KYLE DRUMMED the fingers of his free hand against his thigh. He and Sam had been waiting for over an hour at the clinic, Sam holding his other hand tightly. He knew there wasn’t going to be a problem with either of them, but to placate Sam, he’d agreed to the testing. He looked around the room at a lot of people like the two of them, all waiting nervously for the nurse to call them. He could tell a few of the women were “working girls,” and he had to admit he was glad they were at least trying to take care of themselves. There were a few college-aged guys and an older gay couple to complete the array of humanity in this nondescript green-painted, cinder-block building.
A few minutes later, his name was called. Sam gave his hand a kiss. Kyle raised an eyebrow. “You aren’t coming?”
“This is supposed to be private.”
Kyle rolled his eyes. “You are kidding, right?” He tugged at Sam’s arm. “Come on, we’re doing this together. Unless….” Kyle cocked his head. “Is there something you’re not telling me?”
Sam stood up and towered over Kyle. “No!”
“Then why the reluctance to go with me?” Kyle heard his name being called again.
“I… I’m not sure.”
Kyle pulled Sam toward the nurse. “Then come on.”
The nurse looked up from her clipboard. “Kyle?”
Kyle nodded. “That’s me.”
She acknowledged Sam. “And your friend?”
“Sam Johnson. We came in together; you should have both of our intake forms.”
The nurse thumbed to the next page on the clipboard. “Yep, he’s next. You two doing this together?”
Kyle squeezed Sam’s hand. “If that’s okay?”
The nurse shrugged. “It’s okay. You two are a couple? Do you want couples counseling?”
Sam pinched the bridge of his nose. Kyle nudged him. “Not sure if we need it, but yeah, this is something we need to do as a couple.”
The nurse marked on both his and Sam’s form. “Follow me.” She led them into a windowless room and motioned for Kyle to sit in a chair that had oversized armrests. “The phlebotomist will be in soon.” She looked over the chart, knitting her brows. “Is there something you didn’t put on the form? You… from what you’ve indicated, you’re not at risk at all.”
Kyle hung his coat on a hook, then sat down in the chair, feeling his cheeks get a little warm. He hadn’t really discussed what he and Sam did in their intimate moments with anyone before. He looked up at Sam, gently rubbing Sam’s forearm. “Just want to be sure. We… we have been exposed to um, body fluids, just not through, uh, anal sex.”
“It’s just been the two of you?”
Kyle could feel Sam stiffen. “For me, yes, just with, um… him. But Sam….” Kyle’s voice drifted off. Sam had admitted he’d done “things” with other guys, just never mentioned how many.
Sam cleared his throat. “No penetration, but yeah, um… exposure, I guess, to, um, four guys—well, five including Kyle.”
The nurse made a notation on one of the forms. “Did either of you engage in oral sex, either with each other or”—she looked over at Sam—“one of your other partners?”
Kyle didn’t think his cheeks could get any hotter. He looked everywhere but at Sam or the nurse. Deep down he knew she wasn’t prying, she wasn’t judging, she just needed the information for the files, but it still made him uneasy. He couldn’t even begin to think about talking about this stuff with Nurse Sally back… well, home. The Johnson farm was definitely his home now. He shifted in his chair. “Yes, ma’am.”
Kyle could hear Sam take a deep breath and shift his weight. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to hear from him. He knew Sam had had some experience before dating him, and knew body fluids had been involved, but yeah… to actually know Sam had been that intimate with others….
“Two of them.”
Kyle felt conflicted; at least the oral sex hadn’t been with all four of the other guys Sam had dated.
The nurse made more notations. “Any cold sores or mouth lesions?”
Kyle and Sam answered at the same time. “No.”
“So risk to exposure is extremely low.”
Sam shrugged; Kyle swallowed down the sick feeling in his throat. “I guess so.”
The nurse made a couple more notations. “I understand wanting to be one hundred percent sure. We’ll take blood and run the tests; you should have results within two to three days, if not sooner.” She stood up, placing the clipboard into the slot on the door. “I’ll be back after the phlebotomist takes the blood to go over some HIV and STD education.” She closed the door behind her.
Kyle took a deep breath. “So, um, four others?”
Sam looked up at the ceiling. “I do have a healthy libido. And was at college for a year before I met you.”
“I’m not judging. I guess we should have talked more about this sooner. I… I know you said no sex until you had a more committed relationship, but I guess I didn’t even think about you and others, you know, um, being intimate.”
“Which is why I kinda freaked there yesterday after what Hank said.”
Kyle reached for Sam’s hand. “And you heard what the nurse said, ‘very low risk for exposure to just about anything,’ right?”
“I know, I just…. It would only take a hangnail….”
“And you know that’s almost statistically impossible for any virus to be transmitted like that.”
“But it’s still plausible.”
“Yeah, so is getting HIV from a mosquito. Barely plausible and statistically impossible.”
“So call me a worrier.”
Kyle squeezed his hand. “You’re a worrier. You’re like your mother.”
Another nurse walked in, grabbing the clipboard from the door. “Kyle?” Kyle raised his free hand. “Great. Let’s get this over with.” He sat his kit down. “Roll up your sleeve.”
Kyle couldn’t watch as the nurse took his blood. Only as he felt the rubber band being released from his arm did he even dare take a peek.
“You did just fine.” The nurse put a Band-Aid over the puncture, then labeled the vials and made notes on the chart. “Now, you’re Sam? You ready?”
Sam nodded and exchanged places with Kyle. The nurse took his blood, labeled it, and made the same notes. “Good. Got you both. We’re actually ahead of schedule today. You might have the results tomorrow. You live together? I notice you both put the same address.”
Kyle spoke up. “We’re together for another week, then Sam goes back to Albany.”
“And you want both of your results sent to this local address?” He turned to face Sam. “Or would you like yours sent to Albany?”
“Here’s fine. I’ve got nothing to hide.”
The nurse made a couple of notes. “Okay, the results will be sent to the local address. Do you two have any questions? Do you want counseling on safe sex?”
Kyle figured he looked like his cheeks were sunburned at this point. “No, thanks. We… we know what to do.”
The nurse plucked a couple of brochures from the display. “Here, take these. If you have any questions, our toll-free number is listed.”
Kyle pocketed the brochures. “Thanks.”
“Have a good afternoon. Please see the receptionist on your way out.” The nurse left the room, this time leaving the door open.
“Guess we should head home.” Sam shoved his hands in his pockets.
“Yeah. I’m a bit hungry. We can stop and get some Chinese food if you want. I need to get my paycheck anyway.”
“Sounds good.” Sam handed Kyle his jacket.
They headed out of the room, walking in silence to the waiting room. They both signed out, still not saying anything to each other. It wasn’t until they got back to Kyle’s room after getting Chinese food that Kyle spoke up.
“How intimate did you get with your other… were they boyfriends?”
Sam took a deep breath. “Yeah, I’d consider them boyfriends.” He nervously ran his fingers through his hair. “I didn’t do anything with them I haven’t done with you. I’m not one to mess around, you know that.”
“I know, it’s just…. You barely mention your past. We are going to make a go of this, right? Just you and me? No one else?” Kyle’s heart started to pound. He wasn’t really sure what Sam’s answer might be.
“Of course!” Sam grasped Kyle’s shoulders. “I meant it. I couldn’t stop thinking about you. I did go out on a few dates, but each time someone tried to get intimate, I… I wanted it to be you.”
Kyle reached up to cup Sam’s face. “I know. Same here. But… it’s going to be a whole semester before we can see each other again.”
Sam grinned. “You’re worth the wait. You know, I might be able to get a weekend away to come to the city. Can’t promise anything. But in the meantime, not saying I won’t go out with friends, but that’s it, just friends.”
“I don’t expect you to become a hermit, you know.”
“Just making it clear. You are my boyfriend, and I intend to honor that. Unless… you want to date others?”
“No, not at all. Just don’t expect me to live like a hermit either. I… I go to this great LGBT support group. We go out as friends all the time.”
“That’s great! I’m glad you found friends. I sometimes attend a similar group up at Albany.” Sam pulled Kyle into a hug. “Know this. None of my previous boyfriends compare to you. You are the tops.”
Kyle smiled. “Don’t have much to compare you to, but you’re the tops as well.”
Sam leaned in, giving Kyle a kiss. “I have always said I’d wait to be in a committed relationship to have sex. I want to commit to you, and… I want it to be you, when we both are ready.”
Kyle swallowed. “I… I want that too. I’m just not sure when that might be. I still have… you know, issues with the whole sex thing.”
“I get that. Hank really screwed you up, so much so that even if you were straight you probably would have trouble with sex.”
“Probably. He truly has issues.”
“You ain’t kidding.” Sam kissed Kyle again, prodding a bit deeper until tongues met. Things were definitely getting a little hot when… Sam’s stomach rumbled. He pulled back and gave a small chuckle. “Okay, time to stop the lovefest here and eat.”
Kyle looked down, trying to suppress a laugh of his own. “You and your stomach. Food it is.” He kissed Sam’s nose and pulled away. “Maybe afterwards we can pick up where we left off.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
THE WEEK flew by. Kyle showed Sam the sights of New York, from Times Square to Broadway, from museums to parks. They covered a lot of ground. And, as expected, they received their negative test results, putting that sordid bit of history behind them.
It was now Friday. Sam had to leave the next day. Kyle had been watching him all morning. He could tell Sam wanted to say something over the past few days, but each time he tried, he ended up kissing Kyle instead, which led to more intimate things. Kyle decided it was time to make Sam open up.
“Sam, talk to me.”
Sam turned around from where he was warming up some tea in the microwave. “What do you want to talk about?”
“You’ve been wanting to say something to me for a couple of days now. You’re leaving tomorrow. Please, tell me what you want to say. Don’t do it in a phone call or e-mail. Please.” Kyle’s heart felt like it was in his stomach. Had Sam’s commitment to Kyle been just too much?
“What? Phone call?”
“You’ve had a few days to think about it. You don’t want to make this big of a commitment, and I understand. It’s a lot to consider. We’re both in the prime of our sexual lives to not, you know, do anything for four months. I get it, I do. I just want you….” Kyle’s heart started to beat faster. He didn’t want to think about not being with Sam, but if Sam didn’t want this long-distance relationship, if it was too much…. He shook his head to clear his thoughts.
Sam raised a hand. “What on earth are you talking about?”
“I can tell. I mean, I can tell you’ve wanted to say something to me, and I can only imagine it’s because you realize four months is a long time, and I understand—”
“Stop. Just stop. No, I don’t want to…. That’s not—” The microwave beeped, interrupting Sam’s words. He took the mug of tea out and set it on the counter, leaning over and staring at it for a long minute. He finally stood up and fished a piece of paper from his wallet, then handed it to Kyle. “Do you know where this is?”
Kyle looked at the writing. It was an address near his old neighborhood. “It’s near where I grew up. Not the best place in the city. Why?”
“It’s where my sister is… was…. It’s the last address I have on her. I tried to keep in touch with her, but after she had her baby, she seems to have dropped off the face of the earth. I haven’t told Mom and Pops, but they’re going to ask, especially since I’ve been in the city. I… I want to try to find her.”
“Kristina, right? You guys never talk much about her.”
Sam sat down on the bed, hanging his head. “She and my parents had a huge falling-out. She… she got involved with the wrong crowd and started resenting our parents for their ‘quaint, old-fashioned’ way of life. Her words, not mine. She got addicted to drugs, then….” Sam shook his head. “I’m sorry, you don’t want to hear about this. I just…. Can you tell me what buses to take so I can go check out the address?”
Kyle sat down next to Sam, picking up one of Sam’s hands to hold in his own. “If it affects you and you need to talk about it, I want to listen. I want to help. And puh-leeze, I’m not going to let you loose on the city by yourself. I’ll get you there. I want to be with you during all this.”
Sam looked up at Kyle, tears in his eyes. “You sure?”
Kyle brushed a tear away. “Of course.”
“She… she moved away… well, more like ran away here, to New York. She’d call or write me, at first through a friend, then when I went to college, she wrote me there. A mutual friend of ours… yeah, he let me know she had started to….” Sam swallowed hard. “She started to sell herself to score more drugs. That’s how she got pregnant. She told me she had a little boy. This was almost a year ago now. The last I heard from her was back in October. I can’t keep lying to Mom and Pops, telling them she’s okay when I don’t really know for sure.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“We were so close growing up, like a lot of twins are. I just don’t get how we could go on such different paths.”
“I know about alcoholism, did a lot of reading here at the local library. Once a drug gets ahold of you, sometimes that’s all you can think about. Your next score, your next drink. I know Hank hid a lot of his money from my mom and me so he’d always have cash for his beer and liquor.”
“I wish she would have reached out to me at the beginning. She hid it very well.”
“Most addicts are really good at hiding it. At least at first.”
“So, you know where this address is?” Sam pointed to the paper lying on the bed next to Kyle.
“Well, approximately. Not quite sure the exact block, but I can get us there. It’ll take a couple of buses.”
“Well, if we’re lucky and the buses are running on time, about forty-five minutes, maybe an hour.”
“I hate spending our last afternoon together on a wild goose chase. She may not even be there any longer.”
“As long as I’m with you, I don’t care what we do. Let’s hope for the best that she’s in a clean apartment, off the drugs, and just busy with raising your nephew.”
“I hope so.”
THE BUS rides were uneventful and fortunately, the buses were running on time. Fifty minutes after they started their journey, they were walking up to an old tenement building.
Sam looked up at the crumbling façade. “Doesn’t look promising.”
“Don’t judge a building by its… outsides. You’d be surprised at what people can do to the insides of these things.”
“You don’t sound too convincing.” Sam grasped Kyle’s hand.
“Trying to be optimistic.”
“Thanks. Shall we? She addressed her letters as coming from apartment 4B.”
Once inside the dingy lobby, they made their way up the stairs. After passing the third floor and yet another mound of garbage, Sam stopped for a moment. “I… I just can’t see her being here, living here. It’s too much.”
“You want to go?”
“No. I need to see if she’s still here. Maybe if I see her, I can convince her to come home. Mom and Pops would welcome her back with open arms. They’d pay for her rehab, too, if she needed it.”
“Okay. One more floor to go.”
Within a few minutes, they were standing outside of apartment 4B. Kyle gave Sam’s hand a squeeze. “Go head, we’ve come all this way. Knock.”
Sam nodded, then hesitantly knocked. An old woman in a house robe and curlers answered the door. “Yes?”
“Ma’am, um, yeah, my name is Sam Johnson. My… my sister used to live here, a Kristina Johnson. Do you know her?”
“Ah, yes, Krissie. Such a sweet girl. And a sad story, getting caught up with a bad bunch. I knew her, but she didn’t live here. I mailed letters for her, though.”
“Do you know where she is?”
“She did live down the hall with a couple other guys. Unsavory gentlemen if you ask me. She moved out about a month ago. Left in the middle of the night. I remember because it was a night I couldn’t sleep, was up watching reruns of Law and Order. I looked out the window to see her get in a cab with that little boy of hers. She kept looking around like she was being watched. Wasn’t until the next morning I saw an envelope at my door. You say your name is Sam, Sam Johnson?”
The old lady stepped back from the door, leaning to the side to grab a letter on the hall table. “Then I guess this is for you. I guess she figured you’d come looking for her.”
Sam took the envelope. “Thank you, ma’am. Thank you very much. Have a good day.”
“You too, young man. I hope you find her. I got the feeling she wanted to put her life back on track. At least that’s what I got from her when we’d bump into each other at the laundry.” She closed the door behind her.
“You going to open it?”
Sam looked around. “Let’s get out of here first.”
“Sure. I saw a coffee shop down the block. I could use something to warm me up.”
The coffee shop was fairly empty when they arrived. Kyle got his usual mocha latte, Sam his hazelnut. They sat down at a table, staring at their drinks.
Sam pushed the letter over to Kyle. “You open it.”
Kyle furrowed his brow. “You sure?”
“I… I can’t.”
“Okay.” Kyle slipped his finger under the seal, tearing open the envelope. He took a deep breath. “You want me to read it out loud?”
“I don’t know… I… I guess, sure.”
Kyle cleared his throat.
“I knew you would come looking for me. I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you my plans, but I had to make a quick getaway, and I couldn’t let Mike know what was going on. I’ve found an organization that helps girls like me. They’ll relocate me and Connor and get me the help I need. I wish I could see you face-to-face, talk to you, tell you how sorry I am. I did a lot of stupid things, running away the number one stupid thing. I can’t tell you how many nights when I, well, when I had to work, that I’d think about home and how much I miss it. How I don’t think it’s old-fashioned anymore.
“Once I know I’m safe, that we’re safe, I’ll send you another letter. It may take a few months, though. I’m hoping they can get me out of the city. Maybe to a small, safe town that’ll remind me of home. Maybe one day I can face Mom and Dad. Tell them I’m sorry and that I miss them. I royally screwed up, but I hope to make it up to them one day.
“Until then. Love, Kristina.”
Kyle folded the letter and handed it to Sam. “Sounds like she’s really trying to turn her life around.”
Sam blinked back a tear. “Yeah, I hope so.”
“Maybe she’ll contact you soon. You could go see her then.”
“You going to share the letter with your parents?”
Sam traced the lid of his coffee cup with his finger. “Probably. She does sound like she’s sorry.”
“You don’t believe her?”
“It’s not that. I… I don’t know how I feel. The drugs did a lot to her. She said in her last letter that she prayed every night that her drugs didn’t affect Connor, but she really wouldn’t know until he became more verbal. She swore she quit during her pregnancy, although I’m not sure if I believe her. She did say he had reached all the normal milestones, so that’s good.”
“If this organization can really help her, get her into treatment and relocate her, that’s a very good start, no?”
“It’s an excellent start.” Sam gave him a half smile. “Let’s get out of here. I think we deserve a nice dinner out on my last evening here.”
“That sounds great.”
The next few hours flew by, a delicious steak dinner followed by a couple of comic-book-hero movies, and it was time for bed. Kyle crawled in, scooting over for Sam. He cocked his head as he noticed Sam wasn’t moving toward him. “Something wrong?”
“This is our last night together for quite a while.”
“I’m sure the next four months will go by quickly.”
“It’s going to be longer than that.” Sam ran his fingers through his hair.
Kyle raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean? School’s over, and we’re going back to the farm together, right? That’s the plan, I thought.”
“Right, but… we can’t really be together at the farm. I mean, it’ll be like last year. We can kiss, but we… we won’t be able to be, you know, intimate. Not like what we’re doing now, nothing further, if that’s what we want.”
“Why not? Not that I’m looking to do anything underneath Walt and Glenda’s roof, but there’s always camping. I think we need to do more camping, for sure.” Kyle waggled his eyebrows.
Sam sat down on the bed. “I guess that’s a plan, but I’ve really enjoyed sleeping with you. You know, just the sleeping part. I mean, I like what we do other than sleeping, but I like being next to you. Hell, I’m not making any sense.”
Kyle massaged Sam’s shoulder. “Yeah, you are. I like being next to you, waking up next to you. I like you touching me, and I sure as hell love touching you. Look, we’ll set up times to go camping or go out, maybe overnight to Saratoga Springs. Your parents would go for that, right?”
“Yeah, I don’t see why they wouldn’t.” Sam leaned over to kiss Kyle. “Look, I was wanting to talk to you about something, but nothing’s completely in place yet, so I don’t want to get your hopes up….”
“What are you talking about?”
“I applied for an internship here in the city, to start next fall. I can transfer to the campus here to take the classes I need and do the internship. Do you… would you…?”
Kyle sat straight up. “You mean you’d be here, close by, next year? That’d be great!”
“I… I want to be more than close by. I was thinking… maybe, if you wanted to, and only if you wanted to, like, really wanted to… would you want to move in together? We could find a small apartment somewhere halfway between our campuses. Unless you’ve already committed to coming back here.”
Kyle jumped into Sam’s arms, kissing him hard.
Sam broke the kiss for a moment. “I take it that’s a yes?”
“Oh hell yes!”
“Now, please don’t start decorating our apartment yet. I have to get the internship first.”
“I’m sure you’ll get it. You’re top of your class, right?”
“Well, not the top, but top ten percent.”
“So, they’d be nuts not to take you.”
“Well, let’s hope they think like you do. I’ll know by mid-March. Would that give you time to find a place for us before the end of the semester? I can come visit a couple of times to look at places.” Sam slid his arms around Kyle.
Kyle smiled. “Shouldn’t be a problem.” He kissed Sam again, his hand wandering down Sam’s torso.
Sam squirmed a little. “How are you wanting to celebrate our last night together?”
“I think you know what I want to do.” Kyle nipped at Sam’s jaw.
“I’m certain I can read your mind.”
KYLE SAT on the bed, watching Sam pack up his things. “I’m really going to miss you.”
Sam turned around, dropping a crumpled t-shirt into his bag. “I’m going to miss you too.”
Kyle got up and reached into Sam’s bag, pulling out the t-shirt to fold it. “I’m really glad you came to visit. I feel I can face the semester a little better now.”
Sam pulled Kyle into his arms. He tugged the shirt from between them and dropped it back into the bag. “Like I said, I might be able to come visit for a weekend or two, especially if I get the internship. One, we’ll need to find that place to stay, and two, they’ll probably want me to visit their main office where I’ll be interning before the summer starts.”
“You have to get that internship.”
“I will do my best. Flash this winning smile at anyone who has pull.”
“As long as that’s all you flash.” Kyle gave him a possessive squeeze.
“Damn, my boyfriend is going to keep me on a tight leash.”
Sam pulled back slightly to look at Kyle. “Isn’t that what we decided? To commit to each other?”
“Yes, of course, but… I guess I’m going to have to get used to the word.”
“You, Kyle, are my boyfriend. Boyfriend. As in someone I want to date, want to be exclusive with, want to make a future with.”
“Yeah, a future. Beyond the summer, beyond next fall.”
“You really think we can commit to that at our age?”
“Mom and Pops started dating when they were our age. I think they’re a great example to follow, don’t you?”
Kyle grinned. “They are the best example.”
Sam let go of Kyle to zip up his bag. He slung it over one shoulder, then took Kyle’s hand into his. “Walk me down to the parking garage?”
The parking garage was mostly deserted; a car drove in and past them, heading to the reserved section. They made their way to Sam’s truck. Kyle stood to the side as Sam stowed his bag and fished out his credit card and ticket stub. “If the internship goes through, please be sure to try to find us a place that has parking built into the rent. Parking around here is atrocious.”
“Why do you think most people use the bus or subway?”
“Certainly is cheaper.”
“You better believe it. Remember, this is an island. Land is at a premium.”
Sam shuffled his feet. “I guess I’d better get on the road. At this rate, I’ll be getting in pretty late and don’t want to sleep tomorrow away. Lots to do before the semester starts on Monday.”
“I guess so.”
They stood side by side for a few moments.
Sam snorted. “I don’t really want to go.”
“I don’t want you to.”
Sam pulled Kyle to him and kissed him. “I’ll call as soon as I get to my dorm.”
“I’ll be waiting.”
“I love you, you know.”
“I know. I love you too.”
Sam gave Kyle one last kiss, then climbed into his truck. With a final wave, he pulled out of the spot and headed onto the busy streets of New York. It took Kyle a few long minutes before he could even consider putting one foot in front of the other. And when he got back to his room, he was hit with how empty it felt. He could still smell Sam’s aftershave. He should have asked Sam to leave something of his behind… until he noticed Sam had left a t-shirt hanging in the bathroom. He smiled as he grabbed the shirt and slid it over his pillowcase, knowing it was sentimental and schmaltzy, but he didn’t care.