Neutral Territory Ch. 02byPS_Lopez©
I deliberately didn't think about what I was doing. I didn't want to consider what it all meant, and I would if I thought about it too much. When I'd gotten here with Sabriana, I'd had a little plan for myself. Spend the first four years of my freedom from our parents living for the day. Meet lots of guys, have lots of safe sex, shop around a bit. And I'd started on that path, and done pretty well so far, I thought. I hadn't gotten hung up on anybody.
I couldn't even identify what it was about Geoffrey. All I knew is that I'd really liked what I'd seen when Tina pointed him out. And that my interest hadn't flagged at all. It had only increased.
This was why I spent the afternoon of my first day off of the week baking bread. Not just so that I could shut my mind off while I busied myself, but because I wanted to do something for Geoffrey. I didn't expect it to get me any closer to him--I'd be sending it to him via Sabriana, in fact--but I wanted to do something nice for him.
Thus far, we'd spent three mornings visiting down in the lobby, and I thought things were going well. He wasn't edgy if we were in the lobby. He talked to me, looked at me, even laughed at some of the funny stuff I said. We were, I thought, more than acquaintances, possibly warming up into being friends.
When I'd sent my sister up to his place to parlay for his company this morning yesterday, he'd said he wouldn't be able to make it. I now felt a little edgy about not seeing him. Okay, I'll admit it, I was afraid he'd decided he didn't really want to hang out with me any more.
I'd been trying not to be pushy or intimidating, but now I realized that I could well have been without meaning to. He was so wary and sensitive, it was hard to gauge how I was affecting him. Maybe he was more frightened than he was letting on. Maybe he felt obligated to keep me company. Maybe . . . I didn't know. Maybe I was trying too hard and it was getting on his nerves.
Still, I didn't want to give up yet. He hadn't said anything to indicate he really didn't want to spend time with me. I did my best to assume that he just had other things to do in the morning. Regardless, I looked on the bread I'd baked as a kind of peace offering, a reassurance to him that I didn't mean to intimidate or push him into anything.
The door opened. "I'm home!"
"In the kitchen," I replied.
"Smells like your bread."
"It is indeed." I looked over my shoulder when I heard Sabriana step into the kitchen. "Would you mind playing envoy again?"
"Of course not. What's the message?"
The timer beeped and I grabbed the oven mitts. "I'd like you to take a loaf of bread and my phone number to Geoffrey."
"I have to part with a loaf of your precious bread? I'm not sure . . ."
I laughed, pulling the first of three loaves out. "Just one loaf. I made three, so you'll still get a loaf all to yourself."
"Oh, good! Okay, anything else you'd like me to say?"
"Just tell him what hours I work and invite him downstairs for another visit tomorrow."
She pulled a chair out from under the table and sat on the latter, putting her feet on the seat. I glanced to see her sitting with her elbows propped on her knees and her chin in the heels of her hands. She was smiling a little, an expression somewhere between smug and amused.
"What?" I asked, and pulled out the second loaf.
"Oh, just remembering your grand declaration that you were going to sow your wild oats for four years while I'm in school before looking for someone to settle down with."
I set the bread on the cooling rack next to the stove and heaved a little sigh. "That's not what this is." I bent to get the last pan of bread out of the oven.
"Oh, I don't know. You seem pretty focused to me. You going to go out tonight?"
I shook my head, setting the third pan with the others and closing the oven door. I shut the oven off. "No." I removed the oven mitts.
I frowned a little, thinking about that. Usually, I went out to a club or bar, danced a little, had a couple drinks, maybe came home with some guy. But that didn't appeal to me tonight. Geoffrey was two floors up, in a nineteen, probably feeling lonesome, and I wanted to keep him company. A rather pathetic and eerie way to do so by staying home tonight myself, but it was the best way I could think of doing so without actually going up and hanging out with him. That would frighten him.
"Because of Geoffrey?" Sabriana asked, teasing.
I shook my head. "No. Just don't feel like it."
My sister chuckled. "I think it's because of Geoffrey."
I waved a hand at her, dismissing her comment, and she laughed. Deciding that ignoring her would be the best thing to do, I grabbed a knife from the silverware drawer and used it to separate the sides of the bread loaves from their pans and tipped the loaves out.
Sabriana got off the table and found a basket. This she left on the counter next to the bread, and I gazed at it as I put the bread pans in the sink. When she returned with a couple kitchen towels, I turned to face her.
"This isn't me dating Geoff."
She nodded hugely. "Mm-hmm." She spread one of the kitchen towels in the basket.
"I mean it, Bria. This is me, um, coaxing a friend out of the shadows." There, that sounded good.
"Coaxing a friend," she echoed, nodding again. She used the other towel to move one of the loaves of bread into the basket, then covered the loaf with it. "Then why are you having me take a loaf of bread up to him?" She looked at me.
I stared at her because I didn't have an answer for that question. "Um, ah." I swallowed. "He gave us half a pan of apple cobbler!" Okay, my enthusiasm probably ruined the sincerity of that response, but I didn't look away. I waited for my sister's mockery like a man.
She laughed. "That's a pretty lame excuse."
I shook my head, chuckling myself. She hugged me. I embraced her tightly, squeezing my eyes shut. What would I do without her? Every man needed a woman like Sabriana in his life. Someone who could see through his lies and tease him about the truth without pissing him off. Well, at least for me, Sabriana's attitude kept me from losing my head.
"Okay, so I'm to hand over the bread, then give him your number and invite him downstairs tomorrow," Sabriana said as she pulled away.
"Okay." She picked up the basket. "I'll be back soon."
I nodded and watched her leave, then turned and faced the other loaves, leaning on the counter. The scent of the bread comforted me, but I couldn't relax. I didn't move again until I heard the front door shut again about ten minutes later.
"Back," my sister said as she entered the kitchen. "He took it all. Even entered your number in his phone right there. Said he can't meet you tomorrow."
"Thanks." How was I supposed to feel about his mixed reaction? I opened a drawer and pulled out the bread knife. "How about a slice of bread as a reward?"
She laughed. "Sounds yummy."
It wasn't fair. Why did I have to be gay? What did I do before my birth to make the Fates dump on me like that? Was I some reincarnated mass murderer? Had I been an abusive parent? What?
I dropped into my car and slumped, staring across the half-full parking lot. I'd parked beyond where the last car had parked, and the lot could have held probably a couple hundred more cars than were present. Sunlight reflected off of chrome and paint jobs, glinted off the windows in the front of the manufacturing plant I'd just put an application in at.
Putting applications in was something to do while I avoided Silas. I'd figured out what about him frightened me. Part of it was his confidence in himself. He was gay, he accepted that, he knew what to expect from his parents and was making efforts to ease the transition before things fell apart. The rest was just the fact that I found him very attractive.
I didn't want to find him attractive. Accepting that I did meant I'd have to accept my sexuality, and I wasn't sure if I could do that. It wasn't that I saw any hope of regaining my father's consideration. It was that I'd been betrayed. Something about me made me fundamentally different from most other people, and I wanted to be rid of it. I didn't want to find Silas attractive. I wanted to be normal, straight. Maybe I wouldn't have been any more courageous, but at least I would have been acceptable to my family.
Dad probably wouldn't have thought I was grateful regardless. He may well have found another reason to throw me out. It wasn't like he'd have had to look very hard. There was a lot about me that left much to be desired. I knew it, and I accepted that about myself.
But I didn't want to be gay. It wasn't fair. Maybe I hadn't been very happy back home with my family, but I'd at least known who I was and what was expected of me. I'd known what to do and what not to do.
Not that I didn't appreciate Grandma taking me in. I did. I really, truly did. And I knew she loved me. She wouldn't have taken me in if she hadn't. That meant a lot to me. I'd been pretty afraid of asking for her help when Dad threw me out, because I hadn't seen any reasons for her to accept me. Her own son had thrown me out, after all. I'd been afraid she'd share Dad's opinions.
And she was encouraging me. When I'd told her this morning that I didn't want to be gay, she'd told me that God gives us only the burdens He feels we can bear, and that I had to find my own method of bearing this burden. I still wasn't sure if the burden she meant was my being gay or my desire not to be so. If she meant my being gay, that meant she was humoring me. If she meant my desire not to be gay, then it meant she felt compassionate for me, and I wasn't sure if I deserved that.
I'd been prepared to avoid it my whole life. I had. I'd dated girls, intended to continue doing so. I so wanted to be straight I'd even considered possibly getting married someday. I'd known what would happen if Dad learned I was anything but straight, and I'd wanted to avoid that at all costs. I hadn't been happy, and I'd known even then that I never would be, but then--and even now--I couldn't see how I'd be happy being gay. Not if it meant the loss of my parents and siblings.
And maybe I'd only been halfhearted in my efforts at appearing straight. I hadn't discussed who I wanted to date. I just asked girls out. Not frequently, and I tended to stay with a girlfriend for as long as she'd have me. I'd used my parents' religion as an excuse to avoid sex if I didn't feel like going that far. There'd been no complaints from their parents. So maybe that had made my father suspicious.
Or maybe it was just that I couldn't make myself ogle and objectify women. I'd never expressed any opinions of women in any way besides dating them and talking about my girlfriends. Dad had tried coaxing opinions out of me more than once, and I'd evaded his openings.
Dad had firm opinions on where women belonged in house and marriage, and Mom and my sisters conformed to that. My brother echoed his pontifications on woman's place. I'd just kept silent on it all, not knowing what to say in lieu of the things I wanted to say, because I'd known my opinions on it would have upset Dad.
I turned in the seat and pulled my car's door shut, then stared out the windshield. I didn't feel like going home. Home was close to Silas's place and reminded me of his disturbing presence.
But it was five and I had nowhere else to go. Just home, where Grandma was now. Where half that loaf of bread he'd sent up via his sister the other day lay in the kitchen, a reminder of his friendship. I hadn't eaten any of it. I couldn't bring myself to. It represented too much to me--more than friendship. It represented all the things I wanted to have with Silas, and I refused to consider what more I wanted besides friendship.
And I did want his friendship. Grandma said it was good I'd befriended him. I thought she thought I needed someone like him in my life. Someone self-confident, self-accepting. Someone who wasn't wilting under the inevitable, like I was. Someone who could be an example of the kind of person I needed to be in order to succeed.
And that last frightened me most of all. I wasn't sure if I could ever be that way. I wasn't sure I could accept myself enough to gain that kind of confidence. Because, if I accepted myself, that meant I had to admit that there was nothing wrong with me, and I just couldn't see how there couldn't be something wrong with me. If there hadn't been, wouldn't my father have treated me differently? Wouldn't he have loved me, accepted my sexuality, not berated me for being myself? If there wasn't something wrong with me, wouldn't I have turned out to be a confident man, someone who was comfortable with both who and what he was?
It would mean that I deserved to be happy, and I couldn't see how I could be happy like this. Maybe I was looking too closely at the trees, when I had someone--Silas--there to urge me to look at the forest, but I couldn't see how I could be gay and happy. The two seemed incompatible, though they seemed to mesh well in Silas. He seemed happy despite his sexuality.
I was already pretty miserable. I knew it, and I didn't see a real way to change that. Not without asking for help, and I didn't know who to turn to except Silas for that, and I was afraid to admit anything to him. Part of it was that I didn't want to drag him down, but the rest of it was because I couldn't think of a reason why he'd even care.
And much as I didn't want to go home, I did want to go home. For the same reason. I wanted to go because it was close to Silas's home. I wanted to see Silas, I wanted to talk with him, sit next to him, and I wanted him to make me laugh. I wanted those things because the only time I really felt happy was when I had those things. He was someone who, like Grandma, accepted me without reservation. He hadn't had to continue being my friend after I ran away from him, but he had.
That meant something. I didn't know what, and I wasn't going to ask what it meant to him. All I did know was that it was important, and I was glad he continued to push me for my friendship. It reassured me that he really did want to be my friend, and I needed that. It made me happy. Someone cared.
I sighed and started my car. Silas's sister had given me his work schedule, and I knew he was at work now, so there was no way for me to see him tonight. I turned some music on while I drove, and when I got to the elevator in the building, I pushed the button for Silas's floor. Eight sixteen. His sister answered. She smiled at me.
I could look at her. She didn't have the intimidating presence her brother had. "Hey." I even found a smile. Where it came from, I didn't examine too closely. "Tell Silas I'll see him tomorrow morning, okay?"
Sabriana grinned. "Okay. Want to come in for a bit? I promise it's safe." She winked at me as she said the last.
I shook my head. "No, thanks. I have some things to do at home. I'll see you 'round." I waved a little.
She waved back. "Okay."
I turned and walked away as she shut the door, then went home. When I entered, I found Grandma sitting in the living room. I closed the door and stood in front of it.
"How many applications did you put in today?"
"Five. The manufacturers."
"Good benefits with them," Grandma said. "I hope you get a job with one of them."
I nodded. "Me, too. Is any of that bread left?"
"Enough for a couple thick slices."
"Can I have the rest then?"
"Go ahead. It was yours anyway."
I chuckled. Grandma smiled at me. I left the door and crossed to the kitchen.
"Geoff," Grandma said.
I turned to face her. "Yeah?"
"I know you're bothered by a lot of things your father said and did to you."
I nodded, looking at the floor.
"I just think you should know that he's wrong about all of it."
I looked at her. Grandma smiled at me. I swallowed and nodded. "Thanks," I said, and turned to hurry into the kitchen. What she had said did make me feel a little better.
We were walking. Geoffrey had said he wanted to talk a little more privately, where other tenants of our building couldn't overhear, but he'd gone very silent once we'd left. Since he hadn't seemed to know where to go, I'd directed our path and we'd entered a residential area where there were few other pedestrians. I didn't encourage him to speak. I'd succeeded thus far with him by letting him decide for the most part how much he wanted to do with and say to me, so I figured it would be best to employ that philosophy now.
"I, um," he said, then bowed his head even further.
I watched him for a few steps, then returned my gaze to the path ahead. "Whenever you're ready."
He gave an explosive sigh and raised his head, not looking at me. "How did you get to a point where you accepted yourself?"
I slowed my steps so that I could concentrate on remembering. Not that I particularly enjoyed the memories. I usually pretended I hadn't gone through what I had, it made my life easier. But Geoffrey had asked, and I couldn't let him go unanswered.
"Well." I looked at the sidewalk and tucked my hands in the pockets of my hooded sweatshirt and sighed. "At first I freaked out. Um, secretly. I refused to think about it when I was with my family, but laid awake for hours most nights wishing it away."
"Oh." He sounded surprised.
I chuckled a little. "Yeah. Great lot of good that did." I sighed again. "Well, it took a couple years--I didn't really realize what I was until I was like fifteen. So I spent a couple years wishing it away. Then, one day, while I was at church, sitting listening to a sermon, the preacher said something about how God is love. That got me thinking."
Geoffrey glanced at me. "What?"
I inhaled a deep breath and let it out slowly, tipping my head back. "Well, if God is love, why would he create something he hates? As I see it, if someones primary aspect is love, they can't hate. Literally being love, by definition means they must love everything, regardless of what it is and the harm it can do. Love can only be forgiving. Love is compassionate, even when it's angry, and if you create something out of love, whether it be love of the thing itself or for love of the person you're going to give it to, you've created something good."
I stopped walking and looked down. "Sorry. You pushed one of my buttons with that question."
We stood where we'd halted for a couple minutes. Geoffrey didn't look up, but his head did rise a little. I looked around, at the autumn-colored trees, the light traffic that passed by. Someone walked a dog across the street, and I saw the park catty-corner to the side of the street where we stood.
"Come on." I started moving again. "There's a park nearby."
Geoffrey fell into step beside me.
"Well, after I came to that conclusion, I figured that God wouldn't have made me this way if he hadn't intended to. Why create something you hate, you know? I was about nineteen then, and in college. Dad had graciously allowed me to stop attending church, which was a little bit of hell to go through in itself. I was afraid when I told him that I didn't agree with some of the things I heard at his church he'd be upset, but once I explained myself, Dad was fine with it."
We crossed one street in silence, and Geoffrey looked up while we were waiting for the lights to change before crossing the next street. He glanced at me, then looked straight ahead again.
"I wish I was somebody else. Somebody confident."
I chuckled. "That's a waste of who you are."