“Crispin! Nine a.m. Get moving.”
Sunday at my house was cleaning day. My dad got me up at nine and I had to strip my bed and get my bedding into the laundry. After getting stuff into the wash I had breakfast, but Dad insisted I put the laundry in first because otherwise I'd 'dawdle' over breakfast and not get my laundry started early. Well, duh! Who wants to spend every Sunday of their life cleaning? Then it was dusting my room, vacuuming the corners and finally mopping the hardwood. Then I got to switch my sheets to the dryer and start my actual clothes.
I guess because I was forced to do this, my room was pretty clean most of the time. Because I hated the cleaning, I also tended to be a fairly neat person. As part of my spring and summer routine, once my room was done I put on sneakers and mowed the lawn and then could have lunch. After lunch, which was around one in the afternoon, I got the rest of my stuff into the dryer, then got showered. I was folding my laundry and texted Mellie to see if she wanted to hang out. She took some time getting back to me so, I spent the time making my bed, and texting my new...buddy, Dylan.
He's my new crush, honestly. I was really enjoying hanging out and getting to know him, and it wasn't just his personality. Something about his appearance was really appealing, too. I think it was just that he looked so damn normal instead of being emo or all jock-like or even over-the-top nerd. He was...the boy next door, I guess. A cute boy next door, to me. Mellie seemed to approve, but she had her own agenda, too. My phone buzzed; Dylan.
Not much here. Nate just left a little bit ago. What about you?
My chest tightened as I read about Nate, the boy Dylan had hoped would be his boyfriend. Did this mean that had happened? He'd stayed overnight, so, what did that mean? I sat on the bed and stared at the screen, wondering if it would be suspicious if I asked about the circumstances of Nate's visit.
Cleaning, I told him.
Nervously my foot bounced on the floor and I nearly dropped the phone when it buzzed again. Mellie.
Yes, please, get me out of here!
Since I was stuck about how to respond to Dylan, instead I told my best friend and mostly-willing beard, Mellie what he'd said. I waited again and she rewarded me with a message that she was talking to Dylan and to hurry my ass up and come get her.
Mellie and I weren't friends at first. We didn't know each other well, in fact, until one day in eighth grade when I was crushing on some guy and got caught staring. Rumors started to fly around the school and I was in a state of fear for a few days before she walked up to me and asked me out. The conversation, which had occurred in the library, was one that I'd never forget.
“I guess you haven't heard the rumors,” I said, my voice filled with disgust. “People are going to tell you your boyfriend is a queer or just using you to cover himself.”
“Crispin, let's get one thing out of the way, here: I'm not stupid. Of course I've heard the rumors, and it's one reason I'm here.”
I'd glanced up at the pretty, fiery red-head and was held fast by her gaze. She sat down across from me and smiled a bit nervously, pushing her hair back behind her ears and then folding her hands on the table top.
“I admit I'm just as curious as anyone else. But I also know that I'm always sharing and re-tweeting and pinning messages that are all about inclusion and support for the LGBT community. I'm not dating anyone right now, so why shouldn't I put myself out there to help you? You know, walk the walk?”
I looked at her uncertainly. “How are you helping me?”
Her gaze softened and she tilted her head a bit to one side. “Because it doesn't matter if you are or you aren't, not to me. But...if you are, you deserve to come out when you're ready. As much progress as we've made, as people, there are always many who want to drag us backward and it seems like this school is filled with them.”
I lifted my chin and asked, “And if I'm not?”
“Then you better be a good kisser,” she said and giggled, earning her a 'shush' from the librarian.
I studied her, this complete stranger to me and wondered if this was wise. Was she setting me up? Was this some kind of cruel joke? Or was she offering me a safety net, for now?
“I can't force you, Crispin, and I don't want to. I just figured shit has sucked for you the last few days and I could help with that. If these guys think you're dating me, you get some relief.”
“What do you get, then?”
She tilted her head and smiled. “A new friend, I guess. Someone to share secrets with.”
I shook my head at the memory and was, at the same time, thankful for her effort. Within the day rumors died down, after a pre-arranged kiss just outside the cafeteria with plenty of witnesses, and two weeks later they were all but gone. It would take nothing for the whispers to start up again, but I was stronger, now. She'd given me the time I'd needed and turned into a huge friend for me, one I could say I genuinely loved. She was making noises about 'breaking up' because she wanted to date, as well, and I knew I needed to do that for her. Even if I was a little scared about rumors starting again, it wasn't really fair to her to keep up our charade.
I pulled on some faded gray khaki shorts and a blue tee shirt and slipped into my boat shoes. My boat shoes were my favorite summer gear, not being a big fan of socks and really, really not a fan of sandals. I grabbed my wallet and phone, then combed my hair before heading out into the living room, where my folks were relaxing after their own morning cleaning.
“I'm going to go pick up Mellie. I think we're going to go for ice cream or something,” I said as I grabbed my keys from the hook on the wall.
“She has such a sweet tooth,” my mom said with a smile. “I really like her.”
I smiled and waved at them both before heading out the door. The ride to Mellie's house was only about ten minutes and I spent most of it wondering what she was saying to Dylan. Even though she wasn't going to 'out' me, I also didn't take Dylan for an idiot, and she might let something slip. Pausing at a stoplight I put my head on the steering wheel; wasn't that what I wanted? To have a boyfriend, maybe even Dylan if I were lucky? A horn pulled me from these thoughts and with a wave of apology I went through the intersection.
I'd scarcely come to a stop when Mellie bounded out the front door and hurried to my truck. Once inside she pecked me on the cheek, 'like a good girlfriend should' she'd once said, and started right in with not telling me what I wanted to know.
“So you have a home game on Friday, and I told Dylan that you'd pick him up. He can sit in the stands with me and that way you guys can get an early start on Saturday,” she said, tapping away on her phone. “I told him you're a big baby about not having people to watch you play so he agreed to suffer with me.”
She laughed at me and set the phone down. Placing her hand on my arm she said, “Just kidding, Cris. Drive before my dad thinks we're making out in the truck.”
I snorted and pulled away from her house and headed down to a local diner. Again, before I could really ask, she jumped in and danced away from the questions I wanted to ask.
“So after you guys get done Saturday, I invited him to go to the movies with us.”
I looked at her with my jaw open. “You invited him out on a date with us?”
She took on a truly satisfied look as she said, “Well, considering he and Nate are firmly into best friend territory, I decided to invite Sam as my date.”
“You...what? Back up!” I said, feeling panic stir in my chest.
I pulled into the parking lot and turned off the engine before turning to face her. She was already sitting sideways and looking me in the eye. One thing about Mellie, she's no shrinking violet. She will tell you whatever it is to your face and look you in the eye while she does it.
“Crispin, you knew this thing with us couldn't go on forever, but I'm afraid if I don't push you that you'll never get out there and try.” Her face softened along with her tone, “Besides all that, I've been resisting you for three years and I'm only human.”
I looked at her in confusion and asked what she was talking about.
She reached out her hand and I took it in mine. Her upper lip shook for a brief moment, quickly enough to make me question if I'd really seen it. “Cris, when I asked you out all that time ago...I was hoping, a little, that you weren't. You know, gay.”
“I know, I know,” she said, holding her hand up and looking away from me until she gathered herself. Then, her gaze met mine and she said, “I figured, at worst, I'd have this really cute guy to hang around with and I'd be doing a good thing; something I really do believe in. I want you to be happy, Cris, I do. But you're so sweet and you just get cuter every year,” she said, trailing off. She shook her head and said, “I need to do this for me, too. I need to date and not be falling for a guy I know I can't have.”
I squeezed her hand, feeling blown away by her statement. “Mellie, I never realized...this was a huge sacrifice for you.”
“I wanted to. I meant everything I said and I don't regret it. But, well, things are changing. I'd like to keep us close, keep us best friends—I don't want to lose that. But at the same time, well, small town. If you don't get me pregnant soon, I think they're all going to suspect.”
She said this last with a deadpan face and I smiled at her attempt to ease the tension and emotions I think we were both feeling. “Sam Keller, though? Really? Couldn't you pick a guy whose ass I could kick if he doesn't treat you well?”
She laughed and squeezed my hand before turning to climb out of the truck. I followed her lead and we crossed the parking lot on a day that was odd for its high humidity so early in the spring. Heavy rain clouds drifted overhead, bruises inflicted on the sky by some unknown abuser. We were soon seated in the cooler space of the diner and placed drink and food orders; we were very familiar with the menu.
“So. You dying to know about Dylan, yet?” she teased.
“Why do you enjoy torturing me?” I asked in a conversational tone. “It's like you delight in watching me squirm.”
“It's because I do!” she replied primly and we both chuckled.
“So you said Nate's just a friend? How can you be so sure?” I asked, deciding to be straightforward.
“Well, there is two parts to that—and I think Nate is a pretty good guy after hearing this from Dylan, by the way,” she said, pausing while the drinks were delivered. Once the waitress had retreated she said, “So I guess Nate called him up out of the blue and asked if they could hang out. Dylan was a little unsure, because of Nate's recent dick-headedness, but he decided that Nate was his friend more than anything, so he said yes.”
“Wait, he texted all this?”
“No. He pulled that 'it's too much to text' crap, so I called him. Anyway,” she said, waving her hand, “turns out one thing Dylan forgot to mention about Nate is his crappy home life. I know, I know, before you say it, that's not an excuse for everything, but hear me out.”
I closed my mouth and gestured for her to continue.
“So I guess Nate's dad is a real prick. Tyrant at home kind of thing. So Nate's mom gets sick with breast cancer and Nate wants to wear pink for breast cancer, right? Dad vetoes it, says it's too girly for a kid of his.”
“Oh. That kind of prick,” I said, feeling a twinge of sympathy.
“Right. It gets worse, though. Nate's mom, she has to have a double mastectomy.” She paused and looked at me with a serious expression. “That means they have to take both boobs off.”
I narrowed my eyes. “I knew that.”
“I figured anything related to boobs was questionable for you. Anyway,” she said, smiling at me. “I guess Nate's mom wanted him to go hang with his cousin a little bit because of all the bad shit at home and, long story longer, Nate's dad said no and ended up shooting his mom.”
“What?” I asked, and leaned back in the seat as if I'd been sucker punched.
“I know, can you believe him? What an asshole,” she said and shook her head. “So Nate's dad is in jail because he can't make bail and then Dylan says all the drama was more than some people wanted to deal with and they just cut Nate loose. Can you imagine? Dropping a friend because of shit like that? So, you fast forward to last night and, on top of all of that, when Nate gets there he tells Dylan that his Mom's cancer is back and he's afraid she's going to die.”
“Oh, my God,” I said slowly and placed a hand over my mouth. I was so embarrassed to have leapt to my own selfish wants and fears when I'd heard Nate had stayed over. I was such an ass.
The food arrived and after topping the drinks off, the waitress let us be. For a minute I just sat and thought about what she'd said. I had a hard time imagining what I'd do, exactly, if someone had come to me like that. It gave me a look at Dylan's strength and his loyalty and I felt myself lacking. Mellie sipped her drink and waited for me to meet her gaze before she continued.
“I guess the subject came up about them dating, I forget how, but Nate told Dylan that he couldn't risk their relationship in case they had a bad break-up. He told Dylan he needs him and so they are both just really tight friends. So...Dylan is single, is what some of this comes down to for you.”
I shook my head. “How can I measure up to Dylan? That's some heavy duty stuff he just handled. I don't know how well I'd do if it were me,” I confessed.
“When the time comes, you'll be okay,” she said confidently. We ate our two-person serving of nachos, but my mind was wandering. Could I get Dylan to see me as someone he could see himself with? How could I go about that? It was a question I had no ready answer for except that Mellie, as usual, was right: we had to break up so she could date and, hopefully, so I could too.
I spent a good deal of time thinking that week. I was looking forward to hearing Dylan talk about himself, since it was mostly me talking about me the last time we were in the truck together, and I wanted to know more about him. There was no question I thought he was attractive; the time I spent staring at that image of him on my uncle's porch was proof of that. But, if Mellie was right, even if Dylan did like me, he was thinking I was a straight guy and out of reach at the least, and, at the worst, I was dating someone.
As Friday grew closer I grew more nervous. One of the problems was that I needed a plan, and the more I knew the better off I'd be. So on Thursday afternoon I went over to my Uncle Todd's after practice and tried to get a handle on what we'd be doing that Saturday.
“Hey! It's my favorite nephew!” he said as I arrived, repeating his favorite joke. I rolled my eyes at him and we hugged. “What's up? I didn't expect you until Saturday.”
“Oh, well, couple of things,” I said as I ran my fingers through my hair. “Uh, going to be a big weekend, first off.”
“Yeah? How's that?” he asked, fiddling with something on his camera.
“Well, Mellie and I are broken up for one thing,” I said slowly.
He looked up at me and nodded slowly. “I wondered how long this could go on. I give Mellie a lot of credit as a human being, though, for what she did for you.”
I nodded and let out a sigh. “I do, too. But now comes the harder part...it wasn't easy, you remember, when you found me out.”
He chuckled. “It was kind of funny to overhear you and Mellie talking about hot guys on my porch. Wasn't your smartest moment.” He shrugged, “But, hey, that never mattered to me. You know that.”
“I know,” I said and sat down on his couch. He set his camera aside and took a seat across from me in a wing chair and waited. I looked up at him and sighed again. “If things go right I could, maybe, have a boyfriend soon. Or at least be working on it, having a few dates. So that’s the good part. The bad part is, if I'm not dating Mellie, eventually my parents are going to find out.”
“Yeah,” he said slowly and nodding his head. “I see your dilemma there. Your mom's always been something of a tight-ass, even when we were kids. Marrying your dad, well, I'm surprised you're as well adjusted as you are.”
“Thanks,” I said sarcastically.
“Hey, she's my sister, I can say those things,” he replied, chuckling. “How do you think they'll react when they find out?”
“I don't want to know.”
“Cris...that's not really a good way to look at this. Eventually, they will know. It's better you have a plan in place if they find out and things aren't good, okay?”
I thought about that for a minute, but sidestepped it instead. “So, Mellie set things up so Dylan will be here all weekend. I have to pick him up tomorrow and he'll come stay at my place Friday. Then we'll come here Saturday morning and work. Then Mellie set things up for Saturday night at the movies, only...she's bringing her own date.”
“Ah. So...there was at least one thing Adam didn't lie about, I guess,” Uncle Todd said as he leaned back in the chair and crossed his legs. “I like Dylan. He does good work and he's photogenic. Polite. You could do worse, you know.”
I blushed. “It's not that I'm not interested, Uncle Todd,” I replied. “But as far as Dylan knows, Mellie and I were for real. I don't know where I stand with him, outside of being kind-of friends. I don't know how he's going to take all this...stuff.” I sighed and admitted, “Plus, I don't want to screw this up. I want him to like me.”
He leaned forward in his chair and regarded me. “I think he likes you just fine, Cris. Just be you and it'll work out. Trust me.”
I sighed again, having hoped for something more solid, though I don't know what. Looking up at him I said, “If he's in my house, in my room, how can I sell that to my parents?”
He shrugged. “I think you hanging with a bud, especially after a break-up, will make sense to them. You'll have a void in your free time, with the break up and that should help to fill it. The biggest problem I see is that you don't have friends coming to the house much, now, so there may be some...question with him suddenly being at your house with any frequency. As far as I know, your folks don't really pay attention to your friends so they won't realize he's new, right away. The longer it goes, the more they might suspect something is up, though.”
I nodded slowly and looked away from him and out the window. “I'm scared,” I admitted. “Sometimes I wish you'd never told me about Dylan.”
“It's okay to be scared, Cris. It's what you do while you're scared that matters. Hey, look, if things get too hot at home, you know you can come here, okay?”
I thought for a minute in silence, turning everything over in my head. I was lucky that, should my parents reject me, I had somewhere to go; I would still have Mellie, too. Some people didn't even have that much. I knew I wanted to live as who I was and not be hidden, not feel ashamed, and this was my chance. I had no idea if this was the right time or if this was the right guy to come out over...actually, that wasn't true. I thought Dylan was worth the risk. I was still scared, but I was going to go forward.
“So what sort of work will you have us doing?” I asked. Once he was done describing it, I almost wished I hadn't asked.
I headed home, showered and had dinner. After my homework it was pretty late and getting close to my bedtime. Glancing around my room it occurred to me that Dylan would have to sleep somewhere and that the choices were in bed with me or out in the living room on the couch or, maybe, a sleeping bag on my floor. Well, no, he was a guest so I'd take the sleeping bag. With a start I realized I'd never asked my parents if he could stay, so I headed out to the living room where my dad was mindlessly watching TV from his recliner and my mother was looking at something on her tablet. Shopping, probably.
Our living room often struck me as if it were a movie set rather than a place where people actually lived. Everything was clean and in its place to the point that it looked like a chain store, the sort where no matter which one you walk into it's all laid out the same. The walls were a two tone, brown on the bottom and tan on top with a white chair rail around the room. The furniture was well cared for and the sofa had a clear plastic lining over it. It felt oppressive and...stodgy.
“Hey, Mom?” she glanced up at me and I said, “This friend of mine, Dylan, has been doing some work for Uncle Todd on the weekends. Mellie invited him to come to my game and stay over since we're both working over at Uncle Todd's on Saturday and Sunday. I kind of forgot to ask permission, though.” I gave them my best pathetic face and waited as they shared a conversation without words.
“You say Mellie invited him? Why would she do that?” my father asked.
“Why invite another boy to your game? Is everything all right between you, dear?” my mother chimed in.
I had a flash of inspiration and went with it. “Actually, now that you mention it...we're breaking up.”
“Oh! Oh, I'm so sorry, dear,” she said and stood, placing her tablet on the coffee table and giving me a quick hug. “Are you all right?”
“Yeah. Um, Mellie and I are still going to be good friends. We just...I guess we're just not quite right for each other.” I shuffled my feet and did my best to look forlorn.
“Oh, honey! I'm so sorry. I thought you two were just adorable together.” She let out a sigh while rubbing my shoulder. “Is this Dylan who she's seeing now? She wouldn't be so cruel?” she asked skeptically.
“Dylan? No. She's interested in this other guy, Sam. Dylan is our friend, actually. He's pretty cool, kind of offered to hang with me after...well, after we broke up.”
“That's sweet of him. Yes, he can stay, sweetheart.” She patted my shoulder and resumed her seat and I took my win and went to brush my teeth before I screwed it up somehow. I went back to my room and spent a few more minutes looking at Dylan's picture: the smile on his face, the way the sun kissed his skin...with a sigh I turned the tablet off and threw myself back on my bed. I had difficulty getting to sleep, wondering how things would play out this weekend.
My jaw must have been dragging on the ground as we walked through Dylan's house. When I arrived he wasn't done getting his bag together and I was following him up to his room and the total disarray was mind bending. Every flat surface was covered with piles of stuff. I saw more than a few corners of wallpaper curling away from the wall and a spider the size of a chihuahua. His room was more organized, but still—if my mother saw my room like this, she'd have a stroke.
His bed wasn't made, some of his dresser drawers were open with clothes half in, half out. I saw a small tube TV and an old game system, but no tablet or laptop. His closet door stood open and I could see a half-full laundry hamper and a trash bag bulging with contents. His bag was on his bed; not a suitcase or overnight bag, but his school backpack. He walked to his closet and pulled the trash bag out and set it down then reached back in the closet to pull out a nice collared shirt. He noticed me watching and held the shirt up still on its hanger for me to see.
“I'm told it's a rugby shirt, not a polo.”
I paused and asked, “What's the difference?”
“I'm glad you asked!” he said, his voice taking on the tone of an over-enthusiastic salesman. “Rugby shirts have stiffer, shorter collars and rubber buttons so they don't pop off if someone yanks on it. Also they frequently come in these stripes, here,” he said, pointing to each item and ending with the alternating light and dark blue horizontal stripes.
I laughed. “Sounds like you got the pitch down—going to go work for them?”
“If I had a car, maybe,” he said with a chuckle. He folded the shirt and set it in his backpack, then turned to me. “Hey, you wear expensive stuff—is that rugby shirt okay to go out with you guys to the movies? I don't want to stand out or anything.”
“It's a nice shirt,” I replied. “I won't worry about it, though. Everyone's eyes are always on Mellie.”
“Aww, jealous?” he teased as he walked from the room. “Just grabbing my toothbrush and stuff.”
“Not jealous. Just letting you know the score,” I called out, sounding silly to myself. He walked back in with a handful of toiletries and put them in the backpack's outside pocket. He zipped it up and glanced at me.
“Should I bring a pillow?”
My gaze darted to his thin pillowcase and imagined my mothers lip curling when she saw it. “Um, no, I have extras. All good.”
“Sweet. I'm ready, then. Oh, can we drop this bag at a donation box? It's full of clothes that don't fit me,” he asked, pointing to the trash bag I'd noticed. Nodding to him, I picked the bag up. We bounded down the stairs and, once outside, he yelled over the fence that he was leaving. There was no response. After tossing his bag in the back we got settled in my truck for the ride back to my school. His foot bounced on the floor, making his black basketball shorts move back in tiny fractions along his upper thigh. The meat of his lower thigh was enticing, trembling a bit as he moved his leg. I glanced at him. A printed tee shirt that fit him loosely completed his outfit, and I decided to get the conversational ball rolling.
He glanced at me and smiled. “Yeah. Never met a guy's parents before. This is kind of fast, isn't it?”
My eyes went wide and he burst out laughing. I started to laugh, too, but my heart was still galloping from the flash of a thought that Mellie had outed me to help 'push' me along.
“Actually, I've been looking forward to this all week. My friend Hannah, she had a rough experience with a guy a little bit ago and she's not so into hanging with guys right now, which kind of sucks but I totally get it.”
“A rough time? Bad break up?”
“No. He tried to push things with her. You know, sexually.” He paused and said, “She was offended more than scared, I think. The guy was trying to cop a feel even after having been told no.”
“Shit, what a dick. What did she do?”
He grinned. “She opened his pants like he was going to get some and poured her drink on his stiffie.”
I laughed loudly. “She did? Good for her!”
“Yeah, Hannah's a tough cookie. And my other friend, Nate? He's going through hard times.”
I cleared my throat. “Yeah, Mellie told me. I, uh, I'm sorry for him.”
Dylan looked out the passenger window for a moment, watching the endless green of upstate New York go by. The view was broken up from time to time by the occasional house, but we were getting into more rural territory by the second. He pushed his hands together and brought his gaze facing forward and sighed.
“Nate came over last weekend, I told you that, right?” Not waiting for a reply he continued, “He usually doesn't talk a whole lot about, you know, feelings and important stuff like that. But he talked a lot that night, told me some hard stuff happening in his life. It was a good talk. He friend-zoned me, but it's all good.”
“Yeah? You mean you don't want to date him anymore?”
“Well, I wouldn't totally say that. Nate has some good qualities and I'd have liked to find out if he could be a good boyfriend; hell, find out if I could be a good boyfriend,” he said with a snort. “But...he really needs a friend right now. I realized that girl he's dating, Erica? She's not going to be with him very long. He's trying to put up a good front, but he came to me because he was hurting, not her. I was glad I could be there for him.”
“Yeah. You know, when you and I first started to hang out I was like,” I said, pausing to gesture uncertainly with my hand. “On your side? Like I was totally rooting for you and Nate to get together. I was like, “Why wouldn't you date my boy, Dylan?”
Dylan turned a dopey look on me. “First started hanging out? It's been two weeks, Crispin,” he said laughing and I joined him.
“I don't know, it seems longer!” I replied.
“Yeah, it's been really cool meeting you guys.” He pushed himself back into the seat and stretched a bit. “I hope I can find someone that lets me have what you and Mellie do.”
I cleared my throat and checked the mirrors while replying as nonchalantly as I could, “What do you mean 'what Mellie and I have'?”
He gestured with his hands as he looked at me, “You know, you guys have such an easy-going relationship. It's like you guys just fit together as people. I'd like that comfort, you know? The things a good relationship brings.”
I wasn't sure what to say to that. I wasn't ready, just yet, to tell him we'd broken up and that she'd been my beard for almost three years. I wasn't ready to tell him that I was ready and willing to try to give him that relationship if he wanted to try. Desperately looking for a way to change the direction of the conversation I said, “Hey, this trip was supposed to be all about you, remember? Get talking!”
He grinned at me and shrugged. “I've lived in the Springs all my life. My best friends are Hannah and Nate. My parents are still married, at least on paper. My mom runs a daycare—”
“Little kids go in that house?” I asked in horror.
He turned a lop-sided grin on me. “Nope. Mostly in the yard, but there is a basement playroom for when the weather is bad. The paying customer never sees the dark underbelly which is the rest of the house.”
I turned my gaze back to the road and snapped my jaw shut. After a moment of silence I said, “I'm sorry. That was pretty judgmental of me.”
I heard him shrug, his shoulders pushing against the seat. “It was accurate. I wouldn't want a kid wandering in there myself.”
I sighed and felt my body relax as I realized he wasn't angry with me.
“The house has always been that way. It wasn't until I went to Hannah's, really, that I realized everyone didn't live in a total mess all the time.” He held his hands out. “I guess that's kind of it, in a nutshell.”
“What about Adam?”
“Adam? Oh, now you really want my dirty laundry!” he said with a laugh and I joined him. “I don't know where to start with him. He was always in trouble and I would watch him get busted and just wonder how he ever thought what he was doing was a good idea. I mean, even as a little kid he'd do something like take Dad's beer and I'd be thinking 'he's going to hit your bare ass with a belt. What are you thinking'?”
We laughed and I asked, “So he was always a rebel, huh?”
Dylan snorted. “Rebel without a clue, more like.”
Now that he was talking, I decided to satisfy my curiosity about what he saw in Nate. Specifically I wondered if I had any of those qualities and how they might help me. “So, you and Nate...how'd all that happen?”
“Man, you do want to know everything, don't you?” he asked, laughing. “Nate and I were just casual friends for a while, just two kids who knew each other. We hung out with a lot of the same people, but not that often just the two of us. Back then Nate used to repeat shit his dad said at home, but he never sounded like he actually thought about it; it was like throwaway stuff.”
I grinned at him. “You let him slide because you thought he was cute.”
Dylan burst out laughing and nodded his head. “Yeah, I did cut him some slack.” His face sobered and he said in a solemn tone, “Things went really bad for him, though. We got really tight then.”
I cleared my throat again, mostly to clear an itch in the back of my throat that threatened to make me want to cough. Honest. “Mellie told me. Poor guy. Um, one thing I don't get though.”
“Ask! I'm not going to have any secrets from you, am I?” he said, chuckling.
“I'm sorry, am I—?”
“No, not at all,” he said, still chuckling. “Ask away.”
I looked at him uncertainly but was reassured that he was serious; he was looking at me with an indulgent smile. Indulgent, that was exactly the word. My pulse raced. Was he cutting me slack because he thought I was cute?
“Well, uh, I was just wondering how you and Nate...almost got together.”
“Oh, that,” he said and waved his hand at me. “We were at a going away party for my burnout brother—he was going into the Air Force and, later, they kicked him out, but I told you that, right? Anyway, we'd had a few beers. He took my coming out pretty well so I pushed my luck and kissed him.”
“You what?” I said, laughing. “That was pretty damn bold!”
He shrugged, still laughing. “Eh, it seemed like a good idea at the time.”
“What happened then?” I asked as we pulled into the parking lot of my school.
“I took him home with me.” He deadpanned and then laughed at my stunned expression. “Actually, the plan had been for him to stay over that night. Over the next several months we fooled around some. That's all done now, though.”
I shook my head. “This ride was too short, I still have questions!”
“Yeah? You can have one more, otherwise people will think we're up to no good in this truck,” he snickered.
“Just one? Shit, um,” I prevaricated and then decided I should take the chance to ask since there would be little to no chance of continuing the conversation right now. “So, what drew you to Nate? Like, what did you see in him?”
He smiled that indulgent smile again. “Nate has a good heart. Even though he used to say crappy stuff sometimes, his actions never lined up with them. Like, he'd be friends with anyone, help anyone—he just said boneheaded things sometimes. He's funny and kind. I mentioned he's cute,” he said, snickering again. “I guess I have to say that I just thought there was a really good guy underneath everything.”
I jolted when I realized I was staring at Dylan as he spoke. Shit, how long had I been doing that? “Um, shit, I have so many more questions!”
“Hah! Well, we have all weekend. Where's the field? Oh, there's Mellie,” he said and unbuckled his seatbelt. We climbed out of the truck and Mellie joined us, pecking me and hugging Dylan. She glanced at me and told me they'd meet me after the game. Reluctantly I parted company and went to get changed for the game.
All through the warm ups I wondered if I'd screw things up because Dylan was there; I was nervous that he was watching and I wanted to impress him. I'd meant to ask if he liked sports, but hadn't gotten to it; the ride had been way too short. As it happened, our pitcher was working the strike zone and we had plenty of balls hit to keep us focused on the game. So much that, by the time I came up to bat, I'd forgotten they were there. Then they started to cheer and I looked up at them in the bleachers, clapping and cheering me on.
I went three for four with a two run double. So much for performance anxiety.
After the game I showered and headed out to meet up with Dylan and Mellie. They were leaning on my truck, carrying on like they'd been friends forever. I paused just a moment to watch Dylan as he laughed, so comfortable and...handsome. Not handsome, hot. No, not that either. Why was I having such a hard time nailing down how intrigued I was by his appearance? Mellie called out to me and I snapped out of my reverie. Smiling, I approached them.
“I've never been to a baseball game before, but I think I like it. That was exciting! And you did so well—you didn't tell me you were good at this!” Dylan said, grinning at me and punching me lightly on the shoulder. I smiled back and shrugged.
“I'm too modest to tell you, but I was holding back. I could have hit home runs every time,” I said, feigning a yawn. He pushed me and they both started to tease me about having a big head.
“Seriously, though, you must be his good luck charm, Dylan because that was his best game all season,” Mellie said once we were in the truck and on our way to her house. I dropped her off, with a peck for me and a quick hug for Dylan, and I was alone with him again. No sooner than we started to move than he was back to teasing me.
“So we back to twenty questions? My turn now, since we got out of the car?”
“I don't think so,” I said. “That ride wasn't nearly as long as the one from my uncle's to your house.”
“Oh, come on!” he said, laughter lacing his voice. “Okay, fine. We can trade one for one, how's that?”
“Good, it's my turn. How'd you and Mellie meet?” he said, pouncing.
I looked at him, eyes alight and waiting for my answer. I turned my gaze back to the road and said, “Well, she was just as shy back then as she is now,” I began and he snorted with laughter. Heartened I continued, “She found me in the library, asked me out right out of the blue.”
“You guys didn't even know each other?”
“Not really, no,” I said, thinking of how she'd only heard of me due to a rumor. A true rumor, but still. “Anyway, she asked me out and I said yes and there we are.”
“When was that?”
“Hey, you had a question, my turn,” I told him, teasingly.
“Okay, fine, ask me some more about Nate!” he said, affecting along suffering tone. Even though I could see he was teasing, I wondered if there was a thread of seriousness to his statement.
“Actually, I wanted to know if you liked sports,” I asked, making my tone sound stuffy.
“See? I knew you wanted to know about Nate!” he said and chuckled. “I'm not much for sports. I mean, I can play and I don't mind, but I'm not really into it. Nate, though, played everything and did it well. If you want to talk sports, he's your guy. I'm more of a casual observer and a dabbling player.”
“Ah, I see. You guys are kind of opposites, then.”
“Are you trying to sneak in a second question?” he asked, his voice laced with suspicion.
“Would I do that?”
“Yes!” he said and we both laughed. I don't know why I was so worried; getting along with Dylan was proving to be easy!
“Okay, so it's my turn then. How long have you and Mellie been going out?”
“About three years, give or take.”
“Wow,” he said and tossed his head back against the headrest. “That's awesome. You guys are so good together.”
“Well, here we are,” I said as I pulled up in front of our neat home. We sat in the truck for a moment while Dylan looked the house over.
“Meet your standards?” I teased.
“It's...do people really live here?” he demanded. “Is this like, a model home for the development or something?”
He looked at me seriously, but his lips were quivering and we both were laughing again. He grabbed his backpack and we headed into the house. As I expected my parents were sitting in the living room, my father in his recliner and my mother perched on the end of the couch with her tablet. They greeted Dylan without getting up, which I thought was kind of rude.
“Crispin, honey, before you take your shoes off would you please run to the store before it closes? I forgot I need milk. Here's five dollars,” she said, holding out the bill to me. “There's leftovers if you're hungry when you get back.”
“Sure, Mom. Come on, Dyl,” I said.
“I'll put the bag in Crispin's room for you,” she said and held her hand out. Dylan smiled, thanked her, and handed her his bag and we ran back out to the store. We were back in fifteen minutes, tops, and my mother asked Dylan if he'd like a shower tonight or in the morning. He told her morning and she smiled and turned to me.
“I guess you showered at school. Why don't you let Dylan wait in your room while you run the garbage out. Dylan, I'm sorry, I never made it to his room with your bag,” she said and proffered the bag to him.
“Okay,” I said, sounding a little uncertain. I'd taken the trash out that morning so it seemed weird it needed to be taken out again. Dylan picked up his bag and we took off our shoes, leaving them by the door. I walked him by the bathroom, for reference, and then pointed out my bedroom and said I'd be along in a minute. I doubled back to the kitchen where I found my mom waiting for me.
“Crispin,” she hissed. “Where does this boy come from? Who are his parents?”
I paused, taken aback. “What? Why? What's the matter?”
“His clothes! Those things look like something a hobo would be ashamed to wear!”
“His clothes?” I asked, thinking of how he'd been dressed when I picked him up. “I thought he dressed just fine. What are you talking about?”
She moved in a little closer and pitched her voice low. “I wanted to check out this new friend of yours. The guides say to always watch out when your kids start hanging out with new people,” she said, waving her hand in a dismissive fashion. “I went through his bags in case he had dope! And his clothes were awful! Is he homeless?”
My eyes were wide and my jaw was unhinged. “You went through his bag? Mom! What is wrong with you? He's my friend!”
“And this is my house!” she said, pointing to the floor and glaring. “Why does he have such shabby clothes?”
“Because he's going to work in a basement all day tomorrow and didn't want to ruin nice clothes?” I asked, my tone indicating exactly what I thought of this conversation.
She glowered at me. “Don't be fresh.”
I crossed my arms. “So did you find dope, Mom? What does that even look like, anyway?”
We stood for a moment, glaring at each other before she dismissed me with a look. I shook my head and walked back to my bedroom. Dylan had set his backpack down and was wandering around my room slowly, looking at each item. He noticed me and smiled.
“This is the guest room, right? No one actually lives in this room?”
“Are you cracking on my cleanliness?” I asked as I stepped fully into the room and kicked my door closed with my foot.
“This is like a shrine, right? You're a ghost and this was your room, right?” he said, teasing me. I pushed him and he pushed back and then we were full on wrestling and tickling for advantage. Even though we were rough housing, he seemed to instinctively understand the need to keep it down and both our giggles were muffled. Our feet slipped on the wooden floor, socks offering no grip, and it might have gone on like that forever until his foot touched the corner of his backpack. He, not remembering, glanced down to see what it was he'd stepped on and I pounced, spinning him around and fighting to get his wrists so I could pull his arms around himself.
He giggled and pushed back into me, waving his arms around to avoid capture, but I slowly got him into position and pulled both his arms around himself and, thus, his body tightly against me. We were both breathing hard and I know I was sweating a little. I became hyper aware of each of his breaths, of his back pushing against me with each intake. I was conscious of the heat of his body and the smell of his skin.
I let him go suddenly and he stumbled before catching himself.
“I win,” I said, breathing deeply, and I flopped onto my bed.
“For now,” he agreed and plopped down next to me. We sat in silence, both catching our breath. “So, I usually sleep naked. Is that cool with you?”
“What?” I asked, my eyes bulging out of my head and my brain trying to cope with the idea of a naked Dylan.
“Kidding. Makes sleeping in my boxers way easier to accept though, right?” he asked, laughing at me.
I narrowed my eyes at him. “What if I sleep naked?”
He seemed caught off guard for a moment and then grinned at me. “Then Mellie is going to be really surprised how much I know about her boyfriend!”
“No, no,” I said, waving my hand. “You guys are way too chummy as it is. That settles it, I'll stick to pajamas tonight.”
“Spoilsport,” he said and grinned.
I glanced at the clock. “I'm hungry. Want to go grab a plate?” He agreed and we padded out to the kitchen, past my mother who was deep into her on-line bargain hunting. I heated up a plate of leftovers for each of us and grabbed cans of soda as well. We ate in relative silence, the sound of some sit-com filling in as background noise. Once we were finished I glanced at the kitchen clock.
“My folks will send us to bed in about a half hour. Want to watch something or try a game?”
“I'm easy,” he said and my mind exploded with inappropriate comebacks. Instead I led us back to my room and put a game in, an update to one I'd seen in his room, and handed him a controller. “Oh, I haven't gotten to play this, yet.”
Soon we were fighting away, bumping into each other for advantage and carrying on, albeit quietly. I wasn't even watching the clock but our fun came to an end when my dad poked his head in the door.
“Lights out in ten, guys. Pack it up. And Crispin,” he said, his voice souring. “You left your underwear in the bathroom again. How many times do I have to remind you to pick up after your shower?”
Groaning at my father I shut things down and we went to the bathroom to brush and wash faces and all that jazz—and for me to get my underwear. Telling Dylan I'd be right back, I went to the hall closet and pulled a sleeping bag from the top shelf and walked back to my room. Inside Dylan was already down to his boxers and was just pulling off his socks. I swallowed a few times, sneaking glances at him, and busied myself with unrolling the sleeping bag.
“Thanks, man,” he said.
“For what?” I asked.
“The sleeping bag. Getting it for me, you know? Politeness?”
I frowned at him. “The sleeping bag isn't for you. You're the guest. I'll sleep on the floor, you can have my bed.”
“Uh, no,” he replied, shaking his head. “I'm not kicking you out of your own bed. I'll be good on the floor.” He started to sit, obviously planning to sit on the bag, and I pulled on the sleeping bag, yanking it away from him.
“No, you won't. Guest. You get the bed,” I said firmly.
“Dude, no,” he said, just as firmly.
I opened my mouth to tell him to stop being stubborn when my door opened again and my dad poked his head in again.
“Lights out. What's the problem?”
“I'm trying to give my guest the bed,” I said, letting my tone communicate how difficult this was. “But he's not co-operating.”
“I don't want to kick him out of his bed. I'm good with the floor.”
“For the love of...guys, sleep head to heel, then you can both have the bed. Lights out,” he said and hit my light switch. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust and, when they did, Dylan hadn't moved.
“Um, I guess if you're going to be difficult,” I said with a voice that I hope sounded calmer than I felt. “We could do the head to heel thing.”
“No offense intended because I'm sure you wash regularly, but I don't want to sleep next to your feet.”
“Fine,” I said, sounding a tad defensive, maybe. “But I'll sleep on the inside, in case you have to get up to go to the bathroom.”
“Okay,” he agreed.
That settled, I changed for bed.
“Whoa. What...are you actually wearing pajamas?”
I paused and looked down at my pajama bottoms and matching top. “Yeah,” I said, stretching he word out. “Why?”
He chuckled, covering his mouth. “I've heard of people wearing them, just never seen them.”
I felt a little silly at his teasing and took the top back off. “Well, it's a little warm so I guess I don't need the top.”
I climbed into bed and moved toward the wall and a moment later the mattress moved as Dylan lay down. I felt hot, just knowing he was mere inches away. My body was tense and all the ease with which we'd been hanging out was suddenly gone and in its place I felt wound tight. I desperately wracked my brain to come up with something to say, something to talk about but all my mind could focus on was that he was here, in my bed. For some reason, my swirling thoughts brought Nate to mind and my brain seized on it.
“So your folks are wound kind of tight, huh?” Dylan whispered before I could open my mouth.
“You could say that,” I said with a chuckle, relieved that my focus on his proximity and state of undress was broken. Mostly. Partly.
“Not to be a douche but...I think your mom went through my bag.”
The silence was sudden and oppressive. I felt a tad defensive about it, not wanting him to dislike my folks, but at the same time I was mad she'd done it, too. “Um, yeah. She did. I'm sorry.”
His head turned on the pillow, and then he turned his body on its side to face me. “It's okay. If people know I'm Adam's brother they usually think I'm just like him. I'm sort of used to things like that; the suspicion.”
I sighed. “I got mad at her for it. She claimed she was looking for dope.”
He snorted. “I can't afford pot, much less dope. Hey,” he said, his tone becoming speculative. “What is dope exactly, anyway? I've heart of pot, heroin, coke but what is dope?”
“I...I'm not sure,” I admitted. We both chuckled. “So this has actually happened to you before?”
“Not exactly that, but yeah...teachers who had my brother, parents who have a kid that was in his grade and one in mine or close to. Plus, if Adam wasn't enough, you've seen the Palazzo Whalen, which no doubt inspires confidence in people.”
“Yeah, okay. Not totally fair, but I see what you're saying. But my mom doesn't know any of that. How come you're cool about it?”
“I didn't say I was cool with it, exactly. I just...what can I do about it? Maybe she will relax now that she didn't find something damning.”
“Doesn't it piss you off to be judged like that, though?”
“It used to bother me more,” he admitted. “But a while ago I settled into having Hannah and Nate for good friends and the rest didn't matter so much. Hannah's folks are great and Nate's mom always liked me. Plus there's my Aunt Mina I can go to.”
“So, um, Nate,” I said, taking the opening.
“What about him?”
“You think he's going to be okay?”
He sighed and rolled onto his back. I was enchanted, watching his chest rise and fall in the dim light. I let my gaze flow down past his thin boxers, and the telltale bump indicating his manhood, to his legs. I shivered involuntarily.
“He's going to be okay in the long run, but for now he's got a hard road. See, his dad's in jail right now,” he said.
“For shooting his mom, right?” I interrupted and pulling myself back from the edge. “Mellie said something like that.”
“Exactly. Frank—that's Nate's dad—no one knows if he'll go to jail or for how long if he does. I mean, you'd think if you shoot someone you go to jail, but I guess not always.” Dylan snorted and shook his head, his hair whispering against the pillowcase. “That becomes a big problem if his mom dies of the cancer. Not only would he lose his mom, but he'd have to live with his dickhead dad, who's also a homophobe.”
“But Nate's not gay... or is he?”
“He's bi, maybe,” Dylan said with a shrug. “I think he's still nailing that down. His dad knows he kissed a guy, though, and that's enough to get his hate glands going. I really, really would hate to see Nate go back to him.”
“Were you the guy Nate kissed? Was that at the going away party?”
“Oh man,” he said and laughed quietly. “It was pretty sweet. Hey, you know what?” He turned back on his side. “You're really cool, asking about my relationships and stuff. It's one thing I really like about you and Mellie, just being able to fit in with you guys. You're so...welcoming.”
“We're not like that with everyone,” I said. “I guess you just charmed us.”
“Yeah, right,” he said, chuckling and laying flat again. I hadn't found out what I really wanted to know, like if he had other prospects. Mustering my courage and hoping he didn't think it weird a 'straight' guy was asking things like this...
“So, what now? I mean, if Nate is just a friend...”
“Well, he's not really just a friend. I mean, yeah, he's dating now but she won't last long. He's not in a good place for a relationship. But at one point we were kind of doing the 'friends with benefits' thing and, maybe, we will again. If not, I guess it'll be me, my left hand an a bunch of porn.”
We chuckled and then I pressed the question, since he seemed so open to talking about himself. “You mean you don't have any interest in anyone else?”
“You have interest in anyone else?” he asked right back.
“Well, I always notice people,” I admitted.
He sighed and said, “There are some guys who are out at my school, but some are too young—like freshman— and the rest are in relationships. It's weird, guys at my school come out in pairs. Every time an out guy gets there, one pops up like magic to date him. It's frustrating 'cause I want to scream 'I'm right here! Date me!'”
We trailed off into silence and I, lying on my side, watched Dylan as his eyes fluttered a few times before closing. I thought about what he'd said, that no one else was on his radar and felt, oddly, a little unhappy he hadn't even teased that he was interested in me. Unjustified of course, but that didn't make the feeling go away. His breathing slowed and became more regular and I watched his chest rise and fall by the dim light of the room. He was so close, all I had to do was reach out and—no! Holy shit, where did that come from?
I began to sweat, but promising myself I'd never actually molest him like that. I did, though, let my mind wander...imagining what I'd encounter if I were to give in. What his skin would feel like, what it would taste like. I licked my lips as I stared at his chest, his nipples and yearned to touch them. Directing my gaze downward, across his flat belly and to the bump that I knew held something I desperately wanted to see, touch and...taste, I guess. The light wasn't as strong as I glanced down at his legs and his pale feet, so I brought my eyes back to that tantalizing lump under his boxers.
When Id' first met him, coming out of the pool all wet and wearing just a thin pair of boxers, I'd gotten a glimpse of his dick. It was seared into my memory and now, with him here, it pushed its way to the front of my mind.
In no time I felt my rigid dick pushing against my pajamas and I had wound myself up so badly that I climbed from the bed as gently as I could, grousing to myself about letting him have the outside position, and crossed the hall to the bathroom. There, with his figure in my mind, it took less than a minute to reach my release. Jesus, just thinking about him made me cum hard enough to dent steel.
Knees weak, I wiped myself off and put the lid down before sitting on it. I put my head in my hands and wondered how long this could go on. Well, the answer was not long because Mellie was bringing Sam tomorrow night so I had to make a move and soon. I flushed the toilet and returned to the bedroom, feeling quite tired now.
“Crispin? You okay?” Dylan whispered.
“Uh, yeah. Why? I thought you were asleep, by the way.” Had he seen me staring? Had I, in my focus, not noticed his eyes opening and watching me watch him and becoming more and more agitated?
“I guess it's being someplace new. I felt you get up but you were gone for longer than it took to piss. Just wondered if you were okay. After all, we're supposed to work tomorrow.” A teasing lilt entered his whispered voice.
“Yeah, yeah,” I said. “Here I thought you were worried about me, but you just want to make sure I can do your work, too.”
He chuckled and I climbed back over him into my side of the bed. Soon he was breathing steadily again and, eventually, I imagine, I did as well. In the morning I was mildly disappointed to not wake 'accidentally' wrapped around him. Instead I felt a light touch, a tickle really, moving across my stomach. I opened my eyes to find him grinning and staring at my face as he caused goosebumps to pop up all over my stomach and send a weird but enjoyable tickle through my torso.
“That is the weirdest way I've ever woken up,” I said and then yawned. This was followed by a stretch and then I sat up. Dylan stood up and and stretched as well.
“I excel at weird,” he said, his voice sounding funny because he was still stretching. “What?”
“What are you looking at?” he asked, looking down at himself. “Is my pecker hanging out or something?”
I then realized I must have been staring. “Nope. I was just wondering where your abs were, that's all.”
“I have a cushion to protect them,” he said, grinning and rubbing a hand over his flat, but soft stomach. We took turns showering and then had cereal for breakfast. Dylan was wearing the worn out clothes my mother had seized on and I had put on old clothes, too, though not so worn as his. I thought back to the day I'd first met him, how the clothes he'd left behind were kind of ratty and wondered if the new clothes he was buying were to replace things his parents weren't supplying. In fact I wondered if these ratty clothes he had on were, not so long ago, some of his regular wardrobe.
I grabbed swim trunks for us both and we headed over to my uncle's house. A dumpster had been delivered and he was waiting for us in the kitchen, sipping a cup of coffee and fiddling with his camera. As I expected, he planned to photograph us working. He explained that stuff in the basement was junk, some of it damaged from water or mold, so we’d need to wear protective equipment. He showed us where he’d laid out masks to wear and gloves to protect our hands.
The work sucked. We were climbing up through these barn door style things on the side of the house, up steep stone steps to bring boxes of junk, broken furniture and other assorted crap to the dumpster. We had to pause from time to time to sweep up and fill garbage bags with bits and pieces that we dropped or that simply broke off while being moved. By and large the basement wasn't that big, though, and we got it done in about three hours.
After we had lunch on the porch, my uncle directed us to the shed and showed us the things that needed to be cleaned out of there. Now that we were out of the basement and possible mold problems—and out into the heat of the day, rather than the relative cool of the basement—we discarded the masks and shed our shirts. We worked steadily, sometimes teasing each other with junk we were carrying, but not all that much conversation went on. We paused for water at one point and my uncle had us put an arm around each others shoulders and he took a few pictures like that.
About four thirty we finished up for the day, the shed needing more than we could get done in a single day and our work having been interrupted by a couple of nests of yellow jackets that we found. We bombed the shed and then changed and swam for a bit to cool down. We played in the water and teased each other, getting along like old friends. I liked that about Dylan—when we'd first met he'd been understandably reserved, but then he'd opened up to us and never looked back. He seemed genuinely comfortable and that let his real self come out, and I was utterly charmed.
That was it, I realized. He wasn't overly handsome or hot, not cute or adorable—he was charming. Where some guys have six pack abs and hard as steel pecs, Dylan didn't need them to attract me. Instead he was witty and good looking, easy to get to know and like without needing to be something he wasn't. We climbed out of the pool and lay in the sun to dry and I worried away about how to tell him how I felt; what the true state of affairs really was. My uncle paid us—more cash than I expected—and we headed home to get cleaned up and ready for the movies, with the promise to return the following day to finish up the shed.
After my shower I combed my hair, which I hated because it's kind of coarse and likes to puff up in waves. It's annoying. Once dressed I was surprised to find Dylan in the living room with my mother, engaged in an apparently genial conversation.
“That is a great deal. Where did you say you found it?” my mother was asking.
“There's a shop near downtown, it used to be an industrial building of some kind, but they are trying to get outlets to go in there. Two or three places already opened and I got this there,” Dylan said, pulling the front of his rugby shirt forward to show her.
“I have to go there,” my mother said. “I don't pay full price for anything; it's why Crispin has brand name clothes. Speaking of which, there he is.”
“Here I am,” I agreed. “Ready to go?”
“All set,” Dylan replied and, with a quick goodbye to my folks, we were off. As we drove, Dylan chatted amiably but I couldn't focus. All day I'd been conscious that I was running out of time, that Mellie would be bringing Sam to the movies as her date tonight and I'd have some explaining to do. If it was difficult to say what had to be said here and now, one on one, it would be impossible then. It was harder than I thought it would be, to come out to Dylan. It was so hard that I just hadn't found a way to do it. But, now I was forced into it. I wracked my brain to try and come up with a way to retain some control over things. I decided to warm him up to the subject by dealing with the demise of my relationship with Mellie—at least the facade that it really was.
As we pulled into a parking space I touched Dylan's arm with my fingertips to hold him in place. He looked at me with curiosity and I took a deep breath.
“Listen, Dyl,” I said slowly. “Before we meet up, you should know...Mellie and I decided to break up.”
“What?” he asked, his voice dropping in sympathy. “That's terrible! What happened? When did this happen?”
I looked down at my hands, now crumpled in my lap. “We decided this week. We're still friends, like really tight. We're just not going to date anymore.”
“Cris...I'm so sorry. You guys seemed so perfect together. I don't know what to say.” He reached out and put a hand on my shoulder and I sighed at his touch.
“I just thought you should know because she's inviting this guy, Sam Keller, tonight. As her date.”
“Seriously? Isn't that awkward for you?” he asked, and just like that, he sounded skeptical.
“No. I'm good. Really. Um, we better go. I just...thought you should know.” It wasn't the whole truth, but it was something. I wasn't sure I wanted to come out to him in the cab of my truck when we were expected to join Mellie for a movie shortly. I figured maybe I could get through the movie and work my way up to coming out, possibly over the course of the next year. I could tell he wasn't really ready to let it go, but he tamped down on his comments in an effort to spare my feelings, I guess. We spotted Mellie and she waved to us. As we approached she hugged Dylan and then stiffened as he told her how sorry he was.
She glanced at me and then back at Dylan. “Thanks, Dylan. It was a long time coming.”
He glanced at me and then returned his gaze to her. “You guys seemed so good together, are you sure this is what you want? I mean...I'm sorry, it's really not my business...”
“Oh my...this is the most awkward double date ever,” she said. Dylan looked at her in confusion and then, I'm sure, shock when she suddenly kissed him, even pressing him back as if she were trying to dip him. My mouth hung open and Dylan struggled for balance while Mellie had a very satisfied expression on her face. She rubbed Dylan's face between her hands as he spluttered a question about what was going on, but her gaze was set on me.
“See? It's not that hard.”
I closed my eyes and let out a deep breath.
“I have to go, boys. Sam has my ticket. I guess we'll have to reschedule.” Her words drew down to a whisper and I felt her breath passing my ear, “Be honest, he's nice.” Then, with a pat on my shoulder, she was gone.
“Uh, what the hell was that?” he asked.
I opened my eyes to see him looking back in confusion, but not anger. That was a relief, but he didn't know the whole story yet. I blinked away some moisture in my eyes and glanced away, rubbing at my face. In the distance I thought I saw Sam and Mellie entering the theater, but that could have been my imagination.
I dropped my eyes, unable to meet his. “I guess I owe you an explanation,” I said softly, “But I don't know how.” I glanced up at him and asked, “Want to take a walk?”
“Okay,” he said and fell in beside me as I wandered past the few commercial buildings in downtown and to a small green space that had a tiny gazebo, two benches and some shrubs. I sat down on a bench and Dylan joined me.
“So, uh,” I started, my voice trembling. I licked my lips and glanced at him to gauge his state, but his face only showed concerned confusion. “Mellie and I...well, actually...man, this is hard.”
“Take a deep breath,” he said. “I was kind of surprised how much your uncle has been paying me. Is he rich or something?”
I was surprised but relieved at the change in topic. “Um, he inherited the house, it used to be my grandparents. My mom got help with buying her house when my parents got married so she wasn't pissed when they left him the old family home.
“He sells pictures online and I guess he does pretty well, but he also does freelance work. Um, I think he had some kind of settlement, too, when he was a kid. He got hurt, a leg I think, and there was a lawsuit. The money went into an account and it grew for years.”
“Wow. I guess that makes some parts of life easier.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “So, uh, I need to fill in some details for you.”
“Okay. But, really, it's your business. I'm dying to know, of course, and confused, but...”
I glanced at him and he was smiling back at me. I relaxed a little and tried to smile back. I turned on the bench to look at him as I spoke and took a deep breath.
“So, the story I told you about how Mellie and I met is true. But, the circumstances were something I left out. See, there was this...rumor...at school that I was...um, that I had...”
“That you were gay?” he asked, his voice soft.
I closed my eyes and tears welled in shame. “Yeah.” I wiped my face and continued, “Mellie came up to me a few days after the rumors started and she offered to date me. She said that...she said that she thought if I was gay I should be able to come out when I was ready.”
I sniffled and wiped my face again. I didn't want to cry, but the pressure I was feeling was enormous. What if he rejected me? What if he scorned me after finding out I've been hiding? Cars passed by, the breeze of their passing washing past me and cooling the sweat on my exposed arms and neck. I swallowed and opened my eyes to look at Dylan, whose face was etched with sympathy instead of...I don't know what.
“And are you?” he asked, his voice a gentle balm.
“Am I what?”
“I guess you’re telling me you’re gay. So, are you ready to come out?”
I sighed raggedly and sniffed again. “That depends on a few things, I guess. I have to fill in a few more blank spots. You know, for the sake of being honest with you.”
“Okay. Take your time.”
I pursed my lips. “You're being really reasonable about this. Doesn't this bother you?”
“I'm not sure what you expect me to be bothered by. So far it sounds like you had this great friend who covered for you until you were strong enough to come out on your own. I'm kind of impressed with her, if you want the truth, and jealous of you.”
My head snapped up. “Jealous? Why?”
He smiled and said, “Because that's a great relationship.”
I nodded and turned my gaze away from him. “Yeah, it is. Um, so, this is how it all...the, uh, details are that your brother was hanging around with Lynne at my uncle's place.”
“Lynne implied she was sleeping with your uncle,” Dylan interjected.
“Yeah, they did sometimes, I think. I think she was stringing Adam along, though, or maybe giving him just enough to do what she wanted. 'Course, now we know she just wanted him to take the risk of driving her drugs and stuff. Anyway,” I said, waving all that away, “the important thing is Adam told Lynne about you while my uncle was around. My uncle has always, always been my biggest fan.”
Dylan laughed, “I thought he was weird, maybe a pervert, when I met him. The pictures made me feel kind of creepy.”
I smiled weakly. “Yeah, I understand that. He's always been a little weird but really kind to me. My mom used to claim that he spoiled me, but that never stopped him. He always went out of his way to make our relationship stronger. Anyway, he overheard Mellie and me talking a while ago about some guys at school and he's been trying to be really supportive since then.” I fell silent as a group of people passed us, loudly carrying on and pushing and shoving as they went. Once they were out of earshot I took up my narrative again.
“So when he heard that Adam had this younger brother, who was gay and single—despite Adam getting a girl to blow you—and is that true?”
Dylan rolled his eyes. “Yeah. He thought he could straighten me out.”
“Wow. Um, so, yeah, Uncle Todd hatched the plan to get you to do some work for him that he'd been...ignoring. He figured that he'd get you there, invite me over and see what happened.”
“Wow. I was so set up!” Dylan said, chuckling. “I admit, I did not see that coming. I thought for sure your uncle was going to be selling my pictures to some kinky website about guys feet or he'd try to get me to take more clothes off next time or something.”
I smiled weakly at him. “He sent me that picture of you on his porch. It's my favorite, so far.”
He cleared his throat. “I was surprised how I looked, there. I like it myself. So is that it? Are you ready to come out now?”
“I'm still not sure yet. I, uh, have to say that Mellie's been kind of pushing me to...well, to...” I paused and sighed, swallowed a few times and then said, “My folks are really conservative. If I do something like that, they will find out. I just...I want coming out to be worth it. It's not some kind of statement, for me. Although I'm tired of not being able to be who I am, of feeling ashamed.” I looked up and locked my gaze to his, stared him down so that he knew this was about him. “And I want to go on dates. I want a boyfriend. If I can't get that...I don't see the point in coming out.”
“Wow,” Dylan replied and slumped back on the bench. “So, let me make sure I understand this...are you saying you'll come out if I'm going to be your boyfriend? Like, you like me so much you'd be willing to come out for me?”
I closed my eyes and whispered, “Yes.”
There was a significant pause, like an eleven-months-pregnant kind of pause. Then I felt his hand on mine and I opened my eyes. He was smiling at me.
“One, that is the most romantic thing I ever heard. And two...congratulations, Crispin. You just came out.”
Author's Note: I hope you enjoyed my story. There is a third part to it, but ICYMI I'm hearing from less than 1% of my readers about what they think, what they thought was funny or what pissed them off in a story. I pay money to host my site and post stories that you are reading. So, now that you've read, please don't assume someone else will say what they thought, go to my message board and leave a note, even as a guest. I did my job, reader, please do yours.