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I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW





PART ELEVEN


Brian’s here. In the loft, in my bed and even though I know I shouldn’t, I’m just so incredibly grateful and relieved. I missed him. I wanted him, just him, so much so that I’m wondering if I’m imagining it. Brian wouldn’t come back to me unless I went down on bended knees and begged him – if he would even then – not after I threw him out. He’s too proud for that. But then he calls me a stupid twat and I know he’s real. Only Brian would insult me when I’m ill.

The next morning, I hate myself for letting it happen. There was a reason I asked him to leave and now that I’ve let him stay, he doesn’t seem to have any intention of leaving again. And I’m too tired to argue with him, so I’m letting it slide. Fighting with Brian takes too much out of me at the best of times. I don’t have the energy to do it when I’m feeling like this. But I know that I’m deluding myself. When I broke up with him, I knew that I would never be able to do that again, under any circumstances. It tore me apart.

When he leaves for his lecture, I realize that my phone is off. There are fifteen messages, half of them from Mom and I spend an hour calling people back and reassuring them that I’m fine now. Then Jon turns up. I’m happy to see him because he's always so calm – maybe deceptively so, but nonetheless.

“So are you and Brian back on?” he asks after a while.

“Yes. No. I don’t know. He wants to be here and I’m too tired to throw him out again.”

“But you don’t really want him here?”

I think about last night and how calming it was to have him around. But by the time he turned up yesterday, I was already over the worst of it, so it didn’t matter. That won’t be the case tomorrow or on any of my treatment days after that. I shudder to think how disgusted he'll be with me. He seemed to take the prospect of what’s to come in his stride when we talked about it earlier. And I know I would want to look after him if the roles were reversed, but I can’t bear the thought of it. He'll hate it. I just don’t know what to do about it.

“I’m too tired to do anything about it.”

I could.” His voice is as calm as always. There’s no threat or malice there, just the offer to do this for me, if I really want it and don’t feel up to it.

“You make me feel like an invalid. I think I can manage.”

“Okay. Why did you break up with him in the first place?”

“Lots of things. There’s the baby and then he might be going to New York after graduation anyway. And the syphilis.”

“He has syphilis?”

“Did have. Don’t worry. I was clear.”

He nods, as if that thought never crossed his mind. “Inevitable, I suppose, you can’t spell stud without s, t, d.”

I have to laugh at that and, naturally, this is the moment that Brian chooses to come home. He's carrying a lot of stuff. Looks like he’s planning on staying. Jon seems to come to the same conclusion and looks at me with raised eyebrows, asking without words if he should throw him out for me after all. I just shake my head. I'll deal with Brian on my own. I owe him that.

It’s all downhill from there. The next afternoon, after my treatment in the morning, I feel worse than I did the first time around. I seem to spend hours in the bathroom, worshipping the porcelain god. I closed the door, but it doesn’t take long for Brian to follow me in there. He keeps handing me cool, damp cloths to wipe my face and cups of water to rinse my mouth. And he’s put a folded-up towel on the floor for me to kneel on. For a while I just want him to leave. I feel terrible enough physically without being so mortified that he’s witnessing this, but soon I feel too sick to care. He wants me to go to bed, but I’m worried about soiling the sheets or that he'll have to clean up whatever container I'll throw up in. Do I even own anything suitable? And why do I worry about stuff like that at a moment like this?

Eventually I start feeling so weak that I wonder if I'll pass out on the bathroom floor. When Brian manhandles me into bed, I just put up a token resistance and gratefully sink onto the mattress. I’m also starting to feel incredibly grateful that he’s here. There’s no one else I could bear having around me right now. I practically beg him to stay – fuck dignity and pride. I just want him and nobody else. He promises not to leave. I know it’s emotional blackmail. That’s really low.

And it gets worse – a lot worse. I feel more and more sick as time goes by. Eventually there doesn’t seem to be any let-up at all. The vomiting is bad enough, but when the diarrhea kicks in, I’m thinking that if the cancer doesn’t kill me, then the treatment surely will. During my last week, I no longer just feel like I’m dying, I’m actually at a point where I think I might want to.

I’ve lost track of the days and just about everything else. Most of the time, I may be aware of where I am or who else is there, but I really don’t care. As long as Brian’s there. He helps me to the toilet and sometimes into the shower. And he’s all I need and all I want. I feel safe when he’s around and I've forgotten any and all objections I had against having him here.

By this stage I've actually convinced myself that I’m riddled with cancer because this can’t be making me better. How can something that makes me so ill be treatment? No, I’m sure they’ve made a mistake. They may have removed my ball and the lump, but they must have missed the rest of it. Then, one day, the radiologist tells me it’s my last day. It is? I ask her if that means they’re giving up and she smiles and says it just means that I’m done with the treatment and everything is as it should be.

And, of course, nothing changes. I throw up all afternoon and all night. And the next day is only marginally better and so is the day after that. But then I wake up and it’s over. I don’t feel sick any longer, just tired. It’s amazing how the simple absence of nausea can feel like euphoria. I gingerly turn around in bed and Brian is there, looking at the ceiling but turning his head towards me, when I look at him.

“I made it.”

He nods sagely. “Yeah, you did.”

And to my great embarrassment I burst into tears. Brian reaches up to the bedside cabinet and hands me some tissues. “Stupid twat,” he says a little gruffly. Then he pulls me close to him and just strokes my hair. The idea that he saw me when I was so weak makes me want to scream. He'll never forget this. And neither will I. Not the tears and not what came before.

I’m still tired a lot and the diarrhea lingers a few days longer because the radiation hit some of my bowels. It was unavoidable because of the area which was being treated. But at least I’m able to get up and sit on the couch for a few hours a day. I start drinking huge amounts of water because I feel like I haven’t drunk anything for weeks. Daphne says I’m dehydrated and it will sort itself out if I just keep drinking. I eat Debbie's chicken soup until one day I have a craving for toast and peanut butter. And coffee. Brian wordlessly does several Starbucks runs.

By Christmas time, I feel well. I'll go back to work and PIFA after the holidays and everything that happened just feels like a particularly long and vivid nightmare. I get showered with presents and Vic and I toast our great achievement for the year: survival.

And Brian is still around. He spends less time at the loft, which is understandable because he was practically chained to the place for weeks on end. He must be glad it’s over. I’m sure the whole experience was his definition of hell. But he promised me in the beginning that he wouldn’t leave and so he didn’t. Brian doesn’t make many promises, but I have yet to see him break one.

Now that it’s over, he’s studying like a fiend. Mainly, it feels like we’re just coexisting. I feel awkward around him, not just because he's seen me at my lowest, but also because I didn’t prevent that when I should have done. I never wanted him to see me like that for his sake as much as mine and yet, when the time came, all I wanted was Brian and I gave no consideration to what it might do to him. I practically forced him to stay with me.

Didn’t I ask him to leave because I realized that he'll never give me what I need? And then I take advantage of him like that? Now I’m stuck. I can’t ask him to leave after all that and I hate living like this. He’s so remote. He’s always studying or at college – if that’s where he really goes. We make conversation but neither of us quite knows what to say. For once he’s too polite or uncertain to tell me that now that I’m better, he'll return to his old life.

I must admit that however uncomfortable it is to be around him at the moment, I count every day as a bonus. Because once he’s gone, he'll be gone for good. And I’m such a coward and selfish prick. I should just thank him for everything he’s done and release him. And I will. Just a few more days. When I go back to work I'll tell him. Of course, I said the same about Christmas, too. And about New Year.

We’re having a party at the loft to celebrate the end of the year and when the fireworks go off, Brian kisses me. During our first year together, I was in hospital on this day and the year after that, we were in a middle of a fuck at midnight, but for the last two years Brian has kissed me on the stroke of midnight. He’s usually drunk enough not to care or even remember how couple-ly that is. On both occasions, I thought that the alcohol helped him override his worry about his image. This time I think the alcohol helps him forget his disgust.

When he’s done – and he’s making a thorough job of it – he grins insolently at Jon and I realize he was just marking his territory. Even if he doesn’t want me anymore, that doesn’t mean that he'll yield willingly to someone else. He hasn’t touched me, never mind kissed me, since I’ve been sick. Sometimes I look at him and I have such a longing for him that I just want to throw myself into his arms. But I couldn’t bear him rejecting me. Just like I can’t bring myself to ask him to leave again. I think a part of me is hoping that he'll do it for me, just pack his bags and leave. I’m better now, why doesn’t he just go? But I know he’s waiting for me to release him from his promise. Soon he'll start acting out again to give me an incentive. It’s inevitable. Not wanting me to die is not the same as loving me the way I love him. I should really tell him to go before I have to witness that.

Jon comes over and tells me how glad he is that I’m okay now, gives me a hug and kisses my cheek. He leaves soon afterwards and the party starts to wind down. It was quite raucous and the only ones sober were Ben, Vic and I, because we're not allowed to drink on medical grounds, and Lindsay because of her pregnancy. She has quite a bump now. Or rather, it shows a lot because she’s so scarily thin.

“Did I see Emmett hit on Jon?” I ask, when I get into my sweatpants, ready for bed.

I hear Brian chuckle in the bathroom. “That’s nothing. Ted hit on him, too.”

“He did? I must have missed that.”

“Nah, you didn’t miss much. It wasn’t pretty.”

He comes out of the bathroom, stark naked and half-hard. I try not to stare, but he's just so beautiful and I haven’t had sex for a long time. Being around him so much doesn’t help on that score. I basically want him all the time.

He stops and looks at me and smirks. I try to look away, but my eyes keep coming back to him. Eventually he steps up close to me and puts a finger under my chin to turn it up. His kiss is soft at first and then escalates very quickly. He's hard in no time at all and we end up on the bed, naked and groping and clawing. He's helped me shower a few times when I was so weak that I probably would have passed out and split my head open on the tiles, so he’s seen my scar before. I try not to think about it when his hands and lips trace over it, nor about my ball being just a piece of plastic now. But he's seen me puke and worse and I know he'll remember how disgusting that was, if not now, then tomorrow morning at the latest.

I want it. I want to have sex. I want to have sex with Brian. I want him. But nothing’s happening. I’m maybe half-hard, if that, and no matter what he does, it doesn’t go any further than that. Eventually he gives up and flops on his back with a frustrated groan.

“I’m sorry.” I hate that my body won’t cooperate. How can I feel so horny and not get hard? It’s bad enough that I can’t jerk off in the shower, but this is Brian. He once brought me to within three quick strokes of an orgasm just by talking dirty to me.

“It’s alright.”

“It’s not alright.”

“It takes time.”

Time. Isn’t that what this whole thing has been about since I got sick? The fact that I’m running out of time? That’s the reason I threw him out and what makes me think that anything has changed at all? I’m better now and he’s already here less. And this will just force him to stay longer because he always wants to fix things. But once I’m up and running again, so to speak, he'll be back to doing what he always does, tricking and behaving like he’s single. I can’t even blame him for refusing to acknowledge that we’re in a relationship any longer, because I broke up with him, didn’t I? And now I can’t even give him the one thing that always worked between us. I might crave all the other parts of our relationship as well, but I doubt that he does. I have to tell him that he doesn’t have to stay to get me over this – if I ever will. But I can’t. I just can’t because it'll kill me when he leaves. Just a few more days maybe.

I turn away from him and try not to cry.



*******



I don’t trust him. No, that’s not true, I don’t trust this fucking disease. I can see that he’s getting better, but somewhere at the back of my mind there’s always the nagging worry that it’s temporary, that it'll come back just when I start to relax a little. Maybe that will always be with me now. After all, I still check that he’s put his seatbelt on every time we’re in the car together.

For a while I’m so relieved and so focused on his physical well-being that I don’t notice the changes. That we’re not fucking is natural, however difficult that is for me. I know that this kind of surgery will affect his sex life, he told me as much, and I’m trying really hard to be patient. But being around him and not fucking him is killing me. He’s so beautiful and sometimes I watch him just walking across the room, minding his own business, and I have to force myself to look away because I just want to fuck the shit out of him.

So it takes me a while to realize that there’s no contact of any kind. After the accident he was kind of clingy, always touching, wanting to hold hands, wanting to sit practically in my lap. I didn’t mind it so much, in fact I liked that there was something I could do for him. There's none of that now. Even an accidental touch causes him to shy away from me as if he hates it. Never mind that there aren’t any showers together. He always loved those. Fuck, I always loved those.

Very gradually I come to the conclusion that he meant it when he told me to leave. I’ve been deluding myself that it had anything to do with him being sick. He simply had enough of me. Maybe it was the syphilis after all or the baby. Or maybe it was Jon. He seems to be around a lot and he has a knack for timing it so that I’m not there when he is. And he always leaves shortly after I arrive.

I know I’m thinking way too much about this. I’m just hoping that whatever is wrong, is something other than him wanting to be with someone else. Everything else may be fixable and I want to fix it. For once, I’m not simply shrugging it off or walking away. It was bad enough for that week or so after he made me leave, but the idea of losing him for good has made me very aware of where my priorities lie. And that they were a little askew before it all happened. More than a little.

Justin has no reason to keep me around any longer. He’s very capable of looking after himself again and if he doesn’t tell me to leave, that must mean that he doesn’t want me to go, right? But then again, why is he so remote? Is he worried that I'll pounce on him the moment he touches me in any way? Maybe I simply haven’t given him any reason to think differently of me before now. So I’m being patient. He may not be ready yet.

On New Year’s Eve it all comes to a head. I kiss Justin at midnight. I’ve always done that. It might be a leftover from my childhood. My grandmother always said that you should end the old year the way you want the new one to continue. I’m a little drunk, so it’s easier for me to overcome my worry that he'll reject me if I try. And then I just can’t stop. Justin seems to be getting into it as well, thank fuck. And as a bonus, after we finish, I realize that Jon has been watching us. That’ll teach him.

After the party I can’t help wondering if anything’s changed. Ah well, I’ll never know if I don’t try. When I come out of the bathroom, he’s just staring at me. So far, whenever I paraded naked around the loft, he’s always looked away, so I toned it down a little. But now he seems very interested. My grin is mostly relief, although I notice that there’s no tenting of his trousers just yet. It makes me hesitate a little. This is a strange position for me to be in: I’ve never before wanted anyone more than they wanted me. But eventually I can’t stop myself and I have to kiss him and he seems to be keen enough.

It’s the first time I have a good view – and touch – of his scar and his ball. It’s not so bad. In time it'll fade and be barely noticeable. It’s not a flaw, it’s a symbol that he’s survived. How can I not be glad about that? I kiss him everywhere and suck him without much reaction. He’s not getting hard properly. He warned me about that, but I think he just needs time to get used to being touched there. Maybe it’s even a little tender still. It will be all right.

And then it isn’t. Eventually I have to admit defeat. This is just not happening tonight and I’m so fucking horny. It’s not that I haven’t had sex since it’s all started. I have. I haven’t looked for it, but if a guy has given me the come on, I’ve acted on it. At least I have since he got better. Before that, a guy would have had to sit on me and tear my clothes off for me to even realize what he wanted because my head was too full of worry to notice. Lindsay pointed out a few guys to me during class and couldn’t understand why I always rushed off as soon as the lecture was finished. Was it really so hard to fathom that I just wanted to get home to make sure that he was okay?

But this is Justin. Apart from turning me on like crazy without even trying, sex with him is different. It’s hotter and more tender at the same time. It means something different or rather, it means something, period. I tell him that it just takes time. What else can I say? The alternative would be to ask him if it’s me and I’m not opening that can of worms. But when he turns away from me, I have my answer anyway.

I suppose I’m just stubborn. He will have to tell me. I won’t let him get away with anything less. We try a few more times to have sex over the next few weeks but with no success. And he seems reluctant somehow, as if he doesn’t really want me. Well, as long as he doesn’t say it out loud, I’m not going anywhere. But I can’t help wondering if Jon would have more success – or has had already. I have never, ever failed to satisfy a guy I was having sex with. It must be because Justin doesn’t fancy me any longer. And I feel a little sick all the time.

Nobody's more surprised than I am when I get a call-up for an interview an Kennedy & Lyons at the end of January. I really thought I'd scuttled my chances there with exposing their representative to an STD. Lyons was never likely to broadcast that fact, but he must have some influence on the proceedings and I would have expected him to prevent me from ever seeing the inside of their offices. Maybe his bosses are really that impressed with me. It's another thing Justin did for me. I wouldn't be here, if he hadn't proclaimed to the world that the Brown Athletics campaign was mine.

They're very impressed. I’m in New York for three days, all organized and paid for and at the interview I get the impression that they already made up their minds in my favor before I even got there. Adam Lyons is on a business trip and I’m happy not to see him. Instead I spend my two nights clubbing until the early hours. Hey, I’m young, I can fuck all night and still impress people during the interview.

As I’m sitting on the plane with the contract in my pocket, I go through my options. Going to New York has been a dream of mine since I was sixteen and went there with Debbie and Michael to visit Vic. When Vic was sick and I was sitting with him, we often spoke about it and while he loved it there, he told me repeatedly that there are other things in life more important than where you live.

I didn’t get it at the time, but I think I do now. Nearly losing Justin twice – or three times, if you count not being together anymore – gave me food for thought. All I could think was please, don’t let him die – for over a month. It was a familiar mantra and it made me realize how much I want him. Every day since then and, if I’m honest, every day almost since the day we first met, I want to be with him. It scares the shit out of me, because it gives him so much power over me. I’m no longer responsible for my own happiness and I hate that. But what’s the alternative? Fighting it and feeling the same way in the end anyway? I’ve been doing that for four years and it doesn’t work. Because I’m no less scared when I’m not with him, when I pretend that I don’t love him. All that does is make me look stronger. And since when do I care what other people think of me?

And there, I said it, even if only in my head. I love him. That wasn’t so bad and has been true for a long time. So why don’t I act on it? Nothing else will make me happy. I’ve tried everything and I'd practically given in already, and just wanted to enjoy my last year at college, before I shift my priorities to work and Justin. But basically I’d already made up my mind. It wasn’t particularly difficult, especially after I got bored during a blowjob a couple of times. If I’m bored with it, if it’s not enough anymore, why am I still doing it? I might as well stop now, if that’s what it takes. Justin and I may not last and I can’t give any guarantees, and neither can he. All I can say is that I love him and I want to be with him for as long as I feel this way. And as long as he feels the same way, of course. If he still does.

So, when he goes to New York for his art, then maybe we can go together and have the time of our lives. Or if he doesn’t want to go with me, then I can still go and at least live that part of my dream. And if he wants me but not New York? Then I'll just have to bite the bullet and stay in Pittsburgh. It’s not so bad as long as he’s around. I want to go to New York, but I want Justin more. I would have considered it a sacrifice until very recently. Now it’s just a compromise, which you have to make from time to time when you’re with somebody. I have to get my priorities right. If it’s a choice, he wins hands down.

When I open the loft door, I’m just in time to see Justin extracting himself from Jon’s arms. They’re standing in the middle of the loft and I don’t think they’ve been fucking because Justin looks more upset than aroused. Or they tried to fuck and got the same result that we usually do. That would be something at least. Or not, because it doesn’t give me any comfort at all. I leave my bag by the door in case I need to make a quick exit and stroll into the kitchen.

“Sorry, guys, am I interrupting something? Do you want me to go back out, so you can carry on?”

Jon looks at Justin. “Do you want me to stay for this?”

“No, I call you later.”

Jon smiles at him and then has the nerve to smile at me on his way out. I want to see a smirk there, but it’s soft and friendly. This is why I never admit to my feelings out loud, because it leaves you open to all sorts of reactions from other people, like ridicule or, in this case, pity. I’m really not equipped to deal with any of that. Give me behaving like an asshole and make other people hate you over this any day.

Justin comes closer and stands next to one of the stools at the kitchen counter. “It was just a hug of encouragement.”

“You’re free to hug or do whomever you want.”

“I know,” he sighs. “You never left me in any doubt about that.”

“Would you rather I told you what to do?”

“I'd rather you cared.”

“Why? It wouldn’t make any difference, would it? Or would it be more fun if you knew that it bothers me?”

“Does it?”

I pour myself a coffee, load it with sugar and take my time stirring it. Didn’t I decide less than an hour ago that I would do whatever it takes to be with Justin? Well, here’s my chance. Only it feels different when I’m convinced that nothing I will say will make a difference. I’m not flaying myself open for nothing. Not even for Justin.

“Why don’t you just say what you have to say?”

“Because I don’t particularly want to say it.” He does look upset, which means that I'll hate what he’s going to say. Like I didn’t know that already.

“Then don’t. I’m not forcing you to talk. Talking’s overrated.”

“How about you talk for a change?”

I snort a laugh. “Didn’t I just say it’s overrated?”

“Did you get the job?”

“Of course.”

“When do you start?”

“The contract’s for July.”

He nods and pushes some spilled sugar together on the counter with his index finger, then spreads it again to draw a circle in it. I watch him, mesmerized, and try to make my mind go blank – and everything else, too, while I’m at it. There’s no way that this conversation will go in any direction I would want it to go.

“So your mind’s made up?” He’s not looking at me and that’s never a good sign.

“More or less.”

“I’m proud of you, Brian, and I’m happy for you because I know this is what you’ve wanted for a long time…” There's a ‘but’ at the end of that sentence. I can hear it, but it’s a long time coming, a lifetime. Just put me out of my misery already. You’re making me fucking nervous. “…but I’m not sitting around waiting for you to leave. I’m not putting my life on hold for another six months.”

There, he said it and it unleashes my anger immediately. It’s a gut reaction. “Well, no, we can’t have that, can we? What would Jon say?”

Justin pushes the sugar towards me with the flat of his hand. It kind of looks like he means to shove it at me, but it’s way too light to travel even halfway across the counter. I’m probably lucky he’s not playing with something heavy. “Will you shut up about Jon, for fuck’s sake?”

“I would, but he’s kinda always around, isn’t he? Especially when I’m not.”

Justin is seething now. “I made a mistake, Brian! I should never have had sex with him and I've apologized for it. And yes, I admit I slept with him once after you and I broke up. He’s nice to me and he loves me, which is more than you can say.” He has himself under control again pretty quickly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to shout. You were wonderful when I was sick. Just like after the accident. But I can’t be sick all the time. I need you to care when I’m just me as well. I need more, Brian. A lot more. And I know you’re not ready for that and it’s not your fault, but I don’t have time to wait for you anymore. I’m sorry.”

He waits and he looks at me expectantly and I can’t quite process what he’s saying. He’s not making himself very clear, but he’s also doesn’t look as if he’s going to add anything. Is he saying that he’s found somebody else who’s giving him what he needs or is he saying that he would give it another go if I changed? Is it too late already or not?

“So this is not about Jon?”

His face falls as if I made some stupid joke or lame innuendo. “No, Brian, this is not about Jon. It never was. But that’s all you care about, isn’t it? That I may have found somebody. That you’ve been replaced. Your ego can’t allow that. Is that the reason you’re still here? You only want me because you think I’m with someone else? So you can prove that no one’s better than you? It’s not a competition. You won. It’s still you. It always was and maybe even always will be. Congratulations.”

He turns and makes his way into the bathroom and I’m trying hard to keep my temper under control. That was goodbye, right? Only he can’t just come out and say it. He has to wrap it up in some weird-ass, convoluted, protracted, complicated… It’s still you.

Not so fast. That wasn’t a ‘someone else makes me happy please go’, it was a ‘you don’t make me happy please go’. Thank fuck. I don’t care if he thinks I’m fucked up. I would have to be incredibly stupid not to realize that I am. But as long as he’s not saying that he wants to be with someone else, I can change that.

Justin is in the shower when I get into the bathroom. Of course he is, it’s his safe place. He doesn’t hear me until I shout at him over the noise of the water. “Are you going to New York or not?”

He turns and stares at me. “What?”

I open the shower door and step in, barely taking the time to take off my shoes.

“What are you doing? You’ll get soaked.”

“Yeah, water does that. Answer the question. Are you planning on going to New York?”

“Why would I?”

“Because you want to be an artist and New York is where the scene is. And you had that article in Art Forum.”

“It’s hardly going to make me a household name. In fact I’ve way more chance of making it as an artist here, where there’s less competition. I would sink like lead in New York.”

“I want to go.”

“I know that. Will you, please, leave me to shower in peace?”

“No, you don’t know. I went to that interview because I thought you were going to New York. I thought… I was hoping… we’d go together, get a place together, be together… as a couple.”

He looks a little stunned. “I’m just the guy you fuck more than once, remem…”

“Oh for fuck’s sake, Justin, will you stop being such a twat! You knew full well what I meant when I said that. I know you did. Don’t pretend that you didn’t.”

“Actually, I thought I did, but I can never be sure with you, can I? I always have to guess and interpret and read between the lines and then translate it for other people. And I’m tired of it, Brian. Say what you mean. Tell me how you feel. And don’t deny it front of our friends at least. I don’t think it’s too much to ask after four years. If you think I know what you meant when you said that, then why can’t you just say it? Is it like curse that must not be spoken aloud?”

I push him back against the shower wall and press against him so I can speak in his ear. In the end it’s easier this way, even though the water makes my clothes cling to my back unpleasantly. “I meant that you're my partner, the guy I have a relationship with that goes way, way beyond some meaningless fuck, the one I want to be with. I meant that I love you.” And because this is Justin and with Justin you can never be sure of anything, I pull back a little and look at him. “I love you.”

He closes his eyes for a moment, then wraps his arms around my neck and kisses me. Yes! I wish we could take this further, but for now the kiss will have to do. He’s pressed against the wall, so when he wants to stop, he has to push me away. I have to force myself to let go.

“Thank you for saying it, but I’m sorry, it’s not enough.” He ducks under my arm and leaves the shower.

Now I’m stunned, to say the least. Wasn’t this what he always wanted? Me admitting how I feel, a commitment, living together? It’s not enough? What the fuck? I feel annoyed, but I won’t let that surface because that will make me storm out. I won’t do that, not after I’ve come this far. So I switch the water off and leave my sodden clothes on the shower floor. Justin has wrapped a towel around his hips and is standing by the door, ready for round two.

“What more do you want?” I wrap a towel around my own hips. Ordinarily, being naked during an argument doesn’t faze me. In fact, it usually gives me an advantage, but I feel exposed enough as it is.

“It’s easy to say it. Well, okay, maybe not so easy for you, but it’s just words. And I admit that before I got sick, it would have been enough, but now I need more.”

“More? Okay, how about this? I love you. I’m in love with you. I want you. I want to be with you. You’re beautiful. You’re smart. You’re funny. You light up the room. You light up my life. My life is not worth living without you. You’re the one. You complete me. Oh, for fuck’s sake, Justin, feel free to stop me before I grow a twat.” I can’t quite pull it off. I’m trying, but this is just not me. There’s a strong touch of sarcasm in it.

He chuckles a little, then smiles softly. “I love you. You have no idea how much. But you’re missing the point.”

“Good. Because I don’t think I could keep this up. What is the point?”

“The point is why you’re saying it. You thought you would lose me and maybe it scared you a little and now you’re saying what you think I want to hear. But I need you to mean it. Not just because I was sick or because you think Jon is a threat to you. You always want me when you can’t have me. You just need to know that you can have me anytime you want. But I can’t be sick all the time or find fuck buddies to scare you into toeing the line. I need you to mean it even when everything’s fine. Every day.”

“I do.”

“Yeah, and next thing you’re gonna propose.” He looks worried for a moment. “Don’t. Just don’t. This is not about that kind of commitment.”

I’m relieved to hear that because there’s no way we’re ever getting married. I have to draw a line somewhere. But I feel lost. I really don’t know what he wants anymore. I lift my hands in a what-the-fuck gesture and drop them again.

“I love you and you love me, but we need to want the same things, Brian. Otherwise love's not enough. I’ve always made allowances because you’re so young, but I’m thirty-three now and I could have died for the second time in my life and I’m just not willing to wait any longer. If I don’t try and find the things that I want now, I might not ever have them. I would have waited for you to grow up, probably indefinitely, but this was my second wake-up call. I’m thinking maybe I shouldn’t ignore that. I’m out of time.”

“Then tell me what you want and we’ll take it from there.”

“I…” He tilts his head a little and looks at me thoughtfully. “No, you tell me what you want first.”

He doesn’t trust me. He still thinks I’m saying all this just because I think he wants to hear it. He’s right in the sense that I'd never have said it if I didn’t feel it was needed. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t mean it. And now I feel like I’m in the middle of the most important test in my life. It’s very tempting to just throw out anything he might want to hear, just to be on the safe side. At this point I’m willing to do anything, be anything he needs. But in the long run, that would just defer the problem to a later date.

“I want to wake up with you in the morning. I want to go through my day, knowing that you'll be there in the evening and all night. I want us to live together. And I want to go to New York and I want you to come with me. But I can live with staying here, if you don’t want to go.”

He shakes his head. “I don’t want you to do anything just for me. I want you to do things because it’s what you want to do. I don’t want you to change for me.”

“I know. You never tried to change me. To find the right person, you don’t find someone and then try and turn them into what you want. You find someone who already is what you want. You always knew that we’re the perfect fit. You were just waiting for the pieces to slot into place. Now they have. Tell me what you want and I’ll tell you if it fits.”

“I want to be with someone who wants to be with just me. I want to be enough.”

“That’s it?”

“Yeah, pretty much. If we include admitting it as well.”

“No tricking?”

“No tricking.”

“Justin, there’re some things I can’t promise you. I can’t promise that my feelings for you will still be the same tomorrow. I can’t imagine that they won’t, but I can’t promise it. And neither can you if you’re honest. I can’t promise that I’ll be easy to live with. And I can’t promise you that I’ll never fuck another guy. At the moment, I feel like I don’t want to, but neither you nor I know the future. I don’t want the occasional slip-up ruin everything for us just because we make promises here today that we can’t keep.”

“Define ‘occasional’.”

“What?”

“Define ‘occasional slip-up’ because I’m not giving you a blank check to carry on as you were.”

“I won’t go out prowling anymore. I won’t be looking for fucks. And I'll think long and hard before I take anyone up on an offer.”

“I imagine you get offers every day.”

“More than one. But I don’t need to trick. I just always did. Didn’t think much about it. You were right: I got scared, not just a little, but a fucking lot. But all it did was open my eyes and look at what was already there.”

His smile is soft and then he turns serious. “And if I can never get it up again?”

“You will.”

“But what if I don’t?”

“What are you? Five? On the remote chance that your cock is out of commission for good, I have to inform you that you'll be giving a lot of blowjobs in the future.”

“Would you trick then?”

“Jesus, Justin… yes, I would. Saying anything else would be unrealistic, don’t you think?”

He nods a few times. He has always faced facts, so I don’t think my answer surprises him. Maybe it was a trick question – no pun intended.

“I feel unclean.”

“Huh?”

“I feel kind of disgusted with myself. When I was sick, I was throwing up everywhere. Even over myself once or twice. And… I can’t understand how you can even look at me. Never mind touch me.”

Sometimes he’s really pathetic. For someone so beautiful, he sure as fuck has a lot of body image issues.

“I don’t know if I should tell you this because it makes me sound like a creep, but I fancied you even when you were covered in sick. Well, not while you were covered in sick, but in the shower afterwards.” I shrug. “I’m a guy. I can’t look at you and not think about fucking you.”

He chuckles. “Pervert.”

“You love it really.”

“I love you.”

It’s good to hear him say it with so much conviction. He has said it in the past, once or twice, but always tentatively. I suppose I always just chose to believe that he was unsure himself, rather than uncertain and worried about my reaction. And quite rightly so. I wasn’t ready for it, not so much his feelings but my own. Because then I would have had to deal not only with my fear of what will happen when he stops, but also with the fact that maybe I’m a little more conservative at heart than I would like to admit. I’m long past the point where I find it hot watching him fuck other people or even know that he does. Now I know that you can’t deny yourself happiness for fear that it might be over one day. Because now I know that my regrets would be about my cowardice and not about admitting to my feelings.

I move closer and bend my head down, waiting for him to meet me halfway. The kiss is soft and desperate at the same time. This would normally be the point where I would expect us to start fucking each other’s brains out. Of course, that isn’t possible at the moment and it’s incredibly frustrating for both of us. I didn’t realize that he’s struggling with me seeing him so weak and sick. I never thought about it. To me it was just a part of his illness, which scared the shit out of me when it was going on and now only makes me feel relieved that he came out of it at the other end.

But maybe part of the problem is that I didn’t realize, or willfully ignored, a lot of things. I always liked that I didn’t have to tell him things, like how I feel about him and how I see my life developing. I made way too many assumptions and it made it easier for me to cope with wanting things I felt I shouldn’t want or were unattainable. Now I know that things are only unattainable if the worst happens. Now that he's better, everything is up for grabs.

He moves back a little and strokes the hair at the back of my neck, smiling up at me. “Pieces slotting into place, eh? Where did that come from? That’s clever.”

I roll in my lips because, now that it’s over, I feel a little embarrassed. My first instinct is to withdraw and to deny that I said anything, or at least that I meant it. But that just won't cut it any longer. I will have to learn to trust Justin with my feelings, because I know that I can. So far he's always been careful with them. So I smile back at him and put my forehead against his. “Learned from the master.”



Final part here: http://kachelofen.livejournal.com/24737.html



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