In the morning Derry texted to say Delia had thrown his 'costume', the jeans, into the pool because she 'thought she was funny'. As a result, he'd had to throw them in the washer just before leaving for school and would have to go home to retrieve them before we could work on our session.
I was starting to hope Delia never wanted to be my friend.
At the end of the day I headed to Mrs. Wallace's room to pick up my drawing from the competition. They'd only stayed up for a week or so, people had voted and they'd announce the winner soon. I had a feeling this would be one of those things that would be kind of lame in that everyone who participated would get passes to the museum, but on the other hand it would mean I was getting one so I could live with it.
"Hi, Jack," Mrs. Wallace greeted me. "Here to claim your work?"
"Yep," I replied, rolling front to back on my feet.
She smiled. "We had some great work this year. The folders are over on the cabinet; just look for your name on the front of the folder."
"Thanks," I said and walked toward the back corner of the room where large, flat drawer cabinets were kept. The art folders were pretty large to accommodate the roughly poster-sized drawings, paintings and other art styles in the competition. I flipped through the folders, but didn't see mine. I checked again, reading the names carefully and finally opening each folder in case mine was placed incorrectly. Well, what the heck? I leaned over to try and look behind the cabinet in case it had fallen.
"Something wrong?" Mrs. Wallace asked as she walked toward me.
"Mine is missing," I said, growing frustrated. I was thinking I wanted to remove the black hair and put the red hair that belonged on the sketch instead, but first I had to find the damn thing.
"Missing? That's odd," she said with a concerned tone as she crossed the room to join me. "Was it accidentally placed in the wrong folder? Or fall behind the cabinet somehow?"
"I don't see it," I said dejectedly.
"It will turn up. I'll look for it, Jack," she said sympathetically. Unfortunately just because an adult says they'll make a good faith effort, it doesn't mean you'll get what you hoped for.
"Okay, thanks, Mrs. Wallace," I said and trudged from the room. I kept turning the image over in my head, trying to figure out what could have happened to it. It just didn't make any sense! Could it have fallen between the classroom and the hallway it had been displayed in?
I looked up, realizing I'd walked on auto-pilot to my car where Luke was waiting. This was getting to be a Benson family tradition.
"Hi, Luke," I replied, still half wondering about my drawing. "What's up?"
"I, um, just wanted to talk for a second. Do you have time?"
I thought about Derry, briefly, but he'd said it would take him at least an hour - he had to dry his pants. Why didn't he just throw them in the dryer instead of washing them, I wondered?
"Oh, sorry," I said. "I'm a little preoccupied. Um. What...oh." Of course I knew what he wanted to talk about. "You know, Luke, we agreed to pretend it never happened. Let's just let it go, okay?"
"I can't," Luke replied, his voice scratchy. "I know I'm doing this mostly for me - it's selfish. I feel like crap, Jack. I don't deserve your compassion, but...I'm going to ask you to hear me out anyway."
He looked at me cautiously, waiting for my response. My chest tightened with tension, but not rooted in desire or because he was so cute. He was attractive, as always, but for some reason the lens I'd looked at him through for so long was broken. I shrugged. "I'm not sure what the point would be, Luke, but if it'll make you feel better...go ahead."
He let out a breath and nodded slowly. "When my mom cheated on my dad, my whole life came apart - or it felt like it. Suddenly my parents were fighting in a way that was obvious to me, still just a little kid. I lost my house, my school, my friends from school and the neighborhood." His eyes got big and he let out another large breath, this one a bit unsteady. "We moved into this strange place and I was really, really anxious. I can remember the feeling, like there was a huge hand squeezing my chest."
"I can't remember much from being a kid," I confessed, just to...I don't know, say something.
He looked at me steadily. "Then Jared brought you home after his first day at school. You became a fixture in our house, and in my life - though I don't really recall feeling that way. It was just normal to have you there. It felt like, after a time, I'd gained another brother. You played with me, fought with me, and protected me like Jared did. As we got older, I can honestly say I got spoiled because I had two great brothers."
A shiver flashed through my chest; the after effects of a passing bout of nerves and other irritating emotions. "I don't know what to say," I told him.
"I don't want you to say anything," he said quietly. "I told you, I know I'm being selfish. This is about me because I feel like crap. I feel like crap because I hurt one of the only people in the world that loves me for me." He took a half step closer. "Jack, I don't see you like that because you're too close to me. I'm a little - a lot - screwed up about relationships. I get...more and more anxious as they go on. I feel way better once I break things off. I can't imagine life without you, so it never occurred to me that there was anything between us other that what I saw. Or thought I saw."
I swallowed. "I never realized you felt I was that important."
He smiled. "There aren't many people that will get into a fistfight on my behalf."
I nodded slowly and looked at him steadily. "Does Jared know?"
He looked away slightly. "What doesn't he know?"
I sighed and looked away. "Great. How angry is he?"
"Angry? He's not angry - not with you. Why would you think that?"
I frowned and looked back at his face, creased in confusion. "He was kind of angry when you came out. Demanded to know why you hadn't told him. Ringing any bells?"
He stood looking at me, blinking a few times and then smiled slowly. "You think he'll be mad at you for not telling him you're gay?"
I shuffled on my feet, suddenly uncertain. "Yeah. He was really hurt, with you."
"Jack," he said, his old smile crossing his face. "He knows."
I stared at him. "I figured he knows, now. You just said so."
Luke got a weird look on his face, something that I'd almost expect as a precursor to his cooing that I was cute or something. "He's known for a long time."
Luke's expression shifted to something that looked a bit rueful. "He knew you liked me. He told me he respects that you never acted on it, just because of the potential for things to be messy. "
I turned and leaned against my car, trying to catch up. I had been stressing forever, afraid how upset he would be at me for not telling him. I glanced at Luke. "How is it he's not angry with me for not telling him?"
Luke leaned on my car beside me. "He came to talk to me a few nights ago. I've been feeling really guilty about how I acted when we went to the concert." He glanced up at me and his cheeks tinged red. "I never wanted to hurt you like that, Jack."
"It's okay," I told him. "I'm fine."
He nodded and his lips turned up a bit. "Jared and I had a pretty good talk, once he got me to open up. I think he's probably right, even though I won't tell him."
"Right about what?"
"First, that my parents' divorce has screwed me up in terms of having a relationship with someone." He grimaced slightly. "I've dated some seriously cute, nice guys. Except Josh. Josh is a pecker head."
I tilted my head side to side, not speaking.
"I keep breaking up with them, though, because the relationship...I won't say it scares me, exactly, but it makes me increasingly nervous and...anxious. Dorky. Stupid."
"You're not stupid," I said automatically.
"Yeah," he said with a sigh. "I am. Appreciate the vote of confidence, though." He cleared his throat. "He also thought we'd be a good couple."
I turned to look at him in shock. "He said what?"
Luke shifted uncomfortably. "He was giving his blessing, I guess." He looked up at me, his smile gone and mournful expression on his face. "I'm sorry, Jack. Can you...Look, I can't pretend we'll ever be together, but, well, will you be able to even try to be my friend anymore?"
There it was. The final nail in the coffin of the dreams I had of Luke - of an us. He was looking at me nervously, but he shouldn't have. I would always come running. Not because of how he looked, but for who he was to me. I sighed and put a hand on his shoulder. "I'll always be here for you, Luke. Brothers, right?"
He turned toward me, hugging me. I held him and he hitched in my arms. I'd once longed to hold him, to feel the warmth of him in my arms. I can't say that emotion was entirely dead. A part of me mourned that this would be the only way I'd ever hold him; the better part of me knew this was enough. He was in pain, perhaps feeling some relief and I'd hold him until his pain had passed.
I dropped Luke at his home and headed over to mine to meet Derry. He was sitting on my stoop and I started to apologize as I climbed from my car. "I went to the art classroom to get my poster - I was going to change the hair color - and my poster is missing!" I said to him as I passed him to put my key in the door. "Then Luke was waiting for me by my car and he was apologizing and we had a little talk."
"Little?" Derry asked.
I glanced at him, embarrassed. "It lasted longer than I realized. I'm sorry I'm late."
Derry shrugged as if disinterested, but it felt wrong, somehow.
"Is something wrong? I mean, besides having to wait for me?"
"No. Why?" he asked. "I should change. I brought the pants."
"Um, okay. Come on, the bathroom is down the hall."
I told him where my room was for when he was done and asked if he wanted a drink. I detoured to the kitchen to get us iced teas and then headed into my room. I sharpened a few pencils as I waited for him, then studied the room to try and figure out where he could stand so the light would be close to what it was when we worked in his room.
"Jesus, Jack. You have a maid?" Derry asked as he padded into the room. His shirt, jeans, socks and sneakers were wrapped into a bundle under his arm.
"Uh, no," I said, my face feeling warm. "I just...picked up. You know. Guest." And now I've lost the ability to form sentences.
He placed his things on the end of my bed, but gave me a curious look.
"What?" I asked.
"Let's see where we left off," he said, moving toward my desk where my sketchbook lay. He started to flip through it, turning toward the page we were working on. I walked over to a shelf where I kept some of my supplies and picked up an eraser to use for removing the clothes I'd sketched over him the last time we'd done this.
I turned, eraser in hand. "What?"
He looked at me, smile on his face. "I don't look like this!" He started to chuckle and I glanced down at the drawing of him in the deck chair.
I looked up at him and frowned slightly. "Yes, you do. That's the best drawing I've ever done and I bet anyone would recognize you as the model."
His eyes grew a bit wider and he looked at the drawing and back to me. "You really think I look this...good? I mean, I don't."
I felt flushed again, but answered. "It's not what I think you look like. This is what I see when I look at you." Wait, that sounded kind of flirty. "I mean. Anyone can look at the pictures. Umm. Can see this is you."
He looked at me again with that curious expression, one I couldn't really figure. Clearing his throat he said, "Well, it's a great drawing. I really like it."
I smiled widely. "Thank you."
"So, uh, where should I stand?"
I directed him and got him in his stance, then shifted him to a better position. Once set I let him get a sip of his drink before I started to erase the swim trunks and add in the skinny jeans. The basics weren't hard, since they were essentially form fitting and I was just covering the legs that were on display to start with. After the shorts were gone, though, I was lost in recreating the subtle creases in the material where his knees were bent and near his groin. That part was a little distracting.
"Jack, I know it's only been forty-five minutes, but I need a break," he said.
I glanced at the clock. Jesus, time flew. "Okay. I can work on this texture without you posing," I said. I set the sketchbook down on my desk and picked up another pencil and began adding in the texture of the jean material as it wrapped closely around his legs. I was aware of him padding from the room, and dimly I heard the toilet flush, but it was as if it were from a great distance and all that mattered in the world was getting the form of his leg encased in the black denim just right.
From the cuff I worked up, then came back down to reinforce the texture. Now that I knew he wanted to do this bad-boy rocker kind of thing, I knew I'd have to draw in the toes, but that would wait until I had him posed again. I darkened the line up the side of his leg where the seam lay, following the same idea with each empty belt loop.
"Hi, Jack - oh! I didn't know you had company!"
I blinked a few times as if coming out of a deep sleep and turned to face my father who leaned in my doorway, tie loosened and his shirt untucked.
"Um, I'm Derry," the redhead said from his perch on the end of my bed. When had he come back?
"Nice to meet you," my dad said to him. "I was thinking about ordering Chinese, Jack. What do you think?"
I frowned lightly, still thinking of my drawing. "Isn't it a little early?" I asked.
My dad raised an eyebrow, looked at Derry who blushed a tad and then looked back to me. "It's after five, Jack. I know models look like they don't eat, but I'm fairly sure we should feed Derry."
"Oh! Uh, you don't - I should call home," Derry said, standing up. It clicked for me, all of a sudden, what my dad was seeing - his gay son in a room with another boy, a shirtless one. He thought we - no, he saw me drawing. Did he think I was faking or something?
"Derry," I said, turning to look at him. "Can you stay? I'm making a lot of progress. See?"
Derry glanced at my dad and padded over to look over my shoulder. "Jesus, Jack. That's really cool. I can't believe that's me."
I frowned. "Why do you keep saying that? These drawings look like you - just like you!"
Derry looked at me, his eyes moving in tiny increments, studying my face. I looked back at him, wondering what he was looking for. Did I seem arrogant to him, thinking my drawings were good enough to really look like him? Maybe that was it.
"Derry, Chinese?" My dad asked.
Derry smiled. A little one, but I think it was very genuine. "I guess we have work to do. Thank you, I'll just call my mom to make sure it's okay."
"Sounds good. Oh, and Jack? Door open, buddy," he said before double tapping the door frame and walking back down the hall.
"Why did he - oh for the love of....!" I turned to look at Derry who was blushing, but laughing.
"I think your dad made a few assumptions," he said, snickering. He flopped on my bed like he owned it, and I liked the idea of his feeling suddenly comfortable. He reached into his bundle of clothes to fish out his cell phone. I felt awkward, big shock I know, and turned back to my drawing. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a distraction as I'd reached the point of having to refine the crotch, and I was suddenly reminded of what was under there. I hate getting a boner when sitting down.
"I'm good for dinner. Think you can drop me off later?" Derry asked.
"Uh, yeah. No problem." I picked up my room temperature tea and sipped.
"Jack," Derry said, resting on his elbows as he continued to stretch out on his stomach. "Can I ask you a weird question?"
"Sure. Best kind of question, if you ask me." I paused. "And I think you just did."
He chuckled. "You're so funny. But seriously...after Luke and I broke up and we...kissed.... Was it only because of Luke?"
My tongue suddenly felt too thick for my mouth. "You mean, umm, would I have done it without you breaking up?"
He frowned slightly. "Not exactly how I'd have said it, but let's go with that."
I shook my head. "How would you have said it?" Before I he could reply I stood up. "When it's just us you have this way of just cutting out everything else and being direct with me. What is the actual question?"
His frown increased. "I'm direct when we're alone because, much as I might say otherwise, I'm still kind of stung by the way you ghosted on me."
Jesus I'm so stupid. "Okay," I said, feeling reprimanded. "There are some advantages to you being direct with me, though. I don't want to misunderstand the question."
Derry rolled his eyes. "Never mind."
"Derry," I said, taking a step closer.
"I'm ready again," he said, standing back up and regaining his pose. I refused to be dissuaded.
"Derry," I said softer and moving another step closer. "What is the actual question? Please?"
He ignored me for a moment and then dropped the pose to look at me, arms crossed over his chest. "I just wanted to know if you actually liked me, or if kissing me was all about Luke."
I nodded in understanding. "I kissed you as a rebound because of Luke," I said. He turned his face away from me and I took another step closer to him. "But I actually like you. I mean...really. Really. Like. You."
He kept his gaze down as he turned a little red in the face. His gaze slowly shifted until he was looking at me. "And the drawings? Do you really think I look like that?"
I nodded. "It probably sounds arrogant, but they are the best work I've ever done. I think they represent you as perfectly as I can manage."
He coughed lightly. "That, uh, picture from the side of my pool."
"In the deckchair," I supplied.
"Yeah, that. Uh. My body isn't like...I mean, that drawing makes me look pretty...."
"Yeah. But you are pretty. Or handsome. Cute. Whatever word you want." I frowned again. "I don't understand. Is there something wrong with the drawing?"
He didn't answer, but took a step closer to me, leaving only a few inches between us. His eyes were doing that thing again, making tiny adjustments as he looked at my face. Something was happening. I felt like understanding what, exactly, was just out of reach. Then he moved forward, covering the small space between us and laid his lips on mine. I jerked in surprise and he pulled back.
"Wait!" I said urgently, still confused. "I...don't know what...kiss me again?"
He tilted his head a bit to one side and away, but kept his gaze on me. Hesitantly he leaned forward and I met him in the middle. His arms looped around me and I returned his grasp, pulling him by his flanks and enjoying the feel of his skin beneath my fingers as our lips pressed, opened, delved forward and then broke to start again.
"I see the open doors will not be a barrier, huh?" my dad said causing us both to leap apart.
"Uh." That was me, articulate as ever.
Derry looked at me, his expression wild eyed.
"We were...umm." That was Derry, and he wasn't helping.
"Making out, I know," he said wryly. "I'm not so old as to have forgotten. At least your pants are still on, Derry. Put on a shirt for dinner, okay? Food's here."
He double tapped the door frame again and headed back down the hall.
"Holy shit," Derry said and then let out a nervous chuckle as he sat down on the edge of my bed. "I didn't know if you were out to your parents."
I sighed. "I guess the only one I was fooling about it being a secret was myself."
After a beat of silence Derry asked, "Should I go?"
I looked at him, a crease of concern on his forehead. I didn't want to ask him why. I wanted to tell him what I wanted. That wasn't easy. What did the kiss mean? The questions? I was nervous, but I wanted to find out. "I don't want you to. I mean, I guess I understand if you're uncomfortable, but I'd like you to stay."
He titled his head back a bit and his expression softened. "Well, I guess I better put a shirt on, then."
"Only for dinner," I said.
"I normally wear a shirt, you know. I'm not just going to strip for you," he said, teasing.
I blushed. "I meant for your sketch."
"I know." He said. He opened his mouth as if to say something else, then shook his head and plucked his shirt from the end of the bed and pulled it on. My mind swirled with questions, wonder and a wish that my father hadn't interrupted.
Dinner with my dad was unusual. I can talk to either of my parents, but they can't seem to talk to each other. My dad could have gone for the embarrassment points of talking safe sex or something equally vomit-inducing, but he asked about our days, talked about customers he'd dealt with at the store that day, asked Derry about himself and how we met. Derry deftly left out our first kiss and instead said he'd been impressed with my art on display at the school and had talked to me about doing a sketch for him. It was true, or true enough for parental discussion.
After we ate I rinsed our plates and put them in the dishwasher.
"Your so clean. Neat freak," Derry teased.
"What? Who?" my dad asked playfully as he rinsed his plate.
"Jack is," Derry replied, smiling at me devilishly. "He cleans up after both of us after dinner, his room is spotless - neat freak."
My dad straightened up and looked at me. "Huh," he said. Shaking his head he added, "Nah."
I frowned and looked at Derry and back to my dad. "What?"
He shrugged with exaggeration. "It's just - don't worry about it. I'm being silly."
"Okay, okay!" he said, chuckling and drying his hands on a dishtowel. "It's just...I woke you up yesterday and that room was a sty, but now it's clean and Derry is in it...connection? Maybe?"
I stared at him balefully. "I'm going back to my drawing, now."
He smiled unrepentantly. "Okay. Door open, please."
I sighed in mortification and Derry followed me back to my room, snickering.
"How do you find this funny?" I asked as I flopped into my chair and started sharpening my pencils.
"My parents don't really acknowledge my sexuality. Tonight, I think I learned to be grateful for that!" he said, his snickers breaking down into laughter.
"Come on," I said with a sigh. "I'll get your feet and then the torso."
"Should I have the microphone? It gets surprisingly heavy after a while."
"Yeah," I said, not looking at him. I wasn't drawing his hands tonight, but if he wants to tease me, I can get even.
Once again I lost myself in my drawing. A stranger might look at this scene and think it was solely the subject of my art, but they would be wrong. Not completely wrong, because this subject brought out a fire in my work that had been lacking. It was more real than my drawings where I used Luke as a base or Jared. They had never outright posed for me, so much was drawn from memory, but Derry was different. I wanted to capture the beauty of him, not in a sexual sense necessarily. Art could have some sex appeal and still be beautiful. Bringing Derry's aesthetic out with each stroke of the pencil, from the musculature that was not imposing yet still provided undoubtable masculinity, to the sharp cut of his cheek; how the mix of shades in his red hair played against the intelligent fire of his eyes. Everyone, seen through the proper lens, has these points of beauty - and I was seeing Derry clearer than I'd ever seen anyone. Drawing the edge of each aureole was both creative and arousing. Shading the hollow of his collar thrilled me with the detail inherent with the light and dark, yet filled me with a desire to kiss that same hollow.
From feature to feature my pencil jumped, teasing my lips by recreating what I could not taste. Fingers beginning to cramp, I laid down my pencils for the evening. Derry relaxed, stretching and then sitting on the edge of my bed.
"How much longer do you think before it's done?" he asked.
I looked down at the drawing, pleased with the progress, but not satisfied with the details as of yet. "A few more sessions at most," I said as I studied my work. "I'll want to focus on your fingers, next. Then toes. Then it'll be about shading, adding color and final details. Yeah, one or two more at most."
He stood and walked over to stand by me and look down on my work. "I had no idea you were this good, Jack."
I hesitated and then looked up at him. "I wasn't."
He smiled, his face flushing slightly. He pulled on his shirt and then slipped his socks and shoes back on. "Mind driving me home, Jack?"
"You have to leave?" I asked, disappointed.
He paused for a moment. "No. I don't. Want to listen to some music with me?"
"Yeah," I said, feeling good that he was staying. "I do."Next Chapter Previous Chapter