With the car stuffed with luggage and people we set off in the wee hours for the long ride to Cincinnati and the meeting with the specialist who would evaluate the potential to restore Devyn's voice. Devyn slept on the seat beside me, his head pushed into his pillow against the door. I sat in thoughtful silence as my uncle navigated our car to the highway and set us on our path.
My cousin is my hero. I know that may sound odd. People identify parents, sometimes, or people who run into burning buildings or throw themselves on hand grenades as heroes. Maybe even more common is someone from sports, but even though athletic prowess is somewhat rare, it didn't work for me in terms of being heroic; ironic since I'm such a sports nut. People are right, of course, that the world has a lot of heroes. Not enough, mind, but they are out there. My personal hero, though, is my cousin.
Frank, whom I never refer to as my father, wasn't a decent person. When I was younger I repeated some of the things he'd said, took up some of his attitudes. You could say I didn't give it a great deal of thought. What changed at first was my mom getting breast cancer. I was worried about her, and maybe that was part of her in me, but I tried to take care of her and be more...helpful isn't the word, but it's as close as I can think of right now. My.... Frank was so mean to her it really confused me. Who was this guy to say things like that to her? Couldn't he see she was suffering? It opened my eyes to the kind of person he really was, and I began to think for myself and analyze the things he said and did. I found those things to be...lacking.
Devyn and I had played together some as kids, but we didn't live that close, so we usually only got together for family stuff—the 4th, cookouts, that sort of thing. I was a year behind him in school, so I had my own group of friends that didn't really mix with his. All that changed when my mother decided I needed a few days away from my own house and the toxicity there. We didn't really talk about it afterward because it was kind of moot after those events—Frank ended up shooting her. Her plan had been to leave him that weekend. I'm not sure if he knew or not. I'd been unsure about leaving her alone, and I hadn't known her plans beforehand. All I knew was Frank had sneered about 'Dale's Nancy-Boy' for some time and that was what I 'knew' of Dev at that point.
Frank had been waving the gun around and my cousin, who hadn't seen me very much and hardly knew me, shoved me out the door to get me out of the line of fire. Now, Dev isn't a big guy, and if I'd known he was going to push I could have stopped him, but I thought about that sometimes. If he hadn't, would my mom have still gotten shot? If I'd stayed, would he have shot me as well? Frank was aiming the gun at me, at the time, and didn't want me to leave. I don't know what was really going on in his head, though I've thought about it from time to time.
If I'm feeling any sort of sympathy for him, which is rare beyond rare, I think he must have felt like he'd lost control of his life. In his mind his wife wasn't a woman anymore, after her double mastectomy, and his son was being taken from the house by his wife's instruction to spend time with his gay cousin. To an asshole like Frank, that was intolerable.
From that day forward Devyn has been a steadying influence in my life. It's actually funny if you think about it for a minute. I'm a jock and in some ways I fulfill the stereotypes we've all heard. My primary stereotypical trait is being dense as to what's going on around me as far as other people and emotions go. But as a jock, you'd think I'd look up to more accomplished jocks. Bigger, stronger, faster. None of that is my cousin.
He's diminutive in stature, coming in at about 5'6”. He used to play sports but is now heavily into music and plays flute in the school's competition band. Flute, for God's sake! He's gay, has a great boyfriend and also gets greasy working on cars. He's such a great example of how you just can't box people up and tag them. He's pretty practical, I think, and generous and intelligent. He always, always has time for me and my dumb ass and he never puts me down. He may tell me I'm wrong or that I screwed up, but he never puts me down when he does it.
He believes there's a core good nature in me like no one ever has, and when I'm at my lowest I try to remember that. I look up to him, figuratively. That someone so formidable and remarkable and...flat out superior as he is believes in me has pulled me out of some dark places. In so many ways he provides the foundation a father should have, something at which Frank failed at as stunningly as Devyn succeeded.
I think the key is he doesn't really try to do that. He leads me by example and doesn't tell me what to do unless I ask him. He lets me know he's there for me and hasn't ever been in my face. He lets me make mistakes and then helps me figure out what the lesson was rather than judging me. He's some strange hybrid of brother, father and friend, but merely calls himself my cousin.
For all that, and with as many emotions as I've had, I'd never developed romantic feelings for him. I'd crushed on many, many people on my journey to accepting that I was bisexual. I think all that time was well spent overall, because I had a much better idea of the kind of person I wanted in my life and, ahem, in my bed. Devyn is good looking, kind of pretty I guess, and his features are only enhanced by his height. Griffin is a preppier version of Devyn, physically, though Dev definitely has more muscle definition.
I'd had a chance to really examine my attractions in detail with both of them, too. I'd accidentally seen them fucking and been unable to look away. It had been completely arousing to watch them and I thought about that from time to time. It took me ages to figure it out, but after all my own sexual experiences, I realized that what they unknowingly put on display that night was not all about the physical which was easily observed. What made the scene sensual and alluring was the emotion behind the physical passion. It made me aware how desire, rooted in lust burned out. Desire, rooted in love and assisted by lust, well, look out.
Of course the reason Devyn was tired today wasn't strictly due to the early hour. It was attributable to me and the dumb things I got myself into and the fact that he would never do any less than to keep me from falling in on myself. In a way, I knew the fight had been coming. I was getting a little better at reading some people some of the time. Yet when people are angry or emotional with me, I still struggle to find the appropriate response.
It took a few weeks after my mother's funeral for whispers to start to reach me. Nik, who'd been staying over as many Friday and Saturday nights as possible since her passing, had been talking to some people. I have no idea how it had come to pass. I couldn't see it as him randomly walking down a hallway and making declarative statements. It seemed he was trying to stake a claim and to warn others from me.
I'm not so crass as to think he didn't have some grounds, but I also knew I'd been clear from the start of whatever we were doing that I wasn't in any shape to start anything serious with anyone. I realize, of course, sex is serious, or should be, and that was the sticking point, so to speak. Sex with Nik was good because I could stop thinking about everything around me and just feel. I had been honest about that and had tried my best not to be misleading. Nik was very much in love with my body, which was thrilling to a point, but it fueled him in every decision he made in and out of the bedroom.
For example, even though we'd agreed to sleepovers and, tacitly, sex during those sleepovers, I'd also been clear I couldn't become emotionally involved. I wasn't trying to be a dick; it was quite the opposite. I wanted to let him know that I didn't want to cause pain and confusion, and if it meant no sex then I was fine with that. I was not motivated by sex, at least not in this case. Nik, though, was in a different place. Warning bells sounded the first morning he left me as a sticky mess in my bed. He'd agreed to us not being a couple, just sleepovers—friends with benefits essentially. But he'd asked that, until one of us dated or we changed our own status, we be exclusive.
On the face of it, that didn't seem unreasonable. But the longer I thought of it the more I felt like Nik was playing some sort of long game with me, and it irked me a little. I mean, yeah, Nik has liked me for a long time and I like him just fine, and everyone needed goals, be they professional, athletic or relationship. What bothered me was that we had nothing in common besides kind of liking the way the other looked. Perhaps an interest in athletics was our main similarity, though he was soccer and I baseball, and that we'd both lost a parent. Actually, he'd lost both of his and I had as well, in a way, and that was something that was bringing us together right then. All in all, though, a shared loss wasn't something to build on, and I wasn't in any shape to get involved. I was better, but I didn't feel like I was there, yet.
Then came the first whispers. They reached out with shadowy innuendos; saying that Nik was claiming me as his boyfriend. I shrugged it off at first; people say things, and I thought Nik and I were pretty clear when we'd made the rules about our situation.
Angela Norton, a pretty girl with dark skin, long curly hair and a penchant for wearing colorful, non-prescription contacts that made her eyes really noticeable next to her smoky skin tone, had approached me in science lab one afternoon. We had no set lab partners and people tended to switch from time to time, so I thought nothing of it.
I smiled and nodded in greeting. “Hi, Ange. Need a partner?”
“In the worst way,” she said flirtatiously. “Oh, you mean for lab? Yeah, that, too!”
I chuckled and made space for her. I had several of the materials for the experiment out already and she began to make notes as we worked.
“When I dated Levi—you know Levi Carter?”
I thought for a moment and shook my head.
“Well, he's a senior,” she said as if it explained something. “Anyway, I thought I was the shit for dating a senior. Then, after a month or so, I figured out how stupid I was. I mean, really? He's a year older and that makes him special? Hardly.”
I wasn't sure what to make of that conversation so I just nodded and tried to keep working. I was a little puzzled as to why she was telling me this, but some people like to talk about themselves.
Casually, she said, “I figure you have a better chance of things working out, though.”
I paused. “I'm not sure what you mean.”
She raised an eyebrow at me. “Really? 'Cause I was talking to Richelle, Maria Luz and Gina earlier about how you shouldn't be single, and Nik set me straight. No pun intended.”
Irritation boiled up inside me. “Nik and I are friends. That's all.”
“Well,” she said dismissively, “friends with benefits maybe. Or it might have been, but Nik was pretty clear that your body is his. Fucking territorial, that one.”
I clenched my mouth shut and fumed internally. I didn't want to correct her any more than I already had, because it might open the door, in her mind, to some sort of relationship between us. Physically, I'd have no trouble with Angela. The girl was active and took care of herself. I'd never dated a black girl before but the idea didn't deter me. But the fact was, I was still not in any shape to get serious with anyone. Sex with Nik was oral, and I could do that with anyone, but opposite sex intimacy brought the idea of taking that next step, and pregnancy, in as a risk. I shuddered. That was not a headache I needed right now.
Ange continued to comment about this and that, but she more or less let go of the Nik and me conversation. I'm not sure what her goal had been, or if she'd had one, but I was thankful not to feel pressured into dealing with it now.
That night, a Wednesday, Nik had shown up because we were done with school. Graduation parties had been the previous weekend and the college guys were back home, so he'd been kept busy and couldn't get permission to come stay over. Ostensibly he was there because I had trouble sleeping. I still did, but not as badly. I had taken, once he'd opened that door and made it okay, to sleeping with Devyn as needed. There was no sexual component to that, obviously, but it helped me a great deal. I'd asked for and gotten a body pillow and it helped sometimes. Usually not. Nik was nice to have, in terms of having someone to sleep with. A year and a half younger than I was and two grades behind, due to adapting from a Romanian to American school system, Nik fit well lying against me, and I slept well. Devyn, being short, fit well against me and I slept just as well.
Normally Nik barely waited for the lights to go out before his hands were on me, and at first, as I said, I could stop thinking. My sadness about my mom would fade as his hands and then lips roamed and my body reacted to being caressed so intimately with fingers and tongue. I could reciprocate and, for a time, live in the moment instead of the past. As time wore on, though, I became less invested in it. I still liked it. Nik's desire for me made him quite diligent in trying to please me, at least at first. It began to be more about him, though, and quickly.
I was actually thinking about breaking things off with him, whatever you wanted to call what we were doing, before Angela and that weird conversation happened. After that I was convinced it was the right thing to do. With my recovering a little from the loss of my mother I felt a void, and one that was not being filled by any growth in a relationship with Nik. In fact, I felt that I was withdrawing from Nik and it wouldn't be fair to keep any of this up, not since I knew it wasn't working for me. Nik, though, had other ideas.
“But, Nathan!” he'd implored me. “How will you sleep? Not good, right? I can make world go away. I can try hard, okay?”
“Nik, you're not listening,” I said as patiently as I could. I didn't to hurt Nik, but I didn't see a way to avoid that completely. “I told you I'm not in any shape for dating or anything. I was honest with you, right from the start.”
“Yes,” he said immediately. “You are honest. Good person, Nathan.”
“Nik...you're telling people we're dating. We're not dating.”
Nik frowned. “But people think you might wish date—to date. We agree. Exclusive, for now. If you not ready to date me, not ready to date others. Yes?”
“Right,” I said. “But I don't like you telling people we're dating.”
His frown deepened. “Why? I am not taking good care of you? I can make better. I swallow, that is good? I make like the internet. I have condoms. Papas, they do not miss them. You want more? I give.” He'd moved in closer to me, making me feel crowded, and said, “I am doing anything you like. Ideas are making me excited to take care of you. You want me take care of you?”
He'd reached toward my crotch and I threw my hands up, overwhelmed. Nik thought he liked me as a person, but he wasn't seeing me as a distressed person. He was only seeing my body and responding to his desires. Maybe, as recently as a week ago even, that would have been enough. I'd have willingly strapped on a condom and lost my v-card to a boy; I'd never fucked a boy, only a girl, and only once. But it wasn't a week ago anymore and I had grown or healed or something in that week. I didn't want to fuck Nik just because he was horny for it or available or because he was trying to extend our little... whatever....
This wasn't about my needs or a balance between us anymore. I knew this wasn't right for me, and I didn't want to be seen as Nik saw me. Nik wanted to own me and I didn't want to be owned.
So we'd argued. It had grown from his trying to be persuasive to being demanding, from trying to guilt me, to trying to claim ownership. He almost made it sound like I owed it to him to take him to bed and, in the course of the evening, to take his virginity. He'd had a plan, I guess, and I wasn't cooperating. He'd raged. He'd cried. He'd pleaded, and in the course of all that he'd emotionally exhausted me. My gas tank wasn't full on the best of days and it probably hadn't taken as long as it had felt like. If anything it reinforced that I had no business being in a relationship; I just didn't have the emotional capital.
Before my emotional exhaustion caused me to simply give in and give him what he wanted, it was over. Finally he'd left, and left angry. I had no doubt that everyone in the house had heard something, and the very idea was mortifying. I felt kind of empty afterward, and I stretched out on my bed and just stared at the ceiling. Could I have handled that better? Probably, though I honestly wasn't sure how. I'm not the smartest guy, I know that, but I felt like I'd done the best I was capable of. Nik wanted me, or rather, my body. He'd take the soul if it were included, but for him that was entirely optional. For me, I realized, it was essential.
Devyn was the one to come see me. My uncle Dale and I have a good relationship but it mainly revolves around sports. He came to my games, and I watched stuff with him on TV. He was kind of a buddy, truthfully. I respected him enough to not give him crap and more or less do what I was told and stick to boundaries he and my aunt had set down. That wasn't difficult. I'd never exactly been a trouble maker. My aunt was very caring, and had I gone to her with trouble, she'd have done her best. Maybe it was just that neither of them felt it was their place to counsel me about my love life. Perhaps, maybe more likely, Devyn just told them he'd handle it.
He came in dressed for bed, a tee shirt and underwear for him. I was still dressed from school, except for my shoes. I glanced at the clock and was mildly surprised at how late it was. He sat on the edge of the bed, boogie board in one hand, and looked down at me.
“Hey, Dev. I guess I lost track of the evening.”
He wrote and turned the board to me. 'There is still food. I thought you might be asleep.'
I shook my head. “No. Thinking. Don't you smell the smoke?” I asked as I waved a hand and chuckled.
He smiled. 'So, Nik?'
I poked my tongue against my cheek for a moment. “Yeah, Nik. He got a little possessive. I guess he started telling people at school we were dating.”
Dev knitted his brows.
“He was trying to tell me people wanted to date me, not sure who, really, besides this one girl, maybe, and that was his way of deterring them. If I wasn't ready to date anyone, he figured this would keep them away and him in my bed.”
Dev's expression deepened into a frown. 'He has some strange ideas about relationships. Do you think he'll accept this?'
I shrugged. “I have no idea. He's always had an unusual outlook when it comes to me.”
'Because he thinks you're the hottest thing ever?'
I blushed. “I mean the only thing he cares about is how I look. Jerk.”
Dev let out his wheezing laugh. 'I should text Sasha. It's not healthy how Nik sees sex. He could get himself in trouble. He was lucky to have focused on a nice guy like you. Even other nice guys might have taken advantage.'
I wondered for a moment if I hadn't taken some advantage of him myself. I'd known right away that he was far more committed than I was to making our situation last. I just wanted to stop thinking for a while and get some damn sleep. Having sex with him helped with that, because I could hold him and I guess there were actual studies that say having an orgasm releases stuff in your brain that helps you relax. I'm not sure I needed as much rest as I should have gotten from all the orgasms I had with Nik, but there it was.
I glanced up to see Devyn reenter the room. I hadn't even heard him leave! He was looking down at his phone and tapping as he walked back to my bedside and sat down. I got up and tossed my socks into the hamper and tossed my jeans on the back of my chair. He was still tapping and reading, probably with Sasha, so I headed down to the kitchen and got myself a bowl and tossed some pasta and veggies in from dinner.
I ate quickly, not really hungry but figuring I ought to have something. Once done I headed back upstairs and brushed my teeth before heading back to my room. Devyn stood as I entered and shooed me back out, following me to his room. Dev's room was bigger than mine, with a full sized bed, which was nice compared to my single. My room was technically a bedroom, but people were smaller when the house was built. Like, Devyn smaller. Hah!
“Did you get a-hold of Sasha?” I asked as I moved to one side of his bed.
He nodded. 'He's concerned. He said Nik hasn't made the connection between sex and higher emotions. He's going to come home to talk to him in person. It's hard, because they grew up not really knowing each other and don't have that deeper connection.'
I thought on that for a moment. I'd had a few forms of sex in the last year and a half or so. Dylan had given me a blow job at his house one overnight, and I recalled being so incredibly focused on what Dylan was doing. I was less conscious of where his hands had roamed, but for that short space of time my crotch was the beginning and end of my known world. Then I'd traded hand jobs with Nik out at the lake, and that had been thrilling, being out in the open like that. I'd done that with Dylan a time or two, but stroking in public brought a sense of danger that was exciting beyond the act itself.
Then, of course, my big mistake. Erica Sawyer had appealed to me on a few levels. Some were easily understood, like the way I felt after she shoved her tongue in my ear and told me how far, exactly, she'd go with me. I'd never had full-on sex, and the idea was interesting, to say the least. Despite having dated girls exclusively before Dylan woke me up, all my sexual experience had involved a penis other than my own, but nothing with the vag, so why not see what happens? I admit that there was a small part of me that wasn't comfortable, yet, with my bisexuality. Perhaps, had been my thought, if I had a few experiences with girls, then I wouldn't drift back to guys.
It was one of the times I look back at so I could spot the warning signs I missed at the time of an epic disaster in the making. Talk about the wrong reasons to get into a relationship! I'd seen others do just that, of course, and you'd think I'd have learned from those mistakes. I suppose I'm the sort that has to make the mistake myself in order to get the message. The sex with her had been good; I can't say it wasn't. She hadn't been kidding about how far she'd go, but as a person she just wasn't someone I enjoyed being around. She talked about people behind their backs, and I guess she figured that sleeping with me ensured my loyalty or something.
After Erica things had gone kind of dry for me until Nik re-entered my life and hopped into my bed. I wasn't entirely sure that my experience with him had been a bad thing, even though it hadn't ended well. Honestly, I'm not sure how many relationships end well. The end result was that I was just starting to get the idea myself about sex being tied to higher emotions, and I guess that meant I wasn't so far ahead of Nik. I wondered if I should be worried.
I was snapped out of my thoughts by Devyn's boogie board being thrust in my field of vision. 'Where did you go?'
I glanced at him and blushed. “I was just thinking about what you said about Nik not attaching sex to higher emotions. I'm guessing you mean love. Loving the person you're with?”
He nodded. 'And yourself. It's hard to be successful in a relationship without feeling like you have worth. I think he only sees sex as a convenient release and not a deeply emotional act.' He paused and then wrote more. 'Or , he uses sex instead of healthy relationships or sees it as disposable, like in Romania.'
I didn't know NIk's past and Devyn, after warning me to not repeat it, told me about how an older boy had introduced Nik to 'hand sex' and how, with no framework of a relationship, Nik may have developed sexually without any concept of intimacy or of how relationships influenced or enhanced the sexual experience.
I thought about that for a moment. “I'm not sure I've ever felt that,” I confessed.
'Maybe be because you struggle with your self-worth, no matter how much I tell you how great you are.' He bumped me with his shoulder and I staggered a step before catching myself.
“Punk,” I snarled and jumped on him. He barely tossed his board aside in time, and we wrestled on his bed. Dev was stronger than his appearance suggested and he was used to my moves, so it wasn't over fast. I was bigger and stronger, though, and I could have ended it reasonably quickly, but wrestling with Dev was fun and I was tired of thinking. I picked him up and body slammed him to his mattress, and amid the bed squeaking and the feet of the bed squealing against the floor and his wheezing laughter I heard my uncle Dale hollering up the stairs to cut it out.
I sat back on his bed while Dev lay sprawled and breathing heavily. I took a minute myself to get my wind back. It all may have ended there but I jumped as Dev reached out and grabbed my toe and pulled. If that weren't enough to make me jump he started to tickle the bottom of my foot and I made a really undignified squeal. I rolled to get away, pulling my foot toward me, but he held on like a terrier to a rat and dug his fingers into the sole of my foot.
“Stop! Ah!” I squealed some more and finally got my foot away from him. I turned and pounced on him, digging my fingers into his ribs and tickling him unmercifully. His wheezing laughter warmed my heart and I thoroughly enjoyed my vengeance.
“Will you two stop acting like you're six and get some rest?” my uncle Dale said as he opened Devyn's door. “Christ almighty, the neighbors probably think you're screwing up here.”
“Bad sign, to laugh during sex, I think, Uncle Dale,” I said with a snort, and Devyn collapsed with laughter. I snorted again and laughed with him. My uncle shook his head and a smile played around the corners of his mouth. “Get some sleep, guys. We start early. You can sleep on the drive, but I'm sure you don't want me to.”
We said goodnight and soon Devyn and I were in bed for the night. Of course no sooner had we become settled than my mind started up again about Nik, wondering if he'd let the situation lie or if there would be some sort of trouble later on. I was sure he had to be disappointed, and in a way I was too, but not for very noble reasons. I liked the physical attention, to a point, and I did like tucking Nik in beside me. But with growing resolve I knew I'd made the right decision. I could never grow and find someone to really fall in love with, like Devyn and Griffin had fallen in love or Dylan and Crispin had.
I was mildly surprised that I was thinking this. After Nik I didn't think...but no. I mean, yes. I wanted to fall in love.
Dylan. He was a missed opportunity in some ways. I could see myself dating him, were he not happy with Cris. As much as I loved Dylan, and Cris as well, I had needed him to be my friend and it may have been the wisest relationship move I'd ever made. If Devyn was my hero, then Dylan was his sidekick. I'm so glad Crispy treats him well and they are so good together, because I'd end up dating Dylan for the wrong reasons—being that I'd want him to be happy, never mind me.
The bedside lamp snapped on and I blinked in surprise. Devyn sat up and began to write. 'You aren't sleeping, what gives? Nik?'
“Nah, not entirely,” I replied and yawned.
'Beating yourself up?'
“Not entirely that, either.” I looked up at the ceiling and away from his face. “I was just thinking about my relationships and the...intimacy I've had versus that one time I, ahem, saw you and Griff.” It still made me blush, but it had been out there for a while and Dev, Griff and I had settled it a long time ago. “I just wonder if that'll happen to me. Or, like, do I need to go looking for it?”
'Well, I guess you could send out invitations the next time you get laid. Might be a good crowd.'
“Not that!” I yelped.
Devyn shook his head. 'Have you thought about what you want to do when you get out of school?'
Well, that was a curve-ball. “A little, yeah. I was thinking about something in sports medicine or maybe something that combines that with nutrition. I want to stay active, but I also want to be a positive influence on people. Hey, maybe I could teach gym, huh? I could coach then, too.”
Devyn smiled at me. It was an interesting look because it wasn't really conveying amusement, perhaps more like...pride? He started writing and I yawned again while I waited for him to respond.
'Griffin found me. He made the initial effort. I was open to dating. So I think it's two things. Be ready to fall in love but if you see what you want, go get it.'
I smirked. “Covering all the bases?”
'Sure. No point in waiting if you see who you want but are waiting for them to make the first move.'
I nodded. “Yeah, makes sense. I just want what you have. I probably could have had that with Dylan but...everything that's happened lately, I think, would have made it hard for me to be committed.”
'Totally. Smart move.' He paused and wrote some more. 'I like Dylan. He's been a good friend to you. Crispin, too. Maybe you should date both of them.'
I shot him some side eye and he snuffled in laughter.
“Laugh it up. Those two probably make jokes about spit roasting me as it is,” I said with a snort. “It's nice they can just say they think I'm attractive and not want more from it than that. I do appreciate having them as friends.”
'I'm glad you started to think about your future.'
“You mean school? Or relationships?”
'Both. We need to take care of ourselves but we also need others.'
“I'm good, I have you,” I said and then lowered my voice to tease him. “Besides, I can get a free, live porn show with you and Griff.”
Devyn groaned and pushed me before he started to write. 'Don't say it too loud or he might want you to sit in a chair and watch. I swear I thought going through what he did and being kind of a private person would make him shy away from things like that.'
I chuckled. “I can't even imagine that conversation. That would just be weird.”
Dev made an exaggerated swipe of imaginary sweat from his forehead. 'I can just tell him you said no. Technically that counts as asking, right?'
I raised an eyebrow. “You were serious? Griff wants me to...watch? Like, he really asked?”
Dev returned my gaze steadily and I sat up. I felt a little dazed and slightly turned on by the idea. It had been an accident before, but the passion they had for each other was what had elevated their love making beyond what simple porn did for me. I'd seen a few videos where 'couples' would have sex for the camera, but you know it's been edited and polished for public display. Dev and Griff had been...so lovably passionate and...shit, I was aroused.
Devyn started to wheeze out his laughter and wrote, 'Just kidding. You can stop thinking about us having sex now.'
“Jerk,” I muttered and pushed him.
We sat up talking for a while and it wore out my thinking cells. Finally, around two, I couldn't keep my eyes open and Dev turned the light out. I curled up next to him, secure that I'd sleep well in his presence and drifted into oblivion.
I lifted my chin from my chest, startled by a bump in the road. Glancing next to me I saw that Devyn still dozed. I stretched and glanced out the window at the passing scenery. I pulled out my phone and was surprised to find it was after ten. With a quick glance at Dev I opened a text window to Griff and send him a picture of Dev sleeping.
I switched over to Dylan's number and was about to text him when Griff replied.
'Aww, so cute. I wish I were going with you guys.'
'I know. I'm not sure why Uncle Dale said there wasn't room. We could fit two midgets in here if we had to.'
'Shithead. Wait till you get back.'
Grinning to myself I replied, 'Dev says you want me to watch again. Is there money involved? I need a job.'
I chuckled under my breath as I waited in anticipation. 'You pay the performers, not the spectators. But you know, now that you mention it...'
'Stop. I know where this is going and I surrender!'
He teased me a little more, of course, and I gave it back to him for a while. Eventually Devyn woke up and took over talking to his boyfriend, and I switched over to chatting with Dylan.
'On the road. You up yet?'
'Ugh. Yes. I got a job at the car wash and I'm not looking forward to my first day of work.'
I chuckled. 'How hard can it be?'
'I stand at the end and dry cars. Not much brain power needed. I just need a car and gas money to see Crispy.'
'Did his mom tighten the purse strings on his gas budget?'
'Not exactly. His dad is making him work at his shop for the summer, so he's busy all day. By the time he gets here he doesn't have a ton of time before he has to go home. I think his parents are trying to make it tough to see each other.'
'I thought they got over your relationship?'
'No. They love their son, not the fact that he's dating me.'
Jerks. There were a lot of reasons to not like who someone was dating, but their sex seemed like a really narrow, bigoted view to take. It was weird how such a nice person like Crispin could come from people who were...well, whatever they were. I felt bad for Dylan, and he was saintly in never badmouthing Cris's parents. I figured it had to be hard to bite his tongue, but Cris would probably feel an instinct to defend them despite their unreasonable behavior.
'So, hey. I got a weird call from Nik this morning. Did you guys have a fight or something?'
I snorted to myself and explained what had happened. It was pretty long winded, especially for a text, but I wanted to be clear with Dylan about everything I'd thought and said. Like Devyn, Dylan would give me an honest answer and if he thought I'd been wrong....
'Jeez. You're cute but come on!' he said, with an emoticon that rolled its eyes.
'Seems like that's all I am, to him. He was nice that first night. I thought maybe there could be something there... someday. But it's not working and I can see it.'
'Well, he wanted me to help him get you back. Kid has a serious hard-on for you. I tried to be nice and tell him maybe he should back off, at least for now, and he lost it on me.'
I winced. 'Sorry.'
'Not your fault. He's being a little unreasonable. Did he think I'd actually not take your side? I almost hope he asks Devyn to help him get you back!'
I snorted out a laugh. Devyn looked at me with a raised eyebrow and I showed him the text. His brows drew together and he turned back to his own phone and started tapping quickly.
It was kind of sad, in a way. What Nik didn't realize was that Dylan was always on my side, even when I didn't deserve it. I hoped this didn't blow up in my face any more than it had. It would be different if Nik and I had some common interests or even shared a few things together. I'd invited him to my games but he was always doing something else. He hadn't come a single time. Dev and Griff came to my games, along with my uncle Dale and sometimes Dylan and Cris attended. Hell, even Elliot showed up to several games and I don't think he's much interested in anything athletic. I said as much to Dylan.
'Okay, stop. Stop right now.'
'What are you talking about?'
'You. It's like you're looking for something you could have missed to have made this thing with Nik work. Look, he's an okay guy and I totally get his falling for you; I did it myself. But this isn't your fault. I don't think Nik was dishonest, compared to you being honest, but he's in a different place. You deserve someone that will appreciate all of you, not just the parts that interest him for now.'
I frowned and typed back. 'I'm not sure that's totally fair to him. He isn't a robot or anything.'
'I'm not saying he is. What I am saying is his focus on seeing you as a sex object first and a person as an afterthought isn't healthy for either of you. You both deserve more but he doesn't belong to me. You do, so I'm telling you – this wasn't your fault.'
I smiled and chuckled to myself. 'I belong to you, huh?'
'Damn right. Until you have a someone that loves you for you, I have to look out for you.'
I shook my head and enjoyed the warm glow in my chest. My phone shook with an incoming message, but not from Dylan. I thumbed the screen to switch, apprehensive that it would be from Nik.
It was. He was apologizing and, in the same breath, saying he'd come over and make it all up to me. I sighed, not really feeling up to it, but deciding that he'd picked this method to talk and it might be better than another fight in person. So I tried to explain myself, again, but he didn't seem to get it. Dylan interrupted once to tell me he was off to work and told me to text him that night and I said I would. Then I went back to texting with Nik and trying to make him understand, but it wasn't working.
I got another text from someone else and I thumbed through to it. Elliot. That was a nice surprise.
'Hey. I was just texting with Dev and asked how you were doing and the brat told me to ask you himself.'
I glanced over at Dev who was looking right at me with a smug expression.
He smiled and looked back down at his phone without answering me.
'I'm okay. How are you doing? How's your dad?'
Just before my mother passed away I'd run into Elliot at school in the band room. He'd stopped by the house a few times to talk to Dev after Elliot's dad had the stroke. It was really sad how his life kind of seemed to come apart. He'd lost his dad and Juilliard all in one week. His dad had lived, but the stroke had altered him greatly.
I'd been going to my general music class and heard someone playing piano in the band room. I'd peeked in and seen Elliot behind the old baby grand piano playing a haunting but pretty melody. As it happened I had a substitute that day so I'd asked if I could walk across the hall and listen to my friend play. The sub was a young woman, looking only just out of high school herself, and she'd commented that he'd been playing all through the lunch period and how much she'd enjoyed having her own lunch while hearing him play. For a hot minute I thought she'd ask me to pass him a note that she'd like a date or a phone call.
I'd crossed the hall and listened to him for a bit. He'd noticed me there, welcomed me in and we'd talked a little. He'd ended up having me sit on the bench with him and we'd actually played piano together. Granted I was playing with two fingers, and it was the easiest thing you'd ever seen but it got progressively faster. He and I played for a while, and it always ended with me hitting the wrong keys after it had gotten too fast for me. We always ended up laughing with each other.
It had been a great break from the melancholy I'd been in leading up to my mother's passing. For a few moments I'd felt, perhaps, the way real musicians felt, where the sounds and feel of the piano and the accompanying sounds covered the world. Elliot laughing with me was just icing. I'd invited him to my baseball game, since music was his thing and I'd participated—and enjoyed it. He agreed.
He'd come to my mom's funeral, and that was kind. I could see why Devyn had fallen for him, once upon a time, though he was surely not the same person anymore. His boyfriend didn't attend the games with him, but I didn't know much about Colby.
The phone shaking in my hand drew me back to Elliot's conversation. 'Not much change. It's tough to adjust at home since everything is different. I'm still trying to figure out how to help my parents best. Chores of course. I tried doing my dad's laundry but my mom got upset. I'm still not sure why.'
'It must be strange all the way around,' I sympathized. 'Have you been hiding in your basement?' I knew he wasn't really hiding; it's where he kept his piano. Dev had told me about kissing Elliot on that piano bench and how surprisingly easy it was to tip a bench over when energetically kissing someone.
'Actually, no. I was at work one night and I heard about a place that has open mic nights. I went a few times and started playing with a band. You should come listen sometime.'
I glanced at Dev. “Elliot is playing out someplace. You want to go listen?”
He glanced at me and and tapped his screen. 'I already told him I would.'
I drew my eyebrows together. 'Dev says he already told you we'd come?'
'I was asking you if you'd come. You're separate people, after all.'
'Oh, right. Yeah, I'd love to. Summer league baseball starts next week. Going to come to a few games?'
I waited a few beats for his reply. 'Do I have to wear a hat?'
I frowned in confusion. 'A hat? What are you talking about?'
'Crispin told me it was some kind of ritual to wear your team's hat or your favorite player's jersey. I'm not a big fan of hats, though.'
'So you'll wear my jersey then?' I snickered to myself.
'Yup. Dylan stole it for me. You haven't noticed it was missing?'
At the end of last season we'd gotten to keep our jerseys as the school was ordering new ones. My uncle had had my name stitched onto the back of it, but I felt kind of silly just wearing it somewhere. I immediately switched over and asked Dylan about it, but he must have been at work because he didn't reply.
Elliot wished us good luck and said he was leaving for his shift. I smiled to myself. I wasn't really any good at the piano, but Elliot had embraced baseball with a real enthusiasm. It would be fun to have someone wearing my jersey in the stands just as if I were a pro.
With no one to talk to and Dev having nodded off again my mind turned back to Nik and, since it was fresh on my mind, sports. I'd watched two of his soccer games, but he had no desire to teach me the sport. I could have learned on my own, of course, but it seemed the only thing that was important to him about me was my body. I wonder how that felt, to be so overwhelmed by someone's physical appearance that you missed the person? I guess I didn't have to wonder that hard; after all, I'd had some nice swimsuit posters up on my wall in my time and wasn't exactly thinking deeply about the models' personalities. I guess it just felt like it should be more personal when you actually slept with the person.
When it came to teaching things, Elliot actually had spent more time with me than Nik had. With that thought, I drifted off, lulled by the sound of the tires on the road, the little sleep I'd had and the rhythm of the car.
Once we arrived in Cincinnati we checked into the motel and headed out for a meal. We ended up back in the room fairly early and spent the rest of the night quietly. The pool wasn't open yet at the motel, and Dev and I took a walk. He thanked me for coming with him, but outside of that we didn't talk much. We went to bed early, worn from the long day, and though I was in a strange bed I slept well with Dev tucked by me.
In the morning we took turns getting cleaned up and went to a nearby diner for breakfast. University Hospital was a sprawling facility and kind of confusing. Maybe it was just that we were sort of small town hicks in this large city, but it looked like a drunk had laid out the plans for this place. I said as much to my uncle.
He chuckled before responding. “There are very few hospitals that were designed as they currently are. Lots of them were initially built and then added on to as money and necessity, or possibly opportunity, presented itself. It would depend on a lot of factors, once they decided to build, like the land that might be available, the traffic patterns and how they might have to be accommodated. Once these buildings start to metastasize they tend to sprawl to wherever they can find the space.”
Once we parked it took endless hallways and more than one directory to find the office we were looking for: the Department of Otolaryngology. Essentially if you have ever heard of an ENT, or ear, nose, throat specialist, that's what these guys were.
There were forms to fill out, and while that happened I started texting Dylan. 'So I hear my baseball jersey was stolen?'
'Yup. Crispy says baseball fans should wear their favorite player's jersey. I stole Crispy's for myself and I stole yours for Elliot. LOL.'
'Thief!' I laughed at his idiocy. 'You guys turn him into a baseball fan?'
'Totally. Well, Cris did. I just learned more. Elliot makes me feel not so dumb since he knows about as much as I do. It's fun to have him there, though. I think Cris likes to think he's teaching us.'
“Devyn? I'm Dr. Stansfield. Would you and your family like to come into my office? Let me grab an extra chair from the waiting area.” I looked up to see a middle aged woman with brown hair and a few loose gray strands hanging away from her face. She was smiling and holding a door open for us.
“I'll grab my chair, thanks,” I said as I stood and carried my chair into the office.
“Thanks,” she said to me with a smile. “It's nice to see a young man who is so polite!”
I blushed and sat down beside Devyn. Dr. Stansfield moved behind her desk, sat down, and opened a file in front of her.
“So, Devyn,” she said with a questioning lilt as she looked at my cousin. He nodded and gave her a little smile. “I've reviewed all the files your family saved and the ones from your doctor's office. I'll want to examine you today, of course, to see what everything looks like now.” She paused and patted the files with the palms of her hands. “I have to say I'm not surprised your general practitioner didn't do more for you. I'm not certain your vocal chords could have been repaired at the time, but it's clear from the notes that you didn't have access to advanced care.”
Uncle Dale sat forward. “What are you saying? He didn't have to have lost his voice?”
Her face smoothed slightly and she looked at Uncle Dale. “That's hard to say with certainty from these reports. There would have been other tests that could have been performed, had we had access to him at that time. Are you familiar with the process we use here? How much have you read?” she asked, looking from one face to the next.
“The way I understand it, you take some tissue from the lining of the cheek and use a laser to firm it up, then graft it to the vocal chords. That'll let them vibrate. Is that the basic concept?” my aunt asked.
“In layman's terms that's a good explanation. We learned a lot about our procedure from jet engines, believe it or not,” she said with a smile. “Air flow past the vocal chords is how we create speech. The vertices are points where the vocal chords meet and vibrate, and our surgery usually focuses on placing that hardened tissue in a position to take advantage of those vertices and allows the patient to speak. However, that procedure will not work for you.”
Devyn's face fell and I put an arm around his shoulders. He wrote quickly on his board, just a question mark and showed it to her.
“Well, I have to examine you to be sure, but it looks like you had a viral infection and your vocal chords were paralyzed in an open position, which caused you to be mute. Does any of that sound familiar?” she asked, looking from Devyn to his parents.
“Yes,” my aunt confirmed. “Although, to be honest, I was never really clear on how it happened and after he lost his voice, I focused on that. I..well, yes.”
“Well, let me try and clear some of that up. According to your doctor, Devyn had a severe case of mononucleosis, commonly called mono. That can be triggered by one of the most common viruses on the planet, called the Epstein-Barr virus. It's a strain of the herpes virus, human herpesvirus 4 if you're interested.”
We sat in rapt attention. She kept making eye contact with each of us as she explained.
“Epstein-Barr, or EPV, comes from a number of sources and is quite virulent. In adults it can incubate for four to six weeks and many people then develop mono, but in your case, Devyn,” she said while focusing on my cousin, “you got the extreme reaction of vocal chord paralysis.”
“What does that mean for him, though?” I asked, breaking in and then feeling somewhat embarrassed to have intruded on territory belonging to my aunt and uncle. “Since he got that and his vocal chords are paralyzed why won't your procedure help? What does he do now?”
She smiled widely. “Very good questions. The reason our procedure won't work is that it deals with damage, often crushing damage, to the larynx. Frequently people our surgery helps have very low voices like whispers. That's because one vocal chord is moving and one isn't.
“You see, the vocal chords are on opposite sides of the larynx and they close, kind of like theater curtains, when we speak and the air we expend makes them vibrate. In that analogy one side of the curtain closed to allow a very low, whispered speech. Our surgery makes it so the other side can vibrate a bit, enough for normal conversational speaking.”
“But if his vocal chords are paralyzed, why won't that work? You said you use it on the paralyzed side,” Uncle Dale asked.
“Well, yes. But in Devyn's case, with them both paralyzed, adding the extra tissue would restrict his airway. I guessed she finally noticed Dev’s body language, and her voice changed. “But I’m sorry, I’m giving you the wrong impression here. We’ve gotten sidetracked. There is something we can do for Devyn. What we propose is far more standard in his case.”
“Wait, there's a 'standard' way to treat him?” I asked, hope infused into my voice.
She smiled warmly. “Yes, there is.” Turning to look mainly at Devyn she explained, “We use a procedure called reinnervation whereby we remove healthy nerve from another area of the neck and connect it to the vocal chord nerve that is damaged. Many times we inject a filler like body fat or collagen into the vocal chord to beef it up a bit. Given how slender you are, I don't think you'll have body fat to use—”
“Take mine. Use one of my nerves if you need it,” I said automatically.
She chuckled and Devyn patted my arm while I blushed. Christ, it wasn't like she said he needed a kidney or something.
“That won't be necessary. Combining reinnervation with a bulk injection, if needed—that's the collagen—that moves the vocal chord to an optimal position should restore your voice.”
Devyn sniffled and I glanced at him, seeing a tear track down his face. I put my arm around his shoulders again, running into my aunt doing the same. Devyn wrote on his board and turned it to the doctor. 'I'll be able to speak again?'
Her smile was of genuine happiness as she said, “Yes. The procedure has a great rate of success. Recovery is from six to nine months, but yes. You should be able to speak again.”
Even though she'd known her own procedure wouldn't work, she'd already mapped out what Dev needed to recover. While she examined him I excitedly wrote to Griff, Elliot, Dylan and Cris. I was texting as fast as I could and the responses of excitement were overfilling me with joy and excitement for Dev. If I were honest it would be for me, too. I couldn't wait to hear him, to talk to him. That may sound selfish, but it was the truth. I needed Dev, and being able to hear him, especially once he left for school, would be a miracle.
It wasn't over, though. Once she confirmed her diagnosis the next question was when. Given the initial information my aunt and uncle had provided, their insurance would cover a large portion of the surgery and she'd taken the liberty of reserving an operating room for the following morning. It took little time for the family to approve and look to Devyn for the final say.
We were very excited as we left the hospital. We went to lunch and spent the day doing some of the sight seeing we'd planned on—starting with the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center which focused on the era of slavery in the United States. We spent the rest of the day at the Cincinnati Zoo. We'd planned to spend the next day there, but we were past that idea, now.
After dinner we went back to the motel and tried to relax. I was overwhelmed with excitement that Devyn would regain his voice and felt a little guilty about my selfish desires to hear him speak. Dev was texting to Griff and Griff was freaking out about the surgery and the danger of operating on the neck. He was violently against it and went so far as to accuse Dev and I of hiding the fact that he would have surgery so that Griff wouldn't be able to prevent it.
It was absurd, of course, and I knew right away that Griffin was losing his mind out of fear for Devyn. I walked out of the room to go to the vending machine for a Coke and I called Griffin.
“Nate? You bastard! How long have you known?” Griffin snarled when he picked the line up.
“Just this afternoon. I can explain the visit, but you better stop upsetting Dev. He's having surgery tomorrow, and he's miserable because you're angry with him and making shitty accusations,” I snapped. I'd never spoken to Griffin that way and surprised myself a little.
“But it's on the neck! Don't you know how—”
“Griff. She explained it all. She can access the nerve to repair the vocal chord without, like, slicing his neck open. And the vocal chords themselves are kind of exposed. As far as danger, it's safer than an appendectomy,” I explained. Griffin was breathing heavily and I heard him sniff and let out a choked sob.
“Are you sure? Did the doctor seem like—”
“Griff,” I said, cutting him off. “You know how much I love Devyn. You know how much you mean to me. I would never,” I said and inhaled, “never let him go into a situation like this if I didn't feel good about it. I'd be fighting it tooth and nail and I sure wouldn't lie to you about it. I wouldn't hide it from you. I'd be telling you to talk him out of it.
“You need to call him. I know he can't answer you, but he needs to hear you tell him you trust him. Don't send him into this tomorrow with your calling him a liar ringing in his head.”
He sniffled. His voice was a whisper. “You're right. Thank you, Nate. I'm going to call him now.”
I disconnected. I was shaking from the tension of the situation and the emotion of having had to speak to Griffin like that. I was used to Griff and Devyn having to calm me down and tell me the right course of action. It was dizzying to be on the other end of the equation. I texted Dylan, but he didn't reply. I texted Cris and got no reply as well. Probably the two were tied together, so to speak. I really wanted to talk to someone because my nerves were buzzing. Seized with sudden inspiration, I called Elliot.
“Nate? Hey, how's things out there in Ohio?”
“Oh, crazy,” I said with a little laugh. “How are things at home?”
“Oh, same old dependable Springs life,” he said with a chuckle. I heard the sound of his free hand as it drifted over the piano keys. “You sound stressed. Are you worried about something? What happened with the consult?”
“A little,” I allowed. “The consult turned into surgery set for tomorrow.”
“Yeah,” I replied, nodding though he couldn't see. “I think the doctor made a pretty convincing case, and everyone agreed it was the right thing to do.” I explained how the procedure would go and how it wasn't all that invasive.
“Sounds like this doctor has a real handle on things. Why are you so worried?” Elliot asked softly.
“Mostly I'm kind of coming down off an adrenaline rush. Griffin kind of lost it about the surgery. He's so worried about Dev that he was accusing both Devyn and me of knowing there would be a surgery and making sure he couldn't talk Dev out of it. It was nuts, but just his emotions doing backflips.” My hand fluttered in the air, nervous energy still working its way out of me.
“Wow. Um, I know they have friends and stuff but...should I call Griff? Maybe he needs to hang out with someone.”
“Even if you guys don't hang, he'd probably appreciate it,” I replied.
“Yeah, good idea. How about you? Are you okay?”
“Uh. Yeah, I think so. The doctor made it sound pretty safe, and to be honest with you, I'm dreading Devyn leaving for school. To be able to hear him on the phone would be...well, better than the alternatives.” I looked around the parking lot as my face heated up. Sometimes it was still hard to admit to someone else what Devyn meant to me. I fished cash from my pocket and slipped it into the vending machine.
“Totally. Well, you know, I'll still be here. You can call me anytime. After all, we're family, right?” he said with a chuckle.
“Yeah, I know, El,” I told him and chuckled myself. “I have a game next week. Coming?”
“Of course. Dylan gave me a schedule,” he said and laughed. I smiled as I listened to him.
“I'm not surprised he had a schedule, but not because he's interested. It's 'cause of Cris. Cris will have games, too, if you want to travel.”
“It could be fun,” Elliot allowed and then added, with a hint of mischief, “But if I have to learn baseball, I guess you should learn piano.”
“Nah, wait,” I said and shook my head, though he couldn't see. “You'd have to play baseball for that to be even. I'll come watch you play, though. Dev's interested. I'm sure we can get a group together.”
“Ah, my own groupies!” Elliot laughed. A warmth filled me at the sound and I suddenly felt a little queasy and unsure of myself.
I cleared my throat. “Anyway, I better get back to the room. We'll come home in a few days. Um....”
“Okay. Well, call me after the surgery, would you?”
“Yeah, Of course. Uh, good night, Elliot.”
I wandered back to my room feeling more relaxed, though some of my muscles still had minor tremors from the adrenaline of confronting Griffin. As I entered the room Devyn got off the bed and met me, hugging me hard. I returned it, assuming Griffin had called and Devyn felt better.
As I lay down to sleep a short time later, I pulled Dev to me and held him loosely. It was amazing to me the changes he'd wrought in me. It felt like a lifetime ago that holding him as I was now would have had me muttering 'That's so gay' or something like that. How little of the world I'd understood then and, amazingly enough, it only served to underscore how little I still knew. Dev adjusted, wiggling a little and then settling more comfortably against me.
Lots of people played a role in making me stronger, smarter. After Frank's betrayal and my mother's death...I'd not have done as well were it not for Griffin, his circle of friends—family—and my own family, Dylan and Crispin. But the most important of all those was Devyn. For one so small, he was so fierce. As I drifted off I thought of Elliot and me playing chopsticks and how his fingers had moved in the more complicated chords than just the tones my two fingers managed. As my eyes closed and sleep moved to claim me, I moved my fingers lightly on Devyn's forearm, maybe like I was playing piano.
The surgery went well and we headed home the day afterward. Once the surgery was done and Dev had gotten out of recovery, I started sending out messages to let everyone know he'd done just fine. Of course, I called Griff. He was still a little high strung. I had a chance to explain that the surgery hadn't been planned on our end, that the doctor had taken the initiative since she felt she knew what would help Devyn the most. I explained everything as the doctor had, and Griffin confessed he felt much better.
Once he was done apologizing I called Elliot to give him the good news. The call ended up being longer than I'd have thought, but once we were done with Dev's surgery he'd asked a few baseball questions and then teased me about saving time to practice piano. I felt like Elliot was a real friend, or growing into one, and I was looking forward to seeing him when we got home.
It wasn't until much later, when we were driving home, that I thought of that last thing once more. Seeing Elliot again. The more I thought about that particular thought, the more it appealed to me. Dev had already made me curious with a conversation he and I had had recently. I couldn't remember where we were, but we were talking about Philip and Boomer having broken up and that led into my long-since-past interest in Philip. That, somehow, led into exes – both mine and his.
Devyn had made it clear he still held Elliot in high esteem both as a person and for some allegedly serious kissing ability. As far as I could see, Dev had been right. Elliot was kind and talented, even offering to be there for me when his own home life had taken a serious turn for the worse. What would that be like, to have someone like Elliot play a large role in my life? What would it be like to kiss someone like Elliot?
Hell, what would it be like to kiss Elliot?