I didn’t get a lot of sleep that night. It was late when I finally stopped talking to Freckles and it was early when my alarm went off that Saturday morning.
I had a couple hours before I had to meet him at the grocery store parking lot. I sat down at my dining room table with my bowl of Fruity Pebbles. I always felt a little partial to the blue flakes. They seemed to grab at my attention the most. Kind of like Damien’s eyes.
It was obvious to me that I had fallen for him. Though it felt great, I knew deep down that it was going to be anything, but amazing. In the end we would both get hurt. He would feel as though he had no choice, but to put distance between us and lose his best friend. And I’d be heart broken by his choice.
Did it have to end like that? Would that be the only possible outcome? I didn’t want it to be, but with everything that I knew or felt, it seemed as though it was inevitable. If there was the slightest bit of hope that maybe things could be different, then I would have done everything I could to make it so.
There was no one or no thing in life that I wanted more than Damien. To give my heart to Freckles and to have him trust me enough to hold onto his. For me, there was no other life aspiration.
When I wasn’t thinking about Damien, I spent time reading psychology books and personal stories about human orientation. I fervently tried to grasp all aspects of human attraction and sexuality. Thinking that maybe somehow the boundary between gay and straight wasn’t so impenetrable as everyone seemed to believe.
Though there are many theories about what causes people to be gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, straight, or whatever orientation they believe themselves to be, there is no solid understanding of any of it. Birth order, prenatal brain development, chemical levels, early childhood experiences, all these different ideas about what determines who or what we are attracted to.
Is it definitive? Is it permanent? Is there a difference between what our brain wants and what we want our brains to want?
So many unknowns, so many questions and always so few answers.
What the heart wants is not always grounded in reality or in what is realistic. Our emotions don’t always play by the rules, our feelings not kept in line by social standards.
I finished my cereal and headed off to the bathroom to clean up for the day ahead of me.
Before leaving the apartment I did one last self check in the mirror. I wondered if he’d even care what I looked like. I told myself it didn’t really matter if he cared or not, because I cared how I looked. Self-respect, self-esteem, I took care of myself because I mattered to me. Anyone else’s opinion didn’t matter.
When I got to the parking lot, Freckles was once again already there and waiting. And just like the last time he insisted on being the one who drove, wherever it was we were going to go.
“So now what?” Damien asked as I climbed inside and closed the door.
“I was thinking that maybe we could just go to the park and take a walk while we talk about all the things going through our heads?” I replied.
“That sounds like a good idea honestly.” He said.
“I don’t know about you, but I seem to formulate thoughts better when I’m walking, it somehow helps me put words to my thoughts and feelings.” I told him.
“Oh yeah man, I completely understand, going for a walk helps me clear my head of clutter, I’m excited for today.” Freckles confessed.
With that, we took off into the morning, both hoping to find some clarity and some answers. Walk the path back into each other’s life and be the true friends to each other that we had hoped to be the first day we had met. We both had our troubles and neither of us had anyone else to turn to. Perhaps, we didn’t have anyone else we wanted to turn to more than one another.
The park was only about a mile from the grocery store, it didn’t take us long to get there, so most of the drive was graced with silence. Not the awkward kind of silence you feel with strangers, but the good and comforting kind you feel around someone you know and trust. I agreed with Freckles, I was excited about the day and what would come of it.
It was now mid-October, the leaves of the trees had begun the process of changing colors as the sap receded down into the roots of the trees.
The grass at the park was still green and as is typical for Autumn the morning was brisk, but we knew the afternoon sun would grant us several hours of warmth.
Once we got out of Damien’s truck and made our way to the start of the trail that ran from one end of the park to the other, he looked down at my feet, “Hey man, nice kicks.”
I smiled as I looked down at my own shoes, “Thanks bud.”
“Yours are pretty sweet too.” I continued, as I looked over at his blue and white shoes. It was the first time I’d seen him not wearing his roper boots. I was kind of surprised he had on sneakers.
“Thanks, they’re new, bought them this morning. I remembered us talking about going hiking once, so I figured I should invest in new shoes since we’re talking again. You know, in case we go do something like that sometime.” Freckles said.
His forward thinking about possible future events involving us together was affirmation that he had hopes for us. To me, that felt great, I wasn’t the only one hoping that we could remain together as friends. It was also kind of cute and I had to refrain from audibly saying “Aw.”
As we walked I took note of the smell of Autumn. The wet and dying leaves was an unmistakable scent, one that over the years has become an odd source of comfort for me. I loved Autumn, it was my favorite time of the year.
I looked out across the park at the trees that both lined the border of the park and also were sparsely scattered within the park. Their leaves were variants of yellow, orange, red and brown, with a few evergreens here and there. In the tree branches above us I could hear birds chirping and in the distance I could hear the sound of children laughing. Everything seemed bright and crisp from the morning dampness.
“Hey you know what? We should go camping before winter gets here, that’d be fun, right?” Damien broke in, interrupting my thoughts.
“Yeah man, that’d be awesome, it’s been a while since I’ve been able to go camping, I used to love doing that as a kid.” I told him.
“Me too, my family owned a farm, so we went every summer. Some of my best memories growing up.” He added.
“That’s wild, I grew up on a farm too.” I said.
“Nice dude, I think that’s the best environment for a kid to grow up in, teaches you a lot.” Freckles said.
“I agree, I wouldn’t have changed it for anything.” I replied.
We fell silent again as if searching our thoughts for things to talk about. It wasn’t that we lacked subject matter to discuss, we were simply waiting for the right moments to bring them up. And aside from that, the beauty of the park was worth acknowledging.
I looked over at him as he walked beside me. He had on his customary ball cap, it was camouflaged with a one-inch tattered strip on the end of the bill on one side and a fish hook on the other side. Above the bill in front of the hat was the deer silhouette emblem of the Browning sporting goods company.
He must have shaved that morning or the night before, as his face was smooth except for his chin, which was adorned with his characteristic goatee. The amber-colored hair shined in the morning sunlight.
I looked up at his eyes from the side of his face and noticed that his glance shifted from one section of the park to another as he took in all the sights and then shifted down to the path in front of us. In the sunlight his eyes lit up the most and he must have sensed me looking at him as his line of sight shifted to me and I quickly turned away to the path ahead.
I couldn’t help but smile as I did and he must have noticed, “What?” He asked.
“Nothing.” I answered half smitten.
“Are you laughing at my height again?” Freckles asked.
“Haha, no man not at all!” I shook my head at his suggestion.
“It’s these new shoes, they make me look even shorter!” He proclaimed.
We both laughed hysterically at his observation and justification for his vertical challenge. He was still the same Freckles I had gotten to know that day at the fair.
“I think you’re awesome.” I said genuinely.
With a half laugh he remarked, “Thanks man, I think you’re pretty cool too.”
“So how are you feeling?” I asked, hoping that this was the right moment to ask.
“Well, to be honest, I feel pretty good ever since last night. I mean, I know it started out kinda crazy with how I acted when I saw you and then with what you told me, but since then I’ve felt better.” Damien answered.
“Good man.” I said, hoping to ask him about his addiction status next.
“How are you?” He asked politely.
“A hell of a lot better than I’ve been. This past month was horrible.” I admitted.
“I know man and it’s my fault. For real, I’m sorry about that crap I put you through. Had I known you had feelings for me, I never would have pushed you away without an explanation.” He said.
“I can’t hold anything against you, you were going through a lot, still going through a hard time. I’d be a selfish dick to still be mad about it, now that I know how much pain you’ve been going through.” I replied.
We fell silent again as we continued to walk through the park. A gentle breeze came upon us and as it brushed passed Damien, his scent was brought to my attention. I wasn’t sure, but he may have been wearing cologne. Again, a smile graced my face as his scent tempered my restless heart.
“There’s no where I’d rather be than by your side, through everything that you’re facing, you know this to be true, right?” I asked Freckles.
He glanced over at me and into my eyes, as if attempting to confirm the sincerity in my words and once convinced turned back to the path in front of us, replying, “I know brother and I’m grateful that we met. You’re loyal and honest, you wear your heart on your sleeve and you’re not ashamed of how you feel. That takes real courage. You’re quickly becoming my best friend.”
“Speaking of courage, when we first met, in Subway, you were wearing an Army National Guard t-shirt. Were you in the military?” I inquired.
“Haha, yes, I was in the National Guard, I enlisted when I was 17, the summer between my junior and senior years of high school and went to basic. Then after my senior year I went and finished my training.” Freckles said.
“Are you still in now?” I asked.
“Nope, I was discharged the following summer.” He replied.
“Oh, how come, if I may ask?” I pressed him for more information.
“The short answer, drugs. I got caught and they discharged me for it.” Damien admitted.
“Dang, I’m sorry to hear that.” I said.
“Yeah, not exactly something I’m proud of.” He confessed. “What about you, you ever serve, you got that look about you?”
“Um, no, I enlisted but I didn’t make it through boot camp.” I told him.
“Boot camp? So you enlisted in the Marine Corps?” He asked.
“Yeah, spent time at MCRD in San Diego.” I answered.
“Wow, bet that was quite the experience.” He remarked.
“Yeah, it was definitely something.” I replied.
“Now we have yet another thing in common, we were both interested in the military.” Damien noted.
“Yeah dude, we seem to have a lot in common.” I agreed.
As I continued to walk I reflected on our conversations so far. We had already walked to the other end of the park and were making our way back on the circular path that went around the outer edge of the park.
There was so much more I wanted to know about Freckles, but I felt confident that we would still have plenty of time ahead of us, not necessarily just that day, but many more days in the future as well.
“You mind if I ask you something?” Damien asked.
“No, not at all, you can ask me anything you want any time you want.” I assured him.
“So, I asked you last night about what you did with other guys that you, I guess, dated?” He reminded me.
“Haha, seriously? That’s what you want to know?” I asked jokingly.
I must have embarrassed him as I swore he turned red in the face. Feeling guilty that I embarrassed him after telling him he could ask me anything, I decided to answer him.
“Alright, fine, I’ll answer your question if you agree to answer mine afterwards?” I suggested.
“What question is that?” He asked.
“I can’t tell you yet, you have to wait and see, if you agree to it.” I said with a smirk.
“Haha, fine!” He laughed.
“Okay, so I’m not gonna go into detail cause that’d be a bit too much, but like I said last night, I prefer to avoid the whole butt sex thing. So that leaves hands and mouths.” I said with as much composure and seriousness as I could muster.
“Like foreplay?” Damien asked.
“Yeah, pretty much that I guess, but with an ending.” I replied.
“Haha, I see. So what’s your question?” He inquired.
“Why did you want to know?” I immediately replied.
“Oh… Uh… Well um… I don’t know, no reason… you just said that you didn’t like butt sex… so I just wondered what two guys do without a girl. That’s all. Just didn’t know.” Damien said.
“Hmm, well alright. Now you know.” I confirmed.
“So how about these awesome colored leaves, huh?” Damien pointed out.
We both laughed hysterically and awkwardly at his change in the subject matter. After we settled our laughter, I sighed with the ease at how our day was going. Things were really looking up as far as I was concerned.
Freckles went on to say that he was clean now for about a week, that he was going to see his drug counselor a couple times a week and that they put him on some medication to help with his withdraw. Based on other friends I knew who struggled with addiction, a week was hardly worth celebrating as they relapsed many times before ever getting clean. A week later, months later, even years later some went back to their addictions. I hoped that this was not going to be Damien’s fate. I was there at his side, I wasn’t going to let that happen.
He would be my number one priority, his well being would be my only concern in life. Just like during that water balloon fight, all my effort would be focused on keeping him safe.
The more comfortable we were around each other and the more trusting and open we were, the easier my goal would be and the better the chance we had at winning his battle. I don’t know if it was partly due to his medication or if it was just because he felt connected to me, but Freckles seemed to be open to and unafraid of talking to me about anything.
We continued to talk as an hour passed and then another hour passed. He told me about his older sister who was an over-achiever. She was in school trying to get her doctorate, while being married with two kids and having a full time job.
He told me about his pothead little brother with the Rastafarian lion tattoo on his butt cheek. About his parents who separated and then divorced when Freckles was only twelve.
Freckles told me about the friend he made in the National Guard who he was supposed to later join the U.S. Army with, a friend who was later deployed to Afghanistan and then lost his life in the Helmand Province. Freckles told me about the guilt he felt about having been discharged before getting into the Army with his buddy and not being there to fight alongside him.
He told me about his favorite memories growing up, even though his dad rarely ever came around. About how his mom worked hard to make sure he got what he wanted for his birthday, how she made sure he learned what he needed to know as a boy and would later need to know as a man. It made me think of the night we went to the Mexican restaurant when he made the comment, “My momma raised me right.”
A single mother raising three kids, it couldn’t have been easy. He may have had flaws, but I still felt like Damien was one of the most amazing guys I’d ever met. As far as I was concerned she did a great job.
After a couple hours at the park, we decided to head into Madison City for lunch. I insisted that we take my car this time and even though Freckles protested, he eventually caved and drove us back to the grocery store to swap vehicles.
It did feel strange having him sitting in the passenger seat next to me. It meant I had less opportunity to look over at him as we drove. On the flip-side it gave him all the time and opportunity he needed to fidget around and mess with the stuff in my car. My center console, the glove compartment, under the seat, behind the seat, the man didn’t know how to sit still.
He definitely had a hard time dealing with someone else driving. The lack of control made him feel anxious and insecure. I glanced over at him and laughed out loud.
“What?” He demanded.
“You.” I replied.
“Me what?” He asked with a childish innocence, completely oblivious to his constant movement.
“You cannot sit still, you’ve been moving since you got in the car. I don’t think there is a place you haven’t investigated.” I said laughing again.
“Sorry, I’m not used to riding, it makes me nervous, I don’t know what to do with myself.” He confessed.
I smiled at him, “It’s okay, it’s adorable.”
“Haha, did you really just call me adorable?” He laughed.
“I meant your nervousness was cute, not you!” I corrected him.
“Yeah, sure.” He said with a cocky arrogance. “You know, I would never let Megan drive us anywhere, you should feel privileged.”
“Oh, thank you great one, for this opportunity.” I said with my best sarcastic tone.
Damien reached down into my console and pulled out my aviator sunglasses and put them on.
“How do I look?” He asked.
“Good.” I answered.
“Think I could pick up some chicks with these bad boys?” He asked.
“Oh, I’m sure bitches would line up for a piece of you in those shades.” I said in sarcasm.
We both laughed as he took them off and handed them over to me. He pulled his shades down off his hat and slid them over his eyes, leaned back in the seat and stared out the window.
“Uh-oh.” He later said out of no where.
“Uh-oh what?” I asked concerned.
“I have to fart, how do you roll the window down?” He said with the utmost seriousness.
“Dude! Don’t stink up my car, have you noticed how clean it is?” I said as I chuckled and reached for the controls on my door to roll down his passenger side window.
“Well, now I’m afraid to fart, I don’t want to taint your perfect car.” He sneered.
“Man, just do it, no point in being uncomfortable.” I said.
“I can’t now, I feel like you’re waiting for it!” He said in laughter.
Once again, we both broke out laughing our heads off as we headed into the city.
“How do you turn this thing on?” Damien asked pointing at the stereo.
“That knob, push it in.” I instructed.
“What kind of music do you listen to?” He asked as he pushed it and turned up the volume.
“Pretty much anything rock, so hard, punk, soft, alternative, folk.” I replied.
“Do you like country?” Freckles asked, hoping I’d say yes.
“I listened to country when I was a kid growing up, but I don’t listen to too much of it anymore. I know that’s not what you want to hear, I’ve only heard you play country in your truck.” I answered.
“You said you like folk, that’s kinda country, I’ll count that.” He assured me.
“So I have your acceptance then, we can still be friends?” I asked sarcastically.
“Haha, yes I’ll allow it.” He replied with a smirk.
Damien flipped through the stations until he got to a country one. Then he looked over at me awaiting my response.
I laughed, “You dick!”
“Hahaha, you’ll grow to like it again!” Damien announced flashing a huge ridiculous grin.
For the rest of the trip to the Mexican restaurant, where we ate the first night we hung out, I was treated to Damien’s favorite genre of music.
Once we arrived he behaved the same way he did the first time we ate there. He opened the doors for me and was his usual polite and respectful self. It was one of his many qualities that made him hard to resist. If he wanted to, I’m sure he could have charmed a stallion like a horse whisperer.
When we were led to our seats by the same beautiful waitress we had last time, I asked Freckles about Megan since he had brought up her name earlier. I assumed he was comfortable talking about her.
“Have you spoken to Megan?” I asked openly.
“Nope and for the first time since moving out here, I feel okay about that. If she truly had loved me, she would have replied to my texts, calls, Facebook messages, something by now. Clearly she has moved on. And I need to do the same.” He proclaimed.
“I see, well I’m sorry about her, but at the same time, I’m glad to hear you say that it doesn’t hurt you anymore.” I told him.
“Yeah thanks man, what do you think about the hot waitress, think I have a shot?” He asked with a boyish curiosity.
“Sorry, she’s wearing a ring.” I quickly stated and looked down at the menu she had set on the table when she seated us.
“Aw damn, really? That sucks, she has the best tits!” He announced.
“Dude!?!?” I fired back.
“What? She does.” Damien re-confirmed.
I rolled my eyes and looked back down at the menu. Just as I did, he reached across the table and brushed his hand over my head and through my hair, as if to reassure me like I was his beloved dog.
“What was that about?” I asked.
“I could tell you were jealous, I was just letting you know you’re still my best friend.” He said wholeheartedly.
“Gee, thanks.” I said looking back down at the menu.
“Hey!” Damien demanded my attention.
I looked up at him as he gave me the dorkiest smirk under the shadow of his ball cap. I couldn’t help but smile back. He was so indelibly cute. The guy could have had any girl he wanted if he truly tried.
After ordering our food, we continued to chat about random things that came to mind.
“You totally lied to me bro, she’s not wearing a ring!” Freckles announced.
He reached across the table and put his hand against my face and pushed me away in aggravation.
“Do that again and I’m gonna lick your hand.” I threatened.
“I touched my balls with that hand.” He informed me.
“So.” I shrugged.
“Haha, right, that sorta thing doesn’t bother you.” He sneered, “Maybe I touched a vagina with it?” He suggested.
“Ugh, nasty, keep it away from me.” I declared. We both laughed aloud at our dorkiness.
“Hey, you wanna go camping next weekend? Before it gets too cold to go? We can go on my mom’s farm?” Freckles asked.
“Sure man, that sounds awesome.” I agreed. “You have gear?”
“I don’t have a tent anymore, but I do have a sleeping bag and coolers.” He said.
“That works, cause I bought a tent last Spring and haven’t used it yet and I have a sleeping bag too. So, good to go.” I assured him.
“Awesome man, I’m excited now, I can’t wait!” He said cheerfully.
I smiled, “Me too!”
The day continued into the afternoon. We ate and talked about our pasts, about the things we wanted to do with our lives and dreams we wished we could chase.
Damien told me he made good money as an electrician, but that deep down he didn’t feel like it was fulfilling. I told him that a lot of people feel that way, that a lot of the times it’s not about their career, but about their lives as a whole. People need to feel like they have something to do that has meaning or gives them purpose, even if it’s a hobby, volunteer or a part-time venture, something minor.
He told me that one day he wanted to visit Ireland and then travel around Europe and even go to New Zealand. He said he wanted to move to Colorado and live in an isolated cabin in the mountains, with a lake so he could go fishing any time he wanted.
The more Freckles talked about himself the more enthralled I became with him and the more I looked forward to going camping with him the following weekend. I had a feeling it would be one of the best weekends of my life.
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