Neutral Territory Ch. 08byPS_Lopez©
"So you've decided to show your face?"
I stopped and looked at my sister. She sat on the sofa, arms folded under her breasts, looking up at me with an expression that said she knew I'd put my foot in it again. I pulled my robe shut over my sleep clothes and looked at the floor, hugging myself a little.
"You said Wednesday night that Geoff left the restaurant," she said. "You never told me what you did to make him run away again."
Her tone of voice indicated that she was putting equal blame on both of us, but that didn't comfort me any. Geoffrey wasn't here to bear the scorn with me. Still, I nodded. I'd known to expect something like this if I dared enter the living room before I absolutely had to. Since I wanted something to eat, I had to endure my sister's attitude.
Knowing she was right didn't help.
"Well?" she asked.
I shifted a little, sighing. I knew with my explanation she'd probably decide I deserved all the blame, but even now I couldn't really disagree with that assumption. I shouldn't have opened my mouth at all.
I muttered the tale, from the beginning--when I'd gone to fetch Geoffrey from his place--to the end--when he left the restaurant.
"And why didn't you go look for him?" Sabriana asked when I stopped speaking.
I looked at her. "What?"
Look for Geoffrey? I was supposed to have gone after him? I hadn't been able to do more than stare at my food as it congealed, mentally kicking myself in the ass for saying what I had. It had taken everything I had to speak to the waitress, never mind get out of the chair and come home.
I looked at the floor. I stood on one of the thick rugs Sabriana had bought. My feet still felt cold, though.
"I didn't think of it."
"Didn't think of it."
I looked up at her. "No, I didn't think of it. I'm used to dating men, Bria, not women masquerading as men!" I realized my mistake as soon as I'd spoken and turned to return to my room. Food could wait.
"Stop right there."
I halted. The ice in my sister's voice froze me in place for a moment, then I put my foot down. I'd fall over if I tried to remain balanced, and I already felt enough like an idiot. While I waited for Sabriana to speak, I hung my head.
"Is that really how you feel about him?" she asked softly.
I tied my robe shut, then twisted one end of the belt. "Sometimes." I sighed, waving a hand. "I mean, I may not have officially dated many guys, but this, with Geoff, has been something like torture. I have to push and pull him along, and I'm tired of it, Bria. I-I care about him. I care for him, but he doesn't make any effort."
"He did last Sunday."
I raised my head, then shook it. "Once. And it was something I would have spoken up about eventually anyway. He just made me do it before I was ready."
"I don't think that matters. I think what matters is that he didn't let you run away. You both have the same problems, Si. You both run when something challenges you. You both try to hide from the truth. The only differences are that you're older and can see how doing that can backfire, so you don't do it as much, and that when you do decide to run and hide, you make massive mistakes."
I nodded. "Yeah." I tugged on my robe's belt. "And you think I'm making a mistake now."
"Yeah, a big one. Just as big as you going off and having a one night stand was. Bigger than that, even. Don't give up on him."
"None of that, Si," Sabriana said. "You either want him or you don't, and if you want him you're not allowed to give up."
I folded my arms over my chest. "Since when do you get to make the decisions in my life, Bria?"
"Since you decided to make another big mistake."
I cut the air with both my hands, huffing a sigh. "But I'm right!" I said quickly.
"You being right isn't what's important here."
I didn't turn to face my sister. I didn't want to look at her right now. I was pissed off enough that I might just march over to where she was and slap her, and I'd never hit anyone in my life. "You expect me to coddle him--" I began, gesturing at the ceiling.
"I expect you to treat him like someone who's struggling with issues that scare the shit out of him," Sabriana shouted over the remainder of my complaint. "I expect you to be compassionate and caring and patient, Silas. Everything you've been from the start. What's making that so difficult now? Do you hate him now?"
I inhaled a deep breath and put my hand on my hip, gathering one end of my robe's belt in my left hand. "No." I hung my head. "I don't hate him."
"Then go talk to him. Don't call his phone. Just go up and talk to him."
I propped my other hand on my left hip. "I don't even know if he's home right now."
"So you can try again tomorrow morning."
I opened my mouth to protest again, realized I couldn't think of another reason why I might not succeed, and ground my teeth. It was clear I wouldn't be getting out of this.
Sabriana didn't speak again. She didn't unmute the TV, either. I stood facing my bedroom door, trying to think of some other excuse to get out of what I really wanted to do anyway. It just came down to the fact that I feared rejection.
Geoffrey hadn't called for the past couple days. I could understand why. I didn't particularly want to see myself, either. I didn't blame him for being upset and angry at me, not one bit.
What I'd said had hurt him. I couldn't face that pain. I didn't know if I'd ever be able to. I wanted to reconcile, but the thought of seeing that pain, of hearing his rejection, held me where I stood, as it had kept me in bed the past couple mornings. It had been easier to bury my face in my pillow, pull the covers up over my head, and go over everything I'd said, review the tone of voice I'd spoken in, and wish I hadn't told the truth.
I didn't dare share this wish with my sister. She'd cut me down quick. She firmly believed that lies didn't belong in any kind of relationship, particularly romantic ones. In her mind, real, true love and care couldn't be built on lies.
Normally, I agreed with her, but there'd been so many times in this thing with Geoffrey where hindsight had told me would have been times to lie. It seemed like every time I told him the truth, I hurt him. Like last night. I'd only been thinking of the effort I'd been putting in, remembering his reaction to seeing his ex girlfriend. I hadn't really listened to him. I'd just heard his questions and spoken from the frustration and fear I felt.
"Are you going to go up?" Sabriana asked after a few minutes.
I sighed and nodded. "Yeah. I don't see that I have much choice. Am I allowed to shower, shave, and dress in day clothes first?" I'll admit I was a little snide with the question.
"Go ahead." The TV's sound came on.
That was clear dismissal. I let my arms hang by my sides and returned to my bedroom for some clothes and performed my morning ablutions. When I finished putting my shoes on in my room, I hesitated, feeling afraid Sabriana would corner me again. It took quite a bit of courage to return to the living room. My sister didn't look up from the TV.
I crept through the living room and left the apartment feeling as if I'd been spared the death penalty. Then I went up to Geoffrey's and stood outside the door for five minutes, trying to find enough courage to knock. He hadn't called me.
I rang the doorbell and considered hiding to the side as he'd done that day he'd come to my place. After a couple seconds, I discarded that idea. I could face this head on. The door opened, revealing Geoffrey.
"Silas." He sounded surprised.
"Hi." It was all I could think of to say. I hadn't thought to try and come up with anything else on the way up here.
He wore a grey pocket tee shirt, Spongebob pajama bottoms, and an apron. His feet were bare. I gazed at them; his heels stood on the hems of the pajama legs, and they crumpled on the tops of his feet. The apron was too small and had a ruffled edging, had been sewn from fabric with a red bell pepper pattern on it. A spatula-shaped smack of chocolate adorned the tee, just a little off center.
When my gaze met his again, he shifted.
"You finished giving me a once-over?"
I nodded. "Yeah."
"Do you approve of what you see?"
I blinked. He was different today.
"Why are you here?" He sounded weary.
I lowered my gaze. "I'm sorry."
"Why? It was the truth."
I met his gaze. "I just feel like I shouldn't have said anything."
"You'd rather have lied?"
"I--" I shut my mouth and looked away, which was probably enough to tell him what I was thinking.
He shifted, his right toes bending as he rested the heel of that foot on the other. The door moved and I heard the knob on the other side of the door click.
"I'd really rather have the truth, Silas."
I looked at him. He'd leaned against the door and his right hand rested on his hip, his head against the edge of the door. He regarded me with a solemn expression.
"I like hearing the truth. I may run from it, but it's necessary, or I can't face things. If you lie, neither of us will get what we both want."
I looked at the spot of chocolate batter on his chest. It looked dried and crusty, as if it had been there for a while.
"You seem different today," I said.
"I feel different. I've spent the past couple days really thinking about things and making some personal decisions." He sighed. "I basically realized that I can be the person I want to be. I just have to decide to be and really stick with it, not let things frighten me any more." He stood away from the door and stepped back, opening it wider. "Come in."
I hesitated a moment. He didn't smile, but he wasn't frowning, either. He waved the door.
I entered with more spirit than I felt. He shut the door and turned to head to the kitchen. I watched him walk away, the backs of the hems of his pajama bottoms dragging on the floor. A part of me wasn't certain I wanted to follow.
He stopped at the doorway into the kitchen, and I noticed the scent of something chocolate baking. He looked over his shoulder.
I swallowed and followed him. He entered the kitchen. When I reached the doorway, I hesitated, looking around. His grandmother had papered the walls in a pattern of fruits and ribbons and the floor had been redone in green tile that matched the ribbons on the wallpaper and the cabinetry. The fridge was, thankfully, bland white, as was the glass-topped stove. A table stood to the left, green-edged blond wood with matching chairs with cushions that matched the wallpaper. His grandmother must have had some money. Not that it unnerved me, just that it surprised me. I'd assumed his family was middle-class.
"Have a seat," Geoffrey said without turning around.
He'd gone to the sinks and now took something out of a sink full of water. The dishwasher ran already; he was apparently finishing cleaning up after making whatever was in the oven.
I sat at the table and gathered my hands on the top, wrapping my left hand around the fist I made of my other hand. "What personal decisions have you made?"
"I'm tired of being a wimp." Geoffrey washed whatever he'd taken out of the water. "I decided that I was going to face things head on like you do."
I snorted. "I don't do a very good job of it."
He shifted and turned on the faucet. "Well, you do a hell of a better job than I've been." He turned off the faucet and set what he'd cleaned in the dish rack in the other sink. "Anyway, I've also decided to at least pretend I'm okay with being gay. I figure it can't hurt. I may have some stops with it, but I'm tired of letting it hold me back. I really want to be happy, and I'm not right now and never will be if I don't at least try to reach for it."
"Are you sure that's wise?" I could come up with all kinds of ideas of how that could backfire. Pretending was just a polite word for lying when it came down to the facts.
He sighed, now washing something else. "I don't see how I have much choice. I'm hoping that pretending to be comfortable with my sexuality will help me actually come to accept it. That's what I'm hoping." He sounded a little discouraged and shifted to rinse what he'd scrubbed.
"It could backfire."
"Well, what would you suggest I do, Silas?" Geoffrey threw what he held into the dish drain and shut off the water. "It's frustrating with us both chipping at it like we have been. I'm tired of this halting progress I've made. I want to get out of my issues, not spend hours on end wallowing in them."
I unclasped my right hand and raised it, imploring him as I turned a little in the chair. "But the progress you've made is stable, and it's that way because of the way you've been working at things. If you don't spend hours on end wallowing in your issues, what you do from here on out may collapse when you get too stressed."
"What, you're a psychiatrist now?" He sounded a little snide.
I sat up and set my hand on my thigh. "No."
"Then how do you know that will happen?"
I watched him rinse whatever he'd been cleaning this time, frowning. "I don't know that it will happen. I'm just saying it might, and that could be more harmful to you than the way you've been working through things already. Look, Geoff, the method you've been using works. Yes, it may be slow, and it may frustrate us both, but changing tactics and pretending like things are perfectly fine could really end badly."
"I think I know myself better than you do." He returned to the sink with the water.
I sighed and slumped where I sat, looking down. "Okay." There was no point in arguing about this. I even went so far as to shove my misgivings aside and tell myself he was probably right. Besides, he did know himself better than I ever would.
A timer went off when he pulled the plug out of the sink. While the water burbled away, Geoffrey got two oven mitts from a drawer and opened the oven. The scent of cooking chocolate became stronger and he took out two pans with giant muffins in them. He set them on the stove, removed a mitt and shut the oven, then turned it off.
"Come here," he said, opening a nearby cupboard to pull down a couple small plates.
I rose and went over to him. He pulled a knife out of another drawer and used it to pry one of the muffins out of its cup. Using his mitted hand to prevent the muffin from falling, he transferred the food to the top plate.
"There you go."
I didn't look at him as I took the plate. While he extricated one for himself, I took the one he'd given me to the table and reclaimed the chair I'd occupied before. I managed to get the muffin flipped over and plucked at the paper around its bottom. Geoffrey joined me, sitting in the chair at my right, which faced perpendicular to the direction I faced.
"You seem down. What's wrong?"
I shrugged. "Nothing, really." The lie came easily. I wasn't speaking to the real Geoffrey anyway. "Just didn't sleep well last night."
"Want butter?" He succeeded in peeling the paper away from his muffin.
I shook my head. "No, thanks." I got the paper off mine and pinched a taste free.
Geoffrey rose. I looked up, watching him. Had he always moved around the kitchen this confidently? I knew he liked to bake, but I couldn't be sure that his attitude here was any different than it had been before. He went to the fridge and pulled out a covered butter dish, detoured to fetch the butter knife, and returned to the table. I returned my gaze to my muffin and pinched another taste from it. I rather lacked an appetite now.
"What do you think?"
I blinked at the muffin. "It's good, just hot." It felt like I'd entered a dream world. I had what I'd thought I wanted in it, but it was turning out to be a nightmare.
He chuckled. "Yeah." He tipped his muffin onto its side and cut the top off the bottom and set them cut ends up, then cut pats of butter away from the half stick in the dish.
I pulled a larger bite away from my muffin. It was probably a good idea that I put a little more enthusiasm into my consumption of it. I had a feeling that it would take me a little while to get used to this new Geoffrey, though. Well, probably a pretty long time. Actually, I wasn't really sure I'd be able to get used to him this way. He was just a bit too alien.
"Want to hang out for a while?" he asked.
I tore another large bite free and ate it, using the activity to cover my search for another lie. "I have to go grocery shopping. Then I have to get ready for work. I'm covering for a coworker who's out sick." More lies, not that they mattered. Lara would be surprised by my early arrival, but she'd get over it. Besides, I could use the extra time to get some paperwork out of the way. It seemed like I was perpetually behind on it.
We didn't talk much after that. I had to force myself to take my time eating, but I just felt a need to escape the situation. I needed time to figure out what I was going to do in response to this new attitude of Geoffrey's.
He escorted me to the door when we finished, then took my arm when we reached it. I turned to face him. He kissed me. I somehow managed to respond, but it didn't feel the same. Before, I'd felt anticipation, excitement, joy. Now I just felt dread. He backed up a step when it was over and smiled.
"I have work tomorrow morning, but I'll see you Monday."
I nodded. I had no choice. I couldn't escape our Monday meeting. I had just under forty-eight hours to figure out how to act normal, and I didn't know if that would be long enough.
"See you then," I said.
He let me out. I didn't look back as I walked away. What I may have seen wouldn't have been any comfort. And the worst thing about it was that I'd apparently hurt Geoffrey so much that now he truly thought he had to be this way.
We had chocolate muffins for breakfast Monday. Again, I couldn't bring myself to look at Geoffrey, but he didn't seem to notice. This time, I was able to hold a normal conversation with him, but it hurt to talk to him. I'd rather hoped that he'd revert back to what he'd been like before, and seeing he hadn't made me edgy; remembering what had happened the last time I'd been fidgety, though, I kept as still as possible.
I didn't want to sit downstairs with this new Geoffrey. I didn't want others to know I associated with him. When I'd told Sabriana what had happened, she'd been dismayed, hadn't even ranted at me for saying the things that had caused this change. Neither of us had been able to figure out a way of getting Geoffrey to give up this farce without hurting him more, and neither of us wanted to do that.
I suggested a movie after we finished eating. It was the only way I could think of to keep from having to go downstairs. Geoffrey readily agreed, and I had to resist a flinch. We adjourned to the living room, done in pastel plaid upholstery and matching pink curtains and rugs, and he held my hand while we watched one of his grandmother's movies. I hadn't had the heart to choose what to watch; it didn't really matter to me, anyway. I was doing this just to fulfill duty.
At the end, I returned home. I didn't even feel like taking my usual walk. I just went to my bedroom and dropped onto my bed. It didn't help that looking at the door reminded me of the day he'd cornered me here. The kisses we'd shared, the date I'd asked for, the way that date had ended.
I pressed my face into the pillow beneath my head and clutched at the pillow as if it could rescue me. I'd done this to us. I'd opened my stupid mouth and made demands that pushed Geoffrey too far. He had work from ten to three tomorrow, so I wouldn't have to visit him in the morning. I'd have to visit him Wednesday morning, but he had work from six to ten that night, so I could do something else that night since I had it off.