Triptychs – Chapter 8
Have you ever wanted something in your life to be different, and wanted it so fucking bad, you could taste it? Wanted it so totally, fucking much that it hurt?
Now, imagine being able to visit a place where you could see that life that you wanted, where you could EXPERIENCE it, and feel it so FUCKING close, and still know that it would never, ever be your life, never ever come true, but it was still so, so fucking CLOSE . . .
“Oh, good, there you are,” from Cole, as he opened the door. “Did you bring the broccoli?” He hugged me, briefly. He smelled like basil; you know, the herb.
Yeah. Three guesses, where that place was, for me.
“Yep; here. I got it at the Farmer’s Market.” I gave him the paper bag, with a grin.
“Oh, cool. Here, Jeremy.”
“Hi, Trev.” Jeremy kind-of waved, from inside the little, closet-sized kitchen, which was right next to the front door of their apartment. He took the bag from Cole, and looked back down into the pan on the stove. “Baby, am I doing this right - ?”
“Pfffft. Jeremy, this is lasagna, not lefsa. Here, you do it like this – ” He moved around a little, then looked up at me, his hands already full of flat strips of pasta. “Sorry, Trev. We’re running a little late. Why don’t you go keep my mom company, for awhile?” His eyes showed sympathy, as he said it.
“Yeah,” I went; grinning at him, a little ironically, I couldn’t help it. “Okay.”
Saturday, the first Saturday after my First Day of School; and the four of us were having dinner at Cole and Jeremy’s apartment. Four of us, as in Cole, Jeremy, me and Jeannine. That’s Cole’s mom.
She and I have a lot of history.
“Hi, Other-Mom,” I said cheerfully, as I went into the main room of the apartment –
It’s not much of an apartment, actually; it’s a studio, one longish, knotty-pine-paneled room, with windows along one of the long sides, and stairs going up into a little kind of built-in sleeping nook, head-high, on the other side.
I try not to obsess about that sleeping nook; about that bed. I really do.
And sitting alone and straight at the table set up in the middle of the room was Jeannine. Kind of dominating the room, just by being there.
She’s pretty good at that.
“Hello, Trevor, it’s good to see you.” Brown, penetrating eyes, the color of Cole’s; brown hair a lot like Cole’s too, he really does look a lot more like her than he does his father. You can so totally tell.
And she always makes me feel like I’m about thirteen, again, and pulling shit with Cole that she’s going to find out about. She’s pretty good at that, too.
“Here,” she said, with a little head-tilt, as I sat down opposite her. “May I pour you a little wine - ?”
“Uh . . . it’s going to be awhile until dinner - ?” I started.
“Dear.” An ironic look, worthy of Cole. “You’ll notice the bottle is already open; I brought it, and I opened it. You’ll notice that I haven’t poured any yet, because I’ve been waiting out here alone, and I haven’t had an excuse. But if I pour you a half a glass, I’ll have a reason to pour some for myself, too.” She quirked up the corner of her mouth, a lot like Cole does. “I’ve been here for a while; believe me, it’s had a chance to breathe.”
“Okay.” I couldn’t help grinning at her. “Sure. Half a glass.”
“Good.” She carefully lifted the bottle, and there was that ‘glug-glug-glug’ sound as she poured, that forever, as long as I live, I’ll associate with dinners at Cole’s, nights spent crashing at Cole’s . . .
* * *
Yeah. We have a history, Cole’s mom and me, that goes back a ways. It’s gotten a little complicated, over time – have I mentioned, that all of my relationships are hilariously fucked-up, absurdly complicated? This one is one of the more amusingly fucked-up ones; although it’s not really anybody’s fault, it just, is . . .
I spent so much time with Cole, I was over at his house so often, I really did sort of start being another son, with Jeannine; she really did kind of help raise me. I remember when she came out with the ‘other son’ crack –
Although, with Jeannine, you have to understand; she said it ironically, one night, while I was having dinner with them, for the millionth time; maybe with an eye on the food bill, I don’t know. Probably. Still, she really did mean it, on some level, and I knew it, and I remember how I grinned all over my face when she said it. And how Cole smiled big at it too.
Yeah. I remember his smile, that time.
In those days, Cole’s house – meaning his mom’s house – Cole’s house was the junior, younger version of that unattainable place, the fantasy of where I wanted to live, the fantasy of what I wanted my life to be like. No shitwad father, to ride me; no war between him and my mom, no psycho-dramas of yelling, or cold silences, or crying; no wondering, when I came home, if he’d be drunk or sober, mean or just detached . . .
Cole being there – fantasizing about living with Cole, like, as a brother, even, in his bedroom – yeah. Of course that was huge. Of course that was most of it.
But the rest was important. The safety; the security, the sane-ness of living like Cole lived; the feeling of what it would be like, to live in a place that felt like, well, home. I could taste it, back then, and I wanted it, so bad, I really did.
* * *
“No, no; the strips have to overlap a little, see? Look over here, to my side.”
“My strips are overlapping! See - ?” There was laughter in Jeremy’s voice, as it came out of the kitchen. “That’s an overlap! See?”
“It’s not enough - ! Tch. Here; you’d better let me finish, you can start washing the broccoli.”
“I honestly don’t see the difference!”
“You’re not Italian. I guess Norwegians shouldn’t try to make lasagna.”
More laughter from Jeremy. “Your family’s from Northern Italy, on both sides! You should be making, I don’t know, calamari or scallops or something, not lasagna!”
“Northern Italy’s still Italy, and anyway, I know how to make lasagna.” I could just picture Cole’s bratty half-smile in my head. “Better than you.”
I took a really small sip of wine, and I met Jeannine’s eyes. Her expression was priceless.
“This is kind of a turnaround, isn’t it,” I went, grinning. “I mean, for them to be doing the cooking.” I couldn’t begin to count, the number of times she made lasagna for Cole and me, growing up.
“It’s a treat,” she went, dryly, over the rim of her wineglass; then she took a sip of her own. “Mmmmm . . . ” She set the glass down, gently. “So, I understand you started school Wednesday? How was it - ?”
“Oh, fine; fine.” Me, immediately feeling myself slipping back into that, I’m-thirteen-years-old mode, I’m-thirteen-years-old, talking to an adult. “It’s a little different; but that’s good, actually,” I made myself say. Trying to be adult. “I’m adjusting.”
“Mmmmm. And have you started your work-study job yet?” Those intense brown eyes on mine, again; and I could just feel myself raise up my shields, my barriers.
“No, not yet; I start Monday.” I made myself smile a little at her; I doubt if I pulled it off exactly right. “It’s not much of a job, it’s just in the bookstore; I’ll probably spend most of my time there studying.”
See, the thing about having an Other-Mom is, she knows you. Jeannine knows me way too well; she knows all about The Argument between Cole and me, she knows about him wanting to get his dad to pay my Cal tuition – hell, she even knows about how broke we are, me and my mom.
She knows a lot more than that, even; she’s friends with my mom, they talk and do things together, it just kind of happened over the years, because of Cole and me . . . she knows a lot. Like, about my father; a lot of the stuff about my family, how I got my scar . . .
I’m not sure how I feel about that.
Maybe I’m being too sensitive; I don’t know. I mean, I know a fucking hell of a lot about her, and Cole, and Cole’s dad, after all; right?
So we’ve kind of had – stages in our relationship, Jeannine and me. Phases, maybe; and this is where it starts getting hilarious.
I mean, we were fine together, we were fine, all three of us, for almost four years; up until Cole met Michael. Yeah; it was somewhere during that time, before, that I became her Other Son, and I started calling her my Other Mom. And everything was fine, and everything was easy, and it was so simple and easy to sleep over at Cole’s house, it really was.
And then, well, oops, Michael happened.
Did I mention that Michael was a disaster, a total fucking disaster; a train wreck?
Cole and I were just barely fifteen when he met Michael, and Michael was twenty-four, and big and black-haired and built like anything, and beautiful as hell; he was a barrista at an espresso place, and he liked younger boys.
And to be fair to him, he didn’t have a chance; Cole decided he wanted to have him . . . so he did have him. As a boyfriend; and, have him, as in just about every way you can imagine, every position you could imagine.
I can imagine a lot, actually. And I heard about most of them.
Six months later, when Cole caught him in bed with a another high school kid, and he found out that Michael’d been sleeping with a lot of boys, and men, not just one, it all blew up, big time; Cole just went totally to pieces, he really did, it scared the living shit out of me being there, watching it all, trying to help, with nothing helping. He sort of went off his head, for awhile . . . he’d really loved Michael; he really had.
I hated seeing him cry.
And he told his mother everything. Not just about Michael and him; not just the other boys he’d dated, but also ME and him, all about us being jerkoff buddies, and Friends With Benefits, for years and years. Everything.
It wasn’t his fault, not really. He came down sick with the flu right about the time it all happened, and he was sure Michael had given him hepatitis. It could’ve been, too, the idiot had stopped making Michael use condoms.
Jeannine was sure it was HIV.
So, yeah. You can imagine, it put just a little bit of a dent in our relationship for awhile, Jeannine and me. Me, knowing Cole was dating a grown man; me, knowing he was getting fucked without condoms. Me, not saying anything to her.
Maybe she was right.
One of the more hilariously gruesome outcomes of all that was The Conversation between her and me; Cole asleep, sick, in his bedroom, us in the kitchen. The Conversation, where she was playing disease-vector detective, and I had to answer her questions, and tell her that yeah, Cole and I really had done all those things together, sexually, for years; and no, we hadn’t done anything together since he’d started dating Michael, not once; and no, Cole and I didn’t do anything anal. Well, we didn’t fuck or rim, anyway.
Imagine explaining those finer details to your best friend’s mother. At fifteen.
If somebody ever invents a selective memory eraser, I’m going to use it on that conversation. I swear I will.
So. Yeah. Things were a little strained, between Jeannine and me, for awhile; although to be honest, I was so freaked out about Cole, and especially about him being sick, I kind of pushed it to the side, I just concentrated on being there for Cole, giving him whatever kind of comfort I could give him. And I think she saw it; I think things between us could have been a lot worse, if she hadn’t seen it.
It helped that it turned out that Cole was okay, physically; no STDs, no HIV. It helped a whole fucking hell of a lot. It was the only important thing, in the end.
You want to know the weird part, the truly perverse part of the whole reeking mess?
Deep down, really deep down, I was weirdly, utterly-perversely proud of somebody else knowing about Cole and me. Ashamed, on one level, and hideously embarrassed; but – proud, too. That at least one other human being knew the whole story about me and Cole being so sexual, so intimate. So close.
It was the closest I could come to telling somebody else, anybody else, how much I loved Cole.
* * *
“I’m sorry, you guys, I’m sorry,” from Jeremy; as he came out of the tiny little kitchen, carrying a tray. His face was flushed, and happy, and a just a little sweaty; it was a warm day, the side windows were open, and even the skylight over their sleeping nook was open. “We’re running late, Cole just put the lasagna in the oven. It’ll be about an hour, maybe?” He set the tray down in the middle of the table, then he sat down. “I thought we could munch on these, ‘til then.”
“Thank you, Jeremy, this looks wonderful.” She was already reaching to pour him his wine, while I tried to smother my grin. I mean, it was all raw veggies on the plate; broccoli, carrots, celery, cherry tomatoes, apple slices . . . not even any dip, or anything. So totally Jeremy; if it’s raw and fat-free, as in sushi or vegetables, he loves it. I’ve never yet seen him eat a hamburger; lasagna was, like, a huge concession, for him.
“Oh, um . . . ” he looked up, blinking, from the tray, a little embarrassed. “I think we have some cheese, too - ? I’ll go get it,” and he was up again, and back into the kitchen.
Have I mentioned, that Jeremy’s beautiful? Six feet, blond, kind of slender, but not as skinny as me . . . and looks. Yeah, he’s got looks; the cute way his hair comes flopping down over his forehead . . .
But what really makes him beautiful is how just all-over sweet he is, how fucking kind and sweet and gentle, he is. That, and the fact that he has no clue about himself, no clue at all about how beautiful he is, physically or otherwise; it’s hilarious, it really is. And yeah, maybe I’m just a little bit in love with him, myself. Like I said. Maybe.
The first time I met him – well, the first real time, when we all went out to dinner – I knew Cole was a goner, I knew he’d fall for him. Had maybe already started to fall for him. And I was right.
“Okay,” he said, coming back, and setting down a smaller dish, and then sitting down again. “This is brie, and some mozzarella. Oh, thank you, for the wine . . . ”
Yeah. I knew Cole would fall for him, and I knew it meant the end of the Friends-With-Benefits thing for Cole and me, I’d lose a big piece of Cole . . . and that was big, that was really big, and on one level I was so totally cringing at the thought; I’d been dreading it for months and months.
And on another level, I was relieved. Hugely relieved for Cole; happy at the idea of a happy Cole, after all the shit he’d been through.
And that reaction . . . it was stronger.
Perverse, again; right?
“Of course, dear,” from Jeannine, as she filled his glass; going past the halfway mark, filling it right up. He’s over twenty-one, and Jeannine’s determined to make him into a wine person, a wine lover, like she is. “You’re just in time. I was through grilling Trevor about starting school, and I was about to embarrass him by asking who he was dating – ”
I almost choked on a celery stalk.
“ – but maybe we could have a nice chat, instead. Have you done any tutoring this semester, yet?”
It was a reference to Jeremy’s own past with her, a pointed one, and I could feel him flinch just a tiny bit; Jeannine really knows how to press his buttons. She has a really wicked sense of humor, sometimes.
“Oh, I don’t mind talking about my date,” I broke in. Grinning. Rescuing him.
Besides, this would be fun.
“Huh?” from Jeremy.
“Sure.” I faced Jeannine, just feeling the corners of my mouth quirking up. “The last one was a week ago; with Erik. You know, Jason’s older brother?”
“We’ve met,” she went, dryly. One eyebrow raised, just slightly.
“Yeah. Well, anyway, we got together in San Francisco, for dinner, and well, you know.” I smiled at her, big. “It actually was really romantic . . . and then it got HOT. We walked back to his apartment holding hands, and then as soon as we got through the door – ”
Hey, she’s not the only one who knows how to press somebody’s buttons.
“Thank you, dear,” she interrupted. Firmly. “I think we have the general idea.”
Between Cole and me, and, well, Jeremy by accident, she’s been on the receiving end of Too Much Information, a few times too many for her taste. I don’t really blame her.
“Well . . . okay. But it was what happened the next morning, that was really funny. When we were taking a shower together – ”
“Thank you for sharing.” A wry, arched-eyebrow expression from her, and I couldn’t help grinning back at her, big. “Now, I – ”
“ . . . I think I heard something about dating?” from Cole; smoothly, and pointedly, and all at once he was sitting down, and reaching for an apple slice. A little flushed, like Jeremy, a little damp; and so beautiful, I swear I could smell the scent of him, I knew it, so well.
And of course, he’d been listening to the whole thing; it was a small apartment. “And that reminded me; I found another online dating site that’s gotten really good reviews, Mother; maybe we could look at it together, I think you might like this one.”
That got him a REALLY arch look; he just looked back at her, bland-faced, totally innocent. He’s been trying to get her to try online dating for at least a year, now, and lately he’s been making progress; but who wants to talk about shit like that, in front of other people?
“Cole, dear, you know how I feel about blind dates – ”
“Mother, it’s how everybody dates, these days. There isn’t any stigma involved, it’s totally respectable. And it’s smart, too, you know a lot about the other person before you even meet him, you can filter out a lot of people, that way. Everybody does it – ”
“You and Jeremy didn’t meet that way.” Pointedly.
Oooo-oooh. I glanced at Jeremy, quickly; yeah, he was blushing, and looking down.
Me, I was trying not to laugh. Cole and his mom like this kind of back-and-forth, it’s like fencing; they’ve always done it, and they both enjoy it.
“No,” from Cole, with a little head-tilt, that said he was really getting into this. “No, we were lucky. But unless you start going to pool parties, like we did – ”
Jeremy was bright red, now; still looking down.
“ – unless you start going to pool parties, you’re going to need some kind of way to interact with other people, as in, single, eligible men.” A turned-up smile of his own, now. “And I think the chlorine would be bad for your hair . . . ”
“Hey,” I went to Jeremy, my voice low. He looked over at me. “Think we should check on the lasagna?”
“Yeah,” he whispered; gratitude just all over his face.
* * *
So. Yeah. Jeremy’s got his own history with Jeannine, and it’s even more embarrassing than mine. It makes that Conversation between Jeannine and me look almost boring.
It’s not strictly, completely true that it’s Jeremy’s history; because I’m wrapped up in it all, I’m complicit – that’s the right word, in more ways that one – I’m complicit with Jeremy’s history with Jeannine, and it’s why things got strained between Jeannine and me for the second time. Really strained.
Here’s the thing. Cole and I are both eighteen; Jeremy’s twenty-one.
They’ve been together for two years. Well, they met – at a ridiculous, gay, no-clothes-allowed pool party – two years ago, this month, and they’ve been all but married, almost ever since.
Do the math.
Yeah. They kind of got together accidentally at this over-the-top pool party when Jeremy was nineteen, and legal, and Cole was sixteen, and very much not-legal. I even got a couple of pictures of them, from that night, doing some let’s-get-acquainted moves. In a horizontal position.
Can you see why Jeremy was blushing? Even I would have blushed at what they pulled in public that night, and I don’t blush that easy.
I knew Cole’d want the pictures; and I was right, he was so totally jazzed to have them, he couldn’t WAIT to show them to Jeremy . . .
The point is, Cole and Jeremy started dating, really, really hot dating, at sixteen and nineteen . . . and of course I kept Cole’s secret. Helped cover for him; said he was sleeping over at my house, when he wasn’t, let him use my cell to call Jeremy so his mom wouldn’t see Jeremy’s number too often on the bill . . . Fuck. What DIDN’T I do?
It worked. For a long time. Well, from September to January that year, anyway; four months, maybe?
I was totally involved in getting them busted, too.
It was the video; the video I made of them, at the beach.
* * *
We looked in at the lasagna; I guess it looked like lasagna, although it still looked kind of cold.
“You know she’s just teasing you, right?” I kept my voice low “She’s not still mad at you, or anything. Or me.”
“Oh, I know,” he went; really quietly, with a sweet, sideways smile at me. “Believe me, I’ve seen her mad.” He shook his head a little. “It’s just that she can get . . . kind of intense, sometimes – ”
“And Cole can’t?” I grinned over at him, and he rolled his eyes.
“Don’t get me started.” He glanced quick at the doorway, and lowered his voice again. “No; it’s just that it’s kind of, so opposite to my experience. With my own family. I mean, in my family, the worst fights last maybe five minutes or so, with each side making a reasonable case; then everybody apologizes, and we all go out for coffee.”
“No shit?” I tried to imagine it; no dad getting louder, and louder, and LOUDER, no tears from my mom . . .
And Jeremy saw it, of course, he saw my face, and being Jeremy, he reached out and squeezed my hand. Apologizing, maybe, for having a sane family, a decent, functional family; he knows what mine was like, he saw it all up close and personal.
Yeah. Our histories are connected; Cole’s, Jeremy’s and mine.
And Jeannine’s. Of course.
* * *
Okay. The Video.
I made an erotic video of Cole and Jeremy doing it at the beach; at this gay nude beach, way south of San Francisco. And some stills, too; but the video was the important thing.
It was the best video I’ve ever made, before or since; it was the best editing I’ve ever done, the best composition –
And it was a stupid thing to do, of course. Utterly, utterly stupid, we all should have known better . . . but Cole was sixteen, and I was sixteen; you know?
And besides, it was supposed to be private! It was just for Jeremy and Cole, they weren’t going to email it, or God-forbid post it on the Internet, or anything . . . it was supposed to be private! Everybody’s got personal, private photos; right?
It didn’t stay private.
It’s a long story. But, let’s just say that some shit happened at my house – with MY family; I told you, our histories are all tangled up together – and because of it, Jeannine found out about Jeremy, and she went through Cole’s systems while he was away, and she found at unencrypted, backup copy of the video.
She knew I made it, too; I left my voice on a part of the opening segment.
Yeah. My vanity –
No; no. That’s not honest. I’ve got a good eye, and a good ear, I’ve got really good judgment; no. I left that part in because it made the video even hotter. And I was right; that part, with my voice, telling them to relax, that it wasn’t porn – it really worked.
It’s the best work I’ve ever done. Still. To this day.
And it almost put Jeremy in state prison. It almost did.