July 23 2006
I'm not sure how long it was before I finally fell asleep that night. I was really pissed off at Don because I'd felt as though he was using me to figure out which team he wanted to play on. All I could think about as I lay in bed was how bad I hurt when he'd first gone off to college and nearly dropped all communication with me. And to think that I'd almost dumped a bottle of Tylenol down my throat because of him? Shit. Okay, so my reasons for thinking about offing myself weren't entirely based on Don's vanishing act. But he and I had come so far in recent years, and we'd become so close again. I couldn't really blame myself for beling betrayed...again...by him. For some damn reason he didn't mind fucking over our friendship. Twice!
I woke up to the sound of rain coming down on the metal roof over my head. Looking across the room, I saw that Don's bed was still unmade from the day before, though he wasn't in it. Then it all came back to me: his cooking dinner, the ass-kicking drinks, the make-out session on the bed downstairs...and him telling me he wasn't gay. What a fuckin' slap in the face. 'Bastard,' I thought, as I straightened up the room and took the sheets off of both beds.
I went downstairs and found the lower level empty. Then I saw him sitting on the porch swing wearing only shorts and drinking a cup of coffee as he watched the rain falling around the cabin. I didn't think I would ever be hurt again by him, but the things he said the night before cut through me like a knife. Sure, I wasn't a sixteen-year-old kid anymore, but the pain I felt was still the same.
I shook my head, but that only managed to stir up the dull aching caused by all of the booze the night before. I was in no mood to eat breakfast, and I had never been a morning person, so the combination of the two made the situation all the more volatile. I was really hoping he would just not talk to me. I was more than ready to end our friendship.
Great. Now the voice in my head decided to come back. Swell!
Ending the friendship would be easy enough to do...except for the fact that we worked together. Well, I could always get another job. I didn't plan on singing and waiting tables for the rest of my life, and working at Rhett's was just a short-term gig anyway. Fine. That's exactly what I'd do, I thought, as I started straightening things around the cabin. I unloaded the stuff from the fridge into the cooler and set it by the door.
"You want any coffee?" he asked, stepping into the cabin. In his eyes I could see both pain and anger waiting to be unleashed. But I was still determined not to get into anything with him. I just wanted to go home, to my new home, which was now an hour from where he lived. Better yet, I was dying to get to Marietta. Maybe I could get my dorm room set up early and have some time to think, alone.
"I don't drink coffee," I said, just a little rudely.
"Can I get you somethin'--"
"I've packed everything."
"Oh," he stopped walking. "It's gonna be one of those mornings, huh."
"You're god damned right it is," I said, slamming the bathroom door and brushing my teeth. After the little stunt he'd pulled the night before, did he really think he had a right to bring up my mood? Who the fuck did he think he was?
Not any more. But thanks!
I put my shampoo and other crap into my shower kit, then left the bathroom. "It's all yours," I grumbled.
"Gee. Thanks, cheerful," he said, sarcastically.
The door closed firmly after he stepped in. I jerked the covers off of the bed where he'd obviously slept, and along with the sheets from the upstairs bed, I threw them into a garbage bag to take home for washing. I stepped out onto the porch and disconnected the hot tub motor outlet. Then I pulled the plug at the bottom so the water could drain.
"You still pissed at me?"
"Sure 'nuff, Doctor Obvious."
He was standing in the doorway, now wearing a shirt. "You really shouldn't be. You wouldn't be, if you'd--"
I brushed past him into the cabin and grabbed the bag with my clothes. I went out the other door and threw my things into the trunk of my car, ignoring the cold rain that was falling. I went back inside and grabbed the cooler and loaded it into the car, too. One last thing and I was ready to go.
Inside, Don was holding his own bag as I crossed over to the rear door to shut and lock it. I went to the small electrical panel and turned off the main switch to the cabin, then I turned towards the kitchen door.
"We need to talk, Paul."
I snorted in response and reached for the handle. As I pulled the door open, he reached out his hand and pushed it shut again.
"I have something to say, please." He said this sternly, but I didn't want to have any part of it, or him.
"Then talk to the fuckin' walls." I opened the door again, but this time I was ready when he went to push the door closed again.
"I don't need you. I don't wanna hear you." I jerked the door open against his hand, and it flew back, almost hitting him in the face. I held my breath for a second as his head snapped back, away from the door.
"God damn," he said. "Fuck!" He slammed the door shut even harder. I thought I saw him clench his fists, and I know I saw his jaw tighten.
We stood there staring at each other for nearly a minute.
"Get out," he said.
"You wanna go so bad? Then let's get the fuck out."
I stood there for another moment, unsure whether or not I'd gone too far with my temper. He didn't say a word, but just stared a hole into my face. This time he didn't stop me when I opened the door.
We walked out and Don got into the car as I locked the cabin. The rain was picking up as I crossed the gravel driveway and got into the car.
We drove in silence.
By the time we were starting to drive out of the mountains the rain had picked up considerably. We were still about forty-five minutes from my house when it became so bad that I was having a hard time seeing the road in front of me. All of the traffic on the highway had slowed down to nearly twenty miles an hour as sheets of rain pummeled the cars. I finally decided to pull over onto the shoulder and wait out the rain. I hoped that it would end soon, because the silence in the car was killing me. Luckily, the radio was still able to pick up some Atlanta stations without any interference.
Don and I sat there, both of us with our arms folded across our chests, listening to the rain thunder across the top of the car.
"Look," he said quietly, "there's...somethin' I got'ta tell ya--"
"Please. Just...save it for--"
"I'm gonna talk now, Paul, and you're gonna just shut up and listen! You WILL listen to me!"
I was in complete shock, and my jaw practically dropped to my chest. In all the time that I'd known Don, he'd never really raised his voice to me, let alone yelled at me like that. I finally closed my mouth and blinked a few times, still surprised.
He rubbed his hands across his face. "Jesus Christ, you can be so fuckin' thick-headed sometimes." He was breathing heavy, and I could tell that he was trying to calm down a little bit.
"Look," he finally said, "for years I didn't understand what it is I'm gonna tell you. I might not even be able to make it sound right, because I've never...explained this to anyone before..."
A moment passed before I said, "Explained what?" His shouting at me had knocked my anger level down a few pegs.
"I know this isn't going to make sense...I didn't get it, either, for a long damn time. Now don't go gettin' mad at me again when I say this, but I'm tellin' you...I'm not gay. I'm really not."
I re-folded my arms and took a deep breath.
"Don't say anything, just...listen." Again, he rubbed his face with his hands, then clasped his fingers behind his head and leaned back against the seat. "You remember back in school, that summer you first started calling me?"
He smiled a bit and said, "Man, you bugged the hell out of me."
"Well, at first you did. It was like you couldn't take a hint that I wasn't returning your calls."
"Dude, you gave me your phone number and told me to call you. What'd you expect?"
"Not the...barrage of times that you called. Anyway, it just bugged me at first. Then after you came up to Kroger that night before y'all's trip to New York, I dunno, I felt sorta bad that I never called you back. That's when I figured, what the hell, what can it hurt, right?" I said nothing. "Anyway," he went on, "once we started talking on the phone more, I was sort of amused by you."
"No-no, calm down. You had this dorky sense of humor, and though it took a while to get past...how needy you seemed to be--"
"Paul, I really need you to...just be quiet and let me finish."
"Sorry, Go ahead, right from where I was needy."
He glared at me for a second, then continued. "Anyway, when school started again, and we ended up in the computer class together, you came across as kinda dorky, but you still made me laugh. A lot. Over time I found that I was really starting to like you. You had a bit of a dorky exterior, but you were really pretty cool, inside."
I shook my head slightly, keeping the smart ass comment I wanted to say to myself.
"I think when I started to...I dunno, respect you more, or think of you more than just a goofy kid, was when we had P.E. together. I mean," he laughed a bit, "here was this guy, skinnier than a rail, doing his best to lift weights like everybody else. You tried so damn hard, you showed so much...heart. Probably more than most of the guys I'd worked out with on the team."
"Well," I spoke at last, "think about it. I was barely one-twenty, probably closer to one-fifteen. Pushin' those weights was hard, but I didn't feel funny, or self conscious, because you were there."
"Yeah?" He sounded surprised.
"Yeah. You'd stand there while I bench pressed my weight, always cheering me on, and I believed I could'a done just about anything. I'd never had that kinda feeling before. You were like the big brother I should've had, but never did," I shrugged. "I think I may've wanted to prove something to you."
The rain was coming down even harder, and all I could see in front of me were the tail lights on the other cars as they either crawled past us on the highway, or pulled over to wait out the storm.
"Well, that was when I saw how much tougher you really were, inside. I remember that I enjoyed being around you more, and I started to take you a bit more seriously than I had in the past. It was like...in some weird way...I felt proud for you, if that makes any sense. Then I graduated, but I didn't want to just quit hanging out. During that summer, all the times we'd be out drinkin', well, I don't know if it was the liquor or what, but I started thinking about you...in other ways."
"What other ways."
"At the time I didn't want to admit it...hell, I was pretty confused by it...I'd had a girlfriend and all, so it didn't make sense to me."
He sighed. "Please. Do I have to spell it out for you?" he asked.
"What, you wanted to mess around with me or something?"
"No, that's the thing. What's nuts is that I remember thinking 'I don't want to screw him.' And that's what was always confusing to me, because I'd never even thought of doing anything...like that...with you. I'd be cruisin' along, doin' whatever, and suddenly there'd be this thought come into my head. 'You can't have sex with Paul.' "
"Okay. I'm not...entirely sure I understand."
He paused for a moment. "You remember that night we went to the park and climbed the mountain?"
"You kidding? It's one of the best memories I have with you."
"Don't look so surprised. I always thought that the times we hung out were great. But stuff like hiking the mountain and the last time we were here at the cabin before my surgeries...those times stand out to me even more. Anyway...you were saying."
"Well, that night was the first time I ever thought 'hey, I could actually do something with this guy.' I remember exactly when it happened, because in my head I was going back to thinking 'what the fuck? you fuckin' crazy? you're not gonna get gay with him.' I think I'd said something about having sex with a girl on the mountain, or it was the perfect spot to do that, or something. I don't remember the exact words, but I remember looking at you and thinking 'oh shit, you'd better get your shit together.' I was completely...shocked at the thoughts in my head."
I blew out a deep breath and realized that I was tapping my fingers against the steering wheel, a habit that I'd picked up from Alan years before.
"So you wanted to sleep with me?"
"No, I..." he said. "That's where I was confused. I'd dated Elizabeth and never even had a thought about any other guys. So when at first, out of the blue, came the thoughts of not wanting to do something with you, it didn't make sense to me, because I'd never even thought of wanting to do something with you. Does that make any sense at all? It's like...I was denying something that I never even thought I wanted to begin with. See what I'm sayin'?"
"No so much," I replied.
"Well, try being on my end of the moment. I was a fuckin' basket case. I never really thought about...sexuality that much, but I guess I'd always considered myself a straight guy. Then all of a sudden it was like I was trying to convince myself that I actually was straight, when I'd never doubted it before."
"Okay...I understand...I think," I said, slowly.
"So for the next couple of weeks I kept going back and forth in my head, not sure why I was doubting anything about myself."
"Huh. So I guess that massage I gave you must have tripped you out."
"You know," he said, "I remember as you were doing that, for the first time I found I was thinking that I actually could...go further with you. Shit, I was so worked up, I was glad that I was lying face down on the floor. Dude, I had this raging fuckin' hard on, and I couldn't believe it."
I chuckled a bit. "I remember when all of a sudden you sat up real fast against the bed."
"Yeah. Let's just say I'd suddenly experienced enormous denial towards how my body was reacting. I was always into girls. Now here's this guy that I'd already had confusing thoughts about, massaging my back, and I reacted to him by sporting wood."
I couldn't help but laugh at the comment.
"Oh God, I wanted it bad," he went on, "and it freaked the shit out of me. I had to get out of there."
"I remember. You almost took the hinges off the front door when you left."
He nodded. "There's more."
"Well, I guess there is. I'm still not convinced that you're straight. At the very least, you're bi."
Don shook his head slightly, then continued as though I'd never spoken. "Going to North Carolina was the best...and worst...thing that could've happened to me. I thought that if I was away, I could push back the thoughts I'd had about you. For a while it worked."
"You mean when you quit returning my calls?"
"Mm hmm. I was able to ignore thinking of you that way. I'd go out with Arnie from time to time, we'd pick up girls, and I never had any issues."
"Meaning, you'd never thought of gettin' together with a guy."
"Exactly. Then one night after drinking, Arnie decided that he wanted to see if he could get something going with me. I think he was just horned up really bad."
"Um...I think we call that 'gay'."
Don shook his head again. "Paul, you have no idea the things that go on in locker rooms."
"Beg your pardon?"
"I think you'd be surprised how much a lot of athletes have somethin' goin' on with each other."
"So is that what all the butt smackin' is about?" I was trying to crack a joke.
He chuckled a bit. "No. That's all just like givin' each other a pat on the back, sayin' 'good job' or whatever. Some guys...well...every once in a while I'd hear of a guy or two on either the baseball team or the soccer team who would get together with another guy for some action."
"Jeeze, where was I when all this was goin' on," I said incredulously.
"Well, they weren't, like, in love or anything. Sometimes the guys would just get horny and jerk each other off. Sometimes...well...sometimes it was more than that."
"And you don't consider this gay."
"Hell, I dunno. Maybe some of 'em were, but I think that a couple just liked sex and were attracted to another guy's maleness."
"Maleness? Is that a code word for 'dick'?" I laughed.
He laughed, too. "No. I don't meant to sound like a jerk, but you were never a jock so you might not quite understand...but a lot of guys in the locker rooms, well...they admire when another guy is really focused on his body. It's like when you know that a guy is really into taking care of himself, is really outgoing when it comes to sports and other kinds of things, there's a sort of...I dunno, camaraderie, or somethin'. I know I'm not saying it right, but--"
"No, I see what you're saying. It sounds the same as when two women just admire each other's beauty."
"Exactly! A few of the guys just seemed okay with taking that admiration to another level, I guess."
"So...were you one of those guys."
"No," he said immediately.
"You answered that pretty quick."
"Well, I mean, I see a guy who works out or is extremely athletic, and sure, I admire the time and effort he puts into himself. But I don't look at him and go, 'damn, I'd like to crawl onto him and fuck him'."
"But with me, you did."
"Not when I looked at you, no."
"Thank you very much. That's a very nice thing to say," I said, sarcastically.
"No. What I meant was...shit, how do I put this. Lemme finish what I was saying. I go off to school, pick up a few chicks with Arnie from time to time--"
"You sleep with them?"
He hesitated for a moment. "One or two, yeah. Anyway, then this one night he gets drunk and tries to get me to get him off, but I wasn't into him. I'd never thought about him that way, but it made me think about you."
"God, I wish I could tell you. It's taken me a long time to come to grips with...anyway, after I left Arnie that night, my head kept going back and forth thinking about you. I had absolutely no interest in him, but I couldn't get you out of my head. In fact, I was again constantly denying that I wanted something more from you. That whole thing with him just triggered all the confusion again."
I sighed, still not understanding.
Don must've read my mind. "Look. I know that this doesn't make any sense. Anyway, after I left school that first year and came back for the summer, I figured I'd lay low for a while. Hell, if I didn't have to see you it'd be easier, I thought. But then I missed just hanging out with you."
"Well, why didn't you just call me? It's not like we'd moved, or anything."
"Because I didn't want to think about having sex with a guy, and I knew that if we started hanging out again...well, I really didn't know what would happen. But by then you and Alan were together."
I laughed a bit. "You know, we tried really damn hard to keep that from everyone. I'm surprised that more people didn't find out."
"Well, his brother's a bit of a dick, but I don't think he'd'a done anything that could'a hurt Alan."
"Ok, so you stayed away that summer because of Alan."
"Pretty much. Then when we wound up in the same class at DeKalb...well, that sorta blew me away, and it made me face my thoughts head-on. Then when you blew up and hollered at me after school that one day in the parking lot, it was like watching that skinny little kid bench pressing the weights again. You'd shocked me, but it made me see once again how tough you could be."
I just nodded a little bit. "Man, I know you're trying to explain all of this, but I'm still not getting your point."
"Damn, dude," he said with a little exasperation, "how do you explain to someone that you've begun to love him, huh? It's like trying to tell someone what Coke tastes like." He looked down at his knees. The rain was still pounding the car in sheets. "Anyway, more and more time passed and we were hanging out again. It wasn't exactly like in high school, but it was...it is...still damn fun."
We sat there for a few moments looking out the window.
Finally, he spoke again. "I was finally accepting the fact that I could be....intimate, sexual, whatever with you when the cancer hit. God damn, man," he said, laughing a bit, "I don't think I've ever seen anybody handle a situation like that the way you did. You fuckin' sailed through that ordeal. You're told you have cancer, you say 'what do we do now.' They operate on your lung and it collapses, you say 'what do we do next.' Exploratory surgery, remove the spleen, you say 'bring it on.' Radiation, losing sense of taste, some hair falling out? 'What do we do next.' Shit, man. I don't know anyone...anyone who could've handled all that like you did."
I resumed tapping my fingers on the steering wheel. "I guess I just looked at it like it was a speed bump. Nothing more, nothing less."
"Well, I admire the shit out of you for it."
"Lemme ask you something. When we were in the hospital that day, talking about Alan--"
"I was trying to feel you out. I wanted to know where your head was, and the fact that I asked about y'all even scared the shit out'a me."
"Because! I didn't know what to do next. I'd finally accepted that I could take our friendship to...another level. But I didn't know how to say it. I'd debated telling you anything because you were still recovering from the surgery, but then Alan came up and I could see the look in your eyes. So I let it go."
"Just like that?"
"No. Not just like that. What made it easier to let go was not having to face my own fears I had in telling you. And plus, what could I have done? Ask you out on the date? 'Hey Paul, how about we go to The Varsity some night'?"
I shrugged, and a lot of what he was saying was starting to make sense.
"I know. This sounds crazy," he said, looking out his window. The rain had started to slack up a little bit by that point.
"Paul, I love you. In a way like a brother, but in another way...damn," he said quietly. "I care for you so damn much that it doesn't matter to me that you're a guy. I know that I can show you how much. I know you love Alan, and none of this changes that, but I was hoping...I just wanted to see if you could...feel the same way."
I hung my head, unsure of what to say. Finally, I spoke. "Don, I had a crush on you for as long as I can remember. Even when Alan and I were first goin' out, I'd think of you a lot, and how much I wanted him to be you. You're right, I do love Alan--"
"But it's not as though he's a sure thing, anymore."
I smiled at him. "You're tryin' real hard, ain't'cha."
He looked down at his lap.
"Is that why you made dinner last night?"
He nodded and my heart swelled. "I just wanted to do something nice for you."
"So why get me drunk?"
"Uh...that wasn't getting you drunk as much as it was getting me to relax."
I sat and looked at him for a second. "You were nervous?"
"Nervous as shit."
Before I could stop myself, I leaned across the car and slipped my hand behind his neck, then pulled his face towards me. Automatically, he turned his head and brought his lips to mine. We kissed for a moment or two, even though my mind was still reeling from all that he'd said. Finally, Don broke the kiss.
"Look," he said, pressing his forehead against mine. "I know this is a lot to take in, and as much as I'd love to see if we could work it out...."
"Well, I'd really like to give you time to wrap your head around this some more."
"You know, I'm not completely sure how you can't be gay...but I think I sorta get it--"
"And that's why you should think about it more. I'm not gay, but I can...do more with you because I love you so damn much. God, you're my best fuckin' friend...but so much more than that. I just..wanna give you some time to think. I ain't goin' nowhere."
Pretty much getting what he was saying, I just nodded. The whole time I was thinking that what he told me made sense, yet it didn't. Up until then I'd always figured that if a guy liked a guy he was gay. It never occurred to me that Don's feelings of love and friendship for me were so intense that he was willing to..."cross the line" if you will...and have an even more personal relationship with me. Sure I still loved Alan, but was I still in love with him? The more I thought about it, the less sure I was. And Don had made some good points the night before. I shouldn't have to wait years for Alan to get over his uncertainty or his weakness so we could be together again. It wasn't fair to me. Why couldn't I have a guy that I loved, who also loved me? One who didn't have to live in my back pocket in order for us to make it work? I understood how Alan felt and knew what he wanted, but I also knew what I needed.
I needed a man to be there with me and for me. I was getting sick of being put on hold by Alan. God, how I loved that man, but how much longer could I wait?
The rain had slacked off enough, so I put the car in gear and drove away.
"You're right," I finally said to Don. "I need some time to think about this."
"For listening. For not telling me to piss off."
I grinned a little and shook my head. "This is what I call an Excedrin headache," I said, rattling my head back and forth. Don laughed out loud. "Dude, I got some thankin' to do. Why can't anything be easy?" I chuckled.
"Seriously, though, I was worried how about things would turn out between us if I told you all of this...stuff."
"I'm glad you did. You got'ta know, though, that you've almost completely blown away my sense of reality. The whole idea of you being straight, and yet you...care enough about me to...want to get sexual...well, it kinda makes my head hurt a little."
He shrugged. "I just hope that it'll make sense."
"Well," I said, "just know that your best friend isn't going anywhere. Although I might not totally get it, as long as I can talk about it...well, it's gonna take some time."
"I know. It took me a while, too. Just...give it some thought."
I just nodded and kept driving.
* * * *
R.A. training was basically bullshit. I was only to be an alternate, but I still had to go through all of the meetings where the director would talk about the rules and regs, building security, how we should respond to resident complaints, et cetera. It was a little odd being in the dorms with only twenty or so other people, and it felt eerily like The Overlook Hotel in The Shining.
At the end of the previous spring quarter Greg and I found out that there was a room opening up on the south side of the building, and we got the okay from the housing department to store our things in there during the summer so we wouldn't have to move out and then move back into the building when fall quarter came around. Our bunks were disassembled and lying on the floor of the room, and the couch was the only piece of furniture besides the lettuce green refridgerator.
Even though technically students weren't allowed to move into the dorms until the following week, because I had to stay there anyway for the duration of the training I'd asked Greg if he wanted to go ahead and start bringing stuff in from his house. I was glad to have the company. Our new room was actually two doors down and across the hall from our old one, so the R.A. on that floor was the same. Otherwise, with the exception of seeing people during the training sessions, I didn't really hang out with anybody. Most of them already knew each other, and I felt a little out of place.
I didn't have a problem being alone, because it would give me plenty of time to really think about everything Don had told me. I was beginning to make sense of his initial reactions to me when we first started hanging out, as well as how confused he was by it all. I mean face it, during high school we were really just kids who were facing adult situations, and we had no clue how to handle things. I didn't really have anybody to bounce the things that he'd told me off of, so it was up to me to figure it all out. It all boiled down to the fact that his feelings were so intense where I was concerned, and he wanted to explore having a deeper relationship with me. It was the exploring that I wasn't too sure of. But then again, do we always start out dating people with the intent of getting married? Of course not. I think what made the situation even more unique was that we were extremely close friends, and I didn't want to screw that up.
The second night after training Greg finished moving the rest of his stuff. Being on the south side of the building had its advantages, because now the sun actually made its way into our room. The other side of the building had been in constant shade which really sucked in the winter months. The windows in our new room looked out onto the grassy field that stretched between the two dorm buildings and let in plenty of sunshine. We still hadn't had time to put our bunks back together, and I'd already been sleeping on the sofa bed. As the night wore on I kept wondering what time Greg was going to be leaving. After watching a little bit of the news, he announced that he was going to stay the night in the room as well. I thought it funny because he didn't bring a sleeping bag or anything.
When he asked me if I'd help him pull the bed out of the couch I may have looked at him funny, because he asked me if I'd expected him to sleep on the floor. I guess one of the oddest things about the situation was that his house was literally a few miles away from the dorms, and the sofa bed was a double, so to say that things would be tight would be an understatement.
I was wearing a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, but Greg stripped down to his boxers, which he always slept in. I'd always thought that he was a good looking guy, and he was definitely a great friend, but at the time my signals were going haywire. I didn't know what to do, but I damn sure wasn't going to sleep on the floor. I was the one stuck at the school for a week, not him. He could've gone home anytime, right?
Greg left the room to go brush his teeth, and I slipped beneath the sheets on one side of the mattress. A few minutes later he came back and climbed onto the other side of the bed. He was lying on his back with his arms propped behind his head. I turned my back to him and lay on my side, an inch or two from slipping off the side of the bed itself. I don't recall ever being more uncomfortable in my life. Was he wanting something to happen? Had he sensed that I was gay? I always had suspicions about him, but we never talked about it. Plus, I knew he'd dated girls and had a lot of sex in high school....
...which got me thinking about Don and how he felt towards me.
My last thought as I drifted off to sleep that night was 'what is the deal with the guys in my life? Why am I always so damn confused around them?'