Technical Difficulties Episode 11byLucyH©
Previously in Technical Difficulties...
Zach has been obsessed with Ryan ever since they were kids and Ryan tied Zach to a weight bench in the garage. Ryan has been having non-platonic thoughts about Zach ever since Zach had an inadvertently public argument about a pair of toy handcuffs. Unfortunately, they're both scared to mention these feelings, because they're best friends, and don't want to screw that up.
Both the guys have been involved with women the meantime. At the moment, Zach has a friend with benefits, Rosemary, who is obsessed with her brother, John. Earlier in the fall, Ryan's girlfriend, Trisha, got pregnant. Supposedly it was an accident, but it looked suspiciously like an attempt to rope him into marriage. A couple of weeks ago, she had a miscarriage, and Ryan dumped her. Now Trisha has crashed Zach's family Christmas gathering.
Christmas 2005, continued
Zach's mom shot Ryan a perplexed look as she got up from the couch.
Ryan shrugged and held his hands out, hoping she'd understand he had nothing to do with this. "Should I...?" he asked, looking back and forth between Zach and his mother, feeling awkward.
Zach's mom settled it by heading down the hall to greet Trisha. "What a surprise. We didn't think you'd come this year." (Translation: What are you doing here? We didn't invite you.) Conversations in the living room trailed off, and heads turned to look down the hall.
Though Ryan heard the subtext, Trisha sounded clueless. "Hi, Mrs. Hudson. I just wanted to talk to Ryan, and I thought he might be here since he wasn't home, and I saw his car outside, so I thought I'd stop in."
"He's here. We were all about to open gifts."
"Great. That's perfect, because I brought gifts." Trisha sounded chipper.
"Oh dear. Well, I hope you won't be offended that we don't have something for you, since we weren't expecting you."
"Of course. It's a strange year. I brought you this, though."
"Thank you. Well, I can offer you some cookies. We have too many, as usual."
Zach's relatives exchanged puzzled looks. Ryan wished he had the option of hiding under the covers until she went away.
"Oh my goodness, those look delicious. I'll definitely try some later. Thank you." The sound of her voice came closer to the living room.
Trisha appeared in the doorway, wearing the red sweater that Ryan had given her last Christmas, and shiny red lipstick to match. She carried a gold present about the size of a paperback novel. Trisha picked her way across the room toward him in stocking feet, oblivious to the gaggle of Zach's relatives. Ryan felt a little sorry for her, but mostly the weird drama annoyed him.
She sat on the arm of Ryan's chair, between him and Zach, and offered him the shiny present. "Here, open it."
Ryan kept his hands on his lap. "What's this about?"
Trisha waved the present in front of him. "Trying to give you a present. Merry Christmas."
His imagination flashed through several ideas of what could be in the box. A desiccated fetus. The wedding ring again. An improvised explosive device. Anthrax. He inched away from her as far as he could go in the chair, and stared at the box. "Why are you giving me a present? I'm a jerk, remember?" He knew better than to repeat her exact choice of word in front of Zach's family.
"I'm sorry I said that. I talked to Amy and she said I ran you off by pressuring you too much to get married and start a family right away. I never meant to upset you. It's just that I thought you wanted it too, but I understand now that it was just my wishful thinking." Her voice sounded soft and reasonable.
"Uh...it's okay." It wasn't okay, but he really didn't want to get into that with ten people staring at them. His jaw clenched and his shoulders tensed up.
"Let's just start over. No pressure. We're young. There's lots of time." She put her arm around his shoulders and gave him a little squeeze. It made him think of being crushed by a boa constrictor. Her hair brushed his cheek, and the imaginary constrictor stuck out a forked tongue to taste its prey.
"No." Ryan said it more loudly than he'd intended, and stood up from the chair.
Trisha wobbled and might have fallen if Zach hadn't caught her present-wielding arm to steady her. She slipped off the chair arm. "Don't you think we have something worth saving?"
"Not really." Ryan backed away from Trisha and stepped on something that crunched underfoot. He checked. It was just an empty plastic bubble pack.
Zach got up and put a hand against Trisha's back. "Come on. This isn't the time to have this conversation." He propelled her back the way she came.
Ryan let his breath out and took his foot off the crushed packaging.
"I wasn't trying to... oh never mind. Whatever." Trisha let herself be escorted out. She looked back over her shoulder at Ryan, and her lip quivered like she was about to cry.
Zach walked Trisha back down the hall and around the corner to the kitchen door where she came in. They held a tense, hushed discussion.
"Sorry," Ryan said to Zach's bemused family. He walked halfway to the back door, wondering whether he should handle this, or let Zach take care of it. He paused to eavesdrop.
"It's Christmas. I was trying to give him a present. How is that strange?" Trisha complained.
Zach said, "It's strange because this isn't about a present. It's about relationship drama. We didn't need that. You're making everyone uncomfortable."
"That's cold." There was the sound of a zipper being done up, presumably Trisha's coat. "He dumped me the day I lost my baby, and you're telling me to get out of your house because I tried to give him a present and asked nicely if he wants to get back together, because I still love him anyway?"
"Exactly. Even if he'd tried to push you under a bus, I don't appreciate you showing up uninvited and using my family's holiday as a stage for your relationship drama. Use a phone like a normal person."
Trisha cried audibly. "This is what I get for trying to be a nice person. Shoved out the door to spend Christmas alone. Fine. Whatever. I hope you get some twisted satisfaction from this, 'cause at least somebody should be happy." The door opened, then slammed.
Ryan dared to peek around the corner into the kitchen.
Zach actually growled softly at the closed door.
"Sorry, I didn't..." Ryan began.
The sound of Ryan's voice made Zach jump. "Aah!"
"...know what to say to her. Thanks."
Zach held his hand against his chest and took a couple deep breaths. Outside, a car started. "No problem. Actually, I've wanted to tell her off about those weird little head games for a while. It was nice to have a legitimate excuse to do it."
"Oh. That's good, I guess." For a moment, Ryan allowed himself to indulge in the fantasy that Zach ran Trisha off so fiercely because he was jealous, not just because she was acting obnoxious. He felt himself smile, and for a moment, he felt pure happiness for the first time he could remember in his adult life.
It lasted about three seconds, then Zach shattered the illusion. Instead of leaping into Ryan's arms, he poured himself a cup of coffee and headed back to the living room.
The unexpected knock on the door came as a welcome distraction to Zach. He'd been working on a term paper too long, and reading bad photocopies was giving him eye strain. "Who's there?" he called.
Since it was just Rosemary, he didn't bother putting on pants. He answered the door in his t-shirt and boxers, standing so people in the hall wouldn't see him.
Once the door was closed and out of the way, she bounced into his arms with a big grin and hugged him. "You wouldn't believe what happened."
"The Easter bunny gave you this week's winning lottery numbers in advance?" Zach locked the door as a matter of habit.
"Two weeks' worth of lottery numbers?" He patted her on the back and then disentangled himself so he could move papers and clear enough space on the bed for her to sit with him.
"Nooooo... John and I ...you know, got together. I just had to tell someone and well, you're pretty much the only one." She beamed.
"Wow." In retrospect, he should have seen this coming, but he hadn't expected her to actually sleep with her brother. "So how does that work?" He sat down on the bed, where he'd been reading a minute ago.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean you know the whole... not socially acceptable thing. How are you going to handle it?"
"Oh, that. Well, you're the only one who knows, obviously. I'm going to transfer schools and move in with him at the end of the semester. We'll be roommates. That's all anyone else needs to know." She plopped on the edge of his bed beside him and bounced.
"Isn't that a little fast? When did this all happen?"
Her smile faded a little. "Yesterday morning. But I mean, we've known each other for twenty one years, so it's not like getting hitched in Vegas or something."
"You have a point. Sorry. You really surprised me. I didn't think you were really going to..."
"What did you think I was going to do?" She pulled a couple of rainbow lollipops out of her coat pocket and offered one to Zach.
Zach accepted the offer of free food by default. "Thanks. I don't know. Eventually find somebody shorter and a little less blonde?"
"Well, I did, didn't I?" She went back to grinning and bouncing.
"That you did." Zach shook his head and laughed. "I don't know if you're the sanest person I know, or the craziest."
"Is believing that love is more important than getting everyone's approval sane or crazy?" She tore open the lollipop and stuck it in her mouth.
"I guess when you put it like that, it sounds downright reasonable." Zach twirled the lollipop between his fingers and put off opening it while they were still chatting.
Rosemary talked around her candy. "Speaking of love, you've got to go out there and get your man."
"I'm no closer to being able to do that than I was last fall."
"Want me to help you?"
"I think since we're past junior high, this is something I'm supposed to do for myself."
"Your call. I just sort of feel like I owe you one, you know?"
"Because you helped me to accept myself the way I am."
"You've done me the same favour." Ok, it wasn't exactly the same favour. He'd pretended to be John countless times, and thoroughly enjoyed it, but he'd never actually let her tie him up. He had decided only Ryan was allowed to do that, and that it was actually a good thing that Melissa had refused. Still, the fact that Rosemary was willing to do it made him feel less like a freak.
"So why haven't you got your man yet?" she asked.
"I told you. I wig out every time I try."
"You should practice and desensitize yourself. Pretend I'm Ryan. What are you going to say?"
Zach grinned nervously. "You sure you're not looking for blackmail material here?"
"As if. I'm serious. Try it."
He looked at Rosemary, but he couldn't stretch his imagination far enough to think of this girl with pink curls, glitter, and heavy mascara as Ryan. He closed his eyes, so all he had was the sense of another person in the room with him. "Ryan, I..." his voice caught in his throat. He took a slow breath and tried again. "I..." he remembered the letter that he'd written and burned almost verbatim, so it wasn't that he didn't know what to say. He just couldn't speak. "I can't do it." Zach felt defeated.
Rosemary gathered him into a hug and swayed back and forth to sooth him. "You will."
"You can't know that. I've been in love with him for years, and he still doesn't have a clue."
"I do know it. It's a gut feeling, and those are usually right."
Zach leaned on Rosemary and let her comfort him.
Ryan started to turn in to the gravel driveway in front of his mother's house - the one where he grew up across the street from Zach - but stopped the car when he noticed the pile of old furniture by the end of the driveway, getting rained on. There, between a soggy threadbare recliner and a broken card table, sat the old wooden weight bench.
In his mind's eye, he saw the bench sitting out in a torrent of rain in his back yard, with Zach chained to it on his back, held down with some serious handcuffs and padlocks, so he wasn't about to escape. The rain plastered his blonde hair against his head, like when he'd just gotten out of the pool, and his wet t-shirt and shorts clung to every little contour of his lean body. He'd closed his eyes to keep raindrops from hitting them, and he shivered hard. Ryan crossed the wet grass in bare feet holding a keyring.
A long rumble of real thunder made it into Ryan's imaginary scenario. He stood over Zach, blocking the sheet of rain that had been spraying his face. Zach opened his eyes a sliver for a moment to look at Ryan. "Why won't you let me up?"
Ryan got down on one knee and rested a hand against Zach's cheek. "Because you look ungodly sexy chained up and wet like this."
"And I wouldn't look sexy somewhere else, like say, the living room?" he asked, his voice trembling with cold.
"You will." Ryan kissed him on the forehead. "Just not yet."
"Oh come on. You're not really going to leave me here again." He raised his body a couple inches toward Ryan, rattling his chains.
In reply, Ryan slapped Zach's cheek hard enough to turn his head. It made a wet sound. "You're not ready to come in yet. You're still trying to tell me what to do." Ryan went back inside, where he could ogle him through the patio door. Soon, when he brought Zach in, he'd strip off the wet clothes and warm him up in bed with body heat.
The headlights of a car coming up behind Ryan snapped him out of it, and he pulled the rest of the way into the driveway. He shut the engine off, leaned on the steering wheel, and rested his head on his arms. It had been ten years, perhaps to the day, since they'd invented the new weight bench game, and a little over four years that he'd been itching to tie Zach up again. He wasn't sure how long it had been since he'd fallen in love.
It was wonderful that he could adore Zach and want to hurt him at the same time, without feeling too conflicted about it. Pretending not to want him that way was too hard, though. Ryan made himself a promise. If, in one year, he still wasn't over Zach, he'd take the chance and make an obvious pass at him. Then he revised it to six months. There wasn't much more of this he could take.
He shut off the engine, found his umbrella, and headed inside to check on Mom. She was in a bad depressive phase, and sometimes didn't take very good care of herself. She didn't answer the door when he knocked. That didn't surprise Ryan. He let himself in, and walked upstairs in stocking feet, homing in on the sound of the television.
Mom lay in bed in the dark, watching a show about storm damage on the Weather Channel. Her lank, greasy hair showed that she still hadn't showered, though she'd promised that she would when Ryan came over a couple of days ago. She flipped the channel a few times. "Hi Ryan. I didn't want to answer the door in my housecoat. I was just about to get dressed, though."
He wondered if he was expected to believe the obvious lie. "No worries. I just came to see how you're doing."
"My back hurts, but other than that, I'm okay."
"Are those exercises the doctor gave you doing any good?" Ryan came in and sat on her rocking chair - the one she told him she used to sit in to feed him when he was a baby.
"I can't do them. Lost the paper somewhere."
"Want me to get you another one?"
Mom shook her head and turned off the television. "No, it's okay. I don't need you to run errands for me. I'm a big girl."
"I know you can run errands, but sometimes you don't get around to it when you're in this kind of mood." He rocked. It helped to keep him patient.
"Yeah, I know. But I should get out of the house. It's good for me. I know that."
"Want to go somewhere today? I don't have work until five. We could go to the place with all the cheesecake and pie."
"Nah. It'd take me an hour to get ready. I can't make you sit around waiting for me for an hour."
She looked down at the remote in her hands and chewed on her lip. "If you're sure..." she said after a while.
"I'll wait. It's really not a big deal."
Mom climbed out of bed, muttering about her back, and selected some clothes from the wrinkled heap on top of the dresser. "I'm sorry for being such a pain. I know you're just trying to look out for me."
"Don't worry. Everyone is a bit of a pain sometimes. Just...oh! I meant to ask you, is it okay if I come back later with a truck and get the old weight bench that you put out at the curb?"
"Sure. I've been meaning to get rid of it for years, but it's so heavy. Trisha and her friend came over yesterday, though, and moved it for me so she can use that corner of the garage to store her kayak for a while." Mom leaned on the door frame, clutching the bundle of clothes to her chest, and looked tired.
"Trisha was over here?" Ryan got to his feet.
"Yeah, she's been over a few times since you two started thinking about getting back together."
"What? She told you that?"
"Well, it just kind of came up in conversation."
"I see. The thing is, we're not thinking about getting back together. Maybe she is, but she's delusional."
Mom frowned and looked skeptical. "Well, you must have said something to get her hopes up."
"The only reason you haven't heard me complain about her lately is because she hasn't tried to contact me lately."
"Oh. And I have her kayak in my garage now. Maybe I'll ask her to come get it."
"Nah, that'll just make drama and encourage her."
Mom's forehead furrowed and she tilted her head a little. "That's so strange. She told me that you told her I was in a funk. How did she know if you didn't tell her? I was presentable that day."
"A good guess? All I can tell you for sure is that we are never getting back together."
Mom shook her head. "You know some very strange people, Ryan." She plodded into the bathroom and closed the door.