Neutral Territory Ch. 06byPS_Lopez©
We were back in the territory of friendship. I glanced at Geoffrey. He was helping somebody else move another table to the other end of the line we were setting up.
The manager of the apartment building had graciously agreed to let Tina use the party room for a birthday party for her husband, Nevin. He was out right now with his sister, who had wrangled a promise to help her shop for her husband's birthday gift from him. Nevin didn't know it was a ruse to keep him from finding out about the party.
Geoffrey didn't look at me. That disappointed me, but I pushed it aside. I'd expected more when I'd found him hiding from my door on Wednesday, but I suppose I'd been hoping for too much too soon. Since he had work, we hadn't been able to spend as much time together, and that bothered me.
Tina moved out of the way and I pushed the table we'd moved over up against the center table. "There." She dusted her hands on one another.
Other people were busy blowing up balloons with the helium she'd bought and hanging them and streamers about. Tina picked up one of the disposable tablecloths off the table and tossed it to the far end. It landed on the table and slid until Geoffrey's hand stopped it. She tossed me another and took the third for herself.
She'd told me she expected about fifty people, mostly family. Nevin had several siblings, they all had spouses and children. The rest would be made up with coworkers and friends.
I spread the tablecloth and threw the wrapper away, then went up to my place. We had time before the party was supposed to start, but I didn't feel like hanging out with anyone. I felt like it was all I could do to go to the party.
I'd thought that having Geoffrey back in my life would make things better. I'd expected too much in that, too, I guessed. Things weren't the same as they had been. Well, they were, but not, at the same time, and I knew that the difference was me.
For his part, Geoffrey seemed completely oblivious, and I was glad of that. I didn't want to push him, and if I had to feel this way to keep from doing so, then it was a good way to feel. Not that I liked feeling this way. It was just that I couldn't seem to shake it no matter what I did.
When I got in, I found that Sabriana had pulled my pans of lasagna out. I'd made two pans--one meat and one vegetarian. Nevin was a vegetarian. He claimed he loved cheese too much to go completely vegan, so I'd made sure to load it up with cheese. I'd garnished the top with cucumber slices so that I'd know which was which.
Since that was done, I just wandered around the apartment. When I went up the hall, I heard the radio in the bathroom, an indication that my sister was still getting ready. I sat and read until she came out, then we collected kitchen towels and oven mitts to take the food downstairs.
I didn't see Geoffrey when we entered. More tables had been set up, with chairs around them, and someone had plugged in a big portable stereo and started music playing. The place looked finished, and other food already sat on the tables. I set the vegetable lasagna down, folded the towel, moved the lasagna onto the towel, and found the little stand-up label to set beside it while my sister did the same for the meat lasagna.
"You stay here," Sabriana said, taking the oven mitts I'd used from me.
I nodded and watched her leave. After she exited, Geoffrey entered with his grandmother. They had stacked containers. He glanced at me, stopped walking, and looked at me again. I averted my gaze and wandered away from the food tables.
A hand touched the back of my arm a couple minutes later as I passed between two of the round dining tables. I stopped and looked. Geoffrey smiled at me.
"Hey, you okay?" he asked.
I nodded, unwilling to tell the truth. He withdrew his hand and tucked it into the pocket of his jeans. He'd requested this evening off but had worked this morning. I'd requested the day off so I could attend. Nevin and Tina had been good friends the past several months.
"You seem different," Geoffrey said softly.
I glanced around, but there wasn't anyone nearby. Most were gone, and the few that were still present were still setting chairs around tables on the other side of the little area apparently designated for dancing. I looked at the floor when I'd satisfied myself that no one could overhear.
I sighed a little. "I don't want to frighten you." I actually rather hoped he'd drop the subject.
"You don't frighten me." He gave me a smile I was certain was meant to reassure. "And nothing you say will."
I looked at the far end of the room, scowling. "I expected too much." I didn't bother to try and suppress my frustration.
"I'm sorry. I'm trying, Silas."
I looked at him, opening my mouth to tell him to try a little harder, then realized he thought I was angry only at him. "It's not just you." I huffed a little. "I'm being impatient, and I know better."
He'd bowed his head and didn't look up at me now. "What do you want me to do?"
I flinched a little. "I don't know what to ask of you." I had ideas. I knew better than to name them, though. He wasn't ready. He probably would have done more than asked me out to breakfast if he had been. "I don't want to push you into doing something you don't want to do."
Geoffrey looked up. "You've pushed me before."
I nodded. "I know, and you ran away every time. I don't want to do that again."
He heaved a deep, quick sigh and paced a little circle. When he came to face me again, he met and held my gaze. "Maybe you need to push me. I know I shouldn't have to be pushed, but that seems to be the only time I'm able to make any progress."
I looked at the people at the far end. They'd completed setting chairs around tables and now stood chatting. Looking at them didn't banish the idea I had, they just made me uncertain about doing it here. I turned to face the door and hooked Geoffrey's arm.
"Come with me."
I didn't keep hold of him, but he followed me out of the party room. He didn't ask where we were going, but then, it was rather apparent because I turned right and the only other room down this hall was the laundry room. When we reached it, I waved Geoffrey in first; someone's laundry was in the dryers, but the tenant wasn't present and there was a good forty minutes on the timers. We wouldn't be here that long. I shut the door.
"What?" Geoffrey asked now, having looked around and seen nothing that could explain our presence here.
I went over to him. He watched me, then lowered his gaze, but didn't bow his head. I stopped in front of him and raised a hand to his chin, raising his head a little with my fingers.
When I kissed him, he gasped. I kept it simple, just parting my lips and closing them against his. It satisfied something within myself to kiss him. It felt good, and gave me a feeling of completeness. It fulfilled me, the simple kiss, and I watched him as I stepped back, lowering my hand.
Geoffrey's gaze rose. I didn't think he'd closed his eyes, and now he gazed at me, an expression of uncertainty on his face. He inhaled a deep breath and hugged himself, bowing his head.
I put my hands in my pockets and propped my ass against one of the open washers and gazed at the counter top that had been built onto the wall across the narrow room. Geoffrey didn't move. I just stared at that counter top, giving him the time he needed. After a few minutes, he raised his head.
"Do you want to do it again?"
I met his gaze. "I'd like to, but it doesn't have to be right now."
"Oh." He bowed his head, but unhugged himself and put his hands in his pockets. He scuffed the sole of his sneaker on the floor.
"Oh, I just, um." He shrugged. "Just, I'd kind of . . ." Another shrug, and his head bowed lower.
"I can't read your mind," I said, deciding that it would be better if I could get him to tell me what was going through his head instead of trying to guess it out of him. Besides, we didn't have time for a game of Twenty Questions.
He gave an explosive sigh and glanced at me, but his head didn't hang as low when he looked down again. "I feel like I'm fifteen again," he muttered, sounding a little irritated with himself.
I chuckled softly. He gave a single abrupt chuckle that didn't sound very amused.
"I just--why do I have to psychoanalyze myself after every little step?" He raised his head. He turned away and stomped on the floor with his first two paces toward the other end of the room and heaved another explosive sigh. "Why can't I just fucking go with things?"
I stifled a smile, but his little fit amused me. It was kind of a relief to know that he could feel as frustrated as I did with his progress with our situation. His back expanded as he inhaled a deep breath, and his head bowed again as he exhaled.
"Want to go back?" I asked, checking my phone for the time. "It's about time for the party to start."
Geoffrey sighed and raised his head. He didn't turn around. "You go. Tell them I'll be back in a minute."
I stood away from the washer and crossed to the laundry room's door. "Okay. Don't take long. Nevin will be here any minute."
"I won't be long."
I forced myself to leave, closing the door so the latch touched the corner of the latch plate. A part of me insisted that I should stay, but I refused to infringe upon the privacy Geoffrey felt he needed.
When I entered the party room, I found everyone gathered near the door. Tina stood right at the front and waved me in, patting my back as I passed her.
"Where's Geoff?" she asked.
"He needed a few minutes by himself. To think about something."
She didn't seem upset, and that reassured me. I wandered into the crowd, requesting pardons as I pushed between people until I reached the back of the group. After I turned around to face the door, I saw Geoffrey enter. He took up a spot where I couldn't see him just before Nevin and Marla entered.
I shouted the "Happy Birthday" song with everyone else, none of us in tune, and shifted, trying to get a peek at Geoffrey. I spotted the back of his head, up near where Tina had been standing. He didn't look around, not that I'd expected him to. He was, like the rest of us, busy singing birthday well-wishes to Nevin.
When I first moved in with Grandma, I'd thought the hardest thing I'd ever done was tell her I was gay. Of course, I'd had a suspicion that Dad had already called her to denounce me as the ultimate evil. It wasn't like he hadn't had similar complaints about me before. He would have wanted to make sure I wouldn't have anyone to turn to, especially since Grandma was the one I'd always turned to whenever Dad's complaints and accusations got to be too much to bear.
It was so hard then because I hadn't wanted to admit the truth, but, as I said, I'd suspected Dad had already gotten to her with it. Actually, I'd phrased it, "Dad accused me of being gay." As if that could somehow make the whole situation not be what it was. As if that could banish the truth and disguise the wretchedness of my existence.
But that hadn't been as hard as receiving that kiss had been. I hadn't known what to expect when Silas had led me to the laundry room. I hadn't thought that far ahead; I'd been too busy the past few days regaining my confidence in the reestablishment of our friendship. When he'd kissed me, my heart had gone still. I'd lost the ability to breathe. I'd felt afraid again.
Afraid of Silas. Afraid of being gay. Afraid of life.
Because that kiss was an indication that he wasn't going to give up. It was affirmation of his interest in me. It was verification that he found something about me attractive and desirable.
It was something I hadn't anticipated. I hadn't even considered that he might want to kiss me, never mind that he'd actually do so.
I'd tried to work past it on the spot, but that hadn't worked. I'd gotten locked up on the fact that I hadn't thought that far. I'd felt trapped between myself and my fears.
And now I wandered Nevin's birthday party doing my best to avoid Silas. I couldn't face him now. He didn't seem to be trying to join me, but I couldn't be sure. Then again, it was a small room, and there were a limited number of options as far as places to go. He could go to the north table arrangement, the dance floor, or the south table arrangement.
I did catch him watching me. Well looking. I was doing my best to pretend I didn't see him, so I couldn't tell if he was watching me, strictly speaking. He looked concerned, for the most part. As if he would have come over to me, but felt uncertain as to the welcome he'd receive. I thought it rather wise of him. I didn't know if I could have welcomed him in any capacity.
I didn't know how I did it. I chatted with people, ate, we sang happy birthday again and cut the big sheet cake one of Nevin's coworkers had baked. The icing was at least an inch thick on the damn thing, and I ended up scraping it off with my fork because it was just the sugar kind and made me feel sick to taste it.
But then, I could have been feeling sick because of the kiss Silas had given me. I couldn't really tell. If so, it was the first adverse physical reaction I'd had to being gay.
Kind of funny really. Silas was attractive, and I could appreciate that in an objective fashion as well as subjective. His short, half-curled hair looked perpetually uncombed but it gave his appearance a rather more boyish quality than looking like he didn't take care of himself. He was tall, fit--at least from what I could tell--and had a great personality. He could have had anyone, and he wanted me--and I could hardly bear to admit the fact I was gay.
I could have wallowed in feelings of unworthiness, but that would have been pointless, especially since they'd been enough of a constant in my psyche that I hardly noticed them any more. They'd been present at a pretty high level, too, so I couldn't amplify them any more. They were, I realized as I knocked the top layer off my piece of cake, such a part of me they'd wrapped up in my feelings about being gay.
I found a table and sat down, then put my cake on its little paper plate down and scraped at the raspberry gel filling with the tips of the tines of my fork. That was part of my problem. Dad had ranted so much about all the wrongs in the world, and I'd known I was a member of one of the biggest wrongs since I was ten. Not that I'd been the greatest example of a happy, confident child to begin with. Dad hadn't needed to know I was suppressing homosexuality in order to find other ways of making me feel useless and inferior.
Oh, he wasn't physically abusive, but I'd known since I was old enough to comprehend spoken word that there were other kinds of abuse. I'd known that I was being verbally abused since I'd started school and listened to other children, classmates and people I would have befriended if I'd been brave enough, talking about their parents. Few of them had had complaints about how they were treated. Well, nothing beyond complaints about having to do homework and cleaning their rooms.
They'd gotten hugs and kisses from their parents. The lectures they complained about came in reaction to them doing something they shouldn't have or not doing something they should have, not just because of the mere fact of their existence. Their fathers hadn't pontificated about the end of the world based on the varied evils, and they wouldn't have been perceived as one of those evils even if they hadn't been straight.
Even my girlfriends. I'd been jealous of them, very secretly. They'd been happy and confident and well adjusted and pretty much everything I wasn't. I'd had trouble aping the qualities they displayed naturally.
"Hey, what's wrong?"
I started, jerking my head up and around to look at Tina. She smiled and sat in the chair next to me. I looked at the piece of cake on her plate.
"One sugary thing once in a while doesn't hurt too much," she said. "Besides, I've scraped off the awful icing." She turned her plate around to reveal the massive lump of white it made.
I nodded and returned my gaze to my cake and saw that I'd succeeded in moving the filling from the top of the bottom layer to the plate.
"How come you're sitting here all by yourself?"
I looked around again, this time noticing I sat at a table in the back of the room. The other tables nearby were occupied.
When I looked at Tina again, I remembered how angry I'd been when Grandma had told her I was gay. That had been before I'd made it clear how I felt about it.
"You set me up, didn't you?"
"What do you mean?" she asked.
I sighed and scraped the raspberry gel off my plate. "With Silas."
"In a way. I thought he'd be a good friend for you. I didn't expect . . ."
I nodded. "It's okay. I understand, and I am kind of glad that he's my friend."
I looked at her. "What?"
I blinked, half tempted to ask her what she meant, but I already knew. It was okay to be gay. It was okay to admit it to myself. It was okay to accept myself. It was okay.
But that wasn't how it felt to me. I licked the raspberry filling off my fork and poked at the overturned top layer of my cake. "He kissed me." For some reason I felt a need to discuss it. I didn't talk about what was going on with Silas and I with Grandma. I gave her the barest facts possible and refused to answer her questions.
Maybe it was because Tina wasn't family. She didn't have some sort of agenda. My father hated me, Grandma wanted to prove to me that she loved me. Tina was just Tina, a friend, someone who cared and someone who wanted me to be happy. She probably felt and wanted the same for Silas.
"Well, that's good, isn't it?" she asked.
I pried a bite off the upper half my cake. "I don't know. I didn't expect it."
"Well, then it was a pleasant surprise."
I chuckled a little and glanced up. Silas sat at a different table with other people, but he wasn't talking to them. His gaze was on me. Someone passed between us and when they were gone, I saw Silas had lowered his gaze to his cake.
"Did he send you over to talk to me?" I asked.
"No. I saw you weren't talking to him and wanted to know what was wrong."
I ate the bite of cake on my fork. "Why not ask him?"
She set her fork down and put her hand on the table next to her plate. "Don't get angry at your grandmother."
"Why? What did she do?" I poked at my cake.
"She told me you're having a hard time with accepting that you're gay."
I nodded. "I'm not angry. There's no point. It won't change what's been said." I stuck my fork in the bottom half of my cake and pushed the plate away and folded my arms on the table, bowing my head. "You're worried about me."
"Yeah," Tina said.
I sighed. "I'm okay, I think, for the most part. Just have to think this through."
"So, Silas isn't pushing you? He isn't taking advantage of you?"
I looked at her. "He is kind of pushing at me, but I don't really mind. Not that much. I kind of told him to push me. And he's not taking advantage of me. I think he's more afraid to do things than I am."
"Hey, is this a private conversation, or can anyone join in?"
I looked up to see Sabriana standing to the side. She smiled.
"Hey, Geoff," she said.
I indicated the chair to my right. "Come on over."
That got me a grin and she came around and sat down. She had a cup with her, but had apparently finished her cake because she didn't have a plate. She set the cup down and folded her arms on the table.
"So, I have a question."
"Why aren't you hanging out with Si?"