Approaching Jeremy, 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.
Unfortunately, it didn’t come.
After a moment of awkward silence, Jeremy treated Alex with a cute crooked smile that warmed the guy’s heart and awakened the butterflies in his stomach. Even if he wanted to, Alex could no longer deny to himself what he was feeling.
“So,” Jeremy uttered slowly, raising a hand and running his fingers through his curly locks, still damp from the rain. “Can I dry my hair?”
“Uh, sure, the hair dryer is in the bathroom. Top shelf,” Alex explained, showing Jeremy the way.
Well, the moment is gone, he thought as he sat on the bed, waiting for his guest to return. Maybe it’s for the best. Perhaps I’m just seeing what I want to see. Just because he came out to me doesn’t mean he’s interested.
Except I’m almost sure he is.
Ugh, I wish I hadn’t told him I never had a long-term relationship. Now he’s going to think I’m all about hooking up. Perhaps that’s exactly what he’s looking for? Oh God, who knows what else I told him about myself? Nervous about having made a bad impression, Alex began replaying every conversation they had in the last few weeks, picking apart every word he said.
In an attempt to distract himself from the utter mess his brain was in, he finally took his phone and started quickly tapping and scrolling on the screen. He almost didn’t even notice when a minute later Jeremy opened the door and came back in, this time with dry hair.
“Hey, I’m all done,” he said, sitting on the bed next to Alex. “Whatcha doing?”
“Oh, nothing,” Alex replied, clumsily locking his phone as fast as he could and throwing it behind a pillow before Jeremy could take a glance at it. Getting up, he went to his desk, opened one of the drawers and pulled out something.
“Been meaning to show you this - look what I found the other day,” he turned to Jeremy with a smile and handed him an old comic book that was clearly worn out and creased in places. It was obviously read many times.
As Jeremy’s eyes fell upon it, they went wide as saucers and his lips drew into a happy grin.
“Aquaman! Man, I haven’t read it in years!”
“Me neither. Look at the date, it’s from thirteen years ago. I remember back then, you said it was your favorite, right?”
“Yeah,” Jeremy nodded, giving Alex a quick glance before looking back at the comic, browsing through it.
As he remembered the images and the storylines, memories came back of the time when he first read it. Back then he was in primary school and in the closet, without even knowing what it meant or why it was a big deal. But now that he wanted out, he couldn’t. Not without possibly losing his mom.
Back then, he also had a dad. Funny thing is he always thought he’d come out to his father first. They were always close and Jeremy never even knew how much he counted on him until he was gone. Now he’ll never know.
“Hey, is everything ok?” Alex asked, seeing a distant, pensive look on his friend’s face.
“Yeah, I was just thinking about mom and dad,” Jeremy shook his head, willing himself not to shed any tears in front of Alex.
“I’m sorry about your dad,” Alex tried to console him, placing a hand on his back. “Did he know about you being gay?”
“No, I never told him. You know, I had this plan, that I would tell him first and then he’d help me with mom. He’d have been ok with it, I know it.”
“Maybe she can still surprise you. What about your sister?”
“Nah, I never told her either. I think she might know, though,” Jeremy shrugged.
“If you decide to tell your mom, I can ask my mom to go and talk to her if you want. My parents have been very cool with it,” Alex offered. For him, the coming out process was not a big deal and he wished it could be the same for everyone. Especially Jeremy. He felt so bad and couldn’t even imagine how anxious the poor guy must be, dreading to reveal his true feelings to his own family.
“Thanks, X,” Jeremy attempted a smile.
“Hey, what about your friend, Natalie? When did you guys meet?” Alex inquired, feeling weird at the very mention of her name. Was it jealousy? But she’s not even his actual girlfriend, he tried to rationalize. It’s silly, she’s just a friend who’s helping him. Still, she was the one that got to kiss him.
“Oh, we met back in high school. I came out to her a year later, though she says she suspected right away,” Jeremy replied, rolling his eyes. “She likes to pretend she knows everything. But she’s been really good, helping me with mom. I know I probably shouldn’t be doing it, but this gets her off my back,” he added, seeing that Alex was about to interject.
“No, I wasn’t going to say that. I was just gonna ask - um, is Natalie aware it’s all pretend?”
“Of course, what do you mean?” Jeremy was puzzled at the question.
“Well, don’t get me wrong, but she kissed you on the street today when your mom was nowhere around. The other day as well, in the bakery. Maybe she’d like for this to be more than what it really is,” Alex explained his suspicions. As he heard himself say it, he realized it sounded a lot like he was jealous. But he was right and he knew it. Now if only Jeremy could see it too.
“Nah, I don’t think so. I mean, we’ve always been only friends and she knows it.”
“If you say so,” Alex shrugged. “Just think about it. And pay attention the next time you two are alone. I really don’t think I’m wrong here.”
Even though Alex was pretty sure he did not manage to convince Jeremy, at least he told him about his suspicions. What he would do with that information was up to Jeremy himself.
The two guys went on reminiscing about their teenage years and sharing stories from that period of their lives. The rain was still pouring outside, but neither of them minded it. It wasn’t as if Jeremy was looking for an excuse to leave and Alex was glad to have his old friend back.
When a notification sound suddenly came from his computer speakers, interrupting them, Alex almost ignored it, but he was glad he didn’t. It turned out to be Niall, responding to the message Alex had sent him recently. The green circle next to his name indicated that he was online and Alex grinned, turning to his guest.
“Hey, it’s Niall! Wanna video call him and surprise him?”
“Yeah, let’s do it!” Jeremy nodded as Alex set up his webcam. It didn’t take long for the guy on the other side to answer and his face filled the computer screen.
“Hey man, what’s up!” Niall greeted Alex. He looked very tanned and his once longish black hair was now only a buzzcut.
“Hey! You look all sweaty, what have you been up to?” Alex asked. After all these years, he could still talk to Niall and Richie openly, without a filter. The bond between them could not be broken by distance.
“Just came from a run,” the guy replied, wiping his forehead with his hand.
“Same here, but we were running from rain.”
“We? Who are you hiding there?” Niall asked, frowning.
“Wouldn’t you like to know! Come on, let’s see if you’ll recognize him?” Alex winked at Niall and gestured to Jeremy to come sit next to him in front of the camera.
“Hey,” Jeremy waved and smiled at the guy, who clearly had no idea who he was. To be fair, Jeremy realized he also wouldn’t have recognized Niall if Alex didn’t tell him in advance - the guy looked totally different than what he remembered him, which was understandable. Ten years is a long time.
“Uhh, hi,” Niall waved back and chuckled, obviously confused. “Sorry man, I have no clue.”
“It’s Jeremy, from that summer camp, remember?” Alex explained and immediately saw Niall’s face change in recognition of their old friend.
“No way! Good to see you again, man! You back in Port Alvin, too?”
“Yeah, I’m living here now. And great to see you too!” Jeremy nodded.
“Damn, where the hell is Richie when you need him? We should totally all get together, maybe this summer?” Niall suggested.
“Yeah, that’d be cool. I’d love to see you guys again!”
“Cool, man, we’ll make plans,” Niall nodded, before turning to look at Alex. “Man, you must be thrilled to have Jeremy back, the way you-”
“Yeah, of course, we’re good friends,” Alex quickly interrupted him, sensing that his friend was about to say something indiscreet.
Even though no one knew about Alex’s sexual orientation at the time, he came out to his best friends about a year after the summer camp. At that point, it didn’t take much for both Richie and Niall to figure out why Alex was moping around for weeks after they’d returned home. He was missing Jeremy.
Luckily, the two friends knew each other very well and it only took one look at Alex for Niall to understand he almost said something he shouldn’t have. After that close call, the conversation moved on to other topics, with all three guys ignoring the fact that something was left unsaid. It was then that Alex realized he was more disappointed than relieved. He wanted Jeremy to know.
A short while after they ended the video call, the boys moved to the bed and sat close to the window, noticing the rain had finally stopped. The clouds were starting to disperse, revealing a clear, blue sky once again. However, neither of the two were in the rush to move anywhere.
“So, talking to Niall reminded me of something,” Alex spoke first, finally taking the plunge. “I never even told you this, but I had a crush on you back then. I thought you were so cute and fun. When the camp ended and I returned home, I was so bummed. For the first few weeks, I just didn’t feel like doing anything, I really missed you. And when I went to your bakery a few weeks ago and realized it was you, I was so fucking happy.”
His heart was pounding so hard, Alex was sure everyone in a five-mile radius could hear it. Still, he managed to throw a smile on his face and look directly at Jeremy.
“Really?” the boy smiled back. That was good, Alex thought, observing his friend. He didn’t look uncomfortable or like he was about to run off. “Then I guess I might as well tell you that the feeling was mutual. Actually, you were one of my first crushes. You were so friendly to me and just made me feel really good.”
Alex felt the muscles in his face stretching his mouth into a big grin and there was nothing he could do about it. To know his feelings were requited, although ten years ago, was so uplifting, it gave him renewed faith. Maybe there was still hope for them.
“Wow, I-I didn’t expect this. Now I’m even more sorry I never said anything. Back then, I was just scared shitless to even think someone could find out I was gay,” he gave a chuckle, trying to calm his nerves. “But, uh, do you think it’s too late now?”
“I don’t, but … I’m not sure about this,” Jeremy spoke hesitantly.
“If you’re having doubts because of Brandon, I promise we’re not serious. To be honest, I was already thinking of ending it with him because … well, because I like you,” Alex shrugged as he placed a hand over Jeremy’s. It felt warm and soft - he could feel the warmth around his heart. Such a weird feeling, Alex thought. But so nice at the same time.
“It’s not just because of him. I’m just not ready, not until I come out. I’m sorry,” Jeremy looked at him apologetically. “I know it’s different for you and maybe you don’t understand, but I can’t go out with you when even my family doesn’t know I’m gay. I’d feel paranoid every time we’re together. I need some time to figure out what I’m gonna do, ok? I’m sorry.”
“Hey, I get it. I really do,” Alex was quick to reassure him, hoping to find a way to make him feel better and show him there is no pressure as far as he was concerned. “I know coming out is scary. Just because my parents accepted it, doesn’t mean I wasn’t afraid. When I finally decided I was going to tell mom and dad, I didn’t sleep that entire night. I just kept pacing around my room like a freaking zombie. I was so nervous, it felt like there was a hole in my stomach. And then the next morning, as soon as I heard they were up, I joined them in the kitchen and told them. They weren’t angry or disappointed, they just sat me down and asked me a million questions - am I sure, when did I realize it, have I told anyone else, blah, blah. I was so relieved, you have no idea! I felt like I could breathe again.”
Making a pause, Alex looked up at Jeremy and realized the boy was looking at him and listening to him intently the entire time, not even blinking.
“I just wish there was something I could do to help, make it easier for you somehow.”
“Thanks, I do appreciate it. You are helping a lot,” Jeremy nodded. “I’m glad it went so well for you, you deserve it. I just hope mom doesn’t freak out. Especially since I’ve been lying to her about Natalie and me all this time.”
Suddenly feeling brave, Alex scooted closer to his friend so that their legs were touching. He put an arm over Jeremy’s shoulders and pulled him closer until the guy’s back was leaning against Alex’s chest.
“Even if she does freak out at first, I’m sure she’ll come around.”
“I really hope you’re right,” Jeremy said, inhaling the scent of Alex and feeling the guy’s fingers slowly going through his hair.
Alex knew he was taking a risk getting so close, but he found himself unable to stay away. He just hoped Jeremy wouldn’t back away and leave. And he didn’t. The two of them enjoyed the pleasant silence and closeness for a while until Alex noticed Jeremy’s breathing had slowed down to a steady rhythm. The boy had fallen asleep in his arms.