Neutral Territory Ch. 07byPS_Lopez©
There was a harried mother of three at the bus stop today. One about six, one about three or four, and a baby in her arms. She'd already folded the two-seater stroller she'd likely transported the youngest two in. The six year old kept charging off in various directions after distractions I couldn't comprehend.
The storefront was still empty, and the window still advertised "ALL MATTRESSES $199!" in its slanted way, but it wasn't raining. The sky was clear except for high, puffy clouds and bright late-autumn sunlight. It shone into the bus shelter, and I'd put on my sunglasses because it hurt my eyes.
Geoffrey had had work this morning. I had a book with me, of course, but it wasn't the same to sit and read in the lobby without him. I was used to his presence beside me on the loveseat. I was used to his warmth and the faint sound of the music playing in his ear buds. I was used to his occasional comment, our frequent chats, and our theorizing about where the people passing by outside were going.
I was used to Geoffrey.
I wasn't sure if I would have done anything differently if I'd known what would happen when I returned home that rainy day four months ago. A part of me regretted it all; admitting to myself that hint of interest I'd felt when Tina had pointed Geoffrey out to me; opening the door when I'd seen it was him through the peephole; inviting him in; sending Sabriana up to invite him to hang out with me in the lobby. And everything else.
I'd learned some things about myself the past few months. I wasn't as confident as I liked to think I was. I still hid from shit, and I could even run from things that challenged me--right into bad decisions and big mistakes. I could be patient.
That was the biggest reason why I couldn't find it within myself to completely regret any of what had happened. I hadn't known before that I could be so patient with someone else. With myself. With a situation like the one I was in. Before I'd met Geoffrey, I'd been pretty impatient. I'd wanted things now, immediately, didn't want to wait. I went out to pick up guys because I wanted sex now, no strings attached.
I hadn't realized I'd, well, maybe not enjoy having strings, but that I at least wouldn't find them as restrictive as I'd believed them to be. I actually kind of wanted the strings that attached me to this mess with Geoffrey, and not just because I wanted Geoffrey himself. I wanted them because they tied me to something important, something meaningful, something that, while frequently frustrating, was still also fulfilling.
And I also did want Geoffrey. Very much. What had started out as a little tugging desire had grown into something I was almost afraid of. Not because it was so prominent within me, or because it was so strong, but because it may end up all being in vain.
Before, when I'd just been after one night stands, rejection had held no terror for me, but that was what I felt now, faced with the possibility that Geoffrey might pull back, end what we had. Terror. I didn't want to lose what we had. I didn't want to lose Geoffrey, and he had the power to take himself away from me, at whatever time. All he had to do was say, "I don't want to see you any more."
And I knew that was something I couldn't push him on. I'd want to, but I couldn't dare force myself on him if he decided he didn't want to pursue this mess between us. And I could make him stop the whole thing if I pushed too much now, when I did have him. It was a balancing act, and there was no net to catch me. If Geoffrey decided he didn't want to associate with me any more, I'd fall, and I'd land, and it would hurt.
It already did hurt. I wanted to throttle him sometimes, I got so frustrated with his circling around his issues. I'd almost suggested he see if he could get into therapy more than once, but I'd refrained; that was something which could drive him away for good. He was already struggling enough without me seeming to suggest he was insane.
I wanted to fix his problems for him. I wanted to make them all go away. I wanted to be able to wave my hand and make him all better, happy, and everything he wanted to be. It hurt to watch him struggling with himself. It disturbed me that he disliked the very thing about himself that acceptance of would give him the most freedom.
And it saddened me that he didn't see acceptance of his sexuality as something that would free him. If I could have thought of a way to convince him that accepting it would free him, I would have used it, but I couldn't. It was something he had to discover for himself, and I was afraid that he may never do so.
I was also afraid that Geoffrey would back out of what was between us and shut down. He could do that. He could just decide not to face his sexuality at all and suppress it again. It was near what he was doing now, but at least he seemed to be working through his issues with it, even though it was a very tentative effort on his part. At least he was trying now. But he was so close to shutting down about it, it made me afraid that if I pushed too much he would shut down, and there'd be no way I could reach him then.
I had to keep restraining myself. I wanted to push him. And not just for himself, but because I wanted so much more than we currently had. It was a desire that was at least half selfish, if not more. I cared too much that the outcome should be in my favor. That I should have Geoffrey as my lover, my boyfriend.
I sighed and glanced to the right when I heard the mother shout. The six year old ran straight at me, and I caught her by the shoulders. She looked up at me, and I gently pushed her back toward her mother.
"I'm sorry, sir," the child's mother said.
I sat on the bench and removed my sunglasses. The six year old looked up at me. I smiled.
"Hi, there, cutie-pie," I said.
She took a half-step back, pony tails bobbing. I put my sunglasses in my pocket with my book.
"How about we play 'Pat-A-Cake'?"
She stopped retreating.
I patted my knees with my hands, clapped my hands, and extended them palms facing the child as I recited, "Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake."
The child regarded me with wariness.
"Ba-ker's man," I finished, patting my knees and clapping my hands again. "Come on." I held out my hands as I'd done before. "It's okay."
She stepped up and held up her hands in a mirror of how I held mine. I patted them gently and continued the rhyme, speaking slowly as the six year old copied my motions, at first haltingly, then with more confidence.
Kind of like Geoffrey with his working through his issues.
I blinked a little, going still for a few seconds. The child patted my palms twice with her hands. We went through a few more renditions of "Pat-A-Cake," then I switched to "Itsy-Bitsy Spider." She copied what I did with my hands and echoed my words, so it sounded like a round.
"Are you single?" her mother asked.
I glanced up at the woman. "Sorry. I'm gay."
I chuckled. "Sorry."
She chuckled as well. "Don't mind me, but you're good with kids." She shifted the baby to her other arm and indicated her other child, who'd gone still with his hands poised in the "rainfall" portion of the hand-choreography, as my hands were.
"Thanks, I'll consider adoption if I can convince my boyfriend to stick with me."
She chuckled. I smiled a little and finished the song, then started singing "There Was An Old Woman Who Swallowed A Fly." The kids listened with rapt attention, the younger one creeping closer. I sang the song like my kindergarten teacher used to, as if I was imparting news of great importance, complete with dramatic pauses. I actually made it all the way to the dog verse before the bus arrived.
"Thanks," the children's mother said as she herded her older two onto the bus. The driver had enough grace to lower the bus for her, at least. "You've been a great help."
She hefted the collapsed stroller onto the bus and climbed on after it. The doors shut, but the bus didn't move for a minute. I watched the mother's form through the window, and it looked like the driver let her sit down before he started driving again.
The bus departed, leaving me alone at the stop, only the window advertising mattresses for distraction. I sighed, hanging my hands between my thighs.
A part of me wished things with Geoffrey were easier, but I supposed I wouldn't have cared so much for him if they had been.
I glanced at Silas when he shifted again. He'd stretched out his legs and slouched in the spot next to me, ankles crossed, and left arm folded over his torso, other elbow propped in his hand. After several seconds, I returned my attention to my book. I managed to read a page before Silas shifted again, sitting up and propping his left ankle on his right knee this time.
"Is something wrong?" I asked without looking at him.
He lowered his book and turned a page. "No, nothing."
I nodded, but I wasn't sure I believed that. He usually didn't shift so much when we sat down here. He'd done it the other day, too.
He set his foot on the floor and leaned, putting his elbows on his knees. I eyed him, frowning.
He turned his head to look at me. "Nothing's wrong."
"Something's bothering you."
He sat up and slouched into the back of the loveseat, closing his book on the receipt he was using as a bookmark. "I'm perfectly fine." He set the book on his left thigh, his hand on the book.
"You're about to wear the upholstery out with as much as you're moving."
He chuckled, not looking at me. "No, I'm not." He folded his arms over his chest.
"What's bothering you?"
Silas sighed. "Nothing." He picked up the book and refolded his arms as he propped his left ankle on his right knee again. His left leg commenced bobbing.
I put my hand on his leg. "You're fidgeting."
"I just keep getting uncomfortable. That's perfectly normal."
"Not as much as you're doing it. You usually gradually just slouch next to me, then sit up again. You're fidgeting. Tell me what's wrong."
"Nothing's wrong," he said.
"Geoffrey," he sneered.
I sat up, removing my hand from his leg, and leaned to my left. He glanced at me, and an expression of shame settled on his features, then he set his left foot down and rose. I twisted where I sat, watching him go to where the elevators were. He looked over his shoulder at me, and he still looked ashamed. And something else. Perhaps afraid.
The doors of an elevator opened, and he entered. I sat back in the loveseat and watched people pass by for a few seconds, trying to comprehend what had just happened.
He was shutting me out. I scowled. Not if I could help it. I closed my book and got up. It took a minute for an elevator to come down to the ground floor, then I had to wait for its passengers to disembark. I jabbed the button for Silas's floor. Eight. On his floor, I stalked to his door. Sixteen. I forwent the doorbell and knocked on the door as loud as I could. Bruised my knuckles in the process, but I didn't really care.
The door opened. Sabriana smiled at me.
"Come on in. You just saved him from one of my rants. He's hiding in his bedroom. The door's closed, but don't bother knocking. He doesn't deserve warning."
I stared at her. "You're really pissed at him."
"He's being stupid." She scowled as she waved a hand in the direction of the hall. "And he's cornered himself in his room, so this is the perfect opportunity to talk to him."
I stepped in, edging around her. A part of me insisted I shouldn't do this, but I didn't want to make Sabriana angry at myself. Besides, I still wanted to have it out with Silas. Just not as much as before.
I looked around as I passed through the living room, as if I could find a place to hide. The hall was short, and the door at the end was shut. I approached it feeling like I was facing the lion in his den, raised my hand to knock, remembered what Sabriana had said, and grasped the knob instead. It took a minute for me to recall the anger I'd been feeling; Sabriana's attitude had knocked it out of me, and I scowled when I remembered how Silas had run away. I turned the knob and pushed in the door.
He sat on his bed, which was unmade, and looked up with an expression of horror on his face when I entered. I slammed the door and folded my arms over my chest, doing my best to glare at him. It occurred to me at this moment that I was doing something a bit out of character for myself, but I pushed that aside. I didn't want to think about that now. The important thing was getting Silas to tell me what was bothering him.
"What is wrong?"
He rose. "Get out."
"No. Not until you tell me what's wrong."
"Just get out." He pointed at the door. "I don't want to talk to you right now."
I flinched and backed up, pressing my back to the door, but I didn't move aside. As long as I stood in front of the door he couldn't open it and push me out.
"No. Tell me what's wrong."
"Nothing's wrong!" He threw up his hands and turned around in place, hands rising to his hips, falling, rising to his hips, falling, as if he couldn't decide what to do. He finally just folded his arms over his chest as he came to face me again, now looking at the floor.
"I thought we were friends."
"What's wrong?" I extended a hand toward him. "Come on, Silas, tell me! I want to help and I can't help if you don't tell me how."
He hugged himself tighter, hunching. "I don't want to push you."
I straightened. It took a minute for his response to sink in, and I shook my head in disbelief. Then the anger returned, and it came in greater force than it had been before. I threw my book at him.
"Push me!" I said at the top of my lungs. "Damn it, Silas, I want you to fucking push me! Whatever it is, I promise I won't stop to think about it. Just say it!"
He glanced up at me. "Okay!" He unhugged himself and bent to pick up my book and bookmark, which had fallen out. He didn't look up at me. "Go on a date with me."
I winced a little. "Okay." I kept in mind my promise. "Where and when?"
"When are you off?"
"Tuesday and Friday. And I work Wednesday morning."
"Movies on Wednesday night."
I pressed my back to the door, but shoved aside my anxieties. "Okay. What time?"
"Be ready at five." Now he looked at me. He tapped his left hand with my book.
I nodded once. "Okay. I'll be ready."
He nodded a little and stepped forward, holding out my book. I accepted it and looked at it, fanning the pages. He'd tucked the bookmark in the middle, and I'd already read past that point.
"Let's, ah, let's go decide what movie we're going to watch." I looked up at him. He hadn't moved, and the expression on his face indicated that he had something more to say. "What?"
He swallowed. "Can--" He cleared his throat. "Can I kiss you?"
I blinked, uncertain whether or not he considered my promise to be in effect for this. After a moment, I decided to assume it was and nodded. At least I'd had warning this time.
His right hand came up and tilted my chin a little, raising my head. This time when his lips touched mine, I did my best to respond. I parted my lips, squeezing my eyes shut tight to fight the thoughts. This was Silas kissing me, and I'd been struggling with a secret desire that he'd kiss me again already. I was getting what I was afraid to admit I wanted.
That fear made me raise my hand when his tongue brushed mine. As I reciprocated the motion, I forced myself to just grip his tee instead of pushing him away. I didn't want the fear to control me, and it felt nice, this kiss. Better than any I'd ever shared with any of my girlfriends. It felt real. I felt real, and even my fear couldn't overwhelm that.
His other hand settled on my side, and the fingers of his right hand tickled along my jaw before wrapping around the back of my neck. It became easier to ignore the fear, and I edged closer to Silas, pulling on his shirt. He ended the kiss and raised his head; I opened my eyes and looked up at him, feeling a little lost. I had no foundation without the fear to cling to, and I determinedly ignored it.
"Are you okay?" he asked softly.
I swallowed, nodding. "Yeah." I spoke just as softly as he'd spoken.
Silas lowered his head a little, and I averted my gaze, waiting. But he didn't kiss me. He sighed and pulled his hands away. I looked up at him and reluctantly let go of his tee. I smoothed it down a little, not really thinking about what I was doing, and felt the muscles of his chest shift under my touch. He took my hand.
"Sorry," I said, looking at his left shoulder.
After a few seconds, Silas pressed my hand to his chest. His heart beat a little fast beneath it, and he kept his hands folded over mine.
"It's the first time you've touched me."
I nodded, still gazing at his shoulder. "Sorry." I couldn't think of anything else to say, and the fear slid back into the front of my mind. Yet I couldn't make myself pull my hand away.
I nodded, swallowing the apology I almost made. It made me chuckle a little nervously, the thought of apologizing for apologizing. And the presence of my hand on his chest, beneath his hands. The fear shivered when I realized I liked where I was right now, with my back against the door and Silas standing very close. It made me nervous in a new way, and my heart beat fast. I tried to calm my breathing by closing my mouth, but only succeeded in panting through my nose.
"Are you okay with this?"
I nodded a little jerkily. "Yeah, I--yes." I swallowed and glanced up at him.
"Can I kiss you again?"
I frowned a little, annoyed with the question, but decided that I'd rather he ask. It was nice to have some warning of what he wanted. That first kiss still troubled me, and mostly because of the fact that I hadn't expected it. I nodded.
Silas brushed his fingers under my chin and I raised my head. This time I didn't have to squeeze my eyes shut, but I didn't leave them open, either. His fingers wrapped around my left hand, and I dropped my book to clutch at his shirt with the other. This kiss was just as soft as the last one, and I tentatively extended my tongue. It met Silas's. He moved closer and I forced my hand to stop clutching his shirt and placed it on his side, under his elbow.
This time, I ended the kiss, pulling my head back a little. I needed to catch my breath, and looked at our hands on his chest. Silas kissed my nose and forehead.
"How do you feel?"
I gave a little titter. "You want me to think about it?"
His right hand settled on my upper arm and his left hand gripped mine tighter. "You're not trying to run away."
I coughed a little. "Yeah." I tittered again. "Um, I feel like it."
He released me. I clutched at his shirt with both my hands.
"Don't. I have to learn to do things without spending hours of thought on what I've done. I'll have plenty of time when I get to bed tonight, so don't let me go now."
"You want me to keep pushing you."
I nodded, looking up at him. "Yeah."
His left hand settled against my waist, and he raised his right hand to brush my chin with his fingers. It tickled, but I didn't pull his hand away, and I tried to decide if I liked the touch. My parents didn't touch like this. Dad wasn't a very touchy-feely person. I had been, with my girlfriends, but this was a different situation for me. Silas was touching me, and I realized I'd wanted him to for a long time.
"Want to go for a walk?" he asked.
I nodded, deliberately refusing to think about whether or not I really wanted to. "But let's decide what movie we're going to see first."