Brae
by Kieron Connors

 

Chapter 13 

Hoping for some kind of distraction to keep my mind from turning over and over my dilemma on the ride back, I decided to give Cash a call to see how his weekend with Rhett went.

“Hey!” his voice rang out enthusiastically, as he answered my call after the second ring. “What’s going on? You back yet?”

“Nope, just got on the road,” I replied. “Should be back in a couple hours.”

“Cool, you wanna grab dinner or something?” he asked.

“Uhh… maybe,” I replied evasively. I suddenly felt guilty at the prospect of hanging out with Cash one-on-one, as though it would somehow do something to substantiate my recent untruths. “I’ll see how I feel… I might just crash. I’m pretty tired.”

“Not a very relaxing weekend?” he asked. “How did things go with your parents?”

“Good.”

“You told them?”

“Yeah, I did. They took it pretty well. They basically said they had already had their suspicions-”

Cash laughed. “Parents always know, dude.”

“I guess…” I chuckled. “Anyways, they took it well. They love and support me and all that stuff.”

“Right.”

“And obviously they have their concerns for my health and safety, so that led to some fun talks…”

“I can only imagine,” Cash said, laughing again. “I am still reeling from the ‘rectal health’ chat I had with my mom. There is nothing quite as dehumanizing as talking about pink sock with your mom, dude. Top 5 worst moments of my life.”

“Yeah… I didn’t have it quite that bad,” I snickered. Already, just a couple of minutes on the phone with Cash had me feeling so much better. I had almost forgotten about my problems entirely.

“So did you tell your parents about Tate?” he asked.

“Uhh… not exactly,” I replied, dodging the subject, reluctant to give that subject any footing. “So, I was actually calling to hear how things went with Rhett this weekend,” I continued, changing the subject.

Cash groaned. “Damn that kid is a handful.”

“What do you mean?!” I said with an amused chortle.

“That boy had my number in about two seconds and was trying to get in my pants all weekend!”

“What?!” I shrieked, bursting into laughter. “He certainly had no such prowess when we were hooking up.”

“Yeah, well, maybe not, but he’s quite the little monster now.”

“Well, that’s New York for you I guess… I hope he’s all right,” I replied, suddenly a little concerned about Rhett’s welfare. The city had a way of swallowing up kids with a hedonistic streak and a bank account, and I hoped that he wasn’t getting himself into any real trouble.

“Seems like he can fend for himself. He is an aggressive little bugger.”

“What’d he do?” I asked, dumbfounded. He’d barely spent 24 hours in Carrington, I hardly believed he could have gotten up to much.

“Well I met him for brunch and then dropped him off at the student center for his campus tour and had him meet me at the library after. Then I gave him another walk around and brought him over The Gnat, where he proceeded to try and grope me in the locker room.”

“No!” I scoffed.

“Oh yes. Then there was the footsy action all through dinner. I managed to pass him off on the girls after that, they took him out somewhere, only to have him show up outside my door at 3am, undressing himself…”

“What?!” I gasped.

“Yup. Stripping off his clothes in the hallway and screaming my name.”

“Fuck.”

“He wished. It was literally all I could do to get him semi-dressed again and then I had to throw him over my shoulder and carry him back to his hotel.”

“I like can’t believe this,” I groaned. This sounded a far cry from the sweet, relatively shy boy I’d known growing up. I was certainly glad I hadn’t had to deal with Rhett’s predatory behavior. “I am so, so sorry you had to deal with that. I am in complete shock. I promise he is usually a really sweet guy.”

“Well… I dunno, the guy I met seemed to have drunk the Nicola punch.”

“Well that is alarming,” I said with a laugh. “Thanks so much for dealing with him and I am so sorry. If I had known he was going to act like that I never would have suggested that he contact you. I honestly thought that you guys might even hit it off…” I admitted.

“I figured as much,” Cash replied. I could almost hear him smirking. “That could not have been farther from the case though.”

“Yeah… sorry,” I said, awkwardly.

“It’s fine. He passed out before I got him to his hotel so that was pretty much the end of it. No problems getting him into bed or anything like that and then I avoided his calls this morning and hid out with Kenner and Cameron in the library in case he decided to drop by my room again.”

“Ugh,” I groaned. “I can’t believe it. Well I am really, really sorry. And seriously, you did me a huge favor so thank you. I know Tate would not have been pleased if I had been on the receiving end of all of that harassment—not to mention I could not have pawned him off nearly as easily as you. Thanks for taking care of him though.”

“Sure Brae, anything for you dude,” Cash replied.

“Yeah, uhh, okay,” I said, suddenly feeling a little awkward. “Well, I guess I should, umm, focus on the drive. Just wanted to check in and see how things went.”

“Okay, well call me when you’re back if you want to do dinner.”

“Uhh, yeah. And thanks again for everything with Rhett.”

“Don’t worry about it. If nothing else it was a memorable weekend. And hey—it’s nice to feel desired every now and again, even if the guy was kinda crazy.”

I managed a forced chuckle. “Alright, talk to you later. Bye,” I said, hanging up the phone and tossing it into the passenger seat.

“Well fuck. That’s a whole ‘nother can of worms,” I groaned.

***

I was back in Carrington by 6pm and I immediately beelined it to the library, not even bothering to stop by my room beforehand. I found myself an isolated little study carrel in the rarely-frequented Asian Literature section (which apparently was a highlight of the university’s collection) and let myself slip away into a time and place long and far away from the present, aided by the words of Thomas Hardy and the damp chill and musky odors of the great stone library.

Desperate as I was to remain forever in the (equally dire and depressing) world of Jude and Sue, severe hunger pains forced me to surface and I headed back to the dorms at around 10pm to grab a quick bite from the dining hall before I headed to bed.

It was impossible not to mull over the unfortunate situation I’d gotten myself into for the millionth time and my mind ran through the parallels between the struggles that Tate and I would surely have as a couple and those of Jude and Sue. A gloomy silence had settled over the campus, the students sombered by the threat of the looming school week and the start of midterm season. I had my first exam in Econ on Thursday, which made the timing of my parents’ trip that much worse.

I still had no idea what I was going to do. A part of me hoped that Tate and Cash might agree to play along and that the three of us might put on a convincing enough charade to get my parents off of my case. I felt pretty confident that Cash would be pretty amenable –although after his disastrous weekend with Rhett I wouldn’t blame him for denying me all future favors—I was equally positive that Tate was not going to stand for deceitfulness, especially where my parents were concerned.

‘Damn him and his lofty ideals,’ I cursed to myself.

I pondered over whether I should I tell my parents I lied before or after they arrived. ‘If I tell them before, they might have more time to come to terms with it,’ I told myself. ‘But that also would give them more time to put some kind of plan in action to separate me and Tate,’ a nagging voice in the back of my mind piped up. ‘Waiting until they get here might make the lie seem even more egregious and Tate might take some of the heat just by proxy. Mom will totally think he was complicit,’ I told myself. ‘But Tate will also totally charm them. I know he will. Plus, ballsy as mom is, I don’t think she could actually insist on this in front of Tate… that would be unfathomably awkward…’

“YOU’RE MYYYY FUNNY VALENTIIIIINE…” my phone suddenly blared my ringtone for Tate, startling me so much that I managed to jump about three feet in the air before tripping myself on my less than graceful descent, and stumbling off the sidewalk, catching myself with my hands and barely avoiding a face plant in the dewy grass. “SWEET COMIC VALENTIIIIINE…” my phone continued.

“I thought you were on vibrate,” I muttered to myself, rolling over into a sitting position and digging my phone of my pocket. ‘Thank God this didn’t go off in the library,’ I thought to myself.

“Hey pussy boy, nice ringtone,” a familiar voice barked from behind me. I cringed at the site of Drake approaching—this was the last thing I wanted to have to deal with.

I quickly hit the answer button on my phone. “Hey, hold on one second,” I said into the receiver before turning towards Drake. “Seriously Drake, I just spent 48 hours with my pregnant and hormonal mother, so you can’t even fathom the wrath I could bring down on your ass right now. Just walk away,” I snapped.

Drake started, visibly thrown by my outburst. He crossed his furry arms across his strong chest and furrowed his brow, his dark eyes glaring into me. “Dude, take a midol,” he rebutted, nevertheless backing away warily.

Tate’s laughter erupted from the ear piece.

“Hey, sorry,” I said turning my attention back to the phone and picking myself up off the ground.

“Damn, I miss you,” he laughed. “And boy will I ever think twice before getting on your bad side.”

“Whatever,” I said, rolling my eyes. “He made fun of your ringtone.”

“BASTARD!” Tate exclaimed with mock outrage. “That’s what you get for being such a romantic,” he said. Tate had given me a bit of a hard time when I’d changed my ringtone the morning after his serenade, but I could tell it was a classic case of he doth protest too much.

“Whatever, you love it,” I replied.

“True,” he admitted with a slight snort. I could perfectly picture him sexily biting on his lower lip to hold back a laugh.

“How’s Elise?” I asked, settling myself on a bench outside the dorm, shuddering at the feeling of the cold stone underneath my jeans.

“Trouble as always… she is making us margs right now.”

“You’re going out tonight?” I asked, surprised. “Doesn’t she have a show tomorrow?”

“Yeah. She is walking in two. I dunno… there is no arguing with her. Last night was unreal. She made Nicola at White Party look tame.”

“Oh God, that has to be weird for you.”

“Ehh, I’m used to it. I can’t remember a time when it was any other way. Last night she dragged me to a gay bar and she took shot out of some guy’s ass.”

“What?!” I choked. “Are you serious?!”

“Yup. And some drag queen’s boobs. She was quite the hit.”

“I’m sure.”

“Oh, but wait! I can’t believe you mom is pregnant. I am so excited for you! You are going to be a great big brother Brae!”

“I hope so,” I sighed.

“You will. You are one of the most caring and selfless people I know. Plus I think you have a nurturer gene or something. I’ll never forget how protective you were of me during that whole Drake thing.”

“Yeah, I just wish I was going to be around more. I feel like they won’t even know who I am.”

“They’ll know. Your parents will make sure of that and you’ll see them a lot. Plus, they are going to absolutely worship you.”

“You think?”

“It’s what younger siblings do,” he said, matter of factly. “Trust me, I would know. Oh!! You can webcam with them.”

“What?”

“You can Skype with them! Like video chat, so they’ll remember what you look like and stuff.”

I laughed. “That’s sort of weird. Will babies understand that? They’re going to think I’m the crazy man who lives in a box.”

“Do I get to be the crazy uncle?”

“I guess?” I laughed. “If you want.”

“Of course, I want!”

“’Uncle’ sounds sooo old.”

“Newsflash Brae: we are old.”

“We’re eighteen….” I laughed.

“The exit ramp of our youth… especially in gay years,” Tate replied, with mock tragedy in his voice.

“Shut up!” I chuckled. “You’re nuts.”

“Nuts for you!”

I rolled my eyes. “Seriously, stop, I’ll have to break up with you right now if you’re going to go all corny on me.”

“I can’t help it, you’re just sooo precious.”

“How many drinks have you had?” I laughed.

“Just one. Elise made it.”

“With what? Rubbing alcohol?”

“Everclear.”

“Close enough. Be careful tonight please. “

“I will, don’t worry. Someone’s gotta look out for Courtney Love here.”

“I heard that!!” Elise’s voice rang out from the background. “Let’s get this show on the road lover boy, the car is here! Chug that margarita!”

“Brae, I gotta go,” he said.

“All right, have fun. Say ‘hi’ to your sister for me,” I said.

“I will. I miss you. Talk to you tomorrow.”

“Goodnight.”

***

“Brae!” Lottie’s voice rang out from the lifeguard stand as I sleepily trudged out of the locker room.

Waking up alone that morning felt strange and I missed Tate’s contagious energy as I pulled myself together for practice in a haze of fatigue. I was surprised to find how much I had become accustomed to his companionship and how tedious and meaningless my morning routine felt without him. I missed the repartee, the teasing, even the taste of his morning breath.

I wiped the sleep out of my eyes, squinting against the aggressive sunlight beaming in through the glass ceiling as I walked over to the lifeguard chair. I’d tossed and turned for much of the night, plagued by nightmares of my mother imprisoning me in a convent so that she could be sure I wouldn’t be getting any. Nuns everywhere! I shuddered. ‘Tate would have loved that,’ I thought to myself as I approached Lottie.

“Hey! How did it go?!” she asked cheerfully from her perch, her legs pulled up into her oversized red hoodie, pulled tightly against her chest, and her wisps of her silky peeking out from her hood.

“Don’t you look cozy,” I grumbled, suddenly feeling cruelly exposed (and chilly!) in my tiny practice Speedo and with the harsh feeling of the cold, wet tiles beneath my toes.

“Yeah, it’s freezing! So tell me everything! Did it go okay?”

I groaned. “Sort of… It’s a long story. Let’ just say I’ve dug myself a bit of a hole. What time does your shift end?”

“Eight.”

“Do you wanna grab breakfast after? I could use your advice.”

“Of course! Is everything okay?”

“I dunno… We’ll discuss,” I replied. While I was dreading having to rehash the situation for about the millionth time in the last couple of days, I knew that Lottie’s advice would be valuable. “Oh! Guess what!” I continued, happy to have a legitimate reason to change the subject.

“What?” she asked, her startlingly blue eyes looking at me expectantly.

“I am going to be a big brother.”

“What?!” she squealed with excitement, her legs shooting out of her sweatshirt as she hopped down off of the chair to hug me.

“Yup, twice over actually. Twins.”

“Brae! Congratulations!” she exclaimed throwing her arms around my shoulders. “That is so exciting!”

“Geez, if you’re getting this excited, I can only imagine how Emmie is going to react when she finds out!”

“Sedatives will definitely be necessary. Luckily, Nicola can probably supply those. She has quite the collection of pharmaceuticals.”

“Yeah, that doesn’t surprise me much,” I chuckled.

“I can’t believe your parents are pregnant,” Lottie said.

“I know! It’s kind of weird. I don’t really know what to make of it, or how I feel. I’m excited I guess… It just doesn’t really seem real yet. And I do wonder how it’s going to change things. And how I’m going to factor into things if I’m at Carrington.”

“Yeah, I mean it’s the 21st century and New York is only a few hours away… Plus, not to be crass, but your family has the resources to make sure you get to see each other often. I wouldn’t worry about it.”

“Worry about what?” Carl’s voice came from behind me. “Hello again,” he said, walking up to Lottie and giving her a lingering kiss on the lips. “Hey Brae,” he continued, turning towards me, an arm possessively snaking around Lottie’s waste. I suddenly noticed that they had a similar glow about themselves and I had a feel Lottie had some announcements of her own to make about the events of this past weekend.

“Brae just found out his parents are pregnant,” Lottie said.

“Oh, weird,” Carl replied.

“Yeah,” I laughed. “Tell me about it.”

“He’s just worried about how often he’ll actually get to see the new little Davenports. Twins!” She announced, her face alight with glee.

“Wow, that is certainly a new one,” Carl laughed. “But that’s cool, congratulations.”

“Thanks,” I replied. “I feel a little weird accepting congratulations since I had nothing to do with this semi-miraculous conception… thank God… but yeah… who am I to turn down some positive affirmations?”

“Free ones at that,” Lottie chimed in.

“Seriously, that’s cool,” Carl smiled. “So I’ll see you after practice?” he asked turning back to Lottie.

“Actually, Brae and I were going to grab breakfast, we have some things to talk about. How about I meet you after Theories of Argumentation?”

“Okay cool, I’m going to go stretch,” he said, giving her another quick peck on the lips and then retreating back to the mats.

“What’s going on there?” I whispered as he walked away.

“Shhh!” Lottie hissed. She waved her hand dismissively as she climbed back onto the chair. Her hair fell in a wavy mess in front of her face and she pushed it back light heartedly.

“Does this mean you two are an official couple now? With PDAs and everything?”

“I guess,” she replied rolling her eyes. “We’ll talk about it at brekkie. Why don’t you go stretch? I don’t want you getting cramps all through your workout.”

“I’m sure,” I scoffed as she studied her cuticles evasively, picking at the remaining flecks of white polish that remained from last week’s party. “All right, you’re off the hook for now, but I expect full details later.”

“Of course,” she giggled. “Have a good workout!”

***

The workout was rough. Timmy clearly didn’t believe in easing off at all before competitions and he rode us hard in preparation for Friday’s meet. I was insanely jealous, and a little incredulous, that Tate had managed to get away with missing three practices, although I knew that Timmy had written him up workouts that he was meant to be doing in New York. And given Tate’s faultless ethics, I had no doubt that he completed them down to the last yard.

Tensions were running high in Lane 2, as the prospect of Friday’s meet seemed to have everyone on edge. While I wouldn’t have thought it possible, Lip was even more asinine and ADD than normal and the generally somber Henry was downright severe. Eric and I had our hands full keeping the peace, as Lip seemed intent on working off his anxieties by getting underneath Henry’s skin. The four of us also represented the four best breaststrokers on the team and so there was a bit of a competitive undercurrent running through Lip’s jibes as Friday’s seedings would essentially rank us for probably the rest of the season. As the weakest swimmer amongst us, Lip certainly had the most be worried about.

Eric, meanwhile, was ecstatic to have seen his brother, who was on leave from his service in Iraq, over the weekend and regaled us with second-hand stories that honestly floated right over my head in my exhausted state. His enthusiasm was touching though. I remembered that he was the baby in his family and it was clear that he absolutely worshipped his older brothers. I could only hope that my future siblings would look up to me with the same sense of reverence.

It felt good to be in the pool again and it was a welcome escape from the constant barrage of thoughts and anxieties that had been bombarding my tired mind since Saturday. The steady rhythm of pull, kick, breathe lulled my mind into docility. For a couple short hours the gnawing feeling deep in my gut ceded its hold on me, replaced by the pleasant burning of my lungs and the straining muscles in my limbs. It felt like coming home.

***

“Wow, you fucked up,” Lottie exhaled, when I’d finished my account of the weekend’s events. She puckered her lips into a small pink rosebud of a grimace.

“I know! I panicked,” I groaned, dejectedly shoving another spoon full of maple syrup into my mouth.

“That is so sick. I don’t know how you can eat that plain.”

I shrugged. “That’s nothing. When I was little I used to sneak into the fridge and chug this stuff from the bottle,” I said, removing the spoon from my mouth and slowly pouring myself another spoonful from the dispenser.

“That is sick and disturbed. Please stop. This is just masochistic behavior. We can figure this out.”

“Ugggh,” I groaned again. “This is literally crippling me with anxiety, I don’t know what to do about it.”

“Well given that you didn’t tell Tate immediately, you’ve already missed out on honesty points, so I don’t think there is any harm in waiting another day until you see him in person.”

“Honesty points?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Sure, if you come clean immediately you totally score honesty points with someone like Tate. He’s the type of guy who wants you to acknowledge that you were ethically in the wrong and to show regret,” she said. She was right of course.

“But I do regret it!”

“Yes, but you waited too long. It will be harder for him to be mad at you when you’re in the room and he can see how upset you are about the whole thing. You are his major weakness, you should take advantage of that fact.”

“Don’t you think he’ll be annoyed that I didn’t tell him and my parents are arriving the next day?”

She shrugged. “Yeah, but I think he’s going to be annoyed regardless. Plus, you know he’s going to have to rally behind you when they get here, so he can’t really be mad at you for as long.”

“But what if he doesn’t?”

“Come on Brae, he loves you. Is he going to be pissed? Yes. But this isn’t a deal breaker. He’ll understand that you acted out of panic and he will forgive you.”

“I wish I was as optimistic.”

“Brae, he will,” she cooed reassuringly, extending her delicate hand across the table to grab mine, the mess of gold bangles on his wrist clinking against the table.

“He can be so moralistic though. And uncompromising. He’s been jerked around before and I don’t think he would stand for it again.”

“You’re not jerking him around though Brae. Do I think he will go along with the Cash scheme? No. I don’t. But I think if you take steps to rectify the situation and come clean about everything, he’ll forgive you.”

“Even if he does, I doubt my parents are likely to be as forgiving.”

“Yeah, I mean, I don’t really know what to say about that,” she said, tugging at the drawstring of her hoodie for a moment before absent mindedly sticking the end of it into her mouth and chewing on it. A thoughtful expression was written upon her brow. “I mean do you think they would really split you guys up?”

“Yes. You do not know my mother. She is a ridiculously stubborn woman.”

Lottie shrugged. “I mean, I understand their perspective. Especially since they have never met Tate. I can’t say I wouldn’t feel the same way in their position.”

“Seriously?” I scoffed, a little offended. Lottie was my best friend at Carrington, aside from Tate, and I wanted to feel like she was 100% on my side.

“I mean I think what you and Tate have going on works. I get it, but would I want to be living with my boyfriend at this age? No.”

“Yeah, well I still think it should be my decision. Besides, it’s not like Tate and I went into this arrangement with the intention of being together. Things just happened organically and they work the way they are,” I huffed, feeling myself becoming increasingly exasperated.

“I know Brae, but they don’t know that or see it that way…”

“Who has the French toast?” bellowed our stately, plump server bearing a bowl of oatmeal on the edge of which she’d precariously balanced my plate of French toast. Her crisply starched apron covered a worn-looking 50’s style pink dress, matching the diner’s kitschy feel.

“I did,” I replied, reaching out for my plate.

“It wouldn’t kill you to eat, child,” she barked, loudly clanking Lottie’s bowl on the table in front of her.

“And it wouldn’t kill you to skip a few meals Bea,” Lottie snapped back.

“Probably true. I’ll have your fruit cup in a minute.”

“Thanks Bea!” Lottie smiled. “So are you going to tell your parents before they get here? Or are you going to spring it on them when they arrive?” Lottie asked turning her attention back to me.

“I was thinking I would go for the element of surprise. Hope that good breeding will force them to put on a civil façade for Tate’s sake.”

“Ahhh,” Lottie nodded, pulling a steaming spoonful of oatmeal up to her mouth and blowing softly. “Could work. Plus Tate has a winning personality. He could certainly charm them.”

“That is more or less what I was banking on,” I replied, drenching my French toast in maple syrup and then cutting myself off a piece.

“I approve. And if it doesn’t work?”

“I can’t even think about that right now,” I moaned.

“Okay,” Lottie smiled. “One crisis at a time.”

“Exactly,” I sighed. “Thanks for talking, I really do feel a lot better.”

“Of course!” Lottie winked at me, reaching out to grab her fruit cup off of Bea’s tray as she passed by our table.

“Ok, so your turn, spill it,” I goaded, taking another large bite of my French toast, and relishing the rich thick flavor of the maple syrup as it slid across my tongue.

Lottie smiled coyly. “What do you mean?”

“You know what I mean!” I laughed. “So you and Carl and official now?”

“Yes, Carl and I are official now. Nicola obviously feels completely betrayed and is calling herself the spinster of our apartment now.” We both laughed. “Basically Carl took me out to dinner Saturday night, we had a long talk about what we wanted, and yeah…”

“So, what? He wanted a relationship and you wanted…”

“I don’t know exactly. But he more-or-less said what I wanted to hear. I think he’s serious about giving this a chance, so I decided the least I could do was give him one.”

“Give him one what?” I asked, confused.

“A chance!”

“Oh, right. So you had your chat and then decided that you are man and girlfriend?”

“Pretty much… things were consummated, or re-consummated I should say, shortly there after… multiple times.”

“Sounds like a good time,” I chuckled.

“Oh it was,” she smirked, taking another large spoonful of her oatmeal. “The best,” she mumbled raising her eyebrows playfully.

“Well that’s great, I’m very happy for both of you. You certainly made him work for it, poor guy, but I get it… I think you’re going to be good together.”

“I hope so. I mean, he’s a senior, so I don’t think I’m going into the mindset of it being anything too serious, but it will be good for the year. Definitely a mature relationship.”

“A mature relationship?” I scoffed. “What does that entail?!” I said scrunching my face into a sarcastic scowl.

“Not rushing him out the door first thing in the morning? Acknowledging him in public? Who knows?”

“So basically, ask yourself what would Nicola do… and then do the opposite…”

“Basically.”

“I bet Emmie is thrilled that now she can plan double dates for you guys,” I teased.

“No, Emmie is thrilled that now she can organize triple dates for all of us,” She rebutted.

“Oh God,” I snorted. “I’ll warn Tate.”

“She is also comprising a list of potential boy prowls for Nicola and another list of activities we can all do to make Nicola feel included… I’m not kidding.”

“Does Nicola know about this?” I chuckled.

“No.”

“Good, cause then I’m guessing that suicide watch would probably top out that activities list.”

“No that would be second. First would probably be homicide prevention. Emmie should be very afraid,” Lottie laughed.

“What is actually on the top of the list?”

“Wine tastings.”

“Oh, well Nicola will be into that,” I said optimistically.

“Yes, over half the list is alcohol related,” Lottie laughed.

“I feel good about that,” I laughed. “It’s realistic.”

“Yeah, Emmie may be an optimist, but she isn’t stupid. You should have seen her with Colin this weekend though,” Lottie said, rolling her eyes.

“What do you mean?”

“Colin’s interview is this week—“

“What interview?” I interrupted.

“For the grad program here. Something sciencey, I forget what exactly. Obviously Emmie is desperate for him to get in, so she’s made him literally dozens of flash cards with interview questions and she has literally plastered our apartment, and presumably his place as well, with inspirational post-its. They are literally everywhere! The fridge, the microwave, the kitchen cabinets, the TV remote, the bathroom mirror, all over her bedroom… Nicola is having a field day with it.”

“I can imagine. Emmie sure has a lot of time on her hands…” I laughed.

“Time on her hands and clichés up her sleeve,” Lottie smiled.

***

The rest of my day was comprised of classes, more practice, dinner with Cameron and Kenner, and then a few hours in the library. I don’t know if it was the benefit of my chat with Lottie or my busy schedule, but my head finally felt clear for the first time in days, and the crippling anxiety plagued me no more.

I was sure to take diligent notes for Tate in our English class and grab him a copy of our midterm paper assignment which was due on Friday, although we had an extension until Monday because of our traveling meet on Friday. Nonetheless, I figured it was a little too early in my college career to start procrastinating, even when I was given license. I began dutifully outlining my ideas in class, as I found that the discourse, without Tate’s usual dynamic presence, wasn’t very stimulating.

We were in the weight room for the first part of our afternoon practice so I had the opportunity to pick Colin’s brain for a while we spotted for each other. His interview was on Thursday afternoon and it was for the mechanical engineering graduate program at Carrington. While his family hoped that he would end up somewhere closer to home in Florida (he had already been accepted to a couple of schools down there), he was hoping to end up in Carrington for another couple of years. Emmie was one consideration, which surprised me since they had really only been together for a couple months, and I didn’t realize that they saw such a future in their relationship. Colin also wanted to stay involved with Carrington swimming and possibly to train with the team to stay in shape. I could understand feelings that he had established a solid network and life here in Carrington, and his reluctance to leave all that behind.

Over dinner Cam, Kenner, and I speculated about the upcoming meet. As our fastest breaststroker, I was pretty confident that I would get to swim in the scoring heats as well as a number of relays, but their positions were a little more precarious. They both hoped they’d at least get to participate in a scoring relay, though on a team as deep as Carrington’s they knew they might have to do their time for a couple of years. Cameron probably had a better chance than Kenner at seeing some good races this season. Princeton wasn’t likely to be a particularly difficult opponent, so I could see Timmy potentially swimming up some of the younger guys to give them a boost of confidence.

I retreated to the library after dinner to get cracking on my English paper, silently patting myself on the back for my diligence. I chalked it up to the novelty of working on my first collegiate assignment because this was certainly unlike me. While I always got my shit done in the end, it wasn’t unusual for me (or at least high school me) to be up into the early hours the night before an assignment was due.

I found that I was avoiding returning to the dorm… somehow my room didn’t seem quite like home without Tate there. I finally headed back to hit the sack a little before midnight, leaving Tate a voicemail on my walk back. I was sure that Elise had him out celebrating his last night in New York and I could only hope that she’d also manage to get him on his 7am flight the next morning.

As I tucked myself into bed, I couldn’t help but feel a little panged again at Tate’s absence. All I wanted was him there with me and to know that everything was going to be okay despite my little fuck up. Feeling a little foolish, I slid myself out of bed, and tiptoed across the chilly floor to Tate’s side of the room. Just pulling back the covers, I already felt closer to him as his clean, masculine scent engulfed me.

“Brae you’re such a weirdo,” I whispered to myself, vowing that I would make the bed perfectly in the morning so that Tate would never suspect. Nonetheless, I suddenly found myself completely at ease and able to drift off into a deep, peaceful sleep.

***

My stomach clenched and it was impossible to suppress a huge smile from plastering itself across my face when Tate finally appeared at the top of the arrivals escalator. His flight had been delayed slightly so I’d been killing time in the airport terminal for nearly an hour, trying to stave off hunger pains with the contents of an unfortunately under-stocked vending machine. I regretted not stopping by the dining hall after practice to at least pick up something for the road. I was sure Tate would have been glad for a bagel or something too, unless he was still suffering from his activities the night before.

His face stretched into a huge grin and his eyes sparkled when they finally met mine. It was impossible not to feel a jolt of electricity in my groin, especially when I took in the sight of his muscular form, perfectly accentuated by his tight white tee and perfectly tailored jeans, a leather jacket casually slung over his shoulder. He was truly a vision.

“Hey,” he whispered against my neck, as he threw a strong arm around my shoulders, crushing me to his chest.

“Hey,” I replied softly, pulling back cautiously. Neither one of us was looking to invite the attention of the other people around us, so we quietly made our way out of the terminal back to my car. His arm snaked back around me as we crossed the parking lot, our breath steaming in the crisp morning air. My stride matched his and suddenly the rhythm seemed restored to my life. I sighed in relief, watching a white cloud of breath rise heavenward.

“Hey,” he whispered again as we climbed into the car and he leaned across the seat to place a soft lingering kiss on my lips.

“Hey,” I replied, resting my forehead against his and drinking in his presence. “I missed you.”

“I missed you too,” he smiled. “So you going to take me home or what?”

“I guess,” I groaned, turning the key in the ignition. “It was so nice having some peace and quiet the last couple of days… not to mention breathable air.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” he chuckled, reaching across and ruffling my hair. His hand slipped down to my shoulder and rested there, his fingers occasionally stroking at the nape of my neck.

“How was your flight?” I asked, pulling out of the lot and back towards the highway. I had already decided I wasn’t going to bring up the drama with my parents until we were back in our room so I could give it my full attention. Somehow I didn’t feel like the freeway was the place to have an all out screaming fight… if it came to that. Plus I was hoping for some make-up sex.

“It was fine. We had the sleeper seats so I got to nap the whole time.”

“Oh really? Weird. I feel like they don’t usually have those on short flights. How big was the plane?” I asked.

“Pretty big, but it was pretty empty. There were only three of us in first class.”

“Oh, I love when a flight is super empty, especially if I am looking to sleep. So did you go out last night?”

He turned and gave me a look. “Do you know my sister?”

“Uhh…”

“Oh, I guess you don’t,” he laughed. “I forgot. Well, yes we went out, but I took it pretty easy. And anyways, it’s not like I’m not used to getting up early.”

“Tell me about it,” I yawned for emphasis. “How did the shows go yesterday?”

“Oof, they were so weird!!” Tate laughed.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, the theme for one of the shows was black plague…” he snickered. “Imagine two dozen emaciated looking models with scary black and red spots painted all over themselves, while ‘Ring Around the Rosie’ played the whole time. It was fucking creepy!”

“And not very springy!” I joked.

“No, not very springy,” he laughed. “And the second show was ‘Vacation to Hades’ or something like that… Elise looked like she’d just barely escaped Pompeii with her life, or something.”

“Well, that’s… interesting.”

“She also apparently got in a cat fight backstage at that one.”

“Oh, god, why?”

“I dunno, some girl called her a size 4 or something… I’m unclear. It’s Elise, it doesn’t have to be rational.”

“Oh god, what am I going to do if I have sisters?” I laughed.

Tate gave my shoulder a squeeze. “You’ll be fine. Let’s just hope they’re of the Lottie variety and not the Nicola strain of… I don’t know what.”

“Seriously.”

“Oh, I sent your parents a gift,” he said, looking over and flashing me a smile.

“You did?!” I asked, genuinely surprised.

“Yeah, just a few little onesies from my dad’s baby line, and a couple of bathing suits, water wings, and I found some mini flippers and goggles at a novelty store… they won’t be usable, but they’re cute.”

“Tate, that’s adorable. Seriously, you are so sweet.” I felt a stab of guilt over everything that had transpired with my parents and that I had tried to deny my attachment to this amazing guy.

“Elise wanted to include some alcohol… but I managed to convince her that it would be a little insensitive given that your mother can’t drink for another four months.”

“Oh, god,” I laughed. “I can’t wait to see her and Nicola in action.”

“Carrington is not ready,” he replied with faux gravity.

The two of us laughed and joked our way back to Carrington and Tate filled me in on the details (well what he could remember anyways) of his wild nights out on the town with Elise.

“It’s good to be back,” he announced, stretching out his arms and inhaling deeply as he stepped into our room. “Home sweet home!” he said, throwing his bag on the ground and flopping onto the bed. He looked up and made a peculiar face. “My bed smells like you,” he said with a wicked grin.

“What?!” I choked.

“It does!” he raised a cocky eyebrow.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Umm… there is something I wanted to talk to you about though,” I said, clearing my throat and walking over to take a seat on my own bed. I suddenly felt about five years old, as though I were turning myself in for punishment.

“Okaaaaay,” he said a little suspiciously, sitting upright so that he was directly across from me.

“Okay, so do you remember when I said that I did something bad that you probably weren’t going to be happy about?”

“Yeeees,” he said, dragging out his vowels slowly, giving me an expectant look.

“And you said I should fix it?”

“Riiiight.”

“Well here goes. So, basically my parents asked me if you and I were in a relationship… because my mother had obviously done her homework and knows that you’re gay… and, well, basically, I lied…”

“And said that we weren’t,” Tate said, completing my sentence. “Brae, it’s okay, I mean it’s less than ideal, but coming out was a big enough step for one weekend. We can ease your parents into the idea of me. It’s a lot I think for parents to not only find out their kid is gay, but also actively so at the same time.”

“Well it’s more than that… basically I told them that I was dating Cash,” I begrudgingly admitted. Tate looked like someone had kicked the air out of him and I immediately began scrambling to minimize the damage. “You don’t understand!” I pleaded. “I was flustered and they got me to admit that I was in a relationship, and then they asked if it was you and my mom said that if it was they would have us separated. They cornered me, I was trapped, I didn’t know what to do, and I didn’t want them to split us up… so I lied. And I have felt awful about it literally since the moment I said it, but I was panicked and I didn’t know what to do. You don’t know my mother and the last thing I would want was for us to be separated, so yeah… I made a mistake.”

“I can’t believe you would do that,” Tate said softly. “It would be one thing if you’d just said we weren’t dating, but the fact that you put Cash over me.”

“They already knew I’d said I was in a relationship and I was desperate. He’s the only other gay person at this school that I know!” Tate shook his head and looked down at the floor. “Tate they’ll split us up!” I exclaimed. “I want to come clean, I don’t want to lie. It isn’t fair to you or to anybody. My parents are coming on Wednesday and I want to tell them the truth, both of us, but they will split us up. They don’t approve of me living with my boyfriend.”

“Why didn’t you tell me about this before? Immediately. Why haven’t you already fixed this?”

“I dunno, I was afraid. I wanted to tell you in person. I thought it would be easier if told you in person. And I thought it would be easier to tell my parents in person… with your support… I hope.”

“This is such bullshit! I don’t get why you would do this. For one thing, you’re eighteen, you’re not a minor, your parents can’t dictate anything and they can’t change our living situation without your consent. Second of all you have nothing to be ashamed of and I’m nothing to be ashamed of–”

“Tate!” I cried. “I am not ashamed of you. Or of us. I don’t want you to think that, ever. I don’t know why I did it, I was just panicked. I was emotionally overwrought and I wasn’t really thinking clearly and I dug myself a hole I don’t know how to get out of. This is the best thing I have going in my life right now… you are the best thing I have in my life right now. I love you! You should know that!”

“I love you too, but this isn’t fair. You leave this mess for me to clean up essentially. I mean, think of this is going to make me look to your parents. I am going to look equally complicit and equally as deceitful, and you don’t think they’re going to hold that against me? You took away my chance to make my own first impression with them, to win over two people that I feel like are going to be very important in my life and that sucks. And I won’t get all moralistic on you because I already know that you’re aware of how I feel about lying. I am just so disappointed in you,” he groaned. “I don’t understand how you can go from literally being my hero, when you stood up to literally the entire team for me, just because it was the right thing to do, to acting like this. It’s pathetic!” His words stung like venom and I felt tears springing to my eyes and I did my best to blink them back. A hot flush rose to my face and neck and my mouth suddenly felt all sticky, as though I barely had the ability to speak.

“I’m sorry,” I choked. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what else to say, I’m sorry.”

“And on top of it all, to choose Cash over me, and I know this is stupid, but that makes me jealous. That’s hurtful.”

“Tate, I didn’t choose him over you! Seriously, that’s retarded. Don’t think that. I was in a stressful situation and I wasn’t thinking. You have nothing to be jealous about.”

“Do your parents not like me or something?”

“They don’t know you. They’ll love you!” I pleaded. “This isn’t about you at all. You could be Jesus Christ and it would make any difference, they don’t want me living with my boyfriend.”

“Right, I get that,” he said giving me an annoyed look. “What parent would want that? But you’re an adult, they don’t have that kind of control over your life. I dunno, I’m just disappointed. I get it, mostly… I don’t understand why you had to say you were dating Cash and I don’t get why you haven’t done something about this already. And I resent the situation that you’re putting me in.”

“I am sorry I put you in this position, but I would really appreciate your support with this. And seriously, you have no reason to feel threatened about the Cash thing… my parents don’t even like him… my mom wants to give him a haircut. It was just stupid and irrational, I don’t know what else to say… I can call my parents right now and tell them everything if you want.”

“No, that will only make things worse. I’m going to have to charm you, and me, out of this situation in person.” I could tell he was beginning to calm down a little bit and I began to breathe a little easier. Everything was going to be all right… at least until my parents arrived. “And you ruined our first ‘I love you’s’,” he whined, getting up off of his bed and coming over to sit next to me.

“I’m sorry,” I said, putting a hand on his thigh, digging my fingernail into the seams of his denim. “I was just scared,” I said looking up into his crystal blue eyes. “I know it doesn’t make sense and I know you’re upset and I’m sorry. I dunno, I was just emotionally exhausted after everything else that had happened and I said some stupid things. I didn’t mean anything maliciously, I just didn’t want us to be split up.”

“I know, I’m sorry,” he said, leaning over and resting his chin against my shoulder, his silky curls tickling against my ear.

“What are you sorry for?” I asked, letting my head rest against his.

“I dunno… I’m sure you’ve been beating yourself up over this the last few days and it’s not really that big of a deal. And, I’m sorry I blew up about it.”

“You had every right to,” I replied.

“Nah, I was just being possessive.”

“Such is your right,” I laughed. “I would be mad too.”

“Well, jealousy is unattractive. And Cash is one of our good friends, so it’s just stupid of me to get so worked up over it.”

“You make jealousy quite attractive,” I teased.

“Riiiight,” Tate chuckled. “So what are we going to do about your parents?”

“Well the offer stands, I can call them right now and explain everything.”

“Nah, I think it’s better to charm the socks off of them. You’re lucky I’m such a charismatic guy.”

“That you certainly are,” I laughed.

“We just need to be firm, but respectful, about the fact that it’s your decision not theirs. As long as your grades are good, and you’re swimming well, and you’re staying out of trouble, they really don’t have any reason to interfere. If something were to go wrong with this arrangement, we are capable of fixing it ourselves. But, nothing is ever going to fuck this up,” he whispered softly kissing my neck softly.

“I love you,” I sighed, relishing the feeling of his soft, moist lips against my skin.

“I love you too,” he said, gently grabbing my face and slowly bringing his lips to meet mine. “So how long before your first class,” he mumbled, playfully biting at my lower lip.

“Doesn’t matter,” I gasped, kissing him harder, my hands wandering down to the bottom of his shirt.

“You’re bad,” he laughed as I tugged his tee up over his chiseled torso.

“Yup,” I giggled, pulling his face to mine again.

A sudden knock at the door interrupted our revelry and we both froze. Tate gave me a questioning look and I shrugged.

“Who is it?” Tate called.

“Fed Ex,” came a gruff voice on the other side of the door.

“I’ll get it,” I said, giving Tate a second to pull down his shirt and pull himself together.

I was surprised to find a man at the door with three large boxes stacked on a dolly.

“Delivery for Elliot Esile,” he said.

“What?” I responded. “I think you ha–”

“That’s me.” Tate’s voice boomed from behind me, his hand found its way to my shoulder and I could feel his million-watt smile radiating from behind me.

“I’m going to need proof of ID,” he said responded shortly. “You live here too?” he asked looking at me.

“Uhh… yeah…” I replied.

“You too.”

“Okay, give us a second,” Tate said. “Elliot is the name on one of my fake IDs,” he whispered to me as the two us grabbed our wallets.

We both provided our (phony) IDs and the guy unloaded the boxes into our room and handed Tate the clipboard to sign.

Tate opened the top box to reveal 12 handles of O2 Vodka. A card rested neatly on top. “In honor of my imminent arrival—I figured you were probably under-stocked, little brother. Love, Elise,” he read. “Oh god,” he laughed. “This is this new sparkling vodka that she is obsessed with.”

“Well I hope we like it too. We’re going to be drinking it for the rest of the year!” I laughed.

Tate raised an eyebrow. “You don’t know my sister…”

“Where are we going to hide all of this?” I laughed. “My parents are coming tomorrow!”

“We’ll figure that out later,” Tate said grabbing me around the waist and dragging me back towards my bed. “We have more making up to do first!”

 

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