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    Duncan Ryder
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

Everybody's Wounded - 4. Chapter 4

The following Monday, I had rugby practice from one to three, and our economics study group in the Student Union at four. Practice was particularly rough. I got nailed by Jason Petrov, our 220 pound Eight Man, and came down hard, giving my nose a good crack. I knew from the sudden spurt of blood and that familiar little sound that I’d broken it again. My nose has been broken often enough that it didn’t really worry me. I knew it wasn’t serious. The bleeding let up fairly quickly, and when I gently tested my ability to breath through it, I could.

After practice, I had the trainer checked it out. He confirmed my assessment; this one was minor and wouldn’t require an immediate visit to the Emergency ward. They wouldn’t be able to tell much for a day or two anyway.

I laughed it off. As long as my nose was more or less straight, I didn’t worry much about these little incidents. Besides, my face hurt more; I’d also managed to graze most of the skin off my right cheekbone, and it stung like a son of a bitch. It also looked awful, and I knew I’d wake up with at least one black eye – probably two.

The guys ribbed me pretty hard about it, but by the time I got out of the shower they had the antiseptic out to touch up the cheek and a plastic bag filled with ice ready to help minimize the swelling.

“Can’t mess up that mug of yours too bad or we’ll never find you a new man,” said Jason, who was indulging in a little guilty delight in being responsible for the mess. I’m taller and faster than Jase, though not quite as heavy, and generally pretty hard to flatten. He’d never caught me before.

The rest of the idiots reacted to his proclamation with much loud groaning and mock puking. You just have to love a room full of good-natured jocks.

They threatened to hold me down and apply the antiseptic in quantity, but of course they didn’t. When Brandon touched up the cheek –he spends a lot of time with our trainer and the team doc and is always treating these kinds of small injuries -- he did it quickly, gently and competently. When he was done, I checked myself out in the mirror. Although I knew that it looked a lot worse than it was, I had to admit to myself that it looked pretty bad. Both my eyes were already starting to blacken, and the right one was swollen half shut despite the ice treatment. My right cheekbone was a painful looking mess oozing blood and lymph.

I headed out to the Student Union holding the ice to the bridge of my nose as best I could without touching the cheek. Brandon was headed over that way too, and walked over with me. We were standing over by the pop machines talking when I heard a familiar squeal behind me.

“Scottie!”

I whipped around to see Laura McLeod launch herself into the air and up into my arms – which is what she always does when she comes up behind me. I dropped the ice pack and plucked my favourite female in the entire universe (after my Mom and my sister of course) out of the air.

“Hey, Munchkin!” I was forced to tilt my head back as far as I could to protect my nose and cheek from the swish of a blonde ponytail.

“Oh Scottie, what did you do?” Two blue eyes widened, and studied my injuries earnestly.

Laura has the room next to mine. She’s a nationally ranked gymnast and though only a freshman, the star of the varsity team. I was holding her up easily with one arm (she says she’s five feet tall, but I think that’s wishful thinking --even when she’s wearing several pairs of thick socks). She was also in my economics class, and had helped me set up the group – “So I can pick all the nerd brains,” she said, meaning me.

She’s also painfully shy with guys – except for gay ones.

“I had a little run in with a, um, refrigerator,” I told her.

She groaned loudly but touched my cheek gently.

“More like a tank,” said Brandon from behind me. He’d picked up the ice pack and was holding it out. “You gonna introduce me, Scott?”

I felt Laura freeze, and I gave her a reassuring little hug before setting her down and taking the icepack, repositioning it carefully on the bridge of my nose.

“Sure. Munchkin, this is Brandon Kozinsky, nut bar scrum half and captain of St. G’s rugby team. Brandon, this is my Munchkin, better known as Laura McLeod, the terror of the tumbling mats and balance beams.”

Brandon’s smile was brilliant, and I had to bite my tongue not to laugh. God he was obvious. Are gay guys that obvious?

“Hey, Laura,” he said softly.

Laura flamed bright red and stared at the floor. “Um, Hi. Um. I’ll meet you inside Scott,” and then she was gone.

Brandon looked like he’d had a bucket of ice water dumped over his head. “What’s with her?” he demanded.

“She’s shy.”

He looked at me sceptically. “Yeah, right. Shy girls make habit of hurling themselves through the air into guys’ arms.”

“Yeah, well, I’m special. Hardly your red blooded guy.”

He gave me an odd look and I started laughing.

“Me. Gay. Remember? That makes me totally safe as far as women are concerned. And don’t get any ideas, either. I’ve been listening to you lusting after chicks in the locker room every since your girlfriend dumped you. Just remember that Laura’s no chick. She’s like a second sister to me, and you fool around with her and it’s me you deal with.”

He looked at me thoughtfully and nodded. I just shook my head. Smitten straight guys have got to be the worst!

***

Laura had staked out a large round table in the corner and people wandered in over the next half hour or so. We got off to a late start, partly because of the vicarious interest in the violence done to my face (I could hardly see out of my right eye by this point) and partly because Luc was late. Though he’d only been coming for a couple of weeks, his presence had quickly become essential. We waited for him.

He didn’t say anything about my face, but I knew it affected him. He kept staring at it, looking quickly away when my good eye caught his. As I said, I’ve often noticed him watching me, but this was different. He looked worried. When Laura got up to fetch me some more ice, he winced when I touched it to my face.

We had a kind of agenda for the session, and after we worked our way through it, we sat around chatting. Conversation somehow turned to a discussion of the economic viability of Quebec separating from the rest of Canada. This was clearly an emotionally charged issue for Luc. He was against it on intellectual grounds – but emotionally, culturally, he understood the desire. His English grew faster and less perfect, and his French accent stronger. A few choice Quebecois profanities even crossed his lips. I thought it was adorable. The others slowly drifted off, but he and I stayed on, both of us somehow reluctant to leave. Finally, I asked him if wanted to come back to the caf for dinner.

“I’ve still got a lots of guest passes,” I assured him.

He turned me down, but reluctantly. “I have to be home this evening,” he said. “I’m expecting a delivery.”

“Oh. Anything important?”

He laughed. “I’ve no idea. Something my parents arranged.”

He fidgeted with his back pack. “But listen, um. Would you like to come over? I mean, um, we could pick up some food on the way… I could drive you back here later.” He looked up at me, blushed, and looked back down at the floor.

“Never mind,” he mumbled. “You’ve probably got a lot of stuff to do…”

My heart was actually beating faster! “No,” I said, before he could talk himself out of the invitation. “That would be great! Really. I’d love to come over.”

He glanced up at me. He smiled shyly – but his eyes were worried.

***

Luc’s condo was a large, three-bedroom corner unit with the same spectacular ocean view as Josh’s. That was the only similarity. Josh’s place was a cool, elegant retreat from the world; Luc’s felt like the entire family had just slipped out for pizza. It was surprisingly cluttered and cheerful, with well-worn, comfortable furniture, tons of framed family photos and an entire wall of floor to ceiling books and games. An old stand up piano stood in one corner. It reminded me of my family’s summer cottage.

And actually, that’s kind of what it was to Luc’s family. His parents had bought it about ten years ago, before his oldest brother had started his undergraduate degree at St. G’s. Ever since, they’d been using it for family holidays through the summer, with one or more of the Bedard boys living there during the school year. Luc said it had been like a second home to him since he was a kid. At one point, four years ago, all three of his older brothers had lived here together for a school year,

“It was Pierre’s last year, and Robert and Micha’s first,” he told me. “They pretty much drove each other crazy. Pierre’s quiet, like me, and he was used to living here by himself. The twins – well, the twins can be wild. And even though they aren’t identical, they have that twin thing going. The trouble they can get into together is kind of exponential.”

I liked it there. It felt amazingly comfortable, like being at home with my family.

We’d picked up Chinese on the way over, and ate it sitting opposite one another across the large coffee table. We’d just finished when the delivery guys arrived. What they had with them was a top quality digital piano. Luc was stunned. He just stood speechless while the guys removed the old upright, then came back and set it up for him.

A few minutes after they left, his cell rang. He glanced at the display. “Oui? Papa! Oui, il est ici.”

The entire conversation was in French, which I could have followed if I’d worked at it. I didn’t. His voice was so heavy with emotion that I wanted to respect his privacy with his family. I carried the remains of our dinner into the kitchen and tidied up in there until he was done.

Mes parents,” he said when he joined me a few minute later. “My parents. Sorry. Thanks. I’m just --. My birthday… I’d no idea…” He was clearly overwhelmed.

“It’s a pretty spectacular present,” I said.

He nodded. “It’s from my entire family,” he said. My brothers too. Robert arranged it from Halifax.”

The quiet joy in his face was beautiful to me.

“Play something for me,” I said.

But he shook his head, and his cheeks flushed. “No, no,” he said. “I can’t do that. I don’t play for others. I play only for me.”

But I could see him eyeing the piano, and I insisted. It took considerable coaxing. Finally, he sat down at the bench, stretched out his right hand, and teased out a few jazz riffs. Then a few more. Then his left hand caressed the keys, adding a base theme.

And slowly, slowly, I watched him relax. He began to play for real, until he was lost in the music, his eyes closed, his head moving gently from side to side.

I stood behind him for awhile, but as he slowly immersed himself in the music, I dropped to the floor beside him, resting my head on my arms at the end of the bench. My elbow grazed his thigh, which he didn’t seem to notice, or if he noticed, didn’t seem to mind. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt so completely contented.

***

It was almost midnight when he finally drove me back. The fog was so thick that the drive, normally not more than ten minutes, took almost twenty. He pulled up in front of the residence and I climbed out. To my surprise, he did as well, and walked me to the door. It was late, and cold, and there wasn’t a soul about.

We stopped to the right of the stairs, near one of the streetlamps. It was cold enough that you could see your breath, and the lamp lent a hazy golden glow to the clouds of our breathing. I could see his face clearly, but anything more than a few feet beyond him was lost in the fog.

“Thanks for having me over tonight,” I said. “I really enjoyed it. And I loved hearing you play. You’re amazing. I mean that.”

His steady blue gaze met mine. “Thank you. I really just play for my own amusement these days. You know, my own little escape. I don’t usually like playing for anyone…” He looked away and his voice dropped to a low mumble. “I liked playing for you,” he said.

He looked up again and gave me a shy smile. I swear my heart turned over.

“I’m honoured,” I said.

Neither of us said anything for a while. Somehow, it felt a little awkward, and I wasn’t sure what else to do, so I thanked him for the drive, and turned to go in.

“Scott, um __”

I turned back. “Yeah?”

“Um – you are…ok? Really? I mean, your face… You had it checked? You didn’t hit your head or anything?”

I laughed. I couldn’t help it. When you’ve played contact sports as long as I have, it’s hard to take a few bumps and bruises seriously. His concern was so out of proportion to the minor injuries that I was about to tell him that he sounded like my mother!

But then he raised his hand slowly towards my cheek, and I stopped laughing. I watched it, mesmerized, holding my breath as I waited for his touch.

It didn’t come. His fingers stopped, suspended in the grey air, a hair’s breadth before they actually touched my face. I could see them through the golden fog of my frozen breath.

“I’m fine,” I assured him, swallowing hard.

We stood there for a few heartbeats, immobile in the fog. And then I reached up, and dud something that surprised even me. I took his hand in mine, and pressed it to my mouth. I have no idea where I got the courage to do it, but I did. Those beautiful Siberian eyes widened, and his lips parted slightly. He trembled.

Luc was only the second guy I’d ever kissed. I mean, there was Josh’s kiss, which I still didn’t understand, but Josh had kissed me, and that’s not the same thing was me kissing him. I knew I wanted to kiss Luc, more than anything. But there was nothing in my experience to prepare me for this moment. It seemed like such an enormous risk to take, and I wasn’t sure it was a wise.

Certainly my first experience with David was no help at all.

There had been no real risk the first time I kissed David. It had been public, playful and somehow… inevitable. We were at a party he’d invited me to -- actually, not so much a party as a gathering of the artsy kids he hung around with, in someone’s basement. There was a little wine, a little beer, a little grass, but mostly it was just people lying around in the semi darkness listening to music and talking. There were a few straight couples making out in corners.

I didn’t really know anyone, and I wasn’t even sure why David had asked me to go with him. I was intrigued, however, and I also felt I kind of owed it to him, after what had happened the first time he met the guys on the football team. He was still taking football pictures for the camera club, and the guys were all very polite. In fact, I’d heard that a couple of them had even taken out some low life who had tried to bully David in the coffee shop across the street from the school. I figured David had to know why their attitude had changed. I mean, there was no way that word about my announcement about being gay hadn’t leaked out of the locker room.

I’d picked him up in my Mom’s car, and he was pretty quiet on the drive over to his friend’s house. But as soon as he led me downstairs to the safety of his chosen audience, he started flirting with me outrageously, insisting we were on our “first date.” To my surprise, I didn’t mind; in fact, I rather liked it. I sat on the sofa, and let him climb onto my lap. When he started dropping playful little kisses onto my chin, everyone was laughing, including me.

And then he looked up at me, and I wasn’t laughing any more. I found myself just reaching out, taking his face in both my hands, and staring down into his eyes. David’s eyes are blue, a darker, deeper blue than Luc’s, and when I took his face in my hands they were suddenly very serious. He went perfectly still and for once he actually shut up. His blond hair was very soft beneath my fingers, and his lips were trembling.

I’d never kissed anyone but members of my family before, but I didn’t even think about it. It just seemed like the most natural thing in the world. I remember I just kind of smiled down at him, lowered my head and kissed his mouth.

Nothing could have prepared me for the jolt that struck me when my lips touched his. I was shaking as hard as he was. When I pulled back and looked at him again, his mouth was open in this little ‘O’ of surprise.

I was just trying to breathe.

I kissed him again, and he opened his mouth to me and sucked me inside. Suddenly there was no one in that room but the two of us, and he took my breath away.

“About time,” he said against my mouth when we finally came up for air. But we both knew it was just bravado; he was every bit as moved and shocked and surprised by the power of that kiss as I had been.

And then I was aware that people were clapping and giggling, and someone said, “Oh, get a room, you two.”

But if kissing David for the first time had been safe, kissing Luc was like trying to juggle fire. There was nothing safe about it. I knew how scared he was – I didn’t need Josh’s warning to remind me. His fear was very real to me, tangible, visible. I could feel it in his fingers, the palm of his hand against my lips. I could see it is his eyes.

But I could see more than that too. I could see desire. Attraction. Need. Hope. His hand in mine was trembling. His fingers were nervous and wary. But he didn’t pull away.

I released his hand and took his face in both of mine, running my thumb gently over his bottom lip. His hands grasped my wrists. Those beautiful pale blue eyes widened even further.

“It’s ok,” I said softly, hoping to sooth him with words.

I let my fingers stray under his jaw.

“It’s ok,” I said again, and I tilted his chin up, raising his face to mine. His breathing was harsh and ragged.

“Shhh,” I breathed against his mouth as I lowered my head.

And then I let my lips graze his, very, very gently, barely a touch at all. His eyes met mine for an instant, and I heard his breath catch.

Again I caressed his lower lip with the edge of my thumb, softly, softly. His eyelashes fluttered shut.

“Breath,” I whispered against his mouth, and I kissed him again, soft as a sigh.

He was clinging to my wrists as I cradled his head him my hands, and there were so many more kisses, sweet, feather light touches, lips to lips. Our golden breath mingled in the fog, like a halo around us.

I was so hard I thought I’d explode in my jeans, but he couldn’t know that because I was careful to keep a space between us, connecting us only by my hands on his face, his wrists on my hands, and the softest, most tender of kisses.

Nothing more than that.

Nothing, and everything.

Finally, I eased my mouth away and rested my forehead against his, still cradling his face in my hands. I had to be careful to keep my chin tucked back so our noses didn’t collide. We were both breathing hard, and I had to wait that out before daring to speak.

“You better go,” I managed finally, stepping back a bit.

He opened his eyes and looked up at me. Slowly he loosened his grip on my wrists, raised one hand and touched my mouth with his fingers. I swear I almost came.

“Scott,” he whispered, and I could hear tears in his voice and see them in his eyes.

“Shhh,” I said again. “It’s all good.”

And again I took his hand in mine, turned it over and kissed his palm.

“Now go. Drive carefully. When you get back, call me, so I know you made it safely through the fog.”

***

I’m here,” he said into my cell, twenty minutes later.

“That’s good,” I said. “Sleep well.”

I didn’t fall asleep for hours, and when I did, my dreams were invaded by those Siberian eyes.

Copyright © 2011 Duncan Ryder; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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Wow! A first kiss for the record books. Beautiful depiction especially contrasted to his first encounter with David. Both engrossing but completely different. Lovely work, thanks.

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That was a very romantic and intense first kiss! You really have a way with words! Thanks for sharing your gift with us here!

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'A way with words' is a gross understatement. The magic of a moment comes down through your fingers onto the keys. I am aware that this story was first published over seven years ago, so the author will probably not ever see my comments, but my opinion is important to me -- you are a magician.

Edited by Will Hawkins
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On 8/20/2018 at 10:42 AM, Will Hawkins said:

'A way with words' is a gross understatement. The magic of a moment comes down through your fingers onto the keys. I am aware that this story was first published over seven years ago, so the author will probably not ever see my comments, but my opinion is important to me -- you are a magician.

4 yrs later …. Your comments from 2018 are as insightful now as then. This is really good, creative writing.  Bravo

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