“Mom left a jug of iced tea in the fridge, but she'll kill me if I get greasy hand prints inside. Robin, would you mind?” I asked, holding my dirty hands up. Robin frowned at my dirty hands while the invisible fingers of a spring breeze tousled his hair.
“Sure. Why aren't you wearing the disposable gloves I bought you?”
“Oh. You know, I forgot,” I told him and glanced at Nik. “Nik, would you run into the garage and, on the toolbox, there's a cardboard box with disposable gloves inside. Do you think you could grab me a pair?”
“Gloves. Yes, I get,” he said in his improved yet still broken English. He trotted to the garage and I glanced back at Robin, whose face had a slightly amused look.
“You like having a gopher, don't you?”
“Who, Nik? Yeah, he's great,” I said a tad defensively. “Besides, he likes it and it helps his English. Why are you laughing?”
Robin shook his head. “You're talking to me, here, babe. You like having someone to fetch your tools.”
“My iced tea, too,” I said with a grin.
Robin regarded me with an evil look. “Just for that I'll put some artificial sweetener in it. Where does your mom keep the Splenda? That's your favorite, right?” Robin replied, teasing.
“Don't you dare,” I told him, wagging a finger. “That stuff tastes like crap.”
“Well you can think about that while you make jokes about me being your waiter, Lucien,” he said with a smile and starting to back up the driveway toward my back door.
“Robin,” I said, dropping my voice and glancing around to be sure Nik hadn't returned. “If I was thinking that, you'd be wearing way less clothes. Way less.”
“Oh! Your slave, now?” he replied, laughing. Then he took a step forward and tapped me on the nose with his finger. “You're just lucky I like to make you happy.”
“I want to make you happy, too,” I cooed back. I glanced meaningfully at the rear seat of the bus. “Want me to make some happiness right now?”
“Lucien!” Robin said with a laugh, and feigning being scandalized. “Not in front of Nik!”
I turned to see Nik approaching, but still out of earshot. I turned back to say something else forward to Robin but he'd already backed off, snickering at me, and then he turned and headed for the kitchen door in back of my house. I watched Robin go and reflected on the pleasing fact that it had grown warm enough for him to wear shorts regularly. While Robin took great delight in teasing me about the different parts of his body I tended to find interesting at any given moment, I think it was safe to say I was a leg man.
His shorts were faded blue cargoes that went past the knee, which I didn't like. I preferred the shorts that stopped short of the knee but this was balanced today by his shoes, some fancy things that didn't require socks. Lose some at the knee, gain some at the ankle. His outfit was completed by a white v-neck tee shirt that he was wearing especially for me. After his recent brush with the law he'd been looking for ways to 'make it up to me'. I'm not so depraved that I'd let him actually think he owed me anything—which he doesn't. However, I did remind him that I really like him in v-neck shirts and that wearing them would make me happy. He'd rolled his eyes, mostly because he wasn't very partial to them, but it sure made me smile to see him wearing them.
I love my boyfriend.
The back door closed with a bang, the way I think almost all screen doors do, but mine was recognizable because it squeaked going both ways. The image lingered in my mind's eye for a moment of him walking across the lawn, sun kissing his skin and highlighting his hair and I let out a sappy sigh.
“You see him everyday, why you stare like first time?” Nik said, his question broken up by a bubbling laughter. I lifted an eyebrow at him.
“Because I like looking at him, that's why,” I replied and swiped at him. He danced back with a laugh and held out the disposable gloves to me. I wiped my hands down as clean as I could get them and then struggled to get the gloves on, as I always did. They tended to stick around my fingers and I had to pull them down individually, like an over-tight condom. I also hated that they trapped water so my hands would sweat, the gloves would tear and then getting new ones on was impossible since they wouldn't glide on my wet skin.
But, as I liked my v-neck shirts on Robin, he liked my hands clean. The things we do.
“Where are those big water pump pliers?” I asked Nik as I settled the second glove in place.
“What is—are—water pump pliers?” he questioned as he looked down at the tools spread out beside him.
“The blue ones,” I said, pointing to the tool with the blue rubber-coated handles. “And hey! Were you watching Robin walk away? Huh? Making eyes at my boyfriend?” I loved to tease Nik; he's a good sport.
Nik smiled insolently at my teasing. “Is nice to know he is handsome and gay, not like Nathan!” He shook his head in disgust.
He handed me the pliers and I reached into the engine compartment, clamping the water pump pulley in place. “Yeah. He's handsome, gay enough and all mine. Hand me the ratchet and a thirteen millimeter socket, please? What's Nate doing now?”
Nik hunted for the tools and, as he did, groaned. “He is knowing he can get kisses from people, but he does...not try? Not what I want to say,” he said, shaking his head. Handing me the ratchet and socket, he tried again. “Nathan, he kiss me, yes? He like, yes? We go to movies, we go to little golf, yes? I am thinking maybe we should be boyfriends, yes?”
I tightened my grip on the pliers and applied the ratchet to the first of the bolts holding the water pump pulley on. Once I cracked it loose, I turned the pulley and repeated the process. It wasn't quite as easy as it sounds, since the pulley wanted to turn and I had to prevent that while breaking the bolts loose that held it all in place. “I'm guessing he still isn't sure?”
“Sure? Sure, yes, he is sure!” Nik snorted. “He is sure I will kiss him and he can kiss other boys and now he says he likes girl!”
I grimaced as I kept working. “Well, you're lucky, Nik. You know what you want. Nate? He's, maybe, bisexual and still working through all that.”
Nik snorted. “Alec say he slut.”
I burst out laughing and nearly dropped the tools and pulley. I pulled my head out of the engine compartment, still chuckling, to see Robin approaching with glasses of iced tea and a curious look on his face. Oh, and a lovely V-necked tee exposing a patch of his chest.
“What's so funny?” he asked, handing out the drinks.
“Alec is giving Nik some, I don't know, it's not advice.” I paused a second, glancing at Nik and then blurted, “He told him Nate is a slut!” I started to laugh again while pulling the tools and pulley from the engine compartment. Robin's lips twitched and his eyes crinkled in amusement.
“Um, and why did he say that, Nik?” Robin asked, trying to be diplomatic.
“He kisses everyone!” Nik fumed. “Boy, girl, dog, pig—everything!”
Robin lost his composure and we both laughed at Nik's statement. Nik, for his part, was grinning, likely in sympathetic response to us. I giggled a few more times, and then got myself under control. I glanced at Nik, who looked so much like Sasha except with shorter hair, and sighed. The sad truth was that he'd gotten emotionally involved with a boy who didn't seem to be ready to do more than fool around. Either that or fooling around was all that mattered to him at this point.
“In all seriousness,” I said, glancing at Robin, “Nik is a little unhappy with his progress in making Nate his boyfriend.”
Robin leaned against the bus and took a sip of his drink. Then he turned his gaze to Nik and said, “You've been working on him for a while now. If he's still kissing everyone, then I have to ask—why do you want to date him?”
Nik opened his mouth and then paused. I sipped from my own glass, curious as to what he'd say. He suddenly burst forth, “He is cute! He kisses very nice! He...he...” Nik moved his hands in aimless motions and, while it's possible his English failed him, it was far more likely that the sum of his attraction to Nate was physical and, well, horniness.
Robin and I glanced at each other in silent agreement. Robin turned his gaze to Nik, his sea blue eyes filled with compassion. “Nik, the way someone looks...those are good reasons to find out more about them. But, I have to be honest, it's hard to build a relationship out of just appearance.”
Nik sniffed, a congested sound that made me wonder if it was emotion or allergies at work. He looked back sullenly and said, “I am knowing this, I think. Nathan can be very kind and funny. But I do not think he wants to date me.”
Robin's face was the picture of sympathy. “It's hard when you are interested in someone and they don't return that, Nik. I wish I could say something gentler, but it's the way life is, sometimes.” He reached out and placed a hand on Nik's shoulder. Nik, some of his sullen expression slipping away, locked his gaze with Robin.
“But can be done, yes? You and Lucien,” he said, thrusting his chin in my direction, as if I needed pointing out. “You had sex first, relationship after, yes?”
Robin's eyebrows shot up and he looked at me with the corners of his mouth twitching. For my part, my mouth had unhinged and I stared openly at Nik. While Alec would and did say things that were outrageous on a frequent basis, I didn't think he'd go so far as to recount this to Nik. Although doing so wasn't out of the realm of possibility, Alec had been more controlled when it came to teasing about my love life since last summer.
Robin recovered first. “Did Alec tell you that, Nik? You know how much Alec likes to joke.”
“No,” Nik replied, with a terse shake of his head. “Jamie said—”
“Ugh,” I groaned, “Alec junior. I should have known!”
Robin's face crumpled in a light frown. “Jamie said that? I don't know why he would, except if he were joking, Nik. Lucien and I were friends for about a year before we started dating.”
Nik pursed his lips and considered that. “Maybe I not understand. Jamie say...sex then date. You say date, then sex?”
“I'm going to kill Jamie,” I said to Robin in a conversational tone. I took a breath and turned to face Nik. “I don't like talking about my business in public, so I'm only going to say it once, Nik. Robin and I were good friends for a long time and then we dated. The sex came after we started dating.”
“Same day, yes? So I ask Nate to date then have the sex?”
I looked at Robin and was opening my mouth to tell him to deal with this, since Jamie caused it, but he beat me to it. “Lucien, Alec must have told Jamie. You deal with this,” he told me, smiling sweetly and gathering the glasses to take back for more tea. Watching him walk away filled me with both irritation and longing. I mentally shook myself and focused again on Nik.
“Look, buddy,” I started and took a seat on my bumper. “Everyone's relationship is different. If you think you have to have sex to make Nate like you or date you, then he's not the guy for you.”
“But I am wanting the sex, too,” he jumped in. “He is handsome, like Robin. Can be kind, like Robin.”
Chagrined I said, “But he's not Robin, Nik.”
“No,” he agreed. “Robin, he is too old, anyway.”
My mouth snapped shut and I stared at him. Too old? Since when was Robin too...okay, focus, Lucien. I cleared my throat, “Nik, if someone is interested in dating you, they should be able to be clear about that. It sounds like Nate is content to make out with you, but not be exclusive—you said he's interested in a girl, now?”
Nik scowled. “Erica Sawyer. She says he needs to 'meet right girl' and he say 'prove it'. So she grab his face and kiss in front of whole public! She put hand on his—”
I shook my head. “Nik, let me get to the point.” He nodded in eager response and I said, “I was in love with Robin and we had a very close friendship before anything else happened between us. I was in love with Robin for a whole year before we started dating. Robin knew I was in love with him and he loved me back before we started dating. You have messed around with Nate and you both like that. You want to date and, apparently, he doesn't. If you keep pushing him, you might lose any chance to keep him as a friend.”
Nik sighed and I turned around to let him think. I pulled the wire off the oil pressure switch and was dismayed to find that the wire simply dangled, broken about ten inches along and I had no idea where it went. I sighed and hunted through the engine compartment, looking for the other end of the severed wire to no avail. With a grunt I set the broken wire down and figured I'd have to ask Robin to help me with the wiring diagram so I could fix it.
I picked up the ratchet and, selecting the appropriate socket, began to unscrew the high pressure oil switch. In truth the bus needed both switches changed, but this one was the easiest to get to being nearer the top of the engine. The low pressure switch was under some tin flashing on the bottom of the engine and I'd have to jack the whole thing up to work on that. The high pressure switch was leaking, and thus allowing my bus to leak oil everywhere it went which was ruining both the driveway and costing me in oil; not to mention my parent's patience with 'that thing'. The low pressure switch was driving me batty because, once the engine warmed up enough to accept signals from the switches, anything below about two thousand RPMs would cause the oil light to blink and the warning buzzer to, well, buzz.
“Lucien?” Nik asked, his voice soft. “Do you think Nathan, that he use me? Jamie say I should stop kissing him, make him miss kisses from me. You understand?”
I jiggled the ratchet, trying to keep the sensor in the socket as I withdrew the whole assembly from the engine. Pulling the tool up and finding the leaky sensor hanging in the socket, I answered him the best way I could.
“Nik, I think you should stop kissing him. I also think you should start to look around at other boys.” I sighed and set the tools down and reached for the box with the new sensor. As I unpacked it I continued, “I don't know if Nate will react the way you hope if you stop kissing him; he might just kiss someone else a little more. I don't know if he'll miss your kisses enough to change how he acts. But, Nik...” I turned my head to look at him and he was watching me, listening raptly.
“I don't know if he's trying to use you or if he just isn't thinking that far ahead. Nik, you can't make him be who you want him to be. You can't control someone else, you can't...well, you just can't.”
His eyes closed and then, when he opened them, his gaze had moved away from me. “Yes. I think that you are right. Nathan is pretty, kiss nice but maybe not boy for me.”
He sniffled and cleared his throat. The screen door banged, announcing Robin's impending arrival with refills. Good timing, that; I pictured Robin watching through the kitchen window, judging when it'd be safe to return. I watched him approach, long fingers wrapped around the glasses and his gaze flickering from us to the drinks. As he arrived and we took our refills from him, a phone buzzed. Nik dug around in his pocket and, glancing at the screen, said, “Fathers want me to come home, now. You want I should ask to finish help you?”
“No, buddy. When parents call, you better go,” I said with a chuckle. With quick goodbyes Nik walked to his bike and pedaled away.
Robin leaned against the side of the bus and I sipped my drink a few times before putting it down. I grabbed the socket and removed it from the ratchet, then seated the new sensor in the socket and used it to extend my reach and start the new sensor in its slot in the engine block.
“So, I'm not going to warn Jamie, I don't think,” Robin said in an offhand way. “I think, in fact, I'll just say something in front of his girlfriend.”
The sensor set, I grabbed the ratchet and began to tighten it into place. “Yeah? What are you going to do?”
“Well” he said, his tone speculative as if he weren't truly sure, yet. “Remember how I told you that she has this kink about seeing Jamie kiss another guy?”
“Yeah. You're not gonna kiss Jamie, are you?”
“Gross!” Robin cried out, laughing.
“Yeah. Who knows where that mouth has been?”
Robin shuddered and I laughed.
“He says they aren't all that far along, which is good. I mean, sex is important but you have to be ready for it. Plus, those two have the added wrinkle of possibly getting pregnant.”
“I know,” I agreed as I reached for the pulley and bolts to begin replacing it. “I mean, not that I won't stop trying to get you pregnant, but I'm not really worried about it.”
“Hah,” Robin replied. “Seriously, though. Maybe I could imply he's kissed a few boys, more than just Ash? Would that be too cruel? Or just cruel enough?”
I started each of the three pulley bolts and ran them down finger tight. Bracing my hands on the deck lid, I thought for a moment. “I'm kind of torn,” I confessed. “On the one hand, it pisses me off to have Jamie, of all people, knowing things like that and saying shit. On the other hand, Jamie went there and maybe he deserves to know what it feels like to have people talking about his private life.”
Robin's shadow fell across my face as he shifted to lean in the doorway. I turned my head to bring him into my view. His eyes were alight with amusement, the corners of his eyes wrinkled and his lips curved upward at their ends.
“I'm not embarrassed, you know,” he said, his smile a touch wider.
“Nothing embarrasses you,” I snorted.
As if I hadn't said anything, he continued. “I know they try to make it a big deal, mostly to pick on you I think, but we told Nik the truth. We were close before we made things official. I don't think things would be different if we'd waited. I don't feel like we, you know, rushed into anything; we already knew who the other person was.”
“I just don't like people using it to pick on us,” I said, sounding unreasonable even to myself. Trying again I said, “I like to think I can take a joke, but telling Nik something like that...not cool. I mean, he's coming to us for advice and he was thinking...nope. I don't like it. Plus, what kind of an example is that? What was Jamie thinking?”
“It was a few years ago, it wasn't a mistake and even if we thought it was, it's not like we can un-fuck each other,” he said, his voice breaking down into chuckles. I smiled at him, a little sheepish.
“Not that I'd want to,” I replied. “I'm just—yeah, I guess I just need to get over it. If they really had a problem with how we got together, they'd have tried to break us up, right?”
“Oh, I don't know,” Robin replied, smiling as he sipped his drink. I eyed him and waited for him to continue. “I think Kale sort of tried, in his uptight, tree-up-his-ass way.”
We broke down in laughter, thinking of Kale and his 'sex police' act. “What I don't understand is, he was having sex by then, wasn't he? Why did he think it was okay to prevent us?”
“I think,” Robin said, giggling, “Kale will be a 'do as I say, not as I do,' kind of parent. I mean, first time Linc announces he has a girlfriend, I think Kale will hire a private detective to do a background check!”
“Can you imagine?” I said, both of us laughing. “Being a private eye hired to check out a pre-schooler?” We broke out in gales of laughter, imagining poor, uptight Kale. I adopted an official tone, ruined by my laughter. “Um. Um, Mr. Kirkwood? Um. So Miss Kylie Stewart, aged 4 years and six months, comes from a stable, two income family. They have a mortgage and she has no credit problems. In fact, the only troubling item is that she may have a substance abuse problem.”
Robin had tears running from his eyes and he was struggling to stay upright. He gasped out, “What...what is she addicted to?”
“Well, sir,” I replied, continuing to giggle. “She has a very bad sugar habit!”
It was silly, I know, and not nearly as funny as we seemed to think right then. But this wasn't just about poking fun at Kale or me letting go of the teasing that never seemed to fully go away with respect to my sex life. My boyfriend is such a lovable goof and for the last several months he hasn't had much in the way of happiness in him. To see him laugh, to just be silly with me, felt like I was shedding emotional weight one concrete block at a time, and with each block that fell I gained a piece of my boyfriend back.
“Wow, are we off track!” Robin finally said, his chuckles trailing off. Color had crept into his cheeks, a high rosy glow that looked healthy and to be caused by happiness. A light wind twirled in the yard, carrying the scent of mowed grass from a few doors down, a slight petroleum smell from the open engine compartment and a faint thread of Robin's own fresh, clean scent. Another block dropped from me, another emotional piece of Robin was returned to me and I felt a sudden, overwhelming sense of optimism and happiness. I stepped forward and, careful not to put my greasy hands on him, tilted my head against him.
His hand drifted into my hair and pressed me lightly into his chest and I paused for a moment, taking in his scent and enjoying what felt undeniably like a step in the right direction. I lightly kissed the skin just below his neck, exposed by the v-neck, and leaned back. I think the fact that Robin was even plotting to get back at Jamie was a positive thing, so I decided to encourage it.
“So, how are we going to get even with Jamie?” I asked and his eyes sparkled in amusement.
“I have an idea. I need to think about it for a second or two, but I think we'll need Griff's help and maybe...maybe...let me think for a minute.” He paused. “Because I want him to understand what it's like when others get into your relationship, interfere with it. Let me think.”
I nodded and went back to work while he thought. Rather than disturb him I went into the garage and got some spare wire, snipped off about two feet and attached it to the old sensor wire with solder and heat shrink tubing. I figure when I get him to look at the diagram with me I'd have plenty of wire to reach the broken connection. I attached the wire to the sensor before torquing the bolts on the pulley. Glancing at Robin, who had dragged a lawn chair over and sat down, I saw him deep in thought. I took a moment to stare openly at his legs, since the shorts were pulling back and exposing more of them. Since he was still scheming, I put the jack under the bus and got it in the air, placed the jack stands and then put chocks under the front tires. I set about popping the bolts on the tin flashing to reveal the clean push-rod tubes and replaced the low pressure sensor.
“Okay, I think I have it.”
“Yeah? Let's hear it,” I replied as I replaced the bolts for the flashing and tightened everything down.
“Okay,” he replied in a thoughtful tone, as if he were still considering. “So I told you Jamie's girlfriend has this kink about seeing him kiss another guy, right? And that he's been using it to torture Sean, which you heard before out at dinner—you remember?”
What he left out was the teasing had been overshadowed by Robin's trip to jail. “Yeah. Sean didn't seem all that amused.”
“Right. Pretty sure Jamie thinks it's okay because he'd never do it, but I'm thinking Sean might like a little payback.”
“Okay,” I agreed as I slid out from under the bus and pumped the jack a few times so I could remove the jack stands. “How you going to do that?”
“Well, first you have to understand the dynamics of Jamie and Emily. She, at the very least, is his match: verbally, intellectually, you name it. I think this is the first time he's really been challenged in a relationship, so he's not feeling like he's steering the boat. With me?”
“Yep.” I checked the dipstick and then added a bit of oil as Robin continued to flesh out his plan.
“So she's kept him off balance with this 'kissing a guy' thing. Jamie struggled at first with how much to tell her, but he told me he ended up telling her everything.”
“You mean like the Hoover?”
“Yeah. Everything,” Robin replied. “I guess she was a little weird at first, but she got over it fast. But this thing she has about guys kissing has left Jamie kind of flummoxed. I think, you know, he'd do it just to get her going but he doesn't have anyone, really, to address that with, you know?”
“We should tell him about Nik or Nate,” I replied, chuckling. I checked the dipstick again and, satisfied, started to clean up.
“Jamie has this picture in his room of him and Emily kissing. It's a sweet picture, taken from the side with them meeting in the middle, but listen—I'll use my phone to take a picture of the one in his room with Jamie all puckered up, right? Then I'll get Sean and Ash to kiss, or at least pose like Jamie did in his picture, and I'll get Griff to Photoshop them. With me so far?”
“Yeah,” I replied, grinning at his idea.
“So I'll take those pictures, put them on Jamie's phone and send them to Emily from his phone!”
I burst out laughing. “So wait, though. You think she'll get all excited about them? How does that get Jamie?”
“He won't know what's going on! She'll be talking about pictures he knows nothing about, and then she'll show him the texts that 'he' sent!” Robin grinned and I chuckled. “Besides, let's see how he likes his relationship being gossip material for once.”
“Well, let's do it then! But...why stop there?”
“What do you mean?”
“Why stop with Ash? Why don't we show Emily just how committed Jamie is to kissing guys for her?”
“Oh, evil!” Robin laughed and pulled his phone out. “I'm going to start checking with people!”
After I walked to the front and started the bus up. It has a small skip in its idle, the result of a recently cracked exhaust pipe that I just wasn't ready to fix. Okay, honestly, I just didn't want to mess with it; it looked like it was going to be trouble. Plus those bolts on the exhaust ran right into the head; the bolts were steel but the head was softer aluminum which meant I could do some serious damage. I walked back and checked underneath to see if there were any leaks and, satisfied, I turned the engine off.
As I rounded the back of the bus Robin stood from his lawn chair and said, “I'm just asking the guys to get together and I'll pitch it all at once, except for Sean. I'll talk to him at home.”
“This is going to be so much fun. Jamie never squirms,” I said, snickering. “Um, hey, before I close this up...” I explained my broken wire to Robin and we perused the book. We could see both the pressure sensor wires were brown, but they ran to one spot and then their colors changed. Robin suggested I trace the wire from the low pressure sensor to a plug; one that had an identical wire coming from it. I followed the second brown wire to its broken end and grunted in satisfaction.
“Yep,” I said. I straightened up and pecked Robin. “Thanks.”
Robin smiled at me and glanced down at his phone. With a wide grin he announced, “Hamster and Derek are in!”
“This should teach Jamie a lesson!” I chuckled as I set about putting the engine cover on and dogging it down.
“Um, babe...there's something I wanted to talk to you about.”
I was pulling the sound dampening cloth over the engine cover, but stopped just due to the change in his voice. I turned to find him no longer smiling but looking nervous and unhappy, his fingers pulling at the bottom of his shirt.
“It's not that something's wrong, exactly.” He paused and his gaze flicked from the ground to me and the off into the distance. “Well, it is but...” he sighed and looked away from me. “Your bus. It should be blue.”
“I...don't think I understand.”
He bit his lip and looked down at his feet for a moment. I stepped toward him and waited, letting him know I was there for him.
When he spoke, it was with clear reluctance. Each word was costing him something, but I don't know what. “Ever since your old bus got destroyed...the new one looks wrong to me. I mean...every time I see it, it jars me because it doesn't look like it's supposed to.” He hesitated and then said softly, “It's supposed to be blue.”
I replied slowly, “I can understand that, babe. I had no idea it bothered you that much. It has to be hard, having that kind of reminder almost every day. Why didn't you say something?”
He took a deep breath and then his hand came groping for mine. Instead of just holding his hand, it ended up being a hug. The moment hung in time: the birds chirping, the squirrels chattering and chasing one another. The sound of the breeze moving through the trees wasn't just a rush of noise, but I thought I could hear each leaf as it was pushed around by the invisible hand of nature. Robin, slowly settling back down in my arms, the heave of his chest as he took steadying breaths. His scent, calming and familiar.
“We've been talking about it in therapy,” he said, finally.
“Yeah?” Although he'd been going he hadn't really talked to me about what was being said or if he felt like he was getting anything out of it.
I felt him nod, his chin rubbing on my shoulder. “I feel better, overall. I understand better what I was dealing with and why. But...every time I look at this bus, it looks wrong. It feels wrong.”
I sighed. “I know what you mean.”
He leaned back, a surprised look on his face. “You do?”
“Yeah, I do,” I replied as we disengaged and I sat on my bumper. “That blue bus meant a lot to me, Robin. I mean, of course you know that and you know why—all my friends worked on it with me and you read the manual to make sure we got things right. All the trips we took in it. All the times we were alone in it. It was...really special.”
I patted the bumper and continued, “This one I like partly because it came from my friends. But it's not right. I don't know if it will ever be. I keep getting guys to come over but...I don't know. It's not the same.”
“I didn't know you felt that way.”
I shrugged and looked up at him. “I wasn't really sure what I was feeling, to be honest. It's like something you see from the corner of your eye, but you can't quite catch it when you try to focus on it. It...slips away. It kind of makes sense to me, what you're saying and about how you feel. I just don't know what to do about it.”
“That came up in therapy. I had an idea, but the therapist shot it down.”
“Oh? What was the idea?”
Robin sat next to me and chuckled. “I can't imagine you without a bus. I mean, yeah, I wasn't a big fan when you first got it but we had some really good times in it and you can still find them around and you proved you can get parts so...I wondered about selling this one and buying a blue one.”
I sat for a minute and just thought about that. The color was a problem, especially for Robin, but I wondered if that was what was affecting me too and I just hadn't realized that was part of the problem? I was having a hard time finding the soul of this bus and maybe that was part of it. A part of me thought that I wouldn't ever find that special connection again with a vehicle, but the more I thought about it the more I thought that making the decision with Robin to sell the red one and go hunting for a blue one would be another brick or two toward us rebuilding. Plus, the experience would make another bus mean something special right away.
“I know how you feel about your bus. I'm sorry I brought it up.” Robin said meekly and sighed. “I don't like to bring up what we talk about in therapy because I'm supposed to be able to just say what ever is on my mind without it getting out and bothering anyone else.”
“What? No, babe, I was just thinking about it. I'm not mad or anything.” I squeezed his hand, “And you know you can say anything to me.”
He twisted his lips a little. “Are you sure? I know how much you love your buses.”
I shrugged. “I wanted something unique that we could remember. All our friends will remember riding in it, they will have things to smile about from trips and stuff. Plus there was the epic discovery you made about the back seat folding into a bed.”
Robin laughed and covered his face briefly. “I always thought people that had sex in their cars must be low class or something. It never occurred to me that they just couldn't find a place to be alone together!”
“Really? 'Cause sometimes all I can think about is having sex with you and the bus was perfect.”
“Shut up,” he said with a smile.
“So what did the doctor say? Wait,” I said and put a hand up. “You never talk about your sessions. Is it even okay for me to ask?”
“Yeah, of course,” he said giving me that look that seemed to wonder how dumb I could get. “It's just that most of what we talk about is more coping mechanisms and how things were for me when I lost Charlie—you already know all of that stuff.” He paused and let out a gentle sigh. “You also know how badly the idea of losing you scares me.”
“I don't like to think about losing you, either.”
“The difference is, though, I know what that feels like. To be in love and have it end suddenly. I know you lost your dad and that's real pain, too. How can I put this?” He flopped his hands down on his thighs as he hunted for the words.
“I guess losing a parent is different from a lover, right? I mean, parents, especially when you're young...they're who cares for you. Maybe if it's a boyfriend, for instance, it represents your future. I don't know, I'm reaching, Robin,” I said and shrugged. “Maybe because, usually, parents can't be replaced so you can't lose them more than once?”
Robin nodded slowly. “Yeah. The therapist did say something like that, at some point. You know,” he said, folding his hands restlessly, “I can remember how bad that felt. That pain, that sense of loss. I can still reach out and touch it. I kind of put it away for a while, sort of thought I'd dealt with it but after your bus got torched...it was right there. Just waiting to swallow me up and the only thing there was to stop it was you.”
Robin lapsed into silence and I cleared my throat. “Well, I think we should do it. Sell the bus, I mean.”
“Really?” he asked doubtfully. “The doctor didn't think it was a good idea.”
“He said that, basically, I could get some relief by changing the color of the bus but that the problem would still be there. That my fear of losing you, my problems with handling that fear—they wouldn't vanish with the bus.” Robin shrugged, “He's right. I'm still afraid. I still have...bad dreams. He's helping me to get better at coping but that red bus is kind of like a constant reminder.”
“Painting it is too expensive,” I told him. “I don't have the money for that. And to get another bus I'd need the money from this one, first. I don't want to go against your doctor's recommendations, Robin, because I want you to feel better and to get better. But maybe changing the color of the bus is a good thing for me, too. How about a compromise? Maybe we could spend some time shopping for a blue one? Just to see how we feel?”
I turned and smiled at him. “Yeah. Anything for you.”
“No,” he said shaking his head and gaining his feet. “I don't want you to do something you don't want to just to appease me.”
“I'm not,” I replied, not bothering to stand and challenge him. “That's not to say I wouldn't do it just to appease you, because you're more important. But...if you promise to help shop for the blue one—I mean really shop! Like, you have to go look at it with me—and actually get out of the car when we get there—and render an opinion,” I said, wagging a finger at him.
A cautious smile crept across his face and then a little redness flushed in his cheeks. “I promise.”
In a serious voice I said, “And you have to keep wearing v-neck shirts. That's very important to my process.”
He rolled his eyes, “Fine.”
“Well, good then. Especially the shirts. I like.”
He glanced down and said slyly, “I should have worn socks. My long ones. I need to start doing that.”
“Robin, no,” I whined.
He grinned and leaned against the bus. “A v-neck and shorts? You're going to get spoiled, Lucien.”
“I can live with that,” I said, raking my gaze across his legs.
“Jesus, now I know what women must feel like,” he said with a laugh. I looked up in curiosity and he pointed at his face. “Eyes up here, Lucien.”
“Oh. I don't know,” I said, intentionally looking back down and he pushed me, snickering.
“Seriously? You going all Little Phil on me?”
I looked up and growled, “I'm always ready to go all Little Phil on you.”
We both burst out laughing. We talked about a movie that was coming up we both wanted to see and started throwing out ideas for the kind of apartment we wanted to have in Troy when we went to school. We floated the idea of doing something as a group at the end of the school year like a trip to a baseball game or something. Eventually Robin sat on the engine hatch and I settled between his legs. We continued to talk but now his arms were laid loosely on my shoulders and my own hands were resting on his knees.
“So weird, you know,” he said, his lips quirking in amusement.
He waited until I met his gaze, his eyes alight with amusement. “In sixth grade Violet Spellman told me she was going to marry me. A few months later she and Carrie Trout got into a fight about who was going to dance with me at some silly spring dance. They got super pissed because I actually danced with Liddy Chalmers; they totally flipped when I kissed her.”
“And you wonder why I keep telling you everyone is after you?” I asked, giving him a skeptical look. “And I want to hear this because?”
“It's just...I never considered, back then, kissing a boy or falling in love with one...” he chuckled and lowered his voice, “Being fucked by one.”
I lifted the corner of my mouth up. “And now?”
He tilted his head. “Now it seems weird not to have considered it. But, really, how was I supposed to know you were out there and that you were going to put in so much effort for us to work? I mean...how many people can say their boyfriend did two years of studies just to keep them together?”
“Easy,” I replied. “No one can say that. But, if they were dating you, they'd do the work.”
He looked at me suspiciously as my grin grew wide. “Why do I suspect that isn't as sweet as it sounds?”
“Babe,” I said seriously. “With these legs, that face and your ass? There is no way I want you two hours away. Uh uh, too many guys would be looking to 'comfort' you while you're away from your boyfriend.”
“Uh!” he said, laughing and swatting at me. “You think I'm so easy?”
“I think guys are horny enough to work hard,” I said, slipping my hands around his waist and pulling him closer.
“Oh? Do I make you horny, baby?” he said in that stupid voice and we both were giggling while kissing.
About thirty minutes later he had to go home and I sat on the deck lid of the bus and thought about our conversation. My current bus was special because my friends had given it to me, but it wasn't the same. The blue bus had so much history to it that this one couldn't quite match up. I worked on it and I'd get focused and go into a little bit of a trance, so deep into my project that I could actually pretend that torching my bus and the problems Robin had succumbed to because of it had never happened. I'd be fixing something and then, I realized, I would catch the body color out of the corner of my eye and my 'working trance' would be broken.
I pulled the gloves off and wiped my hands before pulling my phone out. My first step was to explain the situation to Griff and see if he'd be okay with me selling the bus. I know it's mine, but he did a lot of work to give it to me and if I was really considering selling it...well, I needed to check with the rest of the family.
Sunday morning I went down to the auto parts store and bought for sale signs and placed them in the windows. Then I went to a few online sites and placed ads. I spent part of the morning browsing buses that were for sale, but a lot of them seemed like they were out of my price range, for now. If I could get my asking price, then it'd be a different conversation. Not a hugely different conversation, but still. I was always kind of surprised how much people tried to squeeze out of these old buses. The campers were out of sight—ten thousand, easy. With four wheel drive and restored, over forty thousand. Of course, who knew if they actually got that price?
The old bay window, air cooled ones were even worse. Anything I was going to get would likely need a lot of work and, unfortunately, it was work I wasn't sure I wanted to do all over again. It was one reason why I decided on a Business Management program at RPI; I didn't think I wanted to do manual labor for a living. Sure, tinkering on the side, but I didn't want to be a mechanic.
I met Robin at his house after they got back from church. Jamie changed in a flash and left to go to Emily's and I was going to follow Robin up to get changed—or more accurately to watch him get changed—but I noticed Sean sitting in the living room looking a little pensive. I decided to wander over and see what was on his mind.
“Hey, Sean,” I greeted him and dropped onto the love seat across from him.
“Hi, Lu,” he said and gave me a weak smile.
“What's got you down, bud?”
His gaze darted toward the window and he licked his lips. “I won't even ask how you know.”
“Body language. You look both thoughtful and miserable. Which is a shame since you're usually such a happy guy. What's up?”
He flicked his gaze to me and back to the window, then pursed his lips. Folding his hands nervously he looked at me again. “I don't want to ask you; I know how you feel. I was going to talk to Robin.”
I knew right away he must be wrestling with something to do with sex. It's the only subject someone with his level of empathy would not bring up with me, with respect to my own sex life. However, I'd grown to like Sean quite a lot and I felt a very protective emotion fill me. It made me want to put aside my own hang-ups and be there for him.
“I can deal with whatever it is, Sean. If you want to talk to me, I'm here. If you're more comfortable with Robin, that's cool. This is about you, not me.”
He nodded his head slowly and spared a glance at the stairs, perhaps to see if Robin was approaching. Then he looked back to me and asked, “Does it hurt to bottom?”
I leaned back in my seat. “Some, at first. It can hurt a lot if you don't take some time to make sure both people are comfortable.” I decided not to ask him why he wanted to know since it was fairly obvious. “There is always the chance of some discomfort, no matter how much you do it.”
He chewed his lip for a moment and then, shyly, asked, “Is it...I was thinking, is it important for both guys to...like, take turns or something?”
I tilted my head to the side, realizing he was implying that he had experience. “I do think it's valuable, yes.”
“Well, for one thing, you don't know what you're going to like. If you don't try, you won't know. Secondly, even if you decide you like one more than the other, it's important to have the experience so you know what feels good both to you and your partner. Think of it like having more sexual education.” I glanced at the stairs, beginning to wonder where Robin was about now, myself.
“Robin only talks about bottoming. Do you guys switch?”
“Uh, yeah.” My skin felt hot and I figured my face was a little red about now.
I looked at him in confusion. “So, what?”
“Was it important for you guys?”
“Oh, yeah, absolutely,” I said firmly.
He looked at me, his mouth working as if he were trying to find the words. “Uh, so...you guys switch all the time or...did you figure out what is best from just trying it once?”
“Uh, well, I don't think you always get the whole experience, you know, from just doing it once. I mean, some things of course. Uh, what am I trying to say?” I let my foot tap on the floor as I turned over what I think he was asking. “See, bottoming takes some practice. So does topping, but you might not realize that until you bottom. As far as Robin and I...well, we both have preferences at this point but we can change depending on our mood. Like, you don't necessarily become one or the other, exclusively.”
Sean nodded, his face pensive. “Did...did Robin tell you that Ash...that Ash and I—”
“No,” I said and raised a hand. “You know I don't like my personal business out there for conversation, and Robin and I don't talk about you like that.”
He nodded slowly, face turning red. He looked away and said softly, “I don't mind if you know. I just...this is hard to talk about.”
I really wanted to help Sean, but I didn't know what to do or even what the problem was. I wondered what Alec would do—duh, inappropriate joke. Instead I wondered what would Robin do? He'd try to make Sean comfortable and let him say what he needed to, that's what. So I got up and crossed over to the love seat Sean was on and sat next to him. He looked up at me, his face confused and I questioned if I'd made the right move.
“Robin really didn't tell you about...you know...?”
“Nope. Promise.” I groaned internally, berating myself because just changing positions isn't enough. “I don't like it when people talk about my relationship behind my back. I try hard not to talk to him about other people's sex lives because that's their business. ”
“Shit,” he said and looked away from me and closed his eyes. “This would be easier if he had.”
“Seriously?” I asked skeptically. “I don't mind talking about it if you want to talk. I just don't want to hear it from someone else, Sean.”
“Yeah.” He sighed and, keeping his eyes closed, said, “Just before I...went away...last Thanksgiving, Ash and I...we...”
“I get it, you don't have to say.”
He opened his eyes and locked his gaze to mine. “Yeah, I do. You have to understand, it wasn't sex like you're describing. It wasn't sex like he and I had before. We'd done it a few times, but Ash always wanted me to...to top. I mean, I don't know if that's true, actually, but it was always what I thought, and it was always what we did. Maybe he thought it was what I wanted or...” He looked off, confusion clouding his features.
“That sounds like a conversation you guys need to have, Sean,” I said gently. “Sex is a huge experience and it can be really great or really disappointing. Not talking about it leads to the kind of confusion you’re feeling right now.”
“It was great. Scary, actually, but great. Nobody makes me feel like Ash makes me feel.”
Sean looked at me, shame and fear on his face so strong it could have been written in marker. “I screwed up, big time. I was rough on him. I scared him and I hurt him. And I cheated and got an STD.”
I was shocked that Sean could do that to anyone, but I worked to keep it off my face. After all, nobody was perfect and I knew Sean to be a really sweet guy. I'd no idea what pushed him to that point, but he was clearly remorseful and he and Ash must be working on things since they were still together. “I'm really sorry to hear that, Sean. You're one of the nicest guys I know. If you hadn't said it, I'd never believe it.”
“Well, believe it.” He looked away again and sighed. “I've been thinking about that a lot. Ash and I, we're in a good place now, mostly. We cut out all the sex stuff and just, you know, got back to who we are.”
“That sounds like a good thing,” I said and put a hand on his shoulder.
He looked back at me and nodded. “It was the right move. We have fun hanging out, playing games or watching movies or just being stupid together. I knew I had a lot of work to do just to try and fix some of the damage I caused, not just him but my relationship with him. I fucked up so bad and...I wanted to show Ash how important to me he really is but doesn't that or shouldn't that mean we're equal, too?”
I smiled. “Yes, a relationship is a partnership and you should be equals in that. But that doesn't mean you have to hop back into bed to even the score, Sean.”
“No,” I said and put a hand up to stop him. “You don't understand. Even though sex can be part of a healthy relationship, it's not what makes it healthy. Take Robin and I, for instance: if we're struggling emotionally, sex isn't the cure. Supporting one another, communicating and understanding is what's needed.”
“Are you saying that unless everything's perfect you don't have sex?” he asked skeptically.
“No,” I said, shaking my head. “I mean that sex doesn't solve problems. Having a strong relationship, a solid foundation, does. If you guys haven't been doing anything at all, then you might want to build up to having full on sex again. Plus there's your reasons for considering bottoming—which I'd say were just as valid if you were considering topping. If you wanted to give yourself to him because you love him or because the idea gets you hot, that's one thing. If you're thinking about doing it so you can be hurt too, so you can somehow try to feel as bad as he did, that's just messed up.”
His shoulders slumped. “I don't like what you're saying. But,” he admitted, “it sounds like it's true.”
“I know it's true.”
He looked back at me, once again shyly. “You're not just saying that 'cause you think I'm too young for sex or something? That's what Kale would say and then add in some crap about me being his baby brother.”
“Dude!” I said grinning. “I'm the last person to say that. You definitely nailed Kale, though!” I snickered and a smile spread across his face. “But what am I saying? I'm saying the reasons why you have sex are at least as important as having sex, especially that you not fool yourself about those reasons.”
“What do you mean?”
“Sean, you're not dumb,” I chided him. “When I'm with Robin, making him feel good and loved also makes me feel good and loved. For me, making love to someone should be about an exchange of your core, man. If you're thinking about asking Ash to make love to you, then it should be because you love him and you want him inside you, not because you feel guilty or think this is going to make things right again. It won't. And I think you know if Ash thought you were giving yourself to him out of guilt, you'd make him feel like shit, too.”
Sean wrinkled his nose. “You say that like sex is in this perfect bubble. Don't you just get horny and want to have sex?”
“With Robin, yes, all the time,” I said laughing and he grinned back at me. “And trust me, every trigger I have to get me horny, Robin has. But the difference is that horniness will get us into bed—”
“Or on tables?” Sean asked, snickering.
“I hate Jamie,” I said with a sigh. “Yeah, wherever. Being horny will do it, but the act itself? I never want Robin to think I just wanted to use him to get off. I always, always have to be sure that no matter what we do, he understands just how important he is to me and that what we do is only for him; that I can't and won't share that with anyone else.”
Sean nodded slowly. “I think that's some of the problem, because I did go to someone else. I know I hurt him, really badly—both by that one time I was so rough with him and because I cheated. But I think he's forgiven me for most of that, even if he can't forget.” He brought his eyes to me, filled with sorrow. “I wish we could both forget. But, I know I can't. It eats at me. Not just what I did but how much hurt I put on Ash. I think...it's the first time I ever realized how much I could hurt someone else. It's enough to make me sick.”
I placed a hand on his shoulder and gently squeezed. “I'm not sure what to tell you there, Sean. I've seen other cute guys, but I never wanted to risk what I have to see what it would feel like with them. I can only imagine that it would feel wrong and the pain I'd cause Robin...I just couldn't.”
“Yeah,” he said, his voice a whisper. “But I did. I hurt Ash right to his soul, Lu. I could see it in his eyes. Confessing to him was the hardest thing I've ever done.” He coughed, clearing his throat and asked, “What if he wants to, though?”
“Well, you have to want to, too.”
He glanced down and blushed. “I think I should try it. I don't want it to hurt; it's not like what you were saying, letting him do me because I feel guilty. We've started to, you know, fool around some. It's starting to feel like we're getting back to who we used to be. Isn't it supposed to end with...you know?”
“Actually, no,” I replied. Where the hell was Robin? “I mean, sure, for lots of people it is but that doesn't mean it's for you. Things should happen on your timetable. There isn't any, like, schedule for when you should be doing something. And not everyone has to have sex all the different ways it can be had.”
“But you guys—you and Robin, I mean—”
“We were different,” I replied immediately. I wonder if Jamie told Sean that too? Jesus I was going to kill that kid! “Robin and I already had a strong relationship before any of that happened. I've always felt that Robin is the one for me and he and I...yeah, that's one of the things we enjoy with each other. That doesn't mean you will or have to. But before you do anything, Sean, you and Ash should really talk about it. Go into this with full honesty.”
Sean was nodding slowly. “I think I see.”
“It's more important than thinking you see,” I told him. “You guys have to be on the same page. Some guys reach doing stuff orally and never go any farther. It's what they like and so they stick with it, as a for instance. If you want Ash to top you because you genuinely want to know what it would feel like, for instance, then that's a reason. Only you know how you really feel about the idea of bottoming.”
Sean blushed. “Well, can't bottoming feel good? Robin says...well, he seems to like it.”
“Yeah, it can feel good. But you have to listen to your partner, communicate with them about what feels good and what doesn't. You don't have to force this thing, Sean. There's no impending doom if you don't bottom for him.”
He sighed and said firmly, “I think we're getting close to being back to that point in our relationship. If we go right back to what we were doing, if I top him, then what's changed?” he asked, holding his hands out. “I want him to know I've changed; that what he wants is just as important as I what I want. I really liked topping him, but I feel like he's surrendering to me, trusting me. How can I move forward if I'm not willing to surrender to him? To trust him?”
“Well, it sounds like you worked some of this out for yourself, buddy,” I replied. “However, you have to consider him in this. If his preference is to be topped, if he wants the comfort of surrendering to you, of being able to open up his body and trust that you aren't there to hurt him...or if he just likes being topped, then you have to talk to him about that. But, for the record, I think you're on the right track in wanting his needs to be just as valid as yours.”
“Yeah,” he said, nodding. “I guess I kind of thought, before, that it was enough that it was me that was having sex with him.” He paused and shook his head while frowning. “I mean, he kind of led me to think...but that's kind of selfish, right? For me to just go with that? How arrogant does that make me to accept that? Jesus, I'm stupid.”
I shrugged and smiled at him. “Sean, it was your first relationship with a guy, maybe your first serious relationship, so it was pretty overwhelming, I guess. You're allowed to make mistakes. If he was the first person you had sex with, that's pretty overwhelming, too.”
Sean paused a beat and then asked, “Was it different for you having sex with someone before Robin?”
“Huh? I've only ever had sex with Robin.”
“Then how do you know it's different with someone else?”
I narrowed my eyes. “I mean having your first time. I don't act like it's the first time, anymore, and neither does Robin. We don't have that nervousness—you know what I mean.”
He nodded slowly, seeming to go into thought.
Heavy steps came down the stairs and Robin appeared, dark blue shorts that stopped short of the knee displaying his legs to my hearts desire and a light green V-neck tee. He flopped on the other side of Sean and grinned at him.
“Sean, how'd you like to get even with Jamie?”
“For what?” Sean asked slowly.
“All that cracking he's been doing on you about kissing Ash in front of his girlfriend.”
The corner of Sean's mouth turned up. “What do you have in mind?”
Robin laid out his plan and Sean chuckled. “So let me make sure I understand. All I have to do is let you take a picture while I kiss Ash and you'll do the rest?”
“Yep! Think Ash will go for it?”
“Well,” Sean said with a grin, “I don't want to brag or anything, but I'm pretty sure if it involves kissing me, Ash will agree.”
“Whoa, someone has a big head!” I said and ruffled his hair. He straightened his hair, indulging my sudden brotherly affection. He questioned Robin about how this would get Jamie back and Robin spelled out his idea to spin up Jamie's girlfriend and let Jamie know how it felt to have his business on display. Sean grinned and left the room to go find his phone and see if Ash was willing. Meanwhile Robin was looking at me with a weird smile and a very merry look to his eye.
He stretched his arms out and made a show of looking at his nails. “I was just thinking how good a big brother you were being to Sean.”
My eyes narrowed. “And how would you know that?”
He smiled widely. “I was sitting at the top of the stairs. Listening.”
I growled at him and launched myself, ticking him and wrestling all at once and bitching about how he left me twisting, trying to come up with the right thing to say. For his part, he didn't take me seriously one bit, laughing and barely fighting back—just enough to keep things going. We were still carrying on when Sean came back downstairs on his phone.
I paused my assault to look up at Sean.
“Ash is home, he says we should do it.”
“Yes!” Robin exulted and I took the opportunity to tickle him again. He collapsed in giggles and I kissed him before getting off the love seat and giving him a hand up. We piled into Robin's car and drove over to Ash's house. On the way, though, Sean decided to ask more questions.
“Rob? I was talking to Lu,” he said.
I turned and looked at Robin and, sourly, said, “He knows.”
“Oh. Okay, well, Lu said he's pretty much horny for you all the time—”
“Sean!” I exclaimed.
“And I was wondering,” he said, as if I hadn't spoken. “Lu's gay so he's naturally attracted to guys. But you say it's more about the person than the gender. I feel like I'm kind of in the same boat with Ash so...I guess I'm wondering why that all works for you? Or how or if it might work for me?”
“I think I know what you're asking,” Robin said and poked me with his finger since I was grumbling. “The difference between Lucien and I is that he looked at me and liked what he saw, so he wanted to know more. For me, once I knew Lucien, I began to like what I saw because of who he was and how I felt.”
“So, wait,” he said and leaned up between the front seats. “See, I think Ash is really cute. The longer I knew him, and the more he took care of himself, the more I noticed that. I never thought I'd act on it until Jamie...you know. But I always thought he was good looking. Didn't you always think Lu was good looking?”
“Careful how you answer this, Kirkwood,” I said to Robin and flashing him a look of warning. He gave me an indulgent look, which was sort of defeating the purpose of my little threat.
“I thought he looked nice—handsome, even. But it wasn't until I spent time with him that his appearance meant much to me.”
“But,” Sean said with an insistent tone, “Is that different now? I mean, did that physical attraction come along?”
“Definitely,” he said with a smile. “Handsome became sexy, once I'd had time to see who he really was.”
“I don't know. It sounds like my...situation was more like Lu than you. I always thought Ash was attractive. Just, you know, I didn't have an urge to act on it, really. I was curious but not...you know what I mean?”
I turned in my seat. “Didn't you say that Ash came to you first? Told you he thought you were really cute?”
Sean blushed but a pleased smile spread across his face. “Yeah. It's why I first noticed him. That was, like, the second thing he ever said to me besides introducing himself.”
“Well, that sounds like Robin, then,” I said. “You noticed Ash as much as Robin noticed me until you got to know him a bit.”
“Yeah, I guess you have a point,” Sean conceded.
“What is the point of all this, anyway?” I asked.
“I'm still just,” Sean paused and blew air straight up into his bangs. “I don't know. I'm still trying to figure out what the hell I am.”
I glanced at Robin and then back to Sean. “Can I offer you some advice?”
“How about you just be a guy in love and let the details take care of themselves?”
He tilted his head to the side and a little smile crossed his lips. “I think I like that idea.”
It was nice to watch Ash when he came out the front door, greeting us but plainly having eyes only for Sean. Glancing at Robin, I knew how he felt.
Robin had them face each other and lean in, exactly like the picture Jamie had of he and Emily in his room. I felt a rush of affection for them, seeing the way they looked at each other and realizing that it wasn't really that long ago that my relationship with Robin was all new and shiny.
“Great! Thanks, Ash, I appreciate you being willing to help get Jamie.”
“He's a good guy, but he needs to be dropped a peg or two sometimes. I think he'll see the humor in it,” Ash said with a smile. He glanced at Sean and asked, “Are you staying?”
“Yeah,” Sean replied. “I have some stuff to talk to you about.”
Thinking again of how they were responding to the feelings Robin and I went through, I grabbed Ash by the shoulder and leaned in to whisper in his ear. “You have him. Don't let him go.”
He grinned at me and glanced at a confused looking Sean who was wondering what I was whispering to his boyfriend.
“Don't worry, I don't plan to,” he said to me and took Sean by the hand, and pulled him toward the house with Sean asking what I'd said. I had no doubt Ash would tell him, but it made me feel good for some reason.
“You are just going full on fairy godfather today, aren't you?” Robin teased.
“What? They're cute together,” I said with a laugh. “Besides, I always liked Sean. I'll tell you what, you can have Jamie and I'll take Sean.”
“Um, no. I mean, I'll share them with you, but no. Jamie needs Sean for balance,” Robin replied. We got in his car and headed over to the IGA where Hamster and Derek were working an afternoon shift, all the while arguing about who got which twin. Jamie being on my shit list put Sean ahead, for me, by a country mile. Hamster and Derek were excited to help and Robin took their picture. We headed over to Griff's to get started and wait for Devyn to get done helping his dad and join in on the fun. As it happens, Griff's shadow, Philip, was there and the part of our plan where he'd have been kissing his boyfriend, Boomer, hit a snag.
“We broke up,” Philip said and pursed his lips while looking down at his fingernails.
“You did?” Robin asked, glancing at Griffin.
“We were just talking about it,” Griffin said with a sigh. “They broke up last night.”
Robin sat down and I joined him. “I'm so sorry, Philip. I thought you guys looked good together.”
“We did,” he said and then ran his tongue over his teeth. He glanced at us and said, “He likes looking at other guys. I mean, hello? I'm right there with him. If we go to the mall or out for coffee—we were in Perk Me Up the other day and he saw Trace and Logan Whitmore, Jake Thayer and some guy named Jon hanging out and he was checking them out! I was pissed!”
Robin and I glanced at each other before I looked back at him and spoke. “That's kind of rude. Did you say something to him?”
“Yes,” he said, rolling his eyes. “He said it was just looking and that we were dating, not dead. I was like, what the fuck? How disrespectful can you be?”
Griffin spoke cautiously, “I was telling Philip that people notice other pretty people. It doesn't mean we act on it.”
“Do you look at other guys when you're out with Devyn? No, I'm sure you don't,” Philip snapped, but his eyes had a slight wetness to them that belied his anger. No, he was sad but couldn't express it except through anger. “You guys have always told me how I expressed myself was wrong, how it was disrespectful. Here we were out in public, as a couple, and he was...ugh!”
Griffin sighed. “Philip, I understand how hard you worked on you to get where you are. I'm not trying to belittle that. But...well, let me just tell you a story.
“When we all went camping last summer together, one night I was out on the beach with Devyn, Hamster and Derek. We got to talking about things like that, noticing other guys. At first we were teasing Derek because he has a little crush on Lu.”
Philip frowned and looked at me.
“What? I'm too ugly to have a crush on?” I quipped.
“No!” Philip said quickly. “But he knows you're dating Robin! I mean, seriously dating!”
“So? He wasn't coming after me, he just had a little crush.” I blushed as I said it, recalling when I'd found out my friend sometimes thought of me in less than a strictly platonic sense.
Philip just blinked and Griffin picked up his story. “So we were teasing Derek about that and it came up about Devyn's first relationship, with Elliot Lindley. You remember him? The pianist?”
“Yeah,” Philip said, blushing.
Ignoring Philips' response to Elliot's name Griffin said, “Well, as we continued to talk, and tease each other, it came out that Hamster had a little...oh, crush is too serious. He just thought Devyn was cute.”
“What?” Philip practically shrieked with what seemed to be exaggerated outrage. “You must have been so pissed!”
Griffin tilted his head to the side. “Actually, I wasn't. First, they are my family; it wasn't said to hurt me or break me up with Devyn. Second was the circumstances. Hamster had taken a road trip with Chase and they had this theoretical discussion about who he'd date if Derek weren't around. Devyn was the one, that's all.”
“I wouldn't have liked that,” Philip said sulkily.
“Well, Derek and I thought it would be kind of hot to see them kiss,” Griffin said matter-of-factly.
“What?” Philip replied, voice filled with disbelief. “Why would you ever...?”
Griff blushed a little and said, “Well, it was Derek's idea but it was based on something I'd told him. See, one night Devyn and I...were intimate...and Nate watched.”
“Whoa, what?” I asked. I glanced at Robin, who was nonplussed. “You have been holding out on me.”
“You don't want to know!” Robin said, laughing.
“So, wait, did you know Nate was watching? Is that something I need to be on guard for?” I asked, my tone half serious.
“Not right away,” Griff said, still blushing. “But once I realized it, I thought it was kind of...a turn on.”
“Wow,” I said and slumped back in my seat.
“Yeah,” Griff said, nodding. “I was kind of surprised, too.”
I looked at Robin. “When we move in together in Troy, we need a deadbolt on our door, especially if Nate comes to visit. I'm not putting a show on for him.”
“You will for us though, right?” Griff deadpanned. I narrowed my eyes at him, but Robin spoke before I could.
“Yeah, of course we will, Griff! But this is all in trade, right?” Robin said, and I knew immediately he was mocking me. I was formulating a response, one that wouldn't get these two picking on me any more than they were, when Phillip reminded us he was there.
“How can you guys say that?” Philip wailed, breaking up the little teasing contest that was about to take off. “How can you talk about Nate seeing you like that? That's an invasion of your privacy How...why did Devyn kiss Hamster? How did that not break you up?”
“Well,” Griff said carefully. “Nate watching was, more or less, an accident. Discovering it was kind of a turn on was both unexpected and exciting to me. Nate and I talked and I told him it couldn't happen again. He admitted it was kind of by accident and that he just hadn't been able to look away. As for the other thing, everyone was sort of curious, so we agreed to have Devyn and Hamster kiss.”
“Setting aside for now that he 'hadn't been able to look away...” I tilted my head. “You let them kiss. And?”
Griff smiled widely. “Oh, my God. So fucking hot.”
I shook my head and looked at Robin. “No,” I said and pointed at him. “There will be no kissing the two cute guys we will be living with in Troy.”
“I know,” Robin said casually. “We only agreed to have sex in front of each other, not participate.”
“Robin,” I said and then turned and wagged a finger at Griff. “I'm watching you.”
“Kind of the point, Lu,” Griff said and then burst out laughing as I covered my face with my hands. He resumed his story, “Anyway, after they kissed, Derek planted one on me and we separated to go fuck like bunnies in our own rooms.”
Philip stood quickly and looked down on Griff. “How could you? All this time you were talking to me about how to act and how to behave and you were letting people watch you have sex and kissing other guys?”
Griff's voice tightened with annoyance. “What we did was consensual, Philip. We didn't treat anyone like a piece of meat or like their feelings didn't matter. We didn't do anything wrong.”
“But you stood there and told me how to have a relationship and then you do this? That's not what you've been preaching to me!”
“Actually,” Robin said softly, “it is.”
Philip glared at Robin and spat, “How?”
“Because if Devyn or Griffin hadn't wanted those things to happen, they wouldn't have. As to Nate, it was more or less and accident and Griff discovered an...um, exhibitionist streak, I guess. Philip,” he said, “Griff was trying to help you get into a relationship in a healthy way; to see people as, well, people not just disposable items for your desires. What you do in that relationship is between you and whoever you're with, as long as you both agree.”
“So you mean you'd be fine with Lu kissing someone else? Or with someone watching you have sex?” he demanded.
“Probably not,” Robin said.
“Probably?” I asked, lifting my eyebrow. I looked at Philip and said, “I won't kiss anyone else and I don't want Robin to, either. But that was something we decided on mutually. Robin knows I don't want that and he agreed, I didn't just make the rules up for us.”
Philip shook his head and his upper lip trembled. “This seems wrong. All wrong. I have to go.”
“Philip,” Griff said but Philip was waving his hands and out the door quickly. With a sigh Griff looked at us. “Thanks for trying. I was trying to work through stuff with him but he's too upset to think. It's like he went from one end, a pervert, all the way to the other, prudish, end.”
We discussed it for a few more minutes, but it was pointless in the end. Robin handed over the images of each of our friends kissing and Griff started in by cutting Jamie from the first image and then cutting each of the others from theirs. He had to flip the images that were facing the wrong way, but pretty soon we had a bunch of pictures of Jamie kissing other guys. Devyn showed up and they were added to the collection, and we were all laughing in anticipation of Jamie's response.
Now, on a big screen you could easily see they were fakes, but on a small screen like a phone, these should work pretty well. Griff uploaded them to the cloud and made us promise to tell him what happened. We went back to the Kirkwood's and cuddled on the couch, not even bothering to turn on the TV.
“So, you enjoy giving advice to Sean today?” he teased.
I stuck my tongue out. “Yes, actually. I like Sean. I like him with Ash. They kind of reminded me of how I felt when you and I first started to date, you know?”
“Hmm. Big softy. Hey, you're not trading me in for a younger model, are you?”
I laughed. “I said I liked Sean, not that I wanted him.”
“Well, he is pretty cool, I'll give him that,” Robin replied. He lapsed into silence for a moment and then said, “I thought you gave him good advice. I think I would have told him pretty much the same thing.”
“Yeah? Well, that's funny because I was asking myself what you would do. I guess I know you or something.”
“Hey!” Robin said, sitting up suddenly. “I should get Griff to paste you into a picture, too!”
“Kissing Jamie? No thanks!” I said, laughing. “Besides, he pissed me off, to be honest. Talking about me behind my back to Sean and Nik? Kid's on my shit list, babe.”
“Well, hopefully this teaches him a lesson,” Robin snickered.
He teased me for a bit longer, both about taking a picture and about my sudden brotherly feeling toward Sean. Eventually, though, we settled down and put something on TV. Robin stretched out, laying his head on the arm of the couch and I lay next to him, resting my head on the front of his hip. I idly stroked his skin from ankle to mid-thigh, utterly content while we laughed along with a comedy he'd picked.
The week passed slowly. I hunted online for buses and was a little surprised at the responses to my ad. Some asked questions and then never responded, another told me he wanted to fix up a bus for a road trip the next summer, but mine was overpriced—what was my bottom figure? I snorted and went back to checking out ads. I stumbled on a new ad for a blue bus, albeit an automatic, that seemed to be reasonably priced, even though I wouldn't have the bucks until mine sold. I called Robin and we made arrangements to drive out on Wednesday to check it out.
Noting that Robin was, I felt, appropriately dressed, we set out on the long ride up north. Robin and I were content with listening to music and idly chatting about whatever happened to come to us. It felt a lot like our old road trips to find parts that were so comfortable. I think you don't really know someone that well until you're in a confined space for hours at a time. You talk about weird things, laugh about the stupidest things and really get to understand a person. There were also those trips where we'd pull off into some sheltered spot. It was that thought that brought me to feeling like another bit of him came back to me; a bit of us was back.
We arrived at a raised ranch where the bus sat out in the driveway. Climbing out we heard dogs barking in the house and one whose bark hit just the right frequency and decibel to feel like it was piercing your skull, literally, and made me wince. I mean that bark just went right through your skull. The guy must not have been home yet 'cause he didn't come out and there was no way he couldn't have known someone was there with the alarm system he had going off in the house.
I decided to take stock of this bus and walked around it, noting the newer tires, the few surface rust spots, and then I slid under the bus to look at the undercarriage. I checked out the front suspension while I was there, then moved to the back to look at the underside near the engine. While I did so, Robin walked around looking at the interior through the windows and telling me about the seats, the carpet and dash. I was secretly pleased with his effort in shopping for a new bus, even though he 'knew' we were just looking. I checked out the exhaust and, as I did so, a van pulled into the driveway. I stood up and brushed myself off as Robin and I turned to greet the middle-aged guy in khakis and a polo. His stomach pushed the front of his shirt out and his pecs were pushing down a bit, but that seemed to be the worst of his middle-aged spread.
“Hi,” he greeted us. “Lucien?”
“Yep.” I stepped forward to shake his hand. “And this is Robin, my boyfriend.” I jerked my thumb toward the bus. “I was just checking it out.”
He smiled widely and shook Robin's hand. “Pleased to meet you both. Let me just go let the dogs out and I'll be right back with the keys,” he stated and headed inside. I turned to Robin and asked him what he thought of the bus.
“It's in good shape,” he reported. “I know an automatic wasn't on your list, and it has a bench seat instead of the table, but it all seems like it's pretty decent. I like that the color of the interior is just like your old one, too. What do you think?”
I shrugged. “The underside is solid. I saw there was some welding over by the driver's foot well, and it looks like it was in a minor accident on that side, too. The exhaust is in one piece and I don't see oil puddles or anything else under it.”
The sounds of distant barks and yips let us know the hounds had been released into the yard and then the guy returned with the key.
“Kind of weird to see young guys interested in a bus this old,” he commented as he opened the tailgate, which I was pleased to note had new shocks to hold it up. “It surprised me, honestly that a few younger guys have been here to look, but they have no idea what's involved in maintaining one of these things.”
“Lucien has all kinds of experience fixing these,” Robin said. “Why do you think it's weird to see younger people interested in it, though?”
“Eh,” he grunted and rubbed the end of his nose before looking at Robin. “A lot of kids see a vehicle like this and they think about hot boxing or having sex. Maybe with a newer van, you can put those things closer to the front of the line.”
“But this is a bus,” I said.
“Right,” the guy said and pointed at me. “And a bus will let you do those things, but it's also twenty-five years old. You have to know how to take care of it. You can't just pull into a dealer, anymore. Hell, some of the mechanics won't have been born when this was sold!”
“I had one, got wrecked. Then I got this one, but it's not the same,” I replied, not wanting to get into the whole story. “I did a lot of work on the first one, though. I decided to get one closer to the one I had before we move up this way for college.”
“Wrecked? Ouch,” he said with a wince. “You're not living in the area then? Which college are you going to go to?”
“RPI,” Robin replied. “We live down near Binghamton, little town called Sanitaria Springs.”
“Oh, down eighty-eight. I drive that way for work, sometimes, I've seen the signs. That was a long drive for you guys today, then.” He paused and looked at me. “So, you have some experience with these old buses then? When they get old, any car is a challenge to maintain.”
“Tell me about it,” I said with a chuckle. I told him some of the work I'd done on my buses and some of the weird things that had gone wrong with them. Like the time we'd gotten stranded at the garage where Devyn's dad works and it was just an electrical connector on the starter that was worn out. Or the time it would start up, run until it reached temperature and then stall; freaking 02 sensor.
“I'm impressed!” he said with a wide smile. “I've done a lot of work to this one, as well.” He stopped talking while he pulled the cushion and then the sound dampener from the engine deck, then undogged the hatch and lifted it to display the engine. “So RPI, huh? Big school, kind of spread out. Not like newer schools that are more centralized.”
“I know,” Robin replied. “We're going to have to come up and look for apartments, soon, actually.”
“Definitely want a head start on that. Don't know what parking on campus is like, but don't be afraid to commute. Troy has some great architecture, but it's old and the streets are narrow and the places closest to the school, student rentals, are more expensive.”
“Huh,” I said, directing my attention to the engine. “Looks like the fuel lines were replaced. Power steering, too.”
“Yeah, that was a bitch. Has new tune up parts—cap, rotor, wires, all Bosch. I had to replace the distributor because of a no spark, no start deal, but it ended up getting a new coil out of it, too.” He glanced at me and, with a wry grin, said, “Greedy thing always wants new parts even if it doesn't need them. Um. the mass air flow works fine and so does the idle stabilizer valve.”
I looked at the guy with a little surprise.
“What?” he asked in amusement. “Don't think an old guy can do his own work?”
“No,” I said quickly. “It's just nice to hear someone who understands these things. Not that many people speak 'Vanagon'.”
“That's true,” he chuckled and then continued with the impressive list of repairs. “I replaced the oil pressure sensors, the e-brake cables and the rear wheel cylinders. The brake lines are all new and the tires only have a few hundred miles on them. The foot well on the driver's side had some rot so I had it cut out and welded in a new piece of metal. Bunch of other little stuff, too.” His voice was filled with pride as her rattled off what had been done, and it was an impressive list. I could attest to it because I'd done many of the same things, so I knew the effort that had gone into it.
He started the bus up and it ran well, idling steadily, and I started to wonder why this bus was for sale with all the work he'd done. My curiosity about that only grew as I knew firsthand how much work he was talking about having done. So, I posed that very question.
He shrugged. “Picked up another '80s era VW and I'm spending all my time working on that. This poor bus...” the guy grew thoughtful and then, looking at me with a curious expression, continued slowly, “I just thought if I could find the right home for it, maybe it was time.”
I nodded and glanced back at the idling engine, looking for traces of oil burning off or leaks to develop as it warmed up.
Casually the guy said, “Oh, and the mechanism works for the rear bench to fold down into a bed, by the way.”
Robin chuckled and heat rushed across my face. “Um, don't all models have the rear bed?”
“Actually, no. I'm not sure which one, but I know there was a version, maybe a really basic one or something to do with model year, where they didn't have them. Maybe the air cooled ones? They all had vinyl seats.” He shook his head and said, “But all the seats are in good shape, the radio is new—even replaced the wiring to the speakers in the door.”
Robin opened the passenger door and climbed up into the seat while the guy and I talked about the interior. I've heard people say that they hear small but important noises all the time. Like someone who hears their kids get up in the night, hears their pet move when they shouldn't. So when I heard a small sigh I glanced right at Robin, who was wiping an eye.
“Babe?” I asked, and stepped into the doorway. He sniffed but smiled at me.
“It's cool. I just...” he waved his hand over the interior. “It's right. It looks right.”
“Is everything okay?” the guy asked cautiously. “There is a package of tissues in the glovebox.”
Robin smiled, eyes wet and thanked him. Reaching for the glovebox I turned my gaze to the guy, whose face was troubled. I wanted to draw some attention away from Robin, but also to explain why this was emotional for him—and me, to be honest.
“When I said my last bus got wrecked...some folks who didn't like that Robin and I were together torched it. My friends bought me a different one, but...”
“It's not the same,” he said, letting out a sigh and nodding. “I'm sorry to hear about all of that. You'd think that living in modern times that wouldn't be the case anymore. So, your old bus was like this one?”
I let my gaze rake over it. “Same color, same interior except I had the table. Close enough.”
Speaking slowly, speculatively, the guy said, “You could probably buy a table and replace that center seat. I'm not sure how the jump seats attach, but you're a smart guy.”
“Maybe,” I replied and returned my attention to Robin, who was leaning his head back on the headrest and had a touch of a smile on his lips. The sight filled me with emotion as I thought I knew what he was likely feeling.
I looked back at the guy and felt quite confident he was being honest, if nothing else because he'd volunteered information he could have hidden, like replacing the rot up front. But I also felt very comfortable with his candor about my experience and what he thought of relationships like Robin and I had. And, damn if I didn't like this bus. The last and most important thing, though: it had Robin's seal of approval. So I said, “Well, I'm trying to sell mine. If you're not in a hurry, once I sell it, I'd like to buy yours.”
The side of his mouth curled up in a smile as he held his hand out, “I'm in no hurry. Come back when you're ready, Lucien, and it'll be here.” He paused and glanced at Robin before looking at me. “Maybe you could bring it by for visitation? A lot of work went into it, you know. Um, I have tools and stuff, since you'll be away from home.”
I nodded and smiled, “That would be great. Thanks!”
Friday was a school holiday, in-service training, Professional Development Day, Superintendent's Birthday, I don't know. We decided to congregate at the Kirkwood's pool, just opened for the season that week. It was a tad cool for swimming, but what the heck. Everyone was there hanging out and enjoying the break, including Nate and a few of his friends I wasn't introduced to; they looked like they were a couple. Robin was grilling, just in his swimsuit, and I walked up behind him and laced my arms around him, resting my head on his shoulder and settling my hands on his firm stomach.
“Mm. This is better than the V-neck.”
He looked at me, quirking his lips up. “Does this mean I can stop wearing them?”
“Nope. I like them too much.”
He sighed dramatically. “It's been a busy week, even with this day off,” he said.
“Sure. All week I've been trying to get Jamie's phone without him seeing me. It's been a bitch!” he said, giggling.
He turned to me conspiratorially and said, “I got it. Last night. I downloaded everything and texted them to her while he was in the shower.”
“Oh my God! No way! Did he know?”
“Not yesterday. I turned his phone off, so he probably thought it was dead and just plugged it in. He left here in a hurry this morning, though,” Robin wheezed in laughter.
“Rob? Got a sec?” Sean asked.
“Sure. Lucien, watch my meat?” Robin asked, snickering. I rolled my eyes and took the spatula while he and Sean stepped inside. Minutes later Robin was back, punching me in the arm.
“What was that for?”
Robin looked to be sure no one was close and then leaned in and said, “Sean just told me he was asking to stay at Ash's tonight.”
“So...I think Sean's gearing himself up to give himself to Ash. You think Ash knows?”
“I don't know,” I replied and looked speculatively at Ash. He was in the pool, splashing with Devyn, Griff and Dev's cousin Nate and Nate's friends. He didn't look like a guy who was planning to top his boyfriend, but then unless someone was on the prowl, how would you know such a thing? Just then Ash noticed me looking at him and blushed. “Yeah, he knows,” I deadpanned.
I was on the verge of asking why Sean had to pull Robin aside to tell him he was asking to stay over at Ash's when Jamie came storming across the yard looking as freaked out as could be. He blew past everyone without greeting and went inside the house. Everyone was looking around in mild confusion and eyes settled on us, wondering if this was the result of our prank. Robin and I looked at each other and handed the spatula to Hamster and headed in after Jamie.
We found him in his room, sitting on his bed and staring blankly. His gaze barely twitched as we entered the room and sat across from him on Sean's bed.
“Jame? You okay?”
His eyes, watery, focused on us and he said, “I'm so fucked up. I don't know who I am—what I am.”
Robin and I frowned at each other. Robin took the lead, “What do you mean?”
He looked from Robin to me and sighed. “Well, Lu may not know, but I know you do. Remember how Ash and I...hooked up?”
“You never tell me anything,” I grumbled in an attempt to steer things in a lighter direction. After all, we'd wanted to smack Jamie down a little, not really hurt him—and he looked like he was hurting.
“Because you don't want to know,” Robin said primly. Turning to Jamie he prompted him, “And?”
Jamie pursed his lips. “I told you I liked it. It bothered me a little, but I got over it. Remember?”
“Yeah. Why is that an issue now?”
“Because!” he burst out and leaping to his feet. “I used to be straight as a fucking arrow and then I sucked a dick and liked it. Then I must have been putting out some vibe or something because Scott jerked me off at camp—”
“He what?” we both exclaimed.
“Yeah! I'm like, okay, why are guys suddenly, like, wanting me and shit? So, today I ran over to Emily's because she's going on about some sexy texts I sent her and how she's ready like, now, to do something with me. So I'm thinking 'blow job, here I come', you know?”
Robin and I glanced at each other, working hard not to break down into snickers.
He began to pace as he spoke, still agitated. “So I get there, not even wondering what these texts are because sex, you know? I didn't even take my phone, just told her I was on the way and took off. So she's all hot when I get there, her parents are at work and her little brother is at day camp and we get down to business with, like, no set-up. She's waiting at the door, definitely doesn't have a bra on...things get hot and heavy, clothes are coming off and I'm like, gobsmacked to see her naked. I mean, holy shit, you know? Only, this isn't all about me and my boner. She's wanting to sixty-nine.”
I glanced at Robin, who was doing an admirable job of not laughing. Even though Jamie was distressed now, he still didn't know what texts had been sent and I was a little mystified as to his agitation.
“So I'm like, okay, great! My first time eating a girl out. So it wasn't like it was with Ash, okay? I'm on my side and she goes down on me and I'm totally loving it, but I'm like staring at her pussy, right? Like, first time in HD, you know? I was just looking, enjoying staring at the promised land and getting head, you know? She pulls off my dick and is like, 'come on, Jamie', so I dive in.”
He stopped and we both stared at him, waiting. He turned his head toward us, face contorting, and cried out, “It was awful!”
I know I blinked several times and then asked, “What?”
“It stunk! I mean I was all ready to please my woman and I got hit with this funk! I tried to just take a deep breath and stick my tongue in there, and she seemed to like it but I couldn't hold my breath forever! And the taste! Ugh!”
Neither Robin nor I could help ourselves any longer. We were laughing at his description and, despite his agitated state, he was chuckling a bit. Jamie sat back down and Robin and I worked to master ourselves. Jamie's expression turned serious.
“How come I liked sucking dick and didn't like eating her out? I like girls, I mean I really, really like them. I like their boobs and their smiles and I can't wait to actually have full on sex with one. I never thought about sucking a dude—no seriously—until it happened with Ash. Isn't that fucked up, Robbie? What's wrong with me? I'm not gay, I know that—I was totally ready to have sex with Emily!”
Robin took a steadying breath, quelling any giggles that might overtake him. “No, it's not fucked, Jamie, and there's nothing wrong with you. Look, sexuality, kinks, preferences—there is no one right way. Plus, I'm pretty sure body chemistry plays a part and, you know, maybe you have a sensitive nose.”
I started to giggle, and Robin was pulled in. Jamie told us it wasn't funny.
“Look, Jame,” I said, trying to control myself. “Not all straight guys eat pussy. I can remember going to a sports shop where they had baseball cards and stuff like that. The owner, he was talking to some of the older guys and I overheard him say he doesn't eat his wife out because it's like sucking his own dick. Figure that logic out.”
“Seriously?” Jamie asked skeptically.
“Honest,” I said, putting my hand up.
“Also, Jamie, you and I have talked about some of this stuff. Part of attraction is emotional, another part is physical. Even though you really like Emily, that doesn't mean that you'll love everything.” He paused and grimaced. “This isn't how I want to say this,” Robin muttered.
“Jamie, it's like this,” I said. “Body chemistry is different for everyone. You might not have the same issue with another girl. Or it could be that that particular thing just isn't for you. That's okay, you don't have to be into everything.”
“But, guys, what about the liking dick and not liking pussy? I'm not gay!” he softly exclaimed.
“Maybe you have to accept that you're not a zero on the Kinsey scale,” I said quietly. “I don't really find girls attractive, but sometimes I can see why guys do. Very infrequently. And I can't see myself ever having sex with a girl. But...clearly there are situations where the opposite is true for you. That's not a bad thing, bud.”
Jamie cast his gaze down. “I don't like the confusion. I almost wish I'd never had sex with Ash.”
Robin cleared his throat. “A lot of life, especially where you are, is figuring out who we are. I hope, for your sake, you'll worry less about what label to put on yourself and focus more on what makes you who you are. Enjoying what happened with Ash is just one part.”
“If it's any consolation, I'd guess Ash is glad you guys hooked up.”
Jamie nodded his head slowly. “I am, too. It brought me some...I don't know, clarity?” He lifted his gaze from the floor and looked at Robin. “I know what you mean. I'm mostly okay with what Ash and I did, really. I just don't like the confusion about liking what he and I did versus the way I didn't like what Emily and I did. It's like being two people: who I think I am and who I really am.”
“Jamie,” Robin said, holding his hand up to stop him. “Let's just say for example that, maybe, Ash had just showered before he came over. Maybe your nose just picked up on the scent of clean skin—”
“Smelled a little like my nut sack,” Jamie muttered.
“Okay, but, maybe it was a weaker scent, like you know it'd be a lot stronger if he'd exercised or not showered for a day.”
“Well, maybe she hadn't freshened up this morning. After all, you said she was raring to go, right? ”
Jamie got a speculative look on his face. “Yeah, that's true.”
I interjected, “Still, though, you don't have to like everything, Jamie. Don't pressure yourself.”
We sat in silence for a minute as Jamie digested that. “I'm not sure about all that stuff,” he said with a sigh. “It still bothers me that I'd be okay with going down on Ash but not Emily, but that I don't want to date Ash but I do want to date Emily. Doesn't seem right to me; doesn't make sense.”
“Well, maybe you should talk to Emily, delicately. You might even do some research ahead of time, ask her to prepare herself a little before you try again. I mean, you're going to try again, right? You didn't run out of there screaming about her smelly snatch and break up, right?”
“No!” he said with a snort. “I'm pretty sure I got her off, I just didn't like it. I almost went soft, actually. It was fucking embarrassing.”
With a frown he reached for his phone, and muttered about 'sexy texts'. Robin and I started to grin before Jamie even got to his texts. His jaw dropped as he paged back and saw all the images of him kissing other guys.
“Holy shit! How did...why—Oh, Robbie! You fucker!” Jamie groaned and then started to laugh. Looking at his brother Jamie said, “You know, if this morning had gone better I might have been thanking you.”
I stood, and Robin beside me. “If you want, Jamie, I can ask Ash to come up here if you, you know, want to see if you still like dick.”
“Fuck you, Lu,” he said, chuckling. “What did I ever do to you, anyway?”
Robin cleared his throat. “Um, telling Nate that Lucien and I were fucking before even dating?”
Jamie grinned. “But it's true! Right?”
“No,” Robin said to him, his voice brooking no nonsense.
“Or how about talking shit about my sex life to Sean, huh?” I asked.
“What did I...oh, the table?” Jamie asked. “But it's true!”
“Jamie,” I said firmly. “If Sean has a question and wants to talk to me, great. But I don't like by business being talked about for gossip. How about if I go tell the guys outside about you and Emily?”
“Hey! You wouldn't—”
“Right, I wouldn't. How would you feel if I did, though?”
“Okay, okay. It would kinda suck.” He paused and then let out a defeated sigh. “They already know, don't they?”
I lowered myself in front of him, squatting and said, “No. They just helped out with the pictures. But if you want to play this game where my business is a joke and you want to talk about it behind my back, then I can tell them and see how you like it. If that isn't enough, Jamie, how about that you aren't the only twin that might come to me or Robin for advice? Sean has enough trouble without you making it worse.”
Jamie looked at me with a red face, shame written all over. “I'm sorry, Lu. I was just...I didn't think...I'm sorry.”
Robin said he was going to check on the food, to make sure Hamster hadn't burnt it. After he'd left I cleared my throat and said to Jamie, “Jamie, I know you and Alec seem to have some similarities. I love Alec more than I can say.” I paused and made sure he was looking at me. “Alec's number one rule was not to hurt. His jokes were always, always meant to make people smile. You're not stupid and you're not mean, Jamie. Just...please, think a little more before you do things.
“Sean thinks you walk on water. Giving him the wrong idea about relationships, that isn't funny. Not with as fragile as you know he can be.” I stood and put a hand on his shoulder. “Be that guy we all know you are.”
He looked at me with a look I couldn't decipher. I don't know if he thought I was crazy, if he was blowing me off or if I'd made sense to him or something completely different.
“Thanks, Lu,” he said, his voice low. “I...thanks.”
I squeezed his shoulder again and turned to go. I paused in the doorway and cleared my throat. “Um, try putting some cologne or aftershave just under your nose next time.”
“Huh? Hey, how...?”
“Your brother and I play sports. Sometimes, we're already sweaty when we...get sweatier.”
He tilted his head in curiosity. “Why are you offering me advice? You just busted me for being a dickhead.”
I looked away from him and said, “You're my family, that's why.”
“Babe,” Robin said, leaning back into the doorway. “I thought you liked the way I smell?”
“Oh, busted,” Jamie said with a chuckle.
“Yeah, yeah. Just remember, Jamie—you're not required to like anything. Just because you like one thing, it has nothing to do with anything else.” I turned and headed out in to the hallway. “I'm going to put a damn bell around your neck,” I told Robin.
“So you only like me fresh and clean?” he said as we descended the stairs; he giggling.
I turned on the stairs, stopping in front of him. “No,” I whispered. “I actually like the way you smell, especially if I'm the one making you smell like that. But, that sports card shop I mentioned? One of the other guys was talking about eating out his wife and that was his solution.”
“You say the most romantic things,” he said, chuckling. We headed back down to join the others and, eventually, Jamie joined us. I didn't know how this would affect him in the end, I didn't know if he'd buy into what I said about not having to like everything. After all, who was I to say that? I liked everything I did with Robin and we'd been pretty adventurous. But, as I watched him play with the other guys in the pool, I promised myself I'd be there to help him.
It took about three weeks to sell my bus for anywhere near my asking price, and even then I was going to have to haggle with the guy for the blue bus. I felt a little pang at seeing it go; I'd be lying if I said I didn't. Cash in hand, I called the other guy up and asked if he still had the bus.
He chuckled warmly. “Of course I do, Lucien. I told you it'd be here when you were ready.”
I thanked him, not having expected that he'd have held it just for me—after all, he didn't know my bus would sell or when.
“Uh, I didn't get as much as I hoped for from my old bus. How firm are you on your asking price?” I asked.
“I'm sure we can work something out,” he replied.
I thought about that after we'd hung up and wondered if our story had affected him in some way or if he felt some...I don't know, affection or sympathy for me. Or maybe Robin's emotions had affected him. Just for kicks I went online to check out the ad where I'd found that bus only to find it had been deleted. Huh.
We left on a Thursday afternoon, because the DMV in Troy was open late that night according to the website. We both got out just a little early from school and Robin did the driving. We talked about revisiting some of the old places where I'd gone parts hunting and coming up with plans for summer driving. We talked about the near twins and their respective issues. We talked about whether or not we'd be able to get everyone together for a camping weekend this summer before we scattered for school this fall. The conversation was easy, flowing like an unimpeded brook, and my heart felt at ease. Glancing at my lovable goof of a boyfriend, dressed in the preferred v-neck and shorts, I lay my hand on his thigh and smiled at him.
“The car is too small for road head. No.” He was speaking firmly but with a little amusement in his voice.
I looked at him speculatively. “Maybe you should drive my bus sometime, huh?”
“Yeah. Plenty of space between seats for me to kneel,” I teased.
He laughed and looked at me a few times. With a sigh he said, “Thank you for this.”
“I told you, anything for you. You did look pretty content in that seat, though,” I said, thinking back to him sitting in the passenger seat of the bus.
“I can't explain it for sure,” he said slowly. “But it certainly felt right. I was comfortable, it was familiar...I liked it.”
I squeezed his thigh and his hand drifted off the wheel and wrapped around my own and we lapsed into a comfortable silence as the miles slipped past us and we drew ever closer to Troy, which would be our temporary home soon. I let my mind drift, tangled with both my feelings for Robin and what I knew Robin was feeling, the buses and my own tumbling emotions. I was thinking about the fact that getting this new bus didn't erase the past, but that the red bus would no longer be there to poke at Robin's wounds; it could no longer be a constant reminder.
Robin was coming back to me, but I don't think I'd realized that I was drifting, too; that I'd been hurting. Maybe the reason the red bus had never seemed right to me was that it had never been right with Robin; never been the same. I knew Robin was in pain and, perhaps, that was what was wrong with me and that it was within my power to do something to help him. Us. I think, though, the red bus served its purpose in my life and now it was time to get busy with the next part.
I felt good with that thought, that I was on the same path to recovery that Robin was. He wasn't whole, yet, but I felt optimistic that we'd both get there, together. Besides, I thought as I looked at him, hair tumbling wildly from the wind—this was all about the journey and as long as we took it together, I wanted to see where it took us.