Rummaging through my suitcase I reflected - I was doing a lot of that lately - on sharing the shower with Jake. Showering was one of those things I’d always done alone, as far as I could recall. Obviously I'd had to be cleaned up as a child, but that was in a tub, and I had no recollection of sharing a shower with anyone and certainly not like I just had with Jake. It was odd and, although we’d crossed the sexual barrier the night before, I had still felt anxiety and fluttering nerves before Jake smoothed all that away.
On the one hand it was irritating to be so all over the place emotionally. On the other having Jake there helped me make sense of it, and in a way welcome the...instability. I did catch him doing a a bit of staring, and that was just fine because I was doing a little of my own. It was amusing that I was peeking at him like a schoolgirl, but I was confident he wouldn’t mind.
It was a unique and satisfying experience to have someone else wash you. I can’t recall anyone ever washing my back, and if he spent a little extra time washing my butt, well, that was okay by me. Of course washing moved to stroking and it sure was nice to lean on each other afterward. Holding Jake is something I just don’t think I’ll get tired of. It was different from any other embrace I’d been party to. With any male in the past it had been just a bro hug and with women only done with an ulterior motive. With Jake, holding him was the motive and that changed the entire act.
The fact we’d both been wet and slick with water, and soap had nearly led us to break another barrier between us as well. I felt heat in my face as I thought of my desire, once more caught in its grip. The night before I’d had a temptation to roll Jake on his back and just go for it on the couch. That had been resistible, but the shower had been a nearer thing. I’m not really sure what my threshold was for resisting Jake, but it had become awfully damn low right now. Even thinking of it left me sweaty and filled with a longing for him.
I shook my head as I pulled on my underwear and then sat to put socks on. This was a weekend of firsts for both of us, and as long as I didn’t screw things up, it could be the time that really solidified us as a couple. That, too, was odd. I’d never really thought of myself as part of a couple, not for more than a night.
In the bathroom I heard Jake running the tap and scrubbing his teeth. I thought back to the night before and our conversation and his declaration of not giving me up without a fight. His loyalty tugged at something inside me, some part of my damaged childhood perhaps that had never really let go of the hurt I’d felt when my brothers had put me in the hospital. There was a cry, still, in the back of my head about the injustice of it; about feeling betrayed. Jake hadn’t been there for that and I had to wonder if he really wouldn't have given up on me?
Jake was kind of messing up my flimsy ideas of how I was going to end up. I had no goals to speak of - college major, job – whatever. I assumed that kind of thing would sort of just work itself out. Part of me wouldn't be surprised ending up drunk and alone and maybe choking on my own puke after a big party in college. As ambitious as that notion was, I knew Jake changed that. But to what? I still had no idea of what to do, but I knew I wanted to preserve what I had with Jake as long as I could.
Jake plopped down on the bed next to me in his shirt and underwear. He pulled a knee up and reached down to start putting on his socks. I couldn’t say why - not definitively and, in fact, perhaps not nebulously either, but I watched as his toes disappeared into the dark material of his sock and felt a certain…longing as the rest of his foot vanished as well. It bothered me a little that I didn’t have any solid way to feel about it beside that; par for the course when it came to Jake.
I lifted an eyebrow and looked at Jake, who’d paused dressing himself to look at me questioningly.
“You were….” He blushed and the edges of his mouth turned up. Ah. I understood. He’d caught me staring, probably at his foot, and wondered what I was looking at. My somehow announcing anything about the attractiveness of a foot seemed too weird to me. I recalled the pictures he’d sent me the night before we’d left posing in his new underwear and socks. I’d failed, then, to say what came instantly to mind and had teased him instead. If I wanted him to stop thinking I wasn’t attracted somehow, or that he wasn’t enough, then I’d better try and change that.
“I’m just considering being late to dinner.” Okay, that was bold, but being bold seemed the way to go, and a pleased expression crossed his face along with a great deal of red. Of course I loved his reaction, and that brought a slight frown to my face. Did Jake realize just how much influence he had over me? Just how important his opinion was to me? He wielded that power, too. Like last night with the alcohol. I knew he didn’t like my drinking and I knew why, but it still chafed that I was conforming because he wanted me to. The fact that I wanted to conform for him only irritated me further. Jesus, I was so whipped, and no one likes that.
“Geoff will have a great wine to go with dinner,” I said to him as I stood and walked to our shared closet for my slacks, which hung inside with my shirt. My stomach flipped with the knowledge I’d just tried to please him, and now I was trying to irritate him. I am such a fuck up.
“What makes it great?” he asked without rancor.
I thought for a moment. “Well, partly tradition; good memories of Thanksgiving and that wine accompanying it. But, really, a wine is supposed to complement the meal, and I think it does that.”
“Oh?” he asked as he stood and pulled the door farther open to retrieve his own slacks. “To me, wine seems to drown out other flavors, to me. I don’t think I’ve really found any that I like.”
Damn it, why wasn’t he going for the bait?
“So hey, I forgot, what did Geoff want this morning?”
“Uh…” Buttoning my slacks gave me a second to think how to summarize this morning’s conversation.
I’d been enjoying relaxing with Jake, maybe even basking in the attention, when Geoff had called and demanded I come to his room. I wasn’t thrilled to be called away from bed, especially not one with Jake in it, but I knew Geoff too well. If I didn’t go to him, he’d come to me. Reluctantly, I’d headed over, promising to be back quickly.
Some guy had just been leaving his room when I got there, of course. He was dressed in what would have been nice clothes the night before but in the morning just looked rumpled and awkward. The morning after uniform - I’d worn that a lot myself. You have my sympathy man, I thought. We made awkward eye contact as he passed me in the hall and I gave him a smile. He was a good looking dude - nice strong jawline, light brown hair that was still half-styled from last night. And, I noticed as he walked past, a very nice butt in tight fitting jeans.
Huh, that was different. Did I actually check out a guy? It’s not like I hadn’t noticed another dude’s appearance before, but this felt more like the way I would assess a pretty girl I'd pass. Honestly, that was kind of weird until I remembered I'd just spent the night with my boyfriend. Yeah, it was a little late to be hung up on checking out guys.
Geoff was waiting at the door for me. He’d thrown on a T-shirt and some Cornell sweatpants. “Didn’t pick you for the school spirit type,” I commented.
“I borrowed a pair from Patrick once and they were super comfy,” he defended with a shrug, closing the door behind me. “I’m surprised you could tear yourself away from Jake so quickly. Thought it would be another twenty minutes at least.”
“Well, it sounded important.” I tossed myself into the swivel chair at the room’s desk, thinking, ‘Besides, it’s too early to subject Jake to you and one of your moods.’ “If it’s not, I’m out of here.”
Geoff sat on the edge of his bed (which I couldn’t help noticing had very rumpled sheets) and looked at me carefully. “What do you think of Jeremy?”
“Huh?” I didn’t know what I had been expecting, but it wasn’t this. “Um, he’s okay, I guess. He’s fun enough to hang out with on these family things. Just not a fan of how he’s sniffing around Jake, is all.” I cursed inwardly for leaving that opening and braced myself for a snarky comment. When Geoff instead bit his lower lip in thought, I narrowed my eyes. “Why? What are you planning?”
“Honestly? Nothing really.” He looked past me out the window, as if the bricks of the next building were suddenly super interesting.
“You say ‘honestly’ but….” When that didn’t get a rise out of him, I sighed. “Look, if you want my opinion on something, you got to tell me what you’re thinking. What’s the context here?”
“Michael.” He turned back to me. “I don’t trust him-”
“That’s a shocker,” I muttered.
“And Richard and I need to know what he’s planning,” Geoff continued as if I hadn’t spoken. “I think Jeremy could help with that.”
“How do you know he’s planning anything?” I had to ask - even if after the custody fight I didn’t trust our uncle much more than my brothers did. I just didn’t think he was always out to get us.
“Other than that he’s our uncle?” Geoff grinned. “It’s this sudden friendliness. He was going on about ‘putting the past behind us’ and ‘moving forward.’ You and Jake were in your own little world so you probably didn’t hear,” he added. “And it’s not just last night - he showed up at Richard’s office a couple months ago, too. What’s that about?”
“You know what they say about Occam's Razor… Hey, just playing Devil’s advocate here,” I added when Geoff frowned. “So what if this is another one of Michael’s schemes. You think Jeremy could be what, some kind of spy?”
“I don’t know! Maybe?” Geoff flopped backwards onto the bed with a groan. “Or at least he could give us some kind of heads up or something. But when you put it like that….”
“What does Richard think?” I asked before something occurred to me. “Actually, why aren’t you talking about this with him?”
“He’s got enough on his mind and I wanted a sounding board.” Geoff tilted his head to look at me. “And maybe I wanted your thoughts. You wanted me to stop treating you like a kid, right? I’m trying to keep you in the loop a little more.”
“So I get included in more of your paranoid scheming? Great!” I gave an exaggerated sigh, but weird as it sounded it actually made me feel kind of good. Did this count as bonding? Jesus, my family was messed up.
“Anyway, how was your night?” The sudden change in topic caught me off guard - probably like Geoff planned, the bastard.
“It-uh-” Images flashed across my mind’s eye while my brother smirked at seeing me so flustered.
“And that literally tells me everything.” His expression softened, followed by his tone. “How do you feel?”
“Uh,” was all I could muster for a moment while I tried to find the right words. “I don’t know - good? Not that different, I guess.” It was true, I didn’t feel more gay or less straight (okay maybe technically less straight, but I still wasn’t feeling any new affinity for rainbows and glitter).
Geoff surprised me by not pushing it. He nodded like that was the answer he’d been expecting. “That’s good - you shouldn’t. People will try and tell you different but don’t listen.” There was a quiet urgency in his voice I recognized, one he used when he felt he really needed to get through to me. This was his “I’m not fucking with you” voice. “This...stuff,” he gestured vaguely, “it doesn’t define you. It doesn’t change who you are. Don’t forget that.”
I sat there for a moment, absorbing what he said. Without saying anything, I got up and walked over to the bed, pulling him into a tight hug. A few seconds later I felt him return it. “Thanks,” I mumbled into his shoulder. “I won’t.”
“Oh, he was just...checking in on me.” I pulled my belt from the suitcase. “We hadn’t really gotten to talk one-on-one the last day or so….” I was going to leave it at that but then a wicked thought occurred.
“Why would he want to check in on you?” Jake asked. Glad you asked, I thought.
“Well,” I answered, pretending to check my hair in the mirror so I could watch his face, “considering last night was something of a milestone, he figured I’d want to talk to someone.” Try as I might to look innocent, my smile was anything but.
Jake didn’t disappoint - he dropped his shoes and did a double take. “Wait, What? You mean talk about… No, you didn’t!”
I laughed and looked over my shoulder. “You talk to Hamster about us - why can’t I talk to my brother?”
“What did you tell him?” Jake asked weakly.
“Oh, just asked for advice for next time, best places to have sex in public,” I explained, enjoying this immensely. “You know, the basics.” I felt his hands close around me from behind and gave a contented sigh.
Turning in his loose grip, I looked down on him and raised an eyebrow in question.
“How late to dinner can we be?” he asked, his face red as it could be. Though, I thought, that might have been from the thought of my discussing us with Geoff.
“Really?” I asked with a chuckle while returning his hug. “After the shower and last night I’d think your tank would be empty.”
He coughed, face even redder and laid his head against my chest. My heart jumped at that before settling.
“I think you matched me pretty well.” His voice was small, and I knew he was embarrassed but still gamely trying to engage in the light teasing. For a moment the unrest in my mind and gut stilled and for a single, blessed second nothing else mattered. Not my parents, not my brothers and old hurts. The past, the future; they could all get fucked.
“So we can sit with Jeremy, then?” he asked and slipped his feet out of view into his dress shoes. I glanced up at him, standing with his tie wrapped around his neck but as yet untied. He was looking at me expectantly and my brain suddenly caught up with his words.
“Jeremy? Probably. Why?” I asked. My eyes narrowed. “What did he say?”
“Nothing,” Jake said dismissively, and lifted his collar in preparation to knot his tie. I took a couple of large strides and pulled the ends of his tie from his grasp and used them to pull him to me.
“What. Did. He. Say?” I said calmly while staring into his eyes.
A lazy smile crossed his lips. “Jealous?”
With a jolt I realized Jake was teasing me; using my territorial nature against me. I was simultaneously pleased, impressed and irritated.
“Don’t get too cozy. I had him measured for a coffin before we got here,” I told him.
He chuckled. “Touchy, touchy. He’s not really my type, anyway.”
“I’m your type. Don’t force me to do something illegal,” I said with a smile. Well, mostly a smile. Jeremy irritated me in that he was gay, without question, and Jake was, also. I…was more complicated. And Jake was mine. Yet there was no question in my mind: Jeremy fell into the category of ‘people I had to watch’.
“Of course you’re my type,” Jake replied easily. There was a short lull and then he cleared his throat. “So, are you going to knot up my tie for me or is holding my tie like this just telling me we really are going to be late to dinner?”
The idea of staying in the room with him all night was immensely appealing. I could try to work out more of these complicated feelings and, if Jake were beside me, I’d not have to worry about some other asshole making Jake realize he’d be better off with someone else. The thought, though, speared my pride, and I covered my screwed up emotions by pulling him for a too brief kiss before stating that I had better hurry up, myself.
“So are we ordering the turkey for the table?” Jeremy asked, glancing around the table expectantly.
“No,” Geoff replied without looking up from his menu.
“But it’s Thanksgiving!” Jeremy protested. “It’s traditional…” He turned to me and I just shrugged. I didn’t exactly dislike turkey but I didn’t love it either - choosing my own meal was definitely more appealing.
“Well, we’re something of a non-traditional family,” Richard commented.
“Guess you’ve been outvoted, Jeremy,” I said, with chuckle. “That’s four to two.”
Jeremy rolled his eyes. “Please, you were a non-vote at best. And we haven’t heard from Jake yet.”
“Yeah, how do you know I was going to vote with you?” Jake asked with a devilish grin. Dammit, really should have seen that coming.
I said, “Well, I could change my vote to a solid ‘no’ and-”
“Nope! You shrugged - that counts as abstaining. That totally counts!” Jeremy crowed. “That makes three for turkey!”
Okay, Jeremy was getting a little too into this.
“I never said I was voting for turkey,” Michael said quietly, his mouth twitching in a smile. “Personally, I’ve got my eye on that delicious salmon, and maybe a nice oaky chardonnay.”
“Dad!” Jeremy rolled his eyes. “That is so not cool.”
“If we’re done pretending this is a democracy, can we go ahead and order drinks?” If Geoff’s tone was any more acidic, it could have burnt a hole in the table. He gestured to the waiter standing next to his chair.
We all ordered our drinks, Geoff and I only briefly butting heads over what kind of red wine to get for the table before coming to a compromise. When the waiter departed, I felt nudge in my side. I turned to Jake, who was watching the retreating waiter curiously.
“So why didn’t he make more of an issue about IDs?” he whispered. “Almost everyone at this table is underage, but they almost all ordered drinks.”
I shrugged. It wasn’t something I’d ever really given much thought. “Short answer? Money talks. Long answer? It’s a family group on Thanksgiving and this is an expensive place and we’re hotel guests. They’re less likely to make a case over this than would, say…Olive Garden.” I grinned. “Plus, if the guy wants a nice tip, he won’t ask too many questions.”
Jake frowned and I felt myself get defensive before I realized this was just his thinking frown - his expression for processing things. He looked like he was about to say something more before surprising me with a simple “huh” and turning back to his menu.
“Well, isn’t this nice?” Geoff smirked. “The whole family together again. After, what? A whole 24 hours?”
“Happy Thanksgiving to you too, Geoffrey,” Michael replied. He smiled - and it even looked real. Weird. I stole a glance at Jake to see if he had picked up on this, too, but he was looking at his menu. And why wouldn’t he be? He hadn’t had to grow up in this crazy-ass family. Sure, his childhood kind of sucked, but at least he probably hadn't suffered dinner conversations full of fake smiles and veiled threats.
“So, Richard. How’re things? How you been?” Jeremy to the rescue trying to make things less awkward. Bet you’re regretting being adopted as an Ellesier now, aren’t you? Probably imagining a normal family Thanksgiving right now, I thought. With a big ass turkey, please pass the yams, and a bunch of relatives and bad jokes; the biggest drama would be the stereotypical racist grandpa.
“Oh, you know, business as usual.” Richard shrugged before going back to his own menu. “So how’s your first semester been at Bard?”
Wow, real smooth, Dick. It’s like you weren’t trying to change the topic at all....
“Pretty great. Kind of an adjustment, but great. I’m working with the theater department...” Jeremy started prattling on about the same kind of stuff he’d told Jake and me yesterday, while Richard feigned polite interest. The whole thing sounded pretty stilted, but sometimes the only way to fill an awkward silence was with awkward conversation.
“Well, I guess we were both new students this semester, huh?” Geoff commented, taking the weight off Jeremy. Well, that was uncharacteristically nice, was my first thought before I remembered the meeting in his room this morning. Was he getting started on that already? I hadn’t thought he’d been serious…
Geoff noticed me staring at him as I thought about our conversation and flipped me off. I laughed and looked at Jake out of the corner of my eye, watching him read the menu. Would he ever see that side of my brother? My boyfriend was officially family now, so I hoped so. Jake just had to give my family a chance. Sure, we weren’t normal, like Richard said, but we made it work. Most of the time. And, damn it, I wanted Jake to see that.
Jake had put down his menu by now and was watching my cousin sympathetically, like he wanted to say something but wasn’t sure what. I nudged him under the table and smiled. “So, what you thinking about?” I asked, nodding at the menu, trying to remind him what was important here. We were here to stuff our faces - Jeremy could take care of himself.
“Not sure - everything’s so-” he caught himself, “sounds so delicious I can’t decide.” I almost rolled my eyes. I knew he was going to say “expensive.” Still, nice save.
“So if everything were the same…'deliciousness', what would you pick?” That one earned me a frown. If he didn’t pick soon I’d order for him when the waiter showed up and it would be the most expensive thing on the menu. He knew it too. I thought about doing that anyway, just to forcefully spoil him.
“I’d recommend the lemon chicken,” Geoff suggested. Jake glanced at him, clearly surprised that Geoff was being so civil. He’d get used it. Or as used to it as anyone would be forced to be when faced with the unpredictability of Geoff. My brother could be a massive dick but that wasn’t all there was to him. Just most of him.
“Thanks,” Jake replied, finding the dish on the menu. “It looks good.” I checked the price and figured he wouldn’t find it too extravagant - or at least hoped he wouldn’t by this point.
The waiter returned and we placed our orders. “Thanks, man.” Jeremy winked at the guy after ordering his lobster. The guy gave an awkward smile and hurried away.
“Doesn’t really look like your type, Jer,” Geoff commented, watching the guy’s retreating back.
“He’s cute,” Jeremy defended. “Like, unconventionally. In an Adam Driver kind of way.”
Geoff looked like he was about to disagree before he paused and shrugged. “Yeah, maybe a little.” Huh, he really was going out of his way not to argue with Jeremy. Honestly though, I had to agree with my brother there. The guy hadn’t been much to look at - wavy black hair, wide nose, kind of lanky. Not bad but still...meh.
“What do you think, Jake?” Jeremy turned to my boyfriend. “And don’t cop out with an ‘Oh, I have all I need right here,’ or something else sappy.” I noticed Geoff smirk at this before Jeremy continued, “Just, objectively- cute or not?”
I saw Jake frown and patted his knee under the table. He placed his hand on mine and looked at Jeremy. “Honestly, I can’t really say. I wasn’t looking at him because, well...” He turned to me and smiled while Jeremy rolled his eyes. “I was thinking about my dinner,” Jake finished. “Though I might find him pretty cute when he comes back with my food, depending how hungry I am,” he added thoughtfully.
“Amen to that!” Jeremy agreed and both he and Geoff burst out laughing. I took a sip of wine to hide my smile. It was good to see Jake getting comfortable with my family, cracking jokes and trading a friendly snark or two. I wanted them to see Jake as more than just my boyfriend, as a cool person in his own right. Though obviously not forget that he was my boyfriend, especially in Jeremy’s case.
Wow, maybe I am too possessive.
“Jon?” I glanced at Jake. He was looking at me, then let his eyes flicker down to the wine glass in my hand. I put it down, and he shook his head. “No, I wasn’t going to say anything like that. I was wondering if you could help me choose a drink?”
Well, that was unexpected. “Uh, are you sure?” I asked. “I don’t want you to feel pressured or something just 'cause we’re all….”
“Yeah, I want to try it but I’m just not sure what to pick. Like, what do any of these taste like?” He gestured to the beer and wine list.
“Alright, let’s see what we got,” I said, reaching for the drinks menu. Richard noticed and raised an eyebrow. “It’s not for me,” I quickly answered his unspoken question.
I wasn’t exactly sure how to help, so I figured I’d go with the least alcoholic tasting drink I could find. “So, do you like soda?”
“Uh, yeah but I don’t drink it too much.” He smiled. “Since you started training me, especially. Calories, right?”
“That and it’s just not good for you in any way,” I agreed.
“Also might give you cancer,” Jeremy interrupted.
“Shut up, Jer,” both Geoff and I replied in offbeat stereo. I turned back to Jake. “That being said, I think you should get something with soda first. It’ll definitely taste more familiar so it’s a good start. Plus, we’re on vacation so who gives a fuck about calories.” I scanned the menu. “So we got a rum and coke, self-explanatory….and Dark’n Stormy, that’s a ginger beer and rum.”
“You’re starting me off with rum? Trying to turn me into a pirate?” Jake teased.
“Yo-ho-ho,” I muttered. Jeremy grinned and took a breath before Geoff cut him off.
“Don’t you dare burst into song,” he warned.
Jake thought for a moment before giving a shrug. “Ginger beer, I guess. Plus, Dark’n Stormy is definitely a cooler name.”
“Okay, second step. Flagging the server.” I turned around and gestured sharply. Jake gave a little start when our waiter popped up, though he tried to hide it. “Could we have one Dark’n Stormy? On the rocks,” I added as an afterthought.
The guy nodded, and disappeared again. “What’s ‘on the rocks’ mean?” Jake asked.
“With ice,” I answered, grabbing a bread roll and getting into a brief tug of war with Geoff over the butter dish.
Jake frowned again. “So why not just say that?”
“You’re so innocent,” Jeremy chuckled. “So much to learn. Don’t worry, I’ll teach you everything you need-”
“Trust me, he’s anything but innocent,” I replied, smiling at Jake before shooting Jeremy a warning glare. I can’t stop him talking to Jake but I don’t have to let my cousin monopolize him either.
“So, Geoff,” I heard Michael ask, “how are you liking SUNY Albany?”
“It’s fine,” my brother answered, suddenly becoming very focused on buttering his bread roll.
Michael wasn’t going to be put off that easily though. “Must be quite a change,” he persisted. “I’m sure Richard had a hand in your leaving Cornell but why choose Albany of all places?”
I glanced at Richard, but his face was carefully blank. Geoff’s expression was equally neutral as he turned to face Michael. “I liked their marketing program. And I wanted a change of scene.”
Our uncle raised an eyebrow. “Really? Well, you do what you have to do, but I have to say, the change sounds a little drastic…”
Geoff’s jaw visibly tightened, though Richard and I were probably the only ones who noticed. I tried to catch Richard’s eye, but he ignored me. Obviously we couldn’t tell Michael that the two of us had forged Geoff’s application and essentially transferred him over his head. And I somehow didn’t see Geoff admitting to shitty grades from partying his ass off and getting gay bashed the first year.
Richard didn’t look like he was about to say anything so that left me. I opened my mouth to try and run interference but Geoff beat me to it. Which was probably a good thing since I had no clue what I was going to say.
“Cornell wasn’t working out for me,” he replied levelly. “I don’t think it was a good...fit.” By now the whole table was watching the exchange, the side conversations all having died down. I felt Jake take my hand and squeeze it. “I probably could have done a few things differently and maybe I’d still be there.” He slowly rotated his wine glass on the table before looking back at Michael. “But I fucked up and needed a totally different environment. Richard helped me find that; he's really why I'm in Albany. It’s not what I would have picked, but it’s working out alright.”
I took a drink to try and hide my surprise. Normally Geoff would rather die than admit failure to Michael of all people. To say that was deviating from the party line was an understatement. Hell, I didn’t even know what we were planning to say and I could tell this wasn’t it.
Michael nodded and thankfully didn’t push it. “So, Dad,” Jeremy piped up, “since I started college I’ve started wondering - what were you and Uncle Henry like in school? Anything like these guys?” he gestured at my brothers and me.
“Why just us? Don’t think they could have been anything like you?” Richard teased gently but I could recognize his guarded smile.
“Honey, no one could be anything like me,” Jeremy replied blithely.
“Amen,” Geoff said and made to swallow the remainder of his drink. The coolness of his move was shattered as there was a bit too much liquid in the glass and he started to cough. I laughed.
“Well.” Michael thought for a moment. “I like to think I was a good student but Camille would probably disagree if she were here.” That name gave him pause and I almost asked who that was before I remembered Dad and Michael’s deceased older sister. “I got by alright - but I definitely got distracted with everything college had to offer. Why do you think I’m always on you about homework?” He raised an eyebrow at Jeremy, who rolled his eyes.
“Yeah, it’s like high school but over the phone. Don’t worry, Dad,” he said with a smirk, “I’m way more responsible than you were.”
“Is that why I had to mail you new packages of socks and underwear? Because you’re so much more responsible?” Michael asked with a chuckle. I snickered, amused to see this side of him.
“Moving along,” Jeremy said with a laugh. “Jake, have you started looking at schools?”
“Um, not really,” he replied and I glanced at him. Where would he choose, and could I go as well? Well, that was a downer. “I have to see about getting Jon to graduate first.”
I turned my head to look at him. “I do alright!” I exclaimed.
“Like your Uncle Michael?” Jake teased. Even Richard smiled at that one.
“As for my brother,” Michael said slowly, swirling the wine in the bottom of his glass, “I think that between you boys, Geoff is the most like Henry. I like to think he would have been proud of you. Or at least understood what you were going through in finding the right school.”
Geoff’s face contorted. “How is that, dear Uncle?”
Michael remained cool. “Angry. Intelligent. Perhaps nursing a secret hurt.” He paused for a moment and then said, “Maybe I’m wrong. Henry could be a real asshole.”
The table was quiet for a moment, before the waiter showed up with Jake’s drink. “One Dark’n Stormy,” he announced, his slightly nasal voice breaking the silence and, with it, the tension.
“Cheers,” I said, raising my wine. Jake took a tentative sip, and I couldn’t help focusing on his lips slowly going over the edge of his glass.
“It’s...not bad, actually.” He smiled and we clinked glasses. For a moment, all I wanted to look at were Jake’s blue eyes and shy smile. Then Michael’s next words tempted me back to the present. My family wasn’t exactly big on opening up - I needed to hear this.
“When I adopted Jeremy, Henry and Eleanor were very supportive. They had advice. As Jeremy grew,” he said and looked fondly at his son, “they offered even more advice.” He looked back toward the group and said, “Henry felt that Jeremy was too feminine and that I should force him to be more masculine. Henry was worried that Jeremy would be gay and be a burden to me.”
I glanced around the table and wasn’t entirely surprised to see a lot of wondering looks. Where was he going with all this? It was fascinating, especially with all the bullshit surrounding my parents and their passing - or how my father had treated Geoff. Had Michael known?
“I don’t remember very much of Uncle Henry,” Jeremy said quietly.
“No, you wouldn't. That was by design. I didn’t want anyone telling you that who you were was wrong.” He hesitated and said, “A parent makes many mistakes, but I can say with certainty - that wasn’t one of them.”
I glanced at Jake and was surprised that his drink was half gone. He seemed to have been engrossed as much as I had been in the story unfolding before us. It raised a question for me, though. I didn’t want to ask if he knew about Geoff. If I asked, he’d answer. Geoff was a colossal prick, frequently, but there was no way I’d do that to him. But there was something else I had to know.
“Why did you try to take Geoff and me from Richard?” I blurted.
Michael leaned forward and steepled his fingers, trapping his glass between them. “Familial obligation, for starters. You are my nephews, despite the relationship my brother and I had - which was tumultuous at times. Also, Richard was - what? All of twenty-three at the time? I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but the only thing harder than raising a teenage boy is raising a teenage girl.”
Richard cleared his throat. “I always thought there was more to it than that.”
Michael frowned. “Well, I know we’ve had words about it privately,” he said, glancing around the table and back to Richard, who waved his hands in assent and Michael nodded. “There have always been question marks about your parent's...passing. If there was some...support needed, I felt obliged to provide it.”
You don’t live with two people all your life without learning their signs. I could feel the tension build in my brothers the instant Michael brought up Mom and Dad’s deaths. Still, that was nothing compared to when Jake opened his mouth.
“You mean like waiting two years to get a kid help after his parents died suddenly?” Jake blurted, with a slight...twist to his pronunciation.
My first thought was ‘where did that come from?’ followed closely by ‘crap, Jake’s drunk.’ It definitely caught Richard off guard - which is not an easy thing to do; Jake had never been anything but polite, if a little cheeky, until now. My oldest brother’s mouth opened and closed a couple times before he found an answer. He turned and looked me in the eye, even though he was addressing Jake.
“Things...certainly could have been handled better. Michael isn’t completely wrong - I didn’t know as much about raising a family as I thought I did. Handing him over to others, even professionals, felt like giving up, which is something I refused to do. I let my own feelings cloud my judgment - which delayed Jon from getting the help he needed. That will haunt me for the rest of my days.”
Before I could fully process this, Geoff spoke up as well. “Richard wasn’t the only one,” he added, staring into his wine. “I felt the same way - it’s my fault too.” He took a healthy swig and then, surprisingly, turned to Michael. “As for you - if you hadn’t waited until after our parents were dead to ride in on your white horse, it might have been a very different story. You knew what Henry was like - that’s why you shielded Jeremy from him.” His voice was flat, devoid of feeling, which was somehow more frightening than his snarling and shouting. “As it is, you came to rescue us too late.” Expression returned to his face as an angry scowl. “You knew. You knew what kind of man he was and yet you did nothing. You couldn’t risk destroying whatever image you had of your brother in your mind so you buried your head in the sand.”
“I didn’t know for sure, Geoff, if I-”
“You knew enough!” I expected Geoff to physically snap at him like the wolf I used to imagine him as when we were kids.
Michael set his glass down and folded his napkin on his plate.
“Sure. Leave,” Geoff said and lifted his glass. Michael, however, leaned across the table and placed his hand over the top of Geoff’s glass. They stared at one another for a mind bending amount of time, tension so thick I thought I could feel it pressing on my shoulder.
“There are a great many people in the world with whom I disagree. I cannot tell them how to live, nor do I get to tell them how to raise their children.” Michael pursed his lips and moved his hand away from the glass. “I didn’t know you were gay. I had no way to know any of Henry’s...opinions would come to haunt you, as it so clearly has.” He leaned forward and Geoff, surprisingly, leaned back just the lightest. “Had I known. Had I suspected. Had I an inkling...I would have tried.” He let out a sigh and looked down. “As it was, after they passed, my legal standing isn’t what one would call the strongest.” He locked eyes with Geoff. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there to help you.”
Goff looked back steadily. His lower lip shook and then he bit it savagely to get it under control.
“Michael, I appreciate what you’ve had to say,” Richard said, mercifully turning the focus from Geoff. “I can’t help but wonder - what’s the point? Why are we here? Why are you,” he said, looking at his cousin and uncle, “here?”
“To start mending fences,” Michael replied. “To rip off bandages and look at festering wounds in the light of day.” Michael glanced at Jeremy, once again looking fondly at his son. Looking around the table at us he said, “We’re family. If we’re ever going to act like it, then I should go first.”
You know those moments when you know things are changing? You can’t exactly say how but you know nothing is going to be the same again after this.
Those moments are as volatile as fuck.
I was in a tailspin and needed to tread carefully. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t have my brothers to fall back on. We were each affected differently and had to make our own decision how to go forward. I wanted someone with me, I wanted someone to hold my hand, I wanted Jake. Problem was, right now he was too unpredictable, drunk for possibly the first time in his life and so far out of his depth the fish had lights on their heads. He needed rest. I pushed some water towards him to start diluting the alcohol in his system. He took the hint and gratefully gulped the water.
“Do you want dessert?” I asked him quietly while keeping an eye on my family. Richard and Michael were talking in measured tones, Geoff was slowly pulling himself together, and Jeremy was actually looking a little lost. I felt a little bad for him, but he wasn’t my priority right now. I was trying figure out a way to broach the topic of his heading back to the room when he brought it up himself.
“Maybe I should just go upstairs.” I turned to look at him. He was sobering up slowly and the embarrassment would be catching up now, too. Probably thought I was mad at him. His heart was in the right place, and part of me was glad he'd said what he had. Still, whatever he said next might not be taken so well, especially with everything so emotionally charged.
“I’ll bring something up. How’s that?” I asked.
He gave a weak smile. “That’s fine, Jon.” He got up slowly and nodded at the rest of the table. “I think I’m going to turn in. Happy Thanksgiving,” he added awkwardly.
Richard gave him a once over. “Good night, Jake. Jon, maybe you should-”
“No, it’s alright,” Jake interrupted. “I’ll be fine.” It didn’t take a genius to see Richard was seeing if he could get me to leave the table so the “adults” could talk. When I was satisfied Jake wasn’t swaying too much, I turned back to my family. There were still questions I wanted answered.
First thing I saw was Jeremy watching Jake leave. For once, it didn’t piss me off - it was obvious he was just wishing he could get away from the table as well. Couldn’t really blame him there - he couldn't have been prepared for tonight. I don’t think any of us were.
Michael took a deep breath to steady himself. It was weird see him like this; I'd never seen him vulnerable before. Every other time in my presence he’d been this unshakable force. The larger-than-life type.
“My brother was always a...polarizing figure,” Michael began, “You either loved him or hated him. Or both.” I glanced sideways at my own brothers - we could all relate, I think. “What he was not always was the mercurial, angry person all the things you remember him as. I won’t say he was perfect, or even a particularly good man sometimes, but he wasn’t always a bad one either. Do you see what I mean?”
I didn’t, but I kept my mouth shut. I think my face said it all. Geoff spoke up, his voice surprisingly calm, but you could still hear the bitterness in it.
“You’re going for a shades of grey, ‘nobody’s all bad or all good’ angle. It’s been done before by more eloquent men than you, Michael. So he was human. Is that what you’re saying? So he wasn’t evil incarnate. Fine. He was still a violent, self-centered idiot.” He spat the last sentence out and I felt my hand curl into a fist around the fork that I’d been fiddling with. I shouldn’t be mad - everything he said was true - but that didn’t mean I liked hearing it. But that’s stupid, said a voice in my head. Geoff lived it - you can survive hearing some things you don’t like. What kind of pussy are you? The weird thing is that for once, that voice didn’t sound like Geoff. It sounded like me.
“What happened is that after our sister Camille died,” Michael resumed, ignoring Geoff’s interruption, “Henry became unmoored. She was our anchor - kept us balanced, on the right track, whatever metaphor you want to use for keeping us from self-destructing.” He turned and looked directly at Richard. “I’m sure you can imagine she didn’t always have an easy time of it.” Michael’s story sounded familiar - and he knew it. I didn’t remember much of my dad’s older sister - scratch that, I didn’t remember anything of my dad’s older sister but her name. Both Mom and Dad occasionally mentioned my “Aunt Cami” and I’d seen a few photos but it wasn’t anything they really discussed with me. Why would they?
“It was the three of us against the world - we were a team and we each played our part. Cami often had to be the one to rein in Henry’s more extreme tendencies but by and large, I will say he was a good man.” At this I could almost feel the air crackle around Geoff with his anger, to the point I was half expecting to see his hair to stand up. “Without her,” Michael went on, “all his worst traits were just amplified - his anger, his prejudices. At first I thought Eleanor would take over but it wasn’t fair to expect her to fill Cami’s shoes.” He sighed. “I had hoped that children would ground my brother, make him rise to the occasion and be the man I remembered.”
“So we were the means to bringing that man back,” Richard stated, slowly drumming his fingers on the table. His tone sounded polite at first but if you were looking for it, you could hear the barest hint of scorn. I knew that voice from when Geoff or I fucked up and gave a particularly lame excuse.
“I’m sorry…” Michael began.
“So you’ve made abundantly clear,” Richard cut him off. “But that doesn’t answer the question of where we go from here. We never knew the man you’re mourning. All we knew was his temper, his rage and his spite - especially to Geoff. The brother you remember died a long time ago. You did what you thought was right at the time, Michael, but if you want absolution, I’m afraid none of us can give it to you.”
I could see where Michael was coming from, as much as it made me feel like a traitor to my family. Like him, I had known about my dad’s other side but ignored the signs, hoping it would all work out. I kept my mouth shut though - there was nothing I could say that would make this any better.
“Can you stop being such a fucking hypocrite?” Jeremy snapped, startling everyone at the table. “How long are you going to hold this grudge against my dad for doing exactly what you would have in his place?”
“Jeremy, don’t-” Michael began but his son cut him off.
“No, Dad, this isn’t right.” He turned back to my brothers and me, glaring at Richard. “What if it had been Geoff? Or Jon? Would either of you have been able to see what was wrong? Would you have wanted to?”
I had never seen Jeremy like this. Sure, I’d seen him mad a few times over the years when Geoff pushed him a little far, but this was different. Geoff tensed as if he were going to spring at Jeremy but out of the corner of my eye, I saw Richard take his arm, forcing him back into his seat.
“You’re right,” Geoff replied - surprising Richard and me almost as much as Jeremy’s outburst. “Any one of us probably would have done the same thing.” His expression hardened. “But we wouldn’t have been so absent in the first place. If I ever have kids, I swear they won’t go through what I did but if I turn into my father,” he took a steadying breath, “I'd like to think that Richard or Jon would do something about it.”
Jeremy shook his head. “You guys think you’re so special with your ‘family above all’ attitude - as if no one else has that kind of bond,” he went on, his voice calmer. “Well, my dad’s trying to reach out and you’re dead set on crucifying him for wanting to give his brother the benefit of the doubt. How’s that fair?”
“This isn’t about fair,” Geoff snapped.
“No, it’s about family,” Jeremy retorted. “He said he’s sorry. He wants a second chance - don’t we owe that to family? What more do you want-”
“Jeremy, that’s enough.” Michael’s voice was quiet but it cut across the argument like a knife. He looked at each of us in turn before speaking. “I realize I’m asking a lot of you. But it’s not as much as you think. I don’t expect you all to let bygones be bygones or to forgive me straight away. Just that you think about it.”
The mental fog and dizziness I’d felt was receding. Dinner had been one dramatic twist after another and I was afraid of the damage I might have done with my own statement. I was afraid, but not ashamed. I’m not sure Jon will see it that way, though. I have no idea how he’s going to feel about me picking sides, and essentially blaming his family - even if his was the side I was on.
The alcohol had hit me quickly, but it also leaving me just as fast. I was drinking water to further dilute it, but the question of what would happen once I was alone with Jon lingered.
“Do you want dessert?” Jon asked me quietly. I wasn’t sure if it was anger at me, fatigue from the talk in general or what.
“Maybe I should just go upstairs,” I told him.
He looked at me, something sad in his eyes. “I’ll bring something up. How’s that?”
I nodded and tried to smile at him through my own worry. “That’s fine, Jon.”
I quietly excused myself and walked to the elevator. I felt oddly exposed in the lobby and looked around nervously. The desk clerk took no notice of me and there were no guests in the lobby. I couldn’t shake the feeling of being vulnerable. The elevator doors opened quietly. I entered and selected my floor before leaning back against the railing. I felt weird as the elevator rose; perhaps that was the last of the alcohol messing with my head.
Once I entered the room I felt depressed. The bubble I’d so gleefully indulged in that was this room seemed to have popped. I suppose it was due to the uncertainty I faced when Jon came back to the room, but knew I’d do it again. Someone needed to stick up for Jon when he wouldn’t - or couldn’t. Like I had been with my mother, he was most vulnerable to the people he trusted to care for him.
I felt hot. I think alcohol raises a person’s temperature or something. I hung up my coat and tie and then sat on the bed to unlace my shoes. I tossed them in the open closet and then slipped my pants off and hung them up as well. I unbuttoned my shirt slowly and tossed it on the pile of things that needed cleaning. After adding my socks to that pile, I pulled on shorts before filling a water glass in the bathroom.
Back in the bedroom, I opened the curtains and pulled a chair over so I could sit and look out at the moonlight hitting the ocean while I sipped my water and waited. The ocean was comforting, though I didn’t understand why I had such a connection to it. I’d never even seen it before outside of a picture. I leaned forward and cracked the balcony door open so I could hear the waves rolling. A tendril of cold air wafted into the room, and minutes later the heater kicked on in response. Tiny hairs on my arms and legs stood up as the cold air caressed my skin, yet I made no move to close the door. Instead I inhaled the salty scent and closed my eyes as the sound and smell soothed me.
Sometime later I heard the door open. I stayed where I was, holding the last few moments of peace before Jon and I would have words of some kind. I heard the fridge being opened and the slap of the seal as the door closed. Two clunks as Jon kicked his shoes off, and the sound of cloth landing - perhaps his blazer. He placed his hands on my shoulders and I sighed.
“Hey, babe,” he said softly.
“Hi,” I replied.
“How are you feeling?” he asked.
“I think I got the alcohol out of my system, for the most part,” I told him. I sipped the last of the water from the glass and placed it on the side table. Jon moved around the chair and placed his hand on the door handle. He glanced back at me.
“Okay if I close this?”
I inhaled once more, tasting the salt on the breeze. “Yeah. Go ahead.”
He slid it closed. I glanced at him, still in his button-down shirt and slacks. He looked tired. I told him as much.
“Yeah,” he said and rubbed his face. “I didn’t really have a plan for how that dinner was supposed to go, but what happened that wasn’t anything I expected.”
I steeled myself. “I’m not sorry.”
He dropped his hands and looked at me. “You were a little drunk, I think.”
I nodded once. “Yeah, it affected me. I probably never would have said it, otherwise. But I did, and I’m not sorry.”
He looked away from me and wet his lips, then left his tongue out to press on his upper lip. He nodded slowly and then undid his belt. For the briefest moment, a flicker of fear ran through me as I wondered if his posture concealed the fact that he was stone cold angry, and if he was about to hit me with that belt. And then, that quickly, the feeling was gone. I felt a burst of shame at the irrational fear. Then he tossed his belt toward the other chair. He undid the hasp of his pants and tossed them aside as well. Then he squatted down until he managed to sit on the floor, with an arm around his knees.
“I figured you’d be...I thought I’d have to tell you it was okay.”
“If it is, I wish you would,” I told him.
He glanced up at me and released his knees. He lay a hand idly atop one of my feet and said, “It’s okay, Jake.”
I calmed. Unless Jon was going to dump me or something, everything had taken an unexpected turn and surprisingly, it was for the better. He crossed his legs and lifted my foot onto his leg, where he began to stroke the skin. I let out a sigh - it felt good.
“You’re not mad at me?” I asked, glutton for punishment that I am.
His stroke became more like some sort of massage as he kneaded the muscles of my foot. “No. I’m not mad.” He glanced at me and tilted his head. “I think you impressed the old people, even if it was embarrassing for them.”
I bit my lip briefly. “It just wasn’t right. Nobody thought about you.”
He nodded slowly. “I think they did. They just...well, you like to say I’m stubborn - look at them!”
I sighed. “I’m sorry if I caused you any stress.”
He looked up at me. “I’m glad I know. I’m glad they finally said...they felt like they were giving up on me to reach that point. That they had been fighting so hard for me. It’s...good to know.”
“Yeah,” I said gently. Jon looked up at me and pulled gently on my ankles, and I slid off the chair and into his lap. He ran his hands up my back and pulled me in close, kissing me softly. He turned his head and leaned against my chest, and I pressed him there, running my fingers through his hair.
“Thank you,” he said softly. “For standing up for me.”
“Always,” I said and kissed his hair. We stayed like that for several minutes, holding one another in peace.
“My leg's falling asleep,” he said. I chuckled and struggled to stand and then gave him a hand up. “I got us dessert. Shall we?” he asked.
“Sure, babe,” I told him. I trailed him to the mini fridge and he withdrew two slices of cheesecake with fruit on top.
“I was going to get baked goods, but I didn’t want you to feel like there was competition with your baking,” he said with a snicker.
“Ha,” I told him and we sat on the bed to eat.
“Tonight was weird,” he said. “I never understood why Michael had done the things he did.”
I crushed the soft pie against the roof of my mouth, squishing it before using my tongue to scrape it back to swallow. “Yeah. Doesn’t seem like quite the boogeyman anymore. You might have had a close cousin instead of this mess.”
“Maybe,” he agreed idly. Once done, I slid off the bed and put my empty plate on the dresser and then took his empty from him. I turned to look at him, turned in profile as he looked out the window.
“Why do you like the ocean so much?” he asked.
“It’s peaceful. Beautiful. Comforting,” I said quietly. He turned to look at me.
“I get it, now.”
I tilted my head and gave him a quizzical look. “Get it?”
“Why you love it,” he said. “It’s why I love you.”
Fuck. He’d done it again.
“Going to sleep in that shirt?” I asked.
He looked down and seemed surprised. “I guess I forgot to take it off.” He scooted off the bed and undid the buttons, tossing the shirt on our dirty pile. He took my hand and led me across the room. He opened the door fully, letting the cold night air rush into the room. Turning, he pulled me close and kissed me like it would be his last time doing so - desperate, consuming. It was an affirmation of us, I thought. He broke the kiss and pulled me close.
“It’s cold,” I told him. “Let’s go to bed.”
He nodded, his chin moving on my shoulder and then I felt the first drop. For the briefest of moments I thought it had started to rain and a raindrop had come into the room, but no. Jon hitched in my arms, and I tightened my grip as drops hit my shoulder and rolled down my back.
“I’m here, Jon,” I said softly.
“I know,” he said, his voice thick with emotion. I reached out blindly and tugged the door closed. The seconds stretched into minutes and we stood together - maybe for the first time - united against the world. Yes, he was crying and upset, but he knew where to go to get what he needed, and I was there to provide it. It would be hard to beat that.
“Come on,” I told him and directed him to the bed. It was completely unlike him, letting me lead him like this. Yet he trusted me to care for him as he was right then. We came together under the sheets and I held him. He cried sporadically for the next hour. We only broke our embrace for him to blow his nose, but eventually he was cried out. We didn’t talk, not really.
Finally, he slept. As his tears dried on my chest I felt a flash of anger at his brothers that burned away just as fast. They had been in an impossible situation, and it couldn’t be changed. Jon needed looking after, and they’d had their turn. Now was my time.
I stretched under the covers and opened my eyes slowly. I glanced around and spotted Jon sitting in a chair, one leg pulled up and his chin resting on his knee.
“What are you doing?” I asked, my voice muzzy from sleep.
“Just watching you sleep,” he said quietly.
“That’s weird,” I told him, despite having watched him sleep before. I rolled out of bed, not quite sure if I was up for the day, and hit the bathroom. When I re-entered the room, he was still in the chair, watching me. I crawled onto the bed and lay on my stomach with my head turned toward him. I wondered if beds can actually be more comfortable lying lengthwise, considering people so rarely do that?
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“Things are different,” he said quietly, almost as if we were in some holy place.
“How?” I asked, lifting my foot up and dropping it back to the mattress with a flop.
“Didn’t you expect some things from me? I mean, as a boyfriend?” he asked, rather than answer me.
I yawned. “I expected you to be difficult,” I said and smiled at him. He didn’t smile back. I propped myself on my elbows. “I expected you to be loyal, a little uncomfortable in public and sweet and tender in private.”
He looked at me quietly, and when I thought I’d scream to break the silence he asked, “What if I change?”
“Everybody changes, Jon.” I looked at him, studying his face and trying to get a clue what was going on. “Did you have something in mind?”
“Did you just wonder if I meant us? That I’d changed about how I feel about us?”
Discomfort at the thought rippled through me. “No, actually. Not until you mentioned it.”
“That’s good,” he replied. He bit his lip for a short moment. “I, uh, thought I’d be the one to protect you.”
I shifted around so I could sit up and face him. “You would, if I needed it.”
“I never thought about...me needing that.”
I chuckled. “Did you think this was a one-way street? Like I’m your little brother and you have to defend me from the bullies?”
He frowned lightly. “No. I guess I...maybe I don’t know what I really thought,” he said and sighed.
I stood and walked to him. I ran my fingers through his hair. I pushed his head back, forcing his eyes to tilt so he was looking at me.
“I think I know what you meant - in the good and the bad,” I said. He opened his mouth and I put a finger over his lips. “But let’s get something straight between us, Jon.” I stared at his eyes, wide and staring right back at me.
“You’re mine. I won’t let anyone mess with you, even if it is your brothers. I don’t care if I’m not as strong as you are or as good a fighter.” I squinted slightly and looked down at him. “Are we clear?”
He stood suddenly and lifted me up. I laughed slightly and wrapped my legs around him to make sure I didn’t fall.
“What if I say no?” he asked, still having to look up at me. “What if I’m the protector?”
I framed his face between my hands. “Then who protects the protector? Sorry, babe, this is a team thing. You have my back and I have yours.”
He tilted forward and I squealed as we crashed to the bed. He crawled up the bed and I retreated under him until he dropped on me, pinning me.
He looked down on me with amusement. “Yours, huh?”
“Damn right,” I said and pulled him down for a kiss.
We cleaned up and headed down for breakfast. While the list was long about the things that I really didn’t care about or that didn’t impress me at the hotel, the breakfast spread was not on it. There were fancy crystal platters set in tiers holding fresh sliced fruit and baked goods; a carousel made cereal and other things available, and a waffle-making station stood at the ready. Unlimited sausage and bacon enticed, as did a chef making eggs and other items to order. The breakfast buffet was utter heaven.
“So, what do you want to do today?” Jon asked.
“I may never stop eating breakfast,” I told him and slurped up a chunk of cantaloupe.
“So, once breakfast is over, I roll you into the exercise room? Is that what you’re saying?” he teased.
I fixed him with a look. “I’m on vacation. None of this food counts; everyone knows that.”
He laughed and I smiled at him. He seemed to be coming out of the funk he’d acquired last night. “So, I’ve been thinking about this ownership thing,” he said.
I sensed a change in his tone. He’d become playful. “Ownership thing?”
“Sure,” he said reasonably which only sharpened my suspicions. “The whole I’m yours, thing. Logically, that means you’re mine.”
I eyed him. “And?”
He puffed himself up. “I reserve the right to spoil what’s mine, as I see fit.”
I had started to shake my head halfway through his statement. “No, you’re not pulling that on me,” I said firmly. “This is a partnership.”
“That’s patently unfair,” he said.
“Jonathan,” I warned him.
He pointed at me. “Put that tone and my full name away and hear me out!”
“Full name? Hey!” I said suddenly, and sitting up straight. “What is your full name?”
“Wait, what now?” he replied, suddenly flustered.
“Your full name,” I said and leaned forward. “You brought it up, as if Jonathan was your full name.”
“I don’t think-”
“Charles - Chuck!” I said triumphantly.
“Hmm, James, then. He was a king of England, right? You’re all named for English royalty, you said.” I eyed him as he gave me an amused look.
“No, not James. I’m sure you’d call me Jonny-Jim then, as If I were from Alabama. Not happening,” Jon said before shaking his head in amusement.
“Please. You’ve seen me naked.”
“It could be your drag name,” I said reasonably as Jon gave a slight grimace. “Hmm. Edward.”
I frowned. “I’ll steal your license later.”
He rolled his eyes. “Philip.”
I leaned back and smiled. “Jonathan Philip Ellesier?”
“Yes. Happy now?”
I grinned evilly and leaned forward. “Now you listen, Jonathan Philip Ellesier! You cannot spoil at will. This is a partnership and you will respect that!”
He raised an eyebrow at me. “Sure, Mom. Whatever you say Jacob...now what is your middle name?”
I snorted. “Like Geoff didn’t give you a dossier from a private investigator.”
He laughed aloud.
“Now, do we understand each other, JP?” I asked and was rewarded with his wince.
“Never say that again,” Jon said with a groan. He reached across the table and scooped up one of my hands. “Now listen to me. You’re mine. Where I go, I want you to be. Sometimes that means spoiling, to you. To me it’s just keeping you close. I get to do that.”
Jesus. How does he do that?
“No,” Jon said firmly. “If I can keep you with me, you can’t deny me that.”
I pushed my tongue against my teeth. “On a case-by-case basis,” I relented.
He lifted his nose. “No. This one, I get, Jake. You can bitch about gifts or whatever all you want - I get this one.”
I sighed and smiled at him. “It’s not that I don’t want to be where you are, you know that. Does it have to be like this? I feel like I’m so out of place here.”
“You’re never out of place. You should be in a palace.” Jon stared at me. His lips began to turn up and I internally winced. “On a bed with silk sheets, naked and-”
“Okay, okay, you win this one. Shut up!” I whispered fiercely while trying not to laugh.
Jon smiled smugly. “Middle name?”
I rolled my eyes. “Simon.”
“Well, Jacob Simon Thayer,” he said and leaned forward in his seat. “You’re mine.”
The beep from Jon’s phone didn’t exactly kill the moment - but feeling him reach down to grab his phone while he kissed me kind of did. I just rolled my eyes and went back to my food. A few minutes later when he was still on his phone, I looked up to see him frowning.
“Everything okay?” I asked, taking another bite of scrambled egg.
“What? Uh, yeah. Just…” he put down his phone. “A friend of mine, Greg, figured I might be back in town and asked if I wanted to hang.” He fidgeted in his seat and looked down at his plate, clearly uncomfortable.
“Do you want to go?” I asked carefully, not sure if this included me or not. Would he go off without me? What would I do? Did I even want to meet any of his old friends?
“I don’t know,” he answered. “Do you? I mean, would you be okay with that?” I felt myself relax somewhat.
“Yeah, I would be if you are. Do you miss them?” I asked, curious despite myself. Jon looked away for a moment.
“When we moved I was pissed and I thought I’d miss them. I was thinking I’d move back to Boston when I turned eighteen, something like that. But, really, I was just mad. I did kind of trust Greg enough to think of him as my best friend.” He turned back to me and smiled. “But then, you know, I had to promote you. Recognizing your overtime, attitude and potential.”
I chuckled. “I liked my latest promotion. I’m going to be in this job for a long, long time.”
“Hours suck. Pay sucks. But the fringe benefits, that’s what you’re here for, right?” he asked.
I shrugged before getting back on topic. “If this guy reached out, it couldn’t hurt to see him, I guess. What does he have in mind? Is it just him?” I wasn’t keen on meeting a bunch of Jon’s old crowd or going to a stranger’s house. Jon tapped out a text and a few seconds later, his phone beeped again. This Greg guy was obviously waiting by the phone.
“Says it’s just him and he can meet us at the mall. I told him I’m spending the day with you so that comes first,” he explained. “Or I can tell him to fuck off - politely, of course.”
I sighed. “Jon, if you don’t want to see him, don’t. But stop trying to put it on me - I’m not going to make your decisions for you.” He pouted and I held up a hand. “He’s going out of his way to make this happen - couldn’t hurt to hear what he has to say. You just called him your best friend. Was he?”
“Emphasis on ‘was,’” Jon countered. But I could see him thinking on what I'd said, so I reached out and put a hand on his.
“Whatever you want to do is fine. But it’s not like a huge commitment. Whenever you want to leave, we can just walk away.”
“So I was thinking we could go down to the stores,” Jon said on our way up to the room. “After all, I have to replace that shirt of yours. You know, the one with no buttons.”
“Hmm,” I said, leaning on him while we walked.
“No going back,” Jon said firmly. “You said that one was okay.”
“Just a shirt though, right?”
Jon didn’t answer, but unlocked our door. He went in to brush and I glanced at our pile of dirty clothes and wondered if Richard and Geoff had a similar pile.
“Hey, Jon? What about your brothers?”
I heard him spit into the sink. “What? What about them?” He poked his head out of the doorway. “You want to go shopping with them? See which shirt they like on you?”
I frowned at him. “No, I -” I just shook my head. “You know what I mean - why am I explaining?”
He rolled his eyes and went back into the bathroom.
“Don’t you think someone should ask if they’re okay? I mean, didn’t you say they weren’t big fans of your uncle either?”
I heard the water running, and then he stepped out of the bathroom. “I hope you don’t expect me to kiss you without brushing.”
I raised an eyebrow at him. “You kissed me this morning without brushing,” I pointed out.
“Yeah, but you hadn’t, either. We were even.”
“I brushed this morning!”
“Sure, but now you ate breakfast,” he said as if I were particularly slow. “Now, you ate. Brush.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “You really don’t want to talk feelings with your brothers, do you?”
He sighed and looked away. “They’re adults, right?”
I crossed my arms. “They are also family. Shouldn’t we check in on family?”
He nodded. “Okay. But you’re not checking on Jeremy. He’s got his own room, and I’m not taking any chances.”
Feeling particularly devious I said, “Whoever finishes first can go see Jeremy.”
Jon’s head whipped up and his eyes got big. “You wouldn’t.”
I shrugged and grinned slyly. “You like competition, don’t you?”
A devious expression crossed Jon’s face. “Sure, especially when I can stack the deck. You get Geoff.”
My jaw dropped. “That’s...cruel!”
“I know,” he said cheerfully and gave me a friendly pat on the shoulder. “Have fun talking feelings with that one!”
Ten minutes later I was standing in front of Geoff's door. I had mixed feelings about Geoff. I knew that he’d played a large role in Jon’s life, and thus had a place in Jon’s heart. It was the nature of that role that bothered me, since he was largely an asshole. Even when he was nice, he was careful not to be too nice, just in case anyone should become confused. Yet, as each Ellesier had stated one way or another, we were family.
My experience with family was shaky. In my own opinion, Geoff wasn’t that far off from my mother, except that he'd stayed, and it hadn't been his responsibility to raise Jon. I don’t know, maybe that wasn't fair. While Richard was calm and somewhat intimidating in a more parental way, Geoff just seemed like a loose cannon. The things I did for Jon.
I knocked and waited. I looked up and down the hallway, feeling out of place. I was thinking of knocking again when the door opened a few inches and Geoff squinted out at me.
“You’re not my Grindr date,” he said, his voice scratchy.
“No. I can go get Jeremy, though, if you like,” I replied.
He snorted. “Anything else?”
I shifted on my feet. “Do you mind if I come in? I feel awkward standing outside your door.”
“Do you?” he asked and a grin spread wide across his face.
“Dick,” I muttered and pushed on the door. He retreated with a tired laugh. He was dressed in just Cornell sweatpants and, as I took in the room, it seemed like he’d been nesting there. Glasses were strewn about, liquor bottles – one empty and a couple about half drunk - were cluttering the bureau. Underwear and socks littered the floor along with a pair of jeans and, perhaps, a tee shirt.
“I’ll tell you what I told him,” Geoff said, reclining on his unmade bed and covering his eyes with his arm. “Condoms and plenty of lube. I have nothing else to offer.”
I pursed my lips. “Is that how you get by? Shock value?”
He uncovered one eye. “That didn’t sound particularly polite,” he noted.
“Neither was your comment,” I replied. I felt uncomfortable, somewhat exposed just standing by the door so I pulled a chair over a bit and dropped into it.
“Maybe. Pre-emptive more than rude, I’d say.” He covered his eye back up and groaned. “It was that last glass that did me in.”
“Have you eaten?”
“Are you trying to make me vomit?” He waved a hand. “It’ll pass.”
“How about some water?”
He raised his arm to expose one eye again. “If you’re going to be rude, wait until I’m not hung over. I’m not used to it from you.”
I nodded slowly and let a smile touch my lips. “Last night was a little dramatic,” I said slowly. “I wanted to see if you were...all right.”
He chuckled and covered his eyes again. “That’s cute. Run along and play.”
I slapped my hands on my knees and stood. “You’re right. Why should anyone check on the great jackass? I’ll ask the maid to check in later to make sure you haven’t choked on your own puke.”
He sat up quickly. “What the hell? Who do you think you are? A few rolls in the sack with my brother and you think you’re my equal? Not only fucking not true, but there’s a few girls ahead of you on that score.”
Irritation flared in me. Of course he’d bring up Jon’s past partners. I faced him and crossed my arms. “All three of you identified me as family. So I’m treating you the way Jon thinks family should be treated instead of how I think they should be treated.”
“Yeah, and part of that is knowing when to back off-”
“So that’s why you didn’t try and get him help when he needed it? Cause you were backing off?” The words were out of my mouth before I knew it.
Geoff froze, and for a moment, the room was completely silent other than the sounds of traffic outside. Then he shook his head, one side of his mouth tilting upwards in something that could have been a smile. “When did you get so combative? I liked you better when you were meek, I think.”
“Don’t have to like one another to be related. Jon wants me to be family to him, and I will. Even if it means dealing with you, from time to time.” I glared at him and he stood still, studying my face.
“Well, that’s good, then,” he said, falling back on his elbows as I turned to leave.
“Didn’t you want to know how I am?”
I looked over my shoulder. “You want to kiss my ass? Maybe I’ll try that ‘backing off’ thing.”
His lips quirked and then he burst out laughing, and just as quickly cursed and held his head. I relaxed a tad. I hadn’t expected him to laugh, but he was strange. He crawled up on the bed and propped himself up.
“So, he’s that good in bed, huh? You grew a spine over the course of getting fucked?”
“I wouldn’t tell you,” I said coolly. “You might want to find out for yourself.”
His face twisted. “Incest isn’t my thing.” He looked me over. “Despite your offer, I suppose the same stands for you.”
I pursed my lips. He tilted his head, indicating the chair; I hesitated, then retook my seat.
“So, how are you?” I asked.
He snorted in apparent amusement. “I’ll live.”
I licked my lips. “I’m sorry if I embarrassed you, though I’m not sorry for asking. Not really.”
He nodded slowly. “Pinter must really love you. He’s never told anyone about our...troubles.” He looked at me, eyes moving slightly as he studied my face. “I assume he said something to you about wondering why we hadn’t gotten him professional help sooner?”
“We talked,” I said, trying to force myself to relax in the chair and failing. “He feels you and Richard are cryptic, and he can’t get any answers. It hurts him.”
He nodded slowly, as if in thought. In a quiet voice he said, “It was a time in our lives that...lacked much in the way of control. Fuck, we were just hanging on and the biggest thing was trying to stay together. Pinter...well, he didn’t know as much. We thought we were doing him a favor, limiting what he was told. We…” he looked up, and for the first time I saw a human instead of what Geoff normally represented to me. “We thought being around family would let him heal. He was...Henry’s favorite.”
We sat in uncomfortable silence, and then I cleared my throat. “I’m sorry.”
Geoff looked up, his eyes a little bleary. “Are you? I am, too.” He hesitated. “You’ll have to protect him, now.”
I tilted my head. “Jon?”
He nodded slowly, as if still thinking. “I’m not there full-time anymore, and I suppose you could make the argument that I’m not the best influence.” He snorted and I couldn’t help but join him. Geoff fixed me with a stare, all traces of thoughtfulness gone. “I can see you’re good for each other, but let’s be clear. I tried to warn him away from you; from any same-sex attractions. I’ve dealt with...enough. He never, ever said that he had any interest...he always was been kind of a pussy hound.”
“A competitive bookend to you being an ass hound?” I offered.
“Did you learn that in psych 101?” he sneered.
I shrugged. “Just a guess. I don’t know why Jon loves me.”
“Then you’re stupid,” he snapped.
“But the fact is, Asshole, he does,” I said frostily. “I-”
“Don’t you see?” he asked in a low growl. “You gave him things we didn’t. Respect. Validation. Someone that wasn’t us to tell him he wasn’t fucked up. You think I don’t know I’ve hurt him? Do you honestly think I don’t care?”
I cleared my throat. “I honestly don’t know you, Geoff. You can be pretty nasty, though.”
“Ugh,” he said with a wave of his hand. “That’s nothing.” He stood and crossed the floor to tower over me. “Let me just say this. I know how he feels, and I can see how good it is. I know because I saw it once, for myself. Yes, don’t look so shocked,” he scoffed. “Someone was able to look past my flaws and find something worth loving - just as you did with him. I would rather die than take that away from him.”
“Then why warn him off of me?” I asked, confused.
“A few reasons, none of which are germane anymore.” He leaned forward. “If you hurt him, I’ll find you.”
I stood and stared him down. “You won’t have to look far; I’ll be right next to him. Take your best shot.”
We glared at each other for a moment and then he nodded at me. “I think you’ll do.”
I shook my head at him and turned for the door.
“Take care of him. Please.”
I didn’t reply.
Jake and I sat down at the juice bar where Greg had said he’d meet us. Greg and I had started coming here a lot just before I'd had to move. It had sort of become our spot, and I felt the memories wash over me. We had talked about stupid stuff, like girls and my teasing him about his massive crush on Mindy Bridger; or complained about school and homework. Sometimes serious stuff, like when I vented about my brothers, even once or twice when I was feeling really down and I talked about missing my parents. Richard and Geoff hated talking about them - Greg had been a good way to let that out.
I indulged those memories for a moment before pushing them aside. It was stupid to come here. I was putting my past - and Greg with it - behind me, and getting sentimental about it right now would only make it harder.
Instead, I focused on something much more important from my present. I turned to see Jake eyeing the menu suspiciously, probably wondering if this was another weird ritual of the absurdly affluent.
“Try the Blue Magic, it’s great,” I suggested.
“Sounds like some kind of drug,” he commented and narrowed his eyes at me when I laughed a little too loudly. “What’s in it? And what’s so funny?”
“Nothing, just reminded me of...something,” I deflected. Greg and I had thought the same thing - partially because it was the name of a drug in a gangster movie we’d seen. It had been a running joke between us forever. For some reason, I felt weird explaining this to Jake - like he’d get jealous or something. But that was stupid, right? “Anyway,” I squinted at the menu behind the counter. “It’s... pineapple, mango, blueberry and...banana, I think. And-”
“You think?” Jake interrupted. “How can you say it’s good but not remember what’s in it? Aren’t you the health nut?”
“If it’s here, it’s probably healthy,” I replied. “It’s a juice bar - the whole point is that it’s all organic and stuff.”
“Kind of trusting for you,” he teased. “But if it has more than four main ingredients, I don’t trust it. What are you having?”
“Hmmm,” I scanned the list, trying to find the most outrageous drink in name or ingredients, just to rile him up. “I’ll think I’ll go with ‘Fluent in French’ -” I heard him snort. “Has flax meal, almond milk, banana, walnuts…”
“Hey, Jon!” A voice familiar to me made us both turn around in our seats. Greg hadn’t changed much. His light brown hair was styled with spikes, he wore his favorite red jacket (it had been a birthday present from me) and slim cut jeans. Seeing him walking towards us, looking like he always had, things momentarily felt like old times, and I hated that I liked it. It brought me back to a time when things weren’t...complicated.
I got up and let myself be pulled into a quick hug. I admitted that at least to myself, it was good to see him again. “Greg, man, how you been?” I asked when he let go.
He shrugged. “Same old, same old. Surviving school. It’s good to see you. Anyways,” he held out a hand to my boyfriend, “I’m Greg. You must be Jake.”
“Guilty as charged,” Jake replied, accepting the handshake with a smile. Greg took a seat on my right at the counter. “So what’s on tap?” he joked. “I haven’t been here since...wow, since summer. Anything new?” He scanned the menu.
“Really? This was like your favorite place in the food court,” I asked.
He gave a funny half-smile at that. “Guess it wasn’t the same without you.” He leaned forward to look across me at Jake. “So, you’re the one who tamed our Jon. You must be someone special.”
Jake chuckled. “Why does everyone keep saying that?”
“I know, right?” I agreed. Greg raised an eyebrow at me, and I just couldn’t keep a straight face. We both cracked up.
“But seriously,” Greg resumed once we had ourselves under control and ordered our drinks. “When you hang out with an Ellesier, you don’t just get the one, you get the whole clan.” Greg shot me a meaningful look - that was something he knew all too well.
“I’ve kind of noticed,” Jake replied ruefully.
Greg smiled. “And you haven’t run off screaming? You’re either brave or crazy, but I salute you, my friend.”
“So what’s your excuse?” I asked as our drinks arrived.
Greg laughed. “Keep asking myself the same question.” No one said anything for a moment, sipping our juice and trying to find something to say before the silence turned awkward. Greg looked between me and Jake, chewing his upper lip nervously, his expression for when he was trying to find the right words for something. I could probably guess what it was.
“So….” he began, drawing out the word. I almost rolled my eyes. “Are you...uh, so how did you guys meet?” he asked, as if that was what he was planning to say all along. I let it pass.
I turned to Jake, to see if he wanted to field this one his way but he just shrugged. I’d started training him in self-defense after a dust-up with some townie trash, and in return he’d helped me improve my baking. That was how we started hanging out and things had kind of developed from there. That wasn’t how we met though, so I just answered Greg’s verbal question instead of his unspoken one. If he wasn’t going to address the elephant in the room, why should I?
“Through a mutual friend,” I replied, mirroring Jake’s shrug.
“Huh.” Greg’s eyes narrowed, noting the silent exchange. Any idiot could tell there was more to it than that, and Greg certainly wasn’t an idiot. “Well, things have a funny way of working out, I guess.” That was code for “that tells me fuck-all and you know it.”
“You know, you guys probably want to catch up, so how about I go get a head start on finding that replacement shirt?” Jake suddenly announced as he stood up, grabbing his juice.
“What? No, it’s fine, Jake,” I said, making to stand up.
“Yeah, we don’t want to make you feel awkward,” Greg added.
“Too late,” Jake replied. “Kidding!” he added. “Seriously though, you guys should be able to talk without the third wheel.”
“I thought that was my job!” Greg exclaimed with a smile. Jake laughed and waved, walking off before I could stop him. “And then there were two…”
If anything, things were more awkward after Jake left. “So…you and Mindy still a thing?” I asked, more to fill the silence than anything else.
“Nah,” he replied with a grimace. “She hooked up with Terry just before school started.”
“Oh, shit. I’m sorry, man.” Greg had been crazy about that girl. He’d crushed on her for ages like one of those bad high school romance movies until he wore her down, I guess. They had got together at the end of sophomore year. I’d been happy for him, even if I thought it was too good to be true. Guess it was.
In the old days, I would have been the first to know. That he hadn’t so much as texted to tell me was a shining example of just how much we’d fallen out of touch. “Terry? Really?”
“Really.” He took another sip. “So how did….this happen?”
“Gonna have to be a little more specific,” I gave a little smirk, knowing exactly what he meant.
Greg turned and placed his hands on either side of his glass and nodded his head slowly. “So what? You’re gay now? I mean, I guess it makes sense with all the girls now-”
“No,” I shook my head. “I still like chicks. I just like Jake more.” Yeah, it sounded kind of cliche but it kept things simple.
“Do you... like other guys?” Greg asked tentatively. “Are you like bi?” he frowned, probably trying to remember all the random labels. “Pan? Demi?”
“No,” I cut him off firmly. “If I had to go with anything, I’d probably say bi. Sorta,” I added, thinking back to the guy outside Geoff’s room this morning. Wasn’t really ready to answer his first question yet.
Greg sighed. “I’m sorry, man. It’s just kind of out of left field, you know? You go pretty much radio silent for a bit, then start posting photos of you and a ‘boyfriend.’ Everyone thought you were just kidding since you were the school slut.”
Right...those. I’d posted the odd Instagram of me and Jake hanging out. I'd told myself that referring to him as my “boyfriend” in a few of them was some kind of big step. A guilty part of me had figured, maybe kind of hoped, that it would look like I was just messing around.
“I thought you were joking 'cause I knew you’d tell me about something like that.” The bitter edge in his voice surprised me. I felt a little guilty - and hated it.
“You could have just asked,” I snapped.
“Yeah, I tried!” Greg snarled. He pushed his glass away and stood before me. “You never replied to my texts or anything. I even tried to fucking Skype you once.” I winced, suddenly remembering. Yeah, he might have tried a couple times - I’d meant to get back to him, really. Just hadn’t been sure what to say.
“I don’t know what you expected me to say,” I mumbled and walked away from the counter. There are moments when a hush unexpectedly settles in and something that would normally not have been easy to hear becomes the only thing you hear.
“How about just telling your friend you fell in love? Or do I not qualify anymore?”
I stopped suddenly, my foot catching as I stumbled briefly. Guilt built up in me like an overflowing sewer and it pissed me off to feel it. Dealing with shit like this — emotions — was never my strong suit. I turned to face Greg, acid on my tongue and all my bullshit died on my lips. Anything I’d been about to spew was stillborn as I saw a look on his face I’d forgotten he could have. Of all my old group, Greg had been different. We’d gone to different grammar schools, not meeting until 7th grade. At the time, I’d not really taken any note of him, but after my parents died I’d been looking everywhere for a fight. Something I could control, maybe. Or destroy.
With Greg, though, I’d protected him. I’d seen him having to take crap, and I justified things to myself by thinking I hadn’t liked the guys who were dishing it out to him anyway. One day, I’d stepped in and changed the balance of power in Greg’s favor. The next day, he’d sat down with me at lunch and gave me a candy bar from the snack machine. Such are middle school alliances forged. Even though I hadn’t cared about Greg at the time, or so I thought or told myself, he became a good friend. As good as I’d known I could have then, anyway. Looking back, though, Greg had never snarked about my family. While others had kept their distance to a degree either because of my attitude or Geoff looming in the background, Greg had stuck all that out.
And so, fuck me, I’d hurt him. I put a hand over my eyes and looked down slightly. “I blame Jake,” I said.
I uncovered my eyes and took a fresh look at my old friend. He still looked dejected, but curious. Maybe my damage here wasn’t irreparable. Before, the old me probably would have just let it stay like that. A decaying relationship that was behind me. I’m not sure when Jake did this to me, but that wasn’t who I was anymore. Not entirely, anyway.
“I… Jake has made me more...aware, I guess.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said quickly. “This isn’t exactly something I’m used to so...give me a second to try and get — you know what? Fuck it.” I locked eyes with him. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know how anyone would react. I wasn’t sure about a whole lot of things. I don’t know if I would have handled...been able to handle you rejecting me for what I have with Jake.” I sighed. “You’re right. I was the school slut. For whatever reason, you saw something worth knowing in me, and Jake’s the only other person who ever did that.”
Greg pursed his lips momentarily and cleared his throat. “I just thought...we were tight. I knew you had my back and I tried like hell to have yours.”
I sighed and glanced away. “I know. I should act like I know, too.”
Greg shook his head and smiled, just a little. “You know, I kind of thought this would end up with us yelling at each other. Maybe this Jake is a good thing for you.”
I locked my eyes to Greg’s and nodded slowly. “He is, dude.” I paused and tilted my head to one side. “I’m still the lovable asshole you knew but...he makes me better.”
He smiled a little wider and nodded. “So, what now? I guess you’re not coming back to school here. Do we just shake hands, walk away and call it a friendship?”
I felt an unexpected spike of fear at the statement. Shamefully, I guess I’d been ready to just let Greg drift away, but if I had to actually make a choice — and clearly Greg did not care who I was interested in — then I didn’t want to lose him.
“If you can forgive me, you know-” I said with a roll of my hand.
“One condition,” he said, holding up a finger. I waited as he paused for emphasis before saying, “We don’t do this again. None of this bullshit.”
I reached out a hand and he copied me. I grabbed him by the forearm and pulled him tight for a one armed hug.
“Looks like you guys worked things out,” Jake said.
I glanced over and the corner of my mouth lifted in amusement. “Yeah. Jealous?”
Jake glanced at Greg critically and shook his head. “Nah. His tits are too small for me to worry about.”
We paused for a beat and started laughing.
“I don’t know, Jake,” Greg said with a chuckle. “I’ve been told I have a pretty good looking ass.”
“Maybe, but not lately, right? I mean, he moved and I’m dating him, now,” Jake said with a sly grin as he sidled up to me.
“Hey! Wait a second!” I exclaimed, surprised that he’d turned that on me.
“So I found a shirt,” Jake said, ignoring my annoyance. “You want to come look?”
“Uh, sure,” I said, glancing at Greg.
“I gotta jet, anyway,” Greg said but Jake began to protest.
“No, no way,” Jake said emphatically. “You have to hang out with us tonight. I want to know all Jon’s dirty secrets and you, my friend, are a goldmine.”
“Excuse me?” I asked and laughed at Jake.
Greg smiled and said, “Well, it’s true I know where a few bodies are buried.”
“Well, let’s get this shirt out of the way, and then we can go back to the hotel for dinner and we can watch something in the room or whatever. What do you think, Jon?”
I shrugged and smiled at Greg. “Want to hang with me and my boyfriend?”
Greg nodded slowly. “Yeah. That would rock.”
“So, Greg,” I said and put an arm around Jake’s shoulders. “How did Terry manage to get his mitts on Mindy?”
“Ugh,” Greg grumbled as we headed down the hallway. “She became obsessed with getting thin. Terry...um, broadened his merchandise. They started to trade.”
“Oh, ouch. Sorry, bro.”
“Merchandise?” Jake asked. It was easy to forget he wasn’t used to the things I was. Had been. Whatever.
“Terry O’Guinn used to deal some pills, mostly stuff from people’s medicine cabinets. He got into harder stuff last summer.” Greg sighed. “He got pinched last week, but Mindy’s already hooked.”
“I’m sorry,” Jake replied.
A moment later I snorted softly. “Why’d she want to lose weight? I mean, she wasn’t screaming hot but she pushed all your buttons.”
Greg shrugged. “It’s what most people want, I guess. I liked her like she was.”
I shook Jake lightly. “Greg has always liked a girl with some meat on her bones.”
“Oh?” Jake asked, his expression turning thoughtful. “Greg, think you might come visit us in the Springs over a break or next summer?”
“Oh, dude!” I said and turned to Greg with a smile. “It would be a total country vacation for you! Without all the crap you’re used to you wouldn’t last a week!”
“Bullshit! You made it,” he said and snorted in punctuation. He glanced at Jake. “What do you guys do for fun? I mean, you know, besides each other?”
The clock read ten thirty, but sleep eluded me. I was bummed out that the vacation was over and I was back in my own bed, alone. I’d learned a lot over the course of those few days, though, and I felt like Jon and I were stronger than ever. Strong enough that we had to turn our attention to thinking about colleges and what we’d do after high school ended. I caught movement from the corner of my eye and turned to look, but it was only the number having advanced to ten thirty-one.
I reflected on the previous night. Greg had been fun and he’d shared some stories of Jon, frankly, being a dickhead. There were also the stories that revealed the better Jon; the one who helped and defended. The one who’d been a confidant and was relied on to be there for someone else. Once Greg had departed the temperature in the room changed, though, and Jon grew quite amorous. Clothes were shed and I was excited, thinking about what was shortly to come.
Jon, though, had wanted to take that next step. He said he felt rotten bringing it up because he wasn’t sure he could submit the way he was asking me to, but I wasn’t that surprised. I told him I was okay with going first. The reality of my first time versus expectations was a little all over the place. It was uncomfortable to start with, as I’d been warned. Jon didn’t lose it quickly, though, perhaps because he’d had some experience. Overall, it was a good experience, one I was glad I’d shared with and given to Jon.
Once he’d finished and then taken me in his mouth to bring me off, we’d lain in the dim lighting, panting. I figured we’d talk about it sometime, but right then I didn’t feel the need. Jon had just napalmed any remaining bridge to his being strictly heterosexual, and he had made a lot of declarative statements about how good I’d felt to him.
Of course, losing one’s virginity before having to sit for an extended ride home the following day had been shortsighted. Jon had gotten me to stretch out in the back seat while he rubbed my feet and we’d talked lightly. Kind of made me horny just thinking about it. My musing was interrupted by my phone buzzing on the nightstand. I lifted it up to see a text from Jon.
No. What are you doing awake?
He sent me a picture of himself in bed, his head and shoulders. Wish you were here.
Mmm. Me, too.
You’re supposed to send me a picture, too. Come on.
I pulled my tee shirt off and sent an overhead selfie back, copying his. Like this?
No. You can’t copy. Come on! Don’t tease me!
I thought for a moment and then pulled the sheets back and took a picture of my bare feet.
Now we’re talking, he said with a smiley emoji.
Your turn. I grinned to myself.
God, I wish you were here. The image was of his erection.
I will say this for my boyfriend: he is going to keep things interesting.
I hope you enjoyed the resolution of the Js storyline. Did you know there are email links at the top of each chapter to tell us what you thought? Did you know you can donate to the site for the upkeep and presentation of all the stories hosted at the top of the main page? Did you know you can buy your very own paperback copy of Wayward Son by Dabeagle? Did you know you can commission stories about your favorite characters?The more you know, you know?