We rode in silence to the swimming hole, where it seems the latest chapter of my life had begun only two or three months before. We got there, dropped our bikes on their sides, and walked to the rocks at the edge of the water. We sat down, never looking at each other. I gazed out over the water; I don't know where Danny looked. I took off my shoes and socks and dipped my toes in the water. Danny sat and crossed his legs. I could see him out of the corner of my eye.
I didn't know how this was going to turn out. I had nothing I wanted to say. I think Danny had something, but I didn't want to hear it. I got a dull ache in the pit of my stomach, and I wanted to go back to the bed, that guestroom. I had felt apart from everything there; no problems. I had never slept in that room before, so it wasn't really a part of Danny's house. It was refuge. It was a cocoon.
Now I was outside again, and lately I seemed to get hurt outside. No, the softness of that bed, the weight of the covers, the serenity of the room was all I wanted. I wiggled my toes in the water and tried to think of a way to leave. There was one, of course. Just stand up and say "bye" again. I'd done that once. I could do it again.
Danny drew a heavy sigh. I glanced at him, but he was looking at his shoes. He picked up a few stones and plunked them into the water. But he said nothing. And I had learned well from him. I said nothing either.
I swear to god we were that way for half an hour. My toes had turned to prunes. My butt hurt from sitting on that hard rock. I couldn't find it in me to leave. I was simply too mentally tired from everything. And I guess I was a little sadistic. I wanted to see if Danny could talk his way out of this. But I knew in my heart he couldn't, because I was the one who would decide if he had succeeded, and I already had made up my mind he wouldn't.
Another deep sigh, and Danny broke the silence.
"Justin, I just gotta say something, and you don't have to reply. Just listen, please?"
I said nothing.
"You have been my friend from my first memory. We've done everything together. We've traveled every step of our lives together. It's like we were marching in step with each other. I remember so many good times. And, Justin, I remember our fights. I remember the time I punched you cuz you had pushed my bike over into a puddle. I remember the fight we had when you said I was cheating in a neighborhood ball game. I landed a few punches and so did you.
"Justin, those were the only two times in my life when I wanted to hurt you. It was in a rage. Both times were. I swear to you, Justin, I have never, ever wanted to hurt you other than that. Now, I admit, I did want you to feel those punches. I wanted you to hurt. But never again."
He paused. He sighed again. I don't think he knew he was doing it.
"I know I've screwed this up. Maybe beyond repair, I don't know. Justin, I was sooo excited that you hadn't rejected me. You don't know how high I got that night you said those three words. Justin, just hearing you say you loved me made me crazy. I wanted to show you how much I did, too. I was so happy I just got stupid. That's why I did that to you. I didn't think, man. I just didn't think what the consequences would be. I was thinking so hard about that…that...that..."
"...that I didn't think about you. That probably doesn't make any sense, but it does to me. I wanted you to feel good, and I thought what I did would make you feel good. I didn't stop to consider any of the alternatives."
I started to listen to him. Really listen. This wasn't rehearsed. The sound coming out of his mouth started in his heart. I could tell. I knew him. I'd known him for 14...no, almost 15 years. I'd heard him lie. This wasn't that sound. I heard him make up excuses to his mom and try to sound sincere. This wasn't that sound, either. I'd knelt beside him when he said goodbye to his grandma at her funeral. This was that sound.
The summer breeze blew over us. When I'm in a grove of trees, I feel something. No matter what else is going on around me, I find serenity in trees. The limbs that hung over us protected us from the sun. Trees surrounded our swimming hole, and the waterfall at the end never changed its tune. You could hear music in the water.
"I can't take back what I did to you, Justin. I can't take it back. In fact, I relive it, almost every day. It plays over and over in my mind. I don't see it as pleasure. It's not jack-off material. It is pain and anger, like a car accident that takes my best friend away. But you know, if a car accident had taken you away, I wouldn't see you any more. I think I could get over it. But you're alive. I see you, almost every day. It's NOT missing you that hurts. It's having to see you every day and knowing what I did that makes you look at me with hate, that makes you not even look me in the eye anymore. That's what hurts."
I had been hanging my head until then, but when he said that, I snapped my head up and looked over at him. But I didn't look him in the eye. I looked at his cheeks. And I realized something. From the moment of my orgasm in Mr. Brown's class, I had not looked Danny in the eye other than a glance. I hadn't seen those blue eyes. He was droning on in his rambling apology, but I was no longer listening. I was thinking. I avoided his eyes every time we happened to meet, which wasn't often if I could help it. Even that morning, when he was in my room as I woke up, I looked at his Adam's apple, not at his eyes. And the reason was obvious. I knew if I did, I'd see the love again. I'd see his soul bared to me, and I'd melt. I always did.
I came back to the present.
"So, that's all I've got to say. I'll tell you a thousand times over, again and again, that I'm sorry. I don't want you as a boyfriend, Justin, cuz that's not possible. I saw you and Becky at her party, and I can live with that. I know I can. But I need you as a friend. I can't live without that anymore. I know I can't.
"But one other thing, Justin. No matter what, even if you tell me right now you hate me, our house will always be open to you. You can always come over when...when things get too tough at home. I'll stay out of your way."
And then I realized something else. He had said all that without crying. I was waiting for him to cry, cuz then I could hate his little fairy ass even more. I was just waiting for the tears, but there were none. There was nothing fake, nothing false, nothing maudlin about his apology. It was sincere.
Then he was quiet. I pulled my feet out of the water and pulled my knees up to my chest. I think I must have sighed, too. I turned toward him slowly, and looked at him. I looked at his belly button. Well, he was fully dressed, but that's the spot I looked at. I slowly moved my eyes up a little, to the middle of his chest. Then to his Adam's apple. Then his left cheek. That's where I stopped. I had been looking at that spot for about three months, I realized. Those few times when I looked at him at all. It was safe. His cheeks were always a little flushed -- even more when he was on the basketball court or running out a base hit -- but they weren't threatening. They were still soft, with those dimples. But I looked at the left one. I played his words over in my mind. He had trusted me enough three months ago to tell me he was gay. He had trusted me enough to make love to my body and gently take my cherry, so to speak. He had trusted me to get him to the hospital when he was hurt. And I had thrown that trust away based on one mistake he made; a mistake he made just trying to give me pleasure.
I took a deep breath silently. I swung my legs around so my body was facing him. If I moved from that cheek, I didn't know what would happen to me. Would I explode in rage and pound him into the rocks? I honestly didn't know. My emotions were on edge. Thank god I was rested from a rare good night's sleep. But for three months I had faked fun while wrestling with guilt, anger, fear and....fear. Fear. It was a recurring theme lately in my life. There was comfort in that cheek. There was danger in those eyes. Whom did I trust? Not myself, that's for sure. I just couldn't.
I would have to trust someone else.
I blinked, and in that blink, my eyes moved to his.
I felt like I was going to pass out. I saw the love, the support, the concern that had always been there, and something new. Strength. I saw strength in those eyes.
The corners of his mouth turned up just slightly. It wasn't really a smile, just a soft grin. The dimples were just barely noticeable.
"Hi, Justin," he said quietly, just above a whisper. "Do you want to be friends?"
"Hi, Danny. Uh, yeah, maybe."
"I think we can be best friends, Justin."
"I think maybe we can, Danny, but we'll have to give it time."
"Yes, I know. Friendships take time. And trust."
We sat there for a while, not looking at each other, wondering how to start the conversation again that might lead us back to friendship.
"How do you think we got here?" I asked finally.
"On our bikes," Danny said.
"No, dumb ass, I mean to this point? I mean, why would you fall in love with me? What brought us here?"
"I dunno. I mean, I think it's natural. I don't know why I'm gay. I don't know what makes me this way. But I think falling in love with you was completely natural. I know you better than anyone. If I didn't like you, I wouldn't have hung around like I did."
He stood up and moved close to me. He took off his shoes and socks and put his feet into the water.
"I know you probably aren't this way. I've thought a lot about this this summer -- I had a lot to time to think about it. I, uh, I can live with it. You don't have to love me back. Not that way. But, Justin, I can't live without being your friend."
"Yeah," I said. "I, um, I really missed you this summer. It hasn't really been summer. Danny, you know, when you, um, when you, uh, well, did that to me, I felt like you really hurt me. I thought you were so insensitive. But what I did to you after school that day, uh," BIG sigh, "I don't know, I mean, what I did was just as bad. In fact, uh, it was worse."
"No, Justin, I deserved it."
"No, you didn't. Nobody who says he's a friend deserves to be pushed into the dirt. I screamed at you. I called you names..."
"Well, we've done that before."
"Not in a couple of years we haven't. Danny, I pushed you into the dirt. And the reason that's worse than what you did to me was cuz you were trying to make me feel good. I was trying to make you feel like scum. I mean, I really wanted to hurt you."
"No, let me finish. Danny, can you forgive me?
Danny swished his legs around in the water. He looked a the water, then slowly turned his head and looked at me. Our eyes met again, and for the first time in months, I melted.
"Justin, there is nothing to forgive. But if you need to hear those words, then yes, Justin, I forgive you."
He reached over and took my hand in his hand. It was soft and warm, and it was strong.
"I'm getting hungry, Justin," he said. "I forgot to bring the sandwiches," he giggled. Jeez, I hadn't heard that giggle since our fight. It was a sweet and pure as the sound of the little waterfall at the end of the swimming hole.
Danny dried his feet with his shirt. Mine had dried in the sun, and we put our socks and shoes back on. We got on our bikes and started back down the path, watching out for joggers this time.
After lunch, I went back down to the guest room. I was emotionally whacked. I just wanted to climb back into bed. Danny followed me down.
"You gonna be okay?"
"Yeah, I just need to lie down for a while."
I sat on the bed and pulled off my shoes and socks, then stood up to drop my shorts. After that, I pulled back the covers and slid into bed. It was chilly in the basement. The air conditioner seemed to be dumping all the extra cold air down there.
"Is there anything I can get ya?" Danny asked.
"Okay. I'm gonna go run some errands, then. I'll be back later."
He walked to the door and switched off the light.
"Are they really important errands?"
"Well, no, I just have to take some library books back for mom."
"Could you stay with me? Please."
"Justin, you don't have to say please. Sure I'll stay."
"I don't know what's going on at home," I said. "I'm really scared."
"I know. We're all here for you."
"Could you just, like, lay down beside me?"
"Yeah, I could"
It was only a twin bed. He lay down on top of the covers. I rolled over on my side, away from him, then reached back and grabbed him by the shirt and pulled him to snuggle up against me. He put his arm around me, and I fell asleep. When I woke up two hours later, I hadn't moved a muscle. Neither had Danny. I rolled over and looked at him. He wasn't sleeping. He was just looking at me, and he smiled.
I was falling in love all over again.
You know , I think I was in a good mood all day cuz I knew I was going to write that tonight. It was the time up to that point in my life when I felt the most loved. There was Danny. Everybody else was in the background. I'll sleep well, now. I don't know about the nights coming up.
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