Chapter 23: The End Is An Illusion Of The… aww, fuck it
Three years, they say. That's a long time, three years. People get married in less time than that. It doesn't make any sense. I have no fear of commitment. I've never had any fear of it.
So, why, then, does this scare the hell out of me so much?
If a shark opens its mouth in the ocean, it will naturally swallow some plankton. Right?
A few brief utterances of Spanish goodbyes over breakfast, a few glares from Cassandra for having an asshole father who so selfishly takes away her beloved cousin after only a couple of days, and we make our grand exit in absolute, suffocating silence, Andy and I.
Fear of commitment. It doesn't make any sense. I told that to the job interviewer. It made sense at the time. "Afraid of commitment, I suppose." But, it doesn't sit right.
I try to think back to how I felt at that time—why I could stay with Cindy for three years but I couldn't keep a job for longer than a month. It wasn't a fear of commitment.
On the road out of town, I almost cause a fender-bender with the Saturn in front of me. Once we're on the highway, I almost smash into the side of a red Ferrari. So, ten minutes into the drive and I have to pull over to switch with Andy.
Andy's got that navy blue bandanna on again. I like the way it looks on him. Rather than that whole commando Rambo look it usually gives to people, he looks more like a bad-ass. The I'm-gonna-fuck-you-up-if-you-mess-with-me look. The cigarette between his lips helps.
"Did I say you could smoke in my truck?" I ask bitterly, glaring at him, fiddling idly with a black Sharpie marker I found in the glove compartment.
"You weren't protesting on the way over," he replies, taking the cigarette from his mouth but making no move to snuff it. "I figured it wouldn't have changed."
I fall silent, scowling for lack of a better comeback. When I say nothing, he takes another drag from it.
"When'd you say you'd be back?" he asks.
"Today," I reply, shrugging, and stuffing the Sharpie into my pocket.
"Well, I'll bet they'll expect you late, since you drive like a fucking old man," he says, his eyes slipping down to the speedometer. "But since you're not driving, we'll have extra time."
"What are you getting at?" I mumble.
"Nothing," he answers, smiling.
I wake up to find myself quite literally in Andy's arms—being carried up a dirt path. Very scenic. I knew he was a kidnapper. And he's stronger than he looks.
I can't believe I fucking slept through him dragging me out of the truck. I bet he chloroformed me. I bet he did.
Once he realizes I'm awake, he sets me down on my feet, saying, "I suppose you slept enough so that you won't be able to track the location of this super-secret place I'm about to show you."
"Where are we?" I ask, looking around. It looks like a small mountain. There are too many trees for it to just be the foothills. It also looks like it's uninhabited.
"Answering that would totally defeat the super-secret-ness of it," Andy replies, and then falls silent as he marches onward. I helplessly follow.
"Okay," I drone. "Why are we going where we're going?"
"I'll tell you when we get there," he says without even breaking stride. I have to practically jog to keep up with him, and after only a few minutes, I find myself wishing I hadn't woken up so he would have carried me all the way.
The rocks seem to grow in size the higher we get, and the plants become greener and taller. We're following no path, and I wonder if maybe we're lost and Andy just doesn't want to admit it. I feel like we're in the middle of a forest, but there are no forests around here except those on the tall mountains. It's not cold, so I don't feel like we're that high up. Now I'm really curious.
When the ground darkens with the tree cover, Andy pulls me up beside him and puts his arm around my shoulders, grinning.
"You know, I used to get shipped down to Mexico every summer to stay with my aunt because my parents didn't want me around," he says. If there's any pain in that smile, I can't see it.
I look at the ground and kick a rock. Just like me. Just like me and Freddy's stupid ranch.
"At the end of each summer, my family would send my step-dad down to get me," he continues. "Apparently he was the only one who could stand me the whole eight hour drive. But anyway, one summer, I decided I had to piss. We were about a hundred miles from civilization in any direction, so I couldn't wait. That was the summer after I first came out of the closet, so I was all faggoty, you know, and I refused to piss where anyone could see me, so pulling over to the side of the highway wouldn't do. So my step-dad took the next exit, and pulled off at the edge of a forest. Told me to go in the trees."
We come to a dense circle of trees, and Andy lets go of me so that he can slip in between two. I follow, and emerge to the sight of a small waterfall cascading over an eight-foot cliff, more or less, and into an old, broken down contraption below. There is no stream beyond the waterfall, peculiarly enough. I approach the contraption and study it, finding that it is a wall of rocks, tied together with a strange type of wire that is ridiculously old and feeble. Beneath it is a small well of water.
"The Indians built it," Andy says, stepping next to me. "We guessed it's about a hundred years old, maybe one-fifty. After them, the settlers used it for water. It hasn't been used in years, though. People don't live here anymore."
"It's a well?" I ask.
"Yeah. That's what we thought," he answers. "The stream goes underground." He pauses and idly kicks a rock, making it splash into the water. "We're somewhere in New Mexico, by the way. You slept through El Paso. I'd imagine this place is owned by some wealthy rancher… Ted Turner, someone like that, you know? Or maybe this is a reservation, I don't know. Anyway, nobody'll ever know we were here."
"Unless a state cop stickers my truck."
"If it is the reservation, the Indians'll strip it first," he replies, grinning.
"That was racist."
"No it wasn't, 'cause I've got Indian blood in me, and so I'm totally allowed to make fun of my own kind."
I shoot him a dull stare, and he laughs in response.
"Anyway," he drawls, shaking off his laughter in order to continue, "My step-dad and me, we stopped on the road near here. Just to spite him, I wandered off and ended up hiding here. The poor guy was looking for me for hours, and sometimes I could hear him calling for me, but I wouldn't answer. I wanted to scare him."
I sit down on a small boulder to the side of the well, and Andy joins me.
"I think I did a pretty good job," he goes on, staring intently at the well. "After about two hours, I heard his voice again. It was hoarse from shouting and he was praying aloud to God…for me. I called out to him, and when he came in here, I saw that he was crying." He lifts his hands up, covering his face, and for a second I'm afraid that he's crying. But then he lowers them, revealing dry eyes, before shaking his head dismissively. "God, that was so terrible. For a while I tried to justify my actions, thinking the only reason he was worried was because he'd look bad, but that didn't hold up. He wasn't that type of guy. And I always picked on him so bad."
I look down at my reflection in the well. It's hard to see, what with the waterfall rippling our appearances to odd distortions, but I can still make out my outline. Sullen eyes staring back at me… If it weren't for those, I'd be just like Sam.
"So this is your special place?" I ask sharply. "You bring all your lovers here to defile his memory?"
Andy shifts, and I look up into his hurt eyes, boring into mine, burning me. He shakes his head so slightly, I probably wouldn't have seen it except for the way it makes his eyes move. Then he stands up, breaking the contact, and starts to walk away.
"Where are you going?" I demand, watching him. He stops at a tree, placing his hand on it and leaning against it.
"Sometimes I think you're not worth it," he states icily. "None of this is worth it."
My anger flares, and then immediately dissipates, and I bury my head in my knees instantly to hide my expression, if only because I'm not sure what it is. I wish I hadn't said that.
"Sometimes I think that too," I shout, but it sounds muffled even to me, "and I can't figure out why I haven't quit yet."
"Then sometimes," he continues in a softer voice, his anger having gone way to…resignation, is it? "Sometimes I think that there's a reason for all this. That you were the one chasing me this whole time."
A heavy silence settles over us, and I breathe into my knees through the duration of it. I hear him approach me again, and he pries my face away from my legs, forcing me to meet his big black eyes.
"You've go it so bad, Peter," he says lightly, tilting his head to the side and obviously trying to suppress a smile. "Why don't you just give in?"
I look away from him, trying to think of a response—an explanation, rather. He must realize how much I'll get hurt if I do, so…so he really thinks of me as just a tool. A toy, actually. If I get broken, he'll find a new one.
"Why have you been fighting me?" he asks, straddling the rock in front of me and pulling me into a hug. I bury my face into his shoulder now, accepting it as a worthy enough substitute for my knees.
"Because you…" Nothing's good enough. He can't understand; he's too…too arrogant, too selfish, to be able to understand.
He waits just a second for me to continue, and when I don't, he kisses the side of my head and pulls me tighter. And then he says it, again, in a strained, pleading whisper, like he actually means it: "I love you, Peter."
I can't count how many times I've been told that. John used to say that I had a way with girls. For some reason (one of those quirky girl things he could never understand), they found me attractive. I was never without a girlfriend, and I was the one who broke up with virtually all of them. And they all, every single one of them, told me that. That they loved me, they all loved me. But none of them meant it for real.
I want to believe Andy means it, but I've seen too much evidence otherwise.
I thought, once upon a time, that Cindy meant it when she told me that. I really believed her. And I sacrificed three years of my life because of that belief. Then, just like that, she rejected me cold. I can't take it again. That's why I've been fighting Andy. Despite how much I want him, how much I love him, I can't take something like that from him.
That's what it is. It's better to dump than to be dumped. It's better to quit than to be fired. It's better to be lonely than to be afraid.
It's not a fear of commitment. It's never been a fear of commitment. It's a fear of rejection. I'm certain Andy will reject me, eventually, because he's not in love with me. He only pretends he is, maybe even for himself. But he's in love with Sam.
Because, we have to remember, this is all about Sam.
If Andy really loved me, I would stick with him forever. But I don't think there's anyone who really loves me.
I pull away from Andy tensely, and his big black eyes shimmer up at me dejectedly in response.
"Please," he says, his voice merely a whisper. "Don't look so disgusted."
"People thrive on love," I mumble, and Andy smiles sadly.
"It's our drug," he says.
"Sex is our drug," I correct. "Love ruins everything. If you don't look, you'll—"
"—You'll love it forever," he finishes resignedly. "Using my own words against me."
"Because you were thinking like me," I explain. "You knew what was safe. Sex makes us happy, love makes us sick."
"Stop worrying so much about safety," he pleads, "and live dangerously."
"Andy," I whine.
I'm afraid of rejection, but what's it feel like for him?
…It's better to dump than to be dumped. I can't think about him.
"It's so easy for you to say," I continue, "because you're the one in control of everything."
"Obviously not. If I were, I'd have you by now," he says sullenly.
You'd have Sam by now, I think, but I don't dare saying it aloud. Andy stares at me, defeated.
"I don't understand why you can't just accept me," he whispers, and I stay silent, trying to think of an answer but coming up with nothing.
This time, our silence lasts for what must be at least ten minutes. Andy, meanwhile, turns around on the rock, extending his legs out in front of him, and hunching over. He stares at the well, obviously not seeing it, thinking.
I, similarly, retreat within myself—though not for answers like Andy, but for comfort.
It's better to be alone than to be betrayed. It's better to be lonely than to be afraid. Sometimes, it's better to be miserable than to be happy. Not very many people realize that.
Because…misery is the only thing, the only thing in this entire universe that really lasts forever.
Idly I grab his arm—his left arm, the one with the cast on it, and study it. I don't know why, but it strikes me as especially interesting. The tape is bright red—it doesn't match him at all. I bet the doctors chose it for him.
But, it still looks good on him. Everything looks good on him. He's just one of those people.
Not like me, I think, reaching into my pocket and extracting the Sharpie that I had put in it earlier. Automatically, I uncap it and begin to trace my name across the cast in the thick black ink, using the best handwriting I can muster—which still isn't very good.P-E-T-E-R.
The first signature on there. Maybe he's not as popular as I thought. That's so unfitting, though. Everyone must like him. I like him.
"Now you can be a real jock," I mumble, dropping his arm and recapping the marker. I stare at it dejectedly for a while before returning it to my pocket.
Andy fumbles around with something to the side of me, but I'm not bothered by it. When he finishes, he turns toward me, but I stubbornly ignore him and his boring gaze till he calls my name. Then I give in and look up; my eyes just manage to focus on the sparkling silver of his cell phone before I hear an electronic imitation of a click.
Instantly, I freeze. Andy turns around and fiddles with the phone, totally oblivious to my reaction.
"What are you doing?" I cry at last, and Andy only glances at me briefly.
"Taking your picture," he answers nonchalantly.
"Why would you do that?" I continue intently. Andy gives me another glance, this one informing me that he thinks I'm an idiot.
"Because this might be the last time I get to," he answers, somewhat bitterly.
"But," I cry exasperatedly, but cut myself short for lack of anything to say. I don't understand this. He's taking my picture with his phone. How could he? I don't belong in his little archive.
"What?" he asks, genuinely curious…I think.
"I'm awake," I say. He lifts his eyebrows.
"I'd be really creeped out if you weren't," he replies.
"Get rid of it," I order sternly.
"The picture you just took."
Andy blinks, and looks down at the screen of his cell phone. "Why? I think it's pretty good."
"Because I don't belong with the rest of your pictures."
"What are you on, man?"
"I looked at your pictures," I continue quickly, ignoring his comment. "When you left your phone at my apartment, I was going through them—"
"Shut up!" I cry. Andy looks at me with all the disbelief in the world. "Just listen. I was going through them, and I saw them all. All your fucking conquests—"
"Don't tell me you've never slept with anyone else," Andy interrupts, immediately on the defensive.
"I never felt the need to keep records of my one-night stands," I retort. Andy's face turns insolent. "Besides," I continue, ignoring him, "that's not the point, because the conquests didn't even make up the half of them. The rest were of Sam—Sam here, Sam there, Sam being happy, Sam being sad, Sam, Sam, Sam. You take pictures of him like a fucking fan girl. It's so disgusting."
Andy acts like I just betrayed him with that comment. "Sam's my friend," he insists futilely.
"And I saw all your patterns. Sam was awake, the rest were asleep. Sam was the only one pictured more than once. Sam was special," I explain. "And you're breaking your own rules now. I don't belong in there."
Andy looks down at his phone, recognition finally sparking in his eyes. At last, he finally realizes that I know all about Sam.
"So," he says, "I get it. You feel unloved because your picture is just like the rest of my…'conquests,' to put it in your words."
I blink. "What?"
"Because you thought that I thought of you as just a one-night stand, because of the picture I took of you," he says somberly. "Because it was just like the other ones."
"No," I say, and Andy's head jolts up. He looks about as confused as me. "How is my picture just like the other ones? I'm awake in this one."
"No, not this one I just took," he says, fiddling with his cell phone again. "The one I took before."
"What?" I cry. What the fuck? There was no picture of me!
"You saw it, didn't you?" he asks, still refraining from looking at me as he continues to flip through his cell. "I know I had already taken it when I left it at your apartment, 'cause it was at Tom's that I took it. Look, this one."
He hands me his cell phone, and I accept it, albeit apprehensively. Reluctantly, I focus on the screen.
I have to fight to hold in a scream. I've seen this picture before. I remember seeing it before, because it crushed me so much. But I guess I didn't really look at it after all. Not to really see it, at least. It's the one with the different lighting, the weird shadows. The one that broke from the pattern of the rest.
The one of Sam asleep. But it's not Sam after all. It's me. I recognize Tom's living room now. And my own face… My face is better than Sam's. I don't look so fucking girly, and my hair's better too.
I'm such a fucking idiot…
"Oh my god," I moan, needing to react somehow. Andy leans closer to me, peering down at the screen.
"Didn't you see it before?" he asks curiously.
"Yeah, I thought…" I start, but then think better of it. "Was that what you were intending? For me to be just another conquest?"
Andy doesn't hesitate in answering: "Originally, yes. But then I decided that I liked you, but I didn't want to delete the picture of you because it was the only one I had. I mean, I thought at least it's better than nothing, and if it didn't work out, at least I'd have that."
"So why didn't you take more?" I ask, pressing the "forward" button and expecting to be taken back to the beginning of the list, but instead finding myself greeted by another picture of my own sleeping face. Andy immediately yelps and snatches the phone back, snapping it shut quickly and shoving it into his lap in a childish attempt to hide it.
"It's, um," he stutters. He's blushing. I think this is the first time I've seen him blush. No, I take that back. But he's…he never blushes. "I…guess I did…take more…"
"Let me see," I ask, holding my hand out. He refuses for only a second before giving in, accessing the pictures again, and handing it back to me. I stare again at the newly added picture, looking at my own sleeping face only momentarily before getting to work on recognizing the background. The first one is ambiguous; the background is recognizable enough—it's my own bed in my apartment—but that leaves quite a bit of doubt about when it was taken. The second, similar picture, however, comes to me pretty quickly—the tiny little bed gives it away. It's Carlota's house, in the little guest room that Andy and I shared. It was taken only days ago, if that.
The next one I know immediately. It was taken only minutes ago. It doesn't make sense, because there's a really placid expression on my face, and I definitely wasn't feeling that when he just took it.
"Why did you do this?" I demand, facing Andy again. "Why did you take these pictures?"
Andy looks confused again. "Why do you think?"
"No, please answer me!"
Andy shrugs. "Because I like you and I don't want to forget you, maybe?"
"But you made them special," I say softly, returning my gaze to the cell phone. "I'm not special. Sam's the special one for you. I'm so worthless. You shouldn't get so obsessed over a toy."
I'm surprised when only silence is my answer. I look up to Andy's incredulous expression.
"Did you even listen to what you just said?" he asks at last, and I look at him inquisitively, urging him to reiterate. "'I'm so worthless?'" he repeats, obviously thinking it will help clarify things.
"What?" I ask. "I am worthless, in your opinion, compared to Sam."
Andy's mouth drops open, and then quirks into a strange, wry little smile. "Oh, in my opinion, huh? And you know exactly what I think, is that it?"
"I can tell feelings for what they are," I explain bitingly, "and I'm nothing to you."
"Nothing," he repeats, grimacing. "Oh, Jesus Christ… You mean to tell me that this is what the problem's been this whole time?"
"What are you talking about?" I ask, feeling a little anxious. My leverage is slipping away. He's in control again.
"You have self-esteem the size of a fucking amoeba and I didn't even realize it," he goes on, more to himself than to me. I start feeling angry for being ignored. "It's so low that when I tell you I love you, you won't even believe me! God, it makes so much sense now."
"That's not it!" I practically shout, and he finally awards my effort with his attention. "It's not about that, because I don't even matter—" he opens his mouth to interrupt, but I beat him to it: "Listen! I'm fighting you because I don't want to be with you. Because I know it won't work, because all you care about is Sam, and I'm just a little toy to bide your time with till you can get him."
Andy scrutinizes me silently, his face unreadable, purely scientific. "No, I think I'm right," is his only reply, eliciting an involuntary growl on my part.
"Don't tell me Sam has nothing to do with this because I know he does."
"Sam has nothing to do with this," he says in bored drawl, sliding down to prop himself up on his elbow.
"I know you have a thing for him," I continue, fighting relentlessly. Somehow, though, I think I've already lost.
"How do you know this?" He says it so confidently, abolishing every last bit of assurance to my own cause that I ever had. The weight of knowing that I'm wrong, that all this worrying was for nothing, just a waste of energy, is so massive that I feel like my whole life philosophy has just crumbled to pieces. I imagine this is how Tony would feel if he were handed undeniable proof that there is no God. And, acting as Tony surely would in such a situation, I bitterly fight it.
"I know this because," and then I pause. I knew this because of the pictures. But that's already obsolete. The only thing left… "Because you still sleep with him. With Sam. That's not what 'just friends' do."
"I don't still sleep with him," Andy says, still just as nonchalant as before.
"You said you did," I insist.
Andy sits up with a sigh. "Okay, first of all, I never said that. And second, I said I haven't slept with him while I knew you. And while that was kind of a little bit bending the truth, I did mean it."
"Kind of a little bit?" I repeat. "So you did sleep with him while you knew me?" My leverage should be coming back, but it's not. Andy's still too confident. He's not afraid of me, meaning he has nothing to be afraid of.
"It's complicated," he says simply, then, upon realizing that I'm not going to accept that as a passable answer, he goes on to explain. "Sam's more like, you know, a friend with benefits…as it goes…"
"Oh," I say, bristling and preparing myself to attack; but he sees what's coming and beats me to it.
"So after that first time with you…at Tom's, you know," he says, grinning a little, "I couldn't get over you and slept with Sam to make myself forget about you. When that didn't work, that's when I started looking for you. But you know, I wasn't lying because I really didn't know you after that first time."
I don't think Andy's ever lied to me before. And I trusted him not to, and he didn't. And I thought that I was the toy and Sam was the one he wanted, but…but it's the exact opposite. Sam was the toy and I…
"You believe me now?" Andy asks. When I don't respond, just continue staring into space, thinking, he lunges up at me and grabs my head, knocking it kind of hard with his cast, and dragging me down into a really uncomfortable position halfway beside him and halfway on top of him on the rock.
"Ow…shit, Andy," I groan, rubbing my head and struggling to get away from him. He ignores my plight, or, at least, acknowledges it by tightening his hold on me.
"Yes, yes! I believe you," I cry, and he releases me. "Christ!"
"Now you can say you love me too," he says, but doesn't wait for me to respond before jumping up. "I've got a present for you," he announces instead.
I can't help but be curious. He reaches into his pocket, but then shoots me a warning glance.
"No peeking! Close your eyes."
I roll my eyes, but do as I'm told.
"Hold out your hand," he orders, and with reluctance I abide, hoping that he's not playing a trick on me like they used to do in middle school.
I wait in suspense until moments later I feel something cold and slimy placed in my hand—yelping, my eyes shoot open and I drop it, only to hear a strange clink as it falls against the rock.
"Now, that wasn't a very good reaction," Andy comments.
Lowering my eyes, I find what had been placed in my hand, discovering that it is not slimy, merely cold and metallic and…I feel like this has happened before.
Making a fist around the string, I lift up the necklace and focus on the swinging gargoyle pendant, wrapped around its sword and grinning at me. Cooler than I remember it.
"It was pretty expensive, but that makes it all the better gift, right?" Andy says, sitting down across from me again, our knees touching, and staring at the pendant. His smile fades as he adds, "I've been meaning to give it back to you. I just never really worked up the courage."
"Andy, I—" I start, but my words fail when his deep black eyes settle on me.
"I never got to tell you the point of my story, you know," he says, letting his eyes wander over to the well. "My step-dad, when he came in here crying and screaming and just worrying about me, it totally shocked me. You know, I said that I tried to defend myself by thinking that he was only worried 'cause it made him look bad, but that didn't hold up. My step-dad was the one who really loved me. And that day in this little clearing here, that was the first time I've ever, ever felt truly loved." He pauses, and sighs. "And there's another thing. You're the first person I've ever showed this place to, and ever told this story to. Don't feel so fucking inadequate, because you're not. I do love you."
"Andy…" Way to lay the guilt on someone, Andy. "It…It won't last. You and I…we won't work."
"Prove it," he says, a challenging expression crossing his face.
"I," I start, struggling to regain my composure, "I can't prove it. The only way to prove it is to get with you till we break up."
He grins, and I groan.
"I'm not going to," I say. "By then it will be too late."
"So you're never going to date again?" he asks.
"Not with someone I care about," I reply.
He shakes his head. "Please, Peter. Just give me a chance! What have I done so wrong?"
"So, why not? What is so bad about a breakup?" he asks.
Rejection. That's what so bad about it. I can't handle it. I got too much of it growing up. I can't stand it anymore.
Real men are doomed to be alone. Real men are too good to get rejected; they make it so that there is no possibility of it. Real men are above everything else; they're the kings of the world. My dad brought me up to be a real man, to be the toughest shit of them all.
That's right…but if I can recall correctly, the last thing I said to him was that he failed in raising me. I fell short of being a real man when I admitted that I was gay. And…that makes me…just human, doesn't it?
Before I can say anything, though, Andy interjects his own thoughts.
"You're going to sacrifice your entire life because you're too afraid of the future. Everything's uncertain, you know, Peter. It's not like anyone knows what's going to happen. But, if you want to be happy, you gotta take risks."
You gotta take risks in life in order to be happy. Or something. Carpe Diem, right? Fuck it.
That's it. Just fuck it. That's all there is to it.
I pout half-assed at him. "Okay. Okay," I stall, trying to put it to words. "Fine."
"Fine?" he asks.
"I'll…" This is hard. "I'll give it a try…being with you. Your boyfriend."
The smile that breaks across his face is brilliant, the brightest of all I've seen yet, and that's saying something. He pounces on me, smacking my head with his cast again as he pulls me into a big bear hug, and I swear at him.
He begins to smother me in tiny little butterfly kisses all over the place, and I lean backwards to get away from him, once again effectively losing my balance and falling flat onto the boulder, smacking my head on top of it.
I'm going to have such a bad headache when this day is over.
It doesn't take Andy long to find his place above me; soon, his arms thread underneath my head, and he lifts it up, cradling it in his hands. I open my eyes to peer into his—big and black and suddenly they remind me of my dog's eyes. Red's eyes, the way that dog loved me more than anyone else, and I loved him back just knowing he was there forever, even though he wasn't.
Andy and I, we won't last forever. But…nothing does, right? This isn't a fairytale. I never hoped it would be. Yet I love Andy all the same.
His kisses me on the mouth, and then buries his face in my neck, moving his cast underneath me and tightening his hold around me. I wrap my own arms around him, pulling him closer, feeling his hair tickling my jaw.
I want to hold him forever, but as soon as I think that, he swears and sits up. I soon copy him.
"What the fuck is this?" he growls, and reaches into my pocket, sliding out the sleek black .45 handgun. We both stare at it, speechlessly, until I manage to look away. My eyes wander towards the well.
"You want it back?" I ask softly. "It's yours."
"It's still not loaded," he comments, tilting it around and studying it. "When you…with Tony. It wasn't loaded then, was it?"
"Peter," he says sternly, and I look up to meet his eyes, hugging my knees for protection. "What do you think? Do you want to keep it?"
I shake my head, and look at him submissively, pleading him to make the decision himself, whatever it may be.
He looks at the gun strangely, as if he's trying to figure out what it is. "Do you think it's done more harm than good?"
"It's done more good than harm," I answer. "But…"
"But… I know what you mean," he says, and stands up on the rock. "You know, I used to play basketball in high school. Me and my best bud, Frank the Wanker."
"Frank. Not Sam?"
"Naw, me and Sam didn't get along at all during school," he says, spinning the gun around on his finger like in the old westerns—'cept he's not talented at it at all. "Check this out!"
I look up at him; he flips the gun in the air, catching it effortlessly (contrary to the way he was just stumbling around with spinning it), and then holds it above his shoulder peculiarly.
"He shoots!" Andy cries, vaulting the gun into the air—it spins around, following a perfect arch, and splashes valiantly into the well. "He scores! Hee-haw! Andy Rodriguez takes the victory!"
I stare, surprised, at the well, exactly where the gun has just received its heroic burial at sea. The flutter from the waterfall has destroyed every last ripple already. No traces remain.
After a short, graceless victory dance, Andy plops down on the rock next to me, slinging his cast over my shoulders, and turns toward me, leaning closer. "Time for victory sex now," he states, and closes the gap, plunging his tongue into my mouth without waiting for a response. Almost in reflex, I push him away.
"Andy, no!" I shout, and he looks almost shocked, so I don't hesitate to explain. "It's a rock, dimwit! Granite no less! Don't you think that that's gonna hurt, just a little bit?"
He stares at me stubbornly for a while, and sighs, looking away. "Fine," he says shortly, but pulls my whole body closer to him, holding me to him, and gazing at the well silently. I lean against him, practically in his lap, breathing in his scent, which suddenly strikes me as strange if only because it is so familiar.
A somewhat tense silence settles over us, even though it's not entirely uncomfortable. It's kind of like we both want to say something, but we're both too nervous to say it. Andy works up his courage before I do, though.
"I'm sorry," he practically whispers, and I blink, trying to figure out what he's apologizing for. He hesitates only briefly before explaining, though. "I feel so stupid now. I didn't know you were jealous of Sam. I mean, I did, but I didn't think it was that bad."
"I wasn't jealous of—" I start defensively, but he cuts me off—even though he doesn't really cut me off. He doesn't say anything; it's almost like I just know that he doesn't want me to finish, so I don't.
"I guess it was because Sam was distracting me from it," he muses, and I shift to let him know that I want to hear more. "This whole time Sam was jealous of you."
"I know that," I say, thinking about the first time that I met Sam, the way he glared at me like I had killed his parents, or something. "Because of Tom; he thought I'd get with Tom."
Andy laughs, and I think he's laughing at the idea of me being with Tom. And that makes me want to laugh, too, because of its absurdity. "No," he says, once his laughter goes away, "because of me."
I fall silent, trying to think of what he means. Sam's jealous of me because of Andy? But Andy was jealous of Tom because of Sam—but no, that's not right. Anyone would pick Andy over Tom any day. What the hell am I thinking?
That would mean that Sam, all along…
"Look, I've known Sam for…well, forever, I guess. We've always gone to school together," Andy explains. "But I didn't really know him till, jeez, senior year in high school, I suppose. That was after I was out of the closet, and he just…asked me out. Before that I used to pick on him, and I really don't know what made him like me. And I didn't really like him—I turned him down when he asked me out. But soon after, I got kicked out of my house and went to live with him, and I guess we kinda became friends, and then we roomed together during college, and have since then.
"I didn't even realize, till recently when he started getting all pissy about you, that he wasn't exactly over his little high school crush. I mean, it's not like you're my first boyfriend, and, as you apparently already know," he pauses and sighs at this point, "I've had tons of one-night-stands. He never seemed to care about any of that. But, I guess it's because you—" He's blushing again. Twice in one day. I can't help but grin. "—Well, because you're special."
He falls silent, not looking at me as if he's afraid of my reaction. If he'd look over, he'd see that I'm smiling. But he doesn't; he just nervously flicks some hair out of his eyes and looks up at the sky.
"Andy—" I start, thinking that now's as good a time as ever to tell him what I wanted to say, but upon hearing his name he looks over at me; dark, nervous eyes meet mine, and he seems to almost lend me some of that nervousness, because suddenly he looks a lot more calm and I feel a lot more apprehensive. Giving up for the moment, I glance away from him.
"I was just saying, Peter," Andy goes on, sounding slightly scared, like he thinks he did something wrong. My reaction probably gave him that idea, but I'm not close to being ready to change it. "You've got nothing to fear from Sam. I choose you over him. I was given the final opportunity, even—um, two days ago…he called me, I guess because, well, I haven't spoken to him since…before the crash, and he was worried 'cause I'd disappeared. And when I told him I was in Mexico with you—well, he was mad. I guess he thought that you and I had broken up permanently. But before that… Sam and me, we haven't been getting along so well. He's been so, like, demanding lately—ah, never mind. Sorry, I'm rambling."
I glance back at him—he's staring to the side, looking embarrassed.
"I messed up your relationship with your best friend," I say, feeling genuinely guilty. Despite how much I hate Sam, I guess it's a bad thing. All along I was hoping Andy would stop being friends with him, but now, it's not as good as I thought it would be.
Andy catches my eye again, and smiles sadly. "Don't feel bad," he says. "It's Sam's fault, and mine. And it's not like I haven't got other best friends."
"Other best friends?" I repeat, narrowing my eyes. How can you have more than one best friend? That doesn't make any sense. I always had a hard enough time picking up just casual friends, much less best friends. So how could you even find more than one?
And doesn't the word "best" denote just one, anyway?
"Yeah, I mean, I work with this guy named Daniel—he's pretty cool. And there's this other guy I know through Daniel, named John, and John's girlfriend Carol."
I think about explaining to Andy that, by its very definition, you can only have one best friend. But I know he won't get it—or he won't accept it, at least—if I bother, so I don't.
"So who do you like best of all those three? Like, if you could hang out with just one of them, who would you pick?" I ask, out of curiosity.
Andy shrugs. "Daniel, I guess."
"And between Daniel and Sam, who would you pick?"
He takes a little longer to answer this time, but I'm not sure if the pause is because he's trying to think of the answer, or if he's trying to guess my motives behind asking the question. I'm thinking it's the latter. "Daniel," he says, finally, "even though he's straight and always drags me around to strip clubs and stuff like that. But I guess I don't mind."
That makes me feel better. A lot better, actually. In my relief, I allow myself to snuggle back into his arms, and he accepts me readily. Once again there's that scent of his. I find it hard to believe that he can smell like anything other than cigarette smoke, but, oddly enough, he does.
Andy, my new boyfriend. I never thought that something like that would ever make me smile. But it does. I kiss his shoulder and smile into it. A real smile, at that. Not a malicious grin, or a depressed mask, or anything like that. It's real, and it's a lot easier, a lot more comfortable, than I had imagined it could be. I close my eyes, relishing in it, but soon an icy tap on my hand brings me back into the world.
I see Andy's arm extended in front of us, his palm flat, opened up towards the sky.
Another tap to my cheek. And then another on my neck.
"It's raining," Andy states, and, as soon as he does, as if it were a cue or something, the drizzle turns into a real rain, as real as we ever really get down here. In only seconds our hair, shoulders, and thighs are dusted with dark, wet drops. Andy smiles, pulling me closer for warmth.
"Love the rain," he whispers into my ear.
We sit in silence again, enjoying the chilly, somewhat relieving sensation of the rain, while in each other's presence—or at least he is; I, on the other hand, find the pressure to tell him something building up steadily. By the time my inner anxiety gathers enough for me to break the silence, our hair and clothes are already drenched.
"Andy, I want to tell you something."
I crawl all the way into his lap, wrapping my legs around his waist and my arms around his neck, burying my face into his skin, and placing a soft kiss at the bottom of his jaw.
And, again, it's easier than I ever thought it possibly could be: "I do love you. I was lying to you before. But…I love you."
A moment in silence passes once again, and instinctively I tense, preparing for the worst. The cold rain lashes down on us. Andy detaches me from his skin, holding me in front of him, and just looks at me. I'd say he's staring at me, but it's not really a stare. He's just…looking.
Please. Please, God… Don't let this be bad…
Finally he breaks out into a smile, and I breathe an unconscious sigh of relief. I'd thought I'd seen all his smiles, but here's a new one.
"Love you too," he answers, and I join in his smile.
Then, I suppose, it goes like this: The shark kisses the plankton and they both live.
Really. You guys can imagine the "happily ever after" part yourselves.
Notes: I hope you all enjoyed it! Thanks to Serialcode A, Paperback Mummy, diebyownhands, Shadow 3013 (six times! wow…), mandraco, Pink Funky Squish, tinkle time kelly, Hate In The Form Of Passion, StarDust Rocker, Daniels lover, mysterious double, wickedzl, Sirivinda, Collar de Espinas, l ' e s p o i r, Keterah, Yoyo-chan (twice!), and jka1, as well as everyone who has read, and everyone who has reviewed. It means a lot to me.
For the Harry/rug-seller clue that I gave, I have to say that it's really not as complicated as you all think it is. I really don't want to just tell you, but I will say that it has to do with Peter and his reactions toward them. Because, you know, this story really is all about Peter.
With all my cyber-love,
The American Daydream…