In the morning, we rose early, readied ourselves for the day. We showered together, which became an interesting exercise in its own right as we pushed the limits of what we dared with each other just a little bit further out. Under the spray of water, I reached out to cup him in my outstretched palm … the length and heft of it as it filled out … I looked the question at him and he nodded … I then took both of us in my fist and coaxed us together to hardness, watching his face as the intensity of this brought him - and me, of course - ever nearer to release, to it and beyond … just one of the things we could do with each other, the merest prelude to what it meant to want this, to be this with someone who wanted it just as much, who would learn, one day, not to be afraid of it.
Afterwards, we shared breakfast out on the front porch, eating the last of the food, working our way through a pot of coffee. I wished for many more days like this, in each other's company, needing no other, hoped that this thing between us would find root and grow. But I knew also how much college changed one; it had certainly changed me, and Lyndon and would, no doubt, change Bryce as well. It could do only that. And seeing the riches and richness of life on one's own, even in the insular world of campus … would that make him want to take from that storehouse whatever - whoever - he might want? Where would that leave me?
I could hope only for the best, I knew, could hope only that this thing persisted. But … the boy barely understood himself at this point; where would he be six months, a year, two years from now?
A noise from the street brought me back to the present; I glanced over to see the Parrish's Mercedes gliding to a halt at the curb.
"Ah," Bryce murmured. "They're here." He turned to me, grinned. "It's showtime."
We watched as Kenton, Elizabeth and Lyndon stepped out, made their way to the house, stood up to greet them: "Hi, guys," from Bryce, "good morning," from me. Both Kenton and Elizabeth smiled; she set a bag down on the table among the remains of our breakfast.
"Donuts and coffee, if anyone's hungry."
Lyndon stood some distance behind them, looking as if he might run away. The four of us started in on the donuts - I figured I'd do enough work today to offset the calories - while Lyndon settled himself in a chair. We made small talk while we ate.
As we finished up, Kenton turned to Lyndon. "Do you think all of your stuff will fit into the Mercedes, or do I need to go rent a trailer?" The house had come furnished - not that that amounted to a whole lot - so I assumed it would be the same for Lyndon as it was for me: clothes, computer, some books, a few other things.
Lyndon looked at his father for a long moment. Then, "Yeah, I think it should fit. I've got a bike, though."
"Ah," Kenton said. "I'd forgotten about that. Do you … well, do you really need it?"
Lyndon frowned. "It's my bike …"
"Well, I was thinking that your brother could probably make better use of it."
"I used it yesterday, to ride around campus with Omer," Bryce chimed in.
"So there," Kenton replied. He turned to me. "Can I leave it with you until we come back with Bryce in a few weeks?"
"Sure," I answered. "I can store it wherever I end up."
"Good," he said, smiling. "Thanks." He stood up, swallowed the last of his coffee. "Well, I guess we should get on it, then."
Elizabeth stayed in her seat. Lyndon stood up, preparing to go into the house. Kenton glanced at him. "We … well, you can sit this one out, Lyndon."
He frowned. "What?"
Kenton glanced at me and Bryce, standing next to him. "I think we can handle this."
Elizabeth turned to Lyndon. "You and I are going to have a nice little chat about your immediate future while they pack."
Lyndon's eyes went wide with shock, knowing what we would discover inside. "But -" he spluttered. "But it's my stuff!"
"Sit down, Lyndon."
"Dad … c'mon …"
"I'm serious, Lyndon. Sit down." Lyndon sat.
Bryce made a strangled noise in his throat, probably trying to tamp down a laugh at his brother's expense.
Kenton turned to us. "Gentlemen? Are we ready for this?"
Once inside the house, he turned to us. "So … not to put too fine a point on it, but I assume you've hidden Lyndon's stash. I didn't want to give him a chance of sneaking it out while we weren't looking."
"He used to leave it out all the time, on the coffee table," I offered. "I don't know where it is now."
"I do," Bryce murmured. "I hid it before you guys came back."
Kenton smiled. "I figured you did. I'm going to get rid of it. Lyndon won't need it where he's going. In fact, it's the reason he's going where he's going when we get back home." I inferred a kind of rehab program … which would be the best thing for Lyndon while he sorted out the rest of his life. "Show me."
Bryce led his dad to a coat closet, opened the door, pulled out a black plastic trash bag, handed it to his dad. "It's all in here. At least, I think it is. He might have more in his room."
Kenton sighed. "Thanks." He took the bag, dumped its contents out on the dining room table. The three of us looked at the pile of stuff: bongs, pipes, a big bag of weed, rolling papers, pill bottles … a little bag of white powder that I had never seen before. Kenton sighed again, pinched the bridge of his nose, looked at Bryce. "Please promise me that you'll never do this."
I almost felt sorry for Lyndon, that he had had to resort to this as a kind of crutch to get through a life not entirely of his choosing; I thought about that night that he had come to me, wanting one thing, a thing denied him for any number of reasons.
"There's a bunch of liquor in the kitchen, I think," Bryce added.
Kenton smiled a tired smile. "Well, you're too young for that." He turned to me, looked the question.
I shook my head. "I pretty much draw the line at a hoppy pale ale, myself."
Kenton chuckled. "Hope the city's sewer system is ready for what's about to hit it." He put everything back in the bag, walked it to the kitchen.
Bryce and I looked at each other; from the front porch, we could hear low voices and not a little bit of anger in both of them. "I'll go help Dad out in the kitchen."
"I'll start getting everything out of his room," I said.
The rest of the day went smoothly enough, at least for everyone not named Lyndon Parrish. The tense conversation from the front porch waxed and waned; at one point, from my vantage point of sorts in Lyndon's bedroom, I thought I could hear someone sobbing. I hoped that that meant that Lyndon had finally accepted the decision his parents had made for him.
I gathered all of Lyndon's belongings, started arranging them on the bed. I did find a few more interesting bits of pharmacology stashed here and there in desk drawers, nightstands, jacket pockets. I can't imagine how much this would have cost him, wondered how much of my rent money had gone towards this.
At one point - cleaning out the dresser - my hand struck a hard, rubbery object shoved far back in the drawer. I got a grasp on it, knew immediately what it had to be, gingerly drew it out, hoping that he'd cleaned it after he'd used it.
It was a deep, dark brown in color, about ten inches long, almost two inches thick, with a fleshy head on it. And prominent veins. There was a suction cup attached to the underside of the scrotum. It looked realistic enough; it had, no doubt, probably been modeled on some extremely well-gifted porn star. I tried to imagine him buying it, what he had felt … delight? fear? shame? All of them?
I barked out a surprised laugh, at the absurdity of it. I had to imagine him using it, probably late at night after everyone had gone to bed, fighting to contain the sensations inside lest we hear him. I understood then the underlying sadness of this; the real thing - an experience with another man - had been denied him, or he had denied it to himself, had had to resort to this ersatz alternative. I understood better that evening he had visited me, understood that it had taken a great deal of courage - and no small bit of desperation - to drive him to seek me out.
I hesitated, not knowing what I should do with this thing. My first instinct was to toss it in the trash, but then I realized that this might be the only pleasure he would have in the coming weeks. I buried it deep inside the pile of his clothing; he would find it, at some point, but would also know that somebody else had found it first, and that he would never know who: his father, his brother, me.
I looked around one last time for anything I might have missed, saw nothing, went downstairs for some moving boxes.
Later, we met again on the front porch, for lunch. Lyndon looked exhausted, both physically and emotionally; I remembered how I had felt after I had talked to me father about the wrestling and about being gay. I felt that night as if I had been beaten. I tried to catch Lyndon's eye, but he refused to acknowledge me; in response, he stood up and walked out to the Mercedes, climbed into the back seat.
I helped myself to a slice of pizza and a beer on ice in a small galvanized bucket, no doubt from Lyndon's stash in the refrigerator. There was, then, a noise behind me, and a figure eased itself down on the step beside me. I turned; it was Kenton, with his own pizza and bottle of beer. He set them beside him, then reached into the breast pocket of his shirt and pulled out a slip of paper, which he handed to me.
I looked at it; it was a check, for a little over three thousand dollars, roughly the amount I figured that I owed to the landlord.
"I've been talking to Bryce," he said, his voice quiet. "You should have said something, Omer."
"I … it felt … weird. I didn't know how to bring it up."
"I can imagine, but … my son stole money from you. I can't let him get away with it."
"Thank you, for this."
Kenton sighed, and in that sigh I heard little else but a kind of pain. "I wish I understood it," he said, after a pause. "I wish I understood why he did this, why he had to become this." He glanced at me. "Do you have any idea?"
"He … well, he … seemed to be under a lot of pressure. I don't know if he was happy with where he seemed to be going, what he was going to be doing."
"You mean going to law school."
I nodded. "Yes. And … well, a lot of things, perhaps, things that confused him. Sometimes it felt as if he couldn't confide in anyone."
"I never meant to pressure him. I … I thought that that was what he wanted. I would have …" He trailed off with another sigh. But then, "You said things, just then. What did you mean? What things?"
I equivocated, wished I'd never said anything. "Oh, just … just … well, you know … well, you remember how it is, right? College is over and all of a sudden you have to enter the real world, do real things. I … I think he's really worried about it." I chuckled, trying to take the edge off of a conversation that had suddenly veered off into an odd direction. "I feel that way myself, sometimes. We all do."
Kenton frowned. "Hmmm … if I didn't know any better, I'd think there are things you're not telling me, Omer."
"I … maybe you need to ask Lyndon."
"Oh, I intend to." He made a face. "I'm not sure what he'll tell me." He shook his head. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to put you on the spot. It's not your problem. It's … well, I suppose it's my problem now, and his mother's. Trying to figure out just what happened, where we went wrong."
"I'm not sure it's that, honestly. I mean, look at Bryce. I assumed you raised him the same way you raised Lyndon, and they're very different people."
Kenton opened his mouth to say something, but then the door banged open again and here was Bryce, along with his mother.
I could see Lyndon in the back of the car, slouched back in the seat.
During lunch, I got a phone call from my landlord, with good news. They'd decided not to ding me for the rent that I should have been paying - that I thought I'd been paying - as a fourth person on the lease; in return, I would help them get the house in shape for the next batch of renters and stay there through the summer, for reduced rent. The money I'd just received from Kenton would help with that, along with my job with the movers.
When we were all done eating, we went through and brought out all of Lyndon's belongings, arranged them on the front porch. Kenton called out to Lyndon to come help load all of it in the car, with no response. He muttered something under his breath, went down to the car, knocked on the window; Lyndon had fallen asleep.
We made short work of loading it, afterwards, Kenton, Elizabeth and Bryce went through the house one last time, looking for anything they might have missed. I told them that if I found anything, I'd put it aside until Bryce came back in the fall.
That left Lyndon and me alone on the front porch. I stood up, started for the front door. Behind me, I heard a voice.
I turned back. The two of us stared at each other for a long moment. "What?" I said, finally.
Lyndon sighed. "I … well, I guess this is it."
Bye, bitch, I thought. "Guess so."
His mouth quirked. "That all you have to say?"
"What do you want me to say, Lyndon?"
Well, that was easy enough. "Goodbye, Lyndon."
He sighed again. "C'mon, Omer …"
I went back, sat down on the porch's wood railing. I arranged myself, propped one leg up on one of the wooden columns; I knew what I was doing, and I watched as Lyndon's eyes flickered there, to my crotch. I rocked myself slowly back and forth with my bent leg; with one hand, I rucked up the hem of my shirt, scratched idly at my belly. All of this was cruel, I knew, although I knew that Lyndon would never admit to that.
"What do you want me to say, Lyndon?" I repeated.
"Fine," he responded. "I just … well, I'm sorry."
"For being such an asshole?"
To my surprise, he nodded. Then, "So … can I ask you a question?"
"You and Bryce. You're … well … you and him."
"Me and him what? " Say it, Lyndon. I dare you to say it.
"You know. That. "
"That," I repeated. "I'm not sure what it is, right now, honestly. It will be whatever Bryce wants it to be, I suppose."
"But you want it to be, too. I can tell."
Useless to deny it. "Yes, I do. Your brother is a beautiful young man, Lyndon." I smiled. "I have no idea what he sees in me, but …" I shrugged.
"Why didn't we …?"
"Why didn't we do anything?" Lyndon said nothing to that; I went on. "I wanted to. I really wanted to. But, that night, you were so …" I shrugged.
"Fucked up, mostly. Literally and figuratively. If I'd gone ahead and taken you to bed, it would have been wrong. It bothered me that you had to be that drunk to even think about it, and I didn't want it to be like that."
"If it means anything, I wanted you to." He waited a beat. "I … still do."
"So do I, Lyndon." I sighed. "Look … you don't get how beautiful you are, Lyndon. And you're just throwing it all away. It's all going to catch up to you some day, and you won't like it. You won't be the pretty one any more." I smiled. "I never had to worry about that. I don't have what you have."
"You have my brother." I shrugged; Lyndon went on. "It really bothers me that the two of you are …"
"I'm not sure it's really any of your business, Lyndon."
"It is my business, Omer. He's my brother. "
"If it's anyone's business, it's Bryce's . He knows what he wants, and he's not afraid to ask for it."
Lyndon understood my emphasis. "It's not that easy."
"I know it's not. Believe me, I know." Coming out to my father, coming out to Coach … those had both been milestones whose importance I was still trying to understand.
"I could tell my parents, you know. That you're …" He waggled a finger in the air.
I chuckled. "Jesus, Lyndon - you can't even say it to me . How are you going to say it to your parents? And - really - do you think they'll believe anything you say at this point? You've spent your entire college career lying to them. In all sorts of ways."
"He's only seventeen, Omer."
"He's old enough, Lyndon."
He smirked. "So, you checked."
"Fuck you, Lyndon."
"Just … if you hurt him …"
"I'm not going to hurt him, Lyndon."
"This is his first big … well, thing." The fact that I said nothing in response to this except for an expectant look made him understand. "It's … not?"
I shook my head. That - an experience at a summer camp for soccer - had been one of the many things we had talked about last night.
Lyndon blew out a breath. "Jesus …"
"Maybe you don't know him as well as you think you do."
"I grew up with him, Omer. You didn't."
I shrugged; whatever else might have been said between us was interrupted by Kenton, banging through the screen door and onto the front porch. "There you are," he said, to Lyndon. "Go wait in the car."
"Are we about to leave?"
"Yes. Go wait in the car." He waited, pointedly, until Lyndon stepped off the porch and headed towards the car; said nothing until the car door closed. Elizabeth stepped out onto the front porch, smiled at me, and went to join Lyndon. I stood up to go back inside, but Kenton turned to me. "I need to talk to you."
I sat, waited.
He cleared his throat. "I … well, I don't quite know how to say this." He smiled, rolled his eyes. "It's something that I never thought I'd have to bring up. But … well, I've been watching you for the past couple of days, around Bryce. And …"
My heart started pounding; we had - I thought - been careful with each other around his parents. Apparently, we hadn't been careful enough. "Kenton, I -"
He held up a hand. "Let me finish. I have to get this out now or I'll never do it." He paused, worked at the corner of his mouth with a tooth. "It's … well, I understand it, I think. I've known Bryce … well, his entire life, of course." He chuckled. "I've seen things. I've seen the way he is around people. I can see it, in him. And, if that's … well, if that's the way it is between the two of you, that's … well, that's okay. I can live with it."
"Honestly, Kenton … I'm not sure what it is at this point. I'm not sure if Bryce even knows what it is, yet."
He nodded. "I understand that, too. But … but if it's to be anyone, I'm glad it's you."
I cleared my throat against a sudden tightness. "He's … he's a very special young man, Kenton. I … he means a lot to me."
"Well, he hasn't said anything, yet, either to me or to Elizabeth … as far as I know."
"It takes some doing to say it."
"Yes, I imagine it does. Do your parents know?"
I nodded. "Yes. Well, my dad. My mother passed some time ago, when I was very young. It … it was tough, telling him. But I'm glad I did it. He … actually took the news rather well." I smiled. "It was almost harder to tell him that I was walking away from wrestling."
He shook his head. "I still don't know how you managed all that. I was on the track team at college. I barely got through with good enough grades to get into law school."
I smiled. "It's been … interesting."
"I bet it was even more difficult because of the situation here. Because of my idiot son." He sighed. "Well, it doesn't matter now, I suppose. He's out of your hair." He hesitated, went on. "Thank you for your honesty, earlier. About Lyndon."
"I … well, thank you." I let a second or two go by. "Go easy on him, Kenton. He's … well, I think he needs to sort some things out." I wondered what else the two of them would have to get used to over the next few months … although I understood Lyndon enough to know that he might never, in the end, admit to his true nature, so much did it frighten him. He would tough it out and eventually marry some poor woman who would never suspect anything. Their lives together, I knew, would be hell. He would probably drink.
"He'll have plenty of time for that, once we get him home." He smiled. "Well, there's not much else to say. I'll start doing some research when I get home, start calling realtors. We may be back in town in a few weeks or so to start looking at properties."
"Good." I smiled. "You know where to find me."
He stuck out a hand, and I took it. He nicked his head towards the house. "He's inside, if you want to say goodbye to him."
I smiled back. "I … would like that. Thank you."
With that, he started down the stairs, climbed in the car.
I slipped into the house.
I found him up in my room, looking out of a window into the green canopy of a sycamore. He turned as I entered.
"I want to stay here."
I went to him, stood beside him, put an arm around him, drew him near me. "I want you to stay here."
"I'm not sure what my parents would say."
"Well …" I started.
He turned to me. "What? What happened?"
I repeated what Kenton had said to me, could see relief mixed with confusion on Bryce's face.
"So, I don't have to really tell him, do I?"
"Well, no … but you still should, Bryce. You're going to have to get used to saying it."
He sighed. "You're right. I know you are."
"If it means anything, it took me a long time to say it, too. But I'm glad I did."
"I'd like to meet your dad."
"I'd like you to meet him, too. Maybe when you get back in the fall, we can go up some weekend."
He chuckled. "Well, we're going to have to get a car. I'm not biking all the way to Cincinnati."
The wind rustled through the sycamore; I'd always liked its large, papery leaves, its mottled bark. Bryce turned to me. "Are you scared, Omer? Because I sure am."
"A little," I admitted. "But less and less every day. The less you have to hide, the less you have to be afraid of."
"There's just … so … much, coming together all at once."
"It's never easy. Even without this piled on top of it. But it's easier if you have someone to share it with."
"I never thought I could talk to anyone about it. I never thought my parents understood. I sure never thought that I could tell Lyndon."
"Maybe you should try," I suggested. I wondered what it would be like, what Lyndon would do if - no, when - Bryce came out to him. It was some comfort to me that Kenton had already gone halfway towards that truth, trusting his younger son to meet him there; it was one less thing that Lyndon could hold over his brother, over me.
"I will try. I promise." He turned to me; I took him in my arms, held him tight.
We stayed like that for what seemed like an eternity. I wondered what Kenton, what Elizabeth, what Lyndon were doing while we held each other. Elizabeth must surely be starting to suspect something; would her husband say anything, or would he wait?
Presently, we broke apart. "Well, I … I guess I better take off, then."
"It won't be that long, Bryce. I promise."
He smiled. "I'll text you when we get home."
He turned, started down the stairs. In a moment, I heard the front door open and shut, and then the sound of the Mercedes starting up, then fading as it sped away from the house.
I went to the window, looked out, listened to the sounds of summer in the air, closed my eyes, let the warmth play on my face.
I said to myself what I had just told Bryce.
It would not be long.
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