My thanks to Cole for editing and Ricky for beta reading.
Friday morning was pretty routine – getting cleaned up, gathering school stuff for the day, checking on dad. He'd made it to his bedroom at some point in the night and was snoring softly. His bottle was on the coffee table and I decided to follow Mr. Phillips lead and slip some water into it, just to try and slow things down a bit. I paused, thinking on this.
As long as I could remember, my father had been drunk. Unable to hold a job he was finally declared disabled due to his declining health and traumatic war record, of which I really knew nothing. It wasn't for lack of trying. Dad had been sent to shrinks, doctors, AA and specialized veteran support groups. He told me, one night as he stared at the bottle of Monarch, that he just didn't want to be saved. He knew that his drinking would, one day, end him – he didn't care enough about himself to stop.
I did ask the question bouncing around in my head, which was 'what about me'? He looked at me, his eyes moving slightly as if unable or unwilling to fully settle on me, and he told me words I'll never be able to forget.
“Son, you weren't meant to be born into this world; with a runaway mother and a worthless father. I can't leave behind the things I see when I close my eyes and I am so full of fear that I can't...I know that you can do a better job of raising yourself than I can. All I can do is drink and wait for the pain and fear to stop. That...that's all I really want.”
I put the bottle back, feeling slightly guilty at not watering it down. In the end, it wouldn't matter in his crusade to drink himself to death. The phone buzzed from the kitchen table and I struggled for a moment to figure out how to wake the screen. A message was waiting from Harrison with the caption 'what do you think?'. It was a picture of someone's junk, and knowing Harrison as I thought I did, it was probably his. I deleted the picture and ignored the text as I finished gathering my things and got ready to leave.
Hitting the sidewalk I met Harrison at his car, and he was waiting to pounce.
“So? What did you think?” he asked with his body attempting to appear nonchalant but his tone of voice betraying him.
“Harrison,” I said with a sigh as the car began moving, “Why in the world would you send me a picture of your twig and giggle-berries?”
“I don't think 'twig' is accurate...”
“Well!” he moved his hands in confused circles, “I don't understand the big deal. You're gay so why shouldn't I ask for an expert opinion?”
“What?” I said incredulously. It was logic only Harrison could use and I burst out laughing uncontrollably. He muttered darkly, injured at my mirth, but I couldn't stop. The very idea was just so patently ridiculous that I couldn't get myself to stop laughing about it.
“All right, you had your laugh – though I have no idea why!”
“Harrison,” I said while gasping for breath. “First, I never said I was gay – you just inferred that!”
“But, you clearly favor Holden!” he said in confusion.
“He's the only one in your circle that acts like he's your friend!” I said with a giggle. “Queen just berates and attacks, Anthony doesn't seem committed to anyone at the table – he just is. Holden talks to you, he talks to me, he's polite and good natured! Why wouldn't I favor him?”
“No,” he said with his brows drawing together, “There is more there. I'm sure of it.”
“Look, I don't even know Holden outside of school. You've seen just about any interaction I've had with him. Also, just to be clear, asking me for an expert opinion on dick just because you think I'm gay doesn't mean I'm an expert. No more than asking you about...” I trailed of as his grin widened.
“Go on,” he said.
“Well, admittedly, you seem to have had more experience – but that doesn't mean you know it all, are an expert in your field.”
“But I could provide an educated opinion.”
“A subjective one based on your experience. After all, no matter how promiscuous you are, the sample size of sex partners is still pretty small compared to the general population.”
“My god,” he said while placing a hand on his head, “You sound just like Holden.”
“There are worse things. I could sound like Queen.”
We arrived at school shortly, the rest of the ride devoid of conversations about Holden, Harrison's junk and sex. How strange that I would steer the conversation away from sex or Holden since I quite liked both – although I have to admit never having had a discussion about anyone's junk before. That would be just weird.
After taking our seats the day moved along normally until lunch. Anthony had wandered to another table, and my idea that he didn't feel entirely comfortable or included with Harrison's circle only grew stronger. Queen was ignoring everyone and Holden was texting furiously on his phone. Harrison, ever the troublemaker, decided to liven the table up with a discussion about the picture he'd sent me.
“So? Did you have to crush Harrison's ego?” Queen asked.
“Yeah,” Holden said distractedly, “What was your rating? Was it out of ten?”
“What is so important that you'd nearly ignore a discussion about penis?” Harrison asked Holden, prodding him in the shoulder.
“It's only your penis, Harrison. No big deal.” Holden scooted away and smiled at Harrison as he lashed out to smack him.
“Yeah, yeah. Enough with the fore play you two – what was the score?” Queen demanded.
“I didn't rate it.” I replied and filled my mouth with food.
“It's not that unremarkable,” Holden said while avoiding another swipe from Harrison.
“He didn't rate it because he feels his qualifications to do so were, hmm, 'unfounded'.” Harrison informed a grinning Holden.
“What? He has a dick doesn't he? Can't he compare it to that?” Queen said with a snort. She seemed to realize I was sitting right there, so she turned to face me. “Well? Are you so dickless you can't give an opinion?”
“No,” I said with irritation. “Harrison wanted my opinion because he thinks I'm gay and that, somehow, that makes me an expert to judge.”
“Judge what?” Anthony asked, taking a seat.
“Harrison's junk,” Holden laughed.
“What was the criteria?” Anthony asked, smirking at Harrison.
“Oh, that's a good question,” Holden said with a grin, “Did he ask you to rate it on length? Circumference? Skin tone? Something subjective like how pretty it might be? Was it hard?”
“That's enough out of you!” Harrison said with a laugh, finally landing a hit on Holden's shoulder.
“Well...” Holden said through giggles, “You need criteria to judge!”
“I don't know, Harrison. Sending pictures of your junk to people you barely know...” Anthony said with a shake of his head.
“You're just a prude,” Harrison scoffed.
“It was kind of shocking,” I said to Harrison.
“Why? Haven't you ever sent a picture of your endowment?” Holden asked, looking up from his phone.
“I...no, I haven't.” I said. They were saying this like it was perfectly normal.
“I need to see this, I want a vote.” Queen said, holding her hand out to me. “Let me see that picture.”
“I deleted it,” I said while handing her the phone as proof.
“Really?” Queen said with a snort. “I'd a kept it.”
“I kept it,” Holden said.
“He sent...” I snapped my mouth shut, glancing at Harrison.
“Oh well,” Anthony said, “it's just as well you deleted it. Who wants to judge Harrison's junk anyway?”
“I do! I do!” Holden said with a laugh.
“Holden, Jesus, can you tone down the fairy dust?” Anthony sneered.
“I want to judge it too. Three out of the five at this table have seen it, I want my vote to count!” Queen said with a laugh, returning my phone to me.
“Fine.” Harrison said and stood, unzipped and rested his balls and flaccid dick on the table. It was so bizarre, and yet I found my eyes drawn to the spectacle anyway...and hey! That wasn't the junk he sent me! Whose junk was he sending around?
I walked to gym with Holden, Harrison's little display having gotten him sent to the Administration Center. No one in authority had seen it, but one person did take offense – not that I completely blame them – and complained. Holden made a few more taps on his phone, then closed it and put it in his bag.
“You having a hot conversation on there?” I asked.
“I wish,” Holden said with a sigh. “The problem with being an out gay guy is the social role people expect you to fill.”
“What role is that?” I asked.
“The girls think you should be able to listen to all their drama and watch chick flicks with them. They think you're basically a girl with a penis.”
I remained silent to this observation, and began getting changed for class. Holden continued his explanation as he, too, changed.
“The guys are almost worse. The curious want to fool around – which can be nice, as long as you don't expect anything more from them. There is the small percent that feel threatened, like you're looking at them all the time and that's a problem. I mean, hey, girls they aren't interested in check them out, what's the big deal?”
“I guess,” I said while hanging my shirt, “because men are thought of as the, what, active partner? The one doing the entering into the other? I guess that could be threatening to someone.”
“That's just admitting to a rape culture,” Holden said firmly while hanging his slacks. “If a guy is afraid someone is going to shove something in his ass without his consent then he's probably thought of doing it to someone else. I mean, it's the same thought process for cheaters, right? The ones that cheat are always accusing the other one of cheating.”
“I never thought of it that way,” I admitted as I pulled my sneakers on. Holden sat down to untie the laces on his sneakers and continued.
“That's a small group, mostly. Then you get the guys who treat you like the girls do except in reverse.”
I thought on that for a moment before responding, “They treat you like a boy without a penis?”
“Exactly,” Holden said with frustration. “Look, take this conversation right here. This guy, in fact,” Holden peered across the room and then leaned in closer to me, pointing to the fellow Harrison had mentioned the day before. “That's Vincent Gianotti. He's adorbs, completely. Great personality, nice body even if it's a touch more solid that my ideal and that fine, fuzzy hair that makes you just want to scrunch into him on the couch and cuddle all night.”
“Okay, he makes me want to do those things. But my point is, he's texting me about advice with that slut he's been banging and it just drives me nuts to hear about his sex life - like the thought of him naked doesn't make me...you know.”
“As a two peckered billy goat in a nanny farm.” Holden said in agreement.
I started laughing, “Nice phrase.”
“Like that?” he said with a grin. “My uncle on my – well, what do you care, right? One of my uncles was in the Navy and he used to have all kinds of funny stuff like that.”
“Colloquialisms?” I asked.
“Oh, someone has a vocabulary,” Holden said with a grin. We headed up the stairs and to the exercise room. I took the phone out and found a radio app to download so I could have workout music and headed over to the treadmill. Holden took the one next to me, smiled as he plugged in his headphones, and started the belt. I put my own headphones in and started the machine, the steady pace and the music soon allowing my mind to wander.
I was a little nervous about meeting Harrison's grandparents and it sounded unreal that they go to a club to eat. I thought that kind of thing only existed in soap operas and bad novels. Additionally I still felt a little weird about Harrison buying me clothes and a phone. In his world that probably didn't amount to much money, but I felt a little bit indebted and I didn't like that feeling. Especially since I hadn't asked for the items. I had to admit, Harrison seemed very concerned about how I felt, offering so many ways to make the items more acceptable to me.
I felt a hand grab for my calf and slip, but it was enough to knock me off balance. My feet frantically tried to find their pace on the rapidly moving belt and my hands shot out, grabbing for the arms on the machine. I might have recovered except that the hand that had, presumably, swiped my leg now launched into my lower back and I fell, twisting as I did so. I landed on my side, and was quickly carried off the machine by the belt and I crashed into my attacker, who fell on me.
I heard a scream, it was obviously my assailant as I could feel the vibration from his chest to the side of my face where he had me pinned. I was shoving and pushing him all while he was scrambling off me, placing huge amounts of pressure on me.
“Christ on a crutch! What the hell happened here?” Coach yelled as he descended on the situation. I sat up and saw Carl holding the side of his head which was rubbed raw.
“Carl happened,” Holden said into the sudden silence that filled the room. Carl whimpered, holding his head and I tried to make my way to my feet, but I felt very unsteady.
“What do you mean, 'Carl happened'?” Coach demanded. Coach Johansson appeared and was trying to examine Carl's head.
“Carl grabbed Sean's leg while he was on the treadmill, then punched him. When Sean fell his legs came up and hit Carl in the stomach and Carl fell on Sean. When he fell he had his face pressed against the treadmill.” Holden explained while giving me a steadying hand up. “What kind of a moron stands behind the person he's trying to knock off a treadmill? Guess you didn't think this through, huh, Carl?”
“Christ,” Coach muttered as he caught sight of Carl's face, which seemed to be notably uglier. “Hit the showers! Coach Johanssen, can you get him to the nurse while I get everyone's story?”
Holden stayed with me as we returned to the locker room. We stripped down and wrapped ourselves in towels before we went to the shower. It was a large tiled room with matching tiled dividers about chest high and frosted doors covering the occupant from knee to shoulder. Holden got in the stall to my left and Anthony appeared in the one to my right.
“Holy shit, what the fuck was Carl's issue?” Anthony asked.
“I told him you wouldn't date him if he were the last man on earth.” I muttered.
“Seriously, man, Carl seems to have a hard on for you.” Anthony said.
“I think Sean is still a little shaken up, maybe save the questions?” Holden said.
“Yeah, sure.” Anthony replied. I had my head under the spray, trying to ignore Anthony. My feeling that he really didn't fit into the group seemed to grow, as I felt his questions were kind of invasive. Of course, every gossip monger would want to know, but for crying out loud – Carl had fallen on me! My face hadn't been that far away from the belt, either and I was lucky to not have had my face pressed against it with the full weight of Carl to hold it down. My biceps were quivering with leftover adrenaline and my knees felt the tiniest bit wobbly.
A large splash of water hit me from my left and I wiped my eyes before looking at Holden. His hair was held back, wet, and he was smiling. “Don't obsess, you're okay.”
“How do you know I was obsessing?” I asked quietly.
“If Carl fell on me, I would be too.” He shrugged. “You should do something with your hair.” He said suddenly. I brushed it back flat with the spray of the shower and looked at him with a raised eyebrow.
“That was a strange shift in the conversation.” I replied.
“Want to talk more about Carl?”
“You were saying about my hair?”
“Well, it looks very nice. Long hair doesn't work on everyone, but... you should maybe get the ends trimmed and put some conditioner in it. Here, try mine.” He handed over a bottle, which I accepted. In so doing I touched his hand, inadvertently. His hand let go of the bottle, but touched my fingers with his briefly. I met his eyes, uncertainly.
“You okay?” he asked.
“Yes. Thank you.”
“Sure,” he replied and went back to cleaning up. I hurried as well. After dressing we both sat in Coach's office to relate our recollection of events before being sent on to our next session. It was the hot topic as soon as the teaching ended, but I let Holden do the talking – after all, he saw it, I didn't.
I stood in front of a mirror in the guest bedroom connected to Harrison's room by the shared bath. The suit looked really nice, felt comfortable and, even though I felt a little bit of a fraud in it, it made me feel undeniably good and I looked good in it. I laughed to myself as I made a mocking mental note to consult Harrison before any other suit purchases. I'd combed my hair and used some product lightly to keep it all from flying away. Holden was horrified at my shampoo, claimed it was drying me out and would make me bald by the time I was twenty one.
“Ah, you look nice.” Harrison said as he entered the room.
“Thank you,” I said, tearing away my eyes from my transformed self. I took in Harrison in his suit and gave him a thumbs up. “So do you. Although,” I turned to face the mirror again and tugged at my collar, “You do look more natural in these clothes.”
“Here, let's make some people jealous,” He said as he joined me in front of the mirror and took a picture with his cell phone. “Don't be surprised if Queen wants you to put your meat on the table when she sees this; I've set a standard now, you know.”
“I meant to ask, how did your meeting about that go?”
“Unremarkably. The staff had trouble believing something so outrageous had happened without any of them noticing. There was only one so-called 'witness' to come forward and they didn't really want to pursue it. Can you imagine the conversation?” he smiled as he tapped away on his phone.
“It would be weird,” I admitted.
“Scandalous, more like. 'Now, Student Jones, did you observe Student St. Cyr place his wang on the table?' Id love to be there for that.” He chuckled.
“Yeah. Only you, Harrison.” I said with a shake of my head. He put his phone in his pocket.
“What? You didn't care for my show?”
“It was a little crude.” I said.
“Hm. Yes, true enough. But still, everyone got a good look. Queen texted me a rating. 8.9, if you believe that. Bitch couldn't give me another .1?”
“That...wasn't the same set of...that wasn't the same junk you texted to me.”
“Aha! So you studied it a bit before deleting it!” He crowed in triumph.
“Harrison, the picture you sent was of an uncircumcised man. You, clearly, are not that man.”
“Oh. Right,” he said as some of his enthusiasm drained. “I thought you'd just proved my gay theory.”
“You showed your junk to a table with three guys and one girl – one of the guys is openly gay. What do you think that says about you?”
“That I want a variety of opinions?” He asked, feigning innocence. He glanced at his bare wrist and exclaimed, “Oh, look at the time! Let's get going, they don't like to be kept waiting.” He paused dramatically and looked at me seriously. “Actually, they don't like much of anything.”
He placed a guiding hand on my shoulder as we headed down the hall and to the foyer to find his grandmother checking her face in the mirror and his grandfather shrugging on a coat.
“I'd like you to meet Sean Stanley, he's helping me with homework tonight,” Harrison said to them.
“Nice to meet you, dear.” His grandmother said without looking away from the mirror.
“I don't trust a man with long hair,” said the grandfather who busied himself straightening his coat. “A man should be well groomed and keep his hair in order, much like our Harrison here. I'm sure you could learn from him.”
“He sets a memorable example, sir.” I replied while smiling at Harrison. He quirked his mouth in response. My phone buzzed as we headed out the door and climbed into the chauffeured car. Feeling it would be rude to bury my face in the phone I left it unchecked through the ride. Harrison's grandfather was muttering as he looked out the window and his grandmother was fussing over her face with a compact.
“I got a message from Bill today,” Grandpa St. Cyr remarked. “He says there is another group of those so-called 'victims' trying to bring a law suit. Can you believe the nerve?”
“Ungrateful,” she agreed. “I don't know what possesses people outside of pure greed. Why do they make these things up?”
I glanced at Harrison who shook his head slightly. I decided to take this in the most restrictive way possible and stay out of it entirely.
“It's not only greed, those are agents of Satan himself!” the old man said, pounding his palm on his thigh. “Every bit of good the mother church does, his agents try to undo!”
“Well, what did Bill want from you?” she asked as she closed her compact.
“He said they needed to hire people. They had a group out there to fight back – the church doesn't want a legal battle to play out in the media. I told him we should hire some P.I.'s to discredit the lot of them.”
I raised an eyebrow at Harrison and he gave one short shake of his head. I realized then that his grandparents were true believers and any type of discussion, except one that agreed completely with their view, would end in a shambles. I held my tongue.
We arrived at the Piedmont Club and the door was opened for us. Alighting from the car we entered a conservative, stately environment with subdued lighting, thick carpeting and polished wooden walls. Chandeliers of crystal dotted the spaces. The grandparents checked their coats and the elder St. Cyr glanced at his watch.
“Harrison, we'll sit in twenty minutes. Don't be late.”
“Yes, sir,” he nodded “Grandmother,” he said and pulled me along. We walked into an environment with a variety of games. Pool, darts, one of those things with the fixed soccer players and a ball. There was music and a dance floor with a few well heeled people moving on it. I realized that the room was filled with people more our age – though the room was only about a quarter full.
“Will we see anyone from school?” I asked Harrison.
“Doubtful. No one from our track, in any case.”
I recalled I had a waiting message on my phone and pulled it out to check. The text was from a number I didn't know and the message only made it more mysterious. 'Sexy!' was all it said. I showed the text to Harrison who grunted.
“Of course,” I said with a nod. “He was trying to raise my spirits after Carl today.”
“Said I had nice hair, that not everyone can look good with long hair.” I frowned at the message. “It seems kind of forward, what's he talking about?”
“I sent him the picture of us in suits, of course. Queen too – her words were unrepeatable.”
“I see,” I said with a smile. “So what was that discussion all about in the car?”
“Oh, please,” Harrison waved at me. “Just forget it. I try to ignore most of what they say.”
“They like your hair.” I said with a grin.
“Today. In the morning – or by dinner tonight – they may have a different opinion.” We sat at the bar in companionable silence, having turned down a soda. Harrison was scanning the room and left me briefly twice to speak to girls who were, at that moment, unescorted. He seemed pleased with himself both times, but I decided not to ask him how it went.
We joined his grandparents at the table and wine was added to each glass – I was surprised to say the least. It was only a quarter full, but still.
“It's a Bordeaux,” Harrison explained, “We're having duck and the grandparents think it goes best with duck.”
“So, Mr. Stanley, you are attending the academy with our Harrison?” said his grandmother, clapping shut her compact yet again.
“Yes, ma'am.” I replied dutifully. I felt I should keep my answers short.
“I don't recall meeting you before...?”
“He recently switched tracks, grandmother.” Harrison supplied.
“What do your parents do then, Mr. Stanley?” his grandfather muttered before sipping his wine.
“My father is recovering from wounds sustained in the military,” I replied. While technically true, it certainly didn't tell the whole story.
“A war hero! He was probably commanding troops against the heathen Muslims, wasn't he lad?” the old man said too loud for my tastes. He also said 'Muslim' so that it sounded like 'moose limb' and I wasn't sure if it was bad taste, alcohol or both.
“He doesn't like to speak of his time at war, so I really don't know sir.” I replied evenly.
“I'll tell you what, Mr. Stanley! Those bits of trash call us the infidels, but look at them! Just look, will you?” he said while waving his glass. The red liquid sloshed on the inside, a drop spilling over and onto his hand.
“You old drunk, you'll stain your shirt. Stop that wild gesticulating!” snapped his wife.
“I have to drink, if I have to go home with you!” He roared.
“Beast! If I'd known what an animal you are I'd never have married you!” she stared coldly at him and said carefully, enunciating each word. “Every night I pray for our Lord to call you home.”
“I think he did! But, for some reason, I'm stuck in purgatory with you!” he responded.
“Good evening Mr. and Mrs. Tillingham. Will you be having the duck tonight? It is quite good and chef was expecting you this evening.”
“Ah, Trenton! Yes, duck is all well and good, but I need something better than this wine. You know what I need!”
“Of course, Mr. Tillingham. Would you like the Wild Turkey 14 or would you prefer the Evan Williams 23?”
“Oh, the 23. A double, please.”
“Of course, sir - and for Madam?”
“The duck will be splendid, Trenton, but I'm in the mood for something light to drink – not wine.”
“The bar has some very interesting new drinks, madam. They have a Bavarian Wild Berry Cosmoplitan for a twist on the traditional and they are also featuring a Prosecco Sangria if that might better suit your palate.”
“Oh! I'll try the Cosmo, thank you Trenton.”
“Master St. Cyr?”
“I suppose the duck as well. Lemon water, please.”
“Of course, and you sir?”
“I'll have the Greek salad and hot tea please?”
“Excellent. I'll be right back with your drinks.”
Harrison leaned in, “A salad?”
“A thirty-six dollar salad!” I whispered back.
“Dinner is being paid for, you should eat.” Harrison chided.
“I feel like I should respect the fact I'm not paying for it,” I replied.
“Spend some more time around them, you'll want to spend big any chance you get just for spite.” Harrison said softly and chuckled afterward.
Dinner proceeded to get worse from there. The grandparents complained about everything and were drinking to excess. I politely deflected as much as I could, but midway through dinner Harrison began aggravating them purposely. I wanted to question this process until his grandfather ordered him from the table to eat his dessert elsewhere. Harrison tugged my sleeve and we went back to the recreation area we'd initially waited in.
“What was that all about?” I asked with no small amount of concern.
“I wanted to have my dessert without a side of bile,” Harrison said with a smile. “Besides, he won't remember it in twenty minutes. He's entered that stage of the evening where he can't remember shit.”
“I'm not sure, technically.”
I wanted to ask why their last name was not the same as his. I reasoned this meant that his mother was their daughter, but I didn't want to pry as to where they were. Well, actually I did want to pry because his parents must be absolutely horrible people to leave him with these two old combatants but I couldn't see a happy answer to that coming from Harrison.
“They don't seem to get on very well,” I said instead.
“This was a minor skirmish. Later tonight there will be accusations of infidelity and a lack of sexual prowess among other things. Doors will slam, he'll stew in his study and fall asleep from the liquor and she'll retire to the conservatory.” He said, then glanced at me before continuing, “They go to those places because neither of them wants to go to the master bedroom. Ironically if one is in another room, the other could go to bed...”
“Why bother with all that? Can't they just divorce?”
“Good Catholics, they can't even consider it. The scandal alone would devastate them and their place in the workings of the local diocese.”
“Why didn't they send you to a Catholic school, if it's so important to them?”
“Oh, well, the school had too many, well...'non-whites'. Dear old granddad put it far less delicately and he didn't want me corrupted. They sent me to catechism instead. One on one with Father Jack.” Harrison looked away, this last mentioned with dripping venom. I chose not to pursue it and Harrison and I ate slices of pie in silence. In another ten minutes Trenton appeared to let Harrison know his grandparents were ready to depart. I glanced at the time on my phone and was shocked to see how late it had become.
“We're getting a late start for homework, should have skipped this.”
Harrison stopped and looked at me, chewing his lower lip for a moment. He shrugged and leaned in, speaking softly.
“I didn't really need the help. I wanted someone – a friend – to be with me through one of these horrible meals.” He leaned back and gave me a smile with no humor. “It was too embarrassing to ask you to dinner when I knew how they would act and that I wanted you there strictly for my own comfort. I told you I was selfish.” This last bit he said while looking down at his shoes, and then he turned and I was left to follow in his wake.
Although we had retreated from the battle at the table, we found the war still raged once the car door closed. Unfortunately, Harrison and I were much more involved here than we had been at the dinner 'skirmish' as he put it. It started innocently enough, but then I'd imagine – with them – things often did.
“May we drop Sean at his home? It would be more convenient than going back out.” Harrison asked them.
“More convenient for whom?” she said. Curiously she had stopped checking her appearance in her compact, even though it could use a touch up now. “It's late as it is, nearly nine thirty by the time we reach our gilded cage. Your friend will simply have to be inconvenienced and go home afterward.”
“I'm not sending Huston out after we return, he's off for the evening after dinner, you know. Your friend will have to find his own way,” he glared at his wife, “If he can squeeze through the bars.”
“You couldn't, even if we greased your sides!” she snorted.
“You're one to talk! The only thing you squeeze is...” I tuned out before he finished his sentence. I was now wondering about bus service – which probably didn't exist this close to the rich end of town – and wondering how far I'd have to walk to reach a stop. I briefly considered calling Mr. Phillips to ask for a ride, but it was late and he was probably relaxing with a second cup of tea and a concerto. It didn't seem right to bother him on my account.
I also wondered why Harrison didn't have a car. I would have asked him to drop me at home, but if he hadn't offered, maybe there was a reason why. I decided to ask him once we were alone – I didn't want to create any openings for his grandparents to fire a verbal salvo at either of us. There was also my nagging irritation at Harrison for not simply telling me the full story – though who would have believed it? I understood better than ever why he had bought the suit and the phone – on their dime no doubt. He was stabbing at them and consoling himself in one stroke, and that was hard to blame him for.
On arriving at his home, as if on cue, the old man stormed off and slammed a door on one side of the foyer and the old woman on the other side – with a matching slam. In the sudden silence Harrison and I stood, two sartorially elegant young men who were joined in awkward embarrassment.
“So,” I said, “I'm guessing for some reason you have no car?”
“No,” he said, not meeting my gaze. “I was going to get one, for a birthday or something, but it turned into an argument between them for something – I can't remember what. It had nothing to do with me. They just fight all the time.”
“I'm sorry, Harrison.” I said softly. He barked a laugh, and still wouldn't look at me.
“Why? You don't have a car, either. You probably think that...” he trailed off and simply looked at the floor.
“I think I understand better than I would have if you'd tried to tell me ahead of time.” I said.
He nodded, sighed deeply and then nodded more firmly. “Right, well, thanks. For that. Will there be a problem with you staying the night?”
“Staying the night?” I asked, the idea having not crossed my mind. “I thought I'd just go to the nearest bus stop.”
“You can check the schedule, but I have no idea how close they come or how late they run. If it's all the same, you can stay and Huston will drive you home in the morning.”
I considered the idea. My father would never know I was missing – depending on how drunk he was, he might not even wake up. “I don't have any clothes or a toothbrush.”
“I can loan you some of mine. Not an exact fit, but should be close enough. We keep spare brushes in a drawer in the bathroom.”
“All right, I guess that's the plan then.”
I followed Harrison to his room and he opened a stupidly large walk-in closet and pulled out a change of clothes for the morning and then he glanced at me. “What do you sleep in?”
“Uh. Sweats or shorts, depending on weather.”
“Try these,” he said and added a pair of pajama bottoms to the pile. “I usually feel the need to shower after a dinner like that. Would you like to go first?”
“You know, it's been a long day. That sounds good, thanks.” He walked into the bathroom with me and set out a new toothbrush before closing the door. The shower was just as impressive as every other physical aspect of Harrison's life. The walls were done in small rectangular rough stone and there were jets all over, including a rainfall style overhead spigot. I used his shampoo and conditioner, which had names I didn't even recognize, and a soap with black chunks in it - probably something to exfoliate with. To say it was luxurious would be an understatement in the most British sense of the word.
The floors were marble and the towels were thicker than the carpet in my apartment. I dried my self and pulled on the pajama bottoms. They were smooth and cool and felt oddly sensual on my legs and I was absurdly conscious of my package moving from side to side and touching the soft material. After brushing I cracked the door to Harrison's room to let him know I was done and closed the door on my end.
I hung my towel to dry on the back of a chair, then picked it up again to catch a stray drop running down my side – there is always a few patches I miss when leaving the shower. I pulled my phone out and sat on the bed, contemplating Holden's text. Sexy? Was he attracted to me or was he simply offering a compliment? If he was attracted, what then? I never really thought about dating – this school was my ticket to a better education and a recognizable boost to my transcript when I applied for college scholarships. Besides, what could I offer Holden? What would his parents say when he brought me home? 'Thank God, another mouth to feed'?
I looked at the text again. Idly, I saved the number to my contacts as I thought about Holden. Unbidden, my conversation with him about cuddling with Vincent came back to me and I felt my cheeks flush as I imagined Holden and I doing that couch cuddling. I glanced back at the text, clearly labeled 'Holden' now and smiled. I decided to reply.
'Oh, you think so?' I rolled my eyes as I dropped the phone onto the duvet. What a lame response! Was that as clever as I could be? I seriously needed some tutoring on flirting skills. That thought brought me to a sudden stop – hadn't I just ruled out a relationship? Didn't flirting imply interest and, in fact, a possible relationship? Was I over-thinking this? The phone buzzed and I stared at it with trepidation. Thumbing the display the message really didn't advance the conversation.
That was it? Duh? I keyed in a new response.
'Yeah, Harrison cleans up nice.'
I didn't see an easy way to avoid something being said about that. What it would be or what it might reveal, I had no idea. In fact, I seemed to be doing a lot here without really thinking it through – or not bothering to stick with what I had reasonably decided. The phone buzzed.
'He does, he's always looked great in a suit.'
I was feeling a tad disappointed that Holden wasn't biting and prolonging my delusion. The phone buzzed again.
'But I wasn't talking about Harrison.'
I was interrupted by a knock on the bathroom door and Harrison opened it a crack. “Are you dressed?”
“Would it stop you if I weren't?” I asked. Holy crap, what's gotten into me?
“Probably not,” he said opening the door and taking a few steps into the room. He was wearing a similar pair of pajama bottoms with a thin robe of the same material, unbelted. His feet were bare and he looked uncomfortable as he stood there, seeming to war with himself about something.
“Holden says you look nice in a suit,” I said.
He glanced at me and a smile flashed across his face. “Holden always has a ready compliment.”
He stood in silence, looking down at the carpeted floor. “I feel badly.” he said, or rather blurted.
I set the phone aside and focused on Harrison. “Why?”
“I wanted...when we went to your apartment I felt...I felt you were...” He licked his lips, then pursed them as if something sour were in his mouth. “I hate this!” he growled, throwing his arms wide and letting them slap to his sides.
“Shut up! Just...” he said loudly, and then dropped his voice. “Just...shut up for a minute. Stop being so goddam understanding.” I sat back against the tufted headboard and waited for Harrison, feeling perturbed that my being accepting of him was, somehow, a cause for concern. He paced, just a few steps in either direction before freezing and bringing a hand to his mouth.
“I'm a coward. A selfish coward.” He said in a whisper. I remained silent, unsure if speaking would provoke another outburst. “I never used to care what people thought of me. After I screwed and left the first girl at thirteen – my birthday, you know – I was immune to her tears afterward. I was unaffected by what anyone thought of me. Until Holden. And now you.”
I stretched my legs out, biting my lip so as not to inject myself in whatever act of catharsis he was currently engaging in. At least I hoped it would be cathartic, rather than the verbal self flagellation he was involved in now.
“I made friends with you after bringing you home because...” his face was red and he ran his hands up into his damp hair. “Because if you rejected me, I could make up some classless...class excuse for it. You were safe. I could tell you anything, and be able to deny it later. Disposable.”
I desperately wanted to say something, but a part of me felt vindicated in the baser nature of my fellow human. I had wondered what he could possibly want or get from me, from befriending me, and now I knew. It was disappointing, even hurtful to realize that truth.
“Then, of course, you had to be like Holden. Decent. Forgiving. I showed you one of my daily horrors,” he waved his arm towards the hallway and I assumed that meant his grandparents. “ I even confessed to having lured you here – making myself feel better by giving you a suit!” He looked up to the ceiling and fell silent.
I cleared my throat, “It's a very nice suit.”
He chuckled, but it wasn't a happy sound. “Even now, after I've told you all that...still, you're nice to me. Kind, even. Anthony and Queen, they don't know about this – just Holden. Their parents move in different social circles, but when you presented yourself...”
“Harrison...I don't deny that I'd have probably appreciated a little more honesty up front, but after seeing it firsthand, well...” I said with a sigh and shrugged at him. “I can't blame you. Still, I do feel badly that you didn't think you could confide in me. But, given we've known each other for, what? A week? I think I can let it slide.”
“If all you say is true, then why do I feel so badly?” Harrison said softly.
“Because you're not the unfeeling snob you think you are.”
He stood in silence, his brown curls slowly drying. My phone buzzed against my leg, but it was muted by the duvet. He turned towards the bathroom and I opened my mouth, and I can't honestly say why.
“You know, if you were gay, I'll bet Holden would snap you up in a minute.”
He froze in the doorway. I lay still, thinking I may have pushed him too far in what was clearly a weak moment for him. His shoulders began to slowly shake, and he turned back towards me, leaning against the door frame. His face was going red again and a joyless chuckle forced from between his lips.
“If you had suggested that when I was twelve, I'd have tried to kill you,” he said. He was fully back in the room now, his back against the wall with his hands pinned behind himself. “You're not stupid. You heard Trenton call them Tillingham.”
“Yes,”I said softly, “But it wasn't my place to...”
“Why the hell not?” He said angrily. “You've seen the tip of the messy, bloody iceberg! Didn't you just say,” he said while spittle flew from his lips, “That you would have liked some truth beforehand?”
“Harrison,” I said softly, “I'm your friend. If you want to tell me something, that's fine. If not, that's okay too.” Clearly whatever was under his skin was major, to him.
“I killed my parents.”Next Chapter Previous Chapter