If you were a close friend or family member, this might come as a surprise to you. I say this as the person it happened to and I'm...okay, not exactly surprised.
This is my fifth day. I mean fifth day being gay, not my fifth day being alive. No, not quite. Third day being a nearly out gay who has a boyfriend – and I'm still salty I had to talk him into it. Leo loves me; he just needed a second to wrap his head around the idea of loving me.
You have to have the right people around you if you're going to be different. I'm sure there have to be people out there like me, but I'm different enough that I have to wonder how different is too different? Where is that line? The truth is, I don't think most people know until they get there. Stick with me on this. I'm not entirely sure when I realized I was gay, but it could have been when my sister made us watch Casper the friendly ghost – and then he pulled a Pinocchio at the end of the movie and became a real boy. Well, only for a minute, but damn.
But...he was kinda girly, right? Loose shirt with some skin showing, weird collar, long hair that looked way too soft. Girly, right? That musta been it. I was okay because I could picture boobs there somewhere. Sometime. Maybe just focus on the lips? Yeah, lips. Mm. Lips. Leo's lips.
Aaaand this was some of my problem. I needed a beautiful girl before my father got any ideas – trust me, he has plenty of his own. Did you know that if you lose your job there's a conspiracy to explain that? I mean, let's say you, I don't know, fell asleep on your overnight watchman job. Seems like a reason to fire you, right? Nope. Turns out the guys on the shift before his spiked the coffee with something like a roofie so they could get rid of him and someone else could get that easy shift with the shift bonus differential. As an added bonus, a side effect is that the drug leaves something in your blood that lets the government track you.
You know who believes crap like that? My Aunt Fiona and her husband Mike. I mean, he's Uncle Mike, but you can call him just about anything and he'll answer. I've gone through the living room and called him Irving, Old Sock – add in a fake Brit accent – Gopher, Mickey...I even called him Michelle a few times and he still looks right at me like I called him Uncle Mike. Aunt Fiona is my father's sister, and you can tell. I don't mean by family resemblance – I mean because she's batshit.
For instance, we're not allowed to get Chinese food, because we'll catch yellow fever. She says deodorant gives you brain swelling – and yes, she stinks. We have mosquito netting all around the house in weird places to stop some unnamed 'things' from getting in. When I say she puts them in strange places, it's like...inside a closet, over a picture frame – that's right. Not a window, a picture. Like...she's catching Great Aunt Mildred's specter from a black and white photo on the wall before it, I don't know, eats her spleen.
My dad was sketchy before, but ever since Fiona and Mike moved in to reinforce things, he's been completely useless. Fiona can't hold a job, but I think she gets disability for being psychotic or something. I'm not sure why Mike doesn't have a job, but I'm sure he's scamming – no, that probably takes more ambition than he has. He's probably just leaching off Fiona's checks.
My mom is the only one who comes close to sane or normal in my house. My sister got smart and moved out, but I think she's probably damaged for life. If she's not, I'm jealous, because I sure as hell am. Anyway, Mom loses out on being normal because she puts up with this crap. I think it also makes her lose out on the 'sane' sweepstakes. My mom works two jobs, both of them shitty retail jobs. She works eighty hours a week while my dad sits at home and makes up shit with his sister and brother-in-law about why the world hasn't met his needs. I mean, why he's the victim of some conspiracy that's totally not him being a lame, lazy, low-IQ...all right, that's enough of that.
So five days ago my life got knocked in a new direction. Rosa. So the setting is I'm in Rosa's room and she's trying on new things she bought from this discount retailer she works at. Rosa is my friend and an ex. Rosa is flat gorgeous, but I now realize that her gorgeousness isn't in a 'come on I want to sex you' sort of way. It's very much in a 'so well put together you can't help but notice' kind of way. Some people may not see much of a distinction, but I can now. I didn't for a long time. She's about five foot six, long dark brown hair and these...actually, I don't know what color her eyes are. She has colored contacts and changes them a lot.
The all-black ones are freaky.
Anyway, Rosa's changing, and I'm telling her what I think. Her mom walks in, greets me, tells Rosa that dinner will be ready soon and that her brother, Ray, is in the shower so the water heater should be full again after dinner if she wants the shower.
After her mom leaves, Rosa takes my face in her tiny hands and says, “Bitch, what's wrong with you?”
Actually, that's not true. She did take my face in her hands, but she fixed me with a steady look and asked, “What's on your mind? You're being very quiet. You love new clothes day, but you don't have much to say today. Did I pick shit clothes?”
I shook my head. “Something happened, and I'm kind of...not freaking out, but I don't understand.”
“Okay, tell me,” she said, taking a seat beside me.
“You want to put clothes on first?” I asked, referring to the bra and panties ensemble she was expertly wearing.
“Reece, you love it when I wear clothes, not when I take them off. If it'll move this along, though....” She got up and pulled on some shorts and slipped a sweatshirt on. “Okay. Now tell me what's on your mind.”
I frowned. “What do you mean I care-”
“Reece,” she said, her tone filled with warning.
“What?” I said.
“Don't whine. Stay on track. What was bothering you?”
I didn't whine. But now I grumbled for a second. “So you know Micah had his birthday Sunday.”
“I was at the little cutie's party, so yeah,” she said.
“Oh, right. I kind of forget, sometimes. He likes to make friends with everyone. And, like, everyone was there.”
“He's well on his way to being a popular boy, yes,” she said in a bored tone. “Now what was bothering you?”
“I'm getting there!” I said in a completely not defensive way. I cleared my throat and coughed a few times because some of my spit went down the wrong way. Maybe I should pee first?
“Reece,” she said with a sigh. “You don't have to tell me, but you gotta tell someone.”
I sighed. Coughed once again. “So, Friday you remember I told you we were going to sleep over at Leo's and go to the indoor water park for Saturday?”
“The thing I wasn't invited to? No, I forgot,” she said dryly.
“Take that up with Leo,” I said quickly and ducked as she swiped at me.
“Continue,” she said intently.
“So anyway, Micah was on the air mattress with his friends...uh...Dom and Carlo. And me and Leo were on his bed. After they fell asleep, we were talking. Bored, couldn't sleep.”
She sat up straight. “Oh my god! Did you guys fuck?”
“What?” I yelped, sitting up straight myself. “No! Why would you ask that?”
She chuckled. “Why do you think? You're in love with Leo.”
“I am not!”
“Oh, Madre de Dios,” she grumbled. “Okay, if you didn't hook up, what happened?”
“Your Spanglish is so sexy,” I growled, trying to leer. It didn't work; she laughed at me.
“Just get on with the story. I have to eat soon.”
I sighed and looked down at my hands, pressing my fingertips together. “So we were daring each other...and it was like a gay chicken thing...but we kissed.”
She was quiet a moment. “Is that it? Wait, what kind of kiss? If it's a peck and you're freaked out....”
I shook my head. “It turned into a full on...tongue and all kind of kiss.” I looked up at her. “It was good. Really good.”
She reached behind my head and stroked my hair. “Finally. I'm so happy for you.”
I jerked my head and stared at her. “What do you mean? Why?”
She dropped her chin and looked at me. “Really? Reece, baby, you're gay.”
“I am not!”
She raised her eyebrow and stood, reaching for her zipper. I looked at her face, wondering what she was doing.
She sighed. “Reece, a straight boy – a straight boy who was into me – would be looking at my crotch right now for a reveal. Right?
“Oh. Right. Start again. I wasn't ready.”
She laughed. “Reece, you're never going to be ready for me, baby,” she said, grinning. “Look. You and me? We tried the dating thing. I know you love me, Reece. I love you, too. Like a brother. One I like a lot more than my actual brother who I have to live with. But, niño! It's the same for you. You don't look at me like you want to have babies with me. You look at me like I'm someone special that you care for – and no one better mess with me because you'll prank them or something.”
I frowned. “Pranking is a time honored way to seek revenge.”
She shook her head and smiled. “My final point – even my mom doesn't care if you see me practically naked changing. She knows there is no chance between us.”
That definitely made me stop. Rosa's mom was no joke. I've seen her go after Ray with her cooking spoon, and the lady is not to be messed with. She caught Ray with porn on his phone once – those programs really do tell your parents everything you're doing on that thing – and you'd think she'd walked in with his ass in the air, girl spread under him ready to pile drive her.
Kind of makes you think about the whole idea of calling someone a pussy to say they are weak. I mean, those things take a pounding and keep right on...pussying or whatever it is they do.
I looked at her face, trying to focus on her eyes. “You think I'm...gay?”
She took my hand. “I think you're trying really hard to be someone who isn't gay, mi corazon.”
I wiped my eyes. “I love it when you mix in Spanish words.”
“I know,” she said with a smile and a roll of her eyes. “I like to do it sometimes to make people underestimate me. Also I can cuss at them without them knowing.” She put her hand on my cheek. “But most of the time I do it just to make you happy.”
I bit my lip. “Rosa...I'm gay.”
She smiled. “I know. But the important thing is...was Leo a good kisser?”
I looked down.
“Oh, come on,” she said playfully. “I know it's new, but you were going to tell me, right? You didn't expect kissing Leo to be so good for you?”
“I never expected to kiss Leo at all,” I clarified. “But...Rosa. It was something. Like, special something.”
“I'm glad,” she said. “Now. I have to go eat, and you have to figure out how to bag Leo.”
“I don't think he thinks of me like that,” I admitted.
“Well, show him how to,” she said.
I had. I had to fucking argue with him, but I did. Now we're a couple. The first morning when I walked up to him at the bus stop he was talking to Micah – and I was shaking inside. What if he'd changed his mind? What if I actually had caught something from one of the foods in our house like Aunt Fiona always said we would and I dreamed the whole thing?
I think I played it smooth, but even when we kissed in front of Micah I was still feeling like I was standing on smoke and was going to go on a really long fall at any moment.
Then there was Henry.
Henry is tall. He's not super wide in the shoulders compared to his hips. He's just kind of built like that – thick around the hips, tree trunk thighs and a chest and shoulders like a normal person with a face that belonged on a twelve-year-old. Sort of like two people mashed together in a transporter accident on Star Trek. I've always liked Henry – he was decent, even-tempered. When I saw him coming toward my table in the library, he didn't look even-tempered. He didn't look decent. He looked intent. He sat down opposite me and folded his hands on the table. His stare was kind of making me fidget. My guts felt like maybe they were full of water. And like they might leak soon.
“You and Leo,” he said quietly. I am sure he didn't mean it to be menacing. He was just being quiet because it was a library.
I tried to swallow my tongue, cleared my throat and nodded with tears in my eyes. “Yep.”
He stared at me. “How long have you wanted him?”
I blinked. “That I knew of? Since last Friday.”
He raised an eyebrow. “What?”
He sighed and shook his head. “Ever since I heard I was thinking...I thought Leo and I would be good together, and it all fell apart so fast. Then you guys get together, and I had to wonder...did you do something? Were you saying things to him? About me and him, maybe not being good for each other?”
I shook my head. “Uh, no. I was happy for you guys. This all,” I waved my hands around, “is a little unexpected.”
“How is dating someone unexpected?”
I sighed. “I had to talk him into it.”
I sighed again. “He was all like I'm not his type, and I told him how I may not look like you, but you're not the only guy he looked at.”
“Not like that!”
I rolled my eyes. “Like you notice people, right? Tell me you didn't like Micah's dads?”
He shook his head. “Nope. Although...the little guys upstairs? Not too shabby.”
“That's what I mean,” I said. “You notice people. So anyway, I pointed out that even though he liked Micah's dads, he liked you and you guys look nothing alike.”
“Well, his dad played football. I play football.”
“I played Madden, so I guess that's the common link,” I muttered.
He sighed. “Look, what's done is done. I lost Leo – in fact, I don't know how much I ever had him. But if you have him...I hope you guys can make it work.”
His chair scraped as he stood and he went to another table, pulling out his laptop and going to work on something. The watery feeling intensified and I asked to go to the bathroom. You know what's weird? Your bladder. Mine has this distance-to-toilet feature where the closer I get to the toilet, the more I have to go. When I'm unbuckling my pants, I think my bladder sends the signal that it's go time and I can practically feel the water moving through me and if I don't get my pants down in time, I'm going to wet myself.
And that's without Henry making me nervous.
I had been too focused on the whole 'I'm dating Leo' thing to really pay attention to people at home that Wednesday, but after Henry I was paranoid. I mean more than usual. I got home and I thought everyone was looking at me funny – and I was right.
“Reece. You have toilet paper on your shoe,” my uncle said. I'm sure it wasn't there all day. Really.
My dad freaked me a little more though. He tilted his red hat backward and eyed me up and down. “You're different. You get laid?”
“Not this morning,” I said.
“Then what? You look nervous.”
“You're staring at me. It makes me nervous.” Plus, you know, it's Thursday. I'm nervous on Thursdays. And every other day.
“Your mom says you got a job?”
“Yeah. The Italian place down on the turnpike.”
“You gotta watch the Italians,” he said. “I heard that place was mobbed up.”
I tilted my head. “It wasn't that busy, except they still managed to dirty a lot of things for me to clean.”
“Not that kind of mobbed! I mean the mafia. Jesus,” he muttered.
“You think the five families got into Vito's? Kind of far from the city, and not exactly a big money maker, pop.”
“They launder money, you moron. That's what they use legit businesses for.”
I frowned. “I didn't see a washer or dryer.”
He frowned. “Why would they need those?”
I raised an eyebrow at him. “For the laundry? Pretty sure they use a service for the tablecloths and napkins.”
He drew his brows down. “You're fucking with me. You can't be that stupid.”
I was fucking with him, but it was bold of him to assume he knew the limits of my stupidity. Still figuring that out myself.
I spent the next hour helping Fiona and Mike put some weird homemade mosquito netting all around the tiny enclosed porch. I wasn't really clear why, but I might have been ignoring them.
I had to work Thursday night and my mom gave me a lift since she was working at the dollar store that night. Our shifts would be similar, so I could get a ride both ways. She had a sad little minivan with a bumper sticker that said 'Back off Bumper Humper'. Mom was overweight – by a lot. She smoked because she claimed it was the only thing keeping her from killing my father in his sleep. She eats too much fast food, but I figure she needs that to keep from killing me in my sleep, so I don't say anything.
“You're different,” she said out of the blue.
“It's the shirt,” I said, pulling on the front of it where it said, 'Did someone say stuffed crust?' “I'm employed. Leo figures I'm doing it for free pizza. Micah already asked if that was why. Do I look like I eat junk all the time?”
She snorted. “You're the only one in the family that doesn't,” she said and then sighed. “Probably outlive all of us.”
“I figure I'll go out in a blaze of glory in an industrial accident of some kind. Maybe I'll get superpowers before whatever it is kills me off. Like, I get powers but the thing giving me powers is killing me, get it?”
She laughed her smoker's laugh, crusty and as if there were something phlegmy climbing up her throat. Mom was the only one that got my humor – or what I used to hide my anxiety in truth.
Work was a grind – I was mostly washing dishes. The place did serve pizzas, but they were also a restaurant, so I was the new dishwasher, and there was a literal endless parade of things that needed scrubbing and washing and soaking and oh my god that was nasty! I spent parts of the evening texting Leo the scary things I had to clean. The bastard laughed.
Friday was more of the same. Micah was sure there was a joke he was missing somewhere, but all I cared about when Leo kissed me was...damn. Soft lips. I had to give it to Rosa, she was right. I loved Rosa, but when we'd kissed it was okay. I mean, it was kissing and she is beautiful. If I were straight, I should have wanted her. I mean I did, but not like that. But when Leo kissed, it gave me the tingles. You know, kind of like when you've been sitting on the toilet too long and your legs go numb and then get tingly? Like that, but in my lips. Without the numb part. Or the toilet.
You know, forget I mentioned it.
By Friday word was actually out that I was out. I'd like to say that's why I got some weird looks, but to be perfectly honest, I normally got some weird looks. My clothes are usually wrinkled – Rosa tried to get me to stop, but I'm sort of lazy. It's such a waste – you're just going to get them dirty again, why fold them? It's like making the bed. You're just going to mess it up later.
Of course the looks could have been from my hair. There is this big contrast between my hair and my skin. My family is all Euro-Mutt. We got some Scot in there, some French, some Welsh, some German. I'm kind of like the European Union in a nervous/anxious package. My mom's side of the family has the Welsh, and that's where I get my first name from. Except neither side of my family can spell – maybe it's the Welsh influence; I've seen some of their words – and Rhys became Reece.
Anyway, apparently Reece translates to 'Pale As Shit' in the old tongue. Wait. Shit's not pale. I mean, if it is then you have something really weirdly wrong with you. Right? I mean has anyone ever actually seen a pale shit? I pulled my phone out and did a search. Wow. You can have sort-of-pale-shit. I mean, yeah, there's something wrong if you do, but it's possible.
Okay, so I'll stick with pale as shit. Except it's kind of uncommon, so maybe pale as...I look like the vanilla inside of an ice cream bar. Yeah, that even makes it sound like you should lick me. I can go for that. Strategic licking. What was I talking about?
Oh right, pale. So I'm pale and my hair is this really unruly black sort-of-curly mop. I once joked with my dad that we must have a black someone in our history with my curly hair, and he lost his shit and screamed at me about how pale I was. Fiona muttered something about me not being my dad's, but I don't think he heard her. I mean, it's a theory, so you'd think he'd grab onto that but....
Leo gets this honey colored tan. He's lucky like that. He's got golden-brown hair and skin that is so smooth to the touch. I mean, I've touched him a few times and you can't help but notice. It's sort of fascinating how good it feels to-
Anyway, the point is that I don't know why people gave me any of the looks Friday that they did. Could have been the hair/skin thing, could have been my clothes, could have been that I was dating Leo. Or, I guess, it could be the blood on my shirt from fighting with Dale Hastert. Leo once told me that Henry trolled him by saying Dale is in the closet and picks on him because he's turned on by Leo and can't handle it. Since he's coming after me now, I think he's just an asshole. Of course he might have come after me because he's trying to grow a mustache and I told him it looked like his nose took a shit.
It wasn't personal, just...it had a curved, lumpy look that made me think turd. You know? Leo got all mad and was talking about beating Dale into next week. It was cute. Made my heart quiver in a way that wasn't entirely anxious. After school Friday I went over to Leo's and hung out with him and Micah. He'd told me about Micah teasing him about boning up about one of Micah's dads massaging him. Anyone could look at Micah and see he genuinely liked Leo, so I knew he didn't mean to hurtfully embarrass. He’d had one of those ideas that sounded good when you thought of it, but then it bit you in the ass. I've done that a lot.
Micah's football dad, Alec, came by to get him, and he gave Micah and Leo a few tips on how they were working out. I like him. He makes me think weird people have a real place in the world, because that guy is weird.
After, Leo and I were in his room and I was anxious again – go figure. I think they should put that on my tombstone – 'Here Lies Reece who should have been Rhys. He was Anxious and Nervous.' I mean really, of all things those had to be my superpowers. I wouldn't normally be anxious with Leo, but...it was different now. I wanted to go lay on him. Not like cuddle, but like just...flop on him and feel him there. I figure he'd think that was weird. Plus we do all kinds of other things that don't involve us touching and stuff, but...I wanted to.
“So...how long do we have to date before we send sexy texts? Is there a rule for boyfriends?”
He raised an eyebrow at me.
“I just wanted to know the rules,” I explained like a reasonable person would. “I have to practice and I need to know what sort of timeline I'm working with.”
“Reece...you're nuts,” he said with a shake of his head.
“Old news. But really. When do we start the flex pictures and the bathroom selfies and dick pics?”
“I am not taking a picture of my dick.”
“Why? Is it camera shy?”
“Why you asking about my dick?”
“I was asking about its feelings, not about it. Shy is a feeling.”
“You want to know about my dick's feelings?”
“Sure. Especially if it has feelings for me,” I said with a grin. I didn't feel humorous or happy, but I grinned. I kind of felt like I was going to throw up. How weird is too weird?
He laughed. “Reece, you're one of a kind.”
“Is that how your dick feels?”
He raised an eyebrow and grinned. “Why? You want to feel my dick?”
I raised my eyebrow. Now we looked like...fuck if I know. What do you call two people with their eyebrows raised? What do I do now? As it happens I didn't have a lot of time to consider it. His mom came up and asked him to take the garbage out, and I had to get ready to head to work. I was walking today because my mom was already at work.
“Are you going to get your car fixed?” I asked.
“Not sure,” he said, sitting up on his bed. “I told my dad I'd get a job to pay for it, but he grumbled something about me focusing on school. I don't know if that means he's going to fix it or if it means...I don't know what else it could mean.”
I thought for a minute. “I could help you out with money for the repair. I mean, you're going to drive me anyway.”
He scratched the back of his neck. “Nah. Let me see if my folks are going to help or if I need to get a job. If I get it fixed, you can chip in gas money.”
I stood up as he did the same. I stepped closer to him. “We gonna make-out goodbye?”
The corner of his mouth pulled up in amusement. “Is that a thing?”
“I'll give you a thing,” I said and leaned in. And kept leaning. He wasn't there and I stumbled, falling onto his bed. I looked up at him giggling at me, and then he jumped on the bed and mashed me into the mattress. We rolled around a little, but Leo was actually a little stronger than I was. Maybe a little more than a little.
“I can take you,” I growled and thrashed around.
He looked down at me, shock on his face. “Really? All twelve inches?”
I stared up at him for a second and then we both started laughing.
“Leonardo! The trash will not take itself out!” his mother yelled from downstairs.
“She's never been to my house,” I said.
Leo laughed and let me up, for which I was sorry. And anxious, which made me nervous. We went downstairs, and I headed to work while he turned for the kitchen. I washed a bunch more pots and pans that night. The sound of the industrial dishwasher was nearly deafening. There was a lot more noise in a kitchen that I'd ever imagined; not that I'd ever sat around wondering how much noise there could be in a kitchen. I mean, that's strange even for me.
Pots were banged around, long baking sheets clattered and utensils clanged off the sides of containers. The walk-in freezer makes this weird 'whup' sound when the seal catches, just before the latch clatters closed. The plates hitting the metal counter for the serving staff to take out to the customers is always followed by the little bell the cook smacks to alert them an order is ready.
It was hot work, but I was fairly content – I kept thinking about Leo and that we were a thing now. The question with everything in life, of course, was how long would it last?
“Reece, get up.”
“Get up. I need your help.”
I rolled over and looked up into my aunt Fiona's face. “Huh?”
“We have to hurry. Get up. Get up!”
Christ. What is she wound up about this time?
“Okay. What's wrong?”
“It's the leaves. We need more. We'll spread a net and then cover it.”
I blinked a few times. “Why?”
She narrowed her eyes. “Don't get smart.” She turned and headed for the door and I let my head flop back down to my flat pillow. I let my eyes drift closed as I thought about kissing Leo, and about what could happen after. Then I thought-
Fuck. She literally could fuck up a wet dream. “Okay.”
I sat up and moved intentionally slowly, looking for socks and sweats – something I could easily peel off later and go back to sleep. Or to fall asleep in. Sweats are kind of comfy. Well, everything is comfy if you're tired enough. I picked up my phone to check the time. “Seven-thirty? Are you serious? Some people need to start their crazy later in the day.”
I stumbled to the bathroom and then headed to the kitchen to get some coffee or something.
“Are you helping Fiona?” my dad asked, making me jump. I turned to look at him and wished I hadn't. He was sitting in his underwear in his chair in the living room, tee shirt pulling up to reveal his flab. That would be enough to sour anyone's morning.
“Well, not if I can help it,” I said.
He snorted. “She thinks she can catch them with nets.”
I started the coffee pot. “Catch who?”
My father leaned forward with the gleam of crazy I know so well in his eyes. “That's the question, isn't it?”
I sat at the table and yawned. “Is mom at work already?”
“Yeah. Someone called in.” He looked at me for a moment. “I was right. Something's different about you.”
“Yeah,” I said, screwing with him. “I felt a sting on my neck at work last night. The guys were joking about mechanical mosquitoes after I told them about Fiona's nets. Think I got stung or something.”
He looked at me intently. Anxiety stirred in my belly.
“You shouldn't joke. You know they were kidnapping kids in that pizzeria in D.C., and you work for a mobbed up place now.”
I couldn't stop myself. I widened my eyes and asked, “What should I do? Do you think they'll experiment on me or something?”
He stood and crossed over to me, slamming his hands down on the table. Okay, anxious and nervous – my day could now go forward.
“You shouldn't joke.” He stared at me. “What's wrong with you? You never used to talk like that.”
I will never, ever be able to explain to anyone why I said what I said next. “Maybe it's love.”
He looked at me in confusion. “Rosa?”
Well, fuck. Stepped into that, didn't you Reece? “Uh, no. We broke up.” I felt hot in places I don't normally feel much of anything. Like under my chin. There was a twitch going under my left eye that actually felt a little like an itch.
“Nope,” I said. “I've found religion.” Now why of all things did I pick that to say? I'm actually regretting not being out putting up nets with Fiona.
My father looked at me with an expression that told me he really wasn't sure how to take the news. I was scrambling to think of what to say next when I was potentially saved by Mike entering the room.
“Mike, where do you stand on religion?” I asked.
He looked at me for a moment, shook his head and headed toward the coffee pot.
“Solid position, Mike,” I commented. Noting my father was still looking at me in a weird way, my mind – via my mouth – began spouting a defensive screen of bullshit. “So Dad, I really think you're missing out on the whole religion thing. Think about it for a second. You can get an online certification that you're a minister or something and then declare our house a church. Then you won't have to pay property taxes.”
He stared at me for a minute. “Are you fuckin' crazy? You know how many people will know where I am if I go online? The internet is dangerous.”
That's your objection to my illegal tax scheme? “Dad. They still make phone books. Pretty sure people know you're out there.”
The front door closed with a bang as Fiona came back in. “There you are!” she said in exasperation. “We need more leaves.”
“I'd love to help, but I have to go to work,” I said.
“Pizza places don't open this early,” my dad said with suspicion.
“Well, I have to lay out the candles and get the chalk ready for the rituals.” I paused. “Anyone know of a small child no one would miss if they got, I dunno, sacrificed?”
“Asshole,” my father grumped and turned from me. Mike sipped coffee while Fiona started telling him why the leaves had to be netted down, but honestly – I blocked it out. I can't believe I told my dad I was in love before I told Leo I love him. I mean I do, and he probably knows. But maybe not since, you know, the whole having to talk him into dating me thing. With Fiona occupied with her husband, I crept back to my room and under my covers.
Bed. Bed is the place for me, I thought.
That afternoon I actually did have to go to work. Leading up to that, though, Fiona mostly forgot about me, so I was thankful for that. I spent most of my free time messaging Leo and asking him for sweatpant pics. He was practically growling at me through text, and it was fucking hilarious. Rosa texted later with some selfies of some new clothes – I guess she'd returned some of the ones she'd shown me before. She was notorious for buying, taking home and trying on and deciding she didn't like it, then returning it. Girl had issues.
When I got to work there was a pile of pots and pans waiting for me in the deep sink, so I popped an earphone in and started on those first. I wish they'd use cookware that didn't let food get burnt on or whatever so easily. Maybe they need copper pans or something? I say this like I know squat about cooking. My expertise would probably come in the eating category.
It took me about an hour to clean all the pans, and I was just working the last few when my boss happened on me.
“You cleaned 'em all?” he asked.
“Yeah. You told me deep sink should always be first.”
He looked at me for a moment. “You got a white button up shirt at home? Black pants?”
I thought for a moment. “I might.”
He waited a beat. “Which ones you got?”
“Black jeans. Pretty sure.”
He reached behind him, pulled his wallet out and handed me two tens. “You stop over the discount place in the plaza and get a white shirt.” I looked up at him in confusion. He shook the bills. “Now. Go.”
I took the bills and headed out the front door, wondering why I needed the shirt. The discount shop, as he called it, was just a small clothing store that sold 'brand names at reduced prices'. At least that was their slogan. I wandered around until I found some plain white button up shirts and bought one for fourteen bucks. I left it in the bag as I got back to work, putting it in a corner to try and keep it clean for now.
My boss, Sam, was in front of the big stove with four pots going on it. I walked up to him and handed him his change back and the receipt. He made a grunt and pocketed them and I went back to the industrial washer. I put an earphone in and listened to music while I worked – the plates were thick ceramic, and they were too hot to touch when the washer first finished. People came and went – dropping off tickets, picking up orders and returning the dirty stuff for cleaning. I worked steadily all night, stopping for my break when Sam handed me a plate of pasta and bread and told me to go have a seat.
Sam could flat cook, I'll say that much.
When I got out I texted Leo and was happy that he texted me back right away. I told him about my religious conversion from that morning and the general weirdness that is my house, then I started asking him what he was wearing just to mess with him. He got all hung up on the religion thing, so I told him I had advised my dad to get into something fringe so the government wouldn't harass him, like the Flying Spaghetti Monster church. He didn't believe that was a thing, but it didn't matter, because I went right back to asking him for some sexy pictures.
Asshole put on a winter coat, beanie and mittens and took a picture from above so I could barely see his face. Not sexy by any means. I got tangled in netting that was in my front yard, camouflaged by all the leaves, and nearly fell over. Once inside I was surprised to find the house empty except for my mom, who was sitting at the dining room table massaging her temples.
“Hi, Ma,” I said as I took a seat by her at the table.
“Hi, Baby,” she said quietly in her scratchy voice. She looked up at me. “How was your shift?”
“Well, I think they're going to show me the room where we either sacrifice children or pack the meth soon.”
She snorted and smiled. She picked up a little leather case with two metal pins on the top that she twisted to reveal her cigarettes inside. “Your father will be so pleased.”
“I told him, but he called me a smart ass,” I told her promptly.
She chuffed out a laugh and put a cigarette in her mouth. “He went to shower. I guess he ended up helping Fiona with her net project, though he doesn't seem to know what she's up to.”
“That's okay. I'm pretty sure Fiona doesn't, either.”
She lit her cig, puffed once and blew the smoke away from me, like it mattered much. She fixed me with her gaze and asked, “So. Love, your father says?”
Shit. That took a while to bite me in the ass, but there it is. “I was being wise.”
She sucked on the cig and contemplated me. “Yeah,” she said, blowing a plume from the side of her mouth and coughing lightly. “You're different. Not totally sure why you want to keep it to yourself, but it's your business. I just hope you're happy.”
I frowned. My parents had never been very good – or all that interested – in reading me before. “Mom. I told dad this morning he should get an online certification as a pastor so he could declare the house a church and not have to pay property taxes.”
She nodded her head and the end of her cig went cherry red before she blew smoke again and coughed lightly. “That's exactly why I think you slipped up about being in love.”
My nerves spiked, even though I don't fear my mom. She's the most normal person in my day-to-day life besides Leo.
“Because I suggested he evade taxes?”
She shook her head. “Because you don't usually screw with him on his stupid ideas. You knew the second you suggested he go online he was going to shoot the idea down. You baited him. Usually,” she said, taking another drag and exhaling, “you avoid it just because it's not worth it. The number of times he's tried to explain one of his...theories to you....”
I could see where she was headed with her line of thinking, and I fully planned to defend myself, except I ended up asking her, “Is it weird that I could be in love?”
She chuckled and shook her head as she stabbed her cigarette out. “No. But when you live like we do...you set reasonable expectations. Your sister...she didn't get pregnant as a teenager. It's gravy that she's able to take care of herself and didn't seem to get any of your father's crazy on her.”
“Well, if the bar isn't getting pregnant as a teen, I think I'm set,” I said smugly.
She looked at me steadily. “Is it Leo?”
I stared for a moment too long. “What makes you-”
“Stands to reason,” she said quietly. “Can't get pregnant – teen or otherwise.”
I rubbed my left eye, which suddenly itched like mad.
“Hey,” she said and covered her mouth as she coughed again. “Hey.”
I glanced warily at her.
“I just want you to be happy. Okay?”
I nodded slowly.
“Leo's a good choice. He's smart. I think you have a good chance to make something of yourself if you have a good person as a partner.”
“You're a good person,” I said quietly.
“Well...sometimes things change. Sometimes you get...stuck.” She waved her hand. “I'm going to go to bed. Goodnight.”
I headed to my room, kicked my shoes off into a corner and tossed my shirt on the floor. I started hunting around for this pair of joggers I have with this really soft inside that make them super comfy. Then I could text Leo until I fell asleep and try not to think that I was out to my mom. I mean, it went well as those things go, and yet it felt weird. Isn't it weird to think that other people have to know where you'd like to park your dick? I mean it wasn't really like that, but now she knows. She knows it's Leo.
Oh, what the hell. Of all the things that make me nervous and anxious, my mom wasn't really one of them. Sure she'd disciplined me over the years, but usually it was my father doing that. The last few years I'd been more following Leo's example than getting any actual parenting – mom was always working and my dad was lost in his conspiracy things. It would be funny if it weren't sad. On the other hand, I wasn't sad they left me alone – mostly – to do my own thing.
My eyes lit up as I spotted my joggers hanging from the edge of a drawer – weird, how did they get in a dresser drawer? I don't put clothes away. My dresser is largely empty. I grabbed the joggers and was startled by the sound of my window going up. I jumped and pulled the joggers, which got stuck on the corner of the drawer, and the drawer crashed to the floor.
Thing was really a lot louder than I'd have thought possible.
“What did you do, Reece?”
I looked back at the window in time to see Leo climbing in and looking at me, then down at the drawer. As I opened my mouth to reply my father burst into the room with a coffee cup raised in his hand. As weapons go, it wasn’t all that intimidating.
“What the hell? Leo?” Dad asked, his eyes raking the room.
“The drawer fell,” I said helpfully.
“There's something on your front door,” Leo said in a reasonable tone.
“Oh. Well, yeah. Makes sense,” my father said – even though it made no sense at all – and lowered his cup. “Okay. Keep it down; your mom is going to bed.”
“Okay,” I agreed. Dad took one last suspicious sweep – perhaps looking for black candles and caged children being held over for sacrifice.
Once he'd closed the door I looked at Leo – hair tousled, sweatshirt loose around his neck and showing some skin, and an older pair of joggers that made his legs look longer than they were. You know, I bet he'd look really nice in a suit and stuff, but I think I prefer comfy Leo to fancy Leo – comfy Leo was familiar. And comfy.
Leo turned and closed the window and I grinned at him as he turned back, my heart racing as my nerves and anxiety suddenly skyrocketed.
He tilted his head. “What are you grinning about?”
I stuck my tongue out a little and bit it, an effort to be sexy, and said, “This is a booty call. Isn't it?”
Leo rolled his eyes. “In this mess? Not likely.”
I blinked and looked around the room. I mean, no it wasn't exactly clean....
Leo crossed the room and kicked his shoes off by my door. “We need to talk,” he said.
My heart rate easily doubled. “We do?”
“Yeah. I was trying to text you, but you stopped responding.”
I frowned lightly and pulled my phone out. Oh. It was dead. I held it up and showed him. “Not intentionally.”
“Still. We need to work some stuff through.”
“Okay,” I said agreeably, even though my chest ached. “How about you sit in my lap and we'll talk about the first thing that comes up?”
He lowered his chin. “That would probably be my dinner.”
“Ouch!” I said, holding a hand to my chest. “Just stab me next time!”
“Reece, put on a shirt, will you?”
“Why?” I asked, just filling space and being contrary. “What if I want to poke you with my nipples?”
His gaze flicked to my chest and back to my face. “Looks like you could cut diamonds right about now.”
I glanced down, then back to him. I crossed my arms over my chest. “Okay, well, opening the window made it a little nipply in here.”
Leo crossed his arms and tilted his head as he regarded me. “Is there a reason you were just standing here in your pants?”
“Just getting changed from work,” I said. “I was looking for my joggers when you scared the shit out of everyone.”
The corner of his mouth curled up in amusement. “Well, get comfy.”
I paused. “I'm going to feel weird taking off my pants unless you take off your pants.”
“Reece,” he growled.
“Okay! I tried! Who knew you were so frigid?” I teased while I took my pants off and pulled on my joggers. Man, those things fit so nice. I hunted around for a minute looking for a shirt, then pulled one on.
“Okay – this is the first thing,” Leo said. “Do you own a hamper?”
“A what now?”
“Okay, yeah,” I said, laughing yet feeling nerves and anxiety merge into stress. “It's in the basement. I think.”
Leo sighed. “Reece, I need to get a few things cleared up. We'll deal with that later.”
I stood still and crossed my arms. “I don't think this is fair,” I said. He opened his mouth, but I was off in a fit of stream-of-consciousness speech and letting my neurosis spill out in a verbal tidal wave. “You haven't even given me a week and I think we know this is going to take time to adjust from being best friends to boyfriends. I get that it's new and I get that I had to basically argue with you to get you to date me, which I still think is epic bullshit, but I did it anyway.”
I took a breath as Leo took a step toward me. “It's going to take some time for you to see what I can offer, and I think you owe me that much. I've been your best friend and I can be your-”
He kissed me, stilling my lips. My stress twisted inside me, then unwound as he put his arms around me and I actually felt myself relaxing. He broke the kiss and leaned back, looking at me.
“Let me start again. Okay?”
I nodded, feeling the threads of my twin friends anxiety and nerves lurking, but amazed at how quickly they'd drained away.
“I don't understand how we got here,” Leo said quietly. “You're right we've been best friends for years. You know everything about me, and I thought I knew everything about you. But somehow I didn't know anything about this. I don't think I've had my eyes closed, so I figure you hid this from me. Why? I can't help but wonder that. Did you not trust me? How long have you been gay? How long have you liked me and never said anything?”
Well, let's not start off small, right?
I let go of him and picked up my drawer to give myself something to do. It took me a minute to figure out how to get the thing to line up, but then I was left with still needing to give him answers. I found I couldn't turn around to look at him, but I also felt like it was time to rip a few band-aids off even if I had no idea if the wounds underneath could be healed, but I trusted Leo more than about anyone – and more, I loved him.
“So...I have some issues that, maybe, I haven't told you about.”
“Like what? And why?”
I reached up and scratched the top of my head, and then followed it up by chasing an itch that moved from my neck to my chest to my arm and then my cheek. I clenched my hand into a fist and laid it on top of my dresser.
“What? So what?”
I turned toward him, but didn't look at him. “How weird is too weird, Leo?”
“What do you mean?”
I looked up at him, glad to find his expression just one of confusion. “I ask myself that question about a hundred times a day. How weird is too weird? Every time I ask the question I feel more anxious that I'm getting closer to being too weird. I feel like I get more and more nervous. Nervous that everyone can see how 'too weird' I really am. So...I joke,” I said, my volume dropping. “I joke and I hide.”
Leo put his hand on my shoulder. “Not from me.”
I let out a shuddering breath. “Yes, from you. From everyone.” I looked up at him. “Maybe you see more, but not everything. I don't feel bad about that. You hid liking Henry. You hid what happened at the party at first, so I'm not the only one that keeps some things to themselves. I don't blame you,” I said quickly as he opened his mouth, “everyone has stuff they don't talk about. Right?”
He frowned lightly. “But I did tell you when you asked.”
I nodded. “And now you asked, and I'm telling you.”
His frown didn't go away, but he nodded in thought. He took my forearm and pulled me over to the bed where he sat down cross-legged and I copied him, but he started pulling and pushing on my shoulders and I protested, asking him what he was doing. Eventually I cooperated enough to let him turn me around and he pulled me back against his chest – and man, let me just say, that made me feel better.
“Okay, Reece. Talk to me.”
I guess maybe it should have been harder, but there is something really comforting about Leo holding me. I had no idea I was missing that in my life because we weren't much on hugging before. I'd clown and do it sometimes, but this wasn't even hugging. It was just...loving. I think that's what made it easier to talk. That and I didn't have to look at him.
“I always knew I was off compared to everyone else. You, Miguel, even Jenna and Mark. I don't see anyone around me that feels like they are on the edge of losing everything on a daily basis because they are too weird.”
“I don't understand. Why do you think you're weird?”
“Look at my family! Look what I come from! My dad is some conspiracist who probably thinks there are aliens at Area 51 and that the president is a robot. His sister is just as crazy and who the hell knows with Mike? And my mom puts up with it all – hell if I know why she doesn't leave – and I'm not sure she'd take me with her if she did. My sister got out as soon as she could and my mother's only goal was to make sure she wasn't pregnant as a teenager – talk about setting the bar low!” I said with a snort.
“Kids drop out of school sometimes when they have kids young. Changes their life,” Leo said quietly. “Seems like a good goal to have.”
“Well,” I said, bulling ahead without thinking, “I told her she didn't have to worry about it with me, and she asked if it was because of you, and I'm still trying to process that.”
Leo snorted. “So your mom figured out we're together?”
I nodded. I let out a few deep breaths and then said, “I've always been gay, I guess. Rosa was...I mean, she's beautiful and fierce. She loves me and I love her, but...it's not like that.” I closed my eyes. “Not like with you.”
He rested his chin on my head. “And how is it with me?” he asked, his voice a whisper.
“It's like...the world isn't so hard. I don't feel so out of place.”
His arms tightened around me. “Why could you never tell me, Reece? It sounds like you're over stressed all the time.”
I shrugged. “I don't know, entirely. With my family...I guess I just wanted to keep my head down. Not be like them. Be...pretend to be normal.”
“Do you think being gay isn't normal?”
I sighed. “I think it's different, and a lot of people don't think it's normal, and I'm already a freak.”
He squeezed me a little and slowly rocked me side to side. “I had no idea you were hurting so much.”
I rubbed one of my eyes. “It's not like every second, but it's a lot.”
“Why didn't you ever tell me?”
“Because...you're my best friend. I mean, even though you're my boyfriend, you're my best friend. I need you.”
“And I need you, you idiot,” he chided me. “I just don't understand why you're carrying this alone. If I'm your best friend – and now your boyfriend – shouldn't I be allowed to help you?”
I sighed. “It's not that simple.”
“Okay,” he said. “Then explain it to me so I get it.”
I chased a moving itch again until he squeezed me and I was reminded he was with me. Here for me. It felt overwhelming.
“You know I can't go to the movies with you,” I said.
“What?” He chuckled. "Why?”
“They don't let you bring in your own snacks.”
He shook me from side to side. “Quit avoiding the question.”
I laughed a little. I liked him holding me.
He sighed and asked, “Weird is having to come in through your window. I know we've done that for years since your dad locks the door and stuff, but still. What was that crap on your front door?”
I thought for a moment. “Probably netting to catch something,” I said and waved a hand. “Fiona. She doesn't even know why she's doing it.”
He sighed. “So how long have you known you were gay? You've known about me for a while.”
I shrugged. “I've been ignoring it. Burying it. But Rosa...she kind of yanked my head out of the sand, you know?”
“Yeah. She sees through you,” he said, his tone teasing.
I tilted my head back to look at him awkwardly over my shoulder. “What I want to know is when I get to see through you. I mean – wait, that didn't come out like I meant.”
He grabbed my hair and playfully shoved me back into place. “So Rosa had to tell you that you were gay?”
I sighed. “She just shoved reality in my face. I thought about it and I knew I had to go try with you. It explained a lot of things I'd been pushing down.”
I twisted a little in his grip and sighed. “Like how empty I felt when you and Henry got together.”
“But...you helped me. You talked me into going to the football game.”
I whispered, “I know.”
He kissed the top of my head. “I love you, Reece.”
“I under – what?”
“I said I love you.”
I thrashed about a little to sit up and turn to look at him. “Why? I mean I'll take it, but why?”
Leo sighed. “I was struggling to understand how we got here. I always thought of you as my straight best friend. I always loved you for who you are – yeah, you're weird, but a good kind. You try to do the right thing and a lot of people can't muster the give-a-shit even for that. Plus you keep trying even though the people in your own home look at the world in their own warped way.” Leo paused. “You see all that, and you still try to be good. A good friend and person. Like helping me with Henry, even though it hurt you.”
I turned that over for a minute, but I couldn't see it. Maybe it's because it's just how I am, though? It doesn't occur to me to look at the world differently?
“But, Reece...some things have to change.”
I narrowed my eyes. “Like what?”
“I can't tell if you're wearing clean clothes half the time because they are wrinkled as hell. You literally drop your clothes on the floor!”
I narrowed my eyes. “I have a bad feeling about this. Are you leading up to folding my laundry?”
“And putting it away,” he said with a smile, nodding his head.
I widened my eyes. “I never knew you were so evil! You're what Fiona's been trying to catch in her nets!”
Leo narrowed his eyes. “You look like a slob. You keep making jokes about sexting and shit, but it's a serious turn-off when I remember you might be wearing the same underwear for three days.”
“Four,” I said innocently.
“I'm joking!” I said, chuckling at his reaction. “Three tops – tops!”
He shoved me away, laughing and making retching sounds
“So, wait, my booty call is turning into us cleaning my room?” I asked him.
He took on a thoughtful expression. “Your basement is scary. Grab all your clothes and we'll go wash them at my house.”
I took on what should, ideally, have been a sexy expression. “So if all my clothes are in the wash, I'm wearing...?”
Dryly he said, “Clothes I will loan you. I never knew you were such a horn dog!”
I leapt on him, knocking him back. He laughed as I struggled to just lie on top of him. He looked up at me and I grinned down at him.
Yeah, Rosa was right. It's love.
We must have looked so weird as we carried bags and a suitcase with all the clothes I could find in them. It was weird, but it was good weird. Even the look his parents gave us when we got there and he explained that my basement was too scary to wash things in seemed logical. Well, logical might be a stretch, but his parents just kind of rolled their eyes and went on about their night like what we were doing was logical, so I'll call it that.
We stayed up talking while we washed my stuff. We also made out and man, there is just nothing like kissing Leo. I remember the first time I kissed Rosa, and it was okay – I didn't hate it, but that was all. No real desire to try again. Leo's kisses hit different. It's like a caffeine rush – heart rate spikes, I sweat in odd places and my imagination is consumed by getting more. It's a little crazy to me how much my feelings have exploded for him.
I had a little revelation that night, but to be honest it shouldn't have really been one. It was still a little bit of a surprise, but one that made my ego huge. We'd gotten done folding some of my stuff and Leo had forced me to take a shower because he claimed I smelled like a bowl of old, wet pasta. So I did and I finger-combed my hair, put on underwear Leo had made sure were clean – I mean, come on! I was joking!
Anyway, his parents said they were going to bed and to be quiet. We played some games on our phones, but honestly he was lying right there and I was distracted so I went back to touching him. Eventually I did my favorite thing and rolled over on top of him and – here's the thing. Maybe I'm in my head too much and maybe I've been thinking about all the things that could happen between me and Leo. The hang out stuff like gaming on our phones, watching movies or riding in his car to movies, games, concerts or just a long drive to chill together.
I've also spent a lot of time thinking about the things we'd do indoors in a bed, on a couch or standing up in the kitchen. Rawr. It still came as a shock to me to roll over and discover he was at least as hard as I was. I did that to him. Me. The weirdo. I think I started to get it that Leo was returning my feelings. I know it bothered me that I had to argue him into saying yes to dating me, but maybe opening up to him had been the absolute right thing to do. He was acting like he had some confidence in our relationship just by his attitude. It was like we were back to being best friends while making out and turning each other on.
That's pretty fucking sweet.
We didn't go to sleep until the sun was just beginning to light a new day. We almost had gone to sleep earlier, but then we had this talk about how far each of us has gotten. I was kind of jealous that Henry'd gotten and given blow jobs, and worse yet he'd blown it – no pun intended – for me.
“So wait,” I said. “Because things didn't work out with Henry, we can't fool around?”
“That's not what I said. Are you even listening to me?”
I stared at him for a minute. “You've kept me, more or less, hard for the last few hours and then you tell me blowies were part of your last relationship, but you think it's a bad idea for us. That's what I'm hearing.”
He narrowed his eyes. “I think you and I are just getting to a good emotional place with this dating thing. I think that...honestly? I regret having sex with Henry. A little.”
I frowned. “Why? Was he bad at it?”
“If you were going to get a blow job, you aren't now,” he said sourly. I giggled at him.
“Then what? Explain it like I'm three.”
He pursed his lips for a second, probably in frustration with me. “A part of me wishes I'd saved it for someone I actually loved. Not someone I fell for and didn't last. Plus...you're kind of just out, you know? Don't you need some time to adjust to the idea?”
“The only adjusting I need is to put my hard on in a more comfortable position,” I said, pretending to cry a little.
He laughed at me. “Really? Less than a week and you want to get naked?”
I thought about it for a minute and sat up, looking down at him. “Honestly? Our relationship is going to last longer because we know each other. Like somehow you knew to make me talk, and I knew to tell you what's been going on inside me. I don't think that's how short-term relationships work.”
“Maybe,” he said. “I agree we need to communicate. I honestly hate the idea you've been so twisted up and didn't say anything to anyone.”
“On the other hand,” I said quietly. “I feel better with you. Yeah, I felt my anxiety kick up when you said we had to talk, but now I can feel like I normally do with you. I'm calm. The world doesn't seem like I have no place in it.” I took a breath. “But I want to be respectful of you. I'm not going to push you – if this is how you feel, then of course I'll wait. I may not be patient, because you make me horny, but I won't pressure you.”
He chuckled. “I had no idea you were such a horn dog.”
I smiled, rolling my lips inward. He tilted his head on his pillow.
He asked, “What?”
“Something dippy, I guess, but...you don't see what I see.”
A confused expression crossed his features. “Meaning...?”
I flopped down on top of him and gave him a kiss, one he returned willingly. I propped myself up on my elbows and grinned. “I see you, and you make me horny, so now you have to deal with horny Reece.”
He chuckled and pushed up against me as he shifted, but it still felt pretty good. “Let's get some sleep, horny Reece.”
I cuddled him, lying mostly on top of him and we slowly drifted to sleep.
We didn't get up until noon and I had to work at two, so after we'd eaten I took what I could carry back home with me. It must have looked pretty strange to see me walking through our neighborhood with a duffle strapped to my back, a bag in one hand and dragging a suitcase with the other. I'd tried to convince Leo he should help me put things away, but he wasn't ready to move yet. I'd offered him some...compensation...and he'd just laughed and said he'd see me later.
So there I was, walking across my front yard and thinking about how sweet it was going to be when I peeled all of Leo's clothes off him, and I tripped, and before anyone could laugh I was tangled up in netting.
“Fiona! God damn it!” It probably took me a good ten minutes to get my feet untangled and then somehow my bags were snared, too. The netting had gotten tangled on the wheels of the suitcase, and I swear it wrapped itself around things even when you weren't moving.
“You caught me, Fiona! You caught horny Reece, who's no longer horny,” I said. Oh. Well, that was a weird thing to say.
“Reece? Why are you in my net?” she demanded.
I struggled to my feet and kicked her netting away, which just tangled more around my foot. “I'm in it because your looney ass spread it all over my yard and I was just trying to go home and put my clothes away like my boyfriend told me to! Instead I'm tangled up in your crazy like always!” I let my arms flap to my sides in frustration.
Her eyes slowly went wide. “I caught one. I caught one! Francis! I caught one!”
“Christ,” I muttered as I picked my bags up and tried to throw them to a place that didn't have Fiona's crazy netting before kicking my own feet free.
“Reece? What's going on?” my dad asked from the doorway.
“I caught one!” Fiona crowed.
“Caught what? That's Reece!”
“No! He's a replacement! He doesn't snap back at me – it's not him!” she announced.
“I snapped because I've reached my limit with your stupid shit!” I told her in frustration, finally getting clear of her mess. I picked up my bags and headed for the front door.
“Lies!” Fiona sneered. “Reece has no boyfriend! You're a fake.”
When did I...oh. Right. I looked up at my dad's face and he let out a slow breath.
“Fiona, go inside.”
“But he's an imposter!”
“I'll handle it,” he said.
She looked at me with mistrust and headed inside.
I shrugged. “So what now? Are you throwing me out?”
He frowned. “For what?”
He's going to make me say it. “For dating Leo. For being gay.”
One eye squinted down and he shook his head. “Who cares?”
I think for about three seconds everything in the world stopped, then it started up again. “Who cares?”
He shrugged. “It's not like you're going to get anyone pregnant. Your mom will be happy.”
I hitched the bag on my back. “Well, yeah.”
He frowned. “Why didn't you do your laundry at home? You know how weird you look carrying all your clothes around?”
I stared at him. “Are you serious? Fiona covered our yard in leaves and netting and you think I'm the weird one?”
“It's different. Everyone knows she's crazy,” he said tiredly.
“Dad. You encourage her.”
“Well, she's not wrong. She caught you.”
I stared at him.
“Come on. The government has people everywhere. Someone's probably calling in to say you're bringing bomb parts in the house right now.”
I smiled. “Oh. There you are, Dad. For a second I thought you were an imposter.”
“Fucking smartass,” he growled.
I trudged inside and dropped my bags on the floor. I hunted through them for a minute to find the black pants my boss wanted – oh shit! I left the white shirt at work! Ah, crap. I got dressed for work, did all the face washing and teeth scrubbing I was supposed to, and headed to work a little early. I was walking with a little bit of a pop in my step – I have a job and I have Leo. I mean I really have Leo. My phone vibrated in my pocket and I checked – Leo. I thumbed the message open.
Good morning my weirdo. Have a good shift and call me tonight.
Yep, life was good.
I got to work and was relieved my shirt was where I'd left it, still in the bag and everything. I got dressed and presented myself to my boss.
He glanced at me and grunted. “When Kane gets here have him show you how to bus a table. There is a new dishwasher coming in at four; I'll want you to give him the rundown.”
I blinked. “I'm getting promoted? Why?”
He held his hands out. “Something good happens and you ask questions? You one of those?”
“Well, my dad says you're mobbed up and probably have a demonic sex ring running in the basement.”
He narrowed his eyes and pointed a finger at me. “We don't talk about the basement. Capisce?”
I widened my eyes. “Yeah. Capsice.”
“No,” he said with a shake of his head. “You'd say Io capisco. Don't you know anything about Italian?”
I know I want some Italian sausage, but Henry ruined that for me. “Sure. I know spaghetti, linguine, cacciatore-”
“So. You like to eat is what you're saying?”
I adopted a solemn expression. “There are reasons besides money to work in a restaurant.”
He chuckled. “Did you take a language in school?”
“Well, Italian and Spanish are similar. They are called romance languages, and both have their roots in Latin,” he said. “So when I said 'Capisce', that translated to 'you understand?' So if I say 'you understand', you wouldn't say 'you understand' back – you'd say 'I understand'. Capisce?”
I nodded. “Io capisco.”
“Very good. Now go find Kane and stay outta my basement, you weirdo.”
I got while the getting was good and went out into the dining room. Kane wasn't there yet, just Anne behind the bar so far, so I sat down and texted Leo to tell him I'd gotten a promotion already. He congratulated me and told me his parents were going to look into putting a new engine in his car, but only because he'd threatened to get a job and they wanted him focused on school. Leo had a lot of older siblings, and I wondered if his parents had done that with them or if this was just a Leo thing.
I spent the next few minutes asking Leo dumb questions like when we could start trading nudes and if we were required to wear rainbow stuff full time or just during pride month. I also asked him what ingredients we needed for iced coffee so we could be good gay boyfriends. I swear part of the reason I love Leo is because I love annoying Leo.
Kane showed up a few minutes later, but he got me going on prep and gave me the run down on clearing tables. Turns out bussing a table, at least here, also meant running some of the main dishes and stuff out to the tables, so I was like waiter-lite. More importantly you got a share of the tips, so it was important to look good and be polite.
I will say I was kind of disappointed that the new dishwasher turned out to be Dale Hastert. There are people who think his parents are assholes to him, so he acts that way to others. Some people think he's gay and in the closet, so that's why he's an asshole to Leo, and lately, me. I think it's more of a case of that quote that says when people tell you who they are, you should believe them the first time – he's just an asshole. He might be an asshole genetically, but that doesn't change much.
“I think I can wash dishes without your help,” he said with a snort when I told him I was supposed to train him.
“Okay!” I said with a grin. “If you run out of soap, though, it's down in the basement next to the sacrificial urns, right next to the black mass candles. Have a good shift!”
I wandered over by Sam's office. “Sam? New guys says he knows how to wash dishes and doesn't need me to train him.”
Sam looked at me steadily. “Well. I may have you stay late tonight if he doesn't work out. Just until we get someone else.”
“Sure,” I said, though that wasn't exactly thrilling. In the end though it was probably better for me and enjoying my job if Dale 'didn't work out' sooner rather than later.
The night was busy with me splitting time clearing tables, cleaning the tabletop and setting new silverware and running plates out to some tables. The night was going along pretty quickly, so I was a little confused when Kane pulled me aside.
“So. Soap's in the basement?”
I adopted a shocked expression. “It is?”
He rolled his eyes. “Poor bastard wandered around for twenty minutes trying to find the basement door.”
“Did he get stuck in the freezer?” I asked excitedly.
Kane chuckled. “No. He's way behind, though. Might have to send you back there to get things caught up before long.”
I shook my head and sighed. “I don't think he's going to make it, Kane.”
He jutted his chin in question. “You know this guy?”
“I know he's asshole enough to have not let me train him,” I said. “He was pretty dismissive and we might have gotten into a fight at school.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Who won?”
I narrowed my eyes while he laughed at me. “Okay, well, let's see how he finishes.”
“Hey. Do you know why I got promoted?”
“Probably because you listened and did as you were asked instead of fucking off. Lots of people wash out here because they don't listen or are lazy. Sam doesn't like lazy or stupid.”
“He got a two-fer with Dale,” I muttered and moved to bus a table. Around nine the place was emptying out and Kane sent me back to help Dale. Dale was a mess – wet on a few places, his hands were red from hot water, and he hadn't yet learned to let the plates cool a minute before removing them from the industrial washer.
“Reece. Get us caught up on silverware and plates. Dale can hit the deep sink.”
“Okay,” I said with a nod. I took off my white shirt and hung it from a peg before going over to the washer area. Dale was looking worn out and frustrated.
“Dale. Sam said I should work this part and you should clean the deep sink out.”
Dale looked over his shoulder and sighed. Looking back to me he sneered. “Thanks for the basement prank. You made me look like an idiot.”
I smiled. “You don't need my help for that, but you're welcome.”
“Does Sam know he hired a faggot?”
“I don't think he cares. I mean, he hired an asshole like you, right?”
“Fuck you,” he said and stalked toward the deep sink.
“Nah! I got me somebody way better than your sorry ass,” I replied. He flipped me off, and as he walked away I became aware of my nerves, which were now spiraling down. Wow. I hadn't noticed how twisted up I'd gotten talking to him. Fighting him at work would have been a bad idea, I think. Sam liked me for now, but that doesn't always last, right? How weird is too weird easily translates to how much trouble is too much trouble I suspect.
They sent Dale home in an effort not to burn him out, I guess, and I finished the deep sink as well. I went to grab my shirt and Sam held up a finger to prevent me leaving. He was working on something I couldn't see in his office – computer, spreadsheet, stone tablet – could have been anything. He turned his attention to me, glasses down at the end of his nose.
“How did you like bussing?”
“Makes the night move quick,” I said. “It's nice not to be by myself so much, too.”
He nodded. “Kane said you did well.” He handed me a small stack of bills. “Your share of the tips. Amanda was very happy with the way you helped with her tables.”
“Oh, wow, thanks,” I said. I peeled fourteen bucks off the top and handed it to Sam. “For the shirt.”
He dropped his chin and in a falsetto said, “For the shirt.” He waved his hand at me. “It was an investment. Everyone should have a good white shirt. Tell me about Dale.”
I scratched the back of my head. “We don't like each other,” I said. “As far as work, he was a little slow I guess, but...he might get better.”
He nodded slowly. “Some do. Kitchen work isn't for everyone. Most quit or just stop showing up. You're smart. You listen. You're a smart ass.” The corners of his mouth turned up. “What's your obsession with the basement?”
I explained how my father gets all wrapped up in stories about different conspiracies and what he'd said about the restaurant – Vito's. Sam shook his head and tossed his reading classes on his desk before rubbing his face.
“My parents got here just after World War II ended. They worked and scraped to open this place, and I worked here as a kid – the last of nine, mind you. I've built on everything they did – but the idea of a successful Italian being attached to the Mafia or the Cosa Nostra is just too much for the imagination to resist.”
“Well to be honest, my dad's mind doesn't really resist much of anything.”
Sam snorted. “Do you know what made your prank funny?”
Surprised I asked, “I have my own ideas, but why?”
Sam looked at me steadily. “There is no basement.”
I stared for a second and then smiled slowly. “So he was looking for a door-”
“-that didn't exist. Right. Add to that he didn't want to ask and look stupid....”
We both laughed and then he told me not to pull shit like that again and he sent me home. I texted Leo to let him know I was out, but he wasn't responding. Rosa had been texting me and I missed it, so I texted her back. She wanted updates on how things were between Leo and me and I filled her in. I expected I'd have to fill Miguel in at some point, but he and Nina Ramos were stuck in a little bubble of 'we just started dating and fuck everyone else'.
I picked my way through the yard and pulled a notice from our mailbox stating they wouldn't deliver until we'd removed the obstacles. I'm not sure if my dad would care, but my mom probably would. Dad was inside listening to a radio and Fiona was sitting at the kitchen table with Mike. I gave them a half-hearted wave and went to my room – and stopped in my tracks.
I pulled out my phone and texted Leo that someone had broken into my room and cleaned it. As before, he didn't reply. I looked around the room, kind of seeing it for the first time. It wasn't completely clean, like not sterile or anything. But it was thoroughly picked up – the bags of clothes I'd brought home earlier were nowhere in sight, which meant...they were in my drawers or closet. I pulled my dresser drawers open to confirm and yep, someone had put all my clothes away.
Opening my closet I found the rest of my stuff. This wasn't like Leo. I mean, yeah, he didn't want me to look like a reject, but at the same time, Leo's room wasn't exactly a haven of cleanliness. More than mine, true, but still. I glanced around the room as my mind churned through the possibilities. Leo had to have been involved because my clothes were all here. My phone buzzed and I checked the message – from Rosa.
What do you think?
I frowned. You desecrated my room?
The window slid up and her face was just visible. “More like picked up this wasteland of teenage boy nastiness. Help me up.”
I went to the window and helped her in, then peered outside. “Why can't you people use the front door? Leo and now you – what will the neighbors think?”
“I'm just glad your house is buried in a hill, otherwise I'd have to climb a trellis or something.”
“I don't think a trellis is meant for human weight.”
“Are you calling me fat?”
“Are you dumb enough to think I'd call you fat?”
She narrowed her eyes at me. I did it back, just to aggravate her.
“Listen, chico, you have to change your messy ways,” she said simply, sitting on the corner of my bed.
“Why?” There was no real reason to protest the idea that I had messy ways, just the idea that I had to change them.
“Look, when you were in middle school it was sad, but kind of funny because it was very you. You were silly and funny and sweet.” She took one of my hands. “Now, amor, you have to think about something besides you.”
I narrowed my eyes. “That sounds an awful lot like responsibility. We know I don't do well with that.”
She smiled. “But you will, because you love him.”
I scoffed. “It hasn't even been a week. How do I know it will last?”
“Because you've loved him for more than a week, that's why. Maybe Leo is just figuring out that he wasn't that far away from falling in love with you, if it weren't for the fact that he thought you were straight and wouldn't return those emotions.”
“Did he say that?”
She shook her head and smiled. “No. I'm guessing, I admit. But...I did squeeze him for information a little today – just to make sure you'd be okay!”
“Hey! My relationship!”
“I know, I know,” she soothed. “I promise I won't stick my nose in much.”
She laughed. “You can't expect me to abandon you just because you're in love, can you? No, of course not. I know Leo; he's my friend, too. So I talked to him, and he told me how you guys washed all your stuff, but he was sure you wouldn't put any of it away to keep it from being a wrinkled mess.” She leaned in. “I agreed.”
I crossed my arms.
“But mi amor, this isn't just about you anymore. I think Leo loves you for who you are – he always has, but now you guys aren't just friends. As his boyfriend you owe it to him to take better care of yourself.”
“What kind of twisted logic is that? I should take care of him.”
“Yes, that's true. You do that – you do that for all your friends. But people will judge your boyfriend on who he's dating, and you know that can be hard enough. But if you show up like a slob all the time?” She tilted her head down and regarded me.
“But...he loves me even if my clothes are wrinkled.”
She smiled gently. “He does. Like any good partner he wants better for you. Sure, you will have days where you are a mess – maybe wearing clothes from the day before because you're lounging or going to clean your house – don't look at me like that! Leo can't be the only one cleaning your house!”
“Cleaning our house? What are you talking about?”
“Please,” she said, scoffing. “Leo is smart. You're...not dumb.”
“If that's not a master class on making something that's essentially the same sound like it's not...” I grumbled.
“Look, all I'm saying is Micah's dads aren't so different from you guys in a few years.” She paused. “Maybe not the having a kid to raise, but tell me you can't see you guys moving in together.”
I closed my eyes. “I can't, actually.”
“What? Why not?”
I opened my eyes. “Leo's going places. He's going to be successful whether he wants to or not. I'm going to have to fight for everything. We grew up only a few blocks from each other, but really, it's like different planets. How can I hope to hang onto him?”
“Gravity,” she said promptly.
“Different worlds you said? Well, every world has gravity. Use yours to keep you together, and I'll bet you he'll do the same.”
I blinked. “I don't think that's how gravity works. There's like magnetic cores-”
“Fields. And magnets can either attract or repel – I took science, too. The thing is, you guys are attracted. Just don't forget that. It's strong, like a natural law like gravity.”
I lifted my chin and turned my face to one side while looking at her. “Why are you saying this? Did Leo say something to you?”
“Of course he did, duh!” she said with a laugh. “So of course I'm going to give you the benefit of my insights into your boyfriend until you get some confidence.”
“I'm confident!” I protested.
“Uh huh. Now. Let's work on your selfie game.”
“What do you mean?”
She tisked at me. “We need to figure out some sexiness for you to send your boyfriend. Gotta make your boy thirsty.”
“Come on. Show me what you got.”
“You want me to get naked? I thought we agreed that wasn't going to work.”
“I'm going to smack you, chico. Let's make him want your pene.”
“Penne? The pasta? I should cook for him?”
She covered her eyes. “This is going to take so much of my time.”
Halloween came and went. I tried to convince Leo he should go as a stripper, but he shot me down. He's never been really big about Halloween, but we did hang out at his house and hand out candy while his parents went out to dinner. He got his car back and we resumed going places together – movies, window shopping, even as far as the outlet mall in Lee.
I teased him endlessly about things we were supposed to be doing to be a gay couple, like obsessing over iced coffee and how we needed to develop a skin care routine and share it online. He just rolled his eyes at me most of the time. We hung out with our friends, and even Micah started to suspect we were legit after a while. He even complained that all his best friends were gay, except Dom and Mark.
Thanksgiving was drawing near, and my mind turned toward an unusual place for me – things I could be thankful for. I mean, my home life wasn't ideal, sure, but I had food – kind of. It was junk and I didn't really like it, but I had food. I had a room to myself. My dad wasn't abusive, just nuts. My mom worked like hell to keep us above water, and I had really good people as friends. Rosa was dating again, and he seemed okay. Miguel had finally gotten through the honeymoon phase with Nina, and they seemed to be pretty solid. We went on some group hang out dates, and he quietly congratulated me for bagging Leo.
So we got to the week of Thanksgiving and I showed up at Leo's house. His dad opened the door and looked at me with a bored expression. “Can I help you?”
Leo had stopped partway down the stairs. “Nah, he was born like that, Dad.”
I gave him a fake laugh and kicked my shoes off by the door. I followed Leo up to his room, admiring his butt as I did.
“Hey, there's something on your butt,” I said.
He twisted around trying to see and swiping across the cloth of his joggers. “No, there isn't.”
“There totally is.”
He twisted some more and then looked at me expectantly. “There's nothing there.”
“My eyes are all over your butt,” I said with a grin.
He rolled his eyes. We then did my favorite thing – cuddle. We watched stuff on our phones, sometimes sharing it with each other and we watched the occasional episode on his PC, but we did it all while cuddling. At some point we started to wrestle a little, probably after something I'd teased him about, and then it degenerated into tickling each other. By the time his father yelled at us to cut it out we were both pretty disheveled. Leo flopped a little as he tried to drag his shirt back in place while I ran my hand over his exposed calf.
“What are you doing?” he asked in an annoyed tone. His shirt collar was twisted and he was trying to yank it around.
“You think I should shave my legs?” I asked.
“Why the hell would you do that? At least you have some leg hair,” he grumbled.
I stroked his skin again, “I like you this way. Just wondering if you'd like that, too.”
“I like you having leg hair so I can pull it out one after another,” he said, grabbing for my own exposed calf. I jerked my leg away as he chuckled evilly.
I don't really know what happened next. I mean I know but I'm a little fuzzy on what started it, but we started a pretty solid make out. I stretched myself out on top of Leo and felt how turned on he was and that just made the whole situation hotter. Slowly the passion died down and we gave each other a few lingering kisses and then he pulled me down, holding me the way I secretly loved.
“You wonder where we'll be in a few years?” I asked quietly. In truth my mind had randomly bounced to Rosa telling me I'd have to help clean the house I shared with Leo one day, so I decided to spit that little question out.
“College, I guess,” he said, stretching under me and pressing up into me.
“Are you going to make me clean our house?”
He paused. “If you live in it, then yeah.”
“Don't you think we could come to some kind of compromise?”
He nuzzled my neck. “Not really.” His hand snaked up the back of my shirt and my temperature went up. Had I thought the passion had died down?
“That feels nice,” I panted. I tried to say it, but it came out like a pant. God, it felt so nice.
“This?” he asked, kissing my neck. “Or this?' he asked, his fingers moving up my spine and into my hair.
“Leo,” I said softly, my voice trembling. “I'm not sure why you're doing this, but...don't stop. Please.”
He let out a huffing laugh right into my ear, which tickled. He moved closer and whispered, “You don't know why I'm doing this?”
I whimpered in the negative, which is really pretty bizarre if you think about it. I wasn't really thinking right then. “No?”
“My boyfriend just talked about us living together,” he said quietly.
I leaned back and looked down at him. “The house cleaning thing?”
He smiled lazily. “The fact that we would have a house together.”
I pretended to look at my fingernails. “And in this house would I be getting laid? Like ever?”
He laughed at me. “I don't know. Can you do better than that out-of-focus selfie you sent me?”
I rolled my eyes. “I blame Rosa. She says I need to work on my poses, but then she makes bad jokes while I'm trying.”
“You're taking sexy selfies with Rosa?” he asked incredulously.
“Aha! You thought it was sexy! Score!”
He pulled me down and half rolled onto me and I just snuggled into him. We lay that way for a little bit, but the door had been opened so to speak, and I was still hard.
He hummed at me.
“I want you.”
He let out a sigh and squeezed me to him. Nothing was going to happen, his folks were right downstairs, but he'd heard me. I wasn't thrilled he didn't say it back, but I'm not really sure he needed to. We continued to touch each other in ways that kept the sexual tension going without moving forward. I'm not sure if he was waiting for me to make a move or not, but I didn't think so. The ball was in his court since I'd said what I had.
But Jesus H Christ, I wanted him.
His dad called us down to eat. We took a few minutes to let our bodies calm down and use the bathroom and wash up before we headed downstairs. Italians seem to lack the idea of portions; his mom always made enough for a few extra people. This translated into there always being some awesome leftovers at his house. I wondered if Leo would learn to cook, or considering how I liked food, maybe his mom should teach me. Sam was already letting me help in small ways as he taught me more of the business. I liked that – I liked learning about the sauces and the art that went into making a good meal.
“Sit, sit,” his mother said.
Leo paused as he surveyed the table. “Um. Mom? What's going on?” I'm not sure she heard him as she was heading back into the kitchen.
I glanced at the table, but was confused as to his question. “Looks like your mom's chicken Bolognese to me,” I said while taking a seat.
“Exactly,” Leo said, taking his seat more slowly. “Mom only makes that when we need comfort food for a family talk.”
I looked to Leo's father and his face was set in...I don't know what to call it. His mom returned, putting a wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano on the table and a small grater as topping for the pasta that went with our meal.
“Okay, let's eat,” she said.
“Mom. What's wrong?”
“Who says there is something wrong?” she asked.
“It's your chicken Bolognese. You only make that in case of emergency.”
“She makes it because its your favorite comfort food,” his father said and then turned his gaze to me. “Reece. We have to talk.”
I widened my eyes and glanced at Leo. He looked surprised as well. I looked back at his dad and swallowed. “Okay. Which recipe do you want from Vito's? I know where he keeps them.”
A smile touched his lips, but it was his wife that spoke.
“Reece, we've known you for so many years.”
His dad took over. “In many ways you're the son we never wanted.”
His mother smiled. “It's a compliment. After having all the children we did, we didn't want more. But here you are.”
I wiggled in my chair a little. “I think it works out best this way, don't you? You don't have to take responsibility for me, but I can still show up and eat your food. Wait, that sounded different in my head.”
His father chuckled. “No, that's the problem right there. We do need to take some responsibility for you.”
I raised an eyebrow, and Leo and I shared looks again. Leo broke the silence, “What are you talking about, Dad? His mom works a ton and his dad-”
“I'm not talking about that,” he said. “I know your mother is doing all she can, Reece. As long as we've known Colleen she's worked herself to the edge to provide.” He cleared his throat. “I won't speak poorly of your father-”
“Oh! I will!” I said with enthusiasm.
He fixed me with a look. “But what I will say is that he won't be contributing to your future. Tell me, Reece, what do you have planned?”
Since I'd just been thinking of it, I said, “Food. I like food. Sam – my boss at Vito's – has started to teach me how to make some things. If Leo's not going to learn, maybe Mrs. S could teach me a few things? I think I could do that pretty well.”
The elder Sidotis exchanged a look I couldn't read. Leo grumbled, but I couldn't hear what he said.
“Reece, we've raised our family, and even though you both are nearly seniors, that privilege doesn't end there. We still have college to look forward to. Each of our children will experience new things we will share with them – professional and personal triumphs. These shared things are what make us family – being there for each other, the good and the bad and the boring bits in between.” His mother smiled at me. “I've been talking to your mom a lot lately to get a sense of where you're headed.”
I chuckled. “What did she say?” I nudged Leo to get him ready for something good because how would my mom know?
Mr. Sidoti cut off a piece of his chicken, raised it to his mouth and then paused, fixing me with a look. “She said you'd go wherever Leo did.” Then he popped the bite in his mouth as I stared at him, waiting for the punchline.
Leo groaned and put a hand to his forehead.
“What just happened?” I asked.
“They know,” Leo said sullenly.
“We know,” his mother agreed with a smile.
“Oh! I am so relieved,” I said and then looked at Leo. “Know what?”
“Reece,” his dad said with a noticeable affection in his voice. “What we have always wanted for our children is for them to be happy. As a parent you always worry that they won't find the right person, that someone won't see the things in them that make them special and worth loving – especially if your child sees those qualities in someone else, but those feelings aren't returned. It's universal.”
“Dad...” Leo groaned.
“Given that,” his mom said, ignoring her son, “we want the same thing for you. Your mother is exhausted, Reece. I don't know how she manages to go to work every day except that she has no choice. She's done all she can for you, and now...well, things are different.”
“They're not that different,” Leo muttered.
“No, that's true,” his dad said. “In the end it's just a nice...bow on top I guess. It doesn't change our plans.” He leaned back a little and regarded me. “Reece, you're an idiot like every other teenager we've ever known. It's not to say there is lack of intelligence; it's a lack of experience coupled with a false impression of the world. But you're also a very good person. One of the nicest people. You've been a true friend to Leo, and you've eaten more than your fair share of meals at our table.”
“In fairness,” I said uncertainly, “you have good food. Seems like it should be eaten, and I don't mind volunteering.”
He chuckled, and then took on a serious expression. “I don't like you working. You should be focused on your studies.”
I glanced at Leo who was holding his head with both hands.
“Uh, well, I have decent grades and I can use the money, so.”
“What for? Why do you need money?”
“Well, gas. I like things like fruit and stuff. Breakfasty things I can make for myself, so I don't have to eat cereal or something that's not all that good for me.”
“Then you can eat here.”
“Well,” I said, drawing the word out, “I like to sleep, too. I have a special relationship with my pillow.”
“I thought your special relationship was with Leo?” his mother asked.
I'd heard of people's jaws unhinging, but I'd never experienced it myself. It's a weird feeling. That's what Leo meant by 'they know'.
Mr. Sidoti cleared his throat. “Reece, we had already been working out some things with Colleen, but your...entanglement with Leo only makes these plans more important, because it affects not just your future, but possibly his.”
“So,” his mother picked up, “you should come here for breakfast and dinner. The only way you should be working is if your boss is teaching you a trade that you want to learn – we're for learning of any kind. If you really want to cook, then you'll help me with meals and learn so we know Leo won't starve since he's what you might call a disaster in the kitchen.”
“That isn't true,” Leo said, his head snapping up.
“Either way,” his dad resumed, “I'll talk to your boss to make sure you're getting a handle on the art that is cooking, and I think if you may want to run your own restaurant one day then you should focus on business math and management. We can look at some local programs whenever you like.”
“I....” I looked at Leo. His parents were opening up a path for us to stay together – not just pushing some leaves out of the way, but paving a road for us to walk together. I suddenly could see us with a home together. With me making our dinner, or even me behind the big stove at Vito's as the head chef. That was the amazing part – it wasn't a limited gift. It was opening doors.
“Yes?” his mother prompted.
“Well...my pillow, you see. It's a lot to give up,” I said slowly. Leo's head whipped around so fast you could imagine you'd heard it crack. I smiled at him. “But I guess he's worth it.”
“Then it's settled,” his dad said.
His mother added, “You'll go to your house tonight to get clothes for tomorrow and Thanksgiving. You can help get the house ready tomorrow, and Thursday you'll help me with the meal. You'll be a chef in no time,” and went back to her dinner.
I glanced at Leo but he was shaking his head and cutting into his chicken. I sort of felt maneuvered, but I also felt like I was just dropped into an awesome place. It's weird when you want to be resentful but you'd look completely stupid if you did. Instead I ate my chicken and thought about being able to make this for me and Leo in our own place.
I walked home after dinner to get the clothes I was told to get. Tomorrow shouldn't be a big deal, but I'd need my white shirt and maybe borrow a tie from Leo for Thanksgiving. Ever since stores started paying extra for people to work on Thanksgiving my mom hadn't been home for the holiday. My dad would make turkey sandwiches and turn on the parade, so it wasn't a big deal in my house. The Sidotis were about food – people could take lessons from his grandparents and the way they did Sunday dinners.
When I walked in my dad was asleep in his chair. Fiona and Mike were nowhere to be found, but my mom was at the kitchen table. She was smoking a cig and drinking coffee. I went to the table and sat down. She turned to me with a tired expression.
“Hi, Baby. Where were you?”
“Leo's,” I said. “His parents talked to me tonight. I guess they're going to help me get a good start. Or something.”
She smiled. “I must have done something right. That's what I tell myself, but I think you're just a good person. I'm glad they can see it.”
“I never...thanks, Ma. Thank you.” I gave her an awkward hug and told her about the plans the Sidotis had, and she nodded and told me to have fun. I went to my room, and for the first time in a long time the room felt weird. It felt different, but maybe it was just that I was different. The room was more organized than normal due to Rosa's visits and Leo bugging me not to be a slob, but it wasn't that. I just had a sense of not belonging there anymore. I would be there, of course, but I could feel it like...like it was slipping away. Not a bad thing, nothing to be mourned, just...different.
My phone buzzed as I packed a few clothes into my back pack. I thumbed it open to find a picture from Leo.
A sweatpant picture.
And they were riding low. Really low.
Leo was sending me sexties!
I stuffed my clothes in as fast as I could and called out a goodnight as I left the house. I tripped over Fiona's nets and I had a mind to put them all in a pile and burn them, but Leo was waiting. I'm not a track and field guy, I'm not a sprinter and I'm not even what you might call a sporty guy in general – but friends and neighbors I ran all the way to Leo's house. I felt like that messenger god with wings on his feet. I got back to Leo's and kicked off my shoes at the door. I was just about to dash upstairs when I saw Leo in the living room with his dad watching the news or something. Leo still had on the sweat pants, but now he had a baggy tee on.
“You got back quickly,” his dad said.
“Did I?” I asked, trying to slow my breathing.
“Reece, you're sweating. Maybe you should shower,” Leo said offhandedly. If that picture was his way of making me sweat so he could tell me I stink, he's in huge trouble. Huge trouble.
“Sure,” I said instead. I went up to his room and pulled out a fresh tee and underwear before heading in to shower. I didn't think I really needed one, but they have good water pressure. Once I was dry I dressed and headed back to his room to pull on some shorts. Since Leo wasn't there I headed downstairs and found him in the living room with both his parents now.
“There he is. Come on, we're going to watch a movie,” his mother said. She and her husband were in their recliners, and I joined Leo under a blanket on the couch. He pulled me between his legs, my back to his chest and put the popcorn in my lap.
Okay. He was in less trouble.
We watched the movie and had a pretty good time. I was conscious of Leo behind me, though, and of his on again, off again hard on. I may have even wiggled back against him a few times in punishment. Serves him right!
When the movie ended everyone went to get ready for bed. After Leo and I brushed and his parents’ bedroom door closed I rounded on him and hissed, “You're in so much trouble.”
He closed his door and turned to me. “Am I? You were the one rubbing against my dick through that movie, asshole. Do you realize how horny I was?”
“Oh, like you were innocent! I saw that selfie, why do you think I ran all the way over here?”
He snorted. “Why? Did you think we'd hook up while my parents were still awake?”
I paused. “Well. I wasn't thinking about your parents.”
He pulled his shirt off. “Guess it's a good thing they're going to sleep, huh?”
I licked my lips. “Well. We might wake them up.”
I stood at his window looking down into the back yard. There was a moon out, and the yard was lit with that otherworldly light. Everything felt that way now – otherworldly – from my room at my parent's house to...well, just everything. It was amazing to finally reach that level of intimacy with Leo. He's soft in all the right places, and hard where he's supposed to be. He's kind of aggressive when he's horny, but I'm pretty sure I gave that back to him. I don't know if it'll be like that every time because...this felt desperate. The weeks of wanting him had been building, and finally getting him was...so worth it. I heard movement behind me and turned so see him climb from the bed and leave the room, probably for the bathroom.
I turned and looked back down at the grass in the yard, looking at that place where a few months ago I'd talked him into dating me. It hadn't started there, not really, but it was where something started. I heard the toilet flush and the water running through the pipes, and then the door whispered open and closed.
“Reece? What are you doing?” Leo whispered. I heard his bare feet crossing the room and he molded himself behind me, wrapping an arm around my chest and kissing my shoulder.
“I was looking at the yard. That spot right there where I tackled you and told you that you have to date me.”
He snorted. “I think I tackled you.”
“Either or,” I said. I turned in his embrace and kissed him. I pressed to him, feeling us both responding. I leaned back and looked him in the eye. “I was told that you and me, we're attracted like gravity. It's inevitable, a natural law.”
“Is that a fact?” he asked, kissing up the side of my neck.
“Yeah,” I said, my voice lost in his kisses. I stroked his skin, a feeling of lust and triumph flooding me through my fingertips in the silky feel, and then I wrapped my fingers around his length. He let out a shuddering sigh as I pulled him back to bed. I didn't count how many times we brought each other over the edge; I was more concerned with the process. With his sighs. The way his skin felt, pressed to mine. The way he looked in the dim light. The way you could see his pulse as his sex hardened for a new effort.
When we were finally consumed I lay on top of him, sheets pulled over us, and I let gravity hold us together until I had enough energy to begin the process of loving him again. Until then I mingled my warmth with his, mixed our scents and fell into the sleep of the sated.