Chapter 14:

November 2, 2015, 8:10 AM

Let's Make Love Bloom


This time, I did not allow Masashi to focus on his exercise. I grilled him as we worked those treadmills, and before long I had a clear enough picture.Bookmark here

It was as I had started to suspect: after our last conversation, he’d started to think more seriously about the future and about what he could do to seize control of his life. After telling me to start doing things without him, he knew he had to do the same, and decided first to have a conversation with Oscar about it. Though they’d only been seeing each other for around a month and a half at that point, they were really happy together, and Oscar said he was more than ready to support Masashi in whatever decision he made. And with that reassurance, he felt he was ready.Bookmark here

“Of course it was going to happen eventually,” Masashi was saying. The noise of the treadmills was forcing him to speak loudly, but as there was no one in our immediate area, he felt comfortable speaking freely. “It was a question of when and how. And I knew I wanted to be in full control of that, and Oscar being there gave me the courage to go through with it. Like if it was going to happen at any time, might as well be when I’m at my happiest and most confident, right? And then he just volunteered to be there with me, and I said no, you didn’t have to do that, but he insisted, and then…” Masashi trailed off, biting his lip. It was rare to see him blush so red, but there he was, cheeks looking as crimson as apples.Bookmark here

“And then what?” I asked, already having some idea of where this was going, and my curiosity would not allow him to hold onto his modesty.Bookmark here

“Do not ask me to elaborate because I won’t,” he said. “But put simply, well… things got physical.”Bookmark here

“Hot damn!” The grin plastered on my face was probably the biggest one I’d ever put on in my life. Look at my sweet boy, all grown up. “I’d offer to buy you a drink, but the only place I know that serves minors closed down already.” (A fact Masashi and I had discovered during our many searches for good food—just as I’d thought, the place I’d first met up with June didn’t last a month.)Bookmark here

Anyway, moving on,” Masashi said, forcing a shift of topic. That was fine, I’d had my fun. As he spoke, having worked up a sweat he lowered the speed on the treadmill, and I followed suit. “Pretty much, yeah, I brought him over Sunday afternoon, we sat down with my parents while my mother served tea, and I just told them. ‘I’m gay, this is my boyfriend.’ And he did a cute little wave and said ‘hi’ when I said that, and again, it was adorable. And there was a moment were they didn’t say anything, and my heart was beating so loud it’s like someone was holding it right up against my ear.Bookmark here

“And then, everything was fine. Well, actually, my mother started crying at first and that got me scared, but then she said she was happy for me and felt sorry about always pushing me to hook up with you. All she ever wanted was for me to be happy, she said, and we always looked so happy together, so she just assumed. I think she realized all at once how much I’d been hurting by hiding for all these years and how their insistence on us played into that, and that made her feel guilty. And then she started doting all over the two of us, saying how cute we were, and that was a whole different kind of embarrassing than I had been anticipating. Long story short, we all made up and shared a meal and had a great time. And honestly, I couldn’t be happier.”Bookmark here

“That’s… that’s really great, man,” I said, trying to hide my envy. If only I could be sure that my own mother would be so accepting. “I’m happy for you.”Bookmark here

“Thanks.” We got off our treadmills and sat down for a minute to cool off, drinking branded energy drinks to replenish ourselves.Bookmark here

“So I get why you didn’t tell me about it. But I still would’ve appreciated some warning before I got home. My mother was in absolute hysterics, and I don’t know what to do about her.”Bookmark here

“Right. I am sorry about that. Like I said, I was trying to do this on my own, and I didn’t want to bother you while you were having a fun trip with your girlfriend. I really thought it was going to stay in the family. But if I had realized my mother was going to brag on Facebook…” With a sigh, Masashi fished his phone out of his bag and showed me a post on his mother’s page. It was a photo of him and Oscar making V-signs with their fingers, captioned: “so proud of my son and his boyfriend. they make the cutest couple!!! <3”Bookmark here

And right below that post was a hidden comment from my mother. Despite having worked up a good hot sweat, and despite not actually seeing the contents of the comment, just seeing that it was there, hidden, sent chills rippling through my body. It was a bad omen, though of what I couldn’t quite determine.Bookmark here

“She’s right,” I said, trying to distract myself from the bad feeling I was getting. “You are the cutest couple.”Bookmark here

“I am inclined to agree,” Masashi said, smiling as he put his phone away and got to his feet. “I am also very hungry. Shall we get out of here?”Bookmark here

“We shall,” I said, and after cleaning up and changing, we were off to get breakfast.Bookmark here

#Bookmark here

True tragedy struck later that day.Bookmark here

I arrived for my regular computer science class half an hour early to find Romana already engrossed in a LAN match of Halo with a couple of other students. We were the first of our group to arrive, and as I sat down next to her, she muttered something under her breath, so soft as to be almost inaudible.Bookmark here

“Don’t interrupt me,” she said. “I’m in the zone.”Bookmark here

“Okay,” I said with a nod, and relayed those instructions to everyone else as they filtered in. Everyone agreed—everyone except Joe, that is.Bookmark here

“Today’s the day I come out on top,” he announced as he booted up his computer, intent on joining the match.Bookmark here

“Bring it, pal,” Romana said, and like always they were off. As they fought I got up to stretch, and when I did I heard a psst behind me. Turning, I saw Rue staring at me, gesturing me over. Squeezing behind Stephen, I made my way out to the center aisle and stood just beside Rue’s desk.Bookmark here

“Did you hear?” he asked, trying to keep his voice low so as to not disturb the game. “About yesterday, with Oscar and your friend.”Bookmark here

“Oh yeah,” I said. “I was just talking to Masashi about it, and he’s glowing. I’m guessing Oscar…?”Bookmark here

“Told me all about it, yes.” Rue was smiling. “It’s funny. Even though it wasn’t his own family—not yet, anyway—it still brought him so much joy to be openly accepted like that. It’s just been a long time since I’ve seen him smile so much. I guess what I want to say is thanks for introducing them, it really means the world to him.”Bookmark here

“Hey, I didn’t know Oscar before you introduced us, you’ve got an equal share of the blame here.”Bookmark here

“That’s true,” Rue said, laughing, but before we could say anything else, it happened.Bookmark here

YES!” came a deafening yell from the seat right next to Rue’s. Glancing over, I could see that spittle had escaped Joe’s mouth and stained his monitor. The man had gone feral. “That’s right, baby, suck it!”Bookmark here

Just ahead, I heard a tongue click. Glancing forward, I got a glance at Romana’s game: she was controlling a third-person camera, spinning the view around her own character, splayed out on the floor. Instantly I understood: for the first time, Joe had killed Romana.Bookmark here

That had me very concerned. Romana, getting killed? Impossible. Something was very, very wrong.Bookmark here

“Gotta go,” I told Rue, and hurried back to my seat. Before I could talk to Romana, though, she was, as she would say, back in the zone.Bookmark here

“That’s the first and last time you get one up on me, bastard,” she called back to Joe, and for the rest of our free time before class started, she was absorbed in making Joe pay for his sin. He never did down her again, but even through the end of the game, she didn’t look happy.Bookmark here

As soon as class was over, I made sure to pull Romana aside to try and see what was going on.Bookmark here

“Hey, what’s up?” I asked her. We’d peeled away from the rest of the group on the way to lunch and we sitting under the shade of the lone tree just off the sidewalk. Though, given the time of year, we had much less shade than we would’ve liked; as we sat, a series of crackling sounds erupted from below us as our rear ends crushed autumn leaves. “You seem… I don’t know, out of it.”Bookmark here

“Nah, I’m fine,” Romana said, waving her hand dismissively. “I mean, I will be fine. Just need to get over it, is all.”Bookmark here

“Get over what?”Bookmark here

Romana just shook her head, curled her knees up to her chin, and glanced away.Bookmark here

“Sorry, I don’t mean to pry. I’m just worried about you. You don’t have to talk if you don’t want to, but I am here for you.”Bookmark here

“…Gah.” Romana made some weird noise as she scratched at the back of her head, and I couldn’t tell if she was exasperated or annoyed or what. For how expressive she usually was, she was really hard to read at the moment. Something must’ve really got to her, and thinking about it, there was only one thing it could be. Trying to be respectful of her boundaries, though, I let her bring it up in her own time.Bookmark here

As it turned out, her own time was just about two minutes.Bookmark here

“You remember what we were talking about the other day?” she finally spoke up. “With me and Miles?”Bookmark here

“Of course,” I said.Bookmark here

“Well, I ended up taking your advice. Didn’t want things to fester, so I worked up the nerve to sit down and talk to him.” She went quiet again.Bookmark here

“I’m guessing things didn’t end well?” I asked. In response, she smirked.Bookmark here

“Hell, could’ve been worse.”Bookmark here

“I’m sorry.”Bookmark here

“Nah, don’t be. If we kept going like we were, we might’ve ended up real hurt.” I noticed that she was scraping at the dirt with her fingers, almost certainly ruining her nails, but her mind was elsewhere. “It’s just… pisses me off, you know? I thought we had a good thing going, but when it came down to it we just couldn’t get along. Everyone has needs, and the only needs we were fulfilling for each other were sexual. Everything else? Everything that mattered?” Her fingers curled, digging up a handful of loose dirt. “I keep telling myself this was a good thing, but at the end of the day, that don’t stop it from it hurting.” Raising her dirty to hand to her face, she looked it over before wiping the muck off on her jeans—and now that I thought about it, this was the first time I’d seen her wear such normal clothes.Bookmark here

“I’m sorry,” I said, knowing that any other words I could offer her wouldn’t help. The only thing that would heal these wounds, like so many others, was time. At the very least, it seemed like these wounds had already been cauterized. All that remained were some lingering stings.Bookmark here

“You know what, you better stop apologizing, or I’m gonna beat your ass.” And as soon as those words were out of her mouth, I was certain: even if she wasn’t at one hundred percent right then, she would be soon.Bookmark here

“…Beat my ass in Halo?”Bookmark here

“Where else? What, you think my scrawny nerd arms could take you for real? Nah, I’ll stick to what I know.” At that, we both laughed, and just like that, the melancholic air seemed to dissipate, and I remembered that despite everything, we were both still here, alive and healthy, hanging out with friends who loved to laugh. Our wounds would heal, and we could keep on living.Bookmark here

“Tell you what,” Romana said as she stood. “I’m tired of hearing myself talk. What about you? How’d your date with June go?”Bookmark here

“Well,” I started with a smile, standing to join her. “It all started when I turned into a sobbing mess and got snot all over her beautiful car.” And as we started heading for the cafeteria, I told her all about it.Bookmark here

#Bookmark here

My mother was quiet over dinner that night, but I didn’t pay her much mind. My mind was elsewhere, and stayed there ‘til my dreams. My mind was with Romana, and with June. I still felt bad for the hurt my friend had to go through, in part at my behest. After talking to Miles afterward, I got the sense that things had ended as amicably as they could have under the circumstances. Romana would be fine; that I could take solace in.Bookmark here

I wasn’t so sure, however, about myself. Not about how things would turn out with my parents, no. Somehow, that worry had faded for the moment. No, I was thinking about my relationship with June.Bookmark here

After the couple of dates we’d been on and the few text and phone conversations we’d had in between, there was no question in my mind that I liked her. With how much we’d opened up to each other, it would’ve been weirder if I felt nothing still. Whether all of that meant romance I wasn’t sure yet, but after listening to Romana fret about how she and Miles had been unable to fill each other’s needs, a new fear, a new paranoia, took hold in me:Bookmark here

Was I just using June? Did I really care about her, or was I just using her as an escape? She was filling my needs for sure, but what was it that I could possibly be doing for her? I had used her as a shoulder to cry on, dumped all my emotional baggage on her, used her to escape my ever-trying home life, but what had I done for her? Was there anything I even could do for her, or was I just some life-draining parasite?Bookmark here

I went to bed crying, unable to convince myself that the reasons I felt myself gravitating toward her weren’t completely selfish.Bookmark here

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