It was one of those nights when everyone was restless. It was hot and muggy and the moon was out, and there was no way that you could sleep with anything covering you; it was all you could do to sleep on top of the bed covers.
I had rolled over several times through the night and found Ben lying awake, with his arms folded behind his head, just staring at the ceiling.
‘Are you awake, honey?’ I asked him one time. I think that was at about four in the morning.
‘Yeah babe,’ he answered, just rolling his head to his side to look at me.
He simply shook his head.
‘Yeah. Just can’t sleep, that’s all.’
He rolled over then, turning his back to me, and I remember just staring at his broad shoulders and watching his body move up and down as he breathed in and out. I figured that he would be just lying there with his eyes open, staring at the shadows on the wall, pretending to be asleep.
Something wasn’t quite right. I knew that much. But he obviously didn’t want to talk about it.
Maybe in the morning things might be different.
I could only hope.
* * *
I can’t remember when I fell asleep, but I did manage to eventually, even if only for a brief time.
When I awoke in the morning the sun was well and truly up and was streaming in through the open bedroom window. The birds were singing. And all I wanted to do was puke. The whole scene was just a little too, ummm… Meg Ryan… even for me!
You know what I mean?
Rolling over, I threw out my arm, expecting Ben to be lying there beside me, sound asleep, but all I found was emptiness.
I sat up and looked around me, but he wasn’t even in the room, and so I swung my legs over the edge of our bed and put my feet on the floor, then ran my hands back through my hair and started thinking about Ben.
Of last night, I could remember little. We had had a good night out, I can remember that much. And we had gotten home late, but only after the boys had had a bit of a run-in with some locals in the car park near the pub, but after that it all seemed a blur.
I can remember that Ben didn’t even want to make love to me after we had gone to bed… and I sooooo wanted to feel him inside me last night. But after that? All I can recall is that both of us were tossing and turning all night and that neither of us really had any sleep at all.
I figure that the fact that he didn’t want sex could only mean one of two things.
Firstly… maybe he was just feeling a little off colour. Which would explain just about everything.
Or secondly… maybe there really was something deeper bothering him, and that he felt he couldn’t talk to me about it.
Whatever it was, I needed to find out.
Getting to my feet, I soon found my night robe, which I pulled on and wrapped around me, covering up my bare breasts, then paddled out into the hallway in search of my man.
All was quiet in the house.
I looked toward Matt and Luke’s door and found it firmly shut, and as I passed Tim and Guy’s door I noticed that it was wide open. I paused for a second and glanced in, but they weren’t in their bed, so I continued on down the hallway.
I eventually found Ben, sitting alone at the kitchen table, staring off into space, with an empty coffee cup in front of him.
‘Hi Babe,’ I said to him as I walked up and hugged him from behind, burying my face into his neck and kissing him.
‘Hi Doll,’ he replied. ‘You sleep well?’
‘About as well as you did,’ I answered, as I sat down beside him.
‘That bad huh?’
‘Is there something wrong, Honey? You don’t seem yourself.’
‘Everything’s fine,’ he replied, flashing me an unconvincing smile as he said so.
I studied him for a long moment, and obviously my expression gave away the fact that I didn’t entirely believe him.
‘It’s all right Sam. You can get that worried expression off your face. I’m fine.’
‘I wish I could believe you,’ I replied. ‘You’re a terrible liar. You know that don’t you?’
He tried to smile, but it wasn’t much of a one.
‘Look, Ben, whatever it is that’s wrong, you can talk to me about it. Don’t try and keep it bottled up inside you. You have to let it out! Don’t you know that?’
He managed a nod.
‘Well nothing!’ he replied. ‘Everything is fine.’
‘Ben Walker, everything is NOT fine! Now snap out of it!’
He just gave a sigh, as if he really couldn’t care less, but said nothing more.
‘Aaaarrrggghhhh… MEN!’ I cried, throwing my hands into the air, before getting to my feet and storming off to take a shower.
Maybe a little time to think might do him some good, I thought. But then again, knowing my Ben like I do, maybe it wouldn’t make any difference at all.
* * *
It was really nice to get under that water this morning and try to wash away some of my worries. When I had dried myself off and dressed I actually felt much better. I also felt more confident that whatever was troubling Ben would soon pass. Call me crazy if you like!
I dried my hair and pulled it back into a pony-tail and fastened it in place with a band, then wrapped one of my tie-died skirts around me and put on a white blouse, tying it in a knot just above my navel.
All I wanted was a reaction from him. Any reaction would do.
Just as I had finished there was a knock at the door.
‘Is that you in there, Sam?’ I was asked. It was Guy.
‘Yeah Guy. I won’t be a sec.’
I heard his footsteps as he walked away, so I gathered up my things, then opened the door and headed for our room, stopping at the door of his and Tim’s room, where I found him rummaging around in a cupboard, looking for some clean clothes.
‘All yours,’ I said to him.
He looked up and smiled and said, ‘Thanks.’
He came over to the door, carrying his clothes and toiletry bag (it was one of our house rules… none of us were allowed to leave all our stuff lying around in there, which was a real pain in the ass for me, I can tell you) and I stepped back to let him pass.
‘You okay?’ he asked me, pausing when half way through the door.
‘I’m not really sure. Well, that’s not quite right. I’m fine. It’s Ben that I’m worried about.’
‘You noticed it too?’
‘Hard to miss it really. Don’t know what’s wrong, but Tim is talking with him now. Maybe he’ll be able to find out?’
I turned and looked in the direction of the kitchen. Part of me wanted to run down that hallway and find out what was going on. But part of me was scared to.
As if he were reading my thoughts Guy placed his hand on my arm and said, ‘Don’t worry about it. I’m sure it’s nothing.’
I managed half a smile, but that was about all.
‘If you need to talk or anything, just ask. Okay?’
‘Thanks, Guy. You’re a doll,’ I said to him, while reaching up on my tip-toes and giving him a quick peck on the cheek.
He left me then and I watched as he disappeared down the hall and into the bathroom, after which I returned to our room and sat on our bed, without a clue as to what I should do.
Should I go out and butt in while Tim was talking to him?
Should I go out there and slap Ben across the face and tell him to wake up to himself?
Or should I just sit here and cry?
What I was finding hard to fathom, was that Ben was always the strong one. Ben was the one that always seemed to be the one that could be depended on. The one who they all turned to when they needed help.
I’ve seen him do it time and time again with his friends. These friends. Whenever someone needed a shoulder to cry on, he was there.
The problem was, I decided, who was it that would be there for Ben when he needed someone!
In the end I got to my feet and started toward the kitchen, knowing full well that Tim was there with him, but wanting, and needing to be there for him myself, as much as for me as for Ben.
As I walked down the hallway I passed Guy once more, looked decidedly fresher than earlier.
‘That was quick,’ I said to him.
‘Yeah, well, I just needed to wash the salt water off after having a swim down at the beach this morning.’
‘That would have been nice.’
‘Yeah, it was actually.’
‘You and Tim must have got up early then?’
‘Actually… we spent the night out there. It was too hot to sleep inside!’
‘Oh boy. Now I’m jealous.’
‘Well, you and Ben could always…’ he started to say, but stopped short.
There was a long and uncomfortable pause before anyone spoke again.
‘They’re still in the kitchen, you know?’ Guy said.
I simply nodded.
‘You going in there, then?’ he asked.
‘Yeah. I think I need to.’
‘Go talk to them. I’m sure that whatever it is isn’t anything to worry about.’
‘I wish I shared your confidence!’
‘You want me to come too?’
‘Of course I would,’ he replied, while wrapping his arms around me and giving me a brief, friendly hug, before leading me down to the end of the hall, where we walked in through the kitchen door.
That was when we spotted them.
Sitting opposite each other at the kitchen table.
Their hands clasped together and gazing into each other’s eyes.
* * *
Ben looked up at me as we walked through the door, and his mouth dropped open. I could quite literally see the blood drain from his face. He went an ashen colour that looked quite ghostly.
Tim looked from me to Guy and back again. Was that guilt I could see?
As soon as they spotted us they let go of each other, of course. But it was too late then, wasn’t it? They’d already been sprung!
This was something that I had always feared. Something that has been in the back of my mind from the moment we all decided to move in here together. I know that Tim and Ben had been the best of friends for years, but I had always had this worry that there may have been more to it than that, knowing that Tim was gay and all.
And then there was the fact that we were now living in a house full of gay boys, and I knew that Ben had never had any hang-ups about anyone being gay. Was this all just a little too cosy, or what?
Well? It may sound like the paranoid rantings of blonde, but seriously, how else is a girl supposed to feel?
I looked at Guy and could see him looking slightly worried. But I somehow expected him to look angrier.
Tim was the first person to say anything. ‘Sam, it’s… it’s not what you’re thinking?’ he said.
I turned back and glared at him.
‘Okay, so what is it then?’ I demanded.
‘Sam…’ Ben said. ‘Please don’t go jumping to conclusions. He’s right. It’s not what you’re thinking.’
Now it was Guy’s turn to speak.
‘Sam,’ he said, while placing a hand on my arm. ‘I know what this looks like, but trust me, I don’t think it’s anything like that. They aren’t having a fling. They’re mates. Remember? You don’t have to worry about Ben in that way.’
‘I can’t believe you’re taking their side,’ I snapped at him.
‘I’m not taking anyone’s side here Sam. I trust Tim. And I trust Ben. If anything, I’d say that Tim is just being a friend.’
‘Jesus. Trust you lot to stick together!’
‘Sam!’ Tim exclaimed. ‘That wasn’t fair!’
He was right of course. And I suddenly felt sooooo small.
‘Look,’ Guy said. ‘How about Tim and I leave you two to talk this through?’
‘That’s a bloody good idea,’ Tim said, then turning to Ben he added, ‘and you make sure you tell her just what is going on here, all right?’
Ben nodded to him then looked at me. His expression was like that of a scared little boy. I didn’t know whether I should slap his face or hug him.
When Tim and Guy had left us and closed the door behind them, I just stood there glaring at Ben, with my arms crossed in front of him, just waiting for him to say something.
‘Don’t look at me like that,’ he said.
‘All right then, Ben, just look at things from my side for a minute will you? We come home last night. You don’t want me. You toss and turn all night. When I ask you what is wrong you clam up. I find that the only person you feel you can turn to is your best buddie. And when I come in here I find the pair of you holding hands! What else am I supposed to think for Christ sake?’
He looked up and stared at me.
‘Well?’ I demanded.
‘You thought that just like that,’ he eventually said, while snapping his fingers, ‘I went and turned gay?’
‘Well, the thought had crossed my mind,’ I said.
A faint smile came to his lips.
‘What’s so funny?’ I demanded.
‘You,’ he said, while getting up from the table and walking over to me, stopping directly in front of me and placing a hand on either side of my waist, pulling me to him.
‘Trust me Sam. It was nothing like what you thought,’ he said. ‘In fact it was just the opposite. It was me being worried about people even thinking that I was gay!’
‘I don’t follow?’
‘Last night, when we confronted those guys that were hassling Matt and Luke.’
‘You were still in the car, but one of them made a comment, and the more I started thinking about it, the crazier I got.’
‘What did he say?’ I asked.
‘He said, “How many faggots are there in this town?”’
‘He thought that you were all…’
‘Yeah, that’s exactly what he thought. And that’s exactly what sent me into a spin.’
‘So you and Tim?’
‘Are mates! That’s all. End of story. You don’t think that I could stop loving you just like that do you?’
‘To tell you the truth, I didn’t know what to think,’ I answered.
‘You know, you’re such a fool sometimes,’ he said.
‘Yeah, maybe,’ I answered, then I kissed him.
‘It still doesn’t alter one fact though,’ he said after our lips had parted.
‘What’s that?’ I asked.
‘Some folks will still think that I’m…’
‘And how are you going to deal with that?’
He simply shrugged and said, ‘One day at a time I suppose.’
‘That’s my boy,’ I answered.