An excerpt from the short story by Josh Lanyon
"About last night," I began awkwardly.
Graham handed me the red plastic coffee cup. Steam rose from the fragrant liquid.
"Yeah," he said. No particular inflection, but I knew my worst fears were confirmed.
I sipped the hot coffee and stared past the blue tent at the meadow's edge, at the fields of goldenrod that in the early morning mist looked like a distant golden lake.
Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.
From the beginning -- practically the beginning -- from the third night I'd spent in the little cloistered house on Startouch Drive, Graham had said he didn't want anything serious. Not looking for anything serious. Not looking for a relationship.
It didn't get much clearer than that.
The problem was Graham was everything I wanted.
He was thirty-seven and a geologist. All right, geology wasn't part of the dream-man job description. In fact, I'd always pictured my dream man more GQ than Field and Stream, but Graham with his slow grin and gray eyes -- gray, not blue or green -- and that little touch of silver in the dark hair at his temples, and his wide shoulders and narrow hips, and his confident straight stance like an old-time explorer surveying the vistas -- with his easy laugh and his maps and compasses and soft flannel shirts.
Short story long, I guess. I fell in love.
Despite my best intentions. Despite his warnings.
I fell in love.
And last night in the tumble of sleeping bags and inflatable mattresses, I'd been stupid enough to say so.
Not once. Which would have been bad enough. Not whispered against his broad shoulder where we both could have pretended I hadn't said it...could have preserved the fiction a little longer.
No, carried away on the tide of rich, rolling orgasm I'd clutched him and cried out, "I love you. I love you. I love you so much, Graham."
No doubt scaring park animals and Graham alike. Not to mention myself.
Because I'd known even before the words finished spilling out, even before Graham stilled, that I'd done it. Wrecked everything.
He'd already been dropping little clues that things were maybe getting too intense. Retreating. Slowly. Almost imperceptibly. Sand whispering through my fingers and the harder I held, the faster it slipped away.
I knew it. Knew I had to pull back, play it cool, give him space. Yet the words had come pouring out like scalding water hitting ice, and I could practically hear the cracks.
Graham had covered my mouth with his own, and there it had ended.
Because Graham still loved Jase.
And probably always would.
"There's breakfast," Graham said now, nodding at the campfire.
I nodded although the knots in my stomach left no room for food. There had been breakfast the first time too. I think that was the moment I fell in love.
We'd met at the Kendall Planetarium during an OMSI After Dark event. It was only the third time I'd made it to one of the Eugene Gay Men's Social Network outings. I'd been tired after a long day of crowd control, and I almost hadn't bothered going.
Beer in hand, Graham had been wandering the hands-on science exhibits. He looked handsome, uncomfortable, and, in jeans and tweed blazer, a little older than most of the "adult only" crowd. The theme that night was sex. When I'd finally cornered him, he was studying a display of condom lighting art. His expression seemed somber under the circumstances.
"Hi, I'm Wyatt," I'd introduced myself. And then, jokingly, "Do you come here often?"
His eyes, cool as starlight, had lit. He smiled. No, it was a grin. He knew I was making fun of myself and the situation, and he found it funny too. My heart skipped a beat. Yep, like in the romance novels.
"I used to," he said.
We made small talk, all the while exchanging those quick glances, locking gazes, looking away.
After the museum we'd gone out for coffee and dessert. "What do you do?" he'd asked over the cheesecake.
His eyes flickered. "What do you teach?"
"High school. Science. Health. Health and science."
I said, "I teach sex education to ninth graders."
He met my gaze and started to laugh. I laughed too.
We'd ended up at Graham's.
He also lived in Eugene and maybe that wasn't fate, but it sure was convenient. The house was in the hills, shrouded by trees. Inside it was very quiet. Very neat. The floors were wood, the appliances stainless steel, the counters granite. But the main feature was natural light. Windows. The back of the house was a wall of windows and there were skylights in several rooms. The stars glittered and glowed all around us when we walked in that night.
Better not to let myself think about that night now. The tentativeness, the uncertainty, the awkwardness that had resolved unexpectedly in easy smiles and hugs. We were both cold sober so I'm not sure how we managed so quickly to shed that easiness, that friendliness for something hot and hungry and close to frenzied.
We'd done it slammed up against the wall of windows that looked out over the moonlit treetops and the lights in the valley below. Naked, noisy, nasty.
Afterward it was refreshingly easy and friendly again, and Graham had invited me to spend the night. Sometimes you just know it's right. Sometimes everything clicks. That's how it was for me. I'd imagined it was the same for Graham. How was I to know?
In the morning we'd done it again -- leisurely, affectionately -- there in his Egyptian cotton sheets, bathed in the dappled sunlight from the skylight. Afterward we'd showered together and he'd put together breakfast for two out of the odds and ends in his fridge: a truffle, three eggs, a cold boiled potato, a piece of smoked chicken. A meal that would do the soldier in "Stone Soup" -- or a survivalist -- proud.
Today's breakfast was instant oatmeal mixed with peaches, and the sight of it made my stomach do an unpleasant flip.
"You better eat," Graham told me. "It's a long way back to the car park."
"Are we heading back?"
"Yeah." He nodded at the forbidding wall of black clouds over the distant mountains. "That's coming straight at us."
"Oh. Right." I knew that regardless of the weather we'd have been heading back this morning. I helped myself to breakfast. "Listen, Graham --"
He wasn't looking at me as he said, "Nah. Heat of the moment. I know."
He was giving me an out. Giving me a chance to save my pride and maybe even salvage something of our friendship.
I almost took it. I wanted to take it. But I didn't only want to be friends with Graham, and somehow to pretend that I hadn't meant it, that I didn't love him, seemed wrong. I couldn't see lying about it. Anyway, he knew the truth. And we both knew that I knew he knew. So in the end it wouldn't change anything. It would only prove I hadn't had the guts to say it in the cold light of day.
They're not easy words to say at any time. Not when you know you're on your own.
So I put down my coffee cup and said, "No. I meant it. I mean, true, I wouldn't have said it if it hadn't been the heat of the moment." I smiled. Graham did not smile back. "I know you don't feel the same way. But I love you."
He looked... I'm not sure how to describe it. Stricken? Guilty maybe. Definitely unhappy.
That was it. My name. It had a regretful finality to it. Stop. That's what he meant. Stop, Wyatt. Don't say it. It's no use. There's no point.
"It doesn't seem like something to fake."
"No." Graham stared down at his own cup. He said finally, slowly, "Thank you. I-I'm... I like being with you, Wyatt. I care about you. But I don't feel like you do. It's too soon for me."
"Three years." Three years since Jase had died. I wasn't arguing, just...three years.
Graham's gray gaze held mine sternly. "I don't know if ten years will be enough. I still miss him. Every day. Every single goddamned day I want him back."
You can't start a stopwatch on grief. Or love for that matter.
"It's okay. I know. You told me how it was."
The tension left his shoulders, which had braced as though for battle. He hadn't expected my acceptance, I guess. Had been prepared for me to try and make my case. Well, cue Sam Harris. I can't make you love me if you won't. I never had someone to love or love me like Graham had Jase, but that much I did know. You can't debate someone into loving you.
He said with excruciating and uncharacteristic awkwardness, "If it was -- if I was -- it would be someone like you."
Someone like me. But not me. Obviously not me.
Funny that of all the things he said that morning, that hurt the most.
"Sure." I gave him a smile that was probably at best polite. I swallowed the final dregs of my coffee.
What was there to say after that?
We ate our breakfast and packed up our camp.
Copyright 2000-17, Josh Lanyon.
All rights reserved.