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About oat327

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  1. oat327

    Sophomore Year - Chapter 11

    I always imagined Becker being average-ish height. 5’9, 5’10. Kevin’s taller though: over six feet, so it’s still almost four inches. (And he’s strong.)
  2. oat327

    Sophomore Year - Chapter 11

    I think Becker's someone with a lot of self-doubt; in the back of his mind, he can't really understand why anyone would love him, let alone Kevin (or his family.) But Becker is picking himself up, in a way. It's not easy, but we're not even halfway through this story--still lots to come!
  3. oat327

    Sophomore Year - Chapter 11

    Haha, glad I could help! Sorry it took so long... making sure the next one comes faster!
  4. oat327

    Sophomore Year - Chapter 11

    Thanks. I actually started the early drafts of this story back in 2013, when I was getting over a breakup (actually, the first draft of Kevin and Becker's breakup was one of the first things I wrote--they were, alas, always heading towards that scene, which became increasingly tragic as I fleshed out their relationship.) But my own breakup was very much on my mind when I wrote the early draft of this semester. It really is one step forward, one step backwards, and I think that's how it is for Becker. Connor or not, he's definitely not over Kevin yet, and I think he realizes that.
  5. oat327

    Sophomore Year - Chapter 11

    Glad you're enjoying it--I really wanted to make sure the characters read as people, rather than wish fulfillment objects. I always hated the gay fiction where the young couple comes together and the story is all sunshine and functionality, because it's never like that. Becker and Kevin both have their own issues, their own biases, and their own goals, and you're right: they did need to grow (and grow apart), because as cute as their relationship could be, there were certainly some core problems. But like I've always said: Kevin's only gone for the semester, and he'll be back in this story when he returns.
  6. oat327

    Sophomore Year - Chapter 11

    I think, like anything, you never forget your first love... and Kevin is definitely Becker's. Becker also isn't really great at getting over things; I always pictured him as someone who would file away past grievances and silently hold them against someone (though there's really nothing in the text to really support that.) He's very hurt by Kevin, though, and I think they're both on the rebound in different ways and at different stages.
  7. oat327

    Sophomore Year - Chapter 11

    Glad you're enjoying both of them! It's been fun to see them both play out simultaneously, especially when plot points (like Kevin's email, in this chapter) overlap between the two stories. There's a handful of moments where this happens, actually, which is why I keep having to control pacing between the two stories--probably the most frustrating part, because sometimes I get really into one story but have to put it on hold because I can't let myself get too far ahead.
  8. oat327

    Chapter 4

    Glad you're enjoying it! I definitely think it's important to let Kevin's side of the story come through, as it involves Becker, and to flesh him out a little more. It's a fine line to walk in the "present day" (really, 2008) segment of the story, between revealing too much or withholding too much about the past segments, but I think all the different storylines kind of help round out Kevin in a way we didn't necessarily get to see through Becker's POV.
  9. oat327

    Chapter 4

    Wow, you're totally right. Fixed. (I'm high school class of 2006; I fell into familiarity.) Thanks!
  10. I logged onto ManFind, which I hadn’t been on in almost a year. Staring back at me was my old photo, pre-Kevin: neck-down, shirtless in a swimsuit, in the Outer Banks, summer of 2006. Age: 18. Height: 5’10”. Build: Swimmers. Out: No. Dick: 7”, Cut. Position: Top/Vers. It was like senior year at the Harrington School, when we dug up the time capsule from fifth grade? And everything just seemed awkward and dated, too recent for nostalgia. Part of the post-Kevin rebuilding of Peter Adam Becker: updating the profile. New photo, uploaded: neck-down, shirtless in a swimsuit, the Outer Banks, summer of 2007, startlingly similar to the one it had replaced, except I’d filled out a little more. Grew into myself, looked less like the emaciated teenager I had been a year and a half ago. Age: 19. Updated. Height, same. Build, same. Out, same. Dick, same, though I could probably remeasure and see if I could squeeze out that extra half-inch between “above-average” and “sizeable.” Position. Well, obviously, I wasn’t “Top/Vers,” but I wasn’t ready to admit--even in this anonymous forum--that I was a bottom. I thought about Luke Avery, the lackluster moment or two of flip-fucking, before he bent me over the bed and pounded me into next week. Position: Versatile. Save. Greeting me back, my reward: rows and rows of faceless torsos, maybe some the same, maybe some different, than last year, but they were all indistinguishable. A vast expanse of chests and stomachs, most of them fit, most of them toned. Thought it was depressing, wasn’t it? To be back, trolling for sexual gratification in a suspect lineup of shirtless men--when two months ago, I would be knocking on the Becker Door at the house on Broadway, waiting for Kevin to come and sweep me off my feet? New message: “Hey, sexy.” Kevin would’ve quoted St. Thomas Aquinas. But the message came from the owner of a particularly appealing torso: a nice body, broad chest and shoulders, a V aimed towards the waistband of his camouflage pants. I was in bed, under the covers--I angled my laptop slightly further towards the wall. I glanced over at Tripp and Erik, who were sitting in front of the TV playing Battlescar. And Patrick, who was sitting in the red papasan chair on his laptop. None of them seemed to be paying attention to me. I clicked back to his profile. Age: 21. Height: 5’11”. Build: Athletic. Out: No. Dick: 7.5”, Cut. Position: Top/Vers. Seemed promising. “Hey,” I replied. “How’s it going? Tulane or Loyola?” “Doing well. Tulane, you?” I debated lying, for a second, but I honestly didn’t have the energy to fake being from Loyola. “Tulane too.” “On campus?” “Yeah, you?” “Yeah,” he said. “Leadership Village.” I tried to think about anyone I knew who lived in Leadership--a junior and senior dorm, but most of the upperclassmen I knew lived off-campus or in Aron. And it seemed safe: safe that I wouldn’t, necessarily, know who this guy was. That he wouldn’t know who I was, that he wouldn’t have ties to Iota Chi. “Cool,” I replied. “Unlock?” There was a longer pause than had been usual between his messages. But then came the reply: “Sure.” I clicked back to his profile. He was cute. Short brown hair, a big smile, Army ROTC uniform. Sexy. And a picture of his dick. Sizeable. Thick and cut, with a big head. I felt myself, under the covers in my bed, starting to firm up. Starting to think about how badly I wanted that dick inside my mouth, inside my ass. Sexy military man. “Loving the uniform. And the dick.” And I unlocked too. “Thanks,” he replied. “You’re really cute too. What are you up to?” “Nothing until tonight,” I told him. “What are you up to?” “Roommate went to the mall,” he said. “Figured I’d take advantage of the empty room. If you’re interested.” “Definitely.” “Room 205. If you want to come by. Maybe I’ll wear my uniform for you.” “You’d better.” I closed my laptop, and announced, “I think I’m going to go to PJ’s real quick. Grab some coffee.” Erik and Tripp were locked in an especially fierce battle, didn’t acknowledge me, but Patrick looked up at me. “You know we’re leaving for dinner at seven, right?” We had the final night of rush week: a sit-down dinner downtown, the last chance for our rushees to receive and accept their bids before pledge induction tomorrow. We had a confirmed pledge class of sixteen, which Erik as rush chair considered “adequate” even though it was basically everyone we wanted: Austin Berkowitz, Sachit, the rest of the Beards. The only person we hadn’t heard back from, either yes or no, was Logan McClendon. Erik’s white whale. Regardless, it was only five o’clock and the dinner wasn’t for two more hours. I had plenty of time. “I’m in the mood for caffeine,” I told him. Patrick looked at his watch. “Maybe I’ll go with you.” I gave him a terse, very stilted head shake, and he seemed to figure out what was going on immediately. With a knowing smile, he added, “Or I’ll just stay here and let you buy me an Americano and bring it back?” Asshole. I grumbled affirmation, and I left the room. It was a cold day, beginning of February, but Leadership Village wasn’t far: it was a row of gray student townhouses, tucked behind Willow Residences--two-story shared rooms on the top, single rooms in the English basement. Room 205. I climbed the half-flight of stairs, and knocked on the door. Military Man--whose name I realized I didn’t actually know--answered it right away. In uniform. Full uniform: a camouflaged hat, beige t-shirt under a camouflaged jacket, camo pants. Immediately, I felt myself growing a little bit hard. Tenting my jeans just a little bit. Damn, this guy was sexy--cute face, shoulders that I just wanted to grab onto. That uniform. “Hey,” he replied, with a smile, with a big smile, quickly hurrying me inside. “Sorry, I’m Connor. I don’t think I gave you my name.” “Adam,” I told him. “Nice to meet you.” I hadn’t been in Leadership Village before: it was a two-story dorm room, with a pair of desks and a gray couch on the first floor, a spiral staircase in the middle leading up to the shared sleeping loft. But he didn’t lead me upstairs. “Your pictures are really cute,” he told me, putting his hand on my bicep. “And you’re cute in person, too.” “You’re pretty hot yourself. Especially in your uniform.” He smiled. “It’s hot when a guy finds it sexy.” “Can’t wait to see what you look like with it off, though.” His smile grew, and he unbuttoned his jacket. I could see his flat stomach underneath his beige t-shirt, but he didn’t give me much time to admire his body. Instead, he leaned in. Both hands on the side of my face, and kissed me. A hard kiss, a passionate kiss, a kiss I wasn’t expected, but loved. I loved his tongue wrestling with mine. Loved his lips. Connor the Military Man wasn’t one to waste time, either. His lips moved to my jawline, just below my ear, like Kevin used to. And he immediately started unbuttoning my shirt, kissing down my neck, and down my chest. Down my stomach. Until my shirt was completely unbuttoned, and he was on his knees in front of my bulging jeans. “So fucking hot, man,” he told me, kissing my bulge. I was rock hard at this point. Rock hard over this sexy guy in uniform, kneeling in front of me. He pulled off his unbuttoned jacket, but kept his shirt, his pants, his hat on. And he turned his attention to my jeans: undoing my belt, unbuttoning, pulling down the fly. He pulled on the waistband of my boxer briefs, and everything came down--my dick flopping out in front of him. He knew what he was doing. He licked the tip, licked around the head. I let out an involuntary moan as he took the entire head in his mouth, and slowly made his way down the shaft. He had both of his hands on my bare ass cheeks. Was pushing me into his face as my dick went further and further down his throat, until he had the entire thing in his mouth. He began sucking me off. And one of his fingers wandered to my hole, to beg for entry, and that’s when I really lost it--when I let out a deep moan, and I watched as Connor smiled through the blowjob. Watched this sexy Army guy on his knees, sucking my cock. And damn, he was good at sucking cock. His mouth was wet and his tongue was working me over, and he was taking me so deep down his throat that I kept thinking he’d gag but he didn’t--he just kept coming back at me with incredible enthusiasm. His finger breached my hole, just slightly, and I let out another moan--I was getting too close for him to have command of both sides. And I didn’t want to cum: I didn’t want to leave here without taking his dick in my ass. “Let me suck you for a bit,” I told him, and he didn’t have to be asked twice: my dick quickly fell from his mouth, his finger dropped from my ass, and he looked up at me with another smile. “Get on your knees,” he said, as he stood up. I dropped to the carpet, switching positions, and he pulled off his beige t-shirt. He had silver dog tags hanging between his toned pecs, like the ones Kevin wore--like the ones that had belonged to Kevin’s dad. He had a great body--a toned, the beginnings of a six pack, a deep V, a light dusting of brown hair on his chest and stomach. Connor unbuttoned and unzipped his pants, but didn’t pull them down--he wasn’t wearing any underwear, and he thrust his dick out through the open fly. He was big. Definitely the 7.5 inches he had described on the website, but thicker than I thought. He wasn’t as big as Kevin--who was as big as Kevin?--but he had a beautiful cock. And there was something sexy about this. About him keeping his pants on, as I kneeled in front of him, ready to suck him off. I took his dick in my hand, and he threw back his head in ecstasy. I did what he did: I licked the tip. I played with his balls, just a little bit. And I sucked on the head and worked my way towards sucking the whole thing. I didn’t love giving blowjobs to Kevin. Kevin was so thick, so long, that it wasn’t easy to take all of him. He’d always be banging up against the back of your throat before you wanted him to, he’d always be making your jaw sore. Connor was a perfect size. I could take just about his whole dick in my mouth. Slowly move my lips up and down that great cock, listening as he gave a chorus of expressive moans, feel his strong hands as he grabbed the back of my head and kept pace with the rhythm of my mouth. Until he finally glanced down at me. “Do you want me to get a condom?” I took the dick out of my mouth, held it in his hand. It was rock hard, and leaking just a little bit of precum. “Absolutely.” He grabbed my hand, which I also wasn’t expecting, and pulled me up. And he came in for another kiss: grabbed me by the small of my back, romantic almost, and pulled me into him. More passion, his eager, aggressive lips. Still holding my hand. And then he broke the kiss. Smiled at me. “You’re good at that.” “You’re an amazing kisser,” I replied, and he pulled me towards the spiral staircase, led me up to the sleeping loft. He pulled me over towards his side of the sleeping loft, on the left side of the open staircase pit, farthest from the window. But he didn’t set me down on the bed; he turned me around, and pushed me up against the wall next to his nightstand. And fuck, this was hot. I put both of my hands against the wall, stuck out my naked ass, and I didn’t look behind me as I heard him fumble in the nightstand for a condom and lube. I heard him tear open the condom wrapper, and then I felt one lubed-up finger stroking my exposed asshole. I gave him a moan as his finger entered my ass, and I could feel his breath right against my neck. “You like that, Adam?” “Yeah.” “Tell me how much you love it.” “I fucking love it.” I felt another finger go in, and I gave a slight shudder. He knew just where to put his fingers--knew just how to steer them directly to my prostate. And I was in heaven--moaning and grunting as he slowly finger-fucked me, with two fingers, with three fingers. Until he stopped, and he slowly pulled out his fingers, and I knew it was time. I stuck my ass out just a little bit further, and I felt his dick rub up against my awakened hole. “Want my cock?” “Fuck me.” Connor grabbed both of my hips with his hands, and I slowly felt his dick push into me. It had been a few weeks since I had been fucked, since Luke Avery had torn up my ass, and I was tight. It took a second for the pain to subside, but I wasn’t going to tell Connor to take it easy on me. He finally sunk his dick deep into me. His thick, nice dick, that felt like a perfect fit inside me. A comfortable fit--not like Kevin’s hung cock that always stretched me out, always took long to ease into my hole. Connor didn’t wait. He didn’t gear up--once he was in, he started fucking me fast, almost immediately. Fucking me fast, fucking me hard, slamming my hole without forgiveness. He moved one hand up to my chest, and pulled me up towards him, so my back was arched, arched like a bottom in a porno, and I turned my face towards him. He was still smiling, he was already dripping with sweat, he still had his camo pants on, though they had fallen down towards his thighs. He craned over, and without missing a beat, without slowing down his assault on my ass, pulled me in for another hot, heavy, passionate kiss. I moaned again, and he gave me a breathy laugh, before going back in for another kiss. And when he broke the kiss, we were both moaning, and he let go of my chest, and moved both hands up to my shoulders. Connor started fucking me harder, harder than he had before, a merciless pounding of my ass, and we were both loud--he was grunting, and I was moaning, and I felt one of his hands grab my rock hard dick, begin stroking it. I couldn’t last. It was all too much. I let out one more guttural moan, and I shot my load against the wall next to his night stand. I was breathing heavily. I was sweating, but Connor had unleashed a torrent of sweat against my back. I kept breathing, as he pulled his dick out of my ass. I heard the condom come off, and I craned my neck towards him just in time to see him quickly jacking his dick, his head thrown back, biting his lip. And he came--three long, hard volleys of cum--on my ass crack. “Fuck,” he said, through breaths. I turned around. Connor’s camo pants were around his ankles, his dick was still engorged, just beginning to soften. His hair was wet, his body was glossy. Sweaty mess. He looked over, beyond me, at the big load of cum on his wall. “Sorry,” I told him. “It’s hot,” he said. “I’ve never fucked a guy against a wall before.” He took a step closer to me, grabbed me by the waist, and gave me another kiss. Our softening dicks rubbing against each other. “So fucking hot,” he said, again. I left Leadership Village, probably looking more than a little ravaged, but I had to stop at PJ’s to get coffees for me and Patrick--the decoy. I looked at my watch: forty-three minutes had passed, and I wondered if Tripp or Erik had noticed my absence, noticed that I was going to spend about an hour running down the block to get some coffees. I walked across the quad between Leadership Village and Willow Residences, still feeling a tingle in my hole, where Connor’s dick had been moments ago. Still feeling that little bit of lube slowly leaking from my freshly-fucked ass. And it was hot. It was hot walking through campus, this secret oozing out of me, all mine. I thought about Kevin. If Kevin knew that I had just boned a sexy ROTC guy, that I was carrying around his lube deep inside my ass still. Kevin could have all the French twinks he wanted, but were they Connor the ROTC guy? No. Two could play at this game. I got into PJ’s, in the lobby of Willow, ordered two Americanos to go. And who was standing in the pickup area, ready to shatter my buoyant, post-sex mood: Logan McClendon, holding a receipt. “Hey, Peter,” he said, with a smile, as I approached. That awkward moment. It was always awkward with Logan, because of his entanglements with Justine. Because he called me “Peter.” It was even more so recently because of his “undetermined” status in our fraternity. That every conversation I’d had with Erik over the past few days had been about Logan McClendon. Logan was already dressed in a suit, but there was nothing to read into that: every fraternity had rush week dinners tonight. He was either coming to ours or Zeta’s. “And where are you off to?” I asked, sweetly. Logan gave a deep sigh. That he knew this topic of conversation was going to happen, but he absolutely didn’t want to go too far down this road. “I still don’t know,” he said. He grimaced. “Is that bad?” I smiled. “Kind of, yeah. Dinner’s in an hour, and whichever fraternity you turn down is going to figure it out when you ditch their rush week dinner.” He did not smile in return. “I think it’s going to be a game time decision, you know? I thought I’d just get coffee and walk for a bit. Figure it out.” “So basically, you’re going to be standing in the middle of Freret Street, debating which bus to get on as they’re about to pull away?” Logan gave a slight giggle. “Pretty much.” He paused. “What do you think I should do?” “I mean, Zeta’s dinner is at Commander’s,” I said. “And ours is only at Copeland’s Cheesecake Bistro.” Logan’s face slackened in to a smile. “You know what I mean.” “Well, I’m not exactly an unbiased party.” I chose not to tell him which bias I had: that I didn’t want the guy who was fucking--maybe dating?--my sister to join my fraternity. Not just because of the constant comments by my fraternity brothers, but the fact that Justine would be at everything: at date parties, at formals. Go Zeta, young man. “Well, I know,” he said. “I don’t know. I know Austin wants me to go Iota Chi, and I know Justine does too—” “Justine does?” “I mean, it’s your fraternity,” he said. “She likes the Iota Chi guys.” Some she liked a little too much, like Matt Rowen, but I didn’t say that. “Well, our older brother’s a Zeta,” I told him “Well, he was, at Yale.” “Did he want you to go Zeta too?” Philip was just stunned that I had gotten a bid to a fraternity in the first place. And, based on my brief interactions with his fraternity house in New Haven, the Zeta at Tulane seemed night and day from their brothers at Yale. “He didn’t really care,” I told him, “but it’s a different school. It’s different.” “Tate really wants me to go Zeta,” he said. “He’s my older brother, and he’s always been my best friend growing up. And he really wanted me to come to Tulane, and I did. And I know he really wants me to go Zeta. But other than him, I just don’t know if… you know?” “If it’s a fit?” “Right,” he said. “And you know, I’ve been Tate’s little brother my entire life. And I know I’d be like that in Zeta.” He stopped talking. Waited for me to say anything. And what could I say? How long had I been “Philip’s little brother” at Harrington? How badly did I want to come to Tulane so I could get away from all of that? I pictured myself at Yale. With Philip. Pledging Yale Zeta, if they’d have me, which they probably wouldn’t have in the first place without fierce intervention from Philip. Philip’s little brother. Tate’s little brother. “You shouldn’t care what people think,” I told him, finally. “You are you, and you have to do what makes you happy. Not what makes your older brother happy.” In walked Connor. Wonderful. Looking freshly-showered, hair neatly comed, wearing a Tulane sweatshirt and track pants. And, presumably, no underwear again, because I could see a faint outline of his dick, swinging back and forth. God. That dick. I looked back to Logan, and braced for impact. Braced for the guy who had just ravaged my ass ten minutes ago to run headlong into thew guy who was fucking my sister. And it was almost too much to bear--the stress of this, all the worlds colliding that shouldn’t even be in the same orbit. I tried to look like I was just staring at Logan, but I was watching Connor out of the corner of my eye: he’d changed back into jeans and a t-shirt, looked freshly-showered. Clearly wanted a little post-sex jolt of energy before braving the Thursday night. But I got a break: as Connor hit the register, they called Logan’s order. Logan stepped over to the counter, grabbed his coffee. “Well,” he said, looking down at his cup, and back up at me. “I guess I’ll see you in an hour,” he said, “or not.” Connor had taken out his Wavebucks card. Time to go, Logan, get the fuck out of here. “You’ll figure it out,” I told him. He nodded, wistfully, as Connor headed dangerously towards us. “Yeah. Well, thanks for listening to me ramble on.” But really, get the fuck out of here, Logan. “No worries,” I said. “Bye. Good luck.” “Bye, Peter,” he said, and he turned around to make his way towards the door, just as Connor approached. “Hey,” he said. “Peter?” I grimaced. “So, I go by Adam, which is my middle name. But my family calls me Peter, and that’s my sister’s boyfriend.” It was maybe too robust an explanation, considering the circumstances, that this was a hookup that I had uncomfortably run into at the coffee shop fifty feet from the entrance to his dorm room. “Oh,” he said, smiling. “Fair enough.” This was incredibly uncomfortable, and he kept standing next to me, showed no inclination of disappearing out of close contact. I craned my neck over towards the counter, tried to see where my coffees were in the production process. “So, uh,” he said, “I can trust you to keep this quiet and all, right?” “Oh, of course.” “Because,” he said, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and all.” “Got it.” “Cool,” he said. “But it was fun though.” Stop talking, for the love of God. I glanced around, but the two other people in the pickup area had headphones in, seemed completely detached from the pounding reality. “Yeah, it was,” I told him, succinctly. “I actually don’t think I got your number,” he said. “If you want to hang out again or something.” I hadn’t been expecting that. I hadn’t been expecting taking this past one hookup. I glanced over at the two people still on their headphones. How no one seemed to be listening. And fuck it: Connor had that great smile. And a great dick. And an Army uniform. And now he was asking for my phone number, for a potential reprisal, and sure. That sounded fine. Because Kevin wasn’t coming home for four months anyway. He was sowing oats. I could sow oats. “Okay,” I said. “Give me your phone.” And I plugged it in. “Adam ManFind.” No last name. No decernible characteristics whatsoever. I handed it back, and he pressed Send. My phone started ringing, and I saved the number: Connor ManFind. “Where’s 816?” “Kansas City,” he replied. “What’s 301?” “Maryland.” We both stood there, another handful of feverish seconds dragged past, until they called for my order. “I’ll see you around, maybe,” he said. “Adam.” “You have my number. Connor.” I got back to Mayer, where no one had moved from nearly an hour before. I tried to gently fix my hair in the closet mirror, before heading any further into the room--making myself look at least something other than freshly-fucked. “Long-ass PJ’s trip,” Erik scolded, without taking his eyes off the screen. “We have the dinner in an hour.” Luckily, I had a good excuse: “Well, I ran into Logan McClendon.” Erik’s eyes shot over to me. His avatar was prompty riddled with bullets by Tripp, but he didn’t seem to notice or care. “Fuck, dude. What did you say?” “What do you mean?” “I mean, he still hasn’t decided between Iota Chi and Zeta,” he replied. “And the dinner is tonight. What did you say? Oh, God, I wish I’d been there.” “What, you think I fucked it up?” “No,” Erik said, unconvincingly. He looked nervous. “Did you?” “No,” I told him. “I talked to him. I told him not to worry about what Tate thinks. To do whatever he thinks is right.” Erik looked slightly relieved, but still largely irritated that I had called an audible. “Well, that’s better than nothing. Though I wish you would’ve told him, ‘Iota Chi, Iota Chi, Iota Chi.’ Did he tell you which way he was leaning?” “No.” Erik grimaced, looked over at Patrick’s alarm clock. “Well, we’ll find out in an hour. Seriously, this guy is going to give me a heart attack.” “This is the most bent-out-of-shape I’ve ever seen Erik,” Patrick said, from behind his computer screen. “Like, seriously, even when he was dating Erica and she was fucking half of Sigma, he handled it with more aplomb.” “She was not fucking half of Sigma,” Erik told him, acidly, “and besides, we were never exclusive so it doesn’t really matter to me who that bitch fucks.” “Lots of aplomb,” Tripp agreed, opening fire on Erik’s respawned avatar. We had our answer when we arrived at the bus pickup on Freret, next Howard-Tilton Library. Waiting by the bus: Logan McClendon. Still in his suit, looking a little more haggard than when I’d seen him an hour ago. But he was smiling, at least. Had that look of relief on his face, the kind of relief that came from knowing you’d done something for yourself. That you were happy with your decision, because it was your decision, and not your family’s. I couldn’t help but feel happy for him. Even if I thought about him and Justine. “This guy!” Erik exclaimed, clapping Logan on the shoulder. “You made the right choice, dude.” He paused. “You’re going to formally accept, right?” Logan nodded. “Right.” “Baker!” Erik screamed, into the crowd. “Baker! Baker, get your ass over here now.” Chris Baker pushed his way through the crowd, holding his hand over the microphone on his cell phone. “I was the one waiting for you, asshole,” he told Erik. “I’m on the phone with the restaurant.” He turned to Logan. Lowering the phone just slightly from his ear, he said, rote memory from doing this all week: “Logan McClendon, as president of Iota Chi fraternity, Sigma chapter, I’d like to formally extend to you an invitation to join our exalted circle as a pledgeman of our Pi class. Do you accept this honor?” Logan looked momentarily speechless. “I do,” he stammered, nodding resolutely. “Okay, you’re in,” Baker said, putting his phone back to his ear. Erik glared at him for abruptly cutting through the mystique. “Induction’s tomorrow at seven. Meet at the tree.” “I’ll give all the prospective pledges a full rundown on what to expect tomorrow,” Erik said, stepping in as the authority, as Baker disappeared back into the crowd. Allowing himself a smile, “I’m super stoked for you though. It’s going to be a blast.” “Yeah, well,” Logan said, his smile faltering just a little, “if Tate doesn’t massacre me between now and then.” “It’s too late!” Erik said, gleefully. “We’ll see you tomorrow.” Except it wasn’t too late, really, because Tulane didn’t care who verbally accepted bids: they cared who was formally inducted into the fraternity. Which gave Tate until seven o’clock the next evening to snatch Logan away, and we all knew he would try to do exactly that. Had Philip been launching an all-out push on me--doing all he could do to get me to change my mind on something--I didn’t know if I’d have the backbone to actually stand up to him for that long. “Oh, of course Zeta’s still trying,” Michaela told us, over lunch. “I called Logan. Tate called Logan. Like, fifty brothers called Logan. Then he turned off his phone, so Tate called Austin, and it turned out Logan went with Justine to the Tchoupitoulas Wal-Mart, and then Tate started calling her, but then she turned off her phone…” “So basically, Logan’s going Iota Chi,” Jordan interrupted, “is how this story ends. Does anyone want to split an ice cream sandwich?” And yet, we hadn’t heard anything from Logan either, beyond what he had told us last night: that he had accepted his bid, that he had a nice time at the dinner, that he had disappeared back to Monroe Hall for the rest of the evening and hadn’t been seen since. Erik had been in a slow-motion, silent panic all day, because he also hadn’t been able to reach Logan’s turned-off cell phone. “He’s good for it,” Tripp said. “Come on. He’s not the kind of guy who would just not show up to induction.” “It’s a good pledge class,” Baker told him, wearing the ridiculous presidential velvet cape I remembered Rob Winslow wearing from the year before when I was getting inducted. “It’s a good pledge class even if Logan winds up Zeta. Be happy. You done good.” Erik exhaled, ominiously. “We need to get this cape dry-cleaned,” Baker added, to Matt Rowen. “It smells like Katrina. Wouldn’t that fall under your job description as Sergeant-at-Arms?” “You wear it twice a year for an hour,” Rowen replied, rolling his eyes. “I’m not shelling out $4.99 so you can smell like a fucking meadow.” Baker ignored him, Rowen opened a beer, and rejoined the crowd. “Okay,” Baker said, opening the heavily-worn paper script. “So here’s how it’s going down. Fontenot’s going to go get the kids at seven when they’re here. Berate them a little bit.” He turns to Erik. “But not too much. Then Fontenot lines them up, knocks twice, introduces himself, and asks to be let in. We all yell, ‘Yes!’ in unison when I go like this.” He raised his hand over his head, swatted it downwards. “So let’s try it.” He did it again. “Yes,” came an anemic reply from about half the brothers in the room. “Convincing, you guys,” he scolded. “It’s got to be loud. We’re trying to put the fear of God into them.” He raised his hand and swished it again. This time, no one said anything, but Baker decided not to pick a fight. “Okay, then, blah, blah, I come down the stairs, I give them the oath. They turn right, Sergeant-at-Arms--Rowen--does the first reading; we turn again, and Historian--that’s Connors--does the second reading; and then they turn to me, and I do the blessing. Then Fontenot, you help me pin all of them, and then they go upstairs with the Pledgemaster and Deputy Pledgemaster: Morton and Fontenot.” Baker seemed much more anxious about all of it than anyone else, other than Erik. He was taking president seriously, but he clearly wasn’t used to be speaking to a room full of Iota Chi brothers. And he certainly didn’t elicit the quiet respect that everyone gave Rob Winslow, which would’ve helped. He glanced up from the script. “Where’s Tweety?” Tommy held up the scepter with the stuffed vulture on top. “Got him.” Baker took the scepter from Tommy. “Okay, throw your beer away, Tommy.” He looked around. “Everyone throw your beers away.” “Mine’s full!” called Weinman. “Leave it in the kitchen, then,” Baker hissed. “Smoke and mirrors, everybody. This is fucking induction. I’m not dicking around. If they think we’re all full of shit, they’re not going to do what we say for the next four months.” Tripp, who had been stationed by the window, looking through one of the black curtains that now covered every inch of the foyer walls, turned back to the group. “I can see them crossing Maple. Thirty seconds away.” “McClendon with them?” Erik asked. “Yup,” Tripp replied. The stress of the last few weeks escaped Erik’s face, and he smiledas he slipped out the front door. Morton flipped off the light switch, drowning us in only the light from Rowen’s cigarette lighter as he tried frantically to light all of the candles lining the room. “Somebody help him light these fucking candles,” Baker hissed, and another two cigarette lighters spontaneously came aflame somewhere in the crowd. We waited, in silence. I could hear Erik, doing the some-but-not-too-much berating, from the porch: “Fuck, you guys were about fifteen seconds away from being late, and the whole brotherhood was about to shut the whole thing down. Two lines. Quickly. I’m not outside because I wanted some fucking fresh air.” Patrick nodded approvingly, gave me a thumbs up. There were two sharp knocks on the door. Rowen opened the door, just a crack. “Who asks to enter the Mystic Realm of Iota Chi?” “Brother Omicron Eta,” Erik said, from outside. “And seventeen outsiders to Iota Chi, if you’ll allow it.” Rowen turned back towards us and, as loudly as he could, “Brothers, will we allow the outsiders entry to our mystic Realm?" We all looked at Baker, who looked utterly ridiculous in the shadowy candlelight, with that stinky velvet cape and bird-topped scepter. And yet,he looked more serious than I’d ever seen him, nervous, almost like he had that night he came to Kevin’s room to ask for a ride to get Charlie. Which he didn’t know I had witnessed. He looked at us, raised his hand, then looked back to the door, and then his hand tore downwards. “Yes!” It was amazing--as Baker put it--how much the brothers were able to put on a production. I remembered being terrified when I was getting inducted. I remembered the majesty of everything: the candles, the cape, the pledge pins, the utter stoicism of the brotherhood. And we still had that. The pledges were still terrified of us. But it was all a show. They took their oath, in Latin. We did the readings. They got their pledge pins. And then Morton and Erik rushed them upstairs for their full briefing on what being a pledge would initiate. Curtains immediately started being ripped down from the walls, like a scene change. “Okay, quickly, before they come back down,” Baker said, as the non-working majority of the brotherhood trickled into the kitchen, where the keg and the vat were. Baker handed his cape and scepter to Rowen, and looked powerlessly as people left the room. He turned to Eddie and Will, who were bucking the traffic and coming into the chapter room with three cases of champagne on a dolly they had stolen from the front desk at Warren Hall. “We have to arrange the flutes to form an I and an X.” “We know how to spell Iota Chi,” Eddie Darien said, handing him a bag of plastic champagne flutes. “Where are the girls, most importantly?” Baker checked his watch. “It’s 7:28. We said between 7:30 and 7:45.” Like clockwork, the door opened, and it was the DMV: Veronica, Dana, and Maddie. “First ones!” Veronica greeted. “Did you get all your little pledgekins inducted?” Baker didn’t answer. He handed her the plastic champagne flutes. “Can you arrange these in an I and an X on the pool table?” “We’re supposed to be guests, you know,” Veronica said, taking them from him. “Becker, come help me.” I followed her over to the pool table. “Baker’s a little stressed.” “Gee, you think?” she replied, handing me a stack of cups. “You do the X.” She paused for a second. “Have you heard from Kevin?” There wasn’t anything I could say. Not really. I hadn’t heard from Kevin Malley. Not since before he left for Paris, not since we had sexted on Christmas Eve. I didn’t have words. I shook my head. “I emailed him the other day, but he didn’t reply,” she said. “I suppose you know as well as anyone how awful he is at keeping in touch.” As well as anyone? Why would I know as well as anyone? I tried to study Veronica, to find some clue if she knew about me and Kevin, but she betrayed nothing, went back to arranging the flutes in an I. Had Kevin told Veronica? I didn’t know. I didn’t think he would do that--it seemed like, up until the very end, he was not going to do that. And I trusted him. I trusted that he wouldn’t out me, especially to someone so connected to the rest of our orbit. And yet: the fact that he had hooked up with Austin Berkowitz was never far from my mind. That he most likely did it after we broke up, but maybe didn’t. Was never far from my mind. Who even knew Kevin anymore? I thought I knew him so well, but then he broke up with me, then he slept with Austin Berkowitz--I had to believe, in that order--and I hadn’t spoken to him in about four weeks. Darien popped open a bottle of champagne, and began filling some of the flutes on the table. Baker was lording over all of us, looking deeply concerned but not actually doing anything helpful. “Keep filling,” he said, nervously looking up to the stairs. “Aren’t there supposed to be more girls?” “Baker,” Veronica said, sternly, looking up at him. “It’s going to be a great party. You’ve got to chill. Half of Tri-Gamma’s on the way.” “Half?” he said, nervously. “Do we have that much booze?” Veronica tossed me irritated eyes, then looked back to Becker. “Half was an overstatement.” “So, what, like just you guys then?” Veronica let out a long sigh. “We need to get you a drink.” Baker seemed to calm down after that. And after the newly-minted pledges came racing down the stairs, and we started spraying them with champagne--the jubiliant mood of celebration that I remembered from last year. “Pledge!” Morton screeched. “Get me a champagne glass.” “Happy with your decision?” I asked Austin, when I caught him at the keg several drinks later. “I know you were on the fence.” “I was waiting for Logan, I think,” he said, with a shrug. He was slurring his words a bit: he had just been forced to do a line of shots by one of the brothers. “And then I decided, fuck it, I don’t actually want to wait for Logan. You know? I’m doing me.” Austin was adorable, in a royal blue suit cut to fit his muscular frame. Openly gay. As a freshman. And he carried it off so well: he was dashing and handsome and just a little bit noticeably gay. Though I didn’t know how that dynamic would play in Iota Chi. Certainly, we had Ryan Wyatt already--who didn’t hide his sexuality, even slightly--but one was different than two. What was the consensus? Two was incidental, three was the X fraternity? And it was three of us, then. At least three of us. The X fraternity. Though Ryan Wyatt was different than Austin Berkowitz, because he hadn’t either fucked around with my boyfriend or fucked around with my ex. Went there. Not that Austin would have been aware of either, not that I could lay blame at his feet, but fuck it, he did it, didn’t he? “You should do you,” I told him, affirmatively. “It’s still strange being at an Iota Chi party with Kevin Malley abroad--do you know Kevin Malley?” Austin’s face crept into a smirk. “Oh yeah.” I didn’t have anything else to add, without being direct: without actually asking Austin the exact date that he had screwed around with Kevin. I tried, instead, to feign incredulity. With a smile, I said, “Oh God, are you saying…” Austin giggled, clapped me on the shoulder, and sauntered back into the chapter room. I followed. Waited for my opening, but suddenly Ryan Wyatt appeared from nowhere, and slapped Austin’s pledge pin with his hand. “Pledge, I have a request.” “Nothing gay, Wyatt,” said Morton, passing by with his hands full of shots, no doubt destined for some of the other pledges. “What kind of degenerate do you think I am?” Ryan shouted back, as Morton disappeared into the crowd. He turned back to Austin. “Though I am going to make you come with me to the Pub or Oz sometime soon. But no, right now, I have to send someone to get ice from the basement freezer.” He pressed Austin’s pledge button again. “Move it.” Austin nodded, as if this was some incredibly important instructions rather than what it was, and scurried down towards the door to the basement. Ryan turned to me, with a smile. “How you holding up, Becker?” “Wonderful.” He looked as if he was going to say something, but didn’t. He drunkenly nodded, and then disappeared into the crowd to find everyone else. Chris Baker, standing by the back wall of the chapter room, was looking far more relaxed. “It’s a good class,” he told me. “Right?” “It’s a great class,” I replied. “Seventeen people? And we snatched Logan McClendon away from Zeta.” Logan was across the room. Talking to Justine, who had come by once the pledges were allowed to start inviting their own friends into the room. Justine, who was getting inducted into Tri-Gamma tomorrow morning. Logan, who was an Iota Chi pledge. And somehow, it seemed crazy. “Well, we had eighteen last year.” “We lost two, don’t forget. We started with eighteen but we only initiated sixteen.” “You always lose a couple,” he said. “Who do you think it’s going to be?” “Can you ever tell?” “No,” he said. “It’s never who you’d expect.” I looked at him. We exchanged tilted, drunken smiles. “Who’d you expect was going to drop out last year?” “Patrick I thought was a goner once Lance dropped out,” he said. “Rodrigue, I called though. He was a weirdo.” He looked at me, and smiled. “Not you. Because I know that’s what you’re really asking. I never thought you would--not once.” I stiffened. Because that is what I was asking. “Why not me?” “Because you wanted it as much as I did when I was a pledge,” he said, looking away from me, staring off at his debaucherous kingdom. “You and me--we both thought we had something to prove by being here.” I knew it was a compliment. Obliquely. I didn’t know exactly what he meant--that I could hang with the straight guys, without anyone realizing or batting an eye? No. He wouldn’t have meant that. He meant that, like him, I wasn’t much in high school and I got thrown a lifeline by Iota Chi, and I wasn’t going to fuck it up. Not for anything. That’s what he meant. I smiled at that. “Well, I guess we proved it, didn’t we?” “No,” he said, slumping his shoulders against the wall. “Because we never actually did have anything to prove.” I woke up, light streaming through the window at around eleven o’clock, to three interesting pieces of communication: First, a text from Connor ManFind, sent at 4am. “How’s it going?” And second: another text from Connor, sent twelve minutes ago: “Sorry about that. I was a little drunk last night.” I didn’t exactly know how to respond to that. So I didn’t. I put my phone back on the nightstand, and reached down to the floor to grab my laptop. Where I found the third interesting piece of communication: an email from Kevin Malley. Subject line: “Bonjour a Paris.” I didn’t know what to do. I was silently panicking—was it going to be friendly? Regretful? I miss you so much? I hate you so much? I glanced over to Patrick’s side of the room--he was still passed out, sprawled out on top of the comforter in a pair of boxers. He would’ve been the perfect person for advice in this situation, because he was the only one who knew the situation. I opened it. It wasn’t to me specifically: to a group of us. I felt simultaneously relieved and hurt and happy, that I was hearing from him for the first time in nearly a month. From: K. Malley To: C. Baker, M. Rowen, B. Morton, T. Pereira, B. Farber, M. Weiner, D. Schwartz, V. Tandy, P. Becker Subject: Bonjour a Paris Bonjour mes amis de la Nouvelle-Orleans, Sorry I’ve been out of touch. Veronica yelled at me yesterday and told me to send you guys an update email. So here goes! Just about to start week four. Classes are keeping me busy. Everything’s going well, except French. You’d think four years of Latin would help, but no. But overall, I’m finally getting my bearings. Being in a foreign country and all. For the first time. It’s almost like freshman year. You just kind of fall into the life and can’t imagine what happened before. You all know how often I’ve moved around. Old pro at this point. They have us living at this place called the Hotel le Ye-Ye. Very fancy, almost as nice as Wall. Not that any of us ever lived in Wall. There’s a bar downstairs. Communist-themed (So, Becker, you’d hate it.) I’ve been busy, otherwise. Classes and shit. They actually make you work on study abroad. Everything’s going well, except French. Turns out, I’m terrible at French. You’d think four years of Latin would help, but no. Program is full of interesting people--about 30% Tulane kids, but really, people from all over. A couple people from NYU. A girl from Berkeley. Who actually knows my best friend from high school: small world. And I’ve made friends with some locals too. Here and there. Other than that: lots and lots of wine. Table wine, not pink champagne in a riverbed, but it gets the job done. I’m becoming a wine snob, I decided, so be prepared for me to sniffing your Franzia next time we play Slap the Bag on the porch of the Iota Chi house. I’ll try to keep you guys updated more often, though. Hope everything’s going well, and hope you remembered to smoke a bowl in my honor at Mardi Gras! Gros bisous, Kevin I stared at the screen, trying to decode this. The shoutout to me, directly. “Communist-themed (Becker, you’d hate it.)” Which I would’ve hated. He was right. It hadn’t escaped my attention that I was the last email address listed. As if he had added me, then removed me, then added me again. As if he was thinking of me, as if he was worried about what this email might contend. I really wished Patrick was awake, but he’d probably think I was a crazy person anyway. Trying to find hidden messages from my ex when, very clearly, there were none. It was just a pleasant email. Just a pleasant email that recapped a pleasant experience in a pleasant study abroad in a pleasant continent. “It’s not pink champagne in a riverbed.” Did anyone else know what he was talking about? Would they ask? Had it only been two months ago that Kevin and I were standing under the overpass in the dry riverbed near his house in Colton, drinking Veuve Cliquot rose? That he had pulled down my pants, that he had fucked me senseless, right there against the concrete pillar? When he told me he was coming out to his family? Maybe that was the start of everything: the start of him starting to imagine what it’d be like to be out of the closet, to be free, to be unincumbered by me. But I got two references. In one email--more than anyone else. And the fact that he included me on the email with his closest friends in the world. Was he still thinking about me? Was he still thinking about me like I was still thinking about him? When he went to bed with some sexy Frenchman, was he still thinking about how it felt to be inside my ass? Thinking about how it was fun, but different--how it was fun but it wasn’t love, it wasn’t romance, it wasn’t us? I liked to think he was thinking that. I needed to think he was thinking that. We had the rest of February, then March, then April, then May. Four months until Kevin was back in the country, when I could text him, when I could see him, when I could hold him. Four months, and we could both live knowing that we sowed our oats, that we experienced other men, that we ultimately belonged together. I set out to write my reply: Dear Kevin, I had nothing beyond that. Dear Kevin. Dear? I erased Dear. Kevin, And still, nothing. I threw my head back, tried to think of what I could say to him that would sound profound and romantic and intoxicating, but respectful of the fact that we were no longer a couple. Glad everything’s going well. Glad everything’s going well? I wasn’t glad. Did I want him to think I was glad? I erased it. Which just left me with: Kevin, Again. Kevin. Kevin. I couldn’t send him an email full of just Kevins, because that’d be creepy. I googled the Hotel le Ye-Ye Paris, and it came up on the map. Rue Drouot. Between the Richelieu and the Le Peletier metro stations, and I wondered which one was his. Which one Kevin would be racing down, to catch a train with his friends from Tulane and NYU and UC Berkeley and the various locals, on his way to meet sexy French men. There was a phone number. One of those long, foreign numbers. And I debated calling it, but I didn’t. Because that would have been creepy too. Kevin--great to hear from you, and glad you’re having fun. Don’t think I’m not quizzing you on your wines when you get back. Study up. Becker Short. Simple. Witty. He could spend his own hours reading into the subtext. Becker. Love, Becker? No. Just Becker. Sent. I closed my computer. I didn’t want to think about the specifics of Kevin, about the specifics of his life in Paris. I focused instead on one thing: that somewhere, on the other side of the world, Kevin was receiving my email and, for at least a moment, he was thinking of me and I was thinking of him, and in four months, our worlds would collide again. That was enough for now. I got out of bed, and went into the bathroom. Tripp was already in there, brushing his teeth. “Morning,” I told him. He grumbled something through the foam, then spit in the sink. “Morning,” he said, wiping his mouth with the sleeve of his sweatshirt. “Want to go to breakfast at Bruff? Erik’s arranging some pledges before they go to steal pins.” Had it been a year ago that Jackie Hughes had stolen my pin? That I’d gone on a date with her, that I’d had to apologize to Kevin, tell him I only wanted to be with him? We’d had such a messy start to our relationship. Didn’t we. But everything was so good when it was good. “Yeah,” I said. “Bruff sounds good.” “Five minutes,” he said. “Wake Sleeping Beauty too, while you’re at it.”
  11. oat327

    Against the World

    First of all, thanks—it’s great to know people are enjoying the story! I actually kept waffling on whether or not to write this story in the first place, because I didn’t want to detract from Becker--Becker's kind of self-involved, and I liked the idea of having a tight universe where everything is filtered through his own sense of self. I had toyed around with doing a Kevin story for a while, but it was actually the response I got from a lot of people on here after I wrote the “Best Four Years” breakup chapter that convinced me to finally take the plunge: I thought Kevin needed a chance to tell his side of the story. But I agree: I think giving another perspective for those pivotal year of their relationship really helps both stories.
  12. oat327

    Chapter 4

    Thanks! Becker has a place in my heart, definitely. He’s done some dickish things but I don’t think he’s a bad guy either.
  13. oat327

    Chapter 4

    Thanks—I wanted Kevin’s story to be a bit fractured and nonlinear, because I think that’s how his mind works. (Also, for practical reasons: this story’s only going to be 10-12 chapters and, with three distinct plotlines, I don’t have a lot of breathing room like I do in a rambling epic like “Best Four Years.”) And I’m the same way about first love: it’s always so touching in fiction because it so rarely works out in real life. I can't really say much without giving away the ending of this story, but hopefully no one's disappointed!
  14. oat327

    Chapter 4

    Thanks. I think, unlike Becker, it’s hard for Kevin to compartmentalize and for him to ignore parts of himself—so experiences tend to build in layers. But, as he puts it, each experience is “just a copy of a copy of a copy of the old ones, smudged and blurred together from generation loss.” I think he’s starting to realize that moving on to the next thing, like he’s done his whole life, isn’t always a good thing.
  15. oat327

    Chapter 4

    “Okay,” Matt Barber said, from the passenger seat of his new Mitsubishi Eclipse. “Go to the end of the row, hang a right.” We were in the empty student parking lot at Las Palomas High School on a Saturday afternoon. Matt Barber had taken it upon himself to teach me how to drive. September of 2003, beginning of our junior year. Matt had been gone for the bulk of the summer. Camp counselor at a Mormon summer camp in Big Bear. Ninety minutes away, but might as well have been on a different planet. I was out of my mind without him. But when he came back to me, it was like no time had passed. At least, between us: physically, Matt had become a grown-up in a very short period of time. Tanned and taller, face narrower, shoulders broader— “Swimming in the lake every morning,” he had told me, swaggering smile. He thought of himself as a swimmer now--had spent the whole week trying out for the JV swim team, found out the day before he hadn’t made the cut. His hair had gotten shaggy, blonder. Hadn’t been cut since June, as he kept his frontier spirit alive for just a little bit longer. Before accepting the inevitable return of the clean-cut Mormon kid in a Hollister polo. And he was attempting a beard. Attempting, operative word. After a full summer, it was still a morse code of blond stubble, stretched across his chin and cheeks, making him look vaguely homeless. It was also the semester he experimented with green contacts, which made him look vaguely possessed. Green contacts, later thrown to history after a second eye infection. Not the first. Matt Barber: a true believer in the supremacy of willpower over biology. He had never looked more handsome. To me. “Blinker,” he commanded, and without waiting for me, he leaned over to turn it on. Fierce by Abercrombie & Fitch. The smell lingered on my nostrils, the smell I always thought of when I thought of Matt Barber. “We’re in an empty parking lot.” “You’ve got to practice as if we’re on the road, dude,” he said. “That’s what my dad always said when I was learning. Hang another right at the tree.” There was something empowering about this. My foot on the pedal of the Eclipse. I pressed, and it moved. I braked, and it stopped. Godlike in its magic. Matt was smiling. “There you go. Quick study.” “Oh, I’m very smart.” “I know it.” “How much longer do we have to go around in circles?” “Until you’re ready.” “No, but really.” “Well, it’s four miles back to my house,” he said, “but you’re going to have to take Nason--forty mile per hour speed limit. Think you can handle it?” “You know it. Pick up Los Hermanos on the way?” “Took the words right out of my mouth,” he said, flipping open his cell phone. Speed dial five, after Mom Cell, Dad Cell, Home, and me. “California burrito, no sour cream?” “Yup.” “Okay. Turn right at the light.” “I know how to get to your house.” “I will pull this car over right now, young man!” Most days, we wound up at Los Hermanos, ever since Matt got his drivers’ license--dingy and delicious, tucked away in a nice shopping center about a mile down the road from Las Palomas. I parked in an empty patch in the middle of the parking lot, pulled crookedly into the block of spaces. “Giving me a workout, dude?” he asked. “Wouldn’t hurt.” Matt smiled. Slammed the door, jogged over to Los Hermanos, and came back out thirty seconds later with our phone order. “They still recognized you, even though you look like Bigfoot?” Matt Barber smiled, stroked his wispy, would-be beard. “Lucy Tang told me in fifth period that the beard was cute.” A habit Matt had picked up, along with his alleged beard: wanting to talk about girls. Obviously, I didn’t see the appeal. There was never a moment where I made a private declaration to myself. I just was. You don’t look in the mirror and one day admit to yourself that you have blue eyes. They’d always been blue, you always knew they were blue. “Yeah, she’s lying because she wants to get in your pants,” I told him. “For either weed or dick, I haven’t been able to tell yet.” Part of me died every time he talked about girls. Because he was what I thought about. Thought of his face, his body. Imagined what it would be like to kiss him, to hold him, to preserve him and me and us for the rest of time. I could never say that to him. “Maybe both,” he agreed, reaching down to turn on the CD player. Ocean Avenue, by Yellowcard. “I’m thinking of asking her to homecoming. Her or Jenna Hicks.” “I thought you were all about Becca Alvarez.” “Well, yeah, but only until I found out Jenna and Lucy were both into me,” he replied, dismissively. “They’re solid eights. But I don’t know: Lucy’s just a little bit crazy, which you know I love, but Jenna’s LDS.” “The opposite of crazy.” “I mean...” “She knits.” “Well, yeah, but she drinks too.” “No she doesn’t,” I told him. “Remember the bonfire? She was literally holding a full beer the whole night. You were talking with her for like an hour and she didn’t take a single sip.” “Only you would notice the rate of a girl’s sippage when she’s flirting.” I panicked: Did he know. No. He didn’t know. I cracked a smile. “Just looking out for you, dude.” Matt was still lost in his own decision-making. “So, like, I’d rather date Jenna long-term. But for homecoming, I think Lucy may be more…” He could barely contain a giddy, teenage smile. “...fun. Eyes on the road, not on me.” I looked back out to the endless desert highway, the asphalt carpet stretched out far ahead of us. “Fun meaning sex?” I didn’t want to think about Matt Barber having sex. With a girl. I thought about him having sex constantly. “Of course fun meaning sex, dude,” he replied, leaning back in his seat. “Vivamus, moriendum est. The real question is, who are we going to get for you? Lena Taylor?” “Ugh, not Lena.” “What’s wrong with Lena? You like blondes.” “She always, like, hangs on me.” “Yeah, dude, that’s exactly why you should ask her to homecoming.” As if her unwanted physical attention should have been an obvious benefit. “She’s obviously into you.” “She just wants free weed.” “Dude, welcome to being an adult,” said Matt. “Money talks. How do you think those nothing guys wind up with freaking movie stars?” “I'm sorry, did you just call me a ‘nothing guy’?” “You’re a slab of Grecian marble,” he said, rolling his eyes. “Better looking than I am, anyway. Happy?” “Maybe if I didn’t think you were full of shit.” Matt smirked. “Turn left at the light.” He opened the glove box. Slammed it shut. Opened it again, slammed it shut. One, two, three times. “Stop that.” He did. “Maybe I’ll have to judge Lucy and Jenna at the party tonight. Throw a pageant.” “Oh, just ask Jenna,” I told him. “If you like her. Don’t go with Lucy just because you think she’s easier.” I was pretty confident this was sound advice, even if it was self-serving. That was critical. I wouldn’t try to screw my best friend over. “Ugh,” he said. “Maybe. Am I too nice?” “Nicest drug dealer I know.” “And you know quite a few, so I’ll take the compliment,” he replied. “Though I’m not so much a drug dealer, as I am the publicist for a small pharmaceutical sales firm.” “Whatever helps you sleep at night.” “Oh, I sleep like a baby,” he said, “cuddled up with all my money. Get into the middle lane, this one’s about to become turn-only.” He was looking at his phone. “Okay, text from Clara: wants to know if you brought enough weed for the party tonight.” Clara was Matt’s older sister, a senior. Officially responsible for him this weekend, while their parents were at a wedding in Provo and their three younger siblings, Brig, Josh, and Madelyn, were staying at a neighbor’s. Obviously, Clara and Matt couldn’t pass up the opportunity presented by absent parents. “I’ve got you taken care of. She doesn’t know you sell it, does she?” “No,” he replied. “I may have led her to believe it’s something you do independently.” “Thanks for the support, dude.” “Don’t mention it, dude.” By nine-thirty, romance was already in the air. Jenna Hicks winning by virtue of showing up at the party first. She and Matt had decamped to the backyard. I tried not to watch through the window, but I did. The two of them: cemented to a lounge chair out by the Barbers’ pool, hands just beginning a tentative wander all over each other. On his cheeks, on his nascent stubble. On her bare legs, her arms. Laughing. Jenna leaning in just close enough to smell his Fierce by Abercrombie & Fitch. I pretended like I was talking to Tucker, Harry, and Hiroshi, but I was watching Matt. When Lucy Tang did arrive, around ten, she was huffy. I ran into her in the kitchen. She was dressed to the nines, clearly ready to make a move on a man that had only recently become unavailable--tight jean skirt and low-cut shirt, hair curled and dyed with ashy blonde streaks that she didn’t have in third period yesterday. “I mean, Jenna Hicks,” she fumed to me, without greeting, as if I were an old friend. I wasn’t. The only thing I knew about Lucy Tang was that, in the East Building boys’ bathroom, someone had scrawled, “Lucy Tang’s a kick in a glass,” in sharpie on the mirror above the middle sink. And that, as Matt had told me seconds before he pounced on Jenna, that she was really more of a seven-point-nine. No contest for Jenna Hicks’s solid eight. I could tell Lucy was slightly drunk too. “Mormons,” I told her, with a shrug. “They stick together.” She didn’t seem too comforted by that story. “Honestly, he was torn between the two of you,” I told her, as she shook her head and cracked open another can of Tecate. “He just started talking to Jenna, and one thing led to another. But there’s like fifty people at this party, you know? So many other people. Just because you can’t have Matt doesn’t mean there’s not some other guy who can make you happy. You’ll find him.” Lucy smiled. “I think you’re talking a little bit about yourself.” My heart dropped. A sudden surge of panic. I glanced around as if there was going to be an outward sign of the apocalypse. Locust. Flood. “I think you like Jenna too,” she finished, before I had a chance to stutter my denials on Matt. “You were looking at them through the window with the same expression I had.” Well. That was less incriminating. Yes. “Well, I wouldn’t want to jeopardize my friendship with Matt,” I replied. Cryptically. “He’s my best friend.” Lucy pursed her lips, then took a sip of Tecate. “If he was really torn between me and Jenna, he’d probably go crazy if he saw me with some other guy, right? See what he was missing, while he’s feeling up Little Miss Boring.” I didn’t have time to adjudicate that statement; without warning, Lucy leaned in and kissed me. My first kiss. Not exactly rom-com caliber. Her lips tasted cloying, chemical. Strawberry lip gloss. People were staring at us. Acceptingly, not that it mattered. “I’ve been waiting for you to do that for a very long time,” she said, loudly. And before I could muster a response, she put on a seductive smile, grabbed my hand and led me out of the kitchen and into the Barbers’ downstairs bathroom. She locked the door behind us. I was cornered prey. At the mercy of a horny straight lioness. “Maybe leave that open.” Lucy wasn’t paying any attention. Studying herself in the mirror. Reached into her purse to apply more lip gloss. “God, Kevin, don’t you know anything about flirting?” she asked, as she ran a goopy index finger along her bottom lip. “They only want you when they think they lost you. Now everyone’s going to be talking about you and me, and it’s going to drive Matt crazy.” I sat down on the edge of the bathtub. “I don’t think that’s going to work.” “Trust me,” she said. “You and I both ooze sex appeal. Everyone thinks so.” I couldn’t tell if Lucy Tang was bullshitting. “Really?” “Right about now, Matt’s probably in a coma from one of Jenna’s stories about yarn,” she continued. “He’s thinking, ‘Shit, maybe I made a mistake.’ And then he sees me, looking all hot, sucking his best friend’s face, and he thinks, ‘Oh, God, now I’ve lost her for good.’ And then he comes up to me, all slick, all, ‘So, you and Kevin, huh?’ and makes it very clear that he’s still interested because now he thinks he can’t have me. But he can so I flirt back and we have a few more beers and I take him up to his room, and Jenna sits there all sad and vulnerable and desperate, and that’s when you sweep up the mess.” Lucy painted quite the picture. Knowing Matt, it wasn’t something I didn’t see happening. “I think you might be a sociopath.” She fluffled her blonde hair, curls beginning to grow a little limp. “How do you think I got invited to three different proms last year, as a sophomore? Valley View, Canyon Springs, and Las Palomas.” “I don’t think it’s a good idea.” “You’re helping Matt discover his true feelings,” she replied. She had given up on her curls, was surveying her eyelashes. “That he doesn’t know he has. Isn’t that what a friend should want for another friend?” “I don’t like lying.” “It’s not lying,” she said. “It’s just two people making out and letting someone else draw their own conclusions. Close your eyes and pretend I’m Jenna.” Exitus acta probat. “Take off your lip gloss.” She grabbed one of Mrs. Barber’s embroidered for-show towels. “Done.” It was amazing how Lucy Tang could turn it on and off. She really was a sociopath. A teenage girl. Macking against the picture window in the living room--a room strictly forbidden to party guests, by order of Clara Barber, but in full view of the backyard. Better without the lip gloss. Lucy was about a foot shorter than Matt and me, diminutive and breakable, but when I closed my eyes, she was right: the lips weren’t hers, but Matt’s. “I’ve waited so long for this,” he said, wrapping his arms around my neck. I put my hands on the small of his back. I pulled him in closer. Locked us together. Bodies pressed against each other. Against the window. Lips, on lips. Anyone’s lips. Matt’s lips. Mine. And I could feel his hand running through my hair, could almost smell the Fierce on his neck, his shoulders. And then: separation. A hand coming to my chest, pushing me off just slightly, backing off the kiss. Lucy’s voice: “Shit. You’re a good kisser.” I opened my eyes. “Thanks,” I said. “Well, Jenna and Matt just went back inside,” she whispered. “But they saw us through the window.” So now I have to accidentally run into Matt, and you have to accidentally run into Jenna. But first…” She holds up her purse, mouths, “Lip gloss.” I took advantage of Lucy’s departure to beeline to the family room, back to the party, back to Harry, Tucker and Hiroshi, who had commandeered the corner of the sectional. “Dude,” said Harry, giving me a fist pump but otherwise not moving from his perch on the couch. “Get some.” I didn’t hate the celebrity. The praise that came with a girl like Lucy Tang. Whether she was a seven-point-nine or an eight. Matt Barber was coming down the stairs, Jenna behind him. Newly shaved: evidently, Jenna Hicks didn’t find his beard as charming as Lucy did. And he spotted me, cut directly through the crowd towards me. “So, you and Lucy, huh?” He was smiling. I returned the favor. “In vino veritas.” Jenna might have said she didn’t like the way his beard scratched her chin when they kissed. He looked better clean-shaven, objectively, but I wouldn’t have complained. I’d have taken Matt Barber however he came. “Lucy’s a solid seven,” he continued, cracking open another Tecate. “The second I saw she was a blonde now, I knew you couldn’t help yourself.” “You just know everything about me, don’t you.” Matt nodded. “Better than you know yourself, dude.” “Kevin and blondes,” said Tucker, shaking his head. “Really, any blonde. Could be Senora Lichtman, for all he cares.” “Senora Lichtman’s hair is definitely a wig,” said Hiroshi. “Without a doubt.” “Do blondes really have more fun, Kevin?” Harry asked me, with a smirk. I didn’t, exactly, know how my alleged blonde fetish took hold in popular imagination. I had made maybe one discrete remark about blondes, but hair color wasn’t at all something I cared about. I wanted Matt Barber, but it wasn’t because he was blond. I had seen my life before he walked into it. “Has to be the right blond.” Matt turned to Jenna, kissed her on the cheek. His own blonde. “Absolutely.” Matt lay on top of his bed, fully dressed, holding his head, and looking up at the ceiling fan. Watching it spin. “Dude, I think I’m drunk.” “Fooled me.” Matt gave a drunken giggle. “Sorry Tucker passed out in the den. Are you sure you don’t want the other couch?” Every bedroom had been occupied by Clara’s friends. I was supposed to have the den. Tucker and Hiroshi were supposed to split the family room couches, but Tucker had other ideas. “It’s a loveseat,” I told him. “And Hiroshi snores.” Which it was, and which he did. But really, I didn’t want to pass up the chance to sleep next to Matt. Which I knew was more than a little creepy, and more than a little sad, but I was drunk I never knew when I’d get this chance again. Even though I slept over at the Barbers several times a month, it always in the den, always on the pullout. Lynn Barber was strict. I think they took pity on me. Lynn and Van Barber. Didn’t know the whole story, but knew enough to let me stay whenever Matt asked. They were good people. Lived together, worked together; realtors. Finished each other’s sentences. He took out the garbage, she washed the dishes, all without asking. He’d tease her, she’d get him right back. He kissed her goodbye when he ran down the street to Sav-On, she’d tell him to hurry home. I wondered if they’d be nasty drunks. To each other. To their kids. They, of course, didn’t drink. Mormons. “You don’t know I don’t mind you bunking with me, dude.” I went into Matt’s bathroom, the one shared between his room and Josh and Brig’s room, and closed the door behind me. “It’s colossally unfair,” he had told me, the first time I came over, “that Madelyn and Clara both get their own bathrooms, but the three of us have to share one.” As if I were expected to agree. I brushed my teeth, and then I saw a red speedo drying on the back of the doorknob, the one he had used all week for tryouts. I hadn’t actually seen him in it. I assumed I wouldn’t. That it’d soon join his guitar, drum set, tennis racket, golf clubs, and rock collection in the Museum of Matt’s Forgotten Hobbies that his parents kept in the garage. I spit in the sink. And took the speedo off the doorknob. Still slightly damp. I could smell the chlorine, just from holding it, and spread it out on the tile counter. I imagined that ass. I imagined that bulge. Those thighs, the faint V down his stomach. Thought about Lucy’s lips, how they felt like Matt’s lips. How I would hold him in my arms and kiss him and not close my eyes, because I wanted to remember every inch of how he looked. And, just like that, I was getting hard. I was big enough where my dick was noticeable any level of hardness, but I was more than a little hard. I was tenting my shorts, dick creeping out past the elastic of my boxer-briefs. But I kept looking at the speedo. Touched the wet crotch a little, imagined it was Matt Barber’s bulge, ready, expecting me. I closed my eyes, pulled down my shorts and underwear; my dick sprang out in front of me, full mast, all nine inches. I grabbed it with my fist and, standing over Matt Barber’s wet speedo, slowly began to jerk my dick. A knock on the door. “Dude, hurry up, I want to go to bed.” Knocked out of my fantasy. “Jeez, Dad,” I told him, and I turned on the sink, closed my eyes, thought about the most unsexy things I could think about until I had deflated to acceptable levels. I pulled up my underwear, pulled up my shorts, and balanced the speedo back on the doorknob. “Nice speedo, dude,” I told him, as I brushed past him. “Being a dick won’t make yours any bigger,” he replied, with a smile, moving into the bathroom. I could imagine. I felt my dick getting hard again, just as the bathroom door closed. But I wasn’t going to take any chances; I threw back the covers, climbed under the bed, and tried to think of anything but Matt’s body until he came back out. And I saw him. Wearing only a pair of gray boxer-briefs. Clinging tightly to his legs, ass, thighs. I felt myself getting hard again. Rock hard, straining the fabric of my underwear. I just lay there in fear. Waited helplessly. As Matt casually turned the lights off, and went around to his side of the bed. And there we were. Together. Both in only our underwear. Side by side, in the dim light from the window. As minutes trickled by. One. After the next. Two. “I can’t believe you didn’t get any from Lucy tonight,” Matt said, finally. “You know she was game.” I didn’t know what to say. They only want you when they think they lost you? There was zero evidence that Matt Barber was gay. And plenty of evidence that he wasn’t. Still. My heart was pounding. Next to him. Barely clothed. Talking about sex. “Well, you know,” I said, vaguely. “Jenna definitely wouldn’t,” he continued. “Maybe after a few months, but definitely wouldn’t have gone any further than kissing tonight. Do you think I made the right choice? Her and Lucy?” I didn’t say anything. “Well,” he said. “Silly question. Considering you’re with Lucy.” “I’m not with Lucy,” I told him. “She kissed me because she wanted to make you jealous.” “Well. You kissed her back though.” “I’m sorry.” “I didn’t mean it like that.” More silence. Another minute. Two. Three. A soft exhale from Matt. “Is she a good kisser?” I hadn’t really kissed Lucy Tang. Not really. I had kissed Matt Barber. At least in my head. “The best.” “Damn, dude,” he said. He rustled a bit. “I wish I had jacked off in the bathroom.” “It’s still there.” The thought of Matt Barber in the bathroom. Jacking off, five feet away from me. Even behind a door. I had never been so incredibly hard, barely contained in the fabric, so hard it throbbed. “I can’t really do it when I’m,” he added, “standing.” My heart was pounding again. Talking about it. Like this. I exhaled. “What--you want me to go? Wait in the bathroom?” “No,” he said. “That’s stupid.” “I’ll go,” I told him. “Want me to go?” And I wasn’t sure how far to take this. But I knew I would never forgive myself if I didn’t. “Or are you just whipping it out?” I felt drugged, almost. Cocaine or speed. Chaos in my mind, in my heart, in my crotch. Matt’s answer took forever: “I’m not whipping it out.” “Chickenshit.” Matt Barber giggled, and he pulled back the covers. His bulge. Hard bulge. Silhouetted against moonlight. And fuck, how badly I wanted to reach over, to touch it. But I didn’t. I theatrically averted my eyes, even as I kept Matt in my periphery. Under my side of the covers, my dick had grown impossibly hard. And it was taking everything I had not to pull down my boxers, to start jacking my own dick. There was a rustle. And Matt's shorts came down. His dick, hard, maybe seven inches, maybe more. Standing at attention. Holy. Fuck. I wasn't sure what to do. Not stare. I knew that much. Not stare. But what the hell. I pulled back my side of the covers. Pulled down my shorts. My dick, also silhouetted against the moonlight. Also rock hard. Also ready. "Dude," Matt said, "where you been hiding that thing?" I smiled at him. "You looking, dude?" Matt looked back up at the ceiling. "Nope." I spit into my hand. And I tried not to look at Matt. Just tried to listen to him. To his slopping strokes. Matt. Naked. Hard. Jacking off, two feet away,. I started jacking my dick. Slowly. Quietly. All I needed was Matt in my mind, in my periphery: his body, his face, his dick, standing up at attention. I tried to listen to him. The wet slopping motion, his hand on his dick. And I tried to match his rhythm the best I could. Stroking together. Like we did everything together. Everything except this, until now. I imagined my hand was his hand. Or his mouth. Or his ass. And how good he’d feel--how good I would feel. Enveloped in Matt Barber. My best friend. The man who was never out of my head. The first thing I thought about when I woke up, the last thing I thought about before I went to bed. It took every ounce of strength I had not to turn over, to grab his dick, to kiss him, to tell him I loved him. But of course I wouldn’t do that sort of thing. I continued to jack. Matt continued to jack. Same rhythm, carnal metronome. Kept going like this, together, apart, until I heard Matt let out a sharp, quiet grunt. And knowing he had… I felt my dick hit the point of no return. I bit my lip. The eruption. Watched strand after strand of hot jizz land on my stomach. And suddenly. I felt like I was in a dream, everything helter skelter. Matt settled back into the mattress. Drunk. Had I just jacked off with my best friend? My heart was still racing. The orgasm hadn’t quieted my riotousness. All I wanted to say was… I had nothing to say, there was nothing to say. I didn’t want to move, I couldn’t move, I wouldn’t move. Instead, Matt hoisted the covers back over both of us. And we lay there, still, for a very long time. Lay there. Minute. Two. Ninety. Until I heard the soft breathing of Matt Barber, asleep. A thud. A book slamming against our bedroom door. A heavy book. I could always tell if she threw a paperback or a hardcover. I looked down at my trumpet, my dad’s trumpet. Practicing my finger exercises. I didn’t want to make any noise. Not at a time like this. “And you use the kids as pawns! You’ve already turned Kevin against his own mother, and I won’t let you do that with Nicky too.” “They spend the whole fucking day with you--you ever think they just fucking hate you because you’re fucking nuts?” “Then why’d you fucking marry me?” “Because I was a kid who made the mistake of knocking up some dumb drunk slut.” Another book. Paperback. Nicky took my headphones off his ears. “This is Dad’s CD. Why’d you want me to listen to it?” “Because it’s really good,” I told him, glancing back to the door. “Put them back on and listen, will you? You’ll see.” Nicky turned the CD case over in his hands. “I know they’re fighting,” Nicky told me, finally. “You think I don’t know, but I’m seven, and I know. And I’ve already heard Garth Brooks.” “Put the fucking headphones on your fucking ears, Nicky!” And Nicky did what I said. Nicky always did what I said. At times like these. Back in those days. “Then just leave!” she shrieked. “If you feel so trapped, then let the fucking door hit you in the fucking ass on your way out--the three of us don’t need you. And we never did.” “Oh yeah. Leave the kids with some duplicitous drunk who--” “I haven’t had a drink in six months, Mike, and you know that.” “Only a matter of time. It’s five o’clock somewhere.” Another book. Very heavy. The whole door shook. And then, silence. I looked at Nicky, who was suddenly interested in reading the back of the Garth Brooks CD. I slowly got out of bed. And walked across the room. And opened the door; my father, standing in front of the door, spun around. There was a scratch on his cheek, blood just beginning to trickle. Mom was crouched down on the floor in front of him. Cradling my fourth-grade textbook on Kansas history, which had been split in two down the spine when it had hit the door jamb. The little apartment near Fort Leavenworth. I still remembered too much about Kansas: Border ruffians, free staters. Popular sovereignty. Bleeding Kansas. Bleeding Mike Malley. Capital: Topeka. “I’m so sorry,” she said, either to me or my dad, to herself. My mom had a vicious temper when she drank. My dad had a vicious temper when she drank. And how many moments, how many little explosions, had I witnessed. “We can tape it back together,” he said, either to me or her. His face showed anger, bright red, but it was draining now. “It’ll hold through the end of the semester.” He turned to go into the kitchen. “I’m so sorry,” she said again, this time directly to me, and tears were falling from her eyes. I turned away from her, followed my dad into the kitchen. “We’ll fix the book,” I assured him, when I caught up. “You’re the best at fixing things.” “You know it, bug,” he said, with a smile. “Nothing I can’t fix.” He paused. "Everything's going to be okay." I didn't say anything. I didn't know what to say. "I promise," he added. "Because I'm looking you right in the eye when I say it. You can always tell from the eyes." Do you really feel trapped? Do you really want to leave? What happens to all of us if you leave? I did not ask those questions. Because I didn’t want to know the answers. Six years later, when he did leave, I still didn’t want to know the answers. “It’s for you,” says Ross Garabedian, holding out the phone receiver. “Someone named J.D.?” J.D.? I don’t know any J.D. Ross is suddenly intrigued that I don't know who's on the phone. Stands next to me at his desk while I touch the receiver to my ear, anticipatory smile on his face. “This is Kevin.” “Hey, it’s Duncan.” I hold the receiver closer to my face, in case Ross Garabedian could hear anything. He’s certainly trying to listen. “Hey, you,” I say. “J.D.?” “John Duncan,” Duncan says. “No, you cannot call me J.D. Don’t even ask.” “Shucks, was just going to.” “Your roommate picked up and I kind of panicked.” He pauses. “I’m sorry for not calling over the weekend. I was working.” It’s Wednesday evening. I haven’t seen him since Saturday, at Le Manifeste when he picked up his keys from Sébastien. When I kissed him on the street, his body against mine. “It’s okay,” I tell him. “I’m glad you called now.” “Yeah,” he says. “Well, I don’t have to work again until Friday, and I was thinking I owe you a drink for my rudeness. If you wanted to come by.” An invitation. Obviously. And I can see Duncan’s face, his stoic smile, his pale eyes. “What’s your address?” “17 Boulevard Haussmann,” he says. “Apartment 8. Across the street from the Ambassador Hotel.” “Enjoy your booty call,” Ross calls after me, settling back into his bed with his marketing textbook, as I leave. I walk. Quickly. Ten minutes to Duncan’s apartment. Duncan and Sébastien’s apartment. Round the steep marble stairs, fourth floor. Duncan lets me in. Brown cocktail in his hand. Black soccer shorts and a gray t-shirt with a green lion head sketched on it. I take a moment to fully appreciate him. His thighs. His ass. His arms, shoulders. Lean and toned. “I’m glad you came,” he tells me. He leans in for what I thought was going to be a full kiss, but he instead goes for my cheek, that French way. “Do you want a drink?” “Sure. Whatever you’re having.” He nods, turns his back to me, heads over to the bar cart next to the fireplace. I follow him. And go for it: stand closely behind him, one hand on his hip, my chin resting on his shoulder. Duncan doesn’t protest. He turns his neck, slightly, to smile at me, as he gets to work: pouring a shot of gin, vermouth, and campari over ice in a cocktail shaker. “Always stir a cocktail when it’s mostly alcohol,” he tells me, picking up a spoon. “That’s the trick. Three years of dating a bartender.” I kiss his neck. He again doesn’t protest. “It looks delicious.” “I’m no Sébastien, but I’m no slouch.” Duncan picks up an orange, already missing half its skin, and peels another strip away. “You’re so classy, look at this,” I whisper in his ear, as he rubs it along the rim of the glass. “Your usual harem doesn’t mix you negronis?” “My ex-boyfriend’s family owned a vineyard,” I tell him, “and he still drank screwdrivers.” Duncan smiles a bit at that. “Glad I can use my advanced age for good, not evil.” He hands me the drink. “One negroni. This is good--I don’t like drinking alone.” “So that’s your first?” I ask, with a smile. Duncan rolls his eyes, takes a good-natured sip. “I said I don’t like to, not that I don’t.” We sit down on the couch. Next to each other. Not like last time, when Duncan sat in the chair across from me. Now: our knees touching, ever so slightly. The drink is delicious. Maybe a little bitter, a little sweet. From the couch, I can see the bar cart. Two shelves underneath, each packed tightly with glassware. Wine glasses and water glasses and high ball glasses. Crystal decanters and liquor bottles on the top, a silver ice bucket. And suddenly, I think about how I could walk over, and pull the whole thing to the ground. Awash the world in glass fragments. Chaos. Fuck. Not now. It’s illogical. You would never do something like that. You’ve never done something like that. This is not your thought. Bleeding Mike Malley. Get out, get out, get out. Duncan is talking. Still. I can’t look at the bar cart. I look at the fireplace. I look at the French doors. I look at Duncan Rinehart. His face. His eyes. His pale green eyes. That I can get lost in. Bar cart, bar cart, bar cart. Not that I want to do this: I reach into my pocket, fish out my hand sanitizer. Squeeze a bit on my hands. Swim back to the surface. Just like that. Duncan abruptly stops talking. Smiles. “Promise it’s a clean glass.” “It’s not that.” He waits for me to say what it is, then. But I’m not doing that. Obviously, I’m not. Not to a doctor. Obsessive-compulsive is charming in the abstract, in the shorthand. Not to a doctor. “Just feeling grimy,” I tell him, with a relaxed shrug. “How was dinner? With your mom?” “Oh, same old,” he replies, leaning back into the sofa. “‘Duncan, pourquoi tu sors avec un barman? Malédiction sur vos deux maisons!’ And so forth.” I get the gist. “As one does.” “As one does,” he agrees. “Maman means well. She didn’t grow up with much, and now she’s pioneering face transplants. But she likes to see promise in people, and I know she doesn’t see any in Sébastien.” “Do you?” There’s a long pause, which answers my question. But Duncan attempts with words anyway: “He’s twenty-seven. Dropped out of a master program in international affairs four years ago, been tending bar ever since. So, you know.” I think of Nick. Nineteen, not twenty-seven, but is doing far worse than bartending a second-rate bar in Paris. How disappointed my dad would be to see Nick sputtering. I think of J.C. Who would have been sentenced by now, though I had made a point not to Google his name to find out for sure. I briefly debate telling Duncan this. And I think of Becker, whom I did tell all of this. Becker. Who doesn’t like to think about mess. Which I knew, but told anyway. “My brother’s like that,” I tell Duncan, finally. “Doesn’t know what he wants to do. Sometimes works at a drug store. Sometimes sells drugs.” “Reckon it’s harder with family,” he says. “Family is permanent.” A pause. “Well, I don’t talk to my mom or brother,” I tell him, finally. Duncan looks surprised, so I add just enough details to give context: “I came out to them in November. And now I don’t talk to them.” “Oh,” he says. “I’m sorry. Lord. Religious?” “No. Selfish.” Promise me one thing. “Either they are, or I am. I haven’t figured out which.” “You’re not selfish,” he says. “I don’t believe that for a second.” I’ve paid 61 months of rent on the Colton house. And how many times had I been told that I was selfish anyway? I want you to have something special. “It’s hard,” I add. “You know, when you have commitments? And you have to constantly put those first, and your own happiness second?” “Is it selfish to put your own happiness first, even if it means hurting someone?” he asks. “Or is it selfish to put someone else’s happiness first, knowing you’re just prolonging hurting them?” “Are you happy?” He takes a quiet sip of his negroni, then puts it down on the coffee table. On a coaster. Duncan smile turns coy. Green eyes electrify. “I’m selfish.” “Bullshit.” Without warning, he grabs the bottom of my chin, pulls me closer, and kisses me. Not for long. Just a soft, delicate peck on my lips. And then he lets go before I have a chance to really reciprocate. On his face: a thin, regretful smile. “Maybe too selfish, sometimes.” “Maybe another drink will ease your conscience.” And Duncan doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t move--not towards me, not away from me. He stares, suddenly expressionless again, enigmatic. At me. I don’t know what he wants. Maybe that’s half the fun. But I know what I want. Even if it’s selfish. I lean in, and I kiss him. And he doesn’t back away. He kisses back. Our lips together, our tongues suddenly wrestling inside each other. I have my hands on his biceps, he has his hands on my shoulders, and we fall into each other. I fall into him, he falls into me. And it’s different. With him. It’s not like what it was with Sébastien or Ben Farber or any of the nameless, faceless Tulane guys from freshman and sophomore year. It’s temporary, but it doesn’t feel temporary. It feels like Becker, it feels like Matt, it feels like it’s not temporary even though it is. His hand roams to my dick. “It’s even bigger than I remember,” he whispers, before falling back into the kiss. And even though we’ve had sex before--even though I’d nailed him while his boyfriend was nailing me--it doesn’t seem like that counted. It doesn’t seem like there was another moment before, with Duncan Rinehart. With this gorgeous and perennially square thirty-year-old obstetrician, from Paris, by way of Perth, by way of Chicago, by way of the rest of the world. Who’s dating someone even more gorgeous, but who is unhappy, even if he won’t say it, who knows he’s unhappy because maybe he knows that’s only temporary too. I kiss him harder. Pull him into me harder. And Duncan knows what he was doing. He breaks the kiss. Yanks off my shirt and throws it across the room. And kisses his way down. Lingering. Just enough. His wet, soft lips, on my collarbone. Down. On my chest. Down. Nipple. Down to my stomach. Down to the trail of hair heading due south from my bellybutton. Unbuttons my pants. Grabs my dick. With so much enthusiasm. A smile on his face. His green eyes smoldering. And he’s not tentative. And he’s not shy. But he still winds up. Like Becker did. Licks the shaft. Licks the balls. Licks the head. And then, unexpectedly, plunges all the way down like a deep sea dive. I let out a moan. Too loud. He gives me as much of a smile as he can muster with a nine inch dick in his mouth. Up. Down. Frenetic. Duncan Rinehart. Until he stops. And my dick falls from his mouth. And he looks up at me. “Do you eat ass?” I gave an invisible shudder. At the idea. Of sticking my tongue. There. “I just used Purell while I was sitting on the couch with you.” Duncan giggles. “Fair enough.” He grabs my hand. “Let’s go to the bedroom.” He undresses, gets lube, gets a condom. I try not to think about Sébastien. I only try to think about Duncan. And how he’s unhappy. Unless he’s with me. You’re going to wish you lived your entire life like this. No, I am living my entire life like this. Duncan, on the bed. On all fours. “No. I want to see your face when I fuck you.” Duncan turns his head towards me. Smiles. “Okay.” I kneel between his spread legs. Grab him underneath both his knees, and hoist his legs onto my shoulders. “You want to get fucked?” Duncan’s eyes and mouth, together: “Fuck me.” I pull on the condom. Lube up my dick. My finger. And play with his ass. Which is clean. Like he was expecting a rimjob. Duncan moans. A bottom moan. Higher than his normal voice. Sexy. Eager. He wants it. More than anyone has ever wanted it. Hungry. Unhappy maybe, but happy right now, with me. And slowly, I slide into him. He’s tight. God. He’s so fucking tight. We both moan together. I lean far into him, folding his body, so I can get to his lips. So I can kiss him. Feel his lips while my dick feels the inside of his ass. And I slowly begin to rock my hips. And slowly begin to build a rhythm. And Duncan is quiet. Quieter than Sébastien Who I’m not thinking about. I pump my hips faster. Harder. Duncan is suddenly less quiet. “Oh, God, right there,” he whispers. “Right fucking there.” And I go. And I go. And I grab his thighs. To fuck him harder. To take almost my entire dick out, and slam it back in. And if Duncan wasn’t moaning then, if he wasn’t loud then, he’s loud now. Grunts. On rhythm. Almost being forced out of his body by the invasion of my cock. I put my hand one hand on his chest. And I fuck him hard. I fuck him even harder. My hand moves underneath his chin. Just a little pressure. Not anything. Duncan loves that. Grunts. Groans. Is this what it’s like to have a life in your hands? I want to ask him. But I don’t ask him. His staccato grunts turn into one, continuous moan. I know what’s about to happen. “Cum for me,” I tell him. His moan becomes more pierced. He jacks his dick, furiously. He shoots rope after rope, one, two, three, ropes, on his chest. I keep going. Until he tells me not to, which he doesn’t. He groans again. And I dump what feels like a giant load into the condom. We’re there. Together. In the moment. Once again. After sex. When I feel my most romantic. That he just gave up his ass. That I just had him. That we’re here. In his bed. He turns to me. Still panting, just a bit. And smiles. “Do you always sing after sex?” Oh. I hadn’t realized. Maybe just a bit, to myself, under my breath. “Only when it’s good.” “So that was good? I can expect a flattering review in the next theater quarterly, is what you’re saying?” I lean over, kiss him on the cheek. “Don’t you always feel happy after good sex?” “I feel happy during good sex,” he replies. “I always feel nothing after. Like a wave pulling out to sea. Erasing the footprints. Wet sand.” “You feel like wet sand?” Duncan closes his eyes. “Bugger off, I was being romantic.” I climb back into bed. “Romantic?” “You know what I mean,” he replies, taking the rag. “Sentimental.” I grin. “Wet sand is sentimental?” Duncan smiles back. Gives a little bit of a giggle. “You’re such a dickhead.” He turns over, to face me, his face a breath away from mine. “We should feel bad about this. Or I should, at least.” I grimaced. I didn’t think he was going to do this: feel guilty. Or make me complicit in his guilt. “I thought you felt nothing.” “I do,” he says. “I do feel nothing.” He pauses. “Technically, we’re allowed to have sex with someone once. And, technically, we’re allowed to have sex in a threesome with someone once. It’s technically not meant to be in that order, but technically, I didn’t break any rules.” “Good.” “It’s a lot of technicallies.” I sigh. Lean back, onto the pillow. Onto Sébastien’s pillow. “I don’t think you really feel guilty,” I tell him. “I think you want to be the kind of person that feels guilty.” Duncan says nothing. He scoots backwards, cuddles up against the side of my body. “Why do things always feel like a good idea when you’re tipsy and horny,” he reveries, “but never as good afterwards?” I can’t relate. I always feel good afterwards. Afterwards: that’s the best part. The wet sand, left behind when everything else is pulled out to sea. Knowing that he’s still here, still in your arms, not going anywhere for at least one more moment. “I don’t know,” I tell him, instead. “I don’t know how you’re supposed to feel, but I know I like this.” “Well, vacation sex is always satisfying.” “I live here.” “For your current series of moments, anyway.” “Don’t be like that.” “I’m not being like anything,” he says. He puts his hand on my cheek. “The things I’d do to you if you were here forever.” I don’t say anything. What can I say to that? That there is no forever? That a series of moments is literally all there is--that we’re together now, that we should be together now, and who cares what comes next? I settle on something more diplomatic: “You’d better do them to me now, just to be safe.” Duncan exhaled, a smile. “There’s Sébastien to think about.” “Does he think about you,” I ask, “when he’s fucking Boubou?” Duncan wrinkles his nose, the smile vanishing, back to stoic. “What do you want me to say? You’re not staying in Paris. I’m not going to jeopardize my relationship of three years because I want to have an extended fling with a sexy American tourist.” “He doesn’t make you happy.” Duncan purses his lips. “I didn’t say he doesn’t make me happy.” “You said exactly that. You deserve someone who does. Someone who’s perfect.” “Someday you’ll be my age, and you’ll realize that being with someone means loving the good and the bad, because that’s the only way to make a relationship work long-term. The perfect man doesn’t exist.” “Then how am I looking at him?” Duncan smiles at me, those eyes smile at me. “Let’s just enjoy being here. Right now. And forget about what happens next.” I smile at that. Too. Maybe. At the very least, I lean in, and I give Duncan Rinehart one more kiss. Look, I’m not going to pursue things with that girl. I don’t want to be with her. I want to be with you. Rhetorical. Apparently. Because, oh, oh, oh, who did I see, the minute I walked into The Boot during Friday happy hour? Peter Adam Becker. Pursuing things with That Girl. How could everyone else lie so easily? How could people stand up in front of someone, in front some poor girl, and say, “I care about you,” when their eyes say, “I care about him”? I could never do that. Certainly, I understood discretion. In my line of work, I was a keeper of secrets for more than a couple people. But I didn’t lie. Not when it counted. That’s not me saying I’m a good person. Because I’m not one. Because I don’t even know what being a good person means half the time, but I wouldn’t ever do a thing like that. I was seething. I was heartbroken. No one seemed to notice. Chris and Brett were busy dissecting the physical attributes of the soon-to-arrive Meredith Greenblatt, and whether or not she looked like Shalom Harlow. She did not, for the record, look anything like Shalom Harlow but Brett wanted to fuck her, and your eyes could believe anything when you wanted to fuck someone. Over at the bar: Landon Marsh. Openly gay guy. We had science together. Landon did not know I was gay, entirely because I didn’t want to sleep with him. At this point, I had no problem coming out to people I wanted to sleep with. Ben Farber had returned a damning review: “Starfish.” They only want you when they think they lost you. “Hey, you,” I said. Landon looked up, smile on his face. “Oh, hey,” he said. “Drinking away the results from today’s quiz?” “Seriously, right?” I said. “It’s a class called ‘Great Ideas in Science 101.’ Why are they torturing us?” Across the bar, Becker had noticed me. He was trying not to stare at me, just like I was trying not to stare at him, but we both acknowledged that something was going on. Begun to dance. Becker turned back to That Girl with a breezy smile, pushing the situation back inside his head where it could marinate, otherwise undetected to those on the outside. The situation, of course, being that the guy who had deflowered him a week before was now talking to another guy. They only want you when they think they lost you. “How do you think you did?” I asked Landon, trying out a vaguely interested smile, tossed in Becker’s direction rather than Landon’s. “Oh, shit, if it’s not curved, I definitely failed it,” he replied. “I’m hoping everyone else did so badly that I can escape with a B, B-minus.” Becker was standing up now, his face staring at That Girl, but his eyes watching me. You could always tell. “Same boat, for sure,” I told him. “It’s got to be curved, right? They wouldn’t fail everybody.” They were walking towards the bar, ostensibly, but really walking towards me and Landon, our corner at the bar, rather than a more accessible place to get a drink. “Oh, Malley!” Becker’s smile was sweet, his voice bitter. He had his hand nestled on the small of That Girl’s back, a warning shot fired into my temple. “I didn’t know you were coming here tonight.” Like fuck you didn’t, Becker. So, you and Lucy, huh? “Yeah, Becker,” I told him. And I knew that I shouldn’t be enjoying it quite as much as I was, but I didn’t really care at this point. “At The Boot, running into people you know? So bizarre, right?” He did not appreciate the sarcasm. And like everything Becker did not appreciate, he ignored it. “So,” he said, smile still frozen on his face, “this is Jackie Hughes.” Did it matter? If That Girl had a name? “Oh, so this Jackie Hughes,” I fawned. Still getting enjoyment out of watching Becker squirm. “Becker’s been telling us so much about you.” That made that poor girl’s night. Her face lit up. “Oh yeah? It’s been a fun night so far.” Which made me feel bad. For her. Not for Becker. Becker’s eyes were murderous. “Yeah, he seems to like you a lot,” I told her, looking at Becker. “Becker doesn’t say that about many girls, so he must really think you’re special.” Becker was, by this point, solely fixated on Landon Marsh. Who, like That Girl, didn’t realize they had become North and South Vietnam in our little skirmish. “Who’s your friend?” Becker asked, finally. “Landon,” I told him. Gleefully. “Just ran into him too. The world really is just so small!” Later that night, back after I stumbled home from The Boot, I went to Matt Barber’s Facebook profile. Or what I could see of it: “Friend Request Pending,” for the past two years, neither accepted nor declined. I could see: his new profile picture, him with some girl. A blonde. Clean-cut and forgettably pretty, like Jenna was, perched next to him in front of the fountain at Universal Studios. Ava. Nina’s friend. As I later found out. We should room together. Then we can do this all the time. I wondered if he looked at mine. Thought about me whenever he opened his Pending Requests. Saw my profile picture--me and Chris Baker, at last year’s Tri-Gamma formal--and wondered who that was standing next to me. I hoped he did. I wanted him to. No matter how many pages had flipped, he was the ink that kept bleeding through. I wondered if he still smelled like Fierce by Abercrombie & Fitch. Probably not--he had probably grown into something else, something without a naked man on the bottle. What would’ve happened if I had gone to Berkeley, even after everything? Would things have been any different? Maybe not at first, but by now? Or would I just be sitting in a house on Shattuck Avenue, rather than a house on Lowerline Street, waiting for someone I couldn’t stop thinking about be with someone else? Only for a little while, and then everything will be different and better. In a month, you’ll have new friends and a new school. Did I ever? Did I ever have new friends, a new school? Or just a copy of a copy of a copy of the old ones, smudged and blurred together from generation loss? There was a knock on my door. Becker. Drunk. Alone. "I just wanted to apologize," he told me. His face red, his eyes glassy, holding onto the door jamb to steady himself. “For, you know, tonight.” His voice was so muted. Ashamed. If I had been angry at Becker, it was gone now. I just wanted to apologize. "We were both being dicks,” I told him, quietly. “Do you want to come in for a beer or something?" "Yeah, sure," he said. "But, we're cool?" Becker was so adorable, so insecure. So earnest and desperate to be liked. "Yeah, nutcase. We're cool.” I didn’t know what to say. If I should have told him about Matt Barber, but I knew I wasn’t going to. “I just didn’t like your little show." “You gave as good as you got,” he said, following me inside. “You didn’t go out after Maple Street?” “Everyone was going to the Hustler Club and I have to work tomorrow, so I figured I’d sit it out. As much as I’d love to spend a fortune on drinks and look at naked females.” Which was true. But really, I just wanted to come home. I had gotten drunk enough where I wanted to be alone and sad. There was an eerie stillness. That came with just the two of us being alone in a dark and empty house on Lowerline Street. The stillness that seemed to hang between each word we said, as we tiptoed around each other. “I thought you’d be with Landon Marsh tonight,” he said finally. His heartbreak. I gave an uncommitted shrug. “So that was just for my benefit.” What to say: that I had pulled a Lucy Tang? That I had all but grabbed his face and made out with him and made him taste strawberry lipgloss, so Becker could think about how much he wanted me? “I was just talking to him. We have a class together." “I just…” His voice tapered off. “I just didn’t know.” “You care too much what I think, Becker.” I smirked. Becker would always need a push. Becker would always need me to lead him directly to the answer we both wanted him to give. “Why do we think that is?” He scoffed. “I appreciate friendly advice?” Don’t lie to her. Was my advice. Don’t like to her, and don’t lie to me. “There's a difference between a lie of omission by not telling your friends what you're doing,” I told him, “and actually lying to some chick." “I’m not lying to her,” he told me. “I’m not making any romantic overtures whatsoever. If she reads into it, it’s still just a lie of omission.” I bristled. And I thought of Lucy, of Matt, of Jenna, of that whole fiasco. “Your hand on her back?” He smiled. “Well, I wanted to put ideas in your head too, maybe.” Don’t use her to get to me, I wanted to say. But I didn’t. “What kind of beer do you want?” “Whatever you have.” “Let me put on a shirt.” Becker grinned. “Not necessary, when you’ll just have to take it off again anyway.” And fuck. I wasn’t used to Becker being this forward. But he was so adorable, in the dimness of the Lowerline house. So sexy. Both of us just a little drunk.A little horny. How many opportunities had I missed because Becker dragged his feet and I let him? “Well,” I told him, “I’m not going to be the only one with my shirt off.” For the first time since I met him, he didn’t need a push. He began unbuttoning his shirt, and then he threw it at me. And he undid his jeans, yanked them down to the floor. “And I’m not going to be the only one with my pants off.” I grabbed his bicep, and pulled him in close. “Well, let’s go in the room,” I whispered, “so my roommates don’t come back and see us going all Chippendales.” Slammed him against the bedroom door. Kissed him hard. My hand on his chest, my other hand behind his head. In control. Pulling him into me again. As our lips explored every inch of each other’s mouths. I didn’t want to wait. I dropped my hand to the waistband of his boxer briefs. Cupped his dick. Already rock hard. Already eager. I kissed his neck. Down. His jawline. And. Sucked the skin just behind his ear. Becker let out a trawling moan. “I want you so bad,” I whispered. And he wanted me too. He ground his dick into mine, just for a second, then yanked down my basketball shorts. “God, I want that cock,” he said. “Yeah?” “I want it in my mouth.” I pulled down my briefs. Motioned for him to get on his knees. “Go on, then.” Becker did. Drop to his knees. Gave me two strokes, and then took his tongue to my balls. Took one in his mouth, sucked it. Ran his tongue up my shaft. Delaying the inevitable. Most guys did that. Everyone loved the idea of a big dick, everyone was terrified of a big dick. His phone started ringing. Becker paid it no attention. I wondered if it was That Girl. Calling to see where he was, maybe. I tried not to let her in the room. She was an impermanent object. The phone stopped ringing. And immediately started again. It was her. I knew it was her. “Want to see who that is?” Becker glanced down at his pocket. Then back at me. Smile on his face. Adorable. Attractive. Becker at his best. “I’d rather do this.” He was still courting my dick. Licked the tip. Licked the head, and back down the shaft and up again. Took the whole head in his mouth. And I knew he’d need a push. So I pushed. Just slightly. Just enough. Imperceptible. Until he was about halfway down my shaft. His phone rang a third time. Becker pulled back. My dick bounced out of his mouth. “I’m sorry,” he said, digging in his pocket. “I’ll turn it off.” He flipped open the phone. Stared at it for another second. “Shit, they’re all from my pledgemasters. Do you mind?” Was there any answer I could give? I sat down on the bed. Stroked myself. Bitterly. Listened to the one side of Becker’s conversation, which almost immediately turned into departure music. “Right now? What happened?” Pause. Becker was staring at me. “I’m indisposed. I can’t really talk right here.” Another pause. “Sorry, I’ll be right over.” He flipped the phone shut. Looked at me. No longer Becker at his best, but Becker snapped back into his costume, into his frat boy shit. "So I have to run,” he said, quietly but unapologetically. “Duty calls." Duty calls? The fuck, Becker? I didn’t have the words. And I was mad. I was mad at him for his thirty second apology, before he dumped me to go back out into the wild to lie his way through the rest of the night. But I was still horny. And deeply unsatisfied. "Why don't we finish real quick?” “I’m already late,” he replied.” As an afterthought, “I wish I could stay here. I'll call later.” He propped himself up on his elbow, as I got out of bed. "You don't have to call," he said. "I’m not your boyfriend.” And all of this was classic Becker, you know? Him. Then everybody else. And then me. Don’t let anyone fucking tell you you’re no good. Giving Becker your heart was the fastest way to lose his attention. He wanted to be liked more than he wanted to be loved. And he knew what he got from me, so when it came down to me or a chance to harvest surface-level affection from someone else, well… Becker spent the next few weeks in the thick of the harvest. Sure: errant texts. “What’s going on?” “How have you been?” “We should grab a drink.” But I didn’t respond. Because I knew if I’d get any deeper with Becker, I’d fall for him. You’ll always have me. Then we can do this all the time. Up until the moment I didn’t. Don’t Fucking Do Stupid Shit. Becker would leave me or I would leave him or we’d leave each other, and what would we be then, except alone, except sad? You’re my platoon, but who the fuck needed an entire platoon?

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