Triptychs – Chapter 31
I think that when you sleep with someone – really sleep with someone, I mean; bare skin to bare skin, totally unconscious, in the still, silent hours before dawn – I think that when you sleep with someone, your dreams . . . mingle. I think that maybe, your dreams, like, start to merge.
And in a way, that’s scary; you know?
I mean, sleeping – dreaming – is one of the most private, intimate things we do. Maybe the single, most private, most intimately-vulnerable thing we can possibly do. And just the idea of letting somebody –
Okay; okay. Letting Noah.
Just the idea, of letting Noah get so close to me, as I dreamed, as my consciousness went so far away, and those weird shapes and visions came into my head . . .
Some of them involved Noah. Of course. Of course, I dreamed about him. And Cole was in some of my dreams, too, and that was a little – weird . . . But, mostly, I dreamed about Noah.
And in that waking moment – me, on my back; Noah, bare, warm, sprawled half on top of me, front to front, nothing held back, his breath soft on my cheek – in that half-conscious moment I thought, maybe, I SHOULD be scared by this; I SHOULD be scared, of the intimacy of it all; the intimacy of a shared bed, of unconsciousness, of shared dreams . . .
But I wasn’t.
And in that warm, silent moment, before I slipped back into sleep – the feel of Noah on me; my arm, over his back, the sweet smell of him, of his breath, all around me – in that warm moment, I was just, content. I was about as utterly content, as I could ever remember being.
Which was scary in itself, in a whole different way . . .
* * *
I didn’t feel much contentment, the three days leading up to this point; to this weekend.
There was so much going on, with Noah and me, both; and I had so much to do, so many things I had to get done –
All right. Mostly, I had to clean my room.
I mean – how embarrassing is it, to admit that - ? How hilariously embarrassing, can you get - ?
It was true, though. I’d never brought anybody HOME before, I’d never, ever had any date spend the night, before –
Well, Cole’d slept over, of course; often enough, after my asswipe father left. But that’s different; he’s my brother, I’m his brother, and we’ve lived with each other’s messes, physical, mental and emotional, since almost-before we had pubic hair . . .
Come to think of it – he’s the only other human being beside Noah, that I’ve ever really slept with. As in REALLY sleeping; losing consciousness.
But that’s different, too. After that time, when I went too far with him, kissing him – there was no way I could dream with him; no way, I could let down my guard enough to relax that way, with him, to mingle dreams with him, no matter how hard I was asleep . . . No; no. I was always on guard, one way another, sleeping with Cole.
No, okay; before Noah came over, I had to clean my room. And I was embarrassed! Me, eighteen, almost nineteen –
It made me feel about twelve. Again. A horny twelve; thinking ahead to the weekend, to all the things we were going to be doing with each other, doing TO each other . . . But, twelve. You know?
I scrubbed the place down, pretty good; and I washed my blankets, along with my sheets.
I figured, I’d probably need to wash them again, after the weekend was over. I hoped so, anyway.
Okay; that was the fun part, leading up to the weekend; the easy part. Another part was less fun; mostly because I couldn’t really do anything about it. Anything to help, I mean.
As in, helping Noah deal with getting outed.
He didn’t let me go with him, when he went back to his room to talk to Ron; of course not. I knew he wouldn’t. Instead, I got to hear about it, the next day; I got to deal with it, the next day.
Fuck me, it was hard.
“ . . . it was so – I don’t know.” A long pause, from him. “It was . . . weird. Not what I expected . . . ” His voice trailed off.
We were at our usual place; or what was our usual space, by now, for anytime one of us was upset. The overlook, at the edge of the parking lot, in the middle of the morning. The sky was a scrubbed, pale blue, with just a few rags of gray cloud from last night’s rain; the breeze was fresh, and cold. Below us, the darker blue of the Bay was choppy with whitecaps; the buildings on the other side of the bay were sharp and clear, they looked like toys.
“How was it weird - ?” I asked, gently.
Nothing from Noah, for a stretch of seconds; then – “He wasn’t . . . I don’t know.” Another long pause; I could feel him, at my side, looking out over the water, at the green mountains across the Bay. “He was so totally cool, he was so totally reassuring, and nice . . . ” He stopped, a moment, and swallowed. “He was loving. I’ve been friends with him so long . . . and I don’t think I’ve ever felt so much love, from him, before.”
I didn’t say anything. There was a ‘But’, coming; I knew it. Noah was pale, and unhappy.
“And he said he’d known about me, for a long time.” A shrug, from him, as he looked out over the water. “He said, the whole team knew, after I started . . . hanging around, with Steven. And he said, that’s why nobody ever called anybody ‘gay’, or ‘fag’, on the team; everybody knew, and nobody would ever let anybody make that kind of crack, even if they were just joking.” He was blinking, a little, now; in the winter sunlight, I could tell his eyes were a little moist.
“Wow,” I went; gently. Impressed . . . but not really surprised. Not after seeing the way they’d mobbed him, on the ball field.
A longer pause, then. Cars crawling on the freeways, below us; the dots of the planes, glinting in sun, as they lined up to land at San Francisco International.
“The thing is,” he went on, finally, softly – “the thing is . . . underneath everything, underneath the love . . . he was kind of sad. I could tell.” I felt him looking at me, so I turned my head, and met his eyes. “He was sad. Because I never told him. Like, I could tell, he thought I didn’t trust him enough, to come out to him; and that made him sad . . . ” He swallowed, and I just blinked at the pain in his eyes.
“Hey,” I said; gently. “It was your call, to tell him or not to tell him. It’s about the most personal thing you can do, to tell somebody about yourself . . . ”
Noah shook his head, and looked out at the Bay, below us. “But . . . he’s right,” he went, softly. “He’s my best friend; I could have trusted him, like I trusted my brother. But I didn’t.” He swallowed, again. “And now, that’s always going to be between us; that I didn’t tell him, when I could have. You know - ?” Noah’s voice was even softer, now; and I could see the pain on his face, stronger than ever. “It’ll always be there, between us . . . ”
Oh, fuck-me. Hard.
I know something, about keeping secrets from best friends; I know about the pain it causes. You think?
And so, Noah’s pain, just then, just speared through me; and it hurt worse, because there was absolutely, fucking nothing I could do about it. Because he was right; this was always going to be between him and Ron, and nothing would ever take it away. And best friends, real, lifelong best friends, really are that important . . .
So, because I couldn’t do anything to help, to REALLY help – I had to settle for putting my arm around him, and pulling him in close to me, side by side, as we looked out over San Francisco Bay, not saying anything more. Taking comfort from each other, in the silence.
* * *
We’d had one last hurdle to face, before the weekend really started.
Well, okay. It was an early dinner, Friday, at Jeremy and Cole’s house; and that’s not exactly an ordeal, right - ?
Except that, this was Bringing Noah Home To Meet Cole Night; this was the first time for them to meet. Which meant – for Noah, anyway – it was about as relaxing as an oral exam final. Only, about six times as fraught.
“ . . . Oh. We’re having lasagna tonight; it’s pretty much the only thing I know how to make well,” Cole went, with a shrug. He looked at Noah, directly. “I’m sorry, it’s not exactly a meatless-Friday kind of meal. Is that okay - ? We can come up with some plain pasta and spaghetti sauce, if you’d rather . . . ”
“No,” from Noah; eyes taking in the warm, wood-paneled apartment, blinking, in his Noah-way; then coming back to Cole. “No, thanks anyway – ”
“Are you sure? It wouldn’t be any trouble.”
“No, that’s okay. Lasagna sounds great, actually.” He smiled, gently, and looked away, a little. “Thanks again, for inviting me . . . ”
So, like I said – the dinner was all about Meeting Your Boyfriend’s Best Friend; it’s a time-honored script, a time-honored ordeal, in the gay or straight world, and everybody goes through it. Hell, I’d gone through it a few times, with Cole’s boyfriends; I’d gone through it all with Jeremy, a couple of years back. That had been kind of a fun night, actually.
But Cole’d never gone through it with one of MY boyfriends; he’d never had to get introduced to one of my boyfriends, to pass-or-fails on one of my boyfriends. I’d always had Erik as my excuse, my beard, so I’d never gotten serious with anybody else, before . . . and, well, Cole knew Erik; we’d all grown up together.
Maybe he was making up for lost time, now.
“Would you like some wine?” from Cole; focused on Noah like a laser beam, you could so tell. “My mom left some, the last time she was over . . . it’s only been open a couple of days, it should still be good.”
A long pause, from Noah; and Jeremy turned back from hanging up our coats, and I felt him shoot a quick look at Cole –
“Umm . . . thanks; thanks, you go ahead, but I’ll stick with water, if that’s okay . . . ”
“Sparkling, or still?” from Cole; opening up a dazzling smile. “We’ve got some San Pellegrino – ”
“That would be great,” went Noah, and I watched as his eyes came back to Cole, and he smiled; just a little –
So on some level, part of me knew how hilarious it all was. Poor, poor Noah, faced with Cole in a mood like this; on a mission like this - ! You could almost SEE Cole grow extra sets of arms; ‘I am become Truth, the Destroyer of Hypocrisy In Boyfriends - !’
Well. I might be exaggerating; maybe. Just a little.
Still – Cole’s a really forceful personality; and he does Intense, really well; even when he’s being polite, even when he’s using his best manners . . . it was hilarious, it really was.
And it was all intensely, intensely weird, for me. I wasn’t even tempted to bust out, laughing; for once in my life.
I mean, think about it; Cole, and Noah, together. In the same room.
Cole; the love of my life, the focus of my life, really until – now . . . And Noah; gentle, slightly-spooky Noah, an almost accidental boyfriend, who came around after I’d basically willed myself, pushed myself into getting involved with Erik . . .
For the first half-hour, at least, until the lasagna came out, I just sat there. Feelings washing through me; waves of feelings, crashing into each other, leaving me all jumbled up, inside.
Have you ever been there - ? Have you ever had two different pieces of your life, two entirely different poles of your life, collide like that - ?
In the end, though, out of all the confusion I was feeling – I was lucky. I was fucking lucky.
Because, in the end, I knew two things, for sure, for absolute truths.
One, was that I still loved Cole . . . and I always would. Always will; it was, it is, a constant warm, in my life. I’ll always love Cole.
The other was, that I . . .
Well, I wanted Noah. I wanted Noah in my life; I wanted to go on being with him, I wanted to go on seeing his, you’re-so-full-of-shit smile, I wanted to make him laugh, I wanted to make him HAPPY –
Fuck that. Oh, fuck that; that is so incomplete, so dishonest.
No. I loved Noah too; is what I was thinking. Feeling. Maybe not in the same way –
Maybe not in the same way. Maybe not yet; maybe I didn’t know what real love was, real love you share, with someone who loves you back. Maybe. But I knew I loved him, regardless.
The shape of the evening got really clear, once the food was set out.
“ . . . and then there’s the traditional Mass, the Tridentine Mass,” from Cole; brown, intent eyes, under his soft brown hair. Peering over at Noah. “Have you ever been to one - ? It’s moving as anything, just thinking that this is the same Mass that our ancestors listened to, for generations and generations . . . A Mass, in the original Latin. You know?”
“Yeah,” from Noah; softly. Opaquely.
“And under the new Pope, I guess it’s getting more popular than ever. A congregation just needs to request it; and, they have to find a priest who’ll perform it.”
“Celebrate it,” from Noah. Not looking up, from his lasagna. “A priest celebrates Mass.”
It’d been like this, for awhile now. The theme of the night was Religion; and the unspoken question of the night was pretty clear, too.
“ . . . I mean, it’s not like I know Latin, exactly; except, as some of the roots for our own words. I always meant to take Latin – ”
“We can take a class together!” from Jeremy, brightly; looking over at Cole. “I need to; I’m going to need it, in law school; I think you really need to know Latin, if you’re going to study law. I’ve seen my dad’s briefs, he works with Latin phrases all the time; and I’d feel like a fraud, not knowing what they really mean.”
Jeremy the peacemaker. Stepping in, to lower the intensity, a little; he’d been doing it all night, he’d been doing whatever he could, to make Noah more comfortable, and it was obvious. I so love Jeremy . . .
“We should . . . ” from Cole; shooting a glance at Jeremy. “We both should take a class, or two. Or get Rosetta Stone - ?”
Yeah. Religion was the theme; we’d been through Vatican II, the approaches to the Eastern Orthodox Church, and then Liberation Theology in Latin America, and how the last Pope had put a stop to THAT, real fast . . .
Somehow Cole knew all about it; all of it. How, I don’t know, I don’t have a clue; I mean, he and I are both technically Catholics, but he’s never been any more churchgoing than me, meaning, hardly at all – you know?
And it was all a way of dancing around The Questions. Or the actual, meaningful, unspoken Questions, anyway; when it came to Noah.
Questions, as in: Are you for real - ? And, if you are – are you all right, in the head - ? Or are you going to get all guilt-ridden, doctrinaire, are you going to Find Jesus, or Mary, and run off to some seminary somewhere, and break my best friend’s heart - ?
Somehow, Noah handled it.
He handled it really well, actually; in his quiet, not-saying-too-much way, his talking-with-his-expressions way . . . but at the same time, he was completely open, he was honest, he was, well – genuine, I guess; you could so tell. ‘Genuine’ is the right word, for it.
And he knew what was going on. He knew what the Unspoken Questions were.
A pause in the conversation, after a really pointed line about, I don’t know, nuns, I think, from Cole; religious communities, anyway. And I watched as Noah looked across the table at Cole, directly, his head tilted, just a little . . . and I swear, he was amused. Not-really smiling; but close to it. Amused.
“I was a candidate for religious orders, once,” he said; out of nowhere. All at once. “In high school; two years ago. I wanted to join the Jesuits – well, the Society of Jesus, I mean; the word ‘Jesuit’ hasn’t always been exactly a compliment . . . ”
Full stop. Thundering silence. Cole and Jeremy just looked at him; I don’t think I’ve ever seen Cole so still, before.
“I really felt – called, I guess,” Noah went on; more softly, now, not looking at any of us. “I felt like I belonged with the order . . . most of our teachers were Jesuits; it’s a teaching order, and they really value knowledge, and they do so much work for human rights, around the world, and they’re sworn to poverty, but they help the poor . . . They really care about the poor. They really do good work; they really do.”
“And . . . well, I had a mentor; a teacher at school I was really close to. That’s how it works; you can’t be a novice until you’re at least eighteen, or usually older; but you can be a, a, candidate, someone who wants to be a novice . . . and you partner with a mentor; someone in the Order who’s older. And then, you talk a lot.” He smiled, just a little. “Jesuits talk a lot, anyway, all the time. And they read a lot . . . ”
It was pure Noah; it was like that night at the overlook, when he’d first, sort-of come out to me. He was laying himself out to us, vulnerable to us. All three of us, this time.
“And, so, over time – he helped me to see. That, I’m not really a good fit for the Order. Or maybe, that the Order – the Church, actually – isn’t a good fit for me . . . ” A pause, then; for second, after second. Then, he shrugged; and half-smiled, again. “Not that it’s a big surprise; not very many people actually get to join the Jesuits. As religious orders go, it’s kind of exclusive.” An ironic little smile, and he glanced up at us, and then over to me.
Another stop; a moment of connection, between us. I knew this was still painful, for him.
“I’m . . . sorry,” Jeremy started to say –
“Don’t be,” from Noah, quick. He shook his head, a little. “Please. It worked out right, in the end. And it was a good experience . . . I learned so much. About the Church; about myself . . . ” His eyes kind of slid, blinking, into the middle distance.
Another charged silence, for a couple of beats.
“So . . . now, what?” from Cole. Gently.
Noah looked at him, doing an expression that meant, ‘what - ?’ Then, I watched as his face changed, as he understood.
“Well . . . there really isn’t much of a place in the Church, right now, for someone like me. For – us,” he went on, looking at the three of us, in turn. Then he looked down and shrugged. “So, I go to mass three times a week . . . and I don’t take Communion, which has my parents really confused.” He paused, for a thoughtful second. “Or not . . . ” Another pause; and a shrug. “And I keep trying to tell myself, I’m a heretic, a really sincere heretic, and not just an apostate.” A small smile, then, as he kept on looking down. “But you know, whatever I am – I’ve got lots of company . . . ”
Pause. A LONG pause; with me, just hurting for him, feeling for him, all over again. Then –
“Yeah,” I said. And I took his hand – actually, I kind of twined my arm around his, inside his, taking his hand, palm to palm, on top of the table; and I grinned. Heretic; I liked the sound of that. “Yeah. Like me.”
A shorter pause. “Like me,” from Cole; quietly. And he put his hand down, warm, over both of ours.
Oh, what a rush. What a complicated rush.
And, Jeremy’s hand moved over, and hovered . . . and stopped.
“Ummm . . . ”
We all three of us just blinked at him, for a second. He was actually looking a little – chagrined, maybe - ?
“You know,” he went, slowly – “I’m a Lutheran? Technically, I’m a Lutheran, I used to go to Sunday School, and everything . . . ”
“And - ?” from Cole; uncomprehending. I could tell.
Jeremy looked at us; a little embarrassed, a little unsure. “And, well, you know – all three of you guys are Catholics,” he went. “And – Martin Luther? The whole, Protestant Reformation - ? I might be,” he went on, a little awkwardly, “just a little bit more of a heretic than you guys . . . ”
A shorter pause. Then, “Pffft,” from Cole; beginning to laugh, and he grabbed Jeremy’s hand, that hand that was biggest of us all, and plopped it down on top of all of ours, warm, together, solid; squeezing. And I grinned, I just couldn’t help myself, I grinned so big . . .
* * *
Out into the cool, dark night; Noah and me, side by side, on the sidewalk, headed back to my house. The stiff breeze pouring through the branches of the trees overhead, making them sway, making a rising, rushing, fresh sound.
Noah and me alone, again, at last; not saying anything. Not needing to.
It felt good.
And all at once, my phone was vibrating in my pocket, which meant I had a text; I’d been expecting it. As we walked, I pulled it out, and glanced at it; then I put it away again, trying not to change expression.
And of course I didn’t fool Noah. We walked on in the windy, comfortable darkness for another long block; we crossed the street, and then, out of nowhere –
“So. Are you going to be allowed to keep me - ?”
I stopped dead on the sidewalk; and I began to crack up, I just SO couldn’t help it. I mean, it was the perfect end to the whole ordeal, it was just so FUCKING hilarious; you know - ?
“Here,” I managed, at last; and I hauled out my phone, and called up the text, again. And I handed it to Noah; still laughing.
The text was from Cole, of course. And the thing you have to understand, is – Cole prides himself on the brevity of his text messages. He doesn’t text a lot, compared to most people our age; but when he does send a text message, it’s brief. And to the point; he actually puts a lot of thought, into his messages.
This one was about as brief as you can get:
But it kind of said it all; you know - ?
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