Closeness Ch. 02byPS_Lopez©
Archer rubbed his face as he made his way from the bathroom to his kitchen, yawning. He was still half-asleep and was running on assumption. The assumption everything was where it belonged, from the placement of the kitchen (whose doorframe he bumped into anyway) to where he commonly put everything in it. Foggy dreams combined with memories of the night before, clogging his thoughts as he got a mug out of the cupboard and filled it with coffee. He almost forgot—he always almost forgot—to dump some sugar into the beverage before sipping it, but remembered at the last moment, like usual, and set the mug down hard enough to eject a few drops. He mopped them up with one hand, wiping the hand on his boxers, while getting a tablespoon and adding sugar to his coffee. Leaving the spoon on the half-sized paper towel he'd folded into a rectangle and left by the coffee maker for just such purpose, he picked up his mug, blew on the coffee, and sipped it carefully before shuffling over to the table.
Jesse had dropped him off about nine thirty the night before. The ride back had been silent, and it had made Archer uneasy, his discomfort with Jesse creeping back in along with the thought he'd done something wrong. At the time, he'd berated himself for being such a weak-willed, too-shy-to-stick-up-for-himself pansy he couldn't even resist Jesse's determination to take him out to a club.
Now, his mind replayed the previous night. He remembered Jesse's name bracelet vividly, and the dragon on his shirt, front and back. And the feel of the ground throbbing beneath his feet as he'd stood by the car. He had flashes of Jesse rooting through his closet and blushed now in shame, because he clearly had none of Jesse's style or taste, and he recalled Jesse's comment of them going out shopping on the next days off to coincide, which caused his blush to heat up even further.
It wasn't because he didn't want to go out with Jesse for clothing shopping. It was because of the intimation he couldn't dress himself. It wounded his pride. All the clothes he had were perfectly good clothes, still serviceable, if a little on the tatty side in some cases (like almost every tank top he owned and not a few of his jeans and shorts). He would have liked to have had a good reason for keeping things so long, but all he could come up with was the fact he didn't like going shopping for clothing. He was perfectly capable of finding decent clothes, he just hated trying to do it.
He sighed at his coffee, returning his mind to the night before. In some ways, it was easier to contemplate than the idea he needed new clothes was. But as he examined every memory—of his two drinks, dancing with Carson, the music, the waitress, and Jesse's encouragement to enjoy himself—he realized nothing bad had happened. True, it hadn't always been pleasant, but he hadn't been forced into anything. He'd made the decision to have a second alcoholic drink, and he'd even encouraged Jesse to dance again. It hadn't been as terrifying an experience as he'd always assumed it would be. He'd not only survived it, but even enjoyed himself a little. It had been fun, if only for brief periods, but it had been fun.
Archer set his coffee down and got up, heading for the bedroom. He had to thank Jesse. If nothing else, his stepbrother had proven to him he did need to loosen up a bit. Maybe not go to clubs frequently but perhaps occasionally go with Jesse. It couldn't hurt, and if Jesse was with him, he couldn't see how he'd come to harm.
In his room, he found the jeans he'd worn last night and excavated his phone from the pocket. A glance at the bedside clock told him Jesse would be in the middle of his morning work shift, but it didn't matter. Archer didn't need to talk to Jesse right now and kind of didn't want to. He didn't want to have to endure any questions Jesse might ask.
Jesse's phone rang four times before the voicemail picked up.
"Jess . . . thanks."
It was all Archer could find to say, so he hung up. He didn't want to babble. It would just make him seem stupid. As he tossed his jeans onto the bed, he glanced around. Maybe it was time to clean up and sort through his clothes. Maybe, just maybe, he could get out and do some shopping on his own.
"What are you thinking about?"
Jesse threw his weight against the wrench, doing his best to loosen the axle nut. Polly's question had spiked his temper, and he grunted twice—once in effort and again when the nut loosened. He sat on the ground with a sigh and spun the wrench.
It was useless to lie to her. They'd been dating for a couple years when Archer turned fifteen and came out, so she knew Jesse pretty well. She knew he'd fall silent like he was when he had something on his mind.
"What did he do now?"
For all his shyness, Archer had a propensity for starling the family. First with coming out, then with deciding to skip college, then refusing to accept the trust fund their father had set up. He'd resisted getting the apartment in the building he now lived in, had bowed only because he wrangled an agreement out of their father to pay the bills out of his own money and hadn't yet failed to turn in a rent check (none of which had been cashed) despite promises from their father he didn't have to pay rent. It had been a surprise when he'd agreed to work for their father, too. Nobody had expected Archer to express an interest in the business.
"He called to thank me for taking him out last night."
"So you finally asked him on a date!" Polly clapped her hands.
Jesse huffed a sigh. "No, I didn't. God, woman, you have a sick mind." His was just as sick—he'd told her about his attraction to Archer.
He shook his head. "We're brothers. It would freak him out. He's not that way."
"Have you asked him what he thinks of you?"
Jesse chuckled. "I don't have to. I freak him out already." He glanced at her. "What the hell are you doing?"
She sat up from digging in his tool box. Thus far, she'd taken out a number of wrenches and set them in a circle, end-over-end. The book she was supposed to be reading lay on the ground next to her knee, open pages down.
He shook his head. "Never mind." He got up on his knees to work on another part of the CV joint replacement.
"Maybe he's attracted to you."
"It could be why he's freaked around you, Jess."
He shook his head again, not speaking. Polly let him work in silence until he was inserting the replacement part into place.
"So what did you do?"
He heaved a sigh. "I jettisoned the fact he's shy and took him to a night club. Then I got him a drink. Then I convinced him to dance with someone—and I know how he is around people. It was a total disaster."
Polly laughed, dropping wrenches into the toolbox. "He must not have thought so if he called to thank you for taking him out."
Jesse got the axle seated properly and sat up, pushing his overlong bangs out of his face with the back of his hand. He'd cleaned his hands and face at the yard, but knew he was getting smudgy again.
"That's just the thing, Polly. He's just that way. He's cowed by me, and he probably thinks I expected him to be grateful."
Polly frowned a little. Jesse nodded and bent to finish putting things back together.
"You think he doesn't have a mind of his own?"
"I think he doesn't want to upset me. He's nervy—jumpy—around me. Afraid of upsetting or offending me or something." Jesse turned a nut into place, then used the wrench to spin it down and tighten, getting up on his knees to throw his weight into it. "I've tried telling him not to worry about it, but it's like it goes in one ear and out the other."
"Maybe if you just hung out with him, Jesse. Try that. Just hanging out, no pressure, no excursion, nothing to get between you two. Maybe if he sees you're trying to be his friend, he'll loosen up."
He nodded, getting up to put the tire back on. "You just want me to ask Arch on a date."
"Yeah, but I think it'll do you both good if you just get on friendly terms again. I remember how you two used to be, and I know you miss it, no matter what decisions you've made to preserve yourself since then."
Preserve himself she said. Partly accurate. He'd been twenty when he'd really noticed Archer—as more than a brother. Archer had still been seventeen at the time, and it had definitely been a situation he wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole. It still wasn't a very good situation, but at least Archer was older. Over eighteen now. Besides, Jesse had controlled himself this long—though he refused to acknowledge how his previous control had been won: by distancing himself from Archer as much as possible. In a way, he still wanted the distance there, but at the same time he was tired of it. He was certainly mature enough to keep his hands off.
"Hang out," he said as he spun the wheel nuts onto their bolts.
"Hang out. Befriend him. Treat him like a person, and not a plague."
Polly's last word made him laugh. "Okay. I'll call him as soon as I'm cleaned up here."
Now for the hard part. Jesse inhaled a deep breath, rubbed his hands on his hips, and exhaled slowly. Yesterday, Archer had said it was too late to hang out despite the hour being fairly early in the evening still. Jesse hadn't pushed, aware he'd already messed up once. Now it was five on Sunday, the second day off of Archer's week, and Jesse had spent the day working himself into anxiety over the meeting. It was always like this. Given time to think about what he wanted to do with Archer, even if it was totally innocent, made him feel like he was getting ready to come out to his family again.
He knocked on the door. It opened promptly, startling him enough he jumped. Archer smiled, gaze averted. But at least he was smiling. It was more than Jesse had garnered since Archer stopped looking at him at Christmas.
He entered, glancing around. He'd been here a few times, of course, since Archer moved in, and he was comforted to see nothing had changed. If there was one thing about Archer he appreciated, it was Archer's slowness to change. Sometimes it was frustrating, and it was like working rusting gears into motion, but at the same time it was reassuring.
"What's in the bags?"
There were several on the coffee table, positioned so he couldn't see the labels. Plastic bags rounded with fillings, paper bags with twine handles, a variety of colors and sizes.
The door shut and Archer came around to collect the bags while Jesse stood in shock. Clothes? But why? He thought of the tight half-destroyed jeans he'd had Archer wear to the club.
He followed Archer to the bedroom, which was now clean, the clothing which had been scattered on the floor hidden away, the bed made, the mess he'd made of Archer's tank tops absent. It was the sight of Archer's dresser unobstructed by clothing which reminded him of what he'd said about Archer's clothing needing updating.
"You went clothing shopping?"
Archer nodded, setting the bags in his open closet. He went to fetch a pair of scissors off his dresser. "Some today, some yesterday. It's easier to handle if I take it in parts."
Jesse flinched. "I didn't mean—"
"Are you that upset I didn't wait for you to have a weekend day off?" Archer stood, hands hanging by his sides, opening and closing the scissors in his right hand.
Gazing at those scissors and thinking if he did something even more wrong this time Archer might stab him with them, Jesse backed up a step, raising both his hands. "No, no. It's okay."
Archer glanced at him, then set to taking his new clothes out of the bags and removing the tags before hanging them.
"Why, ah, did you decide to shop?" Jesse jammed his hands into the pockets of the shorts he'd changed into and gazed at the bags. He didn't want to see Archer's face, in case the question upset him.
Snip snip. "I just realized you were right about my clothes." Archer peeled a sticker label off the leg of a pair of jeans and turned them around looking for more tags. "I'd had most of my old stuff since I was a kid." He snipped another label from the waistband and wadded it with the sticker before hanging the jeans.
"Oh." Jesse watched Archer dig a shirt free of a bag, not comforted by the response. "I didn't mean to insult anything."
"I didn't take it as an insult."
Right. Jesse glanced around, then sidled over to sit on the foot of Archer's bed. Archer paused in what he was doing to pass a large plastic bag back.
"Here, take the tags off of those things."
Jesse accepted the bag and scooted further onto the bed as he got his pocketknife out. The activity only made him feel worse about what he'd said, but it was too late to take it back now. Things had already changed. Change in Archer wasn't always this distressing. It was just because he'd had an influence in its occurrence which troubled Jesse.
"Did you throw away all your old clothes?"
"I kept my work stuff and a few shirts and jeans and shorts—the stuff which wasn't all ratty."
He frowned. "So you threw away the one pair?"
"The ones I wore Friday night?"
"Yeah." He looked up at Archer.
"No, I kept those and a couple other old pair, the really comfortable ones." Archer tossed the bag he'd been taking clothes out of aside and opened another.
Jesse relaxed a little. He hadn't liked the idea of Archer getting rid of that one pair of jeans. He'd liked how Archer looked in them too much. Like the pair Archer wore now, they were snug in the rump, enough to make him want to reach out and caress Archer's behind.
He finished with the clothes he was de-tagging and stuffed them back in the bag. "Done with these."
"Get another bag."
He nodded and traded out, setting the one he was returning against Archer's right calf so it wouldn't get mixed up in the other ones. This time, he paid attention to what he was removing tags from, holding the shirts up by the shoulders, taking note of the style of them and the jeans and shorts. Nothing outrageous, nothing really showy, but the subdued character of the clothing fit Archer's personality. Clothing Archer could feel confident in, stylish without being something which would ramp up his anxiety.
"I feel kind of bad for saying what I did about your old clothes."
Archer tossed another bag aside and grabbed the one with the already de-tagged clothing. "Don't. You were right. Some of my stuff was really out of style, and the rest just needed to be replaced. There's no reason for me to walk around in clothes which make me look like common trash."
Jesse raised his head, gazing at Archer's back. For a long moment, he wanted to just reach over, hook his finger in the back belt loop of Archer's jeans, and jerk his stepbrother into his lap. He kneaded the shirt he held, resisting the urge. There were too many reasons to control himself.
He returned to taking tags off clothes and traded bags again. They worked in silence for a while. Once he'd finished removing tags, Jesse sat at the foot of the bed again, facing Archer. When it became too difficult to resist reaching for Archer, he stood up and moved to help hang things up, their shoulders brushing.
"I really admire you."
Jesse nodded. "When you came out to Dad, you made me feel ashamed of myself. You'd trusted Dad, and I couldn't and I was his flesh-and-blood son. Here I was, eighteen, still in the closet, and you're telling our parents at fifteen. Made me feel like a chicken-shit idiot who didn't know his own family."
Archer sighed. "I just couldn't keep it inside any more. I hit a point where it didn't matter if it got me in trouble, I just needed to tell everyone. I was terrified, though. Absolutely certain our parents would freak out about it. Know what Dad said?"
"'It's about time!'" Archer chuckled. "He already knew I was gay."
"Lucky. He was angry at me when I finally told him. Said I shouldn't have lied about it, and held you up as an example of what a responsible young man does."
Jesse glanced at Archer and saw a blush. He gently elbowed Archer.
"Hey, don't be embarrassed. A lot of stuff you've done Dad has pointed out as being the height of responsibility and an example I should follow."
Archer's blush darkened. Jesse smiled, shaking his head.
"Anyway, I think it's cool. Makes me wish I could be more like Dad wants, but I'm glad you're around to be the responsible one. I think things would be tougher with me if Dad didn't have you around to be happy about." Jesse took the last pair of jeans out of the final bag and hung them up. "Enough serious stuff, though. Want to go do something? It's up to you. It's your turn to pick the activity."
Archer closed the closet and folded his arms over his chest, gazing at some point on the doors. "You feel like going bowling?"
"Never done it before, but I'm up for a try." Jesse grinned. His ploy had worked.
"I'll go easy on you."
Archer parked his Mustang in one of the spaces further from the door and turned it off, then just stared out the windshield. Beside him, Jesse unbuckled and got out. The door shut. He took the keys from the ignition and got out as well, unbuckling as he turned in the seat, then just gazed at his stepbrother over the top of the car.
It was on his tongue to ask what Jesse was doing with this. He also wanted to say he'd been happy with the way things were between them before this weekend, but he couldn't lie. Instead, he went to the back of his car to get his ball and shoes out of the trunk.
They crossed the lot, Jesse eyeing the items Archer held.
"So you bowl a lot?"
Archer nodded, trying to ignore the feeling of inferiority which rose. Bowling didn't seem to him to be upper-class enough. Jesse might grow to be insulted by the entertainment.
"What about me?"
"They have rental shoes and balls you borrow."
They entered the building and Archer introduced Jesse to the shoe rental bar where they also paid their entry fees. The expected comment about having to rent used shoes didn't come, and Jesse also didn't make any remarks about lowbrow entertainment. They went to the lane they'd been assigned to and put on their shoes, then Archer indicated the free bowling balls on racks along the back wall.
While Jesse chose a ball, Archer looked around, trying to see the tired bowling alley as his stepbrother was. Thin indoor-outdoor carpet, "restaurant" which sold fast food items and had a seating area, hole-in-the-wall bar, windowed room with arcade games, party room. He'd been bowling here for years, a member of a bowling league, and he didn't really notice it any more, but now it almost made him feel ashamed. At least it didn't smell musty.
Jesse returned with a blue-marble ball in his hands. "Where's this go?"
Archer pointed to the ball return where he'd placed his own red-and-black ball and sat down to set up the scorecard. Jesse came to stand behind him, placing a hand on his shoulder, and he resisted the urge to shake it off. When he was finished, he took a couple minutes to explain the game and show Jesse how to handle the ball, then made the first bowl in demonstration of technique. His ball rolled down the lane and knocked nine pins out.
"You get a second attempt if any pins are left," he said as he returned to the ball return for to wait for his ball.
"Okay, I think I got it."
He nodded. It wasn't like bowling was difficult to understand. "Do you really admire me?" This was one of the things eating at him. He couldn't see what there was to admire, even though Jesse had explained a little.