I was sitting downstairs by myself, which wasn't all that common in a house with at least three boys and two parents living full-time and, from around the end of May until September, two more parents with a little kid living out in the carriage house. All that adds up to an overcrowded, filled up house almost all the time. It didn't really matter where everyone else was; the important part was I was alone for a few minutes. I was draped across the old recliner in a way that made my father shake his head and mutter something about teenagers under his breath. I had my back against an armrest and my legs dangling over the other armrest and I was comfortable, damn it. Maybe my dad should give it a try.
I had loaded up a game to play but the screen was frozen on the select screen as I'd kind of zoned out. Instead of spending my afternoon irresponsibly playing video games I'd suddenly found myself in a contemplative mood. I found it a little weird that these moods were hitting me from time to time. I didn't really think of myself as someone who spent a great deal of time thinking about situations, people and what have you. But I'd been catching myself, lately, just...thinking.
People, I think, would call me a confident guy. Of course, why shouldn't I be? I'm pretty intelligent, come from a good family with money, I'm fairly good looking, and I have some athletic skill. Getting dates was not a problem for me—never had been. I'd had a few relationships that had turned out to be less than I expected. Like the girl who, after a discussion about the US bombing Japan in World War 2, had asked if they were going to bomb us back. There was the time I went rollerskating with a group and, while kissing this girl in the dark of their 'teen nightclub', had had my feet go out from under me and managed to give each of us a twisted ankle. There was my infamous encounter with the 'Hoover', a local girl who just had a thing about blowing every guy she could, it seemed.
Then, there was Emily Baker. I admit, I didn't know much about her when I'd met her. Frankly, she hadn't known me, either. In fact, she thought I was so cool with my nephew Linc that she'd asked me over...to watch her little brother so she could go on a date. To say that had been disappointing was much more than an understatement. Her little brother, Caleb, had been a brat and went so far as to kick me in my balls and claim he hadn't meant it. I mean, seriously? That was the best he could do? At least he could have put some effort into the lie, like claiming he saw a spider on my crotch and was just trying to kill it. I'd been fairly bummed by the time she'd come back from her date, but when she walked through the door she was obviously upset. As per usual I hadn't thought about the situation, I just tried to be a nice guy though I wasn't sure she'd had any charity coming from me. The upshot was the guy she'd gone out with had been a dick and I, then, acted like a gentleman which netted me a date. And then another one. Kind of funny, though. From the conversation we'd had after she'd come back, you'd have thought she was a 'good girl', or to use her words 'not that kind of girl'.
She's a good girl—a good person. She's nice to animals, like her little brother, and cute ones, too, like dogs. She's fairly perky, has a wicked sense of humor and generally keeps me on my toes, which is pretty damn cool. Hanging around with her was just fun and the things I did seemed to be more fun when she was involved. As we got to know each other, though, she'd let more of her inner thoughts out with me, maybe testing to see how I'd react. Who knows what girls really think? Not me, that's for sure. But, after talking to Robin about Emily, about how she was special, I'd taken his advice to heart and been honest with her.
Which isn't to say I'm not regularly honest. With Em, I usually am. Sometimes I'm not with my parents, but that's a matter of survival. I'm honest with my brothers if I need advice or I don't see an immediate way to screw with them. Except for Sean, of course. I never lie to Sean, no matter what. I tease him, sure, but I don't lie.
So, a few weeks ago Emily and I'd had a conversation, a meandering sort of talk where we'd covered topics that didn't really go together in any way. Eventually family had come up and the subject of my near twin, Sean. She found it interesting that we looked so similar yet were such different people both temperamentally and in our sexualities. That had led into the conversation about Sean not being gay, perhaps leaning bi but totally into his boyfriend. That's when the trouble had started. She'd asked if I'd ever consider doing something with a guy and I'd been saved by her mom calling her for dinner. Before that, though, she'd admitted to being sort of turned on by seeing two guys kiss. She'd used Sean and Asher as an example and made mention of how cute she thought they were together. She likes Sean just fine, but she's got a real weak spot for Ash. I have a protective streak about them both, but I was a little puzzled why she seemed kind of squishy about Ash.
Flash forward a few days and we were sitting on the couch in her living room, pretending to watch a movie. Her dad was in the garage working on something and her mom had taken Caleb to a birthday party. I'd taken her previous question, about whether I'd ever consider doing anything with a guy, to Robin. He echoed the same conclusion that I'd come to, which was to be honest and let things fall where they would. With my advice from Rob filling my mind and my body twitching with anxiety, I started up the first big, important conversation of our dating relationship. A conversation that might say a lot about us as people and as a couple. So no pressure.
Clearing my throat I said, “So. Do I have anything to worry about with you fantasizing about Ash and Sean making out?”
She lazily stroked the back of my hand. “About as much as I have to worry about you watching porn.”
I chuckled and she laughed, her body shaking against mine.
“I do have to say, though,” she continued, a mischievous gleam in her eye. “With as closely as you and Sean resemble each other, it's almost like watching you kiss Ash.” Infusing her voice with a little sing-song she said, “Kinda hot.”
A little heat entered my cheeks, but since I was headed in this direction to begin with, I just rolled with it. “Well, I did kiss Ash. Um, before he and Sean got together.”
She leaned away from me with a look of surprise. “No way! Really?” She paused with her gaze studying my face. “You know, I thought you'd be a little too 'guy' to ever do that. I mean, when I asked you about that a few weeks ago you looked kind of scared.”
“Scared? Me? Pft!” I waved a hand at her. “I'm not scared of anything!”
She narrowed her eyes and shifted around on the couch to face me. “Tell me about kissing Ash. How did that even happen?”
“Okay, maybe one thing,” I quipped. Then, sighing a sigh, I said, “Well, the long version is that he, Asher, always had a thing for Sean. I guess we look enough alike that he thought I looked good, but I think Sean's personality kind of completes the package for Ash.”
“He doesn't like your faux confidence?” she asked, tweaking my pride.
“He was just worried he wasn't man enough for me,” I said with a snicker.
“Right, I'm sure that was it. You're so...virile,” she said and laughed. I poked her in her sides and she squirmed and laughed some more. I pulled her back toward me and wanted to kiss her, but she was still giggling.
“So wait, wait,” she said, gasping. She held a hand up and wiggled around again to look at me. “Are you being serious? You and Ash made out?”
“Tongue and all,” I confirmed. It felt kind of liberating to say it. Frightening but liberating. Yeah, I'm going to stick with liberating; way more manly.
“So...did you like it?”
I cleared my throat and did my best not to look away. “Uh, yeah. I did.”
“Jamie...are you coming out to me?” she asked, her voice a little odd. I wanted to laugh, sort of. I mean, I was scared to tell her about my experience with Ash because I wasn't sure what her reaction would be. It's one thing to embrace people for who they are when they are abstract, like a group you don't even know. It can be another thing completely when it hits home with you. Like, your boyfriend kissing a guy may sound hot in theory, but a little different when you find out he did that and more. I guess it could make you question how he might feel about you, how attracted he really is. A whole lot of deep questions might now occur to her.
“Coming out? Like, as gay? No,” I said with a little smile. “I definitely like the ladies.” She frowned. “Um, a lady. You,” I amended quickly.
Her gaze roamed over my face, studying me. I guessed she was trying to figure out if I was hiding something or being truthful. She really was more complex and intelligent than any girl I'd dated, though, so I decided that this was the moment to bite the bullet. This was the point to come clean and make myself vulnerable and hope that she'd accept me as I was.
“Yeah, um, I was kind of on the fence to say anything to you because...because I, um, like you so much. But,” I sighed and smiled weakly at her, “in the end I just wanted to be honest. So when you asked me if I'd ever consider doing anything with a guy...the answer is yes.”
“Wow,” she said, her voice full of...wonder? Her gaze was locked on mine, her eyes making micro-adjustments as she studied my eyes. “I'd never...I didn't think it was such a big deal. To ask that, I mean. I figured you'd say something silly and blow it off but this is really important to you, isn't it?”
I cleared my throat. “No, no big deal. It's just my girlfriend and her feelings to consider. Why should that bother me?” I stuck my tongue out at her and she chuckled.
“Wow, though. You kissed Ash? Made out? And you liked it but you're not gay? Are you, I don't know, are you bi, then?” she asked, her nose crumpling in thought. “Wait. Did you think I'd be mad or something?”
“I thought you'd get horny,” I replied and she smacked my arm. I chuckled and said, “Actually, I really didn't know how you'd feel. I was talking to my brother and I was telling him how folks can be fine with stuff until it happens to them. I mean, it's different if I tell you my brother is gay versus you finding out your boyfriend kissed a guy, right?”
She twisted her mouth around, lips scrunched. “Yeah, I guess I can see that. I'd be...” She trailed off into thought, her eyes going out of focus. Her mouth moved slightly and I assumed she was either thinking or choosing words. Perhaps both. When she spoke again, her tone was softer and her gaze returned to mine. “I never thought you'd even consider kissing a guy, to be totally honest. I...I'd be pretty upset if you were gay. After a few months dating I thought I had a pretty good handle on who you were.”
“You want to get a handle on me? Well, if you insist,” I said, reaching for my belt buckle.
“Hah, dream on,” she said with a snort and smiled at me. I returned her smile and relaxed back into the couch. She tilted her head to the side a bit and continued, “I mean I thought I had you figured out. I figured you for a decent guy who still did dumb-guy stuff and tried to be more macho than he had to be for who knows what reason? I'm sort of glad in a way that I don't have you completely figured, because that's sort of boring. I don't like nasty surprises, but I do kind of like mysteries and exploring things.
“I also like that, somewhere in that testosterone-storage device that sits on your shoulders, you thought about how I'd feel. Not bad, Kirkwood, not bad.”
I took the semi-compliment and asked, “So it doesn't bother you that I kissed Ash?”
“No,” she said and then smiled. “Personally, I wouldn't mind kissing a girl, I don't think. I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about it but I don't think it'd really bother me. I do want to know how that all happened between you and Ash, though.”
“Um, okay,” I said and broke out in a light sweat. I was nervous again because I was about to relate kissing Ash, sure, but it hadn't ended there. So it would be a new level of—to use her term—mystery. Plus there was the fact that I liked it and, if I were single, would do it again. I just didn't think it was my kind of thing, long term. It brought to mind when Hamster had made a joke, that one time I'd taken Phillip to Homecoming, that my parents would never have any natural grandchildren, but that wasn't me. Not really.
“What are you nervous about?” she asked with a chuckle and then looked away as her dad came in from the garage.
“Hey you two,” he said and paused in the doorway. “What's going on?”
“Just talking instead of watching whatever lame move Jamie picked out,” she replied. I poked her in the ribs and she laughed.
Her dad looked at me with a put-upon expression. “She has her mother's taste in movies.”
I chuckled while Emily objected. She and her dad bantered for a moment before he said he needed a beer and departed. We heard him in the kitchen, the fridge opening and the pop-hiss that goes with a bottle top being removed. Moments later he passed through again and then was back in the garage.
“So. Tell me every sweaty detail about you and Ash. When did this happen, anyway?”
“Uh, beginning of last summer, I think,” I said and scrunching my eyes as if I was thinking hard.
“Asher is so sweet,” she said and then her face grew more solemn. “I couldn't watch that video. I heard about it when the news was all over the school and I was so....” she shook her head and then shuddered. “It was so heartless and disgusting for that Mullins asshole to...to rape him, but who films something like that? I'm almost not sure which is worse,” she said softly, yet with steel in her voice. “I can remember people picking on Ash in middle school because of his clothes, because he got free lunch, because there's no hope for humanity....” She sighed and dropped her head a little and then glanced toward me. “I had no room to talk because I said a few crappy things to him, too. But when I heard about that video...all I could do for I don't know how many nights was think about how low he must feel and how whatever I'd done or not done had contributed to that.
She looked at me with eyes wet with unshed tears. “Ever since I got to know him a bit...well, I'm really glad he's happy, now. He deserves it. I'm still pretty ashamed for the things I remember saying, but he seems like he's in a good place now.”
I nodded slowly and slid my arm around her shoulders. She leaned into me a bit and pulled her legs up beside her.
“I used to think Ash was a black hat,” I said, beginning my sorry tale. “I guess I never really noticed the clothes or anything else. Or maybe I did and I just don't remember...or want to. But he hung out with Mullins so I thought he was, you know, like Mullins.
“But one day he walks right up to Sean in a GSA meeting and tells him he thinks Sean's cute. That took balls.” I paused and cleared my throat. “I was still thinking of him as one of Mullins' crew, though, and I ran him off. Sean was pretty unhappy with me about that whole situation and he kind of told me off about being judgy. He did some digging and found Asher's house and went over so he could apologize for me.”
“Why was he apologizing for you? You can apologize for yourself,” she said.
“Yeah,” I replied, flashing her a smile and shrugged. “I don't remember why, honestly. I probably didn't think I needed to apologize since I thought I understood the situation. Bottom line, though, it was important to Sean so he did it. Anyway, that was the morning after that video...was recorded. Um, I guess Sean...when he got there, Ed Mullins was having some kind of fight or something with Ash. Ed tried to grab Sean or something. Asher drove Ed off with a baseball bat; clipped him one right in the knee, Sean said.”
“Asher? He hit someone? He hit Edward?” she said, her voice in awe. “Go, Ash!”
“Yep,” I said with a nod. “He told Sean to run and he stood there and faced Ed Mullins down. I can remember, when Sean told me that, wondering if I'd been wrong about Ash. Then...some bad shit happened,” I said. In truth Sean's mom had died about then and I'd gotten worried when I couldn't find him. A few guys from the team had helped to look and we'd stumbled on Sean and Asher—and the group of Mullins's flunkies who were looking to obliterate Ash. “Um, but Sean and I, along with a few guys from the team, we had that big fight in the third floor bathroom.”
“I heard about that!” she exclaimed, turning to face me a bit. “Did you hit Mullins? What did it feel like to mash his face in?”
“Whoa! Dial down the blood lust and just keep, you know, the lust,” I said with a snicker. She hit me and laughed.
“Okay, so what does all this have to do with you and Ash hooking up?”
Did she have to use that term? “I'm just trying to give you some context, a back story, you know? It's not like I just jumped in bed with the guy.”
“You went to bed with Ash?” she asked, her eyes going wide and letting out a small gasp.
“That's all you heard? Ugh,” I grunted with a shake of my head. The corners of her mouth turned up and she nodded at me to continue. “Well, after that fight...well, Ash has always had a thing for Sean, like I said. All he'd really wanted, back then, was to hold Sean's hand. So, Sean let him.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I grumbled. “Anyway, fast forward a little. Ash has been palling around with us for a while. He's living with the Ellises and he's dressing nicer, his complexion cleared up and Sean and I noticed...he was kind of good looking. You know?”
“Yes. He walks with some confidence, now. He's almost like a different person and he's definitely cute all cleaned up.” She paused. “Wow, that sounded shallow.”
“Anyway,” I said, slipping into the memory. “I woke up one morning with the house to myself. Robin had gone with the Kutsenkos on vacation. Um, my folks took Sean to visit his mom's grave. I'd have gone but...Sean needed time, still, with my folks. Things were still kind of new for him. So I went down to play some video games and Ash showed up.
I glanced at her, face rapt with attention. “I could tell he was a little disappointed that Sean wasn't there. So I teased him about that, a little.” I smiled at the memory, “We used to tease him all the time about how he liked Sean. He was a good sport and I think he knew we didn't mean anything. But I guess it was kind of mean, in a way.”
“Yeah. What then?”
“Um.” I cleared my throat. “We were talking about who he might be interested in outside of Sean and me. I was offering to help him ask someone out.”
“How'd that go?”
“He said no,” I replied with a frown. “I'm so studly and pretty, though, I figured he was afraid whoever we wanted to ask out would want me instead. I understood,” I said with a feigned air of arrogance. She laughed loudly and I put a injured look on my face. She just laughed some more.
“Anyway,” I grumbled. “I kind of wanted to know why he liked Sean so much and not me, since we looked nearly alike. Or close enough, you know?”
“Yeah. Kind of weird, though. Why would you care?”
“Well, 'cause people always ask me about Sean. Girls, I mean. I always had to ask girls out. They didn't come looking like they did for Sean, so I figured maybe Ash would be honest with me.”
She tilted her head to the side and smiled. “And was he?”
“Yeah.” I nodded and flickered a smile at her. “Then I, uh, insulted him again and we wrestled...and we got hard,” I said, blushing. “Then we, um, kissed. A lot.”
“Wow,” she said and shook her head. “That's—did you like it? Wait, I asked that! Was he a good kisser?”
I blushed harder and nodded. “Yeah. I mean, you know I held up my end,” I said, nodding sagely at her. She rolled her hand in a 'go-on' gesture. “It was different, but I really did...like it. With him.”
“Just...wow. So, do you think you're bi, then?”
“Not...really,” I said, my words sounding more like a question than a statement.
She shook her head quickly and laughed. “I'm sorry, I don't know why I'm so concerned! You already said you're not gay, you and I are together and what else really matters? Sorry!” She paused and then said, “Actually, I'm not concerned. I'm really, really curious though.”
I smiled, though I continued to blush. “I appreciate that. I..um, I wonder about things a little, sometimes. I mean, Robin told me about this Kinsey scale thing? And I guess the best I can say is I'm not totally straight. But, see...look.” I licked my lips and turned to face her. “I've been really worried about talking about some of my past because I don't know how it's going to make you feel. But...” I took her hand in mine and squeezed slightly. “You're really important to me. More important than any girl I dated before. So, I want this to be a real relationship. I want to be honest.”
“Okay, now I'm feeling kind of worried. But,” she said with a deep breath, “Why don't you just blurt it out and we'll...work though whatever this is.”
Nerves flared in my chest and I took a couple of deep breaths to steady myself. I knew, rationally, I wasn't ashamed of anything Asher and I had done. I loved Ash and he loved me and not in a romantic way. I was ashamed about the Hoover, but a mistake is a mistake. I just hoped being honest wasn't going to cost me Emily. I really hope not.
“I've had two blow jobs and given one,” I blurted and then cringed inwardly. Outside I'm sure I was the picture of being calm and cool.
“Um, wow. Okay, then. Uh, please breathe. You look like you're going to stroke out or something.”
I squeaked, which is pretty undignified. I needed a good way to get my balance here. I grinned. “You said stroke.” Oh, man. Just shoot me.
She frowned lightly and then smiled a touch. Probably in relief that I wasn't, in fact, having a stroke on her couch. “Okay, so...who did these blow jobs come from and who did...was it Asher? Seriously?”
I flashed what I'm sure was a sickly smile. “My first one was the, um, the Hoover. Ash was the second,” I confirmed. “It was kind of a mutual...thing—why are you laughing?”
Her mouth was covered and she was shaking and waving another hand around like she was hot or something. Her face was red and, damn it, this wasn't funny!
“I'm sorry,” she squeaked out, took a breath and then burst out laughing. What. The. Hell?
“Why are you laughing?” I demanded. “Your boyfriend just told you he's gotten blown by another girl and exchanged, uh, 'them' with a guy. Why is that funny?” I demanded, completely forgetting to be embarrassed.
“I'm...I'm,” she gasped and covered her mouth with two hands. Of all the ways I pictured this going, this wasn't one of them. She wiped her eyes and worked to school herself back to normal while I fumed silently.
“Okay, sorry, sorry,” she said with a tiny giggle and a wave of her hand. “Um, I'd heard about the Hoover and her list of, um, conquests? Just, don't do it again, right? Everyone makes mistakes?”
“I get the Hoover as a mistake just like you got Greg...what was his name?” I asked, naming the guy who'd been a dick to her when she'd tricked me into sitting for Caleb while she went on a date.
“At least I didn't have sex with Greg Becket,” she said, jutting her chin out and a challenge dancing merrily in her eyes.
“So, if he'd only wanted to give you oral, you'd have passed that up?” I asked her skeptically.
She tilted her head forward and looked at me with a look that questioned my level of intelligence. “What is it about guys?” she asked and shook her head. “Every guy I know can't pass up the idea of a blow job, but you look totally amazed that I could want something better? I mean, Greg Becket? Really? He'd acted like a dick all night and I didn't even like him anymore, much less was I attracted. It would have been like...I don't know, offering to let one of the Mullinses in my pants.
“So no, I wouldn't have let him. I don't care about him. Do you understand?”
I winced. “Yeah, I actually do.”
She paused. “You do? How?”
I swallowed, forgetting my sudden burst of indignation. “Well, I felt pretty ashamed after the Hoover. I didn't feel like I thought I would afterward. But then, with Ash, it felt like it was everything it was supposed to feel like. That kind of messed me up a bit.” I brought my gaze to her face which was filled with interest. “It kind of tore me up as to why that was. But...in the end I figured it out. I didn't love the Hoover, didn't even care. I do love Ash. He's a great friend—and I totally mean that. He remembers what you say, your birthday, other things that may not even be important but...he puts in the work to show you who he is, you know what I mean?
“Once I had that settled in my head, I felt clear about things and could go ahead and ask you out for real.”
“Hold on. I asked you out when you got back from football camp!”
“I know!” I said. “But while I was at camp I came up with this big plan—set Boomer up with Ash and ask you out. Everything would have been great!”
“So, wait. It's not great that I asked you out instead of waiting?” she said, frowning.
“Oh, no! No, that was amazing!” I said with a smile. “That was the best thing, actually.”
“Oh. Okay, then what do you mean?”
“I mean once I understood why things were better with Ash I felt like I could move ahead. I wasn't gay, but it was all okay because I did love Ash. What...we did was way better because of that. I realized that loving someone before you do something like sex is really important.” I shrugged slowly, “I just felt like I understood myself better.”
“Wow,” she said and slumped into the couch and shook her head.
I was awakened from the memory by the small electronic noise the console made as it shut down after too much inactivity. I glanced down at the controller and decided I wasn't really in the mood to play after all and put the controller away and shut the TV off. I headed up the kitchen and made myself a sandwich and reflected that the conversation with Emily had gone well, that day. She walked the walk and things had been better than ever.
Of course, that was until Robin played his little revenge trick on me and sent her all those pictures of me kissing other guys. He even had one of me and Sean kissing, which was really, really weird. I had to chuckle thinking how much Ash would have liked that picture, but shook it from my mind.
I'd been ready to have some form of sex with Emily for a while. Not only was she totally my type, physically, but she was smart, kind and didn't take any of my shit. That big talk had solidified it and when she texted me about coming over and telling me she was alone, I followed my dick out the door and over to her house. It hadn't gone like I'd planned, though. I was floored by what she actually looked like without clothes and I might have spent more time than I should have trying to look, but we got down to business pretty fast.
That was the problem, though, and it had left me with a new crisis of...who I was. I really hadn't enjoyed giving her oral, mostly because of the smell. I didn't even know they could smell like that, despite all the jokes I'd heard about dead fish and all that. I mean, it wasn't that bad, but it wasn't like fresh rain or warm laundry either. I was really unhappily confused, because I expected to enjoy it; in fact I was kind of supposed to was my thought.
Robin and Lu tried to tell me it was okay, but it really didn't feel okay. I mean, they were probably right, and I know they wouldn't lie to me about something like this, but it just didn't sit well with me. Then, of course, I'd gone back over that evening before I lost my nerve and tried to talk to Em about it and...it didn't go well. I put her in tears and felt like a total douche even though I was trying to talk about stuff and work through it. I guess some things are better left unsaid.
After cleaning up from my sandwich I headed up to my room. I was thinking about changing into something lighter and poking around to see if there were any basketball games or something going on so I could blow off some steam—maybe just go for a run if nothing else. I was about to text Scott to see if he was around when I heard the front door open and close.
“Anyone home?” I heard Sean call out.
“Up here,” I hollered and started digging in my drawers for clothes.
“Hey,” Sean said by way of greeting and dropped back onto his bed. “What's up?”
“Nothing, really,” I said. “Just thinking about going out to waste some time. You?” I asked as I looked over at him.
He was stretched out and had crossed his legs at the ankle and placed his hands behind his head in an exaggerated expression of relaxation. I pulled up the corner of my mouth and chuckled at him.
“You got laid last night, huh? Nice,” I said and put a hand up for him to high five.
“Nope. Didn't,” he said with a grin.
I put my hand down, feeling a little foolish to leave in hanging in the air. “Then why are you so happy?”
He shrugged and smiled. “Ash made me cookies and called me the best boyfriend ever?”
“Oh really?” I said, my tone skeptical. Sean had definitely made his relationship with Ash stressful.
“Yep.” Sean sat up and shrugged again. “I don't believe that I am, but I like that he thinks so. I'm just glad he's happy.”
“Oh, man,” I said with a shake of my head. “You're going to go all chick flick on me, aren't you?”
“Nope,” he said with a grin. “Besides, you'd love it if I did. You love chick flicks.”
“No,” I said in a completely unconvincing tone.
“If you don't have anything nice to say...?” he said and wiggled his eyebrows. I groaned and then chuckled.
“Come sit by me,” I said, completing the quote. “Fine! I like my chick flick moments on the TV, though, not in my bedroom!” I told him sternly. He just laughed at me. Sometimes having someone that knows you so well kind of stinks. It's a good thing I love the jerk.
“Well, that's good, or you'd get them all the time with Ash.” He sighed and the corner of his mouth tugged up into a smile. “We're finally back into a good place, like, totally.”
“That's awesome,” I said sincerely. “I was afraid if you guys didn't work out, Ash would circle back around to me. I'm not sure I can keep a guy and a girl happy at once!”
“Oh, hah!” he replied with a barking laugh. “I think you're safe, for now.”
I sat on my bed and frowned at Sean. “Hey, not because I'm fishing for details or anything, but I thought the whole reason you were staying over was sex?”
He colored slightly and admitted, “I did plan to bottom for him.”
“Saw the size of his dick and chickened out?” I teased.
“No!” he said, coloring more and flipping me off. “His bedroom isn't right next to Scott's anymore. They moved him to the spare bedroom, which is nice because it's a little bigger and has that nice window in it, but...you have to sneak by his folks bedroom to get to the living room where I was sleeping.”
“You got put on the couch? Oh, man!” I burst out laughing and he chuckled, shaking his head. “Think Mrs. Ellis knew the score?”
“Oh, I was so embarrassed, but she totally did! She kept dropping all these not so subtle hints about how there would be no sex for anyone that night!” He laughed, his face flushed red and I joined him.
“Oh, man,” I said as I wiped tears from my eyes. “I needed that. So, wait though. I know you thought you were supposed to fix something with you guys by bottoming. What about that?”
He shrugged. “Ash seemed happy I was ready to go through with it and...we're good. I'm still nervous about bottoming but...it'll happen. I think just being willing and in the right...doing it for the right reasons has really helped. It's the attitude, not the sex itself you know? It'll happen, though. I want it to happen.”
I nodded my head and we lapsed into silence. It didn't last long as I felt the need to burn off the nervous energy I was still feeling and in no mood to get into a deeper discussion about my brother's sex life. I stood to resume digging out stuff to exercise in when the sound of Sean chuckling caught my attention. I turned to look at him with a quizzical look on my face.
“But I am going to kill Robin for sending that photo-shopped picture of you and me kissing to Ash.” He shook his head, “I agreed to help tweak your nose a little, not for him to wind Ash up.”
“Christ,” I said and flopped on my own bed. “Now that he's got that he'll want a porno. Well, you're bottoming and I'm getting paid!”
He laughed and threw a pillow at me which I returned. “You're not getting anywhere near my ass!”
“Amen to that,” I said with a snicker.
“So why aren't you over at Emily's sucking on her face?” he asked idly.
I winced. “Um, she'd kind of pissed at me right now.”
“She is? Why?”
So, I told him. I didn't leave out anything. I hadn't told him about my issue yesterday because I didn't want to ask him for anything while he and Ash were still trying to put their own relationship back together. But today...I just laid it all out for him. I won't lie, it felt good to tell him. Having Rob and Lu to talk to is important because they know shit I don't and they don't hold back; they are totally there for me. But Sean is mine. He understands me in a way my other brothers don't. I guess, too, I'm his because I'd do anything for him. I was always surprised at how much I loved him whenever I happened to think of it.
“Wow,” he said with a shake of his head.
“Anything like that happen to you?” I asked. “Like, anything went kind of wrong with you and Ash or you and...anyone?”
He blew out a breath and leaned back. “When I screwed that skank last winter...I wasn't really being romantic or anything. And, to be honest, she wasn't looking for feelings. We just hooked up and then I crashed and burned,” he said, referring to him cheating on Ash last November and his subsequent breakdown.
“So no nasty smells, huh?” I asked glumly.
“No. Ash is pretty clean, you know? We've talked about a ton of stuff and some things just sound too weird to do—like rimming. It just sounds gross.”
“That's interesting,” I said, a sly smile settling on my face. “I mean, you kiss him and he's sucked your dick and your dick has been in his ass. So, you've kind of—”
“Fuck you, Jamie,” he said with a wide grin. “Fuck you sideways with a two by four.”
“I'm just saying,” I said with a shrug and a wide grin.
His expression sobered and he asked, “So what are you going to do?”
I blew out a long breath. “I'm not sure how to fix it. I mean, I want to. I love her. But I sure screwed up that little heart to heart.”
“Well,” Sean replied, stretching the word out. “I'm not sure there is any real polite, respectful way to discuss the smell from someone's vagina.”
We locked gaze and then just burst out laughing. I mean, gut busting, uncontrollable, soul cleansing laughter.
“You...you're a dick!” I said through my laughter and he simply nodded, tears running down his face. It took a minute or three, but we got ourselves back under control. I stood back up and found a shirt and shorts and got changed. Sean told me Scott, Ash and their parents were going to have lunch with Mrs. Ellis's parents so I moved on to texting Boomer. Ever since he'd broken up with Philip he'd had a lot more free time on his hands.
“Boomer says he'll meet us over at the park. Want to go throw the football around or play basketball or something?”
“Sure,” he said with a nod and got changed. After he made a couple of sandwiches for himself to eat on the way we headed out. The park was pretty close by so we just walked rather than digging our bikes out. The spring weather was beautiful, with the air carrying the scents of early blooming flowers, damp earth and fresh growth. The day wasn't overly warm, but compared to the winter weather it was practically tropical.
The park was full of people out and enjoying the weather. The tennis courts, the ones without standing water, were being used, and a group was playing full-court basketball. There was a large group of guys milling about on a large grassy area where we'd usually have pick up football or baseball games.
“Hey, guys,” Boomer said, his southern accent giving his words an interesting sound that I was the tiniest bit jealous about. Not that I'd ever tell him. Guy's got a healthy enough ego as it is.
“Hey, Boomer,” I said and we bumped fists. He and Sean nodded at each other, Sean stuffing the last of his sandwich in his mouth.
“Sean,” Boomer said with a nod and a snicker. “Always nice to see you with your mouth full.”
Sean's shoulders dropped and his head tilted to one side. He grunted a 'ha-ha' before flipping Boomer off and continuing to chew.
“You guys going to the funeral tomorrow?” Boomer asked.
“Yeah,” I answered for Sean and me. “We'd go just because it's the family, but Nate's been over to the house a bunch of times since his mom started getting sicker. Devyn won't let him sit by himself too much, you know?” I tapped my head. “I think Nate starts getting into dark places if he's alone.”
“I know damn well I would,” Boomer replied.
“It...it's a hard thing,” Sean said quietly. “I know what that feels like.”
Boomer nodded in understanding and patted Sean on the shoulder. “Well, I hear Nate's sitting on the fence. Maybe you and your boyfriend can go push him over and make him feel better for a while?”
“You're a dick, Boomer,” Sean replied, deadpan. We all laughed and then Sean continued, complaining, “Jamie sucked dick before, why don't you tell him shit like that?”
“Sean, I told you,” Boomer said in a patient tone. “Jamie's the one starting those rumors. I'd never let him near my dick!”
“I think you protest too much, Sterling,” I said, switching over to his given name. “You'd pay to get with me. Everyone knows it.”
He shook his head slowly with a smile playing about his lips. “I won't be a notch on your bedpost, Mr. Kirkwood,” he said seriously. “Besides, I recognize the difference between someone who talks big and,” he said, smiling and directing his gaze to Sean, “someone with a reputation for satisfaction.”
We all burst out laughing with finger pointing and plenty of accusations and other nonsense. Boomer always put me a in a good mood and he enjoyed tweaking the both of us. I felt bad for him things hadn't worked out well with Philip, long term, but that's the nature of things I guess.
Boomer placed a hand on Sean's shoulder and, with a level of solemnity directly in contrast with our talk moments before he said, “I'm sorry about your mom. I can't imagine.”
Sean nodded his head, cleared his throat and thanked him.
“So, things any better with Philip?” I asked.
Boomer looked at me and shook his head. “I've never met someone so insecure. He was always a little...shy? But that's changed into something with horns, man. I think I'll always like Philip. He's damn cute and he's a decent guy, but his past really gets in the way of his future,” he said with a grimace. “I can understand not wanting to repeat mistakes you've made. But he's really gone overboard.”
I glanced at Sean and, with a gleam in my eye, looked at Boomer and said, “You know, Phillip said some interesting things about Sean and me a few times.”
Boomer crossed his arms and the corners of his lips twitched. “That's all it took to get you to prom? A few more frilly words and he would have had your dress up and your shallow ass counting ceiling tiles!”
“With Philip? Um, no,” I said amid the laughter, but it was no use. He'd gotten me.
We moved to a nearby set of bleachers and sat down. “So, did Philip even give you a little before you started eye-fucking someone else?” Sean asked.
“Eye-fucking? Is that even a real thing?” Boomer asked.
“Hell if I know,” Sean said with a shrug. “That's just what I heard. You know, around.”
“Uh huh,” I said and snickered before turning toward Boomer. “Denise Gutierrez was eye-fucking Sean in health class last week.”
“Shut up!” Sean said with a laugh and pushed me.
“Aw, were you crying it wasn't you?” Boomer teased.
“Nah,” I said smoothly. “I heard she wants you real bad, though. It's understandable I get a little jealous of my near twin, but of you? Please!”
Boomer just rolled his eyes. “Look, not that you'd understand,” he said in a condescending tone. “But just because you date someone doesn't mean you don't realize there are other, good looking people.”
“Right,” I said and looked toward Sean. “You just don't eye-fuck them in front of the person you're dating.”
“I wasn't—ugh!” Boomer threw his hands up and let out a little laugh. “Okay, so Philip and I were over at Perks, right? Chillin' with a cup, just talking about stuff, you know? Movies coming up, things we might do come summer.”
“Like each other?” I quipped.
“Don't let your jealousy show, Jamie,” he replied. “So anyway, a few guys come in—that redheaded Whitmore kid, his cousin and some kid I think is named Jake? That ring any bells in the group for you?”
I shrugged. “Logan—the other Whitmore— and, um, Grayson...something had a thing going on with Seth McAllister. Seth's been in his own orbit for awhile, I don't really talk to him much.”
“Really?” Boomer asked, his ears perking up.
Ignoring him Sean jumped in. “Jake came over to the house a few times. He's nice. I heard he's been spending a lot of time with a new kid...Jim? Joe...Jon. Jon Ell...something. I forget,” Sean said. “Anyway, Jake's hanging out with this Jon guy. What about them being at Perks?”
“Well, it's a group of decent looking guys, you know? They all offer something a little different. I looked 'em over—”
“Eye fucked them,” I said.
“And Philip got all pissy,” Boomer said while giving me the evil eye.
“Must have been some look,” Sean said.
“Not really,” Boomer replied. “Just a normal...noticing another guy is around sort of thing. Philip turned to see and then got all huffy and asking which one I was picking out to replace him and all that. And I was like, 'we're dating, Phillip, not dead'. That just made him angrier and he started in about loyalty and—for the love of...all I did was look at them. I didn't stare, didn't ogle or drool. I looked over, saw a few interesting guys and before I could turn back, Philip was freaking out.”
Boomer shook his head. “It's been building for a while. He told me little bits and pieces about things he did before and how he was trying to not be that guy. I'm all for self-improvement, but that's just nuts.”
A group of people started throwing a football around and I tilted my head toward them in silent question. We left off our relationship discussion and joined the other group and soon we had a game going. For an hour or more I just lost myself in the game, the competition and laughing with my brother and my friend. After we'd been playing for a while, I caught a pass for a touchdown and I noticed a large, familiar figure standing by a tree and watching us play.
Andy Costello, Averi's big brother, has Downs Syndrome and is probably the biggest football fan on the planet. He watched not just our games but every practice no matter the weather. My friend—Sean's boyfriend Asher—was the team manager and took care of water, among other things. He'd also taken to making sure Andy kept hydrated on those blistering summer days when he'd watch us for hours. I sometimes wondered if it was enough for him just to watch or if he ever went home and dreamed of playing, since he'd likely not been allowed or asked to when younger.
I was suddenly reminded of a video I'd seen online. It was filmed off in this small town somewhere. It was about a middle school team who'd arranged it so that their team water boy scored a touchdown. The catch had been that the water boy was, I think, a lot like Andy in that he had Downs or something similar. I vividly recalled one of the kids crying and saying how he'd never just done something for someone else and the joy it had brought to the Downs kid was pretty...well, someone was cutting onions nearby.
Seized with the idea, I brought it up to the group. By and large they were okay with it. Their reasoning was that the game was nearly over, anyway, so why not do it for the last play? I trotted over to Andy, who smiled at me as I approached.
“Gotta stay in shape, right? Lots of hustle. I bet you guys go all the way this year!” he said with a lop-sided grin and a lot of enthusiasm.
“Thanks, Andy,” I replied. “Hey, listen, we're one guy short and we wanted to run this play—I think it will totally fool them. Do you think you could join my team?”
His eyes grew wide and he put an hand on his chest. “You want me to play? A secret play? What is it?”
“Well,” I said, turning toward the players and beginning to walk with him. “We've been throwing the football all afternoon. But, you see Andy, we're tied up right now and it's the last play. I figure they are expecting us to throw the ball again, right? But if we run the ball with a guy like you then I bet we win.”
“You want me to run it in for a touchdown?” he asked excitedly and loudly enough that, had it actually been a trick play, the entire park would have known about it.
Andy's enthusiasm was infectious. We lined up and the ball was hiked. The guys did kind of a lame job of pretending to block and missing tackles but it made no difference to Andy as he squealed in delight as he dodged and ran for the space we'd designated as an end zone. He held his hands up in triumph and spiked the ball and laughed, an odd sound that was sort of half laugh, half hiccup.
“Nice work,” Sean said and patted my shoulder. “I'm going to head home and shower. See you there?”
“Yeah,” I replied and nodded as he turned to leave. The crowd broke up and Andy walked toward his home, excitedly talking to himself about his game winning run. A smile touched my lips and I swore I smelled raw onions somewhere.
“Damn, Kirkwood. That was something,” Boomer said with an impressed tone as he appeared at my side.
“Yeah,” I agreed in satisfaction. We walked slowly, pausing by a large oak at the edge of the park where we'd part ways for our homes.
“So...how's things with your girl?” he asked.
I sighed and told him that she wasn't speaking to me at the moment.
“Did you break up?”
“I don't even know, Dude. She's just—”
The rest of my sentence was cut off as Boomer pushed me, not all that gently, up against the oak and as I began to growl a protest and question what his problem was, he kissed me. It wasn't just a simple kiss, either. It was like an oral assault—aggressive and consuming. I felt like I was being conquered. A small part of me sort of liked it, but a much larger part was wondering just what the hell was going on. Eventually my brain matched up ideas with my body and I pushed Boomer backward.
“Dude! What are you doing?” I asked and ran a hand over my mouth.
Boomer looked back at me, his eyes a little glassy. He glanced around to be sure his words wouldn't be overheard before he fixed his gaze on me.
“I've been trying to figure you out since we met. You seem to do instead of think even though you're not stupid. You're brash and act full of yourself, even though I know you don't really think your shit doesn't stink. Sometimes though, Jamie,” he said with a grimace, “you act so...vapid that it makes me wonder about the rest of you that I think is there. The rest of you, by the way, that made me accept you as a friend and lobby my folks to move to your school.
“What you did for Andy just now? That fills me up with a kind of hope. Not for you or me. For everyone. It also reminds me of who I thought you were, under all that talk and...I just had to express it.”
“How 'bout you express it with a blow job next time?” I growled, but then started to snicker. He smiled at me.
“Sorry, I guess.” He paused and shook his head. “Nah. I mean, sure, I should have asked and I'm sorry for that. But...hey, if an act like that doesn't deserve some kind of...uh...”
I coughed. “Um, Emily and I...I'm trying to work that out, Sterling,” I said softly. “I'm not going to look for anything else until that's over.”
“No. I mean, yeah,” he said with a wave of his hand. “I wasn't asking anything like that. Or saying. I just..” He looked away and I sighed inwardly.
“It's okay, man. I love you, too.”
He looked back at me with surprise in his eyes. “You do?”
“Sure. 'Friend' isn't something I say lightly. I used to, before I understood what it meant and what friends mean to me. I have no problem telling you I love you. I'm just...I'm dating right now. No more kisses, if you can resist all this.” I waved a hand down at my body and grinned. “I know it'll be hard. Oops!”
He blushed slightly and slugged me. “Dick. I'm not in love with you like that. I just think what you did was amazing. I love that part of you.”
“Which part now?”
“Such an asshole,” he said while shaking his head. I put my fist out and he bumped it, then we did the man hug thing and said goodnight. As I turned to leave, he grabbed my shoulder. I started to turn but he tightened his grip, clearly indicating he didn't want me to look at him.
“You know,” he said with a scratchy voice. “All your teasing is kind of cool, but it's also kind of cruel. I think I know who you really are, now and I do love you, Jamie. I'm going to leave it there. You can pretend you didn't hear me and I'm not going to bring it up again because our relationship means something to me. But right now, for one second I want you to hear me. I know you and I love you.”
I was stunned. His fingers squeezed my shoulder lightly and then he was gone, but I didn't dare turn to see him leave. Instead I was frozen, feeling guilt lash at me for all the careless flirtations I'd engaged in with Boomer. I'd been only joking with him, but had that turned into something more for him at some point? Clearly it had, I thought bitterly. Now I'd churned his emotions and there was no way I could forget what he'd said...the sincerity and the sheer...it was almost as if his words were strong enough to form into something physical.
I really, really needed to learn to think before I opened my mouth.
I reflected on the kiss on my walk home. While true, I didn't like he'd kind of forced the kiss on me, he'd apologized and I was over it. I wondered, though, about that little part of me that had enjoyed being dominated. It was totally unlike me. I wasn't really sure how I felt about that. Once home I got cleaned up and we had dinner. Sean told my folks what had happened with Andy and they heaped praise on me to the point of embarrassment. I kept the conversation with Boomer to myself, though, not even sharing that with Sean. I wasn't sure how I was going to manage that.
Later that night I tried to call and text Emily again, but ran into the same wall of silence. I stared at the ceiling in my bedroom and wondered why things had to be so complicated. Why couldn't things be as straightforward as the simple joy Andy had for his touchdown today? I was suddenly struck with the idea that, even though I was copying someone else's idea, that I'd enabled that joy for Andy. Could I do something like that again? Could I...was helping others a way to simplify my life?
I turned that over in my head. I was a reasonably popular guy and getting the others to go along with Andy's touchdown run hadn't been that hard. Is that how politics worked, I wondered?
“Hey.” Sean's voice startled me in the darkness of our bedroom.
“I hear rocks tumbling around in your head,” he snickered.
“Shut up,” I told him. Before he could ask what I was thinking of I continued, “Hey, what would you think if I ran for class president next year?”
“What for? You going to promise less homework and more school dances?”
“Well, no,” I replied a little petulantly. “What if I could get something better done? I'm not sure what, but, what would you think?”
“You have my vote,” he said and yawned.
Thoughts tumbled through my head and I couldn't grasp but the slimmest of ideas from them before they were gone. It was sort of like trying to cup water from a waterfall. My head was full of my tumbling emotions about Emily and the fear that my first honest to goodness romantic love was about to end. About Boomer suddenly laying one on me, his professed love and how I felt about that. About how Sean would probably have a better chance at winning an election because people just seemed to like him better or found it easier anyway.
“Stop,” he groaned.
“You're practically growling over there. Why do you care about student government when the election is about six months away? And I'm tired. And it's late.” Sean tossed around on his mattress and growled, “Maybe I should petition the old folks for Kale's old room. Then I could get some sleep.”
I snorted. “You just want to get laid.”
I was no good at this part of my life, trying to puzzle certain things out. I needed perspective. “Boomer kissed me,” I blurted.
I heard the rustle of his sheets as he sat up in his bed. “He kissed you? Why?”
“He, ah, got all emotional about Andy's touchdown.”
“Huh.” He paused and then asked, “Did you like it?”
“Sort of. It was kind of like being attacked. Under siege.” I wet my lips. “He apologized, though. He should have asked permission and not just thrown me up against a tree and stuck his tongue down into my pancreas.” I decided his confession was kind of secondary now.
Sean snorted with laughter. “What about Emily?”
“I...I love her. I'm scared I'm losing her. I'm...why do you think people like you easier than they do me? How come...fuck.” I let out a shuddering breath and wiped my eyes. I jumped when I felt Sean's hand on my shoulder, not having heard him cross the room, but I let myself be hauled up and held onto him for a minute. Just enough to get me steady.
“I don't know where all this is coming from,” Sean said, his breath passing my ear and giving me an involuntary shudder. “But I can tell you something I've learned. You should only care what people think if you care about them. I cared too much about what people I barely knew said about me and I let it eat at me until I almost threw away someone that loves me.
“There's a reason Emily went out with you. There's a reason a lot of girls go out with you. Doesn't mean it's the same reason.” He pulled back and cleared his throat. “I know sometimes you grumble when others tease you about me balancing you out, but you do that for me, too. We complement each others' personalities. It's what makes us real brothers. I don't care what other people think of you; I know you're great.”
My face had heated up as he'd spoken, but I bit back any silly comments. He deserved better than that. All I could manage was a weak, “Thanks.”
He cleared his throat. “So. Boomer?”
I chuckled lightly. “Nothing happening. Although,” I said, thinking I should get Sean's perspective, “he did kind of confess that he...I guess he kind of loves me.”
“Yeah, I can see that,” Sean replied. “If you were gay or bi, I think you guys would be a decent couple.”
“Sean do you think it's mean of me to flirt with him like I do? I mean, considering I know how he feels, now?”
He stayed silent for a moment, probably running down threads of logic and tying them into something that would make sense. “You know, I think part of the relationship you guys have is that teasing. I think if you suddenly pulled back it might send him mixed messages. In the end, I think you just have to ask him how you guys should both proceed so no one gets hurt.”
I nodded my head. That was reasonable and I might have come to that conclusion on my own, but it felt good to have Sean talk me through it.
“So...is Boomer a possibility for you? Anyone can see you care about him so....?”
“I want to work things out with Emily.” I left it at that, not knowing if a relationship with Boomer could ever really work out.
“Of course,” he replied. “I know you'll move heaven and earth to try. But if that doesn't happen?”
The thing I loved about talking to Sean was that I didn't have to really think about my answers. He understood me and I didn't have to plan everything out before I spoke to him.
“I love Boomer, man. But I don't look at him and want to sneak off and do wicked things with him. I mean,” I said with a cough, “I'm sure I could, but it wouldn't mean the same thing to me. Boomer deserves better than that. Actually, so do I.”
“No one night stands for you?” he asked with a yawn.
I yawned back in sympathetic response. “Well, let's just say it's not my plan. Emily is something different, though.”
“Well, after school I think you should just show up. If her folks send you away...you know, you're doing everything you can to make it right. She can't ask any more than that.”
“Maybe,” I said thoughtfully. My bed creaked as he stood and went back to his bed. “You really thinking about asking for Kale's old room?”
“Hm. Good memories. Lost my V in there. But,” he said with a snicker, “who'd be here for you, then?”
“Shut up. Dick.”
The funeral had left me aching for Nate. I could see all the loss etched on every feature of his face. It made me think of Sean and how he'd been when his mom had passed. I knew that the best way for me to help Nate would be to be there when he needed someone, but first it would be to send someone to him that truly understood. So, once we'd arrived at the reception after the funeral, I'd waited for the right moment. It came after about forty minutes. Nate had probably had all he could stand of people saying they were sorry and all of that so when he slipped out the back door, I sent Sean after him.
“He probably wants a minute to himself, Jamie,” Sean growled as I pushed on his lower back to propel him after Nate.
“None of us really get what he's going through,” I said reasonably. “I know I'd be scared as shit at the thought of losing my mom. He's actually going through it and you know what that is. Help him, Obi-Wan. You're his only hope.”
“You're a dork.” He stopped fighting, though, and set off uncertainly to help Nate. And I knew he would. I recognized it was something he was good at and I'd...delegated to him.
I turned my head and smiled. “Love machine.”
Boomer's face turned a little pink. “It was just a kiss. I know I apologized; are you going to make me sorry every time I see you?”
“Considering your tongue hit parts of my mouth that—”
“Oh, while you mention tongues, yours wasn't exactly holding still, pal.”
“I was trying to tell you to get off me!” I said, breaking down into a snicker. Our banter felt good and natural and, though it may need to happen at some point, that didn't need to change right now. It felt like we were still the same people now that we were face to face.
“Yeah. It sure didn't feel that way.” He paused and cleared his throat. “Um. So we're good?”
“Yep. I still love you.” I put a hand on his shoulder, a brief touch. I thought of saying something more, of asking him if our flirtatious banter was, in fact, cruel to him. Now wasn't the time, though, and we seemed to be good for the moment. “Oh, come here, I have someone I want you to meet.”
“Jamie, I've warned you about trying to set me up.”
“Shut up, come on,” I said with a snort and headed away from him and through the crowd. Alec looked different since he'd been gone for the school year. He was slightly more solid, yet you could still see the mischievous guy that he truly was. It was some sort of aura that sparkled around his eyes and the corners of his mouth, perpetually turned up in a smile.
“Jamie!” he greeted me.
“That's Jamie?” said a boy standing by him with a voice laced in doubt.
“Yep. Trust me, he's more trouble than he seems,” Alec said sotto voce.
“I learned from the master,” I replied, inclining my head to Alec. He laughed lightly and gave me a quick hug. “Where's Sasha?”
“Moving the car,” Alec said with a put upon tone. I quirked an eyebrow and the kid with him filled me in.
“Moron thinks it's okay to park by a fire hydrant. Sasha told him to move the car or he'd do it.”
“So, I let him!” Alec said with glee.
“He'll get you back,” the kid said with a shake of his head.
“Alec, I'd like you to meet my friend Boomer,” I said, turning to my friend who'd gone a lovely, lovely shade of pink. When I'd met Boomer at football camp eight or nine months ago he'd confided his hero worship of Alec and his legacy to our school football team. I'd promised to introduce him to his hero, but the timing had never really worked out. A reception after a funeral wasn't ideal, but I don't make the rules.
“Oh, I've heard of you!” Alec said with enthusiasm. “I heard you broke my record for tackles in a season. Nice to meet you.” Alec put his hand out and Boomer, seemingly unable to speak, shook his hand.
“So,” I said to the kid. “You must be Micah.”
Micah's eyes took me in mistrustfully. “Yeah.”
“Come on, let's let Boomer swoon over Alec for a—ow!” I jumped as a sharp kick hit my ankle. I couldn't help but laugh a little. I put a hand on Micah's shoulder and gently steered him away so Boomer could have a minute with his hero.
“So, growing up with Alec must be totally fun, am I right?” I asked as we stepped out onto the front porch.
“Are you kidding?” he snorted. “Guy is always on my ass.”
“Alec?” I asked in a puzzled tone.
“'Pick up your clothes, put away your dishes, clean up after me,'” he said in a mimicking tone.
“Don't you mean pick up after yourself?”
“No,” he said sullenly. “He thinks it's funny to get me to pick up his messes for him.”
“Come on,” I said seriously. “He has to have done fun stuff with you.”
“He's not allowed to meet with my teachers anymore,” Micah said thoughtfully. “I did something that got me detention and he high fived me. Principal thought that was inappropriate.”
I covered my mouth and laughed. The corners of Micah's mouth flickered, tugging as if he wanted to smile but, for some reason, couldn't.
Micah looked at me long and hard then, kind of abruptly, and spoke in a suspicious tone. “I don't get it. You don't seem like a dickhead. Why does he want me to hang out with you?”
“What now?” I asked in confusion.
“Alec. He wants me to hang out with you this summer. I figured you must be some kind of grade-A asshole.”
I frowned. “You're kind of a dick, you know that? And I should probably mention that, wherever you came from, your life took a huge step forward having guys like Alec and Sasha in your life. By the time the family gets through with you...” I said, then paused and shook my head.
Micah grimaced and looked away. His face was red and he moved the back of his hand over his eye, so quickly as to have almost not happened.
I cleared my throat and said, “It's cool. Let's forget it. So Alec wants us to hang out, huh? Probably wants to get rid of you for a while so he can get laid.”
Micah shuddered. “I don't even want to think about that.”
“I know, right? Old people sex,” I said with a shiver and he smiled a little. “You know, I'm pretty sure Alec actually wants you to hang with my brother, Sean. So hanging out with me will get you that. Are you coming home for the summer?”
“You mean here? Yeah, I guess.”
I frowned lightly. “Micah, you look like someone crapped in your Wheaties. Personally, I'd have loved to have Alec around the way you got him now.”
Micah's gaze flickered toward Alec and he turned to look back at me. “You talk to Alec a lot?”
Thrown by the question I replied in a confused tone, “Not since...spring break. He and Sasha always come home for school breaks. Why?”
Micah frowned at me in consideration. “He's always playing this game with me. Thinks he's funny.”
“Yeah,” he nodded. “He's always trying to get me to admit I like living with him. Kind of wants to torture me with it or something. I swear, I say anything even close to nice and he crows about it for days, just to rub it in.”
“Um, rub what in?”
“Everything. Being in the system, having to live with him or go to a group home or lock-down facility. It's not like I'm spoiled for choice, you know?”
I stared at him for a moment in confusion and then in irritation. “So let me get this straight,” I said slowly. “Your life was so great, so you ran away from it and someone had the, I don't know...they dared to take you in and care for you and you can't even admit you like that? Does that sound even a little sane to you?”
He blinked a few times and then looked away.
I was out of my depth and I realized it right then. I didn't know much at all about Micah except in the vaguest sense. I knew the word had come through the grapevine that Alec was asking for our help this summer, to watch out for this kid and to give him what the family could. But my first impression was that he was a dickhead and why would I do anything for him, especially when he was being so ungrateful.
I might have stopped there except I saw him wipe his eye again and I reconsidered. Whatever else this kid was, he was important to Alec and Sasha. They were my family so that was reason enough.
“Micah, I'm sorry if I upset you,” I said.
“I'm not upset. I'm fine.”
I sighed. I noted Sean coming back in the back door, but he hadn't seen me as yet. I was seized with an idea—not one that would fix this mess, but it might postpone it until I was better equipped. “Look, bro. Do me a favor. See that guy over there? Looks kind of like me?”
“Yeah,” he said suspiciously.
“Go over and say 'Jamie, stop being a dickhead'.”
“That's my brother, Sean. He'll just wonder what I've been up to,” I said with a sunny grin.
He shook his head and, I think, called me a moron under his breath before setting out to do my bidding.
“So, what do you think?” Alec asked, appearing at my side.
“I think he just called me a moron,” I told him.
“He likes you!” Alec beamed.
“Dude, seriously. What am I supposed to do with him?” I asked. Alec put an arm on my shoulder and steered me out the front door. We waved to Sasha, who was talking to Kale and Chase, and then I leaned on the railing while Alec stood next to me. Boomer, having been in Alec's wake, leaned beside me.
“Ever since Micah came into my life I've been trying to understand him and he's fought me at every turn.”
“But why? Doesn't he realize how lucky he is?” I blurted.
“No,” Alec said softly. “He's been hurt by people that were supposed to protect him, Jame. You know I'd never do anything to hurt someone, but he can't trust that.”
I shook my head. “I can't imagine the fun you must be having with him, except that he doesn't seem to want that. I mean, you do have fun with him, right? All he said is how you're not allowed to meet with his teachers anymore.”
“Yeah, Sash is better at dealing with authority figures,” Alec said with a grin. “And I do have fun with him. I woke him up one night after a heavy snowfall and we went out to make a snowman and have a snowball fight at, like, eleven at night.”
“Just the two of you?”
“Yeah. He loved it. Sash took him shopping for a few nice shirts when he hinted some kids had nicer things than he did at school. He was really feeling good when he went to school the next day. We took him to the city pool and we watch movies with him.”
“Then why is he so against saying he likes living with you?”
“Listen, here's the ugly truth, Jamie. When people think about helping a kid in foster care, they think about these nice kids they see their own kids hanging out with. Or they think about their nieces or nephews. These kids, kids like Micah...they've been hurt. Badly. The reason you help kids like Micah is because you want to help. People who get into it because they think they will have this nice kid don't last long.
“Micah has history, Jamie. Bad history. It makes him who he is just like your amazing family makes you who you are. Hey, given that, why are you such a dick?” Alec teased and I took a swing at him.
“So what do you want me to do?” I asked. Alec gave me a look I didn't know he possessed. There was compassion, pleading and sadness all jumbled together and I couldn't imagine what would make him look that way.
“I want you to forgive him. Every time he says something or does something, as long as it's not really serious, I want you to forgive him. As much as you can.” Alec's smile dimmed and he said, “I know it's asking a lot, but he's never had people stand by him. He's sure none of this will stick. He's sure Sasha and I will throw him out. He wants family, Jamie. He wants people who will care but he's been burned too many times. He thinks it isn't possible, so he pushes people away to protect himself.
“So, please,” he said and put a hand on my shoulder. “He's not like your other friends. Please give him all the forgiveness you can.”
I swallowed, a sudden thickness in my throat. “I don't understand. Lu and Ash came out of foster care and they weren't like that.”
“When I first met Lu he was scared and angry,” Alec replied and crossed his arms. “It was touch and go at first. That's why I asked for my family's help. Ash I don't know well, but he seems to have seen something he needed and hung on as hard as he could. Not everyone realizes what they need or that they can have that...love they need. I'm not asking you to love him, Jamie. I'm just asking you to not hold who he is right now against him.”
I nodded, still feeling a lump in my throat. “Yeah, of course, Alec. Um, why me though?”
His smile stretched across his face and he said, “Two reasons. One is because I always promised to get even for all the crap you pulled when you were younger,” he said holding up a finger. My lips twitched in a smile at his teasing, but died as his expression grew more somber. “But mostly because you're strong, Jamie. He needs someone to rely on.”
“But he has you....”
“Jamie, do you remember when you were twelve and your parents suggested you play football?”
“Um. Sort of. Why?”
“Well, you weren't interested. Your dad kept telling you how much fun it would be and blah, blah but you didn't care. So then one afternoon I took you to play in the yard. Threw the ball to you, had you running a couple of drills that we do in practice. And then we went to the park and got into a pick-up game.”
I stared at him. “You set me up.”
“Well, sort of. But more to the point, sometimes we'll accept something from someone else, even if it's exactly what we rejected or ignored from our folks. Tweens and teens are weird like that. I figure between you and your brother, Micah will learn a few things this summer that could really help his progress.”
“Jamie, what did you do?” Sean asked as he walked up, Micah just behind him. “Why is a total stranger calling me by your name and telling me to stop being a dickhead?”
I glanced at Alec and then smiled at Sean before slipping past him and placing a hand on Micah's shoulder. “Sean, meet our new summer buddy.”
Sean smiled and said, “Hi, summer buddy.”
“Micah, this is my brother Sean. And that's our friend Boomer Bennett.” I guided Micah away from them and took him to meet the other people in the room, folks we may or may not see this summer but who were now his family as surely as I was. We started to talk video games and football and Micah began to warm to me, which was a huge boost to my self esteem. In that moment, when he first thawed I really felt like I could make a difference in people's lives.
We ended up on the Kennedy's back porch, where I'd sent Sean after Nate not so long ago. I leaned against the railing and Micah milled uncertainly.
“Listen, Micah,” I said in a speculative tone. “You don't owe me anything, but can we talk for just a second? I mean, you and me and no one else needs to know about it?”
His face instantly formed a mask of distrust. “Talk about what? Why is it a secret?”
“Hey, if you want to tell someone after, go ahead—it's nothing bad. I just mean right now while it's just us is all.”
He looked around warily, like he was plotting escape routes and then slowly met my gaze before giving me a single, curt nod.
“Like I said, you don't owe me anything and at the end of the summer you still won't. I want you to know that I'm going to hang out with you because Alec said it would be a good thing.” He scowled and it was sort of cute since he was short and totally not threatening.
“I know it'll be a good thing because Alec is the most fun guy I've ever met, so he must think you're fun, too.” I shook my head and asked, “But can you please tell me why you can't tell him you like living with him and Sash?”
“He's a dick about it!” Micah complained. “He starts looking at Sasha and says shit like 'Oh, look Sash! Micah likes us!' and other stupid crap. I mean, I'm there, aren't I? I'm not running away!”
I nodded my head and started to push off the railing. Then I paused and deliberately let a confused look cross my face so he wouldn't miss it. “So, you ran away before?”
He shifted on his feet. “Yeah. So?”
I paused for a moment. “I'm just thinking...well, it's none of my business. Ready to go inside?”
“What? No,” he said, moving in front of me. “What are you thinking about?”
Little guy was spunky and I had to admit I kind of liked that. “Well, it's none of my business,” I said.
“Obviously. But you still said it, so what?” he nearly growled which almost made me laugh. It was sort of like having a puppy growl threateningly.
“I'm just wondering how bad things had to be for you to run away? I mean, I can't even imagine why I'd do that. I mean, unless my folks grounded me for a month or something unreasonable, you know?”
He stared at me, his mouth pressing into a razor thin line. “How about....” His words had started out hot and angry, but then were simply snuffed out and he looked away.
“Micah,” I said, leaning back on the railing again. “I guess what I'm wondering, bro, is...where you were before, when you ran away, were they on your ass for your homework or cleaning your room?”
Micah's face slowly turned toward me, his gaze set somewhere around my chin. He sighed heavily and said, “Alec was right. You're smart.”
“All I'm thinking, Micah, is that if you're happy where you are...if things are better, and you have people that care about you...why isn't it okay to be happy about that?”
He scowled, called me a moron and turned to go inside. Recalling what Alec had said earlier, when I'd told him Micah had called me a moron and that being an indicator that Micah liked me, I smirked and said, “I love you too, Micah. See you this summer.”
Micah looked back at me, scowled a little more and went back inside.
That night I tried, and failed, to speak to Emily again. I was growing frustrated and despondent with the situation and considered just giving up, since it seemed to be what she wanted at this point. I mean, come on! I was trying to apologize!
I tried to let that go and let my mind wander to the funeral. I wanted to do something to help Nate, but I wasn't sure what, exactly. We knew each other a little through sports, so maybe that was a path forward. I thought about Alec and the trust he was placing in me with Micah—and the work that would need to be done. But if Alec was right and Micah wanted friends and family but didn't know how to go about it...well, as long as it was what he really wanted, then I'd find a way. Between me, Sean, Ash, Scott and anyone else I thought could make this work, well, we would. Make it work. Kid would have so much family he'd be sick of it by summer's end.
In the morning I was determined to speak to Emily, but she wasn't in school. I grew more worried throughout the day as she failed to appear in classes and, once done for the day, I hightailed it over to her house.
Her mom's car was out front and I walked around her brother's bike, left in the front yard. I took her porch steps in a single leap and paused enough to take a breath before knocking on the door. There was movement deep in the house and then the soft sound of flat heeled shoes as they approached the door.
“Hi, Mrs. Baker,” I said to her mom.
“Hello, Jamie. Emily is in her room. Why don't you wait a minute and I'll see if she's up for talking?”
I slumped a bit in relief. Thoughts—terrible, final thoughts—had invaded my mind as paranoia had set in. At least it wasn't anything like that.
She closed the door, smiling at me, and I milled about on the porch while I waited to see if she'd come speak to me. My mind went a hundred different ways with possible conversations and even a few ways I might react if her mother said Emily wouldn't see me. It was all for nothing, though, when the front door opened and a very chagrined looking Emily stepped out and shut the door behind her.
“You weren't in school. I was worried.”
She coughed lightly and said, “I'm sorry.”
I took a tentative step toward her. “I'm sorry, too. I've been trying to say it for days. Em I'm so—”
“Stop. Just...stop,” she said and then sighed deeply. She slipped over to the railing and sat upon it and I moved to her side. She looked down and said, softly, “It's my fault.”
“I'm sorry I've been punishing you. I was so embarrassed and I didn't...” she wiped a tear from her face and I moved closer, placing an arm around her shoulders and she leaned into me.
“I don't understand, Em.”
She wrung her hands lightly and cleared her throat. “I've been thinking about us for a while, Jamie. I wanted everything to be perfect for our first time. I was making sure I'd be...I wanted it to be perfect,” she said again, a little softer.
“No,” she said and shook her head. She looked up at me with her eyes a little wet and said, “I went to the doctor today.”
My chest tightened with fear at her words.
“See...I've heard the things guys say about their girlfriends or about sluts and how they smell and things like that. I've been wanting to do this with you, wanting...you. And so I was, um, cleaning. A lot.”
Her face was cherry red and I was completely confused. I reached a hand out and covered one of hers, which rolled over and we held hands.
“So, um, I guess there is supposed to be some healthy bacteria and stuff down there and...I kind of cleaned so much I killed them off. I have something called, um—oh, Christ!” she said softly, her body shaking with embarrassment. In a whisper, the kind of whisper you use when you say things like cancer, she said, “Bacterial vaginosis.”
“Is it serious?” I asked, wondering if it was cancer in her vagina or something.
“No,” she said. “I'll be fine soon. It just...that's why it...smelled. I'm so sorry,” she said bursting out in tears and sliding off the railing. I made shushing sounds and pulled her to me gently and wrapped her in my arms. We stood like that for a minute, her crying and me feeling confused but trying to comfort her. With a sniffle or six she leaned back from me, clutching my shirt with one hand and patting my pec with the other.
“So I guess you moved on.”
“Um, what? No. I've been trying to reach you. Why would you say that?”
She looked away. “Averi was telling me what you did for Andy. That was nice. I guess she heard that you were k-kissing Boomer Bennett. He's nice.”
I groaned. “No. I mean, yeah, but no. Boomer kissed me. He got all emotional about Andy's touchdown and he decided to...I know, it sounds stupid.”
“But...don't you like him?”
I smiled at her. “Yeah, I love him. He's my friend. But I don't have wicked thoughts about him. I save those for my girlfriend.”
A tentative smile touched her lips. “You mean after what I put you through...”
“Em, look,” I said with a sigh. “I love you. First time I've ever really been in love. I know I screwed it up, but I was just trying to communicate with you because...well, we have to talk about things that are between us, you know? I want to know what makes you feel good, I want you to feel loved. I want to be a good boyfriend.”
She let out a shuddering sigh and leaned into me. I held her loosely, smelling her hair and loving the feel of her in my arms.
“So...besides that one thing, I was okay?”
“Babe,” I said seriously. “We almost didn't get anywhere because I was so busy staring at you. I thought you looked good with clothes on!”
She leaned back, still red in the face but smiling. “Really?”
“Totally. Almost as good as me,” I grinned, letting some of my old bravado back in.
“You do look good naked,” she agreed. She tilted her head to the side and said, “You know, you're different today.”
I thought about all the things that had been going through my head, lately. My relationship with her, the complexities of my relationship with Boomer, how Sean and I fit so well, how Alec was trusting me to help someone he clearly loved and how I was considering a life of helping others. I looked her in the eye and said, “Nah. I'm still me. A better version, maybe, but I'm still me. I'm too pretty to change.”
She snorted but leaned back into our hug and I did the same. Maybe I was changing, but right now that felt like a good thing.
Author's Note: I hope you enjoyed my story. ICYMI I'm hearing from just a few of my readers about what they think, what they thought was funny or what pissed them off in a story. I pay money to host my site and post stories that you are reading. So, now that you've read, please don't assume someone else will say what they thought, go to my message board and leave a note, even as a guest. I did my job, reader, please do yours.