“I should go in and get ready,” he said.
“Mmm hmm,” I replied, continuing to stroke the back of his hand with my thumb.
“I know, I said it before, but…I really should.”
“I’m not stopping you.”
“Ash,” he said and sighed. “You knew I liked Averi. I just didn’t think she’d like me back.”
“That’s because you’re stupid,” I said and laughed as he shoved me.
“Just because you think no one is out of reach for me doesn’t mean I’m that full of myself,” he said with a snort.
“Yeah, I know. Good thing, though—you’d be impossible to be around.”
He squinted at me. “Are you trying to aggravate me?”
“Me? No. Why would I do that?”
“Ash, come on. I have a date, don’t make me feel bad.”
“Sean…” I started, and fell silent. “I’m sorry. I’m not trying to, honestly.”
He looked at me doubtfully for a moment and then nodded. “Okay. Well, I’ll text you when I get back, okay?”
“Yeah,” I said. He glanced around furtively and, after confirming there were no prying eyes, he kissed me chastely on the lips.
“Love you,” he said and got up off the deck, not waiting for my response.
“Love you more,” I said, but I wasn’t sure he’d heard. With I sigh I hopped off the deck and started the walk home.
I was having emotions I had no right to have and I was beating myself up a little for it. Ever since that first night, Sean had been clear that he had a major interest in girls and there were no other guys he was even vaguely interested in. While this fed my ego, to a degree, it also made Sean question further who he was or who he saw himself as. Before, he’d known—he wanted to date girls and a lot of them. He’d seen a girl last school year on and off, but they didn’t live close and that had effectively ended for the summer.
Then, we happened. Even with him being very clear about what he wanted, I think we both knew he wasn’t really sure about that anymore. I wasn’t sure if this double date was him trying to prove to himself he was straight or if it was the end of this summer romance we’d been engaging in.
I felt a little weird about the whole thing, considering Sean didn’t want everyone to know. So, we weren’t an official couple and we didn’t, officially, go on dates. We just told people we were hanging out. We’d had some epic talks about his old life in Boston, about his mom and his old friends and early crushes. We talked about things we hoped for, wanted for the future. He often encouraged me to think about life after high school, which hadn’t even been on my radar.
If we were alone, there was always a chance of things becoming physical. We'd reached a fever pitch one morning when we’d gone for a hike. Jamie had elected not to go, deciding sleep was more important, and so we’d ridden over to a trail and made the modest climb. We paused on the trail and he looked at me out of the corner of his eye and pursed his lips.
“I think it’s bullshit I always have to start,” he’d said.
“Ever since that first night, you always make me come to you. I have to kiss you first, hug you or whatever before you’ll do anything but hold my hand! I thought you wanted me?”
Well, I’d dragged him in the bushes and showed him exactly how much I wanted him. From there, we still talked, but the subjects grew far wider. I knew, now, the way he liked to be touched, that he liked me initiating things because he liked the feeling of being pursued. I knew that, for all his outward calm, he was just as insecure as anyone else and was really wrestling with what his feelings for me meant.
Sometimes, after we were done, he’d cry. I would hold him and rub the back of his neck and up into his hair until he felt better. It dawned on me, one sunny afternoon as he lay in my arms and dozed after a crying jag, the level of trust he was placing in me. A man is vulnerable in more ways than one when he’s nude—in the sense of having no armor if he were to fight, in the sense of acceptance or ridicule from a potential mate, and the list goes on. We, as males, are conditioned not to cry by our society. So to have him lie with me, nude and in tears…
I’d felt horrible, the first time he’d cried afterward. “What's wrong?” I'd asked him as he clutched me. Not knowing what was hurting him, all I could do was pull him to me tightly and wait.
He explained, haltingly, that I was one of the few people that really understood him and his losses. I knew what it was to lose a parent, I knew the struggle he was engaged in with our affair and I was, according to him, treating him with love, respect and understanding.
“But, Sean,” I’d said. “I don’t understand why what we do makes you cry?”
“Because,” he’d replied hesitantly, nestled into me, “You keep caring about me even though I'm all messed up about us. It makes me even more confused because I know it has to hurt some and...I know my mom would have wanted me to have someone like you.”
I turned down my street and examined this jealousy I felt towards this girl I didn’t know who was dating Sean in public tonight. He’d always been clear he intended to date girls, even while he’d begged me to understand that he didn’t want to hurt me. He was blameless in this, I knew. This was all on me, harboring the stupid hope that the summer romance we’d shared would solidify into something more even as I let him believe everything was fine.
I wouldn’t tell him how much it hurt, because that wasn’t fair. I resolved I’d be supportive, even if I'd have to bite my tongue until it bled. I’d also cling to the hope that this girl wouldn’t be the one to take him from me; after all, he and Jamie had double dated a few times over the summer. Each time my stomach would clench and twist in knots until I knew it was over and Sean was still mine, for now.
Of course, he wasn’t mine. He was with me voluntarily, even if it was in secret, and he would walk into some girl's arms at any point—and there was nothing I could do about it.
Even so, I waited for him to text later. If he said he would, he always did. As I watched TV with my family that night, my phone buzzed and I checked it slowly, with a feeling of dread.
‘OMG, she’s wonderful!’
Shit. I sighed and felt a stone settle on my heart as I texted him back, ‘That’s awesome, Sean! I’m happy for you!’
“Okay, so, when one of these coolers gets low, toss it on the back of the cart and run it back to the building to get refilled. Paper cups are kept in the cage next to the spigot and make sure there are a few spare garbage bags; I don’t want to see a bunch of empty cups left on the sideline,” Coach Rivers told me. “Questions?”
“No, Coach,” I replied.
Jamie had tried to recruit me for football, as did my brother, Scott. I just wasn’t a football kind of guy, but I hooked on as a team manager / water boy so I could hang out with them and get them off my back. I set up the tables and, with some help, put the big coolers of water out for the guys along with disposable paper cups. The setup was pretty simple and, after it was done, just required maintenance until practice was over. Then, the breakdown was just as simple.
I retreated to the bleachers to sit for a few minutes while the guys were on the field running a drill.
“Hi. Asher Romanski, right?”
I turned to face a very, very pretty girl. Her hair was an exotic raven black that shimmered in the summer sun and she had deep, dark green eyes. She was smiling at me and waiting for a response.
“Ellis. Asher Ellis,” I replied.
“Oh? Are you related to Scott Ellis?”
“Yeah. Um, he’s my brother.”
“Really? I didn’t know he had a brother,” she replied, as if she were delighted to learn this.
“I was adopted a few weeks ago,” I replied.
“Really? How does that feel?”
“Pretty awesome,” I replied honestly.
She smiled broadly, showing off a pretty smile that had charmed many boys, I'm sure; maybe the odd girl as well. “That’s wonderful. I’m sorry to bug you, but I was wondering if I could get a cup of water for my brother?” She pointed to a large guy who was resting his arms on top of the fence that ringed the field. “He has Down’s and he won’t move from the fence until practice is over, but I have to keep him hydrated—he’s passed out before.”
“Oh, wow. Yeah, of course, I’ll get it for you,” I said and trotted over to the water table. I returned with two cups and she thanked me. Before she could turn away, a familiar voice called out as she approached.
“Averi! Don’t you go hitting on Asher!” Emily said, laughing.
“I wasn’t!” she protested, a blush blooming on her cheeks. “He just brought me some water for Andy,” she said, showing the new arrival the cups in her hand.
“Hi, Em,” I said with a grin. Emily had been dating Jamie for about six weeks, and I absolutely loved her. Her wit was sharp and she was clearly a match for Jamie. They teased easily back and forth and I found her to be a positive delight.
“Asher. You shouldn’t tease nice girls, you know,” she said with a gleam in her eye. “It’s just not fair when they can’t have you.”
“She just asked for water for her brother,” I said, blushing at her insinuation.
“That’s not her brother,” she said. There was a pause and then she started to laugh.
“Emily, don't make me pour this water on you!” Averi threatened. Turning to me she said, “He is my brother and if you know Emily, you know you have to take everything she says with a grain of salt.”
Averi walked over to the big guy, who took the water from her without moving from the fence. He was talking to her, though, and gesturing toward the field.
“I’m sure she’s just here to pump you for information,” Emily said, putting a hand on her hip and leaning into me like I was furniture.
“Me?” I asked with a grin. “Does she want dirt on you? She should know you aren’t on the market.”
“Oh, hah. Wise guy,” she snorted. “No, she was Sean’s date last night and they seemed to hit it off.”
“Oh,” I said, suddenly recalling her name. I had intentionally blocked the names of Sean’s dates from my mind—it made it easier—but he’d said he’d liked this one for a while and now…oh, damn. She was beautiful and seemed sweet—exactly the kind of person he should have.
“Ah, so Sean mentioned her to you,” Emily said in a sly tone. “What did he say?”
“Um. He liked her,” I admitted. One side effect of keeping everything secret was getting caught in situations like this. I hated to admit he liked her, I hated to admit she was pretty and I hated how I couldn't even get any respect as the guy he was seeing at the moment. Averi returned from delivering the water and smiled at me, her cheeks still showing some red on her porcelain skin.
“I appreciate the water. Andy loves football and he watches it whereever he can find it.”
“You're welcome,” I replied.
“So, I guess Sean said something to his best buddy, Asher,” Emily said in a sing—song voice, bumping me but directing her voice to Averi.
“I'm sorry,” Averi said, blushing. “Sean was such a gentleman last night and the few guys I've dated were real duds, to be honest. So when Emily said I could find out more about him through you, it seemed like a good idea.” She held a hand up and said quickly, “I was going to tell you why I wanted to ask! I wasn't going to ask you to betray a confidence or anything.”
I felt trapped. On the one hand, I wanted to keep Sean to myself, even if it was just for a little while longer. On the other hand, she seemed very nice and...he was my best friend. Shouldn't I want the best for him?
“What...uh, what did you want to ask?”
“Do you mind? You don't look very comfortable,” she said and then glanced at Emily before looking back at me. I also glanced at Emily, who was watching me with a speculative gaze that made me instantly uncomfortable. I turned my attention back to Averi and smiled.
“Sure, what do you want to know?”
“Well...tell me one thing about him that describes who he is.”
“That's easy,” I replied. “Once, he thought a deaf girl was pretty and he wanted to meet her, so he learned sign language.”
“He learned...wow.” Her eyes were side and she appeared truly impressed.
“Yeah, that's another good word for him.” Oops, that might not have been the smartest thing to say.
“I guess you think he's pretty special, then?” she asked, smiling.
Shouldn't there be a whistle by now? Ending practice or needing more water or something? I thought there were a lot of whistles in football.
“He's the best friend I ever had,” I said honestly.
“Jamie will be offended,” Emily said with a snort.
“I'm not worried,” I said breezily, relieved to turn the conversation away from Sean. “I'm sure you have him under control.”
“I do,” she said smartly. “But I can turn him loose on you any time I want,” she said with a giggle.
“Question is, will I give him back?” I replied, arching an eyebrow at her.
“Aren't you saucy today?” she laughed.
Two sharp whistles came from the field and a large group of guys headed for the water table.
“That's my cue. Ladies,” I said, putting my fingers to the bill of my cap.
“Sir,” Emily said, pretending to curtsy. “Hey, if you see my boyfriend and his brother, tell them to come say hello.”
“Okay,” I replied and headed over to the water table. There was a stream of guys queuing up and guzzling water and then going back for seconds. Scott spotted me and waved with his cup and went back to swigging. I walked over to him as he crumpled his cup and tossed it into the garbage.
“Hey, seen the wonder twins?”
“Um,” he glanced around quickly and then pointed. “Over there, sitting on their helmets. Why? What's up?”
“Emily is here with Averi, the girl Sean dated last night.”
“Yeah? What's she look like?” he said, peering past me.
“She's a knockout,” I confessed. “She likes Sean, too.”
“Sean hasn't gone on a date with the same girl twice this summer. Get me her number when they don't go back out, huh?” Scott smiled and walked over to his teammates. I rolled my eyes and headed over to Sean and Jamie and let them know the girls were there to see them.
Sean studied my face as I delivered my message and I forced a smile. My official duties saved me, then, as I loaded the coolers up onto the back of the cart and drove it back to the side of the school where a set of double doors stood open. I backed in and then refilled the coolers and grabbed another package of cups for insurance before heading back over.
The guys were back on the field and I got help from an assistant to put the heavy coolers back in place. I glanced over to see the girls were still there. Wiping my brow, I poured two more cups for Andy and headed back up to do my best friend duty.
Thursday nights had turned into our movie night at the Kirkwoods. Friday was, traditionally, date night and on weekends the Kirkwoods were trying to get the kids out of the house, so we picked Thursday night. Usually 'us' meant Jamie and Sean, Scott and whoever he was dating at the time, me, Emily and sometimes Robin and Lucien. Emily was constantly making jokes about recruiting guys to her side, just to tweak Jamie. Of course, that didn't work out all that well, considering her audience.
“I'm telling you, Jamie,” she'd said one night. “If you can't figure out how to be romantic, I'm just going to steal Lucien, there, with his cute French name and everything.”
Jamie burst out laughing at her. “Yeah, you go ahead and try. On a scale of one to ten on how gay he is, that's a ten. On how gay he is for Robin? A hundred and fifty. So, please, I want to watch you try!”
“Lucien,” she'd said. “You have to help me out. It's not good for Jamie's ego to let him think he's right.”
Lucien had proceeded to do the worst imitation of romance ever, by kissing her hand and then, comically, kissing up her arm while making loud smooching noises.
Needless to say, a movie didn't always get watched, but we called it movie night, regardless. When we did watch a movie, Sean and I usually managed to scrunch together and that was definitely something I looked forward to. So you can imagine my dismay when Scott and I approached the front porch to the Kirkwood's home to find Emily and Averi ringing the bell.
“That her?” Scott asked, leaning his mouth close to my ear.
“The one Sean dated? That her? From football practice yesterday?”
“Oh. Uh, yeah,” I confirmed.
“Damn. Do you know if he likes her?”
“Yeah. He does.”
“Go, Sean. I'm impressed,” Scott chuckled.
Greetings were quick and tangled as the door opened as we mounted the steps. Mrs. Kirkwood had tried out a new cookie recipe and had made a very large batch. She'd invited us all to try a sample and she noted Sean sitting close by Averi and paying her attention. She subtly moved over to get to know this new girl, one that Sean was obviously enamored with.
I realized right then that it was over. He wasn't going to kiss me again or anything else. A very small voice in my head was indignant that I'd even accept his touch if he was with someone else, but it was right. I knew the feeling would grow, but that didn't change that my heart was breaking while cookies and milk were being handed out.
I kept half an ear to the conversation, trying to distract myself until I could go home and fall apart in private. There was laughter around the table and jokes were flying. Averi was giving Sean small touches to get his attention in the noise: his forearm, the back of his hand...and then his hand rolled over and, just like that, they were holding hands.
I inhaled at that time, and cookie crumbs went down my windpipe. I started coughing as the bits of cookie irritated my throat and my eyes started to water. The coughing was uncontrollable and the irritation seemed to go on forever. Each time I'd inhale, I'd cough again. Scott told me to take a drink, and I did, but coughed with a mouthful of milk and got some on my shirt and pants. I retreated, still hacking, to the bathroom to clean up.
It took a few minutes, but my throat eventually stopped its protest and I was able to blow my nose and wash my face. I was drying my hands when a knock came at the door.
“Ash? You okay in there?”
I looked in the mirror and took a deep breath and then another. You can do this. He's your best friend, the best you ever had. I sniffled and opened the door to find him raising his hand to knock again.
“I'm fine. Swallowed wrong,” I said as I pushed a smile onto my face. “Is everyone ready to go down for the movie? You didn't start without me, did you?”
“No,” he said uncertainly. I didn't give him time to say anything else as I headed back to the group.
“Asher, sweetie, I made a plate of these cookies for you to take home, okay? Don't forget.”
“Okay, Mrs. Kirkwood,” I replied.
I joined everyone downstairs. Per usual the couples were seated together and tonight was no exception. Descending behind me, Sean joined Averi who was next to Jamie and Emily. Emily and Averi kept putting their heads together to chat and then both snuggled into their boys when the movie started, some horror thing.
I stared at the screen resolutely and managed to get drawn in enough for Scott to scare me and make me scream, to everyone's delight. I was easily startled when watching movies, especially horror ones and they all knew it; it was expected, by now. When the movie ended I said my good nights to the group and was at the top of the stairs and about to head for the door when Mrs. Kirkwood called out to me.
“Asher! Don't forget the cookies!”
Shit. “Glad you reminded me, Mrs. K, those were good.” I headed back, deeper into the house, to the kitchen.
She was smoothing plastic over the top of the pile of cookies. I approached her and, as I did, I glanced up just as she looked at me. It could easily have been my imagination, but I suddenly felt like she knew everything, could see everything. Mrs. Kirkwood might have known something about what happened before I went back to the Ellis's, but Sean had insisted on discretion, so she couldn't know. Could she?
“You look a little peaked, are you feeling all right?” she asked and lay the back of her hand on my forehead.
“Yes, Mrs. Kirkwood, I'm fine.”
“Well, okay, then. Say hello to your mom for me, please.” She smiled at me as I turned and I mustered one in return.
I turned to the milling group that had come up from the basement, stretching and laughing through their goodbyes. I headed for the door and Scott fell in beside me as we headed back toward home.
“You're quiet tonight,” he commented.
“Uh. I guess.”
“Hey,” he said, touching my shoulder and bringing me to a stop. “If there is something going on, I'm here, you know?”
“Yeah, I know,” I nodded.
“I mean, I'm here for everything except boy trouble,” he laughed and then stilled himself suddenly and put a hand back to my shoulder. “Is it boy trouble?”
“Yeah,” I said, looking down demurely and then glancing at him. “I can't help it, Scott. You're so...”
“Oh, fuck you!” he laughed, “I thought you actually had a problem!” We pushed and shoved a bit and then I told him if he made me drop the cookies, I'd tell mom. He promised to kick my ass once I was cookie—less.
Once home I got the same speech about looking sick from my mom, and I began to suspect Mrs. Kirkwood had called ahead with her concern. I hope to Christ she didn't tell my mom anything else.
I cleaned up for bed and promptly was unable to sleep. I was watching the tree branches move outside the window and thinking of the day I'd shown Sean exactly how much I wanted him. I was thinking about how we lay in the tall grass after, using our clothes for comfort rather than, you know, clothes. His tears were still wet on my chest and I was rubbing his neck and back of his head, spreading my fingers through his hair to calm him.
Actually, I have no idea if it calmed him. I just kept up the repetitive motion because I hoped it was helping. As I did so, I'd looked up and watched the tree branches stir in the breeze while the boy I loved sniffled and clutched me close. Not wanting anyone to see I closed my door and allowed myself to mourn, but like our relationship it was all in private.
In the morning, Scott and I headed over to the football field. We walked, him carrying his helmet and pads while I carried his bag for him.
“Hey, did I tell you Katie broke down and asked me out?”
“Yep. I told you she'd be back.”
I gave Scott an appraising look. “You caved and called her.”
“Fuck you, I did not,” he said, laughing.
“Bullshit. It's Friday, you wanted to go out on date night. You caved.” I laughed and he swung his helmet at me, again telling me to shut up. Once we arrived at the field he walked over to join his teammates and I headed to the prep area to start filling the coolers for the day and getting the paper cups ready. We never took the coolers off the cart, and since there was an outlet, we could charge the thing overnight, every night.
“Ash! Buddy, I need a favor,” Jamie said from behind me, startling me and making me drop the box of paper cups.
“I'm going to put a bell around your neck,” I growled as I started putting the sleeves of cups back into the box.
“Sorry,” he said, and helped me pick up. “But look, you love me, so you'll forgive me and do me a favor, right?”
I hate it when he grins at me like that, and he knows it. That grin says he already knows I'll say yes, the cocky bastard. “What's the favor?”
“Okay, so, tonight is date night, right? We're going to see that boring new movie where I'm going to ignore it and make out with Emily the whole time, right?”
“Not if I tell her,” I say, slyly.
“Ash. Bro code.” Jamie says, looking at me with a stricken expression. “Anyway, it'll be epic because Scott put his nuts back in a jar just to go tonight, and Katie actually thinks that means he's come to his senses and wants to date like a normal person.”
“I know! You see my excitement here, right?”
“I'm still not hearing this favor,” I said, as I unplugged the cart and sat down. Jamie hopped up next to me and I started us trundling to the point I'd set up the water station.
“Okay, so, Kale and Chase are going to some dumb play or something and somehow I got trapped into babysitting.”
“How did you get trapped?”
“Sean played the 'new girlfriend card' and my mom said I should be considerate and let him go instead of me.”
“Which you didn't do?”
“Hell no! It's date night.”
“That's when she told you you'd do it and like it?”
“It's almost like you were there,” Jamie groaned. “So will you come watch Linc?”
The cart drifted to a stop and I looked at him. “You want me to watch your nephew so you, Sean and Scott—all my friends, pretty much—go out on date night and I can sit home?”
“Well...what's the difference if you're at your house or mine?”
I stared at him until he began to squirm. He offered, “I'll steal a pair of Sean's undies for you.”
“Get out of my cart right now.”
“Thanks, Ash! I owe ya!” he said with a grin and bounding off to join the others.
I sighed and put my hands on my hips as I watched him go. Pursing my lips in frustration I set up the tables and shifted the coolers onto them, then set the cups out. Whistles were being blown and the day's drills were in full swing by the time I saw Emily, Katie and Averi approaching. Andy was walking with them, but peeled off to go stand by the fence and watch the practice.
“Ash! Bring that tight butt over here,” Emily called. I blushed instantly and was thankful the guys were all on the field and too busy to hear her. I turned slowly and arched an eyebrow at her.
“What are you doing looking at my butt? You have a boyfriend.”
“I do,” she nodded. “And his butt looks great in those football pants, too. But, he's way over there and I can't see. But you? Honey, you're just here for the taking!”
“Really, Em?” I ask, holding my arms out as I approach her. “Am I just meat to you?”
She pursed her lips and pretended to look me up and down with a critical eye. “I don't know. You're so damn sweet—hey, we can call you sweet meat!”
“Don't you dare,” I said amid the girls laughter.
“Come on, Ash. You need something to boost your reputation since Scott's your brother now,” Katie teased.
“Hey, don't bring your relationship problems down on my head,” I said, pointing at her. “You're the one that came crawling back to him, begging to go to the movies is the way I hear it.”
“Yeah, I'm sure you believed that, too,” she said with a laugh and a shake of her head.
“Nah, I said it was bullshit. Still, you're going out with him.”
“What can I say? He can be charming when he wants to be. Now, I just want him to grow up a little.”
“Right after we get world peace, you'll get that,” I replied. There was a round of laughter and we all took a seat.
“We need to find you a boyfriend. You are too cute to be single,” Emily told me. I blushed and forced away all the things that rushed to my tongue about Sean and this past summer. “You let me know if you need to borrow Jamie to make some guy jealous, okay?”
I burst out laughing and they joined me.
“Asher, would you try one of these for me?” Averi asked, pulling a package from her messenger bag. Opening the foil she produced a cookie. I accepted it from her with a questioning look.
“You want me to taste test your cookies?”
“Well, I got up last night during the movie to use the bathroom—” she started, but Katie cut her off.
“That reminds me, Ash. You know, you could have invited me.”
“I what, now?”
“You know, for movie night. You didn't have a date, call me so I can have fun, too!”
I flicked my eyes at Averi and then back to Katie. “I'm not letting you wedge me into whatever fight you're having with Scott at the time,” I told her firmly. “Besides, you guys fight so much, why are you dating him again?”
“He's cute,” she shrugged.
“Yeah, she thinks his tongue is cute,” Emily snickered. I glanced back and forth as Katie's face reddened.
I glanced back and forth between them again and then resolutely turned my attention to Averi. “What about your cookies, now?”
“Oh. Well, when I went upstairs, I was talking to Mrs. Kirkwood—she is so nice! — and she told me Sean loves cookies and that you nick—named him Cookie Monster. So, I baked some this morning, as a test.”
I felt my stomach turn as I glanced down at the cookie in my hand. Had I called him that in the house? How else could his mother know? That was my pet name, damn it! It almost wanted to make me ask what, exactly, Katie liked about Scott's tongue because that would have been more pleasurable than eating this fucking cookie from my...replacement.
“Uh, you know, my mouth is kind of dry. I should wait, maybe...” Averi's look was a tiny bit hurt and, jackass that I am, I smiled and bit into her cookie. “It's good,” I said, keeping up my smile.
Behind us the whistle blew twice and the call went out for the guys to hydrate.
“That's my cue. Ladies,” I said, fingers to my ball cap.
“Sweet meat,” Emily said, curtsying.
The guys were through in short order, loading up on water and heading back out onto the field. I combined coolers that were low on water and loaded them on the cart. After getting everything set, I took a few cups over to Andy.
“Need a drink?” I asked.
“Oh. Thank you, thanks,” he said, his words slightly off due to the thick tongue that was as much a feature of Down's as the wide set eyes. He drank the first down fast and then smiled broadly at me. “The team looks good this year.”
“You think so?”
“Yeah. Lotsa hustle. I bet they go all the way this year,” he said before downing the second cup.
I made up things to do to avoid the girls for the rest of the day.
That evening Scott and I walked over to the Kirkwoods together. Technically, I hadn't agreed to babysit, but Jamie was right—I was going to do it anyway. I kind of hated to sit for Linc, though, since he either couldn't say my name well and that's why he called me Ass, or Jamie was teaching him to say it that way. Either way, I got called Ass a lot on the nights I was with Linc. As the only single guy, I was everyone's favorite babysitter for date nights.
“There you are! You were starting to make me sweat, Ash!” Jamie said as he opened the door for us.
“That's what I live for,” I replied.
Soon they were all out the door and headed to Emily's to meet the girls and their ride, Emily's mom. Linc was sitting in the living room watching Sponge Bob and eating Cheerios from a plastic bag. He'd been so absorbed he hadn't even noticed everyone else leaving. I sat at the other end of the couch and spent my Friday night watching a cartoon with a little kid—I don't know how I can get any cooler.
The guys got back before Mr. and Mrs. Kirkwood, so Scott and I left together to walk for home. When they'd arrived I couldn't help but notice that Sean's lips were puffy and red from all the kissing that he'd apparently done at the movie. He seemed pleased with the evening—in fact, they all did. I feigned being tired when they wanted to extend the evening with video games and Scott chose to leave with me.
We walked along the quiet streets and, out of no where, Scott bumped me.
“Come on, I can see something's eating you.”
“I think you're the one that does that, according to rumors I hear,” I said with a snort.
“See, this is bullshit. As a gay guy, girls tell you everything and then you can use it against me. Hey, wait,” he said, putting a finger to his chin. “She told you I ate her out?”
“No, Emily did.”
“Jeez, no secrets there, huh?”
“Not many,” I said in agreement.
“Really, Ash, what's bothering you?”
“I...can't talk about it.”
“Whoa,” he said and pulled up short. “There is something you can't talk about with me?”
“Yeah. Though, I admit, the list got shorter when you forced me to bring up you tonguing your girlfriend.”
“Ash,” he said, falling in beside me, “after everything we've been through, what could you possibly not be able to tell me?”
“It's...not entirely mine to tell, that's why.”
Scott's brow furrowed as we continued to walk, but now in silence. When we got home our folks were just getting ready to climb into bed.
“Hey, no practice tomorrow. Want to sit up a bit? Grab the bug spray and I'll meet you out back—I have to pee.” With that, Scott was gone. I sighed. I wanted to go to my room and brood, but he wasn't going to let me. I grabbed the bug spray from the pantry and stepped out onto the patio and sprayed myself liberally. I had kicked off my shoes in the house and decided to peel off my socks and walk across the cool grass barefoot. Once I got to the table, I sprayed my feet—nothing worse than a mosquito bite on your foot.
I looked up at the tree, the branches partially obscuring the moon and I was caught, again, by the memory of Sean and me lying together under that tree in the tall grass.
“Okay,” Scott said, interrupting my reverie, as he flopped onto the table. I turned to hand him the spray, which he took from me as I paused when I noticed the bottle he'd brought out with him.
“Uh, what's this?”
“Whiskey,” he replied as he sprayed. I coughed as the noxious cloud drifted.
“Why did you bring whiskey out? And where did you get it?”
“Liquor cabinet. I figure the only thing you can't talk to me about—or you think you can't talk to me about—is a guy. So, we're going to bond over shots of whiskey.” He shrugged. “It's what men do.”
“We're 15 and I'm not telling you.”
“I figure,” he continued as if I hadn't spoken, “the guy must not be out, that's why you can't. But you should be able to trust me. After all, I'm your brother and being gay or dating isn't anything to be ashamed of. Hey, did this guy make you promise not to say anything?”
“No. He trusts me.”
I took the shot glass and stared down at the liquid.
“Toss it back and then tell me about this guy.”
I sniffed the shot and recoiled; it smelled terrible!
“Here,” he said, taking the shot from me. “I swear by this shot that whatever by brother tells me will stay between him and me because I love him and he looks miserable.” He lifted the glass in my direction and then tossed its contents in his mouth. His eyes went wide and he coughed a couple of times.
“Wow, they weren't kidding when they said this shit burns. Now, you,” he said, refilling the shot glass back up. “Promise to tell me the truth and then tell me about Mr. Wonderful.”
I contemplated the shot glass. He nudged it toward me and I glanced at him before picking it up. I'd never had any hard alcohol before and this stuff smelled so bad, I wasn't sure I really wanted to. Was this the easy way out? Could I get away with spilling my guts out to Scott by drinking this? Part of me wanted to. Part of me wanted to spurn Sean's preference about keeping us a secret—like it was dirty and wrong.
But, I knew, Sean was just confused and he'd told me so. No, if anything, Sean had been honest every step of the way—it was I who hadn't been. I never told him how hard I fell for him, just how much more I grew to love him over the course of the summer. After he'd made love to me my last night at the Kirkwoods and utterly destroyed the memory of Edward Mullins, after he'd shown me that side of him—that endlessly loving, giving, tender side — I was lost. And I'd never told him.
I tossed the liquid into my mouth and swallowed, then promptly started to cough. The vile liquid burned all the way to my stomach and, after I recovered from the shock, a nice, warm glow settled into my belly.
“There you go. But you were supposed to swear, like I did.” Scott poured another and swallowed before repeating and handing the glass to me. “Now come on, swear.”
I eyed the glass warily. Picking it up I looked at Scott. “I swear to tell you what's going on,” I said, and threw back the shot. The result was much the same and, though I really, really didn't like the taste, the warm afterglow was nice.
“Okay, let's have it. Ugh, no more of this shit,” he said, capping the bottle and moving it to the ground. He lay back on the picnic table with his hands cradling his head and I copied him.
“So, is he awesome?”
“You guys break up?”
“Sort of.” I sighed and chose my words carefully. “We've been seeing each other this summer, quietly.”
“How could I not know?”
“You were busy eating out Katie.”
“Not all the time!”
I shrugged. “I just figured she preferred that since your tongue is longer than your dick.”
“Ash, with all sincerity, fuck you.”
We giggled, perhaps a little relaxed from the shots or they were simply an excuse.
“So...this guy. He make you happy?”
My lips twitched and I sighed. “You have no idea.”
“So, what's the problem?”
“He's scared, confused. This isn't how he sees himself.”
“Have you guys messed around?”
“Yeah, few times.”
“So he's okay being gay when he's getting a blow job, but not any other time?”
“It's not really that simple,” I protested.
“It kind of is, Ash. It sounds like you're getting used.”
“I...no. If you knew him, you wouldn't say that.” There was no way he could be right, I knew that. Sean was sweet and considerate and a complete dork. He was just as eager for a little sex as I was, he just wasn't comfortable with anyone knowing. I sighed and had to admit, that last part didn't sound all that good.
“That's a pretty weak answer. Why don't you tell me why you think this guy isn't just stringing you along for BJ's?”
“For one thing, it's not all one way,” I said. “Look, he's been honest every step of the way. I knew, going in, that he had issues with this, stuff he was dealing with. He's told me, all along, that he was nervous, scared, that he liked girls...he hasn't lied to me, not even once.”
“Well...how come this has all been on the down low? I mean, Jesus, Ash! You're not some dirty secret!”
“I...I was respecting the fact we were communicating. He's not ready to be out—he's not even sure what he feels, really — and, trust me, I know his heart. He does love me.”
“Then what's going on? Why are you acting like you just lost your best friend?”
“Because I...” I closed my eyes and took a breath. “Because he found someone else. It's over and it hurts, okay?”
I paused a beat and then said, “No.”
“Ash...you just got dumped by some closet case and you are still going to protect him?”
“Yeah. I know you won't understand, but I love him. I can't tell you.”
“I don't know,” he said, shaking his head. “Want to do shots until you can say his name and blame it on the booze? I'll kick his ass for you.”
I barked a short laugh. “No. You wouldn't.”
“You don't think I can?”
I turned and looked at him. “No. I mean, if you knew, you would never hurt him.”
He turned his head and gave me a speculative look. Then his face twisted and a large yawn escaped his mouth. He sat up awkwardly and reached for the bottle. “I'm going to put this back and go to bed. Coming?”
“No, I'm going to stay here, for a bit.”
“Okay. Night, Ash.”
He walked back to the house but paused partway and looked over his shoulder at me. “Ash? If that guy loves you, he should be proud to tell people he's your boyfriend.”
He turned and entered the house and I sat up on the table. To the darkness I said, “It's not that easy. But I wish you were right. Because even though I'm not perfect and neither is he, we're pretty perfect together.”
I got up off the table and walked restlessly around the yard, the damp grass making my feet wet and cool and the alcohol giving me a heady feeling. I was enjoying the touch of the soft blades as they caressed my skin and the feeling of the cool moisture on my feet as I wandered in circles in the yard. I thought about how imperfect Sean and I were—neither of us with six—pack abs, even though Sean was leaner and his stomach tighter than my own. Neither of us had built—up pecs, though again, Sean was a little farther along there as well.
I'd never say I looked more handsome than Sean, but he said I was. My legs were a little more muscular than his and we both were kind of silly together.
One date night he and I had sat for Linc and we'd played with him, running the little guy to exhaustion. Then, with the house to ourselves, we'd lain together on the couch and snuggled. We had a bag of iced animal cookies—and let's be honest, if it was a cookie, Sean was interested. In between giggles, I had fed them to him like some stupid romantic scene where someone would normally feed the other grapes or strawberries—with us, I was feeding my Cookie Monster.
We hadn't even fooled around, that night. We had just snuggled and I'd stroked his hair while his fingers had moved rhythmically across my chest. Then, Sean'd had a dorky idea.
“Hey, I was watching this You Tube video thing about the 'What's in my Mouth' game. Want to?”
“I like where this is going,” I said, smirking.
“Not like that, perv,” he laughed and dragged me into the kitchen. “Okay, so, we take turns with the blindfold and then we have to figure out what the other person puts in our mouth.”
“Seriously? I already know what I'm putting in your mouth,” I snickered.
“Hah. Now, blindfold, blindfold,” he said to himself as he thought and then pulled off his tee shirt.
“Okay, this game just got better—hey! No fair!” I stated as he covered my eyes with his shirt and tied it behind my head.
“Can you see that?” he asked.
“See what? What are you doing?” I asked. I felt his lips on mine in a quick peck and then all I could hear was his feet as he moved around the kitchen and the sound of cabinet doors opening and closing and various containers as they hit the counter.
“Okay. First item,” he said.
“Wait, we should have some rules!” I said, holding a hand out.
“You're ruining this,” he said and I could picture him pouting. Then, I heard something unzip. As soon as I opened my mouth, his fingers were right there, pushing something in and giggling.
“Ugh,” I said, my mouth feeling glommed up with something sweet and squishy. “What the hell is that?” Well, that's what I tried to say, but this stuff was really...gloppy. I had to work my way through it and then swallow.
Sean, meanwhile was giggling madly.
“I better get some serious make out time for this,” I grumped.
“Come on, what was in your mouth?”
“Something not as good as your tongue!” I countered, running my own tongue around for stray bits of whatever that had been.
“Well, of course,” he agreed. “Now come on, play the game.”
“You cheated,” I said absently while I thought.
“The zipper you mean?”
“Duh. You know where my mind went.”
“Who says I'm not standing here, commando, with my zipper down?”
I reached for the shirt covering my eyes and he laughed and grabbed my hands. “Come on, guess.”
“I don't know, it tasted kind of like a marshmallow. Wait, did you just put some of that fluff crap in my mouth?”
“Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner!” he said, still laughing at me.
His parents had arrived home shortly after, and by then we'd gone from the mundane like peanut butter, actual butter, and things of that nature to Karo syrup and dry hot chocolate mix. Mrs. Kirkwood had not been amused by the mess and had demanded we put her kitchen back in order before I went home.
I blinked back the tears that threatened and decided I should go to bed and put tonight behind me.
Saturday came and the world moved forward as if nothing had changed. The group got together for a few pick up games at the park, but I'd declined to go back to the Kirkwood's and cool down in the pool. It wasn't because I couldn't deal with Sean in nothing but his trunks, it was because the girls were coming, too. It seemed as though the group was changing, and girlfriends were going to be added.
“Hey,” Scott asked, throwing an arm around my shoulders. “Why don't you want to hit the pool?”
“I'm the only single person there; it'll be awkward,” I replied with a shrug.
“Come on, that never bothered you before. Just hang out with Sean like normal...” he said, but his voice trailed off as if he had been struck by a thought.
“Well, I don't think so. Besides, Mom wanted the grass cut and I want to talk her into a new pair of shoes for school, so maybe I'll mow and get on her good side, huh?”
“Yeah. Uh, sure, if that's what you want,” he said, sounding a little uncertain.
“Yeah. I saw the shoes I want and they are kind of expensive, so I need all the goodwill I can get!” I said cheerfully. I told the group I had chores to do and headed back home.
Of course, now I'd committed myself to cutting the lawn, so I dragged out the mower and checked the gas and oil. My phone buzzed and I checked it before I started the mower.
'Chores? Are you avoiding me?' It was Sean, of course. 'Yes, of course I am, you cute dork,' I thought to myself. Instead, I took a selfie with the lawnmower behind me and sent it to him. I explained the whole shoe thing in a short message and then tucked the phone away. I grumbled to myself that I'd have to actually look at some shoes online, now, so I wouldn't be a liar.
I yanked the pull cord on the mower and got started.
After the lawn was done I showered and looked at some sneakers online. The truth was, I was embarrassed to ask for new shoes. It used to be I'd get an entire bag of clothes for a buck at the local charity store—but new shoes were stupidly expensive. When my parents came home from the garden show they'd attended, they were both happy the lawn was done and asked me where my brother was.
I have to pause long enough to say I loved the way they called him my brother like he'd always been that. To myself, I filled out the sentiment, thinking that he was a little misguided at times, like getting me to take shots, but it all came from a good place. Every time they called Scott my brother or me, his, I was flushed with pleasure.
“Um, Mom? I was wondering if we could go look at some new shoes for me?”
“It's about that time,” she said with a smile and a sigh. “Usually I have to drag Scott by his ears to go school shopping. Are you actually volunteering?”
“School shopping? Oh, no, I wasn't asking for new clothes or...I just thought, you know, lots of kids have new sneakers for school and...um...”
“Let me get changed into something more comfortable and we'll run out,” she said. “Oh, I think I'll get an iced coffee while we're out; I'm craving a little. Honey?” she called to Dad. “Can you fend for yourself for dinner tonight? I'm taking Asher school shopping.”
“Sure,” he said, coming back into the living room after he'd changed. “Where is Scott, anyway?”
“He's over at the Kirkwoods. It's kind of a boyfriend, girlfriend swimming thing.”
“Oh,” Dad said, lost for words.
“So I came home and did the lawn like you asked. Um...” I fell silent too, since there didn't seem to be a graceful way to move to something else.
“Well, the lawn looks good, and I appreciate you getting it done. I'll go down and get some weed and feed and maybe pick up some mulch this afternoon, since I'm going stag for a while.”
“You could come school shopping with us,” Mom said cheerfully as she re—entered the room.
“I'd rather get a root canal, but thanks for asking,” Dad laughed.
“Okay, let's go, mister,” Mom said and I headed out with her. Mom was in a pretty good mood, made even better when she stopped for her drink and bought me one as well. We walked into the mall and she glanced at me and smiled.
“You got lucky with your hair,” she said.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, it always has a really nice golden brown color, but now you have these highlights from the summer sun that people pay a lot of money to get done professionally.”
“Yep. Little long, though. Why don't we get a trim for you, first?”
“Sure.” Getting regular haircuts was something of an obsession for me. I used to trim it myself in the bathroom mirror of our trailer, and it looked as good as you might think. Now, with my face cleared up and my hair cut, I felt more like a regular person; like I belonged around real people.
I sat down to wait my turn and Mom said she was walking across the hall to look at shoes. I pulled out my phone and saw I had a missed call from Scotty and had a text waiting.
'Dude, we're having fun. Are you done with the lawn yet?'
'Yeah,' I typed. 'Out with mom now, getting a haircut and school shopping'
'Break her credit card so I don't have to go.'
'You need clothes.'
'I have shorts and tees, I'm good. Come on, bro, help me out.'
“Here,” I said, standing up and pocketing my phone. The lady was quick and chatty as she trimmed my hair. Mom came back when I was almost done with a bag dangling from her hand. As she paid I asked what she got.
“I found the cutest pumps,” she enthused. “They are having a great sale and I couldn't resist.”
“Why should you? It's your money,” I said with a shrug.
“I like your attitude,” she said with a laugh. “Come on.”
I paused at the door of the store she led me to and suddenly felt uncomfortable. “Mom? What are you doing?”
“Looking at clothes for you. Why?” she asked as she pulled a shirt off the rack.
“Mom,” I said as I approached and lowered my voice. “This stuff is expensive. Jamie and Sean wear stuff like this.”
“Do they? Well, they have good taste.”
“Scott doesn't even wear this brand!”
“That's because your brother thinks life is a gym, and shorts with a tee shirt is the height of fashion. I think you should be more sartorial than that,” she said.
“Style, when it comes to clothes,” she said absently. “I think you should try this.”
“Uh, that shirt costs forty—five dollars.”
“Yes, but if we buy three, we get twenty—five percent off. So try it.”
“But, mom...that's about a hundred bucks for three shirts!”
“Hey, did you not just tell me less than twenty minutes ago this was my money?” she asked, squinting her eyes and putting her hands on her hips.
“That was before you started throwing it away,” I said with a laugh. “I can get a closet of polo shirts at another store. This is nuts!”
“Hey, this is a Rugby shirt and it'll last far longer than that other stuff. Listen,” she said, pointing a finger at me. “One of my sons is going to dress well and look nice. Scott's managed to ruin every bit of nice clothing I've bought for him, but you take good care of your stuff—so suck it up, I'm buying the damn shirts.”
I pursed my lips and shifted on my feet. “I'm torn. I mean, they are really nice clothes and the only brand new ones I can ever remember getting were the ones you got me for my adoption day.”
“Well, sweetheart, what's the problem, then?” she asked, her voice softening.
“Well, Scott asked me to break your credit card so he doesn't have to go school shopping.” I looked at her very seriously. “Scott needs new clothes.”
Her lips twitched and she said, “I think I can handle it.”
“Seriously,” I said as I closed the distance between us. “I'm used to second hand clothes, I don't need these expensive labels.”
“Nobody needs them, Asher. But I want you to have them, and I think you're going to like how some nice—and new for once— clothes make you feel. So, stop giving an old lady a hard time and go try these shirts on, will you?”
I was done fighting that one. I headed toward the changing rooms, but was called back as mom pulled a pair of jeans and a pair of khakis off opposing racks. My phone buzzed and I dug it out while balancing the clothes, expecting to see Scott again. No, it was Sean.
'Why didn't you come back?'
'Mom took me school shopping, didn't Scott tell you?'
'No. You're just sitting on your couch, aren't you?'
I sighed as I stepped into the changing booth. Even though I was avoiding situations with him and Averi present, I'd had legitimate things to do—like babysitting, like mowing the lawn, like school shopping. It wasn't like him not to trust me, but I guess that was different now, too.
I took a selfie of me in the changing room and then, with each successive clothing item, I took another. He kept telling me to stop, but I was a little angry now so I kept it up through every item. Once I was done, I sent him a final message: 'Satisfied?'
I pulled my clothes back on and pocketed my phone before heading out to review the results with Mom. She informed me that, before paying, she wanted to actually see me in the clothes. Shit.
After that store I think we did three or four other clothing stores, and then I got a new pair of sneakers. I told mom I felt bad about her spending all that money and promised to get a job to pay her back. She smiled at me, patted my face and told me no job, just keep up the good work.
That night I straightened up my room and put my new things away. Mom had really outfitted me, not just with school things but extra clothes like shorts and sweats and underclothes. Looking at myself in the mirror I decided I didn't like how soft my body looked and decided I wanted to firm up a bit.
Of course, those plans would have to wait as my new family went to church on Sunday. Mom liked me to dress in my adoption day clothes for church, and I always did. It was a very nice button up with a tie, slacks and a sport coat. Couple that with my new hair cut and I was feeling pretty good.
On the way to church Dad sprung on us that we were going to do yard work after church and spread the mulch he'd bought the day before. We both groaned a bit, Scott more so than me, but part of me realized this was another legitimate way to avoid seeing Sean with Averi. I felt a twinge of sadness about that as I was really missing Sean. He and I had become so close this summer that denying myself his company wasn't easy.
I'd dealt with similar things—every time Scott was on with his on again, off again relationship with Katie, he seemed to forget he knew anyone before her. It irritated me to be so easily pushed aside, but I'd had Jamie and Sean to blunt that. Now, all three were dating, and this time it was Sean...no, I couldn't really say he was pushing me aside. He was and he wasn't. He seemed to still want me around, but how he could think I could just pretend nothing had been going on between us and smile over his new girlfriend...that was beyond me.
We took a seat in a pew and I glanced around, but didn't see the Kirkwoods. I did notice Averi with her family. Andy saw me and waved cheerfully and I returned the gesture.
“I hope they took the advice to cut the beginning short, these things have been running way too long,” Dad groused. I had to agree. I didn't fight going because it just seemed like it was a thing families did. Unfortunately, Dad and I were both disappointed as that day's sermon seemed to last past dinner, much less lunch. When things finally ended we stood and I stretched and heard little pops from my joints from the constant sitting.
After church, you didn't leave right away. The pastor stands in the door, saying a little something to people and, of course, others gather outside for a quick chat. That was usually good for another half an hour as Dad and Mr. Kirkwood seemed to follow the same philosophy, thinking that they needed to give the parking lot time to empty out anyway.
So I was in no rush to get out the door. We'd exited the aisle facing the exterior wall of the church and had walked to the back where there was a large open space before the doors.
The hair on the back of my neck stood up as I heard his voice, very close behind me. I turned and looked into Sean's eyes as he and the rest of the Kirkwood's were not far behind.
“Hey,” I replied.
I was turning back when I heard a grunt of frustration and I felt his hand take me by the elbow and pull me out of the group of people and to the corner where an open archway had stairs that went both up and down. He pulled me down the stairs, with me offering no resistance. I think I'd been dreading this conversation, yet had known it was going to happen. Maybe, in the back of my mind, I'd been avoiding him to put this off, as well.
At the bottom of the stairs he walked past the bathrooms and to one of the multi—purpose rooms under the main church. Closing the doors behind us, he turned and leaned back against the door.
“What's going on,” he demanded.
I put my hands in my pockets and regarded him steadily, though my heart was beating wildly. I considered and dismissed the idea of playing it cool, or coy depending on your view, and decided to confront it head on. Before I could, though, he was speaking again.
“You're being a real asshole, you know? I was honest with you the whole way! I told you I liked girls and you said okay. You said nothing mattered as long as we didn't break. You said I didn't even have to do anything for you to love me.”
Each accusation hit me like a punch. Trying to avoid the feeling that I was going to tear up, keeping my hands in my pockets, I said quietly, and with a steadier voice than I'd have thought, “I do love you.”
“Then why the fuck are you avoiding me? Don't tell me about chores and school shopping or any of that shit! Admit it!”
“Yes,” I said with a shuddering breath. “Yes, I've been avoiding you.”
He paused, perhaps surprised I'd made my admission. It didn't last, however. “So, what, you lied to me? We can only be friends if we're having sex, too?”
I stared at him as his chest heaved from his anger. His shirt was coming un—tucked and his whole body was fraught with tension. I took a deep breath and shifted on my feet a little.
“Yes, you were honest. Yes, you said you liked girls. Yes, I said that was okay. Yes, I said none of it mattered as long as we didn't break. And, yes, I still love you. Deeply.”
He shook his head, the tears I'd been fighting now welling in his eyes. “Then what the fuck?” he asked, his words lacking the fire of just a moment ago. “You're avoiding me, I was honest—why do I feel so bad? Why do I feel so...guilty?”
I shifted on my feet again, but kept my distance. I kept my hands in my pockets, partially to hide the shaking I felt. My right hand fiddled with a coin, forgotten and rediscovered in that bizarre little pocket within a pocket.
“I can't say for sure why you feel the way you do. If I had to guess I'd say it's because you're sweet and considerate.” I cleared my throat and continued, “Maybe you regret our relationship. What I can tell you is...I haven't been as honest with you as you have with me.”
He stopped sniffling. “What are you talking about?”
I glanced down at my shoes and shuffled them. “Remember us talking my last night living with you? How I said the sex with Jamie changed things? How I knew things would change with you, too, but...” I paused and shook my head, “I was thinking it would be similar; that it would all be positive and we'd get closer.”
“I...are you saying it wasn't a good thing?”
“I'd do it all over again,” I said quickly. Glancing up at him, his face a tangle of confusion, I said, “Good as in spending my time with you? I treasure it. Good as in was the sex good? No. It was...” I paused, not wanting to give a name to something I wasn't sure I could really describe. “It was ineffable.”
“Ineffable. Incapable of being described in words. Too sacred.” I sighed and continued, “When you...all I knew about sex was pain and embarrassment. Edward Mullins saw to that. When you...fucked—”
“Made love,” he said forcefully. “We made love.”
I gave him a short nod. “When you made love to me, you didn't just replace my memory of him with you. You destroyed it. Shredded it. I didn't know it was possible for sex to be so tender, so...”
“Short?” he asked, a smile playing about his lips.
I shook my head, refusing to be drawn in. “For me, feeling you inside me, looking up into your eyes as you kept asking me if I was okay, it was more than just good. I could tell that you cared about me, about what I was feeling and it wasn't about getting off...in some ways that was the best sex I'll ever have. Before that, the ghost of Edward hung over everything about sex, like a stink I couldn't wash off. Then, you gave me just a glimpse of how different things could be.”
He looked down, red splotches on his cheeks.
“I'm sorry, Sean. Even though I knew you liked girls, even though I said it was okay...I wasn't ready for how much, how deeply...how far I fell in love with you.”
He slowly brought his face up and our gazes met.
“So, you're right,” I continued. “You did do everything right and I'm just an asshole. I couldn't keep my word. Sex with you destroyed my resolve and the truth is, I love you more than ever. I love you so much that I lied to myself all summer. I rejoiced every time you rejected another girl and deluded myself into thinking I could keep you.”
“Don't. Don't say anything,” I said, finally pulling a hand from a pocket and holding it up. “There were things you didn't say, either. Things I allowed. Sneaking around? I let myself believe that you weren't ready to label yourself. Even though I feel like I know you are confused, it didn't take Scott but a minute to think I was being taken advantage of.”
“Relax,” I said, with a wave of my hand. “I know it's not true, otherwise you wouldn't have been so into touching me, too. No,” I shook my head, “he was right. I was being used, but I was using myself. I so badly wanted you to consider that you could love me like a boyfriend that I said it was okay for us to sneak around. You know,” I said, as I moved toward him and the door he was no longer leaning on, “I don't care what you call yourself when you're alone—gay, straight, bi—the label doesn't matter. But I know you loved me. I know you liked sex with me. I'm just not good enough to give up girls for. Scott was right, you should have been proud to call me your boyfriend.”
“You told Scott?!”
“No,” I said, shaking my head. “I would never betray you. I won't say anything. Your dirty little secret is safe.”
“It wasn't dirty!” he yelled, startling me enough to make me jump. I looked up and his face was twisted in...rage? Misery? He stepped forward and shoved me back against the wall and held me there with both hands. “It wasn't fucking dirty!”
“It was still a secret!” I said, raising my own voice but not pushing back against him.
“I was straight!” he said forcefully, but the pressure on my chest eased considerably and he continued, his voice softening, “I wanted a girlfriend, I wanted to have a wife and kids!”
“Well, you got me,” I replied. “Sorry.”
“Don't you understand?” he said, his voice dropping down to a murmur. “I didn't know...how could I have seen you coming?”
I placed my hands onto his and slowly pushed him back. “You knew I was there for almost a year, Sean. You knew it before we went to bed together, you knew it the entire summer.” I lifted his fingers and brought them toward my lips, but stopped abruptly.
“What?” he said.
I looked at him, a tear slipping from my eye. “She called you Cookie Monster.”
“You were my Cookie Monster.” I let go of his hands and opened the door and was stopped almost immediately by the sight of Jamie and Scott, listening at the door.
“Fuck!” I snarled and shoved my way between them. I mounted the stairs and got myself out into the open air as fast as I could. I was breathing hard and felt dizzy. I'd betrayed him. I was supposed to keep it to myself! They'd heard everything! My gorge rose and I barely made it to the bushes before I threw up.
“I really think you should rest,” Mom said to me. She'd seen me throw up and had, unwittingly, saved me from the other guys. Scott hadn't tried to ask me anything in the car; rather, he'd had a speculative expression on his face which was something uncommon in itself.
“I'm fine. I'll just stay hydrated and help out,” I insisted.
“I think you should rest for a little while,” she said, pointing her finger at me. “I'm onto you, I know you have some misguided ideas about paying us back. But we're you're parents, now. If we want to blow money on you, or tell you no, then that's our prerogative.”
“It's not that, Mom. I just want to get up and help. Honestly, I feel fine.”
She looked at me for a moment in thought and then said, “Get some water and wait a half an hour. See how you feel, then.”
“Okay,” I said with a sigh. I drank down a glass of water and then went and lay down on my bed. I looked up through the window but the moving branches brought memories I could never relive, and so I turned on my side and fell asleep.
The next day I woke early, about seven, and took a shower and ate breakfast before the rest of the house was fully awake. I was sitting at the table when Mom passed by and kissed me on the forehead.
“See? Your body needed rest.”
“How you feeling, buddy?” Dad asked as he poured a cup of coffee.
“I'm fine. Just got tired, I guess.”
“I should make you an appointment with the doctor; you need a physical soon, anyway.”
“I'm fine, really,” I insisted.
“Still,” she said, “You need a physical for school, so we'll get you checked out.”
“Mom? Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure,” she said and took a seat with me while Dad carried his cup out to watch the morning news.
“Do you think kids my age can...love?”
“Yes, absolutely,” she said, sipping from her cup. “But there are all kinds of love. There's the kind between a parent and child, and vice—versa. Then there is your first love and then there is narcissism, and there is romantic love and then, hopefully, there is mature love. I think it's very possible for someone of your age to experience a range of them, but some are harder to maintain—some take maturity and life experience that you haven't acquired yet.”
“So...if I think I'm in love and there is a...does love hurt?”
Her expression softened and she placed a hand over mine. “Yes, sometimes it does. Sometimes it's aggravating and sometimes it's absolute bliss.”
“I think I've felt all those things,” I said softly.
“Sweetheart,” she said carefully, “considering your history, you might have a distorted view of love. We were concerned about that when that experience happened with you and Scott.”
I looked her in the eyes and asked, “Why did you take me back, then?”
“Because we loved you,” she said, smiling. “Scott has changed since you got here, he's displayed a level of care and loyalty that makes us proud. We didn't know we had such a compassionate son, and you brought that out in him.”
“But, you must have been...upset about what happened between us.”
“Well,” she said, leaning her face on her hand, “we know kids are going to explore and challenge boundaries, and kids like yourself are safer to come out younger and younger, in some places. Scott obviously explored that with you, but found it wasn't who he was.”
“Are you...okay this is who I am?”
“Oh, goodness, yes!” she said, chuckling. “It doesn't matter to us who you love. Our only concern is that they love you back.” She hesitated. “Does this...boy...love you back?”
“He did,” I said with a sigh.
I looked up at her and said, “A girl.”
“Oh...is he questioning his sexuality?”
“He wants to be straight.”
“I see. Well, I'm sorry to hear that. It's often hard and confusing for boys at this age. I hope he comes around, but if not...it's not always easy to make things work with someone who isn't at the same place in life you are.”
My parents left for work and I lay on the couch to watch TV. Scott woke up about eight and started to get his stuff ready for football practice.
“Hey, come on. We'll be late,” he said.
“Uh. I think—”
“No. You're not running away and hiding,” he said firmly. “The twins will be on the field most of the day, so there's no reason for you to hide. You didn't do anything wrong—it was Sean; he took advantage.”
“He did not!” I replied, hotly.
“You were vulnerable,” Scott said, but I cut him off.
“You don't even know what vulnerable means,” I snapped. “Sean didn't take advantage of anything and don't you say otherwise.”
“I don't get it!” he said, tossing his hands in the air. “I suppose you don't want me to kick his ass, either?”
“Of course I don't!”
“Well, you can't just not show up! Who's going to get water for us?”
“I'm sure someone can step in, it's not a vital position!”
“What about my gear? I can't hold it all.”
“Put your helmet on your head,” I said with a sigh.
“I'll look like an idiot!”
“You always look like an idiot!” I said, starting to laugh. A smile slowly spread on his face and he punched me lightly in the shoulder.
“Fine, come on,” I said, putting my Columbia Football cap on. I shook my head and picked up his bag. “Let's go before you make me late.”
The day was sweltering and water breaks were more frequent. I was busier than usual with the water coolers and the coach also had some towels out, not only to use for sweat but to soak with water and use it to cool down a player's 'brain case' as he called it. I managed to find time to wander over and give Andy a few cups of water as well, and he always thanked me profusely and told me how much hustle he saw on the field.
Coach called an extended break just after mid—day and the guys came over and emptied the coolers before trying to find some shade to rest under. I pushed all the coolers onto the cart and headed back over to get them refilled, as well as get another box of towels and cups. I backed the cart up and was still filling the first cooler when the sound of cleats on the concrete floor got my attention.
“I should kick your ass, you know.”
I turned the spigot off and turned to face him. “Go ahead.”
He shook his head and leaned against the cart. “What were you thinking?”
“I was thinking I loved him and I was hoping he'd grow to love me.”
“He does love you.”
“You know what I mean. You going to kick my ass or can I go back to filling these things? I guess it's hot out there and people are thirsty.”
“You know,” Jamie opined as I went back to work. “You and Sean have totally messed up my life. I used to know what to do—swear at it or punch it in the face.”
“What about run to mommy?”
“Only if it was my brothers; they didn't take any of my shit.”
I glanced at him and he was smiling. I returned it.
“Anyway, after Sean gets on the scene everyone's talking about what a good influence he is on me and all that bullshit. Now, I don't get to swear at anything and I don't get to punch anyone in the face. Then there's you and all your fucking feelings.”
“I thought you didn't get to swear at things?”
“Fuck you, Ellis,” he said, chuckling. “Seriously, fuck you. I am getting sick of learning new shit from you both.”
I paused and turned to face him. “Jamie, what the hell are you talking about? Make sense or—oh, you have sunstroke, don't you?”
“Hear me out,” he said, putting a hand up. “You know when I learned to love?”
“First time you looked in the mirror?” I said, snickering.
“Don't sass me, boy,” he said, then laughed and gave me a halfhearted shove. Now that he was closer, though, he touched my forearm to get my attention. I looked up at him and the laughter left his eyes and he pursed his lips, letting me know he was about to be serious.
“When I found out Sean was my brother, I was overjoyed. I know, I already had two and you'd think that'd be enough. But, growing up, I only had Robin with me in school for a few years and by the time I got into the same school again, Kale was graduating and Robin was snogging dudes. So even though we grew up in the same house, I wasn't buddies like they were. I was...I dunno...they loved me but it wasn't the same.
“Now, Sean shows up, and I have this buddy to do everything with. He looked like me, but was kind of an opposite for me, being quieter and stuff. I found out his mom was dying and I felt so bad for him, this really cool guy, and I discovered that I wanted to be there for him.”
I continued to fill the coolers, moving the line to fill them, while listening to Jamie raptly.
“The thing is, that was a new experience for me, because I'd never had to be there for anyone before. Now, there was this awesome guy who actually could use a guy like me. As time went by, and I got to know him better, I realized that I really loved him, you know? It just crept up on me.”
“Okay. I guess I can relate, some. Love takes time to develop.”
“Yeah, but the thing is, I think all kinds of love are like that. See, after everything went down with you—I mean at school,” he said, snickering and I flipped him off.
“Get on with it, I'm almost done here.”
“Okay, okay,” he said, getting a grip on his mirth. “So after all the time that we've known you, I realized that I loved you before we had sex. I mean, I realized after we had sex that I loved you before we had it.”
“You're giving me a headache.”
“Really? You're going to give me attitude?”
“I just don't see how this applies, Jamie. You heard God knows how much yesterday. I'm sure you're upset for Sean—I am too—and you're doing the best you can to be a good friend and brother. What does you learning to love have to do with us?”
“What I'm trying to say is, love sneaks up on you. Sometimes you don't realize you love someone, right away. When I realized I loved Sean, it kind of smacked me a little. When things happened between you and me, I realized it was there all along that, at some point, you went from being a casual friend to someone I cared deeply about. Now, I have two people I love a ton who are...having problems.”
“Yeah, that's one way to put it.” I grabbed a box of towels and then one of cups.
“Look,” Jamie said, blocking my path and forcing me to focus on him. “Sean's had some real conflicting emotions. He and I talk all the time about girls and we both thought we were one hundred percent straight males who wanted willing women. Turns out, that's not entirely true.”
I held my hands up in a helpless gesture.
“Sean reached out to you originally because of my screw—up. He came home so upset and he told me how you stepped up with a bat and took out Ed Mullins' knee cap and I was like, damn, I totally misjudged that guy. Sean was feeling bad for you, but then we had the big fight and he was all okay with holding hands.”
“I should get the water out there,” I said, weakly.
“Couple more minutes, Ash.” He gave me a half smile and continued, “The more time we spent around you, the more we liked you. The more you cleaned up, the more we thought 'hey, this guy kind of looks good'. So, by the that time, we both knew we loved you like the closest of friends, like the way I love Scott—just don't tell him I said that.”
He grinned and continued, “So when we hooked up, I realized that I loved you a lot more than I thought. Sean and I talked; he was debating approaching you, too. Trouble was—well, we don't have time for that. After, I didn't know what was happening between you and Sean—all I knew was that my brother, who is normally a pretty relaxed, easy going guy, was happy all the time. The happiest I'd seen him since his mom passed.”
I smiled shyly at the thought I'd had something to do with that.
“I was asking him all summer who she was, who he was seeing—I was convinced he'd fallen in love. Turns out, he did. At some point, you sneaked up on him and he realized just how much he loved you. But, there were problems.”
“Yeah. I know.”
“Well, smart guy, this you won't know. He was afraid he was going to disappoint me.”
“What?” I frowned.
“Yeah. We were kind of a team, you know? Straights and the gays, no matter what Robin says, right? He was afraid if we lost something in common that it would hurt, you know, us.”
“Oh,” I said, realization dawning. “Oh no, poor Sean. He'd do anything for you, Jamie. I never knew he was struggling with that, though.”
“Well, of course, I don't care who he loves, but I didn't know it until he said that, and I realized—again—that loving him had snuck up on me. I'm not sure just...I don't know if there is a limit to how much I love my brother.”
“That's great, Jame. He deserves that.” I inhaled deeply and smiled, “Well, at least he can stop worrying, now that he has a girlfriend.”
I stepped around Jamie and climbed into the seat of the cart and he joined me.
“If I were you, I'd be fighting for him. I wouldn't just let him walk way.”
I turned to him and gave him a sad smile. “You don't understand, Jamie. He's not on the fence. It's not a matter of me convincing him—he already knows I love him and I'm right here waiting for him. But, he wants to be straight. He wants to date girls. If he wanted me, well, he could have just said we didn't have to hide anymore. Instead, he's seeing that girl and...Jamie.” I took a deep breath, “He has to want to be with me. He has a girlfriend, he made his choice—and I'm not it.”
I looked away from him and wiped my eyes as I stepped on the pedal to propel us toward the water table. Guys were milling nearby, looking to hydrate some more and my fully loaded cart was moving slowly under the load.
“So, that's it then?” he asked as we closed in on the table.
“Jamie,” I said softly. “It's his choice; it always has been.”
I walked over to Andy with a couple cups of water, and he enthusiastically accepted them.
“You're very nice,” he said as he gulped the first one down.
“Yes, he is,” a female voice chimed in. I turned and saw Averi approaching us with a bottled water and a small, soft sided lunch bag. “My mom sent me down to make sure he had some water, but I told her someone was keeping an eye out. You're like a super hero,” she smiled.
“Yep. I'm just trying to decide if I should call myself Hydro Boy or Hydro Man. What do you think?”
“Hm. If you go with Hydro Man, people will think you're middle aged. If you think about it, any of the heroes with 'man' as part of the name all look like they are forty. Batman. Superman. Antman. Now, if you end it with 'boy', you can be younger.”
“Huh, never thought about it like that.”
“I always liked Super Boy, the one they drew when Superman supposedly died? He was cute.”
“I didn't know you were into comics,” I replied.
“Yeah, I'm a little geeky, I guess.” She took a few steps over and sat on the bottom bleacher.
“Well, I guess I better get back to work—super heroes don't get time off, right?”
“Well, except for damsels in distress, right,” she stated, scrunching up her nose and smiling.
“Uh. Was that a hint?”
“Yeah. Was it too subtle? Should I just ask you to sit for a minute?”
“Don't do it,” Andy warned me and moved his fingers and thumb as if they were a mouth, talking. “She starts and she won't stop.”
“Thanks, Andy,” she said with a chuckle, “ I love you too.”
“Uh. Well, I could sit for a minute, I guess,” I told her, uncomfortably.
“I won't keep you long. I've been talking with Emily, and I was telling her that Sean has said some...unusual things.”
“Oh? Like what?”
“Well, I don't remember what I said, but he replied that his mom used to say the same thing. Then, when we went to the movies? They used this heavy butter on the popcorn and he had a greasy streak on his chin. I took a napkin and wiped his face and he said, without thinking, 'Thanks, Mom'.”
“He was probably teasing,” I said with a grin. “He's a dork.”
“I don't know. I...well, it just set me to thinking, is all. He's a real gentleman, and we didn't even kiss until the end of the date—and your word for him? Wow? Yes, wow was appropriate!” she said, fanning herself.
“Yeah, okay, well I'm going to—”
“Hang on, I'm sorry,” she said, pursing her lips. “I just...look, he's so nice and it's only been a week, but I'm getting some weird signals and I just wanted to ask your advice.”
“Me?” Then when she didn't say anything, “On?” I asked warily.
“Well...if things aren't working out, I'd like to be his friend. Since you've been his friend for a long time, I thought you might have some good advice for me.”
I looked at her, looking up at me earnestly. “If being a couple wouldn't work out, why would you want to be friends?” I asked, slowly.
“Well, because all of my boyfriends just sucked,” she said with a shrug and a laugh that held no humor. “He's a nice guy, he treats me like a person and I think that's worth holding on to.”
I sighed heavily. “My best advice is to be honest with him. Talk to him and he'll talk to you. For all the cool things he is, forward isn't one of them. He'll wait for you to say there is a problem or that you want to...whatever. So, communication,” I said. “Now, I really do have to go.”
“Okay, thank you. Oh, and thank you for taste testing those cookies, you were right—he liked them!”
“Yeah. I knew he would.”
That night I sat up in bed with my back to the wall. I'd felt tired, worn out from the heat, but my mind was awake and not letting me rest. I was a little proud of myself for being the good friend and giving her honest advice. I liked that she cared for him as a person, too. At the least I felt like I could have a clean conscience about the situation and that I hadn't damaged his relationship.
There was no way I was taste-testing any more cookies, though.
My phone buzzed. I glanced down to see a message from Sean. The phone said it was ten after ten, so Sean should have been asleep, completely zonked from today's work out. I opened the message.
'I'm sorry for Sunday...'
'Can you come out back?'
'To your house? It's kind of late'
'No. I'm in your backyard. Please?'
Sean was here? I debated for less than a second. After all, he'd taken the time to come to me, which was unusual in itself, so I decided I owed it to him to go talk to him. I had just put shorts on for bed so I grabbed a tee shirt and made my way to the sliding door that opened to our patio and back yard. Sliding the door open slowly, so as not to make too much noise, I stepped out onto the patio and felt something soft and unexpected under my foot.
I stepped aside and knelt to look at whatever was there and found I'd stepped on a flower. What the heck? I lifted it up and realized it was a daisy, and my heart skipped a beat. With less caution I closed the sliding door and walked into the backyard, and then stopped as my feet sank into the soft, cool lawn and I saw him.
He was standing next to the picnic table, which had two small candles guttering, and a small glass had several of the simple white flowers peering over the edge. Unlike me, he was dressed for bed —a tee and his pajama bottoms, sneakers awkwardly completing his outfit.
The corner of my mouth lifted in a smile and I said, “You look like a dork.”
“I'm hearing that a lot,” he said, a smile moving across his face. I closed the distance between us until we were just a step or two away and we gazed into each others eyes, both too nervous to take the first step. For me, when I'd seen the flower, hope had bloomed uncontrollably. But as I looked into his eyes, I saw there was still conflict and uncertainty.
“So...I know this has been hard on you. I'm sorry about that. Maybe I was a little naive to think that explaining things would make it okay—that our...emotions wouldn't still make things messy or awkward.”
“I'm sorry I've upset you,” I replied, looking down at my toes. “I was struggling to be a good friend, but my heart was breaking. No, wait. I should be honest. I am struggling to be a good friend, and my heart is breaking.”
His sneakers entered my field of vision and his hand reached for one of mine. “We both did the best we could, I think. Um, you want to sit for a minute?”
“Sure,” I agreed and sat on the table top next to him. He held my hand and I, gratefully, accepted it.
“So...I've been struggling, a lot.”
“Yeah,” I said, my voice down to a whisper.
“Ever since my mother died...I think a part of me has been looking for her in my life. I never told you, but...she told me she'd always be there for me, all I had to do was look for her. So I did that, and when I was lying awake at night I'd think of little things where, maybe, my mother had some influence. Maybe some things that went my way or taught me a lesson. I even thought, maybe, she...” he wet his lips and said quickly, “sent you to me. You might think that's...dorky. But it helps it not hurt so much.”
“I don't think it's dorky,” I demurred. “I think it's very sweet. I do think you are a dork, but...it's one of the things I love about you.”
He inhaled sharply and let out a sigh. “I was afraid I'd destroyed that. But, let me come back to it...So, tonight, I was feeling down and I pulled out a scrap book Mom made. Some of the pictures kind of caught my attention and I realized...Averi kind of...looks like my mom.”
“Really? I never met your mom, but I assumed she must have been beautiful—I guess that's proof.”
“Yeah...well, she stopped by.”
“No, my mom. Of course, Averi,” he snickered.
“Oh, well, okay. Dork.”
“Anyway,” he said, shaking my hand and squeezing it. “She was telling me how much she liked me and that someone told her she should be honest with me and communicate.”
“Sounds like good advice.”
“Yeah,” he said and fell silent. “So, Averi and I...we decided to be friends.”
“Yeah. We had a really good talk. If I'm honest, even though she's really nice, there is this guy...”
I turned my head slowly to face him. He'd shifted subtly and he was looking at me. “What about this guy?” I breathed, asking so it was barely audible.
“Well, everything had been great—better than great—when we, he and I, were together. All I thought was missing was that he wasn't a girl. So when Averi got there, I was like, okay it's all in one, now. But, it wasn't. There was this thing missing...I realized, after I started dating, that I already had what I needed from this guy and that what I thought I needed from this girl, well, it wasn't fair to her.
“I miss my mom, Ash. I miss her a lot. But Averi isn't her and as nice as she is, she wasn't you.”
“So what does all this mean?”
“I know why you want me to lead on this, I know you want me to commit before you do because you think I know where you stand, where your heart is. I think I do, but...would you go ahead and tell me anyway?”
“I think you're frustrating, quirky, dorky and I love you more than just about anything. I want to be your boyfriend. I promise, through all of this, I still loved you—that's why it hurt so much,” I replied, my hand tightening on his and my eyes becoming watery. “Is that specific enough?”
I felt his thumb move across my eyelids, gently wiping away my tears. “Thank you for saying it.”
“I don't mind telling you that. I'd tell you every day if it made a difference or even if you just liked hearing it,” I said, barking out a laugh.
He sighed and said, “So, like you asked, I wanted to know what all this meant, too. I went to Robin for advice, to try and talk it through. He has some experience with stuff like this, how to navigate things and—let's face it, Jamie isn't the most subtle guy.”
I gave him a small grin. “He told me I should fight for you.”
“Yeah, he told me. He also told me to...well, I went to talk to Robin.” He hesitated, flicking his gaze toward me and then down to our hands. He lifted them up and placed the back of my hand against his cheek. “I asked how he felt when he realized that he liked guys. I explained how I felt and he helped me work through that. He and I aren't alike.”
“Okay,” I replied, uncertainly. “So, did you guys reach a...conclusion?”
“Yeah, sort of. Robin told me that yes, he can find either sex attractive, but when it comes to turning him on, it's just Lucien. I asked him how that can be—I mean, there are a lot of physical things that turn me on.”
I bit my tongue from making a comment, but I did make a mental note to ask about all those things.
“Robin told me that he can like people and find them attractive, but that what makes someone stand out, what makes him want them has more to do with what they show him than what they look like.”
“I'm not sure I understand.”
“Yeah, I asked him if some old lady would do it for him and he laughed and told me no,” Sean chuckled and I joined him. “He said that Lucien was already attractive to him, but that the things Lu does for him and how he shows what a good soul he has, makes him stand out above everyone else, for Rob.”
“So, Rob doesn't think anyone else is attractive?”
“He does, but not sexually. The only one that does it for him is Lu and everyone else is just, like, art or something. He's a Lu—sexual,” Sean snickered.
“Okay,” I smiled. “How does that apply to you?”
“Well, it doesn't. Not directly. See, Robin says he tries not to pin himself down to labels, but he understands why we tease him about wanting Lu but not claiming the gay tag.“ He shrugged and said, “He says if he had to pick something he'd say pan-sexual because he loves who the person is more than he does their gender.”
“Did that...clarify anything for you?”
“Yes and no,” he said, with a grimace. “Ash, I'm not even sure I'm bi. You're the only guy I ever did anything with and you're the only guy I want to do anything with.”
“So — I ask again—what does all this mean?”
“I want to give us that chance,” Sean said quietly. “I don't know what I am or what people will think I am but...I want you to be my boyfriend.”
I pursed my lips and looked down. “What about the next pretty girl that comes along?”
“I think...I'm always going to be attracted to them. But, if you were a girl, I'd still find other girls attractive. It's part of how I'm wired. I know I'm going to look at girls at school, in the mall, in porn...I still get off on girls. But, that's only physical attraction. You're the only guy I want in my life, though. You're the only guy I'm willing to put myself out there for. You're the only guy I want to call my boyfriend. Is that...”
“Yes,” I said, tears running freely. “Yes, it's more than enough. I just want you. I'm okay if you look; I accept you as you are. I'll be jealous, sometimes, and I'll fight anyone for you, but if I have you and they don't, I really can't lose, can I?”
He let go of my hand and put his arm around my shoulders, drawing me into him and his other hand took mine. I leaned on him, soaking in the warmth of his body touching mine and thanking the universe for working the impossible.
“So...am I going to have to come after you for a kiss or...?”
I kissed him repeatedly and, even when he said he should get home, I couldn't stop kissing him. He's not ripped, he's not a model with a fancy car. He's not suave, he's a dork and he's wonderful and he's mine.
We sat down in the darkened movie theater on the end of our group; Jamie with Emily and Scott with Katie. Sean's hand was clasped with mine on the armrest and we were watching the previews. We'd bought a large popcorn to share, because whoever finishes all that popcorn? It was on the other end with Katie and Scott, and Sean had just peeked down to see if the bucket was coming back yet.
“Looking for a snack?” I asked him.
“Yeah. Movies are supposed to have them, it's like a law or something.”
I reached into one of the pockets of my cargo pants and pulled out a tinfoil-covered package. Sean glanced at it and then up at my face.
“What's that?” he asked.
“Something I put together,” I said, smirking. Unwrapping it revealed a stack of cookies. Sean's tongue darted out to wet his lips.
“Just for my Cookie Monster,” I grinned and handed them to him.
He bit in and dramatically rolled his eyes. “Oh, so good. There're only a couple. We sharing?” he asked, grinning and raising an eyebrow.
“I may have more hidden in my pants,” I giggled.
“Don't you mean pockets?”
“You may need to search me later,” I said, continuing to laugh and lifting my chin in defiance.
He gave me a speculative leer and then said, “Challenge accepted.”