Two hundred thirty four... Two hundred thirty five... Two hundred thirty six...
Well, isn’t this interesting? What am I doing, you ask? I’m counting: counting cactus. Well, if you want to be pedantic, counting cacti.
Now, where should I start? I guess the beginning is as good a place as any; well, I was born… nah, that’s a bit too early. Okay, let’s roll it on forward a bit, like eighteen years, and try that again: I was cruising down Interstate 10, heading out from my home town of suburban San Diego to start pre-law at Arizona State University.
My name is Chad; a name that some people say fits me because it’s easy to spell.
It was almost noon as I reached the state line at Blythe. I glanced at my car’s outside thermometer to see that it was a warm and toasty one hundred and fucking seventeen degrees. Well, Arizona in August, what can you expect? I was glad my car was in decent shape, with good AC, even if it was fourteen years old. It’s a ’90 Ford Probe, and in spite of its age has under 100k on the clock, and so far it hasn’t let me down. Much.
My biggest problem at that particular moment, and the reason I was counting cacti, was that I was bored out of my mind, rolling along at sixty miles an hour – about as fast as I dared go with the AC cranked on full while towing an overloaded cargo trailer plus having the car itself damn near full. I had nothing but the flat, straight highway through empty desert to look at, and the hum of the tires to listen to. Oh, I had a pretty good radio and CD player, but that ‘had’ is past tense, just like my radio. It had been working just fine, right up until I hit Palm Springs and my radio shorted out in a puff of smoke and showering sparks.
Except for that, the car was doing fine... and no sooner had that thought passed through my mind when I learned yet again that Murphy’s Law has it in for me, personally. The first clue was the dull thump just after I crossed the Colorado River Bridge, followed soon after by the cold air from my vents slowly getting warmer. I pulled into a rest stop and looked under the hood, only to see, or rather not see, the belt to my air conditioning compressor. The thump, I brilliantly deduced, was the belt breaking, right before it fell off.
Great... I had to be in Phoenix in a few hours, it was a hundred seventeen in the shade, and no AC. I knew I didn’t have time to get the thing fixed, and I also knew that out in the middle of nowhere they would charge me an arm and a leg to do it. The only good news was that my compressor had its own belt and didn’t share one with the alternator. I was facing discomfort, not disaster.
I could already feel the sweat starting to trickle down my back, and resigned myself to a long hot drive across the desert. I glanced down; at least I was wearing shorts, not jeans. I pulled off my shirt before getting in the car, and noticed a girl in a nearby car giving me an appreciative stare. I smiled back while climbing into my already hot car, cranked down the windows, and drove off. I looked behind me and saw her wave, so I waved back. I smiled at the irony; girls seemed to find me attractive.
I looked around my over-packed car and cargo trailer. The trailer had forced me to take a longer route, via Palm Springs, to avoid long climbs. Everything I owned was shoehorned into my car and trailer; the heaviest items were a used washer and dryer in the trailer, and I wondered again just how much overweight my rented trailer was. It was already bulging in ominous places.
I felt the sweat start to run down my bare chest, and thought, ‘Oh, great. I have to meet my real estate agent, and I’ll stink like yesterday’s garbage by the time I get there.’
The reason I was on my way to meet a Realtor was because I was going to try to be a little creative, financially. It was my Mom’s idea really, but it seemed like a good one; instead of just renting a place while I’m in college, I’d buy a small condominium. It actually made good sense; prices in the Phoenix area were much lower than Southern California, and what I’d otherwise pay in rent should cover the payments. After I graduated, I’d have either something to sell, or a place already on its way to being paid off. I had the down payment more than covered thanks to saving damn near every penny I made the past two years, but that had really been easy; I didn’t exactly have much of a social life to spend it on. My Mom was co-signing the loan, so no problems there. It was already pre-approved for more than I planned to spend.
A few hours later, sweating like a pig, I rolled through Phoenix to the Realtor’s office in Tempe, a suburb of Phoenix and the home of my chosen college. I parked, wiped off the sweat, pulled on my shirt, and locked up my car, hoping it and my trailer would be safe in the parking lot while I was looking at condos.
My original plan was to see as many as I could and make a list, and then spend a few days picking a place. However, after showing me three condos, the Realtor brightened, and in a conspiratorial tone, she said, “We’re about to drive past a place that’s been vacant for a while, and the owner said he’d take five thousand less than the asking price. It’s a divorce problem, and he’s my cousin, so I can tell you it’s a messy one, which is why he’s cut the price so low. Let’s have a look. The place is a steal.”
Just seconds later, we pulled into the parking lot of a huge townhouse complex. The northern row of two-level units had street frontage, and the Realtor pulled into the driveway, right next to her sign. I looked around, seeing the stunning brown lawn and green garage door, thinking idly that the colors would be better the other way around.
The dead lawn wasn’t the only issue; I noticed the door needed painting, too. Inside though, the place was a beauty, so much bigger than what we’d looked at. As the Realtor said, twice, it was just a few miles from campus.
It put the condos to shame; a two-story townhouse at the end of the row, and it was big; two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a garage... perfect, except for one little detail: it was more money than I planned on, and the loan payments would be over my budget, by about a hundred bucks a month.
I reminded the Realtor of my budget, but she suggested, “You’re pre-approved for the loan, so that’s not a problem. As for any budget issues, you could live here for far less than a cheaper place by renting out one of the bedrooms. This town home has two master suites, each with its own bathroom, as you’ve seen. You could easily get over three hundred a month for that, plus half on the utility bills, which would more than make up for the higher payments. Think what that would add up to over the years, not to mention that this place would appreciate a lot more than the others.”
Why is it that people always say ‘Not to mention’ right before going ahead and mentioning something?
We had a look around the complex. It was small, but had great facilities: a weight room, pool, tennis courts, a laundry room, the whole nine yards. I loved it. We returned to the townhouse for another look around, and I found myself really liking it; living room and kitchen downstairs, the two bedrooms upstairs, and off the upstairs landing was a glass door to a walled balcony, which overlooked the complex’s landscaped central area and pool. The balcony, I noticed with a grin, faced south, perfect for working on my tan.
I hadn’t planned to have a roommate; I had been looking for a one-bedroom condominium, not a townhouse, but the thought that I could live in the townhouse and come out better off on the money front was appealing. I turned the idea of renting out a room over in my head a few times, and it sounded like a good idea, especially as I loved the place, which was mostly furnished. It was easy to convince myself, with a little help from the Realtor, that I’d be a fool to pass up the opportunity. So, after a call to Mom, I threw caution to the wind and said, “Okay, I’d like to make an offer.”
The Realtor smiled. “How much?” she asked.
She’d said five thousand less than asking price, so I offered seven thousand less. Instead of writing up an offer, like I’d read would happen, she shook her head, so I offered a thousand more.
She smiled, snapping open her briefcase and pulling out the thick eleven-page contract. “That will be accepted, so you’ve got a deal,” she said, before sitting me down at the kitchen table to fill out the contract. To my delight, she told me that I could rent the townhouse for the month it would take escrow to close, as long as I paid the rent up front.
Finally, after signing all the contract and escrow papers and getting carbon copies back, I wrote out a check for almost all of my bank balance. I handed the check over, and got two sets of keys in return. “Congratulations on your new home,” the Realtor said, with an approving nod.
It had been so much easier than I thought it would be. I could only smile and look around, giddy with my first taste of real independence. “My own house, I love it!” The place was mine.
“I’ve got to get to the bank,” the Realtor prompted, glancing at the door.
“Go ahead, I just want to look around my new place some more,” I gushed, taking another look at the kitchen.
As the Realtor drove off, I looked around my new place, nervous but thrilled. I was so overjoyed that I didn’t even realize my car was still back at her office – a mile away.
My very own home, and I owned it. Well, I would in a month, plus there was the mortgage, but what the hell, I was an eighteen-year-old homeowner, and it felt great! I set aside the gnawing doubt that I could rent out a room for as much as the Realtor said, and reveled in the moment.
I called my Mom to tell her the good news, and then, still bursting with excitement, I called my best friend, Carroll, and gave her a rapid-fire recount.
“Chad, calm down! It sounds great, but, ah, shouldn’t you have seen if you could find a roommate first?” Carroll asked.
“Come on, finding a roommate will be easy; I’m just blocks from my university, and even if I don’t get as much as the Realtor said, I’m still doing great.”
“You should have checked first. I.D., you’re always leaping before you look.”
I was so happy that I didn’t even object to her calling me by her nickname for me: I.D. She’d given it to me long ago, and mainly used it when she thought I was being stupid, which was most of the time.
“Chad, my family used to live in a townhouse, remember? What’s the homeowners’ association fee there?”
“Homeowners’ association fee? I don’t think there is one, the Realtor didn’t mention it.”
Carroll sighed. “I.D., please tell me you didn’t… okay, look at your paperwork. You’ll be okay if you didn’t sign anything accepting it, I think.”
I considered telling her that I hadn’t read everything I’d signed, but thought better of it. I’d read a lot of it, but as I looked through the paperwork, I found it in the escrow instructions. “Shit, fifty bucks a month.”
“That’s a lot less than my parents had to pay, I.D., so maybe you’ll need a new nickname. Maybe,” Carroll said, and then added, “Congratulations, Chad.”
“I wish you were here, not Hawaii,” I said, wishing again that she hadn’t picked a college so far away.
“Bite your tongue, I.D., I’m going to the beach tomorrow,” Carroll replied, with a chuckle.
“Hey, there are beaches around here too; they’re just really wide, without an ocean at the other side,” I quipped.
“I miss you too, Chad,” Carroll replied quietly, reading my mind as she sometimes did.
After the call, I looked at the clock: six pm, and according to the thermometer, still well over a hundred degrees. Moving my stuff in was going to be misery, but I knew I had to get started. I went for a jog to retrieve my car and backed the trailer into the driveway, so the car was as close to the front door as possible. I carried in the first box, hoping I had the right one.
I picked one of the two identical bedrooms, and set the box by the closet and started digging in. I was pleased to see it was the right box, and had the clothes I needed in it.
I was soon on my way outside in just running shorts and shoes, and as the blazing heat hit me, I glanced at the setting sun, musing over the fact that it was a good thing I liked going without a shirt anyway, because Phoenix has a climate that damn near makes the absence a necessity.
After emptying most of my car, I was covered in sweat. I decided that the trailer could wait, and backed it into the garage before heading back inside to do some unpacking, idly thinking, just for an instant, that I could get some friends to help me unload the trailer in the morning. That’s when the reality hit me; I didn’t have any friends here, not a one. I was totally alone. I spent a few hours unpacking and setting up my computer in a slightly down mood, but realized that sooner or later I would probably make some friends. That’s when it occurred to me that I probably couldn’t haul the washer and dryer in on my own, so I went looking for the hookups, thinking I might be able to do it if I rented a dolly.
After looking around for a few minutes, I realized that getting the washer and drier in wasn’t my problem; the lack of any hookups was. There wasn’t even anywhere that I thought would be suitable even if I put in the right power plugs, water lines, and drains, none of which I had a clue how to do. That’s when it belatedly occurred to me that the complex had a coin-operated laundry room for a reason. I gave myself a mental kick, and reminded myself to never tell Carroll, or she’d call me ‘I.D.’ forever.
I got up early the next day, knowing that the first thing I had to do was find a roommate, and a buyer for my washer and dryer. After showering and throwing on some shorts, I booted up my computer and got to work in Publisher making a ‘For Sale’ flyer, followed by a ‘Roommate Wanted’ one. I set them up so they had rows of tear-off phone numbers, using my cell number because the phone line for the house had not been turned on yet. The ‘For Sale’ one was easy, but then I began writing the text for the roommate ad. I described the townhouse and the facilities, when I suddenly froze up. It had just occurred to me that I had forgotten one very, very important detail when the Realtor suggested I get a roommate, one that had a lot to do with the irony I mentioned about girls finding me attractive. The thing is, I don’t find girls attractive, not physically, anyway. What I like are guys. I slapped my forehead, wondering how I hadn’t thought of the problems that little detail could cause with regard to living with a roommate.
What now? With visions of finding myself living with some giant, violent, homophobic redneck, I printed out a few flyers, and then set out for ASU to get registered and check the place out. My car’s AC was still on the fritz, so I left my shirt off for the drive and for the walk across campus. I was pleasantly surprised to see that I was far from the only guy walking around shirtless, and decided that college was going to be even more fun than I thought, in a lot of ways. I’d definitely have to wear sunglasses next time, so I could check out the hotties without worrying about getting caught staring. With a smile at the thought, I tugged my shirt on and went inside the office, reveling at the feel of the downright arctic air conditioning.
While waiting in line to register, I browsed over a rack of pamphlets for new students. Mainly campus groups, services, etc, I collected a few that looked useful, then stopped short when I saw the one for a campus gay and lesbian group.
I’d long dreamed that when I got to college I would become at least fairly out, but old habits die hard, and instead of being out, I found myself afraid to even pick up the pamphlet, in fear that someone would see me. I had a long way to go on the whole ‘out’ thing, that’s for sure.
Finally done with sign-ups and all the paperwork, I asked the clerk where I could post my flyers. He directed me to the outside of the cafeteria, telling me that there were places there. I headed out the door, to be forcefully reminded of the Phoenix summer in the form of a blast of sweltering heat. I pulled my shirt off the second I was outside, still mulling over the roommate issue. All kinds of thoughts flew through my head: a girl roommate, maybe a lesbian, maybe even a gay guy, or at least a guy who didn’t care what I was.
After a short walk, I reached the bulletin boards, and I dug out my ‘Roommate Wanted’ flyer. I briefly considered posting my flyer in the gay and lesbian group’s office, but saw that there was just a separate part of the housing bulletin board for gays. I stared at that area for a moment, hesitating, but I was too afraid to post it there, fearful that someone would see it and out me: me, the guy who wanted to be out. Feeling a bit disgusted with myself, I posted my flyer in the regular section, mentally kicking myself for being so afraid.
Next up was my ‘For Sale’ sign, and then I decided to take a walk around campus. During my walk, I thought back to my first experience with seeing someone outed; it had happened halfway through my junior year in high school. High school, my high school in any case, had far more than its share of kids from homophobic homes. It was definitely no place for a guy, any guy, to be out.
After the guy was outed, he’d been beaten up, and then beaten twice more before he finally gave up and transferred out. I didn’t want that to happen to me. It was easy for me to stay in the closet; I wasn’t seeing any guys, and my very few sexual encounters were one-night stands picked up in a dance club in Los Angeles. It was a long drive, so I didn’t do it very often, and I pretty much stopped several months before, it just wasn’t my thing. What I wanted, I guess, was a boyfriend, but I’d put that idea on hold for a lot of reasons, one of which was that I was the only gay guy I knew in San Diego.
So, I did my share of cover dates, mainly with my real best friend, Carroll. She was still the only friend I was out to, and I again regretted her decision to go to Hawaii for college, though I’d have gone there too, if I’d had the chance.
There had been one other outing at my high school, and it had happened in the final months of my senior year. I shuddered at the memory, and though I felt the guy – my former best friend, Jesse – deserved it, his life had been made utter hell.
I continued walking around the ASU campus, my mind returning to the present, and I chuckled at the irony. However, seeing what had happened to Jesse, and knowing how close I had come to having it happen to me, had made me fearful of coming out to anyone.
I went to my new home, still feeling a thrill as I opened the door, and soon received a phone call from a guy who had seen my roommate flyer. He set up an appointment for later that day. I also received several calls on the washer and dryer, and sold them to the fifth caller, who came by to pick them up. I was a little surprised that I’d only received the one call on the roommate ad, but figured I’d have more the next day.
While I unpacked some more, I tried to figure out what to do. I wanted someone I could get along with, so I decided to be very careful. I sure as hell didn’t want to have to be in the closet in my own damn house, so I wanted a roommate who was at least okay with me being gay. At first, I couldn’t figure out how to go about it without outing myself, but I eventually settled on the idea of asking each prospective roomy, “I’ve got several gay friends; are you okay with gay people?” Yeah, that sounded okay... so, that’s what I decided to do, right up front.
Well, like they say, the best laid plans of mice and men. My caution and good sense went out the window when my first appointment showed up to look at the place. I answered the door, and my jaw nearly put a dent in the floor; he was wearing running shorts and a muscle shirt, which was open at the sides. He introduced himself, telling me his name was Jason, and I managed to motion for him to step inside while I tried to remember how to talk. I finally remembered my name, and introduced myself, as he looked around the living room, and I looked at him. He was blond, and gorgeous.
Oh yeah, another thing you should know about me; I’ve got this real brilliant habit of falling for straight guys, which should clue you in about the ‘no social life’ I mentioned earlier. I showed Jason around the townhouse, and then the complex facilities, and then finally we sat down in the kitchen. I grabbed us some sodas as we talked about the usual stuff; he would pay half the utilities, plus rent, and no parties without us both agreeing.
I got ready to ask my question about ‘gay friends’, because I was absolutely resolved to make certain I’d have no problems with roommates over that issue. It was my number one priority. I opened my mouth, forcing out the words, “Uh, Jason, one thing I need to ask…” my voice trailed off as Jason stood up, standing sideways to me, and stretched. He had an awesome tan, plainly visible through the open-sided muscle shirt he was wearing. Did I mention that he’s blond?
“What?” he asked, turning to look at me.
“What, what?” I replied, blinking in confusion. He has such perfect blue eyes. Two of them.
“What were you asking me? You kinda stopped halfway through, Chad.”
I knew I had to ask about the ‘gay issue’, I had to. There was no way around it. “Uh, I, what are you taking at ASU?” I asked.
Jason smiled and shrugged. “Right now, marine biology. I’m a diver. I’m on a partial scholarship. I might change my major, I don’t know for sure yet.”
I shuddered slightly as a reality reared its ugly head; a neighbor of mine in San Diego was a diver, and had half of his garage packed with air tanks, wetsuits, spear guns, compressors, various scuba gear, and all manner of related odds and ends. He had a two-car garage; I only have a one-car. I chewed on my lip for a moment, and then blurted out, “You could use all of the balcony closet for some of your diving gear, but the rest would have to fit in your room and your half of the garage, because I don’t want to have to park outside.”
Jason looked at me very strangely, like I’d lost my mind, or grown a second head. “Uh, half the garage? It’s a one-car garage, right? Which half of your car do you usually park at the curb?”
My mouth opened, and then closed. I blinked, and then stammered, “I, ah, I meant the storage in the garage; I want to put up a few shelves, there’s room.”
Jason gave me a bemused look, and asked, “So does this mean I’ve got the room?”
It was way too soon for me to make up my mind. I wanted to see what the other people who would surely respond to my flier were like, but more importantly, I had to get the ‘gay issue’ out of the way. It was my house, damn it, and no way in hell did I want to hide who I was in my own house. That meant, I assured myself, that there was no way I was going to agree to Jason moving in until I sounded him out. I looked him square in the face, steeled my resolve, and said, “Yeah.”
We agreed on the details, and Jason pulled a thick wad of cash from his pocket; the five-hundred I’d asked for in the flyer. “How soon can I move in?” he asked.
I reminded myself that I absolutely had to ask the gay friends question before I let him move in. “Anytime you want,” I said, as I stared at the money that was now in my hand. I’d have to ask him soon, but maybe after he got to know me for a few hours, at least. What could go wrong?
Jason gave me a relieved smile. “Great! I just got into town two days ago, so I’m stuck at Motel 6. I’ll load up my car, check out, and move in later this afternoon.”
Thinking of the huge amount of gear he must have, I asked, “Want a hand moving? I’ve got a cargo trailer.”
“Help would be great, but we can skip the trailer; I don’t have all that much with me. I didn’t want to leave it in my rust-bucket car – somebody could blow open a door by sneezing – so I moved everything into my motel room. I don’t have a lot, just a few boxes, a couple of suitcases, and my computer and TV.”
Jason and I headed to our cars, and we realized that mine – a hatchback – would hold all his stuff plus both of us. That would save us both having to drive. We piled into mine, and as soon as I pulled away Jason said, “Crank up the AC, or we’ll fry.”
“No can do. I busted the compressor belt on the way here and haven’t got it fixed yet.”
Jason looked at me, shook his head, then pulled off his shirt, chuckling as he said, “Great, a portable oven,” before tossing his shirt in the back seat and hitting the button to roll down the window. “Mine doesn’t work either, so I should be used to it.”
At the next light, I took off my shirt, tossing it in the back with Jason’s, using my turn to sneak a look at Jason. I decided instantly that if having no AC meant Jason would be shirtless whenever he was in my car, I was sure in no hurry to get it fixed.
It only took us a few minutes to get to his motel, and Jason had me park as close as possible to the stairs to his room. It only took us five trips to Jason’s room to get everything into my car, and then Jason went to the desk to check out.
After we had unloaded his car at the townhouse, we carried the rest of my boxes in, and I drove the trailer to a nearby rental outlet to turn it in while Jason took a shower.
I got back to the townhouse and walked in, finding Jason unpacking boxes in the living room. He was wearing a different pair of shorts, but nothing else. It occurred to me that this was a lot like how I’d formed a friendship with Jesse. We’d shared a class at the start of our senior year, and I’d been smitten by him, something I wouldn’t admit even to myself, not then. By Christmas, I considered him my best friend – a term I used for him, but he never did for me. I shuddered at the memory of betrayal, and wondered if I was setting myself up for a repeat.
“Hey, you zoning?” Jason asked, looking up at me with a grin on his face.
I blinked and nodded. “Kinda. Just thinking about… stuff. What about the rest of your things? Are you having that shipped from home? And, where’s home?”
“Utah, and nah, what you see is what I got,” Jason replied.
Utah. That rang some alarm bells with me, or should have; I was well aware of how much of the Mormon Church regarded gays. Fishing a little, I asked, “I’m guessing you don’t like coffee?” I knew Mormons didn’t like it.
“No, I hate hot drinks, plus my religion isn’t too cool about coffee,” Jason replied.
I ignored my concerns, burying them, choosing to believe that not every Mormon was anti-gay. “What about all your diving gear? My neighbor back home is a diver and he’s got a garage full. I was worried I’d be tripping over your tanks in the living room.”
Jason gave me that look again, as if I’d sprouted a second head or a third arm. Then, he doubled over laughing, almost falling out of his chair. I stared at him, puzzled, until he finally gasped, “Dude, I don’t do that kind of diving... I use a diving board and a swimming pool, not air tanks and an ocean!”
I must have turned a little red, and said, “Uh, I guess I should have figured that out; not too much ocean for scuba diving in Utah. So, I guess you won’t need a huge amount of storage.”
Jason cracked up again. “Not really. All my diving gear would fit in a shoebox. All I’ve got is a few Speedos, some towels, and that’s about it.” Jason finally stopped laughing, and asked, a bit hesitantly, “There is one thing I want to talk about though. Divers have to keep up their appearance, and that means I have to keep up my tan, and not have tan lines when I’m in a Speedo. Our balcony faces south, so I’d either like to lay out in the sun there, or by the pool, in Speedos sometimes. Would that bother you?”
That, I knew, would bother me a lot, the thought almost as repugnant to me as me winning a few million in the lottery. “No, why would it?”
Jason shrugged. “Some guys are just kinda touchy about it. But if you aren’t, cool.”
Jason had just given me an opening for my belated questioning, but I hesitated, before finally asking, as offhandedly as I could manage, “Why would anyone be?”
Jason scowled, and turned to look at me. “Because some guys think Speedos are gay. They aren’t, they’re just what divers wear,” he said, a hint of irritation in his voice.
That response rattled me, so I shrugged. “I think people who make a big deal about what somebody wears are morons.”
“Yeah, me too,” he replied, his angry tone gone. I mulled over what he’d said, wondering just how deep his anger ran. I knew then that I had to ask my question, and soon, so that if he had issues with me, I could just give him his money back and tell him to move out.
We spent a few days getting settled, and then the frenzy of the start of school began. That first month was a nightmare, due to all the paperwork of closing escrow. The day after escrow closed, making the house officially mine, the air conditioning broke down, which required an expensive visit by a repairman. A week later, the water heater sprung a leak, and had to be replaced. I was getting a rough introduction to the joys of home ownership.
Eventually, things settled down, and I found myself in an easy routine, enjoying Jason’s company, and spending a lot of my free time with him. Sometimes he was moody, but usually he was fun to be around. And, as much as I tried to deny it to myself, I found myself thinking about him the same way I’d once thought of Jesse; wishing he was more than a friend. The occasional sight of Jason sunning in Speedos was no help at all when it came to keeping my thoughts focused on law books.
Everything was going great, I believed, but that one nagging issue remained; I was still in the closet, and knew that the longer I waited before sounding Jason out, the worse it would be. I knew I had to do it, and promised myself that I would, soon. I was fairly sure that our friendship would continue no matter what, or so I needed to believe.
That Friday, Jason had a diving meet, so I was in my usual place, cheering him on. Because he had to be there a lot earlier for team stuff, we had both driven, so I was alone for the drive home. I stopped to pick us up some take-out food, and Jason was already home when I got there. I walked in the door, and instantly felt something was wrong.
Jason was sitting on the couch, drinking a beer, and he was wearing a shirt. That alone was odd; it was rare for either of us to be shirted in the house. The really big clue, though, was his demeanor. He was cold and withdrawn, and I’d never seen him like that before. We ate mainly in silence, and when we were done, I asked him what was wrong. He glared at me for a second, and then told me, in an angry tone, “Nothing. I’ve just got some stuff on my mind and I don’t want to talk about it.”
I was stunned. I’d never seen Jason act like this. Before I could reply, Jason got up, turning to head for his room and telling me that he was going to get some sleep. It was only seven, so I was puzzled. As he went down the hall and to his room, Jason said over his shoulder in a flat tone, “I’m not some sicko fag or anything, Chad.”
That was the first blatantly homophobic thing I’d ever heard him say, and him aiming it at me rocked me back. I was glad Jason was already in his room, so he didn’t catch the anguished expression on my face as my heart began to crack. So much for my plans for coming out to him; he already knew, and hated me for it.
Miserable, I went to bed, my thoughts awhirl. Jason and I had become close, and spent a lot of time together, but it was so frustrating for me sometimes. I’d really started to fall for him, but that didn’t matter anymore. He was straight, and apparently at least a bit homophobic, so I had to accept that our friendship was likely over. The other issue was that if he left, I’d be deprived of a much-needed roommate. That thought lasted just a few seconds, and then I decided that he could either accept me, or get the fuck out, financial consequences be damned.
The following days were hell for me. Jason didn’t come out of his room until noon on Saturday, and then only long enough to grab some food. He didn’t say a word to me all weekend.
On Sunday night, I couldn’t take it anymore. I wanted it all out in the open, so when he came out of his room for dinner I asked him, “Jason, why are you pissed off at me? Just tell me why.”
He gave me a cold stare for a few seconds, and then to my relief his expression softened as he replied, “Just give me some space for a while, okay?”
I nodded, still stressed out, wondering what was going on. Over the next few days, Jason seemed to return to his old self somewhat, and things were sort of like before, but not really. I finally asked him, “You found out something about me, didn’t you? That’s why you’re pissed.”
Jason hesitated, and then nodded, just once. He looked away, saying very quietly, “Maybe. If it’s true about you, I don’t want to know. Just… drop it. I can’t afford to move yet, and you need my help with the bills, so just make the best of it for a while.” Jason walked away, and I soon heard the sound of his slamming door.
That left little room for doubt, so I reluctantly let it go, hoping that he would either get over it, or at least talk to me about it. Either way, I resigned myself to the fact that our friendship was pretty much over.
I turned off the lights, and for a long time, I sat in the dark, thinking. I felt the all too familiar ache of betrayal and loss, like I had with Jesse. I thought of him, my mind wandering back to that bitter day….
My best bud Jesse, or so I’d liked to think. I’d toyed with the idea of coming out to Jesse, but had decided not to, based on a few homophobic comments he had made. Still, he was my friend, and I enjoyed the time we spent together, so I just buried my sexuality even deeper and went on with my life, right up until Easter break of my senior year, when disaster struck.
The disaster, in this case, was simply my computer sometimes crashing during boot-up. I was okay with computers, but Jesse was a whiz with the things. I’d at first thought that was strange considering he was a jock, but I’d soon realized that stereotypes about jocks were probably just as inaccurate as the ones about gays.
I’d phoned and asked Jesse if he could come over sometime and see if he could fix it, and an hour later, there he was, with a portable hard drive in hand. He pointed at it proudly, telling me about the software tools on it, but most of what he said went right over my head.
My computer, contrary beast that it was, booted just fine when I fired it up for Jesse, so I entered my password and let him have a look. It didn’t take him long, and soon he was giving me some explanation about registry corruption that was way over my head.
It was really common to hear stories about guys getting outed by their computers, so I was normally very careful, password protecting my system, and clearing my history and cache whenever I shut down. I wasn’t worried about anyone finding pictures on it, because I didn’t collect any. Bookmarks and web history were another matter, so I had been a little nervous about asking Jesse for his help, but I’d cleared my history just a day before the crash, and hadn’t browsed anything but sports news and stuff for my homework since. I was safe, as far as I knew.
Late that night, I got a call from Carroll, saying she had to see me immediately and that it was an emergency, but that was all she would say. I threw on a shirt and drove over to her house, and she literally dragged me inside and into her living room. Her parents were out, so we were alone. I asked her what was wrong, concerned that she was in some kind of trouble. Turned out, it wasn’t Carroll that was in trouble, it was me. She told me that one of her friends, who happened to be Jesse’s current on-again-off-again girlfriend, had called Carroll after a disturbing talk with Jesse. The upshot was that Jesse had decided to do some snooping, and had downloaded some stuff onto his portable drive while fixing my computer. What he’d found were some text files from my personal folder, plus a backup set of bookmarks. I knew exactly what he had taken; a couple of stories I’d been playing around with. Gay stories. Oh, shit!
I went numb as Carroll filled me in on the details; Jesse had figured out I was gay, and was sorely pissed off.
Jesse had told his girlfriend that he had to do something before anyone else found out and assumed he was gay too, just because he hung around with me. He also told his girlfriend how much he hated fags, and now hated me. Fortunately for me, his girlfriend, due in part to being familiar with Jesse’s cruel ways from the time he’d dumped her, had been appalled as he’d eagerly bragged about his plan. She’d called Carroll right away, telling her the whole story, and also to warn me.
I was almost in tears by then, but Carroll told me the rest: Jesse’s plan. While she talked, it was as if I could feel the knife twisting in my back. Jesse had decided to print out my stories, put them in his binder, and then right before school, meet me in the parking lot, take me by surprise, and beat the crap out of me. He then planned to show my story to the crowd that would gather, yelling that he had found it after I had made a pass at him. He figured that way no one would think he knew, and his precious reputation would be safe.
With every word, I’d died a little more inside. I’d nearly thrown up. Carroll had comforted me, but she’d also warned me that I had to do something quick, before Jesse turned my life into hell. I couldn’t believe Jesse would do this, but Carroll was adamant. We sat up talking all night, and Carroll helped me develop my own plan, but I still couldn’t really accept that Jesse would do something so vicious to me. I just couldn’t…
I cringed in the dark, hurting from past and present, wondering if things with Jason could turn out as badly as they had with Jesse. With a sigh, biting back the pain, I went to my room and began a chat session with Carroll; chatting was a lot cheaper than the long-distance phone bills we’d been running up. I had no intention of telling her what was wrong, but she knew me well, and it didn’t take her long to worm it out of me. Her advice, as always, was right to the point; clear the air or throw Jason out, and no procrastinating.
I agreed with Carroll, especially about the ‘no procrastinating’ part. I had to have it out with Jason, one way or the other, once and for all, and get it over with right away, or sooner or later I’d end up procrastinating about it again.
Over the following days, Jason’s hostile attitude dulled somewhat, though he still avoided me sometimes. At other times, our friendship reverted to what it had been, almost. It was in flashes; a smile here, a joke there, easy laughter, lasting for a few moments before the distance returned.
Left to my own devices, I took to spending those hours in my room, on my computer. At first, it was just random surfing plus some chatting to Carroll, but I began to feel a deep need to talk to someone, anyone, about Jason and whatever it was that was going on with him – and what I should do. So, I started joining chat rooms and discussion boards. One was just about football, but that didn’t hold my attention for long; what I was looking for was advice. I’d already tried talking to Carroll, but she was adamant; I was an idiot for letting him move in, and a bigger idiot for not booting him out. She’d even taken to using my hated nickname full time, but I guess it fit.
Dejected and feeling very alone, I decided to check out some gay discussion groups Carroll suggested. I just wanted someone to talk to, who I could be myself with. I didn’t care if they were gay, lesbian, or whatever. I surfed around, until I stumbled across one that said it was for GLBT people with non-accepting dorm mates. Close enough. I posted a message introducing myself, and gave myself a handle of SoCal-myroomiehatesme. I included in my post that I was sharing an apartment with a guy I had started to fall for, but who was straight and at least somewhat homophobic.
I checked a few hours later, and no replies. Then I checked my e-mail and, amongst the spam, I saw two with the discussion group subject line and realized someone had sent me a private reply. I opened the first;
Get a clue. Better yet, get a brain. Your nick says it all; you’re sharing an apartment with a guy who doesn’t like what you are. This can only end badly if you stick around. So move out. Just go. Waiting only makes it worse. Take it from someone who was stupid enough to make the mistake of trying to stay: just get out, you’ll be glad you did.
That wasn’t an option due to me owning the house, so on that depressing note, I glanced at the remaining e-mail, wondering whether I should even open it. I noticed the sender’s address began with SD-Matt. ‘South Dakota Matt, eh?’ Well, he was nice enough to e-mail me, so I clicked on the mail, figuring that my mood couldn’t get any worse;
Dude, I saw your post, and I had to reply because I’m in sort of the same mess as you. I share an apartment with somebody I thought was a really cool guy, and we were pretty close. He’s straight, but that’s not the problem. I was just about to come out to him when I got a real eye-opener; I ran into an old buddy of his, who mentioned that my roomie is not just homophobic, but a gay-basher! Man, it’s really bumming me out sometimes, but what can I do? He knows I know what he did, and I can’t come out to him; he might throw me out of the apartment and rooms are impossible to find mid-term. And the most fucked up thing is, I really did like him, in all ways. Damn, this sucks. Anyway, looks like you and me have similar problems, so let’s chat sometime.
Matt and I chatted over the next few weeks, and I found myself enjoying talking to him. He became someone to lean on, because Jason was growing ever more distant. Chatting with Matt, and even with a few other people from the group,helped a lot, and it was so cool to be able to talk to other gay guys, which was something I’d never really been able to do before, not for long anyway.
One thing Matt and I did argue about, though, was his roommate. That bit about him being a gay-basher did not sit at all well with me, and I was afraid for Matt. In my opinion, South Dakota was one of the worst places in the country to be gay, which made a bad situation even worse. I told him flat-out that anyone into gay bashing was not someone he should be around, let alone live with, and that he should move out of there right away. Matt, though, defended his roomie, which made me furious. How could anyone be that damn dense? I asked Matt if he was sure about the gay bashing, and he said he was, but had plans to make some phone calls to see if maybe it was a one-time thing, or his roomie had some reason. At that point, I was about to give up on Matt. I know denial when I see it, so after that chat, I decided to try again and fired off an e-mail to Matt;
You need to get out of there. From what you have told me about your roommate, he sounds like a real asshole anyway. Get out of there before you get hurt, or worse. Just leave. No one should put up with living with scum like that. He beat somebody up for being gay; what possible excuse could there be for that? You’re sitting on a time bomb.
A few hours later, Matt’s reply came in;
I like chatting and mailing with you, but lay off about my roommate. I know this is stupid, but I don’t like anyone talking shit about him. Like I said, part of me still likes the guy; it’s just his past that I hate. I don’t know all the details, but he doesn’t seem violent to me. I'm trying to get a hold of someone else who knew him, just to see if it's normal for him, or more of a one-time attack, but I can’t leave yet anyway, I can’t afford it.
If you want to talk about this, fine, but don’t talk shit about him OK? As insane as it sounds, when you slam him it pisses me off.
When I read that, I shook my head in disgust. Matt must be nuts to have feelings for a creep like that. I thought about it for a while, and finally decided that Matt wasn’t that much worse than me and my situation with Jason. But, at least I had no reason to believe that Jason was a gay-basher. Matt, in my opinion, was in actual physical danger, and I felt a need to convince him to get out of there, but I didn’t want to drive him away from me; I wasn’t exactly overflowing with friends. So, after stewing for a couple of days, I decided that he had a right to be moronically stupid, and sent him a conciliatory e-mail;
OK, I’ll keep my comments about your roomie objective. I won’t insult him. I still think he could be a danger to you, and I will say so, but that’s your choice to make.
After a few e-mails, Matt and I grew more comfortable chatting again, though neither of us mentioned his roommate.
A week later, in chat, Matt complained that it was a hundred degrees even though it was October. I remarked that I thought it was cold in South Dakota. A few seconds pause, and then;
SD-Matt: < South Dakota? What do you mean? >
SoCal: < Isn’t that where you are? >
SD-Matt: < Nope. Never even been there. >
SoCal: < I always thought you were there... SD-Matt. South Dakota Matt? >
SD-Matt: < Heh, nah, that’s just my handle. I’m in Arizona. >
SoCal: < No shit? That’s where I am. >
SD-Matt: < Whoa, all the talk about California I just assumed that’s where you were. Where you at in AZ? >
SoCal: < Phoenix area. >
SD-Matt: < Whoa again… me too! Hey, we have talked so much online, maybe it would be cool to meet in person sometime? >
SoCal: < Yeah, it would be cool to be able to talk without typing. >
SD-Matt: < How about tonight? >
SoCal: < OK, how about coffee? Like, 5pm? >
SD-Matt: < Can do. How about Starbucks at Superstition Mall? >
I glanced at the computer’s clock, shocked to see how late I was for class, so I rushed my reply,
SoCal: < OK, I’ll be there... but I’m late for class. Gotta run. See you at Starbucks! >
I logged off before remembering I had no real idea what he looked like, or how to recognize him. But, Starbucks isn’t big, and we would both be looking to meet, so I figured it would probably be okay. As I like to say, what could possibly go wrong?
I arrived at the mall a few minutes early, a little apprehensive about meeting Matt, but really looking forward to it. I walked into Starbucks, and instantly spotted a guy sitting alone, looking expectantly at the door. I tried to catch his eye, and smiled. I was just about to walk the few steps to his table when someone walked in past me, brushing my elbow. I looked, and found two familiar blue eyes glaring into mine.
‘Oh, crap,’ was my first thought, followed by a far darker one. ‘Was he following me? Why?’
“What are you doing here?” Jason asked, in a neutral tone.
Superstition Mall was not close to our place, or campus, so it was not somewhere we visited all that often. I tried to think fast, and said, “I didn’t have anything to do, so I figured I’d do some shopping, maybe pick up a CD. How about you?”
“I wanted to check out the sporting goods store. I heard they have some Speedos on sale,” Jason replied, with an edge to his voice.
I knew I had to get us out of there before I put Matt in the middle of a mess, so I blurted out, as if I was glad to see Jason, “Whoa, small world. I was going to get coffee, but changed my mind... uh, you doing anything right now?”
“Let’s go check out the CD place,” Jason said, edging for the door.
Jason and I went and browsed around the music store, though I wasn’t paying attention to music. I was wondering whether Jason showing up had been a coincidence, or whether he was stalking me. I began wondering if he could have gotten into my computer, bypassed the password, and found the record of my chat. I didn’t know if computers actually stored chats that way, but I was betting they did. It also reminded me of the way Jesse had gotten into my supposedly safe computer, and I began to fume.
Finally, after an hour of feeling like I was under a microscope, I asked Jason, “Aren’t you here for Speedos?”
He gave me a strange look, and then shrugged. “Nah, I don’t really need any right now,” he said, sticking by my side like glue.
Finally, we went back to our cars. I quickly left Jason behind in traffic and circled back to the mall to find Matt, but he was nowhere to be found. I sure couldn’t blame him for not hanging around that long.
The drive home down the Beeline Freeway seemed to take forever, because I was so confused, and now, a little spooked. It reminded me so much of Jesse, the way he’d broken my trust, right before trying to destroy me...
I cringed at the memory of that day, as my mind played back the scene I wanted so much to forget, but it was crystal clear, right down to the scent of the mown grass. I’d stood on the lawn, our usual meeting place before school, still not willing to believe that someone I thought of as my best friend could do what I’d been told he planned, so after a furious argument with Carroll, I was going to do things my way, and give Jesse the benefit of the doubt.
I didn’t think Jesse could take me in a fair fight, but also knew he could if he got in a good one by surprise, like I’d seen him do to a guy a few months before. It was his way.
My stomach had been in knots as I’d seen him approach, hoping that it was all wrong, that he wouldn’t go through with it. I remember the pain when I’d recognized the false smile, belied by the cruel glint in his eyes as he strolled up to me. Anger had welled up inside me, blind rage at the fact that my so-called best friend was about to attack and beat me, all for the sake of his reputation. I waited as he strode up, knowing that he was counting on surprise.
I’d seen Jesse fight before; his favorite tactic was a sucker punch to the gut, followed by a knee in the face when his opponent doubled up. I knew what was coming and tightened up my stomach and abs as Jesse stepped up to me, his grin turning into an evil leer.
Without a word, Jesse slammed his fist into my stomach, but I was ready for it. I’ll never forget Jesse’s startled expression as I stepped into his swing, bringing my knee up into his groin. Jesse yelled and went down, curled into a ball, and I yelled practiced curses at him while I gave him a good hard kick in the ass, and then another.
Carroll had planned things well. A crowd had appeared from nowhere, just like they always do whenever a fight breaks out in school. I grabbed Jesse’s binder, pulling out my story that he had printed out. I walked up to the nearest group of guys, shoved the papers into their hands, yelling, “I can’t believe it! Jesse just made a pass at me, he’s a fag! Look at this shit he’s been writing; I can’t believe he’s a fag, the fucking sick bastard!”
By that time, the jocks in the group were glaring at Jesse, who was finally getting up off the ground, still clutching his nuts. His face had paled, and he’d begun stammering, “It wasn’t me, it’s Chad! It’s not me!”
I’d glared at him, and turned to tell the guys, “No way. I got him in the nuts when he made a move on me. He’s pretty stupid to do it in front of everybody.” I’d spotted Craig, a guy Jesse and I both knew well, and said, “Craig, you’ve been over to both our houses. You know I have an ink-jet printer, and Jesse has an ancient dot matrix. Look at these and tell me whose printer they came off.” Craig looked at the printout Jesse had made, which was clearly dot matrix.
Jesse had yelled again, “It wasn’t me, it’s Chad! I swiped that stuff off his computer and printed it out!”
I’d just stood there, shaking my head, as I muttered the word, “Pathetic.”
Craig had glared at Jesse, and yelled, “You fucking pervert! You’re doing this sick stuff, and now you’re trying to smear Chad with it, you piece of shit.” With that, a few of the jocks had given Jesse a deadly look, and then started heading for him. Jesse had run like hell for the safety of the school’s office, thus putting the final seal on his new reputation, the one he’d intended for me; straight-as-an-arrow Jesse had become the school fag.
Jesse, of course, had tried to deny it, every chance he got. His continued denials only made it worse. To help make sure of that, over the following weeks, whenever I had encountered Jesse at school, I’d loudly told him, “Everybody knows now, so just man up and admit it, and come out.” It was hard to keep from laughing, and Jesse’s fury had only made it better. If anyone deserved the hell he went through, it was him.
By the time we graduated, Jesse’s nickname was ‘Closet Case’, a name Carroll reveled in calling him, loudly and often. I never felt bad about that, because he was getting the treatment he had tried to cause for me.
The past faded from my mind as I pulled into my driveway, though it left the lingering fear that I was about to go through a similar ordeal. The only bright side that I could see was that now, I no longer had a reason to fear being outed.
I’d seen Jason’s car out front, so I came in quietly. I glanced around the living room, spotting the shirt he’d worn at the mall flung across the back of a chair, reminding me of better days. I made my way to my room, locked the door, and turned on my computer. While I waited for it to boot, I wiped sweat from my brow that had little to do with temperature, and pulled off my shirt, hurling it in the general direction of my laundry basket while I waited for my computer to prompt me for my password. Once in, I sent an e-mail to Matt:
Sorry for standing you up. I showed up at Starbucks, walked in, and got a huge shock; my roommate had followed me! I didn’t know what to do, and I didn’t want to drag you into whatever psycho scene might have happened, so I had to go with him to some other stores. I hope you didn’t wait long.
After I hit send, I opened up chat, hoping Matt would be there. He wasn’t, so while I waited, I phoned Carroll, and hurriedly told her what was going on.
After about ten minutes, my chat beeped, and it was Matt;
SD-Matt: < Dude... just got your mail... Your roomie followed you? WTF?!?!? That’s freaking nuts, the guy sounds like a psycho, for sure. I think I saw you walk in. You were in the Starbucks entrance when your roomie caught up to you, right? >
SoCal: < Yeah, and that was freaky. >
Carroll’s insistent demands on the phone were distracting me, so I told her to open a chat window with me, and began pasting in the conversation with Matt.
SD-Matt: < Dude, your roomie is majorly fucking twisted. Get out of there, like yesterday! >
SoCal: < I can’t, I own the damn house, wish I didn’t. Do you really think he’s dangerous, or just being an ass? >
SD-Matt: < How about both? Come on, can you think of one possible sane reason why he’d show up there? Did he even try to make up an excuse? He’s dangerous. You think my roomie is bad? Yours sounds like a psycho for sure. >
SoCal: < He made some lame excuses, but shit, I don’t know for sure he was lying. >
SD-Matt: < Wake the fuck up, dude. I’m telling you, no way was he there just to buy Speedos; come on, why would he drive out that far just for some sale? He’d spend more than that in gas, and then he tells you he doesn’t even want to bother going to look at ‘em? And all this after he just happens to walk into a Starbucks right behind you? Does Jason even drink coffee?” >
The last part hit me first: Jason hated coffee. Oh, shit.
SoCal: < He hates coffee. Okay, so he was stalking me, gotta be.” >
My mind flashed back, trying to remember Jason’s attitude. Was Matt right? Was Jason dangerous, or just playing weird head games?
SD-Matt: < Your roomie is definitely psycho, so who knows what he’s got planned? Come on over here and we’ll figure out what to do. I’ve got some ideas. Get out of your room, right now. >
SoCal: < What about your roommate, is he home? >
I waited for the answer, my mind trying to make sense of the jumble of the conversation. I pasted the last two pages into my chat with Carroll, and then, a nagging thought rose to the surface. It has almost coalesced when the next line came on screen.
SD-Matt: < Chad, are you curious, yet, why I know what your roomie said in the music store? Or how I know his name? Or yours? Or how I know you’re in your room right now? If so, meet me on the landing and I’ll explain it all to you, nice and slowly, so you can understand. BTW, my middle name is ‘Matthew’, remember? And the SD in my handle means ‘Swim Dive’. >
Several impossible things occurred to me all at once, so in a frantic rush, I dashed for my door, flinging it open to find Jason, in just boxers, arms crossed, leaning against the frame of his open door, with a bashful grin on his face.
“You,” I mumbled, staring at him in disbelief.
“In the flesh,” he chuckled, and then added, “The good news is you’re sure not what I thought. At least I figured it out before you did; I was pretty sure at the mall, but when I got your e-mail, I knew for sure.”
“Why didn’t you just say so?” I asked, dumbfounded.
“Remember that meet I was at, the one I was so pissed off after? One of the guys on the visiting team recognized you. He went to your high school, and told me about you beating up and then outing a friend, because you found out he was gay. That’s why I was playing games in chat after we got back; to see if you were really like that, and to make sure you were really you. At first anyway; the rest was because I was having fun yanking your chain.”
I shook my head and grinned. “That outed guy would be Jessie, except he’s straight, was about to out me, and he threw the first punch. But yeah, I did it, ‘cause he was going to do it to me.” Jason’s confused expression prompted me to tell him the whole story, which I did, including how I’d wrestled with sounding him out after he’d moved in.
“We’re both kinda pathetic, you know that, right?” he said, with a rueful laugh.
I had to agree there. “Yeah. I… I’m sure glad I let you move in. If you hadn’t been the only responder to my ad, I might not have, except I just knew I wanted you around.”
Jason gave me another bashful smile. “One thing you need to know about me; I’m sneaky sometimes. I was standing behind you when you posted it. I saw you look at the GLBT section first, then hesitate. I needed a place and you’re very easy on the eyes, so I took the whole flyer, not just the number.”
“Kinda the same reason I let you move in without asking the question,” I said, giving him my own bashful smile as I looked into his eyes. “I was going to anyway, but then you got all agro about people thinking Speedos are gay.”
“I didn’t mean it like that, it’s just something that bugs me. Try being on the diving team in rural redneck Utah sometime; I caught all kinds of crap just from that. That was one of my clumsy tries at sounding you out; it just came out all wrong. Then I remembered that you had a weird look on your face after posting that flyer, and got to wondering if it was disgust from seeing you’d almost accidentally put it in the gay section. I guess you couldn’t know that though. Damn,” Jason said, giving me that heart-melting bashful smile again. “Good to have you back, Chad.”
The sheer relief, coupled with the absurdity of it all, made me laugh. “Good to have you back, too. You got one part right; I did have a disgusted look on my face. I was mad at myself for chickening out and posting in the regular section. So… do you still want me to come over there so we can plot against your psycho roommate?”
Jason nodded. “Sounds like a plan… Like I said, I’ve got some ideas,” he said, giving me a look that made me wonder just what his ideas were, but very sure that I’d like them.
We stared at each other for a long moment, and I took a step towards him, before a faint, insistent voice from my room caught my attention. “Carroll,” I muttered, “I was on the phone to her, and she saw our chat, all but your last reply, anyway.”
Jason grinned, dashing past me and into my room, as he said, “I’ve only talked to her once before, when I took a message while you were in class.”
I followed him in, to see him sweep up the phone. “Hi Carroll, this is Jason, also known as SD-Matt. Chad is standing here with his mouth hanging open, wondering why I’m answering his phone. I’m guessing you heard us talk, too?”
Jason stood listening for a few long moments, his smile becoming a grin, and then his wonderful laugh. He hung up, turning to look at me. “She said she’ll talk to you later, and that you’re right, my roommate is a jerk. She made me promise to send her the e-mails where you called him names, so she can print them out and hang them on her wall.”
I nodded, just once, my eyes beginning to roam. “She’ll probably have them made into Christmas cards or something, too,” I said, but my mind was very much on Jason.
Jason’s smile grew, as he turned to face me. “Oh, she also told me your nickname, and said that after this, you better not ever object to it again.” Jason stepped close to me, reaching for me, his finger coming to rest gently on the side of my head. “I.D., short for Infinite Density,” he said, tapping once at my temple, just lightly, “I gotta admit, it fits you, though it sorta fits me too,” he said, his voice dropping to just above a whisper. “Now about those ideas I mentioned...” he said, from so close that I could feel the warmth of his breath. I looked into his eyes and he smiled, his hand settling on my bare shoulder, his fingers lightly tracing, removing any doubt as to his intentions.
I glanced at his hand, smiling, my own hand settling on the small of his back, where it just felt so right, as he slowly leaned in, angling his head as his lips finally sought mine, and mine, his….