I

 

 

NINE weeks. That’s how long it had been since Adam kissed me on Christmas Eve and changed everything.

Nine and a half weeks, to be exact. Just like the movie—only without all the sex.

I blamed all the crazy events of the past few months on my biological clock. Okay, so it’s usually only women you hear complaining about that sort of thing, but in the past year, mine had kicked in and was ticking like a time bomb. The sad truth is, if I hadn’t been dwelling on my approaching thirtieth birthday and starting the family I’d always wanted—difficult to do as long as I was still pining for my straight best friend Adam and with no potential partner on the horizon—then I never would have made the decision to move out of the apartment we shared. And without that disastrous choice, Adam and I would never have fought for the first time in our lives, and Adam would never have been so upset that he stepped in front of that car. There would have been no agonizing wait in the hospital to find out if he would make it, no broken ribs, no concussion, and no temporary amnesia.

And Adam never would have kissed me. I didn’t know whether to be happy, sad, or terrified, so I settled for all of the above.

In a way it was like starting over. Not only for Adam, whose head injury meant he hadn’t remembered anything of his life at first, but for me as well. As Adam’s memories returned, and the sheer terror of seeing Adam’s limp and bloodied body sprawled on the pavement slowly receded from my mind, I understood we’d been given a second chance to explore what we’d both wanted but never had the courage to admit to each other.

I’d thought a lot about us in the days since Christmas. There was anger, sure, that he’d kept something so important secret for so long, but that was nothing compared to the giddy relief I experienced every time I looked at Adam. He’s alive, I’d think with a burst of joy, and that was all that mattered. The accident drove home the truth I had been hiding from most of my life: I couldn’t live without him.

But moving from the safe realm of friendship to something more was difficult too. After so many years of trying to deny my attraction, I still had a hard time reconciling Adam, the man I wanted in my bed, with Adam, the best friend and boy I grew up with. After nine weeks, I was still struggling to define our new relationship, so I found the comparison to Mickey Rourke’s masterpiece from the ’80s ironic, since that movie was all about sex, and in the nine weeks I’d shared a bed with Adam, I’d had none.

Nine long, glorious, torturous, frustrating weeks…. Every night I slept beside Adam, listening to the sound of his breathing, waking up every few hours to make sure he was still there. Sometimes I simply watched him sleep.

At first it hadn’t been so difficult keeping a hands-off policy. The man could barely walk without assistance—he certainly wasn’t up for anything more than some kissing and cuddling on the couch. I bought a small television and moved it into my room, and we spent the holidays lying in bed together watching movies. Except for the Adam-nearly-dying thing, it was the best Christmas I could remember.

I should have known it couldn’t last.

When Adam developed pneumonia at the end of January and had to be hospitalized again, I fell apart, certain God was toying with me as part of some big cosmic prank. Give the man the one thing he’s always wanted and then take it away. Ha ha ha. Only my mother and my sisters kept me from chaining myself to Adam’s bed, taking turns relieving me so I could get some rest and so Adam wouldn’t be alone. I spent my thirtieth birthday at Adam’s side, praying to whatever deity would listen. By the time he pulled through, I’d offered up my life savings, my first-born child, my right testicle, and even a vow of chastity if only he would make it. When Adam finally came home, he was as weak as a baby. His fragility terrified me, and his recovery started all over again.

After nine weeks of make-out sessions, of gentle touches and deep kisses, I had a permanent case of blue balls. And frankly, I still hadn’t come to grips with the impact of Adam’s revelation. A part of me wanted to jump in headfirst, but the rest of me—the man who perfected keeping his feelings hidden for the last decade—kept waiting for things to fall apart, convinced Adam would change his mind once he actually thought about it a little more.

Nine weeks, four days and twelve hours. But who’s counting?

“Earth to Joey,” Julian teased, waving his hand in front of my face to get my attention. “Elevator’s here, man. You coming?”

“Yeah, yeah.” I grunted, only slightly surprised to find myself in the lobby of my apartment building with no real recollection of getting us here. I’d been doing that a lot lately, drifting off and getting lost in my head. Julian held the elevator door open impatiently. I had to turn sideways to make it through the narrow opening with the three pizza boxes stacked in my arms. The smell of cheese and pepperoni filled the small space as our building’s lone working elevator wheezed and jerked its way upward.

Julian shifted the case of beer under his arm to a more comfortable position, and then pushed his slipping glasses back up to rest more securely on his nose. “Is Adam going to be okay with this?”

“Why wouldn’t he be?”

“I dunno.” Julian gave me a strange look. “Peter and I have been over so much I feel like we should be paying rent. Adam seemed pretty pissed last time.”

I shrugged, pretending a nonchalance I didn’t feel. “He’ll be fine,” I replied, and tried to ignore the twist of apprehension in my stomach. Adam would not be happy, but it was becoming too difficult for me to be around him so much and not jump the guy. I needed backup; which, to my horny, sex-starved brain, meant lots of distracting company.

As much as I wanted to be considerate of Adam’s still-healing ribs and give him time to adjust to the shift in our relationship, my dick wasn’t as understanding. And frankly, Adam hadn’t seemed too keen on moving things along either. Except for the fact we now shared a bed and sometimes—okay, always—cuddled on the couch, things were almost the way they were before when we were just best friends and roommates. During the week, I got up early and went to bed late, masturbating secretly in the shower when it got to be too much, like I used to do when we first lived together.

But weekends were the worst. All those long hours together with no interruptions, having Adam so close but unable to do anything about it. To his credit, Adam had offered to get me off. No sense in both of us suffering, he said. But that made me feel worse, like sex was all that mattered, when I knew that as long as Adam was alive, and safe, and with me, I should be perfectly happy to stay in this sexless limbo.

“I still think you should have given him a heads up. Sara hates it when I bring home people unexpectedly.”

Julian’s casual mention of his fiancée gave me a secret thrill. It was almost as if he already thought of Adam and me as a couple, which, of course, was impossible since we hadn’t told anyone yet. No one outside my family knew Adam had essentially come out at Christmas and that we were, for lack of a better word, “together.” Most of the time even I didn’t believe it, which is why it had been my suggestion to keep it private for a while, ostensibly to give Adam time to recover from the car accident that had almost killed him, but in reality, to give him an out if he needed it. Adam hadn’t been too pleased with my proposal, but in the end, he hadn’t made a fuss. I guess he saw the wisdom in it after all.

“You okay?” asked Julian, cutting into my thoughts. Julian worked with me in the accounting department of the small telecommunications firm that employed both Adam and me. Julian was in his early thirties—a few years older than either of us—but we had similar interests and had hit it off from the beginning, so I’d invited him to join our little circle. The Geek Club, as we’d named ourselves back in college, consisted of Adam, me, our friend Peter, whom Adam had known since freshman year, and now Julian.

“Yeah,” I replied cautiously. “Why?”

“You seem kind of strung out lately. I mean, I’m not criticizing here, but it did take you a week to pull together those numbers.”

I grimaced. Julian was right. Year-end financials had kicked my ass this year. It had taken me three tries to get the numbers right—something that had never happened before.

“It’s this thing with Adam, isn’t it?” he asked.

Sweat broke out under my arms. Damn this elevator for being so slow. “What do you mean?”

“I know you guys are pretty tight. It can’t have been easy seeing him like that. And then having to take care of him…. You’ve been under a lot of stress.”

Talk about your understatements. You haven’t known true fear until you’ve seen the person you love more than anything in the world laying in a hospital bed with tubes up his nose, too weak to even lift his head. I felt the tears clogging my throat and swallowed quickly. Good Lord, I would not cry again.

“Joe? He is going to be okay though, right?”

I had to take a deep breath. Every time I started thinking about this, I worked myself into a panic. “He still has headaches, and some dizziness, from the concussion. And he can’t handle loud noises or crowds yet. But I suppose it could have been worse.” Right after the accident, I spent a lot of time online researching head injuries, and what I read had been enough to give me more than a few sleepless nights. It turns out amnesia is a real thing after all; fortunately Adam’s was only temporary, but that wasn’t even the worst of what I learned. I found this article about a woman who sustained a concussion when her miniblinds fell on her head, and who subsequently sunk into a depression so deep she couldn’t bear to leave the house; after that I watched Adam like a hawk for similar signs. Other people had ended up with different personalities, some even lost their sex drive completely, but Julian didn’t need to hear about that. “So… yeah. I’d really rather not talk about this, okay?”

“Shit,” Julian said softly. “I didn’t know. He never said anything.”

“Adam doesn’t complain much. He’s always been the type to keep things bottled up.” Like, say, the fact that he had feelings for me for years but never did anything about it until it was almost too late. I stared desperately at the numbers over the door, willing the elevator to move faster. I needed to see Adam now.

“He is a pretty quiet guy,” agreed Julian.

Like me, Adam had always been shy around people he didn’t know, but where I mostly outgrew the awkwardness in college, Adam never had. When it came to work or professional situations, he had no trouble, but put him in a social setting—especially among groups or with strangers—and he tended to clam right up and blend into the background. It’s not like I was a real party guy either, so it had never been a problem. Even around my family, whom he’d known most of his life, Adam was sometimes quiet and reserved, although I couldn’t fault him for that, since the Massones’ no-topic-is-off-limits policy even made me uncomfortable at times.

“You know,” Julian mused thoughtfully, bringing my wandering attention back to the conversation. “When I first met you, I thought the two of you were together. You’d make a great couple.”

Now Julian was way too close for comfort. More than anything I wanted Adam and me to be a couple. I just wasn’t so certain we would ever get there. “Are you forgetting Adam is the same guy who believes Star Trek: Voyager is the best of the franchise?” I joked, my heart skipping a little at the memory of us, together in my bed after a Star Trek weekend marathon, and Adam staunchly defending the undervalued leadership skills of Captain Janeway while he stuck his tongue in my ear.

“Ooh, you’re right.” Julian scrunched up his face in mock disgust. “That’s just unforgivable. Everyone knows it’s Enterprise.”

TNG,” I said at the same time. We burst out laughing. By the time we finally reached the tenth floor and I fished out my keys, we were deep in a heated debate.

“Hey, honey, I’m home,” I called just as Adam stepped out of the kitchen. I couldn’t help but smile when I saw him, because he was so damned cute and preppy, and because having him there was a gift I vowed never to take for granted again. Fortunately my arms were full of pizza boxes, because I almost leaned in to kiss him out of habit.

“What took you… so long?” he finished weakly when he noticed Julian standing behind me in the open doorway. “Um, hey, Julian.”

Julian waved a hand in greeting. “Hope you don’t mind. Joe invited us to watch the game. I brought beer.”

Adam’s sandy-colored eyebrows rose as high as I’d ever seen them. “Oh.”

I squirmed under that knowing stare as the silence stretched out uncomfortably.

Julian coughed. “Uh, I’ll just go put these in the fridge, shall I?” He hefted the case of beer and slid between us, catching my eye as he slipped into the kitchen. Told you, his expression read.

“Where have you been?” Adam demanded, lowering his voice to a whisper. “And what’s Jules doing here?”

I couldn’t help but notice the hint of color in his usually pale cheeks. He was worked up about something. “I was picking up dinner.” I crossed the few steps into the living room so I could set down my load on the coffee table.

Adam followed, scowling. “Giuseppe Massone,” he scolded, sounding an awful lot like my mother right then. “Nonna Raffaella would disown you if she knew you ate that crap.”

My love for greasy takeout pizza was a secret that went no farther than this apartment. If my family ever found out, I would never hear the end of it. “Don’t worry. I got your Hawaiian, though why you would want to ruin a perfectly good pizza with fruit is beyond me.”

“Didn’t you get my text?”

Come home early, it had read, so instead I had hung around work for as long as I could on a Friday night. “Sorry, the battery’s dead and I forgot to recharge it.” The flimsy excuse slipped out before I could stop it. I was sure Adam would see the lie plastered across my forehead; he usually did. Really, it was a miracle I had managed to keep my feelings from him for so long; although, I hadn’t seen his either, so maybe neither of us was as smart as we thought we were. “Was it important?” I asked, continuing to play dumb. After so many years of practice, I was pretty good at it.

Adam’s jaw flexed dangerously. Anger made his pale-blue eyes glow brighter. For the first time, I noticed he was wearing the deep-green cashmere sweater I loved. It was soft and fuzzy, and always made me want to touch him. And he had on the new jeans Ma had given him for Christmas. The ass was a little baggy from all the weight he had lost while sick, and he’d had to cinch the belt in the last hole, but after seeing him in nothing but pajama pants for two months, he looked great.

Because I couldn’t resist, and we were currently alone, I skimmed a hand down his arm, gripping his wiry bicep lightly. “You look good. Why are you all dressed up?”

Really, his steady gaze said, you think it’s going to be that easy?

“And you cut your hair.” I ran my fingers over the short, light-brown bristles before I could stop myself. How fragile his skull seemed beneath my fingers. The bare spot over his right ear, where they had stitched him up, was filled in now—only by looking closely could you see the faint line of separation where the hair went in two different directions. The changes in his appearance suddenly clicked and my heartbeat shot into overdrive. “Wait, did you go out?” It was bad enough leaving Adam alone for eight hours while I went to work, but to know he’d gone out on his own was enough to make my stomach heave.

“It was fine,” he mumbled, turning slightly ashen. “I took a cab. I… I couldn’t get on the bus—there were too many people.”

I pulled him closer, fitting my palm against the nape of his neck, caressing that delicate hollow where the hair grew fine and prickly. The action was as much to calm my own nerves as Adam’s. I needed to feel he was safe. “Are you okay?”

He nodded, but the lines bracketing his mouth and the tension in his slim shoulders told a different story.

“Oh, Adam, you should have waited for me. I could have taken you.”

“But I can’t keep depending on you, can I? I have to start doing things for myself.”

“Hey, you know the doctors said it could take several months for a full recovery.” I tried not to think about what that meant—more cold showers for me. Boy, did that ever sound selfish.

“I hate being such a burden, and getting you to do everything.”

“Hmm, I’m pretty sure I didn’t hear you complaining about not being able to clean the toilet.”

Adam punched me playfully in the stomach. “Can we get back to the part about you bringing home company?”

As if that was the all-clear signal he needed, Julian ducked his head around the wall separating the kitchen from the living room. “Everything okay in here? Do you want me to go?”

With a last look at me, Adam sighed. “No, it’s fine, Julian. Stay. I wouldn’t want Joe to have to eat all this pizza himself.”

Suddenly I regretted my impetuous plan. Lying on the couch, watching Say Yes to the Dress with Adam curled around me, seemed like the perfect way to spend a Friday night, even if I would have to jack off later. So the note of excitement in my voice was entirely forced when I said, “The Clippers are playing the Raptors tonight. I thought we could all watch it together.”

“You don’t even like basketball, Joe,” Adam pointed out.

“Guys running around in shorts and tanks, what’s not to like?” Adam was right; I wasn’t much of a sports fan, but when most of your friends were straight, you learned to adapt. If I had to pick a sport, it would be soccer—no big surprise there. At the risk of perpetuating stereotypes, I’ve never met another Italian who wasn’t weaned on the sport. I even coached a kids’ house-league team in the summer—but I would have watched snow on the television screen if it meant spending time with Adam, preferably playing footsies under the blankets. I’d take anything I could get. I started backing out of the room before Adam’s patience ran out. “Look, I’m going to change. Let Peter in when he gets here?”

Adam groaned. “Peter’s coming over too?” I shrugged and gave him my best smile. “There had better be double cheese on that pizza,” I heard him grumble as I escaped down the hallway.

My body relaxed a bit as I tugged the tie over my head and entered my—our—bedroom. I was in the clear for another night. God, I hated this. I hated feeling so unsure all the time. I hadn’t been this wound up since I came out, and even that was a walk in the park compared to the emotional rollercoaster I was on now. When I wasn’t worrying about Adam’s safety, or his health, or his slow recovery, I was consumed with doubt about us. I kept wondering when he would change his mind, or if he hadn’t already, when he would. From the moment that car hit Adam nine weeks ago, all I’d done was worry.

What was wrong with me? I paused in the act of unbuttoning my shirt. Why couldn’t I be happy? It’s not that I wasn’t, but that happiness seemed perpetually tinged with fear. Adam had had girlfriends before. Maybe he simply hadn’t met the right one yet. Who’s to say this wasn’t just a phase? Lots of guys experimented when they were young. Fuck. I’d never been one to overthink things before and it was driving me nuts.

So previously straight Adam, the boy I had known most my life, suddenly thought he was into men. So he had a brain injury and was on heavy meds when he said it. I, more than anyone, should be celebrating. Why wasn’t I celebrating instead of torturing myself? “Because you love him,” I said to the reflection framed in the mirror above the dresser. Because you love him, and if this is just a phase, it will kill you.

From the moment I first met Adam on the playground as kids, I knew he belonged to me; mine to take care of, mine to protect. With five siblings—all of them sisters—and not much money in the family, I was used to sharing almost everything, from toys to the occasional hand-me-down sweater if it wasn’t too girly. I even rode a pink girl’s bike until I was twelve and the teasing got to be too much. Adam was the only thing that truly belonged to me. He was my friend.

“This is Adam. Can we keep him?” I had asked my mom the first time I brought him home. From that point on, he was part of the family, the brother I always wanted, and since his dad spent weeks on the road, and his mom worked long hours, he practically lived at my house.

Years ago, when I first understood how deep my feelings for Adam ran, I’d briefly allowed myself to imagine a life together. I stumbled into that almost-clichéd gay ritual of falling for a straight boy. But then I started to understand what the realities of romantic relationships meant. I saw it with my sisters and the never-ending stream of boys they dated. Sex—love—made everything more complicated. All those petty couple things, like jealousy and hurt feelings and misunderstandings, would eat away at the bonds we’d had since childhood. We would change, become different people, and that I couldn’t bear. I couldn’t take the chance. So I put those feelings away, boxed them up, and shoved them to the back of my mental closet. They stayed there until Adam kissed me.

Even now things were changing between us. I felt off-balanced and uncertain half the time, like I was going through the “boyfriend evaluation” phase. One wrong move and I’d be out. To me it seemed as though Adam and I were finding our way all over again. And I hated it.

The waiting was the worst part. We were in limbo—more than friends but not quite lovers. Sometimes I found myself wishing Adam had never said anything, that we’d simply gone on as before. Then I wouldn’t have to deal with this hope. To be so close to happiness and then lose it—I really didn’t know how I would handle it if that happened.

I breathed a sigh of relief as I unbuttoned my black slacks and let them drop. I’d already gained ten pounds since Christmas and my wardrobe was definitely at that uncomfortably tight stage. Why couldn’t I be one of those people who lost their appetite when they got stressed? Instead, I chowed down on everything in sight. I stood in my briefs in front of the mirror and sucked in my gut. Not bad… as long as I could hold my breath all day. Unfortunately that was not an option, and I had to let it all back out when I ran out of oxygen.

I grimaced as my hairy belly jiggled a little when I poked it. There was a fine line between husky and fat, and it seemed to be getting closer. I would definitely have to cut back on the junk food. Starting tomorrow.

After dropping my dress shirt in the hamper, I pulled out a well-worn pair of jeans and my favorite blue Henley. The color always reminded me of Adam’s eyes. As I scraped the long hair back off my forehead and caught it up with an elastic band to keep it out of my eyes, a light, citrusy fragrance caught my attention. It was nice—grapefruit and something else I didn’t recognize. Thinking it had to be new laundry detergent, I smelled my shirt, but that didn’t seem to be the source, so I wandered around sniffing the air a couple of times before realizing the whole room was similarly scented. Adam must have sprayed some air freshener in here. Actually, the room looked tidier too—not that I was a slob or anything. And, were those new sheets on the bed?

I took a step closer to the bed I now shared with Adam. The comforter was neatly turned back, revealing an unfamiliar, gaudy-floral print I would never be caught dead anywhere near. When I touched it, the crisp cotton under my hand felt far more luxurious than anything I certainly owned. It would feel even better against naked skin. Definitely new. Why would…? My mouth went dry and my stomach did a little excited flutter. It appeared Adam had plans of his own for tonight.

As I stared at them, the large, pink cabbage roses entwined on the fabric stirred a faint memory from my youth. Something about flowered sheets, The Little Mermaid and… oh yes, a boy at my window. I couldn’t stop the smile spreading across my face. They weren’t the same sheets of course, but the resemblance was close enough that I knew without a doubt Adam had remembered.

For the first time in nine-and-a-half weeks, I began to believe we had a chance.