I stepped out of the school into the spring sunshine and moved to one side to avoid the crush of people trying to get to their buses to avoid being stuck waiting for the late bus. It would be summer soon, and the promise of warmer weather hung in the air, pregnant with sunshine and lazy days. Logan had an away game, I had no homework and I was thinking about going home and doing absolutely nothing. Sometimes it's the best damn thing to do, nothing. Just...sit there and be. Let your mind drift from one thing to another.
Mine frequently drifted to Logan, but I tried not to do that too much because, one, we were separate people, and if I wanted to keep him I had to try to remain an individual. And two, thoughts of Logan usually led to thoughts of naked Logan, which would lead me to relieve tension, and I try to save that for when I can do it with Logan.
After we first started to fool around, we went through a stretch where we couldn't keep our hands off each other. It cooled a little, and by that I mean it wasn't a twenty-four-hour thing anymore. Lately, though, Logan had been – to use a technical term – really fucking horny. Looking back to when we'd first gotten together, he'd spent most of his intimate time kissing – which was great. I loved being kissed, and he was pretty expressive with that, almost turning it into its own language.
But then I'd tried to blow him, and there was the blow up with Seth. When that had finally shaken out, we'd gone to bed together and, for a while, hadn't stopped going to bed together. I'd become very familiar with naked Logan and how overwhelming it was to have the person who made you understand your sexuality touching you and making you feel all the feelings.
And the way he felt.
The way he tasted.
The way he...ugh, fuck. I adjusted myself and reminded myself this was why we didn't think about naked Logan when he wasn't around. I glanced around as I got ready to walk home and spotted Foster leaning against the side of the school, facing away from me. He'd dyed his hair a darker shade of blue recently, and I only knew that because it was on his outside – which was all anyone but Seth really knew about the guy. He was quiet the times we hung out with him, except for the occasional sarcastic zinger. Something looked off about him now, though, and I headed over to him.
“Hey, Foster,” I said from a few feet away so I wouldn't freak him out.
He turned toward me, his face pale and his hand clenched tightly.
“What's wrong?” I asked, stepping closer. He jerked back closer to the building and closed his eyes and inhaled a deep breath. I moved between him and the kids passing the front of the school. Whatever this was, he didn't need an audience. I wondered if he was high or something. Would I need to call an ambulance?
He opened his eyes and seemed surprised to find me there. “What?”
I shrugged. “You don't look okay.”
“That obvious, huh?” He shuddered and closed his eyes again, breathing deeply and slowly.
“Not to the untrained observer, no,” I said in a cheery tone. “But I did decide that something didn't look quite right.”
He snorted and opened his eyes again. “That's me. Not quite right. They should make a pill for that.”
I gave him a tentative smile. “So...clearly you're not okay. What can I do?”
He let out a clearly unamused chuckle and closed his eyes for another moment. When he opened them he stood up a bit straighter and said, “Nothing. I'm just going to go home.”
He took an unsteady step and I moved to his side. He pushed me back, leaning himself back against the wall.
“Okay. I'll go home in a minute,” he conceded.
“Should I call someone? Where’s Seth?”
“He's not my nurse,” he said acidly.
“Probably gives a mean sponge bath,” I said, undaunted.
Foster closed his eyes again. “His dad picked him up early. They're getting family pictures done.” He opened his eyes and let out a sharp, unamused bark of a laugh. “Can you imagine what mine would look like?”
I wasn't sure what to say to that, so I didn't say anything. He pushed off the wall again and seemed steadier, though he was still paler than usual and looked like he'd been sweating.
“Did you have gym last period?” I asked.
He wiped his brow and looked at his slicked hand. Frowning, he wiped his hand on his jeans and looked up at me. He studied me for a minute and muttered, “Fuck it.” In a more conversational volume he asked, “Are you my friend?”
I tilted my head. “I think so. I mean, I don't know a lot about you – just the important stuff.”
He narrowed his eyes. “What's that?”
“The important stuff?” I asked. He nodded. “Seth loves you, and you make him happy.”
He blinked at me. “And that's it?”
I smiled. “You're not easy to get to know. Not exactly a big talker, Foster. But yeah...I love Seth. He loves you, and you make him happy so...you must be good people.”
He snorted and shook his head. “You don't know shit.”
I frowned, put off by his words.
He awkwardly gestured with his hands. “Are you busy?”
“Want to...come over?”
I couldn't stop my eyes widening in surprise. “Um, yeah. Cool.”
He pushed off from the wall and seemed much steadier, and I fell in beside him as he struck off toward his home. He hitched his bag on his shoulders, covered his mouth to stifle a cough and then pursed his lips.
“I have anxiety. Stress. Panic attacks.”
That must have been what I'd seen. “That sucks. I'm sorry you have to deal with that. Can it be treated?”
He glanced at me and then away. “That's it? Don't think I'm mentally unbalanced? I am, you know.”
I shrugged and adjusted my own backpack. “You're sick, just like having an infection or some malfunctioning organ. I don't judge illness.”
He snorted again, but quietly. We walked in silence to his home, a modest split-level with fading paint. The front door was ornate but cheap, the kind that looked like plastic with tacky brass trim. We stepped inside and kicked off our shoes by the door, and I got my first look at Foster's house. I hated it. The wallpaper was a busy design of flowers and vines, the temperature was too high and the room felt closed in with the big pieces of furniture. The carpet was thick and soft, adding to the feeling of...being overstuffed. The furniture was huge and wide, the...it was an assault on the senses.
Foster started up a set of stairs and I followed him. The stairs led to a narrow hallway with the same wallpaper. It almost felt like a fun house where the walls got progressively smaller, until you couldn't stand by the end of it. He turned into a bedroom and closed the door behind us. His room was a mess, but not like the chaos of the house. He had a solid pastel green on the walls and the furniture was light wood. He moved to open a window.
“I'd appreciate if you didn't mention this to Seth,” he said.
He opened a drawer and pulled out a pill bottle, which he uncapped to reveal a few joints. “It's a prescription but...I don't like him to know I'm using it.”
I sat gingerly on his bed. “I don't understand.”
He capped the bottle and replaced it in his desk drawer. He held the joint up and turned it between his fingers. “For a while, last winter, I was smoking a lot.” He glanced up at me. “A lot. Enough that Seth got worried for me.” He sighed and looked down. “I don't like to worry him, but sometimes I can't help it. Sometimes he's everything – the only thing – I need. And sometimes...I don't want anything, not even to be myself.”
“That sounds...really, really hard.”
He nodded his head a few times. “Yeah.” He looked up at me. “Seth talks about you guys sometimes. You. Logan. What you guys had.”
“Really?” I frowned lightly. “I wouldn't think...I mean, that's over, Foster. Except for the occasional kiss, it's over. You know that, right?”
He turned and looked out the open window. “Most days, Seth is all I'm sure of. On days when I can't be sure of myself, I'm still pretty sure about him so, yeah. I know that's over.”
I rubbed my hands on my jeans. “I just...I guess I'm confused. This conversation...why would he talk about when we were together?”
He was quiet for a minute, rolling the joint between his fingers. “Cuddling, mostly.”
He glanced at me and then back out. “He talks about how you guys used to cuddle together. Cuddle puddle.” He looked back at me. “Seems like a dumb name, huh?”
I smiled. “Things that rhyme generally do sound silly. But it was a pretty cool thing.”
He didn't respond, just looked out the window and rolled the joint back and forth.
“We could, you know.”
He remained still for a moment and then looked back to me. “Could what?”
“Cuddle puddle. The four of us.”
He raised an eyebrow. “You want to cuddle me?”
I grinned. “Cuddles feel good. It's not about attraction, although that doesn't hurt. It's not sex, but it's pretty intimate.”
He looked at me, unblinking. “So. You want to cuddle me?”
I chuckled. “Sure. I'll cuddle the fuck out of you.”
He snorted, smiled a little and looked back out the window. “So. You are my friend.”
I raised a leg and wrapped my hands around my shin, resting my chin on my knee. “Maybe not the best one, but yeah. I could be a better friend if we knew each other better.”
He was quiet a moment. “You could try harder.”
He sighed. “So could I.”
“Foster...I hope I'm not making you uncomfortable.”
He chuckled joylessly. “Everything makes me uncomfortable. I'm a fucking train wreck.”
I frowned some more. “I wish you'd quit putting yourself down. Seth loves you however you are, so you can't be bad, no matter what else you are.”
He looked down, staring at the joint as it rolled back and forth. “You put a lot of faith in Seth's judgment.”
“If it wasn't for Seth, I wouldn't have Logan. Logan is...he's the most precious thing in my life. Seth knew there was something special there the first time Logan kissed me, so yeah...he's got a sense.”
Foster ran a finger back and forth under his nose. “I'm going to need to smoke this to have a conversation with you.”
I tilted my head. “Am I that intimidating to talk to?”
He looked at me. “It's not the person, but the content. Seth....” He closed his eyes and his lips moved, though I couldn't hear what he said. He opened his eyes and said, “I need more than Seth.”
I lifted my head from my knee. “What do you mean?”
“I mean...I'm a fucking anchor on him. I have to spread that weight out. I need more friends in a purely selfish sense because...because....”
“You're afraid,” I said softly.
He looked at me. “Yeah. It's more, but yeah. So I need to smoke to tell you, and I need you to be a friend and not expect anything from me. I know it's a bitch move, but....”
I stood up and moved over by his desk and glanced out the open window. “I can do that for you. Maybe one day, when you're stronger, you'll be my friend, too.”
“Really? Just like that?”
I glanced at him, a questioning look on my face.
“I just said I'm going to be a fucking parasite to you, and you're like, yeah, no problem?”
I frowned. “I'm getting a friend. A friend who needs me to help him and another friend. I don't think that's being a parasite. And quit putting yourself down before you piss me off.”
He looked at me for a minute, and then a small smile touched the edges of his mouth. He pulled a drawer open on his desk and pulled a lighter out. He sparked up, inhaled a little and held it for several seconds before blowing it out the open window. He glanced at me and held the joint out.
Well, what the hell.
I inhaled and immediately stared to cough. Foster laughed and told me not to drop it. I coughed some more, but now I tried to cough at him, just because he was laughing at me. He instructed me on taking small bits of the smoke in – and I mean, you know, the lungs reject smoke by coughing because it's not natural. If it wasn't because I felt like this was some kind of bonding thing I'd have probably stopped, but eventually I was able to hold it in for a little bit, and Foster and I smoked the whole thing.
I felt a little weird and wandered slowly back to his bed to sit down. I didn't quite make it, sliding off the side of the bed and hitting the floor with my butt. We both started laughing. He walked over to me, imitated me and dropped to the floor missing the bed entirely. We laughed again.
Laughing felt weird and good and...what was I laughing about again?
We didn't say anything for a while, just giggled and leaned into each other and then pushed away, only to repeat the process. It was weird, examining how it felt to have his shoulder pressed to mine, and then not, and then back again.
“I like your hair.” I'm not sure why I said that.
“It's darker than I was thinking,” he said and ran his fingers back through his hair. I was momentarily fascinated with how that looked, the hair parting like water over his fingers, and without thinking I reached out and copied him.
“Huh,” I said, dropping my hand to my lap.
“What?” he asked, a small blush on his cheeks.
“It's not wet.”
He laughed. “What?”
“Your hair. It's water. But it's not wet.”
For some reason we thought this was very funny and laughed for an elastic amount of time.
“Come on,” he said, standing and pulling at my shoulder. I struggled to stand, my body feeling weird, and he shoved me onto his bed. I rolled up against the wall and stayed there, wondering what I was supposed to do now. I heard a rustling sound and then Foster got on the bed and pulled my shoulder so I was no longer looking at the wall.
He held a vanilla wafer up to me. I took it and studied it.
I draped an arm behind Foster and cuddled into him as I ate the vanilla wafer.
“Good,” I said.
“You have vanilla wafers?”
He found this hilarious. I laughed with him because, you know, laughing. He felt good next to me. Warm, firm and alive. My mind wandered from topic to topic with no connective tissue between them. When I opened my mouth, it was something of a surprise to me.
“Do you and Seth have sex? Because he never did with me or Logan.”
“Yeah,” Foster said, his voice calm. He moved a box of something – oh, vanilla wafers. But we'd eaten them all. He turned toward me and let himself go in my cuddle. “We have sex. Why?”
I shook my head, then did it again because it felt weird. “I suck Logan's dick and he sucks mine, but we don't have sex.”
“That's oral sex. Isn't it? Doesn't it count?”
I thought for a second. “I don't know. Who decides if it counts?”
“If what counts?”
“We shouldn't have sex.”
“Wait, you want to have sex? You should have sex with Seth. I bet he'd like it.”
“I do have sex with Seth.”
“Does he like it?”
“Yeah! I'm not a total fuck up!”
Then we were laughing again. Some time later I was feeling a little less silly and more like myself. I stretched a little, then pushed myself tighter against Foster.
“So why don't you guys have sex?” Foster asked.
“You and Logan.”
“Oh. We sixty-nine. Isn't that sex?”
“Do you and Seth do that?”
Foster's tone took on a bragging quality I'd never heard from him. “He's lucky he's got a dick left I do him so much.”
I giggled. Or he did. Or maybe we did.
His giggles stopped and he sighed slowly. “No. We do that sometimes. We fuck. It's like...I'm plugged into life-support when I'm in him. He looks at me and I can't get any deeper into his body, but all I want to do is...lose myself in him. To melt and leave the shit parts of me behind, and sometimes that's what sex with Seth is. Making love makes it sound all tender and weak or something. To me it's like...shedding pain and being the person Seth thinks I can be.”
I was quiet for a moment. “I don't think there's anything weak about that.”
I heard his head rustle on the pillow. “The weak part comes when he fucks me.”
“Is he huge? Because Logan's dick kind of scares me.”
“Is that why you guys haven't?”
“Kind of.” I hesitated. “It's been on my mind. I want to. I want to get inside him in the worst way, but I worry if that'll be too gay for him – because he's bi, you know? Like Seth? Does he say anything about that?”
“About you guys fucking? No.”
We giggled some more.
“No. About you fucking him since he's bi. I mean. I don't know what I mean.”
Foster's arm tightened around me and I wiggled against him. Quietly he said, “Seth loves me.”
“I know. Everyone who looks at you guys knows that.”
“Sometimes...I have to say it out loud. It makes it real. Like you can see the words and know they...aren't just words.” He let out a breath. “When Seth fucks me, I sometimes...have nightmares while I'm awake.”
I thought about that for a second, or tried to. I came up blank.
“Is his dick huge? I never saw it. Is that what gives you nightmares?”
Foster nuzzled me and laughed. “No. Seth's got a nice dick, but he's not a porn star.”
“Then why do you have nightmares?”
Foster went very still, almost as if his body had locked. Quietly, with great hesitation he said, “Royce used to rape me.”
I jerked in his loose embrace and started to bring my face up to look at him, but he moved his hand and pushed on the top of my head.
“Don't look at me.”
“Foster...please let my head go.”
His hand shook as he held my head in place, and then he moved it and I tilted my face up to look at him. He tried to roll away but I grabbed him which only caused him to flip out and leave the bed, crossing to his window. He heaved in great gasps of air as I slowly sat up and moved to the edge of the bed.
“Don't. You can go now.”
I sighed and ran my fingers through my hair, then rubbed my face. “No, I can't.”
“I don't care,” I said and stood. I closed the distance between us and the hurt on his face just destroyed me. Seth must already know, there's no way he doesn't.“Foster. Can I hold you?”
He looked out the window a long time and I let that be. He wasn't ready – to be held, to be touched – but he wasn't saying yes or no, either. So I waited. Or I tried to, but my mouth started up.
“I love Logan. I try not to think about him, because then I think about him naked, and then...you know.”
“I like how he tastes. Is that weird?”
Foster raised an eyebrow slightly and shrugged.
“I'm afraid if...if...I said that already.”
After a moment Foster asked, “Said what? If?”
“If? No. Well, yes. But no. I mean,” I said, licking my lips. “Seth's bi.”
“I'm afraid Logan will leave me because he's bi.”
Foster finally looked toward me. “How did you come up with that?”
I frowned a little. “Because. I mean. He's not gay.”
“Yeah. But he's bi, which means he can like girls and guys – of which you are one of those. So why do you think being bi means you lose him?”
I looked away. “I'm not sure. Because he's dated a few girls before me? Because I can't give him kids – not that I want any? Because....”
Foster snorted. I looked up and he turned slowly, almost reluctantly from the window. “Come 'ere.” He held his arms out and I fell into him. I know I was supposed to be comforting him, and maybe in a twisted way I was. He'd said something very personal and painful, and I let him cover some of it with my own mess. Foster felt good to hold, sort of like Seth, but more...angular.
Foster pushed me back and looked at me. “You have nothing to worry about. I'm the one who should be worried. I mean, I know he loves me. I feel it. But...not always. Sometimes, like I was telling you, I need to say it. Sometimes I need him to say it because...because....”
“Because your brother was a bastard. A prick most people would probably like to kill again,” I said sadly.
Foster blinked back tears, or nearly did. People with blue eyes with tears falling sometimes looked like their iris was just overflowing. Foster looked like the earth was sad, like his brown eyes contained all the hurt the world had ever made. I pulled him to me and we tumbled back, awkward and uncoordinated, to his bed. We struggled for a second, and we both cursed a little until we were back into a cuddle position we could handle.
“You weren't kidding about liking to cuddle,” he groused while resting his head against me.
“Nope.” I paused. “So you think I'm stupid?”
“About Logan leaving you, you mean?”
“Yeah. Seth was right. What you guys have is real. It's so real you can almost...catch it in your hand.”
We were still for a time. Birds chirped loudly through the open window, and leaves whispered their arboreal secrets as the wind passed through them. I thought about this strange boy in whose bed I lay, wrapped around each other in the most intimate and yet non-sexual way I could imagine.
“Why do you do it?” I asked.
“Why do you let Seth,” I paused, not wanting to say 'make love' and aggravate him, “screw you, if you know it's going to trigger bad shit in your head?”
He tensed for a moment and I was afraid I'd gone too far. I stroked his back, very slowly, and just as slowly he settled back, until he let out a deep, slow breath.
“Because I love him. Because he wants that from me, and I want to give myself to him. It's...it's okay while it's going on. I can see him, I can see him looking at me like I'm...enough. It's good.” He shifted. “It's later. I can't get out of my head. All I can think about is...Royce. Forcing me. Hurting me.” His voice dropped. “Laughing at me.”
I pulled him to me, and he let me.
“You have no idea how it fucks with your head,” he said quietly. “After having been raped by a guy – your brother – and then being gay and wanting sex with your boyfriend. It's a total mind-fuck.” He sighed and his body shuddered. Instead of trying to look him in the eyes, I just rubbed his back.
“I'm glad you have that with Seth,” I said quietly. “I'm glad he's a good place for you.”
“I need more of them,” he said quietly, almost a whisper.
“Will this help?” I asked. “The cuddle?”
He was quiet. “Sometimes,” he said eventually. “Sometimes I don't want anyone to touch me.”
“Okay then,” I said quietly.
For a time we didn't say much of anything. I listened to the birds, the trees and the occasional mad chittering of a squirrel. I wondered what they were saying. I was startled by a chime, probably from Foster's phone. He reached into his pocket, and I leaned back, stretching and bonking my head against the wall.
“Hey,” he said. I glanced at him and saw the phone pressed to his ear. I heard Seth's tinny response.
“Hey, you. What are you doing?”
“Lying in bed with Gray. Cuddling.”
“You fucker. I want some. I'll be there in fifteen minutes – and you better still both be there,” Seth said with a laugh.
Foster looked at me. “Seth says he's coming for a cuddle and you'd better still be here.”
I frowned. “Three people cuddling in this bed? I don't think there's room.”
“Seth. He doesn't think there's enough room in the bed.”
“Thirteen minutes,” Seth said, sounding out of breath. “Tell him no kisses if he leaves.”
“He said no more kisses if you leave.”
“Is he running?” I asked, giggling.
“See ya,” Foster said and put the phone on his nightstand. He sighed. “This is weird.”
“What do you mean?”
“You. This. I....” He climbed up and walked to the other side of the room and looked down into the yard behind the house. “It's hard for me to talk about Royce. Even in therapy...I can't talk about it a lot. It makes me....”
I sat up and leaned against the wall. “I can only imagine.”
He nodded slowly. He turned toward me. “Maybe you should ask Seth about the bi thing if you don't believe me. I know he's not going anywhere, unless I fuck it up. I mean, some days I should probably break up with him just to spare him my shit but...I'm too selfish. Too needy. Too...broken.”
I got off his bed and went over to him, but didn't touch him. Instead I sat on the floor and looked up at him so I knew he could see me.
“I don't think you're too selfish. If you were, Seth wouldn't love you like he does. I don't think you're too needy, because you also give back – like you did to me here, cuddling. I'm sure you give back everything Seth gives to you. And...you might be bent or cracked or...I don't know, but you're not broken.”
“Why would you say that?” he asked, his voice like death.
“Because you're still going. Broken things don't work right, but you do. You love. You learn. You're getting better. And most important, you're trying.”
He glanced out the window and said, “You get all that from getting stoned and cuddling me?”
“No. It helped, though. The rest I got from what I already told you. Seth loves you and you make him happy. Even when you're sad, he's still happier than he would be without you.”
He covered his eyes. “Fuck.”
“Yeah. Sorry, buddy. You're loved.” I chuckled.
He dropped his hand and looked up at the ceiling, sniffed twice and then looked at me.
I raised an eyebrow.
He shifted a little uncomfortably. “You're my friend.”
I nodded slowly, thinking this meant more to him than I could grasp easily. “Logan would be, too. You can have this, Foster. Us.”
There was a sudden pounding of someone coming up the stairs quickly, and then Foster's door opened to reveal a panting Seth.
“Oh no,” he said, wagging a finger back and forth. “You two get your asses back in that bed. I'm getting a fucking cuddle.”
I looked up at Foster with a grin and he slowly returned it.
“Shall we give my boyfriend what he's demanding?”
“Come on, come on, come on,” Seth said as he pushed Foster and grabbed me by the arm. So yeah, cuddle puddles are a thing. Depression and anxiety and mentally beating on yourself is a thing. There isn't an easy answer for any of those things, I guess. Take what you can, ask for what you need and let people love you – it's the best I've got.
“I bet that was a hundred miles an hour off your bat,” Tyler said to Nate, practically gushing.
Nate nodded. “I saw it coming and squared up pretty well,” he agreed.
“Want his autograph, Tyler?” I teased. “Maybe follow him back to his hotel room?”
“Eat me,” he grunted.
That led to a bunch of playful insults as we rode back from our away game. The mood was always up after a win, and this was no exception. Eventually I went to put on my headphones and zone out, but my phone was dead. Oh well, I could zone out without the music and do what I always do these days – think about Gray. Ever since things had finally got settled with Seth, I felt a laser-like focus on Gray. It was like when you just have a feel for a game, for a moment where you know you're going to crush it. Even though I loved sports, I knew I wasn't good enough to go pro. I wanted to stay close to the games though, so I was looking heavily at going into sports medicine. Gray didn't know what he wanted yet, but that's okay. I figured I'd go to SUNY Binghamton and he'd end up at the community college until he figured out what interested him most for a career. I didn't even care if he took forever to figure that out – or if he ever did – because I'd make enough for the both of us.
Lately I had thought about that a lot – the future. What that would look like with Gray. It really messes with my mind when I think about how long he was out there on the edge of my consciousness, looking for a way into me, when it took Seth to make that happen. All from me trying to let Seth know it was okay that he was gay – even though he was bi, like me. Then he brings me to Gray and there was something more, something bigger than I could wrap my head around going on between me and Gray. I'd dated, but nothing ever felt like it does with him.
The bus had settled down for the ride with guys hunching in awkward poses to nap or listen to music while the bus groaned its way to fifty-five on the highway. I looked over at Nate, who was looking out the window and then down at his phone. Nate was a scary good ballplayer, but he'd lost his mom recently, and he was struggling to get through his days. We weren't that close, but you didn't have to be to see how much weight he had on his shoulders.
On impulse I slipped across the aisle and sat next to him. He glanced over at me, smiled and put his phone down.
“Just wondering if Tyler asked you for your autograph. He's such a fan boy,” I said with a chuckle.
He laughed quietly. “I told him those things aren't free,” he replied and made a suggestive leer. I broke down in laughter, covering my face to keep from drawing everyone's attention.
“So. Which team you think is going to draft you? Got a favorite?”
“Eh. I mean, I have some dreams.”
“Pirates, right?” I asked, winking and nudging him.
“God, no. Their farm system sucks!” he said with a laugh. “They're as bad as Detroit.”
“Hey. Easy on my Bucs, man,” I said with a snicker. “Just because they are rebuilding every year....”
He shook his head. “It's such shit. They have a monopoly, and the owners rake in bucks without even pretending to field a competitive team. It's...disgusting and sad. Minor league players are getting their service time manipulated so they lose money over the span of their careers – which of course goes right in the owner's pockets.”
“Most things seem like they're about some rich guy getting richer,” I agreed.
Nate looked at me and smiled a little. “That's not the game, though – and I love the game. Guy at the plate and the pitcher ready to throw, and most people only see that much. But there's the catcher trying to position both to catch and to fool the hitter with positioning as to where the ball will come in. Each fielder getting ready in case the ball goes anywhere near them. Outfielders trying to judge how much power the guy has versus how their pitcher is throwing. The catcher might flash a sign to first or third because what the pitcher is going to throw may come right at those guys. That's even before you get into what the batter and pitcher are doing. There's a hundred things happening at any given moment, even before a runner is on base. It's a beautiful thing.”
“That...was pretty damn good, Nate.” And that was the difference between us. I liked sports. Loved sports. I played anything and everything to compete, to have fun, and I moved from sport to sport with the seasons. Not Nate. He breathed baseball. I wondered if he felt it was the one constant in his life, considering his dad was the biggest asshole I knew and his mom had passed.
“I love the game,” he said again, a little quieter.
“It seems to love you back,” I said with a chuckle.
He smiled lightly, but he didn't look amused. “Logan...mind if I ask you something personal?”
“Course not,” I replied, thinking this would be about his mom in some way.
“You and...Gray. You've...how do I ask...” He paused and frowned, perhaps in thought. “How does you and Gray compare to you dating a girl?”
“Uh. Well, not sure what you mean...we do the same things, I guess. Dates, movies, cuddles. He usually plays sports with me, so that's different. Is any of this what you meant?”
He faced forward but his gaze was fixed on me as he licked his lips and then leaned in close. I copied him, wondering what he was aiming for.
“Like...what about sex?”
“Ugh. Well, it's been good so far?” I know it wasn't supposed to come out like a question, but I wasn't sure what he was asking about. He had to know the parts went together in similar but quite different ways, so I wasn't sure what else he was aiming for.
“I'm asking this all wrong,” he said with a sigh.
“Well...can you give me a few hints, maybe?”
He raised his eyebrows, widened his eyes and blew out a breath. “I don't know. You'd probably know way more about me that you ever wanted to.”
“Okay. Well...I'm okay with it, if you are.”
He chuckled and popped his knuckles. “You know Dylan Whalen?”
I thought for a minute. “I think so. I mean, I don't know him except to say hi. Never hung out or anything.”
He leaned his head back and looked toward the roof of the bus. “He's my best friend.” He paused. “I remember being a little kid and not thinking twice about calling someone a best friend – it was before I knew what that really meant to me, you know?”
“Sure,” I agreed. “We all do stupid stuff as kids. I mean, some people never stop,. But you know....” I grinned and he smiled back at me.
“Dylan was the first guy...you know? It was the first time I realized...no. It was just the first time it was okay...with a guy. You know?”
“I think so. Like, you notice, but then there's the one guy that it actually happens with?”
“Exactly,” he said with some excitement. “I kind of...wasn't totally sure how to deal. Dylan ended up dating a guy that's perfect for him. I ended up dating-”
Nate looked a little surprised. “Um. You knew?”
I chuckled. “She bragged about sleeping with you. It was hard to miss.”
Nate widened his eyes. “She did?”
“Yep. Made it awkward after you dumped her. Why did you, anyway?”
Nate shook his head. “She was a bitch to my friend, and I just couldn't stand that.” He hesitated and looked at me. “She was telling Dylan he'd had a shot with me and that she'd gotten me. Then she told him she could steal his boyfriend.”
“Bitch,” I said softly.
“Yeah,” he agreed. “Anyway, I flew solo a bit – things were getting bad with my mom and stuff,” he said. I just nodded my head, not wanting to get into her death unless that's what he needed. He swallowed. “And after she passed, I-I've kind of been seeing this guy. But...he's really into the sex end of things.”
I grunted. “You're looking for something else?”
He looked at me. “Don't you?”
I chuckled. “I have it. Gray gives me plenty of affection and we've, you know, fooled around. But we also do everything else together. Sports. Movies. I love live theater stuff, and he'll go with me. Like – he'll go and be happy I'm asking him to do something I like, you know?”
“Exactly!” Nate said. “He hasn't come to a single one of my games, as a for instance. Wouldn't you kind of expect some, I don't know, effort?”
“Totally,” I replied with a nod.
“My cousin comes to games. Dylan and his boyfriend, Cris, come to some of my games – and I go with Dylan to some of Cris's. But this guy who says he's so into me...nothing.”
“I'm sorry, dude,” I said. “You totally deserve better. I'm not really getting what you might be asking me, though.”
“You kind of answered it. I mean...Dylan and I fooled around some. Then Erica...now this guy. I'm just like...is that all people see? You're bi...I guess,” he said with a blush. “Is that...do you see that?”
Ah, shit. Poor guy. I never would have thought a player like Nate could feel like he wasn't the big dog, but I guess it really can happen to anyone – especially because this wasn't about him as a player, it was about him as a person.
“I don't know if this is what you're looking for, Nate,” I said slowly. “You're the best baseball player I've ever seen. I feel like I'm good at most sports, but you're in the upper deck, man. As far as relationships...it just sounds like you're getting some folks that don't see you for you.” I paused. “It's sort of like Tyler giving you his little hero worship. He's not thinking of who you are or what's going on in your life. He's just thinking about what he saw you do – the performance. He doesn't mean anything, and between you guys it's okay. But it's not okay when people are supposed to care about you.”
He nodded. “Yeah. It's just hard, sometimes. I don't...always feel like much. You know? You get like that?”
I shrugged. “Everybody has bad days. Like that you mean?”
“Nah. Deeper. I guess it'd be hard to understand,” he said with a sigh. “My dad. The way he acted. Things he said. Things I said that I heard from him. Sometimes...I feel like I deserve this crap.”
“Whoa, no way, dude,” I said quickly. I waved my hand in front of him, “You're no bitch, not by any stretch. You've had some shit luck, I'll give you that – but no. You're decent. A good guy. No way you should think you're not worth better things, man.”
He blushed and grunted out a little laugh. “Thanks, Logan. My cousin says stuff like that, but you know – he's biased.”
“I'm not. I mean, we go back – we've played with and against each other for years,” I said with a grin. “You're one of the good guys.”
He looked down at his hands. “I guess I must be kind of weak to need a pep talk, huh?”
“It's what friends are for, buddy,” I told him.
“Yeah,” he said gently.
We settled in quietly then, but I reflected on that. Nate was gentle. Sometimes it seems like the world likes to beat on the gentle ones, the good ones. I guess that's why they have friends, though.
When I got home I plugged my phone in and went to take a shower. Most of the time when I shower my mind wanders back to the day I'd gone into my room with Gray waiting for me and things had happened. I don't think about Seth walking in anymore, not really. I'm too high on Gray finishing what he'd started – and how that finally did happen.
Man. Gray has an athletic body from his sports, but it’s like I see him with a fresh point of view. I'd always liked him, and he'd always been around, but I'd never felt so closely...intertwined with someone. He was a champion cuddler, his kissing was on point and his heart was huge.
But right now, in the shower, I was thinking more about his tight body.
Once I was dry and had slipped some shorts and a tee shirt on, I went into the kitchen looking for food.
“Logan,” my mom called out. “There's a plate for you in the microwave.”
“Thanks!” I didn't even get to the table, I just started eating while standing up. My dad came into the room with a glass and placed it in the sink.
“How was the game?”
I swallowed. “Good. We won six to four. Nate hit a freaking laser, practically took their third baseman's head off,” I said with a chuckle.
Dad leaned back against the counter. “He's quite the player. When's your next home game?”
“Tuesday. You coming?”
“I may have to leave work a little early,” he said with a grin. “I think I feel a cold coming on.”
I laughed. “That's what you said when we went to Pittsburgh for a ball game.”
He smiled wistfully. “Your grandfather loved the Pirates. He was determined you'd be one, too, even if we lived no where near Pittsburgh!”
“I'm a fan,” I said, “But I also admit they suck. Bad.”
Dad chuckled. “Oh, well. No Gray tonight?”
“I have to call him. Is it okay if he comes over?”
“Yeah, of course,” he said with a nod. “See if he can stay over. I need the lawn raked tomorrow and could use the extra hand.”
“Okay,” I agreed. I mean, I'd agree to a lot to have my boyfriend sleep over.
“This is your last summer as a kid, you know,” he said quietly. “I just don't know where all the time went.”
“I picked my classes for next year,” I told him, scraping up the last of the food on my plate. “I'm totally lined up for sports medicine.”
“Where will you go with that?” he asked.
“Anywhere they have trainers. Colleges, athletic programs of all types. Depending on how I construct the classes, I could also teach and that would get me the chance to coach. I think I could get into that.”
“You've always loved that. What about the theater?”
“Well,” I said with a grin, “I've looked at the classes at Binghamton, and I can also minor in drama, so...directing a high school play or musical wouldn't make me unhappy, either.”
“What does Gray want to do?”
I rinsed my plate and put it in the dishwasher. “He's not sure yet, but there's community college for him to figure that out.”
I grabbed a glass of milk as my dad said, “Sounds like you've given this some thought.”
I turned to look at him with a raised eyebrow. “About my future?”
I gulped down the milk. “Yeah. Gray doesn't know what he wants to do yet, but I can support us both while he figures it out.”
My dad raised his eyebrows. “Have you guys talked about this?”
I laughed. “I'm not losing him.” I chuckled and rinsed my glass out. “Dad, this may sound weird, but I see him for who he is – and that's my future. Wherever I land for work, whatever comes at me, he's going to be with me. Guy loves me as much as I love him – and I love him a lot.”
He smiled and narrowed his eyes playfully. “What if he, I don't know, finds some other guy?”
“We live near open spaces. I can bury someone, no problem,” I said with a grin. He just laughed and headed back out into the living room.
I went back to my room and called Gray.
“Hey. How did your game go?”
“We won. Come over? Stay over?”
“Um, sure. Let me ask. So much for small talk, huh?” he said with a chuckle.
“I'll talk to you when you're here,” I said. That sounds reasonable, right? I heard him get permission from his mom – she loves me – and he said he'd be over shortly. I pumped up the air mattress downstairs. We had a couch with a hide-a-bed, but we'd both end up on a single mattress – still, I think it made my parents feel better. Last time he'd been over I'd made him watch Moulin Rouge, so this time it'd be his turn to pick. I set about putting snacks together and getting some cold drinks downstairs, and then I heard my parents talking so they must have let him in.
I heard a thump – probably his bag in my room – and then he was coming down the stairs. He had on his joggers, which he knew I loved, as they hugged him the way I liked to, and a colorful tee.
“Babe,” I said with a smile and he grinned as he got closer.
“Your dad says we're getting married?”
I burst out laughing and hugged him close, kissing him a few times while he made some happy noises. We got settled on the hide-a-bed and I turned the TV on.
“What did you do today?”I asked him.
“Um, I think I'd like to know about this marriage thing, first,” he said teasingly.
I grinned. “Dad was just taking things to their logical conclusion. Obviously.”
“Oh, obviously,” he agreed. “What did you say to him?”
“He was being nostalgic and saying how it was my last summer as a kid. We'll have senior year and then it's college.”
“Yeah,” he said. “And?”
“Well, I just told him the program I had in mind at Binghamton, and how you could go to community college until you figured out what you wanted to do.”
“I have no clue,” he groaned.
“I know. But when I graduate, I can support us until you figure that out.”
“You said that to your dad?”
I glanced at him, trying to hide a smile. “Yeah. Why?”
He blinked at me a few times. “I just...never mind. I'm just surprised.”
I would circle back around to that. “So? What did you do today?”
“Oh, well, when I was leaving school it looked like Foster was upset. I ended up walking him home and hanging out with him.”
“Oh? He okay?”
Gray tilted his head from side to side. “He's got some real hard stuff to deal with. I ended up cuddling him and Seth. I think he needed it.”
Jealousy flared up in me. “You cuddled them? Wait, when did Seth get there?”
“Not until later.” He paused and looked down at his hands. “Logan...I'm serious. Foster has been through something...it makes my guts clench just to think of it.”
I frowned. “Can you...I mean, is it okay to tell me?”
He nodded his head slowly. “He said I could, but I think it was only because I said you'd be there for him, if he'd let you. And I think it's – I know – it's hard for him to talk about, so in a way it's easier for him if I tell you.”
My jealousy died down and I was intrigued. “Okay,” I said quietly, noting Gray was seriously affected by whatever had happened to Foster.
“His brother...Royce? Remember him?”
“Royal douchebag. Yeah.”
He nodded. “Yeah. Well...before he went after Griffin Douglas, he started with his little brother.”
I sat up. “No fucking way.”
Gray nodded and his eyes grew wet. “He was having a panic attack when I saw him outside of school. We went to his house and he opened up, because he needs more safe people in his life. I know we'd be there for someone anyway, but Seth had an appointment, so he needed someone, you know?”
“Yeah. Of course.” Boy was I glad I'd clamped down on my jealousy or I'd look like a real jackass right now.
“He smokes some weed to calm himself. I got a little buzzed,” he said with a blush. “But then...I just felt like he needed that cuddle. You're not mad, right?”
I sighed. “I'll admit I was jealous at first, but now? I'm not mad.”
I nodded. “I'm feeling a little...possessive about you.”
The corner of his mouth curled up. “You are?”
“Of course I am, you idiot!” I said with a laugh. “I love you. I want to cuddle you, but...special dispensation. I won't get jealous if it's Seth or Foster.” I picked up my phone. “I am going to tell that bastard he owes me a goddamn cuddle if he cuddled you, though.”
Gray broke out in pleased laughter and I put the phone on speaker as Seth picked up.
“Hey, Logan. Are you home?”
“Yeah, just hanging with Gray. You?”
“Foster's. We're listening to Mannheim Steamroller because we had to pick the weirdest name on Spotify we could find and see what it sounded like,” he said with a laugh.
I laughed. “I'm going to have to listen now, too. But listen, I want you guys to know you owe me a cuddle now that you've had my boyfriend for a cuddle, and I'm sure as hell going to collect.”
“Oh. Hmm. God. Just twist our arms,” he said, deadpan. I heard Foster say something and Seth replied to him, “Logan. He says we have to cuddle him now.”
I laughed and Gray was giggling into my leg.
Seth came back on the line. “He says it's a deal, as long as you've showered.”
“Everyone's a critic,” I complained. “Things good over there?”
Seth's tone changed, full of emotion. “Yeah. Much better.”
“Good. Okay, well, Gray is pulling my shorts down, so-”
“I am not!” I yelped and then laughed.
“He's gonna!” Foster called out and we all laughed before hanging up.
I looked down at Gray as he lay on my leg, flipping through selections on the TV. I slowly started to push him with my other foot and he turned to look at me.
“You better not!” he said, falling off the edge of the bed. He started laughing from the floor and I was laughing at the way he'd been speaking and how his voice changed as he'd gone over the side. I leaned over to look down at him and he hit me in the face with a cushion. I fell back laughing as he climbed on the bed and pinned me down with his body.
I was grinning as I looked up at him, and he smiled fondly as he looked down.
“I don't know how you're saying this about us over a year from now. Not with how much things change,” he said quietly and unexpectedly.
“Babe. I love you,” I said.
“And I believe you, “he said softly. “And you know I love you. You know I've loved you for a long time. But,” he said and bit his lip briefly before continuing, “We loved Seth, too. He loved us.”
“He still loves us,” I said uncertainly.
“Yeah,” he agreed. “But he’s also with Foster, now.” He sighed. “I never thought I'd get this with you. I never thought I'd get you. I also had never thought I'd have Seth, but then I had you both. Then I lost him, in a way.” He leaned down and kissed me to keep me from talking, only pulling back when I stopped trying. “I love you, Logan. I love you so much it sometimes feels like there must be something wrong with me to feel something so overwhelming for one person.”
“Shh,” he said, placing a feather light kiss on my lips. “I'm going to keep you as long as I can. I want to plan a future, but I also...want you to promise me something.”
I stared up at him. “Okay. What?”
“If things...if your feelings change, then I want us to break it off before we hate each other. Because I don't want that, not ever.”
“Why would – look, okay you know what? I promise. Never going to happen,” I said.
He shook his head. “You're bi. What if you want kids one day?”
“We'll figure it out.”
“What if I'm not enough?”
He shook his head. “I hope you're right.”
I sighed. “I'm not saying we won't have our share of crap to deal with, but we can do this.”
He shook his head. “I'm sorry. I'm glad you have this confidence in us right now. Maybe my afternoon with Foster affected me more than I realized. I just felt so awful for him. In a way I just feel sad and worn down by hearing what happened to him.”
“It's okay,” I said. “Actually, it's not okay, but I'll get us through this. Maybe next time, you'll get us through something.”
He sighed. “The future scares me. I don't want to talk about it anymore.”
Kissing was apparently the answer to my unfinished question. So we did that, and we did it well. Later we heard my parents going up to bed. We turned on a movie and ignored it in favor of trying to block out his worries about the future, the trauma of being empathetic to our friend, and instead focused on each other. It was a new facet to the way we pleased each other, taking our time, removing clothes in a slow, deliberate way before getting down to the big show.
Later we cuddled under the sheets, the TV out and the room nearly pitch dark. His naked heat pressed to mine was causing my libido to rise again, among other things.
His voice came to me through the darkness. “I know Seth and Foster are our friends, but I think we need to make an effort to spend more time with them. Foster needs us.”
I nodded in the dark. “Seth loves him. He's hurting. He's our friend. All good reasons, so I'm on board.”
He moved up my body and nibbled near my ear before whispering, “How does it make you feel to know you're the reason I know I'm gay?”
He giggled and I chuckled, wrapping my arms around him. I ran my hands over his behind, squeezing and kneading the enticing flesh.
“How does it feel knowing I love you?”
His hand slipped down and stroked my lengthening sex. “Feels pretty good,” he said, laughing into my shoulder.
“Gray,” I said, trying to be firm with him. “I'm serious.” He kissed my shoulder, then went to work on my nipples. “Jesus Christ,” I moaned.
He moved back up and whispered, “It feels like my heart is big enough to burst.” He paused, breathing heavily as he stroked me. “It also means I'm-”
I pushed myself up, awkwardly landing my first kiss, not being able to see him and all. But then I was on him, rolling him to his side. Despite my hormones being on overload, despite the way my body was tensed to begin ravishing him with my tongue and lips and hands, my thoughts swirled with his doubts. He was worried we wouldn't last. Worried he wasn't enough to keep me.
I rolled atop him and ground our erections together and whispered feverishly, “I love you. I love you, Gray.”
“God! I love you, Logan!”
I don't know if it was the right thing or not, but besides telling him I loved him and giving him my time and doing my best to show him my heart, I dreaded that this would be an issue for us – his fear. So I would do the one thing I could do now that couldn't be taken away – I was going to love him. I would express that on every square inch of his body until I'd explored it all multiple times. I would let him feel how much I wanted him in every way, here in the darkness. I would spill his seed and mine as evidence of my passion for him.
His faith in me – in us – will grow over time. As it does, I'm planning the future he can't yet see. A future where a boy named Grayson Anderson loved Logan Whitmore, where fate revealed the true nature of things and those two boys would grow to share their hearts and lives. I will falter sometimes, and he will steady me. When he feels weak, I'll help him. Together we will achieve that future. We'll reach that shining place where love wins.
Love. Fucking. Wins.