Craig and Joel were sitting in his house. In his room actually, the same bedroom he had been in since he and his mom moved here. He had found that he needed the familiarity, the connection to his old life, so he had never tried sleeping anywhere else.
They had moved the dog carcasses well away from the food warehouse and closed it up again to keep the animals out, and drove over to Craig's house to eat something other than a twinkie.
Joel sat down in Craig's desk chair. “Man, that was delicious. That was the first real good meal I've had in ages. A lot of stuff was running out lately, back home. Thanks.”
“No problem. I've got enough pork chops to last a lifetime, provided the freezer keeps working. I'd just like it if I could find more steaks. Sorry we couldn't grill 'em on the barbeque.” Craig moved further onto his bed and was now sitting half reclined with a pillow propped under him.
“Aw, that's ok. Believe me, I remember what happened the last time I tried to barbeque something a few months ago. Half the wild dogs in the county came for a visit.”
Craig nodded. “Yeah, I need to figure out something about that. I was thinking maybe about lugging a barbeque onto the roof of that apartment building downtown. That oughta work, but it's kinda a pain, unless I figure out a way to get some power to the building for a while so we can cook other stuff to go with it.”
Aside from the steel shutters he had bolted on the outside of his window, actually all of the windows, his room hadn't changed much. He liked it that way. There they were, two fourteen year old boys sitting in his room chatting. He even had a CD playing. Aside from what they were talking about, it was, just for a few minutes, like he could pretend nothing had changed. Somehow that made it harder. Joel seemed to notice his sudden change in mood. Both boys were quiet for several long seconds.
“Hey, um, I feel it too you know,” Joel said.
“Yeah. It's almost like I was pretending things were normal for a few seconds. Then, wham, it hit me. I'm sorry. I haven't been so up and down like this for months.”
“You know,” said Joel, “we have every right. This has been the biggest day for both of us in a long, long time. I think if we didn't kinda freak out about everything we wouldn't really be normal.”
Craig sat up straighter, fidgeting a bit as he tried to figure out what he needed to say. “Well, I dunno, I was never really normal. But c'mon. Who are we comparing ourselves to. Out of all the people for miles and miles around, who knows how many miles, I am exactly normal with fifty percent of 'em. And you're exactly normal compared to the other half.”
It took Joel a few seconds to figure out what he was getting at. Normal was a relative term. You have to have something to compare things to in order to decide what's normal. “Yeah, I guess you're right. I guess there's no such thing anymore, is there?”
“You know,” Joel started slowly, “we still have a lot of stuff we need to talk about. Since we've left the warehouse we've talked about generators, safe water, compared firearms, and actually swapped recipes for god's sake. But, and I think you feel it too, we're both avoiding talking about.....about....you know. About what happened. And about what to do. I don't mean today, or tomorrow. I mean longer term.”
Craig nodded again. Slowly this time. “I know. I...I don't think I know how to talk about that yet. I don't think I can.” Again, his emotions, bubbling all over the place all day today, started to show in his eyes.
Joel matched Craig's nod, his own eyes blinking fast. “Well. Eventually then.”
Craig screwed up a bit of courage. Joel was sure to find out sooner or later anyway, he probably had already. But what was he going to do? Leave him alone? Not likely. “I'm not exactly good at this kind of thing. Sorry, I know it's kinda obvious, but getting along with people hasn't ever exactly been what I'm good at. I'm kinda not exactly full of social skills.”
Joel looked at him oddly for a second. “Craig, honestly, and though I don't exactly have much to compare it to these days, if you hadn't said that I never would've noticed. We've been talking about all kinds of stuff. I felt like we were getting along fine.”
Craig couldn't believe his ears. “C'mon, you must have noticed. I have a talent for saying the wrong thing. I'm kinda slow at picking things up from people, I'm clumsy. If I wasn't the only other person that you know, would you really bother to....”
Joel interrupted, “What the hell Craig!? Are we really having this conversation? This is, like, totally bizarre. This is not what I figured I'd be talking about the first time I saw another person since the Disappearance. Let's take stock here: You made two perfect shots on those dogs, expertly drove a forklift to get rid of the carcasses so we didn't have to touch 'em and worry about infection, figured out a way to close and latch those giant warehouse doors after breaking them to get in, drove home like you've been driving your whole life, a home with working electricity and water mind you, and cooked a meal as good as I've had for months! Then you've been chatting it up with me about all kinds of stuff since. Do you really believe that stuff about yourself? I mean, how could you? You're alive aren't you? Would you be if any of that were true? Is your self-esteem that low? Are you really that self-absorbed?”
So there it was. Again.
Craig felt like he had been hit on the head. Shit. Was he really that blind? He had a lot to think about. He stood up suddenly, walking toward the door to the hallway. He needed to to think. He was halfway out the door before he realized he was doing it again. If he was going to be less self-absorbed, less stuck in his own head and more aware of the people around him, maybe now would be a good time to start.
He turned to Joel, who was looking at him half angrily, and half fearfully, like he was going to leave forever. “Sorry Joel, don't worry, I'm not mad and you didn't say anything wrong. I'm just going downstairs for a few minutes to think. I think I've been an idiot. Then I'll be back. And we'll talk. I promise.”
Joel's relieved look as he walked downstairs made him feel a bit better.
It was almost funny really, now that he thought about it. Because it was kind of true in a way, what he was saying to Joel about social skills. After all, he knew the guy for all of three hours, and they just had their first argument. Nice. But, he was starting to realize something too. He was starting to figure out some things about himself that seemed obvious now. How the hell was it that he couldn't see them before?
That was the easy part though. Now for the hard part. The really hard part. See, Craig was a healthy fourteen year old boy. So he was horny all the time. All the time. And he dealt with that the way fourteen year old boys have dealt with it since time immemorial. But now, suddenly, being around the first person he had seen in months, and a very, very cute male person, his hormones were absolutely in overdrive. Like never before. How was he going to manage this? Well, he knew one way, which was one of the reasons why he needed to be alone for a few minutes. But there was more. How was he going to deal with being around him? How the hell was he going to tell Joel that the only boy he had met in eight months was gay?