tagGay MaleAlaska

Alaska

byNRMathis©

Alaska is one of those places that most people like in theory but wouldn't want to permanently live in. It's further north than where all other Americans and even most Canadians are used to. The thing is, I've lived here my whole life, enjoy it here, and couldn't imagine living anywhere else.

My childhood home was in a small town (although by most standards, almost all towns in Alaska qualify as "small towns") at the southern part of the state. The family was just me and my dad. I never knew my mother, as she died during my birth. Even though I essentially took the love of his life away from him, he responded by putting everything he could into raising me, doing what she would have wanted. I have a better relationship with my father than most, and I'm thankful for that.

After eighteen years of life, I was finally ready to go to college. I got accepted to UAA and would be living on campus. After the standard tearful goodbyes I moved into my dorm. I had gotten there first, so I was unpacking my stuff when my roommate walked in.

This guy looked very average: brown hair, blue eyes, glasses, fair skin, maybe a little on the short side.

I tried for my friendliest smile. "Hey, roomie!"

He gave a little half-smile in return. "Hello. I'm Drew."

I held out my hand. "I'm K.C."

I got that split second of confusion I always get from people who meet me.

"Casey?"

"No, K-period-C-period." Casey was my real name, but I always thought it was too boring, not to mention girly.

He glanced down at my hand and jumped ever so slightly. "Oh, sorry." He reached out we shook. He seemed nervous as hell, which I found humorous because I'm not an intimidating person. I'm tall and lanky, with hair the color of straw and eyes the color of lint. I hadn't met anybody who thought I looked threatening.

"Relax, dude. I won't bite."

"Sorry, man. I'm just a little anxious, freshman year and all."

I nodded, not wanting to say any more.

We both unpacked our things and moved into the room. The dorm was small, with a bunkbed and two desks and not much else. I put in a conscious effort to be polite. I'm an only child and had no experience living with anyone but my Dad. Fortunately, when the initial jitters died down Drew got a little more laid back.

We had gone to bed and I heard Drew's voice come from the bunk below me.

"K.C., are you awake?"

"Yeah, what's up?"

There was a pause, too long to not be awkward.

"I need to tell you something. I'm gay. I just wanted you to know, in case you're not comfortable rooming with me because of that."

"Oh." I thought about it for a moment. I hadn't had much experience with gay people in the past. I tried to choose my words carefully.

"Well...if we're just friends and nothing else, I don't see why that would be a problem."

I heard him let out a sigh of relief. I tried to lighten the mood.

"This could be a good thing. Now we don't have to worry about crushing on the same people."

He chuckled. "I suppose."

We didn't say anything else to each other that night.

*****

Our freshman year started and we became best friends. We studied together, joked around, and discovered that we were interested in many of the same things (anime, horror movies, et cetera).

Things got comfortable between us. In October when I first told Drew that I might get lucky with a girl he was totally cool with the idea of me bringing her to the dorm, as long as he got a heads up. Things didn't go quite that far with the girl in question, but it was nice to know for future hookups down the road.

On that subject, Drew didn't seem to have much of a love life of his own. He knew he was gay, and was open about it, he just told me he wanted to focus on his studies. I remember seeing a meme that said something along the lines of how in college, you can only hope to pick two from a social life, good grades, and getting enough sleep. That turned out to be true: neither of us were burnouts, but I had a thriving social life and mediocre grades while Drew was an A and B student who didn't spend much time outside our room. He still had me, though.

Time passed and things only changed between the two of us on a particular night in November, one that happened to be even colder than an average November night in Alaska. We had been sufficiently warned about the expected temperatures in the dorms, and we both brought what we thought was sufficient bundling, but I guess we underestimated just how cold it would get.

I could hear Drew's teeth chattering underneath me and I tried to think back to how I was able to warm up back at home. We couldn't make a fire, a hot shower would have the opposite effect, and I didn't have any of my dogs to snuggle up to.

Wait a minute...

I thought of an option. It wasn't a normal idea, but Drew had been transparent to me in the past. I figured the worst he could do is say no, so I asked him.

"Drew, are you as fucking freezing as I am?"

"Uh-huh..."

"I won't be able to sleep like this. Do you think we could try sharing body heat?"

His breath hitched in a strange way.

"It's nothing like that, I'm just cold. You can say no."

He pondered that for a moment.

"Okay."

He climbed up and I moved over so we could both fit. It was an extra long twin bed though, so it was tight.

"I'm probably going to need to hold you. Is that alright?"

"I mean, as long as it's just for warmth..."

I drew him in my arms and could feel his heat against my body. He let out a happy little sigh.

"You sure you okay with this, Drew?"

"Shut the hell up and hold me tighter."

I complied. I felt so much better than I had a few minutes ago. Not long after, I fell asleep with my friend in my arms.

*****

I really don't know how it happened. We never said it, we never acknowledged it, but from that point on we both just accepted that we would normally sleep in the same bed. We spooned every night for the next week, even ones not nearly as cold as the one that made us cuddle up to begin with. Eventually I felt like I had to address what was happening.

"Drew, I like how we keep each other warm at night, but isn't it weird?"

"Do you want it to stop?"

"No, but I just want us to be on the same page. It's weird, right? Not something friends normally do?"

"I mean, I guess, but if I know it's just for sleep and you know it's just for sleep it doesn't have to be anything more complicated."

I considered that.

"Okay...but if we ever get uncomfortable, we need to talk about it."

"Deal."

Neither of us formed any misgivings about the arrangement, though. I was straight. Drew was gay, but not interested in me (he said so himself). It didn't have to be anything sexual.

Still, we never told anybody about it. It's not like we swore to keep it a secret, but we both knew that it was something we were better off keeping to ourselves. When I finally did get lucky in the spring, I cuddled with that girl in my bed, and I told Drew that he had free rein to kick me out if he ever brought in a guy.

Even so, I think it's telling that even when we got the opportunity to get sufficient bedding to face the winter, we chose to just stick to what we already had going. I'm pretty sure that more than anything else we just got used to it. I stopped asking him for permission to hold him and we just saw it as the way things were.

Our freshman year ended, and we both opted to room together again the following year. Even ignoring the sleeping arrangement, we were best friends. It was a no-brainer.

Funny enough, the dorm we lived in our sophomore year had two separate rooms for us. Drew's room just sort of gradually became a place we would both hang out in during the day while my room was mostly exclusive to sleep.

During our sophomore year something happened that in hindsight I probably should have seen coming and taken steps to avoid: we allowed ourselves to be more tactile during the day. He'd sit in my lap while we watched movies together. We'd hug constantly, I knew that I hugged him more frequently than I would ever any of my girlfriends. It wasn't normal, it wasn't platonic, but like with the sleeping arrangement we just got used to it.

It never got weird between the two of us. We were best friends and we trusted each other. Touch was just another thing in our relationship. By the end of our senior year we were like brothers, probably even closer. We opened up to each other and formed a bond we both appreciated greatly. We completely stopped caring about the social stigma surrounding how touchy-feely we were. I would date girls, and he would even date a few guys, but the two of us were always there for each other, just so that we could feel a person at our side.

The summer after graduation we both camped for a week, and it was a given that there would only be one sleeping bag. The two of us talked about life, hiked together, made smores around the fire, and just enjoyed ourselves. The trouble happened about halfway through. We wanted to find a spot with no light pollution so we could stargaze, and we found a spot not too far from our camp site. I'm sure most people think that in Alaska, the sun rarely goes down at all during the summer, but we were far enough south that we'd get a solid 5 or 6 hours of nighttime.

We let time slip away from us and let ourselves stay until the coldest part of the night. We also had had our fair share of beers over the course of the evening. We were just doing a bunch of stupid stuff at once.

On our way back, Drew slipped and fell maybe seven feet down into water. As luck would have it, it was a spring, not a hot spring either. It brought water from deep underground to the surface, so it was cold.

I screamed and cursed. Drew wasn't moving.

I climbed down carefully and had to fish him out of the water, thanking God that he had landed face up and was able to breathe freely. The crisp night air did little to warm him up, though. His heart was beating and I was able to get some groans out of him, so he was conscious, but I knew things would get ugly if I didn't warm him up fast.

Riding on the adrenaline, I slung him over my shoulder and worked my way back to the camp site as fast as I could. Once we returned I cursed myself for my stupidity, my lack of foresight. We hadn't made a fire that evening, and I thought that starting another one would take too long. We didn't bring a space heater or any electric blankets because we figured we wouldn't need them. I was panicking, imagining that I could actually feel my friend dying on my back.

I scrambled to the tent and took off all his wet clothes, which I should have done earlier but didn't because I'm an idiot. Drew's skin was shockingly, frighteningly cold. His entire body was shivering and his lips were tinted blue. I needed to warm him up and I needed to do it immediately.

Our sleeping bag had a layer on the inside that reflected body heat back in, which worked wonders to keep us nice and toasty normally, but wouldn't do much good now. Same thing with clothes, they only serve to insulate the body, and Drew wasn't giving off enough heat. The source of warmth had to be external. My mind scrambled, and the only heat source I could think of that was readily available was me.

I shoved Drew's naked body in the sleeping back and stripped off most of my clothes, which were cold and wet from carrying his dripping body. His flesh felt like it wasn't even alive next to me. I wrapped as much of me around him as I could, rubbing his skin to stimulate blood flow, but it didn't seem like enough. I don't know what state he was actually in at the time, but at that moment I was certain that if I didn't do something drastic, my best friend would die.

I realized that I was too covered up. The t-shirt, underwear, and socks I was still wearing was providing insulation between my skin and his. Without hesitating, I took off all the rest of my clothing and pulled Drew's naked body against mine. I tried to envelop his smaller body, get the blood flowing to warm him up. I never stopped moving, never held him any less tightly, no matter how much my skin hated the feeling of his icy touch. I didn't think what I was doing was working, but I had no other plans, so I just kept trying harder.

I don't even know how long I lay in that sleeping bag with Drew, trying to revive him with my body heat. I'm a skinny guy, so I didn't have much of it. Before very long I was in tears, begging him to stay with me, completely sure that my friend lay dying in my arms. After what felt like an eternity, but couldn't have been that long because the sun was still down, Drew's shivering had subsided and his body started to feel more like it belonged to somebody that was alive.

I continued my efforts, despite how exhausted and cold I was myself. My persistence was rewarded, because around the time of the dawn, his eyes opened.

"Drew!" I pulled him into a hug so tight it was likely painful as I cried, utterly wrecked by the night's events.

"K...K.C.? What's going on? What happened?"

I sobbed into his shoulder.

"You fell into the water last night. I was so scared I was gonna lose you..."

His eyes widened.

"K.C...I'm so sorry..."

I kept hugging him like he would be ripped away from me.

"No, please don't apologize. I'm just as much at fault here as you. We're both idiots; it could've just as easily happened to me."

He returned the hug.

"Thank you so much, man. I don't know what I'd do without you."

I cried.

After my little breakdown, I was able to take a step back and look at things more clearly.

"Oh, shit, we're still naked!"

I scrambled out of the sleeping bag and got us both some clothes to put on.

"Sorry, I wasn't paying attention."

We got dressed and I made a fire so we could warm up the rest of the way. There was a definite tonal shift from that point on. We acted less rashly, didn't allow ourselves to have as much fun as we did. I didn't care. I was just glad Drew was alive.

It was the last night and the two of us were snuggling in the sleeping bag. We were both in our underwear, which was standard for us. I held Drew, so happy to feel his body warm in my arms.

"Hey, Drew?"

"Yeah?"

"We won't be living together anymore. We're graduated."

"Yeah..."

"I don't know if I'd be able to function properly."

"Come on, you could survive summers without me."

I pursed my lips.

"K.C., what are you thinking about?" He knew how to read me easily.

"Well...I mean, just because we're not in a dorm doesn't mean we can't still be roommates. We could get an apartment together."

There was a pause. "Are you sure?" he asked.

"Of course I'm sure! In case recent events haven't clued you in, I like having you around. I couldn't think of a better choice of roommate."

He burrowed himself into my body a little bit more.

"Thanks, K.C."

*****

The two of us indeed got an apartment not long after. In a couple weeks we had settled in and were able to get jobs.

The apartment had two bedrooms, but just like our sophomore dorm, we still slept in the same bed every night. I had gotten so used to it at that point I couldn't really imagine sleeping without Drew.

A few months later I got in my first serious relationship, with a girl named Gwen. We dated for a few months and she spent many a night in my bed. She and Drew were cordial with each other, but I knew Drew well enough to be able to tell that he didn't like her. Gwen was a nice girl, but Drew seemed to have to force himself to act friendly. I asked him about it and he denied everything.

It got to the point where Gwen caught on as well and I tried to keep interaction between the two at a minimum. I was mostly annoyed with Drew, even after my relationship with Gwen fizzled out.

Slowly, but surely, things got strained between us. We talked less and it started to feel awkward sleeping in the same bed for the first time since freshman year. Suddenly, Drew became more interested in dating than he had at any other point in his life. Even so, most of his conquests ended up being one-night stands. He spent many nights off at some random guy's house.

Things came to a head about four months after we first moved in together. We had an argument. Looking back I can't even remember what it was about, but things got heated, with lots of shouting from both of us. Drew went to his room to cool down while I just sat in the den, fuming.

A few hours later Drew emerged, seeming calmer.

"K.C., I'm sorry for shouting at you like that."

I set my jaw. "I'm sorry, too."

He fidgeted a little bit.

"I think I need to move out."

My eyebrows shot up. "Whoa, dude, don't you think that's going overboard? I forgive you."

He shook his head. "No, it's not about us fighting. I..."

I folded my arms. "Spit it out."

He wouldn't look me in the eye.

"I'm in love with you."

Suddenly it felt like somebody hit me with a brick.

"Excuse me?"

"I've been in love with you for a while now, but I knew the feelings were unrequited. That's why I kept it secret."

I had no idea how I was supposed to respond. Thankfully he kept talking.

"I thought I could still live with you the way we had for years now, but it's not working. I hated Gwen because I was jealous of her. Being so close to you all the time is making things worse."

"I...I don't know what to say..."

"You don't have to say anything. It's not like it's your fault. I like being your friend, but it would be better for the both of us if we didn't live together. I'm gonna start looking for my own place."

He moved out to live in a studio apartment a few weeks later. I wasn't happy about it, but the rational part of me knew it was for the best. He had feelings for me that I couldn't return. The proximity we were in served as a reminder of how deep in the friend zone he was with me.

We really did try to stay friends, texting and meeting up occasionally, but we inevitably drifted apart over time. He moved out in early October, and by Christmastime, I hadn't heard from him in weeks.

I went home to my dad's house for the holidays. He knew about my situation with Drew, except I never told him about how we always shared a bed, nor did I tell him about the accident when we were camping. He could tell that something was bothering me, but didn't pry, instead just demonstrating that he was there for me in case I wanted to talk.

On the night before Christmas Eve, I couldn't sleep. I tossed and turned all night, but never got comfortable. The heat was on and I had a dog in my bed with me, but for some reason I couldn't quite get warm. It took until 4 AM for me to finally admit what the problem was.

I missed Drew. I missed him so much more than I was able to admit to anyone, even myself.

Once that fact sank in, I started looking back to how our relationship had been. The more I thought about it, the more disgusted I became with myself. How could I have been so blind? I should have been able to figure it out. He was my best friend, and I couldn't see what I was doing to him.

Him sharing a bed with me had to be torture. He was so intimate with me, but still so far away from the intimacy that he truly wanted. Every time he saw Gwen he was harshly reminded that I didn't feel about him the way he did about me.

To my utter horror, I started to recall hints he had tried dropping that I brushed off. As they were happening, I ignored them, thinking they were nothing. If I was being honest with myself, I think it was more likely that I purposely overlooked the signs because I liked the way things between us already were.

I started crying. I had used him, toyed with his emotions like he was nothing. I may not have been fully aware of it, but I had been a terrible friend.

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