two mugs and get the coffee going.  French Vanilla okay?"

"Fine.  Alright, we'll talk while you're doing that."  That was just like Taylor, to jump straight to the issue at hand without wasting time on small talk.  I brewed the coffee while he sat down at the kitchen table.  "Okay, I want you to hear me out in my entirety before you interrupt me.  Fair enough?"  I nodded.  "Here goes.  I'm gay."  Good thing I was turned away, making the coffee; as it was, I nearly dropped the pot.  "I didn't tell you before because it was a simple risks-benefits analysis, and the risks always outweighed the benefits.  The reason I'm mentioning it to you now is because I've been watching for the little signs for months, and I think you're gay too.  And that you love Garrett."  He fell silent.  It was obviously my turn.

My hands were shaking wildly.  Shit shit shit shit shit.  I did not expect it to be like this.  But I wasn't going to lie, either.  There was no risk here.  "You guessed right."  I turned to face him.  "On both counts."  

Taylor leaned back and steepled his fingers.  Yes, he was the sort of person who actually steepled his fingers.  "I thought as much," he said.  "When did you first find out?"

I really didn't want to be sitting here discussing my sexuality like this.  It was bad enough that I'd come out to Taylor like that—I hadn't so much come out as been forced out, really—and my hands would not stop shaking.  I set the coffeepot down gently, then as my knees gave out I slid to the floor, my back against the kitchen cabinets.

"Tristan?"  Taylor stood up, started coming toward me.  "I'm sorry, I didn't think—are you okay?"

"I . . . don't know," I replied.  I put my head in my hands.  I would not cry.  I never cried.  Never.  But acknowledging it—I'm gay—saying it out loud, made it so much more real.  

"I know it does," Taylor said.  I didn't realize I had spoken aloud.  "It's existential, almost—you can deny it right up until the point it escapes your lips, the moment it ceases to become solely your own reality and suddenly is part of the larger world—"

"The world that is outside of my control."

"Yes, you are a control freak, aren't you?"  Taylor sat down beside me.  "Look, it's not so bad.  I've even dated a bit—"

"You've what?"  I was so shocked I raised my head and stared straight at Taylor.

"Yeah, but I didn't tell you guys because I didn't want you all to know yet.  I still don't, Tris.  The risks-benefits analysis still applies to people outside of you and me—even Julian Lambowski."

"You don't need to tell me that."  I put my head back down again.  I was quiet for a moment, then asked: "Who did you date?"

Taylor seemed embarrassed.  "They . . . don't go to our school."

"What do you mean?  You dated guys from other high schools?"

"I . . . I like older guys.  Like, late twenties.  Past the hormones and all the high school bullshit, you know?  College, or out of college, with their lives in order and . . . besides, I look older than seventeen.  I just find the older mind and body . . . well, sexy."

I was, for once, at an utter loss for words.  "Tristan?" Taylor said, shaking my shoulder.  "Tristan?  I'm sorry—I guess I might be doing this all too fast.  Are you okay?"  

"Did you have sex with them?" I whispered from between my hands.

Taylor seemed horrified.  "No!  I wasn't going to go that far.  I only went out three times total, with two different guys.  And all we did was make out a little—we didn't have sex!"  He laughed a little.  "I let one of them jerk me off, though."

I shook my head.  "Look, Taylor, you're gonna have to slow down.  I can't—I can't take all of this all at once like this.  I feel like . . . "  If it was possible, I sunk lower onto the floor.  "I feel like my head is going to explode."

"You shouldn't be that surprised.  After all, birds of a feather flock together.  I'm sure the number of gay kids in the honors classes would shock us."

I had nothing to say.  For a moment, I felt as though I were drowning.  The dream flashed into my head—the warm stillness—this was nothing like that, but . . . "I really love Garrett, Taylor."

"I know."  Taylor put a hand on my shoulders.  "I can see it in the way you look at him.  I can see it in the way you talk to him.  In the closeness between you two."  He stood.  "You can see it if you know what you're looking for."

"Do you think he likes me?"  I said it in a rush, dreading the answer.

"I don't know.  I can't read Garrett so well, you know.  Not that you're easy—far from it.  You're nearly inscrutable.  I just—had a sense of it, that's all."

"Gaydar."  I looked up at him.  "They call it gaydar."

Taylor laughed.  "Well, I guess that makes me one for one."

Questions, a million, whirled through my mind.  I needed to be calm.  I picked myself up off the floor and poured myself a mug of coffee.  A big mug.  I poured one for Taylor, too; while I did so, I was silent.  Taylor remained quiet as well, sensing that I was deep in thought.  When I handed him his mug, I came and sat down at the table.  I stared down at the tabletop—there were amazing patterns in wood, really, if you looked closely enough, all the swirls and straight lines of the grain and . . .

"Tris.  You're zoning out."

I jerked.  "You're right."  Wood grain?  I really was losing it.  "I have a bunch of questions for you, but I can't quite figure out which one I want to ask first."

"Start with the most pressing one."

There was one thing I had been pushing into the back of my mind all this time, one thing I didn't want to ask because of what it would mean.  It popped out.  "Can I kiss you?"

"Sure, that's fine."

I turned totally, completely red.  Taylor didn't react at all.  "Whoa, let me explain," I said.  "I've . . . never kissed a guy.  I want to know what it's like."  I wasn't attracted to Taylor, really—besides my being in love with Garrett, Taylor looked about nineteen or so, with black hair and sideburns and a five o'clock shadow that started around noon.  He was tall and broad and, well, lots of girls found him cute, but he just didn't do it for me.  But I did want to see what it was like.  Desperately so.  

"It's a lot like kissing a girl," Taylor said.  "But more stubbly.  Well, best way to have you know is to show you."  He stood and came to me and suddenly he was there, up against my lips, and I gasped and tried to say Wait! but nothing came out.  I relaxed and opened my mouth a little bit—I'd kissed girls before, so I knew how it was done—and turned my head to one side.  Taylor put a hand on the small of my back and I stood, putting one hand on the base of his neck.  His tongue slipped inside of my mouth and I moaned against his lips as my tongue met his, searching.  I breathed in deeply through my nose, eyes closed and head thrown back a little bit, and then Taylor pulled away.

I was absolutely breathless for a moment.  For his part, Taylor sat back down and sipped his coffee.  "Well?" he asked wryly over his cup.  "I know I'm not Garrett, but I know I'm not bad."

"That was . . . definitely more stubbly."  Taylor laughed.  "Wow.  It's so . . . warm.  And my body responds totally differently than when I kiss a girl—wow.  That was wild."

"Before you get any ideas, you're not my type."

I grinned.  "Oh, am I too young for you?"  In a moment, I was serious again.  "Where did you meet these guys?"

"There's a gay group that meets at a coffeehouse up the freeway," Taylor replied.  "I met them there and we hung out a few times after that."

"One of them . . . jerked you off?"

"Yeah, but I wasn't particularly impressed," Taylor said dismissively.  "I do just as good a job on my own, really."  He laughed.  "Don't look so shocked, Tris."

I wasn't aware that I'd looked shocked.  "I'm . . . just adjusting to this whole different side of you.  I mean, at school you're always the quiet studious type, not really into the party scene or wild stuff . . . and here I find out you moonlight as a . . . a college paramour!"

"I'm not that bad!"  Taylor looked pensive.  "Do you want to come tonight?  They're meeting in an hour at the coffeehouse."

"Oh my god!  What if someone sees me?  I can't go!"

"There's no one there—not even Julian—from our school.  Tristan.  Calm down."

"No, what I need to do is call Garrett.  I have to apologize to him.  I can't have him mad at me, not now."  I ran hands through my hair.  "How long have you known?"

"That I'm gay?"


"Since was about ten or eleven, I guess.  But it was never really a big deal until the sex drive kicked in around fourteen or fifteen, I guess."

"You have a sex drive?"

Taylor scoffed.  "Of course I do!  I just sublimate it well.  As do you, you know."

I'd never quite thought about it that way.  "Oh.  I guess you're right."  I really hadn't had any sex at all—the most I'd done was confined to my imagination.  "I do jerk off quite a bit, though."

"We all do, I'm sure.  I do it at least four times a week, probably more."

I blushed.  "I'd say I'm  . . . a once a day type."  Ahem.  Moving on.  "Taylor, thanks for coming over.  I didn't want to tell you—I think you know that.  But I feel better for having told you."  I did.  There was a bit of a weight off my shoulders, especially since I knew my secret was safe with a good friend.  Now I had someone to compare notes with, too.  I told him so.  "And you're a good kisser," I added with more than a note of mischief in my voice.

"That almost sounds like you want a second sample," Taylor said with a grin.

"Maybe."  And this time I stood up and moved over to his chair.

*    *    *

When Taylor left, I reached for the phone.  He was headed to his coffeehouse, to scope out the scene.  After that second kiss, my curiosity satisfied, we'd finished our coffee and he'd left.  I still had a lot I wanted to talk to him about, but I decided to save it for later.  For now, the first priority was Garrett.  I had made a mistake and I had to correct it.  I set the phone back down.  What was I going to say?  I sat down on the couch and spread out across it, hands behind my head.  I could still taste Taylor on my lips.  I didn't like him—not like that—but damn.  The boy knew how to kiss.  I closed my eyes and remembered that moment, and wondered what it would be like to kiss Garrett like that.

Through the trees, I could just make out a faint light.  I jumped as I noticed that there was another hand inside my own.  I turned and saw Taylor.  "Don't be afraid," he whispered to me.

"I am afraid," I replied.  

Taylor squeezed my hand.  "There are some chances we must take in this life."

"I'm not ready yet."

"Here he comes."  And in the way of dreams, Taylor vanished.  I was alone, but the light was closer still.  I could see the outline of the person carrying the light.  The person stepped into the clearing.  It was Taylor again, but somehow it was not.  There was Garrett there too, in the same body, and Jared too, and Liza.  Everybody I held dear stood in front of me now—all of my friends whom I had, at some point, wronged.  I had to set things aright.

"This is for you."  The light had turned into a candle, but what dripped from its sides wasn't wax, but tears.  "You must take it."

 I backed away from the amalgam.  "Don't touch me."  

Suddenly, Taylor's body turned into Jared's.  "I won't betray you, Tristan," he said, before the hair lengthened and the body thickened and Liza stood there.  "I love you, Tristan," she said.  "You have to love us, too."  And, finally, Garrett.  "Six years is a long time," he said.  "A long time to laugh, and a long time to cry.  But with you, it's not so long.  Come back to us."  Then they vanished, and the candle fell to the ground.  The flame caught at the dead leaves on the ground and the fire spread unnaturally quickly, jumping in a ring from tree to tree until I was surrounded.  It was hot and my skin was burning and there was nothing I could do but give in.  The trees were weeping tears.  The tears pooled and hardened like wax, and where the fire touched the frozen tears, it sputtered and went out.  Desperately, I turned sideways and—

Gasping, I rolled off of the couch and onto the floor.  I hit my head on the phone, which I had set down beside me.  Well.  If there were ever a signal that I needed to do what needed doing, it was that.  I looked at my watch.  It was eight-thirty; time enough yet to call and apologize to both Garrett and Liza.  I was no good at apologizing.  I steeled myself for what needed to be done.  Resolutely, I dialed Garrett's number.

This is part three of an ongoing series of indeterminate length.  Tune in soon for Chapter Four, The Measure of Loyalty.  Any comments or questions can be sent to me via email: viceroy12@hotmail.com.  Please feel free to email me; I love to hear readers' responses!  Thanks for reading!