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Circumstances - 23. Chapter 23 -- Safe

He was fine until he met another willing guy. In his mind, he always thought of himself as a “willing safe.“ That is, he wasn’t about to have sex with another man because he knew how much was at stake. It was like his mother, who wasn’t about to have an affair, until she happened on someone at a conference who was perfectly comfortable having an affair with a married woman. Of course, that destroyed his parents marriage, which had otherwise seemed just fine, at least to him and his sister. But he wasn’t going to destroy his chances at a basketball scholarship and career, especially now, when there were double living expenses since his parents were living apart, and he didn’t want to take out loans for school. Also, the universities he wanted to go to – and he knew he could get into, even without being great at basketball – weren’t just expensive. They were super expensive.

And then he took a Saturday pick-up job, just like the dozens of others he’d taken, this time helping some middle-aged guy he didn’t know clean out his parents house. From the very limited conversation, he’d learned the parents weren’t dead – they were only in their seventies – but they’d moved to independent living so they could stop worrying about things like their roof, and their water heater, and their furnace, and everything else.

The guy had picked up a couple of other guys Lucas’s age, too, from a Next Door listing, and all through the day, though they weren’t talking, and Lucas didn’t even know this other guy’s name, he kept getting really low-key, almost invisible signals from him – hugely not obvious ones, but signals Lucas could recognize as the kind that he unintentionally sent out himself, no matter how he tried not to – by a reflex turn of the head to a guy jogging shirtless to a instant too long stare. Those signals had fortunately only been picked up once in his life, by an older coach Lucas had worked with at a basketball retreat, and Lucas both wasn’t going to have sex with an older guy, he wasn’t going to do it within what he was learning was a very small, national – and maybe international, when you figured in the Olympics – basketball community where everything happened so publicly that everyone was quickly aware of everyone else, at least on the really competitive level.

But Lucas kept picking up these signals every time he and the guy worked together, sweeping up or moving a heavy piece of furniture to the outside dumpster, and, one time, he slipped carrying something close to the guy and several others, and his hands tracked down the guy’s chest, trailing off at the softness below his belt.

“Sorry. Really, really sorry,” Lucas blurted, immediately, smiling dimly to try to offset the personal invasion. “Are you all right? Did I hurt you?”

“I’m fine,” the guy said, blowing it off. “I barely noticed. It was a fairy touch.” That word landed one way to the half-listening guys their age around them. Most of them wore ear buds, anyway, tracking to different music. They all guy-laughed, but heard the word differently than Lucas and the guy, and the only thing that saved the two of them was that Lucas was sure he was as uncomfortably sweating it out as the other guy. He’d really liked what he’d felt, and – once the other guy got past the immediate shock of being touched so personally – and publicly – Lucas could tell the other guy liked it, too. There’d been a bit of a knee-jerk smile, and Lucas thought the guy got a little hard. And, at the end of the work day, as the older guy was handing out their pay, in cash, and Lucas and the other guys were standing around the front steps of the house, the guy said, “Hey. I noticed some of you don’t have cars. If you walked here, or got dropped off, or something, I can give you a lift home.”

Lucas knew the safe answer and gave it. “Yeah, my girlfriend dropped me off.” He didn’t go on to explain that Greta was working at the mall that afternoon because that would open him up to the guy again. But it was true, and invoking the word “girlfriend,” or whatever the name of his most recent girlfriend happened to be, was one of his usual defenses. And the guy had never seen Greta, because Lucas had arrived before the guy. And Lucas could have followed up and said, “Nah, it’s just a mile-or-so home, and I wanted to walk it anyway, to try and straighten out my back after doing all this lifting.” He was careful not to say “bending over,” which is what they’d actually been doing a lot of all afternoon, because that simply sent another of those wrong kind of signals.

Still, before Lucas even had the chance to follow up on that clear “No,” – and after all the other guys said things like, “No.” “Thanks.” “I’ve got my own car,” or “My girlfriend’s coming to get me.” – the guy had picked through Lucas’s defense with the counter-sign, “Yeah, I’m gonna meet my girlfriend right now, and we’re gonna go get something to eat before going ta a movie.” Then he shrugged and added,” But I thought you might live on my way to her place.” So Lucas had to counter-signal again and say approximately where he lived, and no matter where the guy was actually going, he signaled back, saying, “Yep, that’s right on my way.” So – without choice – Lucas was politely trapped into taking the ride. As before, the rest of the guys didn’t notice.

Still, as soon as Lucas and the guy got into guy’s couple-year-old black Audi and drove away from the house where they’d been working, the guy said, “I just needed to get you away from the old guy and the others to ask a quick question. And you can play dumb and pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. And you can even pretend you’re pissed off and threaten to knock my teeth out, but please don’t do that while I’m driving.” He kind of casually grinned there. “But I know you know what I’m talking about because I’m playing the same game.” And he looked at Lucas and said, “You’re playing it safe aren’t you?”

And there it sat – what Lucas had always been worried about – a guy who could read his unintended signals, understand them, and send them right back in the same code. And the guy was right, Lucas could have played it dumb, but for some reason he didn’t want to seem stupid in front of this obviously careful guy. That made no sense, since Lucas didn’t even know the guy. He’d just occasionally worked with and around him for maybe seven-or-eight hours, and if he played it dumb, especially without making any idiot physical threats, he’d safely never see the guy again.

But he was almost eighteen, and he’d never had sex – not even with any of his girlfriends, though most of them seemed willing. “You’re a great guy,” they’d tell him. “You’ve got a really nice body, and I trust you ‘cause you don’t send me any pictures of how great looking it is, like half the other guys who come after me. But I see you on the court. And I see you running the track. And...” And they kind of stopped. In fact, they sometimes broke off with Lucas, just because he’d only go to a certain point and then politely back away – saying the perfectly logical, completely defendable, “I just can’t take the risk. I love you, and I’d love to, but I have too much ahead. And so much of it’s going to be public, so I can’t mess up.” His role models were both athletes who were careful and those who’d hugely screwed up.

“And how was this simply being in the car with this guy not ‘messing up,’” Lucas silently asked himself, especially if he admitted to the guy all he’d just been thinking. But the guy seemed bright enough and good enough looking to interest Lucas, though that last was pretty easy to do at their age. And Lucas was so tired of always keeping up his defenses that he was almost thinking, “Oh, fuck it. I’ll switch over to science and major in biology.” That interested him anyway, and he was hoping he had a future in research. He was also hoping to make a ton of money in – he further hoped – his fifteen-year, professional playing career, from college through the pros. But he wasn’t planning to be one of those former-athletes-turned-salesman whose picture everyone see everywhere – aging badly – for longer than they ever played sports. And even if he could depend on making so much money – without the almost predictable injuries – that he could retire at thirty-five and bum for the rest of his life – maybe next forty-or-fifty years – he wouldn’t want to do that anyway. He’d built up too much discipline.

Still, what would it matter if one more promising athlete blew off a four-year Ivy scholarship and a chance at the pros and chose a more private life? But just to get off? He’d been doing fine for years by himself, thanks. Then he thought again about how many years he had ahead of him, with nothing but solitary sex and with juggling girlfriends or maybe even getting married for cover and managing that and kids. At least, then he’d be having sex, but it wouldn’t be the kind he wanted or – or imagined he wanted – and it wouldn’t be fair and honest anyway.

But what did he really know about sex with guys? From what he saw online, it didn’t look like much fun – all panting and twisting and grimacing. But online sex he saw with women didn’t look like much fun, either, so maybe the whole thing was a hoax, and he’d better off alone. He knew he could always attract girls – women – at least as long as he needed to, and no one was expecting him to marry in his twenties anyhow. In fact, both his parents had separately advised, “If you’re really gonna do this sports thing, you don’t want to form attachments that’ll get in your way.” Still – especially since their divorce – that sounded like their own defenses – retro advice – since he’d been born when they were both twenty-five. A least, he knew they didn’t have to get married – his sister was two years older.

He also knew from looking at his parents and other relatives that he’d still look good in his thirties, when he finally quit playing for the pros. And he could come out and be a role model then, while working on a Ph.D. – if he didn’t finish that and his Master’s in off-seasons. He could be one of those brainy kind of athletes. “With Plans.”

And he had so many plans – and so many important ones – that this whole conversation he was having with himself seem dumb. And it’s not like he hadn’t had it with himself before, often while lying snugly naked in the dark in bed, doing the obvious. And there was so much of a chance – a huge, normal one – that he was going to slip somewhere in the next fifteen years anyway. Or worse – that someone in the almost ever-present media was going to decode his unintentional signals as easily as this random guy. And there was always the possibility of rumors. “Why does he keep changing girlfriends?” “Why isn’t he married?” “Well, would you be?” he might argue back. “If you had my opportunities and career?” But that might seem like too much bluff.

And there was a chance that this would all make him crazy, and he’d stop being the kind of loose, low-key guy he was, and wanted to be, and valued. Plus, he already thought of himself as a pro and had for a couple of years, since he’d been scouted at fifteen. So he knew he was exactly on track and wasn’t going to blow that off.

So Lucas played dumb to this guy, even though he knew that was killing something inside him – or doing some small, further damage. And the guy easily knew he was playing stupid and probably thought him a jerk for it. Or maybe he was embarrassed for them both and figured he never should have started the whole thing and had just blown his own careful cover. And who even knew what kind of game the guy was playing, and what kind of life he wanted, and what plans he was making, and what kind of balance he was trying to keep? It all kind of sucked.

Which didn’t explain why Lucas had the guy drop him off a few blocks from where he actually lived. That was another dumb move, since he knew – if it really mattered – the guy could figure out what school Lucas went to and find Lucas just by checking the basketball team. Any guy who looked like Lucas wasn’t going to play the bassoon. But he knew the guy wouldn’t check because he was probably feeling just as low himself. So Lucas was safe. And the guy was safe. And that’s all that presently mattered.

2019 by Richard Eisbrouch
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Lucas is definitely portraying the stresses - many times overthought - of being out and upfront about who he really is.  In spite of more openness and acceptance in general, there are still real pockets of animosity and homophobia.  Well done!

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Yep, overthought is one of Lucas' strengths / weaknesses.  But better overthought than underthought, as long as they both take the same time.

Again, thanks for reading.

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