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In my quest to keep Fen from wallowing over what happened with JJ this morning, I dragged him out of the house to the Stillwater area near St. Paul. I told him I was buying and he said he’d go if it was ‘sinfully expensive’ and he could drink.

Duh.

Because of that, I threw on some khaki shorts and a golf shirt and got him the hell out of that tiny depressing apartment. Our first stop, Freight House for brunch. We opted to sit on the patio overlooking the river and people watch while lazily consuming a bottle of wine.

When I saw The Grin on Fen’s face, the one he gets when he’s feeling no pain and will say almost anything, propriety be damned — incidentally, my favorite mood of his — I threw out a ridiculous question, knowing he’d answer honestly.

“What’s your opinion on manscaping? Do you go for the jungle look or prefer a manicured lawn?”

He burst into hearty laughter and topped off his glass for the third time. The breeze ruffled his dark hair and put color in his cheeks. “I like furry for looks. To live with, I’m a trimmer. Makes the tool look bigger.”

Unfortunately, I’d just taken a drink, and when I snorted ungracefully, I got wine up my nose. I coughed and laughed for a few minutes, then got control of myself, nodding seriously. “I know what you mean. The Amazon can dwarf the tree, yeah? Personally, I prefer the trimmed look, but there’s more to feel if it’s all bare.”

He nodded sagely. “Bare is nice. No short hairs to get stuck in your teeth.”

“Which brings me to my next question, kind of boring, but an important one nevertheless. Spit or swallow?”

“Depends on the guy. As you know, most of us like to see the come. It’s that added little thrill. And not all guys have nice-tasting spunk. What if they’ve been eating cabbage for a week? I’m gonna go on ‘case by case’ basis.”

“Yeah,” I said wistfully, remembering my previous evening, but pushing away the thought before Fen could notice and comment. He’d been pissy with me about it, and I didn’t want to dredge it up. “Has to be done on a scenario basis, too. In a club, depends on how classy if you get some on your shirt or not. If you’re home, watch Mt. Saint Helens erupt, man. But somewhere you’re not supposed to be, like the janitor’s closet or in one of your professor’s offices at college, gotta swallow. Eliminate the evidence.”

“Lucy told me that straight men see swallowing as a sign of dedication if their girl swallows. I think straight guys are a little bit fucked up because most of them don’t know what they’re missing with their prostate.” He drank half the glass of wine in big gulps. “Their women should get strap ons and show them.”

“Which brings me to my next question. Consider this scenario like that Indecent Proposal movie. You’re propositioned by someone wealthy for sex, and they offer to pay you, knowing full well you’re with JJ. How much would you require to say yes, and would that amount change if the offer came from a woman? Would you accept it if it came from a woman?”

He gave me a slightly cross-eyed look. “You’re a kinky mofo, aren’t ya?” Laughing, he upended the last of the wine into his glass. “Damn, I’d say we need another bottle but I might not survive it.”

I raised my hand to flag the waitress and she promptly came over. I ordered another bottle of wine and got us both dessert, to help soak up the alcohol.

“You’re going to kill me,” he groaned, but without much heat. He leaned back in the chair and stuck his long legs out, crossing them at the ankle. “Hm, I’ve never slept with a woman. Could I? I honestly don’t know. I might have to close my eyes and fantasize she was some guy and doggie style might be the best choice of position on that occasion. As for how much would I want to fuck for money? I can be bought. Start at half a million and work your way up.” He laughed. “Sex in the gay culture doesn’t carry the baggage it seems to in the straight world.” He frowned, thinking that over. “We’re capable of separating sex from love better…I think.”

I gave his words some consideration. “Yeah, Elaine tells me for women, it’s more emotional. I think it can even be more emotional for straight guys, mainly because there’s always a chance their partner will read something into it, even if it’s a one night stand.” I glanced at Fen sideways, carefully considering my next words. “Sleeping with a woman is completely different. They’re softer, feel more breakable.” Fen looked at me, shocked. “What? I was confused at one time, when I was a teenager. Figured the best way to know if I was gay was to give both sexes a shot. Anyway,” I hurried on, wanting to change the subject. “That emotional separation is why I don’t think you should be too mad at JJ. He misses you and is substituting. I guarantee you he pretended it was you last night.” Just like I did.

He drew in a deep breath. “We talked about sex before I left. We agreed it was okay to indulge. I just thought…I figured it would be me that would do it first, and it took me by surprise that it was him.” His voice dropped. “That’s all.”

“Why would you think that?” I’d not had nearly as much wine as he had, but it was still enough to loosen my tongue, make me frankly honest, detrimentally so. “You’re more used to resisting temptation. It’s in front of you every day.” No, I hadn’t forgotten that he said he has always been attracted to me. Some days, it’s what makes me get out of bed when nothing else will. “Not to mention, you’ve got more distractions here than he does. Getting familiar with the area, helping your mom, job searching, a friend to vent your frustrations to. You’re stronger, Fen. Always have been.”

I could see him pondering my words, and of course, he went right for the ones I hoped he’d gloss over. “Right in front of me, huh?” He smiled, and my heart lurched. And then he surprised the shit out of me when he leaned over, wrapped a hand around the back of my neck, and kissed me. Tongue and everything.

My heart pounded and then flat out soared, and despite being in public, despite JJ, despite everything, I kissed him back. For a few moments, there was nothing but him, me, and pure heaven. But I… couldn’t. I planted a hand on his chest and pushed, halting the kiss even though every cell in my body cried out in protest. Staring him in the eye, his face only an inch from mine, I whispered, “No. I can’t, Theo. I won’t be your revenge. I love you and I want to be more than that to you.”

His eyes narrowed. “You’re not revenge, babe. You’re my best friend.” He exhaled sharply. “And sometimes more than that, and Christ, I’m kind of drunk.” He looked out over the water. “I love JJ. I miss him like mad. But I love you, too. And you’re here and he’s not and last night, he fucked some guy he picked up in a bar.”

For one brief second, I wanted to ask for the check, drag Theo back to my place, and just do it, everything I’ve ever wanted, fantasized about, and then some. My mouth watered, and jesus, my fucking pants were too tight already.

“That’s why I can’t,” I said softly, taking his hand and lacing our fingers together. “You’re kind of drunk, and if JJ were here, you wouldn’t have done that. If you want me, I’m yours, Fen. Completely. But I won’t be second, or convenient. When it comes to you, I can’t. It’s all or nothing.” I knew it sounded like an ultimatum, and in a way, it was, though I wasn’t actually asking him to make a choice. Sober, I knew his choice. JJ. And if I couldn’t have everything, taking scraps was the way to madness.

He sighed. “Our timing always sucked, didn’t it.” Very deliberately, he poured himself another glass of wine. “I need time.” He snorted softly. “Again.” Then he fixed those sexy eyes on me. “I do love you, Andrew.” He only ever called me that when he was being deadly serious. I shivered, despite the warm, windy air.

And he still held my hand. I wanted to let go, wanted to pull completely back, detach, protect my heart in every way possible. It had already taken everything I had to stop the kiss. This one little thing, his hand in mine, I let myself keep. And at the same time, a small tear ripped into my heart.

“Theo, I’m not making you choose. I’m your best friend, and you’re mine. Always will be. No matter what.” Impulsively, I leaned over and kissed his cheek, then took my hand back, leaned back in my chair, and finished my wine in one giant swallow. Then I signaled for the check.