May 16 2006
Alan and I got back to my dorm as the rain was easing up again. We couldn't have gotten more wet if we'd gone down with the Titanic. The air conditioning inside the building was on, and both of us were shivering by the time we got up to my room. I had a change of clothes, but Alan didn't. I suggested that he borrow a towel, my soap and shampoo, and jump in the shower while I run downstairs to throw his clothes into the wash.
When I returned, he was back in my room with a towel wrapped around his waist. I couldn't help thinking that the guy was so damned good looking that he could stop traffic. I tried to clear my head of that thought and headed off to take my own shower. He laid down on the couch and grabbed a blanket to cover himself. Once I was in the shower, the limitless stream of hot water helped me not only to warm up from the cold rain, but it also gave me plenty of time to clear my head a little bit.
I hated getting out of the warm confines of the stall, but I knew that I was delaying the inevitable. He and I had more to talk about. As I entered my room I saw Alan asleep on the couch, one leg stretched out over the arm of the couch, the other over the back. I just watched him breathe, his muscular arms and chest slowly rising and falling. I couldn't deny the feeling of longing that I still had for him.
I turned to get dressed and as I pulled my underwear up, he let out a low whistle. I smiled to myself. "Haven't seen that in a while," he said. I turned to face him while I finished getting dressed. He curled up onto his side, his arms and chest still uncovered.
"I thought you were asleep."
He just shook his head.
"Ya warm?" I asked. He nodded. "You want a Coke?"
"Peanuts?" I kidded him.
"Ugg. You and your Coke and peanuts," he smiled.
"Hey, it adds some protein to caffeine, which is helpful when you have two more long nights to go."
He shook his head again. "Bud, I don't know how you do it--stay up all those nights in a row."
I gave him a can and sat down with my Coke and peanuts. "You know, in a weird way, you sorta get used to it. It was really rough at first, but...." I plunked a few of the peanuts into the can and Alan made a face. After I took a deep swig, I let out a loud "ahhhhh!" and started to sing the old jingle from the seventies. He just chuckled. I left for a few minutes to go down and throw his clothes into the dryer. When I came back, he was still lying in the same position on the couch. I took my seat and resumed drinking my Coke.
After a minute or so of silence with me looking out the window and Alan watching me, he finally spoke up. "Whatcha thinkin'?"
"Tell you the truth, I'm not. I'm just...my mind's a bit of a wasteland right now," I said.
"Wanna tell me about it?" he inquired.
"No," I shook my head. "You talk. You came all the way from Athens...I think I've spilled my guts back there," I nodded in the direction of the pond, "so how about you shed some light on things."
"I don't know...you wanted to talk so bad....well talk."
Alan looked at me for another moment, then said, "Well, there's obviously something driving a wedge between us, and I was hoping that we could...get it out in the open."
"If you had to guess, what would you think it is?"
"I don't have to guess. It's Reed."
"Well...not exactly Reed, I don't even know him, but..."
He looked at me for a second. "You'd have a problem with anybody that I'd date, wouldn't you."
"Not necessarily the actual person...just the fact that you'd be seeing someone. It's, uhh...kinda hard to take, to say the least."
"But, man, we've been separated for over two years now. Are you surprised that I might find somebody and start...seeing them?"
"Surprised? Not really sure that's the word. I mean, for the past two years or so, we've just been doing the college thing, but we'd still hang out. I'm not surprised that someone could love you. I guess...it's kinda stupid...I just figured that we were in a holding pattern until after school. I dunno, maybe I'm dumb... What did you think would happen? Between us?"
"Honestly, Paul, I'd hoped for the same thing. I wasn't counting on someone else coming along. And now...I still don't know." He hesitated for a second. "Reed and I...well, what I was gonna say was that I'm not really sure that he and I are going to make it."
"Christ, Alan, today I spilled my fuckin' guts out to you, telling you that why I've been so miserable is because you've moved on with your life. And now you tell me that you and...this other guy...this guy who's now a part of my personal friggin' misery...might not even work? Coming to me like all I am is a friend you can talk to? Come on, dude. Don't you think our history together would affect my feelings somewhat on the issue?" I shook my head and took a swig of Coke.
"Paul, come on man, don't get angry--"
"Well based on the circumstances how did you expect me to act? Dead?" He grew silent. "I'm not angry....fuck! I'm...I'm hurtin' here, pal. And sorry, but this is how I'm displaying 'hurt' right now."
We sat there in silence for a few moments. "Paul," he finally said, "what do you want?"
I grunted in response.
"No really, what do you want from me? What do you want me to do?"
"I don't know."
"Well, I need to know. There's obviously something you have in your mind--"
"I just...I just don't know, Alan."
"We need to figure it out, then."
"Why? So you can be more comfortable seeing other people?" I snapped.
"So I can be more comfortable being your friend."
"Jesus," I muttered, "talk about my blood running cold." There was another moment or so of silence. "What sucks about all of this, Alan, is that we still want each other. Not only that, but back there, I realized how much we still want each other. I could see it in your eyes. Only problem is that you have somebody else, and I'm far away. Doesn't make getting back together easy, does it."
"You're right. It doesn't. I'm curious, Paul. Do you even still want to be friends? Now?" he asked.
"Do I...? Yeah...I do. Shit, it kills me that you could even ask me that."
"So then...what do you want...from me?"
"Can I be honest?" I asked.
"I want it to be like on the beach in St. George again. When you showed me that there was another, more important part to being with someone. When you showed me how it felt to give--how it made us better. Or at the cabin, when I had those awful nightmares, but I felt safe because you were right there beside me. How sometimes we'd fuck like rabbits, and sometimes how we'd draw out the intimacy. I want more than just a friendship with you, Alan. It's like...I want to be here for you as a friend, but doing so makes it painfully obvious that I'm not the guy you're dating anymore. And it just...it just sucks. And to tell you the truth, I'm not sure how you can help me get through this."
I heard him sigh. "Paul, I don't know what to do. I want all of that again, too. I just don't know how to get back there." he spoke quietly. I turned to look at him and could see the pain in his eyes.
"So how come y'all aren't gonna make it?" I asked him, but I knew I sounded pretty uncaring.
He took a deep breath. "I dunno..." he said, searching for words.
"Hey, just be honest, okay?"
"Something's just...not...right." He was fingering the edge of the blanket, looking at it the whole time. I said nothing, just sat and looked at him. "I dunno..."
"Stop saying 'I dunno'."
He half smiled. "Sorry. I thought I loved him...but something's just....missing. I was so damn lonely without you. I wanted to feel again like I did when I was with you, and I thought that he fit the bill."
I shook my head a bit in frustration.
"Paul, you asked me!"
"I know I did, God dammit! But shit!"
"My problem with him, Paul, is that he's not you!" he blurted out. "I thought that when we stopped seeing each other, and became just friends, that I could ease into that."
"Ease into what?"
"Ease into you and I just being friends. I was so damn lost...for so long."
"You seemed to accept it just fine," I said.
"I didn't," he responded. "It was, I think, one of the hardest things I ever had to do."
"Then why did you call things off? Huh?" I asked.
"It was the whole separation--"
"Okay, I'm calling bullshit on you, now. Alan, plenty of people have long-distance relationships that work--"
"And plenty of people don't! Paul, at that time you'd never been away from home. I was seeing couples left and right breaking up, all because they couldn't handle the distance apart. And so many times they would get...just...shit, you'd think that they hated each other. They'd act as though they'd just discovered that the other person was a thief or a murderer--"
"But that wasn't us."
"But it could've been."
"But it wasn't," I repeated.
"But it could've been." After a moment's hesitation and a deep breath, he said, "Paul, I don't think you ever knew..." but then he stopped.
I hesitated for a moment. "Ever knew what."
He shook his head slightly.
"Will you leave that damn blanket alone? Ever knew what?" I repeated.
He looked straight into my eyes. "I don't think you ever really knew how important your friendship was to me."
"You were, like, the first...well, 'best' isn't a strong enough description, but best friend I've had. Ever."
"Oh, come on. I'm the one who moved around a lot. You grew up in one place and knew tons of people. You can't possibly expect me to believe that you were without friends."
"No, no, I had lots of friends...something was just different with you. I dunno," looking back down.
"Alan...surely whatever it is can't make you uncomfortable to talk to me. Dude, we've got too much damn history together for you to feel funny talking to me about anything."
"Paul," he sighed, "you didn't know me when I was a kid. And yeah, you really were the first best friend I've had. Ever. I don't know if it's because we had so much going on between us at the same time that made it that way, but when you came home from your cruise and said how much our friendship meant to you...well, you have no idea how much that meant to me. No idea at all. Yeah, the sex was great and I'd never felt for anyone what I did for you at the time, but...I knew I couldn't live without the friendship. And when you told me, then, that you'd rather our relationship end than the friendship itself....shit...I totally knew what you were saying. And at that time I never would've thought that we'd...break up. But you put me on fuckin' cloud nine when you said that. In a few months I'd gone from just talking to this goofy guy in class that I had a great time with and wanted to spend more time with, to dating him. I never would've guessed that could've happened. Not in a million years."
"But when we first met, all we did was, like, hang out in school. Out of curiosity, though, why'd you want to spend more time with me?" I asked.
He chuckled a bit. "You're gonna laugh," he said, hesitating. "You were a senior. I was a junior. You guys usually didn't hang out too much with the younger kids in the school."
I couldn't help but laugh out loud. "Do what?"
He smiled and was a bit embarrassed. "I'm serious, dude."
"What the hell does that have to do with anything? Alan, you were a jock, for cryin' out loud. I'm guessing there was more than one or two seniors that you talked to."
"Well, I always looked up to the older guys on the team, but I never really hung out with them. They never really hung out with us. With you...I dunno."
"If you say that one more time, I'm gonna beat your ass!"
He laughed out loud at that. We sat there for a few more minutes not talking. Finally I broke the silence.
"So, what do you think...why do you think that my being a senior and talking to you, hanging out, whatever...why do you think that was so...I'm not sure if this is the right word, but special?"
He looked at me funny. "I'm surprised you don't see what I'm saying. Didn't you feel that way towards Don?"
"Tell ya the truth, I never really thought about it like that."
"Well think about it. You're a dorky kid in school--"
"You know what I mean--yet here you are friends with not only a jock, but one of the most popular players on the baseball team. Did you not look up to him?"
"Honestly, I never thought about it. I mean, yeah, at first I had a crush on him. But we became friends, and I never really thought of him as being an upper classman, or a jock, or whatever."
"Huh," he said. "Maybe it's just me, then."
"Just you, what?"
"Well, you know how a lot of guys look up to their older brothers?"
"Not me," I said flatly.
"You know what I'm talkin' about." I nodded. "You were the only senior guy in Spanish when I met you...sounds silly now but I think I sorta looked up to you at first. It was like, 'how cool, a senior'. Dude, everyone has somebody, some group, some association that they look up to. I guess at that time I was a bit in awe of upper classmen. And you were so damn goofy...in a good way. You just made it easy and fun being around you."
"And hearing that I was gay didn't have anything to do with you wanting to be with me, did it?" I grinned a little.
"Well. Okay. That much you do know," and he smiled a sheepish grin. "The more I was around you, the more I wanted to be around you. It's like, you could handle anything. Plus, you were so damn goofy."
I threw a towel at his head, and it stayed covering his face. "Much better," I said. He pulled it off.
"I'm not sure if any of that made sense, but I just felt this sort of connection with you. I can't explain it, but I just took a chance. Hell, maybe that's part of it, too."
"Part of what?"
"Part of why I feel so strongly about you. I identify you with taking a chance on something big, and it seemed to have worked out."
"I guess there was a need in me I had, and I thought that
"For a while it did, yeah," I said. He grew silent. "So, what's the deal with Reed?"
"Well, my problem is that I keep comparing him to you, which he'll never be, but it's not really fair to stick with someone when you're always comparing him to another person."
Talking about Reed just turned out to be way too hard for me to handle. "Damnit. I'm sorry, Alan. Talking about your current boyfriend, being your former boyfriend...I just don't think I can handle it."
"You keep asking."
I let out a deep breath. "You broke up with me because of distance. Okay, I get that...sort of. Now you tell me that you're breaking up, or may break up with, that dude because he's not me? Do you not see how that makes it even harder for me to deal with?"
"Paul, I'm sorry," he said quietly.
We grew silent again. Finally, I asked, "Alan, what do you want?"
"If you could have things your way, what would you want?"
"That's easy. If I could have things my way, I'd have you. We'd at least move in together and figure out the rest from there. Shit, I'd be happy if we lived close to each other again. Then...damn, that would just be awesome."
"But you know that can't happen. After next quarter I have four more years before I graduate, so I'm stuck in Marietta until then. Plus, you still have Reed, and you need to figure out what you're wanting with him. Because you say one thing, yet you're still living together."
"Would we...have to wait until you graduate before doing anything?" he asked.
"To tell you the truth, I don't know. Things aren't quite smooth sailing right now, and I think that we need to let some time go by so we can get past this. But even then, you're still living with someone else, so it doesn't really matter, does it?" Tears started to sting my eyes. "It's just not easy to be only your friend when we both know that I want more. And we both know that you're wanting more, too."
His eyes welled up a bit when I said that, and he looked like he'd just swallowed glass. "Um. Can you see if my clothes are dry?" he asked in a quiet voice.
"I'll be right back," I said, and left the room to get his things. On my way I could feel an ache in my soul. I couldn't handle things without Alan in my life, whatever role he may play in it. When I came back with his hot clothes, he was sitting up on the couch, the blanket wrapped around his shoulders. "Here." I handed his clothes to him.
He got up and turned away from me to get dressed. Once he'd finished, I said, "Alan, could you please sit down?" He turned to face me and said nothing. "Please?" I repeated.
He just shook his head 'no.'
"Look. I love you. I have for as long as I want to remember. You and I being like this...damn, my inner core is nearly gone. Regardless of how I feel, I know that I still need your friendship. It's just that I'm...damn, this just sucks...it hurts to see you with someone else. It hurts to think that you have with him what you once had with me."
"But I don't have that with him. And I am so sorry for hurting you," he said.
"I believe you. I really do. I'm not sure what to tell you about him, or how to handle the situation. Anyway, I hope I didn't fuck things up between us, ignoring you for the past six weeks." I attempted a smile.
"You didn't," he said, a bit of a glint in his eyes.
I put my face in my hands for a second and took a deep breath. "Listen. I know that I'm supposed to just be happy and roll on like nothing's going on in my head. It's been over two years, right? Well, don't forget, Alan, that you were...you are...my best friend, too. But at one time we were so much more than that, and you gotta remember, that because we have a history together...it's gonna be tough for me when I see you with someone else. I might wanna beat the shit out of you from time to time," this got a smile from him, "but I'll remember our friendship, and that should get me back on course. And if you think of me as you say you do, care for me and all, then you're just gonna have to deal with me when I'm like that. All of this is new to me. I could handle it better when I thought that we had a chance to get back together sometime. But you seeing someone now...well, it's like a bucket of cold water's being tossed on me--because with that comes the realization that I can't have you like I used to. And it's very hard for me." My voice wavered as the pain of thinking that I may never have again with Alan what we once had ricocheted around my head like a bullet. "Like I said before, you're still in my heart. I just have to move it around in there a little bit."
He smiled a little. "I think that I can handle you being mad at me. And I totally understand it. But please, please don't completely shut me out. These past six weeks...they about done me in, Paulie. I can handle it if you need some alone time, some time to think, some time to be away. I...I just can't handle you gone."
"Surely, you gotta know it's not exactly fair for you to ask me to be hunky-dory about things--"
"I'm not asking that of you. I swear to God, I'm not. Jesus, it's killing me, knowing that you're hurting so damn bad...and that I'm the one who caused it."
"--and you gotta understand that I'm the guy who would've put up with the distance challenge. Face it, a certain part of me has been replaced in your life. I'd still move heaven and earth for ya, pal. But you gotta let me deal with this. And sometimes it won't be pretty, I can tell you that now. But you've sorta set the stage here. I'm just just an actor on it, now."
"So...you're not mad at me?"
"No. I'm not mad at you. I'm hurt. I told you, it's kinda like a knife right now, but I'll handle it. So don't push, okay? I'm not trying to warn you. Not trying to be an asshole. I'm just saying, if I'm sulking a bit, then let me be. If you ask me what's wrong and I tell you to let it go, then let it go. I swear I'll tell you what's bothering me, if I can."
"Man, I hate that I've caused you so much pain. Believe me, it's the last thing I ever wanted," he said again. I smiled in response as I saw in his eyes that he was telling the truth. "And Paul, I couldn't have asked for a better friend."
"You're damn right, you couldn't," I said. He started to smile, then saw I was being serious. Suddenly I had an idea. "Hang on," I said, and went to my desk drawer. I pulled out the watch he'd given me our first Christmas together. I still wore it a lot, but there were times I'd go for weeks at a time without it on. "Here," I said. "When you gave me this watch, the compass was pointing to you, and you said I'd always know what direction I was going. You hang on to this for a while. I can't promise that things'll always be smooth but...just hang on to this, okay? If things get rough...well...here. You know what I'm saying." I could feel tears in my eyes again as I looked at the compass itself. "I expect it back, so don't even think about keeping it," I wiped at my eyes.
Alan stood there looking at the watch, his mouth twitching for a second. "Paul. It's...it's pointing to you, now."
I smiled a bit. "I know. So now you'll always know which direction you're going."
He put it in his pocket because his wrist was too big to put it on. "Well, I'd better be going home. You gonna get any sleep tonight? Or tomorrow night?"
"I doubt it. There are still so many drawings to finish."
"I admit, man, I'm pretty impressed with your stuff. I've never seen any of your projects before."
"Well thanks. I appreciate it. But I'd better get back there before someone decides to vacate my table for me."
"Okay," he said, walking towards the door. "And Paul?"
He turned around and hugged me. "Thank you," he said into my shoulder.
I held him back. "For what, you lug?"
He breathed out. "I don't think I could ever explain it...but just...thank you."
I understood what he meant, and we stood there holding each other for a few minutes. It was hard, feeling his arms around me and his chest pressed to mine, knowing that this was a friendly hug and not a passionate one. I clapped him on the back and said, "Alright, pal, I gotta get back to the drawing board. I'll walk you down to your car."
We headed back towards the architecture building where Alan had parked. Not much was said -- not much more could be. When we reached his car, the clouds actually started to break up a little bit. He and I did our hand thing, and before I could turn, he hugged me again. This time, though, it was a quick hug.
"Drive carefully," I said.
I turned to walk off when he called me. "Hey Paulie."
"Yeah," I said, turning back.
"I love you."
"I love you too, pal," I said.
He winked, smiled, then got into his car. I headed back to the studio.
* * * *
Hey y'all. Just wanted you to know that this story is far from over. I say this, because I keep getting e-mails from people asking me to continue the story. We have many moons to go.