As days went by, Alex noticed the atmosphere in the Hartley household had slowly started to improve. His mom was now much more pleasant and friendly with him - almost back to normal. But sometimes, when she wasn’t looking, he would notice a hint of sadness in her face that wasn’t there before. It pained him to know he was the one to cause it with his reckless behavior.
His dad was seemingly the same as always - talkative and witty, but strict at the same time. Alex knew very well it would only take one minor slip-up from him, and his dad would unleash hell on him. However, he also fully intended to keep his promise and not get into any more trouble.
Ever since he woke up that Saturday, all he managed to do was lie in his bed, stare at the ceiling and think - about his job, college, Jeremy and - that night with Brandon.
The sex was amazing, there was no doubt about that. Brandon was hot and he knew what he was doing, but… There’s always a but.
Was he really having sex with Brandon if Jeremy’s face kept popping up in his mind every ten seconds?
The way he saw it, he had two options. One was to keep seeing Brandon casually, just like the many fuck buddies he had in college. He could tell the guy he wants nothing serious, just the occasional sex, and see what he thinks about it.
The other was to break it off. But then what? That was the million dollar question.
I need to talk to them, Alex decided, opening his Facebook to send messages to Richie and Niall. Even though they hadn’t seen each other since last summer, they regularly kept in touch. Of course, both guys new Alex was gay, as they were the first persons he came out to back in high school.
Their relationship had only changed for the better since then. Sure, they loved to tease him just as they did each other, but it was all in good humor. And whenever anyone was giving Alex a hard time for being gay, Richie and Niall were there to stand up for him.
- Hey man, whats up? Call me when u see this, gotta talk.
Alex typed in and sent the same message to both of his friends.
I wonder what they’re doing right now. I hope they come back this summer, or at least one of them, Alex thought, remembering how inseparable they used to be. He missed them dearly and couldn’t help but wonder what will happen when they all graduate. Will they see each other again or move away and disconnect from each other, like Jeremy and he did?
Isn’t it ironic - Alex thought - how Jeremy is now the only one here with me? Still, I definitely can’t talk to him about this problem.
After half an hour of no reply - both of his friends were offline - he finally chose his last resort. His sister Liz.
“Hey, got a minute?” Alex asked his sister, hoping to talk to her while she was in a good mood. She wasn’t always up for chatting, especially lately. With her upcoming high school graduation and starting college in the autumn, Alex noticed she was rather tense most of the time. Even so, talking to her was better than being alone with his thoughts. That’s what he’d been doing all morning and he’d had enough of it.
“Uh, sure, what’s up?” Liz replied as she opened the door to her room, leaving it open for Alex to follow.
Closing the door behind him, Alex sat on the bed beside her, looking at the Imagine Dragons poster on her wall. Wow, her taste in music is really something, he thought. He was trying to formulate what he wanted to ask her, but didn’t know where to begin. Talking to his friends would be so much easier, but they chose just the perfect time to be offline!
“Come on, spill it,” Liz said, seeing that her brother was still sitting quietly, not knowing what to say.
“Ughh, this is gonna sound stupid,” he sighed, getting mentally ready for his sister’s probing questions and teasing.
“Well, it’s you, so probably,” she smirked.
“Hilarious, I totally did not see that coming,” Alex rolled his eyes. “Anyway, I was wondering… have you ever had a crush on someone who’s… not available?”
This was the first time he had said it out loud, acknowledging his feelings and letting them out in the open. It all suddenly felt scary and more real.
“Of course, all the time,” Liz frowned. “Harry Styles, Ryan Reynolds...”
“Not like that!” Alex groaned, interrupting her before she went further into her endless list of male celebrities she fancied at some point in her life. “I meant someone you actually know in real life.”
“Oh. No, not really. Why, who are you crushing on?”
“It doesn’t matter…”
“Come on, don’t be a prick. You started it, now tell me, it’s clearly a big deal to you,” Liz insisted.
“It’s Jeremy,” Alex said after a pause, as Liz raised her eyebrows in surprise. “Did you know he had a girlfriend?”
“No, I had no clue. But I saw the guy only twice, so…” she shrugged. “But Jeremy, really? I didn’t think he’d be your type.”
“He’s…” Alex suddenly stopped, not knowing how to finish the sentence. How does he even begin to explain his feelings toward the guy when he wasn’t even sure what he felt? “He’s definitely my type,” he finally added as his lips drew into a smile.
“Well, sorry to say this, but if he’s straight, there’s really nothing you can do. Just don’t tell me you’re one of those gays who think they can convert straight guys,” she said, rolling her eyes.
“Totally, that’s my favorite hobby,” Alex chuckled. “Ugh, it sucks, that’s all I can say.”
“I’m sorry, bro,” Liz scooted closer and gave him a look of understanding and compassion. “But, wait a minute, what about Brandon?”
Alex sighed, thinking about the night they spent together a few days ago. He couldn’t deny their sexual chemistry, but the problem is there was nothing more than that.
“I don’t know. He’s hot, but…” Alex shrugged, expecting Liz to fill in the blanks.
That was the thing about talking to her. She was too smart and would often ask tough questions, but that also meant she would know what you’re thinking, so you didn’t have to go through the tedious process of explaining her everything.
“So, if you don’t feel anything for him, you gotta tell him,” she said bluntly.
“I know,” Alex nodded, wondering why he even asked her for advice. He knew what she was going to say and he agreed with her. But it was one thing to know what to do, and a whole other thing to actually do it. How do you suddenly talk about feelings when you’ve never had a serious relationship in your life? Was he even capable of something like that?
To Alex, it seemed like the most difficult thing in the world.
Even though the weather was lousy all day, with heavy grey clouds blocking even the tiniest ray of sunlight, Alex opted to go for a long walk to the Promenade. Jeremy was supposed to be off that afternoon since his mom was working a shift in the bakery, so maybe they’d have time to catch up.
Now, as he was walking down the Promenade, Alex looked at the ominous clouds and started to think if it was a bad idea to go out without a jacket and an umbrella. Oh, whatever, I’ll just call a cab if it gets really bad, he decided and kept on walking.
As he saw Jeremy and Natalie on the street near the Appleton bakery, Alex unconsciously ran his fingers through his hair, fixing it. The two seemed to be saying goodbye to each other. Observing them, Alex was fully aware of the weird feeling in his stomach when he saw Natalie kiss Jeremy on the lips and gently touch his cheek.
“Hey guys, how are you?” he waved as he approached them.
“Hey, X,” Jeremy smiled, stepping closer to his friend and giving him a hug.
“Hi,” Natalie said, nodding. “Well, you guys have fun. I better hurry if I’m gonna catch the bus.”
“Ok, I’ll see you soon,” Jeremy replied, waving her off.
“See ya,” Alex joined in.
As the girl left in a hurry in the direction of a nearby bus stop, Alex turned to Jeremy and smiled.
“I hope it’s not a bad time. I know I didn’t call, I just wanted to take a walk and I knew you weren’t working now.”
“Yeah, it’s totally fine. Mom’s doing the shift so I’m free as a bird,” Jeremy replied as they started strolling down the street. “And… I was going to call you anyway. I wanted to talk to you in private. There’s always someone around and we never really got the chance to be alone.”
“Sure. Is it something serious?” Alex asked, frowning.
“Uh, kinda,” Jeremy whispered, looking around at all the people passing by. “Let’s go somewhere a bit more private, ok?”
Making a left turn, the guys soon found themselves in a nearby park. With just a few people in the distance, walking their dogs or listening to music on their earphones, the place was mostly deserted. Finding a bench, the two friends sat down.
Alex looked curiously at his friend, as if he’d be able to divine his secrets just by looking into his eyes. Alas, no such luck.
“You ok?” Jeremy giggled. “You’re looking at me all weird.”
“Oh, sorry,” Alex shook his head. “I got distracted for a second. What did you wanna tell me?”
“Well, I wanted to apologize for… not being completely honest with you,” Jeremy spoke timidly, looking at the ground.
“What do you mean?”
“Well… The truth is, Natalie isn’t really my girlfriend. We’re pretending because my mom… she doesn’t know-”
“...that you’re gay?” Alex finished the sentence for him.
“Yes,” Jeremy nodded sadly. “I can’t tell her, I just… can’t.”
Alex nodded in understanding, placing a hand on the guy’s back, carefully as if he was afraid of breaking him. He imagined he would feel ecstatic if this moment ever came, but the truth was, he was sad. He couldn’t help but feel sorry for Jeremy for having to hide who he is from his family.
Alex never had such problems as his family and friends accepted him right away, never making a big deal of his sexuality. Obviously, he knew not all people were so accepting, but he had never been personally affected by it until now.
“Jer, it’s ok. It’s your life, you can tell her whenever you’re ready.”
“I don’t know if I ever can.”
“Is she… not ok with gay people?” Alex asked, avoiding using the word homophobic. He didn’t want Jeremy to hurt even more. “She doesn’t seem that way.”
“You don’t know her. She keeps going on about wanting me to get married and give her grandchildren. She’s very old-fashioned,” Jeremy sighed, finally daring to look Alex in the eyes. “She doesn’t approve of any type of… ‘alternative lifestyle’.”
As they made eye-contact, Alex noticed a wet stain on his friend’s cheek and reached out, wiping it tenderly with his finger.
“Hey, it’s ok, don’t cry,” he said softly.
“I’m not crying,” Jeremy replied, giving him a confused look. Even though he was feeling down, he hadn’t reached the point of crying just yet.
“Oh, sorry, must be…” As Alex looked up, he realized it was beginning to rain. “Yeah, we better find shelter.”
Barely a minute later, what were just a few drops at first, turned into a full-blown downpour. Running as fast as they could, the boys reached a roofed passage in the street right next to the park, but it was too late. They were already soaking wet, trying to catch their breath after the impromptu sprint they had to perform.
“Damn it,” Alex laughed as he leaned on the wall, “I knew I should’ve brought an umbrella!”
Looking at the heavy rain outside, Jeremy had to giggle. “Yeah, I don’t think an umbrella would help you there, man!”
Even though they were soaking wet and stranded, the boys laughed together, having already forgotten their discussion from a minute ago.
Alex observed Jeremy, standing in front of him all soaked. His brown hair looked almost black now that it was wet. He looks cute with dark hair, Alex thought, making an almost invisible smile that quickly turned into a frown when he saw Jeremy start to tremble.
“Hey, are you cold?” he asked, stepping closer and wrapping his arms around him.
“Well, I am wet,” Jeremy chuckled, causing the same reaction in Alex.
“I’ll call us a cab, ok?”
“I doubt we’ll get one in this weather.”
“Yeah, you’re right. I’ll call dad to come pick us up. It’s Saturday, he should be home right now,” Alex suggested, taking his phone out of his pocket. Luckily, at least the phone didn’t get wet.
Less than fifteen minutes later, the boys were in the back seat of Nicholas’ car, grateful to be somewhere dry again.
“Mmmm that feels good,” Alex moaned when his dad turned on the heating.
“Thanks, Mr. Hartley,” Jeremy nodded in appreciation. “You sure were fast!”
“No problem, boys, glad I could help,” Alex’s dad nodded back, keeping his eyes firmly on the road. Thankfully, traffic was light in that part of town, so they didn’t have much problem getting back home despite the torrential rain that seemed determined to flood the entire town.
In no time, the two friends were in Alex’s room. Like a good host, Alex opened his closet, showing Jeremy where his t-shirts and pants laid.
“We should change out of these wet clothes. Here, you can borrow anything you want,” Alex said and proceeded to take his shirt off with no hesitation. “Geez, it’s all sticky.”
As he finally managed to pull the wet t-shirt off his body, he found Jeremy looking at him. Realizing he was staring, the guy blushed and gave a nervous chuckle.
“Wow, you look really good,” Jeremy spoke in a soft voice.
“Thanks. I like working out,” Alex replied, smiling, as he dried his body with a towel. He suddenly started to feel shy, which was something that rarely happened to him, if ever.
Even though Jeremy had picked out a t-shirt and sweatpants, he made no effort to start changing.
“Uh, if you’d rather change in the bathroom, it’s the last door on the left,” Alex offered, realizing his friend was probably uncomfortable stripping in front of him. “Or I can just turn around. I promise I won’t peek,” he added with a mischievous grin in an attempt to lighten the mood.
“Ok then,” Jeremy let out a chuckle. “If you promise.”
“Scout’s honor,” Alex said, raising a hand.
As he turned around, Jeremy took of his clothes and dried himself with a large, fluffy towel Alex had brought him.
“Thanks, feels nice to be dry again,” he finally said once he finished changing.
“Hey, you look good in my clothes,” Alex grinned, seeing that Jeremy had picked out one of his favorite navy blue t-shirts.
“They look better on you. I’ve never even been to a gym,” Jeremy admitted. Alex could notice a slight blush on his cheeks.
“I think you look really nice,” he replied honestly, and Jeremy’s cheeks turned even redder.
Approaching him, Alex stopped when he was just one step away from him. The two friends looked at each other hesitantly, neither making a move.
It was as if there was an invisible barrier between them, separating them. Maybe if I just lean in and close my eyes, our lips will meet and the barrier will disappear, Alex thought. I just need some courage. A lot of courage.