What happens when two lonely boys meet in a shopping mall food court?
They didn’t have breakfast next morning because they didn’t get up till after noon. Josh fixed bacon and eggs when there were finally up and Bryan worked on toast and setting the table. Even in the early afternoon they were all still a little blurry.
“I need coffee,” Eric mumbled.
“Do you drink coffee? Josh doesn’t and neither do I. I love the smell but can’t take the taste. It’s too strong and bitter.”
Eric yawned. “I thought so, too, at first. You acquire a taste for it. I started off putting lots of milk and sugar in it. It isn’t bad that way. I’ve been told that the more you drink it, the less sugar you’ll end up using, and then the less milk, but I still use a lot of both. I just don’t see how people can drink it black, but that’s the only way some people drink it. I think adults like things more bitter than we do. I like it okay now, though, with the milk and sugar. It sure helps you wake up.”
Bryan looked at Josh. “You told me you could make it. Do you have some coffee?”
“Sure. We keep several kinds of beans in the freezer. We don’t use them all that much and they keep better there. Dad likes to make his from premium beans given a medium roast. He has several kinds. He has them that were grown from all over, some from Kenya, Ethiopia, Jamaica, Sumatra, Hawaii, places where the best beans grow. I can make anything you like. I don’t bother much because I don’t drink it and he usually buys a cup on the way to the university in the morning. We have a drip machine and a grinder and everything. It’s no problem at all. How many cups should I make? And I think I have cream if you’d like that better than milk.”
Eric looked at Bryan. “Whoa! Too much information! All I asked for was a damned cup of coffee. I get a lecture on prime coffee bean agricultural areas instead, and a tutorial on various roasting and grinding methods.”
Bryan laughed. “Josh is a morning person. It drives me crazy, too. He’s all bubbly and happy and wants to chat. What I want is to go back to bed.”
“I hope you’re not a grump in the morning like Bryan is,” Josh rejoined. “How many cups, Eric?” Josh was standing by the grinder, a bag in his hand.
Eric grumbled he’d probably drink two, if that was okay, and after looking at Eric for a moment, Bryan told Josh he wouldn’t mind trying a cup, if the milk and sugar really helped. Josh measured some beans into the grinder and turned it on for fifteen seconds. After he brushed the ground coffee into a filter, put that and water into the machine and pressed the on button. He watched the bacon for a moment longer before flipping it, then got eggs from the refrigerator. He started whistling, then looked up to see both his friends’ glowering faces. He blushed and stopped whistling, but did start grinning.
The boys had been up late. After Eric had told them he was gay and had feelings for Bryan, he’d suddenly rolled away from Bryan and had sat up, wrapping his arms around himself.
“You won’t want me sleeping here now. I’ll sleep in the other room, or call my mom to come get me. That would be best.” He had sounded utterly dejected.
Before Bryan, still thinking of what Eric had just said, had been able to say anything, Josh was sitting next to Eric, and he’d put his arms around him. “Eric, it’s all right. We don’t hate you. You’re going to stay here and we’ll talk about this. Bryan, tell him it’s okay.”
Bryan had sat up too. “Eric, I’m not mad. I’m flattered. Of all the boys you could like, you like me. That certainly doesn’t upset me. We both still like you, we still want you for a friend. You said you didn’t have a problem with us being gay. We don’t have a problem with you, either. All those things you said about you knowing us, remember, we know something about you, too. You saved me when I was living at the mall. You didn’t ask anything in return. How could I not have feelings for you? I do. But we have to get to know each other better. I really don’t know you very well. What I do know, the type of guy you are, I really like. It wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t tell you, I don’t have feelings, the boyfriend kind of feelings, for you. I think you’re hot, you’re one of the hottest guys at school, but I just haven’t thought about you that way. As I said, I don’t even know if I’m gay. But I want you for a friend. If we’re friends, and we spend time together, things are bound to change. My feelings, that kind of feelings, might change, and yours might, too. But if you have a crush on me, probably you really want to spend more time together, and we’d already decided to do that. Nothing’s changed.”
He put one arm around Eric’s slumped shoulders and hugged him. “Don’t be embarrassed. Josh and I get embarrassed about things too, but you don’t need to. Telling us that, it doesn’t make any difference in how we feel about you. We like you, Eric. Just keep remembering that. We do like you.”
“You still want me to sleep here, next to you?”
“I’d hate it if you left now. It would tell me you were really hurting, and that would make me feel awful, knowing some of it was due to me. I want you to feel good.”
“Besides,” Josh had broken in, “it’s really a good feeling, sleeping with someone you care about and who cares about you. Bryan needed to be held, that first night, and I held him. I needed to be held, the night after I got beaten up at Kennedy for the last time, and Bryan held me. I think you’d like it if one of us held you tonight. I just don’t know which one. I don’t know what you’d feel like if Bryan were to hold you, I can imagine all sorts of thoughts going through your head. I pretty sure he wouldn’t object, if you want him to. I can hold you, if you want me to. Maybe this sounds strange. But sleeping like that sure is comforting. And I think you need comforting.”
Eric hadn’t known what to say. “You guys are really something, you know that? I tell you I’m gay, and you guys aren’t, but you still are willing to sleep with me and even hold me. I thought straight guys were supposed to be all uptight about gay guys, and certainly didn’t want to touch them. And they’re supposed to be irate if a gay guy says he likes him. You guys aren’t acting that way at all.”
“I don’t know for sure,” had been Josh’s reply, “but I’d guess, if a guy gets really mad if you tell him you like him, it would have something to do with him being scared about his own feelings about a boy liking him. I think it might excite him a little, and he doesn’t want it to, or he’s afraid someone else will find out and tease him about it. So he gets mad at you so there won’t be any question about him liking it, and so no one else will think he does. Otherwise, I agree, it doesn’t make too much sense.”
The fear and uncertainty had left Eric by then. Neither of his bedmates had shown any concern over what he’d told them, they had been very calm and matter-of-fact about it, and so Eric had calmed down. He hadn’t been ready to go to sleep, however. He had had a lot to talk about. He’d never admitted being gay to anyone, and now that someone knew, he’d felt an overpowering need to talk about it. He’d wanted to talk about his crush on Bryan, too.
He’d lain back down, and so had the others. He’d been on his back, and Josh had slid over so he could be up against him, offering him physical support. Bryan hadn’t been sure what to do. He didn’t want to inflame any passions, if his physical presence would do that, but he felt for Eric. He’d decided it would be better to let Eric make any moves towards them holding each other, but had put a hand on Eric’s arm.
Eric hesitantly, then more openly, had begun talking about what he’d been holding inside for so long, his feelings and fears, his hopes and his heartaches. He’d talked, they’d commented sympathetically, and the talking had gone on and on till Eric suddenly realized the other two boys had fallen asleep. Josh had dozed off lying on his side facing Eric, his top arm draped over Eric’s chest. At that point, Eric had half rolled over so his back was into Josh’s chest, and then he’d pulled Josh’s arm tighter over his chest, and he too had fallen asleep.
Now, in the kitchen, Josh and Bryan were just ignoring what had happened last night. They were just being kids, as if what had happened had just been what occurs at an ordinary sleepover. The more Eric thought about that, the happier he became. These two really didn’t care if he was gay, and even if he liked one of them. They liked him for just who he was, and if being gay was who he was, they were fine with that.
Still, he had questions. But the calm acceptance he felt overwhelmed any residual fears. He felt he could be entirely honest and open with these two, the first time he’d felt that since he’d first thought he might be different from most people, several years earlier.
“Josh, can I ask you something?”
“Let’s see, the last time you asked me that question, you then asked if I was fooling around with Bryan. I’m not sure whether I should tell you to go ahead this time.” He gave Eric an exaggerated grin, to show he didn’t mean it, then added, “Of course you can. Shoot.”
“Okay. I’m just surprised. I told you both I had a crush on Bryan. You have to have some feelings for him, you were kissing him earlier. Why aren’t you feeling all jealous and threatened?”
Josh was taking up eggs and stopped, his spatula in mid-air. Then he turned back to the stove and finished with the eggs and brought them and the bacon to the table. “I’m not sure I know how to answer that. I just don’t feel that. Why I don’t, I don’t know. If you made me answer, I’d probably tell you that I trust Bryan, he trusts me, the way we feel is kind of fundamental and whether you like him or not wouldn’t affect that. In fact, I don’t think, if he liked you back, it would affect how we relate to each other. Of course, I could be completely wrong, he might fall in love with you and tell me to fudge off, but I’m not feeling that way. I don’t think he’d do that. I’m feeling that the one thing I’m pretty sure of right now is how I feel about Bryan and he feels about me, and you liking him isn’t going to make any difference in that. I’ve always been naïve. Maybe that’s all my feelings are, naiveté, but that’s what I feel.”
Eric shook his head. “Wow. And you guys aren’t even gay. But you know, you are 14. You have to be horny. I am, all the time. You must be doing things together.”
This time Bryan spoke up. “I’ve been thinking, since you asked that last night. I think I know why you asked. You’re horny, and gay, and probably haven’t done much with anyone, and you thought, maybe you could do something with us. Right?”
“Well, maybe.” Eric began blushing.
“The problem is, I don’t know what it would do to our relationship, the three of us. Right now, it’s based on liking and trusting each other and having a lot of respect. I’d be worried, if we started doing things, it wouldn’t be based on those things any longer, it would be based on sex. I know when I’m horny, the feelings sort of overwhelm me. My judgment isn’t the same, the decisions I make aren’t as good as when I’m not, my whole character seems to change. We’re just getting to know each other, Eric. I want our friendship to be based on how we relate to each other, not on sex.
“But don’t be embarrassed. I think of that, too. I think of us all together, doing things. I think that’s what you do at our age, fantasize.
He paused for a moment, thinking, before continuing. I’m not saying, after we’ve been friends for awhile, I won’t change my mind. But right now, I don’t think that is the right thing for us to do. Even if I might want to—it’s exciting, thinking about it—I just feel we shouldn’t.”
“You don’t know how much I’ve thought about you. You couldn’t have been fantasizing about the three of us for more than one day. I’ve been thinking about doing stuff with you for a month. It’s driving me crazy. It’s only sex. Why can’t we do something?”
Bryan didn’t answer right away. He thought for a minute, then looked directly at Eric. His voice was soft when he answered. “Eric, this stuff is as new to me as it is to you. I don’t have any answers that mean anything. I can only tell you what I feel, and what I’m thinking. It might all be nuts, and I might feel differently next week. But this is what I feel right now. If what you wanted us to do really was only fooling around, just sex, I think I’d feel differently. But you said you had a crush on me. That means, to me, that you have feelings that are different from just sex. It means you sort of love me, low level love, beginning low, I think. So, in my mind, if that’s how you feel, and then we have sex and your feelings get stronger for me because of the sex, you could get hurt if I didn’t have the same feelings, and it would be my fault for letting it happen just because I wanted sex. Do you see that? What if you liked the sex but liked me even more because of it, but I just wanted to have sex and I didn’t share your feelings? I like you too much, you helped me too much, for me to risk hurting you like that.”
Josh brought the coffeepot and two cups to the table. Then he put a pitcher of cream and the sugar bowl next to it and sat down. He watched as Eric poured himself about a half cup, then loaded it up with cream and sugar so the cup was full. He took a sip, then smiled at Josh. “I’ve never had it with real cream before. It makes it even better.”
Bryan was watching him. He took the coffee pot and poured about a quarter cup, then added cream and sugar to bring it up to half. He stirred it for a while, then took a very tentative sip. He grimaced, then looked puzzled, then took another sip.
“Hey, you know, it’s still a little bitter, but it’s good too. I think I could get to like it.”
“It sure makes it easier to wake up in the morning.”
“If it makes him less grumpy faster, I’ll happily make it for him every morning,” said Josh. Then he brought the topic back to what they’d been talking about.
“Eric, I think he’s right, about risking hurting you. He makes a lot of sense. We sort of talked about the same things ourselves a little, about fooling around, you know? At this age, sex is in our minds all the time. It’s also brand new and exciting and the possibility of doing it with someone else is almost too much to resist. We want to experiment, and it’s sometimes hard to even think about anything else. But we should. I don’t want my relationship with Bryan to be based on sex. A relationship based on sex, even one that includes sex, has to be different from one based on mutual interests, friendship, knowledge of the other person, what he likes and doesn’t, trying to help him out, that sort of thing. At our age, if I’m typical, sex becomes awfully important, and the urges can be hard to manage. I think we have to be careful.”
“So you talked about doing things together, at least talked?”
“Sure,” said Bryan. “We’re normal. We talk about everything.”
Eric sighed. “I’m always horny. I thought if I was able to talk about that, you guys would get horny and would want to do something. This just leaves me horny. I see what you’re saying, it even makes sense, but I’d still like to do things.”
“If you had a choice, Eric, if you had to choose, if you could either be our close friend, or you could experiment with us, but you could only do one of those, which would you choose?”
“Gee, Bryan, that’s an easy question. Sitting here with you guys, talking like this, everything last night, even when I felt bad, this is all so great. I want to be close to you guys. Seeing you together, how you act, I want that. I’ve felt the togetherness we’ve had while I’ve been here. I don’t want to give this up for anything.”
“Well, starting to get it on with each other, I think there’d be a risk. I know it would with Josh and me. We’re not sure what we’re feeling yet. At least you know. You’re ahead of us there. But at least you see why I’m so reluctant.”
“Yeah, I do. And I like the way you can talk about it and express your feelings so well. I guess I’ll just have to go on being horny.”
Josh grinned at him. “You haven’t had your shower yet. You don’t have to wait very long.”
Eric looked at him, then blushed, but then laughed when the other two began.
After breakfast, they decided to play video games until their food had settled, then go for a jog. First, Bryan and Josh did the dishes while Eric joked with them, then they took individual showers, the two who were not showering playing a game. They spent the next hour on the game cube.
“I’m ready to run,” said Josh at last. “How about you guys?”
“Let’s do it!” enthused Eric. “I’m tired of whipping Bryan’s ass.”
“That’s not all you’d like to do with it,” said Bryan, and rolled his eyes seductively.
“Bryan!” said Josh, aghast. “Are you sure he can kid about that?”
“He’d better learn to. We kid about everything. Besides, if we take everything seriously, it’s a real downer. I didn’t offend you, did I, Eric?”
“Nope. But I owe you one. I see that anything’s fair game. I’ll bide my time.”
They changed into the shorts they’d worn the day before, then left the house. They decided to try to run farther today, but at a slower pace. Bryan started off at a gentle jog, and the others joined him, one on each side.
By the time they were back, they’d run three miles. Josh was surprised that he’d held up pretty well. His legs felt a little shaky, but his breathing was much better than it had been on the other two runs. Eric was panting the heaviest of all three of them.
They showered again after cooling off resting, and then Eric called his mother to come pick him up. They waited for her sitting on the front steps.
“Can we do this again?” asked Josh. “And if you want to train with us, how are we going to work that out?”
“I want to do that. I don’t live that close to you, though. I live closer to the school, actually over near the university. It’s a long bicycle ride from here.”
Josh looked up at him. “You live near the university? How close?”
“Actually, only a block away. Why?”
“I don’t know if it would work, but just as an idea, I was wondering if we could go home with you, run there, then Bryan and I could ride our bikes to the university and my dad could bring us home. If we got there early, we could just do homework till he’s ready.”
“Hey, I’d love that! If you guys ride bikes to Taft in the morning, you could ride to my house with me after school. Can your dad fit both your bikes in his car?”
“Yeah, he’s got a minivan. They’ll fit easily.”
“Do you want to try this Monday?”
“I like it. Let’s try it, unless your dad has some objection.”
“Okay. We’ll try, Eric. We’ll probably be able to do it. And this way we can spend more time with you.”
At that point, Eric’s mom drove up. Eric thanked both boys for having him over, held on to Bryan’s hand and looked into his eyes just a moment longer than he did with Josh, then put his bike in the car, grabbed his book bag and drove off, waving.
Bryan looked at Josh and said, “Well, one thing you can say about Eric. He has very good taste in men.”
Josh lightly punched him in the arm. “I’m not sure we should joke about it. He might be really hurting, wanting you, and now we’ll spend time with him, and you’ll be right there, tempting him. You sure you’re all right with this?”
“Yeah. What I think is, it’s easier to admire something you don’t know very well. When he’s with me and sees all the things wrong with me up close, sees I’m just a kid and nothing special at all, his fantasy boy will be more real, and I think the crush will go away. That’s what I’m hoping at least.”
“I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.”
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