Neutral Territory Ch. 04byPS_Lopez©
Today was going to be a bad day. I knew it when I woke up hating myself. At first, I just rolled over, intending to spend the day in bed. Yeah, I was hiding, trying to ignore the problem, but at least I wouldn't have to look at myself. If I could sleep, I wouldn't have to think about anything.
But sleep didn't return. The TV stopped talking and I heard Grandma go up the hall to the bathroom. Then she walked back to the living room. The front door shut.
I gazed at my pillow, in a perfect position to do so with my face buried in it. I was gay. There was no way to get away from it. I didn't think Grandma would let me ignore it, and I needed a place to live, so I couldn't date women.
But now I wasn't really sure I wanted to date women. I sighed, closing my eyes and turning my head, wrapping my arms up under my pillow. What was the point of dating anybody if I'd be miserable either way? And dating women wouldn't mean I wasn't gay. I'd just be using them to hide from the truth.
And if I wanted to be the kind of person who I wanted to be, I couldn't hide from the truth. I had to accept the fact that I couldn't in any way lie about being gay. That meant I couldn't date women. It didn't mean I had to date men, though.
I opened my eyes as that enlightenment filled me. I didn't have to date men. I could just go on being single. Why hadn't I seen this answer before? I could handle being single. I was single now, wasn't I? It didn't bother me. It had never bothered me to be single. I'd actually preferred it when I'd been living with my parents. I smiled, finally seeing light. I didn't have to date men.
That gave me enough energy to get out of bed and showered. I dressed nicely. I had to do something with this new attitude, and going out job hunting was just the thing. Life looked better now. I could see the sunlight for what it was and appreciated its glow. I felt happy. By myself, on my own. I'd made myself happy.
I didn't need Silas.
I went still, standing in the front doorway, my hand on the knob. I swallowed. The happiness shivered at the thought of not needing Silas, and I looked at the floor. Maybe I didn't need him, but I wanted to. I wanted a friend like him in my life, someone who could show me what it was to be confident and self-accepting. Someone who accepted me regardless of my hangups. He cared, and he really did help.
After a minute, I remembered that I didn't have to date men. The happiness returned. I raised my head, pulling the door shut, and turned to lock it. Time to go put some applications in.
I paced in the elevator a little, feeling a bit impatient to be on my way. It had been a long time since I last felt like this. Happy, capable, able to face whatever the day may bring.
Few people sat in the lobby, but then it was only about eight. Most didn't come down until closer to nine. I considered not going out, looking at the loveseat I usually shared with Silas, then shook my head. I needed a job too much to skip out when I was feeling this good. I could hang out with Silas tomorrow. I'd probably be feeling a bit needy anyway.
I turned right and headed to the back door. And I saw Silas. He entered the outer doors as I exited the inner ones, and we stopped at the same time, letting the doors we'd used close.
He looked like shit. He wore the same clothes he'd worn yesterday, and his hair hadn't been combed. Stubble covered his chin and above his lips. At first, he looked surprised, then he lowered his gaze, bowing his head as I stared at him.
Then it hit me what it meant, him in this condition, entering the building. I swallowed, trying to ignore the feeling that clenched my heart. It wouldn't go away, though, and it hurt.
"Did you have a good time?" I don't know where the question came from or where I found the tight, offended tone of voice. It wasn't my right to speak this way to him, but I hadn't been able to suppress it. Seeing him like this, knowing what he'd done, hurt.
He raised his head a little, glancing up at me, then bowed it again, even lower this time. No reply, not a sound. He just put his hands in his coat pockets and folded the ends of his open coat shut, as if he could protect himself from my gaze.
"Well?" I asked, perhaps perversely determined to hurt him. I wanted him to admit to my face that he'd either had a good time or had such a horrible time he'd never do it again.
He did neither.
"I'm sorry," he said.
I shifted back a little. "Oh, it's perfectly fine." I couldn't suppress the snide tone of voice. That perverse desire to hurt controlled me. "It's not like I have any right to complain. Really, I don't care at all. I'm not at all bothered by it."
I cut the air with my left hand, that closest to Silas, dismissing his presence, and strode past him to leave. He didn't move. He didn't look up, try to deny what he'd done, or anything. That hurt even more, and what made that pain really twist in my chest was the fact that I knew I really didn't have a right to be upset over what he'd done.
I didn't want to want him, but I did. I didn't want to find him attractive, but I did. I didn't want to think of him as mine, but I apparently had been for what he'd done to hurt so much.
It wasn't fair. If I hadn't been gay, I wouldn't have seen him today. If I hadn't been gay, I wouldn't have met him at all.
I think that hurt the worst.
I couldn't move for a minute after Geoffrey left. I just stared at the floor, unable to feel anything but shame. Not even the thought that he had no right to feel upset at what I'd done caused any change in me. He may not have claimed the right, but I felt like he had it.
When I finally moved, I just plodded into the building. That was the end of that. I'd just thrown away my friendship with Geoffrey, and I couldn't blame him for being upset. I'd done something stupid. I hadn't thought things through. Well, I had, but I'd done so only with regards to myself and my thoughts and feelings. I hadn't stopped to consider how Geoffrey might feel.
I hadn't known I'd meet him in this condition. Not that I would have felt any better. I'd still have felt like apologizing, and it would have eaten at me until I had. Then I would have had to explain why I'd apologized, and I'd have been in the same spot I was now.
I made it to my home's door without meeting anybody else, then just stood there gripping the knob with my key out. It was Thursday. Sabriana didn't have class until ten Tuesdays and Thursdays.
I almost turned around and went back to my car, but I deserved it. I'd done something stupid, so I deserved to be berated for it. Geoffrey wasn't going to do it, so I'd have to take it from my sister. And, anyway, she wouldn't let me get away. I couldn't avoid her indefinitely. I'd have to face her sooner or later, and if I did it now, I'd at least get things over with now.
I unlocked the door and entered, looking around as I closed and locked things up. My sister wasn't in the living room, but I could hear her in the bathroom. That meant she had finished her morning ablutions and was cleaning up.
"You're home," she called.
I pressed my back against the wall as if I could slip through it and escape the coming discussion. "Yeah." I sounded a bit hesitant. Wary.
Sabriana came to the end of the hallway and placed her hands on her hips, regarding me. She didn't look very happy. I looked at the floor, the only thing I could do to evade her gaze, and it wasn't enough.
"Did you have fun?" She sounded as offended as Geoffrey had.
I swallowed. I couldn't lie, but I couldn't make myself tell the truth, so I said nothing. My sister shifted, her feet moving a little.
"I take it the sex wasn't satisfying."
"It was satisfying." I lied through my teeth. I put my hands in my coat's pockets and sighed a little.
"Oh, really? It was like before, when you didn't really have a care?"
"What's his name?"
"Drew," I said softly.
"I thought you went to The Henhouse."
I licked my lips. "I did. He was there."
"Why did you do it, Si?"
I sighed a little, glancing up at my sister. She still didn't look happy and had folded her arms under her breasts.
"You know why."
She heaved a long sigh. "Yeah, I know. And you know that you can't run from it, so why did you try?"
"I don't want to be hung up on Geoffrey. I don't want to feel this way about him, to want him like I do. It hurts, Bria. He's confused and he hates himself for being gay."
She shifted again. "You can be patient, you know. A little patience can go a long way."
I rubbed my knuckles together without taking my hands out of my coat's pockets. "It would be pointless. He's too freaked out, Bria. He doesn't want to be gay, so me being patient won't get me anywhere."
"Then just be his friend."
I sighed a little. "That's not enough. It never really has been." I raised my head, leaning it back against the wall and gave a deeper sigh. "And the thought of breaking our friendship off hurts too much. I don't want to do that, either. I'm trapped--if I haven't already ruined it."
"What do you mean?"
I closed my eyes and told her about meeting Geoffrey in the back entrance. I still remembered his words and repeated them to her. When I finished, Sabriana said nothing. I didn't move except to breathe.
"Maybe you can make it up to him."
I shook my head, not bothering to ask why she hadn't bothered to point out that he had no right to expect me to shut down my sex life. She understood perfectly well what was going on with me right now, and I couldn't hide from it as long as she wanted to discuss it.
"I don't see how," I said. "He was pretty upset. Angry."
"Well, if he was that disturbed by what you'd done, there must be more on his part than you're thinking."
"What, you think he's jealous?" I opened my eyes to look at her.
She nodded. "Yeah. And hurt."
I flinched and looked at the sofa.
"I think you have a better chance with him than you think."
I shrugged. "Maybe. I don't know. Could be something else."
"What could it be if not jealousy and hurt?"
I sighed. "I don't know. Maybe he's just upset that I have a life outside of his troubles."
Sabriana snorted. "Right. You have a one night stand, come across Geoffrey by accident, and he overstates his denial that he's upset about what you did."
I looked at her. She'd shifted again, and her hands rested on her hips. She looked scornful now, too.
"He doesn't want to be gay," I said.
"That doesn't mean he can run away from it with any kind of success, and it doesn't preclude him from at least privately laying claims on you he really doesn't have a right to make." She jabbed a finger at me. "And he has laid such claims if he's angry and upset over you coming in in this condition." She waved her hand, encompassing my disheveled state.
I closed my eyes again, sighing, and rested my head against the wall. She was right, and I knew it. I just didn't want to accept the truth. Geoffrey's jealousy and anger gave me hope. It was a hope I didn't want.
"He's too afraid, Bria," I said softly. I squeezed my eyes shut and swallowed. "He's afraid to accept himself."
"What are you saying?"
I inhaled a deep breath through my nose to keep it from running, and keeping my eyes squeezed shut tight prevented the tears that pricked my eyes from falling. "I'm saying that I don't expect him to do anything except find a way to deny the truth to himself and date women again. He's afraid of being gay, doesn't want to be gay, and I think he gets by days when he's okay with himself by denying the truth to himself."
"You went through the same thing."
"And it took me four years to get to the point where I could accept myself. I don't think Geoff will get to that point. I think he'll pick the route that looks easiest, and what looks easiest to him is pretending to be straight. He did it before, he knows he can function that way, and it gave him at least a little success in his life."
I laughed, and it sounded bitter. "Bria, one of the biggest reasons why I finally came to accept myself was because I really can't abide having sex with a woman. It absolutely disgusts me sometimes. I can fake it to a certain point, even up to the actual act, but I've never been able to really enjoy it. I don't think Geoff feels the same. I think he thinks he can get along just fine with it if he has to, and I think he thinks he has to get along with it."
I sighed, bowing my head again. "Not that it matters at this point. I think I broke our friendship. He was pretty disgusted with me downstairs."
"Maybe. But maybe not."
I looked up at her. She leaned against the wall, folding her arms under her breasts again.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"I think that if he was really that upset, he won't be able to forget you."
I snorted. "Right. He's not going to take any more risks with me. I've already proven I can't be trusted."
"So? He has no right to expect you to drop everything for him." She stood away from the wall then paced a little, across the hall and back again. "So what if he's made secret little personal claims on you? He hasn't told you he's done so, has he?"
I shook my head. "No."
"So you're still allowed to do what you want, even if it hurts you and him both in the process. You could seduce your clients for all he knows, and he doesn't have a right to say a damn thing about it. You're his friend, and that's all. If he's too chicken shit to admit that he wants more than that from you, that's on him. He doesn't own you, and you don't have to explain yourself or apologize to him for anything you do."
I looked at the floor, thinking about last night, dancing and talking with Drew. I wanted that in my life. I wanted someone confident and comfortable with himself. But I didn't have it. I had Geoffrey, and I didn't want to give up on him, not really, no matter how I actually felt about the outcome of the whole messy situation. I wanted to feel beholden to him. I wanted to be his, even if he didn't announce his claim.
"But I did apologize. Because I wanted to."
"And that's up to you, Si. But he doesn't own you. Do what you feel you should because of how you feel, not because of what you think you'll get from Geoff."
I rubbed my knuckles together again. This time the sound of my coat scraping against itself comforted me. "I feel guilty. I felt guilty about it when I was doing it."
"Well, then, you apologizing is perfectly fine. Just keep in mind that what you do for him is on you until he makes a claim."
I nodded. "I will."
She came over and pulled me away from the wall to hug me. I held her tight, closing my eyes.
"Am I making the right choice?" I asked her.
"I wish I knew, Silas. But I don't. I don't want to see you hurt, and I know that you don't want to be hurt, but you can't hide or run away from this. You just have to face it and make the best decisions you know how."
It didn't feel the same. I had my music on, the book open in my hands, but I was sitting alone on the loveseat. It wasn't the same without Silas. I didn't even have the expectation that he'd join me in a little while. I hadn't called him to ask, and his sister hadn't come up with an invitation.
I'd decided I didn't want him in my life. But at the same time, I did want him. God, I was pathetic, because he was my only friend. And I'd kind of hoped he'd send Sabriana up, but he hadn't. I'd hoped he'd try to make amends or something. I'd been entertaining images of me magnanimously welcoming him back into my company, and he wasn't even trying to reconcile.
It was like he'd given up, and that disturbed me. He wasn't supposed to give up. He was supposed to push at me, try and get back into my good graces, say something insightful about the situation, something that would make me want to forgive him.
I closed my book. I hadn't even taken the bookmark out of place. That's how out of sorts I felt. I hadn't been able to focus on anything the past few days. I'd come down here, tried to sit and read, and then gone back home to mope around the condo wishing Silas had been downstairs to talk to.
I knew I didn't have a right to make demands on him, but that didn't help the way I felt. He'd spent the night out, with someone else, and I didn't need to ask what he'd done. Not if he'd been out long enough to be coming in unshaven in the morning. I couldn't get the image of him standing there with his head hanging out of my mind.
That was when he'd given up. I sat up as I realized this. He'd acted guilty, and he hadn't looked at me, barely even glancing up. He'd given up when he'd seen me.
I slouched back into the loveseat, frowning. A part of me felt glad that he'd given up. It insisted that he deserved to feel like an ass for what he'd done. The rest, the majority, chided me for feeling that way.
Hadn't I been telling myself that I didn't want to find him attractive? Hadn't I been insisting, at least in my head, that I wouldn't be able to find happiness even if I accepted I was gay? Didn't I absolutely hate that about myself, and wasn't I angry about being gay?
I really had no right to be angry at Silas. He didn't belong to me, and I'd long ago decided I wouldn't make any claims on anyone simply by virtue of having decided to do my best to avoid accepting my sexuality. I had no right to feel betrayed by what he'd done. He was his own person.
But I couldn't quite muster the uncaring attitude that required. I did care that he'd found someone else. I did think of him as mine. Hadn't he spent the past several weeks sitting on this very loveseat with me, chatting, reading, people watching? He hadn't gone out before on his nights off. He'd invited me downstairs to sit with him. We'd spent hours on this loveseat, watching nighttime traffic, talking about his job and my job hunt. He'd made me laugh.
I got up. Well, there was one way to solve this. He'd probably be at home, it being Tuesday. He might even be off tonight.
I paced at the elevator, arms folded over my chest, tapping my left upper arm with my book. When the doors opened, I got on as the occupants left. I pressed the button for his floor. Eight. Then I paced on the way up. At his floor, I walked to his door. I rang the doorbell.
The door opened, revealing Silas. His hair looked messy, and he wore a tee shirt and shorts under an open robe. He bowed his head.
"Why did you do it?" It sounded like a demand because I was suddenly angry. Angrier than I'd ever felt over anything before. It burned in my chest, and I clenched my empty hand in a fist and hugged myself tighter so I wouldn't just punch him.
He swallowed. "I was trying to hide," he said softly. "I was trying to deny the truth to myself."
I looked up and down the hall, but didn't really care if anyone overheard. If I went into his apartment, I might lose my anger.
"What were you trying to hide from and deny?"
He looked up, and an expression of fear laced his face. His mouth opened, closed, and he swallowed again. It sounded loud this time.
"You." He continued to speak softly, but now his voice had a shiver to it. "That I'm attracted to you."
I gazed at him in shock, dropping my arms to my sides. "Why didn't you just tell me?" I half-shouted, waving my right hand, the one with my book in it.
Silas straightened a little. "I didn't want to freak you out. You're already half a basket case over being gay. It's driving me nuts!" He waved his right arm, stepping back a little. "I'm used to men who know who and what they are and accept themselves. I'm used to confident men, men who aren't afraid to ask for what they want, who aren't afraid to make demands. I can't believe I want you this much!" He pounded his chest with his fist, then jabbed a finger at me.