Saturday morning I took Bruno for a walk, trying to remind myself that the walk was more for him than it was for me. While Bruno was sniffing a stop sign I sent Kendra a message that I wasn't coming, but I hoped she had a good birthday. That was a mistake as she called me right away.
“Noah! I was counting on you,” she said, practically whining.
“I don't know why. I didn't say I was coming. Besides, I have plans,” I said. True – I was meeting with Walker later, but she didn't need to know that.
“I don't understand this,” she continued. “Is this about the other day? What I said about Marc?”
I sighed. “I think it's about more than that,” I told her. “Yeah, Marc dating you stung for a while, but I'm over that. Been over it. You guys bring it up more than anyone else does, which is shitty.” I sighed. “But you guys are just shitty friends. We don't hang out – can't because of you and Marc and the fact that the whole 'Marc and me' thing has to come up and how you act like you made him straight or whatever. I'm over it.”
“Noah,” she said, her voice dropping. “Marc needs you. You can't dump him.”
I snorted. “I'm not dumping anyone. You guys dumped me; you just forgot to say so.”
“No,” she said urgently. “I'm serious. I hear what you're saying, and yeah, okay, I get it, I guess. I don't really believe in the whole idea of being locked into a sexuality.”
“You mean you've thought about rubbing another girl's boobs?” I asked deliberately.
“Not about me!” she protested. “I mean these gay guys. I mean, dicks fit in pussies, right? It's biology.”
“Dicks feel pretty good in a nice ass, too,” I told her. “Or did Marc never tell you that?”
She was quiet for a heartbeat. “Yeah. He did. But there's nothing wrong with liking that. It's how guys are built. They can get off more ways than one; I guess it makes up for girls having multiple orgasms.” She paused. “I mean, not with Marc, but you know. I've heard.”
I shook my head. “You don't get it. I don't understand how you don't get it, but you don't.” I sighed. “I'm hanging out with my boyfriend today. He's fun and he's handsome and sexy as fuck. I don't – have never – thought of a girl like I do my boyfriend. Or Marc, for that matter, when we were together.”
She let out a small noise. “What about me?”
I frowned, though she couldn't see it. “What do you mean?”
“Noah...Marc is my friend and I'm...look, you guys...I mean, I'm right here. What about me?” She sniffed.
Oh. My. God. “Kendra are you...I'm gay. I came out to you in seventh grade. You've known for years I like dick. Did you really...Kendra! Seriously?”
“Don't yell at me!” she said in a strangled voice. “I accepted that you were confused! I understand thinking guys are hot – they are! But after you and Marc...did all that, I dated him. You could see that it wouldn't take much for you to date a girl.” She sniffled again. “Noah, I was right here!”
I shook my head, trying to figure out how she had thought this would work. “So you thought after Marc left me for you that it would make me, what, want to date you?”
“Guys are competitive! You should have been trying to steal me from him!”
I couldn't help it. I started to laugh. “Kendra...that's got to be the stupidest thing I ever heard! Who the hell told you that? Please don't tell me you thought of this all by yourself?”
“Don't laugh at me, Noah! I love you!”
I sighed and shook my head. “Look, Kendra...I'm sorry. I don't feel that way for you. If I'd realized you were...thinking like this at all, I would have said something to you. I'm not confused. I'm gay. I liked sex with Marc. I liked all the sex I had last summer with Victor.”
“You were having sex last summer? You didn't say anything!” she gasped.
“Why would I tell the girl who was dating my ex, who thinks I just need to meet the right girl to change my sexuality? Do you hear yourself?” I licked my lips. “Kendra...I'm sorry. We're never going to be a thing. I don't see you that way, and I won't ever. I'm not wired like that.”
Then she cried. I felt guilty. Then she spoke, and I felt angry. Then she cried some more, and I felt guilty again. In the end though, Darrion was right – I don't owe her anything. I'm not responsible for her feelings, and I'm not obligated to return her emotions. So eventually I hung up.
The call left me unsettled, though. Deeply. I’d had no idea she'd felt this way. All this time I had thought she was a bitch for the way she scooped up Marc, and it had taken me a while to accept that he'd wanted to be scooped up and not be with me. But what did any of it mean now? Why would she say Marc needed me? Marc and I didn't talk much anymore. Christ...for two years I'd been in this toxic circle, with them holding me to them, while I stood there like an idiot letting them.
I got Bruno home and went to clean up my room before I took a shower.
“Wow. Room cleaning without being told,” my mother said from the doorway. “Walker coming over?”
I tossed a shirt at my hamper. “Yeah. I'm going to take him down to the river walk first, then come home to hang out and watch a movie or listen to music.”
“Well, I should run to the store so I can offer him something better than leftovers. What's his favorite food? I can make enough he can take some home.”
I looked at her oddly. “Mom, I like that you approve of him, but you're acting weird.”
“Am I?” she asked.
I shifted my weight to one side and tilted my head, regarding her.
“So dramatic. Fine, I'll just pick something I think he'll like – or maybe I'll just text him,” she said, a smile curling on her face.
“What? How did you get his number?”
“Oh, not his number,” she said with a wave of her hand as she started to turn. “That picture thing? It has messages on it. He has some really nice pictures. When are you going to be in some of them?”
I stared at her back. “Talking to my boyfriend behind my back is exactly the weird I mean!” I yelled after her. I finished up my room and took a shower, dressing in jeans and a long-sleeved tee. After my hair was set I went to pick him up from the diner.
“So glad to be out of there,” he said as he flopped into the passenger seat. “We had a bus come in this morning, and that always means a ton of dishes.”
“Your hands are all red,” I commented.
He glanced at them. “Yeah. Heat from the water and dishes. I need to go home and get cleaned up.”
“Yep,” I acknowledged. I cleared my throat. “Did my mom message you?”
“Your mom? I don't think so,” he said, pulling his phone out. “I don't see anything. Does she have my number?”
“She said a picture app. I think she found your Insta account.”
“Oh. Let me look...oh yeah. She wants to know what I like for dinner.” He glanced up at me. “Your mom really likes me, or she's really sorry for me.”
“She's being weird,” I said.
“She act like this with your other boyfriends?”
“Marc and I never actually dated, but she knew him. She never met Victor, again because we didn't actually date.”
“Hmm. Well, speaking of pictures – that one you sent was fucking hot.”
I flushed. “I didn't mean to, uh, didn't see that on my stomach.”
“It wasn't obvious,” he said. “But...I was looking pretty hard at it. The picture, I mean.”
I laughed nervously. Why was I nervous? I've had sex before, and it's not like he and I were going to go at it right now in the car. I got him home and sat by the kitchen again while his mom was putting away dishes from the dishwasher.
“You guys going out, I hear? Walker claims it's a real date today.”
I rolled my eyes. “I guess. I thought we were dating, but he's been bugging me to go on a real date. I guess hanging out together doesn't count.”
She laughed and leaned a bit closer to me. “Walker is all about the memories and experiences. Sure, hanging out is good, but when you share something – a place, a favorite restaurant – it makes it stand out. Something just as important as hanging out, but more memorable.”
“Oh,” I said, feeling dumb. He wants to go someplace with me and have it be just us. That makes sense, and it makes me feel dumb for not thinking of it myself.
“He tells me you guys will take Matty out for Halloween?”
“Uh, yeah. I guess so. He was jerking me around about dressing up, so I wasn't sure if he was just yanking my chain or what,” I admitted.
“You guys could go as the couple from Heartstopper – Nick Nelson and Charlie....”
“Spring,” I said with a smile. “I love that book. I like graphic novels to start with, but that was a good book.”
“I watched the series,” she said. “I like the idea of graphic novels, but I find too little on the page compared to the text of a traditional book. But if the book was half as adorable as the series, I may have to read it.”
“I can lend you my copy,” I told her. “I bought it for my tablet, but someone gave the actual book to me as a gift, too.”
“Oh, well, then what else can I say but yes?” she replied, smiling. She went on to have a pretty cool conversation with me about some of the gay movies, TV series and books out there. She said she really wanted to see what was out there for gay kids once Walker had come out, and she thought a lot of it was disappointing.
“Sure. A lot of the ones I found dealt with coming out – which is completely valid and needed. I don't think that will ever get old. But there aren't that many that deal positively with what happens after that. For instance, take you guys. You meet, you fall for each other – and of course you look adorable together.” She smiled, and I flushed but smiled back.
“Of course,” I replied.
“But what then? What sort of representation is there for young people once they've passed the coming out stage? Some people – or arguably all gay people – are stuck in a perpetual state of coming out as they meet new people or are hired at new jobs, but coming out doesn’t give meaning to their lives. When it happens, it's important – but what next?”
Was she about to bring up sex?
“There's dating and breaking up. There's relationships and what you learn from each one; what you bring to one and what you need from one. Somewhere in there sex gets tossed in, and it becomes the central idea for some people – at least for a time. For instance, gay people in their twenties tend to date a lot – like teenagers – because they never got to when they were actual teenagers.” She waved her hands and laughed. “Sorry, getting off on a tangent.”
“You have choices, though,” I said quietly. “You can still go to college or not. Get married or not. Have kids or not.”
“Right! A lot of these stories don't go that far, though. Or if they adopt kids, it's some tragic or heroic thing instead of just...I don't know, adopting a troubled kid from foster care and dealing with all that trauma and the red tape of the system.” She sighed. “But people are screwed up. The numbers don't lie – people are frequently wanting to adopt white babies, so the black and brown ones are usually adopted by gay couples.”
“You think that's bad?” I asked.
“Well, I think people should be raised with an idea of their culture, and if you're raised by people that don't look like you, I think it can lead to insecurities or, you know, people just being assholes to you. Kids are famous for that, but some people never stop being mean kids.”
Walker walked out from his room wearing well-fitting jeans and a light sweatshirt, with his bag on his shoulder. I'd never seen him with that much clothing on – and I was torn. He looked damn good, but I really liked him when he had just shorts on. Or shorts and a tank, since the tank emphasized his shoulders and biceps. I'm not sure when I started noticing that about him.
“We're supposed to go over to Noah's for dinner and hang out after. Be home by one?” Walker asked his mom.
“Hah, funny. Eleven.”
“Mom, what if the movie runs late? Or we want to see the end of the episode? Or we get so tangled together we need to go to the hospital to be separated? What then, huh?” he asked as he pulled his shoes on.
She looked at me and said, “He's home by midnight. Understand?”
I nodded and smiled at her, and then we headed out.
“I might need a coffee,” he said. “I'm kind of tired.” He looked at his phone and then said. “I looked at your picture – I'm wide awake now.”
“Ha. Ha. Last time I send you a picture,” I grumbled.
“I mean...I could send you one. Kind of a trade,” he said devilishly.
I glanced at him. Back to the road. Back to him and then to the road. “I'm listening.”
We went down to an area that was just a few blocks long by the Chenango River. There were a few shops that were mostly for summer people – fishing shops, touristy crap like kites and things like that. There was also a food truck and a small gelato shop. We went to the food truck, called The Maple Leaf Express, and we ordered fish and chips with a side of poutine. Once we got to a small table Walker sat beside me instead of across from me and started taking selfies.
“I've never seen you take this many pictures,” I teased him.
“First date,” he said simply. “I haven't posted any pics of us except for the poll, but now? Now we're official. Now my cousins up in Maine will see it – and be jealous. Now my,” he squinted at his phone, “two-thousand and six followers can see how happy I am.”
He's happy. I did that. I leaned my head on his shoulder, and he took another picture. “What were the results of the poll?”
“They want an OnlyFans,” he deadpanned, and I laughed.
After we ate we got some gelato and walked to the water's edge. It was calm, considering the season. We just listened to the water flowing, and I felt at peace.
“How do you do this?” Walker asked me quietly.
“People...they have to talk. They have to fill space so people know they are there. To announce themselves.” He shrugged and glanced at me. “You're just quiet, but I know you're here. It's comfortable without having to say anything.”
I looked down at my cup and moved the plastic spoon around to get the dregs of my treat. “I don't know. I just feel comfortable with you. I don't feel like I have to...be noisy or pretend for you. You're not confusing.”
“Hm. I'm not sure I like not being confusing. You're cute when you get flustered, and that means I'd be confusing you. I'll have to work on that.”
I laughed at him, and he grinned. “No. I mean...so I didn't go to Kendra's party.”
“Probably a good idea,” he said.
Then I told him about her confessing to liking me all this time and what she'd said about Marc needing me and how she didn't think gay was really a thing because she hadn't felt it before and how dramatic she'd been.
“Wow. I have so many thoughts about this,” he said.
“Yeah? Go ahead. Maybe I'll understand things better, but my point is – you don't do things like that. Hide things. Be dramatic.”
“True, I'm not big on unnecessary drama. I have to say, though,” he held up a finger. “First, I have excellent timing.”
“Well, I snagged you in-between Corey and his forceful wooing and Kendra and her...whatever that mess was she was doing. Damn, I'm good.”
I narrowed my eyes at him, and he laughed.
“Second, I wonder about this Marc guy. You're right that it doesn't make sense right off when she says he needs you. Like, you were talking about her party, and what does one have to do with the other, right?”
He took my cup and stacked it with his, moving our spoons to his cup. “So it leads me to wonder – what could he need you for? From what you told me before, I think he needs some kind of support. Maybe this whole idea of choosing to be straight isn't working out for him. Did they ever tell you why she started dating him?”
I thought for a moment. “When they first started dating, I was just...not really listening. I was kind of wrapped up in how someone could go from sleeping with a guy to dating a girl and saying he wasn't gay. I mean, maybe bi, I guess, but again, I wasn't really listening. I was more just...hurt, I guess.”
“Makes sense,” he said quietly. “You're right; there's no reason you'd be looking to figure things out about him. Didn't you say she was acting like she converted him or something?”
I nodded. “She did say a few things like that, but I guess she thought she was making the point that if Marc could change....”
I was surprised, but happily so, that he put his hand to the side of my face and kissed me warmly. I smiled at him.
“Just in case you were thinking of taking her offer,” he said and grinned.
“Dickhead,” I told him, leaning against him. He threw away our trash and then took more pictures of us – some with the river as a backdrop, some with us lying back on the picnic table top, and one with us each making half a heart with our hands and pushing them together to make a whole heart. I thought of my sketches of us running up the hill and thought I should make one of us making the heart.
As we hit the later afternoon the temperature dropped suddenly, and we headed back to my house, where Walker's bag suddenly made sense: he'd brought a change of clothes for after we went out. Pulling on shorts and a tee shirt, which messed up his hair, he just looked so much more...Walker-like. My mother made a fuss, and we had a nice dinner before retreating to my room.
Walker settled on my bed, looking at his phone. “You know, it's just weird how many people are asking if we're going to open an OnlyFans page,” he said and looked at me.
“You keep bringing that up. I'm starting to think it's not your followers who want that,” I told him as I flopped on top of him. We engaged in a little pushing and shoving before making out a bit. I'm not sure how far Walker wanted to go or what he was ready for, but I was feeling really damn horny before long. I backed off and grabbed my phone.
“What are you doing?” he asked, slightly breathless, and my god that tone just went straight to my crotch.
“Not watching a lame movie with you,” I said. I connected my phone to to my speaker. I glanced at him. “I think you said something like that when I was talking about going on a date.”
“This is part of the date?” he asked with genuine curiosity.
“So...80s, 90s or the aughts?” I asked him.
“Oh, we're doing music? Let's go ancient – 80s!”
I set it up for random 80s – and all I can really say is I had the most fun I've had in a long time. We listened to some songs more than once, coming up with a couple fun dance moves, and then we'd record some and put them online. Sweet Dreams by the Eurythmics had Walker shaking his head and pointing, slowly moving his hand as if pointing around the room. Come on Eileen by Dexys Midnight Runners had us jumping around the room and crooking fingers at each other. We leaned against each other for Sad Songs by Elton John. We must have listened to Take On Me by A-ha at least ten times as we tried – and failed – to find a cool way to dance to it, but we loved the song. We were playing Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper, finishing off with a fucking sweet kiss when my mom tapped the door and walked in on us.
“I have some dessert on the table, if you boys can separate your lips,” she said with a plastic smile. Shit. I was going to hear about this. But why? We had our fucking clothes on. Did she think I wouldn't kiss my boyfriend? “I think I should pick the next song. Let me see what you have here,” she said as she picked my phone up.
“Mom, come on,” I groaned.
She didn't stop, though, and moments later there was this goofy beat and a voice that sounded kind of familiar. The song wasn't that memorable until it hit the chorus and my mother – gyrating and generally looking un-mom-like – joined in with, “Like a virgin – woo! Touched for the very first time!”
“No! No, no, no!” I said, grabbing my phone as she laughed.
“Come get some dessert,” she said as she left the room.
Walker seemed unfazed and was his normally charming self at the table. When my mom started getting too close to asking about Walker and me, I mentioned my dad's clock hobby to Walker. My dad smiled widely and told Walker a little about the clocks he liked – and to my surprise, Walker was really interested. That led to us following my dad into the garage, where he took great pride in showing us his clocks in progress, as he called them, the backlog waiting to be fixed, and the ones that were done that he should really put on eBay but hadn't.
I hate to say this, but I saw my dad in a new light all of a sudden. Through Walker just showing interest, my dad not only took the time to show and explain things him – he seemed happy to do so. Happy someone was interested in something he liked. Happy to share. Did he look that way when I worked on clocks with him? What did that mean?
Walker promised to come work on a clock with my dad, who said he could pick out the one he liked and they could restore it together, just like he'd done with me. I'm not sure why it hit me, but he really liked Walker. I mean, why wouldn't he, but....
Eventually we went back to my room, but it was nearly eleven-thirty. “Your mom will be pissed if I don't get you home on time,” I said, wrapping my arms around his waist and looking up at him.
“Yeah,” he said softly, wrapping his arms around my shoulders. “Play Desperado.”
I used the voice command to tell the speaker to play, and the opening notes of the song floated through the room. He pulled me closer and started to sway with me, slowly turning me and singing the words so low that I could barely hear. When the song ended he leaned his lips to my ear.
“Corey and Kendra will never know what they missed out on,” he said, and then we were kissing again, and holy fucking fried chicken shit I did not want it to end. In fact I was thinking very much about dropping to my knees and yanking his shorts down – fuck that my mother was in the living room! I ground in on him and could feel his hard reaction to me, and all I could think about was taking that next step – any step – with him.
My phone started to chirp, the alarm I'd set to make sure I took him home on time. He broke the kiss and leaned back a bit as I grabbed the phone – still in his grasp – and silenced it.
I looked up at him, staring into his eyes. “If she'd agreed to one o'clock, tonight would be ending very differently.”
He flushed and smiled at me. “Aren't you bold?”
“I'm just looking at the fine things laid on my table,” I said to him with a grin. “And you are fine.”
He glanced at my phone. “We could be a little late.”
I shook my head. “No.”
“She won't be that pissed,” he said, a whine entering his voice.
I reached up and took his face in my hands. “I love you. I want to be rushed because we want to, not because we have no time. At least the first time.”
His mouth worked without his lips parting, and his eyes grew wet. “I love you, too.”
I drove him home, and we had a near-miss in the car, but I held fast. He wanted me and I wanted him, and that meant we needed a place and a time. As it happens, that's not as simple as it sounds.