“It’s okay…I get it,” Ryan repeated. A flush began to creep up his neck, and any fool could see it wasn’t really what he’d wanted to hear.
“I really like him…” Luke said, stopping in time to avoid babbling on about why Elliott was apparently meant so much more than Ryan ever had. He backpedalled, trying to find the right way to explain it…even if just to himself. “I mean he asked me out and…well, I said yes…”
He half expected Ryan to cut across him and say ‘Okay, I told you, I get it. You don’t have to keep going on about it’, but he didn’t. Instead, he said, “I guess I was just being a bit hopeful." He chuckled at last, though it was a little forced and he couldn't look Luke in the eye.
He continued flippantly to try to rescue his loss of face, kicking the wall again with his heel. “So…you've been with him for a while? Since the summer, or was it earlier?”
“On no, nothing like that! He only asked me out yesterday!”
“Only yesterday...?” There was a subtle change in Ryan’s tone, though he quickly added, “...well, he’s a damn lucky guy—though I hope you realize I totally hate his guts! In fact, if I can get his address, I’m probably gonna send a hitman around!”
“I’d prefer you didn’t.” Luke tried to make light of it, too—for both their sakes. What he didn’t say was that his choice hadn’t completely erased his sense of confusion. “Anyway, we’re only planning to go out for a Coke or something.”
“Sorry…I messed up your date, then?”
“No, no…it’s fine. The thing today was… well, he needed to take Estella to the airport. I said I’d tag along for the ride, that’s all.”
“Oh.” Ryan seemed to be taking a measure of that, and then he smirked. “Then stopping for dinner on the way back?”
“I saw the text, remember.” Ryan replied quickly, but then it looked like he regretted reminding them both of how that had played out.
“Ummm…fair enough…but, yes, we were going to stop for something to eat.” Luke stepped back an awkward pace, and Ryan was left to study the floor that opened up between them. Maybe Ryan took it as a line in the sand…maybe…though he kept up the teasing banter.
“Okay, so what if I drop the hitman and just stick with pins and a voodoo doll?”
"Really? Is that meant to be better?" Luke rolled his eyes humorlessly. “Come on…be nice!”
“Sorry.” Ryan took a deep breath at last, sighing as if he accepted that the decision which made him the loser, had been made. He pulled a face. “I guess I won’t be seeing you around here much.”
It took Luke by surprise. He wanted to say, ‘of course you will—nothing has changed.’ Except that it had. Did he really think he could keep being best buds with someone he’d just rejected in favor of a different model? Was that even fair to expect that Ryan would still be willing to be his shoulder to lean on, his number one go to in all and every circumstance?
Instead, he bluffed through and said, “Elliott’s bound to know a lot more guys like us through Creek. Who knows, you—”
“Oh God, my life is officially over! Screw that—I am not going on blind dates!”
“Bet you would if he was hot!” Luke cringed at what he’d tried to make into a joke—how fucking lame was that! And he still grappled with the inevitable sense that he was losing Ryan.
“Oooh that’s low! Hit a guy when he’s down why don’t you!” Ryan’s laughter seemed to make it okay even if it did sound a bit forced, and his fingers brushed Luke's hand as he eased by him, heading for the bathroom.
"We're still friends, though, aren't we?" Luke said, turning to track with Ryan. The idea that Ryan was going to start pushing him away or avoiding him altogether was more than just uncomfortable.
Ryan paused at the bathroom door and studied Luke. He seemed surprised at the question—relieved, even. "Don't be a dope! Of course we're still friends. Just 'cos your seeing another guy just now doesn't mean we haven't got plenty to talk about!" He grinned and added, "Maybe you can give me some dating tips!"
Luke rolled his eyes to cover his inner relief. "Yeah, right..." He chuckled, glad that his best friend seemed okay with it.
“Anyway," Ryan said, continuing into his bathroom. "Tell me a bit more about Elliot…and Estella, too. What’s that all about?”
“What do you mean?”
Ryan ran the tap and chuckled. “Him and Estella? I really thought they were an item when I saw them together at the sports day...I mean, come on!” The tension seemed to have gone out of their conversation and even out of Ryan’s shoulders as he began to splash water.
"An item? Hardly!" Luke said as he watched Ryan wash his face, dabbing the water across his lips. “You're not alone though. Even mum thought that when we were over at their place yesterday. Estella and Elliott have known each other a long time, it seems. She’s just a bit European, and...you know...pretty touchy-feely.”
“European?” Ryan’s eyebrows rose a teasing notch. “Like you?”
“No, not like me!” Luke was uncomfortably flustered. “Okay…try…Mediterranean.”
“So she’s known him a while?” Ryan stared for a few moments through the mirror at Luke, and then started to put some cream over the cuts on his face. "Longer than I've know you?"
“I dunno…maybe…does it matter? I phoned them earlier to pull out of going with them this time. Me and you really needed to talk, and it was more important.” Luke leaned against the bathroom door and checked his watch. It was getting late. “They’ll probably be setting off to the airport soon, anyhow.”
“You’re still missing dinner…”
Luke shrugged. “It’s fine…and I did get to say bye to Estella.”
Ryan nodded and seemed to take that at face value, and went back to the cuts on his face.
Ryan's eyes flicked in the mirror. "What?"
"What happened?" Luke touched his own face to mirror the bruising around Ryan's eye."
"You! In the parking lot! Is your memory that shitty?"
Luke knew Ryan was holding something back, but that just made it more worrying. He touched under his own eye again. "You know what I mean."
Slowly Ryan turned from the sink. His voice became less certain as he said, "It was a real crap weekend."
"Shit...if you really have to know, Dad got into a fight on Saturday and I..." Ryan touched near his eye, "...got caught in the crossfire."
"Your dad hit you?" Horrified, Luke's eyes widened. "Ry!"
Ryan pulled a face. "It's nothing. Like I said, it got in the middle of it and this was meant for someone else—I'll just keep out of the way next time!" He chuckled, but Luke could tell it wasn't just nothing.
"Anyway, you and Elliott were going to take Estella to the airport," Ryan said, subtly changing the subject.
"Yep. And then we were going to talk a bit on the way back. There's still stuff I need to try to figure out...like with mum and dad...you know."
"I thought you said that your mom thinks Elliott's with Estella?"
"You know what I mean." Luke pursed his lips as he opened up. "I have no idea how to tell them about being gay. What would you do?"
"Me? You're asking the wrong guy!"
Luke was still trying to fathom what Ryan actually meant by that—that Luke should be asking his ‘boyfriend’, or that Ryan had no idea how to broach such a thing with his own parents, either—when Ryan added, "He’d better not be thinking of taking you to Chops!"
“Chops?” Luke rolled his eyes. "Leave off—I doubt it!"
A sly grin came across Ryan's mouth. "Damn right! Once my friendly hitman's done, I'm taking you there, myself!"
"Asshole! I thought the hitman was off!"
"Maybe." Ryan sighed as he dabbed his face dry. He hung up the towel and grinned. “Come on, I don’t want to be stuck indoors all afternoon. Why don't we go outside and jump in the pool, and you can tell me more about Elliott?”
"What about your mum?" Luke thought going out was a good idea, too, but they wouldn't get much said with her around. Perhaps that was better, anyway...just park everything for now and let the dust settle on it all?
"Don’t worry, she won't stay once we're out there." Without waiting for any further debate, Ryan crossed to his closet and came out with two pairs of swim shorts, throwing them onto the bed. It was easy to slip into their normal routine, and without really considering the change in circumstances, both began shedding clothing in the way they had done for years.
“Actually there is someone at school that you know who’s gay,” Ryan said as he stepped out of his school pants and lay them on the bed. “And who knows about me, too.”
“Really? Who?” Luke tried to hide his disappointment that Ry would trust anyone with that, over him. Maybe they weren’t as close as he thought? He suddenly wondered if Ryan was going to say 'Simon', but why would he know anything about Si and Toby? In fact, it wasn't to be that.
“JACKO? Really? No…you’re shitting me!”
In fact, it felt pretty crap that Ry worked at keeping all of that secret from Luke, but apparently not from some kid in Simon’s class! Maybe it was because Ryan spent a lot of time playing tennis with the guy…who…who he also recently went away with to a tennis camp…so…
Oh shit…they were boyfriends?!
“You and Jacko? Since when?” And did that mean that Ryan was dumping Jacko, just to—
“Don’t be an asshole!” Ryan rolled his eyes. “It’s nothing like that. There is no me and Jacko Jackson, though I think he’s got a bit of a crush on me!”
“Oh.” Luke kept quiet about how much of an asshole he felt. Ooops! He smirked. Looking back, a lot made sense. Some of those odd moments when Jacko intruded into ‘their’ space, now came into context. He prodded a bit as he undressed alongside his friend. “So? How?”
Ryan shrugged. “It doesn’t matter—I inadvertently found out he was gay a while back.”
“And—” Luke pressed as the explanation dried up.
“And what? It's a long story…maybe for another time.”
“Aww, come on!” Luke pulled off his tee. “You have to tell me now! Why so cagey?”
Ryan scrunched up his face and looked uncomfortable. “It was back when they pulled that Hang on me.” The space between them became awkward and Ryan looked down—and Luke immediately regretted asking about something that threatened to take them back there again.
Still studying the floor, Ryan continued, and his semi-glazed eyes seemed to be locked into another time and place. “He was right in front of me…Jacko, I mean… The way he was…back then, when I couldn’t help—”
“Ry…don’t. Look, I’m sorry I asked.”
Ryan paused and seemed to come back from where he’d been left hanging that day. He smiled. “It’s okay. No secrets remember. Anyway, without going into the details, but it was pretty obvious that Jacko was more than just a casual bystander when I was…well…you know what I mean.”
“Oh.” Luke kind of got the picture, but he wasn’t about to start being nosey with the details.
“Afterwards…we are both in a crap place, like you know, but he was really weirded-out by it all and couldn’t even talk to me.”
“And?” Luke was a little more careful this time.
“I was worried he was going to go out and do something really stupid, so I was honest with him about what had happened—and what I’d seen. I took a bit of a risk and told him that, if he was gay, it was cool—he wasn’t the only one.”
“Shit...really?” Luke’s eyes widened again. "You actually outed yourself to Jacko?”
“I had to. Better that than seeing his picture on the front of the paper for all the wrong reasons!”
“Wow…that’s…that’s…you’re…amazing. I’m not sure I could have done something like that.” Luke knew he wouldn’t have had anywhere near the guts to risk it!
Mulling on it as he stepped out of his jeans, it was hard to take all of it in, and he struggled again with his feelings as everything he knew—or thought he know—about Ryan was becoming rearranged. He'd spent an enormous amount of time fantasizing about his friend, and now...
Had anything really changed? Any of it? Was that why he was still so confused, and why taking off his jeans had felt…awkward.
Ryan was undressed now, too, with nothing covering him other than a pair of skin-tight, purple hipsters. Luke had seen them before—the ones with the black band that seemed new for that term. He’d always thought they were stylish. At least to him they were—stylish and smoking sexy! Knowing now that the person who liked to feel that tense, dark satin cotton snugged perfectly around his groin, also liked guys—and him in particular—was a sudden awakening that he didn't really need just then. He continued to undress, slipping out of his underwear, and took stock of the situation.
Should he really even be here—watching Ryan take his clothes off?
But he couldn't help but watch as Ryan's fingers snagged the band of his hipster briefs and began to slip them down. Ryan had to be aware he was being studied, though he didn't make any attempt to turn away as his dark pubic trim came into view. The briefs slid down his legs, revealing a familiar shaft, and flicked them onto the floor with a toe. Ryan had never been big, but he was cut to exquisite perfection…
Luke looked away quickly. This wasn't good for him. A recollection surfaced, and he voiced it in an attempt to distract himself and change the mood. "You remember the day over at my place, after I'd got my SmartKlamp fitted?”
"And?" Ryan returned a questing gaze, though made no attempt to find his swim shorts to cover himself up.
"What was that all about?" Luke's eyes narrowed as he remembered how Ryan had 'gawped' and then scraped the end of his newly circumcised shaft with his finger.
"Oh that...ummm...well, it was just a peek.” Ryan grinned. “Come on, I'm only human!"
Luke pulled a face at the thinly-veiled confession. No wonder Ryan had been so eager to discuss the circumcision booklet with him! "You…you sneaky bastard! And Justin? Do you even have any cousins?”
Ryan had the decency to look chagrined. "Sorry, I kind of made that up. Justin...you know…Justins, the clothes place. I didn't know what else to say. Mind you, I honestly thought Christmas had come!" His eyes flicked to the pair of boxers Luke was still holding in his hand—a pair that Ryan had bought for him that day.
Luke shook his head in amusement, and he continued to chuckle as he threw his underwear over to the bed, though it was poorly aimed and they slipped over the edge. Ignoring them, his eyes tracked around to spot the swim shorts, but he couldn't see them. He glanced back to Ryan to ask, and the chuckle faded as Ryan faced him…still naked.
Luke told himself it shouldn't have mattered. How many times had he seen Ry in the buff? Yet now, it was like a magnet. Humor was replaced by something else as Luke's own confusion threatened to reassert itself, and as the seconds ticked by, he found he couldn’t look away, his eyes held by the powerful draw of a person he knew like the back of his hand.
Warning signals began to fire off in his head, though Luke couldn't find his voice to be able to command it, or his muscles to make them move. None of this was right for someone who was supposed to be dating another guy. Across from him, Ryan seemed in another world; slack-jawed he stared at Luke, as if he, too, was no longer in control of himself. And, without even making an attempt to hide it, Ryan was becoming aroused.
The moments ticked by in silence, only interrupted by Luke's breathing. Still unable to do anything other than swallow, he stared as Ryan hardened in front of him. Ryan must have known he was becoming aroused, and that Luke watching, though it was impossible to know what was going on in his head. Either he was deliberately trying to seduce Luke, or he had just lost any power or will to control his feelings anymore.
Luke had seen Ryan become erect like this only twice before: once during the Hang, and the second time, when Ry had been completely stewed, not long after. This was as…difficult…as both of those—and hard to watch both then and now because Luke didn’t know how to deal with what was going on in his head.
Ryan didn’t even look down on himself. It was almost as though he’d hardly noticed. Though not large as he hardened, it became as potent and as taut as the thick emotions that filled the room. Worse, because of it, Luke started to become aroused, too, as though something had just infused him with a not-so-subtle dose of Viagra.
Everything seemed to stop.
"Ry..." Finally, Luke put his hands over what was becoming impossible to deny. "I think I'd better go." Still, he stood there wondering what he was waiting for. Permission? Strength of will? The seconds ticked by as he began to tighten further.
Ryan didn't answer, but stepped closer. He looked down at last to what stood between them, and then looked up, turning his head to study Luke's face as though searching for something. Permission, too, maybe?
Luke was breathing hard, trying to get in control of himself. He’d become as hard as if he’d been banded with a sock—he just couldn’t help it happening—but he still couldn’t give what Ryan was wanting. He couldn’t…he mustn’t! This was a disaster, and more complicated than any simple argument or even a decking in the parking lot! How could they remain ‘just friends’—and more to the point, how could they even be friends if this was going to happen? What would he think if something like this happened between Elliott and one of his school friends? He’d be…totally pissed!
"Oh...shit..." It was as if he'd suddenly surfaced from wherever he'd been, and he backed away, abruptly covering himself with his hands. He knew he was out of line, too. "I wasn't thinking. I'm really sorry...I shouldn’t have…look, please don’t go…"
However, all of that suddenly became irrelevant when they heard a shout from downstairs.
"RYAN! Come and move that FUCK'N TRUCK!" There was a pounding of boots on the stairs, heavy enough to be heard on the soft carpet.