Alex was afraid, and knew he had every right to be, but he also knew that this wasn't something he was going to be able to help. So he was understandably fretful as he waited to drive Bobby home from school.
Two weeks ago, he'd finally been able to admit, at least to himself, that he liked guys. That he was gay. He'd actually said the word to himself. Gay. It was surprisingly hard to do. He'd known, in a way,that he was gay for four years now – since he was fourteen. Knowing wasn't really that big a deal. It was a secret, certainly, not the kind of thing you let anyone know about. Not here in West Texas, not here in the Permian Basin, not here in the tiny, dusty town of Wink. Knowing was easy. Using the word was hard.
The word set him apart. The word made him suddenly "different"in a way he hadn't really thought of before. The word meant he had something to hide, which is different than just keeping a secret. He'd never realized any of these things until he'd used it. Now he knew that if the word got out, everything would change.
The problem was – he wanted things to change. Some things. Not everything. He wanted things to change between himself and his best friend Bobby, and that was all. Because he was in love and he couldn't keep that to himself anymore. So he bit his lip and waited in the tree-less parking lot, under the blazing Texan sun, with the air-conditioner on max.
Calling them "best friends" was an unjust description for the relationship between Alex and Bobby – in any other century, people would have simply said that they loved each other. They'd met in Kindergarten and been virtually inseparable ever since. Back in grade school, they were still walking with their arms around each other's shoulders in public long after everyone else had become too self-conscious to do that. In Jr. High, they'd hit puberty within a month of each other, and watched their hair grow with innocent fascination. Not long after that, they'd also discovered the joys – and eventual messiness – of masturbation, and were still doing that together. They'd taught each other how, after all.
Not to say that they hadn't fought, cursed each other, even "hated" each other for as many as three days at a time. But they always got over it. They understood each other too well to hate for longer than that.
They shared too many boyhood secrets - many of which involved vandalism – although they hadn't meant it that way at the time. Like how they used to throw rocks at that shack the weird old man used to live in, just to be mean. Then one day they were out poking around in his backyard – he had a lot of cool junk back there – and the weird old man came out and showed them the coolest junk, and why it was cool, and he wasn't so weird after all. Now, years later, both boys were so ashamed about the rock-throwing that they always went uncomfortably silent whenever they passed the place. Shared guilt is a strong bonding-agent.
For Alex, though, it was going to the next stage. He was in love - deeply, madly, truly, he felt. It was a crush - Alex's first - and he would eventually come to realize that. But by then, the damage would be done.
"Hey," Bobby said, opening the passenger-side door and snapping Alex out of his reverie, "Sorry I'm so late – I got to talking with Renee'. I think I'm gonna ask her out! Anyway - home, James! Prince of Persia III, awaits!" Bobby pulled the shoulder-belt down – the town cop was always watching when school let out – and continued, "I can't believe you pre-ordered that without telling me, man! Didn't think PP3 was your kinna thing..."
"Yeah, well... Halo was getting' kinna old, y'know..." Alex replied. He wasn't about to say that the only reason he'd bought it at all was because of how much Bobby wanted to play it. That'd be awkward. That'd be like admitting that he bought it for Bobby. Alex's parents were a couple of steps above Bobby's on the short social ladder in Wink. That's why Alex had his own car - even if it was only a '92 Cavalier - and Bobby didn't.
"Hey – stop at the Git-n-Go. I wanna get a Slurpee. Uhm... you got five dollars I can borrow?"
"Sure. The Coke side's still broken, y'know... you're gonna hafta get cherry. I thought you hated cherry..."
"Not really..." Alex rolled his eyes. Neither of them cared for cherry Slurpees.
They continued making small-talk. Alex was nervously looking for a space to bring up what he'd been working up the guts to finally say, but the opening never came. Bobby thought it was odd that his friend didn't want to come into the store, but didn't ask why. Instead, he bought the 48 oz. Slurpee, in case Alex were to change his mind and want some later, after all.
During the rest of the 20-minute ride – things tend to be spread out in the West Texas desert – Alex kept waiting for his chance, but it just never seemed like quite the right time.
"Something botherin' ya, Alex? Yer awful quiet... too many grease-burgers at lunch?"
"Nah. Just... I'll tell ya later."
"Okay-fine," Bobby said, thus dropping the subject. He knew it must be something important, though. He hoped it wasn't anything bad. The most important thing in the two boys lives right now – Bobby thought – was getting accepted to Texas Tech for college next year. After that, it was going to be finding the money to actually go. Even Alex's parents weren't well-off enough to just pay his way outright, and Bobby... well, Bobby was going to have to think of something. There was a chance for a soccer scholarship – but Texas is into football, not soccer. West Texas even more so.
When they got to Bobby's house, Alex went in without even asking. It was a given. Prince of Persia III, after all. It never even occurred to Bobby that he could play games by himself. He'd never had to. So they took their accustomed positions, cross-legged on the couch, and played. Bobby kept offering Alex some of his Slurpee, but Alex didn't seem interested. Which meant that Bobby was drinking a lot of Slurpee.
"I gotta take a leak," Bobby said after killing his friend off yet again.
"Yeah, me too."
Bobby peed while Alex washed the dust off his face – it doesn't take long in mesquite-country, there's not really any grass anywhere – and ruffled his bristly blonde flat-top. Then he made the mistake of glancing over at his friend's dick. And subsequently staring at it for longer than he should have. It wasn't because he was especially horny, and he'd certainly seen Bobby's dick before, it was just that seeing it there, and feeling the sigh of desire that went with it, reminded Alex that he had something to do. Something that felt critical, somehow, although he hadn't thought it through enough to wonder about what might happen afterward. Alex was simply hoping for the best. Or if not "the best", at least the "not so bad".
"Hey – stop checking out my cock, ya fag!" Bobby joked after catching him staring.
Alex forced himself to chuckle weakly, too embarrassed now to think of anything clever to say. Which was another new experience. He'd never been embarrassed before when they'd joked around like that. A lot of things were suddenly different, since Alex applied "the word" to himself.
They went back to their game, and Bobby forced down the last of his Slurpee. He made a mental note to never get cherry again.
While he was doing that, Alex finally saw his chance.
"You're right, actually..." he began, knowing that Bobby wouldn't know what he meant.
"I'm a fag."
Having finished the drink, Bobby set it down on the coffee-table and picked up his controller, getting ready to play again. "Very funny," he said, thinking that it wasn't one of Alex's cleverest moments.
Alex punched through his character's options, watching the tv screen so he wouldn't have to look at Bobby. "I'm serious, Bobby. I'm gay. And... uh... I really like you. Uh... love you, in fact." Alex swallowed, but never did take his eyes off the screen. There, it was finally out. At least that was something, whatever happened.
Bobby was not gay. He'd never even given it much thought. He was having enough trouble trying to deal with the intensity of his attraction towards girls – it was nearly overwhelming. He knew what it meant, though. And he thought about that while he stared dumbfounded at Alex on the couch next to him. It meant cock-sucking and butt-fucking and sharing cum. It meant that all those incredibly dirty thoughts that Bobby was having about girls - Alex was having about boys.
... love you, in fact.
It meant that Alex wanted to-
Between that, the school's lunch, and 48 oz of flavored corn-syrup and water, Bobby power-heaved into his mouth. He was barely able to stop himself from spewing all over Alex, the couch, everything. He jumped up in an attempt to get to the bathroom, but didn't make it, and ended up on his hands and knees in front of the television, retching onto the linoleum.
Alex watched it all, too stunned to even think, let alone speak. He had wondered how Bobby would react, but he'd certainly never thought of this... Alex's mouth hung open as he continued to watch his friend – his best friend – convulse and gag. All because of that one word: gay. Knowing that Alex was gay was making Bobby throw-up.
Quietly, barely even mouthing the words, Alex said to himself, "God... Bobby... God..."
Finally Bobby had emptied his stomach and was down to his last couple of dry-heaves, saliva dripping out of his open, panting mouth, snot hanging from his nose. His hands were surrounded by a pinkish pool of vomit. And Alex, the cause of all this, had his epiphany. His "crush" disappeared in a flash of realization: not going to happen.
He set down his game controller and got up from the couch.
"Ok. Ok Bobby - I get it. I'll get some paper towels from-"
"Get the fuck out of here..." Bobby said, still panting for breath.
"Look, Bobby... It's not-"
"GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!" Bobby screamed at him, looking at him with an expression of hatred mixed with betrayal.
Alex hung his head, got up, and walked out without saying anything else. So much for "sharing everything". So much for "best friends".
He got in his car, started it, and put it in drive. Then he just stared out the windshield for awhile. Then he pounded his hands on the steering-wheel, "Shit SHIT SHIT!" He'd keep saying that, from time to time, all the way home. Even if it was Bobby's fault for, apparently, being a raging homophobe; he still couldn't help the nagging feeling that it was all his own doing, somehow. For being "gay". To make matters worse, it didn't seem likely that Bobby was going to be keeping that a secret, either. That was going to be bad. Very bad.
When Alex showed up at Bobby's house to pick him up for school the next morning, Bobby's dad informed him that his son had taken the school bus, for a change. He seemed surprised to see Alex there, in fact, since Bobby had told him that Alex "was busy with other stuff".
They couldn't avoid each other in the classroom, though. Alex and Bobby had 4 out of 6 periods together, and naturally, their seats were always side-by-side. But they didn't say a word, and were obviously going to great pains not to even acknowledge the other's presence. Everyone could tell something was up, but when their other friends would ask, all they'd get back was an annoyed "Nuthin."
At least Bobby wasn't telling, then. That was a relief. A huge relief, and one that Alex wasn't really expecting.
When school let out, Alex saw Bobby sitting by himself at the far end of the knee-high wall that ran next to the sidewalk, waiting on the buses to show up.
"Hey." Alex said.
"Get away from me."
"Don't worry – I'm not gonna touch ya or anything," Alex said snidely, "I just wanted to say thanks for not telling anyone. That's all. Bye."
As Alex walked away towards his car, Bobby finally thought of something else to say, "I want all the stuff of mine from your house."
"Fine," Alex said without turning around.
Bobby heard Alex's car drive up – he recognized the sound of his tires on the gravel – and peeked through the venetian blinds to see what he was up to. Alex opened his trunk and took out a cardboard box. Bobby met him at the door, but didn't even say "hey".
"Here's all your stuff I could find. If anything else turns up, I'll letcha know," Alex said simply.
Bobby took it and looked down into the box. The Prince of Persia III game was on top. "That's not mine..." he said, nodding at it.
"I don't want it. You take it."
"It's not mine..."
"I only bought it because you wanted it so much, asshole. Just take it. I don't even like that kinna stuff."
With that, Alex got back into his car and drove off again. He didn't notice that Bobby was still standing in his doorway with the box in his arms when he reached the highway and turned to go back home.
Bobby was trying to figure something out, and it was giving him problems. Okay – so he had a cool game now... but who was he going to play it with? For that matter, what the fuck was he gonna do with his spare time? Because he was sure gonna have a lot of it now...
Normally, at this time of day, the two boys would have been off somewhere. Walking around the pond at the airport, maybe, shooting BB guns at turtles. Or sitting in the Dairy Queen just talking and drinking their "lime ices" - a local 25c drink that consisted of half a lime, a cup of ice, and two packets of salt. Or climbing over the fence around the "Wink Sink", the crater of a sink-hole that had appeared overnight just outside town, several years ago. The water at the bottom was an amazingly fluorescent shade of green. Or... well, or something. Lots of things. They used to talk a lot. Just go somewhere and walk and talk, or sit and talk, or whatever - and talk.
That day, neither of them said more than twenty words. All together. The entire day.
And the next, and the next, and the next – for over a week.
Then, late one night, Alex just had to get away from the tv. It was driving him crazy - he could actually feel it - and he had to go somewhere and do something, even if it was by himself. Outside, there was a three-quarter moon in an absolutely clear sky. Ah – clear sky? Bright moon? Water-tower. Of course.
It was against the law, naturally. It meant parking his car far away and climbing over the fence, but it was worth it. He and Bobby had spent a lot of time up there, and nights like this were the best. Of course, there wasn't going to be any Bobby this time... but at least it was something.
And as it turned out, Bobby was already there, sitting on the grating, dangling his legs over, his arms crossed on the guard-rail. Alex saw him as he came around to the side of the tank that faced the town. It was a surprise – but it shouldn't have been. Alex froze in his tracks, unsure what to do. Bobby still wasn't looking his way... he seemed to be staring off into space. But... he had to have heard Alex's footsteps on the steel grating, hadn't he?
Then Bobby said, "Hey."
"Hey," Alex replied back, still unsure what he should do. Turn around and go away? Try to talk to him? What? After a while, he decided on - "Didn't know you'd be here..."
"Left my bike in the ditch so the cops wouldn't see."
"You rode your bike all the way here?" It was over ten miles from Bobby's house to the water-tower.
"Yeah. Not much else to do..."
After a moment, Alex replied, "Know whatcha mean."
This led to an uncomfortable silence, until Bobby eventually looked over at him standing there and said, "Well, you're here now. Might as well sit down."
Alex sat in the same fashion as Bobby was, about five feet away from him. Last time they'd been here, they'd sat touching. That wasn't going to happen anymore. A kind of innocence had been lost.
"Got anything goin' on?" Bobby asked.
"Been out with Renee' a couple of times now..." Bobby said, his voice trailing off. Bringing up girls just seemed like it might be... inappropriate.
"Ah," was all Alex could think of to say back. He, too, felt that it would be... wrong... for him to talk to Bobby about girls. It felt weird now. Moreover, it felt weird that it felt weird. Embarrassing, somehow... An awkward silence ensued as both of them stared off over the town.
After a heavy and loud sigh, Alex broke the quiet with, "I don't see what the big deal is, Bobby... you like girls, I like boys. So what?"
"So it's pretty fuckin' gross, is what..."
Alex turned to face the other boy, his mouth open in astonishment that Bobby would say something like that. Here Alex thought they were getting somewhere, since they'd exchanged more words in the last five minutes than they had the whole previous week. But Bobby was putting them right back at square one again. Okay – he wanted to have it out? Let's have it out...
"Yeah, I get that you feel that way about me, asshole! Okay? I fucking GET it! It grossed you out so much when I told you I was a fag that it made you fucking vomit! I know it seems gross to you, okay? You can stop reminding me that I make you sick!" Alex waited for Bobby's no-doubt stupid response, ready to verbally pounce on him again.
Bobby frowned, "You didn't just tell me you were a fag, y'know. You said something else, too..."
That took the wind right out of Alex's sails, and he looked embarrassedly away. "Yeah, well... Look, I thought I had a crush on you, okay? Trust me, I'm so over it now. I was... confused about... things. Haven't you ever crushed on someone? I wasn't thinking right. God, Bobby - gimme a break..."
"Yeah, I've had crushes. On girls, though."
"Fuck you. You think that makes a difference? Look – I'm sorry I said that. Okay? I'm sorry that I'm so disgusting to you now. You feeling alright, are ya? Need a barf-bag or anything?"
"Would you just STOP bringing that up? I threw-up because of... of a lot of things. I just... I had these pictures in my head of... It was just everything. All at once."
"Fine. So besides how sickening I am, what the fuck were you so mad about? What the fuck are you still so mad about? It's not like I was touching you or anything. What the hell?"
Bobby's face lost its angry tension and became suddenly dead-serious, "Maybe not. But you have before. We've been jerking each other off since eighth grade, Alex. And me, I thought it was just... but it was different for you, wasn't it! I was only doing it to you so you'd do it to me. But YOU... you LIKED it, didn't cha? Yeah – you never said anything, but you did! Your little fuckin' secret, wasn't it! You were getting off on me!"
Alex tried to hold the other boy's icy stare, but couldn't. He looked away and sighed. It was true. He'd never really thought about it that way before... He'd just assumed that it was mutual – that Bobby was enjoying him as much as he was enjoying Bobby - even though looking back, it obviously wasn't mutual at all. Because Bobby was always looking at the magazines, or the videos, or whatever porn they had. And Alex wasn't. Alex had never really noticed that difference before. Not until he finally realized that he was "gay". Not until he'd used the word.
And once he did come to that self-realization, yeah, he kept doing it with Bobby anyway, knowing full well that he was "getting off" on Bobby in a way that Bobby wasn't getting off on him. So Bobby was right. Alex had used him. Sort of. It really was Alex's fault...
He said weakly, "That... that's what you were so mad about?"
"That's why you threw-up?"
"Well... that was part of it, yeah."
Alex turned and brought his legs up onto the grating, preparing to pull himself to his feet. It was time to go. "All right. Yeah – you're right. I was. But... before about a month ago, I wasn't actually doing it on purpose, okay? That's when I realized that I really was a fag. Before that, I thought I was just... I mean, I thought that everybody... Anyway, it doesn't matter. You have a right to be mad about that... I guess I would be too, if I were you." Standing now, Alex looked over the town one last time, and took one last look at Bobby. So much for that. Might as well move on.
"Where you goin'?" Bobby said, surprising Alex that he would bother to ask.
"Home. We're done here, I guess. I can understand why you feel the way you do, Bobby... and I'm sorry about that, all right? I guess I fucked up. I don't suppose you want a ride home from me now that-"
Alex looked over his shoulder suspiciously, unable to comprehend what he'd just heard. "What?"
"Sit the fuck down."
Alex continued staring for awhile, unsure what he should do. Finally, he sat back down, and resumed hanging his legs over the grating. They both continued gazing off over the town again, and for a long time. By now, only the streetlights were still lit.
Eventually, Bobby said - as much to himself as to Alex - "You really can't help being a... being gay, can ya..."
"Wish you weren't?"
Alex thought about it. "I know I don't have anything to be ashamed of, Bobby. But... I still kinda am. Especially after you... y'know..."
"Yeah. Uhm... sorry about that."
Alex didn't say anything back. "Sorry" or not, Bobby had still thrown up. It wasn't something that could be taken back.
For his part, Bobby wasn't going to let it end like this. He'd been sitting there for an hour before Alex had shown up, wondering what the hell he was going to do now. The desert of West Texas is pretty bleak to start with, and it all seemed a hundred times more so now. And Bobby knew why. In fact, things looked just bleak enough for Bobby to say the most intimate thing he'd ever said to the other boy: "Thing is, Alex... I miss doin' stuff like we used to."
"Me too," Alex replied nervously. Things were suddenly going an unexpected direction here...
"It feels weird bein' around you now, though."
That got Bobby's attention, "It does? I mean, for you too?"
"Well, yeah. Now that you know, an' everything."
"Huh. I figured it was just me..."
"Well..." It was a new kind of awkward, talking about how awkward they both felt. And besides, what was the point? So Alex tried to change the subject, "It's gettin' late..."
Bobby looked over at Alex, who obviously knew he was being watched - but didn't look back. Okay – so Alex liked guys. And okay – so that was gross. But like Alex said, it was only "gross" to him, weird as that seemed. And yeah, Alex had done a sneaky, under-handed, and maybe even dirty thing to him. On the other hand... they each knew where they stood now, at least. And he really did miss Alex. A lot. Despite everything.
Sooo... fuck it. Getting to his feet, Bobby said, "Yeah. I'll take you up on that ride, by the way. Can I put my bike in your trunk?"
Alex's eyebrows went up. "Uh... sure..."
"Good. And pick me up for school tomorrow."
After a pause of wonder, Alex said uneasily, "Okaaay..."
"I still have that game, y'know... You don't actually hate it, do ya?"
Smiling faintly – and a little amazed that he was doing so – Alex replied, "I can deal with it. Hey – the Sonic should be open for another half an hour..." He winced inwardly after he said that. It had just sort of slipped out... Obviously, Bobby wouldn't be interested in-
"Yeah, I'm starvin'. Uh... you wouldn't happen to have-"
"Five bucks. Not a problem, Bobby."