Thursday, December 6, 2012

Dreaming of Dax Ch. 08

Just Give Me a Sign

It is a strange phenomenon that you can be in a fucked up situation in your life and still feel as if you’re in a place of stability. That was where I was following my breakup with Brendan. At least I was in better shape than when I wanted to kill myself over losing my boyfriend two months earlier. Michael was back at college and leaving me alone.

I lived by myself in a nice apartment that was my oasis of peace where I could hide and kick back. I had a decent full-time job and worked with people my age who at least tolerated me, regardless of their personal opinions. I stayed in regular touch with my former guardians, and even though I didn’t see them as often as I liked, we still shared dinner together at least once a month.

As I drove to the service station that employed me, I reflected on the recent changes in my life. I knew from the way people responded to me that I was becoming snarky and defensive. But that was the way I had operated since losing my latest. I wasn’t looking for a forever partner anymore and convinced myself the circumstances weren’t right to even try. I simply lost my tolerance for bullshit and wasn’t hesitant about expressing my displeasure. It was like I expected people I met to have a secret agenda that would end up hurting me, and I headed them off before they had a chance. Take me as I am and deal with it.

One person who was willing to was Emily Bayard, the girl I’d met at Seaview six months before and still a very close friend. There was something appealing about hanging out with her where she didn’t put pressure on me to be anyone but myself. I wasn’t nearly as snide around her as I was with others, and the only reason I could give for my gentler response was that I valued her companionship and didn’t want to lose it. She was very sweet and seemed determined to bring out the best in me. Emily was also a good sport about my teasing and, in pushing her buttons, we both knew I did it to fluster her. If I had told him, I’m sure Zeke would’ve had a field day over how a female I’d known for less than nine months was my new best friend and confidante.

With the way she looked at me sometimes I suspected her interest in me might be more than platonic, but she didn’t hit on me and that raised her in my eyes above many. An inch shy of six feet which was a miracle for a teenager who had barely been average in height, I considered myself fully grown. Developing muscle tone in all the right places by working out in the weight room at Seaview College, I had a decent enough build to look good in tight leather pants with no shirt that I favored when I went to clubs. My best asset was my hair, straight and blonde, down past my shoulders, and long enough to braid. Girls and guys constantly complimented me on my so-called cute ass and how my eyes were the window to my soul. I knew where they were going with it and didn’t want to listen.

The person it might have mattered coming from was out of my reach. Brendan. Even though I tried to make myself believe that I didn’t care about him and he no longer meant anything to me, it was a lie. I missed him and thought of him all the time, but his resolve to stay in Missouri was final. The scars he left inside me would probably never heal.

I had run into Lauren, his cousin, often since that September night, and the first time she hugged me so hard it made me cry. She was still irritated over his denial of his true feelings and the way he’d deceived me. As she explained it, she was stuck with the family she was born into, but she chose her friends. Lauren was loyal that way, and it was with reluctance that she informed me of Brendan and his fiancée’s upcoming nuptials in December. The only reason she did was because the little shit was threatening to send me a wedding invitation, and she advised me to toss it without even opening it.

I saw Zeke Carter, my therapist, weekly to discuss the highs and lows in my life. He was the major reason I had decided to major in mental health counseling and get a double degree. He wanted to put me on anti-depressants but I refused, partially due to my drug history, partially because I hated the known side effects, and I knew he was disappointed in me. I seemed to play this back-and-forth game where I was lonely but I beat a hasty retreat every time I came near to putting trust in anyone. I convinced myself I was holding up, but I had learned the hard way how few were worth the effort. At least my lofty expectations weren’t breaking my heart.

What we did discuss, ad nauseum it seemed, was my history with my ex-boyfriends, as well as some of my unforgettable one-night stands. As if solving my issues was as simple as a discussion. But we’d continued this same topic of conversation for almost the whole of the three years I’d been seeing Zeke for counseling, and it still didn’t make sense. He had this habit of stroking my partner disasters as if they were beloved pets.

Today he was harping on my anger issues which had recently come to the forefront again. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not an easy person to get to know. You wouldn’t be either if the three men in your life cheated with an ex, set you up in a risky four-way or didn’t happen to mention while you were together that his parents expected him to marry and produce offspring. Antagonism is a good self-defense device. It kept me from being hurt but it also tended to isolate me from people who might have the potential to actually treat me well for a change.

Therapists are terribly nosy people, always wanting to know about feelings. Dealing with the existential of how and why, rather than basics of what. So when I made a growly reference to my dislike of having my space invaded, Zeke latched on to it and we sloughed our way into talking about Michael and the way he used to arrive on my doorstep unannounced. The day he showed up at my apartment complaining about my drug use and then bitched me out four months later for intervening when Isaac abused him. He asked why I couldn’t accept one visit as a gesture of goodwill and the other as an opportunity to work out a dispute between us.

I was quiet a moment, flooding my brain with memories of Michael, but nothing related to actual feelings came out of my mouth. After all this time, it wasn’t the confrontations that mattered, it was the emotion behind our behavior. There must have been something in my face.

“Okay, tell me about February,” he demanded, his eyes piercing me like glass from a mirror. “How did Michael being there make you feel? What would you do differently if you could?”

It should’ve been easy enough to just order him out of my place and tell him not to come back. But back then I was acting stupid, I’d had a rough day and self-medicated accordingly. Michael always affected me in the least predictable manner, such as getting angry over my sense of humor and backing me up against a wall until we were so close his lips were less than an inch away. It had been so easy to give in… until reason resumed. But now?

Kiss him back and never stop.

The unexpected reply popped into my head so quickly I nearly jumped. I felt heat in my face, and Zeke rushed right in to pin me down and make me admit that I was sorry for how I overreacted.

“I had been drinking and I was totally wasted on the drugs,” I offered in a thin voice. “There was a huge part of me that definitely wanted Michael back, but I panicked when I realized what was happening. I felt like he was playing me, even though now I can see he was similarly surprised by the kiss. It just happened…”

Zeke smiled. “Yes, Dax, but often what ‘just happens’ between two people is a reflection of your true desire. So if the kiss was spontaneous, you wanted it… and him. There was something inside you that was temporarily willing to forgive Michael, let the past go and make a fresh start. I don’t think it was all drug-induced either.” He coughed. “Is there anything in your recent past that makes you think you couldn’t work things out with Michael?”

“Aside from him being a dumb-ass?” I joked.

“Well, let’s put aside the name-calling from that night. Rage masked need on both your parts, and it was a juvenile reaction to try to blame each other, hurtful at the time but unimportant now. Let’s talk about more recent events, such as Michael’s response to you going out with Brendan?”

“He was jealous.” I told him about their first meeting the weekend of Jana’s wedding. “Michael couldn’t take his eyes off us. He hadn’t known I was off drugs…”

Zeke’s eyes lit up. “How did he act when he found out you were clean?”

“He told me I looked good,” I said affectionately, remembering the glow of Michael’s reaction. “You know how much he hated me using and had begged me to stop several times. So when he saw me at the wedding rehearsal, he was elated.”

“That doesn’t sound like someone who hates you.”

“Oh no,” I was quick to correct. “Michael still loves me. I mean, if I wished to get back together, he’d agree without question. He’s been sorry for what he did almost from the day he cheated.”

“So, why is it so hard to accept that Michael is sincere in his apologies over the betrayal? You say he’s been in counseling up at Humboldt, and maybe he’s matured too. Maybe it’s time to stop being so angry at the world and give him another chance.”

But I wasn’t willing to do that. I didn’t want to give anyone a chance to hurt me again.


It’s sad to say, but I had not pondered Michael as more than a fleeting thought in two months… since the weekend I discovered Brendan was leaving me. It still felt surreal to come awake in the early morning hours to find him keeping watch over me. I’d gone all emo and threatened suicide, and my parents had promised Zeke they would take care of me but they were too exhausted to stay up. I was waiting for my sedative to take effect so I told Michael about Brendan and he explained college gay sex and the regrets of failed love. Been there, done that, not looking backwards. At least our feelings were out in the open.

Then, as I was drifting back to sleep, Michael kissed me and told me he still loved me. I already knew- I’ve always known. I realized that I loved him back, but there was too much water under the bridge. We have such a checkered friendship that we rarely spend time together other than in passing and what it takes to say hello and goodbye. I guess that’s unfair to him, but there’s a very proud part of me that doesn’t feel like being gracious for all the shit he’s caused in my life. It was one more reason I was so overwhelmed with the burden of being Dax-goddamn-Stephenson.

Zeke lectured me over the heedless risks I take, but nowhere was that more true than in my sex life. When I’m with someone long-term who I love, I am the most faithful, monogamous person you could imagine. When I’m not, I use any means at my disposal to pick up anonymous men and go home with them for a quick fuck. My hand could only provide a minimum of relief for so long. I was still six months away from turning twenty-one, but I’ve had a fake ID for two years. It easily got me into the clubs and bars where, along with showing off my dance skills, I look for casual hook-ups with strangers.

Short term, one time, no last names necessary and nothing too intimate like kissing provided me with everything I needed to tide me over once the needs got too intense to fight. It was the only way I could handle sex since Brendan had left me. As long as I kept it in Santa Bella I was okay. It was rare that I spent the whole night; I just didn’t want the distraction of a new relationship that was going to fall apart in the long run and leave me emptier than I already was. I was careful about using protection and getting tested, but there were times I was so drunk I’d wake up in an unfamiliar bed and not even remember the name of my partner. Every so often, I’d see Connor Wright’s friend, Tomas, and the looks he passed my way were all-knowing and concerned.

One night I met up with a short, dark skinned boy named Jon who was my age and danced like a dream. After an hour of grinding against each other at the club we went back to his place where he begged to suck on my dick, and I had to admit that his tongue stud provided sensations that had me going out of my mind. Oh god! We lay head to crotch, his precum flowing against my tongue as I sucked and slurped him down my throat, and the vibrations of his hoarse exclamations of pleasure through my shaft paved the way to a quick, intense ending. With his own release, Jon squeezed my head so hard between his thighs I thought I was going to pass out.

I was getting ready to fuck him when his older roommate, TJ, walked in. I was startled at first and nervously thought I was going to get chased out of the apartment by a jealous lover, but it turned out they had an open relationship and liked to share. Fortunately, this was totally consensual and a much calmer and more pleasant experience than the four-way that Connor and his friend had set up for me and that other kid, Andy, when I was eighteen before I gave up the drugs.

If I thought that being licked and suckled by a mouth with a wicked piece of metal caressing my cockhead was intense, nothing compared to bending over the lithe, twisting dark brown back of Jon, his ass in the air with my manhood tightly wedged inside and pulling on his nipples while TJ drilled me from behind. TJ’s mouth fastened to my neck just below my ear, sucking and pulling blood to the surface to create a giant love bite, and I groaned, my body alive with need.

With some skillful planning, mostly me holding Jon back from cumming too early, we managed to time our orgasms closely. TJ hauled his pulsing cock out of me, ripped off the latex and spurted ropes of cum on my back at almost the same time as I was releasing my own semen into a condom deep inside Jon, who was fisting himself to orgasm. The three of us were a moaning, sweaty tripod of ecstasy and fell asleep shortly thereafter in a tangle of arms, legs and cum-drenched torsos. I was so exhausted I couldn’t move. When we awoke at eight, we showered together for more fun. Declining breakfast I quietly dressed and let myself out of the apartment.


Mom and Dad invited me for Thanksgiving which I enjoyed. The Capshaws really were a wonderful group of people to belong to, and I felt myself lucky to be part of them. The whole family was there- Mom and Dad, their daughter, Linnie and her new fiancé, their older daughter, three months pregnant Jana, and her husband, David. And Michael, of course.

I guess he didn’t want me to know, maybe paying me back in an immature way for keeping my own affairs to myself, but I learned that he was attending Chapman University. Now in his junior year like me, he only lived an hour away. Michael arrived after I did, and with his effusive greetings behind us, his gaze more or less settled on me and never left. It was needless for me to speculate why. I knew. He might try to be inconspicuous in his desire for me, but he couldn’t help himself. He was like my shadow, and it made me feel warm, sad and angry all at the same time. No matter how plain I made it that we had little chance for a future together, he kept setting his sights on the unobtainable dream and coming back for more.

In some ways the change in his personality was disturbing. What had happened to the cocky, self-confident high school senior he used to be? In all the years I’d known Michael he had never been with anyone exclusive except me and the abusive ex he’d chucked half-way through his freshman term. Come to think of it, I wasn’t sure he was dating at all. It was like Isaac’s abuse had sucked his vibrant personality out of Michael, and I hurt for him to find some happiness and equilibrium.

A bright, sunny southern California Saturday dawned in early December, but my mind was not in the here and now of Santa Bella. No, it was eighteen hundred miles away in Derrington, Missouri where, Brendan, my former boyfriend was marrying the girl of his dreams. The one his fundamentalist, homophobic parents had planted their stamp of approval on to join the family and become the mother of their grandchildren. I halfway hoped one of them was sterile.

No matter how hard I tried not to go there in my head I dwelt in the memories and ‘what-ifs’, and I spent the morning alternately crying my eyes out and hugging the toilet. Had it not been for a Christmas choir recital that my friend, Emily, was singing in at Seaview College that afternoon, I would have spent the day getting drunk. I realized nothing could change the outcome, but I still seethed over the way he dropped me and how I ended up meaning nothing to him.

At 1:30 I was sitting in the auditorium waiting for the music to start and wondering if anyone else I knew from my four semesters singing still performed with the troupe besides Emily. The program started soon after but the college had numerous vocal and instrumental classes, and each one was presenting musical numbers. I was very depressed over Brendan and wished I could leave but I’d promised her.

The group was next-to-last in the ninety-minute concert, and they were scheduled to sing three pieces by such disparate artists as Jester Hairston, James Dillon and Elton John. Even with it being mid-afternoon, the hall was badly lit, and the few dust-mote-filled strips of sunshine from the high, drab windows hardly made a difference and I could barely distinguish Emily from any of the other singers. Mr. Braeton kept their attention focused on him as the rest of the choir took their places, and raised his baton, signaling quiet. The accompanist played the introduction, and they began to sing. Glee, they weren’t, but then, my years’ chorales weren’t much better.

As the last notes of the first song died away and they shifted positions to begin the second, I let my eyes drift out to the rest of the audience clapping in their seats. My eyes found one specific person, and I almost gasped out loud. Sitting behind me in the next-to-last row, his burnished hair glowing in one of the few shafts of sunlight piercing the gloom, was Michael.

I did a double-take to assure myself it was, indeed, Michael and shuddered in dread. What was he doing here?

It probably didn’t matter now that I was no longer a student at Seaview, but if I needed a secret kept, he was the absolute last person to be hanging around me at the school. Indiscreet, impulsive and apt to follow me around like a toddler wanting attention, he had no idea how closeted I had been at the college. He didn’t know how to take no for an answer either.

Michael didn’t notice me looking at him and I obviously couldn’t keep watching behind me once the second song began, so I turned back around. He seemed to be alone, and I steeled myself to get through the concert, but my mind was no longer on it. Was he following me and, if so, how did he find out I'd be here? I saw Emily catch sight of me and give me a winning smile followed by a troubled stare at my distraction. Great, just great.

The second the performance was over I headed for the door. I knew Emily would want to see me and hear my critique of the group’s talents but I was in a hurry to get to the parking lot. Too late. Michael arrived outside first and stood ten feet from the door, abstractedly pushing his long fringe of bangs off his face as he waited for me to emerge. He still looked good enough to eat, no matter how tortured our past, with his long, leonine form and golden coloring. Even in his loose jeans and polo shirt, I could see that he was spending time in the gym, and his muscles rippled when he turned around. We were growing up, no longer teenagers, and post-adolescence was settling on him well.

Michael fastened his tawny eyes on me, and I was mentally flipped into my senior year with him by my side. It was as if Emily, the Seaview College choir and the throngs of spectators dropped out of existence. This was the man who seduced, adored and hurt me, in that order, and continued to confuse me to this day. I didn’t think I could ever have him again, ever trust him enough to share my heart, but that didn’t mean I wanted him any less. He had been first lover, the one to take my virginity, first everything to me. But as they say, you can’t go back.

Michael strode over to me, a huge smile brightening his features. “Hey Dax,” he called. “How are you, bro?”

I rolled my eyes, thinking he was never going to get that I wasn’t his ‘bro’ anymore, but it wasn’t a discussion I was willing to battle in public. “Michael, what are you doing here?”

Michael didn’t let my rudeness bother him but had the grace to look slightly guilty. He laughed. “To be honest, I’m looking for you. Mom said you were scheduled to work one of her Open Houses today but canceled because of this concert. I’m down for the weekend from college so I thought I’d come by and say ‘hi’.”

I flexed my fingers impatiently. “Okay, hi and bye,” I responded quietly. “It’s good to see you. Now, I have to go.”

“Wait, Dax.” I turned to see him eying me in hurt bewilderment. “I thought we could hang out for a couple of hours. Go to a bar or something.”

Now I was the puzzled one. I knew he had turned twenty-one recently, but when did Michael start thinking of me as a drinking buddy? “Sorry, but I already have somewhere I need to be.” That was made up on the fly, but I just wanted him gone.

I could vaguely feel eyes drilling into my back and swiveled ever so slightly to notice that Emily had emerged from the practice room the choir was assigned to and was staring at me with a speculative gleam in her green eyes. I knew I wasn’t going to get rid of him easily and if he chose he could embarrass me in front of her, so I asked for a moment and went to talk to Emily.

I walked up and gave her a big hug of congratulations. She nodded her head at Michael.

“Who is he?”

“That’s Michael, my brother…” I said absentmindedly, and she threw me a piercing glance.

“Really? You don’t look anything like him… oh, sorry… that Michael?” She blushed with recognition. “You also don’t look happy to see him.”

“Yeah, that Michael,” I confirmed. I'd revealed a little about my past, including my mother’s death, during our Wednesday night dinners, and nobody could call Emily inattentive. “He's the one who convinced his parents to give me a home three years ago.”

“That’s right, when your mom died,” she said, flicking me a compassionate look and remembering all I‘d said. “I’m so sorry about your mom. That must’ve been rough.”

I shrugged, not wanting to get into another detailed discussion about my childhood. “Not really, but it’s not a big deal. I did alright, all considering.”

“You never told me why you two don’t get along.” She was certainly relentless and observant.

“I didn’t like one of his old friends.” I concentrated on acting calm, careful with how I explained my past, which as far as I was concerned was a slammed shut and locked door. “Isaac was an ass who manipulated him. I told him the truth, we argued about him and Michael got mad and refused to listen. It turned out I was right”

“You have certainly lived an interesting life,” she summed up. We could both feel the conversation winding down. She frowned, turning pink again. “Well, maybe not interesting, that’s the wrong word.” She stopped awkwardly.

“Don’t sweat it, Emily,” I smiled to put her at ease. “I know what you meant.” We bid our goodbyes and I rejoined Michael. He smirked at me as if he knew his presence irked me.

“Dax, I‘m sure anything you want to do would probably be fun so if you need a date.”

His insolent remark earned him a heated glare from me, and I quickly looked around to see if anyone heard him. He was perkier and more in-your-face than usual. I thought our long talk in September included forgiveness and we’d settled most of our differences. Now, he was threatening to undo it all with his assumptions.

“You wish,” I berated, and he realized that I was dead serious.

“Look Dax,” he begged in a tone I knew well from our bedroom days together. “Mom and Dad would really like us to bury the hatchet and be friends. We haven’t seen each other since last spring, so why can’t we kick back for a couple of hours and just chill?”

The fucker! I stared at him in open-mouthed surprise that he would play the parent card, even though he spoke the truth. It hurt Mom and Dad that we didn’t get along well enough to hardly be in the same room together for more than an hour without us insulting each other. I couldn’t be what he wanted, and often he just made matters worse, but the friendship might be worth investing in for their sakes. So, to appease my guardians, to make Michael happy and most of all to get him away from the college, I agreed to go out for some beers.



Dax and I didn’t keep in close contact following the September weekend he came home to lick his wounds after Brendan dumped him. He got over it, only staying three days at the house, and disappeared back into his secretive life without me. I couldn’t believe that I’d had Dax’s mobile phone in my hand and didn’t even think of copying his number into my own cell, but he would have considered my calls as taking liberties. I had made a vow to myself that I was going to find a way to get close to Dax until I had him convinced of my good intentions and my feelings for him, but I had no idea how to do so. He didn’t seem to have a problem being loose friends as long as he didn’t have to spend time with me, and what kind of fucked up friendship was that!

I loved him. I was deeply, completely, out of breath in love with Dax. I didn’t want anyone else. It was as if any other man was invisible to me. I’d had fellow students, first at Humboldt, and now at my present university, who seemed like nice guys, and I occasionally went out with a few. But all it felt like was empty, meaningless sex because I wasn’t with Dax. It took next to nothing to get me fantasizing about him and getting a hard-on in my shorts that needed a quick jack-off session to fix. Giving myself attention was often the better choice because I didn’t have to deal with fallout from unhappy dates looking for more than I could give.

It had been two and a half years since our high school graduation and, as time passed, I saw my chances of us rekindling anything between us drying up. His fling with Brendan had been a huge wake-up call; Dax was not sitting at home pining for me, he was out looking for a long-term, meaningful relationship with a loving soulmate. I wanted to be that soulmate. I wanted what we had in high school but as an adult with enough maturity to be grateful for who was in my bed and to prove my adoration to him every day of his life. I promised myself I would never again be the one to cause him pain on purpose. But in order to keep that promise he had to let me in and trust me a little.

So when Dad casually let slip that Dax was going to help at Mom’s Open House over the weekend I made sure to clear my calendar to visit home. Then I overheard them talking and Mom said he was attending the Seaview Christmas concert because one of his friends was singing, and I knew where I should be. I grabbed the information as an opportunity and an unasked-for gift. He probably wouldn’t be happy to see me, but I had to try.

No, Dax was not happy to see me at his performance, but I was surprised by how nervous my appearance made him. He certainly didn’t seem inclined to introduce me to the pretty redheaded girl he greeted so warmly. In fact, he acted rather anxious about me meeting her. But damn, if I didn’t succeed and get him to join me for a couple of beers.

It was only after we arrived at the downtown bar that I remembered that Dax wasn’t legal yet. But not to worry; he flashed an ID that allowed him in, and I had to scrape my jaw off the floor. Dax smiled as we sat down at a table and ordered two Corona beers which I insisted on paying for. “Stop sweating it, Michael,” he quietly said with a laugh, never ceasing to amaze me. “I’ve had fake ID for two years. It hasn’t failed me yet.”

Despite the obvious trickery on my part getting him to the bar, Dax slowly relaxed, and we caught up in each others’ lives. He worked at a gas station and was doing well in school. He was still seeing his therapist. In fact, he had decided to major in counseling, even though he would most likely need it himself for a long time. He was convinced that he was thoroughly fucked up beyond redemption.

“I used to think it was just bad luck.” Dax’s fingers had been absently tracing the same triangle pattern on the Formica table for the past three minutes. “I guess some people aren’t destined to lead normal lives.”

It hurt me to listen to him degrade himself. “You know, Dax, your issues aren’t all your fault. Your mother…”

“What is it with you people?” he interrupted, shaking his head in wonder and playing with his glass. “Do I have a sign on my back that says ‘pity me’? Everybody keeps making excuses and wanting to blame my mother.”

“Who is everybody?” The last thing Dax could be accused of was being a social butterfly, and I doubted Zeke let him off the hook that easily. He never talked about the people he hung around with at work or school. My opinion was that he was something of a hermit.

“Nobody really.” And when I threw him a skeptical look, he gave in. “Okay, the girl who was singing today, the reason I went to the recital? Her name is Emily. She’s a friend and sometimes we eat dinner together on Wednesdays. She asks a lot of questions.”

This was intriguing. “So how much have you told her?”

“Enough for her to sympathize with my drug addiction and say it wasn’t entirely my fault.”

“She’s right,” I volunteered, grinning. “But don’t use our compassion as an excuse to go back to the dark side.”

He snickered and it was good to see him relaxing and having fun. The fact that Dax was hanging out with anybody, much less a girl, was quite a bombshell, and I wondered if she felt something for him. I knew nothing about her but thought that she’d probably find him easy on the eyes. Everyone did, but I wasn’t jealous. Dax was gay, and she wasn’t a threat to me. “So what else did you and Emily talk about?”

Dax smiled back. “Odd little bits of my history, most of my childhood, high school.”

“Did my… uh… name come up?”

I was surprised at Dax’s blush that went from the roots of his hair down into the neckline of his t-shirt. What was up with that?

“Not exactly,” he admitted hesitantly. “I told her about Mom and Dad having guardianship and you were my sort-of brother and we don’t always see eye to eye.”

“So I don’t imagine you discussed anything about…”

Dax turned bleak eyes to me. “Why would I do that?” His voice was just as darkly disturbing. “I was not out at Seaview, Michael. Not at all. I pull off a very fine balancing act.”

My mouth dropped open in shock. Now I understood his haste to get away from the school. I couldn’t imagine the energy that must go into keeping such a secret. “For god’s sake, why not? I thought you were past all that.”

Not that I believed every introduction I made should start with, ‘Hello, I’m Michael and I’m gay’, but honestly! It was like our senior year all over again, a total regression from when he was self-confidant and proud at Jana’s wedding. The scars Dax hid from the breakup must be more extensive than I had imagined.

He shrugged, refusing to look at me straight. “Leftover fear. Being shy. Options, maybe.”

“Options? What kind of options?” The only option I could think of made my blood run cold.

Dax sat for the longest time without answering, and when he did he changed the subject. “How’s college?”

I shook my head and went with it. “You know I transferred to Chapman University for my junior and senior years, right?”

“So is there a story there?” he asked grimly, finishing the rest of his beer in one long slug.

“You already know the story,” I groused, bringing up the maestro of our discontent. “Isaac Cramer went into full harassment mode last year. Nothing physical or outright threatening, but he did everything he could within the legal content of the restraining order to punish me for publicly humiliating him. I didn’t want to put up with his immature crap anymore so I made it easy and quietly dropped out of Humboldt.”

Dax sighed. “That was probably wise. Just remember, Isaac lives here in Santa Bella, so he can still find you. The best you can hope for is that he latches on to someone else to stalk, not that I wish Isaac on any other poor unsuspecting soul.”

“Me either.” Finished my beer, I ordered us another round. We talked about me getting an apartment in Orange near the school and I issued a nonchalant invitation to come up and visit. There was a quick diversion into family matters- a little about Jana’s pregnancy, our parents and the upcoming holidays before settling into a semi-comfortable silence. I finally noticed that Dax had gone kind of quiet, wrapped up in his own thoughts and staring off into space. He seemed to withdraw as I watched, and I wondered if he was getting depressed because of the beer.

“Hey, earth to Dax,” I said, passing my hand several times in front of his face.

He came back to the here and now with a start and half a scowl on his face. “I must have zoned,” he said in a low voice, shredding the napkin in front of him into little strips. “It hasn’t been the best of days.”

“Sorry to hear. What happened?”

“Brendan’s married.” His eyes reflected pain as I watched black thoughts descend on him like a starless sky.

That got my attention, and I muttered in annoyance. I’d forgotten that Brendan’s cousin, Lauren, lived in town and would keep him informed, and it hurt me that he still wasn’t over his former boyfriend. “And you know this how? I told that asshole to leave…”

I was abruptly not the only one at full alert. Dax sat up and directed a glare in my direction, instantly angry. “You told who what?”

I could only look down at my beer glass and try to come up with a logical explanation. But Dax had a way of putting me on the spot that brooked no quarter and it wasn’t going to be pretty.

“Are you saying you talked to Brendan? When?”

Oh yeah, he was pissed.

There was no hiding what I’d done, which wasn’t anything bad except interfering without asking him first, something Dax hated. I gulped. “When you… were, uh… so sick at the house in September and Brendan wouldn’t stop texting you. I could see how upset he made you. He was playing on your nerves and feeling sorry for himself. You had been through so much, Dax. You didn’t need Brendan to make things worse. I was… uh, so worried about you. I called him and… I said… he, uh… needed to leave you alone.”

Dax’s voice rose as he glowered defiantly at me, and his sarcasm was biting. “So you didn’t think I had enough sense to tell him to stop if his texts became too much to handle? You just took that decision away from me. Like I was a child or fucking stupid!”

“That’s not the way…”

“What gave you the right, Michael?” he demanded hotly, his furious face flushing bright red. “Christ! Why can’t you mind your own goddamned business? I don’t need you to take care of me.”

“Dax, stop.” I could hear the people around me pause their own conversations and knew we were drawing their attention. Our anger had always been combustible, like a flashover when the air ignites in the intense heat of a big fire. Oil and water, that was Dax and me. “Let me explain.”

“I don’t want your fucking explanation,” he grit out, jumping to his feet. He withdrew his wallet and fished out a ten dollar bill to throw on the table. “I keep telling you this but you don’t get it. Stay the hell away from me.”

Dax nearly ran from the bar, leaving me staring after him in dismay. One step forward, a hundred steps back. We seemed unable to sustain any kind of amiable relationship for longer than the time it took to drink a couple of beers or hold a before-dawn conversation. I dropped my head on my upturned hand, castigating myself over my stupidity. Why couldn’t I learn to leave well enough alone?



Well, Michael’s story explained everything I needed to know about why I never heard from Brendan again after my convalescence at the Capshaws’. The stupid asshole! I kicked my truck tire as I emerged from the bar, groaning in frustration. What was so hard to understand about not liking him in my face, messing in my business? He claimed he wanted to be friends, but this wasn’t friendship.

And Brendan… I remembered telling him that I couldn’t stay in contact after our breakup, but now I had to ask if his mistaking my silence for indifference had somehow pushed him to go through with the marriage. Would there have been a way to work out the breach between us? And, for that matter, was Michael being completely altruistic in trying to help me. If he still loved me as much as he claimed, maybe what he was really doing was getting rid of the competition. Shit and fuck it all!

As I drove home, a Breaking Benjamin song played on the radio and I hummed along. Give Me a Sign could probably be classified as a general breakup song, but it was about falling apart from losing something important. Unable to bear the failure, unable to face the crisis or fix it. It seemed to define all my relationships and why I couldn’t learn from them.

Daylight dies, black out the sky
Does anyone care? Is anybody there?
Take this life, empty inside
I'm already dead, I'll rise to fall again.
Dead star shine, light up the sky
I'm all out of breath, my walls are closing in.
Days go by, give me a sign
Come back to the end, the shepherd of the damned.
Just give me a sign- there's something buried in the words.
Give me a sign- your tears are adding to the flood.
Forever - and ever the scars will remain.
I'm falling apart, leave me here forever in the dark.


The following weekend Mom had an Open House, and Dad had volunteered to put up their Christmas tree. He needed assistance in wrestling it into the stand and making sure it was balanced as well as putting on the lights and tinsel which were always easier with more than one person.

So imagine my surprise when a half-hour into the task, Michael walked into the house, greeting us warmly. Dad stared between the two of us nervously, and I knew right away that his visit was unexpected. I just shook my head in resignation, wondering if this was going to become a habit.

Now, Michael had every right to be in his own home. The Capshaws were his parents. I was still angry over the revelations about Brendan, but I was trying to talk myself into thinking it was merely coincidence. It would have worked too, but Michael plopped himself down and stared at me for the next ten minutes like I was a feast to be devoured.

Dad excused himself to go into the garage for a pair of bough trimmers to prune the bottom branches, and I lit into Michael.

“Some people just don’t take hints,” I stated in a scathing voice. “What part of stay away didn’t you get?” I walked quickly out onto the patio to get some fresh air, but his long legs easily kept up with me.

“I dropped by to tell you I’m sorry,” he offered, hanging his head. “I shouldn’t have discussed you with Brendan.”

“Oh yeah, you think?” I asked in a clipped tone, not looking at him. “And dropped by all the way from Orange County. That seems kind of extreme. Why do I feel like you’re stalking me?”

Michael pulled his cell phone out of his pocket in exasperation and almost smacked me with it. “I don’t have your damned phone number, asshole, or I would’ve handled it by text. I don’t know where you live or work. If something happened to Mom or Dad, I have no way to get in touch with you. Comprende?”

“Call Linnie or Jana,” I snidely suggested, mentioning his older sisters. “They know how to reach me.”

Michael went dead still, and for some reason it made me look right at him. Shock was written all over his face, melding into deep hurt. “Dude, you told my sisters but not me? That is just… cold. Do you honestly hate me that much?”

I took a shuddery breath and tried to calm down. “I don’t hate you, but you don’t give me any reason to trust you either.” I shook my head to clear it. “What you did regarding Brendan was wrong.”

“I know but I honestly did it for your sake, Dax. You can take it however you want, but the way I see it, you needed an intervention. Brendan was driving you crazy with his texting. Can’t you see how selfish and manipulative he was being, begging for forgiveness and dumping all that guilt in your lap? You showed up on the doorstep wanting to OD on drugs, for god’s sake, and listening to his bitching and moaning certainly didn’t help your self control. I can’t see that it was any different from what happened with Isaac two years ago.”

He had a point, several in fact, but I still burned that Michael had not asked first. Or maybe it was better that he hadn’t. Unfortunately, I had to face the fact that I was petulantly behaving like a spoiled five-year-old. Mom and Dad expected us to get along, and trusting Michael in something small was the first step. “Give me your cell.”

Michael handed it over, and we exchanged telephone numbers. “For emergencies only,” I warned him. “Don’t start thinking of me as your text buddy.”

“Good enough,” he grinned, a twinkle in his eye. “Are we okay?”

I grudgingly smiled back. “Yeah, I think so. But this doesn’t change anything between us.”

At that he truly laughed. “I wouldn’t expect it to. You are too stubborn to change. But I’ll take what I can get.”


What he could get was a lot broader than I was willing to allow him.

On Tuesday night I was eating dinner with Mom and Dad when he came bouncing into the house in good spirits. He’d ditched his evening class, claiming to have taken his final early, to show up without warning, and I didn’t know whether he’d known beforehand that I’d be present or not.

Two evenings later I was standing at the cash register in the filling station convenience store, and here he came with a shocked look on his face. “I didn’t know you worked here,” Michael said joyously, ten dollars in his hand to purchase gas and his face wreathed in smiles. I was employed thirty hours a week, mostly from two until ten p.m. because I let the station owners talk me into becoming an even assistant-manager. I had to ask myself how truthful he was being.

I had even more reason to question his motives on Saturday when I met Mom at her office thirty minutes before we were scheduled to drive to her first Open House and Michael slid through the door to pose a question when he just as easily could have texted or called on her cell phone.

The last straw came that night while putting in my shift at the store where I was employed for the holidays. I was in the home department restocking the towel shelf when I heard a familiar voice behind me. Yes, it was Michael and two fellow-graduates from Santa Bella High passing by, ostensibly Christmas shopping.

In my capacity as a representative of the company, I couldn’t do what I wanted which was to throttle him. Nevertheless, when I scowled in his direction he immediately saw that some boundary had been overstepped. I had no intention of arguing with him in public, but it made me edgy and he wasn’t dumb.

Half an hour later I was on my break when I received a call from him on my cell phone.

“Yeah?” I asked without preamble. I was out of sorts, and my patience was totally exhausted.

It had to be clear that I was irritated with him. Whatever he wanted to call it, his behavior felt like a puppy trailing after me wanting me to pet him, and I worried it like a splinter just under the skin. He didn’t need a sixth sense to judge my mood.

“What’s wrong?” he asked. I could sense his dismay over my attitude.

I let out my breath in one loud whoosh. “Oh, nothing that you’ll want to discuss.”

“Huh!” he huffed doubtfully. “I know you better than that.”

“Michael, it’s better to just leave it alone.”

“Not going to happen.” He could be so stubborn sometimes, but if he insisted…

“We need to talk,” I replied, vexed, “but it’s been a long day.”

“I’m done with school,” he said simply “and spending the night here. If you have time tomorrow, maybe we could meet.”

His voice radiated a desperation to make him a part of my everyday life. Was he so hungry for contact with me that it made no difference if I was angry at him? That was just crazy, and yet, part of me admired him for not running from the challenge. He reminded me of a child who would rather receive negative attention than none at all. I just shook my head in resignation and said I’d text him.

I agreed to meet at one o’clock at the bar where we’d gone that first time. I arrived first, and the place wasn’t crowded. I ordered a beer that I knocked back in one long gulp before ordering another. The second I nursed a bit slower, checking my watch regularly. Michael was late, and the longer I sat, the more irritated I became. By 1:45, I was out in the parking lot climbing into my pickup. That’s when Michael drove up, delighted to see me… until he caught the dark scowl on my face.

He shut the door of his Nissan, watching me as I stood with my back to the truck bed and hitched my elbows up on the sides. He sauntered over affably enough, but as the distance closed his face reflected his uncertainty and that he was reconsidering the meeting and just driving away. But despite the outcome he was determined to see it out.

“Hey, Dax, what’s up?” Michael’s voice was strained and uncertain. He came to a full stop a car-length away.

I fought back a growl fueled by alcohol and irritation over his tardiness. “First of all, you’re late.”

He apologized, saying that Mom sent him on errands, and I accepted the reason. He seemed to understand we were going to get into it and had this resigned fight or flight look about him. I launched right in.

“Do you remember a couple of weeks ago when I gave you my phone number and I asked you not to make me your buddy?”

How could he forget it? He shrugged. “Sure, why?”

“Don’t you think that the way you’ve been suddenly showing up without warning looks suspicious? Two of my jobs, your mom’s office…”

“I know how this must look, but it isn’t what you think.” Michael feigned aloofness… or courage. “I had no idea you worked at the gas station, and the guys and I were shopping. I’m not going to stay out of that store just because you work there.”

“And visiting your mom yesterday morning?” I groused.

He laughed ruefully. “So what is this about?” When I didn’t answer right away he added, “Just spit it out.”

“I feel like you’re following me around.”

“What?” Michael looked shocked and distressed all at the same time. “Shit, Dax, considering you told me to back off, that would make me pretty stupid if I was.”

I made a deprecating sound, and he frowned. “Let me guess, you don’t believe me.”

“I believe my eyes and ears more than your words,” I challenged.

“Okay, I can see where you’re going with this.” Michael rumbled deeply, but he didn’t look abashed. His own defiance was beginning to surface. “I know you think I’m doing this on purpose, but shit happens. I live here too, and Santa Bella isn’t all that big. I’m not a mind-reader to tell me where you are at what time. But I’ll be damned if you you’re going to turn this into something I did wrong.”

He stepped closer, glaring at me. “How long are we going to keep doing this? Back and forth, friend and enemy for the past three years. It makes me crazy listening to you devise reasons to hate me. I would like to spend time with you, but I know it isn’t going to happen. Even that time we were here at the bar two weeks ago, I didn’t tie you up, throw you in the car or force you to drink beer. You more or less went willingly.”

By this time Michael was right up in my face, mere inches from me, and my mouth went dry. I had a distinct sense of déjà vu that made my cock begin to harden. I blinked several times, willing it to go down.

“You know, Dax, we were brothers at one point not so long ago. We were very close and I miss it.” Emotion flared in his face that he couldn’t hide. “I’m not always successful, but I try not to burden you with my feelings. I’m aware that you don’t care the same for me or even want to know how much I still love you and long to share our lives together. But most of all, I miss hanging out with you and being friends. If you think friendship is just meeting up at holidays twice a year and pretending not to know each other the rest of the time, that’s fucked up.

“I can’t force you to want to hang with me anymore than I can force you to trust me and understand that what I have inside is real. I’m a screw-up. I do stupid things without thinking. I hurt people, just like you do, because I can’t be as perfect as I want or you expect. You claim to have forgiven me for what happened with Isaac, but it’s not true. And I’m tired of trying to be what you want when you don’t even know yourself. So go ahead and do whatever you want.”

With hurt radiating off him, Michael turned on his heel and marched across the chilly parking lot to his car. I stared after him speculatively as he peeled out with gravel spitting from under the tires and allowed myself to breathe again. He made me feel like shit but then, that was part of the manner in which we’d interacted since high school.

Michael had spoken the truth about what we meant to each other. Even in the beginning after we broke up I knew he never stopped loving me. There was a big piece of me wanted the same closeness. Remembering his sweet kiss, the tight bulge in my jeans was testimony to that.

It was simply a matter of forgiveness and trust. I never supposed I was the kind of person to hold grudges, but even after all this time his betrayal still stung. I was skeptical and thought his apology lacked sincerity and could be even somewhat manipulative, aimed at getting around my defenses and blindsiding me into forgetting our past. Maybe the passage of time and the backwards and forwards of our dance together was taking its toll.

Since our breakup, we had been better off apart, but on the other hand, Michael was making an effort to get along without putting pressure on me, so who was I to judge? He was right about the constraints I’d put on our relationship. He was also right that he’d have to have some crystal ball to know my shifts at the service station and the store because that information was too trivial to share with his parents. Maybe what looked like stalking really wasn’t.

I had learned from my own broken relationships that Michael wasn’t in charge of his decisions of the heart; you loved who you loved, and often there was no rhyme or reason behind it. We just couldn’t seem to make our separation any less difficult than our familiarity. He wanted more than I could possibly give him, and our rift seemed insurmountable except for the brief hours I agreed to share with him to make the family happy.

I didn’t know what I wanted. The impossible dream maybe- to not have to reinvent myself for a man who wasn’t afraid of my issues? I ached to be wanted by a lover, not that I was looking for someone. Only a small part of me was willing to be honest, even to my misguided sense of self. I was too screwed up and needy to attempt a long-term relationship and made excuses to avoid love, but life was proving to be so empty and unfulfilling without it.

Encaged within built-up walls that would frighten the hardiest of potential partners away, I made excuses for the scars. Nobody could see them on the outside, but they were all too self-evident in their catcalls echoing under my skin and mocking me. I was falling into a deep hole where the more I struggled to get out, the more I was actually burying myself.

Despite the overly-critical buzzing in my ears announcing my negative self-talk, I was at least maturing on other levels. Gone was the desperation that steered me into the bars looking for a quick hookup, forcing me to drink into oblivion so I didn’t have to look at myself too closely when I woke up next to some nameless trick. I didn’t know anyone well enough to invite to Cobbles or any other gay establishment. I couldn’t ask Michael because that would amount to a date, and he didn’t need the encouragement.

Which left me to my own devices- literally.

The Saturday morning after our confrontation, I awoke very early from a bad dream. In it, I was stumbling down a murky and winding path, naked of course. Michael lurked out in the pitch blackness, stalking me relentlessly with evil intent and twisting my gut in terror. He would blitz in with random, lightning-fast strike s against my body to stroke parts of me, preparing for the final attack that I knew would take me down. I came to in my bed, thrashing and breathing raggedly in fear and disoriented in the dark. I was also rigid and throbbing in arousal, knowing I would not get back to sleep until I dealt with the burning ache in my groin.

I threw my covers off me and reached for my rock-hard dick. It didn’t take long to figure out the old, familiar rhythm. Left hand at the base of my cock where my fingers traced the prominent vein on the upstroke and ghosted over my balls on the down, right hand squeezing and pulling at my staff and coiling over the head to slick into the precum and spread it around. With memories of my past to fuel my fantasies, I could easily imagine Michael's hot, wet mouth sucking on me, his gifted tongue slithering around the shaft and lips forming a complete vacuum. It wasn’t long before I was shuddering into the sweating frenzy of a ripping orgasm and spurting globs of semen on my abdomen. It made me cry out for him even as I suffered the conflicting agony of both wanting him and hating myself for the desire at the same time.

The conundrum was exhausting and tipping the already-fragile framework that I made work to convince myself I was better off alone, even as my heart told me I was acting like a fool.

I managed to get through the winter holidays. I finished up my first semester at SDSU three days later. With my crazy work schedule I had very little time to do anything else. I spent Christmas with Brendan’s cousin, Lauren, both of us missing him and lamenting his mistake-of-a-marriage to the rich, redneck southern belle he truly didn’t love. Lauren said he was miserable and realized way too late his error in giving me up. Lauren vowed she was never returning to Derrington, with its small-town values and prejudices now that she’d had a taste of a less restrictive southern California lifestyle.

I could no longer even say what I was missing, if anything. The unenviable story of my life was the comings and goings of those I loved, but I was learning to move past and tried not to dwell on my mistakes. I threw myself into my job and getting back on track. Maybe if I was too busy to think I’d be too busy to feel.



Junior year, Chapman University, so close to home, and yet by Christmas it might as well have been the moon. Mom told me Dax wouldn’t celebrate with us this year. I was still hurt over his accusations and I couldn’t help but feel he was steering clear of me. Whatever! We were like honey and vinegar or the opposite poles of two magnets that repelled each other. I was so frustrated with trying to get closer to him because his stubbornness would not allow him to forgive and forget.

I was beginning to think something was seriously fucked up inside him that his therapy wasn’t even close to touching. Not that I didn’t have issues, everyone does, but I was scared that his flaws might not only be beyond repair but they would keep us apart forever. If he wanted to believe I was so obsessed with him that I would follow him around when he distinctly told me not to, there was nothing I could do to change his mind that it was coincidence. I didn’t know what hours he worked. I wasn't psychic, damn it. But to save us from having a nasty fight I just said my piece and backed off.

Even though neither he nor my parents shared much with me, I discovered that Dax was doing well at State and was just as busy as me in school. He took twenty units his first semester; it was a daunting undertaking which meant a lot of boring reading, grinding homework and tests. I had always admired his work ethic. While my parents paid for much of my education, Dax did everything on his own with the help of a few scholarships and waivers and still managed stellar grades. His plate was over-full with as many work hours as he could shove into his schedule to make ends meet. I often wished I had the opportunity to tell him that I was proud of him, but he only would’ve been embarrassed. Besides, he didn’t want me in his life anyway.

In a practical sense, staying away from Dax wasn’t hard. I had come to a decision to major in business, and my dad convinced me that I should go on after graduation and earn a Master’s degree in IT management which was a growing field and a career I found fascinating. This meant finding a top notch college for post-graduate work, and I began to focus more intently on grades in my final two years at Chapman. To that end I put more effort into tests, assignments and projects, burning the midnight oil and having much less time to spend elsewhere.

I was fortunate to find a part-time entry position that winter in a nearby internet technology company that would look good on my college application when it came time to submit for an MBA program. Other than school, work and sleep I kept almost exclusively to myself. I didn’t play sports in college or pledge a fraternity at Chapman. Apart from an occasional get-together with my few college friends who were just as busy as me, I had no social life. No cruising bars, no dancing at clubs, and definitely no trying to pick up men.

Not even for the sex my body craved. Dax might not want me, but it would have smacked of disloyalty to sleep with anyone else. It had been coming to me slowly that I truly needed to avoid any kind of physical entanglement until either he decided to take me back, which was unlikely, or I found a way to get over him, which was even less feasible. I was probably as far away from the typical gay college student as anyone could find.

You know what happens when you can’t move in any direction? You get stuck. That was me- stuck. Stuck on Dax, stuck on the past and going nowhere. I was very unhappy with myself, and I guess at some point I stopped being fun to be around, even for my closest friends. I was zipping my calculator from my math class into my pack when one of them, a slender Japanese sophomore with dark features, asked what was going on.

“Boyfriend troubles?” Yohji Hasegawa knew I was gay and was not put off by it.

I shrugged. “It’s kind of complicated.”

“You can tell Yohji,” he answered in a deep, mysterious voice, puffing out his chest. He was something of a clown, but he claimed direct ancestry from Konko Daijin, a 19th century Shinto scholar. “Yohji knows all.”

I doubted that, but when he suggested we head to the campus café for lunch and impromptu advice so I could lay out my troubles before him, I went along with it. Sometimes an objective opinion helps.

“Okay,” I said once most of my sandwich was devoured. “My bro’s name is Dax. Great guy, devilishly gorgeous, has a sexy body…” My desire for him clung to me like mist and I nearly drooled, the imaging instantly plumping up a part of my anatomy that didn’t see much action anymore. But when I thought of Dax I couldn’t help it.

“You’re in love with your own brother?” Yohji asked incredulously. “That’s some kinky shit.”

I laughed out loud. “He isn’t my bio bro. Dax’s mom died over three years ago when we were in high school. My parents became his legal guardians. We became lovers.”

Yohji rolled his eyes. “That still sounds rather incestuous, but if it turns you on…” He ducked a french fry I sent flying his way.

Swiveling my hips to loosen my jeans, I told him about my idyllic childhood and how wonderful my parents were, freely acknowledging that, as the youngest child and only boy in the family, I seldom lacked for anything. Life had come easy for me- material belongings, my parents’ blessings in pursuing my dreams, friendships, even love. I described meeting Isaac when I was a high school sophomore and staying with him, despite his dominance, until he dumped me nine months later.

And then there was Dax: beautiful, trusting, sensitive Dax, the love of my life whom I’d destroyed in one afternoon of fruitless, illicit sex. I was foolish and callous, and I let Isaac use me to rip Dax’s heart out. And if that wasn’t enough, I had thrown him over when he might have forgiven me. I went back to Isaac who continued to abuse me until Dax, of all people, came riding in like my white knight to rescue me from him.

By the time I was done Yohji was shaking his head. “So now that you’ve discovered the error of your ways, you want Dax back and I take it, he isn’t interested?”

“Right in one guess,” I mumbled, scrubbing my face with my hand. “We can’t even manage to stay friends. I’m at my wits end.”

“Dax has to know, huh!” When I nodded, he looked at me, sage-like. “And you not only profess your love, your actions make it like, overly obvious?” When said like that, it sounded wrong. I hung my head in embarrassment, and he coughed.

“Your problem is that you wear your heart on your sleeve, Michael. I mean, I see it, and he isn’t even here. Everything you do around him probably screams how attracted you are. Your face lights up when you say his name. If you meant as much to him, he might be swayed by how cute and romantic you really are. But if he doesn’t love you the same way, especially with all the shit with Isaac, that’s going to be a huge turn-off.”

“So what do I do? Pretend that I don’t care?”

“That would be a good start,” Yohji agreed, sipping his Coke. “First, you need to accept the fact that you might never get him back, but at least let him go with your pride intact. On the other hand, it’s possible that if you back off, he might miss what he isn’t getting and meet you halfway.” He chuckled in his not-so-gentle teasing. “Just don’t be a drama queen about it. What were you, born under a rock? This is, like, Relationships 101.”

“I failed that class,” I shrugged, desperate enough that I didn’t care how hopeless I looked. “Seriously, would you believe that I used to have a lot of self-confidence and charm? I’ve been a mess ever since I lost Dax and let Isaac intimidate me into the ground. Most of the time I can’t think straight which is why I keep making all these kindergarten mistakes with him.”

“Straight?” Okay, bad choice of words, and Yohji snorted. “Seriously, dude, your coolness factor sucks.”

I had to laugh at his deprecating honesty, knowing everything he said was true. “So, how long would you call a decent interval of time for acting like a casual friend before starting over?”

Yohji paused a moment. “…Understanding that it might not work?” You’ll have to be the judge of that. Months at least. Just be sure that when you lick your wounds, you do it in private and don’t let him know. Then regroup to either try again later or give up.”

I sighed, thankful that the table had hidden my now-flagging bodily reaction as we rose to leave. His words weren’t exactly what I wanted, but they sounded easy enough. It was the sanest advice I’d heard, much better than what I was coming up with on my own. As for Yohji, he was feeling very pleased with himself.

“I should’ve majored in psychiatry,” he crowed. “Make a ton of money and save the world from stupidity like yours.” I went to cuff him for his uncomfortable self-promotion, and he side-stepped me. “There’s no form of payment required as long as you name your first child after me.” I smirked and we went our separate ways.

Talking to Yohji was a godsend. Even though we rarely even saw each other much anymore, I knew that given the chance I could prove to Dax that I was over him. Living an hour away, connected by my parents and sisters, it was up to me to run, walk or crawl back into his life. I had to settle this quickly- if one of us didn’t end the stalemate between us, he was going to disappear from my future to become some former friend who was somewhat close to me and used to be part of my family. I hoped he would allow me the chance and trust me enough to show I’d never intentionally hurt him again, with or without a romantic relationship.

I guess Yohji’s Shinto beliefs blessed me. Jana and David had a baby boy in June, and he provided the opportunity for the family to come together and celebrate. Dax and I passed each other in the hospital lobby the day he was born; he was getting on the elevator on his way upstairs with a baby gift as I was departing. We had a short, laid back conversation about the excitement of becoming uncles, who little Nathan most looked like (Dad) and how well motherhood suited Jana. I sauntered off with a wave of my hand and Dax staring at me in consternation as the elevator door shut behind him.

Nathan’s birth seemed to change the whole atmosphere between us, and I discovered a freedom in my friend’s advice. It didn’t happen right away but it was like I had my mojo back. Even though Dax was very busy with school and work, Mom seemed to have the influence needed to bring him back into the fold with some baby-related celebration, and I wasn’t entirely sure she wasn’t enjoying her new role as Cupid. I made a couple of informal suggestions to grab a beer out but never pressed him if he was busy. Dax and I maintained a casual acquaintance that was starting to border on friendship again, and that we didn’t fight was good enough for me.

(To be continued...)

1 comment:

  1. Don't have time to write a lot, but I'm bouncing in my chair!