Agony was almost a suitable word to describe the sharp pain that started just behind my left ear and went down to just below my shoulder blade each time I threw the ball, and if you couldn’t tell from the way I could feel my face scrunch up each time my shoulder came around to release the ball that I was in pain, the groan I couldn’t help releasing this last time probably made it clear. I was hurting, likely from the way I had fallen asleep propped precariously against the headboard at some ridiculously late hour last night, but I had already missed one day of practice and our game was on Saturday, I wasn’t going to miss another.
Coach finally told us to run our laps and then we could head home. At some point while Bobby and I were running next to each other I realized that he hadn’t said much. Usually we just talked about random stuff, like how he thought it was funny that our economics teacher, Mr. Samuels, scratched his head the other day during class and his whole toupee slid back and forth across his head. The whole class was laughing as he stood there scribbling away on the board in front of the class, and Mr. Samuels had no idea what was so funny, but after a shrug of his shoulders and a pointed look at the class, he went back to his lecture on supply and demand.
“Dude, is everything cool with you?” I asked him as we ran along side one another, wondering why he was being so quiet. Bobby was known for being a talker, so not having anything to say was definitely out of the ordinary for him.
He looked at me almost in disbelief when he heard my question and after a minute he replied, “I was kinda wondering the same thing about you.”
“Me?” I asked, looking for clarification. “What do you mean?”
“Well, yesterday you missed practice and art, like the most important things to you, and then Jules practically bit my head off at lunch when I mentioned it so…,” he trailed off.
“Yeah, sorry about that man, you know how she can be when it comes to me,” I said trying to smooth things over a little.
He nodded. “Yeah, I do. It’s cool. Just be glad she’s on your side,” he joked. We were on lap eight by the time he finally asked, “So where were you then yesterday?”
“I went to the cemetery,” I answered simply.
“Oh, sorry,” he replied sheepishly, as if he suddenly thought he had pushed too hard or been callous.
I shrugged. “It’s cool, no worries man,” I said as I tried to smile, although the twinge I felt in my neck as I tried to turn in his direction brought an abrupt end to that.
“Neck hurt?” Bobby asked even though it was pretty obvious.
“Yeah, I think I slept on it weird,” I offered. He didn’t need to know I was up half the night anxiously worrying about how Jules would react when I finally tell her about me and about Jesse.
I went by the trainer’s office before I left for home, just to see if he could suggest anything that would make this pain in my neck go away any faster. He offered me some ice as I explained that I slept on it wrong. I didn’t like it too much when he told me I would probably just have to wait it out and take it easy before he sent me on my way.
Maybe I was trying to delay the inevitable. I think I realized I was stalling after I had been sitting in my truck in the almost empty parking lot for about ten minutes. I guess as much as I wanted to explain things to Jules, and as much as I knew she loved me and that she wanted me to be happy, I was still worried. Things were complicated between us and up until a week ago, she seemed like she had it pretty bad for me, while I tried to ignore it altogether.
That probably wasn’t the best approach, but it worked for me, so I did it. There were times though, that I could tell she felt like it was because she wasn’t pretty enough, or funny enough. I knew she would watch me to see what girls I looked at. Were they blond instead of having dark hair like she did, did they wear shorter skirts or were they the girls who the guys always talked about, the ones with the reputations for being easy? The funny part was, that no matter how hard or how long she looked, she would never find the answer that way. No girl was going to be enough.
My cell phone ringing brought my thoughts back to the present as I answered it. “Hello.”
“Are you just gonna sit in the parking lot all night or can you give me a ride home?” I heard Jesse’s voice ask me through the phone. I looked around wondering where he was. He could obviously see me since he knew I was sitting here alone, but I didn’t see him as I scanned the parking lot.
“Yeah, I can give you a ride, but what are you still doing here? Kinda late for you to be here isn’t it?” I asked as I turned to look out the side window, still in search of him.
“Yeah, but I had some stuff to catch up on since this hot guy sorta convinced me to ditch yesterday,” he said playfully.
“Oh, hot guy eh?” I asked, playing along. “Should I be worried?”
“Maybe,” he responded. “He told me he loved me and he is an amazing kisser,” he said.
“You kissed a hot guy?” I said, feigning shock. “How could you?” I was smiling to myself as I sat back in my seat prepared to play along for the moment.
“Very easily,” he said as he opened the passenger door and climbed in.
We hung up our phones and I said, “So I have some competition then?” with the biggest pout I could muster while trying not to laugh.
“Not a chance baby,” he said, and I was suddenly very thankful that the parking lot was as empty as it was because I wanted to kiss him right then.
I did too, but just for a minute before the pain in my neck reminded me that it wasn’t through being a hindrance. Jesse heard me gasp in pain as I pulled away from our kiss causing him to ask, “What’s wrong baby? Did you hurt yourself in practice?”
“No, I just slept weird last night, when I finally did get to sleep,” I admitted.
He looked at me skeptically and then said, “Okay, so you’re coming home with me and I’m gonna fix that for you,” in a way that left no room for me to disagree.
“Jules is supposed to come over though so we can talk,” I reminded him as I pulled out of the parking lot and headed for his house.
“And you can still talk to her… after we get your neck working right again, okay?” he suggested.
That did appeal to me in more ways than one so it didn’t take me long to agree, and Jesse smiled at his small victory. The thought of Jesse’s hands rubbing my neck, massaging my sore shoulder, and the fact that this would create even another small distraction before I had to talk to Jules was greatly received in my mind and so I graciously accepted whatever he was offering.
I guess it was about the time that I started noticing… things, that I realized my neck was feeling much better, like the way his warm breaths seem to be getting closer to my neck or the way that I could feel his thumbs gently gliding up and down the back of my neck instead of applying a steady pressure like they had been earlier. His fingertips had settled comfortably in that spot where your neck curves down subtly before it meets your chest and I realized that my chin had repeatedly dropped into my chest exposing my neck more than a few times, like it was right now. From where he was seated behind me his lips had perfect access to my neck, but it was his nose gently nuzzling in the bottom of my hair that provided me with the stronger sensation at the moment.
“Feeling better now?” he asked softly. I could feel his lips moving against my skin as he spoke and any excitement I was already feeling just increased when he scooted up closer behind me, his legs on each side of me now instead of behind me as they had been originally, when we had sat down on the floor. I settled back against him, my back pressed against his chest, and his arms came around me in a way that provided me with no options other than to enjoy the feeling that went through me as his hands found mine, our finger intertwining.
“Yeah, I really am,” I said, almost surprised that I was. Whatever Jesse had done to my neck in the last thirty minutes made it feel as good as new, and it occurred to me that the added comfort and security I found, as he held my body against his, was something I had been craving also, as I remembered that Jules would be waiting for me, waiting for an explanation. Waiting for the truth.
“Good.” he whispered as his lips moved closer to my ear. “I want you to feel good,” he added as he moved a little, allowing his lips to find mine.
I did feel good in Jesse’s arms, better than good really, and his tongue’s subtle request brushing across my bottom lip motivated me to meet it with mine as I tried to turn in his arms, getting closer to him. It wasn’t long at all before we were sprawled across the rug that covered his bedroom floor, the weight of his body landing comfortably over me as our kiss became more accurate, more needy.
The way his mouth was eagerly covering mine and feeling his current state of excitement building, as it grew against my own, was enough to make me forget how itchy the carpet felt against my still unshowered skin. I didn’t care though; about the small irritation it caused me, because the way his mouth was moving methodically across my chin and down my neck was more than enough to make me a willing participant in whatever he wanted, and as his lips applied a gentle suction to my skin, I felt my erection throb against his own.
Instinctively, his hips thrust against mine, and that added stimulation, along with the way his mouth had seemed to find mine again, elicited a deep groan in the back of my throat that made it clear what I was feeling, wanting, needing. I was pretty sure he felt the same way though, as he continued to move over me, his body feeling perfectly made to reach every part of mine, and the sound he made when I grabbed his ass and pulled him even tighter against me was as involuntary as the way he seemed to have found some stimulating pattern in which to grind his hard cock against mine. Even through the added layers of clothing, his jeans that cupped his ass perfectly and my looser shorts I still wore from practice, it was a sensation I lost myself in.
That all came to an abrupt halt though, as we heard Lily knocking; yelling through the thick wooden door that separated us from the interruption she was creating. “Jesse, Stephen… Mommy says it’s dinner time now,” she said quite loudly, to be sure they would hear her, clearly emphasizing the last word in her statement.
Jesse looked at me apologetically before his head came to rest frustratingly against my shoulder as he released another groan, this time out of dissatisfaction and disappointment. I almost laughed at his predicament, except that I was very much in the same state of discontentment as I lay there under him wanting so much to tell her to go away, and instead continue my exploration of the way the muscles of his back moved, working beneath my gripping fingers. Instead, I rolled out from underneath him and stood up, making my way to the door.
“Hi Lily,” I said, trying not to sound at all exasperated as I opened the door to find the cute little blond intruder.
“Hi Stephen,” she almost exclaimed as she practically bounded into the room before she stopped in front of where Jesse was now laying on his back in the middle of the floor. “Jesse, why are you lying on the floor?” she asked him.
“Lily,” I interrupted, before he tried to answer her question. “Can you do me a favor?” I asked her.
“Yes, I can! I’m a big girl now,” she stated proudly.
“Yes you are,” I agreed causing a huge smile to appear on her face, her little cheeks glowing. “Can you tell your mom that I can’t stay for dinner tonight?” I requested.
“How come?” she whined. “I want you to stay,” she informed me as if that was all that was necessary for me to change my mind.
“I’m sorry, I can’t tonight. I have to go home and see my dad too,” I tried to explain. “Maybe I could come another night instead,” I suggested causing her eyes to light up again.
“Okay, I’ll tell Mommy. Come on Jesse,” she demanded, causing him to roll his eyes; a look that didn’t escape me.
“I’ll be right there,” he informed her, before getting up to shoo her out the door, earning him an unhappy expression from her. He closed his door again, and turned around to lean against it, as if he needed the extra support to deal with the aggravation he was still feeling over our recent interruption.
“I really need to go anyway,” I offered, trying to ease his frustration. “Jules is probably wondering where I am,” I said, trying not to let the frown take over my face, as I tried to decide if I was really ready to tell her or not.
“Are you sure you want to do this baby?” he asked more seriously now. “I know you think you need to do it for me, but its okay if you’re not ready yet.”
“Ready or not, I have to. I just can’t lie to her anymore, and it’s not fair to you either, or me,” I explained. “I don’t like freaking out every time I see her, wondering if she’s gonna ask me more questions about you, or worrying that we might run into her somewhere and having to come up with some lie that just makes you feel like shit and makes me feel guilty for being so selfish.”
“You don’t make me feel like shit,” he said, in a way that left no room for any arguments from me. “I know what its like, remember? I understand,” he reminded me.
“Yeah, I know, but I just don’t think its right to treat someone you love like that,” I said, my eyes meeting his. My intention being to make that clear, I did love him, and I intended to be honest about that.
“I’m a pretty lucky guy,” he informed me. “Not only are you hot as hell, you’re smart, and funny, and loyal, honorable.”
“Really…, then how come what I feel like is a scared, little kid trying not to freak out. It’s like when you’re a kid and you’re in the store with your mom, and you stop to look at something instead of staying with her like you’re supposed to, and the next thing you know, she’s gone and you panic. You know you’re not really lost, she’s just on another aisle, and you know deep down she’s not going to leave you there, but you panic, because you can’t see her, and you know that when you do find her, you’ll be so relieved, and she will probably be disappointed that you didn’t listen to her in the first place when she told you to stay with her,” I rambled out anxiously.
He walked over to where I had collapsed on the edge of his bed, probably in an attempt to prolong what was going to happen soon, and sat next to me. “Well, you found me,” he said using my analogy, “and I’m not gonna leave you either so, seriously, only do it if you’re ready; if it’s what you want to do. Don’t do it for me, do it for you.”
“It will be for me and for you too, but mostly for me. This way we can be together whenever we want and not have to worry all the time about running into people, plus, I kinda miss hanging out with her and I know I’ve been avoiding her cause I hate lying to her. I know she’s been occupied with Sean, and that’s cool, but I miss her sometimes,” I admitted.
“See, loyal,” he pointed out. “Come on, I better go eat too, before Lily comes back.”
“Okay,” I nodded as I stood up and moved toward the door.
“Stephen,” Jesse said, causing me to turn around to face him. “I love you too,” was all he said as his arms went around my neck, hugging me tightly.
I was sitting on my bed again, in the same place I had been the previous night when I drew the picture I was currently holding; I was staring at it. I couldn’t escape from a few simple truths. I was gay and I had a boyfriend. I loved Jesse and he loved me. I missed my best friend, and I knew that if I had any chance of ever having things the way they were before, like when we were on the beach in the picture, I had to be honest with her. I looked up from the drawing when I heard a noise to find Jules standing in my doorway.
“Oh, hey Jules,” I greeted her; surprised I hadn’t heard her come up the stairs like I usually did. I was definitely lost in another place and time.
She had called me just after I walked in the door, and if I knew her, she was probably watching for my truck to drive up. I asked her to give me an hour so I could eat dinner with my dad and take a shower. I needed to wash away some tension along with the sweat of my practice that afternoon, and while I was in the shower, I also worked away the tension I had remaining from the time Jesse and I had spent together earlier.
“Hi,” she said as she stood in the doorway leaning against the wall.
“Come here, I want to show you something,” I said still reminiscing slightly.
She didn’t hesitate at all and the next second she was seated right next to me, leaning against the headboard also, as she saw the picture I was holding. She didn’t say anything at first, not for a few minutes actually, as she did her own slow walk down memory lane. I didn’t say anything either because the look on her face when she saw the picture showed me she was feeling exactly what I wanted her to feel. I needed her to remember all that we had been through, all the times we were there for each other, that we were practically family, before I tried to explain to her that she only knew a part of me.
Being gay didn’t by any means define me, sure… it was a part of who I was, but I was still the same guy that I was on that beach with her five years ago, and I needed her to know that. It was funny, how even though we were both feeling anxious for different reasons, she still plopped down next to me and was already leaning on me like always. I found comfort in that small action, as unconscious a behavior as it was for us both, and maybe she did too.
I was watching her, while she was looking at the picture; and the smile that was playing across her lips when she reached out to touch the place in the drawing where the sea shell she had found sat atop our sand castle that leaned precariously to the left was all I needed to see to know that she remembered that day just like I did.
“You remembered everything, every detail Stephen,” she said, barely above a whisper.
“I tried too,” I admitted just as quietly, not wanting to break the tranquility.
“This is so… perfect,” she finally said, selecting the right word.
“Well, I’m glad you like it, because it’s for you. I drew it for you,” I admitted.
“You did?” she questioned. “How come? I mean, I love it, but why?”
“Because… that’s how I think of you,” I tried to explain, not at all eloquently.
“Oh,” she said simply. “But what made you decide to draw it in the first place?” she asked me, trying to understand as her fingertips continued to trace the shapes in front of her on the page.
“I needed you to know that you are special to me, and I wanted you to know that everything we’ve been through together, well… I remember it, all of it,” I answered as honestly as I could. She seemed to think about that for a minute, trying to figure out my motivation, my reasons for trying to remind her I care.
“Stephen?” she said.
“Hmm?” I replied, knowing I was stalling. I was sure she knew there was more going on here than me giving her a picture.
“Want to tell me about Jesse now?” she asked in a very straight forward manner, leaving me no room to decline the obvious opening she gave me. Her voice wasn’t expectant or suggestive, but more wanting and compassionate.
I really did want to, I needed to, and I needed to just stop feeling like I was letting them both down by being dishonest. I guess it wasn’t dishonesty so much as, omitting seriously large details about me and my personal life, but it sure felt like lying. Actually it felt shitty, and I was just… through feeling like that. The truth was, I was tired of feeling like I was letting myself down.
“He’s my boyfriend,” I admitted out loud, trying not to freak out and I never took my eyes off her as I began to introduce her to a part of me that she didn’t yet know. I needed to know what she was thinking, how she felt, about that very relevant piece of information that I had just revealed, but there was only silence. No yelling, no screaming, no denials, no questions. Just silence.
I watched her face as she tried to fit all the pieces of the last two weeks together, not at all including the awkwardness she and I had been experiencing the last two years. I think it occurred to her finally that I wasn’t kidding, not that she thought I was, but we had long since passed the standard time where I could have said ‘just kidding’. She knew I meant it and when she finally looked up at me all she said was, “Okay.”
That was it? Maybe she was trying not to pressure me into revealing more than I was ready to, maybe she was too stunned to ask any questions, maybe she had a million questions and didn’t know where to start, but… okay? That seemed like the understatement of the year and as I repeated it over and over silently in my head. I decided that I wanted her to ask me something, anything; I wanted to give her the truth. What I really wanted was for her to just say something, give me some kind of indication that everything was okay between us, that she wasn’t going to stop being my best friend anytime soon.
She was so quiet though, and the total lack of any response was almost enough to push me over the edge. I realized at some point during her silence that I had waited so long to be able to tell her, to tell anyone, or even to allow myself to try and be happy, that now, I just wanted things to work out. Of course I wanted everything to be the same between us, have nothing change, and we just go back to being the same two best friends we had been on that beach, but her almost nonexistent acknowledgment of my news was sort of hindering that from actually happening.
“Jules?” I spoke tentatively, almost afraid of what she would say, necessity and impatience outweighing fear and hesitation. She didn’t make any of the obvious remarks or ask any questions that would clearly be appropriate. There was no ‘boyfriend?’ or ‘you’re gay?’ No ‘but I thought you were straight’ or ‘that explains it’.
She simply said, “Yeah?” and I swear the fact that I was lacking her still totally absent response was more than I could handle. I was about to lose it completely, not helping the situation any, and while I was trying to have a stern discussion with myself, I felt her head land softly on my shoulder. I think that I finally realized that I hadn’t been breathing until that very moment. That moment where my brain recognizes the familiarity, the weight of her head on my shoulder and my subconscious decides that it’s a welcomed feeling is about the time I started breathing again.
“Thanks,” I said simply. It was all I could manage without letting myself go crazy. I could feel the questions, the demands, building up forcefully inside me, trying to come out. Was she okay with this, was she mad I hadn’t told her before now, hurt? Did she have any feelings at all on the matter? Why wasn’t she saying anything useful to help me feel better? I had a million questions of my own, but as we sat there in silence, her head resting on my shoulder, it occurred to me that she probably did also, and maybe she was trying not to be pushy or seem nosy.
So… I offered. I offered her the chance to ask for some details, get more information. If she wanted to ask me something, but was feeling hesitant, not at all like her usual pushy self, then I wanted to make this easier on her, well, both of us. So I did it. I offered.