tagGay MaleNeutral Territory Ch. 10

Neutral Territory Ch. 10

byPS_Lopez©

10

GEOFFREY

I had my book and my mp3 player, but I just sat on the sofa. Silas would be downstairs, sitting in the loveseat, reading or people watching. He'd been there every morning I'd gone downstairs for the past week.

I still wasn't sure what hurt more, what he'd said or the fact that he'd given up. I'd given him what he wanted, and instead of pleasing him, it had upset him more. Not that I'd had any particular enjoyment being that way. It had felt uncomfortable, like I'd put my shoes on the wrong feet every day. I'd had to spend anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour mentally preparing myself to be confident, then I'd had to not-think about what I was doing. And then, the whole time I'd been afraid of doing things wrong.

And I had been.

I couldn't even be angry about that thing with Drew. Hell, I didn't even know what to believe about that. A part of me was afraid he'd been lying when he'd said he hadn't slept with Drew, the rest believed him. I wanted to believe him. I wanted to trust him enough to take him at his word, but I just couldn't be sure.

I fanned the pages of my book. It felt kind of good to be this way again. I felt free, like I was real again. I wanted this to be enough for Silas to welcome me back as at least a friend, but I was afraid it wouldn't be. And I thought that if we were friends, I could be happy. Maybe not as happy as I wanted to be, but I could be happier than I'd been when I'd been pretending.

I sighed and rose, left Grandma's condo, and went downstairs. Silas sat in the loveseat, on his side. His head was bowed, and I guessed he was reading. I looked at my things, the book I hadn't picked up for over a week, my mp3 player with its stained ear bud cord wound around it. Silas could turn me away. He could have been completely serious when he'd said I was better off without him.

It took me a couple more minutes before I found the courage to cross the lobby to the loveseat. I was myself again, so I didn't feel confident enough to kneel before him, so I just turned to face him and tried clearing my throat. He looked up, and I saw sadness on his face before his expression changed to surprise.

"Hi," I said, averting my gaze so I wouldn't see his anger or the rejection.

"Hi. Want to sit next to me?"

I nodded, blinking. For some reason, his question made me want to cry. Perhaps the relief of knowing he wasn't going to turn me away.

"Okay."

He patted the cushion to his left.

I shuffled around and sat. What I really wanted to do was curl up against him, seek comfort like I used to when I was little and visiting Grandma. She hadn't been able to comfort me the past couple weeks. Not since I'd changed. She hadn't liked the change, either.

"I'm sorry."

"Forgiven," was Silas's prompt reply.

"What, uh, what really happened that night?" I looked at a spot on the floor.

"What night? When I went to the bar?"

I nodded. "Yeah."

"Geoff, look at me."

I forced myself to do so. It was that hard to look at him. He smiled a little, then became somber.

"I went to The Henhouse, had five mixed drinks within two hours, lamented the change in you when Drew came over to talk, then demanded he take me home when he offered me his sofa for the night. We got here about ten thirty and he dropped me into bed, took off my shoes, covered me up, and left. I don't know if he stayed to chat with Sabriana, but they left me to myself after Drew tucked me into bed."

I blinked, then looked away, nodding. "Okay."

He reached over and grasped my wrist for a few seconds. I gazed at his hand. When he took it away, I reached after it, dropping my mp3 player to do so. Silas closed his book and turned his hand palm-up. I placed mine across it and grasped; his fingers enveloped my hand, though my hand wasn't as dainty as a woman's. I'd once had a petite girlfriend, and my hand had encompassed hers as Silas's did mine.

"How come your hands are so big?" I gazed at our clasped hands, too afraid to ask what it meant that he'd welcomed the handhold.

"I think I'm supposed to be about a foot taller. My grandfather on my mother's side was a giant, had the biggest hands I've ever seen. Canoes for feet."

I chuckled. Silas propped his right ankle on his left knee.

"My feet are positively tiny compared to his, but they're still big for my height." He laughed a little. "I used to trip on my own feet whenever I had growth spurts."

"You must have looked like a klutz."

Silas laughed again. "Yeah. Stuff like basketball in phys ed classes in school was hell, because I'd lose control of my hands, swing them too far, and accidentally hit classmates. I was always picked pretty quickly because I was tall, and, I imagine, so that my clumsy hands wouldn't have much chance to hit the people picking teammates."

I chuckled. "You weren't that clumsy."

"Don't ask me to play sports. Volleyball was a bit easier, but I couldn't serve to save my life, so I was usually picked last for that. Softball--God, I had no grace whatsoever in that sport. I'd throw the bat, nearly hitting the teacher, run like mad, trip, and skid into the base already outed. And when I run I look like a basket case, arms everywhere. No coordination whatsoever."

I raised my head, laughing, and looked at Silas. He grinned at me. As my laughter faded, his smile slipped away.

"How are you feeling?" he asked. "More like yourself?"

I nodded, turning my head to look out the front window. "It was hard being that way. It felt wrong." I glanced at him. "I think you're wrong."

"About what?"

I inhaled a deep breath and looked at him. "I don't think I'm better off without you." I glanced around the room and made myself face Silas again. "I think I need you."

He turned his head, bowed it, and tapped his book on his thigh. It was C. S. Lewis's collected works. "I said that to push you, I think. I didn't realize it at the time, though."

I pulled our hands onto my thigh and looked at them. "Everything you said pushed me. It hurt, but you were right. I was just lying. It made me feel like I couldn't trust anyone, because I was afraid that if I said or did too much with other people they'd see how uncertain the facade really was." I took a deep breath and sighed it out. "When you said you couldn't look at me because I wasn't real . . ." I shrugged, unable to explain exactly how I'd felt at the time. Angry and hurt and in despair. "I have a question."

"What?"

I glanced at him, then returned my gaze to our hands. "What did you see in Drew?"

"Honestly?"

I nodded. "Yeah."

"He was there and he was willing. Beyond that, it didn't much matter. He wasn't you, and I wanted a distraction from my frustration, and he could provide it. It didn't work."

"You said once you couldn't get me out of your mind."

"No, I couldn't. I still can't. I rather don't want to now. I like you there."

I looked at him. His gaze flicked to me, then returned and held my gaze. He smiled.

"Want to go for a walk?"

I nodded. "Okay."

He grinned. "Okay, let's go get our coats."

I nodded again and rose, releasing his hand so I could collect my things. We rode the same elevator, and I ran to my home and scrambled to get my coat, almost forgetting to lock the door on my way out. I took the stairs, excitement banishing my memories of the last time I'd been in the stairwell, and exited to find Silas in the lobby already.

He was facing away, and I halted, gazing at his back. Conflicting feelings rose in me, my continued discomfort with being gay and something else, something I was afraid to name. But the shock calmed me, and I bowed my head, going over to Silas.

"Okay," I said, "I'm ready."

*

SILAS

I was spared Sabriana's cold, but I got the flu in exchange. It knocked me out a day before my sister was to leave for Christmas break back home. I could barely pull my ass out of bed for necessary visits to the bathroom, never mind get myself into work. My sister offered to stay to take care of me, but I told her to go. Instead of farewell, she called me an idiot for not going and getting a flu shot. I took it like the man I was and just rolled over to cover myself up, unwilling to be contrite. I was miserable here. Couldn't she have had some pity?

She didn't come back. I snuggled under my blankets, but that didn't help get rid of the chills. I shivered anyway. Sabriana had gone in to get her flu shot so she was safe, but she hadn't been kind enough to fetch the thermometer so I could see if I had a fever.

The floor in front of my bedroom door creaked.

"Who's there?" I groaned, not really caring. It wasn't as if I was in any condition to get out of bed and chase them out.

"Just me," Geoffrey said. "Your sister called in the cavalry."

I chuckled. Even the misery of my aches and pains and stuffy head and likely fever couldn't keep me from being happy to hear his voice. "You sure you want to risk getting sick?"

"I've had a flu shot."

I groaned. "Just don't berate me for not taking the time to get mine."

The bed sank next to my hip and he pulled down the covers. "I'll consider it. Come on, sit up and take your medicine like a good boy."

I sat up and shivered. Geoffrey had put an array of medications on my nightstand, and I accepted the first thing he gave me.

"That's for the cough."

"I haven't been coughing." I was a little uncertain I liked this confidence in him. It didn't seem like the fake confidence he'd had before, though, so I swallowed the medicine.

"Preemptive strike, then." He accepted the little dosage cup back. He passed me something else. "Why didn't your sister just get combination meds? This is for the fever."

"They sometimes make me feel sick." I accepted the fever medication but held it until my stomach settled from the cough suppressant. "Medications always make me sick. I have to be pretty miserable to be willing to take them." I swallowed the anti-fever medication.

He next held out a single pill and a glass of water. "This is for your stuffy sinuses."

I sighed. "I know what they're all for."

"Stop complaining."

I scowled at him for a moment then swallowed the pill. He took the water from me and set it on my nightstand. I watched this with a frown.

"I'm capable of doing things for myself, you know. I'm just sick, not incapacitated."

He ignored me. "Want anything for the aches?"

I sighed and considered that, then shook my head. My stomach felt upset enough. "No."

"Then come lay on the sofa." He rose.

I thought about resisting, then decided against it. While he took everything out again, I put my feet on the floor and rose, dragging my comforter with me. No mere blankets for this. I pulled the comforter against my shoulders and shuffled out to the living room.

"What movie do you want to watch?"

Suspecting that I wouldn't watch much of whatever he put in anyway, I said, "Whatever, doesn't matter to me," as I sat on the sofa.

I rearranged the comforter while Geoffrey set up the TV. When he sat on the far end of the sofa, I settled down with my head on his thigh and shivered under my comforter until I felt warm. His fingers combed through my hair, and that soothed the headache I had.

"Could you rub my head all over?" I asked.

Without replying, he did so. I closed my eyes and sighed, moaning softly as the rubbing alleviated the pain. I must have fallen asleep, because the next thing I knew, Geoffrey was gently shaking me. I opened my eyes, realizing at the same time that I could breathe through my nose. I could feel a wet spot under my cheek from where I'd drooled on his leg.

"Hey, I wouldn't bother you but I have to go pee," Geoffrey said softly.

I pushed myself into an upright position. He rose and went to the bathroom. I stared at the TV screen during his absence. It had returned to the menu screen of the movie he'd put in, and I saw his book and mp3 player on the table. He'd apparently been reading since the movie ended.

"Feel hungry at all?"

I forced myself to rise. "Yeah." I brought my comforter with me as I headed for the kitchen. Once I got there, I just dropped onto a chair and slumped, trying to remember if we had any canned chicken noodle soup. Sabriana and I didn't usually eat it, but I'd bought some for her cold.

Geoffrey followed me in and went to the fridge.

"I think there might be some cans of soup in the cupboard over the microwave."

"No canned soup for you." Geoffrey pulled a massive soup pot out of the fridge and set it on the counter. "Grandma made you some of her chicken soup."

"Oh." I watched Geoffrey fill a bowl with the soup. "Thank her for me."

"I will."

I looked at the table. "Thanks. For taking care of me."

He put the bowl of soup in the microwave. "You'd do the same for me."

I nodded. "You seem different."

He opened the fridge. "I like taking care of people. I've actually been considering going to school to become a nurse. I've talked to Grandma about it. She said she'd pay for it if I really want to do it." He put the soup pot into the fridge.

The microwave beeped. Geoffrey closed the fridge, got a spoon out, and fetched the bowl of soup. He set it in front of me, then made himself a sandwich while I started in on the soup. I rushed it a bit, and didn't taste the first few bites because I didn't get them cool enough and just swallowed them as a result. Geoffrey sat down with me.

"What do you think?"

I took more time, blowing on the soup in the spoon. This time I tasted it. "Good," I said after I swallowed. "I think it's better than my mom's soup."

Geoffrey grinned. "I'll tell Grandma."

"Aren't you going to eat any?"

"Maybe later."

"Good, because I don't think I could eat that whole pot by myself."

Geoffrey chuckled. "You'd be surprised. I can go through a couple pots of Grandma's soup when I'm sick. But then, that's probably because that's the only thing I can keep down. And crackers. I eat lots of soup and saltines when I'm sick."

"How much money does your family have?"

He opened his sandwich to rearrange the pickles on it. "Probably not as much as your family does, and it's really Grandma who has it. Dad--I think he thinks he's going to be able to wrangle it into his bank account when she dies, no matter what's in her will. Me, I don't really know what she's got planned for it."

"Where'd it come from?"

He took a bite of his sandwich and sighed, then got up to go to the fridge. He took a plate down for his sandwich, then poured himself some chocolate milk.

"All this used to be farmland." He came back to the table, plate and glass in hand. "Tobacco farms, cotton farms. Grandma's family owned I forget just how many acres of land--but a lot--and sold part of it in the big building boom back in the fifties, when the college was built here. Nulte is on some of Grandma's old farmland, and they named their auditorium after her family. There are a few other families that had a great deal of land. The Wortons, the MacAdamses, the MacDougals, the Blairs, the Murdochs. There are more, but I can't remember them all. Mostly of Scottish descent, though there are some English and Irish.

"Anyway, they've been gradually selling off their lands in big development deals, and that's what Grandma's been doing. Those undeveloped parcels near Nulte? Grandma's. Dad's money comes from Mom's side of the family. Business moguls, for the most part, in her family."

He ate a few bites of his sandwich, and I concentrated on my soup. Geoffrey chuckled.

"What?" I tried to tip a chunk of chicken into the spoon.

"Really, Grandma's pissed enough that I doubt she'll bequeath anything to Dad. I forgot this, and I think that Dad did, too, that Grandma's a big proponent of family unity, regardless of disagreements. She blames him for breaking that when he threw me out."

"So you're in line to inherit everything."

He snorted. "I'm not counting on it. Grandma's also a big proponent of earning your own living. Hell, she's seventy-two and still works for pay. Her parents were the same way. Yeah, they had tons of land and lots of money, but they didn't see any reason why they shouldn't also work. Makes you appreciate things more."

I nodded. "Yeah. I refuse to accept anything from Dad. Sabriana still accepts her allowance, but she's in school. I pay for my half of the condo and food and bills out of my own income."

He nodded. "I actually like working. Well, I'm not a fan of my job, it was what hired me, but it's nice. I meet people." He chuckled. "Women try to pick me up. One asked me on a date when I was ringing up her order the other day."

I gave a fake laugh as I did my best to ignore my concern over him taking that route and tipped the bowl to fill the spoon with the last of the soup's broth. It was something to look at besides Geoffrey. I might betray what I feared if I looked at him now.

"I get the same sometimes. I've actually had a married woman try to hook up with me. Her husband was out wandering the back yard for some reason and we were still standing in the kitchen and she suggested she and I meet up for a meal. I chose to assume she wanted more than a friendly chat about the possibility of buying one of the houses I'd shown them."

"How did you handle that?"

"Told her the truth." I set the bowl down and consumed the broth, then put the spoon in the bowl so I could pull my comforter close around my shoulders. "I wanted to go off on her, but that would have lost her business, and there really wasn't any point when just telling her I'm gay sufficed perfectly well. After that, I really made sure I was never alone with her again." I stood up. "Speaking of work, I need to call in."

"Just go back to the sofa when you're done."

I nodded. I rather didn't want to be far from him today myself. After making the call, I returned to the living room to find him on the sofa and I laid down as I had been before.

"I have to go to work at six," Geoffrey said.

"I'll give you my keys."

"I think you'll be fine overnight without me."

"I'll give you my keys."

"Silas . . ."

"I will give you my keys."

He sighed. "Okay. Am I allowed to fetch myself something to sleep in and a change of clothes for tomorrow?"

"That's perfectly fine, as long as you come back down here." I hesitated, closed my eyes, and plunged on. "I'd like you to sleep in my bed."

"What!" he squawked.

"I won't do anything, I promise. I just . . . I kind of . . ." I shifted a little and forced myself to finish what I wanted to say, but it came out small. "I want someone to cuddle up with, like I used to when I was sick when I was a little kid and could crawl into bed with Mom and Dad. I hate being in bed alone when I'm sick." I knew I sounded a little petulant on the last sentence, but I didn't care.

"I don't know."

"Please? I promise I won't try anything. I just want to cuddle up, that's all. It makes me feel better."

He sighed. "Okay, but no funny business."

I grinned. "No funny business, I promise."

"Okay." His hand started playing in my hair.

I sighed and closed my eyes. "Promise you'll sleep with me."

Geoffrey's leg stiffened beneath my head, and his hand went still. I knew I was pushing him with this, but I really didn't want to be alone in bed if I could help it.

"Please?" I added a little whine to it for good measure. "It'll make me feel better." That seemed to have been the key to getting his initial agreement. "No funny business, I promise." That couldn't hurt, could it?

Geoffrey sighed. "Okay," he said, drawing it out. "I promise."

Satisfied with that, I snuggled under my comforter, smiling.

*

GEOFFREY

I crept into Silas's home and shut the door as quietly as possible. The sound of the deadbolt when I turned it was loud, and I winced, then listened. No sound. I sighed a little, then made my way across the room in the darkness, heading for the bathroom. Once there, I shut the door as quietly as I had the front door before turning on the light, and I leaned back.

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