Author’s note: There’s references to sex, sexual matters, and slight nudity in this chapter but nothing explicit (everything is hidden in the nude ones).
The seven of us–well, six of us grinned (and Dad made a slightly less angry scowl) as the camera clicked its picture. Halloween had come upon us and we were all dressed up for the holiday though not all of us were going out. Royce still looked like a teen so he wanted to take advantage of that and get candy. Max was going with him and then they were going to some supernatural party Grams had invited them to. Pa and Dad were taking Reeny trick-or-treating in their neighborhood and then she was gonna stay the night with them.
Which would have left me alone for the evening except Noah came over armed with stuff to do. Movies, beer, video games… and a ping-pong table.
“A friggin’ ping pong table?” I asked as he set it up after everyone left.
“Yep! It’ll be fun, I miss playing,” he said with a smile.
“Me too,” I laughed. “All right then.”
We got it set up well enough in the hallway then we just watched a scary movie during trick-or-treat. After the movie was over and the porch light turned off, we grabbed a couple of beers and red solo cups to play beer pong. The first round ended up with all misses on either side, and both of us laughing at how bad we had gotten at this. We had been pretty darn good in college!
“Gettin’ old, bro!” Noah said when I missed for the umpteenth time.
“Next time I launch it at your ugly face.” Second round we actually got one or two balls in and had a few sips of beer. “We could penalize for missing,” I suggested.
Noah chuckled. “We’ll be in the hospital if we do that!”
“Oof, good point. Oooooooh, how ’bout stripping an at the end the one with the least amount of clothes has stand out back for ten minutes in nothing but that?”
“And if we’re both naked?”
“Give the animals in the woods a good laugh then.”
His first shot landed so I took a sip of beer then missed my shot. Noah threw both fists in the air at the small victory then groaned when I kicked my shoes off. “Oi, that’s cheating! Shoes don’t count!”
“Do so, as do socks so there,” I said, sticking my tongue out in a very mature manner. We both laughed and I felt pretty good, remembering the times in college.
Bit by bit we lost clothes though hardly had anything to drink. We decided the final score shouldn’t be best to five but best of three which meant Noah won. He jumped up and down, hooting in victory and jabbing his fingers in my direction. As he had boxers and socks on and I had nothing but my boxers on… looked like I’d have to brave the chilliness.
I took a swig of beer for fortitude. “Fine, fine, I’ll go.”
He grabbed my arm. “Nah, you don’t need to go out there. ‘Sides, there might be kids still running around.”
He released my arm and a shiver went through my body as I had been rather enjoying the touch. Wait. Enjoying the touch? I suppressed the urge to rub my arm where his fingers had been, not liking the realization that yes, his hand had felt rather nice against my arm. His eyes kept focused on me and I felt more uncomfortable as the tingling sensation increased. “I got something on my face?”
“Sorry,” he sighed, leaning back. “I was just thinking about that time we played beer pong and you ended up falling off the counter–“
“Oh Watcher don’t remind me of that!”
“You were soooooo drunk!” he laughed.
“Shut up!” I gave him a light shove. “I can break your bones now, you know. I’m not one to trifle with.”
I puffed up a bit. “Powerful, eh?”
“With a big head,” he added, smacking my arm.
We both grinned, staring at one another and with a sharp, fearful pang I realized that I was enjoying this a bit too much. Too much for someone in nothing but boxers. I wanted to… to kiss him, which made me feel so hypocritical. Max and I finally were having a great time as friends again with no weird feelings going on and here I was trying to do the same dang thing he did, project–project my… my friendship into something more.
I hadn’t ever really thought much about Noah in that way. Once or twice in passing really, but even when he told me he was pansexual I didn’t have any images of us being together. Why now? Loneliness. The desire, the craving for something–for someone. That was it, that all it could be, nothing else. I needed to stop, needed to think of something else, of anything else other than kissing him!
We went for it at the same time, our faces slamming together in more pain than passion. We both cussed and drew back. My nose gave a little throb of pain from slamming against his. He rubbed his nose then froze. I froze.
He had tried to kiss me?!
I HAD TRIED TO KISS HIM?!
We stood in the hall just staring at one another with complete and utter confusion. We had tried to kiss one another. Noah tried to kiss me. I tried to kiss him. What the heck just… what happened?! I couldn’t blame alcohol since I had maybe the equivalent of three-quarters a bottle and he had maybe half of one. We were sober. And tried to kiss one another. At the same time.
I wanted to go hide somewhere and definitely wanted to get dressed. I felt awful about it–about trying to kiss him… about not really… about–about something. What did I feel awful about? Something, there was something. Oh right. My friend, he was my friend, nothing more, and I had done the same thing Max did and it wasn’t–it wasn’t right.
“Uh… w-well I er,” he continued.
“Yeah,” I agreed.
The silence stretched on as we continued to stare at one another. His eyes were so full of bafflement… as much as mine were, I figured. Suddenly I couldn’t stand it anymore and I glanced down to avoid the continued gaze which turned out to be a pretty big mistake since looking down meant I could see that part of him enjoyed the, er, situation. I quickly looked back up hoping he didn’t realize I noticed.
We stopped, waiting for the other to go on so more silence. Then we went for it again, this time managing not to hit our faces together in the wrong way but the right way. His kiss filled me with what I could only describe as a wave of of hope and comfort and arousal. Odd combo but still.
We kept kissing–urgent, as if we didn’t have much time left. He didn’t pull away when I put my hands on his waist. I didn’t pull away when his went to my butt. We stumbled back a bit until I was against a wall, him against me. I groaned a bit, realizing just how much I missed this aspect of things. Then I closed my eyes as he began kissing down my neck, and put everything else out of my mind.
Loud thumps and laughter woke me up from a sleep I didn’t realize I was in. For a second in the darkness I thought the entire night might have been some sort of fantasy but then I realized I had arms around me and a face against my neck. Noah still slept, his breath rolling against my skin in a very nice way.
Watcher. What did I do?! I slept with my best friend! Guilt poured into me so hard that I nearly cried out. I bit my bottom lip to stop the sound from escaping and then slid free from Noah’s arms. He made a sad sound, stirring a bit. I tucked my pillow where I had been and he snuggled against that.
I stumbled into the bathroom, shutting the door, feeling like I had been in some sort of wreck or something. No one to blame but myself. My own raunchy needs. My hypocritical, no good, disgusting, lecherous desires I couldn’t keep under control. I slammed my hands against the bathroom counter a few times, the pain feeling good.
“Zaidy-boy?” I heard faintly through both the bathroom and bedroom door. I swallowed, realizing that it had been Max and Royce’s return that had awoken me. Please don’t open my bedroom door! I thought. Please, please don’t see Noah there! Max must have assumed I was asleep since the bedroom door did not open even a crack and I soon heard the TV playing.
I turned the faucet on and splashed cold water against my face. I had hurt Noah. I had given in to desires that shouldn’t have–have existed and I would hurt him. Swearing, I crept back into the bedroom. Noah stirred again and this time woke up. I put my finger to my lips, indicating with a jerk of my head towards the sound of the TV. Noah got out of bed, moonlight from the windows falling across his body. I sucked in air, never noticing before how… muscular he was.
“Max and Royce back?” he whispered, tiptoeing over to me. I mutely nodded. Noah gave me a tight smile. “I take it I should go out the back door, metaphorically speaking.”
“Is it?” He leaned in close, one hand running along my jawline. “I don’t want to hurt you. Did I? Maybe I shouldn’t have kissed you.”
“I kissed you too,” I pointed out with a roll of my eyes. Noah smirked. “Can’t really say we were drunk either.”
“Is that what you’d prefer it to be?”
“No,” I said without hesitation then pulled back uncertainly. “I never–I never thought of you like that, then last night it just… I didn’t intend to… it just happened.”
“You regret it? You want to just forget this whole thing happened?” He didn’t sound angry he just sounded strained, as if he were trying to keep sadness from creeping into his voice.
I closed my eyes, hating being in this situation. I didn’t love Noah like that, I couldn’t love him like that. I had been friends with him for just over nine years with no… nothing like this happening before. My mind turned to Goose, to our few years together and my love for him. It had been so different with him… so this couldn’t really be love…
I blinked slowly, trying to form words in my throat and failing. Yes. I regretted it, I regretted doing something stupid and possibly losing a friend yet again. I regretted possibly hurting him. I regretted losing control. I had no idea how to even begin sorting these feelings out and they could very well lead into me not really wanting to be with him but just wanting some physical touch. But at the same time no. I didn’t regret it at all. I wanted to kiss him again, I wanted to hold him, I wanted to go back to bed and either make love or just cuddle–I wanted to do things, nice things, good things. I wanted to do them with him. I wanted… him?
What the hell should I say?!
I felt his hand on my face, his other hand on my arm, his body close to mine–both of us naked, and smelling of dried sweat and sex. My body still pulsed with the afterglow despite the high emotions. “I don’t know,” I finally said and his fingers slid down my face a bit. “I regret… it if… it ends up hurting you.”
“So, you… don’t?”
I shook my head. “No. I don’t regret it. I have no friggin’ clue how I feel about you, Noah, and I don’t want to hurt you any more than you want to hurt m–mmmph…!” He kissed me in a slow, intense manner that sent chills throughout my entire body. I pressed against him, yanking him closer to enjoy the kiss, to enjoy… this. “Noah.”
“Have you… felt like this before?”
“Not with you, no. I thought about you sometimes in college. Like when we were drunk or fell asleep on the couch or whatever. Just minor, passing thoughts. I think if I had put more thought into it maybe I would have, yeah.” I began kissing his neck, enjoying feeling him shiver. “I didn’t start thinking about you until a few months ago. The more I came to visit you the more I started wanting you but I ignored it because I didn’t think you were ready.” My lips moved along his shoulder and I breathed in his scent. “I didn’t plan on kissing you tonight until that moment. It just happened.”
“Yeah.” I looked back up into his face and we kissed again, carefully laying back on the bed again, his weight on top of me. We kissed for a while until separating reluctantly. I told him I didn’t know–couldn’t know–how I really felt. He snuggled into my arms and said he could be patient as long as I needed.
In the morning we took turns getting quick baths and I got dressed while he realized our clothes from the night before had been left by the ping pong table. Which meant Max and Royce had seen them. Er, oops. I crept out of my room and fetched Noah’s clothes, watching him get dressed. I let my eyes roam over his muscular body and he put his clothes on slowly, deliberately stretching his body out as he went. I threw a pillow at him and he laughed.
“I don’t think I should stay for breakfast,” he said once he finished tying his shoes.
“Oh wow, make a man feel special then,” I teased. “I’m joking!” I added as his eyes got big. “I’m just joking.”
He did leave while I fixed breakfast, avoiding both my roommates’ eyes when they came in to eat. I asked about the party and Royce talked (trying not to giggle) while Max pushed food around on his plate. I nibbled at my eggs and waited for someone to ask. Neither of them did. I put away the leftover omelet and then began doing dishes. My body ached a bit from the night before, from having sex for the first time in a while–different kind too. Noah had really taken charge. If we pursued a relationship I’d have to first make sure he didn’t want to ‘take charge’ every single time since I wanted to ‘take charge’ too. Not that I minded him topping me, really, it had felt good. Really… really good… oh… mmm…
“You and Noah then?” Max asked when Royce left.
I nearly dropped a plate. “Um, yeah,” I said, figuring honesty was better than trying to give a lie about the clothing. “It wasn’t… uh, it took us both by surprise.”
Max hopped up on the counter, leaning back. “He’s so ugly though!”
“Naw, he’s got weird eyebrows.”
“Still not nice. I thought you liked him?” I asked and he squirmed a bit. “Or is it something else bothering you?” Had everything that happened over the summer been a lie? Did Max have actual feelings…?”
“Yeah something is,” he said and I grit my teeth, turning to look intensely at him. “Are you sure you’re ready for something like this, Zaidy-boy? I need to know you’re mentally ready for this, not just physically.” He gave a pointed look at my crotch and I flushed.
“Not very subtle, there.”
I finished the dishes and wiped my hands off on a towel, sighing. “I don’t know. I told Noah I don’t know. Everything is really complicated for me right now. I know I like Noah, but I need to know I have real feelings for him and not like…”
“Not like me?” Max asked with a wry smile. I cringed and started to apologize. “It’s fine, buddy. I’m glad you’re thinking about it and not just running blindly into things.”
“Of course you do! Why wouldn’t you?”
“I slept with someone else… and liked it… I like Noah…”
Max let out a really annoyed sounding sigh. “Zaid, you can fall in love again, you know. Just because you’re with someone else doesn’t mean your feelings for Goose are all null and void.” He looked down at his fingernails and then began picking at one of them. “I loved more than one person.”
“Mhm.” He got all quiet and I could see the pain in his face. “Three people. They all died… Sickness, murder, and overdose.” He drew his knees up and I said nothing. “After my first love died I thought I’d never love again but I eventually did. After he died, I felt I’d never love again but I did. After he died I thought I’d never love again and… well, I haven’t I guess. I thought I did with you.”
“Was it hard to love again?”
Max smiled, eyes looking at something not there. “No. It felt so natural and right to love Charles and John. At first I felt like I had betrayed my first love and then my second one but you know, Zaidy, I don’t think it’s as simple as that. I did love them. No matter my feelings for Charles, I still loved… Elizabeth… and no matter my feelings for John, I still loved Elizabeth and Charles. I still do in my own way.” He leaned way back, nearly slipping off the island if he didn’t have such good balance. “Maybe it’s time I move on too. I mean, you’re mortal so you don’t have hundreds of years…”
“Anyone in mind?” I asked.
He jumped off the counter. “No way! But if I happen across someone maybe I won’t try to avoid it as much as possible.” He put his hand on my shoulder then licked my cheek. “You do the same, buddy boy, all right? Don’t rush it but if it happens, don’t keep yourself in the past. I don’t think that’s good for anyone.”
He left me alone in the kitchen and I sat at the counter, rubbing my temples, turning his words carefully over in my head. I thought about them all day long and all night. I thought about them for a good week. Noah and I talked during that time but he didn’t mention what had transpired between us. Neither did I. I just thought. About Goose, about Reeny and being a single father like I had intended to be, about my feelings for Noah in all the ways–emotionally, mentally, physically–and I thought hard about Max’s words.
When the week had passed I made my decision and called Noah, asking him on a date. I didn’t know how well it would go… a proper date. But it went well. We went had dinner at a diner then went bowling. When he drove me home I kissed him once.
On our second date–a movie and then roller skating–we made out in the car.
Our fourth time going out was really staying in. Reeny stayed with her grandpas while I went to Falling Rivers–a nice sized town about two hours away where he now lived–to stay with him for the night. We played video games for a while, made love on the couch, played video games some more, then went to bed for some more fun and sleep. When I woke up in the morning with Noah in my arms I held him close, trying not to get overwhelmed with the realization I loved him.
That winter we were constantly visiting and staying with one another. Pros and cons of both places. His place meant privacy but me spending more time away from Reeny. My place meant we could spend bonding time with Reeny buuuut her, Max, and Royce all in the house together. We did our best though to keep things balanced. I felt so incredibly happy that he really liked spending time with Reeny and brought her things occasionally. He cared about her.
We told each other the L word in January. He had come to Midnight Hollow and he, Reeny, and I went sledding, snowman building, and igloo making. We had hot chocolate afterwards and when we got back to my place I put Reeny down for a nap then returned to Noah in the living room. We snuggled together and watched the fire crackling.
“I wanted to tell you something but uh, you gotta promise not to say it back until you’re ready to say it. Don’t feel pressured to say it. I don’t want you to feel like you have to say it because I said it. I want you to feel–“
“And what if I was going to say something else?”
“…I do love you now stop looking smug or else.”
“Or else what?”
“Oh. Oh! That’s it! Now you’re in for it!”
Unfortunately ‘in for it’ didn’t mean anything sexual like I hoped but instead him pinning me on the ground and giving me a wet willie, the brat.
My relationship with Noah grew and strengthened, despite our living so far apart. We both knew we’d have to do something about it. We never exactly talked about it more of casual comments about the future. I felt pretty sure he wanted a new house to make ours and it’s something I’d prefer. A fresh start. A new life. One without the threats (as I firmly agreed with Uncle Kay, Akua, and Emilian that the threat had been killed no matter how hard Grams and Max tried to convince me otherwise).
A fresh start. A new life. As spring rolled on I began to realize what that could be or might be or–well, what I wanted it to be. I didn’t know if Noah wanted it too or if it’d just ruin everything. But… I wanted to take the risk. My failed marriage haunted me as I bought a ring–I thought I had loved Davina. I did, at the time. I didn’t want this to fall to pieces. My non-marriage with Goose also haunted me. I had loved him for sure, so completely, so wholly… but my fears had always stopped me from taking the step. We had been happy not being married but part of me rather wished I had popped the question with him. That I had been his husband–that the title on his grave had been true.
I went over all of this as I carried the ring around in my pocket. April turned into May and I wanted to propose before June hit us. I didn’t think I’d be able to in June. I just needed to get the guts to… to propose.
Then the right day happened. He visited us for a weekend. We spent all of Saturday with Reeny and in the evening Noah and I went out for a walk. We held hands as we went down the streets towards no where in particular. We talked quietly of random happenings and found a place hidden away from prying eyes where we kissed for a while and cuddled.
I was struck with courage and took the jump before I lost it. I got down on one knee and after nearly dropping the box I proposed in a nervous, terrified voice, promising Noah that he could take all the time he wanted to answer. He took about five seconds.
“Of course I’ll marry you,” he said, drawing me up in his arms for a passionate kiss. Once we finished we rested our foreheads together in happy silence.
“Damn it, Zaid!”