"I'll do it," Gene said. "You game, Hayley?"
"Yeah," she said. She giggled.
My heart was pounding in my ears and my groin again, and I wasn't wishing that Gene was going to touch me. I wasn't jealous, either.
He reached out to touch her, but she stopped him. "Wait," she said.
He didn't look like he wanted to wait.
She smiled, though, and she pulled her t-shirt over her head.
"Oh, shit," Emery said. Cohen was staring too, and his hand was moving a little in his lap.
Gene grinned and reached forward again. She slapped at his hand, then giggled.
"Patience," she said.
She unhooked her bra.
And just like that, everything changed. Now we were all panting and rubbing and groping ourselves and we weren't bothering to hide it. We moved closer to the two of them, and I knew nobody was thinking about truth or dare anymore.
She had nice tits; they were full and round and the nipples were hard. Gene cupped one of them with his hand, and she closed her eyes. He ran his thumb across her nipple and she jerked, but she didn't ask him to stop. So he did it again. And again.
I looked at Cohen, and he had his hand inside his pants. There was a little wet patch on the front of his khakis. My cock jumped at that.
Emery was just staring. He was hard, I could see him standing up, but I think he was too high to do anything about it. I didn't think about reaching over to touch him.
Hayley whimpered and grabbed Gene's hand. She took it off of her. Gene's eyes were glazed, and he started when she touched him. He blinked a few times.
"Sorry," he said.
After that, the mood broke, and she put her shirt back on, looking really embarrassed. Cohen and Emery decided to leave, and since Hayley had caught a ride with them, she left too. In the end it was just me and Gene in the room, tidying up again. I had calmed down since Hayley had put her clothes back on, and I kept pretending to be occupied with cleaning so that I could steal glances at him without being caught. He was yawning and straightening things up. And smiling to himself.
But he never looked over at me.
My relief didn't last for too long.
I laid in bed in the dark, hard as a fucking steel pipe.
I wanted to touch. I did. But I knew I wouldn't think of Hayley's tits or Cohen or Emery fucking her if I did. And I couldn't deal with that. I could deal with the kissing, but not that.
So I laid there. Aching.
And then there was movement next to me in the dark.
I heard him slide under the covers. He moved toward me until we were touching, and I could feel that he was naked. I couldn't see him, and I think that was the only thing that made it possible for me to continue. He put a hand on my belly, then moved it down into my underwear until he found me. He stroked me and I whimpered and moaned and he whispered in my ear that I was sexy and that he could make me feel good.
His other hand wrapped around my waist and he pulled me so that my back was against him. He rubbed faster and touched my nipples.
I moaned and then came in his hand. He wiped it back onto my thighs and rubbed it into my skin. Then he held me, running his hands over my chest. He kissed the back of my neck.
"Do you want to try?" he said, kissing me again.
I did. "I don't know," I said.
"It's okay, man," he said. "Nobody has to know. I know you're a little...boxed, yeah? You don't have to worry about anything with me. Just do what you feel like doing."
I turned my face to his chest. Then I touched him, and the whole time I worried that I wasn't good and that he'd had better and that he would laugh at me. I couldn't believe that I was almost crying again and I was ready to stop, to stop and apologize and move far away when he shuddered and there was warm, sticky stuff on my hand. He moaned again and kissed me on the lips and then on the forehead.
"It's been a while since I've had it like that," he said. I wasn't sure what that meant. He kissed me again.
He didn't go back to bed, so I let him hold me. I fell asleep on his chest confused and guilty and proud.
The rest of the summer went a lot like that.
After June was over, Hayley went to Wisconsin to visit her family and Cohen had summer classes and Emery just disappeared. It was just me and Gene in our little apartment, eating and getting high and making love. It was the first time in my life I could recall being happy.
I told him how I grew up in Connecticut in the suburbs, and that my parents were really rich. I wasn't even really sure what my dad did for a living, but he was gone a lot and would only come home on weekends. I told him I went to a small private high school in our town, and that my whole life was like a human interest piece that had been copied out of Good Housekeeping. I moved far away for college so that I could find out who I was.
"Good luck with that," he said, passing me the blunt.
He was born and raised in Tijuana, and his mom moved him back to the States for high school.
"I'm a love child," he said. "My dad was a Colombian drug lord."
I told him he didn't look Hispanic, and he said he probably wasn't.
"My dad was probably some truck driver she met at a diner," he said. "But a guy can dream."
He was a slacker in high school; got Bs and Cs when he could have gotten As.
"Used to drive my mom nuts," he said.
I finally got up the courage to ask him if anyone knew he was bi.
"My mom knows, and my friends," he said. "They don't care. What about you? You tell your parents about your fence-straddling?"
I told him I hadn't. "My dad once fired a man from wherever he works for that," I said. "I don't think it would go over big."
He chuckled, then stopped when he saw that I was serious. "Sorry," he said.
He was so gentle, so patient with me that first time, even though I'd chickened out three times before and cried the whole time he was doing it even though it felt good. He just kissed me and rubbed my back and told me everything would be alright until I started to moan and rock against him.
We did it at the beach and in my car and once in the bathroom at the grocery store - Gene loved doing it in public - and when I look back on those times it was like I was in another world. Like I slipped between realms switching lanes one day and ended up in the magical land of Gene Hatchett, where the weed was good and so was the sex and I was free.
July and August blew past in a vague whirl, and before I knew it, classes were starting.
And I was in love with Gene.
I didn't tell him, of course.
He found out eventually, but during those first months it was under tighter wraps than King Tut.
I was obsessed.
He's majoring in computer science, and I'm majoring in biology, so there was little room for class overlap. But I would stare at him when we were at home together, I looked out the window after him when he would leave, and I made sure to be waiting for him when he got home. I even doodled his name in my notebook, complete with hearts and flourishes. I started marking our anniversaries in my PDA and eating little celebratory cupcakes. I had it bad - I still do - but I managed to keep it a secret.
We still had sex - lots of it - but I made up stories about hookups in bathrooms and dorms with girls to make what we had seem more casual. He didn't mind; on the contrary, he seemed glad I was getting out there and having fun.
"And thank God you lost the vests," he told me.
I asked him if he was seeing other people too and he told me no, he only liked to have one partner at a time. He smiled at me all bright like he always did, and I felt like both the luckiest guy in the world and it's biggest asshole.
We weren't smoking as much weed as we had been during the summer, either, and it allowed me to see how much I had really changed since we'd first met. My closet was a complete mess, my notes weren't separated by dividers, my course catalog was marked to hell and back with notes and Gene's name - my ordered world had been turned on its ass. But I didn't feel lost and out of control like I had always assumed I would if I wasn't organized; I felt like someone else, but a someone who was a lot closer to who I really was than anyone I'd ever been.
It was only further into the semester that things started to change.
Gene started wanting to go out places together. I was petrified.
"Nobody will know," he assured me, helping me into my jacket. He had finally goaded me into going out to Olive Garden. It was our first real date, and I was nervous as hell.
"I promise," he said. "It's not a big deal. It's just dinner. We've already been doing all of the blush-worthy stuff for months." He winked at me.
He was right; it did go fine. We had a great time, and by the end, I was glad that he'd convinced me to go. We made love again that night, that time on his air mattress, but the thing tore and air started to pour out halfway through, and it sounded like a giant fart. We were laughing so hard that we couldn't finish.
He slept in my bed from then on.
After that we started going for beach walks together, to the movies, shopping for clothes, and Gene started holding my hand. I didn't like it. I told him so.
"Okay," he said. "No big deal." But he didn't look like he thought it was no big deal, and that night I made sure to make it up to him.
He stopped holding my had after that, but he still stood uncomfortably close to me when we were together. I didn't want to tell him to stop; I knew I was wrong for shooting him down for wanting us to be closer, but the truth was I couldn't stand his touch if we weren't locked up in our studio having sex. When we were making love, his hands on me was all I wanted; when we weren't, they made my skin crawl.
After another not-so-subtle shudder on my part, he finally confronted me one day when we got home from a walk on the beach.
"Richie," he said. We were sitting on my bed. I made sure to sit as far away from him as possible. "Do you like me?"
His voice was so quiet I could barely hear him. I played with my thumbs and didn't look at him.
"I guess," I said.
"I do. I do like you, Gene. A lot."
"Then how come you always move away when I want to touch you?"
He didn't say anything.
"I just don't like PDA."
"You don't let me touch you at home, either."
That time it was me who didn't say anything.
"Do you want to keep doing this?" he said. He sounded so sad I wanted to crawl into a corner and hide. "It's okay if you don't, you know. I won't be mad."
"I do," I said quickly. "I do. I promise, I'll do better."
"What does that mean?"
"We can hold hands all you want. And we can go on dates and kiss and everything."
"I don't want to make you do anything you're not ready for-"
"I am," I lied. I knew it was a promise I could never keep, but I couldn't even entertain the thought of not being with Gene. "I am ready. I guess I just needed a kick in the ass to get me going."
He didn't look like he believed me, but I knew he wouldn't put up any more of a fight. I forced myself to lean into him when he moved beside me. I leaned my head back into his chest and told myself that I could do it. If it meant keeping Gene, I would deal with the near panic attacks I got whenever someone saw us together; I could stomach the shame that his touch evoked in me; I could resist the urge to vomit when he kissed me somewhere outside the apartment.
And I did.
And now, here we are, leaving Boardman's, hand in hand. And I still have to fight the urge to wrench my hand from his and explain to everyone that I'm not gay.
It's just before Christmas break, so there are tons of people strolling through the mall with their families. There are couples holding hands and walking past reindeer displays and sampling Christmas cookies from kiosks that run the length of the mall. Parents wait in lines at toy stores while their kids escape into the food court to play on tinsel covered jungle gyms. Gene laughs as one kid, maybe two years old, trips over her untied light-up sneakers.
He starts to swing our arms between us, and I turn to look at him. He beams at me, teeth and all, but the look on my face must be telling, because his smile starts to lose definition at the corners. He stops swinging and pulls me into a little alcove with a water fountain in it.
"What's wrong?" he says. He's wearing one of those red triangle hats with a puff ball on the end, and his eyes are so wide and concerned that I want to kiss him.
"Nothing," I say. I've run out of other answers.
"You always say that, but it's not true," he says. He lets go of my hand and leans against the wall, eyes closed. He sighs, and again I think of how beautiful he is.
"It's not a big deal." I'm whining, I know it, but I can't help myself. It's like we're in some crazy trapeze act where I'm hanging upside down and he's gripping my hands and we're swinging, but all the time my grip gets weaker and the day of the fall comes closer. Neither of us wants to let go, but his hands are tired and so are mine, and I can't stay upside down forever.
"Right," he says. He sounds angry, and I start to panic and try to think of more excuses to give him. "Look. We don't have to do what we did in there again. I promise. I'm just trying to connect with you, like before. Don't you remember how it was before, Richie?"
"I do!" I say. "I do, Gene, I swear, I just need a little time-"
"A little time? I'm not asking you to come out to the world, here, babe. Nobody knows us here. Nobody's going to tell on you. You still get all wiggy when I try to hold you or something, even when we're at home. Do you only want sex with me? Is that what this is about?"
"No!" I say. It must be a little loud, because a woman carrying a pair of toy soldiers pauses to look at us before moving on. "No, Gene. Please, please, please don't think that." My voice is starting to crack, and I take few deep breaths to try and steady it. "Just...just please...I'll do anything you say, Gene, just tell me what you want me to do and I'll do it..."
And telling the truth.
"I don't want this to just be about me," he says. He's not angry anymore; he's tired. I'm not sure which is worse. "I don't want you to have to work against yourself to keep me, babe. I want you to want this. Do you want this?"
His hands are on my shoulders now and he's staring in my eyes. It's always hardest to lie to him when he gets like this. "Yes," I say, and that really is the truth. "I want this more than anything."
"Then why won't you have it?"
He's always throwing me, Gene is, and again I'm left with nothing to say. I can't tell him how horrible I feel whenever we're together, how I wish that he was gone and that he would never leave me at the same time. I'm constantly pushing him away and pulling him back, and even though I know it won't work forever, I can't bring myself to stop. It kills me that I can't hide my misery well enough to make him happy; that he can sense my unease in our every interaction. All I want is for him to stay with me forever and for him to leave me so I can be free of him. Is that so much to ask?
"I..." I falter, trying to think of something witty and convincing and perfect to say. "I just..."
He waits, but I don't say anything else. I can't. I feel my eyes fill, and then he's just a mass of colors floating before me.
"It's okay," he says. His anger has faded completely now, and he's sad in addition to being tired. He pulls me into his arms, and I'm disgusted with myself as my gut fills with embarrassment and I wonder whether anyone's looking at us. I know he feels me shudder, but he goes on holding me anyway. "It's okay, Richie. We'll figure out something. I promise."
After a few minutes, he relaxes his hold on me and takes my hand again, and we leave the mall through a side entrance near where we're parked. I look around again to make sure nobody is looking at us. He sees me.
We swing a little higher, and my grip slips a little more. Being upside down has begun to make my head hurt.
I don't go home for Christmas.
My mom is confused. "You come home every year," she says when I tell her. "What's wrong? Are you visiting a friend?"
This is the most my mom has said to me since middle school, and I don't mention that if I did come home, we would barely speak to each other. Even if I didn't want to spend the time with Gene, I would rather stay here alone than face another silent Christmas dinner with her and my father.
"No," I say. "It's just that I graduate next semester and I really need to prepare for my new classes. I want to stay at UCSD for grad school, and I'll need top grades for that. I'm thinking of making cell biology my focus. Don't want to screw up in the home stretch."
"I suppose not," she says. Already I can feel her drifting away again. She probably didn't hear half of what I said. "Well, I'll tell your father. I'll see you soon."
"Yeah," I say.
I put my phone back on its cradle and that's when I notice Gene staring at me again. I'm sitting on my bed and he's lounging in a bean bag chair he bought a few weeks ago.
"What?" I say. I pull one of my pillows onto my lap and wrap my arms around it.
"You really don't want to go home?"
"Why would I?" I say. I'm feeling pouty and insolent, but Gene won't hold it against me; he's the first person in my life that truly accepts all of me. "What am I gonna do at home?"
He gets up and climbs onto the bed beside me, pulling me into his arms. I lean into him without hesitation; we did a little Dark Thunder earlier and I've forgotten to be ashamed.
"Visit with your family and friends and stuff, maybe. Don't you miss them?"
"No," I say, and I mean it. Mostly.
He kisses the top of my head and squeezes me tighter. My arms loosen their grip on the pillow. "Not even a little?"
"No," I say. "Not even a little."
"Then why are you so upset?"
"I'm not upset," I snap. I'm upset.
"Are you guys not close?" he says gently, rubbing my shoulder.
"They're not close to me."
"Mmmm." He doesn't say anything else. That pisses me off.
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"Yes it does!"
"Well," he says, "I just understand a little better why you're so nervous about us. You don't have a support system."
"Don't you psychoanalyze me," I say, pouting again. "You sound like a damn self help book." Again I'm reminded of how much I've changed since we met; I was never so vocal before.
"It's true," he says. I start to retort, but he kisses me. I forget what I'm going to say and kiss him back, letting go of my pillow and wrapping my arms around him. My palms slide under his shirt and I can feel the muscles in his back moving under his skin.
He's moved down to my neck now, and I feel him giggle against my throat.
"You're so cute," he says. Then he bites my earlobe, and I moan again.
This is the way I wish things could always be - just him and me, my bed, and endless time, with nobody to interrupt us and plenty of weed. As his lips blaze a trail down my chest, a distant part of me realizes that things can always be this way - all I need is Gene and Dark Thunder.
His mother is visiting her sister in Italy, and she tells Gene he can use their house in the mountains for the holidays if he wants.
"What mountains?" I ask. My voice is a little thick and slow to catch up with my mind; I've decided to spend the entire holiday guilt free.
"Rockies," he says. "Colorado." He takes my bong from me and takes a hit. "I love Cohen," he says. "This is such good shit."
"I know," I say, taking it back. He's packing some clothes into a suitcase for tomorrow; we're flying out early in the morning. I'm already packed and ready to go.