“Keep your cell phone on, Man.” Scott said. He was very cute when he was protective. Brian, who looked exactly like his picture, was standing on his front steps sort of nervously, and Mina waved and gave him a huge smile. “He doesn’t look too much like the Son of Sam.” Scott said thoughtfully. “You have permission to play with your little friend, son. See you at 5 in Millennium Park. Be safe.”
“Thanks, Dad.” I said with an eye roll.
But what the hell did he mean by ‘Be Safe’? Wasn’t the time to think about it.
They pulled away and I turned nervously, pulling at the sleeves of my shirt. I had a very long-sleeved light cotton striped shirt underneath a black T-shirt, and it suddenly felt a bit too hot. Stuffing my hands into the back pockets of my worn jeans, I took one out to give a weak little wave as I approached the guy standing on the stairs. Reaching the bottom, I looked up and gave up a shy smile.
“Hey, um, I’m Ethan.” I said. He was wearing a blue shirt with a cartoon character on it and black jeans, and his dirty longish blond hair was carefully swept across his forehead and curling around his ears. It looked freshly cut, and was nice around his features. He was blinking at me with no expression on his face, and didn’t say anything at first.
“Um….” Was my fly open or something?
“No SHIT.” His face broke into a huge smile as he bounded down the stairs to stand in front of me, so quickly I was taken aback. It made all of his features move, and his brown eyes crinkled. He was a couple of inches taller than me, but slouched. “I thought you were totally punking me with that picture!”
“Uh, no?” I tilted my head at him curiously, but had to smile. That bouncy energy I had sensed online was definitely also in effect in person. “Why would I do that?”
“Well, for no reason, obviously.” He blushed for a second then gave me a hug, which I returned a bit nervously. His smile was blinding. “Come in!” he suddenly had my hand, and was pulling me forward.
It was a nice house, early 90s-modern furnishing that was mostly white and metal-colored, and it made me somewhat ashamed of my over-stuffed, ancient rental home and its worn, hand-me-down furniture.
“Your parents aren’t home?” It was dead silent in the house aside from some distant music, and didn’t give off a feeling of life beside the sleeping orange tabby on the white leather couch.
“Nope!” He said over his shoulder with a smile. “They’re out shopping and eating all day, and they trust me to come home from school. I’m such a dork they have no fears.”
“Oh, cool.” It was a little intimidating, honestly, but I was glad I didn’t have to shuffle my feet in front of any parents and explain where Brian and I had met. I wondered if they knew he was gay, but it didn’t feel like we knew each other well enough to ask that question. He was holding my hand awfully tight.
“Here’s my room!” Brian stopped at the door, and let me walk in front of him. The music was coming from a small stereo unit in the corner, and the walls were covered with drawings and music posters and comic images. He had drawn the blinds and it had a cave effect, a little pool of lamplight next to his beautiful flat-screen computer monitor and his double bed sat mostly in darkness in the middle of the room.
“Want anything?” He said brightly. “Coke, juice, milk? They never leave me beer.”
“Sure.” I smiled at him. “Um, Milk, please.”
He turned and bounded away (The boy really did BOUND), and I sat gingerly on his dark blue comforter, and looked around, studying the pictures on the wall.
And there, right at eye level, on the wall across from the foot of the bed was a full-page print out of Zane’s face. Couldn’t argue with the placement.
Obviously from a professional shoot of some kind, it had him in a sleeker haircut than when I had, um, seen him, close to his head and slicked down. It would have given him and his fine face a dark, almost Goth look, if it wasn’t for the slight smile quirking the right corner of his mouth.
I forced myself to look away, and saw that a sketchbook was placed on the bed. Suspecting that wasn’t accidental and it was probably okay to look at it, I picked it up and started to examine the pictures. His style really was a lot of fun, and even when the anatomy wasn’t quite right it was very dynamic.
“That’s sort of embarrassing.” Brian said, slipping into the room and handing me a glass of milk before taking a swig of his coke. “Most of that stuff didn’t make it to Artborg, only my friends here have seen them. But I wanted to hear what you thought.”
Sitting down next to me on the bed, he leaned over my shoulder as I flipped through.
“This one is really cool. Where’d you get the inspiration for the car?”
“Well, I was watching Batman Begins and..."I asked questions and he responded enthusiastically, and I found myself relaxing. Brian was a very hard person not to like; his enthusiasm was so genuine and warm. We moved all the way through the almost full sketchbook, and he blushed when I pointed out at the last few pictures how much he’d improved in even the space of the few months he’d used it.
“Hey!” He said, leaning forward. “Did you bring yours? Please tell me you did!” At which point I became aware for the first time in 15 minutes that his leg was comfortably pressed against mine and his chin was practically on my shoulder. I didn’t mind, really; the point of contact was warm, and his smile was infectious.
“No…. “I shook my head, and his face fell. “I just stared a new one, but it’s in the car with Scott and Mina. But you’ve seen all the stuff worth seeing online, I promise.”
“Yeeeaaahhh…” He wrinkled his nose at me. “But I really wanted to see your sketches, though, the things you don’t consider ‘finished’. You seem really picky about what you think is worth showing. Why?”
I thought about it for a second. “I don’t know, I guess it’s hard enough to show other people my stuff, so, really, I want to make sure what I show is the best, that at least I can defend it somehow, does that make sense?”
He was quiet for a moment and then his eyes snapped to mine, and I swear he was staring at my lips. I forced myself to not look down at my hands or go flying to the bathroom.
Connection, go connection go! He had nice skin, I thought, a little freckled over his nose. And the way he kept flicking his hair out of his eyes was adorable…. Long legs, too. I liked long legs.
“Oh, yeah, definitely! You don’t need to think like that, though, you’re so good.” His smile was almost blinding in its honest warmth, and I blushed and looked away.
“I’m not that good.”
“Yeah, you are.” He insisted. His hand, I noticed, was suddenly on my knee.
“No, no I’m – “Just a hack, I was going to say, but I was too busy being kissed at that point. Brian’s hand was on my upper arm, and a hand reflectively shot out to rest on his chest, which felt lean but firm against my hand. He was a very skinny boy.
The kiss was enthusiastic and sort of sloppy, but his lips were warm, and it was definitely nice to be kissed.
Pulling back for a moment he looked in my eyes as if to check that it was okay to kiss me, and when I didn’t move away his face lit up with a smile and he leaned into me again. I opened my lips a bit to let him deepen his exploration. His tongue slipped in and tentatively explored my lips before getting much more aggressive. I battled him back – a bit to keep him at bay, but also because I was enjoying the kiss - and lifted my hand to wrap it around the back of his neck.
Honestly, I was just enjoying the kissing, and would have enjoyed doing so for a while before moving on, but Brian had other plans.
We were leaning backwards and he nudged me forward until I was leaning against the pillows at the back of the bed, him kneeling over me with one leg still half on the ground. Running my hands up his arms, feeling the sinewy muscles, I clutched around his shoulders and pulled him closer with attempted gentleness, as I knew that couldn’t be a relaxed position, but the second he knew what I was doing Brian flopped on top of me and rolled us until we were side by side. I could taste that he had just drunk soda, and he smelled like soap and deodorant, not unpleasant. His long body was all around me, and there was a distinct hardness against my thigh.
Starting to get turned on, I kissed his ear, and he giggled. Moving downwards, I nibbled at his neck, drawing my fingers down his chest. Brian shifted a bit, and reached out a hand, and starting groping towards my groin, his hand brushing down my hips – and he grabbed me with a lot of enthusiasm. Too Much Enthusiasm.
“Ow!” I started and winced, and involuntarily shifted my hips away from his hand, and Brian pulled back.
“Crap! I’m so sorry!” He looked horrified. “You alright?”
Not being able to help it, I started to laugh. Brian looked offended, and started to push himself off the bed. “No no no!” I grabbed his arm. “I’m fine! I’m not laughing at you!”
“So you’re laughing with me?” He said, half-hurt sarcasm and half-amused.
“Kinda, yeah.” I admitted. Brian still looked hurt, but he was so cute I pulled him forward, and lifted my face to kiss him again, gently, and he made a pleased noise into my mouth. Then he nuzzled up next to me and shimmied an arm below my neck so that I had no choice but to lean on his shoulder.
Not that I was complaining, as it was a nice place to be, but, I was astounded at his ability to be so physically comfortable with someone he didn’t know in the space of 45 minutes. It was… really nice. I marveled at that. This felt… good. Comfortable. I could definitely get turned on kissing him.
Brian looked up at the ceiling while I found myself mindlessly gazing at the picture of Zane before he broke the silence.
“Sorry about that, Ethan. It wasn’t how I pictured things going.” He turned his head to look at me, and smiled sheepishly.
“How did you picture things going?” This is your fault, dumbass, my inner me said to the outer me, you are really bad at thinking these things through. This should not have been a surprise to you. Going to the house of a young gay man you had been flirting with was supposed to end up how, exactly? Tea and crumpets? In a completely non-dirty context?
“Um….” Turning away as I turned my head to look at him, I could see he had now flushed a bright red. “I don’t know… probably pictured way too far.”
“I liked it.” I said truthfully. “Don’t apologize. Sorry for being a dork and laughing, I think I was just embarrassed.” My eyes found the picture of Zane again of their own accord, and I forced them up to the ceiling. “I’m not really great at… hooking up. I tend to ruin things.”
The arm below me slipped downwards, and tickled me lightly beneath my armpit. My body bunched up and I started to laugh uncontrollably while trying to roll away from him.
“Brian!” I giggled helplessly, taken by surprise.
“Ruin things, huh?” He tickled me again and I thrashed. He stopped, but perhaps only because now his arms were around me, one resting at my navel and the other around my shoulders. I breathed and tried to get my body to relax. “I’m the one who ruins things.”
“I’ll get you for that.” I promised, laughing one last time. “I will.”
“Uh huh.” I could feel his breath at my neck where his nose and lips were, and he buried them into my hair. “Like to see you try! But…” Nibbling at the back of my neck he bit sorta hard, and I kept myself from wincing. “You’re really hot. You could never ruin things.”
“Thanks,” I murmured, embarrassed. “But whatever. And trust me, I can.”
“You think you screwed it up with that older guy?”
It surprised me that he remembered.
“Yeah.” I answered softly. “I handled it like a dork.”
“I don’t think you’re a dork.”
He was maybe the sweetest person I had ever met. I blushed and changed the subject. “How are things going with that asshole boyfriend of your sister’s? Does he still lurk around?”
‘Oh, they broke up, thank fucking god, just last weekend. Don’t have to deal with that prick anymore.”
“Yeah.” He said, his voice sounding sleepy and content at my back, “But I’d already forgotten about him.”
My blush deepened.
This could be very good for me, I thought, definitely good. A thought percolated at the back of my brain that something was going to be have to be explained to my clueless best friend, but I’d deal with that when the time came.
Like I was really good at dealing with such things. Right.
We’d snuggled for about half an hour, and then kissed some more before having to leave to meet Scott and Mina at a downtown pizza place, to where they had changed the location of meeting up after getting bored walking around the park. No longer cuddling meant a lot of the intimacy was gone, and we were again a bit awkward around each other.
But Brian’s gregarious nature made it okay, as he filled any silences easily. Honestly, I wished I could have kept up with him; how much of a conversational dude I was really came into focus around him, as I often felt I had little to contribute.
We were taking the train downtown, so Brian gave the kitty a scrunch, changed T-shirts, and locked up the house. While walking and on the train he held forth on a dazzling array of pop culture topics.
“So Snowborne is really good live?” He asked suddenly as we were jostling on the elevated train, which I always loved.
“They are.” I admitted. “They’re incredible, really the best indie band I’ve seen live.”
“That’s so cool you get to see them twice! And is Zane Butler as hot live as he is in photographs? I always figured there was a lot of airbrushing going on.”
Oh, and so much more, I thought. There was a hum of anticipation at seeing them again; no matter what I had or hadn’t done that night, they were incredible. I was excited about the concert, and mostly the concert. It was the truth, mostly. Sorta.
But I wouldn’t, couldn’t let this concert rekindle my sad little obsession; it wasn’t healthy for anyone involved, especially me.
“Yeaaaahhh…. He’s pretty hot.”
Brian looked at me curiously, but continued to talk until we walked into the restaurant; a cool place with names written on the beams and kids more or less hanging off the rafters. (That wasn’t the cool part, but it was certainly key to the atmosphere)
“Hey, man.” Scott stood up, and shook Brian’s hand; I practically rolled my eyes at him it was almost so… formal. Mina gushed, and we sat down, silently at first. Hell, Scott was fidgeting until gaming was brought up and him and Brian were off the hook talking about World of Warcraft.
It hit me that they were not unlike each other, a rather disturbing revelation from a personal point of view. As we ate pizza things were going swimmingly; it wasn’t until afterwards I found myself uncomfortable, as Brian’s hand was resting on my upper thigh. And moving. As I’d never had anyone feel me up in semi-public before, and certainly not in front of good friends, I couldn’t help breaking into a raging blush.
Scott, who’d been arguing passionately with Mina and Brian over Michael Keaton-Vs-Christian Bale’s respective Batmans and the possibility of thespian plagiarism stopped mid-rant and looked at me with narrowed eyes. When I looked away to study the screeching kids at the table across from us with completely unconvincing nonchalance he stood up suddenly – we were both at the end of the booth, across from each other - and looked down at me. Brian’s hand disappeared.
“I have to go to the bathroom.” Scott announced.
He waited a beat, starring at me.
“I have to go the bathroom, too?” I said tentatively.
“Great. We can go together.” He stomped off down the aisle, and I trailed after him, swearing I heard Mina go “GIRLS. God, always going off to the bathroom to TALK.” And Brian’s nervous laughter.
My heart felt like it was plummeting through the floor as we moved through the restaurant. But, hell, no, there was no way! I mean, really. No way.
We were in the bathroom alone, a very good thing, because he was puffed up and pissed and I could tell this wasn’t going to start well.
“What’s up?” My cheer was unconvincing even to me.
“What the fuck is going on?” He demanded.
“Best Friend, asshole, best-fucking-friend!”
I winced. “Yeah…”
“You don’t even bother to tell me you’re gay, that this is a date, and I have to put up with blondie out there FEELING YOU UP UNDER THE TABLE?”
That, I thought, was out of line. “He was NOT FEELING ME UP!” Sure, defending my honor was beside the point, but doing the issues dance was one of my specialties.
“Shut the fuck up, Ethan, that’s not the point and you know it!”
True. “Did Mina tell you?” I said quietly.
“No!” He stopped, and had the good grace to look a bit embarrassed. “I mean, she didn’t really have to. I basically knew. She just, uh… suggested.”
“Suggested.” I said faintly, still not over the ‘I basically knew’ part. A young kid started to enter, got a look from both of us, and fled.
“But that’s not the point!” He had fired himself up again, and poked in the direction of my chest accusingly. “I have to hear this shit from HER? What the fuck?”
“I didn’t know how to bring it up.” I offered truthfully. “And it didn’t seem to matter, really, since it wasn’t making a big difference in my life. And… I didn’t want to deal with it if it did. How long have you… ‘sorta known’ consciously?” This wasn’t necessarily Scott’s language I was speaking, though.
“Uh, I don’t know, couple of weeks, whenever Mina and I talked about it. But, whatever, Gay!” Scott threw his arms in the air. “I’m trying to set you up with hot chicks and you neglect to tell me you’re more likely to go after MY ass? And Don’t, BTW.” He said with an arch look at my direction; we were definitely speaking his lingua franca here.
“You wish.” I said somewhat resignedly. “Scott….”
“Best fucking Friend! What the fuck?”
“Because you never fucking LISTEN.” His mouth snapped shut mid-word. “But, hell, you claim you know, and you’re getting mad at me!”
“It was damn obvious.” He said with a scoff.
“Before Mina told you?”
“Basically obvious.” He amended. “Dude, you Fucked Mike! EWWWW!” His face screwed up in disgust. “I mean, once I put two-and-two together, I mean, ew!”
“No!” Now I was pissed at this fundamental insult to my personal taste. “I WOULDN’T let Mike fuck me, asshole!” Leaning against the wall, I ran a hand through my hair. “He didn’t like that much.”
“That’s why he was such a dick?” His eyes lit up.
“And then some.”
“No SHIT.” Now Scott was grinning, and he patted me on the arm. “That’s just killer, Ethan! You cold-cocked him!”
As I starred at his beaming face, reeling in Scott-induced-shock, it hit me that this right here was exactly why I was his best friend. Of course, here was also why I managed to shake my more romantic notions about him. He could be a clueless idiot and a selfish jerk, but at heart he was an easy-going guy who honestly couldn’t give a shit that I was gay. What really was more upsetting to him was the fact I hadn’t mentioned it myself, and, more importantly, had possibly screwed someone he couldn’t stand.
Really, I’d already been forgiven.
“So… we’re good?” I ventured. There was definitely a great deal more to talk about, but I could tell we’d reached his ADD-style emotional output level. But this had gone much easier than I had dreaded when picturing this scenario. Of course, he’d never been particularly homophobic, and he was proving me a coward. Was I a coward?
“Yeah, yeah, you queen.” Scott said affectionately, and I snorted at him and made a move to leave, but he was still blocking the door. “So… you screwing Brian?”
“Goddamn it, Scott,” I groaned, wincing and clutching at my hair in frustration, “Do you ever quit?”
“No,” He said genially. “Are you?”
“As if I even know him, so, no. We did kiss,” I think I was blushing. “But that was all.”
“He so has the hots for you, though. First Mike, then him. You’re a total priss, aren’t you? I can tell! Total cocktease!” He was loving this. “You know, Ethan, I’ve had girlfriends like you.”
“Do NOT start referring to me in terms like I’m a girl, asshole,” I said threateningly, “Or I’m telling Mina your deepest, darkest, nastiest and skankiest secrets. Including about the teddy bear. You know, the one that ‘disappeared’? Oh, and has the Strip Club Saturday Saga surfaced yet in all these deep discussions you’ve started having?”
“You’d never do that!” His green eye widened. My gaze did not waver. “Alright, alright, you’re no chick, thank god. A total dick, actually.” With a patented grin, he smacked me on the ass and winked, and I pondered punching him as he finally let me through. And then hugging him.
I turned and gave him a mock-suspicious look, expecting another ridiculous ribbing.
“Don’t forget you’re not really in your own little bubble,” His voice was deadly serious. “’Ke?”
“What?” I asked, startled.
“Idiot.” He said affectionately and strode towards the table without explanation.
Mina and Brian had obviously been talking, as they looked comfortable and relaxed until we came back to the table. I suppose we had probably been gone an unnaturally long time for a couple of guys just going to the bathroom.
Shit, I thought, catching Brian's searching gaze on me as I sat down, I hope he doesn't think it was THAT sort of bathroom trip. I remember telling him Scott was pretty incredibly straight...
"Make-up all nice and fresh, girls?" Mina said sweetly. I shot her a look of doom, and she raised her eyebrows knowingly, and I took from that look that she knew exactly why Scott and I had disappeared. Hell, she had probably been the one to push for it before we arrived. She was also without the slightest bit of guilt. I sighed inwardly. Maybe I WASN'T so crazy about the two of them together, I pouted inwardly; I was getting a distinct feeling of being ganged up upon that I could only see getting worse with time. Of course, it was also sorta cute.
"Everything okay?" Brian leaned over and asked, and I smiled at him, making myself be proactive and gave his hand a squeeze.
"Yeah, no worries."
His face lit up as he practically crushed my fingers.
The pizza arrived. Brian and Scott, as if choreographed, both dug in with savage hunger, while Mina and I tried to get to the food when we could between the mad scarfing. The reserve Scott had shown before with Brian was completely gone, and soon they were in a massive pissing contest over games again and other pixal-crunching stats that had Mina and I pretty lost.
"Should we head on over and wait in line?" Scott asked later, as we were all enjoying a massive group food coma from the stuffed-crust goodness. It started in two hours but it would take at least 45 minutes to get there via public transportation, and everyone but me was completely revved up to get going.
Perhaps I was revved up, but I squished the feeling as well as I could. Just another concert. "Do we really want to hurry up and wait for the Sin? They sucked." Not until the words were out of my mouth did I consider how they must sound.
Everyone looked at me like I had suggested going out and slaughtering puppies, and I felt horrible for obviously coming across as a big ol' buzz kill. Brian saved the day.
"Yeah, you were telling me the Sin suck. But we can keep ourselves busy." He smiled wickedly. "We can drink."
Scott looked at him skeptically. "You weren't just talking shit when you told Ethan that?"
"No, one of the bartenders at the Riviera is a friend of mine; we LAN all the time. He mixes mean drinks, too."
"I like it." Scott said approvingly, and Mina was also smiling. She was exceedingly fond of vodka cranberries.
"Sound good?" Brian looked at me.
"Oh! Yeah, sounds great." I gave him my best smile. "Sorry to sound like such a tool."
"We still love you, sweetie, even when you're a tool." Mina bat her eyelashes at me, and I stuck my tongue out.
As we were leaving, she made sure to walk by me as we walked down the street to the Metro. "That nervous, huh?"
"I'm not really sure." I admitted.
"Huh. So you like him? He's cute."
"I think I could really get into him, I guess?"
"You don't sound so sure, Ethan.... Especially since we're entering the Zane Zone."
"You think you're cute, don't you?" I asked her dryly.
"No, I know I am. Just chill, love, and have fun tonight," She gave my arm a hug. "Don't wrap yourself up in stupid stuff; you yourself have pointed out you're just another fan, and he's not going to see you."
"Truthfully, I think I'm more nervous about Brian," I admitted. "This is all very strange."
"But this is also very cute!" She poked me. "And isn't it rather cool to be going to a concert with a cute date and being able to look at the stage and think, 'I've TOUCHED you'. Doesn't it make you feel sexy? Bet you it would turn Brian on if you told him."
"Don't YOU dare tell him, Mina," I warned her quietly, "I've had enough uncomfortable confrontations caused by you today."
She looked honestly startled. "What? Scott told you I told him you were gay? All I did was hint!"
"Suuuuure. I wonder how much your definition of 'hint' coincides with that of everyone elses." I pecked her on top of her head. "I'll beat you up later." We were approaching the station and had to re-group with Scott and Brian, so all she could do was bump into me with her hip and flash a mock-dirty look.
Brian put a protective hand on my back as we got onto the train, and I smiled at him.
Everything Mina said was true, and it was exactly the attitude I needed to take: Making out with Zane had been fun, hanging out with Brian, Mina, and Scott was fun, I was away from my melancholy mother and her cyclical freak-out about my father's artistic output, we were going to see a kick-ass band in concert and be able to drink safely to boot.
This, I swore to myself, was going to be fun. And for once myself and I were in agreement.