This post on my work in progress is to add another excerpt to torture my readers. Part 1 (the PROLOGUE) was HERE.
The blurb I did not get to tweak yet, but Donna asked if this was a menage book. NO. It's not. But because she asked, it does make me want to consider adding something about Keith to the blurb. MAYBE I will wait until I see your reaction to chapter 1 and chapter 2. But I will work on it and figure out something!
In the mean time, here is Chapter 1 of MA (Misplaced Affection) and if I forgot to delete a comment to fill in a blank, apologies.
August 2010 – Junior Year
The first day of junior year and what did I notice? A really cute guy looking at me. Well, not really “looking” as much as trying not to appear as though he was looking. I’ve had plenty of experience in the “not-looking” department since I normally check out the crowd for anyone checking out the crowd same as me. Most of the time I catch sight of the shy guys surreptitiously checking out the cheerleaders. Rarely did I notice a guy checking out other guys, although it has happened, but I have yet to notice someone checking out me! Wow, it actually caused a zing in my gut.
I needed another art credit, so I chose Art II. I liked drawing and stuff, and I had gotten an A in Art I so I figured it would be an easy class. We had assigned seats, but thankfully not alphabetically. (Alphabetical seating charts had gotten old around seventh-grade.) The guy checking me out sat across from me; he kept glancing in my direction and then looking away. It was seriously cute. I think he thought I wouldn’t notice. And I guess, if I weren’t gay, I probably wouldn’t have thought anything of it. He was stealthy enough.
After class, he pretty much bolted and I was hard pressed to catch up. I tried, but he lost me in the crowded hallway. I sighed and headed to my next class knowing I had all semester to find a way to chat-up Keith Leppo. Keith… I liked that name.
Thankfully, it didn’t take all semester. By the very next class the teacher, Mrs. Moore, assigned an activity where the students paired up and played her version of Pictionary. Basically, she gave the questions to the class and each team had a chance to draw. Two students against two students and we kept score among ourselves. It was meant to be an icebreaker, a way to get to know the people at our table. And teachers who played games during class were pretty cool in my book.
Keith sat next to Grace and I sat next to Kelly so that meant Keith and I were on opposite sides. The teacher read the first question. “What was your first pet?” Keith drew one curved line and then another curved line underneath connected at one end, but crossing over the other.
“Fish,” I said.
He smirked as his eyes caught mine. I didn’t think he could get any cuter.
Next question. Mrs. Moore asked, “What is your favorite food?”
Kelly quickly drew squiggly line after squiggly line and added two circles to the mix and an oblong oval around the bottom. “Spaghetti,” Keith said.
The questions went back and forth like that for about twenty minutes. We had them all right. It was either because the questions were easy, or because we all drew well enough to depict the answers accurately. It didn’t matter because the goal was in the exercise itself and the four of us shared quite a few chuckles.
After class, I caught up to Keith in the hall. “Keith,” I called.
He turned and smiled at me as I stepped up next to him.
“Where are you headed?” I asked.
“Honors Algebra II.”
“Ah. I have that fourth mod. I have English now, which is in the same direction, do you mind if I walk with you?”
He smiled and shook his head as he pivoted on his heels and started walking down the hall. I stepped in synch and we walked together to the opposite wing of the school. “How is it the teachers don’t give you crap about wearing a hat in school?” I was curious, because I thought it was school policy or part of the dress code to take hats off in school. So far he’d worn it for two classes and Mrs. Moore hadn’t made him remove it.
He shrugged. “I don’t know.”
When he didn’t add more to his statement, I thought he must be shyer than my first assessment or he didn’t want to talk about it. I kind of watched him out of the corner of my eyes as I walked, almost how he had watched me the first day of class, but was careful not to run into anything or I might look like an idiot. He had dark curly hair from what I could see sticking out from under his knit beanie. He wore glasses with black plastic frames—a very in style. I liked it.
Keith and I dressed oddly similar from his jeans and grey Converse (mine were brown), to his short-sleeved plaid button down worn over a white T-shirt. Sort of hipsterish, if that was a thing. I wasn’t sure what the definition of “hipster” was, but maybe we could pass as hipsters. He was slightly taller; I would guess five-ten. I even noticed some dark fuzz over his lip, which fascinated me because I had this sudden urge to rub my thumb over it.
When we got to the stairs he said, “I guess I’ll see ya,” as he continued on up without waiting for my reply.
“Um, bye.” I limply waved.
Keith hadn’t looked back and I was disappointed.
We continued like this for the first week of school. Then, after Labor Day weekend, Keith lingered a couple times in the hall outside of class waiting for me to catch up so we could walk down the hall together. Although he remained quiet, I was happy about the change, and I even caught him glancing at me and smirking more and more. He was into me, and knowing it made me nervous like when I rode my very first rollercoaster. It was a feeling I wanted to experience every day.
“I think I made a friend,” I told Zach one day when we were hanging out at his house. I’d been sitting on his bedroom floor for twenty minutes doing my homework and thinking of a way to tell him about Keith. It’s not like Zach was my only friend and making another one was unheard of—I had other friends—but Keith was the first friend whom I’d ever wanted to pursue as boyfriend and I didn’t know how to broach he topic with Zach. Zach didn’t know about me.
“Oh yeah?” Zach answered, sitting at his desk without bothering to look up.
“Yeah. He’s in my art class.”
“Yeah.” I tapped my pencil on my notebook. How to tell him. Hmm.
Zach had been my closest friend for years. My family had moved in next door to his before I was born. Zach and my brother, Nathan, were the same age and we had always hung out as a group, although we never pretended to be the three musketeers. Then, after my brother had died in a car accident, it was just me and Zach. By default, and by luck, we gelled and had remained steadfast in each other’s lives.
Lately though, things had gotten strained. I hoped it was because he had started college and I was still in high school, but if I was honest, the strain started two years prior. I hoped that the newest changes in our lives wouldn’t push us apart, as often happened to others, but I had no guarantees. Zach was two years older than me after all. He wasn’t always into the same things, even if it hadn’t mattered so far. We had always made time for one another in the past. I had watched him play football, he had come to some of my tennis matches, and every year we celebrated our birthdays together. Ironically, we were born on the same day so celebrating together started back when I was five and my mom and his mom thought it would be fun to rent a pavilion in Piney Run Park together. Together by fate as much as by our parents, I guessed.
Zach knew practically everything about me, except for the parts I feared would conflict with his religious beliefs. Zach’s family had always been very religious and very strict, where mine were not. Especially after the accident. My dad had only attended church for my mother’s and brother’s funeral, but to my knowledge had never gone since. Part of him died then. Part of me died too. I believed in God because of my mother, but I knew I didn’t believe in the same God Zach’s family often spoke about, so we had agreed years ago “to agree to disagree” and therefore church-talk never came up. Zach respected me that way. I only wished his father and my father could come to the same intelligent understanding. So far, they hadn’t.
The biggest thing I never talk about, second to my personal beliefs in God, was sexuality. Zach had no idea I was gay, in fact, no one knew. I had always been afraid our relationship would change or worse, be destroyed if he knew. We had come close to ruining everything by kissing once back when I was fourteen, but that had been a black thundercloud of hurt, which I desperately avoided repeating. I couldn’t remember who had initiated that kiss, but it was clear from his shitty reaction that I needed to keep any and all attraction or curiosity from Zach as far as Australia was from Iceland. Our friendship was more important than any stupid kiss; therefore I’d grown accustomed to suppressing and ignoring any feelings I may have had in 2008.
Now, I had to be careful how I worded myself in explaining Keith’s friendship. If I said too much, Zach might get the wrong impression—a “gay” impression. So far, we were just friends anyway. Even if I though Keith was adorable, and he certainly gave the flirtatious signs that he liked me back, we had only just met. Maybe one day, if he and I were seriously dating, then I could tell Zach I was gay, but now was not the time. I would rather appear as a dateless loser than face the talk about my sexuality with my best friend who might very well tell me I was headed for hell.
Nope, not happening.
Only… nothing else was happening either. Zach wasn’t getting it. He was surfing the Internet, or whatever, and he couldn’t be bothered to turn his attention my way for a second. So, I added, “His name’s Keith. He’s really talented. He even told me he auditioned for America’s Got Talent as a pig trainer so he could hug (blond Chick) and maybe squeeze her ass. She kissed a guy’s pig once, he stands a chance. Plus, he said pig trainers are a lost art.”
Zach swiveled his chair around to look at me. “Wait… what?” His eyes went wide and he blinked in shock.
“You’ll never change,” I lamented, shaking my head. “I said I made a new friend named Keith in art class. He’s pretty cool. He plays guitar and paints, and wants to be an architect. I think you’d like him.” I was trying to be congenial, but truth be told I didn’t think they had very much in common other than knowing me.
“So… he didn’t kiss a pig?” Zach’s blank stare made me roll my eyes. He could be dense.
“No, idiot. He’s my new friend, since you’re in college meeting new people I figured I better do the same. We don’t get to see each other that much anymore. I need someone to talk to, ya know?”
Zach sighed and slumped back in his computer chair. “Yeah, I know. I’m sorry, man. This college crap is hard. I gotta memorize Latin names of trees and stuff, but I like it. Except, I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to drive home on weekends; I think I need to stay on campus and study. I want to get this two-year horticulture degree in two years, which means I need to do well and not screw around. Oh, and speaking of meeting new people, my roommate is pretty awesome. His name’s Greg. His father’s a police officer, so he’s not too keen on underage drinking. No lame excuses necessary about not getting hammered. Talk about convenient.”
“And you also can avoid the awkward talk involving your overly religious parents and their rules against drinking, sex, drugs, swearing, and staying out past curfew,” I pointed out.
“Exactly. I think he’s the perfect roommate if you ask me. Well, besides you.” He gestured to me, which I appreciated.
“That’s nice. I bet my experience will be the exact opposite. I’ll probably get paired with a drug-addicted kleptomaniac who would hide all my underwear or something.” We both shared a chuckle.
“You do have the worse luck of anyone I know.” Zach gave me a grin and swiveled back around to look at his computer.
“Born under a black cloud I guess.”
Zach glanced at me. “Maybe, but here for a purpose. I stand by that.”
“Maybe one day that God you believe in will explain it to me. I’m not so sure sometimes. My dad is still hard to deal with. He drinks too much.”
Zach’s expression grew serious, his mirth disappeared, and I knew what he was thinking. I hadn’t wanted to get into a deep conversation, but as soon as I brought up my dad, or other occasions when he brought up his parents, we both knew what was coming. It was an unspoken sign to drop our walls and spill.
Zach got up from his chair and wandered over to his bed. He flopped on it face up, like he always did when we had our heart-to-hearts. His theory about sharing our souls was that it would be easier to talk about deep, hard topics, if we didn’t have to look each other in the eyes. I thoroughly agreed. I got off my spot on the floor and followed.
Normally, I would lie on the far side of his twin bed, up against the wall, and he would lie on the nearest side along the edge. My guess was that he didn’t want me accidentally falling off. This time, he was on the inside and I was on the edge. It felt odd, like changing roles or something, but I liked the closeness of being up against the side of his warm body. His arm was cocked and folded under his head; my arms were resting at my sides with my fingers laced together over my stomach. It was tight, but had we always made it work.
After a moment of silence, Zach asked, “Does he still work over fifty hours a week?”
“Yeah. Sometimes I think it’s over sixty. All he does is work.” We were on his bed, staring at his ceiling—no walls, no boundaries.
Zach wiggled and adjusted his shoulders on the bed. I felt his warm skin against my arm. “I’ve heard that hydrologists are in demand,” he said. “I think your dad’s field is flooded with work and projects. In some ways, he’s probably lucky to have all the work. My dad comments all the time about people he knows getting laid off.”
His reasoning was kind, but I had lost my rose-colored glasses long ago. “Maybe, but it’s been six years since Mom and Nate died. I think he’s hiding,” I confessed. We hadn’t done this in a while, and the familiar vulnerability felt nice. “I think he’s denying that he misses her and buries himself in work on purpose. I think he’s scared to try again. I think he worries I’ll reject his choice of female companionship, so he doesn’t even try. I think he drinks because he’s lonely. I think he stopped talking to me about things beyond the weather and my grades because he’s worried about giving me the wrong advice. I think—”
“Have you told him?” Zach interrupted.
I knew what he meant, but I asked anyway. “Which part?”
“All the parts, Flynn.”
I closed my eyes. This was precisely why we spoke about stuff like this while staring at his ceiling. Tears welled in the corners of my eyes. I didn’t want to cry in front of Zach. I knew I could cry, and he would understand, but I didn’t want him to see me cry. I squeezed my eyes shut until the wave of emotion subsided. “No,” I replied quietly. “I don’t know how.”
“I think you should,” Zach whispered back. “I think the two of you avoid each other because neither of you has worked through the grief of the accident.”
I disagreed. “Sure we have.”
“No, you haven’t. When’s the last time you and your dad went to your mother’s grave together and laid flowers on it?”
I couldn’t answer.
After my silence went on for too long, Zach asked another question. “When’s the last time you and your dad talked to your brother’s grave and told him about all the cool things you’ve been up to these last six years?”
Again, I couldn’t say anything. I could only lie there and listen to him breathing. I think he knew I needed some time to think so he didn’t move or comment for the longest time. “I’ve gone,” Zach finally whispered. “Not often, but a few times. I sat in the grass and asked Nate his opinions.”
Zach spoke so quietly; even being this close I could barely hear him. “My parents. Their beliefs. What he thought I should do that time my dad hit me.”
“Oh.” I wasn’t sure how else to respond. I had known the argument happened because I heard raised voices across the space between our houses, but Zach had never spoken about it to me directly. “I hope you know you can talk to me about that stuff. I’ll listen.”
When I was younger, Zach and I shared everything from swapping gum to “what do you want to be when you grow up?” We hadn’t had many barriers between us and I could confidently say we told each other all the details. But as years rolled by, the intimacy changed and the level of sharing grew more and more topical. I avoided considering our kiss in 2008 as the cause, but no other explanation presented itself. We had kissed, and afterwards our relationship dynamic had shifted.
I knew about the fight back in June, and I also knew Zach never wanted to talk about it. I swallowed and took a deep breath. What should I say now? Then the bed shifted and he rolled over onto his side. He was breaking the “unspoken” rules and looking directly at me, leaning his weight on his elbow. Helplessly, I tilted my face in his direction.
“I know losing half your family sucked big-time,” he said somberly, his eyes doing everything to reflect his honesty. “And I know that you know it felt like half my family disappeared too; Nate and Mrs. B [WK3] meant a lot to me.”
I blinked and swallowed as I nodded. He had shifted the conversation back to me, and I was powerless to rag on him about it. Talking about my family got to me every time, so holding back the tears was not going to be easy if he kept looking at me while he spoke.
Zach explained, “But I think it’s been long enough. For six years you’ve been hiding too, just like your dad minus the alcohol. I think it’s time you visited their graves and dealt with your loss. I hear talking to dead family members, as if they can hear you, is very therapeutic.”
I swallowed again, licking my lips nervously. I wasn’t sure I liked how close he was, it made me uncomfortably anxious. “Where’d you hear that?” I asked quietly, trying to focus on the conversation and not the way his eyes held my gaze.
Zach shrugged casually. “I was listening to a group of college girls chatting in the cafeteria. One was a psych major.”
“Eavesdropping isn’t polite.”
He grinned. “They didn’t know.”
“And talking to ghosts helps?”
“Yeah. Some people talk to God about their dead relatives, others talk right to the relatives. Whatever helps.”
“Do you think they can hear?” I asked. I hadn’t attended church, but I held the belief that there was something beyond this life that I just didn’t understand. If dead relatives could still hear us, I think I’d feel better about it. I wanted to know my mom could hear me.
Zach gave me a soft smile. “Yes, definitely. I think those who go before us can hear our prayers. I think God watches over our family, your family, and allows those we care about to feel our joy. I know we differ on our beliefs, but I really do think God has a great purpose for you and that’s why you didn’t die that night. You’re a fighter, Flynn.” Zach looked at me very tenderly and gently ran the backs of his fingers down my arm. His throat bobbed as he swallowed. “I think it’s time you face your fears and visit your mom. If you want, I’ll go with you.”
“You will?” I was surprised when my voice didn’t crack. The look he gave me mirrored the one he’d had two years prior when we’d kissed. Not a day went by when I hadn’t remembered that kiss, but I also remembered the way he had treated me for weeks after our kiss and I would rather suck the contents from a sewage pipe than go there again. He had been such an asshole.
Then he licked his lips and my dick pulsed in response. Shit. I glanced away hoping he’d pick up on my discomfort before it was toolate. “I guess we could,” I added, speaking in the other direction. “I’ll try. This year the date falls on the same day. Sunday.”
I could feel my heart racing. His fingers still trailed up and down my arm and the sensation was waking up my groin. Not good.
“Huh? What? Um, yeah,” he replied, pulling his hand away and leaning back. “I forget about that sometimes. It was the Sunday after Thanksgiving.” Suddenly, he vaulted over my body and was in his computer chair before I could react. “Will you and your dad come over for Thanksgiving dinner again?”
“Yeah, I think so. I don’t know. You know my dad doesn’t get along with yours easily. Last year I thought he was going to throw his fork at him.” I sat up and swung my legs over the side of the bed. I thought if I sat there quietly, he wouldn’t notice my erection. I also knew he wouldn’t question why I wasn’t going back to doing my homework so I could linger without it appearing odd.
While Zach scanned his notebook as if homework was suddenly imperative, I tried willing-away my hard-on. I could have avoided moments like this if I’d simply explained I was gay, but no, I liked torturing myself. He wouldn’t have looked at me that way if he’d known. He wouldn’t have touched me so tenderly if he’d known. But then… maybe he wouldn’t have felt comfortable lying next to me on the bed, staring at the ceiling, and talking like we’d habitually done. Losing that closeness would hurt too much. No, Zach was better off not knowing.
I slipped off the bed and sat on the floor next to my books.
Zach looked my way and commented, “I know they hate each other, but I hope you make it. And the twenty-eighth is on a Sunday this year. I’ll be there for you.”
He nodded uncomfortably about it and changed the subject. “So, you made a new friend?”
I grinned and nodded. “Yup.” Nice topic shift back to Keith. I had had enough of thinking about my dad, and worrying about visiting my mom.
“Good,” he said. “Friends are good.”
I picked up my pencil and went back to Algebra.
An hour later, his mother called us down for dinner. I actually missed these times with his family, now that he’d gone to college. I was extra glad he had come home for a visit because not only could I tell him about Keith, but I could also reconnect with my best friend. He was the only one in the world who could make me feel twenty-five emotions at once. And besides, I think he was right about avoiding my grief.
Remember Friend Friday is coming up and THIS WEEK features Jeff Adams.
Come back tomorrow for chapter 2!