The sound of the truck pulling into the drive took my emotions from simple, unchecked worry to complete dread. After a moment's indecision I stood from the bed and crossed to the window and looked down as Chase returned from picking up Sean and Jamie from football camp. They were both dressed very casually, tee shirts and shorts, and I looked down on them with sadness as they stretched and moved slowly to get their bags.
Chase strode away from the truck and I took that moment to simply look at them while things were still okay. But, of course, that wasn't really true. Things hadn't been okay for weeks, really, but they'd certainly gone completely off the rails three days ago. Up until a few weeks ago, I'd been okay knowing Sean and Jamie were out of reach, romantically. I was on guard against my attractions and was focused, at home, on being a good member of the family. I kept my mouth shut and I listened and I watched Scott to see how to be a good son.
I snorted. I guess you don't learn that one easily or quickly – or not at all. It's not entirely my fault, I'd like to think, but Mr. Ellis is very big on taking responsibility for our own decisions. So, even after Jamie and I unexpectedly...were intimate – satisfyingly, achingly, wonderfully intimate – all I could think was...I wanted more.
Jamie was clear, though – he wasn't gay. He claimed everything was great and nothing had changed between us; he even said he loved me. But things had changed. We'd had our dicks in each other's mouths, for God's sake, how does that not change things? I relived it in my head as often as I dared and, when made to go to church with the family, I prayed for alone time with Jamie to happen again. Although I felt keyed up and on edge around Jamie, now, he seemed to have been able to accept the situation and had moved on.
A million ideas had raced through my mind. Was I just satisfying a curiosity for him? Had he lost a bet? If it was as awesome as he'd claimed, why wouldn't he want to do it again? As the days passed, Jamie's better qualities were at the front of my mind – his loyalty, his easy acceptance of me and, after a fashion, his kindness. That left out that he was one of the cutest guys in our class, a near mirror of Sean, whom I had pined for – and still did – since I'd met him.
A small part of me knew this was a bad line of thinking, that nothing good was waiting down there. Because the answers to the questions didn't matter. The reality was, Jamie and I had done this thing and he was done. It didn't really matter if he'd gotten what he'd wanted and moved on or not; not his intentions, not his motivation, not his feelings one way or another afterward. What mattered was he'd made me believe I was desirable – that I'd turned him on – and that we'd brought mutual pleasure and then he'd taken it away. And he'd said he loved me.
To have that given to you, to have experienced it, and then have it pulled away...it hurt. I think I kept up a good front, but then it had been fresh in my mind and I was still seeing both Jamie and Sean. Then they'd left for football camp for two weeks, and with Scott spending so much time with Katie, I was kind of on my own. Mr. and Mrs. Ellis worked during the day and, even though I was a foster child, there was no such thing as child care for a kid my age. So, I was alone for some time during the day and free to be completely neurotic about Jamie and what we'd done.
Then, with just a few days to go before Jamie and Sean came home, I inexplicably developed hope that Jamie'd reconsidered while at summer camp and would be more interested when he came back. In fact, maybe he'd missed me and, well, maybe he was struggling with being bi or even gay. That could be, right? Well, it doesn't matter, anymore. Instead, Scott came home in the middle of the day and was a little huffy.
“She's fucking teasing me and she knows it,” he whined. He and I were both in the living room, he in a chair and I on the couch.
“How?” I asked.
“She keeps asking me shit about colors I like and if I like two piece or one piece bathing suits and stuff like that – and then she goes and wears it,” he says as he looks at me, “and she acts like it's not making me horny to see her in that little two piece or those shorts that show all of her freaking legs! Ugh!” he thrown himself against the back of the chair.
“Well...” I started, but trailed off. It didn't matter, he was grousing again.
“She barely kisses me, and I haven't even gotten to cop a feel or anything, you know? It's like...this whole thing is all about teasing me, getting me all boned up with no place to put it but my fucking hand.”
“Have you...um,” I cleared my throat. “Have you guys talked about doing stuff?”
He snorted. “She just giggles.”
My mind raced. Scott was a decent looking guy and Jamie hadn't admitted to loving me until afterward, right? Was Scott feeling out the situation? Was he concerned because I was his foster brother? Did I want something to happen? I was torn. Since Jamie I'd wanted nothing more than to have that feeling again. Was it possible that I could get this from Scott, if Jamie was not going to respond to me?
“Uh. I could, you know, help you out,” I said haltingly.
Scott was staring up at the ceiling. “How? You going to do a Vulcan mind meld and make her blow me?” He snickered at his own joke, but I ignored his nerves. When I stayed silent he turned his gaze from the ceiling and glanced at me.
“I, uh, helped...before. I could...” I made an uncertain gesture with my hand. “I could help you out.”
Color moved into his face. “Ash, I'm horny but, I'm not gay.”
“Yeah,” I said with a sigh as I stood and crossed the room to stand over him. “He says he isn't either. But he also said it was awesome.” He also told me he loved me, I thought to myself. Sweat stood out on Scott's upper lip as I stood above him. He shifted in his chair and he was plainly tenting his shorts. I don't know if it was conscious or unconscious, but his legs spread out by a few more inches. I knelt, slowly, as my own body temperature rose. I glanced up at his face and his lips parted and his breath was coming faster. I lifted a hand, tentatively, and his hips twitched, moving him closer.
It wasn't the same, not even close. This wasn't special, it wasn't...Jamie. Then, the unthinkable. His mother's voice.
“Are you guys home? Oh, my God!”
Scott stood quickly and his knee bashed my eye, which darkened but hadn't gone completely black. Mrs. Ellis was plainly thrown for a loop and, being the good and long lived foster mother, immediately called my worker, Mrs. Clemons, who made it to the house in record time. I wasn't clear on the details – there had to be an investigation, Scott wouldn't talk to me and Mrs. Ellis was crying off and on. She pulled out a suitcase so I wouldn't have to put my things in garbage bags, but it all came down to the same thing – I'd just lost my home.
In some macabre joke, the group home had no beds and, once they heard, the Kirkwoods agreed to take me in during the time this investigation took. There wasn't much to investigate – she'd walked in while I was blowing her son, and that seemed clear enough. But Mrs. Clemons was asking me questions that made it sound like they were trying to find out if one of us forced the other. How bizarre can you be? I mean, how do you force someone to let you blow them? As for the other possibility, Scott would never do that.
So I stewed for days, marinating in my own self pity and the fear of what was happening beyond my control and out of my sight.
I'd thought about running away – decided on it, actually – except I was holding out hope that Jamie would come back and say he was confused and had some feelings for me and wanted to figure this thing out together. It was pretty obvious, when he got home, that he wasn't troubled by anything, though. There wasn't a sign of mental stress on his face or in his body language. I sighed and slumped back onto the bed.
I'd snuck a garbage bag to my room – actually, Kale's old room, I was just a guest that was passing through. Anyway, it was under my bed – Kale's bed – and I'd already moved my clothes into it. I figured the Ellis's would want their suitcase back. Mrs. Kirkwood had shown me where the snacks were and I'd been sneaking the protein bars and other things – not much! - to fill me up, short term. I'd also hidden away a Gatorade both for thirst and also because I could refill it and have a decent amount to drink.
My immediate plan was to head up to Albany. Interstate 88 was lined with trees, so I could move outside of the view of drivers or the occasional trooper. Once I got to Albany, well...one thing at a time, right? The important part was to put this behind me. Going back to school without a home, again, and then the fact that Jamie was sure to take Scott's side – they were best friends, after all – and then Sean would back Jamie's play would leave me as the odd man out.
The shit part was, I knew all of this before. It's why I had kept such a tight reign on my feelings and my eyes. It was no secret how I felt for Sean, and Sean even encouraged it, a little, and everyone teased me some. But I held the line there, for the last few months. Until Jamie.
The downstairs door opened and my thoughts were sent scrambling as the house was filled with the noise of the returning near twins. I heard the sound of them climbing the stairs and their door opening. There was a muffled crash as bags hit the floor, and then my door – Kale's – was opened and Jamie stood in the doorway with Sean behind him.
“So my dad says my best friend can't come over because you're here,” Jamie stated, his voice laced with curiosity. His gaze flicked around the room, perhaps seeing if I'd changed anything. Maybe gauging the permanency of my stay.
“Um. Yeah,” I said, my voice sounding scratchy from disuse. “I can't go there, either. No contact.”
Jamie pursed his lips. “So you can't be around them. What did you do?”
My mouth opened but I found myself unable to respond. How could I say anything with Sean right there? I'd rather he never knew how weak I'd been, but at least he could find out after I was gone.
“Say something!” Jamie hissed.
“I...I'm sorry,” I whispered.
“Fuck sorry! Why can't he come over?”
I shook my head and spread my hands helplessly. “There is an investigation. I can't have contact with them.”
“That's the same lame bullshit answer Dad gave me. Why did you end up here, then?” he asked, frustration tinging his voice.
“Jamie, please, it wasn't my choice,” I said, my voice firming. “I don't get that kind of choice. The group home had no beds and no one else was available, close. Your folks took me in under an emergency license until stuff gets straightened out.” My voice had grown stronger as I'd spoken and, now, I looked at him a little defiantly. That part, at least, wasn't my fault. His parents had stepped in and volunteered; of course, they didn't know what I'd done to their son in the basement.
“Are you kidding me?' Jamie's jaw dropped. He turned on his heel and headed out of the room, calling to his mother. Sean's look was unreadable as he, too, turned from me and went to see the results of his brother's inquiry. I sighed. It had been a mistake, a colossal one to wait for them to come back.
Shortly afterward, the front door banged again and I saw Jamie pedaling away on his bike. I lay my head on the pillow and felt my emotions fall away like water down a drain. Although my limbs were heavy and felt exhausted, my mind churned endlessly. I didn't want to leave, not really, but I didn't see any other way. Jamie would go to Scott and he'd find out what happened. Then, it would be my fault – which it is, I guess – and then he'd be mad at me. Then Sean would be mad at me.
Then what? A group home somewhere else? A foster family in a new town where I'd be alone and friendless again? I snorted – I was shortly to be alone and friendless again, anyway. There was a tap on the door and I lay still and willed them to go away. The door opened and I couldn't be bothered to close my eyes and pretend. Just a few more hours and I could escape.
The bed sagged a bit with the weight, and then he took my hand. Tears welled in my eyes. He didn't ask. I glanced up at his face, but it was filled with uncertainty.
“I don't want to tell you,” I whispered.
“Okay, you don't have to,” he said, allowing his thumb to move across the back of my hand. “I wish you would, though.”
“You'll hate me.”
“I don't think so.”
“I lost my home, again. They are going to move me to some group home or some foster home outside this area.”
“Why would they do that?” he asked, this hand stilling.
I sniffed. “There wasn't anyone available. That's why your folks stepped up. If they knew what I did, they wouldn't have.”
“I don't think that's true. They are good people. Are you sure you don't want to tell me?”
“It's not all mine to tell.”
“I'm hearing a lot of that, lately,” he replied.
I glanced at him and then lay my head flat and stared at the wall. “I love you, you know.”
“Yeah, I know.”
I waited a few beats, but there was no reciprocal statement. I sighed. “I really hoped it would be you. I hoped things would change and...it was stupid, I guess. I want you to know I was trying my best to be a good friend, to be a good son and brother and ignore my feelings.”
I couldn't look at him; instead I stared at the wall, roaming and looking for imperfections. “I didn't mean for it to happen. Like I said, I wanted it to be you.” I was grateful my emotions had shut down, otherwise I'd have stopped speaking before I got started. “But when Jamie kissed me...”
“What?” His hand jerked in mine, nearly breaking contact. I opened my hand, releasing his, but he left his fingers in my palm. “Asher, did you say Jamie kissed you?”
“Yeah,” I said with a sigh. “It wasn't planned or anything, I wasn't after him,” I said defensively.
“Well, what happened then, Ash? Jamie's straight.”
“I know, he told me right after,” I said, bitterly. “He was fine with it when he asked me to help him take his shorts off, and he didn't mind when he undid my zipper. Ow, that hurts, Sean.” I pulled my hand back and he released his tightening grip hurriedly.
“I'm sorry, Ash, I'm sorry. Um. Go ahead, tell me what happened next.”
“We did a sixty-nine,” I said quietly. My voice was almost unrecognizable to myself. I wasn't embarrassed or nervous or anything I might have expected. I was numb. “That's when he said he wasn't gay. It's kind of funny. He'd just wiped my cum from his lip and he tells me he's not gay.”
“Jesus Christ,” Sean muttered.
“I figured things would get weird, you know? I avoided him for a bit. But he showed up and told me he loved me and it was awesome and didn't change anything. I kept hoping, maybe, he was thinking he was bi or something and I might have a chance. He has some good qualities, you know?”
“Yeah. Sometimes, he does.”
“Yeah. So,” I coughed and then resumed. “Things seemed like they were back to normal, for him. But I was kind of messed up. I mean, he said he loved me. Then you guys left and Scott's been with Katie so all I could think about...was...”
“Yeah,” I replied, forlornly. “Then Scott comes home and he's talking about how Katie is a tease and this and that and I start to wonder...I said to him I helped out a guy, maybe I could help him. You know? So he says to me that he's not gay. I think to myself, Jamie said that, too – but then he said he loved me. But you know what, Sean? It wasn't like it was with Jamie. Jamie was into it, he wanted to do it. Scott was just...getting a blowjob.”
“Ah, Christ,” Sean groaned. “So that's what happened?”
“Yeah. Then Mrs. Ellis came home unexpectedly. So, you see now, right? I can't go back there, now. I wasn't trying to get kicked out, I just...I thought...Jamie...do you hate me, Sean?”
“No! God, no,” he said and took my hand in his, pressing in between both hands. “I'm sorry for all this, Ash.”
“It's not your fault.” I thought for a moment I'd tell him about my plan to leave, but I decided to keep that to myself. “I was hoping Jamie'd have had a change of heart at camp. Maybe question if he had feelings for me. Nobody's a bigger fool than me, right?”
“No, Ash, you're not a fool.” Sean let out a shuddering sigh and said, “You just followed your heart and got hurt and confused.”
We sat in silence and I let my world dwindle down to the softness of his hand and I stayed that way until the front door banged again, announcing Jamie's return.
“I'll be back.” He squeezed my hand and was gone. I heard him descend the stairs and everything fell into silence for no more than a moment, when I heard a slower, steadier step coming up the stairs. I knew, somehow, that tread was headed for me. There was a short tap at the door and then it swung open.
“Asher? Dinner is ready.”
“I'm not really hungry, Mrs. Kirkwood,” I replied quietly. I heard her feet cross the carpet and then she took the seat her son had so recently occupied. Her hand brushed the hair on my forehead a few times.
“I know you must be upset, Asher. I wish I could give you some consolation or tell you when this will be over. All I can do is tell you that we're here for you. I know my boys care for you a lot and I know they would want you to feel safe, here. You are safe, of course, and welcome. But, if you want to stay safe, you better come eat my pot roast,” she said with a chuckle.
I didn't want to disappoint her and, I was actually kind of surprised that my stomach gurgled when I caught my first whiff of the dinner she'd prepared. Mr. Kirkwood was just sitting down and I was directed to a seat by Mrs. Kirkwood. Jamie and Sean came in from the kitchen carrying veggies and pasta and then took seats opposite me. Jamie wasn't meeting my gaze, so I stopped trying. Sean gave me a tight lipped smile, but then kept his head down.
“So, Jamie, are you going to fill us in on all your adventures at camp?” his mom asked.
“It was camp,” he shrugged and shoveled food in his mouth.
“Sean, think you can expand on that?” she chuckled.
“It was a lot of work,” he said, “There was a couple guys in our bunk room that were just nasty. I'm not sure they did any laundry the whole time we were there. Jamie poured detergent on them one night, just as a hint,” Sean laughed. I cracked a smile, knowing it was a very Jamie thing to do. His parents laughed as well, knowing how Jamie is.
“I couldn't help myself, they stunk,” Jamie muttered, the ends of his mouth curling.
“He also drew on their tee shirts,” Sean giggled.
“Oh no, what did you write?” Mr. Kirkwood asked, trying to keep a straight face.
“An arrow to their armpit and a note that said 'Deodorant goes here',” Jamie said with a snort.
“Oh, no! Jamie!” his mom laughed. “I hope you didn't get into a fight!”
“Nah. There were a lot of guys saying that to them, could have been anyone. Besides, they kept telling everyone that not bathing and not doing laundry was some kind of good luck, training camp thing.” Jamie replied. “And anyway, Sean pulled the bigger prank.”
“I wouldn't call it bigger,” Sean demurred.
“So we had white practice jersey's, right? Sean cuts ragged holes in the armpits and colors the edges with a green marker so it looks like they got eaten away by the stink,” Jamie said, laughing at Sean. “To top it off, he wrote names on the backs of their shirts, like you'd find on a real jersey.”
“I'm afraid to ask,” his mom said, covering her mouth to hide her giggles.
“Stinkbreath and Fartsniffer. I swear, he did it all on his own. I'm so proud of him!” Jamie grinned. “Oh, we made a new partner in crime - I mean friend - too. His name is Boomer and he's going to Columbia in the fall.”
It was hard not to smile at them, and I did. This was one of those good times that could be had in their company. For a moment, it was as if nothing had transpired. Then Jamie caught my eyes and his head dropped, again. Clearly, he was unhappy with me. After dinner I helped to clear the table and then Mr. Kirkwood called me into the living room. He pointed to a chair and then he sat down across from me.
“So, how are you holding up?”
“I'm fine, Judge, thank you.”
“Still, I can't imagine this is easy for you.”
“I have no choice, so it doesn't really matter if it's easy,” I replied. “Mr. Ellis is always telling me I have to take responsibility for the things I do. I did something wrong, and I'm...paying for it.”
“I don't think that's quite accurate,” he said and shifted to get comfortable in his chair. “CPS investigations are designed to protect the children in care, but they can just as easily be used to protect the agency responsible for the child. So whatever happened, they check it out to make sure the situation is safe for you and that they can limit their liability in case they put you back and something else happens.”
I narrowed my eyes. “They aren't going to send me back. Didn't they tell you what happened?”
“No,” he said with a brisk shake of his head. “Those investigations are strictly confidential. The only thing they will tell me is in very broad strokes and it's not worth listening to them because it's too easy to draw the wrong conclusions.”
“I see,” I replied. I think I said it pretty calmly, but this confirmed that they didn't know. If they had, I wouldn't be here. “I already talked to the investigator. There weren't many people involved, how long can this possibly take?” I asked, out of idle curiosity.
“Investigations can take up to sixty days. If they find that there is abuse or neglect, then the Ellis's could appeal and that process could drag out four to five months.”
“They didn't do anything wrong,” I said absently.
“Then I'm sure things will get cleared up quickly. But I do want you to know, if you need to talk...” He left the sentence unfinished.
“Thank you, but I can't.”
He opened his mouth to speak, and then closed it with a nod. “If you change your mind, you know where to find me.”
Jamie and Sean were put right to work by their mom. She decided that they should learn to do laundry, considering Chase, her son-in-law, told her how proud he was of Kale for learning the intricacies of different wash cycles. Robin had been out all day with Lucien, so I hadn't had the benefit of his company, either. I guess the guys hadn't cleaned their room, the way Mrs. K told them to before they left, so that kept them pretty busy for the evening.
I went upstairs, ostensibly to get ready for bed. I was just going through the motions, intending to stay dressed so I could save time when I snuck out. I brushed my teeth, flossed and washed my face. I looked at my face in the mirror, noting how much my acne had cleared and realizing that, as a runaway, I would go back to the pimply faced loser I’d been before. Well, no, not really. Underneath the new clothes and the medicine, I was still that person. I was just covered up, that’s all.
I became aware of a murmur of voices. I thought it might be a TV, but the angle was wrong – the sound was coming from the outer wall of the house instead of an interior one, where a bedroom TV might be. Curious despite myself, I started to glance around the bathroom until my gaze fell upon the laundry chute – that ran right into the basement where Sean and Jamie had retreated once their mom had declared their room satisfactory.
My body jerked, my initial desire to hear warring with my mind, which was saying it didn’t matter. In the end, though, my curiosity won out and I opened the lid to the chute and heard the near twins clearly.
“I told you, it just happened! I didn’t plan on it!” Jamie’s voice was a mix of pleading and aggravation.
“We talked about this, though! You and I agreed that we couldn’t have that with Asher! He’s been through too much! We agreed it wouldn’t end well!” Sean’s voice was firm and exasperated. Wait, what did that statement even mean?
“I know, and I still think that’s true – I mean, look at the situation! You think I wanted this for him?”
“No,” Sean said, sighing. “But Jamie…you have to be more careful! We knew he was fragile and we knew all either one of us had to do to satisfy our curiosity was ask and he’d have done it.”
“I didn’t ask, though! Look, let me explain, okay? I’m not trying to justify what happened, I’m just trying to…explain. Okay?”
“Okay. Explain, then.”
“You don’t have to be so judgmental, this could easily have been you, you know.”
“But it wasn’t. So, let’s hear it.”
A large sigh and then, “Fine. Everyone was gone and I wasn’t expecting anyone, so I just threw on shorts and thought I was going to play some GTA, you know?”
There was a silence and I imagined Sean simply nodded and waited for him to continue. My chest clutched as I, too, waited for Jamie to spill the whole story to Sean. To expose me for being a weak slut who jumped his brother at the first opportunity. That I'd told Sean the basics, that didn't matter. That was just my side.
“So I’m sitting down here and the doorbell rings, and it’s Ash. Scott was out with Katie and he was bored, so he came looking for us. Well, he came looking for you, but all there was here was me.” Jamie's voice was filled with a note of bitterness.
“Jamie, for God’s sake! Asher loves you, too! I don’t understand why it bothers you so much that he has a thing for me!”
“It doesn't! Not like that, anyway. I wanted to know how come people always ask about you and never me. How come girls come up to me and ask me about you, but no one goes to you and asks about me? How come I'm not worth that, huh?”
“Because we're different people, duh? Look, you're out there with your personality, everyone knows you and you're, like, the center of attention. I'm quieter, maybe, I don't know, softer than you? All anyone has to do to know you is spend a few minutes with you.”
“Am I really that simple? A few minutes?” Jamie responded sarcastically.
“Oh, stop being dense!” Sean sighed. “Let me ask you this: how many girls that you ask out say yes?”
“What does that-”
“Just answer me, Jame.”
“Well. Most of them. But I don't see-”
“That's your answer, Jamie. They're just waiting for you to ask them. Oh, and by the way? It seems that guys go that way with us, too. Look at Asher. He came out and said he liked me, but as soon as you showed interest – you were going to tell me how that ended?”
There was silence and then a loud snap, as if something had been broken.
“No! I get it, okay? I fucked up! We were just playing. I was teasing him like normal and we wrestled and...and...we both got hard.”
“You...okay. Then what?”
“Ash was all kinds of embarrassed, but I was...he was on top of me and he was...I...pulled him down and kissed him. Then all I could think about was doing it again. We got naked-”
“Whose idea was that?”
Another large sigh. “Mine.”
“Then you guys blew each other.”
“How did you know?”
“I managed to drag it out of Asher.”
“Then, why did you put me through all that?”
“Because, Jamie! He's upstairs blaming himself for everything that's happened! Look, I know we're both curious – we've talked about it! But you and I both agreed to keep Asher out of it. I need you to understand what you did, here – even though Asher has some responsibility, too. But he's blind where we're concerned and we know that.”
“I...I didn't mean...” Sniffling sounds echoed in the large room.
“I know. But...what now?”
“I don't know! Sean, I liked it! I mean, I really, no shit, liked it! It was awesome – but I'm not gay! I'm not! All I could think about this week was Emily and not because I wanted to prove to myself I'm not gay, but because out of every hundred times I jerk off, I think of Ash once or twice? That doesn't make me gay.”
“You told him you loved him.”
“And I do! I do.” Jamie's sniffled devolved into the sound of tears and my cheeks flushed in embarrassment for him. It didn't, wouldn't change anything and it was useless to know how I got here. I also knew listening in anymore would be an even bigger betrayal of trust than I'd already committed by eavesdropping. I closed the lid and returned to my room and sat on the bed to wait a little later to pretend to go to bed.
I turned off the light and crossed the room with the guidance of the moonlight streaming through the window. I sat on the bed, not wanting to risk laying down since I might fall asleep, despite how sure I was of my plan to leave. This was, I felt, the only way to seize any control of what was happening to me. If I had to leave, then I could at least decide where I’d go and when.
Growing uncomfortable, I propped myself against the headboard and tried to still my mind. I heard the creak of a hinge and my pulse increased. I held myself as still as I could, straining to hear. Then the door to my room – Kale’s room – opened and someone slipped in, and then closed the door, leaning back against it.
“Ash? Are you asleep?” he asked softly. Jamie.
I debated keeping silent, but if he chose to move forward, he'd be able to tell – and why would you sneak into the room I was in to talk if you weren’t willing to wake me? So I decided to cut to the chase.
“Oh. Okay. Um. I think we should talk.”
“Well, things are kind of fucked up, aren’t they? Don’t you think we should?”
“Talking isn’t going to change anything, Jamie. I know it and you know it. Just…let it go.”
The room was silent for a beat, then two. Jamie’s shadow slid down the door until he was sitting on the floor.
“I’m sorry, Ash. For everything.”
I wasn’t going to fall into this, I told myself. If he wanted to be unburdened, that was fine, but larger things – like the CPS investigation – were in motion and what he said now wasn’t going to make any real difference, and that was all on me.
“I…I understand if you don’t want to talk to me. I guess, if I were you, I might not want to either. But I'm feeling so bad right now, so bad.” His voice was tinged with exhaustion and my resolve was weakening. I decided I could, at least, give him some peace.
“It wasn't your fault, Jamie. I could have said no. I could have told you it was a bad idea. I knew it was a bad idea. But, Jamie, you're such a good friend and so, so good looking...I didn't have it in me to say no to you.”
“I shouldn't have put you in that position,” he said firmly.
“Maybe. But how long would that last? How many times have we wrestled? How many times have I wrestled with Sean or Scott? What, were you never going to touch me? Was that your solution?”
“Damn it, Ash! I'm trying to take some responsibility here.”
“And I'm telling you, you really don't have any. I'm a slut,” I said, my voice faltering. “First I sucked you, then I tried Scott. All I need is Sean and I get the hat trick for being a-”
“Shut up!” Jamie was on his feet and crossing the room. His hand was extended and his finger was pointing at me, shaking, but his face was wet with tears. “Don't you talk that way about yourself!” His words were slurred a bit with his emotions and my resolve flickered again.
“No! Shut up, Asher! You listen to me! You listen!” His voice was forceful, and yet filled with dread. His finger trembled and he, slowly, lowered his hand. “That wasn't something cheap. The reason I know is because...because I did something with a girl and I hated myself after – I told you that! I felt like slime. She didn't care about me and I didn't care about her. For some people, that's okay, I guess. It's not okay for me. Ash...” he said, his voice trailing off into a whisper. “I couldn't have done that at all unless I cared about you, and unless I knew you cared about me. I wasn't kidding, I do love you. I'm just...it's just not like that. I can't.”
I held my silence while Jamie slowly recovered. Eventually he sat at the foot of the bed, and I pulled my feet up.
“Jamie, none of this matters. You realize that, right?”
“What are you talking about?”
“They are going to move me. I can't go home – to the Ellis's home. There was no one else and your folks aren't going to keep me full time. So,” I said, licking my lips and gathering my breath. “it doesn't matter who did what, not anymore. They'll do their investigation and they'll take me away. Don't you see? It's over.”
“They can't take you,” Jamie said, his voice soft. “My dad won't let them.”
“He can't stop it, Jamie. Plus, your folks have been really nice, but if I lost my home because I sucked off their son, what do you think will happen when they find out what we did?” I said, shaking my head. “No. It's over.”
Jamie covered his face with his hands. “This can't be happening.”
I stayed quiet. There was a certain amount of comfort in knowing what was coming. Knowing I'd be running away and not waiting for the investigation to finish, for the hammer to fall. In fact, finally, I felt at peace.
“Jamie,” I said. “If it's any consolation, there was a huge difference between you and Scott. I could tell right away, and you're right. Being intimate with someone that cares about you makes a big difference.”
His shoulders were shaking and, as he dropped his hands, his face was a mask of pain. “I feel so fucked up. I don't want you to leave! You're my friend and I...I can't help that I liked what we did. I...” He moved his hands, palm up, unsure of what to say or do next. I knew how he felt.
“Put it behind you, Jamie. You go make Emily yours, I've heard she's really into you. You'll make a good couple and I know how loyal you are – you'll be solid, man. Give it a few weeks and this will just be a bad dream.”
“How can you say that?” he said, his voice coming in a breathy whisper. “I'm dying over here and you're so calm.”
I smiled, though he might not see it in the dark. “It's not that I don't care for you, Jamie. Far from it. I love you, too. More importantly, I love you the way I love Sean – and the fact that we were...together kind of cemented that. I made a mistake, thinking you could be someone you weren't. Maybe I was just a safe guy for you to experiment with. I was stupid to think I could hope for you to feel differently or that you'd want something more permanent with me. I was an even bigger fool to think if I blew Scott that he'd...well, he's not you, is he? He cares, but not like you do. But, listen. You have to let it go. It's way beyond both of us, now.”
“I can't. I feel so guilty.” He coughed. “Do you mind if I stay here with you, tonight?”
“What?” I nearly shouted. “Uh, no. No, I think you should go back to your room.”
“Asher! I don't mean to fool around! I'm just – look, I feel bad, okay?” Jamie pleaded, his voice rising as well. All I could think of were my plans.
“I...no, I don't think it's a good idea,” I said, rubbing my hands on my thighs. “It would be bad.”
“I'm not going to molest you or something!” His hand slapped his forehead and he muttered, “I can't believe I'm having to say this.”
I was opening my mouth to respond when the door opened and another body slipped in, closing the door behind them.
“You two want to lower your fucking voices?” Sean demanded. He took a few hesitant steps into the darkness and, moments later, I felt him sit at the end of the bed, telling Jamie to scoot over.
“Jamie was just going back to your room,” I told Sean.
“I was not! I am not!” Jamie protested. “Sean, he's being an asshole. I said I felt like shit and asked if I could stay here, tonight.”
“I know, I know! I was listening at the door!”
“You what?” we both said. The bed shook as the twins pushed and shoved at the end of the mattress. There was a decent amount of squeaking and, before I could convince them to stop, the door opened and the light snapped on.
“What in the world is going on, here?” Mrs. Kirkwood asked.
We three looked back at her, guiltily. “Uh. We were talking and then, you know, we thought we'd keep Ash company tonight,” Sean said.
“Talking doesn't make the bed squeak. Asher, get changed for bed. Then you three be quiet.” She shut off the light and closed the door and I slumped down in defeat.
“Hey, don't take this the wrong way, but why are you still dressed? You came up to bed before we did,” Sean demanded.
“I was just laying here when Jamie came in and I just, you know, hadn't. Yet.”
There was a pause and then there was movement on the bed, and then the bedside lamp snapped on. Sean was glaring down at me. Turning from me he slid off the bed and walked to the closet. Throwing the doors wide he revealed an empty space, save the suitcase. He glanced over his shoulder at me, with an unfairly suspicious look and then he pulled the suitcase out and opened it, revealing it was empty. Putting his hands on his hips he turned and surveyed the room, while Jamie and I just watched him. With a quick nod he strode back to the bed and dropped to his hands and knees.
I hopped off the bed and tried to stop him, but it was too late. He pulled out the garbage bag and upended it with my clothes and food.
“Stop, stop,” I was saying, desperately, over and over. “You have to stop. You don't understand.”
“What the hell?” Jamie asked.
“You were going to run away, weren't you?” Sean asked, his voice laced with anger.
“You don't understand, you don't know...please, just go to your room,” I pleaded. “This will be over while you're having a good nights sleep, okay? It'll all be done...”
Sean tilted his head and his expression softened. “Ash, do you love me?”
I paused, taken aback. I glanced at Jamie, who seemed just as curious as I about his brother's actions. Looking back at Sean I replied, slowly, “You know I do.”
“Then why would you do this to me? Why would you run away and worry me? What makes you think that would make anything okay?”
“Why? Because I didn't tell you I love you? So that makes it okay? Then we aren't friends because I didn't say it back?” He squatted down and fixed me with an angry look. “So, what, holding hands really wasn't enough then, huh?”
“I don't know what you mean,” I whispered.
“I show you I love you every freaking day. You're my best friend. I don't let just anyone hold my hand and I goddamn well grab your hand anytime I think you need it – and I never fuss, even when I know all you really want is to hold my hand. So, what? You think that means I don't care? That it wouldn't hurt me or that I wouldn't worry if you ran away? You know loving someone doesn't always mean telling them, sometimes it's just how you treat them.”
I opened my mouth, but I simply gaped at him. He pointed to Jamie, “You fucking well know he loves you, since he actually said it. You think he won't care if you run away? You think he won't worry? Answer me!”
“I...they are going to move me, Sean!” I wailed. “I don't know where I'm going, but I won't have anyone! Why shouldn't I take some control instead of waiting for CPS to say I can't go back to the Ellis's and then have your folks say they don't want another kid here – and you think things are bad, now? What happens if your folks actually said yes? Do you think living with you would make me love you less? Do you think for one second...that I...” Tears fell and I shoved my clothes around in useless anger.
“Get dressed for bed,” Sean said. Jamie sniffled and Sean turned his head. “Go blow your nose, and take the food to our room, we can put it back later.”
Jamie went to do what Sean said and I, reluctantly, changed. Sean opened my closet and put my things on the shelves quickly. Once Jamie had returned Sean shoved me toward the bed. Turning the light out I felt his arms as he pulled me to him.
“I do love you, you fucking idiot.” He was trembling against me, and I suddenly felt horrible. He was angry with me because he loved me, and I hadn't seen it. He started to loosen his grip and I clutched him to me.
“I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.” He rubbed my back and sniffled before sighing deeply. He climbed into bed and then tugged my hand, pulling me down behind him.
“Come on, Jamie,” Sean said.
“Get off the covers,” Jamie grunted and we shifted around until we were all under the blanket and I was wedged in on one side by Jamie and the other by Sean.
“I don't know how these CPS things work. I know you're scared. But you have to believe that we love you and we know you love us. For right now, that has to be enough.” Then he took my hand and I sighed.
“Everything is so...confused, right now,” I said into the darkness. We lay in silence and, just as I began to relax...Jamie happened.
“I can't believe you were going to run away. Was sex with me that bad, really?” Jamie asked, snickering into his pillow.
“It was...memorable,” I said quietly, thankful I didn't say hot or a bunch of other more enthusiastic words.
“Was it better than with Sean? I mean, theoretically,” Jamie asked, now giggling into his pillow.
“Hey, I know what you're up to, here!” Sean said, reaching across me and shoving his brother.
“What? It was a simple question! I think I should know if I'm that bad at it,” he chortled.
I leaned over and found Jamie's ear in the dark and slowly whispered, “You were really, really good.”
He stiffened and I lay back, smug in the knowledge that he hadn't seen that coming.
“Sounds travels really well in here,” Sean said in an offhand tone of voice.
“This is weird,” Jamie said, abruptly. “I think I'll go back to my room.”
“No. I need you here to make sure Asher doesn't sneak off in the middle of the night,” Sean said firmly.
“But...Okay, fine,” Jamie said with a sigh and rolled over so his back was to me.
“Did you roll away because you're hard?”
“Why? Are you?”
We dissolved into giggles and that was quickly followed up by each of us shushing the others so we didn't get in trouble.
“For the record,” Jamie said in a very formal tone, “it was only semi-hard.”
That set us off again. We were all face down, laughing into our pillows at the stupidity of it all. For my part, I'd decided to postpone my plan to run away. I'd wait for a more practical time. I did feel bad that they would worry for me – and at the same time I was elated that they both loved me. It was too bad that I'd be forced to make them worry, but I didn't want to land somewhere else with strangers in a strange town.
“Hey, I forgot to ask. When you left earlier, you went to see Scott, right? How's he holding up?” Sean asked.
“Oh. Uh.” Jamie shifted until he was facing us again. “The whole family is pretty devastated.”
“Shit.” I said.
“Yeah. But, don't worry, Ash. They're doing everything they can to get you back.”
“Yeah. They're working with the county and stuff, I guess, to get things where they need to be for you to go home.”
“How can they do that?" I asked.
“I don't know what the details are. Scott asked me to tell you he's sorry for the situation and he misses you.”
I didn't know what to say to that. I lay quietly, absorbing the things Jamie had said. His breathing evened out slowly and he started to snore lightly.
“I still can't believe you were going to run away,” Sean whispered.
“I can't believe you guys had an agreement not to mess around with me,” I countered. The mattress shook slightly as he jerked in surprise.
“What makes you say that?” he asked slowly, likely hoping I was guessing.
“What was it you said? Sound travels really well here.”
“You were listening?” Sean asked incredulously.
“I didn't mean to. I thought it was a TV, and then when I realized you guys were talking...and Jamie had looked less than pleased with me before...” I explained.
“I...well, I guess I had that coming.”
“Sean...if you guys were both curious...you knew I'd say yes. So why did you never ask?” I questioned him, trying to keep the sadness from my voice. Knowing, at some point, I might have been able to win his heart and knowing he was actively avoiding just that, depressed me.
“Ash...” he said with a sigh and took my hand in the darkness. “When Jamie and I talked about this originally, it was pretty theoretical. It was just a late night talk when we couldn't sleep and...” he sighed again and squeezed my hand. “When I lived in Boston with my mom, I think we considered ourselves pretty socially enlightened. I had no problem with gay people or gay rights. We were for equality and fairness.
“But I really didn't know what that meant until I came here and was surrounded by all these...phenomenal people. You know the feeling I mean, after having your world fall out from under your feet and have people just swoop up and care for you. Right? Does that make sense to you?”
“Yeah, I know what you mean.”
“So, one time, Jamie and I were talking about how strange it was that we were all brothers, even though I'm a half brother by blood, but that Kale and Robin were in same-sex relationships and both Jamie and I were interested in the opposite sex.” He moved a little, sitting up a bit and dragging me with him. Hey, I wasn't letting go of his hand.
“But, like I said, seeing how...normal everyone was – and yes I do know what a stupid word normal is, before you say anything. But seeing that made us wonder – what do they see in the guys they date or marry? I mean, we talked about Lucien since he and Robin are around full time. Robin is a great brother – not as great as Jamie, but that has something to do with Jamie and I being close in age and in the same grade, all that. But we took a hard look at Lucien, trying to see what was what.”
“What did you find out?” I asked, breathless.
“Well, he's a super nice guy. He likes to tease Jamie, but in the same way Robin or Kale do. He's helped us with homework, given us rides and pretty much asks nothing from us in return. He just gives. So, we both were like, we can see why Robin likes his personality. But then we started to break down the physical stuff, and we didn't get it as much. But then, Robin always denies being gay – he just says it happens that Lucien gives him everything he needs. But if what he's giving you is dick, then you're gay, right?”
We giggled a little, trying to make sure we didn't wake Jamie.
“Anyway. We kept the idea going and started talking about, if we were going to do anything with a guy, who it would be. And we went down the list just eliminating guys for one reason or another. The only one we said we'd consider, was you.”
“Not that I'm not thrilled, because I am, but why?”
“I think it's a little of what Robin preaches about himself, jokes aside. I think we just feel close and comfortable to you and we know you're not trying to take advantage or anything.” Sean took a deep breath and then said, softly, “We also both thought you were...attractive.”
My hand spasmed in his as I heard him say something I thought I'd never hear. I decided to focus on the why instead of the attraction. “So, if you knew all that, why did you guys agree to never ask me?”
“Because it wouldn't be fair,” he said simply. “You have a blind spot for us, especially me. It makes me uncomfortable that you think I'm so perfect and, sometimes, it seems more like worship than love. I mean...Ash, I know you do love me, I do. It's just that I don't think you always see me as a person, but more like this thing you have built up in your head. I can't be that person you're imagining, and right now I thought you needed that imaginary me more than you needed the real Jamie and me.
“So, basically, we did it because we love you and we respect you. It wouldn't have been meaningless, either, but it wouldn't mean what you'd want. After what you went through, we didn't want to make things weird. We needed to be able to be here for you, as your family. We knew, because of the Hoover, how sex complicates things. I never expected Jamie to fall off the wagon like that, though.”
“It was completely unexpected.”
“Was it...as good as you told him?” Sean asked, tentatively.
“Yeah. My first experience was horrible, you know that, but this...I felt fantastic right up until he was wiping his lips and telling me he wasn't gay.”
We burst out in giggles again, turning toward each other to bury our faces in the pillow. We slowly recovered and resumed facing each other, our entwined hands laying between us.
“Do you still wish it had been me?” he asked, whispering.
“I...wouldn't have wanted to miss out on what I shared with him,” I confessed. “It was unexpected, like I said, but it was true. In that moment, he really did want me. It's the first time I felt that...desired. It was intense.”
“I guess that means you can sigh over him and call him dreamy now, right?” Sean snickered.
“No. Rumor is Emily is going to ask him to be her boyfriend as soon as he got back from camp. He's going to get what he wanted – that someone chased him.”
“Still, not dating never stopped you from mooning over me,” he said, shaking my hand.
“It's different, Sean. You...um. You're my first love, you know?”
“Not really,” he said, gently. “When you date, you'll find that part I can't give you.”
“If it's the part I have in mind, I could maybe help with that,” I snickered.
“You're impossible,” Sean said with a sigh. There was a slight rustle and then I felt his breath on my face mere moments before he pushed his mouth on mine. It was kind of painful, as my lips got pinned back against my teeth and I pulled away.
“Ow,” I whispered. “I never thought I'd say Jamie was better at something than you,” I said, trying not to laugh.
“Oh, ha!” Sean replied. “He's a better athlete, gets more dates, the list goes on. His brand of kissing is probably a lot like he is, brash and all up front. I'm not him. I'm not going to kiss you like Jamie. I'm going to kiss you like me.”
His shadow rose up above me and one hand caught my face. “Promise me you won't run away?”
“I...” I thought about it. The Ellis's were fighting for me. Sean and Jamie love me and Scott wants me home. Didn't I deserve to see that through? “I promise, Sean.”
“Okay. We'll seal it with a kiss.” Then his lips were on mine again, but this time it was soft, yet insistent. I opened my mouth and found his tongue waiting for mine. It wasn't aggressively passionate, like Jamie, it was more of a slow burn, a consistent, patient passion. I put a hand behind his head and into his hair as he kissed me slowly, almost luxuriously. When he broke the kiss I found I was as breathless as when Jamie had kissed me, and yet the experience couldn't have been more different. Sean lay his head back on the pillow and took my hand in his again.
“Thank you,” he said.
“For what?” I said, still trying to corral my galloping heart.
“For you. For staying. For being my best friend. For giving me another chance. I've never had a friend as good as you. I really got lucky when I came here, in a lot of ways,” he said softly. I heard the tremor in his voice and I knew he was thinking of his mom. I pushed him onto his back and snuggled up to him.
“Tell me about your mom?” I asked.
And so, he did.
I wish I could say I woke up still holding his hand or that I could smell his sweet breath, but it wasn't anything like that. I was first roused because Jamie had me in a death grip, morning wood pressed into my back and he was muttering. I wasn't sure if it was a nightmare or something else. It didn't last, he relaxed his grip and my, still muzzy, head could take a better stock of my situation. Jamie had one arm around me and, tentatively, I covered his hand in mine and enjoyed the casual contact. I admit, the boner was distracting, but not negatively so.
Sean lay next to me, on his side and facing me. His mouth was open and there was a tiny wet spot on the pillow next to his mouth and his breath was not sweet. A light sheen had built up on his face overnight and I realized I was seeing him before he'd cleaned up and put on his nice clothes. The blanket came up to his upper arm, and I could see his exposed shoulder and, sighing, I reached out with my free hand and found his and gently, loosely took it in my hand.
Maybe I'd be the only guy these two would ever kiss. In Jamie's case, a little more of course. Still, I felt a growing warmth that somehow I could have – as I thought so long ago – reached so high and touched the sun and come away whole, better than I had been. I mentally thought of Jamie's kiss and of Sean's, reviewing their good points and what I might prefer. I found myself confused until I realized that I couldn't really pick between them.
I realized, with a mental jolt, that I felt closer to these guys when I'd already thought that wasn't possible. Instead I discovered a whole new side to them. As I ran my thumb along Jamie's hand, I knew I'd not get another experience with him – at least, not that. I'd always kept an ear to the ground when it came to these guys, and Scott as well. I knew that Emily was tired of waiting for Jamie to ask her out and, considering what Sean had said about Jamie's plans, I knew he'd be off the market.
In a way it made me sad that I couldn't ever be that one other person for them. They just didn't see themselves that way and I couldn't change that. There was a possibility, though, that their curiosity wasn't yet satisfied – as I knew mine wasn't – and there might yet be some memories to make. Adding to that, they loved me. I wasn't an itch to scratch and then be discarded or forgotten. I opened my eyes and saw that Sean was awake, his eyes studying my face. He squeezed my hand.
“What are you thinking about?”
“Oh, just how every man's dream is twins,” I smirked.
“Emily,” Jamie said in a zombie-like tone of voice that told me, immediately, that he was awake. His hand disengaged from mine and grabbed my pec. “Emily, what happened to your tits, baby?”
We broke down in giggles and then disentangled from each other. As it happens it was late in the morning and, when we made an appearance downstairs, it was to find that Judge Kirkwood had left for work while his wife was out running errands and Robin and Lucien were out in back, laying out in the sun in deck chairs. We had breakfast and then Jamie headed up to shower. Sean went to get their clothes from the dryer and I was stopped by Robin's finger as he was directing me to come to him. In curiosity I stepped out onto the deck and then closed the door, at Robin's request.
“Morning, Ash,” Lucien said, cheerfully. “Did you sleep well?”
“Uh, yeah. Really well, thanks.”
“Really?” Robin asked. “Isn't three people in that bed a little, I don't know, tight?”
I froze. His expression was unreadable and a quick glance at Lu brought me no help. I decided to go for most of the truth. “Well, it wasn't something they planned,” I said.
Robin sat up a little more and nodded at me.
“Um. They were trying to make sure I didn't run away,” I confessed.
“Run away?” Lu said as he sat up suddenly. “Why would you do something like that?”
I looked at him and recalled that he'd been adopted, so he might understand. “Lu, you probably know better than some people that you don't get a choice where they put you in foster care, right?”
“Yeah,” he said, dragging the word out.
“You also know how lucky you got to be adopted at your age.”
“I was afraid of being moved. The Kirkwood's only took me in because there was no-one else close by. If they don't send me back to the Ellis's, then I don't know what happens to me – and goodbye to getting adopted.”
“Jesus. Is it that bad?” Robin asked, turning his body to give me his full attention. I looked at him and nodded.
“It's bad enough. Jamie told me last night that the Ellis's are fighting to get me back. If it wasn't for that, well...I'd be looking for another opportunity to run.”
“So there's nothing...going on...between you three?”
I felt a protective streak stiffen my spine as I said to Robin, “If there were – and I'm not saying there is – it wouldn't be any of your business.”
Robin's brow went up and Lucien snickered.
“Babe. If you're brothers want to fool around and Ash is willing, that's up to them, right?”
“You know how sex changes things,” Robin said and then turned his gaze back to me. “I just don't want anyone to get hurt. Anyone, Ash.”
“I understand,” I said quietly. “There was some hurt and confusion, but it's all getting better. Your brothers are amazing people.”
“It runs in the family,” Lu said. Robin gave him a sly look and then looked back at me.
“Ash, we never said so outright, but I hope you know you can come to us if you want to. As 'amazing' as they are, Lu and I have been through a lot and we...well, we're here for you. Okay?”
I smiled and turned from side to side with a bit of happy energy. “I expect nothing less from a Kirkwood,” I said.
“You expect...get out of here,” Robin said with an indulgent smile and a dismissive wave. I went back to the sliding door, but only closed the screen as opposed to the glass.
“See? I told you that would happen.”
“Do not tell me my baby brothers are both sleeping with the same guy!” Robin huffed.
“Okay, I won't say it...but every man wants to get with twins,” Lu snickered. Moments later there was a shriek and a splash and a water fight. I grinned and went to clean up the dishes from breakfast.
Jamie dressed nicely in cargo shorts and a short sleeved button up and headed over to see Emily. Sean and I joined Robin and Lu out in the pool and then lay out sunning ourselves. Lu was making references that caused Robin to dunk him and other small acts of revenge and I'm sure Sean must have realized what they were referring to. He raised an eyebrow at me a time or two, but let it go.
At dinner, as we all gathered at the table, Jamie let everyone know he was dating Emily. I glanced at Sean and smiled, and he tipped his head, acknowledging my prediction. There was some teasing about Jamie needing 'the talk' and Robin kept shooting me considering looks. I squirmed, a little. It wasn't entirely fair, really, since I hadn't come onto the guys. Add to that Sean's confession that I was the only one they'd be okay testing the waters with and I was pretty comfortable with my conscience.
I guess he was just looking out for his brothers. After dinner Jamie went to the Ellis's again and asked me if I wanted to pass any messages to them. I asked him just to say thank you and that I missed them all. Robin went out with Lu and the elder Kirkwood's settled into the living room, so Sean and I retreated to the basement. He fired up the Xbox and we lost ourselves for a while in pixels. Eventually we took a break and took turns heading to the bathroom. I was laying on the couch cushions, stretching, when Sean came back down from the kitchen with a snack and drinks in hand. He paused and then shook his head slowly as he set the items down.
“What?' I asked.
“I just can't believe Jamie. I mean, right here? Where we are playing?”
“Yeah. There's a pillow around here...” I said, glancing around.
“Oh, Jesus,” he said, covering his face and laughing. “The one he said he put in the wash? You didn't throw up!”
“Nope. Jamie's answer to spit or swallow is...”
“No!” Sean burst out laughing and wrinkled his nose all at once. “I don't want to hear that!”
“You brought it up,” I giggled in response.
He flopped down, still chuckling and started looking for a movie to watch. “I am kind of surprised, though, that he did it here. I mean, that's about as respectful as screwing in the backseat of a car.”
“You'd be more gentlemanly?” I teased.
He snorted. “Duh.”
I just watched him until he turned, with a half-grin on his face. “What?”
“I'm just waiting for you to say how different you'd be.”
“Well, I think a bed for one thing,” he said. “Maybe some romance – lighting, flowers, that kind of thing.”
“That sounds more like something that was planned out,” I said.
“Yeah. I'd like to think I would be. I guess,” he said with a sigh, “Jamie just couldn't resist you!”
We both dissolved into giggles and then settled in to watch the movie. It was pretty suspenseful and we were huddled together as we waited for things to unfold. We were both so intent on the movie that neither of us heard Jamie until it was too late, and he scared the crap out of us. He laughed hysterically at having scared us to thoroughly, but he didn't count on both Sean and I paying him back – it wasn't just wrestling against me or Sean, but both of us.
Jamie called us a few names and then headed up to get ready for bed. Sean and I were collapsed in the basement, just gathering our breath.
“I think we should finish that movie during the day,” Sean told me.
“Aw, come on!” I whined. “That was fun!”
“Up until Jamie happened,” he groused and we both chuckled. We both stretched and I started to gather up our garbage while he turned off the electronics and put away the controllers.
“Do I need to sleep with you to keep you from running away tonight?” Sean teased.
“Can I lie so you will sleep with me?” I countered.
“Please. At this point I already know you want to sleep with me,” Sean laughed and shoved me. I shoved him back and we tussled for a moment before I called for a truce.
“I'm too tired from wrestling with Jamie,” I panted.
“Jamie wore you out? Nothing left for me?” he teased, his breath equally ragged.
I snorted. “Are you kidding? Have the chance to get rid of the memory of Edward with you? I'm ready! Let's go!” I said, flopping onto my back and throwing my legs wide. We both started laughing stupidly loud and, of course, that's when Jamie descended the stairs.
“Hey, hey,” Jamie said, waving a finger. “The couch cushions are my special place, find your own.”
“Oh, real special,” Sean laughed. “Why don't you sneak out to Robin's car next time?”
“No way, need more room,” Jamie snickered. “I'm thinking Lu's bus is more the ticket. Robin said the seats fold down into a bed.”
“So you want to have sex with your girlfriend where your brother has sex with his boyfriend?” I asked, my lips twitching with barely repressed laughter.
“Oh, shit,” Jamie sighed. “I knew I didn't think that through!” He pantomimed throwing up before he tried fixing us with, what I'm sure he thought, was a serious look. “So, Sean, you have to see to Ash since I'm in a relationship, now.”
“What?” he squeaked.
“I'm serious. I told Ash there was no harm since we were both single. But now? I'm in a relationship and all you got is your hairy palms.”
“Look at you! One day with a girlfriend and you're all 'I'm in a relationship',” Sean said, screwing up his voice for the end of it. I laughed and Jamie snickered.
“Okay, before this gets any worse, I'm going to get ready for bed.” I turned and headed for the stairs, but turned back at the sound of Sean calling my name.
“Seriously. You're not running away, right?”
I paused and shook my head. “No. I'll wait to see what happens with CPS. If I'm going to run, I'll wait until they move me.”
“Ash!” Jamie said, taking a step toward me.
“No,” I said, holding up a hand. “If they move me I'll be far away. I'll lose everything here. I heard everything you guys said last night and the only reason I'm staying is for you, and the chance that it might work out over there, still. I don't hold out a lot of hope but...I'm not ready to lose you guys.” I turned, then, and headed up to get cleaned up for bed.
As I exited the bathroom, after brushing and washing my face, I said goodnight to Sean and Robin, who were both in Robin's room, and then to Jamie who was staring at something on his phone while he lay in bed.
I hadn't closed the door when I heard bare feet running across the hall and Jamie poked his head in. “Hey, Ash? If the subject comes up, can I tell Emily she can talk to you about how I like my blow jobs?”
“Yeah, sure,” I replied, not missing a beat. “In fact, I was thinking about having t-shirts made that said 'Jamie Kirkwood blew me'.”
He frowned. “Is that a no?”
My mouth curled in a smile and his did too. “It's cool we can laugh about this, now.”
“Wasn't anything funny about it,” Jamie said. “I was just protecting our privacy. It really isn't anyone's business, but I don't care if you say anything.”
“I think, pretty much, that's just something I'm going to hang onto for myself. But, uh, why? You guys already talking about that stuff?” I asked.
“Not seriously. Her sense of humor is at least as good as mine. I...” he cleared his throat quickly. “I think I like her a lot.”
“That's great, Jamie,” I replied.
“Yeah.” He shook himself and made an 'eww' sound. “God, what is it about you that makes me all mushy? Ugh, go away!” He grinned as he turned and went back to his room, presumably to resume texting Emily.
The house settled in for the night and I drifted into a dream laden sleep.
The next few days were relatively uneventful. Jamie went out at least twice a day to see Emily. Interspersed with that was playing sports of some kind and, usually, a visit to see the Ellis's. Jamie dragged us out to play basketball – he didn't have to try that hard – and pretended to be shocked to find Scott there.
He looked nervous. Maybe he was afraid I'd be mad at him. But, after the way things were going with Jamie and Sean, I felt like I should seize chances. After all, I have no idea how things would end up. So I grabbed him and hugged him and told him how good it was to see him.
“It's good to see you, too, man,” he said, as we stepped away. “House isn't the same with out you. You doing okay?”
“Yeah, I'm good. Jamie and Sean are taking care of me,” I assured him.
“Okay. Uh. I told Jamie the whole story, by the way. I kind of needed someone to talk to.”
“Well, I just...I'm glad you're not mad about that.”
“Why would...oh. Jamie!” I said, calling him over. He trotted up, after taking an extra shot.
“Your best friend, Scott, just told me he was able to tell you everything.”
“He was afraid I'd be upset that he told you.”
“I'm not seeing the problem.”
“Did you not tell your best friend the rest of the story, so maybe he had some context?”
“Did I...? Oh. Um. No, I didn't.”
“Well, I'll leave you to it,” I said as I walked away, hearing Scott asking what I was talking about.
“I never get a way with anything with you around!” Jamie called to my back.
“That was almost cruel,” Sean snickered as he fell in next to me.
“Well, unless you straight boys are going to stop accepting blow jobs from guys, you can't be embarrassed about it.”
“I don't think he was embarrassed, I just think he thought it was none of Scott's business,” Sean said, defending Jamie.
I stopped and faced Sean. “Look, I know he's your brother, but trust me when I say Jamie doesn't need defending, at least not from me. Scott has no idea why all this went down and he confessed whatever he was feeling and thinking to Jamie. I think, Jamie should have alleviated his conscience a little, don't you?”
“Well. Maybe.” We stood uncomfortably for a moment and I sighed.
“Please don't. It's okay if we don't agree and I know I can't be as close to Jamie as you are – but if you aren't perfect, then neither is he. Right?”
Sean's lips twitched. “I never said I wasn't perfect.”
“Yeah, I think you did. Remember that whole talk about not worshiping you?” I said, raising an eyebrow at him.
“Well...” His brow wrinkled in accompaniment to his nose and he said, suddenly, “I asked you if you still wished it had been me. You didn't really answer me. You just told me how valuable that experience was to you.”
I cocked my head to one side. “You mean would I sleep with you? Don't ask questions you already know the answer to, Sean.” I turned and started to walk again and he hurried up next to me.
“What if I want to hear you say it?” he asked, his tone low and his voice soft. I paused, considering his voice and his posture. This wasn't, I realized, asking if I wanted a fling with him. Nor was it asking me to date him – be still my beating heart. But, it might be just as important.
I stepped slowly to him, so my voice wouldn't carry to anyone but him. “For you and me? Anytime, anywhere.”
Things between Sean and I took on a peculiar, exciting, tension. For instance, Jamie was out the door early on Tuesday to spend the day with Emily's family at a lake somewhere. I heard the shower run and waited to hear the bathroom door open before I gathered my stuff up for my own shower. As I walked through the hall I was brought to a dead stop outside the twins room, whose door was open. Sean had just finished toweling off his hair, but all he was wearing were his briefs. His chest was less defined than Jamie's and the baby six pack Jamie had didn't translate to Sean, whose stomach was flat but not ripped.
Our eyes locked and his mouth opened and then closed, his lips compressing with a nervous glance. He took a step forward and closed his door, but not before I saw his body was reacting. As for me, well, duh. By the time I took my shower, Sean was gone. I spent the day trying not to be a third wheel to Robin and Lu, who didn't seem to mind taking me along to hang out with their friends. Even though they were all couples, which kind of boggled my mind, I was struck by something odd.
They were all nice people – fun to be around, playful, I felt totally at home. Yet, I wasn't really attracted to any of them. That's not exactly what I mean. They were attractive, cute and had their moments, but none of them grabbed my attention and wouldn't let go. I guess that's a good thing. That night we watched a movie, all the Kirkwoods in the main living room. Lucien joined us, too, and we were huddled together on the couches, chairs and pillows were on the floor. I think it was a testament to the movie that I didn't spend the entire time focused on the fact that Sean and I were sandwiched together.
Jamie got home partway through and lounged with us for the tail end before we all went down and played some video games. Jamie said something to Lu, and it earned him a quick pin on the floor. Jamie would relent, apologizing, and then follow it up with another statement, which got him pinned, again. I was laughing at the show when Robin mentioned that Lu had had a very successful year with the wrestling team.
Finally, it was time for bed. Once the door was closed, I locked it and pulled a small tube of lube from the nightstand. It wasn't a large one and it was half empty, but I'd discovered it in the back corner of the drawer. I took my time to stroke one out, alternatively thinking of Sean in his briefs, Sean kissing me and Jamie and our session in the basement. Afterward I snuck to the bathroom, since lube is messy, and cleaned up before settling in for bed, considerably more relaxed.
I was just drifting to sleep when the sound of the door opening and closing brought me up from impending slumber. They moved slowly and the sound of muffled feet moving across the carpet reached my ears before the mattress shifted under the weight of a body. I was about to ask who was there, when hands groped about and seized on one of mine.
“Shh. Just...be quiet a minute.”
I lay my head back and felt the heat of his hand in mine and listened as his rapid breathing slowed to something more like normal. He lifted my hand, pressing the back of it to his cheek before speaking.
“This is the first time I felt like I needed to hold your hand,” he said with a nervous chuckle.
“I'm glad I was here, then.” I hoped my voice carried how much more than words that meant to me, to be able to return what he'd given me so many times.
“Asher...Ash. I've been wrestling with something. I still don't know what to do. I've got things pulling me in different directions. Emotions, reasons...they are all jumbled up.” He squeezed my hand and I returned the gesture. Then he tried to let my hand go, but I held fast – gently, but firmly.
“Ever since I found out about you and Jamie...” he said, then hesitated and let out a long sigh. “You have to understand, we were speaking theoretically. I never expected to be in this position. Jamie says he feels closer to you than ever. I don't understand that. I mean, I do, but I don't. Jamie helped me a lot when my mom was dying. He made it okay to cry – or, really, not to cry alone.”
“He's good people.”
“He is. It's why I defend him, even when he might not need it. I know him in a special way and it makes us close.” He sighed deeply again and his hand twitched in my grip. “Ash, would you hate me if nothing happened between us?”
“You mean nothing in the sense of what happened between Jamie and me?”
“Yeah,” he said softly. “What if, no matter how much I might want to try or...what if all I could do was lay next to you and hold your hand? Would that be enough?”
“Sean,” I struggled to sit up and have the backboard support me and then I grabbed his hand again, just to make sure this conversation happened. “I've never needed more from you than to hold your hand. I've always been happy with whatever you chose to give me of yourself. I'm sorry if my...attraction to you or what happened with Jamie has put you under some false pressure to do something for or with me that you don't want to or aren't ready for.”
“I'm not looking for an apology, you didn't do anything wrong. I just-” I felt his body move and realized he was using his free hand to wipe his face. I pulled him down under my arm, tucking him protectively and, for once, gave him comfort instead of the other way around.
“It's okay. We can hold hands and I'll wake up with you drooling on your pillow and your stale breath and still be stupidly happy,” I said to him.
He snickered, “You're a dork, Ash.”
“Yeah,” I agreed.
“I need to say this, though. Okay?”
He took a breath and then said, slowly. “I've been thinking a lot about what you've been saying lately. About having a memory of me instead of a memory of Edward. I'm pretty sure you were asking me to...”
“Yeah, I was. Well, not ask. Just say...that I'd welcome it.”
“Yeah, okay. Um. I've also been thinking about what you and Jamie did. I want to get closer to you, and it makes me jealous that Jamie has this special understanding that I don't. But...I'm not sure I can do those things.”
I felt like I'd been punched in the gut. I shouldn't have. Sean was always a dream guy, but I think Jamie had been, too. So when one dream suddenly became reality, I think I thought nothing was out of reach.
“Are you mad?”
“No. I'd never want you to do something with me you didn't want to, Sean. I love you. Sometimes that means looking out for someone else instead of yourself.” I sighed and tried to inject some levity into the situation, “I am a little heartbroken you can't get it up for me.”
“It's not that,” Sean said. “The problem is...well, when we go back to school and there are all those girls around, I'm going to want to date them. I like girls. I like their short shorts and their boobs and soft lips and...I just don't think it's fair to start something with you that I think will end when school starts.”
“I...I'm confused. Are you saying that-”
“I'm saying I'm straight and if I have sex with you all summer, I'm still going to be straight, if that's even possible after having sex with a guy.” He shook his head as if clearing it and continued, “I want you in my life, you're my best friend. But ever since Jamie decided to fool around with you...well, it's been on my mind.”
“I'm getting mixed signals from you, Sean. On the one hand it sound like you want me and with the other hand you're pushing me back.”
“I don't want to hurt you.”
“Are you that big?” I teased.
“Ash! Be serious!” he scolded.
“Sorry,” I said, chastised. “Sean...look. I'll do anything you want, anything.” Sean started to speak but I spoke over him. “I mean it. If you want to lay here in bed and hold hands all night and wait for the sun to come up, I'll be fucking happy to do it. If you just want me to blow you, I'll give you the best blow job I can. If you want to...” My voice dropped down low and I said, gently, “if you want to make love to me and help me replace that memory of Edward with someone who cares for me, well, I'll be happily fucked to do that, too. The bottom line is, as long as we don't break, I'm good.”
After a moment's silence he said, “You really mean that?”
“Fuck, yeah. Look, Sean...” I stroked his hair and pulled him just a bit closer, hoping I was making him feel safe and secure. “The first time I saw you the most I could even dream of was to hold your hand. It's an intimate thing, especially in public. I've never lost that wonderful feeling when I can just take your hand, a feeling like everything is okay. After the fight, while I was trying to accept the idea I could have you and Jamie as friends and that you could actually want me for a friend...well, I got to know you so much better.
“I understand what you mean when you said it seemed like I worship you, and in some ways, I do. I have no secrets from you and you've shown me nothing but kindness and respect.”
Sean's hand squeezed my own, letting me know he was listening and not interrupting.
“I admit, when I first saw you, you were the best looking guy there. I know that other people would have found other guys to be better looking, but all I could see was you. As I've grown to know you, I admit to wishing there could be more. That doesn't throw away our friendship and what I value about you as a person. But it doesn't change the fact that you are a sweet and sexy guy that inspires love and lust in me. But, Sean...I'll take you in my life any way I can have you.
“Would sex change things? I'd like to say no, but I know it would. It did with Jamie and, yeah, I do feel closer to him – I have knowledge and experience with him that very few others have or might ever have. It was hot, yes, but it also made him vulnerable to me. One thing I definitely learned from it is...if it happens again, I'll welcome it. If it doesn't, it's okay – no matter how much I might like for it to happen – because he didn't throw me away, after. I still matter. I didn't become less because of it – in fact, he thinks more of me.”
“That was a lot of information. So...what are you saying?”
“I'm saying yes to however this goes, as long as I get to keep you as my friend.”
Sean lay tucked into me in silence as I continued to stroke his hair. The intimacy of the moment was almost unbearable as my emotions raged, swelled at being able to hold him close and care for him. “I'm...going to go back to my room, now. I didn't think it was possible, but I feel like I have more to think about than ever.”
“Okay,” I said softly. I lifted his hand to my lips and kissed the back. He stood slowly, then bent and gave me a chaste kiss, like a gentle breeze and then left the room. I lay back in the darkness and wondered if that was it? Had I done the right thing? Was there something I could have said to win his heart, since he was so clearly teetering? Or would doing so have been the ultimate betrayal, making every word I'd said about loving him false? I guess, really, asking him to screw me was asking too much. Realistically, I was stuck with the memory of Edward until I could find someone to date, someone who could love me.
I can't help that I still wish it were Sean.
Things were more back to normal the next day. We three had breakfast together and were making plans to go out and do something when Mrs. Kirkwood came home early from her shopping outing.
“Jamie, why weren't you answering your phone?” she asked irritably.
“It's dead,” he replied.
“Sean? Is yours dead?”
“I don't think so. It's in my room,” he replied.
“I don't know why we pay for those things if we can't get you on them,” she groused.
“What's up, mom?” Jamie asked.
“Mrs. Clemons is stopping by to speak with Asher and I wanted to make sure he was here. I should have known you three would be home, considering it's before noon.”
“I resemble that remark,” Jamie said, snickering.
“Why is she coming?” I asked.
“Some development, I guess. We'll find out, shortly.”
I felt Sean's hand, grasping under the table near my leg and I reached out and took it. I was pretty calm, but I can't think of an instance where I'd turn down holding his hand. Besides, if he feels like it'll calm me to hold my hand even if I'm not freaking, so much the better. After we cleared the table from the meal I took a shower and dressed nicely to meet Mrs. Clemons. As I buttoned up my shirt Jamie knocked on the door and stepped in the room.
“How nervous are you?”
I shrugged. “Trying not to be. Mrs. Clemons comes to see me once a month when I was at the Ellis's, so this could be a regular visit. Or, she might have news.”
“Okay. Well, just so you know, Sean and I will be spying so we know what's up, okay?” Jamie grinned.
The corners of my mouth lifted up. “I expect no less. After all, noise travels well in this house.”
“Yeah, about that, punk,” he said, shoving me, “how much did you hear?”
“Just up until you said you weren't sure about dating Emily 'cause you liked the taste of my dick,” I said and Jamie started shoving me repeatedly as I continued. “I just thought it would be embarrassing if I kept listening.”
“Sean!” he yelled while we continued to push and shove and giggle.
“What?” he asked, appearing in the doorway.
“I can't kiss him to shut him up, I'm in a relationship. You do it.”
With a sigh, Sean growled, “No,” and went back to whatever he was doing.
Twenty minutes later I sat in the living room with Mrs. Clemons. I tried to read her face to get a feel for how this was going to go, but she had a pretty good poker face. Actually, I realized, her poker face was never used when it was bad, for instance when I'd gotten my ass kicked in school, when I'd gotten taken away the first time, that sort of thing. When she wanted me to meet the Ellis's? Poker face.
“Asher, how are things here?” she asked.
“Good. Thanks for finding them, its made this easier.”
She nodded. “I agree. These things can be very traumatic. So, just to review, you say Scott Ellis didn't talk you into anything or coerce you?”
“Not at all. In fact,” I said as I leaned forward and placed my elbows on my knees, “I can see why it was such a huge mistake. I had no idea I'd be threatening my home, but there's also that fact that Scott isn't gay and it was just a...spur of the moment, exploration kind of thing. I wish I hadn't done it, and I know it won't happen again.”
She looked at me with eyes whose lids were slowly narrowing.
“Uh huh,” she said, slowly. “Why would it not happen again?”
“Well, for one, he's straight. For two, I understand how much trouble can happen. And third, well, you're going to give me some conditions for me to go back home and I'm going to say yes, whatever they are and I'm pretty sure that will be on the list.”
She tilted her head back and a slow smile crossed her face. “I am, huh?”
“Yes, ma'am.” I sat a little taller and told her, “The Ellis's are great people. We both know I'm not the same person I was when I got there. I'm...I'm sorry if what happened let you down.”
Her eyes returned to their normal size and she smiled at me, perhaps a bit indulgently. “You didn't let me down, sweetie. You teenage boys are a raging bag of hormones and you won't be the last boys to fool around. The problem is,” she said, sliding forward in her chair, “That you are still a foster child and, as such, are subject to the rules the county has; and the foster parents have to enforce those rules. So,” she said, dropping her hands heavily on her lap, “Here's the deal. Going forward you cannot be unsupervised in their home.”
“So, what, I'm like a criminal now?” I asked a little petulantly.
“Well, more like you had some trust and you blew that as far as the county is concerned. Additionally, let's not forget, you experienced a sexual trauma and that can lead to acting out in a sexual way. This is really for your protection and I'm sure it'll come up in therapy.”
“Yippee,” I said, swirling a finger in the air.
“Hey, these are the rules if you want to go home,” she said, tilting her head at me. “Besides, how do you know they want you home, huh?”
Oops. “Um. I hear stuff.”
“Uh huh. I bet you do,” she said with a smile.
“But, wait, how is that going to work? The Ellis's have jobs and they already said there is no such thing as childcare for my age range. Wait,” I said, bolting up out of my chair. “Am I going home?”
“Relax sweetie, yes, you are, tomorrow night. Sit, sit,” she said, waving me back to the chair. I sat, relief flooding through me. “There is going to be a plan and two back-up plans. The plan is, Mrs. Ellis is going to take some vacation time coupled with some flex-time and some work-from-home options from her employer. If there is a conflict she will reach out to either Mrs. Kirkwood or Mrs. Kutsenko so that you are supervised.”
“Wow. She's going to do all that for me?” I asked, feeling a little overwhelmed.
“Yes, she is. Not only that, it won't have to last very long,” she said with a broad grin.
“Why?” I asked, suspicious at her smile.
“In New York State you have to be placed with a family for three months before they can petition for your adoption. I'm happy to say, such a petition has been filed.”
“They...they want to adopt me?”
“In a few months, just before school actually, you'll have to decide if you want to keep being Asher Romanski, or if you want to be Asher Ellis. Congratulations, sweetie.”
Jamie and Sean came charging into the room, hollering and I joined in with them. Our noise brought the rest of the house in where Jamie beat everyone to the punch with the news. The elder Kirkwoods decided it was cause for a celebration and they gathered us all up and we went out to dinner at a very nice restaurant. I was drunk on excitement, thankful beyond belief and I couldn't wait to be back in my own room at my own home.
It was still warm out when we got home and I went swimming with Jaime, Sean and Robin. We splashed and carried on and just chattered for a while. It had been a long day, though, and we'd all been up reasonably early so the yawning began and we slowly drifted off to get some sleep.
“That mattress will stink of chlorine if you sleep in it before showering,” Sean said from the doorway.
“Oh? Well, I...ugh. Okay, I'll hop in the shower,” I said, giving up on just collapsing. I rinsed and scrubbed my hair and changed into a nice soft pair of shorts. Sean passed me on the way to take his own shower. Once back in my room I gathered my clothes and started putting them in the suitcase. It didn't take long, I hadn't brought that much. I set the dirty things aside so I could wash them the next day and then switched off the light and climbed into bed.
It was warm and I got back up and turned on the ceiling fan and opened the window and then stretched out on top of the covers. My mind was dancing with the relief of this all coming to an end in the best possible way. I was doubly thankful for my friends for sticking by me, and my new family going the distance for me. I couldn't remember feeling so secure, before. When I'd first heard the Ellis's would take me in, I'd been excited. When I'd moved in, overjoyed. But now, having been through this, I felt secure. Confident, even, in my support system.
With my mind racing, I figured I'd never fall asleep. I was just thinking that I was going to lie awake all night when my door opened and closed again. Glancing around in the poor lighting I could just make out a figure moving slowly. Curious, I waited until they had reached my bedside. There was the sound of something or things being placed on my nightstand, and then a rustling followed by a flare of light from a match.
Sean appeared by match-light. He touched the flame to a candle on the nightstand, probably one of the sounds I'd heard. He wasn't dressed for bed, at least not in pajama bottoms and a tee or shorts as he'd been since my arrival. He was in just his briefs and my eyes hungrily roamed his exposed skin as he continued to fiddle with items on the nightstand rather than look at me. He slid a small plastic drinking glass over and into my field of vision. It was filled about halfway with water and a small white flower peered over the lip. A feeling of lightness bloomed in my chest as I recalled him telling me he'd like to be more romantic than Jamie.
I looked up into his eyes and he waved at me a little and I moved over to make room for him. He lay on his back, rigidly, and took my hand. I lay back as well, with my head turned so I could look at his face.
“Sometimes I think if things don't happen that force me to make a decision, I just wouldn't make decisions,” he said, suddenly. He laughed nervously and said, “Now that you're leaving, I guess I have to decide. I've been getting advice from everyone. Jamie, Robin, Lu...I even consulted the dog.”
“Are you going to tell me what the problem is?”
“You. You're the problem. You confuse me.”
“Do I...make you wonder if you're completely straight?”
“Sometimes,” he said, the corners of his mouth quirking up. “I'm confused between being who I thought I was and being who you want me to be.”
“I want you to be you, Sean. It's what makes you lovable.”
“That's not entirely true,” he said. “You want me to be gay. You want me to have sex with you and be your boyfriend.”
“Well, sure I do,” I said. I switched hands with him and propped myself up on my side. “If you could see what I see when I look at you, maybe you'd want that, too. But that I want that only works if it's what you want. I don't want you to be unhappy and I'd never ask you to do something you didn't want to, Sean.”
“Well, I want to. And I don't.”
“That's okay,” I said.
“But...won't that be taking advantage of you?”
“Won't you be hurt if...what if I don't like it? What if...”
“Sean, look. You're my best friend. If I ever needed to know that someone was doing something for the right reasons, I know it's you and the proof of that is how you're wrestling with this right now. I want you to remember, I said you don't have to do anything with me for me to love you.”
“But...Jamie had the courage to.”
“Jamie had his horn on,” I chuckled. Sean frowned and I quickly continued, “and there is nothing wrong with that. Feeling like you're attractive, well, it feels pretty good.”
“So you're saying it was courage and lust?”
“Well, I think it was more lust. The courage comes after, when you figure out what to do next. I'm okay if you're filled with lust, by the way.”
“You're making it okay for me to walk away from...sex with you.”
I brought his hand to my lips and held his clean skin against my mouth. His eyes followed my hand, and I held his gaze, as I kissed his fingers. “I know it seems weird. Having you here with me, so close and so...almost naked, you'd think I'd rip off any clothes you had left. There's a part of me that wants to, Sean. A part of me that...but it's not all of me. I don't want to trap you into giving me physical love, I don't want you to touch me because you feel like you have to.
“I want you to do it because you want to. Because you want me as much as I want you. Maybe that's the problem; I respect you too much to just jump your bones, no matter how much I might want to and how tempting you are right now. In the end, it's your heart that matters most to me.”
“Blow jobs aren't bad, either?” Sean quipped.
“Blow jobs aren't bad either,” I agreed.
He lay quietly for a moment and I took the time to enjoy just staring at him, absorbing him. “I'm not sure I can,” he whispered, again.
“I know. It's okay.” I let my eyes stray from his face and down his body.
“I'm not as good looking as Jamie, am I? He has more muscles.”
I spent a moment lingering on his form, comparing and cataloging this boys body, this boy that has stolen my heart without trying and who wasn't sure that he wanted it. With a sigh I brought my gaze back up to meet his. “So what? I love your body. Jamie kisses aggressively and passionately. You, on the other hand, kiss much more deliberately but with just as much passion. Jamie was all about 'let's get our peckers out' and you've been much more considerate and...” I glanced at the flower and candle and smiled, “romantic.”
“But, didn't you like it the way things went with Jamie?”
“Sure, but that's not the point. I like how Jamie kisses, and I like how you kiss. I have reasons to like and love Jamie and I have reasons I like and love you. Sean,” I said, kissing his fingers, “there is no wrong answer, here. If you feel like you want this, like you want me, I'm here. If you think you can't, then I'm here for that, too.”
“How come I have to decide? I'm laying in your bed with just my briefs on and I'm pretty sure I'm hard.” He closed his eyes and whispered, “You can't make a move?”
“No. I can't,” I said softly. “I can't make that decision for you. If we had decided to date, if I knew this was what you wanted, then sure. But I know you aren't sure and I'm not going to force myself on you.”
“But you are going to stare at my dick.”
“You said you were pretty sure it was hard. That seems like something I should check, don't you think?”
There was a preganat pause, with just the souind of us breathing and then...“It would be easy for you. To reach out and...touch me.”
“And I want to," I agreed. "But, we all have our limits and this is mine. I'm looking, and looking hard, but I won't touch. I'm sorry, Sean, I love you too much.”
I had a good final day with the Kirkwoods. I hung out with the guys and played some with Linc, and got my clothes washed. After dinner Mrs. Kirkwood had me put my stuff in her car and I said my goodbyes – really more like 'see you later' – but, still, it was a little emotional. We pulled out of the drive and started the short trip to the Ellis's. I sat in the passenger seat with a plastic cup between my knees with a small white flower peeking over the lip.
“I guess it goes without saying that you're excited to go home.”
“Yes, ma'am. I appreciate everything you did for me, I know it couldn't have been easy agreeing to take on a teenager. I don't say that because I think I'm bad, or anything. I just know that people usually aren't interested in teenagers. When Mrs. Clemons told me the group home had no beds open, I was sure they were going to send me out of town. I really, really appreciate what you did.”
“My boys love you, Asher, so we can do no less,” she said with a quick pat on my knee. “I know my husband and I grew fond of you, as well, and I hope you'll come see us.”
“Yes, ma'am. The near twins are the best friends I've ever had, I'm pretty sure I'll be over to visit.”
“The near twins? Is that what they call themselves?” she said, smiling.
“I've heard them called the wonder twins, too.”
We lapsed into a comfortable silence as we drove through the side streets to the Ellis's, and I'd have been fine with that. Mrs. Kirkwood seemed to be in the mood to talk, though.
“You know, I can remember how it felt as a girl growing up. Summer vacation was so important for developing into who you really were. Life is different without the routine of a school schedule and homework. Days run together and you start to find yourself, to figure out who you are.”
“I think I follow you,” I replied. I wasn't really sure, but I liked the idea of what she was saying.
“Where did you get the flower?” she asked, gently.
“Uh. Sean gave it to me. Kind of a going away thing.”
“Asher,” she said in the same gentle tone. “Are you and my son seeing each other?”
“Ma'am?” I asked, my voice shooting up.
“Asher...noise travels really well in our house.”
“Oh my...God. Oh no.”
“Calm down. Let's not get all excited.”
“Asher,” she said soothingly as she pulled the car to the shoulder. “Please, it's okay. I just asked a question. I have a gay son and one who says he isn't but loves a boy; trust me, I can handle whatever this thing is you two have.”
My mouth worked noiselessly and I fought to gain control of my thoughts. Was I hyperventilating? I looked at her and she was sitting calmly, waiting for an answer. “It's complicated,” I mumbled. How much had she heard? We'd talked so much – shit, did she know about Jamie, too?
“Yes, I'd imagine it is.”
“I don't really know. I know we like each other a lot, but I don't know if that's enough. He says he likes girls, but...then there's me.”
She leaned back in her chair and gave me a very small smile and then shook her head just a tad. “Have you ever heard the expression 'the exception that proves the rule'?”
“I think so. I don't understand how that works here, though.”
“Proving something is an old way of saying to test it. So an exception is something that doesn't fit with a generally accepted truth. For instance, the rule is that Sean says he likes girls. That doesn't mean that he doesn't like boys, or can't.” She turned my chin to look up at her, “That means you're the exception that proves the rule.”
I shook my head slowly and looked out the window. “I wonder what that's going to mean for us?”
“I don't know. Just be prepared to give each other some space, be kind to each other. Best friends is no small thing, you know.”
She glanced down and looked at the flower with a smile. “That flower is a daisy. It's a simple, elegant flower that symbolizes purity, love, loyalty and innocence.”
“How do you know that?” I asked, looking down at the flower and wondering if Sean had known that when he'd given it to me.
“You pick up all kinds of interesting things like that when you work in interior design.” She reached a finger out and touched a petal lightly. “When Sean asked me for a flower for someone special, that's what I told him to get.”
We sat in contemplative silence and then, with a sigh, she pulled back out into traffic. We arrived at my home and everyone was happy to see me. They had dessert to celebrate my return and I thanked them several times for what they'd done for me. I broke down in tears apologizing for what I'd put them through. There was no guilt put on me, though. No one said anything negative, no blame. They echoed Mrs. Clemons that kids experiment, but they'd like that to not happen anymore.
I went to my room and put my clothes where they belonged and put the daisy on my nightstand. I knew it wouldn't live long and maybe that was prophetic or maybe it was bullshit. But right now, it was beautiful and alive.
The paperwork was still coming, but the important part is, I'm home. And, of course, that I'm loved; that Sean loves me.