Neutral Territory Ch. 05byPS_Lopez©
I was on the sofa when Sabriana got home. Today was a day off, so I hadn't bothered getting dressed. I hadn't felt much like doing so after Geoffrey's visit.
"Moping?" my sister asked in a snide tone of voice.
I didn't look at her. "None of your business."
She shut the door and locked it, then brought her backpack over to drop on the coffee table. I jumped a little but otherwise did my best to pretend like she wasn't home. She let me turn the channel on the TV--I was just idly flipping through them like I'd spent the rest of the day doing--a few times before speaking again.
"Tina called me today," she said.
Something cold slithered into my guts. I glared at the TV.
Sabriana paced a little. "She left a message on my voicemail."
I swallowed, pressing the channel up button. I wanted to unmute the TV, but knew better than that. My sister was calm so far, though I could tell by the tone of her voice that she was far from happy. If I put the sound back on, she'd grab the remote and turn the TV completely off, and right now it was at least something to look at while my sister paced.
"Don't you want to know what she had to say?"
I could well imagine what Tina had had to say. Not that I blamed Geoffrey for running to her. He didn't have many friends, and I'd just taken my friendship away from him. All he really had left was Tina.
I'd been firm in my decision to stick it out up until I'd seen him framed by the peephole. When I had, something within me had snapped, and I just hadn't been able to face it.
"She said that you broke up with Geoff," Sabriana said after my silence lingered for a minute.
I flinched. "Broke up with him? We weren't dating."
"Oh, don't give me that load of crap, Silas. You know damn well that was exactly what you were doing."
I looked at her. "If I was, it wasn't consciously, and, technically, to be dating I'd have had to take him out places. We never went anywhere but downstairs to meet and talk and on a few walks."
"Screw technicalities. You were dating him. At least have the balls to admit that much to yourself. You wanted him, and you were doing whatever you had to so that you could be with him. What made you change your mind?"
I returned my gaze to the TV so I wouldn't have to see my sister's anger.
"He's not what I really want." Yeah, it was a boldfaced lie. Lies were all I had left.
Sabriana gave a sarcastic laugh. "Right. I believe that. Try again, Silas, and this time tell me the truth."
I looked at her. She stood with her fists on her hips, scowling down at me. I inhaled a deep breath.
"I want some guarantee of success," I said.
"There's no such thing."
I rose, waving at the door with the remote in my right hand. "With some other man there is!"
"Oh, really? Have you forgotten all the nights you went out with the intent to hook up with someone and ended up coming home alone?"
"There is no such thing as a guarantee of success in anything, Silas, and you know it. Especially not when it comes to relationships. The fact is, you're still running. You're hiding, trying to ignore the truth. You're afraid of putting a load of time and effort and emotion into coaxing Geoff into your bed and having it fall through before you get him there." She waved a hand at the ceiling when she said Geoffrey's name.
She pointed at me. "Well, I have news for you, Silas. Real relationships take effort. It would have been the same if you'd ended up with some guy you picked up for a one night stand. You can't just expect things to be easy. Nothing real, nothing worthwhile is just given to anybody on a silver platter. I thought you realized that. You've certainly been acting like it for the past sixteen months since we got here. You've been acting like it since you were eighteen, when you went to college against Dad's wishes. What happened, did the little extra work you've had to put in with Geoff frighten you?"
I looked away, folding my arms over my chest. We stood in silence for a minute while I glared at the silent pictures on the TV. Sabriana was waiting, and I didn't want to answer her question. It might make her angrier.
"Well?" she prompted after a couple minutes.
I flinched. "Yes."
"Well, you need to get over it and get over yourself. You aren't the only one who matters in this, Silas. Geoff counts, too, and you hurt him. Now it's up to you to fix it."
I looked at her, jaw dropped. I wouldn't deny that I wanted things back the way they'd been, but how was I supposed to get them that way again? "Fix it?" I echoed. "How?"
"I don't know and I don't care." Sabriana waved a hand, dismissing me. "And don't expect me to help." She inhaled a breath and let it out in a short forceful sigh. "I'm going out and I have to get ready. My boyfriend will be here in a while to pick me up."
With that, she walked into the hallway. I watched her go, then looked at the floor. I still felt cold, but it was a different kind of cold than that which had gripped my guts earlier. It was the chill of knowing I'd really screwed up royally.
I sat on the sofa again, and shut off the TV, then just sat there holding the remote, wondering what I could do to rectify things between Geoffrey and myself. Without my sister's help, I had no idea what to do. She could have given me ideas if she'd been willing, but I knew better than to try and beg her to help me now. I was neck deep in a hole, and I'd dug that hole myself.
I was lonely without Silas. There had to be a way to get him back into my life, and I knew that I had to work on myself first. I had to open up a little. I had to relax about things.
So I tried. Common Grounds hired me, and I used my first week at the job to try and figure things out. The job's main asset was that I saw a lot of people, and I really started paying attention to what I thought about the different people who entered, instead of shutting my thoughts off.
It made me feel a little uncomfortable at first. I kept expecting people to accuse me of harassing them, though I didn't do or say anything outside what my job required. I just rang up orders, mixed up coffees and teas and fetched food from our coolers. I smiled, was polite, and discovered that I could be friendly and that it didn't hurt.
And the thoughts I had. I still looked at women and rated them as attractive or not, but now I didn't feel the sense of dread I used to. I didn't feel obligated to enforce my opinions by complimenting them and acting interested. They didn't seem offended by my lack of interest, which eased my anxiety.
But each man I saw, I'd look at and think, "He isn't Silas." I could judge men as attractive or not, but that thought always came up first. And I still wasn't sure about being gay, so I kept my eyes averted for the most part. None of the men commented on my behavior, though I knew it was odd. I could feel comfortable looking at Silas, but looking at other men made me edgy. I could admit to myself that I found Silas attractive, but admitting I found other men attractive made me feel insecure and uncomfortable with myself.
And that translated to my work, so I eventually shut off my thoughts again, at least for a little while. I shoved aside considerations of other men and focused my thoughts on Silas and finding a way to get him back into my life.
I entered to the too-familiar strains of "Blue Bayou" and stopped a few paces in. I could see about fifteen shadows at various tables, a few grouped together like usual. And someone ballroom dancing by himself on the dance floor. It looked like the tango.
I tugged my coat closer against myself and crossed the room to the bar. No point in trying to avoid things. Cindy provided me with my Black Russian and I took it to a table near the dance floor and sat. If he noticed me, Drew didn't betray it. He continued dancing, his gaze apparently unfocused on the room at large.
I kept my hand around my drink and thought about what I'd done to Geoffrey. I hadn't been able to come up with a way to reconcile with him yet, and I felt like I was getting further and further away from him. It frustrated me, and I tapped the table with the bottom of my drink's glass.
Someone sat in the chair across from me.
"You look upset," Drew said.
I glanced up at him and nodded. "I am." I sighed and sipped my drink. "More at myself than anyone else."
Drew set his drink on the table. "Dance?"
I looked at him. I could see the same thing happening again. Us dancing, him inviting me to his place, another round of sex I'd feel more than a little dissatisfied with. I shook my head.
"I can't do it again."
"It's just a dance." He didn't sound offended or upset. Just patient.
I sighed. "I don't feel much like dancing."
He nodded. "Want to talk about what's bothering you? I've been told I'm a good listener."
I sighed again. "It's not going to get me any closer to a solution."
Drew chuckled. "Give it a try. I might have some useful suggestions."
Well, given that reasoning, I could see a point in sharing my troubles, so I told him. Over the course of my tale, I slouched on the table, and I ended up gazing into my drink as if that could provide advice. Drew didn't seem upset that I'd essentially used him to try and hide from my problems, and I wasn't sure how to take that. Not that he'd displayed aspects of type A personality before now, but I wouldn't have been happy to have learned some guy had done to me what I'd done to him.
He asked a few questions as I went over my troubles, then sat quietly when I finished. I sipped my drink and looked at the dance floor. It was the only well-lit space in the bar, and even then that wasn't saying much. The black and white checkerboard pattern provided no more assistance than staring into my drink had, and I realized that I may never find a way to get Geoffrey back into my life.
That goaded me. "Any ideas?"
Drew met my gaze, shaking his head. "No. You pretty much shut the door with what you said to him."
I nodded and heaved a greater sigh than before. "Yeah. Thanks for trying."
We sat not speaking for a while as repetitions of "Blue Bayou" wafted through the air. When Drew shifted, I didn't look up until he tapped my index finger.
"Dance with me," he said.
I sipped my drink, set it down, and rose. May as well. It would be something to do and might distract me for a while. At the very least, it wouldn't hurt.
Drew led me around the dance floor, reintroducing me to different dances. He named them as he danced them, counted the steps out. I didn't really pay attention. I just followed his lead. We didn't really talk again, even when we sat to take breaks, and I finally left The Henhouse around nine after returning my half-consumed drink to the bar.
I considered going up to see if Geoffrey would talk to me when I got back home, then decided it was too late. But really, I was just afraid he'd reject me.
I unplugged my phone and wiggled over to my right side to put it on the pillow on the other side of my bed, then folded the pillow beneath my head in half.
After I'd tried loosening up about things, I'd done a bit of thinking. I wanted Silas back in my life, and he wanted more than friendship. It made me a little anxious to consider things, but I thought that even if I'd be perfectly fine not dating anyone, I might be happy dating Silas. He'd made me laugh and smile, and I'd always enjoyed our times together.
And I was attracted to him. I had been from that day I'd seen him talking to Tina in the lobby. That had frightened me, because I hadn't been able to imagine being attracted to a man like that. I'd known, in a vague sort of way, what being gay meant, but I'd spent so long refusing to consider being attracted to anybody that it had surprised me. I'd known that I preferred men to women, but I hadn't really seriously considered what it really meant.
The past week or so, I had been. I'd forced myself to continue relaxing and had been really paying attention to my thoughts. I'd been letting them form, and I hadn't been shoving them aside as much as I had been. It had been hard developing this new habit, but I'd discovered that it wasn't so bad thinking about men in a sexual way. I'd still been careful about how I behaved, but I'd let my thoughts move past the internal barriers I'd erected before I'd even realized I'd created them.
It had felt kind of odd. I still wasn't sure I liked being gay, but I didn't feel afraid of it any more. It had been nice not to police my own thoughts, not to redirect them, not to try to ignore them. I'd felt, for the first time since I was a kid, real. I'd relaxed, physically, and I was making friends with coworkers.
I'd never had friends before. I'd always been too afraid of betraying too much and pushed away the kids my parents tried to get me to associate with. I'd learned I wasn't shy, that I could be confident, that it was fun to live.
I hadn't felt depressed for the past few days. Even now, I felt more at peace with myself than I had since I was a kid. Things didn't weigh me down, and fears didn't dog me. I'd broken out of the fog of uncertainty and had found the light of confidence.
Now I just had to find a way to get Silas back into my life. I wanted him there. I missed his presence in it. He'd been my first friend, and I'd thought of him as my best friend. He'd been willing to tell me the tough things to say. I thought that I might be able to consider more than friendship with him. I was certainly more comfortable thinking about him in a sexual way than I'd been able to feel about thinking of other men that way.
I inhaled a deep breath and picked up my phone. His number was still in it, and I found it and pressed the call button. I didn't get my hopes up. He hadn't spoken to me since he'd dumped me. He hadn't sent his sister up. He hadn't come down to sit with me in the lobby.
I counted four rings, then it dropped to voicemail. Frowning, I hung up. Well, so much for that route. I wanted to hear his reaction to what I had to say, and I couldn't do that if I left a message. Besides, knowing how he felt, he probably wouldn't listen to it.
I got out of bed and showered, then dressed. In the living room, at the door, I took a couple deep breaths to calm myself and fortify my courage. I knew I'd get only one chance at this, and that was only if I was lucky.
The trek to his door took both too long and not enough time. I rehearsed, revised, rehearsed again what I intended to say on the way. Once there, I hesitated, my finger raised to press the doorbell, then stepped aside, out of view of the peephole, and pressed the doorbell.
Silence. I gave Silas plenty of time to get to the door and look out, assuming he assumed it was a walk-by or accidental ring. Then I pressed the doorbell again. This time the door opened.
"Okay, you little brats," he said, stepping out. I met his gaze when he came past the door frame. "Geoff."
I almost looked away, but resisted that impulse as I pressed my lips together, searching for what I'd intended to say.
"I trust you," I said.
He blinked, opened his mouth, then closed it, and I saw comprehension dawn on his features. He was dressed as he'd been that day he'd dumped me and his left arm came forward. He tied his robe shut and looked at the door across the hall.
"And it doesn't freak me out." I pressed my back against the wall, palms against the wall, and looked at the floor.
"It doesn't freak you out."
I shook my head. "No, it doesn't."
"What do you want, then?"
I inhaled a deep breath, gathering courage. "You. I miss you. You make me laugh. I'm happy when I'm with you. Okay, maybe I'm still a bit freaked about the gay thing, but I'm not afraid of what you want." I slid my hands to tuck between my ass and the wall and looked up at him. "It's hard to explain, and I don't expect you to understand how I can still be upset about being gay but not upset about your interest, but that's the way I feel."
Silas cleared his throat and averted his gaze, chin lowering a little. "I miss you, too. I just didn't know what to do or say, and Sabriana refused to help."
I chuckled a little at that.
"She pointed out that I'm still just trying to run and hide from things," he said after a few seconds. He sighed a little. "And she's right. I am. You scare me, Geoff. I lost track of my original life plans when we started hanging out. You challenge me, and that freaks me out. I want things to be simple and easy, a straight line from A to Z, and the line between us goes every which way from A except to Z. I feel like there's this little circle around Z, with arrows pointing to it, big neon signs telling me where it is, but it's behind a wall and I can't get to it."
I looked at the floor. "I'm sorry. I don't intend to be difficult."
He shifted and I looked to see he'd placed his hand on the door frame. Now he stood rather close, and I rocked a little on my feet, resisting the urge to sidle away. Silas's gaze wasn't on my face; it seemed focused on my shoulder. He hadn't shaved yet, and he looked tired, as if he hadn't been sleeping well. I wondered if I looked the same to him, tired, restless, unhappy. I returned my gaze to the floor.
"So." I couldn't think of anything else to say. Silas didn't say anything either, and I racked my brain for something. "Want to go out for breakfast? I don't have to be in at work until four."
"You got a job?"
I nodded. "Part time at a coffee shop."
He raised his left hand, then lowered it, then put it on my shoulder. I looked at him. He smiled.
"Want to come in and wait while I get ready?" he asked.
I glanced down the hall to my right, at the floor, and met his gaze again. "How about I meet you in the lobby?"
Silas looked a little disappointed, but didn't protest my suggestion. "Okay." He nodded.
For a moment, I felt a little uncertain, then I pushed it away. I needed a book to read either way. I could hang out at Silas's place some other time.
His hand slid away and he stepped back, into the doorway, still facing me. "Give me about forty-five minutes."
I nodded. "Okay."
He entered his place and shut the door. I sighed and hung my head, closing my eyes. What was wrong with me? He didn't frighten me any more. There could be nothing wrong with hanging out in his place.
Still, I didn't change my mind, even after I had my book and mp3 player. I went downstairs to sit and wait. I was such a pathetic coward.