16.  Aftermaths

Matt and I were on the beach by the campfire.  It started out the same:  he sang his song, walked after me when I got up from the fire, and pulled me into a hug; and as before, I kissed him twice.

And he pushed me away from him, so hard that I tripped and fell.

He kicked sand at me and yelled, at the top of his lungs, "Why the fuck did you do that? You've ruined everything, you disgusting pervert!  Now I have to hang out with a queer-boy for nine goddam months; why don't you just fall off the earth and fuckin' die?"

I looked at the beach sand and grabbed a handful of it, and when I squeezed, droplets of water leaked from it and dripped onto the ground.

Staring downward, I mumbled, "I'm sorry.  I love you.  I can't help it."

"Well, that's your goddam problem, faggot," he hissed. "Why'd you have to go and make it mine?  You just couldn't fuckin' leave it alone.  I'm not like you, you queer fuck."

"Go away, then," I said, wearily, standing up and walking away from him.

He walked over to me, got in my face, and scowled as he said, "I wouldn't give you the satisfaction, freak.  You're gonna see yourself in my face every goddam day until we're outta here!"

I pushed him out of the way, and stormed up the shoreline, yelling, "Just fuckin' leave me alone!  Just fuckin' leave me alone! Just fuckin'..."

"Dude, wake up!"

I heard my brother Danny's voice in the darkness.  He was holding me by the shoulders, shaking me gently, and looking at me with concern.  "Andy...wow, man, you've been having a nightmare.  I was sound asleep and I heard you all the way from my room.  You're gonna wake the whole house, bro."

After the fog had cleared for me a little bit, I said, "I'm all right.  Go back to bed."

He looked at me wide-eyed and said, "What the hell did you dream that made you go off like that?"

I thought about the dream and shuddered. "Half of me died," I said.

He look so startled that I had to smile.  Relieved to see that, he chuckled quietly and asked, "Which half?"

The smile left as I looked into his face.  "The only half that matters," I replied.

Still, the remaining half still had to see Matt, had to hear his voice, had to talk to him at least once in a while.

And on Friday evening I'd have to stand under the stadium lights and make myself a target for whatever he threw at me.

So Friday evening I suited up, went into "game-time" mode, took the field, and went to work.

I worked well.  

When it was all over, I sat with my teammates, exhausted, in the locker room.

"Eight receptions. A hundred seventy-five yards.  Three touchdowns.  I'd call that a pretty good night, Phillips...so I'm thinking this belongs to you."  Coach Hayes tossed me the game ball.

He'd been making his weekly after-game remarks, commenting on individual performances, when he'd started in on mine.  I'd been happy with my game, but I'd felt it was a total team effort.  I hadn't expected this.  

My teammates went nuts with applause and whistles.  Ryan yelled out, "Fuckin' A!"  Several of the guys pounded me with slaps on the back.

"Andy was on from the first snap," Coach continued.  "He put it all out on the field tonight.  Out-hustling defenses, running good routes, watching his quarterback, giving Price a target over and over."

"Thanks, Coach," I said, with some embarrassment.

"I"m just saying it the way it was," he said.  "You boys warming the bench could learn something from Andy's hustle out there tonight."

He set his clipboard down on the nearest bench.  "The Lions are a better team than we are.  Thank God they're a non-district team, because they're gonna take their district without breakin' a sweat.  But that didn't matter to Phillips tonight.  He had the fire and he wasn't gonna be stopped.  They came out flat and we exploited it.  It's about heart, gentlemen.  That's the difference-maker."

He walked toward his office door, then stopped and turned back toward us.  "Okay, that's it," he said, dismissing the team. "See you Monday."  Everybody began undressing and heading to the showers.

I have to admit that I enjoyed the moment.  Who wouldn't?   It was a night to remember; I played far above my level of ability, and I knew the compliments didn't track with my actual skills.  I wouldn't have a night like this again.

I was standing in front of my locker, stripped down to my jock, when Matt walked over.  "Whoo-hoo," he yelled, as he high-fived me.  "Twenty-one-zip, boy.  Three goddam touchdowns, you stud!  You and me, we were on all fuckin' night!  Dude—I wanna have your babies!"  He put an arm over my shoulder, pulled me into him, and kissed me noisily on the cheek.  The locker room echoed with my teammates' laughter.  Apparently they thought Matt was a comic genius.

I winced, pulled away, and sat down on the bench in front of my locker.  I didn't want to take off my jock with him right there.  But his locker was next to mine, and that was that.  He started taking off his gear until he was standing there next to me completely naked.

Staring at the floor, trying to work through my discomfort, I picked up the thread of his previous remarks. "You threw it right into my hands all night, Matt; it wasn't that hard."

He sat down next to me, arched an eyebrow, grinned, and said "Yeah, I can give it just as good as I can take it, don'tcha think?"

I looked around to see who might have heard his remark, but our area had cleared out.  Quietly, I said, "Jesus, Matt—shut the fuck up."  I stood up, still not looking at him, pushed my jock down and immediately wrapped my towel around my waist and headed toward the showers.

Matt threw his towel around his neck and followed me.  "Lighten up, Andy," he said, frowning a little.  "It was just a little joke, and anyway, the joke's on me, right?"

So, I thought bitterly, when it's all said and done, it's a joke.  

I looked at him and said, "Let's just drop it, okay?"

"Whatever, man," he said, shrugging, as we hung our towels on the hooks outside the showers and walked in.  He picked a nozzle close to the entrance and began to try to engage me in small talk.  

I tried to appear marginally interested.  We talked a little bit about the game, although Matt was doing most of the talking.  As he was soaping his armpits, he said, "Hey, get Angie and come with me and Lindsey to Whataburger; we haven't gotten to hang since the beach, dude."

"I don't know," I said.  "I think I'm just gonna go on home.  I'm kinda tired, and anyway, Angie said something about spending some time with Julie after the game."  Julie was a friend who'd just been dumped by her boyfriend for another girl, and Angie wanted to cheer her up.  "I think I'll just go home and go to bed."

Matt's eyes searched mine.  I forced myself to hold his gaze, and tried to smile.

"Okay," he said.  "Maybe tomorrow, then."

I stared at the water running into the shower's floor drain.

"Yeah," I said quietly.  "Maybe tomorrow."

"Well, anyway," he said, with enthusiasm, "You had it goin' on tonight.  It was the most fun I've had out there all season."  

"Hey, you were the guy with the arm," I said.  "I just tried to be where you sent it."  And with that, I grabbed my bottle of shampoo, turned off my shower, and walked back to my locker.

I tossed and turned in bed again that night, as I had the whole week.  I didn't like what my dreams had been telling me lately.

I finally fell asleep around four in the morning.

When I got up a few hours later, I went down to the kitchen to grab something to eat.  Mom usually did grocery shopping on Saturday morning, so she was out. Danny was watching TV; Beth had spent the night at a friend's house and wasn't home yet.

I poured a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, threw some milk on it, and ate it without a lot of enthusiasm.  I had something I needed to do this morning.

After I'd put my dishes in the dishwasher, I went into the study, where I found my dad busy at his computer.


He turned in his chair to look at me.  "Morning, Andy," he said, smiling.  "Does it feel as good this morning as it did last night?"

"I had a good game," I said.  "That'll stay with me until the next practice, anyway."

He laughed.  "What's on your mind?"

I stared into his face for a long time.  Finally I said, "I need to talk to you, Dad.  It's kind of personal.  Do you have the time?"

"Of course," he answered.  He stood up, walked over to the door of the study, and closed it.  "Sit down," he said.  "What is it?"

As I pulled up a chair, I took a deep breath and said, "This is gonna be hard to talk about, so I'm just gonna have to jump right in and not pretty it up, okay?"

"Absolutely," he said.  "I don't know any other way to do it when it's like that."

I thought for a minute, trying to choose my words ahead of time. "Look," I began, "we don't really talk about this but I know you and Mom know that  I...well, that I'm not a virgin."

My dad smiled a little, and said, "No, that's not news.  And we've talked about it before in general terms.  I know you remember both of us talking to you about respect, and about how sex shouldn't be about using people."

I fidgeted in my chair a little.  "I think I've probably done more of that than I'd like to admit."

"That doesn't shock me either," he said.  "You're a good-looking young man, and I expect it comes to you pretty easy.  And I know you haven't spent many weekends alone since you started high school.  There have been lots of different girls on lots of different weekends."

"I know," I said, uneasy with this topic.  "But I'm with Angie now," I said in my defense, "and it feels different.  I'm not just f...I'm not just using her."

"You've been dating her for several months now," he said.  "That is a change for you."

I nodded, and went on.

"This isn't really about her, Dad," I said.  "I need to tell you about something that happened, and I don't know if I can."

"I understand," he said.  "Take your time. You know how it rolls with me."

I did know; that's why I was there.  "Okay, Dad," I told him.  "I...I don't know how else to do this but to come right out and say it: on the beach trip last weekend Matt and I had sex—I mean, we had sex with each other. And it's freakin' me out."

My dad's eyebrows arched in surprise, and he stared intently into my face for what felt like forever.

Finally he said, "Let me say this first, because we can't go further in this talk if this isn't clear.  Over the years you've done very little to disappoint, or anger, or shame me, Andy. And if you're worried that this might be one of those times, then let me put your mind at rest.  I can't say I'm not a little shocked.  But I'm not outraged, or scandalized, or angry, or ashamed.  And a part of me is not totally surprised.  So—are we okay for starters?"

I felt my shoulders loosen.  "Yeah, we're good.  Thanks, Dad."

"That being said," he continued, "I'm concerned about you.  I can tell it's something that's troubling you.  And I guess it puts into motion some variables, some unknowns, in an area of your life that's been important over the years.  I understand why it's hard to talk about.  So would you mind if I took the lead and asked you the questions?"

"No, not at all," I said.  "In fact, I was hoping you would, because I don't even know how to keep it from jumbling all up."

"All right," he said.  "I guess the first thing I want to ask is this:  Andy, do you think you're gay?  Is that what's troubling you?"

"No, Dad, I'm not," I said.  "But I don't really know what I am, and I guess that's sort of fuc—sort of messing with my head."  

I hesitated, trying to find a way to explain it.  "Girls do it for me, more than boys.  Always have.  But over the last few years, I...well, I've been noticing guys some in that way."

I got up and paced.  "I don't know.  I usually just shake it off and go on.  It's not like it's always on my mind, except when...Well, with Matt, I...we...it's a lot of things that just came together.  And it just all got to be...I don't know, it's like something hit critical mass."

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"You know what it's been like with me and Matt over the years," I said.

"I know that you boys have a deep love for each other," he said.  "And you know that all of us in this family love Matt.  He's almost like another son."

"Right," I said.  "Matt's been a part of our family, basically.  Well, we were drinking and stuff," I continued, judiciously avoiding the reference to smoking the weed, "and we were camped out on the beach, and all of a sudden it just all washed over me that after graduation I may never see him again."

"I don't think that's likely," Dad said. "But things are about to change for you; for all of you seniors."

"That's right," I replied.  "Anyway, we were sitting around a campfire and Matt had his guitar, and he started singing some sappy ol' song, and it just...it just hit me like a truckload of bricks fell on me.  And I just kept thinking,  'This is the end for us.  I may never be at the beach with him like this again.'  Stuff like that."

I felt my dad's eyes on me.

"I couldn't handle it any more," I continued.  "His stupid sad-ass song.  And the stuff I was thinking.  I stood up and walked away from him.  I was gonna lose it and I didn't want him to see that.  But he did see it, and it's like he knew what it was about.  He came up to me and gave me a hug."

I felt my throat begin to tighten, and my face got hot.  "I...before I knew what happened, I kissed him on the neck.  Twice."

I frowned.  "I don't know how it happened, Dad.  It just...it's like it just came out of me.  I was just so blown away, and with the beer and the weed and everything..."

He grimaced at the mention of the weed, and I cringed inwardly.  Damn.

"Dad," I said, "I know you don't like me smokin' dope, but save it for another time, okay?  I just...it was all too much."

I stared at the floor for a minute, then looked back up and went on.

"I pulled away from him and started apologizing like everything; but he pulled me back to him and said it was okay.  Then he said he wasn't like that, but he knew it about me for a long time."  I could feel my muscles tighten as I heard those words reverberate in my head again.  "I told him I wasn't gay; and he said he knew that, but he still knew that I wanted him."

I paused for a minute, gathered my courage, then looked straight into my father's eyes and said, "Jesus, Dad, he told me it was okay, and he told me he wanted me to do it.  He said he wanted to give that to me because he owed me.  So, I...well, I guess we...we did stuff."

I sat back down, closed my eyes, and tried to get my breath back under control.

After a minute, my dad said, "I don't want to get into crass details, Andy, "but I think you're going a little over the top.  You're not the only straight guys who have ever traded hand-jobs, or whatever you did."

"Dad," I said, a little annoyed, "that's not what this is about.  It's not about what we did.  What's bugging me is..."

He interrupted me.  "I guess I'm actually surprised that it's something that's happened so late with you.  A lot of best friends go through periods of exp..."

I sighed with exasperation; how could he be so fucking obtuse?  Before he'd completed his sentence, I blurted out,  "Dammit, Dad, would you listen to me?  I fuckin' gave him a blowjob, and then I fucked him, okay?"

I stopped for a moment to look into his eyes.  I knew my dad; but this was scary new ground.  I smiled bitterly and said, "So, are you ashamed of having a gay son?"

He looked at me. "You're gay, then?"

"No, I don't guess I am," I said, "but something's weird with me."

He was quiet for a minute, then he said, "Andy, don't tell me you've never heard of bisexuality."

"Yeah, I've heard of it," I said.  "I just never thought much about it because I mostly like girls."

"Sexual orientation is much more complicated than most people realize," he said.  "In the first place, even a completely straight man is capable of responding to another man under the right conditions.  But there's so much more variability in a person's sexuality than just gay or straight.  I'll give you some things to read about it. But don't trouble yourself so much about it.  You talk like you already have a pretty good sense of your sexuality.  It doesn't sound like you've been lying to yourself; it sounds like you've been slowly discovering something additional about yourself."

"Yeah, that's right, I guess." I said.  "I never thought about guys in that way, much, but over the last few years, I don't know, sometimes in the locker room and shit...times like that, I'd...I'd see the guys and think...I don't know what I'd think, really. I just had some reactions.  And I guess I mostly just ran from that.  But it's not like I had to do much running, because I was mostly always interested in the girls."

I stopped, searching for the words.

"But that other part was there, and I don't know, it sort of got mixed into my feelings about Matt.  It's so damn complicated and confusing..."

My dad smiled.  "As I said, Andy, it sounds to me as though you understand yourself pretty well. You're primarily straight; but you've been discovering that you respond sexually to guys too.  It's not that uncommon."

He walked over to his bookshelf, and after searching a little, pulled two books off the shelf and laid them on his desk.

"Researchers have tried different methods of representing the variety of ways people experience sexuality," he continued. "Kinsey back in the fifties.  More recently, Fritz Klein, and Michael Storms, and several others, have added to our understanding of this material. Here's a book by each of those last two," he said, pointing to his desk.  "Take them and read them."  

He sat back down.  "People who study these things have come to understand that we all vary widely in how we respond physically to the two genders.  There are many so-called 'straight' men who are capable of physical response to other men.  Guys just don't talk about it much; in fact, some men who are sexually responsive to men can get through their whole lives without coming into much conscious awareness of it.  You just had the misfortune of growing up in this household, where introspection and reflection come right along with the weekly chores."

I laughed a little.  What he said made sense, and not just theoretically: I was living it.  And he was right; I knew who I was.  I just needed to let it go. Still, I told myself, what I was or wasn't--that wasn't the issue.  It was Matt, and what I saw in his eyes when he looked at me now.  That was the issue.  The day after, he'd told me it was all okay.  The days after that, though, his eyes told me something else.

And then there was the dream...

But dad had launched into "professor" mode.  "Beyond that," he continued, "there's a good bit of literature in Western culture that portrays men who are good friends in ways that have a definite sensual overtones.  For one man to be deeply bonded to another male, like best friends often are, given that sexuality is such a strong part of us as physical beings...well, it's not all that surprising that deep friendships sometimes have sexual dimensions."

I thought about that.  "Dad," I said, finally, "you're probably right on all that.  But that's not what I wanted to talk about.  I mean, it kinda freaks me out, but I guess if I notice guys that way, well, I notice 'em that way.  Not much control over that. What's really messing me up is that Matt said he's known for a long time.  And he let me do the second thing, the...the lovemaking...because he said he owed it to me for being there for him all these years."

I was glad I couldn't see myself in a mirror at the moment, because the anguish must have been showing on my face.  "I...shit!  Why did I let him let me?  I just...I needed him so much that night.  And now..."

I couldn't finish.

My dad put a hand on my shoulder.  "Now what, Andy?  It's important how that sentence finishes.  Do you think Matt regrets what he did?  Is he pushing you away?  Do you think you've damaged things between you?"

"Well, I don't know what he regrets or if he regrets anything," I said.  "But I just think...I just feel like every time he looks at me ever since we got back, it's like he wishes he could be somewhere else, but he's got to hang around me because he owes me, like he has to be loyal to his poor pathetic queer friend."

Dad frowned.  "Has he said anything like that to you?"

I sat back down.  "No.  He'd never do that.  But if he's known it for a long time...hell, how the fuck can he have known it?  I fuckin' didn't even know it!"

"I hear that you're upset, Andy," he said, "But I'll bet you can get through this without the expletives."

"Okay," I said.  "Sorry, Dad.  But I guess it's that last part that's bugging me more than what we actually did.  He went out of his way to tell me he knew I loved him like that; and he went out of his way to tell me he's not like that.  Jesus, Dad, I know he's not; he didn't need to say it!  Like that was news?  The only reason he said it is because he wanted to make sure I didn't think he was a freak like me.  And then he went and threw me a pity-fuck!  I'm sorry, Dad, that's what it was!  I just...God, I wish I could take that night back.  Now every time he looks at me it feels like he's examining some disgusting fuckin' virus under a microscope.  And if he ever gets to mentioning anything about it, he tries to pass it off like it's this big hilarious thing.  Poor Andy, the big queer football-playing jock; ain't it a hoot?  He was even joking about it to me after the game!"

"I don't believe he'd be cruel to you like that, son," he said.  "To tell everyone a joke at your expense..."

I cut him off.  "No, it wasn't like that.  That's not what I mean.  It was just something he said to me.  And it wasn't cruel.  It was just...well, it was like he wants to make like it's this big funny joke and I'm some strange little...hell, I don't know," I said, trailing off.

My dad walked around behind my chair and began massaging my shoulders.  I took a deep breath and clenched my entire body.

"Andy," he said.  "Think about what you're saying.  If he's known for a long time, why would he be thinking differently about you now?  You're not thinking logically here."

"It's because I gave into it," I said in anguish.  "Now every time he looks at me, he's thinking I want to jump him.  And he's gonna resent me because he...he let me do that."

Dad gave me a pat on the shoulder and sat down in the chair next to mine.  "I think you're wrong, Andy," he said gently.  "In the first place, I think you're doing some projecting.  And I'm not happy about what it says about some of your own feelings about gay people."

"Dad," I began to protest, "I'm talking about what he thinks, not what I think.  You know I...I mean, y'all raised us not to..."

"Yes, we did," he interrupted, "but sometimes attitudes get sucked up from elsewhere, and I don't like what I'm hearing.  If he said those things you say he did about you being there for him all these years, then what you're thinking about him is just wrong.  It sounds to me like you're projecting some feelings you have about gay people onto him."

He paused for a minute to give me a chance to think about what he said, then went on.  "But you don't need a lecture on homophobia.  What you need is a reminder about your friend.  Son, Matt thinks the world of you and I just don't believe there's any way he's thinking those things you're saying.  If you made him as uncomfortable as you think you did, there's no way he'd have let you get...get intimate with him like that."

He smiled and continued.  "Maybe he said what he said about not being like that because he was afraid he would fail you, afraid he wouldn't be able to give you what you needed from him, the way you've always given him what he's needed from you."

"Dammit, Dad," I said.  "I don't want anything but what we've always already had.  It was perfect until this whole thing fu--messed things up."

His face grew serious.  "I'll say it again: I think you need to be very careful that you're not the one messing things up.  I think you're projecting some feelings and thoughts onto Matt that just aren't there."

I sighed.  This was going nowhere.  Dad was not going to get it.  Something was different with Matt.  I don't care how much sense my dad was making; he wasn't there with me to see it, to feel it, when Matt was around lately.  I needed him to help me figure out what to do, not just to dish out understanding and tell me everything was going to be okay.

But I appreciated that he was trying to make me feel better.  

He said, "You and Matt have grown to love each other over the years.  And for whatever reason, you experienced a physical dimension to that.  I know Matt's not a rocket scientist, but he's an incredibly intuitive boy.  And he knows you like the back of his own hand, just the way you know him.  I'm sure he picked up on some signals you didn't even know you were sending.  When you made your move, Andy, I think all he was trying to do was reassure you it was okay."

He looked at me with an odd expression on his face, as if he were debating whether or not to keep talking.  Then he said, "I'll tell you something about myself that you don't know.  When I was in college I went through a period when I was a freshman where I was doing some things with my roommate.  We had gotten really close, and were best friends that year.  It started after an intramural football game we were playing.  I never did anything like that before or after—and I was dating a girl at the time--but it's not anything I'm ashamed of, and I still look back on the memories as good ones."

My mouth must have opened wide enough to drive Matt's van through.  My dad smiled and ruffled my hair.  "I don't know whether there's a genetic tendency in these things, and I don't know whether or not it's something most guys feel at one time or another.  But from everything I've learned, I know it's not all that uncommon.  And you know that if you were totally, one-hundred-percent gay, I'd love you and support you.  But I think you shouldn't worry so much about the labels.  You know who you are; that's not what this is about.   

"Matt may feel that you're different from him, somewhat, on this matter of attractions.  And he's probably right.  But think about what he let you do, son.  If the thought of it totally disgusted him, he wouldn't have done it.  He may not feel the pull of guys quite like you do.  But lovemaking with you, at least, is something he was willing to do, so that means he's not completely unresponsive in that way, at least not with you.

"And as for you," he continued, "It's as I said.  You know how you feel and you know how you respond, and you need to let yourself off the hook.  The love between you and Matt is good and it's strong.  You're overthinking this.  I'm sure you'll be fine."

I wasn't so sure.  To me it seemed clear that every time we were with each other now, Matt was sizing me up, trying to figure out how to treat me.  Trying to figure out how to disengage without being the bad guy.  Laughing off the intensity of my feelings.  Cracking gross jokes with me about that weekend.  Avoiding my feelings toward him.  

But damned if my dad wasn't trying to love me right out of my confusion and hurt.  I smiled--unconvinced and not feeling any better-- and said,  "Thanks, Dad."

He smiled slightly, and patted me on the shoulder, and said, "You need to let Matt off the hook, too."

I got up and gave him a hug, and said--more to make him feel good than to convey any honest emotion--"Thanks for talking to me.  I feel better."

I just wish I had been able to do what he told me to do.

Angie and I went out to dinner that evening, and afterwards we went to our favorite park, grabbed a spot of grass by the small lake, spread out a quilt, and sat down on it, enjoying the evening breeze.  She was enjoying it, at any rate.  I wasn't enjoying much of anything: I had something to tell her, and the only thing I was feeling was dread.  After tonight, I thought, I might not have a girlfriend.

"Angie," I began, "I need to talk to you about something."

I went through the events of the last weekend.  I was scared to tell her, but I knew I couldn't keep it from her either.  So I laid it all out, keeping my words confined to the story.  Not once did I try to reassure her that I loved her, because I figured that was obvious.  Not once did I try to reassure her that what happened with Matt didn't mean anything to me, because I figured that was a lie.

She listened quietly while I talked.  When I finished, she took my hand and said, "What do you want me to say, Andy?"

I looked at her.  "Do you want to break up with me?"

"That depends," she said.  "Do you want to break up with me?"

"God, no," I said.  "I love you, Angie.  I...it's just that I figured if I told you the truth--"

She smiled a little; there was just the hint of a sad edge to her smile.  "The truth--"

"Andy," she began, "I've known for a long time that you're in love with Matt."

My stomach fell out and hit the ground.  My head grew light.  I compensated by getting angry.

"I'm not gay," I said, my voice laced with indignation.  "You of all people should know that."

"I didn't say you were gay, did I?"  she replied.  "Words..."  

She gazed off into the distance.

"What I said was I knew you're in love with Matt."

My temper began to escalate even faster.  "How can you say that? I'm in love with you."

Her expression didn't change.  "So?"

"So," I said angrily, "if I'm in love with you, and you know that, then stop talking shit about me being in love with Matt."

She didn't miss a beat.  "Are you saying you're not in love with him?"

Seconds ticked by; seconds which told everything that needed to be told.

Finally I said, hanging my head, "How could you know?  How could anybody know?  Is it that obvious?  God, do people think--"

"I'm not 'people,' Andy," she said.  "No, 'people' don't think anything.  But I'm your girlfriend.  And you've been on my radar for longer than I've been your girlfriend."

She leaned in and kissed me on the cheek.  "You work hard at your game face," she said with a smile.  "But I know there's something else under the big tough guy.  And I gotta tell you, I really, really like the big tough guy, but it's the 'something else' that got me interested in the first place."

I laughed a little.  "Well, damn," I said.  "I thought I had you totally fooled like everyone else.  Not."

"You don't have me fooled about shit, tough guy," she said, grinning.  "Anyway, I always liked you and Matt.  I always thought you were both a little different.  Now Matt's a great guy, but it was you..." her voice trailed off.

"Andy," she began again, "all those years where I kept my distance from you, I was interested.  Even while I was dating other guys, even through different boyfriends, you were on my mind.  I thought you were so smart, and so strong.  I didn't like the way you were all over the girls; I didn't want to be played.  But I still thought about you a lot.  And I made it a point to try to understand things about you, and about Matt, because you two were always so tight. And I realized some things.  Not things that are a secret to anybody else, I guess.  I mean, everybody knows about Matt's brother, and about Matt's dad leaving.  But I put it together that you got something from each other."

She smiled and took my hand.  "Matt depends on you.  You've helped him through some big-time hurt, I'll bet.  And he's been good for you, too.  He pulls you out of your head.  Otherwise you'd take life way too seriously.  A lot of love grows out of that kind of give-and-take."

I was about to say something in protest when she went on.  "That's nothing unusual.  Look at Justin and Ethan; Ruben and Ryan.  Guys do that, maybe even more than girls.  Every guy on the football team, seems like, has a best bud he feels closest to."  

I nodded in agreement.

"But with you two there was something else, something deeper," she said.  "And it just came to me one day, what it was.  I never even really thought about it in sexual terms.  What came to me was that you two were in love with each other.  So I knew about the two of you before you and I ever went on a date."

I thought back to those two odd remarks she'd made that first time I asked her out.  She'd said in passing, "I like Matt a lot," and I'd said, "me too," and when she responded, "I know," something in her voice suggested she'd made more of the sentence than I'd intended.  Then, not two minutes later, talking about him again, she'd said, "Matt, well, mostly he's just a sweet guy.  But I don't need to tell you that."

I shook off those memories and protested, "But nothing happened before this, Angie. How can you say you knew all this when there was nothing to know until last weekend?"

She looked at me as if she were a mother having to explain something complicated to a two-year-old.  "Andy, last weekend wouldn't have happened if there was nothing to know."

I didn't know how to answer that.

She kissed me on the cheek again.  "Sometimes I can see it in your eyes when the two of you are together.  That's all.  It's nothing I could put my finger on, and if I hadn't been so...if I hadn't been kind of interested in you anyway, I might not have noticed.  Also, there's this: did you know that Kevin's gay?"

I was stunned.  Angie's brother was a sophomore in college and he had been a star wide receiver on the football team back in high school.

I said, "No way!  Nobody thought he was gay when he was here."

"He came out in college," she replied.  "He has a boyfriend on the team with him up there.  They've been together a long time now and Kevin brings him here a lot when he comes home.  Mom was fine with it.  Dad is too, but it took him a while.  I think he was thinking about the family name dying out.  Anyway, the way those two look at each other—Andy, that's what I see in your eyes when you look at Matt."

"Look, Angie," I said hoarsely, "you're making it sound like I—"

"Andy," she said, "you're the one who's making all the assumptions, not me.  Why do you have to make it so complicated?  I'm not trying to make it sound like anything.  I'm only trying to tell you that I knew it at some level all along.  And it doesn't matter to me.  I went out with you, didn't I?  We're together.  I love you.  It's okay.  So let it go.  Or are you trying to tell me you want to break up with me and go off and be with him?"

"Shit, no," I said. "I'm trying to tell you that you are so off-base that the opposite is true.  I don't think he likes me anymore, and he's just putting up with me and trying to be friends out of his stupid-ass sense of loyalty."

She sighed.  "You're wrong.  But let's drop that for now and focus on us. Do you love me?"

I took her in my arms and kissed her slowly, insistently.  Then, afterwards, I said, "You know I love you."

She smiled, put a hand down at my crotch, and began running her hand up and down the bulge there.  "Do you like making love to me?"

I grinned and said, "I think you know the answer to that; you got it right in your hand, in fact."

"Then I don't see why I should want to break up with you," she said.  "And I think you need to stop torturing yourself about it.  Answer this question, and be honest.  Did you like making love to him?"

"Yeah, I did," I said quietly.

"Did he like it?"

"I...I don't know," I said.  "He seemed to at the time.  And he says it's okay.  It's just—"

"What did he tell you?"

I frowned.  "He told me he was glad I was there for him when he needed me.  He told me he was glad I loved him, even like that.  He told me he'd known for a long time."  I paused for a minute, and shrugged.  "But he told me he's not like me," I said.  "Like I'm some kind of freak or something.  I think I've fucked up everything, and he's gonna look at me different forever. It'll never be the same."

"Is that what he said?" she asked.

"No," I said. "In fact he said just the opposite.  He said nothing's changed."

"Then I'm happy for you," she said.

"But I don't think I believe him," I said.

"Stop it," she said.  "You're the one with the problem."

"Oh, good," I said.  "So both of you think I'm a freak."

Her eyes narrowed and she scowled at me.  "That's not what I'm saying and you know it.  I'm saying he doesn't have problems with you:  you have problems with you."

"That's a crock of shit," I said.  "I'm no queer-basher, and anyway, I'm not gay!"

"Would you listen to yourself?" she said.  "You need to step back and take a hard look at how you're reacting to all this.  You are way off the deep end," she said sternly.  "And I don't think you're all over the top about this because it means you're gay.  What I think it means is that you should think about what you really feel about people like my brother."

I shook my head.  I am not a homophobe, I said to myself.  Geez, she sounds like my dad!  Neither of them get it.  Why the hell would I be so upset unless I had something to be upset about?  Can't she see I'm dying here?  I've lost my best friend because I allowed something to happen that I never should have.  And now because I let it happen, I'm paying for it, and all they can tell me is "you're making this up."

Softening, she said, "You should be happy.  There's not enough love in the world anyway, Andy.  Appreciate what you have with Matt.  And stop what you're doing and leave it alone; you're gonna make trouble where there's no trouble to make."

I sighed, and kissed her.  I wasn't convinced; in fact, I didn't believe it for a minute.  But I couldn't think any more, and at least now it was all out in the open with Angie. I couldn't believe how she'd handled it; I had half-expected this to be the end for us.

It was dark, and the park was empty.  I took her in my arms and kissed her.  We started making out, and before too long, we were naked.  

The lovemaking was good, and it was strong.

I just wish I had been able to do what she told me to do.

Copyright 2005 by Adam Phillips

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