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The first time I returned to Bethlehem from college, that Christmas break so long ago, I’d felt that familiar as my parents’ house was, it was no longer my home, that I’d really only be a visitor from then on out, because my future lay elsewhere. I should have felt even more of an outsider on my way to Garden City, but for some reason I didn’t. Despite everything, despite the reason I was there, the moment I set eyes on the small well-maintained colonial Thomas and I had called home for 18 years, something inside me relaxed.
Thomas’ 1968 Camaro was in the driveway. It was a piece of junk and the neighborhood association had complained about it on several occasions, but Thomas loved it and refused to hide it in the garage. Even though neither he nor I knew all that much about cars, we’d always planned on restoring it, a project that had never even got started, while I was there. Yet now I could see that some work had been done on it; the trunk was no long lop-sided, and the driver’s door had been replaced. Even this clear sign that Thomas was moving on without me wasn’t enough to upset me.
I still had a key, but I rang the doorbell and waited a little bit before letting myself in the front door. Thomas came down the stairs, wearing a T-shirt and pair of cargo shorts. I hadn’t really noticed it this morning, but his normally pale skin was tan, as if he’d been on vacation. It startled me, this sudden realization that shouldn’t have been so sudden that not only did I no longer know what Thomas was up to, I didn’t even have the right to know.
“Hey, Scott,” he said.
He smiled tentatively, standing a couple of steps above me, so that I had to look up.
“Did you find boxes? Because I realized there were still some left in the attic, from when we moved in, if you didn’t.”
We’d moved into our house in 1993 and hadn’t gotten around to repairing the roof until three years later, so I had to wonder what shape those boxes were in. Heck, we’d probably used them to stop up the leaks.
“Yeah, I stopped by the Shurgard in Hempstead and picked some up. Once I see what’s left, I guess I’ll rent storage space there. Depending.”
Thomas nodded and came down the last two stairs, then sort of sidled around me and towards the kitchen.
“Would you like something to drink?”
I stood in the hallway, and reality finally managed to catch up with me. I wondered what kind of self-delusional state I’d been in until a second ago that this place, where I had to ring the doorbell before coming in, where I was being offered a drink by a man, who avoided even the most casual and accidental contact between us, could still feel welcoming. Like home.
“Uh, no. Thanks. I’m fine.”
The decor reflected Thomas’ taste more than mine. Or, at least, that extra edge that had also made me a little more adventurous in my choices and turned the house into something uniquely ours. If it had been left strictly up to me, it would have looked like we were setting up model rooms in a furniture store (“…and this is our might-as-well-be-straight eye for the queer guys living room…”).
“I’m going out to get the boxes,” I called to Thomas, and when I returned from the car, I carried them into the living room. I assembled one, then stood and looked around me, not knowing where to start.
Thomas walked in and despite the fact that I’d refused a drink, handed me a can of root beer and then sat on the sofa, one leg folded underneath him, his arm along the back. He clearly intended to help via supervision and delegation, which was pretty much par for the course where any kind of housework was concerned. At first I tried to ignore him, but after staring helplessly at the large bookcase standing against one wall, I had to turn to him.
“I have no idea where to begin,” I confessed. “What’s mine?”
He looked puzzled, then stood up himself and walked over to the bookcase. He ran his finger along the spines of our dog-eared travel books on one shelf, hesitated over a couple, then moved on. He switched to another shelf, where we kept the coffee table books we’d been given over the years.
“This is yours,” he said finally, pulling out the National Geographic book with the famous picture of the Afghan girl on the cover.
I shook my head.
“No, it’s not. Jen and Michael gave it to both of us for Christmas, six or seven years ago. You don’t remember?”
He bent his head and looked at the book, as if it could somehow offer a clue.
“Oh. Yeah, right.”
He started to put it back, then changed his mind florya escort and held it cradled against his chest while he continued scanning the shelves. I concentrated on the nape of his neck. How many times had I snuck up on him and kissed him right there, right at his hairline, on that vulnerable spot where his skin was so smooth? Depending on what he was doing or where we were, he’d either reach back and pull my head forward to kiss me or, more often than not, he’d just softly bump his head back against mine. I took a surreptitious step back, just in case I reached for him.
“They’re all going to be like that, aren’t they?” he asked, then looked at me, his eyes wide, as if realizing for the first time that nothing in our living room belonged to him or to me, that everything belonged to us, or, more accurately, to some past version of us that no longer existed.
He squared his shoulders.
“Still. It’s not fair that I keep everything, simply because I got the house.”
“I don’t see why not. Like I said this morning, it’s not as if I have much room. It would be a shame to take books just to put them in storage.”
“No, you should take some stuff, as well. I don’t want… I mean, I want you to…”
He was getting flustered; his tan didn’t hide the bright color burning along his cheekbones.
I hadn’t known he’d been on vacation. Maybe he hadn’t gone alone. Maybe he needed to get rid of the books that had belonged to him and me, because he wanted room for the books that would belong to him and someone else. Someone not me. But surely he hadn’t moved on after only two months, had he? I wasn’t ready for dating, heck, as last night had made evident I wasn’t even ready for casual screwing, and he’d already moved on?
“Do you need the room?” I asked, trying to keep my voice even.
He blinked at me.
“Need the room? No. What do you mean?”
I knew Thomas well enough that I knew what I said next would anger him. Yet I said it anyway, because I was suddenly blindingly angry myself, and I needed to share it.
“I thought you might have somebody else moving in. The guy you went on vacation with, maybe.”
“Vacation? What the hell are you talking about? I haven’t been on vacation.” He was still puzzled, but I could see dawning comprehension in the way his eyes were starting to blaze. “So we’re back to that, are we? The fact that I can’t keep it in my pants?”
“Well, you couldn’t, could you?” I asked reasonably. Wasn’t that why I’d left? When I’d found out? When he’d let me find out, for some reason no longer bothering to hide it?
“Fuck you, Scott. I don’t owe you an explanation. Not any more. You’re the one who moved out.”
“You didn’t give me much of a choice.”
He ground his teeth. We’d covered this ground, over and over again, in the weeks before I’d left. Until a minute ago, I didn’t really think I wanted to go over it again, but apparently I did.
“I wasn’t on vacation. I was on an on-site visit in Haiti for work. See?” He raised his T-shirt and his midriff was pale. “There’s nobody moving in. Nobody I—”
“You said you don’t owe me an explanation,” I interrupted hastily. In any case, it wasn’t really explanations I wanted from him. I wanted him to tell me that he loved me. And I wanted to be able to believe him when he told me. And neither of those two things were likely anymore. He’d never said to me, not once, and until he’d cheated on me, I’d never thought the words were important but maybe if I’d heard them, maybe if I’d had them to hang onto…
“I don’t,” he said quietly. “I don’t owe you anything.”
“I know,” I agreed, because he didn’t. Anything I’d given him, I’d given him voluntarily, not as part of a quid pro quo. And really, for a lot of years he’d given me a lot back. Maybe everything he was capable of and more than I could have ever imagined.
We both sighed simultaneously, and I couldn’t help rolling my eyes. I saw that small smirk I loved, and I wasn’t so angry anymore.
“Okay, let’s share. Unless it’s something obvious, like those stupid Jerry Lewis movies of yours, we can flip a coin.” I’d given him those movies, years ago, figuring that if the French like Jerry Lewis, then so must a French major. We hadn’t had a working VCR for several years, yet Thomas hadn’t thrown the tapes away; he hadn’t even stuck them in the attic, along with the rest of the stuff we no longer used but couldn’t quite bring ourselves to get rid of.
He agreed to flipping a halkalı escort coin and we left the rest to luck. And luck seemed to be mostly on my side, in that I won all the original Star Trek box set, not to mention all of the Arrested Development DVDs (which Thomas insisted needed to be treated separately, since they’d been purchased separately).
By the time I left maybe we were friends, or at least friendlier than we’d been. And there was no doubt in my mind that having my favorite DVDs and my pride intact couldn’t compensate for not having Thomas.
It was inevitable that, since Thomas knew what he wanted and I only had some half-baked and untested ideas about what I thought I didn’t, he would prevail. It didn’t happen immediately or all at once and it was more me pulling than Thomas pushing, or so it felt at the time. The only thing that Thomas ever required was that I expressly ask for it and that I not be a dick afterward. In essence it meant that I initiated sexual encounters between us and he ended them. And afterward, everything was more or less back to normal until the next time.
Neither of us commented on the fact that the intervals between encounters were getting shorter and that we were doing a little bit more each time. I didn’t want to acknowledge it, and I was happy that he didn’t either. Whenever I wasn’t with him, when I was in class or at swim practice or working in the dining hall, I would concentrate fiercely on the moment. There was always something new to memorize, another lap to swim, more shredded cheese to sweep off the carpet around the salad bar; life went on. And then I’d get back to my room, and Thomas would be there, and my world would shift on its axis.
This term he was more preppy rocker than punk and he’d even replaced his sleeping bag with normal sheets and a quilt. He claimed that the transformation was because he was volunteering at an adult literacy program and needed to dress up for it, although I couldn’t see what that had to do with the quilt and told him so.
“The bag was starting to stink,” Thomas finally confessed sulkily.
“Well, yeah,” I agreed. “Maybe now you’ll stay on your side of the room more.”
“Yep. Nothing like the smell of Bounce to keep me in my place.”
“I use Bounce too,” I pointed out. “Come smell.”
Thomas had been lying on his bed, reading something German, and he closed the book, keeping one finger between the pages as a bookmark. He looked across the room at me and smiled.
“I’ve got a test.”
It wasn’t exactly a no.
“The test is tomorrow?”
“Uh huh. I need to study.”
“This won’t take long.” I cupped my crotch suggestively.
“Blow me,” Thomas dismissed me.
“Okay, be that way.” I sighed. “I have the breakfast shift tomorrow anyway, so it’s better I turned in.”
“No, really. Blow me.”
I looked at him and he narrowed his eyes challengingly, and I realized that he was speaking literally. I could also see that he didn’t believe I’d do it. We were already well into March, and the closest my mouth had come to his dick was his collarbone.
“I don’t know how,” I said stupidly and he started laughing. He stopped when I sat on the bed next to him and reached over to unbuckle his belt. Never let it be said that I back down from a challenge. “You won’t enjoy it,” I warned and he laughed again.
“You’re kidding, right?”
I unbuttoned his waistband, lowered his zipper and then grabbed his jeans and jerked them down his thighs. As usual, Thomas wore no underwear.
“No,” I said, then took a deep breath and bent over him.
“Hey,” he whispered, his fingertips stroking my cheek. “Are you sure?”
I’d jerked him off if not hundreds, then dozens of times. I’d seen his cock hard, soft and at every stage in between. I knew it well, so why did it suddenly seem so large, given that he was still only in an in-between stage?
“Yeah,” I said. “No. Maybe.”
“Okay, so long as you’re sure,” he grinned, and petted my cheek.
I grasped his cock and stroked it a couple of times and Thomas let out a little groan. The scent of his arousal grew stronger. I lowered my head further and tentatively licked the head. He smelled and tasted about like I’d expected him to, not that differently from me (I’d long since stopped turning away when Thomas kissed me after a blow job) and not unpleasant, but that had never really been my problem. I knew it made absolutely no sense, that I was no more or less gay if I sucked haramidere escort him off rather than just letting him suck me off, but still this seemed like the final frontier, like after this I would be firmly and irreversibly admitting that I was gay. I certainly couldn’t see myself enjoying it so much that I’d come myself, like Thomas had a couple of times.
I looked up at him, but his face was expressionless, although his fingers continued to lie gently against my face, tracing my eyebrow and my ear. I licked the head again, right at the slit, and he hissed in reaction. He’d made me feel good so many times; surely I could return the favor once, couldn’t I? Without it meaning anything more than that?
I wrapped my lips around him. I wasn’t sure what to do with my tongue, or how hard I should suck or where to put my hands. Thomas rolled his hips, and I backed off in a hurry.
“Don’t,” I instructed, and he huffed another small laugh.
“It’s not rocket science, man. Just suck on it.”
So I did, and found that it was pretty simple, after all. After a while I got fancier, swirling my tongue around the head, stroking him with my fist in tandem with my mouth. It was probably the worst blow job ever, but I could hear his sounds, and feel the increasing tension in his thighs, as he struggled to keep still for me. Improbably he seemed to be enjoying what I was doing, and I felt a surge of sudden happiness that I could do this for him.
“Scott,” he said in a strained voice, and his fingers clenched in my hair. Until that moment, I’d planned on pulling away, but now I found I didn’t really need to, or even want to. He filled my mouth, and it wasn’t the greatest taste, but it was Thomas’ pleasure, and I knew then that I’d do it again, as often as he let me.
I crawled up his body, and he wrapped his arms around me. He still had that way of hugging me that I’d noticed from the very first time, like he wanted to climb into my skin and cover me all at once, like he couldn’t bear for one square inch of us to not be touching.
“You were right,” he muttered into my ear.
“Yeah?” I asked, concentrating more on rubbing myself off against his thigh than on what I might have been right about.
“Yeah. I didn’t enjoy that.”
“Gee, that’s too bad.” I grit my teeth, right on the edge, and Thomas pushed his thigh more firmly against me.
“Maybe with a little more practice, though…”
“Or – ah, fuck! – private tutoring…”
I buried my face into his shoulder and hunched against him. He shushed me, and I bit my lips, trying to keep quiet while I came. Afterward I sagged into him, too lazy to move, until he squirmed out from underneath me and rolled us both onto our sides. It occurred to me that being in his bed meant that, for the first time, it was up to me when things would end between us, unless he kicked me out. After all, I hadn’t made him promise not to be a dick afterward. I closed my eyes and nuzzled into the pillow.
“Hey. Don’t fall asleep here,” he said softly.
“Just for a few minutes,” I wheedled, and he shook my shoulder.
“I still need to study.”
“Go ahead, I’m not stopping you.”
He was quiet for a while.
“You’re really going to stay here?” he asked finally.
“Just for a few minutes,” I reiterated. “I’m too lazy to move.”
“A few minutes,” he agreed.
After a bit, I felt him shifting as he pulled his pants up and sat up against the headboard, then heard him flip through the pages of his book. I wriggled a little closer, so that my forehead touched his hip, and relaxed. Just for a few minutes.
I woke up to his fingers brushing lightly though my hair, then again what felt much later, when he leaned over me to turn off the light and squirm down so that he was lying next to me.
The next morning I kissed him for the first time without its leading to sex, just because he was there, warm in my arms, and I wanted to. He smiled at me sleepily, murmured something I didn’t quite hear but thought was probably “go away” and turned over.
“What the hell are you so happy for?” my friend, co-worker and teammate Kevin growled at me as we filled the coffee filters. “Did you finally get laid?”
“Nope, I’m still a virgin,” I told him cheerfully.
“Yeah, right,” he scoffed.
The thing was, I had no idea what the hell I was so happy about. I knew things with Thomas were coming to a turning point – assuming they hadn’t already – and I’d more or less made my decision about which way I was going to go. I knew it wasn’t going to be simple and that there’d be repercussions I couldn’t even begin to imagine, and those I could imagine were bad enough.
The only explanation I could find was Thomas himself. He made me happy and that’s all there was to it. It was maybe the first time in my life I consciously realized that truth, but it wasn’t the last, not by a long shot.
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