I'm somebody's big spoon. I'm holding a man against me, my arms wrapped around him, his arms holding mine, my face nestled in his hair as I breathe his essence, no space between us anywhere from head to foot, legs intertwined and flesh pressed against flesh. It feels perfect. It feels necessary. It feels magical. This is what I want to wake up to every day for the rest of my life.
When I floated up out of sleep with a warm muscular body nestled against me, I wanted to drift back into slumber, I wanted to stay there, I wanted to forget. But I couldn't. Slowly, hoping not to wake Keigan, I extricated myself and slid out of bed.
With just enough light from the courtyard filtering through the blinds, I began slinking about the bedroom, retrieving my clothes so I could tiptoe out to the living room to get dressed.
"Are you going to be okay?" croaked a sleepy voice from the darkness.
"Fuck!" I nearly shouted, swinging around to face the bed, my arms wrapped around a bundle of discarded apparel.
Click. The bedside lamp turned on and my eyes stung from the sudden assault. Squinting and blinking like me, Keigan sat up and eased to the edge of the bed, the covers sloughing off to reveal a body built for sin.
"Sorry," he said with a shrug, his voice clearer and tinged with a note of humor.
"You scared the daylights out of me," I told him as my heart settled back into a normal rhythm.
Damn, boy, look at him. Just look at him. He's a hot mess in the morning.
He's hot all the time.
But don't you wanna just jump back into bed and jump his bones? That's premium manflesh right there, dude.
The visual gave me another reason to climb back between the covers. I'd have to drag him under with me, but I didn't think that would be a problem given the way he kept eyeballing me. I was only wearing boxer briefs, after all.
"And yes," I continued as I watched his eyes devour every bit of exposed skin, not to mention the parts that were covered, "I'll be okay."
"Want to talk about it?" he asked as he rubbed sleep from his eyes.
Eyes that are spending an increasing amount of time admiring my underwear.
"Eventually, yes, but not right now. And thank you for last night, K. I was a wreck, I know, and I don't even remember how I got here, but clearly some part of my brain knew what I needed."
"That's what friends are for, Greg, helping us when we're down. If a friend's only there for the good times, they're not really a friend."
"Yeah, I know."
"You're welcome, by the way."
He hasn't met my gaze since right after he turned on the light. I think he's forgotten I have eyes.
I had things to do, though, and a pity fuck wasn't something I could deal with, assuming the hot boy with whom I'd slept would even consider it.
Oh, he'd do more than consider it. You see it every time he looks at you.
But he said—
Forget what he said. Just look at how he acts. He might have a rule about hookups and one-night stands, but he'd be happy to break it with you.
We talked briefly while I dressed. Mostly he wanted to know what had happened and mostly I didn't want to talk about it. In the end we agreed to table the discussion for another time.
I knew Nate had an early meeting with the contractors at his second gym site, a gathering he couldn't miss, thus I had to get busy while my window of opportunity was open. Bidding Keigan goodbye with gratitude, a hug and a quick kiss, I left him as he prepared to head to the gym while I made my way home.
Home. Yes it was home, but only because Nate lived there. For as long as I've known him, I always considered home to be where Nate was. But not now, not anymore.
Shaking my head to discard my cheerless thoughts, I set about the business of the day. I'd taken the week off for Thanksgiving, though that had been an excuse rather than a reason. My morning would be spent not on travel or family visits but instead on collecting what I could of my life and relocating the lot of it to the hotel suite I was using as a temporary refuge.
* * * * *
By quarter of eleven that morning, I was packing the car with the third and final load. I was only taking clothes, shoes and coats; toiletries; my laptop and tablet and accoutrements; sheets and blankets and towels, though I couldn't say why; and other necessities, yet I still needed three trips using a sports sedan.
With my back to the driveway and lacking Nate's bionic hearing, not to mention being very distracted by errant thoughts and emotions, I had no idea Malinda had walked up behind me until she asked in a curious tone, "Are you moving out, Greg?"
"Fuck!" I shouted as I slammed my head on the trunk lid, nearly leaping out of my skin. Then I spun around to find my neighbor trying to hide her smile as she bit back a laugh. "Oh go ahead," I told her.
Her shoulders trembling as she chuckled, the beautiful woman from across the street smiled her bright smile as her eyes crinkled with mirth. All I could do was rub the back of my head and smirk with good humor.
"I'm so sorry! I thought you heard me. I'm not exactly quiet carrying this thing around." She rubbed her hand up and down her very pregnant belly as she swayed it side to side to make sure I understood the burden to which she referred.
I took a step forward and placed a hand on her belly, another at the small of her back, then I leaned down and whispered loud enough for her to hear, "And how's my little Gregory this morning? Is your mother taking care of you?"
Malinda snickered and playfully slapped my shoulder. "Stop it, you. We don't even know if it's a boy. Even if it is, who says we'll name him after you?"
"Who else would you name him after?" I asked with sarcastic outrage, standing upright so I could hug her.
"Right. Of course," she said as she rolled her eyes, her arm around my back. "What was I thinking?"
"Clearly you weren't."
"At least I'll be a jackass with a baby named after me."
She giggled again, gave another eye roll, then turned serious. "I noticed you earlier but didn't catch you before you left the first time. And I missed you the second time because I can't get too far from the bathroom these days. So here on the third trip I made a point of peeing before coming over." Nodding her head toward the mostly full trunk of my car before casting an inquisitive gaze in my direction, she asked, "Are you moving out?"
With a shrug that was either disappointed or dismissive or disgruntled or any of a long list of feelings that equated to dissatisfied and distraught, I dropped my head a bit and answered, "Yeah. I'm moving."
"Why?" she cried, shock clear in her features and her voice.
I'm not the only one feeling dissatisfied and distraught today.
Turning a bit so I could look at her more fully, I took her hands and held them between us, casting my gaze at them for a moment before looking at her. I shrugged again, not sure how to answer, not wanting to air my dirty laundry with the rest of the neighbors.
Pulling one of her hands from mine, she cupped my cheek as she cocked her head. Real worry crept into her eyes. "Did something happen between you and Nate?"
Fuck! Couldn't she have assumed something else, like my job relocated me or Nate can't sleep with my opera practice lasting all night or I can't stay because my best friend has explosive flatulence? I mean really, to assume something happened between us ... Indeed!
"Hey ..." she said softly, her thumb gently wiping a tear from my cheek.
I'm crying? What the fuck! When did that start?
A sniffle came first, then a choked sob, then more tears.
I refuse to have a breakdown right here. I'm running out of time as is. I have to get moving before Nate comes home.
I reached up and grasped her hand, giving it a gentle squeeze, then told her, "Listen, Malinda, I have a lot going on right now and ... and I can't stay here." I used my sleeve to wipe tears from my cheeks before adding, "It's all me, though, all me. Moving on is the best thing I can do right now. It's best for both of us."
I had no more words. I couldn't come up with any and I suspected whatever I said would cause my weeping to become a total scene. Nate would come home and find me curled into the fetal position on the garage floor covered with slobber and snot and gallons of saltwater. The mess wasn't an issue, but I couldn't face Nate and had no intention of getting caught by him so soon after what I'd done.
Malinda gazed at me with loving concern, her own eyes misting. "Damn it ..." she mumbled, releasing my hands so she could wipe her own cheeks when her tears finally broke loose. "I'm so emotional these days. Hormones be damned!"
I chuckled through my sorrow, wiping more tears from my eyes.
"Don't laugh at me, mister! Just wait until you get knocked up by some hot studmuffin. Then we'll see if you're more sympathetic."
"Honey," I began as I rubbed her shoulder affectionately, "you didn't do too well in biology class, did you?"
"I am a biologist!"
"I know. They used to make people learn stuff before getting that degree, but it looks like now they just hand'em out willy-nilly."
Her laugh was delightful and necessary. For both of us, methinks.
Once she caught her breath, she frowned, the expression full of compassion, and said, "I don't want you to leave, Greg."
Steeling myself against another bout of public lamentation, I explained, "I'm not going far. And I have your numbers and you have mine. I'm not abandoning you."
"It's not me I think you're abandoning."
That shut me up right quick.
"That was tacky," she admitted, looking dismayed at her own forwardness. With a gesture toward the car she said, "I should let you get back to it, I suppose. I just wanted to catch you before you left."
I wrapped her in my arms and hugged her close but not tight, not wanting to crush my namesake before he was born. In her ear I murmured, "I'll be around, Malinda. We'll keep in touch and I'll make sure we see each other regularly. You'll hardly notice I'm gone."
"I'll hold you to that, mister."
"Besides, I have to be around to make sure you correctly name your son. I can't have another Jethro or Beavis or Gomer running around."
"Television shows aren't the only source of names in the world."
"Hey! I'll have you know a prerequisite for the gay membership card is the ability to drop pop culture references into any conversation with little or no warning."
She trembled in my arms as she laughed. Once she released me she smiled, stood on her tiptoes and kissed my cheek, whispered, "You are a great many things, Greg Beaumont, but a stereotype is not one of them." Then she stepped back and added, "Make sure we see you soon."
After that I watched her turn and walk toward her house. Before she got halfway down the driveway she stopped and looked back.
"I hope you're not giving up something you'll never find elsewhere." My mouth dropped open but I had no reply. Which was a good thing because she added, "I'm really worried that's precisely what you're doing, walking away from something rich and full and rare. I hope I'm wrong."
With that she spun around and purposefully marched toward her home.
* * * * *
November 22, 2016
"I left a note explaining that we'll handle the bills just like we have been, nothing changes, and he can reach me if there's an emergency that I need to know about. But otherwise it's his house now; I'm just carrying my share of the financial load until we figure out where we go from here."
Mom stared at me as though she didn't know me. Then she proved it by asking, "Who in the hell are you? I don't even know you."
Uh-oh. Cussing. That's a bad sign from Mom.
Huddled on her couch wrapped in a blanket against the coldness I felt despite the blaze in the fireplace and the heater blowing, I could only shake my head. There were no answers, no flippant remarks.
She stood and made her way to the fireplace, standing on the hearth and rubbing her hands together toward the fire. One thing Yvonne hated was being cold, and she thought it was cold if the temperature dropped much below boiling.
I watched as she shook her head, several times looking over her shoulder as if to say something before turning back to the flames and shaking her head some more.
"Mom ..." I sounded pathetic, needy, whining.
"What do you expect me to say?" she snapped as she spun around to face me.
My face was puffy from crying, something I'd done quite a bit of in the two days since I'd ended my friendship—no, it was so much more than that—ended my relationship with Nate. I wept at the drop of a hat, every thought somehow bringing me around to what I'd sacrificed. It still felt like I'd cut off my own limb, although I suspected that wouldn't have hurt as much.
"You took away his choice, Greg." Her voice was firm, adamant, no-nonsense, just like I remembered from childhood.
"No!" she barked, waving her hand to silence my rebuttal. "Right now you listen. That's what you did to Nate, isn't it? Talked at him rather than with him? You marched right in there with your prepared speech and you ran roughshod over everything he tried to say, making sure you said your piece before walking out on your other half. Yes, I see the shock on your face. He's your soulmate, Greg, whether it's sexual or not. He's the half of you you weren't born with, the lost half you discovered at age ten. And you did this!" She was definitely shouting.
"You say you did this out of love, for love, because of love, but you were selfish, son of mine, pure and simple. Sure, in some small way you acted in Nate's best interests based on your assumptions about what those interests are, but ultimately you did this for yourself."
"That's not true!" I wailed.
"It is true, Greg! If it wasn't true, you'd have discussed this with him rather than informing him of your decision. And informing him without warning at that! Ugh!"
She turned back to the fire and huffed, sighed, spat out a disgusted breath, take your pick. Her head shook back and forth like a slow pendulum, a small part disagreement and a big part disappointment. Perhaps even a bit of disgust in there, too.
"What have I done?" I moaned.
Turning back toward me, her hardened expression communicating upset and annoyance, but also sympathy and hurt. A few times her mouth opened, but she closed it without uttering a sound.
Suddenly her features softened. After a sigh that reeked of resignation, she made her way back to the couch and dropped down beside me. Running her knuckles along my cheek she whispered, "I never thought I'd see the day, but you've really screwed the pooch this time, Captain Chaos."
My head dropped and the tears began anew. Or perhaps they simply continued. It felt as though I hadn't stopped crying in days.
Oh. Right. True that.
Mom grabbed her glass of wine and settled back, tucking her slipper-clad feet beneath her, pulling an afghan over her legs as she sipped her drink and regarded me.
"It's not just a friendship, Greg. It's a relationship. It goes far beyond friendship and brotherhood. What you two have is rare and precious. I'm shocked—perplexed and flabbergasted—that you did this, as much that you did it to yourself as that you did it to Nate. I never thought you could purposefully hurt him like this."
"It's not just about him, Mom."
"I know. But it's not just about you, either."
"Nate has been good for you. You have been good for Nate. This relationship is important to both of you no matter where it might go in the future."
"But I have no future as long as I'm around him! Don't you understand that? I'll always be the best friend who's pining away for him while he's finding his happiness with some woman who he'll love like he can't love me."
"Is that what you really think?"
"Of course! Because it's true ..." I dropped my face into my hands and let my tears flow. What else could I do?
"Has he tried to contact you, see you? Since this debacle?"
"Yeah. He called yesterday and today."
"Did you talk to him?"
"No. The first time I hung up on him and the second time I rejected the call."
"Gregory Alan Beaumont! Did I raise you to be an uncouth heathen? No, sir, I most certainly did not."
"I'm sorry ..."
"I'm not the one you need to apologize to, and I'm certainly not the person you need to speak with."
"I can't, Mom. I just can't."
"Why? Why can't you talk to him? You two have lived for decades without this being a problem. You've been in love with him for almost as long as you've known him, maybe just as long. Why is it suddenly a catastrophe?"
"Because he needs his freedom so he can move on!"
"What nonsense is that?"
"He told me that! He said he was only with me because he needed to make up for what he thought he did back then, and he said he wouldn't leave me until I was fixed enough to go find my own happiness. Now I've given us both what he wanted, what he needed."
When silence caused me to lift my face from my hands and glance at her, she looked rattled by that disclosure. Unusual for my mother, she couldn't seem to find the right thing to say.
"I need it too, Mom! I'll never be able to invest emotionally in someone else so long as I'm around him."
"Why do you need to invest emotionally in someone else when you have everything you need right there in the person you already love?"
"Haven't you been listening? He'll never love me like I love him! He's straight and I'm not! I'm in love with him and he wants to be in love with a woman, some woman, any woman! Fuck, Mom, I'm gonna die alone and miserable if I don't get away from him and get my heart set in a different direction."
I sighed, looked at her, and sucked in a sharp breath when I realized she was smiling at me with a knowing look on her face.
Is petulant the only tone I have anymore? Damn ...
She leaned forward, grasped my head, pulled me to her and kissed my forehead. Then she released me.
"I want both my boys to be happy. But it'll never happen like this."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
She grabbed my hands and held them. Compassionate tears filled her eyes.
"You need to talk to Nate before this kills you both."
* * * * *
November 23, 2016
"What're you doing for Thanksgiving?" Kyle asked as we pulled into his driveway.
His mouth worked soundlessly for a moment before his surprised expression gave way to a sympathetic look. "Aren't you going to see your mom?" The words were reverent, his tone gentle.
"No," I answered abruptly. Then realizing I almost snapped at him, I added, "I don't want to ... well ..."
"Run into Nate?"
This kid never ceases to amaze me with his observational and deductive skills.
"Yeah," I muttered, letting my gaze wander from his concerned eyes to the world outside the car.
I nearly jumped when his hand settled on my shoulder, drawing my attention back to Basketball Boy's blue eyes.
"You could always join us. I don't think anyone would mind. Especially not MJ." The last he added with much eyebrow waggling.
We chuckled, a comfortable, necessary thing.
"No, I don't want to impose. Besides, I think I'd really like to just have a day to ... I don't know what, maybe just escape from everything for a bit, be a recluse, whatever."
His hand tightened as he whispered, "Maybe I could spend it with you."
"No, Kyle," I began as I took his hand and squeezed it before letting it go. "I wouldn't be good company, you should spend it with your family, and really I think I need some alone time."
Looking disappointed yet understanding, he nodded. Basketball Boy then grabbed his gym bag before opening the door and climbing out. Just before closing it, he turned back and leaned into the car to say, "When I said I could spend it with you, I was talking about spending it with family." Then he was gone.
"That boy never ceases to amaze me," I mumbled while watching him walk away.
* * * * *
He answered on the first ring. "Greg?"
"Can you talk?" I asked, horrified by the agitation in my voice despite feeling it justified.
"Yeah, dude, I can talk," he replied softly. "How are you, G-Man?"
I'd lit the fire of my annoyance and stoked the flames to a roar before dialing the phone, yet Nate's obvious care and concern made the blaze waver.
Maybe I shouldn't have called. Maybe I'm being an asshole. What am I doing?
The sound of his voice called to me, beckoned to my soul in a way only he could. But I had to remain strong, keep my resolve.
"I'm fine. Honestly, dude, I'm just as surprised I called. And I wish I hadn't had to, but here's the thing, Nate: you have to stop this."
"Stop what?" I couldn't respond, hearing his voice having caused a synaptic overload and an emotional yearning so potent I thought I might explode from it. "Greg, stop what? What is it, G-Man?"
"Stop calling. Stop trying to contact me. You have to stop, Nate. How am I supposed to get over you when you constantly reach out and remind me of what I'm trying to overcome? I'm pathetic, I know, but I can't make any progress if you're still in my life."
"Greg, you listen and listen well. Don't ever call yourself pathetic!" Despite the obvious sniffle he muffled with his hand and the clear hitch in his voice, he made sure I heard him loud and clear. "That is complete bullshit, dude. I won't put up with it."
Wiping a stray tear from my eye, no response came to me. I'd hurt him, with good intentions but still, and here he was defending me from myself, always protective, always loving, always supportive.
I have to get away from him. This is why!
"I don't know how long you struggled with telling me how you feel," he continued, "but I can't imagine it was easy to finally do it. You were probably scared I'd react poorly or that I'd do something foolish to keep you with me. And you're right, I suppose. But at least I understand that part of what happened the other night. But, Greg, I'm having a hard time with this distance thing."
"Understand. Yeah, maybe that's true. Maybe I don't fully appreciate your struggle with fighting your feelings for me while trying to have feelings for someone else, anyone else. I grant you that. But that doesn't make this easy for me, G-Man. I love you! Goddammit, Greg, I love you! This hurts! Do you hear me? This hurts like a motherfucker! I've never known this kind of hurt before."
"I'm sorry ..."
"It's okay. I understand even if I don't want to accept. But it still hurts, G-Man, a lot. Still, I'm trying. I'm not doing a good job but I'm trying. I think you're wrong about a lot of things, this being one of them, but I'm trying to respect your wishes."
"Thank you." My voice was soft and yearning. I wanted to listen to his voice all day.
"We still need to talk about things."
Straightening my spine as if preparing to defend myself, I asked, "Like what?"
"You made a major decision that affects both of us but you didn't discuss it with me."
"I know. You thought you were doing what was necessary. But you made a lot of assumptions, some of them pretty bad, and you never let me talk, never listened to me, never heard my side of things and weighed my desires alongside your own. When have we ever done that to each other? When have we ever unilaterally made decisions this big? Decisions that affect both of us, I mean."
"Nate, I'm not going—"
"Tell me when."
"I have to do this alone, Nate, don't you get that? How can you help me get over my love for you? How can you help me move on? Can you help me get over my love for you so maybe I can be happy with someone else? No, all you can do is focus on finding a wife and having a family—"
"But you said—"
"I know what I said. If you'd let me talk the other night, you'd know I said quite a few things meant to push you into getting better, into making progress, into seeing Uncle Farid again and working through the issues and memories and emotions you'd been ignoring for too long. It was all tearing you apart, G-Man! I could see it! Does that make me bad for using whatever ammunition I had available to spur you into acting? No, of course not."
"I didn't call to rehash this."
"Rehash it? We never hashed it the first time, dude! You talked all over me then stormed out."
"I'm not going—"
"No matter what you think, G-Man, no matter what you assume, ask yourself something."
I was growing frustrated, having lost control of what I thought would be a simple conversation, and Nate was proving that giving him up would be so much harder than I thought. If only he'd stop caring, stop trying to make me understand, stop trying to keep me in his life.
"Ask myself what?" I asked.
"No matter what you thought I was looking for, who did I come home to every night? Who did I cuddle with on the couch? Who did I kiss and hug and spend my days with? Who have I spent more than twenty years with, by his side, through thick and thin, no matter what? I don't need an answer, G-Man. I just want you to think about the answer."
"That's different," I mumbled, though I wasn't sure why I said it. I didn't think it, didn't feel it, didn't believe it. He had a valid point, one that encapsulated more than two decades of a profound relationship, a singular relationship that I knew I'd never duplicate. And perhaps a relationship I hadn't fully understood or appreciated.
"Don't dismiss me," he whispered, his heart in his voice, "and don't dismiss what I'm telling you. Please ..."
Silence stretched between us, neither breaking it. Instead we sat and listened to each other breathe. It was the most comforting comfortable silence I'd ever shared. I tried to imagine where he was, what he was wearing, what he had planned for the rest of the day, how he'd spend his evening—
After a deep inhale, I began, "So, Nate ..."
"Yeah, G-Man." His voice was smooth like silk, refreshed, potent.
He got as much from that silence as I did. Amazing ...
"What happened to Rita?"
He snorted, a derisive sound. "She moved on."
I'm what, sorry to hear that? I'm not. Sorry it didn't work out between them? Nope. Sorry she's been sent packing with nothing, not even a souvenir? Not even close. Sorry he's alone? Yeah, that's it that right there.
"I know what you were going to say. It's not your fault. She wasn't the one," he said, though he sounded anything but sad about her departure. Not so much elated as relieved, which struck me as odd.
"No, that wasn't it. I just ..."
"It's okay," he whispered. I could almost feel his breath on my ear. When he realized I had no response with which to fill the silence, he gently asked, "So ... are we good, G-Man?"
"I ... I don't think ..."
Nate chuckled softly before coming to my rescue. "I know. I know things are different right now. I don't like it but that's how it is. I wasn't asking in general, though. I meant are we good on the reason you called."
Nodding my head as though that helped with telephone calls, I replied, "Yeah, we're good, Little Big Man. Just ... Please, Nate, give me space. I need space and I need time."
"I know that's what you said." His voice was somber, sad, and a little defiant.
Something about the words he used struck me as requiring attention, but instead my mind had already leaped to another train of thought. "And Nate ...?"
"Yeah. I'm here, G-Man."
Hopeful. He sounds hopeful. Just talking to him makes me feel the same way despite my frustration and my need for this separation.
"I didn't get to say it the other night, but I want you to know that, despite what's happened and despite our paths diverging, you were the best friend a man could ever have."
"Are, Greg," he immediately said, firm and sure. "We're not were; we're an are."
"Maybe things are different right now, maybe we both need to learn a few things about ourselves that we can't figure out when we're together, but I believe with all my heart that this isn't permanent. You hear me, G-Man? What we have is special and it's important and it's worth fighting for, and when all this shit blows over I believe it'll be better than it was."
My mouth hung open as I pressed the phone to my ear. There were no words.
It's wishful thinking, that's all. If it helps with space and time, let him believe what he wants.
But I want to believe it, too. Desperately.
You didn't come this far to turn around now.
"Can I ask you a question, G-Man? I've been wondering about something."
His question snapped me back to reality with the threat of whiplash. We'd never danced around each other before, never asked permission to ask a question. Not even over the phone.
Is that a sign of the damage I've done? Did I break something so severely it can never be fixed?
Isn't that what you wanted?
I'm not sure anymore ...
After a hesitant breath I answered, "Sure, Nate. Anything you want."
"Maybe it's none of my business—" We've never thought that with each other! Never! Damn it! "—but ... well ... when did you ... you know ... when did—"
"When did I fall in love with you?" I told him that the other night, but under the circumstances I wouldn't have been surprised if he missed it. I'd essentially overwhelmed his emotions, so who knows what he heard and what he didn't.
"No. You told me. You said you think it might've been when we met, though at that age you weren't sure. But you said it's been since we were kids."
"Yeah. Since I was twelve, or that's when I realized what I was feeling anyway ... So what did you want to ask?"
He inhaled slowly, as if siphoning strength from the atmosphere. "Did you ever talk to Richard about it? About how you felt about me, I mean."
The sharp intake of breath I heard was my own gasp.
"I'm sorry, G-Man." And he sounded very apologetic. "Never mind. Forget I asked."
What's the harm in answering? He deserves answers, a hell of a lot of them in fact, so why be melodramatic?
You're right. Of course you're right.
"No. It's okay, Nate. I'm just not used to talking about Richard, at least not yet. Sometimes it still surprises me to hear his name bandied about so freely." After another deep breath I continued, "And yeah, I talked to him about it. Really, though, he talked to me about it. You know I never went looking for adult guidance."
A muffled laugh came through before he could stop it. Then he said, "Oh, I know."
"But, yeah, he approached me about it. I guess he figured it out."
"You didn't tell him?"
"The only people I ever told were Mom and Dad."
"Was that it? Just did Richard know? Or did I talk to him about it?"
"Well, do you remember when that was? When you talked to him about it?"
"Shortly after my thirteenth birthday, not long after I came out to you and my parents."
This time the sharp intake of breath came to my ears through the phone.
"What? What, Nate?"
"Fuck ..." he mumbled.
"What, Nate? Damn it, what?"
"When Richard talked to you about it ... Was ... Was it the night you were crying in his room? Late at night, after we'd fallen asleep in the living room?"
The phone trembled against my ear, my knuckles whitening as I clenched the device lest I throw it across the room. My breathing hitched, shallowed, accelerated.
"Greg," he began softly, "did he try to use it against you? Did he ... did he somehow weaponize it?"
I sniffled, eyes closed and seeing red, tears streaking my cheeks. When I gasped, it stuttered and broke with a sob, then a sniff and painful sigh.
"Stop, G-Man! Whatever it is, stop! It's okay! Forget I asked!"
"It's why he attacked me, Nate! It's why his sexual assault turned into an onslaught of savagery! It's why he brutalized me so badly! And you want to know what else?" I was shouting but couldn't stop. I was angry but didn't know why. "He taught me to build the blind spot so I could hide it from myself! He taught me how to hide my love for you so it wouldn't hurt us, so it wouldn't chase you away, so it wouldn't end our friendship. He taught me, Nate, that motherfucker taught me to scramble my own brain so I could get rid of my love for you! But when he came over to take my virginity and I denied him because I was in love with you, he was furious. His response was to beat me senseless and violate me over and over again."
Nate gasped, possibly even sobbed, but I couldn't stop my tirade. I felt out of control, almost as if I was watching myself from a distance, watching this hurt, angry, lonely, powerless man sitting in a hotel suite as his anguish and sorrow spilled out as wrathful memories.
"So did Richard weaponize my love for you? You fucking bet your bottom dollar he did! And he did it over and over again for years, using it to keep me from telling you, using it to mess with my mind, using it to control me and eventually as a reason to pulverize me as he raped me. Fuck!"
I hung up the phone and threw the cell across the room. The last sensible part of me felt disappointment when, instead of breaking asunder against the far wall, it instead landed softly and slid down the pillow until it came to rest—safely, of course!--on the bedspread.
Leaning back and wrapping my hands around my head, I wailed and wept.
"Why'd I let him drag me into that conversation? Why?"
As I slumped in the chair and cried, my phone rang and rang and rang.
Thanks to all of you for your readership and feedback!