That having been said--enjoy! And feel free to contact me at
All flames will, of course, be laughed at and summarily deleted.
By Nicholas Nurse
Chapter Four: The Measure of Loyalty
Before I could finish dialing the last digit, my cell phone rang. I paused for a moment, then sighed. I pressed the "End" button on the home phone and reached for my cell phone. It was Liza's number. I debated not answering it until I'd talked to Garrett, then decided that it really didn't matter one way or the other. I hit the green "Talk" button.
"This is Tristan."
The voice was definitely not Liza's. "Tris! It's Jared, not Liza. Are you busy?"
I was a tad confused. Certainly Jared didn't need homework help now? "Hey, Jared. Actually, kind of . . . is there something you need, though?"
"I just wanted to tell you that Garrett and Liza just left in his car a few minutes ago, and they're heading over to your place to talk to you. I think they've calmed down."
"Ah . . . thanks for letting me know, Jared." I was still rather nonplussed. "Why are you telling me, though?"
"Because I think they're treating you badly," Jared said, indignant. "I heard—from their point of view—everything that happened, and I think they're being cruel to you. And I told them so." The last was said with a note of pride. "Liza tried to shoo me out, but Garrett said that they should listen to me."
"You . . . stood up for me?"
"Well . . . you looked really upset when you left."
I couldn't speak for a moment. "Jared, tomorrow I'm taking you out to lunch. Your choice. Alright?"
"You don't have to repay me—I didn't do this for a reward," Jared replied. I could tell he was pleased nonetheless.
"Jared . . . well, I'll explain tomorrow. But, well, let's just say that I'm really glad to have you as a friend right now."
"Thanks a lot, Tris. And thanks for the lunch invite, too."
I had precious little time before Garrett and Liza got here, if what Jared was saying was right, but I didn't really want to hang up right away. "Where do you want to go?"
"I'm not sure . . . nowhere expensive or anything. Whatever you like is fine." Jared was quiet for a moment. "Tris, you'd better go—they'll be there soon, and I don't want Liza to know I told you they're coming."
"Alright, you're right. And Jared—thanks again. For standing up for me. I . . . really appreciate that."
Jared laughed. "What's that stupid old saying? 'What are friends for?' "
"Yeah, that's it," I said, speaking through a welter of emotions I found hard to identify. "Talk to you tomorrow, Jared. I'll call you at eleven."
"I'll be ready! Good night, Tris!"
I hung up. I sat silently for a moment, deep in thought. He stood up for me . . .
The unmistakable sound of a car pulling up shook me from my thoughts. With a smile on my face, I rose and stepped to the mirror on the wall; quickly, I made sure my hair wasn't too mussed up and that I wasn't terribly red-eyed from my brief nap. I liked looking good for Garrett. I went to the front door and opened it, allowing my smile to vanish. "Come on in," I said curtly to the two figures just stepping from their car. In the darkness, I saw them glance at each other in surprise. Wordlessly, they closed the car doors and followed me inside. I sat, purposefully, in the most formal room of the house, the library. They stepped into the library. I did not invite them to sit. Instead, I made them stand like penitents before me.
"So." I did not bother to make my voice sound warm. God, Garrett was cute when he looked guilty. He shifted his feet and stared at the carpet. Liza, for her part, was red-cheeked and had her hands clasped behind her back. I let my one word hang in the air. The silence after it was deafening, so much so that I could hear the clock ticking two rooms away.
"We . . . we came because—I wanted to say I'm sorry," Garrett said, meeting my eyes for the first time.
"Me too," Liza said quickly, the flush in her cheeks deepening. "We didn't mean to—be so confrontational at my house."
Garrett looked guilty again. "Or to conspire."
I allowed myself to relax. Jared had been right. Up until this very moment, I hadn't allowed myself to trust what he had said. Not one hundred percent. Now they had apologized, and furthermore I knew that Jared was as good as his word. "Sit down," I said, this time allowing my voice to sound normal. "Are you thirsty? Do you want me to get you anything?"
"No—no," Liza said, looking horrified that I would even offer.
"I'm fine," Garrett said. He still had not sat.
Now that everything was over with, except for my part, I found that I didn't really want to see them grovel. "Guys, I'm serious. Sit down, please. I want to apologize as well." Finally, they sat—on the floor. "I meant in chairs!"
"Oh." They moved.
"Listen," I started, leaning forward a bit. "I'm sorry for the mean things I said at your house, Liza, and I'm sorry for leading you on on the phone about Steve. That was definitely not fair of me." I turned to Garrett. "And Garrett, I'm sorry for accusing you of being on your man-rag and whatnot." I actually felt my face turn a little bit red. But there was more. "And there's something you both need to understand." I stood up and paced for a moment, unsure of how to phrase what I wanted to say. I walked to the bay windows and looked out at the night. Down the hilltop on which we lived, the lights of the cities were sparkling brightly through the black. Off to the right, the greater darkness of the sea beckoned. "Both of you. I have a lot of respect for the people that you are. For your intellect, for your character, for your—for you. I don't think for even a moment that you're lesser people than me. And . . . " I took a deep breath; I hated being this vulnerable, "and I love you both. You two are my closest friends."
I didn't dare turn to look at Garrett or Liza. The room was silent for a moment; then, I heard Garrett exhale quietly. "Well," he said. "I guess I'm glad you didn't promise never to do it again."
"Why?" I asked warily.
I could hear the smile in Garrett's words. "Because I'm sure that that's one you'd never be able to keep."
"You know, he's right," Liza added. They laughed. The bubble of seriousness had been broken; I turned to face the two of them again. "It's alright, Tris. All of us overreacted. It happens."
I nodded. "Listen, I was serious earlier—let's raid the fridge. I, for one, haven't had dinner, and I'm starving."
Garrett looked appalled. "You didn't eat?" he gasped. "You barely had anything at lunch!"
"I had pizza after I left school."
"That was—" Garret checked his watch, "eight and a half hours ago! Tristan! You need to eat something!"
"Eh. I've been on a caffeine rush all day," I said. "First the soda we had, and then a lot of coffee." When I thought about what had taken place over coffee, I grinned to myself. "Let's run down and see what's still open by the beach. Just the three of us."
Garrett stood up. I'd known him for a long time; I could see in every line of his boyish face that he was relieved to have everything said and done. "Let's do it." He grinned at me. "And let's do something other than fast food."
"Seconded," Liza said. "I couldn't even eat dinner, I was so upset." Irritably, I squashed the snide thought in my head.
"I'll drive," I said, grabbing my keys from the table near the door. We hopped into my car and I pulled out of the driveway, tearing off down the hillside and onto the Pacific Coast Highway—which is the most beautiful stretch of road in all of America, I might add. I drove with the top up and the CD player at low volume. We chatted amicably the entire way there, my CD—Coldplay's "A Rush of Blood to the Head"—serving as backdrop for friendly conversation. The heater was on and I had a marvelous feeling of utter comfort; everything was right with the world. My friends were with me in this warm car, I was going to lunch with a new friend, and life was good. This late at night, only a few places were still open; we pulled into a restaurant that stayed open past ten and walked in. It was a seafood joint called A Cavern of Crabs—a name which I found just a little bit disturbing, to tell the truth, but the food was good all the same. We sat down at a table and our waitress, a blond girl about our age with a pinstriped apron and a big plush crab hat on her head, came to take our order.
"Welcome to A Cavern of Crabs, home of the Crabtacular Sandwich," she said, her voice bored. The crab hat's eyes bobbed on her head. "What can I get you to drink?"
We ordered a round of drinks and my phone rang.
"This is Tristan."
"Tristan!" It was Taylor. "What're you up to?"
I grinned. "Eatin' out at A Cavern of Crabs."
"I didn't think you swung that way." Taylor's voice had a suggestive note in it.
I felt my face turn furiously red. "Uh . . . I'm here with Garrett and Liza," I said, putting a little emphasis on the first name. "Are you . . . ah, done?"
"The gay meeting is over, if that's what you mean." Taylor said. I could tell he was enjoying making me uncomfortable.
"Shut up!" Garrett and Liza looked at me oddly. I covered the phone. "It's Taylor," I said apologetically. "He's being stupid." I spoke to Taylor again. "Come meet us here," I said. I'd get him back when he got here.
"Alright, I'm heading over in a few." I hung up. We ordered our food and let the waitress know that one more person was coming. After a few minutes, Taylor walked in. He sat down with us, pushing me out of the way. To my immense surprise, I noticed he had a rainbow wristband on. "Taylor!" I whispered under my breath. "Your armband!"
Taylor looked down at the same second Garrett noticed the armband. "What is that?" Garrett asked. Taylor nonchalantly removed it and slipped it into his pocket.
"Oops, forgot I still had that on," he said calmly. I could tell that he was displeased with himself for overlooking the armband. "I . . . just got back from a Rasta meeting."
"Rasta?" Liza looked totally confused. "Who do you know that's a Rastafarian? And what does that have to do with rainbow armbands?"
"Rastafarians wear them," Taylor lied. It was fairly convincing, actually. "And my brother's friend is a Rastafarian."
"Their armbands are red, yellow and green," Garrett said slowly. "Not rainbow."
Taylor fidgeted under the table. "They . . . ran out of the normal ones," he said. "These were the ones they gave visitors."
"Oh." Garrett didn't seem convinced.
"I hope you weren't late leaving from my place," I said quickly. "I know you said that if you're not on top of things, the Rasta people can be a bit anal."
Taylor looked at me with wry relief. "I walked in a few minutes late." Then the food came, Taylor placed his order, and that was the end of that. I wondered if Taylor had met anyone new at the coffeehouse this week; I wondered what would've happened if I'd gone. Later, later. Taylor and I could talk about it at our leisure out of earshot of these two. "So what happened between you three?" Taylor asked.
"How much do you know?" Garrett asked.
"As much as Tris told me after I got to his place," Taylor replied. "That he'd stormed out of your house after shouting at you."
"Well, Tristan stormed out and Liza and I fumed for awhile," Garrett said. "We kind of . . . well, bitched about the whole thing. Sorry, Tris," he said in a brief aside to me.
"Nothing to apologize for."
"Thanks. Anyway, so we were going back and forth about how much we wanted to—er—well, scream at him or slap him or whatever."
"And then my little brother came downstairs," Liza interrupted. I could see that on some level she was annoyed still by Jared's involvement. I grinned inwardly.
"Yeah. He chastised us for being so hard on Tris. In fact, he told Liza she was acting like a bitch, and then she slapped him."
"You did what?" I said, finding myself momentarily very angry.
"It wasn't as bad as all that—" Liza said hurriedly.
"Yes, it was!" Garrett replied. "You left a red mark on his face! There were tears in his eyes!"
"He . . . shouldn't have interfered," said Liza. She was being stubborn, and I was getting angrier. I didn't realize Jared had been slapped as a result of his interference, and that Liza was still pissed over it. I felt badly, as though what had happened to Jared was partially my fault. I almost called him, until I realized that it was after ten and sort of late to call the Luceris' home line.
"Anyway," Garrett said, noting my anger and hoping to gloss over the issue, "the end of the story is that he told us we were being unnecessarily harsh, and I for one was ready to agree with him. I really shouldn't have gone straight to Liza to spill the beans."
"I really did feel badly for hitting him," Liza said. "He's right, after all. I told him that when we were leaving. He told us we needed to take care of things. He told us that we shouldn't let it wait until the morning. That there was no way you'd be asleep."
"Wise kid." I looked at Liza. "Don't slap him."
"I told him I was sorry," she said defensively.
"I don't think I've met your brother," Taylor said. "Seems like a bright kid, though. Sensible, at least."
"I honestly don't think Jared has a mean bone in his body," Liza replied. "That's why I felt particularly badly about hitting him . . . I really did say I was sorry, Tris. And he understood."
"Alright, I'll let it go." For now. Until tomorrow.
"Honestly, it was kind of weird hearing someone argue in your defense, Tris," Garrett said. "Normally, we'll all just bitch about you."
My answer, when it came, was quiet. "Yes, I know."
* * *
I opened the front door of my darkened house. It was cold inside. I wished I'd left a light on to have even a false sense of welcome; even that, however, was denied me. With a sigh, I shut the door behind me. I went around quickly, throwing a few lights on; grabbing my laptop and warming a mug of chai tea, I curled up in the library with my laptop. The house had wireless internet connection points scattered about; I decided to look up information on this coffeehouse Taylor had mentioned. There wasn't much to find, really, until I stumbled across a few gay personals sites. My curiosity getting the better of me, I scrolled down the lists, staring at rows of photos. There was something horribly, crushingly impersonal about all of this—an attempt at warm human contact through the cold interface of binary code. It all seemed so fake, so manufactured, this attempt to reach out from dark loneliness through the vacuum of cyberspace. I shivered as I looked at the photos.
And yet . . .
I felt the strong compulsion to find an old photo of mine, to post it and scribble down some information about myself, in hopes that someone searching somewhere would hear me and reach down a soft hand to me. But the person I wanted to reach back and lift me up was Garrett. Garrett, with the beautiful hazel eyes and the blond hair that fell softly across his eyes; Garrett, with the slender body and the hips that curved down into that soft thatch of hair, and the soft contours of his cock, glimpsed but never quite examined as the work of art that it was. I found my hand making its way into my pants. The laptop slipped from my fingertips as I raised my hips and unzipped . . . down.
In the blue glow of the laptop, all other lights extinguished, I gasped and shook. Above the distant lights of the city below I held myself, stroking slowly, building upward and outward, one hand trailing across my chest, the other moving in time with my heartbeat.
The lights seemed to flicker; my heart beat quickly in my chest. In my mind, there was a field, and Garrett was lying naked in it, his body framed by growing things. I was there, beside him, inside him, our bodies the only motion in a windless place. My hand was Garrett's hand, Garrett's body, Garrett's love. And suddenly the Garrett in my mind quickened his pace, moving faster, as though a fire were racing through him. My hand grasped and pulled the sudden slickness of my erection. It was time, and past time, and with a final jerk and a bitten-off cry I came across my chest, breathing heavily and dreaming of a Garrett that suddenly melted into the ground and away.
And I was alone.
* * *
Sunlight across my face stirred me into wakefulness. I rose on my elbows; I was still naked on the couch. My clothes were piled unceremoniously below the couch and I had dried cum all across my crotch and chest. My early-morning hard-on was pointing straight up at me. I thanked God that no one was home but me. For some reason, I was hugely embarrassed; unless someone walked right by the library window—not likely—no one would ever see me, yet all the same I put on my boxers before tottering off to the shower. As I padded barefoot down the hallway, my nipples hard in the chill of an October morning, I glanced at the clock. Nine o'clock AM. Time enough to shower, practice forms and kicks, and get ready to pick up Jared for lunch. I stumbled into the tub, pulled off my boxers and turned on the jets. While I showered, I mused over the events of yesterday. I'd fought and made up with my two best friends. I'd been outed and had a friend come out to me in turn. And it looked like I'd made a new friend as well. Stepping out of the shower, I dried off. My morning hard-on had finally subsided, which was good, because hard-ons in low-rise jeans are decidedly uncomfortable. Before I put on my jeans, however, I went into a separate room we kept empty except for floor-to-ceiling mirrors and large mats; this was the room where I practiced Shotokan Karate when I wasn't at the dojo. For an hour, I stretched and then went through forms and kicks. By the time I finished, I was drenched in sweat again and took a second shower. Ordinarily, I practiced, then showered, but this time I had woken up covered in my cum, so I thought it best to shower twice.
After stepping out a second time, I hurriedly scrambled into my low-rise jeans and threw on a beige turtleneck. Putting on my assortment of jewelry, I adjusted my hair and made sure I looked presentable. Then I scooped up my phone and dialed the Luceris' number. Jared answered. "Hey, Jared, it's Tris," I said, putting brown shoes on.
"Tris! Are you coming over?" Jared sounded quite excited.
"Yeah, I'll be there in ten. Are you ready?"
"I've been ready for an hour!"
"Aren't you prompt." I laughed.
"Not really, actually. I just set my alarm a little early this morning."
"I'm glad you're set. I'll be there soon." I hung up, grabbed my beige jacket, swirled it about my shoulders and smoothed it across my knees, and then grabbed my keys. I blasted down the empty streets, leaves flying in my wake. The stereo was up loud—this time it was Led Zeppelin's "Achilles Last Stand," perfect driving music—and I rolled the top down.
When I pulled up in front of Jared's house, he dashed out the door. "Bye, Mom!" he called, hopping into my car. "Good morning, Tris!" he said cheerily, grinning at me.
"Morning, Jared. Buckle up!"
"So where're we going?"
I looked over at him as I pulled away from the curb. "I think that's your choice, last I heard."
"What about Taco Bell?"
"How about a nice sit-down restaurant on the beach?"
"No—that'll be too expensive." He shook his head. "I don't want you spending that much on me."
"Look, it's fine. Do you like Italian food?"
"Yeah, as long as it doesn't have mushrooms."
I laughed. "Same here. Let's go to Toscana." We drove down PCH a few more miles and pulled off in a little village area where small shops and boutiques lined the approach to the sea. I sent Jared to run in while I parked the car; when we met up again, he let me know that the wait was fifteen to twenty minutes.
"But they said we can walk down to the water; they have a PA system they'll use. We'll be able to hear it as long as we're on the beach right in front of the restaurant."
I nodded. "Let's try not to track a bunch of sand in, though." We walked a ways down to the water and stood at the edge of the tide, still in the dry sand. I glanced around; the day was overcast and blustery, and the iron gray of the clouds stretched down to the horizon, meeting and merging with the choppy sea. At that distance, it looked as though there was no separation between sea and sky. Around us were the rocky cliffs that dominated this area of the coast. It was a beautiful day, if windy, and my jacket was blowing open behind me. Jared looked cold. "Do you want a jacket?" I asked. I had an extra in my car, and even though he was about five inches shorter than me, it should still fit him fine.
"No, I'm fine," he replied. "At least I wore a sweater." He looked up and down the coast for a minute. "It's a pretty day out today. I like it when it's overcast like this." The wind was whipping his blond hair around his face, and he had his hands crossed over his chest for warmth, but he smiled. "Hey, Tris . . . ?"
"Why'd you decide to take me out to lunch today?"
I breathed in, gathering my thoughts for a moment. This sort of thing was never easy for me. "Well, it's kind of a long story, Jared."
"Oh, you don't have to go into detail if you don't want to."
"Well, I figure I owe it to you . . . no, I want you to understand."
"This isn't easy for you, is it?" Jared looked at me. His eyes were very green. "Talking about yourself, I mean. Your feelings."
I was surprised he'd seen that so quickly. "You're right. I find it really hard to talk about that sort of thing."
"Why?" He asked the question quietly, looking up at me from under his tousled mop of blond hair. I think somehow he knew he was asking me a question I would find difficult to answer, and didn't want to push his luck too far.
How much did I want to tell this kid? I barely knew him—well, I'd known him for years as Liza's little brother, but as a person unto himself, he was a mystery—and yet I knew I could trust him. Trust him as much as I trusted Liza or Garrett. In some ways, perhaps more so. Yet even Liza or Garrett didn't really know why I was reluctant to be self-revealing. "That is an even longer story, and I ought to get through the first before going into that."
"Alright." Jared might've been a little bit disappointed, but he didn't let on if that were the case. "But you were going to tell me why we're here."
"Yes, I was." Just then, we heard our names over the PA system. We walked back up the beach, entered the restaurant and were seated at an outdoor table that overlooked the place where we had just stood. For a moment, it was as though I could see echoes of ourselves, one taller, one shorter, one dark-haired, one blond, standing there at the edge of the waters. After we'd ordered our drinks—water for me and lemonade for him—I started my explanation again. "I was surprised that you stood up for me, Jared."
"Is that all?"
"Well, yes and no." I took a sip of water. "Well . . . my parents always raised me to be very self-sufficient. Like right now they're off in San Francisco, and when they left they said 'Bye' and that was it. No instructions. No extra cash. You see, I have my own bank account and credit cards and they know I can get by just fine on my own. Same with school. They never bother me about schoolwork—never have—and I always do what they want. They're both businesspeople—they're too busy running their companies to pay too much attention to their only son, who's already in the late years of adolescence. Know what I mean? So . . . the same attitude carries over to my friends."
"You mean that self-sufficiency?"
"Exactly. I don't go to my friends when I have a problem. I don't go to anyone, really. I internalize it, keep it inside. And I don't show any weaknesses. The problem with this is that everyone just thinks that I have no weaknesses."
Jared shook his head. "Everyone has weaknesses. Everyone feels emotions."
"Well, apparently I don't—at least, that's what everyone thinks. Like last night at dinner, we were talking and Garrett was commenting that he was surprised to hear you stick up for me, because no one ever sticks up for me. And it's the truth—no one ever does, and no one ever has. I just don't seem like the type that needs people sticking up for me, so when I get into fights it always feels like myself against the rest of the world." I made sure I had Jared's eye contact. "You . . . stood up for me, Jared. Do you understand what that means? It means that you did something that no one else ever thought of doing. You did something no one else ever cared to do."
"Not even Garrett or my sister?"
"No. They're my best friends; don't get me wrong. But they don't see me like that. To them, I'm an emotionless automaton. Human, but barely so. And an asshole, too. They're great friends—it takes a big person to put up with me, Jared. But they just don't see me as giving in to emotion. And I do."
"I'm sorry, Tris."
"Don't be sorry. It's not anyone's fault but mine, really, and besides, you did what no one else has done. You stuck up for me. You stood at my side, even if I wasn't there."
Jared pushed his lemon around with his straw, then met my eyes again. "Remember how I said I wanted to be your friend?"
"This is what I meant. Friends do that. They stand by each other."
I resisted the impulse to reach across the table and seize Jared in a hug. "Thanks." No, that wasn't enough. "I . . . don't have words enough to say what that means to me."
Jared nodded. "I think I understand."
I grinned at him as our food came. "Somehow, I think you just might."