Too Low For Zero

A Sanitaria Springs Story

By Dabeagle

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Note: This story builds on elements built in The Exception and Cookie Monster. Those stories should be read first.

“So, Sean, how are you feeling this morning?”

“Better. My head doesn't hurt.”

“That's good. My name is Doctor Montgomery and I'm going to spend some time talking with you about how things are going.” His voice was pitched in even tones, sort of soft and comforting.

I pushed my tongue against my teeth and waited for him to continue.

“One of the important parts about therapy is that you have to participate and be honest with me and yourself in order to make progress. From the information I have, things have become a bit of a mess and your family feels as though you are in crisis. Would you say that's fair?”

I nodded, slowly. “How long do I have to stay here?”

“A lot of that is dependent on you, Sean.”

I frowned as my brain caught up. “My family spilled my personal business to you?”

“A little. You know,” he said, shifting in his chair, “some people have trouble realizing they need help with something. Because something isn't flattering or might reveal what they consider to be a weakness, they try to cover it. Sometimes it's by drugs like alcohol or sometimes pills. Sometimes it's as simple as claiming it's private.”

I frowned again.

“Will it make you feel more comfortable if I tell you, in general, what your family has said?”

I debated. This was a tactic to get me to talk to him, that much was obvious. He was using my curiosity about how much my family might have said, even though I didn't want anyone to know how screwed up I actually was. I guessed that hearing what they'd said might help me figure out how to handle this guy. I nodded at him to proceed.

“All right,” he said and glanced down. He read from a page, maybe a synopsis of my problems. “The general notes are a concern for alcohol abuse. You are listed as sexually active and you'll see Dr. Fisher for a physical today.”

“I was supposed to see my own doctor,” I interjected.

He paused and looked at me over the file in his hand. “Yes, your parents said they'd made an appointment for you. However, that was before the incident that convinced your parents you needed help. For the short term, all your medical needs will be handled here.”

I wasn't comfortable with that, not really. I didn't show my body to just anyone and I wasn't thrilled that this doctor was going to have to look at all my parts and pieces, as well as diagnose and give me meds for my dick. Anger simmered inside me.

“Anything else?”

“Just a personal statement, a message, from Jamie. Is that your brother?”

I nodded.

Glancing down he read from the inside of the chart, “I want my brother back.”

Relief hit me like a runaway train closely followed by a wave of exhaustion. Tears filled my eyes as some internal weight shifted—not sloughed off, but became lighter than it had been. “He said that?”

“Yes. You must be very close.”

I nodded and sniffled. He pushed a box of tissues on a nearby table toward me and I took one, blew my nose and then took another to dab my eyes with.

“Tell me about Jamie.”

“He's...the best.” I shrugged. He waited, but I was just slammed with all the recent memories of him and, without thinking, I started to speak. “When my mom was dying, he comforted me. He didn't even know me, yet he was excited to have me in his life. He's worked hard to include me in everything he did from football to double dating. He was an enthusiastic...door-opener to his family.”

“That's an odd phrase. What makes you say that?”

I glanced at him and debated. He had seen my paperwork, so he likely had noted my last name was Kelly and not Kirkwood, like that of my father.

“When my mom got sick, when she knew she wasn't going to make it, she reached out to my father. He didn't even know I existed. I had a lot of things on my mind then—my mother was dying, she was bringing me to meet the father I never knew and he already had a family. She was expecting him to 'do the right thing', but that meant leaving everything I knew behind me.”

“Wow, Sean,” he replied, his voice laced with concern. “That sounds overwhelming.”

I sniffled again. “It was. Then, there was Jamie. At first, he treated me kind of like a new puppy, and I figured his enthusiasm would wear off. But he kept right on being supportive, listening to me and...he was kind of an example, I guess, to his family. I mean—that sounds bad.”

“Take your time,” he said, scratching down a note. “Finding a whole new family like that is always tough. Don't worry if you stumble over an explanation; there is no wrong answer, here.”

I shrugged “Things felt weird around his parents. Yes, his dad was my father, too, but,” I put my hands out, “we didn't know each other! It wasn't like they knew squat about me, so I wasn't really comfortable around them. They didn't do anything...wrong. It just was.”

“I can only imagine how out of control you must have felt,” he sympathized. “So Jamie welcomed you right away, tell me about the other family members.”

I sighed and looked down at my hands. “Kale was very angry.” I glanced up and clarified, “He's the oldest. He told me he had nothing against me, that it wasn't my fault, but things were tense with him for a while between him and his folks because of me. It made me even more uncomfortable.”

“I can understand why. Even if anger isn't directed at you, it can make others around that emotion uncomfortable.” He smiled and nodded toward me to continue.

“Robin was nice to me. He's the middle son. He's kind of a free spirit, I guess. He's devoted to his boyfriend, but he looks out for Jamie and me. Jamie likes to pretend he doesn't need that, but I know better. Robin is always the place to go for a, what do you call it? Objective answer.”

“It sounds like you were comfortable with him, then.”

“Yeah,” I nodded. “I just wish I'd listened to him better.”

There was a pause and I wasn't sure what to say next. Dr. Montgomery prompted me, “So, would you say that you and your brother, Jamie, are very close?”

I swallowed and looked down. “Yeah. He's...he's the one that kept me going after my mom passed, he and Ash. Jamie'd do anything for me.”

“That sounds like a good relationship,” he said and made a few more marks with his pencil. He glanced at his clock and said, “You make mention of some discomfort meeting and living with the Kirkwood's, initially, and I appreciate your honesty in that. You mentioned that Kale was angry with his parents and it made you uncomfortable?”

“Yeah. His dad and my mom...got together when Mr. and Mrs. Kirkwood were, I dunno, doing a trial separation or something. Kale felt like his dad had betrayed his mom, so he was pretty mad.”

“Oh, wow. Oh, so, yeah that could be very uncomfortable.” He glanced at the time again and then back to me. “Did things get resolved between you and Kale?”

“Yeah,” I said slowly and nodding. “He and I play piano, and he talked to me a little when he sort of caught me playing.”

“Oh, that's good. How would you describe your relationship with Kale now?”

“Uh, okay. We get along, but he's older and has his own friends and then he went to college. Now, he's married and has a son, so, we're not really close.”

“Oh, yeah, I can understand that; he sounds like a busy guy. So, let me see,” he said, tapping his pencil and looking at the ceiling before returning his gaze to me. “It sounds like Kale, Robin and Jamie all reached out to you, to make you feel more comfortable. Is that a fair thing to say?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay. Okay, so, what occurs to me is to ask if you reached back to them? Did you reciprocate their welcome and make yourself available to the rest of the family?”

I paused. “I'm not sure I understand the question.”

“Oh, yeah, okay. Let's see if I can make it clearer. So, the obvious choice is Jamie, right? He reached out to you right away and sort of claimed you, right?”

A smile tugged at the corners of my mouth. “Yeah, that's pretty accurate.”

“Okay, so, did you open up to him? Reach back out and let him know what that meant to you? He opened up and welcomed you into his life, right? Did you reciprocate — did you invite him into your life, as well?”

“Um. Yeah, Jamie and I are really close. I mean,” I said, pausing and letting my tongue wet my lips. “I might not have said that to him, but I tell him things just like he tells me. We talk about just about everything.”

“Oh. All right, that's good, I appreciate you sharing that with me. You mentioned being able to talk to Robin, to get objective answers. Do you have the same comfort level with Robin that you do with Jamie? Or Kale? Oh,” he waived his hand, “you mentioned how busy Kale is and that you aren't as close.”

“Yeah. Kale didn't do anything wrong; he's just busy,” I agreed.

“Of course, yeah,” he said, nodding, “So Robin is a good guy to confide in? In a different way than Jamie is?”

“Yeah. Robin really doesn't judge you. I pretty much feel like I can talk about anything with him.”

“Okay, that's great and I appreciate you telling me that,” he said, shifting in his chair and making another glance at the clock. “Would you say you opened up to Robin? Made yourself available to him?”

“Um, I don't know. No, I guess. It's not like I have advice I can give to him.” I squirmed in my chair. “Unless...well, if I ask him for advice and tell him personal things then I guess that's opening up to him—right?”

“Sure,” he said, nodding in agreement and smiling encouragingly. “What about, letting him know how much you trust and appreciate the advice he gives or the comfort level you have with him?”

“Oh.” I paused and turned that over in my head. “I guess I just figured that he must know, if I come to him with stuff.”

“What made you seek him out to begin with?”

“Jamie,” I replied promptly. “Jamie told me that, as soon as Kale headed to school, Robin seemed to change. Jamie thinks that Robin was content to let Kale handle all the big brother responsibilities, but once Kale was gone, he was always checking in on Jamie, asking him stuff he hadn't before.”

“Oh, that's interesting. What sorts of questions?”

“General stuff, I guess. School, classes, girls, sports.” I shrugged. “He was just talking to him. Jamie said he was a good person to go to, and he was right.” I looked down and sighed. “Robin gave me good advice and I didn't listen. It wasn't what I wanted to hear.”

The room was quiet for a moment and then the doctor cleared his throat and said, “Thank you for sharing that, I appreciate your feelings and that these aren't easy things to talk about. It's time for your physical and we can meet again this afternoon.”

“Um. What do I have to do to go home?”

He stood and placed his hands in his pockets. “We'll talk about those goals this afternoon. Once you see Dr. Fisher, you'll go to lunch and then you'll have a group session with Dr. Katz. Then I'll see you again.”

“That's a lot of doctors,” I said.

“Yes, it is. Come on.”

~2Low4Zero~

The physical was embarrassing and unpleasant. They had to make sure I hadn't brought any 'contraband' in with me, so they had the doctor in there with an assistant. They did a cavity search, which was humiliating. Then, when it came time to diagnose my STD, they stuck a Q-tip in the end of my dick and spun it around a few times. That fucking burned! I let them know how much I didn't like that, how much it hurt, but it didn't seem to matter to them at all.

I sat by myself and picked at my food, which was unappealing. All of a sudden I felt overwhelmed with my situation — Ash and how hurt he must be, Jamie and how angry he'd been with me, how much Robin must be disappointed to have wasted his time advising me, this place, the way they had 'examined' me. I just started to cry, and then I got angry and pounded the table because I felt so useless and stupid; at the absurdity of crying at a lunch table. I got led back to my room, where I curled up and held on to the thought that Jamie wanted me back. Did Ash? Could either of them forgive me?

The group session was stunning. There were people—kids—with abuse problems. They talked about abusive parents, neglect and familial rape. One girl, Chastity, said her brother molested her for years, yet her parents did nothing until she got pregnant.

Heading back in to see Dr. Montgomery, I was feeling like a shit and like my problems were pretty small in comparison.

“Come in, Sean. Have a seat,” he said while sitting across from me with his note pad. “I heard things got a little emotional at lunch.”

“I don't want to talk about it,” I said.

“I can understand that,” he said in a tone of voice that actually sounded like he did. “The thing about therapy is that I can only help you if you share things with me. The sooner we get things out in the open and fixed, the sooner we can talk about going home.”

I closed my eyes and squeezed my hands into fists, just shaking with frustration.

“Here, try these,” he said. I opened my eyes and he held out two squishy rubber balls. I found that they could absorb a lot of pressure and I ground them ceaselessly in my hands.

“Why don't you tell me about lunch, first.”

I sighed and closed my eyes again. I ground the malleable rubber until my hands began to ache. I opened my mouth more than once, only to close it—but the doc didn't say anything. He just waited and I wasn't sure if I appreciated that or if it irritated me. “I just felt...I miss Ash, and Jamie and my family. I feel bad for not listening to Rob. I've screwed everything up and then that doctor, he...he put his finger in my ass.”

“I see,” he said and made a note. “I know it won't make you feel better, but they do that inspection to everyone who comes in. Some people have dependency issues that are very scary and they will do a lot to keep getting whatever they are addicted to. I can understand why that would be uncomfortable for you, and I'm sorry you had to deal with that.”

I nodded slowly and let my head drift down. “I was just feeling sorry for myself, kind of hopeless.”

“Yes, I can understand that, too.” He paused and then said, “So you mentioned Jamie being such a big help to you, earlier. Is there anyone else you feel as close to? Someone you can go to for support?”

“Well, I mentioned Robin.” I took a deep breath and said, “And Ash.”

“Robin is you older brother, you said? The middle child, age wise?”

“Yeah. He was trying to help me sort through my feelings.”

“What sort of feelings?”

Heat crept into my face and I sighed, “Asher. He was trying to help me with my feelings for Asher.”

“Okay. What is the nature of your feelings for Asher?”

I glanced up and met his gaze. “I love him.”

“Oh, I see, yeah,” he said and smiled warmly. “You mentioned he lends you support. He's not a member of your family, though, is that right?”

“He's my boyfriend...or, maybe not, anymore. I haven't talked to him in over a week,” I said, my voice growing softer with each word.

“I see. Was sexual contact with him how you acquired the STD?”

My head snapped up, “Fuck, no!” I said hotly. “I cheated...” I put my head in my hands, dropping the rubber balls, and spoke to the floor. “I cheated on him with some slut. She gave it to me.”

“Oh. Oh, I see,” he said, his voice soft and sympathetic even though I felt like I didn't deserve sympathy from anyone. His pencil made scritching noises as he made more notes. “I appreciate you being so forthcoming. I can imagine that this incident was very disturbing to you and upsetting, so I appreciate that.”

I kept my face pointing down and sniffled.

“When did alcohol become a factor for you?”

I looked up slowly. “Become a factor?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Your parents said you were found yesterday with a bottle of alcohol and that it appeared you'd consumed quite a lot of. Coupled with the conversation you had with your father, there is some concern that you may have a dependency issue and, as we discussed this morning, they felt you were in crisis.”

“Uh. Out of all my problems, alcohol really isn't one. I mean, if you want to hear problems, you should be in group,” I said, hooking my thumb toward the door. “My life is golden compared to some of them.”

“You probably shouldn't think of it like that; it's not a competition. Everyone has their own issues to work on because none of us are perfect, right? I appreciate that you're empathetic toward them for the things they have to face, but your issues are just as real.” He glanced down at his notes and then looked back up to me. “So you don't feel alcohol is a factor for you? Why is that?”

“I just take a couple of shots to get some sleep is all. I mean, up until the other night.”

“Oh, uh huh, I see. When did you start that?”

“Back in, uh,” I thought for a moment, “October, I think.”

“I see. How did that happen?”

I shrugged. “I was being a fucker to Ash—he is nice about it and calls me 'moody', but the fact is I'm mean to him. Anyway, his brother Scott wanted to have a man-to-man chat with me, and he pulled out a bottle of whiskey. We did a couple of shots and talked, some.”

“I see, thank you for sharing that. Did you think that conversation with Scott was useful?”

“No, not really,” I said with a sigh. “I got a lot of advice, but none of it seemed to...settle me.”

“Okay. Let me circle back to that, because I think it's important. So, you tried the alcohol with Scott, and what prompted you to continue using alcohol?”

I shrugged and said, “Well, I slept like a rock that night. So, later, when I was staying up till one o'clock, thinking about stuff and my mind wouldn't stop, I'd go to the basement and take a few shots. I guess I'm a lightweight 'cause I could sleep, then.”

“I see, I see,” he said, nodding his head. “Thanks for sharing that, I appreciate it. So, what do you think was different about what happened the other night versus just trying to get to sleep last night?”

Thoughts of Asher flooded my mind, the conversation I'd had with Robin that day...I closed my eyes and was dismayed to hear a small whimper escape me. “I don't think I can go there, right now.”

“Okay, I understand, and I want to thank you for all you were able to talk about so far. How about we finish off with some happier things, okay? Why don't you tell me a little about Asher? What drew you to him?”

I leaned back in the chair and let out a breath. Glancing toward the wall, I started to speak.

“Ash is a gentle soul. He's loving and trusting, and I abused that.”

“You know, I appreciate you volunteering that there are some problems with your relationship,” he said, his voice warm and patient. “But let's try to focus on the positive parts of that for right now, okay? Go ahead.”

I rolled my lips up against one another for a moment or two. “Ash...I know this isn't happy, but it might make more sense to tell it this way,” I said, glancing at the doctor. He nodded and I forged ahead. “Ash is so strong, it's hard to even describe. I'm so proud of him. When I sat in therapy and heard about these people who got raped and abused and neglected—that was Ash. Even with all that going on, he came to a GSA meeting and told me he thought I was cute.”

“Wow,” he said, sounding truly impressed. I glanced at him again and his eyes were open and he smiled, teeth looking so white with the brown beard surrounding his mouth.

“I was straight, then. But Ash is this...loving, perpetual, gentle pressure that constantly reminds me that he loves me. He made sure I made the first move, that I was okay with things — because he wanted me, no questions asked. It didn't matter if I had baggage, if I — I don't know — whatever, you know? Ash just...he loves me. He gets me.”

“Oh, that's a rare thing, thanks for sharing that.” He nodded and smiled widely. “In what way do you think he gets you?”

“It's a shorter list to say what ways he doesn't get me,” I said and shook my head. “He's perfect for me, I just...”

“No, that's okay, let's stop for the afternoon there. Um,” he glanced down at his notes, “let's pick that thought up in the morning. For tonight, I'd like you to spend some time focusing on the good things you get from Jamie, Asher and Robin. Okay?”

“I'll try. Um,” I hunched, expecting the worst, “Is there any chance I can call Jamie?”

“You know, maybe in a few days, okay? If you can make some progress, I'll reach out to the family and see how we want to play things, okay? I don't want to do anything to disrupt your progress. The first thing is, we'll have to discuss the incident that kind of pushed your family to bring you in here, okay?”

I nodded glumly. “Okay.”

I was escorted to a dispensary where they gave me the first of the meds to treat my infection. Then it was time for dinner, which I managed not to cry through, but only by thinking of Jamie and Ash. Later, as I lay awake in bed, I thought of my last day at home and my conversation with Robin, the one we'd had after it all was far too late.

~2Low4Zero~

“I guess I owe you an apology,” I said to Robin as I leaned despondently in his doorway.

“Me? I don't think I follow you.”

“I never understood,” I said, shaking my head. “I even teased you about being a 'Lu-Sexual', sometimes...behind your back. I thought things like sexuality were pretty cut and dried—dicks were made for vaginas and all that.”

Robin leaned back in his chair and sighed. “You sound like you have a lot to get off your chest. Do you want to talk about it?”

“I'm not sure it helps anything. As much as I'd like to say things are complicated, they really aren't. I'm an immature, selfish fuck.”

I was looking down at my feet, staring with focused intent at the outline of my toes in my socks. They were red socks and I shifted my gaze from the toes to the threads and back again; anything to distract myself.

“We all have moments of selfishness,” Robin said. “Why don't you sit down and tell me about it?”

I didn't reply, except to sigh. Slowly I moved over and sat on his bed, keeping my eyes on my feet, even as I stretched my legs out. It was almost like looking at the toe right next to my big toe and seeing that it was longer than my big toe, was something of fascinating importance, something that kept me from losing my marbles completely.

“Lu's a nice looking guy,” I blurted.

“Thank you, I think so, too.” I could hear the smile in his voice. “But if you're pining after him, I have to tell you—I won't hesitate to kill you.”

I glanced at him and he was smiling. The corners of my mouth tugged up in response.

“Did you ever...wonder what it's like with a girl? I mean, after you started to date Lu?”

I heard Robin move in his chair, but I had looked down after asking such a private question and I refused to make eye contact. It wasn't because Robin would be offended — things about sex never seemed to bother him. The problem was some people said Robin and I had a lot of similarities in our personalities—which was nuts. But...if it were true, I was kind of afraid he'd read in my eyes that I was asking about how he felt about girls in order to understand myself. Well...maybe we're more alike than I thought.

“Idly. I kissed my fair share of girls before having a relationship with a guy. I'm sure the physical part is similar, yet different but I have no particular attraction to a vagina versus a penis, in general. It's really more important whom the parts are attached to.”

“Okay, but...this is what I don't understand. You've...fucked Lu, right?” I focused on the end of that toe, hard. Anything to avoid looking in Robin's eyes.

“You know, Sean,” Robin said and paused. I glanced up as he leaned forward in his chair and gave me a look I didn't recognize. “You and I, we don't usually talk about buddy stuff, you know? We never discussed our sex lives and I respect that you're a little more private than I am. Lucien is the same way, so I can recognize that little, uptight gene that wants to keep talk like that between you and, maybe, whoever you're sleeping with.”

“Um.”

“Don't get me wrong, I don't mind having the discussion with you if it's important or if this is a new phase to our relationship — I think you know I love you and I'm always here for you. But, when it comes to sex, I can honestly say, no matter how much lust is involved, we've always made love. But, yes, I've topped him before.”

“And he's...”

“Made love to me, yes. Why is that relevant?”

“I don't understand how taking a dick in your ass and putting one there doesn't make you gay?” I said, lifting my gaze and meeting his. I expected him to frown at my crude comment, but he only gave me a thoughtful nod.

“This is really about you and Asher.”

“Yeah. But the question is still relevant.”

“Okay,” he said, pulling a leg up and wrapping his hands around his shin. “I think I know where this is going, but I'm going to get a little clinical on you. I figured this would be stuff you've already looked into, but you know about your prostate, right?”

“I know it gets cancer.”

“Well, yeah, it can,” he replied, a small smile tilting the corners of his mouth. “But the reason anal sex is physically pleasurable is that when it gets touched or rubbed, there's a lot of nerve endings there that can feel really good.”

“Okay. But...look, can I be blunt?”

He smiled and lifted an eyebrow as if to say 'and you haven't been, so far?'

“If you like taking it in the ass or giving it, how are you not just gay?”

Robin nodded his head, his eyes opening a little wider. “Well, in my case, if I'm bottoming I'm getting the sensations as well as knowing I'm bringing pleasure to Lucien. If I top, I'm definitely enjoying being inside him, but I also know I'm bringing that pleasure to him — it's a priority. Ass play or anal doesn't make you gay. There is a reason guys joke about the right way to get blown is with a mouth on your dick and finger in your ass.”

“They...joke about that?”

“Well, I heard one, once,” Robin said, waving his hand. “It's because stimulating the prostate makes guys feel good, physically. It's why some guys get 'pegged' by their wives or girlfriends — it feels good. Men, now, are embracing more that their prostate is a pleasure center and not just limiting themselves to tugging on their dicks. Some girls like anal, too, for a variety of reasons, one of which there is that there is no risk of pregnancy. Women can enjoy getting rimmed as much as men can. The thing is, for me, all those things are satisfying and stimulating because of whom I'm doing them with.”

I wrinkled my nose. “Rimming? You mean...licking his asshole?”

Robin frowned. “Yes. Obviously, cleanliness is a priority for that kind of thing—and I'm a little annoyed that's all you got out of that whole statement. Sean, I think I've been pretty patient with your questions and have told you way more about my sex life than you need to know. What has been going on with you?”

I pursed my lips and drew my brows into a frown and returned to studying my toes. “Asher and I had sex.”

“Okay, this doesn't really come as a shock. You've been dating for a while.” Robin hesitated, “You have seemed kind of...unsettled with him, though, for a long time. Are you unhappy with him?”

“No. Yes. Ah, fuck!” I said standing up and turning in a circle before, reluctantly, throwing myself back onto Robin's bed. “Look. Remember when he lived her last summer for a few weeks?”

“Yes.”

“His last night here, I...we...” I swallowed and closed my eyes. “We made love. I made love to him.”

“Wow. I hadn't realized it was so long ago. You've only been a couple since, what, September?”

“August 17th.”

“Why the...gap?”

I sighed. “I told him I liked girls, I told him I wasn't sure. But...sex with him feels good. It feels...Jesus, he loves me so much,” I said and felt tears tracking down my face. I wiped them away, but it took a few moments for me to gain control. “We fooled around all summer, mostly oral.”

“Was it...one way?”

“Hardly. Some days I was practically drooling for him. He...he makes this noise,” I covered my face, heat flashing through my skin and felt more tears leak out.

“Sean...I just want to try to...is this turmoil because you're conflicted about whom you're attracted to?”

“Yes,” I whispered.

“Okay. I can understand being conflicted but, you're acting like something catastrophic happened. I know you've been kind of a dick the last few days, is that what this is about?”

I nodded, not trusting myself to speak.

“Is this why you and Jamie argued last night?”

Tears rushed over my fingers and I let out a low moan and drummed my feet on the floor in frustration. I felt Robin's hand on my shoulder and he pulled me into a side hug, one I accepted even though I wasn't getting much comfort from it.

“Why don't you tell me about it?”

I took a shuddering breath. “There is this girl at school, one of the ones that's always sniffing around Jamie, and around a few other guys, too. She doesn't really have too much respect for relationships, you know? I mean, she doesn't come right out and offer to do anything, right? But she's always close by, always kind of waiting to see if Jamie and Emily are on the rocks, or whoever she's interested in just so she can swoop in.”

“She's like a hyena, waiting for something weak to pounce on.”

“Yeah, exactly. The thing is, I don't get why she's like that. Setting aside that one...behavior, she's kind of hot. She's pretty, long brown hair, she dresses nice and she doesn't mind wearing clothes that aren't slutty, but they sure do get you thinking about what's there, you know?”

“I get the idea,” Robin said.

“I...I've thought about her, a lot. I like...” I glanced at Robin and then back at my feet. “There's a lot of physical things I liked about her.”

He stayed silent and I focused on my toes again, trying to distance myself from the words I was about to spit out.

“Ash and I get into...not fights, really, but...he says I can be moody. That my being conflicted about liking girls and just him as far as guys go can get the best of me.”

“He's not wrong about you being moody, Sean,” Robin said gently.

“I know.” I sighed and said, “That's not really true, though. The truth is I'm a real asshole to him.”

“So...what happened?”

“So, this girl...Ramona Stevens. She starts to text me. I didn't think too much about it, at first. But when I get horny and I'm thinking about boobs or pussy, I start to think about her.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, oh.” I nodded heavily. “So about a week ago, Ash and I had planned some alone time. Before he got here, she started...sexting with me. I was so, so freaking worked up—I don't even have enough dignity left to be embarrassed, I was so hot for her.”

“Please tell me you didn't exchange pictures.”

I colored, but defiantly asked, “Haven't you?”

“Yes,” he said, drawing out the word like he was speaking to an idiot. “But I sent them to my fiance, not some random person that I wasn't in a relationship with.”

I pursed my lips, angry at his judgment and angry that he was right. Actually what I felt was anger over everything; plus stupid. A whole lot of stupid.

“How...okay, let's let that go. What happened next?”

I looked away in shame and I whispered, “All I could think about was what she'd been saying. What she'd...shown me. I was so hot for her, and then Ash got here.” I closed my eyes and felt some of my anger drain away into more shame, more disgust.

“What happened, Sean?” he asked gently.

At that point, I forced myself to stop remembering that conversation with Robin; I started singing a pop song under my breath, then counted sheep — virtually anything to drive the rest of that conversation away. Sleep didn't claim me until the sun was coming up.

~2Low4Zero~

After breakfast, I took another pill for my infection, then was escorted in to see Dr. Montgomery. I sat down and he greeted me and asked how I'd slept.

“I didn't,” I said, rubbing a hand over my forehead.

“Oh, that's not good. Maybe we need to give you something mild to get your sleep pattern back,” he said and made himself a note. “You mentioned yesterday you'd been having trouble sleeping, and that's when you'd take some alcohol to help. How often would you say that was?”

“Uh, couple times a week, I guess.”

“Oh, okay.” He nodded and made a few more scribbles. “I have some information here from Dr. Fisher, which is mostly good news. You did have an STD, Chlamydia, and I believe you started the regiment for that last night?” He glanced up at me, over his papers and I nodded to him.

“Other than that, you seem to be healthy, which is very good, of course.” He placed the papers on his lap and returned his gaze to me. “Did you spend some time thinking about the good things last night?”

“Yeah,” I said. “It always leads to the bad things, though.”

“Well, those things are usually tied together, unfortunately. Some people say that remembering the bad allows us to better appreciate the good times and gives us hope during the not-so-good times.”

I shrugged and let my gaze drop to the carpet.

“So you were telling me you were moody with Asher and that seemed to trouble you. How did you meet him? Oh, wait!” he said, tossing a hand in the air and smiling. “You said at a GSA meeting, right?”

“Yeah. Jamie chased him off, though. It was a misunderstanding. So I looked up where Ash lived so I could apologize. I mean, even then, I was impressed with his courage—I can't walk up and just tell someone I like them, so I respected that he could.”

“Yeah, yeah, I can certainly understand that. What happened when you went to find him?”

“Uh. Well, I didn't know it, but he'd just been...” I closed my eyes and forced myself to say, “raped the night before.”

“Oh, my. Oh, wow. That must have been extraordinarily difficult to talk about.” His pencil had gone still and the room was silent.

“Yeah.” I cleared my throat. “He didn't have a lot of choice. Someone filmed it on their phone and posted it online.” I hesitated and then plunged on, “So when I showed up, the guy that raped him, he tried to grab me—threatened me. Ash hit him in the knee with a baseball bat and told me to run.” I lowered my head and stared at the floor.

“Oh, my. That was brave of him.” His voice sounded like he was truly impressed.

“Yeah,” I said tonelessly. “I was the coward. I ran away, like he said, and left him alone with that guy.”

“Sean, you know, when we talk about things like courage, that's a relative thing,” he said, putting his papers down on his lap. “Asher grew up one way, and that might have made what he did logical to him. For you, growing up differently, maybe you don't solve your problems with violence. That doesn't mean you aren't courageous, it just means you approach your problems differently.”

“But I ran,” I said, my voice unsteady. “That guy, Ed Mullins, he scared the crap out of me and I just left Ash there to fend for himself.”

“Well, you know, there is more than one way to look at that, too. For instance, you already admired Ash for his courage and, when you were confronted with a scary and unfamiliar situation, you took the advice of someone you admired. When Ash said to you, essentially, the best thing is to run, you listened.”

“I wasn't thinking about admiring him. I was just scared.”

“Well, yes, of course. This is more of a subconscious thing. For instance, if Jamie yelled at you to duck, you probably would because you trust him, right?”

I snorted and smiled at the doctor. “If Jamie says 'duck', it means he's up to shit and your best move is to duck.”

He smiled back at me. “He sounds like a character.”

“Yeah.”

“So did you know Ash for a while before you became a couple?”

“Yeah. Um, we held hands, a lot. I did it, at first, because it made him feel better. After a while, I started to enjoy it, too.”

“I see, that must have been confusing.”

I nodded but didn't answer.

“Did you have any alcohol while you were with Asher?”

“You mean, like, did we drink together?”

“Yes, uh huh.”

“No, not at all. I never had any alcohol until Scott and I sat on the picnic table and did a couple shots.”

“Oh, okay, okay,” he said and made a few more notes. “So, Sean, I'd like to use the rest of this morning's time to have you fill out some questionnaires. Please, be as honest as you can.”

He handed me a clipboard with some papers and a pen attached and I spent the balance of the session checking boxes and making small notes. Afterward there was a gap in my schedule, so I was allowed to go back to my room and take a short nap. After lunch, I headed into group. We had a choice about if we wanted to tell our story, but I kept up my shield of privacy and elected to only tell the doctor what he needed to know to get me out of here.

However, Chastity — the girl who said her brother molested her for years — told us something that really rocked me.

“My family is what you'd call good at hiding stuff,” she said. “My dad works in a high stress job and my mom is just nuts, trying to watch all us kids. See,” she said, looking around and checking in with her audience, “my mom watches kids during the day and then even more over the summer. During the school year it's just little ones, a couple. But during the summer, she gets all the relatives' kids, too. So our house can be kind of a zoo. My brother, I never knew how screwed up he really was,” she paused and glanced around again, “he's in prison, now.”

“Let's keep the focus on you, Chastity,” Dr. Katz prompted.

“Yeah, right.” She nodded perfunctorily and focused on her rapt audience, “So, I was seeing this guy and we were getting stoned pretty regular. I'm not sure what it was, all the time, but this one time he got pretty rough with me, right? It just brought on all these flashbacks of my brother, sneaking into my room? I freaked right the fuck out!” she said, laughing with a manic edge and looking around at the rest of us.

My stomach dropped and I began to breathe hard. Sweat gathered on my forehead and I no longer heard the rest of Chastity's tale, as the rest of my conversation with Robin flooded back to me.

~2Low4Zero~

“I fucked him. I didn't 'make love',” I said in a really shitty tone. “I wasn't 'sweet, considerate, Sean'. I lubed the hell out of him and then just...fucked him. I closed my eyes and I could hear the wet slapping from all the lube and I was pretending it was Ramona's pussy and I just...fucking...pounded him.”

Robin cleared his throat. “Hard, physical sex can be great, if you're both into it. Am I...right in guessing that he wasn't?”

I sniffled and didn't try to wipe the sudden tears this time. “No, he wasn't. He started to push me back and I just...kept going. He tried to tell me it wasn't comfortable, and then that it... it hurt before he pushed me off him.”

“Sean, that's...Jesus Christ.”

I think, for me, the fact that Robin's cool demeanor had cracked confirmed how screwed up I really was.

“That's not the worst part,” I said, covering my face in shame. “I told...ah, fuck!” I stood suddenly again, unable to sit still, making short two to three step paces before turning around and clenching my fists. “I fucking told him...he wasn't even mad, Rob! He was just, you know, telling me it hurt and me, fucking big man that I am! Fucking sweet, considerate Sean, you know what I told him? You know what I said to the guy I love?”

I'd stopped and was staring down at Robin with my eyes opened wide and my voice climbing. Without waiting for him to answer me, I spilled the worst of it. “I told him if I was slamming pussy like I should be, it wouldn't hurt.”

“Oh for Jesus, Sean,” Robin said and covered his mouth with his hand. He took a moment and then asked, “Did you apologize? Did you guys talk?”

“No,” I said, my voice dropping and my head shaking. “He pulled on his clothes and he was crying and then he said if I wanted pussy so bad, I should go find some...and he walked out.”

“Shit. I guess you can't blame the guy, though, can you?”

“No,” I agreed. “But then I went and destroyed everything, as if I hadn't already.”

“How could you make it worse? What could...oh. Oh, no, Sean. You didn't.”

“Yep,” I said, drawing myself up and looking at Robin. With a shaking voice I said, “I took a shower and I went over and I fucked Ramona in the woods behind the school.”

“Sean! What the fuck?” Robin exclaimed. “How could you do that to Asher? How could you disrespect yourself so much?”

“I just wanted to know,” I groaned and pulled my hair. “I just wanted to know what it felt like! I wanted to know what I was missing, what....all the fucking fuss was about! The worst part was it felt fucking great!”

Robin shook his head and looked at me with his mouth open. “I don't even know who you are, right now.”

“Neither do I.” I said and sat down hard on his floor. “I satisfied my curiosity, pussy feels great. But...” I spread my hands out helplessly.

“But what?”

The tears wouldn't come. “I threw Ash away for a piece of ass. I was rough on him, took advantage of him...I hurt him. Rob, I hurt him and I feel like shit—and I can't even tell him.”

Robin put a hand to his forehead and sighed. “I have to ask—why can't you tell him?”

“The condom broke,” I said. “I've...got the clap.”

“You...how do you know?”

“It feels like I'm pissing razor blades,” I said and snorted.

“Ah, shit, are you serious?”

“Yes,” I said, hanging my head. “That's why Jamie is so mad at me. For hurting his friend, for being a dumb ass, and for fucking Ramona.”

“You have to get Dad to take you to the doctor.” Robin said decisively.

“I know,” I said, still hanging my head. “But then what? He's going to think Ash gave me...you know.”

“If his dignity means anything to you, then you will just have to tell Dad that...you cheated.”

“He told me to go find some pussy,” I said weakly.

“You know what? If it makes you feel better to tell yourself you were broken up, go ahead. But, Sean, you know what a low-life thing you've done, here, right? You didn't have to date him, you could have...don't. Come here, I'm sorry.”

I'd started to cry again, but now I was hitting myself and the floor with a closed fist. A groan of pure shame rose up out of my throat and Robin stopped berating me and pulled me close, telling me to stop. He completely enveloped me and I grabbed onto him squeezing him as if letting go would mean falling into an abyss. Maybe it would.

“I know you need some support right now, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that.”

“How can you support me? I fucking hate myself right now,” I bawled.

“I understand,” he said, holding me tight while I tried to squirm away, tried to answer the call of the abyss. “We'll figure something out. Right now, you need meds and...let me talk to Dad for you.”

“No,” I moaned. “That's not fair. I deserve the look he's going to give me. Both of them. God, I'm such a—”

“Sean, you made a mistake,” Robin said firmly. “You have a lot of emotions and something else swirling around in you and, for some reason, a lot of pressure on yourself when it comes to girls. You have to work through it. First things first, you need a visit to the doctor. I'll talk to Dad and...well, we'll deal.”

“What about Jamie?” I sobbed. “He hates me.”

“Jamie could never hate you,” Robin said. “I think you're the only thing he loves more than himself.”

“He's not a narcissist,” I said, automatically coming to his defense.

“Yeah, he is, a little,” Robin said, snickering. “He'll be here when you need him, though. Never fear.”

~2Low4Zero~

I was removed from the group session because I couldn't stop crying. All I wanted to do was sleep, to push the evil thoughts that were slamming through my head away—but I couldn't. My mind, maybe my conscience, wouldn't allow it and as I thought and thought, my spirits got lower and lower.

I went in to see Dr. Montgomery, only because I hoped he'd give me something to help me sleep that night. In a way, I'd also found him to be a comfort, with his soft tone and his repetitive statements about appreciating what I was telling him. His calmness in my sea of self-loathing was a comfort.

“Oh, Sean, are you feeling any better?” he asked and I started to cry, again. He placed the box of tissues on my lap and I reached for them blindly, trying to wipe my face.

“Okay, well, I'm thinking you could use some good news right now. I can see you're not feeling very strong right now, so how about we get some positive news into the mix, okay?”

I nodded and continued to wet the tissues with my tears.

“Okay, so, when we are trying to assess a dependency, in your case alcohol, we go through some questions and observations. For instance, some people who abuse alcohol will pass on social things or stuff they enjoy, to drink. You didn't indicate that and your family had said you were still engaged in all your normal activities, so that's good.” He nodded at me and smiled, his teeth again looking much brighter surrounded by his beard.

“Some other things we look at are signs of physical withdrawal, which you don't have. Your liver function test was good, and that, coupled with your statements, supports that you hadn't been on an upward slide with your drinking—excepting that last evening, of course, that we haven't talked about yet.”

I nodded, my tears slowing to just annoyingly filling my eyes as if I had an allergy.

“So, you don't fit the classic signs and that helps us in a number of ways,” he said, continuing to smile. “First it means you haven't developed a dependency and second it means you've been making an honest effort in therapy with me, and that goes a long way towards us being able to trust each other, so I appreciate your trust in me and your participation and honesty.”

I nodded again, feeling slightly buoyed by his clearing me of alcoholism. Even though I was pretty sure I wasn't addicted, it was good to hear a professional say I hadn't crossed the line into something else I hadn't intended.

“Okay, so, that's all good stuff.” He smiled warmly and continued, “So, we should probably assess how you're feeling before we keep going. When you came in, you were pretty upset — and I understand this started in group?”

I nodded.

“Okay, so, is it safe to say you were sad? Or is it more complicated than that?”

“I felt like shit,” I replied dully. “Guilty, angry, sad.”

“Okay, so, on a scale of zero to ten, zero being the lowest, worst you can feel, how sad were you?”

I snorted. “Too low for zero.”

“Oh, wow,” he said, opening his eyes wide, “I appreciate you telling me that so honestly. How are you feeling now?”

I shrugged. “Maybe a one.”

“Oh, okay, well it's going the right direction.”

“Can I call Jamie?” I asked.

“You know, I'm going to make contact with your family this afternoon and we'll discuss it, okay?”

“Okay,” I said, dejectedly. “I need to talk to him.”

“I promise we'll get to that as soon as we can; I know you're hurting and missing them.” He gave me a sympathetic look. “I'd like to get some sense of why you had that final incident with the alcohol, but I'm kind of getting the picture that your feelings for Asher are underneath all of this.”

I nodded absently.

“Okay, well, I tell you what — why don't we go ahead and stop a little early, okay? I'm going to have them give you something mild to help you sleep tonight. Considering you're so tired and worn out, I don't want to push you too hard today, okay?”

I started to nod, but then I shook my head. “No. This has been eating me alive for months. I want to get it done, rip the bandage off.”

“Really? Well, all right, we can give it a try and I appreciate your bravery. Why don't you start whenever you're comfortable.”

“Comfortable has nothing to do with it,” I said. “Everything was pretty small until one night, when Jamie and I were talking about gay people and sex.” I let my mind wander back to the conversation as I told the doctor my story.

~2Low4Zero~

“Guys are a little narrower in the hips, but I guess I can understand an ass man, you know?” Jamie whispered and giggled in the dark.

“I guess, on some people, you couldn't tell until they took their pants off,” I agreed through my own giggles.

“Eww! Imagine that? Pulling their pants down and this hairy ass is staring you in the face?”

We both put our faces into our pillows and cackled madly. It took a minute but we settled down and Jamie said, “I wonder why Kale and Robin like that, though.”

“I dunno,” I said, having not ever given it serious thought.

“Well, I've known Chase forever, but I've never wanted to kiss him or anything.”

“I only met him a few times,” I replied.

“Well, did meeting him make you want to kiss him?”

“Eww.” We laughed again.

“So, Robin used to date girls — you knew that, right?”

“Yeah. That's kind of weird, actually. Why would you go from girls to guys? I don't get it.”

“Every time the subject comes up he goes on about feelings and how love is more important than body parts. I have to tell you, I'm pretty sure the girl I fall for? She's going to have a nice rack,” Jamie snickered.

“Did he date ugly girls before he dated guys?”

“He's a Kirkwood, we don't date ugly people!” Jamie said in a fake, snobby voice and we both giggled again.

“I don't know,” I said eventually. “I guess Lu's a nice enough looking guy. He's nice to us both, gives us rides, plays stuff with us—I like him a lot, actually.”

“Yeah, Lu's cool. Robin says he's going to marry him.”

“Yeah, I remember. I wonder what that feels like, huh? To find someone that makes you feel like that?”

“Ugh! Feelings! Stop it!” Jamie snickered.

“Seriously,” I said, laughing myself. “If you had to go on a date with a guy, who would it be?”

“Doesn't matter, as long as they know there will be no PDA.”

“Oh, so, private displays of affection are okay then?”

“Um. I didn't think that through,” he said with a giggle. “No, they have to keep their hands to themselves.”

“C'mon, be serious. Let's say you'd have to kiss or something. What about then?”

“Hmm,” Jamie said, and I imagined his face scrunched up in consideration. “Well, Scott's out, that would just be weird.”

“Yeah,” I agreed. “What about Allan Crowley?”

“Hm. He's kind of like a wall of muscle. I'd be intimidated, I think, so—no.”

“Yeah, good point.”

“Simon Halloran would be okay, if he just wouldn't laugh.”

“Oh my God!” I giggled again, “it sounds like he wants to throw up!”

“I know!”

“Todd Yates?”

“Eww.”

“Yeah, I was just trying to gross you out.”

We fell silent for a moment, the idea of the discussion being forgotten and, perhaps, we were both trying to mess with the other. So it was with some surprise that I heard Jamie say, in a very low voice, “Actually, I think there is only one guy I'd trust who is kind of good looking. Besides you, 'cause that's just not right.”

“Kiss you? Ugh. Who are you thinking of? Who's this guy?”

“I don't know if you noticed,” he said, letting my comment about kissing him slide. “But, Asher is looking pretty good these days. The dude is getting confident, he's got the whole acne thing under control—plus he's earned my trust, you know?”

“Um, are we talking feelings, here, Kirkwood?” I asked. Jamie threw a pillow at me and I returned it with gusto. However, he'd hit a chord in me that I'd been ignoring, but that had been steadily building.

“Seriously, you got a better candidate than Ash?”

“Hmm. Actually, no. If it wasn't for what he's already been through, I could see it,” I replied truthfully.

“Hey,” Jamie said with a trace of excitement. “Maybe we could, you know, find out what it's like? You know, with Ash? Maybe we could mess around a little? I mean, we both know we want the girls, but at least we'd understand this whole thing with guys, huh?”

“No. No, no way,” I said, shaking my head. “You know Ash already has a thing for me, and we look enough a like that he probably has a thing for you, too.”

“Right, so he gets to scratch an itch and so do we. It's a win-win!”

“No, it isn't!” I said with a groan. “Look. What if, I don't know, Emily said to you 'Jamie, come on over and eat me out' and then when you were done she said, 'thanks, I was just experimenting. I'm going to date girls now'. How would you feel?”

“Oh. Yeah, I guess I didn't—wait, you think Ash likes us that much?”

“Yeah,” I said, my tone making clear how dumb he was not to have realized this. “We're his best friends. We followed through on our promises to him and he's pretty attached to us. For him, he probably feels like if he's fighting with one of us, then he loses us both, you know?”

“Yeah. That sucks. I was hoping to throw it in Robins' face the next time he said 'well, you don't know what it feels like to have a guy suck your dick' and I could say, 'well, yeah, I do.'”

There was a moment of silence and I said, “Robin's said that to you before?”

“Well, no. But if he did, I'd be ready!” We dissolved into mindless giggles again, burying our faces in our pillows to hide the noise. We both made some stupid statements in a 'serious' voice like, 'well, you don't know what it's like to have a man fondle your balls' and stuff like that, and then we'd be laughing again. It was the kind of fun that you can only have in the dark with a great friend. The last thing Jamie said, 'well, you don't know the difference between screwing an ass and a pussy' that set me to wondering. When we finished laughing, I rolled onto my side and posed my question.

“Do you think guys actually enjoy, you know, butt sex?”

“I don't know. Girls in porn look like they like everything. Hey, let's go check it out.” Jamie was up out of bed and we were clustered around his laptop as he searched for gay porn. I was filled with a nervous energy at this taboo thing we were doing. I think lots of parents expect their kids to look at porn, just out of curiosity. This felt different.

It didn't take long and Jamie cued up a video. It didn't show much, an amateur, but the guy taking it was groaning and it didn't sound like it felt good. The second guy, holy shit. He was ripped and had this fierce look on his face as he railed the guy under him. The expression on the guy getting fucked was like the other guy's dick had teeth on the end and it was chewing his insides up. Gay sex did not look like my thing, and from Jamie's expression, his, either.

~2Low4Zero~

I brought my gaze back to the doctor and said, “By the time I had that conversation, I was already intently curious about Asher. He's the only person to ever just come to me and want me, you know? Not in a bad way, either.”

“I see. Siblings frequently have conversations like that, talking about fantasies or what if situations, it's very natural,” he assured me.

“Well, I thought it was kind of a done thing, you know? Jamie and I agreed Ash was off limits so we wouldn't hurt him. But, then,” I paused and considered, frowning. “Hey, this is in secret, right? You're not going to file a report with my parents?”

“It's confidential, unless you're a danger to yourself or others. I can give them general terms when speaking of your progress.”

“Oh, okay,” I said and slumped back into my chair. “Jamie is awesome, I think I told you. But, he's not perfect.”

He nodded at me to continue.

“Jamie broke the rules,” I said with a sigh. “He and Ash were at our house one day and they ended up fooling around.”

“Oh. How did that make you feel?”

“Jealous,” I said, softly. “Ash had been there for months and I knew he wanted to date me. I knew he wanted more, but he also acted like I was this perfect...abstract thing. I just kind of let him, because I thought he needed that belief, you know? Like when some people say God is just something people invented because they need to feel like something cares?”

“Yes, I understand what you're saying. I'm not sure I get the jealousy, though.”

“I figured that would be clear. By then, I was thinking maybe I'm not totally straight because I kept thinking about Ash.” I sighed, “Then he came to stay with us for a short time. There was...well, that doesn't matter. The night before he went home, I...oh man.” I sighed and leaned forward and held my head in my hands.

“Is that the night you became sexually active?”

I barked out a laugh. “That really makes sex sound boring, doc.”

“Well, it's accurate,” he said, chuckling.

I let out a deep breath and said, “I didn't totally get it at the time, but I made love to him. Even laying in bed next to him, before, I wanted him to make the first move, to...let me do something with him without committing. But, he refused. I had to initiate it. He only wanted me if I wanted him.”

“And did you?”

“Oh, God, yes.” I covered my nose with my hands, as if in prayer. “It was overwhelming, sexy—did I say overwhelming?—beautiful...but it left me more confused. Not confused enough to not keep up some fooling around all summer, but I was a dick to him.”

“I see. How did that happen?”

I shrugged and leaned back again. “I made him see me in secret, ran him around like I was ashamed of him. Kept telling him I was attracted to girls and I was going to date them once school hit.”

“Oh,” he said, his face showing some sympathy. “That might not have been the best move, but it might have been what you were capable of at the time, Sean.”

“Well, I started dating this girl, Averi. It lasted less than a week,” I said with a large shoulder shrug and dropped my hands loudly against my thighs. “I wanted Ash. I wanted him in my life, I wanted him to be my boyfriend. The problem is, I'm not gay.”

“Oh. Oh, I see,” he said and made a few notes. “Well, sexual identity can be confusing, and sexuality can be a very fluid thing.”

“Do you know any straight guys that sleep with guys?”

“Well, there are men who identify as straight, right? But they can can have some intimate contact with a male and still consider themselves straight,” he said and put his papers down, again. “The idea of straight and gay and everything else is a construct of our society as we try to understand things. We, as humans, are most comfortable when we can hang a tag on something and know what it means. So, when someone calls themselves straight — it can be subjective, according to what straight means to them.”

“But if you sleep with guys, you're bi or gay. I mean, that's the definition.”

“Well, according to 'mob' mentality, yes. There will be people that want to put a label or a tag on you, right? That's so they can quantify you, identify you according to their definition and what they understand of your place in society. The problem is, how you see yourself may not line up with others' ideas of those labels and that's where the friction comes in.”

“Robin says he doesn't identify with anything, but if he was forced to choose, he'd say he's a pan-sexual.”

“That's a very good way to go about it, to not worry what that label is. The fact is, we fall in love for a lot of different reasons. How our body reacts sexually and what stimulates the mind aren't the same as love. When love and what stimulates us sexually come together, then we have a pretty good union. Can I ask you, Sean, why identifying as straight is important to you?”

“I dunno, stupid stuff, I guess.”

“Well, pretty important stuff, if it's causing you to feel unsettled.”

I paused and took a deep breath. “Well, first I wanted to because how else can I pass on anything from my mother?”

“Oh, I see, yeah,” he said, nodding. “But you know, not everything about your mom was genetic material, right? I mean, you can carry her forward by the way you act and how she raised you—her values, right?”

“Yeah, I guess. Seems like a cop out.”

“There might be other options to consider at that point in your life. What else?”

“I want...wanted to be like Jamie. To share that with him.” I looked up at the doctor and said, “I didn't think we could still double date and do all the things we wanted to—talk about our sex lives, what girls we liked. He shot that down, though.”

“All right.”

“But...the real problems started after I decided to date Ash. I felt like, as long as I was honest that I was attracted to girls, things would be okay.”

“Being honest is a solid start,” he agreed.

“Yeah, but my actions weren't so good. I kept hearing things. Like, in the locker room, these guys were talking about me—how last school year I'd been dating girls and now I was dating a guy. They rehashed what had happened to Ash, the rape, and then they were making jokes about him just being an easy target for me.”

“Oh. That's horrible!”

I nodded. “Another time, another group, they were wondering how I could go from liking pussy to wanting a smelly asshole.”

“Oh, yeah, that's harsh,” he agreed.

“Then there were a few girls that would tease me, say stuff about how they had liked me, if only I hadn't changed teams, shit like that.” I put my head down. “I listened to people—a lot of people—I don't even care about. I started thinking every comment was about me and—looking back—I can't see how that would happen, unless picking on me became some kind of pastime.”

“Well, kids can be very cruel, so I can understand your feelings.”

“Anyway...all that stuff would bounce around in my head and I'd take my anger out on Ash.” I closed my eyes. “He would beg to know what was wrong. All he wanted to do was help me. All I did was be an asshole to him.”

“Wow, that's a lot to carry, thank you for sharing that with me, I appreciate it.” He had a mournful look on his face, maybe something more than sympathy. I wasn't sure. “So, how did you leave things with Asher? How does this tie into what happened the other night?”

I hung my head in shame. My voice came out as a raspy whisper and I confessed to him, “I had rough sex with him. He shoved me off and then I told him if I was fucking pussy like I was supposed to, then it wouldn't hurt.”

“Oh. Oh, wow. That's a tough thing, sure,” he said and scribbled some notes.

“That's not the worst part,” I said, forcing myself to push the words out. “When I was in group today, this girl was talking about how she'd been molested as a kid and then, much later, this guy had rough sex with her and she had flashbacks.”

“Oh, wow, that's so sad.”

“Yeah. Well...I'm pretty sure that's what I did to my boyfriend,” I said, my voice breaking and my tears falling again.

~2Low4Zero~

Once I was in one piece again, I went out and had dinner and then got my meds. I was sitting on my bed, hating the slippers, elastic band pants and the slip on shirt—all so I couldn't, potentially, kill myself—and just felt like my life was over. How could I face anyone again? Once I did get to go home, the only thing I was thankful for was this was mostly happening over Thanksgiving break and, hopefully, no one at school had to know. After all, the only school I'd missed was the few days leading up to the break.

As I sat and stewed, I was surprised by Dr. Montgomery appearing in my door.

“Sean, that was such a big session today, I thought you might want to come back and just get some good news going before turning in tonight.”

“Okay,” I nodded, glad for something to break my misery. Once in his office, he waited for me to sit and then pressed a button on the phone on his desk, which he had set with the speakerphone activated. “Hi, are you still there?”

“It's Robin, actually. Jamie had to run to the bathroom; Mom made her spicy manicotti recipe tonight and, well, it clears you out. Is my brother there?”

I already felt tears trying to fill my eyes—he was still calling me his brother, after what I'd done. “I'm here, Rob. Jesus, it's good to hear your voice.”

“You too, buddy. You had us all really worried. Mom and Dad are coming to see you tomorrow, okay?”

“Okay, okay,” I said, my voice thick and I nodded even though Robin couldn't see.

“How are you doing? Are you okay?”

“Yeah. I'm working through stuff. Uh, man...Rob...Robin, I'm sorry I didn't understand what you meant. I'm sorry I made fun of you behind your back. I'm sorry I put this on you.”

“Hey,” Robin said, his voice softening. “I'll have plenty of time to kick your ass when you come home. Right now, you just focus on getting your head on straight.”

I barked laugh, covering my mouth and rocking in my chair.

“Sean, do you remember when we had to go to that wedding upstate? When I had that massive fight with Mom and Dad?”

“Yeah, I remember.”

“I remember you sticking up for me. Sticking up for my relationship. Me being here for you isn't just a gift, Sean. You earned my love and my loyalty. I'll always be here for you.”

“Uh. God, I don't....I don't know what to say.”

“Here comes Jamie. Listen, Sean. Your family misses you being home, so hurry up, huh? Love you.”

“I love you too, Robbie,” I said, my voice cracking.

The phone changed hands and Jamie's voice filled the room. “Sean?” Then it grew lower in volume as he said, “Robin, you better not have been fucking with me. He's here, right?”

“Jamie. I'm here,” I croaked out.

“Sean! Oh, thank goodness. What the fuck were you thinking? Why didn't you...okay, okay, right, beep, beep Jamie.”

I giggled. “Jamie, you have no idea how good it is to hear your voice.”

“I've missed you, too. Lots, like I can't even tell you. I can't sleep at night. Sean, you're supposed to be home.”

“I know,” I said, softly. “I'm sorry.”

“I have news, though. Robin and Lu broke up.”

“What?” I said in shock.

“Yeah. Mom's manicotti made Rob's asshole fall off, so Lu isn't interested—ow!”

There was some swearing from the other end and Robin was clearly giving Jamie some consequences. We heard running steps and the slam of a door.

“Okay, I'm in our room. Listen—are you still there?”

“Yeah,” I said, smiling at the phone and the disembodied voice. “I'm here.”

“Okay. I talked to Ash, he sends his love. Scott said to say hello, but he meant to send his love, too.”

I smiled and asked, “Ash really sent his love?”

“Yeah, of course. Although, you know what's messed up? He suggested I should, you know, tongue kiss you for him. I'm like, 'no, I'll tell him you love him, but if you want to send him love — like, literally— just climb in a box and mail yourself 'cause I have limits'. Can you believe that guy?”

By then Jamie and I were both laughing and I felt better than I had in days. “Listen, though. Um. The folks told me to keep things light and positive so...Sean, I've been really worried for you. I'm sorry I yelled at you instead of trying to help. You're so stupidly important to me. I really need you to get better and come home, okay? I promise I'll be looking out for you, I'll take care of you, but you have to come home. I miss you...and I love you.”

~2Low4Zero~

When I went to bed, I tried to think about more positive things to keep myself upbeat. Talking to Robin and Jamie had helped me tremendously, and I was warm with emotion and gratitude for them. I started thinking about Ash and, at the time, how surprised I'd been that he'd wanted me to make love to him.

In retrospect, I shouldn't have been. His virginity, his innocence was ripped from him and he wanted someone he loved to change that, to replace that. I was pretty scared, after all, as I'd seen those porno scenes. But it wasn't anything like that. It was slow, and I tried to be gentle, only moving when he was ready. He seemed to have some idea how things would work—I mean, the porn only helped me out so much. It was mind blowingly intense and it broke the dam for me. All the pent up emotions that, collectively, we call love came flooding through for this gentle soul that picked me out of everyone to erase his hurt.

Every time we had sex or kissed or held hands—hell, just talked about things that you can only talk about with someone you trust—I felt I'd fallen just a little more for him and just a little more—and I fought it. What was Jamie going to think if he knew I was craving Asher all the time? What about our plans? What about...us? How could we talk girls and everything with me getting all...bent? Of course, he didn't care and I should have been free to explore my relationship with Ash, but I found a way to screw it up. I only hoped that Dr. Montgomery had given me a way to save myself. If Ash still loved me, maybe I could fix this. Maybe he could find it in his heart to forgive me.

~2Low4Zero~

I slept well that night and was more prepared for the morning and my parents' visit. We sat down in the office and Dr. Montgomery brought them up to date on my progress, reiterating that I wasn't dependent on alcohol. I was sure it was a show for me; some attempt at showing transparency. After all, there was no way he hadn't put their minds at ease about my potential dependency issues.

“Sean and I are working on the underlying causes of his stress and why he went for the alcohol in such a big way the other night. I was hoping we could solve that issue as well as some other lingering emotional concerns he has, if possible.”

“Of course,” they said, nearly in unison. I was sandwiched between them on a couch and, rather than feeling closed in, I felt good. Safe.

“So, Sean had some concerns about what I'd share with you. I believe you both are already aware of his sexual contact, considering you made the appointment for the check-up?”

They both nodded and murmured that they did, in fact, know.

“Sean...I guess we should have had a deeper discussion with you about STD's, especially given Asher's history,” Mom said.

“What? No, oh, no,” I said, standing and waiving a hand at her. “Ash didn't give it to me, you can't ever think that.”

Glancing at each other in confusion, Dad turned to me. “Okay, son, why don't you...clarify things for us?”

I closed my eyes. “I cheated on Ash. With a girl. She gave it to me. The clap, I mean.”

I heard him exhale deeply. Silence swelled in the room; like a working of black magic that seemed to take on an oppressive weight until my father chose to break it. “We all do things we—” He cleared his throat. “We all have lapses in judgment, Sean. I think that you're right to be upset with yourself, disappointed.”

“I'm a cheater who's the son of a cheater,” I whispered.

“Excuse me?”

“It's true,” I said, my voice wavering as I looked at him. “You were going to say we all do things we regret. Right up there with we all make mistakes. That's me, right? The mistake making a mistake?”

“No, no, God no.” In moments he was on his knees in front of me, holding both my hands in his. “I admit you were a surprise, but I've never regretted you. Not once! Not for one minute!”

I wanted to believe him, but I felt a wave of self pity and found it difficult to accept his words at face value.

“Sean, you were a gift, in so many ways,” he said earnestly. “Evelyn adores you, Jamie thinks you walk on water and I'm very proud of the person your mother raised you to be. I understand why she wanted to keep you all to herself—you're a wonderful kid.”

I closed my eyes. “I screwed up, royally.”

“Yeah,” he said softly. “You did. There will be consequences for that. Considering what you have, then the doctor will need to know this girls name—it's a public safety hazard.”

I snorted and smiled bitterly. “Yeah. She sure is.”

My dad resumed his seat and I took a chair nearby as the therapist restarted the session. “Sean, if you're feeling up to it, now that we know dependency isn't an issue, we should address what happened the other night.” He shuffled his papers around and sat, waiting for me to start.

“It's pretty simple, really.” I took a deep breath and lunged forward, “I was pretty upset with myself after everything that happened with Ash, and then with my cheating on him. I was feeling really down and Jamie, somehow, found out what was going on. He and I...we argued, really badly. He wasn't speaking to me because of my cheating, for hurting his friend, for letting him down...I had so many things swirling in my head. I was feeling guilty because Robin had opened up to me about really personal things that I had no business knowing to try and help me deal with my...conflicting feelings about my...sexuality. And I kind of crapped on his advice.

“So, with all that going on in my mind, I couldn't sleep. I went downstairs to take a shot or two, so I could get some rest.” I hesitated and looked back and forth at my parents. “After each shot, I was still thinking. My mind was still...reeling. I was falling down so fast and...I remember I got the idea to go up and hash things out with Jamie, and then I was thinking of texting Ash or walking over to see him. But, while I was thinking of that, the alcohol didn't burn any more and I just kept...drinking it.”

I cleared my throat.

“Sean, sweetheart...I wish you had come to us,” Evelyn said.

“I know. But, it wouldn't have mattered.” I shook my head and said, “I talked to a lot of people. The problem was, I didn't accept what people who loved me told me. I kept thinking I was missing out on something, something I was supposed to be after.”

“And...have you been able to resolve those emotions?”

“Mostly,” I said with a nod. “I love Ash. I love him so much, it hurts. I like girls, and I liked...” my face flushed but I forced myself to continue, “what I did with her. But there were big differences. Now I understand what Robin was trying to tell me about emotions and how different the experiences are when you love who you're with. I want to be with Ash.”

My dad nodded and looked at Evelyn, who was gently nodding. We talked a little more about if I thought I was gay and coming to talk to them when things get bad for me. All in all, I was pretty relieved to have this stuff off my shoulders and out in the open, privacy be damned. As they stood to leave, they gave me hugs and, as they were heading for the door, Evelyn turned.

“I almost forgot. Asher came by early this morning. Jamie told him we were coming to see you and he asked us to bring you something.” She handed me a small packet and I knew what it was before I opened it.

“Sean, if you could go ahead and open that here, I'd be grateful. We do have to be careful of what comes into the building,” the doctor said.

I dutifully opened the foil to reveal cookies with a note. 'I miss you, Cookie Monster. Come home soon. Love, Ash.'

After lunch I went to group and shared my story with them. I wasn't sure if it would help anyone, and it was still embarrassing, but I had a growing feeling that it was necessary to say it. At least here, I could control it. Here, I was free to reveal my warts and didn't have to fear being judged—or if I was, I didn't care. My goals were simple: to go home, obtain Ash's forgiveness and date him. Date him hard.

The afternoon session was an easy affair. We talked about my newfound confidence in my choices and we discussed my supports and things like that. It had the feeling of something that was getting closer to a formality — things you say before you end therapy or something. He did suggest I continue to get therapy, and he was referring us to a Dr. Freeman in town, because things happen and I had been struggling with this for a long time.

I slept well and then wandered through the weekend a little aimlessly, with no sessions to attend. I had different activities, but they didn't engage me. In fact, over the course of what turned into a long weekend, my newfound good attitude had burst like a bubble as I gnawed over the fear that Ash wouldn't ever forgive me. How could he, with what I'd done to him?

Monday brought a return to session and I told Dr. Montgomery how my thoughts had turned back on me over the weekend.

“That's not a total surprise,” he said and smiled to reassure me. I didn't feel so reassured, though. Continuing he said, “Sometimes we see a way out, an exit, and think that it's all over and then some detail will come back to us and we realize it isn't as black and white as we thought.”

I nodded in response, but didn't speak.

“The important thing to remember is balance, Sean. It's like a pendulum, if you can picture that. You swung way out in one direction, right? That was your drinking and all that went with that. Then you got better and you felt really good, so the opposite end of the spectrum, okay? Now, you went back a bit the other way, but it's not as bad as it was before, right? I mean, you feel bad but not as miserable? Is that fair?”

“Yeah,” I said, my voice thick. “Actually, yeah. I just...I wish I could see my family and Ash.”

“Of course. Well, let's get through our session and talk about what's been on your mind this weekend, okay?”

That night turned out to be a huge surprise, a test maybe. I was sitting in the common area, ignoring the TV, when Dr. Montgomery came to see me.

“Sean, come on over here, would you? You have some visitors.”

I got up, excitedly, and was escorted to an adjacent room. Inside I found Kale, Robin, Jamie and Asher waiting for me. I rushed to them, tears bursting from my eyes as I went from one to the other, hugging them and apologizing. Dr. Montgomery told me to have a good visit and he said he'd come back for me in about thirty minutes.

Kale was standing and looking down at me. I opened my mouth to ask him if something was wrong, but he spoke in a pained voice that I almost didn't recognize.

“You've changed so much, gone through so much. Where was I?” he asked and sat down on the arm of the chair and placed an arm around my shoulders.

“You have a life, Kale,” I said quietly.

“You're part of my life, Sean,” he said, frowning. “Or you're supposed to be. I feel like I let you down.”

I opened my mouth to respond but he held his own hand up to forestall me. “No. Your job isn't to forgive me or tell me there was nothing I could have done. I'm your brother. The fact that you're going to do things none of us want you to is irrelevant. For me to be so disconnected from your life that this all came as a surprise? No. I need to fix our relationship. I want to be there for you.”

“Kale, no offense, but I went to my brothers. I did this to myself. Robin gave me sound advice and I didn't take it.”

He pursed his lips. “I don't like it. I don't know you anymore, and I want to.”

I nodded slowly in agreement.

“Are you done acting like the brother that matters? Because he belongs to me, you know,” Jamie said. “I'm the one that walks him, feeds him and picks up after him.”

“Jamie, you don't even pick up after you,” Robin snickered.

“Shut it, Robbie! I was on a roll!”

I laughed at Jamie's antics, and we talked about things, normal stuff, and it was almost like I wasn't in a facility. Robin checked the time on his phone and he stood. “Come on, guys. Let's give them a minute.”

We all stood, then, and Jamie gave me a rare, voluntary, hug. He whispered in my ear, “Be honest. He loves you. So do I, so don't fuck it up. And come home super fast, I miss you really bad.”

I clutched him to me and said, “I promise.”

Once they left, I turned to face Ash. He looked nervous as I approached him, and then took a seat across from him.

“I so fucked up,” I said.

He pursed his lips with a nervous expression and nodded slowly. “I have to ask...was there anything I could have done?”

“No.” I shook my head. “You did everything you could, Ash. This is all on me and I know it. I owe you so many apologies, I don't know if you can ever forgive me.”

“Well,” he said cautiously, “I guess I need to know what I'm forgiving you for.”

It hit me, suddenly, that Ash didn't know. With a heavy feeling of gloom settling around me, I realized I had one more confession to make.

“Oh. You know, I've been talking about my problems so much here, I think I forgot you didn't know,” I said, feeling stupid. “Um. I'll explain, but, let me start off by saying I love you, Ash. I'm sorry for the hurtful things I said and did. I'm sorry for the things I'm about to say, that I know will hurt you and...I just hope you can let me try and make it up to you.”

“You're scaring me, Sean.”

“I'm sorry,” I said, softly. I took a deep breath. “I just needed you to hear that before I said anything else.

“Three big things. I'm sorry for the shitty way I treated you for months, the way I talked about girls and not letting you feel secure in our relationship.”

“We talked about that. We worked through it.” He reached out and touched my hand tentatively. I accepted his touch, hoping it wasn't one of the last times he'd touch me.

“It's all tied together, Ash,” I said. I paused, gathering myself and said, “Second...uh, oh boy....” I glanced down at the floor and held my hands together to still the shaking.

“It's okay, Sean. I'm right here when you're ready.”

“God, you're too good for me,” I said suddenly and pulled my hands back, rubbing my face and pushing my fingers through my hair.

“What? Don't say that!” Ash admonished.

Guilt crept over me and, unable to meet his eyes, I asked, “Ash...when we were intimate a few weeks ago...did I scare you? Did I make you fee the way...you felt with Ed Mullins?”

Ash took a sharp breath and looked away from me. Slowly he wrapped his arms around himself and closed his eyes. He pressed his lips together and gave me a small nod before speaking. “Yes, for a moment. It was very scary for me. You've never touched me in anger and...well, it hurt, Sean. My heart, my body...it all hurt.”

“You should hate me for that,” I said slowly. “I heard a girl in group...well, it doesn't matter. When I heard her story, I suddenly realized just how awful I'd been to you. I know it wasn't something minor; I understand, now, how much I really hurt you. I'm so, so sorry for that.”

His wounded gaze met mine and he said, “I didn't have to face Ed. I was face down. When you...took me, your eyes were closed. It was like you didn't want to see me under you. That hurt my heart. The way you pushed in and...” He looked away, “That hurt, too. A lot.”

“Saying I'm sorry isn't enough,” I said thickly, my throat constricted. “When that girl told her story, I was horrified for her, then I realized that I'd done that to you. I've never felt lower in my life than I did right then.”

He nodded slowly. “I know it wasn't you, not the real you. I know you.”

“You may not want to. I still have more.”

“You're breaking up with me,” he said with finality in his voice.

“What?”

“You can't handle dating a guy. Right?” he said, one tear tracking slowly down his face. “You love me but you can't do it.” He hung his head, “I was afraid of this.”

“Ash, no!” I exclaimed. “After everything I've done, and I haven't even told you the worst, I'm not sure how you could want me!”

He looked at me, sadness filling his face and he forced a small smile. “Ever since I first saw you, Sean, so effortlessly confident, I wanted you. After I accepted that you'd come to my shit-hole trailer just to check on my well being, I wanted you. Every day I grew to know you for who you were, I wanted you more. I wanted you to be part of my life, to maybe teach me some of the things that seem to come so naturally to you. But, when you made love to me it was like...” His lower lip quivered and another tear raced after the first. “It was like the first time you see the sun after days and days of rain and clouds and...”

“That night changed me, too,” I said. “I didn't know it could be like that.”

“I didn't, either,” he said with a shrug and pulled a tissue to his face, blotting his face. “But I knew if anyone was going to show me what a beautiful act it could be, it was you.” He barked a laugh, “I couldn't even think about sex for the longest time after Ed raped me. I love you so much, I knew you were the right person to show me what sex was supposed to be about.”

“I had no experience, though,” I said, my voice tinged with confusion. “I wasn't a skilled sex partner or anything.”

“You brought way more to the bedroom than experience, Sean,” he said. His eyes were shimmering and, more than ever, I wanted to hold him. But I knew I had to finish what I'd started.

“I still have one more confession.” He sat waiting, letting me gather myself to lay my sins at his feet. “I cheated on you, Ash. I screwed a girl and she gave me the clap.”

Large tears welled in his eyes and, before they could fall, my vision blurred with my own tears. He stood, suddenly, turning blindly as if he were unsure where to go. Just as suddenly, he stopped and looked down at me with a sad, beaten, lost expression. The hammer had landed and I'd broken him.

“How could you? Was sex with me so...bad?” he asked. As I shook my head, he spoke again, his voice taking on a tone that spoke volumes about being hurt and trying to hurt me back. “Was it because sex with me doesn't count since it isn't p-pussy? That I can't take it like you should be dishing it out?”

I put my face in my hands and pressed. “No. It's nothing like that, Ash. I swear.”

“Should I just shut up and take it like a man, Sean? Will that make my ass acceptable t-to you?” he cried, his voice wavering and I shuddered under his onslaught of pain. “How about if I lay on my stomach and just bite the pillow? Or you can throw a bag over my head and pretend I'm just flat-chested? How would that be? Would that work for you?”

Silence descended on us like a living thing. I hung my head in shame, deserving every emotional blow Ash hit me with.. I deserved it all and more. Tears streamed down my face and I crushed them, not feeling deserving of that luxury. But before I could sink farther, Ash was squatting in front of me.

“Please tell me sex with me meant more than that. Please, Sean. Please.”

I lifted my gaze, blurry as it was. I sniffled and rubbed my eyes. He was clearer, now, and the fire had burnt out of him. He was shaking, waiting for me to speak.

“S-sex with you is...the most beautiful thing, Ash.” My breath hitched and I forced myself to continue. “My problems were that I wanted you, but that I also...there is nothing...” I dropped my gaze to the floor and moaned. “Ash, I love you so much.”

“So, what does this mean, Sean?” he asked, his voice a horrible parody of his normal tone. “What are you telling me? You want forgiveness? What for? Which part?”

“I...I don't deserve your forgiveness, Ash,” I glanced up at the ceiling, at the industrial looking florescent lights and said, “I've betrayed you. I hurt you and I betrayed you. It's been killing me”

The room was filled with silence, just the sounds of our breathing. “That hurt, Sean. That hurt a lot. Oh, God, it hurts,” he moaned. “I can't believe it, I just...can't”

I nodded miserably.

“Did you...” he began, then closed his eyes and licked his lips before finishing, with a shaky breath, “...find out what you needed to know?”

“Yes.”

“Well, that's good, I guess,” he said, his voice a broken whisper. “So, this is how it ends then? A confused mess, just the way we started. I am such a fool.”

“None of this is your fault, Ash.”

“How can it not be?” he asked, loathing filling his voice. “You didn't want this from the start. I was the one that kept hanging on and hoping you'd magically change. I...I'm such a fuck up.”

I slid off my chair and knelt before him. He turned his head, resting his elbow on the arm of the chair and his chin in his hand. I took his other hand,m cradling it in my hands and resting the backs of my hands in his lap. “Ash, I thought about you for months. The kind of love you give me, no one else can.”

He snorted but said nothing.

“I know I wanted to be straight. I know I tried not to be in a relationship with you and I know you did everything you could to let me work through my own issues. But, Ash,” I said, tentatively squeezing his free hand. “I made my own choices, bad choices. Loving you was the best one I made, practically the only good decision.

“I threw away good advice from Robin—in fact I made fun of him behind his back, and now I think maybe it's because...I'm more like him than I wanted to accept. What he said, it made sense, but I didn't want to accept any of it. I made the decision to...hurt you. To have s-sex with that skank. All of this is on me, not you.”

He glanced at me, his eyes rimmed in red. But he wasn't pulling his hand back from me, so I had hope that I was getting through.

I sniffled. “I love you. I was wrong. I listened to people that weren't the ones that love me. If you won't have me anymore, I understand, but I hope you'll let me try to make this up to you, somehow.”

“How am I supposed to do that, Sean?” he asked, his voice laced with misery. “I trusted you. I trusted you with my heart and my body. I forgave you treating me like I was a placeholder until the right girl came along. I forgave you treating me like a dirty secret. I forgave you for all your little cuts over the past few months. How am I supposed to do that, now?”

I shook my head. “I don't know, Ash. The only thing that comes to me is for you to take some time; and I'll wait for you.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You told me you loved me. You were patient, waiting for me to realize I loved you, too. You waited for me to work through my feelings over the summer, and waited for me to grow up even when we made things official.” I wiped my eyes and looked at him resolutely. “Now, I've fucked it up. I was always looking for the girl that would make me straight again and...there are a lot of guys out there who would appreciate you for who you are, Ash.

“You are sweet and strong. You are patient and kind. You're smart and really, really good looking...and I threw all that away. It's taken me this long to realize what I had, what I was risking.” I hesitated, then finished with what was so hard for me to say. “To realize who I am.” I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Then, “So, Ash, now it's my turn to wait. I have to prove to you that I love you and how sorry I am. I'm going to wait until that happens, because you're worth it.”

He crossed his arms over his chest, sniffling and wiping the odd tear with his thumb. “What about girls?”

“I'm done with other people. All I want is you.”

“Didn't the sex feel good?” he pushed.

“Yes,” I confessed. “But, I finally understand. I know the difference between sex and love. I know being with you is making love. I learned it the hard way, but it's true — now I know. When it's us? Ash, you leave me speechless.”

“I...do?”

“Sometimes...that's why I cried. I didn't know what else to do.”

We were quiet for a moment as he absorbed my words. I looked at him with nervous hope, wondering if it was already too late or if he'd give me the chance I so desperately needed. He stood, looking at me warily and said, “So...what do you want?”

“To earn your forgiveness. I want to be with you, Ash. I want to love you and be your boyfriend and tell everyone that's who I am.” I struggled to my feet so that I was facing him. “Could you ever still want me?”

“Sean...you've broken my heart so many times.” He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and looked at me forlornly. He slowly sat in his chair and I mirrored him, with my hands clasped before me. “When things were bad with my old home, I'd retreat into myself. A safe spot in my head where hunger and fear couldn't get to me. Later, after I met you, I didn't have that room anymore. I had you.

“Then,” he said, taking a shaky breath, “I forgot how to have that safe place without you. Every time you break my heart, I have no place to go. Every time you hurt me, I have nowhere to feel safe and recover.” He placed his hands together and took a few ragged breaths. “Sean, I placed my trust in you, my heart in you.”

“And I destroyed them,” I whispered.

His gaze drifted to mine and he nodded. “But all I keep hearing, from the first time we made love, is wanting me to do things. Make the first move. Start things. You never understood that this only works if it's what you want, too. But, Sean...I don't know how many more heartbreaks I have in me.”

“I don't want to break your heart, Ash. I just want to try together, us together, and to learn how to love you the way you deserve. I want to be your safe place.”

The room was silent, the buzz of the lights filling my ears as hope and fear bloomed uncontrollably in my chest, a two-headed monster fighting to death.

“I haven't forgiven you,” he said, softly.

“I know. All I asked for is a chance. I...I know I don't deserve that, or you. I don't deserve the loyalty Robin and Jamie have given me. My actions, my decisions...” I said and sighed. I lifted my gaze and looked into his face. “Ash, I hit bottom. I have to rebuild me, but a better version of me. No matter what you decide, I'm going to be there for you. And if, somehow, you give me another chance...you'll always know how much I love you.”

Slowly he pulled his hands apart and hesitantly reached out for me. I wasted no time in taking his hand and pulling myself to him, rocking him as he cried.

~2Low4Zero~

I went home a few days later. There was a small party to welcome me home, and I was grateful only people that loved me and would never hurt me knew how far I'd fallen. There would be questions at school about my absence, and some of it would likely get out; but I was stronger, now, for having cracked up completely. Now I knew what I had and the rest would come in time. Owning my mistakes and chasing the things that matter, that was my focus, now. We had a group sleepover, after, and Ash snuggled into me and I felt at peace, finally, at peace.

Asher Ellis is my boyfriend, and I want the world to know it.

~The End~