I thought about what he’d said after I dropped him at home. We hugged, but we didn't kiss, even though it was on my mind now. The thing about Walker was I felt good with him. I felt like I had value and like he was worth paying attention to. It didn't hurt that the more I was with him, the more attractive I thought he was.
I pulled back into my driveway and saw the light was on in the garage, which meant my dad was up fiddling with his clocks. I locked my car and went inside to get Bruno for his last trip to potty before bed. After catching him when he tried to go squeeze under the neighbor’s fence, I kicked off my shoes and went into the garage.
“Still working, Dad?” I asked.
“Yep! I'm so close on this one, but I think I need to stop and get some sleep,” he said, sounding disappointed.
“Oh? One of those where it seems like you just need one more thing and then it's done, then you think of one more thing?”
He squinted his eye at me. “Just because you've worked on a few with me doesn't mean you know it all.” He paused. “But yeah, that's pretty much it.”
I grunted and looked down at the little clock.
“So. Mom says you had a friend over. A good looking friend.”
I hesitated just a moment. “Yeah. I did.”
He turned and leaned against his workbench. “Do you like this guy?”
I nodded slowly. “I do. A lot. It's kind of...scary.”
“Yeah.” He turned around and picked up one of the clock movements on his bench. “I was working on this movement, and I kept putting it back in the case, and I'd get it started, and it would get all fucked up – the hour hand wouldn't move. It was the weirdest thing.”
“What was wrong?”
“This gear here,” he said, picking up a gear with an inner gear mounted to a hollow tube in the center. “This gear is supposed to – well, no need to get too deep. Essentially it was the wrong gear. With something like a clock movement, you need each part to do what it's designed for. If part of it doesn't work, then the whole thing doesn't work.” He held out the gear as if examining it. “Think of this gear as Marc.”
“When he was part of your personal life, he made a mess of things. Sure it seemed okay at first, but later...not so good.”
I glanced at him.
He looked at me over his glasses. “Give your folks credit. We snuck around for sex in our day, too.”
“But you never....”
“Sure we did,” he replied. “Condoms were supplied. We tried to be there when things went bad, because they were always going to go bad.” He held up the gear. “Some things just don't fit. If I'm not mistaken you had something going on this past summer.”
I cleared my throat and nodded.
He held up the gear again, tipping it toward me.
I nodded again.
“You were a mess after that summer with Marc – and let’s face it, you can do so much better.”
“Easy to say now,” I grumbled.
“Yeah, hindsight and all that,” he agreed. “This past summer you were...off. I tried to ask you about what you were feeling, but you're not really into talking about yourself. I was worried another relationship like Marc would scar you.” He cleared his throat. “I understand that talking about some of these things isn't always easy, maybe even more difficult with a parent. I can't relate completely, because as much as some things stay the same, things do change. People are different.” He paused. “I've tried to make myself available to you, especially once we'd cottoned to what was happening between you and Marc.”
I shook my head. “Mom always seems to feel like she's entitled to know what's in my head and talking...I just kind of feel like it's better not to say anything. Not to let her in. And if I tell you....”
He sighed and nodded his head, setting the little gear down on his workbench. “Yeah, I get it. But your mom and I don't share a brain. I worry that you don't have someone to talk to, or worse, the only person is Ian!”
I chuckled. “Nah. Ian and I aren't alike, really. I mean, he seems kind of into this one girl, now. Weird to see.”
“So Marc was your first big experience?”
I bit my lip. Dad was keeping things general by calling things an experience rather than just saying the first time you got laid or lost your virginity or hey, the the first guy you fucked. I guess...maybe he was right.
“Marc was...kind of a surprise. I kind of...went with the flow. I don't know if I could say I didn't think about it much or if I just thought...this is how it works. This is what happens when you're not like Ian.”
“Do you mean being gay?” he asked quietly.
I shook my head. “Not being a slut.”
He clapped a hand over his mouth and stifled a laugh. “I,” he chuckled, “I knew he was active, but – a slut? Really?”
I smiled a little. “Yeah. It's kind of funny in a way. He wanted to get laid, but he didn't want to go out with anyone regularly, because mom would explode in his relationship.”
“I don't think-”
“Dad, unless you've been her kid, you don't know how it feels,” I said firmly. “As the gay son, you'd think I'd wait until college to come out, but Ian actually waited for a relationship until mom wasn't in a position to, I don't know, run background checks and credit reports on his girlfriend's family.”
“I think you guys are exaggerating,” he said mildly.
“In middle school parents wanted to meet other parents to know who their kids were hanging out with. Right?” I asked and he nodded slowly. “She never stopped.”
“Kids frequently disagree with how they are parented, so why don't we set that aside for a moment?” he asked, and I nodded. “So Marc was a learning experience, and you seemed very upset after that ended. You haven't had people over to the house since then, except for tonight.”
I picked at my sleeve. “That's because Marc started dating Kendra.”
“Ahh. That...is both strange and kind of wrong. It explains how out of sorts you were at the time.” He cleared his throat. “And this past summer? More of the same?”
I sighed. “Not exactly, no. It was...a fling. We both knew it wasn't going anywhere. It was just supposed to be for fun.”
He placed a hand on my shoulder. “Son, I don't think you're built like that.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean you're not built for just part of a relationship. You’re not like these movements here with missing gears or dirt gumming up the works,” he said, motioning toward the clocks in various states of repair on his bench. “You don't want someone crass like Marc, and you don't want someone that only gives you the time once in a while. You’re looking for someone that's solid and dependable, like these clocks after they've been cleaned and properly cared for – you want that.”
I looked at him steadily for a minute. “Was it like that with you and mom?”
“I wanted the stable parts, your mother liked cuckoo clocks.”
I stared at him.
“What? I could do some weird shit in my day! I'm old now, but let me tell you – I could go like my hair was on fire and my ass was catching.”
I laughed at him, and he called me a brat. I grinned at him. “I like Walker. A lot. More than I ever thought I liked Marc. More than I've ever liked anyone.”
“You're like this here,” he said, pointing to the row of cleaned movements he had running to make sure they kept time before putting everything back into the clock case. “Eventually, you'll put this into a pretty package that you both can depend on.”
“I think you're trying too hard to turn my love life into a clock analogy.”
“I am trying.”
“Good night, Dad.”
I climbed into bed and flipped to my DMs, where Walker had already sent me a message about how he wanted to come cuddle me some more while I work on the sketch, and how if I needed an idea for a web comic I could write about us. Us. So...yeah. There's an us. I sent him a message.
ME: So what do you think happens at the top of that hill?
HIM: What should have happened in your car tonight.
ME: Aren't we supposed to date before making out?
HIM: How far do I have to take you for it to count as a date?
I thought for a moment.
ME: To the top of the hill.
HIM: Poetic. Point me to the hill, Noah.
ME: Maybe it's a metaphor.
HIM: NOAH. I want to kiss you.
ME: Yeah? So do it.
The messages stopped so I plugged my phone in to charge and picked up my tablet. I peeled my socks off and tossed them to the hamper and swapped my sweatshirt for a tee for bed before tossing my joggers aside. I sat in bed, resting my tablet on my thighs as I had earlier, and wondered how you made two comic figures as badly drawn as mine were look like they were kissing on the top of a hill.
My phone buzzed and I glanced at the screen. Huh, Walker was messaging.
HIM: Back porch right NOW.
HIM: I will be in SO much trouble if I get caught.
A fire lit off in my belly, and I climbed from my bed, leaving Bruno to snore away on my blanket, and padded through the house to the back porch. Making sure to leave the light off, I slipped outside quietly. Walker's shadowy form opened the screen door, and I met him partway.
He reached for one of my hands and brought the back up to his cheek.
“I am going to get in so much trouble over you,” he said softly.
“You barely know me,” I said.
“I'm going to get into so much trouble getting to know you,” he said, letting my hand go and putting a hand on the back of my neck. “I just know you're going to be different. Now all I have to do after biking over here is lower my head like a baby giraffe to reach you all the way down there.”
I chuckled. “You jerk. Kiss me.”
I looked like a moron standing there in my underwear and a tee shirt with my too-tall boyfriend, but that was okay. That kiss was worth it. And the few that followed. Then he had to go, and we kissed before he stepped outside, and I followed him, kissing him again while he was straddling his bike. Then he was gone and I was cold, so I went back to my room to try and figure out...everything.
I have a boyfriend. I have...I mean, that's a lot right there. Walker Kay was my boyfriend. Was that enough? It was more than Marc or Victor, but in terms my dad would understand, did we have enough gears between us to keep time?
I was awake early the next day, though I felt a little tired from lying awake and thinking about all my questions about Walker. Turning over all the things I knew about him, it was actually a short list, and I wanted to know more. Everything. I sent him a message that I'd pick him up for school, and he seemed happy about that. I was excited that he was happy about that. I fed Bruno, had my own breakfast and headed out the door.
I pulled up to Walker's building. ME: I'm out front.
HIM: My dad says a gentleman comes to the door.
I rolled my eyes. His dad thinks he's funny. I walked up to Walker's door and knocked. There was a shriek, and then the door was yanked open by Matty, who had on one sock, his pants and a hat.
“Who are you?” he shrieked and then ran at the sound of a woman's voice that sounded like it meant business.
I stepped into the apartment as Walker was coming down the hall in shorts and a tee shirt. His bag was over his shoulder, and he smiled in greeting as he pushed his feet into his shoes.
“Walker? Do you have practice today?” a lady I figured was his mom asked as she appeared at the end of the hallway. Spotting me, she smiled. “Oh, hi. You must be Noah.”
“Yeah, must be,” I said with a little smile. I looked at Walker. “How much did you tell your parents about me?”
“Virtually nothing,” his mom said, catching up to us. “He didn't even mention how cute you are. Jesus, Walker, you could have warned me.”
Ah. Moms telling boys they are handsome. Yeah, I'm over that one.
“Go away, mom. You can't have him – he's not like the last one,” Walker said with a grin.
His mom's mouth dropped into an O of surprise. “You little shit!” she said, laughing and slapping his arm.
“Going to be late. Love you,” Walker said as he stepped past me.
I raised my hand. “Uh, dating your son, just met you so...nice to meet you?”
She gave me a crooked smile. “I hope we see a lot more of you, Noah.”
I smiled weakly and headed for my car. Once I was behind the wheel I said, “Were you serious? You kind of implied your mom hit on one of your exes, and now she just said she hopes to see more of me. More of me how?”
Walker burst out in loud laughter, and while I was annoyed, I couldn't help but laugh a little too. He fiddled with the radio, and I let him. At school I wasn't sure if I was supposed to kiss him goodbye, but I kind of wanted to, so I did. Seemed to be the right thing to do.
I floated through the first two periods feeling unusually focused and happy. As I sat in the library, Kendra plopped down with Marc beside her.
“Heard a rumor,” she said and looked at Marc. “Did you hear the rumor I heard?”
He gave her his best dumb smile. “Which one? I hear so many.”
“No one cares,” I said, trying to finish my homework since I had to work that night.
“I heard that Noah was spotted sucking some guy's face off in the parking lot this morning,” Kendra said.
“Wow. Weird he's fucking someone during the school year,” Marc said.
“You'd know, bottom boy,” I snapped.
“That's such bullshit,” he said, but not forcefully.
“Marc just knows where it feels good, that's all,” Kendra said, placating Marc's ego.
“I'm sure that's what you think when you peg him,” I said in a distracted tone.
“Uh huh. Who's the new guy?” Marc asked.
I hit the button to submit my homework and looked across the table at him. “You know what? It's probably normal to call your friends and talk about someone you met that makes you happy – but you don't qualify.” My nerves were buzzing, and I resisted the urge to try and stomp out. I really wanted to stay calm and cool and burn them down for being such shit friends.
He looked at Kendra uncertainly. She looked at me with confidence. “Who else besides your friends – us – would you tell?”
I shrugged. “I could call the guy I hooked up with all summer. He's pretty honest – I knew it was just for the summer, no strings. Unlike Marc, here, who took a dicking and then changed teams.”
“Oh. We want to do this now?” Kendra asked, raising an eyebrow in challenge.
My nerves jumped up times ten. “You mean you have a defense?”
She blinked a few times and smiled with condescension. “Who else would be friends with you? You should be glad we didn't just dump you.”
I shifted in my seat. “Why's that?”
She shrugged, smiled at Marc and back to me, and spoke as if it were obvious, “Because that shit's nasty. You need a real woman to get you all straightened out.”
My nerves fluttered higher and settled a bit – the tiniest bit. “Is that what you really think? I just need to find the right woman and I won't want guys anymore?”
“I mean, it's biology. Science. Right?” she said with a smile and tossed her hair with her hand. “Men are wired like that. It's just taking you longer, and you're a middle child so, like, psychologically you're fucked up anyway.”
I stared for a second and then swallowed down my nerves. “You're just stupid enough to believe that, aren't you?”
She frowned. “Facts are facts.”
“Right. Like Homos are a normal variation on human sexuality. Do you remember that part, or did you block it out?”
“Or that Marc didn't think about you once that whole summer while he was getting dicked down, and not to mention how could you be with a guy that's had a dick in his mouth and his ass? You know that kind of means my dick's been in your mouth. Right?” I smiled. Still fucking nervous, but I smiled. I hoped it looked like a smile.
She narrowed her eyes. “Marc was just like you. Once he had a real woman, he didn't care about guys anymore.”
I tried smiling again. “Except when you peg him.” I looked at Marc. “I bet he thinks about me a lot, then. Don’t’cha, Marc?”
“As if,” he said with a snort.
I leaned forward. “Even when you tell her to do you harder? Even then, Marc?”
“Fuck this,” Marc said quickly, standing and leaving the room.
Kendra looked at me with a mask of anger. “He's doing good, now. Why are you so jealous?”
I smiled for real then. “Jealous of Marc? Have you seen my boyfriend? I have nothing to be jealous about.”
“You're making a mistake,” she said.
“How?” I asked. As if my mind had slowly been building to a conclusion without informing me I said, “You two aren't my friends. You don't care about me – all you care about is trying to make me straight and being happy you're sleeping with a guy I slept with. I mean...how many shades of fucked up is that?” I shook my head. “For the first time in a while I think I'm seeing things clearly. Go. Go be with Marc, and leave me alone.”
She stood and muttered a 'fuck you' at me before leaving.
I felt good for a moment, but then I started to feel hollow. Yeah, they sucked as friends, but I didn't make friends easily. It was me – I knew that. Probably a result of not joining things – can't know you if you're not there and all that. Except even if I was there in the middle of groups, I'm still not easy to know. How do people do it? Open themselves and be comfortable around groups to find people to call friends?
I was tempted to reach out to Victor, but even though he'd probably be polite, he'd probably want me to come hook up with him. The day before yesterday that would have been enough, but now? Walker'd kissed me. Things were different now. I was different now. Maybe I could call Ian? But what would I say? Should I ask how it felt when he got together with his girlfriend? If it felt different than the girls he'd hooked up with before? Or was his finding a deeper relationship just as simple as I'd made it out to be – that no one in their right mind would date anyone with my mother's knowledge.
Oh, shit. My mother knows.
After school Walker messaged he was staying to redo a quiz for extra credit, so I went home to change and headed to work. Darrion was working coffee with me, and we were just flat out busy for the first hour or so. Darrion had picked things up really well, and I didn't have to worry about him making knots in our service, so it made busy times less stressful. Eventually things did settle down though, and he grabbed a drink while I wiped down the prep surfaces.
“I hooked up with this guy last night – worst ever. He wanted to meet at this little wannabe bistro, which can be cute or it can be all bougie. You know?”
“I mean if the date goes okay, then it's cute – otherwise it's just part of the suck.” He rolled his eyes and sipped his drink. “Anyway, first he's ordering food for me, and I'm thinking to myself, bitch, I don't eat on dates – I'm too nervous! Who orders food for someone else anyway? Little weird, but then he's rude to the waitress, and I'm thinking strike two!”
I frowned. “Yeah, dick move. I mean, the waitress didn't deserve any crap, right?”
“Not at all! He was like snapping his fingers at her like she was an animal – she didn't even get a chance to screw up.”
“So what was strike three?”
“I stop at two.”
“But...it's supposed to be three strikes and you're out.”
“What can I say – I'm not traditional. I went to the bathroom, tipped the waitress and asked if there was a back door – and honey, she knew what was up,” he said laughing.
“Nice,” I said with a chuckle and greeted a customer. After filling her order I stacked some cups while Darrion made a to-go order and set it on the pick up tray.
“So. What's new with you? Corey finally land you?”
“Uh, that would be a no,” I said, smiling a little as I thought of Walker.
“Uh. Uh, what's that? Was that a smile? What was that?” he asked, teasing and getting closer to me. “What happened? Tell me every gory detail.”
“Eh. Not really that much to tell,” I said.
“No, what happened to me was not much. It was a waste of time. Now,” he said, smiling and sliding a bit closer. “What happened? Tell Auntie Darrion.”
I chuckled a little. “Well. First Corey did some weird homecoming invite in the library – loud, flashy. You know, gets everyone's attention.”
“Especially in a library,” he said with a nod. “Go on.”
I gave him a one shoulder shrug. “It was....”
“Romantic? Sexy? Sweet?”
His face dropped. “Oh. Oh, no.” He put a hand on his forehead. “Of course. You're not into flashy. What did you do?”
I coughed. “He'd been bugging me for weeks, so I...kind of lost it on him.”
“Did you squash him?” Darrion asked softly.
“A little. I mean...he didn't listen to a damn thing I'd said. I said no – a lot. I meant no. I wasn't doing some fucked up flirting thing, and he thought I just needed to have my mind changed.” I hardened my expression. “If you can't respect me, you can't date me.”
“Fucking right, sister,” he said and grinned. “Now, what was the smile about?”
I glanced away and smiled involuntarily.
“Yeah, that's the smile. What happened? Come on!” he whined.
I looked back toward him, unable to check my grin. “This guy...Walker. He's on the cross country team with me. We listened to some music together, and we hung out. Um.” Heat rushed into my face. “We kissed.”
He grinned. “You got yourself a boy?”
I grinned a little more. “Yeah. We're dating.”
He made a high pitched sound and jumped up and down on the balls of his feet. “Tell me everything!”
I crossed my arms and smiled at him. “I think I'm just going to keep this to myself for now.”
“Oh. Oh. Okay,” he said, holding his hands up and smiling. “It's new. I won't be nosy.” He grinned. “Yet.”
We got a few stragglers before we closed the coffee counter and I headed home. I messaged with Walker for a little bit while I did my homework, asking if he'd gotten caught the night before, because I'd forgotten he'd said he'd get in big trouble. He claimed he was a ninja and there was never any real chance he'd get caught.
I was so tempted to tell him to pedal his ass over. I just...wanted to see him. That was kind of new to me too, relationship wise. Wanting to see him just to see him? No planning to get laid and then walk away or whatever? It left me nervous, a little excited...and I just wanted to see him.