My thanks to Craftingmom for editing and Ricky for beta reading.
We had no time for the what's and why's of the situation. Harrison told us firmly, holding a hand up, that this was all he knew and that his grandfather was meeting with the police, lawyers and who knew what else. He had to go home, for now, and that he'd call later. He was actually stopping in just to tell us and so I'd know I needed to catch the bus. I found that more than a little odd, that with his grandmother having been murdered, he was thinking about my needs? Even with as awful as she'd been – and she was a shrew the bard would have recognized, no doubt – she was still someone he'd known since birth. I barely knew her and was shaken at the thought she'd been murdered.
I embraced Harrison quickly, mindful of the room we were in, and asked him to call if I could do anything for him. Holden offered to leave with him, and Harrison waffled enough that Holden decided that was best so he told me he'd contact me within a few hours at the most before grabbing his things and heading out of the locker room with Harrison.
I sat with Anthony and Queen in last session and found them to be more annoying than usual. They asked where Harrison and Holden were, and I played dumb. They would know soon enough, and I really didn't want to share Harrison's private pain with anyone – or lack of it. Maybe he was just in shock? I found that idea more comforting – I didn't want to think of Harrison as a husk, devoid of real feeling even after I'd proclaimed him to be the exact opposite.
The lesson came to a close, and Anthony and Queen seemed to be glaring at each other and generally acting like jerks. Anthony said something I couldn't hear, which sounded rather angry. I tried to ignore the situation between them – I had one friend that was in pain and another that was sending very clear messages about what he wanted between us and I had to find a way to reply. Anthony suddenly stood up, his chair squealing on the floor in protest as it slid across the floor.
“You know what, Monica? I'll bet your parents keep you at home when you PMS for everyone else's sake!” he said with contempt.
“Okay, fine, you want to know why I broke up with you? You're a cheat, a liar and I have heels in my closet bigger than your dick!”
The polite part of this squabble was obviously over with. The instructor intervened, held them both back as the chime sounded, and released us. I went to my locker and retrieved my coat and turned on my cell. As soon as it connected, I had a voice mail, from Holden.
“Sean – please call me as soon as you get this, okay? Thanks!”
I made my way out the door and started walking up the street before I called back. The halls were too noisy, and the kids out in front of the school made things chaotic. Once I'd cleared them, I could concentrate on the conversation. Holden picked up right away.
“Hey, did you just get out?”
“Yeah, I'm walking to the bus stop now. How's Harrison?”
“I can't be sure. I mean,” he sighed heavily, “He's kind of disconnected. I don't know if it's shock or what. I need to get him out of here, and my parents are having some kind of party at my house tonight – something where lots of money is supposed to change hands, blah, blah, blah. Can we come to your place?”
“My...my place?” I said as my feet stumbled over an imaginary crack.
“Yeah. No one will know where he is, and there are already some reporters here. This is going to be a story. I actually saw the room where...you know...it happened. It's insanity, Sean. Is it all right?”
Oh no. They'd both see...no, no. This was not about me, it was about my friend. “Yeah, of course. 318 Selwick, Apartment 827.”
“Got it. Could you text it, in case I forget? Wait, Huston knows, right? Never mind. I have to stop home and change, and we'll be there. My driver will bring us from my house to yours. It'll take some time. I'll call you, okay?”
“Sure,” I replied. I ended the call and my mouth was dry. Even though this was for my friend, I was still very embarrassed about my apartment. But that wasn't my doing anymore than my father was my doing – but he would be an embarrassment all on his own. I boarded the bus and fretted as it went from stop to stop – I needed to get home and put the best face I could on a lousy, smelly, drunken situation.
Each extra stop, each stop sign, or red light only increased my irritation. What could I say to my father to get him to understand how important this was to all three of us? Was there anything? I tried four or five different speeches in my head, but nothing went right. It all hinged on the unknowns – how drunk was he? Had he knocked anything messy over? Had he thrown up anywhere, and would I be able to find it, clean and clear the air in time?
I jumped down the bus steps as the doors opened and sprinted to the stairs. By the time I'd climbed three flights, I was out of breath and forced to walk, but I still pushed my legs to pump as fast as I could tolerate it. I paused at the top of the eighth floor and tried to compose myself. If I couldn't regulate my breathing, my drunken father would have even less a chance of understanding me and what I needed from him.
Entering the apartment, I judged that the smell was largely stale and did not have any trace of him throwing up. I entered the living room and found him, upright but asleep, on the couch. His mouth hung open, and he hadn't shaved in...well, since that wild animal nested on his face. He looked more like a guy that should be wearing overalls and hiding his still from the county sheriff than a war hero and delinquent father.
I sat my bag on the table and opened the kitchen window and the one in the living room to try and air out the place. I wished I had some air freshener, but then it would just smell like you poured bourbon on a flower so I stopped worrying about it. I ran hot water in the sink and added some floor cleaner for a quick scrub of the kitchen linoleum and then cleaned the toilet and sink in the bathroom. I drew the shower curtains - there simply wasn't time. With that done, I ran the vacuum quickly, which woke my father. We have a couch with a rectangular coffee table in front of it and a single chair on one end of the table. I sat in the chair and gave him about ten seconds to realize I was there.
“Sean? What the hell are you doing? Some people have to work in the morning, you know?” he let his head droop down into his hands, and I tried very hard not to roll my eyes since I needed to spend that energy getting him to listen.
“Dad. Dad? Listen, I have to clean up a bit more. I have two friends coming over.”
“At this time of night?”
“It's four thirty in the afternoon, Dad,” I said with as much patience as I could muster.
“Really? Sean, don't bring people over here, I don't want to see anyone.” He put his palms into his eye sockets, rubbing them slowly.
“They are already coming, dad. Listen, I need you to try and be...” my voice died. Try and be what? Sober? Polite? Human? “Dad. Would you try and make them feel welcome? They are new friends at the school Mr. Phillips got me into? It's important, dad.”
“How are the Phillips?” he muttered. “He was my teacher once, you know.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“Sean. Don't bring people here, Sean. Your mother won't like it.”
I froze. He never mentioned my mother – unless it's to remind me she left us both. I felt I could understand why she'd left him – but what had I done? Did I remind her too much of her broken husband?
“She's gone, dad. She won't mind.”
“She's not gone. She's in here,” he said tapping his head with a finger tip. He lifted his head and his bleary eyes rolled to my face, almost as if he were trying to focus on my eyes. “She knew. Three years old, bright pink. 'Passion Pink' she'd bought it at the drug store.”
“What are you talking about? Dad, she's been gone since forever!” I said with frustration.
His eyes roamed the apartment, never returning to their aborted attempt to make contact with me. “My fault. You got it from me,” he mumbled.
“Dad, please. I really like these guys – Dad! They are important, do you understand? Please?”
He was staring off into space, and I groaned in frustration. I decided to pick up my room quickly, open the window in there too just to let some of the apartment out and the city in – but I wasn't sure which was worse. My phone buzzed, and I glanced at the text.
'Elevator out, starting up the stairs.'
I had maybe five minutes. I walked quickly back out to my father who was sipping from his glass, cap to his bottle held loosely in the other hand. Suddenly, I felt furious – at him and his drinking, at my mother and her cowardly escape, the government for breaking my father and the war that created the whole mess.
“Will you listen? Pay attention, goddammit!” I screamed at him. He jolted, his head turning slightly towards the sound of my voice. “I know you hurt, but I'm hurting too! The Phillips do all they can, but I'm not their son! Mom ran out, I need you to climb out of that goddamn bottle!
“Dad,” I said softly as I knelt to look him in the face, my voice shaky from screaming and then dropping the volume so dramatically. “Please. I really like them, please try.” He continued to stare and sip – I have no idea if he was processing my words or if they sounded like Klingon to him at this point. There was a tap at the door, and I walked quickly to let them in, sparing my drunk father one last look before entering the hallway to the front door.
“I do not need gym tomorrow!” Holden said with a smile as I opened the door.
“Sorry,” I winced, “They told us they needed a part from the original manufacturer. Turns out they went out of business and nothing has been done.”
“I told him it was all part of the experience,” Harrison said with his trademark curl in the corner of his mouth.
They entered the apartment, shouldering back packs and no longer in school clothes but rather casual jeans and button up shirts – that probably cost more than the furniture in my living room. They stopped uncertainly just inside the door, a combination of being unsure where to go and taking in the bedraggled apartment, and I nervously ushered them down the hall and into the living room.
“Dad? This is Harrison St. Cyr and Holden...” I said and then glanced at Holden, “I'm sorry, I actually don't know your last name.”
“Thieriot,” he replied with a smile, pronouncing it 'terry - o'.
“And Holden Thieriot,” I said, turning back to my father. “These are the friends I told you about.”
“I'm pleased to meet you, Mr. Stanley,” Holden said with a beaming smile and a hand stuck out in front of him. My father never moved his head, his eyes remained fixed in space with his glass lifting periodically, and he'd sip. It was like watching a hillbilly automaton.
“Well, ah, can I get you guys a drink?”
“Sit,” my father said quietly. He set his glass down and poured more in, not looking at us.
“We have homework, dad...”
“Sit.” he replied more firmly. Hesitantly, and with a feeling of dread I pulled a chair from the kitchen table and invited Harrison to sit and pointing Holden to the chair. I took a seat on the couch with my father and waited for him to do whatever his pickled brain wanted.
“My...son,” he rasped, took a sip and cleared his throat. “My son claims you are important to him.”
“You wanted this. Shut up,” he growled. He slugged back the rest of his glass and tippled more.
“So I want to know...which one of you is fucking my son?”
He sat in silence as the shocked noises died out, and I looked at our guests. “I'm sorry, he's been drinking and...”
“Of course I've been drinking,” he said and smiled at my friends. “I'm working on my one remaining goal in life, which is cirrhosis of the liver. However, my...son...just pointed out what a lousy parent I am. I think it's only fair that I show him a thing or two.”
Holden looked at me uncertainly, but Harrison was focused, coiled. I wondered for the smallest moment if he considered my father a threat, and then I turned my attention back to my drunken parent.
“Dad, how about...”
“Passion Pink,” dad said as he glanced at me and then craned his neck around to look at my friends. “His mother came home from...something. He was in our room, looking at himself in the mirror. His lips were whore red and his fingernails were passion pink.” He sipped, and we all sat in an awkward silence. His head turned back towards me, but his gaze was on the floor.
“She blamed me, like always. But this time she was right,” he said with a cough and sipped. “These things, they come from your father.”
“Are you saying...”
“Queer. Fag. Gay. Whatever, I passed it on to you,” he sighed and gulped and tippled more. “I grew up thinking I'd never reproduce – hey, no matter how many times we try it just doesn't seem to take. But we keep trying, am I right?” he asked laughing to himself. He swallowed another slug. “Then we all got drunk, a few nights before call up. I woke up in your mother's bed – never really knew how I got there. Came back from...hell's outhouse. I had a kid. Surprise!” he said softly and lifted his glass, draining it a third time. Harrison and Holden seemed to be shifting uncomfortably, and I tried to gain control of the situation.
“Dad, why don't you...”
“But I'll tell you one thing,” he said, tipping his glass towards my friends. “It's all shits and giggles,” he said solemnly, “Until someone giggles and shits.” He laughed at his joke and I felt sick. Instead of trying to help me, he was actively getting drunker and embarrassing me.
“So, come on! Which one of you is after my kid's ass? You have to tell me, I have a pornographic memory.”
“Don't you mean photographic?” Holden asked with a smile curling his mouth. Dimples. Jesus, he had dimples too.
“Nope,” Dad replied, sipping again and then another. He was swaying a bit now. He had, more or less, fixed onto Holden though and pointed an unsteady finger at him. “It's you. So let me tell you, while you're thinking about my son bent over somewhere...”
“Okay, that's enough!” I said loudly.
“I'm doing what you asked!” he roared at me, turning his head in my general direction. “What father wouldn't want to talk to the guy who wants to corn-hole his kid?” He turned back to Holden and pointed. “Tell me I'm wrong.”
“No,” Holden said with a smile and a ton of defiance in his voice. “I much prefer romance and cuddling, but if you want to know if I am interested in your son, then the answer is yes.”
“Well then,” my father said, swaying.
“Yes?” Holden asked. How could he be so calm? Like this was the most normal thing in the world?
“Yes?” my father asked. “Yes what?”
“You said 'well then'. I thought you were going to give me advice about dating your son. I've resorted to taking advice from Harrison, here, to try and get his attention,” Holden said politely and I covered my face in complete embarrassment.
“Well. What I've learned,” my father slurred. He stopped and considered, then poured two fingers in his glass and threw them back before blearily looking at Holden. “I learned...that an asshole is like a nine volt battery. You know it's wrong,” he said, shaking a finger at Holden, “But you're still going to touch it with your tongue!”
“Okay, that's it!” I said angrily. “Why don't you go pass out in your room and try not to choke on your own vomit?”
“Oh, oh well...” He struggled to stand and sat back heavily. I pulled him up and he swayed, reached for his bottle and missed, nearly falling over. He straightened as I held him and he snagged his bottle on the second try. I started to pull him to his own room and then he began pulling back, until he could turn and face Holden again.
“You want to know if he's interested? Sean was more nervous than a knocked up nun that you were coming over.” He cackled and allowed me to push him into his room. I shoved him towards his bed and he fell heavily on the mattress, but retained the grip on his bottle.
“Thanks a lot, you drunk asshole!” I hissed.
“Hey, hey now, sonny,” he said, floundering like a dying fish on the shore. “He was the right one, huh? He knows you like him now.”
“I could have told him that. Asshole,” I said while closing the door. I walked quickly back out to my friends and they pulled their heads back from a conversation.
“I am so, so sorry. He drinks a lot and, really, it's kind of...this is why I don't have people over. He's an embarrassment,” I said and then sighed deeply. “I wanted to be able to focus on Harrison, and I know we didn't need this distraction. I'm sorry.”
“Sean,” Harrison said quietly, stole a glance at Holden and then turned back to me. “Were you really more nervous than a knocked up nun?”
He held my gaze for one nightmarish moment and then he and Holden burst out in giggles. I held a hand to my face and felt the laughter bubbling up inside me as well until we were all laughing. I sat on the couch, caught in a fit of giggles and Holden held a hand up as he tried to catch his breath.
“I think I just giggled and shit!” he burst out laughing, barely getting the last word out before we were all laughing. Tears were coming out of our eyes, and I could hardly catch my breath. It felt good to let that stress roll off me, and I hoped they were laughing with me rather than at me, but for this very second, I was just happy to let some of the pressure off.
“Oh, oh,” Harrison said while wiping his eyes of tears. “Holden, he reminds me of your Uncle. What was it he said? It's so hot in here right now!” Harrison waved a hand to move the air across his face.
“It's hotter in here that two rats fucking in a sweat sock!” Holden said and we were all lost again to a giggling fit. Harrison stood up and wagged his finger at Holden.
“Are you fucking my son? Admit it! You want to corn-hole him!'” Harrison burst out laughing again, but I found it harder to laugh and Holden was smiling at me but not laughing. Harrison lay back in the chair, waving a hand in front of his face and giggling on and off. Holden and I were looking at each other, but neither was willing to speak – perhaps this was something we'd be forced to deal with once we were alone.
“I...I really am sorry, guys. That was...”
“Stop,” Harrison said while holding his hand up. “It just proves we all have things in our lives we aren't proud of. At least you can point to something that's reasonably noble like his military service to explain it. I only have that my grandparents have been stewing in Catholicism their entire lives.”
“I didn't mean to imply...”
“I know you didn't,” Harrison waved his hand and sat back in the chair. “I'm just saying – we're not so different.”
“I like this chair,” Holden said suddenly. He leaned back and bounced a few times in it while stealing glances at me. “I think this will be my chair when I come over.”
“When you...come over?” I asked hesitantly.
“He does that. Lays claim to a chair, a couch or a bathroom as his favorite. Ignore him,” Harrison advised.
“Speaking of which, where is the bathroom?” Holden asked. I pointed him down the hall, and he left with a quick 'thanks'. I sat for a moment in silence with Harrison, wanting to ask how he was and, alternatively, not wanting to be the one that asked him for the millionth time that day and caused him to snap.
“Would you like a drink? Some hot tea?” The Phillips were such enthusiasts that they made it one of their regular 'gifts' to keep us stocked with tea.
“Sure. Yes, thank you, that would be nice.” Harrison frowned and leaned forward a bit as I stood. “Aren't you going to ask?”
“I figured you've probably been asked enough,” I said with a frown. “If you'd like to talk about it, I'll listen, but don't feel compelled.” I walked into the kitchen and he trailed after me, moving his chair back to the tiny dinette.
“There isn't much to tell,” he said quietly. I picked up the kettle and turned to look at Harrison.
“I'm serious, Harrison. My curiosity is completely overwhelmed by my concern for you. Unless you want to talk, don't feel like you have to on my account.” I turned to the sink and filled the kettle and set it on the stove top. I reached into the cupboard and grabbed three cups and then pulled the tea bags out.
“So, did I miss anything at school?” Harrison asked.
“Apparently Queen and Anthony were dating, or something. They broke up last class – did you know her name was Monica?” I asked, turning and leaning on the counter.
“Yes, Monica – I sometimes forget, I am so used to calling her Queen. Dating? Really? Probably just sleeping together,” Harrison said distractedly.
“Outside of that, I wouldn't say you missed anything.”
“Was Carl in gym?” he asked. “Holden didn't mention.”
“Now that you bring it up, I don't recall seeing him. Hey, I was meaning to ask you, why do you fight so dirty?” I said with a grin, hoping he knew I was teasing him.
“No such thing,” he said with a ghost of a smile. “The longer a fight goes, the more it goes in favor of someone his size. One of the first lessons I learned when taking self defense classes was to end the fight as quickly as possible. One good crack to the eggs and things are resolved.”
“I'm not sure Carl can reproduce anymore, but if he can't, I'm sure we have you to thank for it.” I frowned, “Has Holden fallen in?”
“He's probably snooping in your room, looking for some kind of leverage to get into your heart or something equally, pathetically, romantic.”
“I am not!” Holden called from down the hall. “I can't get the toilet to stop making this funny noise!”
I headed down the hall and entered the small space with Holden, the toilet making that whining noise that indicated the plunger hadn't seated properly. I jiggled the handle and the noise stopped, and I glanced at Holden who was only about a foot from me.
“I thought I'd broken it, somehow,” he said quietly, looking in my eyes.
“Holden,” I said quietly, “We're going to have to talk. But until we can find time to do that – seriously, I'm sure you've heard a running toilet before.”
His cheeks colored. “That obvious?”
“I...appreciate the attention.” I shifted slightly, the room was far too small for conversation. “We do need to talk about all this, just...not right this minute, yeah?”
“As long as you promise that we will talk about it?” Holden said softly, leaning in just a fragment.
My resolve broke in the tiniest, most damning way right then, and I placed a hand on his cheek for just a moment before pulling it away violently. “I promise.” I turned quickly and headed for the kitchen, where the kettle was starting its one note tune. I was very aware of Holden being just behind me and of his shoes as they left the carpet and landed on the linoleum of the kitchen.
“Would you like tea?” I asked Holden over my shoulder.
“Please,” he replied, and I put the three cups on the table and then placed sugar and milk out as well. Taking a seat with them, the table was silent but for the clinking of spoons stirring and sipping. I glanced at Harrison, wondering what was going through his mind. What must he think of us, of Holden, working on bits of some half baked romance when his grandmother had been murdered today?
“Will your grandfather stay at Belle Terre until the police are done with the residence?” Holden asked.
“I think that's likely. I'd rather not, the daily drive will be interminable.” His mouth twitched into a ghost of a smile and he looked at me. “Do you recall, on Friday, her saying she prayed every night for the Lord to call him home? What irony.”
“Do the...police have any suspects?” I asked.
“Well, the most likely – myself and good old granddad – have been cleared. I was, of course, at school and he was at a meeting of the old, white, and fat society at the club.”
“If it comes to that, I'm sure you can stay with one of us,” Holden said, tipping his cup in my direction.
“Tonight, for instance? Do you think it will make trouble if we camp out tonight?” Harrison asked me.
“I'm sure we can figure something out,” I replied with a wan smile. Where would I put them? What would I feed them?
“I'm sure it will only be for a few days,” Holden said confidently, “Sean, do you think it will make problems with your father – us being here I mean?”
“I don't know,” I said truthfully. “He's never acted that way before. In a really weird way, I think he believes he did me a favor of some kind.”
“You know,” Harrison said, “I could really use a pizza. I hear neighborhood pizza is simply the best. How about you order it, and I'll go downstairs to wait for it – I have some cash – and you two can work this thing out between you.” He held up a hand to silence my protest, “We can't have a conversation that includes your father without bringing up what he said, and we can't talk about me without the...murder. If we talk about Holden, well, all he wants to talk about is you. Trust me – I've thought this through.”
So saying, he drained his cup and stood, announcing he'd use the bathroom and then head down. I looked guiltily at Holden as Harrison left the room. Holden sipped his cup, his cheeks flushed as he looked at me and dropped his eyes. I sighed, it seems I was mistaken about having bought some time with the chat in the bathroom. Water ran in the bathroom, but before Harrison emerged I excused myself and walked down the hall to meet him.
“Harrison, this neighborhood isn't the greatest to hang out in. Why don't we walk to the grocery store and we can cook something here?” I asked.
“You mean someone might try to rob me? I could use a fight,” he said, flexing a hand with bravado.
“No, I won't let you be reckless,” I said firmly. “I think we should stick together.”
“Well, fine, if you're determined to play the good friend...can I lay down for a bit while you two figure things out?” he asked.
“If you like, but I'm not sure this is the time or place to have that discussion with Holden,” I replied.
“Why? If you're worried about me, don't be. I have no clear feelings about my dear, departed granny so we'll have oodles of time to dig through my psyche about them after dinner,” he said with a trace of his trademark curl.
“Harrison, of course I'm worried about you!” I hissed, “I just don't think it's appropriate to have that discussion with him while you're going through this! I don't want you to feel alone!”
“I'm not. I have you two, come what may. I really am tired, honestly, and I could use a short nap – or at least some silence where my friends worries aren't hovering around the edges of my consciousness,” he said with a smile. Perhaps even a real one.
I studied his dark eyes for a moment and then led him to my room. I waved him to the single bed and showed him where I kept the spare blanket before leaving him to a nap of some kind – if I could believe him on that. I spared him a look, maybe to reassure myself that this was the right thing to do, selfish as it felt. He was sitting on the edge of the bed, having just removed his shoes. He was running his fingers absently over the blanket before laying down, facing the wall. He looked so small and vulnerable it was all I could do not to go back in and lay next to him just so he knew he wasn't alone. His head turned back to look at me in the doorway and he smiled.
“I'm fine,” he said softly. I pushed the door back open and crossed the room, sitting next to him on the bed. I put a tentative hand on his shoulder and then gave him an awkward hug. His hand patted me uncertainly.
“I'm just in the kitchen if you need anything,” I said softly.
“You know, it's funny,” he said without looking at me. His fingers stroked the pillow next to his face, “Every girl I've ever slept with, I remember the act but not the girl. It's almost like my memory flushes after engaging them. But this,” he tilted his head to the pillow briefly and then resumed.
“When I was little, before everything went to shit, my aunt on my fathers side had a garden with real lilac bushes. For a few weeks in the spring, those bushes were in bloom and the whole yard filled with this soft, particular scent. For years now, whenever I catch a hint of lilac I'm instantly eight again and in her garden,” he sighed. “It's the same with you and Holden, you know.”
“What do you mean?” I asked in a whisper, afraid to break this gentle moment with the sound of my voice.
“We all have our own smell. I don't mean the one after gym, but the real us. Sometimes, I catch a bit of that from Holden, and it takes me back to when we were fifteen and I had just...apologized for the way I'd hurt him. When he accosted me with a hug,” Harrison frowned and rolled his eyes, “my nose was filled with that clean scent of his skin. Whenever I catch that scent, I'm instantly fifteen and I can almost feel that hug and the...forgiveness that comes with it.”
“I knew Holden was a happy place for you,” I teased.
“Yes, he is,” Harrison nodded. “But, here, surrounded by your own scent I am reminded of last Friday when you...acted in a very Holden like way. What am I trying to say?”
I bit my tongue, not wanting to say the wrong thing so that Harrison could say what he needed to.
“I guess...well don't you find it weird?” he turned his head to look up at me. “I sleep with a lot of girls, and I don't care about any of them. Their perfumes, their own scents – and our brains attach scents heavily to memory – mean nothing to me. Yet, the two people I rely on most are male, and their scent makes me feel safe. Isn't that just...”
“I'm glad you feel safe with me, and that you rely on me. I hope I won't let you down,” I said while squeezing his shoulder.
“Well,” he said, turning his head away from me. “I just wanted you to know that I was fine here. I feel safe. I feel like it's Friday and you...are...” he said in a whisper. “I feel like...” and his eyes drifted closed and his breathing steadied. I stood slowly, so as not to disturb him and pulled the blanket up to his waist before closing the door to the room. Holden was leaning against the wall, and I quirked an eyebrow at him, sure he'd heard everything.
“You know, it all makes sense now. Whenever his grandparents became intolerable, he'd come over and insist in sleeping in my bed.” He led a hand up, “We never did anything, but I always thought it was weird that a straight boy wanted to sleep in my bed. I just never asked him – but now I know.”
“Well, I guess he's exhausted. Maybe he can get some rest now,” I said as I went back out to the living room and sat on the couch. Holden slipped his shoes off and pulled his feet under himself as he sat on the opposite end of the couch.
“So...” Holden said.
“I'm sorry about my dad,” I blurted. “When I came home, I realized he would be awake enough to realize people were here so I was trying to get him to...straighten up a bit for you two. We don't have people over; even when I was at my old school, I never brought friends home.”
“I can understand that,” Holden replied.
“Only Mr. Phillips comes in, he's the only one.”
“Who is Mr. Phillips?”
“Well,” I said, happy to stave off the conversation we needed to have – because I still wasn't sure what the right answer was. “He was a teacher of mine at my old school. He's been there a long time, he's practically everyone's favorite teacher and he's been there so long he actually taught my father, too.”
“Wow, dedicated or insane?” Holden said with a smile.
“Maybe a little of both,” I allowed. “He got me into school with you guys. He took it on himself to do all the paperwork and getting my dad to sign anything that needed signing.”
“He sounds like a great guy, I hope you introduce me to him.”
There it was. Meeting the Phillips would be far more like having him meet my parents than meeting my drunken father. I did want him to meet them, but I was afraid. The time had come, however, to work through some of that fear. With Harrison resting comfortably and the issue crushing me like the proverbial elephant in the room – it was time.
“Holden,” I said quietly, not able to meet his eyes. “Now that Harrison is resting I think we should...”
“Cuddle?” Holden said and giggled. “Some people like to talk over a good cup of tea. I find my preferred method is to cuddle.”
I looked up into his smiling face and asked, “Don't you think that's distracting?”
“Well,” he said, drawing out the word. “If we're going to discuss the idea of there being an 'us', then I think I should be allowed to make a complete argument in my favor. Since cuddling is one of my major abilities, I think it ought to count.”
“That sounds like something to be considered if we were weighing breaking up, not getting together,” I replied. What the hell kind of conversation was this?
“True, but it's a great ice breaker. Also, I already know you can talk and have someone cuddle you, so there's no reason to not bolster my case,” he replied with a twinkle in his eye and a smile plastered to his face.
“What do you mean by that?” I asked suspiciously.
“I mean, I want to date you, and I think I should be allowed...”
“No, the other thing! What do you mean I can talk and have someone cuddle me?”
“Oh...” Holden frowned, “Technically I guess it's not a cuddle, but Harrison did sleep with you. Clutched you, I think was his term.” My face must have registered something Holden took as a negative because he began speaking rapidly.
“Okay, wait, let me explain!” He held his hands out and I scowled, my suspicious nature on high alert. “Harrison tells me everything and...wait!”
I was standing and my mind was spinning in circles. What does all this mean? These two were the tightest of friends, even something so intensely personal – like what happened with Harrison and I last Friday – was fair game for discussion between them, but what about me? Was there no privacy here? And I thought I'd been so good, not wanting to divulge Harrison's secrets!
Holden was up and had his hands out while I stood with my arms crossed, fuming.
“Please, just let me explain,” Holden said quietly. His posture was passive, his face lined with worry and he sat, waiting for me to sit with him. I sat, stiffly, in the chair rather than the couch. Holden deflated a tad, but seemed to accept the situation as it was. Before he could open his mouth, I started to speak – my irritation getting the better of me.
“You know, what happened with Harrison wasn't sexual,” I began.
“And it was a pretty emotional, sensitive, private thing!” I continued.
“When you had asked what happened at Harrison's, I wouldn't say!”
“That's true,” Holden agreed.
“Then why would he say that? I didn't violate his trust!” I fumed.
“Sean...” Holden sighed and moved a bit farther up the couch, closing the distance between us. “When Harrison got over my coming out to him – or rather his realization that I was gay – it forged something very strong between us. Some people even think it's not healthy, and in some ways, maybe it isn't. But, last Friday Harrison was very vulnerable – and he wanted to be.”
“What?” I asked in complete confusion.
“For Harrison, being his friend isn't just a word. With him it's kind of an all-or-nothing deal, and he will keep taking steps with you until he hits the very middle of what hurts him to see what you do.” Holden leaned forward, “It's the most destructive thing, but once he gets the idea in his head that you might be a real friend...”
“That is...bizarre,” I said with a deep breath.
“It's dangerous. If he picks wrong – and he doesn't cultivate many friends – but if he picks wrong, then he hands them the means to hurt him very, very badly. In some ways making a friend is an act of self-destruction for him. If you're careful and hand out your pain a little at a time, it makes it hurt less.”
“I don't know,” he said with a shake of his head. “He really doesn't reach out to people, or really allow them in at all. I think, when you stepped into that fight with him, he saw something he liked, a lot.”
“I know, it's fucked up. I've only seen him do it one other time and it didn't go well.” He brought his hands together in front of his face, almost as if in prayer and then lowered them. “He told me the details because he wanted me to understand just how special you really are. He didn't tell me to...I don't know...give me ideas, or something. He wanted me to understand that he'd taken a huge risk, and it had paid off.”
“The way you said it...”
“I know, it was kind of flippant. I'm sorry. I probably gave you the idea that he was feeding me details on you or something, but in my defense, I think I've been pretty clear about my interest.”
There it was, right back to where we started from. Was this a bad idea? With he and Harrison so close, would there be anything private between us? Was it fair to Harrison for his two friends – his only friends, apparently – to become a couple? Didn't we have a responsibility to Harrison?
“Look,” Holden said quietly. “If you aren't interested, if this chemistry I feel is only friendship to you, then just let me know. I hope it doesn't make things weird but...I really like you.”
“I...” I swallowed my fear and doubts, or tried to just long enough to have this conversation. “I really like you too. But I'm worried. Afraid.”
“Okay,” Holden said, “The important part there is you like me back. Let's try and work through the rest of it.” His hand landed on my leg, and I looked up into his eyes – his unusual eyes – and he said, “Together.”Next Chapter Previous Chapter