Friday, January 13, 2012

Return to Winthrop St. - Part 5

The first thing Atwood had to do was go to the Delta Sig house. He knew there would be beer in the refrigerator. As he was still underage there was no use trying to buy it anywhere. One of his fraternity brothers would let him have a couple, he was certain.

The frat brother he felt most comfortable around and whose conversation he enjoyed most was at the house.

“Hey, Joe,” said Atwood.

“‘Sup, ‘Wood?” Joe called him by a nickname that he didn’t really care for, but never corrected. If he really stopped to think about it, the nickname put a smile on his face. To him it meant that someone actually liked knowing him a little more personally.

 “You got any beer in the refrigerator?” asked Atwood.

“Yeah. You want one?” 

“I was kind of hoping that I could take a couple with me,” said Atwood. The look on his face of slight embarrassment was working overtime to hide the fear that Joe would ask why he wanted them.

“No problem, ‘Wood,” said Joe. “Take three if you want.”

“Thanks, Joe. Appreciate it, man.” 

Joe was always so nice to Atwood that he had to make himself not tell Joe the reason he wanted the beer. There was no reason for Joe to care why he wanted the beer. 

“You got a backpack?” asked Joe.

It was then that Atwood realized that he had run from Bobby so fast he hadn’t bothered to grab anything other than his coat.

“Shit!” said Atwood. “I left it in my friend Bobby’s room.”

“Don’t worry about it,” said Joe. “There are plenty of plastic bags here.”

Joe opened a cabinet door. On the inside was attached a long slender compartment with a hole in the top in which plastic bags were all but spilling out. The holder or container or whatever you call it was stuffed to the gills. Atwood was surprised that a house full of guys, a fraternity house no less, had any such accessory. Maybe it was a California thing. Why was he questioning a plastic bag holder? He was distracted. It took Joe brushing his arm with the plastic bag to free his mind of the question.

“Thanks, Joe,” he said as he accepted the bag.

“No problem, ‘Wood.”

“Alright, I gotta get going,” said Atwood as he made for the door. “I owe you, Joe.”

“I know where to find you, ‘Wood,” laughed Joe. “Enjoy.”

Atwood knew he needed to get his backpack from Bobby’s, but all he could think about was talking to Kinlin. He wanted to so badly that everything else was unimportant.

He started for his dormitory at a brisk walk turning left then right then right again. As his dormitory building came into view he started to run, the bottles clinking in the plastic bag. He held them to his chest to prevent breakage and the inevitable loss of the precious liquid inside; an elixir to relax the senses and loosen the tongue. I must look like a fool he thought. What was he doing? Running. Protecting beer bottles. It was only Kinlin. The desperation to talk to him stemmed from the distance that had cropped up between them; a distance that he blamed on Kinlin. 

He lived on the eleventh floor of his dormitory. He stood in front of the elevator doors pushing the button and pacing, pushing the button and pacing. Over and over he pushed the button and paced knowing it wouldn’t make the elevator come any faster, but unable to stop himself from the compulsive act. 

He was nervous and excited. He just wanted to hear Kinlin’s voice. He wanted to talk to his friend. He wanted to feel that Kinlin actually missed him. He was putting too much pressure on himself and this phone call. He needed to relax and enjoy himself. Maybe the beer would help. He had a small desire for a hit or two from one of Bobby’s joints. He didn’t want to sound too eager. He wanted to merely sound like himself.

I’m home

Instead of calling Kinlin he popped the top on a beer and waited for Kinlin to call him after receiving his text. It was Kinlin’s suggestion that they talk after all. Why should he have to do all the work? He took a couple of sips of his beer and waited. He looked at the phone and waited. The text should have gone through by now he thought to himself. He was fidgety, bouncing his legs up and down almost as if he had to go to the bathroom. He took a long gulp of the beer. He picked up the phone. He didn’t know whether to chuck the damn thing across the room or just dial Kinlin’s number. He was frustrated. He’d been wanting to talk to Kinlin for weeks and finally the time was upon him, but he found himself waiting. What am I waiting for? He thought to himself. 

Then the phone rang. He thought he shouldn’t answer on the first ring. He knew he would appear too eager. Kinlin would think he was holding the phone poised to answer as quickly as one tries to whack-a-mole before its head goes back into hiding. He answered before it could ring again. He couldn’t stop himself.

“Hello,” he said, with as much calm as he could muster in his voice. His heart was fluttering, and he couldn’t keep the smile from his lips. He took a sip of his beer.

“Hey,” said Kinlin, his voice sounding like he was genuinely happy to be talking to Atwood. “What’s up?”

“Nothing,” said Atwood. “I’m just sitting here having a beer waiting for you to call.”

“Wish I had a beer,” said Kinlin.

“You don’t have any beer?” asked Atwood. “It was your idea to have a beer and talk.” He was a little confused but decided to let it go.

“Yeah, I thought I had some in my room, but I didn’t.” Kinlin’s response was very noncommittal. Atwood could almost see him shrugging his shoulders. It was very Kinlin, but didn’t make him feel relaxed. His thought pattern changed from Kinlin is happy to talk to me to Kinlin doesn’t really want to talk to me. He’s just appeasing me and calling because he said he would and has nothing better to do. “So, tell me what’s been going on with you.” Atwood didn’t answer right away. He let the question reverberate around in his head as he stared at the sweating beer bottle in his hand. He took a regular swallow of the golden liquid inside and then asked his own question back.

“Why do you care what’s been going on with me?” He tried to keep the edge from his voice, but he could tell it was still slightly present. “I haven’t heard from you in weeks.”

“Hey, hey,” said Kinlin. “That was hostile.”

Hostile? Atwood hadn’t thought he sounded hostile at all.

“I’ve been busy,” continued Kinlin. “I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings, but we’re not in Ryland anymore. This isn’t high school. You’re there and I’m here. We’re following different paths. I’m not your boyfriend and I shouldn’t be responsible for calling you all the time.”

There were so many things in that sentence that punched Atwood like pellets from a paintball gun: not in Ryland, this isn’t high school, different paths, boyfriend. Boyfriend! That struck a blow. He wanted to hang up the phone. Better yet he wanted to throw the phone across the room without hanging up so that its crash into the wall might hurt Kinlin’s ear. 

“Okay, I’m not sure why you just got hostile on me,” said Atwood arching his left eyebrow in defiance. “The intention behind my earlier question had no hostility attached to it. I was merely asking. You haven’t reached out to me in weeks. Not an email, a text, and least of all a phone call.”

“I get the sense that you think I should be calling you every day.” responded Kinlin, his voice sharper than before.


“What? Why?”

“It’s just the tone I read in your texts and emails.”

“If you’re reading a tone into them then that’s your problem. You have no idea what my tone is because you can’t hear me saying the words. Whatever you’re putting behind my words is your own imagination.” Atwood was positively heated with anger. He took another long draw of beer. The conversation was dissolving quickly into a confrontation Atwood had not anticipated. 

“I think you know-”

“-Don’t you tell me what I know, Kinlin.” He was on his feet now, pacing the floor. “You’ve been my best friend for 4 years. More than that really, but I’m only counting our high school days. The last night we’re in town together you touch me. Do you remember that? You reached your hand over and touched me in a way that you had never touched me before.” There was a small hesitation as if to open the door for a response from Kinlin, but Atwood continued. “You kissed me. I sucked your dick. We all but fucked that night in the Ryland Monument and then we left.”

Atwood paused to take a drink of his beer. He knew he should to calm down, but wanted to keep rolling this log down the hill.

“You could hardly look at me that next morning. And since we’ve been at school you won’t talk to me. I didn’t do anything wrong, Kinlin. You started all of it.”

“I know,” Kinlin practically yelled into the phone. “I don’t know why I did it. I’m not gay. I was a little drunk. I wanted to be touched and I took a chance that maybe you’d oblige.” The word ‘oblige’ struck Atwood like a cold blade across the face.

“You thought I might oblige?” responded Atwood, unable to cover the disbelief in his voice. “Ply Atwood with enough Chianti and let’s see what he’ll do?”

“Look, Atwood,” continued Kinlin. “I suspected you might be gay. I mean you hadn’t ever done it with a woman and you didn’t seem to have any interest in doing it. We hardly ever talked about sexual experiences. I just accepted that you would tell me when you were ready. It didn’t bother me. I wasn’t uncomfortable around you. You have to know that. I mean I hung out with you all the time. You’re my best friend.”

“I’m glad you could be comfortable around me,” he responded in an acid tone.

“Don’t be like that.”

“Really, you want me to be nice and understanding to you, Kinlin?” he was shaking now. “You just told me that you thought I was gay and that you used me to get off on our last night in Ryland. Did you think I would just be cool with it?”

There was no answer.

“Did you?” Atwood had taken his icy tone to a new level of smooth.

“I did,” Kinlin responded flatly with no defense in his voice. His voice became the accelerant that propelled the flames of Atwood’s anger and frustration. It happened fast. Too fast.

“You’re an asshole, Kinlin.” Atwood responded. “You didn’t give a shit about my feelings when you reached your hand down my pants and took hold of my cock. You didn’t think about any consequences when you put your mouth to mine. I was scared to think that I might be gay. I was afraid that it would end our friendship if you knew I had been having those feelings. Feelings that were not about you I might add. What I have realized from this is that I am gay. That’s been the easy part. Finally admitting something I was afraid to admit. The hard part is realizing that me being gay is not what destroyed our friendship. It was you. You and your cockiness, toying with my emotions like that for your own benefit.” He took another swig of the beer having realized it was still in his hand. “I can now see that it’s been good for me that you’ve kept your distance. It allowed me to explore my sexuality and to come back and see you for who you are.”

“Atwood-” Kinlin’s voice had and edge of pleading to it.

“-Don’t. I don’t want to hear you say another word. Most certainly if those words contain an apology. I don’t want to talk to you again. For a while. Maybe not ever.”

“Atwood-”

Before any more words could be said Atwood hung up the phone. He sat down in the chair and killed the remainder of the beer before collapsing into sobs. This wasn’t the way he had expected the conversation to go. He had thought they would catch up on each other’s goings on. He now realized that what he really wanted—had always wanted—was to know if Kinlin had feelings for him. His feelings had been hidden deep just like his desire for men. Hearing Kinlin’s choice of words had pushed him to the boiling point. He hadn’t been able to ease into the conversation because his level of frustration was already resting at the top of the pot ready to boil over.

The realization that he wanted to be wanted by Kinlin came as somewhat of a shock. He wanted Kinlin. He wondered how long he’d had a hidden crush on his best friend. Or had he? Were his feelings all wrapped up in the emotional blanket of sex? He wanted Kinlin more and that was never going to happen. He had opened his heart unwillingly, unknowingly. He was hurt. He felt damaged

He was right about one thing. Kinlin did help him open the door to exploring his sexual desires. He did help him admit that he was gay. 

He went to the bag he’d gotten from Joe and took out another beer. It wasn’t as cold now. He popped the top and began pulling the liquid into his mouth impatiently. He was still crying, his tears mingling with the beer spilling from the sides of his overflowing mouth, running down his neck. He stopped the hard pull long enough to take a breath then continued to gulp the beer. When he had successfully emptied the bottle he threw it into the trash can. He heard in break as it fell inside. Into a million pieces just like my heart he thought. He crawled into his bed and pulled the covers over his head. He willed the tears to stop; the heaving sobs slowed as emotional exhaustion and sadness overtook him. I can’t need you. I don’t want to need you.

Something happened to Atwood after that conversation. The blow up at Kinlin had free'd him of his Kinlin hang up. It had also created a sense of urgency that he couldn't quite place. He didn’t know if he could be friends with Kinlin anymore. Even though he was angry he felt that he would go where ever Kinlin asked him to go. He knew he would kiss Kinlin again and, if asked, sleep with him too. That made him even angrier. How can I want to be with someone who makes me so angry? 

He let the beer and his tears work their magic as he felt his eyelids try to close. He let sleep take over. He knew it was the only way to shut out the words that kept playing over and over on loop in his mind.

His phone vibrated. He opened his eyes. He had slept through the night. It was dreamless and as he realized that, he was thankful. He lay in bed staring at the ceiling. It was a new day. He grabbed his phone from the bedside table. He had a text message from Kinlin. Now he starts reaching out. The message was short, simple.

You’ve got an email.

“Great,” Atwood said out loud. His chest had that achy bubble just over his heart. “I had to fall asleep with your fucking voice in my head and now I have to wake up to your words.” Atwood tried to convince himself he didn’t want to read the email, but that was a lie. He wanted to read the email. He had a grain of hope that Kinlin’s words were the ones he wanted to hear. The ache in his chest moved to the pit of his stomach. Nervous anticipation. The conflicting thoughts made him angry again. He threw the phone to the foot of the bed and pulled the covers over his head in a dramatic flourish that had no audience to applaud. 


Now he lay in grayed darkness staring at the underside of the sheet instead of the ceiling. He could already tell that today was going to be a day of avoidance. He wanted to avoid the email and he wanted to avoid his classes and the spattering of chit chat that would inevitably come from people he’d sat next to for the past two months. Nope. Today was going to be a day of avoiding all of that. The one thing he thought he could handle was seeing Bobby. He needed to get his backpack anyway. He would send a text later. For now it was just him, the underside of the sheet, and the unopened email.

©2011 Michael Rohrer