Young and in Love?
In our living room, Tom’s realtor mother sits with my mom as I carry a mug of coffee from the kitchen.
“You’re just getting up?” Mom says. “I thought you were off swimming.”
“College pool’s closed for Christmas break.”
“You’re welcome to use our pool,” Mrs. Rabkin says. “It’s more fit for a polar bear than a person, but Tom swims laps all winter. Go in the side gate. He was asleep when I left.”
I thank her.
In my room, as I swap my shorts for swim trunks and toe into flip-flops, I gaze at my dad in a photo spilling from a manila envelope of old pictures Mom gave me.
“I ran across these in a box in my office at the college,” she said. “I forgot I kept them for you. Such a good mother, me. You have no idea the pleasure I once would’ve taken in cutting up likenesses of your father and running them down the garbage disposal.” Most of the snapshots are of Dad as a child, but in the one I now stare at, he wears his community college baseball uniform, holding his cap as he looks sideways at the camera. I love this picture of him. There’s some quality about it I can’t put my finger on.
I grab a towel from my bathroom. Even in full sunshine, I’m cold walking the few houses down the block. I clank through the metal gate, strip to my trunks and dive in, swimming as fast as I can because the water is holy shitcold. As I’m turning after several laps, Tom stands naked on the cement deck at the other end of the pool.
“You don’t need trunks,” he says. “My mom’s doing an open house this morning.”
I stop to pull off my swimsuit and toss it onto an aqua-colored strap lounge chair. The water’s so cold my dick hardly exists. Tom’s dick will shrivel to nothing too, I figure. Frenzied to keep warm, we pass each other churning back and forth, swimming so fast you’d think alligators snapped at our heels.
Twenty, thirty, forty minutes later, I pull myself up onto the deck and, sweating and shivering, grab my towel. Tom hops out beside me, and our hands go right to each other’s pebble-hard nipples. Our kiss is as frenzied as the swim. We should go inside and get warm, but we love each other’s bodies being all goose bumps, love our scrotums being so puffed up we could use them for floatation devices in a plane crash. Tom finally takes my hand and opens the glass slider and leads me around its closed curtain into his room.
Under his bedcovers, we kiss like our lives depend on our tongues being thrust into each other’s mouths. I can’t believe I’m in his arms again, feeling between us the hair on his chest and the hair above and below his intricate navel. I never expect to be in his bed. Friday night, Mom and I waited for a table at an Italian restaurant while Tom and his new girlfriend stood nearby, he behind her with his arms around her tummy. I wanted to be her. Wanted to feel his forearms across my stomach, wanted to tip my head back against his chest, as she tipped hers.
“I wish you were gay instead of bi,” I tell him as we lie in our sweat after sex, the covers thrown off. “I know you don’t like it when I say that.”
He sits up, raises his knees, and leans his shoulders against the headboard. His large hand doesn’t leave my hair, as it might because of my remark. “You tell people you’re gay,” he says, “and they figure you’ll meet a guy and get married. You let people assume you’re straight, and they figure you’ll meet a girl and marry her. You tell people you’re bi, and they don’t know what to think. If I told Michelle, what could she do with the information?”
I don’t know everything she coulddo with the information, but I can make an educated guess as to what she woulddo: drop Tom.
He slides back down and holds me. At times, weeks have passed without my being in his arms. If I tell him I’m in love with him, months will pass. Nor can I tell my best friend, Ronda, that I’m in love with Tom. She’s heard it so much, she won’t let me mention his name anymore.
Tom eases onto his back and turns his head to look at me. Suddenly I see in his face, with its dark stubble and dimpled chin, my father at nineteen, in the picture on my desktop.
“What’s the matter?” Tom says.
He turns his head and stares at the ceiling.
“Look at me again.”
“You look like someone on TV. Especially when your head’s turned like that. I’m not sure who.”
I close my eyes and think of Mom and Mrs. Rabkin considering each other soul sisters, amusing for such stereotypical wasps. They became friends in community college, were bridesmaids at each other’s weddings, have both been divorced twice, and both see themselves burdened by raising a teenage son. Mom and I didn’t live near Mrs. Rabkin until we moved to our present house when I was in seventh grade. I barely saw Tom before that.
If Mom knew Mrs. Rabkin in community college, Dad must have known her, too. But Tom has blue eyes. My father and I have hazel green eyes. So could the likeness between Tom at nineteen and my father at nineteen be coincidental?
Tom pulls me on top of him and raises his legs. Four years ago, when I first fellated him in the high school locker room supply closet, I thought being on my knees for him would forever be the extent of our sexual interaction. That would have been fine by me—I could spend my life on my knees for Tom. But in our sporadic times together, he’s become more and more serious about his bi side. By now he wants my cock, too. He wants to suck it, as he apparently wants to eat pussy and tongue clit. He also wants to be fucked.
If I watch a good-looking male-female couple walking toward me, I want the guy. Tom wants the girl but knows he could enjoy action with the guy as well. Among Tom’s fantasies is one in which a man watches him fuck the man’s wife or girlfriend. I don’t fit in this fantasy any more than I fit into any of Tom’s other bisexual fantasies or into his real-life plan with a wife to whom he’ll be faithful and children to whom he’ll be a great father.
“I don’t tell anyone I’m bi.” As he says this, his anus still hugs my diminishing, condom-covered cock. I love his cum drying in the tangle of his dark chest hair. “Only you and a few other guys know.”
I don’t want to hear about the other guys, although I intuited even in high school that Tom let boys besides me suck his dick.
“There’s a guy I could introduce you to,” he says. “He’s gay. Out. Doesn’t know my story, and I don’t want him to because I wouldn’t trust him to keep his mouth shut. Bradley can be belligerent. Maybe I shouldn’t introduce you to him. I play flag football with some guys on Sundays, and he’s one of them. He was a running back in high school.”
Tom was a running back. I wouldn’t mind meeting another running back.
“Were you swimming all that time?” Mom says, working at her computer in our family room. Mom’s a professor of experimental psychology.
“Listening to music with Tom.”
“Was the water cold? I hope you boys did something to get warm.”
Going upstairs to take a hot shower, I replay her remark and listen for the hint of a question in Mom’s voice. She neutrally acknowledges the fact that I’m not going to be a source of biological grandchildren, but I can’t imagine she thinks Tom and I fuck. Not Tom.
In my room, after staring at Dad’s picture on my desk, I learn from the internet that it’s rare for a child to have blue eyes if neither parent has blue eyes. If Mrs. Rabkin’s eyes aren’t blue, Tom’s eyes probably come from Mrs. Rabkin’s first husband. I wander back downstairs. “What color are Mrs. Rabkin’s eyes?” I say to Mom.
“Pray tell, why do you care?”
“This girl got mad at Tom because she closed her eyes, and he couldn’t say what color they were. So, I’ve been thinking about whether I notice anyone’s eye color.”
I’m occasionally startled by how readily lies come to me.
“Blue,” Mom says, “like Tom’s.” Mom’s face shows no hint she’s noticed Tom looking like my father at nineteen. At twenty, she knew my dad intimately enough for her to get pregnant with me. Maybe Dad just happens to look like Tom in that one picture. On the other hand, Mom only sees Tom in passing without a second look.
As I climb the stairs, I ruminate upon the fact that I could be fucking my half-brother.
Following directions to a park of playing fields, I arrive as the sun is low but still bright. I perch on the hood of my hatchback to sip Coke from a can as I watch the game in progress. It’s skins versus shirts, the players in jeans or sweats, some in sneakers, some barefoot. As I watch, sitting still, my nipples chill under a jacket and my legs and feet get cold in shorts and flip-flops.
I wonder which of the guys is Bradley.
The game ends, and the players wander toward me and the parking lot. Some, including Tom, pick up shirts from the grass and pull them on.
“Hardy,” Tom says. I hop off my car, and he introduces me to a few of the guys, while others wave as they climb into SUVs or pickups. “That’s Bradley.” Tom motions toward a guy in jeans, holding his long-sleeved white T-shirt, one of its sleeves dragging the blacktop while he walks barefoot toward me. We don’t shake hands but stare at each other. One of the other guys laughs.
“What the fuck?” Bradley snaps.
“Nothing. Just you guys seem…”
“Shut the fuck up.” Bradley glares at him.
“Fuck, man, I didn’t mean anything. You’re gay, and you and this guy…”
“I said shut the fuck up.”
“It’s no different than if I laughed because you were straight and met a girl, and you and she had the hots for each other.”
I smile at Bradley and thrust out my hand to shake, to keep him from jumping the perceived offender, which he seems about to do. He eyes my hand for a second before accepting it. “My fault,” I offer quietly, “but you’re sexy as hell.”
Bradley doesn’t smile, but the flattery seems to distract him from wanting a fight.
Bradley, pal, I think, you don’t know half of how good I’m going to make you feel about your manhood, about all that testosterone oozing from your pores.
I follow Tom’s pickup to the house of some guy who’s over twenty-one and supplying the beer. Bradley arrives wearing a shirt and sits with an ankle across his knee, wagging his bare foot while I resist staring at its grass-stained bottom. Bradley is one of those heritage Southern Californians who eschews sandals and flip-flops in favor of bare feet. All I want to do is stare at the shock of tan hair hanging above his steel gray eyes and to watch his strong fingers stroke his faintly bearded chin while he wags his foot.
Brad feigns watching a basketball game on TV but keeps me in the corner of his eye. Despite his swagger, he isn’t sure I want to suck his cock. The level of insecurity this implies astounds me and makes me fall instantly in love with him, since there’s nothing in the world I want to do as much as blow him. I’m sure everyone knows that.
Tom, sitting beside Brad, gets up from the middle of the couch, and I move to the seat Tom vacated and slip my hand under Brad’s shirt, against the small of his back. Brad surprises me by the ease with which he wraps his muscular arm around my shoulders, squeezes me, and laughs happily before saying to the room, “The game was fun today,” drawing everyone’s attention to us. Apparently he likes having someone. I like being the someone he has.
Bradley’s apartment is in a rundown building in a low-income Anaheim neighborhood. He needs to shower “because of the game,” and in his living room shrugs out of his shirt, adding it to other clothes strewn on the furniture and carpet. I step into his arms, and we kiss and undress each other and move to his bathroom. When both of us are soapy clean, I kneel in a tub so grungy I’m frightened of the life-forms it supports. He shuts off the water and watches me move my lips back and forth from one of his balls to the other, taking each into my mouth and letting it slip out slowly. Goddamn, he moans, over and over. He tries to pull me up, but I shake my head. I moved to his cock. Gently he thrusts in and out of my mouth, in and out… Right after he comes, I squirt my load with my lips still around him.
We dry and move toward his bed, beside which I hesitate.
“Please don’t tell me,” he says, “you’re one of those guys who doesn’t like to snuggle.”
I’m just not used to snuggling in squalor. I lie down on a sheet encrusted with sweat and cum, food and drink, and probably dribbled urine. There I hug and kiss my new paradox, a guy with whom I’m already in love but also already wondering how we’ll ever live together.
My poor mom says, “The fact that that girl Ronda arrives and leaves this house at all hours of the night doesn’t mean I can still hope for grandchildren, I suppose?”
I laugh. Ronda works till ten in the evening at a mall shoe store, and at one a.m. she picks up her sober addict brother, a janitor who lost his driver’s license before he became sober. She arrives at our house earlier than eleven and leaves at quarter till one. This isn’t a nightly ritual, but if we’re both between boyfriends, maybe an every-other-night ritual. With microwaved popcorn and glasses of low calorie apple juice, we sit on my bed and talk while Mom works downstairs in the family room, her den.
“Not a word about Brad,” I tell Ronda, in my room. “He said we’d talk about him, and I promised we wouldn’t.”
“You used all your boyfriend minutes on Tom.” Ronda looks at her hand as though examining her nails, but Ronda isn’t a nail-examiner. She has an opinion of Brad, I figure, probably negative. Brad doesn’t bother himself about first impressions. In front of my overweight mom, who mentioned her diet limits what she can eat, dinner guest Brad mumbled to me, loud enough for Mom to hear, “I hope that doesn’t mean we all suffer.”
Sitting on my bed, Ronda loosens her blonde hair from a bun and shakes it free. It frames her face, which looks worried. “I saw Tom at a party Saturday.”
“With new girlfriend Michelle? Did you talk to her?”
“She wasn’t there. I don’t think she’s his girlfriend anymore. He said she wasn’t.” Ronda closes her eyes and shakes her head. She’s on the verge of tears. “Oh, Hardy, it wasn’t a good night.”
“What happened?” I’m not sure I want to know. Did she say something to Tom about his being bisexual, which he made me swear I’d never tell anyone?
“I drank too much.” She obsessively rubs her black cotton pants. “I couldn’t drive, so Tom took me home.”
Oh my God.
“I didn’t mean to.” She begins crying. “I never intended it.” She sobs. “Oh, Hardy, I never even liked Tom before.”
I’m usually telling Ronda to put herself first. She’s so sweet to everyone, so nurturing to her brother. How ironic she should hurt me in possibly the only way she could. I listen and feign broad tolerance, of which surely we both know I’m incapable, while I watch the clock and count the minutes until I can send her on her way to pick up her brother, patched together as well as possible.
Alone once she’s gone, I cry. Ronda was my best friend, and now I won’t want to see her anymore. I will see her, because how can I not? She’ll know how jealous I am, and we’ll be uncomfortable. We’ll eventually become two of those people who haven’t seen each other for years until they happen upon one another in a supermarket neither of them frequents often. Each will ask how the other has been, and we’ll make small talk and look into one another’s eyes and wonder how we were once so close and are now such strangers.
To avert such a horrible end, I reason with myself. Tom never could be my husband, never would be. He’s going to find a wife, so why should I care if it’s Ronda, especially since I have a new boyfriend?