His name was Matthew, and he had eyes the color of drowning.
The only thing more enticing than the disaster his eyes promised was how vague he was about being straight. When we talked, his hand always found a reason to land on my shoulder. He sat closer to me than necessary. He joined me on my walks down to the Barren River after midnight. We walked through ghost towns together, talking about whatever thoughts had the audacity to cross our minds. I said things to Matthew that I wasn’t even brave enough to say to myself. And when I said them, he looked at me. Matthew saw me. I fell for him the way bodies fall from buildings and bridges.
“I’ve decided what we should wear to the costume party tonight,” he said, flipping through a pile of books on my desk.
“You’ll like it,” he said. And then that smile. “Aristotle and Plato.”
Matthew was already at my bed, moving pillows aside so he could get at the sheets.
“Those are my sheets. Get your own toga sheets,” I said.
“But yours match the color of my eyes.”
That goddamn smile.
- * *
We left the party together, winding our way back to campus, falling into each other both by accident and on purpose. Every few feet, we had to stop to readjust our ever-falling togas. The wind was greedy that night, sneaking its fingers under the jersey cotton to cop a feel. When we laughed, our echoes wandered into the dark and then wandered back.
I said that I was out of breath. (I wasn’t.) We found a picnic table by a thicket of trees. Was there a kiss? I can’t remember. I would like to think so. I would like to think something preceded me kneeling before him, pebbles and rough earth scratching my knees, as I reached between his spread legs. When my hand found his dick, half-hard, not hard enough, I rested my head on his open lap, brushing my lips across the fabric. Such a thin veil between the night and his body.
“It won’t work,” he said.
“Oh?” I took him in my mouth then. It didn’t work.
“Whiskey dick. It’s not you.”
I had never heard of such a thing. Matthew pulled me to my feet, smiled, and we stumbled on, adjusting our togas while he explained the unfortunate phenomenon of whiskey dick.
- * *
It was always night; we were always moving, colliding, and then, just as quickly, pulling away. Once, he let me shave his pubic hair in the shape of a star. Once, he called me over to brag about how he had slept with a girl we both knew. Once, we watched a movie together in my room. He laid on my bed with his head in my lap. I ran my hands through his hair over and over and thought about how I’d always wanted to run my hands through a man’s hair just like this. Halfway through the movie, some friends knocked on my door. Matthew practically jumped to the other side of the bed. I sat there, stunned for a moment, my hand hovering just above the space where his head had just been resting.
I walked to the door and let my friends in. They were talking. They were sitting between us on my bed. They were there all night. They were gone. Matthew was gone. When I lay down to go to sleep, my bed was still faintly warm with the heat of their bodies.
- * *
Matthew stopped joining me on my late-night walks, or I stopped inviting him. It’s hard to tell. We just fell away. Now and then, we’d steal private moments, laughter, but there was a silence between us now. A hairline fracture of an ending.
- * *
My laptop broke, so I was forced to write all my papers in a 24-hour student computer lab on the other side of campus. There must have been 300 or 400 computers in that bright, humming room.
In a moment of boredom, I logged onto a cruising website and, before long, found myself chatting with a guy who claimed to be in the same computer lab. He described the baseball cap he was wearing, then stood up so I could see him. I remember thinking that he would do.
I asked a friend working at a nearby computer to watch my stuff, then headed to the restroom and waited for him in one of the stalls. He walked in a few minutes later to find me already on my knees. It was so hot because it was desperate. After he pulled his jeans back up, we exchanged numbers. We met in that same restroom stall twice more that week.
- * *
Back in the computer lab yet again, we were chatting online even though we were sitting at computers right next to each another. It was almost 3 a.m. Only a few students were in the lab. I knew his body well enough by then that I could practically see right through the sweatpants he was wearing. I wanted more. He liked me. He knew it. He had to know it.
“This is fun and all, but I don’t know, man,” he typed.
“Yes, you do. You know.”
“I don’t care.”
I pushed my chair back from my computer and turned to face him. We held each other’s eyes until he turned back to his screen. My eyes stayed exactly where they were.
“Tell me you don’t like it,” I said in a voice I didn’t quite recognize. “Tell me.” He was looking at his screen, but I knew he couldn’t see it. I knew. Heart racing, eyes stinging. I couldn’t go back.
I got out of my chair and eased myself to the ground. I kneeled and repeated myself once more. “Tell me.”
He grabbed his backpack and walked away without even bothering to log off his computer. I don’t know how long I kept kneeling, only that it was too long.
- * *
Matthew and I had settled into the semblance of a normal friendship by then. We went to the same parties, but not together. My hand had long since forgotten what it felt like to run through his hair.
At a Halloween party, we were dancing. I knew he was there, somewhere nearby. Everyone we knew was there. Everyone we knew watched as Matthew danced his way into my arms and pressed his open mouth against mine. It’s not that I didn’t want to kiss him. It’s just — when we pulled away, he didn’t look at me. The boy with eyes the color of drowning kissed me and pulled back to smile at the audience. He might as well have punched me.
I laughed — a perfect, fake laugh — and started dancing again. I lasted a whole 10 minutes before I danced my way out of the crowd, out of the house, out into the dark.