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Against the World - 7. Chapter 7

So I fucked up last night.

Or, really, am still fucking up.

As Aaron Ackerman’s toned, twinkish body lay naked in my arms.

Scraplets of memories flooding back:

In the moment, I’ve never felt closer to anyone.

Drunkenly tumbling to the bed. Aaron’s arms thrown around my shoulders.

My hands, wandering underneath his clothes, his flat stomach.

“I want you to fuck the shit out of me,” and I didn’t have to be told twice.

Clothes flying through the air.

“That’s the biggest dick I’ve ever seen. Holy fuck.”

“Suck it.”

Hot, wet lips wrapped around my dick. Grew harder, harder.

You close your eyes and anyone can be anyone.

No. That wasn’t true with Aaron. He was very much Aaron Ackerman.

I was very aware of how Aaron Ackerman he was.

I was so hard.

And all I wanted to do. Was forget.

Aaron sucked such good cock.

“I want to fuck you.”

Did what he was told. Quietly assumed all fours on the bed.

A great ass.

I eased myself into Aaron. He didn’t resist.

“Fuck,” he moaned, burying his face in his pillow. “Fuck, you’re gigantic.”

“You love it.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Tell me how much you love it.”

“That’s the biggest dick I’ve ever had.”

He wanted it.

Fuck, he wanted it so bad.

I bucked my hips. Fast. Hard. Aaron could still take it.

Begged for more.

Insisted on more. And pretty soon I was fucking him faster, harder, faster, harder, as fucking hard and fast as I could slam that twink ass.

Moaning. Grunting. Both of us: two organisms in circadian rhythm.

Fuck.

“Fuck.”

“Oh, fuck.”

“Fuck. I’m going to cum.”

“Fuck, Kevin, cum in my ass.”

He’s a heavy sleeper.

And a happy sleeper: thin, curved smile on his face, dreaming of meadows and music.

I can never sleep in someone’s bed. I watch the minutes tick by on his alarm clock.

I’m here. If you feel close to me.

Fuck you. Is maybe how it always ends.

He fucked not like a friend helping a friend, but someone breathlessly taking a step forward with someone they wanted to take a step forward with.

Of course I felt like the asshole.

I’ve never felt so close to anyone.

It’s all so terrible.

I’m ashamed of myself. Bug.

“I love this,” Aaron had said, fluttering asleep in my arms.

Filling me not with satisfaction but with guilt.

I contemplate my escape route.

 

“I love this,” Matt said, throwing himself backwards onto the crisp white sheets of his hotel bed. “You brought the booze, right?”

“Always.”

I’d been looking forward to this trip for about a month: our admissions tour to the University of California, Berkeley.

Not that we had been admitted yet. But it was our mutual first choice, and Van and Lynn Barber were adamant that we go to visit it first.

We. Meaning Matt and me.

Unspokenly, I’d been adopted as Matt’s twin brother, and it never occurred to any Barber that I would not be coming along on the drive to Berkeley along with Matt, his dad, and his brother.

Or so Matt told me, when I finally got the courage to ask him if I had made the guest list.

At any rate: the two of us, alone in a room at the Westin St. Francis in Union Square, Van and Brig staying on a whole different floor.

I had no idea what was going to happen.

I imagined it wouldn’t be nothing.

But Matt was inscrutable. About this sort of thing.

It was happening. Then it was no longer happening. Disappeared into the gossamer past, not to be acknowledged.

“No one needs to know,” he had slurred, one time or every time, and that included us, apparently.

All while he continued to date Jenna, and I continued to date Lena.

Matt was squeezing one of the white down pillows like a security blanket. “Dude, make me a drink.”

I reached into my duffel bag, and pulled out the bottle of vodka. “Do we have mixers?”

“I think there’s a vending machine in the ice room,” Matt replied. He didn’t move--apparently, I was getting the ice and mixers. “There’s an ice bucket next to the coffee maker.”

Went out into the hallway. The Westin St. Francis was an old hotel; long, carpeted corridors and white panelled walls, almost like a palace.

Just a casual trip to visit a prospective university.

And someday. Someday I’d be able to afford this sort of thing. Take my kids to visit some college, money is no object, we would like two rooms please, and do you have anything on an upper floor?

I filled up the ice bucket. Got a few bottles of soda from the vending machine, went back to our room.

Matt was still on his bed, but had undressed, wearing only a loosely-cinched white hotel robe. Nothing underneath, from the looks of it.

“Someone’s enjoying being in a hotel,” I told him.

Matt grinned. He was holding a tumbler of warm vodka, had already started.

“Best part of a hotel: robes.” He stared up at me. “You should get comfortable. You’ll love this.”

I suspected where he was going with this, but Matt had always been the initiator. With us. He couldn’t not be: I knew him well enough to know how freaked out he’d be if I turned up the temperature. Or even approached him when the setting wasn’t right: drunk, horny, alone.

I smiled at him. “Don’t you want a real drink first?”

He downed the rest of the warm vodka in his glass, and held it out to me to collect. “What’d you get?”

“Ginger ale, Sprite, and Minute-Maid.”

“Give me a Minute-Maid and vodka.”

I made two--one for me, one for him. A healthy pour of vodka, because I wanted him--I wanted both of us--to get drunk tonight.

We clinked. Took a sip. Strong.

I set mine down on the nightstand, and faced him. Began to undress.

Unbuttoned my shirt.

Matt was watching. Wasn’t even trying to be discreet.

We locked eyes, for a few too many seconds.

Matt took a long sip of his drink. And I unbuttoned my jeans.

I was getting hard, at this point. Not fully, but enough that it was noticeable in my underwear when I pulled my pants down.

Matt noticed.

Fuck it.

I pulled down my underwear, let my hard dick flop downward. In front of Matt, naked and hard, and sober. “Where are the robes?”

That jostled Matt from his staring. “Um, in the--hanging in the closet.”

I turned around and walked to the closet. Knowing he was watching my ass disappear.

I put the robe on. Tied it as loose as I could so I was just on the verge of spilling into nakedness. Like Matt

Sat down on my bed, picked back up my drink. Took a long sip.

“You’re right,” I told him, finally. “This is relaxing.”

Matt smiled. “Hotels are great. Especially if I don’t have to share a room with Brig.”

I took a sip. “Brig doesn’t let you drink vodka in a bathrobe?”

Matt giggled. “I wouldn’t even try. But don’t act like you’d do this with Nick either.”

Nicky. Who was lost to me. Getting lost to me.

The thought of us, in matching terrycloth bathrobes at the Westin St. Francis, was so foreign.

I let out a tiny bit of a laugh.

Matt wasn’t in on the joke. He gave me a tentative smile. “What?”

“Nothing,” I said. “I was just thinking.”

Matt downed the rest of his drink, and hopped off the bed. “I want to get wasted tonight.”

“Good,” I said. “Me too.”

I watched him make himself a drink. And for a second, I could’ve sworn he debated coming to sit with me on my bed, but he didn’t. Hopped back onto his bed, took another long sip.

“Dude, I’m so stoked for Berkeley,” he said. “I know we’re going to step onto campus and it’s just going to feel right, you know?”

It was. A world away from Colton, from Las Palomas, the two of us together, the first time I had ever started a new chapter with the same person.

But I was actively not trying to get my hopes up on Berkeley.

Because, in the back of my mind, I knew there wasn’t a very realistic way that I would ever have the money to go.

If anything, I was hoping the decision would be taken out of my hands: that I would go to campus and feel uncomfortable, that I didn’t belong.

Matt didn’t understand. Matt could not understand this.

“Oh, you’ll get a scholarship,” he said, dismissively. “They’re literally built for people like you.”

Case in point.

What Matt couldn’t understand--like anyone at Las Palomas, like Matt, like Harry, Hiroshi, Lena--was that free wasn’t free when it came with expenses attached.

Berkeley: room and board and books and meals and drinks, and still, the rent on the house in Colton, and the electricity, and Mom’s car, food, more drinks, lots more drinks.

I didn’t want to go to college and still sell drugs.

I didn’t want to be the guy people sidled up to so they could make a transaction.

Which seemed even more unrealistic to me. I wasn’t blind. Just four more years.

I pictured my dad. And how proud he would be when he saw a Berkeley acceptance letter, and how ashamed he’d be if he knew how I got there.

Matt had finished his second drink. Picked my glass, almost empty, off the nightstand, and headed back over to the desk.

“Going a little fast there,” I said.

“I want to get drunk,” he said. “I told you.”

He was making these drinks strong, too: more than half the glass full of vodka.

Not lost on me: the likely reason he wanted to get so drunk. So he could, guilt-free, recreate whatever we had done in the backseat of the Mitsubishi Eclipse, in Big Bear Lake.

“You’re going to get a scholarship,” he said again, plopping our drinks onto the nightstand. He sat back down, on the edge of his bed so he was looking at me. “I know you’re worried, but no offense: you’re broke as shit.”

I smiled at him. “It’s not just that. You know it’s not just that.”

“Look,” he said, finally. “You’re too guilty about everything. You’re giving people things that make them happy. And whatever, if you don’t want to sell pot in college, get a work study job.”

“Eight dollars an hour?”

“You’re too guilty,” he said again. “I know you don’t want to hear this, but.” He stopped. He took a long drink of vodka, and I thought he’d pick back up to finish that sentence, but he didn’t.

“What.”

He took another sip. “Your family can support themselves.”

“You’d never say that if it was Lynn and Brig who needed your help. If Van--on his deathbed--told you that you were the man of the house.”

Matt said nothing. He was twisting his glass in his hand. “Fuck, these are strong.”

“Hats off to the chef.”

Neither of us said anything else for a while. Kept sitting. Kept drinking.

“If you don’t want to sell pot anymore, don’t,” he said, finally.

“And starve to death in some expensive dorm room?”

“My parents will feed you. My parents feed you most of the time anyway.” He shook his head. “People should do what makes them happy. And you shouldn’t let other people tell you that you shouldn’t do things that make you happy. Especially not your family. Because they don’t understand.”

We locked eyes.

And neither of us hesitated.

Matt stood up, and came to the edge of my bed. Leaned over me, close enough that I could smell his Fierce by Abercrombie & Fitch.

No one ever kissed as passionately as Matt Barber. Hungry. Like he was eating death row dinner.

He fell on top of me. Lips, on lips, our hands exploring each others’ terrycloth bodies, our hard dicks rubbing naked together, as our robes parted Mosaically.

“I don’t want to waste tonight,” he whispered.

“I don’t think we’re going to.”

He put his hand, tentatively, on both of our dicks. Began stroking them together, and I moaned into his mouth.

Maybe it was because Matt was my first sexual experience--but there was something electric about even his handjobs, the novelty of another man’s fingers.

I put my hand on the back of his head, pulled him deeper into me.

“I,” he whispered, his lips a breath away from mine, “thought we could try some stuff.”

I kissed him again. “Like?”

“I thought maybe you could,” he said, and he shuffled, uncomfortably, though he didn’t retreat from me. “Suck me off.”

Fuck. My dick had never been so hard.

I slowly guided Matt off of me, to the mattress, so we were lying on our sides, facing each other.

He didn’t know where to go, exactly.

But I did.

I kissed down his chest. Pulling his robe slightly more open as I went.

Down to his belly button, to the trail of hair leading down to his engorged dick.

I’d never done this. Imagined doing this, certainly. To Matt, to anybody.

Tried to think back to porn.

Flicked the tip of his dick with my tongue. Sent him moaning, even just from that slight action.

Licked down the shaft.

And took the head in my mouth. Just a little bit, of Matt Barber’s thick, veiny cock.

It was more than he could handle. He was bucking his hips, just slightly. Running his fingers through his hair, through my hair, anything to distract him from this overload of pleasure.

I slowly took another inch of his dick. And another. Bobbed my head, just a bit, until I got into a slow and steady rhythm.

Matt’s hand came to rest on the back of my head, pulling me into his dick, pulling me down to the base of his shaft--and Matt had lost all command of language by this point.

Just a series of grunts and moans and hisses, until he finally managed, “Stop, I’m going to cum.”

I didn’t stop. Which surprised him: I could see it in his eyes. The split second realization of what was going to happen, before he let out a low moan and shot a gigantic load into the back of my throat.

“Holy fuck,” he gasped, as I let his dick fall from my mouth.

I was doing everything I could to not gag, to not spit up Matt’s hot load. I swallowed a few times, to get the stickiness out.

Matt was smiling.

Unadulterated happiness.

To make him that happy.

“Fuck,” he said. He gave a little giggle. “Dude, you have cum all over your…”

I didn’t wait. I kissed him. A hard and firm kiss, spreading his own cum on his lips, and then we were making out again.

Limbs entangling with each other, and I rubbed my rock hard dick against Matt’s wet, soft one, and it only took me a handful of strokes before I shot my wad on our stomachs.

“Fuck,” Matt said.

“Fuck,” I agreed.

We both rolled onto our backs.

Breathless. In shock. Maybe. At how mindblowing this sort of thing was.

“We should room together at Berkeley next year,” said Matt, finally, “and then we can do this all the time.”

“Did you think we weren’t rooming together next year, dude?” I asked, rolling over.

He smiled at me. Rplled over too, so our faces--our sweaty, cummy faces--were just inches apart. “I don’t know what I’d do without you, dude.”

“Well, let’s hope I can go,” I told him, “and then we can think about next year.”

Matt shook his head. “You’re going. No discussion. No way I’m going to fucking Cal State Dominguez Hills or some shit because you wouldn’t take out a student loan.”

I grinned. “You’d go to Dominguez Hills for me?”

Matt looked a little sheepish. “I mean, I wouldn’t want you to suffer through that alone, dude.”

We kissed. Spontaneously: neither of us initiated it, or we both initiated it, but we came together, and it wasn’t hungry anymore. Romantic, maybe.

“I’m going to break up with Lena,” I told him. “I don’t feel right about this.”

“Two weeks before homecoming?”

“After homecoming, then.”

“People are going to talk.”

“People break up all the time,” I told him. “For reasons completely unrelated to being gay.”

Matt flinched at that word. Gay.

Subversive reminder that what we were doing was Not Normal.

“It’s only eight more months before graduation,” he said. “Just ride it out.”

“Is that what you’re doing with Jenna? Dump her and say it’s because she wants to go to BYU.”

“No,” he said. “Not really. I mean, I’m not gay. It’s a different situation.”

“You’re not straight.”

He didn’t respond to that. His face was suddenly grave, and he said, “I like women. I like Jenna.”

“But you like me too,” I told him. “What if we went home and dumped both of our girlfriends?”

“And then what?” he asked. “Secret boyfriends?”

“Does that scare you?”

He didn’t have an answer. “You’re more than that to me, dude. Fratres. Aren’t we?”

“I just had your dick in my mouth,” I told him. “I don’t think brothers do that.”

He wasn’t going to respond to that either. Not directly. “She’s there. And you’re here.” He snuggled up against my naked chest. “I only want you here.”

We didn’t say anything else.

Ever again, actually, on that topic. Because I knew. What he wanted. How far he’d go.

I was seventeen years old, and I had my best friend in my arms, and that was enough.

We held each other until we fell asleep. For what--at the time--seemed like forever.

 

“We should be booked for the ten-thirty tour,” Van Barber was telling the guy at the admissions desk. “Under Barber?”

The admissions guy was smoking hot. A little like Matt, maybe, that kind of pretty boy surfer type.

Ryan. His nametag said.

I wondered if they put him front and center on purpose, a sort of suggestive billboard for carnal extracurriculars at the University of California, Berkeley.

“Got it right here,” he said. “I have you down for one parent and three prospective students?”

“Yup,” Van said. He pointed to us. “These three are mine.”

“Alright, just have your sons fill out these forms real quick,” he said, “and the tour should start in about ten minutes.”

“Son one,” Van said, handing Matt a clipboard. “Son two,” he said, to Brig, “and I guess that makes you son three,” to me.

I knew he said it as a joke. And I guess that makes you son three.

And, look, Van Barber was not my dad. I had a dad. I had a great dad.

But.

For a second, I wasn’t the poor kid from Colton, who sold pot and had a dead dad and a deadbeat mom, and maybe, just for a second, I was one of them.

“I’m going to head to the bathroom before we go,” said Van. “Don’t leave without me.”

“We’re totally going to leave without you,” Matt replied.

“Funny guy--good luck getting to San Francisco State for the next tour, when I have the car keys.”

Matt rolled his eyes. “I didn’t take four years of Latin to wind up at a Cal State school.”

“It’s just to see it,” Van said, “while we’re up here. Maybe you’ll fall in love.”

Matt gave me a disdainful look, as if I was supposed to jump to his defense.

Becker always did the same thing. The disinterested lethe of alternate lives.

People from my neighborhood didn’t go to a Cal State either, for the opposite reason.

As soon as Van was out of earshot, Brig snapped his head in our direction: “I know what you guys were up to last night.”

I watched the color drain from Matt’s face. The panic set in.

Tried to force his face into nonchalance, to not give Brig the satisfaction of confirmation.

Because, surely, everything was hearsay.

“You don’t know shit about anything, Brigham,” Matt replied.

Brig rolled his eyes. “You think I’m an idiot? I’m a freshman--I hear what people at school say. Everyone knows about you two. Everyone talks about it. It’s Las Palomas’s worst-kept secret, if you thought you were being discreet.”

Matt was silently flipping his shit out. I could tell. Outwardly calm, fire in his eyes.

Everyone knew.

I could see the horror washing across his face but he still wasn’t saying anything, still wasn’t going to confirm any accusations.

“Don’t be a little shit, Brig,” I told him, finally. “What we do or don’t do isn’t any of your business.”

“Well, I’m not going to tell Mom and Dad,” he said, “but only if you guys let me partake tonight.”

Oh. God. I was vaguely disgusted: that Brig was asking what he seemed to be asking.

Matt’s mind, however, did not jump to incest. He looked suddenly more confused than guilty.

“Er,” he said, glancing sideways at me, “what are you talking about, exactly?”

“Smoking pot,” Brig replied. “Everyone knows you two sell it. And I want to do it with you guys.” He stopped, lips curled into a suspicious smile. “Why, what did you think I was talking about?”

“Vodka,” I replied, quickly. I looked over to Matt. “Whatever, I don’t mind sharing pot. Or vodka.” I spoke the next words steadily: “If it’s going to keep Brig from telling your Dad.”

Matt gave a theatrical groan, the prospect of negotiating with terrorists.

“One hour,” Matt told him, “and then you’re back to downstairs.”

 

“So I’ve been seeing someone,” I told Ben Farber, sitting on the porch of my house on Broadway Street. “That’s off-the-record. Just, if you thought you and I were going to bang after this.”

“I do not love this,” Ben said, taking a sip from his Abita. “I thought you were plying me with beer for a reason--I’m horny as fuck.”

“When are you not?”

Ben leaned back in his patio chair, gave me a smirk. “So, a boyfriend, huh? That guy you got with over spring break?”

I smiled. “We’re good together. I think.”

“You think?” Ben was studying me, carefully, for a second or two. “What’s wrong with him?”

A little taken aback by that. “Nothing’s wrong with him.”

“Yeah, yeah,” he said. “You get all ruffly when you’re worried about something.”

Ruffly. I didn’t even know how to ask what that meant.

“It’s just, I was basically out in New York,” I told him. “To basically everyone, except the guys at Smith Barney, but all of my friends, all the people I lived with and drank with. They all knew.” I shook my head. Took a sip of Abita. I was starting to feel this one, beer four. “And I liked that. But then I come back here, and it’s--you know, no one knows. Only you, Ryan, and Veronica know.”

“To be fair,” Ben said, judiciously. “I told you in the spring you should just come out.”

I sighed, took another swig of beer. “I didn’t want to rock the boat with this guy.”

“Your boyfriend,” Ben corrected.

I gave a twitch of a smile. Couldn’t help it. “My boyfriend.”

“So,” Ben said, “the guy is willing to be your boyfriend, but only if you keep it behind closed doors. Is that it?”

Didn’t respond to that. Ben didn’t need me to.

“Have you asked him to come out?”

What was there ever to say about Becker, re: coming out.

Had I asked him? No. Not really.

Not because I didn’t want to.. But because I already knew what the answer would be.

It’d be couched in something beautiful, a piece of his floral fiction, something like, “Why does anyone else need to be in our relationship but the two of us?” but it’d be a denial, either way.

I didn’t want to be denied by Becker. Couldn’t be denied by Becker.

But I couldn’t: She’s there. And you’re here.

“He doesn’t do change very well,” I said, judiciously as I could.

Ben scratched his head. Looked like he was about to say something, but didn’t. Was picking his words carefully, until he settled on: “So why don’t you just come out and then deny you’re dating him to everyone who asks?”

“It’s not so simple.”

“It really is, though,” he said. “You know I did that with my high school boyfriend.”

“For, like, a day,” I told him. “Then he took you to prom.”

“Because that’s how it works,” Ben said. “You come out, and then this guy sees it’s no big deal. And he’ll come out. Because like every gay in the world, he realizes being out is just so much easier than hiding all the time.”

“He’s not like that,” I told him. “I think he likes the hiding.”

“I know you don’t.”

I said nothing. “One of these days, I’m going to change my Facebook to ‘Interested in Men’ and just walk away.”

“So, do it then. Seek forgiveness, don’t ask permission, all that.”

“Are you kidding? My boyfriend was pissed I was out to like three people in New York. And here, he’d go ballistic from all the chatter. We’re in a lot of overlapping circles.”

Ben tossed his empty bottle to the ground, pulled out another one. “Not an Iota Chi guy?”

“I can’t say.”

“You’re no fun,” he replied, reaching for the bottle opener. "Ease him into it. Sneak up on him."

"What do you mean?"

"Baby steps," he said. "Get him a toothbrush. Give him a key to your apartment. Ask him if you can tell one person. I don't know. Things like that. Pile up the little gestures until it's basically already done for him."

Becker was too smart for that. And I couldn't even imagine how he would react if I got him a toothbrush, or asked him if I could tell one person.

We weren't even at baby steps.

Not even close."

“My friend Carver--from New York--wants me to go study abroad with him in Paris with him next semester," I told him. "In the Tulane program. He thinks I need to put an ocean between me and--this guy.”

Ben took a long sip of beer. “Do you want an ocean between you guys?”

“I’ve always moved away,” I told him. “But I don’t want to wipe the slate clean. Not if he’s going to be, you know. Different.”

Ben leaned backwards, shook his head. “You want my honest advice? Give him an ultimatum. Tell him you’re going to come out on X date, and if he wants to continue to be your boyfriend, he better grow a pair of balls over the next few weeks and come out too. Or else you’re going to Paris, and he can jack off into a sock until he grows the fuck up.”

I briefly imagined me, Becker, in my bedroom, having this conversation.

Impossible to imagine, actually. Because there was no way we would ever have that sort of conversation.

If I came out--if I gave him an ultimatum--I knew what he’d do.

It would be so hard.

Wouldn’t it.

To lose Becker.

Even though: I thought about Paris. I thought about Paris like I thought about New York: a place where I wouldn’t be bound to the past, to other people’s expectations.

Moving was the fastest way to make yourself free. My dad would read me the story of Lot’s Wife: to move forward, and never look back.

I made myself free of Matt. I could make myself free of Becker.

If things came to that. Go to a place without any past.

Maybe I was silent for too long, because Ben concluded the advice portion of our hour: “By the way, I had sex with the hottest freshman yesterday. Perks of being an RA, you see all of them first.”

There was a limit to how useful Ben Farber was as a friend, at least when we were clothed.

But who else? Veronica Tandy was so nosy about everything; Ryan Wyatt leaked like a sieve.

And they both knew Becker. Bigger problem.

I tried to give Ben an impish smile, befitting the new topic of conversation: “God, he’s not one of your residents, is he?”

He didn’t answer the question, which meant that it was.

“You’re going to get fired. And it’s only September.”

“Austin Berkowitz,” he said. “Ginger Jew. Really thick dick. You know I don’t usually end up bottoming, but--”

“But you will for a big dick. Believe me, I know.”

Ben wrinkled his nose, but didn’t have time to lob a rebuttal; Chris Baker and Matt Rowen were coming down Broadway Street from the Iota Chi house.

“You got started without us?” Rowen exclaimed, as they headed up the stairs.

“It’s five o’clock somewhere,” Ben replied.

“Yeah, like the middle of the Atlantic,” Chris told him. He sat down on the wood railing, across from us. I handed him a beer. “Thanks. Are you guys coming to Iota Chi tonight?”

“Naw, we’re going down to F&M’s with band people,” Ben replied.

Rowen rolled his eyes. “On a Friday? F&M’s is such a Thursday bar.”

Ben creased his forehead. “What the fuck is a Thursday bar?”

“You know: Bruno’s Tuesday, Quill’s Wednesday, F&M’s Thursday, The Boot on Friday. House parties or downtown Saturday.”

“Oh, imagine my embarrassment,” Ben said, clutching his heart. “Sorry I can’t drink five nights a week like you frat stars.”

Ben could, of course, put them away.

Like any good Tulane kid.

Because we started drinking at three o’clock, dragged our way into dinner at Bruff. Which turned into some lines of coke off his desk in Monroe Hall, some more light drinking, and showing up to F&M’s at around nine already trashed.

We hadn’t been there more than fifteen minutes, first drink, when Becker texted me: “Baker says you’re not coming to Iota Chi?”

I smiled. When I thought of him. Surrounded by people and still waiting for me to walk through the door.

“I will in a bit.” I snapped my phone shut and looked up to Ben. “I’m going back uptown.”

Ben had glossy eyes, unfocused, like he wouldn’t have even noticed if I was gone in the first place. He doesn’t ask, he doesn’t mind. He swatted the air dismissively, and went back to his conversation.

I chugged my drink, took a cab. Tottered up the front lawn of Iota Chi, saw Becker almost immediately. Talking to his friends.

A blue button-down that clung tightly to his slender body in all the right ways.

Devastatingly sexy.

“There he is,” I greeted, easing my hand on his shoulder.

Becker squirmed. Just slightly.

Even though he wanted it.

“Down, Malley,” he said. Smiled.

His friends were staring at me. Like I had crossed a line.

So I tried to recover with something as unromantic as I could think of: “This kid,” I told them, “is the bomb-dot-com.”

“You’re a moron,” he grinned, shaking his head.

“Yeah, well,” I told him. “I’m your moron.”

That. That was too much.

And I lost Becker. Startled. Looked back inwards, with worry, with pain.

Darted his eyes back and forth to his friends, to see how much they could forgive or forget.

So. Fucking. Sick. Of. This.

And fuck: I was wasted, super wasted, but all I wanted to do was wrap my boyfriend in my arms and kiss the shit out of him. And not care what his friends said, or what my friends said, or what strangers at the party said.

I wanted him. He wanted me.

And I hated, hated, hated that it wasn’t enough.

“You need to loosen up,” I told him. “Have some fun.”

Becker was stiff, rigid, trying to extricate himself. “We just got here.”

“I didn’t mean with alcohol.” I shook my head. “Don’t you want to just be free?”

He did not. He didn’t even have a response.

Except cold eyes. Dead eyes.

Made some sort of excuse, for me, for him, and spirited us away to Rob Winslow’s bedroom and shut the door.

“Oh,” I whispered, as I leaned into him. “I see what this is.”

“That is not even almost what this is,” he spat. “You need to go home. You’re being a mess, and you’re seriously about one word away from outing both of us.”

Was not.

If anything, I was working overtime to ensure that nothing happened to his very precious little secret.

Which maybe he realized.

Because his mouth drooped. Pretense of anger dissipated.

“Just,” he said, weighing his emotions, “you need to be chill. You need to not say anything about us. And don’t touch me. Not until we’re back at your place.”

And don’t touch me.

I want you, Becker. I want you, I want you, I want you, and I don’t care who knows it.

And if you want me to, you have to...

I didn’t know what.

I wouldn’t say it.

Of course. Not to him.

“Fine,” I said, instead. But it would be maybe four or five hours before we made it back to my place, before Becker would agree to trade in his fraternity brothers for me for the duration of the evening.

“Deal,” said Becker.

I pulled out the last of my cocaine, because that was the only way I was going to stay upright between now and then. “Want a bump?”

Becker was startled, like I had offered him child porn. Becker, who had probably never seen cocaine in his life.

Like anything with Becker, I could see the wheels turning in his brain. Processing the level of rebellion, the fear, the allure, the taboo.

Becker was Becker.

Epicurean heart and ascetic brain, cancelling each other out into quiet indecision.

He hadn’t answered when the door flung open, and Rob Winslow and Ryan Wyatt burst into the room, ostensibly so Rob could get his ass pounded.

“Hey guys,” Rob said, suspiciously, shaking me down with his eyes. To suss out what I knew, what Ryan had told me. Which was everything. “What are you two doing in here?”

The same thing you’re doing. Is what I wanted to say.

But even in my drunken haze, I didn’t.

“Coke,” I said, instead. And I flashed Becker a smile to sum up the whole situation, but he had no idea what was going on. Becker was, somehow, never in the loop with Iota Chi the way I was. “Want a bump?”

Ryan took the Ziploc from me. “Let me get that for you, slugger.”

Iota Chi was not what one would consider to be a “coke fraternity”--too middle-class, too gentile, a halo of relative innocence on the heads of most of their members--but there was a subset of my customers who would partake.

Ryan Wyatt, for instance.

“None for me,” Becker said, daintily. “I’m just a spectator in all of this.”

As. If.

“Oh, Becker will have one,” I told him. “He has to listen to everything I say. Becker, you’ll love this.”

“I will absolutely not love this,” said Becker, but he didn’t protest any further.

Rob latched the deadbolt. “Please don’t let anyone else do this at our parties. Tulane Police have been circling all night, and the last thing this chapter needs is a drug bust, right before Speakeasy and homecoming.”

“Relax,” Ryan told him, rolling up a dollar bill. “It’ll be over in three seconds.” He snorted his bump, and handed the dollar bill to Winslow, and then to me, and then finally to Becker.

I loved making Becker do things for the first time.

At Las Palomas and Tulane, I always thought I had missed so much not growing up with money or power or pedigree. But it all left people so unequipped for the world.

Maybe I never went to Buenos Aires to celebrate a congressional victory, but Becker had experienced nearly nothing--none of the things that made life so cruel and wondrous.

“It’s easy,” I told him, as he rolled up the dollar bill. “Just inhale, and suck it up like a vacuum cleaner.”

Like you’ll do later tonight. I wanted to say. I didn’t say.

He did it. He recoiled, just a bit. But had the beginnings of a smile on his face, the jolt that comes from a quick bump. He liked it. I could tell he liked it.

Ryan set out lines next, and Rob looked vaguely terrified. Kept looking out the window.

“Relax,” I told him.

“I’m president of this fraternity,” Rob replied, still staring out at the empty street. “There’s a level of decorum I’m held to. Everything ultimately rests on my shoulders, and I’m not going to jail because you brought coke to a house party.”

“I feel like you’d be popular in jail,” Ryan told him, tossing me a wry smile as he scraped the coke into four lines. “Just saying. Skinny white boy? They’d probably trade you along with the cigarettes.”

I giggled. Knowingly.

Rob’s face was reddening with anger and humiliation, and his eyes were trained on Becker. Who was, of course, sitting there and staring nervously at the coke, thinking Beckerly thoughts, caught up in his own mind like he always was.

“Fuck off,” Rob replied, finally.

After our lines, we filed back into the hallway--but I felt Rob’s hand on my shoulder. “Hey, can I talk to you for a second?”

Becker continued to totter downstairs. But clearly he was not supposed to be part of this conversation.

I thought I was getting scolded, which was fine, I dealt drugs, I had been scolded by members of respectable society before.

That wasn’t it.

Ryan was still sitting on the bed.

Smiling. Counterpoint to Rob’s worry.

We both knew what this was.

“I don’t know what Ryan told you,” Rob began.

“Yes, you do,” I interrupted, stiffly, dropping down on the edge of the bed next to Ryan.

Fuck. The cocaine barely helped.

Drunkenness was beginning to conquer me.

I put my head in my hands and tried to stay as alert as I could. In the moment. A serious moment.

Ryan grinned at Rob. “Rob, Kevin’s gay. That’s why he knows.”

Rob was thrown off, for a moment. Did not expect me to be gay. “Oh!”

We were all silent, for a second. And I wondered if they were going to mention Becker.

Fuck. I wanted them to mention Becker. I wanted them to figure it out. I wanted someone to figure it out--even if I had to deny it.

I wanted someone to stand up, someone other than the two of us, and say, “This is happening.”

It was taking everything not to blurt it out. Everything not to tell them that Becker and I were a couple, we were happy, we meant something to each other.

I didn’t. I wouldn’t.

And they, either out of cluelessness or charity, didn’t push.

“Well, I’m not gay,” Rob said, quickly. “To be clear. I’m just a little bit bi sometimes.”

Ryan and I exchanged looks. Because Ryan had told me that was Rob’s deflection of choice, whether it was accurate or not: a little bit bi sometimes.

“You mean like when your legs are in the air?” And I giggled.

It was not the appropriate response.

But Ryan laughed. Briefly--before Rob shot death to him, and his smile quickly fell from his face. He knew who buttered his muffin.

Rob chose not to respond directly to the joke.

“I’m just saying,” he said, turning back to me, “I would appreciate if this didn’t leave the room.”

“It won’t,” I told him. “That’s all I do, is keep secrets. But you should tell people. People wouldn’t care. I don’t know why all of you Iota Chis think that everyone would care, but they wouldn’t.”

Ryan was smiling again. “You’re fucking Becker, aren’t you?”

Ugh.

Yes. Thank God someone noticed. Yes!

No--I couldn’t.

“Becker’s straight, isn’t he?” I asked.

But Ryan kept smiling. Because of course he already knew.

 

Jumpcut: morning. In my bed.

My room was hazy and spinny and pulsing with light.

I didn’t know exactly how I got there: the last thing I remembered was being in Rob Winslow’s room.

I was naked, barely covered by my sheets. Next to me, sitting on top of my bed, was Becker, fully-dressed, reading the dog-earred copy of Didion’s Book of Common Prayer he had left on my nightstand last week.

Beyond him: my room was a crime scene. Desk spontaneously combusted. Papers, all over the floor. Printer, laptop, textbooks, all strewn about like there was a break-in.

But there wasn’t a break-in.

I vaguely recalled sex.

“Rough morning?” Becker asked, sunnily.

The only thing on my desk was a bottle of lube.

And my ass was indelibly sore.

Fuck.

“I was really hoping bottoming was a dream,” I told him.

Becker closed his book, leaned down to kiss me on the forehead. “Oh, it was a dream, baby.”

I couldn’t picture it. Even though it had happened, and I vaguely recalled it happening: I couldn’t picture me on bottom, Becker on top.

Because: Becker? As a top?

Twinky, tight-assed, cock-hungry Becker?

It was probably better that I couldn’t remember it.

“Well, I prefer you as a little bottom,” I told him. “A little bottom slut. Who craves my dick. And does nothing else all day but fantasize about getting bred by my big dick.”

Becker’s hand wandered down to my dick.

Oh. He wanted it.

Slut.

“Are you suggesting we even the score?” he whispered.

“That’s exactly what I’m suggesting. But I need a bowl and some Advil first. I don’t think I can sit up without one.”

Becker dutifully hopped out of bed, and over my dresser, to pull out a prescription bottle of weed and a big bottle of ibuprofen.

I popped the pills. We packed a bowl.

Life began to return to my flesh.

“Though my ass is still on fire.”

“Don’t be a baby,” he replied, falling back into my arms. “I have to take your big dick all the time. And I have to take it like a man.”

“Oh, you do take it like a man.” I inhaled, deeply, exhaled a long ribbon of mokle. “But you’re a bottom. You love it. And you know you want it.”

“I want you to spread my legs and fuck my brains out.”

And I fucking loved this Becker.

Sometimes I wanted to shake him and tell him that everything would be so much easier, that everyone would like him better, that he would be so much happier, if he just got out of his own way and dressed up as himself for one fucking day.

Becker was Becker. Immutable Becker.

Whatever. I wanted to fuck him.

Bury my cock in that ass.

Show him who was in control in this relationship.

That even if he got to control who knew, what happened outside this room. I was the master of this domain.

“You do all the work,” I told him, trying not to grin stupidly, which is what my face wanted to do. “Topping once doesn’t make you any less of a little bottom bitch. Ride it.”

Becker was bewildered. He wasn’t able to check himself into light role play, even for a second.

“What?”

Fuck that. No. I wasn’t letting him off.

“Get the lube. Lube up my dick. And ride it. I’m not doing jack shit. If you want to get off--if you want me to stick my dick in your ass--you’re going to have to work for it.”

And he did.

Sucked me off for a bit. And then got the lube.

I wasn’t sure if I came last night, with Becker’s dick in my ass. (Something I never wanted to think about again.) But I was so unexpectedly horny, like I hadn’t cum in days.

I moaned, as Becker rubbed his tight little hole against the tip of my cock.

He mounted me, put one hand on his chest, and slowly began to sit on my cock.

Becker was biting his hand, but moaning anyway. Couldn’t help it. Was so fucking into this.

That’s right. Little bottom.

He started slowly. Up. Down. And then faster: bouncing up, down. His dick smacking against his stomach, his free hand absently playing with his nipple.

Moaning the whole time.

Explosion. His cum, all over my chest.

“Damn,” he said, winded. “I can’t believe I came again.”

He started to lift himself off my dick.

Certainly not. “You’re not done. Jack me off.”

Becker did what he was told.

I liked when he did what he was told.

Brought his hand down to my dick, began to jack me off, stroked faster, until I came on top of his cum.

“There we go,” I told him, closing my eyes. “That was good. The universe is back in sync.”

Becker, who was annoyingly not hungover this morning, giggled. “I have to know: did I take your virginity last night?”

“No.” I refused to open my eyes, because I knew he would be smug as shit. “I mean, yes, that was my first time bottoming. And last time bottoming--remember that. But no, virginity goes only one way. You’re either a virgin or you’re not a virgin, and I’m clearly not a virgin.”

“But,” he said, “I took your bottom virginity.”

“That’s not a thing. You don’t separate virginities. It’s on or off. Is or isn’t. But I don’t want to talk anymore. I’m too hungover. I was wasted last night.”

“No shit,” he said. “And you almost outed both of us last night, thank you very much.”

My eyes snapped open.

Becker, scowling.

Becker, who had been giddy nanoseconds before, suddenly remembered that he was not happy with me when the horniness dissipated.

Maybe I just had to keep him horny all the time, to head off his most Beckerly instincts.

I cycled back through the night, and all the people I very specifically did not out either one of us to: Erik, Jordan, Justine, Rob, Ryan, Chris, Veronica, Rowen, Tommy, Dana, Maddie, the rest of Iota Chi. Ben Farber.

“I most certainly did not.”

“You told me you were my idiot,” I told him. “And something about being more like Tarzan.”

I didn’t remember anything about Tarzan, and wasn’t quite sure how that analogy would’ve landed, what with multiple substances coursing through my veins last night.

“I was just being a drunk moron.”

“Yeah, well,” I said, “you flew a little too close to the sun. Are you itching to come out of the closet? Is that it? And you thought that’s the appropriate time to tell me, in front of all my friends?”

The fucking accusations. Again, from Becker.

Like when we were in New York. He thought everything I did was somehow done to spite him.

Becker was never going to let me out of the closet.

Was he.

I suddenly pictured us, middle-aged, in a shotgun house uptown. Roommates. Brothers. Close friends. Whatever euphemism they used to use to describe a pair of bitter old PSSSLQs.

“I think you’re getting worked up over something that no one else noticed,” I told him, acidly.

“Am not.”

Ignored that. “At some point, we’re going to have to make a game plan for coming out. Not just as gay, but we have to tell everyone that we’ve been in some torrid, secret, sexual romance for months. I know that terrifies you to your very being, but you’re just going to have to grow up and accept that it is inevitable, I’m sorry.” I let my eyes close again. “But not while I’m hungover, okay?”

“You’re being an asshole,” he said, because Becker always had to have the last word. “I don’t want to come out. And even if I did, I would do it in a way that isn’t you drunkenly blurting it out to my best friends.”

“You’ve made that quite clear.”

“I don’t know what to tell you.” He was getting worked up. Heated now. “I’m moving at the speed I’m going to move at, and you can accept that or not. I don’t need you pushing me to do something I’m not ready to do.”

And what speed was that? The absence of movement was not speed.

I opened my eyes. Becker wasn’t angry anymore; he was desperate.

Worried that I was going to, what: blow up his world of indecision and avoidance?

We were both desperate. Maybe.

For different reasons, for exactly the opposite reasons.

“Maybe we should both just throw up an ‘In a Relationship With’ with each other, and then go out of town for the weekend,” I suggested. Begged. “Leave our phones off. Just drive to Biloxi or something, and not check Facebook. It’s not going to be the biggest surprise of the century, honestly.”

“I’m sure our friends would appreciate that,” he said, getting out of bed. “Finding out on a newsfeed.”

Paris lingered like a promise in my mind.

Because how easy would it be to sweep this away?

“What are you so afraid of?”

“Who said anything about being afraid?” He was fumbling with his clothes now, to make his angry exit, which was fine: I was hungover, I was sick of this fight, I wanted to go to the bathroom and puke up whatever I drank last night. “I just think it’s stupid that you keep bringing it up. So maybe I should just leave.” On cue, his phone buzzed. He looked at it. “Okay, I do have to go. Someone has Patrick’s phone. I’ll see you later.”

I rolled my eyes at him. “Is that a mad ‘I’ll see you later’ and you’ll dodge my calls for the next two days, or are you coming to Bruno's tonight?”

“It’s a Bruno's tonight see-you-later.”

He had just the beginning of a smile. I knew it.

“See, you can’t stay mad at me. You know you love me.” And shit. I amended: “You know you love this.”

“I’ll see you tonight,” he said.

And he left.

 

“It’s just that you’re being quiet today,” Ross Garabedian tells me, as we walk back from the kebab place down the street with our lunch. “Are you hungover?”

In every sense of the word.

But that’s easier than describing the utter atrocity of the evening.

Of Matt. Of my mom. Of Aaron.

I give him a flat: “Yes.”

You’re lying, Aaron would say, but Ross just nods sympathetically.

“You were pretty smashed last night,” he says. He gives me a thin smile. “So, you and Aaron.”

If you feel close to me.

“It was a mistake.”

I’ve never felt this close to anyone.

Ross winces at that.

I can only imagine what Aaron will do.

“You know he’s in love with you,” Ross tells me. “Don’t tell him I told you that.”

And I don’t know what to say to that.

Love.

That awful, loaded word.

I love you in spite of your stinking breath.

I had told Becker.

Fratres. Was as close as Matt ever got.

Fuck you. I had told my mom.

I promise. I had told my dad.

I don’t want Aaron Ackerman to be in love with me, and I don’t know how to stop it except to tell him that I will throw him away.

“Well, he shouldn’t be,” I reply, curtly. I’m too hungover and too utterly drained to deal with that. “How can he feel something like that when we’ve never taken that leap together.”

“I was in love with Rachel.”

“No, you had a crush on Rachel,” I tell him. “Love is different. Love is supposed to be a permanent thing. You don’t fall in and out of love. You hold onto it, and let it torment you until the end of time when you fuck it up.”

“I was in love with Rachel for years. Is what I’m saying.”

“Yeah, for years after she rejected you until the next woman gave you the time of day.”

Ross’s face falls into vague offense.

But either he’s thrown so far off that he doesn’t know how to respond, or he doesn’t have enough backbone to punch me, or some combination of both.

“Nina is so much better than Rachel ever was,” he replies, coldly, finally.

And he is simmering with rage--for that, I feel bad.

“You’re right, I’m sorry,” I tell him, and his face slackens; that’s all he wanted to hear. “I’m just stressed over all this. Obviously, sleeping with him was so stupid, and I really just don’t want to talk about it, okay? I don’t even know why I did it. I was wasted, and I was just so upset, and he was there.”

“Upset,” Ross repeats. “With Duncan?”

Also the easier response. “Yes.”

You’re lying. Shut up, Aaron.

Ross nods again, in sympathy.

If you feel close to me.

How could he love someone like me.

When I would just throw him away.

Promise me one thing.

Fuck you.

I’m so ashamed of you.

By this point, we’re outside Le Manifeste, and Ross motions to the door. “Beer and kebabs?”

“Hair of the dog,” I agree, and we go inside.

Sebastien’s there.

Like me, looking a little worse for the wear.

“They make you work the day after your birthday?” Ross greets.

“For a communist, the manager loves to make us work,” Sebastien says. In some garbled, alien accent, he adds: “‘No, Sebastien, you can have Saturday or Sunday off but not both.’”

I place my kebab on the bar top. “Can I have a Kronenbourg?”

Sebastien reaches for the pint glasses. “After last night, I’m surprised you’re still drinking.”

“I’m drinking again,” I tell him, acidly, “not still.”

He smiles. “You’re not with Aaron?”

If you feel close to me.

Fuck you.

“He doesn’t want to talk about it,” Ross says.

And I don’t.

As a rule, I don’t want to talk about anything.

As my hangover begins to bubble up to the surface.

In anticipation of my Kronenbourg, which I need like medicine.

“Uh-oh,” says Sebastien. “He’s a cute boy. Julien was jealous you went home with someone else.”

Because I’m the kind of person.

Who leaves the room.

With a fuck you.

“Can you call Julien for me?”

Sebastien puts two pints of Kronenbourg down on the bar, and smiles. “You did like him, eh?”

He doesn’t speak English, but he looks like a movie star.

And all I want to do is forget everything.

Forget Matt. Forget Becker. Forget Duncan. Forget Aaron. Forget my mom, my dad, and Nicky.

Dissolve myself in an acid bath of Julien from Antibes.

“Enough to put my dick in his ass,” I reply.

“Mixed company, mixed company,” Ross complains, theatrically putting his hands over his ears.

“I can call him for you.”

“Call him now,” I tell Sebastien. “Where does he live?”

Sebastien looks a little surprised, but he’s still smiling: still taking this in good nature. “In the Marais. Not far.”

“Good. Call him.”

Sebastien likes this. He relishes this, in a way that would have Duncan telling me I was being manic, or was that Aaron?

Ross looks at me, a little bit nervously. “What are you doing, man?”

“Call up Julien,” I tell Sebastien again, my voice louder. “Do it right now.”

Sebastien pulls his cell phone of his jeans, dials, and puts the phone to his ear. “What should I tell him?”

I cheers the air with my Kronenbourg. “Tell him we’re drinking.”

 

I put a tie on my doorknob.

Not that Ross needs a reminder where I am or what I’m doing.

It’s not for Ross. I do know that much.

“Very handsome,” Julien says, and I can’t tell if he means me or my room or something in my room, but it doesn’t matter.

He doesn’t matter.

None of this matters. Actually.

Though he looks like a devil in the light, his brooding eyes, his deep stubble.

We lock lips, and he’s a good kisser, a hungry kisser.

Shirts fly off, and his torso is already dewy with sweat, as I run my hands down his jacked arms.

I knew he was built, but he’s more toned than I’d imagined: perfect pecs and a six pack, the kind of marble slab any man would want.

I don’t want him.

We both know why he’s here.

Julien is rock hard in his jeans, and I grab his dick tightly.

Tight enough that his beautiful face contorts, he gives me a small whimper.

“I’m going to fuck your ass so hard it's going to feel like you got hit by a car tomorrow," I rasp in his ear.

He can’t understand the words.

But he understands what I’m saying.

I grab him by the shoulder, turn him towards my bed, and throw him down onto it.

Julien grunts in French, as he scrambles to undo his belt.

I grab his waistband, and yank his jeans down underneath his round, muscular butt.

He wasn’t expecting that. I push him down flat, to his chest, hike that pert ass in the air.

He gives me another groan.

“You deserve this,” I tell him, “fag.”

I put a hand on his muscular back, push him down again.

“Don’t you dare look at me.”

And he can’t understand me. It doesn’t matter what I say.

Just how I say it.

I reach for the lube, and I squirt just enough on my hard dick to get in there.

Don’t want it to be comfortable for him.

Grab onto the sides of his waist, line up my cock with his winking pink hole.

And slide myself in.

Julien grunts and jerks but he doesn’t pull away, and I’m not going to stop.

He’s whimpering now. Pain.

Because I have a big cock and not enough lube and I don’t really care if he’s hurt by any of this.

“Don’t you dare,” I rasp, in his ear. "Fuck you."

And then, I’m all the way in.

Julien gives another whimper.

I begin to fuck him. Slowly, at first, to work up my rhythm.

But I want to punish this hole.

To punish Julien.

And, for the life of me, I don’t know why, or maybe I do but only vaguely.

My right foot comes up onto the mattress, for more leverage.

I start to buck my hips harder. Faster.

Angrier.

“Fuck,” he grunts, harsh staccato to match my thrusts. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”

He keeps saying fuck, each time I slam this big cock into him.

Until they begin to fade away into the garbled gibberish of a sustained fuck.

The world shrinks to the two of us, to the violently creaking bed, to the sweat dripping down my dog tags and onto his muscular back.

The sounds, coming from his asshole, from his mouth, from my lips.

Julien has a faraway, euphoric look on his face. Loving this.

Not that it matters.

This fucking bitch.

I pull him by the waist against me, until my dick is as deep as it could possibly go.

As he buries his head in my comforter.

He moans, and I slap his ass.

And then, I continue my assault. Continue fucking him, harder, faster.

“I’m going to cum,” I announce, for no one’s benefit.

And I unleash a big fucking load inside his used fucking ass.

I collapse on his sweaty back, and.

Julien recedes back into the sea.

And I don’t. I.

Fuck you and promise me and if you feel close to me and I don’t want you outing me and then we can do this all the time and he took my world away and stop it, all of you, just stop it for the love of Jesus Fucking Fucked-Up Fucking Christ.

Julien is still on all fours, as I slowly pull out my cummy dick.

And he’s still rock hard.

I’d been hoping he came, even if it meant I’d have to wash my comforter.

Julien rolls onto his back, looks up at me with a smile, and starts to stoke his dick.

But I just want him out of my life.

“Get your pants on,” I say. I pick up his jeans, crumble them into a ball, and hurl them at Julien. “Now. Get out.”

Julien looks momentarily startled, but he seems to think this is part of the game.

Which it isn’t.

Julien gives me a sly, sexy smile, and he pulls back on his jeans, without his underwear. I don’t know where those have fallen.

I throw him his shirt next, and he puts that on too.

And I don’t care. I pull on the closest pair of gym shorts and a t-shirt that I can find on the floor, and walk over to the door.

I pull it open.

“Just go,” I tell him. “Get out!”

And Aaron, across the hall, opens his door.

Because he had seen the tie, and was waiting. For me.

Which seemed like a better idea when I wanted everything to recede into nothing, before only Julien did.

Aaron gives me a wry, thin, exceptionally unforgiving smile.

“Aaron,” I say, as Julien appears next to me, “you remember Julien from last night?”

“I remember lots of things.”

Julien, even on the other side of a language barrier, sizes up the situation pretty abruptly, and gives me a halting, stumbling goodbye. Goes in for a kiss, thinks better of it, gives me a weird cheek press.

Before he hurries down the hall, zipping up his pants.

Gone and cast away.

“Well,” he says, finally, still staring down the hallway. “I suppose it’s a good thing I didn’t order those china patterns.”

I pretend to take that literally. “Surely you don’t think that us banging one out means we’re getting married.”

“I was making a joke,” he replies, without humor. “To lighten the mood, because the way I see it: you snuck out of bed sometime during the night, you avoid me all morning, and now I see you smelling like sex and stale beer at four o’clock in the afternoon with the guy you rejected last night. And I’m not an idiot, Kevin. I know what you’re trying to do.”’

And. My heart breaks.

Because I’ve been him. So many times.

Without ever even realizing it.

“I’m not trying to do anything,” I whisper.

“Bullshit,” he says. “It’s all such bullshit.”

And he looks like he’s about to cry, but also like he’s adamantly not going to cry in front of me.

“I can’t give you what you want,” I tell him, finally, softly. “I’m sorry.”

Aaron shakes his head, throws his head back. “You know what your problem is?”

I’m so ashamed. Of you.

Fuck you.

“I know I have lots of problems.”

“Spare me the fake introspection,” he replies. “You want someone who loves you less than you love them because that gives you all the power. To break their heart and throw them away and not have to pretend that you’ve done anything wrong to anyone but yourself. AND IT DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY, KEVIN!”

We stare at each other for a few more horrifying seconds, and he turns around and slams his door in my face.

And then reopens it. Because apparently he’s not done.

“I,” he says, deflating just a bit. “I’m sorry.”

And that catches me off-guard.

“Whatever,” he says, throwing his head back again. “I’m sorry. I’ve been seriously crushing on you for the longest time, and I was just so glad I finally got you into bed that I didn’t even stop to think...” His voice trails off. I’m not sure what else to say, but he doesn’t give me very long to think. “It’s okay. I know these aren’t reciprocated feelings.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“No, no,” he says, with a nonchalant shrug. “You very clearly did.”

“It was a drunken night, but I hope we can just keep it in the past. And, you know, turn the page.”

“Yeah,” he replies. “I’m not the kind of guy who...” He purses his lips again, shakes his head. “Anyway. It’s not your problem how I feel.”

My mom just died.

I would say.

And he would melt, and he would hug me, and all would be explained and forgiven.

“I’m sorry,” I say, instead. “I wish I could…”

He closes his eyes and shakes his head. “No. Don’t. Unlike you, I know to listen the first time when a guy he tells me he doesn’t want to be with me.”

And. Shit. That hit me harder than I thought it would.

Because when had I ever done that?

Do I want someone who loves me just a little bit less than I love them?

So I get to bear the heartbreak?

I can’t entirely understand Aaron.

If you like someone, if you want someone--how can you just turn off emotions like a faucet?

We’re both quiet. Awkward.

“Anyway, I booked us all a hostel for Berlin,” he tells me, quietly. “March 14 through 16.”

“I can still go?”

“I told you that you can go,” he says, firmly, “and I don’t break promises once I make them.”

He pauses, as if to let me think about the consequences of my actions, which of course I do.

Promise me one thing.

With a pang of.

I’m sorry that I threw you away, I want to tell him, but you’ll thank me that it’s now and not a year from now.

“Anyway, you owe me fourteen euro for the room,” Aaron continues, “and I forwarded you my Ryanair confirmation email, but you’ll have to book the flight yourself.”

“Thank you. Aaron. I mean that.”

“Yeah, well, you’ll get to avoid your little friend. Don’t worry about that.”

Matt.

Who has gone through so many different labels in my own head, none of which have been “little friend.”

“Thanks.”

“And you can keep him in your ever-growing lockbox of Things to Never Discuss.”

He just wouldn’t take no for an answer.

I know it’s all true. Isn’t it.

“High school drama,” I reply, finally. “It’s not a big deal.”

I try to see Lena in her prom dress, but I only see her at the end.

And Aaron is staring at me. A smirk on his face. Silently psychoanalyzing me, in an obvious way, which is the kind of thing I hate.

“I just realized something,” he says. “You’ve always been the smartest person in the room, haven’t you?”

I bristle at that. “I don’t know what that means.”

“It means nothing,” he replies. “Anyway, Ross texted me to come down to Le Manifeste, if you want another drink. I don’t know if you need it or not.”

“I just came from there,” but that’s not a no, and Aaron knows it’s not a no, and I follow him downstairs in stony silence.

Because I do want a drink.

If only to forget.

Everything.

If sex can’t wash it out to sea, a beer or twelve certainly can.

I learned something from Linda Malley.

“Finally,” Ross says, taking a sip of his half-finished beer.

Nina’s next to him now.

When Julien and I left him abruptly, he didn’t waste any time.

Sébastien takes his rag, wipes down the bar in front of us. But really more to insert himself in the conversation. To me: “So how was things?”

With Julien, he means, and he think he’s being coy.

All four of us exchange uncomfortable looks at Sébastien, then back at each other.

“It was fine,” I tell him, “and then Aaron and I had a good chat.”

“No more cute couple?” Sébastien says, with a smile.

“Nope, just two ugly drunkards," Aaron replies, flatly, "dealing with a drunken mistake like adults."

“Duncan and I began as a drunk mistake,” Sébastien says. “You never know. Now, love.”

We all exchange more uncomfortable looks.

“Yeah,” I say, because I’m obviously the one that has to say something. “You guys make it work, I guess.” And I think about. It. Duncan. The two of them. “But are you happy together?”

Aaron shuffles on his barstool, refuses to look at me or Sébastien, and I realize I shouldn’t have pried like this. I realize it’s a complete overstep of everything.

But. I did.

Sébastien looks at me, slight confusion, as if he’s doubting his own translation of my words. “We’re happy,” he replies. “Three years together. It’s not steamy but it’s happy.”

And I never know if it’s Sébastien’s imperfect English: not steamy, but happy.

Are they happy? Am I Duncan’s steam—the sexual being that keeps him satisfied, so he can go to some preppy Sunday brunch with Sébastien and be happy?

I’m such a fucking mess.

Because.

There are a million reasons. Aren’t there.

There’s not one relationship I’ve had in my entire mess.

That hasn’t ended. With Fuck you.

Why is everything a fucking merry-go-round--everything the same, again, and again, and again.

When's the time to get off, jump to the part where I can be happy not steamy.

There’s a gulf of silence. As no one quite knows what to say.

“Oh, I love this song,” Ross helps, too obviously.

It’s “Layla” playing. Derek and the Dominos.

And I do remember: the library, Fort Sill. With Dad, checking out cassettes.

Sitting me down on the carpet in our little living room, and telling me: “This is the greatest rock song of all time.”

Forgot the context, exactly: that I'd told him Foo Fighters were the greatest rock band of all time, or something.

My dad wasn’t wrong. About the first half of “Layla,” anyway.

The second half, the piano coda, I couldn’t listen to.

The slide guitar was out of tune, and was wreaking havoc on what I would later self-diagnose as an unhealthy perfectionism magnified by obsessive-compulsive disorder.

“That’s Duane Allman,” he told me, stern judgment of apostasy. “He’s not out of tune.”

He is, in fact, playing out of tune.

I would read online, years after my dad died.

“The ending is not out of tune,” Ross replies to me, as scandalized as my dad.

“Just wait for the piano part to start,” I tell him. “And listen to the slide guitar. Listen very closely.”

“You’re nuts, man,” he replies. “It’s one of the best songs of all time.”

“See, I’d like the beginning. If they left off the whole second half.”

“No, you need both halves,” Ross says. “Listen. He’s begging her to love him. And…” He waits a few seconds, for the guitar riff to end and the piano coda to start. “...nirvana. She does.”

He and Nina make cooing eyes.

Aaron rolls his, down with love. “Or it’s just a song and you two are overthinking everything.”

“No, she did love him,” I tell him. “He wrote it for Patti Boyd. He stole her away from George Harrison.”

In an alternate universe, I steal Duncan away.

To Tahiti. Naked on the sand.

In an alternate universe, I cuddle up with Becker.

My dad sings at our wedding.

I dance to “My Girl” with my mom.

Matt Barber and I kiss in a Berkeley apartment.

You make such a cute couple, our friend Nina would say.

Or Aaron and I make eyes and say things like, "Nirvana: he does," and we both mean it.

But there’s none of that. Nothing but.

Nothing.

“And the guy who wrote the piano part is in jail for going crazy and murdering his mother,” Ross adds. “Fun fact.”

“‘Nirvana,’” Aaron mocks.

Copyright © 2018-2020 oat327; All Rights Reserved.
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Chapter Comments

Amazing chapter! Karma is a bitch and quite a different perspective on Kevin and Becker’s phone call. Loving both stories!  Thank you!

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For the longest time I wasn’t really sold on this story.. It just never really caught me. But this chapter changed that. Suddenly all the flashbacks gelled into a whole and really worked to bring Kevin’s development home to me. I’m not naive enough to think is the last word in that development but this chapter finally made me fully invested in it.

Maybe the problem has been that Becker’s experience is so much more similar to my own.. Good literature is characterized by its ability to make us see the world from different perspectives than our own. In his you have succeeded.

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This is a gut wrenching chapter in the complicated, tortured world of Kevin Malley. I’m really enjoying this. Each chapter is worth waiting for. 

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As much as I wish Kevin could find peace within himself, I feel that until he faces and conquers those demons within, he will be forever broken......Adam seems to be too rigid and controlled by opinions of others to be a supportive and nurturing partner.............That being said............I truly want them to find some common ground on which they can develop a healthy relationship; both need the other..........the hell to all who would interfere.............

Great chapter, as always..............Love these guys, even when they (you) make me crazy.................Mike

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17 hours ago, mfa607 said:

Amazing chapter! Karma is a bitch and quite a different perspective on Kevin and Becker’s phone call. Loving both stories!  Thank you!

It’s been tough juggling these two stories, because there are two moments where the stories cross over—the phone call, and another one that’s coming in chapter 9 of this story (I think.) This story’s set between January and March 2007, and Becker’s semester is set between January and May 2007, so I’ve had to slow roll a bit to keep consistency. Happy you’re enjoying both!

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9 hours ago, Paideia said:

For the longest time I wasn’t really sold on this story.. It just never really caught me. But this chapter changed that. Suddenly all the flashbacks gelled into a whole and really worked to bring Kevin’s development home to me. I’m not naive enough to think is the last word in that development but this chapter finally made me fully invested in it.

Maybe the problem has been that Becker’s experience is so much more similar to my own.. Good literature is characterized by its ability to make us see the world from different perspectives than our own. In his you have succeeded.

Thanks, and glad you’re enjoying it now! I also think Becker’s experiences are a bit more universal—it’s based (loosely) off my own college experience, for what it’s worth. Kevin’s been harder to write, because he’s a much darker character wrestling with much bigger problems. But it’s been fun, for the same reason: to step into a different perspective.

But there’s still plenty more in this story: ~3 more chapters!

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7 hours ago, Parker Owens said:

This is a gut wrenching chapter in the complicated, tortured world of Kevin Malley. I’m really enjoying this. Each chapter is worth waiting for. 

Happy it’s worth the (sometimes extremely long) wait. It was a tough chapter to write, mostly because I couldn’t get the Duncan conversation right… it went through about 5 different iterations and settings. Still not convinced it’s perfect (but it’s also not the last we’re seeing of Duncan.)

That said, I wish it could say it gets less complicated and tortured in the final few chapters, but…

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1 hour ago, flamingo136 said:

As much as I wish Kevin could find peace within himself, I feel that until he faces and conquers those demons within, he will be forever broken......Adam seems to be too rigid and controlled by opinions of others to be a supportive and nurturing partner.............That being said............I truly want them to find some common ground on which they can develop a healthy relationship; both need the other..........the hell to all who would interfere.............

Great chapter, as always..............Love these guys, even when they (you) make me crazy.................Mike

One big difference between Kevin and Becker—at least, in terms of writing them—is that Kevin is a little more self-aware. Part of his growth in this story is coming to terms with the fact that he can’t keep running and hiding from his demons, but I think he’s making progress. Slowly but surely.

And Becker and Kevin spend plenty of time making me crazy too, don’t worry!

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2 minutes ago, oat327 said:

Haha, a good wow I hope!

Yes a very good wow! Please don't make us wait too long for the next chapter. 

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Just now, Hubert11 said:

Yes a very good wow! Please don't make us wait too long for the next chapter. 

Hopefully won't be too long a wait! I've had a lot of ebbs and flows with writing this year, but part of that's when I get stuck. (Luckily, the next few chapters are pretty well set-up, but who knows for sure.) Glad you're liking it though!

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Such a good chapter! Really glad Kevin realized he couldn't keep doing this to himself.

I also wanted to punch out Duncan for giving him the "When you're my age" line. Duncan, I'm 33. I'm basically your age. And you can go fuck yourself!

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13 hours ago, methodwriter85 said:

Such a good chapter! Really glad Kevin realized he couldn't keep doing this to himself.

I also wanted to punch out Duncan for giving him the "When you're my age" line. Duncan, I'm 33. I'm basically your age. And you can go fuck yourself!

Haha, I’m 31, and that line was definitely targeted at my 21-year-old self, who was substantially more of an idiot. I always imagined that Duncan (not incorrectly) sees Kevin as a young guy getting too attached to essentially a vacation fling.

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3 hours ago, Dominic C said:

I’ve always loved Kevin more than. Becker.  Outstanding writing.   Awesome chapter.  Can’t wait for more. 

They’re different, right? I started writing Becker 6(!) years ago when I was only two years out of college, with no intention of ever letting anyone see it—just to get words on a page. Which is why it’s semi-autobiographical and the first few chapters read almost memoir-like.

Kevin’s less like me than Becker is, but I think he’s more fun to explore as a character: he’s deeper, darker, and funnier, and the stakes are higher. (And, honestly, the editing is just so much better in this story—there are whole chapters of Becker that should’ve wound up on the cutting room floor.)
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Another great chapter! Going to try to not go in another one of my rants about how much I love these two stories and how well you show that one situation really has several different points off view. Instead I’m going to say how I had a little mini freak out over the two tie bits this chapter finely confirmed. 

1) Rob and Ryan are doing it! Just WOW! My mind is blown! I’ve had My suspicions about Rob from the Becker story, but thought I was probably wrong, but just wow! And the “I’m just a little bit bi sometimes” comment. Oh my god! I laughed so hard! Heard that one a few times before... loved it. Wonder if we are going to discover any more closeted Iota Chis??? Hehe, like I don’t know... (coughing Chris Baker  Coughing)...

2) We officially got confirmed that Ryan knows about Becker! You’ve hinted about this a few times but nice to get it confirmed. Though it leaves me wondering about why he threw that Kevin had slept with Austin Berkowitz in Becker’s face the way he did. Like was he trying to get Becker to out himself? Or tell him that he knew? Or just to hurt him for hurting Kevin(in Ryan’s mind)?

Edited by Marius
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18 minutes ago, Marius said:

Another great chapter! Going to try to not go in another one of my rants about how much I love these two stories and how well you show that one situation really has several different points off view. Instead I’m going to say how I had a little mini freak out over the two tie bits this chapter finely confirmed. 

1) Rob and Ryan are doing it! Just WOW! My mind is blown! I’ve had My suspicions about Rob from the Becker story, but thought I was probably wrong, but just wow! And the “I’m just a little bit bi sometimes” comment. Oh my god! I laughed so hard! Heard that one a few times before... loved it. Wonder if we are going to discover any more closeted Iota Chis??? Hehe, like I don’t know... (coughing Chris Baker  Coughing)...

2) We officially got confirmed that Ryan knows about Becker! You’ve hinted about this a few times but nice to get it confirmed. Though it leaves me wondering about why he threw that Kevin had slept with Austin Berkowitz in Becker’s face the way he did. Like was he trying to get Becker to out himself? Or tell him that he knew? Or just to hurt him for hurting Kevin(in Ryan’s mind)?

1) So Rob and Ryan was totally something I had going on in the background since they were introduced (there are little hints whenever they're in a scene together in "Becker," and the scene with Rob's very Christian parents in St. Louis was also part of his secret character development.) It was going to be a late reveal in Becker's senior year but, when I revisited this particular scene, I realized that Kevin would absolutely have known they came into the room to hook up. That said, I can't reveal which--if any--other Iota Chis are gay... but sorry to disappoint: Chris Baker is straight--he's based off a friend of mine from college that really was just that bad with women.

2) Ryan is one of my favorite minor characters, because he's kind of the opposite of Becker--unapologetically gay, but still one of the boys, and one of those people who might not say much but always knows exactly what the deal is. I imagine that he has impeccable gaydar--would've guessed Becker was gay from the moment he met him, and figured out Kevin fairly quickly too. (And sniffed out Rob too, obviously.) That said, he suspects Kevin and Becker are banging, but he certainly doesn't know that they're in an actual romantic relationship. Becker obsessed about the eventual Austin-Kevin reveal but, in Ryan's mind, I don't think he was thinking about Becker at all when he said it.

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Yha, it was some of those things I kind of picked up on. But you know, one can never be sure until the writer unveils it, point of proof Baker being straight. I was kind of shipping Becker & Baker as one of my main ships at the moment. Guess that ship will never be, well, well. Hope Baker finds himself a girlfriend then, and same for your friend, he seems like to good of a guy to not experience love. Think you made the right call with including it to the story at this point, for not to mention the way you put it in there, was extremely satisfying as a reader. 😃

Yha, I like Ryan too, I see some of myself in him at that age. I kind of feel though that both Ryan an Becker represents the before and after one comes out for our generation. The freakin out about people knowing and then the not caring who knows cause it’s just a part of you, and you’re still one of the bros. Sorry, only meant that we got confirmed that he figured out Becker likes guys, not how much of it he’s caught on to. I guess I see what you mean, guess I just got to caught up in Becker’s narrative and paranoia. 

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On 9/20/2019 at 7:56 PM, Marius said:

Yha, it was some of those things I kind of picked up on. But you know, one can never be sure until the writer unveils it, point of proof Baker being straight. I was kind of shipping Becker & Baker as one of my main ships at the moment. Guess that ship will never be, well, well. Hope Baker finds himself a girlfriend then, and same for your friend, he seems like to good of a guy to not experience love. Think you made the right call with including it to the story at this point, for not to mention the way you put it in there, was extremely satisfying as a reader. 😃

Yha, I like Ryan too, I see some of myself in him at that age. I kind of feel though that both Ryan an Becker represents the before and after one comes out for our generation. The freakin out about people knowing and then the not caring who knows cause it’s just a part of you, and you’re still one of the bros. Sorry, only meant that we got confirmed that he figured out Becker likes guys, not how much of it he’s caught on to. I guess I see what you mean, guess I just got to caught up in Becker’s narrative and paranoia. 

Haha, sorry to disappoint about Becker and Baker. (If it's any consolation, the guy Baker is loosely based on is married now.) Most secondary characters, including Baker, do get at least one arc, so there's still a lot to come with him.

And yeah, I agree: Ryan's openness is definitely in contrast to Becker's closetedness... and I think it is a generational thing too (ugh, are we a different generation? I guess so.) Becker's intrigued by the specter of an openly gay guy in his fraternity, but also very threatened by it. (And, of course, openly gay Austin is now in the fraternity as well.)

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On 9/24/2019 at 9:29 PM, oat327 said:

Haha, sorry to disappoint about Becker and Baker. (If it's any consolation, the guy Baker is loosely based on is married now.) Most secondary characters, including Baker, do get at least one arc, so there's still a lot to come with him.

And yeah, I agree: Ryan's openness is definitely in contrast to Becker's closetedness... and I think it is a generational thing too (ugh, are we a different generation? I guess so.) Becker's intrigued by the specter of an openly gay guy in his fraternity, but also very threatened by it. (And, of course, openly gay Austin is now in the fraternity as well.)

Hehe, well knowing the guy that loosely inspired Baker found love makes me happy. Knowing that gives me hope that we might still get to see him find some happiness in the book as well. 

Hehe, well fortunately for the kids in college now I do think most has it a lot easier when it comes to facing their sexuality than we did back then (god I feel old saying that, and we’re barely past 30). Though I started my coming out in high school I can still relate to Becker’s paranoia. The not being ashamed but still not wanting people to know. It took me a few years to fully come out and come to the point were I would say I find myself relating to Ryan. Open and doing what I want because it’s nobody’s business.

Looking forward to the next chapter to see what you got in store for us man!

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