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Alone in this room . . .

by William P. Coleman

Alone in this room...
Hand pressed to the cold dark screen
What did I do wrong?

by grasshopper

Chapter 5

September came. Jerry and Luca saw each other regularly--but less on weekdays. The fact that they lived so far apart became a continuing problem as the newness of their friendship wore off, daydreaming wasn't enough, and they wanted more from each other. They were busy--Luca teaching school again, Jerry at his work--and the time necessary for transportation had to be subtracted from any time they could meet. Still, their frequent separation did make them more aware of how good it was when they were together--how happy each was just from being with the other one and being himself.

Luca and Jerry continued allowing their sexual relationship to develop slowly. After a few weeks there came an evening when they were on Luca's couch, with their clothes on, making out. In their gymnastics, Luca's face came too close to Jerry's crotch. He growled, "E-goddam-nough." He ran his tongue over Jerry's cloth-covered cock and bit it gently. He opened Jerry's button, pulled down his zipper, and closed in. Afterward, they agreed that oral sex was sufficient reason for them to begin sleeping over at each other's houses.

They also decided to report together to the clinic for STD testing on Thursday afternoon, so that they could move more confidently to the next step when they wanted it. The implication of their plan unsettled Jerry: they were agreeing to have sex only with each other. Jerry was surprised to notice that his reaction depended neatly on how the question was phrased. He was agreeing for their relationship to be exclusive, which is not the same yet as making it permanent, a requirement that Jerry wasn't ready to think about.

But it was Jerry himself who, one later night when Luca was in Jerry's bed, reached for the equipment in the night stand drawer and finally sent them over the edge by asking Luca to fuck him. Even though Luca, being Luca, was never demanding and even though they had said no overt words of commitment, Jerry knew that, realistically, given the respectfulness with which they had treated each other, the sex they were about to have would change their lives and bind them together. In the back of his mind, this knowledge gave him a sense of dread, even of doom. He went ahead anyway, pushed not by his immediate horniness but by his persistent recognition that he wanted to be with Luca.

One Saturday afternoon, after a night together at Jerry's, they went to Janice and Carl's house for dinner for the first time. Jerry knocked, and when they answered he proudly introduced Luca to them. The children were playing in the back yard.

Jerry had told Luca some history about his friendship with Janice and Carl. From the way Jerry talked about them, it was obvious that they were important to him. Indeed, their kindness to Jerry made them important to Luca too. Luca was grateful to them for it and wanted to get to know them. He gave Janice a bunch of fresh flowers that delighted her. When he shook Carl's hand, he asked, "How are the Royals doing against Boston?"

"It ain't pretty. They're losing 4-1 already. I turned the game off in the living room just when you guys came."

"Yeah? And it's only what?"

"The bottom of the third."

"I knew it. The police shouldn't even permit them to play. It's just a form of legalized murder."

"It can only get worse as the game continues."

Janice intervened. "Carl, honey, Jerry and Luca didn't come here to talk about baseball."

"What do you mean? The game could be on in the living room. We might be missing something important."

Jerry asked, "Really? What would possibly be important?"

"Well, for example, they could be walking Johnny Damon. Right now, at this minute."

Luca frowned. "You think KC'd really do that, Carl?"

"They might. They had to walk Alex Rodriguez in New York last week."

"True. Still, it'd just be a straight-out admission how pathetic they are."

Jerry protested, "Aren't you exaggerating all this a little, Luca?"

"You don't understand, Jerry. If they walk him they're openly admitting they have no fielding. And their shortstop is a rheumatoid asthmatic."

Carl nodded his head in agreement. "Like, what would they do if somebody actually hit a ball to them? They'd be helpless."

Janice observed, "And here they are, publicly displaying their inadequacy on nationwide television. A person would think they'd rather just go out and hang themselves."

Carl replied, "Honey, many good people have suggested that idea to them, but so far they haven't had the guts to make it happen."

Jerry asked Luca, "What is this? You're supposed to act like a gay guy--not glued to sports on TV."

"Enough homophobic stereotypes! Besides, just think about baseball: all those inarticulate, nerveless, deadly, athletic men--buttoned up in their cute clean white uniforms. And those sexy socks! I don't know what Carl's looking for, but I'm seeing what I want."

Carl said, "What do you mean? I am one of those silent, nerveless, deadly men." He preened a little and puffed out his chest. "I just happen to be one of the select few who, through his own volition, chose to lead a quiet life managing a rural feed and grain store instead of entering major league sports."

They all laughed.

Luca looked at Carl. "Shouldn't we get to the TV? Find out what's up?"

"Yeah!" Carl turned for the living room. But then he turned back and put his hand on Luca's arm. "Thanks, buddy. I owe you one. I thought I was going to miss the game."

They disappeared, leaving Janice and Jerry looking at the empty living room doorway, bewildered. The sound of the television came on.

Janice said, "Well, we won't need anyone to babysit them until the game's over."

"A couple of hours."

Janice led Jerry into the kitchen, where she arranged Luca's flowers in a vase with some water. "Can I offer you a beer?"

"No, thanks. I'm driving tonight. Luca would probably like one--and I'm sure Carl."

"Are you kidding? Carl has a half dozen bottles in a pail of ice on the floor next to his chair. He'll be happy to share with Luca."

"Good, I guess."

"So, that's your new boyfriend."

"My only boyfriend."

Janice elected not to argue that point. "He seems like a nice guy--at least from the momentary glimpse I got there--before he and Carl went into male-bonding buddy mode."

"I really like him a lot."

"I can see."

"He's driving me crazy."

"Good crazy? Or bad crazy?"

"Both. . . . I don't know which. . . . Or, no. Definitely both--good and bad."

"What's the problem?"

"We were arguing in the car. Not even arguing, really. Just discussing. He wants me to have dinner with his parents. I'm not ready for that."

Janice reached across the kitchen table and took Jerry's hand. "What's the problem? They hate gays?"

"No, not at all. They're supposed to be really good people. I haven't met them, just seen pictures. Luca's not like me. He loves his family--on both sides. They've always supported him, gay or otherwise. His mother's this beautiful Italian lady who's lovingly taught him about Italy and taken him back to Milan every summer to be with her brother's family. His father's a blue-eyed, red-haired Irish-American. Luca says his father looks like a large Christmas elf. He jokes that he's glad he got most of his looks from his mother."

"So, explain why it bothers you to meet these nice, accepting people and have dinner with them. I mean, I already know why. But I want to hear you say it out loud."

"It's hard enough coping with Luca himself. You know how it is for me to open to people, to commit myself. Now, for the first time in my life, I've met someone. It's goddam endless. Every time I open myself to him by one step, right away I see there's another step to do, more ways that I need to change--and with him I always want to do that. I comfort myself by pretending I've never officially done anything that obligates me to him. But that's stupid. I know that every small gesture we've ever made to each other ties us closer together. I could never live without him now. I could never tell him to live without me."

Janice held Jerry's hand on the table more tightly. He looked up into her eyes. He resumed, "So that's supposed to make me happy, right? I've found the one special, special person, the guy everybody frantically wants. And I didn't even try to look for him."

She smiled to him gently. Then she thought of something and she laughed. "You found a guy who's special because he guzzles beer and watches baseball on TV with his buddy? Sounds pretty typical to me."

Jerry had to laugh too. "Yeah, I guess that's right. You seem to love a guy like that."

"Yes, I love him very much. I even pick up his beer bottles after the game."

"You love him for good reasons, as far as I can see. And it's lasted all these years."

"Uninterruptedly since he finally decided to go through puberty and and get it through his dense skull what girls are for."

Jerry smiled and remembered the way Janice and Carl had been in school. "You were lucky to find your guy early."

"It was always him. I was eight years old and he moved in down the street."

Then Jerry lapsed back into thoughtfulness. "And so there's this thing with meeting his parents now. It's not even enough any more that I open myself only to Luca. I won't just be able to meet these people and blow them off with politeness. They'll be like Luca. They'll be nice to me--and concerned about the boy their son is marrying. I'll get involved."


"I mean, I didn't even like my own parents."

"No." Janice laughed.

"It wasn't an argument--in the car coming over here. How could it be? Luca would never push me for anything. He's so considerate, so reasonable. That's what makes me angry."

Until then, Jerry's mood had been light, despite the seriousness of the topic he was discussing. Now his mood changed. "This is all so goddam stupid! I know I'm going to fuck up again--just like I fucked up with Matt."

"You didn't fuck up with Matt."

"How can you say that? Do see him here still with me? He loved me loyally all my life--and I pushed him away."

"If you wanted Matt to still be here, then you fucked up. But, if you didn't, then you did the right thing."

"No, Janice, I'm such a jerk. An insensitive jerk who hurts people."


"I want people to care for me, but I don't look out for them. That's the problem."

"Jerry, listen to m--"

"But, no. It's not that. I'm lying when I say I'm afraid to be open to Luca. I do want to be open to him. I love doing that. What I'm really afraid of is that I'll drive him away and hurt him."

Janice made her voice sharper. "Jerry!"


"You're doing it again. Calm yourself and breathe slowly."


"That was an important thing you just said. What you're afraid of is not that you won't like him and want to be with him. You're afraid that he eventually won't like you and want to be with you."


"Definitely. It's the way you've always acted with everyone. You're not insensitive. Just the opposite. You're too sensitive and you get hurt at times when some people might not. So you zap people, to protect yourself. Sometimes they're planning to zap you first--or maybe they aren't planning it but they wind up doing it anyway. Sometimes it's in your overactive imagination. Besides, you usually don't actually 'zap' them; you just turn around and walk away without giving them a chance."

"That's all your theory."

"To get back to my point--about Luca. Does he give you indications that he doesn't like you, that he wants to go away?"


"Please think before you answer."

Jerry thought for a few minutes. "No. To tell the truth, he's never given me the slightest, most momentary doubt that he likes me and wants our relationship to go farther. That's what makes me guilty--that I could wind up being a jerk to someone who's so good to me."

"Your guilt isn't exactly productive or relevant. The main thing is that (1) he really likes you and wants to go farther with you, and (2) you really like him and want to go farther with him. Perfect! In that case, why don't you just skip the bullshit for once and move on to being happy with him?"

Just then, Carl came into the kitchen. "We're out of beer in the living room." He took two bottles from the fridge. "These won't be as good as the cold ones in the pail, but we'll make do."

Janice and Jerry chuckled at him distractedly.

Carl noticed. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," Jerry said. "Don't worry about it."

Carl sat down at the table, put his beer bottles on it, and looked expectantly at Jerry--who didn't say anything.

Janice offered, "Jerry's worried about his relationship with Luca."

"Why, Jerry? Luca's a great guy. Red Sox fan."

"If I was a Red Sock, that'd be great for me."

Carl looked at him and waited.

Jerry sighed and answered, "You were here, at this very location, for the exciting finish of my relationship with Matt. Who's to say I won't do the same thing to Luca?"

"Act different this time."

"I do act different--but then it isn't the real me. I'm fake."

"Jerry, I've known you since grade school. You're different with different people. Most of us, it's like we go to a clothing store and pick out one particular style we like--and then we wear those clothes 24x7. You're not that way. You change."

"So, you're saying I'm a faker who tells people what they want to hear."

Carl stared at the unopened beer bottles that were now getting warm on the table in front of him, and he thought about what Jerry had said. "What does that mean, Jerry? 'Real?' If you wear some outfit 24x7--but at least it's constant--does that make you 'real' then? Inside of the you that we see, is there some supposed 'real' you struggling to get out? Covertly directing all your actions? That's too deep for a simple guy like me. But what if, instead, someone like you contained a bunch of multiple possibilities? And you were sensitive enough to bring out different combinations of them appropriate to whoever you're with? One thing, you'd need to be self-protective then--because other people could really get at you--inside."

"What has this got to do with Luca?"

"Well, suppose you finally met someone you could depend on not to mess with you? You could use that person as a focus point to reorganize the possibilities inside yourself. He could help you change yourself and grow into the person you want to be. Suppose you wanted to be certain ways with him because you loved him? Suppose those ways expressed your working idea of the best you could be?"

Luca wandered in. "What's going on?"

"We were just talking about you," Carl replied with a smile.

"Oh, okay then." Luca shrugged and turned to walk out.

"Wait, I'll go with you." Carl looked at the two beer bottles he'd put on the table. "Warm beer. I hate warm beer. I keep asking you, Janice, please, not to buy warm beer."

She said, "They've only sat there a few minutes. How warm could they be?"

Carl shook his head sadly. "You just don't understand."

They laughed as Carl swapped the bottles for colder ones from the fridge, handed one to Luca, and returned with him to the living room.

Late that night, when Jerry and Luca were having sex, Luca was happier than he had ever been. Somehow, every way that Jerry touched him, everything Jerry did, expressed one thing: how much Jerry loved him. And Jerry's unspoken response to Luca's initiatives seemed a similar acceptance of the love with which Luca made them.

Jerry had never said the 'L' word to Luca, and Luca was careful not to be the first one to use it. He sensed it would arouse Jerry's rebelliousness. Still, their sex had always been expressive. Luca would only speak the word 'love' as part of the term 'making love,' fully intending the double meaning in it: perhaps a mere synonym for 'having sex,' but perhaps meant literally. He was sure that Jerry's literary ear would detect the ambiguity, and that was as far as Luca wanted to push him right now.

Tonight, Luca felt Jerry's love strongly, beyond belief.

Luca relaxed and laid back, some distance yet from orgasm, with Jerry still inside him. He looked up at him and he sighed, "This is so great."

"Mmmmm," Jerry purred.

"You're making love beautifully. You always do, but tonight . . ."

"Mmmm. Right. . . . Because it's make-up sex."

"What? We didn't have any argument to make up from."

"So, are you complaining? Should I stop?"

"No way." Luca put his elbows in the bed and pushed to stretch up and kiss Jerry's lips.

Jerry laughed. "I just wanted make-up sex. I wanted to make up. I wanted to make you happy."

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