Sunday, August 10, 2014

Just Ask

Just Ask

*Story contains M/M relations and some sexual situations.*

I met him when I was twelve. We had just moved in - our sixth home since I could put together the reasoning that twelve months made up a year. Mom was running from dickhead-boyfriend-number-god-only-knew and I was toe-deep in learning that there was a good chance the thing hanging between my legs might be meant for something other than just pissing with. What I hadn't quite figured out yet was how come mine seemed to be working a little different than everybody else's.

He was leaning up against the side wall of what I read to be 'Arnie's Convenience and Grocery Stop' but what I would soon come to know as 'the One Stop'. They called it 'the One Stop', I would learn, because you could get a wee bit of darn near everything there. What they should have called it was 'the Only Stop'. Because short of the school, the post office, the church and the dentist's, it was the only damn 'stop' in what that corner of the world had the balls to call a town. Even the attending police station was two municipalities south of us.

He had that casual, laidback, yes-as-a-matter-of-fact-I-do-own-this-particular-piece-of-the-world look that only came with generations of locality tucked under your belt. And I remember thinking that his skin was the colour of sunshine. Not yellow, of course. Just the kind of colour you associated right away with sunlight: the perfect tan of August. A colour my pasty-assed, snow-white flesh had never seen. At the time, I figured he spent hours outside. Of course, I couldn't know then that the sun just loved him. It loved to highlight his hair with priceless licks of gold, toast his body with honey-inspired warmth, and charm out freckles across his shoulders that looked so freakin' sweet you wanted to bite into them.

I gave him my well-practised that's-right-I'm-the-new-kid glare and tossed in a what-do-you-think-you're-gonna-do-about-it sneer. He nonchalantly volleyed back an any-damn-thing-I-want-to look. We sized each other up for a minute, looked away, back again. And then he slowly reached into the massive pocket of his cargo shorts and pulled something out. He kept it fisted and I started getting this nervous, sweaty feeling that told me it would probably be a good idea to run - very soon and very fast. These small town'ers could be the worst of the lot. These kids were actually allowed to carry pen-knives; were taught how to shoot with a shotgun. These boys could be as mean as a tomcat with its tail on fire.

But he surprised me by opening his palm and calmly unravelling the paper off a column of bubble gum. It was the good stuff too. The kind of gum you could smell before the paper was even off of it.

He eyed me. Nodded. "Tourist?"

I shook my head no. "Newbie."


"Probly' not."

He paused, stuffed a pink wad in his left cheek. "Got a daddy?"

"Nope." I answered back, chin as proud as if I'd said yes. "Why?"

He shrugged. "Usually the new kids that come along don't. Why else'd anyone end up in this shithole."

I was impressed. He used the word shithole. Out loud. I parroted his shrug as my answer.

"Got a bike?" he asked.

"Yep." I said smugly. It was a crappy one. A damn crappy one. But it was a bike. And that meant something when you were twelve.

He gave me another long look. Kind of look that had me thinking he'd make a cool cop some day. Like he was summing you up just by looking at you. "I guess if you wanna get it I could show you around," he said finally.

I watched him peel back the paper on his gum and dig out another square. Now, you gotta understand... gum to a twelve year old boy is like your first guilty pleasure. Your parents, your teachers - every adult in the world - hates it with a passion. Hates to see you chawing on it, hates to watch you shove it around your cheeks like a cow munching cud. Yet it's one of those sins they tended to abide. As long as you weren't chawing on it during school or church, or smacking it while you were chewing, they usually left you alone with nothing more than a stern look of disguised disgust. So watching him dig through that package was akin to watching another person dig out and light a cigarette while you're trying to quit. Every little crinkle of paper made my tongue twitch and caused spit to spike into my cheeks.

His fingers were way too dirty to be touching anything you're about to put in your mouth. Regardless, he took that inch thick chunk of chew and stuck it in after the first one. The air was ripe with the sugar-drenched odour of strawberries. "I'm Matthew," he spoke around the mouthful, and his breath all but dripped with the awesomeness that filled his cheeks.

I had to swallow hard to get rid of the saliva that was pooling on my tongue. "I'm Reilly."

Matthew leaned back against the wall again, tossing the package of gum in his palm up and down, up and down, up and down. "You know," Matthew said, chasing the words with a bubble before catching it between his teeth and popping it. "If you want a piece, you could just ask."

And I smelled the delicious aroma and watched his jaw chew, chew, chew the gum and I ached to have some of it - to share in the pleasure of that wonderful treat that this beautiful boy was miraculously offering. But ask? Just like that?

I shook my head. "Nah, I'm good. I'll go get my bike."

* * *

I lifted my hands to my stinging face and pressed the cold creek water against my skin again. I was doing my best not to let threatening tears spill, and hoping to all hell that the water in the creek wasn't actually infested with as many creepy-crawlies as my mother insisted it was.

In the three years we'd lived here, the woman had become something of a power-mom. It was her new man, I knew that. The first man she'd ever met in her life that was actually nice to her. And she was damned and determined to prove to him and everyone else in this town that she was worthy of his attention. I'm pretty sure, however, the person she was most trying to prove it to was herself. Regardless, the breakfasts and the homemade cookies and the spotless house, was a nice change. Weird… but nice.

Phil was a good enough guy, too. Quiet, kind of religious, but he treated her like a lady and he didn't look down on me like I was some kind of inconvenience. Which was more than I could say for ninety-nine-point-eight-two percent of her previous boyfriends. So there was no way, no way in hell, I was going home looking like this. Mom would flip. Phil would insist on intervening. And that would just open a whole new can of whoop-ass on my sorry self. Problem was, it was getting hard to hide.

At sixteen I wasn't a small kid. But I damn straight was no big kid either. Where the other boys had started to fill out and tighten, no doubt a benefit of family farms and football, I was still kind of skinny. And quiet. And introverted. And... well, let's just say I didn't need to make a big show of coming out of the closet. More jaws would have dropped in surprise had I turned around and told everybody I was interested in girls. This, apparently, was something that Mason and his pathetic gang of wanna-be's took an intense disliking to.

Now, most of the time those issues manifested themselves as a shove into the lockers, or fumble over a 'misdirected' foot. Every once in a while though, when Mason got to feeling a little mean, things would escalate to a couple of jabs in the jaw or some rib kicking. The secret, I was learning, was to try and stay on your feet. 'Cuz if they got you down, that's when they started to do some damage. Which is why, at that moment, I'd been relegated to squatting by the creek, tearfully nursing a cheek scuffed raw by the rough edges of a well-placed sneaker. I blame the creek for me not hearing him step up behind me though, not my tears.

Matthew dropped beside me, right to his knees, right into the water, and stared at my face. "What the fuck, Rei?"

See, Matthew was a senior. And even though that only made him a year higher than me, on the social scale of things, that year might as well have been a decade. So while we still chatted amicably when we ran into one another, we didn't really 'hang out' so to speak anymore. Gone were the summers of foraging and exploring. Gone were Saturday afternoons that bled into Saturday nights, furiously pedalling for hours in the sun so we could we sit and watch movie after movie after movie on the screens at the drive-in theatre. Gone was the one kid who made sure that shit didn't go down when he was around.

"It's nothing," I mumbled, embarrassed, ashamed - I should have been able to stand up for myself. I should have been stronger.

When you're sixteen, everything's your fault. You still have this foolish notion that if you do everything right, if you try real hard, you can change what happens to you. You can control your own destiny. You can stop an asshole from being an asshole.

I watched Matthew's jaw tighten. I saw his gorgeous blue eyes grow cold. It was stunning to see - like watching the ocean shift colours as a storm brewed. "Who did this?"

I shook my head, looked away, and then almost fell into the creek when I was yanked back around. If Matthew hadn't been holding my jacket as hard as he had been, if I hadn't scrambled until I caught both biceps and gripped them for dear life, I probably would have to. "Damn it, Reilly," he growled. "Tell me! I can help make this stop!"

He could have too. His arms were like rocks underneath my fingers. He stood a good twelve inches taller than I did at that point and probably a good six inches higher than most of the guys in our school. As I held his arms, as I stared into his anger, I knew Matthew could have annihilated Mason just by scowling at him.

Matthew's brow creased but his eyes softened. "Just ask Reilly. If you want my help, all you gotta do is ask."

That was the first time I realized consciously that I was in love with him. At least, as much in love as you can be when you're sixteen. I understood, if nothing else, that I wanted to touch him - that something inside me needed to.

So I stared at him, and listened to him ask me to ask him to help. And I fought the urge to kiss him. And I bit back a hundred self-preserving pleas from my own conscious mind. And I turned my chin away and told him I'd be fine.

* * *

I found weed when I was seventeen. Not really, I mean I'd found it plenty before that but it was seventeen that I began to imbibe far too heavily and way too often. Matthew was gone, college-bound and future-striving. Mom was happily remarried and intent on keeping dear sweet Phil happy and healthy. My teachers had written me off as an all but lost cause. Even Mason and the boys had found new prey. So mostly I just sat, book in hand, baggie never far from sight, up in the tree-house that Phil had at the back of his house.

It was a nice place, for the most part, but Phil was a stickler about cleanliness and godliness and I preferred the fort to my room any day. Up there no-one cared about tidy or bright or cheerful. Up there I could put up posters, smoke my brain cells into oblivion, and listen to music as loud as my radio speakers would allow me.

I'd been lost in a beaten and bruised copy of 'Christine'. It had been raining, so I wasn't able to use the tattered extension cord to link me to the electricity in the house, thus rendering the radio useless. With the spattering rain against the tin roof for background, Mr. King's characters for company, and the soothing buzz from a previously enjoyed pinner, the world was my proverbial oyster.

And I damn near lost my cotton-pickin' mind when the floor of the tree-house suddenly banged sharply three times, all but right underneath where I was sitting. I screeched, tossed the book, followed it with the baggie, and was poking my head out the doorway before you could have uttered the words 'what the fuck'.

The grin that met me was awe-inspiring. Matthew's hair had grown a little long, a little more wild, and he'd got himself that lean, hard look to his body that bespoke of far too few calories and far too many late nights. College life was doing that boy fine, indeed. "Let me up," he demanded.

I couldn't help but grin back. "Not without a password," I teased.

"Fuck you!" he laughed.

I shrugged, "That'll work," and scrambled out of the way to let him climb the ladder and past me into the tree-house.

"Nice to see you're moving up in the world," Matthew joked and suddenly lunged for the bean bag chair I'd been perched in before his arrival. "Ah, ha!" He held up my bag of weed, smile wide. "You heathen!"

One shared joint and forty minutes later, we were both on our backs, on the floor of the tree-house, laughing like morons over a story he was telling me about his roommate. To this day I could not tell you what the story was about, but at the time I thought it was the most hilarious thing I'd ever heard in my life.

Hilarity faded off to laughter. Laughter softened to easy chuckles and chuckles eventually died off to comfortable silence. "So you like it?" I asked finally. "College?"

I turned on my side to watch him shrug. "S'ok." Shadows played games with his eyes and dappled random patterns over his chest. I had the overwhelming urge to trace the shifting blotches of sunlight with my fingers. I forced it away. I watched his chest rise and fall underneath the tight t-shirt and thought of the flesh and muscles hidden by the fabric. His eyes were closed so I allowed my own the opportunity of trailing down farther, to size up the potential locked away behind denim and zipper. Matthew had a body that made those sissy men and jocks, forever held between the worn pages of my carefully sequestered magazines, pale in comparison.

When he suddenly slipped on his side, I almost died. We were close enough to feel each other's breath. "I miss being here though," he said, and his voice was warm and had a funny deepness to it that I'd never noticed before. It made my brain melt like chocolate on hot pavement. It made my hips ache to arch towards him and insisted that I let my lips fall open. It made my heart beat in time to the rain.

"Do you ever..." and he leaned so close to me that I was sure he could hear my blood pounding through my veins, "... miss me?"

The sound that left my throat is unidentifiable. The feeling that washed over me when he kissed my mouth is indescribable. It set fire to every sense I had and at the same time it flooded me with a need so strong it risked drowning me completely. There was no tentative touch of inquiring lips. He kissed me like he was starving for it - hard enough to push my head back and force me against the floor - hard enough that I fought for breath and whined against his tongue.

Matthew put a leg over mine, rested it in the V created my spread legs and the feeling of our bodies pressed together was like nothing I had imagined it would be, and everything I had hoped. "Rei," he whispered against my cheek, "I'm learning some things about me I didn't know. Or maybe didn't want to. You want to find out what they are?"

Liquid heat. His words felt like liquid heat through my blood and I wanted to scream at him that I did. I wanted to beg him to keep kissing me, to touch me. To never, ever stop making that movement that his hips were making against my own.

But the words wouldn't come. I couldn't let them. Because in one second of weakness, in one spoken phrase of need, all those defences I'd spent years building, could come crashing down. If I said yes, if I asked him to love me, what would I do when he turned around and laughed in my face? How could I defend myself from ridicule when he threw back his head and said he'd just been kidding? Who would be there to hold me up when the stories made their way around town and every person I walked past would be snickering their derision into their cupped palms?

Matthew pulled back. I knew he was looking at me but I couldn't open my eyes. As it was, despite my best efforts, a single tear broke free and slid its way to freedom.

His voice was rough. "Do you want me to stop?"

And as my watch clicked off seconds into the suddenly still space I felt him let go. Then pull away.

I heard him sit up and still I didn't open my eyes.

"Do you want me to leave?" he said.

I fought with myself. Struggled to choose the lesser of two evils.

"Talk to me, Rei." Matthew said, and his voice was calm and cool, yet somehow, still managed to be riddled with hurt. "Whatever you need, whatever you want, you just have to ask. I promise."

Those were the last words I heard Matthew speak for four years.

* * *

I was two states away from Mom and Phil, miles away from humiliation, and flying so damn high I felt like I could have touched sky. The music was intense, the bodies were alive, and the staff didn't give a fuck what you were doing so long as you were buying. I was twenty-one, had disposable income and a bit of a death-wish. My hair was insane, my clothes were tight and my attitude was horrendous. I didn't give a shit about anything except living for the moment.

When I saw him across the bar it felt like time stopped and took a breath. Matthew. He looked up, caught my eyes, and instantly all sight and sound resumed around us.

He was a man. Not like me, not a child pretending to be an adult, but a real, grown-up, man. I thought he'd hesitate, consider, I know I did - but he walked right on over on legs that were tall and strong and he shook my hand like nothing in that tree-house had ever happened.

Over drinks we talked about how he'd finished college, where he was working, how he'd been doing. He asked me the same and I flubbed and weeded through the last few years without making myself sound as near the loser as I was. We laughed a little. Then we laughed a lot.

We stayed until the bar shut down and then walked the streets together until the sun began to rise. He asked me if I wanted a ride home. I told him I didn't.

He insisted. I relented.

Ten minutes later he was pulling into the lot behind the apartment complex I lived in, and I was unbuckling his belt.

I sucked his cock in the tiny space afforded by his beat-up 1981 Chevy Malibu, while the sun rose through the windshield, and he moaned my name. And I knew without doubt that I would want this man for the rest of my life. This perfect, handsome man who was so much better than I could ever hope to be. I also knew, again without question, that he deserved so much more than I was.

While he held my hair and tried not to push himself into my throat, and I countered by forcing him deeper, taking more, I knew that I could never ask Matthew to be part of what I was right then. Even though his body tasted perfect. Even though all I could think of was what it would feel like to take him inside me.

Even though it broke my heart.

I could never ask him to love me. I didn't even like myself.

So I didn't.

* * *

It was June 6, 2009. It was a beautiful day. I was clean (finally), sober (thankfully), and home visiting Mom for the first time in far too long.

She'd been gushing about how skinny I was, how she intended to pack the weight on me, but I could see that behind the recrimination she was proud of me.

I'd spent the weekend helping out around the yard, cutting the lawn, raking clippings - grinning up at the empty spot in the tree where the little house had sat before I'd left. I'd showered, read, and spent half an hour playing with the keys on the piano until I could recall a couple of chords.

I felt my mother come up behind me, well before she laid her hands on my shoulders. "That sounds nice," she said, and she rested her chin on the top of my head. Multi-coloured hair had long since been restored to brown and I was glad for it, for some reason it would have seemed wrong for my mom to be resting on the mess that had once graced my head as fashionable.

"You're all growing up so quickly," Mom said and scooched me over so she could sit beside me. She lifted her hands to the keys and started to play the first couple of notes to Blue Bayou. We used to play that together, a lifetime ago, and my fingers automatically reached up and stroked keys alongside hers. "One of the boys from town are even getting married, can you believe it?"

"Oh?" I said, focussing on the notes, more than the conversation.

"Um hum," she nodded, stumbling on a note and recovering quickly. "Just one of the boys you went to school with."

And it never crossed my mind to wonder who.

I suppose as far as any days go, it was the perfect day for a wedding. I've said it was a beautiful day, but I didn't say how the clouds looked like gossamer stretched in the sky. Or how blue and vast it appeared. That the grass was kodachromic in its intensity or the breeze was perfect and sweet.

I was enjoying the stroll through town, walking like I owned the place, remembering here, reminiscing there. The good memories were as strong as the poor ones, neither took precedence, and the entire afternoon seemed surreal. Meaning lost importance, emotion was the only presenter in the play I had come to see. And play she did, dancing through one scene, weeping at another, singing aloud for outright bliss, to flail in a crescendo of defeated agony at still another. It was the story of me and I was glad for it.

It was a pensive self that found me walking past the chapel and I saw the decorations - the paper flowers and the bells, the streamers and the ribbon-gathered clouds of organza. It was his back that stopped me. Because I knew him. I would always know him. Even though he was dressed to the nine's, far more polished than I'd ever seen him before - even though he wasn't even looking my way - I knew it was Matthew.

My heart disintegrated.

The lump that grew in my throat felt like it would choke me. It hurt so bad it crushed the tears before they had a chance to develop. It was like my chest had been sucked out into a powerful vortex and the rest of me had been left to stand alone. Waiting, blinking, with an ache of loss that hurt too much to comprehend - just waiting for the moment my brain realized it was hurt too bad to live. Waiting for the nerve endings to signal my legs to collapse and my body to topple.

"Reilly?" His voice was music.

I stole the little bit of strength it gave me so I could turn and walk away.

"Reilly?" Louder this time, clearer. "Is that you?"

I tried to force-step myself away. I focussed on the cracks in the sidewalk and the potential for patterns in an effort to drone thought away. Until I heard the sharp slap of dress shoes on concrete as he ran to catch up. Then I just stopped. And I prayed in silence. "Please God. Just a moment of strength. If you're really there. If you really do help out people like me, all I'm asking for is just one moment of strength."

He caught up, I turned and smiled. "Matthew! Hey! I didn't realize..."

Matthew grabbed both my arms, held me at arm's length and looked me up and down with a wide grin. "Look at you!" He shook my shoulders. "Just look at you! You look fucking great! I didn't know you were back in town!" He crushed me into a hug that threatened to consume my soul.

"Hey," I choked against his shoulder. "You too. Congratulations, I guess."

He pulled me back, confusion on his face, and he tilted his head like a dog does when you're talking to them.

"The monkey suit," I said, disengaging further and pointing at the chapel. "Congrats, right?"


I stepped back, wrestled a little with his grip on my arms. "You look good too. Ya. And... your Mom, I mean my Mom... she said to say hello. And I... back in town, but..." My words died at the confusion on his face. I just didn't have the energy to try and fake my way through a bad conversation. Or come up with a feasible excuse as to why I was on the verge of tears. "Please," I said finally. "Just let go."

The look that crossed his face was saint-worthy. Contained pain, disguised confusion... "After all this time," Matthew said sadly. "You finally get the nerve to ask for something and that something turns out to be 'just let go'." He shook his head. "The one thing I'll never be able to do."

"Hey!" a voice shouted from behind us, a figure waving desperately. "I can't very well do this thing without my best man!"

I don't think I would have stayed standing if Matthew hadn't tightened his grip on my arms. He looked at me, his smile hidden in his eyes, while I fought for words. "You're... not... I mean, you're..."

"The best man," he finished for me.

"Of course." I said, breathless with relief. I shook my head at myself and smiled at the sidewalk. "Of course you are." He smiled when I looked up at him. "You always have been," I added cleverly.

Matthew's smile deepened.

"Hey!" the shout came again. "Matt!"

"I have to go," he laughed nervously and even though the thought of him walking away felt like it would break me, I nodded.

He stepped away, still facing me and for some reason I thought of that little boy standing against the wall of the One Stop and holding his pack of bubblegum. And how bad I'd wanted some. And how afraid I'd been to ask for it... And the words came faster than my brain worked to stop them, "Matthew, before you go! Can I ask you something?"

He stopped, nodded, waited.

I don't know who was more nervous.

"Can I... Will you... I mean," I bit my lip. I closed my eyes. The act of asking for something you want so strongly, that you need so badly, is kind of like dousing your burning body with an unidentified liquid. On one hand it could be the water that will bring instant, quenching relief. On the other hand, you could be drenching yourself with gasoline. I lost my volume, but managed to keep my voice. "Do you have a date for the reception?"

Matthew stepped forward again, the harried groom pacing frantically in the doorway all but forgotten. "No," he whispered. "But I'd like to."

And with those words I stepped up the first rung of confidence. "Would you like it to be me?"

He smiled. "Very much."

The second step up was easier. "I'm sorry Matthew. For waiting. For making you wait. For... everything."

"I know."

From there, momentum was found and the climb became steady. "Can I ask you one more thing?"

He smiled again. "Yes."

I looked up, squinted at the sunlight playing through his hair. "Can I kiss you before you walk away?"

Matthew didn't answer. He just reached for my chin, and found my mouth with his, like the last six years didn't happen. Suddenly we were just two kids sharing bubblegum. We were teenagers kneeling beside a stream and looking into each other's eyes. We were young men on the floor of a tree-house learning how it felt to feel another man press up beside you.

"Your groom has stopped flailing," I told Matthew, speaking against lips that didn't seem to want to pull away. "I think you've shocked him silent."

"Fuck him," Matthew teased.

I chuckled. "I'd prefer if you didn't."

"Oh?" he grinned. "Is there someone else you had in mind for me to fuck?"

"Yep," I confirmed. "Me, please." I laughed when his grin widened and he kissed me again. This asking thing wasn't nearly as hard as I thought it was going to be. What the hell had I been so afraid of?

The End

Copyright © 2011 AF Henley

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